Rice, Quinoa, and Berry Casserole

Today for lunch I cooked the following recipe for my kids while they were home from school. My kids love berries, but I rarely cook with berries. I decided to offer them a treat today by adapting a recipe from one of my Polish cookbooks. My mother was Polish and cooking Polish food brings her to my thoughts and mind; however, I also wanted my kids to have some protein in their lunch. I adapted the recipe to include quinoa for protein, local honey to help boost the business of our local co-op, and used frozen berries picked by my family at a local farm earlier this year (and subsequently frozen). The recipe fed four of us (a dad, a middle schooler, an elementary student, and a toddler) lunch with seconds and still had enough left over to send with the kids for lunch at school tomorrow.

This recipe is adapted from the “Rice & Berry Casserole (babka ryżowa z owocami)” recipe from “Polish Heritage Cookery” by Maria and Robert Strybel. Various changes to the recipe are found here, but I highly recommend you purchase the cookbook and try out some of the recipes.

Rice, Quinoa, and Berry Casserole

  • 3/4 c Quinoa
  • 3/4 c Rice
  • 1 1/2 c Milk
  • 1 1/2 Water
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  • 2 pinches of Cinnamon
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1/2 c Honey, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds of berries (blueberries are my family’s favorite, but I am betting other berries would be equally delicious, especially blackberries)
  • Shortening to coat dish
  1. Rinse quinoa and rice to remove both the starch from the rice and the bitterness from the quinoa. Strain through a very-fine mesh strainer. Here’s the one I use…
  2. Cook quinoa and rice with milk and water. For the purposes of today’s photos, I used white basmati rice and cooked the rice in a rice cooker. This left browned portions that my family doesn’t mind, but cooking the mixture on a stovetop can remedy the issue if you do not like browned rice and quinoa bits.
  3. While rice and quinoa are cooking, bring 1/4 c of the honey and 3 eggs up to usable temperatures. I brought the eggs up to room temperature and heated the honey until it was easily pourable (but not hot enough to cook the eggs). Whisk together the 1/4 c honey, 3 eggs, cinnamon, and vanilla in a bowl.
  4. Preheat oven to 375º F and use the shortening to grease an overproof casserole dish. We used a large casserole dish to help with portion control.
  5. Combine cooked rice and quinoa with egg mixture. Fold together until mixed, but do not overly mix. Divide mixture in half.
  6. Place half of the mixture into the casserole and flatten with a spatula or spoon. Place berries on top of first half of mixture and drizzle remaining quarter cup of honey over the berries. Top with remaining half of mixture.
  7. Cover and bake for 40 minutes. Top with either a drizzle of honey or a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Kitchen Experiment: Tofu Sandwich

One of the classical challenges of Lent is the idea of going without meat and chicken on Fridays. Traditionally, this meant eating fish, but with the advent of more readily available alternatives, tofu is an interesting option.

Today I needed to feed my daughter and I lunch as she was home from the sitter’s house throughout the workday. She hung out on my back during office hours as I worked at my walking desk, but still needed to eat. I decided today would be as good a day as any to experiment with a tofu sandwich. I thought about my favorite flavors, looked through our appliances, and tried out a maple and cheese tofu panini!

The first thing I did was to slice the tofu in half lengthwise after pressing the excess water out of the tofu. I spread some maple syrup, smoked black pepper, and salt into a glass container. I then placed the tofu into the container and repeated the process overtop the tofu. Spoiler alert: I should have cut the tofu in fourths as the sandwich ended up being very squishy.

After the tofu marinated for about half an hour, I preheated my panini grill until it was ready to cook a sandwich. I placed the tofu into the press and left it in the press for about six minutes. I like the edges a bit crispy, so I stopped the press here. As my panini maker tends to be warmer on the top, I should have left the bottom to cook a bit longer.

After the tofu was prepared, I placed some multigrain bread with cheese onto the grill, placed the tofu onto the bread, and topped the tofu with bread before cooking it around three minutes. As you can see, the tofu should have been quartered instead of halved.

Verdict? The kiddo gobbled down all of her lunch quickly. I enjoyed mine, but struggled with the thickness of the tofu. Next time I will likely quarter the tofu and add a few drops of tabasco to the marinade to make the taste a bit more complex. I also think cheddar may have been the wrong flavor cheese. Something a bit more neutral or even in the opposite directions with herbs would have been interesting.

How are all of you fasting folks doing this Lent? Any good recipes you want to share? Any constructive or positive comments on my methodology?

Hummus Corks!

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.

Psalm 139:13-18, NRSV

Human beings are precious. The scriptures tell us several times and places that we are made in a very wonderful way. Psalm 139 tells us that we are very carefully created. The New Testament tells us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians, but the context of that passage does not relate (in my own opinion) to this discussion.

I have a very slow metabolism. My metabolism runs as the breakneck speed of molasses in a freezer. If I were to become a desert hermit, that would likely be an asset. Living in a society of plenty, I find it to be a bit of a liability. I used to weigh a lot more, have been hovering around the same weight for a couple of years, and fantasize about dropping lower.

One of my problems is that I don’t eat any meal but dinner on a regular basis at the same time. Dinner in our house is usually at almost exactly 5:00 PM. Every other meal is just wildly all over the place and breakfast is normally non-existent for me. This is a problem. I have been given a body and I want to take care of it. My ingrained habits are not helping…

I am trying to join my wife in being healthier this year. One way I am trying to do that is to find healthier ways of eating lunch. Rather than skipping meals, eating one big meal, or just constantly snacking my way through the less healthy things in our house, I am trying to be intentional about picking healthier food.

Perhaps that is why I am today offering up for public knowledge the best thing since sliced bread. Okay, the recipe is not that good, but it is pretty good and fairly healthy. I recently got a copy of “Polish Heritage Cookery” by Robert & Maria Strybel. It is a lovely cookbook with a lot of the heritage foods that I keep trying to cook out of my mom’s Polish cookbook, but with a lot better explanation. In other words, I keep messing up my mom’s recipes and needed help.

I was looking for something to make for church the other day and went to the new cookbook for help. I found a recipe for “korki z ogórków faszerowane” or Stuffed Cucumber Corks. I wanted something a little less carnivorous, so I kept searching. The next entry was “ogórki nadziewane twarogiem” or Cheese Stuffed Cucumbers. The recipe looked perfect, except I didn’t have farmers cheese. I substituted some neufchatel cheese and prepared the corks for Fellowship time after church. The recipe as written was not a healthy recipe but it certainly looked good!

The cucumber corks went over smashingly. The leftover were devoured and I went back to try the more carnivorous cucumbers on my own. We had some leftover Christmas Beef Roast from my favorite Irish cookbook. I made the salad according to the recipe in the Polish cookbook and it was good, but the calories were not so great. Additionally, it took weeks to prepare the Christmas roast, and I don’t have that time on a regular basis.

So, I tossed around the question in my head a few days. I wanted something rich in protein, tasty, variable, and more sustainable. I was throwing around thickening up cottage cheese, when I looked down the dairy case to find something very interesting.

Hummus! Pliable, versatile, vegetarian, gluten-free, and delicious hummus! What would happen if I were to take some hummus, take my seedless cucumber, and combine the two with the help of my melon baller?

So, without further ado: Hummus corks! A European/Middle Eastern mashup!

Ingredients: Cucumbers (seedless) and hummus…

Slice a thin portion from your cucumber. By the end of my lunch, I was down to about a half an inch per slice of cucumber.
Use a melon baller (or spoon) to remove most of the inside of the cucumber. The original cork recipe did not call for a seedless cucumber, but I found the seedless cucumber held up to this process much better without leaking.
Fill the cucumber cavity with hummus! This particular hummus was flavored with lemon and dill. It was a very tasty lunch and I was able to cut up the parts I scooped out with my toddler!

The lunch that resulted from this recipe was a very light lunch, but it was decidedly tasty. In the future, I might recommend making this the night before and using the pieces pulled out from the corks as part of a salad to go with dinner.

Let us Ramble: On Commitment

There is something foul afoot in the Dean household. My family was in the Olean and Buffalo areas this past weekend visiting with relatives. Every single one of them had a cold yesterday. Yesterday was a foul day full of a lot of phlegmy sounds.

When everyone had settled into bed for the night I drove into town to pick up supplies. Liquids, liquids, and more liquids. We also had begun to run low on that most effective of medicines. We were low on chicken broth. With three folks fighting colds and a father who has to keep his body healthy to resist the plague, chicken broth is a powerful thing to have around.

As I drove into town I thought about the evening that had almost taken place. I was supposed to go into town to play a tabletop game with a colleague and his friends. There were invitations for my family to enjoy a nice lasagna with my colleague’s family. As a very isolated introvert, it is the kind of event that is really healthy for me. When my family became ill, those plans had to be put aside. My family needed me. I drove and thought over the night’s events that could have been while remembering what had taken place in our kitchen while a chorus of coughs serenaded me from the next room.

Earlier in the day I set to work to make kluski noodles. When I was young, a hot bowl of wonton soup was my favorite cold remedy. Often, I wouldn’t even eat the wontons. I would just drink down the hot broth with gusto. As I grew older, I went to college where I learned that the Chinese restaurants in the vicinity were not up to par. Their broth was way too watery and the wontons were generally nothing to write home about. I was frustrated, looked for alternatives, and found kluski noodle soup at the store. The soup was really fragrant, the noodles were small enough to enjoy without scratching things up on the way down, and this was a great alternative to the wonton soup of my childhood.

I brought forward my love of this soup into my marriage. It was quite a sight when my wife and I would get sick My wife felt better when wrapped in her grandfather’s old robe. I only felt better when I had plenty of broth to drink. She’d wrap up and watch me sip cup after cup of broth. We both felt better, which was the goal. As the parent of two daughters, my plan has continued to work while the three of them fight over one bathrobe. You can always make more soup for more bowls.

So, I set about the task of making kluski noodles for soup. I asked for recommendations, received a wonderful recipe from my mother-in-law which her mother used to cook, and set to work. I measured, I sifted, I mixed, I realized I made a mistake, I corrected, mixed some more, and rolled them out before attacking with a pizza cutter. Here’s what they looked like when all rolled and cut.

Kluski noodles!

Not exactly uniform, but uniform isn’t the rule of the day when you’re making homemade soup. I set about making the broth. I was out of bone broth, so I used some dried chicken soup base and set out into the garden with a pair or scissors to attack the lemon thyme, sage, and parsley plants. Along with some ground peppercorns, a dash of garlic powder, and a leaf off of my bay tree, the soup base was ready to simmer for a few hours to mix flavors and fill the house with the smell of health.

I did not always know how to cook. While I am almost certain most people who have eaten in my kitchen would find it odd to believe, especially when I am feeling particularly miserable and tell people my fantasy of running away to become a cook in an isolated diner in someplace quiet like Maine or North Dakota. I actually was a horrible cook when my wife married me.

I learned to cook in seminary while my wife was working to make sure we had those niceties which do not come easily when you are getting an education on student loans. Due to my wife’s working with the developmentally disabled we had things like food, soap, and deodorant. I still believe that my classmates adored my wife for that last blessing alone.

I started simple with things like grilled cheese, which I had already learned to cook in home economics in school. I flipped the sandwiches way too often, didn’t use my nose to smell, had little experience, and burned the living daylights out of a lot of them at first. I practiced and I learned. Highlights of my first year of cooking:

  • I learned it is harder to burn things in a crockpot. Harder does not mean impossible.
  • I somehow made split pea and ham soup with neither split peas or ham!
  • I learned that Campbell’s soup is good in a pinch, but not sufficient alone to help a hungry Kayti make it through a shift at work.
  • I learned that I had an affinity for cooking eggs. We understood each other and my wife started calling me her “King of Eggs.” I still find that to be one of the nicest things anyone has ever called me.

I practiced, practiced, and practiced. When my wife became pregnant I began to practice cooking with the things she was craving, usually with mixed results. When my child came along, I began to look into soft foods like porridge. I began to steam things, sauté, and “unfortunately” finally left the seminary and became appointed to a place where cable was a part of our housing package. In other words, I was finally exposed to the Food Network where I became obsessed with people like Alton Brown. We still get the Food Network magazine years after telling our beloved parsonage committees that they do not need to pay for cable as it is neither helpful nor desirable in a house with small kids. I like my advertisements like I like my clickbait–easily ignorable in a sidebar, not blasting in my face decibels louder than a television program every three minutes.

In time I began to see cooking as more than a hobby. Cooking was a way I could bless the people around me, including my family. If you’re looking for me around 3:30 PM on an afternoon, the place to look for me is generally at the parsonage. If you come around 4:00 PM, you may even get an invitation to dinner if it is stretchable. I cook dinner almost every night because it is one way I live out my commitment to my wife “for better or worse.” The same love and commitment fuels me as a parent as I continue to push back against my youngest daughter’s whims against “weird” vegetables like pepper and strange food like “fish.” I have been given a gift, but that gift is not for me alone. In a paraphrase of the words of the Abrahamic blessing, God has said “I will bless you so that you may be a blessing to others.”

In continuing the story of the soup, I added some frozen turkey bits from a previously roasted turkey, some carrots, and yellow pepper to the broth about half an hour before my wife was going to be home. Normally I wouldn’t have added them so early, but let’s be clear here–sick people do not love crunchy vegetables. Softer carrots and softer peppers are good for the throat, especially as the pepper oils spread into the broth and slowly condition my youngest child to like the taste of peppers–I will win the pepper-war eventually. When my wife walked in the door, the slightly dried noodles were tossed in the pot. In a few minutes (far less time required than when cooking dried noodles), the soup was ladled out to salivating kids. A prayer, a blessing, and sore throats began to enjoy.

Yummy soup

My kids claimed it was the most delicious soup they’d ever eaten. My wife said it was really good. To be honest, it was pretty good. I drank a couple extra ladles of broth to make sure my body would stay nice and healthy.

As I collected my groceries and returned home, I thought about all of these things. I thought about the game that I had missed and the fellowship over lasagna that could have been mine that evening. I reflected and gave thanks that a perfect day had not occurred, but that my commitment to learning, practicing, and caring had allowed me to bring blessing into my sick family. Commitment is not always about the large things in life. Commitment is often lived out in the little things, like learning to plant herbs and use them to make a good cup of soup.

Rob’s “Kluski” Noodle Soup (makes… a lot of brothy soup that is easy on bellies and throats)

  • 1 gallon Chicken Soup Base (or skimmed poultry bone broth)
  • 2 cups of previously roasted turkey (small bits–I imagine any poultry would do, but I would recommend something chunky, not sliced. My wife would say to buy a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store and chop it up. I would tell you to reserve the bones and skin to make bone broth later, especially if people might be sick for a couple of days. Yes, I know that’s a beef bone broth recipe, but just substitute chicken. It works, I promise.)
  • 1 cup of sliced carrots
  • 1 yellow pepper, diced
  • 1 dash garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper
  • Noodles!
    • 2 cups flour, sifted
    • ½ teaspoon salt (shh–I used the “No-Salt” my dad left behind to cut down on the sodium)
    • 2 Eggs
    • 2 half-eggshells of water (old recipe indeed)
  • 1 Bouquet Garni (tie together with enough string to tie it to the handle of pot so that you can remove it easily)
    • 5 sprigs (3 inches) of Lemon Thyme
    • 2 sprigs parsley with stems (3 inches)
    • 1 sprig sage (3 inches)
    • 1 bay leaf

First, make the noodles. On a clean surface, like a large rolling board or a silicone rolling mat, sift the flour and salt together. Make a well in the flour. Crack the eggs into the well. Work the eggs through the flour, which is surprisingly easier if you do it before you add the water. When thoroughly mixed, form another well and add the water. At this point, I use a spatula to make sure the water doesn’t escape until the dough is formed. Roll the dough as flat as possible and cut into the desired shape. Kluskis are usually about 2 inches long and maybe a half centimeter wide. I didn’t do a very good job at this part, but they still tasted good.

Bring broth to a boil. Reduce to simmer. Add spices and the bouquet garni after tying it to the handle. Leave it to summer for at least an hour. The soup will smell very lemony, but that’s okay. The thyme will not overpower the soup. With half an hour to go, put in the veggies and turkey. If the turkey is frozen, add the turkey a few minutes earlier and bring the broth up to a boil. I personally remove the bouquet at this point so the tumbling vegetables don’t break too many leaves off. The thyme lost several leaves, but after this long a boil, they’ll just slip down the throat with the broth without causing even a hiccup to the most sensitive of throats.

When you’re almost ready to eat (seriously, only a few minutes), set the table and add the noodles. They will float when nearly done. Taste one noodle (I use chopsticks to pull it out–kluskis are dense but should taste cooked through) and adjust broth if necessary, although I didn’t need to do anything. Serve with lots of broth to make unhealthy throats happy.