Thursday, July 12, 2012

Five-Spice Roasted Sweet Potato and Farro with Balsamic Reduction

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Right now, the best deal at Milk Pail is the 99 cents for four pounds of sweet potatoes. FOUR POUNDS! It's not really sweet potato season, but who can pass up on this deal? I did something super simple to bring out the natural warmness and sweetness of the sweet potato. The five-spice powder consists of fennel seeds, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, and Szechuan peppercorn. These spices really compliment the warm creaminess of roasted sweet potatoes. The Balsamic reduction brightens and sweetens and the chewy nuttiness of the farro brings out its earthiness. It's got great balance and makes for a simple, nutritious side dish.

For this recipe, you will need:
  • 1 medium sweet potato (about 1 pound), peeled and diced to 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 cups cooked farro (if you don't have farro, short grain brown rice would be great here too)
  • 1 tablespoon of five-spice powder
  • 1 cup Balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • chopped green onion or chives for garnish
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Toss sweet potato and five spice powder with olive oil. Make sure the sweet potato is well coated with spices and olive oil. Spread out in an oven proof dish and roast for 30-45 minutes. Gently stir at the half way point. The edges should be browned and the center should be creamy. Remove and set aside to cool. Mix roasted sweet potato with cooked farro.

In a medium non-stick pan, bring Balsamic vinegar to boil, then turn heat to medium low so that the mixture is just simmer. Slowly reduce until the vinegar becomes thickened and syrupy. It should be about 1/3 of it's original volume and thick like molasses. When ready to serve, drizzle balsamic reduction on top of roasted sweet potato and farro mixture and garnish with chopped green onion or chives. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mystery Produce of the Week: Fresh Almonds

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Like raccoons to shiny objects (oooh, shinnnyyyyy), I can't resist a good mystery produce. So when I started grabbing these fuzzy green fruit by the fistful with elbows up and ready to defend my right to the new found mystery produce, an elderly lady came up to me and asked a very simple question, but one that I hadn't considered: "what are you going to do with those?" After muttering something along the lines of "shinnnnyyyyy" and "I dunno," I took these fresh almonds home without knowing much more than that.

My most helpful and knowledgeable friend (google) told me that these can be consumed as-is with some salt if they are very young and have yet formed a hard inner shell. I ate one and found out that, no, mine are not very young and indeed have the inner shell, rendering the fruit almost inedible as-is.

You can clearly see the inner shell that's around the almond.
So to make these edible, my friend told me that I need to crack these open and remove the seed, which are the almonds that we typically buy at grocery stores and remove their waxy skin so to make the almonds edible. It was a labor intensive process and my knife needs to be sharpened after cracking all these hard fruit.

Upper left are almonds after waxy skin has been peeled off. The yellow/brown ones have not been peeled.
After peeling all the almonds, I simply dry toasted them in a non-stick pan until slightly browned and drizzled them with some extra virgin olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. The result was delicious but very hard to describe. The fresh almonds tasted nothing like the store bought variety. They almost have the consistency of coconut meat -- not chewy or crunchy at all, but smooth and fleshy. They are really not like anything that I've tasted before, so it's hard to describe them exactly. But to me, they taste slightly sweet and a little milky but green and bright. (Did I just describe something as green milk?) Try them if you find them in your local market. But you might have to fight me off first.

Grilling and Hiking on Independence Day

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Muggy view of downtown San Jose from Alum Rock Park.
Living in California is awesome 99.9% of the time. The other 0.1% of time, I yearn for more outdoor space so we can enjoy it all by cooking and eating outside all summer long. I'm still buying lottery tickets, but until we hit that jackpot, we have to head out to grill and picnic. It's usually problematic because a lot of the county parks do not have enough dedicated picnic areas or prohibit open flames, but after VB's very diligent searching, we found Alum Rock Park in San Jose. When VB told me that Alum Rock Park is the oldest city park in California, I immediately thought of swing sets and manicured lawn dotting by sad young saplings striving to become great big trees someday. But Alum Rock Park was none of that. It's got trails that lead to majestic view of downtown San Jose, lots of shade from mature trees and, best of all, many grilling and picnic areas.

I prepared some tofu kebobs ahead of time and marinated overnight with a sweet chile sauce, which was made by simply combining 4 chopped Thai red chilies, 1 tablespoon grated ginger, 1 tablespoon grated garlic (about 4 cloves), 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1/2 cup sugar and 1 cup white vinegar.

We also grilled some corn, jalapeno peppers, pineapples and homemade black bean burgers. The black bean burgers were topped with pineapple and jalapeno peppers for a sweet and spicy sandwich.

After lunch, we went on a hike and were treated to great scenery.

But it was getting oppressively hot and I felt the sunscreen melting off my face. So we heat out to Alviso Marina County Park for a change of scenery.

Alviso is an old cannery town by the Bay. Not much is left besides this marina, salt ponds and trains occasionally rolling by on the Amtrak rail. The salty cool breeze was really welcoming after being out in the blazing sun for the whole afternoon.

Happy 4th and hope you had a great Independence Day as well!