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.”

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!

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.