Saturday, October 30, 2010

"let it all hang out"

the food: Baked Quinoa Falafel & Cilantro Yogurt Sauce
the song: "Get on the Good Foot" James Brown

Lo and behold, October is almost over and every recipe I've posted has been about sugar. It's what happens when cooler weather settles in. I warned you. But all this sugar is making me feel a little icky. Or at least that's what I'm going to tell myself so I don't bake today.


Let's talk about vegetables.

And quinoa.

Are you still with me? Good. Because this recipe is exciting and delicious. It is also healthy. So after you finish stuffing your face this Halloween weekend, don't waste time counting calories in Octoberfests and Krackle bars. Just enjoy yourself. And Monday, dust yourself off, wipe the chocolate from your lip, and put this on your menu to start your November on the good foot. You have 3 1/2 weeks until Thanksgiving. Treat yourself well during that time.

Can you spot the lemon seed? Don't worry, I did!

Quinoa falafel is a guaranteed to help you regain your composure, no matter how many candy corn you've eaten. The garbanzo beans compliment the nutty flavor of the grain which ups the nutritional value of the whole thing. I adapted the original recipe (from the stunningly beautiful Sprouted Kitchen) so that the falafel is baked. If it is cold where you are it provides a great excuse to heat up the oven and fill your kitchen with good smells. As an added bonus, I'm also including a recipe for yogurt sauce to accompany the falafel.

Let me warn you, the texture of this is a little different. It isn't the fluffy, fried goodness you get at Kebabalicious. These are a patty, almost like a little quinoa vegetable cookie. If you made it a little bigger, I think it would make a great veggie burger. I like the taste of them, but don't go in expecting any falafel you've had before. They taste healthy. But don't let that dissuade you, because healthy done well actually tastes good.

In our house, falafel night is pretty exciting for several reasons. One, obviously, is the falafel itself. Two, double obviously, is the yogurt sauce. Three, we add hummus, greens (usually raw or lightly sauted spinach), chopped tomatoes, warmed pita, and Sriracha on the side. Such a pretty plate, really. 

So what are your plans this weekend? The husband and I are headed to New Braunfels tonight to eat junk food at Wurstfest (no apologies- Halloween weekend is for food). Tomorrow, I'm going to dress up like a zombie. And next week when I've washed the makeup off and real life has kicked back in, I'll probably make this falafel.

Baked Quinoa Falalel
adapted from Sprouted Kitchen

1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup chopped carrot
1/2 cup sliced onion
3 tbsp. chopped cilantro
15 oz. garbanzo beans (1 can)
2 eggs
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. cumin
2-4 cloves garlic

Cook quinoa according to package directions (2 parts water or vegetable broth, 1 part quinoa). Set aside to cool.

In a blender or food processor, pulse carrots and cilantro. Add onion, garbanzo beans, lemon juice, eggs, garlic clove and cumin. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper. Pulse until roughly combined, add quinoa, and pulse a few more times. Allow to set in fridge for an hour or overnight.

When you are ready, scoop the mixture out with a large spoon. Form into small balls and slightly flatten. Place onto an oiled baking pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes on each side, until outside is browned and crispy.

Cilantro Yogurt Sauce
adapted from Epicurious 

1 container plain Greek style yogurt
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
squeeze lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
dash cayenne to taste   

Combine all ingredients. Taste for seasoning, adding salt if necessary. Allow to chill, covered, for at least 30 minutes. 

P.S. Let me take a moment to wish my beautiful Mama a happy Halloween birthday. Mom, I love you and hope your day is filled with delicious cake and happy times!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"show me what you can do!"

the song: "ABC" Jackson 5

What did you want to be when you grew up? The first thing I can remember wanting to be was a dentist. How bizarre is that?  Not a princess, not a rock star, not a nurse or teacher. Nope, little Emily was going to be a dentist.

Clearly that didn't work out so well. But I'm happy to report that for most of my life I've had a job I like. Excuse me for sounding like a broken record, because I know I've told the first part of this story before. Back in June, I decided to take a major leap of faith and leave my job to pursue something involving food. 

5 months later, I am actually cooking for my job. More specifically, I am teaching children's cooking classes (part time, for now) to small groups ranging in age from 2 1/2 years to 5th grade. The company I'm working for is run by two moms who started cooking at their kiddo's daycare classes a few years ago and recognized the learning opportunity that is there. I am incredibly fortunate to have met these women and to have the chance to combine two things I'm passionate about into one job.

 image courtesy of Reluctant Gourmet

So why is cooking with kids so awesome? Oh let me count the ways. (I will try my best to not get too child development-y on you, but no promises. Most of the links below go straight to a child development article, so if that's not your thing, no need to click.)

Readin', Writin', 'Rithmatic. I know, boring, right? But, like the Jackson 5 tell us, they are the branches of the learning tree. And man, can you learn a lot from recipes. I taught my first ever fractions lesson to a second grader last week asking me how to measure 2/3 cup. My 3 year olds are learning the difference between a little and a lot. And my fifth graders are completing the recipes on their own. Fact: the promise of cookies motivates more than worksheets and a gold star.  

Getting messy. Sensory is a huge huge part of a child's development. Thankfully the folks I'm working for have a hands on approach to children learning to cook. There are very few things I demonstrate for my classes (obvious exceptions include dangerous things like cutting with real knives, working next to the stove top or oven, etc. We talk about grown up jobs at the start of every class.) But it is their job to crack eggs and tear up herbs and roll out dough and cut vegetables with plastic knives. We wash our hands a lot.

Bravery. Time for some truthiness. I was a fearful child. I was a picky eater. I was scared of loud noises. I didn't make friends very easily. I shed my shyness...slowly and awkwardly...through a combination of fabulous parents, church camp, high school theatre, outgoing and loyal friends, blogging, and dance parties. Oh yeah...and cooking. Cooking is a fabulous confidence builder, because everyone loves to be fed. If you're able to fill people's bellies, you will never be lonely. I meet shy kiddos in my classes all the time, and cooking often helps them open up. They always show a sense of accomplishment when tasting something they made, even if they don't necessarily care for the end result. When we take the first bite, I always remind my class "You made this! You should be proud of yourself!" Which leads me to... 

Choices. We don't all like the same things. And that's ok. No scratch that. It is awesome we don't all like the same thing. I encourage children to try whatever we made (easier with apple muffins than okra fritters). 8 times out of 10, they try it. Afterall, they just spent an hour putting the recipe together. Usually, some like it and some don't, so we talk about differences and how it's ok to like different things. This is also a natural time to encourage good manners. After the first bite, I explain that sometimes we like recipes we make and sometimes they are just so-so. Then I ask each child if they would make it again. My suggestion is to say "I don't care for this" rather than "Yuck." Believe it or not, it usually works...even with the 3 year olds.

Making mistakes. Children of all ages (and dare I say adults, too) are told all the time to behave themselves. Follow the rules. Don't make a mess. Stay in the lines. When I was a preschool teacher, I was totally guilty of this. And people, that is A LOT of pressure. But the truth is that messes and mistakes and overzealous seasoning and incorrect measurements happen. They happen all the time, in and out of the kitchen. If you end up with crumbly tart crust or salty muffins you learn something from that. And you know what? Mistakes can sometimes lead to better food. No one should follow a recipe all the time.

I'm a happy lady with my new job. I love getting hugs and being told "You're the best cook ever!" It makes my day.* Most importantly, I'm once again in a position where I'm learning as much as I'm teaching. What a good feeling.


*Note: I'm talking about the kids, but really this is a nice thing to hear from anyone. Hug your cook today and tell her/him they are the best thing ever! You'll probably get an extra large piece of dessert out of it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"with a little water and a little bit of sunlight and a little bit of tender mercy"

the song: "Absolute Lithops Effect" The Mountain Goats

This has been a busy week for me. Along with my new job (which I still haven't told you about...this week, I promise!), I also picked up some hours substituting at my old school. After taking a break from children for the past 4 months, I'm having a really good time hanging out with them again. On Friday, one of the three year olds told me "I love you because of your shiny face." I'm taking that as a compliment.

Because I've been so busy I've been a little neglectful of my garden. The husband has been helping me out by watering my little plants who are still fragile when the weather gets up into the 80s. He's been telling me all week "Wow, it's really looking good out there." I took that to mean that he was just seeing the work from a month ago when I put in our fall vegetables. But today I finally got out into the yard. And yeah, it's looking pretty amazing.

Leftover pepper plants from the summer are producing beautifully, even better than they did during the hottest months. I'm counting at least 6 bell peppers on one plant. Same goes for the eggplant. I need to think of some good dishes to use up the last remnants of the summer. Maybe some vegetable fajitas or ratatouille. Also, I might try to pickle some of the hotter peppers. I've never tried it before, but homegrown hot peppers are something we really miss once the weather turns cooler.

Another summer reminder. My basil stayed small this year, but it is still so pretty. Summer isn't my favorite time in the garden, but it does produce some lovely things. The little tinge of purple really gets me.

Now let's get to the fall plants. Out of the 30 or so plants that I put in last month, I only lost 2 (one collard, one beet). That's not too bad, considering I pushed it and put them in when it was still pretty warm. My greens are thriving- we had our first harvest last week for some Asian greens to go into a stir fry. There is homegrown greens. Broccoli rabe will be the next harvest. In one month, it has gone from this:

To this:

Pretty, right?  I'm planning on using this in soups, sauteing it with garlic, and throwing it into some pasta with a little tempeh. I'm so lucky that the husband is ok with bitter, alternative greens. I don't know what I would do if I lived with an eater who only liked baby spinach.

Something is nibbling on my brussels sprouts and cauliflower. This one- a cheddar cauliflower that produces orange florets- has just been sampled, but there are a few brussles plants that are pretty chewed up. It always surprises me how picky the little buggers are. Why brussels sprouts but not collards? Why cauliflower but not broccoli? One goal for today is to track down some diatomaceous earth.

Anyway, things are looking good around here. And I'm truly inspired by my little plants. I can't wait for the first fall harvest. Come on cooler weather and bowls of greens! We're ready for you.


Friday, October 15, 2010

"i could go anywhere with you and i'd probably be happy"

the song: "First Day of My Life" Bright Eyes

Five years ago today, I married my sweet and wonderful husband. You might know him as "the husband." But today, he's mine. I'll claim him.

I could go on here about the joys of being married to my best friend. About how over the last 5 years our relationship has evolved into something strong and real. I could tell you how much I love him and how after all this time he's still my favorite. About what a hard working and supportive man he is and how I count my lucky stars day after day.

But what strikes me most about today- 1,825 days since we said "I do"- is how much fun we have in this life we've built together. I am thankful to go through my days with a partner who constantly challenges me and is by far the best travel companion/recipe tester/life coach/drinking buddy/human being this girl could ever ask for. 

Life is good. And I am very grateful.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

"my mouth is full"

the food: Apple Pecan Cake
the song: "My Heart Is An Apple" Arcade Fire

Blogging means never having to say you're sorry. So I'll skip the "it's been so long. I've neglected to write because life has been busy." Nevertheless...

I've missed you guys. Sure, it's only been two weeks. Sure, those two weeks flew by and were filled with non-food awesomeness. I just haven't had much to say. In the past 2 weeks I've cooked one dinner for me and the husband. One. And Thursday, after I finished making this cake, I had a bowl of Cheerios for dinner. But I'm not going to apologize. Because even though my food habits have been embarrassing and childlike, this cake makes up for a lot. 

For people that grew up with it, apple cake inspires strong feelings. My dear grandmother (I've told you about her before) makes the best apple cake ever. It goes down in history as my favorite dessert of all time. I have incredibly vivid memories of the cake from my childhood. I've never been a big chocolate fan, so growing up I always requested apple cake on my birthday. Sadly, this apple cake is not my grandmother's recipe. I haven't gotten that one yet. She likes to hold onto a few baking tips so no one can do it quite like her. The number one secret of a good cook: Never reveal all your secrets.

When fall comes around, apple cake starts dancing around my brain, tempting me to scrap the meal and have cake for dinner. I made this late Thursday night for my in-laws visit over the weekend. But by Friday morning, I had already cut off a small moderately sized sliver to test. I wanted to make sure it was worth serving. At least that's my excuse.  

I'm happy to report that yes, this cake holds up to my dessert standards. It is incredibly moist and has just the right amount of spice. The apples and pecans provide a nice texture and leave me full with flavors of fall and home. This cake is a dangerous thing to have around my house. Like all my favorite sweets, it straddles the fence between dessert and breakfast. The rum glaze is optional, but it does help push it into the dessert category. It's also a pretty great afternoon snack. And a good midnight snack. On a related note, the rest of this cake will be going with the husband to his office tomorrow. You're welcome, waist.

Apple Pecan Cake
adapted from NPR's Kitchen Window

3 cups flour
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups apples
1 cup pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, sugars, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda).

In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (eggs, oil, vanilla). Stir into the dry ingredients. Fold in apples and pecans. The batter will be thick. Add up to 1/4 cup water if necessary.

Spread the batter into an ungreased 9x11x2 baking dish. Bake 40-50 minutes, watching closely at the 40 mark, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool.

Rum Glaze (optional)

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the brown sugar and rum. Cook the mixture until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is heated but don't let it boil. Poke holes into the cooling cake with a skewer then pour the warm glaze over the cake.