Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What is Jicama? Juicy Root, Poison Peas

Would a yam bean by any other name taste as sweet? 

No matter what you call it—Mexican potato, chop suey yam, Juicy Root, poison-pea tuber—(okay, I made those last two up), jicama is a refreshing, crunchy veggie treat.

Fleshy root of a plant that's a member of the pea family, jicama (pronounced HEE-ka-ma) is about as happy-go-lucky as a veggie can get, with a mellow disposition and a texture similar to that of a ripe apple—crisp and juicy, without the slightest hint of mealiness. Peeled and sliced, jicama is tasty out of hand, but it also plays well with others, melding seamlessly into salads both savory and sweet. What's not to love about a veggie so laid-back and versatile?

Funny you should ask: like so many who put on innocent airs, jicama actually harbors a dark secret...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

When Your Oven Bursts Into Flames (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1)
Mistakes were made, as they say. Here’s a summary:

How to Ignite a Blazing Inferno in Your Oven (Do NOT try this at home.)
  1. Read roasted fish recipe. Note recipe calls for using a shallow roasting pan. Since you do not have a shallow roasting pan, substitute a flat baking sheet instead. 
  2. Place skin-on salmon filets on baking sheet. Pour sick amount of olive oil on salmon filets, per recipe instructions. 
  3. Crank gas oven, with slightly crooked racks, to 500oF. 
  4. Put salmon in oven. Put timer on for five minutes. Turn away for mere seconds. 
  5. Turn back around to see oil pouring off baking sheet onto bottom of oven, fueling robust, foot-tall flames.
Luckily, since hubby put the blaze out with a fire extinguisher, everyone was safe.

Unfortunately, since hubby put the blaze out with a fire extinguisher, our whole kitchen was covered with mildly corrosive fire extinguisher powder. (Including, mysteriously, the contents of our closed cabinets. Since most of our dishes are white, as was the powder, we didn’t figure out that last bit until dinnertime the next day. I’m trying not to think about it too much.)

So I’m now washing every dish in our kitchen and wiping out all the cabinets. (Yup, just me—hubby left town for work, lucky guy.) Every pot, every pan, every dish. And since I have to empty out and clean each cabinet before anything can go back in, my kitchen pretty much looks like a disaster:

And I’m only about a quarter of the way done.

It kind of makes me want to weep (hence the Easter candy). Having the kitchen upside down also precludes making veggies, which is really cramping my Veggie Quest style. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer before the quest resumes.

Have any tips for cleaning up after a fire extinguisher? Be merciful and leave a comment!

When Your Oven Bursts Into Flames (Part 1)

As I’m typing, I realize that my keyboard, like almost everything else in my house, is covered with a faint coating of fire extinguisher powder. So I stop, dust it, wipe it down with a wet rag, dry it, and continue.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve repeated a similar process with other items in my apartment in the past few days. I’m trying not to let it get to me, though—I’m medicating with a strict regimen of Cadbury Mini Eggs and self-pity.

So far it’s (mostly) working.

The best-laid plans
Wednesday dinner started out innocently enough with a plan for a lovely salmon salad to accompany the arugula I’d blogged about earlier in the evening. I was hoping to make the salad with freshly baked fish; it tastes so much better that way.

However, after finishing off my arugula post, I took a break to call my mom. When hubby came home from work, Mom and I were deep in conversation, so I grabbed the Joy of Cooking and flipped through it trying to find the slow-baked salmon recipe that I usually use. In my distraction, I couldn’t find it, but I did find a roasted fish recipe that required only ten minutes in the oven. Bingo! I held the book open to Jeff, pointed at the recipe, and gestured at the fridge.

Hubby, through his psychic spousal powers, nodded his understanding and headed for the kitchen. (I do have the world’s best husband!) I heard promising pan-clanging noises coming from the kitchen when I hung up a few minutes later, and decided to squeeze in a little more computer time before pitching in with dinner.

I was zooming through my email when Jeff yelled for me.


Where there’s smoke…
I snapped to attention, and in so doing became aware of a fog of smoke hanging just beneath the ceiling. I leapt up about the time the smoke detector started screaming, which inevitably triggers my dog to make this banshee shrieking noise that she saves especially for when the smoke alarm is going off. (Our house a zoo anytime we burn anything.)

Hustling into the kitchen, I quickly realized this was no minor, I-charred-something-a-little kind of incident. Thick smoke was billowing out of the oven, and my husband was standing in front of it, looking perplexed.

“It’s on fire.” hubby said, pointing at the oven, with a tinge of panic in his voice. The blaring alarm and shrieking dog almost drowned him out.

“Turn it off!” I hollered over the smoke alarm/dog. “Shut the oven door shut and let it burn itself out!”

Jeff gingerly turned the knob to shut off the heat. “Le, it’s still really on fire.” His voice was rising. “This much smoke could set the building alarm off. I’m putting it out with the fire extinguisher.”

He had a point. Flames were roaring in the oven and smoke was pouring over the top of the closed oven door like water rushing over a dam. Perhaps we were past “letting it burn itself out.” I had a terrible vision of the apartment building being evacuated, sprinklers engaging and soaking the neighbors’ furniture and electronics, the fire department descending on the building in a blare of sirens.

“Okay then,” I urged him, “put it out.” He scrambled for the extinguisher while I went tearing around the apartment throwing open windows to air the smoke. On the last window, I heard Jeff loudly talking himself through the steps.

Jeff's recreation of the fire just before putting it out.
“Pull pin.”


Phwwwwhhok!  (Yeah, that IS what a fire extinguisher sounds like.)

I ran back to the kitchen in time to see a wispily smoking oven, a cloud of whitish powder floating on the air, and relieved husband who looked a little like Venkman after the battle with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. (Minus the proton pack.)

Eventually we shut off the smoke alarm (and subsequently the dog), cleared the air of fire extinguisher powder and smoke, and showed the recalcitrant, fire-starting fishie who was boss by ordering sushi.

So, what caused the drama in the first place?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Midweek Dash: Baby Arugula Salad with White Wine Vinaigrette

In a sure sign of spring, tubs of baby arugula have appeared in my grocer's refrigerator case! (And probably at my farmers market too, should I get motivated enough to hoof it over there this Saturday.)

Another sure sign of spring is the return of the doves that canoodle shamelessly on my windowsill, presumably in a bid to make yet more doves.

Get a room, you two.
Now, back to arugula: my favorite way to enjoy those tender, buttery greens is to toss them with my sister-in-law Lauren's white wine and Dijon mustard vinaigrette. (Life Changing Dressing, as she calls it; an apt nameit's really good).You can find the recipe on her blog, I Love You, Now Eat This

A half-batch of her vinaigrette is more than sufficient for four large salads. Just measure the dressing ingredients into a jam jar, pop a lid on it, and shake. (Or you could whisk the ingredients together with a fork, but that's hardly as dramatic.) Presto! Ridiculously tasty dressing in two minutes flat. Toss with baby arugula and grape tomatoes for a salad even fresher than the doves outside my window!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

When Baguettes Attack

While making zucchini gazpacho last week, I decided to toast up some last-minute crostini to serve alongside it. I thought the crostini-gazpacho combo would make a pretty picture for the blog while using up the end of the baguette left over from roasted garlic night. I felt very Martha Stewart.

So, in a hurry as usual, I reached into the bread's skinny brown bag to grab the remaining half-loaf—and sliced myself open on the cut end of the stale baguette! Not on a knife, not even on the paper bag—but on the bread itself. (I am multi-talented.) 

What you see

What I see
I didn’t document the actual carnage, but suffice it to say that blood was shed, and it wasn’t the baguette’s.

What’s even sadder is that when I snapped some pictures of the offending bread-end for Veggie Quest, upon closer inspection, I realized I’d actually wounded myself on a friendly-aquatic-animal baguette.

See? Definitely a laughing sea turtle. (Or a demented one; it’s hard to know.)
So whether or not your stale baguette looks like a jolly marine reptile, if you get the big idea to repurpose it for crostini, or croutons, or whatever—well, you’ve been warned.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Roasted Purple Potatoes: The End of the Veggie Rainbow

Despite the extra time I put in over the last seven days for Eat the Veggie Rainbow Week, I think I'm actually going to miss it. (At least a little.) While I'm ready to get back to some of my regularly scheduled vegetables, eating by color was a great way to stretch my veggie boundaries and enjoy some culinary eye candy. Plus, having consumed all those plant pigments, I feel healthier alreadyanthocyanins and cartenoids and chlorophylls, oh my!

Speaking of plant pigments, finding a blue/indigo/violet veggie besides red cabbage (which seemed too predictable) to wrap up the week was definitely a challenge: the only one that came to mind was the illustrious purple potato! (Okay, and eggplant, but that doesn't stay purple after you cook it.) Of course, a quick ex post facto internet search revealed that carrots, kohlrabi, and asparagus all come in purple, toomaybe I'll give one of those a go next year.

As for this year, I learned that purple potatoes are a bit of a niche veggieI had to drive thirty minutes to Balducci's to find them! But they're so goshdarned pretty that I'll certainly be making them again (especially if they magically show up—on sale—at my neighborhood grocery store or farmer's market).

I can't say I've ever made purple potatoes before, so I read up a bit before preparing them to avoid any surprises. (Like anyone can really do that when cooking's involved!) Apparently amethyst spuds cook up just like any other potatoes, although I read one place that boiling blue potatoes can make them turn gray (yep, blue potatoeswho knew?). So be on the safe side, I decided to stick with roasting.

Roasted Purple Fingerling Potatoes with Rosemary

I found potato roasting time and temperature guidelines in Perfect Vegetables, the go-to guide by the editors of Cook's Illustrated (although I found that my potatoes didn't need to go for quite as long as they suggested). Since I love rosemary with potatoes, but didn't have any fresh on hand, I used dry, per the Roasted Rosemary-Onion Potatoes recipe in Betty Crocker's Cookbook (yep, the Big Red one). Still pretty....tasty.

Prep time: 50 minutes (10 minutes hands-on)         Serves: 2 (generously) 

1 pound purple fingerling potatoes (or other small purple potatoes)
1½ Tbsp olive oil (no need to be precise) cooking spray (I use olive oil in a Misto)
1½ tsp dried rosemary
¼ tsp salt sprinkle of salt (to taste)
freshly ground black pepper (to taste) 

Preheat the oven to 425oF.

Wash, scrub, and dry potatoes. Admire their pretty color (you probably paid extra for it). 

I snapped this while the potatoes were still wet. Gorgeous!

Cut potatoes into ¾-inch pieces. Admire their pretty inner color. (Milk those grocery $$$!)

In a medium bowl, toss potatoes first with olive oil a spritz of cooking spray, then with rosemary, salt, and pepper.

Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet (nonstick works well), and cover tightly with foil. 

Roast for 20 minutes covered, then uncover and roast for 10 minutes more. Flip the potatoes over with a spatula and roast for another 5-10 minutes, until they're as crispy as you like them. Serve straight out of the oven. 

Admire that gorgeous amethyst color one last time. Dig in! 

NOTE: This recipe has been updated as of 8-6-13 to decrease the fat and salt content. To your health!