[Sometimes, you just want a dish that's quick and easy--no fuss. I've decided to offer a mini-post every once in a while, for a dish that comes together incredibly quickly or else is so simple to make that no recipe is required. Here's today's "Flash in the Pan." (For other FitP recipes, see "Categories" at right).]
I swear, if my father had been born a Canadian (rather than a poor farmer’s son in Depression-era Europe), he would have been a lawyer instead of a butcher.* You see, in our house growing up, every request from me or one of my sisters for pretty much anything from a new notebook to a new bicycle, required us to present my dad with an argument so compelling and airtight that we could have put Atticus Finch to shame.
When it was time to submit my opening statements, I’d approach the bench my dad with great trepidation as I attempted to memorize the logic that would win him over. I’d stammer through the reasons why I needed that bicycle (or Easy Bake oven, or new bell-bottoms, or troll doll), beads of sweat forming on my brow like morning dew on spring leaves:
“Well, Gemini I’s mom got her a new sweater and it’s–”
“You have enough sweaters. You already don’t wear half of them.”
“But this one is made from special yarn that’s extra soft–”
“So it’s probably thin, then, and it will wear out too quickly.”
“But I don’t have anything that’s blue, I want to wear it with my blue pants–”
“What? So now green doesn’t go with blue any more? Wear your green one.”
–and so on.
My dad would sit at the kitchen table, his intractable expression evaporating my confidence with each grimace as he tacitly challenged me to prove him wrong. (The only other stare I’ve experienced with that same intensity of purpose is when Elsie’s border collie genes assert themselves each day at dinnertime and her gaze bores into my back, willing me to get up and feed her.)
After the ordeal of The Presentation, inevitably my dad would wave me away like a mosquito at a picnic, and pronounce his answer. It was almost always the same:
The implied message was very clear: if something was too easy, it wasn’t worth very much. (I guess someone really should have told that to my friend LM, who managed to parlay “easy” into three very lucrative marriages–and divorces–within 10 years.).
Well, the same principles apply to food, I reckon. Do y’all know the story of how cake mixes came to be so popular in the late 1950s? Trying to save all those newly-liberated women time in the kitchen, an industrious male entrepreneur created a powdered mix that was all-inclusive: it contained all the necessary ingredients, including dehydrated milk and whole egg powder, for a complete cake. All the overworked housewife had to do was add water, pour, and bake. So easy! So convenient! Such a timesaver!
And–a total flop.
Turns out that even though the mix removed 95% of the work and hassle, housewives didn’t embrace the new cakes. You see, despite going out and working alongside their male counterparts (for 55% of the male’s paycheck, mind you), and despite being in charge of the kiddoes and pets, and despite bearing responsibility for the housework and the laundry–well, these devoted women’s libbers couldn’t relinquish supremacy in the kitchen. They felt too guilty, as if they hadn’t “really” baked anything when the only ingredient they had to add was water!
So Betty and Duncan did what any smart businessperson would do–they made the mixes less convenient and harder to prepare: after a new formula was introduced that required women to add their own fresh eggs to the powder, the boxed mixes flew off the shelves. It was no longer “too easy.”
With my own crazy-making schedule these days (okay, fine, I was that way before the new schedule), I think I’d leap over the moon if I found a mix that could re-create one of my own (whole-foods) cakes by just adding water. For now, though, I’ll have to make do with a slew of “flash in the pan” recipes that are quick and easy, albeit not extravagant.
This porridge provides a creamy, warming and filling base (courtesy squash), with the textural nubbiness of coconut, hemp seeds and nut butter, ideal for these chilly autumn mornings. The classic flavor melding of squash and cinnamon tickles the tastebuds, too.
But hey, feel free to make this more complicated if you wish. You could add a cooked grain, I suppose, or grind some of your own flour, or grow your own hemp seeds if it makes you feel better. But really, in this case, “easy” is perfect just as it is.
*Yes, I know, my father was a butcher. I talk about this irony more on my About page.
** Don’t feel too sorry for me. It’s true that my dad’s most frequent response to requests was “no,” but invariably, our mother would later sneak us downtown and buy us something fun and frivolous instead, like blue suede shoes (how I loved those), or a buffet lunch at House of Chan, or a winter coat with white faux fur collar and cuffs. It would be brought home and blend into the daily routine as if it had always been there. If he noticed, Dad never said a word.
This “porridge” is a fabulous way to use up leftover baked squash or pumpkin to mimic the thick, grainy texture of oat-based porridge perfectly. Warming, thick, creamy and very filling, it’s a perfect way to start the morning, whether you normally eat grains or not.
1/2 cup (120 ml) squash purée (or for a chunkier texture, just mash with a fork)–Kabocha is my favorite, but Butternut and even Sugar Pumpkin work nicely
When I was in grade school, there was exactly one boy (let’s call him Jerome) in our school who had a food allergy (to peanuts). Jerome was already a bit too large (he towered over the rest of us; even in grade three, he was already level with our teacher, Mrs. B’s shoulders); a bit too goofy (he had one of those snorty-hiccuping laughs, sounding slightly porcine and aquatic at the same time); and a bit too fleshy, with excess skin seeming to hang from his waistband and cheeks, his complexion as white and matte as newly painted classrooms after summer break.
I always felt sorry for him. Even though he sometimes played the class clown out in the school yard, I never saw him smiling around food. He carried his dietary restrictions around like a backpack full of rocks–at once too heavy, yet requiring great attention to avoid causing injury–while the rest of us flaunted our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.
When I first began the Anti-Candida Diet (ACD) in earnest in March, 2009, I felt a long-lost connection to poor Jerome. After all, not only did I have to eschew peanuts, but also gluten, most sweeteners, yeasts, alcohol and all moldy foods as well. No, I won’t be eating any PB&J sandwiches in the foreseeable future. And yet, after three years on the diet, I no longer feel like I’m missing out on very much (the one exception is social occasions–when we’re invited to someone’s house for dinner, or to a major event like a wedding or bar mitzvah; the industrial kitchens seem to have a tough time producing something I can eat that also tastes good). I’ve more or less accepted that this will be my diet for the rest of my life, and I don’t mind cooking my own foods. I’ve discovered that, if you keep an open mind, there’s an infinite number of new food combinations and flavors to try, even on a restricted diet.
(“It’s true, Mum–we don’t think of our diet as restricted, either, even without chocolate! We happen to love the combination of apple, cauliflower and salmon blended together in the food processor.”)
In fact, for me it’s become a kind of game, a little personal challenge whenever I spy something that looks delicious but which I’m not supposed to eat: how can I recreate that dish in a way that’s ACD-friendly? When I saw Cara’s Caramelized Onion, Shaved Butternut and Goat Cheese Pizza over on the Clean Eating webiste, I knew immediately that I’d have to reproduce it–or, at least, an allergy-friendly, low glycemic, ACD-approved version of it. I saved the recipe on Pinterest (so much more fun than bookmarking!) and thought about what I’d change.
I ended up tweaking my own Grain-Free Pizza Crust to make it not only grain-free but also starch-free; used this goat “cheese” instead of the dairy-based one; and concocted an ACD-friendly version of the condensed balsamic that worked beautifully. The HH (who, by the way, has no food allergies and can eat whatever he wants in whatever quantities he wants–don’t you just hate him?) went bonkers over this pizza. I think he wants Cara to come live with us now.
The pizza features thinly sliced, deeply browned onions, slow-cooked until sweet and languorous. They’re topped with shaved squash that’s wilted and beginning to curl at the edges, accented with crisp, toasty pumpkinseeds and bitter greens, all accented with dollops of tart, creamy goat “cheese.”
Savoring a big slice of this pizza, I felt completely happy, sated and even somewhat spoiled by the perfect symphony of flavors, colors and textures on my plate. In other words, it was the very antithesis of a “restricted” meal. Now, if only I could invite Jerome to join us. I’m sure this pizza would make him smile aound his food, after all.
Cara’s Caramelized Onion, Shaved Butternut and “Goat Cheese” Pizza, Anti-Candida Friendly (grain-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, vegan); Suitable for ACD Stage 2 and beyond.
1 tsp (5 ml) dried basil, optional (omit if you’ll be topping with sweet ingredients)
For the Toppings:
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/4-1/2 cup (60-120 ml) vegetable broth or stock
225 g (4 oz) peeled and shaved (with a vegetable peeler) butternut squash (about 1/4 of a sqash–I just did the thin neck part)
1/2 recipe this goat “cheese” (omit peppercorns; the remainder is great on muffins, toast, etc.)
2 cups (480 ml) thinly sliced chard or kale
2 Tbsp (30 ml) raw or lightly toasted pumpkin seeds
For the Balsamic Drizzle (ACD Stage 3 or beyond; for ACD Stage 2, see variation below):
1/4 cup (60 ml) balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup (60 ml) apple cider vinegar
5 drops plain stevia liquid
Make the crust: Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Line a large pizza pan with parchment, or spray with nonstick spray.
In the bowl of a food processor, process the beans and 1/4 cup (60 ml) oil until relatively smooth. Add the soymilk, stevia, vinegar, coconut flour, psyllium, garfava flour, buckwheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and basil and process again until the mixture comes together in a ball. Do not overprocess!
Take the ball of dough and, using your hands, pull of chunks the size of baseballs and distribute them evenly over the pizza pan. Use the final 1 Tbsp (15 ml) of oil to grease your palms and fingertips; then press the dough evenly in the pan until all the chunks come together in a single crust. Keep greasing your hands as necessary to avoid sticking. If desired, make a slight rim all around the edge of the dough. (Instead of using the extra oil, you can also wet your palms to prevent sticking while you press out the dough, but if you apply a tomato-based sauce to the pizza, it’s more likely to remain moist in that case).
Bake in preheated oven 35-45 minutes, until the crust is dry and lightly browned on the edges and bottom (if you underbake at this stage, the inside of the dough will remain moist after the toppings have been added). Top with desired toppings, then return to the oven for another 25-35 minutes, until heated throughout and toppings are cooked. Slice and serve. Makes 4-6 servings. May be frozen. To freeze, wrap slices individually in plastic and freeze until solid, then store in a ziploc bag.
While the crust bakes, make the toppings: heat oil over medium-low heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add 1/4 cup (60 ml) broth and cover the pan. Allow to cook another 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently, until the liquid has evaporated and the onions are soft and golden. If the onion sticks to the pan, add more broth as needed. Set aside.
Once the dough is ready, remove it from the oven and increase the heat to 450F ( C). Spread the onions evenly over the crust. Top with the greens, then the shaved squash. Scatter dollops of cheese over the top and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the greens and squash are wilted and the cheese has begun to brown a bit.
While the pizza bakes, make the drizzle: Combine the balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar and stevia in a small pot and bring to the boil. Lower heat to medium-low and cook until reduced to about 1/4 cup (60 ml), about 5 minutes. Remove pizza from the oven and drizzle with the vinegar. Serve immediately. Makes 4-6 servings. May be frozen. To freeze, wrap slices individually in plastic and freeze until solid, then store in a ziploc bag.
For ACD Stage 2, use this vinegar drizzle instead: Replace the balsamic with unsweetened cranberry juice and increase the stevia to 10 drops instead of 5. Prepare as described above.
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.
This month’s SOS (Sweet or Savory) Kitchen Challenge asked readers to whip up dishes with spinach, and wow, did you ever take on this challenge with gusto! We received a dozen fantastic, creative recipes to try that all highlight the super-healthy leafy green. And yes, a few desserts are included as well!
Thanks to everyone who entered the challenge this month. As always, if you’ve submitted a recipe and I forgot to include it here, please let me know asap so I can add it to the list.
Here’s what’s on the menu with spinach:
THE SAVORY CONTRIBUTIONS:
Our very first entry was from Janet at Taste Space (Toronto) –a colorful and delicious Quinoa and Butternut Squash Spinach Salad with Cranberry and Pear. Well, I think the title tells you everything you need to know–doesn’t that just sound delectable? This savory salad is also a bit sweet with the pear and cranberries. Suitable for gluten free, vegan, sugar free, egg free and dairy free diets.
Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes (Dundee, Scotland) offers up a great recipe for Spicy Spinach and Potato Curry adapted from a recipe she found in one huge tome of a cookbook. Her pics look great (and check out the gratuitious cuteness of her new baby, Cooper!) This recipe is suitable for gluten free, soy-free, vegan, and ACD diets (contains coconut milk).
Kiersten from Full of Beans (Charlotte, NC )’s vegan Coconut Curried Chickpeas and Spinach looks like the perfect quick weekday dinner. I love a good curry, and with chickpeas AND spinach, you can’t go wrong with this one! Vegan, soy-free, gluten free, ACD-friendly and otherwise nut-free.
She also “uncooked” some gorgeously green Spinach-Hemp Flatbreads on which to spread it. Unlike many other dehydrated flatbreads, these remain soft, perfect for sandwiches. These both are vegan, dairy free, gluten free, raw, and sugar free.
Mom at the Gluten-Free Edge (Georgetown, Texas) decided that her Spinach Mushroom Pie should undergo a vegan revamp for this month’s entry! This is her remake of a long-time favorite recipe, and it worked out beautifully. The recipe is gluten free and vegan.
Chaya from The Comfy Cook is back this month with a fabulous Oriental Rice Pizza. This savory dish is filled with veggies and is a snap to make with its rice-based crust. It’s gluten free, sugar free and dairy free.
Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe (Melbourne, Australia) offers a cheezy spinach-based soup this month with her Pumpkin, Bean and Spinach Soup. While the recipe itself looks delicious, half the fun of the recipe is Johanna’s recounting of the experimentation that led her to it. And doesn’t the concept of tofu croutons just sound fabulous?
Valerie of City Life Eats (Washington, DC) has created a Lemony Spinach Pepita Pesto. With a unique combination of ingredients, this pesto would be delicious on more than just pasta. It’s gluten free, vegan, nut free, sugar free and ACD-friendly.
Aubree Cherie, who blogs at Living Free (Kennett Square, PA), decided to move out of her usual spinach zone with these Almond Spinach Biscuits. A great savory biscuit with a hint of sweet (dried cranberries), these treats were gobbled up by her significant other in no time. Definitely a fun (and delicious) recipe. Gluten free, sugar free, vegan and ACD-friendly.
My event partner, Kim at Affairs of Living, cooked up a fabulous Creamy Spinach and Celeriac Soup for those days when you crave something rich and healthy at the same time. The recipe is vegan, gluten free, sugar free, ACD friendly, soy free and nut free.
My savory contribution this month is a Classic Tofu Quiche recipe that I’ve had for years but never thought to post. The millet crust helps to make it quick, easy, and delicious! It’s gluten free, sugar free and vegan.
THE SWEET CONTRIBUTIONS (Yes, even spinach has a sweet side!):
Rachel from My Munchable Musings (WA) treated us to two sweet recipes this month! First up are these Spring Picnic Cupcakes, her take on the classic Strawberry and Spinach Salad–in a sweet mini confection! She’s also included a great bit of additional history and nutritional information about spinach here. These are wheat free, sugar free and vegan.
Rachel also created these adorable Green Thumb Print Cookies, that are gluten free! I love how the strawberry sits perfectly in the thumb print–seriously yummy looking. These are gluten free, sugar free and vegan.
Kim’s second contribution this month is her Invisible Spinach Smoothie. While you may have enjoyed smoothies with spinach before, this quick and easy recipe contains another veggie that you might not expect. Vegan, ACD-friendly, gluten free.
Finally, my sweet contribution is this Green Monster Muffin. Based on the concept of green smoothies, these muffins offer up spinach in a slightly sweet, hearty breakfast baked good. I’ve used chopped apples, but you could add in raisins or even chocolate chips to the mix if you like. Vegan, sugar free, gluten free.
Thanks again to everyone who played along this month. Enjoy these recipes until next month, when Kim–our hostess for June’s Challenge–will announce the new SOS ingredient.
After that harrowing ordeal in the airport and the relentless carnival atmosphere of Miami Beach in the first half of our trip, the HH and I were more than ready to head north to Sarasota, where my cousin Marketing Guru (MG) had promised a more serene lifestyle. So let’s hit the road, shall we?
I. En Route to Sarasota: See Ya Later, Alligator
[Can you believe how many alligators live along this stretch of Florida highway?? Me, neither. (Source)].
Leaving Miami, we headed along interstate Route 75, also known as “Alligator Alley.” This 200-mile (320 km) stretch of highway dissecting the Everglades offers the curious sightseer but one image: a seemingly endless vista of flat terrain dotted with the occasional tawny brush, swampland on either side, and a veritable army of alligators poised on either shore, patiently awaiting their lunch (human, perhaps?), effectively sporting their green leathery camouflage. I tried over and over to snap a photo as we whizzed by the monochromatic scenery, to capture only this:
[Can you spot the alligator in this photo? Me, neither.]
Finally, after about 2 hours without pit stops, bathroom breaks, or any other signs of civilized life, we lit upon Naples, then continued right through to Sarasota (with a quick rest stop at a local Sheraton Four Points Punta Gorda).
II. Sarasota: Feed Me!
I was initially a little wary before our reunion with MG,whom I hadn’t seen in about 10 years. It was also the first time I really got to know MG’s wife (MGW), with whom I’d never really spent any quality time. I shouldn’t have fretted: they were both incredibly hospitable, gracious and welcoming, and we four hit it off famously. I mean, for our first dinner out, MG suggested Chutney’s (“where spice is the variety of life”), primarily because “they have a daily vegetarian option.” (Is he a great guy, or what?) The combination Indian and Mediterranean menu provided more than enough choice for this Canuck gal. Thanks, cuz!
A cozy, unassuming atmosphere beckoned and the food, both homey and creative, was excellent. My pick (of course) was the vegetarian curry of the day (with chickpeas and vegetables) along with a hefty portion of the Mediterranean appetizer plate shared by us all (including baba ganouj, hummus, tahini and falafel). We did manage to get back to the house in time for an hour of ice dancing* before falling into bed. All in all, a great first evening!
III. Sarasota: Come Over Here and Give Me a Pug.
One of Sarasota’s most quirky public events is known as the ”Pug Parade.” For this annual festival, every dog owner in the city–nay, the state (and beyond) dresses up her or his pug, then sashays along a runway with said costumed canine to determine which will win the Dog Owner with Way Too Much Time on Their Hands award. (Okay, I made up that last part. But they do choose a winner for best dog costume.).
Well, as it turned out by sheer coincidence, the HH and I arrived on the selfsame weekend as this year’s parade! And by even greater coincidence, Marketing Guru and MGW have a pug! And her name is Misty! And Misty is a former Pug Parade Champion!
Needless to say, we attended this year’s Pug Parade.
Milling about under a massive tent in the center of a local park, I have never seen so many pugs in one place, let alone so many pugs in wildly creative costumes (biker pug with actual tatoos; sushi pug rolled into a giant nori roll; bride pug with bouquet and groom pug; geisha pug; birthday cake pug; ballerlina pug, Tiger Woods pug, Lady GaGa pug, Bug Pug, and any other kind of pug you can imagine). Misty, this time round, was dressed as Pugahontas. Ain’t she cute?
[Can you spot the alligator in this photo? It's right there in front, dressed up as a pug.]
Though she didn’t win this time round, Misty did receive a huge round of applause and several hoots.
Later, as we drove through the idyllic neighborhood with its palm tree-lined streets and placid parklands, the HH and I both marvelled at how beautiful the area was. A planned community, almost the entire city had been built from scratch.
“Oh, when we first moved in, there were still lots of alligators roaming the streets,” MGW told us. “And wild boars everywhere.” Alligators? Wild boars?
I nodded politely. “Wow,” I said. “You guys are brave to have moved here back then. Good thing the alligators have all gone now.”
“Well, not really,” she countered. “They just hang around the ponds now. You can usually spot a few at each pond.” Given there were ponds at just about every intersection, and given I had not yet spied a single solitary alligator with my own eyes, I remained incredulous. We approached another pond.
“Here, take my binoculars,” MGW urged as Marketing Guru slowed the car. I peered through the lenses at the not-so-distant shore. And. . . what the–?? That dark olive-grey mass in front of the trees. . . by George, it WAS an alligator! But wait! There were two more masses beside it, just over there to the right. . . ! And what was that further down the shore–??!! I could feel my skin begin to tingle.
“They stay still during the day, but they generally come out at night,” MGW informed us. “Don’t worry, though, they don’t come up to the houses. . . well, not anymore.”
And just like that, there went my dreams of moving to Sarasota.
Our pre-performance dinner that night took place at Tropical Thai, another quaint spot that served up surprisingly good food. I was, again, surprised and delighted with the number of vegan options (there was even an entire page of Macrobiotic dishes!). I opted for miso soup, followed by a red curry with vegetables and tofu–not as tasty as the previous night’s Indian curry, but satisfying nonetheless.
Then, it seemed, just as we began to really relax and feel at home,** it was suddenly time to return to Toronto. Here we are now, a week after our return, and it feels as if we never left. And as a bonus, we were greeted last week with the biggest snowstorm so far this season. As Pepé le Pew would say, Le sigh.
["Mum, it definitely felt like you left to us. And don't worry about the snow--at least you won't find any alligators living in this climate!]
Well, if I can’t physically remain in Florida, at least I can travel back along the highway of gustatory imagination. I decided to recreate the delectable butternut-edamame hash I savored at Wish in Miami. With small, uniform cubes of roasted butternut squash cozying up to perky green edamame, both awash in a slightly gooey, slightly sweet maple glaze, this hash was the epitome of clean and delicious fare. I had to have it again!
My version uses yacon as a standin for maple syrup in the original, though you should feel free to swap it back if you prefer the latter or can’t find the former (unless you’re also on the ACD, that is, in which case, sorry–maple syrup is verboten).
The bright hues and fresh flavors of this dish are guaranteed to bring a little bit of Florida sunshine into your mealtime. And no alligators, I promise.
*That would be, “watching it on TV,” not “doing it.”
**Not that I’d ever get used to the alligators, however.
Butternut and Edamame Hash (suitable for ACD Phase I or later)
With its combination of sweet squash, chewy edamame and sticky glaze, this high-protein dish makes a perfect accompaniment to any savory main course.
1 small butternut squash, peeled and seeded, cut into 1″ (2.5 cm) cubes
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) fine sea salt
1 cup (240 ml) shelled, cooked edamame
2 Tbsp (30 ml) yacon syrup and 3 Tbsp (30 ml) water OR 1/4 cup (60 ml) pure maple syrup
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp (15 ml) toasted sesame oil
1 tsp (5 ml) arrowroot powder or cornstarch blended with 1/4 cup (60 ml) water until smooth
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) maple flavoring (if using yacon syrup), optional
pinch fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, or spray with olive oil spray. Also spray a casserole or square pan and set aside.
Place the raw squash cubes in a large bowl and drizzle with the olive oil and salt. Toss with your (clean) hands until all the pieces are coated evenly. Spread the squash on the baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the cubes are just tender. Remove the squash and reduce the oven heat to 350F (180C).
Meanwhile, in a small pot, combine the yacon/water or maple syrup, garlic, sesame oil and arrowroot mixture until well blended. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture boils and bubbles; continue to cook and stir for 30 seconds, until thick. Remove from heat and stir in the maple flavoring, if using; season with more sea salt to taste.
Place the squash cubes and edamame in the reserved casserole dish and pour the glaze over them; toss with a large spoon or spatula until all the squares are coated. Reheat in the oven until everything is warmed through, about 10 minutes. Stir again before serving. Makes 4 side servings.
[Sometimes, you just want to eat something now. I've decided to offer a mini-post every once in a while, for a dish that comes together incredibly quickly or else is so easy to make that no recipe is required. Here's today's "Flash in the Pan." (For other FitP recipes, see "Categories" at right).]
Thanks, everyone, for your sympathetic comments regarding my short career as an enemy of the state in my last post. In retrospect, it was a truly hilarious experience (though not at the moment, unfortunately)!
Today, though, I’ve decided to pre-empt my second “How I Spent My Florida Vacation” post (that will be tomorrow, hopefully), for this quick-as-a-flash recipe that was so delicious, the HH and I fought over who got to eat the last few.
After prepping a butternut squash for the oven yesterday, I decided that for once, I wouldn’t throw away the seeds (they actually contain some amazing nutrition of their own, with nutrients not available in the plant’s flesh: protein, an array of minerals, heart-healthy Omega 3s and Omega 6s–and some impressive fiber). I had tried Eden Organics’ spicy roasted pumpkin seeds while on holiday, so I threw together my own reproduction.
These were easy, quick, and totally addictive. The only drawback is that the yield is a mere 1/3-1/2 cup (80-120 ml) of seeds from a single squash. You may want to start cooking your squash in bulk after trying these!
Oh, and for those of you in the GTA, I’ll be doing a talk and handing out samples of baked goods from Sweet Freedomthis Sunday, at Covernotes bookstore in Newmarket. Hope to see you there at 3:00 PM!
Easy Spicy Roasted Squash (or Pumpkin, of course) Seeds
suitable for ACD Phase I and beyond
These light, crunchy, salty, spicy seeds make the perfect snack-on-the-go, for after school, or for bidding adieu to the Olympics on TV.
Seeds from pretty much any winter squash, scooped out of the shell, rinsed, cleaned and with squash fibers picked out
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1/4 tsp (1 ml) garlic salt
1/4 tsp (1 ml) cayenne (or less, to taste)
additional fine sea salt, if desired (I didn’t use it–the garlic salt was enough for my taste)
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Spray a small ovenproof casserole dish or loaf pan with nonstick spray or grease lightly with olive oil (a cookie sheet won’t do for this, as the liquid will spread too much). Add the Bragg’s, oil, garlic salt and cayenne and whisk briefly to combine. Add the seeds to the pan and toss them to coat as much as possible (there will still be excess liquid pooling in the bottom of the pan; this is as it should be).
Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, then remove and check the seeds. There should still be some liquid left in the pan. Toss the mixture to stir up the seeds and re-coat them in the (now slightly thickened) liquid. Return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes.
Repeat the steps of baking, removing the pan, tossing and re-coating the seeds once or twice more, until the liquid is absorbed and the seeds are dry and browned. Toward the end, you may want to check the seeds every 5 minutes or so to avoid scorching. (I baked mine for a total of 35-40 minutes).
Allow to cool, then dig in and enjoy–no need to shell these before eating, as the shells become thin and crunchy! Makes about 1/2 cup (120 ml). Store in a covered container at room temperature.
[Have you entered the Cookbook giveaway yet? Choose any cookbook you like and you could win it as my Christmas present to you this year! Click here to enter--only one day left!]
I meant to post about this recipe yesterday, but somehow, I’m, er, running a tad behind schedule. How did I get so woefully tardy on my holiday preparations this year? Usually, I’m that student you always hated, the one who handed her essay in two days early. Or that friend who’s already seated, calmly sipping tea and reading The History of Love, when you arrive at the restaurant for lunch at the designated time. (Sorry, really. Seems I couldn’t help it. . .just anal that way).
But not this year; no sirree. I suppose I can attribute the shift in efficiency to a strange confluence of medical and dental appointments, late-in-the-term exams and massive marking duties, some broken plumbing and emergency repairs plus various and sundry other distractions scattered throughout the month. I could blame the influence of the HH (always a great fallback position) and his über laid-back approach to Christmas shoppingthe holidaysshovelling snow everything, leaving chores or errands until the last minute, which seems to work just fine for him but is in fact disastrous for me. Or I could blame this infernal candida (even better fallback position), which has been acting up as if sparked by the holiday spirit itself.
Years ago, I vowed I would never leave holiday shopping to the last minute. This pledge came after one particular Christmas in Montreal during my graduate school years. I’d flown “home” from Toronto to be with my family, but as a don in residence, I wasn’t allowed to leave the campus until December 23rd. The CFO suggested we wait until I arrived so we could shop together–on December 24th. “We’ll just start really early, before the crowds develop,” was her reasoning. It must have been the jet-lag, but it seemed logical to me, and I agreed.*
Entering the first shopping mall, I was overcome with a mounting sense of dread as we shuffled along amid the throngs, shoulder to shoulder with a mass of strangers moving in unison from displays of scarves and mitts to shelves of sweaters and lingerie to stacks of boots and books to walls lined with dresses and coats to counters replete with mixers, radios, food processors, mixing bowls, wine glasses, can openers, oven mitts. . . . within minutes, I was a little light-headed and approaching dizzy.
After about half an hour of such torture, the CFO and I looked around at the mob of seemingly lifeless bodies perambulating like automatons, no expression (or worse, grim determination) on their faces, moving as if compelled by some unseen, insidious force. . . wait a minute–did that guy have both his arms outstretched before him, palms toward the ground? Was that a little drop of blood I saw in the corner of that grandma’s leering mouth? Was that woman at the Henckels counter lifting that blade a little too high over the saleswoman’s head? Suddenly, we both decided we had to get out of there. Now.
With only a few meagre bags at our feet, sipping cappuccino (as I still did in those days) at a nearby café, we felt enormous relief at having escaped relatively unscathed from what seemed like the scene of the latest horror movie: Christmas Night of the Living Dead, perhaps, or Invasion of the Booty Snatchers, or The Lost Buys. Or, even more to the point, simply The Shopping Mall (Mmwhahahahaaaaaa!).
Nope, never again.
Okay, so maybe December 22nd is, in reality, not much better than December 24th, but at least I got the job done yesterday (with minimal dizziness or bloodshed). The HH, on the other hand, still hasn’t even started his Christmas shopping. Mwhahhaahahaaaa!
This salad will provide a refuge from the holiday insanity (or, perhaps, some rejuvenation after the Big Day). I came across the recipe on Shannon’s blog while catching up on blog reading (another area I’m woefully behind). The original hails from Molly, and, like all of her recipes, it’s a winner. It’s quick (start to finish in less than 30 minutes), satisfying and nutritious all at once. The combination of butternut squash (for just a hint of sweetness) and chickpeas (for protein) with a smattering of red onion (for bite) and aromatic cilantro (for–well, for deliciousness) is addicting.
I had it for lunch yesterday, then again today. The creamy cloak of tahini drizzled over the warmed squash base makes for a delightful contrast in flavors and temperatures, reminiscent of the all-in-one dinner bowls I wrote about a while back. In fact, I think this would be more than sufficient for dinner if served with a healthy grain or hunk of hearty bread.
*Of course it wasn’t jet-lag; there’s no time difference between Toronto and Montreal. It was just wishful thinking.
Warm Butternut Salad with Chickpeas and Tahini Dressing
Oddly, even though the original recipe is called “Warm Butternut Salad,” Molly’s instructions tell us to cool the squash and not re-heat it. I simply used the squash almost straight from the oven to keep the base warm, and to save time.
For the Salad:
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1″ (2.5 cm) pieces
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) allspice (I’d go with 3/4 tsp or 3.5 ml next time)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
fine sea salt, to taste
1-1/2 cups (360 ml) cooked chickpeas, or one 15 oz (425 g) can, drained and rinsed very well
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup (80 ml) fresh cilantro, finely chopped
For the Tahini Dressing:
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
3 Tbsp (45 ml) well-stirred tahini
1 medium garlic clove, finely minced
3-1/2 Tbsp (52.5 ml) fresh lemon juice (not bottled)
2-4 Tbsp (30-60 ml) water, as needed
Preheat the oven to 425F (220C). Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.
In a large bowl, combine the butternut squash, 1 clove garlic, allspice, 2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil, and salt to taste. Use a large spoon or your hands to toss the squash until everything is evenly coated. Turn the mixture onto the baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, until the squash is just tender (take care not to overbake at this stage). Remove from oven and cool about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the dressing: in a small bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk together the 2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil and tahini until smooth. Add remaining ingredients (start with just 2 Tbsp/30 ml water) and whisk until smooth; the sauce should be the texture of thick cream. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary (I had to add a bit more lemon juice).
To assemble: combine the baked squash, chickpeas, onion, and cilantro in a mixing bowl and toss gently (so as not to break up the squash). For individual servings, spoon onto plates and drizzle each individually with dressing. Or toss the entire salad and serve in a large bowl, family-style. Makes 4-6 servings. Will keep, covered, in the refrigerator up to 3 days.
*Or, Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. Now Eat Some Delicious Spread.
[There's just nothing like a homemade gift for the holidays. This year, with the purse strings a little tighter than usual, I'm determined to make at least a few in my kitchen--and thought I'd share my ideas in case you'd like to partake, too. ]
I know that pretty much everyone in the blogosphere (well, and the rest of the galaxy, too, come to think of it) has already made this spread. But hey, I’ve always been a late bloomer. And now, I’ve finally tried it, too. And it is so *&$@!% good that I had to include it as this (penultimate) Gastronomic Gift this year. (I’ve got one more planned, as long as we can shovel ourselves out of the *&$@!% 25 cm. (just under a foot) of snow that battered the city yesterday and I can get to the store).
Pumpkin butter is the perfect means to use up cooked pumpkin (or squash, to those of us in North America). It’s a great nut butter substitute if you’re trying to reduce fat and calories. Or if, like me, you’ve once again allowed the insidious holiday-time profusion of chocolate and chocolate-coated/ chocolate studded/ chocolate-molded/ chocolate-frosted/ chocolate flavored/ chocolate filled/ chocolate-related-in-any-way desserts that seem to reproduce of their own accord on countertops and dining room tables and candy dishes and office desks and buffets and coffee tables and bar tops and glove compartments and pockets and dessert menus to override your (wobbly at the best of times) self control, and you find that you’ve now consumed more chocolate in the past two weeks than the entire GDP of a small country, more than Big Brother’s secret stash in 1984, more than the exports from Switzerland at Valentine’s Day, more than the full contents of Willie Wonka’s factory–more, really than you’d rightfully expect any normal human being to ingest under any circumstances whatsoever in a lifetime, except maybe under threat of torture.
What? You mean it’s just me?
For some strange reason, I felt the need for a break from chocolate for a while (ahem). Now that I’ve made my own pumpkin butter, I can join the chorus and say that I, too, am smitten. It’s the perfect accompaniment to pretty much any carbohydrate with a flat surface (or even a somewhat bumpy one–have you tried this on rice cakes? Divine.)
But I must admit that my favorite use for the butter isn’t on toast, or a muffin, or pancakes, or any other solid food. I think I love it most blended (using my hand blender) in a tall, cold glass of almond or soymilk. Yum-mers!
It also makes a fabulous hostess gift, of course, and a wonderful last-minute present; it’s the perfect way to use up that final can of pumpkin purée that’s been biding its time in your cupboard since Thanksgiving.
This recipe (the ubiquitous allrecipes version) makes a pretty big batch, so you can scoop some away for home use and still fill two or three pretty little gift jars with the stuff to give away. If you can bear to part with it.
Try this lovely alternative butter anywhere you’d spread jam or nut butter. It’s got no fat, with the bonus of holiday spices all year round.
3-1/2 cups (about 820 g.) cooked, puréed pumpkin
3/4 cup (180 ml.) apple juice [but personally I think OJ would be great in this]
2 tsp. (10 ml.) ground ginger
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) ground cloves
2/3 cup (160 ml.) agave nectar (light or dark)
2 tsp. (10 ml.) ground cinnamon
1 tsp. (5 ml.) ground nutmeg
Combine all ingredients in a medium sized pot. Heat over medium-high heat until mixture boils; reduce heat to low and continue to simmer, stirring very frequently, until the mixture is thick and has darkened (the original recipe said 30 minutes, but mine took a bit more than an hour). This might also be a good time to pull out that old splatter screen if you have one, as the mixture tends to boil and pop a bit (my walls needed a good wipe-down after I was done).
Pour into clean glass jars and store in the refrigerator. Makes about 2 cups (500 ml.). Will keep at least 3 weeks in the refrigerator.