One of the most common traits exhibited by Libras is, supposedly, “indecisiveness.” As a Libra myself, I don’t really mind that description. Well, maybe a little. But not really–it’s all in good humor, right? Then again, who likes to be called “indecisive”? Am I offended?! Yes. No. Definitely. . . . maybe.
Represented by the scales, Libras often vacillate between extremes. In my case, I tend to swing between wildly opposing behaviors: holiday sugar-binges eating chocolate fudge, chocolate cookies, chocolate cake, chocolate frosting, or just plain chocolate**, later balanced by the most ascetic of diets, the ACD, followed religiously for months, until homeostasis is achieved once again.
Similarly, I may one day vow to keep my desk immaculately clean, then allow the notes and bills and post-its to accumulate in irregular stacks like fallen autumn foliage on a forest floor; finally, in a fit of tidiness, I’ll organize the entire thing in one afternoon, filing each and every snippet of paper or invoice in its proper place, only so the cycle can begin again. Or I’ll work like a lunatic at some writing project (hmm, say, like a cookbook), tapping at the keyboard for 12-16 hours a day over the space of three months, then burn out, veg out and do absolutely no work for days while I sit comatose on the couch in my jammies and watch my soap opera.
Not surprisingly, this all-or-nothing mentality extends to my cooking as well. In order to perfect my soy-free vegan whipped cream recipe, for instance, I ended up making 50 batches in the space of a month, stopping only once I was satisfied with the result (and then didn’t touch the stuff again for six months).
Last week, my fixation turned to the Chiles en Nogada (stuffed peppers with walnut sauce) that I read about years ago in Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. Now, I’m no expert on Mexican cuisine (I suppose having drinks at Hernando’s Hideway in 1994 doesn’t count), I’ve never eaten poblano chiles, and I’ve certainly never tasted Chiles en Nogada.
But when I browsed through the half-price produce at our local supermarket (where I buy slightly downtrodden apples for The Girls), I spied a bag of 8 cubanelle chiles. They appeared to be entirely fresh, and firm as new spring leaves; nary a blemish except for a tiny patch of brown no larger than an aglet (an aglet?? True, it has nothing to do with chiles, but it is the correct size. And besides, how often does one get to use the word “aglet”?).
“I suppose I could use these in a simple roasted pepper pasta,” I mused. “But wait–remember how great they looked at Esperanza and Alex’s wedding? And how 27 trays of them disappeared in no time at all? And how they were so delicious, so imbued with the aura of true love and exquisite care, that they filled anyone who ingested them with a slow, spreading sensation of ecstasy that overtook every inch of their being?”
All right, then! Chiles en Nogada it is!
Once I began to readotherrecipes for thisdish, I discovered that (a) the chiles were actually poblanos, not cubanelles (but luckily, they can be used interchangeably); (b) they were stuffed with a picadillo, a mixture made of either pork or beef or both (neither of which I eat); (c) the filling featured fruits and dried candied peels (which, of course, I cannot eat); (d) the walnut sauce contains queso fresco, a soft, piquant cheese similar to goat cheese (which I don’t. . . etc.); and (e) a simple roasted pepper pasta was starting to sound really, really appealing.
Okay, this might take a little more work than intially anticipated. But I was a Libra with a mission!
Since I couldn’t undertake multiple trials as I did with the whipped cream (I had only one bag of 8 chiles, after all), I carefully considered my options and decided to go with tempeh in lieu of meat, orange zest in lieu of candied peel, and tofu sour cream in lieu of queso fresco. And you know what? The result was outrageously good.
In addition to a spectacular visual image, this dish offers a slightly smoky, soft and fleshy pepper encasing a thick and knobby filling, its sweet and savory notes in perfect harmony; there’s just the slightest hint of citrus underlying the spice. Slathered over top is a rich, extravagantly silky sauce, one that confers a zesty bite along with a whisper of cinnamon. Finally, a handful of intense, sparkling pomegranate seeds finishes the dish with an additional burst of both color and flavor.
I was entirely smitten and enjoyed stuffed peppers three times over the next three days. The HH , on the other hand, wasn’t quite as taken. ”It’s interesting, but just too weird for me,” he commented. ”Though I’m sure it would be delicious with meat.”
With its satin stole and garnet beads, Chiles en Nogada is perfectly dressed for a holiday celebration (in fact, it was originally created to celebrate Mexican Independence Day, with the red, white and green colors of the Mexican flag. . . though I have to admit my sauce was more mauve-tinged than white). It does take a bit of work, but is definitely worth it.
And now that I’ve exhausted my energies on this dish, I’ll shift to the opposite extreme and flake out on the couch for a few days. . . until the next culinary tornado hits.
“Mum, we think those peppers would be better with meat, too. But we’ll still take some of that satin walnut stole and garnet pomegranate beads, holidays or not.”
** though not this year, obviously.
[Chiles en Nogado (Stuffed Peppers with Walnut Sauce)
I've never tasted the original, so I have no idea how far this version strays from the authentic flavor, but the winning combination of hot peppers, sweet-and-savory stuffing and silky, tangy sauce is both enchanting and unusual enough to render any occasion special.
For the Peppers:
6-8 large cubanelle or poblano peppers
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup (240 ml) grated celery root or other firm root vegetable (parsnip or carrot would work nicely)
1-1/2 cups (360 ml) vegetable broth or stock, divided
2 Tbsp (30 ml) tomato paste
1 large apple, cored and chopped
2 Tbsp (30 ml) raisins (omit for ACD-friendly version)
zest of one organic orange
For the Sauce:
3/4 cup (180 ml) of your favorite nondairy sour cream (I used the recipe in Joni Marie Newman's Cozy Inside)
1/2 cup ( g) raw walnuts (I kept the skins on, which accounts for the strange color of my sauce)
1/4 tsp (1 ml) cinnamon
1 drop liquid stevia (optional)
Preheat oven to 425F (220C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place peppers on the tray and bake until just soft, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool while you prepare the filling.
Heat oil in a large frypan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, celery root, tempeh, chopped tomato, spices and Bragg's. Cook until onions are translucent and tempeh begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Pour in 1 cup (240 ml) of the broth, cover, and lower heat to simmer. Cook until all the liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the tomato paste and remaining 1/2 cup (120 ml) vegetable broth until smooth. Add to the tempeh mixture along with the remaining ingredients for the filling; stir well, cover, and simmer for another 5-10 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed and sauce is very thick. Set aside.
Prepare the Sauce: Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until perfectly smooth.
Using a sharp knife, slit the peppers lengthwise between the stem and tip, cutting only through the top skin and leaving the bottom intact (leave the stems on as well). Gently pull the pepper open and scoop out the seeds and membrane. Stuff each pepper with filling, dividing it evenly. (Traditional instructions say to lie the peppers cut-side down, but I forgot; I actually like them better with a little filling peeking out). At this point, you may reheat the peppers until the filling is heated through, or just eat them at room temperature.
Spoon the sauce evenly over the peppers, and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Dig in! Makes 3-4 dinner or 6-8 appetizer servings. Peppers and filling (without sauce) freeze well.
[I thought it would be fun to run a little series over here at DDD: I'll profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I've recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days. The series is presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. This is the second entry on apples.]
As I was finally catching up on some long overdue blog reading the other night (and please forgive me if I haven’t been leaving as many comments as I used to–I promise I’m still reading!), I came across Diann’s post mentioning her 4-year blogiversary (congrats, Diann!).
It suddenly struck me that I’ve missed my own 2-year anniversary (at the end of October). Could it be that I’m preoccupied with end-of-semester assignments and marking? Perhaps the excitement of Halloween clouded my memory (okay, not a great excuse–my memory is always clouded). Or is it my fretting over an upcoming TV appearance for my book** on November 17 (be sure to watch if you’re in the Toronto area!). Probably none of the above. It’s just that I was just spending too much time mulling over the appropriate sequence of courses for this current Lucky Comestible series. I mean, does one serve the salad before the soup, or soup before the salad?
Hmm. That’s a tough one. According to the Wellspring of All Things Informational, Wikipedia, soup follows the first course (which they call the entrée) ; after that, we have some fish or relevées (lighter courses), then a main dish, and then a salad, with dessert and cheese plate in pursuit. It’s common knowledge in these parts that Italian meals often serve a salad toward the end as a kind of digestive aid (which makes total sense, as the raw ingredients contain enzymes that do just that).
Well, now that I’ve discovered the joy that is Waldorf Salad, I wasn’t about to save this darling for the end of the meal!
Believe it or not, I had never tasted a true Waldorf Salad before making this one. (I know! Even with me being all worldly and everything). As a young adult, for me the name always evoked images of raucus witticisms and much imbibing at the Algonquin Round Table; impeccably-coiffed socialites in Chanel Suits, their French poodles (equally coiffed) trotting alongside on golden leashes; or Holly Golightly peeking in that store window before Breakfast (all of which occurred, of course, in the same city as the hotel in which the salad originated).
While I knew it contained apples, I wasn’t as clear on the other ingredients. I imagined it must have something exotic, such as mizuna or ugli fruit (okay, not really; in those days, I didn’t even know what ugli fruit was. I just liked the name). Or that it involved a multi-stage, every-pot-in-the-house sort of preparation.
In a recipe like this one–containing only 3 ingredients besides the mayo–that mayonnaise is pivotal. In fact, the full gastronomic experience of the salad–the entire salad “zeitgeist,” if you will–is determined by that mayo. Mayo Rules!
If you’re already familiar with a prepared mayo that you like and think would go well here, by all means, use it. I’ve rarely used jarred mayo in the past, preferring to make my own. And while the results have been perfectly fine for items such as mock tuna salad or even Celeri Remoulade, for this salad, I wanted something a little lighter, a little more delicate in flavor. And I found it–on Vegan Epicurean’s blog!
The mayo recipe she created is perfect. It’s airy, fluffy, not at all unctuous, yet rich and creamy, with just the right degree of tartness and sweetness to balance the oil. I made mine in a VitaMix, but it should work in a regular blender as well (see recipe for pointers).
The first time I made the salad, I foolishly halved the recipe, assuming the HH and I could never eat it all. (Silly me.) It was amazingly good. Crisp, juicy, sweet apple bits complemented by crisp, juicy, slightly bitter celery bits, punctuated by crisp, toasty walnut bits, all coated in bits of creamy, smooth, ethereal mayonnaise. And wouldn’t you know it–bit by delectable bit, I ate half the bowl. (As did the HH.)
Whether you serve this as a first course, following the soup, or as a post-prandial nibble, no matter. It’s a joy to eat any time.
“Mum, I’m sure we would find that salad a joy to eat, too! Oh, wait; for us, pretty much anything is a joy to eat. But can we still have the leftovers anyway?”
**If you don’t yet have a copy of Sweet Freedom, this is a great time to get one for yourself, or as a holiday gift for someone else! Receive personalized, signed copies of the book mailed to you (so you have plenty of time to wrap and go before the holidays) for just $25 including taxes, shipping and handling. Why not enjoy some delicious, healthy sweet treats this holiday season? Offer good until December 1st!
1/2 cup (55 g) lightly toasted walnuts, broken into pieces
1/2 cup (120 ml) halved green grapes (optional)
1 cup (240 ml) great-tasting mayonnaise (I used this recipe, with the ACD variation, below)
Place the apples, celery, walnuts and grapes in a large bowl. Add the mayo and stir to coat well. Either eat immediately, or store, covered, in refrigerator until ready to serve. To serve, garnish with more chopped walnuts, if desired. Makes 4-6 servings.
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp (270 ml) sunflower or other light-tasting oil, preferably organic
1/4 tsp (1 ml) apple cider vinegar
2-4 drops stevia liquid (to your taste)
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) fine sea salt
1-1/2 tsp (7.5 ml) fresh lemon juice
1 tsp (5 ml) finely grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp (1 ml) dry mustard powder
Blend all ingredients in a high speed blender until thick, scraping down sides as necessary. Transfer to a jar and refrigerate before using. (If using a conventional blender, blend all ingredients except oil. Then, with motor running, slowly pour the oil into the blender and allow the mixture to emulsify. Transfer to a jar and refrigerate before using). Makes about 2 cups (480 ml).
What? Another breakfast recipe–and so soon, you say? Well, you can never have too much breakfast is what I say. I mean, breakfast really is the best repast of the trio of meals, isn’t it?
To begin with, if it’s breakfast time, you’re probably rested. Your belly is primed and ready to accept food (after all, you have been fasting all night). You’re most likely clean (après morning shower), your face is still fresh and mascara-free, and you can feel good about giving your body “the most important meal of the day.” And besides all that–breakfast tastes better than just about any meal I can think of.
I’ve always favored breakfast, but I didn’t really develop my true allegiance to the morning meal until my late teens, when my friend Sterlin and I took our first vacation on our own–across the continent, to California. (Were our parents insane, letting two seventeen year-olds travel alone? Naw–no worries there–we were total nerds). Our first stop was LA, where we stayed with my dad’s aunt.
Let’s call her “Great Aunt Yetta.” (Actually, that was her real name, but let’s still call her that anyway). Even back then, more than 30 years ago, Ms. Yetta was already ancient, in her late 80s. Poor Yetta’s husband had died almost twenty years earlier, and she lived alone in their small bungalow near Beverly Boulevard in the city. The place looked as if nothing had been disturbed (or, by the looks of it, cleaned too often) since her husband’s death.
About four-foot-ten in heels, Yetta greeted us at the door with a heavily teased, upswept ‘do reminiscent of Endora in Bewitched (except Yetta’s hair was entirely white), its outer layer shellacked with Aqua Net. Despite her advanced years, she still took pride in her appearance, and in our honor had donned the full regalia: fuscia and lime green flowered cotton housedress belted at the waist in shiny white vinyl; gold and black sandals revealing painted crimson toenails, the toes themselves bent various unnatural directions. On her wrists and neck she wore four or five strings of multi-colored plastic beads, along with sparkly, dangly earrings; her face was slathered with full theater-worthy makeup, the purple eyeshadow thick enough to glaze pottery, a coat of carmine lipstick (which only partially followed the actual outline of her lips) on her mouth.
Yetta spoke in a sqeaky, slightly sing-song voice that brought to mind a Polish Edith Bunker. Had we been a little less starry-eyed from having just landed in California that day, Sterlin and I might have found Yetta somewhat creepy (that came later); instead, we assumed she was merely “eccentric.”
On our first morning in the city, we bounded out of bed at 5:30 AM (with the time change, this was already 9:30 our time) and emerged ravenous from our room.
“Come, dahlink, eat some breakfast,” Yetta said, grabbing me by the forearm. She led us to the dilapitaded dining room, where the table was laid with a few dishes, cups and a teapot. There was nothing recognizable as food, but as we drew closer, we could make out what was on the table. Without a word, Sterlin and I exchanged meaningful glances and began silently to plot our exit.
“No, you must eat some breakfast!” Yetta insisted. “Here, have some cheese.” She presented me with an amorphous blob of something half covered in soft, green fuzz. “Oh, don’t worry, it is still good,you just do like this–” She grabbed a butter knife and began hacking at the outside of the blob.
“Oh, no, really, thank you so much, but we aren’t hungry,” we piped up in unison.
“Okay, so some juice then,” she declared, handing over a jar of Tang that had clearly first entered her cupboard in the Sixties. I unscrewed the rusty lid and cautiously peered inside. The contents was so old that it had fossilized, one solid mass of crystalline orange rock.
Before I could say anything, Yetta grabbed the jar. “Oh, is okay,” she insisted, brandishing the same trusty butter knife, “You just make like this and you pour it out!” With that, she began to chip away at the ossified Tang.
“No, really, we never eat breakfast in the morning–OR drink anything before lunchtime!” we cried, backing out the door, “But thank you so much, anyway! See you later!” Luckily, we found a Farmer’s Market down the street, rife with fresh fruit, pancakes, waffles, and–a thrilling discovery at the time–frozen yogurt! (It didn’t exist yet in Canada in those days).
For the entire two weeks in LA, each morning we went through the ritual of thanking Yetta for her generosity, insisting that we never ate breakfast, and then running over to the market to gorge on every breakfast food (and several non-breakfast foods) we could find.
And so, my fascination with breakfast was established.
On our last evening in LA, we were asked to dinner at Great Uncle Norman’s house (Yetta’s brother), though Yetta was not invited. After the meal as we sat chatting about our visit, we actually began to feel a little sympathy for Yetta.
“Gee, it’s too bad about her husband,” Sterlin mused.
“What do you mean?” asked Great Uncle Norman.
“Well, you know. . . that he died,” Sterlin said.
Great Uncle Norman’s mouth dropped open. I think he may have even lost a few crumbs of his coffee cake. “Died?” he repeated. “Are you kidding me?! He didn’t die! He left her–he couldn’t stand to be in the same house as her for one more minute! He’s remarried and lives in Burbank.”
Maybe she’d fed him the green-cheese-and-Tang breakfast, too; who knows? In any case, my own interactions with breakfast have remained consistently pleasant since that time.
The HH and I enjoyed these sausage patties and biscuits with gravy for brunch last weekend. After celebrating my birthday in a very low-key fashion (stupid flu! stupid virus! stupid germs!), the HH and I decided to aim for a special brunch instead. (I did receive a truly beautiful, totally indulgent and indescribably warm and cozy cashmere scarf as a gift from the HH, however).
With leftover cooked rice in the fridge, as well as some nearly-dried sage left over from the roasted plum and spinach salad I’d made the week before, I developed a vague idea of wanting ”sausages” and so devised this recipe for super-simple and quick savory patties. I baked mine, but they can be pan-fried just as easily. The patties crisp up on the outside (even baked), retaining a moist yet firm interior. The coupling of walnuts and sage here mimics a meaty flavor exceedingly well, I think.
After reading Lindsay’s post a while back about Southern biscuits smothered in gravy, I knew I had to try this pairing out myself! Of course, my choices for both biscuits and gravy are currently limited, but I revised my coconut flour biscuit recipe as a savory round*, and topped it with a slightly altered version of Isa’s brilliant Smoked Almond Gravy (since I can’t eat smoked almonds–the ACD forbids pre-roasted nuts, as they tend to harbor molds–I simply roasted my own natural almonds, then added smoked paprika and some caramelized onions to the mix for an irresistible alternative).
This delicious, thick and chunky gravy, once ladled atop the savory biscuits, transported the dish from merely a ”Jennifer Aniston good” to a stellar, “Meryl Streep good.” They’re that good!
If you’re looking for a fairly quick and easy brunch that will encourage seconds, here it is. Add a green salad, and you’ve got a perfect meal.
The inclusion of Tang is optional.
Since this is a perfect brunch meal, I thought I’d submit this to Meeta’sMonthly Mingle event–this month highlighting brunch!
Easy “Sausage” Patties
These are great to use up leftover cooked rice. I used walnuts, but you could substitute other nuts if you prefer.
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil, preferably organic
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1-1/4 cups ( g) lightly toasted walnuts
1-1/2 cups (360 ml) cooked brown rice (I used basmati)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) finely ground flax seeds
1/4 cup (60 ml) vegetable broth or water
2 Tbsp (30 ml) chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup (60 ml) chopped fresh sage (about 10-12 leaves), or use 1 tsp (5 ml) dried sage
1/2 tsp (5 ml) smoked paprika
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.
Heat the oil in a frypan over medium heat and add the onions and garlic. Sauté until the onions are golden, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until well mixed and almost smooth. Add the cooked onion/garlic mixture and process until combined. The mixture should be moist and sticky, but firm enough to hold a shape.
Using a large ice cream scoop or your hands (be sure to remove the processor blade first!), scoop about 1/3 cup (80 ml) of the mixture at a time and place on the cookie sheet. Flatten the patties to about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) thick. If desired, spray or brush with a little olive oil (this will help the patties to brown up on the outside). Bake in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes, until crisp and dry on the outside. Patties may also be pan-fried for 5-7 minutes per side. Makes 8 patties. May be frozen.
Thick, smoky, chunky, and creamy–this is everything gravy should be!
1 large onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp (15 ml) coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1 cup natural raw almonds, baked at 350F (180C) until toasted, 10-15 minutes, and then cooled
1-1/4 cups (300 ml) water
2 Tbsp (30 ml) soy sauce, Tamari, or Bragg’s
3/4-1 tsp (3.5–5 ml) smoked paprika, as you like
2-4 Tbsp (30-60 ml) brown rice flour (depending on how thick you want it)
fine sea salt, to taste
In a large frypan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is soft and golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, process the almonds in a food processor until they are the texture of a fine meal (like a coarse cornmeal). Add the cooked onion and garlic and process to blend well. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth.
Transfer the mixture to a medium pot and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the gravy bubbles and thickens. Serve immediately. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Makes 4-6 servings.
* For savoryCoconut Flour Biscuits: omit stevia and vanilla; use bean flour instead of buckwheat flour; and add 1 Tbsp (15 ml) each of dried tarragon, oregano, and basil.
Just like Anna Karenina’s unhappy families, everyone deals with illness in her or his own way.
The HH, for instance, when struck with a cold or flu, takes to his (ie, our) bed for two days or so. He doesn’t talk; he doesn’t watch TV; he doesn’t eat; he barely uses the bathroom. Then, after the magical 48-hour interval, he emerges from the room like someone who’s just attended a premiere screening of Star Wars: still a little dazed, eyes not quite yet adjusted to the light, but somehow energized and ready to get back into the regular world.
I, on the other hand, rarely if ever spend time in bed during the day (no, no, I didn’t mean it that way, silly! I’m talking about when I’m sick). Instead, I stumble about and manage to function at sub-optimal levels for as many days as it takes to recover. . . usually the better part of two weeks. Then, one day, I realize that the symptoms are gone–no more pile of soggy tissues beside the bed, no more abandoned cups of tea all over the house, no more tickle at the back of the throat, no more raw, throbbing red proboscis.
Similarly, I think that people who recuperate from illness crave unique foods as well.
When I was 16, I caught chicken pox from the CFO. (Believe me, chicken pox is intended as a childhood disease for a reason; what is usually mild and short-term discomfort for a ten year-old can progress to a full blown health crisis for a teen or adult). Besides the initial alarm and teenaged angst I felt during the first two days (when I assumed those little pustules were zits rather than pox), I also became incredibly enervated and developed a high (104F or 40C) fever before an insanity-inducing itch enveloped my entire body for about ten days. I recall spending hours hunched in the bathtub, attempting to submerge myself (face included) under the lukewarm water into which was dumped an entire box of baking soda. If it hadn’t been a drowning risk, I probably would have slept in that tub.
When I finally began to regain some strength, my mom asked what I wanted to eat.
“I think I’d like some. . . cottage cheese and canned pears.”
Cottage cheese? And canned pears?? Neither of these was a favored food; I almost never ate canned anything. Still, my body must have known what it needed. Perhaps there was sodium in the pears to replenish what I’d lost in bodily fluids by sweating so much. Or maybe my adolescent self still required some protein and calcium. Whatever the reason, it did the trick, and I began to get better.
This past week, as I finally emerged from the quagmire of a heinous virus (not swine flu, according to my doctor), I began to yearn for real food, something other than tea, or broth, or a healing smoothie.
“Ess goo suh-er” I said to the HH. (I lost my voice after the first few days, and it still hasn’t quite come back, unfortunately.)
“Huh?” the HH replied.
“Let’s cook supper,” I whispered. “How about lentil rissoles?”
“Huh?” the HH replied. (Oh, he had heard me this time; but he had no idea what a “rissole” was).
Like so many food bloggers, my favorite reading material when I have a few minutes of downtime is a good cookbook. In general, I flip through any new recipe book as soon as I get it home, marking favored recipes with tabs made from torn Post-It notes. Some books end up with just a few tabs, lonely markers like flags left behind on the surface of the moon, while others are graced with tabs on almost every page, leaving a fringe of sticky notes across the book’s edge.
This recipe for lentil rissoles is one I picked out over a year ago, when I first flipped through Homestyle Vegetarian, a great find at a bookstore remainder bin. Basically, a rissole is a patty or burger that’s been coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. I decided to nix the coating/frying and cook these up as a simple yet flavorful burger. Besides being delicious, these lovelies boast a full 24 grams of protein per serving (2 rissoles).
In about 30 minutes (by then I was too hungry to refrigerate them as directed before cooking–but I think it would have helped), we had a satisfying meal of rissoles and a simple green salad on the table. The end result was slightly disappointing in texture (probably my fault for not refrigerating them first), with a soft and moist interior much like refried beans. As a result, the patties tended to break up as I transferred them from pan to plate. (I’m guessing that a Tbsp/15 ml finely ground flax added to the raw mixture would help considerably, or substituting a glutenous rather than gluten-free bread for the crumbs). But the taste was outstanding.
Not at all spicy, with just a whisper of cumin, the burgers were toothsome and even meaty. While my habitual method with burgers is to blend everything to a homogenous smoothness, in this case I followed the original recipe and made patties with distinct chunks of carrot and whole peas, which provided bursts of slightly sweet, intense flavor in each bite. Beauty!
The HH proclaimed these a huge success and happily ate two. We had ours plain, but because of their mild flavor, I bet these would be stellar with a chutney or even a few slices of avocado and a dollop of salsa. Still, that’s just how I’d eat them. I imagine everyone else will deal with the burger in her or his own way, of course.
These patties are perfect for an everyday dinner, and would be wonderful jazzed up with an array of toppings and served in a toasted bun.
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp (10 ml) ground cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) ground coriander
2 cups (480 ml) vegetable broth or stock
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 cup (250 g) red lentils, picked over and washed
1-1/2 cups (120 g) fresh whole grain breadcrumbs (I used millet-quinoa bread, but I think a spelt or whole wheat would actually work better here)
2/3 cup (60 g) walnuts, finely chopped (I ground mine in the food processor)
1/2 cup (90 g) frozen peas
3 Tbsp (45 ml) chopped flat leaf parsley or cilantro
Heat the oil in a large pot or dutch oven. Cook the onion, garlic, cumin and coriander over medium heat for 2 minutes, or until the onion has softened. Stir in the carrot, lentils and broth. Slowly bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked and pulpy, stirring frequently to stop them from sticking and scorching. Remove the lid during the last 10 minutes to evaporate any remaining liquid. The mixture should be fairly mushy and there should be no liquid visible on the bottom of the pot after you run a spatula across it.
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the breadcrumbs, walnuts, peas, and parsley. Form into eight 3-1/2 inch (8 cm) round rissoles. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until they are firm (this is the step I skipped–I would advise doing it).
Spray a nonstick frypan with olive oil spray and heat over medium heat. Cook the rissoles about 4 minutes on each side, until the outsides are browned and crispy and they are heated through. Makes 8 rissoles. May be frozen.
[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).]
It’s astonishing to me how our tastes can change so dramatically as we age. Remember those things you loved as a kid which elicit apathy now? As a tot, I loved The Monkees. In my teens it was historical romances. In my twenties, I wore dark eye shadow and painted eyeliner across the base of my lashes. In my thirties, I dressed in black almost every day for three or four years in a row.
There’s no doubt my palate has changed over time as well. Foods I loved to eat as a child–saltwater taffy, Cap’n Crunch cereal, mellowcreme pumpkins or (a dinnertime favorite) a hillock of mashed potatoes with nuggets of hamburger cut up and hidden under it–all seem slightly repulsive to me now. Then again, many of the foods I abhored then are ones I adore today; to wit, parsnips, cilantro, and–as of two days ago–baked apples.
When I decided back in January to attempt a “cleaner” diet for a while so that I might reverse some of the holiday era choc-o-rama indulgences, I turned to a cookbook I’ve had for some time but have never really used: The Detox Cookbook and Health Plan, by Maggie Pannell. Hiding at the back, on the very last page, was a rather fetching photo of a lone baked apple, stuffed to the brim with chopped figs and walnuts.
Apple? Baked? I could feel myself recoiling, thinking, “Nawwww. . . . “ I mean, who eats baked apples? They’re granny food. They’re ulcer food. They’re nothing-else-is-in-the-house-so-I-have-to-make-do-with-this-dull-fruit food. Now, don’t get me wrong; I love raw apples and try to have one every day. But I’ve always found the concept of a baked apple to be rather meh.
Besides, apples are so common, so quotidien, so humdrum that they’re suffering from overexposure, like cupcake wedding cakes or Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons or Pamela Anderson’s cleavage. I mean, aren’t apples like the perma-date of fruits–pleasant, enjoyable, always there–but just not exciting enough to seek out for something exceptional? When I think of apples, all the old, hackneyed language comes to mind: Apple of my eye. One bad apple. An apple a day. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Apple Paltrow-Martin.
I was also flooded with memories of baked apples from my childhood, and why I never liked them back then: plain, dowdy, as wrinkled as your frowsy neighbor’s housecoat. And yet, that photo beckoned to me. I found the final push I needed when I went grocery shopping a couple of days ago: I often buy marked-down packages of apples to cut up and serve The Girls along with their regular dinner. That day, I found three packs of six apples each, at 99 cents a pack. Usually, these bargain-basement fruits and veggies sport more than a few little bruises; but these packages were perfect–smooth, rosy, unblemished; pristine. Seriously, I couldn’t find a single nick or mark on any of the apples! It was a sign.
I went home and baked these apples. The recipe was ridiculously easy, with only 4 ingredients. And while they baked, I got dinner ready and even fed The Girls (they got the unbaked fruit).
I guess my tastes have matured now that I’m an adult. I loved these–they were stupendous. I’d say these apples are like the homely, bespectacled secretary in the 1950s movie who suddenly tears off her glasses, pulls the hairpin holding her bun and shakes her head, and then–mon dieu!–she’s beautiful! I now am officially smitten with baked apples. Baked apples are my hero!
I used Gala apples (that’s what was on sale) and the outcome was perfect. The contrast between the sweet, pliable stewed figs with their popping crunch, and the perfectly creamy, tart apple flesh was delightfully unexpected. And as the glaze baked and thickened up, it acquired a deep, intense orange flavor as well as a deep caramel hue, contributing a glossy, sticky exterior glaze to the skins.
I think I’d better try to eat baked apples at least a few times a week through the winter. I plan to have them as often as I can. I mean, who knows when my tastes might change again?
Baked Apples with Figs and Walnuts in a Citrus Glaze
This is an elegant weekday dessert, that’s a comforting winter treat. And for pennies a serving, you really can’t go wrong.
4 medium firm, juicy apples, such as Gala or Granny Smith
4 dried figs (I used organic Turkish)
4 Tbsp (60 ml) walnut pieces
juice of 2 oranges
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Line a large square or rectangular pan with parchment, or spray with nonstick spray.
Wash and core the apples. Don’t worry if you cut right through to the bottom when you core them.
Place the apples upright in the pan, and divide the figs and walnuts evenly among them, stuffing the core area of each apple. If any fig or walnut pieces remain, scatter them on the bottom of the pan.
Pour the orange juice evenly over the apples. Cover the apples with foil (or a tight-fitting lid, if your pan has one). Bake in preheated oven 40-50 minutes, until the apples seem to be softening and the skins begin to wrinkle just a bit.
Uncover the pan and continue to bake 10-20 more minutes, basting occasionally with the juices, until the apples are soft and wrinkly and the orange juice has reduced to a thick glaze. Allow to cool 10 minutes before removing carefully from the pan and placing gingerly on a plate. Garnish with any extra fig and walnut pieces and any thick juices still in the pan. Makes 4 servings.
I’ll never forget the phrase that haunted me for months when I was about 16: delivered in a low, undulating murmur heard through the telephone receiver, a deep, throaty male voice posed a simple question: “Have you checked the children?”
Anyone who recognizes that line is familiar with the horror movie When a Stranger Calls. The premise is simple: a young woman is babysitting. Repeatedly, a strange man calls to ask if she’s checked the children. Eventually, she twigs in that this guy might just spell trouble, so she contacts the police to report the caller. “No problem, Miss,” the helpful lieutenant replies. “We’ll just trace the call and see where it’s coming from.” You can guess what’s next, right? When the subsequent call arrives, it’s the frantic police officer, warning the young woman to hightail it out of there: “It’s YOUR telephone number! The calls are coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE!!”
Egads. I still get chills when I think of that scene.
I know that horror movies are immensely popular, but I must admit that I don’t exactly, um, cleave to the genre very much (which, I suppose, would more appropriately be “cleaver,” in this case, anyway). I find nothing causes the blood to drain from my face and a gut-churning queasiness to overtake my innards quite so easily as the image of Jack Nicholson’s unctuous, demented grin poking through that ravaged pane in the door, drawling, “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” . Or how about the eerie, portentous silence that precedes the faceoff between Ripley and the alien in the original Alien? (Let’s just say I’m hoping those nail marks I dug into the the HH’s forearm will fade eventually).
I must confess, after seeing that last film, I finally swore off this type of movie for good. As a consequence, I have yet to see the original Psycho. I’ve also forfeited a good excuse to sidle up to the HH on the couch as we watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers; and I will remain forever ignorant of other modern classics such as Hallowe’en, or Se7en, or Shaun of the Dead. I mean, seriously, are 90 minutes of spectacular, digitally-enhanced bloody geysers, headless torsos and disembodied entrails really worth 48 hours of elevated blood pressure?
Now, you may ask, just why am I rambling on about horror movies at this particular juncture? It’s not that I’m no longer traumatized by them, or that I’ve recently relented and watched one. No, nothing of the sort. The reason I’ve got horror movies on the brain is an innocuous Middle Eastern sweet pepper dip (if anything that’s brilliant red can be considered innocuous when discussed in the context of horror, that is).
While I’m a fan of many types of Middle Eastern dishes from baba ghanouj to hummus to halvah, I had never heard of muhammara (and yet, a Google search on the dip yields a multitude of entries–this stuff has been around for eons!). Every time my sis uttered the word, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Vincent Price’s classic, villainous laugh, Baby Jane’s self-satisfied cackle as she serves up that dinner surprise, or even Count Floyd’s satiric rendition in Monster Chiller Horror Theater.
Here, try it yourself: “Mmmmwoohhhaaaaahaaahaaa–marra!!” Heh heh.
So you can see why, from that moment onward, the eternal pairing of muhammara and horror movies was born.
Yesterday, as I was musing about what I can eat on this cleanse (actually, I muse about what I can eat most days, cleanse or no), I remembered the muhammara. Could it be that following the ACD is beginning to feel like a horror movie? Perhaps. In any case, the dip’s ingredients are all fairly antagonistic to candida: it’s really just a puréed veggie spread made primarily of roasted red pepper, walnuts, garlic and olive oil. The only questionable items were the pomegranate syrup and bread; and I figured that if I made my own sugar-free syrup (without added sugar) and omitted the bread, this would loosely qualify for my new, “more flexible” form of the ACD. The result, even without the bread, was still entirely appealing, and made a wonderful dinner with baby carrots and a rice casserole.
This recipe, which I adapted from here, is so simple it almost qualifies as a “Flash in the Pan.” However, since the peppers must first be roasted, peeled and seeded, and since it requires pomegranate syrup (essential, but not hard to make your own), I decided it was a bit too much work for that category. On the other hand, it’s definitely not too much work to whip up in the afternoon as a pre-prandial appetizer if you’ve been dreaming of smooth, creamy, slightly sweet and slightly tangy flavors during the day. It’s also perfect as a light meal before a night out (just be sure to choose your babysitter wisely).
And since the predominant ingredient in the muhammara is red peppers, I’m submitting this recipe to Sunshinemom at Tongue Ticklers, who’s hosting the “Food in Colors” event. This month’s theme is “red” (as in, “blood.” As in, “slasher movie.” As in, “Have you checked the children. . . ?”)
This was a lovely, satisfying precursor to our dinner last night (a simple steamed veggie affair), that allowed me to indulge the need for something tasty without completely abandoning my ACD resolve. And with the hefty portion of walnuts included, it provides both a source of protein and heart-healthy Omega 3 fats.
3 large red bell peppers
2 cups walnut halves
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 slice spelt or kamut sourdough bread (optional)
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cumin
pinch cayenne (optional)
2 Tbsp. pomegranate syrup*
Preheat oven to 400F ( C) and place peppers on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Roast for about 45 minutes, until very soft and skins begin to blacken. (If you have a gas stove, you can roast the pepper directly over the flame of an element–it will be much faster). Remove from oven, place in a paper bag, and allow to cool. Once cool, peel away the skins, cut open and remove seeds.
While the pepper is roasting, toast the walnuts on another rack of the oven for about 7 minutes, until fragrant and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
In a food processor, process the garlic and bread until crumbly. Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Adjust seasonings and process again to mix. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This is even better the next day.
* To make your own pomegranate syrup, take 2 cups of unsweetened pomegranate juice and simmer down to about 1/4 cup, until the syrup is thick and easily coats a spoon.
Despite my constant whining about winter (When, oh when will it finally be over?? How much longer must I endure this bleak, bleached, desolate wasteland of frigid snow? How many more days must I suffer through this torturous, crystalline hell on earth? ), I fully recognize that the season Below Zero does have at least a few minor benefits.
For one, you get to cuddle closer to your honey while watching Battlestar Gallacticaor a DVD. You feel justified when you stay home from that excruciatingly boring dinner meeting (“but the roads were impossible. . . “). You have a legitimate reason to cover up your all-time high weight of mumblemumbleundisclosednumber pounds and wear loose sweaters.
And then, when the season finally begins to wane, you have the opportunity to eat fresh maple syrup.
Although technically, the trees aren’t tapped until early spring, in Canada you can purchase real maple syrup year-round (yay!). When I first changed my diet and left white sugar in the dust, maple syrup quickly became one of my baking staples. Its subtle, buttery, vaguely smoky and intensely sweet flavor is the perfect enhancement for so many foods–pancakes, of course, but also baked beans, scrambles, chocolate pudding, even some noodle dishes or casseroles. Whether you enjoy the lighter grades that contain a higher water content (the syrup darkens in color, thickens somewhat and intensifies in flavor as it’s condensed) or the richer, darker varieties, true maple syrup is a unique and noteworthy enjoyment.
When we were kids, I never realized that what my mom referred to as “maple syrup” was actually artificially-flavored corn syrup. My dad and sisters loved the stuff, and would slather it on a stack of pancakes so thickly that the syrup soaked right through to the cake on the very bottom of the pile, rendering them all a soggy, sticky mess.
I could never warm up to those heavy, dense, wet cakes. It wasn’t until I began to purchase pure maple syrup as an adult that I truly learned to appreciate pancakes. At first, I was skeptical, cutting just a corner of the pancake and tentatively dipping it into a little pool of syrup on my plate, as if I were testing lakewater with my big toe; but once I experienced that authentic light and sugary elixir, I felt comfortable pouring it on and plunging in with gusto.
Tasting genuine maple syrup also called to mind a childhood event when I was lucky enough to sample the “real thing” away from our corn syrup-infused kitchen at home. Once, on an extra-curricular school trip in April, our grade three class visited a maple farm north of the city. There, we attended an event known as “Sugaring Off.” (To this day, the term sounds vaguely like an expletive to me: “Why, you sonofa–just sugar off!” “Oh, yeah? Well you sugar off! And your mother wears army boots, too!”)
The maple farmers would hold these events just as the sap began to run, using freshly tapped syrup. They’d heat it just enough so that it caramelized instantly when poured over a base of pristine, white, freshly scooped snow that had been spread evenly across a long metal table. Immediately, the syrup was transformed into toffee against the frosted snow, and we kids wielded soup spoons, scooping in a frenzy of delight as we dug in and all shared the huge slab of sweetness.
Of course, these days, the practise would be banned for hygienic purposes. When I was a kid, however, no one worried about the snow harboring parasites, or fox pee, or fungus-infested decomposing pine cones. . . we just ate it. We all double-dipped, even triple-dipped, sharing the same enormous, rectangular, metal plate. And it was delicious. Like soft, warm, just-cooked caramel. . . . oh, how I loved it!
So when I heard about this week’s Root Source challenge to create a recipe with maple syrup, I knew I had to participate. Since I’ve been baking exclusively with natural sweeteners for the past few years, anyway, this task didn’t strike me as very different from what I’ve already been doing. And while I had a few maple syrup-based recipes in my repertoire, I wanted to create something original for this event.
Since I’m off chocolate for the time being, I considered other foods with which maple syrup can be paired successfully. One of the most common combinations–walnuts and maple syrup–exists precisely because these two ingredients complement each other so well. So I decided this was no time to buck tradition; maple and walnut it is!
The result of my kitchen playtime is these Maple-Walnut Cookies. They’re light, crisp, and really showcase the unique flavor of the syrup, especially the day after you bake them, when the flavors mature. If you prefer a chewy cookie, reduce the baking time by two or three minutes.
Because this was a test batch, I made a relatively small quantity. You should be able to double this without any problems.
1/2 cup (50 g.) walnut halves
1/4 cup (30 g.) ground flax seeds
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. (45 g.) whole barley flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. sea salt
2 Tbsp. tahini (sesame paste)
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 tsp. apple cider vinegar
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet, or line with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a food processor, process the walnuts, flax, barley flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together until you have a fine meal. The nuts should be finely ground into the mix; no large pieces of nut should be detectable.
Add the tahini, vanilla, maple syrup and apple cider vinegar to the processor. Pulse or process on low speed until the mixture comes together to a sticky dough.
Using a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon, scoop balls of dough and place on the cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Wet your hands and flatten each cookie slightly (or use the back of a glass).
Bake about 10 minutes, until golden brown, turning the sheet once about halfway through. Cool before removing from sheet. Makes about 15 cookies. These freeze well.
[This recipe will also appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog. For more information, check the "Cookbook" button at right, or visit the cookbook blog.]
It was all quiet on the DDD front yesterday, as I’m both preparing to return to school (gak!) tomorrow, and am still fighting off a weird viral thingie. So with my sinuses throbbing, I didn’t much feel like being creative in the kitchen. Woke up feeling very cold, only to discover that someone had stolen the blanket from the bed and was hogging it! (“Sorry, Mum, but since you won’t let me up there, I have to get in on the act somehow. Sheesh, haven’t you heard of the Family Bed?”)
Well, after catching up on some of my own blog reading, I was inspired by Veggie Girl’s recent baking marathon to get at it myself. In another recent post, she had mentioned the fantastic cookbook by Ellen Abraham, Simple Treats, a book I own and love, but had left, forlorn and forgotten, on the bookshelf for the past while. With my memory jogged, I set about finding something from the book to bake.
I adore freshly baked muffins or scones for breakfast, and was in the mood for something like that. I also had a bag of dried figs that have been waiting on the shelf for just such an occasion, so searched for something and came up with Ellen’s Walnut-Fig Bread. The recipe is straightforward and I love the fact that she uses barley flour for a change from spelt, so I dug right in. Rather than bake the bread in a loaf pan, I opted for a 9 x 9 inch square so we could cut it in cubes, sort of like a cornbread (not sure why; just in the mood!). The square pan cut the baking time almost in half, but other than that, I followed the recipe exactly.
Well, was it ever delicious! Dense, moist, with the crackly seeds and sweet chewiness of the figs dotted throughout, plus a hint of cinnamon–perfect for a cold winter’s morning with a dollop of almond butter and a steaming cup of green tea. My HH, reluctant to try it at first, ended up ready to devour the whole thing and ate three squares in quick succession, even after having had a full breakfast! (And no, despite my many references to how much he eats, my HH is NOT overweight, and has never had a weight problem. Is that warped, or what?).
Most of the time, I find baking to be therapeutic and soothing. Unfortunately, the effort this time pretty much wiped me out, and I spent the remainder of the day just reading and procrastinating attempting to do some course prep. By the time dinner rolled around, I abandoned my original, more ambitious, plans for pasta and focused instead on some kind of quick but warming and nutritious soup to make.
To me, soup is a saviour in the kitchen, since you can basically throw any and all vegetables–whether fresh or even a little past their prime–into a pot, boil away, and you’ve got something hot, yummy, and good for you. Even when the combination is otherwise less than dazzling, just pour the whole mess in the blender, add a splash of soymilk and/or a previously boiled potato for creaminess, and you’ve got a great potage.
Last night, I just combined whatever bland winter veggies we had on hand. I began by sauteing an onion, some chopped garlic, sliced celery, and sliced carrots. While those were softening up, I chopped some broccoli and a Yukon Gold potato. To the pot, I added some salt, pepper, fresh parsley, dill, and just a pinch of smoked paprika along with about 6 cups of water. The mixture was still looking a little pallid, so I ramped it up a bit with a teaspoon of instant veggie broth powder, a squirt of ketchup (we had no tomato in the house, and it needed something) and a splash of Bragg’s. By then, its appearance had perked up a bit, so I tossed in the broccoli and potatoes an set it simmering.
But something was still missing. . . . something to add the chewy density you’d get with pasta, something to give it a little more oomph. . . .ah! It hit me: dumplings! I have a wonderful recipe for a curried vegetable stew with dumplings, so figured I could just wing it and create something similar to go with my veggie soup. For variety and flavor, I settled on fresh herbed dumplings: in a bowl, I mixed about a cup of oat flour with chopped fresh cilantro, salt, thyme, and some ground mustard. I rubbed in about a tablespoon of coconut butter, then splashed about 4 tablespoons of soymilk into the bowl, tossed with a fork until it came together, and rolled little balls that I placed gingerly on top of the simmering soup, where they bobbed gently (covered) for about 10 minutes. This is the end result:
It turned out to be quite satisfying, with a hearty flavor and big chunks of the veggies. The dumplings provided a contrast in consistency, light and tender on the inside with a springy bite.
After slurping up a couple of bowls, I was feeling a little better and was able to spend the rest of the evening relaxing with my HH and Girls. I guess Chaser could tell I wasn’t feeling up to par, as she didn’t even attempt to steal the covers at night, but just let me sleep.
(“I thought I’d give you a break, Mum, since you were under the weather. But now that it’s morning, how about some of that fig bread?”)