Showing posts with label Cooking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cooking. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Rise-n-Shine Breakfast Bars

Gluten free. Vegan. No sugar added.

What more could you want? Oh, and also, you can make them without adding oil. And they're full of protein. And fiber.

And they're kid-approved. My kids eat them as a snack between school and dance or while we're skiing. Plus the recipe is super flexible, so you can substitute ingredients as needed.

Ok, now what more could you want?

Right. The recipe.


A few recipe notes:
  • This recipe is baked at low temperature on purpose. The goal is not so much to "bake" the bars as it is to semi-dehydrate them. 
  • When you are buying seeds for this recipe, choose raw and unsalted seeds. They're better for you and taste just fine here. I get mine in the bulk section at Whole Foods.
  • Does the pan really need to be lined with parchment? I don't know – I've never tried it without the liner, but I like lining the pan because then it's easy to get the whole slab of granola out at once. 
  • It's a great idea to let this recipe cool completely (or almost completely) before you cut it into bars. I usually let it cool for 15-20 minutes before I lift it out of the baking dish and onto a cooling rack. I've had best luck cutting the bars using a serrated knife. 
  • Once the bars are cut, they do fine sitting out overnight. I think it even helps them dehydrate and crisp up a tiny bit more (at least in my dry climate it does). Then I either wrap them individually or put them in a sealed container separated by layers of parchment. 
  • At my house these bars don't last longer than a week. I mean, they might taste fine after that, but I wouldn't know because we can't keep them around that long!

And some photos of the process:

Dates and chia soaking. Do this in your blender for one
fewer dirty dish.

Unbaked mixture ready to be pressed into the pan.

Pressing. Cover your mixture with plastic wrap and then press with a smaller
flat-bottomed baking dish.

Baked and cooling, waiting to be cut!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cream of Tomato Soup

When I was a sophomore in high school, I visited Northwestern University with a friend and our moms. It was February so I wore a new navy blue pea coat with toggle buttons and a super cute floppy hood. My mom bought me that coat just for that trip – isn't it funny the things we remember? While in Evanston, we ate at a restaurant that had the best tomato soup any of us had ever tasted (I'm sure my palate was advanced for a 15-year-old). The soup was so good, in fact, that we asked the waiter if he could get us the recipe. And he did.

Do you ever ask for recipes in restaurants? This is the one and only time I've requested a restaurant's recipe, but maybe I should try it more often. It would cut down on the number of copycat failures my family has to endure.

I've altered the original recipe to fit how we eat now, meaning I've replaced the animal products with veggie alternatives. I promise it tastes great as a vegan version of cream of tomato (my kids say it's even better than Panera's cream of tomato, which speaks volumes coming from them), but I've included some dairy options in the recipe in case that's your preferance.

Northwestern Cream of Tomato Soup

  • 5 carrots, shredded
  • 5 stalks of celery, shredded
  • 1 medium white onion, shredded
  • 1/4 C water + 1/4 C olive oil OR 4 Tbsp butter + 4 Tbsp butter (I don't buy fake butter/margarine due to the palm oil it contains. Here's why.)
  • 3/4 - 1 C flour
  • 6 C water
  • 1 Tbsp veggie Better than Bouillon (OR replace water and bouillon with chicken or veggie stock)
  • 1 28oz can puréed tomatoes
  • 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 C cashew butter OR half and half
  • 1 C almond milk OR milk
In a very large stockpot or Dutch oven, sauté shredded carrots, celery, and onions with water for 7-10 minutes or until tender. Move to a bowl and set aside.

Warm olive oil over low heat. Add flour and cook 4-5 minutes. Increase heat to medium and add water (or broth), bouillon, tomato puree, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, bay leaf, garlic, pepper, salt, and cashew butter. Bring to a simmer and then add carrot mixture. Bring to a simmer again and reduce heat to low.

Simmer 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add almond milk and stir until well blended. Purée some or all of the mixture if desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crusty bread and salad greens.

Makes 4 quarts.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Five tricks I use to get last-minute dinners on my table.

This morning Callie asked me, "How do people plan what time they're going to have dinner ready?"

Oh, sweet Callie. Can you tell she's growing up in a home where dinner doesn't come at a predictable time each night? It comes...eventually. And it's always good (and good for her). But she never knows from night to night when she'll be eating.

And until yesterday, I don't think she realized that dinner time could be planned. And consistent. Last night she overheard us talking to Brynn about how "bed time" at our house is no more a set time than "dinner time." That those words just mean that it's the time to go to bed, or time to eat dinner and that we don't set a rigid time for those things because they tend to shift depending on our day.

So this morning when Callie asked me how people plan what time they're going to have dinner ready, I explained that most people start with a recipe, figure how long it will take to gather and prep the ingredients, how long those ingredients will take to cook, and they work backwards from what time they'd like to eat dinner.

Her response was classic: "Oh, that would never happen in our house." No, darling. No, it wouldn't.

Because it seems that at 5pm I'm usually still working on a project. Or doing something that, at that moment, seems like it (a) will be done quickly and (b) has a good stopping point in the near future at which time I can drop the project and move onto making dinner.

So our dinner time usually hits around 7:00 or 7:30. Yes, the kids are hungry. But eating dinner late gives them time to finish up their afternoon extra-curricular activities and do their homework before dinner. And it means that I don't get kids rifling through the pantry two hours after dinner.

I used to be a great planner of dinners. I would use my Everyday Food magazine each Sunday to plan out the dinners for the week, make a list of all the ingredients I needed to buy, and do my shopping for the week on Monday. That all went out the window when we joined our CSA six years ago. It got me into the use-what-you've-got mode and that has stuck with me, even in the winter when the CSA isn't running.

So here are my secrets for making a quick, last-minute plant-strong (and usually vegan) dinner.

  1. I use my pressure cooker. I couldn't do healthy last-minute dinners without it. If I think about it in time, I'll do a quick soak for my beans for an hour before I cook them, which cuts the pressure cooking time down to 11 minutes at high pressure. Usually that means boiling some water and pouring it over the beans before I run out to get the kids from school, and then letting them soak until I'm ready to make dinner. If I don't do that, I'll cook them starting from their dry state, which makes the cooking time a bit less predictable – it can take anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour of cooking time, depending on how fresh the beans are and what kind they are. I learned the pressure cooking technique from this awesome cookbook by Madhur Jaffrey.
  2. I "approximate" recipes. Meaning, I find a few recipes I like (or a meal I like at a restaurant) and I use approximate amounts of similar ingredients (or the same ones, if I have them on hand) to create dinners that work. The downside of this is that we never eat the same thing twice. Which is also the upside, depending on whom you ask. Sticking to an exact recipe is too constraining for me, both in time and in planning. Once I've made a recipe a few times, I can get close to the original recipe (or sometimes even better) by using my memory, imagination, and whatever I have around the house. 
  3. I make huge salads. It's easy to keep the ingredients for salads on hand. They're predictable and with a few small changes, a salad can take on a whole different taste. The key (for me) is having a big enough bowl. I bought the biggest metal bowl that Ikea sells and we use it almost every night for our salads.
  4. I make extra. Always. Usually our dinner looks like enough to feed 10 people, and sometimes it is. Not only does this mean that Scott has something to eat for lunch every day, but it's also great when I am genuinely running behind and we have a "fend for yourself" night. Ahem. Those are the exception, not the rule. I also use leftovers (like plain leftover quinoa or leftover beans or lentils) as an ingredient in whatever I'm making the next night.
  5. I stock everything I need to make a variety of dinners. I (almost) always have potatoes, onions, carrots, celery, lettuce, spinach, kale, garlic, dry beans, lentils, quinoa, canned tomatoes, and veggie stock or Better than Boullon on hand, plus a handful of other produce items. Those depend on what is in the garden or what came in our CSA or Door to Door Organics box that week.
This is what works for me now. I imagine that in a few years, when we hit the middle school and high school years, I will have to adjust my strategy somewhat in order to get dinner ready at a time when we can all sit down together and eat. But for now, as harried as it may sound, this is working for me.

What do you do to get your family together at the dinner table?

Psst...for more on my personal journey to health, check out this post.

Monday, January 7, 2013

An Eat To Live secret for cutting calories

It's not really a secret, not if you've read Eat to Live or Engine 2. But it might be new to you.

This is something I want to share with you because I've heard of so many friends making resolutions to lose weight and get healthier, and it's something that has been a really simple change for me and a change that I think played a huge part in my weight loss last year.

What is it?

Use less olive oil. Or any kind of oil, really.

I've never been the type to eat much fried food, but I do eat sauteed food, like almost every night. When I'm cooking now, I sautee my veggies in low sodium veggie broth instead of olive oil. And when I make salad dressings, I'm more inclined to puree an apple and some vinegar and spices in my blender rather than throwing together olive oil and vinegar.

I still use some olive oil or coconut oil or grapeseed oil, depending on what I'm making, but where I used to sautee in two tablespoons of oil and then add another two as my veggies started to dry out (I never cook in nonstick pans so moisture is a must), now I might use one tablespoon or less, and then I add veggie broth a little at a time until I'm ready for the next step of my recipe.

When I started subbing low sodium veggie broth, I did some mental math to figure out how many calories I was saving by leaving out the oil. The numbers were too big, really, when you consider there are 119 calories in one tablespoon of olive oil (as opposed to 15 calories per CUP of veggie broth), and I was using at least four in each meal I made, not to mention the salad dressing. Over the course of a week, those really add up and they are, essentially, empty calories. Yes, you need some fat in your diet but, according to Dr. Fuhrman of Eat to Live fame, you're better off getting your fat from nuts that you incorporate into your meals (not snacks by the handful) rather than added oil in salads, main courses, and sides.

Veggie broth is not expensive and it comes in really easy to use cartons. I buy my organic low-sodium broth from Whole Foods, where the regular price is $2 per carton. Our Costco just started carrying organic veggie broth too, but it's not low-sodium, six cartons for about $9, I think.

I used to kind of laugh at baking recipes that gave you the option to replace oil with apple sauce. It seemed silly -- let dessert be dessert, right? And that is still my attitude, mostly because we don't eat much dessert-y food here. But cutting out oil in food I eat every day? To me that makes sense, and I wish I'd known sooner about the veggie broth option. Here's hoping a few of you can save some calories, too!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Last-minute cole slaw dinner

After my post about how my family and I went plant-strong, I got several questions from friends asking what I eat and what recipes I use. I don't use many recipes and when I do, I treat them like inspiration (much to the chagrin of friends and family who need plant-strong ideas). But, I thought I could give you a little window into what my dinner-making process looked like tonight. Here we go.

It's 5:30pm. Like most nights, tonight I don't have a plan for dinner. I look in the fridge to figure out what I'm going to make.

I've got kohlrabi. I have kale. There are carrots and apples and green onions. I've got sliced almonds in the pantry.

Decent beer is, of course, a necessary ingredient for any dinner-making adventure.
Sounds like a big cole slaw to me.

Here's how it came together.

Dressing (all measurements VERY approximate, so use your best judgement):
1 T toasted sesame oil
1 T seasoned rice vinegar
2 T soy sauce
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled
1 medium apple, cored and roughly cubed
2 T peanut butter
(One whole peeled orange or a lime would be good, but I didn't have one. I forgot to add garlic, but you probably should. It would also be good with some red pepper flakes, but Callie is way spice-averse.)

Blend all ingredients until smooth. (I used a Vitamix high speed blender.) Taste and adjust if needed. Refrigerate.

Cole Slaw
4 small apples, cored
2 medium kohlrabi, tough peel removed
6 medium carrots
1 bell pepper, seeded (I used green because I had it on hand. Yellow, red, or orange would be better.)

Shred ingredients listed above. I used my food processor with the shredding attachment.

1 bunch of kale, finely chopped
3 green onions, sliced
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

Pour on dressing and toss.

1 C of sliced almonds

Toss one last time and serve.

I just used what I had on hand to make this, but you could add ingredients like broccoli, purple cabbage, edamame, or bean sprouts. If you're looking for more substance, this would be good with rice noodles or mung beans or even lentils.

I ate two big bowls and felt full. Scott also had two servings. Brynn had one big bowl. Callie ate one medium bowl and then she had a couple of dried dates for dessert. For us, this was enough. If we were going straight from a chicken-and-ribs lifestyle to a plant-strong lifestyle, this dinner would obviously raise some eyebrows at the table. But, since we eased into it, a meal like this is expected and satisfying for us.

I hope this helps!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The end of a lifelong struggle

I've struggled with my weight and my body image my entire life. I've never been obese, but I've always been overweight. Even in high school when I was at morning and afternoon swim practices, probably swimming as many as 8000 yards a day, things were never quite right. I played sports year round and was always an athlete, but always carried extra weight. I didn't eat candy, I didn't drink soda, I didn't eat typical junk food or much processed food. My mom said I was fine and my doctors said I was fine, so I didn't worry too much about it. I just never felt great about myself and I always figured someday I'd shed the extra pounds.

But, I was never willing to do anything difficult to get there. I'm still not, actually. I am not and never will be a runner. I despise running. I love food and am not willing to feel hungry. I can't make myself throw up (although I did try, probably like most teenage girls who are unhappy with their weight). Once in fourth grade, the meanest boy I know called me a "110 pound whopper." I don't think I weighed that much and I know I wasn't huge, but I still torment myself with that comment.

My struggle is over. Do you hear that? I'm done. Not because I no longer care. Not because I've decided to restrict my calories. Not because I'm exercising myself to death. I haven't done anything extreme. I've just tweaked my diet a little bit. That's all it took.

My diet has changed from the majority of calories coming from animal products, grains, and oils to the majority of calories coming from plants. I use significantly less olive oil than I used to and recently I completely removed chocolate from my house (that was hard, actually). I did not get rid of cocoa powder, mind you, but chocolate.

For the past four or five years, Scott and I have only been eating meat as a main course three or four times a week, and it was always from local ranches and farms -- never from the grocery store. But we never cut out cheese or milk or completely eliminated meat. And, actually, we still haven't gotten rid of them completely, but we did cut way, way back.

When I say the "majority" of my calories are coming from plants, I don't mean 55%. I mean like 85-90%. I mean the vast majority. Scott and I started by going 100% vegan for six weeks. We didn't rely on bread, pasta, and other grains to fill us up. We filled up on salads and veggies and beans. We significantly reduced our olive oil use. We mixed nuts into our salads and we started to juice veggies. We were not hungry. We did not count nor restrict our calories. In the first three weeks, pounds of fat literally disappeared from my body. I lost about 14 pounds in the first three weeks. Things slowed down after that and I've slowly continued to lose weight since then even though I'm no longer trying. I'm down about 25 pounds now and today, for the first time ever, the weight listed on my driver's license is accurate.

Not that I meant to cheat when I got my Colorado driver's license eight years ago. I think I was close and was headed toward that weight. But then I had Callie and never made a conscious effort to get back to my pre-baby weight. After going plant-strong, I'm now below my pre-baby weight and in the healthy BMI range for the first time in my life.

This was in June. I'm down another 8-10lbs since then!
I will never be a tiny person. I will never be skinny. That's just not who I am. I am 5'8" and built like a tank. A feminine tank, but still, I'm the cliché "big-boned" person that every fat person thinks they are. In high school my friend Gretchen and I used to talk about how our hips were built for twins. I never had twins, but the doctor who delivered Brynn said I have "the Cadillac of uteruses." Brynn was born 9lbs 14oz. We are not small people.

Will I always kind of wish I were that little person? Yes. Do I realize that my build is not related to my health? Yes. And I am so thankful to have found a healthy lifestyle.

If you're interested in learning more about a plant-strong lifestyle, I'd suggest that you start by reading Dr. Fuhrman's book Eat to Live. That is where we started and it turned our ideas of health upside-down. The book has several testimonies from Dr. Fuhrman's obese and really sick patients (ie: diabetes, heart attacks, super high blood pressure) who used his plan to get healthy. We didn't relate so much to those stories, but the rest of the book was packed with information that is useful for anyone. I also read (and purchased, which is big for me) Fuhrman's book Disease Proof Your Child. It is a great guide to getting micronutrient-dense plant foods into your kids and setting them up for a lifetime of health. It's not so much about weight-management as it is about preventing diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. I've paged through The Engine 2 Diet and think it is totally on-target. I own the new Forks Over Knives cookbook -- it is vegan, plant-strong, and super accessible. No weird ingredients. The Forks Over Knives and Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead documentaries are really motivating and available for instant watching on Netflix.

Have you changed your health lately? Or dropped weight without struggling? I'd love to hear about it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

My favorite kitchen tool.

I love my knives. I love my cast iron pans. I love my lettuce spinner and my Vitamix and my juicer.

I guess on any given day any of those tools could be my favorite.

But today I was reminded how much I love one tool in particular, and I want to share it with you.

I love my pressure cooker.

For making people-friendly, planet-friendly food, there is no better tool.

My pressure cooker cooks beans from start to finish in under an hour. Can your favorite pot or pan do that?

Here's how I do it, using a method I learned from Madhur Jaffrey.

First Step: Sometimes I quick-soak my dried beans. Sometimes I don't. I try to do it every time I make beans, but I don't always have time. For a quick-soak, pour boiling water over your beans and let them sit for about an hour. Then rinse well.

Second Step: Put your quick-soaked beans into your pressure cooker and cover with an inch or two of water.

Third Step: Add a few drops of peanut oil or other high-heat oil. (I avoid canola because it comes from a genetically modified seed. Grapeseed oil or coconut oil would be good options.) The oil keeps the water from foaming up and clogging your pressure release valve.

Fourth Step: Bring your pressure cooker to full pressure and then reduce the heat to keep it at full pressure until the beans are cooked. For chickpeas like those I cooked tonight, this takes about 15 minutes. Check out this handy guide for cooking times of other types of beans.

Fifth Step: After 15 minutes at full pressure, turn off the heat and let the pressure reduce on its own. This will take at least half an hour if not a bit longer.

Last Step: Drain and rinse your beans. They're good to go!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My daily smoothie

Ever since returning from Christmas break, this (or something very similar) has been my lunch most days:

Sometimes I add Greek yogurt, and if I'm out of coconut milk I'll use OJ instead (but I prefer not to have the extra sugar that is in OJ). All of my ingredients are organic except the coconut milk and maybe the ginger, I think. I've been using the Silk Coconut Milk that comes in a carton in the fridge at Costco. It has a few additives I'd prefer not to eat, but I suppose that is the price of convenience.

Once it's whirled, it comes out to a lovely swamp green color, but the color can't dissuade me from drinking it -- it's actually pretty tasty and it makes me feel happy. Do you make smoothies? I want to know what you put in yours. What am I missing?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A cake which did not fail.

Scott's birthday was on Thursday. I contemplated several options for his birthday dessert. The first thought was a Costco cake. Terrible, I know, but sooooo good when that's what you're craving. He was craving one this fall but after Brynn's birthday and the half cake we had leftover from her party, I was pretty sure he wasn't craving one anymore.

The second thought was a cake from the best bakery in town, Marigold. It was a bit over my budget.

The third idea was to make an orange cake (his childhood favorite) from Alice Water's basic cake recipe in The Art of Simple Food. This cookbook is, in my mind, the one indispensable cookbook that every kitchen should have. I'm sure the basic cake recipe is great in the hands of any normal person. Unfortunately, the last time I attempted to follow it the cake was an epic fail. It did make good cake balls, though.

Actually, most of the cakes I make are epic fails. They fall apart, they crumble, they look like crap. Sometimes literally.

But this one was amazing.

It's a Guinness Chocolate cake. Yep, two of our favorite ingredients. Together.

Guinness + Chocolate. It's a match made in heaven.

Top it with some frothy cream cheese frosting, and you're in heaven.

Happy birthday, my sweetheart!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Spices in bulk

My new spice jars.

When we moved to the Springs about six years ago, I started shopping at Whole Foods. I love Whole Foods. I love their 365 products. I love that their owner is a Libertarian. I love their concentration on local food. I love that I can get organic, local milk there. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I don't think that Whole Foods is too expensive (don't buy cheap, just buy less, right?). I guess that if you shop at Whole Foods regularly, it is important to stay out of the prepared foods section. That could bankrupt you, but ooooooh, does it taste good!

One of my very favorite parts of shopping at Whole Foods is their bulk section. Quinoa, honey, maple syrup, barley, whole wheat flour, pastry flour, oat flour, rice flour, pasta, veggie chips, chocolate chips, carob chips, dried fruit...if it is available in bulk, Whole Foods probably sells it. Compared to buying prepackaged pantry items, the bulk stuff is usually cheaper. And, best of all, Whole Foods sells spices in bulk and they are cheeeeaaaap. When I discovered bulk spices, my shopping habits changed.

I don't go through a ton of spices, but I do use a wide variety of spices and I can't stomach paying $2.50-$6.00 per bottle of spices when I only use a few tablespoons per year. Not to mention the waste involved in packaging spices. Glass bottles, plastic bottles, plastic tops. The packaging itself is wasteful and the weight of the packaging leads to more burning of fossil fuels for transporting the spices.

The waste from bulk spices -- small ziplock bags. I've been known to wash them and reuse them in my kids' lunches. This works with everything but curry powder and tumeric. The kids don't appreciate having their rasins packaged in a bag that previously held curry powder. :)

So, when we remodeled our kitchen a few years ago, my spice solution was to get a very wide, shallow spice drawer where I could put lots of shallow, flat containers of spices. I bought round tin containers with clear tops from Specialty Bottle online and clear printable labels from Online Labels and filled the containers with my bulk spices. This system worked perfectly...until we moved to Mexico. There, the humid air penetrated the tins and made most of the spices moldy. Blech. So I tossed the spices, washed the rusting tins and left them at the girls' school to use in the classroom.

Today I finally replaced all those spices, and the containers, too. This time I chose clear glass jars with plastic screwtops. If we ever live in a humid climate again (please, no more humidity!), my spices should be safe, yes?

While I waited for new tires to be installed on my car today, I picked up a new stash of bulk spices. I still can't get over how cheap spices are when you buy in bulk. Here is what I paid to fill each of my four ounce spice jars today:

Fennel whole -- $0.54
Cumin whole -- 0.47
Curry powder -- 0.98
Coriander seed -- 0.54
Caraway seed -- 0.57
Lemon pepper -- 1.92
Cumin ground -- 0.40
Applewood Smoked Sea Salt -- 3.24 ($18.39/lb)
Allspice ground -- 1.84
Peppercorns whole -- 2.25
Mustard seed -- 1.08
Tumeric -- 0.55
Chipotle powder -- 1.66
Rosemary -- 0.28
Paprika -- 2.15
Pepper ground -- 1.40

I would estimate that I saved an average of $3 per spice today, which adds up to a whopping $48. If you look at the list closely, you'll notice some of the "normal" spices are missing. I've got thyme, oregano, basil, garlic powder, home-mixed pumpkin pie spice, chili powder, ground ginger etc. in my drawer already. Today was a day for rounding out my spice collection.

So, it turns out that waiting for my tires to be installed was more fruitful than I thought it would be. Now I've got two new tires AND a drawer full of fresh spices.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It must be fall

This fall, as happens every, every year that we haven't been in family is at the mercy of my fall soup obsession. So far this week we've had pumpkin soup (from San Francisco a la Carte -- my kids LOVED it), cream of tomato soup (from Cook's Illustrated Soups and Stews -- Scott said it was the "best ever"), and tonight we'll be having roasted cauliflower soup (from an old issue of Gourmet Magazine). I'm trying to replicate the roasted cauliflower soup we had at the wedding last weekend. I never would have considered making it without tasting it first -- it was super tasty.

Although I always love the warmth of soups in the fall, part of my obsession this week is due to my refrigerator being overloaded with CSA veggies (fall is bountiful here in Colorado -- we finally have an abundance of tomatoes and peppers, plus the usual cruciferous veggies and leafy greens), and part of it is because Scott and I overate last week while on vacation and need to get back to normal. So, we've been eating spinach salads for lunches and veggie soups for dinners. Actually, as Jen (the bride) was zipping up my bridesmaid dress last weekend, she asked whether I'd even tried it on. She was having a tough time getting the zipper up. Eventually we got it zipped, but I didn't take a deep breath all night long. I swear it fit perfectly a week earlier. But a week of vacation -- you know what that can do!

So, here's to your fall recipes. Cheers, and enjoy the abundance.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My very own pumpkin spice latte

I realize that there are easier ways to get a pumpkin spice latte than making one yourself from scratch. I'm not exactly known for doing things the easy way, and I am both too cheap and too lazy to drive to Starbucks to get one of their pumpkin spice lattes, so here is my alternative version. It's not as sweet as Starbucks, which I'm sure you could figure out how to remedy if you are so inclined.

1. Along with your coffee beans, grind a bit of whole cinnamon, a few whole cloves, and some nutmeg. Or add ground versions of all three to your beans before grinding or add them to your already-ground coffee. If I had ginger on hand (I usually do, but not today) I would add it, too. But then I guess it would be more of a gingerbread latte? I suppose you could just use a bit of pumpkin pie spice, also something my spice drawer is missing today.
2. Make espresso -- I use my stovetop espresso maker similar to this one for almost all of my coffee needs. I suppose if you are a drip or french press person, you could just make extra strong coffee in your regular pot?
3. To half a mug of milk, add a squirt of pure maple syrup and microwave until hot. Yes, PURE maple syrup. Not Mrs. Butterworth's or Log Cabin. Or use sugar if you don't have real maple syrup.
4. Froth your hot milk and maple syrup with something like this.
5. Pour your autumnally-flavored strong coffee or espresso into your hot frothed milk and bask in the glory of your self-sufficiency.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Stacks and stacks of pickles...pickles!

What started as an overwhelming (to my small brain) 25lbs of very muddy organic cucumbers is now...I don't know...millions? Of pickles. Stacks and stacks of pickles. Probably no two jars are alike because I just don't have the consistency to make them all the same. Plus I tend to use recipes as a guide rather than actually following them word for word. Between that and my awesome math skills, nothing ever comes out exactly how it is supposed to. This is why I don't bake cakes.

But back to the pickles. So, I thought this could be done in about three hours. Turns out it took me more like twelve. Or maybe fifteen. And my friends have the nerve to ask me for a jar of pickles! For free! Ha! Okay, so I may have already given some away.

The basic recipe proportions I followed were these: 1 cup vinegar to 1 cup water to 1 teaspoon salt. Plus some pickling spices. And extra mustard seeds until I ran out of mustard seeds. Except at the beginning I accidentally used 2 TABLEspoons of salt to each cup of liquid. Oops. So that required some fixing. Other than that, I don't think I messed it up TOO badly. Each pickle jar got a few cloves of garlic, some onions, some dried dill with seeds and some fresh dill, was packed with pickles and then had the boiling pickling brine poured over it. The jars were all boiled in a water bath for about ten minutes (yeah, probably not long enough for this altitude, so if my family croaks, you'll know why).

The girls even got in on the action. After the first round of pickling, when I realized that it was going to take me a week to process all of the cucumbers on my own, I decided to prep everything ahead of time and let the girls pack the jars one afternoon after school. Brynn packed the quart jars and Callie took care of the pints. Honestly, I usually don't like having them in the kitchen. I wish I were patient and didn't care about messes all over the floor and counter, but that just isn't me. But this?! It was kind of fool proof! Except for the shattered prep bowl! Other than that, everything was super smooth!

And now, when the girls go through a jar of pickles a day, I can't reprimand them because, after all, they did most of the labor themselves!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Asian Rice Noodle Slaw

While mentally scouring my fridge for ingredients to combine into a palatable dinner meal tonight, I realized I had the makings of a decent raw Asian meal. I had a few packages of Vietnamese rice noodles (fettucini width), plus a fridge full of organic veggies from our farm. I always keep ingredients for Asian sauces on hand.** With a little help from the shredding attachment on my food processor, this meal came together in about 45 minutes and the dishwasher is taking care of all the cleanup. I'm a slow cook - you could probably pull it together in half an hour. I'm easily distracted while in the kitchen. I'm also not good at keeping track of what I put in my meals, which is why I can rarely recreate a recipe. So take these measurements with a grain of salt. This recipe provided enough for large portions for Scott and me, smaller portions for the girls, and the bowl of leftovers pictured above. This is one of those meals that will probably taste even better the next day.

For the slaw:
20 oz. rice noodles
oil (peanut, walnut, or vegetable oil)
toasted sesame oil
rice vinegar
1 cucumber, shredded
3 carrots, shredded
1/4 head cabbage, shredded
2 broccoli stalks, shredded (not the florets, just the stalks)
3 green onions, sliced
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
5-6 basil leaves, finely chopped
handful chopped peanuts

For the sauce:
juice of one large lime or two key limes
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 T sesame seeds
2 T peanut butter
1 T fish sauce
chopped cilantro
soy sauce
sugar, honey, or other sweetener
red pepper flakes

Cover noodles in boiling water and leave them to soak for 10 minutes or until al dente. When the noodles are finished, drain and rinse in cold water. Toss with oil, rice vinegar (I used unseasoned), and a dash of sesame oil until the noodles are coated. Combine with shredded cucumber, carrots, cabbage (red would look nicer but green works fine), broccoli stalks, green onions, cilantro, basil, and chopped peanuts. Shredded red, orange, or yellow bell peppers would make a nice addition. Combine veggies with noodles and put in the fridge to chill.

For the sauce...the ratios really depend on your taste. It would work best to combine the sauce ingredients in a blender, but I did it with a fork in a 2-cup Pyrex because I don't like to use more than one appliance per meal and I'd already used the food processor. If you don't keep fish sauce around, leave it out. I am low on honey, so I used sugar instead. Probably around 2T of it, maybe a smidge more. If you're using seasoned rice vinegar, you'll use less sugar/honey. I didn't add enough soy sauce to begin with, so I ended up tossing the noodles with a bit more after we started eating. I'm a mix/taste/add/repeat kind of cook.

**For Asian cooking, you should keep your pantry stocked with soy sauce (duh), toasted sesame oil, rice vinegar, fish sauce or oyster sauce, sesame seeds (buy them in a big bottle in the Asian section, not in the little expensive bottle in the seasoning aisle), peanuts or cashews, red pepper sauce and/or red pepper flakes. I also keep hoisin sauce, red curry paste, and (finally) tamarind paste (for pad thai), which is ridiculously difficult to find in my neighborhood. (I think this paragraph needs a few more parenthesis.) What pantry items am I forgetting?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hot for tamales

When Scott told me that my favorite Puerto Vallarta restaurant, El Arrayán, would be holding a class on tamales, my favorite Mexican food, I couldn't say no! I've made tamales at home in the past, but I knew I'd have a lot to learn.

The first part of class took place at a local market, so that we could learn to identify some of the raw ingredients common to Mexican cooking.

This is Carmen, one of the owners of El Arrayán, starting our lesson on tamales.

Laura, Carmen's cousin, a tamal expert!

Dried corn husk wrappers for three of the four kinds of tamales we made. There was one sweet tamal made with candied cactus and pineapple, one savory rolled with black beans, one filled with pork, and one with fresh corn. All four were delicious.

Mmmm...lard. Once the lard was whipped into oblivion, we mixed it with the masa (cornmeal) to make the outside of the tamales.

Fresh corn husks to wrap the fresh corn tamales.

Pork filling for the only meat-filled tamal.

Laura at work spreading black beans onto some very sticky masa. These ones were rolled up cinnamon-roll style before slicing them and wrapping them in corn husks.

My sister-in-law, Natalie, wrapping up some tamales.

Laura showing us how to fill the pork tamales.

Tamales finished!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Gingersnap Ice Cream

Churned it, froze it, and tasted it today. Oh! So good! Like eating gingerbread dough off the you were a kid. Right? A kid? It's pretty rich so you only need a small scoop for a LOT of satisfaction!

Gingersnap Ice Cream
Adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters.
Makes 1 quart

Separate 5 eggs. Whisk the yolks just enough to break them up. Pour into a heavy-bottomed pot:
  • 1 1/2 cups half-and-half
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • a pinch of salt
Warm the half-and-half mixture over medium heat until steaming, but do not allow to boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Whisk in:
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
Whisk a little of the hot half-and-half mixture into the egg yolks to temper them, then whisk the warmed yolks back into the hot half-and-half. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and stir in:
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Cover the custard and chill thoroughly.

Freeze the chilled custard in an ice-cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer the frozen ice cream into a clean dry container, cover, and store in the freezer for several hours to firm up before serving.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ice cream for Christmas

Here is one benefit of living in a place where the weather is so warm that it doesn't really seem like Christmas: you can continue eating ice cream all winter long. Not that snow, rain, sleet, or below zero temps ever kept me from ice cream before. But now it feels right to be eating it. And making it.

Okay, maybe the ice-cream-friendliness of this season is not a benefit, at least not if I want to return to America within ten pounds of what I weighed when I left.

But, seriously, it's ice cream. And as you may know, I like to make my own. What you probably don't know is that the cream here is super double thick and rich. That's how Callie would say it. "Super double."

Plus, it's really too hot here to run the oven much. And I only have one cookie sheet. And I didn't bring my beloved Silpat liners with me and it turns out that parchment paper is hard to come by here. I don't really know how to bake without Silpats or parchment paper. Honestly, I'm not much of a baker with Silpats and parchment paper, but I really suck without them.

I did bake for a cookie exchange last week. I took two dozen gingersnaps and two dozen biscotti. The biscotti were fabulous -- light and crispy. The gingersnaps were not so snappy. Oh, they were snappy shortly after I pulled them out of the oven, thankyouverymuch. But after a few hours in the humidity they developed the texture of a wet noodle. Bleh. And yet I'm still craving gingersnaps. Maybe that's my body's way of telling me it's Christmas time. If not for the Christmas music playing constantly in our house, you'd probably never know we celebrate Christmas here. Sad. Very sad.

So in response to the gingersnap craving, I made up a gingersnap ice cream recipe today and put together the custard base a while ago. Ohhhh...if the ice cream is half as good as the base, it will put that craving to bed for sure. I'm hoping to churn the gingersnap ice cream tomorrow and then later in the week I'm going to whip up two batches of peppermint ice cream as the wintery accompanyment to our Christmas Eve dinner of bbq ribs, cole slaw, and potato salad. How's that for a mid-winter feast? Sounds more like the Fourth of July, doesn't it? Hopefully I can find some ribs this week. If not, I'll have to come up with something else. Pulled pork? Burgers? Mahi-Mahi?

So, yes, this year I'm associating Christmas with homemade ice cream. We just finished off a batch of coconut ice cream (made with pureed coconut meat from three coconuts I watched a guy hack open with a machete). I made up that recipe, too, and it came out pretty tasty. It followed a batch of mint chip ice cream which wasn't bad, either.

It seems as if ice cream season has arrived here in Mexico. I'm making the most of it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Homemade Yogurt. Mmm, mmm good.

Plain, sugar free yogurt may not be a big deal for you. But it is for me. Because it is hard to get here! The "plain" yogurt available in our town has sugar added to it for sweetness. Genuine plain yogurt is only available at the big grocery store half an hour from our house (and I've heard they only recently started stocking it), but I don't go there often. So, I've gone back to making my own which is something I haven't done regularly in a long time.

Here's how I make it. Be forewarned: this is more of a guide than a recipe. You may have to try it a few times until you get the consistency and flavor you are looking for.


1 scant half gallon of milk (Whole and 2% work better than skim. The idea behind the "scant" half gallon is that you want to have the right amount of milk to fill your containers when the milk becomes yogurt. I use two one-quart plastic yogurt containers but you could use one-quart jars or any other container that suits your fancy.)

1/2 cup plain yogurt with no sugar or fruit added to it (Use half of a small store-bought container to culture your milk. Choose a good quality one with lots of live and active cultures. You can use leftovers from this batch of yogurt to start your next batch, but the cultures will be weaker than in store-bought yogurt and after culturing from batch to batch a few times, the cultures won't work at all.)

1/3 to 1/2 cup dried milk powder


1. In a large covered pot on your stove, scald the milk (which means, bring it up to nearly boiling but don't let it come to a full boil because it like quadruples in volume and and turns into a monster that will end up all over your stove -- I have no idea how messy that would be, really, it's never happened to me).

2. Dissolve the dried milk powder in your hot milk.

3. Allow the milk to cool to about 115F. After 5-10 minutes of cooling, I speed the process along by filling my sink with room temperature water and putting the pot in the water. I keep the top on my pot so that the milk doesn't form a skin across the top.

4. Once your milk has cooled to about 115F, mix in your 1/2 cup of store-bought plain yogurt.

5. Pour the milk/yogurt mixture into your yogurt containers and keep them warm for 4-8 hours, depending on how firm and tart you want your yogurt to be. The longer you let it culture, the firmer and more tangy it will be. I let mine go for about six hours.

6. Once the yogurt is cultured and firm, put it in your fridge. It should stay fresh for about ten days.

Here are two ways I keep my yogurt warm while it cultures. At home, I used to wrap the yogurt containers in a heating pad on my countertop and keep the heating pad turned on during the culturing time. I don't have a heating pad here in Mexico (I sweat enough without one) so I discovered a new way that I think might be better:

Fill a few empty glass jars with boiling (or near-boiling) water and screw the tops onto the jars. Place them in a cooler along side your filled yogurt containers. With dry towels, fill in the extra spaces between and on top of your jars and close the cooler until you are happy with the firmness of your yogurt.

Once the yogurt is done, you can add to it whatever you want. Jam makes good fruity yogurt, maple syrup is tasty, plain yogurt is great for blending with frozen fruit and juice for a smoothie...but my favorite way to eat it is over cut up fruit and topped with something crunchy, usually nuts.

My yogurt-making skills came from my summer working at Rock-n-Water. Actually, I learned most of my cooking skills there. Amazing place, amazing people, incredible ministry.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My lunch

Okay, okay. I know that one thing people loathe about blogs and Facebook and Twitter is that people post about things that are totally unimportant. But, I think my lunch might actually be relevant to life here in Mexico. And if not, well...think of it as art.

Isn't it beautiful? It's my lunch! Strawberries straight off of the produce truck in front of my house, no more than a day from the fields. Ripe. The same size and shape as the ones I grow in my garden in Colorado (strawberries are, by the way, my most successful crop. Sometimes, like this year, they are my ONLY successful crop). Strawberries atop fresh, homemade plain yogurt. And walnuts.

It just doesn't get better than this!

Healthy-ish oatmeal cookies?

Healthy-ish because the recipe is reasonably healthy (as far as cookies go) but if you're anything like Our Little Family, you'll eat them all within 24 hours and that, my friends, is not healthy. Everything in moderation, right? If we had any left, I'd snap a photo for you. But the fact that there aren't any left should be reason enough for you to run and make some right now!

The recipe I used was based on this one from Whole Foods. If you look at their recipe, ignore all the silly reader comments about using fake eggs and fake butter. Bleh. That is ridiculous. Real food, people. Not something made in a lab. Unless you're allergic, I guess...

Without further ado, here is your no-mixer-required healthy-ish oatmeal cookie recipe.

Healthy-ish Oatmeal Cookies

1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon molasses (if you don't have molasses, use brown sugar instead of regular sugar)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup butter, softened (maybe use 1/3 cup if you skipped the molasses)
1 cup finely chopped pitted prunes
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour, white flour, or regular whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (or semi-sweet if you can't handle the bitter goodness)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or pan liners or, alternatively, grease with butter or spray.

Combine sugar, molasses, vanilla, baking soda, and butter. Add chopped prunes and walnuts, stir until combined. Stir in oats, flour, and salt. Once all ingredients are well-combined, fold in chocolate chips.

Drop by spoonful onto prepared baking sheets. Bake until cooked through and golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Makes 3 dozen cookies.