29 January 2012

Eating Cheap: White Beans and Cabbage

Sometimes the births I attend as a doula are intense, and there is no talking beyond simple phrases (come here, drink this, press here, turn that off) sometimes there are long stretches where my role is to keep people's minds off of their worries. I never discuss politics or religion with a client unless they specifically ask me a question, and then I answer as briefly as possible.  I will discuss food, but not the politics of my food. The other day I sat with a client and waited, and waited, and waited for a planned cesarean to happen.  There was a lot of time to talk and eventually we had each other's who histories including my undergraduate degree in animal science.  The father asked me if I was a vegetarian, so I explained about free-range, humanely raised meats.  He wanted to know what that cost, so I told him.  And he made a face, which is fair, because it's a lot of money.  I explained that we compensated by eating less meat (which is easier sometimes than others, because I go through phases where my body is all "Oh, steak, I see steak.  I want to eat steak.  Mmm...steak." and pretty much nothing else will do.  I buy the good stuff and pretend I need the iron.  (I don't need the iron. I'm one of those people who have good iron levels no matter what.  The Red Cross wants me for their extra blood sucking services.  Maybe it's the zinc. Yes, surely I need the zinc.)

When I'm not eating steak, we eat a lot of beans.  Beans are cheap.  They're even cheaper if you buy dried beans in bulk, but even a can of beans is pretty cheap.  And all that business about the musical fruit?  It's because the beasties that live in your intestines aren't adapted to a beany diet.  If you eat more beans your beasties will adapt and then you can eat beans without worry.  Mmm...beans.



Sorry, I'm back being serious now.

Beans! Are cheap! You know what else is cheap?  Potatoes and cabbage are cheap.  So when I was flipping through the completely brilliant Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson and saw a dish made up of beans, cabbage and potatoes that looked delicious I knew I had to make it. It was quick and easy because Heidi is brilliant. And when my husband took a bite and asked if there was bacon in it, I knew I would make it again and again. I cook mine in a my wok because I am currently obsessed with my wok, but a large frying pan will do.

White Beans and Cabbage


White Beans and Cabbage
adapted from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red skinned potato
1 shallot
2 cups (or 1 can) cooked white beans, cooled
1/4 large head cabbage
salt and to taste
Parmesan cheese (garnish, optional)

Method:

Heat a wok or frying pan over medium-high heat.

Scrub the potato and dice it small.  Add the oil to the hot pan, then add the potatoes.  Sprinkle with salt and toss to coat.  Spread the potatoes out in a single layer, cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until soft, 5-8 minutes.

Slice the shallot thinly.  When the potatoes are ready, add the shallots and the white beans.  Stir to combine then spread into a thin layer.  Let the beans cook undisturbed for a few minutes, until they begin to brown on one side.  Then stir to turn and cook a few minutes more.

While the beans are cooking, shred the cabbage thinly.  When the beans are cooked, add the cabbage and toss to combine.  Cook for a minute or two until the cabbage begins to soften.  Taste for salt and season if necessary.

Serve immediately, with a sprinkle of Parmesan if desired. (It's lovely, but not necessary, and obviously makes this not vegan.)






23 January 2012

Vanilla Bean Tea Cake

Is it a tea cake? Is it a bread? A young visitor insisted that my freshly baked offering wasn't cake at all as there was no frosting. So we offered it as vanilla bread instead, like banana bread, without the banana. He agreed that he might like banana bread without banana, and tried a bite.

Featuring
Vanilla Cake

Where is the line between cake and bread. Is a muffin something in-between or is it something altogether different? What should we call muffins that are really sweet, fluffy cakes sold in paper wrappers in coffee shops? Are there lines at all, or is it just a continuum of floury goodness?
Should we worry less about what we call things and more about making them wonderful, and then offering them up to guests, even skeptical guests? Should we go bake up this moist, flavorful cake and then brew a pot of tea? Absolutely.

Three Kinds of
Cake
Banana Cranberry Bread, Vanilla Tea Cake, Gingerbread


I used vanilla bean seeds because it adds great vanilla flavor and the specks of bean add an interesting visual feature. I baked this in two mini-loaf pans from King Arthur Flour. I'm a little bit in love with these pans, because they're adorable and because it makes it easy to put part of the treat away for another time.

(Oh, and because this is made with the creaming method it is definitely a cake, but I won't contradict any guest who wants to believe otherwise.)

Vanilla Tea Bread
(adapted from Shammy's vanilla tea cake)

Ingredients:
1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 vanilla bean
8 1/4 ounces cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teasoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

Method:
Preheat Oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prepare two mini-loaf pans or one six-inch round cake pan.

Cream the butter and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved. Beat in the egg. Cut and scrape the vanilla bean (see video below), then beat the seeds into the butter mixture. Set aside.


Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk at least 30 seconds to distribute leavening.

Beat 1/3 of flour mixture into butter mixture, then beat in half the milk, half the remaining flour, the remaining milk and finally the remaining flour.

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Allow to cool in pans for 5 minutes then remove from pans and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

10 January 2012

Flavor, Joy and Prosperity


Mary Bailey: Bread so that this house may never know hunger. Salt so that life may always have flavor.
George Bailey: Wine that joy and prosperity may reign forever.
Bread, Salt and Wine are traditional housewarming gifts.  We all know this because we've seen "It's a Wonderful Life." Perhaps some of us assumed that it exists because of "It's a Wonderful Life."  But the tradition goes back to a time before Frank Capra, and it's a lovely idea, one I'm in favor of keeping alive.

Depending on who you ask, the tradition is either Russian, Polish, Jewish, or Italian, unless it's Lithuanian, or something else.  Of course it's possible, that similar traditions grew up in different places.  Many cultures value bread, salt and wine.

It was a Russian folk custom for local merchants to present the gift of a round loaf of bread covered in salt to the visiting emperor as a sign of hospitality. In many cultures bread, salt and wine are given to newlyweds so that they would always have the necessities of life. The wine, bread and salt may also represent joy, work and sorrow as the three elements of a couple's life together.Bread, wine and salt were necessary to a meal, so bringing those items made the visit into a party. In German tradition, bread and salt may be carried by a bride to symbolize a good harvest and by extension, of fertility.
"The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight." M.F.K. Fisher
Bread is a nourishing, comforting food that stretches a bit of meat and a bit of vegetable into a meal.  We talk about "breaking bread" with people and we mean that we are sitting down to fellowship. The smell of baking bread  The shared meal, either real or symbolic, is still an important part of Jewish and Christian tradition. If you Google the terms "bread life" you get "about 390,000,000 results."
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Matthew 5:13
Salt, taken for granted today because it we are overrun with it, is necessary for life. Our cells use sodium and chlorine and we can't function without it. In ancient times when salt had to be painstakingly harvested and then carefully kept so that it wouldn't go bad. Sea salt, remember, isn't pure sodium chloride. If it got wet, the sodium could be washed away leaving other minerals that weren't salt at all. The salt could also go rancid. The spoiled salt would be spread on the fields in hope that the sodium that was left would be absorbed by the plants that grew there.  Salt, therefore, was precious and valuable

Today, of course, there is a salt mania. We use table salt, sea salt, pink salt, grey salt. People serve food on blocks of salt. Some chefs insist on a certain type of sea salt. If you're looking to give a gift of salt there are plenty of choices beyond a carton of Morton's. (Although, under the right circumstances a simple carton of table salt might be the perfect gift.) At the same time, we are told to eat less of it, much less. Most of the salt in our diets comes from processed foods. If we prepared food from fresh ingredients and then added salt to taste we'd cut back on our salt intake significantly, and could enjoy salt without fretting.
"Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough, A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse - and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness And Wilderness is Paradise enow." Omar Khayyam
Wine barely needs justification. In Jewish tradition the wine is necessary for Kiddush prayers to sanctify the Sabbath. Jesus' first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana. Even in the most secular of contexts, a bottle of wine elevates a simple meal to a special occasion

There are some other traditional gifts for newlyweds or a new home.  A new broom is said to help sweep your troubles away and bring good luck and harmony to a home. You should never take an old broom to a new home, apparently the broom gets attached to its old home. Sugar may be given so that life will always have sweetness. A candle ensures that the home will always have light.

Whatever your culture, (homemade) bread, salt and wine do make a party, and giving gifts that symbolize plenty is a lovely way of supporting people starting a new part of their lives, either a new marriage or a new home, or any other fresh start.  And if you're wondering why this blog is called Bread, Wine, Salt and not Bread, Salt, Wine, it's because I just like it better that way.

Resources:
About.com Judaism
Chowhound: : Wedding Toast for Wine, Salt and Bread
German Wedding Traditions
Just a Mere Tree Farm
Kosher Gift Box
Polish American Center
Salt and light. Precious and bright. Necessary and powerful. The Rev. Lauren Stanley

07 January 2012

Menu Planning

The men of the household are at the barber shop getting haircuts.  I am home making menu plans.  (No, come back.  I swear I am still a feminist.  I have righteous indignation and everything, just not about menu planning.  My husband does the grocery shopping!)

Here is the plan for this week:
click to embiggen









The page numbers with no initials are from Supermarket Vegan. Menu planning is not commandment carving and sometimes things from last week get shifted to this week.  The pages marked "sne" are recipes from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks.  Heidi is the cook I want to be when I grow up, and I love her cookbook.  I just haven't done much with it yet, so it made sense to pull it off the shelf this morning.  There are so many wonderful pictures, it's hard to pick.  I know this is a book I'll be going back to as the seasons change.

You'll notice that I don't plan a lot of breakfasts and lunches.  Breakfasts tend to be pretty basic, oatmeal, bagel with smear, granola, etc.  I only need to plan if I want to get out of the rut.  Lunches are often leftovers or just sliced veggies and an egg.  I say there's no shame in scrounging around in the fridge. I'm slightly more organized if there are people coming over, but that doesn't happen often.

Sunday lunch is often eaten out, but I've planned to pack a lunch because it's going to be a nice day and we might just go to the church playground and let to boys run around with their friends. Most Tuesday nights we have friends over, hence the double batch. And Friday night is a concession to my poor, vegetable stuffed husband.

06 January 2012

Vegetable Tofu Stir-Fry

I have two methods of menu planning. The first is to sit down with my husband and decide which of our regular meals should be in rotation in a given week, and then make sure that our shopping list reflects the plan. It's easy, but it's a tiny bit boring.

The second method is to pick up one of my many cookbooks and flip through it looking for recipes I want to try. A book which has been sitting on my shelf for a while, sadly neglected, is Supermarket Vegan. I picked it off the shelf last week and made a menu plan.

I love this book. I am not a vegan, not even a vegetarian, but when I do eat meat it is grass-fed, free-range, humanely-raised meat, because I believe it is better for me, better for the animals and better for the planet. “But” say my friends, “that kind of meat is so expensive.” And they're right; it is. No one knows that better than the person who bought the rib-eye roast for the Beef Wellington at Christmas dinner. (Me!) Since we don't have a vault full of money that we can use for swimming in and purchasing a daily Beef Wellington, we rely on a variety of meatless meals to fill our grocery cart. We don't rely on a lot of meat substitutes both because they're not cheap, sometimes more expensive than the meat they're replacing, and because they are highly processed products, and so aren't in line with the kind of whole-food eating I'd like to be doing. In Supermarket Vegan, Donna Klein uses ingredients found in plain old ordinary supermarkets to create easy, tasty meals that happen to contain no animal products. I will say that none of the recipes in this book are highly spiced, so if you're used to plenty of garlic, hot peppers or other powerful ingredients you might consider increasing the amount called for in the recipe.

This vegetable and tofu stir-fry is tasty and simple. The secret to good stir fry is high heat, so turn on your vent fan and open a window.
Stir Fry Tofu
& Vegetables

Vegetable Tofu Stir-Fry,
adapted from Supermarket Vegan

Ingredients:
Sauce:
4 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
4 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
2 large cloves garlic

Stir Fry:
1 Tablespoon safflower oil
1 block extra-firm tofu
1 medium bell pepper
2 small heads fresh broccoli

Method:
Drain the tofu and wrap it in a clean kitchen towel. Weight down with a heavy pan or a large can from the pantry. Set aside for at least 20 minutes.

Mince garlic. In a medium, non-reactive bowl, stir together the sauce ingredients.

Unwrap the tofu and cut into 1/2” cubes. Toss the cubes of tofu in the sauce to coat. Set aside and allow to marinate. This can be done the night before. Simply cover the bowl and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Fill a medium sauce pan halfway with water and a generous spoonful of salt. Heat, covered until it begins to boil. Meanwhile, wash* the broccoli thoroughly, then chop into bite-sized pieces. Wash the red pepper and cut it into strips.

When the water comes to a boil drop in the broccoli and cover. Allow to cook for 1 minute, then drain and set aside.

Put a wok or large skillet over highest heat. When the wok is hot, add safflower oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the tofu, leaving as much of the sauce in the bowl as possible. Spread the tofu out into a single layer. Cook for one minute, then turn tofu to cook another side. Cook for one more minute.


Add broccoli and red pepper. Cook, stirring for two minutes. Add the sauce and cook to heat through. Serve over rice or noodles.

*Should you ever wonder if you really need to wash your broccoli, take a look at what I found in the bottom of the bowl after I washed mine.
Why You Should
Always Wash Your Broccoli

04 January 2012

(Better Than) Coffee Shop Ginger Scones

Lunch in the Park, a novel about love and family, is available for sale in multiple electronic formats at Smashwords, for the Kindle at Amazon.com and for the Nook at BN.com Wherever you buy it, it is DRM-free. The delicious recipes that Kate and Jeff cook up are right here on my blog.

I hope you'll read Lunch in the Park, you'll love it, and you'll feel the overwhelming urge to write a review on one or more of the sites above. And of course I'd love to hear from you here on the blog, too. 


Have I told you the story of the “as good as store bought” lemonade?

No?

Years ago we were invited to a Fourth of July Picnic. We brought food of some description, and a gallon of homemade lemonade in a jug that had a previous life as a gallon of distilled water. One of our hosts was a big lemonade fan, and after drinking a glass checked the label. When I told him it was homemade he said “It's as good as store-bought.”

I lifted my chin a bit and said “In some cultures that's not a compliment.”

“Yes,” replied his sister. “Like this one.”

He went on to expound on his theory that some things are simply better when store-bought. Lemonade was one of them, cheesecake another. He would not be dissuaded.

A few years later I was reading reviews on a molasses cookie recipe, and found this comment “These are just as good as the ones at [big coffee chain].” Imagine that, a cookie that is as good as the over-sized, over-sweet, under-flavored baked goods sold alongside 1 liter cups of burnt coffee. That really is an accomplishment. snort

We know Kate orders a chai and a ginger scone when she meets Jeff on Friday afternoons. The scones at Kate's favorite tea and coffee shop are closer to homemade than the monsters at the chain shops, but they're still quite large. If you want smaller scones, form the dough into two circles instead of one and bake for less time. Either way, these are just-sweet, quite gingery and a perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea.

A food processor makes this recipe very easy to put together, but you can cut the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter, or two knives, or just rub it in with your fingers.

Ginger Scone

Ginger Scones

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 inch piece fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup crystallized ginger
additional sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prepare a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

Peel and grate the fresh ginger.

Chop crystallized ginger.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, powdered ginger and grated ginger in the bowl of a food processor (or in a medium mixing bowl.) Pulse or stir to combine. Cube the butter and cut it into the flour mixture until it resembles wet sand. Stir in buttermilk to form a dough.

Dump dough onto a floured surface. Sprinkle the chopped crystallized ginger over the dough. Knead the dough just long enough to distribute the ginger.

Form the dough into ball and place on the parchment paper. Flatten into a disc about 8-9 inches across.

Cut into 8 equal triangles but do not separate. Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the scones begin to brown around the edges. Allow to cool, then cut into individual scones.  

02 January 2012

Banana Cranberry Bread

Lunch in the Park, a novel about love and family, is available for sale in multiple electronic formats at Smashwords, for the Kindle at Amazon.com and for the Nook at BN.com Wherever you buy it, it is DRM-free. The delicious recipes that Kate and Jeff cook up are right here on my blog.

I hope you'll read Lunch in the Park, you'll love it, and you'll feel the overwhelming urge to write a review on one or more of the sites above. And of course I'd love to hear from you here on the blog, too. 
"Kate was in the kitchen making banana cranberry bread, which she had learned to make from her own grandfather in his long ago kitchen that always smelled of coffee and baked goods.” Lunch in the Park, New Year's Eve

Kate's grandfather taught her to make the bread as she stood on a kitchen step stool pushed up to the counter so that even as a small child of three or four she could help measure and mix. This recipe does actually come from a grandfather, though not my own.

Banana-Cranberry Bread

The world doesn't need one more banana cranberry bread recipe, so I'll give you two instead. One is the original grandfather recipe, the other a veganized version which will won't leave the vegans feeling left out. The pictures on this post are of the vegan version. If you have no vegans about you might still find it useful to have a handful of substitutions at your fingertips in case you find yourself in need of a baked good but you're missing a key ingredient. Coconut oil makes a great substitute for butter because it is solid at room temperature. The flavor isn't strong enough to create a coconut banana bread, and most people won't notice unless you tell them.

This is a great bread to make in mini-loaf pans because you can eat one and then wrap the other three tightly to freeze in case you find yourself needing to produce a gift in honor of a new baby or if The Queen should finally make an appearance.  It's also useful if you, like me, tend to nibble at whatever baked good is sitting on the counter.

Banana-Cranberry Bread, Sliced

Banana Cranberry Bread

Ingredients:
1 cup cranberries
4 ounces butter (1 stick) OR 4 ounces coconut oil
1 cup sugar
3 bananas
2 eggs OR 2 Tablespoons flax seed meal mixed with 6 Tablespoons water
2 cups (8.5 ounces) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a bundt pan or 4 mini loaf pans with oil and flour or baking spray.

Chop cranberries and set aside. If using flax seed meal, mix with water and set aside.

Beat butter or coconut oil together with sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat in bananas. Beat in eggs one at a time, or flax seed meal mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk together for at least 30 seconds to evenly distribute the baking powder and baking soda.

Add flour mixture to wet ingredients. Stir three times. Add chopped cranberries. Stir until flour is just moistened. Pour mixture into prepared pan(s).

Bake for 45-60 minutes (depending on the pan) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the pans for 5 minutes and the remove to a wire rack and allow to cool completely before slicing or wrapping for storage.

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