The snow has receded, the sun has come out, and the temperatures are headed up (this week, insanely so). These few weeks in the very earliest part of New England’s spring are the time to forget any lingering bitterness about a dreary winter and tap into a natural source of sweetness.
Tapped sugar maples just around the corner from our house
The sunny sides of sugar maples yield a sap that when boiled down (in something like a 40-to-1 ratio) creates a fantastic amber treat: maple syrup. The process is explained nicely by the Boston Globe.
Photo by Clampants (aka Mr. Eating The Week) on flickr
To celebrate this seasonal bounty, we Recipe ReDuxers are “Sticking with Maple Syrup Sweetness” for our March theme. There are myriad ways to add this natural sweetness to meals, and I already had a simple breakfast recipe that mimics the flavors of French toast using maple syrup, cooked barley and a hard-boiled egg. But I decided to add in a few more healthy ingredients – banana and walnut – to really bring it up to Recipe ReDux standards. The result: banana walnut “French toast” barley:
Sometimes, your friends have a new, awesome Friend that you haven’t met yet. This Friend is talked up as the funniest/daringest/best-looking/most-traveled person around, and your friends insist you just have to meet them. So one thing leads to another and a dinner party or kickball game or whatever the kids do these days is arranged, and you finally meet The Friend. But after small talk falls flat, or maybe The Friend rudely snatched the last Pretty Things brew from the fridge, or maybe they just aren’t as good-looking as promised, you’re left wondering what do they see in this Friend? Well, it turns out that I met one of those friends in this fourth installment of Hello, Stranger.
Who failed to meet expectations in this latest round of experimentation with foods I’ve never eaten or prepared myself?
Hemp milk. That’s right – despite all the praise heaped on help milk by other nutrition nerds I know, this just didn’t cut it for me.
Now, I like non-cow milks, don’t get me wrong. And I’m all for foods can boast about their omega fatty acid profiles. So I gave hemp milk several chances to win me over: I bought unsweetened, plain (sweetened), and vanilla, and tried each with my regular cereal, in oatmeal, in chia seed pudding, and straight from the glass. But in every incarnation, this stuff tasted like pressed facial powder (see: Cover Girl or similar), and I just couldn’t get past it. I might be tempted to give it one more go in a smoothie, like this chocolate banana one from The Naked Dish, but it would take a lot of convincing (and a big sale/coupon).
But thankfully, a few tastier foods were also invited to this meet & greet. Follow after the jump to strike up some small talk.
What food blogger – especially one with Obsessive Pun Disorder – wouldn’t love the chance to say they bit off more than they can chew? Thanks (I think?) to Recipe Redux, I had the opportunity to do just that. For November, we Reduxers were charged with using a new whole grain. So I dove right in and tried to modify a recipe I’ve never made before (pan-seared oatmeal) with a grain I’ve never eaten, much less prepared – spelt.
The idea was to modify the sweet breakfast recipe into a savory version that would highlight the richer, mushroom-y flavor of spelt. The result? Well, let’s call it Accidental Spelt Salad, because there were some… structural issues that required a salvage job and a bowl.
I mixed cooked spelt with egg and Dijon mustard and layered it with some Gruyere cheese in the middle. This chilled for about an hour; I then inverted it and cut it into neat little triangles. Alas, here’s where things went south.
We now know that mushrooms are tasty little buggers, adding earthy flavor and filling texture to all kinds of recipes. Nutritional science has also revealed that they are decent sources of B vitamins, copper, and selenium, and a few varieties even boast surprisingly large amounts of vitamin D. But I sometimes wonder, before all that, who first saw a bulbous fuzzy growth atop a pile of decomposing matter and thought, “That belongs in my mouth?”
Maybe we shouldn’t think about that too much, actually; my job of extolling their dietary virtues would become more difficult if we’re fixating on terms like “gilled fungi” or “spore-bearing fruiting body” (thanks, Wikipedia). Instead, let’s focus on melty risotto, savory pancakes, and the recipe that saved my relationship with veggie burgers: pecan mushroom burgers with gorgonzola sauce.
The outermost bands of Tropical Storm Bite Me, East Coast (aka Irene) just rolled into our town, bringing a soft, steady rain that portends much worse to come. Although I’m still not 100% sure where our flashlights are (actually, do we even own more than one?), I hope we’ve prepared enough to face the onslaught. My mettle was already tested earlier this week, as I stared down the threat posed by… THIS:
Polenta with beans and goat cheese
I know, you’re thinking the sudden drop in barometric pressure has addled my brain; I’m certainly not suggesting that bowl is anything comparable to Irene. But my point is that this week’s theme ingredient – polenta – does have a reputation for malice. In almost any recipe, you’ll see lots of warnings about bubbling, spurting polenta leaping out of the pot in an attempt to singe your skin. It’s nailed me a couple times when I wasn’t using an adequately long-handled spoon.
But overall, we’ve otherwise maintained a wary but uneventful kitchen relationship. If you need help easing your fears of polenta, the folks at America’s Test Kitchen have a great how-to video. Many recipes call for the pre-cooked polenta you simply cut into slices, anyway, and that’s never tried to maim me. So I feel safe in recommending this week’s worth of corny recipes (which you’ll find after the jump).
Ready to revisit the strange-foods theme? Last time, I tackled a full week’s worth of ingredients I’d never prepared before – chia seeds, cactus paddles, farro, phyllo, star fruit, sunchokes, and tomatillos. This time, we’re going to have to abandon our strict definitions along the space-time continuum. First, I’ve only got four strangers to introduce; that’s technically not a week’s worth unless it’s shortened by holiday time or a three-day-long blackout. And second, I didn’t actually try these all in just one week, but have been trying things here and there for the last month or so.
But if you can forgive those tweaks to the usual rules, let’s get on with the introductions to amaranth, coconut oil, fiddleheads, and pepino melon. Just head past the jump to meet each of these ingredients, and see the recipes I dug up to feature them.
Quinwhat? Quinoa! The internets will tell you this pseudo-grain – so called because it is the seed of a non-grass – has been around since the Dawn of People Eating Things. But truth be told, I’ve found it’s still a bit of novelty to most people.
Pronounced keen-wah, this sharp-but-earthy-tasting seed is a nutrient powerhouse. It’s full of B vitamins, manganese, magnesium, iron, and fiber. And I recently learned via nutritioulicious that unlike most other grains, quinoa supplies all nine essential amino acids (the ones your body needs but can’t make for itself). Quinoa is also full of gold-plated unicorns. Ahhhh, just kidding (they’re narwhals), but it’s still a pretty impressive food.