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