Saturday, November 24, 2012

Curried Red Lentil Stew with Winter Veggies

So, it's the beginning of flu season. This means people around me are sick. And by people around me, not even necessarily people I know -- in the grocery store the other day, I saw someone who looked like she was about to pass out (pale features, sheen of sweat, red nose, bundled up far more than the temperatures outside called for). Cold and flu season makes me want to eat things that are going to help boost my immunity (and, let's face it, that are just plain good for me).

And, since the days are more frequently cool / cloudy / wet, I want to consume warm things -- stews, soups, bakes. teas & coffee, etc.

This is where a curried red lentil stew comes in. This particular stew has onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, lentils (hooray protein!!), dark green veggies*, and more immune-system boosting goodness. Regardless of whether any of these actually help me stay healthy during the winter months I like to imagine they do -- and it creating a large batch of this stew provides me with several days of quick, healthy meals.

I ate this alongside a gluten-free flat bread (that turned out crispier than I would have liked), but it would also go well with brown rice or a nice pliable flat bread, like pita. If you want to up the spice (again, this might depend on the curry powder you choose), add a pinch of red pepper flakes at the same time you add the lentils.
Thick Red Curry with Winter Veggies

Curried Red Lentil Stew with Winter Veggies
2 teaspoons oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium sweet potato, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1-inch piece ginger, minced

1 cup fresh cauliflower florets
2 tablespoons curry powder**
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds (optional)
3 dried curry leaves (or 1 bay leaf)
1 cup red lentils
3 1/2 cups water

1 cup fresh kale, chopped

Warm the oil in a medium-sized soup pan, over medium-high heat. Add the onion, sweet potato, and salt, and saute 4-5 minutes, until the onion and sweet potato begin to brown. Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic and ginger. Saute another 2 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients except the kale, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to low. Cover and allow to simmer 18-20 minutes, until the cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and lentils are soft. 

Stir in the chopped kale and remove from the heat. As soon as the kale has wilted (this took less than a minute for my curly kale), taste and add salt, if necessary. Serve hot.

Special Notes:

*I also chopped some of the green parts of the cauliflower -- about 1/2 cup worth, and added those. Biting into them was a bit like biting into a piece of cabbage in the stew, and something I would do again, but this is definitely up to you. If you do add them, add them 2-3 minutes before you add the kale and before you take the stew off the heat.

**I use a medium-hot curry powder with a moderately high ratio of turmeric. If you use a sweet curry powder, start with 1 tablespoon and add more toward the end, if you desire. As always, it's easier to add than to take away!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Chocolate Mint Granola

You might say that I'm on a bit of a granola kick. This is, as I explained in a previous post, partly because I now live in an area where my GF cereal of choice isn't as cheap as I'm used to and I'm living on a fairly small budget. Granola, of course, is a little more expensive to make than just eating oatmeal, but it's also more satisfying when I want something crunchy (or if I just don't want hot cereal). Plus, during these cooler months of the year, it's an excuse to turn on the oven for an hour or so while creating something useful.

I'd been wanting to make a chocolate mint granola for a while -- in part because I love mint patties, but no longer eat them for a variety of reasons, and in part because I have mint extract from my green-mint smoothie phase earlier this year. I wanted to make it gluten-free, of course, and also vegan since I've embarked on eating mostly vegan.

This granola, like my others, isn't overly sweet, but if you drink vanilla soy / coconut /almond milk it is just sweet enough, and almost exactly the flavor of eating mint patties. For the record, I use organic spearmint extract when I make this granola, but I imagine it would turn out similarly using a peppermint extract. Note, these are both different than using mint oil. Baking Bites has a great article about the differences, that I won't rehash here -- but you should check it out. I like adding lentils to the granola, to increase the complexity of my morning meal, but you could omit them if you wanted (just skip those steps in the recipe below). I also like eating this with pumpkin seeds or sunflower kernels.

This would make a wonderful surprise breakfast for your kiddos who really, really want that chocolate sugary cereal from the grocery store since it's pretty much fat-free, doesn't contain much sugar, and still tastes like chocolate. Or, you could make a double-batch and wrap it up in pretty jars and give it as a holiday gift. Or, you could just make some for yourself, a small indulgence.
Yum! Chocolate Mint Granola (with red lentils)

Chocolate Mint Granola
1/3 cup split red lentils, boiled in 1 cup of water for 5 minutes and allowed to rest in hot water for 20-30 minutes (optional)

3 cups gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure mint extract (note, this is different than oil)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.

Mix together your oats, brown sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium-size mixing bowl.
Dry Ingredients
If using lentils, add the mint extract and agave nectar to the lentils and mix well (otherwise, mix the agave and mint extract together in a separate bowl with 1/3 cup warm water). Add the lentils, and their liquid, to the oat mixture. Stir until the oats are evenly moist.

Spread the granola on a baking sheet, and place in the oven. Bake for about 1 hour, stirring every 15-20 minutes, until the oats have turned dry and crispy* (in moist climates, this may take a little longer). Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

*Note: As with other granolas, it's important to remember that the oats will continue to turn crispy as they dry. If you have some oats that are not completely dry, but others that area, you can turn the granola once more time and then turn off the oven. In another 20-30 minutes, your oats should all be crispy.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Product Review: Whole Foods Grind-Your-Own Chocolate Peanut Butter

On a whim, I recently bought a small container of Whole Foods' grind-your-own chocolate peanut butter. Why, you might ask?

Why not?

At my Whole Foods -- and maybe this is the standard -- the grind-your-own chocolate peanut butter uses vegan, gluten-free chocolate chips (hooray!). The balance in the machine appears to be mostly peanuts with a handful of chocolate chips -- you can see there is chocolate in there, but it doesn't look like nearly enough to produce anything chocolatey.

But, when I hit the start button on the machine, the peanut butter that came out was a lovely dark brown.

The peanut butter itself isn't overwhelmingly chocolate-flavored, but there are distinct chocolate notes -- in fact it's moderately chocolatey (unless you're a dedicated choco-holic) which is nice for a small I-want-something-different treat (especially on banana chips!). The grind for the machines I used was set to create smooth peanut butter, which meant that however many chocolate chips I got were well-incorporated. It's definitely less chocolate-flavored than something like Nutella or the chocolate peanut butters by Peanut Butter & Co.

The price: reasonable at $3.99/lb -- the same price as the other grind-your-own nut butters (almond, peanut butter, and honey-roasted peanut butter) on the day I visited.

Would I buy this again? Possibly. While I love chocolate & peanut butter (when I'm in the mood for either), this is an indulgence as I don't see a practical use in my life for chocolate peanut butter on any regular basis. I can mix chocolate into peanut butter on my own, if I really want it right this minute, and I prefer almond and sunflower seed butters. I like that it's vegan and gluten-free (some chocolate chips aren't). I like that this peanut butter can be made ground fresh and bought in whatever quantity I desire.

But, those probably aren't enough things to cause me to run back to Whole Foods as soon as I'm done with the chocolate peanut butter I currently have, or to push me to purchase more at any point in the near future.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Masa Harina Cornbread (GF)

First, let me apologize for the lack of pictures in this post. You'll have to just trust me.

When I started to make black beans the other day (now in March, when I was still eating animal products, since I didn't remember to take pictures the next time I made this either), I realized I didn't have enough rice. Oops. Oh well, I had some masa harina (tamale style, though I'm not convinced it really makes a difference). I poked around on the internet until I found a masa harina cornbread recipe. That recipe, apparently, didn't come out very fluffy but had a strong corn tortilla taste. 

To counteract the flat nature of the cornbread, I didn't use a preheated skillet and I increased the baking powder from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon. I also used melted butter because, growing up in the south, I never once saw a cornbread recipe that didn't use melted butter. I reduced the amount of butter and added some olive oil (because why not), but you could certainly use all butter if you were so inclined. It definitely leaves a lightly buttery flavor in the cornbread at this ratio. I increased the amount of honey because 1 tablespoon seemed too low and added a dash of cinnamon for a little extra complexity--and to complement the flavors in the black beans.

The cornbread that came out was light, rather than dense, and had a nice corn flavor without being overwhelming. I wasn't really reminded of "corn tortillas," probably because I added a little extra sweetener, and because of the cinnamon.

I let it cool for about an hour before I cut into it, so I can't attest to how well it will hold together still hot, but at "lightly warm" it held together beautifully, without adding any binders other than the ones you see. I saw one variation similar to this one, meant to be gluten-free, that added xanthan gum and an extra egg--lots of extra binder in other words. Not necessary and that just increases your overall cost, so I recommend against it. Plus, let's face it, it increases the "tastes gluten-free" factor. 

Masa Harina Cornbread
1 1/2 cups masa harina
1/2 cup brown rice flour

1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon olive oil

2 eggs, beaten

1 1/2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add the butter, honey, and olive oil and stir to combine well. Add the eggs, mix, and then add the milk. The batter should appear moderately wet at first, but will quickly start to thicken. Pour into a greased pie pan and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes and then turn up to 425 degrees for another 15-20 minutes until golden brown on top.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Orange-Lentil Granola

Orange-Lentil Granola
Regular readers, you might have noticed I was absent for a while. A fairly long while, compared to this spring. I was in the middle of another move, and now that I'm settled I hope (plan) to start posting more regularly again. I appreciate your patience and the handful of kind notes I got asking where I'd been.

Shortly after moving to my new place, I discovered a lack of (affordable) stick-with-you / nutrient-dense gluten-free cereals. I'd been spoiled by having a CSA share (sauteed veggies for breakfast most days) and access to cheap(er) cereals over the past year. To compensate, since I'm trying to survive on a really small budget, I started making granola again, and now make it a couple times a week. That much granola can be, well, a little boring.

That's what inspired this vegan, gluten-free granola, which has just a slight hint of orange. I don't like my granola particularly sweet, but if you do, add a little more brown sugar or a hit of agave to it. You might also experiment with the amount of orange you add. I use pure orange oil, so a 1/4 teaspoon works well. One of my testers though, used an orange extract and suggested that 1/2 teaspoon would be more appropriate. It's absolutely fine to taste it before you stick it in the oven, and add more orange flavoring, if you like.

The lentils in this granola add a lovely splash of color and a hint of protein. Soaking the lentils, as I suggest in the recipe (or boiling them for about 5 minutes, and then draining them) is essential. You'll (probably) get really gassy otherwise and they'll definitely crunch a lot when you bite into them. Be sure you use split red lentils.

This would be perfect to make a few days in advance of Thanksgiving, so you don't have to think about it on Black Friday morning, when everyone is feeling possibly-still-a-little-gross from the day before -- or something that you can make a lot of and put in mason jars as gifts for the winter holidays!

If you do decide to make this recipe in larger quantities, I find about 3 cups of oats per baking sheet works pretty well.

Orange-Lentil Granola
1/3 cup red lentils3 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup hot water (near boiling)

2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 teaspoon pure orange oil

Mix all the dry ingredients ingredients together. Add the hot water and the oils, and mix thoroughly. Allow to rest 30 minutes to an hour (this will start to soften the lentils). Spread the granola mixture on a baking sheet and bake in a 300 degree oven for 45-60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes, until the oats have turned golden and most are crispy.* Store in an airtight container.

*If some aren't crispy, they'll continue to harden as they dry. As long as the majority of your oats have begun to crisp, and you don't have any huge lumps of granola-cluster, you should be fine.
Orange-Lentil Granola, with dried cranberries

The pictures in this post are courtesy of Nick Clift.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Autumn Muffins (GF and Vegan)

Dog, seen on bike ride
Until recently, I worked at an Inn, where I made breakfast for people a lot. I love this work, because as you're probably aware (if you're a regular reader), I enjoy feeding people and forming a connection with others and with the environment via the things we put in our bodies. For me, cooking for others -- and eating with others -- creates a sense of community that I think is often overlooked in the way we usually run our lives. Unfortunately, a lot of the time at the inn, I made one of a dozen or so dishes and it quickly becomes pretty routine. I didn't always get to talk to our guests after they've finished their meal (there are so many things to do at an inn!), and I only had the opportunity to try one new recipe on guests (and this isn't it).

Happily, however, one of my co-workers (we'll call her J) and I started eating brunch together after work about once a week -- it was a wonderful opportunity for us to just relax, to talk about life, and generally hang out. We worked together in the kitchen, lovely change from the Sunday evening cooking I do for a handful of friends, and reminiscent of the Friday breakfasts I shared with friends when I lived in the Midwest.

Tree, no pretty leaves yet...
These breakfasts also presented an opportunity for me to actually feel inspired to try new things, or to make modifications to recipes I didn't like as much the first time around but see potential in. That's what happened with these muffins, which were inspired by a non-vegan recipe from my food co-op. These muffins are moist and taste like autumn -- perfect as the weather starts too cool off. Lately, I've even seen a few trees with red and yellow leaves!

We had these vegan, gluten-free muffins with a lovely veggie saute, made entirely with veggies from J's garden. They rise well, are moist, and hold together nicely (especially for a gluten-free product). If you decided to make these in loaf pans, you could definitely do that and because it holds together well, you could probably turn it into french toast (easier if you're not vegan). Afterward, we went for a bike ride together, and these muffins combined with the veggies, gave us plenty of energy for a 20 mile trip.

Don't let the ingredient list intimidate you. If you're already gluten-free, you probably have many of these ingredients around -- and if you're not, but are cooking for someone who is, these ingredients are available at most grocery stores. If you like nuts (I don't in baked goods), consider sprinkling a few chopped walnuts on the top of the muffins before throwing them in the oven.

Autumn Muffins (Gluten-Free)
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1 medium, overripe banana, well mashed
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/2 cup water
15 ounces roasted butternut squashed (mashed)
1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup quinoa or millet flour
2 teaspoons guar gum
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup chopped dates, raisins, or dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil muffin tins*, or line with paper liners. Beat flax seed, banana, oil, agave, and water until creamy. Fold in butternut squash.

In a separate bowl, sift together all dry ingredients (brown rice flour through nutmeg). Fold the wet and dry ingredients together. Fold in coconut and dried fruit. The batter should be pretty thick, but add more water if it's the consistency of extra-firm cookie dough. Divide batter into muffin cups (3/4 full). Bake 25-30 minutes, until tops begin to brown and spring back lightly when touched. Allow to cool for five minutes before removing from the pan.

Serve warm. Store in an airtight container, and refrigerate after the first day. Keeps 2-3 weeks in the freezer.

*I come out with 12 regular sized muffins, plus 1 mini-loaf (which cooks another 10-15 minutes.
The Muffins!