My favorite health app is: cooking (NHBPM 12)

Cooking: 5 stars

I started cooking around age 7. I had to stand on a chair to be able to see into the skillet, but my dad showed me how to make pancakes and eggs scrambled and fried. My tormented mom objected and made me run drills so I would know what to do the day my long hair would inevitably catch fire at the gas stove.

Correct answer: grab a dishtowel and wrap it around my head, then stick my head under the faucet at the sink.

Anxiety — not just for breakfast anymore!

But in spite of her warnings (or maybe, in part, because of them), I felt like a wizard caught up in an alchemical romance. I could take simple elements — water, egg, bread, cheese — alone or in combination, put them in a metal pan, apply fire, and end up with something entirely new: scrambled eggs or a grilled cheese sandwich.

I held the spatula AND the power.

Ever since, cooking has been something I do to create and to relax. For me, cooking is natural mindfulness. When I’m doing it, I don’t have the resources to think about anything else, and my mind is unusually focused yet aware. I use all my senses, including instinct, to make a steady stream of evaluations and decisions. I flow.

It’s perverse, but I even like that the end product is ephemeral. It helps keep my ego in check and keeps the focus on the process, not any particular outcome.

But. I would still like to share an outcome with you, because I made a lovely cake this week. You might have trouble tracking down one of the key ingredients, though, because it is rarer than rare — leftover champagne.

KK recently received a beautiful personalized bottle of real champagne (from zee Frahnce!) as part of her work anniversary. We waited to open it until a dinner with friends because she kept saying, “We can never drink all that ourselves!”

She’s so cute.

But because nobody wanted to drink all of her champagne, and she couldn’t, we ended up with nearly a cup of it leftover. (Beware those self-fulfilling prophecies.) It kept for a bit in the fridge, but of course wasn’t great for drinking anymore. It was great for cooking, though.

I would say this cake was worth making even if you have to open a fresh bottle to make it. These are the sacrifices we sometimes have to make, you know.

Champagne Vanilla Pound Cake

Inspired by this BHG recipe and this description of real pound cake.
Makes 1 9×5 inch loaf pan (8 servings). Double it to fill a 10-inch tube pan.

For the cake:
Butter a loaf pan. Preheat your oven to 325°F.

Weigh out 8 ounces of gluten-free all-purpose flour in a small bowl. Add 1 teaspoon on xanthan gum and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

Soften 8 ounces of butter (that’s two sticks). Add 8 ounces of sugar and cream until light and fluffy. Beat in 8 ounces of eggs (for mine, 3 large eggs ended up being 7.something ounces and it worked fine).

Add 1/2 cup champagne or sparkling wine and the scrapings from 2 vanilla beans (or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, but the beans taste better and look pretty in the cake).

Slowly add in the flour mixture, scraping down the sides to incorporate it all. Pour the batter into a buttered loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes until it tests done.

Cool in pan for a bit, then turn it out onto a plate and add the glaze.

For the glaze:
In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup of powdered sugar with 1 Tablespoon of champagne. Add a few drops more champagne until it becomes a drizzling consistency. Pour over slightly cooled cake.

I served this for dessert with Philadelphia-style Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream (this recipe + 1/2 cup canned pumpkin and 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice).

KK”s review: “Oh my god, I LOVE pound cake. You would never know this was gluten free. Can I have some more glaze?”

My review: Easy to make and easy to enjoy. The cake had the large moist crumb it was supposed to, and the champagne kept it from being overly sweet. Next time, I will poke holes in the top of the cake and add extra glaze. Because when you’re a grownup, you get to do that kind of thing.

And like the true primary beneficiary on her life insurance, I introduced KK to toasted pound cake with butter, for breakfast.

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Things I’m Thankful For Today (NHBPM 6)

 

I didn’t like any of today’s suggested prompts, so I’m making my own. You call it “phoning it in,” I call it “being a maverick.” Doesn’t matter. I’m comfortable letting history decide.

Some things I’m thankful for today:

gluten-free flour mixes

real butter

warm socks

poodle sighs

dark coffee

dishwashers

the Bill of Rights

pretty paper

old friends

universal suffrage

electric blankets

 

What are you thankful for this week?

Some things I bookmarked this week #3

  • 27 Gluten-Free Recipe Substitutions | Greatist – This list included several subs I haven’t considered before. Onward!
  • New Taste Journal – Lots of whole foods dish ideas.
  • Walnut-Raisin Baked Apples – Love the idea of mixing a bit of orange marmalade into the filling.
  • Cabbage and Raisin Slaw – I am always looking for good slaw recipes. We’re big cabbage eaters.
  • Creamy Potato Salad – Very much like my friend’s a-may-zing potato salad recipe, which she printed out for me and I lost and am too embarrassed to re-request. I do remember that you’d want to double this recipe for a potluck-sized bowl. omit the dairy products. and add 1/2t of celery seed and a handful of chopped parsley.
  • Spicy Parmesan Green Beans and Kale – I’m thinking this bad boy’s going to make an appearance at our Thanksgiving table: one pan as written for the dairy eaters, and maybe one pan, with sourdough breadcrumbs instead of parmesan, for the non-dairy folks?
  • Orange Kissed Almond Cookies (Gluten and Dairy Free) – I always want to buy the almond paste when it goes on sale after the holidays, but I don’t have a good reason to…until now!
  • Brussels Sprouts with Pecans – This recipe introduced me the possibility of slicing and sautéing brussels sprouts, instead of just steaming them. The extra slicing gives them the loveliest frilly texture. It takes longer to prepare but is totally worth it when you have good fresh sprouts.
  • Eggnog Mousse
  • Baby Cardigan Onesie Tutorial – I want to make some for our friends’ with the baby, but I’m having the damnedest time finding onesies that are cheap, long-sleeved, not pink, not zippered, and don’t have a giant applique across 3/4 of the front.
  • Magic Cupboard | Helen Musselwhite – I want to make one of these and change it every season BECAUSE I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH PROJECTS.

To whit: a picture of my dining room craftermath taken the weekend before Halloween, annotated with (most of) the visible projects and the “Percent Complete” indicated in parentheses.

 

Not labeled: salt shaker, because we used to eat here.

The rest of my favorite links are here.

Recipe: Fast and Slow Chicken Soup

I’m tempted to call this Chicken Stoup instead, a la Rachel Ray. She’s not my favorite, but I DO love a good portmonteau.

Damp and cool, this rainy fall day. The rain overnight left the sky completely drained of color when we woke up this morning. I felt exsanguinated and uninspired to match. This demanded a soup infusion STAT, before I just caved and went back to bed.

I’d made an overnight slow cooker stock Sunday using a gifted turkey breast carcass from a dear friend’s birthday dinner (genius theme: Early Thanksgiving). And this time, I remembered to leave on the yellow onion skins and was rewarded with 2+ quarts of pretty, golden broth. Fragrant, too, thanks to the parsley stems.

That was the Slow part.

I’d bought bone-in chicken breasts this week, since they were on sale, but I knew the white meat wouldn’t hold up to a poaching and a souping without getting stringy and tough. So I pulled out the pressure cooker, checked Lorna Sass‘ recommendation for timing, and fired it up. A mere 7 minutes of cooking, I had two perfectly moist and tender breasts ready to be boned, chopped, and added to the soup.

That was the Fast part.

The rest of the soup involved cleaning out the crisper and using up odds and ends. That was the Soup part. (Soup art?)

 

Fast and Slow Chicken Soup

Yields enough for 6-8 servings

In a large stock pot, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat and add

  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 ribs of celery, diced
  • 1/2 each of a yellow and green bell pepper that you found sliced and frozen in the fridge from the last time you made hummus (when WAS that?!)
  • 8oz package of sliced mushrooms

While those begin to soften, clean, stem, and chop a bunch of kale into postage stamp-sized pieces. Peel and dice a sweet potato. Dice a medium tomato. Add them all to the stock pot and give it a stir.

Season with any or all of the following:

  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pepper
  • Italian seasoning (I like the McCormick’s grinder one the best, and they go on sale all the time)
  • Slap Ya Mama seasoning (my Electra-complex season salt of the year)
  • spoon of chopped garlic from a jar, or 2 fresh cloves, pressed

Stir it all again and add 2 quarts of stock. Slap a lid on and bring it to a boil.

Once it’s boiling, add 1/2 cup of rice and 2 cups of cooked chopped chicken breast. Turn the heat down to simmer for 15 minutes, then turn it off and wait for someone to say they’re hungry.

Recipe: Chopped Confetti Asian Slaw

I decided at the last minute last night that we needed a side to go with the chili. My original plan of “handfuls of store-brand Fritos” had grown to feel insufficient. I would need to come up with something fast, using only what I had on hand.

Why am I such a glutton for punishment?

I opened the fridge and found the quarter of a purple cabbage I’d saved back from making cabbage and apples to go with the schnitzel Sunday night. The die was cast — slaw it was.

This improvised asian-inspired slaw came together quickly and got high marks from KK. I liked the way I cut the veggies, which kept them crunchy through the next day. This made about 6 normal person side servings, or 4 for big cabbage fans like us.

Chopped Confetti Asian Slaw

INGREDIENTS

Salad
1/4 purple cabbage
2 carrots
2 celery ribs
handful of snow peas (you could also use raw sugar snap peas if the snow peas were old or flaccid)
4 green onions
handful of cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup cashews, roughly chopped (or, ahem, just squeezed in your fist,  if you’re feeling Hulkish)

Dressing
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon peanut butter
a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (restrain yourself from chugging the bottle when you get a whiff)
1/4 to 1/3 cup light mayonnaise

1. Chop the cabbage, carrots, celery, snow peas, green onions, and cilantro into small pieces about the size of your fingernails. Place them in a medium sized bowl and set aside.

2. In a separate small bowl, stir together the rice vinegar through toasted sesame oil until well combined. (You could also put all the ingredients in a small jar and shake.) Add the lesser amount of mayonnaise and taste, adding more mayo or soy sauce to balance it out.

3. Pour the dressing into the veggies and stir until well covered. Top with the cashews and enjoy.

Did you know cashews are actually seeds (not nuts), are related to poison ivy, and they grow on apples? Now you do.

 

Some things I bookmarked this week

A recipe that sounds very similar to a panna cotta I enjoyed at the Field of Greens Festival last month, if you sub a fresh or roasted quartered fig for the tomato:

Cooking reference, for when I’m trying to bake The Right Way, with weights instead of volumes:

If I want to stop calling them chameleons, I’ve got to figure out how to say “anoles.” Problem is, there’s not much of a consensus:

The rest of my favorite links are here.

Manic Menu Week in Review

The best things I made this week

Smoky chipotle baba ganoush and blue cheese hummus. What should have been the most autopilot meal turned into my most inspired cooking of the week. I set out to make regular baba ganoush with (all together now) my new grill using a combination of David Liebowitz and The Pioneer Woman’s recipes. But when DL said to sprinkle chili powder on top for a pop of color, I seized the opportunity to dust it up with chipotle chili powder, a great complement to the richness of the smoky grilled eggplants.

But then the plain, boring, can-of-chickpeas-and-seasonings-in-the-food-processor hummus was too plain and too boring. I was out of feta but found the end of a Maytag blue cheese wedge in the cheese drawer. For the first taste, I put a teensy crumble of cheese on my hummus on my celery. For the second taste, I was mashing the rest of the cheese into my hummus and pushing a spoonful toward KK. No longer plain or boring — pretty tasty, really, and a great pair with the chipotle baba ganoush.

Served with: raw veggies for dipping, pita chips for KK, olives, and smug satisfaction.

The best part? Half an eggplant and several peppers in the freezer for later.

Grilled veggie lasagna. The ricotta from Aldi was surprisingly thick and flavorful, and grilling the veggies concentrated their flavors tons better than sauteeing them ever has. Made a quick sauce with a big can of crushed tomatoes, then decided to dice and add a few fresh tomatoes that were getting old, which made for a good texture. I also used about half as many lasagna noodles, and that sat well with our evolved less-bready tastes.
Served with: generous compliments.

Sausage lentil stew (aka failed mujadarra). The sausage was a last minute addition suggested by KK that redeemed this from being one-meatless-meal-in-a-row too many. The sausage was also a pleasant surprise, because it was a brand I don’t usually buy AND 50% lower fat than usual. I added a can of diced tomatoes, a tablespoon of soy sauce, and a few splashes of balsamic vinegar.
Served over: basmati rice (the house favorite) with caramelized onions and a dollop of plain greek yogurt.

I’m not even going to pretend this is a good picture. iPhone + poor kitchen lighting = learning to eat it before you see it.

Pumpkin spice syrup. The syrup was a little more viscous and much darker than the inspiration pic, but the 8oz jar disappeared in about four days because we found so many ways to use it. KK, ever one to gild a lily, added it to her chai tea, and I added it to our oatmeal in the mornings. I even put it in a vanilla protein shake before heading to the gym on Wednesday, and it was delicious.
The lazy version: 1/3 cup canned pumpkin, 1.5 cups sugar, 1.5 cups water, and 2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice. Mix, simmer, cool. Makes enough for four 8-ounce jars (giving size).
Served with: everything!

Baked eggs with tomato sauce and goat cheese. This is a recipe I bookmarked over a year and a half ago and never got around to making. I’m glad we finally did! I saved a cup of tomato sauce back from the lasagna, so it came together in a snap. A welcome change from scrambled, scrambled, and more scrambled. If we ever entertained, this would also be great for a crowd, because nearly all of it can be done ahead AND they’ll all finish baking at the same time!
Served with: gluten-free orange ricotta pancakes and sliced orange.

And the worst things?

Unfortunately, both Worst Things this week coincided at the same meal.

Beer can chicken on the new grill.  We walked the dog with about 20 minutes left on the timer, but ended up talking with neighbor for about 15 extra minutes. Chicken shards! I felt like Clark carving the turkey in the National Lampoon Christmas Vacation movie.
Verdict: Will repeat, but with a different beer — Stella wasn’t stellar — and with increased supervision.

Broccoli rice casserole. Dullsville. Maybe it needed more cheese, but I’m not convinced even that would have helped. The gluten-free cheese crackers I found at Big Lots and crushed on top, while not terrible, were not as good as the store-brand Cheez-its I remembered.
Verdict: Will not repeat. Back to basic broccoli casserole — no rice, no crackers, more cheese.

I’m about to make the menu for the week ahead and need ideas. What’s the best thing you made, or ate, this week?