Category Archives: No Dairy

Chickpea Salad Sandwiches

I really wish I could have invented silly bands or rainbow looms, but alas, I only invent things like Chickpea Salad. And even then, I didn’t really invent it, of course. But today, I had the idea to make a mashed chickpea salad in the exact same style as my favorite chicken salad — with grapes and nuts/seeds and chickpeas instead of chicken. Because I sort of hate chicken and I can’t stand handling it. I much prefer legumes to chicken — with the exceptions of a good local, roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy or a real fried chicken. Otherwise I find that it takes too much seasoning and work and sauce to make it good. Bacon and filet mignon do not have this problem. I will add that I don’t really like the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner that much either. Even after brining and doing dances to the moist and flavorful turkey gods, give me the sides and the gravy and I’m happy.

So, today I present Chickpea Salad. Have it on a sandwich. Or have it with a salad. Or eat it out of the bowl. And feel free to send me royalty checks.

Chickpea Salad Sandwiches

Makes about 3-4 cups of sandwich or salad filling

1 can of chickpeas (15 oz.), drained and rinsed
3-4 T mayonnaise (more or less depending on how you like it)
2 stalks celery, chopped
2-3 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup red grapes, quartered or chopped
2 T pumpkin seeds (or other nuts/seeds)
1 T lemon juice
Salt and Pepper to taste
Lightly toasted bread

1. In a medium bowl, mash chickpeas with a potato masher. Leave some mixed consistency, but not whole chickpeas.

2. Stir in mayo and remaining ingredients. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice if desired.

3. Serve on lightly toasted bread or place a scoop on a plate with a lightly dressed salad.

 

Velvety Cauliflower Soup with Turmeric, Sunflower Seeds, and Truffle Oil

This summer was not kind to my waist line. Or to my hip line, ass line, and stomach line, for that matter. Packing and moving meant pizza and beer on many more nights than I’d care to admit. And if unpacking one spice bottle from twenty sheets of packing paper burned a lot of calories, I’d be in my pre-baby jeans. But no one would want to see me in those 12 year old things anyway — including me — so let’s just skip it. Bottom line is that I am trying to get back to normal eating before the holidays crush me all over again.

A friend was telling me about her success with a twice a day shake/smoothie plan, but instantly said, “Oh, you couldn’t do it because you love food and flavor too much.” True enough, but I did consider it for a moment. It couldn’t be as bad as the cabbage soup diet. Remember that shit?

No, any healthy eating plan for me needs to include real food and flavor and cooking. And now that we are back on our weekly farm share plan in our new area, I feel like the vegetables are calling me and nagging me from the fridge. “You aren’t seriously going to let us go bad, are you? Come on, you lazy piece of shit, cook us!” Maybe your vegetables (as I like to call my inner voice these days) are kinder than mine, but I do feel incredibly more guilty if I don’t use my farm share vegetables as opposed to my grocery store vegetables. You know how when you were a kid, you felt sorry for the last banana going brown because you were worried it felt unwanted? OK, maybe that was just me, but I am quick to personify produce and the hard work of the individual farmers who grew it is a much stronger cooking motivator than some unknown factory farm.

I digress. Can you see why my husband is a good man to put up with me and the constant over-analysis of even my produce drawer?

But even with my farm share love, there are things that get abandoned in the back of the fridge. Cauliflower is one of them. I like it, but no one else in the family does. They hate it, in fact. So when the vegetables were talking to me before lunch today, I had a moment of clarity that I could make something with them for me! Just for me. For lunch even. So this is what I made. It was delightful and rich and healthy and I will probably eat it for lunch all week. And even though the heavy cream in the fridge was screaming to be included in this soup, my hips told her to STFU.

Velvety Cauliflower Soup with Turmeric, Sunflower Seeds, and Truffle Oil

Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

1 medium head of cauliflower, chopped into small florets
1 large onion, chopped
2 t turmeric powder
1 t curry powder
1 T olive oil
3/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds (or other nuts or seeds)
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup water
Juice of one lemon
2 t salt (to taste, less if using full sodium broth)
Fresh ground pepper
Chopped fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, or chives would all be good)
White Truffle Oil or Good Olive Oil

1. In a large soup or stock pot, sauté onion, turmeric, and curry in 1 T of olive oil until softened. Add cauliflower and sauté for about five minutes until the cauliflower begins to soften.

2. Add stock, wine, water, 2 t salt, and freshly ground pepper. Cook for about 15 minutes until cauliflower is falling apart and very soft.

3. While soup is cooking, chop the sunflower seeds very finely in a food processor or small chopper until they are the consistency of corn meal. Reserve a few tablespoons for garnish and set the rest aside.

4. Remove soup from the heat and purée with an immersion blender until soup is velvety smooth. (You can use a regular blender, but obviously leave the lid partially off and do it in small batches so you don’t have an explosion of hot soup.) Stir in chopped sunflower seeds (reserving the others for garnish) and lemon juice and puree for a few more seconds to incorporate. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if desired.

5. To serve, ladle soup into a bowl, sprinkle with reserved ground sunflower seeds and fresh herbs, and drizzle with truffle oil or olive oil.

 

 

Garbanzo “Meatballs” with Spaghetti Squash

I take the same route to drop my son off at preschool every morning.  Some days I consider going a different way just to make the synapses in my brain do something different (and no, I have no idea if that is what synapses actually do).  But I usually go the same way, making the same familiar turns, crossing the main roads at easier intersections with less traffic.  Something that you only do after you have lived in a town for many, many years.  I sneak through the alley ways and the back streets.  The car drives itself.

Along my way, I see the beautiful elderly woman walking her little yippy dog.  In my estimation, she doesn’t belong here.  She wears large Jackie O style glasses and is dressed impeccably for her morning walk.  This morning she had on a bright blue oxford shirt with a hot pink, tailored jacket.  Her dog is often dressed as nicely as she is.  She walks everywhere, but it seems like she should occupy the streets of the Upper East Side instead of this small town.  One day I saw her near my daughter’s school without her dog and with her hand bandaged.  I imagined what had happened and worried about her for a day or two, after which I thankfully saw her walking with her dog again.  She is always otherwise alone.

When my daughter was in daycare and I was still working, every morning we would drive past the high school on our way to her school.  Every day we saw a man walking with a newspaper that he bought at the grocery store down the street.  The weather never mattered.  If it were raining, he’d carry it in a bag.  If it were sunny, he’d hold it under his arm.  My two year old daughter affectionately called him “newspaper man” every time we’d pass.  Then our route changed.  I quit my job and he was no longer on our morning agenda.  We saw him the other day walking far from his normal route.  At 10, she still remembered him.

Yesterday, while I was walking in my neighborhood, I passed a very elderly woman slowly strolling arm-in-arm with a much younger caregiver.  I have never actually passed her while walking on the street — only by car. My earliest memories of her (from years ago) are walking while holding hands with her very elderly husband. I always noticed because I wondered whether my husband and I would still want to hold hands at that age. Was it because they were still in love or was it simply to steady each other?  One day I saw her walking and he was absent.  For the first few days I imagined he might be ill.  She needed fresh air.  I’ve never seen him again.  Yesterday, I wanted to look her in the eyes and tell her that I was sorry for her loss.

I turned 40 last week.  I just noticed that my uncle is turning 70 in a few days.  He was 30 when I was born. I was 25 when my nephew was born.  My brain furiously calculates numbers that it should ignore.  Subtractions, additions, comparisons.  I’ll be this when that.

Mid-life crisis seems too cliché.  Too self indulgent.

But I’m post-babies who need moment-to-moment care.  I have no career to speak of, having abandoned it so I could perform that moment-to-moment care.  I’m walking the same streets and I don’t know whether to rejoice in the routine or scream out loud in panic.

Garbanzo “Meatballs” with Spaghetti Squash

Makes 15 meatballs

10 ounces of green garbanzos (available at our Wegman’s in the organic frozen foods.  Could also use edamame.)
3-4 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons italian seasoning
1 teaspoon dried fennel seeds
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup crushed rice cereal (Brown Rice Krispies or Rice Chex style cereal)
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or parsley
1/4 cup olive oil, plus one tablespoon
4 tablespoons marinara sauce
1 medium spaghetti squash
Additional Marinara Sauce

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Split spaghetti squash lengthwise and remove seeds.  Rub cut surface with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place it cut side down in a baking pan and bake for about 45 minutes until it is tender and a knife pierces it easily.

3.  Meanwhile, combine the garbanzos, garlic, italian seasoning, fennel, salt and pepper, and olive oil in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse about five times.  You want to leave a lot of texture to it.

4.  Remove garbanzo mixture to a bowl and stir in crushed rice cereal, 4 T marinara sauce, and 1 T of additional olive oil (if necessary to hold the mixture together).  Season with additional salt and pepper or spices to taste.  Stir in fresh basil or parsley.

5.  Form garbanzo mixture into meatball shapes and bake for about 12-15 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven (that gives them a little “crust”). (You can also make these ahead of time and chill in the refrigerator.)

6.  When spaghetti squash is finished, use a fork to scrape the strands into a bowl.  Toss with a bit of olive, salt and pepper, and additional fresh herbs if you like.  Serve the squash with a few garbanzo meatballs and marinara sauce.

 

 

Butternut Squash and Apple Muffins with Pumpkin Seed Streusel

I have received one butternut squash and one dozen eggs every Tuesday for the last three weeks from my CSA.  Up until yesterday, I had exactly three butternut squashes on my counter and three dozen eggs in my refrigerator.  I always like to kid myself and say things like “When fall gets here and the kids are back in school, I will finally organize their baby books.  Or clean out the storage area.  Or have that yard sale I’ve been meaning to do since June.”  Instead, I am confronted with back to school nights, violin shopping, supply acquisition, homework helping, pick ups and drop offs, driving, soccer, snacks, and maintaining some level of personal hygiene.

(Memo to my kids: I really have tried with your baby books.  Although I am very sentimental and keep things like your baby teeth and dried up belly button stubs, I am very poor at organizing these items into beautiful volumes for you to treasure one day.  I really hope it is OK that everything is crammed into a baby book with a cracked spine, papers falling out, and notes written in any color pen (or pencil) I had handy.  I do love you.  But not enough to scrapbook.)

And this entire month has been consumed by the Bloomsburg Floods.  We have the luxury of not being in the epicenter of the destruction and our busy schedule is pretty trivial compared to what the residents are going through.  But it has meant a lot of back and forth travel — which means bags that don’t have a chance to get unpacked before they are being packed again. Whirlwind is how some describe it, I think.  But as I talk with friends who are having their homes condemned, I am pretty sure a whirlwind would be a welcome feeling.  Never mind the “problem” of having all of your children’s baby book items in a box, rather than in a muddy heap never to be looked at again.

This whirlwind seems to blow cooking and eating rules out the window.  The grown ups have eaten a lot of Thai takeout. The kids have eaten way too many pasta dinners and lots of dessert.  It was the boy’s 5th birthday too, which seemed to provide an endless supply of cookies, rice krispy treats, cakes, and cupcakes.  But no more!

I turned on the oven yesterday (and it still worked!) and I made these muffins in an attempt to make a relatively healthy treat or breakfast that the kids would enjoy.  They are whole grain, quite low in sugar and fat, and filled with both butternut squash and apples.  They were a nice fall treat and used up one whole squash and 4 eggs.

Only two squash and 32 eggs to go.

Butternut Squash and Apple Muffins with Pumpkin Seed Streusel

Makes about 18 full size muffins

Muffins:
1 1/2 cups of cooked butternut squash (I like to halve mine, scoop out seeds, and slow roast for about an hour at 325 degrees Fahrenheit)
4 eggs
1/4 cup of dark brown sugar (can use more — up to 3/4 cup for a sweeter muffin)
1/3 cup applesauce
6 T vegetable oil
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
2 t baking powder
2 t cinnamon
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 medium apple, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped

Streusel:
1/4 cup dark brown sugar (can use more here too if you like)
1 t cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped and toasted pumpkin seeds

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  In a large bowl, mix wet ingredients by whisking together cooked squash, eggs, dark brown sugar, applesauce, and vegetable oil.

3. In a medium bowl, mix dry ingredients by combining salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and whole wheat pastry flour.

4.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and whisk until just combined.  Stir in chopped apples.  Spoon into greased muffin tins about 2/3 of the way full. (You can use cupcake papers if you like.)

5.  Combine streusel ingredients (brown sugar, cinnamon, and pumpkin seeds) and sprinkle a nice spoonful over top of each muffin before baking.

6.  Bake muffins for about 15 minutes until just done and a tester comes out basically clean.  Let cool a few minutes in tins and then remove muffins to a cooling rack.  (I had to use a knife to loosen them before removing.)

 

 

 

 

Springtime Grilled Chicken Bread Salad with Roasted Asparagus and Fennel

There are certain recipes that have nearly cult followings online, and the Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken and Bread Salad is one of them.  I’ve never had it in person, but have heard so many people rave about it that I recently decided to put my own spin on it.  It seemed fitting — fresh, small game hens and asparagus from the farmer’s market, and a loaf of sourdough bread from a wonderful bakery downtown.  I hadn’t planned to make it, but sometimes things just come together at the right time.   I made it on a week night, but my bet is that you might want to save it for the weekend as it is somewhat more time consuming than other recipes I post.

That is not to say it is difficult, though.  It just requires more steps and separate preparation methods for multiple ingredients.  But in the end, it is beyond worth it.  The salad is garlicky and lemony with chewy bread toasted in olive oil, enriched with roasted asparagus and fennel, and topped with roasted chicken that will have you licking your fingers throughout.  It would make a fantastic dish for entertaining, because you can prep most of the ingredients beforehand, and then simply compose the salad after roasting or grilling the chicken.  (Just save it for guests who don’t mind deliciousness that necessitates finger licking.)

We split our game hens into halves and my husband grilled them over a charcoal fire (he gets props for the chicken being insanely good).  However, you could just as easily roast them in the oven halved or whole.  If you do them over charcoal, he would suggest starting the halves over the coals, skin side down, for a quick searing of the skin, and then moving them to the center to cook indirectly until they are just done.  Keep a drip pan underneath them as you would typically do in a charcoal fire, and save the drippings so you can mix a bit into the salad at the end.  Don’t overcook and let the chicken rest for ten minutes or so before serving so it stays juicy.

Just be sure to put a stack of napkins on the table and pour yourself a nice, chilled glass of white wine before you dig in.  Spring couldn’t get much more perfect.

Springtime Grilled Chicken Bread Salad with Roasted Asparagus and Fennel

Serves 4-6

2 small game hens, or 1 small roasting chicken
Olive oil
Fresh parsley, rosemary, thyme, and sage, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 loaves of crusty sourdough or peasant bread (about 1 1/2 pounds, to yield 1 pound of crustless bread cubes)
1/3 cup of pumpkin seeds or pine nuts
1 bunch of asparagus, stemmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 fennel bulb, sliced and reserving 2 T of chopped fronds
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 or 2 scallions, chopped
2 or 3 large handfuls of salad greens, washed and dried

Dressing:
1/3 cup of olive oil
Zest of one lemon, chopped
1/2 t salt
Freshly ground pepper
Juice of 1/2 of a lemon, or more to taste

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Split game hens in half (disregard if roasting whole) and place on a tray.  Drizzle with olive oil and season both sides liberally with salt and pepper.   Sprinkle generously with chopped parsley, rosemary, thyme, and sage (or other herbs of your choice) and rub the halves so the seasonings cover the chicken well.  Put in refrigerator until ready to grill.

2.  Remove crusts from bread (take a thin layer off, but you don’t have to be 100% perfect … a little crust is OK) and tear bread into bite-sized cubes.  I threw the crusts into a ziploc bag in the freezer and will use them for croutons in a salad at some point.  Place bread cubes onto a cookie sheet and drizzle lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place the pumpkin seeds on a separate, small baking sheet.  Put both the bread cubes and pumpkin seeds in the oven to toast.  The pumpkin seeds will take about 5-7 minutes and the bread cubes will take about 7-10 minutes.  I broiled my bread cubes for a minute or two at the end, so they had some toastier parts.  Remove both items from oven and set aside at room temperature.

3.  In a roasting pan, combine asparagus pieces and sliced fennel.  Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast in oven for about 20 minutes until they are nicely cooked (but not overdone) and the fennel starts to caramelize a bit.  You can also broil this for a minute or two at the end if you want a little extra char or caramelization.  Remove from oven and toss with chopped garlic, chopped scallions, and chopped fennel fronds.  Set aside at room temperature. (Steps 1-3 could be done early in the day if you are entertaining.)

4.  Remove chicken from refrigerator and prepare charcoal grill for an indirect fire.  (If you like, you can start the grill before steps 2 and 3 if you are doing this all at once, rather than prepping ahead of time.)  Place chicken halves over the fire on the grill (with a drip pan in the middle), skin side down and sear for 2-3 minutes.  Flip and move to center of the grill (over the drip pan) and cook indirectly for about 30-40 minutes until done.  Remove to platter and let rest for about 10 minutes.

5.  While chicken is cooking, combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl (could also be made ahead of time).  In a large salad bowl, combine toasted bread cubes, roasted asparagus and fennel, and toasted pumpkin seeds.

6.  While chicken is resting, skim a layer of fat off of the drippings and mix one or two tablespoons of remaining drippings with bread cubes and other ingredients.  Add a few handfuls of salad greens and toss with about half of the dressing.  Taste for seasoning and add more dressing if necessary, as well as additional salt and pepper.

7.  To serve, give each person a nice helping of the bread salad, top with a portion of the roasted chicken (a leg, thigh, or breast piece — or a combo) and serve with remaining dressing on the side.

 

Green Coconut Curry with Chick Peas

You probably don’t want to read a food related post that starts out talking about snow and phlegm and pink eye, but here we are.  I’ve been trying to finish up the first 7 of the Cuizoo Arsenal and I’ve been rather hemmed in by snow days (2 in one week) and sick days (too many to count).  My four year old has had this crazy virus that has gone from fever to cough to congestion to earache to conjunctivitis.  And every day, I think he is feeling better — and then he develops another symptom (I hear from friends that hives are the next step!).  Today the eye goop cleared up in one eye only to pop up in the other eye tonight.  And, oh great!  As I type, my daughter tells me that she has a sore throat.  It is the only time of the year that I want to throw away my earth-friendly cleaners and buy a case of Lysol.

But I promised a curry recipe, and so I deliver.  I ended up making this with only pantry ingredients (who wants to introduce grocery store germs into the mix?) and eating it by myself because of a traveling husband, a sick son, and an uninterested daughter.  I really enjoyed it — but that might have been because of the two glasses of wine (what I call my “coping medicine”).  FYI … the shitty part of sick kids is that you can’t even invite anyone over for dinner to combat your housebound loneliness.  “Hey, wanna come over for a curry and a guaranteed case of pink eye?”

Anyway.  Curries fall into the category of totally flexible and easy and cheap weeknight meals.  Lentils (or in this case, garbanzos) or Tofu are perfect for vegetarian options — but any kind of meat or seafood protein works equally well.  Vegetables can be anything that you have on hand, provided that you have a nice amount of ginger and garlic.  If you don’t have coconut milk and Thai curry paste (which take you in the Thai Curry direction), you can go the Indian Curry route and use a good quality Indian/Madras curry powder and garam masala with some broth or water.  Serve it over rice if you like — or without rice and thick like a stew, or thinned out as a soup.  I should add that I made my own easy (and not spicy for the kids) pantry version of a Thai green curry paste because most of the prepared varieties have peanut or nut products in them (we are nut allergic here).  But if you have a prepared red or green curry paste that you like, feel free to use it to make this dish even more simple.

So, give it a whirl.  And wish me luck getting everyone healthy.  We have a warm weather vacation scheduled and I am sure that warm sun and boat drinks are truly the best disinfectants.

Green Coconut Curry with Chick Peas

Serves 4-6

1 1/2 cups dried chick peas (or 2-3 cans of chick peas)
2 small red onions
2 large sweet potatoes
1 cup of mushrooms
3 cups of shredded cabbage or spinach
4 cloves garlic
2 inch piece of fresh ginger
Zest and juice of one lime (plus additional wedges for serving)
1/2 t salt
1/2 t white pepper
1/2 t cumin
1/2 t coriander
15 ounce can of unsweetened coconut milk
1 T soy sauce or fish sauce
1 cup, plus 3 T fresh cilantro (packed)
1/4 cup of unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds (or other nuts/seeds)
Olive oil

1.  If using dried chick peas, rinse them and place in a medium sauce pan or stock pot.  Cover with plenty of water, bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 60-90 minutes until tender.  (You can also do a long soak method or skip this step if using canned.)

2.  Make Green Curry Paste by roughly chopping garlic and ginger.  Put in the bowl of a food processor or blender.  Add zest and juice of lime, salt, white pepper, cumin, coriander, 2 T of the coconut milk, soy or fish sauce, and 1 cup of the fresh cilantro.  Process until very smooth and set aside.

3.  Peel and chop the onions.  Peel and chop the sweet potatoes into approximately 1/2 inch cubes.  Stem and slice the mushrooms.  Shred the cabbage or spinach.

4.  When chick peas are done (or whenever if they are canned), strain them and set aside.

5.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a stock pot, heat a bit of olive oil over medium heat.  Saute the onion for 3-5 minutes. Add sweet potato cubes, chick peas, and all of the Green Curry Paste you made previously.  Stir in remainder of coconut milk from the can, plus about 3/4 cup of water.  Cover and cook about 20 minutes over medium low heat until everything is tender.

6.   Meanwhile, roughly chop the pumpkin seeds and place on a baking sheet.  Toast in a preheated oven for about 10 minutes.  With about five minutes remaining, add the coconut and toast both pumpkin seeds and coconut until golden.  (Watch the coconut especially so it doesn’t burn.)  Remove and set aside.

7.  When the curry mixture is basically done, add in sliced mushrooms, shredded cabbage or spinach, and about 3/4 cup of additional water (less if you don’t want as much “broth”). Let cook, uncovered, for another 5-10 minutes until everything is tender and the sauce is reduced a bit.  Season to taste with additional salt and pepper and feel free to season with chiles to make it spicier.

8.  Serve in large bowls (over rice if you like) with additional chopped cilantro, wedges of lime, and the toasted coconut/pumpkin seed mixture sprinkled on top.

Gingered Pork Stir Fry

I know I speak about my grandmothers a lot here, and quite honestly I forget what I’ve said and what I haven’t said (and am entirely too lazy to go back and look).  But this recipe is another one courtesy of my mom’s mother, Grace.  And it serves as Cuizoo Arsenal meal #6.

Grace is an interesting woman.  Her father was an Irish Linen importer who valued education tremendously. Her mother was very musical and played the organ at Christmas time in the big department stores in New York City.  Grace went to college at a time when women rarely did; she was a nutrition major and did research on the benefits of breast milk in the 1930s; she traveled to China and Hong Kong with my uncle when he was traveling as an ethnomusicology professor; she painted (art, not walls); she played the piano; and she was a great writer and poet (all of which she still did up until just a few years ago when arthritis finally crippled her hands).  And of course, like many of us, she did this while raising three wonderful kids and keeping a home.  So, it’s not often (in the US, at least) when your best stir fry or spring roll recipe comes from your 97 year old grandmother.  But I’m lucky like that.

And this stir fry technique is my absolute favorite.  You cook marinated meat, remove it, and then steam the vegetables in a Sherry/Ginger/Garlic mixture, and add it all back together to make a deliciously fragrant sauce.  Unfortunately, take-out Chinese will be forever ruined for you once you taste it.  And it is the perfect arsenal meal because it uses a small amount of meat (or none at all, if you like) and a lot of vegetables, it is flexible — virtually any veggies or meat that you have will work, it is cheap, and you can easily have it cooked in 30 minutes.

Typical stir fry vegetables all work — think broccoli, peppers, onions, snow peas, green beans, bok choy, carrots, etc.  But don’t be afraid to add in others — edamame, mushrooms, corn, cabbage, and radishes all work too.  The protein can be pork, chicken, tofu, shrimp, steak, or simply a nice handful of nuts or pumpkin seeds on top.   The key is the marinating liquid and the steaming liquid.  They make the dish.  Feel free to serve over brown rice if you have time or white rice if you are rushed.  (Or no rice at all, which is what I just had for lunch.)

Gingered Pork Stir Fry

Serves 4-6

3/4 pound of pork tenderloin (or other cuts, or other proteins)
2 T, plus 1 T cornstarch
1/2 cup, plus 1/3 cup Sherry
1/3 cup soy sauce, plus extra for flavoring
2 inch piece of fresh ginger
4 large cloves of garlic
1 red pepper
1 large carrot
1 medium onion
1 small head of baby bok choy
1 1/2 cups of green or yellow beans (*I used frozen and thawed yellow beans from our summer CSA and they were great)
3 green onions
1/2 cup of water or broth
Salt and pepper
Steamed Rice

1.  Slice pork tenderloin into thin strips.  In a medium bowl, make the marinade by combining 2 T cornstarch, 1/3 cup Sherry, and 1/3 cup soy sauce.  Add pork to marinade, mix well, and set aside. (If you are serving this with rice, start it now.)

2.  Chop ginger and garlic finely and place in a small bowl.  Add 1/2 cup of sherry to that and set aside.

3.  Prepare vegetables by coring and slicing the red pepper, peeling and slicing the carrot, peeling and slicing the onion, chopping the bok choy into ribbons, stemming and chopping the green or yellow beans into bite sized pieces, and finely chopping the green onion.

4.  Mix 1/2 cup of water or broth with 1 T cornstarch and set aside.

5.  Heat wok or large saute pan over medium high heat and add about two or three tablespoons of mild flavored oil (light olive oil or vegetable oil).  Add meat, draining most of the marinade off as you add it to the pan, and cook for 3-5 minutes until almost done.   (It may stick a bit, but that’s OK.  Just try to let it get a good sear and stir fry, scraping up the bits as you go.)  Remove meat from pan and set aside.

6.  Add a bit more oil to the pan and add denser vegetables — in this case, carrots, onions, and green or yellow beans.  Stir fry for 3-5 minutes.  Add peppers and the entire bowl of Sherry/Ginger/Garlic.  Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan and cover and let steam for about 3 or 4 more minutes.

7. Remove lid and add the cooked pork or meat, the bok choy, green onions, and the water/broth and cornstarch mixture.  (Make sure you give the cornstarch mixture another stir before adding it b/c the cornstarch will have settled to the bottom).  Stir well to combine and cook for about 2 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and thickened.  Add soy sauce (and hot sauce if you like it spicy) and salt and pepper to taste and serve over steamed rice.

Quick African Chicken Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Pumpkin Seeds

For the fifth meal of the Cuizoo Arsenal, I was planning to do a hearty soup.  Because this time of year especially, it is a fantastic one pot meal for cold days.  I thought I’d do something with beans and maybe some sausage, because that is an almost weekly occurrence for us.  But after doing the Black Beans and Rice, I realized you could simply tweak that a bit, add more broth, saute some sausage and you’d be going down a path for a decent bean soup.  I figured maybe I’d branch out and do something a little different and I had a ton of sweet potatoes to use up.  So, I started searching for recipes and the African Peanut Chicken Stew at Simply Recipes caught my attention.  Obviously, I would have to modify it for my daughter’s nut allergies, but it seemed like a flexible recipe that could easily be made into a weeknight meal.

In my version, I used skinless, boneless chicken thighs and skipped the stock making step with the chicken parts.  You could still do this if it is a weekend or you have some extra time.  Because I don’t have stock in the freezer right now and I have decided not to buy the boxed stuff anymore (most are really bad products),  I just made a simple vegetable stock with carrots, onions, celery, turnips, and garlic.  Your own veggie stock is going to taste much better than any store bought stock (chicken or otherwise) — and it is basically free (water and leftover veggies hanging out in your fridge) and has no additives or chemicals.  Quite honestly, even if you don’t have time for that, I think plain water would be as effective as any store bought stock.  The thing that stocks impart (in most cases) is really just salt.  So, in a pinch, just use water and up your seasonings.

I didn’t make it too spicy because of the kids, but that’s easily remedied with a bottle of hot sauce on the table.  My kids were divided — the boy loved it, the girl barely tolerated it (she is picky with soups), but managed to get through her plate because there was dessert on the horizon.  In most cases, I think kids would like it, especially if you focus on the fact that it is “Sunbutter or Peanut Butter Soup.”

And it’s obviously very reasonable to make.  The major ingredient is one package of chicken thighs and the rest you may have in your pantry and fridge already.  Feel free to substitute other nut butters and other seeds or nuts.

As far as flexibility goes, even though it seems very unique, you must think of it as a basic stew.  This one happens to be thickened and flavored with sunbutter/peanut butter and nuts/seeds, but you could just as easily remove the nut butter and thicken with a flour or cornstarch slurry, a roux, beans, heavy cream or simply cooked down white or sweet potatoes.  Other versions of stews that you could make might include a Chicken Corn Stew or Chowder, made instead with white potatoes and corn and thickened with cream or a slurry (and seasoned with Thyme and Sherry); a Thai Chicken Stew, keeping the nut butter, but adding a bit of Thai Red Curry Paste and coconut milk; a Smoky Vegetarian Stew with lots of root vegetables (some mashed to thicken it), Smoked Paprika, with maybe some Corn Bread Dumplings on top; or a Mexican Chicken version with added diced tomatoes, thickened with Masa Harina, and topped with shredded cheese.

I *hope* what you are beginning to see is that you have to look at any recipe as more of a method, where ingredients can be interchanged and experimented with based on what you have or what you like.  While I think you will really like this recipe, I am more interested in you knowing how to look at your refrigerator or pantry and and invent your own versions.  When you get to that point, cooking becomes much more interesting and takeout seems far less attractive.

Quick African Chicken Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Pumpkin Seeds

Serves 6-8

Inspired by Elise at Simply Recipes

1 cup pumpkin seeds (hulled)
3 large sweet potatoes (about 1.5-2 pounds)
2 inch piece of fresh ginger root
5 cloves garlic
2 red peppers
1 large onion
1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
5 cups of stock (veggie, chicken, or just plain water in a pinch)
1 cup of Sunbutter (or other nut butter of your choice)
1 t coriander
1/8 t cayenne pepper
2 t salt
1 t freshly ground pepper
Fresh Cilantro
White or Brown Rice (if desired)

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Peel and chop sweet potatoes into 1 inch cubes.  Peel ginger root piece and finely chop.  Peel and finely chop garlic cloves.  Peel onion, cut in half, and slice.  Stem and core the red peppers and chop into 1/2 inch pieces.

3.  Spread pumpkin seeds in a thin layer on a baking sheet and place in preheated oven and toast for 8-10 minutes.

4.  Meanwhile, heat a bit of olive oil in a large stock pot or dutch oven.  Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper and brown on both sides over medium heat.  Remove chicken to a plate.

5.  In the same pot, add a bit more olive oil and add chopped ginger, garlic, and sliced onions.  Saute for 3-5 minutes over medium heat until fragrant and slightly softened.

6.  Add the sweet potato chunks, five cups of stock, and the browned chicken thighs.  Mix in the 1 cup of sunbutter (or other nut butter), coriander, cayenne pepper, 2 t salt, and 1 t pepper.  Bring to a boil.  While you are waiting, place toasted pumpkin seeds in a plastic bag and smash them finely (you can use a food processor if you like).  Add 3/4 of a cup of the ground pumpkin seeds to the stew (reserving other 1/4 cup).  When it has come to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes. (If you are cooking rice, you will want to start it during this cooking time.)

7.  After about 30 minutes, add the chopped red peppers and cook for 15 minutes longer.  Remove chicken thighs and let cool slightly.  Mash the sweet potatoes in the soup so they are not large chunks.  Shred or chop chicken thigh meat and return to the pot.  Add about 1/4 chopped cilantro and simmer for 5-10 minutes longer.  Serve as-is or over rice (if desired) with additional chopped fresh cilantro and reserved pumpkin seeds.

Orange Marsala Cranberry Sauce with Sage

I make it no secret that I am a little particular about what kind of food I generally serve.  I wouldn’t call myself a total food snob, because I still enjoy a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese as much as the next person.  It’s just that when I cook, I rarely use processed or convenience items.

This morning I bought both Cream of Mushroom soup and Pillsbury Crescent Rolls.

Sometimes tradition wins out.  And sometimes it’s OK that you serve Green Bean Casserole and don’t make rolls from scratch.  Our Thanksgiving meal has a certain set of necessary items … anything “experimental” is fine, but you will not replace my grandmother’s Creamed Corn with Quinoa Salad.   Or decide that you are going to try something “new” with the stuffing — our table can only have my grandmother-in-law’s Portuguese Stuffing on it (which I will photograph and write up for future reference).  The mashed potatoes must be made from yukon golds and the gravy will be laced with Marsala.  You just don’t mess with the memories.

The one exception to that is the cranberry sauce, because no one in my family cares about it in the least.  They will take an obligatory bite, but I will eat it with a spoon.  This year I made a version with orange zest, Marsala, and sage (to meld with my Marsala-laced gravy).  If I thought anyone cared enough, I’d try to form it in the shape of a tin can, with the requisite ridges we all grew up with.

And I haven’t ventured to look at the ingredients on the Crescent Rolls yet, but what is Thanksgiving without some good old petroleum by-products in your bread?

Orange Marsala Cranberry Sauce with Sage

Make about 3 1/2 cups

1 quart of fresh cranberries, rinsed
3/4 cup Sweet Marsala, plus 1-2 T
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
Healthy pinch of salt
Zest of two oranges, finely chopped
2 t fresh sage, finely chopped

1.  In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, 3/4 cup Marsala, orange juice, brown sugar, and salt over medium heat.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium low.  Simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes until all cranberries have popped and mixture is thick.  Remove from heat.

2.  Stir in additional 1-2 T of Marsala, chopped orange zest, and chopped sage.  Store in refrigerator.  (Can be made 2-3 days ahead)

Whole Grain Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Coconut Oil

This post is brought to you by summer camp.  Sweet, sweet summer camp.

After several weeks of kids at home all day and attempts to get real work done late at night, I have a bit of breathing space.   And you’d think after cooking three meals a day for three weeks that I might have some recipes to show for it.  I probably would have — other than the fighting.  Oh man, the fighting and bickering and whining between siblings is almost too much to handle.  My older sisters alluded to this a few years ago with not-so-vague comments like “Just wait until they start to fight.”  These comments probably occurred (and went right around my perfection force field) as I was praising how much my children love each other, what a great big sister my daughter is, and how my son just looks adoringly at his sister all day long.  Right.

But now my son goes crazy when his sister sings.  Which is always.  And she goes crazy when he ruins her stuff.  Which is always.  They started out sort of like roommates.  You think the person is super cool because she brought BOTH a boom box and a microwave; and then you realize she has very bad body odor and you want to pummel her when she schmoopy talks to her boyfriend at night.  I guess all you can hope for is that by the end of the year, they end up going to a kicking party, have an “I love you man” moment, and are BFFs forever.

So if you are able, take a moment today to thank your mother for putting up with all of your annoying shit.  You can bet she considered leaving you alongside the road at some point in your childhood — though she’ll deny it.  You can also bet that when she enrolled you in clarinet camp, she was more interested in her sanity than in your music skills.  She’ll deny that too.  And just to shatter the rest of your childhood, she made chocolate chip cookies because she had PMS cravings.

Luckily, these cookies will both satisfy the cravings and quiet the children.  They use coconut oil, making them dairy free and giving them just a hint of coconut flavor.  They also have a bit more salt than I would normally use, giving them a touch of that perfect salty/sweet combination.  Chilling the dough will keep them taller and prevent them from spreading too much.  We used ours for cookie ice cream sandwiches one warm evening, which was pretty fantastic.

Whole Grain Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Coconut Oil

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen

2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 cup coconut oil, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 t vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups of dark chocolate chunks or chips (from about 9 ounces of chocolate)

1.  Mix whole wheat pastry flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl.  Set aside.

2.  Using an electric mixer, cream the softened coconut oil with the brown sugar and white sugar until light and fluffy.  Add in eggs (one at a time) and mix until incorporated.  Add in vanilla extract and mix.

3.  Add about a third of the dry ingredients mixture to the coconut oil mixture and mix until just incorporated.  Repeat with remaining dry ingredients (1/3 at a time).  Do not overmix.  With a wooden spoon or spatula, stir in chocolate chunks/chips until mixture is thoroughly combined.  Chill dough for 45 minutes.

4.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Drop spoonfuls of the dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  Because they do tend to spread, I only put 9 on a single sheet.  Bake for about 10 minutes until just golden.  Allow to cool for a minute or two and then transfer to cooling racks and cool completely.  Repeat with remaining dough (keep dough in the refrigerator while baking other batches).  When completely cooled, store in an airtight container or freeze.