You Wanna Know What’s Cool?

I’ll tell you then.

 EuskoGuide recommends urbanmonique 
What’s really cool is when the foremost Internet site for the food, history, travel through, and appreciation of all things Basque, EuskoGuide, tweets our recipe for authentic Basque Piperrada as the recipe you should check out and cook.

  

That’s cool!

  

We are honored and humbled by this wonderful gesture – Big Thanks to EuskoGuide, from M and I!

Roasted Kale & Sofrito Relish

I heard a quip on NPR the other day to the effect that their listeners were fueled heavily by the ubiquitous ‘Super Food’, kale. When even McDonalds sports a kale salad offering, things are certainly reaching a saturation point, (granted, that salad sports more calories, fat, and sodium than a double Big Mac, so maybe the health benefits aren’t as evident there). They will be, however, with our wonderful kale and Sofrito relish.

That said, kale does indeed stack up pretty mightily in the Good For You scale. Kale is nutrient dense, sporting copious quantities of vitamins K, A, C, B1, B2, B3, and B6, as well as trace minerals like manganese, copper, calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, and phosphorus. All of that at roughly 30 calories per cup, sporting 6 grams of carbs, (2 of which are fiber), and 3 grams of protein. What little fat kale contains is largely alpha linolenic acid, AKA Omega-3.
Kale, Brassica Oleracea, stems from the Cabbage family, and is cousin to other great veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens and Brussels sprouts. All those nutrients and that family tree point to the telltale metallic, slightly funky odor this wonderful stuff exudes.

Kale Varieties

There’s a myriad of variants, with a range of colors and leaf shapes from flat to quite curly. It’s pretty, frankly, and gets darn near as much attention for an ornamental plant as it does for human fodder. We’re going to offer a nice option for adding this stuff to your diet, and maybe even getting folks who think they don’t like kale to try it. The depth and breadth of favors here belay the simplicity of the dish.

Kale Varieties

Here’s our take on a roasted kale and sofrito blend. It makes a great side, or a topping for shredded pork, beef, or chicken, or can even be used as a sandwich stuffing. As a bonus, you’ve got a great classic sofrito recipe; this root of many a Spanish, Portuguese, South American, and Caribbean dishes is a star all by itself, and the recipe below will make more than enough to spare.

Classic Sofrito

For the Sofrito, (makes about a cup)
1 medium Tomato
1 medium sweet Onion
2-3 small sweet Peppers, (the miniatures are best)
1-2 Jalapeño Chiles
3 cloves Garlic
1/4 Cup Cilantro
Avocado Oil, (EVOO is fine too)

Stem, seed, and fine dice the onion, tomato, peppers and chiles.
Rough chop the cilantro.
Peel garlic, mince, then add a good pinch of salt and mash with the side of a chef’s knife.
In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of avocado oil and allow to heat through.
Add the onion, chiles, and peppers and sauté until soft and the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and sauté until the raw garlic smell has dissipated, about 1 minute.
Add the tomato, stir to incorporate.
Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and allow the blend to cook until the free moisture has evaporated, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl, and stir the cilantro in well.
Allow to cool.
Sofrito will keep for a couple of days, refrigerated in an airtight container.
For the Roasted Kale
4 Cups Kale, chopped.
2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil, (again EVOO is fine)
Sea Salt
Fresh ground Pepper

Preheat oven to 350° F.
Rinse, trim ends and big stem pieces from the kale, then rough chop.
In a mixing bowl, combine kale with oil, a pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper; make sure the kale is nice and evenly coated with oil.
Mix well by hand, then spread evenly onto a baking sheet.
Slide the baking sheet into a middle rack in preheated oven.
Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes until kale is beginning to crisp.
Remove from oven and low to cool, tossing once or twice with a couple of forks.

Kale - Sofrito Relish

Combine the roasted kale with 1/2 cup sofrito and toss gently to incorporate.
You can add a bit more or less as you prefer.
Can be served hot, or chilled, as you prefer.

Moghrabieh – A Local Journey

In search of pomegranate molasses the other day, I found myself online and just about to pull the trigger on a purchase, when the question, ‘what do you have locally’ popped into my mind. I transferred my attention accordingly and found the Mediterranean Specialties Cafe on the south side of Bellingham. Monica noted that she’d also seen the European Specialties Cafe in Ferndale, so we mounted a road trip.
The small Ferndale store had a busy deli side, fueled by a very nice selection of meats and cheeses. A small but diverse grocery side displayed a fascinating array of staples from Russia and Eastern Europe.
Down in Bellingham, we recognized the Mediterranean market as a real catch as soon as we walked through the the door. A steady stream of customers were enjoying the deli side of the business as we prowled shelves packed with a wide range of goodies.

Mediterranean Goodies

Pasta, grains, spices, oils, and much more. We found our pomegranate molasses and a few more treats as well; Tunisian Harissa, the fiery red chile paste that fuels many North African dishes, radiatori pasta, legendary for holding sauce like few other shapes, but hard to find locally.

Mediterranean Goodies

Finally, we found a bag of Moghrabieh, the North African big brother of couscous. After one more stop for chicken, we headed home to cook.

Mediterranean Goodies
The moral of this story is that, even in relatively small towns, there are often such small shops around that could use your business, so next time you’re looking for something a bit off the beaten path, do a search for local instead of buying online; chances are it’ll be a rewarding journey.

Moghrabieh

Moghrabieh, at first glance, looks like a giant couscous, and is sometimes mistakenly called such, but it is a different critter altogether. While couscous is made by rolling flour around a core of coarse semolina, moghrabieh is simply semolina dough rolled into roughly 1/4″ balls, then sun dried.
Moghrabieh, meaning ‘from the Maghreb’ in Arabic, refers to the region of North Africa west of Egypt – Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Western Sahara, and Mauritania, the source of some truly amazing food. When I researched moghrabieh, I found pages and pages of recipes for the dish, but absolutely none for making your own pasta at home – As such, rest assured we’ll be figuring out how to do just that and posting it at a future date. That said, it’s not too hard to find frozen or dried Moghrabieh in a specialty store like the one we visited.
The traditional dish Moghrabieh is much beloved, reserved for special occasions due to the laborious process of hand rolling the namesake pasta. Made with lamb or goat, chick peas, and freshly made stock, it’s a hearty and fragrant delight. Researching recipes quickly revealed one important fact – Virtually every cook from the region has a recipe, and theirs is the only right and true version – Like barbecue or spaghetti sauce, there are a myriad of variants with a few key staples. As such, I felt absolutely comfortable creating my own. As I read it, the keys to the dish, the things that simply must be there are these: meat slow braised in house made stock with onion and/or shallot, some form of legume, and cinnamon, cumin, and caraway for seasoning. There are many prescribed methods for cooking and incorporating the dish; I assembled the method I’ve shared below based on two criterion; building big layers of flavor in a relatively short time, and ease of production.
This dish really deserves house made stock, as mentioned; if you’re doing this like we do, you’ve got fresh stock in the freezer. If you don’t, then use store bought and don’t feel bad about doing so. Whatever it takes to make it happen, do it – Try it, I guarantee you’ll love it.
Moghrabieh al UrbanMonique

4 fresh Chicken Thighs
4 Cups Chicken Stock
1 1/4 Cup rough chopped Scallion
1/2 Cup rough chopped Yellow Onion
1 14-15 ounce can Great Northern Beans
1 1/2 cups dry Moghrabieh
3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 teaspoon fresh ground Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Cumin
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground Caraway
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt, plus more for boiling the moghrabieh
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Pepper
For garnish – 2-3 Spring Onions and fresh Cilantro

In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, add a tablespoon each of oil and butter, and allow to heat through. Add chicken thighs in the middle of the pan, the surround with onions and scallions. Season with salt, pepper, and half the cinnamon, cumin,and caraway.

Moghrabieh
Brown the chicken for 5 minutes, then flip. Brown for 5 minutes more, then add 1 cup of stock. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for another hour.
Remove pan from heat, and remove chicken from pan. Set chicken aside to cool. Leave stock, onion and scallion in sauté pan.
In a stock pot of well salted water, (as in, sea water saltiness), Add the dry moghrabieh and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, drain in a colander and set aside.

Moghrabieh
In a sauté pan over medium high heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 of butter and allow to heat through. Add the drained moghrabieh and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid sticking, until the pasta is a light golden brown.

Moghrabieh
Begin adding stock, a half cup at a time, continuing to stir the pasta as it absorbs the stock. When each half cup is absorbed, add another until you’ve added 2 cups. Continue sautéing until the pasta is al dente, about 5 minutes.
Turn the heat under the the pan containing the stock, scallion, and onion to medium and heat until the mix begins to bubble lightly. Add 1 tablespoon of flour and whisk to incorporate. Add the beans, the chicken, and then the remaining cinnamon, cumin, and caraway; stir to incorporate, and continue to simmer, whisking occasionally until the sauce starts to thicken. Turn off the heat and prepare to assemble.

Moghrabieh
Thinly slice the spring onion and chiffenade the cilantro.
Bring separate bowls of moghrabieh and sauce to the table, along with small dishes of the spring onion and cilantro.
Each diner can ladle some of the pasta, then sauces then garnish as they see fit.

Moghrabieh

Apples 2015

Apples are easily among the most beloved, and most maligned fruit out there. They’re beloved because of all they were and could be, and maligned predominantly because of the crap that mass production, grocery store apples have become.

  
Malus domestica is a member of the Rose Family, grown worldwide, with more than 7,500 known cultivars. Apples come from Central Asia, where its wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, can be found to this very day – here in the U.S., you can find starts for that very tree if you wish.

  

Yet not so long ago, most grocery chains carried maybe five varieties, two of which were delicious, (Red and Golden, neither of which actually are delicious…), along with Granny Smith, Gala, and Fuji. There are deep problems with all of these, and here’s why. These varieties, all of them that you find in the store, are bred not so much for flavor as they are for the ability to withstand storage, travel, and stocking – Those are not attributes we’re wanting in an apple, frankly. Nowadays, there are more varieties in most stores, but we still have the problem of freshness. 90% of the time, what you’re buying is last year’s crop, or maybe this year’s from New Zealand, that travelled thousands of miles to show up in Your Town, U.S.A. Neither of those options brings apples at anything close to peak freshness.
Apples grown in this country are a late summer, early fall crop. For large scale commercial purposes, apples are picked slightly green and then, since 2002, sprayed with 1-methylcyclopropene, a chemical meant to prolong use storage. They’re then waxed or shellacked, boxed, crated, and stored in an low temp/high CO2 environment to discourage ethylene production. There they stay for an average of nine to twelve months. They may, (and often are), also treated with fungicides while in storage.
It’s important to note that buying organic may not save you from all these ills. Much large scale organic farming has been bought out by mega-corporations, and they can and do still use the same 1-methylcyclopropene, wax, shellac, and extended storage techniques as non-organic fruit.

1-methylcyclopropene, trade name SmartFresh, is supposedly not toxic to humans or the environment, but there’s a distinct problem with those claims. According to an article published by the American Society of Horticultural Science, “1-MCP is being used on 16 horticultural products, but much commercially relevant research on its effects is proprietary. For example, research using 1-MCP to increase potential for shipping longer distances or increasing market share of various fruit is being undertaken around the world under confidentiality agreements.” Meanwhile, PesticideInfo.org basically notes that most specific information regarding the potential effects of SmartFresh are “not available,” which is disappointingly in keeping with the ASHS’s findings.

Add to all that a Canadian study that shows that much of the good stuff in apples is seriously degraded after only 3 months of storage, and you’ve pretty much got the big picture view of why store bought apples suck. Fresh apples provide notable dietary fiber, simple, easily digestible sugars, and lots of polyphenols, a potent antioxidant. Yet stored for 9 to 12 months, pretty much all that antioxidant is gone.

  

But enough doom and gloom: All is not lost – in fact, there’s much light at the end of the tunnel; heirloom apples are making a broad come back, and some cool new varieties are coming available as well. From New England to the Pacific Northwest, and much in between, new-to-most-of-us varieties are finding their way to market. From Community Supported Agriculture, (CSAs), small scale farms, renewed interest by long time growers, and robust university level agricultural programs, variety is returning. Just yesterday, we got notice from our local CSA that one old variety, (Gravenstein, introduced to the U.S. in 1822), and two new varieties were available for as long as they last. A couple weeks ago, in northern Minnesota, I was introduced to the Oriole variety, developed by the University of Minnesota, (as was one of the varieties we were offered here, the Zestar). The Oriole was marvelous; tart, crisp, with just the right sugar balance – Perfect for munching or cooking.
  

Find and read Rowan Jacobsen’s Apples of Uncommon Character; you’ll find your spirit buoyed, and your interest piqued. Do some research for your neck of the woods – Google heirloom apples and your town, then go out and find them. Hit your farmer’s market or local CSAs. Once you’ve scored, preserve apples the way it’s been done for centuries – can some, dry some, freeze some, and enjoy it all.

  
Now, let’s cook with some – Here’s what I did with those Orioles in Minnesota, as well as a couple more favorites. Use whatever varieties you find that float your boat – Ask the producers which varieties making for good cooking, and go with those.

Urban’s Apple Crisp
10 Cups fresh Apples
1 Cup Bakers Sugar
1 Cup Quick Oats
1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1 Cup plus 1 Tablespoon Whole Grain White Flour
1/2 Cup local ESB Ale
1/2 Cup unsalted Butter
1 teaspoon real Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla
1/4 teaspoon Coriander
1/4 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
Pinch Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 350° F and set a rack square in the middle.
Rinse, core, seed and slice apples about 1/2″ thick, (I like the skins on, you can peel them if you wish)
Pile sliced apples into a 9″ x 13″ baking pan, glass preferred.
In a small mixing bowl, thoroughly combine bakers sugar, tablespoon of flour, cinnamon, coriander, and pinch of sea salt.
Hand sprinkle that blend over the apples, then pour the ale over all.
Melt butter.
In a larger mixing bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, baking soda and powder, and melted butter. Blend thoroughly by hand, then pack that evenly on top of the apples.
Bake at 350° F for 40 to 45 minutes, until topping is nicely browned.
Allow to rest for at least 15 minutes prior to serving.

  

Belgian Waffles with Apple Compote, Bacon, and Cheddar

Heat oven to Warm, add plates for each person, the bacon, and the waffles.
Make the recipe for Belgian Waffles here – 2 to 4 per person, depending on iron size – set in warm oven to hold.
Fry 3-4 slices of fresh, local bacon for each person – set onto paper towels in warm oven.
Slice extra sharp, aged Cheddar very thin and set aside.

For the compote, (enough for 4 to 6)
6 fresh Apples
4 Tablespoons Butter
1 Tablespoon Grape Seed Oil
1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar or local Honey
1/4 teaspoon True Cinammon
1/4 teaspoon Vanilla paste or extract, (If using beans, scrape seeds from 1/2 bean).
1/8 teaspoon Allspice
Pinch Sea Salt

Rinse, core, seed and slice apples to about 1/2″ thickness
In a sauté pan over medium heat, add oil and butter, allow to melt and heat through.
Add sliced apples, agave or honey, and all spices, toss to combine thoroughly and coat with the oil and butter.
When the blend starts to simmer, reduce heat to medium low and sauté for about 15 minutes, until apples are very tender.
Remove from heat and allow to rest for 15 minutes prior to serving.
To serve, lightly butter waffle, add strips of bacon, then compote, then top with cheddar.

  
Then there’s the savory side…
Chutney is a favorite of mine since I was a kid, making it with my Mom each fall. The combination of fruit and savory elements is a big winner; apple chutney goes great with pork, chicken, wild rice, even soufflés, believe it or not. It’s easy to make and stores well; it’ll last 2 weeks refrigerated, and much long if you decide to water bath can it. Spicier, more piquant apple varieties make for better chutney than the overly sweet ones do.

Apple Chutney – About 6 Cups
10 to 12 fresh Apples
2 fresh large Navel Oranges
1 large Sweet Onion
1 Cup Live Cider Vinegar
1/2 Cup local Honey
1″ piece fresh Ginger Root
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground Coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground Turmeric
OPTIONS:
1 Cup Golden Raisins
6-8 Cherry Tomatoes

Rinse, core, and seed apples, then rough chop.
Rinse, peel, stem and dice onion.
Rinse, peel and mince ginger root.
Rinse and pat dry oranges; zest and juice both, set that aside.
In a large sauce pan over medium high heat, combine all ingredients thoroughly, then bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
Reduce heat to medium low and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 to 50 minutes, until the mix has thickened notably and most of the free liquid is absorbed.
Remove from heat, transfer to a non-reactive bowl and allow to cool thoroughly. Store in clean, glass canning jars, refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks.
And of course, I wouldn’t be me without including an apple salsa. Rather than a cooked or blended version, good apples lend themselves especially well to a pico de gallo style salsa. Again, pick a tart, spicy variety when you make this one.

  
Urban’s Apple Salsa
4-6 fresh Apples, (about 2 Cups volume)
2 fresh, firm Tomatoes
1/2 small, Sweet Onion
1-3 Jalapeño Chiles
1 fresh small Lime
6-8 stalks fresh Cilantro
Drizzle Agave Nectar
Sea Salt and fresh Ground Pepper to taste

Zest and juice the lime, set both aside
Rinse, core, and seed apples, then uniform dice.
Toss apples into a large mixing bowl, then add lime juice and zest, and toss to incorporate.
Peel and stem onion, then fine dice.
Rinse, core and seed tomatoes, then fine dice
Peel, seed, and devein jalapeños, then fine dice.
Chiffonade cilantro.
Add all veggies to the mixing bowl and toss to incorporate.
Add agave, pinch of salt and a couple twists of pepper; taste and adjust seasoning.
Allow salsa to rest in a non-reactive bowl for at least 30 minutes, refrigerated, prior to serving.

  

Health Impacts of Caffeine – Good, Bad, or Somewhere in Between?

At fifty five years of age, I don’t have many active vices left; coffee, really good coffee, is pretty much it. I roast my own, from single source, organic, fair trade green beans. I’ve got a very good grinder, and an excellent drip brewing setup. Like I said, it’s really good coffee; so good that you literally start to get a buzz just breathing in the steam from a fresh cup. Caffeine – That’s what it’s all about, and that begs the question – What are the health impacts of caffeine on humans – Is it good, bad, or a little of both?

Caffeine is arguably the most widely used central nervous system stimulant in the world, with coffee and tea drinking accounting for the lion’s share. In addition to coffee beans and tea leaves, caffeine is found in cocoa beans, kola nuts, mate, guarana, and some 50+ other plants around the world. Caffeine wielding plants use it as a pesticide, to discourage competing plants from getting too close, and as a reward enhancer for bee pollinated species.

The U. S. Food & Drug Administration doesn’t require manufacturers to disclose the amount of caffeine in food products, but the European Union does. It shows up in a myriad of products, quite a few in which you might not expect to find it in, non-cola sodas, energy drinks (including energy waters), painkillers, breath fresheners, and even sunflower seeds can all pack a significant caffeine buzz.

Pure caffeine was first isolated by German and French chemists in the early 19th century, and scientists have been messing with it ever since. An alkaloid with an aromatic core, it’s a white, odorless, water soluble powder.

Before looking at caffeine’s specific effects, it’s important to note how good it is at getting into our systems. It’s a relatively fast acting drug, reaching peak bloodstream absorption as quickly as 15 minutes. Its half life, (the time it takes to lose 50% of its effectiveness), is 3 to 7 hours in adults. The next consideration is bioavailability; this is a measure of absorption, expressed as a fraction – how much of a drug reaches the blood system. A drug injected intravenously has 100% bioavailability: The bioavailability of caffeine is 95%. Thirdly, there’s protein binding, a measure of efficiency determined by the percentage of a drug that becomes bound by proteins within our blood plasma. The lower the protein binding fraction, the more unbound drug, and the greater its ability to do what it does. Protein binding for caffeine is around 30%, meaning 70% of the caffeine that hits our blood stream is available to do its thing. The bottom line? Caffeine is exceptionally active within human beings.

Caffeine molecule

Caffeine is a stimulant, which it does by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain and inhibiting drowsiness. That same quality allows it to act on the autonomic nervous system, appreciably speeding up our reaction time. Additional known benefits include increased metabolism, more efficient energy use, as well as enhanced concentration and problem solving skills. There are ongoing studies to determine caffeine’s efficacy in reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as providing some level of protection against Parkinson’s disease and certain cancers.

Health Effects of Caffeine go both ways

Yet all is not wine and roses. The list of known and potential negative side effects of caffeine is easily as long as that of its benefits. Insomnia, disrupted sleep patterns, significant withdrawal issues, problems during pregnancy including miscarriage, low birth weight, and withdrawal issues for newborns, (the half life of caffeine for neonates is 60 – 120 hours). Add high blood pressure, high blood sugar, decreased bone density, anxiety, and chronic headaches, and you’ve got more than enough reasons to be careful with this stuff.

Naturally, the next question is, how much is too much? Numerous factors have bearing on the answer, from gender and age, to health, body weight, and metabolism. The general consensus indicates that an intake level under 400 milligrams a day is safe; that’s something on the order of 3-4 cups of brewed coffee, 4 shots of espresso, and up to 10 cups of tea. And For the record, yes, caffeine can be fatal at very high doses; it would take something on the order of chugging 80 to 100 cups of coffee to get there.

Caffeine doses vary by product

The obvious and sensible answer is, of course, All things in moderation. The simple solution is to avoid all that ‘energy’ crap and stick to things that allow you a reasonable degree of control over your intake.

Branching Out

beginning today, I’ll be writing features for Interesting Engineering. I’ll post one every three days or so, covering engineering, science, and technology. My slant, as it is here, is the history of things, and interpreting complex stuff in a way that makes sense for the rest of us. If such things interest you, please join me.

My first post is about Hyperloop, Elon Musk’s vision of future transit. Check it out here.