Recipes


Whole Foods for the Whole Family: notice the spiral binding. Classic.

Back in the day, my parents cooked from a certain cookbook quite a lot.  That book, Whole Foods for the Whole Family, was published by LaLeche League International, which, just as it sounds is a still-active breastfeeding advocacy group.

At any rate, many of these recipes have become old standards in our family, and this christmas, my parents got all three of us (that is, myself and my two brothers) copies of the original.

So, to celebrate this momentous occasion, here’s one of the best recipes in the book, for Kima–which appears to be a ground beef curry dish originating in either northern India or Pakistan.  Thanks go out to Rose Isdale of Christchurch, New Zeland for submitting this recipe to La Leche League in the first place!  Enjoy:

The Ingredients:

1 lb. ground beef or cubed tofu*.

1 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced.

1 tbs. butter

1 1/2 tsp. curry powder

1/2 tsp. salt

dash of pepper

2-3 tsp. soy sauce

2 potatoes, diced

2 carrots, diced

1 cup peas

1 stalk celery, diced

2-3 tomatoes, quartered

*A note on the tofu: cubed tofu is fine, but if you’re looking to keep the ground beef texture, place a block of tofu in the freezer, allowing it enough time to freeze solid.  Then thaw it out, and crumble it.  It will mimic the look and feel of ground beef quite well.

The Method:

1). Saute onion and garlic butter.

2). Add beef (or tofu) and brown.

3). Add seasonings and vegetables.

4). Simmer 30 minutes.

According to the recipe, “this may be adapted to include any favorite foods.  Mushrooms make a delicious addition.  I’ve found that toddlers love this meal as well as adults because all the food is in tasty, bite-sized pieces.”

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Hi All!  Ever since I had the amaranth pancakes at the now-defunct Vella Cafe in Bucktown, Chicago, I’d been meaning to attempt a version of my own.  Here’s what I came up with this morning.  They’re fairly simple, but with a distinct nuttiness, and a depth of flavor that run-of-the-mill flapjacks usually lack.  Plus, amaranth not only sounds cool (I think its up there with coelacanth), it’s pretty good for you!

This recipe serves 2 people, so if you’re planning on feeding any more than that, I’d at least double it!

A note about the amaranth flour:  I made my own, running amaranth through a flour mill a few times, but you can also find it at just about any specialty grocer.

The Ingredients:

A varietal of amaranth in its native habitat. Native to the Americas, it is now cultivated in Europe and Asia as well.

Wet:

1 cup whole milk

1 large egg

1 Tablespoon buckwheat honey (any variety of honey is fine)

1/4 Teaspoon vanilla extract

1 Tablespoon oil (canola, walnut, etc.)

Dry:

1/2 Cup all purpose white flour

1/2 Cup amaranth flour

2 Teaspoons baking powder

A pinch of salt

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon allspice (depending on taste)

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

A pinch of nutmeg

The Method:

Combine all of the wet ingredients together and whisk in a mixing bowl to fully combine.  Do likewise with the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and mix just enough to get all the clumps out.  If you over-mix pancake batter the pancakes will get tough!  Let sit for 5 minutes or so while you heat up your pan or griddle.

Oil the griddle (extremely lightly!) and when hot start frying the pancakes.  Adjust the heat as necessary and continue until all the pancakes are done.  I know I mentioned this before, but this recipe makes only 6 or so, so double it if you’re feeding more than two people!

In the spirit of the season, here’s a great preparation for spaghetti squash that I came up with last night.  We’re right in the thick of winter squash season, and spaghetti squash is one of the more under-appreciated in the clan.

My apologies if the proportions are inexact.  It’s just that I’d rather not commit to any particular measurements given the variations in size between particular squashes.  Just go a little light if you’ve got a smaller squash and vice versa if you’ve got a monster.

Vadouvan Spice is a sort of french take on a classic curry.  If you can’t find it anywhere, and if you’re not feeling ambitious enough to make some yourself, then any good quality curry powder (or equivalent blend of spices) will work just fine!

 

The Ingredients:

Sesame or Peanut Oil (your choice!)

Garlic (4 cloves or so; minced)

White Pearl Onions (between 6 and 10; peeled and quartered)

One Spaghetti Squash (roasted; see below)

Vadouvan Spice Powder (I got mine from The Spice House; it’s wonderful!)

Salt (to taste)

Coconut Milk (approx 1/2 cup, give or take)

Ground Cayenne Pepper (Optional: depending on taste and on the heat already present in your Vadouvan Spice)

For the Topping:

Toasted Sunflower Seeds (or cashews)

Finely Chopped Scallions


Roasting the Squash:

Roasting spaghetti squash is a similar process to any other winter squash.  Just cut it in half from end to end, scoop out the seeds and guts, rub the flesh with oil, and a decent amount of salt and pepper, and roast on a cookie sheet or in a roasting pan face up in a 375 degree oven for around 45 minutes, or until done.

After the squash is fully cooked through, let cool before scooping out the flesh and mashing it gently.  This will separate the squash into its pasta-like strands.  This you can do ahead of time and refrigerate; I did it the afternoon before.

The Method:

Once the squash is roasted and mashed, this recipe moves fast: be ready!

Heat up a heavy cast-iron skillet or wok, and add a couple tablespoons of oil.  Once that’s hot, add the minced garlic and quartered pearl onions. (You can definitely use a small, normal-sized onion here, but I really like the sweetness and delicate texture of the little ones.)  Saute for a couple minutes and add the squash.

Mix well, and cover for a couple minutes to let the squash heat through.  Now, just add the Vadouvan (or curry) powder a little at a time and taste, until you’ve got the right amount of heat and depth of flavor.  This is when you’d add the cayenne as well, if you’re looking for a little boost. Cover for a couple more minutes to let the spices incorporate.

Finally, add around a 1/2 cup of coconut milk; more or less depending on how much squash you’ve got.  It should be just enough to thoroughly coat the squash, and deglaze whatever has stuck to your pan.  We’re not going for a soup or a stew here–the coconut milk is just added for some richness and depth of flavor.

Salt to taste, pull it off the heat and serve, topped with the toasted sunflower seeds and chopped scallions.  Enjoy!

My last few food posts have been more anecdote than recipe, so for this post my goal is to keep the story short and sweet, and get to the food as soon as I can.

This story begins with my grandfather Leo, who despite being born in the United States, grew up speaking German in a small area of east central Wisconsin called “The Holyland”.  Dotted with minuscule farming communities all centered around (and named after) Catholic churches, this area persisted as an autonomous German-speaking region well into the twentieth century. My grandfather was from Johnsburg; my mother was born in Marytown, a mere seven miles away.  Other towns included Mt. Calvary, Jericho, and St. Cloud.

St. Marys Church in Marytown Wisconsin.  My mother and her siblings grew up down the hill. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

St. Mary's Church in Marytown, Wisconsin. My mother and her siblings grew up down the hill. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

When I was a kid he spoke English exclusively, but frequently mixed German words, phrases, and idioms into his speech.  A hangover was a “katzenjammer” (pronounced kah-tzen-ya-mer), and from a very young age he called me “Hannes-wurst” which means, literally, “John-sausage”.

The Holyland was for a long time a very insulated German Catholic community.  As a result, the people there created their own slightly modified version of the language over time.  And my Grandfather was third or fourth generation, so his German was anything but “hoch”, that is to say “high”, proper German.  So when we’d go to visit Leo and my grandmother, we’d eat “shtumpus”: a mix of left-over sausage (usually bratwurst), sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes.  It was delicious, but for years afterward I always assumed that “shtumpus” was Holyland-German for “leftovers” or “mash” or some such thing–something delicious, but decidedly humble.

However, as I found out while reading Sanford D’Amato’s column in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last week, I learned that shtumpus has noble origins.  D’Amato is unquestionably Milwaukee’s finest and widely respected chef and a James Beard Award winner, so when he writes about shtumpus (or as he calls it, “stoemp” or “hutspot”), I feel that my grandfather’s cooking has been exculpated.

However, D’Amato’s version lacks many of the elements of the shtumpus that I was raised on, so last night I thought I’d create my own version: keeping in mind D’Amato’s technique, my grandfather’s love of “speck” (Holyland-German for “fat”), and my own love of root vegetables.  What follows is the delicious result of this effort. This shtumpus may be used as a side dish, or topped with any variety of meats; D’Amato recommends short-ribs, and I used eggplant, pepper and olive ravioli (from the Italian grocery off First Avenue at 11th Street) with toasted pine nuts.

Also, if you’re looking to make this vegetarian,you can just make up for the bacon by adding more butter.  Though there’s so little bacon in this dish, I’d recommend cheating and having a little meat!

The Ingredients:

A 2-3 pound mix of root vegetables, cubed.  Less than half potatoes! (For mine, I used three medium sizes red potatoes, a large parsnip, two medium large turnips, and half of a celery root.)

1/2 pound bacon, diced

One medium onion, diced

1/4 to 1/2 head of cabbage (depending on size), chopped

Milk (no less than whole), a generous splash.

1 to 2 Tablespoons of Butter

Fresh Dill

Salt and Pepper, of course.

The Method:

Start by peeling the root vegetables and chopping them into similarly sized cubes.  Place in a pot, cover with water, add salt,bring to a boil, and simmer until the vegetables are completely done.  Drain into a colander and immediately add back to the pot.  The heat of the pot will help to evaporate the remaining water.  Save about a 1/4 cup of the root vegetable water to steam the cabbage.

While the vegetables are coming up to a boil, dice the bacon, and add to a medium hot skillet with a little butter.  Brown the bacon (not too crispy) and transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate covered with paper towel to drain most of the fat.  Pour out (and reserve) almost all of the bacon fat, but save back a few tablespoons.

Add the onion and saute for a couple minutes in the bacon fat before adding the cabbage, the 1/4 cup root-veg-water, pepper, salt, and a large pinch of minced fresh dill.  Toss in the skillet to combine and cover: to let the cabbage steam (it’ll cook a lot faster this way). Once the cabbage is nearly done, remove the lid to let almost all of the liquid cook off and remove from heat.

Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the root vegetables, along with a generous splash of milk, and a bit of the reserved bacon fat (what the hell, right?).  Mash to desired consistency; I prefer a chunky mash, myself.  Add the cabbage onion mixture, the bacon, and a generous amount of fresh dill to the pot, and stir to combine.

Whether Flemmish or German, Alsatian  or Belgian, this dish is delicious!  Next time you’re going to make mashed potatoes, make this instead!

Before anyone jumps to any rash conclusions, I’d just like to preemptively announce that, in terms of food, I’m like Chipper Jones–a great switch hitter, with power from both sides of the plate.

Okay, for those of y’all who are not baseball fans, I probably should offer a more comprehensive explanation.  I grew up alternating between farm and city, and when I was on a farm, I was exposed at a very young age to the “potential” (or from my perspective: “self-evident reality”) of the humane treatment of livestock in small scale agriculture.  Between the farm that we lived on and the farm that my father was raised on, we raised shorthorn beef cattle and excellent chickens (for both eggs and meat), as well as a couple goats (as pets and as weed control).  As a result, I am most definitely an appreciator of all products animal.

However, after spending a few weeks in Indonesia (and spending a lot more time with a seriously indefatigable vegetarian), I really began to appreciate the methods and ingredients of serious vegetarian cuisine.  This has resulted in a kitchen where we cook with far more tempeh than bacon, and more soymilk (always unsweetened!) than whole milk: though I try to keep both on hand. In short, I love cooking both meat and vegetarian food, and I see no reason why one must pick one or the other.

Why have both soymilk and cow’s milk, you ask?  Its simple: each milk has its pros and cons depending on the situation.  Regular milk is much better for baking, in coffee (most of the time), and for use in egg-based dishes.  However, there’s nothing better with oatmeal (in my opinion) than the nutty richness that is soymilk.

But I digress.  This post is about breakfast, and its about time I started writing about it, because it was ungodly delicious!  Like most of my breakfasts, this one was spontaneous.  I woke up with two thoughts in my head: fried eggs and cornbread.  A good, simple combination methinks…but after a half-cup of coffee, I got ambitious.

My first big idea came quickly: poached eggs.  I had a pretty good aged cheddar on hand, and was running low on butter–butter than I would need for “skillet-ing” (*see note) the cornbread .  I could survive without the butter by poaching the eggs, and the cheese would make a good topping paired with the cornbread.

By this time I was moving in a more southern direction.  I had thrown a couple tablespoons of Spice House chili powder (if you’ve ever had Spice House spices, you’ll understand why I bothered to mention the brand!) into the cornbread batter, as well as a bit of cayenne and dried parsley.  And it was then that I had a second idea: hollandaise.

I’ve never made a hollandaise before and despite my now cup and a half of coffee I wasn’t ready to go down that path this early in the morning.  I had seen an episode of The French Chef with Julia Child where she made one from scratch, and all that I can remember is a lot of butter, egg yolks and cream.  Regardless, I was out of butter–having used the last of it to prep the skillet for cornbread–and all I had on hand was soymilk: not good for this purpose.  So that was a dead end.  Back at square one, I saw a can of pintos in the cabinet, and thought: “this could work.” I already had a southern theme going on, so I could just mince up some shallots and garlic, and saute them with the beans and a few spices; that could make a nice pinto bean topping for the eggs.

So, I’m poaching the eggs (farmers market: the yolks are almost orange they’re so good!), the cornbread is just starting to brown in the oven, and the beans are tasting good, but they’re just beans: uninspiring, and not at all saucy (I was still pining for a hollandaise at this point).  And then I remembered an amazing fact:  I own an immersion blender!

Let me repeat that: I own an immersion blender!

Yes! I grabbed the blender, added a touch of water to the beans, and blended the pintos right in the saucepan until they were a rich, creamy sauce.  Let’s call it a vegan pinto hollandaise.  Brilliant!  So I cut the cornbread into wedges, split it, put the pieces crust-side down, added a layer of the cheese, two poached eggs, and literally covered the whole thing with the pinto-hollandaise.  My god, was it tasty!  My only regret is that I didn’t take a picture.

If this sounds a bit dramatic, believe me it was!  So if you’ve got a blender, I’d recommend making this yourself, as soon as possible.  And when you’re baking cornbread, the simpler the recipe the better: so long as cornmeal makes up at least half of the ingredients.  This is not the time or the place for cakey cornbread!

Finally, be sure to get your timing down right.  Poached eggs can really get overdone quickly, and cornbread must be served immediately.  It’ll start to loose moisture as soon as it leaves the oven.  So get some boiling water ready for the eggs, but don’t poach them until just before the cornbread is done!

*Note: “Skillet-ing” is a phrase that I use to describe the process of prepping your cast-iron skillet for baking proper cornbread, and yes you need a well seasoned cast-iron skillet.  First of all, your skillet should be hot.  Put it in the oven for a couple minutes.  You don’t want it blazing hot.  Just hot enough for a tablespoon or so of butter to immediately start to melt and sizzle (but not brown).

See where I’m going with this?  Yeah, I thought so.  Pull the skillet out of the oven and drop a tablespoon of butter or so (maybe a little less) into the center.  And put the skillet back in the oven to let the butter melt.  Then pour the cornbread batter into the skillet and throw it into the oven.  Pouring it into an already heated skillet with the melted butter makes all the difference, I promise!

Wikipedia)

Buckwheat, in its 19th Century botanical color plate form. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Backstory:

(scroll to bottom for recipe)

One of the more significant limitations Elena and I face in terms of cooking hinges on an otherwise benign, if enigmatic staple: buckwheat.  As a flour it is most commonly consumed – I would guess – in the form of soba noodles, a Japanese pasta made from buckwheat flour.  However, it’s more commonly known as “kasha” the roasted version of buckwheat groats used heavily in Eastern European Jewish cooking.  Small, chewy, and distinctive, these little groats (as they are technically not “grains” per se, but hulled archenes) are fairly healthy, and loaded with obscure minerals like Manganese, Copper, Phosphorous, and Zinc.  I’ve always been intrigued by the shape–like two pyramids fused at their respective bases.

Kasha varnishkes, that ubiquitous staple of Eastern European Jewish Cuisine, employs buckwheat as its primary ingredient.  Coated with egg, pan-fried, and paired with onions, bowtie noodles, mushrooms, and sour cream, kasha varnishkes is a spectacularly simple, and surprisingly delicious dish.  I love it; and Elena absolutely reviles it.  (For the record, one of my brothers has the same reaction to Buckwheat groats, so maybe its one of those love-hate foods like cauliflower or cilantro.)

So much for deep-seeded religious and cultural traditions.  Elena comes from Ashkenazi stock, and I have predominantly German Catholic roots, so common sense would lead one to surmise the opposite.  Nevertheless, I’m the one with the kasha-fixation.  The months following this discovery were spattered with intermittent efforts on my part to find a new method for cooking buckwheat groats that Elena would like.  I tried a few different versions of kasha varnishkes; I even tried an vaguely Italian variation with vermicelli, fall vegetables, and leeks (recipe available here, third from the top).  Nothing seemed to work–until Sunday.

The Experience:

My father was always the breakfast cook growing up.  Alongside the familiar feeling of the cold metal chains of playground swings and the strong scent of dry straw bales wafting out of flung-open barn doors, few associations are as strong and childlike for me as my father, in his well-worn grey robe, making breakfast.  One of his specialties was buckwheat pancakes.  I always remembered their delicious and distinctive nutty flavors, but I hadn’t attempted to make them on my own before this weekend.

I spotted a baker at the Union Square Greenmarket on Saturday that was selling fresh milled flour and cornmeal.  I bought cornmeal (which I had been out of for some time), buckwheat flour, and a pumpkin “whoopie pie”.  The whoopie pie,  as delicious as it sounds, was consumed that afternoon with a bottle of Dogfish Head’s Burton Baton over a half-game of scrabble.  The buckwheat, by contrast, sat peacefully on the shelf until Sunday morning.

On Sunday morning, I slayed two demons that had been nagging at me for some time: buckwheat flour and yeast.  Anyone who’s a from-scratch pancake maker–and this should be everyone, quite frankly–knows that there are two methods of making pancake batter.  One, the more simple and expedient method, calls for baking powder.  Satisfyingly fast, these flapjacks are ready to go instantly; just mix the liquids into the solids (or vice versa), and you’re ready to go.  However, baking powder comes with a slight aftertaste, and is a chemical product.  So if you’re looking for the all-natural, “real deal” pancake, baking powder probably isn’t for you.

The second method uses yeast as a leavening agent.  This method involves letting the batter sit for an hour, but honestly after having tried this method I can assure you that it’s well worth the wait.  When you’re done you end up with a light, fluffy batter and the cooked pancakes have an consistency and lightness and depth of flavor that will amaze you!  The buckwheat flour, too, did not disappoint.  When used to make pancakes, the flour gives the batter a blue-grey color, with beautiful dark specks: almost like a variation on a robin’s egg.  The flour must have been freshly milled as the flavors were intense and delicate.  They hardly needed maple syrup; just a little butter would have done the trick.

And the best news of all: Elena liked them! Mission Accomplished!

Buckwheat Pancakes.  Forgive the product placement; it was unintentional.

Buckwheat Pancakes. Forgive the product placement; it was unintentional.

The Recipe:

Adapted, slightly, from an out of print and slightly odd 1970’s version of the New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook:

2 cups lukewarm water

1 tablespoon dry active yeast

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 cups buckwheat flour

1 cup unbleached white flour

1 cup lukewarm milk

1 teaspoon sea salt

Mix yeast and brown sugar into warm water in a large mixing bowl and stir until dissolved.  Add the milk to the yeast mixture, and then the flours and salt (sifted together if you’re feeling ambitious). Beat this mixture by hand until smooth.

Cover and set aside in a warm place to rise for about an hour. The mixture should be light and fluffy at this point.  Stir well and bake on a lightly oiled medium-hot griddle (or cast iron frying pan, if you’ve got one), until browned on both sides.

This is a pretty big recipe, so if you’re cooking breakfast for two, I’d recommend halving the recipe.

Note: in my experience, the first pancake always ends up less than spectacular; its always too oily, or you’re griddle was too hot and it burned a bit.  Don’t worry about it, just treat the first pancake as calibration.  Adjust your temperature and move on to the next one.  Also, you shouldn’t need to oil the griddle/pan after the first pancake.