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I thought about claiming that I gave up blogging for Lent, but that wouldn’t be true. My friend St. John Chrysostom says that it is more important to give up sins during Lent, such as lying, than to give up indifferent things, like eating and blogging. So I will just say that I slacked off on the blogging front, and the longer it went on the harder it was to correct. 

Since last we spoke, I

  • cooked lots of vegan and gluten-free food
  • didn’t run enough to talk about (pesky leg)
  • went to Utah for skiing and visited a great Orthodox church
  • celebrated Holy Week and Pascha
AND AND AND
  • wrote and submitted my first whole dissertation chapter! All 45 pages and 98 footnotes. 

It still needs polishing but my director says to go on to the next one for now. 

In honor of my blogging comeback, I leave you with my Pascha cake.

I haven’t made a proper layer cake in years, and I had to borrow pans from two people, but this was worth it. I’ve been thinking about carrot cake for a few months now and looking at lots of recipes, because I have very strong opinions on the subject. Carrrot cake ought to have a very high proportion of carrots, and also include pineapple, coconut, and walnuts. This recipe fits the bill, baked in 3 9” round pans. With cream cheese and dulce de leche frosting from here (a little different from the one with the cupcake recipe). 

Edited to add: I used 2 T of Ener-G egg replacer whisked with 7 T of warm water instead of the 3 eggs. I also used unsweetened coconut, since that’s what I had in the pantry, and thought it was still plenty sweet. I used the larger amount of sugar in the frosting, but if I were to do it again, I’d use less. Keep it refrigerated so the frosting doesn’t melt off, but let it sit out for a short while to soften up the cake before you eat it.

Since it was a special occasion, I splurged on Thomas Keller’s famous-in-the-GF-world all-purpose gluten-free flour mix, C4C. Sold by Williams-Sonoma at astonishing price, I think I can say it is worth the investment when you want to make something really spectacular. I was being such a careful baker that I even sifted it before measuring! (I also made hot cross biscuits with it for my Pascha basket.)

I took it to a big party, and 3/4 of it got eaten by other people, leaving just the right take-home amount for me. Yum.

What should I try with the rest of the precious bag of C4C?

I was trying to eat up the stuff in the freezer this month, and I had two packs of ground turkey lurking in the back. Ground turkey works fine as a beef substitute much of the time, but sometimes it’s nice to make something that’s really meant to take advantage of the more delicate flavor. 

You see above these sate burgers, with Southeast Asian flavors of peanut, cilantro, lime, and fish sauce. (Fish sauce smells awful by itself but adds great complexity of flavor. Don’t skip it!) The only change I made to the recipe was to use all ground turkey and no pork, because that’s what was in the freezer. I served it with sauteed spinach and coconut brown rice, lime wedges and a drizzle of sriracha. (The spiced coconut rice is only a little bit more work than plain rice, and it’s worth the effort. I serve it with stir-fry all the time.)

Next, but without a picture, is a turkey-quinoa meatloaf. Meatloaf was my most dismal cooking failure when I was the personal chef and housekeeper at a Catholic rectory (well, other than setting tortillas on fire and exploding hot soup in the blender). It fell completely apart and looked like a pile of… well, something really unappetizing. Father P. laughed and never let me forget it. “We’re having company tonight, Dana. Don’t make meatloaf.” My attitude was not improved by one cookbook’s blithe assurance that meatloaf was quite forgiving and foolproof. Whatever. I don’t like stupid meatloaf anyway.

Well, I rediscovered meatloaf in a major way last week. It’s from a Williams-Sonoma gluten-free cookbook, and its genius innovation is to use quinoa cereal flakes instead of breadcrumbs. I keep gluten-free bread crumbs in my freezer (the remains of stale or failed loaves), but the brilliance of the quinoa flakes is that their consistency is much more like panko: thin, light, and crisp. This meatloaf is beautifully flavored with orange zest and fennel seed, and wrapped in prosciutto.

Ground Turkey Roll with Quinoa
adapted from The Wheat-Free Cook by Jacqueline Mallorca

2 T ground flaxseed (or 1 egg)
2 tsp minced orange zest
1 medium zucchini, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup quinoa flakes
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
1 lb ground turkey (chicken, in the original)
4-5 large slices (about 3 oz.) prosciutto

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lay a sheet of foil on the workspace and oil lightly.

Put flaxseed in a large bowl with 3 T warm water; whisk and let stand 5 minutes until thick. (Or lightly beat an egg.) Add remaining ingredients (except prosciutto) and mix well but gently.

Lay 3 or 4 slices of prosciutto on the foil to form a 6x8 inch rectangle. Mound the turkey mixture into a roll, running the long way on the middle of the prosciutto rectangle. Wrap the prosciutto up around the sides. Lay the last piece on top and press gently. The instructions now say to turn the roll over, but I found that difficult. Either use the foil to help you, or don’t bother. Use the foil as a sling and lift the roll into a shallow roasting pan. 

Bake for 45 minutes or until cooked through. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing. 

Serve with marinara sauce and a green salad. Yum! Have leftovers for lunch! Meatloaf is redeemed.

Does anyone else want to confess their embarrassing food failures? (Or just tell me what you like to make with ground turkey.)

Chopped Mexican Salad with citrus-cumin-honey vinaigrette

This recipe is from Fine Cooking, but other than the vinaigrette, you don’t really need to measure once you know the basic idea. The original recipe serves 8 (I presume as a side!), but I use more of some things (beans and corn) and less of others (avocado and peppers) and the two of us eat it almost all up as a main course. I also use cucumber instead of the recipe’s jicama, which has been impossible to find lately. 

A short version of the recipe: roast your ears of corn and peppers for about 20 minutes at 425 degrees or so; then cut the kernels off the ears and dice the peppers. Cut the tomatoes, cucumbers, and avocado into an even 1/2” dice and arrange on the plate (or large serving platter) with the corn, peppers, and black beans. Drizzle with citrus vinaigrette and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

Citrus-cumin-honey vinaigrette

  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed with a big pinch of coarse salt
  • 3 T lime juice
  • 3 T orange juice
  • 2 tsp. finely chopped shallot
  • 1 T honey
  • 3/4 tsp whole cumin seeds, toasted in a dry skillet and ground
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper

This makes more dressing than you need, but it is exceedingly delicious.

To make a more substantial meal, bake some skillet cornbread while the corn and peppers are roasting. This recipe is de-glutenated and veganified by me from a combination of two different cornbread recipes in my trusty Joy of Cooking. It’s not a purist Southern cornbread, but it’s closer to that style than to a sweet, fluffy Northern cornbread. 

Crusty Skillet Cornbread (gluten-free and vegan)

  • 1 1/4 c cornmeal
  • 1/2 c millet flour
  • 1/4 c cornstarch
  • 1 T sugar (optional)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp xanthan gum
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • Ener-G egg replacer for 2 eggs (1 T whisked with 1/4 c warm water until frothy)
  • 2 T canola oil
  • 1 3/4 c soy or other non-dairy milk
  • 1 T lemon juice

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Put 1 T shortening or margarine (Earth Balance) in a 9 inch cast iron skillet. Put the skillet in the hot oven until the fat is melted and very hot.

Whisk dry ingredients together thoroughly. Combine wet ingredients and add all at once to dry, mixing well but quickly. The batter will be thin, rather like pancake batter. Pour into hot pan and bake for 20-23 minutes, until lightly browned and crusty. 

Non-systematic rating: High marks for the quantity of vegetables (especially in late summer when half of them might be growing in your backyard) and for being relatively inexpensive, healthful, beautiful and delicious. It’s also naturally gluten-free and vegan/fasting-adaptable (use canola oil for Orthodox fasting days and agave nectar instead of honey for real vegans).

Low marks for preparation: it’s a lot of roasting, chopping, mixing, and emulsifying unless you have a good sous-chef to help you. This sort of meal is often my downfall because it looks so simple and I tend to underestimate the time and effort involved.

Looking ahead: I broke down and planned a few more meals and made up a grocery list accordingly. I just don’t handle uncertainty well, I guess. When I feel inspired, the planning isn’t so difficult; maybe the primary problem is the absence of a fall-back plan when I don’t feel inspired. 

Dinner 1 gets us off to an auspicious start: Italian Sausage Soup. There was a recipe long ago, but now it is more of a template. I probably made the best (or at least the most memorable) version once when we got back from the West Coast at 1 a.m., starving, wide awake, and with no food in the fridge whatsoever. I rummaged the freezer and pantry, threw this together (the potato version, I think) and it was perfect.

You need:

  • 1 lb. spicy Italian sausage
  • 1 quart chicken or beef broth
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice
  • something white: cannellini beans, potatoes, rice, or even, if you are so lucky as to be able to eat them, cheese tortellini
  • something green: green beans, zucchini, spinach, or any combination thereof 

Brown the sausage. Add the remaining ingredients (leave the spinach until the very end if you are using fresh) and bring to a low boil. Simmer, covered, on low heat for 15-20 minutes or until your potatoes/rice/pasta are done.

Garnish with Parmesan or Pecorino.

This dinner gets high marks for flexibility, ease of preparation, and sometimes frugality. Tonight it was an inspiration arising from the presence of 3/4 carton of broth, 1/2 large can of tomatoes and 1/2 bag of frozen green beans lurking in the fridge. 

Looking ahead: Having contemplated my Costco loot, I already know what I’m going to make tomorrow night, and have tossed some black beans in a pot to soak. Here’s the current dilemma. I need one or two more ingredients. Should I plan out the rest of the week so I only have to make one grocery trip, should I stick with the current lack of plan and limit myself to using what I have now, or should I allow for the possibility of multiple grocery trips?

If you didn’t know eating could be so complicated, you probably haven’t lived with an indecisive but creative perfectionist. 

I’ve been experiencing particularly high levels of anxiety regarding menu planning lately, and it seems to be because the parameters I set myself for the process are multiplying like Tribbles. The meals must:

  • use up the food already in the fridge and garden (and less urgently, freezer and pantry)
  • depend mainly on the grocery sales of the week (and don’t even get me started on the horrors of couponing)
  • be gluten- and egg- free or easily made in two separate versions (this part pretty much eliminates take-out, at least in our neighborhood)
  • be fasting-appropriate on Wednesday and Friday and other periods according to the church calendar (this means no meat, fish, eggs, dairy, olive oil, or wine)
  • be mostly seasonal 

Then, when I achieve all that, in a great feat of coordination, I start agonizing and second-guessing myself over whether there are enough fresh vegetables every day, too many carbs on regular days, not enough carbs on days before long training runs, too much cheese (now that I’m eating dairy again it’s tempting to overdo it), enough variety, too much labor-intensiveness, enough leftovers for lunches, but not too many, ease of packing for school days, enough use of absurd garden surplus of Thai hot chillis, not enough environmental consciousness (organic/local/cruelty-free) but STILL over-budget…. You get the idea. Last week the process almost paralyzed me and Brooks had to intervene: “Make chicken curry.” 

This week I have lapsed into a temporarily more relaxed approach, prompted by a Costco run. I stocked up on meat, cheese, coffee, and useful vegetables like mushrooms, avocados, and spinach, and am figuring out what to make as we go. This is less stressful in the short term but runs the risk of waste or strange makeshift experiments. 

Anyway, here is my half-baked idea for a blog project. I’ll post about dinner every night for a month, good or bad, and the interaction of these factors, and you can give me feedback about the process. At this point, your feedback is probably something like: “It’s just dinner, silly perfectionist.” But how do the rest of you cope with the fact that, you know, we have to eat, pretty much every day, and there’s a lot of pressure out there about how we interact with food, and none of us have unlimited time and money? 

…quesadillas, you MUST mix shredded Parmesan and unsalted butter and spread it on the outside of the tortilla before you cook it in the frying pan. Preferably with tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella on the inside. Thank you, 5-year-old issue of Fine Cooking unearthed in the recent decluttering project.

(The ones with mushrooms, thyme, garlic, and Jack cheese were pretty amazing, too. And the three-cheese with garlic butter look almost too decadent to be real.)

It is optional to make your own gluten-free tortillas.

Have a green salad to offset the cheesy goodness and create the illusion of a healthful dinner.

Without any real planning on my part, I got quite a frugal thrill out of cooking dinner tonight. I was making the lovely asparagus bisque from Love Soup, with leeks, fennel, asparagus, lemon, dill, and a hint of coconut milk. The leek and fennel tops went into the veggie stock bag. The basic stock recipe in Love Soup uses those extra bits, as well as chard and kale stems, along with standard whole vegetables like carrots and onions, so I save the appropriate trimmings in a big ziploc bag in the freezer until needed.

If that weren’t resourceful enough, I started a compost bin today, so everything else went in the compost. (I imagine one isn’t really supposed to start the compost at the same time as the early-season planting, but maybe I’ll have some in time for the later stuff or for fertilizing the in-ground plants. I’m still a gardening novice.)

Finally, I was recruited at church this morning to make some of the red eggs for our Pascha service. I learned from a Romanian girl last year how to make them with onion skin dye and leaf or flower patterns, so I am also trying to remember to save the onion skins for the dye pot.

Not throwing things away makes me happy.

So now that I’ve promised you all the recipes for my Lenten menu cycle, I’ve starting cooking off-menu. This is mainly the result of getting my first produce box from Arganica (yay!) which contained vegetables not accounted for in the menu, and a trip to Costco in which I succumbed to the inexpensive asparagus and spinach. My cooking approach this week is thus “What can I concoct with all this?”

Last night I cooked quinoa in vegetable broth and sauteed onions, garlic, brussels sprouts, and asparagus in a cast-iron skillet. I threw in a few cannellini beans lurking in the fridge. I served the veggies over the quinoa, topped with diced tomato and the fabulous walnut-miso dressing from this recipe. So good! We gobbled it up and didn’t even take a picture!

I used to spend a lot of time planning meals during Lent — even more than during other times of the year. Mainly this was because my conversion to Orthodoxy coincided with my severely-gluten-intolerant diagnosis, and I was trying to figure out how to cook vegan and gluten-free at the same time. This was hard, even with my flexitarian/Pacific-Northwest-health-nut background. Now I’ve developed enough of a repertoire, however, that I can revisit the goal of Lenten simplicity by making one week’s menu to rotate throughout the season. Here is the Master List for this Lent:

Cumin Black Bean Pot with cabbage and green salsa

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms with yellow rice and sauteed greens or salad

Green Soup and bread

Vegetable stir-fry with tofu and coconut rice

Curried Lentil Soup and salad

Shrimp Fra Diavolo (In a strange exception to the absence of animal products, we can eat shellfish.)

This leaves one “free” day to eat leftovers or try something new, like these pancakes, suitably converted of course. Which reminds me: Why do Catholics eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday? It’s not like they can’t eat them during Lent, right? Inquiring minds want to know but don’t want to look it up just now.

These are all relatively quick meals, as my almost-everything-from-scratch-kitchen goes. I’ll post recipes and pictures during the next few weeks.

Dinner tonight: Salmon cakes, sauteed kale, and wasabi-garlic mashed potatoes.
(The boy just got a new camera and is going to be my food photographer.)
This is my new favorite way to eat salmon. The only modifications I had to make to the recipe were to use a flax seed “egg” instead of an egg white, and wheat-free tamari for regular soy sauce.
Last  time we ate these with coconut rice (basmati rice cooked with half  water and half coconut milk) and sauteed chard; this time we had mashed potatoes and kale. Delicious both times!
Fresh Salmon and Lime Cakes                                                           
Makes about 12 2-inch cakes
One 1-pound skinless salmon fillet, any pin bones removed, chopped into 1/4-inch dice
2 tsp. ground flax seed mixed with 2 T hot water (or one egg white)
3 tablespoons rice flour
2 kaffir lime leaves, chopped, or 6 thin strips lime zest, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon wasabi paste
3 tablespoons chopped chervil or flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from about 2 limes)
3 T gluten-free tamari
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Oil for frying (something neutral, like corn, canola, or vegetable
Combine the salmon, flax mixture or egg white, rice flour, lime leaves or zest, ginger, wasabi paste, and chopped parsley in a medium bowl.
Combine the lime juice, tamari, and brown sugar in a small bowl and mix well. 
Heat the oven to 300°F. Heat 1 T oil in a large skillet over medium heat. For each cake, shape 2 tablespoons of the salmon mixture into a small patty. Place in the hot pan, and cook until lightly golden on one side (1 minute or so); flip to cook very briefly on the second side and remove to a rimmed baking sheet in the oven to finish cooking, about 5 minutes. Serve with the lime juice dipping sauce.
Recipe from Donna Hay, via The Essential New York Times Cookbook, via Bon Appetit, modified by me.
Wasabi-Garlic Mashed Potatoes (vegan) 
2 lb (approx.) Yukon gold potatoes, washed and cut into chunks 
1/2 c coconut milk                                 
1 T wasabi powder                                
2 T Earth Balance margarine                
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Boil the potatoes until soft, about 20 min. Heat the milk and whisk in the wasabi powder until dissolved and lump-free. Melt the Earth Balance in a skillet and saute the garlic over medium-low heat until just fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Drain the potatoes and mash with the other ingredients until creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Dinner tonight: Salmon cakes, sauteed kale, and wasabi-garlic mashed potatoes.

(The boy just got a new camera and is going to be my food photographer.)

This is my new favorite way to eat salmon. The only modifications I had to make to the recipe were to use a flax seed “egg” instead of an egg white, and wheat-free tamari for regular soy sauce.

Last time we ate these with coconut rice (basmati rice cooked with half water and half coconut milk) and sauteed chard; this time we had mashed potatoes and kale. Delicious both times!

Fresh Salmon and Lime Cakes                                                           

Makes about 12 2-inch cakes

  • One 1-pound skinless salmon fillet, any pin bones removed, chopped into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 tsp. ground flax seed mixed with 2 T hot water (or one egg white)
  • 3 tablespoons rice flour
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves, chopped, or 6 thin strips lime zest, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon wasabi paste
  • 3 tablespoons chopped chervil or flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from about 2 limes)
  • 3 T gluten-free tamari
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • Oil for frying (something neutral, like corn, canola, or vegetable

Combine the salmon, flax mixture or egg white, rice flour, lime leaves or zest, ginger, wasabi paste, and chopped parsley in a medium bowl.

Combine the lime juice, tamari, and brown sugar in a small bowl and mix well.

Heat the oven to 300°F. Heat 1 T oil in a large skillet over medium heat. For each cake, shape 2 tablespoons of the salmon mixture into a small patty. Place in the hot pan, and cook until lightly golden on one side (1 minute or so); flip to cook very briefly on the second side and remove to a rimmed baking sheet in the oven to finish cooking, about 5 minutes. Serve with the lime juice dipping sauce.

Recipe from Donna Hay, via The Essential New York Times Cookbook, via Bon Appetit, modified by me.

Wasabi-Garlic Mashed Potatoes (vegan) 

  • 2 lb (approx.) Yukon gold potatoes, washed and cut into chunks 
  • 1/2 c coconut milk                                 
  • 1 T wasabi powder                                
  • 2 T Earth Balance margarine                
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped

Boil the potatoes until soft, about 20 min. Heat the milk and whisk in the wasabi powder until dissolved and lump-free. Melt the Earth Balance in a skillet and saute the garlic over medium-low heat until just fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Drain the potatoes and mash with the other ingredients until creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste.