Recently, a friend emailed me a link to this interview with Bel Kaufman (author of the legendary novel Up the Down Staircase). What struck me most about Kaufman (apart from the fact that she’s still vibrant and joking at 100), was her comment about growing up in Russia during the revolution. At the time, she said, ”Dead bodies were frozen in peculiar positions on the street. . . . But a child has no basis for comparison. Doesn’t every child step over dead bodies? I didn’t know any different.”
In the home where I grew up, my father’s near-ascetic approach to life (after surviving both the Depression and World War II) colored everything we did; we kids just accepted it as part of life. Our family feasted daily on odd cuts of meat (sweetbreads, anyone?), the hard ends of cheese blocks and other atypical fare (my mother became adept at baking with dozens of cracked eggs at one time) because those were the foods that his butcher-shop customers rejected, and of course “food can’t just go to waste.” My sisters and I learned quickly to amass factual evidence and then present a detailed, point-by-point argument to support every request we had because Dad would not permit any new purchases if we couldn’t first convince him that they were absolutely necessary (new boots: yes; bicycle: no; pencil case, yes; Spirograph set: unequivocally no).**
Sunday was established as “family time,” since it was the only day my father didn’t work. Ironically, on those days (after we all had brunch), he chose to drive back to his butcher shop where he’d spent the previous six days, toting all three of us kids, so that our mother could conduct her weekly grocery shopping (in addition to meat, dairy and eggs, his store also carried a few European canned or packaged goods, which made up the bulk of our meals during the week. We grew up snacking on Kosher dill pickles, munching on dense, dark rye bread, spooning out cherries in light syrup straight from the jar or eating chunks of polenta for breakfast).
On the way home from the store, we’d invariably drive through the Town of Mount Royal (one of the nouveau riche areas of town) to admire the houses and then stop at the Mount Royal Cemetery, the three of us wedged into the station wagon’s back seat (the cargo area was, by then, replete with groceries), for our gratis entertainment. My father would inch along so that we could leisurely admire the myriad floral arrangements, stopping occasionally so we could exit the car and examine various headstones (“Hey, look, Mom, this guy’s last name is ‘Outhouse’!!”–”Ricki, this one is called ‘Vowels! Eh, Eeee! Aye, Oh, You. . . ha ha ha!“) or inhale the chaotic perfume from the variegated mounds of blossoms piled here and there. When I was seven or eight, I once plucked a tulip from the mass of petals and leaves, thinking I’d preserve it in a vase once we got home. One of the groundskeepers suddenly appeared, arms flailing, to warn me, “No touch! Belong to family! Big family!” and I immediately understood that we had been impinging on a private plot, and dropped the stem back down as if it had bitten me.
What? Doesn’t every child wander through the cemetery for fun on Sunday afternoons?
[Porridge, fully loaded: here topped with spiced almond butter and goji berries.]
Despite my best efforts, it seems I’ve either inherited or adopted some of my father’s parsimonious ways. When shopping, I can rarely bring myself to spend money on what I consider frivolous expenses (why pay for prepared foods when you can usually make your own? Why pay for patterns on your paper napkins when white ones are perfectly serviceable? Why pay for brand name plastic wrap when generic is just as good?).
As a result, even small indulgences feel really big to me, and what I consider “indulgent” doesn’t necessarily require spending money. To me,”indulgent” is buying canned beans (for the occasional bean butter) rather than soaking my own; or jarred organic applesauce for baking rather than cooking up a homemade batch. It means purchasing a copy of a novel rather than borrowing it from the library. It means lounging in PJs on a Sunday morning to read the paper with the HH–while sipping on Matcha Tea (huge indulgence!) instead of getting to work at the computer.
And it means taking time to bake my porridge rather than simmering it on the stovetop.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve enjoyed several forms of grain-free porridge, after spying this recipe on Brittany’s site and then this one on Gretchen’s. Both dishes rely on squash or pumpkin as their base. I loved the idea, but wanted to include grains (especially when I landed on Day Two of the Fab Detox, focusing on whole, gluten-free grains). My version here used acorn squash, but any kind will do; and more often than not, I enlist my beloved kabocha for the task. Of course, my baked porridge is no longer grain-free, but its luxurious, coconut milk richness and nubby texture works perfectly in tandem with the fragrant spices, and the natural sweetness of the squash makes it a perfect sugar-free treat. Eating a bowlful of this will make you feel very spoiled indeed.
So go ahead, indulge. (What? Doesn’t everyone eat squash-based porridge for breakfast?).
(“Mum, we’d be happy to eat a bowlful of this porridge for breakfast–or any time! And I don’t know about you, but romping through a cemetery sounds pretty normal to us.”)
** Whenever we have an argument (shocking, I know–but it does happen), the HH inevitably tells me I should have been a lawyer given how I can debate an issue to the bitter end. Thanks, Dad.
Millet is one of the healthiest gluten-free grains, possessing alkalizing qualities as well as whole-grain fiber and antioxidants. Combined with squash, the result is a winning combination both in the taste and health-promoting categories. This would make a lovely warm pudding for dessert, too.
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Grease a covered casserole dish with coconut oil or spray with nonstick spray.
Place the millet, rice milk and water in a medium pot and bring to the boil. Turn off heat and add the squash, then whisk to combine well. Add remaining ingredients and stir well. Turn into the prepared casserole dish.
Cover the casserole and bake in preheated oven for 55-65 minutes, stirring once every 20 minutes or so, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the millet is very soft (if the mixture appears too dry before the millet is cooked, add a bit more rice milk and return to the oven). Stir again before serving. Makes four servings. May be frozen.
One of the things I admire about my dad is that he speaks something like eight languages. Having been born in Poland, he grew up in a milieu that encouraged multilingualism simply because of its promximity to so many other countries. Later, he lived in Russia and adopted their tongue; then he moved to Canada where he acquired English; and subsequently opened a butcher shop* in a multicultural Montreal neighborhood where he picked up French, Italian and Greek.
Makes me feel rather limited with my paltry English, French and reading knowledge of German (but let’s not forget that I once memorized Beowulf in its entirety, in the original Old English). The feeling is compounded every time I glance down the hallways of the college where I teach and see students who hail from virtually every country on the planet. The ambient noise as you stroll from classroom to cafeteria could rival that at the original construction site at Babel any day.
Despite not being able to speak many other languages, I do enjoy picking up other vocabularies. In fact, one way to deal with a narrow linguistic repertoire is to drop key words and phrases from other lexicons into your daily conversation. Just say them with conviction, and everyone will think you know what they mean. For instance, I can vividly recall one fellow student in the PhD program when I was at U of T (let’s call him “A. Fected”) who’d constantly use words that sounded foreign, even though in retrospect, I’ve come to believe he had no idea what most of them meant.
Mr. Fected was over 6 feet tall, with greasy black hair that stood out in jagged points like an unruly cactus. His sweaters were always a tad too tight, the sleeves a tad too short, his ego a tad too inflated. He’d saunter around the department with his trademark houndstooth woolen scarf tossed across his shoulders like Cinerella’s cape, blathering to anyone in earshot (which usually meant the poor secretary, who was too polite to kick him out of her office).
“Ah, now you see, Ricki, that blouse of yours is very outré,” he’d pontificate, gesturing with long, bony fingers, the fingernails bitten jagged. “And did you read that excerpt from Foucault last week? Elicited a bit of schadenfreud, wouldn’t you say? Then again, we are all revelers manqué in professor Drivel’s class, aren’t we? Well, you know what they say! In vino veritas! Capiche? “
Eventually, I learned to just smile beningnly and move along. It took me years to realize that he had no idea what he was talking about, either.
I’ve found that the world of food not only allows for, but encourages appropriating terms from other languages, many that contribute to the overall enjoyment and gratificaton of cooking. For instance, don’t you love making a roux? To me, it sounds like a nickname (à la George Carlin‘s “doesn’t even belong on the list”): Oh, my leetle Roux, you are so cute! I just want to pinch your leetle cheeks, my sweet Cabbage-Roux! Come live with me, my Roux, and be my love. . . ” etc. Or how about Jerry and George waxing enthusiastic over the word, “Salsa”? Myself, I’ve always liked the word muesli, even though I don’t eat the stuff. Brings to mind a very smart person deep in thought: “Let me just muesli on it for a bit.” Then there’s chiffonade; sounds like something you’d wear to a very fancy dinner party. And al dente is much more appealing than ”slightly undercooked,” isn’t it?
I could go on. . . . (but lucky for you, I won’t).
Well, as of this week,pilafhas joined my list of favorite exotic culinary terms.
Used to be, the word pilaf brought to mind all things Parisian (or sang-froid, as the French themselves might say). It reminded me of the upper-crust Français, the ones who have servants bringing their food to the table when summoned by a little bell. Maybe because it evokes thoughts of Edith Piaf, but the word pilaf sounds to me so very, very French, doesn’t it? In reality, pilaf is nothing of the sort: it’s one of the homiest, most comforting and universally appealing dishes you could imagine. These days, pilafs are prepared with just about any array of ingredients and spices from countries all over the globe.
Last week, I cooked up a fabulous Moroccan-inspired millet and butternut squash pilaf from my friend Hallie’s new cookbook, The Pure Kitchen. Are you acquainted with Hallie and her blog, Daily Bites? At once formidable and adorable, Hallie is a powerhouse in a petite package. She cooks up beautiful, healthy, natural foods that will appeal to pretty much everyone. With the publication of her book, she’s stepped into the cookbook arena, and I think she’s poised to take that world by storm.
This recipe combines our quintessential autumn veggie, butternut squash, with a host of African spices and what I consider to be an underappreciated grain, millet. The only grain known to be alkalizing in the body (which is what you want for optimum balance and immunity), millet is neutral tasting and pairs well with almost anything, sweet or savory.
When I first mixed up the pilaf, I must admit I thought it might require more spice (we tend to like a lot of spice in the DDD household), but after cooking it up and having it for lunch, I found myself returning to the pot again and again for a little nosh, before I finally packed it up and froze the leftovers to prevent myself from consuming the entire batch. It was perfect, just the way it was. I’d say the combination of creamy, sweet squash with the firm bite of the millet, the salty brine of the olives and the intermittently sweet and chewy raisins offers up a lovely and irresistible mix–for lunch, a holiday side dish, or any time.
And really, there’s nothing to match eating flavorful, satisfying, healthy food–in any language. Capiche?
*If you haven’t read this before, yes, my dad owned a butcher shop, which means I grew up eating meat every day. And yes, I now eat a vegan diet. Irony, much?
Moroccan Millet & Butternut Squash Pilaf (suitable for ACD Stage 3 and beyond*)
This hearty whole grain pilaf makes a flavorful side dish to a festive autumn or winter meal [or, in my case, accompanied by salad for a full lunch]. If butternut squash is unavailable, try using another sweet winter squash or sweet potatoes instead.
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt, or more, to taste
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (I used a red onion as that’s all I had on hand–worked just fine)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp (5 ml) brown mustard seeds
1 tsp (5 ml) ground cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) curry powder
1 cup (200 g) millet, rinsed and drained
2-1/4 cups (300 ml) water (I used half water and half veg broth)
1/4 cup (60 ml) dried currants (for ACD, omit, or use homemade dried cranberries)
1/4 cup (60 ml) pitted green olives, chopped
1/4 cup (60 ml) finely chopped flat leaf parsley
Preheat oven to 400F (200 C). On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash cubes with 1 Tbsp (15 ml) of the olive oil and 1/4 tsp (1 ml) salt. Roast for 20-30 minutes until tender and brown in spots.
Meanwhile, heat th remaining Tbsp (15 ml) oil in a medium ot over medium-low heat. Add the onion, garlic and mustard seeds. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft and translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add the cumin, curry powder and millet. Stir for one minute. Add the water. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the water is absorbed and millet is fluffy, 25-30 minutes.
Using a fork, fluff up the millet and mix in the currants, olives and parsley. Gently stir in the squash and season the pilaf to taste with salt before serving. Makes 4 servings. May be frozen.
While the HH likes to spend his weekends in the same fashion each week (sleep in; brunch at our favorite place; toodle around a bookstore; come home and listen to classical music on his beyond-our-means stereo system), I’d rather do something entirely different each Saturday and Sunday–go to the museum, say, or the farmers market, or read my latest book of choice, or cook up something new in the DDD kitchen, or launch a campaign to get on The Ellen Show.
Similarly, on his watch, the HH takes The Girls along the exact same route each time they go for a walk. I, on the other hand, can’t help but mix it up a bit: one day to the baseball field, the next to the park, the third to the pond, and so on.
I can’t imagine how people consume the exact same meal every day, or wear the same uniform to school, or choose the same car every time they purchase, or set up a room and never rearrange the furniture. I mean, don’t they get bored of those foods/ vehicles/ outfits/ spouses (sorry, must have been the influence of the recent Tiger Woods/Jesse James scandals–meant to say, “houses”)?
As you may recall, I am a lover of pancakes. My favorite breakfast back in the day (that would be the “pre-ACD, looked-okay-on-the-outside-but-was-actually-deteriorating-on-the-inside” day) was pancakes, sausages, scrambled eggs, and home fries. Never mind that those calories alone could power the entire Gulf Coast cleanup mission; the quality of what I ate was none too great, either.
One aspect of my standard “big breakfast” at restaurants that I didn’t enjoy, however, was the sameness of it. Wherever we went, it was invariably the same pancake mix each place used, resulting in identical puffy, seemingly inflated, fried-in-hydrogenated-grease cakes that resemble those colored kitchen sponges a little too much for my comfort. (I think they just all used Bisquick as their base, now that I look back on it). Even in my own kitchen, I’ve had to attempt various types and flavors of pancake to keep my flapjack love alive.
[Millet, rice, tapioca, chickpea flours with blueberries and cashew custard sauce]
Well, the more I’ve experimented with GF baking, the more I’ve come to love the fact that most recipes require a long ingredient list with at least two or three types of flour. At first, like everyone else, I found this necessity a real drag; I mean, who has all these items in the pantry? (Of course, there’s always all-purpose GF flour, but to me that sort of defeats the purpose.). Unlike baking with wheat, I realized, gluten free baking affords the opportunity to alter the recipe to your mood, to a particular meal, to a personal taste. Feel like something rustic and hearty? Try amaranth, or quinoa as the main flour. Something light and delicate? Your choice is millet or sorghum. A hint of chocolate? Teff adds depth and color. And so on. Baked goods made with gluten free flours are unique and distinctive; like snowflakes, no two are alike. And this is a good thing.
Still, there are ways to streamline the process. Something I noticed when baking from an established GF recipe was that most GF mixes include a grain, a starch, and a bean or legume flour. In a pinch, they even replaced the beany flour with another grain. If I didn’t particularly like the flavor of the specific grain or bean that was chosen, or if I was missing an ingredient, I decided to experiment, swapping out one for the other. And guess what? It almost always worked! Better yet, sometimes my result was even more flavorful or texturally appealing than the original.
You know how slot machines (those “one-armed bandits”) always display a new combination of pictures (cherries, oranges, and lemons, say) each time you pull the lever? That’s how I think of this recipe. Like Michael Ruhlman’s concept in Ratio, this basic recipe provides the proportions, and you can change up the contents any way you wish.
There are four main categories–grain, starch, legume and fruit or nut–and you can exchange any item from one category for another from the same category. So each time you make these pancakes, they’ll turn up a little differently, yet still delicious.
If you’re feeling adventurous, go ahead and experiment, too. Luckily, this pancake recipe was created for substitutions, so any combination should come out palatable, at the least (and once in a while, you get that “coins pouring out the slot in waves” lucky combination that you write down and keep forever.).
There are four flour ingredients in these pancakes, in varied amounts: either 1/2 cup (120 ml) or 1/4 cup (60 ml)***. Feel free to replace the grains with any other grains from the same category and your pancakes should still be light and fluffy (see exception, below). Replace the starch with any other starch (see exception) and your pancakes will still be light and fluffy. And pull out that bean and replace it with another bean or legume and yes, Virginia, your pancakes will still be light and fluffly.
[Amaranth, teff, oat and sorghum with blueberries and warm almond sauce]
So far, I’ve made these with the following combinations: amaranth, teff, oat (a grain exception that functions as a starch in these recipes) and sorghum; millet, buckwheat, oat and whole bean; rice, arrowroot and carob; and rice, millet, arrowroot and garfava–and they’ve all come out great.
This is the perfect pancake recipe for me: I can switch it up every time I have pancakes for breakfast, yet know that whatever I’ve got, I’ll enjoy the results. No more breakfast boredom! The spice of life never tasted so good.
I’d love for you to try out your own unique combination of pancake ingredients and share them here! Feel free to play with the recipe and replace the flours with others from the same category, the tahini with nut butter or other seed butter, the fruits with one(s) of your choice or nuts/seeds, the flax with chia (just remember that you’ll need much less chia–about 1 tsp/5 ml finely ground–instead of each Tbsp/15 ml flax), or the soy milk with almond, hemp or rice milk. Instead of vanilla, how about almond extract, or lemon? Instead of cinnamon, how about ginger, cardamom, or another spice? It’s all good!
[Rice, millet, arrowroot and garfava flours with walnut-cacao nut butter]
With all the possibilities out there, I can’t wait to hear about what you create! Let me know if you try out your own combination, and I’ll add a link to your post.
Have fun with it, and enjoy your varied pancake breakfasts! And with Mother’s Day tomorrow, pancakes might just offer a perfect brunch for you and Mom.
“Mum, we’re not that great at cooking pancakes–lack of opposable thumbs, and all that–but we would be happy to share them with you tomorrow.”
** Corn flakes with 1/2 banana, 6 prunes, and a cup of tea, in case you were wondering.
Pick-Your-Own GF Pancakes
This recipe is a serendipitous invention that came about because I was out of brown rice flour for another pancake I wished to make. By the time I was done, I’d altered almost every ingredient on the list and had discovered a fabulous, all-purpose generic pancake recipe. This is the last pancake recipe you’ll ever need!
1/2 cup (120 ml)*** millet or other grain flour, or use 1/4 cup (60 ml) each of two different grain flours (see List A, below)
1/4 cup (60 ml) sorghum, oat, or other starchy flour (see List B, below)
1/4 cup (60 ml) chickpea or other bean-based flour (see List C, below)
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) xanthan gum (optional, but pancakes will be less cohesive without it)
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) cinnamon, ginger, or other spice of choice (you may need to reduce the amount to 1/4 tsp/1 ml for other spices)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) GF baking powder
1/4 tsp (1 ml) baking soda
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
1 Tbsp (15 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice PLUS
plain or vanilla soy, almond or rice milk to equal 1-1/4 cups (300 ml)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) sunflower or other light-tasting oil, preferably organic
1 Tbsp (15 ml) finely ground flax seeds
1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp (2. 5 ml) additional flavoring, such as almond, lemon, or coconut (optional)
1/2 cup (120 ml) fresh or frozen berries or chopped fruit (such as apples, bananas or pears–do not thaw first if frozen), or nut pieces
In a large bowl, sift together the grain flour, starchy flour, beany flour, xanthan gum, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Pour the 1 Tbsp (15 ml) lemon juice into a glass measuring cup and add milk of choice until liquid measures 1-1/4 cups (300 ml). To the cup, add the agave or stevia, oil, flax seeds, vanilla and other flavoring, if using.
Pour the liquid mixture over the dry ingredients and stir just to blend. Gently fold in the fruit or nuts.
Heat a nonstick frypan over medium heat. Using a large ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup (80 ml) measuring cup, place scoops of batter in the preheated pan and spread out a bit so that pancake isn’t so thick. Cook 4-5 minutes, until the tops are dry on top (they will lose their shine) and begin to brown on the edges (this may take time–be patient!). Flip pancakes and cook another 3-4 minutes, until both sides are deep golden brown (they need to be well done or the insides will remain too moist). As you finish the batter, keep pancakes warm in a low (300F/150C) oven. Makes 7-9 pancakes. May be frozen.
These are great when fresh; if you wish to store them a day or two, wrapped in plastic in the fridge, they may dry out a bit and become a bit more crumbly next time round. To avoid this outcome, you can always add 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) xanthan gum to the dry ingredients when you first prepare the pancakes.
***Note to Metric Cooks: I’ve used volume measurements even for the flours here, as weights will vary depending on which grains, beans, etc. you choose. I’ve found that scooping and leveling with a dry measuring cup (the graduated metal ones) works well.
Here’s a basic list of gluten-free flours and beans/legumes (notice that oats are now on the list!) to help you along. Easy!
And here are the lists of various flours I’ve found that work well (sorry, I haven’t mastered how to insert a chart yet!). The various combinations I’ve tried so far are listed at the bottom of the post.
Do you know of any others? Let me know! And have fun!
List A: Grains
brown rice flour
buckwheat flour (technically a seed, but functions as a grain)
List B: Starchy Flours
sorghum flour (technically a grain, but functions as a starch)
oat flour (technically a grain, but functions as a starch)
List C: Beany Flours
chickpea (besan) flour
whole bean flour (possibly only available in Canada, at Bulk Barn)
This month, Kim and I decided to go with another versatile vegetable that can be used in a host of different ways. Are you ready to exercise your kitchen creativity and cook up some Sweet or Savory dishes that contain. . .
Did you know that, of all vegetables, leafy greens contain the most nutrients? No wonder they’re considered the royalty of the vegetable world! And when it comes to spinach, Popeye knew what he was talking about: this veggie really is a nutritional superhero. With a light, delicate texture and mild flavor, it’s no surprise that spinach is the most popular of all the leafy greens.
Besides offering up ten times your daily requirement of Vitamin K (essential for healthy blood formation), three times the daily Vitamin A, and almost 100% of the daily manganese and folate, a cup of boiled spinach also provides a host of other minerals, vitamins, the amino acid tryptophan, and some heart-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids. The anti-cancer properties of spinach (and all leafy greens) are well-known; this delicate leaf can combat prostate and ovarian cancers, improve bone and cardiovascular health, keep your mind sharp and your eyes healthy (the latter mostly due to the carotenoid lutein, which has been proven to help prevent macular degeneration, a common cause of blindness as people age).
According to Paul Pitchford in his classic tome, Healing with Whole Foods, spinach is also a considered cooling food within the traditions of Chinese medicine; it “has a ‘sliding’ nature, which facilitates internal body movements such as bowel action and urination, and thus is treatment for constipation and urinary difficulty.” Moreover, the high chlorophyll and iron content help to build blood. (Beware, however, which spinach you buy; according to the Environmental Working Group, spinach ranks number eight in the top twelve fruits and vegetables most sprayed with pesticides. With spinach, if you can afford it, it’s best to buy organic).
To enter this month’s SOS challenge, simply create and post a recipe using spinach before the deadline of midnight, May 20, 2010, CST, and send it to soskitchenchallengeATgmailDOTcom (note: you don’t have to cook up an original recipe–any recipe that uses the ingredient is just fine, even if you found it somewhere else!).
For full details on what kinds of ingredients to use and how to enter the challenge, see this page. I’ll post the roundup (as will Kim, on her blog) a week after the deadline so you can take your time browsing through the amazing collection of recipes before the next challenge!
My first contribution to the challenge this month is this quiche that’s been a staple in our house for as long as the HH and I have been together (that’s more than a dozen years now–yikes!). In fact, it’s such a standby recipe that I was sure I’d already posted it–but couldn’t find it in the archives.
I first tasted quiche as a callow undergrad at the University of Windsor, one weekend when my room mate’s friend (who hailed from the booming metropolis of Toronto) came to visit. Ildiko (why is it all the good cooks I encountered as a university student had unusual names?) arrived with backpack in tow, from which she withdrew in quick succession, a bag of flour, a pound of butter, a carton of cream, various zip-loc bags of chopped vegetables, and, ultimately, a wooden rolling pin. It was like watching the Grinch and his bottomless bag of gifts at the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas--every time she pulled out another item, I assumed it would be the last, but there was always one more to follow.
Right there in our dorm room, Ildiko mixed up a pie crust, deftly rolled it out on a piece of wax paper on my desktop, then transferred it, seamlessly, to the pie plate. Next she whipped together the eggs and cream, a few seasonings, and sprinkled in the chopped veggies. We baked the quiche in a toast-r-oven we had in the room, and as the scent began to fill the air, I suspected that quiche was something I was going to enjoy. Later, as we devoured slice after slice, the three of us polishing off the entire thing in no time, I learned that quiche came in infinite varieties–you could add pretty much any fillers you liked, but it was the custard that really defined it.
I can’t say I craved quiche over the years, but I did occasionally notice it on restaurant menus and think, “hmm, it would be nice to have a slice of that.” As with that first quiche back as an undergrad, though, it was the custardy texture that most appealed to me.
And then, I discovered silken tofu–and this recipe. This classic vegan quiche is one I found online and adapted (sorry, I can’t recall the source; so if the recipe looks familiar, please let me know!). To my palate, it reproduces almost exactly the same smooth-yet-firm, moist and creamy custardy filling. I’ve upped the veggies considerably compared to that first pie, but the general idea is remarkably similar to the “real thing.” In fact, this is one of my go-to recipes at home, and a regular feature when I teach gluten-free cooking classes.
With limitless possibilities for the vegetables in the filling, this quiche can be altered to your tastes and the occasion at hand. I use a handy millet crust, but again, feel free to change it up; if you’ve got a nice pastry crust that you think will go well with this, go ahead and use it.
To see Kim’s first spinach recipe (a creamy spinach and celeriac soup), check this post.
“Mum, real dogs do eat quiche, you know. As long as you pick out the onions, that is. And we like that custardy texture, too.”
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Lightly grease a pie plate, or line with parchment paper.
Prepare the crust: Pour millet into a small pot and add the broth. Bring to boil over high heat, then lower heat to simmer, cover, and let simmer for 25 minutes, or until almost all the liquid is absorbed and the millet is soft and beginning to fall apart (if necessary, add extra stock until the millet reaches this consistency). Stir well, then immediately pour the millet into the pie pan and, using the back of a spoon or wet hands (and being careful not to burn yourself!), press the millet into the pie plate to create a “crust.” (Dipping the spoon or your hands in water helps). Bake in preheated oven 10 minutes until slightly dry.
Prepare the filling: Heat oil in a large frypan and sauté onions for about 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent and soft. Add the pepper, carrot, and spinach, and sauté for another 5 minutes, until the spinach is wilted and other ingredients begin to soften. Cover and turn off heat.
In a food processor or blender, mix the tofu, miso, tahini and Bragg’s until very smooth. Pour the mixture over the vegetables in the pan and stir to combine well. Turn into the crust in the pie pan, and smooth the top. If desired, sprinkle with a little paprika.
Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes, until the top is light golden brown. Remove from oven and let sit for about 10 minutes to set before serving. May be eaten hot, at room temperature, or cold. Makes 8 servings. May be frozen.
After the HH and I had been dating for about four months and he’d already passed the “willing to tolerate my multiple quirks and neuroses” test, I decided it would be acceptable for him to finally meet my family and old friends in Montreal. I cajoledcoercedbegged invited him to join me one weekend as I headed east. We arranged to stay at the CFO’s place, to visit with the rest of the family, to attend a dinner party at my friend Babe’s, and to spend the remainder of our time sight-seeing; the plans were all set.
And then, during the drive across the highway, the HH contracted some bizarre, sci-fi worthy flu virus and ended up spending the entire visit in bed–febrile, congested, inflamed and sullying tissue after tissue with unsavory bodily fluids. My relatives encountered a slightly dazed, highly medicated, Rudolph-nosed guy who didn’t make the greatest impression (he’s made up for it since).
Ever since that sniffling début, it’s become somewhat of a running gag in our house: whenever the HH and I travel to Montreal, one of us is inevitably sick (most recently, it was my turn; I suffered a wicked sinus headache for the first day, but recuperated by the second). The only time we both felt fine, turned out the CFO was the one with a terrible cold, which she unwittingly passed on as a parting gift to me. Two days after returning to Toronto, I was felled once again.
It may be a cliché to say that men are babies when it comes to having colds, that they whine and complain and moan, even as a woman suffering the same symptoms would simply drag herself from bed and get on with it. Well, not my HH. As in most things, he and I are total opposites when it comes to illness: if the HH gets sick, he retreats to bed, lies inert for about 48 hours, then emerges, like Ripley out of a stasis chamber, exactly as he was before. (The first time this occurred, I was truly alarmed: I was certain the guy had croaked on me, as he literally slept for two days without even getting up to eat or drink). I, on the other hand, am more likely stricken with a chronic, pervasive, low-grade, not-quite-debilitating-but-definitely-quite-annoying set of symptoms that lasts anywhere from four days to two months. I can function, but I’m miserable while I’m doing it.
One weekend a few weeks ago, Chaser had her first encounter with the HH’s unique form of healing. After he crawled into bed, I closed the door, as usual, so Dad could sleep it off. The Girls were entirely thrown off their regular routine. They moped about outside the bedroom, looking rather–well, hang-dog.
Finally, around 5:00 PM, the door swung open and there he was–and vertical! The Girls were ecstatic (“Does this mean we get to go to the trail now??”). Even as hope faded when the HH plunked himself in front of the TV, a dull patina of illness still coating his visage and a network of sheet-wrinkles, like tributaries on a map, spread across his face, those Girls still stuck by their Dad.
I headed to the kitchen to whip up something hearty for the HH’s first meal back in civilization. Before I could even grab a spatula, however, there were The Girls at my feet, staring patiently. Ah, yes, I’d forgotten that 5:00 PM is dog dinnertime. (“Right, Mum. Food trumps sick owner. Sorry Dad, but you’re on your own.”)
As to the humans’ dinner, I decided on tempeh, a food I love but don’t eat often enough. Pairing a vague notion of BBQ season with a half-consumed jar of apple butter, I had my starting point. I realize there’s a plethora of BBQ recipes out there around this time of year, from the archetypal Wingz at Don’t Eat Off the Sidewalk to these recent lovelies at Happy Herbivore and another fairly recent version at Vegan Dad. But I was determined to use that apple butter, so I just grabbed a few other items from the fridge and began to mix.
The results were, after all, very pleasing. The tempeh’s meaty texture works well with the slightly spicy, slightly sweet flavors of the sauce. If you like BBQ sauce with a kick, you’ll enjoy this dish. Unfortunately for the HH, he missed out on that particular gustatory pleasure, as his nose was still too congested for him to really appreciate the taste. Still, the high protein content of the tempeh worked well to help rebuild his stamina, and he was back to work the following day.
But I think we’ll hold off on any more trips to Montreal–for a little while, at least.
These are slightly sweet, slightly gooey with a spicy kick. I assume they’d be even better if actually cooked on a grill, but this baked version was equally tasty.
1 package (about 3/4 pound or 350 g.) tempeh, pre-steamed or ready to cook, cut into triangles
1/4 cup unsweetened apple butter
1/2 onion, grated very fine or pureed
2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
4-6 drops Tabasco, or to taste
1 Tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
juice of 1/2 lime
Mix all ingredients except tempeh and blend well. You’ll have a a fairly thick sauce. Pour about half the sauce into the bottom of an 8 x 8 inch square greased pan. Place tempeh triangles on the sauce to fit. Spoon rest of sauce over top. Marinate at least one hour, turning tempeh over once.
Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Bake the tempeh about 20 minutes, flip the triangles over and coat with as much sauce as you can (anything you don’t scoop up now will dry to the pan–beware!). You can leave a fairly thick layer of sauce on top of each triangle. Bake 20-30 more minutes, until the sauce has dried on top and begins to brown in places. Remove from pan while still hot to avoid sticking. Makes 2-3 servings. Store leftovers in a covered container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Well, it’s certainly been a poster week for “Beginning of the Summer Semester” at the college: long lineups outside the Chair’s office (but really, doesn’t it sound better as “Office Chairs”?), students transferring from one class to the next, questions, emails; scheduling changes so speedy that students barely have time to check their timetables before they’re registered in a new course. Yep, it’s kept me on my toes, with nary a minute extra to indulge my extra-curricular activities (really, now! Get those minds out of the gutter!). Activities such as writing this blog. (Oh, and to all my students this term: Hi, Guys!)
Taking part in my Total Health course hasn’t actually helped much with the dearth of spare time, either. Now, don’t get me wrong; I am loving this course, and it’s kept me on the Path of Righteous Eating for the past 2-1/2 weeks (and I must admit, I am feeling MUCH more energetic and lighter so far).
Apart from our homework (see the Coda at the end of the post), the course requires that one prepare and eat healthy food. No, I mean ÜBER healthy food–the type I learned at nutrition school: nothing pre-packaged, nothing processed, nothing with chemicals, additives, sugar, wheat (or even flour, if I’m going to be really strict about it), nothing alcoholic, and, perhaps most difficult of all, nothing chocolate. (Yep, that’s right; those muffins and cupcakes I wrote about last time? Verboten. Banned. Prohibited. Technically not allowed. So was it lack of willpower or courageous defiance that prompted me to bake them? I’ll let you be the judge.)
What this directive translates to, for the most part, is spending more time in the kitchen. More time peeling parsnips, more time scooping seeds out of butternut squash, more time cutting leaves from collard stems, more time dicing onions, more time chopping, slicing, sautéeing, stirring, simmering, pouring, spreading, baking, cutting. The only part that doesn’t take more time is eating.
Well, for those of you who’ve been visiting this blog for a while, you may have inferred that, when it comes to cooking, I’m all about “easy.” As much as I relish veggies, whole grains, dried beans or legumes and raw nuts and seeds, I am less than enthusiastic about the time required to transform those raw materials into something worth its all-natural, unrefined, organic, hand-harvested, Artisanal Celtic sea salt.
The other night, having spent the day on campus, I got home a little later than usual. I was hungry. In fact, I was ready to eat dinner right that very minute. But dinner, unfortunately, was not ready for me. Perusing the contents of the fridge and considering what I could throw together that would satisfy both me and the HH, I came up with this lovely millet and pepper dish.
My health course has been highlighting gluten-free grains, and millet is a definite winner in that category. Great for heart health and (like all whole grains) ample in fiber, millet also offers antioxidant properties at par with, or superior to, many fruits and vegetables (such as helping prevent breast cancer, Type II diabetes, asthma or postmenopausal symptoms). Finally, it’s generally considered to be the “most alkaline” of whole grains, meaning that it supports the natural pH (acid-alkaline) balance in our blood.
For most of you, this would likely serve as a sidekick to a separate main attraction (whether tofu, tempeh, meat, or whatever). For me, it ended up as the entire meal, though I’d caution that this really isn’t protein-rich enough to use that way very often.
The best part was that it came together quickly, and still tasted great. The combination of mild curry and coconut milk adds an Asian undertone to the dish, complimented by the sweetness in the red peppers. When the veggies are combined in a casserole dish with the grain, the millet becomes imbued with a lovely golden color that’s a great visual counterpoint to the red. Pretty to look at, pleasingly aromatic and ready in a flash–it’s the perfect date side dish!
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Grease a large casserole or spray with nonstick coating.
In a medium-sized pot, combine the broth and coconut milk, and bring just to the boil over medium heat. Add the millet, lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes, until the millet is soft and most of the liquid is absorbed (if it’s not ready after 20 minutes, continue to cook for 5 minutes at a time and check until done).
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, stirring to coat the veggies with the spices, and continue to cook another 5-10 minutes, until onion is soft.
Stir the veggies into the millet mixture and turn into the casserole. Bake until heated through and slightly browned on top, 20-25 minutes. Serves two as a main course or 3 as a side dish. May be frozen.
Total Health Coda: This week’s lesson involved, once again, eating mindfully. We actually did the “eating a raisin” meditation that I mentioned in a previous post. The major insight for me, though, was delivered through an exercise we did at the end of the class (after we’d sampled at least four delectable, healthy dishes). We were asked to tune in to our bodies to seek any lingering sense of hunger, and, if so, to determine where it resided. Many in the class identified a metaphorical “hunger,” somewhere in the chest, or vicinity of the heart. As the teacher remarked, “You may feel as if you’ve eaten enough, yet still feel hungry.” In other words, this is clearly not a hunger for food per se.
For some reason, I found this realization revelatory: What? You mean it’s okay to just feel hungry, and not do anything about it? You don’t have to eat when you feel that way? Of course, I’d encountered similar sentiments over the years in books, on websites, or at lectures, but somehow honing in on the exact spot of the “hunger” made it abundantly clear that eating, in so many cases, is used to satisfy emotional yearning as well as physical appetite.
The weather continues to annoy me, what with all the grey and gloom and snow and slush. Too much shadow (and so I take umbrage at the weather. Bah.)
Consequently, I wasn’t all too thrilled when I remembered that I had to drive about 40 minutes just to teach a cooking class this evening at a local RCSS. Besides, the coordinator had called me on Friday to tell me only six people had signed up! I love doing these classes, and the intimate number of participants is always nice because it allows for one-on-one attention, but this darned Canadian winter just seemed too intimidating (the temperature was supposed to drop to -4 C this evening, which meant a slippery drive home at 9:00 PM).
Well, what a surprise when I showed up to the kitchen, only to be informed that the class was fully booked, with 30 people! Although I’ve previously baked quantities beyond that (muffins for 300, anyone?), I’ve never prepared such large quantities of food, all at one time, in front of an audience.
Luckily, the coordinator was a trained chef who could chop onions and skin tomatoes like nobody’s business. He had the prep work done in a flash, and when the class started, all I had to do was don my chef’s cap, chat about my recipes, and basically have a good time. The only difficulty I had was stirring a quinoa salad for 30 (I knew I should have gone to the workout club this morning!)
Even though the participants were neither vegetarian nor vegan, they arrived in such large numbers because the class was entirely gluten-free and they all had issues with gluten. One of the dishes I demonstrated was Tofu Quiche, a big hit with my HH as well, so I thought I’d share it here. I’ll post some of the others as well over the next while. (Sorry there’s no photo–I actually brought my camera with me to the store, then forgot to take a pic as the hungry crowd devoured the meal).
Egg-Free Quiche with Millet Crust
This quiche is great for anyone on a gluten-free diet.The unusual, mild millet crust is the perfect accompaniment to the smooth and flavourful quiche filling.Vary the vegetables in the quiche according to your taste—almost anything goes!
For the crust:
1/2 cup dried millet
1 cup vegetable broth
pinch of sea salt
For the filling:
1 Tbsp. organic extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced small
2 roasted red peppers or 1 fresh, sliced into thin strips (or one of each)
1 carrot, grated fine
1 cup very firmly packed spinach or chard leaves, stems removed, chopped
700 g. silken or soft tofu (about 2 cups)
1 Tbsp. white miso paste
2 Tbsp. tahini (sesame paste)
1 Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari
Preheat oven to 350 F.Lightly grease a pie plate.
Make the crust:Pour millet into a small pot and add water.Bring to boil over high heat, then lower heat to simmer, cover, and let simmer for 25 minutes. Uncover and stir. The millet should be a bit mushy, with some moisture still in the pan.
Immediately pour the millet into the pie plate and, using the back of a spoon or wet hands (and being careful not to burn yourself!), press the millet into the pie plate to make a “crust.” (Dipping the spoon or your hands in water helps). Bake in preheated oven 10 minutes until slightly dry to the touch.
Make the filling:Heat oil in a large frypan and sauté onions for about 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent and soft. Add the pepper, carrot, and spinach, and sauté for another 5 minutes, until the spinach is wilted and other ingredients begin to soften.Cover and turn off heat.
In a food processor or blender, mix the tofu, miso, tahini, and soy sauce until very smooth. Pour the mixture over the vegetables in the pan and stir to combine well. Turn into the crust in the pie pan.
Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes, until top is light golden brown.Remove from oven and let sit for about 10 minutes before serving (the quiche firms up as it sits–it’s actually better the next day!).May be eaten hot, at room temperature, or cold.