Something exciting happened today. Those of you with dehydrators at home will be thoroughly unimpressed, but for those of us without (and I'll admit I'm now tempted to buy one, but I am in clearing-out mode, damnit, and already have far too many kitchen contraptions), this is pretty rad.
I made fruit leather. Myself. And so can you. All you need is fruit, and an oven. And if you're kitchen contraption-equipped, a handheld immersion blender makes for a nice accessory to this project.
Here's what you do:
1. Pick your fruit. As in literally, or as in choose and purchase some. Texas happens to offer precious little in the pick-your-own department; we go hog-wild when we travel Northeast or Northwest in the summer months, picking buckets of blueberries, strawberries and blackberries and then eating ourselves sick because we can't possibly bring them home. But right now, for about five minutes, it's strawberry season here in Tejas. We plan to go picking this coming Saturday, but in the meantime I bought five pints of beautiful, organic, fresh-picked berries at the farmer's market this past weekend. Why so many? Because we eat a lot of berries around here. And I had big, fancy plans for this batch.
2. Chop your berries (two pints is a good starting point, but you could certainly work with more) into small pieces and place in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until your mixture's simmering and looking a bit soupy. Stir here and there for another five to ten minutes, pressing occasionally on the berries with a slotted spoon (or any spoon) to help release the juices. You want these to simmer gently but not to burn, so use your best judgment and turn the heat down if necessary. This step made my kitchen smell exactly the way I remember my childhood home smelling when my mom made strawberry jam. Divine.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool for a little while. Pre-heat your oven to 175 degrees Fehrenheit, and line a rimmed baking pan with parchment paper. (I keep it real and non-toxic with this stuff
4. If you have a handheld immersion blender, go ahead and immersion-blend your berry mixture so it's nice and smooth. If you don't have an immersion blender, mash your mixture with whatever you can -- a food mill, a small seive, or a potato-masher, fork, or whatever.
5. Pour your berry mixture onto the parchment paper and spread it out so it's uniformly about 1/4 inch thick. If you've filled the parchment and have some mixture left over in the pan, save it in the fridge and make a second batch when the first batch is done. Or line another baking sheet and have at it right away.
6. Put your pan into the oven and let it do its thing. Briefly opening the oven now and then will actually help keep the temperature where you'll want it -- mimicking a real dehydrator -- but I honestly didn't check mine very often at all. You'll want to check on yours after three hours at first. Poke it with a finger. If your finger breaks the thin film that's formed on the fruit leather's surface, and it's still gooey in there, keep it going in the oven for a while longer. Ovens vary, so it could be five or six hours before your leather isn't gooey inside anymore. Just make sure it doesn't burn.
7. When it's finished dehydrating and has the appearance and texture of, well, fruit leather, remove your pan from the oven. After allowing the leather to cool, cut it into strips with kitchen scissors (parchment still on), roll them up (parchment side out) and secure them with twine, rubber bands, scotch tape -- anything you have handy. The leather will keep in an airtight container for a good month, but I guarantee it won't be around that long. Kaspar, as you can see, loved this naturally-sweet, nutritious snack; had I allowed it, he'd have devoured the entire batch this very afternoon. Between the two of us, it'll be gone by tomorrow. (If Aaron wants to try some, he'd better get in there, and fast.)
And that's it. Bam! Fruit leather. Cheaper than the store-bought stuff, for sure, especially if you pick your own buckets full of berries at a local farm. I'm going to try making different flavors now that we've made a successful batch. Mango, maybe? Let me know what fruits you try!
I wrote on Parenting.com today about my approach to diet during pregnancy
; in a nutshell, so to speak, I'd thought, before becoming pregnant, I'd avoid all of the foods Kaspar's allergic to while baking baby #2. Not only did my first trimester cravings blow that plan out of the water (hello, junk food), but -- now that I'm in my second trimester, or will be tomorrow -- I'm not only feeling far more energetic, and 'normal' in general, including in terms of the foods I'm craving (hello, wholesome healthy stuff), but I've got a game plan for *hopefully* setting new-baby up for an allergy/eczema/reflux-free start. That game plan is the full GAPS diet
. Sans the nuts and wheat, the former of which is allowed on the full diet and the latter of which is allowed (in sourdough form) if no digestive problems are present... but since neither digests super easily for anyone and since both are major allergens in general, I'm just avoiding them. Easy enough. I've read the GAPS book
, which is densely packed with nutritional information; it corroborates with what I've learned over the past three years, and what's been working, overall, for Kaspar. And since we already eat nutrient-rich, real-food fare up in here, I'm only having to tweak a few things to transition into GAPS-ville. The diet basically heals and seals the gut, thus healing immune system-related health woes (of which Americans suffer many, food allergies among them). I'm planning to take Kaspar, and our family, through all of its stages once baby's here and the timing is right, but for now we're starting at the least restrictive, most nutritionally broad place -- the "full" GAPS diet -- as per the recommendation for pregnant women. Anyway, go ahead and read up via my post on Parenting, and on other blogs, like this one
. Then get to your farmer's market and into your kitchen, cuz the best part of this approach to gut-love is that you get to fill your belly with good, nourishing food.
I should mention that there's quite a bit of meat involved in the GAPS diet. I was grooving on a mostly vegan
spurt a while back, which felt light and clean in my body at the time. I think I needed to detox in a major way and sort of reset once our two years of sleep deprivation resolved to some degree, and eating tons of plant matter helped get that work done. (As did an Ayruvedic cleanse I did a short while later. I felt like a whole new person after that. Still do.) But I then found myself drawn toward meat again -- high quality, locally-sourced meat that hasn't suffered
, that is -- and whenever I get acupuncture I'm told I should be eating it regularly. (Something about building my blood.) Pregnancy only increased my desire for it. So, while it may feel like I'm somewhat all over the place on the subject, good meats remain a part of my, and our family's, diet. As far as GAPS is concerned, that's a healthful thing, especially for expecting mamas.
With that in mind, I made a recipe from the GAPS book (linked above) last night, tweaking it a little to my liking. Aaron and I have each made stuffed peppers before, but only vegetarian versions (they make for an attractive, and generally popular, veg dish). Thus, last night's version -- which were definitely not vegetarian -- were quite different than our previous renditions. They meat is flavorful, but dense. I definitely suggest eating these in a bowl with a good amount of the stock they cooked in surrounding them. I chopped mine up a bit in the stock so as to create a kind of soup, and that was delicious. I also suggest adding whatever vegetables you'd like to the meat mixture before stuffing the peppers, and some cumin. If you're eating dairy, throwing some shredded, raw cheddar cheese in with the meat mixture before cooking would also be kind of amazing... In short, these stuffed peppers are filling and tasty, but I could tell -- even at first glance -- the original recipe was written by a doctor, rather than a chef. I'm eagerly awaiting the Nourishing Traditions
cookbook, which is due to arrive at my door any day now; it's recommended by the GAPS people and boasts an index full of mouth-watering recipes. (I peeked at its back pages on Amazon.) Anyway, I've gone ahead and written out my improved (and yummy) stuffed peppers recipe below -- feel free to tweak it further. If you do, let me know what works well!
Click "Read More" below for the recipe!
Checking out the chilaquiles. Also, yes, Kaspar did wear his pajamas all day on Christmas.
Christmas morning was warm and balmy here in Austin, but by evening the temperature had dropped forty degrees, and the wind was a-howlin' through the trees behind our house. Inside, we were warm, and cooking up a kickass batch of chilaquiles verdes
: interior Mexican comfort food at its very best. Not only was this meal 100% Kaspar-friendly, it was 90% made by Aaron -- a nice treat for me in and of itself. I don't believe chilaquiles are traditionally designated as celebratory fare -- in fact, I think they were initially a breakfast food -- but I'm gonna play my Texan card and call them exactly that: this here is holiday eating. Christmas Chilaquiles will certainly be a tradition at our table from here on out, anyway.
Of course, Christmas (and the end of time
) has come and gone, but you don't have to wait until next year to rock this recipe. Or maybe you should -- I can definitely see these impressing your brunch guests this coming New Year's Day. (Because what better food for a New Year's brunch than a breakfast-turned-dinner dish a little bit of kick to it, hmmm?) Whether you want to fake some fancy (shhh: these are easy
to make) or just see your picky eaters clean their plates on a regular weeknight, I recommend chilaquiles. For everything. And everyone. Vamos a celebrar!
Click "Read More" below for the recipe.
Any food that promises to prepare itself to perfection when left alone for the day -- or, even better, overnight -- is a sure winner in my book. Yogurt was my first foray into this realm of (seemingly) magical cooking, and my slow-cooker's gotten lots of use ever since, rockin' not only raw milk yogurt
for the little dude, but also many a vegan
dinner for our family this fall, and thus allowing me a clean kitchen and plenty of fully-focused kiddo time in the evenings before dinner. I do love to cook, but -- like work, marriage stuff and everything else in my life -- having a kiddo in the mix has inspired some creativity and shifting around, if not in terms of priorities than certainly in terms of timing. Night hours are often best for working, date "nights" are sometimes most doable at midday, and cooking dinner -- thanks to my slow cooker and this book
-- is sometimes most viable (and enjoyable) first thing in the morning. Aaron takes Kaspar off to school, and I pull up Pandora (Cat Power station) on the iPod and get to making a happy, meditative mess in the kitchen
. By 10 a.m., dinner's doing its thing, the mess is cleaned up, and I'm punching in at the office
Besides the timing tricks slow cooking allows, I'm fascinated with foods that co-create themselves by way of natural processes (yogurt's one of them, since its cultured); they have a certain allure and mystery. I've made simple pickles in the past, and plan to experiment further with fermented foods (kombucha and sauerkraut, here I come) in the near future. And for some time now -- despite various failed attempts -- I've also been determined to turn out a good loaf of yeasted bread.
I've wanted to make a 100% whole wheat bread, but my loaves always ended up with the consistency of dense bricks, and tasting of cardboard. Aaron -- a seasoned bread-baker himself, although he hasn't made any in a while -- suggested I start with a simple white bread recipe, which would be more forgiving, and then take my new skills up a notch by introducing heartier grains. Too stubborn to compromise, I did study up on the subject a bit, by way of The Tassajara Bread Book
and The Complete Tassajara Cookbook
, by the now-famous zen chef Edward Espe Brown. (I also recommend this documentary
about Brown. Good stuff.) I realized that my past attempts have failed because I used water that was too warm, and thus killed the yeast at step one. I also used recipes that called partially for white flour, but used whole wheat instead; these recipes weren't designed to make a good loaf of 100% whole wheat.
Brown's basic bread-baking tips corrected my too-warm water mistake -- easy enough to fix going forward -- and his (very basic and easy) recipe for Overnight Whole Wheat Bread -- made of just whole wheat flour, yeast and water -- promised a semi-sourdough taste without the trouble of a sourdough starter. And its title offered the instant appeal of bread-making while we slept.
As it turned out, although there is an overnight component to this bread's creation, a substantial part of my Sunday was also spent attending to its subsequent steps. Like most yeasted breads, the hands-on time wasn't all that intense, but I had to be around for several rises and to put the bread in -- and take it out (ahhhh) -- of the oven. This might have been tricky on a week day, since I'm in and out of the house, but it was fine for a Sunday. We were kind of just kicking around anyway, relaxing after the eventful week before (my birthday was last Monday -- woot! -- and Thanksgiving of course quickly followed), and it was nice to attend to bread baking at the same lazy pace, and likewise to do our down-time thing against an olfactory backdrop of hot bread in the oven. (That Kaspar couldn't eat the results, due to his wheat and gluten allergies, was not really a big deal. I do plan to bake some bread with the same flour blend I use for his chocolate chip cookies
, though, now that I'm getting the hang of this thing.) As for the actual results, the bread was substantial without being brick-like in the least, and it tasted amazing. Mission accomplished!
Before going out for my birthday dinner (Aaron wined and dined me while K stayed home with a sitter)
I used substantially more flour than Brown's recipe called for, since my dough was super sticky. I've modified the proportions below to reflect this, but when you do this at home, add about a half a cup of flour at a time as you're kneading, and stop adding the flour when your dough forms a smooth and pliable ball, instead of caking itself in sticky globs onto your hands and work surface.
Here's what you'll need:
1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups warm water (just barely above body temperature will be perfect)
1/2 cup warm water (again, just barely warm to the touch)
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
5-ish cups whole wheat flour
What you'll do:
Evening: Dissolve the yeast in the water, and stir together (in a large bowl) with the flour, about 100 times. Cover with a clean, dry dish towel and set it aside until morning.
1. Dissolve the yeast in the water, and add -- with the salt and additional flour, beginning with 2 1/2 cups and slowly adding more as you go -- to your mixture from the night before.
2. Turn out onto a floured work surface, and knead your dough, adding more flour as necessary so it isn't sticking to everything (see note above).
3. Knead your dough about 300 times (no need to count). Place the kneaded ball into an oiled bowl, and let rise for 3 to 4 hours.
4. Shape dough into 2 loaves, and place them either in oiled loaf pans, or on an oiled baking sheet. Brush the tops of the loaves with water, and let rise for another hour.
5. About 15 minutes before baking (so 45 minutes after step 4), preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
6. Brush the tops of the loaves with water again -- I actually used a bit of coconut oil, and next time may add some garlic and herbs to olive oil and use that -- and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until the loaves are browned on bottom and top. (I went for the full hour, and they were perfect.)
7. Remove from oven, slice, top with coconut butter (current addiction), and enjoy!
I finally created a chocolate chip cookie Kaspar can eat. (In *almost* a single mouthful. Wow.)
Click "Read More" below for the recipe!
We received a bunch of tomatillos and chiles in our CSA box this week, and made this delicious salsa with dinner this evening.Thought I'd share it with you as an early 4th of July present, so you can bring the big guns to your friendly neighborhood BBQ. Also experimenting with a giant font even my grandma could read. Let me know what you think! Food and font. Have at 'em.
1. Toss (about) 2 cups husked, sliced tomatillos, 2 whole cloves of garlic and 2 to 3 whole serrano chiles into a skillet. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until tomatillos are soft.
2. Remove chiles and garlic from pan. Thinly slice chiles, and remove garlic from skin (just squeeze it out). Grind both ingredients with a mortar and pestle until they form a paste.
(Don't you love it when men cook?)
3. Mix chile/garlic paste, tomatillos and the juice from 1 lime in a medium bowl. Add 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped, and a handful of chopped fresh cilantro. Salt to taste. Serve with tortilla chips, as a sauce over grilled chicken, or in any way that strikes your fancy.
Happy Birthday, America! Here's to a future of healthcare, and happiness, for all.
We received a bag of green, unripened tomatoes in our CSA box
this week (our membership
truly is the gift that keeps on giving), and I knew immediately that I’d soon expand my Southern cooking repertoire to include the famed classic, Fried Green Tomatoes. I thumbed through a few cookbooks and dove in this morning -- mixing, dredging and cookin’ up a sizzling batch. They were... awesome (Kaspar can't eat them yet, though, so... shhh). Served alongside eggs -- also from our CSA -- and sprouted corn tortillas, the fried tomatoes were the meal’s indisputable front-runner. Surprisingly sweet and tender, with a light, crisped coating, they disappeared almost as quickly as I'd made them.
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I can’t wait to show off my new signature breakfast showstopper for guests from farther North. Not to mention work these little wonders into other meals; they’ll be right at home on a bed of greens, complemented by crumbled goat cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette. I have no doubt I’ll be eating them solo all summer, too, as a satisfying snack. I’m in love – love, I tell you – with fried green tomatoes, every which way.
Wanna know what love tastes like? Have at it. Recipe follows.
Click "Read More" below for the recipe.
Kitchari is an Ayurvedic staple; it’s simple to prepare, balancing to all three doshas, and lends itself to endless interpretations (just Google it; you’ll see what I mean). It’s also classically enjoyed for its detoxifying properties, which makes spring the perfect season to get to know this dish. I love me some fresh juice
and all, but cleansing my system with liquids (or veggies) alone leaves me feeling light-headed and less-than-awesome if I attempt it for longer than a couple of days. Kitchari—a one-dish, complete protein powerhouse of a meal—provides that grounding, stick-to-the-ribs (but not to the thighs) food my body craves daily, even when detoxifying. It’s also super tasty in a homestyle, hubby-approved kind of way that merits serving on regular weeknights. So, in honor of spring’s enthusiastic arrival (it was eighty-two degrees here today!), let the cleaning— by which I mean cooking—begin.
Click "Read More" below for the recipe!
Aaron and I first visited Austin not too long after we first started dating. Tasting the food here was my number one priority during that trip. He’d accompanied me on a snowboarding vacation in New Hampshire the previous winter (and had been really quite offended by the food in a Mexican restaurant there), so now it was my turn to get a look at-- and taste of—his hometown. My Texan friend’s passion for the food from cowboy country had kept my curiosity piqued for several years, so when Aaron and I planned our first voyage here together I told him point-blank that I intended to eat Tex-Mex, barbeque, or real Texan chili at least once during every day of our vacation. We did eat some incredible food (one’s first real Texan tacos awaken the palate to worlds of possibility as yet unimagined), but I soon realized that the Lonestar State's hearty, heavy, lard-laden cuisine is not for the faint of heart. I needed a break by day four, wanting only salad and a chance for my arteries to recover.
Now that I live here, I’ve continued to embrace all of those staple Texan dishes my homesick friend dreamed of, but I’m also relieved and excited by the culinary diversity that Austin, at least, offers. I can get my Greek kicks, satisfy a Cajun craving or enjoy a romantic dinner done just right in French Bistro fashion
. And while I do like Texan chili-- all ground beef and spices-- I still prefer to make bean chilis at home.
This one’s mild-- I made a double batch today, and gave half to friends who recently welcomed a new baby (and thus are too tired to cook)-- but robust. It’s perfect for an overcast, cool Texan January day. Good for the soul. Served with my maple-laced cornbread, crumbled in (Aaron’s style) or on the side (mine), perhaps with a simple green salad, it lets you know-- wherever you’re from, and wherever you are-- that you’re home.
Back in the Northeast, where I’m from, I had a transplanted Texan friend who’d regale me with tales of cut-throat chili competitions every time she had a drink or two in her; I was always an eager audience, having never ventured farther south myself than Washington D.C. I’d attempt to interpret her descriptions of Tex-Mex cuisine based only on my limited exposure, via New England’s “Mexican” restaurants, to hard-shelled tacos stuffed with ground beef, shredded iceberg lettuce and watery tomatoes. I made mental notes to never again refer to grilling as “barbeque.” And when it came to the chili, it was clear my friend could recall-- with vivid accuracy-- the variations in tastes and textures that her fellow Texans take such pride in, but I was as confused as I was entranced by her descriptions. She rattled off the names of peppers, hotter by the second, and I wondered what kind of chili could possibly exclude beans.
Click "Read More" below for the recipes!
This recipe offers a different twist on the rolled sugar Christmas cookies many of us grew up with, without compromising any fun rolling (and cookie-cutting) action. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with traditional sugar cookies, but I’ve landed on something worth keeping here— a new generation of cookies, destined for greatness. I brought a batch to the office (what’s up, 2 Park?!) a couple of years ago, and they disappeared from the communal treat-table within an hour. Now the batch I made last night hasn’t lasted 24; between Aaron, a few friends who’ve passed through, and myself, only one cookie remains. Uh oh. We have friends coming over tomorrow afternoon, and then we're heading to a party in the evening… empty-handed… unless I bake more of these little winter wonders.
I think I’ll do just that.
And guess what. You can, too! And you should! Besides tasting downright awesome, these cookies are 100% whole grain. I do make them with sugar (rather than brown rice syrup or another alternative… let me know if you play around and come up with one that works), but I use coconut oil in the dough and the frosting. And in some camps, that stuff is regarded as tapped from the tree of life. Plus, it lends a light coconut-y edge to the citrus and spice flavors already at play. Yum.
Click "Read More" below for the recipe, and a peek at an alternative, equally stylin' icing option.