Monday, October 15, 2012

Soup's On!

Friday night, we got the warning:  Freeze! 

With the frost announcement, we jumped into action, bringing in the plants we planned to over-winter in the house and turning on the heat.  The first time this Fall, it became clear that Winter was indeed going to come.  Gone will be the warm days and slightly cool evenings.  Soon, there will be snow and ice and all those things.  

But between now and then, we do have a space of time with bright orange and red leaves falling from the sky, landing on the sidewalks, ready to crunch under our feet.   Baking seems feasible, even delightful.   Soup seems just right. 

I don't get a lot of time during lunch to cook, so I was thinking about making some quick pasta and sauce.  On went the pot of water, in went a box of ditalini, which are easy for our son to grab with a kid spoon (or more frequently his hands).  But as the pasta boiled, I realized I'd misjudged the amount of water.  The pasta was almost at the top as it boiled, and I realized it looked like there was a lovely noodle soup in the pot.  I changed gears, added several teaspoons of no-sodium chicken broth powder, some smoked paprika and basil, and a can of red kidney beans including its water.  I let it come back to a boil, added some chopped up greens for the last few minutes, and.... hey presto:  Pasta e Fagioli!   If you want to (and can), this is great with a little parmesean shredded overtop. 

Quick Pasta e Fagioli

2 Quarts water, boiling
1/2 a 1 lb box (8 oz) Ditalini (if you're using rice pasta, try Tinkyayada elbows or mini shells)
1 12-oz can of  red or pink kidney beans, or cannelini beans, with water
2 T no-sodium chicken broth powder, or enough dissolved boullion cubes to make 2 Q of broth.
1 t dried basil
1 t smoked paprika
Large handful of chopped greens: spinach, kale, chard, etc. 
salt and pepper to taste 
drizzle olive oil, optional
  1. Boil the water
  2. Add the noodles and cook until nearly tender.
  3. Add the broth powder, basil and paprika and stir until dissolved.
  4. Add the can of beans and simmer until warm, just a couple minutes.
  5. Add the handful of greens and stir until they are cooked to a bright green, again only a couple minutes.
  6. Serve in warm bowls with salt and pepper to taste, a optionally a drizzle of olive oil and/or a few shreds of parmesean
Note: If you're using rice noodles, this is just as easy to do, but I recommend straining the pasta first.  Add to 2 Q of warm chicken broth (from bullion cubes, powder, home- or pre-made)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Baked Dairy Goodness

If you've been here before, you may remember that we were encouraged by some promising allergy-related blood work a couple months ago that indicated some of our son's food allergies might not be as bad as they once were.   I could say:  phew!  But I'm more inclined to say:  whoa, really?

When we discovered the allergies, we had no idea the levels because he was too young to test.  Not only is it insanely cruel to stick a 3 month old full of needles carrying allergens, it's not effective.  Not until he's over two is his immune system sophisticated enough to produce accurate results... and even then it's still darned mean. 

Even blood work done on a child under two is often inconclusive, as his system may not have created an allergic response to many foods or environmental factors.   We did get blood work done when he was about a year old, and clearly reacting to foods and other things... but the report didn't show a single result.  Not even to dog saliva, and that's saying something: around that time, a dog licked his face and we ended up speeding crazily to the ER while his eyes began to swell shut and he was clawing at his face, having difficulty breathing.  We've carried an EpiPen ever since. 

Yet, after a very unpleasant set of visits to one allergist when he was very young, during which we were advised to go ahead and skin test (to which I said: hell, no!), we avoided allergists for a long time.  We were doing fine with our avoidance diet, thank-you-very-much, and wanted to wait until our son was old enough to properly test.  At his two-year checkup, the pediatrician suggested getting updated blood work. 

So when some results came back saying he didn't even have allergies to soy and wheat, I was incredulous.  What the... well, you know.  So we slowly, slowly started giving him wheat and he was fine.  Then soy, and he was fine.  Had we been incorrect about his allergies in the first place?  Not likely.  Our pediatrician advised that these allergies are often outgrown.  We weren't crazy - he just no longer needed to avoid these foods. 

And what a kaleidescope of foods were now available to him!    Packaged breads and cookies! "Normal" pasta! Soy sauce! Pizza! (with tapioca or rice cheese)   More wide ranging: eating OUT!    The biggest single concern we used to have with restaurants was soy.  Any vegetable oil was rife with it, and most restaurants use a veg oil blend.  Even our favorite place that usually accommodated us on everything else had at one point moved from corn oil to a vegetable blend so we couldn't go there any more.   But now, all bets were off!  The only things we needed to avoid were cow milk and nuts.  Far, far more possible.  Korean? Thai?  Chinese?  no problem!  Cuban?  Mexican?  No problem if we make sure they don't put cheese on his plate.  It was revelatory.  

Hence, I was absent from this page for a while... it felt like talking about allergens was in the past.  Like an artist who had only used black and white for years, having a couple colors to work with in my palette was overwhelming!   

So I got cocky.  Yeah, the bloodwork said we did have a little issue with milk protein.  A 3 out of 5.  Not a big deal, I thought... heck, he's a 2 out of 5 on eggs and he's never had a single reaction!   So we gave him a spoonful of yogurt every day for a week, thinking in our heady thrill that all allergens were conquerable and everything would go back to normal.   Every day, a spoonful of DAIRY from a COW! 

And he seemed fine, until we gave him a nice bowl of yummy yogurt.  He ate it "all up" as he likes to say.  And in 5 minutes he was sneezing so intensely, so often, he could barely breathe.  His neck was covered in little welts and his eyes were red and watering as if he'd been crying for hours.  He was clawing at his neck and whining and sneezing.  It was horrible.  Out came the cetirizine and thankfully the reaction calmed down after about a half hour, but he slept with great intensely that night as he always does after receiving meds for a breakout... a sure sign his little body is still fighting the invasion.

I figured, well, at least we got rid of soy and wheat.  And that ain't bad.  It's liveable.  Lots of people are vegan, so there are lots of dairy alternatives out there now.  We'll be fine living with just dairy and nut allergies. 

But then, I came across this Parents Magazine article.   And we went to an allergist again, now that he was over 2 years old.  The combination was amazing. 

The article talks about some recent studies showing that if dairy is baked over 350 degrees for over 30 minutes, many kids with milk allergies can tolerate the milk proteins they're normally allergic to.   And that's boon enough -- baked cakes?  yes!  -- but the studies also go on to say that once the child is exposed to the allergen in this way, they slowly begin tolerating dairy cooked for shorter times, until their body begins to tolerate the proteins in all forms, even uncooked!

So after discussing this with our allergist, we began a baking "therapy." 

- First I made a cake, with butter and sour cream. 
   350 degrees at 45 minutes.  No reaction!
- Then I made a quick bread.
   350 degrees for 30 minutes.  No reaction!
- Then I made muffins, 350 for 20 minutes.  No reaction!
- Then I made cookies, 350 for 12 minutes. No reaction!
- Then we bought frozen waffles, likely just a few minutes plus toasting at our house for a couple min.  Fine!
- Then I made pancakes, only a couple minutes on the griddle.  Great!
- Then I made pie crust with pure butter. No problem.
- Then I scrambled eggs with milk inside.  2-3 minutes in a skillet.  NO REACTION!

This process of slowly exposing him to less and less-cooked milk, we're told by the allergist, may lead him to drinking a glass of milk! in about 6 months.  It's been slow and steady for the last couple months.  (We started this process around August '12 and I'm writing in October.)    The allergist advised the more we continue to expose him, gradually, the better.  Never retreat, he said.  Just keep going. 

So we're ever so close to adding a little hard cheese to some pasta some day soon.  Then maybe a grilled cheese.  Then maybe a little more regular yogurt.  Some day soon, God willing, a glass of milk. 

So in celebration, here's the recipe for the Blueberry Muffins.  They're filled with stuff I never ever thought I'd use while baking for our son, and just that is a celebration. 

Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins
(These remind me of New York so much; I remember smelling these in Jordan Marsh... heavenly!)

1/2 cup butter
2 cups unsifted flour
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups large fresh blueberries
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sugar (for top of muffins)

Preheat oven to 375°F. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy; add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. In a second bowl, combine all dry ingredients. (You can use an electric mixer to combine the dry ingredients thoroughly at this point so that you won't need to overmix once the wet and dry ingredients are combined. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter and sugar mixture along with the milk and vanilla. Optionally, mash 1/2 cup of the blueberries, and stir in by hand (this will turn batter a light shade of blue and add a touch of blueberry flavor, but this step may be skipped, if you wish). Add the remaining whole berries and stir in gently by hand. Grease muffin cups with non-stick spray or oil. 
Fill greased muffin cups.
Sprinkle sugar on top of unbaked muffins (we like to use Turbinado sugar for sprinkling the tops). Bake at 375°F for 25-30 minutes. Cool in pan. Run a knife around the edge of each muffin after several minutes to free it from the pan and cool on wire racks. Muffins may be brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with sugar, if desired. At our test kitchen, we sometimes sprinkle blueberry muffin tops with cinnamon sugar or ground hazelnuts or spread with lemon or vanilla icing and top with thinly sliced almonds. Tip: If you have trouble with blueberries settling to the bottom try tossing them in flour before adding to the batter. It may just be that your batter is too thin. Another trick is to fill muffin cups 1/4 full with batter which hasn't had blueberries added to it yet; then stir the blueberries in and continue to fill the muffin cups. This way you won't start out with blueberries at the bottom!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pre. School.

We’re going through the preschool selection process right now.  It's a complex, daunting task filled with equal levels of opportunity for joy and challenge.  

Of course, it can't be just any old preschool  ~ we want to find the right sense of home away from home.  We want it to be an amazing experience for him, opening up the world in ways that we can't do just by ourselves as parents:  playing with other children, touching soft and prickly things, hearing sounds that we don't make at home, looking at books and shapes and toys we would never think to offer him.  Shauna of Gluten-Free Girl recently posted a beautiful entry about children's play at preschool.  It really resonated with me. Play, compassion, joy ~ all so important. vital.

What an adventure it will be!  I bristle with excitement for him. 

But at the same time, I shudder with concern over his food allergies.  What if he's nowhere near us and suddenly has a major reaction to something left out, or given to him accidentally? What if the staff are not as diligent as we are?  What if a well-meaning kid doesn't understand he can't share his cheese stick with our son?  What if he needs an epi-pen administered to him ~ do we trust the school to know what to do, and trust their judgement in doing so?  

So often it seems to come down to the see-saw of safety vs. playfulness. I ache to imagine that we have to permanently shield him from the world. But then again, we don’t let him play in traffic. We teach him to look both ways and prepare him for the time when we can't cross the street with him.  It's called parenting.  Yet, he's still so little. 

We’ve been deciding between a wonderful warm school that is play-based and child-centered vs. a school that is nice, but mainly considered good preparation for kindergarten. A no-brainer it seems… until we consider his food allergies: soy, gluten, dairy and nuts.

The warm, inviting place has a wide open snack area with pretzels, milk, muffins, fruit, cheese and crackers ~ all great, but not for him. And when we asked the director about accommodating allergies, we were met with a vague “well, when we have those, we just ask the parents not to bring peanuts into the school.” A subsequent conversation with them resulted in the same level of vague willingness to help out. 

The other school has a fantastic attitude toward re-framing allergies in non-disparaging ways… calling one child’s rice milk “Sophies special milk” for example and ensuring safe eating practices.  But it's a competitive school to get into (I heard tell that one child was accepted after their parents providing nine letters of recommendation!)  We are currently on the waiting list for next Fall. 

So what to do?

Stepping out into the world
Well, I should be honest that this blog post sat in the hopper for a while.  I was so conflicted about the balance between the safety issues vs. the learning experience that I couldn't finish this post for a couple months.   However, after additional conversations about dietary restrictions with the director of the "warm, inviting place" ... and the thrilling developments that our son is now able to eat wheat ... and dairy if it's baked (!!!), we decided to go with our gut on the best educational experience we could help him have.  Heavy sigh of relief.  

The happy epilogue to this process came when we got a chance to take him to the school for an hour while it was in session.  He was more than excited, choosing several play areas in succession.  One in particular that he loved was the music table.  He not only jumped right in, but the other children welcomed him by sharing their instruments ... and letting him get in on a parade they were having all through the classroom!  Watching his little legs fly to catch up - and the sheer joy on his face - was the best confirmation for me that we'd done the right thing!

This could have gone so differently.  If anyone out there would like to share their experience, I'd love to hear it!  How did you choose your child's school, and how much did their food allergies play into the decision making process?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A week of wheat.

Lack of focus due to misted up mommy eyes
"Could it be?"

I've been saying this all week.  Is it possible?  Is he OK? 
Yes, he is. 

Several months ago, we went through a painstaking process trying to introduce milk to our son, which seemed so promising at first: one spoonful of yogurt a day for a week with no reaction, but when we gave him a little bowl of it, he erupted into a red-eyed sneezing fit that went on for a half hour until the ceterizine kicked in. So now, we're a little gun shy.

But based on some promising blood work, the allergist is encouraging us to try wheat, then soy, re-try milk in baked goods after that, and then do skin testing for nuts later.

So... this whole week I've been giving him little tiny bits of wheat. And (deep breath) he's ... uh, fine.  I can hardly believe it.

Friday, I made some wheat-based zucchini muffins of which he ate a few bites and moved along in his day as if nothing catasprophic was going on. 

There were blueberry pancakes on the weekend that he gobbled up ~ and the sky did not fall.  Whole wheat elbow noodles with tomato sauce and ground turkey: the world didn't come to an end. 

We went over to a friend's house for dinner this weekend, and he could actually eat what everyone else was eating, including pasta! (the host was amazing about letting me see the ingredients of everything)

And this morning, I gave him not one, but two little slices of baguette bought from a BAKERY (mind racing, worrying about nut and sesame and dairy and soy cross contamination, I mean who can tell with these things ... etc ad nauseum)
and he's: fine

After so much worry, planning, paranoia, fear, it's ingrained in my gut to avoid certain foods. Changing that feels so dangerously strange. I'm checking for spots on his torso, sores on his legs, welts on his face, watching for sneezing and red eyes and, and, and... nothing.

When you've been protecting your child for so long from something, it's hard to let that fear go. 

I suppose that's what we all have to do as parents, for everything.   Just like letting them go down the corkscrew slide at the playground for the first time all by themselves, it's something of a leap of faith that we've prepared them well enough to tackle the world.  

It's a mystery to me why an allergy would disappear, though I'm sure there's medical literature that might help explain it to me one day.  And there's no guarantee any or all of his other ones will.  But for right now, wheat (simple, wheat) is a bit of a miracle to me.   

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mac and Cheese. Please!

So my husband and I were standing in the pasta aisle, actually buying regular old noodles for ourselves ... Not the rice kind, just cheap semolina wheat stuff.  We don't do it very often, but there you go. 

Now, our son hasn't really been down this aisle before, for obvious reasons... but he does eat rice noodles a lot and loves them: with pasta sauce, with olive oil and basil, or chopped up hot dogs, what have you.  And if you've ever read this blog before, you know he loves cheese too.  Not the dairy kind, but rather its simulacrum, Daiya (which is primarily tapioca starch... darned yummy tapioca starch!). 

So back to the pasta aisle.  We are deciding on farfalle vs. campanelle... and suddenly our son walks up to us with a box of good old mac and cheese.  Somehow he knows what this is.  I don't know how, or maybe he's psychic, but he says PASTA and CHEESE!  and continues to grab several boxes, taking them back to the cool car-shaped toy the supermarket has kindly strapped to the front of our shopping cart.  He loads them on the seat, then hops in.  He's ready to go. 

This completely slays me.   On so many levels. 

First, it's pretty funny to see a two-year-old with such determination and whimsy grabbing boxes of macaroni and cheese with the intent to abscond with them in a shopping cart  "car".

Second, it's heartbreaking because I want so badly to share with him the simple pleasure of boxed macaroni and cheese -- the stuff childhood is made of.  

Why can't it be this easy? Why can't I just say OK, looks like you want to try this new thing - let's get it!
Why can't I just buy him a damn box of macaroni and cheese?

Well, I can't.    But I can try to get a little bit of of that joy on his plate. I need to respond to his requests for new foods by getting creative. And maybe this is a good thing -- he is telling me what he wants and I don't have to make it up out of thin air any more! Posted by Picasa
So what follows is my attempt at Macaroni and Cheese:

1/2 cup rice milk (trust me, don't use the vanilla kind)
1 cup cheddar-style Daiya cheese
1 cup cooked rice noodles, macaroni style of your choice. 
   (we had curly elbows already made)
  1. Put cheese and rice milk into a microwave safe bowl. 
  2. Microwave on high for 30 seconds at a time.  Each time, bring it out and stir a little, checking for when the cheese is thoroughly melted into the milk. Stir until the cheese is melted and get a creamy consistency overall. 
  3. Add the pre-cooked noodles.  e voila!
    Add shredded cheese and start stirring. 
    Not quite ready.  Keep stirring!

I can't say they're perfect.  But it's pretty close...  you might adjust the amount of cheese, add some spices (there was already basil on our leftover pasta, for example) salt or pepper to your taste. 

Was it worth trying?  Heck yeah.  The last thing I want to do is squelch my son's desire to explore ~ climbing, running, new foods, life.   Maybe it was just me trying to make myself feel like it's possible (just maybe) for him to be as spontaneous with food as he is everything else. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Polenta! Simple, not easy. OK maybe easy.

 "Thee the soft nations round the warm Levant
Palanta call, the French of course Polante;
E'en in thy native regions how I blush
To hear the Pennsylvanians call thee Mush!
On Hudson's banks, while men of Belgic spawn
Insult and eat thee by the name suppawn.
All spurious appellations; void of truth:
I've better known thee from my earliest youth,
Thy name is Hasty-Pudding!

The Hasty-Pudding, Joel Barlow, 1793
You know that game, Othello? No, not the Shakespeare play... the game. It's tagline is "A minute to learn, a lifetime to master"

A lot of things fall into this category. Watercolors, planting things, doing cartwheels. And, making polenta. I mean, how hard can something with about 3 ingredients be? And at its simplest, you could make this with only 2: water and corn meal.  Of course, generations of polenta makers would shake their heads at me for saying so.  They learned over the course of centuries that this simple concept - boiled corn meal - can take so many forms.  Soft, rich mush can be served with savory dishes like sausages.  Mix it with sugar, milk, vanilla and cinnamon and you've got a Latin breakfast porridge.  Spread it out in a flat pan, let it solidify and either pour maple syrup on it like they do in the midwest, or serve with pasta sauce, cheese and herbs like they do in Italy.  It's like a food canvas! 

I've been a bit nervous about using polenta even so, because I'm never sure about whether the grain is cross-contaminated with others.  It's the old shared-equipment quandry.  Was it ground on equipment as wheat?  nuts?  other scary things?   One never knows for sure.  But if you can find a good brand*, or know that the brand only does corn ... well, then this is the food for you.  Easy, fast, and a little goes a long way.  It's a simple to enjoy starchy part of a wider meal.  It can be used as part of the main dish, or sliced in little bars for a quick carry-around finger food snack.  And, well, it's yummy.  

For kids, these are so versatile. Cut in squares or little bars and they're easy finger food for on the go.  Cut with cookie cutters for fun shaped plates at home.  Make them sweet or savory, dip in sweet sauces or ketchup.  (yes, my friends, ketchup). 

One of my favorite versions of this is the Italian style polenta squares.  Cornmeal, cheese, oil, and herbs spread out into a pan, then cut into squares and served with pasta sauce.  I also like the squares fried in butter, but I try not to think about that too much. 

Simple, yes, but not as easy as it seems at first.   Deceptively simple.  Add cornmeal to boiling water, stir, and it's done.  Right?

But if you add the cornmeal directly into the hot water without stirring, you get lumps of half-dry goo.  If you don't stir like crazy, you get lumps. It burns and spatters.  It dries out on the pan to the consistency of cement.  Oy. 
There are a couple tricks.  The best one that I've ever read was on's recipe.  Put the cornmeal in some cold water first and stir it up before you add it to the boiling water.  It's the same principle as adding flour to cold water before adding it to gravy to avoid lumps. 

So, my basic recipe:

3:1 Water to Cornmeal

For this example:
2/3 cup corn meal,
2 1/4 water
2/3 cup of cheddar-style Daiya cheese

Put 2/3 of the water into a pan and begin to boil
Meanwhile, pour the cornmeal into the rest of the water, and stir it up until smooth.


Once the water's boiling, add the cornmeal & water mix in while stirring, stirring, stirring.  Keep stirring until the mixture become more and more solid, a couple minutes.

Add anything else you want to add (cheese and herbs, or sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and milk) 
Here, I'm using non-dairy Daiya cheddar style cheese. Turn off the heat and keep stirring.  

Pour onto an oiled or non-stick bar pan and spread out evenly -- a casserole dish, brownie pan, whatever you have that's flat with edges.

Cover the pan with something, be it plastic or a lid of some sort and refrigerate until firm.  Cut into whatever shapes you like! 

If you would like an even cheesier version, cover with another 2/3 cup of cheese and put in the broiler for a few minutes. 

* Bob's Red Mill has a gluten-free cornmeal.  Here, though, I used fine cornmeal from our local latin store and it appears to be fine - no reactions, no nothing! 
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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Eggs & Cheese! Dairy-Free

Eggs! So versatile, so simple.

I know that a lot of kids are allergic to eggs. But thankfully, mine is not... otherwise, I'd barely know what to make him for breakfast.

He is, however, allergic to cheese ~ yet he loves it. Since we discovered a truly non-dairy cheese, one that tastes great and melts for real, we are super thankful.

My little helper
So I give you my shortest recipe ever:

Eggs with Cheese and Basil

2 eggs, scrambled up in a bowl
1 large pinch (around a 1/4 cup) Cheddar style Daiya dairy free cheese
1 tsp basil
olive oil

Heat about 1 T oil in a pretty hot pan
Stir the cheese and basil into the eggs
pour into the pan and let the eggs cook most of the way through - about 2 - 3 min
once nearly done, flip it as if it were a pancake and cook for a minute more or so (turn off the heat)

Put on plate, cut into finger food sized pieces, et voila! serve with ketchup!
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Monday, January 30, 2012

The Warm Yummies: Sausages with Apple Cabbage

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

(The Walrus and the Carpenter from Carroll's Through the Looking Glass)

I love cabbage.

It always reminds me of my mom making holupkes (no idea how to spell it). They're cabbage rolls stuffed with a beef-rice filling and simmered in tomato sauce -- it was one of my dad's favorite childhood dishes, brought over by my great grandmother from Hungary or Czechoslovakia, or the Czech Republic ~ or wherever her ancestral home ended up in the fray of the twentieth century. Essentially, it's Eastern European comfort food. I keep intending to make it... and will, since it's certainly allergy friendly!

But one day, craving warmth, I only had access to a head of cabbage, a few apples, and a package of frozen chicken sausage. Hence... this!  

Chicken Sausages with Apple Cabbage
 With the mixture of apples, onions and cabbage sauteed with apple cider and just a hint of savory mustard this was a hearty, warm dish just right for a cold night.  Perfect for Fall or Winter!  We just chopped the sausage pieces a little smaller for our son to eat as finger food, and it was a hit.   And not bad for Mom and Dad, either...


So... simple recipe: 

Chicken Sausages with Apple Cabbage

Oil for frying (I used olive)
1 large apple (I used macoun), diced
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 head cabbage, chopped into ~ 1" pieces
1/2 cup apple cider or juice
1 tsp stone ground mustard (optional)
1 package chicken sausages *

    Sauteing the apples, onions, and cabbage!
  1. Sautee the sausage in a little oil, turning over every few minutes to ensure they're evenly cooked, usually around 8 - 10 minutes.  Set aside. 
  2. In the same pan, sautee the onions with a little bit more oil until translucent, around 2 - 3 minutes. 
  3. Add the apples and sautee until slightly soft
  4. Add the cabbage and sautee for about 5 minutes, until slightly soft. 
  5. While cabbage and applies are cooking, slice the sausages into 1" pieces.  
  6. If you're using the mustard, mix it into the apple cider or juice. 
  7. Either way, to deglaze the pan once the cabbage starts to brown slightly, add the cider or juice, then the sausage pieces.   
  8. Cover and simmer for around 5 minutes to fuse the flavors and ensure the sausage is fully cooked.
* Check the sausage ingredients carefully to ensure no allergens are present! Sometimes they hide in commercially prepared foods, especially those mass-produced.  We found some that were a local producer but in our regular supermarket, and no more expensive than the name brands.  Delicious and locally made!

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cooking. Slow.

Turkey Coconut Rice with Chickpeas and Raisins
 There's something so comforting about a rice dish. It's warm and filling, just right for a nippy day. You feel like putting it into a bowl, not on a plate. Use a spoon instead of a fork. Everything round and delicious and... like home.

Problem is: it can take a while to make the rice. I mean, not forever... but there needs to be a little forethought and planning involved than usually takes place in this busy house. Small hungry child running around the kitchen? Let's chop something up right now! Hence not as much rice around here as I'd like. Or slow cooked stew. Or baked things.

But maybe the New Year is a good time to remember that slowing down is a good thing. That making food in a panicked state means making panicked food. And while I do intend to translate this into using my slow cooker, I may need to work my way up to that kind of planning. (i.e. thinking about dinner during breakfast)

Last night, instead, I made rice.

What's great about most starches like rice or pasta or potatoes or quinoa or polenta or ... well, I could go on here ... is that while they have their own inherent qualities, they're usually used as a canvas for other flavors.  And what a canvas rice is!   It's all about texture and flavor with rice.  Is it fluffy and light?  Dense and glutinous?  slightly cracked, crispy and sweet?  hefty rich brown?   Each of these has complete categories of cuisine dedicated to them: from pilafs and biryanis to sticky rice desserts, to stir fried vegetables over cracked white rice, to jambalayas and even stuffing.   The possibilities are endless. 

But last night, I wasn't thinking about that cornucopia of flavor; there was no time.  I was in dinner panic mode.  I had only a few things around the kitchen... a pound of ground turkey and... well, that was the furthest I'd thought.  Q was running around the house being his adorable self, and I was torn between being with him or making food for us. 

He hadn't been eating well all day and had to be hungry but he wasn't falling for any of my cheap tricks: Chex "crackers" in a bowl, craisins, even blueberries weren't enticing him.  And he has suddenly decided to give up his previously favorite thing in the world, hot dogs.  (His new favorite thing in the world is bacon.  So much so that he has decided there is a "bacon tube" in his bedroom that he pretends dispenses bacon at his whim.  He is a gracious sharer of this imaginary bacon, I am proud to say ~ but hey, it's pretend bacon!)  

So in the service of nutrition, I quickly sauteed up some onions and ground turkey.  I wanted to try something a little different... so I threw in some cumin, cloves, cinnamon, smoked paprika, and chicken broth powder.   Then for some "finger food" additions, I put in a can of chickpeas and a handful of raisins.   By then I felt like I was channeling the Near East ~ but it needed something a little richer in there, so I threw in a whole can of coconut milk.   ... and, gasp!  wayyyyyy to much liquid!  what to do? 

There was easily an extra cup of liquid that needed to be disposed of, but I wasn't going to throw away those lovely spices just to get rid of it.   What could soak it all up and still make the dish better?   Noodles?  Nah.  Potatoes?  don't have any. 

Then it hit me.  Rice.  

I threw in about a cup and a half of jasmine rice and stirred it down.  Clearly it needed a bit more liquid to get the 2:1 ratio right so I added about 2/3 cup more water.  I let it boil, then stirred, covered and turned it down to a simmer... and walked away to play with my son.   Ahh.   

It ended up rich without tasting at all like coconut, dense and warm with just the right mix of meat, chickpeas and raisins, and overall... delicious! 

So here's the actual recipe which makes it look like I planned all this.  But this was a happy accident. 

Turkey Coconut Rice with Chickpeas and Raisins

2 T oil for frying (non allergenic ... I use olive or canola)
1 cup chopped onions (I use the equivalent frozen because it's faster and they're pre-chopped!)
1 T sodium-free chicken broth powder (I use Herb-ox)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon
dash cardamom (optional)
1 lb ground turkey
1  15 oz can of chick peas, drained
1 cup raisins
1  15 oz can of coconut milk (not the stuff you drink by the way... just good old coconut milk)
1 1/3 cups jasmine or other white rice
2/3 cup water

1. In a deep frying pan or wide stock pan, sautee onions in a couple T of oil until transparent, stirring occasionally.
2. Add the spices to the onions and continue to sautee for a couple minutes, until onions are no longer releasing liquid
3. Add ground turkey, break apart and brown.
4. Add can of chickpeas and the raisins, stirring all together for about 2 - 3 minutes
5. Add can of coconut milk and stir.  Heat the liquid until boiling slightly
6. Add the rice and water.  Stir until all grains are covered by the liquid. 
7. Let the mixture reach another boil.  Cover, turn down the heat to simmer / low for around 20 minutes.  Check around 15 minutes in to ensure the rice has enough water and if it's necessary, add 1/4 cup more water. 
8. Turn off heat and keep covered for a few extra minutes to ensure rice is fully cooked.  Fluff and serve!

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