Tuesday, November 29, 2011

sweet potato•pancakes

Many people are very particular about their pancakes.  I discovered this when I recently did a google search to find out if you can make pancake batter ahead of time and refrigerate it (and it turns out you can, if you use double-acting baking powder).  I also learned that pancake-making is a serious matter.  One guy became almost belligerent when someone else suggested they like to "whip air" into their batter.  Along with a detailed scientific description of how whipping your pancake batter destroys the pancake cells (or something to that effect), he said (complete with extra punctuation and caps), "Barely mix the batter!!!  BARELY!...  Stop killing your pancakes!"  Hmm.  I suppose it's time someone stood up against senseless pancake murder.  I had no idea this was such a problem.
Since people are so particular about their pancakes, I thought I should give full disclosure as to which type of pancakes these are.  These are not quite as light and fluffy as your average restaurant fare, not terribly dense and hearty (which is actually how I prefer my cakes), but somewhere in between.  I'm not sure where they fall on the scale of crepe to blini to blintz to galette (and I'm not even sure what all those terms mean or if I've terribly offended anyone by putting them in that order), but someone out there on the internet could probably explain it to you-- quite emphatically.

The last time we had these sweet potato pancakes we topped them with Nana's home-made apple butter.  In the event that your Nana didn't give you any home-made apple butter, syrup is good, too.  But, for the love of God, make sure it's PURE MAPLE SYRUP!!!  This is one thing I am adamant about.

The veggies (etc):*
  • 1 cup peeled and grated raw sweet potatoes or yams (about one small potato)**
  • A squeeze of lemon juice (about 1/2 tsp) or 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of lemon zest
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 TBS canola oil
  • 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup unbleached white flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 TBS brown sugar

The love:
  1. In a large bowl, combine sweet potatoes, lemon juice or peel, egg, milk, and oil.
  2. Add the flours, baking powder, salt and sugar, and mix until just incorporated (remember to "Barely mix the batter!!!  BARELY!").***
  3. Oil or butter and preheat the biggest, flattest skillet you have (I use a cast-iron griddle) over low to medium heat.**** 
  4. Scoop in about 1/4 cup portions onto your skillet and cook on each side until golden on the outside and no longer wet in the middle.


*This recipe does not make a ton.  The four of us usually eat it for dinner with a little fruit and a small side like some veggie sausage or green eggs and we never have leftovers.  If we're extra hungry or want leftover batter or pancakes for later, I double the recipe.
**Another google search has taught me that although sometimes you'll see something called yams at the grocery store, they're almost always really sweet potatoes.  Real yams are usually not sold in the US and are not even related to sweet potatoes.
***Most recipes will tell you to mix the dry and wet ingredients separately, then stir them together-- this is to prevent clumping and ensure even mixing.  I'm lazy and don't like getting out and washing an extra bowl, so I do it all in one bowl.  To make up for it I try to mix the dry ingredients together on top of the wet before I really stir it into the the wet stuff.  If this is offensive to you, by all means, get out another bowl.
****These have a tendency to cook fast on the outside and slowly in the middle, so I like to cook them low and slow to ensure thorough cooking.

Where credit is due:

We once had a scrap of paper in our recipe box, in Brock's writing, that said "Cinnamon Rolls: flour, yeast, sugar, butter, cinnamon", and that's it.  This is how Brock transcribes recipes.  Needless to say, I never tried the cinnamon roll recipe and it's since been thrown in the trash.  My original sweet potato pancake recipe is also in Brock's writing, but was-- luckily-- much more thoroughly transcribed.  The only thing that's missing (as far as I can tell) is the actual source of the recipe.  I think it came from a Moosewood book, but exactly which one is a mystery.  In any case, I've made this recipe my own by simplifying it a little and adding whole wheat flour (as I can't bring myself to make something containing flour and not sneak in some whole grains).  And who knows what Brock left out of it...

Monday, November 28, 2011

we do not like•green eggs and ham

My family only partially agrees with Sam I Am.  Our contention: ham is gross.  Green eggs, however, can be pretty good.  We generally like them in our house.  And we usually like them with sweet potato pancakes-- for dinner.  And some of you, like Owen, will like them with some ketchup on the side.  We haven't tried them in the dark or in a tree, but that could be fun, too...

The veggies (etc):

  • 1 TBS oil, margarine, butter, or whatever else you like to cook your eggs in*
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh baby spinach leaves, larger stems removed**
  • 4 eggs
  • A generous splash of water (about 1/4 cup)***
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese (we like cheddar or a combination of mozzarella and parmesan)

The love:
  1. Measure your spinach in a large glass measuring pitcher (if you're using an immersion blender) or the pitcher of your blender.  Add the eggs and water and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Blend just until the mixture is smooth (it will be a bit foamy).
  3. Heat your oil (or margarine, or whatever) in a skillet over medium heat, then add the egg mixture.
  4. Cook eggs, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, until almost set, then stir in the cheese.
  5. Cook and stir for a few more minutes until eggs are set.
  6. Serve to your freaked out family (these eggs are surprisingly green).


*Don't skimp on the cooking fat-- these eggs like to stick.
**You could also use defrosted frozen chopped spinach-- but cut back the amount (to about 1/2 cup) and eliminate or reduce the amount of water you use. 
***I like to use water because it seems to produce a lighter, fluffier scramble.  But, if heavier and creamier is what you prefer, use milk instead.

Monday, November 21, 2011


When Brock got home tonight, Owen summed up our afternoon for him this way: "Ollie started it, I made it worse, then Mom was just being mean".   I really couldn't have described the situation more accurately myself.  
It's times like these that I just have to leave Brock with the savages and sneak off to do my own thing for a while, like run off some steam on the treadmill.  Or, tonight I simply retreated to the quiet of my laundry room and folded some clothes.  In any case, when I re-emerge to the real world that is my kitchen, I realize I should have started on dinner a half hour ago.  I roll up my sleeves and start searching freezer, fridge and pantry for something super-quick.  I'm not talking "30-minute-meals" quick (is it just me or do those recipes always take longer than 30 minutes to make anyway?), but 20 or less-- really.  The following is a list of things we eat on nights like tonight-- when I just need to get some food on the table so we can get those boys fed and in bed.  Here's to a fresh start in the morning-- and hopefully a slightly more thought-out dinner tomorrow night...

    • Bread, cheese and fruit:  This is pretty much just what it sounds like-- a big platter of whatever you have on hand.  I usually put out a couple kinds of cheese for me and Brock (e.g. goat cheese or smoked gouda) and a simple cheese for the kids (usually good old white cheddar), slice up a chunk of whole grain french bread and/or get out an assortment of crackers, cut up some fruit, and check the fridge and pantry for bonus items, like olives, pickles or nuts.  Voila-- crowd pleaser.
    • Veggie Burgers and sweet potato fries:  I usually do the store-brand version of original Gardenburgers on a 100% whole wheat bun, with cheese, lettuce, mustard and ketchup.  But there are a million variations on this, so experiment and choose whatever floats your boat.  For the fries, I peel sweet potatoes, slice them, then cut again into half-moons, toss with a little olive oil and salt and pepper and bake at 400°-ish until crispy-yet tender.  Or, on nights like tonight I throw some frozen Alexia sweet potato fries in the oven.
    • Quesadillas:  Start with whatever tortilla you can find at the store that has the smallest ingredients list-- believe me, these always taste the best.  At my local grocer these are Tortilla Land raw tortillas, found by the cheese.  Cook one side of the tortilla (if necessary), then top that side with a sprinkling of your favorite cheese (queso fresco is yummy), then add a little of whatever veggies your kids will tolerate (we are, after all, looking for a quick and painless dinnertime), such as frozen corn, chopped spinach, shredded carrots, chopped tomatoes, etc.  Top with more cheese and another half-cooked tortilla, and heat both sides in your tortilla skillet until everything's warm and gooey.  Top your portion with your favorite salsa (mine is Roberto's medium chipotle variety), and put your kids' portions in the freezer 'till they're hardly even warm and therefore a comfortable temperature for them to eat (does anyone else do this, and also feel a little annoyed and silly every time?).
    • Pizza:  We either like to just add some toppings and a little extra mozzarella to a cheese take-and-bake pizza from the deli section of the grocery store, or, with a little extra effort, make pita-pizzas.  Try spreading whole wheat pitas with a little finely chopped spinach or spinach puree before you slather on the sauce-- kids usually don't notice, and adults will probably agree that it has a lot more flavor than plain sauce.  Top it with whatever you like, then sprinkle with mozz (or vice versa if that's your inclination).  Owen's all-time favorite is pineapple-- for which I sometimes hack into a whole fruit.  But, I usually just pick up one of those single-serve fruit cups you can get in the refrigerated section of the produce aisle.  My personal favorite quick-pizza topping combo is finely snipped kale, fresh or roasted red peppers (from the jar if I'm trying to make it fast), and sliced mushrooms (sometimes the pre-sliced ones are even cheaper than whole, per ounce-- one more reason to take a shortcut).  Seriously, kale on pizza is incredible.  So is eggplant, but that takes well beyond 20 minutes to do it right...
    • Broccoli Alfredo: Cook up some of your favorite-shape pasta (Barilla Plus is my favorite brand-- check out the nutrition panel!), adding broccoli florets the last three-or-so minutes of cooking.  Drain and toss with an all-natural, store-bought sauce.  Enough said...  Although a hunk of seedy french bread never hurts this meal.
    • Frito salad:  If the word "Frito" sounds scary to you, you obviously have not looked at the ingredients list.  Here it is, in it's entirety: whole corn, corn oil, and salt.  While I wouldn't recommend eating a whole bag, they can't be that bad for you, right?  This salad is basically just a big salad with whatever toppings sound good, with Fritos to add to the texture and kid-appeal.  My kids actually skip the greens and just have a big plateful of the toppers, like avos, cherry tomatoes, carrots, red peppers, thawed frozen corn, diced cheese and/or black beans (if you do canned, choose Eden Organic ones-- theirs are the only cans not lined with BPA).  Don't forget a generous sprinkling of Fritos, and, for those who like it, a good chipotle ranch.  Mmmm-- chipotle ranch...
    • Grilled cheese and soup:  Skip the can and go for one of those pureed soups in an aseptic container, like Imagine or Pacific brand.  Owen likes the butternut squash variety, sipped through a straw once it's cool.  Oliver goes more for the grilled cheese, which I usually do with monterrey jack or white cheddar on slices of 100% whole wheat, brushed in olive oil.  
    • Veggie chicken nuggets with mac-and-cheese-and-peas:  Our favorite nuggets are the Quorn brand ones, by far (partly because they're soy-free, and also for the texture and flavor), and I usually reach for Annie's when I'm making mac-and-cheese from a box.  I like to throw some sort of veggie right in with the pasta for the last few minutes of boiling (such as frozen peas, chopped spinach, an organic mixture of corn, carrots and peas, or shredded carrots), or stir in a little puree with the milk and cheese mixture (carrot, squash or sweet potato blend in well-- just don't go too nuts or it'll be too goopy).
    • Breakfast-for-dinner:  We like Kashi frozen blueberry waffles with Field Roast apple-sage sausage and whatever fruit we have on hand.  Another favorite dinner-breakfast (or breakfast-dinner?) of ours is sweet potato pancakes and green eggs.  These require a full-on recipe and a little more time, though-- they'll be starring in their own post soon. 
    • Indian food:  Kitchens of India and Tasty Bite make tolerable approximations of our favorite Indian restaurant meals, sold in boil-in-the-pouch packages.  They taste especially good when you're out camping or just feeling really lazy.  I put them over either whole-wheat couscous or brown Minute rice, perhaps with a few frozen peas thrown in while cooking.
    • Spicy tofu: This is my favorite lately-- although due to the spice factor, I usually end up making something else for the kids ("Who wants PB&J tonight?!").  Take a chunk of extra-firm tofu, gently squeeze out the excess water (I like to do this between two small plates so I'm squishing evenly), then pat dry with paper towels or a clean tea towel.  Cube the tofu and toss it in a hot skillet with some oil and let it fry (the key with tofu--if you're not going for a scramble--is to not stir it too often).  Meanwhile, chop up some onion and red bell pepper and throw it in the pan, carefully turning every few minutes.  Once the onions start to get tender, throw in some frozen corn and dump in some sauce, like a packet of Frontera New Mexico Taco Skillet Sauce with roasted tomato + mild red chile (look for it by the enchilada sauce at the grocery store).  Give that a few minutes to simmer and gently turn everything over to coat it.  Put that in a tortilla with a little crumbled queso fresco and some shredded lettuce or cabbage, and you have something beautiful.  But, don't get too entranced by it and forget the PB&J for the kids...

    give (split) peas a chance•autumn soup

    This time of year I find myself wanting to move to a warmer climate.  Or, alternately, bake things and make soup.  Since I can't drag my husband out of the mountains, this is a recipe I've pulled out every autumn for a few years now.  And, it's one that most of my family really likes.
    This is probably not what you think of as split pea soup.  It's not green, but a gorgeous deep golden color (not entirely accurately represented by my cheesy point-and-shoot photo below).  It's not super-salty, and it contains no pig.  I was even considering leaving the split peas out of the title so as not to turn anyone off.  But I'm going to take a risk here.  Take a stand for the split peas.
    I like to serve it with grilled cheese made with aged white cheddar on whole wheat bread, but it would also make a nice starter to a fancier meal.  Or, you can sip it through a straw like Owen likes to do.  Do whatever you like-- we try to be a non-judgmental family.  But whatever you do, try the soup.  You may become a little less judgmental of split peas.

    The veggies (etc):
    • 1 cup dried yellow split peas (the green variety also work), plus soaking water
    • Two large onions, chopped (about 3 cups)
    • 1 TBS canola oil
    • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
    • 1/2 tsp turmeric
    • 1 tsp ground coriander
    • 1 TBS minced fresh ginger root
    • 7 cups water
    • One large sweet potato, peeled and cubed (about 2 cups)
    • One large apple, peeled, cored and cubed (about 1 cup)
    • A three-or-four inch cinnamon stick
    • 2 tsp chili powder
    • One medium tomato, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
    • 2 TBS lime juice (about half a lime if you're using fresh)
    • 1 TBS soy sauce
    • Plain yogurt and/or chopped fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)

    The love:
    1. A little while before you really plan on getting down to business and starting the soup, quick-soak the split peas: Rinse them well, then put them in a saucepan and cover with a couple inches of water.  Bring to a boil, simmer for two minutes, then turn off the heat and let sit for a half hour to a couple hours.  Drain them just before you add them to the soup.*
    2. Heat the oil in your soup pot and saute the onions until they're golden.
    3. Add the cumin, turmeric, coriander and ginger and stir for about a minute.
    4. Add the drained split peas, 7 cups water, sweet potatoes, apples, and cinnamon. 
    5. Cover, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until the peas are tender, 30 minutes to an hour.
    6.  In a small bowl, combine chili powder, tomatoes, lime juice and soy sauce.  Add to the pot once the peas are done. 
    7. Remove the cinnamon stick**, then puree the soup right in the pot with an immersion blender (you really should invest in one if you don't have one-- they are really quite fun and handy), or blend everything in batches in a food processor or blender.  Add water, if needed, to reach a good consistency.
    8. Gently reheat if you need to, and serve garnished with a dollop of yogurt and a pinch of cilantro leaves if you'd like.


    *These instructions are specially adapted to cooking at 8,300 feet.  If you live at a more reasonable elevation, you may be able to skip the quick soak and add the rinsed but un-soaked peas right in at step number four.  You'll also notice a big window in the cooking time in step number five-- this time will depend on whether you pre-soaked and for how long, as well as, of course, your elevation.  Make this once or twice and you'll have a better feel for how much time to allow.  Worry not-- if the soup's done early it will not hurt it to sit for a while and be gently reheated.  This soup even freezes well.
    **I once forgot this step, and started whirring away with the immersion blender, only to find it working kind of jerkily.  Then I discovered chunks of bark stuck in the blades.  Oops.  I managed to salvage the soup, though-- I picked out the big chunks and pureed the bejesus out of what was left.  It tasted just like it usually does-- perhaps with a little bonus fiber!

    Where credit is due:

    This recipe originated from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites.  I've made a few minor adjustments-- mostly for altitude, and also to remove any (blasphemous!) low-fat references.  But the end result is probably pretty true to the original recipe's intentions (and I still firmly believe the intention was to change people's minds about split peas...).
    By the way, I have not picked up any Moosewood cookbook and found fewer than a half-dozen recipes I really wanted to try, and most of them that I've tried I've made repeatedly.  Good stuff.

    Saturday, November 19, 2011


    This is probably my family's favorite meal, not counting takeout pizza.  This actually has a lot in common with pizza, but is, I'm thinking, quite a bit healthier than the greasy takeout option.  This is also pretty quick to put together-- in about the time it takes to order pizza and run and pick it up.  If, unlike us, you have pizza delivery in your area, you may need to do your own cost-benefit analysis...

    The veggies:

    • 4 oz Barilla Plus spaghetti or whole-grain spaghetti*
    • 1 cup bottled (or, by all means, home-made!) tomato sauce
    • 1 cup cottage cheese
    • 1 1/4 cups carrot puree**
    • salt, to taste (about 1/2 tsp)
    • fresh ground pepper, to taste
    • 2 to 4 large veggie sausages, browned and sliced, or about 9 ounces meatless meatballs***
    • mozzarella cheese, shredded (about a cup, depending on how cheesy you like it)

    The love:
    1. Preheat the oven to 350° and oil a baking dish (I've used both a pie plate and an 9x9 square ceramic casserole for this).
    2. Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until al dente and drain.
    3. In a mixing bowl, combine the tomato sauce, cottage cheese, carrots, salt and pepper.  Add the cooked spaghetti and toss until well-incorporated.
    4. Spread about 3/4 of the pasta mixture in the baking dish, top with veggie meat balls or sausage slices, then layer on the remaining pasta and sauce.
    5. Sprinkle with mozzarella and bake uncovered until the cheese is golden, about a half hour.
    6. Cool slightly, slice and serve.


    *We love Barilla Plus pasta for its outstanding protein content and smooth texture.  But, whole grain pasta is a great option, too.  And, kids and husbands seem to notice the grainy texture less in baked dishes like this.
    **Truthfully, my preferred method for making carrot puree was in my BabyCook baby food maker.  But, now that I've graduated from that, I just coarsely chop the carrots (3 or 4 large ones for this recipe, but you could always make extra for next time...), steam on the stovetop until just tender, then puree with a little steaming water until smooth but not runny.  Freeze any leftovers in pre-measured amounts for next time.
    ***My family's favorite "fake meat" addition to baked spaghetti is the apple sage variety of Field Roast sausage.  It has a great texture, is not too spicy for the kids (as opposed to the chipotle and Italian varieties), and is soy-free.  Unfortunately, the nearest store to us that carries Field Roast stuff is 65 miles and an 11,000-foot mountain pass away.  So, in a pinch I use something from my local grocery store, like Veggie Patch Meatless Meatballs (I'm not crazy about all that processed soy, though...).

    Where credit is due:

    This recipe is an veggie-fied adaptation of a recipe from Deceptively Delicious, by Jessica Seinfeld (as in Jerry's wife).  The book is not entirely vegetarian, but a lot of her recipes are either meat-free or easily adapted.  If you have a kid-- like my little Oliver-- in a phase where he won't knowingly consume vegetables, she has lots of good tips for sneaking them in.

    meet the (mostly) veggie•loving family

    Our family is what you might technically call ovo-lacto vegetarians, meaning we don't eat animals but we do eat eggs (ovo), and dairy (lacto; most notably, lots of cheese!).  And no, we don't eat fish--they're animals, too (we've been asked that one or two times before...)!  We make one exception to our vegetarianism: marshmallows.  We're big campers, and could not bear to sit around a campfire without them.
    By necessity, we keep our meals simple, affordable, and usually healthful.  I don't use a lot of obscure ingredients because they simply aren't available in the rural mountain community where we live.

    Mama (Angela): I'm an at-home mama to two wily and energetic little boys.  I've been a vegetarian for about 14 years, and have slowly grown to love almost every veggie.  I'm always striving to expand my repertoire of simple, healthy, meat-free meals that my family will eat without complaint.  Now I'm excited to share some of the recipes I've found, adapted and created with my family, friends, and anyone else who may stumble upon them!  
    My favorite meal is sag paneer with fresh-baked nan.  Sadly, I have not yet figured out how to cook really good authentic Indian food at home, and do not (yet) own a tandoori oven.

    Brock is a wildlife biologist by day and a loving father and husband, artist, handyman, and so much more on nights and weekends (check out his website at wabisabiwolverine.com).  He dutifully eats his veggies, especially when they're accompanied by a hearty chunk of french bread.  He also loves nan-- but with dhal.

    Owen is a too-smart-for-his-own-good four-year-old who loves Matchbox cars and (with a little gentle coaxing) at least tries most of his veggies.  His meal of choice is pineapple pizza, but he also loves anything involving pickles or black olives.

    Oliver is almost two, is obsessed with animals, and, to the chagrin of his mama, is currently veggie-phobic.  His favorite meal varies by the day.