Tired of the same old routine? The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to experiment in the kitchen and establish healthy habits for the year ahead.
With the Main Market Co-op opening soon in downtown Spokane and several winter markets to choose from, you don’t need to wait for summer’s bounty to think about stocking your kitchen with local ingredients.
Sign-up for a home delivery of produce from Fresh Abundance (509-533-2724), or use the winter to plan your garden for next spring. Support restaurateurs and food purveyors who make an effort to use local ingredients, and learn about where your food comes from.
Expand your vegetable vocabulary
Green beans, peas and broccoli … it’s easy to fall into a rut of fixing the same vegetables with every meal. Why not try something new?
Sylvia Wilson, of Feast Catering, has been experimenting with Jerusalem artichokes, adding the root vegetable to soups and ravioli. “I love their nutty and intense artichoke flavor,” Wilson says. “My favorite preparation is simply to roast them in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper. When they’re paired with mushrooms or truffles, they’re like heaven on earth.”
Give kohlrabi, rutabagas and leeks a try, too. You might find a new favorite.
Spice things up
Adding fresh spices to your cooking is a great way to boost flavor and health benefits without adding fat.
Turmeric powder is revered for its anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting properties. Cayenne pepper is vitamin-rich and aids digestion.
Smoked paprika adds a deliciously smoky element to stews and meatloaf. Star anise lends a unique licorice flavor to curries and soups.
Get the full benefit of spices by sautéing spice seeds briefly in hot oil to release the flavor and aroma.
Learn a new skill
There’s nothing like being exposed to a new cuisine to revitalize your enthusiasm in the kitchen.
Take a class in Cajun or Thai cooking through the Institute of Extended Learning ( www.iel.spokane.edu).
Learn about heart-healthy cooking or how to entertain on a budget at the Greenbriar Inn in Coeur d’Alene (315martinisandtapas.com).
Chef Jeremy Hansen at Santé, 404 W. Main Ave., will be offering a protein cooking class on Jan. 11-12. Call (509) 315-4613 for more information.
The Kitchen Engine, 621 W. Mallon Ave., has a full lineup of cooking classes each month, from sushi making to kids’ cooking (thekitchenengine.com).
These are just a few of the courses available locally, so get out your apron and get cooking!
Update your pots and pans
Having the right tools goes a long way toward improving results in the kitchen.
Eric Frickle of the Kitchen Engine recommends investing in a nonstick Swiss Diamond sauté pan. “They are shallow enough to get a spatula in, but deep enough to do sauces, soups and risotto,” he says. “They’re made with actual diamonds and without harmful chemicals.”
Replace any pans that are peeling. If traditional nonstick pans make you nervous, Frickle recommends locally made “Man Pans” made of anodized aluminum, a process which effectively seals off the aluminum from making contact with your food.
Sharpen your knives
“A dull knife is dangerous because you are putting more pressure on what you’re trying to cut, and your knife could slip,” warns Barney Barner, owner of Bitterroot Cutlery in Coeur d’Alene.
Using a honing steel helps to maintain a knife’s edge, but doesn’t actually sharpen it. When you’re not getting results from your honing steel, it’s time to bring the knife to a professional to be stone-sharpened.
And keep those knives out of the dishwasher, since the heat could damage the blade.
Incorporate whole grains
Whole grains – including barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur and oatmeal – are good sources of fiber and other important nutrients, such as selenium, potassium and magnesium.
Spokane registered dietician Patty Seebeck recommends a diet rich in whole grains. “Fifty percent of your grains should be whole grains,” Seebeck says. Try adding barley and brown rice to soups and casseroles. Switch to whole-wheat pasta and add oatmeal to your morning routine.
Add cooked bulgur to spaghetti sauce or chili in place of half of the meat, boosting fiber and lowering fat.
Replace saturated fats with olive oil
Think about replacing that butter dish on your counter with a decorative glass bottle of extra-virgin olive oil. Studies have shown that olive oil can be helpful in raising HDL (good cholesterol), preventing certain types of cancer and lowering the risk of diabetes.
Experiment with oils from different countries and regions, as flavors vary significantly from mellow and fruity to spicy and peppery. Get some friends together, purchase a few bottles and split them so you’ll have a variety.
Just remember to keep olive oil away from heat so it doesn’t turn rancid.
Plan your meals
“If you plan your meals, you won’t be in a panic and be tempted to stop for fast food. You’ll save money and eat more healthily,” says Rhea Skinner, a personal chef from Post Falls.
“Every Sunday, make a new menu,” Skinner suggests. “Go through cookbooks and see what sounds good.”
Many cookbooks have menu ideas, offering quick ideas for pairing two or three courses. Skinner also recommends searching epicurious.com and foodnetwork.com for recipes. Selecting seven meals may be overwhelming, so pick two or three and double some of the recipes and plan for leftovers.
Make it from scratch
Feast Catering’s Wilson shares one of her New Year’s resolutions:
“My mother always made bread growing up and I never learned the art,” she says. “I put a couple things on my Christmas wish list – the book “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice,” which is a really beautiful book, and a bread stone. There is something really appealing about it to me.”
Whether it’s bread, soup stock or salad dressing, Mark Bittman’s book “How to Cook Everything” is a great place to start for basic tips on ingredients and techniques.
It also includes a helpful menu section for planning everything from picnic lunches to elegant dinners.
Truffled Jerusalem Artichoke Bisque
Courtesy of Sylvia Wilson, Feast Catering
1 pound Jerusalem artichokes (also called sunchokes)
1/2 pound Yukon gold potatoes (about 1 large or 2 small)
1/2 sweet onion
Salt, black and white pepper
2 ½ cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
1 tablespoon truffle oil
¼ cup half-and-half (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Rinse and scrub sunchokes; do not peel. Cut sunchokes, potatoes and onion into 1-inch chunks. Toss liberally with olive oil and a little salt and pepper, and roast in the oven in a small roasting pan covered with foil until very tender, approximately 1 hour or a little longer.
Place roasted vegetables in a blender, scraping roasting pan to get olive oil and bits. Add broth and truffle oil. Start blender on low and gradually increase speed to avoid an explosion. Blend until very smooth and silky. For extra safety cover blender with a kitchen towel and hold it tight in the beginning.
Add salt to taste, a pinch of white pepper and the half-and-half (if desired). Warm the bisque in a pot on the stove.
Yield: 4 cups
From “Niko’s Cookbook,” by Amal Elaimy. These appetizer squares are a great way to incorporate heart-healthy olive oil into your diet.
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 tomatoes, diced
For the dough:
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup water
1 cup olive oil
½ cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 ½ cups grated zucchini
Sour cream for garnish (optional)
In a frying pan, heat the 2 teaspoons olive oil and sauté the tomatoes on high heat, stirring continuously.
Spray a 12-inch-square baking tray with cooking spray. Spread the tomatoes evenly and cool before adding the dough.
For the dough, combine the eggs, sugar, water and 1 cup of olive oil; beat well. Mix the dry ingredients and fold in the egg mixture, then the grated zucchini. Stir gently until just blended.
Spread evenly over the tomatoes and bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 30 minutes. Cool, cut into squares and serve tomato side up, topped with a small scoop of sour cream, if desired.
Yield: 16 servings
Whole Wheat Pasta with Kale and Fontina Cheese
Courtesy of BrightSpirit Hendrix, Fresh Abundance.
4 slices bacon or bacon substitute
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 bunch kale, stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 pound whole-wheat spaghetti
1/2 cup coarsely grated Fontina cheese
Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until browned and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of fat. Cook garlic in same skillet over medium heat until golden, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes.
Add half the kale. Cook, tossing until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Add remaining kale, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing, until all kale has wilted, about 2 minutes.
Add broth and cover. Simmer until kale is tender, about10 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking water in a separate container.
Return pasta to pot. Add kale and Fontina. Toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Add reserved cooking water as desired. Top with bacon.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings