I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Category: Recipes

Tart Cranberry Marmalade

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No Sugar-Coating Allowed

Did you resolve to quit sugar? Has your resolve devolved into stress eating? Do you worry that it doesn’t matter what you eat anymore because the end of the world is nigh?

Sigh.

As I was taking this photo this morning, my husband asked what I was doing. I told him that the only topic I could imagine writing about was food. I am overwhelmed with the politics of the day, of the week, so I am reverting to my comfort/discomfort zone.

Food.

Maybe if I control what I eat, I will feel some semblance of control over my world. This myth fueling my disordered eating still lingers.

The World Health Organization now recommends that we limit our intake of sugar to no more than 5% of calories. That works out to about 100 calories, or about 6 teaspoons. Yup. That’s it. That is not very much.

Sugar is in tomato sauce, breakfast cereal, bread, salad dressing, yogurt, granola, nutrition bars, low fat snacks. Oh, and soda. It is easier to limit sugar if you cook for yourself instead of buying prepared foods. I  find that you can get used to less and less sugar over time. As you phase out sugar, you will discover that foods you used to like now taste too sweet and that the flavor is diluted with sweetness, not pure.

This month, I have craved bitter and intense foods to match my mood, eliminating more and more sugar. I have replaced my granola with walnuts. I have started eating more eggs instead of cereal for breakfast. And I have replaced my strawberry jam and orange marmalade with homemade cranberry sauce. It’s not for the faint of heart. But then, neither is living.

Tart Cranberry Marmalade

Austere. Sharp. Perfect for these bitter bitter times.

  • ½ 12 oz bag of cranberries (freeze the other half)
  • ¼ cup of orange juice (or pomegranate juice)

Heat cranberries and juice in a saucepan until gently boiling. Reduce heat and simmer (covered) for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Let cool. Refrigerate.

Makes about 1 cup and lasts for 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Use as you would jam or marmalade. I like it with whole wheat toast/bagel and goat cheese. I make peanut butter or almond butter or walnut butter sandwiches with it.

You’ve been warned. It is not sweet.

More Meatless This Year

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Eggplant, Tomato and Chickpea Casserole

Every year, I eat less meat. I find it increasingly difficult to stomach the thought of eating animals. Moreover, the positive impact of eating less meat on the environment is staggering.

My vegan daughter inspires me. When she is home, it is fun to find new recipes that we will enjoy and the meat-eaters will tolerate.

For our extended family dinner on Christmas, I made this dish from Martha Rose Shulman. It doubles easily. Make it one day ahead as it improves with time.

Eggplant, Tomato and Chickpea Casserole (by Martha Rose Shulman)

  • 1 Eggplant (1 ½ pounds), peeled, sliced length-wise, then in ¼” slices
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • 1 red onion, sliced thin across the grain
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 15 oz can chickpeas
  • Fresh Basil and Fresh Parsley

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and drizzle the foil with olive oil. Place the eggplant slices on the foil, sprinkle with salt and drizzle lightly with oil. Place in the oven for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the heat, and carefully fold the foil in half over the eggplant. Crimp the edges together, so that the eggplant is sealed inside the foil and will continue to steam and soften. Leave for at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until tender and golden brown, about 5-10 minutes, and add the garlic and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, about a minute. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and cinnamon, to taste. Bring to a simmer, and simmer uncovered, until the sauce is thick and fragrant. Stir in the drained chickpeas. Mix in the eggplant slices.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Oil a 2-quart baking dish or gratin. Spoon eggplant, tomato and chickpea mixture into the prepared baking dish.

Bake 30 minutes, until bubbling. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool for at least 10 to 15 minutes. Or for a full day ahead. Sprinkle on the basil and parsley before serving.

Serves 6-8. Delicious with bread, naan, rice, or even over pasta.

Image: Very bad photo taken by me at the Christmas buffet table. I was rushing because of the hungry and impatient people behind me – it doesn’t do the dish justice!

Sweet Potato and Lentil Stew with Chipotles

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A Vegan-Friendly Thanksgiving

My daughter is a committed vegan, unable to stomach eating animals and dismayed by the injurious practices towards animals of big agriculture. I am proud of her and support her, but must admit that I don’t need any more food rules in my life. So, while I don’t eat much meat, I am not rigid about it.

This was her first Thanksgiving out as a vegan. (I think she was a closet vegan last year.) I reflected on how to balance the food traditions and family favorites of the holiday, while honoring her food wishes and offering her some tasty options. Roasted green beans, beyond easy.  Stuffing made with vegetable broth, so tasty. Then what? We swapped the too-sweet marshmallow yams for Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew. I made it the day before – which was a good thing, because it gets better and better every day. We’ve been eating it for lunch every day since!

Sweet Potato and Lentil Stew with Chipotles

  • Olive Oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups green lentils
  • 2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 chipotles in adobo, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1-2 bay leaves

In a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and carrots. Sauté until onions begin to turn toasty brown. Be patient, this can take 10-15 minutes – the browning adds flavor.

Add water, lentils, sweet potatoes, salt, cumin, chipotles, tomato paste, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Then, lower temperature and simmer for an hour. Or more. You really can’t overcook this dish – it just keeps getting thicker and stewier and more flavorful.

You can serve the same day, but it is better the next day and the next day and the next day.

Serves many vegans and omnivores. Probably about 8 servings. For the non-vegans, a dollop of plain greek yogurt on top is delicious, adding tang and creaminess.

 

Burgers on the Grill

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No Animals Were Harmed!

My daughter has been home the last few weeks and family meals have been a dizzying array of choices, trying to please all eaters. She is eating a vegan diet – uncompromisingly unwilling to eat animals. Empathetic to all sentient beings, she can’t stand the thought of eating them. I sympathize. I dare you to look into a cow’s eyes and then eat beef. So, we’ve been experimenting with a variety of recipes. I tend to not like vegan recipes that try to imitate meat. Just admit you’re a vegetable and revel in it!

In honor of summer barbecues celebrating Independence Day, here is one of her tasty experiments.

Easy Vegan Burgers

  • Olive oil
  • ½ small onion, chopped fine
  • 1 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 1 Tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1 14 oz can black beans, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 3-4 Tablespoons BBQ sauce

Heat olive oil and sauté the onion, 5-10 minutes until carmelized.

In a food processor, blend: walnuts, sautéed onion, chili powder and cumin.

In a large mixing bowl, mash the black beans, maintaining some texture. Add rice, walnut-onion mixture, bread crumbs, and BBQ sauce. Combine. Form into 8 patties.

Grill, bake, or sauté.

Serve on buns, with desired toppings or makes a delicious entrée salad.

Serves 8.

Recipe Inspiration: Grillable Veggie Burger from Minimalist Baker

Pinto Bean and Feta Cheese Quesadillas

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Sunday Night Dinner

I love feta cheese. Tangy and flavorful, it punches up any dish. My current favorite brown bag lunch is a feta and tomato sandwich. I use a sprouted grain bread (Alvarado Street Bakery), spread one side with plain greek yogurt and tomatoes, top with feta and the other slice. Feta feels summery to me. As we tire of winter and our cold spring, bring on the feta!

I first made this recipe on July 3, 1994. Back in the early days of marriage when I was trying new recipes, clipping them out, and pasting them into a little notebook, with the date carefully noted. Exactly 5 years before my son was born. This recipe has evolved to a simple weeknight meal that is healthy and appealing. We call it Bean Burritos. Even my (now) 16-year old son loves them, albeit with flour tortillas (and no feta, and definitely no olives).

Pinto Bean and Feta Cheese Quesadillas, aka Bean Burritos

  • 1 15 oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 Tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 4 – 6 oz feta cheese, sliced
  • Sliced ripe olives
  • Tortillas (I use 100% whole wheat, check sugar content and use a brand without sugar, it tastes weird if it’s too sweet. My husband and son prefer traditional flour tortillas. Corn tortillas do not work well.)
  • Salsa

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor, combine beans, chili powder, cumin, and lemon juice and blend. It does not have to be smooth, a little texture is nice.

Spread ~2 Tablespoons of bean mixture on 6-8 tortillas. Top with feta. Sprinkle with olives. Roll up.

Heat 3-4 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add tortillas – in 2 batches – and toast until golden, about 3 minutes on each side. Remove from heat and place in an oven-proof dish.

Heat tortillas in oven, until feta melts, about 10 additional minutes.

Top with salsa.

Serves 3-4 as main course, about 2-3 tortillas per person.

Butternut Squash Panzanella

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aka Butternut Squash Panda Elk

I have a lot of food rules. Whole grains! Less bread! Less sugar! No dessert! It’s exhausting.

In an attempt to be a bit more flexible with what I eat, and to reinstill my joy in cooking … and eating, I’ve been trying new recipes that I think both my husband and I will like. This winter salad is delicious. I adapted it from a recipe that was recently published in the New York Times and it is easily adjusted and reinterpreted to fit your taste and your mood.

It was a big hit and is now in regular rotation. When I texted my husband what we were having for dinner, “Panzanella” (bread salad) auto-corrected as “Panda Elk,” which is now our nickname for this dish.

Butternut Squash Panzanella

  • 1 ¼ pounds butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1/2” chunks
  • Olive Oil (about 11 Tablespoons)
  • 8 oz bread (stale bread is traditional – I used a high quality loaf of not-stale sourdough), torn into 1/2” chunks
  • 10 oz sugar snaps, trimmed
  • 3-4 stalks celery, chopped fine
  • 1 small bunch arugula, rinsed, dried, and torn into smaller pieces
  • 3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 4 oz goat cheese (optional)
  • 2-3 Tablespoons pignoli toasted (optional)

Heat oven to 425° F. Toss the squash with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Roast 25 minutes or until soft and caramelized at the edges, turning the chunks halfway through. Remove from heat.

Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add bread and toast until crisp, about 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Steam sugar snaps in microwave for about 2-3 minutes, still a little crisp.

Combine sugar snaps, celery, sage, 5 tablespoons olive oil, 3 tablespoons vinegar. Let sit for 30 minutes. Celery will soften and absorb the vinaigrette.

Combine squash, bread, arugula, vinaigrette mixture. Add cheese and nuts, if using.

Serves 3 as a main course and 6 as a side dish.

Friday Night Dinner

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Snow Day Lentil Stew

Dinner is a juggling act. My husband would prefer Spaghetti and Meatballs. Every night. Fortunately he makes meatballs regularly so they are on frequent rotation. My son is currently aligned with his dad, which is as it should be a 16. He thinks Mom is kind of strange. Loveable but quirky. Indeed. Nothing makes me happier than some vegetarian concoction and frequent breaks from pasta.

By Friday night, after a week of everyone going in different directions with different activities and different food cravings, we try to come together. Sometimes, now, it is just my husband and me. While he cooks the more traditional fare over the weekend, ideally with leftovers, Friday night is my territory. I try to find something quick (I’m tired!) and healthy.

Snow-bound on Saturday, I was in the mood for lentil soup and rummaged through the tired vegetables in the back of the vegetable bin to round it out.  I hate canned soup (too thin, too salty, not enough flavor), but frequently make homemade soup/stew in the winter.  Perfect for a weekend lunch or an easy Friday night dinner.

Snow Day Lentil Stew, with Potatoes and Celery

  • 4-5 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4-6 stalks celery, chopped fine
  • (Onion and Carrot would be good also but I didn’t have)
  • 1 small Idaho potato or 3 Yukon Golds, chopped fine (I pre-cooked the Idaho potato in the microwave for 2 minutes)
  • 1 cup lentils (I prefer French Green lentils, they are smaller and the texture is more firm, less mushy)
  • 5-6 cups of water
  • Thyme
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • Plain Greek Yogurt (Fage 0%)

Heat olive oil in medium to large sauce pan

Saute garlic, celery, potato and any other vegetables in the back of your refrigerator. Take your time with this step, a good 10-15 minutes, stirring infrequently, so that everything gets a little bit crispy brown. When your wonder if you’ve gone too far and worry that it’s about to burn, it’s perfect.

Add lentils and water and thyme.

Simmer for an hour, until potatoes and lentils are soft.  Add vinegar, salt, and pepper.

If too thin, you can take about a third of the soup and blend it. Return it to the rest of the soup to thicken the texture.

Top with 1-2 Tablespoons of plain Greek. Yum! This is the trick that adds creaminess and tang. My husband prefers his with parmesan cheese and Sriacha.

Serve as is with good bread or over brown rice or quinoa. Salad and wine round out the meal.

Serves 4

Ruth’s Sriracha Shrimp Over Coconut Rice

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My Version

I love Ruth Reichl. Love. Love. Love. So much so, that for a long period of my life I wanted to BE Ruth Reichl.

(When you are not so happy with yourself, you spend a lot of time and energy wanting to be other people. People who you imagine are happier and more successful than you and who embody qualities you wish you had. As you become more happy with yourself, more kind to yourself, you realize that these other people are a-jumble, just like you.)

Not that Ruth is a-jumble. Well, actually she is and she admits it, but no more a-jumble than me, or you, or anyone else. Which is another reason why I love Ruth. She is real.

She was at the forefront of the California food trends of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Cooking more fresh, local, organic foods. Experimenting, traveling, discovering. Her food-themed memoirs with lively and lovely personal stories have been a big influence on me. Her curiosity seems insatiable as she goes exploring all over to try delicious food. I’m always awe-struck when she describes hunting down some obscure restaurant in a sketchy part of the world – something I would never have the nerve to do. She had several of my (many) dream jobs: Restaurant critic for the New York Times, and my ultimate dream job, Editor of Gourmet Magazine.

I grew up with Gourmet and slaved over many of its complicated recipes in the 70’s. Somehow I poured my obsession with food into cooking it because I would not allow myself to eat very much of it.

I worked at Condé Nast when she was at Gourmet and one of the things I loved about her was that she was real. Unlike many (well, most) of the iconic editors there, she came across as petite, friendly, open, genuine. I still stammered on the few occasions when I got to speak with her.  Fandom leaves me speechless.

When her latest book released recently, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life, I rushed out to buy it. I could completely empathize. Depressed, angry, directionless after the closing of Gourmet, she retreated to the kitchen to cook. The book is personal. Each recipe has a story and one of her special food haiku’s. And, perhaps most personal of all, each recipe is one that she really cooks and really eats. How better to know someone than to cook and eat with them?

While I am loving the memoir-aspect of the book, I am less enamored of the cookbook-aspect of it. Physically, the book is hard to cook from because it doesn’t open flat. But most of all, I don’t want to cook and eat like Ruth. At least, not any more. Too much meat, too much butter, with sometimes time-consuming details (that I am sure make all the difference in the flavor, but I don’t want to bother). While she cooks for flavor, I cook more for health.

It was with some difficulty that I found a recipe I wanted to try that I thought I would like (meat-free and relatively healthy!) and that I thought my husband would also enjoy (spicy!).

I made it last night and it was completely and absolutely luscious and delicious. The only change I made to the recipe was to use Brown Basmati Rice instead of White Basmati Rice (more nutritious!).

Here is the recipe, (my version), with her haiku:

Ruth’s Sriracha Shrimp Over Coconut Rice

Spicy Shrimp.  Fiery red heat of

Sriracha.  Cool jumble of asparagus,

garlic, ginger. Onions, gentle tropical

sweetness of coconut rice.  Good!

-Ruth Reichl

Coconut Rice

  • 1 Tablespoon Butter
  • ½ can or 7 oz Unsweetened Coconut Milk
  • 7 oz Water
  • 1 cup Brown Basmati Rice

One of the tricks I learned from Ruth is to rinse rice before cooking. I have never done this. It makes a difference!

Heat 1 Tablespoon butter in sauce pan. Rinse rice. Add to saucepan. Stir into the butter and heat for a few minutes until rice is coated with the butter and just beginning to toast. Add coconut milk and water. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 50 minutes. Let sit for another 10 minutes until all liquid is absorbed and rice is no longer hard and crunchy but about to transform from chewy to soft.

Sriracha Shrimp

  • 1 lb Wild American Shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 3-4 Tablespoons Lime Juice – squeeze 1 lime
  • 3-4 Tablespoons Sriracha
  • 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 (small) Onion, chopped
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon Ginger, chopped
  • 1 lb Asparagus, peel stems and cut into 1 inch pieces, discarding thick, hard ends of the stalks

Marinate shrimp in the lime juice and the Sriracha for 15-30 minutes, while the rice is cooking.

Heat oil in large frying pan. Sautée onion, garlic, ginger until soft and beginning to brown – about 5 minutes. Add asparagus. Cook for about 5 minutes until it begins to brown. Cover pan and turn off heat until asparagus softens. This step might not be necessary if the asparagus is very thin. When rice is done and you are ready to eat, turn up heat and add shrimp with the marinade. Cook until shrimp is barely done, about 3-4 minutes. It is crucial to almost undercook the shrimp, so that the shrimp doesn’t get tough.

Divide rice into bowls or plates. Spoon shrimp and asparagus mixture over the rice. Serve with extra Sriracha and lime wedges.

YUM! Toast Ruth. (We drank an inexpensive chianti with a bit of bite.)

Serves 2 enormous portions or 3 normal portions or 4 polite portions. (My husband and I split it – but were quite full afterwards.)

Vegan After 6:00

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Brown Rice and Mushrooms with Tomato Salad

(This meal is more delicious than it appears.  I was too hungry to be patient and take a good photo.)

It’s just my son and me tonight.

We went to the college fair tonight. You know, the one with tons of people milling around picking up college brochures. The first time I went with my daughter 3 years ago, we fled after about 20 minutes. Overwhelmed. This time I knew more about what to expect. We picked 5 schools to seek out and then grabbed a bunch of brochures. We ran into some people we knew. We chatted with my son’s guidance counselor. Everyone seemed overwhelmed, especially the first-timers. It’s the beginning. The beginning of the next step. That push-me pull-you stage where your child imagines life without you, with great excitement and a little bit of trepidation. That push-me pull-you stage where you imagine life without your child with great anxiety and a whole lot of hope.

Home, it’s time for a late dinner. My son is happy (happy!) with frozen pizza. Blech! He feels the same about my food choices. Long ago, I swore I wouldn’t make separate meals for different people, but I do.

This is what I ate for dinner tonight. It’s Vegan. No animals were harmed for this meal.

Brown Rice and Mushrooms with Tomato Salad

  • 1/3 cup Brown Rice and 2/3 cup of water (I like Lundberg Brown Rice)
  • 6 oz chopped mushrooms
  • 6 oz sliced tomatoes (I like Campari if I can’t get fresh/local tomatoes)

I started cooking the brown rice before we left for the college fair and then turned off the heat when we left the house. The rice was cooked when we returned home.

Sautee chopped mushrooms in olive oil (I use the pre-sliced mushrooms for convenience.)

Sautee the mushrooms until they are brown and almost crispy.

Mix together the rice and mushrooms.

Add the tomatoes.

Drizzle about 1 Tablespoon olive oil and about 1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar over everything. The vinegar adds tang and brightness to the rice and mushrooms and the rice tastes good with the tomatoes, like a rice salad.

Salt liberally.

Serves 1…unless your 16-year-old son can be convinced to stray from tried and true frozen pizza.

What I Eat For Dinner

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When It’s Just Me

It’s 9:30 at night and I’m just getting home after choral rehearsal. It was a fun rehearsal. (Not all of them are. Some of them drive me to tears of frustration.) The music is beautiful (Durante’s Magnificat). I’m beginning to find my voice and hear the notes and get friendly with some of the other members.

My son is doing homework. My husband is reading in bed. The house is quiet. Even Cooper is hushed. I am alone!

Ahhh. I just love not having to cook dinner for the family on weeknights! I just love eating something simple just for me. I haven’t eaten yet, because I’d rather wait until I get home late and have time for a quiet meal with just me.

Here is what I ate tonight for dinner. It is one of my favorite go-to dinners when it’s just me.

Baked Potato with Broccoli Rabe

I microwave potatoes when I’m in a time crunch, but they are much more delicious when they are baked at 350° F for 75 minutes. The texture is improved and the skin is drier, not steamed. When I don’t have time to bake, I cheat with a 2-step process:

Preheat the oven to 400° F. While the oven is heating, microwave the potato for about 3-4 minutes. When the oven comes to temperature, put the potato in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Or turn off the oven and leave potato in the oven for 2-3 hours while you go do something else. (I go to rehearsal.)

When I come home, the potato is perfectly done. I cut it into bite size chunks and put it into a sauté pan with a moderate amount of olive oil. (Did I mention that this recipe is not low-fat? But if you use olive oil, it is good for you and very satisfying so you won’t eat a lot of other junk.)

I use a medium low heat to lightly sauté the potatoes until they get a little bit crispy brown.

Add some leftover already-cooked broccoli rabe. I make it regularly and always save some just for this purpose. Heat up with the potatoes.

Serves 1 for a quiet late night dinner when it’s just you.

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