Friday, January 30, 2009


VALMG is on vacation, I hope...? No FFOF today. (Maybe she's too busy with her adorable Pillsbury dough boy giveaway?) But instead I will take the opportunity to update on some of my food discoveries lately.

First, a follow up to yesterday: Now I find that Day to Day on NPR is going away in March, too. (So is News & Notes but I never get to listen to that.) Day to Day was one of my NPR favorites. I love Madeleine Brand's voice and the stories she finds, and it was always a treat when I got to hear her in the middle of my day.

Second, a different kind of Four Foods on Friday, I suppose. This is a catch-up post of some of the recipes we've been making or enjoying lately.

First, the biggest hit with the most people goes to Nikki's Healthy Cookies from 101 Cookbooks. For some reason, it's taken me forever to get to this one, and in fact, I still haven't. But the amazing City Mouse-Country Mouse made these for us when she was here taking care of the boys, with two slight changes. First, she used white chocolate chips; and second, she made it in a smallish (I'm terrible at estimating; 5x7? 7x10?) pyrex dish as a bar. They were a little fally-aparty so you couldn't cut too big a hunk of it (unless you ate it like cake, with a fork) but they were so good, my husband and I pretty much polished them off within 24 hours and I am frankly not sure the kids got any. I should really offer them some from the next batch. Serious banana flavor but oh, my, did we enjoy them. And, I will say, it's a good thing I loved them as much as I did because really, I don't know what else I would do with almond meal, unsweetened coconut, and coconut oil, all of which I was crazy enough to buy for these. (There are multiple possible substitutions, but I'm such a lousy cook, I like to stick to the original recipe before I start fooling around with it so I know if it's a recipe I can actually succeed with and one that I like before I make it. Otherwise, if I make it and don't like it, I don't know if it's because I messed around with it or because it's not a good recipe.)

Second: For the inauguration, I thought I'd try a new recipe from our local paper, via Glorious One Pot Meals by Elizabeth Yarnell. I have my mother's old Le Crueset orange dutch oven, and I love cooking with it, and this was a winner. I'd change a few things: first, I would make it on a day my husband isn't sick (sigh). Second, I would use a bit less cayenne for my tastes (and of course I skipped the pepper). Because my local store only sells organic, uber-healthy chicken, ONE half-breast was the amount called for in the recipe. I butterflied it to make it look more like two servings and also to deal with my paranoia about undercooked chicken. And, what I adored about this recipe: it was a "just right" amount of food. Finally, for my veggie and even vegan friends: skip the chicken and this would still be good. If you are veggie, just skip it. If vegan, note that you can replace milk with water.

African Peanut Butter Stew
makes 2 servings

Canola oil spray or 2 tsp peanut oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
3/4 cup white rice
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon chicken or vegetable broth or water
1/2-3/4 lb chicken breast or thighs
1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and sliced
2/3 cup milk (skim is OK) or water
2-4 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
sea salt
3 Tbs peanut butter, creamy or chunky
3 or 4 tomatoes, diced, or one 14 oz can diced, drained
1/2 sweet potato, cut in to 3/4 inch cubes
1 handful fresh spinach or about 5 oz frozen

1. Preheat oven to 450.

2. Spray the inside and lid of a cast-iron Dutch oven with canola oil or wipe with peanut oil. Scatter the onion in the pot.

3. Rinse the rice in a strainer under cold water until the water runs clear. Tip the rice into the pot, add the liquid , and stir to make an even layer. Place teh chicken on the rice. Add the bell pepper.

4. In a measuring cup, whisk the milk, garlic, cayenne, salt, and peanut butter until the peanut butter dissolves. Pour over the chicken.

5. Layer in the tomatoes, sweet potato, and spinach.

6. Cover and bake for 45 minutes, or until 3 minutes after the aroma of a fully cooked meal escapes the oven. Serve immediately.

Third: In other online cooking adventures, I saw on Twitter that a friend was making channa saag for dinner one night and I asked her for the recipe. She sent me to her Google Docs, where she credited HoneyHoney, (formerly?) of http://the This was a great addition to exactly what I'm looking for in the dinner repetoire: an easy dish that comes together with mostly stuff I have on hand anyway. Bonus: I'm trying hard to find more veggie meals for cost, nutrition, and Michael Pollan's reasons. (Pollan on food: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.) It wasn't a total success because my boys rejected it (natch) and I think my curry powder was too old. (But it was the last of the bottle so it will go better next time. And there will be a next time.) Finally, I don't do ghee, so I used regular butter. I'm sure ghee would improve things but it was a bridge too far in reading season. So without further ado, my version of Shelley's version of HoneyHoney's Channa Saag.

Channa Saag

2 tablespoons clarified butter (ghee)
half a large sweet onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 15 ounce can of organic chickpeas
2.5 cups of fresh baby spinach, tightly packed
a handful of fresh cilantro

Seasonings to taste:
curry powder (about 2tsp)--you can mix your own, or find a good prepared brand. Things to look for in a prepared curry: fenugreek, coriander, cumin, turmeric, red pepper.

Possible additions:
a pinch of cayenne pepper (if you like extra spice)
a pinch of nutmeg (possible secret ingredient in savory dishes)
salt (I've never found I needed this)
a bit of lime juice (like the juice from a quarter of a lime) <---said the original. I used more like a half and added more later!

In a medium saucepan on medium heat, saute the onion in ghee until it begins to turn translucent.

Add the garlic, stirring it so that it doesn't get too brown.

Add the can of chickpeas, liquid and all, to the pan.

Add the seasonings, turn down the heat to low, and simmer for about 10 minutes, to let the chickpeas soak up the flavors.

(I mash up the chickpeas here, Shelley wrote, but you don't have to...totally depends on your textural goals.)

Then add the spinach and cilantro. Simmer until the spinach is tender and completely wilted, just a few minutes. Taste the mixture, and adjust seasonings if necessary.

If the mixture tastes a bit flat, try adding a squeeze of lime to brighten it up.

Serve over brown basmati rice, with a bit of yogurt on the side, for those who don't like their moths to tingle. Like many dishes, it's even better the next day.

True, that, about the next day. And Trader Joe's naan and Greek-style yogurt set this off to perfection for me. (I had had so much rice that week, I couldn't make it again.) Thanks so so much Shelley!

Fourth: Hmm, so many choices. The rediscovered sneaky way to get my son to eat fruit: smoothies? The happy surprise of two cookbooks from my aunt in the mail? Or oh, oh, oh, the Splendid Table cookbook?

None of those today, my friends. I'm at the end of my food writing moment, so instead, for any of you who don't also read She Started It, I point you to this fun find from her post today. I just read it today myself but I will be pondering things like homemade broth, given Anjali's endorsement, as Anjali is my sister in the kitchen (among other ways). And, of course, the author is Mark Bittman, who wrote the best cookbook/s I have. I need to digest some of the suggestions (I tried tomato paste in a tube; while I liked it for the squeeze-what-you-need factor, I also found it quintuple the price of a little can of Hunt's, so I just started freezing the leftovers from the little cans instead) but I am so with him on the lemons, I'm looking forward to seeing what the other ideas bring.

As my friend Lauren says, I never promised you a food blog, but it's sure reading that way lately. Sorry--there are other things in my life, just many of them are not bloggable! Happy weekend.


Anjali said...

That chickpea curry sounds delightful. And you're right, it's stuff you usually have in the house, anyhow. I may try it next week.

Good to know about the tomato paste tube...I was wondering about it myself.

Kelly said...

oh those cookie bars....yum! They were so smooth (is that the correct way to describe how they melted in your mouth??) I had a thought, adding a little cinnamon would be fantastic! I may just try and make them; I'll keep you updated.