Archive for May, 2010

My ideal Sunday morning generally involves watching CBS Sunday Morning, perusing the newspaper, and making a more-complex-than-usual breakfast.  So it’s Sunday morning breakfast time on Thyme and Reason blog. Pancakes tend not to be my top breakfast pick – I gravitate toward egg dishes. But sometimes pancakes are in order – and these, from Mark Bittman (of course), are delicious and rely on whole wheat flour for a slightly healthier, more sustaining breakfast.

Those who have relied on box mixes for their pancake fix should really try making them from scratch sometime, maybe not using this recipe. But really, homemade, whole grain pancakes have such a greater depth of flavor than anything that comes from a box mix – not that I don’t appreciate the convenience of boxed mixes sometimes (I do!).

While making these pancakes is pretty straightforward- it does require several steps and three different mixing bowls. I don’t like using more than one bowl and one pan per dish, but these have turned into a welcome exception because of the results.

Whole Grain Pancakes, from Food Matters, by Mark Bittman

Makes 4-6 servings

butter as needed

1 2/3 c. whole wheat flour

2 T. sugar

1 T. baking powder

1/2 t. cinnamon

1/2 t. salt

2 large eggs, separated

2 c. milk

First, melt 3 T. butter.

In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, spices, and salt.

Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer or a whisk until stiff peaks form – do not overbeat. In a separate bowl beat the yolks, milk, and melted butter until foamy. (Here, I have a problem with the cold milk and egg yolk causing the melted butter to solidify. Any ideas for overcoming this? I suppose I could heat the milk and then temper the egg yolk. Thoughts?)

Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and give a couple of good stirs, but do not overmix. Fold in the egg whites and stir until the batter is just relatively smooth. It’s ok if there are some lumps – and you will have some lumps.

Heat a large skillet (Bittman recommends cast-iron, which I do not own) over medium heat. Add butter as needed. When skillet is hot, spoon batter on pan. Cook until bubbles form and pop, about 2 minutes.

Carefully flip pancakes. Cook on other side another 1 or 2 minutes.For this part – I recommend enlisting the help of someone that likes flipping pancakes. I would rather mix up the batter and let someone else take over pancake-cooking (thanks Chris).

Serve with toppings of your choice (I chose maple syrup and sugared strawberries).

While not exactly easy, these pancakes are hearty and flavorful with a just a touch of sweetness from the small amount of sugar. You could also add other grains to the batter, or sliced fruit, nuts, and/or chocolate chips. You can also wrap up the leftovers and reheat them later in the week. They reheat well.

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banana loaf

I’ve had a difficult time keeping butter around my kitchen lately – which is probably not something that a reasonably health-conscious person, like I sometimes claim to be, should be broadcasting.

After reading this blog post featuring a mouth-watering recipe for banana bread, I wanted it… but I needed an excuse. The excuse was a staff-meeting / co-worker’s birthday (who may, or may not be at work that day). The banana bread would work for a staff meeting and a birthday. (I ended up making the blondies for the birthday the following Monday – they were better anyway and are contributing to my recent increase in butter-consumption).

When writing out my shopping list on the back of a used envelope (my new “thing,” not so much to be enviro-friendly, but because I can’t find any other pads of paper) – I couldn’t bring myself to buy more butter and more sugar for what could be a healthier office treat. Instead, I turned to Frances Price’s recipe for “Banana Loaf,” from her modest-looking, yet consistently great cookbook: Healthy Cooking for Two (Or Just You).

Using significantly less sugar and butter, I felt a bit better about making this for a morning meeting snack.

Here is the recipe for a large-ish loaf, yielding about 16 slices (from Healthy Cooking for Two, by Frances Price)

Banana Loaf

2 1/2 c. sifted all-purpose flour

1 t. baking powder

1/2 t. baking soda

2/3 c. sugar

2 eggs

1/4 c. butter, softened

1 c. mashed ripe bananas (about two large)

1/4 c. low-fat plain yogurt

1/2 c. chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour a 9″ X 5″ loaf pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda.

In another medium mixing bowl, beat the sugar, eggs, and butter until fluffy. Slowly beat in the bananas and yogurt. Add the flour mixture and mix just until blended. Do not over mix or the cake will be tough. Stir in the nuts.

Spoon the batter into the pan.

Bake on middle shelf for 50 to 60 minutes, or until browned a toothpick inserted in middle of loaf comes out clean.

Cool in the pan on a wire rack (which I still don’t have) for 5 minutes, then invert the pan onto the rack and let cool completely. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let stand overnight to mellow the flavors.

This loaf is pretty good – if a bit dry as one would imagine, replacing butter with yogurt. It would also have been better if I had followed these directions, and used ripe bananas – which brings me to the reason for why there are not more pictures accompanying this post.

I was distracted by an over-ripe banana I stuck in the freezer last fall to save for a future adventure in banana-bread-making (you can do this, right?). I put it in the refrigerator to thaw. Checking on it a few hours later, I was horrified to find the peel enclosing a liquefied banana. I carefully opened it up to find the liquefied banana reeked of liquor-fied banana. It had distilled into an alcoholic liquor. It was gross and lucky for the recipients of my baking, I threw it away instead of experimenting with it. Luckily, I had two other, only slightly ripened bananas, waiting in the wings. So they did not yield as sweet a banana flavor as a riper version would have. To recap: I was in a hurry to bake the bread, was horrified by the bad banana, and forgot to take more pictures. If you notice in the picture above, the bread baked a few minutes before I pulled it out to take an “un-baked” picture to juxtapose with the fully baked main picture even further above.

Someday soon I will use a whole stick of butter to make Mark Bittman’s  sure-to-be-great version of banana bread. Until then, try this, slightly more virtuous version.

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The cookbook where I found both of these recipes suggested serving the two together. The cabbage salad and curried couscous with lentils did go very well together – with complimentary curried flavors, but the cabbage salad, all-in-all, was a little bland, even with all the spices.

Here is the recipe for Cabbage Salad, from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites

For the cumin yogurt dressing (mix together before assembling the vegetables)

1/2 c. low-fat yogurt

1 small garlic clover, pressed (I might use two next time)

1 t. fresh lime or lemon juice

1/2 t. ground cumin

1/4 t. grated red onion

pinch of ground cinnamon

1/2 to 1 t. minced fresh cilantro or mint (again – I left this out. I hate buy a whole bunch of cilantro for 1/2 t.)

For Vegetables

2 c. finely shredded savoy or green cabbage

1/2 c. finely chopped red or green bell pepper

1/2 c. finely chopped celery

1/4 c. finely chopped red onions

Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients and set aside.

Combine the cabbage, bell peppers, celery, and onions in a large bowl.

Add dressing and toss well. Chill for at least 15 minutes before serving.

This gets a little better the longer it sits. Like I said above, if I were to make it again, I would add more garlic and maybe some salt. The mild flavor did make a nice contrast to the spice-filled couscous and lentils. I’m sure there are better yogurt-based salad dressing out there.

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While looking for a new dish that did not require shopping for too many ingredients that I did not already have, this one came up:

Curried Couscous Pilaf, Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites

(Serves 6)

1/2 c. dried lentils

1 1/2 c. water

2 t. canola or other vegetable oil

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 T. grated fresh ginger root

1 T. curry powder or garam masala

pinch of cayenne

1/2 c. water or orange juice (I used oj)

1 t. salt

1 c. peeled and diced carrots

2 c. stemmed chopped fresh spinach

1/2 c. chopped scallions

1 1/2 c. quick-cooking couscous

1 1/2. boiling water

salt and black pepper

In small saucepan, combine the lentils and water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low heat for 35 to 40 minutes, until they are tender. Add more water as necessary to keep from sticking. Don’t forget about them while doing everything else. I did not check them frequently enough and they became a little mushy.

When the lentils have cooked for 10 to 15 minutes, warm the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the garlic, ginger, curry powder, and cayenne. Saute for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the water or orange juice, salt, and carrots. Cover and simmer until carrots are tender, about fives minutes.

Add the spinach, cover, and cook until the spinach wilts, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the scallions, couscous, and boiling water and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Cover, remove from the heat, let sit for five minutes and then fluff the couscous with a fork.

When the lentils are tender, drain them and then stir them into the pilaf. Add salt and pepper to taste, serve hot.

Preparing this dish was straightforward and it turned out great. It was also healthful with all of the veggies and curry powder added a nice dimension of flavor in addition to the garlic and ginger. It made a lot and reheated well – making a nice take-to-work lunch. I served it with cabbage salad and will post the recipe later in the week.

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“Blondies” is such an annoying name for a delicious dessert. They are also super easy and require no electric mixer or creaming butter and sugar together, two factors that help me determine ease.

Name and ease aside – these were significantly less easy considering I dropped the first batch on the floor and the bowl cracked. While most of the batter stayed in the bottom of the bowl, chocolate chips and walnuts scattered everywhere.  I even found a chocolate chip in my living room later that day. So the easy bars ended up taking twice as long because I had to make another batch.

Here is the recipe for blondies with chocolate chips and walnuts, from Martha Stewart

(Makes 16)

8 T. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and a bit more for the pan

1/2 c. packed light-brown sugar

1/3 c. granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 t. pure vanilla extract

1 c. all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)

1 c. semisweet chocolate chips

1 c. chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush an 8-inch square baking pan with butter; line pan with a piece of parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides. Butter paper.

In a large bowl, whisk butter and sugars until smooth. Whisk in egg and vanilla. Add flour and salt; mix just until moistened (do not overmix).

Fold in 1/2 cup each chocolate chips and walnuts.

Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top. Sprinkle with remaining chocolate chips and walnuts.

Bake until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Set pan on a wire rack, and let cool completely. Using parchment overhang, lift cake from pan and transfer to a cutting board; cut into 16 squares.

These went over well at the office and with friends later. A great combination of simplicity and deliciousness despite the minor disaster in the kitchen.

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While I do not promise this will be the last asparagus post for a while – it should be.

This baked pasta dish, with oven-roasted asparagus and onions, is super easy and super delicious. Great for a busy week night dinner.

Rigatoni al Forno with Roasted Asparagus and Onions, from Vegetable Heaven, by Mollie Katzen

3 to 4 T. olive oil

3 cups onions, cut into large chunks

3/4 lb. rigatoni (I used whole wheat)

1 lb. asparagus, cut into 2-in. pieces

3 to 4 T. balsamic vinegar

freshly ground black pepper

1/3 c. grated parmesan cheese (plus extra for the top)

1/2 c. bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put a large potful of water to boil for pasta.

Pour the oil into a 9 x 13-in baking pan.  Break up the onion chunks, add them to the oil, stir them around so they are coated. Place the pan in the oven and roast for 5 minutes.

After the onions have been in the oven for 5 minutes or so, stir in the asparagus and spring with 1/2 t. of salt. Spread everything into a single layer and return to oven. Roast 5 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, boil the pasta. Drain as soon as it is al dente and stir into panful of onions and asparagus.

Add 3 to 4 T. of vinegar, black pepper, and parmesan. Mix well. Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top and return pan to oven.

Bake uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are brown and crisp. Serve hot.

This makes 4-6 servings

The balsamic vinegar caramelized some of the pasta and the flavors blended together well. They onions also tasted really great – maybe because I used vidalia sweet onions. This also tastes great leftover.

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chicken curry

I regularly read the Amateur Gourmet. Many of the recipes sound delicious and do-able, but many are also a little fattening and time-consuming. This one, for a chicken curry, caught my eye. It sounded delicious considering all of the spices, and easy.

Here is the recipe:

Bombay Chicken Curry

Makes 4 servings

1 ½ lbs boneless chicken – I used skinless chicken thighs


4 fresh green chiles minced (I used jalapenos)

2 T. minced ginger

2 T. minced garlic

3 T. canola oil (I think I only used 1 T.)

2 medium white onions diced

1 T. paprika

1/4  t. cayenne

1/2 t. turmeric powder

2 t. garam masala

1 can coconut milk (I used light)

Juice of 1 lime

1/4 c. finely minced cilantro leaves

Season the chicken with salt and let stand for 20 minutes.

Puree the green chiles, ginger and garlic to a paste with a little water.

Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and sauté the onions on medium heat for about 4 minutes or until they are light brown in color.

Add the paste, spices, and cook for 3 minutes.

Add chicken pieces and sauté with the paste for 4 to 5 minutes on moderate heat. Season with salt.

Add one cup water and coconut milk and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low for about 20 minutes, stirring now and then, until the chicken pieces are tender and fully coked. Season with salt and add the lime juice.

Sprinkle with cilantro, stir and serve. I chose not to buy this – it would have added a nice fresh taste to the meal though.

I served this with brown rice and roasted broccoli.

Overall, this turned out really well. The chicken was tender and the sauce was spiced nicely with a good amount of heat without being overpowering. It still tasted a little flat to me. I think it is the brand of coconut milk I used. The grocery store I frequent carries two kinds of light coconut milk, and one is better than the other. I went with the lesser of the two (it was on sale). If you make this – use good coconut milk.

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Asparagus has been the star in many meals the past few weeks, and I will try to alternate those recipes with non-asparagus ones. This recipe in particular, “Baked Asparagus with Shiitake, Prosciutto, and Couscous” took me two tries. The first time, I used too much salt (put in all 1/2 t. in with the asparagus instead of 1/4 t. with the asparagus and 1/4 t. with the couscous), and cooked it too long. The asparagus was a bit salty and a bit soggy – but the flavor profile was intriguing and made we want to try again.

From NYTimes, by Melissa Clark: “Baked Asparagus with Shiitake, Prosciutto, and Couscous”

1 lb. asparagus, ends trimmed

1/4 lb. shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, sliced 1/4-in. thick

2 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 1/4-in. strips

2 T. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 t. kosher salt

Ground black pepper, to taste

Grated nutmeg

3 tarragon sprigs

3/4 c. whole-wheat couscous.

1. Heat oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (it should be twice as long as pan). Lay asparagus in a pile in center. Scatter mushrooms and prosciutto on top. Drizzle with 2 T. oil and season with 1/4 t. salt, the pepper and nutmeg. Toss vegetables to coat evenly. Lay tarragon over top.

2. Fold parchment to completely enclose vegetables, and staple top and sides shut. Transfer pan to oven and bake for one hour. Asparagus should be just cooked through. If too crisp, return to oven until done to taste. I cooked it for over an hour the first time – and it was way overdone. I cooked it for 50 min. the second time and it turned out well.

3. In a small pot over medium-high heat, bring 3/4 c. plus 3 T. water, 2 t. olive oil and remaining salt to a simmer. Stir in couscous and remove pot from heat. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork.

4. Spoon couscous onto serving plates. Divide prosciutto and vegetables, and their juices, among the plates and serve.

This can feed two for dinner or four as a side dish.

Couscous is amazing – and I don’t cook it nearly enough. It only takes five minutes and makes an easy and tasty accompaniment to many things.

The earthy mushrooms mixed really well with the asparagus and salty prosciutto. The asparagus was infused with all the flavors after cooking for so long with the herbs and other additions. It also only took about 10 minutes to put together – so it makes for an easy meal, but does take a while to cook once in the oven.

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