Sunday, October 25, 2009

Simple Chicken Vegetable Soup with Beans

Sundays are often dedicated to figuring out my workday lunches and soup is my all time favorite portable, reheatable meal (carried in my beloved Glasslock dishes that fit perfectly into my old work-swag insulated lunchbox, but I'll spare readers the infomercial).

Today, instead of using a recipe, I decided just to throw some things together based on what we had in the house. I had made a big batch of chicken stock yesterday, so knew I could use that in my soup to add flavor. (I roasted the bones for the stock this time and was pleased at the depth it added to my very basic stock).

I had thought about adding some herbs or spices but couldn't decide which direction to go, so I cooked up the soup and decided to wait until later to spice it. Turns out, it was quite satisfying as it was.

I like to roast the chicken I'm going to use in my soup. Of course, in some ways it would be easier just to cook the raw chicken in the soup, but I like the guilty pleasure of eating the crispy skin and I like the flavor of roasted chicken better than poached.

We had some fresh cannellini beans from our CSA, so they didn't require any pre-soaking and cooked in about the same amount of time as the potatoes. If you don't have fresh shelling beans, I would recommend either using canned beans or using pre-cooked beans, as the soup itself doesn't need a long cooking time.

I like the body that pureeing soup brings, but I also wanted to enjoy the silky texture of the fresh beans, so I compromised. I removed about half of the vegetable and beans and pureed the remaining. Only then did I add the chicken pieces and the spinach.

1 TBSP olive or vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, put through a press or minced
2 normal or 3 very small ribs celery, diced
2 normal or 4-5 very small carrots, diced
4 small to medium-sized red potatoes, diced
2 c. fresh cannellini beans, shelled and rinsed OR 1 can cooked cannellini or other white beans OR 2 c. pre-cooked white beans
6-8 c. chicken stock or water (or a combination--I used about 5 cups stock and 1-2 cups water)
1 TBSP salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 medium chicken breast, roasted and cut into bite-sized pieces
3-4 leaves spinach, washed and finely chopped
More salt and pepper to taste

  1. Heat the oil in a 4 or 5 quart pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes, until it starts to soften
  2. Add the garlic and continue cooking a few more minutes
  3. Add the celery and carrots and cook another minute or two
  4. Stir in the potatoes and the beans (if using fresh--wait until later if using canned or pre-cooked)
  5. Add the chicken stock/water and the salt and pepper
  6. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer
  7. Cook the soup until the beans and potatoes are tender. If using canned or pre-cooked beans, add them now
  8. Remove half of the vegetables/beans from the pot and puree the rest of the soup (ideally with an immersion blender)
  9. Put the vegetables and beans back into the pot and add the chicken and spinach
  10. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. The soup as I made it is very gentle and comforting, but it could easily be made more assertive with red pepper flakes, thyme, coriander, smoked paprika or wherever your imagination takes you

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Squash Gingerbread Waffles

Many thanks to my friend Rebecca (who will always be 'Becky' to me, I'm afraid), for this recipe. She found it on a message board somewhere, but we have no original source for attribution. She made some alterations and then I made a (very) few of my own.

I have a working oven again (heavens be praised), and we'd been accumulating winter squashes from our CSA, so I roasted up a big batch and made a mixed puree of butternut, acorn and kabucha (or delicata). I'd been hankering to try this recipe and found time to do so this morning. Elspeth was my kitchen helper and between the two of us it didn't take much effort to whip up a batch. The recipe makes lots of waffles and they're more filling than Evan's Waffles, so you can freeze the leftovers and enjoy them on cold winter mornings.

We ate them plain, but I think they would also be tasty with pear-clove sauce.

I used homemade roasted, pureed squash, but of course you could also use canned pumpkin.

3 c. (15 oz) whole wheat pastry flour or 2 1/4 c. (12.5 oz) ww pastry flour + 1/2 c. almond meal +  1/4 c. ground flaxseed
2 TBSP baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
4 large eggs
1/3 c. maple syrup
1 c. squash or pumpkin puree
1 1/4 c. milk
1/2 c. molasses
1/2 c. vegetable or coconut oil

  1. Preheat waffle iron
  2. In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients and set aside
  3. Beat eggs and maple syrup until fluffy, then beat in pumpkin, milk, molasses and oil
  4. Stir the wet mixture into dry ingredients in the large bowl until just moist. Do not over-stir
  5. Add a large spoonful of batter to the waffle iron and cook according to your waffle iron's specifications
  6. Top with your favorite waffle toppings

Sunday, October 11, 2009

French Lentil Soup

Now that I'm working outside the home again, and at a location where there are no restaurants, I have to dust off my lunch-making skills. I can't remember what made me think of this lentil soup recipe because I haven't made it in years, but I'm glad I was reminded. It comes from the first French cookbook I ever owned, Jacques Burdick's French Cooking En Famille. It was a gift from my new dorm friends my first year of university. There are a lot of good recipes in this book, though I don't find myself making them often.

This recipe is the first one I ever saw that used orange peel in a savory dish. Likewise, I had never heard of spiking an onion with cloves. Both transform a soup that could be ordinary into something unique (at least to my palate). I love seeing how subtle changes in ingredients can make such a remarkable difference to a dish. For example, so many soup recipes start with onion, garlic, celery, carrot, parsley, thyme and bay leaf. This one omits the celery and parsley (and of course adds the aforementioned clove-spiked onion and orange peel, as well as some rosemary). The resulting soups taste quite a bit different. It is convenient for me that it doesn't call for celery, as this is one of the vegetables we don't see as often at our farmers' market and that I don't have around all the time. (Though of course this week we did get celery in our basket!) Our parsley, on the other hand, is the biggest herb in our garden.

I mostly follow this recipe as written, though I do tend to omit the milk. I also use French Puy lentils rather than the brown ones he calls for. Since I more often have onions on hand than leeks, I took a large onion and halved it. I diced one half to replace the leek and spiked the other half with the cloves. Burdick says that you should slice all the vegetables thinly, but I diced them since that was easier for me. As the soup is going to be pureed anyway, I didn't think it mattered.

Burdick notes that it's easy to omit the bacon to make a vegetarian or even vegan version (called à l'ancienne). Use olive oil instead of butter for the vegan option.

I'd love to serve this with my crusty bread, but alas am still without an oven. We have high hopes that we'll have a working oven again in a couple of weeks.

2 c. brown or French green (Puy) lentils, picked over and rinsed
Water to cover
2 TBSP butter (or olive oil)
2 slices thick-cut bacon or 3 strips regular-cut cut crosswise into lardons, optional
2 medium carrots, diced or thinly sliced
2 medium leeks, white parts only, diced or thinly sliced OR
1/2 large onion, diced
2 plump cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium OR 1/2 large onion, spiked with three whole cloves
1 bouquet garni, tied up with string, consisting of: 2 inch piece of dried orange peel (mine was fresh), 1 bay leaf, 1 sprig thyme, 1 sprig rosemary
2 quarts water
2 c. milk (preferably not nonfat), optional
Butter or olive oil to swirl in soup, optional

  1. Place the rinsed and picked over lentils in a bowl and cover with cold water. Let soak for one hour. If you don't have time for this step, you can skip it, though my guru Deborah Madison does feel that it makes the lentils more flavorful
  2. Start prepping the other ingredients while the lentils soak
  3. Heat the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over low-medium heat
  4. Add the diced onion/leek, garlic, carrots, and bacon and cook over gentle heat until they are translucent but not browned
  5. Drain the lentils and rinse them. Then add them to the pot along with the spiked onion, bouquet garni and 2 quarts of cold (fresh) water
  6. Turn up the heat to bring the soup to a boil, skimming off any scum for the first five minutes (in my laziness, I often do not skim, I admit it)
  7. Turn the heat down to low and simmer the soup, covered, for 1 hour 45 minutes
  8. Remove the bouquet garni and the spiked onion and puree the soup (I use my immersion blender but you can transfer carefully to a blender if you have to)
  9. Return to the pot and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper as needed
  10. Add the milk, if using, and bring the mixture just to a boil then immediately turn off the heat
  11. Taste one more time for seasoning and adjust as necessary
  12. Serve with a swirl of butter or olive oil as desired

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Beef Zap Zap Soup

This recipe has a very special place in my heart. Up on Queen Anne, there used to be an annex of the Orrapin Thai restaurant that served a dish called Beef Zap Zap soup. This stuff was heaven in a bowl, the perfect cure for any ailment. One of my most memorable experiences with this soup was the day after my 30th birthday party. I'd stayed up talking with Evan until 5am (and yet still wasn't sure if he fancied me) and had a progressive hangover--the kind that worsens as the day goes on. Jenn and I headed to the noodle house for some restorative zap zap. The next day, I got the email from Evan asking me out on our first date and we've been together ever since.

I was horrified when Orrapin decided to rethink their annex and removed zap zap from the menu. At that time, I had not yet had pho, so I didn't know that it would be a good approximation. I went online and discovered the recipe that would become the basis for a homemade zap zap. Of course, I now have no idea of my original source. I made some modifications based on the kinds of ingredients I find easy to obtain. It's not worth it to me to keep around recipes that require trips to far-flung reaches of the city for ingredients. In addition, I omitted the pepper flakes to allow each person to spice up the meal individually.

We had some beef soup bones in the freezer from the cow share we participated in earlier this year, so I made up my own stock to infuse with zap zap goodness. In previous years, I had started with storebought stock and it does work fine, just be careful about the salty ingredients you add--keep tasting for balance. Because I made my own stock, I had 4.5 quarts of it to work with. I infused the whole lot and will love having some pre-infused broth on hand in the freezer for cold winter nights.

I didn't use to make the soup with all that many vegetables, but we try to pack as many veggies as we can into every meal these days, so I suggested carrots and greens as possibilities. For little ones or anybody who has trouble slurping up rice noodles, I think that you could get away with stirring in some cooked brown rice as a substitute.

If you don't wish to use steak in the soup, you could also add cooked chicken or tofu.

4.5 qt beef stock (I used homemade unsalted)
2 stalks lemongrass, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 star anise
8 cloves garlic, smashed
4 makrut lime leaves (I suspect mine were just regular lime, but they were at the store, so I bought them)
2-inch piece of ginger cut into 1/2 inch pieces (if you've got access to galangal, use that)
1 TBSP chopped cilantro (I used those nifty frozen cubes from Trader Joe's) or to taste
4 TBSP dark soy sauce
1 TBSP light soy sauce
2 TBSP fish sauce
1 tsp salt
2 TBSP dark brown sugar or to taste
(2 tsp red pepper flakes optional)

  1. Place all ingredients in a large pot and simmer for 20-60 minutes
  2. Strain out the spices
  3. If not using immediately, quickly cool to a safe temperature before refrigerating or freezing
  4. If ready to eat, place some broth in a large bowl and add any of the following
Rice stick noodles softened in warm water or in some broth
Bean sprouts (blanched)
Very thinly cut steak either pre-blanched or cooked in very hot beef broth
Cooked chicken
Grated carrots
Finely chopped or processed greens or cabbage (Bok choy would be particularly nice, I think)
Thai basil, chopped
Jalapeno peppers to taste (optional)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Moroccan-Inspired Couscous

I lived in Paris in 1998-99 and for a while was friends with a crazy New Zealander. Though the friendship later fell apart, I have many times mentally thanked her for sharing her couscous recipe with me. I love to make it in the fall and winter when there is a chill in the air, often accompanied by a dollop of harissa (or sriracha sauce if that's what you've got around).

The Moroccan-inspired bit refers to North African traditional couscous, a fragrant stew ladled on top of the grains. This kind of couscous has been widely adopted by the French and I was also lucky enough to have couscous in Morocco (where I was offered 5,000 camels for my hand in marriage, but that's another story). I admit to using boxed instant couscous, as I can't imagine taking the time to find non-instant and then steam it multiple times. Trader Joe's whole wheat couscous fits the bill for us.

I am a bit superstitious about this recipe, for some reason. While I often like to play fast and loose with my cooking, adding or subtracting ingredients based on what I've got on hand, I always make this dish with the same vegetables and spices. I always used to cut everything into batons, but took a wild chance today and diced everything and it was much easier to eat! Don't let my weirdness influence you, though, and feel free to experiment with vegetables and spices. The saffron and the fennel seeds are what really make the flavor of this dish stand out for me, so I'd recommend trying it with them the first time before making any spicing changes.

Eating this meal without meat is easy and satisfying. However, we do love it with some merguez dotted on top. Uli's Sausage in the Pike Place Market makes an excellent version that Evan home-smokes to wonderful effect. Merguez is very spicy, though, which means it's not particularly toddler-friendly. Spanish (dry) chorizo added a nice smokiness to the meal and worked well as a substitute.

The trick with this recipe, as I've cautioned with several others, too, is not to add too much water. You don't want a limp-tasting broth. I'm going to try to be more systematic than usual and give a better idea of a good ration of veg-to-spice-to-water. The broth and vegetable mixture freezes reasonably well, though the potatoes will never be quite as nice a texture after a thaw.

1 1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp cayenne (optional)
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 large pinch saffron plus a few tablespoons of boiling water
1 medium onion or 1/2 a giant onion, diced
2 medium potatoes (I used red potatoes), diced
4 small carrots, diced (I used 1/4 lb carrots)
1 small zucchini, diced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 red, orange, or yellow sweet pepper, diced
2 c. cooked chickpeas (I soaked and cooked 1 c. dry chickpeas) OR
1-2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6 c. water
Salt to taste
Whole wheat couscous, prepared according to the package
Cooked merguez or dry chorizo (optional)

  1. Toast all of the spices except the saffon in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant
  2. Put the saffron in a small bowl and pour over some boiling water to help it bloom. Set aside
  3. Placed the diced onion, potatoes and carrots into a large saucepan and add 6 cups water
  4. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and add the toasted spices and some salt
  5. Cook for about 20 minutes and then add the remaining vegetables and the chickpeas
  6. Continue cooking until the vegetables are very soft and the broth starts to look integrated
  7. Add the saffron and its water and taste. Adjust seasonings (you may wish to add a bit more of all the spices or more salt)
  8. Serve over whole wheat couscous with some harissa and/or merguez or chorizo

Applesauce Oat Pancakes with Raisins

The Oat Blueberry Banana Pancakes have been a favorite in our house for quite a while now. I will freeze bananas that have gone past their prime if I'm not quite ready to make up a batch of pancakes or smoothie, so that I can whip them up whenever they're requested.

However, I wanted something more. One of Elspeth's favorite books is Rosemary Wells' Voyage to the Bunny Planet. Evan and I are big fans, as well. Our favorite story of the three is 'The Island Light', where the dad and Felix 'mix up an apple pancake batter/ Singing while the shutters clatter'. There is a photo on the title page of the story showing the apple pancakes and Elspeth has wanted to 'get them out' on several occasions. In looking around for an apple pancake batter, I came across either the Dutch Baby-type of pancake with apples, or a griddle pancake with grated apple in it. Neither of these quite fit my idea. I'm not convinced that the grated apple would cook to a nice texture in the time it takes to cook the rest of the pancake, and I wanted a griddlecake that would make good leftovers. I definitely wanted to use applesauce as opposed to apple pieces. I also just happen to have sauced up some organic Honeycrisp apple with a bit of cinnamon stick and no sugar.

Suddenly last night (while I was supposed to be meditating, but that's another story), it occurred to me that the oat banana blueberry recipe was a great starting point for an apple pancake batter. I had been thinking that a whole wheat or bran pancake would be nice with applesauce, so it wasn't a huge leap to a combination with oats, flax and almond meal. Another of Elspeth's favorite treats is raisins, so I thought they would make a good addition instead of blueberries.

The texture of these pancakes differs from the banana version, I'm guessing because of the pectin in the apples. I did let the batter sit for 5 minutes before cooking, and it became quite airy in that time. Next time, I might be tempted to add an extra quarter cup of milk to make it easier to drop them onto the griddle. Other than that, the adaptation was a success. They were light and had a definite apple flavor and just the right amount of sweetness. I think the pancakes would also be good with pear-clove sauce and dried tart cherries. You can eat them plain or with more apple- or pear- sauce on top.

I've now tripled the recipe, as I always make that amount and freeze any extras for quick school-morning breakfasts. In 2012, I used roasted puréed pumpkin instead of applesauce with cinnamon and ginger and the results were very good.

3 c. rolled oats
1 1/2 c. ground almonds (almond meal)
3/4 c. ground flaxseed
3 TBSP brown sugar
Dash of cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger, if desired
1-1 1/2 c. raisins or dried tart cherries
1 TBSP baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine salt (as opposed to kosher or coarse salt)
3-3 1/2 c. milk
2 c. unsweetened applesauce or pear sauce or pumpkin purée or plum sauce
6 TBSP (78 g) melted coconut oil plus more for the griddle

  1. Make a flour out of the rolled oat by grinding in a coffee grinder or other such device
  2. Combine oat flour, ground almonds, ground flaxseed, brown sugar, raisins or dried cherries, baking powder, soda and salt in a large bowl. (Adding the raisins to the dry ingredients will help keep them from sticking together in large clumps)
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and applesauce or pear sauce
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and gently mix until just moistened
  5. Add the melted coconut oil
  6. Let batter sit for 5 minutes and then add up to 1/4 c. more milk if the batter is too thick to drop onto the griddle/skillet easily
  7. Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium-low heat
  8. Brush with coconut or other neutral oil and ladle the batter onto the skillet or griddle (no more than 1/2 c. per pancake, smaller if little tykes will be eating them; the second time I made these, I used a 1/8 c. measure). Make sure to spread the batter out well, even if it's very liquidy. I have great success using a portion scoop to get the batter onto the griddle and then I flatten slightly
  9. Cook for a few minutes on the first side. You can tell they're getting done in a similar way to traditional pancakes. You won't see bubbles forming, but the sides of the pancakes will start looking a little dry. If you're worried, lift up a corner to see if it's your desired brownness
  10. Flip the pancakes and cook for an additional few minutes. Remove to a warming plate or serve
  11. Brush the griddle or skillet with a bit more oil and continue with the next round
  12. If you want to freeze leftovers, freeze them on a baking tray first, then transfer them to a zipper-lock bag or other freezer container

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nectarine Freezer Jam

I've been wanting to test out Pomona pectin for quite a while now. It's a type of pectin that allows the cook to use even less sugar than regular pectin and would also allow for the use of alternative sweeteners such as agave nectar, honey, fruit juice, or stevia (shudder). There is an extra step because you have to mix up and add some calcium water, but it's not a big deal at all.

I've also never tried my hand at any kind of jam before, and thought that freezer jam would be a good place to start. I just don't want to mess with the boiling and the worry about safety.

It was the last week of RAMA farm nectarines and it seemed a good way to hold onto a bit of summer by transforming them into jam. Elspeth and Evan were asking to eat it from a spoon, so I'd say the end result is worthwhile.

I didn't stray from the recipe and directions offered on the Pomona pectin package. Though I had intended a no-cook freezer jam, Pomona recommends a brief cooking of peaches (and nectarines, I extrapolated), so I did that. I chose evaporated cane juice as my sweetener, figuring I can branch out to more exotic sweeteners next time if I so choose.

The Pomona pectin is highly effective, so on future occasions, I'd rein in the amount of calcium water I add.

1 package Pomona pectin
4 cups nectarines, lightly mashed (I admit, I put slices in the food processor and pulsed to create a rather irregular texture that I think works just fine. The option recommended elsewhere was to use a pastry cutter, which I would have done if I owned one)
1/4 c. lemon juice
1 1/4 c. evaporated cane juice sugar
3/4 c. boiling water

  1. Prepare 5-6 one-cup glass jars with lids (they don't need to be sterilized, but they should be very clean)
  2. Follow the Pomona pectin package instructions for making up the calcium water
  3. Place the nectarine mixture in a saucepan and heat until boiling, then boil for 2 minutes
  4. Pour this into a large bowl and let it cool
  5. Once it has cooled, add the lemon juice and sugar, stirring well
  6. Boil the water and then add it to the food processor you used for the nectarines, or a blender
  7. To the water, add 4 tsp Pomona pectin powder (or whatever it says on the package), and then process/blend until the powder is dissolved
  8. Stir pectin mixture into nectarines, making sure it is well mixed
  9. Add 4 teaspoons of calcium water, stirring well. Gel should begin to form on the sides of the bowl--I would recognize this better a second time around. If you aren't seeing gel, you can add up to 8 tsp more of the calcium water, one teaspoon at a time, mixing well after each addition. Only add as much calcium water as you need for a somewhat loose jelly
  10. Pour the nectarine jam into your prepared glass jars and freeze until solid
  11. Freezer jam should be kept in the freezer until you want to use a jar. After opening, it can keep up to a week in the fridge

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Potato Allium Soup

This was originally a potato leek soup, but I more often have onions around, so adapted the recipe for that. I've always loved this simple soup, particularly as the weather starts to turn colder. It's very adaptable to whatever you've got on hand. You could try adding some turnips, or carrots or other root vegetables. You could make a vegetarian version by omitting the bacon and maybe substituting some (surprise!) smoked paprika. I had a small number of freshly-shelled cranberry beans on hand, so I threw those in this time. I also think it would be tasty with finely-ground greens.

As with nearly all my potato recipes, the key to this one is the freshly-grated nutmeg. The original inspiration for the soup was from Patricia Wells' Bistro Cooking but by now I've stopped consulting it and just throwing in whatever quantities of stuff I have on hand. I just do my best not to add too much water because watery potato soup is not very appetizing.

1 TBSP olive oil
2 slices good quality pepper bacon, cut crosswise into lardons
1 large onion, finely chopped (I use my food processor) OR
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts, cleaned and cut into half moons
2 lbs potatoes (this is a total guess on quantity. I had a net bag of small yukon golds plus four or so slightly larger ones that had come in our CSA) washed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Freshly-grated nutmeg
1-2 c. cooked white beans (optional)
1 bunch finely ground or chopped greens (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Water to cover
Champagne vinegar to taste (optional)

  1. Heat the olive oil in a 5 quart saucepan over medium heat and add the bacon
  2. Cook until the bacon starts rendering fat and is lightly browned
  3. Add the chopped onion and continue cooking until the onion is very soft
  4. Grate in a bunch of nutmeg and stir
  5. Add the potatoes (Elspeth had a whale of a time throwing them into the pot I'd removed from the stove) and stir
  6. Add enough water just to cover the potatoes; it's better to add to little than too much
  7. Bring the soup to a boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer
  8. Simmer until the potatoes are very soft
  9. Using a stick- or free-standing blender, puree the soup until it is very smooth
  10. Taste and adjust the seasonings
  11. Now add the beans and/or greens, if using, and cook a few more minutes
  12. Adjust seasonings a final time and add some champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar) if the soup could use a little punch
  13. Serve with some crusty bread or with a garlic crouton floating on top

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fruit-Heaped, Nut-Crusted Yogurt Tart

It was family dinner time again, and I needed to come up with a festive dessert that didn't contain any gluten. Though I do want to see if it's possible to make a decent gluten-free cake that isn't full of scary ingredients, my mind does go quickly to pies and tarts as good options.

We have been reveling in the late-summer bounty of wild huckleberries and RAMA farm nectarines, so I decided to make a dessert featuring both. I turned to a tart I made a few years ago but haven't had a chance to make since. It's her Brown Sugar Yogurt Tart in a Nut Crust. I used her recipes as they are written, except that I substitute the Rice Flour Mix explained in my previous gluten-free tart crust recipe for the wheat flour. I also did several steps in the food processor that she described doing by hand.

I made the tart and then heaped it high with huckleberries and presented it with sliced nectarines on the plate. My only gripe about the gluten-free version of the crust is that it's very crumbly, making cutting slightly difficult. It's not too bad, though, once you get the hang of it.

1/4 c. each whole almonds and pecans
3/4 c. rice flour mix (or wheat flour)
1/4 tsp salt
3 TBSP light brown sugar
5 TBSP butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 tsp vanilla extract mixed with 2 TBSP water

  1. Toast the whole almonds and pecans until lightly browned and then cool
  2. Process half the nuts until they form a fine powder; chop the other half of the nuts coarsely
  3. Put the fine nut powder, rice flour mix, salt, and light brown sugar into a food processor and pulse to combine
  4. Spread the butter pieces around the food processor bowl and then pulse the mixture until it forms pea-sized balls
  5. Dump the mixture into a large bowl and stir in the coarsely-chopped nuts
  6. Now add the vanilla water a little at a time, using your hands to bring the dough together
  7. Pat the dough evenly into a tart pan (I always use a metal one with a removable bottom), pressing it with your hands or with the bottom of a glass or bowl and building it up the sides. I had good success with the bottom of the glass custard cup I used for the vanilla water. I always make the crust come up slightly higher than the sides of the pan in case of shrinkage
  8. Once the tart crust is pressed into the pan, keep it in the fridge or freezer until you're ready to use. You'll want it to chill for at least 30 minutes before baking
1 1/4 c. drained yogurt
2 eggs
3 TBSP butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 c. dark brown sugar
2 TBSP rice flour mix (or wheat flour)

2 c. fresh huckleberries or blueberries (optional)
3 nectarines or peaches, sliced (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  2. Place the tart crust on a baking tray
  3. Mix together all of the ingredients except the flour and fruit in a medium bowl
  4. Stir in the flour (leaving the fruit for garnish)
  5. Pour the mixture into the tart crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the tart is set and browned
  6. Once the tart has cooled or when you are ready to serve it, pile on the huckleberries and add some nectarine slices to each portion

Monday, August 31, 2009

Southwest Shepherd's Pie

After speculating that one could use the taco filling recipe to make a kind of Tamale Pie, I just had to test it out! Elspeth isn't keen on tortillas but loves Shepherd's Pie, so I thought she might really enjoy a Southwest version of it. I don't really like the name Tamale Pie (what does it mean?), so opted to focus on its relationship to Shepherd's Pie.

I went to my trusty Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, figuring she must have a cornbread recipe, and she did. I halved the recipe and spread it over an 8 inch square Pyrex pan about 2/3 full of taco filling. Sadly, I'm still without a regular oven (long story), so I had to adapt for the toaster oven. Madison wants you to bake the cornbread at 425 degrees, but I put the toaster oven on 400 and reduced the cooking time to 20 minutes. About halfway through, I needed to cover the pie with foil, as the proximity to the burners in the toaster oven was over-browning the cornbread.

We were very pleased with the end result and will definitely be making this again.

1 recipe Taco Filling
1/2 c. cornmeal
1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 c. milk
1 egg
2 TBSP butter, melted
1 1/2 TBSP agave nectar (or honey or sugar)

  1. Preheat a full-size oven to 425 degrees or a toaster oven to 400 degrees
  2. Firmly pack the taco filling to fill an 8 inch square pan to about 2/3, then butter the remaining top 1/3 of the dish
  3. Whisk together the dry ingredients for the cornbread in a small bowl and make a well in it
  4. Measure the milk into a 2 cup liquid measuring cup then add the remaining ingredients to the cup and whisk together
  5. Pour the wet ingredients into the well of dry ingredients
  6. Stir until the batter just comes together
  7. Spread the batter over the taco filling quickly and place in the oven
  8. Set the timer for 10 minutes to start if using a toaster oven, then check to see if you need to cover with foil. If using a regular oven, start with 20 minutes
  9. Take the southwest shepherd's pie from the oven when the cornbread is cooked-through and lightly browned and the filling is bubbling

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Taco Filling for Health Foodies

I grew up eating a lot of ground beef hard shell tacos. In fact, I didn't know that other kinds of tacos existed until I was well into my 20s. Once I discovered more traditional Mexican tacos, I sought them out and ate them with delight. However, there is a place in my heart and stomach for the tacos of my youth, at least a healthified version of them.

I recently had the pleasure of picking up delicious Mexican tacos and handmade corn tortillas from a restaurant called La Tarasca in Centralia. My husband and I will always plan our drives to and from Portland based on visits to La Tarasca.

I thought it might be nice to fill those fabulous tortillas with my taco filling. It had the same kind of texture contrast as Shepherd's Pie, it turns out, and was quite tasty. The filling is also great with hard taco shells (we get the brands that don't have trans fats), chips, in wheat tortillas or supermarket corn tortillas. Heck, you could probably even make some sort of Tamale Pie with it by covering it with corn bread batter and baking it.

I base my recipe on a Cook's Illustrated ground beef taco recipe, but I made adjustments to the spice quantities because I add so much extra stuff. In addition, I took out all of the hot chile and substituted smoked paprika for the chili powder to ensure a toddler-friendly meal. Finally, though I made the recipe with ground beef this time, I have also had great success with vegetarian 'grounds' (we like Yves). I suspect you could also use ground chicken or turkey. Whatever protein you use, you'll need to taste several times to adjust the salt and flavoring level to your preference.

I use my food processor (quelle surprise) for all of the vegetables except the garlic, for which I use our garlic press.

If you were so inclined, I bet that some finely chopped red or yellow bell pepper would be another nice addition to the filling.

2 TBSP oil
2 small or 1 large onion finely diced
3-5 cloves garlic, finely minced or put through a press
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (mild)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp dried oregano
1 lb ground beef
1 can drained pinto or black beans
1 bunch greens, washed and finely chopped/processed
4 carrots, washed and finely chopped/processed
1 c. chicken or veggie broth (low or unsalted)
1/2 to 1 tube tomato paste (we use Amore in the squeeze tube, you could also use a small can)
1 tsp brown sugar
3-4 tsp vinegar (cider or red wine would work best)
Pepper to taste

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onion
  2. Cook, stirring, several minutes until the onion is softened but not browned
  3. Stir in the garlic and spices and continue cooking for another minute
  4. Add the ground protein item, and stir well to break it up into smaller pieces
  5. Cook until the meat is no longer pink (for veggie grounds, just cook for a few minutes)
  6. Add the beans, greens and carrots as well as the tomato paste and stock
  7. Put a lid on the skillet to steam the veggies--about 5 minutes
  8. Remove the lid and stir then add the brown sugar and cider vinegar
  9. Taste and adjust seasonings to your preference
  10. Use as a filling for hard or soft tacos, burritos, etc

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Zucchini Bread Two Ways

As promised, here are two recipes for zucchini bread. I am a big fan of the traditional cinnamony zucchini bread. But some ten or twelve years ago, I was introduced to the concept of chocolate zucchini bread. It sounded odd, but I was hooked after one bite. It's one of the easiest chocolate desserts I know. Sometimes I make a kind of Mexican chocolate zucchini bread by adding one heaping teaspoon of cinnamon to the cocoa.
The recipe for each kind of zucchini bread makes two loaves, so what I do (or try to do) is combine the recipes to make one loaf of each kind at a time. That's how I'll present the information here; if you want to make two loaves of the same kind, I'll give some shorthand quantities at the end.
I just tried making a full (two loaf) recipe of the chocolate zucchini bread and baking it in a Bundt pan at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Worked really well, though getting it out of the pan (though greased and floured) was problematic. I think it's because the melty chocolate chips stuck to the pan. However, I scraped out the stuck parts, molded them back to the cake, and shook icing sugar over it and it looked fine. Elspeth (the birthday girl reaching the big 2) was impressed, anyway.


3 eggs
1 c. oil (anything but olive oil, really)
1 1/2 c. evaporated cane juice sugar
2 c. grated zucchini
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 c. chopped toasted walnuts (optional)

1/4 c. evaporated cane juice sugar
1/2 c. chocolate chips (we love Trader Joe's Dutch process chips)
1/4 c. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1 1/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and grease and flour two loaf pans
  2. Get out two medium-sized bowls. In one bowl, whisk together the traditional bread's dry ingredients. In the second bowl, do the same for the chocolate zucchini bread's dry ingredients (leave out the extra vanilla for now)
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the common wet ingredients and stir in the grated zucchini
  4. Pour half of this mixture into each of your other bowls (if you want to be more precise, pour the mixed ingredients into a measuring jug and calculate half from there)
  5. Stir the ingredients together in each bowl just until it all comes together
  6. Add the remaining teaspoon of vanilla extract to the chocolate bread
  7. Fill the loaf pans (one batter-type per pan, of course)
  8. Bake for one hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each loaf comes out clean
  9. Cool on a rack for ten minutes before removing breads from pans. Continue cooling (or slice off some and have with a good cup of tea)
These breads freeze really well. I also learned that grated zucchini freezes surprisingly well, so if you've got extra, you can save it for later use.

If you want to make two traditional loaves: 3 eggs; 1 c. oil; 1 1/2 c. sugar; 1 tsp vanilla; 2 c. grated zucchini; 3 c. flour; 1 tsp salt; 1/4 tsp baking powder; 1 tsp cinnamon; 1 tsp baking soda; 1 c. chopped nuts

If you want to make two chocolate loaves: 3 eggs; 1 c. oil; 2 c. sugar; 1 TBSP vanilla; 2 c. grated zucchini; 1 c. chocolate chips; 1/2 c. cocoa powder; 2 1/2 c. flour; 1/2 tsp salt; 2 1/2 tsp baking powder; 1 tsp cinnamon (optional); 1 1/2 tsp baking soda

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Zucchini and Summer Squash Experiments

We've started to receive summer squash and zucchini in our CSA basket and I've been trying to find something to do with it besides zucchini bread (recipe to be posted). Generally speaking, I'm pretty bored by savory zucchini and summer squash dishes. The best preparation so far has been grilling, but even then I wouldn't say that I look forward to eating it.

However, the newsletter that comes with our CSA basket had a recipe for Oven-Baked Zucchini Spears, which sounded intriguing. It's a take on fried mozzarella sticks, substituting zucchini for the mozzarella and cooking in the oven instead of the deep fryer. I thought, well, what the hell. It called for dipping the zucchini in water (this seemed a bad idea to me) and then coating it with an herbed bread crumb and Parmesan mixture. Of course, I planned to omit the Parmesan, and also I was going to use egg white instead of water. The spears were then to be served with marinara sauce.

Stuck in my memory was also this post from the Chowhound Home Cooking Board outlining how one could use the waffle iron, originally for eggplant, but also for zucchini and summer squash. I decided to merge the two ideas together and do an egged breadcrumb-coated zucchini on the waffle iron. The idea is that the squash is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside without having to use gobs of oil. I planned to serve it with My Favorite Pizza Sauce.

Well, it was a complete failure, at least from my perspective. Evan and Elspeth seemed to enjoy it somewhat, even if it was not the most raved-about meal of the year. I tried versions with squash I had pre-salted (to leech out some of the water) and squash I had not. I tried a version with some grated Parmesan, hoping to make something tastier for the two Es.

I originally cut the squash too thick, but even when I cut it thinner, I still wasn't happy with the result. In addition, I had sticking problems even when I greased the (non-stick) waffle iron. I didn't really like my coating either, truth be told. I had gone to our co-op (largely so Elspeth could get the free 'kid-pick' fruit she adores so much) so ended up with hippie panko which may well not be very good. I added dried thyme, oregano and rosemary as well as a bit of garlic powder and salt and pepper. It didn't quite mesh, even when I dramatically upped the salt (since it was bland, bland, bland in addition to being slightly bitter).

My dreams have been dashed! I had in my mind that somehow the squash/zucchini would be fluffy and light and crispy all at the same time. Or at least yummy in some way. I am not sure I have the energy to keep plugging away. If any dear readers (all five or maybe ten of you, for whom I'm very grateful) figure out a worthwhile recipe, do let me know.

We did have an edible meal, since we had 6 ears of corn to gobble up and the pizza sauce is tasty. We did consume all the squash, too, it just wasn't worth the effort of making it.

I got discouraged (and sugar crash-y) before waffling up all the squash I had prepared, so I have some slices left to use up. Tomorrow's meal will be much simpler, as well as a much safer bet. Call me trashy for liking French bread pizza, but I have always had a soft spot for it since the Stouffer frozen variety entered my life in my teens. (God, that stuff tastes nasty now, though, so I would only eat homemade). I'm going to grill or broil the remaining squash and use it as one of our pizza toppings along with some spinach and probably chorizo. We have an Essential Bakery focaccia onhand that is pretty tasty, so that will be our base. I am confident that it will be a tastier meal than what we had tonight, with no waffle iron to clean afterwards!

1 loaf 'French', focaccia or other bread (we use baguette a lot) either homemade or storebought
1 recipe pizza sauce (it's great to keep some of this around in the freezer)
Grated mozzarella cheese to taste (we use the pre-grated low moisture stuff--nothing highbrow for a French bread pizza! You could use fresh if you like)

Spanish chorizo pieces that you've pre-frizzled in a pan to get rid of some of the oil
OR for a veggie pizza, just sprinkle a little smoked paprika on top
Lightly pre-steamed greens (I'm going to process ours since it can be hard to bite off if you use large leaves)
Thinly-sliced zucchini or summer squash that you've pre-broiled or grilled lightly
Chopped kalamata olives
Gently-toasted pine nuts

  1. Preheat your oven or toaster oven to 350 (or so)
  2. Slice your desired amount of bread horizontally and place both cut sides up onto a baking tray
  3. Spoon sauce on the pieces of bread
  4. Add toppings and cheese
  5. Bake for 10 minutes (or so--really depends on oven size, temp and kind of bread and cheese) until cheese is melted and bubbling

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sweet and Sour Pork and Bok Choy

We got some bok choy in our CSA recently, and I wanted to find a way to highlight it in a meal. Elspeth has liked the flavor in the past, but has also found the texture a bit puzzling. I decided to get out the handy-dandy food processor once more and see if finely processing the bok choy would make the veggie easier to consume but also still retain its flavor. We had some ground pork from the farmers' market in the freezer, so I thought I'd try to make an analog to the Teriyaki Ground Turkey and Vegetables dish that's become somewhat of a surprise hit in our repertoire. I knew I could use the teriyaki sauce again, but I wanted to try something new. (Why I wanted to try something new on a day when it was supposed to get to nearly 90 degrees F is a whole other story, but relates to the fact that 90 was the coolest it's supposed to be this week!). I wanted to go in a Chinese direction.

My all-time favorite Chinese cookery writer is Fucshia Dunlop, a British national who went to cooking school in Sichuan province. Her Sichuan cookbook Land of Plenty is a fantastic read as well as a wonderful source of information about Sichuan ingredients and tasty Sichuanese recipes. (I loved her memoir Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper, as well, and, to my delight, I found out just now that she also has a blog The index of Land of Plenty didn't yield anything promising for bok choy, so I decided to look under pork. I wanted some sort of sauce that could go with the ground pork and vegetable. She has an excellent sauce she recommends for dipping wontons, but the chili oil component might not work for Elspeth. I finally hit upon her Sweet and Sour Pork recipe. She uses pork tenderloin and employs quite a different method from the one I wanted to use, but I knew the sauce recipe was a good contender. Thanks to my gluten-free experimentation, I even had potato starch on hand.

I decided to serve the pork and bok choy over brown rice. I can tell you with confidence that cooking brown rice in the microwave is not a good idea. I didn't want the stove to be on for the 40 minutes it takes to cook brown rice, and God knows I wasn't going to make the wonderful oven-baked brown rice that I make in winter time (or any time it's not over 80 degrees). I was heartened by a post on the Home Cooking board of chowhound from a very reputable poster about his success with microwave brown rice. Alas, the technique yielded a very wet bowl of rice, though I will say that the texture of the actual grains of rice was fine.

Couple this loose brown rice with the fact that I got carried away on the quantity of sauce needed for my pork and bok choy, and you end up with a meal of the consistency I like to call 'slop'. Sigh. It's very tasty slop, I'll grant, but let's just say I wouldn't make it the focus of a dinner party. Next time I would not double Dunlop's sauce recipe and I have given her original quantities here.

I wasn't sure how Elspeth would react to this meal. It is on the sweeter side, which she likes in dishes like that Teriyaki Ground Turkey and Vegetables recipe. However, the flavor profile is unlike anything she'd ever had before, largely due to the Chinese black vinegar. Thankfully, she seemed to like it and ate a reasonable portion even though her appetite has been dented by the heat. (Did I mention that it's hot? Or that we really dislike heat in this family?) If I were making this dish for adults or spice-loving children, I'd be tempted to add some chili oil or Sichuan chilis to the dish for an extra flavor element. I might also be tempted to reduce the amount of sugar very slightly, though if I didn't have such a large amount of sauce that might not be an issue. I'm going to (microwave) steam some cabbage we have on hand and add that to our next round to help give more depth of flavor.

1 TBSP neutral flavored oil (you could use chili oil here)
2-3 tsp garlic, minced or put through a press
1 inch piece fresh ginger, minced, put through a press, or grated on a microplane
1 lb ground pork
1 lb bok choy (or some sort of green cabbage)--1 lb is a guess, so use your judgment on the pork to veggie ratio you prefer
3/4 c. ginger-infused chicken stock or regular low-sodium chicken stock
1 tsp sesame oil
3 scallions, green parts only, sliced on the diagonal (optional--I didn't use any)

1/4 tsp salt
3 TBSP sugar (or evaporated cane juice)
2 TBSP Chinese black vinegar or Chinkiang vinegar
1 tsp light soy sauce
2 1/2 tsp potato starch OR 3 3/4 tsp cornstarch

  1. Whisk together the sauce ingredients and set aside
  2. Clean the bok choy and grind in a food processor until a uniform texture. You could use chopped bok choy if you prefer, of course, but might wish to add the stems first then the leaves to the skillet
  3. Heat the oil in a medium to large skillet over medium heat
  4. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for a minute or two
  5. Add the pork and bok choy and saute until the pork is fully cooked
  6. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil
  7. Re-whisk the sauce ingredients and add to the skillet, stirring. The liquid should start to thicken almost immediately
  8. Add the sesame oil and scallions if using, give the mixture a stir, and serve over rice

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Gluten-Free Tart Crust and Two Fillings

My husband's family all lives in town, and we celebrate everything with dinner. We all trade hosting duties. The host provides the main course and the rest of the guests provide the rest. There are only 9 adults who attend regularly these days, so it's a manageable size and everyone loves the entertainment that our toddler provides. One of the family has recently been diagnosed with celiac disease and tomorrow will be the first family celebration since then. We're all in agreement that we want to make a meal that the entire family can enjoy (rather than make a special, different meal for our celiac sufferer). I'm often on dessert duty and was excited to see what I could come up with. Though it would be easy to make a dessert that never would have had gluten in the first place, I wanted to experiment with a dessert that traditionally would contain the offending substance.

I can take no credit for the gluten-free tart crust recipe except for that of being able to find it on the Internet (via glutenfreegirl, I think). I wasn't sure if I should reproduce the recipe here or send people to its source at Hey, that tastes good! In the end, I decided to reproduce it here for convenience while giving full credit to Jill Elise (and her sources, The Joy of Cooking and Smitten Kitchen's version of Dorie Greenspan).

I was really impressed with how it came out. If I didn't know it was gluten-free, I couldn't guess. Maybe it's a bit crisper, but flavor-wise it's what I would expect from a pâte sablée.

My original plan was to fill this tart crust with the glorious raspberry tart inspired by Ruth Reichl's recipe in Tender at the Bone. The magic of the recipe she learned in France is that half the raspberries are baked into the tart and the other half are left raw and piled onto the tart. The combination of fresh raspberry and jammy cooked raspberry is divine. However, the recipe itself gave me problems. I consider myself an intermediate baker and a good direction-follower (in baking, anyway). Yet each time I made this tart, it refused to set in the middle. Enter Deborah Madison. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone has a prune tart that I thought would be easily and deliciously adapted to a raspberry tart, and I was right.

I've also had chocolate pie on the brain. Cook's Illustrated periodically tries to upsell me by sending me sample copies of their sister magazine Cook's Country. I find this magazine a bit too country for me, but this particular sample issue had a recipe for French Silk Chocolate Pie and I found my mouth watering. When our dinner gathering switched to brunch, I opted to change my tart to a chocolate one instead of having to procure raspberries from somewhere other than our favorite vendor at the farmers' market. The recipe is a bit of a pain in the ass because of all the time spent with a hand mixer over the stove, but I think it was worth it. Next time, I'd be tempted to add a slug of whisky (not sure where in the process, though, probably along with the eggs so the alcohol could cook out) or a bit of strong coffee.

Most of the recipes at Hey, that tastes good! use a rice flour mix. I made up a bunch to have for family dinners. The only difference in the proportions I'm giving here is that I use all brown rice flour instead of a 50-50 mix of brown and white, mainly because I don't want to have two kinds of rice flour on hand. She does a combination for economical reasons, which would be more important to me if I needed to cook gluten-free all the time. You will only need 3/4 cup of the mix for the crust, so you may wish to halve her usual amounts.

RICE FLOUR MIX: 2 c. brown rice flour, 2/3 c. potato starch, 1/3 c. tapioca

The dough was quite sticky (perhaps I overprocessed) and made more than could fit in my removable-bottom tart pan, so you may want to keep aside some of the dough to make tartlets. Mmm, tartlets.

3/4 c. rice flour mix
3/4 c. ground almonds (almond meal)
1/3 c. powdered sugar
large pinch of salt
scant 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
4 oz. (1/4 lb, 1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten

  1. Pulse dry ingredients in a food processor briefly
  2. Add the cold, cubed butter to the food processor and pulse until the mixture is coarse with lumps the size of peas
  3. While the processor is running, add the beaten egg. Mix just until the dough comes together
  4. Pat the dough into your tart pan and prick it all over with a fork
  5. Freeze for half an hour (Note: I always want to use my Pyrex pan for tarts, but I love this freezing method to help prevent shrinking. I switched to my metal pan because I don't want to risk shattering by putting the Pyrex directly from the freezer into a hot oven. I may be over-cautious but I'd hate to risk it)
  6. While the dough is cooling, preheat the oven to 375 (I think that next time I'd do 350)
  7. When the dough is cooled, place a large, greased piece of aluminum foil on it, shiny side down (to prevent overbrowning)
  8. Place the tart pan on a baking tray (for convenience) and bake in the oven for 25 minutes
  9. If you're going to make the raspberry tart, remove tart crust from oven, take off the foil and cool. Proceed with raspberry tart recipe
  10. If you're making the chocolate tart, you will need to bake the crust completely. At the 25 minute mark, remove the foil and continue baking. Start with 10 minutes and increase as needed until the crust is golden brown all over. (It tends to be darker than a traditional crust, possibly because of the almonds). Cool and proceed with the chocolate tart recipe

1 fully baked tart crust
4 c. raspberries, halved (it's okay for 2 c. of the raspberries to have been frozen, but do thaw them first. You really need fresh raspberries for the topping, though)
1/2 c. crème fraîche
1 egg
1/2 c. sugar
1 c. ground almonds (almond meal)

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  2. Cover the bottom of your par-baked tart crust with 2 cups of raspberries (fresh or previously-frozen)
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients
  4. Pour over the raspberries in the tart crust
  5. Bake until the custard is set (puffed and golden), about 35 minutes
  6. Remove from the oven and cool completely (I like this tart best cold)
  7. Just before serving, heap the remaining 2 cups fresh raspberries on top of the tart
You could also use just a regular (or gluten-free) pie crust instead of a tart crust

1 fully-baked tart or pie shell
1 c. whipping cream (cold)
3/4 c. evaporated cane juice
2 TBSP water (hmm, I forgot this when I made it and it seemed to turn out okay)
8 oz. 70% (or more) cocoa chocolate (I used Theo's Jane Goodall bars)
1 TBSP vanilla extract
8 oz. (1/2 lb, 1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and softened

  1. Whip the cream to stiff peaks and then refrigerate
  2. Melt the chocolate and set aside (I used the microwave and started with 2 minutes at 70% power)
  3. Set a small amount of water in the bottom of a double boiler to simmer
  4. In the top of the double boiler, combine the eggs, sugar and water and set on top of the barely-simmering water. Ensure that the bottom of the bowl does not make contact with the water
  5. Using an electric mixer on medium, beat the eggs, water and sugar in the double boiler until it is thick and creamy. The temperature of the mixture needs to reach 160 degrees to make sure the eggs are absolutely safe. This took longer than the 7-10 minutes suggested by Cook's Country, possibly because I was too conservative with the water temperature
  6. Turn off the stove and remove the top of the double boiler to set it on a counter. Continue beating with the electric mixer until the custard is at room temperature and very fluffy, about 8 minutes
  7. Now add the chocolate and vanilla extract to the room temperature custard and mix until well-blended
  8. Beat in the softened butter, a few pieces at a time, until the mixture is glossy and smooth (I only had 7 TBSP of butter on hand and didn't miss the extra 1 TBSP at all)
  9. Now, fold in the chilled whipped cream until there are no white streaks left
  10. Pour the filling into the prepared tart shell. If there is any left over, just put it in little bowls to chill and eat as pudding later
  11. Refrigerate the tart and any pudding cups at least 3 hours and up to 24 hours
  12. Serve with whipped cream and garnish with fresh berries if in season (cherries, raspberries, strawberries, even blueberries would be good)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Summer Smoothie

I suppose that this recipe isn't that much different than the guidelines already published in my first Smoothie post. However, there is some new information I'd like to share.

In my original post, I'd speculated that avocado might be a good addition to a smoothie, but I hadn't yet tried it. Since then, I can confirm that avocado works beautifully, so if you're wanting to get some quality fat and calories into yourself or your loved one, I recommend using them. Thanks to a Trader Joe's Frequent Flyer, I got the idea of freezing avocados. This had never occurred to me before, but it's brilliant. The days of Elspeth eating 1/4 to 1/2 an avocado per day are over now that she's eating all the foods we do, so it's hard for us to use up an avocado without it getting nasty. Freezing comes to the rescue--there is no discoloration or anything. My guess is that a previously-frozen avocado is best used in mashed or blended form, but that's how we're most likely to want to use it anyway. My plan is to quarter and peel a ripe avocado, tray freeze it, and then store in a freezer bag for easy use in smoothies.

The other thing about avocados is that, while we can't get locally grown ones, they do at least grow in California. Bananas, our other common smoothie 'smoother' do not. So if I want to decrease the amount of tropical fruit we consume, avocado is a great substitution. (Not to mention the fact that I'm rather squeamish about overripe bananas).

There is no real need to use frozen ingredients in the smoothie; I simply think that the texture is really nice when using frozen items (the avocado or the berries, etc). What I did in this case was pit and quarter my apricots and my cherries and then stick them in the freezer for an hour or so until I was ready to make the smoothie. So nice to use the bounty from the farmers' market.

I use the nut-soaking shortcut almost exclusively now because Elspeth doesn't decide a day in advance what she's going to want for breakfast the next day.

INGREDIENTS (for 2 servings of smoothie)
1/2 c. raw almonds plus water to cover
3/4 to 1 c. water
1/4 to 1/2 avocado
2 apricots, pitted, quartered and lightly frozen
1 large handful cherries, pitted and lightly frozen
2-4 TBSP multi-grain cereal (optional)
1 TBSP ground flaxseed (optional)
1-2 TBSP agave nectar (optional)

  1. Place the nuts in a medium bowl and cover them with water. Microwave them at 50% power for 5 minutes and then let them sit for another 5
  2. Place the nuts, the 3/4 to 1 c. water and the avocado in a blender and process until very smooth. You should scrape down the mixture once; you may need to add a bit more water
  3. Add remaining ingredients and process until the mixture has no lumps
  4. Adjust texture and sweetness as needed and serve

Friday, July 17, 2009

Agave Limeade

I feel I must post a link to the Whole Life Nutrition website, as I have adopted and adapted so many of their recipes for my kitchen. Here is yet another, for limeade using agave (or honey). We had a bag of limes from Trader Joe's lying around and Elspeth was a bit peeved that Evan and I were having a couple of Pimm's No. 1 Cups (well, peeved that we wouldn't share with her, that is), so I decided to make her her own special drink. She was unsure at first, but seemed to warm up to it. She skipped the limeade part and just referred to it as 'gaveh nekar'. Both Evan and I liked it a lot. I didn't make any adaptations except for making a larger batch. I also skipped making the raspberry ice cubes because I'm lazy that way.

3/4 c. freshly-squeezed lime juice
3/8 c. agave nectar (or honey)
6 c. water

Mix all ingredients in a pitcher and stir. Taste and adjust sweetness, if needed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Simple Blueberry Muffins

We've just started blueberry season here and scored ourselves half a flat of organic beauties at the farmers' market. Though in some ways it seems a shame to cook such wonderful gems, it's hard to beat a good blueberry muffin. There are tons of good recipes out there and this one is not going to set the world on fire with its innovation. But if you're looking for a good-tasting, easy recipe (that would be fun to make with kids, if you're so inclined), this one works for us. I got the original recipe out of or that infamous Betty Crocker (or was it Better Homes and Gardens) cookbook whence came the Snickerdoodles and Russian Teacakes recipes, but I've made a few modifications over the years, mainly because I increased the batch due to the fact that my muffins must be bigger than the recipe-writer's.

I don't health-food these up too much. If you want to throw in flaxseed or wheat germ or cornmeal, go ahead.

This recipe also works brilliantly with huckleberries, the tart and translucent relative of the blueberry. You can use either the purple or the red kind.

2 eggs
1 c. milk
1/4 c. vegetable oil
2 1/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 c. organic evaporated cane juice sugar
1 TBSP baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 c. fresh or frozen blueberries (I never bother to thaw first if using frozen)

  1. Make sure oven rack is in the center and preheat oven to 400 degrees; prepare a muffin tray
  2. Stir together the flour, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside
  3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs lightly
  4. Add the milk and the vegetable oil, mixing well after each addition
  5. Stir in the sugar and beat until well mixed
  6. Add the dry ingredients you'd set aside and stir until the batter is just moistened
  7. Fold in the blueberries
  8. Distribute the batter evenly into the muffin cups and place in the oven
  9. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the muffins are well-risen with a nicely golden cap
  10. Serve warm (we like to reheat leftovers in the toaster oven--they also freeze well)

Warm Almond Drink with Spices

This tasty treat really hit the spot for me when I first brought Elspeth home. It's yet another recipe from Whole Life Nutrition. The authors call it Warming Raspberry Leaf Almond Drink. If it's hot where you are, I bet it would also be nice iced, kind of like iced chai or horchata.

The original intention behind the recipe is to 'nourish breastfeeding mothers, especially in the early postpartum stage'. Our dear friend made this for me in my 'third day crazies' stage of motherhood and it may well have saved my sanity even if it had an unquantifiable effect on my milk production.

You essentially make your own almond milk first and then make the spiced tea part of it. Thus, you could streamline by using prepared almond milk. If it is sweetened, simply omit the honey in the recipe. And if you're not a nursing new mom, it would still be delicious without the raspberry leaves, so you could further decrease the amount of time to prepare this soothing beverage.

4 c. water
1 c. raw almonds, ground to a fine powder

2 c. water
2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
3 sticks cinnamon
4 whole cloves
2 tsp fennel seeds
3 tbsp dried raspberry leaves

1/3 c honey or to taste

  1. Place four cups of the water in a pot with the ground almonds and cover. Bring to a boil and simmer on low for 30 minutes (still covered)
  2. In a smaller pot, combine remaining 2 cups of water with the ginger, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and fennel seeds and simmer for 30 minutes, covered
  3. Remove the pot from the heat and add the raspberry leaves
  4. Let steep, covered, for 10-20 minutes
  5. Strain the herb mixture into a blender (discard the herbs)
  6. Add the almond milk mixture to the blender and blend on high until very smooth
  7. Add the honey and blend an additional minute
  8. Strain drink through fine mesh strainer if desired (I don't bother)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pasta with Spiced Onion-Nut-Cream Sauce

What is a gal to do when she is overrun with CSA greens? Well, I had thought that a variation of saag paneer would be nice (notwithstanding the fact that I don't eat paneer). However, none of the recipes I had looked that great and my plea on Facebook went unanswered. Using a bit of lateral thinking, I decided to adapt a favorite recipe that I got from a friend years ago from the Back to Square One cookbook by Joyce Goldstein. I thought of it because saag paneer mixes spinach and cream. This recipe (originally called, I think, Circassian Chicken Fettucine with Spiced Onions and Nuts) uses cream, so I figured, what the hell, I'll see if I can add a ton of pre-steamed and finely ground greens to it and have it be tasty.

Of course, adding the greens is not the only adaptation I've made. First off, I'm not using fettucine. I think it's delicious with fresh fettucine and I recommend others try it if it sounds good. However, long noodles are really tough for Elspeth to eat, so I opted for our standby of whole wheat penne. In addition, I decided not to use chicken breasts. Again, the recipe is quite tasty this way, but we've discovered that Elspeth isn't particularly fond of chicken. (To adapt my version back to the chicken version, you'll want to pan sear your chicken breasts, remove them from the pan, make the sauce and then re-add). It's also easier to use fake meat--Quorn tenders to be precise. If you're squeamish about fake meat and have no interest in chicken, my guess is that the dish would also be fine without a central protein.

It turns out that Elspeth was less fond of this dish than I expected, largely, I think, due to the nuts. I think the texture threw her off. When I make it again, I think I'll whiz the nuts and the cream in the blender to make a very smooth nutty cream.

2 TBSP olive oil
2 c. diced onion
1/4 tsp ground cayenne (optional or to taste)
2 tsp ground coriander
3/4 c toasted walnuts
1/2 c toasted almonds
1 1/2 c cream
1 1/2 c chicken or veggie stock
1 bunch greens, finely chopped and steamed
1 package Quorn tenders (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Prepare whatever pasta you're using according to the directions; if you're using dried pasta, you can make the sauce in the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta
  2. If you want a really smooth sauce, combine the nuts, cream and stock in the blender and process until it's a nice consistency. Set aside
  3. Place olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent
  4. Stir in the coriander and cayenne and cook another 3 minutes
  5. Add the nut/stock/cream mixture and cook for a few minutes
  6. Now add the previously steamed greens and the package of Quorn
  7. Continue cooked until the Quorn is all the way cooked and the sauce has reduced and thickened
  8. Serve over pasta

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Potato Heaven

I mentioned this one last night over cocktails with some moms from preschool and was requested to post it. Patricia Wells has a recipe in her Bistro cookbook that I think is called Lyonnaise Potatoes or Galette Lyonnaise but that we call Potato Heaven. Not revolutionary but awfully tasty. I need to make it again, soon. In my lean and hungry days post-college, I think when I made this it became my entire meal. These days, I'd be more apt to use it as a side dish. It also occurred to me as I was falling asleep last night that it could make a super-tasty topping for Shepherd's Pie.

2 lb. baking potatoes
2 medium onions, cut in half and then sliced into half moons
6 TBSP unsalted butter
Lots of freshly-grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste

  1. Boil your potatoes as if you're going to mash them and set aside
  2. Cook sliced onions in 2 TBSP (1 ounce) melted butter until soft but not brown
  3. Grate in tons of nutmeg and season with salt and pepper
  4. Gently smash your potatoes (you don't want them to be too smooth) and add to onions
  5. Add 2 TBSP more butter; always grate in more nutmeg at this point, too
  6. Put in a baking dish (9x13 glass one is great, or a large oval ceramic dish) and dot the top with yet again 2 TBSP butter
  7. Put under the broiler until butter is melted and top is lightly browned

Southwest Quinoa Salad or Soup

This is a great hot weather recipe that we learned at our Organically Grown Babies class at the local co-op. It's very adaptable to any changes you want to make in the type or nature of the veggies. For example, Elspeth loves peppers, but only when they're cooked. So instead of adding raw red pepper, I added a roasted one. The original recipe calls for jicama, which we don't love and never have around, so last summer when we were overrun with CSA radishes, I substituted those. (They do turn bitter after a day, so you'll want to add a fresh batch at each meal). Another of Elspeth's favorite veggies is corn, so I cooked from organic frozen corn kernels and threw those in. The possible combinations are legion. (A side note here. This is how far overboard I go sometimes in my locavore and parenting perfectionism: we're considering getting an Oxo implement that takes corn off a cob. This made me think that I was now obligated to cook and strip enough corn kernels to keep Elspeth in local corn for an entire year. Evan talked me down from that ledge by looking at me as if I were completely insane, which I was, for a moment).

Well, as it turned out, Elspeth just wasn't fond of the texture of the room temperature cooked quinoa. I know she likes quinoa, so I searched my brain for alternatives. I was quite proud of myself for coming up with the idea of turning it into soup! I took some of the quinoa, black beans, carrots, and roasted red pepper and warmed them in some chicken stock. I pureed this blend until smooth. To add texture, I then added some additional beans whole and some frozen corn and let it cook in the soup. I am pleased to say that Elspeth seemed to like it quite a bit, though she also demanded that I add cooked peas, mainly because she adores peas and prefers to eat them with every meal.

I adapted the technique of this recipe further by keeping everything separate until eating time. This allows all eaters to choose exactly the ingredients and proportions to put in their bowls. It also makes the salad taste nicer if you're going to have leftovers. I dressed the quinoa, the beans and the roasted pepper/ corn, so each had some of the lime flavor.

1 1/2 c. uncooked quinoa, well rinsed
2 c. water
pinch of salt

1 1/2 c. cooked black beans
1 red bell pepper, roasted or raw, in bite-sized pieces
1/4 c. chopped cilantro or parsley (optional)
1 c. chopped jicama or radishes (optional)
2 c. chopped carrots (I steamed some lightly for Elspeth's portion and used these cooked carrots in the soup version)
1 c. cooked corn kernels

1/4 c. canola oil
2-4 TBSP freshly-squeezed lime juice
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)
Pinch salt

1/2 c. toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 avocado, in chunks

  1. Place the rinsed quinoa in a large saucepan, cover with the water and add a pinch of salt
  2. Cover the pot, bring to a boil over medium heat and then reduce heat to a simmer
  3. Cook approximately 20 minutes or until all the water is absorbed and there are holes in the grain (do not stir)
  4. Remove quinoa from heat and set aside to cool slightly
  5. Whisk up the dressing
  6. When the quinoa is no longer steaming, mix half of the dressing into it
  7. In a separate bowl, coat the black beans with about 3/4 of the remaining dressing
  8. Finally, coat the remaining vegetables with the rest of the dressing (you can mix or keep separate these veggies at your discretion, but as I mentioned, if using radish, it should be kept separate and chopped up fresh at each meal)
  9. Give each eater a bowl and assemble as desired, using pepitas and avocado for garnish

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Savory Custards with Asparagus

A dear friend of ours needs to eat very soft foods at the moment. Most of her diet has been liquefied for a few days now. I was trying to come up something savory that isn't soup and suddenly it occurred to me that custard would be a good possibility. I was prepared to make up my own recipe, but Deborah Madison and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone came to my aid yet again. I took her savory custard recipe, made it slightly larger (added 4 eggs instead of 3 because we had medium ones), and incorporated both garlic and asparagus.

Instead of leaving bits of garlic in the custard, I infused the garlic in the milk and eggs for an hour or so in the fridge and then strained the mixture. Madison wants you to strain it anyway, so I figured this would work well. My tasters tell me that the garlic came through nicely. (Indeed, I made a dish that I would never consider eating myself, as I dislike both cheese and asparagus. I do this with Elspeth all the time and am thrilled that so far her palate is more like her father's.)

Asparagus does seem awfully stringy for someone who needs liquid or super-soft food, I know. However, I put it through a food mill. Of course, that meant that the 6-8 lovely thin stalks ended up being only a few tablespoons worth. Thus, the custards were more asparagus-scented than anything. Even if you are unrestricted in your ability to eat textures, you may still wish to put the asparagus through a mill in order to keep the custardy goodness intact. If that is the case, you'll also want to double the amount of asparagus.

Our weekly trip to the farmers' market scored us the eggs and the organic asparagus, but we got the cheese from our co-op because I didn't want to risk a less-than-luscious texture for our friend by buying some locally-produced Fontina equivalent (and, as I don't eat cheese, I would have no idea what would make a good substitute).

Eaters looking for a bit more texture could try not only using minced or diced up bits of asparagus instead of milled, but also a bread crumb topping. I would recommend in that case omitting the garlic from the custards and instead using this garlic bread crumb recipe. I'll bet that cheese lovers could improve on the bread crumbs further by adding a little bit of Parmesan.

This would make a nice light supper accompanied by a salad. I'm delighted to report that our friend was able to eat and enjoy the custard, testament both to her recovery and to the softness of the meal.

Note that I made a second variation of this dish a few weeks later. Instead of scenting it with asparagus, I used caramelized onions (about 1/2 a very large onion), cooked spinach (1/2 c. total after cooking and milling) and lots of grated nutmeg. Very Frenchy, as a friend said. I love the combination of onions and nutmeg and it's so great with spinach, too.

3-4 eggs (use more eggs if using medium eggs)
1 2/3 c. milk (I use whole these days and suspect it will work best, but feel free to experiment)
3/4 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
1 clove garlic put through a garlic press or finely minced (optional)
1/2 c. grated Fontina cheese
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. cooked asparagus diced or put through a food mill (you'll want 1/2 cup volume regardless, so if you are going to put it through a food mill, you'll need quite a lot of asparagus to start out with)

  1. Mix together the eggs, milk, salt, pepper and garlic in a bowl and set aside to infuse. If you're going to leave it for over 20 minutes, place in the refrigerator.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly butter six 1-cup ramekins or custard cups
  3. Prepare to make a water bath by bringing a few cups of water to a boil and then taking it off the heat and setting it aside
  4. Prepare your asparagus and grate your cheeses (this lets the egg/milk/garlic mixture infuse as long as possible)
  5. Once all of your ingredients are prepared, strain the milk/egg mixture into a medium-sized bowl
  6. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well
  7. Pour the custard mixture into the six ramekins, distributing evenly. Sprinkle on the bread crumbs, if using
  8. Place ramekins in a 9 x 13 dish (mine is Pyrex), then place this on the oven shelf and pour the hot water into the dish (but not, of course, into the ramekins). You want the water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Close up the oven
  9. Bake until the tops are starting to turn golden and the custards are set, about 20 minutes. Note that you still want a jiggly spot about the size of a dime in the center of each one
  10. Remove custards from the oven and water bath and let cool 5 minutes before serving
  11. Madison states that custards can be reheated by brushing the tops with milk or cream, covering with foil, and baking at 375 degrees for 15-25 minutes. This sounds a bit dubious to me since you're cooking it at higher heat for longer than you did originally, but this is what she says about reheating custards and timbales generally (not this recipe specifically)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lentil Soup with Walnuts and Cream

Now this is what I call a great meal for a weeknight! I love the other Deborah Madison lentil soup recipe I published, and it is hardly difficult, but the one I'm publishing now is even easier. This one comes from her Vegetable Soups cookbook, another gem. The only thing you have to chop is an onion and yet the soup is full of flavor. The first time I made it, I thought the flavor came from the rich, smoked turkey stock we used. This time, though, I only had 4 cups of homemade chicken stock and used water for the remaining 2 cups. The soup was still surprisingly robust. I think this is due to two things: the butter used to saute the onion, and the bay leaf that you saute along with that onion in the butter. I hadn't used this technique before, but I think that the flavor of the bay is released by the this treatment. I also found that the soup improved in flavor the next day.

In my usual fashion, I changed the recipe by adding some ground greens (Russian kale, in this case). They didn't detract at all from the subtle yet hearty flavor of the soup, and may well have added to it.

Madison is a strong advocate of soaking lentils. This is something I almost never do, but I do for this soup (mainly because she reminds one to do so right in the recipe). She believes that the lentils are more flavorful after soaking, so perhaps in the end this is the real reason the soup taste so good despite its simplicity. Any amount of soaking time will be good, she says, but 2 hours is optimal (she didn't say anything about a longer soak--I would think if you wanted a really long soak, say from morning until dinner time or overnight, you should keep them in the fridge).

I really like the pounded walnut topping that Madison suggests with this soup, though if I'm feeling lazy I won't bother with it. (In fact, it's this topping that makes me wanted to try a walnut version of my Everyday Pasta for Spring and Summer). I found this time that I wanted more walnut flavor in the soup, so next time, I might be tempted to put ground, toasted walnuts and garlic directly into it. I'll post about it if I try this variation.

This is another one that got the Elspeth seal of approval, though she tends to get full after a small portion.

2 c. lentils, picked over and rinsed (I use Puy lentils)
1 onion, finely diced
2-4 TBSP unsalted butter
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
6 c. chicken, turkey or vegetable stock or water (if you haven't soaked your lentils, expect to use up to 2 cups additional water)
1 bunch greens, washed and ground up in a food processor (or very finely chopped)

1 garlic clove, finely diced or put through a press
1/3 c. toasted walnuts
1/3 c. crème fraîche or cream (I actually used strained yogurt)
Dash of salt (Madison doesn't call for this, but I think it could use it)
Parsley for garnish (I put the parsley straight into the garlic, walnuts and yogurt)

  1. After picking through the lentils and discarding any stones or debris, soak them for one to two hours, then rinse and proceed with the recipe
  2. Melt the butter in a large sauce pan or soup pot (I used our 5 quart and there was plenty of room)
  3. Add the onion and bay leaf and saute over medium high heat for 5 or so minutes, until the onion is soft but not browned
  4. Add the lentils, salt and stock and bring to a boil
  5. Simmer, covered, until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes
  6. Add the ground greens and let cook a further 10 minutes or so. Taste and adjust the seasoning (I added a splash of champagne vinegar at this point)
  7. Turn off the heat and let sit while you make the walnut sauce
I used the food processor for the sauce because I'm lazy, but I think a mortar and pestle might have worked better, so I'll give directions for that. It's what Madison suggests, anyway.
  1. Place the garlic clove and a pinch of salt in the mortar, mix together with the pestle
  2. Add the walnuts and parsley and begin to work them into a paste
  3. Add the cream, crème fraîche, or strained yogurt a tablespoon at a time to help break down the walnuts. If you have any extra dairy, just add it to the soup
When you serve the soup, add a generous dollop of the walnut sauce to each bowl and swirl to blend