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Squash Season

November 4, 2009

enchiladas

Casserole season, too. While I’m not one to revert to eating solely cold salads and watermelon during the summer months – I love my hearty meals and warm foods – I’ve barely used the casserole dish since last spring. Cheesy, spicy, hot and filling, I consider enchiladas especially a cold-weather dish. Now that the fallen leaves are blowing in the streets and we have a fire going nearly every evening to keep out the chill, they seem like the perfect thing.

Make these on a weekend, or a cold evening when spending a while in the heat of the kitchen will be a comfort, not a burden. Enchiladas take time. Fortunately, the beans and the sauce – as well as the assembled casserole – will freeze well, so you can also make extra components of the dish and stow in the freezer for next time. Guacamole is the ideal accompaniment, but you can do like I did and just throw some parsley and minced onions over the top and call it a day. A green vegetable rounds out the meal.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Bean Enchiladas
Serves 6-8

For the squash:
1 small or 1/2 large butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1 tablespoon olive or melted coconut oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chile powder
Pinch of salt

1. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss the squash cubes with oil, cumin, chile powder, and salt. Spread on a sheet pan and place in the oven to roast for about 45 minutes, until the squash is beginning to brown, and a bit dry. Set aside.

For the sauce:
About a quart of crushed tomatoes (1 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes is fine)
1 cup vegetable broth or water
1/2 cup chile powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive or coconut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the minced garlic and saute for a minute or two, until the garlic releases its aroma. Add the chile powder and cumin to the pan and mix well, allowing the spices to toast for a minute.

2. Pour the tomatoes and broth or water into the pan, mixing the spices and garlic into them. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, to cook the tomatoes and allow the flavors to blend.

3. Remove pan from heat. In a blender or with an immersion blender, blend the sauce on high until smooth. If it seems a bit thick, you can add more water or broth. If it seems thin, simmer it for a few minutes longer to thicken it up. Set aside.

For the refried beans:
6-8 cups mushroom or vegetable broth, or 4 cups broth and 2-4 cups water
1 lb. dry pinto beans (about 2 cups), soaked for at least a few hours
2 or 3 dried chipotle peppers
6 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh hot peppers to your taste, minced (I used 2 habaneros)
1/4 cup olive or coconut oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon cumin
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. In a large saucepan, heat 1/4 cup oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and hot peppers and saute until lightly browned. Add cumin to the pan and stir, allowing the cumin to toast for a minute.

2. Add beans, broth or broth and water, and chipotles, and bring the mixture to a boil. Allow to simmer until the beans are soft and beginning to break down, adding more broth or water if necessary, about 1 hour.

3. Remove the dried chipotles and discard. Remove beans from heat. With a potato masher, mash the beans until they are the texture you desire. Stir in the lime juice. Taste and add salt and more lime juice as needed. Set aside.

And for the final dish:
The squash!
The sauce!
The beans!
10 corn tortillas
1/2 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Ready a 9×13-inch baking dish.

2. Dip a tortilla in the enchilada sauce. Use two fingers to scrape off the extra sauce. Place a small handful of the squash cubes in the tortilla, and top with a few tablespoons of refried beans. Roll up and place in the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, until the baking dish is full.

3. Pour the rest of the sauce over the rolled tortillas, and spread it out with a spatula so that the tortillas are covered evenly. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the sauce.

4. Place the baking dish in the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling. If you like (and I always do), put the enchiladas under the broiler for a moment to brown the cheese before removing from the oven. Once you take them out, you can serve them right away if you don’t mind a big sloppy plate, or you can wait 30 minutes for them to come out of the pan in a more cohesive, attractive manner. Serve with guacamole and a green veggie.

Beautiful, Beautiful Bread

October 9, 2009

focaccia

No lie: going gluten-free has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me.  I haven’t had a cold since. My skin looks (and feels) better. My joints don’t hurt. I have more energy. My digestion does what it’s supposed to do. The difference has been astounding.

And I still get to eat so many of my favorite foods. I enjoy wonderful pasta, perfectly crispy pizzas, quesadillas and burritos in chewy tortillas. Cakes, cookies and muffins have all been mine. Acquiring these things hasn’t been quite as easy or convenient as it was in the past, but the improvements in my health have been well worth it, and I feel gastronomically satisfied most of the time.

But I do miss bread.

Finding the right gluten-free bread is a journey. While I adore New Cascadia (their pizza crusts are practically my life’s blood), many of their breads just don’t quite have what want when I’m looking to fulfill my cravings. Too, I miss that special something about making my own bread – the promise of blooming yeast, the soft warmth of freshly risen dough, the drama of a loaf exploding into its final shape and size in the hot oven, and, best of all, the crunchy-soft texture of the freshly baked bread, laden with butter, still warm.

Gluten-free bread recipes are hit and miss. Not just because gluten-free baking is challenging, but because everybody has their holy grail of bread, their own Platonic ideal loaf, the one they’d go running for if a magic fairy bopped them with their wand and enabled them to eat gluten once again.

So when I tried these dinner rolls, I knew I had found something special. The photo alone was enough to sell me (those holes! That crust!) but Jill’s description was enticing, too. I baked the bread as a loaf, instead of rolls, and proceeded to scarf down several thick slices with butter immediately.

As much as I enjoyed the bread, I decided to tweak the recipe the second time I made it, to bring it a little closer to my own ideal loaf, the bread that I dream of and miss since going gluten-free. I reduced the sugar to the minimum required to activate the yeast, as I prefer bread without sweet overtones. In addition, I removed the eggs from the recipe. I’m a bit princess-and-the-pea about eggy flavors in baked goods – I dislike them, and I can sense them under all those other layers of flavor, even when other people don’t find the item in question eggy at all. There’s a common perception that gluten-free baked goods absolutely require eggs for binding and structure, but I have had good success using replacements – in this case, ground flaxseeds, which contribute both their binding power and an extra smattering of fiber to the recipe. The yeast provides enough lift that additional leaveners aren’t required.

I worked the dough into a focaccia loaf this time, and it tastes just wonderful. I’d feel no compunction about serving this to gluten-loving friends and family (in fact, my glutenous husband has polished off a fair amount of the loaf already.) If you’re searching for a gluten-free loaf to serve with soup, pasta, to make wonderful paninis with, or even just eat to eat plain, try this. I know you’ll enjoy it.

Gluten-Free Focaccia with Garlic Oil
This recipe will work best using a pizza stone. If you don’t have one, use a sheet pan instead.

3 cups rice flour mix
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/3 cup teff flour
1 and 1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons of ground flaxseed mixed with 1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon xanthan gum
1 tablespoon yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

salt, freshly ground pepper, and crushed red pepper to sprinkle on top
toppings of your choice (such as chopped olives, caramelized onions, or fresh herbs)

1. Combine the chopped garlic and one tablespoon of the olive oil in a small bowl and set aside.

2. In the bowl of a mixer, combine lukewarm water, yeast, and sugar and set aside for the yeast to proof, about ten minutes, until the yeast has begun to foam.

3. Add flours, flaxseed mixture, xanthan gum, oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Mix well, scrape down the sides, and turn the mixer up to medium high and beat for a few minutes, until a smooth dough is formed. The dough will be a bit sticky.

4. Turn dough out onto a piece of parchment paper. With damp hands, pat the dough out into a round about one inch thick. Allow to rise in a warm place for about thirty to forty minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

5. Poke dimples into the surface of the loaf with your fingers. Brush with the garlic olive oil you set aside earlier, discarding the chopped garlic. Sprinkle the loaf evenly with salt, freshly ground pepper, crushed red pepper, and the toppings of your choice (if any,) and slide it into the oven. Bake for thirty to forty minutes, until the surface is lightly browned and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when you knock on it. Serve fresh and hot, the same day you bake it, if possible. Leftovers should be wrapped in plastic and reheated or toasted to serve.

Do You Still Have Tomatoes?

October 2, 2009

roasted tomato pizza sauce

We do.

Not for long, I know. It’s October now, fall for real. Even here in Oregon, the first frost is likely only a couple of weeks away.

But the tomatoes are soldiering on, and I’m taking advantage of their vivacity by roasting and freezing as many of them as I can get my hands on. Late season tomatoes are cheap and taste just as delicious as they did back in July. I know that we’re all excited to move on to winter squash and cranberries – I’ve been daydreaming often of sumptuous Thanksgiving spreads of pumpkin pie and roasted garlic mashed potatoes – but we’ll miss the tomatoes soon enough. Let’s not rush them out the wintry door.

So in honor of those last beautiful fruits, here are two more recipes using my favorite food of this season, roasted tomatoes. (If you haven’t yet made my inaugural roasted tomato dish, please do so immediately.) Both are sauces and begin similarly. For simplicity’s sake, I’m calling one “pizza sauce” and the other “salsa,” but both have a great versatility within their respective categories (Italian and Southwestern.) Slather them on anything you like, or freeze them for a brilliant taste of summer when winter finally, truly, comes around.

Roasted Tomato Pizza Sauce
Do try this on pizza. The oily, concentrated goodness of the tomatoes combines so beautifully with the melted mozzarella cheese. There’s nothing like it.

3 lbs. fresh tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup red wine
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees. Quarter the tomatoes and toss them and the garlic cloves with the oil, basil, oregano, salt, and a good healthy grind of black pepper.

2. Spread the tomatoes, juicy parts up, on a pan. Roast in the oven for about four hours, until shriveled and beginning to brown, but still a bit juicy.

3. In a blender (or with an immersion blender), combine tomatoes and wine and blend until smooth. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary.

Roasted Tomato Salsa with Lime
My favorite way to use this is to spread it on a burrito before I add the fillings. Great in quesadillas, too.

3 lbs. fresh tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, peeled
The juice of two limes
3 tablespoons oil of your choice
1 tablespoon chile powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees. Quarter the tomatoes and toss them and the garlic cloves with oil, chile powder, ground cumin, salt, and pepper.

2. Spread the tomatoes, juicy parts up, on a pan. Roast in the oven for about four hours, until shriveled and beginning to brown, but still a bit juicy.

3. In a blender (or with an immersion blender), combine tomatoes and lime juice and blend until smooth. Taste for salt and lime and adjust if necessary.

Why I Love My City

September 20, 2009

corn silk

It rained today. (Fresh, perect corn, five ears for $3.)

blackberries

Plenty of people still congregated around the stands at the farmer’s market, but throngs didn’t fill the walkways the way they do during hot summer weekends. (The last blackberries of the season.)

yellow potatoes

The extra elbow room was nice. (Yellow potatoes, for roasting.)

peach close up

The rain painted my produce the most beautiful colors. (Delicious, beautiful late-season peaches.)

pizza crusts

In spite of the downpour, folk singers with their guitars were posted like sentinels around the corners of the market. (Gluten-free pizza crusts.)

savoy cabbage

I listened to one woman sing Indigo Girls songs as I bought my carrots and peppers. (Savoy cabbage. For sauerkraut and for eating. The most wonderful cabbage of all.)

purple beans

Fall will be here – officially – in three days. (Fresh Tolosana shelling beans. They cooked in fifteen minutes into creamy lavender-colored treats.)

Fall. I’m ready. My freezer is full of berries, tomatoes, basil, and corn. There’s a chill in the air tonight, and the smell of smoke.

Bring on the squash and the pumpkins. Bring on the apples and grapes. Bring on the vegetables that grow so beautifully here, even late into the winter. Bring on the cranberries.

I’m ready. Where did the summer go? But I’m ready.

Eating Better in the Backcountry: Equipment

September 18, 2009

As with everything backpacking, cooking in the outdoors is a balance between bringing enough of what you need to have an enjoyable and healthy experience, and carrying as little weight as possible so you can hike at a reasonable pace without your knees exploding. While cooking from scratch definitely requires more weight than using those unsavory dehydrated meal packets, it’s still possible to carry a minimum of extra weight while maximizing the variety of what you can eat on the trail.

The following is a list of what I carry and how I use it. You could get by with less, but this is the collection of things I’ve found to be most useful on my trips.

Pot

Your basic lightweight pot. For boiling water, making soup, beans and rice, pasta, you name it. It, or a pot like it, will be available at any well-stocked outdoors store.

fry-bake 1

This wonderful invention is called a FryBake. Yes, it’s a little pricey, but so worth it! The FryBake is lightweight, has a low-stick surface, and can be used for all manner of culinary purposes, from simply sauteing garlic and spices to pancakes, biscuits, pizzas and breads. I will tell you right now: backpacking is a lot more fun with fresh, hot baked goods.

The smaller size is perfect for one or two backpackers.

pot grips in action

These handy little things are pot grips. They’ll allow you to handle your hot pots and pans when you’re without the luxury of handles and oven mitts.

spatula

A plastic spatula. You can both stir and flip with this (or you can bring an equivalent plastic spoon, like I do – not pictured.)

tupperware

You’ll need something to eat out of. REI and other outdoors stores sell Lexan bowls, but I prefer a simple, sturdy Tupperware from the grocery store. Deep enough for soups and wide enough for pancakes and pizza. Make sure you get one with a lid so you can use it to carry your lunches.

silverware

And something to eat with, too. Hardcore backpackers will sputter when they see my metal silverware. But really, it’s not that heavy! Of course, plastic silverware is a great option. Just don’t bring one of those backpacking sporks. A spork is really just a defective spoon.

spice bag

You’ll need a ditty bag to use as a spice kit.

spices

These little plastic bottles are available at REI. I bring things like salt, chile powder, cumin, basil, oregano, vanilla or almond extract, and hot sauce. The big bottles contain olive oil, for general use, and coconut oil for sweeter foods (butter is a good option, too.) I often will include a few cloves of garlic, a small onion, and a dried hot pepper or two.

knife

The classic Swiss army knife. Good for cutting up garlic and onion, and for all sorts of non-culinary outdoor purposes.

A stove. Not pictured, because it was in my totaled car during this photo shoot (we’ve since been happily reunited.) We use an MSR dragonfly stove, which is a bit heavier-duty than we strictly need, but I like that it’s powerful and boils water more quickly than a Whisperlite, which is my other stove recommendation – quite lightweight and serviceable.

Fuel

…and, of course, fuel. How much you’ll need will depend on your stove, your meal plan, and the length of your trip, but I find that with our Dragonfly we can get five or six meals (plus hot drinks) out of a medium-sized bottle. One tip: be sure to carry your fuel bottles in a different part of your pack than your food, clothing, and other sundries! In the event that the bottles leak, you don’t want your things contaminated with gas.

With these items, you’ll be surprised at the variety and quality of meals you’ll be able to create. In my next post in this series, I’ll discuss nutritional needs in the outdoors, and share some meal ideas.

Eating Better in the Backcountry

September 8, 2009

A. and I are about to embark on our first, and only, backpacking trip of the season. Though it feels like summer is over – I’m sitting in front of the fire as I write this, with rain coming down outside – September is a perfect month to backpack in central Oregon. The weather is generally beautiful, dry, and not too hot, and the summer crowds on the hiking trails have subsided somewhat. We’re looking forward to enjoying the beauty of the mountains and the desert for a few days before A. begins his whirlwind internship year at acupuncture school.

I love the early human feeling I get from backpacking. Traveling by foot with all of my possessions on my back, assembling my own shelter each night, searching for water and collecting it from streams and rivers – it’s a simpler life, a far cry from the usual complications of cars, computers, and credit ratings.

Preparing food on the trail is a natural part of that simpler life, for me. Cooking and eating a delicious and nourishing meal after a long day of hiking is deeply restorative, and introduces an element of luxury that is not unwelcome when you’re going without showers and sleeping on a Thermarest. Pre-made, dehydrated meals can’t remotely compare.

Both A. and I are NOLS alumni, and on our expeditions, we learned some invaluable lessons about backcountry cooking. But NOLS food left a lot to be desired – our rations were high in refined starches, and low in protein, fiber, and other nutrients. After I finished my course and began planning my own backpacking trips, I knew I could do better.

In this series of posts, I’ll share with you all I’ve learned about cooking nutritious, tasty meals in the outdoors, from  equipment to foolproof recipes and cooking methods. If you live in a place where fall comes early, it may be too late for you to use the information this year, but file it away for next time. Your trip will be happier, and healthier, for it.

Roasted Tomato Pomodoro Pasta with Horticultural Beans

August 30, 2009

horticultural beans

If you’ve read a few posts in this blog, you know how much I adore beans. Nutritional and culinary powerhouses, they are a staple in my household. We eat them every day.

So it’s exciting when I get to try a new variety, and it doesn’t happen often. As beautiful and alluring as the Rancho Gordo beans are, I can’t bring myself to replace the most economical part of my budget with something that costs five dollars a pound (plus shipping.) And most farmers in my area don’t grow beans for shelling, so I stick to what I can get in the bulk section. Not that I’m complaining!

But when I went to Kruger’s Farm Market to pick up some cucumbers for pickling, there, near the cabbage, sat a big bin full of these gorgeous beans! I love the American folk name for them – horticultural beans – though you may know them as cranberry or borlotti beans. Not wanting to pass up the chance to try them, I filled a big bag and brought them home, not having any idea yet what I would use them for.

Enter roasted tomatoes. Our Prince Borghese tomato plants have been prolific enough, but not so prolific that I want to drag out the canning equipment, so we’ve been slow-roasting the tomatoes instead. Slow-roasting is truly the simplest thing ever: toss a bunch of halved tomatoes with a glug of olive oil and a few good solid pinches of salt and freshly ground pepper. Spread on a sheet pan and let sit in the oven at 200 or 300 degrees for a few hours – say four to six. They will store well in the refrigerator for quite a while, or in the freezer for much longer.

So for the past couple of weeks, we’ve continually had a pyrex container of these sitting in the fridge. When I brought home the horticultural beans, I thought of  the roasted tomatoes, the beans’ Italian roots – and of my eternal penchant for Italian-peasant-style cooking – and decided on pasta.

And this pasta is so good, you guys. The roasted tomatoes infuse the dish with their characteristic tangy complexity. The horticultural beans are creamy and toothsome. The Savoy cabbage – a softer, gentler variety of cabbage with a deep, sweet flavor – provides crunch. Truly, when I took my first bite, I couldn’t believe how delicious it was. And the second-best part? Full meal in a bowl, no side dishes necessary. I’m making it again in a few days. You should too.

roasted tomato pasta

(And please, don’t be deterred by the quality of this photo. I realize it looks a bit…institutional. Please trust me when I tell you it’s not. I was simply too hungry to devote even a whit of time to food styling. Such is the life of an off-the-cuff food blogger such as myself.)

Roasted Tomato Pomodoro Pasta with Horticultural Beans

1 lb. horticultural beans, shelled (or, if you really can’t find them, use pintos)
1 lb. whole-grain spaghetti or linguini
4 cups shredded Savoy cabbage
3 lbs. fresh tomatoes, roasted in the manner described above, and roughly chopped
2.5 cups dry white wine
1.5 cups pasta-cooking liquid
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling
The juice of 1/2 a lemon
6-8 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper (or to taste)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Cook the horticultural beans in plenty of salted boiling water until tender, about 45 minutes to an hour. Try not to mourn too much that they’ve faded to gray from their original striped glory – the taste will be worth it. While the beans are cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients.

2. Cook the spaghetti or linguini according to your usual method. Drain and set aside, reserving 1.5 cups of the cooking liquid.

3. In a large skillet, heat the butter and extra-virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and saute for a few minutes, until the garlic is fragrant and soft but not browned. Add the white wine. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook for about 5 minutes. Add the pasta-cooking liquid, chopped roasted tomatoes, and lemon juice, and allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes more. The sauce should thicken slightly. Toss the pasta, beans, and cabbage with the hot sauce. Mix in Parmesan and serve hot, sprinkled with more Parmesan if desired.

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