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I'm proud to announce that A Good Cooker is writing for Whidbey Life Magazine nowadays!  Stop on by to read about the fabulous food happenings on beautiful Whidbey Island and/or sign up for the free newsletter to receive weekly updates... 

I'm still tweeting as @agoodcooker if you care to follow my (almost) daily food rantings, tidbits, and funnies!  

Sloppy Ro*tels

I recently tweeted about a pasta salad I made with a can of Ro*tel Tomatoes, and Ro*tel heard about it…and sent me a sample of their new Zesty Tomato and Green Chili Sauce (Mild).

A taste-test was obviously in order, so I sorted through the stack of delicious sounding recipe suggestions Ro*tel packed in the box but couldn’t make up my mind.  Would it be the Spicy Chicken Enchiladas or the beef?  Maybe the Mexican Cornbread Casserole?  I couldn’t decide which one.  I knew I wanted to use it in something that would feature the taste so I could make a fair assessment of the flavors.  But what?

Then, I hit upon a great idea.  I would make my regular sloppy joes and substitute my plain tomato sauce with the Ro*tel sauce.  I mixed up the meat and prepared to serve the sandwiches, but...the green chilies in the sauce gave the meat a mild tacoey-tasting flavor unlike my run-of-the-mill joes, so I felt inspired to top each with shredded Tillamook cheddar and lettuce.  After that small adjustment, I took them to the table and waited for the jury to assess the results.

I honestly didn’t think such a small change would make such a big difference, but they loved it.  Absolutely loved it...and asked when I would make it again.  The new Ro*tel sauce was a hit!

Will I purchase this Ro*tel Zesty Tomato and Green Chili Sauce?  Definitely.  Will I try the spicier “Original” version?  Oh, most certainly.  Should you try it?  Yes!

1lb ground beef
1 8ox can Mild or Original Ro*tel Zesty Tomato and Green Chili Sauce
1T tomato paste
1/4c water
2T fine bread crumbs
1T Worcestershire sauce
1t onion powder
1t garlic powder
2t sugar
1t salt (more or less to taste)

3oz shredded cheese
1c shredded lettuce
6 toasted hamburger buns

-Brown and drain hamburger
-Stir in sauce, paste, water, bread crumbs, and spices.  Simmer until thickened.
-Divide meat mixture among buns
-Top with cheese and lettuce
-Eat and enjoy!

Roasted and Toasted

I was strolling through the produce section and spied big, gorgeous heads of cauliflower.  According to the World’s Healthiest Food website, cauliflower and the other veggies in the Brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, collards, kale, rutabagas, turnips, arugula, radishes, and more) should be eaten 4-5 times a week due to their fabulous cancer fighting, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, cardiac health, and detox abilities (not to mention that one cup of cauliflower also has almost a day’s worth of Vitamin C).

Yes, roasted cauliflower soup would be perfect for dinner as a side for my delicious cheese bread.  (I know the bread is supposed to be the side, but my family is so enamored with this new style of bread I’ve been making, they more often than not put it in the center of the table and the main course over at the edge).

Below is a recipe for the rich and thick, nutritious and delicious soup I made…and a few pictures! (I’ve been hearing my blog needs more pictures…so here they are.  While you are cooking, please excuse me while I go clean the flour off my camera…)

Roasted Cauliflower Soup
Roast Cauliflower Ingredients:
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
2T extra virgin olive oil
6 whole cloves garlic
1t salt
1t fresh ground black pepper
1/4t fresh grated nutmeg (love my Microplane grater!) 

-Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to coat cauliflower.

-Roast in single layer on parchment-lined cookie sheet in 450 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until cauliflower is soft and browned.

Soup Ingredients:
1 medium onion, finely diced
1T olive oil
1T butter
3T flour
2c chicken stock (homemade!)
1c milk (or half-n-half for a richer soup - I used milk)
3T sherry

-Add olive oil and butter to large sauce pan over med heat until bubbly.
-Reduce heat to med-low and saute onion until soft and golden (about 10 minutes). 
-Sprinkle flour over onions and stir for 1-2 minutes until completely combined and bubbly. 
-Add stock and milk all at once and whisk constantly over medium heat just until thickened. 
-Remove from heat. 
-Add cauliflower and puree with hand mixer until smooth (taking care not to splash hot soup on your neck like I did last night).
-Adjust salt and pepper as necessary.
-Stir in sherry (more or less to taste).
-Eat and enjoy! (Makes four servings)

I served our soup with homemade Artisan Bread in Five Minutes cheese bread (made with Tillamook cheddar) topped with grated Tillamook Garlic White Cheddar and toasted under the broiler until bubbly and golden!

A 'choke by any other name

I went to our local farmer’s market on Saturday determined to find something new.  The first thing that caught my eye was a bin of Jerusalem artichokes (also known as sunchokes or earth apples).  Not only had I never eaten them or cooked with them, I'd never even seen one in person.  I picked out a pound of the ginger looking vegetables and brought them home. (They do look like ginger, don't they?)

 Photo by Susan Wenzel

I sent out an APB for recipes on twitter and found a real winner on Saffron & Honey’s blog.  She suggested I try her Jerusalem artichokes with garlic, rosemary, and chives.  I just happened to have a ton of beautiful rosemary and decided to cook up a batch.

Photo by Susan Wenzel

I followed her recipe but used regular garlic (instead of Elephant garlic because that’s what I had) and completely forgot about the bay leaves she suggests.  Nonetheless, they were delicious – crispy and flavorful and a texture akin to nothing I’ve ever had before (ok, maybe they were a little bit like fresh water chestnuts).  Everyone loved them – even the picky eaters – and asked when we can have them again.  I insist you check out the recipe if you have a pile of ‘chokes and no idea what to do with them.  Or, even better, make a point of buying some and trying them.  
But, now that I knew how to cook them (further perusal indicates they play like any other root veggie - stewed, mashed, pureed), I had to find out WHAT they were.  

Ok, first thing…they are not the same thing as the regular pine cone looking artichokes (Cynara cardunculus).  Second…they have nothing to do with Jerusalem.  Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) are actually the tuber of a type of sunflower.  The aforementioned green, spiky artichokes are closely related to thistles (which explains their prickly appearance).  However…both artichokes and Jerusalem artichokes are in the daisy family (Asteraceae) along with dahlias, Echinacea, chrysanthemums, zinnias, and iceberg lettuce.  But, I digress…

The name still stumps me.  Some say the second half of the name is because these taste like the thistle-related artichoke, but I don’t buy it.  I also read that the Jerusalem part is, in theory, based on an age-old mispronunciation.  Girasole is the Italian word for sunflower and sounds like “Jerusalem” – sorta.  But, I don’t necessarily believe that either.  The name "sunchoke" makes more sense...because of the whole sunflower thing...but still...

Never mind why they are called what they are…I’ll just call them delicious!

PS - I've always vowed to be 100% honest about everything I write, so be forewarned...sunchokes are rich in vitamin C, phosphorus, potassium, and inulin.  Inulin is an...ahem...potent source of dietary fiber.  Which means these are healthy for your intestines...if you catch wind of what I am trying to say.  

Meatless Magic Meal

I was cold and wanted a simple supper that would warm me to the core.  I wanted easy and satisfying, and I wanted flavor and nutrition.  Oh, and it had to be something everyone would enjoy.   You may think this a steep list of demands for a one-pot dish, but, believe it or not, Kitchri magically fits the bill.

Kitchri is an Indian dish consisting of red lentils and basmati rice – and not a whole lot more.  It gets its flavor from fried onions and garam masala.  Garam masala is an Indian spice blend traditionally containing coriander, cumin, black peppercorns, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
This Spice House carries my usual blend in its whole and ground forms. Theirs uses Moroccan coriander, cardamom from Tamil Nadu, India, Tellicherry pepper, cinnamon, kalonji (aka black cumin) caraway, Zanzibar cloves, China #1 ginger and nutmeg.  (I buy the whole and grind it myself in my spice grinder – aka cheap coffee grinder – on an as needed basis).

I assembled my ingredients and discovered…I was out of the aforementioned seasoning staple.  But…all was not lost.  I happened to have some newly purchased Ras El Hanout.  My cousin, Peter, fell in love with this Middle Eastern spice blend when he was in Morocco with the Peace Corps and, at one point, suggested I give it a try.  Thank goodness I did or my perfect dinner idea would have to be scratched.
Ras El Hanout, translated as “Top of the Shop,” is typically made from the best of the spices the merchant has to offer (hence the name).  It contains a range of flavorful ingredients.  My Spice House version is packed with Tellicherry black pepper, cardamom, salt, ginger, cinnamon, mace, turmeric, allspice, nutmeg, and saffron.  It was close enough for me and for my kitchri (but probably my old Indian grandmother – if I had one).

The recipe follows, but please note - only long grain basmati rice will do.  Short grain rice will not break down into the texture required for this dish and instant rice...yuck.  Don't even get me started on that. 

A great (and permissible) shortcut can be found in the aisles of many Asian and Middle Eastern grocery stores.  Instead of frying two onions in the butter (or ghee), sometimes I use half a cup of fried onions - and not the one's used on green bean casserole.  These are sold also as "fried shallots" or Bawang Goreng.  They are usually only a couple of bucks for a poundish (500g) bag and work nicely in a pinch.   

1c basmati rice (no substitutions on this one!)
1c red lentils
2T butter (or ghee if you have it)
2 onions sliced thin (or .5c fried onions)
5.5c hot water
2-3t salt (to taste)
1.5t garam masala (ground)

-Rinse lentils removing any bad ones or impurities and set aside
-Melt butter in large stock pot over med heat.  When bubbly, add onions (if using) and cook until browned.
-Add rice and lentils and stir constantly for 3 minutes
-Add salt and garam masala (and fried onions if using instead of fresh)
-Turn heat to med-high and add hot water all at once (beware of the hot burst of steam) and give a quick stir.
-Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low.
-DO NOT peak, stir, maim, or harass for 25 minutes until lentils and rice are cooked.
-Stir rapidly to achieve smooth, porridge consistency (add .5c more hot water and cook on low 10 more minutes for softer texture if desired)
-Eat and enjoy!

The flavor might not have been exactly authentic, but the Ras El Hanout was an excellent substitute and had the exotic flavor I craved.  Oh…and as a bonus, it is meat free! 

A Good Cooker’s Food Review – 2

Nutrition is out the window on this one.  I just tried Philadelphia Dark Chocolate Indulgence.  I don’t want to know if it’s good for me or bad for me – I just know it is delicious!  

I wasn’t even looking for it.  As a matter of fact, now I don’t remember what I was looking for…but I saw this yummy cream cheese spread (along with milk chocolate and white chocolate flavors) nestled in the cooler at the grocery story somewhere between the cheese slices and the cans of biscuits and knew I had to give it a try.  At $1.99 for an eight ounce tub, it seemed like a steal.  A fifty cent off coupon sealed the deal.

Apparently, this new product has a fan (short for FANATIC!!) following.  I was at the self checkout when the clerk actually RAN over to me to ask if I’d ever tried the tub-o-chocolate lusciousness before and, after I said no, proceeded to sing the praises of the white chocolate version paired with strawberries the entire time I was ringing up my groceries.

I was so intrigued by her exuberant praises that I could barely wait to get home and give it a try.  Fortunately, I had a bunch of ripe bananas ready to carry the bliss to my taste buds – and bliss it was.  The sweet (but not cloying) chocolate paired nicely with the tang of the cream cheese.  It reminded me of chocolate cheese cake (which I love dearly – not a fan of regular, though) but was far lighter in taste and texture.  It spreads easily and is fit for a snack - salty or sweet (pretzels dipped in it are to die for).  I even put a light smear on my breakfast pancake this morning.  Wow.
Will I buy it again?  Most likely.  Will I try the other flavors?  Maybe.  Should you get some for yourself?  Definitely!
(PS – I only has a handful more calories than regular cream cheese, no more fat, a little more sugar but half the cholesterol and less sodium.  Here’s how they compare per 2T serving: Philadelphia Dark Chocolate Indulgence – 7g fat, 110 calories (60 from fat), 10g sugars, 10g cholesterol, 75mg sodium.  Regular Philly Cream Cheese – 7g fat, 80 calories (70 from fat), 1g sugar, 20g cholesterol, 125mg sodium)

Spring Break Out the Fat Pants – Part 2

As promised, here’s a bit more about our Spring Break trip - a stop at the fabled Tillamook Cheese Factory.

Photo by Susan Wenzel

Tillamook cheese is sold throughout the United States, but their products are undeniably local favorites here in the Pacific Northwest – especially their award winning medium cheddar cheese.  My mother-in-law insists only it will do in her amazing chicken, broccoli, and cheese crêpes, and I agree.  So, it was only natural that I too fell under the spell of their cheese, butter, sour cream, ice cream (40 flavors – give or take), and yogurt (Baked Apple Pie and Banana Vanilla are my kids’ favorites) shortly after moving back to Washington State. 

And, after hearing what fun others had at the cheese factory, we knew a stop to see where these dairy delights were made would be included in our road trip through Oregon - and why not, travel = food in our family, right?  (When we went to Hawaii this last time, one of our first stops was the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut plantation!) 

Photo by Susan Wenzel

After our visit to VooDoo Doughnuts in Portland and a couple days staying with family near Salem, we headed west.  My kids counted off the miles that morning until they finally spied the huge yellow sign welcoming us to our next culinary destination. 

Photo by Susan Wenzel

Once inside the factory, our first stop was the self-guided tour where we saw the cheese go from raw milk (courtesy of the 100+ local farms comprising the Tillamook County Creamery Association) to blocks of curds and finally chopped into the familiar, red wrapped, two-pound loaves.  As an organic milk convert, I was pleased to learn that, while Tillamook does not offer organic products, all of the milk they use comes from cows that are NOT TREATED with rBST (a hormone injected into dairy cows to artificially increase milk production) – a fact that is good enough for me. 

Photo by Susan Wenzel

Speaking of facts, here’s an interesting one about cheddar cheese:  did you know it is naturally white and that it has to be colored orange?  Tillamook adds annatto (the seed of the tropical achiote tree used almost exclusively as a natural food dye) to give their cheddar its appealing orange tint. 

Photo by Susan Wenzel

The endless conveyer belts of cheese snaking around and around the production room floor made us understandably hungry, so we made our way to the samples…which where delicious (cracked black pepper was exquisite) but only served to whet our appetites.  Conveniently in our path was the café where we perused the menu but all opted to order the oh-so-obvious choice of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.  (I mean, really, what better place?)  

Photo by Susan Wenzel

Maybe it was the waterfall of ooey-gooey cheese pouring out from between the perfectly toasted slices of bread or maybe it was the atmosphere of eating in a cheese factory, but we all agreed they were The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwiches EVER (my stomach is growling just thinking about it) – and the soup was certainly nothing to sneeze at either – it was amazing and only made the sandwich that much better when dipped into its rich red creaminess. 

After lunch, we hit the cheese store and bought an assortment of cheesy goodies – fresh curds, Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar, Garlic White Cheddar, a big block of our favorite medium cheddar, and my true love – Hot Habanera cheese.

Just before we bid adieu to this Disney Land of Cheese, we had to make a final stop – to get Tillamook ice cream, of course.  Between the four of us, we sampled eight flavors and finally left – stuffed but satisfied. 

I didn’t really have to don my fat pants when we got home.  Thankfully all of the hiking along the dazzling Oregon Coast offset the calories – I’m sure.

Photo by Susan Wenzel