March Madness Has Arrived, Crowded Earth Kitchen Style!

We’re giving away TEN FREE BOOKS in March!  You’ll find fiction and nonfiction books, funny and thought-provoking reads, something for everyone… all with a tie-in to great cooking and wellness.  Here’s the scoop on our first reader giveaway – all you need to do is comment on a post!  How easy is that?

Lessons in FrenchFreebie #1:  Lessons in French, by Hilary Reyl

How to Win:  Simply comment on a Crowded Earth Kitchen blog post anytime between now and March 7th to be automatically entered in the giveaway drawing!  While you are welcome to comment as many times as you like, you will be entered in the giveaway drawing up to once per day.

Contest Ends March 7th!  This book has been chosen to correspond with Crowded Earth Kitchen’s “Week in Paris”… watch for fabulous French recipes throughout the week!

REVIEW

Hilary Reyl’s debut novel, Lessons in French, is neither a recipe book nor a travel guide.  That said, I dare you to read this book without feeling an irresistible urge scour through French cookbooks or invest in a plane ticket.  Lessons in French leads readers on a meandering journey through the heady sensory experience that is Paris, while sharing the coming-of-age story of Kate, a young American returning to the scene of difficult childhood years under very different circumstances.  A lesser author might allow the backdrop of the swank Sixth Arrondissement to overwhelm the story, but Reyl builds rich characters and plot layers worthy of both her chosen environment and her doctorate in French Literature.

…and the food, Oh, the food.  Spaghetti with baby clams, red peppers, and bursts of garlic.  Artichoke hearts topped with crème fraiche and served with haricots verts.  Petits fours and pâte feuilletée.  Chestnut profiteroles and omlettes aux bolets.  Turkey with hazelnut and prune stuffing.  Camembert-and-butter baguette sandwiches and Comice pears.  Have you booked your plane ticket yet?

When not distracted by the urge for an epicurean delight, readers will enjoy the peculiar puzzle that is Lydia, Kate’s eccentric employer.  Readers may find their teeth set on edge by Clarence, Lydia’s husband, and Portia, the couple’s grating daughter, while still feeling compelled to read just one more page.  And another.  And another.  As for Olivier, and Bastien, well, you’ll just have to read the book.

Link to the book:  http://www.amazon.com/Lessons-French-Novel-Hilary-Reyl/dp/1451655037

For Love Of Pomegranates

picture267 Crowded Earth Kitchen has featured pomegranates in several recipes this month, and with good reason.  Pomegranates are essentially the perfect winter fruit.  Pomegranates are high in fiber, contain a wealth of vitamins including Vitamins C and K, and are widely considered a “superfood” due to their abundance of antioxidants.  Pomegranates contain a particularly amazing compound called “ellagitannin,” which breaks down to form another amazing compound, “ellagic acid,” in the human body.  Also found in foods such as raspberries, strawberries, and walnuts, ellagic acid has been shown in medical studies to have powerful anti-cancer properties.

Oh, and pomegranates are delicious.  Why wouldn’t they feature prominently in winter recipes?

It occurs to me that I never actually demonstrated what I believe is the easiest, least messy way to open a pomegranate and capture all of those juicy, jewel toned, nutrition packed arils.  My apologies.  Let’s open a pomegranate together and enjoy a simple winter fruit salad, shall we?

Ingredients (makes 1 quart of fruit salad)

1 pomegranate

6 – 8 clementines, tangerines, or oranges

1 peppermint tea bag

picture240Directions

Step 1)  Use a paring knife to score a pomegranate all the way around in a circle, about 1/2 inch from each end.  Use the tip of the paring knife or a finger to gently pull up the leathery skin.  After the ends are loosened, simply pull them off.

picture241Step 2) After the ends are removed, you will be able to see the pattern of the white, pithy membranes inside the pomegranate.  These membranes resemble the white pith found on the insides of oranges.  Use your paring knife to score through the pomegranate skin, end to end, along each section of white membrane.

picture242Step 3) Over a protected work surface, pull your pomegranate apart along the lines you’ve scored.  Notice how there is NO JUICE in this picture.  That’s not a camera trick… careful scoring really will keep all of the juice where it belongs, inside of the arils!

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picture244Step 4) Separate the pomegranate arils.  This is very easy.  Simply lift away the papery white membranes inside of the pomegranate, and the arils will come right off in your hand.  As shown in the photo to the left, one pomegranate contains about 2 cups of tightly packed arils.  That’s a lot of fruit!

picture268Step 5) Combine your pomegranate arils with sectioned clementines, tangerines, or oranges in a pretty bowl.  For maximum flavor, serve your winter fruit salad only slightly chilled.  Ice cold fruit is less flavorful than fruit which has been allowed to warm up a bit!  Garnish your winter fruit salad with a few flecks of peppermint from a tea bag.  Enjoy!

Crowded Earth Kitchen hopes pomegranates become a winter staple in your pantry!

GUEST POST: Brussels Sprouts Chips

Brought to you by Janine!

BSC4I live in Seattle, where sunshine is rarely seen outside of the months of July and August, the nearly constant drizzle does not persuade locals to carry umbrellas, and a half inch of snow will shut the entire city down until it melts.  It is also a city where organic local produce is easy to find, many people have impressive vegetable gardens which produce yields well into the winter months, and outdoor farmers markets run year round in every neighborhood I can think of. Kale, turnips, winter squashes, beets, chard, onions, and Brussels sprouts are all bountiful thanks to the (mostly) temperate conditions. I consider myself lucky to have such a wealth of freshly grown food options at my disposal.  I do often find myself  wondering how much longer I can find creative uses for all these winter vegetables. By the time it’s February, vegetable soup is stale to my palate, and roasted vegetable sides are yesterday’s news.  I need something light. Something crisp. Something fresh. Aha! Most of us in the Pacific Northwest have had our share of kale chips. Here is a fresh take on the light and crunchy green snack: Brussels sprout chips. Enjoy!

BSC1Ingredients

15-20 large Brussels sprouts
1 large lemon or 2 small ones
1 tbs fresh thyme if you have it or 1 1/2 tsp dried if you don’t
1/2 tsp sea salt
Pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive oil

BSC2Directions

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat an oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cut off the bud end of the Brussels sprouts and let the loose large outside leaves flake off (some leaves may need a little BSC3assistance). Save the inside cores of the Brussels sprouts for another recipe.

Mix the juice of 1-2 lemons, with thyme, sea salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Whisk in the olive oil to make a dressing.

Toss your sprout leaves in the dressing and bake on your lined sheet at 350 for 8- 10 minutes or until crisp.

Voila! You can turn just about any hearty leaf like vegetable into a chip using this same method. Try kale chips if you haven’t, they’re delicious. Another fun variation is trading out the lemon or thyme in the dressing for something else such as rosemary, lime, or even cayenne pepper.

Cranberry Pomegranate Mustard

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Mustard is a wonderful condiment, and this mustard is my very favorite.  It is as lovely enjoyed alone on a slice of whole grain bread as it is served alongside ham or turkey.  As a bonus, mustard seeds are surprisingly nutritious, containing Omega-3 fatty acids (who knew?) and a whole host of antioxidants including selenium.

This mustard recipe is so easy to prepare, you’ll wonder why you ever bought that bright yellow bottle lurking in the back of your refrigerator.  You know the bottle… the one full of food coloring and too much salt?  Rinse it out, recycle the bottle, and try this recipe instead.  You can thank me later.

picture067Ingredients (makes 10 half-pint jars)

16 ounces yellow mustard seeds (available in bulk for just a few dollars at any spice shop)

4 cups white vinegar

1 cup fresh or frozen whole cranberries

1/2 cup fresh pomegranate arils (or substitute an extra 1/2 cup whole cranberries)

1/2 cup pomegranate juice or cranberry pomegranate juice (pure only!)

1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Step 1) Combine mustard seeds, whole cranberries, and vinegar in a large glass bowl.  Cover and let sit for two days.  The mustard seeds will absorb vinegar and expand, so make sure your bowl is big enough!

Step 2) After two days, stir pomegranate arils, pomegranate juice, and salt into the mustard seed mixture.

Step 3) Working with one to two cups of the mustard seed mixture at a time, puree mixture in a sturdy blender until you are happy with the consistency.  Approximately one minute of high speed blending will yield a course ground mustard.  A creamier consistency can be achieved by blending for two or three minutes.

Step 4) Ladle into sterilized canning  jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.  Don’t forget to poke out the air bubbles!

Step 5) Place lids and bands on your jars, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Done!

This mustard makes a wonderful hostess gift, if you can bear to part with a jar.  Enjoy!

Caramelized Pear Salad

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I adore pears of all varieties, for they are both delicious and amazingly nutritious.  Pears are high in fiber, low in calories, and are a good source of Vitamin C.  Further, pears contain a class of phytonutrients, or natural  plant-based chemicals, called “flavonols.”  Flavonols have anti-inflammatory properties, function as antioxidants in the human body, and have even been associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  Sounds good to me.

picture223 (2)For this simple, ten minute salad, I used a few cute little Seckel pears.  Seckels have a yellow-green color with occasional streaks of pink or red, are juicy and sweet when ripe, and are about the size of a kiwifruit.  Feel free to use whatever variety of pear you prefer!

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Ingredients (makes 2 entrée size salads)

6 cups fresh baby spinach, washed and dried

2 large or 4 small ripe pears, any variety, sliced

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons chopped raw almonds

4 ounces chevre goat cheese

picture224Directions

Step 1) Melt butter in sauté pan over low heat.  Add brown sugar.  Stir over low heat for one minute.

Step 2) Add pears.  Begin caramelizing over medium heat, loosening the pears often with a nonstick spatula.

picture225Step 3) After two minutes, add almonds to sauté pan.  Cook one additional minute, then turn off heat.

Step 4) Divide spinach between two plates.  Top each plate with half of the caramelized pears.  Drizzle pan drippings (delicious!) over each plate.

picture226Step 5) Divide goat cheese in half.  Spoon bite size pieces evenly onto each salad.

Done!

The creamy tanginess of goat cheese pairs wonderfully with both the sweetness of caramelized pears and the crunch of almonds.  Enjoy!

Five-Spice Blueberry Muffins

(Psst!  Have you checked out the Whimsy page lately?)

picture071Muffins have an unfair reputation in the realm of healthy eating.  Not all muffins fall into the “may as well eat a jumbo chocolate éclair” category.  In fact, muffins can be high in fiber, low in fat, AND delicious.

There are two tricks to this recipe.  First, use all natural applesauce.  If you’re buying applesauce at the market, read the ingredients.  If you see sugar, corn syrup, or anything weird, put it back.  Apples are sweet enough to make delicious sauce all on their own.  Trust me.  I turned four bushels of apples into sauce this past year, using one ingredient… apples.  Second, invest in a small jar of Chinese five-spice powder.  For just a few dollars, you will be able to add the delightful combination of cinnamon, star anise, anise seed, ginger, and cloves to your baked goods for many months.  A little goes a long way!

Ingredients

1 cup white flour

1/3 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup oats

1/4 cup sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

1 egg, beaten

3/4 cup skim milk

1/4 cup applesauce

3/4 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

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Directions

Step 1) Line a dozen standard size muffin cups with foil liners (preferable), or grease the muffin cups well.  Do not use paper liners, as they will stick.  Set aside.

Step 2) Combine all dry ingredients and mix well.

Step 3) Combine egg, milk, and applesauce in a separate bowl and mix well.

Step 4) Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until moistened.  Don’t get carried away… it’s OK if the batter is a little bit lumpy!

Step 5) Gently fold in blueberries.  Save a dozen blueberries for the next step.

Step 6) Fill muffin liners or muffin cups 2/3 full.  Place one blueberry on the top of each scoop of batter.

Step 7) Bake at 400 degrees for 18 – 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool for a few minutes, and enjoy!

Pecan-Roasted Cauliflower

picture239

While there is unfortunately no such thing as a magical food, cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage sure come close.  The pungent aromas of these vegetables are due to a class of chemical compounds called glucosinolates.  These compounds have long been recognized for their antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties.  Need another reason to pick up a head of cauliflower during your next trip to the market?  Scientists are keeping a close eye on glucosinolates for their potential anti-carcinogenic properties, including the possibility that these compounds might inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells.  The research is only preliminary, but hey, that’s a lot of potential bundled up in a humble vegetable!

This recipe showcases cauliflower in its roasted form… truly the most decadent way to savor this vegetable.  Slightly crispy on the outside, silky on the inside, with a hint of toasted sesame oil and pleasing pecan crunch.  Enjoy this quick and easy dish!

Ingredients (makes 4 side dish servings or 2 main dish servings)

One head of cauliflower

1/3 cup chopped pecans

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon coarse ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon coarse ground salt

Directions

picture234

Step 1) Place pecans in bottom of large mixing bowl.

Step 2) Trim green parts from cauliflower and add to scrap container in freezer.

Step 3) Cut cauliflower into bite size pieces and add to mixing bowl.

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Step 4) Combine olive oil and sesame oil in a small bowl; blend to mix flavors.

Step 5) Drizzle oil mixture into large bowl; stir to coat cauliflower and pecans.

Step 6) Spread cauliflower and pecans on a large, lightly greased roasting pan.

picture237Step 7) Roast at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes.

Enjoy!