Gluten Free: Sweet Potato Linguine with Browned Butter Sage Sauce

Gluten Free Sweet Potato No gluten-sensitivity needed to indulge in this delicious dish! Next time that I make it, I’m adding shrimp or maybe meatballs.

Be careful when using a mandolin. They are sharp and quick to damage as my bandaged thumb can attest.

I found this recipe on the Progressive Pioneer blog and as I’m want to do, I modified it.

Ingredients
1-2 large sweet potato, pick ones that are straight and plump
1/4 cup water or stock
3 Tablespoon butters
5-10 Fresh sage leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • Wash and scrub the potato. Slice it lengthwise as thinly as possible using a mandolin or a sharp knife.
  • Cut the slices into even strips about 1/4 of an inch wide. You are going for strips that look like fettuccine.
  • In a large frying pan, add water or stock and the sweet potatoes strips. Heat over medium until the water/stock has reduced by half. Do not stir too much. This will cause the “noodles” to break (which isn’t a deal breaker but they look nicer when long). Transfer to a large bowl.
  • In the same pan, melt the butter then add the sage. When sage gets crispy, remove and set aside. Watch carefully, you want crisp sage but not burnt sage.
  • Add noodles to butter and heat through while stirring (but again, not too much).
  • Crumble the sage over the pasta (save a few for garnish). Salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 2.

Maple Berry Syrup—The perfect topping for buckwheat pancakes

Ingredients

1 cup berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries)
1 cup water
1/2 cup maple syrup

Method

  • In a small pot, add berries and 1 cup of the water. Crush the berries with a potato masher and bring to a gentle boil. Cook until about half of the liquid evaporates.
  • Add the maple syrup and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Strain if you want, but I just pour it all over the pancakes.

Buckwheat Pancakes (gluten free)

It’s maple syrup season and, while thinking if it sends my mind in many directions (maple glazed pork chops, maple bread pudding, maple candy), it always comes back to pancakes.

Usually my husband makes the pancakes in our house. He makes delicious, fluffy ones that really soak up the syrup. This week, I stepped onto his turf to make buckwheat pancakes. Buckwheat pancakes are not fluffy, but they’re flavorful and hearty. While I do love a big pile of buttermilk pancakes, I always want to take a nap after I eat them. Somehow, buckwheat pancakes don’t have the same effect on me.

I’ve started to think of buckwheat as a bit of a wonder plant. I was tempted to write “wonder grain,” but buckwheat isn’t a grain and the only thing it has in common with wheat is its name. Buckwheat is actually classified as s fruit rather than a grain.

According to the Ag Marketing Resource Center (http://www.agmrc.org), buckwheat is one of the best sources for bio-available protein in the plant kingdom. It contains all eight essential amino acids, vitamin E and almost all of the vitamin B complex.

The Ag Marketing Resource Center goes on to list health claims, including it may lower blood glucose levels, help to lower high blood pressure and lower high cholesterol.

They also cite a study about buckwheat honey which states, “Honey collected from bees feeding off of buckwheat contained levels of antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, 20 times higher than that of other honey tested.”

The website World’s Healthiest Foods notes that, “Buckwheat contains almost 86 milligrams of magnesium in a one-cup serving. Magnesium relaxes blood vessels, improving blood flow and nutrient delivery while lowering blood pressure — the perfect combination for a healthy cardiovascular system.”

See what I mean about it being a wonder food?

Buckwheat pancake mixes are pretty easy to find. They are, however, usually mixed with wheat flour. This isn’t a problem unless you want to avoid wheat or want to try a pure, unadulterated buckwheat pancake.

Buckwheat flour isn’t as easy to come by. I usually have to travel to Kingston or Albany to find it. If you aren’t up for the drive, ask your local grocer if he/she can pick some up for you. The Birkett Mills, in the Finger Lake Region, is one of the country’s largest buckwheat producers. You can buy many buckwheat products from them online at http://thebirkettmills.com/.

The Birkett Mills has a page about growing buckwheat. I’m going to find some buckwheat seeds and toss them in our backyard. They say it’s easy to grow, flourishes in poor soil and needs only a 10-week growing season. We’ll see if it can tolerate shade. If so, I’m going to be harvesting buckwheat come August.

Buckwheat Pancakes
This all-buckwheat flour recipe makes delicious, earthy, nutty pancakes.  Adapted from the blog, Wrightfood

Ingredients
1 cup of buckwheat flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
1 cup of milk
1 tablespoon of butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 egg, separated

Oil or butter for the skillet

Method

  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, powder, salt and cinnamon.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together the egg yolk, maple syrup, vanilla extract, melted butter and milk.
  • Pour the liquid mix into the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
  • Beat the egg white until it forms soft peaks (an electric hand mixer makes quick work of this). Gently fold the egg white in to the pancake mix. Don’t over mix.
  • Cook on a lightly buttered or oiled griddle or electric skillet at 375 degrees F. Working in batches, pour 1/4 cup of batter per pancake onto the griddle. Cook until the pancakes form bubbles and the edges look cooked. Flip the pancakes and cook for 1 or 2 more minutes.
  • Transfer to a serving platter and keep warm. Repeat with remaining mix.

Makes about 10 five-inch pancakes

The importance of splurging: part two and how to make a cake with your bare hands

This is the second time my husband has requested a strawberry cake. I think it is the long winter that gives him a craving for a summer taste. For his cake, I followed a recipe in a book that my brother and sister-in-law gave me called the Mystery Chef’s Own Cook Book, ©1934.

The author, John MacPherson, had one very good reason for wanting to remain a mystery — his mother. Apparently, she was “horrified” that her son had taken up the hobby of cooking. In fact, she recommended that he “keep it under his hat.” I guess cooking didn’t seem like the thing a man should be doing in the ’30s.

I like two things about this recipe. One, the ingredients were few and simple. Two, he recommends that all the stirring be done with your hands. Not by hand, as in with a wooden spoon, but with your hands. Whether this was a lack of an electric mixer, which were pricey in the 1930s, or his predilection for making a big mess, I couldn’t tell you, but I was intrigued by the idea. I’m no stranger to pushing my sleeves up past my elbows and digging in, so I gave it a try,

Squishing the butter and sugar together was kind of fun. When I added the eggs and milk, it got very sloppy. If you ever decide to go this route, I recommend a few things. First measure all of your ingredients and have them in containers that you can easily pick up with slimy hands. Or have an assistant to dump all the ingredients as you need them. Better yet, find a kid and have them do all of the mixing while you add the ingredients. I think that would be a win-win solution.

I now know that if I find myself with a hot oven, flour, butter, baking soda, eggs, milk, sugar and a bowl, but nary a spoon in site, I can still confidently make a cake. Step aside, I would tell my hapless cohorts; I’ve done this before.

Strawberry Cake

Modified from the Mystery Chef’s Master Butter Cake recipe. If you are too much of a wimp to mix this with your hands, then by all means get the electric mixer out.

Ingredients
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs yolks
1 1/2 cups of sifted flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup of milk
1/2 cup of sliced strawberries (fresh or frozen)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 egg whites
1/2 cup strawberry jam

Method

  • Heat oven to 375.
  • Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans
  • Measure all ingredients and have them ready to use.
  • Sift all dry ingredients together and set aside.
  • Beat the egg yolks until they are thick and lemon in color.
  • Place the butter and sugar into a large bowl and squeeze the butter with your hands until it is well mixed with the sugar.
  • Add the egg yolks and continue to mix with your hands.
  • Slowly add the flour mix and continue to mix with your hands.
  • Add milk, strawberries and extract and mix some more. It will be a bit runny and you’ll start to question the whole mixing with your hands technique.
  • If you don’t have an assistant, you will have to stop and wash your hands at this point to whip the egg whites. They can’t be whipped before hand. Whip them until they form soft peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter. I found this the hardest part and probably over mixed, which resulted in a cake that didn’t rise as much as I would have liked.
  • Divide the batter into the two prepared cake pans. Place pans on the middle rack and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  • Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely before frosting.
  • Spread strawberry jam on one cake layer. Place the other layer on top and frost with strawberry cream-cheese frosting.

Strawberry Cream-Cheese Frosting

I tried mixing this with my hands, but quickly gave up and grabbed my immersion blender.

Ingredients

1 cup chopped strawberries (fresh or frozen)
3 tablespoons butter, softened
8 ounces of cream cheese
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons almond extract

Method
Using a hand mixer or immersion blender, blend all ingredients until smooth. If your frosting is runny, either chill until it sets a little or slowly pour it over the cake and allow it to drip down the sides (that is what I did).

The importance of splurging: part one

In my last entry, I wrote about the evils of sugar, but this week I’m turning a blind eye and splurging! My husband’s birthday and mine are eight days apart. They are close enough that, if we celebrated in the middle of the week, we could share a cake. But then where is the fun in that? We each wanted our own, which meant two cakes in eight days.

I love baking cakes. While my husband has made many delicious cakes for me, this year I wanted to bake my own. I find it very indulgent and an excellent way to celebrate yourself, something everyone should do.

My cake needed to fit the following criteria — no white flour, no white refined sugar and no canola oil (or other polyunsaturated vegetable oils).

My husband’s pleas, I mean, requests, were white flour, white sugar and strawberries.

For my cake, I did a healthy take on a recipe my mom always uses for chocolate cake. You can find it right on the box of Hershey’s cocoa mix and it is easy and delicious, though my version uses honey, olive oil and white-wheat flour.

A healthy version of Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Cake

Ingredients
1 3/4 cups white-wheat flour (or half white-wheat and half white)
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups of honey
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
3/4 cup boiling water

Method

  • Heat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.
  • Stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl.
  • Add honey, eggs, milk, yogurt, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed for about two minutes. Stir in the boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.
  • Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  • Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely before frosting.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients
6 tablespoons butter, softened
8 ounces of cream cheese
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons almond extract

Method
Using an electric hand mixer or immersion blender, blend all ingredients until smooth.

The trick to frosting a cake is to first apply a thin layer of frosting. This is called a crumb coat. Don’t worry if it isn’t pretty and bits of the cake (the crumbs) show. After applying the crumb coat, chill the cake for 15 minutes or so. The second coat should go on much smoother and you’ll have a beautifully frosted cake.

Part of Monday Mania.

So, what’s wrong with sugar anyway?

The American Heart Association’s main push for decreasing the amount of added sugar a person eats is that adding such empty calories may lead to weight gain and weight gain can lead to heart disease.1

If that was all there was to it, I might not change my habits. I have a terrible sweet tooth. If my weight goes up, I cut calories across the board and don’t just zero in on sugars. But, as I’ve found out, there are other reasons to limit sugar.

Here are two good ones:

Excess sugar consumption may lead to insulin resistance.2, 3

When you eat sugar, your blood sugar levels rise. Then, your pancreas releases insulin to help move sugar from your blood into your cells. As blood sugar levels go down, your insulin levels return to normal. Over time, it takes more and more insulin to get the job done. It is thought that, eventually, your pancreas sort of wears out and may be less effective at lowering blood sugars. Excess sugar builds up in the bloodstream and you’ve got a stage set for type 2 diabetes.4

Excess sugar consumption promotes inflammation in the body.5, 6

Apparently, inflammation is the real killer and is thought to be linked to a host of ailments, including heart attacks, strokes and dementia.

One thing to look at is the amount of “added sugar” in your diet. Added sugars are just that, sugar (whether it is refined or unrefined) added to a product.

According to the American Heart Association, women should limit their intake of added sugar to about six teaspoons (or 24 grams) a day. For men, it’s about nine teaspoons (or 36 grams). One 12-ounce can of soda can have eight to 12 teaspoons of added sugar. Ouch.

Naturally occurring sugars are found in fruits and vegetables (fructose) and milk (lactose). Naturally occurring sugars aren’t empty calories. With them, you are getting vitamins, minerals and/or fiber, a.k.a., the good stuff you need in your diet. If you are keeping track of your carb intake, be sure to add any naturally occurring sugars in your count, but you don’t need to fret too much over them when watching out for added sugar.

Spotting added sugar requires a bit of label reading. Food manufacturers aren’t required to separate naturally occurring sugars from added sugars. The ingredients to look for in prepared products are sugar, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, maple syrup, honey, concentrated fruit juice and anything that end with “ose,” such as maltose, dextrose or sucrose. As my nephew Brennen once told me, if it ends with “ose,” it’s gross.

For now, I’m going to pick on refined, white sugar. Some say it’s the devil incarnate. I’m not quite ready to go that far, but I don’t think it is doing your body any favors, even in moderation. When you eat white, refined sugar, not only are you spiking the level of sugar in your blood, you aren’t giving any nutrients to your body.

The reason to switch to less-refined sugars is they offer a bit of nutrients along with their sweet kick. Raw honey has enzymes; molasses and maple sugar have trace minerals. Plus, I just think it is a good idea to choose foods that are closest to how they are found in nature. I don’t like my food mucked around with.

Switching to less-refined sugar isn’t a license to eat more. It’s still sugar and will spike your blood levels and add calories.

When you do indulge in a sweet treat, eat one that has a little fat in it, like whole-milk ice cream or a dark chocolate bar with nuts. According to Sally Fallon, author of “Nourishing Traditions,” adding fats to sweets “slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream while providing fat-soluble nutrients …”

Yes, that means whole-milk ice cream with nuts is back on the menu! Especially if you can find it sweetened with natural sugars or make it yourself.

Here are some of my favorite natural sugar recipes:
Pear Walnut Cream Cheese Wontons
Pasteli- Sesame Honey Candy
Almond Date Balls
Peanut Butter Cups
Maple Syrup Bread Pudding
Maple Pralines
Maple Turtles
Almond Joy Knock Offs

Food for Thought:
“Sugar in any form or refined carbohydrates (white food) drives the good cholesterol down, cause triglycerides to go up, creates small damaging cholesterol particles, and causes metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes. That is the true cause of most heart attacks, NOT LDL cholesterol.” Mark Hyman MD; Why Cholesterol May Not Be the Cause Of Heart Disease

end notes
1 http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3068932
2 http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/292/8/978.extract
3 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17709452?dopt=Abstract
4 http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/type-2-diabetes/DS00585/DSECTION=causes
5 http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/What-you-eat-can-fuel-or-cool-inflammation-a-key-driver-of-heart-disease-diabetes-and-other-chronic-conditions.shtml
6 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17402291?dopt=Abstract

Participating in Monday Mania.

Mardi Gras Food Round Up

In honor of the season, I’ve gathered all of my Louisiana recipes.

Take a peek:

Shrimp Stew: Cajun men know how to cook.

Cajun fighting words: “May, I bet you don’t even know how to make a roux.”

BBQ Shrimp Po Boys: Shrimp in a Spicy Butter Sauce.

Muffaletta

King Cake or Galette Des Rois

Maple Pralines (no refined white sugar)

These are my husband’s recipes.
Gumbo
Shrimp and Sausage Jambalaya

Participated in The Healthy Home Economist Monday Mania

Homemade Chili Powder

If you want a fresh, custom chili powder, make you own! This is adapted from Alton Brown’s recipe. For medium heat, use ancho peppers. For more spice, use arbol or cayenne. Use a combination for a more complex flavor. Wear gloves when handling hot peppers.

Ingredients
5-6 Dried chilies, stemmed, seeded and sliced, use any combo
2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon smoked paprika

Method

  • Place the chilies and the cumin into a medium sauté pan. Cook on medium-high for about 3-4 minutes. You want the chilies and cumin to get slightly toasted, this releases more flavor. Set aside and cool.
  • Place all ingredients in a blender or spice grinder. Process until a fine powder is formed. Wait for the powder to settle before you remove the lid. Chili powder isn’t anything you want to breathe in. Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

This post is part of Monday Mania. and Pennywise Platter

Secret Ingredient Black Bean Chili

When the weather is cold and snowy, I find comfort in a big pot of bubbling chili and hot-out-of-the-oven cornbread with lots of butter. It almost makes the latest snowstorm tolerable … almost.

There are endless variations of and opinions on what goes or does not go into a good bowl of chili. Some think that there is no place for beans in chili. In fact, I’m pretty sure it is illegal to add beans to chili in the state of Texas. Others insist on using red kidney beans and nothing else will do. What I like about all the variations is the assortment of “secret” ingredients. Any chili chef worth his/her salt has a secret ingredient or two in their pot.

In the January/February issue of Cook’s Illustrated, the test kitchen looked into many chili secret weapons, including red wine, peanut butter, cola, prunes, coffee, cornmeal, beer, molasses, cocoa powder, anchovies and mushrooms. They gave the boot to all but beer, molasses, cocoa powder and cornmeal. While I was tempted to try them all (yes, all the winners and losers in the same pot), I refrained and only used a few.

I usually make chili with ground beef. My husband recently made a delicious pot with sirloin steak (coffee is his secret ingredient). Since I had lots of beans in my cupboard, I decided to go the veggie route. I always use dried beans. They do take time, but don’t require much effort.

I use dried beans for several reasons.

-They are more flavorful than canned beans.
-I have fewer cans to recycle.
-They are cheaper. Canned beans are pretty cheap, but organic beans can be around $2 a can. The dried, organic equivalent is about 60 cents.

A big reason I go for dried beans is that I try to avoid cans in general. Most cans are lined with Bisphenol A (BPA). The FDA assures us that it is safe, but I’ve read enough studies to think this endocrine disrupter isn’t anything I want touching my food.

Luckily, if you are in a hurry, there are a couple of options for beans. Eden Foods beans are packed in Bisphenol A (BPA) free cans. Amy’s Kitchen is going to start rolling out BPA free cans this year.

Unfortunately, canned tomatoes are the worst offenders because their acidic nature causes more of the BPA to leach into the food. I have yet to find canned tomatoes free of BPA. Don’t be fooled by thinking that organic canned tomatoes are BPA free, most, if not all are not (I’ve called and asked). Supposedly Muir Glen (owned by General Mills) has BPA free cans of tomatoes on the shelves, but they are being a bit cagey about it. If you buy a can today, it may or may not be BPA lined and there is no way to tell by the date canned. I’m assuming when all of their cans are BPA free, they will send the all-clear signal. Until then, I use home-canned tomatoes in glass, store-bought tomatoes in glass or those packed in aseptic packaging (the waxy-looking box).

My favorite part of chili is all the fixings. Sour cream or plain yogurt, cheddar cheese and raw chopped onions are a must for me. I also like to throw in avocado and cilantro if I have them hanging around.

And, of course, probably the best garnish for chili is a cold mug of beer!

Stay warm!


Black Bean Chili

This is a vegetarian recipe but, if you fancy, by all means, add some meat!

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons molasses
1 large box (26 ounces) chopped tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups vegetable stock
4 cups cooked black beans
2 cups fresh or frozen corn
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon black pepper (more to taste)

For garnish:
Cilantro, chopped
Cheddar cheese, grated
Sour cream or plain yogurt
Onions, chopped
Avocado, chopped

Method:

  • In a large pot, add olive oil and onions, sauté over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes. Add peppers and garlic and sauté another minute.
  • Add spices, cocoa powder, tomatoes, vinegar and stock; bring to a boil. Add black beans and corn.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle a hefty serving into each bowl and top with garnishes.

How to cook dried beans:

  • Decide on the amount you want to cook. One cup of dried beans equals 2.5 cooked. While you are cooking beans, you might as well make extra. You can freeze the leftovers and grab them when you want a quick meal.
  • Sort through the beans, rinse and pick out any little pebbles. Most of the time I don’t find any, but that time or two that I do, my teeth are happy I took the extra step.
  • There is a big culinary debate about whether to soak or not to soak beans. Apparently it is a toss up on whether you save time and reduce the bean’s gas-producing properties. I always soak unless I forget, then I just cook them.
  • To soak, place beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with cold water. If any beans float to the top, remove them (they are too old). Soak for at least six hours, but preferably overnight. I keep them out on the counter.
  • Drain the beans and discard the liquid.
  • Place the beans in a heavy-bottomed pot and cover them with water. Add enough so that there are a couple inches of water above the beans. Bring to a boil, cover and turn the heat to low. Add more water if the water level dips below the beans. Stir occasionally. Cook until bite-tender. This will take one to two hours, depending on the beans.
  • Drain and use now or freeze.

Slow-Cooking variation: Place beans in slow cooker, cover with water and soak overnight. Drain; add fresh water to cover with two additional inches. Cover and cook on low for eight hours.

This post is part of  The Nourishing Gourmet’s Pennywise Platter Thursday and Fight Back Fridays and The Healthy Home Economist Monday Mania.

Spicy Chai

My Aunt sent me a chai recipe. She makes hers with a chai masala spice and black tea. If you can find the chai masala spice, mix it with black tea and your work is done. If not, follow this recipe.

I always buy spices in bulk. They are a fraction of the cost and you can get just the quantity you need. Cardamom is a good example. A 1.75 ounce jar runs about $12. In bulk, the same amount is a little over $3.

While it is tempting to use ground spices for this, don’t. The chai will get sort of slimy and will be hard to strain (yes, this I know from experience).

Ingredients
1/2 of a star anise star and/or 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon of cinnamon bark (or 2 short sticks)
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2-3 cardamom pods opened to the seeds or 1 tablespoon ground cardamom
3 cups water
2 heaping tablespoons loose black tea
3 cups whole milk
Sugar or honey

Method

  • In a 2-qt saucepan, add spices to 3 cups of water.
  • Boil for a few minutes then remove from heat and let steep for 5 to 20 minutes. The longer it steeps, the stronger it will be. I steep it for the full 20 minutes.
  • Add 3 cups of whole milk to the water and spices. Bring just to a boil and remove from heat.
  • Add the loose tea and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain and sweeten with honey or sugar.

Makes four 12oz cups.

What I will do for a good ginger scone and hot cup of chai

chaiI will brave Washington, DC traffic in rush hour to get a ginger scone and hot cup of chai from Teaism, one of my favorite DC cafes. I also love their cilantro scrambled eggs with naan and never leave without getting one of their salty oat cookies. But their chai and scones are worth the agony of sitting on the beltway.

Chai is an Indian spiced tea. It’s become quite popular and you can find it in many coffee shops and markets. While I’m not a picky eater in general, I am a picky about my chai and there are few places that meet my high standards. I don’t like it overly sweet and I don’t like it with a cloying vanilla flavor. I don’t want it to taste like a ginger snap. I like it complex, slightly sweet but with a nice bite. Teasim makes the perfectly balanced chai. Since I live six hours away, it was necessary for me to learn how to make my own perfect cup.

If you must be lazy, you may order both chai and ginger scone mix from Teaism’s website.

Ginger scones

These are a snap to make. I altered this recipe from the blog, Orangette. I used honey and white whole-wheat flour and was very happy with the results. If you want to be decadent, use white flour and sugar.

Crystallized ginger can be found in better food markets. If you can’t find it, ask your grocer to pick it up for you or make your own.

These are best served warm with a pat of butter.

Ingredients
2 cups white whole-wheat flour (or whole-wheat pastry flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter. Using your fingers, blend the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. You may also use a pastry knife or a fork. The goal is to incorporate the butter into little pea-sized or smaller pieces. This will give you a flakey scone.
  • While gently stirring the mixture, drizzle the honey over it. Add the ginger and stir to mix.
  • In a small bowl, beat the egg and milk together. Save a tablespoon for the glaze and pour the rest into the flour mixture, stir gently to just combine. Using your hands, press and knead the dough into a rough ball. It will be a little dry. If it isn’t holding together, add a little water.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured board, and knead it. Do not overwork the dough, a half dozen kneads should do it. Pat it into a round disc about 1 inch thick. Cut into 8 wedges.
  • Place the wedges on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush them with the reserved milk/egg mixture.
  • Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden. Cool briefly on a rack, and serve.

Makes eight medium-size scones

Up next, spicy chia…

Chicken and Spinach Burritos

It’s perfect weather for roasting a chicken and one of the best things about cooking a whole bird is the leftovers.

I look at cooked chicken as fast food. I can knock out a meal in a few minutes with minimal effort. Throw it in pasta with some vegetables; add some cauliflower, curry and cooked rice for a quick Indian meal and of course you can always make soup, especially if you made stock from your roasted bird. And as with most leftovers, you can throw it into a burrito.

Chicken and Spinach Burritos
This is a good dish to make when you don’t feel like cooking. It’s quick and healthy. You can add whatever you have on hand. Add a can of black beans if you want to stretch your dollar a bit more.

Ingredients

2-3 cups of cooked chicken
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, chopped
3 generous handfuls fresh baby spinach
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon chopped jalapeno (optional)
3 ounces of cream cheese
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoon salsa
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
4 Whole-grain flour tortilla
Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • Heat olive oil in large skillet.
  • Wrap tortillas in foil and place in a 350° oven to heat for 10 minutes.
  • Add onions, garlic, jalapeno and chicken to skillet. Cook over medium heat for a few minutes.
  • Mix in chili powder, salsa, yogurt and cream cheese. Cook until cheese has melted and sauce has thickened.
  • Add spinach. Cook on low just until spinach starts to wilt.
  • Remove from heat, add cilantro.
  • Spoon about 1/2 cup of the chicken mixture onto each tortilla; roll tightly and place seam-side down.
  • Top with salsa and plain yogurt or sour cream. Serve with a salad.

Serves 4

The Best Collard Greens, Ever

I am certain that my husband makes the best collard greens in the state of New York, if not the world. He was sweet enough to share his recipe. Keep in mind that the word recipe is used lightly here. Collard greens are one of those things that most Southern cooks don’t use a recipe to make. You get the basic concept and improvise. I’ve never seen him use a measuring spoon when making greens.

Ingredients:
1 large bunch of collard greens (Well washed. My Aunt Georgia once washed a particularly dirty bunch in her washing machine.)
6 slices of thick-slab peppered bacon
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 to 3 teaspoons salt
Cayenne pepper and hot sauce to taste


Method:

  • Fry bacon in a large soup pot, remove and set aside, leaving bacon fat in the pot.
  • Add onions and garlic and sauté over medium heat until onions are tender.
  • Chop collard greens and cook until wilted.
  • Add vinegar, sugar and salt.
  • Add chicken stock and bacon, cover and simmer for at least 1 hour. My husband, like a true Southerner, cooks it for at least three, since the flavor deepens with time. Stir greens occasionally, adding water if needed (you don’t want the greens to stick to the bottom of the pot). Season to taste.

Hoppin’ John

I love the name of this dish. There are many differing accounts of where the name came from. My favorite is that a man named John came “a-hoppin” when his wife took the dish from the stove.

Ingredients:

1 cup dried black-eyed peas
4 cups water or chicken broth
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 hog jowl sliced (or a few strips of bacon or a ham hock)
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup long- grain white rice
Salt and black pepper to taste

Method:

  • Wash and sort the peas, making sure to remove any small pebbles.
  • Place in large bowl, cover with water and soak overnight. (If you want to skip this step, you will need to increase the cooking time.)
  • Place onions and garlic in small sauté pan and cook until onions are tender.
  • Place peas in the large soup pot, add water or broth. Bring to a gentle boil .
  • Add onions, garlic, red pepper and hog jowl.
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until peas are tender, about an hour (two if you didn’t soak them).
  • Add the rice, cover, and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and season with salt, pepper and hot sauce.

Serves four to six.

Now Bring Us Some Figgy Pudding!

The other day as I was procrastinating, I mean doing research for this column, I came across a quiz that tested one’s knowledge of food in holiday songs. Here are a few questions that I remember (see answers below):

1. What did Grandma drink too much of before she got run over by a reindeer?

2. In “Let it Snow,” what is the food item and how are they going to prepare it?

3. In “The Christmas Song,” what’s roasting on an open fire? What other food item is mentioned?

4. The quiz left out some of my favorite food references from the “Grinch.” Name three food items.

And, of course, we have the following:

We wish you a Merry Christmas; We wish you a Merry Christmas …

Now, bring us some figgy pudding! Now, bring us some figgy pudding! Now, bring us some figgy pudding and bring some out here!

We won’t go until we get some!

We won’t go until we get some!

We won’t go until we get some, so bring it right here!

So people come to your door, wish you a merry Christmas, then demand figgy pudding and don’t plan to leave until you bring it. That’s flat out holiday extortion. You know they are serious because they repeat it three times. The gall!

I’ve never been exactly sure what figgy pudding is, but have always loved the lengths that people purportedly go just to get some. I pictured people clad in winter gear, holding a cup of pudding and trying to maneuver their spoons while wearing mittens. Turns out figgy pudding is more of a cake, so may easily be eaten by bundled up, caroling extortionists.

Figgy pudding is a nice break from all the cloyingly sweet treats that I certainly eat quite a bit of this time of year. It’s a moist, spiced, bread-like cake. The flavor deepens as it ages; so make it a couple of days before you plan to eat it. For an extra treat, top each slice with a dollop of whipped cream.

Ingredients
2 cups dried figs (about 1 pound), stems removed, chopped fine
1/4 cup bourbon
1/4 cup water
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup molasses
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup milk
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Method

  • Chop dried figs and place in medium-sized bowl. Pour bourbon and warm water over fruit and let sit, preferably overnight, but an hour will do.
  • Grease and flour a bunt pan or loaf pan. This cake has a tendency to stick, so grease it well. You can also line the pan with parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg; set aside.
  • Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs and molasses and beat again. Mix in the dried fruit (with liquid if any), lemon peel, milk and walnuts.
  • Mix in dried ingredients.
  • Bake at 325º F for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Makes 12 to 14 servings.

    Answers to the above quiz:

    1. Eggnog.

    2. Corn for popping.

    3. Chestnuts; turkey.

    4. Bad banana with a greasy black peal; garlic; dead tomato splot with moldy purple spots; three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce.