16 November 2006

Wheat Berries

posted by gastrogirl @ 11:26 to section Cooking


Things have been extraordinarily busy with me, so there hasn’t been much posting. There should be more entries soon, with Thanksgiving next week and several holiday parties on the way. I’ve also signed up for Blogging by Mail, Holiday Edition , and am looking forward to giving (and receiving!) fun food items in the mail. In the meantime, I’ve been making simple meals: salads, pasta…stuff that can be made quickly, will feed me for a few days, and won’t require too much time in the kitchen.

I think wheat berries are really overlooked in the US, at least outside of health-food stores. These chewy little nuggets, which are whole unprocessed kernels of wheat, are a terrific source of B vitamins and fiber. They are a medium shade of brown and have a nutty flavour which is particularly welcome in winter and autumnal dishes. They are lovely in salads and stuffings, and you could even have them for breakfast- drizzle with warm milk or cream, add a bit of honey, and top with fruit. The only negative is that they do take a rather long time to cook – between an hour and an hour and a half (they don’t need to be watched, though – just set a timer and do something else for a while). Many recipes call for soaking overnight, but I’ve found that to be unnecessary as long as they’re cooked long enough and in a proper amount of water.

For each cup of wheatberries, boil them in at least 4 quarts of water, as you might for pasta. If you use too little water, they will happily soak it all up and form a burnt crust on the bottom of your saucepan, causing a horrible stench which will ruin even the unburnt top layer by smell alone. Overcooked wheat berries, on the other hand, will lose their shape and become mushy. The goal here is to retain a pleasant chew without making your jaw ache. After boiling, drain them and use as you wish. They will also keep, refrigerated, for about 5 days or may be frozen for up to 2 months and thawed in the refrigerator.

The quantities are pretty loose for this salad I made, so feel free to mix things up a bit and make it your own…

Wheat Berry Salad with Pecans and Dill
2 cups hard winter wheat berries, cooked in boiling water for 1-1.5 hours, until tender but chewy
1 small red or yellow onion, finely chopped
1 clove minced garlic
3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
a few tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
a few tablespoons red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Toss all ingredients together, adjusting amounts to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature. This will serve about 4-6 as a side dish.

4 November 2006

For love not money

posted by rlink @ 12:38 to section Cooking

I’ve done my time working in a commercial kitchen, but I still have several friends who have made a career out of it. One of them in particular recently relocated to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh. He’s done time in the kitchen at Casbah, was one of the original cooks at Eleven, and ended up becoming the executive pastry chef at Café Frick before deciding that he wanted to learn a new cuisine and needed to move to another city to do so. He even took a temporary position as the exec pastry chef at Casbah while he was in the months-long process of appartment hunting and moving to Philly, because they had lost theirs and asked him nicely.

Now, fine dining in Pittsburgh can’t even hold a candle to most typical restaurants in a city like New York or Philadelphia, but that is the topic of another post that has been languishing in draft status for a month. It’s important to mention, though, because this friend was told that, despite having some of the best credentials Pittsburgh has to offer, he would never be able to land a job cooking in a major Philadelphia restaurant, let alone be able to hack it if he did get hired somewhere. Ignoring the naysayers, he shot for the moon and only interviewed at two places: Pod and Morimoto.
Continue reading “For love not money”…

10 October 2006

Butternut Squash and Chickpea Soup

posted by gastrogirl @ 12:04 to section Cooking

Been busy with some new work and not much time to post lately. Here’s a lovely soup I made recently with butternut squash, which in my opinion is one of the most versatile of squashes. This soup is incredibly easy to make and also freezes well. I like the consistency to be a bit thick, but if you prefer you can thin it with some stock.

Butternut Squash and Chickpea Soup


2 15-oz cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 2-lb butternut squash
2 medium onions
1/4 cup of olive oil
5 cups of vegetable stock
1.5 teaspoons of roasted cumin
2 tablespoons of lemon juice, or more to taste
a few sprigs of fresh cilantro
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Wrap the squash tightly in aluminim foil and bake at 350 F for about 60 minutes, or until soft. Let the squash cool, then scoop out the flesh and put it aside, discarding the seeds and stringy stuff.

Heat the olive oil a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When hot, add onions and cook at medium heat until soft. Add the squash, chickpeas, stock, and cumin. Simmer for 30 minutes, covered. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in a regular blender until smooth. If it seems too thick, add more water or stock to reach the desired consistency. Return soup to pot, stir in lemon juice, and reheat until warm. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves before serving.

3 October 2006

Pom and Circumstance

posted by gastrogirl @ 20:40 to section Cooking

Why is it that I always buy things and then forget about them until after their expiration date? This is particularly annoying when we’re talking about expensive produce or some delicate confection that gets pushed to the back of my pantry under the pretense of “saving” it for a special occasion or other such nonsense. The latest chapter in this saga is a bottle of pomegranate syrup that I’ve had sitting around for the past year or so. Pomegranate syrup is used in Middle Eastern cooking in dishes like khoresh (among others), but I just haven’t felt inspired enough to find a proper use for it. Luckily, the New York Times came to my rescue in the nick of time.

An article about the joys of all things tart and sour caught my eye, and it included a recipe of Bulgur Salad with Pomegranate Dressing that really sounded delicious. My pomegranate syrup was set to self-destruct expire this October, so the heat was on to pom myself into sweet and sour oblivion. This salad lives up to that challenge, and I actually ended up using less dressing than the recipe called for, to avoid overpowering the dish. It should be said that this dressing is for sour lovers only…by itself, it’s a bit wild and verging on too-tart, but the tanginess is addictive and it mellows considerably when paired with the mild bulgur.

Bulgur Salad with Pomegranate Dressing
Adapted from The New York Times

A note: I halved this recipe from the original and it worked out just fine. Below are the halved amounts, which makes about enough for 5-6 side-dish servings. You can double it if you like, which will serve about 8-10 as a side dish.

1 cup medium-size bulgur wheat
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons pomegranate syrup
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice, or to taste
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne, or to taste
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
1 cup toasted walnuts

Cook bulgur in 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups of boiling water until water returns to the boil. Remove from heat and set it aside to soak up the water. After 30-45 minutes, drain the bulgur and put it in a serving bowl.

While bulgur soaks, make dressing: whisk olive oil, lemon juice, pomegranate syrup , tomato paste, and spices in a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. It will be very tart and tangy. This is normal. Adjust spices if desired.

Pour 1/2 of the dressing over the bulgur and mix thoroughly. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes to absorb the dressing, then taste. Add more dressing if desired, as well as the parsley and toasted nuts. Mix well and serve.

Makes about 5-6 side-dish servings.

PS: If you don’t have any pomegranate syrup but still want to try this salad, you should be able to find it in most Middle Eastern food stores. It’s also sometimes referred to as “pomegranate molasses”. Regular pomegranate juice won’t work, unfortunately, as it fails to deliver the concentrated flavor needed for the dressing.

27 September 2006

Music and Mail

posted by gastrogirl @ 23:42 to section Food,general

I am currently enjoying a bit of a musical crush on Orhan Gencebay, after watching the movie Crossing the Bridge and subsequently listening to his contribution to the soundtrack. In the heat of my lust, I discovered some more of his stuff on some excellent Turkish music sites. Although much of his material isn’t quite as interesting to me as the acoustic track from the movie (which was just brilliant), it has not stopped my love-in just yet (and besides, who can resist this GAZE??)

Ahem. In other news, I am so glad that Mariya of The Food Whore Next-Door received her Blogging By Mail package from me, and that it arrived intact. Now I can safely add her to my links without arousing suspicion. ;) Do check out her blog, it’s very dessert-based (yum!). The cupcakes she makes are just stunning, and the other things are so creative. In fact, she just posted about a treat made with agar-agar, which is particularly exciting to me as I don’t do gelatine and am always on the lookout for how to use agar-agar in recipes.

As if in complicity with the arrival of the package to Mariya, the postal service delivered my Blogging By Mail package this morning, from Emily of Chocolate in Context in Australia. The contents are cute and I’m looking forward to trying them. Emily included some Outback Dukkah spice mix, which smells absolutely divine, a little jar of Tasmanian honey, a tiny packet of green tea, and a bar of artisanal chocolate in lovely wrapping. Also she included a newpaper section about food in Australia, and on the cover is a huge picture tempting the reader with recipes for The Perfect Scone, which is auspicious because scones are one of my favourite things to make! Can’t wait to try out the recipes. Thanks, Emily…


19 September 2006

A Piper Picked A Peck of Pita

posted by gastrogirl @ 12:42 to section Cooking

Last night while cleaning my place up a bit, I re-discovered a pennywhistle which I bought some time ago but never learned to play. Inspiration hit me and soon I was tooting out “What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor” and working on “The Trooper and the Maid”, thanks to some lovely online tutorials. I’m not quite ready to go busking with my friend gnarphlager, but it’s a fun way to irritate my neighbors gain some appreciation of the skills required to pipe both quickly and cleanly.

Apart from drunken sailors, I also found myself wondering what to do with a bunch of pita bread that was preparing to get stale. A local grocer sells large bags of bread for very cheap, but it can be a challenge to eat all of it before it goes bad. The quickest solution to this is to make pita chips, which are great for munching at parties, scooping up dips, or just snacking. They will last for at least a week or two if kept in an airtight container. The only ingredients required (other than the pita) are probably already in your pantry: olive oil and a homemade or store-bought spice mixture (I like zatar, but you can use whatever suits you).

pita chips

Making your own pita crisps couldn’t be simpler, but there are two ways to go about it. The first way is to separate the two layers of bread with a small knife and brush olive oil on each layer. Sprinkle the spice mixture on top of this, then press the layers back together. Cut the round in half and the halves into small triangles before placing on a baking sheet. Another way is to not bother separating the layers and just brush the tops of the pitas with oil, sprinkle with spices, and cut into triangles. Don’t be afraid to be quite generous with the spices and oil, since some of the spice will fall off when the crisps cool. Also, if your spice mixture doesn’t include salt, be sure to add a liberal dash of that as well! Bake the triangles at about 400 F for 5 minutes or until lightly browned and firm to the touch. Until you find the precise time that works for you and your oven, be careful to keep an eye on the first batch, as they can go from crisp to burnt very quickly. Also, keep in mind that they will become more crisp as they cool, so if in doubt, take them out!

13 September 2006


posted by gastrogirl @ 22:15 to section general

I dropped my camera the other day. On concrete. Not fun. So, although it’s not completely dead, it is behaving rather erratically and will only operate with much coaxing. So there may not be many posts (or posts with pictures) until I can get a new one. Then again, there’s also the idea of bribing friends with nice cameras to come over and take pictures in exchange for food. :)

In the meantime, here’s a peek at some of rlink’s last summer tomatoes…


4 September 2006

Planning Ahead (Because I’m Lazy)

posted by gastrogirl @ 23:08 to section Cooking

Suddenly the weather here has become rather chilly. Several weeks of 80°+ weather has turned into a week of rain with temperatures just over 60°. This is what I get for complaining about the heat! Actually, the brisk temperature is welcome after so many hot days, and is a nice reminder that autumn is on its way. Plus, it’s no longer torture to set the oven a-going, so I spent this morning baking something to eat for breakfast during the next week or so.

Since I am usually pretty busy, and also not much of a morning person, I tend to not be interested in breakfasts that require much effort, unless it’s a weekend or holiday. Muffins, bagels, or quick breads that can be made in advance and frozen are best, as I like things that be popped in the toaster oven and warmed up while the coffee is brewing. That way I can stumble around half-awake and not worry about causing any kitchen calamities.

Also, eating at home is more economical and also usually healthier. To be honest, I can’t stand most café muffins because they are too sweet for me to eat at breakfast. Streusel toppings, glaze, chocolate chips…these are fine for a snack, but first thing in the morning? My teeth ache just thinking about it. As a result, the muffins I made today are not heavily sweetened. Don’t be alarmed, though – a modest amount of sugar and the natural sugars in over-ripe bananas do keep them sweet, just not excessively so. Cardamom is the key spice used here, and I am pretty sure bananas and cardamom were separated at birth, or maybe long-lost lovers, since pairing them up produces such an amazing result. The flax seeds are optional, but are a nice way to sneak in some omega-3.

banana muffins

Banana Breakfast Muffins

1 cup all purpose-flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 egg
1 cup (3 medium) very ripe bananas
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cardamom seeds
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons golden flax seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease muffin tins or line with papers.
Sift the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Stir in flaxseed, if using. In a separate bowl, mash the bananas lightly with a fork, then mix them with the egg, melted butter, sugar, yogurt, vanilla, and cardamom. Add the flour mixture to the banana mixture in 2 or 3 batches and stir until just combined. Fold in pecans. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto racks to cool completely.

2 September 2006

North African Tomato Salad

posted by gastrogirl @ 15:33 to section Cooking

The end of summer tomato crops are still going strong, but lately I’ve been feeling a bit too lazy to come up with clever ideas of what to do with them. There are still many tasty varieties that I can’t pass up at the farmer’s market or the gardens of friends, but that quickly leaves me with more tomato than I can handle. For example, when one finds oneself with a bag of 40 or so teeny ones that are in danger of decline, tomato salad become the dish of the day. I know – yet another tomato salad recipe, right? Don’t yawn, though…this one is special. Well, it’s the one I like best, anyway.
Continue reading “North African Tomato Salad”…

27 August 2006

More Cookies

posted by gastrogirl @ 20:25 to section Cooking

This is a copycat recipe, which I initially saw on Bakingsheet, who found it on the Cooking Light website. The original recipe is by Alice Medrich, who is quite renowned for her chocolate expertise. Since I am a huge fan of Alice, and of course anything chocolate, I just had to try these. Nic at Bakingsheet deleted a tablespoon of butter from Alice’s recipe, but I replaced it since 5 tablespoons is already quite low for a cookie recipe. Her idea of placing dried cherries in the cookies is brilliant, and I also chopped up some Callebaut and added that to the mix in lieu of chocolate chips. They are supposed to be low-fat cookies, but no one would ever guess this – they are intensely chocolatey (even more so with the chopped chocolate), slightly chewy, and don’t dry out as quickly as many low-fat desserts do. Kept in a tightly closed plastic container, they lasted me three days, and may have even survived longer had I been able to stop eating them!

Since you can get the recipes above, I’ll just post a quick picture of the result.


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