Friday, February 26, 2010
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
One of my favorite things about our local farmers' market is that there is a vendor that carries all kinds of interesting greens, herbs and vegetables used in Asian cooking. They usually are gone from Christmas through the month of January. But this year, they didn't make their return until last Sunday. Their long absence was slightly traumatizing, to say the least, so when I saw them again, I did a little happy dance and filled my bag to the brim with their fragrant offerings, including lemongrass and ginger root. Did you know that ginger root is usually imported from East Asia? I find it thrilling that I can find it at our little market here....it's the little things, people!
Armed with a glass of wine and my Vegetarian Planet cookbook, I decided to play around a bit with with a lemongrass quinoa pilaf recipe, because I just don't know how to leave well enough alone. And while I can't testify as to the flavor of the original, this version was outstanding! Shot through with heat from the minced ginger, and a brightness from the lemongrass, cilantro and mint, it was just the dish we needed to get our healthful eating back on track. We enjoyed it warm as a main dish for dinner, but it was equally delicious cold when we devoured the leftovers for lunch. If you omit the cubes of tofu, it would make a fine side dish to accompany grilled fish or chicken as well.
Lemongrass Quinoa Pilaf
This quick meal was not only nutritious, but also flavorful and immensely satisfying. Omit the tofu and it becomes a wonderful side dish.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes, plus marinating time
Yield: serves 4
1 cup quinoa, rinsed well in a fine sieve to remove any bitterness
2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
dash of cloves
dash of ground ginger
1/4 cup minced fresh ginger
1 stalk lemongrass, bulbous end only with outer leaves peeled, minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 12 ounce package of firm tofu, marinated for 1 hour in soy sauce (or Asian marinade)
1 medium head of broccoli, florets separated and stem sliced thinly
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
1 bunch of spring onions, washed well and thinly sliced
handful of cilantro, chopped
handful of mint, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Bring the 2 cups of stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the rinsed quinoa and return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the broth has been absorbed. Remove from heat and set aside
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the pepper, cloves and dried ginger and stir. Add the ginger, garlic and lemongrass and cook for one minute, until it becomes fragrant. Add the tofu and stir-fry for about three minutes or until it begins to brown slightly. Add the broccoli and 1/4 cup of water and cover the pot. Let the broccoli steam for 3 minutes, then remove cover.
Add cooked quinoa to the broccoli and tofu in the skillet and stir to combine thoroughly. Toss with chopped cilantro, mint and spring onions, season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately or at room temperature.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Bread. Our daily bread. Our weekly bread. Our vast consumption of it is slightly shocking. Sure, I've got three kids and all, but four loaves a week seems a bit much, doesn't it? And that is not even counting the occasional baguette or rustic loaf with dinner, or the pizzas, or the English Muffins we eat for breakfast. Each week, I send my kids off to school with a total of 15 whole sandwiches! And I wonder why, when I open my little tin blue and white bread box, there is nothing there but the end pieces.
Have you ever tried to make a sandwich for your kids by turning the ends to the center? I have. When they were little, they didn't seem to notice, but now they're totally on to me..."MOM! Why do you always give ME the end pieces," they complain bitterly. Sigh. "Desperate times," I say, "Desperate times!" Desperate times, indeed. When I'm faced with the choice of feeding my kids the crap that comes out of the school cafeteria, or the backlash from the sneaky end-piece sandwich, I'll take their whining....most of the time.
Did you know that most store-bought bread is really not bread at all? It's what Michael Pollan likes to call "imitation bread product," sort of like American Cheese. It looks like bread, it smells like bread, but the list of indiscernible ingredients reveals its true nature....a laboratory experiment. Most of the items people buy today in the grocery stores are not, in fact, food. They are laboratory created substances, formulated by huge food corporations to use up our nation's vast over abundance of CORN and SOY products. And bread is no exception!
Let's take a look at the list of ingredients from Sara Lee's Soft and Smooth Whole Grain White:
Enriched Bleached Flour [Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid], Water, Whole Grain [Whole Wheat Flour, Brown Rice Flour (Rice Flour, Rice Bran)], Wheat Gluten, Skim Milk, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Yeast, Butter (Cream, Salt), Contains 2% or Less of Each of the Following: Calcium Sulfate, Salt, Dough Conditioners (May Contain One or More of the Following: Mono- and Diglycerides, Ethoxylated Mono- and Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Calcium Peroxide, Datem, Ascorbic Acid, Azodicarbonamide, Enzymes), Guar Gum, Calcium Propionate (Preservative), Distilled Vinegar, Yeast Nutrients (Monocalcium Phosphate, Calcium Sulfate, Ammonium Sulfate and /or Calcium Carbonate), Corn Starch, Vitamin D3, Soy Lecithin, Soy Flour.
If you are wondering what all that stuff in your "bread" is, here is a brief explanation...Not surprisingly most of the ingredients are derived from corn and soy.
So now, what to do. We can pay upwards of $4 a loaf for natural bread with fewer ingredients that we can pronounce, or we can make our own. I go in fits and spurts with my bread baking, mostly because my life lacks a usual rhythm and has just enough irregularity in my schedule to make it less than practical. In my fantasy life, I wash on one day, clean on another, bake on yet another, market on another and sew and craft on the last. But that leaves no time for yoga, or reading, or working a paying job (or 2), or walking the dog, or shuttling 3 children to their 8 different afternoon activities, or blogging or Facebook [insert blushing cheeks here]. And so, in my life, and I'm sure it's the same for yours, I squeeze in as much as I can, when I can. And that is why I'm so very much in love with this recipe.
The bread is soft and supple, due to the eggs and butter (I think that's why I'm soft and supple too, by the way) and it's sweetened slightly with honey. The recipe makes three wonderful loaves, but they can be baked off on different days, for maximum freshness. Best of all, it holds together! Most of the homemade bread recipes I have tried cannot withstand a cold schmear of sticky, natural peanut butter. But for this bread it's no problem, and of course, the aroma of freshly baked bread can't be beat.
This whole wheat recipe is adapted from the same authors who wrote Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Their second book, appropriately called, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, is full of truly wonderful whole-wheat and gluten-free variations. Honestly, the hardest part of making this bread is mixing it together in the container. And I think you'll agree that another truly magnificent thing about this recipe is that there is no kneading...ever! Once that dough is mixed and risen, you merely chop off a cantaloupe-sized hunk, shape it into a log and plop it into your bread pan. Even I can find time to do that! The dough that's left over (each recipe makes about 3 loaves) can wait patiently in your fridge for up to one week. How awesome is that?
The last photo is the less-than-healthy sandwiches I sent with my children to school today--peanut butter and fluff. I know, I know....fluff is not food. But at least the bread IS.
Soft No-Knead Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
I mix and store the dough in the same container...a latch-lidded one gallon plastic storage container I found at Target. Make sure if you do it this way that you incorporate every last bit of flour into the dough. I use my hands to mix it together, which is messy, but effective. Do not latch the lid when storing the dough, or the gasses may cause it to explode off. Also, I never wash my container after I bake off the last loaf of bread. The dried bits that cling to the side get scraped into the new batch of dough, creating a tangier flavor, not unlike sourdough.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 55-60 minutes, plus rising time
Yield: 3 loaves
5 cups whole-wheat flour (I like so-called White Whole Wheat)
2 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast, or 2 packets
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/4 cup vital wheat gluten (available at health food stores and online)
2 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 cup honey
5 large eggs
2/3 cup melted butter or canola oil
1. In a large bowl of a stand mixer or food processor (14-cup capacity), or your 1 gallon storage container, mix together the flours, yeast, salt and wheat gluten. In another smaller bowl, whisk together the water, honey, eggs and preferred fat. Using the dough attachment, or your hands, mix the wet ingredients with the dry until thoroughly combined. It will be very sticky. Do not knead.
2. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 2 hours. After this, the dough is ready to be formed and placed in a loaf pan, but it is easier to do this if you refrigerate it first for a couple of hours. The flavor improves after 24 hours, so make it the evening before, if you have time.
3. On baking day, lightly grease a standard loaf pan (8 1/2 x 4 1/2). Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour and grab a large hunk in your hand, cutting it off at the bottom. It should be about the size of a cantaloupe. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Cover the rest of the dough loosely and return to the refrigerator.
4. Form the ball into a thick log shape and place it in the prepared loaf pan. It should be just over half full. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest for 90 minutes in a warm place (40 minutes if the dough you are using is already room temperature).
5. Thirty minutes before you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the loaf in the center of the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown. Remove the bread from the pan and allow it to cool completely on a rack before slicing.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Friday, February 12, 2010
Cookies and milk....more specifically double chocolate cookies and milk can make anyone's day, wouldn't you agree? But these, these! Friends, these cookies are a category of bliss unto themselves. Initially crisp, they crumble into melty goodness in the mouth. They are deep and rich and full-flavored, which comes, in part, from the healthy pinch of sea salt in the batter. I first came across these cookies, known to some as "World Peace Cookies," at my sister-in-law's home last weekend. She found the recipe here, but I've seen it here and here too.
I think I'll call them "Family Peace" cookies because in my experience, they can transform the grumpiest kids (and moms) into almost unrecognizable giddy, smiling fools. They can erase pain and suffering faster than an epidural....and they have fewer side effects too....except for the small matter that you might be temporarily blissed out and unable to think straight.
"What were we just arguing about?" "Um.....I have no idea....please pass another cookie."
Because the recipe doesn't call for eggs, the dough is sandy. Don't freak out. When you mix it, it won't seem to want to come together. Turn it out onto your work surface and pat the crumbly mess into two balls of dough. This part doesn't look too pretty....especially after you roll them into logs, if you know what I mean. The logs get refrigerated for a few hours, then are sliced and baked until they are barely set. In fact, they won't look done at all. Again, don't freak out and trust the recipe.
What you end up with are small cookies that are so achingly scrumptious that you will barely be able to contain yourself. They are so tempting that I found myself eating them straight out of the oven so that they sizzled a little on my tongue. I recommend that you have a cold glass of milk handy, even if they are cooled, to wash down all that chocolate. Bake one batch during the day to enjoy with the kids, but save the other one for your late night snack. Or maybe even share the mind-blowing bliss with your Valentine....nothing says I love you like a homemade treat.
Double Chocolate Crumble Cookies
A.K.A. Family Peace Cookies
A.K.A. World Peace Cookies
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 22 minutes, plus 3 hours cooling time
Yield: 3 dozen cookies
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer is fine), beat the butter until soft. Add the sugars, salt and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, about two minutes.
Carefully add the flour mixture a little at a time, mixing slowly so you don't get flour all over the place. Dorie recommends covering the mixer with a towel for awhile to help with the spraying flour. Mix until the dough looks evenly incorporated, but still crumbly. When you pinch it with your fingers it will stay together though. Do not overmix!
Turn the dough out onto a work surface and pat into two balls. Wrap each ball in plastic and roll it into a log that is about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. The plastic will help hold it together as it still may be a bit crumbly. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Unwrap the log and cut into slices that are about 1/2 an inch thick. If the cookies break apart, just press them back together with your fingers. Place cookies on a greased cookie sheet (or a silicone lined one) about 1 inch apart. Slide the cookie sheet onto the center rack of the oven and bake for exactly 12 minutes. The cookies will look underdone. That is okay. Remove them from the oven and let them cool for about 10 minutes on the pan, then transfer them to a rack to finish cooling completely.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Pretty in pink, and delicious too. What are you making for your sweetheart this Valentine's Day?
Strawberry Buttercream Frosting
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 5 minutes
Yield: enough to frost an 8-inch layer cake, or 2 dozen cupcakes
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup strawberry jam
5-6 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2-3 drops red food coloring
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or use a hand mixer), beat the butter with the strawberry jam until smooth. Add the powdered sugar, a cup at a time and beat until thoroughly combined. Add the food coloring and beat until uniform in color. Spread on top of cake or pipe decoratively onto cupcakes.
Monday, February 8, 2010
I feel badly because there is one little treat that my husband adores that I don't buy him nearly often enough....dates. Especially the soft kind that are still squishy and yielding to the touch. The kind that smell faintly of raisins and brown sugar and something else that's dark and musky. The kind that taste like remarkably like candy.
Most dates in this country are grown in the Coachella Valley, east of Indio, in date farms which consist of miles and miles of tall palm trees swaying in the desert wind. They thrive in the heat and absolutely love those summer temperatures that sometimes top 110 degrees, though they need copious amounts of water too. There is an old Arabic saying...."A date palm must have its feet in water and its head in the fires of heaven." Fresh dates are harvested in August through November, but are available nearly year round as they store well, and depending on the variety may be soft, semi-dry or dry.
The other day, I bought a package of delightfully golden brown Medjool dates and fixed them as an appetizer for book club....to which my husband wasn't invited. (Don't worry, I did share a small plate with him...) Called Devils on Horseback, these used to be quite fashionable some time ago and are making a comeback for good reason--the soft date, almost too sweet on its own, marries beautifully with the tangy melted Gorgonzola and the salty crunch of smoked bacon. It tastes, in a word, heavenly, which seems awfully appropriate for a fruit born in the fires of heaven, doesn't it?
Bacon Wrapped Dates
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
Yield: 2 dozen appetizers
5 ounces of soft dried dates, or approximately 24
4 ounces of Gorgonzola cheese
1 pound of apple wood smoked bacon
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Make a slice down the length of each date and remove the pit. Stuff with a small hunk (about 1 teaspoon) of cheese. Cut each slice of bacon in half crosswise and wrap around the dates. Place on a baking sheet, seam side down.
Bake for 6 minutes on one side, remove from the oven and carefully turn dates with tongs, securing any loose bacon with toothpicks if necessary. Return to the oven and continue to bake until the bacon is crisp, another 6-8 minutes. Serve immediately.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Last week was United Way's Hunger Action Week, where they challenged individuals or families to try to live on $7 of food per day per person, which is the average amount someone on food stamps receives in this country. Many bloggers got in on the action, writing long and detailed blog posts about their efforts, including many shopping lists and recipes for creatively preparing food on a such an extraordinarily limited budget.
At first glance, it seems quite noble as they hoped to draw attention to the struggles of hungry families in America. But the more I read, the more I got the feeling that these posts smacked of self righteousness, and very clearly illustrated the the vast chasm between the haves and have nots. The have nots have not been to culinary school. The have nots don't belong to a food co-op. The have nots don't spend time pouring over cookbooks for recipes to help them make the best of what they've got. The have nots don' t have hours to braise a pork shoulder that can be eaten over several days. The have nots don't have a partner to help wrangle children while they grind wheat and bake bread from scratch. What they do have are young children struggling to keep up in school, multiple jobs to help make ends meet, and real stress that you and I cannot begin to imagine.
I am certain that these bloggers had the very best intentions in taking on this challenge. They know that hunger is a real issue in this country (though our poor our the most likely to be obese, the most likely to eat fast foods and convenient foods, and the least likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables...eh, we'll leave that for another day). But it seemed like there was an awful lot of back patting going on...."look how creatively I've fed my family this week!!"
Did Hunger Action Week make people more aware of hunger? Perhaps. But the good that comes from this new-found awareness is for naught if people don't get out into their neighborhoods and get to work. Work in the food kitchens, teach free cooking classes, and become an advocate for the hungry with your local and state representatives. When we were in Brattleboro, VT this summer at the farmers' market there, they gladly accepted food vouchers. This was quite a revelation to me. This should be the case all over the country! And food bloggers, now that you've shared how wonderfully you've fed your family of three for $21 a day, get out there and share that information with those who don't have time to sit and write (or read) blogs all day....Just my 2 cents.
Stepping off my soapbox now....
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!
Monday, February 1, 2010
And I promise a couple of good, seasonal recipes coming your way soon!
All the best,