Monday, April 29, 2013

Meatless Monday: Chickpeas and Cauliflower in a Spicy Tomato Sauce

This is my yummy Indian breakfast

This is an easy East Indian-like baked dish. Chickpeas and Cauliflower are very common Indian ingredients. This can be as spicy as you like. It's flavorful without the chile so you can leave it out, if you don't like spicy.

Chickpeas and garbanzos are the same thing. Sometimes they are labeled one, sometimes the other. You can buy dried ones (they are even cheaper than canned) and cook them yourself, but you'll need to plan ahead. They take quite a while to soak and cook. See the note at the end of the recipe if you want to use dried chickpeas.

The recipe for the tomato sauce is here. It comes together in about 15 minutes, cooking in the microwave. You can make it ahead but reheat it before using it in this recipe.

Queso Fresco is a fresh Mexican cheese. We used it as a substitute for paneer in our recipe for Saag. It's very mild. You can make this without the cheese. It's still very good but you may need to add a bit more salt since the cheese adds salt.

Chickpeas and Cauliflower in a Spicy Tomato Sauce
(serves 6, costs $12.25)

1 recipe Spicy Tomato Sauce - Indian version, heated
non-stick cooking spray, oil or butter for greasing baking dish
4 cups raw cauliflower florests (about 1 small head or ½ a large head)
2 15 oz. cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained (about 3 ¾ cups)
½ pound queso fresco, cubed + plus more for garnish
½ teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons melted butter
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley (about 6 large sprigs)

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a large, deep casserole dish (about 3 quarts). Pour in tomato sauce. Mix in cauliflower, garbanzos, and queso fresco. Bake for 30-40 minutes, uncovered. The sauce will be all bubbly and the cauliflower will be crisp-tender. Sprinkle with melted butter, chopped herbs, and additional cheese, if desired.

Inspired by recipes from Moghul Microwave by Julie Sahni and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman.

Note: If you want to start with dried chickpeas, here are instructions for cooking them. I try to use home-cooked beans because they have a better texture and are really, really inexpensive.

For this recipe, you will need 1 ½ cups dried chickpeas. Place them in a large pot and add water until they are covered by at least an inch of water. Let sit overnight. You can do a quick soak but I find chickpeas cook better with a long overnight soak. Drain completely. Add fresh water to cover chickpeas by at least a water. If you want to add some flavoring, add a couple of bay leaves and dozen whole peppercorns. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cover partially and simmer for 45 minutes. Try a few chickpeas. If they are tender, drain, pick out the bay leaves and peppercorn, and you are ready to proceed with the recipe. If they still have a little crunch, cook 5-10 minutes more and try again.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Spicy Tomato Sauce - the Indian version

This spicy tomato sauce is going to be the base of our next Meatless Monday dish. It's really easy to make in the microwave. You can make it ahead for that meal but it cooks so fast, you don't really need to plan ahead. If you don't like spicy, go with 1 Tablespoon chile. If you do like spicy, definitely use 2 Tablespoons. It's still not that spicy so if you are chilehead, feel free to add more!

Besides using in our next Meatless recipe, you can serve it over roasted chicken or fish, with a grilled steak, or over rice. You could also poach eggs in it - delicious for brunch.

Spicy Indian Tomato Sauce
(makes about 4 cups, costs $2)

1 ½ Tablespoons vegetable oil or butter
1 Tablespoon minced or grated ginger
½ medium onion, minced
1 - 2 Tablespoons minced seeded hot chile (serrano or jalapeño)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 26 - 28 ounce can of chopped peeled tomatoes

Heat oil or butter in 2 quart microwaveable dish for 1 minute on HIGH. Add the onion, chile, and ginger. Microwave on HIGH for 1 minute. Add cumin and salt. Microwave on HIGH for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and microwave on HIGH for 4 minutes. Stir, and microwave for 4 minutes.

Friday, April 26, 2013

What's in Season Now: Asparagus

These are done: bright green and still slightly crisp
Asparagus isn't the cheapest vegetable out there, even when it is in season. But, it's way, way more expensive when it is out of season, so we snap it up when the price drops below $2 per pound. There is a fair amount of waste, so, definitely not a budget item. Think of it as a treat of spring, a way to lavish goodness on a loved one.

Asparagus is great hot, warm, or chilled. It cooks in no time. It is delicious prepared in the most simple way. You can eat it with your fingers!

A pound of asparagus will feed 4-5 people though we love it so much in my house, it barely feeds 3 sometimes.

Let's talk about cleaning asparagus. How you clean it up depends on the thickness of the stalks. If the stalks are thin, the best way to get rid of the woody parts is as follows:

  • Hold stalk at woody end in one hand and in the middle with the other.
  • Bend the stalk until it snaps
  • It breaks where the woody part starts
If the stalks are big enough to peel, you can cut off about an inch of the woody end, then peel off the tough green layer, using a vegetable peeler. I prefer thick stems; I think if you are willing to go to the trouble of peeling them, you will get more asparagus for your money. But, sometimes, all you can find is thin stalks. Best to know both ways to handle your asparagus.

You can steam it, you can boil it, you can roast it, but broiling (or if you have the grill on, grilling) is the easiest, tastiest, and fastest way to cook asparagus.

If you are broiling it in the oven, place the asparagus on a cookie sheet that can handle the high temperature of the broiler. Drizzle on just a little bit of oil, maybe a teaspoon per pound. Toss the asparagus on the sheet to get it well-covered with the oil. Sprinkle on salt and pepper. Stick under the broiler for a few minutes until asparagus starts to sizzle. Toss and broil for another minute or two. How long will depend on how thick the asparagus stalks are. Even thick stalks are done in under 10 minutes. You want bright green asparagus, maybe with a little bit of brown or char (particularly if you are grilling them). Do not overcook - pull them out before they are soft and limp.

If you want to fancy it up, you can:
  • Sprinkle on a spice blend like curry or jerk seasoning.
  • Sprinkle on some dried herbs. I really like Penzey's Sunny Paris blend (also really tasty in tomato soup).
  • Sprinkle on some fresh herbs when it comes out of the oven. 
  • Sprinkle on some flavorful oil, like high quality extra virgin olive oil or walnut oil, or a squeeze of citrus juice when it comes out of the oven.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Food Revolution Day 2013 - May 18 at Whole Foods, Pearl St.

We are holding our 2013 Food Revolution Day event on Saturday May 18 from 12-3 pm on the West Patio at the Whole Foods Pearl St. store in Boulder, Colorado.

Last year, we held a Food Improv event for Food Revolution Day. It was a pretty small affair but great fun. You can read about the event here. This year, we are involving the wider community by teaming up with Whole Foods and the Boulder Valley School District. Whole Foods is generously providing snacks. There will be kid activities and information about Whole Kids (the Whole Foods foundation for improving children's nutrition and wellness) and the wonderful work BVSD continues to do to improve school lunch in Boulder Valley. I'll be there to answer all your cooking questions and get you excited about cooking real food. As the poster says: Cook it. Share it.

For a bit of theater, we'll be holding a "Chopped" competition. I'll be competing against one of the BVSD chefs and someone selected by Whole Foods. We'll have 45 minutes to come up with a delicious dish using a secret market basket selected by Whole Foods. Judges from the Boulder community will taste and declare a winner. Come and cheer me on if you live in the Boulder area. It's going to be great fun!

If you can't make it to Whole Foods to see me cook up something wonderful, enter to win a cooking lesson with Jamie Oliver! I'd enter but I'll be busy cooking at Whole Foods that weekend. But, you can enter and I won't hold it against you if you win. :-) Make a donation to the Food Revolution to enter the drawing; all donations go to support food education in the US. You can enter here and below is the video invitation from the man himself.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Meatless Monday: Tomato and Feta Quiche

This is pseudo-quiche because it doesn't have a pastry crust. People are intimidated by pastry crusts so I've replaced the pastry with a cracker crumb crust. It works really well - the dry crackers absorb the liquid in the filling and act a lot like a pastry crust. Surprisingly, even if the crumbs don't tightly cover the bottom, they will expand to give you a dense crust. It's kind of magical! It's also a great way to use up some crackers languishing in your cupboards.

Feel free to experiment with the fillings. Use a different cheese (about 1 ½ cups shredded cheese). Substitute leftover veggies for the tomatoes. Like omelets, quiches are a great way to repurpose leftovers.

Tomato and Feta Quiche
(serves 4-6, costs $7)

1 ½ cups crushed cracker crumbs (saltines, matzoh, wheat)
6 Tablespoons melted butter
½ teaspoon salt, if crackers are unsalted
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 tomatoes, sliced or 2 big handfuls of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
4 eggs
1 ½ cups milk (whole or 2%)
3 Tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil or dill

Preheat oven to 350 F°. Spray a 9" pie plate generously with non-stick cooking spray (or butter well with butter or margarine). Put the cracker crumbs in a large bowl. Pour on the melted butter and sprinkle with the salt, if using unsalted crackers. Mix well - your hands are the best tool here. Pour the crumbs into the pie plate and distribute them evenly on the bottom and up the sides. It's going to be more rustic than a pastry shell.

In the same bowl that you mixed the crust, beat the eggs. Add the milk, flour, salt, pepper, and herbs. Beat well to combine.

Place the pie plate on a cookie sheet (this makes it easier to get the quiche in and out of the oven and if there is any spillage while it bakes, your oven isn't a mess). Distribute the cheese over the bottom of the quiche. Lay the tomatoes evenly over the cheese. Slowly pour on the egg mixture. Place the quiche in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes, until the filling is set and doesn't jiggle when you gently shake the pan.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Getting Dinner on the Table: Rescued by Leftovers

The greens were leftovers. I only made the sweet potato pancakes.
I am not one of those people who thinks leftovers are a bad thing. I have met people who don't want to eat them, which perplexes me. There are many things that actually improve as leftovers - soups, stews, braises. Leftovers help you put a complete meal on the table faster. So, let's celebrate leftovers for what they are, a great way to save yourself some time in the kitchen.
If you look under the lamb, it's the return of the sweet potato pancakes. The lamb cooked all
day in the slow cooker, so I only made the artichokes at dinner time.
It would be awfully nice if we all had enough time and energy to make everything fresh every night, but this is a fantasy. We don't have that much time and energy after working a full day, dealing with life, commuting, getting kids where they need to go. That's OK, because with a little planning, you can use leftovers to fill in the gaps in a meal.

Rather than hoping that there will be something leftover, cook extra so that you have those leftovers to pull out when you need them. Cook extra rice, beans, or potatoes. Cook extra veggies, though you need to take some care with some of them. If you have these things stashed in the fridge (or the freezer for longer-term storage), all you need to do is make the main dish. If you have a main dish from a couple of nights ago, you can get dinner on the table real fast by steaming some veggies and cooking rice or potatoes. It also gives you the option to create a quick main dish with the minimum of work. Omelets, soups, and hashes are great dishes for repurposing leftovers. Do not try to make everything for that particular meal, unless you do have time and you don't have hungry people (yourself included) barking for food.

What holds up well as leftovers and what doesn't? Here's a list. Hardly complete, but I hope you find it useful. If you have other suggestions, leave a comment!

Can be reheated reliably:
  • Baked casseroles
  • Stews & soups
  • Braised meats like pot roasts
  • Root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, turnips
  • Cauliflower
  • Sturdy greens such as collards, kale, mustard greens, chard, cabbage
  • Cooked grains such as rice, barley, couscous (really a pasta but it acts more like a grain), wild rice
  • Cooked beans
  • Tomato based sauces
Can be heated if you are careful:
  • Most green vegetables, if you cook them to crisp tender, chill them quickly and don't reheat them too long. Asparagus, green beans, peas, broccoli, peppers all reheat nicely.
  • Pasta if you cook it to al dente and then cool quickly with lots of cold water, and chill. Don't store pasta with sauce because the sauce will make the pasta soggy.
  • Roasted, baked or sautéed poultry(especially white meat), pork, or shrimp if you reheat it covered or in a moist environment like a soup so it doesn't dry out.
Don't bother:
  • Cooked spinach, turns to gray-green mush no matter what.
  • Brussels sprouts get very strong tasting on reheating.
  • Fried anything. It will never be as crispy as when you made it.
  • Most fish. If it isn't in a stew to keep it moist while it's reheating, it's going to overcook.
  • Egg dishes like omelets or scrambled eggs turn rubbery. Hard boiled eggs overcook.
  • Rare to medium rare steaks. By the time you reheat them, they aren't going to be rare anymore. But, you can use them in a hash or put them in a sandwich.
  • Though not cooked, dressed green salads will turn to an ugly mess. Eat it when you dress the lettuce then toss out any leftovers.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Meatless Monday: Sweet Potato Pancakes

Sweet potato pancakes are a nice change from regular potato pancakes. Sweet potatoes are packed with nutrition and their natural sweetness is so delicious especially as a foil to somewhat bitter sauteed greens. You can serve these as a side dish but since this is Meatless Monday, we suggest you serve them as a part of a vegetarian meal. You can serve them with sauteed greens and a sprinkling of cheese (feta in photo above). Or serve with a fried egg (kind of like sweet potato hash browns). Or serve them by themselves with a dollop of yogurt and a drizzle of maple syrup - breakfast for dinner, one of our favorite meals.

Sweet potatoes aren't starchy like white potatoes so these pancakes are more delicate. A well-seasoned cast iron or non-stick griddle/skillet is really helpful because these guys don't hold together nearly as well as potato pancakes. You don't need a lot of oil either. The sugars in the sweet potato helps the cakes brown but they don't get crispy like white potatoes. Still taste great!

Sweet Potato Pancakes
(serves 4 as an entree, 6-8 as a side dish, costs $2.30)

2 eggs
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled
¼ onion
4 Tablespoons flour or bread crumbs
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
a pinch of ground cinnamon, optional
2-3 Tablespoons vegetable oil

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Coarsely grate the sweet potatoes and add to the potatoes. Finely grate the onion into the potatoes so that you get all the onion juice as well as the onion mush. Mix in the flour, salt, pepper, and cinnamon, if using.

Heat up a large skillet or griddle on medium-high heat. Brush on some of the oil to grease the pan. Add about a golf ball sized blob of sweet potatoes and squish them down and spread them out so they are about ⅛" thick. They cook faster and are easier to turn if they aren't too thick. If you use a 12" griddle, you can fit 3-4 pancakes, but they are easier to turn if you don't crowd them. Go slow, take your time until you get the hang of flipping them. When the bottom is browned, carefully turn it over with a pancake spatula. Brown on the other side.  Keep finished pancakes warm in a very low oven (170-200°F) while you cook the remaining potatoes. Brush more oil between each batch of pancakes and if you find the potatoes are burning rather than browning, lower the heat to medium.

Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Cookies for the weekend: Chinese Almond Cookies

I made these cookies to serve at our last class on Chinese take-out you can make at home (see here and here). They were a big hit! They aren't hard to make, but the recipe makes quite a few, so it does take some time (and multiple cookie sheets). There are a couple of versions of the Chinese Almond Cookie: one that is more like shortbread and very crispy, and another that is chewy. This is the chewy version and it gets its chewy texture from the addition of egg whites. We use a mixture of butter and shortening (look for shortening with no hydrogenated fats, such as Spectrum's palm oil-based shortening). Lard is traditional but high-quality lard that hasn't been hydrogenated is nearly impossible to find nowadays.

Chinese Almond Cookies
(makes about 4 dozen)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder (see Note)
¼ teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
6 Tablespoons non-hyrogenated vegetable shortening
½ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 large egg whites mixed with 1 Tablespoon water
⅓ cup white sugar for rolling cookies in
about 4 dozen whole almonds, with skin or blanched, for garnish

Cover 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or foil.

Set two racks in the oven so they divide the oven into ⅓'s. Preheat oven to 325 F°.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine butter, shortening, ½ cup sugar, and almond extract. Beat with an electric mixer until soft, light, and fluffy. Set mixer to its lowest setting and stir in ½ of the flour mixture. Add the egg whites and beat. Stir in the rest of the flour, scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix thoroughly by hand.

Place the ⅓ cup sugar in a small bowl. Take 1" pieces of dough (a spoon is good for the scooping) and roll in your hands. Roll in the sugar. Place on the prepared cookie sheets about 2" apart. Place a whole almond on each ball and press into cookie dough. When you have filled the 2 cookie sheets, place in the oven and bake for 14 minutes. They should be slightly golden brown on the bottom and not browned at all on top. Remove from the oven. Transfer the cookies on the paper/foil to racks to cool. Let sheets cool for 5 minutes, recover with paper/foil, form cookies with the rest of the dough and finish baking.

Note: I've adjusted this recipe to work at Boulder, Colorado elevation, 5400 ft. If you are at sea-level, increase baking powder to 1 ½ teaspoons.

Adapted from Cookies Unlimited by Nick Malgieri. He uses lard and says don't substitute shortening for the lard because it isn't like the cookies he remembered growing up in New Jersey. Point taken, but since I don't have that memory, they taste just fine to me made with shortening.

Monday, April 8, 2013

What is Real Food?

As part of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, we bring you recipes for real food. But, what is real food? Food in the 21st century includes a whole lot of strange stuff: yogurt in a tube, bread with two dozen ingredients, or spaghetti sauce with as much added sugar per serving as a sugar cookie. Are these real food?

The best definition of not "real," that is, processed food I've found comes from Melanie Warner, the author of Pandora's Lunchbox. You can see her appearance on the PBS News Hour: Seven Foods You Think are Healthy but Aren't. Her definition: if you can't make it at home with those same ingredients, it's processed food. Processed food is made with industrial processes and it uses ingredients that you have no access to (nor do you even know what they are).

This definition can help you figure out what is real in your local supermarket. Once upon a time, we said, "stick to the perimeter of your supermarket, and you'll find the real food." But, that's not true anymore. You can find yogurt in a tube in the dairy section, chicken and pork plumped up with salt solutions in the meat department, and cottony highly refined white bread in the bakery, all departments on the perimeter of the store.

This begs the question: what is wrong with processed food? Plenty!
  • Processing removes nutrients. This is usually done to improve shelf life. Processing strips out anything that can spoil and takes with it nutrients. 
  • Processed food utilizes sugar, fat, and salt to make it hyper-palatable. That makes it very hard for many people to stop eating it so they over-consume calories and get little nutrition.
  • Processed food emphasizes flavor over nutrients. Processed foods contain a lot of calories from sugar, starch, and fat but little nutrition. Unlike real food, processed foods are not nutrient dense.
  • Many processed foods tout the little bit of nutrition they do contain, trying to convince you that they are healthy. Drinks with lots of added sugar and some vitamins added. Cereal with lots of added sugar and bit of whole grains. This is about marketing, not healthy eating.
Back to the three foods mentioned at the start - are they real?

Go-Gurt, the best known yogurt in a tube, is thickened with modified food starch, gelatin, and carrageenan. (Real yogurt thickens naturally through the action of the beneficial bacteria.) It's artificially flavored and contains extra sugar to make it hyper-palatable. How much sugar? Your average strawberry yogurt, which is plenty sweet, contains 25 g of sugar in 8 oz., 12 g of that is added to sweeten the yogurt while the rest occurs naturally in milk. An equivalent amount of Go-Gurt has 35 g of sugar. That's an extra 2 ½ teaspoons of sugar. Yes, this stuff is sweet!

A popular brand of manufactured white bread contains 29 ingredients. Take out the 4 that are vitamins used to enrich the seriously processed wheat, and that leaves 25. Things like  calcium sulfate and calcium propionate that act as preservatives. Because, really, bread is supposed to last a month without molding, isn't it? Things like DATEM, a dough conditioner and azodicarbonamide, a bleaching agent (incidentally, that one is banned in Europe). Are these things edible? Well, sure - people eat them everyday! But, they are an indicator that this product is heavily, heavily processed.

How about the jarred spaghetti sauce? Again, there's that sugar in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. Anything with high-fructose corn syrup immediately gets the processed label. It is sweeter than white sugar, it has certain properties that make it very useful in manufactured foods, and it's really cheap. Why is there so much sugar in a serving of spaghetti sauce anyway? Some brands contain up to 3 teaspoons of sugar per serving.

Melanie Warner doesn't say you should eat NO processed food. But, when the average American eats a diet that is 70% processed, we have a problem - an obesity problem, a diabetes problem, a very serious health problem. Awareness is key - know what is processed and choose something else for most of your food. Take control of your diet. Read labels. Learn to cook simple yet tasty food - we have lots of recipes for that here at School of Eating Good. Yes, processed food tastes so damn good. It's engineered to be that way. But, it's not engineered to keep you healthy.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Noodles with Mushroom Sauce

Cleaning out the fridge: added sauteed shrimp, roasted asparagus, kimchi, and crispy fried serrano ham
This is a very adaptable recipe. You can eat it as is, noodles with a rich Asian mushroom sauce. Or you can start adding stuff: a fried egg, some kimchi, sauteed shrimp, cubed fried tofu, bamboo shoots, cooked asparagus. Whatever you have in your fridge that you think goes nicely with Asian noodles and mushrooms. That's a pretty wide open category!

The shiitakes are more expensive than button mushrooms, but they have such a meaty texture and flavor that they are a fantastic meat substitute. Look for bargains at your local Asian supermarket, if there are any in your town. Shiitakes are often on sale for the same price as button mushrooms and there are great deals on all sorts of Asian produce. It's always an adventure, going to the big Asian market near me. Not only did I discover the cheap shiitakes last time I was there, I also found their sensational store-made kimchi.

Noodles with Mushroom Sauce
(serves 4; costs $9.70)

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
12 cloves garlic, sliced thin
½ pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, rinsed, stemmed, and sliced thinly
½ pound white button mushrooms, rinsed, and sliced thinly
3 ½ Tablespoons sake or Chinese rice wine
1 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
12 oz. noodles such as Chinese egg noodles, soba noodles, or whole wheat spaghetti, cooked al dente
3 ½ Tablespoons soy sauce
salt to taste

Heat oil in a large skillet until hot. Add garlic and stir-fry until the garlic is fragrant, about 15 seconds.

Add the shiitakes and button mushrooms and stir-fry for about 2 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-high and add the sake. Cover the pan and cook for another 3-4 minutes until mushrooms are tender. Uncover, add the scallions and any other additions you want and cook for another minute until most of the liquid has cooked off.

Add the noodles and soy sauce and toss to coat. Season with a pinch of salt if needed. The soy sauce is salty but the pasta can soak up quite a bit of salt. Serve. Good with a fried egg on top or with a garnish of kimchi.

Notes: You can cook the mushrooms and toss with the soy sauce but not the noodles if you won't be serving all the noodles at once. Mix ¼ of the cooked noodles with ¼ the mushrooms for each serving. You can mix them all together and eat them over a few meals, but the texture of the noodles is better if you mix them with the mushrooms just before you eat them.

Adapted from Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds.