Sunday, June 14, 2009

Summer Sunday breakfast crepes

I've been watching a lot of Jacques Pepin lately and am in love with all things French. These crepes are perfect for a lazy Sunday breakfast - the sweetness of summer blackberries, the sunny tang of lemon... Couldn't be nicer. The only trick to these is timing. Everything cooks pretty quickly, and the custard sauce needs undivided attention to avoid lumps. Do it in the order below, and you should be golden.

Start to finish: About 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

Summer Sunday Breakfast Crepes

2 pints blackberries
Sugar to taste (about 1-2 teaspoons)
Lemon custard sauce:
1 cup heavy cream
zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
4 egg yolks
1/4 - 1/3 cup sugar (depending on your sweet tooth)
1 1/4 cups skim milk (or milk thinned with water)
1 cup flour
2 eggs
2 tablespoons melted butter
Additional butter or cooking spray for cooking

  1. Rinse the blackberries. Place in a saucepan with just the water that clings to the berries. Sprinkle with sugar to taste. Cover and place over low heat. These will simmer while you make everything else.
  2. Begin the custard sauce. Put cream and lemon zest in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Heat it just until you see bubbles - you should still be able to test the temperature with your finger without getting burned.
  3. While the cream mixture is heating, beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale yellow. Slowly pour about half of the heated cream mixture into the eggs, whisking continuously. (This is where you will get lumps in the custard if you pour in the cream too fast. Lumps aren't attractive, but they don't affect the taste.) Pour the egg mixture back into the rest of the cream, whisking continuously. Cook the custard mixture until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon without dripping (about 2-3 minutes). Remove the custard sauce from the heat and set aside to cool - it should be about room temperature when it's served.
  4. Check your blackberries to make sure they're not dry or cooking down too much. If they are, remove them from the heat, but keep them covered so they stay warm.
  5. Start the crepes. This takes the longest, because they can only be done one at a time. Keep crepes warm while you finish the batch by putting them on a plate over simmering water, and cover with another plate. Put all the crepe ingredients in a blender and mix for a few seconds. The batter will be about the consistency of cream.
  6. Put a 6-inch skillet over medium heat. When the skillet is hot enough to make water sizzle when dripped on it, coat the pan lightly with butter. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of batter quickly into the skillet, and then tilt the pan to cover the bottom with the batter. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until lightly browned, then flip the crepe to brown the other side. Crepes are pretty sturdy and should stay together as you do this. Complete the batch, keeping finished crepes warm. You should have 8 crepes when you're finished.
  7. Fold crepes into quarters and plate. Spoon on warm blackberries, and cover with lemon custard sauce. A mint sprig makes a nice finishing touch.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Havanuther Cookies

I firmly believe that the world needs cookies. In fact, I think there's a good chance that if the Israelis and Palestinians would just sit down together over a warm plate of Tollhouse's best, they could work out all their problems. These bite-sized beauties are my homage to the Schoolyard Oatmeal Cookies found in Table for Two. They're just sweet enough, just chewy enough, just spicy enough, and more or less guilt-free.

Start to finish: 45 minutes
Yield: 16-24 cookies

Havanuther Cookies
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup millet
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup brown rice syrup (or other liquid sweetener)
4 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla

1/3-1/2 cup dried cranberries
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a cookie sheet with cooking spray, or line with parchment.
  2. Mix all the dry ingredients together.
  3. In a small bowl, mix all the wet ingredients together, and then stir into the dry ingredients. The dough will be quite thick and stiff.
  4. Stir in the dried cranberries.
  5. Drop by rounded teaspoons or tablespoons onto prepared cookie sheet. (Teaspoons will give you roughly 2 dozen bite-sized cookies; tablespoons will give you about 16 two-bite cookies.)
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the tops are golden.
Note: You can add walnuts, almonds, etc., if you like. Just cut back on the amount of dried cranberries.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Shameless Smoothie

Now that the weather's turning a little warmer, I've started thinking again about making food that's raw and cooling. This morning I made up a smoothie that was simply delicious. Granted, smoothies are not rocket science, but this was too good not to share. (It's "shameless" because you needn't have any shame eating this healthy, tasty treat.)

Yield: 1 serving
Start to finish: Less than 5 minutes

Shameless Smoothie
1/2 cup yogurt "cheese" (see below for directions)
1 organic banana
1/2 cup frozen organic blueberries (or fresh, but I like a little frostiness)
1 tablespoon wheat germ
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  1. Put everything in a blender and blend until smooth.
Yogurt Cheese
This is my new favorite treat, also known as Greek-style yogurt, made by draining off the whey in yogurt. It's thicker and creamier than regular yogurt, makes a great bagel spread, and can be used as a substitute for sour cream or cream cheese in dips, baking...whatever you want! The cheese I used for my smoothie was made with Nancy's Organic Vanilla, but it works just as well with plain or any other flavor you want.
  1. Line a colander with cheesecloth or coffee filters.
  2. Place it in a bowl or dish. You may want to put it on top of another bowl turned upside-down, because you'll be draining off liquid, and you don't want the contents in the colander to sit in the liquid.
  3. Pour yogurt into the lined colander. Use any amount you want -- just be aware that the amount of "cheese" you're left with will be 1/3 to 1/2 less than the amount of yogurt you started with.
  4. Put the whole assembly into the refrigerator to drain overnight.
  5. In the morning, you'll have yogurt "cheese" and some amount of clear, pale yellow liquid that has drained off. The liquid is the whey and can be used as a substitute for water when making bread to add a little protein and smooth out the texture. (You can freeze it to use later if you're not going to use it in a day or two.) Apparently you can also make your own ricotta cheese with it, but that seems like more trouble than it's worth.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Eggplant Cannelloni

I spent years avoiding eggplant as a mushy, tasteless waste of my culinary time. It turns out I had simply never had it done well. Eggplant is incredibly versatile, and it soaks up flavors beautifully. This dish does take some prep time (so it might be better for a weekend, which is when I typically make it), but it's well worth the effort. Serve it with a tossed green salad for a satisfying, low-cal meal.

*This version is vegan, but you could easily throw in some ground beef or sausage for a nonvegan version.

Start to finish: About an hour and a half
Yield: 4 servings

Eggplant Cannelloni

1 medium-large eggplant
1 onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups spinach, chopped
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1/2 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 jar pasta sauce (about 2 cups - I like to use roasted garlic, but any flavor will work)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Trim the ends off the eggplant. Peel it and slice it lengthwise into roughly 1/4 inch slices.
  3. Lay the sliced eggplant on plates, a baking dish, or in a colander and sprinkle generously with salt. Let sit for 20-30 minutes. (This will draw some of the extra moisture out of the eggplant. You could skip this step, but I like the texture better this way.) Rinse the salt off, and then squeeze the eggplant slices to release even more moisture. Don't worry about smashing them -- they're resilient.
  4. Spray a baking dish or sheet with cooking spray. Place the eggplant slices in a single layer on the sheet and bake for 20 minutes, until the slices are flexible.
  5. While the eggplant is cooking, saute the onion and garlic in a little olive oil or cooking spray, until the onion is soft. Add the broth and spinach and cook uncovered until the spinach has wilted and the broth has cooked away.
  6. Remove the eggplant from the oven. Spoon a little of the filling mixture onto each slice, and then roll up slices.
  7. Put enough tomato sauce in a baking dish to cover the bottom. Place rolled eggplant cannelloni, seam-side down, in the dish. Cover the cannelloni with additional sauce. (Feel free to sprinkle with cheese or bread crumbs at this point.)
  8. Bake the cannelloni for another 30 minutes. Serve with a green salad, crusty bread, and a nice red wine.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Field Stuff Soup

This is my new favorite soup of the moment, adapted from a recipe at the fantastic Fatfree Vegan Kitchen blog. The things I changed from the original were based mostly on what was in my kitchen and not on any serious culinary aesthetic, but I really like the way it turned out. It takes about an hour to make, but you can be somewhere else for all but about 5 minutes of that. As an added bonus, it's incredibly good for you!

Start to finish: 60 minutes
Yield: 6 servings

Field Stuff Soup
1 medium onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 package frozen baby lima beans
1/2 bunch kale, stems removed and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 package sliced baby portabella mushrooms (about 6 oz)
1/4 cup wild rice
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed (or 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon soy sauce
salt to taste
  1. Heat a large soup pot. Spray with cooking spray, and saute onions until they begin to brown (about 6 minutes). Add the celery and garlic and cook for another couple of minutes, until the garlic is fragrant.
  2. Add the broth, water, and lima beans to the pot and bring to a boil.
  3. Add all the remaining ingredients, bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the beans and wild rice are done, 45-55 minutes.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Chicken Tortilla Soup

This is my friend Danette's "easiest and favorite" recipe. It's perfect for nights when you need dinner in a hurry, and it's a great way to use up some leftover chicken. If you don't have leftovers, buy one of those precooked rotisserie chickens to save yourself time.

Start to finish: 15 minutes
Yield: 2 servings

Chicken Tortilla Soup
1 can cream of chicken soup (fat free or lowfat)
1 can Campbell's Fiesta Nacho Cheese soup
1 can green enchilada sauce (10 oz, not the little one)
1 can chopped green chilies (4 oz)
1 soup can milk (less if you like your soup thicker)
1 chicken breast (boneless/skinless) cooked and shredded
  1. Combine everything in a saucepan and cook until hot, being careful not to burn because of the milk. For some reason, the longer the soup is cooked, it seems like the spicier it can get.
  2. Toss in anything extra you have lying around -- frozen corn, a can of diced tomatoes, black beans, etc. Top it off with tortilla chips "crackers."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chana Masala (Curried Chickpeas and Spinach)

It's still freezing. We're trapped beneath a winter inversion that keeps our valley skies gray and damp, and I can't seem to find socks thick enough to keep my feet warm. Definitely time to spice things up with a little Indian food. I had some garbanzo beans and spinach that I needed to use up, and this savory Punjabi dish was just the ticket. I don't remember where I found this recipe, but it's awesome. Serve it over rice, or be really authentic and scoop it up with chapatis.

*Note: This is a nonfat, medium-spice version. For richer and spicier options, see notes at the end.

Start to finish: 20 minutes
Yield: 2 servings (doubles, triples, etc., easily)

Chana Masala
Cooking spray
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 can garbanzo beans, with liquid
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon curry powder**
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garam masala***
1 large bunch spinach (about 2 cups)
Salt to taste
  1. In a medium saucepan or skillet, saute the onion and garlic in cooking spray until the onion is soft and beginning to brown.
  2. Add the beans in their liquid, lemon juice, and spices. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the beans are soft. (The sauce will cook down and thicken up.)
  3. Turn off the heat, add the spinach to the pan, and cover again. Let the spinach wilt (about 3 minutes).
  4. Add salt to taste. Be sure to taste it first, though -- the bean liquid makes it plenty salty enough for me.
  5. Serve over rice, on its own, with Indian bread, as a side dish... It's terrific no matter how you eat it!
*Variations: For a richer dish, use 3 tablespoons of olive oil instead of cooking spray. For a spicier dish, add cayenne pepper to taste.

**Curry powder is available in the spice section at pretty much every store, but the quality and flavor varies tremendously. I made my own by mixing 2 tablespoons of cumin, 2 tablespoons of coriander, 2 teaspoons of turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon ground mustard, and 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger.

***Garam masala is a North Indian spice mixture and should be available in the spice section of most grocery stores. Like most ground spices, it loses some of its flavor and aroma within a few months, so buy it in the smallest quantities possible unless you cook a lot of Indian food.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Veganazi Soup

It's cold and clammy and cloudy here today -- perfect soup weather. I dug into my refrigerator and pantry to see what I had, and this is what I came up with. Although there was very little plan involved, and I was basically just using things up, it turned out really well. Fair warning: The measurements are gross approximations, because I just tossed things into the pot. This would probably go really well with Treehugger Bread. For a non-vegan version, throw in some sliced sausage.

Start to finish: 30 minutes
Servings: 6-8

Veganazi Soup
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic
8 cups water
1 can tomato paste with basil, oregano, and garlic
1 can tomato sauce (no salt added)
2 bay leaves
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 carrots, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 bunch kale, leaves removed from ribs and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 can Great Northern, navy, or cannellini beans, with liquid
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a stock pot, saute the onion and garlic in cooking spray until softened.
  2. Add water, tomato paste, and tomato sauce.
  3. Add everything else.
  4. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the kale has softened. (It's a tough green and takes longer than most.)
  5. Remove the bay leaves, ladle up, and enjoy.
*Note: I also added about half a can of garbanzo beans and some meatless meatballs that I had on hand, just because I needed to use them. The beans were fine, but the "meatballs" didn't add much. This would be tasty with sliced sausage (pork, chicken, turkey, whatever).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Pasta e Fagioli

This recipe is from Shannon, one of my oldest friends and one of the best cooks around. She's also insanely busy, with one husband, three kids, one dog, and a million responsibilities. This is her version of a fantastic weeknight soup.

Start to finish: About 30 minutes
Yield: 6 servings

Pasta e Fagioli
1 lb. ground beef
3 stalks celery, sliced
1/2 large onion, fine dice
1 cup shredded carrots
8 cups chicken stock
1 jar spaghetti sauce
1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup macaroni
crushed red pepper flakes to taste, if desired
  1. Brown ground beef, celery and onion until meat is no longer pink. Drain.
  2. Bring chicken stock to simmer. Add meat mixture, spaghetti sauce, beans and macaroni. Simmer until mac is al dente.
  3. Add red pepper flakes if you want. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.
  4. Serve with garlic toast. Yum!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Treehugger Bread

I'm not a baker. I don't understand the chemistry behind it (and true bakers can go on and on about that), and I don't usually have the time to indulge in it. Nonetheless, carbs are my downfall, and this bread is likely to become a staple at my house. I modified it from a bread machine recipe I found at and was delighted when it turned out absolutely perfect. Bread seems hard, but don't let the mysterious terminology and long preparation times scare you off -- even bread that doesn't turn out quite right will probably still taste terrific. Of course, if you have a bread machine, just toss everything into it and go.

Start to finish: About 2 hours
Yield: 2 pounds

Treehugger Bread
1 1/3 cups warm water (about 110 degrees)
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
3 tablespoons dry milk powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 egg
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 cups bread flour (use bread flour, not all purpose - there's some chemical reason)
3/4 cup multigrain hot cereal (I use Bob's Red Mill 8 Grain)
  1. Dissolve the honey in the warm water. I usually use water as hot as it will come out of the tap, because it will cool down to the desired temperature as it's dissolving the honey.
  2. Add the yeast to the honey/water mixture and let it proof. (That just means to go away for about 10 minutes and let it get all bubbly while you're gone. If it doesn't get bubbly and smell like bread, your yeast is bad, and you'll need to start over.)
  3. Stir the milk powder, oil, egg, and salt together. Add this to the proofed yeast.
  4. Add the whole wheat flour, 2 cups of the bread flour, and the multigrain cereal to the yeast mixture. Stir it together. I don't have a magic technique for this. Just stir it up. It will be quite sticky at this point. Add more bread flour, about 1/4 cup at a time, until the mixture isn't sticky anymore. I find it's easiest to judge this if I mix it with my hands. You'll probably need at least 1/2 cup more flour, and maybe a full cup, but it varies depending on humidity, what your yeast did, the phase of the moon...
  5. At this point you should have a nice ball of nonsticky dough that pulls together. Pour a little vegetable oil down the sides of the bowl you've been working in, and swirl it around so that it's evenly distributed. Turn your ball of dough over in the bowl once or twice to coat it with oil, then cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel and set it aside for a moment.
  6. Let the dough rise until it's doubled in size (about 30 minutes). I put the bowl with the dough in a cold oven, along with a kettle of boiling water. The temperature and humidity in the oven seem to help dough rise perfectly.
  7. When the dough has doubled, punch it down to its previous size again. Spray two 1-pound loaf pans with cooking spray. Divide the dough in half, shape each half into loaf shape, and put one in each pan.
  8. Let the dough rise a second time until doubled in size (about 30 minutes). I put the pans with the dough on them on top of the stove while I preheat the oven for baking (375 degrees).
  9. When the dough has reached the top of the loaf pans, put the pans in a 375 degree oven. Cook for 20 minutes. They should be nice and golden brown by this point. If they're not, give them another 5 minutes.
  10. Brush the tops of finished loaves with melted butter to keep the crusts soft. Remove the loaves from the pans, let them cool, and enjoy! (Or eat half a loaf almost immediately, like I did.)


The temperature here didn't quite hit freezing yesterday, which definitely called for soup. This is a traditional Greek soup (avgo = egg, lemono = lemon), but all of the ingredients can be purchased ready to dump in the pot. It has a light and delicate flavor - perfect for post-holiday penance. I might add just a dash of cumin next time.

The only tricky part is adding the egg. Just make sure you keep stirring, or you'll wind up with egg drop soup.

Start to finish: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

4 cups chicken broth
1 can garbanzo beans (undrained)
1/3 cup white rice or orzo
1 cup shredded carrots
2 eggs
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 bag baby spinach
salt and pepper to taste
  1. Combine the broth, garbanzo beans with their liquid, and rice in a stock pot. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Stir in the carrots. Reduce the heat to a gentle boil. Cover and cook until the rice is tender but not mushy (about 10 minutes).
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Add the lemon juice, and stir to combine. It will be opaque, smooth, and not very eggy looking at this point.
  4. This is the tricky part. Ladle 1/2 cup of the broth into the eggs. Stir immediately so the egg doesn't set. Pour the egg mixture into the soup pot, stirring continuously as you do.
  5. Remove the pot from the heat and add the spinach. Stir until it wilts, which should be right away.
  6. Serve immediately with some nice bread for dipping.
*Note: Like any soup with spinach, unless you like it slimy you might want to add spinach to individual bowls if it won't all be eaten at once.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Bacon, Lettuce, and Potato

My mom invented this years ago as a way to get dinner on the table in minutes. It sounds strange, but it was always one of our family's favorite weeknight dinners. I suppose you could make mashed potatoes for this, but it's much faster (and more in the spirit of the meal) to use leftovers, instant, or those frozen ones. I should warn you -- this isn't so much a recipe as a procedure.

Start to finish: 15 minutes
Servings: Varies

Bacon, Lettuce, and Potato
leftover mashed potatoes
bagged salad greens
crumbled bacon, or bacon bits
Italian salad dressing (I prefer Newman's Own for this)
  1. Heat up your mashed potatoes.
  2. In a separate bowl, toss salad greens and bacon with Italian dressing. You could also add tomatoes and green onions, but why bother chopping anything?
  3. Heap potatoes on a plate, and put the salad mix on top of them.
  4. Try to get some warm potatoes and cool salad with each forkful.
*Note: I justify eating at Wendy's on occasion by ordering a Caesar side salad and dumping it on top of a plain baked potato for basically this same effect.