Simply Saffron Aioli

Today’s kitchen adventure was a solemn induction into the previously un-traversed realm of fat sauce making. In my experience, mayonnaise, hollandaise, and aioli have always been rather enigmatic substances–their divine deliciousness suggestive of some surely elaborate process of unicorn hair gathering during an eclipsed full moon or something. However since it seems unicorns are currently out of season, the next most exorbitant but no less labor-intensive ingredient I could find to enrich my palate was saffron. I actually bought the saffron at the farmer’s market to make a different recipe, but since I had some left over, a successful session of food blog stalking furnished me with a stone to kill both the bird of efficiency and of trying a novel recipe. Enter here instructions for saffron aioli, the most deceptively uncomplicated set of steps that every novice cook should have in her repertoire.

Ingredients:

    • 2 large pinches of saffron
    • 2 T hot water
    • 2 cloves pressed garlic
    • 2 egg yolks
    • 2 t white wine vinegar
    • 1/2 t salt
    • 3/4 c high quality olive oil

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Directions:

          1. Boil some water and add saffron to a small container, like the one in the photo above. Once water boils, pour roughly 2 T of it over the saffron and let steep for about 12-15 minutes.
          2. Nicewhile, peel and press garlic cloves and add to small blender (or, if you’re feeling particularly intrepid, a medium-sized whisking bowl) to be joined by the egg yolks, vinegar, and salt. Thoroughly combine.
          3. Once saffron is done steeping, combine with (plus steeping water!!) garlic/yolk/acid/salt mixture, thoroughly mix once again.
          4. Now, this is where the magic happens: keep mixture at a steady blend and add the oil in a slow stream, no faster than it emulsifies into the whole. If you go the whisk route, it will look something like this.

Note: if you’re using a whisking bowl instead of a blender, consider warming the bowl slightly before embarking on the emulsification. I read in Julia and Julia a few months ago that that is supposed to help. If you’re still nervous, consider doing a trial run with a cheaper oil, just so you can get the hang of it and not risk the atrocity of wasting expensive ingredients.

 

 

Soul Food’s Sole Purpose

If you’re reading this, I offer to you my sincere gratitude for sharing this small but significant sliver of your life with me. I’m humbled that out of everything currently clamoring for your attention, you chose to read my words. My hope is that my offerings are worth your while, and also that if they’re not, you have the courage to find what is.

My last couple of posts have not been completely honest, and to avert potential confusion I must make two admissions. 1) When I made mention of people who make moral self-judgements based on arbitrary ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of the food they have/haven’t consumed with no regard to the state of the inner body, I was actually describing myself. 2) My instruction to savor food mindfully was self-directed. Ultimately, while the majority of the foods I eat are healthy, my current relationship with those foods is decidedly not.

That being said, the most covert pitfall of any relationship is the unconscious harboring of unrealistic expectations. It has taken much introspection and honesty to admit to myself that at the root of my dysfunctional relationship with food is a demand that it meet a need beyond its inherent capacity to fulfill; resulting in a systematic ignorance of what my body, what I, truly hunger for. Food is a beautiful, multifaceted gift, and with it we are given the responsibility to enjoy it reverently and most importantly without imposing upon it our needs to feel emotionally and spiritually full; for in those regards it will, and does, invariably fail.  This principle has a tragic parallel in many interpersonal relationships. Consider the individual who feels incomplete and believes that perhaps a partner will magically make them whole and happy forevermore. It is usually not long before a budding relationship buckles under the impossibility of that expectation because it is entirely outside the capacity of a human to ‘make whole’ another. That may be an entirely different blog post, but is it so dissimilar a situation? Nourishment plays just as essential a role as companionship in life, but when approached from a position of desperation to fill a void, that gift can be contaminated and turn into disease. The societal collective is presently plagued by astonishing statistics of eating disorders and divorce rates alike, does it not seem reasonable that such issues have a common seed?

Anyway, all things considered I am learning that eating is so much more enjoyable when it is allowed to be within its own realm of capability and that for every moment my body carries out its immeasurably intricate duty of sustaining my precious life, I owe it absolutely nothing less than the kindness and respect of eating mindfully.

I air these realizations for the soul purpose that another may find resonance and solace in them. Not to commiserate the frustrations, but to celebrate the joining of hearts on a journey of healing represented by YOU spending YOUR precious life reading this post. Thank you.

Patience Pancakes

DSC00183Anticipation of making these pancakes has been mounting all week. The stars had to align somewhat since this particular recipe requires a little bit more preparation and time than my usual Sunday morning breakfast selections, but ultimately well worth it. The nature of the batter necessitates a slower cooking process, which I always find conducive to a more meditative morning. For me, it’s imperative that eating be a meditation, because you are not only what you eat, you are also how you eat. I don’t mean to imply that you must ohm balancing on one foot atop The Eiger, intently masticating a bite of unadulterated kosher matzah (though I’m not explicitly discouraging that, either); to the contrary, mindful eating is one of the simplest, most fundamentally accessible rites in human experience and requires only the subtlest of capacities: awareness.

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Be present as you eat, engage fully in the blessing of assimilating the nourishment that is literally transforming your body. Experience the ancient, primal gratitude intrinsic in the satisfaction of hunger.

What I particularly enjoy about these babies is that they don’t need bells and whistles to mitigate a blandness often inherent in grain-free, sugar-free foods. They are whole in and of themselves, and quite sustaining for their size at that (I only had 4 and was not hungry again for several hours, quite the anomaly for yours truly). I enjoyed these in conjunction with a nice black tea, a pairing I highly suggest, though methinks a mug of bold-bodied black coffee would be equally complementary.

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 c cooked, peeled, mashed sweet potato or yam*
  • 1 c lite coconut milk
  • 1 T vanilla extract or 2 t vanilla powder
  • 1 1/4 c almond flour or meal
  • 1/2 c + 1 T tapioca, arrowroot or potato starch
  • 1 T + 1 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t salt
  • liquid Stevia to taste** (I used about half a dropper-full)

*I put this in my crock pot and cooked it on low the day before (about 8 hours) to ensure it was cool enough before adding to mixture.
**the original recipe includes 2 T maple syrup as well as a few T chocolate chips which I chose to omit. Add or subtract per your own dietary needs.

Instructions:

  1. Add all ingredients to bowl and mix well, transfer to blender and allow to process until completely integrated (if using almond flour, it may remain a little mealy, however I found this texture ultimately pleasing in the finished product).
  2. Let batter sit for the better part of 15 minutes. In the mean time, prepare pan by heating at medium-low for about 7+ minutes.
  3. Optional but highly recommended at this point is readying a few cookie cutters or (I used) mason jar rings to aid in forming the pancakes. Simply grease the insides with butter, oil, or non-stick spray.
  4. Grease heated pan. Once the cooking fat is hot, place metal rings on pan and slowly spoon batter into the center, using your own discretion for the amount.
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  5. Let cook on medium-low for a few minutes. Once the surface begins to bubble, remove metal rings with a pair of tongs (or very intrepid fingers) and as soon as the pan-side of the cake is of a glorious crispness, flip.
  6. Allow pancakes about 60-90 seconds on the flipside, bearing in mind that residual heat will still cook them even when removed from the pan.**when I make pancakes I like to place the plate over a stove burner on the lowest heat, just to keep the others warm while I’m cooking the rest. A pre-heated oven would also work for this.
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As I mentioned, I didn’t need to add anything to these except for a little butter, but dress yours however you like, or leave them in the buff! Jason enjoyed his with some grade B maple syrup.

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Guilt-Freedom Crackers

With curious frequency I hear people proclaim the degrees of ‘bad’ or ‘good’ they are with sole reference to the strictness with which they’ve adhered to their latest diet or work out regimen. Per this decree, should one commit the heinous impiety of indulging in a donut, the ensuing indigestion is not punishment enough, they must then ‘work it off’ in the gym like some form of indentured servitude. It seems that in such a flurry of self-shaming calorie counting and box checking, simple awareness of how one’s body is truly feeling is disregarded. Instead of choosing foods and activities intuitively based on a cultivated awareness of what the body is asking for, the tendency is to look outward at fickle trends which often take the form of detrimental extremes, blurring the fine line between conscious control and obsession. Allow me to air my disdain for the food label ‘guilt-free’, a description whose ubiquity practically implies that there exist foods to which guilt is necessarily attached. Sometimes I wonder if that guilt, and the structure that forms it, is no less poisonous than the food itself may or may not be.

A comment about mind-body connection: here’s a concept whose mystery is usually confused with and subsequently discounted as some new-age/mystical/alternative idea, but is nevertheless factual. Consider briefly the anatomy of your body (not a task easily associated with brevity, but try), and ask yourself where there is empty space or any discontinuity in tissue. Even sinuses and lungs are filled with air whose quality the surrounding tissues respond to. In light of this, it seems a stranger suggestion that mind and body are anything but inextricably connected, yet attitude is rarely paid due homage for its role in overall well-being. Do we think we can pass those judgements of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ so subtly that our inner-self remains totally oblivious and will not respond in any no-less subtle way? Can disease be confined to the mind with no bodily implications? Can the body be malnourished to no detriment of the mind?

Here I present a nice recipe that is easy on the mind and nourishing to the body, infinitely versatile and (need I mention) delicious, which you can make and snack on whilst pondering the above questions.

Ingredients:

  • Raw sunflower seeds
  • Raw hulled sesame seeds
  • raw organic sustainably produced fair trade local water…. or tap if you are a bad, immoral person

Recommended add-in variations:

  • nutritional yeast (this makes the equivalent of cheez-it’s)
  • italian seasoning, olive oil and salt

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350F and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Prepare a third piece of parchment paper of the same size and set aside.
  2. Separately measure equal parts sesame and sunflower seeds (I started with 2 cups of each, which yields ~4 cups ‘dough’ and a decently hefty sum of crackers).
  3. Process sunflower seeds in powerful blender until grainy.
  4. Combine blended sun-flour (heh!) with sesame seeds, add water. If you have 4 cups dough, use 1/2 cup water. 2 cups dough = 1/4 cup water, and so on.
  5. Manually mix until there is a suggestion of a paste, then add seasonings of choice to taste* (I suggest making half cheez-it, half italian or whatever you want, just so there is variety).
  6. Roll paste into a ball, set on cookie sheet and place the extra piece of parchment paper atop to aid in squishing it to flatness. Employ the likes of a rolling pin to perfect the job.
  7. Score surface of flattened dough to outline crackers of desired parameter, or skip this step and break post-bake crackers off into organic shapes.
  8. Slide cookie sheet into oven and bake at 350F for 20-35 minutes.

*I used about 3/4 cup nutritional yeast for one half of my 4 cup paste. For the other half, I used about 1/4 cup italian seasoning, ~2 Tbsp olive oil and 2 tsp salt.

 

Pizza My Mind

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A realization that often surfaces my mind is the sheer proportion of my life I spend pondering, procuring, preparing and consuming food (not lightly did I, for the equal sakes of alliteration and accuracy, consider replacing  ‘consuming’ with ‘pigging out on’ in that sentence). Not that mine is an anomalous dedication by any means, but it does lend itself somewhat to a discussion of mankind’s existential relationship with cuisine. I won’t attempt to compete in volume with the troves of tomes that already exist on this subject, instead I offer my experience as a telling anecdote. I recently had an agreeable encounter with a Sprout’s associate who evidently shares my opinion that food is the edible equivalent of fashion, that it is perfectly acceptable to spend nothing short of hours on end idly eying isles oozing with oodles of ogle-worthy foodstuffs, and finding the purest joy in acquiring said stuffs to assemble into a palatable translation of your latest inspiration, which then literally fuels your ability to experience the same inspiration all over again! (If that’s not the tastiest demonstration of a feedback loop in action I don’t know what is.) The act of cooking is what connects me with the intricate co-evolution of food and humans, and understanding that in some (only comparably) small way, my culinary pursuits are an inextricably integral part of this grand process is incredibly exciting!

So, in the evolution of my personal culinary ventures, I very much consider the subject of this post to be a transitional form. Even though it was hungrily devoured, I think a second go-round is in order to really optimize its potential. But then again it’s pizza, and the only inedible pizza I’ve ever had came out of a blasphemously dubbed ‘Hut’ so suffice it to say that no matter what you do you’ll be hard pressed to descend to that particular degree of sacrilege. The recipe here is useful if you don’t want to eat a trillion carbs or if you have sensitivities to wheat, but if you feel like having a classic gluten-carb-bomb crust then by all means go that route, no judgement 😉

For Crust:

  • 1/2 c coconut flour
  • 1/4 c psyllium husk (err on the side of less)
  • 1/4 c flax meal (try 1/2 c if you don’t have any PH)
  • 1/8 t salt
  • 1/2 t baking soda, scant
  • 1-2 T Italian seasoning or herbs of choice
  • 1 – 2 T apple cider vinegar (lemon juice or similar acid will also suffice)
  • 1 c liquid (non-dairy milk, water, or mixture of both)

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Toppings I Used:

  • Basil tomato paste
  • Fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced or grated
  • Mushrooms
  • Spicy chicken sausage
  • Pesto dollops!
  • Pine nuts
  • Chives (sprinkled post-bake)
  • Black olives

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Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400′. Sift dry crust ingredients together, mix in wet crust ingredients. Work mixture until you can form a ball.
  2. Roll out dough over parchment paper. I used a rolling pin, but any even-surfaced cylindrical object within reach will do. Flatten as thin as you possibly can before transferring onto a pizza pan or bake sheet.
  3. Insert crust in oven and for the next 35 minutes avail yourself to preparing the toppings. I like to remove the sausage from its casing in bite sized pieces before cooking it in the pan.
  4. Once crust is satisfactorily crisp, remove from oven and distribute on it the tomato paste in a thin, even layer. Strategically scatter the toppings to desired proportions and return to oven. Bake for another 15 min or so, and broil for another 3 just to crisp the cheese a bit.
  5. Slice up and chow down!

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SD Tomato Parmesan Scramble

I have a pleasure-pain relationship with going out for breakfast. On the pleasure column is paying someone else to prepare and serve your meal and on the pain column is paying someone else to prepare and serve your meal. When I make breakfast at home, I like to play at the game of “How much would a (quite possibly) less-tasty version of this cost at a restaurant?” and I always win, at least in the frugality department. Not to mention forgoing the subjection to your wait person’s hasty, bored and impatient recitation of pre-formulated descriptions of the heinously over-priced entrees, which don’t exactly encourage the most appreciative and intimate environment in which to savor a meal. However, my own history as a server naturally necessitates that my perceptions be examined under the possibility that they’re a mere projection from a once hasty, bored and impatient Abigail. It is true that what you do to others, you do to yourself. Having treated past patrons with irritability and impatience, it is the way of things that I naturally expect (and thus subjectively receive) a return on that unwise and equally unconscious investment. Thankfully, awareness of this renders me at least the luxury of choice to perceive as I please, and I nevertheless find my ultimate preference to be served by my present self and not that ghost of unpleasantness past.

So, on the menu this morning was a dish whose pre-tip restaurant value I deem to be around $15 and whose constituents were coincidentally on-hand, odd-ends of nearly-expired left-behind and forgotten-about but no less delicious and creative-potential-oozing than their more expensive counterparts.

  • 1/4 c sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 T butter
  • 1/3 c Parmesan cheese
  • 3-4 eggs
  • S&P2T
  • 2 portions crisply toasted bread of choice
  1. Heat small non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add butter and SD tomatoes. Pop bread into toaster at this time.
  2. While butter is heating and coating the tomatoes, briefly blend eggs with Parmesan cheese. If you’re reluctant to soil a blender at such an hour, several brisk whisks will suffice.
  3. Allow the egg mixture to join buttery tomatoes in the pan for a most holy union, lower heat and stir to prevent excessive sticking.
  4. Remove pan from heat not a moment later than desired level of egg denaturation has been reached, keeping in mind that residual heat continues the cooking even after stovetop removal.
  5. Heap over toasted bread for an open-faced sandwich. Consummate with S&P2T, optional hot sauce drizzle.

 

Spinach Artichoke Soup

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Not many recipes more perfectly exemplify the notion that a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s like: Spinach = ehh, Artichoke = ahh, Spinach + Artichoke = yeehhahh! The synergy of the flavors is truly unparalleled in my opinion, which is why when I first tasted some at Lestat’s, I was instantly compelled to explore its potential in my own kitchen. Think of it as a hot, full-meal version of spinach/artichoke chip dip.

My 20/20 hindsight also sees that it would have paired marvelously with a nice gooey grilled cheese sandwich.

Without further ado, let me direct you toward your own undertaking of this formula with these here ingredient proportions, which, like rules, should definitely be adapted to suit your own liking.

  • 2 T cooking fat (coconut oil, olive oil, butter, bacon grease are all viable options)
  • 1 yellow/sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 – 4 cloves white garlic (pressed, I implore you!) or about 2 bulbs of green garlic, diced for optimal flavor infusion
  • 1 lb spinach (at least no less than 12 oz)
  • 14 oz can of artichoke hearts*
  • 32 oz broth or stock of choice (less is fine, sub water for low-sodium)
  • S&P2T (salt and peppah to taste)
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream** (more is fine)

*I recommend cutting off the fibrous end of each individual heart unless you either have an extremely powerful blender or a known affinity for chewing a spoonful of soup down to a wad of unyielding fibrils (think raw celery here), the clump which undoubtedly accounts for the inclusion of ‘choke’ in the etymology  of our lovely vegetable’s name.

**This can be spooned from the top of a chilled can of full-fat coconut milk which separates naturally from its less viscous component. Consider substituting plain greek yogurt or cultured sour cream in equal measure (both are feasible mix-in toppings as well)

Methodical Madness:

  1. Prep all ingredients per your style. Don’t worry too much about how they look because it’s all going to the same place anyway (the blender, I mean).
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  2. Heat cooking fat over medium-high heat, until it gets a nice shimmer and slides freely about the pan bottom. Add onion.
  3. Once onions begin to take on a little transparency, add garlic, continuing to stir until your immediate working space is appropriately saturated by the arising fragrance.
  4. Heap spinach atop the sauté and add a few gurgles of broth or water to soothe the mounting heat and encourage a simmer. Once spinach has wilted to a more manageably-sized mass, add curtailed artichoke hearts and coconut cream, stirring faithfully and adding more broth or water as you feel fit.
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  5. Bring to a gentle simmer and cover, inspecting the progressive tenderness of the spinach at periodic intervals until satisfied that it will puree well in your food processor of choice.
  6. Finally, in batches, carefully spoon this no doubt alien-looking substance into the blender of fate, season and blend until confident that all deliciousness is evenly distributed. Pour resulting mixture into fancy bowls and feel good about your accomplishment.