Friday, October 28, 2011

Fall Clean-Up!

We can’t say we’ve had the swiftest turnaround in the weather here— it’s been chilly, brusque and windy for weeks, except for that day and a half of come-hither temps (70’s? in October?) that popped in out of nowhere and left just as quickly.

Still, it was shocking to see snow yesterday. Today Crosby Field behind my house is coated with deep crunchy frost, and my trees, which weren’t even fully turned to their fall colors yet, are yellow and dropping their leaves in a constant flow; all in a day.

I’m not ready for winter!

We always feel that way, but November usually gives up space here to plan for it. Instead, I’m looking at the grill I didn’t finish putting together and lamenting that I didn’t wash my screens while the sun was still hanging around in a useful manner. I’m wishing I’d canned some dilly beans while I had the chance. At least the radiators got vacuumed so they don’t smell like burning dust as the heat comes on, and the sun is out. But we haven’t laid in firewood yet and I can’t get the cat to realize that the back screen door isn’t likely to be opened soon. I never got around to spring cleaning.

Let’s do a little clearing here, then, on the brink of November.

1.) For those brave enough to go full raw all winter remember this tip from Renee Loux Underkoffler’s book, Living Cuisine: you can preheat the serving bowls with boiling water, hot water, or by placing them in a medium oven for a few minutes if they’re oven-safe. You can also heat your raw soup ever so gently, not over 104 degrees, and then place it in a warmed bowl for a still raw soup that is warm and nourishes your need for comfort in the cold.
Me, I’m keeping to my half-raw state as well as I can; but there’s no getting completely away from baked goods in the winter, in my family, in Buffalo NY. I’ll be eating more living oatmeal, marinated vegetables and maybe some raw breads and sauces for the raw portions of our meals. Those extra vitamins and the flu shot my doc made me get should help keep me from my yearly bout of bronchitis, with any luck.

2.) The Merge Restaurant will serve a vegan and raw-based menu around Thanksgiving, something to be truly thankful for. And The Buffalo Vegan Meetup Group at Merge will be having a dinner there, on November 22. It’s never too late to join.

3.) This blog will be taking a short hiatus as of November 1st or 2nd, while I do my NaNoWriMo (check the link!). During NaNo, writing can become a 22-hour a day habit, and I tend to eat badly. I’ve decided to live on Aldi's frozen onion soup this time, to get some nourishment, but I’ll have nothing useful to say about food, life, foodie-ism. Sometime during Thanksgiving week there should a special post, but other than that, after this weekend you won’t see anything new here till the first week of December, when we should be back and cooking, dining, chilling in good form. Do check out some older posts if haven't read them all, and leave a comment-- I will get it, and answer it, one way or another. Here's a list of links to some good ones from this first 10 months:
Cold and Raw
Hot Friday
Barbecued Spam
Ghosts of an Appetite
Pasta & Wine Anytime

4.) Do yourself a favor and soak some beans today, then cook them on low in the crock-pot in fresh water all night. Tomorrow morning you’ll have a fresh start on a meal with no extra prep involved, and much less sodium than canned beans. I’m soaking some organic soybeans to make the soy spread from Laurel’s Kitchen— recipe soon.

Enjoy the sun! Peace,

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Making the Most of it All...

The fruits of fall are something we do well here in WNY-- apples, pears, pumpkin are ripe now and full of flavor. I dare anyone to eat a fresh picked NY Macintosh and not love it; that sweet-tart, crisp white flesh also makes any apple recipe more interesting, to me: tangier is better, and Macs give great crunch.

I've been cooking up some of my seasonal favorites the last few days, with my recent haul from the Farmer's Market (of course) where there is still, incredibly, fresh corn, tomatoes in green and red, peppers galore, and many lovely squashes to be had, among the apple-filled aisles. Even a few plums!

But last night saw some frost, I think, there's snow mixed with rain out there now, and we won't be getting any more local 'matoes for a while. Each month we have to say goodbye to another taste. Sigh.

While you can:

Do yourself and any children that hang out at your house a favor and pick up a few little decorative gourds. Leave them out all month on a platter or other tray and let them dry out inside-- not all of them make it, but those that withstand molding give alot of percussive fun! Several that sit on my table throughout the season are from the last two years. (below, how they added to my minimalist Solstice celebration last year)

I wipe them with a dry cloth to shine them up first, but don't wash; they have a natural protective coating, like all fruits and veg, that inhibits mold. It helps them turn from pretty decorations into intriguing instruments that anyone can play.

So the other night, the golden pears in my silver bowl called to me, and I answered by making some of them into muffins, using a recipe we've enjoyed for some years. It was only the second or third recipe from Vegetarian Times magazine I'd ever honestly liked; their food has gotten better in the last 8 or 9 years. These muffins are a prime example-- they're healthy as good muffins can be, and too satisfying for anyone to think about that while eating them. And I can tell you, they make as good a midnight snack as they do a breakfast treat.

My giant muffin tin loves this recipe; the batter holds up in the bigger cups without a problem, but regular sized work too. I've made them with soymilk or dairy milk, and yesterday used Almond Breeze Vanilla, with a good squirt of lime juice to clabber it.

Almond milk doesn't always provide as high a rise in quick breads (in my experience) as soymilk, but clabbering seems to have done the trick-- they were perfect. Even though I had run out of whole wheat flour and had to-- or did, anyway-- sub an even mix of wheat bran and Aldi's cut-rate rice crisp cereal for the WW. Never let them see you sweat!

Pear and Walnut Muffins
Vegetarian Times, March 2006, adapted slightly by Mari
Makes 12 regular or 5/6 large muffins

"These tender muffins wowed every one of our testers. They have a great nutty taste and are studded with chopped fresh pears. You can also make them with apples."

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar (or you can use a generous 1/2 C of white)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt (reduce to 1/4 tsp if using prepared plant milks of any sort)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, or a mix of cinnamon and ginger
1 1/4 cups finely chopped ripe but firm pears (about 2 to 3 medium pears)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted*
3/4 cup reduced fat milk (I use soy or almond, clabbered)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil (I use Olive oil)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract or a few drops almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Coat 12 standard muffin pan cups with cooking spray.

2. Combine both flours, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in medium bowl, and whisk to blend. Add pears and walnuts, and toss gently to coat.

3. Combine milk, oil, and egg and extract in small bowl; stir to blend. Make well in flour mixture, and add milk mixture, stirring just until moist (dough will be sticky).

4. Divide batter evenly among prepared cups. Bake 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Remove from pan**, and cool on wire rack.

*To toast walnuts:
Spread walnuts evenly in small baking dish or pie pan, and bake at 350F until fragrant and lightly browned, stirring twice, 6-8 minutes.

These muffins seem to prefer sitting in their pan for five-10 minutes first. It sets them and helps keep their shape nicely, no matter what VT thinks. Oh, they ARE good with apples, too-- and you can spice them anyway you like. I often add a little five spice or ground coriander to the cinnamon or in place of it.

Enjoy our last bit of October, and eat something good tonight!

Peace, Mari

Monday, October 24, 2011

Guest Post: Far From Home

Today I'm lucky to have a a beautifully written post. I can say that, because I didn't write it-- Canice from the CLBB did. I've long admired Canice's clear communication skills and her savvy at choosing excellent recipes and then taking them up a notch using her own fine-tuned palate. She's smart and funny and a damn good cook.

Although I was unable to post this as soon as written, it's as timely as could be, as you'll see. Enjoy what's she's dishing up!


I’m a long-time acquaintance of Heavy Hedonist, and another enthusiastic home cook and lover of soup. When she asked whether I’d be interested in writing a guest entry for this blog, my first thought was “Sure! But I know nothing of summer in the East; what can I contribute that would be authentic?”

After more thought, I concluded that the only truly authentic view I can contribute is my own, natural one - that of a Bay Area native who’s spent her adult life in San Francisco, where the main purpose of the summer barbecue is to give the guests a place to find warmth against the cold, damp weather.

That’s the down side to summer living in the City by the Bay. On the plus side, there’s not a day of the week that there’s not a farmers’ market being held somewhere in this small city - often a number of markets. There’s the large, well-known Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, featuring gorgeous, (mostly) organic produce, each stall carefully marked with a card showing the farm’s location in California, miles to market, the number of people employed full time, and information about the owners.

On that same day, across town, is the much older (dating to World War II) and much more down-home Alemany Farmers’ Market, with low prices, rangy setting, and more ethnic produce, owing to the large Hispanic, Hmong (and other East and South Asian) farmer populations in California’s San Joaquin Valley. And many small, neighborhood markets in between.

No matter the size or location of the market, though, one thing you can count on in August is fresh, local corn. And I’ve always considered it a blessing that corn and fog are peak-of-season together, for that means I can enjoy fresh corn chowder with all of its sweet, warm comfort against a damp grey night.

There are endless permutations of corn chowder, of course, and I love that, too: corn chowder with a fresh tomato salsa; or with diced summer squash, garnished with cheery squash blossoms or bright herbs. Vegetarian or vegan, it’s delicious, and is a fine match to shellfish of many sorts, for those who so choose.

No matter the style, one thing I insist on including in all of my corn chowders is peppers, up to five or six sorts of fresh, and always some hot pepper sauce, for not just heat but also for the nice acid kick that helps balance out flavors. I recently made a summer corn chowder with peppers and a tomato-basil garnish, and it struck me what a wonderfully New World dish that really was, featuring three of the Americas’ greatest contributions to world cuisine: corn, tomatoes and peppers.

And then, the very next day, in my inbox was the monthly newsletter from Rancho Gordo, the amazing little company in Napa, California, dedicated to promoting the consumption of heirloom beans of many, many types, and to preserving them by collecting beans from small Mexican and South American producers and growing them in Northern California - as well as via direct imports from small family farms. But it’s worth noting that the company isn’t “Rancho Gordo Beans” but “Rancho Gordo New World Specialty Foods” - they don’t limit themselves to beans - and in that newsletter was a recipe for a corn chowder that also called for quinoa, a long-time staple of native peoples of the Andes, and amaranth, another Incan staple. While my version of corn chowder may have been “wonderfully” New World, it wasn’t “perfectly” New World - and this one came close!

The recipe provided by Steve Sando (founder and president of Rancho Gordo) is based on an out-of-print book called “Spirit of the Earth: Native Cooking from Latin America” and Steve had this to say about the recipe:

Everybody seems interested in whole grains these days, thanks to the good work of people like Heidi Swanson, Lorna Sass and the gluten-free movement. Grains like amaranth and quinoa are high in fiber, protein and flavor and it's been fun finding ways of incorporating them into a modern diet. Amaranth is particularly hard as it gets a little gooey when cooked. In Mexico, you mostly see it popped and in a sweet treat called Alegria, if at all.

I took some liberties with Steve’s interpretation of the recipe and came up with this deep, nourishing summer soup.

Corn Chowder with Quinoa and Amaranth


3 tablespoons butter, divided

1 cup finely diced celery

1-1/2 cups finely diced fresh peppers - poblano and red bell

1 1/2 cups finely chopped leeks (white and light green parts)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup amaranth

4 cups water, divided

1/2 cup quinoa, well rinsed

1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves or 1teaspoon dried

4 cups corn kernels (from 4-5 ears), divided between 3 cups and 1 cup

1 Tbsp hot sauce

Juice of half a lime

1 cup half-and-half or whole milk

1/4 cup minced fresh herbs for garnish: basil, Italian parsley, or chives


In a large, heavy pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Stir in celery, peppers and leeks. [If using dried thyme, add it here.] Sprinkle salt over and stir frequently until the vegetable are soft, 3-5 minutes.

Stir in the Amaranth and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the Quinoa and [fresh] thyme. Return to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and cook at a gentle boil, partially covered, for 10 minutes.

In a food processor, puree 3 cups of corn with the remaining cup of water. Stir the corn puree and the remaining 1 cup of whole corn kernels into the soup. Add hot sauce and lime juice. Simmer 5 more minutes or until the Quinoa and Amaranth are tender.

Stir in the half and half and remaining tablespoon of butter. Add salt or other seasoning, according to taste. Divide into portions and garnish with fresh herbs.

Note: The soup may thicken on standing; thin as needed with water, milk, or vegetable stock.

Links related to this article:

Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market

Alemany Farmers’ Market

Rancho Gordo New World Specialty Foods


I have a pot of this soup starting right now-- Peace, Mari

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tis the Season...

For writing! For baking! For drinking Sangria outside one last time-- as many times as you can.

I'll be having a fun guest post from my CLBB friend Canice in a day or so, & enjoying the lovely weather we're having here. Canice is also a big fan of shopping the Farmer's Market, but she gets to do it in California.

Today, I'm not even jealous of that. It's beautiful enough to have the windows open, airing out the house, but cool enough to make lasagna. And maybe a pie. If you've never cooked a fresh pumpkin to put into pies or muffins, do it this Autumn. It is too easy, and the taste and color are well worth the minimal effort.

Use a small, firm pumpkin. Wash it, cut in half. Scoop out the seeds and scrape the stringy stuff out of the middle, then stick it in a roasting pan or large baking dish with a half cup of water on the bottom. Throw that into a medium hot oven for 35-50 minutes, depending on size.

It really doesn't matter if you cook it skin up or skin down. It doesn't matter if you cook it at 350 F, 375, or 400. It will become tender after a while-- just check around 30 minutes, and then again every ten. Take it out of the oven when it is cooked through.

Let it cool. Pull the flesh off the skin and puree it in your food processor or blender, and you'll have the most psychotic bright orange pumpkin puree you've ever seen! It's wonderful in muffins, breads, pizza dough, Ice cream, smoothies, pie or pancakes. It makes good soup, cooked with some rosemary and onion in a bit of olive oil and seasoned with salt. It can be used to thicken or enrich chili or other soups, and it makes a killer lasagna.

But here's one of my simple favorites for using pumpkin, fresh or not--
a giant, well-spiced muffin that showcases the flavors of fall. We love these big treats, but you can make it into a nine-inch square cake or regular sized muffins, too. Or several small mini-loaves. Adapted slightly From Bon Appetit magazine, Dec. 2005.

*Note-- if using fresh pumpkin puree, use 1 3/4 C in place of the 15-oz can. That's what I do! If your homemade puree is a little watery, put it in a fine strainer for a few moments to drain away some of the liquid. It'll be fine.

Giant Pumpkin Muffins with Molasses-Ginger Glaze

yield: Makes 6 giant muffins or 15-18 standard muffins


Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger & 1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
3 large eggs
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin (or about 1 3/4 cups fresh pumpkin puree)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon mild-flavored (light) molasses
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger, divided

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons (or more) water


Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 6 giant (1 1/4-cup) muffin cups or 18 standard (1/3-cup) muffin cups with nonstick spray. Sift flour, ginger, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer**, beat 1 cup sugar and oil in large bowl to blend. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, blending well after each addition. Beat in pumpkin, 1/2 cup molasses, buttermilk, and 1/4 cup crystallized ginger. Stir in flour mixture until just blended.

Divide batter among prepared muffin cups. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes for giant muffins and 30 minutes for standard muffins. Transfer muffins to rack; cool completely.

Whisk powdered sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons water, and 1 tablespoon molasses in medium bowl, adding more water as needed to form thick glaze.

Dip muffin tops in glaze; transfer to rack, allowing glaze to drip down sides. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup crystallized ginger. Let stand until glaze is set, about 1 hour.

** I always beat this by hand. Who wants to get out a mixer if you don't have to???

Aside from pumpkin pancakes with walnuts or leftover cold pie, these muffins are probably our most coveted fall breakfast. What are you eating as the leaves turn?

(Farmers market on the Village green, in Autumn: the source of my pumpkins.)

Peace, Mari