Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I have...

I have the flu.

Zach is in Ohio, and I miss him desperately, but in his absence am blessed to be more than well-cared for by my beautiful, kind friends and co-workers.

I'm subsisting on Trader Joe's lemon ginger echinacea juice, brought to me by my wonderful friend Pam.

I also fainted this morning, so I'm about to be carted off for a second trip to the doctor's office by my wonderful friend Chalete. I shall return soon.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Orange and Sea Salt Sweet Potatoes

When I was in college (an increasingly long time ago), I would frequently hear the comment "man, you Jews have a lot of holidays," usually followed by "man, you Jews do a lot of cooking." I was always I fan of both these statements (which made me giggle) and the truths behind them - lots of holidays, lots of traditional dishes, lots of cooking, lots of celebrating, lots of singing joyfully and giving thanks, as all religions and cultures do around the world. This week, Sukkot, the fall harvest festival has arrived, and I am fixing tzimmis, as I have every year, and my mother does every year, and my grandmother did every year before us. Traditionally a mixture of sweet potatoes, carrots, dried fruit, and spices, tzimmis has many varieties and re-imaginings, and this year we fancied a very simple, pure version... The essence of sweet potato, and of fall.

Orange and Sea Salt Sweet Potatoes

4 large sweet potatoes
3 T light nonhydrogenated vegan margarine (such as SmartBalance light) or butter
1 cup orange juice
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
Course sea salt crystals

~ Cook the sweet potatoes via your preferred method (I always use the microwave for speed). Cut the cooked sweet potatoes into large chunks.
~ Combine the sweet potato chunks, vegan marg or butter, and orange juice in a large bowl, and coarsely mash with a potato masher until the sweet potatoes are chunky and the ingredients are well-combined.
~ Stir in the cinnamon, cloves, and sea salt to taste.
~ Serve warm, sprinkled with a bit more of the sea salt crystals!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Whole Wheat Double-Banana Cake

My previous post writes of double-corn polenta and the topic of this post is double-banana cake, both addressing duplicate quantities, and, equally notably, yellow foods. I could make much of this - yellow, is, after all, often associated with spring, so perhaps my recent predilections for abundant yellow ingredients in the face of impending cooler temperatures is indicative of a longing to bypass winter and herald the arrival of spring with greater immediacy. Or, perhaps, given the inherent connection between Spring and rebirth, one might suggest I am processing a desire for rejuvenation and renewed health through the actions of baking and simmering.

All this, it seems, might be gathered from spoonfuls of polenta and fluffy, freshly baked cakes.

Analysis aside, however, I for the time, am content... To simply find glory and beauty in an abundance of corn, and of bananas.

Whole Wheat Double-Banana Cake

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup light nonhydrogenated vegan margarine (such as SmartBalance Light)
2 cups raw turbinado sugar
3 eggs
3 cups mashed ripe bananas
6 T vanilla almond milk
2 tsp vanilla

~ Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Coat 3 9X5" loaf pans or 1 9X11" baking pan with cooking spray, then dust with flour.
~ Gently stir together the whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder.
~ Beat together the vegan marg and turbinado sugar until fluffy.
~ Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
~ Stir in the bananas.
~ Stir in half of the flour mixture.
~ Stir in the almond milk and vanilla.
~ Stir in the remaining flour mixture.
~ Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s). Bake for 50 to 55 minutes - until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Serve warm or cool, topped with whipped cream or ice cream if you fancy... :-)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Creamy Double-Corn Polenta

I'm starting to feel the ever-present pressures of our multi-faceted lives increase exponentially, both in the joys of wedding planning, the blessings of longer hours at work, the continuing challenges of doctors appointments and side effects from new medications, and the mundane realities of loads of laundry still awaiting me at the conclusion of a traffic-filled daily commute. These are, after all, our lives - we struggle, we strive, and take comfort in the fact that we know we are not alone in our fervent wish for more hours in the day. The end result, though, is that I've been forced to blog much less frequently than I would like, and while I've been in denial of this fact for a while now I finally concluded the time has come to confess, and apologize, in the hope that you, my wonderful readers, will forgive me occasionally, slightly, longer pauses between posts than usual. I fully intend to remain in the blog world, as enthusiastic as ever, I have simply finally had to admit to myself that while weeks when I'm able to blog every other day will still shine forth, reality might bring me a week or two when I have to choose sleep over blogging just to make sure I get 3 or 4 hours of sleep that night! :-) I hope you will remain patient with me, as you always have, my dear readers.

And now, in the spirit of reflection, I will share with you that the moment of confession noted above was most definitely inspired by the occasion of Yom Kippur today, which is both the Jewish day of atonement and the final step in ushering in the Jewish new year. Yom Kippur also happens to be a day of fasting, which, I suppose, isn't exactly the most fitting thematic topic for a cooking blog, so I shall at this moment share with you the comforting polenta dish we fixed last week... and may we all find comfort in the coming days, our coming meals shared in the company of loved ones, and most of all, in the entire coming year.

Happy Jewish New Year!

Creamy Double-Corn Polenta with Honey-Mustard Roasted Chicken or Tofu
(Inspired by August 2010 issue of Bon Appetit)

For the Honey-Mustard Roasted Chicken or Tofu:
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 T lemon juice
2 T honey
1/8 tsp granulated garlic
1 1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs OR 1 1/2 lb firm tofu, pressed dry and cut into 1" thick slices

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a large covered baking dish with cooking spray or prepare a roasting bag by placing it inside a 9X11" baking pan.
~ Whisk together the mustard, lemon juice, honey, and garlic. Sprinkle the chicken or tofu with salt and pepper, and then coat generously with the mustard sauce.
~ Transfer the chicken or tofu to the baking dish or roasting bag, and either cover the baking dish or fasten the roasting bag closed. Transfer to the oven, and bake for 40 min for the chicken, or 20 min for the tofu.

For the Creamy Double-Corn Polenta:
6 cups vegetable broth
1 cup coarse polenta cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 T sugar
2 cups corn kernels
4oz low-fat cream cheese

~ Bring the broth to a boil over high heat.
~ Whisk in the polenta, salt, and sugar. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring constantly, until the polenta is thick, creamy, and tender.
~ Stir in the corn kernels and cook for 5 more minutes, stirring constantly.
~ Remove the polenta from the heat, mix in the cream cheese, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

~ To serve, spoon polenta onto plates and top with the chicken or tofu!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Three-Cheese Macaroni and Cheese

It's been a quiet weekend, as I had to work this weekend and I've been other the weather, but I wanted to make our days festive still, so I created a special, surprise dish for Zach on Saturday evening! I have to confess I almost didn't post this dish, as it isn't exactly light by any standards, but, after all, every healthful approach to eating should include room for occasional luxurious indulgences, right? And, furthermore, Zach and our dear next-door-neighbor-friend, Pam, both sang its praises so highly that I simply couldn't resist... ;-)

I might also point out that I did use low-fat cheese, 2% milk instead of cream, and whole wheat pasta in this luscious macaroni and cheese, so perhaps I may even call this dish both naughty and virtuous? ;-)

Three-Cheese Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb whole wheat rotini (or other similar spiral-shaped whole wheat pasta)
8oz low-fat jalapeno-cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
6 slices center-cut bacon or turkey bacon, diced (optional)
1 T light, nonhydrogenated vegan margarine (such as SmartBalance Light) or butter
3 T flour
2 cups 2% milk
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
2 T dehydrated onion
8oz low-fat sharp cheddar cheese, cut into small chunks

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 3-quart casserole dish with cooking spray.
~ Cook the whole wheat pasta according to package directions.
~ Stir together the jalapeno-cheddar cheese and the mozzarella cheese. Set aside 2 cups of the cheese mixture.
~ If using the bacon, cook in a large saucepan over medium heat until crisp. If you opt for turkey bacon, you'll probably need to coat the pan with cooking spray. Once the bacon is crisp, use a slotted spoon to transfer it to paper towels to drain.
~ If you've used regular bacon, you should have around 2 T drippings in the pan, still over medium heat. If you're using turkey bacon or no bacon, add 2 T olive oil to the pan.
~ Melt the SmartBalance Light or butter in the pan, whisk in the flour, and then gradually pour in the milk in a small stream, whisking constantly.
~ Bring the white sauce to a boil over medium-high heat, continuing to stir constantly, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 2 min.
~ Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the sharp cheddar chunks, as well as the shredded cheese remaining after the 2 cups were set aside.
~ Fold the whole wheat pasta into the cheese sauce.
~ If you're using bacon, gently toss the cooked bacon with the reserved 2 cups of shredded cheese.
~ Spoon half of the pasta mixture into the casserole dish. Top with 1 cup of reserved shredded cheese. Follow with the remaining half of the pasta, and the remaining cup of shredded cheese.
~ Cover the casserole dish, and bake on the middle rack of the oven for 20 min.
~ Change the oven setting to broil, uncover the casserole dish, and broil for 3 min.
~ Serve immediately, warm and oh so grand!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pantry Treasures: Sunflower Seed Focaccia

Some pantry ingredients lend themselves immediately to a purpose, such as a bag of polenta cornmeal or a jar of quinoa. But what is one to do with half a cup of roasted sunflower seeds? Why, exactly what I always do when faced with any ingredient lurking about the cupboard aimlessly - use it to make either soup or bread. In the case of the sunflower seeds, I chose the latter...

(Zach and I recently decided to make a concerted effort to employ the contents of our larder much more diligently. To this effect, we're currently purchasing only fresh fruits, vegetables, and a few other perishable ingredients until we have put the entirety of our pantry (with the exception of staples such as red wine vinegar, black beans, etc) to use. Thus, I've decided to start a periodic series entitled Pantry Treasures, featuring recipes created during our time cooking only from the bountiful grocery store known as our cabinets.)

Sunflower Seed Focaccia

5 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups wheat bran
1/2 cup ground flax seeds
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup corn meal
1 tsp coarse see salt
12 oz beer
1 1/4 cups low fat buttermilk
1 T olive oil
1 tsp Za'atar (or oregano)
1 tsp coarse sea salt

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9X11" baking pan with cooking spray.
~ Stir all the dry ingredients (with the exception of the Za'atar and the 2nd tsp of sea salt) together in a very large bowl.
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and stir in the beer and the buttermilk until a very thick dough forms.
~ Transfer the dough to the baking dish, and, using your hands, press the dough out to fill the baking dish evenly.
~ Drizzle the olive oil over the top of the dough. Sprinkle the dough with the Za'atar (or oregano) and the remaining 1 tsp of sea salt.
~ Bake for 20 to 25 min - until the top is golden, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean.
~ Serve warm or cool - best warm, though! :-)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pantry Treasures: Garlic-Stuffed Olives

After a thorough review of our blessedly abundant (translation: shockingly cluttered and disorganized) pantry last week, Zach and I decided to make a concerted effort to employ the contents of our larder much more diligently. To this effect, we decided to only purchase fresh fruits, dairy, and other such perishable ingredients until we had put the entirety of our pantry (with the exception of staples such as red wine vinegar, black beans, etc) to use.

Thus far, so many delicious recipes have emerged from the process of alighting upon a random ingredient and deeming it the star in a rather spontaneously created dish, that I've decided to start a periodic series entitled Pantry Treasures, featuring recipes created during our time cooking only from the bountiful grocery store known as our cabinets.

The first dish we concocted in this vein actually revolved around an ingredient in our fridge - a jar of olives, awe-inspiring in their mammoth size, gloriously stuffed with wonderfully briny garlic cloves. A fanciful purchase, they were grand and elegant for an impromptu tapas dinner, after which they faded into the sunset of a small shelf inside the door of the fridge... Until now.

3 bell peppers followed me home from Trader Joe's, alluring in their vibrant color and crisp summer freshness. A saute pan, some olive oil, the afore-mentioned olives, and a most rapturous dish was born. Who knew tidying the fridge could be so romantic?

Sauteed Olives and Peppers with Herbed Mashed Potatoes

4 large potatoes
1% milk
1 T minced chives
1 T minced parsley
1/4 tsp oregano
2 T olive oil
1 lb skinless and boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1" pieces OR 1 lb firm tofu, pressed dry and cut into 1" cubes
3 medium-sized bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
5 T dry white wine
1 T lemon juice
1 cup finely chopped green olives (we used garlic-stuffed olives for this dish, which are great if you have them handy)
2 T finely minced parsley

~ Cook the potatoes according to your favorite method (I simply used the microwave). In a large pot over low heat, mash the potatoes with however much milk is needed to make them smooth and fluffy. Fold in the parsley, chives, and oregano, remove from the heat, cover, and set aside.
~ Season the chicken or tofu to taste with salt and pepper.
~ Using 1 T olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the chicken or tofu for about 3 minutes, until browned. Remove the chicken to tofu to a bowl, and set aside.
~ Add the remaining 1 T olive oil to the skillet, reduce the heat to medium, and saute the peppers and onion for 3 minutes, until they are just beginning to soften.
~ Add the garlic, and cook for 2 more minutes.
~ Stir in the white wine, scraping the bottom of the skillet to loosen any brown bits. Continue to cook until the peppers and onions are very soft.
~ Return the chicken or tofu to the skillet, and cook for 4 more minutes or so (if using chicken, make sure the chicken is cooked through).
~ Reduce the heat to low, and stir in the lemon juice, olives, and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
~ Serve immediately, while nice and warm, spooned over the mashed potatoes!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Roasted Broccoli with Mint

May I digress briefly and discuss the weather? (The topic will return to food momentarily, for certain...) Just a few days ago, uncannily close to when schools returned to session, the temperatures dipped slightly. Not significantly, just into the low 80's in the day and 60's at night, perfectly lovely weather, actually, generally agreed upon as far more desirable than our usual upper-90's Summer heat, but I viewed the subtle meteorological shift with Great Alarm. Firstly, this is the South, we aren't supposed to have cooler temperatures until well into Fall, and Summer is most definitely still in season on paper, so what on earth, I muttered to myself, is the weather doing cooling down already? Secondly, as much as I love Autumn harvest recipes and the glorious excuse to use cinnamon in every possible incarnation, cold weather causes me Great Distress. I've been known to wear sweaters in 70-degree weather, so you can imagine how I react to our positively frigid Southern winters that dare to plunge into the 40's. I watch the weather with all the trepidation of a first-time politician eying polling stats. If the weather rockets over 100 degrees, I'm still relaxed and content. The onset of cooler temperatures, however... Let's just say the polls aren't exactly tuned in my favor the next two seasons ahead.

So, what did I do as the Canadian Geese migrated overhead yesterday? Soon, I will remind myself how much I love winter squashes, sweet potatoes, and cabbages, and I will find calm and contentment once more in the cycle of the seasons. For now, though, I marshaled the herb garden in protest, and cooked something with mint. Roasted broccoli with mint, to be exact. Because mint, fresh, crisp, jaunty and soothing all at once, reminds me of summer... and I still have 19 days left to cherish.

Roasted Broccoli with Mint

8 cups broccoli florets
Olive oil cooking spray
2 T olive oil
2 T apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp finely minced fresh mint or 1/4 tsp dried
1/8 cup finely minced fresh parsley

~ Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
~ Mist the broccoli florets with olive oil cooking spray, then toss with salt and pepper to taste.
~ Spread the florets in a single layer on a baking sheet, and roast on the upper rack of the oven for 15 to 20 min, turning once, until tender and lightly browned on the outside.
~ Meanwhile, whisk together the olive oil, cider vinegar, mint, and parsley, along with salt and pepper to taste.
~ When the broccoli has finished roasting, transfer the florets to a large bowl, drizzle with the vinaigrette, and toss gently to coat. Serve warm!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Banana Flax Bread

A few mornings ago, I was contemplating three rather excessively ripe bananas while Zach and his father, seated at the kitchen table, were having a discussion about fiber. This fortuitous collision of ordinary circumstances was all the suggestion I needed to bake a nice, hearty, fiber-filled banana bread. It feels a little odd to think I was inspired by a conversation that eventually led to less culinary topics such as, um, regularity, so I like to surmise my true motivation was the decadent ripeness of the dark, creamy, caramel-sweet bananas... but a little extra fiber, especially in the form of nutty wheat bran and flax seeds, is never a displeasure.

Banana Flax Bread

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat bran
1/3 cup raw turbinado sugar
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas
6 oz fat-free vanilla yogurt
2 eggs
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup finely chopped dark chocolate (at least 80% cacao)

~ Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.
~ In a large bowl, combine the flours, wheat bran, sugar, ground flax, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
~ In a medium bowl, whisk together bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter and vanilla.
~ Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, and stir just until moistened.
~ Fold in chocolate chips.
~ Spoon batter into prepared pan, and bake for about 50 minutes - until a wooden skewer inserted in center of loaf comes out clean. Cool loaf in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove loaf from pan and cool completely on rack... or serve warm! Perfect toasted for breakfast, or with whipped cream for dessert...