Friday, June 18, 2010

Insomnia bites

I can't sleep.
I'm pretty sure it's the combination of a too long nap this afternoon + too much food in the evening + too much on my mind tonight. Being unable to sleep is like being trapped. Being trapped in my head, in my bed, in my room, in the night. The perfect cure for everything right now would be a walk, but that just doesn't seem like the best thing to do by myself at 1am. This makes me wish I had a dog. A big, calm, easy natured dog that could go on a walk with me any time of the day.
Alas, no dog. Just a blog.
Instead I peruse some of my favorite foodie internet sites for meal inspiration. I've been craving poached eggs lately - and there just ain't an animal free substitute for that one. Bummer. I'm sure I'll have an egg again someday. Albeit a egg from a chicken that actually lives like a chicken ought to live. I have nothing against eating animals or things that come from animals - I just have an aversion to eating things that are raised in conditions that keep them on the brink of death (or, let's be honest, push them over the brink) in the kind of conditions that remind me more of that human battery scene from The Matrix than Old McDonald's Farm. Without a second thought we spend the extra money to buy toilet paper that's two-ply and quilted to pamper our backsides but pay so little attention to the quality of food we fuel our bodies with. I gives me indigestion.
I have patients that go days - DAYS! - without eating a single piece of unprocessed produce. Breakfast: two sausage burritos and a diet coke. Lunch: fettucini with chicken and texas toast. Snack: crystal light and cheetos. Dinner: fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, ice cream for dessert. Repeat.
They use better gas in their cars, better fertilizer on their lawn, better shampoo for their hair. Absolute crap in their body. The sad thing is you only get one body. New car every 5 years, new lawn every spring, new inch of hair every 2 months. One body.
Somewhere in the last few generations we forgot how to cook. How to make things like broccoli or carrots taste good instead of boiling it into mushy submission and then assuming they always taste that aweful. Instead we all hung up our aprons and started paying minimum wage to short order cooks like Marie Callenders, Dave Wendy, Chef Boyardee, and Stouffers (because nothing comes closer to home). Why are we surprised when we "suddenly" have heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, knee replacements, slipped disks, sleep apnea, stroke, hypertension, trouble conceiving, lethargy...
Everyone blames the environment we live in. I agree, it's a huge factor. But WE create the environment we live in. Think about it. You do, every last bit of it. We created the demand for a McDonald's in every town in America, not the CEO of McDonald's. It's the simple economics of supply and demand. Demand less, supply goes down, environment changes.
But it's true, once you get to a certain point it's hard to turn the tides to a healthier lifestyle, but you have to start somewhere don't you? Or would you just rather continue to get sicker and sicker? The way I see it, it's try or die folks, try or die. But maybe I'm just tired....

Monday, June 7, 2010

Whole Wheat Strawberry Rhubarb Scones

I delved a little further into the world of baking this weekend.
I already mentioned that I had picked up this book from the library and Saturday I marked the 3rd recipe I've gotten to try from it. I have to alter 90% of the recipes to make them vegan, and most of the flours I don't already have on hand, but I'm still contemplating outright purchasing this book. I love how it stretches the limits of what you can do with both typical and atypical flours and grains. Since I can modify most any of the recipes to fit what my pantry actually contains it allows you todecide how ordinary or extraordinary I want to make each recipe.
I had gotten some fresh rhubarb from a coworker this week and have been trying to decide how I wanted to use it. I haven't been brave enough to try a pie just yet, and didn't feel like the dainty, showiness of making tarts so when I came across a recipe for Strawberry Barley Scones it hit a foodie taste bud. Since I recently splurged on a bag of quinoa flour, and I have plans to buy some bread flour for another recipe in this book I opted out of using the barley flour it calls for, instead swapping in some whole wheat flour.
The real highlight of yesterday's cooking was actually the strawberry rhubarb compote. After I did a midpoint taste test I actually said (to no one in particular, mind you) "Oh Wow!" I've never made any sort of jam or compote before and it's so infinitely better (even from a novice's standpoint) that I can't ever imagine justifying using the store bought stuff in the future. In all these created a great and filling breakfast scone. Don't expect a copy of the uber-sweet versions Panera sells. This is better.
So, for the recipes! First, as you can expect, the batter for the scones is adjusted to be vegan, but I noted her [Kim Boyce's] original ingredients in case you want to go that direction. Second, I used the last of my non-frozen strawberries in the compote and added a touch of balsamic vinegar thanks to a suggestion made in Good to the Grain. Third, if you'd like to try the barley flour, just replace it 1:1 for the whole wheat flour I used.
Since is should be sufficiently cooled off now, I'm off to have a slice of homemade lasagna! And when I say homemade I mean homemade. 3 1/2 hours homemade. Recipe to follow...
Strawberry Rhubarb Compote
7-8 rhubarb stalks, rinsed
1 1/2 cups strawberries, rinsed and stemmed (sliced if strawberries are larger than 1")
1 + 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar (optional)

Slice the rhubarb in half lengthwise and cut on the diagonal into 3/4" chunks. Put 3/4 of the rhubarb in a large pot along with the 1 cup of brown sugar. Hold the rest of the rhubarb to the side for later.
Turn heat onto medium-low and stir to mix the sugar and rhubarb. Cover and cook for 15 minutes until the rhubarb starts to release most of it's juices.
Remove the cover, add in the strawberries and increase the heat to medium. Stir the sauce regularly for the next 15-17 minutes until it thickens up enough that your spoon can leave a trail at the bottom of the pan. Add the last of the rhubarb and balsamic vinegar and let cook just 1-2 minutes more. About now is when you should taste test to see if you'd like it sweeter; if so add the last 1/4 cup of brown sugar.
Pour the compote into a bowl to cool. This will be much more than you need for the scones recipe. The rest (roughly 2 cups) will keep in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Whole Wheat Strawberry Rhubarb Scones
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons whole wheat flour
1 cup AP flour
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces cold Earth Balance Buttery Sticks (or 4 ounces unsalted butter)
1/2 cup soy milk mixed with 1/2 Tablespoon vinegar (or 1/2 cup buttermilk)
1 Tablespoon ground flax seed mixed with 3 Tablespoons hot water (or 1 egg)
~1 cup Strawberry Rhubarb Compote (or store bought jam)
1-2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper, spray lightly with non-stick spray and set to the side.
Sift together all the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Cut the "butter" into 1/2" pieces and add them to the dry mixture. Use your fingers to break the butter into the flour until it's the size of grains of rice to flattened peas. As Kim notes, the more quickly you do this, the more the "butter" will stay solid, which is important for the success of the recipe. I actually stuck my "butter" in the freezer for a bit so it was less likely to melt in the bowl.
In one small bowl mix the soy milk and vinegar, stir and let sit for ~10 minutes, in another combine the ground flax and HOT water and let sit for ~3 minutes so it can thicken up (see picture really does have the same thick/emulsifying affects of an egg). Once they've set up, combine the two mixtures into one bowl, stir well, and then add to the dry mix. Mix the batter until all the ingredients are just barely combined.
Transfer the batter onto a well-floured surface. If it's too sticky to handle, add a little more flour until it's more workable. Divide the dough into two pieces. Flour your hands and pat each of the two pieces until they're 3/4" thick and approximately 7" in diameter. Make sure they aren't sticking to your work surface once you're done, otherwise you'll have some troubles moving the finished scones to the baking sheet!
Cover one disk with the compote and top with the second disk, gently pressing them together so that the dough settles into the jam. Sprinkle the top with sugar then use a sharp knife to cut the dough into 8 slices - just like a pie.
Move the scones to your baking sheet and bake for 22-26 minutes, making sure to rotate halfway through. You'll know when the scones are done because they're tops will be golden brown and some of the compote will bubble over onto the pan. Eat while they're still warm or later the same day for best taste.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Ribollita and Quinoa Cookies

It's been awhile. Mostly because I've been out of town to celebrate the nuptials of this lovely lady:
My kitchen wasn't any less busy, though. Last weekend, despite the hot and humid temperatures, I made my first pot of Ribollita, a rustic peasant dish meant to use up day old bread. About a week ago I had bought a bag of french rolls from the farmers market. Unfortunately, I was out and about most every night that week and the rolls went practically untouched. Before I knew it they were on the verge of going stale. Not being one to waste good food I threw them all into the freezer and googled recipes for day old bread. And voilá, ribollita! I browsed through about five or six recipes to get the gist of this soup dish and finally ended up with the recipe below. I can't say it's from any one recipe in particular, but I did use this one as my base, if you will, and made the adjustments noted below. I'm a lover of soup, so it doesn't phase me to eat hot dishes like this when it's 85 degrees out. However, the heartiness of the dish as a whole with the flavor bursts from the olives would make this a great pick-me-up heart warmer in the dead of winter. Goes even better with a glass of semi-dry red wine. Mmmmm.

Next up were Quinoa Cookies. For these I adapted recipe from, who adapted a recipe from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce, a cookbook devoted to using whole grains in baked goods. If you're like me and are curious about when the heck you are supposed to use things like teff flour then you'd probably dig this cookbook, too. I actually bought this book as a hostess gift for a friend of mine and have been debating getting a copy for myself ever since. Kim (understandably - considering she's a Pastry Chef) is heavy on the whole fat dairy products, including butter, making this cookbook very much un-vegan. Therefore, I'm borrowing a copy from my library (I say it all the time - one of the best things taxes have ever paid for) to see if I'm able to adapt enough recipes to make it worth the countertop space. This is the 2nd recipe I've tasted out of the cookbook, 1st one I've made myself - both good. This one is a spin on the classic chocolate chip cookie using quinoa flour (made from the same grain I talked about here) and rolling out the dough to make cookie cutter shapes. Being my first dive into quinoa flour it definitely came as a surprise how much different these cookies tasted straight from the oven vs. day 2. You taste the grain a lot more on day 2 and the cookies take on a very prominent earthy/nutty taste. I want to make these again, but next time I plan on starting from Kim's original recipe, adjusting for veganness, then adding some finely chopped walnuts or pistachios to the mix to harmonize with the flour a little more. The chocolate isn't a bad add-in, but the flavors felt like they were competing too much after day 1. I'll post this recipe after I test out the above changes.

Last up isn't a recipe, just an ingredient lying in wait for me. Strawberries. Lots of them. What you see here is roughly 1/3 of the plunder I took when I went strawberry picking on Thursday. I got away with 8 1/2 lbs in all that afternoon (not including the pound I think I ate right off the bushes). The ones you see here have been cleaned, de-stemmed and frozen so that I can use them in my oatmeal over the winter. I'm debating about going back to pick another 5 lbs or so this week and try my hand at canning jam. It will all depend on if I can find a strawberry jam recipe that doesn't add in sugar, but instead uses juice and juice concentrates. I know it's been done, I just have to figure out how. And find a very, very large pot. I'll keep you posted.




Olive Oil (3-4 glugs, or enough to cook all the mirepoix, aka celery, onion and carrot)
4 celery stalks, chopped
4 medium cloves garlic, chopped
3 medium carrots chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
15 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 heaping teaspoon dried thyme (or substitute Herbs de Provence if you have it)
1 heaping teaspoon dried basil
1 heaping teaspoon dried oregano
1 bunch kale, stems trimmed off and leaves chopped to 1" pieces
3 cups cooked white beans (I used navy beans) + 1 cup cooked white beans hand mashed
8 cups vegetable broth (you can substitute water in a pinch but more broth = more flavor)
~1/2 pound bread/4 dinner rolls/1/2 loaf, torn into big, but bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons lemon juice
good black olives - the kind you get from an olive bar, not a can - pitted and chopped

Combine olive oil, celery, garlic, carrot, and red onion in large stock pot and let sweat over medium heat for 10-15 minutes. If you're starting to brown/saute your veggies the heat is too high. Add in the tomatoes, red pepper flakes and herbs and simmer for another 10 minutes. Then add in the kale, 3 cups beans and broth and turn up heat to bring to a boil. Once boiling turn the heat down to a simmer and continue cooking until the kale is tender (10-15 minutes). Next, stir in the 1 cup of beans and torn bread. Continue to let the soup simmer for 20-30 minutes so that the bread can break down and the soup will start to thicken up. Before serving, while still on the burner, stir in the lemon juice and salt (if needed - depends on if you used broth and fresh or canned beans). Pull the soup off the burner and let sit for another 10-15 minutes to allow the soup time to thicken up a little more (and cool). Dish out into bowls and top with chopped olives.