Winter Solstice Cake

In my household, we celebrate both the Winter Solsitce and Christmas, though the latter is predominantly celebrated with my partner’s family. One of the traditions in the US is holiday fruitcake, this brick of alcohol-soaked dried fruit stuck together in wheat glue that people fob off more as a gag gift (emphasis on “gag”) than with any intention of actually consuming it. Ostensibly, this tradition must have started with something that was actually not only edible, but enjoyable – else how would it have become ubiquitous?

Since I’m one of those odd ducks who likes mincemeat pie (when done properly, as wee, single-serving pies, anyway), I thought I would try my hand at a fruitcake. Below is a wheat-free (not gluten free, however!!) recipe for a dense, moist, and flavourful fruitcake that we actually enjoyed.

Winter Solstice Cake

6 c. mixed dried fruit (since the Reverend and I dislike raisins, we used dried cherries, apples, apricots, cranberries, and a bit of blueberries.)
2 T madeira
1 c. brown sugar
½ t. nutmeg
½ t. ground ginger
½ t. cinnamon
½ t. salt
½ t. baking soda
1 oz chopped walnuts
1 c. butter
½ c. milk
3 eggs
½ t. vanilla essence
½ t. lemon essence
2 cups wholemeal spelt flour
½ c. coconut flour
½ c. amaranth flour

Combine fruit, madeira, and sugar in non-reactive bowl and cover. Stand 2 hours or till whenever you feel up to making it. (Truly, though you should stick it in the refrigerator if you’re going to leave it more than a few hours.) Add spices, salt, soda, and nuts, mix well. Combine butter and milk and heat until butter is melted. Add to fruit mixture. Add beaten eggs, essences, and sifted flour. Combine thoroughly. Place into buttered cake tin lined with parchment. Bake in slow oven – about 275° F for about 1 ½ hours, or until toothpick comes out clean (check after 1 hour).

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Chili

So, last night, I made chili. It’s one of Himself’s favourites, and I thought I would share the recipe.

Mixed Bean Chili

1 lb. “exotic bean mix” – this is a mix of pinto, red kidney, black turtle, butter, haricot, and flagollet beans. If you can’t find a “bean mix” packet, just mix whatever beans you like
3 small onions, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2-4 red chilies, seeded and chopped
3 peppers, seeded and chopped
1lb. beef round or chuck, chopped (you can also use ground)
4 14oz. tins of chopped tomatoes
3 c. beef stock
1 c. dry red wine
2-4 Tablespoons chili powder, to taste
1 Tablespoon paprika
2 bay leaves
2 oz. good, unflavoured dark chocolate
Oil
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Soak the beans overnight, a minimum of 8 hours, or use the quick-soak method: put beans in a pot, cover with water by two inches, then bring to a boil. Cover and remove from heat, let sit for one hour. Drain.

Put the beans on to boil, cook at the boil for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat and simmer a minimum of 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain.

Pour a small amount of your preferred cooking oil into a large, heavy bottomed pot, and sauté the onions, chilies and garlic until softened. Add the beef, and cook until browned. Stir in the tinned tomatoes (with juice, don’t drain!), wine and beef stock. Add the bay leaves and the chili powder (using more or less to taste). Bring to a simmer, and let cook for 30 minutes. Stir in the beans, peppers and chocolate, stirring until the chocolate is melted. Allow to simmer at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with tortilla chips, grated cheese, sour cream, boiled rice, or how ever else you like to serve chili.

Notes: We like a pretty spicy chili, so I’ll tend to use 4-5 chilies, and a fair whack of chili powder. Those with a preference for milder chili will probably be happy with 2 chilies and 2 tablespoons of chili powder. It doesn’t much matter if you use red, yellow, orange or green peppers. I tend to mix them, for a bit of colour.

Moroccan-Style Curried Chicken

Between work, school, church, and trying to have something of a social life, we really need to focus on quick-to-make dinners. Based loosely off a rice pilaf inna box that Seeds of Change (used to?) make, I thought maybe I’d make a Moroccan-style curry this week. Moroccan-style curries are, in my (admittedly limited) experience sweet and intense with just a bit of heat to them.

No base recipe for this one, I just sort of made it up as I went along… the complete lack of speech whilst everyone here was stuffing their faces told me maybe I should post it.

The recipe:

Rice pilaf:
1 medium onion, diced
2-3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 T. oil
1-2 T. curry powder
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 c. dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. dried apples, coarsely chopped
2.5 c. chicken stock
1/2 c. brown rice
1/2 c. lentils
1/8 – 1/4 c. slivered almonds, toasted if you like

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over a medium-low flame, then add the onion and garlic. Cook until soft and fragrant. Add curry powder, cinnamon, dried fruit and rice, stir well. Add lentils and stock. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed. Stir in almonds.

Chicken:
1/4 c. butter
1 medium onion, sliced into rings
2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 – 2 T. curry powder
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 c. dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. dried apples, coarsely chopped
1 c. chicken stock
4 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/8-1/4 t. ground red pepper

In a large skillet, melt butter. Add onion and garlic, cook until soft and fragrant. Add curry and cinnamon, stir well. Add dried fruits and chicken. Brown the chicken on all sides. Add stock, stir well. Sprinkle with red pepper. Cover and simmer 20 minutes, turning chicken occasionally. Remove lid, increase heat to medium and reduce sauce, turning chicken often.

I served the chicken alongside the pilaf, sprinkled both liberally with slivered almonds, then added a bit of plain broccoli on the side.

I know the measurements are a bit vague, but really, adjust to taste. The Reverend likes a very intense curry flavour, so I used about 2T in the rice and almost as much again in the chicken.

Notes for next time: I’m debating whether or not some fresh ginger would go well in this, to be cooked with the onion and garlic, but the Reverend and I completely agree that a nice splash of lemon juice would brighten it up quite beautifully. I’d originally been thinking maybe a splash of white wine or sherry, but the Reverend (rightly) says that curries do tend to fall apart under the addition of alcohol. The sauce from the chicken is exceptionally rich (as you might imagine of a butter / stock reduction). It did take a while to reduce to the degree I wanted… if you’re wanting to hurry, you can always thicken it with a bit of corn flour (or starch as it’s called this side of the big water), though the long cooking time did make for chicken that was so tender it could be cut with just the edge of a fork.

Gluten-Free at Lammastide

Gleaners, by Jean-Francois Millet
It was upon a Lammas night,
When corn rigs are bonie,
Beneath the moon’s unclouded light,
I held awa to Annie;
The time flew by, wi’ tentless heed,
Till, ‘tween the late and early,
Wi’ sma’ persuasion she agreed
To see me thro’ the barley.

— excerpt, Rigs o’Barley
by Robert Burns

Lugnasad, Calan Awst, Lammas, Gathering Day, whatever you choose to call it, the start of the harvest brings us images that echo in our bones: the reaping of the grain, stacks of bundled sheaves, “… for amber waves of grain…” The history of agriculture is the history of human civilisation for over eleven millenia. It is no wonder that grain and its life cycle resonate for humans so deeply.

Real estate professionals will even tell you, if you’re trying to sell a house, bake fresh bread before a showing. At the very least, says one website, “The fresh bread smell is achieved by buying a large white loaf and opening up its belly and pouring a bottle of vanilla essence into it and popping it into the oven at medium heat for half an hour before the inspection begins. … The result is a home that smells of freshly baked bread which, as you know, is the warmest, cleanest, most home-caring smell there is.”

Modern Pagans rarely have the opportunity to harvest grain themselves, much less thresh it or undertake the many other steps required to turn it into flour. Still, many Wiccan groups will celebrate the “first harvest” and recognize the ties of community by sharing bread with each other.

Current estimates are that 1 in 133 people suffering coeliac disease, and still more suffering from wheat allergy or gluten intolerance. Further, many people are choosing a gluten-free diet without being wheat or gluten intolerant. It can be hard to be part of a harvest celebration if you’re avoiding wheat and gluten.

The good news is, there are a number of grains that can safely be enjoyed by those who, for whatever reason, avoid gluten. Among them are amaranth, buckwheat, corn millet, quinoa, and sorghum. (click here for a list of gluten-free grains.)

Since starting my own exploration of wheat-free eating, I’ve been collecting recipes for the foods I love, determined that wheat-free doesn’t have to mean giving them up. In my house, one of our favourite lazy weekend morning breakfasts is pancakes. Below is my recipe for wheat- and gluten-free pancakes. We like them with a touch of hickory syrup we get from our local farmer’s market.

Recipe: Gluten-Free Buttermilk Pancakes

½ c buckwheat flour
½ c amaranth flour
¼ c almond meal
¼ c coconut flour
1 T sugar
½ t salt
2 t baking powder
1 ½ t baking soda
1 ½ c buttermilk
2 eggs
2 T unsalted butter, melted

Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Separately combine buttermilk, eggs, butter. Slowly, add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir. The resultant batter should not be completely smooth; allow for some lumps.

What is your favourite gluten-free recipe? What food do you refuse to give up, and need a wheat- or gluten-free recipe for? I’m still on a quest for a good, crusty loaf of wheat-free bread!

White Chili

Last time we did the shopping, the market had ground turkey on offer… $1 a pound, buy ten, get one free… so, we stocked up, and I started looking for recipes to utilise it. I enjoy cooking with dried beans, and when I came across a recipe for ‘white chili’, using ground turkey and white beans, I figured I’d give it a shot.

The recipe:
White chili

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 chopped onion
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1lb. ground turkey, browned and drained
1 lb. cannellini, navy or great northern beans
4 c. chicken stock
1 c. corn
1 4oz. tin chopped green chile peppers, drained
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, or to taste
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
chopped fresh coriander, for garnish

Soak beans overnight, or use the “quick soak” method: Add dried beans to a large saucepan, add water to cover by 2 inches, and bring to boil. Cook 5 minutes, then cover, remove from heat and let sit for 1 hour. Drain when ready to use.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add onion and celery; cook until the onion is translucent. Add turkey, beans, stock, corn and chilies. Season with cumin and hot pepper sauce. Cover and cook for 60-90 minutes with the lid on, but tilted, until the beans are tender.

Serve with shredded cheese and chopped coriander.

We didn’t have plain cumin and I’d not thought to get any, so I used standard chili powder instead. I didn’t use a lot of tobasco, just a dash or two, really.

Periodically through the cooking, I tasted it, and it was bugging me… the broth was seriously lacking in depth. It was too late to add fresh garlic, so I resorted to garlic powder, of which I added a fair whack, along with a bay leaf. It still seemed a bit uninspired to me, so I added a little salt, maybe two good pinches, then about a teaspoon of Chachere’s, which still didn’t do it. Plenty of heat up front, but nothing to support it underneath… The Reverend suggested I let it continue cooking and see what it did, so I went away from the pot, muttering. Just before serving I added 4 oz. pepper jack cheese, cubed, and stirred that in until it was melted and blended through, rather than using the cheese as a garnish. We skipped the fresh coriander, and opted for multigrain tortilla chips.

The pepper jack added the depth I felt the broth was missing quite nicely, though next time, I think I may roast a head of garlic in advance and add a fair bit of that in.

All in all, a very tasty and unconventional chili, which has everyone is going back for a second helping.

Pasta y Fagiole

So, the Reverend and I are trying to cut back on our food spending a bit, which has inspired me this week for our dinners. Tonight is pasta e fagioli, or as it is often Americanised, Pasta Fazul…

The recipe:

Pasta e fagioli

Ingredients

1 pound dried borlotti beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces proscuitto ends, diced
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 10-ounce can plum tomatoes, with their juice, chopped
6 to 8 cups chicken or beef stock
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 pound penne rigate

Grated Parmesan cheese

Method

Soak the beans in water to cover overnight (6-10 hours), or use the quick soak method: Add dried beans to a large saucepan, add water to cover by 2 inches, and bring to boil. Cook 5 minutes, then cover, remove from heat and let sit for 1 hour. Drain.

Heat the olive oil and cook the proscuitto ends for five minutes. Add the onion, garlic, celery and carrot and cook for 10 minutes, or until softened.

Add the tomatoes with their juice, the beans and the stock. Bring to boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and continue cooking until the beans are soft (about 20 more minutes).

In a food processor, puree half the beans with some of their cooking liquid and return puree to the saucepan. Check density of the soup and add stock if it is too thick.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, cook the penne in boiling salted water until it is barely al dente. Drain it and add it to the soup. Correct the seasoning as needed.

Garnish with parmesan cheese.

What I did differently:

I opted to use navy beans, instead of borlotti or cannellini beans, as our local market didn’t have the latter two. I like working with dried beans, but you can use tinned beans if you like – just skip the soaking, drain and rinse them well. You want a good 2-3 cups of beans, which I reckon as being about two 14oz. tins.

As we were trying to save a bit of money, I opted to go with a thick-cut American-style (streaky) bacon. The main thing the bacon is going to do is add a bit of depth to the broth and a fair whack of salt. Realistically, any engineering-grade bacon will do, so feel free to use proscuitto, pancetta, thick-cut American style bacon like I did, or whatever else suits your fancy. Using streaky bacon, I didn’t use any olive oil, as the bacon leavings were plenty to cook the veg up in.

I added about a teaspoon of dried thyme and two small bay leaves when I added the stock, which was chicken, not beef.

Because I was using navy beans, the cooking time was cut down a bit. Basically, after the first 25 minutes of simmering, I started the water for pasta, when the pasta was done, I drained it and added it to the beans and broth, and pretty much called it done. If you’re using tinned beans, the cooking time will be even less. Just taste the beans periodically to test their softness if using a larger bean.

Rather than penne, I opted for gemelli, pretty much just because I like the shape. Any small shaped pasta will do, so have fun with it. You might be tempted to add more pasta, when you’re looking at the big vat o broth and the wee pot of pasta, but seriously, don’t. Half a pound (~225g) of pasta is plenty.

I used 6 cups of stock, and a 28oz. (794g) tin of tomatoes, because that’s what size tin we had in the pantry. You can add more stock if you want it to be more soupy. Fair warning: people will often treat this like soup, so guage this for your tastes in that regard.

I also skipped the puree step, because, really, I couldn’t be arsed.

At the Reverrend’s behest, I added about a half teaspoon of salt (three very healthy pinches) to the stock, but we didn’t add any pepper.

The results: The navy beans held up better than I was expecting them too, and feature nicely in a flavourful and hearty dish that I hesitate to call a soup or a stew, to be honest. Next time, I may increase the stock, to make it closer to a proper soup, since everyone in the house was scooping up extra broth, trying to make it be a soup in their bowl. We thought the beans seemed a little ‘dry’, so next time, I may try cooking them a little longer. Everyone’s having seconds, and there’s still enough for at least lunch tomorrow, so I’d say it went over at least decently well. Next time, I think pairing it with a nice crusty bread would be good.

Recipe: Spring Salad

Given my and the Reverend’s metabolic fun and games, general desire to be health-conscious, carbon-conscious, Earth-conscious and just generally conscious, we’re conducting an experiment into a wholly organic, free range, local, in-season, grown/raised only by left-handed farmers diet.  Preparing for our weekly shopping, I bimbled over to the Whole Foods website to peruse what was on offer and also look for inspiration. I found there a recipe for a “spring salad” with a very simple yet interesting-sounding dressing, so that’s what we’re having tonight. An early crop of asparagus and strawberries, with both on offer, made this an astonishingly cheap meal, too, I’m very pleased to say.

Spring Salad with Creamy Orange-Avocado Dressing

Ingredients

3 green onions, trimmed
1/2 avocado, peeled and pitted
1/2 cup orange juice
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
3 ounces spring greens or mesclun mix
1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed and sliced into strips with a vegetable peeler

Method

Puree green onions, avocado, juice, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor until smooth to make a dressing.

In a large bowl, toss greens, strawberries and asparagus together. Transfer to plates, drizzle with half the dressing and serve. Extra dressing will keep one day refrigerated.

I paired this with a simple pasta with bought tomato sauce augmented with Italian sausage which was also on offer.

Economics
The salad, all told, ran 8.93 to make and offered up two Reverend-sized servings and two me-sized servings. The pasta offered up about the same number of servings. All told, dinner and lunch tomorrow came in at $18.50.

What I did differently: Not being able to find the measuring cups, I eyeballed the orange juice, and over-estimated slightly. I made up for it by adding in the other half avocado. Also, we opted for the “fresh herb” salad box, rather than straight spring greens. Rather than mess about with the vegetable peeler, I just cut the asparagus into ~1″ chunks.

What I’ll do differently next time: I think the salad dressing wants a fresh herb of some sort, though I’m waffling on which, and I think I’ll add cucumbers next time. Other than that, really, this was a lovely, easy and elegant salad. I think the dressing would go quite nicely on a more garden-variety (ha!) green salad, but it paired particularly well with the strawberries.

All told, I don’t think I even spent an hour going from whole raw food to sitting down to dinner and not only was I cooking the sausages from frozen, but I also put the pasta water on to boil about ten minutes later than I should have.