Friday, December 21, 2007

More Green Stuff

Quite by accident, I discovered another delicious way to keep eating those green vegetables through the winter: Spectrum Naturals Vegan Caesar Dressing. More specifically, top steamed broccoli with a dollop (or two) of this delicious, creamy dressing, and you, like me, might find yourself going back for seconds. Seconds! Of broccoli! It's a Christmas miracle.

Yes, this serving suggestion isn't much of a "recipe," but it's plenty good and keeps me motivated to keep fresh broccoli on hand. Isn't a quickie, healthful veggie recipe a wonderful thing this time of year? Between work and friends and parties and holiday preparations, I feel like I've been busier this month than I've been all year. But it's all good: vacation starts tomorrow and I'm headed home to Michigan for a few days.

The Winter Solstice is tomorrow, so Happy Solstice and happy holidays!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Eat Your Greens!

I’m not much of a seasonal eater. Any seasonality to my eating is probably more frugality than a strict adherence to eating what is local and in season. I am trying to embrace seasonal eating. If you remember, all the items that I made or ate off of the Summer Cooking Wish List were seasonal items: Rainier cherries, Lunar Gazpacho, and Dairy-Free Peach Sorbet, all bought or made and eaten at the height of summer deliciousness. That said, you won’t find me buying fresh berries in February because I’m just too cheap. Frozen berries, yes. Fresh berries, no.

It seems winter has come early to the Midwest. We’ve had snow on the ground for more than a week now, the temperature is frigid, and the days just keep getting darker. During this cold and dark month, all I want to do is hang out in my kitchen and eat chocolate chip cookies. Oh, and sleep. I could just hibernate until spring and that would be just fine with me. Unfortunately, I’m not a bear, so hibernation is not an option. And while a chocolate chip cookie at the end of the day is dessert, one shouldn’t make a meal out of them.
But my taste in food this time of year does not run to the foods that are best for me. Bring on the carbs and the cheese! Green vegetables, I have had enough of you for one year.

Or maybe there’s a happy compromise to be found at the corner of health and hedonism. At a time when salad has lost its appeal, we can find a place for our green vegetables by slipping them into hot meals that warm the kitchen, chase away the winter chill, and make you feel anything but deprived. Over the next few months, I will be posting my best ideas for winter-friendly ways to eat your greens. Once you’ve eaten your greens, you can have a cookie and turn in early. I know that’s what I’ll be doing!

Spinach Enchiladas
Adapted from
this recipe at
Serves 3-4

These Spinach Enchiladas are a lightened-up version of a delicious recipe I found at I love this recipe! The spinach filling is savory and creamy with ricotta cheese, and the corn tortillas start to disintegrate deliciously into a tomato-based enchilada sauce that complements the creaminess of the filling. This entrée is very filling, but it packs in a good serving or two of vegetables. Serve it alongside a vegetable (roasted sweet potatoes are good here) and call it dinner.

Nonstick cooking spray
1 tbsp. butter or olive oil
½ cup sliced green onions
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 10-oz. package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry
1 cup ricotta cheese (I like lowfat, but feel free to use any type you like)
Lots of salt and pepper or to taste
2 oz. cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (or more to taste), optional
10 6-inch corn tortillas
2-3 cups of enchilada sauce (recipe for Cupboard Enchilada Sauce follows)

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
2) Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add the green onions and garlic to the skillet and saute them for several minutes to tame those wild flavors. Add the spinach and stir everything around to mix it with the green onions and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes.
3) Turn off the heat and stir the ricotta cheese into the spinach mixture. Add lots of salt and pepper to season the filling. Taste a bit to see if it needs more salt and pepper.
4) In a dry skillet over medium-low heat, heat a corn tortillas until it is soft and flexible (about 15-30 seconds). Spread ¼ cup of the spinach mixture in the middle and use a spoon to spread it lengthwise down the middle. Roll up the tortilla and place it seamside down in the prepared baking dish. Repeat this step until all the tortillas are filled or you run out of filling.
5) Pour enchilada sauce over the enchiladas. Cover the dish with foil and bake for about 15 minutes. If you are using the grated cheese, pull the dish out, remove the foil, sprinkle the enchiladas with cheese, and place the baking dish back in the oven. Bake for another 5 minutes or so, until the cheese is melted and lightly browned. Remove the baking dish from the oven and serve immediately. Because the tortillas start to disintegrate while they are cooking, this dish is a little difficult to serve prettily. Have the plates close at hand when lifting enchiladas out of the baking dish. And don’t worry if it’s a little messy.

Cupboard Enchilada Sauce
Adapted from Cupboard Enchilada Sauce, Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon
Makes enough for 1 batch of enchiladas

Hopefully Crescent Dragonwagon and her publishers won’t come after me, a humble non-profit blogger, for posting a slightly adapted version of her recipe for this tasty, quick-as-a-wink enchilada sauce. If they do, well, I suppose this recipe will vanish mysteriously from my blog. I have used this sauce for every batch of enchiladas I’ve made for the past three years. No kidding. I think it’s great, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

The Necessities:
1 14-oz. can of whole tomatoes (undrained)
½ onion, roughly chopped as needed to stuff it into a food processor
1 tsp. salt

To Jazz It Up (optional additions):
3 cloves of garlic (peeled)
Several spoonfuls of spicy salsa (highly recommended)

1) Place all the ingredients in your handy food processor*. Buzz to a chunky puree. Done!

*Some day I will tell you all the charming and unromantic story of how I came to acquire my food processor.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Pancake Love

I do believe that pancake-making is an act of love. Whipping up pancake batter is a cinch, but my goodness, all that ladling and watching and flipping, over and over again. Pancake-making is an eminently rewarding activity, but it’s an activity we do with and for our loved ones. For why else would we spend all that time at the stove other than to hang out in our pajamas with our favorite people and then eat the fruits—er, cakes—of our labor?

I am all in favor of acts of love. Doesn’t “act of love” bestow a sense of the extraordinary on what might be a mundane task? But to me, an act of love is an act done with great care and compassion, and it is the intention and emotion underlying the act that elevates it to greatness. The reciprocity of these acts of love bind us together and steadies us in the wake of life’s trials. Forget diamond rings, fancy vacations, expensive cars—make me some pancakes and I will love you forever.

My sister, Theresa, who hardly ever cooks (as far as I know), is one of the best pancake-makers I know. Her pancakes are always perfectly cooked, fluffy and delicious. Unfortunately, Theresa lives far away, so I can’t just call her up on a Friday night and ask her if she wants to have breakfast together the next day. What’s a girl to do? Well, I’m not that easily defeated, so I take it upon myself to make the pancakes. But given my previous statements about making pancakes for loved ones, what are we to make of the solitary pancake-maker? I say let us ALL make pancakes, alone or together. Then we will all have the necessary skills to griddle up something delicious for breakfast. I consider my solo pancake breakfasts a treat and good practice for future group breakfasts.

Call me spoiled, but my favorite pancake dishes are a little more complex than cakes, butter, and maple syrup. I am a big fan of interesting toppings for pancakes, and I think sweetened sauteed apples just won my heart. I adapted the following pancake recipe from a recipe in Crescent Dragonwagon’s beautiful new book, The Cornbread Gospels. The original recipe, Ned and Crescent’s Favorite Multigrain Pancakes, serves 2-4 people; I cut it in half to serve 1-2 people. That way I can make it for myself and practice my pancake-making in small batches. The topping recipe is adapted from the recipe for Warm Maple-Apple Saute, which Crescent recommends as the topping for these multigrain cakes. My version makes enough for 3-4 pancakes, which is the perfect amount for me to eat in one sitting. It's also a little richer than the original version. These hearty pancakes are going into my regular rotation: substantial, crisped on the outside, and lovely when served with Warm Maple-Apple Saute. A perfect breakfast for a lazy winter morning.

By the way, The Cornbread Gospels is a fantastic cookbook, and I highly recommend it, especially to any bakers. I am sure I will be cooking a lot from this book in the months to come. I received it as a birthday present from my brother John. Thank you, John! You can see I’m putting your gift to good use. And if you, dear reader, happen to be connected to me by family or friendship, don’t buy your copy until AFTER the Christmas holidays…

Multigrain Pancakes for Two
Adapted from Ned and Crescent’s Favorite Multigrain Pancakes, The Cornbread Gospels by Crescent Dragonwagon
Serves 2 (makes about 8 pancakes)

¼ cup cornmeal
¼ cup whole-wheat pastry flour
¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt (or a bit less—I found these cakes to be a little salty but still quite delicious)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1 tbsp. butter, melted
A bit of vegetable oil for the pan
Warm Maple-Apple Saute (recipe follows)

1) In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flours, salt, and baking soda.
2) In another mixing bowl, beat the egg and then beat the buttermilk and butter into the egg.
3) Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Try not to overmix the ingredients; just mix until there aren’t big dry patches of flour. Lumps are okay.
4) Grease a skillet with a little vegetable oil. Heat the skillet over medium-high heat for a minute or so. Lower the heat to medium and ladle a quarter cup of batter into the center of the skillet. The batter is thick and so the pancakes will be small, about 3-4 inches in diameter. Cook the first side for about one minute. The pancake is ready to be flipped when the edges look a bit dry and you have seen several bubbles surface in the center of the cake. Flip the pancake and cook the second side for another minute or so. Serve immediately or slide the cakes onto a cookie sheet in a warm oven to keep them warm until serving time.

Warm Maple-Apple Saute
Serves 1 (double the recipe to serve two at once)

1 apple, cored, peeled, and sliced into thin slices
½ tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. maple syrup
Cinnamon to taste

1) Prepare the apple as directed above. Melt the butter into a skillet and add the apple slices to it. Saute the apple slices over medium heat for several minutes, stirring them occasionally.
2) The apples are done when they have softened and browned a bit. Turn off the heat and add the sugar, maple syrup, and cinnamon (if using) to the apples and stir everything together. Spoon the apple mixture into a serving bowl and serve with love at the table with the pancakes.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Faith, Science, and Success

“Science as something already in existence, already completed, is the most objective, impersonal thing that we humans know. Science as something coming into being, as a goal, is just as subjectively, psychologically conditioned as are all other human endeavors.” Albert Einstein

We scientists are a tough bunch. With our emphasis on data, reproducibility, and natural causes, we pursue atheistic explanations of the universe. Even religious scientists are not allowed to invoke God as an explanation for their data—or if they do, their manuscript will never get past peer reviewers! An outside observer might not expect faith to be a part of science. Formally, of course, you won’t find faith listed as a step in the scientific method: Step 1: Form a hypothesis. Step 2: Have faith that your hypothesis is correct. No, the real trick is to form a hypothesis that can be tested empirically with experiments that will be informative, no matter what the result. This is my advisor’s mantra. Nowhere in this process are we asked to have faith.

And yet, if it weren’t for faith, I would not still be in graduate school. My faith is not supernatural. Rather, I have faith in the scientific process itself. I have faith that my graduate advisor has the wisdom and patience to guide me toward scientific success. And despite my enormous anxieties, I have faith in my own abilities. And I’m too stubborn to leave unless they kick me out! Oh, I have my days when I wish someone would tell me I can’t do science, but so far, that has not happened. To be honest, I am a little surprised it hasn’t happened yet, considering the utter lack of success I experienced for the better part of two years in the lab!

But now is a different story. As a fifth-year graduate student, I feel I am starting to close in on my Ph.D. My thesis is emerging out of the muck. My very first first-author paper was reviewed by the Journal of Neuroscience, and the paper did well enough that the editors asked us to address reviewer concerns and resubmit. I’m in the thick of reviewer-induced experiments, hanging tight to my faith that these experiments will yield something of worth. Most exciting, my in-lab “team” had a paper accepted! I am the third author on a paper that was recently accepted by the journal PLoS Genetics! After all that faith and science, success! And this acceptance happened just in time for me to tell the reviewers of my NRSA grant application that I am an author on an accepted paper. Not “in preparation,” not “submitted,” or even “submitted and currently being revised,” but ACCEPTED. As in done. It’s gratifying enough that it almost makes me forget the struggles I have survived to get here. But this Ph.D. ain’t over yet!

Luckily, success comes more easily to me in the kitchen. Many an unhappy day in the lab has been followed by a pleasant evening in the kitchen. The kitchen is sustenance, solace, and sanctuary. It’s also a good place for snacking! Several months ago, I had instant success with yet another version of my favorite granola recipe. By adding half a cup of sweetened shredded coconut, I have achieved granola nirvana. Loaded with coconut, peanut butter, and chocolate chips, this is one decadent granola, but I love it. I still think it has something to offer nutritionally: oats are high in fiber, B vitamins (it has seven of them!), minerals, and protein*. Peanut butter is high in protein and is known to promote satisfaction among its devotees**. And if you mix this granola with plain lowfat yogurt, you get calcium and a sweet and delicious snack that keeps hunger at bay until dinner time. It’s almost as satisfying as seeing your name in print.

Deluxe Granola
Makes 1 8 x 8-inch pan of granola or ~4-6 servings, depending on how much self-control you have (I don’t have much when it comes to this yummy stuff)

2 ¼ cups oats

½ cup flour

½ tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/3 cup vegetable oil (or you can use a bit less than 1/3 cup; I usually do)

1/3 cup peanut butter, chunky or smooth as you prefer (I do like the texture chunky peanut butter gives the granola)

¼ cup brown sugar

½ cup mini chocolate chip morsels

½ cup sweetened shredded coconut

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2) Mix together the oats, flour, and baking soda in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the vanilla extract.

3) Add the vegetable oil and peanut butter and mix. The mixture will be a bit chunky.

4) Stir in the brown sugar.

5) Stir in the chocolate chips and coconut. The mixture will be a bit moist from the oil and peanut butter, but overall it will be rather dry and chunky. Spoon the granola into a square 8-inch cake pan.

6) Bake the granola at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, and then dig in! This granola gets hard to scoop out of the pan as it cools, so I recommend stirring it around after it has cooled for ten minutes to break it up. Before storing, allow granola to cool completely in the pan and then store it at room temperature in a tightly sealed container. This granola will keep for at least a week. My batches never last longer than that!

*Information about the goodness of oats is from Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon. This book really is The Joy of Cooking for vegetarians.
**Okay, maybe this is just annecdotal. Okay, maybe I just love peanut butter.