How to use an Un-recipe Recipe, Part Two

Here’s another example of an un-recipe. In case you haven’t read any of the prior posts, an un-recipe gives you enormous freedom in the kitchen. You can break free from having to use exact ingredients and exact measurements, too (baking is an exception, there is some leeway but not much). You learn to switch out and switch up ingredients in recipes and use what you have on hand. This makes the whole topic of food easier and more pleasurable. Over time, you learn which flavors go together and you will discover unique combinations you didn’t even know existed. If you want information about which flavors compliment each other, check out “The Flavor Bible” by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page.

The following un-recipe is for my favorite quick bread. I love eating this in the morning, toasted with a lot of butter. Eating something this delicious —and nourishing —makes me happy to be alive. The quality of one’s life can be measured in the number of simple little pleasures that occur throughout the day. You don’t even need a mixer to make this – just a mixing bowl, spoon, and some elbow grease.

The Very Best Quick Bread or Muffins

2 cups unsifted flour (I’ve tried this with gluten-free flour, it works as long as you add some xanthan gum)
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
Sweetener: 1 cup date, coconut or cane sugar. I like to use date sugar. If you use coconut sugar, keep an eye on it because it will brown fast. Cover with foil about 15 minutes into the baking. This recipe may work with honey or agave syrup, but I have not tried it. You might need to add a bit more flour.
Spices: ½ tsp each cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger or 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie or chai spices or other combination of warm spices.
2 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil (I like to use rice bran oil) OR substitute ¾ cup mayonnaise and ¼ cup water for the oil and eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla or other flavoring (I like maple, almond and hazelnut)
1 cup pumpkin or winter squash, or mashed ripe bananas, applesauce, zucchini, or other pureed fruit.
Chopped nuts and/or dates, candied ginger, chocolate chips, etc.

Combine the dry ingredients. Combine the moist ingredients then thoroughly mix the dry with the moist. Pour into greased loaf or muffin pans. You can vary the size of the loaf or muffin pans– just make sure they are filled about half way. Bake in a 350⁰ oven for 35-40 minutes or until the mixture starts to pull away from the edges of the pan and cracks appear on the surface. Cool in pan. This bread freezes well, too.

Heirloom pumpkins make fantastic pumpkin bread!

I like to make this via the “assembly line” method. You can make multiple batches of the dry ingredients and store each batch in one quart mason jars. Then all you have to do is round up the moist ingredients and whip a loaf together in just a matter of minutes. So there you go – another un-recipe recipe.

How to Use an Un-recipe recipe, Part One

When you do The Plenty Method, you discover new freedom in the kitchen via “un-recipe recipes”. You’ll have a pantry packed full of scratch ingredients, called Master Ingredients, and a nice assortment of “flavor bursts” – concentrated flavorings that up-level your cooking from good to great. The variety of foods you keep on hand is dialed back – less is more in the case of your pantry – and immense creativity and ease arises out of this simplicity.

Most recipes call for exact ingredients and measurements. This can be quite restrictive and following recipes exactly is time consuming, too. They can also lead to excessive food clutter. Recipes often call for ingredients that you may never use again, so they tend to end up as food clutter then food waste. Using un-recipes avoids this. When you read recipes that call for ingredients you don’t have on hand, you learn to make substitutions with what you do have. If you are using “The Plenty Method”, your well thought out pantry gives you many options.  A simplified yet plentiful pantry takes much of the complication out of putting food on the table.

Here is an example of an “un-recipe recipe” – my favorite salad dressing. Why is this an un-recipe? Because you can mix and match the ingredients and create many versions. Over the years many friends have asked me for this recipe and I am happy to share it with you now.

The Very Best Salad Dressing

½ cup vinegar (l like aged-sherry, champagne, white and red balsamic)
1 tablespoon sugar (I use raw cane and demerara)
I tablespoon mustard (favorites are stone ground, Dijon and spicy brown)
Pinch of salt (any kind but iodized. It tastes terrible!)
1 shallot (if you don’t have one, use about ¼ cup diced any kind of onion)
1 clove garlic
1 ½ cups oil (my favorites are olive, walnut, rice bran)

Puree the first six ingredients in a blender. Then slowly add the oil and blend some more. Store in a glass bottle. Keeps for up to two months, refrigerated.

Lately my favorite version of this is made with sherry vinegar and half olive/half walnut oil and stone ground mustard. In the past I’ve used blood orange champagne vinegar. White wine vinegars are better with neutral oils, like rice bran (please see previous post) and dark vinegars are better with olive oil.

Make your own salad dressing with the best vinegar you can afford and increase your sensory pleasure and enjoyment of life!

So look at what you have on hand and whip up a batch. Once you taste this, pre-made dressings you buy at the grocery store will utterly pale in comparison. I use the money I save by NOT buying pre-made salad dressing to buy high-quality vinegar and oils. It takes just a few minutes to whip this up and the extraordinary sensory pleasure you’ll get makes the time spent so worthwhile. So there you have it – a real “un-recipe recipe”.

Curry in a Hurry, Part Two

As mentioned in my previous post, The Plenty Method helps you whip up sumptuous meals on a moment’s notice. I call these “quick plates”. The idea is to stock a pantry with a plentiful yet simple collection of scratch ingredients called “Master Ingredients.” Then, develop a repertoire of “un-recipe recipes” that reduce the time it takes to get food on the table. This way, you’ll always have great food on hand and you’ll know what to do with it. Which makes the question “what to eat” much easier to answer and the statement “there’s nothing to eat” non-existent.

Over the years I’ve developed some short cuts to expedite time spent in the kitchen. The curry described in the previous post is more flavorful with a little garlic and ginger added. But peeling and chopping those takes precious time, time you may not want to spend. Plus, you may not always have those ingredients on hand. What to do about this dilemma? Freeze it! Here’s how:

Start by buying a couple of pounds each of garlic and/or ginger. Then, peel and coarsely chop it and drop it in a blender or a food-processor. Blend until it becomes a smooth paste then add a little  vegetable oil so that it binds together and becomes spreadable. Using a spatula,  put the mixture into ice cube trays and freeze for a day or two. Then, thaw until the cubes are loose enough to be scooped out with a small knife (I find a butter knife with a rounded edge works best). Place them on a cookie sheet and re-freeze. Then place in a plastic container with an airtight lid. I cut the cubes in half and put waxed or parchment paper in between the layers. You don’t have to thaw these out before using. Just chop them up a bit and use them as if they were fresh.

You can do this with lemon juice, whipping cream or fresh herbs. Having these “flavor cubes” on hand gives you the ability to up-level your cooking from good to great with minimal effort. Easy “un-recipes” make cooking a lot more pleasurable, too!