Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ten Minute Blog Post! Featuring: Chicken-Rice Soup with Lemon, Fennel, and Baby Kale + Slow Cooker Citrus-Cilantro Chicken

First - good morning! Coming soon: cannellini bean hummus (and how to, you know, just generally, make hummus to suit your own palate; newsflash: we all have different palates!); crazy good, crazy chewy, crazy cocoa-coconut chocolate chip cookies (vegan/GF); ceviche-style broccoli, my new favorite Melissa Clark recipe (my lucky Winter Salads class participants get a sneak preview tomorrow), and homemade Have'a Corn Chip!-style tortilla chips. Today, however, I just have some soup for you with a bonus recipe for crockpot citrus-cilantro chicken.

Chicken rice soup

Second - ever so sensibly - baby kale is to kale what baby spinach is to spinach. Milder, cuter, not so tough as its big brother, still vegetal and healthy-tasting. You could easily substitute baby spinach or some other sturdy green chopped into baby green-sized pieces. Or ditch the greens. Life is short, follow your conscience.

Chicken rice soup

Third - any flavorful cooked chicken will do but if you use the citrus-cilantro crockpot chicken and pour a bunch of the citrusy-cilantro-y juices into the soup pot with said chicken, you will love yourself a little more, and probably love me a little more, as you ditch the spoon and just guzzle down a mugful of the lemony-cilantro broth you'll end up with.

Chicken rice soup

Fourth - this post SO did not take me ten minutes. It took me all day. You can tell because in my first sentence I said "good morning" but right now it's 9:31 pm. Children! I tell you.

Chicken-Rice Soup with Lemon, Fennel, and Baby Kale
Yields 4-6 servings

Olive or sunflower oil
1/2 cup chopped fennel bulb
1 leek, halved and sliced thinly (rinse well) or 1/2 an onion, chopped
1 carrot, halved and thinly sliced
1 heaping teaspoon Frenchy dried herb blend with oregano (I used Penzey's Bouquet Garni)*
1 teaspoon cumin (ground or whole seeds)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 clove garlic, sliced
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 cups water
1-2 cups cooked rice or noodles or beans (optional, I used brown rice)
1-2 cups shredded cooked chicken (recipe below for best choice!)
Handful baby kale or spinach, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped, or a handful of fresh oregano or tarragon, chopped

* Just avoid an Italian herb blend. 

To serve: feta cheese, Cholula, fresh ground pepper

In soup pot over medium heat, warm a couple tablespoons of oil and add fennel, leek or onion, and carrot, with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes until vegetables are slightly softened and fragrant. Add dried herbs, cumin, coriander, garlic, lemon zest, and another 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir for a minute and then add water and the remaining teaspoon of salt. Bring to boil. Add rice, noodles or pasta, if using, and shredded chicken, including any juices left over from cooking the chicken, if available. Return to boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Stir in baby kale and cilantro and cook for a couple minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with feta cheese and a dash of Cholula.

Slow-Cooker Citrus-Cilantro Chicken
Yields 4-6 servings (about 4 cups shredded chicken)

One 3 to 4-lb chicken
1 lime (or half if it's large)
1 lemon (or half if it's large)
2-4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander (optional)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped up just enough so that it can all fit in cavity of chicken

Prep your crockpot. Juice your lime and lemon, saving the rinds. Peel your garlic cloves. Mix together in a small bowl the salt, pepper, and coriander, if using.

Rinse and dry chicken with a clean towel (which is now no longer clean so promptly remove it from your kitchen please). Remove and discard any giblets or other chicken parts that might be inside its cavity (I have butcher remove these). Rub salt mixture all over inside and outside of chicken. Place one lemon rind half and one lime rind half, the garlic cloves, and cilantro into the cavity of the chicken. Place chicken, breast side up, in slow cooker. Pour lime and lemon juice all over chicken. Cover and cook on low for about 4-6 hours.

If you have a meat thermometer, use it! Chicken is perfect and juicy when thickest part of thigh is somewhere between 170 (super juicy) and 180 (still moist, arguably safer?) degrees. If you don't have one, use a fork and tear off a piece of thigh meat after about 4 hours. If the chicken falls off the bone nicely, juices run clear, and there is no pink flesh left, it's ready.

Once it's cool enough to handle, remove skin (or feed it to your underweight toddler) and shred chicken. Drizzle any juices on top and either serve immediately with rice and beans, or store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or freezer for longer. Great in enchiladas, soups, chicken salad, etc.

And now it is 10:07 pm. Good night. 


Thursday, February 14, 2013

For the masses: Banana Maple Date Muffins
(vegan, gluten-free, refined sugar free, and freaking delicious)

I'm so excited to share this recipe with you! And by "you", I get to mean so many people because this is a super equal opportunity recipe, suitable for the vegans, the gluten-free, the anti-sugar folks (remember when I tried to be one of those?) and the allergic. But here's the best part: they don't taste vegan or gluten-free or allergy-friendly or whitesugarless. They taste like a delicious banana maple date muffin. There is nothing suspicious about them whatsoever. You should make them and bring them to a potluck with all the allergic children you know and you will become instantly popular, probably invited to every future potlock ever. Even the ones in Indiana, which are actually called "pitch-ins". (Cute, eh?)

Anyway, I don't have much else to say about these magic muffins other than the following two bits:

1. My nephew today said he wanted to eat one million of them because they were so good. I was so flattered that I wished I could actually give him a million.

2. Not all gluten-free baking mixes are created equally. Usually when I make these, I make my own basic gluten-free baking mix based on Cybele Pascal's recipe, comprised of superfine brown rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca flour/starch. It works v. well and I will stick with her recipe generally. That said, when I make the muffins with her baking flour mix, they look like this:

Banana maple date muffins

Because I was not making these muffins in the comfort (and with the resources) of my own home, and because I wanted to do some experimentation before I shared this particular recipe, I tried to track down a pre-blended gluten-free all-purpose flour to use in place of my homemade blend. (I had to go to three grocery stores to find a mix that was safe for Beckett. Apparently chickpea flour and almond meal are common ingredients in these blends. (Pamela's and Bobs Red Mill brands were the ones available.)) I ended up at Trader Joe's, following a tip from my mom that they have a mix that's gotten great reviews. I found it and saw that it's comprised of the same things as my homemade blend, plus some white rice flour. I ended up using the flour and the muffins looked like this:

Banana maple date muffins

I know my pictures aren't awesome, but what I hope comes across is that the muffins made of the Trader Joe's flour rose much, much more than the others. They look like real muffins! And the texture is P-E-R-F-E-C-T - not a trace of sandiness. I don't think I will necessarily always use it in the future,  there's something rewarding about crafting your own flour blend and using organic ingredients, blah blah blah, but I know I will buy it again, and I'll probably use it for company if it consistently results in such pretty, delicious baked goods. I am so, so pleased with it! 

Here's what the bag looks like, and also the muffins, before and after baking:

Banana maple date muffinsBanana maple date muffinsBanana maple date muffins

These seriously are so dang good. I made a dozen about five hours ago. There are three left. And I've been not-so-subtly directed to another bunch of overripe, frozen bananas, which are evidently in need of attention...

Banana Maple Date Muffins (vegan, gluten-free, no nuts or refined sugars)
Adapted from Cybele Pascal's The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook 
Yield: 12 muffins

2 1/2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour blend (Trader Josef's is my recommendation!) (12 ounces)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup mild-flavored oil
1 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (I used 5 small ones)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
3/4 cup ground flaxseed
1 cup chopped pitted dates (dried fruit or chocolate chips would be good substitutes)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a muffin tin.

Whisk together dry ingredients in a small bowl. In another bowl, toss dates with a couple tablespoons of the whisked dry ingredients. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine oil and maple syrup and mix on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add bananas and vinegar or lemon juice and mix for another 20 seconds. Add ground flax and blend 20 more seconds. Add dry ingredients and mix on low speed until everything is well combined. If the dates are not too sticky (tossing them in flour should help but might not; I've had mixed results with this approach), add them in one go to the mixing bowl and mix on low speed. If your dates are sticky, have the mixer going on its lowest speed as you add the dates manually, little bits at a time. Once combined, measure out 1/3 cup portions into the muffin tin cups. Keep adding spoonfuls of any left over batter until they are all evenly filled. (They can be a bit more filled than regular egg-and-wheat muffins. Mine were pretty full.)

Bake for 15 minutes. Rotate muffin tin 180 degrees and bake 10 minutes more. Allow to cool on a rack for about ten minutes before eating. They are good warm and just as good at room temp. They are sturdy yet moist, perfect for freezing. The last time I made them I traveled with them to Italy and they held up beautifully. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sweet Potato, Bean, and Cilantro Stew
(vegan and gluten-free)

This week I really loved my job. Sunday’s pre-game Quick Weeknight Meals class was wonderful. Then I taught a Simple Vegan Dinners class on Thursday night; it ended up being gluten-free as well so as to accommodate the needs of all class participants. We had a full class – 14 people, some vegan, some not, most vegetarian. We had couples, friends, a high school PBJ-loving vegan and her grandmother; they ranged in age from 14 to (I’m guessing) mid-60s and their cooking abilities and “food journey” statuses were comparably varied. Every single one of them was awesome. They were chatty, open, inquisitive, fun, and collaborative. They all loved food. They all loved what we ate that night. They asked such great questions and had so much to share with one another (and me! I learn too!) from their own kitchen experiences. It was great. Talk about the community-building power of food! Thanks, lovelies!

This week was a rough one in our household. Health has not befriended us much in 2013, and on Tuesday its standoffishness resulted in trips first to the pediatric clinic and then, a few hours later, notwithstanding our proactivity and best efforts to get non-hospital care, to the ER. It was our first time at the ER with a child and turned out to be just what we’d expected. We were blessed to learn that there was nothing life-threatening going on in our little 3.5-year-old’s clearly compromised system, but it was still hard on everyone involved. Seasonal illness and associated complications aside, there is also food stuff going on, but it’s not interesting or resolved enough to bother talking about here. Suffice it to say: we are tired.

This week I found comfort spending time in the kitchen - both in my own kitchen and in my Local D'Lish kitchen. My children were recovering largely with the help and companionship of Alec Baldwin, qua Thomas the Train narrator. They cuddled on the couch together while I soaked beans, slow-cooked vegetable stock, juiced a giant bag of lemons, made and froze some soup (recipe below) and veggie burgers (recipe here), whizzed together some banana-chocolate shakes (anything to hydrate my children!), experimented with a Beckett-safe variation of one of our favorite one-pot dinners (they liked it), and prepared a meal for a family facing far more devastating health issues than our own. (Doing something for someone else in need sure takes you out of your self-absorbed, wallowing head for a bit.)

photo (97)

So on Thursday, breaking the proverbial bread (quite literally proverbial, as there was no actual bread at class) with fourteen people as eager to talk about food and health as I am proved to be an extension of the food therapy I’d undertaken in my home earlier in the week. Someone asked what my favorite thing to make was and I mentioned the soup below – specifically with home soaked and cooked beans (see recipe and ramblings below) – which I’ve made I think three times in the last month and dozens of times over the last few years, never exactly the same twice. I’d already mentioned my attempt at flax-cornmeal biscuits earlier in class and referred to the batch of veggie burgers I’d made to experiment with freezing and reheating. So it totally made sense when someone asked if I just cook all day long. It probably sounded like I do. And when everything around me was sort of out of control this week, I did. I could nourish my family with food even if I couldn’t protect them from every infection that’s hit the Twin Cities this winter. I could mix up Sadie’s sick days by having her help measure, pour, and stir (after washing her hands of course). I could eat a veggie burger and be grateful that my son isn’t allergic to cilantro or pinto beans.

Do I cook all day long? Sometimes! But mostly heck no at all. On the heck-no-at-all days, I try to at least do something though. I’ll have beans soaking, the crockpot going, grains ground and mixed, vegetables chopped, citrus juiced. I do little things all the time so that big projects are more manageable. I have spicy bean cooking liquid on hand in case I want to eat this delicious soup. I have “flax eggs” in the fridge. I have 1-tablespoon portions of tomato paste, lemon juice, and chipotle chilies and adobo sauce bagged in the freezer. Good kitchen habits. They come with time and practice, and they are super rewarding. They make it easier to nourish a sick family.

That’s the more thorough answer to Janae’s (sp?) question on Thursday night. Thank you again wonderful class participants – whether you came Sunday, Thursday, or previously, I just totally love your guts and have so much fun with you. Hope to see you again soon. But in the meantime, you should make this soup. (Vegan and gluten free! Unless you use bacon fat to sauté your mire poix… which maybe I sometimes do.)


P.S. Please read the notes at the end.

Sweet Potato, Bean, and Cilantro Stew
Yield: at least 8 servings

1 tablespoon oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
2 teaspoons cumin (seeds or ground)
2 teaspoons coriander (ground)
1/2 teaspoon (or more) cayenne or red pepper flakes or chili powder (optional)
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 (28-oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
3-4 cups broth, water, or spicy bean cooking liquid*
2 large sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2" dice
3-4 cups cooked pinto, black, kidney, or similar bean (about 1 lb dried)*
Zest and juice of 1 lime
One large bunch cilantro, minced

Heat oil in soup pot over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and carrots, and a pinch of salt into the pot - throw in a minced jalapeño if you'd like more spice* - and sauté until vegetables start to soften and even maybe brown a little (5-8 minutes). Add garlic, cumin, coriander, pepper, lime zest, and another pinch of salt. Stir for a minute or two. Add tomatoes and their juices, whatever liquid you have on hand to use, and sweet potatoes. Bring to boil and simmer 10 minutes or so. Add beans and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice and cilantro; set aside for 5 minutes. Stir, taste, and add some salt and pepper if necessary. This soup gets better over time, so if you can afford to leave it on your stove for an hour or two before eating it, you definitely should. Freezes well too!

1. This is a family/Minnesotan-friendly soup, i.e. not spicy. If you'd like to add some spice, add a minced jalapeño with the onion, celery and carrots, or use more cayenne or chili powder. A minced chipotle chili + 1-2 tablespoons adobo sauce would also be nice.

2. Making your own beans makes this soup better for two reasons: (1) beans are sturdier and creamier (as opposed to mushy); (2) bean liquid can be used as base! You can make the bean liquid more flavorful by adding some dried chilies and peeled, whole garlic cloves. (I use 2-4 chilies and 4 cloves garlic for every pound of dried beans.) You will want to drink the bean liquid once the beans are cooked because it is so flavorful - not spicy because you remove the chilies at the end, but smoky and rich. So good! Easiest way is crockpot. Maybe I will do a post just about crockpot beans soon. Would you like that?

3. This recipe is heavy on cilantro because I love cilantro. If you don't love cilantro, or you find an obscene amount of cilantro overpowering, start with less and add more if you'd like.

4. Anything goes. As I said in my ramblings above, I've never made it the same way twice. Sometimes I use a potato as well as a sweet potato. In the summer, I use fresh chopped tomatoes instead of a jar (throw them in with the onions to break them down a bit) and I'll throw in whatever CSA vegetables I have to use up. It always ends up perfect.