Grain-based Italian meatballs

I’ve been waiting a long time to share this recipe with you – one month and three days shy of an entire year, to be exact.

grain-based Italian meatballs(1)tossed with a rich marinara and best-quality gluten free spaghetti

I’m a very impatient person – it’s felt like an e-t-e-r-n-i-t-y.

I think it’s worth it, though, and not just because I’m excited about these grain-based meatballs. You see, my dear friend Kathy just also happens to be a fantastic cookbook author – and she lets me test and develop recipes for her – and this particular recipe is on page 17 of her latest book, Vegan Slow Cooking – For Two – or Just For You.

deciphered for the massesAren’t you glad I didn’t just scan my original notes and make you try to decipher them?

Did I mention this is her third book? You should visit her site to see what she’s been up to, and to check out the other recipes being shared on this tour. Psst – I’m also giving away a copy of this book! Details in the recipe notes…

grain-based Italian meatballs(2)meatballs always taste better with a hunk of focaccia bread

Back to these meatballs. They are vegan, gluten free, made out of wholesome pantry staples, and free of any binders. They come together in less than 10 minutes, bake in 20, and work just as well as links. I prefer meatballs, though, so that’s what I’m sharing with you today.

meatballs in the makingmeatballs in-the-making
grain-based Italian meatballs-preready for the oven
grain-based Italian meatballs-postleftovers, for a repeat meal in 24 hours // the only reason I saved any was to show you how well they hold up // we always gobble these up in one night
grain-based Italian meatballs Day 2gently simmered for 5 minutes on day 2 // I think they held their shape nicely

Grain-based Italian meatballs

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These don’t have any binders – no ground flax or chia, no psyllium husk, no xanthan or guar gum. Why? Because when I create something new, I always start as simply as possible, and then go from there. I have no idea how they would do if fried, because I don’t like to fry things. I have no idea how they freeze, because I don’t like to freeze this sort of thing. But they’re damned good straight out of the oven. Want to win a copy of this book? Leave me a comment between now and midnight on Sunday, 29 September 2013, and a winner will be randomly selected. Fair Winds Press is letting me give away a print or digital copy, winner’s choice.

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1/2 cup cooked brown lentils, drained
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano or marjoram
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup cold, cooked long grain brown rice
1/2 cup cold, cooked quinoa
3/4 cup almond meal (not flour)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes

Preheat oven to 350 F / 180 C and place a rack in the center position. Line a baking tray with parchment paper or oil lightly.

In a food processor, puree the first nine ingredients (lentils through black pepper) into a paste. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside.

In the same food processor (no need to wash between steps), combine the grains, almond meal and nutritional yeast. Pulse until coarsely ground but not pureed.

Add the rice mixture to the lentil mixture and stir until everything is completely incorporated. It will have the texture of veggie loaf. Wet your hands and shape into links or meatballs. Space evenly on the try at least 1 inch apart.

If making links: Bake for 10 minutes, flip over, and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Turn the oven off, leave the tray inside for 10 more minutes, and then remove the tray and allow to cool at room temperature to firm up.

If making meatballs: Bake for 10 minutes, flip over, bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove the tray and allow to cool at room temperature to firm up.

Links are great for slicing into coins and reheat nicely in a dry or lightly oiled skillet. They can be layered in a dish a few minutes before serving, but won’t hold up if baked in something like a lasagne. If I’m making a baked pasta dish, I like to nestle them in the top just before the final broil – drizzled with a bit of additional sauce and sprinkled with gluten free breadcrumbs, they heat through but don’t fall apart.

Meatballs (or whole links) hold their shape well and can be gently simmered in a sauce for up to 5 minutes. They also reheat well, as long as you refrigerate any unused meatballs in a covered dish without sauce; the moisture will make them disintegrate.

Yield: 15 – 30 links or meatballs, depending on size; I usually end up with 20 medium-sized meatballs

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 20 minutes

Second breakfast / late night snacks / movie+book notes

I’m not a straightaway breakfast person, whether I’m up for work before dawn or a bit later on the weekend. Years and years of running first thing in the morning reinforced this behavior, but I also think it’s because I can’t fall asleep with an empty stomach. Which means I wake up with a semi-full stomach, I guess? Or at the very least, no rumbling hunger pangs.

My first breakfast is usually a smoothie with espresso blended in, or if I’m in a really big hurry (or feeling really full), I fill a jam jar with a scoop of chocolate Vega protein powder, a couple ounces of espresso, top it off with almond milk, give it a shake and bam! first breakfast.

banana pudding overnight oatssecond breakfast, in a jar: banana pudding overnight oats // a tester recipe for Kathy Hester’s current cookbook-in-progress

Jump ahead a couple of hours and I’m ready for second breakfast. On work days, it’s fresh fruit + either chia pudding or a jar of overnight oats. On weekends it’s always something broiled on toast.

a classicsecond breakfast, on toast: this classic never lets me down

I could do an entire blog devoted to things on toast, because it’s also what I have every night right before popping in a movie or cracking open a book.

Speaking of which, I cannot help but share a few titles of things I’ve recently devoured.

Film (first time viewing):
We Need to Talk About Kevin: This movie is not for everyone, but if you can handle it, you should watch it. It’s extremely uncomfortable to watch, but handles the subject matter in an entirely new (to me) way. Most reviews don’t do this movie justice; they seem to imply it’s a shock-seeking amalgam of horror and drama, which is true of many films in this newly emerging genre. Yes, the subject matter is horrifying – but the director’s approach to this topic, the editing, cinematography, set and costume design, and acting make it difficult to label as any one type of film. If you read the novel, forget everything from that experience. (But you don’t need me to tell you that, because we all know that cinematography and the written word are two entirely different media, and a director and an author convey their own interpretations of material. Ahem.) If you didn’t read the novel, here’s my attempt at a synopsis: this film is about a family – a mother and son, mostly – and a patchwork of present day events, real flashbacks, and recollections filtered through the mother’s point of view, all swirling around and leading up to a specific event. It’s a study of nature vs. nurture, exposing many questions without offering any definitive answers. I watched this without knowledge of what the event was (although you have a pretty good idea early on), and had read the novel so long ago that by the time I realized it, I was able to ignore anything book-related and immerse myself in the film. Almost no violence is actually shown on screen, but the tension and dread leading up to a few scenes and played out through the actors’ body language and facial expressions revealed more than a thousand audible or visual shocks could.  Oh yes, and it stars Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller and John C. Reilly.

Films (repeat viewings):
Fright Night (2011): Colin Farrell, an actor I’ve grudgingly come to appreciate, gives this remake an equally campy and creepy turn. I first watched this to see David Tennant in leather pants; I rewatch it because Farrell’s vampire scared the shit out of me. In an otherwise campy-in-all-the-right-places movie, he’s quite good.

Super 8: So my personal opinion is that everything in this film after the alien is revealed and starts snatching people up is totally overblown, typical J.J. Abrams Spielberg worship schtick, but up until that point? One of my favorite movies ever. The dialogue and behavior of the kids is straight out of It or Stand by Me – one of the coming-of-age friendship scenes not involving murderous demon clowns or dead bodies near railroad tracks. (The real hallmark of King’s writing.) I really, really wanted to watch this with Nina, but my husband reminded me that not only does she already know enough curse words without seeing a pack of tweens saying ‘shit’ in every other sentence (although their dialogue is pretty fucking funny, and realistic from what I remember of my childhood), but also that the alien might give her a bit of a scare.

Books (first time readings):
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler: I think this novel is better the less you know (sort of like Little Bee). If you really want to read a review, though, the one from the NYT Sunday Book Review is quite good.

Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn: Dark and disturbing (think V.C. Andrews crossed with Jodi Picoult); very predictable but in the most delicious, disaster-rubbernecking sort of way.

spin dip (not) on toastdestined to be a second breakfast on toast

Oh, and I was going to share one of my favorite things to eat on toast. There is a baking dish of this particular spinach artichoke dip in my refrigerator at least once a month. It works as a quesadilla filling, as a stand alone appetizer with chips, and most importantly, broiled atop a slice of sourdough with a healthy dusting of smoked paprika.

spin dip on toastthe ultimate second breakfast, even better as a midnight or movie snack

Spinach artichoke dip

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I tested this dip a couple of years ago for Allyson Kramer’s first cookbook, Great Gluten Free Vegan Eats, and it quickly became the dish I bring to every party. The original has a cashew cream base, which unfortunately a friend of mine can’t eat. Instead of looking for a new recipe, I came up with this.

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2 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise
1 6-ounce container plain Greek vegan yogurt
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced chives
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon fine grain salt
2 cups of packed chopped spinach leaves
1 can of large artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
additional salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Stir together everything except the spinach and artichoke hearts. Fold these last two ingredients in, and add additional salt if needed. Transfer to a small baking dish (no larger than 9″ square) and bake for 25 minutes, or until bubbly and starting to brown. Allow to set at least five minutes before serving.

Yield: 1 pan

Prep time: 15 minutes | Bake time: 25 minutes

Brown bagging it + the easiest, laziest cookie recipe ever

Nina brings her lunch to school, which probably comes as no surprise. I make it while she eats breakfast and watches a few minutes of her favorite tv show (if she’s ready for school in time – tv is the best motivator ever). Her lunch includes something in her thermos 3-4 days a week, which I prepare on the stove and then transfer immediately to keep it hot.

vegan kid lunch (1)blueberry coconut yogurt, blanched tofu, pecans+dried apricots, Veggie Booty, veggies+pasta tossed w. olive oil+nutch // most of the veggies are on the bottom; she always thinks there’s more pasta overall based on what she sees at the top // I pack it into her thermos when it’s slightly more firm than al dente, since it will soften a little in the thermos

It probably sounds time consuming, but it isn’t! Not as long as we stick to a schedule. Here’s our morning routine:

0545    I get myself up and ready for work (sometimes hitting snooze until 0600 because dudes, short hair! short hair!)
0610    N’s alarm goes off (she hasn’t learned the art of snoozing – yet)
0615    N is at the table, and if she hasn’t told me what she wants for breakfast, I get to choose it for her
0630a  N finishes breakfast, gets dressed, brushes teeth and hair, makes her bed, (cleans the stables and sweeps the chimney, ha ha ha) and with time left over watches the brothers Kratt
0630b  I start her lunch, have my breakfast, finish getting ready for work (eyeliner and picking out shoes – because short hair!)
0700    Feed the (non-human!) animals
0715    In the car to drop her at school on my way to work

This routine was ignored maybe two or three times last year by Nina. The solution? I got in the car and left without her. (Evil laugh.) (Her dad drove her instead.) (Tough love can fun.)

vegan kid lunch (2)veggie chips, spelt sourdough pb+? (j/banana/chocolate hazelnut spread), a sliced peach; not pictured: yogurt + chocolate almond milk

The thing that always, always, always messed up our routine? Preparing my own lunch. I’m not in the pack-it-up-the-night-before camp, because my lunch ends up tasting stale or gross and I just end up buying something else, then feeding my uneaten lunch to my hens when I get home. The solution was ridiculously easy. I stock my work refrigerator with enough greens and various proteins to provide a week’s worth of giant salads, and only bring from home some veggies and a small jar of whatever easily reheatable leftovers I set aside from the previous night’s meal. Sometimes I bring rice and guacamole, sometimes a curried vegetable biryani. Having a couple of different proteins at work gives me an excuse to indulge in something my family doesn’t have that often (smoked tofu) or that I want to try before serving it to them (Beyond Meat). Also, it gives me an excuse to take a mid-week field trip to Whole Foods when I need to get out of my office. Win-win!

2013041814696my lunch = a casserole dish-sized salad topped w. whatever favorite plant protein was on sale at Whole Foods that week
vegan kid lunch (3)prep time for N’s lunch: 5 minutes // pita bread pb+j/etc, carrot sticks, yogurt w. frozen fruit (to keep it cold!), unshelled pistachios hiding in the monkey bag

If I have a little extra time (especially on days Nina takes a sandwich^^), I’ll also whip up these cookies. I make a small batch, so that my husband doesn’t feel bad about eating all of them five minutes after we leave.

lunch-sized cookiesall packed up, room for a cookie

Anything goes chocolate chip cookies

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These come together very quickly – I start preheating my oven before I even get out the mixing bowl. I’ve discovered that they also bake well in a countertop oven. I use whatever flours are on hand: millet, sorghum, brown rice, oat. I don’t bother with starch, since they’re so tiny. For those of you who aren’t gluten free, they also work well with spelt flour.

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Large scoop (2-3 tablespoons) nut or seed butter
2 tablespoons maple syrup
splash (~1 tablespoon) of almond milk
a few drops of vanilla or almond extract
small pinch of baking soda
small pinch of fine grain salt
2 tablespoons quinoa flour
2 tablespoons almond meal
1 palmful of semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a small bowl, mash the nut/seed butter, maple syrup and milk into a slurry. Add the extract, baking soda and salt and mix thoroughly. Add the flours and chips and mix one more time. You’ll want the dough to be stiff, but not unmanageable. If too stiff, add another splash of milk. If too wet, add a pinch of flour.

Spoon walnut-sized portions onto a parchment-lined baking tray and bake for 12 minutes. No need to space them very far apart, as they will not spread. The cookies will be soft and cakey, firming up as they cool.

Yield: 6 cookies

Prep time: 5 minutes | Bake time: 12 minutes

Setting the mood

I wish I were out of doors – I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy […] I’m sure I should be myself were I once among the heather on those hills.

winter.pond
exploring our woods and pond, not unlike Catherine exploring the moors

Despite temps in the high 80s and days spilling over with bright white sunshine, autumn is just around the corner. I love this time of year for so many reasons – skinny jeans and opaque tights tucked into knee-high boots, stocking up on yarn to knit up scarves/hats/arm&leg warmers, the smell of decaying leaves and wood fires.

But mostly, I love it for the books and films it puts me in the mood for.

This is the time of year when I first read The Historian and A Discovery of Witches; when I always re-read Into the Wild, Time Traveler’s Wife, and a few shorts by King or Barker. I check out new novels friends describe as “dark in the best way possible.” I plan and view – sometimes for and by just myself – film festivals ranging from Kubrick to gothic horror.

{Film favorites the first half of this month: Jane Eyre (2011); Wuthering Heights (2011); The Awakening. Oh, so much to say about these films! Perhaps a review post is in the near future.}

In my autumn kitchen, there are apples and winter squash piled up on the table; yeasted and slow-rising breads in the oven; a pot of oatmeal for breakfast every morning and teacakes under the cake dome every night. Familiar grains are revisited, new ones explored. And always, always, a jar of uttapam batter bubbling away on the counter.

uttapam.batterbubbles! bubbles!
uttapam+souputtapam is the perfect side for a bowl of soup or stew

Uttapam

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In a roundabout sort of way, dosas are to uttapam what crepes are to pancakes. Over the years I’ve modified SE Katz’s dosa recipe from Wild Fermentation, changing a couple of ingredients to suit my tastes, and decreasing liquid to keep the batter thick. I usually fill these with chopped onion and cilantro, but have also been known to stuff them full of all manner of things à la the pudla craze. I like to measure my batter out 1/4 cup at a time, mixing in the filling for each uttapam directly in the measuring cup. Depending on ambient room temperature, humidity and organisms present in the air, each batch of batter will ferment a little differently. As soon as your batter tastes good to you, move it to the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation process. I prefer to use a tall glass 1/2 gallon jar for my batter.

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{batter}
1 1/2 cups uncooked basmati rice
1/2 cup cooked basmati rice
1 cup dry red lentils
1/4 cup plain, unsweetened coconut kefir or yogurt

{suggested filling per uttapam}
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped onion
pinch of salt
coconut oil, for the skillet

Fermenting the batter
In a tall bowl or jar, combine your rice and lentils and cover completely with water. Seal tightly and leave to soak for 8-12 hours.

Strain the rice and lentils, and return them to the jar. Add the kefir or yogurt and use an immersion blender to grind everything into a thick, smooth batter. Small flecks of rice and lentils is fine, but the batter should not be chunky. Add water only if necessary, a tablespoon at a time.

Cover the top of the jar with a piece of gauze or cheesecloth, secure with a rubber band (or lid ring, if using a canning jar) and leave out at room temperature to ferment, anywhere from 24-56 hours. Check after 24 hours and every 8 hours after, until the flavor suits you. It will be sour, and the batter will expand and rise substantially as it ferments.

Making the uttapam
Prepare enough filling for however many uttapam you want to make. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat, and rub with a small amount of coconut oil. While the skillet is heating, measure out 1/4 cup batter. Drop your filling into the measuring cup and fold in with a small spoon. Pour the batter into the skillet; it should be the consistency of pancake batter. Cook until crisp and golden on one side, about five minutes; flip and cook through.

Yield: 3 Cups batter

Prep time: 5 minutes | Fermentation time: 1-3 days | Cook time: 10 minutes

Not chicken soup

Nina has mostly bounced back from her back-to-school cold, but I had a wicked 24-hour stomach virus earlier this week.

In lieu of the proverbial (vegan) chicken soup, this is what I feed myself and family when we’re on the mend.

GetHealthyStirfryThe world’s ugliest stir fry (serves two!): 1 small head of cabbage, 8 giant mushrooms, 1/2 block of tempeh, 2 handfuls cherry tomatoes, 1 handful cilantro, 4 cloves garlic, 1/2-inch piece of ginger, 1/2 cup cooked long grain rice, turmeric, tamari, toasted sesame oil, pinch of sugar, and as much chili paste as you can handle.
PickleMadnessAlways with the pickles: lacto-fermented pickles (with ginger+garlic, and straight up garlic+dill), vinegar Szechuan peppercorn pickles, spicy-sweet mustard relish (mashed w. chickpeas), vinegar-pickled sweet peppers and shallots
homemade crispy tacosHa ha! I wish. Crispy skillet tacos, I miss you.
CitrusSmoothie.pre CitrusSmoothei.postgreen citrus smoothies

Spinach citrus smoothie

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I prefer frozen spinach over fresh for quick, smooth blending. Whether it’s from my co-op’s freezer section or spinach that I chopped and froze myself, I always have a bag at the ready.  I make these almost every morning during the winter for my family to have with breakfast, and whenever one of us is under the weather.

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1 large orange
1/2 grapefruit
1/2 lemon
1 handful frozen spinach
1 handful crushed ice
1-2 teaspoons agave or maple syrup to sweeten, if needed

Peel, seed and segment your citrus. Blend everything until smooth and frothy. Sweeten to taste. Drink up.

Yield: 2-3 Cups

Prep time: 5 minutes | Blend time: 1 minute

Asparagus & caramelized red onion pesto

In my kitchen, there is no such thing as too much pesto, and I’ve been making this one the past couple of springs when asparagus is in season.

I grow purple asparagus at home, but the spears are so tender and sweet that I eat them right on the spot. For this pesto, I make a special trip to the farmers’ market to pick up a bunch of bright green spears.

Asparagus isn’t in season right now where I live, but it’s in season somewhere, right? When I found this recipe in one of my torn and tattered notebooks over the weekend, rather than rewrite it I decided to post it here.

asparagus.redonion.pestoYep, definitely worth a trip to the farmers’ market.
capellini.w.asparagus.pestoWorth the effort.

Asparagus & caramelized red onion pesto

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Thin asparagus spears are preferable, as they are less fibrous. If you use thick stalks, you’ll need to peel them before steaming. If you have a steamer basket (or stainless steel colander) that fits over your pasta pot, use it instead of an asparagus steamer. This dish tastes equally well hot, at room temperature, and cold, especially as a midnight snack. We like ours tossed with capellini. (My favorite gluten free brand, hands down, is Jovial.)

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1 large handful (25-30) thin asparagus spears
2-3 red torpedo onions or 1/4 red globe onion
2 teaspoons olive oil
2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast, to taste
1-2 teaspoons lemon zest, to taste
large pinch of coarse salt
pasta water to thin, if needed

Snap off the woody ends from your asparagus stalks. Thinly slice your onions; there should be enough to loosely pile into a 1/3 measuring cup. If using a red globe onion, cut a few thin-as-possible half moon slices, then cut into small strips about 1/4 inch long. Set up your steamer, your pasta pot (if not using to steam the asparagus), and a small cast iron or nonstick skillet for the onions.

Steam asparagus until fork tender. While the asparagus is steaming, put a teaspoon or two of olive oil into a small skillet over med heat. Sauté the onion until it begins to caramelize, then remove from heat and transfer to your food processor. When the onion and asparagus have both finished cooking, begin heating your liberally salted pasta water.

Cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces and add to the food processor. Pulse a few times until the mixture is almost puréed. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the remaining ingredients. If you need additional liquid, add some of the pasta water, a tablespoon at a time. Season to taste with salt and additional lemon zest, if needed.

Drain your pasta, reserving a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water. Add the pesto and gently toss to coat, using some of the reserved water if it’s too thick. Season with cracked pepper and coarse salt at the table.

Yield: 1 Cup

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 10 minutes

lazy weekend scramble

scrambled Veggthe day your tofu scram meets Vegg is a happy, happy day

This is a great way to use up any leftover emulsified Vegg from another recipe. Or, just blend a bit up to keep at the ready if you make tofu scram often. I often use Vegg to make egg-less carbonara.

Mash up your tofu, drizzle with Vegg, mix it in really well and let it rest while you prep your veggies. Scramble your Vegg-dredged tofu, add your veggies and proceed as normal.

Happy weekend!