Monday, March 20, 2017

Kung Pao-Inspired Workday Tofu and Cauliflower

Work lunches are a perpetual struggle for me. I never go out for lunch or get take-out for a variety of reasons, but figuring out something tasty and filling is always a challenge. I don't love sandwiches or salads (except my kale salad or that cucumber walnut salad in the summer. MMMMM). I prefer a hot lunch and I want the meal to be nutritious. I've tried a bunch of stuff, like making dumplings ahead and rotating that with homemade falafel, but sometimes I just don't have the wherewithal to pre-prep quite so much. Enter this dish. I saw Nourish Evolution's Kung Pao Cauliflower and was intrigued. I happened to have a spare half head of cauliflower and I thought that it might be savory enough to keep me satisfied, provided I also include a block of tofu. I made it and liked it well enough, but didn't like the idea of balsamic vinegar or Sriracha. Then I realized that if I really wanted Kung Pao, I should be used Fuchsia Dunlop's Gung Bao Chicken recipe as my baseline. Much better. This recipe is called "kung pao-inspired" because I take enough shortcuts with Dunlop's recipe that I don't want anyone thinking this is in any way a true Chinese recipe. Instead, it's an easy, savory, delicious way to make all three of my packed work lunches for the week at one go.

2 TBSP sugar
1 1/2 potato starch or 2 1/4 tsp cornstarch
4 tsp soy sauce (Dunlop says half light and half dark soy sauce but my pantry only has Nama shoyu right now so I used all of that and it was fine)
2 TBSP Chinkiang or Chinese black vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
2 TBSP water or stock
1 TBSP hot chili oil (optional)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tsp grated fresh ginger, or to taste

1/2 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 block firm or extra firm tofu, cut into bite-sized squares. Pressed or brined in a hot water salt solution as desired (I didn't bother--just cut it up and blotted with a towel. There was a bit of spatter in the pan but not too much)
2 TBSP oil that can withstand high heat such as canola or peanut
1/2 c dry roasted peanuts


  1. Whisk the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste and adjust to your preferences for spice, salt and sweet. Set near the stove
  2. Blanch the cauliflower florets in boiling water for 2 minutes then shock in ice water. Then drain the water and pat dry
  3. Set your dried cauliflower and tofu near the stove
  4. In a large skillet (I use our 12-inch cast iron pan), heat the 2 TBPS oil on medium-high until shimmering. Add the tofu in a single layer and brown on a few sides
  5. When the tofu is mostly golden, push it to the sides of the pan and add the cauliflower. Cook for a few minutes, stirring, until the cauliflower is browned in spots
  6. Give the sauce a final stir and then pour over the cauliflower and tofu. Immediately lower the heat to low or medium-low so it doesn't burn. The sauce will thicken on contact. Stir well to coat then remove from heat. Add the peanuts now, or, for maximum crunch, save them to the side and add after re-heating right before eating. I get three generous lunch servings out of this, more if I serve over rice or another grain

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Mid-Atlantic Soda Bread

This is an interpretation of King Arthur Flour's Irish Soda Bread recipe, which they themselves admit is not a totally traditional Irish version. Instead, they lighten it up a bit with egg and a touch of sugar and also add in currants or raisins.
I have taken this adapted version and changed it further to suit our tastes (and the fact that I don't really have white flour in the house) and called it Mid-Atlantic lest someone deride me for not being a purist.
For some reason I always think that soda bread has oats in it and so I'd decided to add some. For the white bread flour in KA's recipe, I use a mix of oat flour (simply rolled oat I put in the coffee grinder) and spelt. I also use dried tart cherries because we like those better than raisins and I never have currants around. I increased the quantity to 3/4 cup to ensure a bit of cherry in every bite.
Finally, I switched the mixing method to the food processor to make things as simple as possible.
The resulting loaf is properly craggy but also tender and tasty.

276 g flour from hard red wheat berries
75 g flour from whole grain spelt
75 g flour from rolled or steel cut oats
3 TBSP sugar
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp table salt
4 TBSP butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 c dried tart cherries, currants or raisins
1 1/3 c buttermilk or plain yogurt or kefir or a mix of whey and milk
1 egg


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and grease an 8 or 9 inch cake pan (to help the loaf keeps its shape). I just used a bit of cooking spray
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, add the flours, sugar, soda and salt and pulse to combine
  3. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is in pea sized lumps
  4. Add the dried fruit and pulse a few more times so that it makes slightly smaller pieces
  5. Crack the egg into the buttermilk (I just do this all in the glass measuring jug) and lightly beat
  6. Pour the wet mixture through the feed tube of the food processor while pulsing until combined
  7. Leaving the batter in the bowl, give it a stir to ensure the buttermilk isn't in the center, then let rest for 5-10 minutes. This is because whole grain flour takes longer to absorb liquid and ensures you won't end up adding too much extra flour
  8. At the end of the rest, turn out the batter onto a lightly floured board or counter and knead a few times, adding a bit more buttermilk if it's too crumbly to hold together or a bit more flour if it's super sticky
  9. Make a large round loaf and flatten slightly. Place in the cake pan and cut a large X or cross in the loaf
  10. Bake for 40-55 minutes or until a toothpick or cake tester comes out basically clean. Using convection it was about 45 minutes for me
  11. Remove loaf from oven and turn out from pan. Cool completely before slicing, as hard as that is. I like to cut into quarters, following the X and then make little wedges from there.
  12. Enjoy as-is or with butter or jam. Extra nice with a cup of tea

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Golden Chicken and Millet Soup

One final soup recipe of the day. The Navy Bean and Ham Soup is for lunches, and this golden chicken millet soup is for dinners. I was going to make just plain old chicken alphabet soup, which the girls really love, but I've been craving millet lately and also wanted a soup that I could purée. After all, what a waste of alphabet letters if they're just going to be turned into mush.  Again, I didn't want to use kale and end up with an unappetaizing color and I had the other half of the cabbage to use from the bean soup anyway.
I didn't use my Instant Pot for the whole thing since mine is only 5 quart capacity and I was also simultaneously using it for the navy bean soup, but I did use it to poach the chicken. Normally I roast chicken I use in soup, but because of that tenderness requirement for ultimate ediblity, I decided to poach. I also could then use the poaching liquor to supplement the stock. I normally try to use a bit less meat in my soups but I used three full split breasts this time (for about 8-12 servings to be fair) to  make sure this was hearty enough to keep the 9 year old fully sustained. Feel free to reduce the amount of chicken to suit your preferences and what you've got on hand.
The golden part of the soup comes from the turmeric. I like its slightly astringent flavor and the gorgeous color it imparts.
There is nothing fancy about this soup or the recipe. In fact, the vegetable base is basically identical to the Navy Bean and Ham Soup; I processed all of them together and split them among my pots. I love that with the same base, I ended up with two totally different soups. I write this one down so I can remember it for another day!

3 large bone-in chicken breasts
2 TBPS olive oil
1 large onion
2-4 ribs celery
2-4 carrots
2-3 cloves garlic
2 tsp turmeric
1 c millet, rinsed and drained
6 c unsalted chicken stock plus poaching liquor
2-3 c water
2 tsp kosher salt


  1. Place the chicken breasts in the insert of the Instant Pot with 2-3 cups of water. I think my results would have been even softer had I mostly covered the chicken. I also removed the skin since it would just have been a flabby mess after poaching. Instead I plan to roast it up for as a guilty pleasure snack later
  2. Close the lid and choose the Meat mode for 10 minutes at high pressure
  3. Let the pressure lower naturally after the cooking time is over but you can turn off Keep Warm
  4. Remove the chicken from the liquid and shred. You can save the bones for stock though you'll want to be sure to mix with raw bones or else your stock might taste tired. Set chickens aside
  5. Process the vegetables very finely in the food processor
  6. Turn the heat to medium-high in a large Dutch oven and heat the oil
  7. Add the vegetables. I start with the onion and let that go on its own for a while then add the rest as I process them
  8. Once the vegetables are soft, add the turmeric and stir to coat and bloom a bit
  9. Add the washed millet and the stock, water and salt
  10. Bring to a boil, then simmer 15-20 minutes until the millet is soft
  11. Add the srhredded chicken and continue to cook for a little bit to meld the flavors (or just keep it warm until you're ready to eat)
  12. If desired, purée the soup and adjust for seasoning. As with the bean soup, a splash of vinegar is welcome to brighten the flavor 

Instant Pot Navy Bean and Ham Soup

Continuing on the theme of very soft foods for the daughter with the palate expanders, I wanted to make her a soup for school lunches this week. I wanted something that I could purée to silkiness that would be nourishing and sustaining. Enter navy bean and ham soup! I do love Tuscan Cranberry Bean Stew with a ham variation but wanted something more similar the the super simple navy bean soup I grew up eating. Besides, I didn't fancy the idea of pureeing a soup with kale in it for fear of the resulting color! Since I couldn't make myself prepare a soup without a major vegetable, instead of kale I used the food processor to finely grind up half a head of green cabbage. I did this last week with my lentil beef barley soup (this recipe with ground beef instead of Italian sausage and no fennel seeds) and it turned out great. There was no sulfurous smell or taste from the cabbage and no one suffered any digestive distress (i.e. gas) as we all did when I once added a head of cauliflower to a puréed soup.

I love using the Instant Pot to cook beans from dry, but since I had the time I decided to brine the beans to ensure maximum flavor and tenderness. If you choose not to brine, increase the cooking time to 40 minutes and add an additional 1 tsp kosher salt (and then adjust to taste after).

The resulting soup would have been nice as-is, but I do really like the texture after pureeing it with the immersion blender. I didn't have to add any extra salt or flavoring. It's just a mild, straightforward, tasty soup that made enough to feed all of us for multiple lunches this week.

To make the soup vegan or vegetarian, replace the butter with olive oil and the chicken stock with vegetable stock and omit the ham.

1 lb dry navy beans, washed and picked over, brined over night in 4 quarts of water plus 3 TBSP kosher salt
2 TBSP unsalted butter
1 large onion
2-3 ribs celery
2-3 carrots
1-2 cloves garlic, optional
1/2 head green cabbage
1/2 - 3/4 lb ham, finely diced
4 c unsalted chicken stock (or low sodium--if salted, omit any extra salt)
2-3 c water
1/2 tsp kosher salt


  1. Finely chop the onion, celery, carrots, cabbage and garlic. I do this successively in my food processor, which makes the prep a snap
  2. Melt the butter using the Sauté mode in the Instant Pot then add the onions. Stir frequently and cook until the onions are soft. Add the other vegetables as you finish processing them
  3. Once all the veggies are soft, add the diced ham and continue sautéing until a bit of the water has evaporated
  4. Drain the brined beans and rinse them well
  5. Add the beans to the pot, followed by the stock and water. Give the mixture a stir to ensure that the vegetables aren't stuck to the bottom of the pot
  6. Put the lid on the Instant Pot and close as directly, making sure to close the valve (my usual mistake)
  7. Use the soup/stew mode and set the time to 25 minutes at high pressure
  8. Once the cooking time is done, let the pressure release naturally
  9. Purée if desired, then taste for seasoning and adjust as desired. A dash of clove might taste nice. If it seems too dull, try a splash of champagne or sherry vinegar

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

My eldest has had palate expanders installed and we are having an extremely rough time of it. We know she will learn how to eat somewhat normally with them but we are at the very front end of the learning curve. Consequently, we are drinking a lot more smoothies than usual so I need to branch out a bit from our usual rotation between mixed berry and mango.

The girls love the peanut butter and banana combo, so this recipe seemed a promising start. Of course I immediately messed with the recipe based on known preferences (more peanut butter!!) and what I had in the house. They gave it a double thumbs up, though they wouldn't mind if the banana flavor were more prominent, so do what you think your family will like.

Made this again in November 2017 and simplified it based on how I make our other regular smoothies

INGREDIENTS (2 servings)
1 1/2 or 2 frozen bananas (they don't have to be frozen but the smoothie will be colder)
1 1/2 c plain unsweetened yogurt (I fill to the .6L mark on my blender)
3 TBSP ground flaxseed
3-4 TBSP natural peanut butter (any kind you like but unsweetened)
Generous sprinkle of vanilla powder or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp honey OR (and I think this is better) 1 1/2 tsp pure maple syrup


  1. Place all ingredients except for honey in the jar of a blender
  2. Blend (we use smoothie mode) and pour the honey through the top (or else it might clump because everything is so cold)
  3. Serve

Sunday, March 5, 2017

100% Whole Grain Pizza Dough

I published my favorite pizza dough from Patricia Wells years ago and it is still a fabulous recipe. However, now that I have my beloved Komo Fididbus 21 grain mill, I don't really use any all-purpose white flour. The original recipe is easy to convert, but I wanted to publish a version that takes all the guess-work out of it, particularly since Wells' recipe goes more by volume than weight (for example, she calls for flour in cups and in parentheses says that's 1lb or 500g. One pound is not 500g and in a dough recipe the difference of around 50g can make a difference). Finally, I reverse the mixing method because I use instant yeast now--there is no need to mix it with liquid first and it's far easier for me to grind my grain straight into the food processor bowl. I use my heavy-duty Breville Sous Chef food processor, which can handle the double-batch size shown here. If your machine is not as powerful you may need to do single batches at a time. The original recipe has the basic proportions for that.

I really love kamut grains. They're an ancient form of wheat that have an extremely long grain and a beautiful yellow color. Kamut reminds me of semolina in its color and slight grittiness and it's fun to use in pizza dough. I get it online from Bob's Red Mill because even our fantastic local co-op doesn't carry it, though it does have emmer farro, spelt, red and white wheat berries.

Today I'll be using my Baking Steel griddle as a pizza stone for the first time and I'm super excited. I got it as a gift for Christmas and have been absolutely delighted with it as a griddle. Far bigger than my cast iron griddle with a shockingly non-stick surface right from the get-go, it's a joy to use. I suspect it will also be revelatory for pizza.

I tend to make calzones with any leftover dough. I bake and freeze them to pop into the kids' or my school/work lunches as a Friday treat.

450g hard red wheat berries, ground finely (or storebought whole wheat bread flour)
450g kamut grains, ground finely (or pre-ground kamut flour)
2 tsp instant yeast
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt (I used table salt but you could use any fine salt; if using coarser sea salt you'll need a bit more)
2 2/3 c warm water
1/4 c olive or other oil


  1. Grind the grains directly into the bowl of your food processor with the cutting blade (not dough blade) inserted
  2. Add the yeast, sugar and salt and pulse until combined
  3. Mix the oil and water together (just use the same measuring cup) then pour through the feeding tube while pulsing and pulse until the dough comes together
  4. The food processor will probably start to slow down, but the dough will also have formed a ball. If it seems too wet you can add a bit of all-purpose or other flour (I don't grind extra grain for this part, and I have a small stock of white flour on hand for times like this)
  5. Turn out onto a clean counter and knead a few times. It shouldn't feel sticky--if it does, knead in a bit more flour but it shouldn't be more than a few tablespoons
  6. Put dough in clean bowl and cover. You can do a room temperature first rise or stick it in the fridge. I usually do room temp for the first rise, punch down and then refrigerate until about an hour before I need it
  7. Portion out the dough into about 3oz balls and proceed with my pizza recipe or your own as desired