Friday, May 27, 2011

Hiatus (but not for too long, really)

This has happened to me before. For no particular reason I've just lost my Crafty oomph. There hasn't been a lack of cooking and baking in our house, I just find that right now I've lost a little of the work + home + blog balance so I need a little blog holiday to sort myself out.

There are also plans to do some housekeeping around this place. I'd like certain aspects of the site to be reorganised and redesigned. I have some ideas brewing for a new way of doing things - a better way, I hope.

So in the meantime, enjoy the beautiful Spring or Autumn depending on where in the world you are, and I'll be back soon.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Beet Cashew Dip

I got a Cuisinart for my birthday. Not the little one- cupper that requires 4 chop+repeats to process an onion either. I got the 11-cup model and I worship it. I’ve watched as it effortlessly chops a whole variety of veg in 10 seconds, whirls peanuts until they become peanut butter, and processes a perfect batch of hummus at lightening speed. It rules. Therefore I’ve been coming up with things to chop and this recipe, which should really be called the fastest dip ever, was a successful experiment. If you’ve got a food processor, this dip will be ready in under 10 minutes. If you don’t, you should come over and use mine.

Am I wrong in thinking that beets are something that most people don’t like as a kid but grow to like later? Maybe that’s just me? Anyway, I can’t imagine people shying away from this magenta concoction which is bright, earthy tasting and could be thought of as a beet pesto. It pairs well with the Seeded Lavash Chips and also works beautifully as a spread for sandwiches topped with thin slices of cucumber  and butter lettuce.

Make sure to grate the Parmesan yourself using a microplane grater and don't pack it down when you measure it; the dip will be overly cheesy (yes, there is such a thing...I think) and will mask the pure beet flavor.

For about 1½ cups:
  • 1/2 cup unsalted cashews
  • 1½ cups canned sliced beets, drained
  • 1 small garlic clove, peeled, quartered
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Put all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until a coarse puree forms. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for several days, stirring well before serving.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lentil Quinoa Curry

It was my birthday last Saturday. I'd been dreading it for months because unfortunately I turned 35 - which in my book is officially old. I don't feel 35; I'm not sure I even look it. But it's crept up on me somehow and I've had a hard time shaking the feeling that I'm late for something.

M had to go out of town for work and all my friends are back home so I was by myself. I was on the verge of pulling the covers over my head and waiting for it to be over but instead had a fairly excellent solo day. I sat in the sun on a park bench and ate a big lemon bar from a local bakery for lunch. I sipped a glass of champagne later that night at a nearby restaurant and ate a gorgeous cheese platter consisting of a wedge of Spanish blue, a ruby-stained poached pear, rustic crackers, truffled honey and dried fig.

The next day I woke up and felt different. Not anxious, or lonely, or fretting but instead really quite happy. I know that my life is beyond good and there's nothing I can do about finally reaching my scary age. It is what it is. I felt energised, and cooked and cleaned my way through the day.

My new, older (maybe wiser) self invented this quick curry out of odds and ends in the pantry. It's healthy, filling and topped with crunchy bits of apple, pistachio and coconut. It might seem a bit strange not to simmer the lentils and quinoa together with the other ingredients but I know that those lentils can turn their cooking liquid murky and I wanted to preserve the bright orange curry. I ate a big bowl of it with warm slices of naan and froze the rest of it for future lunches.

For 4 servings:
  • 3/4 cup french lentils
  • 1/3 black or red quinoa
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sweet curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 14 ounces (400 ml) light coconut milk
  • 14 ounces (400 ml) stock or water
  • 1 small crisp, tart apple, diced
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachios
In a medium pot, bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Add the lentils and quinoa and briskly simmer until just tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot and saute until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the curry powder, garam masala, and salt. Stir for a minute more. Stir in the coconut milk and brother and turn up the heat to bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer.

When the lentils and quinoa are done cooking, add it to the curried broth and simmer for 5 minutes more. Taste, and season with more salt if needed. Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped apple, pistachios and coconut. Serve with warm naan. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chocolate Buckwheat Pancakes

There’s this Simpson’s episode where Bart says to Marge – “Mom, can I have ice cream for breakfast?” and Marge says “Absolutely not! You’re going to have chocolate chip pancakes with maple syrup instead.” I was reminded of that while making these but really, they are pretty good for you. Yes, I liberally splashed maple syrup all over them and yes, M did wonder aloud how they would taste with whipped cream on top. But still, these chocolately cakes are delicious and filled with buckwheat flour, cocoa powder, banana and buttermilk. 

The buckwheat gives the pancakes a lightly toasted, sort of earthy flavor which matches perfectly with the cocoa. The recipe makes quite a few cakes but they keep well in the refrigerator for a few days and freeze nicely. Pop them in the toaster or the microwave to reheat. This morning I ate them with a big dollop of vanilla yogurt, slices of pear and some chopped pecans.

The chocolate flavor isn't very intense despite the deep brown color. Feel free to stir in some chocolate chips. I've done it before and the pockets of melted chocolate made them more suitable for dessert instead of breakfast, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. 

For about 18 pancakes:
  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 very ripe banana, mashed
  • 2¼ cups buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, and baking soda. In another bowl, whisk together the banana, buttermilk, eggs, vanilla and melted butter. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk together until smooth. Let the batter rest for 15 minutes.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. When hot, use a 1/4 cup scoop and pour into the skillet. Flip when there are a few bubbles on the surface. Cook for a minute or two more. Repeat with the remaining batter. Keep the pancakes warm while they are all being cooked. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mushroom Udon Noodles

I've never been in Australia during the April/May months, which is Autumn here, and keep reminding myself that things are sprouting and greening and defrosting back home. The Midwest extremes of humid summers and frozen winters is a thing of the past for me and the seasons here seem to shift gently into one another. Even though it is only slightly cooler than it has been, especially at night, I can feel myself beginning to crave some comfort foods.

For me, a heaping pile of noodles tends to satisfy that craving. I love thick, chewy udon noodles and the two kinds of mushrooms add another layer of chew to the dish. They are lightly seasoned with ginger, garlic, soy and sesame.

The list of ingredients may look long but don't be wary, this is meant to come together fast and minimal effort is needed. Besides a bit of chopping and measuring, the ingredients are sauteed while the noodles cook. A big bag of baby spinach is called for here and it will all cook down nicely. Just stir it in in batches.

For 2-3 servings:
  • 6 ounces (180 grams) udon noodles
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
  • 3.5 ounces (100 grams) oyster mushrooms, tough stems trimmed
  • 3.5 ounces (100 grams) shiitake mushrooms, tough stems trimmed and caps thickly sliced
  • 6 ounces (160 grams) bagged baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup Shaoxing cooking wine or dry white wine
  • 7 ounces (200 grams) baked tofu, cut into small cubes*
  • 1½ tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives or scallions
Place the noodles in a pot of salted boiling water and cook according to package directions.

While the noodles are cooking, heat the oil over medium high heat in a large skillet or wok. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes. Add the spinach in large handfuls at a time until it cooks down. When all the spinach has been cooked, add the wine and cook until nearly evaporated, a couple minutes more. Add the tofu and noodles and stir to incorporate with the vegetables. Add the soy sauce and sesame oil and toss again. Tongs are helpful for this task. 

Spoon the noodles into bowls and top with the chives or scallions and serve sriracha on the side for those who like it spicy.

*I like a baked tofu that is "honey soy" flavored but use whatever you prefer and is available.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Seeded Lavash Chips

Lately I've been taking a stand on purchasing hummus. Week after week I buy it at the store and vow to quit it because it's overpriced and never as good as I know it can be and when I look at the few ingredients it just seems logical to make my own. Certain things really irk me to pay for like chai tea, most pasta dishes, and apparently hummus so I make resolutions about never shelling out money for them again. Ever! Or at least until it re-happens and I have to re-declare.

I rounded up some chickpeas, tahini, lemons, garlic and olive oil and followed Cook's Illustrated's recipe for making the "best" hummus. It wasn't hard and I was kicking myself for not doing it sooner. While I was at it, I also made these easy, tasty chips from large rounds of whole wheat lavash. Crisp and golden after a blast in a hot oven, they came out with great crunch from the seed mixture.

The chips were perfect with the hummus and were addictive enough to eat on their own too. Although lavash is similar to pita, I thought these were better than pita chips I've made in the past. Lavash is softer and thinner which makes them crisp up perfectly with very little oil needed. They undoubtedly can handle endless variations of spices, seeds, herbs and oils. 
  • 3 round whole wheat lavash breads (10-inch size)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon flaked sea salt
Heat the oven to 400f (200c). Stir the seeds and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.

Cut the breads into thin wedges. Brush both sides with olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the seeds over the tops and place in the center of the oven. Bake until the chips are golden and crisp, about 10 minutes. Set the pan on a wire rack to cool before serving.