Category Archives: Allergy Friendly

Garlic Scape Pesto with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Garlic Scapes.  Who knew they even existed?  They are not the kind of thing you generally see on a grocery store shelf and people very rarely know what they are unless they garden or belong to a CSA.  I will be completely honest that I had never seen them before joining our farm share — and I love to cook with unique ingredients.  So technically speaking, the garlic scape is the green stalk of a young garlic plant.  (They continue to exist when the plant matures, they just aren’t really edible any more.)  Obviously, they have a very garlicky flavor, but are somewhat like a cross between garlic and a curly, dense scallion.

As I was making the pesto last night, I began to think of the many uses for it.  It is truly delicious and I think I like it more than regular basil pesto.  On the simplest level, toss some of the warm scape pesto with hot pasta and you have a treat.  We did that last night with some local asparagus, which made a great, light dinner.  (BTW, I am not eating wheat right now, so I had the Bionaturae gluten-free spaghetti and it was delicious.  Highly recommend it for those off gluten or wheat.)  The kids absolutely devoured it and wanted more.

But other than pasta, the possibilities are endless — mixed in with sour cream and/or cream cheese for a dip or spread, as a sauce on a white pizza with fresh mozzarella, in omelets, mixed into soups or tomato sauces, extended with a bit of lemon juice or vinegar for a salad dressing, tossed with veggies for roasting, mixed with white beans and sausage for a warm salad, used as a basis for a pasta salad, spread on toasts or bruschetta for a quick appetizer (or on a sandwich), or mixed into hummus or white bean dip, etc.

The pesto keeps well in the refrigerator and it is also easily frozen so you can enjoy it when the garlic scapes are no longer around. This version is nut-free for my allergic daughter, but I love the richness of the toasted pumpkin seeds. I’m sure any type of nuts or seeds would work, however.

Get to the farmer’s market now and ask around for garlic scapes.  If you are like me, you will want to eat this directly off the spoon.

Garlic Scape Pesto with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

15 garlic scapes, trimmed and roughly chopped
3/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1 cup olive oil
1 t salt
Freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

1.  In the bowl of a food processor, add garlic scapes, toasted pumpkin seeds, olive oil, and salt and pepper.  Process until smooth, scraping down sides as necessary.

2.  Place into a small bowl and stir in parmesan cheese.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

 

Banana Pudding Popsicles

Maybe it’s been the heat, or my lack of air conditioning during the heat, but I’ve been thinking about Jell-O Banana Pudding Pops lately.  I generally believe that the entirely random thoughts that breeze through our brains are on their way to the discard pile — unless we pay attention to them.  Then they are preserved for a new period of time.  I am not a neurobiologist, but I’m pretty sure that this is how it works.  And I think that the period of time is approximately 28 years, because there is no way I’ve enjoyed a Pudding Pop since I was about 10 or 11.  You can confirm that 28 year time period with your “science” if you like.  But I prefer to trust Bill Cosby.

So, I actually sort of forgot that Jell-O Banana Pudding Pops even existed (and how much I loved them), but I did confirm with the Internet and it is clear that I did not dream this. There were multiple flavors — chocolate, vanilla, and chocolate-vanilla swirl at the basic level.  But I remember loving the banana ones.  And my friend Beth remembers that there was something printed on the popsicle sticks.  Was it a contest?  A fortune?  We clearly let go of that piece of factual information sometime in college when we were killing brain cells with ridiculous amounts of Yuengling Lager.  Anyone else remember? Or have more energy than I do to perform a Google search to find out? Good for you.

When I decided to replicate the pudding pops, every recipe that I found (surprise!) started out with Jell-O Pudding. This is all well and good — but it’s not really recipe worthy. So I made a simple homemade vanilla pudding and then pureed ripe bananas into it.   It would be equally good with any flavor of pudding (chocolate, caramel, etc.) or with any type of fruit pureed into it.  Strawberries would be great.  But that’s not how Bill envisioned it.  So I’m sticking with an original flavor.

It’s not an original method because I made it from scratch, but I think Bill would be OK with it because we generally agree on most topics.  Namely, Donald Trump.

Banana Pudding Popsicles

Makes about 12 popsicles (or 4 cups of pudding)

1 cup milk (I had 2%)
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup sugar
3 T cornstarch
1/4 t salt
2 eggs
2 T butter
2 t vanilla extract
3 bananas, ripe and mashed

1.  In a medium heavy saucepan, whisk together the milk, half and half, sugar, cornstarch, salt, and eggs.   Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly (and scraping out corners of pan with a spatula to get any trapped parts), for about 5-7 minutes until the mixture is bubbly and thickened.  Remove from heat immediately and stir in butter and vanilla extract.

2.  Pour pudding mixture into the bowl of a food processor and add mashed bananas.  Process until completely smooth, scraping down sides as necessary (and being careful to let steam from the hot pudding escape).  Pour pudding into popsicle molds and freeze for at least 6 hours until completely hardened.  (These will keep a few days, at least, in the freezer.)

 

Aunt Cherry’s Rhubarb Cake

This has been a week for appliances and household items to take a shit.  Our air conditioning broke during a heat wave (of course). Now we find out we need a new furnace and heat pump.  Our new washing machine began to leak and created a nice little flood in our laundry room (on the upside, the floor has never been cleaner!).  Our way too expensive, professional quality steam iron decided to leak water through the cord (that seems a bit unsafe).  Our clock stopped working.  Our thermostat broke.  After turning on the outdoor hose bibs for gardening, we realized that this is the year for them to start leaking incessantly (they’ll need to be replaced).

Oh, and now that I think of it …  one of our window blinds broke the other day.  On the same day that my daughter fell off a swing and broke her arm.  WTF?  I’m starting to scare myself.

So, when I recently saw a puddle of murky water in the refrigerator, I was pretty sure that it was the next thing to go. But alas, it was just a puddle from some decomposing rhubarb that I hadn’t used up — because I never use up my rhubarb.  I guess I just don’t see the point of eating something that requires five cups of sugar just to make it palatable.  I cook it down, make rhubarb applesauce or the occasional strawberry-rhubarb pie or crisp, but there’s always a never ending supply.  And then even more in the freezer from last summer.

I decided to take a tried and true, delicious recipe, Aunt Cherry’s Oatmeal Cake, and see what some rhubarb would do to it.  It was very good, but not surprisingly, because nothing could really mess up Aunt Cherry’s cake.  It is a sticky, oozy mess of a dessert that you can eat for breakfast.  And the rhubarb version makes a delicious dessert with some whipped cream or ice cream, but I also served it as rhubarb coffee cake for breakfast with guests.

I’d like nothing more than to bake one right now, but I must go down a rabbit hole into customer service and extended warranty and “we’ll be there between 2 and midnight” hell.  Oh, just a moment.  This is shocking.  I just went to enter a warranty claim for my washing machine and guess what?  The system is down.

Aunt Cherry’s Rhubarb Cake

Makes one 9 inch by 13 inch cake

Cake:
1 cup oats (I used old fashioned)
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/3 cups of whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 t salt
1 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1/2 t ginger
1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)
1 1/2 cups boiling water
2 eggs
2-3 cups of diced rhubarb

Topping:
1 cup pumpkin seeds (or other chopped nuts), toasted
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup of milk
6 T butter, melted
1 t vanilla
1 cup shredded coconut (not sweetened)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease a 9 inch by 13 inch glass baking pan.

2.  In a large bowl, mix together dry cake ingredients: oats, white sugar, brown sugar, whole wheat pastry flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.  Make sure to break up any lumps of brown sugar.

3.  Add boiling water to dry ingredients.  Using an electric mixer, beat in softened butter (1 stick).  When incorporated, beat in eggs one at a time.  The batter will be thin.  Pour into greased 9 inch by 13 inch glass baking pan.  Stir in diced rhubarb.

4.  In a small bowl, mix together topping ingredients:  pumpkin seeds, brown sugar, white sugar, milk, melted butter, vanilla, and coconut.  Drop in small dollops all over the unbaked cake batter.

5.  Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes.  Remove and cool on a rack.

 

 

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.

 

Sweet Pea Falafel with Minted Cucumber Salad

I have a long and interesting history with peas.  As a child, my mother tells me that I once shoved a pea up my nose.  (The other interesting childhood story about me related to the pea homophone, “pee,” is that I once slept walk into the living room thinking that it was the bathroom and proceeded to pee on the coffee table as my parents watched — slack-jawed, no doubt.)  I now realize that kids do some weird stuff and I’m glad to know that I contributed.

And as it happens in life, I have been paid back for my contributions.  My own daughter once projectile vomited peas all over me.  And when I was very pregnant with her brother, she decided to shove a tiny Polly Pocket shoe up her nose, which allowed me to learn a handy first aid trick that my Mom probably could have used.  After trying to get the shoe out by having her blow her nose (she was 4, so every time I said “Blow,” she sniffed it in even further), I called the doctor and got this gem:  when your child decides to shove something up his/her nose (which they will), close the unobstructed nostril with your finger and then cover his/her mouth with your mouth and blow hard — like you are giving them mouth to mouth resuscitation.  The shoe or pea will fly right out of there.  You are welcome in advance.

Hungry yet?

(I wonder if any writer in the history of the world has ever had to make the transition between toy or legume-obstructed nostrils and falafel.  We are clearly making history here.)

So, falafel.  I love it.  One of our favorite restaurants in town, Otto’s Pub and Brewery, had some of the best falafel I’ve ever had.  Or, at 9.2% alcohol content, maybe it was the Double D IPA that made my memories of it so warm and fuzzy.   It’s no longer on the menu, so I have to get my fix elsewhere.  I decided to try my own version for spring that would include sweet green peas, lots of garlic, creamy minted cucumbers, and a smoky sour cream sauce.

This version did not disappoint and it’s easy enough (provided you aren’t afraid of a little frying) for a weeknight meal.  So easy, in fact, that I think I’ll include it in the Cuizoo Arsenal.  It is equally good on a salad, in a pita, or wrap.  On its own, it makes a great party appetizer.  And I haven’t tried it yet, but I bet you could make these up and freeze them in quantities for a quick meal.  My leftovers are getting re-purposed for a chopped salad tonight with baby romaine, more cucumbers, avocado, and maybe some spicy toasted pumpkin seeds.

All of which will hopefully go into (and stay in) the appropriate orifices.

Sweet Pea Falafel with Minted Cucumber Salad

Serves 6

3 cups garbanzo beans (almost two cans), drained
1 cup peas (fresh or thawed frozen)
3 T parsley, chopped
3 T cilantro, chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 t salt
1/2 t smoked paprika
1 t cumin
1/8 t chipotle powder (or to taste)
Freshly ground pepper
1 t baking powder
5 T flour
Vegetable oil (something mild tasting)

Accompaniments:
Warm Pita Bread
Thinly sliced onion
Minted Cucumbers (3-4 peeled, seeded, and sliced cucumbers tossed with a bit of salt, pepper, chopped fresh mint, and 1-2 T sour cream)
Extra fresh mint
Smoky Sour Cream Sauce (1/2 cup of sour cream with a bit of salt and 1/4 t smoked paprika)

1.  In the bowl of a food processor, add garbanzos, peas, parsley, cilantro, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and spices.  Pulse until it is well combined and sticks together — but not entirely pureed like hummus.  It should still have some coarseness and texture to it.  You may have to scrape down the sides a few times to get it to combine — do not be tempted to add liquid to make it process easier.  Transfer to a bowl and stir in baking powder and flour.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, and up to several hours.

2.  Remove falafel mixture from refrigerator and form into small patties or balls.  I think smaller patties tend to stay together the best and require less oil to fry.  Heat about 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a large saute pan over medium heat until it is about 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Fry 4-6 falafel patties at a time, for about 2-3 minutes per side until they are golden brown.  Keep warm on a cookie sheet in the oven while you fry the remainder of the falafel (making sure oil is back up to temperature before frying the next batch).

3.  To serve, take one half of a pita and place two falafel patties in it with several spoonfuls of the minted cucumbers, a few sliced onions, several leaves of mint, and a drizzle of the sour cream sauce.

 

 

 

Creamy Chicken Casserole with Leeks and Mushrooms

I remember researching my baby girl’s first car seat.  I had no clue what I was looking for.  I was focused on patterns that didn’t include teddy bears, perhaps longing for something that might actually match the car instead.  I didn’t know a five point harness from a three point one, and I certainly didn’t know how long I was supposed to keep it rearward facing as opposed to forward facing.  I started to read reviews.  I searched Consumer Reports.  I read mommy blogs to get opinions.  I sorted my Amazon results with the settings “Price:  High to Low,” hoping that if I spent more money, I would stumble onto the seat I was supposed to buy.  Much to my husband’s dismay, I realized the good moms were buying the safe and super expensive Britax seats, so I dropped a whole pile of money down to become part of the club.  And I did this several times over for her and her brother.

I kept her rear facing for longer than anyone thought I should.  I kept her in a five point harness until well past kindergarten, when she complained that her friends thought she was still riding in a baby car seat.  “But it’s actually a booster with a better harness,” I told her.  She didn’t agree.  She rode in a regular booster (LATCH capable, of course) until she was 8.  I finally took the back off when I could see that she clearly wasn’t remotely comfortable any more.  I kept telling myself, “She’s almost as big as her great grandmother.  It’s OK.”

Yet, tomorrow, I will put her on a bus at 6:30 AM for her big third grade field trip.  A bus with a driver I do not know.  A bus with no seat belts that will be barreling down the highway at 65 MPH.  She will wander around museums and theaters with friends and teachers.  She will eat a bagged lunch and buy her own McDonald’s for dinner.  She will carry a wallet and her own money.

But she will also carry her hip pack of allergy medicine.  I will have made sure there are at least three EpiPens with her with directions for symptoms that require flow charts.  I will have briefed the teachers and sent the chaperones long emails that make them think I’m crazy. (I am.)  I will have had thousands of thoughts about how to keep her safe … “Wait. If all the kids need lunches that don’t need to be refrigerated, they will almost all have Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches.  Must email teacher about separating her with safe lunches if possible.”  Major red flags will pop up as I walk down grocery store aisles.  “It’s a bus.  What if the person who rode in her seat before her had peanut butter crackers?  What if someone offers her a treat while on a tour?  She knows to say no.  Wait, does she know to say no?”  I will have gone over safety points with her ad nauseum, until her father says, “Kristin, I think she gets it.”

But I just can’t help it.  She’s my baby, even if 9 years have made her more grown-up than infant.  And I can’t be there to keep her safe.  I can’t be around the corner from her school if she needs me.  I can’t watch out for her as she maneuvers in a city, albeit a small one.  I am two hours away if she has an allergy emergency.   I won’t be the one driving.  And there will be no harnesses, side impact protection, or tethers for protection.

As much as I want to “forget” to set the alarm tomorrow morning and keep her home safe with me, I know I can’t.

I will wake up at 5:30 AM and I will put her on that bus.  And I will not rest easy until it pulls back in at 7 PM tomorrow night.

Creamy Chicken Casserole with Leeks and Mushrooms

So the theme here is comfort food, if you didn’t guess that already.  Feel free to use leftover or Rotisserie chicken for a quick weeknight dinner (if you do that, you can get less than a pound).  Also, this is very flexible and could include other herbs, vegetables, or seasonings.  It’s a great dinner with just a simple green salad on the side. Also, you can make this up in advance, just put the crumbs on right before you bake it.

Serves 4

1 pound boneless chicken breast or thighs, cooked and shredded (I poached mine)
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1-2 leeks, well cleaned and chopped
2-3 ribs of celery, chopped
1 large clove of garlic, chopped
1 T butter
1 T olive oil, plus a little additional
1/4 cup of white whole wheat flour (or other flour)
1/2- 3/4 cup of whole wheat cracker crumbs (or breadcrumbs)
1 1/2 cups of 2% milk
1 T brandy
1 T lemon juice
1/2 T chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and Pepper
Cayenne Pepper

1. In a medium saute pan, saute the sliced mushrooms in a bit of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and cook until they are browned and have rendered all their liquid, about 5-7 minutes.  Set aside.

2.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a medium saucepan, melt 1 T butter and 1 T oil together over medium heat.  Saute the leeks, celery, and garlic for about 5 minutes and then sprinkle in the 1/4 cup of flour.  Stir well to combine and cook for 1-2 minutes to cook the flour a bit.  Whisk in milk, making sure to get any bits of flour incorporated from the edges of the pan.  Cook the sauce for 2-3 more minutes until quite thick, whisking constantly.  Add 1 teaspoon of salt, freshly ground pepper, a dash of cayenne pepper (or to taste), 1 T brandy, 1 T lemon juice, and chopped rosemary.

3.  Add chopped/shredded chicken and sauteed mushrooms to the white sauce and stir to combine.  Place in a shallow baking dish with about 1.5 quart or 1.5 liter capacity.  Cover with cracker or bread crumbs and bake for about 40 minutes until golden and bubbly.

 

 

Cod in Parchment

A friend brought up a good point the other day.  This is a horrible time of the year to have to give something up for Lent.  Winter has us feeling defeated — with almost a foot of snow the other day after spring started to tease us.  Illness has us down — I’ve been sick with a cold virus (which led to a sinus infection, bronchitis, and an ear infection) for three weeks.  And maybe it’s not the time of the year, but politics and the news have me feeling pretty low.  I attempt to not get too political here (I had some pseudo-stalkers who didn’t like my politics on my old blog), but let’s just say that Republican governors who think it’s a good idea to propose 50% funding cuts to public universities are on my shit list.  Some people invest and innovate through a down turn.  Here in Pennsylvania, we slash, burn, and build more prisons.

Part of the cuts to our university have the potential to decimate our College of Agriculture.  This comes at a time when research on feeding the world using sustainable methods is more important than ever.  So I guess if I were to give up something for Lent (which I won’t because I’m a heathen), it would certainly not be the college that represents, and innovates in the top industry in our state.

Beyond, I think about my grandfather, who grew up on a farm and had a tractor business.  He never went to college.  And yet, through the availability of state-funded and regionalized public higher education, he was able to put my dad through college.   My dad started out as a teacher and went on to become a local businessman which allowed him to put me through college and a masters degree program at public, land grant institutions.  My siblings and I (and all of our spouses) graduated from public universities. My husband and I work at a public university (me not so much anymore).  My in-laws taught at a public university.  My mom, sister, and sister-in-law have degrees in education from public universities — my sister is a teacher at a public school and my sister-in-law works at a public university.   Without subsidized public higher education, where would we be?  I am not saying that any one of us is changing the world.  But I do know that we are educated citizens and productive members of society who contribute in positive ways.

And I might not remember how to conjugate all of the French verbs, but I do know that being exposed to the academy changed my worldview in a profound way.  At a time of economic and global turmoil, we need more, not fewer, educated citizens who are capable of challenging their own worldviews.  Education did not get us into this budget mess — our funding has been steady or decreasing for years.  But we realize that education will have to accept cuts to move forward.  Let’s just make sure that we are not cutting off our nose simply to spite our face.

“Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail.  What you gain at one end you lose at the other.  It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail.  It won’t fatten the dog.”  ~Mark Twain

Cod in Parchment

Since I was knee deep in education, rather than food, I should add that this is a perfect dish for those giving up meat for Lent.  It is also great for kids, as each person can customize what is in their packet and the surprise factor of opening it up at the table is always popular.  Feel free to use other flavorings, vegetables, or anything you have on hand!

Serves 4-6

1 1/3 pounds of Wild Cod (or similar mild white fish)
1 potato, peeled and sliced paper thin
1/2 of a large onion, thinly sliced
1/2 of a lemon, thinly sliced (remaining half used for juice and zest)
1/2 of a large carrot, grated or in ribbons using a vegetable peeler
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
6-8 large green olives, sliced
4-6 sprigs of fresh oregano, stemmed and chopped
Parchment Paper
4-6 T white wine

Herb Butter:
4 T butter
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
3/4 t salt
1/2 t Smoked Paprika
Freshly Ground Pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cut fish into 4-6 somewhat equal servings.  Cut parchment paper into 4-6 pieces that are roughly 13 inches by 13 inches.

2.  Make herb butter by combining butter, zest, garlic, salt, Smoked Paprika, and pepper.  Set aside.

3.  Take one square of parchment and make the first layer with several slices of the paper-thin potatoes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Top with a piece of fish seasoned with salt and pepper, then a few onions, some tomato slices, carrot ribbons, and a dollop of the herb butter. Place one or two lemon slices on top of that along with some chopped fresh oregano and a few green olives.  Drizzle with a bit of lemon juice and about 1 T white wine (per packet).  Gather up parchment into a purse, attempting to avoid any gaping holes for steam to escape.  Tightly tie the packets shut with kitchen twine and place on a baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining fish.

4.  Bake packets for about 18-20 minutes until you see them starting to bubble a bit. (You can cheat and open one up if you are unsure if they are done.)  Place each packet on a plate and open at the table.

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.