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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Objects and Subjects

I'm taking an amazing art class for adults at my children's school. Taught by the fabulously talented Rachel Rabhan (the upper school's art teacher and an incredible artist), the sessions are part drawing, part soul searching, and part therapy. A great (and very diverse) group of people get together once a week for an intimate, sensory, and cathartic experience. I'm not being paid to write this! I'm just fascinated and I feel privileged. Last week, Rachel asked us to bring in to class an object that is important to us. 
I brought a little elephant sculpture that belonged to my mother. It was the only object I took from her bedroom after she passed, exactly three years ago. She collected elephants with their trunks pointing upwards, for "good luck," she said. I needed to bring it home with me. During class, when explaining the meaningfulness of the elephant, it hit me how things are never important, unless they have a value added by another human being. The value, ultimately being feelings, which are intangible and amorphous, takes a physical form in the object, and that's why we cherish objects.
For the last three years, I've been saying kaddish the day before Chanukah, and the immense sadness of her passing, and the duration of her long disease invade me again. Not that there's ever a day in which I don't think about her and lament her absence, but when her Yor Tzeit comes, it becomes more intense, sharper and darker than usual. I'm relieved her pain is over, though. But I'll never recover from not having been able to say goodbye to her in person.
She always pushed forward and never surrendered, not even for a minute. So I know she would have preferred me to celebrate her than to cry for her (although I just feel like crying). So, last Friday, I made challah in her honor.
I chose the braided bread for many reasons.
1. The spiritual link that keeps Jewish women from every generation together and turns them into sacred beings.
2. Because the first time I ever realized challah could actually be baked at home and not bought at a store, was when my mother decided to bake one (and only) at home. I was about 7 years-old and when the shiny, golden, perfectly braided loaf came out of the oven, I thought my mother's capabilities were out of this world. Unfortunately, when we tried it, it tasted like beer. Something must have gone wrong with the yeast. She never attempted it again, but here's where I come, giving continuity to her initiative.
3. Because it felt good to think of her while kneading the dough and turning powder and liquid into edible glory worth a special blessing during the most important day of the week, seems like a miracle by itself.
4. Because I thought a bit out-of-the box for this recipe and imprinted it with my own personality; and she always encouraged me to be original, even if that wasn't always the safest way to go, nor greatly appreciated by me at the time.
5. Because going back to objects and people: challah is full of value, meaning and feelings. It represents Jews of every age, nationality, social status and for all generations. It's physically a gorgeous, delicious, sweet, rich bread, but most importantly, it's sacred to bake it, eat it and share it at your table with people you love.

CHALLAH A'LA IRONY OF BAKING


Ingredients
  • Vegetarian (contains honey)
  • Free of: eggs, dairy, nuts, soy
  • Contains wheat and gluten
Just a couple of notes:
  • Fresh yeast is sold refrigerated, compacted into 2 oz "cakes." Make sure it's not passed its expiration date. You can keep fresh yeast frozen for a long time. Just thaw it in the fridge the night before using.
  • Use pure honey, but don't bother splurging in "raw" honey, as the challah will be baked anyways and all the raw benefits are lost with the heat.
  • Yes!!! you can use warm water instead of the green tea. But green tea adds antioxidants and a bit of UMAMI taste. I use 2 tea bags for the 4 cups of water to brew the tea.
  • When baking bread, ALWAYS use warm liquids, NOT hot, as you may kill the yeast (yes, it's alive) and your dough won't rise. The best way of testing the temperature (besides a thermometer, of course) is by feeling the liquid with your inner wrist, and if it feels warm and comfortable, the yeast will like it too.
  • Don't add more salt than stated in the recipe, as it could also kill the yeast. But don't omit salt completely either, as besides imparting flavor, it conditions the dough.
  • This recipe is EGG FREE, so you may taste the dough.
  • Add and extra 1/4 to 1/2 cup honey if you love sweet challah

4 cups warm brewed green tea (105-115 F)
2 (2 oz) bars FRESH yeast
16 oz. pure honey
2 1/2 lbs white whole wheat flour (King Arthur's), plus more for flouring surface
2 1/2 lbs bread flour ("high gluten")
2 tablespoons chia seeds, ground
1 ½ tablespoon fine sea salt
1 ½ cups grape seed or rice bran oil, plus 2 tablespoons for oiling the dough


 Method

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm tea, stir 1 tablespoon honey and set aside (until tea starts sizzling with tiny air bubbles or if using water, until foam forms, about 10 min).

In a very large bowl (I mean huge), combine flours and salt. Make a well in the center.

Pour in the remaining honey, ground chia, oil and yeast mixture into well. Just don't discard the honey container, as you'll use the left over honey in the bottom for glaze.

Mix and knead until smooth. Do it with an electric mixer with the dough hook, or roll up your sleeves and enjoy using your hands. Dough should be elastic, and should spring back when poked with your finger.

Half the dough and shape into 2 large balls. Place in 2 separate bowls covering each all over (including bottom) with 1 tablespoon oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise on a warm place for 1-1 ½ hours (until it doubles its volume).
If you prefer, cover the challah dough and refrigerate before it starts rising, leaving it in the fridge overnight (as opposed to 1to 11/2 hours at room temp), then proceed with the next step

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Punch down dough and separate an olive-size piece of dough, saying the blessing, and burn the piece.

In a floured surface (I like working on a floured large piece of parchment paper to avoid sticking and for easy clean-up) shape each challah, by forming long "snakes" of dough by rolling pieces of dough against the surface or between your hands.

Use 3 "snakes" to make regular 3-strand braids (the challah looks even nicer when the center of each strand is thicker than the tips).

Or use 6 strands and working from right to left, follow an "up 2, down 1" pattern, until you've used all the strands. 



You can coil one large strand into a Rosh Hashanah-shaped challah or into small "knots" to make challah rolls.


Make little balls (size of a golf ball) and place them randomly in a baking pan, looks wonderfully complicated after baking, and you get a pull-apart challah.

*You could wrap challah dough at this point and freeze it until the day you'll be using it. Just thaw before baking.

Place challah loaves on parchment-lined rimmed baking pans and allow to rise for 30 minutes more.

Add a teaspoon or two of warm water into the glass where the honey used to be. Cover and shake it, so the water dissolves any honey in the container.

Brush loaves with honey-water mixture.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown. Or until the challah sounds hallow when tapped in the bottom.


Enjoy!

Recipe makes 4 humongous loaves, or about 8 medium ones.



Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Cookie Fit vs. The Fit Cookie

 I sadly admitted a while back that snacking is my children’s main meal of the day (probably, your kids' too, you know it!). When mine were little, I thought I would teach them how to eat properly, sitting down at a table full of healthy, well balanced and delicious food three or four times a day;  table mats set with napkins, a plate, a bowl, a spoon and a fork. Then I began snacking up on my own words, as despite all my beliefs, we had ended up swapping dishes for Ziploc bags and polka-dotted BPA-free, ergonomic, spill proof vessels. Their contents were enjoyed always on the go and at random times.
The abundance of newer portable foods, just states that I’m not alone in this. However, even if I had given in in the snacking, I wasn’t willing to compromise the quality of the snacks. Fresh, freeze-dried, dry, and/or pureed fruits, veggies, yogurt, air popped popcorn (once they were old enough not to choke on them), granola, edamame, and National king of kiddie snacks: Cheerios…I made sure they weren’t only empty calories.
One day, things changed. At pick up from pre-school, a mother holding a warehouse club-sized box of Oreos (which by the way, end up being some of the most allergy-friendly goodies around, as they are dairy, nut and egg free) stood up at the classroom door to greet her child with the cookie sandwiches. My son, who was next in line and observed the process, hopeful and excited--instead of saying hi to me--, asked what his snack was.
I showed him the sweet, bright orange clementine I had brought…Seizures of anger and a Tony Award-deserving tantrum followed. The cookie-holding mom offered some to my child, who was by then (and less than a minute had passed) lying on the floor kicking the puddle formed by his own tears. Thoughtfully, she had brought the big box for sharing and everything went back to happiness. She was sweet and generous about it, but I was pretty annoyed with her, my son, and the clementine.
Since that day on, I decided all I could do was prepare my children tasty snacks, that although would never be welcomed as an Oreo, would at least be delicious, attractive, portable, and would offer more than just a sugar rush. I didn’t want any artificial ingredients, I tried to include as many whole grains and as little sugar as possible, and I made sure there were real foods and nutrients. I’m constantly in the kitchen trying new ingredients, tweaking and testing. Here’s a winner (aka approved by both of my children) for the season:
CHAMOMILE-PEAR MINI SCONES
These are a great option for people suffering from allergies to eggs, dairy and nuts, and can be made gluten free. You can add other seeds, shredded coconut, nuts (of course, if there are no allergies). You can also switch the fruit you are using. They are delicious with berries and fresh herbs during warmer seasons.
The zest of any citrus fruit works really well too. You could substitute other herbal teas for the chamomile, or experiment with Rooibos* (red tea) or a bit of minced fresh ginger for a more grown up punch.
Substitute vanilla extract for the seeds of one vanilla bean, and/or for 2 teaspoons or orange blossom water* or rose water*. This is one of those recipes that you can customize as you please. Just keep the amounts of chickpeas, liquid sweetener, oil, flour, quinoa flakes, chia, salt, baking soda and fruit constant, and the rest, make it your own!
I did mention above that you can substitute the chamomile, however, besides a plesant floral taste, this herb has anti-irritant, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. It's been used since antiquity to alleviate sleep disorders, anxiety, skin conditions, stomach aches and menstrual cramps. So...it might be a good idea to keep it if your child reacts like mine did when I offered him the clementine!
NOTE:  High doses of chamomile can cause drowsiness. People allergic to the daisy flower family can present a severe reaction to chamomile. Do not use chamomile during pregnancy (it could stimulate the uterus), or if you suffer from bleeding disorders (it can thin the blood).
Oh, no!!! I just feel like an ad for cigarettes (in the old days) or a farma product, where they first tell you how amazing, life-fixing, fun, to conume the product is, and then a disclaimer follows, ruining the party. But I did feel a big responsibility, especially with pregnant women, as I had no idea chamomile could be dangerous when expecting.
Ingredients
1 bag chamomile tea, optional*
1 (15-OZ) can chickpeas*, rinsed and drained
7 ounces pure maple syrup, honey, or coconut nectar
4 oz, mild tasting extra virgin olive oil OR expeller pressed grape seed oil*
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract* 
8 ounces whole oat flour (gluten free)* if necessary
3 ounces quinoa flakes*
2 tablespoons chia seeds*
½ teaspoon fine sea salt*
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 medium pear, cored and coarsely chopped

*These ingredients can be found here

Method
Preheat oven to 325 F. Line two rimmed sheet pans with parchment paper and set aside.
Pour the contents of the chamomile tea bag –if using-- in a spice or coffee grinder and grind until it looks like powder. Measure 2 teaspoons of ground chamomile and set aside. Reserve the rest for another use.
Process chickpeas, maple syrup, oil and vanilla until chickpeas are coarsely chopped. Empty mix into a large bowl. Add flour, measured ground chamomile, quinoa flakes, chia, salt and baking soda into bowl with chickpea mix. Mix with a spatula or wooden spoon. Once dough comes together, add in chopped pear and mix until incorporated.
Scoop dough into small balls with a mini ice-cream scoop. Place scones onto prepared baking sheets, keeping 1-inch separation between each. Bake for about 20 minutes until they look dry, and feel set and crusty when touched gently. If still in doubt, break one of them and make sure its interior looks done.
Let cool and enjoy or wrap in plastic and freeze. For best taste, reheat before serving.
Makes about 75 mini scones
 




Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

I have to be honest. I'm impartial to Thanksgiving. After 13 years in the U.S., even if I like the National holiday, it doesn't evoke in me any particular nostalgia, joy nor excitement. I do like the food (although...what's up with sweet potatoes with marshmallows??? as a side dish!!! Will never understand that one...), and I like the fact that it's a day in which people in the whole country get together with their families, not only to prove the Universal dysfunctionality of the institution, but to pause and reflect in the good things life has given them and feel thankful.
However, since I didn't grow up celebrating it, it doesn't stir me inside like some other times when I wished I had my family around and I hoped I could bring my childhood back. I guess that once a year, I get to just enjoy, without too much thinking, missing or feeling. And I'm thankful for that!
And while I'm thanking, I want to thank YOU, the people who read this blog. Some times, I don't even understand why you actually read it, and some others I feel a bit proud of this attempt at connecting personally with others through better food.
My friend D, who recently ditched me (and the sadomasochistic life in NYC) for the 'burbs, called this week. Her baby just started solids, and she wanted to share (orally, not in written) that the only food the 7-month-old accepts and likes is the white soup from this blog! Her call made my YEAR!!! Thank you baby E and thank you D!

Thank you to all of you who email and facebook me, talk to me in the elevator, at Fairway, at gatherings, or those of you who even dare to post comments on the blog!!! Thank you for the old loyal friendships and also for the new ones. Thank you for thinking of me, and again, for accompanying me through my writing, my recipes, my attempt at taking pictures and at getting my toes wet in the scary waters of cyberspace, and all my ridiculousness. I'm sure you have a zillion more important things to do, so THANK YOU for taking the time.

And...thanks to Jean-Georges Vongerichten (or perhaps pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini???) for the original molten chocolate cake recipe that I've adulterated in a zillion ways and that for some reason, it always comes out delicious (hot and chocolaty. I guess nothing can go wrong with that!).
This is the Reece's cups inspired version kissed with Thanksgiving squash.
Have a lovely Thanksgiving!

PB-CHOCOLATE MOLTEN CAKES

Ingredients
  • Contains peanuts, eggs and gluten
- For gluten free: substitute spelt flour for the same amount of gluten free oat flour or super fine rice flour

- For peanut free: Substitute peanut butter for the same amount of extra virgin olive oil

-For egg free click here

  • Free of dairy, soy, refined flour and refined sugar

Makes 12 individual cakes
  • 2/3 cup creamy all natural peanut butter (unsweetened)
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped *
  • 6 eggs, prefereably organic
  • 1/2 cup squash puree (unsweetened)
  • 1/3 cup evaporated cane juice (sucanat) or coconut sugar*
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract*
  • 4 teaspoons whole spelt flour*
* You can find those ingredients here
Method
  • Preheat oven to 450 F. Place 12 foil (or other self standing) cupcake liners on a sheet pan. Set aside.
  •  In the top of a double boiler set over simmering water, heat the peanut butter and chocolate together until the chocolate is almost completely melted. While that’s heating, beat together the eggs, squash puree, and sucanat, salt and vanilla with a whisk or electric beater until light and thick.
  • Whisk together the melted chocolate and PB; it should be quite warm. Pour in the egg mixture, then quickly beat in the flour, just until combined.

  • Divide the batter among the molds. (At this point you can refrigerate the desserts until you are ready to eat, for up to a day; bring them back to room temperature before baking.)
  • Bake the molds on a tray for 6 to 7 minutes; the center will still be quite soft, even liquid, but the sides will be set.
  • Invert each mold onto a plate and let sit for about 10 seconds. Unmold by lifting up one corner of the mold; the cake will fall out onto the plate. Serve immediately.



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Magic Glove: Confessions of a Germophobe

Everyone who knows me, could attest organization is not my forte. I'm definitely not a neat freak, I function making last minute decisions, and with a weird abstract order in my head that shows up as brief moments of clarity once in a while. I'm sure that if I ever make a debut on T.V., it will be at the show hoarders where the hosts will rescue our family of four from a gigantic mountain of cookbooks, magazines, financial research printouts and imported (Chinese) crappy toys received as party favors. 
However, and despite all this lack of organization, I'm very into cleanliness and mostly, into avoiding microbes. My name is Alexandra, and I am a germophobe.
It all started as a child when my mother told me to never walk into a public shower barefoot (in my early twenties, I almost killed myself in a shower at a Newark motel where Continental Airlines had put my friend and I, when our flight to Montreal was canceled. I didn't have my suitcase with me, so I thought I would improvise water shoes by wrapping plastic bags around my feet. I slipped dangerously a couple of times, but I didn't touch the floor!). It continued developing when mom explained me why I shouldn't use my favorite swimming suit again after it had been stolen in camp and eventually returned. "Never share your hair brush with anyone," she lectured me. And as I've said before, I'm a very obedient person. When I got to university, matters only got worse when I took my first microbiology class, a food microbiology one and its lab followed, and then I chose to specialize in nutrition for food service, where I had to get certified in an international food safety program. I received a special honor for great performance on the test...the problem was, and is, that some times, the more you know, the crazier you get...
I screamed my lungs out when my friend A rinsed cooked pasta with water from the sink (we were in Mexico, where the water coming out of faucets and sinks is not potable). The friendship suffered due to my hysteria, although after he became a chef, eventually learned that of course, I was right all along!
Another dear childhood friend of mine confessed that, after everything I had taught her (I repeated my mom's advice and my classroom acquired knowledge to her any time I got a chance), she was purposely not bringing flip flops to her son's swimming class. Needless to say, the boy caught athlete's foot. She told me the story and cleared that she had done it intentionally, as she wanted to avoid her child turning out like me!!! She wanted him to learn that foot fungus could be treated and wasn't a big deal.
As my friend is raising a resilient child, I've turned my oldest one in a photocopy of me. She refuses to touch door knobs and handles because "they are full of germs." She's right, though. But as I told her, she can't live staring at closed doors and waiting for someone to open them for her. I do feel a sting of pathological pride when I realize how well she understands the transmission of germs, but I don't want her to turn out like myself either, as I get sick in my head instead of sick with a cold; so I gifted an antibacterial spray to keep in her school bag and I pretend it's not a big deal.
Needless to say, my germophobia gets pumped up whenever I visit restaurants or other kinds of food service. I hate when cooks and/or servers are wearing hats or nets, but all their hair is coming out of them. Where buffets are not properly cooled, or when a cook wears a mask right under his/her nose. But what drives me the craziest are plastic gloves. For some reason, many food handlers think that the gloves are magical: just because they are wearing them, they will avoid food borne disease despite using the exact same glove to prepare a sandwich or serve a hot dog and then, charging the customer for their food, giving them change and moving on to the next sandwich, then more money, still same pair of gloves. I've seen some servers leave the establishment with gloves on, go buy a missing ingredient at a store, come back and keep preparing food, all without ever taking off their latex hand protection, and thinking they are taking extreme hygienic measures. There's a strange believe that the glove offers immunity against all microbes. Well, they might offer their hands defense against all the invisible, minuscule disease-causing agents they touch, but not your food, so good to keep in mind that in reality, if you wash your hands well with soap, and cook right away, you'll be much safer.
All this spiel, to suggest you wash your hands and then proceed to make the following recipe right away. A perfect fall/winter (flu season!!!) salad that provides everything your body needs to defend itself from the next meal you eat at a place where the server cooks your food and exchanges bills and coins with the same pair of gloves...


MASSAGED KALE SALAD WITH DELICATA SQUASH AND POMEGRANATE

Kale loves to be pampered. When you massage (gloves or no gloves, up to you) the dressing into the leaves, you are rewarded with a soft, flavorful, slightly spicy and still crispy and leathery green. Especially when you do it ahead of time, so it's nice that for once, you can (and should) dress a salad ahead of time. The colorful result of this salad only shows the presence of a huge variety of phytonutrients. With this salad, the "rainbow-a-day" is met. Full of fiber, carotenoids, flavonols, vitamins K, A, B, C and lots of minerals, this should be a keeper!
This recipe uses delicata squash, which is a variety that doesn't need to be peeled, saving a nice amount of effort. However, feel free to use your favorite kind if you prefer, just peel before roasting it.

Note on seeding pomegranates: Of course you can buy the arils already extracted, but seeding a whole pomegranate is not as intimidating as it seems. Either one of the following methods works beautifully, it's fun, and kids love helping out:

1. Underwater: With a serrated knife, quarter the pomegranate, and working with a quarter at a time, submerge pomegranate in a large bowl 2/3 full of water. Seed with your hands keeping the fruit under water. The seeds will go to the bottom while the white, inedible membrane will float. Discard white skin, drain water and voila: you have all the seeds left and no messy spots or splatters anywhere.
2. Pinata style: This is Yotam Ottolenghi's method from Plenty- Cut the pomegranate into two horizontally (at the equator). Hold one half over a large bowl, with the cut side against your palm, and use the back of a wooden spoon or a rolling pin to gently knock on the pomegranate skin. Continue beating with increasing power until the seeds are coming out naturally and falling through your fingers into the bowl. Once all are there, sift through the seeds to remove any bits of white skin or membrane.


Ingredients
  • Vegan, free of: gluten, wheat, dairy, eggs
  • Contains nuts, but could walnut oil can be substituted for extra virgin olive oil and pistachios can be substituted with roasted squash seeds (or pumpkin)

1 Delicata squash, halved, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil*, divided

5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, divided

2 tablespoons toasted walnut oil*

1 tablespoon hot water

1 small clove garlic, peeled

1 1/2 teaspoons raw honey*

1 teaspoon coarse Dijon mustard*

1 bunch of kale (any variety), washed, patted dry, tough stems discarded and leaves sliced into bite size portions

1 pomegranate, seeded (see methods above)

2/3 cup roasted pistachios*, shelled and coarsely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste




Method

Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment.

Place squash pieces on prepared sheet and drizzle them with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Mix with a spatula or your hands to coat evenly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for 20-25 minutes, until it browns outside and softens inside; tossing every 10 minutes.

While squash roasts, place remaining olive oil, and balsamic together with walnut oil, hot water, garlic, honey, mustard, a bit of salt and pepper in the bowl of a blender or a deep cup,  (if using an immersion blender) and mix until the dressing is well emulsified. Adjust seasoning. 

In a large salad bowl, place kale and add 1/4 cup of dressing. Massage the dressing onto the leaves until they are all covered. Add more dressing, if desired, or cover the rest and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

When the squash is ready, let it cool while you seed the pomegranate.

Add pomegranate seeds to kale, then roasted squash and top with chopped pistachios.

Mix well and add more dressing, if desired.


Variations:

-Add 1 cubed avocado
-Instead of pistachios, roast the squash seeds and top the salad with them
-Add peeled and sliced Fuyu persimmons (instead of squash, or along with it)
-Some goat or feta cheese goes really well in this salad






Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pajama days

I've spent this week revamping the blog. I hope you find it cleaner and easier to follow. Also, if you look at the right side column, you'll find the link to my new aStore. I've picked in amazon.com the non-perishable ingredients that I often use--but are some times not available in regular grocery stores--and I've put them all in this aStore. So you can click on it, select the ingredients, purchase them (with the online security that amazon offers) and get them shipped directly to you. No time or gas wasted searching for them! Yes, I do get a small commission, but it will not cost you anything extra. Amazon is the one splitting it with me! Please let me know if you find it helpful and if you have any comments or suggestions. I'd love to learn what you think.  

In a way, I'm glad I've been mostly working from home these days, as there's been no happy weather. After everyone was slowly trying to get life back to "normal," in recovery from the hurricane, here came a nasty snow storm. Wind breaking and turning inside out everyone's cheap umbrellas (yes, there's is actually a quality and endurance difference, but I'm still buying the $8.00 ones, which end up being more expensive, but the Burberry's one will have to wait), slushy sidewalks, red noses, wet everythings and dark skies...

It's tea drinking mood, sweats (OK, pajamas), thick socks, fluffy sleepers, soups, crockpot-cooked meals and porridges time. Yes, smooth, warm, creamy, slightly spiced, sweet and comforting porridges. Warmth sliding down the throat, smoothly, delicately, comfortably... Needless to say, lots of oatmeal. But today I was in the mood for something different.
I had some left over coconut milk in the fridge and I decided to give millet a try for breakfast.
Most of us have at some point heard the word millet, but few people keep it in their cupboard. Well, here we go, then: millet is a main ingredient in birdseed and just as it happens with quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat, it is not technically a grain, but a seed that behaves like a grain.
The term millet, actually refers to a variety of grains from the same grass family, not a specific one, and that's why it can be white, red, yellow or grayish.
A tiny round ancient seed, that resists draughts well, millet originated in Ethiopia, and it's a common ingredient in African, Indian and Asian cuisines. Before the discovery of the New World, it was a popular food in Europe, that eventually was replaced by potatoes and corn, and reserved mostly for animal feed.
However, with the current revival of ancient grains, the increasing incidence of celiac disease and gluten intolerance (millet is gluten free), and the recognition of whole, unprocessed grains as health-promoting and maintaining foods, these little guys are making a comeback.
They are mild in flavor, easy to digest, inexpensive and high in heart-protective magnesium and contains a good amount of protein. Millet is also a good source of phosphorus, which is necessary for cellular and genetic structure, bone formation, and energy production; manganese (an essential enzyme activator), powerful antioxidants and fiber.

For best tasting results, it's good to toast millet before cooking it. Millet should be placed in a hot, dry skillet over medium high heat, and moved around constantly with a heat-proof spatula for about 5 minutes. Until a toasty smell and mild browning are perceived. Then, it can be cooked in cold liquid (3 parts liquid to 1 part millet, for a rice-like texture, or a bit more for a loser, creamier one) for about 25 minutes. Then it should stand in the pan, covered with heat turned off for 5-8 minutes.

PEAR AND COCONUT MILK MILLET PORRIDGE

You can substitute coconut milk for almond, hemp, hazelnut, rice, whole dairy milk, or even water. Although I did love the richness and the slight sweetness of the coconut milk in this recipe.
It doesn't require the addition of sweetener, as the pear melts into the millet, and the spices just enhance it a bit more.

INGREDIENTS

  • Vegan
  • Free of: dairy, nuts, eggs, sugar, soy, wheat and gluten
  • Super ingredients: millet, pear, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon


1/4 cup millet
1 soft pear, seeded and cubed
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground (freshly, if possible) nutmeg
1 cup canned coconut milk
Cinnamon, to taste

METHOD
Heat a small sauce pan for a couple of minutes, until very hot. Lower flame to medium high and add in millet.

Cook the grain, mixing constantly with a heat-proof spatula until it smells toasty and browns a bit. Do not burn!

Add in the cubed pear, ginger and nutmeg, mix to distribute and pour in the coconut milk.

Bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium, cover and let cook 25 minutes.
Turn heat off and let porridge rest, still covered for 5 minutes.

Serve on a bowl and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Serves 1 (generously), but recipe can be doubled, tripled or made to feed as many breakfast eaters as you want.


NOTE: Recipe can be prepared in a slow cooker overnight, and then you'll wake up to a warm breakfast ready to go (just remember to toast milled before placing it on the crockpot)


  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sandy was here

No. I'm not going to repeat or describe what the storm brought. First of all, I'm incredibly thankful that it was mostly an annoyance for many of us, but my heart goes to all those who lost someone and/or something. 
Then, after plenty of time to hang out with the family, shred accumulated old mailing and trying to get creative, I was free to philosophize, and I decided to put the following out there:
I think that whoever names hurricanes should stop using normal people's names. I happen to know a couple of extremely nice women and men named Sandy. Why ruin it for them? I suggest that from now on, hurricanes should be named after famous movie villains.
Wouldn't it be way more effective to evacuate people by telling them that Freddy Krueger was approaching, instead of Sandy? Hannibal Lecter, Darth Vader, Cruella Deville, all those would really do it! People would run seeking shelter immediately. And... if they ever ran out of choices (which they won't), there are always options in Mexican soap operas, although Mayor Bloomberg may have a hard time pronouncing them (sorry, I love the man, but I'd happily volunteer to stand next to the woman translating his speech for the hearing impaired, and clearly summarize his points for the Spanish speaking population).
Besides all these deep intellectual thinking, I also used my hurricaition (I heard it, didn't come up with it, I'd never be that clever!) to keep my kids entertained and from hanging themselves from the Austrian chandelier that my ancestors brought from Russia to Mexico and then my grandmother somehow managed to bring to NYC. We made super healthy sushi (they hated it, but I thought I was a genius), we played board games, legos, soccer, wii, watched T.V., fought and made up, lots of crafting, just in time for my daughter's upcoming 8th birthday party, and we baked cookies.

I saw the original recipe in The Kitchn and thought it would make awesome cookies. However, ever since I opened Three Tablespoons, and started switching from conventional super processed ingredients to wholesome ones, I haven't been able to follow a single recipe as it's written. Even people often ask me if I could make them a decorated cake like in the good old days when I was making Dora The Explorers, flowers, trains and Curious Georges out of brightly (and artificially) colored fondant. It's hard to go back, although I have to be honest, when I do make them once in a very while, I enjoy it very much (but the guilt is heavy). All this to say that I changed the recipe of the cookies completely, but still, they were delicious and perfect for a home-bound afternoon.

(Not) Nutella Cookies



The original recipe calls for everyone's sinful favorite (unless they are allergic to nuts)​: Nutella. However, although it's understand​able why everyone loves it, I've found that Justin's chocolate-​hazelnut spread has way less sugar than the Italian brand (Nutella has 21g., while Justin's 7g.) and it's also amazingly delicious and has no artificial ingredient​s. It does contain palm oil, which I'm not the biggest fan of, but overall, it beats Nutella in nutrition, and since I don't personally like milk chocolate, Justin has won my palate, as it's dairy free. Another option would be making your own chocolate hazelnut spread. There are hundreds of recipes online. I've tried a couple, but my kids haven't become big fans, as they don't like the mildly coarse texture that results from home food-processors. Note that good quality nut spreads (and nuts) are expensive, but I see that as a pro, so you only bake these for special occasions. For people suffering nut allergies, feel free to use chocolate soy nut butter. It will work fine.

If I had had any raw hazelnuts during Sandy's stay, 1/2 cup of them, coarsely chopped, would have been a great addition to the recipe at the end of the mixing process... Hopefully for next time!

Ingredients

  • Vegan
  • Free of: eggs, dairy, soy, wheat. Use gluten free oat flour if gluten free is needed
  • Contains nuts

4 ounces (1/2 cup) virgin coconut oil, melted but not hot
3/4 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
2 teaspoons chia seeds, ground
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup whole oat flour (gf if needed)
1/4 cup amaranth flour *
1/2 cup cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

*although a great addition, if you don't have/find amaranth flour, just substitute for another 1/4 cup oat flour.

Method

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer, cream with the paddle attachment the coconut oil, chocolate-hazelnut spread and coconut sugar.

Once mixed, add in ground chia, water and vanilla extract until incorporated.

Add at once oat and amaranth flours, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
Mix until the dough comes together.

Drop 1 tablespoon scoops onto the prepared pan, leaving 1 inch in between each cookie.

Bake for about 10 minutes. Let cool for 2 minutes and enjoy!

Cookies can be stored in an air tight container for up to 4 days.
They are soft, delicate, crumbly and slightly creamy with an intense chocolate flavor.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Old Habits Die Hard

Last Sunday, after a 3-hour-long drive (that was supposed to last 1, but there was traffic and a grand total of 2 access booths to the parking lot, where a zillion cars wanted in), we arrived into a magical place. It was the gateway to autumn.

With stunning shades of bright yellow, green, brown, deep purple, orange and red, the trees welcomed us into Storm King Sculpture Garden. The beautiful nature and the impressive human-made art pieces all seen through the fall sunlight, gave us an incredible sense of warmth.



The crunchy dry leaves covering the ground got me into thinking about this season being the one in which we shed off everything that has dried out. In the fall, everything lifeless is let go of and slowly, we'll prepare for renewal. It's not an easy process, as the harshness of winter makes it cold and some times even painful, but if the leaves don't fall, the new ones, those green and capable of photosynthesis and survival, won't be able to grow in their place. 

All this to say that if we don't try to get rid of whatever is not helping us live, we should let go of. But it's easier said than done. We are all creatures of habit. The known and routine reassure us pretending to offer predictability in our crazy lives. Old habits die hard, especially if we believe they are the right ones. For our whole lives, we've been told to drink milk to maintain our bones, our mothers would sigh with delight if we finished our chicken or meat, and we do the same with our own children. For some reason, we've learned that organic pretzels are perfect snacks for our toddlers, that protein is the only nutrient we should care about, and that it comes only from animal sources. As experts (and everyone else who's lost weight and/or defeated disease and has written a book about it or gone to Dr. Oz's show) continually discuss defending their theories, we go from eating like cavemen, to avoiding gluten, to fearing carbohydrates, demonizing fat, swapping solid food for juices, to eating chicken nuggets that taste, smell, resemble and even chirp like chicken, but have absolutely no chicken in them. Deep down, the meat/chicken/egg/milk base of the American diet is undeniable despite fads and trends. Being able to eat them on a daily basis in a way, symbolizes the realization of the American Dream. While in other cultures and countries (which, consequentially have less incidence of cancer, heart disease and diabetes), animal derived products are a luxury and people are not able to afford them in large quantities for every day consumption. Here, where immigrants arrived and keep arriving often looking to escape hunger, being able to afford animal products every day and every meal can feel as if they've made it! The animal-derived food eating high status is imbibed in our culture and we've relegated plant foods to an after-thought. We don't think of kale as our main dish (some of us don't even know what kale looks like), nor as lentils and spelt berries as our protein suppliers. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes should actually be our main course, but it freaks us out to think that way! They are rich in vitamins, minerals, protein, phytonutrients, good carbs, fiber. They are good for our bodies, our health, our performance, our skin and everything in between.
Old habits do die hard, but this one is worth to keep in mind. I'm not suggesting BBQ lovers to become vegans, but if we switched the structure of our meals, thinking of the plant-derived ingredients as the center of them, we'd be doing a favor to ourselves, humanity, the planet, and even our pockets.
My husband and I watched this week the documentary Forks Over Knives (Netflix has it, and I recommend adding it to your queue). My meat-fanatic other-half was so shocked with what we saw, that he agreed adopt a plant-based diet. It took an hour and a half to convince him of what my decade-long nagging had failed to do. This is a groundbreaking development in this family!
Officially (because we've actually been on it without him knowing), he's decided to start caring about what he puts into his body. We're not eliminating animal products completely, as despite liking the movie very much, I do think that fish, eggs and some kinds of dairy are beneficial to our health. We're just restructuring our meals eating as many fruits and vegetables as we can. Then pulses and whole grains. The rest will be less prominent. Of course, processed products are a once in a very while for the four of us.

Ideally, we should all pay a visit to the green market and get our produce there. It's the freshest, tastiest, most ecological and nutritious, as the minute fruits and veggies are plugged out of their tree, bush, ground, etc, they start loosing nutrients. The farmer's market offers the shortest route between the soil and our mouths, therefore more nutrients.
However, time is often an issue, and we can't make it to the farmer's market all the time. So we need to resort to convenience. Yes, sacrifying a bit of nutrition, but still, packing in the necessary nutrients in good quantity.
Here are some suggestions to keep in mind:

- Most grocery stores offer now pre-washed, pre-cut and chopped produce. There's absolutely no shame in purchasing those (although your wallet might resent it, but if time is money and you have no time...). I'm partial to prewashed kale, salad greens, and vacuum packed peeled organic garlic cloves.

- Child labor: ask your kids to help out shelling pods (mine love working with cranberry beans), cleaning corn, tearing kale or fresh herbs, peeling sweet potatoes, squeezing and zesting citrus, seeding pomegranates, etc; and if they are old enough, start teaching them how to use the knife, or allow them to use kitchen shears. This won't only help you in the cooking, but they'll end up more excited about tasting what they cooked (or handled).

- A slow cooker is the best way of having whole grains and/or legumes ready for you every evening. Pre-soak beans (and grains if you want, too) overnight. Change the water and cook on low if you'll be away for the whole day, and on high if you want them to be ready in a couple of hours. Use a slow cooker liner if you are as lazy as me, they do wonders for clean up! Besides the fresh water (covering beans for about 2 inches), I usually add half a leaf of KOMBU sea weed (Eden's is kosher certified) to the water to add umami flavor and tenderize the legumes. I remove the kombu before serving and salt beans preferably once they are almost ready. Freeze whatever you are not eating.

- Get to know your whole grains and seeds. Experiment with spelt, wheat and barley berries, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, teff, all varieties of whole grain rice. They are all cooked in liquid and a tiny bit of salt. You can't go wrong!

- If in doubt, make a salsa: Mix fruits (any work from tomatoes, to mangoes, avocado, apple, pears, citrus, pineapple, kiwi...you name it), fresh herbs (cilantro, parsley, basil, and mint are awesome) chile (optional), chopped shallots, fresh lime juice (and zest if you want), a bit of salt and a little unfiltered cider vinegar and top off anything. It will be amazingly flavorful!

- Lentils are the legumes (pulses) that cook the fastest and don't need pre-soaking. Red lentils are very quick to make. Throw them into soups, salads or as a main dish. If you only have 5 minutes, go for Truroots sprouted green lentils. They are amazing!

- Yes, you can! Canned products are not ideal, but are way better alternatives than other processed items. Canned beans are OK to keep around. I like Eden organics brand, as they are the only BPA-free brand and are not pre-salted.

-Turn it into soup. New vegetables, grains or anything and you don't know what to do? Add them to a pot with water, carrots, onions, celery, and kombu (optional). Season with salt and cook along. Puree (I love my immersion blender), if you want or leave chunky. Season with spices like cumin, chiles, smoked paprika, turmeric, cinnamon, or a squeeze of lemon juice. Tip: produce that grows in the same season tends to go well together. For example: squash, apples and sweet potatoes; cucumber, tomatoes and mint; pumpkins and quince; asparagus and peas, etc...

- If you've followed this blog for a while, you might have realized that I love roasted vegetables. Very hot oven, baking sheet, parchment paper, good extra virgin olive oil, The Veggie, salt and pepper. A couple of minutes, and golden brown pockets of sweetness and flavor are served.

- Dare to buy new fruits, roots, tubers, greens, or any other kind of produce. Don't be afraid. Even if you have no idea what to do with them, google always has the answer and you might find the new love of your life. This works great with kids also. Together you can make new discoveries.

- Flavor makes everything satisfying. Insipid food is dull. Keeping sweet, sour, salty, umami, bitter and spicy in balance makes everything delicious. Don't buy pre-made dressings or sauces. Make your own thinking of different cuisines as inspiration, here are some ingredients to keep in mind. Mix and match them:
     Japanese: white miso + tahini (I know this is Middle Eastern, but try it and you'll see!) + brown rice vinegar + raw honey + chile flakes (optional) + wasabi + ginger
     Latin: limes + fresh chiles + onions + garlic + cumin + cilantro + tomatoes
     Italian via French: Balsamic vinegar + extra virgin olive oil + garlic + Dijon mustard + rosemary, basil, oregano, lavender or thyme + raw honey
     Middle Eastern: olive oil + cumin + sumac (or zaatar) + garlic + pomegranate molasses + lemon + sesame (and tahini)
     Thai: coconut + peanuts + lemongrass + chiles + coconut nectar + basil + mint + cilantro
     Indian: turmeric, chiles, pepper, coriander, cardamom, fenugreek, nutmeg, cloves, ginger + coconut + mango + vinegar (in chutneys) + coconut sugar + onion
     Spanish: smoked paprika + saffron + extra virgin olive oil + olives + bell peppers


SOUP DINNER

All in one pot, this Asian-flavored dish is tasty and comforting. It has umami all over it, so don't be surprised if you can't stop eating it. Bok choy, which belongs to the cabbage family, is one of the most densely nutritious foods on Earth, and the remaining ingredients don't fall that far behind.

Ingredients
  • Vegan
  • Free of: dairy, nuts, eggs, wheat and gluten


8 cups water1 leaf kombu
1/3 cup white miso paste, or more to taste
1 (1 1/2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled
1/3 cup white miso paste
1/2 package (4 ounces) buckwheat noodles (make sure they are gluten free if that's a concern)
1 package organic frozen shelled edamame
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, caps removed and caps sliced
3 baby bok choy, washed and trimmed, leaves separated
tamari or shoyu soy sauce
brown rice vinegar
2 tablespoons tahini, optional
Sliced scallions, optional

Method

Bring water, miso and ginger to a boil in a soup pot. Cook for 5 minutes and remove the kombu with tongs and discard it.

Add miso to the broth and mix until completely dissolved.

Add in noodles and cook for 6 minutes. Then add in shiitakes and bok choy. Cover and cook for 2-3 more minutes.

Serve immediately in bowls or keep warm to let flavors infusse a bit more.

Add more miso if desired and season with soy sauce and brown rice vinegar, to taste.

If using, serve with a bit of tahini and scallions

Serves 4-6