Tag Archives: savory

Garbanzo “Meatballs” with Spaghetti Squash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garbanzo “Meatballs” with Spaghetti Squash

Makes 15 meatballs

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

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

Whole Grain White Pizza with Carmelized Onions and Garlicky Spinach

For meal number 3 in the Cuizoo Arsenal, we are going to do a pizza. I feel sort of silly talking about pizza, because, come on, it’s pizza.  Crust, toppings, cheese.  Pretty straightforward stuff.  But yet, we still order it and pay $15 for something that (with a little forethought) can be made in about 30-40 minutes (of active cooking time) for half the cost of delivery.  And the end result will have completely controlled ingredients (organic produce, no preservatives, whole grain, etc.) and surely taste better.  The last time I checked, I don’t think Papa Johns offered caramelized onions as a topping.  And I don’t mean to look down my nose at Papa Johns, because there is a time and a place for delivery pizza and we all know that their garlic butter is pretty much made up of crack cocaine.  But, there is no massive conspiracy preventing you from trying to make it on your own. And kids absolutely love making their own pizzas for dinner.

So, let’s start with the crust.  This is the main reason I own a bread maker.  It is fantastic for this purpose because you can use it on the “Dough” setting, dump your ingredients in, turn it on, and in 90 minutes you have pizza crust ready to bake.  I like that I can use organic, whole grain flours and I can throw everything in after the kids get home from school and it just gets mixed and kneaded without having to think about it.  But you have other options here … many pizza shops will sell you a ball of dough and most grocery stores carry pre-made pizza dough as well.  And if you aren’t pressed for time or don’t have a breadmaker, you can certainly make pizza dough by hand too.  I should add that the key to whole grain pizza (in my opinion) is to roll the dough *very* thin, so it is not too dense and “whole wheaty.”

Next, we need to talk sauce.  Or in this case, the lack of sauce.  This is a white pizza and the more I eat it, the more I don’t like sauce on my pizza.  I usually let the kids make their own mini pizzas and they always want sauce, but this time they tried the white and were converts.  It is really delicious on its own or with the greens and onions.

And finally, toppings.  I really don’t need to provide instruction on pizza toppings, do I?  You know the things you like, so just use that stuff.  But I will put in a vote for the sauteed greens.  Spinach, chard, kale, beet greens, etc. all work very well on a white pizza and while kids may not love it at first, most will come around.  It’s a great way to get a super nutritious vegetable into a meal they really like.   Pizza is also a great way to use up leftovers for toppings … BBQ Chicken Pizza with Smoked Gouda which only requires a bit of shredded leftover chicken, Grilled Veggie Pizza with the vegetables left over from the previous night, Sauteed Mushroom Pizza with some Fontina Cheese, or just a plain old Cheese Pizza that uses up all the odds and end pieces of cheese sitting in your refrigerator.

Give it a try and you’ll start to realize that it’s a great middle of the week recipe.  It requires more “unactive” cooking time than some things, but it is still very easy and always a favorite with the kids.

Whole Grain White Pizza with Carmelized Onions and Garlicky Spinach

Serves 4

Crust:
1/2 t salt
3 cups white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 t yeast
1 cup warm water
2 T olive oil

1 large onion
1 T Sweet Marsala Wine
8 ounces fresh spinach
1/3 cup olive oil (plus extra for cooking)
2 large cloves of garlic
Salt and Pepper
Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
16 ounces mozzarella cheese (pre-grated if you like)

1.  Mix crust ingredients in the pan of a breadmaker and set it to the “Dough” setting which typically takes 90 minutes.  (Alternatively, you can mix the dough by hand and do at least two cycles of kneading and rising.)

2.  While the pizza dough is doing its thing (or about 30-40 minutes before you are ready to eat), thinly slice the onion.  Wash the spinach to remove any sediment and set in colander to drain.  Finely chop the two garlic cloves.

3.  In a medium saute pan over medium high heat, heat a bit of olive oil and cook the onion until it begins to brown (about 4-5 minutes).  Add 1 T Marsala Wine, 2 T of water, and salt and pepper to taste.  Scrape up any browned bits and reduce heat to low.  Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding a bit more water if the onions begin to stick.  (This is a quick method for caramelized onions, if you like you can do a more traditional 30 minute method.)  Set the caramelized onions aside.

4.  Meanwhile, grate the mozzarella cheese if it is not pre-grated. (I should add that freshly grated always tastes better to me.)  Make the garlic oil by mixing 1/3 cup of olive oil with half of the chopped garlic, 1/8 t of salt, freshly ground pepper, and a few red pepper flakes.  Warm in the microwave for about 1 minute at 50% power and set aside.

5.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the same saute pan, heat a bit more olive oil with the remaining half of the chopped garlic. Roughly chop the spinach (it is OK if it still has water clinging to it) and saute for about 2 minutes until wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

6.  When the dough is done in the breadmaker, split the ball roughly in half.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Roll out half of the dough directly on a parchment-lined sheet until it is very thin (about a 1/4 of an inch thick — at this thickness, this recipe usually makes two oblong pizzas that are roughly 10 inches by 13 inches).  Drizzle with a bit of the olive oil mixture, bake for about 8 minutes, and remove from oven.

7.  Top pre-baked crust with caramelized onions and spinach.  Season well with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle about half of the mozzarella cheese all over.  Generously drizzle all over with about half of the olive oil mixture.  Bake for an additional 13-15 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven until golden and crisp.  You can broil for a bit at the very end if you like.  (Because this makes two pizzas, you can either do two at at time on separate sheets, or you can make one and repeat the process for the second dough ball, using the remaining half of the cheese and oil mixture.)

Smoky Scalloped Potatoes with Sausage

I’m thinking there is a guide to parenthood somewhere that I forgot to read.  Before I had kids, I imagined parenting to be similar to, um, living — except with children.  And I know that sounds simplistic and parenting is much harder than just living, but I guess I imagined that I would continue to do things that I enjoy, rather than things that I do not.  This isn’t making much sense, is it?

You see, there is an entire underbelly to our culture that I truthfully had no idea existed until I had children.  Festivals.  Apparently, once you procreate, there is an unwritten rule that you must both enjoy and faithfully attend all festivals occurring within a 50 mile radius of your home.  These can include, but are not limited to, Fun Fests, Fall Fests, Arts Fests, Music Fests, Octoberfests (those I enjoy more), Jazz Fests, Spring Fests, Renaissance Fests (sometimes called Fairs), Apple Fests, Maple Syrup Fests, Strawberry Fests, Ice Cream Fests, Chili Fests, Winter Fests, First Night Fests, and Random Nature Event Fests.  Corollary events can include Carnivals, Public Easter Egg Hunts, Holiday Plays and Pageants, Santa Parades, and Bug Fairs.

And let me just make myself clear.  I do not particularly like festivals.  Maybe it’s the walking around aimlessly saying “Look kids, a donkey!”  Or maybe it’s the whiny kids who are generally just looking for the funnel cake stand.  And refuse to STFU until they get a funnel cake.  Or maybe it’s the same old Lion’s Club food truck.  Or maybe it’s for the simple reason that NONE OF THESE FESTIVALS SERVE BEER.

For example, this recipe for Smoky Scalloped Potatoes with Sausage could inspire an entire festival.  There would be crafts for the kids that included painting a potato.  There would be some sort of Scalloped Potato cook-off.  And a potato peeling competition.  That sounds fun, doesn’t it?  And don’t forget about the food vendors.  There will most assuredly be kettle corn, funnel cakes, and french fries.  And some sort of random animal to visit — llamas, donkeys, reindeer, or horses (of course) are logical choices.  I can’t wait to spend my entire Saturday afternoon at the Scalloped Potato Festival, now that you mention it.

Actually, I made these scalloped potatoes the other afternoon when we were skipping out on some random festival in our area.  It’s been fall (season of lots of festivals!), so I have already forgotten which one it was.  It is a wonderful, easy dinner for a cold night with its simple but delicious flavors.  The smoked sausage bastes the potatoes as they cook and you won’t believe how few ingredients you need.  I questioned the idea of scalloped potatoes without cheese, but this really works.  And made with 2% milk (which I did), it isn’t nearly the calorie and fat hog that some scalloped potato recipes are.

And I must mention that this is my dad’s recipe.  And I’m pretty sure he hates festivals too.  That afternoon, I cooked and sipped a glass of wine while the kids played school (after helping me peel the potatoes).  Donkey rides kick some ass, but this is more of what I imagined motherhood to be.

Smoky Scalloped Potatoes with Sausage

Serves 6 as a main dish

6-7 medium potatoes, peeled
1 lb. smoked sausage (very important to get high quality, local smoked sausage for the best flavor)
Flour (1/2 T per layer)
Butter (about 1 T per layer)
Salt and Pepper
2 cups of 2% milk (approximately)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Slice potatoes thinly. Slice smoked sausage into thin rounds (or chunks, however you like it).

3.  Butter a 9 inch by 13 inch glass pan.

4.  In the greased pan, make one layer of potatoes.  Sprinkle 1/2 T of flour over the potatoes and season well with salt and pepper.  Break 1 T of butter into little pieces and scatter it over the potatoes.  Top potato layer with slices of smoked sausage.

5.  Repeat by layering potato slices, flour, butter, salt and pepper, and smoked sausage.  Your top layer should be potatoes.  (I made three layers of potatoes, with two layers of sausage in between).  On your final layer of potatoes, sprinkle with 1/2 T of flour, additional salt and pepper, and 1 T of butter (in small pieces).

6.  Pour milk over top the potatoes until you can start to see it come up the edge — it should be about 2 or 2 1/2 cups.  Using a metal spatula, press the potato layers down into the milk, so the milk mixes in well.

7.  Bake uncovered for about 1 hour and 30 minutes (mine took more like 1 hr. and 40 minutes).  Every 20 minutes or so, press the layers down with the back of a metal spatula again so the top layer gets saturated.  The potatoes are done when the milk is absorbed and the top is very golden brown.  Let rest for about 10 minutes before serving. (Helpful hint:  you may want to put a baking sheet underneath your baking pan, as the milk tends to bubble and make a mess of your oven.)