Sunday, January 27, 2013

Beans & Rice, Today's Way

I've always thought "Beans & Rice" to be a rather dull name for a stellar meal.

Today's combination: pinto beans, white rice, crushed coriander.

This is less a recipe than a technique. Beans & Rice is such a staple for me, I make it literally dozens of ways. It depends on what I have in the house. Sometimes it's spicy black beans with brown rice, topped with diced avocado and a squeeze of lime. Sometimes it's red beans with white rice, carrots, and bell peppers, garnished with sliced green onions. Many times I add coconut milk (not today) or finish the dish in the oven (not today).

Sautee some onions and celery.

Today, I had dried pinto beans, Arborio rice, onion, celery, garlic, and a can of tomatoes. If I had had them, I would have added carrots, which make any bean dish sweeter and more colorful. But I didn't. So I worked with what I had. (There is a life-lesson in this, methinks. But this is a cooking blog, so I will leave you to your own reflections.)

Crushed coriander and other spices make things yummy.

I always have vegetable stock and a variety of spices in the house. And as long as I have some aromatics (at least an onion), some beans (canned or dried), and some kind of rice, I can make this--without having to grocery shop!--in almost no time. It's cheap, delicious, filling, and healthy. You can eat it as is, stuff it into tortillas, or use it as a dip for corn chips.

With dried beans, it takes a couple of hours to make Beans & Rice. With canned beans, I can make it in 40 minutes.

The flavors are saying their vows!

Beans & Rice, Today's Way

The key to a good Beans & Rice dish is the seasoning. Especially if you're using dried beans (which I recommend, if you have the time), you need to add quite a bit of salt. Lots of black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. Cumin, oregano. And here, the star seasoning is crushed coriander seeds.

I don't bother soaking dried beans anymore; I just cook 'em until they're done. But you can soak yours if you want. It will cut the cooking time a bit.

2 cups gluten-free vegetable stock
1 cup Arborio rice (or whatever rice you have)

1/2 lb dried pinto beans
1 tsbp vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
5 celery stalks, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp coriander seeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle
1 tsp dried cumin
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (more or less to taste)
at least 2 tsp salt, plus more for cooking the beans, and lots of black pepper (to taste)
1 14-oz can whole or diced tomatoes, with juice

Cook the rice, using half of the vegetable stock, in your usual way. (I use less water than most package instructions recommend; I like my rice al dente, not mushy.)

Cover the beans with several inches of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, partially cover, and cook until tender, about 1 hour to 90 minutes. Add a huge scoop of salt near the end--I use probably a tablespoon. Taste a bean every now and then to ensure you don't overcook them. Mushy beans are not good beans.

When the beans are nearly done, heat the oil in a cast-iron pot (I use a Le Creuset) or large skillet with deep sides. The heat should be medium-high. Add the onions and celery and saute, stirring, for about 8 minutes, or until tender and translucent. Add a heaping teaspoon of salt and some pepper. Then add the garlic and stir for another minute. Add the crushed coriander seeds, cumin, crushed red pepper, and some more salt and pepper, and stir for 30 seconds or so. Things should smell very fragrant!

Add the tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon right in the pot if they are whole. Add the beans and, if things look too dry, a little bit of the water you cooked the beans in. Or add more stock. Stir everything well, lower the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes or until--as they say--the "flavors marry." Taste, and adjust the seasoning (you will likely need to add more salt).

By now your rice should be done. Serve the soupy beans over the rice, and eat them up.

A stellar meal.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Ginger-Lemon Drink

Here's something I drink.

Fresh lemon + fresh ginger = reFRESHing.

Ginger and lemon are great for wintertime illness, immune health, and hydration. No, I'm not a doctor. Well, I'm not a medical doctor, anyway. But that's what I've heard.

After Willa and I have returned from a hike, she takes a long, refreshing drink from her bowl, and I take a long, refreshing drink of this. Then she takes a nap.

Even when sleeping, Willa's ears are awesome.

You can make this drink hot or cold, and it's much better for you than store-bought soda! (Cheaper, too.) And simple. The hot version is a bit more involved, but not much.

Hydrate, people (and dogs). It's good for you.

Ginger-Lemon Drink: Version Cold
serves one

1 lemon
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp pure maple syrup (more or less to taste)
dash of cayenne (optional)
1 cup sparkling water
ice if you need it

Juice the lemon right into a glass. Use a reamer if you want to get all of the delicious juices. If necessary, strain the lemon juice through a finely-meshed sieve to remove the seeds. (Or just be lazy, like me, and let the seeds float around in the bottom of your glass.)

Add the rest of the ingredients, and stir vigorously with a spoon. Taste and adjust seasonings. Drink.


Ginger-Lemon Drink: Version Hot
serves one

5 thin slices fresh ginger, pounded with a mortar (or a hammer, mallet, rolling pin...)
1 cup water
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp pure maple syrup (more or less to taste)
dash of cayenne (optional)

Put the ginger and water into a small saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer over low heat for 15 or 20 minutes.

Strain the ginger out with tongs or a slotted spoon, and add the rest of the ingredients. Stir well. Taste and adjust seasonings. Drink.


Enjoy your weekend!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Do Dogs Have Gender?

When people meet Willa for the first time, they usually call her "he" (until they get close enough to tell). She is a big, burly, macho-looking dog.

What does a purple leash say about me?

A couple at the dog park has a curly, lithe, blond dog named Jengo. Many people incorrectly read Jengo as female at first.

I have laughed with Jengo's parents about this. But I wonder what it means when we make gendered assumptions about dogs?

In one of my favorite memoirs ever, Dog Years, Mark Doty writes: "The edifice of gender we build around dogs through naming is, in truth, too unwieldy and ridiculous to examine" (69). Gender is a human construct, Doty suggests, and has nothing to do with dog behavior or personality. When we ascribe gender to dogs, we reveal more about ourselves, our own values and assumptions and fears, than about them.

Do dogs have gender? Willa thinks that question is silly. 

For example, Willa is strong, unself-conscious, athletic, and a bit dominant in play. She does a growl-and-tackle move when wrestling with other dogs that is distinctly unladylike. She belches, loudly and enthusiastically. Her tongue lolls everywhere. She understands no limits on what she can do besides those that come with a food or stick reward. She makes no assumptions about other dogs based on their biology--at least not that I can tell.

People sometimes explain their dogs' behavior in gendered terms, ascribing meaning to the dog's biological sex. "He's aggressive--it's because he's male." "She's beautiful and she knows it!" "He doesn't like being petted; he's more of the strong, silent type."

Those statements may be true for those specific dogs, but I doubt their truth has anything to do with male or female. It's likely just that dog's personality or training.

Willa will wrestle and wag with boy dogs, girl dogs, boy cats, girl cats, boy humans, girl humans. She doesn't mind being mounted at the dog park. Occasionally dog owners react with shock and shame: "Rover! Down! I'm so sorry." I always smile cheerfully and say, "I don't mind if Willa doesn't mind!" (Because really, who cares when everyone is fixed and having fun?)

Most of the people in my super-liberal neighborhood who bring their dogs to the dog park don't make these distinctions. But sometimes dog owners become particularly upset when a boy-dog mounts another boy-dog. They might laugh nervously or use homophobic statements such as "Rover, that's not going to work." Or "Poor Rover doesn't understand that's not a girl-dog."

In Dog Years, Doty writes that our gendered assumptions about dogs can betray "a fear of same-sex congress that would be comical if it weren't so often a big deal to those who enforce it. If a male dog sniffs another's hind end, this has nothing to do with what human beings mean when they engage in similar behavior. Dogs must simply add whatever prohibitions we impose to the vast category of inscrutable human actions" (69).

At the park, we meet dogs of every type: big and small, active and passive, outgoing and shy, temperamental and steady. These types do not correspond to human categories of gender (masculine to feminine). Each individual dog has a unique personality, and dog personalities are as diverse as human personalities. They are also complex. Though Willa is mostly brave, she is also deathly afraid of moving leaves on the sidewalk. She will cower and ask to cross the street rather than approach such a leaf. (And this is a dog who spends two hours a day in the woods!)

I bark, therefore I am Mr. Lady.

What I love about Dog Years is that Mark Doty takes dogs seriously as complex protagonists. His dogs, Beau and Arden, are the heroes of the book, but not in a sappy, awww-aren't-my-dogs-cute kind of way, and not in an anthropomorphic way either. He thinks about dogs as dogs, trying to strip away the human constructs, such as gender, that obscure our understanding of them. At the same time, he thinks about dog-human relationships with depth and sophistication. If you're a dog lover, you should definitely read Dog Years.

Willa is no lady, but one of her nicknames is Mr. Lady. I also call her Young William; Willy; and Will.

She loves them all. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tofu & Peanut Butter Stew

When people ask about my favorite foods, I say: "Peanut Butter. Tofu. Chickpeas."

This stew is a winter favorite that includes two of my top three foods, as well as celery, mushrooms, greens, tomatoes, and a bit of zingy ginger. The peanut butter is stirred in at the end, and it combines with the broth to make a delicious, nutty backdrop for the rest of the ingredients. If you've never tried peanut butter in a soup or stew, this is your chance.

Willa loves peanut butter too.

Tofu & Peanut Butter Stew
adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health

This stew is filling and makes a lot. Make a pot on Sunday, and eat it throughout the busy week.

1 tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1 tsp salt
3 cups sliced mushrooms
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 clove minced garlic
28 oz can diced tomatoes
3 cups gluten-free vegetable stock
1 lb extra-firm tofu, cubed
3 cups chopped fresh collard greens or spinach
1/2 cup natural (sugar-free) peanut butter
salt and pepper to taste
dash of hot sauce to taste (optional)

Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and salt, and cook, covered, for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms, ginger, and garlic, and cook, covered, for another 8 to 10 minutes. The vegetables should all be tender and full of juices. 

Add the tomatoes, vegetable stock, and tofu, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the greens, and cook until tender (10 minutes for collards; 5 minutes for spinach). In a bowl or measuring cup, stir the peanut butter with a cup or so of the broth from the pot, until smooth. Add back to the pot and stir well. Taste and add salt and pepper. If you like, add a dash of hot sauce. Serve!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Potato Soup with Fennel & Fennel

I love fennel, don't you?

I'm not listeninzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

This week it's back to school, so I hunkered down on Sunday and made a big batch of potato soup to get me through the week.

Potato Soup with Fennel & Fennel

Technically, this soup should be called "Potato Soup with Fennel, Fennel, & Fennel Fronds," but that's just obnoxious.

I make potato soup all kinds of ways, but the fennel in this one--both a fresh fennel bulb and toasted fennel seed--makes it unique.

Also, making this is about as easy as making mashed potatoes. To which you should also add fennel.

Potato Soup with Fennel & Fennel

1 tsp fennel seeds
2 tbsp olive oil
1 fresh fennel bulb, washed and chopped, fronds reserved
3 or 4 medium potatoes, chopped (I like Yukon Gold)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 quart gluten-free vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste

In a small skillet over medium-low heat, toast the fennel seeds just until fragrant (don't let them brown), about 3 minutes. Crush them in a mortar & pestle. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped fennel bulb, and saute until tender, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped potatoes and stir. Add the toasted crushed fennel seed and the garlic, and cook for a minute, stirring often. Add the vegetable stock and salt and pepper, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Puree until smooth using an immersion blender. Taste, adjust seasonings, and serve topped with the lovely emerald-colored fennel fronds.

Soup makes Willa sleepy. Good night. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mashed Potatoes with Smoked Paprika & Togarashi Pepper

Smoked paprika, smoky, and Togarashi pepper is spicy. So the two in combination naturally belong in a mound of creamy mashed potatoes. 

These 'taters need no gravy. 

Smoked paprika comes in sweet, hot, or bittersweet. (Kind of like people?) For this recipe, I used sweet, but feel free to experiment. 

The good, the good, and the good.

If you can't find Togarashi pepper--a Japanese blend of chili peppers, seaweed, orange zest, and sesame seeds--you can leave it out, or use a dash of cayenne or hot sauce instead.

Needless to say, if you know how to make mashed potatoes, this recipe will be super-easy for you. Yay! If you don't, well, what can I say. Here's a chance to learn.

Mash this. 

Mashed Potatoes with Smoked Paprika & Togarashi Pepper

3 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped (I don't bother peeling them, do you?)
1/2 cup almond or soy milk
3 or 4 tbsp vegan margarine
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp Togarashi pepper
salt and pepper (yes, more pepper) to taste

Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil, and add the chopped potatoes. Lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Test several of them with a fork to be sure.

Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot. Add the milk and margarine, and use a potato masher to smash the heck out of everything. (If you don't have a potato masher, you can use an electric mixer, but be careful not to over-mix or they will be gluey.) Add the spices and seasonings, stir, and taste. Adjust the seasoning and serve next to a beautiful tempeh cutlet or something.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Scrambled Tofu with Mushrooms

Today was warm for January--50 degrees!--and sunny, breezy, blue-sky-y. The perfect day for an outing.

Tofu is for humans. Blech.

Only problem is the mud, which sticks to human boots and doggie paws with equal insistence.

After hiking today, Willa's paws looked like they'd been thoroughly dipped in dark chocolate. I made her stand still while I wiped them clean with a warm washcloth.

Incidentally, that's also how I clean the dirt off of mushrooms. Like the ones in this recipe!

The key ingredients.

If you've never worked with tofu, this is the perfect beginner recipe: easy and flavorful. It takes 25 minutes, tops. Most tofu recipes require a lot of work with the tofu first: pressing, freezing, thawing, marinading.

But this one? All you need is a block of tofu, some aromatics and spices, and some gluten-free soy sauce. You can try it with spinach or bell peppers or summer squash, instead of mushrooms. You can make it plain, without veggies. (Sure you can!) It's very adaptable and forgiving, like Willa.

The key here is a big, nonstick skillet and high enough heat. You want the tofu to brown, and this requires a large surface area and a higher heat setting than you might expect. The tofu will splatter a bit in the pan, so be careful!

No mud here!

Scrambled Tofu with Mushrooms

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
8 oz button or baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp dried thyme (or 1 tbsp fresh)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp gluten-free tamari
1 block extra-firm, water-packed tofu, drained and patted dry (make sure it's plain, not flavored, and gluten-free)
dash of cayenne, hot sauce, or crushed red pepper (optional)

Preheat your largest nonstick skillet over medium heat. After a minute or so, add the oil, and let the oil heat for another minute. Add the diced onions and saute for 5 minutes, or until tender and translucent. Add the mushrooms, stir well, and saute for another 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms darken and begin to release their deliciousy juices. Add the garlic, and stir for 30 seconds to one minute. Turn the heat all the way up to high. Add the turmeric, thyme, salt and pepper, and tamari (this should sizzle).

Take the block of tofu in your two clean hands--trust me on this--and crumble it right into the pan. Don't be afraid to squish it really good between your fingers; this will give the scramble the perfect chunky consistency. Take a wooden spoon or spatula and break up any large chunks left in the pan. Mix everything together well. The turmeric, combined with the tamari, will turn the scramble a lovely dark golden color, resembling scrambled eggs (hence the name of the recipe). After everything is combined, leave the scramble alone, over high heat, for several minutes.

Next, take your wooden spatula or spoon and stir from the bottom. Hopefully the tofu is browning; if not, let it cook a bit longer before stirring. Adjust the heat if you need to, but don't turn it down too low! Cook the scramble for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring only occasionally, until the tofu is browned on all sides. Everything should smell amazing. Add the hot sauce or cayenne. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more tamari, pepper, or hot sauce/pepper.

Serve with gluten-free toast for a breakfasty meal, or with a big salad for lunch or dinner. Or just eat it right out of the pan with a fork. Who is going to stop you? Not me.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Cranberry-Walnut Granola

This cinnamon- and coconut-spiked granola, sweetened with dried cranberries and pure maple syrup, is perfect in a bowl with almond milk, or packed in a baggie for a midday snack. It's healthy, too: walnuts, flax seeds, and cranberries are all superfoods. (But aren't most foods super?)

I have cats, too. This is Chloe.*

Feel free to substitute other nuts and dried fruits. Almonds and dried blueberries are yum, especially if you add a dash of gluten-free vanilla extract. Pecans and raisins are classic.

Cranberry-Walnut Granola

The technique here--dry-toasting the oats, nuts, and seeds in a skillet, then finishing the granola in the oven--is adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Be sure to use gluten-free oats, which are grown, harvested, and processed in dedicated fields and facilities.
Cinnamon is to granola as sticks are to Willa.*

2 cups gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup raw chopped walnuts
a handful of sunflower seeds
1 tbsp or so flax seeds
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
a dash of salt
1/2 cup pure maple syrup (use more or less to taste)
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Heat your largest nonstick skillet over medium heat for a minute or two. When hot, add the oats and toast for 5 minutes or so, until fragrant. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir occasionally.

Add the nuts and seeds, stir, and toast for another minute or two. Add the coconut, stir, and toast again.

When everything smells toasty (this will be less than 10 minutes later), turn off the heat. Add the cinnamon, salt, and maple syrup, and stir well. Transfer the granola to the parchment-lined cookie sheet and stick it in the oven. Bake, stirring every 5 minutes or so, for about 20 minutes, or until fully toasted and fragrant.

All done and smelling yummy.*

Stir in the dried cranberries and cool on the baking sheet. Then transfer to an airtight container.

Makes about 4 cups.


* I have been taking pictures on my crappy cell phone, which explains their poor quality. A food blogger really should get batteries for her camera!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Polenta with Tempeh-Tomato Sauce

My favorite word is "stick."

Each morning, just before daybreak, we climb a long, steep hill in the dark. This time of year, the air is heavy with cold, but I am always excited to hike, even in the dark, even in the cold. For one thing, I love snow. For another, I love stretching my limbs after a long night with my body curled in on itself. I wake a bit stiff, but by the time we get to the top of the hill, the light is climbing too, and my limbs are unlocked and ready to run.

Mother wisely says that our morning hike is healthy, but all I know is how much fun it is. If I am lucky, she will throw me a snowball, and I will catch it proudly, right in my mouth. But here is the point: in the woods, there are sticks. And in my humble opinion, sticks are the best thing ever, better even than breakfast. And I love breakfast.

If I see a good stick first, I will run to it and look at Mother, wagging a happy dare. But sometimes she sees it before I do, and then she will grab it, make me sit, and hurl it as hard as she can, laughing "find stick!" I am usually too interested in the chase to correct her grammar, but that missing article really bothers me. She should know better.

Grammar aside: I always find the stick, people.

People! Check out the stick!

Here is Mother's favorite cold-weather comfort food. It makes her almost as happy as I do.


Polenta with Tempeh-Tomato Sauce

The combination of tempeh and toasted fennel seed makes this dish. The polenta here is soft rather than firm, like grits, and oh-so-comforting. While fresh tomatoes make the best sauce when they are in season, canned tomatoes are essential for winter cooking. I like Muir Glen brand.

For the sauce:
1 tsp fennel seed
2 tbsp olive or grapeseed oil
8 oz plain soy tempeh (check to ensure it is gluten-free)
8 oz tomato sauce
14.5-oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
salt and pepper to taste

For the polenta:
5 cups gluten-free vegetable stock (use homemade if you have it!)
1 cup coarsely ground, gluten-free cornmeal (polenta)
salt and pepper to taste
1 to 2 tbsp vegan margarine

1. Bring the vegetable stock for the polenta to a boil.

2. Crush the fennel seed in a mortar & pestle (or stick it in a baggie and run over it with a rolling pin). Heat a small skillet over medium-low heat, add the crushed fennel seed, and toast for 3 to 5 minutes, or until fragrant but not brown. Set aside.

3. Remove the tempeh from its packaging. Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, crumble the tempeh right into the pan with your fingers. Use a wooden spoon to break up any large pieces that remain. (Your goal is burger-crumble-size pieces.) Brown the tempeh, stirring occasionally, until golden-dark on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes. Turn the heat to low. Add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and spices, stir well, and simmer gently for 20 to 25 minutes, or until thickened and delicious. Taste and adjust seasoning.

3. When the stock is boiling, and while the sauce is happily simmering, take a wire whisk, and slowly whisk the cornmeal into the stock. This should take a minute or two. Lower the heat to the lowest setting, and continue to whisk for another minute or two, until the polenta is just barely simmering. Then switch to a wooden spoon (I use the same one I used on the sauce), and stir the polenta every minute or two. Add lots of salt and pepper. Cook for 30 minutes or so, adding a bit more stock if it starts to seem too thick. When the polenta is the consistency of grits or porridge (the consistency is up to you), turn off the heat and stir in the margarine. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or margarine if you like.

4. Ladle the polenta into a bowl and top with the tempeh-tomato sauce. Eat with a spoon. Mmmm.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Gluten Free Spirit: Food. Books. Dog.

Welcome to Gluten Free Spirit, where I write about food, books, and my best girl Willa.

Butternut Squash & Apple Soup with Chipotle and Pomegranate

This will be mostly a food and cooking blog, focusing on vegetarian, gluten-free deliciousness. It will also include occasional forays into my adventures with books (the stuff of my career) and Willa (dog of my life).

Willa and I hike every morning at sunrise. Like making dinner, this ritual is both healthy and heartwarming. I take a travel mug of black coffee, and Willa and I watch the light blink, stretch, and finally throw off the covers.

January sunrise in Cincinnati.

Willa is a trailmaster, and almost as dorky as me.

She is named after author Willa Cather. Do you see the resemblance?

Thank you for reading!