December 29, 2013

Crispy "Old Bay" Edamame

Kiddo's nap time, if it happens at all these days, usually begins with a drive: the white-noise roar of high heat, and someone's steady, lulling voice on NPR. The voice today is Carl Sagan's. We circle a little longer than we need to, listening. Home, I cut the engine and go into the house, leaving Darwin in his car seat, draped in a blanket printed with white bats, sleeping in the cave of leftover heat.

I cook until the windows steam up: soups, stews, quiches, sandwiches, greens, chicken, sweet potatoes, whatever I can make to get ahead. I think of Darwin's voice, sometimes so serious and aware: "I'm very hungry, Mama." It fills me with... what? Dread, joy, annoyance, love, purpose...

There is always more to do. The work finds me late at night, baking banana-nut muffins for tomorrow's breakfast. It finds me mincing onions for a dinner curry, then bringing my oniony hands to the floor to read Darwin a book among peels and scraps that need sweeping. And it finds me here, shaking a sizzling pan of roasting edamame pods while he naps in the car. Every five minutes, I trot out the kitchen door and cup my hands against the window to see his lax mouth and thin blue eyelids, still closed.

When he wakes up, there will be good food to eat...

...and to play with! This is one of those beautiful snacks that doubles as an activity:

Crispy "Old Bay" Edamame
Serves 3

1 package organic frozen edamame beans in the pod (14-16oz)
3 Tbls. extra virgin olive oil
Old Bay spice mix, to taste

Preheat oven to 400.

In a large bowl, drizzle olive oil over the pods. Toss to coat.

Sprinkle Old Bay generously on the pods. Toss to coat.

Spread pods on a large cookie sheet and bake 10 minutes. Flip the pods, then bake 10 minutes more.

Taste the beans, then season with sea salt and/or extra Old Bay to taste.

December 22, 2013

Beef Tagine with Cinnamon and Carrots

Slush and spindly-fingered trees herald the official start to the season of long-simmered soups and stews. Here is one we keep returning to, a tagine that transports us across the world, then calls us back home with its cozy cinnamon; rich broth; ultra-tender beef; and carrots in bright, familiar coins...

Tagine, a Moroccan stew named after the conical vessel it's traditionally cooked in, is pronounced "ta-zhine," the way you imagine the French would say it. Here in our little house in New York, we spent a good long time calling it "ta-GEEN," nailing that G like a dropped hunk of frozen beef. Woops. Sorry, generations of North African cooks.

We've since amended our pronunciation, but Darwin still likes saying it the old way, only now it's funny. He especially likes to proclaim, through giggles, that we are having "Pea-Ta-Geen," (say it!) and in fact I credit him with the tender and colorful addition of spring peas to this otherwise deeply-spiced and wintery stew.

I used to give him a little dish of frozen peas to stir into his bowl at the table, because he liked to eat it that way; then I tasted his leftovers, and understood the wisdom of this extra ingredient. Now as serving time approaches, I hoist his ever-lengthening frame up to the stovetop, and, with a flash-reminder of what's-hot-up-here (everything except the handle of the wooden spoon), I let him dump the peas into the pot and give them a jerky stir.

Once again, a bit of kitchen wisdom comes back around with the spoon: what's good for one of us is good for all of us.

Beef Tagine with Cinnamon and Carrots
Serves 4

1 pound cubed stew beef
1 medium-large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 carrots, sliced into coins (I used multicolored carrots)
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 cup raisins
3 Tbls. minced fresh parsley
1/2 tsp. fine-grained sea salt
2 Tbls. extra virgin olive oil

In a med-large stew pot over medium heat, heat butter or olive oil and fry onions until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes.

Add the beef and fry, stirring frequently, another 5 minutes or until it's browned on all sides.

Add garlic and fry a minute or two more.

Add carrots, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, salt, and two cups of water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to barely a simmer.

Cover the pot, and leave it to simmer 45 minutes to an hour. Toss the raisins in about halfway through cooking, and give the pot a stir once in a while.

Add peas just before serving; the heat of the stew will defrost them, but they'll stay fresh and tender.

Serve in bowls with a scattering of parsley.

December 15, 2013

Healthy Holiday Jam Stack Cookies

I've spent about the last seventeen holiday seasons jaded about Christmas in that hunched, adolescent sort of way. I'd grown up, mostly, and could pass on presents and trees and lights. One year in my early twenties, I didn't even make it back to my native Massachusetts during the month of December. I strolled the warm beaches of San Diego, where I lived: the always-blooming land that Christmas forgot, but that advertisers, with their billboards of mittens and snowflakes, did not. See what I mean? Jaded.

This year, things have been different. As suddenly as a two-year-old boy hits a growth spurt, I shrugged off my Christmas apathy. The poppy tambourines of Pandora's Christmas Channel pipe from our speakers. Crafts of red and green construction paper, pom poms, and glitter plaster our refrigerator. And our living room glows with the twinkle lights on our first family Christmas tree--colorful lights, I insisted, because they're more fun.

So you see, there's a thing happening here. He's about three feet tall and he believes in Santa, and that's pretty much the whole story.

In the throes of my enthusiasm, holiday cookies became necessary. I spent weeks mulling over and testing this recipe, because I wanted it to be just right: rich, sweet, colorful, and nourishing, too. For the dough, I put a whole-food spin on the recipe for traditionally sugar-free Polish kolache cookies; then I filled the cookies with dollops of simple but magnificent raspberry-date jam. You probably won't use all the jam in the cookies, which is a good thing: leftovers are great in a PBJ sandwich or stirred into a batch of oat bars.

Thanks for sharing in my (alarmingly meteoric!) holiday spirit, and enjoy.


Healthy Holiday Jam Stack Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup butter, softened
3oz (or 1/4 cup + 2 Tbls.) cream cheese, softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups frozen raspberries
1/2 cup packed mashed dates

For the jam:
In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, simmer raspberries, stirring often, until they're melted and broken down, five or fewer minutes.

Break up mashed dates into small gobs and sprinkle them into the still-simmering raspberries. Stir well and simmer a few minutes more, until the jam is thick and all lumps are incorporated.

Let cool and transfer to glass for storage.

For the cookies:
Cream together butter, cream cheese and vanilla, then add flour and stir well. Use your hands to form the dough into a homogenous ball.

Roll the dough into two logs about two inches in diameter, wrap them in parchment paper, and chill until firm (30 minutes in the freezer, or 2+ hours in the fridge)

Preheat oven to 350 and line a cookie tray with parchment paper. Remove the logs of dough from the fridge/freezer and slice them into very thin rounds.

Arrange half the rounds on the cookie sheet and bake until firm, 12-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, use a small cookie cutter (I used the cap to a vodka bottle!) to punch holes in the middle of the remaining rounds. Save the punched-out dough in a ball to make more cookies.

Transfer the baked "solid" halves onto a plate to cool, and arrange the "O" halves on the cookie sheet. Bake for 7-10 minutes, or until firm.

When both cookie halves are completely cool, spread jam on the "solid" halves and gently press the "O" halves on top. The cookies will be somewhat delicate in their first hour or so out of the oven, but they become sturdier--and achieve their best, flaky texture--after a couple of hours of rest.

December 8, 2013

Savory Quinoa-Veggie Cakes (Gluten Free)

Lately, when it's cooking time, I plunk a bunch of mixing bowls, baking dishes, and measuring cups onto the kitchen floor, and bring the ingredients down to Darwin's level. I show him how to knock the eggs gently against the side of the bowl and poke his thumbs into the slippery centers to pull the shells apart. I let him do all the dumping and most of the stirring. In between tasks, he earnestly asks, "NOW what do we need?" I treasure this sweet and important time spent with my little one:

Our latest team effort yielded these cute, handheld quinoa cakes. We packed them with as many veggies as we could so they are brightly-colored and delicious. So delicious! We like them with a side of fruit.

Quinoa-Veggie Cakes (Gluten Free)
Makes about 10 cakes

1 cup cooked and cooled quinoa
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
2/3 cup minced raw broccoli
1/2 cup minced raw onion
1/4 cup frozen peas
1 medium carrot, grated
1 egg
extra virgin olive oil, for cooking

Preheat oven to 375, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Saute veggies in olive oil over medium heat, starting with the onions for two minutes, then adding the carrots for two minutes more, the broccoli for two minutes more, and finally the peas for the last two minutes. Salt and pepper the veggies to taste, and let cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk an egg and fold in grated cheese, veggie mixture, and cooked quinoa. Stir well and add a bit more salt, if you like.

Pack the mixture into a quarter cup measuring cup or other small mold, then knock out the cakes onto the cookie sheet.

Bake 10 minutes, flip, then bake 5 minutes more. Cool slightly and serve or freeze.

This post shared on Real Food Wednesdays.

December 2, 2013

Braised Kale with Caramelized Onions

In the beginning of her newest cookbook, Wild About Greens, Nava Atlas writes, "My passion for greens is constant and never wanes. I used to say that when we ran out of broccoli, it was time to go food shopping. Now that sentiment refers to all kinds of leafy greens. In my opinion, it's a barren fridge that holds no kale, collards, or spinach [...]"

I have loved Nava Atlas since I was a recent college graduate, splattering bottled salad dressings on the pages of The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet in my tiny sun-drenched kitchen in San Diego. There, I worked tirelessly to master the alchemy of cooking for myself, something that my ivy league education (shockingly!) had not prepared me for at all.

I suffered a lot of mishaps, and I named them, wryly: Cigarette Soup. Hot Dog Soup. Mustard Noodles. I remember making a beef stew that turned out terrifically, but that I could not duplicate for my life. Almost a decade later, and now that cooking is second-nature, I often forget that it was a long road to even moderate proficiency in the kitchen.

Back to Nava. I already knew her to be an extraordinary force, but when I read her words about greens, I felt like I'd found a soul mate. I read the passage aloud to Scott. "It's us," I said. "She's US!" I had come a long way in my habits and preferences from where I once was.

And a good thing, too. Really loving and savoring greens is like opening a magic box of perfect nutrition and sultry flavors. Like learning to cook, I think learning to appreciate greens is a thing we must all accomplish, no matter our age or eating background.

Wherever you or your kids are on the path to loving greens, I hope you'll pause here, and try this fabulous braised kale with caramelized onions. Sweet and tender and spicy, it's my very favorite preparation, and it goes well with almost anything. Darwin likes when I roll it into little balls that he can pluck and eat with his fingers, which is a little annoying to do at the table, but well worth the trouble if it gets some kale into his belly.


Braised Kale with Caramelized Onions
20 minutes
Serves 2-4

1 bunch kale, washed and chopped
1/2 large sweet onion, sliced thinly*
2 Tbls. extra virgin olive oil (a generous swirl)
dash red pepper flakes (optional)

Heat oil and onions in a large pan over medium heat, until onions sizzle.

Cook, stirring frequently, until onions become soft, brown, and sticky, at least ten minutes.

Add kale, and stir to coat with the oil and onions. Fry 30 seconds or so and sprinkle with a little sea salt.

Add a few tablespoons of water, then cover the pan and continue to cook, removing the lid every couple of minutes to stir and turn over the kale. Taste it as it starts to become tender: it's ready when you are, and when the water has completely cooked off (you may want to remove the lid for the final minute or so of cooking.)

Remove from heat, sprinkle with red pepper flakes, and serve.

*When the onions are very thinly sliced, caramelizing happens quickly. Really.

This recipe has been shared on Real Food Wednesdays.