Category Archives: No wheat

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.

Black Beans and Rice

Here we are with meal number 4 from the Cuizoo Arsenal, where I attempt to give you 7 meals that are quick, cheap, easy, and nutritious.  This is one of those basic meals that has sustained entire civilizations for hundreds or thousands of years.  Just don’t ask my daughter to eat it.  She continues on with her absolute hatred of beans.  And yet, it is one of our staple meals.  You may (or may not) ask how we pull that off.  My best explanation is that I just keep cooking it.  We generally have some variation of beans once every week and she cries every time she finds out.

It’s not that I don’t care.  It’s just that I know there will be a day when she decides that beans are OK.  It has happened with mayonnaise, melted cheese, cow’s milk, rice, mustard, whipped cream, and others.  And maybe they won’t be her favorite, but she will learn to tolerate them.  So I just keep cooking them and try to ignore the fact that her bean-loving brother is now attempting to emulate his sister by saying “ewww…” every time I cook something from the legume family.  Don’t tell Social Services, but I’m pretty sure they are not going hungry and if they refuse to eat one meal, I’m confident they’ll make up for it purely through Cheddar Bunnies the following day.

So, Beans and Rice.  You basically want to think about this like a *very* thick bean soup.  And this means you can use any type of beans or lentils cooked in water or stock with aromatics and serve them over brown rice to make a complete and healthy meal.   I find the texture to be much better if you use dried and soaked/cooked beans, but trust me I’ve done it with canned beans many, many times.  My only request on canned beans is that you select a brand that doesn’t use BPA-lined cans.  We use Eden Organic.

Meat is optional here.  Obviously beans are great with a bit of pork in them.  This usually means some sausage, a ham hock, or bacon.  But this is entirely optional.  In the absence of pork, I find that a lot of Smoked Paprika adds great depth of flavor and the smokiness that the meat usually imparts.  So, add some meat if you have it or want to use it up.

Otherwise, just add lots of onions, garlic, peppers, and spices. The key flavorings in my opinion are:  Cumin, Smoked Paprika, Chipotle Powder, Garlic, Salt, and Fresh Cilantro.  This is another meal where you can provide some flexibility based on toppings.  I like to serve chopped avocado, toasted and chopped pumpkin seeds, finely diced onion, chopped cilantro, chopped tomatoes, sour cream, shredded cheese, and/or hot sauce.

But if you go in a non Tex-Mex direction, beans are equally good with some Garlic, Sage, and Thyme.  I particularly like white beans with those flavorings served with some crusty bread or pasta instead of rice. (White Beans, Sausage, Tomatoes, Olive Oil, and Italian spices are another favorite).  Or if you go the lentil route, you can play up Indian spices with Curry and Garam Masala served over Basmati Rice with a dollop of yogurt and some chopped pumpkin seeds or pistachios.  Beans will essentially take on any flavor you decide to throw at them, so be creative and take advantage of this cheap and easy protein.

Black Beans and Rice

Serves 6 with leftovers

16 ounces dried black beans (or about 3 or 4 cans)
1 large onion
2 red peppers
4 cloves garlic
2 t salt
1 t cumin
1 1/2 t smoked paprika
1/8 t chipotle powder
2 T tequila
Olive Oil
Zest and juice of one lime
Additional salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups uncooked brown rice

Optional Toppings:
Chopped onion
Toasted and chopped pumpkin seeds
Sour Cream
Cilantro
Avocado
Hot Sauce
Shredded Cheese

1.  If using dried beans, rinse and put them in a pot.  Cover with plenty of cold water and bring to the boil.  Boil for 2 minutes and remove from heat.  Cover and let soak for about 2 hours.  (If using canned beans, ignore this step. Also, you can just soak dried beans overnight if you like and skip the boiling step.)

2.  In a large stock pot, heat a bit of olive oil over medium heat.  As oil is heating, chop onion, peppers, and garlic.  Add to hot oil and saute for 2-3 minutes.  Season with 2 t salt, freshly ground pepper, cumin, smoked paprika, and chipotle powder.  Cook spices and aromatics for an additional minute.  Deglaze with tequila, scraping up any browned bits.

3.  Drain the beans from their soaking liquid (or canned liquid).  Add to pot with aromatics and spices and fill with water, just to cover the beans.  (Alternatively, if you are using canned beans, just add them to aromatics and cook for 15-30 minutes total with only about 2 cups of water or stock.) Cover and bring to the boil.  Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for about an hour.

4.  Meanwhile, according to package directions for rice, bring water to the boil and cook rice.  (Most brown rices take at least 45-50 minutes to cook.  If you are using white rice, it will only take about 20 minutes.)

5.  Remove the lid from the beans and let simmer for 15-30 additional minutes (after the first hour of cooking), until much of the liquid has evaporated and beans are tender.  (15 minutes should be fine with the canned beans.)  Meanwhile, prepare optional toppings and zest.  Using a zester or peeler, remove the zest from one lime and chop it finely.  When beans are nicely tender, add the chopped zest and the juice of one lime, additional salt and pepper to taste, and additional cumin, smoked paprika, or chipotle to taste.

6.  Fluff rice and serve the meal by putting some rice on a plate and topping with black beans.  Put toppings on the table and allow guests (or ungrateful children) to choose what they want.

Sesame Crusted Fish Tacos with Avocado Salad and Slaw

So, here we have meal #2 from the Cuizoo Arsenal.  I’m pretty sure I won’t be getting one done per day, but I’ll try to keep these coming as frequently as possible.  I know I’ll be cooking tonight, but once the weekend hits, I don’t make any promises as cooking cuts into my drinking time.  I kid.  (I should mention though that one small bottle of white wine has lasted me *all* week, which is some sort of healthy living record for me.  And no, I haven’t switched to bourbon in an attempt to take it easy on wine.)

Today we are going to talk about tacos.  They are generally a huge kid favorite and when it comes to flexibility, anything in a wrap is about as good as it gets.  Let’s first discuss the shell.  I, for one, don’t really like grocery store taco shells because they just break and make a mess.  When I came across this lightly fried/soft shell method for tacos a while back, I began to enjoy them again.  Basically, you soften a corn tortilla in a bit of oil in a saute pan, fill it with toppings and cheese, fold it over, and let it crisp a bit before flipping it and then crisping the other side.  What you end up with is a crispy (but not crunchy) taco shell with warm fillings and melted cheese.  It’s sort of a cross between a quesadilla and a taco.  This all being said, if you like regular taco shells or if you want to do soft tacos with flour tortillas, it’s totally up to you. One thing to add here is that you should always have some corn or flour tortillas in your freezer (and regular taco shells or tostado shells — which I do love — in your pantry).  It is a no-brainer of a meal.

Second, you need some protein.  Obviously, the choices are pretty obvious here.  A can or two of white or black beans heated up with some garlic and spices and mashed is fantastic in a taco (and about as fast as you can get for a dinner).  Grilled chicken or ground beef are the old stand-bys.  Sauteed veggies with cheese is great too.  You can also do a combination of several proteins and let everyone pick their favorites.  But it seems that the whole world is gaga over fish tacos right now (and I can’t say I blame them), so that’s what we did last night.  On the subject of the fish, I will add that the sesame crusted method I used makes a great and easy stand alone entree with a simple salad or vegetables. You can also add some bread crumbs to the sesame seeds if you like.

Third, you need some condiments.  The easy ones are salsa and sour cream.  Not much more difficult is making some basic guacamole.  When I do that, I simply mash one or two ripe avocados with a chopped garlic clove, salt and pepper, some cumin, and lime juice.  With last night’s meal, I had some tomatoes and cucumbers left over from the previous night, so I just chopped those up with the avocado for more of an avocado salad.  As the veggie or an additional condiment, I like to serve some form of cole slaw or salad greens with tacos because they are just as good inside the taco as on the outside. Find a good hot sauce for the grown-ups at the table and you are basically done.

Now, for variations that we love:  Spicy Mashed Black Beans with a Creamy Red Cabbage Slaw and Queso Fresco or Feta cheese — that is one of my favorites; Grilled BBQ Chicken (or leftover chicken) with Creamy Slaw and Cheddar Cheese; Steak with Caramelized Onions and a bit of Blue Cheese and Balsamic Greens; Fajita style with Grilled Chicken and Sauteed Red Peppers and Onions; or for a VERY quick dinner, just cheese and whatever else you may have leftover or in the freezer (guaranteed to be faster than any fast food).

As for the $15 limit, I might be slightly over because the fish itself was about $10.  But clearly you can make this meal just as easily with chicken or beans and cut that cost dramatically.  So, I’ll let it slide.

Sesame Crusted Fish Tacos with Avocado Salad and Slaw

Makes 8-10 tacos (enough for 4-6 people)

1 pound of mild white fish (I used cod)
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds (you can buy them pretoasted in Asian markets)
1 T butter
Salt, Pepper, Smoked Paprika or Chipotle Powder
10 – 6 inch corn tortillas
4-6 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
Sour Cream
Salsa
Hot Sauce

Avocado Salad
1 ripe avocado
1/2 cucumber
10-12 grape or cherry tomatoes
Onion
Fresh cilantro from one bunch
1 garlic clove
1/2 of a lime
1/4 t cumin
Fresh cilantro
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Slaw
A small Napa or Chinese Cabbage (or any type of cabbage will work)
Fresh cilantro from one bunch
Olive Oil
1/2 of a lime
A bit of orange juice

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Melt 1 T butter and mix with sesame seeds.  Add to that 1/4 t salt, pepper, and smoked paprika to season (Chipotle Powder if you like it spicier).  Place fish on a parchment line baking sheet.  With a sharp knife, cut it into 3/4 inch slices, but leave whole filet in one piece (See pic above). Pat sesame seed mixture all over top.  Bake for 12-13 minutes until just opaque.

2.  While the fish is baking, mix avocado salad.  Halve, peel, and remove pit from avocado.  Chop it into a medium-sized dice and place in bowl.  Halve the cucumber lengthwise, remove seeds with a spoon, and chop into a medium-sized dice.  Quarter the cherry or grape tomatoes. Finely chop a small piece of onion to make about 2 T.  Chop about 1 T of cilantro.  Finely chop the clove of garlic.  Mix all of the above in the bowl.   Add the juice of 1/2 of a lime and a drizzle of olive oil.  Season with 1/4 t of salt, pepper, 1/4 t of cumin, and a bit of Smoked Paprika or Chipotle Powder.   Set aside.

3.  Prepare the slaw.  Cut the cabbage in half and remove the core.  Thinly slice 1/2 of the cabbage and place in a bowl (reserve other half for a different use).  Chop about 1/4 cup of cilantro and add to cabbage.  Drizzle with about 1/4 cup of olive oil, the juice of 1/2 lime, and a bit of orange juice to taste.  Season with 1/2 t of salt and pepper.  Play with the dressing if needed, adding more citrus, salt, or olive oil if necessary. Set aside.

4.  To prepare the tacos:  heat a bit of olive oil in a large saute pan.  Take one corn tortilla and place it flat into the pan, spinning it a bit to coat it with olive oil.  After about 10-20 seconds, it should be flexible (if it’s not, your shells may crack).  Add one or two slices of the baked fish and about 1 T of shredded cheese.  Gently fold the taco in half and hold with a spatula for a few seconds to make sure it stays folded.  Repeat with another taco (I usually do two at a time).  When the tacos are lightly golden on one side, flip and cook on the other side.  Remove to an oven safe platter and place in oven to stay warm.  Repeat with remaining tacos.

5.  To serve, put a bit of the avocado salad inside the taco and serve with slaw, sour cream, salsa, and hot sauce.  The slaw is also good inside the taco as a condiment.

Crispy Calamari Chopped Salad

Mark Bittman has me thinking again.  He has a way of doing that.  After reading his latest NYT piece, “Chop, Fry, Boil:  Eating for One, or 6 Billion,” I once again realize that people who like to cook have a way of making things way too complicated for those who don’t (Bittman is not one of those people). We teach using recipes, when we should actually be teaching with models and systems.  Whenever I talk to someone about cooking a meal, it’s always the same complaint:  “I can usually follow the recipes, but I have no idea how to pull the meal together and time things correctly.”  And that’s the problem  — getting a handle on the bigger picture is truly the hardest part of cooking when you are learning.  But recipes don’t help with this unless they are written in a “non-mise en place” manner.  (For the non-French speaking, mise en place means simply to have everything in its place and ready to go — chopped, toasted, sauteed, etc. — before cooking.)

So, my plan for the next few weeks is to teach 7 basic meals using a systems focus.  We will talk about soups, curries, pizzas, salads, rice and beans, tacos, and stir fries.  The goal is to give you a meal for each day of the week that you can confidently play with using the ingredients you have on hand.  The meals will be cheap (less than $15 to serve 4 people), easy (done in 30-60 minutes), healthy (whole grain and light on meat), family friendly, and flexible for many types of ingredients.  Because once you know the method for a stir fry or a hearty soup, you can rework it endlessly and never get bored with it.  And the “recipes” may not look like my normal ones (and may seem longer because of it).  I will try to focus on listing the ingredients, but not indicating how to prepare them in the ingredients list (e.g. I won’t write “2 onions, finely chopped”).  Instead, I will work the preparation into the directions so you can save time by chopping onions while water is coming to the boil, etc.  Mise en place is necessary for a restaurant kitchen, but it’s not always realistic for the home cook who is trying to get dinner on the table while doing third grade homework with children hanging off his/her legs.

I think by giving you models and showing you how I would actually cook a meal like this with logical instructions, rather than recipe notation, you can increase the repertoire of meals you cook on a regular basis and start to cook based on intuition rather than following a recipe word for word.  And when you get to that place, I can almost guarantee that you will begin to enjoy cooking more because it becomes an expression of creativity and more of a challenge.  So, our first recipe in the “Cuizoo Arsenal” is a Crispy Calamari Chopped Salad.

A main course salad like this needs only a few components:  salad greens or cabbage, some protein (fish, chicken, beans, or tofu all work), extra chopped veggies, some nuts or seeds, fruit or cheese if you like, and a dressing.  Use the veggies that you have, or the ones that your family loves the most.  We like chopped salads with a creamy dressing, but feel free to use a vinaigrette too.  Making your own dressing takes all of 1 or 2 minutes and is so much more flavorful and healthy than a bottled variety (Here’s my recipe for Balsamic Vinaigrette which you can leave as is or tweak with herbs, mustard, etc.).  In this salad, I lightly fried our calamari, but it would be equally good sauteed or grilled if you don’t feel like frying.  And this easily feeds 4-6 people for less than $15.

Variations I could easily envision would include a Leftover BBQ Chicken Salad with greens, thawed corn, avocado, tomatoes, Jack cheese,and a creamy cilantro dressing; a Turkey, Dried Cranberry, and Pecan Salad with greens, carrots, celery, chopped apples, white cheddar cheese, and an Apple Cider Vinaigrette; a Vegetarian Greek Salad with greens, chick peas, roasted red peppers, green onions, feta cheese and a basic Greek Vinaigrette; or a Pizza Salad with greens, peppers, tomatoes, torn basil, some crisped prosciutto, rustic croutons, mozzarella, and a Basil Vinaigrette.  The key is to take flavor combinations that you enjoy and convert them into a salad.

I’m looking forward to this challenge and I hope it gets you in the kitchen more in 2011!

Crispy Calamari Chopped Salad

Serves 4-6

3/4 pound of calamari (squid) bodies (Not tentacles —Here’s a before and after pic)
1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds
Large bunch of salad greens (or enough to fill a large salad bowl or spinner)
1 cucumber
1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes
2-3 radishes
1 lemon
3/4 cup of corn starch or arrowroot starch (or flour if you like)
Smoked Paprika (or Chipotle Powder if you want it spicier)
Salt and Pepper

Thousand Island Dressing:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup low fat plain yogurt
1 T low fat milk
1 T pickle relish
1 T finely chopped onion
1 T chopped parsley
1/4 t salt
Dash of cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon Juice

1.  Preheat the oven (or toaster oven) to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Clean squid bodies by making sure there are no remnants of cartilage, etc. inside the pouch.  Slice in thin rings and toss with juice of 1/2 of a lemon, salt and pepper, and a bit of smoked paprika.  Let marinate while you prep the veggies and toast the pumpkin seeds.

2.  Put pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet and toast for 10-12 minutes in preheated oven.

2.  While pumpkin seeds toast, place salad greens in a salad spinner or bowl to wash.  Meanwhile, wash cucumber and slice in half lengthwise.  Using a spoon, scrape out the cucumber middle to remove the seeds.  Cut the halves into quarters lengthwise and cross cut to make bite sized pieces.  Wash the tomatoes and set aside. Wash and trim radishes, quarter them, and chop into bite sized pieces.  Remove the salad greens from their rinsing water, and spin or towel dry. Tear dry salad greens into bite sized pieces if necessary and place in a large salad bowl with chopped cucumbers and tomatoes.

3.  Finely chop onion and parsley for dressing.  Make the dressing by combining mayo, yogurt, milk, relish, onion, parsley, salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper.  Thin with a little leftover lemon juice if needed.  Place in refrigerator until you are ready to serve.

4.  Preheat a large saute pan with a thin layer of olive oil in it over medium high heat. On one plate (oven safe), place a double thickness of paper towels and set aside. On another plate, mix cornstarch (or arrowroot) with some salt, pepper, and a bit of smoked paprika or chipotle powder.   Take about 1/3 of the calamari rings and dredge in the cornstarch or arrowroot mixture.  Shake off excess and lightly fry in the preheated saute pan.  They will take only about 1-2 minutes per side.  When they start to look just golden, flip them with tongs and cook about 30 seconds more. (Don’t overcook your seafood!)  Remove with a slotted spoon and place on paper-towel lined plate and stick it in your still warm oven (shouldn’t be on, just warm from toasting the seeds).  Repeat with the remaining calamari until it is all fried (if you need to, add a bit more oil to the pan).  When it is done, remove the warming plate from the oven and toss the calamari with a bit of salt and more Smoked Paprika or Chipotle Powder.

5.  Assemble the salad by tossing the vegetables with most of the prepared dressing (reserving about 1/4 cup).  Mix in pumpkin seeds and either place on a platter or leave in a large bowl.  Top with Fried Calamari and serve with additional dressing if needed.

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)

White Chocolate Meringue Cookies

I remember being in about 3rd or 4th grade and getting a C in handwriting.  I was crushed.  The only grades that ever graced my report card were A’s.  But something about cursive writing wasn’t clicking with me.  My handwriting was ugly and awkward and certainly not the least bit artistic.  I received C’s in only two other courses during school:  1) Home Economics (during the sewing unit, which is not at all surprising considering I still can’t figure out how to thread my machine) and 2) Gym (during the basketball unit, which is not surprising considering I could only make 3 out of 10 free throws — a skill [or lack thereof] that thankfully hasn’t affected me in life . . . yet.)

I can distinctly recall bringing home that report card while my grandmother, Grace, was visiting.  We talked about it and she quickly told me that it didn’t matter.  This was crazy talk, from my vantage point.  She told me how her father once said to her that everyone develops their own unique brand of handwriting, and that making it perfectly beautiful according to one person’s definition was not only impossible, but not the least bit interesting.  I am blessed to still have my grandmother in my life at 96 years old.  Arthritis has crippled her imperfectly beautiful, but truly unique, handwriting — but I still get a chance to talk with her and that it something I treasure.

My mom recently gave me a stack of her recipe cards and I studied them for nearly an hour.  There were clues in that handwriting somewhere.  I could imagine any one of those cards being out on the counter when I was visiting her as a toddler. I could imagine her writing recipes down in her old house.  I could imagine her pulling them all out in anticipation of Christmas, or just a weekend visit.

And I didn’t have to imagine the memories of her making many of the recipes — I can remember coming into her kitchen at breakfast time as she was pulling her special meringue cookies out of a cold oven — a cold oven with a heavy door.  They were like a magic trick — you put them in a hot oven, turn it off, go to bed, and wake up to beautifully crusty meringues with a somewhat creamy interior, loaded with chocolate chips.

When I see in the recipe that she says to line a baking “tin” with wax paper, I remember she had the coolest wall mounted wrap dispenser that had three (I think) covered segments that held paper towels, foil, and wax paper.  Each one had its own little door and cutting edge.  I remember her glass jars (some of which I have on top of my cabinets now) filled with spices, and especially cinnamon heart candies.  I remember her geranium out front and the seemingly mile-long hallway to her bedroom.  I remember making paper dolls to count the days down until my parents would return from a trip.  I remember her making trip activity books with cryptoquips and crossword puzzles (that she would make herself) and riddles for me to solve.  I remember going to painting class with her and trying to be an artist — a skill she had, that I did not.  And I remember sitting with her at the piano and getting giddy with excitement as she would play Scott Joplin.

But mostly, I remember her telling me that I was me and that was the only person I ever had to be.  Eventually, my handwriting went from awful, to beautiful, and back to awful again — it seems now I am always too rushed to make perfectly formed letters.  But I think about those physical artifacts and wonder if reading a blog post will ever substitute for holding a grandmother’s recipe in your hands, studying the words that she wrote, and seeing yourself in her life.

White Chocolate Meringue Cookies

A few notes:  The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup of sugar, but I found 1/2 cup to be plenty.  Also, she always used regular chocolate chips, but I used white chocolate for a nice all white appearance.  Both are delicious.  And one food safety note, I am not a food scientist so I am not sure if these get cooked hard enough to eliminate Salmonella.  As with any dish where eggs are gently cooked, please only use the freshest eggs from responsible farms and take care to not serve to those who might be very young/old or immune-suppressed if Salmonella is a concern.

Makes about two dozen

2 egg whites
1/2 cup of sugar
1 cup of chocolate chips (white or semi-sweet, mini chips are nice too)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Beat egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  Gradually beat in sugar until the mixture is very glossy and holding nice, stiff peaks.

3.  Fold in chocolate chips.

4.  Drop by the spoonful onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and place into hot oven.  Immediately turn the oven off and leave overnight, or at least 6 hours.  Remove and store in a tightly sealed container.

Minted Strawberry Ice Cream with Coconut Milk

So, the summer time bounty is upon us.  The rhubarb has already piled up in my refrigerator and my CSA box contained one zucchini — obviously a sign (omen?) of the many squashes to come.  In the next week, I will surely be making both Honey Strawberry Freezer Jam and Rhubarb Applesauce in an attempt to save some of the overflow for winter.  If you were to identify the hard part about eating locally and seasonally, it is the sheer amount of produce that you get in a short period of time.  It has to be both eaten and dealt with.  And I say “dealt with” seriously … because you will not use it up by eating alone.  I read this great article the other day and there are a lot of tips for using up CSA produce — many that I would reiterate.  But here are a few more things that I have found to be helpful.

Your sheet pan is your best friend.  When anything — strawberries, blueberries, rhubarb, peppers, etc. — comes in too quickly and you have too much to use up, wash it and make a single layer on a parchment-lined sheet pan (leaving berries whole and cutting others up into chunks).  Stick it in the freezer and freeze until it is solid.  I have forgotten about trays and left them in there for days without issue.  Remove the frozen items from the sheet pan and transfer into containers or freezer bags.  I aim to have a few huge bags of every type of berry by the end of the summer.  We use them all year long for smoothies, yogurt, ice cream, and other desserts. And the great thing about the single layer technique is that they don’t stick together, so you can store them in big containers and still pull out just what you need when you need it.  You’d be amazed at how wonderful a batch of strawberry ice cream tastes in February.

If your sheet pan is your best friend, your freezer is your lover.  I tried to do a few summers without a deep freeze and it was difficult.  Investing $200 in a small chest freezer was a fantastic decision.  Aside from the produce that you can keep on hand, if you buy your meats through local farms, they are almost always frozen and you can keep a nice stockpile in the freezer.

For everyone’s benefit, I won’t continue with the metaphors.  But suffice it to say that canning jars are also important.   I still don’t do much canning.  I know. I know.  I need to do that and just haven’t.  So, obviously if you are canning, you are ten steps ahead of me and don’t really need to read this article, now do you?  But I do make jams and freezer jams are still my favorite.  I just like the uncooked taste of fruit freezer jams.  So, another CSA tip is to make a lot of jam.  We just used up our last jar of strawberry jam from last summer.  I never, ever have to buy it at the store.

Another big helper is your food processor.  Even if you don’t feel like making pesto, you can take tons of basil or spinach (or beet greens), wash them, throw them in the processor with a bit of olive oil or water and puree it down to the size of a microchip.  I then put little dollops onto my old friend the sheet pan, freeze it, and then throw it in ziploc bags for almost anything (great in soups or pasta).  Your kids will think they are cookies, so you can either warn them — or not.  The spinach puree is also great in Spinach-Laced Brownies. The other big thing I use the food processor for is shredding zucchini and yellow squash.  There is no doubt you will be up to your eyeballs in them and I shred up a whole bunch and freeze that in smallish containers.  It’s is great to throw in soups or pasta to up the vegetable count or you can use it all year long in things like Chocolate Zucchini Cake.

I will definitely reiterate the idea of eating things raw.  Whenever I get radishes or kohlrabi, or even turnips for that matter, I always slice up a plate to have on the bar while I’m cooking dinner.  Sprinkle with a little coarse salt and everyone will snack on them and they will disappear before you know it.

As for greens, I generally don’t wash all my lettuces when I first walk in the door.  I find that to be annoying and I don’t think they really last much longer than when stored in bags and washed as needed. The greens I get through my farm share are generally so fresh that they definitely will last all week.  And maybe it’s my husband’s Italian roots, but we have salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette every night, so using up lettuce is never a problem.   With greens that are good cooked (spinach, chard, etc.), I usually just rinse them and saute them with tons of garlic and olive oil.  My kids love them like this, but they are also great thrown in pasta or soups too.

There are always a few stinkers that nobody wants.  In my family, only my son and I eat beets.  I love them shredded raw with an orange vinaigrette for a quick lunch, but even non-beet lovers may like them roasted.  As for Curly Endive, I’m still trying to work out something for that.  Not a big fan.  My go to recipe for a languishing pile of turnips is Homemade Chicken Stock, which is tremendous to keep on hand in the freezer.

And winding our way back to the purpose of this post, you can never go wrong to invest in an ice cream maker.  I make every type of fruit ice cream that exists and am rarely disappointed.  It’s great for overripe fruit that needs to be used up.  Here’s a new recipe for Minted Strawberry Ice Cream with Coconut Milk.  It’s completely dairy free and not overly sweetened.  It is definitely getting added to my go-to list.  Good luck with your summer produce!

On update:  I just thought of one other tip that seems like a no-brainer.  Save your relatively clean produce bags and bread bags from the grocery store.  Instant free and reused storage!

Minted Strawberry Ice Cream with Coconut Milk

Makes about 2 quarts

2 cans coconut milk (15 ounces each, I used regular, but you could use light or one of each)
4-6 sprigs of mint
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup honey
Pinch of salt
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 T sugar
2 T chopped fresh mint
Juice of 1/2 lime

1.  Bring coconut milk to a simmer in a medium, heavy saucepan and add mint sprigs.  Remove from heat and allow to steep for 30 minutes.  Remove mint sprigs and discard.  Bring coconut milk back to a simmer.

2.  Whisk together egg yolks and honey with pinch of salt until well combined.

3.  Add 1/4 cup of hot coconut milk to egg mixture and quickly whisk it in to temper the egg yolks (which prevents curdling).  Whisk in an additional 1/4 cup of coconut milk and repeat two or three times until egg mixture is hot.  Add egg mixture back to remaining hot coconut milk in saucepan and whisk or stir constantly over medium low heat until slightly thickened, about 5-7 minutes. Do not boil!  Remove from heat and immediately pour into a bowl or dish.

4.  Add vanilla extract to custard mixture.  Chill in an ice bath until cooled down.  (To do that: use a much larger bowl or dish and fill with ice water.  Set smaller bowl with coconut milk custard in the ice bath being careful not to get any water into the custard.  Here’s a picture for reference.)  Store cooled custard in the refrigerator for at least an hour, or until you are ready to make the ice cream.

5.  Meanwhile, combine sliced strawberries, chopped mint, and lime juice.  Let sit for at least 15-20 minutes, or until juices form.

6.  Combine strawberry mixture with custard mixture.  Pour into ice cream maker and churn for about 20-25 minutes, or according to manufacturer’s directions.  Remove from ice cream maker and store in freezer.  Allow it to soften a bit before serving.

Quinoa Sunbutter Cookies with Cocoa Nibs and Pumpkin Seeds

A few months ago, I decided to go off gluten.  While I haven’t been entirely faithful, I am still attempting to avoid it.  And like almost everything else, I am very bad at “all or nothing” eating.  I’m trying to eat less meat, but I don’t think I could ever be a vegetarian because beans have nothing on a seared medallion of filet mignon. I’m trying to eat less dairy, but how the hell is one supposed to give up heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella? And I’m trying to eliminate sugar, but you can’t make caramel without it, so there goes that. And alcohol?  Oh yes, one can give up alcohol and live many more years. But as the old joke goes:  you don’t actually live longer, it just feels like it.

I guess I’m not cut out for strict regimens of anything.  I start feeling sorry for myself.

So I have a pantry and refrigerator full of supplies based on my abandoned “regimens du jour.”  Here’s the brown rice flour.  There’s the coconut milk.  Back there (in the way back) is the goat’s milk yogurt.

Oh, and there’s the quinoa flour!  Aside from being a kick-ass Scrabble word, what might one do with quinoa flour?  I did some reading and found out that it can generally be substituted 1:1 for normal wheat flour in baking (except if you are making a yeast-leavened product, because it has no gluten).  It intrigued me so I decided to figure out a cookie recipe that would utilize all quinoa flour and be very allergy friendly (especially for kids).

As usual, I cut back on the sugar tremendously, so this recipe is not overly sweet.  It is another one of those cookie recipes that is more health food than dessert.  But you could easily add more sugar if you wanted to.  And the end result is pretty darn good — and a great allergy-friendly treat because it contains no wheat, no gluten, no dairy, and no nuts.  It does have eggs, but I bet you could substitute each egg with 2 T water, 1 T oil, and 2 t baking powder (that’s the “egg” combo I used in baking when my daughter was allergic to eggs).  If anyone with egg allergies tries this, let me know how it turns out.  Also, I used cocoa nibs to keep the sugar down even more, but feel free to substitute with chocolate chips if you like.

One VERY interesting side note, however:  I stored these cookies in our cookie jar and when I got some out for the kids today, the interiors of the cookies were green!  I have seen pumpkin seeds create a green tinge in certain things, but this was really green.  I am wondering if it was a reaction with the quinoa or the cocoa nibs.  Green food coloring without the chemicals, perhaps!  The ones stored in the freezer were fine, so if you don’t want greenish cookies, try that.  The kids thought the green color was pretty funky, however.   Any food scientists out there who could explain this one to me?

Quinoa Sunbutter Cookies with Cocoa Nibs and Pumpkin Seeds

Makes 18-24 cookies

1 cup sunbutter (I used crunchy — and any other nut/soy nut butter would work)
1/4 cup honey
2 eggs
1 t vanilla extract
1 cup quinoa flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds (or other nuts/seeds)
1/3 cup cocoa nibs (or chocolate chips)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Mix sunbutter with honey in a large bowl.  Whisk in eggs and vanilla extract.

2.  Combine salt, baking soda, and quinoa flour.  Stir into sunbutter mixture until just combined.

3.  Stir pumpkin seeds and cocoa nibs into dough.

4.  Drop teaspoonfuls of dough onto parchment lined baking sheets.  Flatten slightly with a fork if you like.  Bake for 7-8 minutes until just done.

Asian Pork and Sweet Corn Hash

Why is it that every stage of parenthood just seems to get harder?  Once they sleep through the night, they begin to move and roll and fall off things.  Once they don’t need to eat every two hours, they start protesting solid foods and stop eating altogether.  Once they can dress themselves, they start talking back.  Once you get used to one baby, you go and have another one and wonder how you ever thought one child was hard.  There is a constant game of “one-upmanship” going on — and somewhere in their cute little faces they are saying, “You fool, I’m going to make you realize how easy you had it back then.”

And so it goes with older children and activities.  You thought your time demands were rough with babies?  Just wait until they have school, and homework, and soccer, and t-ball, and dance, and piano lessons.  I can hear you now, “I am not going to be that parent.  I am going to let each child have one activity at a time and we will not cater to their every extra-curricular desire.”

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.  Ha. Ha. Ha.       Ha.

And you thought it was under your control.  Here’s the deal:  even if each child does one thing, you have to do them all.  Get it?  And in our house, we definitely don’t over commit, but once you get multiple schools and multiple activities, it adds up to some sort of clusterfuck matrix of driving and practices and games and crying over homework and going to plays/parties/cultural celebrations and making quiches (don’t ask about that one) and writing checks and buying snacks (because you can’t have an activity without a damn snack).

It is the reason my right eye keeps twitching.  Plain and simple, we are on overload.

Hence the reason you need quick and easy dinners in your arsenal.  And I call it an “arsenal” very purposefully.  (An aside and a funny thing:  In the food blog world, there is constant conversation about the danger of people like Sandra Lee or those who are proponents of things called “30 minute meals.”  The danger, in the words of some, is that people aren’t really learning to cook and appreciate real food.  The opposing viewpoint is that any cooking is better than none.  Now, you know I am the biggest proponent of cooking real food — but these conversations fail to recognize the point that most of us in this stage of life don’t have a choice related to how much time we spend on food preparation.  On many nights, I’d love to linger over a glass of wine while making Boeuf Bourguignon.  But shit, it’s soccer night.  Get it?)

So, I guess what I’m hoping is that on the nights you can cook, you do.  And on the nights you cannot, you try to do something like this rather than ordering a pizza.  Be smart when you cook and make sure there are leftovers.  Because you can do an infinite amount of things with a little leftover meat, some veggies, and some eggs.  This recipe (when prepared with leftovers) can be done in 15 or 20 minutes and is much more healthy and delicious than some frozen chicken nuggets.

And next up?  Teenage Angst.  Fantastic.

Asian Pork and Sweet Corn Hash

Serves 4-6

1/2 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large leek (white part only), cleaned and chopped
2-3 leftover baked potatoes (2-3 cups), cut into small cubes
1/2 of a cooked pork tenderloin (about 1/2 lb. of protein: can be chicken, beef, or beans too), chopped
1 cup of frozen corn (or fresh if you have it)
4-6 eggs
2 T olive oil
Salt and Pepper
2 T soy sauce
1 T water
Chopped fresh herbs, such as chives or parsley

1.  Heat 1-2 T of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet or saute pan.  Saute garlic and onions for 2-3 minutes.  Add leeks and saute for 1-2 minutes more.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

2.  Add an additional tablespoon of olive oil and add potato cubes and cook for about 5 minutes (stirring frequently so they don’t stick), or until they begin to brown slightly.

3.  Add 1 T of water and 2 T of soy sauce and stir to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add pork or protein and corn.  Stir to combine.  Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes until heated through.

4.  Meanwhile, fry eggs to desired doneness (we like ours over-light and nice and runny).  To serve, place hash on plate.  Top with fried eggs and sprinkle with chopped fresh chives.

Chocolate Coffee and Cream Cookies with Spelt Flour

Apologies for the lentil salad meltdown and thanks to those who sent words of support.  Ham bones have a way of making me crazy. Or maybe it’s motherhood and children.  Who the hell knows.  Anyhoo.  Life goes on and we still need chocolate, right?  So, I shall stay strong and carry on and only drink vodka when I *really* need it.

Recently it was a little rainy and I needed something to hold over my kids’ heads to ensure good behavior I wanted to engage in a meaningful life skills activity with my children.  So we decided to bake cookies and I thought I’d make something up with all spelt flour to see how it turned out.  I have done a lot of baking with sprouted spelt flour, but have rarely used it as a 100% wheat flour replacement in a recipe.

We decided to do a chocolate and coffee cookie with a creamy, sweet glaze to replicate some sort of 1000 calorie creation at Starbucks.  Except we used all sprouted spelt flour and cut back on the sugar.  And instead of hipster music, we listened to Hall and Oates.  Can I mention how much I have enjoyed listening to them lately?  It is an odd phenomenon and I attribute it to being almost 38.

The spelt flour actually worked quite well.  The cookie was moist and slightly cakey — partially due to the spelt, I think, but also because we used a lot less sugar than a normal cookie recipe.  They reminded me of a coffee- scented, cakey Oreo with a nice kick from the sea salt.  And that’s a pretty good combination as far I am concerned.

Chocolate Coffee and Cream Cookies with Spelt Flour

Note:  I didn’t do it, but I think that adding some chocolate chips or chunks would be delicious.

Makes 2-3 dozen

1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups sprouted spelt flour
3/4 cup dark cocoa powder
1 t baking soda
1 t sea salt
2 T espresso powder

Glaze:

1 cup of powdered sugar, thinned with heavy cream until glaze consistency

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Mix sprouted spelt flour, cocoa, baking soda, sea salt, and espresso powder in a medium bowl and set aside.

2.  In a large mixing bowl, cream butter with an electric mixer until soft and fluffy.  Cream together with brown sugar and honey for 1-2 minutes.  One at a time, add eggs and mix well.

3.  Gradually add dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix until just combined.  Stir with a spatula to finish mixing and make sure the flour is completely incorporated.

4.  Drop by teaspoonfuls onto parchment lined baking sheets and bake for 8-9 minutes until just done.  Let cool for one minute and remove to racks to cool completely.

5.  While cookies are baking/cooling, mix glaze and drizzle over cooled cookies.  Let harden a bit and then store in a sealed container or in the freezer.