Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Apple Hazelnut Stuffing

Thanksgiving really snuck up on me this year. Until about a week before the holiday, we had no idea who in the family would be hosting, or who would be coming. As it turns out, most of us went our separate ways to various branches of the family, and we hosted my in-laws. It was a small, very manageable feast for seven (including the baby). I must say, while there is something to be said for large holiday meals, they can also be very stressful, and this meal was not so. It came together easily, from start to finish, in the course of 3 days.

Although Christmas dinner doesn't happen in my house, I can imagine that this stuffing might be a very welcome addition to such a holiday feast, especially at one that includes those of vegetarian persuasion. So, perhaps it isn't too late to post it. It also happens that one of the key ingredients, ghee, also makes this recipe quite appropriate to enter into the Pure Indian Foods Ghee Recipe Contest. And that is another reason to post it. Incidentally, (and this endorsement is not at all required for the sake of the contest), this is the brand of ghee that I use. It is locally made (to me), it is made from grass-fed, organic milk, and it saves me the trouble of making my own ghee. It also happens to be OK for my milk-allergic son to eat. Apparently, ghee, being absent of milk solids, is also lacking lactose and casein. Let me stress that I am not and cannot give medical advice on this (or any) subject, and I do not recommend that anyone with a dairy allergy or intolerance eat ghee without consulting his/her health care provider first. For us, it was very freeing to discover that we are able to use ghee, instead of oil, to cook and flavor the foods we eat. That buttery aroma was well-missed in this household!

Apple Hazelnut Stuffing
4 cups whole grain fresh bread (wheat, spelt, rice), cubed
1/3 cup hazelnuts, chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup ghee + 3 Tbsps.
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 apple, peeled & chopped
3 Tbsps. fresh sage, chopped
1 - 1 1/2 cups low-sodium veggie stock (depending on how moist you like your stuffing)
salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425F. If the bread is fresh, toast the bread in the oven on a dry cookie sheet for 10 minutes. If it's stale, skip this step. Toast the hazelnuts on a dry cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer the bread cubes and hazelnuts to a large bowl. Reduce oven temperature to 350F.

In a saute pan, melt the 1/4 cup of ghee over medium heat. Sweat the onions and garlic in the ghee until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, sauteing an additional 5 minutes. Season the onion mixture with salt and pepper. Pour the onion mixture over the bread cubes and hazelnuts, and toss well. To the bowl, add the apples and sage, tossing once again.

Warm the veggie stock, and add in small increments to the bread mixture, tossing after each addition, until you reach the desired consistency (the oven will dry it out somewhat, so aim for a bit more moistness than is your preference). Season with salt & pepper.

Using 1 Tbsp. of ghee, grease a large casserole. Transfer the stuffing mixture to the prepared casserole. Using the remaining 2 Tbsps. of ghee, dot the top of the stuffing with small fingerfuls. Bake, uncovered, for 1 hour.

Serves 8-10.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Chocolate Pumpkin Layer Cake with Cashew Icing

On Halloween, my family got together to celebrate the sweetest day of the year, but we also took the opportunity to mark my brother's and my birthdays, which fall in late October and early November. I made the cake for the occasion (and my brother made lunch). This is the cake that I came up with. A little something for everyone - chocolate for those who think every dessert needs chocolate (my husband), pumpkin spice cake for those who like to taste and smell the season (my brother and me), and sticky sweetness to please the Halloween palate.

Although this is no health food cake, it is much more redeeming than most store-bought (or even homemade) cakes, so a little less guilt is in order. The recipe is very loosely based on this one. Enjoy!

Chocolate Pumpkin Layer Cake with Cashew Icing
1 cup unbleached white flour
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour, plus 1/3 cup more
1 cup turbinado sugar
1 1/2 tsps. baking powder
1 1/2 tsps. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 cup vanilla unsweetened hemp milk
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (for fresh pumpkin, steam the pumpkin and then puree in a blender with a small amount of water)
3/4 cup sucanat
2 large eggs
1/4 cup coconut oil, warmed until liquified
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
Cashew Icing (recipe below)

Grease two 9" round cake pans. Line the bottom of each with parchment paper and then dust the sides with flour. Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Combine the white flour, 3/4 cup of the whole wheat flour, turbinado, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt in a bowl. Divide the dry mixture equally (by weight) into two bowls. Into one bowl, add the cocoa and whisk to combine. Into the second bowl, add the 1/3 cup of whole wheat pastry flour, and whisk to combine.

In a large bowl using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup hempmilk, pumpkin puree, and sucanat. Beat in the eggs. Then add the oil, agave, and vanilla, beating just to combine. Divide the liquid mixture evenly (by weight) into two bowls. To one bowl, add the cocoa mixture, stirring until just combined. To the second bowl, add the second dry mixture, stirring until just combined. Do not overmix!

Transfer batter to the prepared pans (the contents of one bowl into one pan and the contents of the other bowl into the other pan). Bake about 40 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Invert onto a work surface and remove the parchment papers carefully. Cool the cakes completely before proceeding.

Slice each cake horizontally to create four layers in total (to guide your knife in evenly cutting the cakes, place toothpicks just below the midpoint of the cake all around the cake, and cut using a serrated knife just above the toothpicks, as illustrated here).

Place a pumpkin layer at the bottom of your cake dish. Apply a thin layer of icing on top using a frosting spatula. If the icing is too thick, it will move to the edges and drip down the sides. The icing will seep into the cake somewhat, and that's fine. Add a chocolate layer, and top with a layer of icing. Repeat with the remaining layers of cake and icing. On the top layer, add a thicker layer of icing. Add a thin layer of icing to the sides of the cake.

If you are not serving the cake right away, store in the freezer. This will keep the icing from either dripping too much or getting too absorbed into the cake. Defrost at room temperature 2-3 hours before serving.

Cashew Icing
1 1/2 cups cashew butter
4 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. allspice
1 1/2 tsps. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. chocolate extract
1/2 cup vanilla unsweetened hemp milk

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and beat well with an electric mixer.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Roasted Vegetable Pear Soup

One of the issues many people face in subscribing to a CSA is that they are left with produce that they would not normally buy, or that is unfamiliar to them. Enter soup - the greatest vessel for miscellaneous foods that have no home.

I make most vegetable soups vegan, but I thought this soup might do nicely with some meat flavors, and I think that was a good decision. This soup has a pork stock base, which marries particularly well with the pear, pumpkin, and beets. The pork stock adds not only flavor, but also lots of nutrients, most notably calcium. If you prefer to make this soup vegan, it would still be very tasty using a vegetable or onion stock, or even plain salted water.

This soup can be prepared as a puree or as a chunky soup. I think the latter is really the better option, but I made it as a puree so that my little guy could eat it more easily (and so he has!). The recipe below is written as a puree with noted adjustments to make it chunky instead.

Roasted Vegetable Pear Soup
2 lb. pumpkin (or other winter squash), seeded, peeled and cubed (small dice for chunky)
1 small rutabaga, peeled, trimmed of ends, and cubed (small dice for chunky)
12 small turnips, trimmed of ends and cubed (small dice for chunky)
3 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed of ends, and cut into thick slices (small dice for chunky)
2 medium beets, peeled, trimmed of ends, and cubed (small dice for chunky)
3 shallots, peeled and quartered (chopped for chunky)
2 stalks celery, cut into chunks (small dice for chunky)
2 Tbsps. olive oil
2 Tbsps. safflower oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 1/2 lbs. pork neck bones (your local sustainable meat farmer will likely have this very inexpensive treat in the freezer)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 ripe pears, cored, peeled and cubed
2 bay leaves
10 cups water
1/4 cup chopped fennel fronds

Pre-heat the oven to 425F. Combine the pumpkin, rutabaga, turnips, carrots, beets, shallots, celery, and oils in a large covered baking dish. Season well with salt and pepper. Cover and roast for 1 hour and 20 minutes, stirring twice along the way.

Transfer roasted vegetables to a large stock pot. Add the pork necks, vinegar, pears, bay leaves, water and additional salt and pepper. Bring to a bubble, and then reduce heat to medium low. Simmer, covered, for 2 hours.

Remove bones and bay leaves. Pick apart the meat from the bones, and set aside (roughly 1/2 - 1 cup).

Using an immersion blender (or a regular blender), puree the soup (if you prefer a chunky soup, skip the pureeing). Return the meat to the pot. Add the fennel fronds. Adjust seasonings. Serve hot.

Serves 10-12.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Almond Cod Cakes with Roasted Garlic Spread

This dish looks very sophisticated, if I do say so myself, but it's very simple. So simple, in fact, that my 15-month-old kept asking for more fish! It's even fairly simple to make, and is perfect for anyone who is not a big fan of chopping. The food processor does all the chopping for you.

Because my little one is allergic to half of the food web, I find myself making many adjustments that I wouldn't normally make, and sometimes the dish turns out better than it would have with traditional ingredients. In this case, instead of using bread crumbs (or wheat-free bread crumbs) in the fish cakes, I decided to use almonds (almond meal). The almonds give the cakes a much more interesting flavor, and because the cakes are pan-fried, the almonds were very aromatic, too. The downside to accommodating my son is that I could not use an egg to bind the cakes, and they would have benefited from some binding. Leaving the egg out leaves the fish cakes a bit crumbly. Fortuitously, the crumbliness was the perfect texture for my son, and the rest of us did fine. Even so, if you can have eggs, I would add one to the mix.

I served these fish cakes with forbidden rice with chopped cilantro and a simple green salad.

Almond Cod Cakes with Roasted Garlic Spread
1/2 cup raw, unsalted almonds (or almond meal)
12 oz. cod fillets, cubed
2 Tbsps. fresh cilantro
2 Tbsps. fresh Italian parsley or celery greens
3 scallions, cut into 2" lengths
1 1/2 tsps. salt
pepper, to taste
1 egg (optional)
1/4 cup olive oil
Roasted garlic spread (recipe below)

Process almonds in a food processor until they resemble coarse bread crumbs. Remove and set aside in a large bowl. Into the food processor, add the cod, cilantro, parsley, and scallions. Pulse to combine. Do not overprocess. Some small chunks of fish should remain. Add the fish mixture to the almonds, along with salt, pepper, and egg. Mix thoroughly, and form into patties.

Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Once hot, add half the olive oil to the pan and swirl to coat. Allow the oil to heat for a moment, then place the cakes in the hot pan. Turn the heat down to medium-high, and allow the cakes to cook 5-6 minutes on each side. Add additional oil, if necessary, when it's time to turn the cakes. Put the skillet in the oven for 10 minutes to finish cooking through.

Makes 4-5 large cod cakes.

Roasted Garlic Spread
1 head garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. fresh cilantro, chopped

Pre -heat oven to 425F. Slice off the top of the garlic so that the top tips of the cloves are just showing. Wrap the whole head of garlic in foil and place on a cookie sheet. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes (can be done a couple days in advance, whenever you have the oven on). Allow to cool. Squeeze the garlic out of the papery skin. The roasted garlic should be very soft and fragrant.

In a small bowl, combine the roasted garlic with the olive oil, salt, and lemon juice. Whip the ingredients together with a fork until they become smooth and creamy. Stir in the cilantro. Top each of the cod cakes with a small dollop of the garlic spread.

Serves 4-5

Friday, October 29, 2010

Kohlrabi Mashed Potatoes

I never know what to do with the kohlrabi that I get in my CSA box. They can be thrown into salads raw, they can be braised, and they can be roasted, although I've never thought they brought anything to the dishes (the greens of kohlrabi are quite another story ... for another post). This time, I tried making mashed potatoes with them ... with much the same result ... they still don't bring much to the dish, but they add some nutritional value to a side dish that is most often pretty empty, and I'm happy with that, and everyone was happy eating these mashed potatoes.

I chose to make these mashed potatoes vegan, mostly because my son is allergic to dairy. They can be made with more traditional ingredients (butter, cream, milk), if you prefer.

Kohlrabi Mashed Potatoes
4 kohlrabi bulbs, peeled and cut into chunks
1 1/2 lbs. red fingerling potatoes, washed well and cut into chunks (keep skins on)
2 Tbsps. cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
2-6 Tbsps. unsweetened hemp milk, depending on preferred consistency
2 Tbsps. Earth Balance buttery stick

Combine the kohlrabi and potatoes in a large saucepan. Cover the vegetables completely with cold water, adding a 1/2 tsp of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and continue to boil until the vegetables can be easily pierced by a fork. Drain.

Transfer vegetables to a large bowl and mash with a potato masher. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Serve.

Serves 8.

Lentil Roast with Acorn Squash, Turnips & Carrots

Talk about cheap! Yes, I haven't talked about cheap in quite some time. Not that I don't still revel in cheap, good food (not to be confused with cheap bad food, of which there is so much that no one in their right mind would bother blogging about it). While expensive food finds its way onto my dinner table from time to time, I have to keep to a pretty tight budget, like most folks these days, and I do everything I can to keep costs low.

That said, I am not in the habit of compromising about food. Quite the opposite! We eat delicious and healthy food at every meal. We just eat less of those things that make most Americans gluttons (meat), and we eat more of the things that most Americans avoid like the plague (veggies).

This recipe is a great example of that kind of eating. The protein is organic green lentils (which I bought in bulk on sale for the dirt cheap price of 66 cents/lb.), the veggies are nearly all from my CSA (to learn more about CSAs and other local food buying options, check out my post about that sort of thing), which means I used about $7 of produce on this meal. I served this stew/roast over kohlrabi mashed potatoes (the kohlrabi was also from the CSA, and the potatoes were local). The whole stew cost about $10, and it serves about 8. Wow! That's $1.25 per serving ... big servings! You can't even do that at McDonald's!

If the cheap, healthy, and green of this meal weren't enough, it's also incredibly easy (and one pot ... well, one baking dish), and it was a hit with the kids ... especially the baby!

Lentil Roast with Acorn Squash, Turnips, & Carrots
1 lb. green lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 small acorn squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
6 small turnips, trimmed of ends and cut into 1" chunks
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 cups homemade or low-sodium veggie stock
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsps. garam masala
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425F. Combine all ingredients in a 13 x 9 glass baking dish. Cover with foil. Bake for 1.5 hours, stirring every 30 minutes, and adding water if necessary. Serve over kohlrabi mashed potatoes.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rosh Hashana Honeycake - for Everyone

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is a day away, and so it's time to break out the honeycake recipe. Honeycake is my favorite part of Rosh Hashana, intended to help usher in a sweet new year. Of course, given most people's new year's resolutions to get healthy or to lose weight, maybe honeycake isn't the best choice. Still, traditions are hard to break ... and honeycake is too good to pass up. So, I just do what I can to make my honeycake a little healthier.

Here is my take on my Grandma Sarna's honeycake, with variations noted for the allergy-prone or vegan baker:

Whole Wheat Honey Cake
1 cup hot water
3 tsps. instant espresso
1/4 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups honey
3/4 cup sucanat
3/4 cup safflower oil
1 egg (or 1/4 cup chia gel or 1 mushed banana)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (or barley flour)
1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour (or barley flour)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. salt

Grease a bundt pan with coconut oil or butter, and dust with flour to keep the batter from sticking. Pre-heat the oven to 325F.

Dissolve the coffee into the hot water. Then add the orange juice to the coffee. In a large bowl, combine the coffee mixture, honey, sucanat, and oil, whisking together well. Allow to cool well before adding the egg, chia gel, or banana to the mixture.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour(s), baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing together until just combined (don't overmix!). A little lumpiness is fine.

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Allow to cool in the pan for an hour before turning out onto a serving dish. If desired, dust with powdered sugar or serve with ice cream (or non-dairy ice cream ... like this one!).

Serves 20.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Potato Chickpea Pancakes

I must apologize for the long delay in posting. Life has been a whirlwind, and I'm a bit over-committed at the moment. That said, I will still post from time to time, whenever I get a chance to come up for air. I hope you'll be patient with me.

As we are in the process of readying our house to sell it, I've been going through all the nooks and crannies, and finding all sorts of interesting forgotten things. One thing that I found was a pantry item - chickpea flour. Ah, yes, I bought some chickpea flour several months ago to make falafel balls, and somehow I bought way too much. It's been sitting there ever since with no purpose, unless I make a lot of falafel balls. So, I racked my brain, and came up with these very tasty potato pancakes - a vegan/vegetarian complete meal all on its own, good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Very seasonal! Very cheap! Very tasty! Very gone!

Potato Chickpea Pancakes
1 lb. potatoes, peeled and grated
1 medium onion, grated
1 medium zucchini, grated
2 scallions, thinly sliced (whites and greens)
1/3 cup olive oil, + 2-3 Tbsps. for frying
1/3 cup chickpea flour
salt and pepper, to taste
Yogurt Cardamom Sauce (optional) - recipe follows

In a large fine mesh sieve fitted over a large bowl, squeeze the excess moisture out of the potatoes and onions. Allow the excess water to settle in the bowl for five minutes, and then pour the water off gently, leaving the starch at the bottom of the bowl. In the same bowl, combine the starch, potatoes, onions, zucchini, scallions, 1/3 cup of olive oil, chickpea flour, salt, and pepper.

Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Once hot, add about 1/2 Tbsp. of the remaining olive oil and reduce heat to medium. Spoon the potato batter into the skillet in flapjack size pancakes, and flatten the batter so it cooks evenly. Cook 3-5 minutes on each side. Fry pancakes in batches, adding additional oil between batches, as necessary. Keep the pancakes that are done in a warm oven (275F) until ready to serve.

Makes 12 pancakes.

I served this dish with a yogurt cardamom sauce and a side of quinoa tabouleh.

Yogurt Cardamom Sauce
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/8 tsp. salt
pinch ground cardamom
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients. Place yogurt mixture inside a fine mesh sieve lined with cheescloth, and allow to drain over a bowl for 20 minutes. Serve a dollop on each pancake.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Homemade Southwestern Pork Sausage

I didn't set out to make sausage myself. Originally, I was looking to serve some kind of game meat at my daughter's bear birthday party. Sometimes, after the spring thaw, bears eat animals that were trapped in snow or ice, so I thought game meat would work nicely with the theme. I tried to find venison or elk meat to serve, and thought that sausage would probably work best for grilling. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a source that I trusted, and buying wild game from hunters is illegal. Having gotten excited about the idea of serving sausage at the party, I went in search of some local, sustainable sausage of the more domestic kind. I found some, but none that really spoke to me.

What to do? What to do? A crazy voice inside of me blurted, "Make your own sausage!" "Yeah, right!" I said back (to myself). "I don't know the first thing about sausage-making, and this is an expensive undertaking for me to possibly louse up!" So, I did a little research ... very little research, and I made some calls to see if I could get my hands on some sausage casings (pig intestines). I scored some free casings at a local butcher shop, and I knew that was sign that I had to make sausage, know-how or no.

The general consensus about making sausage seems to be that it is necessary to have a meat grinder, or that meat must be ground to specification (coarse grind or fine grind) by a butcher. I found nearly universal recommendations to use a sausage stuffer, as well. One butcher practically bet me that I would be back to ask him to make my sausage for me. I nearly spent quite a lot of money on equipment, very unnecessarily, until I had a epiphany. I didn't want to invest $50-100 on stuff that I might never use again. Instead, I took a chance and decided to buy ground meat (coarse? fine? eh, whatever ...) and stuff the casings using a pastry bag fitted with a large tip. If even a pastry bag is an iffy investment for you, try just buying the tip ($1-2) and use it with a plastic bag.

I was absolutely exhilarated by the prospect of making something so out of my element. What an incredible experience! It was messy, to say the least, but it was also a lot of fun. I don't recommend doing this with young kids, just because there is a lot of raw meat involved, but older kids (maybe 9 years+) would probably do very well with it. Just make sure to encourage frequent hand-washing and counter-wiping.

I tried to avoid reading recipes for sausage-making, knowing that most are made with dried spices. I wanted to make something fresh and light. Yes, "light sausage" is a bit of an oximoron, but indulge me. So, I decided to go with Southwestern flavors.

I have no regrets at all about the way I went about this. Sometimes diving head-first into the unknown is the best way to get experience. Sometimes re-inventing the wheel isn't a waste of time. So, try this recipe, or make up your own, or make some other wacky dish that pleases your inner risk-taker.

Southwestern Pork Sausage
10 lbs. sustainably raised organic ground pork
natural pork casings for 40 sausages (ask your butcher to give you a little extra in case some parts split)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
5 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
1 bunch scallions, sliced thinly
1 12 oz. jar roasted red peppers, chopped
10 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Work in batches of about 3-4 lbs. of meat at a time.

In a large mixing bowl, combine pork, cilantro, jalapenos, scallions, red peppers, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and mix well with your hands.

As a test, cook a tablespoon or so of the meat mixture in a hot skillet to make sure it's seasoned properly, and adjust seasonings as needed.

Scoop some of the meat mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a large tip. Place the end opening of the casing around the tip, and carefully pipe the meat mixture into the casing, pulling the mixture down into the casing. Be careful not to be too forceful as the casing can tear. Once you have about 2-3 feet of casing filled, pinch the sausage every 5-6" to create individual links. Twist the casing between links a few times. There is no need to tie between links; only at the ends. Repeat this process until you have filled all of your sausages.

Sausages can be frozen or refrigerated before use. When you are ready to cook them, cut apart the links. Grill or broil them until cooked through. Serve in a whole wheat hot dog bun with Cabbage, Fennel, and Jicama slaw and some mustard.

Makes 35-40 links.

- Be careful to keep casing and meat mixture cold. If you find the meat temperature rising to a point where it does not make your hands cold to touch it, return it to the fridge for a while before progressing.
- This recipe is not spicy (hot) despite the jalapenos, so if you like things mild, you'll probably like this as is. But if you want some more kick, go for it!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Baked Tofu with Bamboo Shoots and Snow Peas

In making up the menu for my daughter's bear-themed birthday party, it was easy to find things to make that reflected the diets of brown and black bears. For one thing, they live in the same regions of the world as we do, so the foods available to them are the foods available to us. Black and brown bears are also omnivorous, as are humans, and they eat a wide variety of foods, as do humans. The greater challenges came with the diets of Pandas and Polar bears. Polar bears eat seals and Pandas eat bamboo almost exclusively. I admit, I finally gave up on trying to find a way to get Polar bears represented in the menu. For the Panda bears, I thought I ought to make something with bamboo shoots, and so, this salad was born (not that any Panda would eat it):

Baked Tofu with Bamboo Shoots and Snow Peas
2 lbs. firm tofu
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
3 Tbsps. brown rice vinegar
3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1/4 cup orange juice
Coconut oil
2 Tbsps. orange zest
1 lb. snow peas, trimmed of ends and halved
2 15 oz. cans sliced bamboo shoots, drained

Place the tofu in a medium bowl. Place a plate on top of the tofu and weigh the plate down with something heavy, like a can. Place the weighed-down tofu in the refrigerate to drain overnight. Pour off the liquid. Cube the tofu and set aside in a covered container.

In a medium bowl, combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, garlic, and orange juice. Pour the
mixture over the tofu and allow to marinate for 1 hour, turning the tofu midway through.

Pre-heat the oven to 300F. Prepare a large cookie sheet by greasing it with coconut oil. Remove the tofu from the marinade (reserve marinade) and spread around the cookie sheet in a single layer. Bake for 1 - 1 1/2 hours, turning every 30 minutes.

In a large salad bowl, toss together baked tofu, orange zest, snow peas, and bamboo shoots. Dress with remaining marinade. Serve cold or room temperature.

Serves 20-25 as a side dish

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Salmon Balls

Based on my salmon burger recipe, these little balls are a party hit! They are very easy to make, healthy, inexpensive, and very tasty. They're casual enough for kids' parties and fancy enough to serve at cocktail parties.

Salmon Balls
3 14.75 oz. cans wild Alaskan red salmon
1 ½ cups rye bread crumbs (made with 100% rye bread, crumbled in a food processor)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 Tbsps. tomato paste
2 Tbsps. dried thyme, crumbled
3 Tbsp. dried parsley flakes
3 Tbsp. dried chopped onion
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
Salt & pepper, to taste
Safflower oil spray

Pre-heat oven to 375F. Combine all ingredients (except safflower oil) in a large bowl. Mix well with your hands or a wooden spoon. Form into 1 1/2" balls. Grease two cookie sheets with safflower oil. Place balls on sheet, 1" apart. Bake for 15 minutes, turn balls, and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Serve hot or at room temperature with brown mustard.

Makes about 7 dozen balls. Serves 50 as an hors d'oeuvre.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mini-Spinach Knishes

I knew I had to make something with potatoes for my daughter's bear birthday party, partly because bears apparently eat potatoes, but also because potatoes tend to be crowd-pleasers. Short of making potato salad (been there, done that), there aren't too many dishes to make with potatoes that can easily be served to a crowd in a park. So, I thought, why not knishes? As is par for the course for me, I make things for the first time when serving them at parties, and such is the case with these knishes. They were good, but not fabulous. A little wheat and egg would have done a world of good for the crust.

This recipe is based on this recipezaar recipe. I substituted cannellini beans for the tofu and I added spinach to the filling. Otherwise, very little is changed here. Here is my version:

Mini-Spinach Knishes
2 cups mashed yukon gold potatoes (1 1/4 lbs. boiled potatoes with 2 Tbsps Earth Balance stick, 1/4 cup milk substitute, and salt to taste), divided
3 cups barley flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup cold water
1 cup chopped onions
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 1/2 cups cannellini beans
1/2 bunch of spinach
3 Tbsps. parsley
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
salt, to taste
safflower oil
milk substitute (soy, rice, almond, oat, hemp, etc.)
brown mustard

Combine 1 cup of the mashed potatoes with the barley flour and baking powder. Add the water, and mix well. Knead into a smooth dough. Let the dough rest in a glass bowl covered with a damp kitchen towel for 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, heat the olive oil in a small skillet. Saute the onions in the oil until soft. In a food processor, combine the cooked onions, cannellini beans, spinach and parsley. Process until fairly smooth. Combine processed mixture with 1 cup mashed potatoes, garlic powder and black pepper. Season with salt, to taste.

Pre-heat oven to 350F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper, and brush the paper with safflower oil.

Cut the dough into four sections, rolling each one out separately to 1/8-1/4 inch thickness. Using a medium-sized biscuit cutter, cut rounds from the dough. Drop 1 Tbsp of filling in the center of half the circles. Then top the filled circles with empty circles, pinching along the perimeter to seal the knishes (to look like raviolis).

Place the knishes on the prepared cookie sheet, about 1 inch apart. Brush each knish with a little milk substitute. Bake for 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with brown mustard.

Makes about 4 dozen knishes.

Bear Break-Fast Salad

What does a bear eat when he wakes up after months of hibernation, skinny and starving? No, he doesn't pounce on the first wild boar he encounters. He eats a lot of fresh, springtime sprouts and other plant life. So, at my daughter's bear-themed birthday party, I served a salad inspired by a bear's break-fast. If it satisfies an eight hundred pound ravenous bear, it ought to quiet the belly of a 34.5 lb. four-year-old.

Bear Break-Fast Salad
2 bunches dandellion greens, tough stems removed, leaves torn into bite-size pieces
1 container alfalfa sprouts
2 bunches fresh oyster mushrooms
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 navel oranges, supremed (see note below)

Toss ingredients in a large bowl. Serve with salad dressing of your choice.

Serves 20-25 people as a salad course, or 40-50 people as a side dish.

Note: To supreme an orange, cut the top and bottom off the orange, and then cut the rind and pith away from the sides, cutting from top to bottom. Remove individual orange sections by cutting between the orange membranes, so all you have at the end are segments of orange flesh.

Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette

This is your basic go-to salad dressing. Easy to make, healthier and cheaper than bottled dressings, and goes with just about any green salad. Keep it in a glass bottle in the fridge, and use it whenever.

Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. stone ground mustard
1 1/2 tsps. dried basil
3/4 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
20 grinds of fresh pepper
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine vinegar, mustard and spices in a bowl, and whisk together to combine. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly, until emulsified. Pour into a glass bottle, and use as needed. If the dressing separates, shake vigorously before using.

Note: Olive oil will get cloudy and solidify in the fridge. Take the dressing out about 30 minutes before you need it, and the olive oil should return to a liquid, clear state.

Happy Bear-Day!!!

My daughter recently turned four, and she requested that the theme of this year's birthday party be about bears. Last year's party was about birds (the details of which can be found here). As I often try to do, I made the food reflect the theme, at least in part. I tried to make foods that bears eat, and fortunately, bears eat a lot of things, ranging from sprouts to tubers to fish to bamboo to blueberries. Lots of fun to come up with a menu. I did stray a bit from the theme here and there, but mostly, I kept to it. This is what I served:

Just for the Kids, I made a Bear Food Face Buffet. The idea here is that the kids get to make a bear face out of food, and then eat it. The kids really enjoyed this, and the parents seemed to, too. My daughter and I make food faces all the time, and it's always a hit. The great thing about the prep for this is that it takes virtually no cooking. It's just some chopping and shredding, and some things just need to be put in a bowl as is. The kids really do all the work! These were the buffet items:

- brown rice
- yogurt
- shredded lettuce
- alfalfa sprouts
- shredded carrots
- sliced kiwis
- hardboiled eggs
- grapes
- cashews
- peas
- olives
- broccoli florets
- mushrooms
- sliced beets
- grilled shrimp
- orange sections
- carrot circles
- celery semi-circles
- grape tomatoes
- blueberries
- very small cheese cubes
- pine nuts

I served a balsamic vinaigrette on the side, for those who wanted.

For the adults, and kids who wanted, I served:
- Bear Break-Fast Salad (made of things bears eat when they awaken from hibernation) with the balsamic vinaigrette above.
- Mini Spinach Knishes (wheat and egg-free)
- Salmon balls (wheat-free)
- Baked tofu with bamboo shoots and snow peas
- Southwestern Pork Sausages (made from scratch!) on Whole Wheat Buns
- Refried Bean Sloppy Joes (vegan alternative to sausage)
- Cabbage, Fennel, Jicama Slaw (a condiment for sausage and/or refried beans, or a side dish)

For desserts (kids and adults alike), I made:
- Bear-face mini-honey cakes with vanilla frosting
- Vegan lemon curd cups with blueberries
- Chocolate whole wheat bear cut-out cookies
- Berry Beary Plate (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, kiwis)

Ordinarily, I don't make drinks and serve just water, or sometimes water and hot tea. Given the 85 degree weather we had, hot tea would not work at all. So, this year, I also made blueberry lemonade.

Most of the food went over very well, but a few dishes need some tweaking. Although lots of people commented that they enjoyed the knishes, the dough was a little challenging, I thought, and that's mostly to do with the lack of wheat. Unfortunately, that couldn't be helped, unless I was willing to forgo eating them (and really, I was not too keen on that option).

The lemon curd, which was delicious when I made it two days earlier, had become a bit too tart by party time. The leftovers of the curd got progressively more and more tart as the days past until I couldn't bear to eat it anymore. A lesson learned about lemon curd. Next time, I'll make it the day of, or I'll just sweeten it much more.

The sausage, which I think was one of the best things I ever made, hardly was eaten, because by the time it came off the grill, people had already had their fill of food, and were looking for dessert. On a positive note, one dear friend of mine, who did eat a sausage, asked where I bought it ... it took a lot for me not to squeal with glee that I made it myself. That was a satisfying moment.

It was really a great party overall, and one that I think my daughter will remember for a long time. There are so many ways to celebrate with kids, and the party food is supposed to help make their day special and memorable. That's something pizza and ice cream cake just can't do.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Potato Hash

Potato hash is one of those basic go-to dishes that I make when I need something quick, or when I want to get rid of some leftovers. Certainly, leftover potatoes can be used to make a hash, but just about any leftover veggies can be tossed in, as well. A hash can be a side dish for breakfast, a quick lunch, or a complement for an egg at any meal of the day. Best of all, it's a very cheap and healthy way to fill your belly.

This mother's day, I made a hash with some leftover slaw, which was mostly cabbage, fennel and jicama. Try making this with whatever you have in the fridge.

Potato Hash
2 Tbsps. safflower oil (or your fat of choice ... I went with bacon grease this time)
1/4 cup chopped red onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup leftover veggies
3 Yukon gold potatoes, cut into small pieces and steamed
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a large cast iron skillet. Add red onion and garlic and saute over medium-high heat until onions begin to soften. Add the veggies and cook a few minutes longer. Add the potatoes, and cook until warmed through. Season with salt and pepper.

Serves 6 as a side dish. Serves 2-3 as a main course.

Blueberry Sauce

Serving pancakes with maple syrup is fine for Sunday morning breakfast with the family, but what do you do if you want to make breakfast a little more special? Try this blueberry sauce! It's incredibly easy and quick and it's actually healthier than syrup. Try it on pancakes, waffles, or french toast.

Blueberry Sauce
2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 1/2 Tbsps. corn starch
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a bubble over medium-high heat. Rediuce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, or until sauce thickens to a syrup.

Serves 6-8.

Mother's Day Menu

Most mothers are not too keen on cooking on their special day. Ordinarily, I wouldn't be either, but this year, with all of our food allergies, I decided to host a small mother's day brunch at my house. Honestly, it was nice to have a good, home-cooked meal for brunch, for a change, even if I was the one who had to make it. Here is what I served:

Barley & Buckwheat Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce
Greek Frittata
Potato & Veggie Hash
Crisp local organic bacon

We've had a few bottles of champagne sitting around, so we popped one open for mimosas, which added a little to the festive feel.

Happy mother's day to all! Every mother deserves at least one day to feel appreciated.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Case for National Organic Conversion

This week, the organic movement got some much-deserved media attention, primarily due to two bits of news: lettuce has been recalled due to contamination with e. coli, and the President's Cancer Panel issued a report advising the government to steer Americans away from chemical use. The latter news bite was discussed in a thoughtful op-ed piece by organic/sustainability/health advocate, Nicholas Kristof, of the NY Times. Will we now have the collective chutzpah to do something about the state of our food system in this country? And do we, in fact, know what to do?

Certainly, this is not the first time that nasty bacteria, like e. coli, has found its way into our food supply. These incidents are increasing in frequency and happening several times a year now. What follows after such an episode is that people hoot and holler about how screwed up food regulation is in this country, they avoid the latest infected product, they rely even more heavily on processed foods, and then they forget it ever happened. At the rate we're going, in a decade or two there will be nothing fresh left to eat and we'll all be reduced to consuming chemical compounds so far removed from the earth and the sun as to be completely unrecognizable as food. Some might say we're there already (think Twinkie!).

This is also not the first time that it has been brought to light that chemicals are not good for us. After all, such forward-thinking countries as Canada, Denmark and Belgium banned BPA (Bisphenol A) from baby bottles two years ago. There are numerous products on the market that boast that they contain no BPA, phthalates, or parabens, all endocrine disruptors, all having the potential to cause cancer, abnormal reproductive development or function, among other health concerns. Chlorine, one of the most widely used chemicals, is also one of the most volatile and dangerous to our environment, most notably our water supply, and this has been known for decades! The petrochemicals and nitrates contained in synthetic fertilizers, as well as the pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides used to grow conventional produce all absorb into our food, drain into our drinking water, and deplete the soil of nutrients so that every successive harvest affords fewer and fewer nutrients to consumers. That chemicals are now being recognized as cancer-causing is no shocking headline. So, why are we still using these things?

Although a small portion of the population has come to recognize that the food Americans eat is killing them, an even smaller group of people has decided to do something about it. Our complacency has got to stop! If the government recommended to the American public that they eat organic foods, as is suggested by the Cancer Panel, that would be a step in the right direction ... maybe. Here are my concerns:

- Suggesting to the American public that they steer clear of conventional foods will cause serious problems with the food system. There are far too few organic farms to support mass conversion to organic, and it takes three years for a conventional farm to transition to organic. Conventional farmers also don't know anything about organic farming, and educating all of them is a serious undertaking! Perhaps the way to go is through legislation. Just as the government created the mess we're in by subsidizing corn and soy, they can get us out of it by stopping those subsidies and incentivizing farmers to grow organic, polycultural crops and livestock. They can offer free education and support to them. When there is more organic food available, the cost will drop and it will become affordable to many more people.

- There are substances that are deemed illegal in this country (some that are far less dangerous than the chemicals that we consume daily). Why not simply make the chemicals that conventional farmers use illegal? Why allow the uneducated and the poor to kill themselves, while saving the wealthy and educated, who can afford organic food?

- Eating organic foods certainly helps with regard to getting the chemicals out of our environment and our bodies, but it's actually not at all helpful in reducing the risk of widespread bacterial contamination. Organic foods are just as susceptible to contamination as conventional foods. To reduce the risk of contamination, we need to do exactly the opposite of what the government is considering - we need to DE-centralize our food system. Although centralization is what makes food easier to monitor, it is also what causes the spread of disease. If food was processed in small facilities and in small batches all around the country, contamination would be limited to local, regional supplies, and not to multiple states. For the same reason, livestock should not be slaughtered and processed in large, centralized facilities. One sick cow could contaminate every McDonalds in the country!

- While the government is telling people what to eat, they ought to also encourage people to eat local. This is not just a matter of community support and loving thy neighbor. Eating local significantly reduces the likelihood of consuming bacteria-contaminated foods, as long as they are locally processed (or unprocessed), as well. It also increasing the nutrient content of food, because the food is fewer days away from harvest. Eating local also increases the likelihood of eating fresh, unprocessed foods, and skipping the junk which is making us so fat in this country. These are the benefits to individual health. There are also numerous environmental, financial, and even social benefits to eating locally. The government can do more than suggest that consumers buy local foods; they can harness the creative marketing energies of supermarket chains by incentivizing grocery stores to carry local goods (say, if you show that 30% of your products (or more) are sourced within a 100 mile radius, you get a tax break).

I think it's great that organic food is getting more and more attention these days. I only hope that the organic movement doesn't become diluted by the sheer numbers of joiners, and I hope that we lead this wave (rather than follow it) with purpose and care.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Date Almond Balls

On to dessert ..........

Once again, I've been inspired by my favorite local health food store, the Whole Earth Center in Princeton, NJ. If I'm honest, I've basically stolen this one, since I adapted this from the list of ingredients on their date almond balls, minus sesame seeds. The dates are so sweet that there is no need for any additional sweetener, although the chocolate chips are certainly sweetened. For those wishing to cut out even more sugar, you could swap the chocolate chips for unsweetened carob chips, cacao nibs, or chopped nuts. You do need something in there for texture/crunch, though.

My 7-year-old nephew called these balls "awesome". Ditch the cookies and candy and try these out on your own kids (or yourself).

Date Almond Balls
3 cups dates, pitted
1 16 oz. jar almond butter
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1 cup reduced-fat shredded coconut

In a food processor, puree dates until they make a smooth paste. In a large bowl, combine date paste with almond butter, mixing together well with a wooden spoon. Kneed with your hands a few times to disperse the almond butter evenly. Add chocolate chips (or other mix-ins) and kneed until combined.

Form mixture into balls about 1 1/2-2" in diameter. Roll balls in shredded coconut. Enjoy!

Store in the refrigerator. Makes about 3 dozen balls.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sesame Kale

I'm not sure how to count this dish. Every scrap that I made for the seder was eaten, but several people did not try it, and I had bags full of prepped kale (uncooked) waiting in the fridge to be cooked for a second round, which never came. Oh well. That not withstanding, I got lots of compliments on the kale. Most noteworthy was a friend, who does not cook and says she does not like leafy greens, asking for my recipe. "What recipe?" I thought. After all, I had come up with this on the spot (yes, I planned it in some vague form in advance, but it didn't come together in its specifics until I was doing it, five minutes before it was served).

This dish is very easy and very quick, but it needs to be made at the last minute, or it will get quite bitter. That's good news for those who will use this to feed their family of four on a weeknight, and bad news for those who will serve it at a big dinner party. I try to keep my dinner parties limited to almost all foods that can be made in advance, just so I don't need to be pulling my hair out at the last minute. This dish is a minor hair-puller because, even though it needs to be done at the last minute, it is not complicated or time-consuming. Just prep the kale leaves in advance so you're not busy washing and tearing leaves when you should be playing host.

Sesame Kale
2 bunches dinosaur kale, washed, dried, and torn into pieces
2 Tbsps. unrefined coconut oil
1 1/2 Tbsps. red wine vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsps. tahini
1 1/2 tsps. sesame oil
1/2 tsp. sesame seeds
salt & pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, combine coconut oil, vinegar, tahini, and sesame oil, blending thoroughly with a fork. In a large stainless steel skillet, add a large dollop of the mixture and melt over medium heat. Add the torn kale leaves, stirring frequently, until wilted. Once wilted, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve warm.

Serves 12-15.

Roasted Carrots with Pistachios and Mint

This may be the only dish that disappeared entirely at my seder. It was clearly well-liked, and I knew it would be the kid favorite, but I think I also didn't make enough. I had assumed that it would be mostly for the kids, but all of the adults wanted it, too, so most people only got a small amount to sample, including me.

Roasting makes everything taste better because it helps to caramelize and concentrate the naturally occurring sugars in foods. Of course, in the case of carrots, which are quite sweet to begin with, roasting practically turns them into candy. Hence, their popularity among kids. The mint and pistachios lend a more sophisticated, adult twist to the dish, but didn't seem to disturb the kids. I guess that's ultimately why this dish was so much in demand. Make lots of it!

Roasted Carrots with Pistachios and Mint
10 large carrots, peeled and cut into thick rounds
1/3 cup shelled pistachios
2 Tbsps. olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste
1/3 oz. fresh mint, chopped well

Pre-heat oven to 425F.

Combine carrots, pistachios, olive oil, salt & pepper in a mixing bowl. Toss well. Transfer to a covered baking dish/casserole, and roast for 55 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with mint, toss and serve warm.

Serves 10-12.

Quinoa, Asparagus & Hazelnut Salad

This was one of my favorite dishes from the seder, although I'm not sure my guests would agree. The dishes that received the most compliments were the matzah ball soup, the fish fritters, the brisket, the duck, the kale, and the date almond balls. In comparison to all of these, the quinoa was very light and fresh tasting, and for a meat-loving crowd, it might not have been exactly what they were expecting. Nonetheless, I thought it went well with the meal, as a counterpoint, and I have relished the leftovers!

What I like most about this salad is that it is well balanced in so many ways. Nutritionally, it's a complete meal, containing proteins, carbs, vegetables, and even fruit. The taste is well balanced in terms of acidity and brightness, which come from the lemon juice, lemon zest and parsley, and fattiness (which is not a strong point, since it's a light dish) from the hazelnuts and olive oil, and sweetness from the currants. The texture is also well-balanced because it has the airiness of the quinoa, the crunch of the hazelnuts, and the bite of the asparagus. All together, this dish is much more than a side dish. It could be (and has been for me) lunch, all by itself. Make it for as long as the asparagus keep springing up!

Quinoa, Asparagus & Hazelnut Salad
2 cups quinoa (mix of red and white varieties adds color interest)
3 3/4 cups water
1 1/2 tsps. salt
2 bunches asparagus (thinner is better), trimmed of woody ends and cut into 1" pieces
1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil (for brushing)
1/2 cup hazelnuts, chopped
1/2 cup currants
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped

In a covered saucepan, combine quinoa, water and 1 1/2 tsps salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed.

Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Brush with grapeseed oil. When hot, add asparagus and "grill" for 5-10 minutes (until you get some color), stirring occasionally. Season the asparagus lightly with salt and pepper. Transfer the asparagus to a large mixing bowl.

In the same cast iron skillet, toast the hazelnuts over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.

Toss the cooked quinoa, cooked asparagus, toasted hazelnuts, currants, lemon zest, lemon juice, and olive oil in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper, and toss to incorporate. Just before serving, add the parsley and toss.

May be served warm or at room temperature. Serves 15-20.

Roasted Rosemary Fingerling Potatoes

If there is one dish that I was embarrassed by at my seder, it was this one. It's a good recipe, I think really good, but I goofed it up. So, please don't do what I did! I tried to make the potatoes in a casserole dish which was too deep for all the potatoes to cook evenly, and they were packed so tight that I couldn't stir them up well, even when I did try. I wanted something in which I could cook, refrigerate, re-heat, and serve the potatoes, and the casserole met those conditions, but at what price? Too many of the potatoes were undercooked in the end. Everyone at the table was very gracious and didn't complain a bit, but I can't imagine that they didn't notice a problem.

If you follow the recipe (the way I knew it needed to be done to begin with), you won't suffer such embarrassment, and you may even get a compliment or two.

Roasted Rosemary Fingerling Potatoes
4 lbs. fingerling potatoes, washed well and trimmed of blemishes
2 Tbsps. olive oil
2 Tbsps. grapeseed oil
3/4 oz. fresh rosemary, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, tossing to evenly coat the potatoes with oils and seasonings. Transfer to a half sheet pan (jelly roll pan), spreading evenly. Cover the pan in foil, and bake for 1-1.5 hours, redistributing the potatoes every half hour and checking for doneness with a fork (if the fork goes easily into the potatoes, they're done). Serve hot.

Serves 15-20 people.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Cod Fritters with Bitter Greens Salad

The traditional fish dish for Passover is gefilte fish, but that's not an option for me right now since it's very difficult to make without eggs. Gefilte fish is also very much an acquired taste, and my husband has never managed to acquire it. So, as an alternative, I decided to make a fish fritter from one of my favorite Jewish cookbooks, The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden, with a couple of minor adjustments. The fritter is packed full of parsley, another traditional ceremonial Passover food. This, and the accompanying salad, got rave reviews from my diners. Here is the fish recipe as it appears in the book, with my own tweaks noted in parentheses (salad and dressing recipes follow below):

Calcutta Fish Cakes
1/2 green chili pepper, seeded
A bunch of scallions (about 9 thin ones)
A large bunch of flat-leafed parsley (1 cup)
1 teaspoon curry powder or to taste
A good pinch of cayenne pepper or to taste
3 tablespoons flour (I used oat matzah meal)
1 lb. (500 g) raw ground fish or skinned fish fillet (I used cod)
About 1/2 teaspoon salt
Oil for frying (I used grapeseed oil)

Finely chop the chili pepper, scallions, and flat-leafed parsley in a food processor. Add the curry powder, cayenne, and flour (matzah meal), and blend. Add the fish fillets and a little salt, and process very briefly (a few seconds only) with the rest of the ingredients. If using store-bought ground fish, turn into a bowl with the rest of the ingredients, mix with a fork, and work to a paste that holds together with your hand.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan (I used cast iron) and drop the mixture in by the tablespoon, pushing it off with another spoon. Flatten the fritters a little in the pan and fry on both sides till lightly browned but still soft inside (I cooked for 5 minutes of each side, then finished for 20 minutes in a 350F oven).

Serves 4 (I think this serves 6-7 as a meal, and 8-10 as an appetizer).

Bitter Greens Salad with Horseradish Dressing
Bitter greens are another traditional Passover food, intended to remind us of the bitterness of slavery. Unfortunately, horseradish, which is sharp and not bitter, has come to replace bitter greens on many a seder plate, so I'm bringing them back with this salad. This salad also featured one of the most beautiful vegetable I know: the chiogga beet (pictured below). Thanks to my brother and sister-in-law for their incredible help in making this salad possible!

1 bunch dandelion greens, torn into pieces, ribs removed
1 bunch daikon (roots and greens), greens torn into pieces, tough stalks removed
1-2 heads of frisee, cored
2 packages dried mushrooms (whatever kinds you prefer ... I had an assortment)
1 cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil
salt to taste
1 chiogga beet, peeled and trimmed of ends
Horseradish dressing (below)

Toss dandelion greens, daikon greens, and frisee in a large bowl. Set aside.

Mix dried mushrooms and wine in a bowl, and set aside to reconstitute for 20 minutes. Then drain wine (reserve mushroom-steeped wine for future use ... think risotto, poached eggs or chicken, rice pilaf, etc.). In a small skillet, saute the mushrooms in grapeseed oil, seasoning with a pinch of salt.

Make shavings of the beet and daikon root with either a vegetable peeler or a mandolin.

Toss the greens with the salad dressing. Divide greens onto salad plates. Scatter a few mushrooms, beet shavings, and daikon shavings on each plate. Top with a fish fritter, and garnish the fish with a bit of the dressing.

Serves 12

Horseradish Dressing
4 1/2 Tbsps. finely grated horseradish
1 1/2 cups olive oil
3/4 cup champagne vinegar
6 Tbsps. dijon mustard
2 tsps. celery seed
1 1/2 tsps. ground white pepper
1 Tbsp. salt

Combine all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Makes about 3 cups.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Roast Duckling with Apricot Balsamic Glaze

I was incredibly lucky to find free-range kosher duckling to serve at my Passover seder. Believe it or not, I found it at a nearby supermarket that specializes in kosher foods. I jumped at the chance to cook duck, and ditched my much more basic chicken plan. If you are looking to buy duck, rest assured that as long as you don't need it to be kosher, you should be able to find it quite readily. And due to some helpful USDA restrictions, ducks cannot be raised using antibiotics or hormones, so you're safe from those regardless.

I bought four duckings, each about 4.5 lbs., for a crowd of 18 people, and we were left with a couple of scraps too small to use for a single leftover dinner. So, the perfect amount (except that I wouldn't have minded some leftovers).

Although it was a great hit, I would have liked the fat to render a bit more. So, that's something to work on next time. Nevertheless, the meat was delicious, tender, and flavorful, and the accompanying glaze was quite tasty.

Roasting duck is certainly not as easy as roasting chicken, but it's also not as hard as most people think. The trick is to score or pierce the skin all over and rotate the duck every so often so that the thick fat layer under the skin renders. If I had cooked the duck at a lower temperature for a longer time, I think I could have achieved that completely and had crispier skin to boot.

So, although this recipe is not perfect, it will still make everyone at the table happy:

Roast Duckling with Apricot Balsamic Glaze
4-6 lb. free-range duckling
salt and pepper
Apricot Balsamic Glaze (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350F (perhaps next time I'd try 300F). Cut away any excess hanging skin around the neck and back side. Rinse the duck in cold water, inside and out, and then pat dry with towels.

Pierce or score the skin all over. Season the duck with salt and pepper, inside and out. Place the duck, breast-side up, on a rack in a roasting pan, and then put in the oven.

Turn the duck every 30-45 minutes. When the internal temperature of the duck (at the deepest part of the breast) reaches 165F on a meat thermometer, the duck in done (roughly 3 hours). If you like your duck a little more cooked through, you can roast it to 180F.

Increase the oven temperature to 400F. Glaze the duck and return to the oven for up to five minutes. Remove from the oven, and allow the duck to rest for 15 minutes before carving and serving. Make sure to reserve the fat in the bottom of the pan - it's a chef's gold!

One duck serves 4-5 people.

Apricot Balsamic Glaze
3 9 oz. jars apricot jam
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup orange juice
2 Tbsps. honey

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan (if the jam is very chunky, first puree all ingredients together in a blender). Bring the mixture to a simmer, and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook down (if necessary) until thick and syrupy.

This recipe makes enough to glaze several ducks and pass as a condiment, as well. Goes well with chicken, turkey or pork also.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Passover Menu

Passover is fast approaching, and I'm running out of breath just trying to keep up with my own menu. It isn't often that I host a seder, because I have the dinkiest dining room known to man. However, this year, the planets aligned, and I am hosting a seder at my gracious in-laws' house while they are snow-birding it in Florida. We'll be 18 people plus two babies, so a pretty good size crowd.

As is often the case, my guests will be guinea pigs. I get too bored making the same thing too often (or more than once), so I'm making up some new recipes (heavy on the roasting this year, for some reason). My family is somewhat in the middle about Passover kashrut observance. That is, we observe most of the Passover food restrictions, but we do allow eating seeds, which some Jews do not. With my long list of current food restrictions, I'll take all the allowances I can get!

Given that most of the menu is not tried and true, I will not post recipes until after-the-fact. Please forgive me ... but remember that next year, you can use these for you own seder, and if you celebrate Easter, you might still be able to use some of these this year!

Here is a sneak peak at the menu:

Soup course – Chicken Soup with matzah balls (and oat matzah balls)

Salad/Fish Course
– Cod fish fritter on a bed of bitter greens (dandellion greens, daikon greens, frisee) with shaved raw chioggia beets, shaved raw daikon, and sauteed wild mushrooms, with a horseradish dressing

Main course –
BBQ organic pasture-raised brisket
Roast free-range duckling with apricot honey balsamic glaze
Roasted rosemary fingerling potatoes
Quinoa and grilled asparagus salad with chopped, toasted hazelnuts, parsley, and currants
Roasted carrots and pistachios with fresh mint
Sesame kale

Desserts –
Chocolate almond chia mousse
Chocolate walnut cake with mocha coconut frosting
Date almond balls

Fruit contributions from guests

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sweet & Sour St. Patty's Day

I'm not in the least bit Irish, but my husband is a quarter Irish, which makes my kids an eighth Irish, so I'm out-numbered in my house. I need to do something to honor the day, but boiling corned beef and cabbage just isn't going to cut it. I would have actually made this recipe to include both corned beef and cabbage, but a pasture-raised corned beef eluded me, so I needed an alternative. I thought, Ah, Ireland must have plenty of sheep, and although mutton is fairly unheard of in this country, lamb certainly isn't. Alas, I couldn't find any lamb that would work either (I was looking for sausage). So, I settled on local, sustainably-raised pork sausage with cabbage.

This recipe might very well be the quickest (in prep time, not cook time) on this blog. It took me 10 minutes, if that, and then I turned the crock pot on and left the house. When I came home, dinner was ready and waiting. How do you like that?

Sweet & Sour St. Patty's Day
1 medium head green cabbage, shredded (sliced thinly)
1.5 lbs. fingerling potatoes
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1/3 cup currants
1.5 lbs. lamb or pork savory sausage (avoid hot or sweet Italian sausage)
2 Tbsps. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. honey
1/2 cup beer, hard apple cider, or apple wine
1 tsp. peppercorns
2 tsps. salt

Combine the cabbage, potatoes, onion and currants in a slow cooker. Lay the sausages over the vegetables. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, honey, beer, peppercorns, and salt. Pour mixture evenly over the contents of the cooker. Cook on low for 6 hours. Serve hot.

Serves 4-5

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Update: Eating with Allergies

It's now been more than 2 months since I started my new diet, which excludes wheat, dairy, eggs and cashews, thanks to my son's food allergies. Fortunately, his skin is clearing up nicely. He is off the Zyrtec and we're using very limited amounts of steroid creams to keep the eczema under control. He looks like a healthy baby again ... whew!

My battle with the un-foods has been mostly won, I'm happy to report! There are still three un-foods that I consume on a regular (though not daily) basis: oat milk, brown rice bread, and soy yogurt. But my diet is back to almost all real foods, and I feel much better. Yay!!!!

There are two things that I was battling with when I posted about this last (see here) that have since been resolved: pancakes and eggs. I've gotten rid of my box of egg replacer, which was a super-un-food and never worked anyway, and I've found a perfectly natural and extremely healthy alternative: chia gel! I use 1/4 cup chia gel to replace each egg in any baking recipe. Check out this video to learn about the benefits of chia and how to make chia gel.

For the pancakes, I've ditched the gluten-free mixes in favor of my own wheat-, egg-, and dairy-free recipe. Here goes:

Wheat-, Egg-, Dairy-Free Pancakes
1 1/4 cup barley flour
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
2 Tbsps sugar
2 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups oat milk
1/4 cup chia gel
3 Tbsps. safflower oil
1/2 cup blueberries, frozen or fresh (optional)
Safflower oil spray
Maple syrup

Preheat a cast iron griddle over high heat.

In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a small bowl combine the oat milk and chia gel, whisking together well. Add the safflower oil, and whisk well again. Add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture and stir together until just moistened. Fold in the blueberries.

Spray the griddle with a thin layer of safflower oil. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Spoon batter onto griddle, allowing pancakes to cook about 2-3 minutes per side. Serve drizzled with maple syrup.

Makes about 10 flapjack size pancakes.

Note: Barley flour pancakes will stick to your griddle more than wheat flour ones will, so take a little extra care in the flipping.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rosemary Apple Garbanzo Cholent

Cholent is a traditional Jewish Sabbath meal that usually includes meat, beans, grains (barley usually), potatoes, and maybe some other vegetables. My cholent is not at all traditional. Don't serve it your bubbe (grandmother) and expect her to dance with delight at your return to your roots (if you're Jewish). In fact, this cholent may send many a bubbe rolling in her grave. I call this a cholent only because the cooking method is the same, and the combination of ingredients follows the same cooking principles as that of a traditional cholent. For any observant vegans out there, this is your solution to Shabbat lunch!

Rosemary Apple Garbanzo Cholent
1 lb. dry garbanzo beans, soaked overnight
2 Tbsps. olive oil
2 Tbsps. coconut oil or Earth Balance buttery stick
4 carrots, cut into chunks
5 parsnips, cut into chunks
1 large red onion, cut into chunks
1 medium celeriac (celery root), cut into chunks
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 granny smith apples, cut into chunks (peel on is fine)
2 Tbsps. dried rosemary, crushed in a mortar & pestle
1 cup quinoa
5 cups weak veggie broth
salt & pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 bay leaf

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

Drain the soaking water from the garbanzo beans, and set aside. In a large enameled dutch oven, heat the oils over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, parsnips, onion, celeriac, garlic and apples. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil. Remove from stove.

Cover the pot and cook in the oven for 2.5 hours. Let rest 10 minutes, and serve.

Note: To make this truer to the cholent method, you could make this one of two ways - cook in the oven at 200F for 12 hours or transfer to a slow cooker and cook on low for 12 hours.

Serves 4-6.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

One Pot Chicken and Winter Veggies

It's true that my modus operandi is not generally characterized by easy or efficient cooking styles. Of course, I don't dislike cooking this way, but I don't often go out of my way to make a recipe conform to these limitations. Food takes me however long it needs to take, and requires as many pots, knives, cutting boards, and heating elements as are necessary to get the job done right. Sometimes, the process is as long and meandering and unnecessary as this paragraph seems to be. But every once in a while, I come up with something that doesn't ask to be complicated by too many pots and pans. One Pot Chicken & Winter Veggies, which arose from some purposeless leftover cubed squash in the freezer, is one such recipe. So, enjoy the quick prep and easy clean-up this dish affords!

You might recognize bits and pieces of this recipe that were borrowed from a variety of established regional and ethnic stews and other popular dishes. You might even be inclined to call it Jambalaprikash Gumbisotto, or maybe not ...

One Pot Chicken & Winter Veggies
2 Tbsps. butter or Earth Balance buttery stick
2 Tbsps. flour (whole wheat, barley, teff, brown rice ... whatever you have will do)
1 Tbsp. safflower oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 lb. boneless chicken, cubed
1 Tbsp. anchovy paste
salt & pepper, to taste
1 1/2 cups pearled barley
2 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 Tbsps. dried thyme
1 tsp. paprika

In a large, heavy pot or dutch oven, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes, or until slightly darkened. Add the safflower oil, onion, and garlic, and cook until onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and squash, cooking for another minute. Add the chicken and cook for 5-7 minutes, until the chicken is cooked on the outside. Add the anchovy paste, salt, pepper, and barley, and cook for one minute, stirring until everything is well incorporated. Add the chicken stock, white wine, tomatoes, thyme, and paprika, stirring well.

Bring to a bubble over medium high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the barley is done but still toothy (al dente) and has absorbed most of the liquid. If additional liquid is needed, add 1/2 cup water at a time until desired effect is reached. Serve hot in bowls.

Serves 6.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Goji Berry Oatmeal Cookies

There is virtually no possibility of guilt in eating these cookies. They are made of entirely whole grains, they have no refined sugar, they are dairy, egg, and wheat-free, they contain goji berries (high in antioxidants) and walnuts (high in omega 3's), and they taste great! Your kids will beg for more, and you might just give in.

Goji Berry Oatmeal Cookies
1/2 cup (1 stick) Earth Balance buttery sticks
3/4 cup honey
1 very ripe banana
1 Tbsp. unsulphured blackstrap molasses
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups barley flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup goji berries (or other dried fruit of your choice)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease 2 cookie sheets and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the Earth Balance, honey, banana, molasses and vanilla with an electric mixer. In a separate bowl, combine the barley flour, oats, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and combine with an electric mixer until just moistened.

Drop batter onto cookie sheets in rounded teaspoonfuls 2" apart. Bake 12-14 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown. Cool cookies on a rack, and enjoy!

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

This recipe was adapted from Ken Haedrich's recipe for Honey Wheat Oatmeal Cookies in his book Country Baking.

Eating While Standing on My Head

A wrench has been thrown into my happy culinary game plan. My poor six-month-old son, who has been suffering from horrible eczema most of his very short life, just recently tested positive for a long list of allergies. Faced with the choice to either eliminate all of his food allergens from my diet in order to keep nursing, or putting him on soy formula, I opted for the former. So, I am now neck-deep in diet overhaul, eating while standing on my head. My son's allergies include: dairy, wheat, eggs, and cashews.

It's now been about a month since we learned of his allergies, so I've gotten used to the alternatives, a bit. I'm disheartened by the fact that his eczema, while considerably better, is still not clear, and he scratches himself to a bloody mess if I don't give him Zyrtec every day. These things lead me to believe that there are undiscovered allergies, so perhaps more testing will be in order soon.

Eliminating so much from my diet all at once did do a number on my digestive system, I admit. And unfortunately, since most of these foods are among the most common in any dish, finding substitutes often means eating things that I've generally regarded as un-foods - something developed in a lab, not grown on the land. So, perhaps it is the addition of these un-foods that negatively affected me, rather than the elimination of the real things.

Life without breads or pastries is much more unbearable than I thought it would be. Initially, I was sure that I would miss cheese the most, and I do miss it, but not nearly as much as wheat products. Every Saturday morning, I used to make pancakes, and I'm still stumbling through that one. So far, I've tried a few gluten-free mixes, but they're just dreadful. For bread replacement, I've been eating brown rice bread, which is cakey and sweet, nothing like whole wheat bread. I also sometimes eat 100% rye bread, which can't realistically be used for a sandwich, since it falls apart so easily, Nonetheless, it still tastes pretty good. And if you think eating Asian food is a good idea, think again! Soy sauce contains wheat, and many restaurants marinate foods in soy sauce, so you can't just ask them to leave it off.

To replace eggs, I've yet to settle into a routine. There is a powdered product (a definite un-food) that is called egg replacer, but it really doesn't resemble eggs in the least, and doesn't seem to perform well in baking. I've had more luck with simple oil, or even a banana for moisture and binding. Oddly enough, pan fried tofu is a pretty tasty alternative to scrambled eggs (but nothing can replace my Sunday morning over easy eggs).

For the dairy, I've given up on most of it. I can't understand why most veggie cheese actually still contains milk ... that's just baffling! The one variety of non-dairy "cheese" that I found tastes inedibe ... again, un-food. I do eat some soy yogurt, maybe once or twice a week, and that's just to have something to mix granola and fruit into for breakfast. Sometimes, I also eat wheat-free cereal, and for that and for some cooking applications, I've needed a milk replacement. On the recommendation of a friend, I tried hemp milk first, which was just short of unbearable. I know I don't like soy or rice milks from having tried them in the past, and frankly, I don't want to overexpose myself to either of those, since soy and rice replace almost everything else in my diet. One of the few nuts I have left to eat (between my son's cashew allergy and my daughter's peanut allergy) is almonds, and I've been eating them often, so I thought adding almond milk might also be overkill on that front. So, that left me with one more option: oat milk. Thankfully, I can stand the stuff. It's also fortunate that of all the milk replacers, it's one of the least expensive.

Speaking of expense, sheesh! All of these un-foods cost a fortune! This is going to take a serious toll on our budget! I've resolved to find ways to make a lot of very unfamiliar things myself to spare our bank account and my stomach exposure to so much unhealthy stuff. So, lots of these sorts of recipes are soon to come.

I'll leave you with this last bit of wisdom that I've learned over the last several weeks: My relationship with food has changed so much since I started eating unnatural things. I think about nutrients more than I care to, always worrying that the un-foods I'm consuming are not providing for me in the ways that their true counterparts did. That worry isn't unfounded ... my diet is no longer comprised entirely of actual food. I'm filling my stomach, but I'm not always doing so in my body's best interests. Such is the case for most Americans, who consume un-food unknowingly on a daily basis, and are not meeting their bodies' basic needs. For me, there has to be a better way.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Happy Birthday to the Trees

Tomorrow, Jews will celebrate Tu B'Shevat, the 15th day of the month of Shevat -- the birthday of trees. What better holiday could there be for an environmentalist with the first name Ilana (Hebrew for Tree Sapling) and middle name Tamar (Hebrew for Date Palm Tree)? While a relatively minor holiday in Jewish tradition, Tu B'Shevat has been central to my life. I was married on Tu B'Shevat (technically, since it was after sundown, it was no longer Tu B'Shevat, but you get the idea), and my Bat Mitzvah was also the week of Tu B'Shevat. Clearly, my parents knew the kind of person I'd grow up to be when they named me.

Given its importance to me, the very least I could do to mark the occasion is to post a Tu B'Shevat recipe. Traditonally, Jews eat foods that grow on trees on Tu B'Shevat. Here is my very simple no-bake treat comprised entirely of tree products:

Tree Bars
1 cup dried, unsulphured apricots
1 cup dried, unsulphured figs, trimmed of stems
1 cup dried, unsulphured dates, pitted
1 cup raw almonds
2 cups coconut butter

Grease a 13x9 inch glass baking dish. In a food processor, combine the apricots, figs and dates. Process until chopped well (some small chunks can remain). Transfer to a large mixing bowl. In the processor, chop the almonds until well chopped (small chunks can remain). Combine the almonds with the dried fruit in the bowl.

Soften the coconut butter, either on the stovetop or in the microwave, until it is just spreadable. Add the coconut butter to the dried fruit mixture and combine thoroughly, using your hands (and your kids' hands!).

Press the mixture firmly and evenly into the baking dish. Cover and chill in the fridge for one hour. Cut into squares and serve. To store, wrap each bar in parchment or waxed paper and keep in the fridge.

Makes 24 bars.

Note: For a less rich, less fatty option, cut down the coconut butter to 1 1/2 cups.

While you're celebrating Jewish Earth Day, check out a few mitzvot (good deeds) that go well with the Tu B'Shevat spirit:
- 5 Actions You Can Take in 15 Minutes to Protect Forests
- Help Protect Forestry & Ecology in Israel
- Protect the World's Remaining Rain Forests, Including the Amazon
- Plant a tree in your backyard