March 2009

My grandmother, in her years of low-cholesterol dieting, used to make bran muffins with chopped plums and mini chocolate chips that were so good I could (and would) eat at least three in a sitting.  I’m pretty sure I consumed my RLA (Recommended Lifetime Allowance) of fiber between the ages of 8 and 14.  So if the combination of whole wheat flour and chocolate seems a little odd to you, believe me, it’s not.

My recipe is not the fiber bomb that Grandma’s was, but I think she would approve.  Not overly sweet and just wholesome enough, this banana bread is dynamite with a cup of strong, black coffee.

Banana bread with dark chocolate

Yield:  Makes one 9×5″ loaf, three 6×3″ loaves, or 12 muffins

1 1/3 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

2/3 c. whole wheat flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

1 1/2 c. mashed, very ripe banana (3-4, depending on size)

1/2 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. safflower or canola oil

1/2 c. chopped dark chocolate

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Lightly oil baking pan.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together flours, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.  In a separate bowl, whisk together banana, sugar, and oil.  Using a rubber spatula, fold banana mixture into dry ingredients until just combined.  Fold in chocolate.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in center of oven, about 55 minutes for a large loaf, 35 minutes for small loaves, or 20 minutes for muffins, or until tops are nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into center of loaf comes out clean.  Let cool briefly in pan, then remove to a wire rack.  Cool completely before slicing (if willpower permits).

Slice and freeze what you won’t eat in a couple of days.  I heat frozen slices right in the toaster — slightly crunchy and a little melty, it’s even better than fresh.

Variations: Omit the chocolate (but only if you MUST), or instead use up to 3/4 c. chocolate chips (Enjoy Life chips are the food allergy-friendly gold standard), chopped nuts, dried fruit, or any combination of the above.

Substitute 1 1/2 c. pureed winter squash (or use a 15 oz. can of pumpkin) for the banana and replace the cinnamon with 1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice.  Or try 1 1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce and use chopped pecans instead of chocolate.


Barbecue sauce has several obvious uses — ribs and chicken immediately come to mind — but if you think of it only as something to slather on meat that’s headed for the grill, you’re really missing out.

As a marinade, sweet, tangy barbecue sauce is as good on a rich salmon fillet as a delicate slice of tofu.  Its bold, smoky flavor pairs well with meaty vegetables, like eggplant and mushrooms, and with beans and legumes.  It loves corn in all forms (think cornbread, polenta, fresh kernels in salads, or grilled on the cob), onions, and stone fruits (especially peaches).  When combined with vegetables or beans and cheese (especially smoked gouda, provolone, and cheddar), barbecue sauce makes a novel topping for pizza or filling for a burrito.

You can serve this simple eggplant and lentil dish over rice, polenta, or couscous, with a green salad, green beans, broccoli, or a simple cabbage slaw on the side.  Or wrap it in a burrito with brown rice and shredded provolone or gouda.  Or layer it in a casserole dish with cooked rice or polenta, top with shredded cheese, and bake at 375 until cheese melts and lentils are bubbling.  I double the recipe and freeze half (those burritos make an awesome lunch).

Barbecue lentils and eggplant

Adapted from The Whole Foods Market Cookbook

Yield:  Makes about 6 cups, serving at least 4

1 c. dried lentils, rinsed and picked over

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 tbsp. olive oil

1 eggplant, peeled and diced into 3/4″ cubes (about 3 c.)

1 small red onion, quartered and thinly sliced

1 c. finely chopped, canned plum tomatoes (or use fresh if they’re in season)

3 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 c. barbecue sauce (whatever kind you like)

1 tbsp. soy sauce (I use tamari)

1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp. honey

2 scallions, thinly sliced

1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley

Put lentils in a medium saucepan and cover by 2-inches with cold water.  Add a generous pinch of salt and bring to a boil over high heat.  Skim any froth from surface, lower heat, and simmer lentils until just tender, about 20-30 minutes (cooking time depends on the kind of lentil you’re using).  Drain, reserving cooking liquid.

Warm a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add eggplant.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, adding a few tablespoons of water as needed to prevent eggplant from sticking.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Stir in onion, tomatoes, and garlic, and cook 5 minutes more.  Add barbecue sauce, soy sauce, lemon juice, honey, and drained lentils.  Simmer 10 minutes, adding lentil cooking water as necessary if sauce gets too thick.  Stir in scallions and parsley, and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.  Serve immediately, or let cool and refrigerate up to 5 days or freeze up to 3 months.

Make it vegan: Substitute the sweetener of your choice for the honey or — if your barbecue sauce is on the sweet side — just leave it out.

Barbecue sauce is serious business in some parts of the country.  Texans like it thin and hot, while in Kansas City they prefer theirs thick and sweet.  Mustard and vinegar are key to South Carolina’s more piquant version.  And North Carolina boasts no fewer than three regional variations, with militant barbecue enthusiasts drawing battle lines over the inclusion (or exclusion) of ketchup in the recipe.

To my knowledge, Massachusetts takes no official stance on barbecue, so I feel free to vary my recipe according to my mood and the contents of my pantry.  The kids, of course, like a sweet and tangy, ketchup-based sauce with a modest amount of heat, so that’s what I made this weekend to celebrate the last of the snow melting off the grill and the weather being warm enough to cook outdoors.

The ketchup you use will make or break this recipe, so choose wisely.  Trader Joe’s ketchup, which is organic, corn syrup-free, tangy, and fruity, is my favorite.  I use a combination of smoked Spanish paprika and ancho chili powder for a lightly smoky flavor and gentle heat, but feel free to substitute regular paprika and whatever chili powder you like best.

Want some ideas for what to do with barbecue sauce?  See here.

Barbecue sauce

Yield:  Makes about 1 1/2 c.

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 large Spanish onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 c. ketchup

1/4 c. cider vinegar

1/4 c. water

1/4 c. brown sugar

1 tbsp. paprika (preferably the smoky, Spanish variety)

2 tsp. chili powder (I use ancho), or to taste

Warm a saucepan over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and just starting to brown, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic and cook another minute or two.  Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 minutes.  Using a rubber spatula, transfer sauce to a food processor or blender and process until smooth.  Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, the sauce will keep at least a week.

According to the Oxford Companion to Food, the term “confit” comes from the French verb confire, meaning “preserve.”  It’s traditionally used to describe the process of cooking meat (typically duck or other poultry) slowly in its own fat, then storing the cooked meat in the fat as a means of extending its shelf life and enhancing its flavor.

Today you see recipes for confit of all manner of vegetables and fruits:  tomato, cabbage, rhubarb, lemon, apple, even pineapple.  Many of these are really confiture, a noun meaning “preserve” or “jam,” and are as likely to be cooked with sugar as with fat.  They keep well and make versatile condiments, turning otherwise simple dishes into something special.

Whatever you call it, these onions are improbably rich and sweet and as suited to a standing rib roast as a steak sandwich.  I like the flavor of beer in this recipe, but you could substitute 1 c. chicken or vegetable stock plus 2 tbsp. balsamic or white wine vinegar.  Slicing the onions lengthwise helps them keep their shape — if you want a softer, more jam-like consistency, cut crosswise.

Onion confit

Yield:  Makes about 2 cups

2 tbsp. olive oil

4 Spanish onions, halved, peeled, and sliced lengthwise (about 12 cups)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 tsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme leaves

1 c. beer (I use a brown ale, like Newcastle) or chicken stock

Warm a deep, 12-inch skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onions.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions have softened and reduced in volume and are just barely starting to brown, about 15 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, lower heat to medium-low, and cook another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are very soft.  Stir in thyme and beer, raise heat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until liquid is evaporated and onions are golden brown, about an hour.  Onion confit will keep for at least a week in the fridge, and should be served warm or at room temperature.

Five things to do with onion confit

  • Dress up your sandwiches.  Try it with roast beef, grilled cheese, arugula and goat cheese, fried or roasted eggplant and tomato, or mashed white beans and roasted garlic.
  • Serve alongside roast chicken, pork, or salmon.  Or mix with minced olives and breadcrumbs and top or stuff the chicken, pork, or salmon.
  • Stir into hot, cooked grains (barley would be nice) or spoon over soft polenta or mashed potatoes.
  • Make hors d’oeuvres:  Rub toasted baguette slices with garlic (or spread with roasted garlic).  Top with onions.  Add anything else you like.
  • Spread it on a pizza instead of tomato sauce.  Top with fontina cheese, cooked sausage, or both.  Or try olives and anchovies.  Or fresh mozzarella and basil.

Spring came, briefly, to Boston this weekend.  The snow melted off the sunniest corner of the yard and up popped a dozen tiny, yellow crocuses.  A neighbor gave us half a packet of carrot seeds after starting hers in little cups on her window sill.   The kids spent two hours at the park and came home with warm cheeks and hair that smelled like sunshine.  I went to the farm store, without my jacket, and returned with an armload of green things.

A savory pie dense with hearty greens and onions is a fitting dish for ushering out winter.  You can use any greens you like (I chose turnips this weekend) and substitute spring onions for leeks, when you can find them.  A traditional, flaky pastry will work here, but I think a lighter, leaner, whole wheat crust balances the rich filling nicely.

Greens and gruyere tart

Yield:  1 10-inch tart or pie, serving 4-6

For crust:

1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour

1 c. whole wheat flour

3/4 tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking powder

3 tbsp. olive oil

3/4 c. water

For filling:

2 1/2 lbs. (2-3 bunches) greens, such as swiss chard, turnip or beet greens, or kale, stemmed, washed, and drained

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tbsp. olive oil

3 large leeks or 2 lbs. spring onions, white and light green parts only, washed and chopped

1/2 c. milk

2 oz. gruyere cheese, grated

1 oz. parmesan cheese, grated

3 eggs

Make crust:

In a large mixing bowl,  combine flours, salt, and baking powder.  Make a well in the center and pour in oil and water.  Stir with a wooden spoon until dough comes together into a shaggy ball.

Turn dough out on a lightly floured counter and knead until just smooth, about a minute.  Divide into two balls, flatten each ball into a circle, wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate 15 minutes.  (This recipe makes two 10-inch crusts — you can freeze the half you’re not using at this point.)

Roll out dough into a 12-inch circle on a lightly floured surface.  Fit dough into a tart or pie pan.  Trim off or fold in excess to form a neat shell.  (You can refrigerate or freeze the formed dough in its pan, if you like.)

Blind bake the crust:  Cut a square of parchment a little bigger than your pan and press it gently on top of the crust.  Weigh down the crust (a pound of dried beans or raw rice works well for this) and bake in a preheated, 375 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Remove weights and paper and set crust aside.

Make filling:

Cook the greens in a large pot of boiling, salted water until tender.  This will take anywhere from 4 minutes (for more tender greens, like chard) to 20 minutes (for tougher greens, like turnip or collards).  To check for doneness, pull out a piece, let it cool a bit, and taste it — if it’s hard to chew, it’s not ready.  When done, drain greens and transfer to a large bowl of cold water.  When cool, squeeze greens tightly in small handfuls to wring out as much water as possible, then coarsely chop and set aside.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Warm a saucepan over medium heat, drizzle in oil, then add leeks.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes.  Remove from heat, add greens to pan, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Beat together eggs and milk.  Fold in greens and leeks, then cheeses.  Pour filling into pre-baked crust and bake 30-40 minutes, or until firm and beginning to brown on top.  Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, or freeze for up to a month.

Notes: Leeks can be very sandy, so clean them thoroughly.  I find the easiest way to do this is to trim off the dark greens and most of the roots, split the leek in half lengthwise to within 1/4-inch of the tip of the bulb, then run the leek, holding it root-end up and gently teasing apart the layers, under cool water until all the grit is washed off.  Then shake the leek dry and cut it crosswise into short, thin ribbons.

If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, then the cafeteria in Hell is surely serving the week-old contents of my fridge’s vegetable drawer.  I meant to roast that cauliflower, really I did.  Buying a 5 lb. bag of carrots seemed like a good idea at the time.  The kids liked green beans last week, I swear.  What was I soaking those beans for?

My “that’s not compost, I’m saving it for stock” mother calls this recipe Garbage Soup.  I prefer to think of it as Frugal Soup, or maybe Last Chance Soup, or even Why Did I Buy That?! Soup.  Call it whatever you want.  Put into it whatever you have.  And pat yourself on the back for granting your otherwise-doomed veggies a little eleventh-hour salvation.

Vegetable soup with chickpeas

Inspired by Food Matters by Mark Bittman and by the contents of the fridge on any given Saturday afternoon

Yield:  About 3 1/2 quarts, serving 8-10

3 tbsp. olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 carrot, peeled and diced

1 stalk celery, diced

2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

A few tbsp. tomato paste

2 quarts vegetable stock, chicken stock, bean-cooking liquid, water, or any combination of the above

A few chopped, canned tomatoes and their juice

About 6 cups quick-cooking vegetables (cauliflower, summer squash, green beans, cooked beans, dark leafy greens)

Handful chopped fresh parsley

Warm a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onions, carrot, and celery.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes.  Stir in garlic and tomato paste and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes more.

Pour in stock or other liquid and add remaining vegetables.  Raise heat, bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.  Season with additional salt and pepper as needed, stir in parsley, and serve.

Notes: If you want to use root vegetables, winter squash, or potatoes, add them to the pot with the stock and let them cook for about 10 minutes before adding the quick-cooking vegetables.

If you want to add sliced or diced mushrooms, saute them with the onions, carrots, and celery.

If you want to add frozen vegetables like peas or corn, stir them in at the end, with the parsley.

You  can use any herbs you want — mint, basil, or chives would be nice.  Sturdy or woody herbs like sage, thyme, or rosemary should be added with the garlic and tomato paste (and use no more than 1 tbsp.)

You can puree some or all of the soup before serving, if you like, and garnish with grated parmesan cheese, toasted breadcrumbs, or croutons.  Or serve with thick, toasted slices of homemade bread.

Our kids love chicken.  I mean they really, really love it.  When I pull a roast chicken out of the oven they come running, like dogs after a meat truck, clamoring at my legs and begging for scraps.  So like any resourceful parent would, I exploit their good dispositions and use their beloved bird as a vehicle for expanding their culinary horizons.

Chicken is a willing accomplice.  Roasted with lemons and rosemary one day, glazed with soy and ginger the next, it accommodates pretty much any fruit, vegetable, herb, or spice you can think of.  This Spanish-influenced recipe, with its fairly sophisticated combination of olives and orange, was a hit in our house.  To make it truly authentic, you can substitute sherry for the white wine, if you have it.

Chicken with oranges and olives

Adapted from Epicurious

Yield:  Serves 8.

Two 3-lb. fryer chickens, cut into quarters

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/3 c. all-purpose flour (optional)

2 tbsp. canola oil

4 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

1 1/2 c. dry white wine

1 1/2 c. chicken stock

1 navel orange, cut lengthwise into 10 wedges

1/2 c. pitted green olives, such as picholine

2 tbsp. honey

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Heat a dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Season chicken with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour (if using), tapping off excess.  Drizzle oil into pan, then add half of chicken, skin-side down.  Cook until chicken is nicely browned, about 5 minutes per side.  Remove chicken to a plate and repeat with remaining chicken.

Pour off all but 2 tbsp. fat from the pot, then add shallots and cook until softened, about 2 minutes.  Add garlic and cook, stirring, another minute or so.  Pour in wine, increase heat, and bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pot with a spoon.   Let wine reduce by half, then pour in stock and return to a boil.  Return chicken to pot (put the legs and thighs on the bottom, breasts on top), skin side up, and tuck in orange wedges and olives.  Cover the pot, put it in the oven, and bake for 25 minutes or until chicken is done.

Remove chicken to a serving plate.  Bring sauce to a boil over high heat, stir in honey, and let reduce at a rolling boil until slightly thickened, about 6-8 minutes.  Pour sauce over chicken (or return chicken to pot) and serve.  We liked it over Israeli couscous with roasted, diced butternut squash.

Note: The olives impart a slightly briny taste to the sauce — if you’d rather, you can stir them into the reduced sauce just before serving.

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