Buckwheat waffles with pecans

Once again, I’m posting a non-bean recipe. Apparently this is a new trend. Which I’m justifying because it fits  my overall approach to cooking and eating delicious food that makes me feel good both during and after the meal. Plus it’s Christmas, and the friends I usually celebrate with are out of town.  This year, it’s just me and my mom. So I decided against an elaborate holiday meal. A big dinner, normally something I adore doing, just seemed like too much for two people. But I wanted to do something special to mark the occasion. After considerable thought, I settled on overnight waffles.

Everyday waffles, the kind that, provided you have a waffle iron, come together in a half hour or so, are perfectly great. But overnight waffles, which require yeast and forethought and which I’d never made before today, seemed sufficiently festive to qualify for a holiday breakfast. I got the idea from the “Make-Ahead Breakfasts for a Crowd” article in the December 2013 issue of Fine Cooking.

Although the original waffle recipe sounded wonderful, I decided to substitute pecans for the bacon. I am in the enviable position of having several pounds of fresh pecans, which my mother brought up with her from Florida. I’ve had pecan waffles once before, in Atlanta. And they were out of this world good. So that was an obvious choice. But, while I didn’t have bacon, I did have bacon fat in the fridge from two weeks ago, when I made deviled eggs for a friend’s holiday party. Accordingly, while these waffles do not have any actual meat, they are decidedly not vegetarian. However, I did not really taste the bacon. So I don’t think you would lose anything by leaving it out and making these with butter.

If you’re in the mood to experiment, I also think you could easily make these gluten-free by subbing a combination of gluten-free flours for the whole wheat, perhaps brown rice flour, tapioca flour, oat flour, or potato starch. Or something else. Check out this post from glutenfreegirl. (http://bit.ly/1c5TlKs) If you do experiment, please let me know how it turns out. I will do the same.

This blog post is the second of two recipes I’ve adapted from that article in the past couple of months. The first was overnight granola, a version of which I made and blogged about during the Thanksgiving holiday. (http://bit.ly/1bqqJrM) And here’s a link to the original recipe for buckwheat-bacon waffles on which this current post is based. (http://bit.ly/K5vPnH)

As with my version of Fine Cooking’s granola, in making these waffles I took liberties with ingredients but followed the method of the original recipe. And, like the granola, this was a great success.buckwheat wafflesUnlike the granola, I probably won’t make these on a regular basis. But, because I’m not cooking for a crowd this year, I was able to fill a large freezer bag with waffles that I’ll be able to grab on-the-go over the next few days. Which is super exciting. Because, as I learned this morning both by reading about the nutritional profile of buckwheat and by how I felt after eating several waffles (energized and satiated, without any sugar craving), they’re actually quite nourishing. If you’re curious, here’s a link with more information about the wonders of buckwheat. (http://bit.ly/1ihIQsg) Here’s my adapted version of the recipe.

2 T. rendered bacon fat
6 T. butter
2 cups whole or low-fat milk (I used 2%)
1-1/4 cups buckwheat flour
3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1-1/2 t. yeast
1/2 t. table salt
2 large eggs
1 T. pure maple syrup, plus more for serving
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1 c. pecans, chopped

THE NIGHT BEFORE
Put the bacon fat and butter in a 2 or 3-quart saucepan and heat over low heat until both are melted. Add the milk and heat for another 2 or 3 minutes, until it’s just warmed through. While it’s heating, whisk the flours, yeast, and salt together in a large bowl that will accommodate at least 3 quarts. The batter will double in volume. Slowly whisk in the warm milk, continuing to whisk until the batter is smooth.

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, maple syrup, and vanilla. Scrape the mixture into the batter and whisk just until incorporated. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 9 – 23 hours.

IN THE MORNING
Remove the bowl from the fridge about an hour before you plan to start making the waffles, to let the batter rise a bit more. (This is not in the original recipe, but I found that the batter had not really risen very much. I think it’s because I used regular yeast, not rapid-rise.  (If you used rapid-rise yeast, skip this step and let the bowl stay in the fridge an extra hour.) Heat a waffle iron. Gently fold the pecans into the batter, which will deflate to about 4 cups. Ladle the batter into the waffle iron in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions (or your experience), and cook until crisp and lightly browned. Serve with maple syrup.

If you have leftovers, I encourage you to freeze them for later. Just like the waffles you see in the freezer section at the grocery store, but better!

Pecan pie, redux

This blog is now almost a year old. Yet, despite the very best of intentions, I have yet to post about a bean-based dessert. Not because such desserts don’t exist. They do. And I am very curious, eager to try them. But during this same year I’ve been trying to cut down my intake of refined sugar. So most of my baking has involved experimenting with alternatives like maple syrup, honey, and rice syrup. Since I’ve never cooked a dessert with beans, I don’t know what I’m doing, and therefore am not comfortable taking the experiment that far out of the known. Not yet. Which means I still am not posting about a bean-based dessert. But it’s almost Christmas. And, to me, after growing up in in the South as part of a large Southern family, Christmas is not Christmas without pecan pie.

pecan pieAs a kid and young adult, I relied on my mother to make pecan pie, which she did twice each year, once at Thanksgiving and then again at Christmas, excepting only the year she was in Nepal, the same year my mouth was wired shut because of a broken jaw. So I couldn’t eat pecan pie anyway. It was a blessing that none was there to torture me. Every other year, though, she made at least one, usually two pecan pies, which I loved equally well warm, at room temperature, or, after a night out with friends, cold from the fridge,

After I moved to Chicago and began hosting Thanksgiving for friends, I finally learned to make my own. And immediately realized that there is nothing easier than classic Southern Pecan Pie, which consists of eggs, butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and Karo syrup. Yup, Karo syrup. Corn syrup. My mom, who is visiting right now from Florida, thinks that Karo syrup is not the same level of evil as the corn syrup that is wreaking havoc on American bodies, minds, psyches, causing an epidemic of obesity and, to my mind, reducing our ability to think and feel. But I think all corn syrup is created equal. The sweetness hides pure poison.

Yeah, I know. Hyperbole. But really this is what I believe. Based on no research or knowledge and therefore simultaneously indefensible and incontrovertible. It’s just a slow-burning conviction that started off small but has gradually built up to this stance that no level of taste bud delight can overcome. Truly, I don’t know whether Karo syrup is less bad for you than the commercial corn syrup that is in pretty much all processed foods. But I don’t care enough to find out. Because I know that I can no longer comfortably cook with, or eat, any form of corn syrup.

And yet. Pecan Pie. The best part of Christmas. A food that is, within my small world, something I am known for, something that people request of me for dinner parties.  A part of my identity. How could I give it up? Especially when a dear friend asked me to make a pecan pie for a holiday dinner party.

Enter Laura C. Martin’s Green Market Baking Book, a book I cannot recommend highly enough. (http://bit.ly/1fRvHTj) The recipes are neither gluten- nor dairy-free, but everything is made without refined sugar. And in addition to mouth-watering, easy to follow recipes, there’s a ton of great information that should allow you to adapt recipes to almost any dietary regime. I haven’t spent the time to do so with any bean-based desserts yet. I did, however, spend the time to make Martin’s pecan pie. Last night. And it turned out so well that seven of us ate it all, wishing there was more. So even though this recipe has no beans, or anything to do with beans, I wanted to share. Because it’s almost Christmas. And maybe you, too, want pecan pie without corn syrup. This one is delicious.

The crust recipe below is adapted from Alice Waters’s Art of Simple Food. (http://bit.ly/1coee66) It turned out really well and was easier than other recipes I’ve tried. However, if you don’t have time or feel up to making your crust, just buy one from the store and make the filling. It will be great.

Pie Crust
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
6 T. cold butter, cut into pieces
1/4 t. salt
1/3 cup ice cold water

Combine the flour and salt in a medium or large bowl. Using your fingertips, mix the butter into the flour until you’ve formed a crumbly mixture. It should take about 1-1/2 minutes. Add the ice water and stir with a fork until large clumps begin to form. Gather the mixture into a ball, then wrap in plastic and press into a disk. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Or, alternatively, you can make ahead, refrigerating for up to 3 days or freezing for up to 1 month. If frozen, thaw in the fridge for 1 day. If refrigerated for more than 30 minutes (or frozen), allow the dough to sit out for a little while before rolling.

When you’re ready to bake the pie, you’ll need to prebake the crust, so heat the oven to 400 degrees. To roll out the dough, lightly flour a large surface. Marble is ideal, but I use the wood top of my baker’s rack. You can also use a large cutting board. Whatever you use, flour it well, especially if you’ve never done this before. At worst, too much flour will make the crust a little tough. But that’s better than sticking. And when people bite into the pie they will never notice a tiny bit of toughness in the crust. Unless they’re hyper critical pastry chef experts. In which case they should make the pie themselves.

Assuming you’re making the pie, start in the middle, press down into the rolling pin, and roll outward. Lift the pin and start again from the middle, rolling in all directions, until you have a round sheet that is larger than your pie plate by about an inch all around.  Roll the crust onto the pin, transfer to the pie plate, and unfold. Here’s a tutorial that I found on Saveur’s website. (http://bit.ly/1a1IQoc) Press the crust into the pan, trim the edges, and refrigerate for a half hour.

To prebake, line the crust with foil, shiny side down, and fill with pie weights, rice, or dried beans. You do this to prevent the crust from puffing up. If you use beans, save them for this use, as they won’t be good for anything else after being baked. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil, prick the bottom of the crust a few times with a fork, then brush with egg yolk. Return to the oven for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 350. Place a large baking sheet in the oven to heat.

Pecan Pie
prebaked 9″ piecrust
3 eggs
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1 t vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
1-1/4 cups pecan pieces
2 T butter

Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk until frothy. Add the syrups, vanilla extract, and salt. Whisk to combine.

Heat the butter in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat, then add the pecans. Saute for 3-4 minutes, until lightly browned, then remove from heat. Let the pecans cool for 5 minutes or so then transfer them to the pie shell. Add the filling.
4. Sauté the pecan pieces in butter in a large frying pan for 3 to 4 minutes, then allow to cool. Transfer the pie to the oven, on the baking sheet, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until set. Serve warm or at room temperature with creme fraiche, whipped cream, or as is. And enjoy.

Lentil stew with cabbage and root vegetables

lentil stew with cabbage and root vegetablesThis is an intentional version of the accidental lentil stew I made a while back. (http://bit.ly/19jxNfI)  Or at least, the stew aspect is intentional. The cabbage, parsnips, and carrots are included because they were in the fridge. And because I like them. But I didn’t include onion or celery in this version because I was out of both. So yeah. Maybe this recipe is not so intentional. Yet it isn’t accidental, either. Somewhere in between. Maybe like the rest of my life. In which I try to act intentionally, always, try to make conscious choices. But somehow so often I feel like life just sort’ve happens. It’s challenging to be awake all the time, not go on auto-pilot. Especially when life is busy. Truly, though, as I’ve been reminded lately, every act is a choice, even the default of unthinking habit. Indeed, even not acting. Some acts, or moments of inaction, just require more effort. Intention.

But I digress. Really, the point of this post is the stew. Which is delicious. Also nourishing and affordable and filling and warming on a cold winter day. So you should make it. One note: the vinegar is essential. And, like the other ingredients, quality makes an enormous difference. I like Bragg’s brand the best, but whatever you use, make sure it is real apple cider vinegar, not the kind that is just white vinegar with artificial flavors. Here’s the recipe.

3 c. brown lentils
1 head of savoy cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
2 parsnips, sliced into rounds and/or half rounds, if the top is very thick
1-2 carrots, sliced into rounds and/or half rounds, if the top is very thick
2 cloves garlic, minced
1″ piece of Kombu
3 T. olive oil
6 c. water
1 T. sea salt
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar

Place the lentils, parsnips, carrots, garlic, kombu, and olive oil in the insert of a slow cooker. Stir to combine then add the cabbage. Pour the water over the top, cover, and cook on low for 8 – 10 hours. Turn off the heat, remove the cover, add the salt, and stir to combine. Wait a half hour or so before adding the vinegar, stirring again. You can eat right away but this will taste better if you bring to room temperature and then reheat. Or, better yet, make it a day before you plan to serve. A night in the fridge will give the flavors time to meld. Regardless of whether you eat immediately or the next day, enjoy! I like the stew as is, but it’s also very nice with a couple of slices of cheese toast.

Sauteed chicken thighs over cranberry beans and kale pesto

Ten days back from vacation, and I am still feeling the positive effects. Which is remarkable. Because I returned to a Chicago that lived up to its status as a cold, windy city. It could not be less like Florida. Yet the city has its own beauty. The bare trees that line my street are outlined in snow, slow dancing stick figures clothed in white. Ethereal. They are no less mysterious and wonderful than the  beaches, the pine forests, and the cypress swamps of Tallahassee that I love so deeply. Just different. And colder.

Thankfully I have a warm coat. And a home. Where I enjoy cooking hearty, long-cooked food. Like this  recipe, which  is very similar to my beloved cranberry beans with garlic, sage, and olive oil (http://bit.ly/1bEQWT9), and, like that recipe, is adapted from a recipe in Skye Gyngell’s My Favorite Ingredients.

The chief differences between this version and the original are that I substituted chicken thighs for Gyngell’s squab, and, as in the other cranberry bean recipe I stole from her, cooked the beans in a crock pot. cranberry beans with sage, garlic, and tomato If you make this, use the best, most high-quality chicken you can find. It makes a difference.Oh, and I just realized that I accidentally used twice as much kale as I was supposed to. Happy accident that was facilitated by kale being on sale that day. Next time I will probably use less and will likely try it with frozen beans, as I did for the cranberry beans in tomato-fennel sauce over polenta. (http://bit.ly/1cIRZ9s) This time the beans were mushy and not very pretty. But the flavor was terrific. So good that  as she took her first bite, one of the two friends I was cooking for, a serious foodie,  pretty much melted into flavor ecstasy. Which I totally agreed with. Even if it wasn’t humble.

This recipe is also nice in that it’s gluten-free, affordable, nourishing, and, while not the most simple dish ever, quick enough to make for a week-night dinner. Here’s the recipe, which will serve six. Or, if folks are really big eaters, three.

6 chicken thighs, bone-in
olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cranberry Beans
2-1/2 cups dried cranberry beans
1 (12-oz) can whole tomatoes, chopped
1 small bunch of sage
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
1 dried red chili pepper
1 1″ piece Kombu (for digestion–check out this recipe for a fuller explanation (http://bit.ly/1cIRZ9))
1/4 cup olive oil

Kale and kale pesto
4 pounds Tuscan Kale (or less if you wish)
3 T extra virgin olive oil
4 T unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 good-quality canned anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained
1 dried red chili pepper
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. To cook the beans, pick over to remove any that are discolored or broken, rinse, and place in the insert of a slow cooker. Add the tomatoes, sage, garlic, olive oil, and kombu. Crumble the chili pepper over the top then pour cold filtered water to cover by 2 or 3 inches. Cover and cook on low for 8 – 10 hours. When tender, salt generously and allow to cool in the cooking liquid while you prepare the chicken and kale.

2. For the chicken, wash if you like (despite the warnings about spreading bacteria all over your kitchen, I still wash my chicken) and pat dry with paper towels. Trim the fat, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and set aside while you prepare the chicken. The short time at room temperature will season the chicken and make it cook a bit faster. (Note that this is my completely untrained opinion. Also note that so far as I know, my food has never poisoned anyone. That said, if you’re concerned, please keep the chicken in the fridge. You’re better off avoiding anxiety.)

3. For the kale, bring a large pan of well-salted water to a boil. (When I think ahead, as I did this time, I fill the pot with tap water in the morning and let it sit all day. My theory is that this will allow the chlorine to slowly rise out of the water instead of all at once. I do this because of some talk I heard a million years ago while visiting a friend in Bolinas, CA. I don’t know if it’s true. But it made sense at the time. So I do this as one of my small ways to ameliorate guilt about being a human and living a modern life here on earth.) Wash the kale leaves and strip them off the stalk. I do this by holding the end of the stalk with one hand, while grabbing on with the other and sliding it down the stalk. When the water is boiling, transfer the kale to the water and cook for 2-3 minutes. Drain and dress the leaves with the olive oil while they’re still warm.

kale pesto3. To make the pesto, transfer half the kale to the bowl of a food processor. Or, if you decided to go for 2 pounds of kale, transfer all of the kale to the food processor. Add the butter, garlic, anchovy fillets, and chili. Process until smooth, using a spatula as necessary to push down the sides. Season to taste with salt and a little pepper.

4. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid if you like (I like to freeze and use it as a substitute for broth) and discarding the garlic, sage, and kombu. Place the beans in the cooking pot and stir in the pesto. Add the whole kale as well if you decided to go for the full amount. Cover and set aside.

5. Heat the olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. When hot, place the chicken thighs in the skillet, skin side down. Saute for 7-10 minutes, until the skin is crispy and brown. Turn and saute for another 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and let the thighs sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Cut into the thickest part of the largest thigh to make sure they’re cooked. (I didn’t do this. My thighs weren’t all the way cooked. It is a testament to the graciousness of my two friends, and probably the past year of intensive yoga, therapy, and over-the-top fixation on good self-care, that I did not freak out even a little bit. We cooked them longer. It was fine. But if possible, I’d like to spare you–and your guests–that experience.)

chicken with cranberry beans and kale pestoTo serve, spoon about a cup and a half of the bean kale mixture into a shallow bowl or a plate with a decent lip, and top with a chicken thigh. We also had an arugula salad and fennel. Originally I planned on two thighs apiece. But we were all completely full with just one thigh. Beans are hearty! If you try this, I hope you enjoy. And that you are doing everything you can to take care of yourself during the holiday season. xo

Overnight granola and giving thanks, in Florida

I’m writing this from one of the two couches in my mother’s tiny apartment in Tallahassee, a couple of hours before I leave to return to Chicago. I’ve been in Florida for two weeks. This is at least the fourth time I’ve tried to write a blog post. I’m not sure what’s going on. Maybe writer’s block? Must be. Because I have a lot to say. Too much, perhaps. But every time I try to write something happens, I freeze. Stop. Decide to wait until later, when maybe it will come. And now here I am, the last day, still without having posted anything. Oy. That won’t do. So I’m writing this. Which will have to be good enough. Hopefully inspiration for more will return soon.

Before vacation, there was a different problem. For a week or so after my last post, I was just busy and overwhelmed with life. Then I had the flu. Which took me out for almost two weeks. It was awful on so many levels, probably mostly because of the surprising emotional component. There’s nothing like being sick with no one around to make you feel alone. It was a good wake-up call. To what I’m not yet sure, but it was a call to something, if only to make sure I always have some chicken soup in the house. To be grateful for my health, I suppose. Which I am. It is nothing to take for granted.

Now, as I prepare to head back to Chicago, I am absolutely filed with gratitude for having been born and raised here, in Florida. It’s a strange place, yes. I left because I couldn’t live here, had to escape the racism and small-mindedness. Yet it is also the most beautiful place I know, mysterious and deeply, richly alive. Although I took about a million photos and videos, so many that my phone is completely full, I’m having trouble with the transfer. But I have a few.

This vacation started and ended in Tallahassee, sandwiching a week on St. George Island.  During my daily walks on the beach I fell in love with a tree that had washed up to the shore. Here it is, as it looked during the sunny hours on the one stormy day. As you can see from the barnacles, it  obviously spent some time in the water before washing up to shore. Maybe it came here from Cuba, a refugee. I don’t know.

tree with barnaclesbarnaclestree in surf

What I do know is how incredibly lucky I am. So, so privileged. It’s so easy to take everything we have for granted. Being alive. Able to get up and go outside, breathe air, drink water, walk. Cook and eat delicious, nourishing food. It’s impossible, I think, to be thankful every moment. Life would become overwhelming. Too serious. Sometimes you, or at least I, have to take things for granted. Yet it seems important to spend at least some time every day in appreciation. Noticing what we have that is good.

Right now, before I finish packing, I’m noticing how delicious this granola is. I made it before I left Chicago. Because I meant to blog about it. It’s my new favorite. Which I decided to share despite the fact that it has zero beans. Only oats. And nuts. And a few other things. Although my photo will not upload (serious technical difficulties are making me CRAZY!), here’s the recipe, which I adapted this recipe in Fine Cooking. (http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/dried-cherry-coconut-granola.aspx)

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups puffed rice cereal
1-1/2 cups dried, shredded, unsweetened coconut
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup halved or slivered raw almonds
1 teaspoon ground cardamon
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup extra-virgin coconut oil

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk the syrup, honey, and oils, then add to the dry ingredients. Stir to combine.

2. Spread onto a heavy-duty baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, until just starting to brown. Turn off the oven. Stir the granola mixture, return to the oven, and close the oven door. Let the granola sit in the oven for 6 – 12 hours. Transfer to a large bowl, breaking up any large clumps. Store in an airtight container for up to one month. Enjoy!