Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Salmon in Luxurious Green Sesame Pipian

Oh, Rick Bayless, can you do no wrong? In addition to being consistently delicious, my favorite thing about recipes from Rick Bayless is how they make me rethink what Mexican food is, perpetually discovering new and delicious flavor combinations as well as making uncovering new ways to use favorite ingredients. I'll confess I'm no master seafood chef, but this has to be the most delicious dish I've ever made with salmon, with the added bonus of being really easy and quick to prepare. The combination of the creamy tahini and spicy tomatillo salsa is unexpectedly delicious, perfectly contrasted by the bright and fresh flavor from the cilantro and peas. The flavor of the salmon is strong enough not to disappear in this vibrantly-flavored dish, staying irresistably moist and succulent while simmering in the sauce. Served over a bed of brown rice or other grain, this is a complete, sneakily nutritious meal that could as easily be served at a dinner party as on a busy weeknight. Any fan of Mexican food or fish would be greatly remiss if they didn't give this at least give it once chance to grace their dinner table; if you are one of that legion, go forth and try a new recipe under the wise (cookbook) tutelage of the inimitable Rick Bayless.

Salmon in Luxurious Green Sesame Pipian
from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless
serves 4

2 cups store-bought or homemade tomatillo salsa
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 heaping cup peas, fresh or frozen
Four 4- to 5-ounce (1 to 1 1/4 pounds total) skinless fish fillets (such as salmon, halibut, walleye, snapper or striped bass)-buy about 1 1/2 pounds if using fish steaks
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, for garnish
About 1/4 cup (loosely packed) chopped cilantro, for garnish

1. In a blender or food processor, process the salsa to a smooth purée.

2. Heat oil in a very large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high. When it is quite hot, add salsa all at once. Stir as salsa reduces to consistency of tomato paste, about 5 minutes.

3. Stir in broth and tahini. Return to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer 10 minutes. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon, and a little sugar. (The sugar will help balance the natural tartness of the salsa). 

4. While sauce is simmering, pour the peas into a microwaveable bowl, sprinkle on a tablespoon of the water, cover with plastic wrap and poke a couple of holes in the top. Microwave on high (100%) until the peas are hot and tender, anywhere from 1 minute from frozen peas to 4 or 5 minutes for fresh peas; discard water.

5. When the sauce has simmered for 10 minutes, nestle the fish fillets in it, completely submerging them. Continue simmering gently until the fish flakes when pressed firmly, usually 5 to 6 minutes for 1/2-inch-thick fillets. (Check it by lifting up a fillet on a metal spatula and pressing with your finger or the back of a spoon.)

6. Transfer a fish fillet to each dinner plate. Spoon a portion of the sauce over top. Strew with the peas, sesame seeds and cilantro, and you're ready for dinner.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Whole Wheat Flax Pancakes

Two of my favorite rituals when I was a kid were Saturday morning pancakes or waffles and breakfast for dinner. As an adult, these still feel like special events and with football season over (for Packer fans), I'm switching out my weekly Packer snack for breakfast for dinner on Sunday nights. I love ritual and routine, so having this to look forward to goes a long way toward ameliorating the dread of returning to work Monday morning that so often creeps in on Sunday night. Since I've probably gorged myself on a meal out during the weekend, I want my breakfast for dinner to be at least somewhat healthy (most of the time), and that's where these whole wheat flax pancakes come in. Much more flavorful and hearty than their white flour counterparts, these nutty pancakes are the perfect companion to a healthy pat of butter and generous drizzling of maple syrup (and a side of bacon or sausage doesn't hurt either). If you've cooked up a batch of bacon before starting the pancakes, fry the pancakes in the bacon grease for extra crispy edges and just a bit of smoky flavor. Homemade pancakes take just a little more time than the just-add-water-mix kind, so next time the craving hits, whip up a batch of these pancakes instead and reward your efforts with flavor and nutrition.

Whole Wheat Flax Pancakes
makes about 12 pancakes
adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup dried buttermilk powder*
2 tablespoons brown sugar, maple sugar, maple syrup, or honey
1/3 cup whole flax meal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter
1 1/2 cups water*
*Or substitute 1 3/4 cups (14 ounces) of buttermilk in place of the buttermilk powder and water

1. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

2. Whisk together the eggs, oil or melted butter, vanilla, and water (and honey or maple syrup, if using).

3. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, and whisk until blended. Let the batter sit for 10 minutes (it will thicken slightly). Add extra water or flour to adjust the consistency for thinner or thicker pancakes.

4. Preheat a griddle to medium high (350°F), and grease it well.

5. Scoop the batter by the 1/4-cupful onto the griddle.

6. Cook until bubbles on the top begin to pop, then turn and brown the other side.

7. Serve hot with maple syrup, or fresh fruit and yogurt.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cauliflower Penne Puttanesca

Roasted cauliflower is one of my favorite foods. Left to my own devices, I can eat an entire head of roasted cauliflower all by myself, particularly if it's dijon-roasted cauliflower, that beautiful caramelization a siren song for my tastebuds. Quite some time ago I made much-loved roasted cauliflower pasta, so when I saw this recipe in the most recent issue of Real Simple magazine it seemed like the perfect way to use the head of broccoli romanesco (Roman cauliflower) I picked up at the farmer's market, with the added bonus of the rest of the ingredients being things I already had at home. Since puttanesca sauce is so simple, this is a place to splurge a bit on the tomatoes (get San Marzano if you can find them) to maximize flavor. To make the cauliflower shine, cut the florets so they each have one flat side, placing the florets cut-side down in the skillet and allowing them to cook undisturbed for a few minutes initially to ensure a delicious crust on the cauliflower. With subtle hints of heat from the red pepper and pops of pickled capers, this hearty bowl of pasta is an irresistably hearty vegetarian dinner, made even more vibrant with a generous dusting of fresh parsley and salty Parmesan cheese. If you're looking for a new vegetarian pasta for your winter dinner repertoire, look no further than this simple, satisfying dish.

Cauliflower Penne Puttanesca
adapted from Real Simple, February 2012
serves 4

3/4 pound whole wheat penne or other short pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small head cauliflower or broccoli romanesco (about 1 1/2 pounds), cored and cut into small florets
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Grated Parmesan, for serving (optional)

1. Cook the past according to the package directions. Drain and return to pot.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cauliflower, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook, tossing occasionally, until golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and their juice, olives, capers, and crushed red pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon until the cauliflower is tender, 8 to 10 minutes more.

3. Toss the pasta with the sauce. Serve topped with the parsley and Parmesan.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Grilled Glazed Salmon

Although this is most certainly not the prettiest dish I've put together, I'm setting aside my vanity to share this simple and delicious meal. There's always a bag of salmon fillets in the freezer, but I find myself resorting to roasted salmon with Old Bay when I'm sort on time, inspiration, or ingredients. Using a combination of three staple ingredients I adore-mustard, horseradish, and honey-this recipe transforms what could be a pretty mundane salmon fillet into a wonderfully flavorful dinner. The assertive flavors of the Dijon mustard and horseradish are tempered just enough by the sweet and mellow honey (I recommend a milder honey like clover here), blending three common ingredients into a bold, but balanced palate of flavor. This glaze is strong enough to overwhelm a mild fish like tilapia, but the richness of the salmon holds its own against the assertive flavors. Served on a bed of whole wheat couscous with side of simply roasted Brussels Sprouts, this well-rounded and hearty meal is makes it quickly from the kitchen to the dinner table any night of the week. A basic, but delicious recipe, this is sure to make frequent appearances on my dinner table, helping me to keep my resolution of eating fish at least once per week.

Grilled Glazed Salmon
from Food and Wine
serves 4

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard 
1/4 cup prepared horseradish, drained
2 tablespoons honey 
Four 6-ounce skinless salmon fillets 
Vegetable oil, for rubbing 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Light a grill. In a small bowl, mix the mustard, horseradish and honey. Rub the salmon with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the salmon over moderate heat, skinned side down, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Turn and grill for 3 minutes longer, until the salmon is almost cooked through. Turn the salmon again and spread each fillet with 1 tablespoon of the horseradish glaze. Turn and grill until glazed, about 30 seconds. Serve the remaining glaze on the side. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Whole Wheat Currant Scones

Although many scones have nearly turned into cookies these days, I'm a fan of the traditional, not-too-sweet variety. Creative flavors abound, which I both purchase and bake, but sometimes it's nice to go back to classics, the most traditional scones being currant scones. The simple flavor profile created by cream, butter, and currants is delicious, but the white flour traditionally used to make scones doesn't bring anything to the party in terms of nutrition or flavor, so I seek out scone recipes using whole grain flours. Whole wheat pastry flour gives these scones a wonderfully nutty flavor and light texture, a perfect contrast to sweet and chewy raisins or currants. And while cream lends an irresistible richness and decadence to scones, for pastries I plan on having for a regular weekday breakfast, I prefer the lightness and tang of buttermilk. Currants work best in this recipe, distributing tiny bits of flavor throughout the scone, but raisins or any other dried fruit you like (I recommend dried cherries or blueberries) will also work splendidly.

The next Saturday or Sunday morning you can have a little extra time, whip up a batch of these simple, flavorful scones and reward yourself with a hot breakfast fresh from the oven. If you don't have to share with too many people pop any leftovers in the freezer so you can treat yourself with a tasty breakfast any day of the week.

Whole Wheat Currant Scones
adapted from Bob's Red Mill
makes 8 scones

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
1/3 cup turbinado sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2  teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup cold butter
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup currants or raisins

1. Preheat oven to 375°. Use an ungreased 10" x 15" baking pan.

2. In a bowl, combine whole wheat flour, wheat germ, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. With 2 knives or a pastry blender, cut in butter until coarse crumbs form.

3. In a small bowl, beat egg with buttermilk to blend. Add egg mixture and raisins to flour mixture; stir just enough to moisten evenly. Scrape dough onto baking pan; pat into a 1" thick round. With a sharp knife, cut round into 8 wedges, leave in place.

4. Bake 30-35 minutes until browned. Cut or break scones into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sesame Sweet Potato and Cabbage Burgers

Although making Mushroom Pecan Burgers was born out of necessity (I had ingredients that needed to be used up), it has definitely rekindled my love of making veggie burgers. My primary resource for veggie burger recipes is Veggie Burgers Every Which Way by Lukas Volger, but instead of going straight to the book, I decided to peruse Lukas Volger's website, stumbling across this little gem of a recipe in short order. I can't recall having cabbage and sweet potatoes together in a dish many times before, but I was quite delighted by the pairing in this burger, particularly when punctuated with spice from cayenne (which I used generously). The sweetness of the sweet potatoes marries wonderfully with fresh and mild green cabbage, with the soy sauce or tamari lending umami and the tahini a decadent richeness. The one almost-fault of this recipe that I found was that I did need to add significantly more than 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs, although the recipe acknowledges that this might be necessary. When browning the burgers, make sure to oil the pan generously, as sweet potatoes have a tendency to stick to the pan. If they do fall apart, don't fret, just smoosh them back together and call them rustic, a tactic I frequently employ when dishes don't turn out quite as picturesque as I had imagined.

With my love of veggie burgers reinvigorated in the new year, expect to see many more recipes like this one gracing the pages of this blog. Although they'll rarely satisfy a craving for a juicy, meaty cheeseburger when I want one, delicious veggie burgers this one can make frequent appearances on my dinner table without the slightest tinge of guilt. I can rarely convince my meat-and-potatoes-loving husband that veggie burgers have a place in his diet, but that just means more leftovers waiting for me in the freezer, just begging to be packed for lunch during the work week.

Sesame Sweet Potato and Cabbage Burgers
from Lukas Volger
makes 4 burgers

For the photographed version, I ran out of parsley and cilantro—sorry for the missing green stuff up there!

2 tablespoons neutral oil (canola, grapeseed, peanut, or vegetable oil)
1 large or 2 small onions, chopped
Scant 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 medium sweet potato, grated (10 to 12 ounces, or about 3 heaping cups grated)
2 cups finely shredded cabbage (about a quarter of a head)
2 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 egg whites
1 tablespoon tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup breadcrumbs, or more if needed
3 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley or cilantro, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 325° F.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon neutral oil in a deep skillet or sauté pan (something big enough to hold the potatoes and cabbage—a wide sauté pan might work) over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cayenne and fry until soft and beginning to color deeply. Add the sesame oil, followed by the sweet potato and cabbage. Stir in the soy sauce and salt. Cover and cook until tender, stirring periodically, about 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.

3. Whisk together the egg whites, tahini, and lemon juice until combined. Add the cooked potato-cabbage mixture, then fold in the breadcrumbs and herbs. Add additional crumbs if the mixture seems loose, but err on the side of wet because the burgers will firm up in the oven. Shape into 4 patties.

4. Heat remaining oil in an oven-safe skillet (an oven-safe nonstick pan works really nicely with this burger, as the sweet potatoes tend to cling to the pan; going that route you can get away with using less oil) over medium heat. Add the burgers, in batches if necessary, and fry until golden-brown on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer them to the preheated oven and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until firm to the touch.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mushroom-Potato Crema with Roasted Poblanos

Like many Americans, I grew up with a fondness for Americanized Mexican food, delighting in the tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and nachos that pass for Mexican food in many places in the United States. While those inauthentic dishes can be delicious, as I've aged my tastes have matured and I have developed a love of real Mexican food, inspired in great part by the litany of amazing Rick Bayless recipes. And just as with all the other recipes I tried, this one does not disappoint in the slightest. It is amazing creamy despite only a scant amount of sour cream with just the perfect amount of spice and smokiness from the roasted poblano, made deeply satisfying with earthy, savory mushrooms. To make this even more luxurious, try adding a bit bacon or chorizo and garnishing with a sprinkling of crisp tortilla chips (Rick Bayless' Frontera line is great) along with the cilantro. (I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that this soup is also an irresistable,  if inauthentic, vessel for dunking corn muffins.)

The authentic suite of flavors is not overly aggressive, making this an excellent away to lure towards the true flavors of Mexico and a great option for Meatless Monday (or any weeknight when you find yourself short on time). With a thick blanket of snow on the ground and bitter winds swirling outside, this soup is the perfect way to tuck yourself away from the harsh winter and dream of the warm sun and beautiful beaches of our neighbor to the south.

Mushroom-Potato Crema with Roasted Poblanos
from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless
makes a generous 6 cups, serving 4

4 medium (about 1 pound total) red-skin boiling or Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into roughly 1-inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 large fresh poblano chile
8 ounces mushrooms (I like shiitake or oyster mushrooms), sliced 1/4-inch thick (you'll have about 3 cups slices)
1 scant cup corn kernals (they can be frozen or ones you've cut off 1 to 2 large ears)
1 large sprig fresh epazote (you can substitute a big sprig of fresh thyme or leave the herb out all together)
1/4 cup plain yogurt, heavy cream, or sour cream
About 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro, for garnish

1. Scoop the potatoes and garlic into a medium (3-quart) saucepan, pour in half of the broth and set over high heat. When the liquid boils, reduce the heat to medium and simmer briskly until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

2. While the potatoes are cooking, roast the poblano over an open flame or 4 inches below a broiler, turning regularly until blistered and blackened all over, about 5 minutes for an open flame, about 10 minutes before a broiler. Cover with a kitchen towel. Let cool until handleable.

3. Rub the blackened bits off the chile and pull out the stem and seed pod. Rinse the chile to remove bits of skin and seeds. Cut into 1/4-inch pieces.

4. When the potatoes are tender, use an immersion blender to puree the soup base (or blend in several batches in a food processor or a loosely covered blender draped with a kitchen towel and return to the pan). Add the remaining half of the broth, the mushrooms, poblano, corn, and epazote (or thyme, if using). Simmer for 10 minutes over medium heat.

5. Just before serving, scoop about 1/2 cup of the hot soup into a small bowl. Mix in the yogurt, cream, or sour cream. Stir the mixture back into the pot, then taste and season with salt, usually about 1 1/2 teaspoons. Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle with the cilantro. Soup's on.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say these are my favorite healthy cookie/granola bar/morning snack treat I've ever made. This recipe has been bookmarked ever since I bought Super Natural Every Day (along with a couple dozen other recipes) and I'm ashamed it took me so long to make it, especially since it's a common coffee shop snack in San Francisco, a city I love beyond words. Although it nearly completely composed of my go-to ingredients for these kind of snacks, I did get to try out something new-extra-virgin coconut oil. Until recently, coconut oil was made out to be a nutritional villain and I'd thus avoided it, but the tide appears to be turning on expert and public opinion so I was willing to try it out. Although it's still an ingredient to be used in moderation, I will most certainly not shy away from the quickly growing library of recipes using coconut oil in the future. Coconut oil adds a tremendous amount of flavor, not just fat, the coconut flavor playing beautifully with maple syrup and nutty whole wheat flour and oats. These are special enough for a dessert, but healthy enough for breakfast or a snack, sure to delight no matter what time of day you enjoy them. They are rugged enough to hold up all day in your purse or backpack, a delightful crusty exterior concealing a moist and flavorful center. Much more delicious than the proverbial carrot-on-a-stick, these provided motivation to make it through the early hours of my work day, and the energy to keep going until lunch. While I've made many recipes that I would be happy to return to when baking up a batch of something delicious for my work week morning snack, this is the only one I've been 100% sure that I will return to many times over.

from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson
makes 12 oatcakes

3 cups rolled oats
2 cups spelt flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/4 cup flax seeds
3/4 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
1/3 cup extra-virgin coconut oil
1/3 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup natural cane sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F/160 degrees C with a rack in the top third of the oven. Butter a standard 12-cup muffin pan.

2. Combine the oats, flour, baking powder, salt, flax seeds, and walnuts in a large mixing bowl.

3. In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the coconut oil, butter, maple syrup, and sugar and slowly melt together. Stir just until the butter melts and sugar has dissolved, but don't let the mixture get too hot. You don't want it to cook the eggs on contact in the next step.

4. Pour the coconut oil mixture over the oat mixture. Stir a bit with a fork, add the eggs, and stir again until everything comes together into a wet dough. Spoon the dough into the muffin cups, nearly filling them.

5. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the edges of each oatcake are deeply golden. Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool for a couple minutes. Then, run a knife around the edges of the cakes and tip them out onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pinto Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

When I sit down to watch a football game, be it for my beloved Packers or Badgers, I need a special snack or meal. This behavior was imbedded in me from a young age when my dad and I would watch the Packer game together enjoying our Packer snacks (I even insisted that we each take our first bite when the kicker's foot hit the football on kick-off). As an adult I have continued this tradition, though I can't seem to convince my husband of the import of taking your first bite at precisely the right time.

When the Badgers took on the Ducks in Rose Bowl, I had to choose how best to honor the game with culinary accompaniment. I debated on making something with quintessentially Wisconsin ingredients like brats or cheese, but I was gripped by a deep craving for chili and cornbread. I've made and enjoyed all manner of chili, be it beef and bean, turkey, or white chicken chili, but given my recent mild obsession with the delightful combination of beans and sweet potatoes, this recipe spoke to me. With the New Year my quest for healthy, yet flavorful recipes was reinvigorated, and this chili also satisfied that search expertly. The chile powder is one of the strongest influences on the character of the chili, ranging from scorchingly hot to mild and sweet. By choosing ancho chile powder, this became a smoky and only slighty spicy chili, much more accessible to dinner companions who don't share my slightly masochistic love of spicy food. Now that we're finally receiving some long overdue snowfall, I know many more bowls of chili with their companion cornbread are destined for my dinner table, steeling me against the icy winds of a Wisconsin winter.
Pinto Bean and Sweet Potato Chili
adapted from Bon Appetit, via Epicurious
serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 cup canned vegetable broth or water, plus additional water or broth if needed
1 10-ounce red-skinned sweet potato (yam), peeled, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 14 1/2- to 16-ounce can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes
1 15- to 16-ounce can pinto beans, drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 to 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Sour cream, shredded cheese, chopped raw onion, and cilantro, for serving (optional)

1. Heat olive oil in heavy medium sauce-pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add chili powder and stir 1 minute. Add broth and potato. Cover pan; reduce heat to medium and simmer until potato is almost tender, about 10 minutes.

2. Add tomatoes with their juices and pinto beans. Simmer uncovered until chili thickens and potato is very tender, about 10 minutes. Mix in cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon at a time to taste and serve warm, topping with an extras you like.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mushroom Pecan Burgers

While enjoying January 2nd off from work for the New Year's holiday, I got to work on my newly refreshed commitment to eating healthy, particularly by making things I would often buy myself. I love Morningstar Farms and Boca veggie burgers, but as with so many things, nothing compares to the homemade version. Most of my veggie burger experimentation has come from Veggie Burgers Every Which Way by Lukas Volger, but this spectacular recipe comes from another perennial favorite, the Moosewood Restaurant New Classics Cookbook.  I found this recipe because I was searching for a way to use the tofu and mushrooms in my fridge (other than stir-fry) and couldn't be happier that it led me to this recipe. This burger is pure umami-mushrooms, soy, and miso create a burger savorier than you ever though a veggie burger could be, playing beautifully with the nuttiness of the whole wheat breads crumbs, brown rice, and slighty chewy oats. Although I had to invest a little bit of time of the kitchen on my day off (not a big sacrifice for me), I've been more and more grateful I did each time I've plucked one of these scrumptious burgers out of my lunch bag over the past couple of weeks. While they were most delicious fresh out of the oven, the frozen extras have served me quite well for lunch. A perfect example of how little time investment can reward you many times over, hopefully this recipe will inspire you to invest a little more time in yourself, even if it isn't the kitchen.
Mushroom Pecan Burgers
from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics Cookbook
makes 6 burgers

1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cups chopped cremini or other mushroom
1/3 cup chopped toasted pecans
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1 cup cooked brown rice
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon miso (optional)
1 cake firm tofu, pressed (16 ounces)
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously oil a baking sheet.

2. In a medium skillet, saute the onions in the oil. Cook on medium heat until the onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the marjoram, thyme, and mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are tender, 5 to 10 minutes more.

3. Spoon the mushroom mixture into a bowl. Add the pecans, soy sauce, bread crumbs, rice, oats, dill, and miso, if using. Mix in the tofu, mashing it with your hands or a potato masher. Add salt and pepper and mix well.

4. Shape the mixture into six round patties and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown. Serve on toast or in a bun.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Molasses Bran Muffins

Greetings 2012!

Although I really don't place any real significance on January 1st as compared to any other day of the year, as a fervently type-A person and lover of rituals and lists, I can't help but indulge in a bit of the ritual of New Year's Eve/New Year's Day. I believe that you should make changes any time that you want to better yourself, but despite all rationality, there is some appeal to the clean slate of New Year's Day. For that reason, I put up some thought both into what I would prepare for a decadent New Year's Eve dinner, as well as to the first thing I would eat in the New Year. So in the quiet early morning hours of January 1st, I made myself a maple latte and got to work on a batch of these molasses bran muffins. They represent much of what I want to accomplish in my cooking-they're healthy but still delicious and something that makes me look forward to getting up in the morning. The plethora of whole grains creates a hearty background which allows rich walnuts and plump and juicy raisins to shine, with just enough sweetness from the natural sweetener of your choice.

If you're used to the super-sweet muffins that seem to clog the supermarket (basically cupcakes without the frosting), this will be a big adjustment, but one that you may choose to make in the new year (you may want to start with only part whole wheat flour as you try and adjust your flavor palate). Whereas while flour forms bulk and white sugar sweetens without adding any flavor, here both the flour and sweetener are integral components of the character of these muffins. While nothing quite compares to fresh out of the oven, I froze extras for satisfying breakfasts throughout the week. I both eat to live and live to eat, and these muffins satisfy my craving for flavor and need for nutrition beautifully.

Molasses Bran Muffins
adapted from Bob's Red Mill
makes 12 regular (or 6 jumbo) muffins

1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (whole wheat pastry flour will make a lighter muffin)
1 cup wheat or oat bran
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup applesauce
1 cup milk
1/2 cup molasses, honey, or maple syrup (or a combination)
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons canola oil

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, combine wheat bran, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir in nuts and raisins. 

2. In a separate bowl, blend applesauce, milk, molasses, oil and eggs. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir just until moistened. Spoon into 12 standard greased muffin tins (or paper muffin cups) and bake for 15-20 minutes. If making jumbo muffins, increase cooking time by 10 to 15 minutes.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Seeded Raisin and Walnut Granola

This probably sounds strange, but I've made a New Year's resolution to cook more. I know that I probably cook far more than the average person, but I'm still trying to break myself of the habit of occasionally buying food that I can make for much less with much higher quality at home, with the prime example being granola. Granola with yogurt is one of my favorite breakfasts and there's no reason I should be wasting money at the store when it is so easy and cheap to make it myself. And although one of the greatest advantages is being able to make it exactly to my taste (and the current contents of my cabinets), I still like to check a few reliable resources for some good recipes for inspiration.

On the most basic level, granola is rolled oats, dried fruit, and nuts with a mixture of fat and sweetener, but I'm trying to encorporate more bran, flax, and seeds, making this recipe a great starting point. Just the right combination of savory nuts and seeds and plump, juicy raisins mingling with toasty oats, all subtly glazed by sweetness and spice, this is a superb topping for yogurt at breakfast or ice cream for dessert. If you've made a resolution to cook more, save money, or eat better I hope you'll give this simple, delicious granola a try. Whether you make many different small batches with a wide variety of ingredients, or a huge batch to keep you supplied for weeks, the small time investment required will reward you many times over.

Seeded Raisin and Walnut Granola
adapted from Bob's Red Mill
makes about 2 to 2 1/2 cups

1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
2 tablespoons raw shelled sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 350°F, set aside a cookie sheet, lining with aluminum foil or parchment paper, if desired. Combine oats, coconut, wheat germ, seeds and nuts in a large bowl. In another container, mix together the butter, honey, water, salt, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Pour over grains, stirring thoroughly.

2. Spread mixture thinly on cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Oats should be crisp and brown, but coconut should not be burned. Allow to cool thoroughly, then add raisins and place in an airtight container for storage. Can be stored up to 3 weeks without refrigeration. Makes about 6 - 1/3 cup servings.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Vietnamese Cabbage-and-Chicken Salad

Being a Wisconsin girl with German heritage, my first instinct when preparing cabbage is to cook it down and serve it with sausage and beer. While that is undoubtedly delicious, the recent spate of meat-centric, heavy family dinners over the holidays left me craving something fresh and crunchy with a plethora of vibrant flavors (the Scandinavians and Germans are not exactly known for their liberal use of exotic spices), and this meal perfectly satisfied those needs while using up the lonely CSA cabbage (and radishes and carrots) that was lingering in my refrigerator. Fresh and crunchy cabbage, radishes, carrots, apple, and scallions blend together beautifully with a melange of classic Asian flavors, with just enough poached chicken to make it a light main course. This dressing isn't remotely exotic for those familiar with the flavors of Southeast Asia, but the tried-and-true combination of sesame oil, jalapeño, ginger, vinegar, fish sauce, lime, and cilantro was a fantastic way to bring my palate back to life. Although there was flavor and crunch to spare, I have one simple addition in mind for the next time this makes it to my dinner plate-a generous sprinkling of toasted, salted peanuts for just a bit of saltiness and richness in this otherwise light dish. It may seem a bit out of place to be eating a meal like this in what should be the depths of winter, but even once there's finally a blanket of snow on the ground I'll be happily clinging to tastes of warmer climates.
Vietnamese Cabbage-and-Chicken Salad
serves 4

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3)
3 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeds and ribs removed, sliced
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger
2 cups water
1 head green cabbage (about 2 1/2 pounds), shredded (about 2 1/2 quarts)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)
1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
3 carrots, grated
3 radishes, grated (I used beauty heart/watermelon radishes, but any will do)
4 scallions including green tops, chopped
2 cups coarse-chopped mint, basil, cilantro, or dill, or a combination
1 tart apple, such as Granny Smith, cored and grated
1. Rub the chicken breasts with 1 teaspoon of the salt and 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil. In a medium saucepan, combine the jalapeño, ginger, and water. Bring to a simmer, add the chicken, and cover the pan. Simmer for 5 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the chicken steam for 5 minutes. Remove the chicken breasts from the saucepan; when they are cool enough to handle, pull them into shreds.
2. Meanwhile, in a large glass or stainless-steel bowl, combine the cabbage with the vinegar, fish sauce, lime juice, and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Toss and let stand for 10 minutes.

3. Add the carrots, radishes, scallions, 1 1/2 cups of the herbs, and the apple to the cabbage mixture. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Serve the salad topped with the chicken and the remaining 1/2 cup herbs.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Cranberry Pecan Health Bars

Happy New Year! Did you make a New Year's resolution to eat healthier? If so, this recipe certainly has a place in your diet. One of the biggest obstacles for many people when it comes to eating healthier is time, leading far too many people to rush out of the house without breakfast or grab a snack from the vending machine at work when the mid-afternoon munchies strike. If you can invest a little bit of time on the weekend to whip up a batch of these easy bars, you'll have at least one guaranteed source of quick nutrition during the work week. While I can go on and on about all the nutritious components of these hearty bars, it's would be all for naught if they weren't delicious as well. The classic combination of sweet-tart cranberries and rich, toasty pecans are united with chewy oats by sweet dates and a bit of honey in this tasty, filling breakfast or snack. I happened to choose pecans and cranberries, but I can think of dozens of other combinations that would be fantastic in these bars as well-walnuts and cranberries, almonds and blueberries,  pistachios and apricots...I could go on forever. But as long as you're going to the effort of making one batch, why not make a couple different varieties, freezing the extra for a flavorful cache of nutrition at the ready anytime.

Cranberry Pecan Health Bars
adapted from Martha Stewart
makes 8 bars

1 cup (9 ounces) pitted dates
1/4 cup brown rice syrup, honey, or maple syrup
Vegetable-oil cooking spray
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons oat bran
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
2 tablespoons wheat germ
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place dates in a small saucepan, cover with cold water, and bring to a simmer. Drain. Puree in a food processor with brown rice syrup or honey until smooth.

2. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray. Place oats and half of the pecans in a food processor, pulse until coarsely ground, and transfer to a large bowl. Add remaining pecans, cranberries, bran, flaxseed, wheat germ, salt, and cinnamon to bowl and toss to combine. Mix in date puree and brown rice syrup, honey, or maple syrup. Press mixture into an even layer pan. (Wetting your hands first will facilitate the process).

3. Bake until center is firm and edges are golden, about 25 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 8 bars.