gettin’ your freekeh on

If I ran analysis and crunched numbers, I could tell you exactly how many food for fun recipes are “healthy” and how many not so much. But since running analysis and crunching numbers sounds a bit dry, I’ll just say that the “better for the soul than your waistline” recipes found here far outnumber the “good for you” recipes.

Yet. If this blog more accurately reflected how I cook, it would offer a better balance. While I love my sweets (and my cocktails), the meals I make tend to showcase whole grains, veggies, lean proteins, etc. That said, the sweet stuff garners more attention (and generally seems more fun), so I don’t often include main dishes here. But today I will.

Epicurious.com‘s recipes grace my email box daily and today’s caught my attention. I’d just been thinking supper possibilities as I opened the email and Stir-Fried Buckwheat sounded good. With a bag of buckwheat groats already in my freezer (or so I thought), this recipe would make a healthy vegetarian entrée.

What intrigued me most was how the grains were cooked. First, they were mixed with an egg, then toasted for a brief time in a large saucepan. Vegetable broth was added and the grain simmered 15 or so minutes until the broth was absorbed. The cooked grain was then spread out on a baking sheet, each kernel separated as much as possible for cooling. When added to the stir-fried and seasoned veggies, the grains mostly remain separate.

cooling the kernels

cooling the kernels

A quick search of the freezer failed to uncover buckwheat groats, but I found freekah and gave that a go instead. (Do you know freekeh? I first discovered it a year or so ago and figured it as the next quinoa. Billed as cracked green wheat, it’s chewy, slightly sweet, and adds variety to a whole grain repertoire. As for being the next big thing in the grain world, it’s now sold at Costco–a sure sign of being mainstreamed.)

freekah: a young, green cracked wheat

freekah: a young, green cracked wheat

Another change was subbing curry paste for the chile paste as that’s what I had on hand (paste is paste, right?). As well, I didn’t have any green beans, so added color with a handful of chopped fresh mint.

Stir-Fried Freekah

Stir-Fried Freekeh

Nutritionally, it makes a better side than main as it’s all carbs, but a sprinkle of peanuts upped the protein content. Though my girls weren’t impressed, I was. Reminiscent of fried rice, it also had its own personality: warm and slightly salty and savory and herby. I’ll definitely be making it again.

up close and personal

up close and personal

So while food for fun will continue highlighting ice cream, cookies, cakes, bread, adult beverages, and the like, it’ll also serve up the occasional healthy dish. The way I see it, not-so-good-for-you food can be enjoyed (relatively) guilt-free when you’ve filled up on the good stuff first.

dreaming of eggplant and chrysanthemum tea

I met up with an amazing friend this afternoon for a business meeting of sorts. She’s helping me refresh my company’s branding and it’s been a pleasure to see her more often. We met at The Tea House near the University of Minnesota East Bank campus. I came having eaten lunch (and she’d had a lunch meeting before our meeting), so was thinking I’d grab tea and dessert.

The tea part was easy. I ordered the chrysanthemum as it was something I’d never tried. It was a beautiful pale yellow and had a mild floral flavor that was soothing rather than bracing. Our server said it was even better mixed with black and offered to refresh my pot with a hit of the darker tea. He was right–it was a lovely balance of refreshing floral and a deeper, darker brew.

I passed on the dessert when the menu’s photo of Eggplant in Garlic Sauce caught my eye. The photo itself didn’t make my mouth water–a pile of garlic-sauced eggplant isn’t all that attractive. But the thought of eggplant appealed. Minnesota has an all-too-brief growing season for produce. Eggplant is fresh and lovely and vibrant at the farmers’ markets from maybe July to September. Come fall, winter, and spring, I go without. Why not give it a whirl at a Chinese restaurant?  (If you’re not a fan of eggplant–and how many people really are?–know that even a veggie-lover like myself couldn’t bring myself to try it until age 30. I fell in love immediately. It may not be too late for you.)

The Tea House’s take on eggplant was full of flavor, though fairly heavy. This veggie’s spongy flesh absorbs oil too well. (Botanically, eggplant is a fruit though it’s considered a vegetable to most.) Eating this plate of spicy, garlicky eggplant started me thinking on summer’s produce and the fun I’ll have once it gets here.

My favorite eggplant fix is to slice it into rounds or “fries,” toss it with a bit of oil and sprinkle of salt, then roast it on a baking sheet at 400°F until it’s tender, maybe 15 minutes? I’ve read recommendations to salt and drain eggplant, then rinse before using as this helps remove any bitterness in the flesh. Because I’ve found only older, larger eggplants to be bitter, I usually skip this step when I have a younger and smaller eggplant. I also usually don’t bother to peel eggplant as it seems like more work than it’s worth. Although using a vegetable peeler to take off strips of peel every 1/2 inch or so around the fruit makes for striking presentation. With this winter’s unseasonably warm temperatures, garden-fresh eggplant may be closer than I think.

eggplant in garlic sauce and chrysanthemum tea at The Tea House

family moments: popovers, pizza, frozen yogurt

Family time–while lovely in theory–can be rough in practice. I remember taking the girls to our community pjs and Santa event when they were 4ish and maybe just 9 months. By the time we got two pajama-clad girls into the car, everyone was mad at each other. It had been stressful getting the girls ready and I remember wondering if it was even worth it to go. No one was feeling festive–we were crabby and it probably would have been better to just stay home and put everyone (mom and dad included) to bed. But we had planned to see Santa with the girls that night and we were forging ahead. The night was mostly a disaster. Too crowded, too noisy, too late at night, and both girls cried just looking at Santa. Despite these disasters (and there have been many), we continue pursuing those perfect and ideal family moments.

Today, we hit the jackpot. A downtown library was showing a children’s film fest, so we took the girls. My husband, a library junkie, hit the stacks while the girls and I enjoyed five subtitled foreign film shorts. I took a quick walk through cookbooks and found entire shelves devoted to bourbon and other spirits (more about bourbon later). We bought a few books at the Friends of the Library bookstore, then walked over to Macy’s for a great lunch at the tony Oak Grill. We enjoyed a piece of history and some solidly good food: First, Oak Grill’s classic popovers. Then the girls slurped down their chicken veggie soup. I had the same soup with a Meditterranean-ish salad. My husband had a chicken stir-fry. Driving home, I realized we’d had a perfectly lovely morning. No one fought, we didn’t get lost, everyone was happy about the restaurant choice. Somehow we got that ideal family moment. It had just happened. When we left the house that morning, we had no plan outside of hitting the film fest. Everything else just followed.

Tonight I took my 9-year-old to the senior fashion show at a local University. She was wide-eyed as the models strutted the runway and it was fun to support one of her interests. Wandering to Dinkytown after the show, we had wonderfully greasy pizza at Mesa and then played Connect-4 after building frozen yogurt sundaes at Chilly Billy’s.

Will cherish today’s memories as they don’t come around often enough. Will also (try to) remember that forcing these family moments doesn’t make them happen; more often than not, it backfires. Expecting Norman Rockwell-worthy moments is overly optimistic and in the end, usually leads to disappointment and frustration. Tonight, my recipe for that perfect family moment is to pay attention so I can grab on and appreciate when things go right.