Sunday, August 18, 2013

Vegan and (Mostly) Gluten-Free Blueberry-Banana Pancakes with Blueberry-Maple Sauce

Blueberry-Banana Pancake with a poached egg.
Blueberry pancakes remind me of childhood vacations in Boothbay Harbor, ME. We'd stay in a quiet and understated motel (Ship Ahoy) on Southport Island, overlooking a rocky, island-studded ocean. We spent the days swimming in the pool, fishing off the dock, or strolling the quaint downtown. The quiet nights bloomed softly with foghorn flowers and waves watering the rocks below.

In the morning, I'd wake like a chickadee before the rest of my family and wander through the pines -- the sharp smell of the drying needles must be the most energizing tonic I know -- to the tumbling rocks that, once climbed, afforded birds-eye views of the curve of the bay. From my perch I would watch the lobstering men haul in their crates as the sun slowly intensified. It always seemed to me on those mornings that we were alone in our consciousness of the world : the sun, the lobstering men, the birds, and me.

The sun had its worshippers on the beaches and in the pools, and the birds their territories. The lobstering men had their haul, but what was my reward for getting up with the dawn? Surely just the walk through nature was beautiful enough, but there was more. Wild blueberries. They grew in a field alongside a wooded area in the center of the motel's property and studded the bramble-shaded rocks I would climb. I always got a small handful for my labors. Those blueberries tasted like sweetened rain, caramelized earth, the essence of good.

 I must say that I took them for granted -- I thought the world knew about wild blueberries and how to find them and why. It was years later after watching friends shun in fear the wild offerings that I'd stumble upon ("Ew! You're gonna eat something that you, like, just found? Are you sure that's not poison? Why aren't they bigger? The bigger ones are better.")  that I learned what a gift it is not only to have wild blueberries but the knowledge of them.

Anyway, once the sun began to burn my eyes, I'd leave my rocky seat and join my family, now awake. They'd be preparing to go to either The Blue Ship for their outrageously large and delicious cinnamon buns or to the Lawnmere Inn for a true Maine breakfast: wild blueberry pancakes with blueberry sauce.

*****
So -- this recipe is NOT the Lawnmere's recipe. It's not a traditional recipe at all. It emerged from my strong desire to have blueberry pancakes on a Sunday morning when I didn't have any eggs. Then I remembered a recent Shape article that featured "healthy" substitutions for favored foods, including eggs. So, using the substitution (ground flaxseed and water), I decided to make other substitutions as well and see how they turned out.

Whenever you swap out white flour for a whole grain or nut flour (I used a combination of whole spelt and coconut flours), you're going to get a denser product. So, expect that. I lighten the recipe a bit with some baking soda. You'll see in the picture that even with all my substitutions, the pancakes rose nicely.

So, why bananas? Because I really like them with blueberries. :)

Vegan, Mostly Gluten-Free Blueberry-Banana Pancakes with Blueberry-Maple Sauce

BB-Banana Pancakes with BB-Maple Sauce

(makes about 11-12 medium pancakes)

Mix the following dry ingredients together in a large bowl:
1 c. spelt flour
1/2 c. coconut flour
3 packets Stevia in the Raw (or 3 tbs. of sugar)
1/2 tbs. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda

Mix the following wet ingredients in a separate medium bowl:
1 3/4 c. soymilk, unsweetened
3 tbs. melted Earth Balance original buttery spread (you can also use melted coconut oil, but it will solidify as soon as you add colder ingredients. It doesn't seem to affect the consistency of the pancakes, though)
3 tbs. ground flaxseed in 3x the water (so 9 tbs.)
1 tsp. vanilla

Fold into the wet mixture:
1/4-1/2 chopped banana (about 1/4 c.)
1/4 c. blueberries, wild if you got 'em

Then, fold the wet mixture into the dry with a few quick strokes. Do not over beat.

On the griddle, use about a tbs. of Earth Balance or oil. When the pan is hot, scoop 1/4 c. of the batter onto the hot, buttered griddle. The mixture will be dense from the flours and flax, so you will need to spread it out a little.
See how high it rises?

Once they're done on one side, flip 'em and then store the early pancakes in a warm oven until you're done and ready to serve. Serve with:

Blueberry-Maple Sauce

(serves about 4)

Combine in a saucepan on medium heat:
1 c. blueberries
1/2 - 1 tbs. maple syrup (the real stuff -- you can just go ahead and assume that every time I refer to maple syrup, I only mean the real stuff)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
dash of cardamon (opt.)

Heat thoroughly until the blueberries burst and the mixture thickens. Serve.

Note: Neither the Lawnmere Inn nor The Blue Ship are in operation anymore. The Lawnmere became a private resident in 2008, while The Blue Ship was sold to new owners and became Andrews Harborside. The rumor is that the recipe for the cinnamon buns was part of the sale, but I found that they were never quite the same after the change. Andrews still makes them and people still like them, but . . . I'm hard to please and when something disrupts my nostalgia, I'm even harder to please.


Saturday, June 30, 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

Walnut Hummus with Roasted Garlic

Walnut hummus is in the smaller dish upper right. It doesn't look like much,
but it's delicious! Also seen here, on plate, upper left: Wasa bread, quinoa 
tabbouleh, walnut hummus, white bean dip, queso fresco, raw baby carrots. 
As much as I hate to admit it, my ex was a fabulous cook -- inventive, daring, and attentive to details. He loved to plan and perform elaborate dinner parties for his friends, each with a theme, several courses and homemade dishes. One of the most ambitious parties I ever saw him pull off occurred early in our relationship -- the Turkish Delight, I like to call it.

The private university "Bill" was so fortunate to attend attracted students from all over the world, and being the gregarious and likable guy he was, he made friends with people from all over, including Turkey.
At that time, I was particularly enamored of all things Middle Eastern, from books to bellydancing to cuisine. So was Bill; he even owned a cherished Turkish cookbook from which he hoped to systematically test all the recipes.

When he asked me to help him with this sumptuous feast, I was only too eager to jump in. He had already tried out a few of the dishes, so he was pretty confident that he could execute the meal. He'd even been told by his Turkish friends that his Turkish coffee was good enough to make him a desirable wife! (The tradition is this: when a couple gets engaged, the bride-to-be must make coffee for her soon-to-be in-laws and apparently many hopes hinge on the perfection of her cups.) Still, on the night of the Turkish Delight, he wanted to prepare several dishes, so he needed me to help him put it all together and get everything out on time. What an undertaking!

I should have known then that this was how he was -- a little over-ambitious, sensitive to criticism, perfectionistic, controlling. But I was crazy in love at the time, so I just chalked it all up to a desire to please his friends.

I can't remember it all, but I know that we made zucchini fritters, a lamb dish with an eggplant cream, and a delicious walnut hummus. I loved the seasoning in the hummus -- it tasted "exotic" even though the spices were ones I was familiar with.

What follows is not the recipe we made that night, for I have long since forgotten what exactly went into that. Like the relationship, what's left is a lingering sensory impression of warmth and passion. Anyway, most of the recipes for walnut hummus that I found on the Internet simply cut a regular chick pea hummus with some walnut paste, but I don't remember any chick peas going into the recipe we made for the Turkish Delight. So, I've put together my own version here. This is very nutty and warm from the addition of cumin, cayenne, and paprika.

For when you want to remember how good it once was --

Walnut Hummus with Roasted Garlic
1. Preheat the oven to 450. Put 2 or 3 garlic cloves, unpeeled, in a shallow dish and sprinkle with olive oil. Bake until the peel is crisp and the inside tender, about 20 minutes.
2. Grind a little more than 1 cup of walnuts into a dry paste. Add the peeled garlic and the residual oil and grind up. Remove to a medium bowl.
3. Add the juice of 1/2 lemon.
4. Add seasoning: scant 1/4 tsp. cumin, 1/4 tsp. coriander, a dash of cayenne and a dash of Hungarian hot paprika. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Add enough extra virgin olive oil to make a paste of a consistency you like. I added only about 1 tbs.

This is delicious with carrot sticks or on Wasa bread (or pita bread, of course). You can keep most of the oil out and just add it at the table, mixing it in like Middle Eastern restaurants do with regular hummus. And, I'm imagining the sweet possibilities, too. Take out the garlic and the savory seasonings and add instead cinnamon, nutmeg and some sugar. Maybe swap out the olive oil for some coconut oil, and you could spread it on a bagel or a slice of zucchini bread. Could be great for Mother's Day.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

To Be Omnivorous: Grass-fed Sirloin Filet with Balsamic-Glazed Mushrooms and Onions

Is this the first ever meat recipe on Fiddlehead? I think it is!

So, I've been mostly pescetarian for the last couple of years, but I've allowed myself meat on occasion (I guess that's called "flexitarian"). Practically speaking, I've been mostly vegetarian. My reason for a mostly veg lifestyle is not animal rights, exactly. Basically, I'm disgusted by the industrial agricultural system and would prefer that my food, from meat to grains to fruits and vegetables, come from farming methods that are supportive of the physical environment, are humane to animals and are ethical in regards to labor and socio-economic policies.

Recently, I've found that my health -- specifically, my digestion, weight and energy level -- is not well-supported by a strictly vegetarian diet. I find that I end up eating too much bread, cheese and sugar if I remove meat altogether. Call me old-fashioned, but I feel that if you have to take a bunch of protein supplements, probiotics and enzymes just to digest your food on a daily and consistent basis, you're eating the wrong food. And, can we just mention how expensive all of that crap is?

I could easily rail about how hard it is to find healthy vegetarian options in restaurants and other eateries. Yeah, you can find a grilled cheese sandwich wherever you go, but that means you have to eat a stupid grilled cheese sandwich wherever you go.

No, I'm not going Atkin's. No fads here. I eat whole grains, pasta very occasionally, bread only under duress or if it's truly special. I like lots of fruits and vegetables. I don't really like processed foods, and the ones I do, I find I can live without or can find healthy substitutions for. For instance, chips and crackers are not all equal; Wasa bread and some brands of tortilla chips are oil-free or nearly so.Carrot sticks and other vegetables, even apple slices, are often just as enjoyable with cheeses and dips. Sugar is the tough one because I have a sweet tooth. But, I think I can curb my craving if I bring back meat, oddly enough. Meat is a lot more satisfying to me than grains and beans, and satisfaction keeps cravings from surfacing.

So, enough preamble. What did I do to this filet? It was very simple:

Grass-fed Sirloin Filet with Balsamic-Glazed Onions and Mushrooms
(serves just your selfish self -- one serving)

1. Place a heat-proof plate in the oven and turn the oven on to a very low temperature (preferably less than 200 degrees).
2. Heat 1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan.
3. Rub sea salt and freshly ground black pepper into both sides of a 3-4 oz. sirloin filet. Place in frying pan.
4. Cook on each side on med-high heat for five minutes for medium rare/rare. If you like it more cooked than that then you are a crime against food.
5. When the meat is "done" (which is not quite done, but finished with the formal cooking process), remove to the plate in the oven. The meat will cook a little more, so if you don't want that to happen, shut off the oven or skip this part altogether.
6. Add as much thinly sliced onions and mushrooms as you want to eat to the pan. Once the mushrooms start to brown up, add a little salt and pepper.
7. Reduce the heat and add at least a tablespoon of good balsamic vinegar and stir. The vegetables will probably suck up all the vinegar. This is a good thing.
8. Add a little stock (any kind) and stir. The more liquid you add, the more sauce you will have. For my meal, I did not want sauce, so I added just enough stock to add savoriness and to keep the mushrooms from getting crunchy.
9. Remove meat to a plate with lightly dressed salad (I made an impromptu dressing of lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and seasonings), and sprinkle the mushrooms and onions on top. Thoroughly enjoy.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Fiddlehead Facts and Some New Recipes

Fiddleheads are an elusive and ephemeral food. They only grow in wet areas for a short time in early spring. They are perhaps the first food the season. You'll find them in the woods, most commonly in Northern latitudes. Fiddleheads are a wild food, untouched by GMO technology. While there are many varieties of ferns, only some of them are edible, and it can be tricky to determine if you've stumbled upon the edible ones. In my area, the edible fiddleheads are usually the ostrich fern.

In my French-Canadian family, fiddleheads are called "fougère," which is just the French word for "fern." They are a food that I often heard about from my Memere or my father, but never experienced myself until adulthood, probably due to their scarcity. My Memere probably pickled them, a popular way to preserve food in a climate with a brief growing season (for information about safe preparation and several recipes, click here for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Bulletin, Facts on Fiddleheads -- you'll find many recipes for fiddlehead pickles). Now, thanks to Whole Foods and the expansion of artisan and specialty foods, I can find them readily in my favorite market from about the middle of April through May (even into June, sometimes). I've picked them myself, but only once while on a trip, not conveniently near my home. I've looked for them at Weir Hill but I haven't found them -- there are lots of ferns, but not the right ones, apparently.

The wild fiddlehead continues to elude me.

So, I do what I can -- I buy them at Whole Foods and research them on the Internet. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the village, Tidal Head, in New Brunswick -- the province my family hails from -- is touted as the "Fiddlehead Capital of the World." This gives me a small feeling of pride, even though I'm not from Tidal Head (and it's not French, either).

Preparing fiddleheads takes a little bit of time because they must be washed well to remove the papery covering that sometimes clings to the buds and steamed or boiled to remove any "microflora or fauna" that may be bound by the tightly curled fronds (these substances can cause illness, so do be careful). Most of the recipes I've seen treat fiddleheads rather gently after that; they receive a saute in a butter sauce and that's usually about it.Around here, their flavor is considered "delicate." They are sometimes paired with mushrooms or other vegetables with pasta or rice. Below, I've given a recipe for a delicious fiddlehead omelet with mushrooms.

However, fiddleheads are not just a North American delicacy. According to the Wikipedia page* on fiddleheads, they are also used in Asian cuisine, though they may not be the same variety that we have here. In Indonesia, fiddleheads are treated not so gently as in Canada, paired with such ingredients as chili pepper, galangal, lemongrass, and tumeric leaves. I love Asian food, so I was quite pleasantly surprised to learn that fiddleheads had a whole other life with different seasonings and preparations. For instance, in Korea, fiddleheads are used in one of my favorite meals, bibimbap. When I read that, I knew I had to try my own version (which came out delicious, btw):

In addition, fiddleheads are roasted in Japan (it is believed that this technique neutralizes toxins in the vegetable). I think I'm going to try roasting some soon. I'm thinking of adding some pepitas and then seasoning the whole thing with dried miso. I'd also like to try the Indonesian set of spices listed above.

Even India cooks with fiddleheads, which are mixed with cheese. I'm imagining something like a palak paneer except with fiddleheads. Mmmm.

Here are a couple more fiddlehead recipes to add to the melange. The first is a simple omelet with fiddleheads and mushrooms and the second is my recipe for a fiddlehead bibimbap. Enjoy them while you can!

Fiddlehead Omelet
(recipe makes 1 omelet)

1. Heat 1 tbs. oil or butter in a small fry pan.
2. Add 3 or 4 thinly sliced mushrooms (your choice). Brown.
3. Meanwhile, gently whisk 2 eggs in a bowl.
4. Add 1 oz. washed and prepared fiddleheads to the pan and cook them until they also get a little color.
5. Add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
6. Add the eggs, lowering the temperature. Swirl the pan to distribute the eggs. As the edges cook, drag your fork or spatula from the edge toward the center, letting the egg mixture run to fill in the space. Do this until most of the runny egg has started to solidify.
7. Add a couple dollops of cottage cheese. Fold the omelet over and cover. Turn off the heat and let sit for about 5 minutes to give the center a chance to finish cooking gently. Enjoy.
Fiddlehead omelet with radishes and almond-stuffed dates on the side.









































Fiddlehead Bibimbap
(recipes serves 3-4)
I can't say this is a very traditional recipe, but it tastes like bibimbap, so that's all that matters to me!

1. Prepare ahead of time: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure you have 2 cups of precooked rice. Very lightly grease bottom and sides of a heavy, round deep baking dish with coconut oil. Set up a steamer for some of the vegetables.
2. Marinate 2 oz. of tofu, cut into small cubes or strips, with 1 tsp. sriracha, a few shakes each of soy sauce and toasted seasame oil. Set aside.
3. When the water in the steamer is boiling, add 1 cup thinly sliced purple kale. Steam for 1-2 minutes until wilted. Season with soy sauce or Bragg's, black pepper and a dash of sesame oil. Set aside.
4. Add 1/2 cup fiddleheads to the steamer and cook until everything else is ready, about 10 minutes.
5. Heat 1 tbs. of coconut oil in a wok or frying pan. Add 1-2 cloves of minced garlic and cook on medium-low heat. Do not allow to smoke or turn brown.
6. Add to the wok, 4 oz. or 1/2 cup of thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms and cook until lightly brown. Season lightly with sea salt, black pepper and sesame oil. Set aside.
7. Add to the wok, 1 cup shredded carrots and cook lightly, just until slightly softened. Remove and set aside, seasoning lightly as above. (Use your own intuition on the seasoning of each ingredient)
8. Fry the marinated tofu, same as above. When heated through with just a little bit of brown, remove and set aside.
9. At this point, your wok might need a bit more oil. Add two eggs and cook lightly, sunnyside up. Don't let the egg get too cooked.
10. After all that, you're ready to assemble for the oven. First, pour the rice into the prepared baking dish. Next, place each vegetable ingredient in its own "nook" on top of the rice:
Fiddlehead bibimbap, ready for the oven. In the version seen here, I cooked the egg in the oven, but I like it better fried first.



11. Place the eggs in the middle. Garnish with 1-2 tbs. chopped cilantro, 1 tbs. seasame seeds and a dash of sesame oil to moisten the top. Add a dash of Bragg's or soy sauce if you want.
12. Cook in the oven for about 20 uncovered, and then cover, turn off the heat and let sit in the hot oven for another 5-10. The rice should stick a little to the pan and get a little crispy.
13. To eat, pour on more sriracha (how much depends on how much you like heat. If you're new to this spicy paste, start with a little, and you can always add more) and mix all the ingredients, breaking the egg yolks, to form a delicious, spicy sauce. Spoon out into separate bowls.
Fiddlehead Bibimbap




* So, yeah, Wikipedia. There were no references for the details concerning Asian cuisine, so let's just "take it all with a grain of salt" until I can verify. I did find a Korean woman's food blog that gave a recipe for bibimbap with "fougere" so I believe that the information is most likely accurate.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Sweetest Thing: Japanese Sweet Potato -- Eat One Naked Today!

Last night, I ate the most delectable, pure food: a Japanese sweet potato. Normally, if the supermarket has stocked a variety of sweet potatoes, I gravitate towards the deep orange-colored variety (usually Beauregard or Jewel). I guess that's just the color I associate with sweet potatoes. Aren't we all like bees, selecting the brightest flowers, hoping for the sweetest nectar? I've heard it repeated many times that the brighter the color, the greater the nutrient density and flavor.
From Pauline Panzer's Blog, Notes from a Kitchen

Well, that adage may be true in most cases, but when it comes to sweet potatoes, perish the thought. The skin of the Japanese sweet potato can be more dark red than the burnt umber of its American cousin. It seems also to be smaller and more compact -- an elegant vegetable. But the inside is a gingery yellow, pretty but not hot and sexy like the flaming orange we've come to expect from sweet potatoes.
To eat this humble treasure, I used no elaborate recipe; in fact, I used no recipe at all. I simply roasted the tuber in a hot oven. That's it. I poked a few holes in it, put it in at 425F for a while (maybe an hour). When ready, a fork splits the crisping skin, easily moving through the soft, languid flesh.
And I dressed this bird with absolutely nothing. Ate it naked. Cutting into the potato, I noticed how fluffy and starchy it was, unlike the somewhat wetter and stringier orange sweet potatoes. While some bloggers find the Japanese variety to be more "dense" in consistency, I found that not to be the case -- I thought that the slightly drier texture of the satsuma-imo left me with an impression of lightness folded into something solid and bone-sticking. Sort of two things at once.
The scent blooming from the steaming morsel smelled so much like maple syrup or brown sugar that I knew I wouldn't need to sweeten it. In fact, I didn't even put butter or salt on it. It was that good, that sweet. While many vegetables are edible plain, few are as delicious as this one. 
Orange-harlot sweet potatoes make great fries and pies, but the simple pleasure of this diminutive sweet potato should not be passed over on account of its humble coloring.