Home Assignment 3: 1 Grain/3 Ways – Buckwheat!

Winter seems the perfect time to enjoy food with hearty flavors, so I chose buckwheat as my “grain” to prepare three different ways this week. My grandfather owned and operated one of our country’s only buckwheat mills, so buckwheat has always been dear to my heart. Although no longer in the family, I’m pleased to say that Birkett Mills is still in operation in upstate New York, and it produces many organic products, including the organic buckwheat hulls that I used to mulch my asparagus bed several years ago. To this day, many brand name buckwheat products one buys in this country are produced there – including Wolff’s, Pocono, Puritan, and the house brand itself,  Birkett Mills.

I tried making buckwheat 3 ways – once as the flour in a pancake-style blini, once toasted & then cooked with stock to create the stuffing for grape leaves, and last boiled like rice and then used in three different recipes. I found buckwheat to be delicious and versatile, and by finding its way into our home, it worked its magic in my heart. The final recipe is my favorite of all – a salad of chopped veggies & buckwheat dressed with a fresh herb & spice vinaigrette.

Recipe #1 – Blini

Blini require either planning ahead or patience! Because I didn’t plan ahead (other than having the ingredients on hand), I had to be extra patient for breakfast on Sunday morning. Blini are yeast-raised, so after adding 1 tsp. active yeast to 3/4 c. warmed milk & 2 Tbsp. melted butter, one must wait an hour to allow the yeast to grow. A mini-whisk was indispensable in getting the yeast to dissolve in the liquids. After an hour, I stirred in 1 beaten egg, 3/4 c. buckwheat flour, and 3/4 c. whole wheat flour. The batter was a little stiff, so I splashed in a little water to thin, allowing the pancakes to cook through more quickly. I used a Tablespoon to scoop out the perfect amount for small pancakes, which I cooked in sizzling canola oil (butter would have been delicious, but canola is less saturated & has a pleasant flavor). Blini are often served with sour cream and very salty/savory toppings such as caviar or smoked fish. I substituted a sweet and sour combination – nonfat Greek yogurt, fresh blueberries, a candied hibiscus flower garnish, with its syrup drizzled over all.

Recipe #2 – Stuffed Grape Leaves

This was time-consuming to prepare, but my husband asked that it be added to our regular repertoire, so it was worth the trouble. This recipe is a terrific alternative to the traditional recipe that uses lamb/beef and rice. Much more flavorful and far leaner! Also, 1 jar of grape leaves makes enough to fill my large crock pot and freeze enough to serve in the future with very little effort.

The stuffing:

I cooked 1 lb. ground bison (extremely lean!) in the crock pot for 4 hours in 1 quart of chicken stock, adding 2 diced carrots, 2 diced celery stalks, and 2 diced fennel stalks & fronds. Next I stirred 1 c. barley groats into a beaten egg, and after letting it rest 5 minutes, I toasted in a skillet on the cook top. When they were browned, I added 2 c. chicken stock and simmered 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I diced 3 cloves of shallots and 1 large, sweet onion and caramelized in some extra virgin olive oil. Then I used a slotted spoon to remove all the meat & veggies from the crock pot (leaving behind the stock), and stir the meat & veggies and the caramelized onion/shallot mixture into the cooked buckwheat, adding 1 tsp. dried mint and 1/2 c. minced fresh parsley.

Wrapping and cooking:

A large cutting board is the perfect place to assemble the grape leaves. The grape leaves come vinegar-pickled in a jar and are rather challenging to remove. This needs to be done over a bowl or sink to allow the brine to drain. Thankfully, the leaves are sturdy and are carefully rolled, so they were undamaged despite the tugging. The leaves get more tender during cooking, but there may still be some fibrous areas. I removed any visible stems, as I selected the leaves. Each dumpling requires about 2 leaves and 1/4 to 1/2 c. stuffing. Since the leaves are different sizes, the dumpling size will also vary. No big deal!Overlapping the leaves and folding in the ends, burrito-style was the best way to assemble.

I added each dumpling to the juices in the crock pot as I prepared them. When done, there was a very tightly-packed single layer with juice to just cover. I put on the lid and let it simmer until kickoff (about 4 hours). By that time, the liquid had disappeared, but the leaves were still moist – any longer, and they may have dried out. (The remaining dumplings were packed & frozen – they will need to be placed in a cassarole or crockpot with stock to just cover in order to finish their preparation.)


Recipe #3 – Stirfry over Buckwheat Groats

Reading our assignment more carefully, I realized that we were supposed to make a large quantity of 1 grain and then use portions in three different recipes. So I made a large batch (1 c. dry with 2 cups water expands to 4 c. cooked) for use with 3 recipes.

Cooking buckwheat Groats

When preparing buckwheat groats, The Joy of Cooking recommends pre-toasting the groats to optimize flavor & firmness using 1 of 2 methods to optimize the flavor: either by soaking in beaten egg for 5 minutes, then heating while stirring for 5 minutes or by heating in a skillet with 1-2 Tbsp. of oil. I decided to make a quantity without first toasting – this allowed me to compare flavor and firmness with the batch I made for recipe #2 (the filling for stuffed grape leaves). The Joy of Cooking also suggests that one can substitute stock for the water when preparing buckwheat groats – to enhance flavor and nutrition. Because I used stock in the grape leaves recipes, I opted to use water this time.

I was very pleased with the buckwheat groats prepared untoasted using water. They cook in only 15 minutes, and left covered, they stayed nice & warm to serve with the stir fry.

Seitan Stirfry with fresh herbs & miso/ginger/garlic sauce

While the buckwheat was cooking, we sliced up 2 carrots, 2 stalks celery, 1 head broccoli, and one large sweet onion. After frying briskly, we added in at the last minute: 6 halved cherry tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, fresh parsley leaves, 1 c. power greens with 1 package sliced seitan and the sauce. We cooked 1-2 minutes, stirring to wilt. Then served over buckwheat groats.

The sauce:

1/4 c. red miso paste, 4 garlic cloves, 2 inches grated fresh ginger – stir in some of the juice from the seitan, gradually to thin.


Recipe #4 – Buckwheat groats breakfast cereal

spoon out refrigerated portion of prepared buckwheat groats (see recipe #3 for cooking instructions). Top with desired fruit (I used fresh blackberries) & any desired toppings (I use 1 Tblsp. each of nutritional yeast, ground hazelnuts, cocoa, golden flax meal & wheat germ). Buzz in microwave 1.5 min., spoon on Greek yogurt & drizzle with maple syrup. ENJOY!

I will keep this in the arsenal for quick work-day breakfasts, since making it ahead saves time & is easy. Those who eat gluten-free could enjoy this with no issues – just leave off the wheatgerm topping!

Recipe #5 – Buckwheat salad with Jicama & Peppers

Each salad ingredient contributes a unique texture, color & flavor, making this salad a delight that is nutritious and unique.

2 c. cooked buckwheat groats
1 c. diced jicama
1/2 diced red pepper
2 minced shallots
2 stalks celery cut in crescents
Toss the above with the dressing:
1/4 c. walnut oil
minced fresh basil  – 12 leaves
1/4 c. chopped jalapenos w/ brine
1 Tblsp white vinegar
2 Tblsp. freshly toasted cilantro seeds (put in covered pan for 2 minutes until they crack – bruise in mortar & pestle)

Serve garnished with freshly toasted walnut halves – this completes the protein of the buckwheat, making it a main dish salad. Soooooo good!

Home Assignment 3: 1 Grain/3 Ways – Buckwheat!

Cooking for Wellness - The Basics

Winter seems the perfect time to enjoy food with hearty flavors, so I chose buckwheat as my “grain” to prepare three different ways this week. My grandfather owned and operated one of our country’s only buckwheat mills, so buckwheat has always been dear to my heart. Although no longer in the family, I’m pleased to say that Birkett Mills is still in operation in upstate New York, and it produces many organic products, including the organic buckwheat hulls that I used to mulch my asparagus bed several years ago. To this day, many brand name buckwheat products one buys in this country are produced there – including Wolff’s, Pocono, Puritan, and the house brand itself,  Birkett Mills.

Recipe #1 – Blini

Blini require either planning ahead or patience! Because I didn’t plan ahead (other than having the ingredients on hand), I had to be extra patient for breakfast on Sunday morning. Blini…

View original post 1,070 more words

Home Assignment 2 – Veggies!

Since my husband prefers primarily vegan meals, there is virtually no vegetable that has not crossed our threshold. However, it is amazing how far we have strayed from making meals from scratch! We’ve found frozen or canned versions of many staples, rather than relying on local & seasonal produce. While we’re told that many foods retain their nutrients when canned or frozen, I appreciated the challenge to obtain minimally processed food.

With that in mind, I purchased a giant tub of fresh spinach – an item we’ve avoided because it is delicate and spoils easily. In addition we purchased carrots, celery & onions. I know these sound very basic, but we’ve not been using them, since we’ve found organic pre-made food. I went back to the basics this week – a huge victory, and hopefully the start of new eating habits.

As a nutrition powerhouse, I adore spinach! And having it fresh allowed me to note its more delicate texture and flavor and the smaller quantity of stems present – as compared with frozen spinach. I used the spinach in three recipes: (1) Salmon with rice & veggies, (2) Curried beans, and (3) lentil soup. The other items I made from scratch this week were a cannolini bean dish and split pea soup. Having soup made from scratch this week renewed my awareness of how many shapes and sizes can be created when chopping veggies for soup – it was part of the fun! Also the flavor and texture of the carrots, celery & onions were so far superior to what we’ve been eating in canned soups, that it would be difficult to purchase those flavorless alternatives again – despite their being organic! Not to mention how much better the peas tasted, when prepared from dried, split peas – and how much cheaper. And my husband gave the soup rave reviews!

My personal favorite of all the dishes I made this week was a cannolini bean dish, which featured red cabbage and apples (what we happened to have left in the fridge) and is seasoned with caraway seeds and sage. It was so satisfying! But I want to continue to tweak that recipe and plan to include it in next week’s blog…I need to make it tempting enough for my husband to try to steal it for his lunch box.

Recipe #1 Salmon w/ Rice & Veggies

This invention stemmed from a rather large portion of salmon left over from a lunch outing. In its first life, it was part of a nicoise salad, and I wanted to use it to create something entirely different. I gave it an Asian twist by marinating with minced garlic & seasoning I’d purchased in Hawaii that included nori seaweed, wasabi, ginger & mustard. I diced the leftover green beans & potatoes & sautéed all with the marinated salmon, then added the marinade & simmered, then served with brown rice & a dash of tamari.


gathering the ingredients: leftover salmon, potatoes & beans; seasonings; brown rice


Prep: diced ingredients & seasonings (canola & toasted sesame oils, garlic, wasabi/mustard sauce, seaweed herbs, tamari


Cooking brown rice (covered), simmering salmon & veggies in the marinade.


Serving: salmon & veggies on brown rice w/ dash of tamari

Recipe #2 Curried beans, wilted spinach, and brown rice

This invention included Indian spices (hot and smoky curries and turmeric), canned tomatoes, diced onions, and dried kidney & pinto beans. The crockpot makes it easy to cook all day, until all is soft and the veggies disappear to become a thick sauce. I warmed half-bowls of leftover brown rice, filled the other half of each bowl with fresh spinach, then poured the curried beans on to wilt the spinach. Easy and delicious!


Sorted spinach then washed in salad spinner


Cooked short-grain brown rice; covered & allowed to swell. Portions can easily be stored & reheated in microwave or top of double boiler.


Curried pinto & kidney beans over brown rice and spinach

Recipe #3 Split Pea Soup

I diced a picnic ham & placed in crockpot with 4 quarts of water with herbs de Provence, 2 garlic cloves with a whole clove stuck in one and 2 bay leaves. My husband dislikes meat unless it is extremely falling-apart tender, so my solution was to cook it low & slow. About 4 hours later, I added a dash of smoked paprika, 1 can diced blackened tomatoes, 4 diced carrots, sliced celery, a large diced onion, and 2 cups dried split peas. In four more hours, the entire house smelled wonderful! I toasted two potato rosemary rolls to serve alongside.


Assembling the ingredients: split peas, bay leaves, whole cloves, herbs de Provence, carrots, garlic (onions, celery & ham not pictured), and fresh parsley for garnish.


Simmering split pea soup – can easily be stored (even frozen) and reheated. I always avoid the microwave, as it toughens the meat. I served with a dusting of minced fresh parsley.

To be certain to fulfill our homework assignment and to avoid wasting any of the wonderful, fresh spinach, I also included spinach in our lentil soup. The basic soup was made with diced carrots, celery & onions, 1 1/2 cups lentils, 1 1/2 quarts of chicken stock, 1 bay leaf, 1 clove of garlic, a splash of apple cider vinegar, tarragon & thyme. It was heated, and I stirred in the spinach at serving time.


lentil soup with fresh spinach – stirred in after hearing

Assignment 1

Meal planning is generally spontaneous in my home. There are only two adults in the household, and we are very flexible about what we eat and when we eat it. For breakfast, my husband generally makes us both a cappuccino, and he makes himself a smoothie using soy milk, frozen berries or a fresh apple, and all sorts of seeds & nuts. For myself, I pack a container of greek yogurt with wheat germ, ground nuts, cut fruit, nutritional yeast, flax meal, etc. each night for the following day’s b’fast.

We both work days, usually workout on the way home from work, and then one or both of us fixes supper, once we both get home, using whatever we have on hand – making whatever we are in the mood for. If we have absolutely nothing on hand or if we want to make something particular & lack the ingredients, that becomes the day we run to the co-op for groceries.

Pantry Review

Pantry is generally stocked with four types of oil (olive, walnut, canola, toasted sesame) 4-5 types of grain that I buy in bulk (wild & brown rice, red & white quinoa), nuts (which I refrigerate or freeze), various shapes of whole wheat & lentil pastas, dried herbs, herbal teas, canned & dried beans, canned tomatoes, cartons of stock, and frozen & dried fruits/veggies. We make a monthly trip to Costco for any organic staples we can reliably get there like peanut butter, unsalted nuts, extra virgin olive oil, brown rice, chia seeds, golden flax meal, beans, frozen fruits & veggies, and some pre-portioned food like frozen salmon, prepared soups, and black bean burgers. We shop weekly at our co-op for most of our fresh produce, dairy products, eggs, herbs/spices – anything we don’t purchase in large quantities, need to purchase frequently, or that they don’t carry at Costco (we only buy organic, so that is a built-in limitation). This system works fairly well; however, we’ve fallen into a pattern of eating many of the same meals, including more prepared food than I’d like. For example, I can easily make very good soups, but because we can reliably purchase organic varieties of soups at Costco at a pretty good price, I’ve come to rely on them. But what I make is far superior – in flavor, certainly,  probably nutritionally superior, but most importantly, I derive little pleasure from heating up a can of soup – even if I doctor it up with extra ingredients! Things like lentil or split pea soup are actually very quick/easy to make, if I’d just plan ahead! So I’d really like to do more of that, like I used to! Here are photos of main areas of my pantry.




spices, herbs, flavorings





Recipe #1: Rotini w/ Veggies & Shrimp

I chose to make a recipe for Pasta with Veggies & Shrimp on Saturday evening because my husband wasn’t home (he won’t eat shrimp), I had leftover frozen shrimp from Christmas Eve that I was dying to eat, and all the other necessary ingredients (including a very nice bottle of French white wine). The prep involved starting the pasta to boil, sauteeing zucchini, onion, red & green peppers,  then adding in the herbs de Provence (after using mortar & pestle to bruise), a dash of paprika, some diced blacked tomatoes, & the shrimp. This was done by the time the rotini was ready to drain. I deglazed the pan with some of the wine. Would have been perfectly delish, except I was too low on olive oil & forced to use other oil I keep for emergencies. Really missed the flavor! Need to review pantry more carefully to avoid running out!

Recipe #2: Whole Wheat Veggie & Cheese Pizza

I actually thought ahead for the second meal:  pizza on Sunday evening. I used all the leftover sliced veggies that I’d prepped for the shrimp meal, plus some sliced green olives and some pine nuts & some random cheese, also left over from Christmas.  I had prepared whole wheat dough (recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day by Zoe Francois) & frozen several portions in Tupperware. In the morning, I placed one cup of the frozen dough in a glass 2-cup measuring cup in a sink of hot water to thaw and rise. It was doubled in size by late afternoon, so I preheated the oven, where I keep the pizza stone. When the oven bell went off, I opened it, sprinkled corn meal on the pizza stone, pressed out the dough, then layered on the veggies & scattered the pine nuts & some grated part-skim mozzarella. Then set a timer for 20 minutes. Although browned, the dough still smelled raw, so I moved the stone lower in the oven and added a thin layer of sliced provelone. Ten minutes later, it was perfect!

When baking a pizza with so many veggies in the future, I would place pizza lower in the oven from the outset to avoid early browning, and I might also set oven temperature lower – 425 instead of 450. This should allow crust to bake thoroughly without having top brown too soon.