Happy Mothers’ Day: Layered Eggplant and Tomatoes

 

“It’s snowing…?”

Today is Mother’s Day, the second Sunday in May, and yet yesterday, it snowed on and off all day. When I spoke with my father about it on the phone, he said, “Maybe Mother Nature has the corona virus, and it’s affected her seasons.”

As we are all too aware, the pandemic has definitely affected our lives over the past many months, and I know that one of the ways I have been impacted is that for the first time in a long time, I find myself tired of trying to come up with dinner plans each and every day. With the virus impacting my ability to shop for groceries, our menus have been more limited, and thus has become rather boring.

However, since this is Mother’s Day weekend, the family decided to rise to the occasion. One of my daughters and my son made chocolate covered strawberries, and I decided I really wanted something summery since the weather was not cooperating on that front. Fortunately, I was able to get some eggplant and a variety pack of heirloom tomatoes. Using fresh basil and a vegan parmesan, I created a layered entree which was quite tasty and well worth the work.

I share it with you in case, you too, are looking for inspiration to liven up meal-time during the pandemic.

Layered Eggplant and Tomatoes

Ingredients: Amounts will depend on how much you are making and the size pan you are using.

eggplant

olive oil

oregano

basil

salt

pepper

pear tomatoes

grape tomatoes

cherry tomatoes

fresh basil leaves

minced garlic

vegan parmesan

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Slice washed and dried eggplant into 1/4 circles.
  2. Lay out eggplant circles on a large pan.
  3. Brush both sides of the eggplant circles with olive oil and sprinkle each side with oregano, basil, salt and pepper.
  4. Either grill or broil the eggplant a couple of minutes on both sides until browned.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  6. In an oven safe dish, lay out cooked eggplant circles to cover the bottom.
  7. Slice tomatoes into halves and layer on top of the eggplant.
  8. Slice the fresh basil leaves and sprinkle on top of the tomatoes.
  9. Sprinkle minced garlic on top of the basil.
  10. Sprinkle the vegan parmesan on top of the basil.
  11. Repeat layers until you reach the top of your dish.
  12. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.
  13. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Creative Cooking: Free Form Tomato Vegetable Tart

“The season is ending….”

While Autumn brings the delights of apple and pumpkin season, it also means the end of the garden-fresh tomatoes, eggplants and kale, which arguably taste so much better than store-purchased varieties. To take advantage of the last of these veggies, courtesy of my sister-in-law’s and mother-in-law’s gardens, I decided I’d make a vegetable tart to go with the vegan roast I had decided to make for dinner last night.

I forewarn folks that this is not my typical recipe – it is not quick to make. It requires time but I assure you it’s so worth the effort, which is the reason I put aside my usual laziness in favor of making the tart. I also figured out how to do several of the steps at once to make the cooking more efficient, which I’ll include in the instructions.

The key to a good tart is a good crust. When I googled, though, I discovered that recipes seemed to think you needed to use no less than 1 1/2 to 2 cups of butter, eggs, white flour, and a couple of teaspoons of salt, and in some case, also sugar – all of which I didn’t agree. So, the first step was to create a tart dough which I could stand by. That meant reducing and substituting for the butter and salt, omitting eggs, and using gluten free flour. To enhance the flavor of the crust and keep the crust together without as much butter, I opted to pulse in fresh basil leaves which worked beautifully.

The second important ingredient to a good tart is the flavor from the veggies. What I found, though, is that most vegetable tart recipes seem to rely on cheese – a lot of cheese – which does give flavor but camouflages the flavor of the veggies. So, I needed to find ways to enhance the flavors so cheese would not be necessary. This meant roasting the eggplant, caramelizing onions to mix with the kale, and letting the tomatoes rest for a bit with a salt-garlic mixture.

The result was a wonderful tart which we thoroughly enjoyed with dinner and which I hope you will, too. I’m thinking it will become a go-to for holiday celebrations because it was so pretty, flavorful, and vegan.

Free Form Tomato-Vegetable Tart

Ingredients:

two small eggplants (about 4-5 inches long and 2-3 inches wide)

2 cups gluten free flour blend

1 cup packed fresh basil leaves (packed means push the leaves down; if you loosely put them in, it would be 2 cups)

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup soy free vegan butter, cut into small pieces (two 8 tbsp bars)

1 tbsp vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar but balsamic or white are good if you want a different flavor)

1/4 cup water

eight medium tomatoes (about 3 inches by 3 inches; I used two different types for color contrast)

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp minced garlic

8 oz sliced onions (about two cups; I used sweet white onions)

olive oil

5 oz fresh kale and/or spinach leaves (about 3 cups packed down)

1/4 cup vegan parmesan

1 cup packed fresh basil leaves, sliced into thin slices

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prick the eggplants several times with fork tines to release steam while they are roasting. When the oven is preheated, place the eggplants on a small cookie sheet and roast them for about 40 minutes. When they are done, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool. Do not turn off the oven, because you will be cooking the tart at the same temperature.
  2. While the oven is preheating, put the gluten free flour, the basil leaves and the salt into a food processor. Pulse until they are thoroughly mixed together and the basil leaves are small pieces incorporated into the flour. Add the vegan butter and pulse until small butter pieces are incorporated throughout the flour mixture. Mix the vinegar with the water and pour into the food processor. Pulse until you have a cohesive dough. Use a rubber scraper to remove the dough from the food processor onto a piece of saran wrap. Wrap the dough and shape into a disk. Place into the refrigerator. (If you do not have a food processor, use a pastry knife or two regular knives to chop first the basil and then the butter into the flour, and then mix the liquid into the flour with a fork until a batter forms.)
  3. After putting the eggplant into the oven and the tart dough into the fridge, slice the tomatoes into about 1/4 inch slices and put them into a large bowl. (I used two different colors of tomatoes [four of each] so that they’d look prettier in the tart, but all of the same type works, too.) To the tomatoes in the bowl, add the salt and minced garlic and gently toss to coat all the tomatoes. Then just let the tomatoes sit. While they are sitting, they will release their juices, which is what you want to happen.
  4. After getting the tomatoes ready, put the sliced onions into a shallow, wide cooking pan and mix with just enough olive oil to coat the onions. Turn the burner to low heat and allow the onions to slowly cook for about 20 minutes, stirring just every once and while. When the onions are completely caramelized, they will be a golden brown, soft, and look like they have a sticky sauce on them. When they are done, add the kale and/or spinach leaves and cook for about two minutes, just until the leaves begin to wilt and the onions and kale/spinach are well mixed together. When done, turn off the burner and let them cool.
  5. By now, your eggplants will be done and cooled a bit. Peel off the skins (this is easily done with clean fingers), chop the eggplants into small pieces, and stir the pieces into the onion-kale mixture.
  6. After that is done, drain the liquid from the tomatoes.
  7. Remove the tart dough from the fridge, and on a piece of floured parchment or directly on a cookie sheet, roll the dough into a 16 inch circle. (I used a 16 inch round pizza pan which meant simply rolling the dough out to the edges of the pan with a small roller that fit directly in the pan. If you use the parchment paper, you will need to transfer the dough to a sheet pan large enough to fit the circle of dough.)
  8. Sprinkle the vegan parmesan onto the dough, leaving a one inch margin around the edge of the dough. (The parmesan will help absorb any extra moisture from the vegetables so you do want to include it. If you would rather not for any reason, I suggest using a 1/4 cup of gluten free bread crumbs instead.)
  9. Carefully put the onion-kale-eggplant mixture on top of the sprinkled parmesan, leaving that one inch margin along the edges of the dough. Then, if using two kinds of tomatoes, alternate the tomatoes in circles on top of the onion-kale-eggplant mixture. Make sure the veggies are even all the way around.
  10. Then, using clean fingers and the help of a rubber scraper, gently push up the one inch margin of dough to form an outside crust around the vegetables. Once the crust is formed, sprinkle the sliced basil on top of the tomatoes to the edge of the crust.
  11. In the still preheated 400 degree oven, place the tart and bake for a total of 50 minutes, turning the tart around halfway through the cooking time. When the tart is done, the dough would have puffed a bit, be golden brown, and firm to the touch.
  12. Remove the tart from the oven and allow it to cool for about 10 to 15 minutes before cutting into it, so that all the juices will settle, and it will be easier to cut. Use a very sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut the tart into slices.

 

 

 

 

Healthy Habits: Baked Pears

“He has to be careful about his levels….”

Every summer, we head to the Adirondack mountains to work at the family forest my husband’s family has run for over 60 years. Since I am allergic to everything God has created in nature, I act as the chief cook as opposed to wandering around in the woods, measuring and counting trees. As the chef, I am often cooking meals for anywhere between eight to 20 people for any given meal. This means often taking into account not just my own food allergies but other people’s food restrictions as well.

This year, I needed to be careful about foods which would spike glucose levels for diabetics, so I was trying to avoid making a lot of cakes and cookies, and I opted instead for fruit desserts like a blueberry cobbler which I made with oat biscuits which used no sugar for either the blueberries or the biscuits.

This morning, however, I needed a dessert for a brunch and wanted something healthy but not necessarily a lot of work. At the store, I noticed that they had ripe Bartlett pears on sale, so I purchased those and set about making something for the brunch. As I googled, I noticed that the most common pear dessert is to poach them, but that required watching them on the stove and thickening syrups and such, all of which was too much work.

So, I decided that I’d simply bake them with a little bit of cinnamon and honey and whole rolled oats.  The result was a nice, light dessert, which was perfect for the brunch and well received. One person said that she didn’t usually like pears but liked the dessert. So, I call that a success.

Baked Pears

Ingredients:

8 ripe Bartlett pears

2 tbsp honey

2 tbsp hot water

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp very finely chopped ginger, almost like a paste

1/2 cup gluten free whole rolled oats

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp cloves

1 tbsp vegan soy free butter, melted

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cut pears in half, remove stems by pulling them down the middle to remove the hard core, and then core out the center seeds. (I just use a small spoon.)
  3. Lay the pears in one or two pans, which are large enough to hold them.
  4. Mix together the honey, hot water, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger until well blended. Drizzle over the pears.
  5. Combine the oats with the cinnamon, cloves and melted vegan butter. Spoon them evenly into the holes left by coring out the seeds.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 30 minutes (will depend on the ripeness of your pears) until the pears are golden and warm.
  7. You can eat them as is or serve them with ice cream or whipped cream.

Thanksgiving Thoughts: Vegan Black Bean Kale Soup

“It is wonderful that she can see other people eat like this….”

I had a workshop last weekend where a mother brought her entire family. She explained that she wanted her daughter to see that they were not the only family who had to eat the way they did – meaning allergy friendly. Over the course of the two hour workshop, I watched the daughter enjoy treat after treat, surprised that her mother had told her she could eat anything she wanted from the table.

Too often the holidays are difficult for folks with health and/or food allergies because we know that much of what is on the table we can’t eat. At Thanksgiving, this can be especially depressing since Thanksgiving is celebrated largely through food.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been trying to post Thanksgiving ideas which are not as traditional, just to give folks something new to consider. From the emails I’ve received, it seems folks liked the the notion of vegan, gluten free cornbread stuffing and vegan, gluten free butternut squash swirled cheesecake. Today I’m going to suggest a hearty soup for folks who like to serve a soup course for Thanksgiving.

For any traditionalists who may have people with food allergies or health needs coming to dinner, making a roasted vegetable soup is a good way to go. The Roasting Vegetables post shares how to roast vegetables in a quick and easy way. To make what you’ve roasted into a soup, simply add to the roasted vegetables your favorite no salt, no sugar added vegetable broth, herbs, garlic and onions and puree to the consistency of your choice. Then on Thanksgiving day, just put it into your crockpot and let it cook until your guests arrive. Serve with allergy friendly crushed croutons, “cheese”, “sour cream”, and/or sunflower or pumpkin seeds.

Anyone who may be looking for something a bit heartier and different, though, I offer a black bean, kale soup, just as easy to prepare as the roasted vegetable soup but which adds not just another flavor to the meal, but which can be a more “filling” soup for vegans who have come for dinner.

Black Bean-Kale Soup 

(serves 6 to 8, depending on size of bowls)

Ingredients:

14 oz can no salt, no sugar added lentils

one tsp olive oil

minced garlic to taste

chopped onions to taste

crushed thyme leaves to taste

ground cumin to taste

black pepper to taste

one to two cups frozen or fresh finely chopped kale

1/4 to 1/2 cup finely diced yellow pepper

14 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed

2 tbsp to 1/4 cup finely diced vegan ham

32 oz no salt, no sugar added vegetable broth

salsa to taste

Cooking Instructions:

  1. In a food processor or blender, empty the contents of the can of lentils and puree/blend until smooth. Set aside.
  2. In a large-width pan shallower (not a narrow soup pot) which has at least 2 inch sides, add the olive oil, garlic, onions, thyme, cumin and black pepper. Saute over medium-low heat for a minute to release the flavors, stirring so nothing burns.
  3. Add the kale and yellow pepper and saute for another couple of minutes to release the water from the vegetables.
  4. Add the drained and rinsed black beans and vegan ham bits, and saute for a minute, mixing them well with the herbs and vegetables.
  5. Add the vegetable broth and salsa to taste, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes over low heat until the soup has reduced a bit and is thicker.
  6. Serve with allergy friendly sour cream and “cheese”, if desired.

 

Creative Cooking: Chicken-Kale-Corn Fritters

“You deserve it….”

I have been thinking a lot lately about the idea of what people deserve. My daughters recently graduated from college and high school and received honors and recognition, and folks said, “They deserved it!” I received an award, recognizing 17 years of volunteer work in our school district, and everyone said, “It’s about time! You deserved it!” A person I know who has made bad choices was told, “You get the consequences you deserve.”

We hold notions about worth very highly in our society. The standards of worth vary from situation to situation, within contexts, and between race, gender, class, and other constructs, but the idea of folks being deemed deserving, whether of something good or something bad, hold strong and fast, even if people are not always aware that they do.

Recently, some friends and I went out to dinner, and in an age of food allergy awareness, I was surprised that this particular restaurant only offered two options for me to be able to eat out a very extensive four page menu of selections. I could have grilled chicken or grilled steak. Fortunately, I am not vegan, so I opted for the grilled chicken, but what if I had been? As I pondered this with my husband, we concluded that the restaurant might presume folks with dairy allergies would just go someplace else to eat, given that they don’t cater to that type of clientele.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Plenty of other restaurants do cater to folks with multiple food allergies, and now my friends and I know not to choose that particular restaurant for a future gathering. I can’t help but wonder, though, about whether or not folks with food allergies “deserve” to be able to have more than a choice of grilled chicken or grilled steak when going out to eat to a restaurant which comes highly recommended.

Whether we think we do deserve it or not won’t change that particular restaurant’s menu for now, but it serves as yet another reminder to me that I firmly do believe all people deserve to be able to eat good food, regardless of food allergies and health restrictions. So, last week, when I decided to make chicken and corn fritters, my goal was to create something which was healthier than all the recipes I found.

I had leftover corn and chicken which I wanted to use, and when I put the ingredients into “recipes”, out popped many recipes for chicken and corn fritters. The problem, though, was that they all called for deep or pan frying with a lot of oil, as well as a lot of white flour and many eggs. I wanted something which I could feel good about eating.

So, I made several changes. First, I added kale to the chicken and corn, because I also had leftovers of that. Secondly, I opted to puree cooked carrots as the main binder which allowed me to reduced the flour substantially and use half as many eggs. I also chose oat flour for my flour to add protein and fiber, and used egg whites instead of whole eggs. Finally, instead of frying the fritters in oil, I used the Pompeian non-propellant olive oil only spray and cooked the fritters on a griddle. The result were delicious, healthier fritters which used up my leftovers and didn’t leave anyone with that heavy feeling you often get with fried foods.

Chicken-Kale-Corn Fritters

Ingredients:

3 cups chopped, cooked chicken

3 cups cooked corn, cut off the ears

1 cup cooked, chopped kale

3 cups cooked, chopped carrots

1 cup “milk” (I used soy milk but you can use whatever type you’d like)

1 cup chopped green onions

3/4 cup egg whites (can also just use 3 whole eggs or if you want an egg free version, substitute 3 tbsp ground flaxseed mixed with 9 tbsp of hot water which you let sit to thicken or use 3/4 cup of aquafaba or simply increase the flour below to 1/2 to 3/4 cup)

1/4 cup gluten free oat flour (or any high protein/high fiber flour you’d like)

1 tbsp chopped fresh herbs (I used cilantro and basil, but feel free to vary it)

2 tsp minced garlic

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional but I like the flavor it adds)

Pompeian non-propellant olive oil cooking spray

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Mix the chopped chicken, kale and corn together.
  2. Puree the cooked carrots with the “milk” and add to the chicken-veggie mixture and blend well.
  3. Add the green onions.
  4. Whisk the egg whites (or whole eggs or flaxseed mixture) and add to the fritter mix, stirring well.
  5. Add the oat flour, herbs, garlic and the peppers and stir until all is well incorporated.
  6. Preheat a griddle to 350 or a shallow pan over medium heat and spray with the Pompeian olive oil spray.
  7. Stir the fritter batter and scoop mixture by the 1/4 cup and drop onto the hot griddle. Using a spatula, spread the mixture into 1/2 inch think circles.
  8. Cook for a couple of minutes on one side until browned. Flip with the spatula and cook on the other side until browned. Remove and repeat with the remaining mixture. You may need to occasionally respray the griddle with the olive oil spray. (Tip: to keep them warm, preheat the oven to the lowest temperature and put the fritters onto an oven safe plate in the oven.)

 

Roasted Garlic Bread

“It’s the simple pleasures….”

I celebrated another birthday this year, and unlike many people, I don’t mind that I did. While I am not thrilled that my metabolism is slowing down and that aches tend to last longer, I am grateful for the maturing process which only aging and experience can bring. One gets to know oneself better as time goes on, and that’s a good thing, in my opinion, because only then can you really embrace your strengths, recognize and work on your weaknesses, and allow yourself to be the best version of yourself.

My husband wanted to know what I wanted to do for my birthday this weekend, because we have had a particularly stressful couple of weeks with a funeral and a graduation and time at a hospital with a dear friend. As I thought about what I wanted, I realized I simply wanted to hang with my family, particularly to have a good meal and to watch a movie while all three of my children were actually with me on my birthday for the first time in a few years.

Now, both cooking and watching a movie are not my husband’s ideas of a good time, but as a loving husband, he dutifully grilled the zucchini and chicken I prepared and sat through a movie. My gift to him for being kind enough to grill for me was to figure out a starch to go with the meal. Since I do have that slowing-down metabolism, I tend to eat less carbs these days, but I know that my husband thinks a meal is not complete without bread.

So, I decided I’d make garlic bread, but I didn’t want to use traditional white bread or the large amounts of butter. As I thought about garlic bread, I realized what I love best is the garlic so it occurred to me that garlic should be the the “showpiece” of garlic bread as opposed to the minced versions usually made, which led me to the idea of roasting the garlic and making a garlic bread similar to bruschetta which used olive oil, tomatoes and basil, only I used a gluten free whole grain bread instead.

The roasted garlic bread was ridiculously easy to make and added a nice dimension to the grilled dinner!

Roasted Garlic Bread

Ingredients:

peeled garlic cloves

olive oil

whole grain bread (gluten free or whole wheat or multi-grain)

fresh basil

grape tomatoes (optional)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
  2. Mix a couple of cups of peeled garlic cloves (how much you need depends on how many slices of bread you are making; also if you buy them already peeled, it makes life easier) with just enough olive oil to coat them, and roast them in the oven, turning them every five minutes until the garlic has darkened in color. (Usually this only takes ten to 15 minutes.)
  3. Remove the garlic from the oven and reduce the oven to 350 degrees. Let the garlic cool for a few minutes.
  4. While the garlic is cooling, slice your whole grain bread (whether gluten free or not) into thin slices (unless you bought the already sliced version, in which case you’re set) and place the slices on a cookie sheet or shallow pan.
  5. Chop up a couple of cups of fresh basil into small sprinkle-able pieces (how much you need depends on how many slices of bread you are making; also, if you don’t have fresh basil, you can also use dried basil, but you’d only need a couple of teaspoons then).
  6. Slice the roasted garlic into thin slices and sprinkle evenly among all the bread slices. Then sprinkle the basil. (Optional: slice grape tomatoes into think slices and sprinkle in between the garlic before sprinkling the basil.)
  7. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil over each bread.
  8. Bake in the reduced-heat oven for five to ten minutes until the bread is toasted.
  9. Serve immediately and enjoy.
  10. Leftovers keep well in the fridge. Simply reheat in the oven for a few minutes for crispy bread or microwave for a few seconds if you simply want it warm.

Hashing it Out: Veggie Hash

“You seem to like to take the easy way….”

Folks who have been following this blog know that every once and a while I branch out of baking to post “how-to’s” about food other than baked goods. Usually that is because someone asks me a question which I think others might like to know the answer to as well. This week someone read a couple of posts of mine and asked an interesting question about hash.

If you are not familiar with hash (or know it only as the shorten form of hashish, a stronger form of marijuana), hash is a dish that began as a way of stretching meat during times of scarcity. You take leftover meat, dice it up, and add diced potatoes (because potatoes were filling and cheap) and anything else you can dice to make the dish more satisfying. Almost every country has its version of hash, which comes from a French word meaning “to chop”.

Over the centuries, the versions of hash recipes which exist has exponentially grown with every type of meat or poultry and potatoes variations being explored. In more recent years, folks started adding vegetables and tofu and legumes to make the hash more “healthy” and edible by non-meat eaters. This week, someone asked me, though, “The recipes for hash seemed to require so much work! All that cutting and chopping. You seem to like to take the easy way. How would you make hash quick and easy?”

I just had to laugh. Someone who knows how lazy a cook I am! School nights are always a rush at dinner time because of the children’s activities or my and my husband’s meetings, so yes, I do find ways to make meals quick and easy. Folks who have read other posts know that I love my crock pots, and many days of the week, meals are crock pot dinners which were assembled in the morning and ready to eat at dinner time. When that is not possible, though, then something like hash for dinner is perfect as long as you have ready-made items on hand.

For quick and easy hash, I keep diced potatoes in the fridge. Simply Potatoes is the brand I usually purchase at the store because it stores well in the fridge. Because we usually make a vegetarian version, I also stock the freezer with frozen, chopped kale or swiss chard or collard greens or spinach, and I keep cans of no salt and no sugar added petite diced tomatoes in the pantry. In the spice cabinet I have freeze-dried fresh herbs, onion powder and pepper, and in the fridge, I keep diced garlic. All this is all one needs to make a quick and easy vegetable hash. Should you want a meat version, then make the hash on a night when you have leftover meat or poultry from another meal which you can just add near the end of the cooking time. When I make hash, I can have dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes.

Vegetable Hash

Ingredients:

Olive oil

two 20 oz packages of Simply Potatoes with Onions (or another brand)

one 20 oz package frozen, chopped kale, collard greens, swiss chard or spinach

one 29 oz can of no salt, no sugar added petite diced tomatoes

Freeze dried or fresh Herbs (oregano, basil, thyme, dill, rosemary, marjoram, etc…; if you use dried herbs, you should add them with the potatoes so that the flavors have time to meld)

Black pepper

Onion powder

minced garlic

Optional: add leftover chopped meat or poultry or rinsed, canned beans or tofu

Optional (which is how we eat it): Serve the hash with a cooked egg atop of it

Cooking Instructions:

  1. In a large, shallow pan, on the stove top, put just enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Add the diced potatoes and cook the potatoes until they are browned on all sides. To brown potatoes well, you need to let them just sit and cook. They will stick to the pan, but that’s what you want. That is how the crispy coating is formed. Just use your spatula to unstick the potatoes and turn them. Any browned crusty pieces which stick to the bottom of the pan will come up later when you add the greens and tomatoes.
  2. After the potatoes have browned, add the frozen chopped greens and cook through, stirring frequently, until the  greens have thawed.
  3. Drain the canned tomatoes and add the tomatoes without the juice to the pan, along with herbs of choice, black pepper, onion powder and minced garlic, all to your taste liking. (I don’t add salt because the store bought potatoes have more than enough salt in them for the entire dish, but if you like things saltier, that’s your call.) Mix well and let the hash simmer, stirring every once and a while, for about five minutes until the browned crusty pieces have come off the bottom of the pan and mixed in with the hash.
  4. If adding the meat, do so now and cook just until everything is thoroughly warm.
  5. If eating as a vegetarian dish, serve as is. If eating it as we do, fry eggs hard or over-medium and place one on top of each serving of hash.
  6. Enjoy!

 

 

Healthy Habits: Quinoa Black Bean Salad

“It’s a bit difficult to avoid all of nature….”

Recently my health insurance provider decided that they wouldn’t cover allergy medications any more which is a big blow to my health. When one goes to an allergist for the first time, the allergist will test you for 80 most common allergens. I am allergic to 78. Have been since I was a child, and they haven’t changed in over 40 years, despite repeated testing every seven years.

For the first thirty years of my life, I coughed, hacked, and sniffled my way through life, never without huge wads of tissues in hand and rarely able to breathe through my nose. The advent of new medications, specifically nose sprays, seemed an opportunity for relief. True to my life, though, it turned out I was allergic to most of the new medications. Go figure! But there was one which actually worked, and for the past 15 years, I was able to breathe through my nose, divest down to one tissue a day, and only hack, cough and sniffle two or three times a year when the allergy seasons were at their worst.

Now, though, I’ve slowly begun a descent back to what I had forgotten, not being able to breathe unless completely upright, blowing my nose so often that it’s red and raw, once again needing to invest in my own tissue company, and finding myself at the doctor’s more than I’d like to be for antibiotics for sinus infections.

On the plus side, I’ve been so sick at times that I’ve been forced to stay at home which is an unusual opportunity for me because I suddenly have time which I wouldn’t have had if I were out at my usual meetings and running of errands. It has also meant I can see firsthand which parts of my life really must be attended to and which can survive without me.

On the downside, feeling unwell makes me tired which stimulates cravings for food which aren’t always the healthiest of choices. Since I always have to watch my weight and my sugars, I have been trying to create comfort foods which curb my cravings but which are healthy.

One such recipe is for a quinoa salad. If you are unfamiliar with quinoa, it is essentially a seed which is a good protein source.  Because it cooks similarly to rice, folks tend to eat it like a grain, and folks who are diabetic or needing to watch carbs should know that quinoa is high in carbohydrates. Since quinoa is also high in protein and fiber, though, eaten judiciously, quinoa is a great comfort food.

I make a quinoa salad which I and my family really likes which uses multi-colored quinoa, black beans, kale and carrots. The quinoa and black beans provide the carbs which are filling but also fiber and protein. The kale and carrots provide nutrients gained from vegetables and cuts the amount of quinoa (and hence the carbs) in a cup serving.

Quinoa Black Bean Salad

Ingredients:

2 cups water

1 cup multi-colored quinoa

2 cups frozen, chopped kale

1 cup thinly sliced baby carrots

16 oz can of no salt, no sugar added black beans, rinsed well and drained completely of all water

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

3/4 tsp ground cardamom

1-3 tsp honey (optional; use desired amount of sweetness if using; if making for just the family, I omit; if making for company, I use 2 tsp)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, pour the water and add the quinoa. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the quinoa has plumped, is showing white rings, and has absorbed all the water. This will take anywhere from five to 15 minutes, depending on how vigorously you are simmering the water. I find that it’s helpful to stir the quinoa every so often.
  2. Once the water is absorbed, remove the pan from the heat, cover the quinoa and let it sit. You want the quinoa to be completely dry before you mix it with other ingredients. This can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on how much of the water was actually absorbed into the quinoa before you removed it from the heat.  When it’s completely dry, you will be able to fluff the quinoa with a fork. If the quinoa clumps together when you try to stir it, then it’s still a bit damp.
  3. While the quinoa is drying, thinly slice baby carrots to make a cup. You can use regular sized peeled carrots but then you’ll want to cut the thin slices in half because you are only cooking the carrots a short amount of time in the microwave with the kale, and you don’t want the carrots to be hard. Once you have a cup’s worth chopped, put it aside for the moment.
  4. Put 2 cups of frozen, chopped kale into a microwave safe bowl.  Follow the instructions for cooking, only halfway during the cooking time, remove the bowl, stir the kale and add the cup of chopped carrots. Finish cooking the kale in the microwave.
  5. Add the kale, carrots and black beans to the quinoa and mix well.
  6. In a measuring cup, whisk together the olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, cinnamon and cumin and honey, if using.
  7. Drizzle the dressing onto the quinoa salad and use a spoon to incorporate the dressing into the quinoa salad.
  8. Salad can be served warm or cold. Can store in the fridge for a long time.

Vegan Veggin’: Chickpea Curry

“Life should be more than simply surviving successfully….”

For anyone keeping track, my usual every two to three weeks posts have not appeared for the past six weeks. Unexpected events pushed aside time I might have used to post. Some were unplanned but pleasant surprises such as an opportunity to write a song and create a video, a blast of inspiration for a new play, a push to apply for a writing fellowship, bookings for eight workshops in eight weeks, trips to see family and do college touring with my middle child. Others were not as welcomed occurrences. Friends and friends’ children struggling with depression and needing support, making time to visit a special family friend who may not be with us on this earth much longer, our oldest wrestling with issues requiring parental wisdom, extra responsibilities because of difficulties in the lives of others, our middle child being in a car accident.

Last night, a friend asked if I wanted to cancel and reschedule a get-together we had planned a couple of months ago for this coming week with a group of moms I know.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because there’s so much going on for you right now. You’re just trying to survive, aren’t you?”

“No, no I’m not,” I said.

And it’s true. I don’t believe in survival mode. The more difficult life is, the more likely I am to get together with a friend for lunch, take my son on a trip to a museum, go out to dinner as a family, dance with my daughter in the living room, or help a friend with a book edit even though someone might argue my time would be better spent elsewhere.

Life is short, and life can turn on a dime. I’ve been to enough funerals to attest to both facts, and I have now had two of my three children in car accidents which could have taken them from me without any warning. Life is not meant to be survived. It is meant to be lived. Every minute, every day, because you don’t know what you’ll have for time.

And that may be why I invest so much of my time helping people with their food issues. Physical necessity dictates not only that we have to eat but that we need to do so at regular intervals throughout the day. This means part of our “living” time is thinking about what to eat, making what we’ll eat, and eating. So, food, too, should not just be about surviving but about enjoyment and benefit, just like everything else we do in and with our lives.

This year my oldest decided she would become vegan, and recently my husband’s sister’s family decided to do the same. For my daughter, eating vegan means doing her part to make the world a better place to live. For my brother-in-law and nephews and niece, it’s about embracing a better, healthier lifestyle. For both, they are making choices to live lives which are not just about surviving but about being happy with the decisions they make about what to eat.

Given my dairy allergies and my son’s egg allergies as a child, a lot of what I make was already vegan, but I’ve begun experimenting with more recipes of late to expand my repertoire. Last month I made a vegan chickpea curry which the family really liked and which is so easy because it just cooks in the crock pot. I will share it below.

Chickpea Curry

Ingredients:

Two 16 cans no salt, no sugar chickpeas, drained and rinsed (you can save the liquid and use the aquafaba as an egg substitute or to make meringues or mousse or another recipe)

16 oz package thawed frozen cauliflower

16 oz package thawed frozen carrots

20 oz package thawed frozen chopped butternut squash

16 oz package frozen chopped kale

10 oz package frozen chopped red peppers

1 tsp olive oil

1 tbsp minced garlic

1-3 tbsp curry powder (if you like your curry very mild, use the smaller amount; if you like a stronger flavor, use 2 or 3 tbsp)

2 tsp paprika

one 14 oz can of petite diced no salt no sugar tomatoes

one 14 oz can of coconut milk or 1 1/2 cup preferred other type of vegan milk

1/4 cup gluten free flour

Cooking Instructions:

  1. In a 6 quart crock pot mix together the chickpeas, cauliflower, carrots, squash, peppers and kale.
  2. In a shallow pan, heat the olive oil for a minute, then add the garlic, curry powder, and paprika. Heat for a minute, stirring continually.
  3. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer, about 3-5 minutes.
  4. Add the “milk” and bring to a slow boil.
  5. Stir in 1/4 cup flour and whisk well, stirring continually until the mixture is smooth and begins to thicken.
  6. Pour the sauce over the ingredients in the crock pot and blend well.
  7. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or high for 3 to 4.
  8. Serve by itself or with rice or with bread.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Healthy Habits: Aquafaba

website souffles

“What?”

I travel to libraries to give workshops on allergy friendly and healthier baking. Last weekend, at a workshop, I spoke with a group of about 30, and I received an email this week with a follow up question about aquafaba.

If you have not heard about the new rage, aquafaba, it’s apparently the words for water and beans and refers to the liquid you find in a can of chick peas or after you cook dry chick peas.  The chemistry of the liquid is yet to be determined but what is known is that it makes for a wonderful egg and dairy substitute. You can whip it like eggs to make meringues or replace eggs in baked goods or mayo or waffles and more.  You can whip it like heavy cream to replace dairy in whipped cream, mousse, or ice cream and more.

For my workshops, I always bring samples so folks will know that I’m telling the truth about being able to “have your cake and eat it, too”, and I try to provide a variety of desserts which are gluten, dairy, nut, peanut, soy and egg free. Depending on the season, the particular items I bake vary. For this workshop, I made meringues with the aquafaba and a chocolate cream pie with an aquafaba topping so folks could see how the aquafaba worked as both an egg and a heavy cream substitute.

The participant in the workshop who had emailed me did so because she was looking for the meringue recipe which wasn’t actually on this site. So, I’m remedying that situation by including it below. *grin* I’m also including some other tips for how you can use aquafaba in recipes.

Tips for using aquafaba:

  1. Purchase no salt, no sugar added versions of the chick peas if you are using canned chick peas. This helps you to control the sodium and sugar levels. You simply drain the liquid into a bowl and use your chick peas for another recipe at another time. If you prefer to use dry beans, soak them until doubled in size, bring the water to a boil, then simmer until the beans are soft. Drain the liquid into a bowl for your use and save the chick peas for another recipe.
  2. To use the aquafaba as a regular egg sustitute, simply measure out 1/4 cup per egg needed and whisk the egg with a fork just until frothy. Then use in your recipe as you would an egg. Works well for baked goods and French toast.
  3. To use the aquafaba as eggs which need to be whipped for angel food cake or Belgium waffles, start with room temperature aquafaba, add between 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cream of tartar and whip with the whisk handle of your mixer until stiff peaks form (as pictured above). Fold into your mixtures are indicated in your recipes.
  4. If you want to whip the aquafaba for a meringue topping or meringue cookies or to use as a whipped cream topping or as a substitute for heavy cream in ice cream, when you add the cream of tartar to the room temperature liquid, you should also add your sweetener at the same time. If you try to fold in the sweetener after you’ve whipped the aquafaba, it will deflate and soften. I find that powdered sugar works the best because it’s the lightest weight. Depending on how sweet you like your foods, 1/2 cup to 1 cup of powdered sugar per 15 oz can of liquid works well for most recipes. After you have added both the cream of tartar and powdered sugar, then you can whip the aquafaba to the desired stiffness. It’s best to check if the sweetness is to your liking when soft peaks have begun to form so you can add more if needed before you reach the stiff peak stage.

How to Make Aquafaba Meringues:

To make the aquafaba meringues you simply need a 15 oz can of chickpeas.  Drain the liquid into your mixing bowl and put the chickpeas in the fridge for another use.   Add at least 1/4 tsp and up to 1/2 tsp of cream of tartar.  Then add powdered sugar to your liking.  Start with 1/2 cup to 1 cup of powdered sugar. You can always add more later if you find it’s not sweet enough for you. Add 1 tsp of vanilla alone or with 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder if you want vanilla or chocolate flavor.

After you’ve put everything into your mixer, use the wire whisk handle to whip the aquafaba until it looks like the picture above.  It usually doesn’t take very long.  (When the peaks are still soft, check the sweetness to see if you need to add any more before whipping to stiff peaks.)

After it’s whipped to stiff peaks, put some into a gallon zip lock bag and snip off the end.  Preheat your oven to 250 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using the ziplock bag, pipe meringues onto the parchment paper.  I usually make them about tablespoon size. I also like to make the meringues pretty by sprinkling a mixture of unsweetened cocoa powder and powder sugar on top of each meringue before putting them into the oven.

Once you’ve filled the cookie sheet with your meringues, pop them into the oven and bake them for at least an hour.  Then check them.  When they are done, they’ll be hard and dry.  If they’re not quite done, cook them longer for 15 minutes at a time until they are.  (If you make them tablespoon size, they’ll be done after an hour.  If you made them larger, they may take more time.)

Once they’re done, turn off the oven and let them cool in the oven for half an hour.  Then take them out and let them cool completely on a wire cooling rack.  When you go to take them off the parchment paper after they’ve cooled, carefully lift them off and place them into a tupperware, using parchment paper or plastic wrap to layer them.  They’ll keep for a good while in the tupperware.

Holiday Happenings: Cranberry Sauce

bags-of-cranberries

“Apparently cranberry sauce is underappreciated….”

My husband came home the other day and told me about a news story on the radio. The topic was cranberry sauce and how it was not as appreciated as other foods eaten during the Thanksgiving meal. This, of course, spurred discussion among our family about our own cranberry preferences. My son will only eat jellied cranberry sauce with no chunks. My oldest, my husband and I love cranberry sauce in any form. My other daughter won’t eat it, no matter the texture.

Cranberries, however, are very good for your health, containing antioxidants, fiber, and many nutrients needed by the body. What I find, though, is that because they have such a tart flavor, folks use way too much sugar when cooking with them. So, I like to make my own cranberry sauce instead of purchasing it from the store.

When I tell folks that I make cranberry sauce, they always seemed to be surprised, which I find surprising since cranberry sauce is the easiest food to make. You simply put cranberries into a pot with water and sweetener and let it cook down. The entire process takes about 10-15 minutes, at the most.

Where the creativity comes in is deciding what type of cranberry sauce you’d like for Thanksgiving. You can add other fruits to the cranberries like pears or apples or tangerines or oranges or apricots or cherries to add a contrasting fruity flavor to the cranberries. You can add red wine or port or bourban if you’d like a more complex flavor. You can add ginger or maple or anise or jalapeno if you’re looking to try something a little different this year. You can use water, orange juice, apple cider or any other liquid you can imagine to change the flavor. You can add nuts or dried fruits to add crunch and texture. You can even change up the texture of the sauce, making it chunky, relish-style or jellied.

And after Thanksgiving the cranberry sauce can be “recycled” in many ways. Swirl it into your favorite cheesecake recipe. Add the sauce as a fixing for your favorite sandwich. Mix it into a muffin recipe. Top pancakes or waffles with it. Combine it with another fruit to make the filling for a pie. Stir it into your breakfast oatmeal. Use it as a spread for a slice of quick bread like banana or zucchini. Combine it with cream cheese for a dip. Top vanilla ice cream with it. The ideas are endless.

A food as versatile as cranberry sauce is truly just begging for you to experiment this year. And what’s great is that unless you’re allergic to cranberries, people with food allergies can eat it!

Some tips:

  1. The cranberries: It doesn’t matter whether you use fresh or frozen cranberries. The general rule of thumb is that about 12 ounces of cranberries requires about 1 cup of liquid.
  2. The sweetener: For most recipes, for 12 ounces of cranberries, they’ll call for 1 cup of sugar. I’d suggest you cut that in half and save your health or use 1/4 cup Agave or 1/2 cup of coconut sugar or 1/3 cup truvia.
  3. The add-ins: Decide what type of cranberry sauce you’d like to make and add the ingredients in with the cranberries so that they all cook together and the flavors meld.
  4. Traditional Style: To make traditional cranberry sauce, simply put all your ingredients into a pot, bring the liquid to a boil, let it simmer for about 5-10 minutes until the cranberries pop and are the texture you’d like, remove from the heat, let it cool, and then refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.
  5. Relish Style: Simply use your food processor to chop up the cranberries, sweetener and additions and refrigerate. You should decrease the liquid, though, and only add just enough to moisten the relish.
  6. Jellied Style: Prepare the sauce as you would for the traditional but then push everything through a strainer, mashing the ingredients as much as you can to get as much as you can into the sauce and then refrigerate what you’ve pushed through the strainer.

 

Autumn Appetites: Winter Squash-Kale-Bean Soup

“Grandma’s wisdom….”

Last week I read that the folks at America’s Test Kitchen learned something which my grandmother had taught me 30 years ago and which she had known for many more years than that before she taught me. Not for the first time, I was surprised that those culinary “experts” hadn’t known something which I had figured was known by many.

As I thought more about it, though, I realized that there’s a difference between folks who have culinary jobs and people who have years and years of cooking experience. My grandmother raised eleven children and had to find ways to stretch food as much as she could, and she learned the best ways to make food and how to keep things as simple as possible whenever she could.

What I had learned from my grandmother, which America’s Test Kitchen apparently just learned this month according to their magazine, is that you never boil corn on the cob. You bring water to a boil and then you let the ears of corn sit in the hot water for a set time, depending on the amount of corn. This is how I’ve made corn on the cob ever since my grandmother showed me as a teenager. I had taken it for granted that others knew, too.

I figured my grandmother had learned it from someone before her, but she may also have simply figured it out on her own after cooking for so many for so long. I started thinking about the many other tips my grandmother had given me over the years when I was younger before she passed away, and I realized a lot of my cooking depends on things I learned from her. Just this past weekend, I made one of my family’s favorite soups, which uses tips I learned specifically from my grandmother.

My grandmother rarely had “fresh” food in the house. Dependent on food from local farms, which tended to be seasonal, certain foods simply weren’t accessible year round. So, she always had meat and vegetables frozen in a big freezer and jars of canned beans, jellies, sauces, and fruits in the “pantry” which was the walk-through area between the garage and their double-wide trailer. From her, I learned how to create foods which use staples from the freezer and pantry and which can be quickly put together to feed a lot of people.

The winter squash, kale and bean soup I made uses frozen squash, which I roasted last year, pureed, and froze; frozen kale which I always keep on hand, purchasing them by the bagfuls at the grocery store when they’re in season (early Spring and then again in the Fall); canned, unsalted, no sugar added beans, which I keep in my pantry; and no salt, fat free vegetable broth which I also keep in my pantry. I mixed everything together in my crock pot with some herbs and let it cook all day. When evening came, we had a hearty soup for dinner which warmed both the heart and the tummy.

Winter Squash-Kale-Bean Soup

Ingredients:

9 cups thawed, frozen pureed cooked winter squash (equivalent to 6 of those 12 oz packages you can purchase in the freezer section of the grocery store)

1 cup frozen chopped kale (equivalent to half a 16 oz bag you can purchase in the frozen section of the grocery store)

One 16 oz can of no salt, no sugar added white or northern or cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 tsp dried thyme, crushed between your fingers before putting in

1 tsp onion powder

1/2 to 1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

No salt, fat free vegetable broth (amount will depend on how thick or think you like your soup, between 1 to 3 cups)

Cooking Instructions:

In a crock pot (4 1/2 quart will work), mix the thawed squash with the frozen kale, the can of beans, the thyme, onion powder, salt and black pepper. Add the desired amount of vegetable broth and let it cook in the crock pot on low all day (6-8 hrs) or on high for half the day (3-4 hrs).