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Archive for December, 2007

I just returned from a long weekend away for Christmas, and was faced with the customary refrigerator full of mysterious tupperware containers – *oops*, what was that again? when did I make it? In my case, a box of baby spinach, a container with some freshly cooked navy beans, a small tub of leftover brown rice, some carrots, tofu in various stages of freshness, and all the various cheeses that Tomas likes to buy and eat –  to which I had added some special samples that I acquired at Trader Joe’s over the weekend (a wedge of Spanish Manchego, a sheep’s milk Gouda, and a small package of local New Mexican pesto-flavored goat cheese).

And today, Tomas is sick with a cold. Suddenly, the stacks of cheeses and tins of Christmas cookies are out of the question. So are the rich leftovers from Christmas dinner (vanilla-bean whipped sweet potatoes, red cabbage and roasted pheasant). I opted instead for something clear, brothy and healing. Into the pot went a shredded carrot, several minced cloves of garlic, cubed tofu, the leftover rice and some miso for a nice hot miso soup.

But as lovely as miso soup is, it’s rarely a meal in itself. I needed a starter or something solid to munch on. So I turned to the beans. Got to use those somehow… they still smell ok, we know that won’t last much longer…

Here is the result, which was flavorful and healthy enough that it prompted this post. No exact quantities are listed because I didn’t use any measurements, but I’ll give my best guess.

White Bean and Spinach Saute (prep time: 5 minutes; cook time: 5 minutes)

1 cup cooked white beans (navy or cannelini)

two generous handfuls baby spinach

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp (or less or more, to your taste) grated Parmesan cheese

splash lemon juice

Heat the olive oil in a small frying or saute pan. Add the white beans and stir to coat with oil. Add the spinach and turn frequently, mixing in with the beans as it begins to wilt. When spinach is mostly wilted, toss in parmesan cheese and a splash of lemon juice. Mix gently and serve immediately.

Since I’m trying to eat a serving per day of beans as well as leafy greens, this was a perfect supper for me; a perfect way to use up some oddball leftovers; and a perfect way to fix dinner in 10 minutes or less. Possible added side effects may be extra nutrients and energy for the sick one; a cleaner fridge; and a new recipe for the blog. You can hardly even call it a recipe, but that’s why I like it!

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The days are flying by alarmingly lately; Christmas is hurtling at us (those of us who care, presumably) rather too fast. If you ask me, it’s too late for shopping; you’re guaranteed to get in a fender-bender, so you might as well stay home. It’s even too late for shopping online, as indicated by the sudden cessation of used book sales from my Amazon.com account. What’s left to do? Well, there’s still time to bake!

My mother is German, and part of that heritage means slaving for days (weeks?!) in the kitchen preparing and baking a wide assortment of exquisite and delicious traditional German cookies for the holiday. She would fill about 6 large tins with cookies, make plates of them for all our friends and neighbors, and we’d eat them until well past New Year’s. I knew these cookies had to be good because our friends always raved about them!

This past Thanksgiving, my mom and I spent a couple of days making cookies together. It’s about time I learned the family recipes, and she’s getting tired of doing all the work herself. She brought along a beat-up, faded, torn and very old German cookbook (“Ich Helf Dir Kochen”) stuffed full of clipped recipes and notes, and we dutifully baked our way through 5 recipes – some more labor-intensive than others.

For each of them, we tried some new experimental adjustments for altitude as well, just to see if anything came of it. She lives in Santa Fe at 7000+ feet, where you can just about go ahead and give up on baking anything because it’s sure to be a disappointing experience. So she brought her rolling pin, several pounds of nuts and chocolate, and her cookbook to Denver and we baked here, at the only-moderately-frustrating elevation of one mile high. We reduced the sugar a little here, added extra extract there, raised oven temperatures and shortened baking times. I have to say that overall, our modifications worked. All the cookies came out moist, for one thing – something she’s struggled with for years since moving away from the East Coast.

The final crowning achievement was baking a traditional Christmas “Stollen.” This is a sweet, nutty, dense and moist quick bread topped off with powdered sugar; very festive! The recipe is very easy – just mix, shape and into the oven it goes. The hard part is wrapping it up and freezing it after it comes out; it really does taste much better after a couple of days of rest. We made several altitude changes which resulted in a wonderfully moist and delicious loaf, and I have noted them here.

To my surprise, the original recipe that my mom uses for her Stollen is from Anna Thomas’ Vegetarian Epicure (Book One).  I used the cardamom as listed; my mom leaves it out.

High Altitude notes are indicated by the code ‘HA’ in parentheses.

Stollen

2 1/2 cups flour (HA: add 1 Tbsp)

2/3 cup sugar

1 cup Ricotta cheese (HA: can substitute 1-2 Tbsp of yogurt to add a little acidity, but I didn’t and it came out just fine)

pinch salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp almond extract

1 tsp cardamom (I used already-ground; the book calls for the crushed seeds of 5-6 pods)

1 egg (HA: use 2 eggs)

2 Tbsp brandy

2 tsp baking powder (HA: subtract 1/4 tsp)

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 cup ground almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (HA: 375 degrees).

 Mix flour, sugar, cardamom and almonds thoroughly. Mix the wet ingredients in a separate bowl.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and mix until moistened. Dump the batter out onto a large work surface (a large cutting board will do); knead just until smooth and form into a loaf (the cookbook says 10 inches long by 8 inches wide; mine was NOT that large, perhaps more like 8×6″; I like it to be at least 3 inches thick so I used that as my guide).

Place the loaf on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. (HA: place rack in lower third of oven; watch carefully towards end of baking time, mine only needed 45 minutes). You can tap on the loaf to see if it’s done.

Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. When the loaf has cooled completely, dust it liberally with powdered sugar. Wrap in several layers of plastic wrap, place in a plastic bag and freeze for a few days. Obviously, this can be prepared well in advance.

My mom makes this with added lemon juice for Easter as well. Personally, I’m addicted to the cardamom variety. Germans add lots of raisins and candied fruit to the recipe; I am not a fan of colored gummy things in my cake so I have never eaten it that way. In any case, you can adapt this recipe to suit your own preferences, but you will have to get very creative about where you hide it. Once discovered by nosy cohabitants, it goes fast.

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Three grain pancakes, puffing up in the pan.

Three grain pancakes, puffing up in the pan.

It’s Sunday, and as I was sitting here at the computer plotting out my new blog, Tomas shuffled in from the bedroom to greet me. “Did you say you were making pancakes this morning?” (I had, of course, said nothing of the sort). We agreed that since it was Sunday and we were both home for once, it really would be a shame NOT to make pancakes. As I was getting out my bowls and ingredients, I remembered that I was on this new, wholesome, anti-cancer diet as of last week (more on that later!). What could I make that would satisfy the pancake craving but minimize the guilt? After a lifetime of turning up my nose at whole grain pancakes in favor of the true greasy-spoon diner variety, it was time to try something new. After just 2 minutes of searching in the first book I picked up, I found the perfect recipe. 

Three Grain Pancakes

(adapted from Country Living’s ‘The Breakfast Cookbook,’ Hearst Books, 2004)

Note from the cookbook:

Mixing cornmeal, which is a little gritty, in the batter gives these pancakes just a little crunch. Adding a measure of rye flour fills them with robust flavor. Warm syrup – maple of perhaps blueberry – makes them awfully good.

Makes 4 servings.

  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1¼ to 1½ cups milk
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole-wheat flour
  • ½ cup rye flour
  • (note: I did not have rye flour at the moment, so I used 1 cup all-purpose unbleached and ¾ cups whole wheat; it turned out great!)
  • ¼ cup stone ground cornmeal
  • 1½ Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder (yeah, that’s a lot; I did a double take here when I read it.)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup maple syrup, warmed (I mixed some blueberry syrup in, and a pat of butter; it turned a sickly shade of gray, but was goooooood!!)

In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter; set aside to cool. In a small bowl, combine 1¼ cups milk and the eggs.

In a medium-size bowl, mix the flours, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture just until well mixed. Stir in the melted butter. The batter should be slightly lumpy. Let the batter stand 20 to 30 minutes.

Lightly oil a griddle or large skillet; heat over medium-high heat until a drop of water will dance across the surface. Stir the batter and drop a test cake on the griddle, using ¼ cup batter.

Cook the pancake until several bubbles burst on the top and the bottom is light brown. Turn and cook the other side 1 to 2 minutes, until browned.

Add a bit more milk to the batter if the first cake does not spread well and adjust the heat if necessary.

Serve the pancakes with warm syrup.

Notes!

I always put a plate in the oven at a very low temperature (250 or so) to keep extra pancakes warm while I’m cooking, although I always have people eating before I’m finished – they’re just much better straight off the stove!

On the pesky subject of high altitude…

As can be expected, things don’t turn out the way the instructions say they will here in the Mile High city. The outsides of things will burn before the insides are done, for example. True to form, by the time the bottoms of my pancakes were “light brown” (to me, that’s the color that makes me go “damn, that looks good!!!”) – there were definitely NOT “several bubbles bursting on top”. I think I saw one, and it was a small and rather tentative one. Nevertheless, the perfectly browned bottom was crying out to be turned at once, so I flipped the pancakes, and when the other side was the same color, I swiped them off the griddle and we ate. They were perfect.

The 20 minutes of rest really lets the flours and the baking powder start to do their thing; you can literally watch the batter rising in the bowl, and you should have seen these pancakes puff up once they were on the heat. At first, I was really worried they wouldn’t turn out at all – the batter just sat there on the skillet in a lumpy heap and didn’t spread at all. Yet magically, they gradually became gorgeous, glowingly brown, thick circles of goodness. I think one of them was literally an inch high! (I ate two, and was stuffed). The cornmeal gives it the perfect little bit of crunch. These are wholesome without that dreaded “health food” taste; they have a very pancake-y soul underneath the subtle wheat façade.

I served these with a generous side of unsweetened applesauce and my mixed syrup concoction (I learned to melt a little butter into the maple syrup when I was a child. My mom did it on special occasions – and it is really just that extra-indulgent little touch that puts the whole meal over the top). Since there are only two of us, we naturally had leftovers, and I suspect these will be delightful to snack on even when they’re cold. I’m pretty thrilled to have found a new idea for a breakfast that is both compliant with my new rules (must…use…whole…grains…) and makes for a warm, filling and splurge-y (is that a word? If not, it should be) winter Sunday brunch.

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