Category Archives: grains

A new staple

Warm Quinoa and Radicchio Salad

If I could rewrite Thanksgiving tradition to include something a little more convenient and versatile than stuffing—a more colorful, more nutritious mixture of ingredients that really did stay perky overnight—it might look something like this fallish grain salad. Spiked with lemon and rounded with olive oil, it’s a colorful hodgepodge that comes together in about 20 minutes and passes as almost anything in my kitchen: as lunch on its own, as a bed for grilled tuna or roasted chicken, or as a nest for a poached egg in the morning. It’s wonderful warm, but equally delicious at room temperature, when the more subtle flavors of the parsley and pecans shine a bit brighter.

Of course, if this were served in place of stuffing at Thanksgiving, there would be gravy, and while this salad is many things, I don’t imagine it making friends well with gravy. Which is why someday soon, I will make both.

Warm Quinoa and Radicchio Salad with Pecans, Parsley, and Goat Cheese (PDF)

Note: You can toast the pecans on a baking sheet at 350 degrees F until sizzling and a shade darker, about 10 minutes, but in a rush I toast them by simply cooking them in the microwave for a minute or two.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (preferably homemade)
1 cup raw quinoa (any color)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for seasoning
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Half of a medium (3/4-pound) head radicchio, chopped
Stripped zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 cup toasted pecans
1 loosely packed cup Italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped
3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Freshly ground pepper (optional)

In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a boil over high heat. Add the quinoa and 1/2 teaspoon salt, stir to blend, then reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, until the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid, 12 to 15 minutes, stirring just once or twice during cooking. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, then the chopped radicchio. Season the radicchio with salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the radicchio softens, about 5 minutes. Add the lemon zest and the juice of half the lemon and cook, stirring, for one minute more.

Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl or serving plate. Layer on the pecans, parsley, goat cheese, and cooked radicchio. Drizzle with the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, the juice of the remaining 1/2 lemon, and additional salt (and pepper, if desired) to taste, and toss all the ingredients together a few times. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The salad keeps well, covered in the refrigerator, up to 3 days.

6 Comments

Filed under gluten-free, grains, leftovers, Lunch, recipe, recipes, salad, snack, vegetables, vegetarian

The Village

photo

Fifteen people helped me function normally yesterday. I probably only know ten of their names, and I’d only really call five of them friends, but nevertheless, these days, all 15 are essential. See, I broke my collarbone on the Fourth of July. It was a classic bike accident—despite enough city riding to have a solid awareness of the problem, I fell for the old bike tire in the railroad tracks trick—but it’s left me with 3 good breaks and a not-so-classic problem: how does one cook with just the non-dominant hand?

The truth is, I haven’t been cooking. Or typing for more than ten minutes at a time, or exercising, or lifting my 44-pound child, or putting him into the car, or getting him out of the car, or bathing either of us if not absolutely necessary. This was all well and good when my husband was home, mostly waiting on me, but he’s off to sea again, so I’m either begging for help or learning to do things a little differently. Here are the fancy things I can do with just my newly promoted right hand: open jars (if braced properly between my hip and the counter), pick herbs off their stems, pour wine, slice cheese badly, make scrambled eggs, help my son pee on someone’s lawn because I can’t carry him inside in time, clean up after my cat’s mousing habits, put on anything with an elastic waistband, sit in a boat holding liquor while other people drag crabs off the bottom of the ocean, use an ice cream scoop, win at corn hole, pick up my telephone.

Here’s what my right hand can’t handle: cracking eggs, writing, wiping my child’s face, helping my child walk, pulling my child’s pants up, putting on make-up. When I’m alone, I just deal; I do things that I probably shouldn’t, like make my son’s lunch, or cut a nectarine, or put on sandals with two hands, or (the worst idea ever) dry my hair. But watch out; if you walk into my home’s general vicinity, you’ll get nabbed. Which means that yesterday, for example, members of the fantastic crew rebuilding our basement helped me get my kid into and out of the car. My neighbor’s daughter came over to water the garden, cut food and do dishes, put Graham’s shoes on, get him into the car while he threw a tantrum, and then later, when he finally sacked out, carry him into bed. One friend undressed my child for swimming lessons; another redressed him when the lessons were over. Graham’s therapist put on his shoes, and the preschool teachers helped me navigate transportation details into and out of his school. Mark carried my coffee when my useful hand was full. The baristas at Top Pot offered me ice for my injury. Whole Foods made me lunch. Jackie wiped the construction dust out of my house. And later, when Graham was finally asleep, I poured the rosé all by myself.

Today will be a totally different cast of helpers. Richie will probably get the kiddo into the car again—hear hear, Moms, hire a builder who’s had six kids—and the process will start anew. I’ll go back to the coffee shop where the barista knows how to put my barrette in, and to the gym, where I’ll ask a random old lady to help me put on my clothes in exchange for her bad collarbone stories. Tami will bring dinner and Dan will wrangle 3 kids at bath time. JJ, a guy I’ve never met, will pick up the tile for the downstairs for me, because it would be silly to lift all 3,000 pounds’ worth when I can’t drink out of a Nalgene bottle with either hand, and my in-laws will collect a week’s worth of laundry to take back to their place, because, naturally, the washer and dryer in the basement are disconnected and the plumbing is a bit spotty these days.

The whole experience has made me feel like a tornado of need, traveling through every village of friends that’s ever helped me, leaving a trail of appreciation and debt two (left) arms wide and three dinners deep. And since, for me, the path to paying it forward has always started in the kitchen, it feels like a rather irresponsible way to live.

Curiously, breaking my collarbone hasn’t seemed to impact my whining ability in the slightest. I seem to tolerate alcohol just fine, and I’m perhaps a bit better at sitting still to watch sports (although now that the Tour de France has finished, I may consider rescinding that claim). But two weeks ago, when the novelty of breaking what shouldn’t break was still all new and shiny, I was being very tough and resilient. Which is why, five days after my all-too-dramatic crash, but two full weeks before I could comfortably type, I made cookies.

I’m not normally one for contests, but Drew laid it out flat: this wasn’t a bake-off. This was a “cookie on,” because no one was allowed to enter unless they promised to get their cookie on for reals. I’d committed to entering the week before the Fourth, when Drew—another patient with (much more severe) cerebral palsy at Graham’s therapy center—had announced over her sparkle-tied Chucks that I was invited to join.

When I was out flat after the Fourth, slathered between ice like a freshly-caught salmon while my family stripped the basement naked in preparation for all that construction, I privately resigned from the contest. But the day before the cookies were due, I saw Drew again. She’s a gorgeous, spunky, bright-eyed, smartly dressed kid heading into 7th grade at the top of her class. She has severe cerebral palsy. She’s still learning to talk, walk, and write. Yet somehow, despite unimaginable obstacles, she cooks. She has major opinions about what tastes good and what doesn’t. And she wanted me to enter. How can you tell a girl who can’t stand at a counter that a broken bone is stopping you from turning on an electric mixer?

Good butter

I started with 3 sticks’s worth of butter, because it meant opening a single large package of butter instead of multiple smaller ones. I weighed instead of measuring wherever possible, because my right hand’s dexterity hadn’t yet gone through its latent puberty. It was so awkward. I made a hell of a mess. But in the end, I wound up with crunchy, chewy cookies with the tang of summer cherries.  I was satisfied.

My entry was the first on the cookie table the next day. Graham and I left the therapy center, and I waited. And waited. I never got to see the other cookies, but I felt like I’d made a good specimen. But alas, among the plethora of categorized prizes available—prettiest cookie, best-named cookie, tastiest cookie, etc.—I got nothing. Well, except an honorable mention, for Best One-Armed Baker.

I get it. Nothing beats a Husband Getter. (When Stephanie tells me what exactly a Husband Getter is, perhaps I’ll be able to explain why she won.) I never tasted that, or what Drew made, or what Drew’s mom made, but they were apparently all wayyyy better than mine. I’m working hard to avoid losing confidence over a cookie-baking contest instigated by a 12-year-old. And I get that I should have added chocolate, even if it might have meant figuring out how to axe into a block of Callebaut with my non-dominant hand.

But what I also get, as I dole out lumpy scoops of dough every other day from the bucket in the refrigerator when the need for a cookie calls, is that no matter how annoyed I get about needing and asking for help, I’m both lucky to be whole and lucky to have a village. And I understand that I’ll have ask and ask and ask for help, and be okay with it, until this whole episode is over, which, someday, it will be.

And some day, when I’m all patched up and she’s perhaps a little older, I’ll ask Drew how she does such a good job giving back with just her smile, and how she’s okay with not giving back sometimes. Because if there’s ever a contest to get your gracefulness on, or to get your spark on, or to get your ability to inspire people 25 years your senior on, those are the ones she’ll win.

Super-Powered Cherry-Millet Oatmeal Cookies (PDF)

These cookies have a distinct advantage over every single other cookie recipe I’ve made before: they can be made with one hand. My apologies if you don’t have a scale to measure out the dry ingredients properly. You’ll understand, I hope, that since Hogwash is about food and life, there is naturally a category for recipes made with a broken collarbone.

If you have the pleasure of the use of both of your arms AND a food scale, add a couple handfuls of chopped dark chocolate to the mix right at the end.

Makes: About 4 dozen

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
350 grams/12 1/2 ounces all-purpose gluten-free flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
150 grams/5 ounces old-fashioned oats
100 grams/3 1/2 ounces raw millet
1/2 pound dried sour cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar until light and fluffy on medium speed, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and whip again on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping the sides occasionally.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the machine on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the mixer in a few separate additions, mixing until thoroughly combined. Add the oats, millet, and cherries, and mix on low until evenly distributed, scraping the bottom of the bowl if necessary.

Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop (or a big cereal spoon), form the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls and place them on the baking sheets at least 2 inches apart. Bake for about 15 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking, until the edges of the cookies are browned but the centers are still light. Let the cookies cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets, transfer to racks to cool, and repeat with the remaining dough.

Cookies are best eaten the same day.

9 Comments

Filed under Cookies, gluten-free, grains

The quickest bite

toasted meusli

Here’s a breakfast cereal that lands halfway between real muesli—made with uncooked oats—and granola. The ingredients are lightly glazed with coconut oil and toasted, so that each oat carries a bit of crunch and true coconut flavor, but there’s far less sugar than typical granola. Serve with milk or yogurt, topped with fruit and perhaps a touch of honey.

Toasted Coconut Meusli (PDF)
Makes: 5 cups
Active time: 10 minutes

3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup flaked unsweetened coconut
1 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup virgin coconut oil (measured warm, as a liquid)
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, stir together the oats, coconut, almonds, oil, sugar, and salt until well blended. Spread the mixture on a large rimmed baking sheet and bake until evenly golden brown, stirring every 5 minutes or so, about 25 minutes total.

Let the muesli cool completely on the sheet, then store up to 1 week in an airtight container.

2 Comments

Filed under Breakfast, gluten-free, grains

Late Bloomer

Quinoa and Lentil Salad with Mint, Feta, and Cauliflower 1

When it comes to the vegetable world, cauliflower is a bit of an underdog. Not in a chubby turnip way, or even in a dread-headed celeriac way, but in a could-have-been-greener broccoli wanna-be sort of way. It doesn’t have the drama of an artichoke or the diva personality of spring’s first asparagus. (It would never dare to be bunched up with 15 of its closest pals and put on display at the front of the grocery store, Rockettes-style.)

Not cauliflower. Cauliflower is modest. Cauliflower got her ears pierced at sixteen. She’s been sheltered all her life—in so many places, in that suffocating plastic wrap—and shoved into step beside more pedestrian vegetables like carrots and celery. But oh, people. This girl’s got hidden talent.

It’s not that I never wanted to get to know cauliflower. I met with her occasionally, pureed for soup, or pickled for a salad, or perhaps roasted, with raisins and garlic and pine nuts and lemon. But only today, after a run-in with grilled cauliflower showered with homemade almond dukka, did I realize she’s a natural-born star. And she was discovered late enough that she’s somehow still classy. Still genuine. Full of flavor, but not one to flaunt it. She keeps her right leg to herself, this one.

Maybe you’re a step ahead of me. Maybe you’ve been downing cauliflower all this time—since before your son discovered that if you squeeze lemon juice on it and let it sit for a bit, it turns pink, the same way the greener, more svelte vegetables turn brown in the same situation. (This girl’s used to adversity. She lasts a good ten days in the fridge, if you insist upon it.)

But suppose all that isn’t true. Suppose you’re still walking right by (like my husband, who refuses to believe she’s just a late bloomer, like me. He thinks she plays Bingo in Velcro shoes with eggplant, but we’ve agreed to disagree.) In that case, you’ll need to stop, the next time you see her, and bring her home, along with some quinoa and two handfuls of little green lentils. Grab some feta and fresh mint, while you’re at it; you’ll be making a giant salad that tastes as good spooned out of Tupperware in the ski area parking lot as it does warm, sitting at the dinner table. You’ll notice the cauliflower is still herself here, despite all the other things going on.

Yup. She’s a keeper.

Quinoa and Lentil Salad with Mint, Feta, and Cauliflower 2

Quinoa and Lentils with Mint, Feta, and Cauliflower (PDF)
Lentils have never made me swoon the way, say, chickpeas can. Ditto for cauliflower, an underdog of the vegetable world. But my friend Dan taught me that if you pair the two with crunchy quinoa, bright mint, salty feta, plus a swirl of olive oil and the punch of white vinegar, and you’ve got a main-course salad that puts the words “quinoa bowl” to shame. If you’re making this salad ahead, let the lentils and quinoa mixture cool to room temperature before folding in the cauliflower, mint, and cheese.

I suppose a can of lentils would work here in place of the home-cooked kind, but like most beans, they require very little actual work time.

Makes 6 servings

For the lentils
3 cups water
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 cup green lentils
1 teaspoon salt

For the quinoa
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup quinoa

For the salad
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium head cauliflower, cut into florets, steamed until tender
1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint
Salt and freshly ground pepper

First, cook the lentils: combine the water and vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the lentils, return to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer the lentils until tender, 45 to 60 minutes, adding the salt after about 30 minutes. Strain the lentils.

While the lentils cook, make the quinoa: combine the broth, water, and salt in another small saucepan. Bring to boil, then add the quinoa and cook over low heat, partially covered, for 10 minutes. Stir the hot quinoa together in a large bowl with the shallot, vinegar, and olive oil. When they’re done, add the lentils, then the cauliflower, feta, and mint. Stir to combine, and season with salt and pepper, if necessary, before serving.

4 Comments

Filed under cheese, egg-free, garden, gluten-free, grains, Modern, recipe, soy-free, vegetables, vegetarian

Tension, and a Great Gatsby moment

Blueberry-Lemon Graham Bread 3

(Listen to the radio version of this piece here.)

There are 22 different kinds of flour in my back pantry. The space itself is awkward; it’s a repurposed linen closet next to my bathroom with a latch that doesn’t click unless you body-slam the door. Whoever opens the thing wages serious battle with the hooks that double as our coat closet. But when it comes to the flours themselves, awkward is an understatement; my flours fit into that pantry more poorly than I fit in during fourth grade (which is to say, not at all).

On the top shelf, which is reserved for sparkling water, giant jugs of vinegar, coffee, extra olive oil, and assundry rarely-used Asian groceries, there is currently one bag of bread flour and an almost-full bag of whole wheat pastry flour. (I’m storing the latter on its head, because the bottom ripped open the last time it fell out of the cabinet upon opening and snowed its ingredients down the return air vent.)

On the middle shelf, where I keep savory pantry essentials—rices, pastas, beans, and grains—there’s a four-year-old bag of chestnut flour I need to throw away, some tapioca flour, and the dried chickpeas I used to grind into a flour last week.

But the bottom shelf is the actual flour shelf. The flours I can tell you I have off the top of my head, in no particular order, are quinoa, teff, almond, whole wheat, rice, sweet rice, dark rye, corn, millet, graham, and sorghum.

Then there are the flours I actually keep in my kitchen. There’s a green bucket in the corner, meant for mixing cement, that’s filled with cake flour—a remnant of the weeks spent writing a cookbook about doughnuts. Then there are two crocks of flour, my all-stars, that I keep regularly on my counter—one is all-purpose, and one is whole-wheat pastry flour. (I use the latter because it has less gluten than regular whole-wheat flour, so baked goods don’t end up heavy.)

I’m not telling you this because I think you should buy more flour. I’m telling you because what you don’t see, reading this blog or using my recipes, is the tension between the things I love about my job and the things that make me insane. What you don’t see is that there is almost more square footage in my little house devoted to flour than there is to clothing. What you don’t see is me, in my pajamas, churning out dozens of whole-grain holiday cookies in mid-June, when I should be eating strawberries. What you don’t see is me trying to populate my blog with interesting flour recipes so that when said cookie recipes come out in edibleSEATTLE in November, people will have something to do with their leftover graham flour. What you don’t see is that every time I give you a recipe for, say, buttermilk-brown sugar buckwheat muffins, I’ve tried the recipe and toyed with it, resulting in a mountain of excess I’m rather embarrassed to talk about. I own 22 different flours. Who needs 22 kinds of flour? Wouldn’t it be better if I used the same darn flour for everything?

Well, no. At least, I don’t think so. As I see it, my role as a recipe developer is to bear the burden—oh lordy, the burden—of a cabinet that looks like 1950s London. I’ll do the experimenting here, in my house, so that you can, say, buy a bag of graham flour for a lemon-spiked blueberry bread, knowing that you’ll use at least half of it, and see how straight graham flour bakes up bigger than regular whole wheat flour, and that later, I’ll come up with something that helps you use the rest. Or so you can make those muffins, and not feel like using buckwheat is just a bit of a lark. Or so you can fry a batch of doughnuts that will make your arteries curl, and bet that when that doughnut book comes out, I’ll be giving you recipes for the whole-grain baked versions I couldn’t put in the book.

I love exposing people to new foods that could make them more excited about cooking and eating and that might, in a perfect world, make them a little healthier. I like providing inspiration for celebration, and for occasional indulgence, and for gatherings where one person looks another person in the eye and learns something new about them. I like the rhythm of my day-to-day, that ever changing, syncopated dance that allows me to blend food and life together in new measures each hour, all while wearing pajamas. This is my work.

But I really hate that cabinet.

So yes, sometimes my work gets in the way of my ideal values, which include a healthy lifestyle and a dose of minimalism and a world of easy-to-close pantry doors (although you certainly wouldn’t know it to stand in my kitchen). What I do for a living gets in the way of how I want to live. But you know that little ditty about not always getting what you want? In real life, it’s true. I want to help people eat healthier, but I’ll soon be the author of a doughnut cookbook. Hypocritical? Definitely. The right business decision for me? Probably.

So I have a new mantra, because life isn’t perfect: You can’t always get what you want, but you can always try. I can’t always write recipes that make people healthier (see here), but I can write some. I can’t depend on an organized cabinet, but I can hold a little flour rodeo once a year and make a good, honest effort at wrangling those little bags. And as I move along this path, I can decide which turns to take—which, today, means fewer refined products and a little more nutrition. Which, in turn, will probably mean more little bags of flour.

And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Blueberry-Lemon Graham Bread

Blueberry-Lemon Graham Bread (PDF)
Recipe by Laura Russell

Graham flour and local honey give this classic breakfast bread a modern twist. Without any white flour or refined sugar, this bread takes a step in a healthy direction in hopes of making you feel a little bit better about reaching for that inevitable second slice.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: One 8-inch loaf cake

2 cups graham flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup local honey
2 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Grated zest of one large lemon
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom and sides of an 8” by 4 1/2” loaf pan.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and honey together on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing between additions and scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary, and mix on medium high speed for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the milk, vanilla, and lemon zest, and mix on medium speed until combined. Add the flour mixture, and mix on low speed until just combined. Gently fold in the blueberries by hand.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 to 55 minutes on the middle rack, until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, covering the bread with foil if it begins to brown too quickly. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan and let cool completely.

14 Comments

Filed under bread, Breakfast, fruit, grains, radio, recipe

A muffin you haven’t tried

Brown Sugar-Buttermilk Buckwheat Muffins 1

It’s presumptuous of me, I know, to tell you what you have or haven’t eaten. But you haven’t tried a muffin like this before. It has the crunchy sugared top that makes muffins so attractive in the first place (although, let’s face it, this is’t a muffin we’d call sexy). Made with whole wheat pastry and buckwheat flours, it has an honest, straightforward heritage, like a woman who only wears shoes she can run in. The temptation to call these them something else is strong—in an early morning introspective moment on the couch, my husband called them ButtBucks—but only a long, drawn-out title pays homage to their gentle mix of earthiness, sweetness, and tang. Made with brown sugar, vegetable oil, and buttermilk, these muffins are meant for breakfast, not dessert. Serve them warm or reheated, plain or with a smear of butter or honey.

Brown Sugar-Buttermilk Buckwheat Muffins (PDF)

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: 1 dozen muffins

Vegetable oil spray
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
1 cup lowfat buttermilk
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with vegetable oil spray (including the flat parts), and set aside.

Whisk the pastry flour, buckwheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar together in a large bowl. In another big bowl, whisk the buttermilk, eggs, and vegetable oil until smooth. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir until the flour is just incorporated. Divide the batter between the muffin cups, placing a heaping 1/4 cup batter in each one. (The muffins will not rise much.) Douse the muffins with the turbinado sugar.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until puffed and lightly browned at the edges, but before the muffins begin to crack. Let cool 5 minutes in their pans, then cool completely on a wire rack.

10 Comments

Filed under Breakfast, grains, recipe

Stung

Bucatini with Garlicky Nettle Pesto 2

Stinging nettles taste green and earthy and wild, like cooked spinach would in a teen Goth stage – not surprising, considering they’re usually foraged in the wild and eaten relatively young. But as I’ve told you before, they come by their name honestly. Resist the urge to touch them or play with them as you dump them into a pot of simmering water to tame their poisonous attitude. When they’re raw, they sting.

Cooked, though. Cooked, a tangle of nettles whirls up into a beautiful pesto, more deeply flavorful than its basiled cousin and a better bed buddy for four large cloves of garlic. Last night, I made a fairly traditional pesto, only with the nettles, and smeared it on a marinated, roasted leg of lamb, so each bite had two punches of spring. Today, when I found myself standing at the stove, hands shoved deep into my back pockets while I slurped long bucatini directly out of the cooking pot I’d used to stir them with the leftover pesto, I knew I had a recipe to share.

That was yesterday. I wrote all that – what you see above there – and then I found out that dear Kim Ricketts had passed away. There will be no more writing about nettles.

Kim was the mama of Seattle’s food scene, a literary powerhouse who brought people together for the love of food and books. I can’t say I knew her well, but I knew her well enough to be touched by her energy and her kindness. And now, the morning after the news, yesterday’s recipe seems so appropriate, because what I really feel is stung. I feel scraped raw. And I don’t know how to begin mourning someone whose soul and spunk was so immortal.

So scratch the pasta. I mean, it was good, but scratch it. Make this pesto, and take it to someone you don’t see that often, someone whose light and effervescence makes the world a better place. And thank them for being alive.

Pot of pasta with nettle pesto

Garlicky Nettle Pesto (PDF)
Although most Seattleites find nettles at farmers’ markets this time of year, they’re also often available at Whole Foods Markets. Buy a bunch when you can, and double or triple this recipe, as needed, and freeze some, because my fortune-telling powers tell me you’ll want to twirl the pesto up with long pasta again long after the season has passed. If you have time to be thoughtful and a bit patient, you can add toasted breadcrumbs, for a bit of crunch, or chopped sundried tomatoes.

Time: 25 minutes active time
Makes: 1 generous cup

1/2 pound nettles
4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer for the nettles. Add the nettles directly from their bag and cook, stirring continuously, for 2 minutes. (This denatures their sting.) Dump into a colander to drain. When the nettles are cool enough to handle, wrap them in a clean dishtowel and wring out as much moisture as possible, like you would for spinach. You’ll have about a cup of cooked, squished nettles.

In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the paddle attachment, whirl the garlic, pine nuts, salt, and pepper to taste until finely chopped. Add the nettles, breaking them up as you drop them in, and the lemon juice and whirl until finely chopped. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, and process until smooth. Add the cheese, pulse briefly, and season to taste with additional salt, pepper, or lemon juice.

46 Comments

Filed under farmer's market, grains, Lunch, Modern, Pasta, recipe, vegetables, vegetarian

The Seedy Side of Things

sour cream banana muffins 1

You’ll agree, I think, that when it comes to baked goods, banana bread is an invasive species. It’s ubiquitous in bakeries. It’s the thing non-bakers make. And in my kitchen, it’s what happens when my brain is overwhelmed with other recipes. It’s a centering device of sorts, and this week, between a gazillion recipes for canned black beans, recipes for the Pike Place Market cookbook, and some serious soul-searching about holiday cookies, I’ve needed something grounding.

This version—okay, it’s a muffin, not banana bread, but they’re practically kissing cousins—started with granola. I’ve been loving the stuff from a new local brand, Hooting Owl Granola. (Owls are hip right now, you know.) I called the owner to find out more, and she told me she’s coming out with a new flavor called The Seedy Side of Things, made with a top-secret mix of fun seeds (think chia, hemp, etc.). It made me start pawing through my pantry. Seedy muffins, I thought. Then my neighbor dropped off a hunk of chocolate chip banana bread, and those half-dead bananas started whining at me from the fruit basket. There wasn’t much choice.

I thought it might be a great first cooking project for me and Graham. He’s watched me cook, for sure, but hasn’t participated much. I assumed all those great sounds—millet bouncing off the side of a mixing bowl, a whisk whacking back and forth—might hold his attention. I suppose I also thought that having him witness the physical combination of such wholesome ingredients could erase the fact that I fed him fish sticks for breakfast yesterday in the car.

We talked about it. We banged the muffin pans together, and I explained everything about making big muffins for mommy and little muffins for Graham. We started off okay, but about 14 seconds in, somewhere between measuring the all-purpose flour and putting it into the bowl, dumping Cheerios off the side of his high chair proved a much more entertaining endeavor for my son. So it goes.

To be fair, these shouldn’t really be called seedy muffins, because they’re mostly full of grains—good-for-you things like millet, cornmeal, and those teensy weensy camelina seeds, which are absurdly rich in antioxidants considering their size. But somehow, “seeds” seemed easier to explain to Graham than “whole grains.”

So as a bonding experience, these were a complete failure. But nutritious? Sure. A good use for dying bananas? Certainly. And Graham had two (almost including the paper) without blinking. Maybe he’s ready for The Little Red Hen.

sour cream banana muffins 2

Seedy Sour Cream-Banana Muffins (PDF)
I’m not typically a big fan of muffins with lots of stuff in them, but this banana version, which depends on camelina seeds, millet, and cornmeal for crunch, is something I’d eat every day. They’re miraculously ungreasy, and the omega-3s in the camelina seeds allow you to feel virtuous for eating two (or three). If you can’t find camelina, substitute raw quinoa.

TIME: 30 minutes
MAKES: This recipe makes enough batter for 12 unlined muffins tins, heaped full, or 12 lined muffins plus 12 lined mini-muffins.

Vegetable oil spray or muffin liners
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup raw millet
1/4 cup camelina seeds
1/4 cup coarse yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar (or up to 3/4 cup, to taste)
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup canola oil
2 very ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 cup)
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with the vegetable oil spray (or line a 12-cup tin and a 12-cup mini tin with cupcake liners), and set aside.

Stir the flours, millet, camelina seeds, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and brown sugar together in a big bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk the sour cream, milk, eggs, and vanilla to blend. Add the oil and bananas, and stir until smooth.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir to blend. (The batter will be thick.) Divide the batter between the muffin cups—a heaping 1/4 cup for regular (lined) muffins, or heaping tablespoons for mini muffins. The batter won’t rise much, so don’t be shy. Sprinkle the muffins generously with turbinado sugar. Bake 20 to 25 minutes for regular muffins, or 15 to 18 minutes for mini muffins, or until the muffins are puffed and firm to the touch in the center. Cool 5 minutes in pans, and enjoy warm, if possible. Store any remaining (cooled) muffins in an airtight container at room temperature, up to three days.

12 Comments

Filed under Breakfast, grains, recipe

Stewing

The Cookbook Stack

It’s been so long since I had the opportunity to properly obsess over the stream of cookbooks flowing into my house that many of them can no longer even be considered “new.” Just the same, I’m making my mental lists: recipes to make, recipes to pass on, recipes to horde for the perfect occasion. Essays to read. Tips to internalize. Books that inspire. Books that turn on. (Books that turn off.)

There’s a stack that travels from my kitchen counter to my dining room table to the bureau in my bedroom, depending on where I have space and whether I want the house to look cleaner than it really is. It’s more or less the same-sized stack that accumulates every so often, made up of books tagged with little scraps of paper where they need more attention. Only this time, in the midst of planning a cookbook of my own, the stack looks suddenly different.

Like a teenager with a brand-new set of braces, I’m suddenly hyper-aware of details that might have completely escaped me a year ago—things like how the color of recipe titles contrasts with the page, which recipes they’ve chosen to photograph, how the recipes are organized, and whether I think the headnotes are giving the right kind of information. Most importantly, I’m trying to figure out what it is about a cookbook, exactly, that makes me use it.

The answer, as far as I can tell, is a little complex. The average cookbook in my household enters through the front door, but beyond that, they all have pretty disparate paths. There’s an immediate split, for sure: standing at the door with my purse falling off my shoulder and a toddler hanging off my hip, there are books I open and books I don’t open. But the eventual pleasure derived from each set of books might be the opposite of what you think: If I’ve heard good things about a book, and/or know that it might be interesting for some particular reason, I don’t usually open it right away. I place it on the counter, where it sits until I have time to pick it up with both hands. Books are usually only opened when they land on my doorstep unsolicited, in which case I’m more or less expressing surprise and outrage at something having entered my personal realm without my express permission. These books aren’t doomed, by any means, but I admit there’s a definite difference between how I approach books I recognize and those I don’t.

In any event, hours usually pass. Then I open the book. From there, after much geekery, I decided cookbooks have four possible paths before the actual cooking begins:

Per the flowchart above, cookbook may be:

1. Rejected. This book holds nothing for me. I would have no compunction starting a fire with the pages, and it will not garner a spot in my downstairs cookbook collection. There are very few books that fall clearly into this category, but when they do, it’s miserable.

2. Regifted. Often, I find a book that I think is interesting, but for some reason or other I don’t think I’ll use it as much as another person might. This can be a good or a bad thing. It may mean that I’ll buy the book multiple times as a gift, but it also may mean that I just don’t have the heart to actually throw it away.

3. Perused. I leaf through the pages, making mental notes of which recipes I might actually follow—which, for me, means opening the book, buying some or all of the ingredients, and cooking more or less in the same general vein as the recipe. (For someone who writes them for a living, I very rarely actually follow recipes.) Sometimes, I leave the book on my counter for a day or two, until I have the chance to bastardize a recipe in my own special way. Once I’m finished, I tend to memorize how happy I was or wasn’t with the recipe, and shelve the book – in which case it’s a success – or use it to decorate my house, as described above, until I have a chance to call yay or nay. Most typically, the books that spend the most time traipsing from counter to counter are those I deem the most successful. In rare cases, I cook something I don’t like, and the book gets a spot in the basement.

4. Devoured. For me, the difference between perusing and devouring is a matter of posture. A book is perused standing up. A book is devoured sitting down. If a book is interesting enough to cuddle with, there’s a pretty good chance it will earn a spot on the kitchen cookbook shelf (which, theoretically, gets cleaned out every so often). Devoured books get assaulted with sticky notes, and typically birth a cascade of other ideas, most of which are scribbled on the back of junk mail envelopes. They follow the same path as perused books, only they get priority status, a veritable red carpet into the week’s dinner rotation.

Once it’s cracked, I use a book like most people use a thesaurus: for ideas, and for education. When I open cookbooks, I usually open four or five at a time. And like good new words, good new recipes stick with me—not their ingredient lists and instructions, verbatim, but their concepts. That pasta dish with lemon, anchovies, and olives, from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef? It introduced me to mixing lemon and olives in pasta, which I’d somehow never done before. I made it without the pine nuts, because I didn’t have them, and I only made a half recipe, which I regretted after bite number two. I’ve made three variations since then, each a bit different. But I know people who wouldn’t dare turn on the stove without having every ingredient listed in a recipe on hand, people who would always make a recipe the exact same way they made it the first time if they liked it the first time, and people who would never try a recipe for something they hadn’t tasted before. We’re all different.

Until yesterday, I’d forgotten that there are times when I simply don’t know how to use a cookbook. (You’re not the only one.)

Take Amanda Hesser’s hefty new tome, The Essential New York Times Cookbook. With 1,400 recipes that chronicle America’s culinary history of the last 150 years—from a New York perspective, anyway—the thing’s a giant red linebacker of a book, and it scares the shit out of me. I have many books like hers on my shelves, but they seem like books that have always been there. They’re fixtures. It’s rare to put a book like that on the shelf for the first time, especially when you know it’ll be there when your kid goes to college.

When I saw Amanda speak at an event last night, I peeked into it to read the recipes she referenced as she spoke, and found they somehow had as much personality on the page as they did when she talked about them. But when I got home, arm aching from carrying two of the suckers, the book intimidated me again. I put it on the high counter between the kitchen and dining room, and looked at it in a way I’ve never done, peeking in fits and spurts. I’d walk by and open it at random (Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Pine Nuts from 1990), have a little swoon, then snap it shut. After a quick email check, another opening: Snow Pudding from 1877. Some tea. Cream of Carrot Soup from 1974. The book is a culinary cave of wonders.

And I can’t help but wonder myself, as I stare at it now, whether this book will somehow be used differently. I clearly won’t marvel at the photos, because there aren’t any. I won’t bring it to bed, because I don’t tend to do that. (To paraphrase what Tom Douglas said last night, people who read cookbooks in bed need better lovers.) And goodness knows I won’t cook my way through the entire thing. Will the historical nature of many of the recipes encourage me to – gasp! – follow a recipe from start to finish? Maybe every book I have is used differently, based on some signal it sends my brain telepathically the moment I first crack the binding.

Which brings me to the question I ask every time I look at this here stack o’ books: How different are we in our cookbook use? How does the way we use cookbooks change over our lifetimes, and over the lifetime of the books themselves? I feel like planning my book, I’m making a stew I want everyone to like, and I have to decide what to put in it right now. Like Thanksgiving, in a way. Only 75 recipes long.

Oxtail Stew with Wheat Berries, Carrots, and Kale 2

Decision anxiety is a common problem for me in the kitchen, too. Last weekend, I initially bought beef oxtail to be used in an oxtail bolognese, again from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, but it somehow turned into a variation on the oxtail, farro, and root vegetable stew from Ethan Stowell’s New Italian Kitchen.

Of course, I changed things. (I always do.) But the resulting stew – a rich mix of shredded oxtail, carrots, and kale, much more like the stew I tasted at Tavolata once than the stew in the book – was exactly what I wanted. Yet somehow I was sort of depressed to think that no one else would ever make the same variation.

Ultimately, I’d like to follow a good cookbook from the inside out. I’d like to plant a little video camera inside, say, the aforementioned oxtail stew page, and send the book around to everyone I know, so it can record what people add and subtract, how they shop for it and how they serve it, or whether they even pause to look at the recipe at all. Ideally, the camera would also be able to tell me, in retrospect, every time the recipe inspires the user to cook or create down the road – which, to me, is the essential sign of a successful recipe.

Thus far, I haven’t heard of such a camera. So for now, I’ll have to rely on this old-school internet thing, and wonder what the big red book (and its little cousins) will bring in the months and years to come.

You tell me: How do you use a cookbook?

Oxtail Stew with Wheat Berries, Carrots, and Kale

Oxtail Stew with Wheat Berries, Carrots, and Kale (PDF)

It only takes a slower trip past a good butcher shop to learn that there’s more to cook from a cow than steak and hamburger. Cooking the oxtail for this stew, an uber-rich mixture of ancient grains, beef, and kale adapted from a recipe for oxtail stew with farro and root vegetables in Ethan Stowell’s New Italian Kitchen, is criminally easy—you just stick it in a pot with some water, and it stews itself into a rich, fragrant stock while you do something else for a few hours nearby. I just might call it The New Beef Stew.

I won’t lie. Picking the meat off the bones is a project. (Think eating ribs, only you use your fingers instead of your teeth, and you have to do it for everyone at the table.) But I’ll make you a promise: If you make this unctuous, beef-rich stew, filled with tender shreds of oxtail, and don’t feel it was worth every second of your time, call me, and I’ll come take it off your hands.

Since oxtail is often sold in many different sizes – because, you know, cow’s tails aren’t exactly evenly cylindrical – it might help you to think of needing roughly enough meat and bone to cover the bottom of a 9” by 13” pan in one layer.

Start the stew the night before; the fat on the stock is easier to remove if you let it cool overnight.

Makes 8 servings.

4 pounds oxtail
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small onions, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
3 ribs celery, sliced into 1/4” half-moons
1 cup wheat berries
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup dry red wine
5 large carrots, cut into 1/4” half-moons
1/2 pound lacinato (dinosaur) kale, ribs removed, chopped into 1/2” pieces
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Hot pepper sauce, to taste

Place the meat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and add water until the meat is covered by about 2 inches. Bring to a simmer and cook, turning once or twice and skimming any foam that collects on the surface off with a large spoon, for 4 hours, or until the meat is tender. Use tongs to transfer the meat to a platter. Set the stock aside to cool to room temperature.

While still warm, pick the meat off the bones, discarding bones and cartilage but keeping as much fat as you’re comfortable with. Package the meat in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight. Once it’s cool enough to handle, transfer the stock to a vessel that fits easily in your refrigerator, and refrigerate overnight.

At least an hour before dinner (or up to 2 days before), heat the soup pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil, then the onions, shallots, garlic, and celery, and cook, stirring, until the onions begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the stock from the refrigerator, and use a spoon to remove the white cap of fat that has formed on the top.

Add the wheat berries and thyme to the pot with the onions and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and wine, and bring to a simmer, stirring. Add the stock (it should have the consistency of Jell-O), bring to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes at a bare simmer. Add the carrots, kale, sherry vinegar, and reserved meat, along with enough water to submerge the chunky ingredients, if necessary. Season with salt, pepper, and a few dashes of hot sauce. Simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check for seasoning, and serve hot, with crusty bread.

Oxtail stew and the cookbook stack

18 Comments

Filed under Beef, commentary, Et cetera, grains, recipe

Corn and bulgur

Bulgur salad with corn, basil, and feta 1

It’s not a conversation I’ll ever be able to live down, so I might as well tell you about it. It went like this, a few Junes ago, when we lived on Cape Cod, where there is no corn in June:

JIM: Wow! Corn on the cob!? Really?
JESS: Yup! Doesn’t it look great?
JIM: Where did you get corn this time of year?
JESS: (Looking sideways to see where her smart husband went.) The store.
JIM: No. I mean what country. Where did it come from?
JESS: Ohhh. California, I think.

There are a number of problems with this conversation: First, California is technically not a country. Second, corn usually tastes way better when purchased out of the back of a truck. Third, I was buying corn in June. Guilty. It’s just one of those things. Some people can’t stop themselves from buying Chilean cherries in January. I always buy corn before I should.

It’s become a bit of a joke between us. Anytime I bring something seasonal home – fat, drippy apricots, or heirloom tomatoes, or fava beans, say – Jim asks where it came from, and I tell him I got it at the store, even if I’ve just come straight from the farmers’ market. It’s our way of reminding ourselves that we can all be idiots, sometimes. We have a good laugh.

Last week, I spied soft, creamy cornsilk poking out from behind the bell pepper display, and couldn’t resist. At eight for $5, it wasn’t exactly cheap high-season corn, but I figured two ears were better than none in terms of satisfying my early-season craving, and better than buying a whole bushel, in terms of food miles. Into the cart they went, without a plan.

Then came the bulgur binge.

Last year was the summer of quinoa. We piled beans and avocado and tomatoes and corn atop big bowls of the stuff, or mixed it with vinaigrettes of all types, along with myriad summer vegetables, making glistening summer salads we could scoop in at all hours of the day. This year, though, I’ve decided my grain of choice is bulgur.

Bulgur has the unluckiest of grain names. Quinoa may be hard to pronounce, and even harder to spell, but it’s saved by its q; I’d love it on the basis of its Scrabble potential alone. Being easy to cook and delicious to eat seals the deal.

But bulgur. In a bag, it doesn’t look like much more than squirrel food, and what’s sexy about a food that rhymes with vulgar?

Lots, I think. Great nutty flavor, for one. And it’s cheap; I buy it in the bulk section of my local supermarket. It falls into the whole grain category, which means you can preen your feathers in nutritional self-congratulation while you’re standing in line at the check-out counter. Bulgur also bridges the gap between crunchy and yielding between the teeth, and accepts almost any flavor, like that rare woman who looks good in absolutely any color. (If I think about it too long that way, I get a little jealous, but I do love a food with flexibility.)

Recently, I’ve learned that bulgur can also stalk a person as well as any convicted sex offender. It’s been following me all spring, in fact. A couple weeks ago, my cousin Julia sent me a video of the tabbouleh dance:

I don’t really care if you think it’s funny (or not), or completely inappropriate (or not). It’s become clear to me that no one I forward it to seems to laugh as hard as I do. Which is fine. I never did have a normal sense of humor. The point – besides the fact that from now on, I will think of chopping a shoplifter’s hand off when I hack the stems off a bunch of parsley – is that the song is now deeply enough engraved in my brain that I’m singing songs to my son about changing his diapers in the same tune. Yes, the tabbouleh song has entered my nursery rhyme repertoire. And my husbands get-a-beer-out-of-the-fridge dancing soundtrack. And, it turns out, my kitchen psyche.

This video made me realize I’ve never actually made tabbouleh, that classic middle eastern mix of bulgur (which is cracked wheat, cooked by simply soaking it in hot water), parsley, tomatoes, and whatever else one likes to use. I wondered if I was missing something.

The day after Julia sent me the video, my friend Jon brought over a most delicious tabbouleh – one with the usual crunchy bulgur, parsley, and some mint, I believe, but instead of tomatoes, he’d folded in gigantic white beans. I took a modest portion at dinner, then focused on raving over the rest of our meal, partly because it very much deserved raving, and partly because I wanted to distract the others so there would be more tabbouleh leftover for me to snack on at midnight. It worked.

Then my mom got to talking tabbouleh. She even sent me photos. (See? Stalker.) This weekend, when I needed a side dish for a barbecue with friends, I put some water on to boil.

My bulgur salad was even faster to make than I suspected it might be. I soaked the grains, then sawed the kernels off a couple corn cobs, chopped some herbs, and crumbled feta. Into a bowl it all went. My husband grumbled something about salad for squirrels, and after being indoctrinated by the video, he insisted I couldn’t in good conscience call it tabbouleh since there aren’t tomatoes in it. A spoonful later, he was as smitten as I was. I won’t call it tabbouleh, but I will call it delicious.

Tomorrow, I’m going to make another version, this time with tomatoes and little chunks of mozzerella cheese, and perhaps balsamic vinegar instead of the lemon juice I used here. Maybe the next day, I’ll make another bulgur salad, with the fresh chickpeas coming into markets in Seattle. I see a creamy bulgur side dish in my future, too, and muffins studded with bulgur and fresh raspberries.

And oh, yes. Someday, there will be fresh local corn, and I’ll make this one again.

Bulgur salad with corn, basil, and feta 3

Quick Bulgur Salad with Corn, Feta, and Basil (PDF)

Though it satisfies like a pasta salad, bulgur salad requires a lot less attention (and less time near a hot stove, when summer weather hits). It’s also cheap, a bit healthier, and seems to get tastier after a day or two in the fridge.

To make the bulgur, you simply dump it into in a mixing bowl, add hot water, and let it soak for half an hour.

TIME: 30 minutes
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

1 cup bulgur
1 cup boiling water
Kernels from 2 ears of corn
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped basil
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice from 1 large lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the bulgur in a small mixing bowl. Add boiling water, stir, and let sit 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend corn, herbs, feta, olive oil, and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Add bulgur, season with salt and pepper, and serve at room temperature.

11 Comments

Filed under grains, Lunch, recipe, salad, vegetables, vegetarian

A muffin that works (for me)

Sarah's millet muffin 1

Millet tastes like it sounds, in a millet muffin: rolly and crunchy and new- and old-fashioned, all at the same time. Like the kind of old woman that can simultaneously wear orange Diesel sneakers and reminisce about living through the (other) Depression.

Before January, I’d never had a millet muffin. Frankly, a few little yellow grains don’t seem like enough to make a muffin something worth eating. But a couple weeks ago, my friend Rachel piqued my interest:

My favorite (okay, the only) bakery in Williamstown used to sell millet muffins that I loved. Apparently there weren’t enough of us, because the bakery went out of business after I graduated. I have unsuccessfully tried to track down the owner to ask for her recipe. I searched online, but I only managed to find ones that used millet flour rather than whole millet. Finally, I found one with 1/3 cup millet in the ingredient list. I printed it out, mixed the wet ingredients, etc., and then realized in the instructions section that it said “mix millet flour, whole wheat flour…”. Dang! I decided just to use whole millet and see what happened. It worked pretty well and I haven’t changed it since.

We all have these recipes—they’re the ones that work, the ones we’re used to. The ones we don’t have the energy to change.

Every once in a while, though, we wake up and realize they’re not really what we want. (Here’s the lesson, right up front: It’s okay to break up with your recipes, or ask them to change for you. Trust me, sometimes it’s for the best.)

That’s what Rachel did. One day, the fact that these healthy, whole-wheat muffins fueled her mornings wasn’t enough. She loved that they relied on vegetable oil for fat and honey as a sweetener, and that the millet’s crunch wasn’t outdone by other, fancier things. But her breakfast was tough around the edges, and her recipe called for buttermilk, which she didn’t usually keep around. And when she really thought about it, they just weren’t as good as the muffins from the bakery. Transportable, but tough. Less sexy. She needed a new muffin.

I’m looking for some combination of tasty, healthy, and holdtogetherness. (I can compromise some, but I want breakfast, not dessert.) Let me know if you can help!

Oh, how I do love a challenge. There’s nothing more pitiful than a healthy muffin gone wrong. I’ve been meaning to experiment with honey as a baking sweetener forever, and oh, didn’t I just buy a big bag of millet? Indeed. The millet experiment began.

I was a little aggressive, I’ll admit. In one fell swoop, I decreased the salt, substituted plain yogurt for the buttermilk (which is almost always an option), and increased the one egg to two (to add moisture and lift). I also changed the whole wheat flour to whole wheat pastry flour, in an attempt to lighten things up a little, and added a bit of joy, in the form of lemon juice, which is a natural tenderizer, too.

Now, before we get any farther, let me just say that I know I was acting out of turn. Most good recipe testers would agree that you only change one thing at a time, as an absolute rule. So especially without testing the original recipe, I had no business being so careless. But sometimes it feels good to live without rules. (I have a friend who once made lasagna with no clothes on, and that certainly sounds more exciting than regular lasagna, doesn’t it?)

Anyway. I kept my apron snugly tied around me (although it hardly fits anymore). And just a few minutes after pulling the honey-scented batch out of oven, I tucked into a millet muffin, smeared with cinnamon honey. It was durable, but not dense. Sweet, but not sugary. Crunchy and just a smidge lemony, but through and through a millet muffin, before anything else. And definitely breakfast, not dessert.

I loved it. I wrote Rachel with the recipe.

Here’s where it gets sad.

She tried them. It was a disaster.

Her muffins poofed up and out of control, sticking to the pan and each other. She had to pry the tops off, and use a chopstick to scrape the bottoms out. She said she liked the texture better, but the lemon just wasn’t her bag and oh, goodness, who wants to make muffins that don’t just come right out of the pan?

Giving someone a recipe that doesn’t work feels like lying. I make a point to avoid doing it, but when it happens, as these things do, I don’t like it.

I assumed it was me. I punished myself for changing too many things at once. Maybe I used the wrong measuring spoon for my leaveners, I thought, or maybe I used more flour than I thought. I baked them again, this time exchanging the lemon for two teaspoons of cinnamon, which Rachel loves. The acid in the lemon juice might have contributed to the rise of her plus-sized muffins, and I wanted to make something she’d like (and avoid the same explosion issues myself). And I only changed one thing.

That cinnamon version, though, it came out just as well. I tested it in both aluminum and nonstick pans, and by golly, those muffins had just the same height as the first batch – no higher – with the same moisture, and the same great crunch. I personally preferred the lemon version, but the cinnamon-tinged ones were just fine. I noticed that the muffins baked in the aluminum pan didn’t rise quite as well, and didn’t brown quite as nicely, but something was working for me that wasn’t working for Rachel.

millet muffin alum on left nonstick on right

So I did what I always do when I’m having recipe trouble: I called my mother. She loves her whole wheat baked goods, that one. And talented as she is in the kitchen (and outside), this woman is completely incapable of following a recipe to the letter. I figured asking her to test the muffins would introduce one more variable. Just enough to see if I was crazy, thinking the recipe really worked.

She didn’t let me down. Mom mixed the muffins in a stand mixer (which can make them tough, if you don’t stop mixing right when the dry ingredients have been incorporated), and changed the yogurt – she used Greek. And you know what? They came out just fine, too. She even sent me photos. And I didn’t hear from my dad the next morning with tales of eating the entire batch, like I do when Mom bakes something sweet, which meant the muffins passed the good-for-you test that was important to Rachel. (Dads make great barometers.)

Still. I couldn’t get past having given Rachel a recipe that didn’t work for her.

I dropped the last of my whole wheat pastry flour and a little sack of millet off at Sarah’s house. She’s a recipe follower—at least I thought she was—but she used a combination of key lime and strawberry yogurts. The muffins turned out well for her, too. She liked the crunch so much she dumped some millet into her cornbread last weekend.

So I emailed Rachel. I have no answer for you, I said. I hate that these didn’t work for you. They worked for me, and two other people. We went around and around about what might have gone wrong, to no avail.

So I failed Rachel. (For now, at least, because she hasn’t tried them again. I probably wouldn’t, in her place.)

I might never know why her batch didn’t work, which drives me bonkers.

But I do have a really good, healthy, easy, milletty muffin recipe that works.

For me, at least.

(Sigh.)

Millet muffin

Whole Wheat Millet Muffins (PDF)

Made with honey, vegetable oil, plain yogurt, and a healthy dose of crunchy millet, these lemon-scented muffins are meant for breakfast, not dessert. Serve them warm or reheated, plain or with a smear of butter or extra honey.

Look for millet in the bulk foods section of a natural grocery store.

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: 1 dozen muffins

Vegetable oil spray
2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup (raw) millet
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain nonfat yogurt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey
Zest and juice (about 2 tablespoons) of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with vegetable oil spray (including the flat parts), and set aside.

Whisk the flour, millet, powder, soda, and salt together in a large bowl. In another big bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients until smooth. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir until the flour is just incorporated. Divide the batter between the muffin cups, spooning a heaping 1/4 cup batter into each one. (The muffins will not rise much.)

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until browned and only barely beginning to crack. Let cool 5 minutes in pans, then cool completely on a wire rack.

11 Comments

Filed under bread, Breakfast, grains, recipe, snack

Never enough time

Warm Quinoa and White Bean Salad 2

I didn’t mean to help. I didn’t have a choice, really. I was shimmying back up the airplane from the lavatory, and she was just there. Our eyes met, and we started to do that little aisle dance. This time, I remembered my belly. Only, before I had a chance to turn baby into the space between two seats, the woman leaned into me, fainting. She had time to grab a headrest, but the other hand flailed. I grasped it, and we sank together to the floor in a slow motion hug.

She came to right as we reached the floor. She opened her eyes, bewildered by what had happened.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I’ve never fainted before. But I think I can get up now.”

“No,” I countered. “I think you’re just fine right here. Let’s just hang out for a few minutes.”

So we sat.

She seemed young and fit, but she was clearly frightened. Her second hand went to mine, and we just looked at each other, all four of our hands resting on my knees, down on the carpet near everyone’s feet. It might have been five minutes before a flight attendant arrived with water, who knows – but in that span of time, the woman stopped shaking, and her head seemed to clear, and she just looked at me, thankful.

Eventually, I realized that I was still in a low squat, and my legs were screaming, and baby was squished. The flight attendant had fetched someone with better credentials than being in the right place at the right time, so I excused myself, stepping right over my new friend, and that was that.

It was a good reminder that we are, all of us, simply human, first. That we can’t always explain why we come together, but sometimes just have to be thankful that we do. And that sometimes, a touch says what words can’t.

Our trip to New England wonderful. It was snowy, and then warm, and then really good and stormy, and delicious, the whole way through. We walked on wintry beaches, and made lobster stew, and went snowshoeing, and cooked with friends, and held babies. I didn’t even bring my computer, which meant time reading, and – on someone else’s machine – joining (gag) Facebook. And we even had a little surprise baby shower. I got to whack the head off a duck-shaped pinata.

chocolate cake with brown sugar buttercream

But in most cases, we never got to see the people we love quite as long as we wanted. Each visit ended with a rushed, sort of sorrowful hug, and pledges for the year to come, and in each case, we had to be satisfied with the assurance of that touch. You can guarantee long-distance love, but it’s hard to promise time.

Still, gosh, was it good to come home. Ten days is quite a long trip. And almost as soon as we landed, Seattle reminded us that we belong here. My mother drove my sister back up for college, so we saw them. Kate stopped by with Ric, and Dave and Kelly officially moved into a house just down the street from us, and Melanie and Kevin came to stay the night during the snowstorm. Here, too, we saw each of our friends for too little time.

That’s just the way it works, though. There’s never enough time.

But however precious little there is, I appreciate spending visits in the same rhythms life normally offers. I don’t like the pomp and circumstance of How are you?, and Oh, it’s been ages!, and Do you really have to leave so soon? I’d much rather ignore the distance, and help myself to a cup of tea. I like going straight to where I know the teabags are in a house I haven’t stepped foot in for months, and plopping down as if I’d been there the day before.

I had lunch with Melanie and Kevin, before they left, and it was like that. I came home from a morning working, and they’d cleaned our kitchen, like they might have in their own house. We made lunch together, six hands pitching in. It certainly wasn’t fancy, but it was healthful, and tasty, and as they walked out the door, heading back to California, we hugged, and hoped to see each other soon.

That’s all you can do, I guess.

Warm Quinoa and White Bean Salad 3

Warm Quinoa, Vegetable and White Bean Salad (PDF)

Arugula, grape tomatoes, zucchini and Parmesan cheese make this a nutritious lunch or dinner that’s perfect for wintry weather.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup quinoa
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 zucchini, chopped into 1/4” half moons
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 (15-ounce) can white beans, rinsed and drained, or 2 cups cooked beans
2 lightly packed cups arugula
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup roughly chopped parsley

Bring the broth and quinoa to a boil in a saucepan. Cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Set aside.

While the quinoa simmers away, heat a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the onion, and cook and stir for 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and tomatoes, and cook another 5 minutes, until tomatoes are soft. Add the beans, arugula, and cream and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the arugula has wilted and the beans are warmed through. Stir in the cooked quinoa, 1/2 cup of the cheese and the parsley, and season to taste.

Pile the salad into bowls, top with remaining Parmesan, and serve immediately.

Warm Quinoa and White Bean Salad 1

3 Comments

Filed under gluten-free, grains, leftovers, Lunch, recipe, salad, vegetables

A way with leftovers

thanksgiving 2008

Thanksgiving really was was all that: Four women, more or less, buzzing around in the same in same six square feet in an otherwise very large kitchen, like bees in a blender with the top wide open. We chopped and spooned and buttered and mixed, smelled and tasted and barked and laughed. In a fit of last-minute organization, my mother taped all our recipes to an easel, which was genius, because it prevented people from actually entering the kitchen to find out what we were making, or how much garlic we planned to sneak into the mashed potatoes, or whether we really did have all the ingredients for sweet potato pie. We limited our six trips to the grocery store to before noon on Thursday, which seemed like a major accomplishment, and round about 4 p.m., the turkey came out brown and beaming.

the thanksgiving board

My brother didn’t help much, unless you count plying people with scotch and herding them out of the kitchen, which, come to think of it, is about as important a job as any. (Thank you.) He also lead the pie attack. Twelve of us polished off three pies in not much more than 24 hours, which makes me proud to be a Howe.

pie line-up

But he saved his culinary efforts for leftovers.

Josh doesn’t cook by the book. (He couldn’t. He doesn’t own a single cookbook.)

There’s no problem there – his food is delicious, and he clearly loves making it. And instead of teaching himself to cook in a methodically guided way – picking, say, one ethnicity to learn about, or one dish to perfect – he scampers from country to country, digging into favorites without any regard for how much knowledge he might have previously gathered about a given cuisine.

I think it’s admirable. No one should need a passport or a pedigree to cook new food.

The day after Thanksgiving, he and my sister woke up with a mission: They were determined to make congee with our turkey leftovers.

I, for one, had never had congee. Ever. I get to a dim sum restaurant, and the call of fried or strangely wiggly food far outstrips any curiosity about plain ol’ rice porridge. But Josh is apparently a new devotee, and my sis, who’s started weekly pilgrimages to discover all of Seattle’s dim sum, isn’t far behind.

It was 9:30 last Friday morning, and we’d already had breakfast. (Not that that matters to me these days. I can eat three or four breakfasts without blinking.) I left for a walk with my cousin and grandmother, and by the time we came back, the house smelled like he’d put a turkey in a rice cooker – all the starchy heaviness of a permeating rice aroma, plus the deep, almost fatty scent of dark meat turkey, and a whiff of ginger.

I won’t lie. I didn’t do a thing. I just walked right over to the pot, and scooped some into one of the bowls my sister made recently. It tasted calm and comforting, like a bowl of slow-cooked oatmeal with Thanksgiving stirred in.

For the record, I hear this is much more fun to make if you call them shit-talking mushrooms.

turkey congee 2

Post-Thanksgiving Congee (PDF)

It’s a week after Thanksgiving, and the only thing you have left to show for it is half a container of dried out dark meat and the turkey stock you don’t really want to save ‘til next November? Don’t throw either out. My brother’s congee, patterned after the rice porridge frequently eaten as breakfast in some Asian cultures, is a bit unorthodox – but delicious, and ideal for weekend brunch on a cold day.

TIME: 2 hours, start to finish
MAKES: 8 servings

1 1/2 cups long grain rice
8 cups homemade turkey stock
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 bunch scallions, white and stiff green parts
1 3-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced into quarter-sized rounds
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, quartered
2 cups shredded leftover turkey (preferably dark meat)

Place the rice in a large liquid measuring cup and add water to measure 5 cups. Transfer the rice mixture to a large, heavy soup pot, add the stock and vinegar, and bring to a boil. Cut 3 of the scallions into 2” lengths and smash them flat with the side of a heavy knife. Add them to the rice, too. When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add the ginger and garlic, plus a cup of water, and cook another 30 minutes. Add the shiitake mushrooms, and another cup of water, and cook 30 minutes more.

Slice the remaining scallions into thin rounds. Stir the turkey into the congee and cook for 5 minutes or so (just long enough to warm it through). Serve the porridge hot, garnished with scallions.

5 Comments

Filed under Breakfast, chicken, chinese, grains, kitchen adventure, leftovers, recipe, soup

iDon’tProgram

Herbed summer quinoa salad and iPhone

This is my lunch, with my new telephone. (I know. That’s a telephone. I have trouble believing it myself.)

I was on the fence about the iPhone. Or so I thought, until someone showed me Urbanspoon’s new application. It’s ohso fun. You shake your phone, and it tells you where to eat dinner. Don’t like what it tells you? Shake again. The best part? It works in more than 50 cities, which means the next time I go to London, I don’t have to scribble fifteen thousand restaurant names and their respective addresses into my A to Z map. (That’s pronounced “zed,” you know.) I can just hop off the tube, lock in a neighborhood, and shake away.

The only problem is that no one goes out to dinner every night. At least, no one I know.

Which means someone, somewhere, needs to tap into a giant list of really good recipes (Cookthink? Epicurious? Are your coders on summer vacation?) and plop them into an iPhone app. Call it iMarket. iCookDinner. iWhatever. Or, God forbid, call it something without that poor i, which is so overused it’s beginning to look more like punctuation than an actual letter.

Imagine: You walk into a grocery store, or a farmers’ market. You lock in your parameters – a season, say summer, or an ingredient, or an ethnic cuisine, or “under 20 minutes” – and you shake. It comes up with dinner for you, complete with a shopping list and a pretty picture. Maybe a few serving suggestions, too. No typing. No searching. Just dinner.

This is, effectively, what my brain does every time I walk into a grocery store. The other day, when I walked into my local co-op knowing I wanted to make a tasty, packable lunch for a friend in the hospital, I left with ingredients for a red quinoa salad with tomatoes, olives, feta, and herbs, easy as that. Maybe your brain does it, too. But not everyone is born pre-programmed for dinner decisions.

I can hear you: Keep that idea to yourself, woman! It’s genius! You could make a killing!

It is, if you ask me. And I could.

But it’s so not my bag. So, uh, you coder people. Get moving.

Herbed summer quinoa salad

Herbed Summer Quinoa Salad (PDF)
Think of this as a summer salad template. Add anything you can dream up – I’d have added marinated artichokes, if I’d had them, along with chopped leftover green beans and zucchini, or even chickpeas. It’s the kind of thing you want to be in your refrigerator every time you open it, hungry, at 3 p.m. I believe it tastes best sitting in a chair on a sunny porch.

You can use red or white quinoa; I think red is simply more interesting to look at.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: 6 servings

1 cup red or white quinoa
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 pint assorted baby tomatoes, halved
1 cup pitted nicoise or Kalamata olives, chopped
3/4 cup crumbled feta (about 1/3 pound)
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Bring the quinoa and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and boil for 5 minutes. Cover the pot, set aside, and let rest for 15 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. (If there’s a little extra water remaining, just pour it off.)

Transfer the quinoa to a mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, stir to blend, and season to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

4 Comments

Filed under commentary, gluten-free, grains, Lunch, recipe, salad, side dish, vegetables