Monday, November 24, 2014

Braised Tofu and Leeks

Leeks look like giant scallions. Their flavor is milder than green onions and much milder than yellow onions. Fall is leek season - they take a long, long time to reach a good size. I grow them in my garden and I need to plant the seeds inside in January and won't start picking them until late summer/early fall. Lucky for you, leeks are available year round in supermarkets.

The big drawback for leeks is they need to be washed carefully. They are buried in soil to increase the amount of white stalk (look for leeks with a lot of white stalk - they are more tender). That soil gets in between the leaf layers. To clean them, cut off the dark green leafy top and the root end. Cut the leek lengthwise and swish energetically in dislodge the dirt. Check between the layers for hidden sand. On the plus side, they won't make you cry as much as other onions. :-)

I like to use them in Chinese dishes. Their mild flavor complements garlic and ginger. Their texture is nice in stir fries or braises. Here, I add water chestnuts and bamboo shoots, increasing the vegetable count in this one pot braise. Tofu replaces the meat for this Meatless Monday entree.

Braised Tofu and Leeks
(serves 4)

14-16 oz. firm tofu, cut into 1" cubes
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
½ Tablespoon minced or grated ginger, about an 1" piece
1 leek, white and light green part only, washed well (see intro) and cut into 1" slices
2 cups vegetable stock (see Note)
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon sugar
1 8 oz. can sliced water chestnuts, drained
1 8 oz. can sliced bamboo shoots, drained
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon cold water
4 Tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted, for garnish

Place the tofu cubes on a towel to soak up excess moisture.

Heat up a wok or deep skillet over high heat. Add the oil, then the garlic and ginger. Stir and add the leeks. Stir fry until the leeks wilt and start to brown in places. Add the stock, salt, soy sauce, sugar, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and tofu. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 4 minutes. Increase the heat to bring the stock to a boil. Dissolve the cornstarch in the cold water and add to the wok. Stir until the sauce thickens. Taste for salt. Serve over hot rice with a Tablespoon of sliced almonds for garnish.

Note: Though not vegetarian, this is excellent made with ham or chicken stock. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Steel Cut Oats

[For an alternate version of this oatmeal, one that is creamier, see this update.]

Oatmeal is good. Oatmeal with steel cut oats is even better. The downside to the steel cut oats is they take a while to cook, at least 15 minutes and sometimes much longer. Because they cook longer, they can stick to the bottom of the pot, especially if you don't stir them.

There are two ways to make cooking steel cut oats foolproof: a pressure cooker or a slow cooker.

If you want to use a slow cooker, I recommend Alton Brown's method. You cook the oats overnight and they are perfect when you wake up in the morning. Alton uses dried cranberries and dried figs in his recipe. You can use any combination of dried fruits you want. They will all add some sweetness, enough so you won't need much sweetener besides the fruit.

My favorite method is the pressure cooker. I would recommend a pressure cooker over a slow cooker as your first time-saving cooking device (you can even get a combination pressure/slow cooker called an Instant Pot, which I recommend if you have the funds for this investment). You can cook steel cut oats in about 4 minutes. They will be slightly chewy at this point. Their texture is better if you let them sit, off the heat, for 10 minutes. It's also great reheated in the microwave. Add a bit of milk because it will get thicker after it cools.

The Instant Pot recommends that you cook oats in a non-dairy milk, such as almond milk or coconut milk. Cow's milk scorches while non-dairy milk doesn't. I've tried all three milks and I like coconut milk the best. I did find that cow's milk scorches and therefore don't recommend it for pressure cooker oats.

Pressure Cooker Steel Cut Oats
(serves 4)

1 cup steel cut oats
2 cups water
1 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk such as coconut or almond
¼ cup raisins or your favorite dried fruit, diced
2 pinches salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
1 3" stick cinnamon (optional)

For each serving, add all or some of these:
fresh fruit or more dried fruit
2 teaspoons sweetener, like brown sugar or maple sugar
1 Tablespoon chopped nuts
a sprinkling of ground cinnamon
a splash of milk or cream

Put the oats, water, milk, raisins, salt, vanilla, and cinnamon stick in the pressure cooker. Lock on the lid and bring up to pressure. Reduce heat to maintain pressure and cook for 3 minutes (4 minutes at 5000 ft.). Turn off heat and allow pressure to drop naturally for 10 minutes or more. Open the pot (carefully - the contents are still very hot) and stir. Serve hot.

Leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator. They can be reheated, covered, in the microwave for 90 seconds.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Indian Greens and Cheese

I love the interesting flavors in Indian food. India has so many amazing spices that the combinations are limitless. There is also a strong tradition of vegetarian cooking. You put these two together and you have the makings of a delicious Meatless Monday meal.

Paneer cheese is the firm, drier cheese used in saag (spinach) paneer. It will keep its shape and won't melt. Mozzarella will melt and become gooey (in a good way). Queso fresco (also called queso blanco) can go either way depending on how dry it is. Any of them are delicious but the texture will be quite different.

Garam masala is a blend of warm spices, often coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, and cloves. Unlike curry powder, it doesn't contain turmeric, the spice that gives curry its yellow color. It is available in many supermarkets, Indian markets, and Savory Spice Shops.

Indian Greens and Cheese
(serves 4)

1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thinly
1 Tablespoon minced or grated ginger
1 pound of greens (beet, chard, or spinach), washed well
¼ teaspoon salt
a pinch of cayenne
8 oz. queso fresco, mozzarella, or paneer cheese, cut into ½" cubes
a pinch of garam masala, optional

Heat a dutch oven or large covered skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fennel seeds and ground cardamom. Stir for a few seconds, then add the onion and ginger. Cook until browned, stirring often to prevent burning. Add the greens and cover. Cook for a few minutes until the greens begin to wilt. Stir to mix onions with greens. Sprinkle with salt and cayenne. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes until greens are tender. Add cheese cubes, cover, and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with a pinch of garam masala, and add more salt if needed. The cheese can be salty so you may not need any. Serve over rice.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Pumpkin Pie Spice Granola

The oats level goes down and the granola level goes up. Law of conservation of breakfast.
It's all about the pumpkin right now. Pumpkin pie spice this and that. If you are looking for a treat, check out these pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. If you are looking for something you can enjoy every single day until the pumpkin rage passes, here is a granola for your breakfast. It uses pumpkin pie spice and shelled pumpkin seeds. Like our standard low-sugar granola with a couple of tweeks. Granola is the chameleon of the breakfast pantry.

Pumpkin Spice Granola
(4 cups, at least 8 servings)

3 cups Rolled Oats , not quick-cooking or instant
1 cup unsalted raw shelled pumpkin seeds (also called pepitas)
½ cup Dried Unsweetened Shredded Coconut
1 teaspoon Pumpkin Pie Spice
a Pinch of Salt
¼ cup Honey
½ cup Chopped Dried Apricots
½ teaspoon Vanilla or Maple Extract

Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine oats, seeds, coconut, pumpkin pie spice, honey, and salt in a large heatproof bowl. It's going to be clumpy, but don't worry about that. Dump onto a large rimmed cookie sheet. Don't clean out of the bowl; you'll be using it again. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, stirring it every 10 minutes so that it browns evenly. Keep an eye on it near the end of baking so that it doesn't burn. Transfer the cooked, hot granola from the cookie sheet back to the bowl. Drizzle on the vanilla or maple. Allow to cool and mix in the dried apricot. Store in a cool, dry place.

Note: Pumpkin pie spice is a combination of cinnamon, ground ginger, ground allspice, ground mace, ground nutmeg, and ground cloves. Sometimes all of them, sometimes the first three. If you don't have pumpkin pie spice, substitute ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ground ginger, and a pinch of any combination of whatever else you've got. If you don't like something, leave it out.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Chinese Curried Noodles

Need a recipe using the Fresh Chinese Noodles from a couple of days ago? Here you go! This is an easy stir fry that becomes a delicious saucy dish. Comes together in no time. If you have some fresh noodles stashed in the freezer, you can make dinner appear in about 15 minutes. It will taste better than anything you could find in a box or jar.

There are a couple of important general cooking facts in here:

  1. Cook the curry in oil to release its fragrance. If you add it with a bunch of liquid, this won't happen and the flavor won't be as good.
  2. Cornstarch needs to boil to activate the starches that do the thickening, so make sure you boil your sauce. Good to know for any cornstarch thickened sauce.

Chinese Curried Noodles
(serves 4 to 6)

1 pound ground meat (beef, pork, lamb, chicken, or turkey)
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon + 1 ½ Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 Tablespoons curry powder

2 cups no or low salt chicken stock
3 ½ Tablespoons soy sauce
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 ½ Tablespoons cornstarch

1 8 oz. can sliced water chestnuts, drained
1 ½ cups frozen peas or shelled edamame, thawed

1 pound fresh Chinese noodles (or ¾ pound dried fettuccine or linguine pasta)

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.

While it's heating up, combine the ground meat with the 2 Tablespoons soy sauce. Combine all the sauce ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.

Heat a wok or deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon of oil. Add the meat and stir fry until it is no longer pink, stirring to break up big lumps. Remove the meat to a clean bowl using a slotted spoon. If there is a lot of fat in the pan, pour it off and discard. If you are using chicken or turkey, there will be almost none.

Return the pan to high heat. Add 1 ½ Tablespoons vegetable oil. Add the onions and stir fry for 4 minutes until soft. Add the curry powder and stir fry until you can smell the curry, about 10 seconds. Stir the sauce to dissolve the cornstarch (it settles to the bottom on standing) and add to the pan. Add the water chestnuts and peas. Stir. Bring to a boil, add the meat, and reduce to a simmer. Add more salt if needed.

Cook the fresh noodles for 1-2 minutes (7-9 if using dried) until just done. Drain and add to the sauce. To serve, put noodles in a bowl with some of the sauce spooned on top.

Reheats well in the microwave.

Adapted from Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1997.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Fresh Chinese Noodles

Curried Chinese Noodles, made with fresh noodles
This is an easy recipe. There are only four ingredients, and one of them is water. It is a recipe that requires work, and I mean physical labor. Good pasta is achieved by kneading and rolling. But, it's worth it. The texture of homemade noodles is just something wonderful. My husband, who is a damn good pasta maker, will gladly go to the trouble of making fresh noodles. That's how good fresh noodles are.

This recipe makes a lot of noodles - 1 ½ pounds. Lucky for you, noodles freeze well. See the instructions on freezing at the end of the recipe. You can go straight from freezer to pot. Use a lot of water so the temperature doesn't drop too much. The noodles will need to cook a little bit longer, but fresh noodles cook so fast, they will still be done faster than dried pasta.

Fresh Chinese Noodles
(makes 1 ½ pounds, 8-12 servings)

3 cups all purpose flour
1 large egg
¾ cup water
2 teaspoons salt

Combine everything in a large bowl. Mix well. If the dough has dry lumps that won't incorporate, add a little bit - like a Tablespoon - of water. If the dough is really sticky, add a little bit more flour. Knead until dough is smooth. This takes a while but it's good exercise. :-) Cut dough into ¼'s. Cover the pieces you haven't rolled yet with plastic wrap. Roll dough as thin as you like. It's going to plump up when you cook it. If you roll it too thick, it will be doughy in the center. Try to go thinner than you want and you'll most likely be pleased with the result. To cut, lightly sprinkle top of pasta sheet with flour, fold up into a package you can cut efficiently with a knife. Folding into ⅓'s or ¼'s works well; for a visual on this check out these photos. Flour any parts that will touch when folded to prevent sticking. Use a sharp knife to cut into strips, like fettuccine. After cutting, fluff up to separate the noodles and flour some more. To cook, drop into boiling water. Cook for 1-2 minutes until al dente. They cook lightning fast, and will go from perfect to mush quickly. Set a timer. Who wants all that hard work to go to waste?

To freeze: dust well with flour and lay flat or arrange into single-serving nests on a pan and place in the freezer. When fully frozen, drop them into a plastic bag and seal tightly. They will keep for a few months in the freezer

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Green Chile Cheese Cornbread

It's the end of the garden season here, except for the heartiest of veggies. I picked the last of the green chiles, a mixed bag of Hungarian sweet, mild and medium Mexican chiles. They are small, so not worthy of roasting. I sautéed them in a little bit of oil and waited from some inspiration to strike.

Green chile cheese cornbread!

I used to get cheesy green chile grits on ski trips. A friend from Alabama with a taste for spicy introduced me to them. They were rich! This isn't so rich, but it brings in many of the same flavors. You could even make it with roasted red or green peppers. Not spicy at all but very delicious. It's a tasty way to get a little bit of vegetables into your cornbread and it goes well with School of Eating Good cauliflower-leek soup.

Green Chile Cheese Cornbread
(makes 9 servings)

non-stick cooking spray for pan
¼ cup vegetable oil or melted butter
1 egg
1 cup + 1 Tablespoon milk
¼ cup plain lowfat yogurt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
2 ¾ teaspoons baking powder(see Note)
⅛ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
½ cup roasted or sautéed peppers, diced

Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray an 8"x8" baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together vegetable oil, egg, milk, yogurt, and sugar. In a small bowl, mix together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients and mix only enough to moisten all dry ingredients. Stir in cheese and peppers. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 25 minutes. Test with a toothpick; if wet batter sticks to it, bake another few minutes. But, cake is moist even when done and 25 minutes should be enough. Allow to cool, and cut into 9 servings.

Because the cake is so moist, it does not keep well at room temperature. If you don't plan to eat it all within 24 hours, freeze it. It freezes beautifully if you wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then place in a plastic bag.

Note: this recipe was tested at 5300 ft. If you live near sea level, like most people, reduce milk to 1 cup, and use 1 Tablespoon of baking powder.

Adapted from a basic cornbread in Pie in the Sky by Susan G. Prudy, William Morrow, 2005.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Cauliflower-Leek Soup for The 52 New Foods Challenge

I've been reading The 52 New Food Challenge by Jennifer Tyler Lee, the creator of Crunch a Color. I received a pre-release copy. It's hitting the shelves this week and it's a thoughtful guide for getting more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into your family's diet. The recipes are simple for each of the 52 foods featured in the book. If you are introducing a new food into your diet, one you've never tried before, do you really want to spend a lot of time on a dish you may not love? The important thing thing is to try it, and the recipe shouldn't become a barrier to that.

One of the chapter titles, "Keep Trying, Together," really resonated with me . Sometimes, it takes time for children (and adults too!) to like a new food. That means trying it more than once. The book has great tips for how to make this work:

  • Use a reliable favorite like a stir fry or frittata. It's amazing how many new foods can work in a frittata!
  • Experiment with tastes and textures. My daughter refused to eat the florets of broccoli but loved the stems. 
  • Walk the Talk. I'm surprised when I hear about parents trying to get their kids to eat something new, and they don't want to eat it themselves. This is a learning process for everyone and the adults have to take part too.
There are lots of other creative tips for getting the 52 new foods into your family's diet. I think that's what makes this book so wonderful. Trying new foods can be intimidating and we all need ideas on how to make it work. The suggestions are positive and take the drama out of the situation. Who wants to battle with the kids (or maybe your spouse?) over eating some bok choy? Wouldn't you rather have some tools that help you and your kids through the process of trying a new food? This book has them. 

In the spirit of the book, I created a super-simple soup. Soup is another tasty way to add new foods to your diet. This recipe doesn't hide the cauliflower and the leeks, but they don't look like themselves. Their flavors shine through, however. The potato helps to thicken the soup without any cream. 

Cauliflower-Leek Soup
(serves 6)

4 medium leeks, white and light green part only
2 Tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
about 4 cups cauliflower florets
5 ½ cups chicken or turkey stock
1 medium red potato, peeled and diced
½ teaspoon salt 
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

some possible garnishes: grated nutmeg, chopped chives, chopped parsley, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, grated lemon zest

To clean the leeks, make a cut lengthwise through each leek. Wash them well by immersing them in a bowl of water and swishing them around so that you loosen up any sand in between the layers. Leeks are infamous for hiding dirt between the layers. Thinly slice them crosswise.

Heat up butter in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic and leeks. Cook, stirring, until leeks are limp, about 4 minutes. Add cauliflower, stock, potato, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 25 minutes until cauliflower is very tender. Puree soup in a blender or in the pot using an immersion blender. Return to the heat and add the lemon juice. Check for salt and add more if needed. To serve, ladle into a bowl, and garnish with one of the possible garnishes, or none of them, if you prefer.