Sunday, December 28, 2008

Winter at the farmers' market II: fennel, apple, orange and pomegranate salad

It tastes as good as it looks,
and it's easy and inexpensive to make.

Same meal as last post, same 6 guests and same idea: do with what I find at the farmers' market. I wanted something a little refined to counterbalance my hearty detox chorba. Pas de problème: fennel, orange and apples are in season and go perfectly together. I added pomegranate seeds for a touch of color. Added value: all those fruits and veggies are very good for you, full of antioxydants, minerals and vitamins. Exactly what you need in winter, especially during the holiday season, when you always end up eating too much, too sweet (mmmh! those vegan truffles!), too oily (oh, those vegan latkes...), or too processed.

Fennel, Orange, Apple and Pomegranate Salad
(serves 6)
1 big bulb of fennel, thinly sliced (I used my mandoline)
1 apple, thinly sliced
1 pomegranate, seeded
2 oranges, juiced
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper
A few fennel leaves for decoration

Mix everything together and adjust the salt and pepper. With a pair of scissors, cut some fennel leaves on top of the salad.

- If you can't find pomegranates, use a colorful fruit, such as a blood or cava cava orange.
- For a more fennelly taste, incoprporate to your salade a bigger quantity of leaves, scissor cut in tiny pieces.
- If you are lucky enough to have found a fennel bulb with branches and leaves still attached (and not cut out before store display) don't discard them: fennel leaves are good for you! They have a positive effect on your apetite, on your milk production (if you are lactating!), they help digestion and are full of antioxydants. You can make teas (infuse in hot water) or add to your food.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Winter at the farmers' market I: Detox Chorba

This will warm you up and make you smack your lips!

I went to the farmers' market this morning with the idea of getting what's in season to make a complete meal for me and my 5 lunch guests. I found a lot of fruits and veggies to play with.
I knew that I wanted a break from holiday foods, and I had in mind to make a sort of "detox soup", warming, hydrating and detoxifying at the same time.
When I researched what spices were good for detoxifying puposes, I realized that, combined with the veggies in season, I would end up with something North African. I made what I call my "detox chorba", with couscous on the side.

It was a Proust madeleine moment for me: it reminded me of winters in Paris, when it's cold and grey outside, and you push the door of one of the numerous couscous cantinas. You and your friends take off coats, scarves and gloves and sit together at a formica table to eat a warm, tasty and colorful dish for a few euros. The steam blurs the windows and you are so thankful to be inside. You add extra harissa to your stew to warm you up from within.

There's nothing like steamy soup!

"Detox Chorba"
1/4 cup cooking oil (coconut, canola)
3 onions
soy sauce
5 celery stalks
3 carrots
4 cups of veggie stock
4 cups water
1/2 bunch of rainbow chard (or anything green -if spinach: add it at the end)
2 cups of crushed tomatoes*
1 tbsp sundried tomato flakes*
(you can substitute for 2 tbsp tomato paste, but I had frozen tomatoes from last summer in my freezer)
1 cup tomatoes, cut in chunks (I did find some at the market! But you can do without, or add a little more paste, or tomato flakes)
1 red pepper
1 cup cooked garbanzo beans
1 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp ras-el-hanout (a North african blend of spices with pepper, cardamom, mace, cayenne, ginger, fennel, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, lavender and dried rosebuds)
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp harissa blend
2 tsp herbes de provence
2 tsp rosemary
10 peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 inch of sliced fresh ginger
1/4 cup roasted pinenuts
celery leaves
2 cups dried couscous (you can substitute for quinoa if wheat doesn't agree with you)
1/2 cup raisins
olive oil

In a big pot, caramelize the onions in coconut oil. Stir frequently. Add "detox" herbs and spices: rosemary, herbes de Provence (incl Oregano), turmeric, ras et hanout, harissa blend (don't overdo it: it's hot!), whole peppercorn and stir the whole thing (adding a little soy sauce or water if it starts sticking).
When the onions are cooked and taste sweet, add chopped celery, carrots, chards stalk, and red pepper. Stir.
When everything is a little soft (after 10 minutes), add stock and tomatoes. Put in the bay leaves, the chunks of ginger, the chard leaves and the garbanzo beans. (Add water if the soup is too thick). Bring it almost to a boil and then turn the heat down. Simmer. If you have a crockpot: transfer after 15 minutes and let your soup sit there. The longer, the tastier!

Couscous: (I do it the simple way: no couscous-cooker, no double-steaming or other culinary refinement) I cook it like rice. In a pot, mix couscous grains and raisins with a little bit of olive oil and double the volume of cold water. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, turn the heat off and let the grains expand for 15 minutes. Once it is cooked, fluff it lightly with a fork.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Homemade cards

This, and a little imagination is all you need!

This is a very simple, creative and rewarding DIY project.
What you need: sturdy paper, a pair of scissors, or cutter+cutting board, glue sticks. and things to paste. I always shop for vintage books or magazines, and cut out cute/cheesy/funny illustrations.
I recently scored a couple of issues of National Geographic from the 50's, with many kitsch and colorful photos. You can also use old music scores, old photographs, etc...

The best thing to do is to make a bunch (have a card making party with friends, or do it on your own, it's relaxing) and stock them so you have them ready for all occasions. I like making cards on black paper and writing my greetings with silver or gold ink.

Nikki's cards
My friend Nikki just brought me this amazing Holiday/belated birthday gift: a bottle of fine vodka accompanied by an assortment of cocktail glasses on an fantastic lacquered tray, all found at a small town garage sale. (Now, here's someone who knows me well!)
She's a talented card maker, and she made this one out of recycled paper, on which she glued an ad found in her vintage Playboy collection, inherited from her dad.

So fancy...

Supplies (pens included): SCRAP, San Francisco
National Geographics: Community Thrift, San Francisco

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Eco Wrapping

100% reused packaging looks pretty good!

For the holidays, I sent a package to my family in France. I was pretty excited about my low-impact wrapping. At Thrift Town San Francisco, I had purchased a huge used Xmas stocking with the intention of stuffing it with the gifts for my nieces and nephews (respectively 6, 6, 4, 4, 1 and one month old). We don't have the stocking tradition in France: instead, we place our shoes under the tree, and that's where Santa, or, rather, le père Noël, puts our presents. I figured the kids would find a giant striped, green, knitted Xmas stocking amusing and exotic.

I wrapped all my gifts in things that I had thrifted for the purpose. I collect all year round pieces of fabric, cute little bags, papers, etc. with the intention of giving them a second life. I also keep undammaged wrapping paper and ribbons. I store all this junk in a small paper bag, and I dig out when a gift needs wrapping.
I had once found a champagne-color, velvet scarf that looked very ugly in its original intent but that my eye saw as an elegant wrap, once cut to size and enhanced with (reused) ribbons.
I had also found, still at Thrift Town, a silky orange Chinese bag that looks pretty and can even be reused (as an underwear travel bag for instance).
The little tags that I attached were cut out of simple black paper that I had purchased at SCRAP, (Scroungers' Center for Reusable Art Parts), an amazing place which stores and sells for cheap office and art supplies that would have been discarded otherwise.
I also made a big collective card with the same black paper, on which I glued an ad from an old issue of National Geographic. Very cute.

I always keep a supply of "things I can make cards with": pages of old magazines and books, thick paper and glue. Making your own cards is much cheaper, much greener, and much more creative than buying commercial cards.

I sent my package in a reused cardboard box (of course!).
Et voilà!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Winter Congee

Winter breakfast congee

Congee or Kanji is a pan Asian comfort food. It's a simple fare of overcooked rice, a sort of porridge, eaten sweet or savory. It is the easiest thing to digest, and what babies and the sick eat.

I first made congee when Jill, my acupunturist-Chinese doctor suggested that I fed it to my bowel-troubled dog. I had just found Chloe the Pitbull on my birthday, lost in a big city park. She had been eating whatever she could scavenge. The effect on her intestines was not pretty (-and she was not potty trained).

Chloe, the sick pitbull
(feeling much better after a good dose of TLC -and congee.)

Being a great fan of rice, I decided to make a big batch of congee and to try out some recipes for myself.
I made soup and breakfast porridge.

How to make congee?
1 mesure of rice
5 mesures of water
Cook until mushy (it can take several hours on a stovetop -if you want it faster, put less water).

Breakfast congee for cold mornings
This is perfect if you are sick or need to go out in the cold. You get complete protein with the rice and lentils, and your good fats with the coconut oil.

(1 person)
1 cup congee
1/2 cup cooked coral lentils (reduced to a mush)
1 inch ginger, grated
1/2 apple, grated
1 tsp coconut oil
1/4 cup water
1/2 tbsp agave nectar
1/2 tsp salt
Heat everything in a covered pot. Adjust salt or agave nectar.
You can make it with a banana, and add spices that you like (cinnamon).
It's also a good idea to cook it with dried fruits such as raisins.

Congee soup for 2
2 cups of congee
3 cups of vegetable broth
2 cup of water
6 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 cup of carrots, diced
1 cup of chard leaves, sliced
1 inch ginger
wheat-free tamari

Cook shiitake in 2 cups of water for twenty minutes (bring to a boil and then simmer).
In a pot, cook congee, broth, carrots and chards.
When the mushrooms are ready, add their broth (dashi) to the pot. Slice the shiitake thinly (discard the stem), and add to the preparation.
Add tamari to taste (depending on if your broth is salty or not).
Grate ginger and add to the pot.
Cook until the carrots are soft.

Congee with red cabbage

A great side dish for winter.
Red cabbage is a traditional winter vegetable. Cooked with fruits (I chose apples and dried apricots) it is more festive (it is for instance a Spanish and Russian Christmas dish).

for 3 portions
1 onion, sliced
2 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 shredded red cabbage
1 apple, thinly sliced
3 dried apricots, in small cubes
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar (or balsamic)
2 tbsp tamari

Cook onion on medium heat in coconut oil until translucent. Lower heat and add tamari. When onions are brown, add cabbage, apple, cubed apricots, nutmeg. Mix well, and cook, covered on medium-low heat. When cabbage starts to soften, add vinegar. When it is soft but still a little crunchy, add congee (1 to 2 cups), adjust tamari and vinegar, mix well and cook until desired consistency.

Read more about Congee here