I love to cook and I love to eat good food.  Alas, the fact that I work 9-5 means that I can't do either as much as I would like, and like many I am often stuck at my desk during my lunch "hour".  My solution is to try to bring my lunch to work as much as I can.  This is my collection of recipes, all made quickly the night before (either as lunch or as dinner with leftovers that can be taken in).  Happy eating.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Cat on a hot red bike cake

As I'm sure my readers have all noticed, feeling an inexplicable yet implacable void in their lives, Working Lunch has been on vacation. More specifically, at this most wonderful time of the year, I go back to California for two glorious weeks. Trips to the farmer's market, daily walks to get my latte fix, time spent (or rather gained) at the local cheese store -- yes, it is the gift that keeps on giving. Especially since I don't have to work, and generally have my lunch made for me.

It is, however, the time of year for baking. Our Christmas dinner is a feast prepared by my aunt, but we have to contribute the dessert. And that means cake. We have made a number of different recipes over the years, one involving white chocolate snowflakes (as great to make as to eat), one involving more bourbon than should legally be allowed, many others requiring varying amounts of chocolate. Last year brought us the infamously named "Bitch de Noel", of which the highlight was definitely making the meringue mushrooms (indescribable fun).

This year, we decided to go with the seasonally appropriate (at least as far as aesthetics are concerned) red velvet cake. Of course, a great cake deserves a great name (see above for the converse). "Red Velvet", though accurate, didn't really capture its spirit. We needed something a little sassier, a little more ooh la la. Our working title was "Gateau au velours rouge", which made me think a little bit of Moulin Rouge and Montmartre. Luckily, my brother brought us down to earth when he heard this, asking "Cat on a red bicycle?" The title was obvious in Esperanto: Cat on a Hot Red Bike Cake. Thus a star was born.

Cat on a Hot Red Bike Cake/Gateau au velours rouge/Red velvet cake:
3 ⅓ C. cake flour
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 ¼ C. sugar
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons red food coloring (or two 2 oz. bottles)
1/2 C. unsweetened cocoa
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ C. buttermilk
1 ½ teaspoons cider vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and lightly flour three 9 x 2-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with waxed paper.

For the cake:
In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a small bowl, whisk together the red food coloring, cocoa, and vanilla. Add to the batter and beat well. (I didn't bother doing this, adding the cocoa to the flour and the food coloring and vanilla to the buttermilk, but it was noted that this may have created a slight marbling effect in the layers. I leave this decision to the individual predilections of each reader.)

In a measuring cup, stir the salt into the buttermilk. Add to the batter in three parts, alternating with the flour. Beat mixture after each addition until the ingredients are mixed, but do not overbeat.

In a small bowl, stir together the cider vinegar and baking soda. Add to the batter and mix well.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the layers cool in the pans for 1 hour. Remove from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.
Cream cheese frosting:
1/2 stick butter
8 oz. cream cheese
1 box powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Cream butter, cream cheese and vanilla in a mixing bowl, then slowly beat in powdered sugar until thick and creamy.
When the cake has cooled, spread the frosting between the layers, then cover the top and sides of the cake. Garnish with sugared cranberries.

Makes one 3-layer 9-inch cake.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Turkey and butternut squash tagine

Thanksgiving is a gift to us working cooks, but there comes a point when we open the fridge, see all that leftover turkey, and have to fight the urge to run to the Chinese takeout menu.  Luckily, dressing up the turkey in more exotic flavors that take us away from the traditional realm of the American turkey feast, can do the trick.

I think the strong taste of turkey really takes to heady, spicy flavors.  I had some butternut squash that needed eating, and as I peeled the yellow cubes I thought of those warm spices of Morocco and the southern Mediterranean.  Many of those beautiful stews have apricots or currants, and some olives or preserved lemon to counteract the sweet warmth of the spices and dried fruit.  I thought that apricots would be too sweet with the butternut squash (not to mention monochrome) so grabbed some dried cherries off my shelf.  Some big, fat green olives nestled in the mix completed the dish.

1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. red chili powder
1 can tomatoes
1/2 C. water
1 small butternut squash
1/2 C. shredded turkey
1/4 C. dried cherries
handful green olives
parsley or mint

Cook onion until soft.  Add spices and heat through for a minute.  Add tomatoes with juice and butternut squash, dried cherries, olives and water.  Cook until squash is tender.  Stir in turkey and heat through.  Top with parsley or mint and a good grind of pepper.  Serve over couscous.

Serves 2.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Best turkey ever

A few days late, the turkey has landed.  Living in London means that while all of my friends, relatives, and colleagues in our New York office have Thursday and Friday off work, getting their fill of of food, wine, and perhaps some masochistic Christmas shopping, I have to work.  For two days.  And then spend my whole Saturday prepping, cooking, and trying to fit a dozen people into my small flat.  But again, that's become my tradition and I rather enjoy it.  If I can't have my mother's food and my family's table, I will live vicariously, surrounding myself with friends who miss their own families, and try to create -- if not a new family -- then at least a familial spirit.  Without, at least, the embarrassing childhood stories.

Therefore I have only just now settled the remains of my feast in the fridge in various tupperware resting places.  I'll have Thanksgiving dinner part two tonight, and once I finish the sweet potatoes and stuffing, I'll have turkey in various guises for at least a week.  From soup and curry to stock and sandwiches, the turkey is the gift that keeps on giving.  I will just try to return some of the extra calories before Christmas...

Best roast turkey.
I am a firm believer in brining one's turkey.  I think it ensures you really cannot overcook it, and I have never had a problem making gravy out of the pan drippings.  Just rinse off the bird before roasting, and don't add any salt to the gravy.

You can brine the turkey in a large stockpot or dutch oven, in a brining bag, a cooler, or -- like me -- in your dishpan.  Just make sure it's kept cold overnight and in a container large enough for the brine to cover the turkey.

Mix in a large pot:
1 1/2 C. salt
2 oranges, halved and the juice squeezed
2 onions, quartered
a few cloves garlic, smashed in skins
2 Tbsp. peppercorns
2 Tbsp. cloves
2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
a good squeeze of honey
water to fill the pot (or less, depending on how you're brining)

Bring the water to a warm temperature, enough to get all the aromatics to release their spice and stir to dissolve the salt.  Let the mixture cool, then add the brine to the turkey, or the turkey to the pot with the brine.  Brine overnight, then take the turkey out from the brine, rinse well, and let sit on the counter to come to room temperature.  Roast according to your usual instructions.

Serves as many as you can fit around the table, and then some.

Wild rice, mushroom and turkey soup

For me, the best part of cooking a turkey is not the juicy dark meat (yes, I am firmly on the dark side), the crispy skin, the unctuous gravy, or even the primeval and promethean thrill of cooking a very large animal (at least as large as most of us will ever cook), but rather the best part is the turkey stock I make after I finally give up trying to pull those last bits of meat off the carcass.  Rich, golden, and with a deep flavor, this is the sort of stock that jells in the fridge and is practically a meal in itself.

My secret weapon this year was saving the tops of the leeks from the big turkey day, the carrot peelings, and the slightly wilted stalks of celery from the stuffing.  Into the pot they went, with the bones, some bay leaves and peppercorns, and a few hours later, with practically no work, the mixture turned itself into liquid gold.  The alchemists were on to something after all -- they were just using lead instead of turkey.

In this soup, I like to start the rice in water first, since it absorbs so much liquid that I would rather save my precious turkey stock for the soup itself.  My wild rice takes about 45 minutes to cook, so I add it first, then the brown rice 15 minutes later.  Only when the water is mostly absorbed do I add my stock, but it is of course easier and delicious to use all turkey stock and just add it all at the beginning.  It just depends on how much of a miser you are with your stock.

1 leek
1 carrot
2 stalks celery
6 C. turkey stock plus 2 C. water
1/2 cup wild rice
1/2 cup brown rice
1/2 C. dry white wine
1/2 C. dried mushrooms
1 C. shredded turkey.

Chop carrot, leek and celery and cook in a large stock pot until soft.  Add water, wine, mushrooms, and rice according to instructions above.  Once water is absorbed, add the stock and turkey and simmer for a final 15 minutes, or until the rice is cooked and all the flavors have come together.  Taste, adjust seasoning, and serve with a good sprinkling of parsley.

Serves 4.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Sweet potato, kale and quinoa stew

In music, variations on a theme is called genius.  In art, being part of a series can elevate an ordinary work to the sublime.  In food, repetition is usually considered boring.  I, however, have lately found myself drawn to the same ingredients over and over.  My current muses?  Sweet potato, kale, and quinoa.  Maybe it's the season, or maybe just the mood my tastebuds are in, but I seem to cook with this triumvirate frequently. 

I started with another trinity: onions, bell pepper, and celery.  To that base I added some tomatoes, water, and cooked the sweet potato and quinoa together.  As the quinoa cooks, it absorbs the liquid and flavor, and you're left with a thick, rich stew to warm the belly.  I love my legumes, so I needed some chickpeas.  Voila: a quick, easy, and flavorful dish that will set the tastebuds singing.

1 small onion, chopped
1/3 green bell pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 can chopped tomatoes
1 small sweet potato, cut into chunks (approx. 1 C.)
1/4 C. quinoa
2 C. water
1/2 C. chickpeas
1 C. chopped kale
pinch salt and pepper

Saute onion, bell pepper, and celery until soft.  Add tomatoes and water and bring to the boil.  Add sweet potato and quinoa, and cook until sweet potato is soft and quinoa is cooked.  Stir in kale leaves and cook until bright green. 

Serves 1

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Stir-fried vegetables with miso-coconut sauce

Behind soup, a stir-fry is my favorite way to use up lots of vegetables, and quickly.  Somehow I always end up with six spinach leaves, three cherry tomatoes, half a carrot, one green onion, or other odds and ends in the fridge.  Individually, they don't amount to much, but added together they are truly greater than the sum of their parts.  Sort of like most boy bands, or the X-Men.

This particular combination of vegetables seemed suited for one of my most versatile sauces, a simple combination coconut, miso and fish sauce.  These, in my opinion, are all individually super heroes, and don't even need to dress in spandex pants to prove it.  And all three together... it's almost too much for my wok to handle.

The beauty of the dish is in its adaptability.  It will go well with almost any vegetables and is fantastic with rice or soba noodles.  Steam some fish on top of the vegetables or throw in some tofu, and get ready to leap tall buildings.

Mixture of vegetables.  I used here:
1/2 onion
1/2 inch ginger, minced
1 carrot, cut into thin slices
1/4 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cherry tomatoes, halved
6 rainbow chard leaves, chopped
1/4 cup soy beans
1/4 cup corn
1 green onion, thinly sliced
3/4 C. water
1/4 C. coconut milk (or 1/2 inch slice creamed coconut)
1 tsp miso paste (less if dark/strong miso, more if white/mild miso)
1 tsp fish sauce

Saute onion until soft, add ginger, then carrot and bell pepper and cook for a few minutes.  Add soy beans and corn.    Add milk, miso paste, coconut milk, fish sauce and bring to simmer.  Stir in cherry tomatoes and chard, cook just until leaves soften.  Serve over rice or noodles, and garnish with green onion.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Roast vegetable and quinoa salad

'Tis the season.  Roast turkey, roast chestnuts, roast vegetables.  Maybe it's my sweet tooth, but nothing satisfies like a plate of roast root vegetables.  The way carrots, parsnips, onions, and sweet potatoes caramelize around the edges and grow soft in the center makes them like eating dessert for dinner, but wrapped up in the guise of a nutritious feast.  

I roasted a pan of vegetables to go with dinner and used the extras (which I barely restrained myself from eating) for a salad the next day.  I threw in some cloves of garlic -- the exact amount will depend on whether you have a meeting after lunch and how far away you want your colleagues to sit -- and added some cherry tomatoes at the end to concentrate and intensify their flavor.

As a textural contrast to the vegetables, I opened a can of chickpeas.  I had thought about serving my salad with couscous, but decided to make some quinoa instead.  I took one of the roasted cloves of garlic and mashed it into the dressing.  It was delicious, and good for warding off all those bloodsuckers at work.

Roast vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips (all par-boiled), onions (quartered but still intact at the stem), garlic (still in the skin), roasted at 350 in olive oil with salt, for approximately 30 minutes.  Add cherry tomatoes for last 5 minutes.
1/3 C. quinoa, boiled in 1 C. water until cooked through
1/2 C. chickpeas
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Lemon juice to taste (1 tsp or more, depending on acidity of lemon)
1 clove roast garlic

Mix oil, lemon juice and garlic, then stir through quinoa and chickpeas.  Stir through enough roasted vegetables to make a satisfying lunch.

Serves 1.

Kale with white beans

Greens and beans were made for each other, especially when the marriage is ministered by garlic and given away by bacon.  One of my favorite seasonal greens is curly kale, and try saying that five times fast.  For this quick dish, originally a dinner and then eaten as lunch the next day, I had to use my "before" picture instead of after packing it for work.  It just looked so much better, and I couldn't let it down by dressing it in plastic for its big day.  Thinking outside the box...

Omit the bacon for an easy, vegetarian main dish (served with crusty bread, brown rice or buckwheat, or stirred into pasta with a bit of the cooking liquid, topped with parmesan) and just increase the salt.  I used cannellini beans in this particular version, but butter beans and haricot beans are all good.  In fact, borlotti beans are excellent, but I would have had to call the dish "kale with taupe beans", which just doesn't sound as good.

2 strips bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 fat clove garlic, minced
Approx. 3 C. chopped curly kale
1 C. white beans
1/2 -1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Cook bacon until crispy and fat rendered into the pan.  Remove bacon, drain off almost all fat, leaving enough to cook the onions and garlic.  Add onions and cook over low heat until translucent and soft.  Add garlic, cook for 1-2 minutes.  

Add kale and saute until bright green and softening.  Add beans, heat through.  Add balsamic vinegar, amount depending on strength of vinegar and personal taste.  

Serves 2

Masoor dal

I realize the risk I am taking in calling my most likely inauthentic Indian dish by its authentically Indian name, but what can I say -- I need to get my thrills somehow, and a bungee jump wasn't in the cards on a Tuesday night.

Anyway, I am currently experiencing a glut of lentils due to some unfortunate over-purchasing, and, it being cold and miserable outside (i.e. England), I crave warming spices.  A curry of red split lentils, with bright turmeric, bold coriander, and the other usual suspects would just about do the trick.  I also love coconut milk, and love the blocks of creamed coconut which I can just keep in the fridge and shave off little pieces here and there whenever I need a little bit.  Cans of coconut milk are just too restricting.  For those who have yet to experience coconut in this medium, this is what I'm talking about.  I threw in some carrots because they seem to be multiplying like rabbits in my veg box, always delivered faster than I can eat them.

I took this to work on top of some leftover rice and a few stray cherry tomatoes.  The result: a golden, creamy, remedy for seasonal affective disorder -- sunshine in a bowl.

1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 fat clove garlic, minced
1 inch knob fresh ginger, minced
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1 medium carrot, cut into small pieces
1 C. red split lentils
3 C. water, plus more if the dal dries out while cooking
1 inch slice of creamed coconut, or approx. 1/3 C. coconut milk

In a medium saucepan, cook the onions until soft.  Add garlic and ginger, and cook another minute until soft.  Add spices and cook for a minute or two until they become fragrant.

Add lentils, carrots, water and coconut and cook for 20-30 minutes until the lentils become soft and almost melt into a thick liquid.

Serves 2

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Autumn vegetable ragout

The name of this dish is, as always, primarily descriptive, but also gives it that little bit of French flavor I get when I think of eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers, leeks, garlic.  The basis for this dish were the two eggplant that came in this week's vegetable box.  I started out thinking I would make a ratatouille, but neither the vegetable box nor the local grocery store provided the necessary zucchini or any fresh herbs, so I made a slight change of course and opted for a heartier stew with sweet potatoes and cannellini beans as the base.  Haricot or flageolet beans would be a bit more authentic, I suppose, but also a bit too petit for this dish.  

I finished it off with a little bit of sherry vinegar to give it some zip.  I love using vinegar to lift a dish.  Like a spritz of lemon or lime, it can transform a dish from ok to oh boy.  But proceed with caution: I nearly killed myself and certainly killed dinner by over-dosing on vinegar for a cabbage soup.  Go slowly and see how the flavors develop after a few minutes.  Additionally, a few small capers could also add some pizzazz.  

I did not have any fresh basil, but I had my mother's home-grown and hand-dried basil.  This is a great trick for using up extra basil: when your plant really goes to town and you just can't face any more pesto.  You simple wash and dry the leaves, then place them on in a single layer a paper town and microwave in 30 second bursts, checking after each one.  Herbs are dry when they can be crumbled easily in your fingers.  

1 leek, washed thoroughly, halved and cut into 2 inch segments, white and green parts
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 medium eggplant (approx. 2 C.), cut into 1 inch cubes
1 carrot, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 medium sweet potato, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 C. vegetable stock (or more if needed)
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. sherry vinegar
1 T. small capers (optional)

Saute leeks, carrots, and bell pepper in olive oil until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for another minute or two.  Add tomatoes and vegetable stock, then sweet potatoes and eggplant.  Stir in basil.  Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes or until sweet potatoes and eggplant are soft.  Stir in vinegar and capers if using, cook for another minute, then taste and adjust seasonings. 

Serves 2-3

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Granola bars

In the great British tradition, I often have elevenses to tide me over until lunch and tea in the afternoon to keep up my strength. To prevent a direct transfer of pounds from my wallet to my thighs, I try to resist running across the street for cakes, cookies, or chocolate. My answer is to keep an assortment of somewhat healthy snacks.

I love my granola and I love granola bars, but it was a question of how to get my cereal granola into bar form. I noodled around, so to speak, with this recipe for months until I hit on the right combination. As usual, it was much more simple than I had thought: take my basic granola recipe, and increase the honey and other binding agents. The addition of brown sugar and a little butter gives it a toffee like taste without too much guilt. A word of warning: wait until the baked bars cool in the pan before attempting to cut them apart. Otherwise, you'll see just how the granola bar crumbles.

2 C. whole rolled oats
1 1/2 C. nuts and seeds (I use 1/3 C. sunflower seeds, 1/3 C. pumpkin seeds 1/3 C. chopped walnuts, 1/4 C. slivered almonds, 1/4 C. linseeds)
1 C. dried fruit (I use chopped figs, chopped apricots, and cranberry halves. I have also used dried coconut to good effect)
1/4 C. brown sugar
1/2 C. honey
2 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt

Mix oats, nuts and seeds in a 9x9 pan and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, mixing every 5 minutes so it cooks evenly.

Meanwhile, melt brown sugar, honey and butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. When melted and combined, turn off heat and add vanilla and salt. Then stir oat mixture in thoroughly, then add dried fruit.

Rinse pan and butter it. Press oat mixture into pan, packing it tightly. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool completely in pan before cutting into 16 squares.

You can also make an extra few cups of the oat mixture from the granola recipe next time you make it, and stir it into the honey & sugar after baking. This is easy and good, but has a lower proportion of nuts and seeds.

Variations: for a lighter take, replace 1 cup of oats or nuts and seeds with puffed brown rice cereal.
Use dried apples and cranberries and add 1 tsp. of cinnamon to the oats.
Use dried pears and cherries and add 1 tsp. of ground ginger to the oats.
Dried mango and papaya, coconut, cashews and macadamia nuts?

Vegetable Frittata

One of the best things to do with leftovers is to make them into a frittata.  Whether you have some extra pasta, a cooked potato or two, a few mushrooms or cherry tomatoes that aren't quite enough for a salad, the frittata makes them into a complete meal.  The following recipe makes two servings, but with a small omelette pan and only two eggs you could easily make it a single.

3 eggs
1/4 C milk
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
1/2 C. sliced mushrooms
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 avocado, diced
1/2 C. cooked pasta
Goat's cheese
salt and pepper

Saute the mushrooms in a small, oven-proof omelette pan in a bit of olive oil until brown, remove from heat.

In a large bowl, mix eggs together, then stir in milk, and then add all ingredients except for cheese.  Pour enough olive oil to lightly coat the pan, heat over medium heat, and then add egg mixture.  Give it a turn or two to let the ingredients settle, then turn the heat down and cook it over low until mostly set.  Dot the top with the cheese and finish it under the broiler until the top is golden.

Serves 2.

Provencal sweet potato and chickpea stew

I love Autumn with its crisp weather, falling leaves, and vague frisson of back-to-school excitement even for those of us truly past school days (but once a dork, always a dork).  But what I love most about it is the seasonal foods.  It is true that nothing can beat a sun-fragranced tomato or a mid-summer corn cob, but in consolation for taking away daylight and warmth in the fall, nature kindly gives us butternut squash, kale, brussels sprouts (yes!  If you hate them, you just haven't had them cooked properly), apples, cauliflower, and -- my favorite -- sweet potatoes.  And this week, my vegetable box delivered them.

I had chickpeas in the cupboard so immediately thought of a Moroccan tagine with sweet potatoes, chickpeas, and the warm, heady spices of the region.  But then I found a poor fennel bulb hiding in the fridge and my tastebuds leaped north across the Mediterranean to the south of France.  I wouldn't dare call my dish a Bouillabaisse, but the base is similar.  Full disclosure: the lovely container is one I use frequently to carry my lunch.  Made by Rubbermaid, it doesn't pick up food stains and is fairly leakproof when sealed properly.

1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, finely sliced
1 large clove garlic, minced
4 C. chicken or vegetable stock
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped (about 1 C.)
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 can chickpeas
good pinch saffron
salt and pepper to taste.

Saute the onion, carrot, and fennel until soft.  Add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes, until softened.

Add stock, tomatoes, potatoes, chickpeas, and saffron, bring to the boil, and then simmer until potatoes are soft.  Season well.

Serves 2-3


Though this is Working Lunch, I also have a working breakfast almost every day. The sad fact is that if I ate breakfast at home, I would not only be hungry again by 10:00, necessitating two working lunches, but I leave early enough that I would also have to eat at an hour when I can barely walk straight, let alone chew. Therefore I usually have my breakfast when I get in to work, and it almost always centers around granola. I either have it as cereal or over yogurt, but it's packed full of dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and no added fat (just a little honey). I can't stand muesli, the raw version of granola, so I make mine very crunchy. If you like the same, you'll want to live on the edge and bake yours until it's deeply golden but not quite burned. If you want more or larger clumps of oats, add some more honey or try using set honey instead of runny honey.

4 C. whole rolled oats
2 C. nuts and seeds (My proportions are usually 1/3 C. each sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, linseeds; 1/3 C. each slivered almonds, chopped cashews, chopped walnuts. I have also used brazil nuts, whole almonds, and pecans to great effect.)
1/3 C. honey
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 C. dried fruit (I like 1/2 C. each chopped cranberries, chopped apricots, and golden raisins)

Mix oats, nuts and seeds, honey and cinnamon in a large baking tray. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, then turn the mixture over so the bottom layers cook evenly. Bake for another 15 minutes or so, checking and stirring every 5 minutes to make sure it is not burning. When the mixture is as browned as you like, remove from oven and stir in the dried fruit. Leave it to cool in the pan. The mixture will crisp up as it cools.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Mediterranean rice salad

I almost always have some sort of grain lurking in the fridge.  Whether it's leftover rice from dinner, extra couscous, buckwheat, or some pasta spirals that couldn't quite fit onto our plates, these can form the basis of a filling salad.  I love using the nuttier grains like brown rice, which absorbs the flavors around it as it sits in the fridge.  Brown rice also holds its texture well, and fills you up without causing an energy spike.  The post-lunch snooze is all too inevitable without inviting it on.

1/2 C. cooked brown rice
1 tomato, chopped
1 T. small capers, rinsed
1/4 C. Kalmata olives, halved 
1/2 C. cannellini beans
1/2 - 1 C. chopped fresh spinach
1 T. olive oil
1 Tsp. sherry vinegar, or to taste
salt and pepper

Mix oil and vinegar, then stir through remaining ingredients.

Serves 1.

Southeast Asian cole slaw

This slaw is great for using up cabbage or other crunchy vegetables.  The dressing is incredibly flavorful and the whole thing improves by refrigerating overnight.  This also slightly "cooks" the cabbage, making it less bitter.  The dressing makes enough for two servings, but is easy to scale up or down.  The amount of vegetables can vary by how much you would like to make.  I like to add the beans for some protein, and the purple adzuki beans look so pretty with the rest of the ingredients.

1 C. Shredded red cabbage
1 C. Shredded white or green cabbage
1/2 C. Julienneed carrots
1 C. Adzuki beans

1 garlic clove, minced
½ inch knob ginger, peeled and minced
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
2 T. smooth peanut butter
1 tsp. brown sugar
1 T. neutral tasting oil
2 T. soy sauce
1 T. rice wine vinegar (or more to taste)
1 Tsp. fish sauce (optional)

Combine dressing ingredients.  If too thick, add more soy sauce or vinegar (or even a splash of water) according to taste.  Mix with vegetables.  Let stand at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Serves 2

Grilled mushroom, broccoli and spelt salad

I can't take all the credit for this yummy salad. The original recipe, on which this is based, is from the side of a box of spelt from Trader Joe's, and was so good that my mother had to send the box to me in London. And yes, the original is mighty tasty, but I can't leave a recipe alone so this is my slightly simplified, but still amazing, version of the dish.

Note: the original calls for portobello mushrooms. One of the great marketing coups of our time, portobello mushrooms are nothing but giant -- and far more expensive -- versions of brown button or (crimini) mushroom. The portobello is the little mushroom's fully grown older brother who lives at home and siphons money off his parents. Ahem. If there is a culinary reason to use a portobello, like stuffing or grilling, or using it in a portobello "burger", then by all means buy them instead. If, however, the recipe calls for them to be cut up at all, then there is no reason not to use the smaller and less expensive button.

1 C. spelt
3 C. chicken or vegetable stock
5 T. olive oil
3 T. balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
2 fat spring onions (or 4 skinny), thinly sliced
1/4 C. dried cherries, chopped
1/2 C. toasted cashews, chopped
2 C. sliced brown mushrooms
2 C. broccoli, chopped into small florets
1/2 C. fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Place the spelt and stock in a saucepan and bring to a boil, then lower temperature and let simmer for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until spelt is soft but still chewy and liquid is absorbed. Stir towards the end to prevent the spelt from sticking or burning.

Meanwhile, mix oil, balsamic, garlic, spring onions, cherries, and cashews. Saute the mushrooms until they begin to turn golden and then add to the dressing. Cook the broccoli in the same pan just to soften a bit, if desired.

Add spelt to dressing and vegetables, add parsley, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 4

Monday, 13 October 2008

Buckwheat Greek Salad

I have become obsessed with buckwheat.  Is is a perfect grain -- nutty, toothsome, and cooking in under 10 minutes.  It is unrelated to wheat and therefore tolerated by those with wheat sensitivities.  With a low GI index, it is a great way to bulk out salads.  Plus, you can use it for stuffing pillows (uncooked, that is).  AND, an individual buckwheat is called a groat.  It doesn't get better!

Buckwheat Greek Salad
1/2 C. cooked buckwheat
1 large tomato, chopped
Equal amount of cucumber, chopped
1/3 C. cannellini beans
crumbled Feta, to taste
Fresh parsley
salt and pepper
1 T. olive oil
Squeeze of lemon, to taste

Whisk together olive oil and lemon, adjusting quantities to taste.  Combine all remaining ingredients, and stir dressing through.

Serves 1

Butternut squash and black eyed pea chili

Soup can be a tricky dish to take to work.  Primarily, the fear of a spill is generally enough to make anyone avoid carrying it.  Plus, liquids are heavy.  However, a delicious, warming, homemade bowl of soup in the middle of an otherwise dreary working day puts those fears to rest.  (That and a really good, leak-proof piece of tupperware.)  I like to cook soup for dinner and take the leftover portion to work the next day.  Sometimes it's the only good thing about going to work.

Autumn has come and with it butternut squash and seasonal greens.  I roasted some squash on the weekend, and the remaining half languished in the fridge for a few days.  In the mood for something warming and subtly spicy, I imagined a lighter take on chili, something that celebrated the individual tastes of the ingredients.  Some leeks, kale, and a can of black eyed peas completed my vision.  (And mighty tasty too.)

1 leek, sliced into thin rounds
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. red chili powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 can chopped tomatoes, including juice
3 cups vegetable stock
1 can black eyed peas (or 1 cup frozen)
1/2 large butternut squash, roasted and cut into 1 inch cubes
several handfuls of kale, chopped

In a soup pot, saute leeks until soft, then add garlic and cook for another minute.   Add spices and cook until warmed through and fragrant.

Add tomatoes and vegetable stock.  Add peas, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add squash and kale, cook until squash is heated through and the kale is soft.

Serves 2 for dinner, plus 1 for lunch.
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