Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country

This week’s menu




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Oatmeal Pancakes

Let me start by saying that I love gluten.  I don’t apologize for that.  In fact, as I was tucking two 5-pound bags of “Better for Bread” flour into my cart today, I thought how I wished that they would just call it what it is: flour with extra gluten.  After all, no one who buys bread flour can be gluten-phobic…right?  But I’m sure that the flour marketing bigwigs have done focus groups and discovered that the very presence of the word “gluten” on the package will instantly reduce sales by 17.3% or something. That’s the same reason my favorite brand of frozen berries now boasts that it is “gluten free,” a fact which makes me roll my eyes almost painfully every time I see the bag.

That said, this recipe happens to be almost gluten-free, and it could be completely gluten-free, if–for reasons either genuine or imaginary–you choose to avoid wheat proteins. These pancakes are the real deal, too.  My kids and my husband are pancake snobs, thanks to my fussiness and to the fact that I always–even in weeks when I manage not to do a comprehensive grocery trip–have buttermilk on hand. Even when we’re out of milk, for Pete’s sake, I usually have buttermilk.  It belongs in several of our favorite things–biscuits and cornbread and all fifteen of my favorite varieties of pancakes (also known as “manyakes,” thanks to my littlest guy).

OK, there aren’t really fifteen of them, but there are a few.  I like standard buttermilk pancakes, buttermilk blueberry pancakes, buttermilk buckwheat pancakes, and overnight yeast buckwheat pancakes.  These quick oatmeal ones have become our favorites, though, and the recipe is all my own.  I don’t know why it hasn’t yet won any huge recipe prizes, but I’m not giving up on it.  I’m going to keep submitting it every chance I get because it is so yummy.  Seriously.  You’ve gotta try these:



2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats 

buttermilk (about 2 1/2 cups)

2 eggs

1/4 cup melted butter + more for frying, if you want

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or white flour or some flour-alternative if you want to go gluten-free)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

dried fruit or nuts, if you want

1. To a big glass measuring cup or the glass pitcher of your blender, add 2 cups of oats. (You could probably use quick-cooking oats, but it might throw off the measurements a little bit.) Then fill with buttermilk to the 4-cup line. (This is usually about 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups of buttermilk.)

2. Then add the eggs and melted butter and sugar.  Use an immersion blender (like I do) or the blender itself to whizz it all up.

3. Combine your dry ingredients in a medium bowl and mix them up well.  Then add your pitcher full of oatmeal slushy and gently stir to combine it all into a pourable batter.

4.  Heat your large skillet over medium and spray it with cooking spray and then add a little pat of butter (if you want your pancakes to taste fried).  After a few minutes, fry a test cake to test the temperature.  It should get bubbly and browned on the underside in about 1 minute.  Finesse your temperature as necessary.  Then fry up your cakes, a few at a time.



5.  If you want to add any fruit or nuts (I usually add things to about half and leave half of them naked for the kids), sprinkle them into the pancake batter as soon as you pour it into the pan.  It’s good with raisins, craisins, dried cherries, dried berries, all kinds of nuts and–here’s the surprising one–shredded coconut.  Really.  If you like coconut at all, you should try it.  The coconut toasts on the underside when you flip them over.  My knees go all wobbly when I think about it, actually.  




6. My mom used to keep flipping pancakes while we all ate and then she’d eat at the end.  I don’t do that. I keep mine warm in a 200-degree oven on a cooling rack and fry them all up, so that I can sit lazily and eat with the rest of my family.  

If you serve these alongside some mostly thawed frozen berries (gluten-free ones, of course!), they’re maybe even better.  The cold berries, the hot pancakes, the melting butter, the toasted coconut–and hardly any gluten.  Hallelujah.  These are a Saturday morning miracle just waiting to happen! 



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Last week’s menu: Chaos!

Last week, I conducted an (accidental) experiment, to see what would happen if I were just too busy to make a plan for feeding my family. And, in fact, I was extremely busy last week.  I’d be embarrassed to tell you how busy I was because it would make me sound a little bit desperate…and crazy…and ridiculous.  Suffice it to say that four different teaching gigs all overlapped and combined with the last week of preschool and all of its surrounding celebrations to insure that I’d be hammering away on the computer until the whole house was asleep every night and running around like a crazy woman all day.

The results of my experiment: I went to the grocery store at least five times, spending at least $50 more than usual by the time it was all over.  I substituted lemon juice for white wine and chickpeas for corn (I know!) and water for chicken broth and fielded almost constant complaints about all of the things we didn’t have but sorely needed. We ate dinner later than we are supposed to, and I enjoyed cooking far less than usual–or, really, not at all.  And I resolved to get back on the wagon first thing this week.

So, wagon, here I am.  All aboard!


Coconut Curry Soup

I receive magazines I don’t pay for…I think.  At the very least I hope I don’t pay for them.  If I do, I don’t mean to.  But I have to admit that I don’t audit my monthly credit card statements very closely…or at all. (Sorry, Dad.)  And it would be hard to know what to look for, if I were to scrutinize an entire year’s worth of statements, since it seems magazines are distributed exclusively by companies with nondescript names.  

One of these unwanted monthly arrivals is Redbook.  At the risk of sounding like a cranky old lady: Who would pay for this nonsense? The cover is always adorned with a touched-up image of a glamorous 30-something celebrity mom, contorting herself in a monumental effort to look like someone who might almost be your friend. The magazine’s guts are stuffed with foolish tips about eyeliner and commonsense dieting information.  If you happen to love Redbook, drop me a line and tell me why.  My mysterious monthly copy goes directly to the recycle bin. 

The other one is EveryDay with Rachael Ray.  I always glance at this one.  I like Rachael Ray–even though her 30-minute meals take me a minimum of 45.  With the exception of all that super-model hair, she actually does look like someone I might know.  More importantly, I appreciate her haphazard measurements (a small handful of this and a generous smidge of that), and she mostly cooks meals that I suspect my family would eat.  However, I would never (intentionally) pay for that magazine.  When I look at the very snazzy table of contents, with all its recipe thumbnails categorized by type, I’m typically dismayed to find fully 90% of the recipes are devoted to chicken.  And probably 90% of those call for boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  

I don’t do boneless, skinless chicken breasts, having been converted (I think by Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) in about 2008 to the possibly nonsensical theory that it is unwise and even unprincipled to focus so singularly on one little part of the bird, especially when poultry are being genetically and environmentally manipulated into unnatural bustiness, while their legs atrophy beneath them. (OK, I do occasionally buy boneless, skinless breasts…for fajitas.  If I ever post that recipe, then I don’t want to have to go back and excise this post in preparation.) Mostly, though, if we are going to eat chicken, I buy a whole bird.  Yes, nine times out of ten, he’s a bird who spent his whole life in a cage and then landed in the grocery store with his liver and heart stuffed up his rear end in a plastic bag, but at least he looks something like the creature he used to be.  He has skin and bones and sometimes even little prickly feather stems. It makes me uncomfortable, and that’s probably a good thing.  We don’t eat much chicken, in part because of my discomfort with the headless bodies that I have to handle and slather and sprinkle and flip around in order to prepare them.  It also doesn’t help that dealing with a whole bird is messy and dribbly and activates all my germaphobic tendencies. 

Now and then, though, it’s so worth it.  A roasted chicken makes the house smell wonderful, excites the kids–who love to mangle the drumsticks and eat all the chicken skin they can find–crisp or otherwise (is there an emoticon for “yuck”?)–and, maybe best of all, provides me with leftover chicken breast meat for soups or salads. 

In the spectacularly successful but entirely imaginary cookbook in my head, this recipe belongs to the chapter called “What to do with a leftover chicken breast.”  It’s almost embarrassing to admit, after all that rambling discourse about chickens, but I’ve also made it with no chicken at all, and I don’t think anyone at my house noticed.  It’s so rich with coconut milk that it doesn’t feel skimpy without the meat.  If you want to boost the protein, just add a can of chickpeas.

By the way, I lack good photos of this dish in progress because I plain old forgot to take any.

This quick soup is filling, creamy, and slightly exotic without being aggressively flavored.  When I serve it to the kids, I give them more rice than soup.  When I serve it to the grown-ups, we get more soup than rice.  Everyone’s happy.


Coconut Curry Soup (Chicken optional)

1 tablespoon of olive oil

8 ounces of sliced button mushrooms

1 tablespoon of grated ginger

2 tablespoons mild curry powder (more or less)

4 cups of broth (chicken or veggie)

2 tablespoons of soy sauce

1 tablespoon of brown sugar

1 head of Chinese cabbage (like bok choy), chopped roughly 

Shredded chicken (if you want)

2 cans coconut milk 

1 lime’s juice

About 2-3 cups of cooked rice

1. In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high.  Add your sliced button mushrooms with a small pinch of salt to help them brown.  Stir them now and then until they are nicely browned.  

2. Add to the pan your curry powder and grated ginger.  Stir until fragrant–just a minute or two, to bloom the spices. Then immediately add the broth, soy sauce, and brown sugar.  Bring to a simmer.

3. Add the Chinese cabbage and simmer for 15 minutes or so.  Then stir in the chicken (if you have some), the coconut milk, and the lime juice.

4. Serve with a scoop of warm, cooked rice on top or serve a spoonful of soup over the rice for less adventuresome palates.


Burrito Bowls



What’s in a name?  

OK, Romeo, it’s completely possible that a “a rose by another name would smell as sweet,” but if you’re talking about serving a big heap of beans and rice (which I am), then I’d argue that the name matters quite a lot.  After all, if there is a town in America without a Chipotle restaurant, then it’s probably someplace in Wyoming where people subsist primarily on wild game. Chipotle has built a food empire on not much more than different permutations of beans and rice.  Beans and rice wrapped in an expansive tortillas, tucked into soft or crispy taco shells, or spooned into a simple bowl with toppings. If they called those bowls “beans-and-rice,” would you have stood in line to buy one the first time?

Likewise, if you shouted up the stairs to your family, “Beans and rice with stuff on top!”, you’d likely get one of two reactions.  Reaction #1 (if your family is accustomed to vegetarian dining): “AGAIN?”  Reaction #2 (if your family isn’t used to vegetarian dining): “With what else?”  I used to make this with a side of crock-pot pork that I’d seasoned with chili powder and cumin, but I realized that no one really cared about that part of the dish, so I dropped it.  They liked sprinkling the shredded cheese and hoarding all the green onions and drowning the whole mess in green sour cream and/or salsa.  In short, this meal’s joy comes from customizing the toppings…and, of course, from calling it “burrito bowls” and serving it with a quantity of tortilla chips that would cost you a small fortune at Chipotle!

Burrito Bowls

For the beans…

1 pound of pinto or black beans

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 big onion

2 stalks of celery

2 carrots

1 bell pepper

1 can salsa-style tomatoes

4 (or more) fat cloves of garlic

2-4 tablespoons chile powder (depending on how hot you like it)

1 tablespoon cumin

2 tablespoons lime juice

lots of salt (start with a teaspoon or so and go from there)

Start by soaking your beans in very salty water overnight.  I know that sounds silly and even problematic–did you grow up, like I did, hearing that you should never salt dried beans or they won’t get soft?–but I swear it is worth the very minimal effort involved.  I put a small palmful of kosher salt in mine.  Some of it does sink to the bottom, but some of it dissolves into the water and works its magic on the beans.  The resulting cooked beans will be creamy and tender in a way you’ve never seen before.

Cook the beans according to the package directions (though they probably won’t take quite as long as the directions say.  While they cook, saute your chopped veggies and spices in a separate pan. Image

Then drain off most of the water from your beans, add in the vegetables, the canned tomatoes, and the lime juice.  Taste for seasoning and (probably) add more salt.  You can simmer this for as little as 10 or 15 minutes or up to an hour, if you need to.

Cook your rice.

This is a super-simple technique that lets you add a little bit of whatever flavor you like to the rice while it cooks:

3 cups of rice

4 1/2 cups water or broth

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon spice of your choice and/or a couple cloves of chopped garlic

1. In a strainer, rinse the rice well, until the water runs clear.

2. Heat a pan with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat.  Add the butter or olive oil and get it hot.  Add your salt, spice and/or garlic.  Cook, stirring, very briefly, just until you get a burst of happily toasted fragrance.


3. Add the rice, with as much of the excess water shaken off as possible.  Stir it into the hot, seasoned butter/oil and allow it to toast for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Add the broth or water, stir it together once, and then put a lid on it.  Turn down the heat and cook for about 18-20 minutes, until the liquid is all absorbed.  Off the heat, let it stand for another 10 minutes or so before serving.

Now the fun part:

Put together your toppings.  We use cheese, green sour cream, avocado, chips, my daughter’s favorite salsa, and the green onions that we’re happily harvesting from the garden.   Just look at these little beauties (When your food has visible dirt on it, it’s a good sign):