Aug 112013
 

Cutting out soy in a country that heavily subsidizes the soy crop can be a daunting task, full of not-fun and a huge swath of newly off-limits otherwise-delectable edibles. Frankly, it makes cutting out dairy seem like a walk in the park.

There’s a silver lining here though, and that lining is that while the vast majority of mayos out there are off-limits, there’s an open season on aioli! If you’ve never had it before, imagine a mayo that actually has flavor. Aioli is decidedly the best thing ever about a soy-elimination diet, and because I had never had an excuse to make this myself, I’m actually kind of grateful to my new eating scheme, even if it means I had to give up Scharffen Berger. I’m sure that once you try this on a BLT with some of this season’s prime tomatoes, you’ll be inclined to agree with me!

The making of aioli, as with any emulsion, can go wrong if you try to mix too fast. Here’s a look at what your aioli should look like at each stage. Happy whisking to you, and happy eating!

Click for the recipe →

 Posted by on August 11, 2013 at 11:00 am
Mar 172013
 

Whole-wheat buttermilk loaf and rolls

Whole-wheat bread gets a bad rap. And that’s too bad, really, because it doesn’t (necessarily) deserve it. Especially when you consider that there are scads of bad white bread out there, but for some reason, those loaves haven’t painted all of white-bread-dom with the mark of evilness.

Is it just because bad whole-wheat bread tends to be heavy and dense? Don’t get me wrong: I’ve made several of those bricks, erm, loaves myself, but the flavor of the bread was still quite good.

I started to understand better when I took a bread class that had us making six or so different kinds of bread. One was the requisite whole-wheat loaf, and when I bit into it, I suddenly understood why some people hated whole-wheat bread: the loaf that had been made from that recipe was awful: the bread was not only dense, but was also bitter and completely unpalatable. I wish I could tell you what had gone wrong so that you could avoid those things, but I threw that recipe away, ne’er to look upon it again.

Whole-wheat buttermilk rolls set up to proof

So I’m here to tell you that if that has been your experience in whole-wheat bread-making, then I am here to rescue you. This recipe makes a loaf that is tender and almost feather-light. Its flavor is sweet yet pleasantly tangy and goes well in almost any application, be it shaped into sandwich loaves, toasted, or made into burger-buns or kaiser rolls. It’s really become my go-to recipe because though there are a handful of whole-grain bread recipes that I like as much or more (like this one or that one), this one is the most reliable and the easiest to make.

So give this recipe a chance, won’t you? I think you’ll find — like everyone I’ve introduced this bread to — that it’s a game-changer.

Whole-wheat buttermilk loaf

Click for the recipe →

Feb 102013
 

A variety of heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo

For years I had a simple dietary resolution: eat more beans. The reasons are multitudinous: they’re inexpensive, ridiculously nutritious, and are fantastic sources of protein, high-quality complex carbs, and fiber. But for a handful of reasons, I failed again and again into incorporate more legumes into my diet.

Rancho Gordo scarlet runner beans

These reasons were the same ones that I suspect keep many Americans from eating them as well: they take forever to cook; they taste lackluster; and the canned varieties, while convenient, suffer from sodium over-dose, have awful texture, and don’t have any more flavor than their home-cooked bretheren.

Rancho Gordo garbanzo beans

I continued in this well-meaning but ultimately bean-less quandary for ages until one of my food-blog-heriones well-nigh split the clouds, poured out a sunbeam, and started up a soundtrack of glorious voices. My curiosity was piqued and before long I was placing my very first order at Rancho Gordo (and having some of them shipped to my Mom, too. I’m such an enabler!).

Rancho Gordo soaked good mother stallard beans

Would it be cliche to say that these beans changed the way that I eat? Well, even if it is a tired and worn-out idiom, I don’t care: they really did change my kitchen and my diet. These heirloom beans are the answer to every single problem I cited above without rejecting any of the this-is-why-they’re-good-for-you statements above. Before long, I found myself with cooked beans always in my fridge, waiting to be eaten for any meal (including breakfast) or thrown into any soup. Rancho Gordo’s catalog boasts a dizzying variety of beautiful beans you’ve never heard of, many of them incredibly versatile. For instance: the vaquero beans are a dream in chilis, good mother stallards will make you swoon when served with a scrambled egg and toast, ultra-creamy runner cannellinis were born for soup, and borlottis are ideal in nearly any Italian application. Their garbanzos will make the best hummus you’ve ever had and Rio Zapes will sing with a squeeze of lime. Sangre del toro beans will knock your socks off in red beans and rice.

Rancho Gordo borlotti beans

It’s not very often that we Americans come across a real honest healthy food as humble as the bean that is beautiful and delicious too, so I feel compelled to share my legume epiphany with, well, everyone. Forget everything you know about grocery-store beans (which may have been in storage for about a decade; hence their miserable performance in the kitchen) and hunt down some fresh beans. Ah, but you’re worried about (ahem) the gastrointestinal distress that can accompany an indulgence in beans? Just keep eating them. Your body will get better at digesting them. I promise. And your taste-buds? They’ll be thanking you from bite one.

Rancho Gordo midnight black beans

Click for the recipe →

Jan 132013
 

Overnight apple-cran steel-cut oats

Let’s face it: very few of us have tons of time in the morning to cook breakfast. Sure, many of us would love to have a hot breakfast in the morning, but the reality is that when push comes to shove, what we actually would prefer to do is to slap the snooze button a few more times.

Until recently, breakfast was a huge priority. I would always cook something, usually involving left-over veggies scrambled into an egg with some home-made toast and beans. I would still love to be doing that because it’s an incredibly delicious, healthy, and filling breakfast, but with a baby in the house now it’s just not realistic. However, I’m not willing to turn to cereal because I just don’t like it and it’s not remotely filling.

To my happy surprise, I discovered that steel-cut oats and slow-cookers are totally BFFs. This is happy because I can make a week’s worth of healthy and flavorful breakfast for a total time investment of about five minutes, which is how long it takes me to measure everything out, chop up the apples, stir, and turn on the slow-cooker. I haven’t historically been a fan of this appliance, but something like this could totally change my mind.

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Feb 262008
 

Note: While I have decided to leave this recipe on here for posterity’s sake, I really can’t endorse it anymore. This was posted six years ago, and I’ve since decided that low-fat diets are bad juju. If I were to make it again today, I’d replace fat-substitutes (such as the applesauce) and processed fats (such as the canola/safflower oil) with whole-foods ingredients and natural fats. Vive real food! — Stacey, April 2014

Muffins get a bad rap, and none more so than bran muffins. See, regular muffins are sugar-and-oil fests, full of empty calories, and most bran muffins are healthy but, well, made of twigs. Can there be a happy medium between these two extremes?

Of course there can be! Enter my breakfast-on-the-go juggernaut, the 150% whole grain banana nut muffin! Now, you may be asking yourself how the hell something can be 150% whole grain, and here’s your answer: grains are made up of the germ, the bran, and the endosperm. White flour and other processed grains get poo-pooed (and deservedly so) because the nutritious and tasty germ and bran are removed, leaving behind the starchy endosperm which, while semantically being a complex carbohydrate, is treated by your body just like sugar, a simple carbohydrate. While most muffins are made of only white flour, this recipe is made up of whole-wheat flour (germ, bran, endosperm), oats (again, germ, bran, endosperm), wheat germ, and oat bran. Lots of good-parts-of-the-grain yumminess, see?

Muffins like ducks in a row

An astute reader like yourself may have picked up on the fact that while a couple of those ingredients are the fiber- and nutrient-rich parts of the grain, they do not in fact contain all three parts. So I guess it’s not technically whole-grain, but really, when you’re only removing the bad stuff and keeping the good stuff it’s easy to see that it has way more of the good stuff than the bad stuff, so it’s like an endosperm with twice the bran and twice the germ, and hence, 150% whole grain! Don’t argue with me on this one, I majored in math and I’ll come up with some convoluted argument to prove that It Is So.

So that’s enough science geekery, let’s stop talking nutrition and start talking yumminess!
This recipe is awesome because it manages to be low-fat without tasting overly low-fat. Yes, when you bite into these muffins you can tell that they are healthy and nutritious, but they are still wonderfully moist and flavorful. That’s because applesauce, oil’s favorite understudy, has gotten its chance to shine in this recipe, and when it teams up with the bananas you get a moist, remarkably un-twig-like consistency. When you add in things like toasted pecans, flax, raisins, and the grains, you get a complex flavor profile that keeps your tastebuds happy.

These are ideal for early-morning athletes and snooze-button-hitters since they are easy to take with you and eat, ensuring you get those morning calories your metabolism needs to function properly throughout the day. I always eat one on the way to swimming in the morning and if I think there’s a chance I won’t get to eat my daily oatmeal I always bring along a couple extra to tide me over until lunch. That’s another benefit to this muffin’s ingredients: in addition to being flavorful, they also keep you full for a long time. So what’s not to love? Skip that chemical delight breakfast you were going to grab on your way out the door and eat one of these instead!

Be wary of pretty muffins my Dad makes, but I swear these are good!

Click for the recipe →

Oct 202007
 

Like so many other things worth eating, once you’ve had homemade salad dressing you can’t go back.

I learned this lesson when I made my first batch of balsamic vinaigarette. When you buy this stuff off the shelf, it’s overly sweet, oily, bland, and one-dimensional tasting. But when you make it yourself, it’s wonderfully assertive, bold but not overpowering, subtle, and complex.

Plus, it’s super-easy to make.

Are you sold yet? Seeing the stuff in action ought to do the trick….

A simple salad of red leaf lettuce and roasted butternut squash seeds dressed with basalmic vinaigrette
Nikon D50

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Jun 282007
 

Bread-baking has become a bit of an obsession of mine. As I mentioned in my writeup for The Herbed Bird, I started doing it around Thanksgiving when I got really, really tired of store-bought bread and realized that I could probably do a much better job myself.

Well, I turned out to be right. Since I had never kneaded before and didn’t have anyone to show me how to do it, it took me a couple of months to really figure out what the heck I was doing. My first couple of loaves were, well, bricks, but they were much better tasting bricks than the stuff you buy from the grocery store! I probably wasn’t doing myself any favors by skipping the refined flour either — ask just about anyone who bakes bread and they’ll tell you that whole wheat bread is much more difficult to make. I didn’t care — I was going to make delicious whole wheat bread and that was final.

I did see many improvements in my bread over time, as my mom came to visit and showed me how to knead, as I read more on the subject, and finally, as I bought the cookbook that taught me just about everything that matters about whole-grain bread baking, Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book. The acquisition of my Kitchen Aid stand mixer might have something to do with it too. Once all that came together, I started making what I would consider very good bread.

Basic whole-wheat bread

About a month ago though, I started making what I would call outstanding bread. I credit this entirely to the low temperatures long-rise method outlined in the book mentioned above. By letting the dough ferment for 24 hours instead of the usual 3, you get incredibly light dough whose flavors have developed marvelously without any of that sour taste that is so often found in bread. Let me assure you that you do not need to stuff two teaspoons of yeast into your dough to get your loaf to rise! I also find it much easier to fit this rising-deflating pattern into my daily life. I can make bread any day of the week with this method because I do not need to block off six hours to attend to dough that must be deflated every hour or so. Another bonus: for reasons that I can’t explain, the loaf is more nutritious and keeps longer than its rushed cousin.

So what are you waiting for??? Go make this loaf! I find it’s perfect for anything from sandwiches to toast to eating with soup to dipping in olive oil. You (and anyone you bestow this magnificent loaf upon) can thank me later.

Basic whole-wheat bread

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Jun 232007
 

Irish steel-cut oats

I’ve always been a breakfast person. Not really in the way that many other Americans are, where they like lots of bagels and cereals and other really unhealthy and non-nutritious foods, but more in the way that I like to get something healthy in my tummy that will stick with me until my mid-morning snack. This is sufficiently different, versatile, receptive to substitutions, and, of course, yummy, to meet all of my needs. They do take longer to cook than their gloppy rolled cousin, so I cook a week’s worth at a time and reheat as I need it. Nowadays it’s impossible to open my fridge without finding a massive batch of these oats, just waiting for their turn to be consumed.

And just look at them! It’s easy to see why!

Oatmeal with pomegranate seeds

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Jun 152007
 

Be careful: homemade chicken stock is another one of those “you can never go back” recipes.

I remember a little over a year ago, I made minestrone soup for the first time. It’s one of my favorite soups, but I couldn’t understand why it was so….. blase. Despite the fact I had used fresh ingredients and used the proper technique, it wasn’t worth making again, and I stuck with my usual soup staple, Provencal Vegetable Soup.

A leek for the stock-pot

About a year later I was having some friends over for an Italian night – caprese salad, various pastas with homemade sauces, and affogatos. Something was missing and (being ignorant of the traditional Italian primi and secondi) I decided to add in minestrone soup.

So I tried again. Talk about night and day! It was like the first batch I had made was anti-minestrone and if the two batches had ever met they would have annihilated each other. The only difference? The fantasmagorically-delicious minestrone was made with homemade stock instead of commercial chicken broth.

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Every recipe I’ve used with this stock has sung with flavor. Why? That flavor comes from tons of fresh ingredients and no salt. It’s a recipe that I’ve adapted from more traditional chicken stock recipes to fit the way I cook. I roast a bird one week, save the carcass, skin, and fond and after I roast another bird the next week I combine the two carcasses with any leftover meat and tons of aromatics. This way I’m getting maximum use out of those chickens with minimal waste.

To see guidance on preparing this for backpacking, see the “Variations” section at the end of the recipe.

And it is so worth it!

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May 222007
 
The turkey trifecta, ready to be minced

I used to think that I did a fair amount of cooking for myself. Sure, I ate pre-boxed cereals like Grape-Nuts and used mass-produced bread and turkey breast for my sandwiches, but surely that doesn’t count, right? You can’t make those things for yourself!!!

Then one day I woke up and realized, “Wait a minute, it is not natural for turkey breast to come in this shape. Plus this stuff doesn’t have nutrition labels I can read, so god only knows what they put in it!” Luckily, I had this epiphany around Thanksgiving and I had just gotten myself a brand new roasting pan. After eating leftover homemade turkey sandwiches for a couple of days, I decided something in my daily lunch routine had to change. “What the hell,” I thought. I had just started baking my own bread, so I figured I might as well go whole hog.

So I looked in some cookbooks and magazines for some inspiration. Some suggested brining before roasting, but one of the big reasons I decided to start doing this myself was to get away from all that sodium. Some suggested marinades, but I wanted a (relatively) quick fix. Others suggested lemon, but that tires pretty quickly for me.

Then I remembered our Thankgiving Turkey Trifecta: Sage. Rosemary. Thyme. And no, I am not going to Scarborough Fair!

Wings in the proper position, on its back, ready to go in the oven

Eureeka! It’s genius. So I minced up these fresh herbs and some garlic (because garlic makes everything better). I drizzled just a tad of olive oil over the mix to make it more paste-like and easy to handle. Instead of stuffing the cavity (as is the fate of the turkey), I borrowed an idea from Cook’s Illustrated and used my fingers to loosen the skin from the breast and thighs (they actually suggest using a chopstick to do this because “fingers are more likely to tear the skin” but I disagree — your fingers can bend. I’ve never torn the skin with my hand) and rubbed the meat with the herbs generously. Then I prepped the limbs for the oven, turned it breast-down (this helps the white and dark meat reach safe eating temperatures at the same time), and popped it in the oven. Twenty minutes later I flipped it on its back and let it continue to cook until the instant-read thermometer said it was done.

I will swear up and down that this is the best sandwich meat ever. After cooking your own lunch-meat, I promise you will never be able to go back to the salty, processed, unnaturally shaped abomination in your grocer’s deli counter again. I also promise that after you use the leftovers to make your own stock, you’ll never buy that salty, watered-down abomination in a can off the shelf again either.

Roasted to golden perfection

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