Kale Saag

Velvety Kale Saag

I love saag and palak dishes, especially since they are so nutritious. They are so tasty, and I love the texture and spices. Palak is made with spinach, whereas saag is made with dark winter greens in general, like kale, collards or mustard greens, which are all very rich in fiber, iron, potassium, calcium, and vitamins A and C. You can mix pretty much any kind of protein into the greens, like homemade cheese (like paneer), chicken, lamb, fish, chickpeas, lentils, tofu or nuts (like cashews). Alternatively, you can use the saag as a kind of sauce and pour it over hearty vegetables, like carrots, broccoli or cauliflower; grains , such as rice, barley or buckwheat; or grain-like seeds, like quinoa, millet or amaranth.

Winter Greens

Kale Saag
Adapted from Ambika’s Saag Paneer.
This recipe is vegan.

Yields 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients
6 – 7 C Kale with stems, trimmed
1 Medium – Large Sweet Yellow Onion, peeled, skinned
3 T Minced Garlic
1″ Ginger Root, peeled
1/4 tsp Ground Turmeric
Pinch Sea Salt
1 1/2 C Filtered Water
4 T Almond Meal
1 1/2 T Dried Fenugreek Leaves
1 tsp Smoked Spanish Hot Paprika
1 1/2 tsp Garam Masala
1 T Sambar Curry Powder
1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg
1/4 C Carrot Greens with stems, trimmed
1/4 C Cilantro Leaves with stems, trimmed*
1 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 tsp Cumin Seeds
1 T Coriander Seeds
1 1/2 tsp Fenugreek Seeds
1/2 T Grains of Paradise
16 – 24 oz Choice Protein, prepared

Kale

Directions
Chop the kale, onion and ginger in a Vitamix (high speed blender) or food processor. Set aside.

Soak the almond meal, fenugreek leaves, paprika, garam masala, curry powder, nutmeg in 1 cup of water for 15 to 20 minutes. Blend them in the Vitamix with the carrot tops and cilantro.

Toast the seeds over medium heat for 30 seconds in a dry pan, stirring constantly. At this point, I recommend grinding the seeds until fine in a spice grinder.

Saute the garlic over low heat for about a minute. Add the onions, kale, ginger, ground seeds, turmeric and salt and saute for 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Mix in half a cup of water. Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Add the spiced almonds, greens and herbs. Cover and stir occasionally for next 10 to 15 minutes. Stir and adjust the consistency by adding more water if necessary.

If you want a more velvety texture, puree half of the saag in the Vitamix until smooth and stir it back into the chunkier spiced greens. At this point, mix in your desired source of protein. Serve and enjoy.

Creamy Kale Saag

Optional Ingredients and Directions
You can chop a medium to large seeded heirloom yellow or orange tomato (about 1 cup) to cook with the other vegetables and fresh herbs.

To make the dish more creamy, mix 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk, almond cream or cultured coconut or almond milk (like the “yogurts” by Almond Dream, Amande or So Delicious) with the cilantro, fenugreek, almonds and spices.

*if you are using dried cilantro leaves, measure 3 tablespoons, soak them with the spiced almond-fenugreek mixture.

Kale Saag and Eggs

Gingerbread-Infused Butter

I was thinking about the marshmillets from the other day, and I realized that I need to offer an alternative to holiday marshmallows made by Kraft. If possible, I recommend making the marshmillets more from scratch. I used the the flavored marshmallows out of convenience, but you can use other regular or vegan marshmallows. Even better, you can make your own marshmallows, like these, and I even found David Soleil’s ebook of vegan marshmallows.  If you are using plain marshmallows, substitute the Earth Balance spread with gingerbread spice-infused Earth Balance instead.

The only problem with using the recipe below is that it is missing molasses, but you can add between 1 to 2 cups of molasses (depending on your preference) when melting the marshmallows. In addition to adding molasses, if you want to use this as a butter spread on toast or the like, try adding some agave or honey for a little more sweetness.

Gingerbread-Spiced Butter
I have used Nicole Harris’ gingerbread spice mix and Leanne Vogel’s Gingerbread Cookies as guides to create my spice mixes, and I used André Baranowski‘s Ethiopian Spiced Butter as an inspiration for the infusion method.

Ingredients
2 Sticks or 1 C Earth Balance Spread or Salted Butter
2 tsp Ground Cloves
2 tsp Ground Nutmeg
2 T + 2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/4 C + 2 T Ground Ginger

Directions
Combine the spices in a bowl. In a large saucepan, melt the spread over low heat. Pour in the spices. Stir with frequently with a wooden spoon for 30 minutes to fully infuse the flavors. Transfer the mixture into a small glass bowl or storage container. Cool until solid.

Note
If you are using real butter, you can use this opportunity to clarify it of impurities by removing the foam that forms at the surface during spice infusion. Foam no longer forms, strain the melted butter through a fine mesh colander or cheesecloth into a bowl to remove the milk solids.

Gingerbread-Spiced Marshmillet Treats

I was craving rice crispy treats for a while, as well as warm spice mixes, such as clove, cinnamon and ginger. Thankfully, the local overstock grocery store was selling leftover holiday marshmallows for cheap. The marshmallows smelled amazing through the bag and were in the shape of adorable little gingerbread people. I could not resist buying them; I bought vanilla snowmen marshmallows, too. (If you want to use other marshmallows, please read my gingerbread spice-infused butter.) The overstock store, however, did not have any puffed rice, so next I stopped at Sprouts to see how much their bulk puffed brown rice was. The price was more than I expected, so I looked around for other puffed cereal options. I cannot eat puffed wheat of any variety, so those grains were right out. I was rather curious about the bags of millet, which happened to be on sale, especially since I had never eaten it before.

Gingerbread Marshmillets 02

Puffed millet cereal

Puffed Millet

The texture of millet was surprising, but I thought this cereal would work well with my desire to make gooier treats by adding extra mallows. These are not crispy. At all. Puffed millet grains are much, much softer than puffed rice. I actually added one third more marshmallows than the original recipe called for. I also halved the amount of mixed in oil, but greased my hands repeatedly to cut down on the stickiness.

Gingerbread Marshmillets
Based on the Shamrock Rice Crispy Treats recipe as a guide.

Yields: 12 to 15 Servings

Ingredients
2 8-oz bags Kraft Jet-Puffed Gingerbread Men Mallows
2 T Earth Balance Spread, plus more for greasing
6 C Puffed Millet Cereal

Directions
Line a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with either baking parchment paper. Set aside.

Grease a large glass mixing bowl with buttery spread. Pour the cereal into a large measuring cup or clean dry bowl. Set aside.

Little gingerbread flavored marshmallow people

Coated Gingerbread Marshmallow People

Melt the spread and marshmallows in a large pan or medium pot over low heat, stirring constantly to prevent the sugar from burning to the bottom. Remove the melted mallows from the heat.

Gingerbread marshmallow people melted down into goo.

Melted Gingerbread Marshmallow People

Transfer the cereal into the greased bowl. Fold the melted marshmallows into the millet. I mixed the marshmallow and millet together with my hands. If you use this method, grease up your hands first with a bit of the butter or spread to prevent the marshmallow from sticking to you so much. My hands became sticky marshmillet treats themselves as I was mixing. As the mixture cools, it will harden and become more difficult to mix, so work fast.

Mix the millet into the melted mallows.

Mix the millet into the melted mallows.

Once thoroughly combined, quickly press the mixture into the pan, spreading evenly and flattening the surface. Use a knife to cut the marshmillets into bars.

Candy-Sprinkled Gingerbread Cookies

Candy Cane-Topped Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread is one of my absolute types of cookies. Gingerbread cookies are perfect for the winter harvest and festival season, but sadly the winter season is over. Of course now that we are officially in spring, I am craving those warm homey spiced flavors, like gingerbread, pumpkin pie, chai and curry. At least gingersnaps, chai, and numerous curries are popular enough that they are available throughout the year. I really enjoy cooking with spices beyond salt and pepper. Spices, liven up dishes and make foods so much more interesting. As an added bonus, they also contain trace minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants.

Spiced treats after holiday meals (and spices in your entrees) are actually quite helpful. The spices increase digestion for eating meat and other heavy foods as well as boost metabolism, which helps increase the burning of calories and body temperature, so it makes sense to me that gingerbread is a traditional winter holiday treat. In addition, ginger acts as an anti-inflammatory. I know it is strange to mention in an entry about cookies, but cinnamon regulates blood sugar, reduces LDL cholesterol levels and is anti-microbial (and therefore a natural preservative). Cinnamon also reduces arthritic and menstrual pain. Blackstrap molasses is high in iron, calcium and magnesium (with a serving size of two tablespoons dissolved in warm water) as well as significant amounts of manganese, potassium, vitamin B6, and selenium.

Gingerbread has historically been so popular, it is available in many different forms, textures and flavors from across the world. There are dry or moist cakes and hard and soft cookies, for instance, not to mention all of the other gingerbread flavored desserts. German lebkuchen are glazed flattened cookies, whereas the German Sankt Nikolaus spekulatius are very large cookies, which are made by pressing the  dough into a highly detailed design (usually St. Nick or other religious shapes) cut into a large wooden cookie presses (really a cookie board). For the Dutch and Belgian versions (speculaas and speculoos) the cookies are pressed into wooden molds of all sorts of religious  and secular shapes, even chickens and windmills. Pfeffernuesse are also German cookies but are made with peppercorns. For more gingerbread information and various cultures’ recipes, visit the St. Nicholas Center; they even have a gluten-free recipe for making speculoos. Check out Chef Petrus Hermanni Kurppa’s great collection of wooden cookie molds over on his blog, Turku Gingerbread.

Image Credit: Chef Petrus Hermanni Kurppa of Turku Gingerbread

Image Credit: Chef Petrus Hermanni Kurppa of Turku Gingerbread

Of course, you can always make crispy gingerbread cookies with a stiff dough by rolling it out thin, and then cutting the cookies into small shapes with either preformed cutters or cutting them into larger shapes by cutting the dough with a knife while following the outline drawn onto a piece of butcher or parchment paper. Making the pieces for constructing gingerbread houses (or lebkuchenhause) are also cut this way. Decorate with colorful frosting, sanding sugars and dragees to your heart’s content!

Candy Cane Gingerbread Cookies
These cookies are not specifically based on any one recipe but a couple from The Great American Cookie Cookbook.

Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookie Dough
This cookie dough recipe is adapted from The Great American Cookie Cookbook’s Gingerbread Cookie Dough.

Yields 1 to 2 Dozen Cookies

Ingredients
1 T Chia Seeds, course ground
1/4 C Warm Filtered Water
1/4 C Unsweetened Apple Sauce or pureed pears
1/4 C Earth Balance Spread, softened
1/3 C Powdered Sucanat
1/4 C Unsulfured Blackstrap Molasses
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 C Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp Xanthan Gum
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Ground Ginger
Icing (see below)
Fruit Flavored Candy Canes, crushed

Directions
In a small bowl, beat the seeds and water together with a fork. Set aside for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so to prevent the seeds from clumping.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the apple sauce, spread, sucanat, molasses, “egg” and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, gum, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices. Add wet ingredients and mix until fully incorporated.

Spoon dough onto the baking sheets in one-tablespoon portions. Flatten slightly to spread the cookies to at least a two-inch diameter size. This dough is really sticky and difficult to work with, but try your best. Space the flattened cookies about inch apart.

Bake for eight to ten minutes or until the edges start browning. The cookies will harden as they cool, so do not worry if they are still soft. Cool the cookies for five minutes on the baking sheets. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Once cool, drizzle or spoon the icing on the cookies. Immediately sprinkle the crushed candy on top and press larger pieces into the icing to ensure that it sticks. Let the icing dry for up to ten minutes.

Golden Apple Powered Sugar Icing
The Powdered Sugar Icing recipe is also from The Great American Cookie Cookbook’s.

Yields 2 1/4 Cup Icing

Ingredients
2 C Powdered Sugar
2 tsp Unfiltered Apple Juice
5 tsp Filtered Water
Yellow Food Coloring

Directions
Sift the sugar into a medium to large bowl to get rid of lumps. Mix the juice, water and sugar together with a fork.* Add more juice to increase flavor and thin the icing as necessary. Slowly stir in the yellow food coloring until you reach the medium shade of your choice.

*Increase the icing’s apple flavor by adjusting the ratio amounts of juice to water.

Split Pea and Ham Soup

Split Pea and Ham

A bit ago my husband and I received Pea Soup Andersen’s dried split peas from the Saslows; the peas were packaged in a cute little cotton drawstring bag with the soup recipe printed on the back. What a wonderful winter gift! If you have not visited one of Pea Soup Andersen’s locations before, I highly recommend that you go. They have all sorts of tasty, tasty dishes beyond pea soup, ranging from sandwiches and salads to steak and chicken. I have visited both of the California restaurants, one in Santa Nella and the other in Buellton, while on roadtrips with family and friends. Each time I found it difficult to decide what I wanted to order (other than the famous soup, of course), since their menus are so big!

The split pea and ham soup provided several great satisfying meals; sometimes I even had a few small bowls as snacks on they days that the weather was particularly chilly. Making this soup also allowed the perfect opportunity to incorporate some of the leftover ham from my earlier post into yet another delicious dish. The meat and spices really added to the soup’s over all flavor, making it even more hearty.

Andersen's premium selected split peas

Andersen’s premium selected split peas

Split Pea and Ham Soup
Adapted from the Pea Soup Andersen’s “Soup-in-a-Bag” instructions.

Yields 12 Servings

Ingredients
3 C Dried Split Green Peas*
4 qt Filtered Water, divided
1 Large Stalk Celery, trimmed, coarsely chopped
1 Large Carrot, trimmed, Chopped
1 Large Sweet Yellow Onion, skinned, trimmed, chopped
2 – 3 T Minced Garlic Cloves
1 lb Ham, cubed
1 tsp Dried Thyme Leaves
2 Pinches Ground Cayenne Pepper
1 Large Bay Leaf
Sea Salt, to taste
Ground Mixed Peppercorns, to taste

Directions
Thoroughly rinse the peas under cool water in a fine mesh strainer. Pour into large stock pot. Cook at a rolling boil with two quarts water for 20 minutes or until peas are tender. Strain through fine mesh strainer.

Return peas to stock pot with two more quarts water. Add vegetables, herbs, ham. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 10 minutes or until ham is heated through and flavors are blended. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

*For a more colorful soup, you can use a mixture of split peas with half green and half yellow.

Glazed Clove-Studded Ham

Ham and String Beans

The other day at work, someone brought home-baked ham from lunch, which of course only made me crave it, so as soon as I clocked out for the day, I went to the store on a quest. A quest for ham! Well, the first store did not have what I wanted, and the second store did not either. As it was getting later though, I settled on a mostly unflavored precooked spiral-sliced hunk of ham, since that’s all the store carried. Honestly, I was too hungry to make dinner from scratch and bake the ham for several hours. I made sure to check the ingredients on the ham label first to make sure the meat did not contain any allergens or gross chemicals.

Once it was out of the packaging, I studded it with all of my whole cloves at about one-inch intervals. As per the directions, I placed the ham on a foil-lined baking sheet and then covered the ham tightly with more foil. I baked the ham at 350 degrees F for about an hour, which was about 8 minutes per pound.

During the last few minutes of the baking time, I prepared the glaze. To reduce the sugar, I opted to only use half of the sugary spiced glaze mixture, stirring it into 3 tablespoons of water in a sauce pan on low heat until the sugar crystals fully dissolved. I simmered the glaze on low for about two minutes and then brought the glaze up to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently.

While the glaze was still hot, I removed the ham from the oven and increased the temperature to 400 degrees F. I carefully spooned the glaze onto the ham, making sure to glaze all whole cut of meat. I set the foil covering aside for post-dinner ham storage, as it was no longer needed for roasting. Once the oven reached the desired temperature, I popped the meat back in the oven to roast for another hour, when the center of the roast reached 120 degrees F. (Remember the ham was precooked, so I was just reheating it and allowing the flavors to meld.) It was nice that the ham was spiral-sliced, so all I had to do was cut the meat in sections from around the bone.

Glazed Clove-Studded Baked Ham

I was so relieved that preparing the ham was so easy. Although I wish I cooked the ham and made the glaze from scratch, this was a nice alternative. I am very glad that there was plenty of leftovers for my husband and I to incorporate into later dishes, such as soup, salad and sandwiches. Most importantly, it was rather healthy and delicious.

Red Velvet Beet Cake

This is attempt number two in efforts to create a more cake-like red velvet made with beets. The first attempt of making this cake was a failure that actually turned into tasty dark chocolate brownies. My adaption was a big success! The confection had a nice cake consistency and sweet flavor. The folks at my work greatly enjoyed it (despite that most of them are not accustomed to gluten-free or vegan specialty foods; some even asked for my recipe). Unlike the brownies, the cake batter has more fruit puree, no chocolate chunks, and less cacao powder and beet puree, so it is not as dense. I used the same frosting recipe as with the brownies.

Red Velvet Slice 01

Red Velvet Beet Cake
Adapted recipe from Jen Cafferty’s recipe on the Gluten-Free Food Examiner.

Yields 15 to 20 Servings

Ingredients
2 T Chia or Flax Seeds, course ground
6 T Warm Filtered Water
1 C Cacao Powder
1/2 C Unsweetened Apple Sauce
1 1/2 C Unsweetened Pureed Pears
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 – 1 1/2 C Evaporated Cane Juice or Turbinado Sugar
1 3/4 C Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour
1 1/4 tsp Xanthan Gum
1 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
2 Medium Beets, scrubbed, trimmed
1 T Fresh Lemon Juice
2 oz Gel or Liquid Red Food Coloring
Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting
Red Sanding Sugar, optional*

Red Beets

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Scrub the beets clean with a vegetable cleaning brush under cool water. Trim off the end of the tail and the top. Foil-wrap beets and place on foil-lined baking sheet. Roast 45 minutes. Cool slightly on wire racks away from heat. Unwrap and quarter. Puree in food processor with lemon juice. Set aside.

Foil-Wrapped Beets

In a small bowl, beat chia or flax seeds and water with a fork until smooth to create “egg” substitute. Set aside for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent clumping.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour-dust a glass 9″ x 13″** baking dish. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix cacao, apple and pear sauces and vanilla. Set aside.

Into a medium bowl, sift flour, xanthan gum, 1 cup sugar, soda and salt. With an electric mixer, gradually add in cacao-apple mixture. Blend in “eggs,” beets, and food coloring. Beat until fully incorporated. Adjust batter to desired level of sweetness with remaining sugar, mixing in a quarter cup at a time.

Red Velvet Beet Cake

Bake for at least 30 minutes (mine took 70) or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool thoroughly on wire rack.

 

Frost and decorate as desired. If you are using frosting that was prepared ahead of time and chilled, let it soften at room temperature to prevent separation. Make sure to stir it well before applying it to the cake. Serve and enjoy!

Decorated Cake 01

*To include a colorful decoration without adding extra sugar, even out the cake with a long serrated knife, carefully slicing off the top and trimming the sides to make them flat and level. Crumb the cut-off potion in a food processor. Use the crumbs in lieu of sanding sugar to decorate the cake after frosting.

Red Velvet Slice 02

**If desired, bake the cake in two round cake pans. Use the frosting as the cake topping and filling.