Monday, March 26, 2012

Italian Chickpea and Greens Soup and the art of bartering

A Guest Post by Finn the Cooking Assistant (aka the dog picker)

I learned how to barter from my old mentor Abe when I was a puppy. Abe would sprawl across doorways or pull his ancient flaccid body onto chairs just vacated by the Lady or Man. The Man would choose another route, step over Abe, or sit in an uncomfortable chair, but the Lady enticed Abe to move with biscuits, and sometimes only when she resorted to cheese, would Abe open his eyes. The Lady called this "bribing," but I like to call it bartering because we both get what we want in the end.

When my sister Chloe came to live here, she invented a fun game. When we are outside and want to be inside, we to run out to the edge of the yard and bark at the pit bulls next door. We keep barking even if the pit bulls aren't out. Our goal is to get in the house pronto. We occasionally look at the back door and sooner or later the Lady looks out and yells "Stop it!" This is the fun part. We wag our tails as if she's cheering us on and we bark louder, and usually within a few minutes, the Lady returns with a reward for each of us. Once I thought I heard her hiss " you bad dogs!" I ignored this bad loser attitude. I try to repeat this game as often as possible.

Walks also offer an ideal bartering opportunities. On the lookout for delicious treats, I try not to leave my finds until a chip is offered. This too, is a great game, but the lady is often a poor sport and she scolds me

I was allowed to take this find home. Management consistency, I tell you; I'm glad when it works in my favor.

I pout when bartering chips aren't offered. The "sad look" comes easy and I mine it frequently. Being cute is also rewarded.

The word "Wait" will also bring very cool rewards--baby carrots, sticks of celery, brussels sprouts, apple slices and all manner of dog biscuits. Big or small, life is good.

Often the aroma is overwhelming.

And who am I to whine about half-empty or half-full or even an empty bowl? The next phase is handing it to me so I can lick it out.

This snood keeps my ears keeps them from dragging in food as I eat. If you want to know I have many of them, but I don't complain about things Management fusses over. Distractions do not make me lose my focus.

For this soup, the Lady used things from the pantry, the door to which, I'm not allowed to even sniff, but geezer Abe, the Gingerbead Thief, occasionally hit the pantry door just right with his nose and it popped open. What pantry staples Abe finished off in the back of his kennel was a deep secret.

Chickpea Soup with Garlic, Greens and Parsley
(Serves 4 to 6)

A handful of dry mushrooms, soaked in 3 cups boiling water
1 cup dry chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 head garlic, cloves separated, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon dry basil
1 teaspoon dry oregano oregano or rosemary
1 carrot or sweet potato, diced
1 teaspoon sugar or honey (optional)
1 28-ounce can fire roasted tomatoes
1/4 cup sliced olives
4 cups chopped greens, tough stems removed
1 1/2 cups frozen corn or peas
Salt and pepper to taste
Parsley or Parmesan cheese for garnish

1. Soak mushrooms for an hour. Remove mushrooms and chop, then return them to the water.

2. Rinse the chickpeas and set aside. Heat a soup pot or a pressure cooker over medium heat. Add the garlic and oil, stir and saute until garlic begins to brown. Stir in basil, oregano, then add carrot, sweetener (if desired), tomatoes, mushrooms and water, and drained chickpeas.

3. Cover or secure the pressure cooker lid. Simmer for 1 hours or more until chickpeas are tender or bring up to pressure, cook for 12 minutes and allow pressure to release naturally. (Total cooking time is about 20 minutes with the natural cool down.)

3. Stir in the olives, greens, corn or peas and simmer over low until greens are tender. This take about 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley or Parmesan cheese.

All I've got to say is, if you're really going to call this soup Italian, use flatleaf parley. Management happens to be a fan of curly parsley, so maybe they should've called it French Chickpea and Greens soup.

Not sure I'm up for the parsley, but do I get around it?

I'll just take a little off the sides. No one will ever know.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Best Year-Round Fruit Crisp Ever and the Understudy

A Guest Post by Finn the Cooking Assistant (aka the dog picker)

How I chose this recipe:

Much of what Management says isn't worth twitching my ears about, but when talk turned to the recipe of the week, it was time to cast my vote, so I listened. Salads, soups, even pancakes but nothing grabbed me until I heard the word crisp. I immediately recalled the fragrance of sweet apples baking and a cookie like crust so delicious it might make your head spin. I thumped my tail hard against the floor.

"Did you hear me Finn?" the Lady asked, eyeing me. "Where's the fruit?" I blinked my eyes and gazed towards the laundry room. "In the freezer?" she asked.

I got up slowly, stretched and walked into the laundry room. I stood next to the freezer, gazing from freezer to the Lady. Sister Chloe jumped off her chair and followed. She watched me taking it all in.

"Looks like you know what you want," the Lady said, smiling. I knew my strategy would work because I did it recently when she asked where the carrots were kept. The Lady was so impressed, she gave me a free pass to point them out when the refrigerator door is opened.

FYI-- I do know significantly more commands and phrases than I ever let on, but I learned good to mine that dumb or slow basset concept that humans entertain for all you can get.

Chloe is learning how slow brings more rewards. Maybe we should start handing out rewards publically for slow pokes.

Chloe is my sister who came here a few years ago. At first it irritated me because she immediately became my understudy without asking. Chloe is way too desperate and will do anything to get my job. She's always watching and immitating me, waiting for her turn.

Doesn't matter if I give her the evil eye, she continues to dog me.

The Lady has assured me otherwise, but I know Chloe is trying to horn in on my job after all that's what I did a long time ago to another dog.

It's hard to dislike Chloe because like old Badger (above), Chloe likes me and tolerates my camera hogging nature. And she stays out of my way when we walk and always lets me snap up treats first. I've taught her a lot. We've had some great adventures together. I'll tell you about those someday.

Mostly we mouth wrestle and if you haven't tried it it's probably because your snout is too short. I can't help you with that problem. Mouth wrestling is so entertaining, I no longer even pretend to like toys. Balls are for silly retrievers, and seriously, if you need to rip up anothersqueaky toy, maybe you could squeeze in a bit more exercise. I love mouth wrestling because I am the instigator and I always win. Did I mention I am a sore loser?

She jumps into her rocking chair when she gives up. I love to keep needling her, rubbing it in that I won.

Chloe isn't a sore loser.

She's learning to pose.

I have to admit it's a little creepy with someone following and watching your every move and I definitely don't want her to get ideas about taking my place for even one act of this play. Don't count on me leaving this gig until long after dessert is served.

So close, yet so far away.

We used whole wheat flour from Massa Organics, peaches from Rama Farm and blueberries from Rent's Due Ranch for this recipe. As usual I got stuck with the prewash, and I have to say, I love my jobs.

The Best Year-Round Fruit Crisp Recipe
(Serves 6)
Year after year, and fruit after fruit, for the best crisp recipe I return to this recipe from The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook by Jean Hewitt. I adapt it to whatever fruit I'm using, sometimes I use less flour, sometimes less sugar. If you use fruit from your freezer like blueberries or peaches, thaw before baking so the juices can blend with the arrowroot and thicken.

1 to 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1/2 to 1 cup brown sugar (or maple syrup for a crispy cookie-like crust)
1/2 cup unsalted butter or Earth Balance spread

4 to 6 cups fruit (sliced apples, pears, peaches, cherries or berries)
1/2 cup sugar (or a little more, less, or none at all)
1 to 2 tablespoons arrowroot powder (less for apples, more for juicy berries)

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Combine flour, oats, baking powder, and cinnamon. Mix well, then blend in sugar and butter or Earth Balance. Set aside.

3. Blend the fruit, sugar and arrowroot powder in a casserole dish that will serve as a baking dish. If using thawed frozen fruit, drain the juice off and blend the arrowroot powder into the juice. Then pour over the fruit. Place the flour mixture over the fruit and gently pat down.

4. Bake on a baking sheet (to catch drips) until the top is nicely browned--about 45 to 50 minutes. Serve with coconut sorbet or vanilla ice cream.

I couldn't help myself, but the steal was worth it.

Four paws up for this one!

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Muse in the Kitchen, the Power of Music, and the Best Peanut Butter Cookies Ever

A guest post by Finn the Cooking Assistant (aka the dog picker)

Some things that go on in this house are over-the-top silly, but now that I have an official title and a permanent place and in the kitchen, I'm not whining. Of course it's just a little rug and the title is questionable, but anything that brings me closer to the chef on a regular basis and gets me scraps destined for the compost heap has my vote.

"We'll have to think of a song for you," the Lady said one day, when I was digging a comfortable spot on my new memory foam rug. "Every kitchen muse has a song."

What's a muse? I'd wondered. I was tempted to lift my leg and start licking but I refrained. As for music, I was glad to hear the kitchen tunes return. It's a sign we're moving on. Seemed like everything shifted after Abe died. Then Badger passed away and it had been eons since we heard music around here. Abe had been the singer among us (and possibly the last muse in the kitchen as far as I know.) Abe's howl was smooth and beautiful like the Barry White of hounds. Who could match that? Not every hound is a born a singer and to make matters worse, the piped in music also came to a halt when Abe died. So when I heard some of the same songs Abe once sang along with, it was a hopeful sign.

Hopeful, because I'd wanted a permanent pass to the kitchen ever since I came to this house as a puppy. My sister Chloe has never been granted a kitchen pass either, but if being a muse was what I had to do, I was all for it to advance my case. Oh sure every once in awhile I'd grabbed apple slices, plums, carrots and celery stalks left loose, but that was petty stuff. And no one wants to feel like a petty thief in his own home. Mostly, I was shown the door with the excuse that it's too dangerous in the kitchen with sharp knives falling, heavy pots of steaming liquids tipping over and an overfilled refrigerator that tossed out food every time the door opened. I couldn't convince the Lady that I loved danger, but now that the kitchen music returned, the mood shifted.

From my new rug I can gaze up at the framed photos of hounds on the walls. Had they been muses, too? Clearly, they must have loved carrots and celery as much as I do, and when I saw this picture I realized collective wisdom can't be ignored.

Well, not every hound was as sharp as I am and not every photo shoot idea is worth repeating.

And I've already learned that not every source outside the pack could be trusted.

The important part was the hounds of the past lived like royalty, and that's exactly the life I wanted, so I figured it would be best to humor Management when it came to silly song ideas.

The Lady went through songs--classic and alternative. The Duke of Earl (Gene Chandler) was already taken by Abe. Also taken were: Just the Two of Us (Bill Withers), With or Without U (U2), and Don't Matter (Akon). The last of the old dogs, Badger got "Wonderful World" by Sam Cook. I couldn't bear to opt for the obvious--Hound Dog (Elvis Presley) or Birddog (Everly Brothers), besides they were a little degrading. The Lady sang a few songs to me. Let humans go on long enough with their quirky ideas and it soon gets over the top. I once saw a bulldog zipped into an enclosed stroller made for dogs. Now that topped ridiculous in my book, but I digress. The lyrics didn't capture my attention until I heard the word "apple" in You Are the Sunshine of My Life (Stevie Wonder). My ears perked-up, and I wagged my tail thinking we'd actually get to enjoy an apple. But it didn't happen.

"That's it," she'd said, "You picked your song."

I'm not sure Management and I are on the same wavelength about the deeper meaning of song lyrics or the job of a muse, but I did score one of these fabulous cookies, and that's what it's really all about. (to be continued)

A note from Management:

This recipe originated in The Joy of Cooking and I'm transitioning it to gluten-free buckwheat flour one baby step at a time. The tapioca or arrowroot helps hold non-gluten flours together. We used freshly ground flour from Nash's Organic Produce, and since these cookies are treats for humans and my muse in the kitchen needs to watch his weight, this stash is kept safely in the freezer.

The Best Peanut Butter Cookies Ever
(Makes about 60 1 1/2-inch cookies)

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1 tablespoon tapioca or arrowroot flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten or 1/2 mashed ripe banana
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup butter or Earth Balance Spread

1.Preheat oven to 325F. Place parchment paper on baking sheets.

2. Blend flours and baking powder together, mixing well.

3. Combine brown and white sugar, egg or banana, vanilla, peanut butter and butter or Earth Balance in a medium mixing bowl. Mix dry and liquid ingredients until a stiff batter is formed. Take a teaspoon of dough and roll it into a ball. Place on baking sheet. Fill baking sheet, placing cookies about 2-inches apart.

4. Dip a fork into water and press cookies flat making a cross pattern with the fork. Bake cookies for about 15 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly browned. Remove to cooling rack, then stack on a plate.

What happens in the kitchen, stays in the kitchen.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Balzac's Omelette and locavore fare

A guest post by Finn the Cooking Assistant (aka the dog picker)

I used to wonder why we didn't have eggs more often around here. Then one day I overhead the Lady scolding the Man saying, "They're like buying gold. At $7. a dozen, you don't need to eat them every day." The Man is like me. When he likes something he can't stop eating it. He eats an egg almost every morning, and aside from chile rellenos in the summer, an omelet is the only thing that the Man cooks. The Lady humors him but never calls him a one-trick pony.

I not a fan of special occasion food because there isn't anything left on the plate when the feast is over. I know because one of my chores is plate cleaning. Sister Chloe and I wait in our crates until Management finishes eating. I lay on my side as if I could care less, but as soon as the door opens, I become a race horse. I fly to the kitchen, slide across the floor and quickly devour the treasures on the plate. On the day Management has eggs, I get a plate but the Lady tries to fool me with raw carrots and last nights cold dinner.

I'm not a whiner but could I at least have a bite of eggs?

Speaking of eggs, I found this book this past weekend and here's a news flash: there isn't a recipe in the entire book.

I tried to hide my disappointment as the shutter snapped. Let's just say I wouldn't make a great poker player. The Lady said, "Let's take a picture." I have learned exactly where to sit, and I can strike a pose for anything edible, even those delicacies from the yard beyond the human palate. But this was neither. I say we canine food assistants need a union. And FYI I did read this book, but I'm not over sharing my thoughts about it like a human.

What is the point of a review, except to brag that you read a book? Let me just say, aside from the food descriptions, my favorite sentence in the book was this: "At the end of a meal the butler became a stage manager looking after the sets for his play." A butler, that's what I must be because looking after the remains of a meal is what I do. I am a serious food model and am insulted when Management comes up with crazy props like books.

Speaking of modeling, some dogs have asked, "How did I learn such a profession?" I'm sharp, for one thing. Also it helps that people have low expectations of me. Who can't live up to "oh well, they aren't the brightest dogs on the block," kinds of comments. As for modeling, I went to school as a puppy and I learned my one trick so quickly we left before graduation.

Life is a breeze when expectations are low.

I'll tell you the story of how I learned my "trick."

Dog School and the One Trick Pony

I was doing just fine as a pup in this house, the geezer dogs in residence taught me the basics. My mentor Abe taught me to check every last cupboard door, pocket and bag until I find something edible. Sweatshirts with pockets are often streaked with my inquiries. And when someone leaves a plate unattended, Abe taught me to quickly clean it. Badger showed me how to make off with food from market bags and reminded me to eat as fast as I can so I can check another dog's plate. I also learned to be an emotional sponge for the Lady who over shares every problem, and let me just say it appears she has a boatload with all the hugs I get.

You'd think that's plenty, but humans are difficult to satisfy, and years ago the Lady insisted I attend something called "dog school." I had no say in the matter, so I went along with the program.

We drove to the dog school, which was a building in a park. I had no idea the humiliation that was coming my way as I hung my head out the window, letting the wind whip my ears back. When we arrived, the Lady and I joined a group of humans and dogs all attached to each other with leashes. I'd thought it was some kind of party, but I was forced to sit on a little towel, waiting for biscuits to be doled out. I wondered when we'd get to the "fun" part the Lady had promised but we never did.

We returned the next few weeks and it was always the same. The treats were excellent but the Lady was always very stingy. I was afraid the Lady wasn't learning anything and then one day the instructor came over said something to me. She held a biscuit over my nose and I leaped for it. She wasn't a good sport. She jerked my leash hard and snapped the biscuit away and she said, "Wait."

I leaped again. The same thing happened. I finally gave up, and wouldn't you know, the woman suddenly handed me a biscuit and said, "Good boy!" It was an epiphany for the lady. She'd finally learned something.

We didn't go back to the class again. Instead, we practiced "Wait." It was a great game, and I say, if you learn one good trick in life, it's enough. And it's more than enough when people have low expectations. I learned if I put my nose on the food, no one else was likely to claim it, either. Don't get me wrong, this is no easy skill, and Management reviewed it with me frequently. I got so good at it, I can now balance and hold a biscuit on my nose and snatch it in mid air. We didn't finish dog school, but we were only there for one trick.

I prefer to stare at food and wait, but I can wait anywhere, and here is what I've learned about humans in just one word--inconsistent.

For example, sometimes the location selection is puzzling. And I wonder what is the point of photos without food? Check this one: It's unsafe to roam the streets unattached to a human and a leash, but it's okay to pose for a touristy shot on the railroad tracks? Seriously, it's not just the politicians in this country who are inconsistent. (to be continued)

I digress. Back to the omelet and the recipe.

This one takes inspiration from Whatcom Locavore Nancy Ging. I read through all the recipes here. Oh how I'd love lick the crumbs from Nancy Ging's kitchen floor!

Her recipes come with a stand and a little calendar and each month has a recipe that features foods from Whatcom Country, Washington.

This was the recipe for January. The two main ingredients are eggs and shiitake mushrooms, from Cascadia Mushrooms. All I found in the market bags this week were greens, potatoes, eggs and shiitake mushrooms. Where were the carrots? It's a good thing spring is just around the corner.

It's sad when I'm the one considered slow and not very bright, yet I'm always waiting for someone who is chronically late with whatever food she mentions. Where is the food for this shot?

Also it isn't fair that I'm the labeled a one-trick pony when look who only cooks one thing in the kitchen. Plus everyone must leave the kitchen while the Man concentrates on his one trick. If I had thumbs I'd have more tricks than he does.

Tom's Mushroom Omelet (adapted from Whatcom Locavore)
(Serves 2)

2 cups sliced mushrooms, for shiitaki remove stems if large and save for stock
1to 2 tablespoons canola or extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 to 3 cloves peeled garlic, sliced
4 extra large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons water or milk
Chopped Mama Lil's Peppers to taste, or a pinch of ground chile powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
Chopped cilantro (optional)
Chopped avocado (optional)

1. Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Dry fry the shiitaki mushrooms until they soften. The mushrooms won't lose as much moisture as button or crimini mushrooms.

2. Add half the oil, onion, red pepper and garlic. Stir and cook over medium-low heat until onions and garlic are lightly browned--6 to 7 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

3. Beat eggs with water or milk. Stir in the Mama Lil's Peppers and sea salt. Heat the oil in the skillet over medium heat. Pour in the egg mixture and cook until the bottom begins to set. Using the spatula, gently lift the edges and tip the pan to allow the egg for pour underneath. Continue until there is no runny egg left. Stop moving the eggs and continue to cook until they are nearly done, but the top is not set and still looks moist.

4. Spoon the mushroom mixture on one half of the eggs. Gently run a spatula under the other half of the eggs and fold over the filling. Cook until the eggs are done, remove from heat. Garnish with salsa. Sprinkle with cilantro and avocado, if desired.

Toast bones again. Who was that jerk who coined the phrase 'beggers can't be choosy"?