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.