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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Snow Ride

A thaw came this past Saturday, allowing me to get a brief ride in around the Schyulkill River.  I'm sure I looked like a complete dork, on my red beach cruiser with decorated basket, but I didn't want to risk riding through ice and snow patches on my road bikes skinny tires.  My beach cruiser has fat wide knobby tires, and a wicked heavy frame that's perfect for staying stable on shifting sands, mud and ice.  Plus when I ride this bike on distances longer than my 4 mile round trip commute to work and home, I feel as though I get in a much harder bike work-out.  The 16 mile round trip from my house to East Falls Bridge felt as though it were more like 20 or even 25, adding some generous exaggerated distance for the one-speed, 50 pound bike weight and the cold winter conditions.  It was a perfect afternoon for a solo ride, nearly pedestrian, runner, roller-blader and cyclist free paths and glorious clear winter light.  I noticed few people out and about, but intrepid runners and riders who were on the path were pleasant and friendly.  The weather was in the low 40 degree temperatures; warm enough for some people to be jogging or riding in shorts and t-shirts!  There were many ski tracks in the snow along the river too.  I guess my biking on a beach cruiser is no more odd a sight than a skier is in an urban snow setting.  The days are starting to get longer so a mid-day to late day ride lets me get in a quick trip and still be home before dark.
Along the ride, I spied a few odd and sundry nature sightings: a dead hawk in the bike lane at 16th and Spruce Street - too sad of a find actually.  I'd much rather find the Hawks in Rittenhouse Square, swooping down on the vermin in the park.  Not sure how this one died.  My guess is that it may have been clipped by a car as it was about to grab an unsuspecting pigeon.  This is by far one of nature's cruelests deaths - this majestic bird dead in the street.  Its death has bothered me all night and day.  
The other interesting and far less disturbing sight I found was this gigantic icicle.  Under one of the bridge over-passes, I think it's the Girard Avenue Bridge, the path along Kelly Drive cuts through an arched over-pass.  The view from this point, which is about 1/2 mile past the Boat Houses, is spectacular - the river opens up here framed by the arches of the Bridge and ahead of you the path curves around, lined with cherry trees that in the Spring burst with cotton candy pink flowers.  The icicle looked like a rocket ship or crazy tentacled deep sea creature.  I stopped to take a few photos, awed by its size and holding power along the small ledge of wall and curved upward arch span.  Good thing I took photos when I did, within a half hour it came crashing down.   As I returned to the spot, the icicle had already fallen, creating a huge crater hole in the mud in which it landed.  I saw part of the mammoth ice sticking up out of the mud and then it fell over and broke in two pieces.  The original crash must have been loud and thunderous; seeing and hearing the remains piece fall and break into two pieces was loud.  
It felt so lovely to be out in the fresh cold air, enjoying winter sights.  Of course now I've got the early signs of Spring Fever but I know that Spring is just a month away.  If I work it right, I might just be able to make March work for me, taking advantage of the early Day-Light Savings time change and those crazy weather days where you start out the day wearing a t-shirt because it's so sunny and balmy and end the afternoon back in your full winter gear.  Spring Training, Triathlon and Biking Training is just around the bike path!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice

Laissez les bon temps rouler!  In honor of Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday - I made a pot of vegetarian red beans and rice.  This dish is definitely in the category of one pot meals made in the style of the Big Easy's cheap-n-easy.  It includes a mess of the Cajun Holy Trinity with a smattering of carrots, a whole lotta Tabasco, a chipotle pepper and some nice old red kidney beans.  Let it cook down in and after a few hours you got yourself a big ole pot of spicy goodness.  As much as I like my meats, sausages and other porky treats - this loose interpretation of red beans and rice was made out of necessity so I could have a vegetarian meal option to take to my kosher workplace.  If you use enough vegetables, a good chipotle pepper and let the beans cook long enough, you will not miss the meat.  Besides, you could have something on the side if you need or crave that extra protein.  The main thing is letting the beans cook down long enough that the begin to fall apart. If the beans you have are old and they just never get to that mushy stage, feel free to smash them a bit with the back of a spoon or an old fashioned potato masher.  The main thing is that the beans just cook and cook and cook and make their own "bean gravy", absorbing all the spice and smokey heat of the chipotle pepper.  Season with salt AFTER the beans are cooked down not before.  Remember to taste before you season, as the dish cooks, cools and sits, its flavors will develop even further.  I made this dish on Saturday and ate it on Sunday.  It was when I reheated it that I seasoned it with salt and additional Tabasco Sauce.  As for using okra - I know I'm mixing my meals here, making my red beans and rice morph into some sort of mumbo gumbo. I like okra and I wanted something else in the dish. Skip it if you don't like, don't have or can't find okra.  By the way, frozen okra is far easier to find in most grocery stores and works great.


Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
  • Large Onion - small dice
  • 2 Celery Stalks - small dice
  • 1 Red and 1 Green Bell Pepper - small dice
  • 2 Medium Carrots - peeled & small dice
  • 5-6 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 2 Cups Red Beans - picked over, rinsed and if time permits, soaked for 2 hours to overnight
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1 Whole Dry Chipotle Pepper
  • 4 Cups Water - or 3 Cups Cold Water & 1 Bottle of Hop-style IPA Beer, like Hop Devil IPA (optional but it tastes so much better w/the beer!)
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • Tabasco or Hot Sauce of Choice - to taste
  • 2 Cups Frozen Okra - Optional
  • Kosher or Sea Salt - to taste
  • 2 Cups Cooked Rice for Serving - White Long Grain is Traditional or use Brown Rice or a more nutritious option

Directions:

  1. Pick over the red beans and discard any pebbles, stones or beans that are split or misshapen.  If time permits, soak the beans in cold water for two hours or overnight.  Drain and rinse the beans and set aside.  
  2. In a large stock pot or heavy bottomed pot, such as a Dutch Oven, heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat until the oil begins to shimmer.  Add in the onions, celery, bell peppers and carrots; sweat the vegetables for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to take on a bit of color (but don't let them burn or caramelize).  Next, add in the minced garlic and saute for 2 minutes.  
  3. Add in the soaked red beans, the bay leaves and the chipotle pepper.  Pour in 4 cups of cold water, or enough water and the bottle of beer to cover the beans and vegetables by 1 to 2 inches.  Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce heat down to lowest setting.  
  4. Keep the pot at a gentle low simmer for as long as it takes for the beans to cook down and become tender - so tender they begin to fall apart.  This may take 2 to 3 hours.  Keep an eye on the pot, adding more water as needed.
  5. As the beans cook down, the mixture in the pot will go from recognizable pieces of vegetables in a watery broth to looking like a pot of dark brown mush.  When this happens, taste the beans, seasoning with the black pepper, hot sauce and salt.  If serving right away, add in the okra (if using it) about 15 minutes before serving.  Otherwise, cool the mixture and refrigerate.
  6. If you make the red beans and rice to serve later or the next day, reheat the beans and add in the okra and then season to taste with salt, pepper and hot sauce.  Serve hot over rice.  Makes 4 to 6 servings. Recipe can easily be doubled to serve a larger crowd.  

This is what the mixture looks like as it cooks - you can distinguish all the vegetables and beans - it looks more like a vegetable bean soup. Have patience!  It takes a long time to cook down but it's worth the wait!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Represent Me!

A contest!  I'm looking to expand my blog and gain more viewers and followers, so I'm proposing an offer to you and your friends - become an official follower of my blog by clicking the subscribe to icon to the right of my posts.  The button is located to the right, under the title, 

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You don't need to have a google address, nor do you need a blog or have your identity known to others.  I'm also in the market for ideas and suggestions for posts, recipes, sights or photos you would like to see here.  Questions? Send them to me!  Comments? Leave them! As an incentive, I will be sending out prizes to the 25th, 75th and 150th follower of this blog - The Bicycle Chef.  You should know that as a former employee of Megastore Kitchen Store Mecca, Williams-Sonoma, I'm sitting on a treasure trove of items that I bought or won and haven't used.  Cookbooks, utensils, products, they could be yours for the low, low price of following my blog!  Don't delay, click today!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snow Dazed

The news all along the Northeastern Corridor is the major snow storms that have hit us hard.  Here in Philadelphia, we received over 3 feet of snow in less than a week.  Our City is being called the new Maine or New England.  Hardly think Philadelphia's winter is worthy of this moniker, but that's our news media for you.  I've been in the house for over four out of seven days.  While I'm not exactly going stir crazy or have cabin fever, I am weary of all the shoveling I've had to do and tired of my cold wet feet.  It just figures that I didn't buy better boots for this historic snow season.  That'll teach me!  I haven't had much energy, well, scratch that, I haven't had much interest, desire or ambition to do much besides shovel, cook and take care of Liz and the baby.  I suppose that's enough.  No, it's not seasonal depression this week, rather a low-grade snow ennui.  I've also been ruminating on some of my own personal familial dysfunction and insanity.  If I didn't laugh about it, I'd be dead.  No, really.  My sense of humor keeps me going.  I get through the rage and depression I feel every day by being sarcastic, caustic and biting, laughing and telling feeble jokes to help fight back bitter tears.  A suspicion of mine about my blood and flesh relative's view point was confirmed to me and the news wasn't pretty.  My family connections are few and far between, not much better than Christina's to her Mommy Dearest.  If I were to mix together pulp fiction to tell the tale of my childhood, it'd be an amalgamation of nightmare fairy tales straight out of Snow White meets Cinderella mixed with a few pages of Flowers in the Attic, with a soupcon of Running with Scissors.  Ah, family, you sure can't pick 'em.   Fortunately I've been abundantly blessed with friends, neighbors and a wonderful partner.  At least you get a say in who you choose to have around you.  G*d does have mercy and a wacky sense of humor but I'm not exactly sure of the joke. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Whole Wheat Rotini with Sautéed Beet Greens and Tomatoes

A shout out to all you vegans, vegetarians and healthier eaters!  This pasta dish is for you.  Not entirely into healthier, meat and/or dairy free meals, no worries.  You can adapt this to suit your needs and  use what you have available in your cupboards.  This pasta dish was a make-do meal utilizing some amazingly fresh and beautiful beet greens that came with a bunch of beets I purchased at Sue's Produce in Center City yesterday. It's my favorite kind of meal - you buy one product and get a "two-for-one" -  wonderful beets and tasty useful greens. This and an idea shared with me from a friend on sautéing beet greens with some garlic and a splash of balsamic vinegar to brighten the flavors was just the inspiration I needed to make tonight's meal - healthy, vegetarian and kosher-lunch friendly for my lunch tomorrow at the synagogue.   Feel free to swap out ingredients, such as chard or spinach for the beet greens; vegetable or chicken stock for the porcini bouillon stock I used; white beans for the garbanzo; and regular pasta for the whole wheat (though there are many great whole wheat or healthier alternative pastas out there other than the standard).  A side of grilled chicken, steak, or shrimp might also round out the meal for the carnivore at your dining room table!

Whole Wheat Rotini Pasta with Sautéed Beet Greens and Diced Tomatoes Ingredients:
  • 1/2 Pound Uncooked Whole Wheat Rotini, Penne or Farfale Pasta - cooked according to package directions /al dente
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 Medium Onion - Small Dice
  • 3 to 4 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 1 Large Bunch of Beet Greens and Stems - thoroughly washed & rinsed, Stems cut into 1 inch pieces and Leaves Cut into Large Ribbons
  • 1/4 Cup Sweet Vermouth or Dry Red Wine
  • 1 Mushroom or Porcini Bouillon Cube - disolved into 1 cup of hot water (or 1 Cup of Veg or Chicken Stock)
  • 1/2 Cup Chick Peas/Garbanzo Beans or White Beans - Drained & Rinsed
  • 1 - 14 to 16 ounce Can No-Salt Diced Tomatoes and their juices
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon Good Quality Aged Balsamic Vinegar - Optional
  • 1 Tablespoon Dried Italian Seasonings
  • Grated Cheese for Serving - Optional
Directions:
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil.  Add in a tablespoon of salt, stir and then add in the dry pasta.  Cook the pasta according to the package directions, just until the pasta is al dente.  Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.  Keep the pasta warm and set aside, covered in the cooking pot.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the two tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick saute pan over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer.  Add in the onions and garlic and saute until the onions turn translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes. 
  3. Add in the beet stems and saute another 2 to 3 minutes.  Next, add in the beet greens and cover the pan, letting the greens wilt and decrease in volume, about 2 minutes. 
  4. Pour in the vermouth or wine and reduce down to a just a tablespoon or two, about 4 minutes.  Once the vermouth/wine is reduced, add in the stock and bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat and add in the chick peas and diced tomatoes.  Season with a pinch of salt, the freshly ground black pepper and the dried Italian seasonings, and if using a splash or tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.
  5. Reduce the heat to low and allow the mixture to simmer about 3 to 4 minutes, taste and adjust seasonings as needed.  Next add in the cooked pasta, stirring to incorporate and to tighten the sauce.  If the mixture seems too dry, add in a bit of the reserved pasta cooking water.  
  6. Serve hot with grated cheese if desired.  Makes 4 to 6 servings.