Friday, July 20, 2012

Pickled Prunes

My google doc with lists of what to pack for school is getting a little ridiculous. Coffee mugs, towels, nail polish, a can opener (for making peanut soup, of course), both of my tin Yellow Submarine lunch boxes... and a jar of pickled prunes, canned by yours truly. I have been planning on learning to can forever. I had my first attempt with this recipe, and while the canning process was a bit of a disaster, the fruit came out just right.

This chutney-like recipe yields soft, rich fruit in a sticky glaze. The fruit is both sweet and savory; chopped pickled prunes instantly add depth to any dish. My ideas for using the prunes and raisins: toss cold chunks of steamed cauliflower with chopped prunes and a spoonful or two of syrup for a yummy salad. Saute or steam carrot sticks, then top with prunes for a tsimmesish creation. Fill celery sticks with chopped poached chicken, then sprinkle with raisins. 

Pickled Prunes
adapted from Serious Eats
I made this recipe with 3/4 prunes and 1/4 raisins. I thought the raisins were delicious and would happily repeat this with just raisins. There isn't much liquid and it's syrupy, not briny, so I'd classify this more as a chutney than pickles... but either way you should give it a try.

1 pound prunes or raisins
1 c red wine vinegar
1/2 lemon
1/4 c brown sugar
1/4 c honey
1 t fresh grated ginger
1/2 t whole black peppercorns
pinch ground cloves
pinch red chili flakes
pinch ground allspice
1 bay leaf
pinch salt

Combine fruit and vinegar in a medium saucepan. Add strips of lemon zest removed with a peeler and the lemon juice. Add all the rest of the ingredients and bring it all to a simmer. Cook 15-20 minutes, until prunes have plumped and liquid is a thin syrup. Remove pan from heat and cool slightly. Spoon into a jar and refrigerate, where it'll keep for a month. Or can using proper canning techniques and save it for even longer! (I haven't mastered this yet so I won't explain how.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pancakes on a Diet

No matter how much criticism fad diets get, there must be a little bit of good in each diet. If it was complete disgusting nonsense, it wouldn't be popular enough to qualify as a fad. I recently read Dr. Dukan's diet book, which is full of complete crap (suck on ice cubes and watch the pounds float away!) but also has a few nice tips and recipes.

My favorite thing about the Dukan diet is that he is totally obsessed with oat bran. Gluten-free and full of fiber, it was the perfect thing for me to add to my diet. Dukan recommends having a certain amount of bran every day, whether the bran is sprinkled on yogurt, cooked to make hot cereal, or made into his most amazing creation- the oat bran galette. I've changed a few things about his galette to make it less obsessive and more delicious, and the savory pancakes have become my new favorite meal. 

Bea's Doctored-Up Dukan Pancakes
Make one big galette or three smaller pancakes. Either way, you'll be impressed with the light texture of these gluten-free, high-protein, fiber-filled cakes. 
I prefer these to be savory, so I put in salt and pepper and serve it with ketchup and/or mustard. If you want to go the other way, you should totally drizzle your pancakes with honey and serve with fruit and yogurt. 

2 T plain Greek yogurt
2 T oat bran
1 egg, separated*
salt**, pepper, red pepper flakes, and other spices to taste
olive oil***

Mix the yolk, yogurt, and oat bran with any spices you desire. Beat the egg white until it has soft peaks. Heat a little olive oil in a pan. While it's heating, fold the white into the yolk mixture. 
When the pan is ready, drop the batter into the pan by the spoonful and cook like pancakes. Serve with chutney, ketchup, mustard, or salsa. 

*Dr. Dukan would say trash the yolk and just use the protein-filled white. I vote that throwing away a yummy, nutritious yolk is a crime. 
**Finicky Dukan says no salt, but I say that's absurd. 
***The persnickety doctor would recommend using no oil/butter at all to grease the pan because he's afraid of the fat. I don't think a little olive oil ever hurt anyone. 

Summer Heat

I have eaten so many beautiful things this summer, both meals out at new restaurants and meals I have cooked for myself. In chronological order, here are a few dishes I intended to post as recipes, but never got around to posting:

This asparagus slaw was inspired by the one served (until the menu changed a week or two ago) at Red House under pan-seared scallops. I blanched the asparagus, then cut them on the mandoline. The dressing was lots of lemon zest and juice, whole grain mustard, dijon, and a bit of olive oil. The asparagus was a pain in the butt, but so delicious. 

Mmm frozen chunks of watermelon with lime and mint... I caught Zoe in the middle of making drinks. Frozen watermelon is the perfect ice cube.

Joy's crispy coconut kale is a delight. Much more complex in flavoring than my basic kale dishes, it's a fun way to enjoy the best veggie ever. 

These pretty peas were getting ready to be blended with that mess of fresh parsley and basil you see. I chopped the herbs with some oil until they made pesto, then smashed the peas in. The resulting smash was an earthy garnish for a very simple roasted beet soup. I just pureed roasted beets with some broth and water for the freshest dose of magenta beets. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Braised Cinnamon Tofu

I used to wait tables with a guy who refused to eat tofu because soy contains too much estrogen. I laughed, because it seemed like such a ridiculous thing to worry about. Did he think he'd sprout breasts just from having tofu in his pad see ew? I ignored his frivolous worry and continued to enjoy tofu often. Recently I've been more concerned about tofu, though. I've read a couple of very silly extremist articles condemning soy products. Did you know they have high levels of goistrogen, protease inhibitors, and phytates?!??!!??? I have no idea what any of those are, and I can't figure out if I should actually be concerned. Should I stop eating tofu because of all the scary soy problems? Are the people who complain about soy just overreacting? The jury is still out. Meanwhile, I think I'll enjoy some absurdly delicious braised cinnamon tofu.  

Braised Cinnamon Tofu
serves three

This soupy dish from one of Nina Simonds' cookbooks wins all tofu competitions. It's warming and hearty, but extremely healthy (if you ignore the cries of the tofu haters). Make sure to start with plenty of time before you want to serve, because this cooks forever, but it's worth it! The house will smell lovely. This recipe is very easy to make vegetarian or vegan. 

1/2 t safflower or corn oil
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
3 slices fresh ginger, about the size of a quarter each, smashed lightly with the side of a knife
1/2 t hot chile paste
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 t anise seed
1/4 c soy sauce
3 cups chicken stock, veggie stock, or water
1 pound firm tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/2 pound spinach, rinsed
1 1/2 T minced scallion greens, to garnish

Heat a large pot or casserole over medium-high heat with the oil. When hot, add the garlic, ginger, chile paste, cinnamon, and anise. Stir fry until fragrant (about 15 seconds), then add soy sauce and water. Heat until boiling. Add the tofu and boil again.

Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer. Skim the surfact to remove impurities and fat. Cook one hour on low heat. Remove ginger slices and cinnamon stick.

Add the spinach and heat until the spinach is wilted. Ladle the mixture into serving bowls and serve garnished with scallions.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Rainy Day Cucumbers

Daddy and I were raiding the fridge to find something to make for lunch. He grabbed a cucumber and suggested some sort of salad. Even though it's June, it's one of those dreary cold days that makes me drag out my fuzzy slippers and sip a cup of tea all day long, so I didn't think I could handle any cold food. Luckily I thought of the delicious sounding coconut cucumbers from this month's Bon Appetit. Sauteed with chopped tomatoes, sliced chilis, garlic, and scallions, these flavorful cucumbers seemed perfect for a warm lunch. Except we didn't have most of the ingredients. Instead, we devised an extremely simplified version. We cooked cucumber slices and beautiful yellow tomatoes gently, and added just a little bit of coriander chutney for a tiny hint of spice. The flavors were delicate and delicious. Cooked cucumbers are extremely tender, sweet, and juicy. I'm going to have to make a mental note to cook cucumbers more often!

Sauteed Cucumber and Tomato

canola or other veggie oil
1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

Heat a small amount of oil in a big skillet. When hot, add the cucumbers and cook for 2-3 minutes, until they are beginning to soften. Add the tomatoes and cook until the cucumbers are becoming translucent. Stir in the cilantro chutney and serve hot. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

To Spoon Over Everything

I'm really a person of utmost class. It's just that no one can tell, because my sophisticated self hides behind several layers of unsophisticated habits. For example: I can't survive one day without a bottle of ketchup. Ketchup is my favorite food in the entire universe and I eat it on eggs, burgers, broccoli, peas, green beans, potatoes, and anything else I can find. I've been wanting to make my own ketchup for like freaking forever, but with a bottle of Heinz in the fridge, I always wondered why I'd bother peeling a million tomatoes.

This afternoon, I decided that I'd finally make my own homemade ketchup. Let's call this semi-homemade ketchup (in the style of Sandra Lee). I was too lazy to blanch tomatoes, peel them, cook them down, and finally strain the seeds, so instead I just started with tomato paste. I made a combination of two recipes with a few adaptations. I swapped some honey for dark molasses for a deeper caramel flavor, I decreased the salt, and I changed the spices. The amounts here for spices are approximations, because I didn't actually measure anything that comes after the salt. All the spices are optional - use what's in the front of the cabinet and don't bother with the rest.

This ketchup is perfect for me. The initial sour bite gives way to a complex balance of sweet, dark spices. It's thick and addicting and makes me crave some steamed broccoli to dip. I believe in the hierarchy of ketchup flavors, sour ought to trump sweet which in turn comes before salty, and all three have to hide behind the deep umami of the tomatoes. Thus, my ketchup has a whole lot of vinegar in it. But I recognize that your ketchup tastes are deeply personal, like what god you pray to or what color you paint your toenails. Feel free to adjust this recipe to your taste.

Spiced Honey Ketchup
Adapted from An Oregon Cottage and Paleo Diet Lifestyle

12 oz tomato paste
1/3 c honey
1/6 c molasses
1 c vinegar (I used cider vinegar)
1/2 c water
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 pinch ground cloves
1 pinch ground allspice
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Whisk until smooth in a saucepan.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer. Partially cover the pan to avoid a big red splotches all over the kitchen. Keep tasting to adjust flavorings. After about twenty minutes, it'll be thick and gooey and dark. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Keep refrigerated. If it thickens too much in the fridge, just add some water (a couple teaspoons at a time) to reach pouring consistency.
Makes 2 1/2 to 3 cups.


Want a dessert that pleases absolutely everyone? Something vegan and gluten-free, low in fat, with absolutely no refined sugar... and something that takes two minutes to make? Let me introduce you to banana whip.

Start with frozen bananas - at least one half to a whole banana per serving. You can freeze your bananas sliced or whole, but make sure they're peeled first. They'll keep in a ziplock in the freezer forever.  When you're ready, slice up the frozen banana and pop into a blender, food processor, or just a big bowl if you want to use a hand held mixer. Blend up the banana. At first it'll just look thick and choppy, but after a few minutes, the frozen banana will whip up into a creamy foam. When it's thick and pale, you're ready!

Just like that, your bananas get this crazy soft serve ice cream texture, just a little more gooey. Banana whip is delicious plain, but the list of delicious toppings is infinite. Try a dash of cinnamon, a pile of chopped almonds, lots of fresh fruit, a spoonful of peanut butter butter, a splash of chocolate sauce, a scoop of yogurt, a sprinkle of granola... the possibilities are endless. Oh and rumor has it, if you put the mixture back into the freezer whipped, it'll take on the texture of scoopable ice cream. Of course, that implies there's any left to put back in the freezer.