Thursday, November 27, 2008

Our Family Stuffing

I suppose that, technically, it's dressing, because I never bother to stuff the bird with it and, in fact, have made it vegetarian many times. But I like the name 'stuffing' better than 'dressing', so there it is.

This is the stuffing my mom always made and I don't really enjoy any other kind. (My blog might not show it, but I'm quite a picky eater with some rather odd food quirks). For me and my dad, Thanksgiving is all about stuffing and pumpkin pie. Though I love her recipe, the funny thing is that my mom doesn't really enjoy stuffing that much herself.

Growing up, Mom would use the Franz stuffing cubes you can get at the grocery store with the seasoning packet. I have since found the past couple of years that Grand Central makes unseasoned stuffing cubes from their bread. I had visions of maybe making my own stuffing cubes from homemade bread, but I never got around to it.

The recipe on the back of the Grand Central bag is pretty close to what I grew up with, but there are some alterations needed. First, it calls for way too much butter. I think that Thanksgiving dinner should never stint on the butter, but 1 stick of butter for only 12 oz bread cubes makes for a greasy stuffing. Second, they add garlic to their stuffing, which I found I don't like very much (though in nearly every other context, I'd choose garlic over onion). Third, I like about an equal proportion of onion and celery, whereas Grand Central favors more onion. Finally, my mom always added an egg to her stuffing, so I do, too.

If you decide to make a vegetarian stuffing, use veggie stock and some white wine for the best flavor.

I've doubled the recipe for this post since I always make two 9x13 pans of stuffing for the family Thanksgiving to ensure there are lots of leftovers!

2 12 oz bags Grand Central rustic stuffing cubes
6-8 TBSP butter (this is half or less than what Grand Central calls for since I doubled the recipe)
4 c diced onion
3 1/2- 4 c diced celery (the celery pieces and onion pieces should be about the same size)
1 TBSP each chopped fresh sage and thyme
3/4 c chopped parsley (we use flat-leaf)
2 heaping tsp poultry seasoning (sure, it looks like green dust, but it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it!)
1 1/2-2 tsp table salt
2 eggs, beaten (optional)
3-4 c unsalted chicken or turkey stock (adjust salt if using salted chicken broth)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Glug or two of white wine, if desired

  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat
  2. Add the onion and celery and saute the onion and celery in the butter until very soft but not brown
  3. Add the herbs, poultry seasoning and salt to the skillet and stir briefly
  4. Empty the stuffing bread bags into a very large bowl (we've got an enormous stainless steel bowl that works well--you need stirring room)
  5. Pour the herbed celery/onion mixture over the bread cubes and stir well
  6. If you are worried about salmonella from raw egg, taste the bread cubes now and adjust seasoning; otherwise you can wait until you've added the rest of the ingredients
  7. Add the beaten eggs and stir well
  8. Add half of the chicken stock and stir again. You want the bread cubes to be moistened, but not mushy. Add remaining stock as needed, using some white wine if desired
  9. If you're up for it, give the stuffing a final taste and adjust seasonings
  10. Place stuffing in two 9x13 inch pans. Stuffing can be made ahead and baked just before serving
  11. Bake stuffing at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. You can dot the top with butter before baking, if you like, but I never do
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Simplified Pasta Puttanesca and Greens

Simplified? Why would one need to simplify Pasta Puttanesca, you ask? Mainly, it's because I don't really like capers and anchovies, two traditional ingredients in this dish, so I omit them. This is such a simple meal to make. You can easily make the sauce in the time it takes your water to boil and the pasta and greens to cook. Of course, you could use any type of pasta you like, but we think that the whole wheat penne goes really well with the sauce. (Bionaturae is the best brand we've found--not grainy or mealy at all). I really like cooking the greens right with the pasta, especially in the summer when we're extra-conscious about minimizing water usage.

Using my mini food processor makes the dish incredibly low-effort, but I'm sure you could do things by hand or use a large food processor (though you might need to double the recipe so that there is enough stuff in the processor for it to work effectively. I always do this recipe by instinct, so I'm not sure how exact my quantities will be. The beauty is, you can just follow your own instinct to get the flavor you prefer.

We usually get 3 or 4 nights worth of dinner out of it, but with the way Elspeth was sucking it down tonight, it might not last as long. It was encouraging, since she wasn't very fond of the leftover bok choy and tofu for lunch today, even though I added peanut sauce.

Serve with crusty bread to sop up the sauce.

ADDENDUM 11 FEBRUARY 2009--An even simpler (I think) version using both greens and carrots can be found at

5-6 cloves garlic
2 TBSP olive oil
1/2 c. pitted kalamata or mixed olives (or to taste)
1 28 ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes, diced tomatoes or ground tomatoes (I never use the kind that have basil or any other flavoring in them, though you may like to)
Small pinch red pepper flakes or to taste
Fresh ground pepper
1 bunch greens (kale, chard and spinach all work well), washed and chopped coarsely
Enough whole wheat penne pasta for your family for 1 or 2 meals (we like lots of greens so though the sauce lasts 3-4 nights, we often make pasta and greens every night or every other night)

  1. Place a large pot of water on to boil, covered, on high heat
  2. Chop the garlic (use a mini food processor if you have one)
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil
  4. Add the garlic to the skillet and coat with the oil; cook for a few minutes
  5. While the garlic is cooking, dump the pitted olives into the mini chopper and pulse until finely chopped (but not a paste)
  6. Add the olives to the skillet and stir well
  7. Add the red pepper flakes and some ground pepper
  8. If using whole or diced tomatoes (anything but ground), process them in the same mini chopper until very fine--I like to use the tomatoes ground up this way because I feel it makes a thicker, more luxurious sauce than having chunks of tomato with somewhat watery juice)
  9. Add the tomatoes to the skillet and stir; bring to a simmer then turn the heat to low and stir occasionally
  10. The pasta water is likely to be boiling now
  11. Add the sea salt and then the pasta and set the timer for five minutes less than the recommended cooking time
  12. When the timer rings, add the chopped greens to the pasta pot and stir
  13. Test the pasta for doneness when the full cooking time has elapsed and drain greens and pasta
  14. The sauce should be about done now, too. Taste and adjust the seasonings. You may wish to add some balsamic or red wine vinegar, more pepper flakes or ground pepper
  15. Serve up pasta, greens and sauce and enjoy

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Roasted Sweet Potato 'Fries'

I was a late convert to sweet potatoes and I'm still not wholly won over, but I do love sweet potato fries. I'm not going to deep fry at home and I know that I'm never going to get a really crispy result in the oven as I could with regular potatoes. However, I've come up with a good compromise. Evan said he thought these were the most successful attempt so far. Elspeth certainly couldn't get enough. We had to eat up all of the sweet potatoes before she would even contemplate eating any gumbo, which has been a real favorite for her. We like to leave the skins on the sweet potatoes. I think it helps to mitigate the sweetness, which is the main reason I am still somewhat ambivalent about this tuber. Leaving the skins on is also less work!

I tried and tried to find Washington-grown sweet potatoes at the farmers' market or supermarket and have concluded that I don't think they're grown here. I do try to be a locavore, but it seemed too sad to eliminate them from our diet. I feel slightly better about it in winter, when local produce is thin on the ground.

As many sweet potatoes as your family will eat in a meal--I did 4 small ones
1 TBSP olive oil (may need to be adjusted depending on amount of sweet potatoes used)
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat a baking tray in the oven at 450 degrees. I might even try 500 degrees next time. I did use Silpat on my baking tray (left over from the cauliflower crunch) and am not sure it can go up to 500)
  2. Scrub the sweet potatoes and cut into long slices, about 1/2 to 1 inch thick
  3. Place the sweet potato slices in a large bowl
  4. Put the olive oil in your hands and rub into the sweet potato slices
  5. Sprinkle with salt and pepper
  6. Carefully remove the baking tray from the oven and scatter the sweet potato slices on it in a single layer
  7. Bake for 20 minutes and check. Bake until slices have puffed slightly and look nice and golden/dark brown
  8. Remove from oven and serve immediately

EATS version of 'Cauliflower Crunch'

I was inspired to try this by Allison L's response to a plea for new ideas for cauliflower on the Chowhound Home Cooking board. I have a Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower recipe already that uses crushed coriander seeds, but I loved the name 'Cauliflower Crunch' and the idea of it being truly crunchy, not just roasted. However, I think there was a typo in her post; I tried putting the cauliflower at 350 degrees, but I had a feeling that was too hot and she meant 250. Sure enough, after 30 minutes, the cauliflower was getting dark brown tips and would have been carbonized by the end of 2 hours. I turned the oven down to 250 and would start at 250 next time. It's possible that cooking at 250 the whole time will not lead to any caramelization and the florets will just be dried out; I'll change the recipe if that occurs! The other approach would be to do a really fast roast on a hot baking tray in a 500 degree oven; this could be nice but also risks burnt tips and an interior that is not cooked enough.

We all really loved this preparation. The stalk was a bit chewy for Elspeth, but she gobbled the florets. It was reminiscent of potato chips. I didn't use garam masala because Elspeth hasn't been totally onboard with Indian spices and I wanted to test the method first. Next time, I think I would add about 1 tsp of sugar to intensify the sweetness. I'm not enough of a food scientist to know if there would be a significant difference if the sugar were sprinkled on before or after the application of oil.

1 head cauliflower (we used green cauliflower from the farmers' market)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp kosher or table salt or to taste (Maldon salt might be tasty, but I don't know if kids would like it)
Freshly-ground pepper to taste
1 TBSP olive oil

  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees
  2. Thinly slice the head of cauliflower, removing excess stalk. Rinse slices
  3. Mix the sugar, salt, pepper and olive oil in a large bowl
  4. Either add the cauliflower and mix gently (this might lead to a lot of breakage) or go to step 4
  5. Place cauliflower in a single layer on a baking tray. If you haven't coated it with the oil/sugar/salt mixture, do so now. Rub in with your hands and try to coat cauliflower on all sides. I have found with roasting things that less oil is actually better than too much
  6. Bake at 250 for 45 minutes and check. Bake until cauliflower is thoroughly cooked and crunchy
  7. If the cauliflower is cooked but isn't caramelized, I bet you could put it under the broiler for a few moments to finish off

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Seasoned Tofu and Bok Choy

This is the product of far too much ambition, though I'm not yet convinced that the work paid off. I was feeling like the lunches I've been giving Elspeth have been pretty lackluster and I am always lamenting how hard it is to keep up with our CSA. Thus, my lunch idea was born.

I stopped by the store on the way home from preschool and picked up some firm silken tofu (I thought that was an oxymoron, but that's what the package said). I did a small amount of research online for marinade ideas and unearthed the bok choy from the veggie bin and got started.

Elspeth was tentative at first but when I gave her my fork and the bowl, she shoveled in quite a bit of the bok choy. She wasn't as keen on the tofu, but did eat a couple of bites of that.

I think both my marinade and my tofu marinating technique need some adjustment, but this wasn't a bad first stab at it. I need to look at Fuschia Dunlop's Land of Plenty. She had a dipping sauce for dumplings (I think it was originally dumplings--we stuffed cabbage leaves) that might work well for a tofu marinade. Another thing to try would be to marinade and cook the tofu, but use peanut sauce for garnish instead of more marinade. I already worked harder during Elspeth's nap than I intended, or I would have whipped some up.

I took the tofu 'pressing' method from Elizabeth Andoh's gorgeous Washoku cookbook (it's so sad that I haven't managed to make much from this book) and the 'dry frying' method from the Internet

1 block firm silken, firm, or extra firm tofu
1/4 c unsalted chicken stock (I had frozen some homemade stock in babycubes for just this type of application--it would be even nicer with stock infused with ginger and scallion) Obviously, you'd need to use vegetable stock to make this dish vegetarian--veg stock could also be infused with ginger and scallion to up the Asian flavor
2 TBSP Japanese soy sauce (it would be fun to experiment with different types)
2 TBSP mirin
1 tsp sesame oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp brown sugar or to taste
1/4 tsp ground ginger (fresh would be way better, but I didn't have any on hand)
1/8-1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (I omitted these but would have used them if making only for adults)
1 large bunch bok choy or other green

  1. Drain the block of tofu. To use Andoh's quick pressing method, blot the tofu with a paper towel. Wrap another paper towel around the tofu and put on a microwave-safe plate. Cook in the microwave on High power for 30 seconds. She says that a lot of liquid should have come out, but I didn't get too much liquid. Repeat with a new paper towel a couple of times until the tofu feels quite a bit firmer. Another method if you have more time is to press the tofu between two plates, weighting the top with some canned goods or a cast-iron skillet. Leave for 30 minutes, draining liquid once if the plate is really full.
  2. Once the tofu has been pressed, cut into about 16 pieces (I cut horizontally, then into quarters, then those quarters are cut diagonally).
  3. Place tofu pieces in a single layer in a dish (with sides)
  4. Mix together the remaining ingredients except the bok choy. Note that when I made this today, I used Melissa Ray Davis' dry fry method as written and did not marinade the tofu before cooking. I think I would next time, so that's what I will write down here.
  5. Pour 2/3 of the marinade over the tofu in the dish and let sit for 15 minutes; turn and marinate for another 15 minutes. If marinating longer, you should put the tofu in the fridge.
  6. While the tofu is marinating, clean and chop the bok choy. If you're using adult bok choy (not baby), I like to separate the stems and leaves and cook the stems first. Place stems in a microwave safe bowl with 1 tsp water and cover with a lid. Cook for 2 minutes in the microwave. Add the leaves, stir together, and cook another 1-2 minutes in the microwave. Remove from microwave, stir, and if not quite done, cover with the lid again for a few minutes. If the bok choy is done, stir in the remaining 1/3 marinade and set aside while cooking the tofu
  7. Place a single layer of tofu triangles in a Teflon pan with no oil and heat to medium (I had retired mine, but it works well at medium heat in this application)
  8. Let the tofu cook on one side without moving it around until it develops a nice crust. Not sure if it'll develop a crust when marinated, but I'm guessing the flavor will be nicer than when cooking it unmarinated.
  9. Turn tofu over and repeat
  10. Remove from pan and serve with the bok choy. I'm sure this would also be tasty over brown rice

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Easy Berry Crumble

This is my go-to dessert whenever I am short on time or have unexpected guests. I nearly always have all of the ingredients at the ready. I make a big batch of the crumble topping ahead of time and keep it in the freezer. With this done, the prep time is nearly zero!

This topping is adapted from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham. I have used the doubled quantities since I always make a double batch and freeze it. If you really wanted to, I'm sure you could sneak some flax seed in this recipe!

1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 c. brown sugar
1 1/2 c. flour (whole wheat pastry flour is fine)
1 1/2 c. rolled oats (anything but instant--you could also use other flakes or a multi-grain blend)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

I adapted this for the food processor, but you could do it all by hand
  1. Cut the butter into 1 inch chunks and place in the food processor with the S blade
  2. Add the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt
  3. Pulse until the mixture is combined and looks like coarse bread crumbs
  4. Remove mixture from food processor into a large bowl
  5. Add the oats and walnuts and mix with your hands until they are well incorporated (I don't like to use the food processor for the walnuts and oats because you the texture becomes too uniform that way)
  6. Set aside 1-3 cups topping if making crumble right away and freeze the rest in a Ziplock bag or container
I generally have bags of mixed frozen berries in the house, though this year I tried to do it myself by buying big quantities of organic berries from the farmers' market and tray freezing them. Any blend of berries you like should be pleasing.

2 lb frozen berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, huckleberries--cherries are also nice)
Juice of 1 orange or 1/2 c. orange juice (optional)
1/4-1/2 c. sugar or to taste (we use evaporated cane juice)
1 tsp cinnamon or 1/2 cinnamon stick (to be removed later)
Pinch salt
1 TBSP corn starch mixed with 1 TBSP cold water
1-3 c. crumble topping depending on size of your dish and love of crumble topping--if you're using frozen topping, don't bother to defrost it first, you may just need to adjust the baking time

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Put frozen berries, orange juice, sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. If not using orange juice, you probably want to put a splash of water in the saucepan to help the sugar dissolve
  3. Heat until the sugar is dissolved and mixture is hot but not boiling
  4. Add the cornstarch/water mixture while stirring and then bring to a boil
  5. Boil for one minute or until the sauce is thicker and glossy
  6. Pour berry mixture into a ceramic, glass or metal baking dish. 2 lb of berries would fit in a 9 x 13 inch pan, but it would be quite a thin layer. I think an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 inch pan would make the nicest berry-to-topping ratio
  7. Cover the berry mixture with crumble topping. I admit, we like to heap it on!
  8. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until crumble topping is golden brown
  9. Remove from oven and let rest for at least 10 minutes. This is important to let the sauce thicken for easier spoonability and so that you and your guests don't burn your mouths!
  10. Serve in bowls with pouring cream or ice cream or just on its own. Cold crumble also makes a wonderful breakfast!

'Hippie Grain' Porridge

This recipe is derived from Cynthia Lair's Feeding the Whole Family. I had grand plans of only feeding Elspeth homemade cereal when she first started solids. The problem was, no matter what I tried, the cereal was somehow both grainy and glue-y and every time she gamely tried to eat it, she gagged. We decided to go with the dreaded boxed cereal but I was never happy about it. Eventually, two things helped. First, I figured out that the best way to get a smooth texture is to take the technique that Marion Cunningham uses to cook steel-cut oats in her Breakfast Book--a double boiler. Second, I tried mixing the homemade cereal with very silky pureed squash, applesauce or other similarly-textured food. Bingo! The boxed cereal was retired.

Before Elspeth was on cow's milk, I would make this cereal with water or breastmilk. Now that she's eating everything we do, she and I can share the cereal and I make it with cow's milk or a combination of cow's milk and coconut milk (about equal parts). I have heard that coconut milk is the closest thing to breast milk because of the lauric acid. At any rate, it's delicious.

I lived in Scotland for a long time, where the porridge is salted rather than sweet. I grew to enjoy the neutral flavor of the salted (not salty) porridge. Even when you add a bit of salt, you can still sweeten with sugar, brown sugar, agave nectar or honey, if desired.

I use what I call 'hippie grains' because they're a nice change from oats alone and also tend to have more protein and other nutrients. It took a few tries for me to like amaranth that much as it does have quite a grassy taste. However, when toasted it gets wonderfully nutty and we really like it now. I get all of my 'hippie grains' in bulk at PCC. Toasting instructions at the end.

Any proportion of the following:
Toasted millet
Toasted quinoa
Toasted amaranth
Toasted sweet (or glutinous) brown rice
Toasted oat groats OR
Steel-cut oats
Cow's milk, coconut milk or any other non-dairy 'milk' (I bet almond would be nice)
Pinch salt

I usually use 1 cup of grains for a batch that will feed us for several days and mixed with 3 1/2 to 4 cups milk/coconut milk/water.

  1. Grind the grains in a coffee mill until a reasonably fine consistency. The grains really do need to be ground if you want an evenly-cooked cereal
  2. Fill the bottom of a double boiler or saucepan with a few inches of water
  3. Put the grains, liquid and salt in the top of a double boiler (or a glass or metal bowl that can sit on top of a saucepan; I use a Pyrex bowl that has a lid). Stir the mix together and then cover the bowl/double boiler.
  4. Bring the water to a boil and then turn to very low heat
  5. Cook over low heat for 1 hour or until the cereal is very creamy. You should stir the mixture several times during the hour
  6. Serve with dried tart cherries, pear or apple compote, maple syrup, roasted squash puree, slivered almonds for the older ones, or even something savory (we mixed it with dal and kale when Elspeth was younger, for example)
Toasting grains is supposed to improve their digestibility. We also like the toasty flavor in the cereal. I like to toast up a big batch of each of the grains I use regularly. Then I can mix and match for the batches of porridge. I do two trays at a time in the oven and usually do four grains total. If you just want to toast enough for one batch of cereal, using a skillet on medium heat would be simplest.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Rinse and drain 2 1/2 cups of grain (I toast each type separately)
  3. Place drained grains on baking tray and put in oven
  4. Toast 10 minutes, then give the grains a shake/stir. You may well need to toast for another 5-10 minutes
  5. Let the grains cool and then store in an airtight container (I've got glass jars that used to contain morello cherries from Trader Joe's--they're a neat shape and work great)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pork Chile Verde Stew

This post was edited in January 2009 based on my second experience making the soup with pork butt as opposed to loin. The two techniques need to be different so I'll publish the pork butt recipe separately.

Evan's mom made a wonderful soup/stew for us for the day we returned from Europe after a three week delayed honeymoon. I think it might be a Weight Watchers recipe, but we never got it from her because we found Pork Chile Verde in the fridge case at Trader Joe's to which we added hominy--this made an excellent and super easy substitute perfect for the post-Elspeth haze.

Alas and alack, TJ's stopped carrying the pork chile verde, so we decided to try to make a stew of our own using some clues from Carol, such as the secret ingredient being green salsa. I guess you could call this a 'semi-ho' recipe (semi-homemade) because of the salsa, but if it's tasty, we don't mind the shortcut. The main issues will probably be making sure it doesn't taste too 'thin' and mitigating the heat of the salsa since we want Elspeth to enjoy it, too.

It turns out, the flour coating is key because it makes a kind of roux that thickens the stew a bit. I was surprised at how fully flavored this stew ended up being for quite little effort. These amounts nearly filled our 7.5 quart Dutch oven and should make about 8 servings.

VEGETARIAN ADAPTATION: We were thinking that a little veggie protein in the stew would be nice (thus carrying it even farther away from anything remotely traditional) and it occurred to me that you could also make it altogether vegetarian. We think that the nicest veggie protein would be pinto beans. You could either add a can instead of one of the hominy cans or add it in addition. Obviously, you'd use vegetable stock or water instead of chicken stock.

1 1/2-2 lb pork loin (leave any fat on the pork--you'll need it) cut into bite-sized cubes
3 TBSP oil divided into thirds
1 large onion, diced finely
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or put through a press
3 TBSP plain flour mixed with:
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
pinch of ground cloves
12 oz green salsa or to taste (we're using Emerald Valley)
1 can tomatillos with liquid, chopped (optional)
2 large cans hominy, drained and rinsed
2 bay leaves
6 cups low sodium or homemade chicken stock or water
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped (optional)
Juice of 1 lime or lemon, as needed for brightness

  1. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat and add the onions. Cook over until very soft and golden.
  2. Add the garlic and cook 3 more minutes. Don't let the garlic brown.
  3. Add the remaining spices and cook another minute. Take the mixture out of the pot and set aside.
  4. In the same Dutch oven, add another 1 TBSP oil over medium-high heat. Add half the pork and brown lightly. Once it's lightly browned, take out and brown the other half. You'll probably need to add that extra 1 TBSP of oil.
  5. Return all of the ingredients to the pot; sprinkle the seasoned flour over the pork, onion and garlic and stir together. Let cook several minutes
  6. Take about 1/4 cup of the stock or water and mix well with the flour-coated ingredients
  7. Add the salsa, tomatillos, hominy, bay leaves, remaining stock/water and cilantro if using. The water should cover the ingredients by 1-2 inches. I think I used about 6 cups stock.
  8. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes to one hour and then taste. Adjust the seasonings and determine if you think more cooking time would be beneficial.
  9. Serve with warmed corn tortillas