Mexican Rice and Vegetables in Achiote Broth

Mexican Rice flavored with achiote paste (annatto) with vegetables
Mexican Rice flavored with achiote paste (annatto) with vegetables
Achiote rice with vegetables

As a follow-up to my post about achiote (annatto seeds), this post shows a way to use them in your kitchen to make a spicy rice and vegetable dish that can be a centerpiece of a vegetarian meal.   Achiote has an interesting flavor that’s hard to define — it’s a great change of pace from the typical Mexican flavors that we encounter.

The recipe, which is adapted from a non-vegetarian one in Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, has four basic steps:  making an achiote paste, preparing vegetables, cooking the rice, and adding the vegetables at the end.

The paste in this recipe is similar to the small blocks of “Achiote Paste” sold in Mexican grocery stores, blocks of spice that could be loaded with artificial colors, preservatives and who knows what.  If you’re OK with the additional ingredients or have found a brand that is all natural, you could use part of that spice block to replace the homemade paste in this recipe, but that would reduce the brightness of the flavors.

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Which Country Grows the Most Avocados?

Avocado Production from 1961 to 2014 - Data from FAOSTAT

At the 2017 International Food Blogging Conference in Sacramento, one of the sponsors was Avocados from Chile1, the avocado promotion agency from that nation. The logic behind their promotional efforts in California is sound:

  • United States avocado growers can’t meet growing U.S. demand
  • The California avocado harvest is typically between April and September
  • Chile is in the southern hemisphere, so the harvest is shifted by six months and runs from September to March2
Avocado toast photo by T. Tseng on Flickr CC-by 2.0
Photo by T. Tseng on FlickrCC-by 2.0

Which Country Grows the Most Avocados?

Avocados from Chile’s presence at the conference got me thinking: Who grows avocados? Where does Chile fit in?  Is production from Chile on the upswing?

Fortunately, one of my favorite statistical databases — FAOSTAT — had the answers3 and Tableau Public made it fairly easy to tell the story with charts.

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How Much of an Avocado Is Edible?

Chart of percentage of avocado that is edible

Berkeley Bowl Marketplace in Berkeley, California is justly famous for its vast array of produce and their avocado selection is no exception. They sometimes sell five or more different sizes — I have seen pee wee, small, medium, large and extra large. Of course, each size has a different price and they are always sold by the piece, never by weight.

Seeing the array of avocados, I wonder: 1) does the edible fraction depend on the size of the avocado? and 2) what are the relative costs of the different sizes? To answer these questions, I bought almost 20 avocados of various sizes and weighed them with and without skin and pit.

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The Home-Made Yogurt Routine

yogurt container pattern

yogurt container patternMy plastic container bin used to be loaded with 1-quart yogurt containers, and I felt packaging guilt whenever buying a new tub, even when it was local and organic.

I knew that it wasn’t too hard to make yogurt at home — I had mental images of electric yogurt makers from the 1970s — but a “coincidence of information” (i.e., a series of web articles) showed me that I didn’t need an electric device or any fancy equipment.

Homemade yogurt is not as easy as grabbing a tub at the market, but there is something satisfying about doing it yourself, and it’s a chance to reduce your use of plastic.

Warm, Heat, Cool, Mix, Wait

Making yogurt at home is relatively easy but requires some organization and time. The process can be summarized as warm, heat, cool, mix and wait.

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Ancient Roman-Style Carrots

Roman Style Carrots based on ancient Roman recipe in Apicius
Roman-Style Carrots based on ancient Roman recipe in Apicius
Ancient Roman-Style Carrots

Many of us have old recipes that we love to cook — perhaps they have been passed down through the generations on index cards, or are from old community cookbooks with frayed corners and well-worn covers.  But few are as old as this post’s recipe for carrots simmered with cumin, mint and vinegar.

This recipe is really old:  it’s derived from a book written more than 1,700 years ago, during (or before) the days of Caesar, Augustus, and Tiberius.

In fact, it was the recipe’s age that first attracted my attention as I was browsing through Deborah Madison’s The Savory Way. I’m not usually a big fan of carrots, but after I tried it once, it was on its way to becoming one of my kitchen standards. The background of cumin and mint, a hint of sourness from vinegar, and the sweetness of the carrots meld into something delicious. And knowing that it might have been enjoyed by Caesar, Cicero, Augustus, Livia, and other Romans makes it even more exciting.

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Kale, Bean, and Vegetable Soup

Kale, bean and vegetable soup
Kale, bean and vegetable soup
Kale, bean, and vegetable soup

These days, kale’s most iconic role is in kale salad — one of this era’s hottest salad trends (though they were also making kale salads 100 years ago). Massaged with salt, dressed with a sharp dressing, tossed with all manner of vegetables, nuts, and other tasty items, it is often delicious and nearly always healthy (kale might even be a superfood).

But on a chilly autumn or winter night, you want something warming, something hearty and nourishing. Something like a bowl of soup. Something like a soup with kale, beans, a touch of warm spices, and perhaps some toasted bread at the bottom of the bowl.

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Van Gogh’s Olive Tree Paintings

Olive Grove - Vincent Van Gogh (1889) from Metropolitan Museum of Art
Olive Grove - Vincent van Gogh (1889) from Metropolitan Museum of Art
Olive Grove by Vincent van Gogh (1889), Metropolitan Museum of Art

One of my blogging hobbies (“blobbies”?) is using CC Search from Creative Commons and the Flickr Commons to look up images connected to my blogging. Most recently, the search term was olives.

Olives were on my mind after a visits to an olive grove and olive oil processing facility. Not surprisingly, I found a handful of advertisements and ephemera, but the real gems were Vincent Van Gogh’s olive tree paintings from 1889. Join me below to learn more about this series of paintings.

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Squash with Tomatoes, Tomatillos and Chipotle Chiles

Squash in tomato-tomatillo sauce with Mexican flavors
Squash in tomato-tomatillo sauce with Mexican flavors
Squash in tomato-tomatillo sauce

Winter squash are legendary for their versatility and hardiness.  Ideal for soups, roasting, stews (Japanese or French to give two examples), and even some baked goods, they also are relatively resistant to damage and have long shelf lives — no padded carriers or stress when bringing home a few from the market.

The sweetness and solidity of winter squash makes it a great partner for the sharp and tangy flavors found in Mexican cooking.  One delicious way to make this pairing is by simmering squash in tomatillo, tomato and chipotle chile sauce for a tasty vegetarian side dish, burrito filling, or taco filling.

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Sarah Hale’s Campaign for a National Thanksgiving Holiday

Silhouette portrait of Sarah Josepha Hale by Auguste Edouart, National Portrait Gallery
Silhouette portrait of Sarah Josepha Hale by Auguste Edouart, National Portrait Gallery
Silhouette portrait of Sarah Josepha Hale by Auguste Edouart, 1842, National Portrait Gallery

If you love Thanksgiving, you should learn the name Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879).

Starting in 1846 and continuing until her retirement in 1877, Hale used her position as editress1 of Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine — one of the most popular and influential magazines of the time — to campaign for a national Thanksgiving holiday in November. Every year, she wrote two editorials in the magazine explaining the benefits of a national Thanksgiving holiday and encouraging her readers to work for one. She also wrote thousands of personal letters (by hand!) to elected officials up and down the chain, to the influencers of the day, and to her wide network of friends and family.

When Hale started her campaign, Thanksgiving wasn’t a new concept in America. Towns, villages and states had harvest festivals in the autumn that would generally involve a trip to church and a feast.  But they were not on the same day.  For example, in the late 1700s, towns on Long Island celebrated Thanksgiving on the first Thursday after the cattle returned from the common pasture, a date set by town leaders that depended on the weather2. In 1789, President Washington issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation that set forth “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer,” but this was a one-time event.

Hale wanted a national Thanksgiving holiday. For Hale, a national holiday would be a “promoter of this national spirit,” demonstrate the “prosperity and happiness of the American people,” encourage generosity, and add a third patriotic holiday to the national calendar to supplement Washington’s Birthday and the Fourth of July.

Her campaign achieved a major success in 1863 when President Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring the fourth Thursday of November 1863 a national day of thanksgiving3. But it was only a partial success for Hale, because it was a one-time declaration, not a Congressionally-mandated national holiday, so her campaign continued until her retirement. Unfortunately for Hale, she didn’t live to see complete success — it wasn’t until 1941 that Congress finally made Thanksgiving a national holiday, the fourth Thursday in November.

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Japanese Vegetable Stew with Miso Broth

Vegetarian Japanese vegetable stew with miso
Vegetarian Japanese vegetable stew with miso broth
Japanese vegetable stew with miso (12 o’clock), brown rice (3 o’clock), Tokyo-style rolled omelet (6 o’clock), quick-pickled napa cabbage (9 o’clock)

When you’re looking for something hearty and warming — but also simple and healthy — as days become shorter and colder, look to the Japanese dishes called nabemono. These “simmered dishes” are often cooked in one pot (called a “nabe”), sometimes in the middle of the dining table over a portable burner.  In the West, the most famous nabemono is probably sukiyaki — beef and vegetables cooked in a broth of soy sauce, mirin (sweet sake), and other flavorings. All over Japan, you’re likely to see steaming pots of another famous nabemono called oden in convenience stores during the colder months (and, of course, oden makes plenty of appearances in standard restaurants and at home, and on some phone you’ll find an oden emoji).

A nabemono that I like to cook at home is a stew of root vegetables, Chinese cabbage, mushrooms and squash in a flavorful broth enriched by umami-packed miso and vegetarian broth.  One might call it a “supercharged miso soup:” much thicker than that generic cup at the Japanese restaurant and packed with vegetables.

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