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Archive for November, 2009

You know how it goes: you eat all that food on Thanksgiving, and the next morning, there are all the leftovers in your fridge. If you’re intimidated by the idea of yet more cream on Friday morning, this whole-grain pancake recipe should be right up your alley.

pancake stack

Don’t be scared off by the whole grain thing: the word “hearty” — which pretty much means “heavy” when we’re talking about whole grains — does not apply. Instead, these are light and fluffy, with a tiny bit of crunch from the cornmeal.

Harvest Pancakes
Adapted from Food o’ del Mundo

1 c. oats
3/4 c. walnuts (pecans would also work; I’m dubious about oilier nuts like cashews)
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/3 c. sugar
2 T. cornmeal
1 T. baking powder
1 1/2 t. baking soda
pinch salt
2 eggs
1/4 c. (half a stick) butter
1 3/4 c. buttermilk
Extra butter for cooking

Put the oats and nuts into a blender or food processor and whir until they’re mostly smooth. A few little pieces of nut won’t hurt you, but you want it mostly flour-like in consistency.

food processor

Add the flour, sugar, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and stir to combine. You can do this part the night before, but if you do, you might get some funky lighting in your photo.

dry mix

Stick the butter in a Pyrex measuring cup and put it in the microwave to melt. Add the eggs to the dry ingredients and just combine. (This won’t be anywhere near enough liquid to make a batter.) Now would also be a good time to start preheating the griddle or skillet you’ll use to cook the pancakes.

adding eggs

Add the cold buttermilk to the melted butter in the measuring cup. The butter will form little droplets in the milk, which is exactly what you want. (I know it looks creepy, but it’s the secret to fluffy pancakes, I swear.) Pour the butter/buttermilk mixture into the other ingredients and stir to combine. The resulting batter will be very thick.

Grease the griddle, and make sure the heat is no higher than medium. Use a 1/4-cup measure to scoop out the batter. Because the batter is so thick, I ended up using the bottom of the cup to pat it down into a more pancake-like shape.

Cook on the first side until you see little bubbles in the center. The pancakes are cooked when the bubbles rise and pop (yes, you can help with your spatula), and the little holes they make remain open. When that happens, you can flip them. Trust me on this: if you flip them before this stage, you’ll get “squishy” instead of “fluffy.” The second side will cook more quickly, as it just needs to brown; it will do so most evenly if you flip the pancake onto a greased part of the griddle.

Eat these with maple syrup* (and more butter, if you’re that kind of pancake person). You can store any extras in your refrigerator or freeze them, separated by layers of wax paper, for an easy (if slightly less crispy) breakfast later.

*I love grade B maple syrup, which has a more intense flavor than the lighter stuff. Check your health food store or your farmer’s market for it.

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How to eat locally

I can’t believe I forgot to post this earlier this week, but I did! I wrote a beginner’s guide to eating locally that was posted over at EarthSpirit Voices. I’ll be posting there roughly once a month on topics related to sustainable food, gardening, and earth-centered spiritual practices; feel free to check it out if that’s your kind of thing.

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A brownie confession

I have to admit this right at the top: well into the phase of my culinary life when I considered myself a competent, even accomplished baker, I made brownies from a mix.

I hate mixes. By that, I mean that my sister once gave me the nickname Ms. The-Devil-Bakes-From-Mixes. The enmity between us is serious, but when it came to brownies, the chewy goodness of the packaged stuff always swayed me in the end.

You too? Yeah, I know. But fear not! Let the chains of your oppression be broken.

brownie batter

Better-than-a-mix Brownies
These are very slightly modified from a friend’s mother’s recipe. True story.

4 squares (1 oz each) baking chocolate*
1 c. butter (2 sticks)
2 c. sugar
4 eggs
1 t. vanilla
pinch salt
1 1/4 c. flour

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a square baking pan, either 8″x8″or 9″x9″.

Break the squares of chocolate into quarters or smaller. If you’re really diligent, you could grate them or chop them, but I always find this too time-consuming when I want brownies.

Put the chocolate and the butter in the microwave and heat in 30-second bursts, stirring after each, until the chocolate is mostly melted. Then take it out of the microwave and stir it until it’s completely smooth. (This is a good chocolate secret: get it 90% melted, and then let the heat of the mixture do the rest. If you try to melt it all the way by heating, you risk burning and seizing.)

Add the sugar and mix thoroughly, then mix in the eggs and vanilla. Finally, add the flour and salt and stir until thoroughly combined.

Pour into the greased pan and bake about 30 minutes. They’re done when a toothpick stuck into the middle comes out with gooey crumbs but not batter. They’re hard to cut before they cool, but worth it both ways. Baked brownies keep well in the freezer: cool, slice, wrap tightly in tinfoil, and then stick the whole thing in a plastic bag.

mmm, brownies

*Would these be better if you used high-end unsweetened chocolate? No doubt. But they’re totally awesome even with whatever you can get at the store.

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I love a lot of things about being vegetarian, but one thing I don’t love is entrees. You know the drill: you go to a family dinner, and you eat six sides for dinner. Or worse yet, six sides plus Tofurkey. Yikes! Sure, they’re probably excellent sides, but when it comes to tasty entrees, we’re often stuck with the short end of the awesome stick.

This recipe is here to solve that problem for you.

strudel for freezing

Now, I need you all to take a deep breath, because this recipe contains an ingredient I have recently learned many people are afraid of. But don’t worry! I have an awesome method to save you from the dreaded food.

The ingredient is filo dough, which is used here to wrap the herbed mushrooms into their adorable little parcels, and I promise, it will be fine even if you tear most sheets. I know, because I did!

cooking mushrooms

Mushroom Strudel
Originally from The Complete Mushroom Book, via Leite’s Culinaria and Smitten Kitchen

1 pound mushrooms (my favorite mix is portabella plus shitake, but don’t forget to take the stems off the latter!)
1 onion*
3 T. butter
pinch of nutmeg
1 T. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. dried thyme (or sage, or use fresh if you have it, about 1 1/2 t.)
4-6 T. grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

18 sheets frozen filo dough, defrosted (this should be about one package; leave it on the counter for an hour or so to defrost)
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Put the butter in a large skillet to melt over medium heat and mince the onion. When you’ve finished, throw the onion in with the melted butter.

Wash or wipe the mushrooms if needed to remove grit, and chop into smallish pieces, about 3/4 of an inch across. (Don’t forget to stir the onion occasionally while you’re doing this.)

Once the onion is soft, add the mushrooms and nutmeg, and turn the heat up a bit. The mushrooms will suck up all of the butter like little mushroom vacuums. Then they’ll start to soften and give off liquid. Keep cooking! It’s important to stir every few minutes here, especially if your mushrooms are more than one layer deep.

When they’ve released all of their liquid, it will start to evaporate. When most of the liquid is gone, stir in the flour, herbs, and salt and pepper, and remove from the heat. (If you stop here, you’ll still have amazing mushrooms. I ate my leftover filling on toast!)

If you’re going to cook these immediately, preheat your oven to 400 F. (If not, you can freeze them on a baking sheet and then pop them in a freezer bag once they’re frozen solid.)

Now you need some serious counter space: enough room for a sheet of filo. Lay out your filo, egg wash, and Parmesan. Melt the stick of butter in the microwave or a saucepan. You’ll also want a damp dish towel.

Put a sheet of filo in front of you, covering the rest of them with the dish towel so they don’t dry out. Starting at a long edge, brush half the sheet with butter, and then fold it lengthwise so the butter is sandwiched inside. Repeat this process, brushing half of your long rectangle with butter and then folding it over. Now you have one long, skinny piece rectangle! If there are wrinkles, try smoothing them out, but it doesn’t really matter. If there are tears, you can ignore them, because you have four layers of filo to keep things together! Hooray!

Put a spoonful of mushroom filling on one end, and top with a sprinkle of Parmesan.

strudel

Fold the top corner over so the mushroom filling is inside a triangle. Continue to fold flag-style, flipping it over the edge closest to the bottom, until you get to the very end of the dough. (It takes a few folds before the mushrooms are fully encased; before that stage, they should be considered an escape risk.) You may need to trim off uneven ends of your dough with scissors.

Place the package seam-side down on the baking sheet, brush with egg wash, and sprinkle with more Parmesan.

To serve immediately, bake for 15 minutes. If you’re freezing, bake them for more like 22 minutes at 375 so you can get the centers warm without scorching the crust.

*There is pretty much no case in which I don’t believe that the best available onion for your purposes is a sweet one, but here you’ll never see it, so you could use purple ones (which taste fine but are ugly when cooked), white, yellow, or even leeks.

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I know, I know. Every single blog on the internet — not to mention every cookbook, magazine, and, you know, person — will tell you that they’ve got the best chocolate chip cookie recipe.

cookies

I’ve made a lot of those recipes. I’ve subbed flours and tried different fats. I even made a fabulously complicated version that required a stopwatch. But in the end, I cannot leave this recipe, a minor modification on the Toll House classic.

My favorite chocolate chip cookies

2 sticks of unsalted butter*
1 1/2 c. brown sugar, preferably dark
1 t. vanilla**
2 eggs
1 t. baking soda
pinch of salt
2 1/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
2 c. chocolate chips***

If you think of it, stick your butter on the counter the day before. If not, you’re going to have to wing it with the microwave — try using medium power or the defrost setting. I’m happy to tell you that as long as you don’t totally melt the butter, it seems to work out fine even if you go a little past the “softened” stage. Now would also be a good time to preheat your oven to 375 F.

Add the brown sugar to the butter in a big bowl and mix them, smooshing up the butter with the back of the spoon until they’re thoroughly blended.

Add the vanilla and the eggs. The stirring will go a little more easily if you do the eggs one at a time.

Add the baking soda, salt, and flour, and mix carefully until it turns into cookie dough. Mmm. You may now begin tasting.

cookie dough

Finally, stir in the chocolate chips. I always taste at this stage because I’m paranoid about forgetting a crucial ingredient. (We won’t discuss the time I made flourless cookies, right? Right.)

Scoop the cookies onto ungreased cookie sheets. You want the balls of dough to be about 1 1/2 inches across, with enough room to spread while cooking. Put them in the oven and set a timer. If you have two sheets in the oven, I strongly recommend setting it for four minutes and then rotating them; otherwise you can set it for eight.

This is the secret: after eight minutes, turn your oven light on and watch obsessively. The cookies will be puffy, and then evenutally (probably around 9 or 10 minutes), they’ll drop and flatten out a bit. The minute they do this, whisk them out of the oven! Overbaking is the mortal enemy of the perfect chocolate chip cookie.

You might need to give them a minute to set up after taking them out of the oven, but move them to a cooling rack pretty quickly. Try to remember that if you eat them right now you will burn your tongue on the chocolate.

(I often make one sheet of cookies and freeze the rest of the dough, either in a plastic-wrapped log or in a muffin tin. If you go with the muffin tin, pop them out once they’re solid and store them in a ziploc bag. Cookies on demand!)

*If what you have is salted butter, do not let it hold you back from your cookies. Just use a small pinch of salt later on.

**I am utterly loyal to the fantastic vanilla from Penzeys. If you’re using a grocery store kind, you might want to let a little spill over the edge when you’re measuring.

***I use actual Nestle Toll House chips 95% of the time. If you want to use a different kind, I recommend ones that are roughly that shape — bigger chips or chunks change the cookie-to-chocolate ratio.

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I love fall vegetables.  A lot.

roasted squash

So when I came across this recipe for a warm salad (warm!) with chickpeas, butternut squash, and tahini dressing, I was pretty much instantly sold. It’s lovely as soon as it’s done, and it’s still lovely zapped in the microwave for lunch a day or two later.

Warm chickpea and butternut squash salad
Adapted from Orangette

For the salad:
1 medium butternut squash (two or three pounds)
2 t. crushed garlic*
½ t. ground allspice
2 T. olive oil
Salt
2 cups of chickpeas (or one 15-oz can, drained and rinsed)
1/4 of a red onion

For tahini sauce:
1 t. crushed garlic
3 T. lemon juice
3 T. tahini (be sure to stir before measuring!)
2 T. water
4 T. good olive oil, plus more to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Peel the squash, then slice it in half and scoop out the seeds. Chop it into cubes that are about 3/4 of an inch across. It’s a good idea to keep the size as uniform as you can here — otherwise the little chunks dissolve into mush before the big ones are cooked through!

In a big bowl, combine the squash, garlic, allspice, olive oil, and a good pinch or two of salt. Toss with a spoon or your hands until the squash pieces are evenly coated. Turn them out into a rimmed baking sheet or pan, spreading into a single layer. (Mine all fit in a 9×13 baking dish, but it’s fine to use two pans if needed.) Bake for 20ish minutes, stirring once halfway through, until it’s easy to get a toothpick all the way through the squash pieces.

Meanwhile, take the onion and cut it up into really, really tiny pieces, and make the tahini sauce. For the sauce, put the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and water in a bowl, and mix with a whisk or a fork. Then add 2-3 T of olive oil, and taste. If it tastes bitter — sometimes tahini does! — add a bit more oil and another pinch of salt. (This is also really good as a salad dressing, so don’t hesitate to make extra if you have more tahini around.)

To assemble the salad, mix the roasted squash with the chickpeas and onion in a big bowl, and add tahini sauce until it’s all coated lightly. (This won’t be all the sauce

*I use the stuff in a jar from Trader Joe’s all the time — not to be confused with the chopped garlic you can get at the grocery store, which is horrible! — but you can also put fresh garlic through a press.

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