What are you making for Thanksgiving this year?

The countdown to Thanksgiving is in full effect at our house, with both girls looking forward to what has become perhaps their favorite holiday of the year. Perhaps it is the ritual, the expectation of certain foods, the mellow family vibe, or the vacation from school. All of the above is most likely.

We do a potluck Thanksgiving with Jonah’s family, which means we’re off the hook for the turkey but deeply involved in all matters related to dessert, stuffing and cranberry sauce. We like to stick with the standards but this year, I’m taking things a new direction.

Instead of apple pie, I’m making David Lebovitz’s heavenly apple marzipan galette.

Pumpkin pie will likely become a tart this year, with this homemade graham cracker crust. I’m also be tempted to substitute creme fraiche for a part of the heavy cream that typically goes into the custard.

This stuffing is drawing my attention as a great base, with  handfuls of wild mushrooms, mushroom stock and fresh herbs as additions.

For cranberry sauce, I never stray too far from this classic Saveur recipe. Jalapeños have traditionally been excluded but who knows how I’ll feel next week?

Share your ideas and favorites!

Bi-Rite’s Eat Good Food: Chicken Soup with Fennel, Chickpeas and Kale

San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Market, opened in its current incarnation in 1997, is one of the most thoughtful and enjoyable grocery stores in the Bay Area, and my hands-down favorite for shopping and browsing. Bi-Rite’s new book, Eat Good Food, is an accessible, concise and beautifully photographed primer for the home cook. It provides well-curated and informative recommendations on how to create a sustainable, healthy kitchen, with recipes to inspire. It is a perfect extension of Bi-Rite’s foundational philosophy: creating community through food.

This is a grocery store that prides itself on operating like a restaurant, made evident by its attention to detail when it comes to food and service. It doesn’t come as a surprise that the emphasis throughout this book is on how quality and simplicity of ingredients make for better home cooking. But the book, and the market, take things a step further, piecing together stories that illustrate the importance of how food is produced, and how to prioritize practices and farmers that create a healthier food system.

Focusing on themes like “How to Use,”How to Store,” and “How to Buy,”  the book’s chapters are organized much like any market you would encounter: the deli case, the produce department, dry goods. I imagine this book serving as my go-to for remembering which type of flour works best for what purpose, the difference between salt-packed and oil-packed anchovies (remember how much I love anchovies?) and how to make informed food choices in any grocery store. The recipes, interspersed throughout the chapters, are inviting, diverse, seasonally inspired, and for the most part, simple enough for any home chef to tackle.

I selected one of the Winter recipes to try because it is a creative version of a family staple: chicken soup. It also reminded me to step out of our usual routine and try something new. My plan was to start with a familiar food, a sure thing, and take it up a notch by adding unexpected ingredients. Worst case, I assumed they would pull out the additions and stick with the basics. But it turned out to be a best case sort of evening: this soup was a total hit!

Preparation

Adapted from Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food

Prep time: 10-15 minutes

Total time: 35-45 minutes

  • 1/2 bunch of kale (or chard, spinach, escarole, etc), ends removed and thinly sliced into ribbons
  • 1 medium head of fennel, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups diced cooked chicken or as desired
  • 1/2 – 1 cup diced carrots (and/or celery)
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 2-3 teaspoons fresh herbs if on hand: parsley or marjoram are great options
  • 1 lemon
  • Optional: Several handfuls of croutons, 1 -2 cups cooked brown rice, etc.

Note: The vegetable amounts listed here are meant to be recommendations. Feel free to adjust proportions based on what you have on hand and personal preference.

Using a 4-5 quart Dutch oven or similar pot, heat 1-2 tbsp. olive oil and saute fennel for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic, then washed and thinly sliced kale. Cover and cook the kale-fennel mixture, stirring occasionally, until the kale softens, about 5 minutes. Add diced carrots, bay leaf, herbs and broth, adjust heat to medium-high and bring to a gentle boil. Once at a boil, turn down the heat to allow the soup to simmer for 25-30 minutes until the kale is tender and wilted. A few minutes before the soup is done, add in the cooked chicken and garbanzo beans to warm up. Remove from heat, then add in a squeeze of lemon juice if desired, along with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve as is or throw in some croutons, rice or pasta for a heartier version. Don’t forget to save some leftovers for lunch!

Roasted Cauliflower with Capers and Anchovies

Yes, that says anchovies. Don’t stop reading! They are the “secret ingredient” in this dish, one that elevates something very simple to another level. But more on that in a minute.

Cold weather began in earnest about a week ago, and my trusty oven has been operating in full force ever since. Roasting is my cooking process of choice this time of year, especially on rushed weekday evenings. Part of the attraction is that its relatively passive, leaving hands and minds free for dealing with stovetop cooking, squeaky kids, and other urgent matters. The other great benefit of roasting is that it can transform even the most humble vegetable – cauliflower a perfect case in point – into something sweeter, more flavorful, and tender.

This recipe is one of our family’s favorite cauliflower preparations. The girls love olives and capers (anything pickled actually) so I always overload one or the other into the roasting pan. The anchovies completely disappear in the roasting process, leaving behind tons of tangy flavor, nothing fishy. Throw in garlic too if you like. My goal is to also integrate dried chilies in the future, but I’m not sure how Talia will feel about that. This also makes for an excellent and easy Thanksgiving side dish.

Now if only I could rig a way to remotely preheat the oven so its ready exactly when I need it….

Preparation

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 40-50 minutes, depending on oven

Serves 4-6

Preheat oven to 425°.

Starting with two medium-sized cauliflower heads (preferably a mix of white, orange and/or purple), wash and cut the florets into bite-sized pieces. Spin or toss to dry a bit, then place into a roasting pan of choice. One hint here: in my oven, it will certainly take longer to cook this dish in a ceramic pan, as opposed to a baking sheet with parchment paper. So opt for the latter if you are in a rush.

Toss cauliflower pieces with a generous amount of olive oil, 1-3 tbsp. rinsed capers (amount based on personal preference), a head of garlic with the cloves separated (optional), a small handful of crumpled, dried chilies (optional), and 4-6 anchovy fillets torn into small bits.

Season generously with pepper before putting it in the oven but hold off on the salt until the vegetables are done. The anchovies inherently add a lot of salt.

Roast for 30-40 minutes, until caramelized and tender to the bite.

Ready for roasting!

Done, at last!

If you're feeling purple...

Note: If you prefer faster cooking time in exchange for a little more clean up, steam the cauliflower florets until they are just tender. This will cut the roasting time by at least 10 minutes if not longer (oven dependent).

Healthy, Delicious Banana Bread: Look No Further

I don’t know about your fruit bowl, but ours is regularly and inevitably graced with several overripe bananas at any given time. We are a household of picky banana eaters. Once they are past perfect, they are summarily ignored.

Lucky for us, Jonah has taken up the cause by perfecting this fantastic banana bread recipe over the last few years. Chock full of healthy ingredients, low in sugar, absolutely moist and delicious, it is always a treat and perfect for an afternoon snack. Try it out – it never lasts long around our house!

Of course what I appreciate most is how quick and easy this recipe is. In no time, these:

mixed with a few ingredients, including:

become:

You combine with:

And end up with this!

Preparation

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter OR 1/4 cup butter plus 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1 cup mashed bananas ( 2 ripe bananas)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole yogurt
  • 1.5 cups whole wheat flour (or split between whole wheat and white flour)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 walnuts (optional)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Optional: 1/4 cup flax seeds, 1/2-1 cup diced apples

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine dry ingredients (flour, baking soda and salt) into a medium-sized bowl, sifting if desired. Using a mixer, cream butter, applesauce (if using) and sugar until well blended. Add eggs one at a time, then vanilla and bananas. Add dry ingredients and yogurt in batches, about 1/3 of each at a time. Be careful not to overmix! Now throw in whatever combination of “mix-ins” you like – this is where the chocolate chips, nuts, coconut, flax seeds, etc., come in. Mix gently and transfer into buttered bread pan.

Bake for about 1 hour, with a serious caveat: check using a toothpick at the 50 minute mark, as it is often done early. The bread is ready if the toothpick comes out very slightly moist, but it shouldn’t have any batter sticking to it. Be sure not to over-bake, it will dry out the banana bread and compromise the result.

Today is Food Day! Time to Cook, and Take Action: Tell the FDA to Label GE Foods

Today is the first time Food Day is being celebrated in the United States in close to 40 years! Food Day is a nationwide grassroots mobilization that encourages Americans to eat healthy, delicious food grown in a sustainable and humane way and to advocate for smarter food policies.

In honor of this event, and because I strongly believe that eating is always a political act, I am asking for your collective support for a new campaign that seeks to address one of the most pressing food and environmental issues of our time. The Just Label It campaign strives to tackle the increasing problem of genetically engineered plants and animals in our food supply. The use of GE crops has profound environmental and health implications. At this time, the public does not know if foods they buy contain genetically engineered ingredients.

We deserve to make informed choices about our food supply from every perspective. If you agree, I ask you to support this petition, which  asks the FDA to make the labeling of foods containing genetically engineered foods mandatory. Let’s help them meet this goal of mobilizing millions of Americans around this issue by the end of the year!

Here’s a great, SUPER SHORT video called “Dining in the Dark,” to watch and share with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Now that you are inspired, sign the petition! Tell the FDA you have a right to know what’s in your food.

Quick Cook Polenta and Our “Three Sisters” Dinner

Summer has finally arrived in San Francisco, but given that it is the middle of October, I find myself instinctually craving cool weather foods. Polenta came to mind immediately, being a hands down favorite. My girls especially love what they call “soupy polenta,” the soft melty version that you make from scratch. I’m sure images of hovering over a stove, stirring endlessly, come to mind immediately. But alas! Let me introduce you to the quick cook polenta technique, which takes nothing more than about a half hour and a working oven.

Before we get to the preparation, a few more words about polenta. It is an incredibly versatile side dish, it compliments almost any dinner, meat-centered, vegetarian, or vegan. Of course it is healthy, not to mention nourishing in that way that only a good porridge can be.

I decided to try something different this week, serving the polenta alongside Rancho Gordo’s Good Mother Stollard Beans that my friend Elizabeth (who writes a stunning blog called Pastry Break) recommended. They had been languishing in the cupboard for months now, but after my recent post about homemade beans I was motivated to put them to good use. Topping things off with the last of the summer squash from our garden, sautéed with lots of garlic, I realized that I created the culinary version of the traditional Native American agricultural trinity known as the Three Sisters: squash, maize and beans.

It was hearty, delicious and simple to pull together quickly on a weeknight if you have the beans prepared in advance (which will just need defrosting and reheating time). Any beans will work. I also recommend drizzling a bit of simple tomato sauce over the polenta if you happen to have some on hand.

Preparation: Quick Cook Polenta

Adapted from the San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook Volume II

Preheat over to 350°

Boil at least 6 cups of water in a kettle or pot. In the meantime, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a medium to large ovenproof pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup polenta, and stir to coat with oil. Cook until heated through. Gradually stir in 6 cups of boiling water to the polenta – be very careful of backspray when the first cup of water touches the pot.

Return to a boil (should be almost instant) and add 1-2 teaspoons of salt. Cover the pan and place in the warm oven. Cook undisturbed for 35-40 minutes. Take care as you remove the pan from the oven, as it will be VERY hot. The mixture will look somewhat separated at this point, so whisk the polenta until it is well-blended to determine if it is done.

No stirring until its ready!

Mix in 1-2 tablespoons of butter, and a cheese of your choice (or skip both in favor of more olive oil for a vegan option). Serve immediately to enjoy its softest and creamiest texture. Or, chill to transform into a hard polenta dish.

Boxed Mac’N’Cheese Saves the Day!

Our family has been in sick mode this week, which translates into a lot of triage and late nights working, and not a lot of energy to put toward the evening meal. So I wasn’t at all surprised to find an essentially empty refrigerator at 5:00PM yesterday, as I began to contemplate what’s for dinner. What options did I have before me? Not many, it turned out. I decided to center a quick and healthy meal around an unlikely candidate: boxed macaroni and cheese.

No, it is not an ideal dietary staple.

No, it does not compare to any homemade version (unless you are Ava and dislike melty cheese).

Yes, it is made from organic ingredients.

Yes, we happen to have a secret love for this queen of processed foods.

My guilt was instantly assuaged by the suite of accompaniments I decided to pull together to round out the meal. There was zucchini-cilantro soup awaiting in the freezer (reminder: freeze everything you can for a rainy day!). A lonely but gorgeous head of purple cauliflower was roasted with garlic, olive oil, capers and secret ingredient anchovies. A “crisper bin special” green salad was quickly thrown together, saving one orphan kale leaf, half a carrot, a head of fennel and a little lettuce from their compost bin fate).

It all came together in about 40 minutes, and most importantly, allowed us to enjoy a family meal during a tough stretch.

Easy, Delicious From Scratch Beans (Yes). Bisphenol A (No).

I’ve wanted to do a post on beans for a while now, because they are such a wonderful healthy food that seems to appeal to even the pickiest of palettes. In our house, beans satisfy both the carnivore and the omnivores, and are a perfect hot school lunch option when paired with rice or polenta.

Over the past two years, I have slowly weaned our household away from canned foods. I came to this decision out of concern that canned foods are contaminated with a chemical called bisphenol-A (BPA for short). BPA is hormone disruptor that can interfere with normal development and function of the body. Recent tests by the Centers for Disease Control show that exposure is fairly ubiquitous, and human evidence of harm is emerging. Since canned foods are a primary source of exposure, and one that we generally have control over, reducing our family’s reliance on canned food seemed like a good strategy.

Figuring out how to efficiently make beans from scratch was key to this effort (that, and canning my own tomato sauce, which I’ll leave for another post). The great thing I discovered is that making beans at home is actually very easy; it inspires exploration of different bean varieties (we were stuck on pintos for years but tried heirloom black beans this summer that wowed us with their flavor and texture); and most importantly, it is far cheaper than canned.

The key to making this work? Don’t plan around a bean dinner to make beans. Make them anytime you’ll be around the house for at least an hour and have the capacity to stir a pot every so often. Or, better yet, rely on that slow cooker that may just be collecting dust in your small appliance cemetery. If you’ve got one, all you need is an outlet and a few hours of passive (ie no involvement from you) cooking time, no soaking required. Make lots of cooked beans and use some, then freeze the rest in small to mid-size containers. They defrost beautifully.

Stovetop Technique

Note: 1 cup of dry beans = about 3 cups cooked beans

Rinse and sort dried beans of your choice, discarding any blemished ones and stones/grit. Place in a medium-large pot and cover beans with cool water by about two inches. Soak overnight or for 8-10 hours. I usually set this up in the evening and if I don’t have time to cook the beans the following morning, I’ll place the soaked beans in the fridge until I carve out a more convenient cooking time.

Once the beans are soaked, it is time to cook. Start with a medium to large pot, depending on how many cups of beans you are preparing ( I would recommend at least 2 cups of dried beans to make it worth the time). Cover with three times their volume of fresh water. I like to add 1-2 tbsp. coarse sea salt to the cooking water, along with some aromatics.

Bay leaves, whole garlic cloves and onions are great options, especially for Mexican-style black and pinto beans. Bring beans to a rapid boil, then lower heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Check occasionally to be sure there is enough cooking water. You’ll know the beans are done when they are cooked through but not falling apart.

See below for use/storage info.

Slow Cooker Technique

This is my favorite method because no soaking is required! Wash your beans thoroughly, and place into slow cooker. Cover beans by about an inch of water, a little more is fine too. Add 1-2 tbsp. coarse sea salt. If using a fine salt, use less. You can always add more salt later but you don’t want to overdo it. Toss in the aromatics of your choice (see above) and cover. Set the timer for 3 hours. If you are home, check the slow cooker to be sure the beans are covered with enough water. If they begin to look dry, add some more. They should be ready in 3-4 hours depending on the beans.

Storage and Use

I recommend holding on to a least a can’s worth (a 14 oz. can of beans is about 1 ½ cups) in the fridge for school lunches; to serve alongside quesadillas for a quick lunch or dinner; to accompany chicken tacos; to sprinkle with nutritional yeast for a quick snack; and to make into proper vegetarian dishes of various sorts. The possibilities are endless.

Freeze the rest, and be sure to cover the beans with cooking water when freezing them. Now you have beans at your disposal anytime, after a quick defrost.

Final note: For those of you who eat beans frequently, a pressure-cooker may be a useful tool. I had to put the kibosh on further appliance purchases for our household but my vegetarian friends swear by it. Unsoaked beans can be cooked in a pressure cooker in 20-45 minutes, depending on the variety.

Turkish Dinner Part 2: Lamb Burger Sliders + Yogurt Sauce

I’ve been meaning to send out this post for several months now, originally intended to follow closely on the heels of the Turkish Lentil Soup. Distractions in the realms of summer fruit, fish in packets, and life in general have arisen lately, but wait no more. Turkish Dinner Part 2 is here, in its full splendor.

The idea is to create a quick and hearty main course to accompany the soup. Originally conceived as a lamb burger slider intended to fit perfectly into a pita pocket and drizzled with a simple yogurt sauce, we ended up trying it with ground beef on account of Ava’s dislike of all things related to lamb (as least as of last week). For once, I’m grateful for a finicky kid palate because the beef version turned out to be almost as good, and I tend to keep ground beef in 1 pound packets stocked in the freezer. Why, you ask? Because the awesome grassfed beef producer at our farmers’ market sells them at a discounted price if you buy four packs. Which I do, and then appreciate having it on hand. But I digress..

Preparation

Serves: 4-5 (4 adults)

Preparation time: 30 minutes

For burgers:

  1. 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb or beef (preferably grassfed)
  2. 1 small onion, minced
  3. 1 garlic clove, minced
  4. 3 tablespoons finely chopped mint
  5. 3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  6. Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  7. Whole wheat pita bread (ideally the small round version but anything goes)

In a medium bowl, lightly knead the ground lamb/beef with the onion, garlic, mint, parsley and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Mix gently but well.

Shape the meat into small sliders, 1/2 inch thick, and line them up on a cutting board.

In the meantime, pour 1-2 cups plain,whole milk yogurt into a serving bowl. Add any combination of the following, depending on preference and ingredient availability: 1 small garlic clove, finely chopped; 1/2 cup seedless cucumber, finely chopped; 1-2 tbsp fresh mint/parsley; several pinches of ground cumin and chili powder; salt and pepper.  This is intended to be a very flexible sauce. Salt and pepper alone will do the trick in a pinch.

Prepare either an outdoor or indoor grill, and grill the sliders for about 6-8 minutes to the desired doneness, turning once during cooking. Toast pita bread either on grill, in oven or in a toaster. At this point, you can either set 1-2 sliders on the pita bread or open the pita and stuff them inside (I prefer the latter). Drizzle with lots of yogurt sauce and serve. If your family is anything like mine, you will need LOTS of extra yogurt sauce.

I couldn’t help but also add padron peppers as a side dish to this dinner.If you haven’t already tried these, you should. They take about 5 minutes to prepare, no work other than washing is involved, and they are addictively delicious. And generally not spicy.

Quick sautéed padron peppers with olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Yum!

Success!

Join the Hunger Challenge, September 11-17, 2011

September is national Hunger Action month. There are now more than 44.6 million people on food stamps in the US, the largest number in history. Joining many other like-minded organizations around the country, San Francisco/Marin Food Bank is inviting community members to take their Hunger Challenge next week, starting Sunday. The main goal of this effort is it to experience how challenging it is to eat healthfully on $4.92 per family member, per day (the amount granted to food stamp recipients). Our family is leaving town next week, but prior to our trip, we will be eating simple and inexpensive meals in honor of this Challenge.

As I contemplated our participation, brainstorming frugal recipes, figuring out the best approaches to stretching a meal, one thing became clear: this Challenge is really about more than exploring whether it is possible to create nourishing meals on a food stamp budget. There is also the question of whether those who rely on food stamps even have the time to allocate toward meal planning and preparation. For the working poor striving to makes ends meet, especially in outrageously expensive cities like my lovely San Francisco, time is as precious a resource as money. Earnings aren’t going far enough, so people take on more work to make ends meet. There seems to be a direct path between this reality, and the fast food restaurant. I will keep this at the forefront of my mind as I prepare food for my family next week.

With 15 million children living in poverty in the United States today, we clearly have an enormous problem to contend with. I encourage all of you to take this Hunger Challenge next week, even if it is just for a day. If nothing else, take the time to have a family conversation about hunger to generate awareness among all generations about the urgency of this issue.

For more context, check out the ABC News series “Hunger and Children in America”

Slow Food USA is also doing a $5 Challenge aiming to prove that a “slow food doesn’t have to cost more than fast food.”