Saturday, May 02, 2009

Spotlight on Spices (and other things...)


The other day I was browsing through recipes when I had to look up an ingredient. I'd heard of it before and studied it in school but haven't had the opportunity to cook with it yet. While scanning the ingredient index, I thought about you, my dear readers, and the way you seem to really enjoy learning about cooking or how you like reading about my culinary adventures. Enter "Spotlight on Spices (and other things...) The ABC's of Cooking with Ms. Maggie Moo."

Each week (probably Saturday's) I will post a new ingredient-in alphabetical order. I'll include some background info, history and flavor profiles if I know them. If I can find the ingredient (some of them might be harder to find), I might even use it in a recipe and post that as well.

Without further ado...here is the first installment of "Spotlight on Spices (and other things...)". I hope you enjoy it!

Arrowroot...

Main Entry:
ar·row·root
Function:
noun
Date:
1696
1 a: any of a genus (Maranta of the family Marantaceae, the arrowroot family) of tropical American plants with tuberous roots ; especially : one (M. arundinacea) whose roots yield an easily digested edible starch b: any of several plants (as coontie) that yield starch
2: starch yielded by an arrowroot

Don't you just love definitions that use the word you're looking up as its answer?

Arrowroot as we know it in the United States is a powder made from the ground plant Maranta arundinacea which is from the West Indies. Here in the United States it has been grown in Florida, but we still typically import it from places like Jamaica. It is said that arrowroot gets its English name from the Arawak people who called it “Aru Aru” or “meal of meals”. I believe though, the other explanation that the Arawaks used arrowroot to draw out poison from those struck with poisonous arrows.

Arrowroot is most commonly used as a thickening agent as an alternative to cornstarch. Typically you can substitute these two ingredients for each other 1 for 1 but "technically" they tell you to use 2 t. of arrowroot to 1 T. of cornstarch. (1 t. less of arrowroot) To cook with it, I suggest making a slurry first with a cold liquid and then adding it to your hot dish. This will avoid lumps.

The advantages that arrowroot has over cornstarch are many, the best in my opinion, is that it cooks out clear. If you've ever seen a cherry pie whose filling was a bright clear red (and did not have a milky film-like sheen) it was most likely made with arrowroot as its thickener. Other advantages are that it thickens at a lower temperature than cornstarch and that it is, for the most part, tasteless. It also freezes well, prevents ice crystals in homemade ice cream and has a very low gluten content, making it easier to digest than cornstarch.

While I've typically seen this used in pies as I mentioned above, you can also use arrowroot in stir fries, sauces, ice creams, and gravies. The list goes on, really. The downfall to arrowroot is that it is harder to find than cornstarch, though I've started seeing in more grocery stores in the past year. You can, however, order it online from Penzys Spices and I'm sure other online stores.

Sources:
Merriam Webster
Penzeys Spices

On Food & Cooking
Wikipedia
Chef Fitz

Friday, May 01, 2009

May Day! May Day!

Lying in bed this morning I remembered a small local fair that we went to every year when I was little. It was held by a nursery school in town and served as their big fundraiser. There were no rides, but I always remember it being a neat place to go.

They had obstacle courses to crawl through, sand to pour into jars (before that was even popular), paper bags filled with "mystery prizes" and best of all, a sugar cookie station with what seemed like hundreds of colors of frosting, sprinkles, and pretty much anything you can think of to decorate a cookie. Generally the cookie ended so loaded up with candy and frosting that it was actually no good to eat but it was so much fun!

One year they had a Cake Walk using a May Pole. Every half hour or so they'd set people up with a ribbon tied to a pole and for $1 we could walk around until the music stopped. If you were lucky enough to land on a certain spot, you won a whole cake! These cakes were most likely donated by the parents whose children went to the nursery school and to be honest, even back then some of them didn't look too great. Even still, I knew I had to try for one-and lucky I did because I won!

I can not remember what the cake looked like except for some reason I think it had blue frosting. I DO remember that I was glad I played early because like I said, some of the cakes didn't look so hot and I got to choose the best one. I felt like such a cool kid walking out of that fair with a WHOLE cake.

I don't know if they still have that little fair, but if they do, I'm pretty sure they should bring back the Cake Walk. They'll help a few little kids feel like bit shots-for a few hours at least!

What's Cookin? Ratatouille!

I'm no Remy, but my ratatouille was this weeks shining star. (It was closely followed by my herbed chicken, but I'll share that recipe another day.)

Wednesday we had a dinner guest with us-the mom invited a friend of hers over. First things first, the friend said, "I picked a great night to come over!" to which the mom said, "Any night Mags is cooking is a good night to be here!"

Now that really made my day! That, and Melody (the youngest) always telling me that "It's good Maggie!" or the way she says "Nom, nom, nom". I know I told you that already, but it's really fantastic.

In any case, I had to use the rest of the meat from their farm share which happened to be sausage. I was leery about it because, quick frankly, the other pork products they got weren't the greatest. But, I needed to try it and instead of making a pasta dish (b/c I've made a lot of those for them so far) I opted to make ratatouille and add the sausage. It turned out really great-both girls had second helpings and so did the friend. I call that a success.

I didn't make mine look pretty like they did in the movie (which, by the way, was modeled after Thomas Keller's dish at Per Se.). Instead I opted for a more rustic version, which worked out just fine.
Ratatouille with Sausage (Serves 8-10...closer to 10)

Ingredients:
1 Eggplant, cut into strips
3 Zucchini, small, sliced
1 Large Yellow Onion (or 2 small)
4 Cloves Garlic, minced
2 Green Peppers, julienned
4 Tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/3 C. Flour
Olive Oil, for sauteing
8 Sweet Sausage, cut into slices-on a bias is best
1/4 C. Water
1/2 C. White Wine
1/2 C. Fresh Basil (or 6 t. Dry)
2 t. Oregano (dry)
2 t. Thyme (dry)
1 t. Salt
1/4 t. Pepper
1 C. Mozzarella, shredded

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a large baking dish. Toss eggplant and zucchini in flour-shake off excess. Season and brown it in a pan using about 2 T. olive oil. Transfer to a greased baking dish.

2. Saute onions and garlic in the same pan you cooked the eggplant/zucchini. Add to baking dish.

3. Brown sausage. Meanwhile in another pan, saute peppers for about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, water, wine & seasonings. Cook on high for 2 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes, covered.

4. Add sausage to sauce-you can drain off the fat from the pan, but I add it in. Pour the entire sauce reduction to the baking dish.

5. Bake 20 minutes, add cheese and bake another 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted. If you like, also broil it for a minute or two to make it more bubbly.

6. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

On the Edge

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and said out loud: "That's brilliant!" and thought, not out loud: "I have to remember that.". Do you think I have any idea what was so brilliant that I repeated it to myself 3-4 times before promptly falling back asleep?

No.

All I remember is that I did, in fact, say "That's brilliant" and that I needed to remember what it was. And it drives me mad that I can not for the life of me remember. It's not even on the edge of my brain.

Do you know what I'm talking about-on the edge of your brain? I distinctly remember the very first time I had that feeling. I was young-probably around 8 or so because I had one little sister who was a toddler-and it was warm out, but not hot. Our house was still yellow and we still had those ugly bushes with the pretty (poisonous) berries. They looked like red currants but were squishier. Anyway-I there I was, about 8, standing outside the yellow house, standing by the ugly bushes with the pretty (poisonous) berries and I couldn't remember how to solve a puzzle we tried in school.

I remember closing my eyes and being able to see the puzzle (it was a 3D one, a type of wooden block thingy) but not being able to walk all the way through the steps. There was a particular "trick" at the end of the line that was the magic key to unlocking this puzzle and though I knew what it was, I couldn't remember it or picture it.

But it was right there-on the edge of my brain.

I never did remember how to solve that puzzle and being that I was so young, I forgot about it the next day and probably went on to something more intriguing in the classroom or maybe it was four square.

Four square was a good distraction.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Randomivity


I'm tanner than I've ever been in my life...well, maybe not when I was a kid. I had a major Coppertone tan going back then! Being unemployed during the summer won't be nearly as bad as it was in the winter...

I'd still take a job over the beach any day. As long as I had a day or two off to go sit in the sand then!

I got hired at my old job in June. Maybe other companies will need people in June and I'll get a job and will be able to buy myself a birthday present in July.

Red Sox/Yankee game at the new stadium on Monday. I'm pretty excited to be going, and also nervous I'll get beat up. I will be wearing my Red Sox shirt and I am sure I will forget and cheer loudly, or at least say "YES!" a few times.

Black raspberry ice cream on a sugar cone sometimes makes everything OK.

Red wine helps too. :)

Outta sight, outta mind, I guess.

I have a flat butt. My pants always sag in the butt and it's now worse because I lost some weight. All of it in the butt.

LOL. I said in the butt.

I always forget to do my dishes because I hardly ever go in my kitchen. I walked in yesterday and was shocked to see the pile that had accumulated. Guess what's on my list today? At least it's raining.

Only 18 more days until Florida! I'm planning on spending LOTS of time at the pool. There's a pool slide too. That'll be fun.

It's scary out there. I hope it ends soon. For good.

I said something out loud the other day that I've never admitted to people. It made me very sad to say it to others because in my heart, I'm prepping them for it to be the truth. And the truth is sad.

I discovered that I have a few lurkers. If you feel up to it, drop a comment to say hi! I'd love to know your names.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Menu Preview: Week 3

This week has already started but I thought I'd post what I'm making this week. I'll post the best recipe of the week on Thursday or Friday.

Tuesday:
Herbed Chicken w/ Veggies. (Carrots, pearl onions & mushrooms)

Wednesday:
Ratatouille w/ (farm fresh) Sausage

Thursday:
Mustard Roasted Fish (Probably snapper-I have to buy it Thursday)
Dilled Fingerling Potatoes
Roasted Asparagus

Dessert: Peach Cobbler

I can tell you already that the chicken was really good. The sauce it produced was delicious-if I were here at home or with friends, I would have loved to sop that stuff up with some bread. Mmmmm....

Anyway, there it is. Nothing really out of the park this week, but still tasty, good food.

Toosdae

Hi everyone! I'm sorry I took the day off yesterday-I drove down to CT on Sunday to spend the very nice day by the pool with my family for the season's first BBQ and I drove back yesterday afternoon. I just decided to come home and lay low and didn't feel like thinking of something to blog about. I hope you had a great day and that you enjoy this weeks questions.

1. What's the farthest you've traveled?

2. You're going on a road trip-what one song would you really like to hear?

3. What is your favorite time of day?


1. I've been to France and England.

2. OK. So...I guess I can be honest here, right? You won't judge me...it's No Rain by Blind Melon. It's my favorite song to blast with the windows down while singing at the top of my lungs.

3. I think I really like dinner time-around 6pm-7pm. The day is just winding down, families are coming back together and the sun is laying low. There's opportunity for more fun before bed too, or you can simply sit back with a glass of wine and relax.