Sunday, October 24, 2010

Black Eyed Pea Soup

Yum. I love black eyed peas, and they're such a great food. I love that they don't have the same taste as beans but they do have the same texture. Plus, they're supposed to be lucky! So yesterday I made some soup, and it turned out really well, so I thought I'd share the recipe.

1 pound of black eyed peas, checked for stones and soaked overnight
1/2 pound of sausage or 4 strips of bacon or 1/2 pound of chicken thighs
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
several sticks of celery, split in half, washed and chopped
2-4 cloves of garlic, depending on how garlicy you like it
1 can of tomatoes (I like diced)
chicken stock or broth
2 bay leaves
oregano, sage, red pepper flakes, thyme to taste

If not using meat, saute the onions, garlic, celery and spices in olive oil until the onions are just turning clear.
If you are using meat, brown the sausage or cook the bacon or chicken. For sausage, add the veggies when the sausage is about half done. For bacon, cook the bacon, remove it, and use some of the fat to cook the veggies. For chicken, cook the veggies in some olive oil to start.

Add the tomatoes, juice and all. Use the tomato juices to help loosen whatever stuck to the bottom of the pot. (That is good tasty stuff down there, I promise). After a minute or too, add the broth (enough to cover everything well) and bay leaves and peas (and chicken if you're doing it that way). Throw in a sprinkle of salt if the broth isn't salted already.

Bring everything to a nice high simmer. Cover, stirring occasionally until the beans are tender (about an hour-- but anywhere from 45 minutes to 1:30).

To serve, add some grated cheese or sour cream to your bowl. Serve with bread and salad, or toss in some pasta (shells would be great) about 8 minutes before serving, and bring it to a boil.

A perfect fall/winter soup. The leftovers keep really well and freeze too if you didn't add pasta.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

bean soup!

I adore bean soup. Black bean soup, split pea, lentil soup, minestrone, anything. (Yes those are all in the bean family.) Noms. And as the weather is getting colder, and I've been suffering under a cold, I decided it was good weather to pull out the soup pot.
But, like I said, I've been sick, so I haven't gone grocery shopping. So I used what I had in the house and made a damn tasty soup.

Suggested Ingredients (but feel free to substitute):
  • one bag (1lb) of 16 beans (don't use the flavor pack if it comes with one. gross.) 
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • carrots, chopped
  • celery, chopped
  • one can of diced tomatoes 
  • bay leaves
  • spices-- thyme, oregano, etc
  • broth or stock of whatever variety, or bouillon, etc
  • if you want, a chicken breast or some cooked Italian sausage
1. Either soak the beans overnight, or boil them and soak in the hot water for an hour (per package directions). Drain, rinse, and put in the soup pot.
2. Toss in everything. If using stock, you can dilute it with water. Add more than enough to cover everything.  The chicken can go in raw, it'll boil.
3. Bring to a boil, and then turn down to a high simmer. Partially cover, and let cook for at least 2 hours.
4. If you used chicken, pull it out and shred it with two forks. If you want, you can also throw in some small pasta, like shells, and boil for a few more minutes until tender.
Add some olive oil for flavor, and grate cheese over to serve. Yummm.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In season: Beans

Green beans, to be exact. I bought a huge number of them at the farmer's market this weekend. So I blanched most of them so I can freeze them, and the rest get added to this pasta dish.

1. Boil some water for pasta. I used 1/2 a package of whole wheat spaghetti.
2. Trim green beans, dice a small tomato and cut a half a red pepper into slices, then halve those. (Can be substituted to something else handy, but preferably sweet.)
3. Cook the pasta.
4. Sautee the beans with olive oil and garlic until almost soft, about 3 or 4 minutes. Next add the pepper, and give it a minute to soften up. Deglaze the pan with a little wine (and I do mean a little-- a tablespoon or two!) before adding the tomatoes and letting it reduce even further.
5. Drain the pasta. Add a little butter or olive oil if you're feeling indulgent. Toss the pasta with the veggies, and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese or fresh grated parmesean.

Yum.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Twice Fried Tofu

Confucious says:
Anything good fried once is even better fried twice. 
Oh. That wasn't Confucius? It was something of a motto at the Big E? Huh...

Ok, so maybe this dish is better called "Stir-fried Fried Tofu".

1. Cut thin strips from a half a block of tofu. I prefer firm or extra firm for frying. Dry them with paper towels before liberally coating all sides in flour.
2. Heat some oil, preferably peanut, in a wok. When it gets nice and hot, fry those tofu strips until they are a lovely golden brown. You have to do it in batches, but that means you can use a lot less oil.
3. Choose veggies for your stir fry, and cut to appropriate size.
4. Clean the wok, when it has cooled slightly, so that the blacked flour goop on the bottom doesn't cloud your dinner. Add more oil and heat it back up.
5. While it heats, make the sauce. In a small bowl combine:
  • 1 part chili oil (to taste)
  • 1 part sesame oil
  • 1 part sugar
  • 1 part rice vinager
  • 1 part sherry or Chinese cooking wine
  • 4-8 parts soy sauce
6. Stir fry garlic and ginger for about 30 seconds. Add onion, cook until translucent. Add other vegetables. Finally, add tofu, then immediately, the sauce. If you want it thicker, add some corn starch or flour dissolved in a little water.  Serve hot, over rice. Eat the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Some thoughts for a meatless Monday

So, Monday for me is meatless Monday. When going out to eat, this can limit your options, but when you pack your own lunch, life is limitless!

I made two delicious dishes that are quite good for a meatless meal, either lunch or dinner. Both made enough for one of each for me. These will be in the following posts.

But for now, I wanted to share with you a discovery I just made, but which you may have made long ago...

Pita pocket sandwiches.

Ok, well there was always the gyro, but who among us has a gyro spit and plenty of ground lamb at home? So I started with lunch meat, but not good for Mondays.
So I stuffed mine with hummus (roasted garlic, yum), arugula and red peppers. Any kind of yummy green would be good, and any raw veggies cut into approximately bite sized bits. Also baba ganou or cheesy spreads would be awesome too.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Meatless Mondays

There's a good piece on NPR today about Meatless Mondays here. Unless you're already stricter than that, I think it's a great idea. Whether you're concerned about your health, the environment, your budget, or your waistline, eating a bit less meat is bound to help.

I find that the trick is to make meals where you just don't miss the meat. For example, make a big salad, or breakfast for dinner (minus the bacon, if you can bear it). Vegetable curry, or pasta primavera, or pad thai with tofu make great Monday night dinners.

Tonight, I made rice and beans to celebrate finding fresh tortillas (and with them, the location of the mysterious missing Baltimore Mexicans!) and peach salsa to celebrate the bounty of peaches right now. Add a little sour cream and some cheese, and boy, what a delicious meal!

Beans:
Either cook some dried beans according to package directions, or rinse a can of black beans. Heat up a skillet with a little bit of oil, and add the cooked, drained, rinsed beans. As they heat, start mashing them up and slowly stirring. You can add a little oil or broth or water to thin them if they're thicker than you like. I like to top mine with some sour cream and cheese, but that's being decadent. :-)

Rice:
In a pan, heat a little oil. Toast 1 cup of long grain white rice for a few minutes in the oil. Then add some stock (I used chicken, I know it's meatless Monday but I didn't have veggie on hand!) or water. Add onions, diced jalepenos if you like, and some of this glorious amazingness (which is sadly not gluten free):

Then simmer for about 20 minutes. Toss in tomatoes a few minutes from the end if you like. I also added some frozen corn.


Peach Salsa:
From "Real Food Has Curves".

FRESH PEACH SALSA
There are no tomatoes here, just sweet peaches. Tomatoes are firmer and almost meatier; by contrast, peaches offer a luxurious richness. That said, if you can’t find a good peach, go for plums, apricots, or nectarines. Try this easy salsa on top of a baked potato with a dollop of sour cream or alongside some rotisseried chicken picked up at the market. Keep connecting the taste of those peaches to pleasure in your brain.
1½ pounds ripe medium peaches, pitted and diced (about 4 or 5 peaches)
Up to 1 medium fresh jalapeƑo chile, seeded and minced
½ cup red bell pepper, seeded and diced (see Note)
½ cup red onion, diced
3 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves, 2½ tablespoons stemmed thyme leaves, or 2 tablespoons minced mint leaves
2 tablespoons lime juice
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
Stir everything together in a serving bowl. If you want to make the salsa ahead of time, omit the salt and store the mixture, covered, in the fridge for up to 2 days. Salt will leach liquid from the mixture, turning it watery during storage—so stir in the salt at the last minute.
Note: To seed and core a bell pepper, stand it up on your cutting board with the stem end facing up. Holding the stem, use a large knife to slice one side off the pepper, leaving the seeds attached to the core. Continue making more slices around the pepper, always leaving the seeds and core intact. Once all the wedges have been removed around the pepper, slice off any white membranes on their insides, discard the core, and prepare the pepper as directed in the recipe.



MAKES 8 SERVINGS

Available on the Internet here! Thanks, Amazon. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A CSA Dinner

I was pretty proud of myself here... I baked the breadsticks, and made the pasta... just about everything is fresh, local and/or organic.

Anyway the caprese salad is what I wanted to share here-- the pasta was good, but not great.

Ingredients:
Heirloom tomato (1 tomato per 2 or 3 people). Be careful with them, they have really fragile skins and break really easily.
Basil
Fresh mozzarella
Spinach
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

1. Wash the basil and the spinach. Mix them together in roughly equal amounts, and lay out a bed of greens on a salad plate.
2. Cut the tomato into slices through the middle, removing the tough core if it is in any of the slices. Lay the slices in the center of the bed of greens, one or two slices per person. Lightly salt the tomato slices.
3. Slice the cheese, and add that to the plate.
4. Grind black pepper lightly over everything.
5. In a separate bowl, mix equal parts olive oil and balsamic. Whisk together completely just before serving. Drizzle over the plate at the table, and enjoy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

CSA Veggies: Chard

So, as I blogged about before, I joined a CSA this summer. Today was my first produce pick up! It was very exciting. And since my CSA partner is out of the country at the moment, I have more food than I know what to do with right now...
Anyway, I of course had to cook with something new tonight: Chard.  I don't believe I'd ever had occasion to try chard, so it was all new. Plus we were in a hurry to make a late dinner tonight, so I referenced this Martha Stewart recipe and made my own version.



Ingredients
Pasta, a good swirly kind seems good
Protein (optional), diced. Sweet Italian sausage was awesome, but spicy sausage or chicken (etc) would be good too...
olive oil
onion, 1/4 to 1/2, chopped
garlic, 1 or 2 cloves, chopped
tomato, diced, 1 or 2
Chard, stems removed and chopped into smallish pieces
cheese (I had fresh mozerella on hand so I used it!)

1. Cook the pasta. (When you drain it, keep some of the pasta water)
2. Cook the sausage/protein. When partially done, toss in olive oil, onion, garlic, and any spices you want to add.
3. When the sausage is mostly done, add the chopped chard. If it looks dry, toss in a bit of the pasta water or more olive oil. Add the tomato at some point, according to how cooked you like tomatos. (Note: this would also work with a can of diced tomatos for the winter-- but add them earlier so they heat up and meld with the other flavors.)
4. Toss with pasta. Add cheese. Serve with salad, bread, whatever.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pesto, with apologies

Wow, it has been a long time since I posted here. Many apologies-- but I've survived exams and a summer field season in Egypt! Yay!
Upon arrival in the US, one of my first stops was the farmer's market to stock up on fresh produce. Honestly, the selection was poor but I did find a great deal-- a bunch of basil practically as big as I am for $3. Of course, that meant I made pesto.
I don't have photos, since we ate it all... but it looked as good as it tasted.

Pesto is really easy to make, especially if you happen to have a food processor. If not, you can do it in a blender or by hand, but it takes longer. Do not be intimidated.

First, wash and dry a bunch of basil. I didn't come close to using my whole bunch, but that's ok because it'll make a lovely caprese salad later. The drying part is pretty important, so don't get lazy and skip it. If you're blending, throw the basil (just leaves, no stems) and a bit of olive oil into the food processor with a clove of garlic. As it gets started, you can add more olive oil until it gets to the right consistency.

Pine nuts would be good in it too, but they're so expensive! So you can use almonds or something else if you want that toasty, nutty quality. You can add them whole, chopped, or blend them in. Salt and pepper to taste.

Grate up a big bunch of parmesan cheese, quite fine, so it'll mix in well. Finally, add the cheese after you're otherwise done. And just add the cheese to the part you're serving-- anything you're refrigerating or freezing should get cheesed when it's ready to be served.

If you want, you can thin the pesto with some nice starchy pasta water to make it spread over pasta better, and don't oil your pasta before you add the pesto, or it won't stick.

I tossed the pesto with some cubed chicken and halved cherry tomatos, and it was divine.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

There's an app for that

So, I went grocery shopping today, and while I was at the store I was using my iPod touch for a few different things.
Mostly, I use it on the go because I can keep my shopping list handy with ziplist, and it works on the iPhone platform with Martha Stuart's Everyday food. Now, whatever you think of Martha herself, you can't really fault the quality of her recipes, and her "Everyday Food" recipes are more normal and call for less outlandish ingredients than her entertaining or holiday food-impressario recipes.
Ziplist will keep your list online, and on your iPhone, or text it to you (and you can text additions too). It categorizes things by department, and sometimes even knows what stores you shop at and how they're laid out, which is neat if it works for you.
Martha Stuart's Everyday Food  is handy, and gives a new recipe everyday as well as access to your ZipList and an extensive selection of searchable recipes. It's a good value for 99 cents.

But my favorite food app is actually the Monteray Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch app. With it, you can select the region you're in (for me, oddly enough, it's Southeast), and it will help you make sustainable seafood choices. For example today, I had thought I'd do a good environmental thing and buy farm-raised salmon. As it turns out, wild-caught Pacific or Alaskan salmon are actually much better for the environment than the polluting fish farms, especially because Pacific salmon are" among the most intensively managed species in the world, with excellent monitoring of both the fish populations and the fishery."Here's the info on salmon, if you're curious.
I've used this app at the store and at restaurants, and try to make good choices about what I eat. It can be tricky sometimes to get the staff to tell you where a fish comes from, but if you ask they will usually make a genuine effort to find out.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thai Red Curry Salmon

When I was home last weekend, my family went out for Thai food. We almost didn't notice the Salmon Curry special, but I'm so glad we did. It was amazing, and it inspired me to make my own today. This recipe was fast, easy, amazing, and both delightfully tasty and delightfully healthy.

Note: When shopping for salmon, look for a cold piece of fresh fish, from close to the ice. For environmental reasons, choose wild-caught Pacific or Alaskan salmon, and stay away from Atlantic if you can. For more info, see the Seafood Watch, or tomorrow's post on apps.  Get it home right away, and use it the same day if you can. Don't let it sit in the car, and pack in in the bags with frozen food if you can. It really doesn't take too much to spoil a nice fish.



Ingredients
Salmon fillet/s
red curry paste, 1 to 2 T
coconut milk, 1 can
fish sauce, 2T
brown sugar, 2T
jasmine/white/brown rice
crispy veggies (I used fresh asparagus and green beans, because I got them at the farmer's market this morning. This would also be good with bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, etc. Things that have a nice crunch to them!)
1/2 red pepper, sliced thin, optional

1. Make some rice. Start the rice as you're cutting and washing veggies, depending on how long your rice cooker/stove takes.
2. Preheat the oven to 350. Place your fish, skin side down, onto a greased baking dish. Add a little oil or butter to the flesh of the fish, and bake 10 minutes or so per inch of thickness.
3. In a pot, start to simmer the coconut milk. When it's nice and warm, add the curry paste and whisk to blend. Let it simmer for a few minutes.
4. Add the fish sauce, brown sugar, and 1/8 cup of water. Whisk, bring to a simmer. Add the veggies, and simmer until they're warmed/soft (depends on the veggie!)
5. Pull the fish out of the oven. Serve veggies and sauce as a bed for the fish, and add more sauce on top. Serve with rice on the side.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pantry Essentials

Plenty of people are ready to tell you what you need to have on hand to cook with. And while my pantry is usually well stocked, I don't even abide by lists like this or like this. In part, because I don't like or use some of those things all that often, so I don't feel the need to keep them on hand at all times. And, any list like this is necessarily subjective and based on how you cook.
That having been said, I'm still going to attempt it! I've already attempted a partial spice list, which you can find here, so those aren't on this list.
  • flour
  • sugar
  • rice
  • pasta
  • canned tomatoes
  • frozen veggies
  • onions
  • chicken broth/stock/boullion
  • vinegar (I keep rice wine for Asian recipes, and red and white for others.... but you can probably get away with white, and add more styles according to your taste)
  • olive oil
  • vegetable oil
  • butter/margarine
  • cooking spray-- not necessary, but darn handy
  • dried beans, dried lentils (or canned, if you prefer. they don't take as long to cook, but are often salty, more expensive, and you have less control.)
  • GARLIC
  • hot sauce
  • soy sauce
  • lemons or lemon juice can be very handy
  • Cooking wine: you can get little bottles for cheap (i.e. Holland House) to keep in the pantry to whip up a quick wine sauce or add to almost anything
  • Frozen chicken (or protein of choice)
  • optional, but I adore sesame oil
  • Italian dressing-- the normal, cheap stuff. Makes an amazing, quick, easy, cheap marinade for chicken, pork and fish!
If you bake, you will also want to have:
  • brown sugar
  • vanilla
  • baking powder
  • baking soda
  • yeast
  • cornstarch
Plus, it's always nice to have:
  • potatoes
  • carrots
  • peppers (hot, bell, sweet)
  • tomatoes
  • seasonal produce
  • salad
  • seasonal veggies
Happy cooking!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Whoa there, it's been a while

Sorry for the long long delay since I've posted! Things have been a wee bit crazy, and will continue to be crazy until I get back from Egypt in June. I'm going to try to post as well as I can (and I'm really hoping I can share some Egyptian recipes) but in the meantime, hang in there while I try to navigate finals and travel and the flu and moving and and and...

But I am going to try for another post soon-- one which Carly requested, on pantry essentials for quick cooking. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Curry Mee

So, another post without a recipe. Sad, I'm sorry.
But another photo of complicated food I made, and this time, the link the recipe I used.
I've been more than a little obsessed with replicating the Malacca Laksa at a local place, and this recipe from the NYT is the closest I've been able to come. The recipe is pretty involved, but the soup turned out great! I would add a bit more sugar than I did, and then adjust from there.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dumplings

I'm not going to write down the recipe here (unless you really want it). But I am going to post photos of my afternoon project: Pork Dumplings


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Chicken cutlets

Mm. Chicken.
You know how you get breaded chicken sometimes? Like chicken nuggets, or Chicken Parmesan, or on a Wenzel? (shout out, yeah!)
You can make these at home! I will tell you how.

First thing: Chicken. Thin chicken breasts, fresh or well defrosted. Pound them (gently) with a food mallet (or roll them thinner with a rolling pin or a bottle of wine or... be creative). The thinner they are the faster they cook and the less you will burn your gorgeous breading. Lightly salt and pepper your chicken.

Second thing: breading!
I like to use a 4-part method. Some people might tell you that simply dredging the chicken in flour or breadcrumbs is enough. This is a lie. A dirty, evil, vile lie.
So, in comes my tested 4 part method. Get out four bowls, shallow if you can. Or plates work well if they've got a decent rim. Fill them with:
  1. Milk. The layer of milk can be shallow, you just want to coat the chicken quickly.
  2. Flour
  3. Egg, beaten. If you're doing a few, one egg might be enough. 4 large chicken breasts should take about 2 eggs, and more accordingly. 
  4. Breadcrumbs. If you've got old bread, you can use it, but make sure it is very very fine. I use a can of store bought crumbs... it seems silly, but they give a great fine texture to your breading.
 So, in the order above, coat each chicken breast. Your fingers are going to become full of *stuff*, I promise. You may even have to rinse your hands occasionally to keep from having your fingers pick the breading off the chicken. But when you're done, you will have goodness. I promise.

Once everything is breaded, throw away everything that isn't the chicken. Don't try to cook with any of the stuff you just dragged raw meat through, please.

Then heat up a frying pan with some olive oil and some butter. This is the tricky part, because if it's too hot, you will cook the crust up fast, then it will burn as you wait for the meat to cook. If it's too cool, then the breading will soak up all the oil and get sort of soggy. Anyway, depending on the temperament of your stove, you probably want something between medium and all-the-way-up. Cook each one for a minute or two on each side, depending on the thickness of the chicken. Add more oil if you need it.

Pull them out when they're done-- golden on the outside, nice and white on the inside. Serve with any number of amazing sauces or sides. Yummmmm.

Pro tip: if you don't lose much breading in the making, you can deglaze the pan and make a nice sauce, like the chicken piccata I made tonight.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Maple-mustard pork

Ok. This may be a "Fall" recipe. But it's amazing, and I just sort of made it up. And I'm so pleased with myself, I have to share.

Ingredients
Boneless pork chops, or pork loin, or something. I use thin cuts because I like how they cook.
Flour + salt + pepper
thyme (dried is fine)
one lemon
white wine vinager
grainy mustard (NO FRENCH'S WILL NOT WORK)
maple syrup, real strongly preferred
chicken or vegetable stock (I may have been using my homemade stock... but you can use whatever)
olive oil
butter
1/2 small red onion, chopped

1. Dredge the pork (defrosted if it was frozen) in the flour +s+p. About 1/2-1 cup of flour should be enough depending on how much pork. You can opt out of dredging the pork, but it makes it brown up really nicely. Cook the pork in a skillet with some butter, until cooked through. Take it out of the skillet, and leave it aside for now.

2. Deglaze the skillet with something like 1 cup of broth, and a little bit of olive oil. Toss in the chopped onion, and let it simmer for a while. Make sure you get all the brown bits off the bottom.

3. While that's reducing... in a small bowl, add:
  • 1 big glob of mustard
  • 2 tbsp of vinegar
  • the juice of one lemon
  • something like 1/4 cup of maple syrup
  • a good sprinkling of thyme
4. Whisk together! Taste; if it is too sweet, add more vinegar or mustard. If it's too tart, add more syrup or some brown sugar. When your broth and onions are looking nice and thick, add the maple-mustard mix. Simmer until it's fairly thick.

5. Spoon over your pork, serve and enjoy.

Maple-mustard pork served with roasted squash with chickpeas and feta, and fresh bread. I meant to make steamed asparagus too, but I forgot. The bitterness would be a great complement, or a bitter greens salad....

Sunday, March 7, 2010

White Chicken Pizza

Premise One: Pizza is delicious.
Premise Two: Pizza makes a great meal, and great leftovers.
Premise Three: Frozen pizza isn't nearly as good as delivery (except in extreme circumstances, such as finding oneself in the rural south).
Further: So many places sell and deliver pizza!
Therefore, it must be hard to make...

Well, no. In fact this week, when my department has been throwing everything they've got at us, I come home and make pizza. (No, this is not a Chicagoan's stress reaction.)

I do cheat a little and use a prepared crust. It saves a lot of time and energy. If you want to make your own, try this.  But a pizza needs only a few things.
  1. Crust. Like I said, I usually buy mine. 
  2. Cheese. Indispensable. If you know what you like, use that. If not, go for a bag of the pre-shredded Italian Blend for quickness. (Shredding your own is fun, but not quick.) 
  3. A base. Usually, tomato sauce. But there's no pizza sauce on the market that I actually like. So I make white pizzas. 
  4. Toppings. Do what you want. 
My favorite is here.
Ingredients
Bobali or similar pizza crust.
Shredded Italian cheeses
chicken, cubed and cooked
1/4 - 1/2 red onion, chopped into small pieces or slices
3-5 cloves of roasted garlic. Do this the night before, please. See yesterday's post! And don't substitute fresh! The acidity might kill you if you don't know what you're getting into. Roasted garlic makes it warm and soft and sweet, while fresh garlic is much more acrid. If you want, toss a little fresh garlic in with the chicken while you're cooking it.
Olive oil
Red pepper flakes, dry Italian seasoning mix (optional but recommended)

1. Cook up your chicken, chop your veggies. Preheat your oven, following the recipe for the crust.
2. Drizzle some olive oil on the crust. Resist the urge to smear it around until you've also added your red pepper flakes/oregano/Italian seasonings. Squeeze your roasted garlic (3-5 cloves does nicely) onto the crust. Then smear it all around. If you're squeamish, use a spoon, otherwise, get messy! Use your fingers.
3. Top with toppings. Cover with cheese. Bake.
4. Eat.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Roasted Garlic

Garlic just might be my link with God.

Anyway, roasted garlic is amazing. And amazingly easy. It has a soft texture, a little bit like room temperature butter. And it's sweet and mellow, and you can eat cloves whole quite pleasurably. (Note: do not eat whole raw garlic cloves. No one wins, ok?)

It goes great as an appetizer or as a complement to a whole host of dishes. It makes a good dip or snack, or a great spread on pizza, garlic bread, or added whole to pastas and other garlic-friendly dishes.

  1. Cut off the top of the garlic cloves. That means the pointy top end, not the tough bottom. Cut off just a little bit, enough to see the inside of each clove, but not so much as to waste a lot of perfectly good garlic. This works for either a whole head, or just a few cloves at a time.
  2. Make a little foil package around the garlic. Put the garlic, either whole or separated, into the foil. 
  3. Top with a generous pat of butter. Seal up the top of the foil package.
  4. Bake at 350-400 for 40-60 minutes. I like to put mine in a muffin tin, in case it leaks a little. But any baking sheet or dish will work fine. 
  5. Let cool before using. To use, squeeze out the roasted garlic innards from the peel by squeezing the bottom of the clove between two fingers. Or, if you prefer, you can laboriously slice away the peel.
You can safely roast your garlic several days in advance, too, which is great for me, since I never have time to roast garlic and then cook. If I remember, I'll put garlic in at the same time I start dinner and use it later in the week. Just crinkle up some foil into a tightly sealed little package and refrigerate.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Roasted Squash

I FINALLY got to roast my squash tonight. And it was worth the wait because it was delicious. And also really simple.

1. Buy a butternut squash. It looks like this:


Cut it up into cubes. Here is very good advice for that. If you want, you can make vegetable stock with the skins and seeds. But if you're doing that, you probably don't need my help.

2. Rinse a can of whole chickpeas/garbanzo beans. They're the same thing. If you're picky, you can roll each pea in your fingers to take the skin off. If not, they'll be just fine with skin on. Promise. Preheat the oven to about 400.

3. In a roasting dish, combine your cubed squash, rinsed chickpeas, and a few glugs of olive oil. Sprinkle on a little salt and pepper. Add about a tablespoon of brown sugar. The best way to do this would be to put the brown sugar in your hands and roll it through your hands, dusting the sugar over the dish. Then dig in and toss, with hands or spoon.

4. Bake for 40 minutes or so. Top with crumbled feta cheese (goat cheese would also be nice), and serve with crusty bread.

So much yum.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Red Curry

I've been craving a good sweet curry for weeks now. And having no particularly good Thai places nearby, I took matters into my own hands. This did require a few special ingrediants, but I found them all at Safeway (ok, well the coconut milk is from Trader Joe's-- they have light and normal, while Safeway only has normal).


It was also pretty simple. Nothing more complicated than stirring and dicing.

Ingredients
Shrimp (I used shrimp because I had some; you could use chicken but you'd have to simmer it for much longer, or you could use tofu or just veggies)
Red Curry paste, 1 tablespoon, pictured above
1 14oz can of coconut milk
2 tablespoons fish sauce (not nearly as scary as it sounds!)
2 tablespoons brown sugar (or regular if you don't have brown)
1/2 cup water
assorted veggies, fresh or frozen, I used carrots, onions and frozen peas. It'd be great with fresh bell peppers too, though!
rice or noodles to serve with the curry

Pro tip: microwave frozen peas in a little water for :30 to make them rehydrate before cooking.


1. Thaw your shrimp in cold water. Chop veggies.
2. Dump the coconut milk into a saucepan, and add 1 tablespoon of curry paste. The jar says to go easy on it, but I not very humbly disagree. I say go for at least a generous tablespoon, perhaps even 1 1/2! It's not all that spicy, really. Whisk together, and let simmer for about 5 minutes.
3. Add everything except the shrimp and the rice (unless you're using chicken, then add it now). Mix it all together, and let simmer for 15+ minutes. Don't let it really get to a rolling boil, it'll start to seperate a bit.
4. Add the shrimp, simmer for 4-5 minutes, or until the shrimp are done. You may want to add a bit of cornstarch dissolved in water if the curry is too runny for your tastes.
5. Serve over rice. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Substitutions

Ok, so you want to cook something. Great! Step one: accomplished.
Let's say you have a recipe. Sweet. You have most of the ingredients! But not one, which you forgot, couldn't find, ran out of, or don't like. For most cooking dishes (as opposed to baking) that's not usually a problem, unless you're making an omelet without eggs. But spices, meat choices, veggie additions, and such are "suggestions".
Some are no-brainers: a recipe calls for a red onion-- go ahead and use a yellow or white. A recipe calls for peas: use another green veggie instead.
Some are no-nos: a recipe calls for heavy cream-- you cannot just substitute skim milk. Skim milk will curdle or sour where heavier creams will not. Don't boil your skim milk, ok? So, as in the previous recipe, you shouldn't carelessly substitute skim milk for the cream. You can, but you have to watch it very carefully, and probably thicken the sauce (a little flour dissolved in water will do).
Oil types fall in between. If a recipe recommends olive oil, it's probably for flavor. Sesame oil is also a flavor oil. Vegetable, peanut and canola, for example, don't taste like much, but they do have different smoke points. So you have to moderate the temperature of your pan appropriately, but you can substitute.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Cajun" shrimp pasta

Oh man. I am eating this right now, and I am so pleased with myself. (You thought I was kidding.) It is totally making my day. And, before you get scared, it's easy. And frozen shrimp aren't very expensive, especially if you opt for smaller shrimp. And they keep! (However, most frozen shrimp are pretty salty. So keep the salt in the pantry until you've had a good taste. Seriously.)


Ingredients
pasta
shrimp (I used small, frozen shrimp) or you can use chicken or sausage if you prefer
either a few plum tomatoes, or a can of diced tomatos (better in the winter than the lousy hothouse ones we have right now!)
a green pepper sliced
a red pepper if you feel like splurging, sliced
an onion sliced or diced (red makes it so pretty but I used yellow because I had it handy)
garlic, minced or pressed
black pepper, chili powder, paprika, red pepper flakes, sage, and cumin (or cajun blend)
chicken broth
heavy cream
a little wine if you have it (yum but not worth buying a bottle just for this)

1. Thaw the shrimp in cold water for about 10 minutes. Don't use hot water to speed things up; that actually cooks the shrimp. Meanwhile, you can chop things that need chopping, and start cooking your pasta.
2. Heat up a heavy pan/skillet. When it's pretty hot, add some butter and a little olive oil. Get that nce and hot. Drain your shrimp, and toss some chili powder/cayenne on them before throwing them into your hot pan. (Be careful! Wet shrimp and hot oil make for splatter. Protect yourself!) Try to get them into a single layer if you can, but don't burn yourself. Leave them there a minute or two, and then turn them until they're cooked through. Remove them from the pan with a spoon or tongs, and keep them nearby.
3. Add your onions. Stir 'em up. Add your garlic (2-4 cloves depending on your proportions). Add the peppers. When everything seems to be almost done, add the tomatos. If they were canned, drain them first. Give it no more than a minute to cook a bit. Scoop all that out too, and put it on the same plate as the shrimps.
4. With the heat on high, throw in about 1/4 cup of wine if you've got it. Or some. It should sizzle nicely and start deglazing your pan. Now chicken broth. Stir everything, and get all those brown bits off the bottom. Turn the heat down to medium, and add cream. I never measure, but I would guess a cup would be a good place to start, compared to about a cup of wine/broth. Whisk the broth and cream together. You're looking for a nice warm color, the creaminess blending with the darkness of the cooked deliciousness from the deglazing. Start tossing in spices. Start with chili or cayenne if you're blending your own, then paprika, which gives a nice warmth and sweetness to everything. Finish off with the fresh black pepper, and if after tasting you want to, a bit of salt.
5. Throw everything (shrimp, veggies) back in. Stir to combine, and heat through. Toss with pasta. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley if you're trying to impress someone.


6. DEVOUR.

Yeah, this was all that was left. I was the only one eating. Oops. :-D

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Community Supported Agriculture

I just thought I'd take a second and make a little pitch for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I just joined a local CSA here, called One Straw Farm. It's a program where you buy a share in advance, and then you get produce through the entire growing season. You've prepaid a decent part of your grocery bill (while usually saving money compared to what you might spend of veggies if you're eating healthy), all while buying local, usually organic produce. Your share cost also helps the local farms support their costs ahead of time, and they're guaranteed a market for their produce.
In my case, I'll pick up my produce at my church, and the farm has agreed to donate one full share (enough for at least a family of 4) to a food bank for every ten shares my church members purchase. This is a great thing, and I am very excited!
I'm a little nervous, but also really excited, to be cooking with what I consider to be exotic veggies. The basket I'll get each week is a bit random, ranging from arugula* to zucchini and everything in between. So, I'm sure some of those crazy veggie experiments will end up posted here.

*Fun arugula fact: it's known as "rocket" in the UK and is a very common sandwich ingredient. When I was there, I never tired of ordering food with rocket in them, even if it wasn't my favorite green. It was just so fun to say!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lentils

I love lentils. They might be my favorite pulse. They're kinda boring if you don't spice them up, but of course you will spice them up.

Here's an easy, and amazingly cheap dish I make when I am feeling lazy.
Extra step for the adventurous! Sautee some onions and garlic with some curry powder and/or chili powder. Extra optional: add green peppers, or any other handy veggies. Frozen peas, carrots, whatever's handy!
In a pot, boil some water and add chicken stock. Don't worry about how much water you add, you'll almost certainly need to add more. Add 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup (each) of rice and lentils to the garlic/onions/etc. This makes a fair amount of food! Add hot sauce if you want... tomato sauce, tomato paste, canned chopped tomatoes (etc) also make a great addition.
Keep the pot on a steady simmer for a while. You'll need to keep stirring, and making sure that it doesn't burn at the bottom. It takes 30-45 minutes. Avoid adding salt until the end, as extra salt slows down the speed of the lentils cooking.  You know it's done when the texture is right-- pull out a little bit, and taste it. If it's too tough, add a bit more water and keep going. It's low mainenance, but not quite where you can ignore it. I try to keep the liquid level a little above the mixture while it's cooking, at least until the last 10 minutes.
After that, you can throw in whatever other seasonings you want. Even serve it with some meat, or whatever else is handy.
Easy, nutritious (mm, fiber!) and so cheap.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Unsolicited Product Review: Trader Joe's Simmer Sauces

So far, I've tried three of them. They're all pretty good, especially for a good fast dinner for 1-3 people. (For 4, you'd have to serve other stuff too.) And as a note, I always add more stuff- veggies and potatoes, usually, even though the directions don't tell you to do that.

Korma: Decent. I like the flavor profile, but it doesn't have the sweet creaminess of restaurant. Better than the Masala; it has a sort of tomato-sweetness without the cream that I like, which probably means it's a lot better for you than the version that is my Platonic Ideal of a Korma. With both of these, it is key to simmer everything for a while! But not too long if you're using white-meat chicken, because it falls apart. Dark meat chicken or other proteins react differently to prolonged simmering. Dark meat chicken handles it better and doesn't change texture nearly as much.

Masala: Decent. Not really the warm, buttery flavor that I really love in a good Masala sauce. The Kitchens of India paste is much better for this, though it's spicier than the simmer sauce (and a slightly different recipe, but since neither is wholly authentic, I think I can be forgiven!) See the note above about chicken. The simmering gives it a nice soft feel, and for this, you lose a lot if you cook the chicken in a pan as I usually do.

Thai Green Curry: The best of the bunch (at least that I've tried)! A lovely green curry flavor, with lemongrass and wonderfulness. It's a light flavor and a great texture, and packs a lot of flavor without much spice, for those of you who enjoy mild curries. I ate it with rice but it would also be fantastic with noodles. Yummmmmm. Here is a recipe (and the blog I borrowed this photo from) using the Green Curry. This does require that you cook the chicken separately, though it's really not any more work than a basic stir fry. Highly recommended.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fried Tofu

Ever had this? Or seen it on a Thai (or other Asian) menu?
It's delicious. And easy. And a great vehicle for your favorite dipping sauce. When I made it this week, I used Trader Joe's Thai Peanut Sauce for dipping, and was pretty pleased with that. Sweet and sour sauce would also be nice, or a tamarind sauce... the possibilities are practically endless. Plus, the tofu is super easy to make. Even though it's fried, it's not oily, because the flour helps form a really nice crust and prevents the tofu from soaking up all the oil.

You need:
Tofu. Sold in water. I used extra firm, though next time I might step down to firm. You can pick whatever you like, or have handy.
Flour.
Vegetable oil

  1. Drain the tofu, and pat it dry with a paper towel. Slice it up into pieces-- wedges as shown above, or my favorite, small cubes.
  2. Toss the tofu in flour, covering it completely. This dries out the surface of the tofu, greatly reducing the oil spatter (caused by water in hot oil, and often resulting in nasty burns or messy cleanup). It also allows the nice crust to form.
  3. Heat some oil in a wok or skillet. A nice round bottomed wok is great because you get the best frying volume with the least oil, but you only need a bit of oil-- half an inch deep, perhaps. Heat the oil until it's nice and hot. 
  4. Gently place some of the tofu into the oil. If you've got enough to cover the tofu, great. Let it fry for three minutes, perhaps.  If you've got less oil, then let fry for a few minutes, then turn until all the sides have a nice golden color.  Add the next batch, until it's all done. 
  5. Drain the fried tofu on a wire rack, or a plate with a paper towel. Serve with sauce while still warm. 
Leftovers are great in soup or stir fry, or as an appetizer tomorrow. To show you how great, this is all AJ and I had left after we made a whole package:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Easy and Romantic: Perfect.

In honor of Valentine's Day today, I'm going to post the easiest recipe for romance I know. (Or, if you prefer, wallowing in singleness with pastries. It's all good.)

1. Buy a roll of Crescent Rolls in your grocery store refigerator case. Also buy some chocolate chips. Good ones, if you're feeling special.
2. Unroll the Crescent rolls. Add some chocolate chips to the wide end, then roll them up.
3. Bake as directed.
4. ENJOY.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Rice + Lentils, Set and Forget

Do you own a rice cooker? If so, great! This is super easy. If not, and you want one, here is a little one on sale. If not, and you don't want one, you can do this in a saucepan too, but it takes a bit more attention (stirring, tasting, etc).
Add some rice to the rice cooker pot. (Remember that what you put in dry doubles when it cooks, so proportion accordingly. Add some lentils. Consider how hungry you are, if you're feeding others, side or only dish, etc when adding amounts. I usually do 1/2 cup of each, and end up with some leftovers.
Add a dash of oil, maybe 1 tablespoon if you want a number (olive, veggie, canola). Add a healthy shake of curry powder or soy sauce, salt, pepper, ginger if you want, white pepper if you want, sesame oil if you have it, hot sauce if you want. (Basically, go to town on the seasonings. The rice and lentils are really quite bland without them.
Chop an onion and a pepper if you've got 'em. Toss those in too. If you have some canned diced tomatoes, those make a lovely addition to a curry. Add enough water to cover everything well. Give it a swirl. Turn the rice cooker on, and come back when it's done.
If you want, add chicken or shrimp to the top/side (cooked separately) for a whole meal.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kitchens of India

Dear Readers (ok, hi, all three of you)
I recently decided to try out the Kitchens of India variety pack from Amazon. They were doing one of those subscribe and save deals, and I decided, why not? So I've been using them, and they're pretty great. Each package contains a small silver packet with paste in it. The paste is made in India for export, and is easy and delicious.
The Butter Chicken was first up: it was a really lovely combination, though not quite what I'm used to. It had the smooth butter chicken flavor, but with a moderate spicy heat that gave the whole dish a different spin.
The Chicken Curry: a lovely, if not awe-inspiring classic brown curry. I added veggies to make it a full meal, and it turned out really well with basically no effort whatsoever.
More reviews as I make the other 4 types. Yum. 

You can buy them in stores, or on Amazon here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

On Chicken Fat

Or, Why You Buy Chicken Breasts Without Thinking About It.

Recently, while looking at the meat case at my local grocery store, I suddenly became aware of the high price of decent looking chicken breasts. I was astonished at the prices; usually my store has something on sale, reducing the price to something rather more palatable. Not this day, however.

Of course, right next to the cold chicken breasts were chicken thighs. They looked mostly the same as the breasts, with a bit more fat. I imagine this fat makes for a nice stock, and perhaps also decent fried chicken (though I've never done it myself). I knew, as many a KFC eater does, that thighs are dark meat, and while I have a preference for white meat myself, I thought the 60% price reduction would be no problem.

As it turns out, I chose poorly.

While the usual dark meat characteristics showed up in my dish, I didn't anticipate how long it would take me to cut the fat off (and out of) the meat. It took me nearly 20 minutes to prepare less than a pound of meat, and I ended up throwing away a decent part of the weight I'd purchased to fat and trimmings that didn't suit my purposes. I found that it was much easier and faster to cut the fat out of mostly frozen thighs, but next time, I will buy the breasts even if they are more expensive. 


*A youtube prize for the reader who picks out the movie references in this post. There are at least three that you should be able to catch.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Easy Sesame Noodles

I love Asian food of almost every stripe. (I guess I'm least sold on Japanese cuisine, but I've also had the least exposure.) I'm not 100% sure which country can claim these amazingly easy noodles, but I don't care. They're fantastic.
(Again, I take no credit for this recipe. It comes from my favorite food blooger, Ree Drummond at Pioneer Woman Cooks.)
  • 12 ounces, fluid Thin Noodles, Cooked And Drained These can be any kind of noodles you've got. Angel hair, spaghetti, rice noodles, etc.
  • ¼ cups Soy Sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons Sugar I think this is too much, I use 1 tbsp.
  • 4 cloves Garlic, Minced I just press them for quickness
  • 2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons Pure Sesame Oil YOU MUST OWN THIS. Best kitchen item ever.
  • ½ teaspoons Hot Chili Oil or sriacha etc
  • 4 Tablespoons Canola Oil or vegetable oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Hot Water add last to help dissolve everything together
  • 4 whole Green Onions, Sliced Thin optional garnish
Preparation Instructions
Whisk all ingredients (except noodles and green onions) together in a bowl. Taste and adjust ingredients as needed.
Pour sauce over warm noodles and toss to coat.
Sprinkle with green onions or roasted sesame seeds and toss.
Serve in a bowl with chopsticks. (Yes, mike you can use a fork!)
Yummy!

This makes a great side dish, or veggie dish, or lunch, fresh or packed. YUM.  I just made these for my lunch today and it was so yummy.  The whole thing takes as long as it takes to cook the noodles, plus maybe 30 seconds to toss and serve.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

No Knead Bread

You know what makes your whole house/apartment smell like heaven?
Fresh baked bread. You know what is generally a pain to make? Fresh baked bread.
So, why bother? Well, because this version is so easy you can't mess it up. (No, Mike. Not even you.) It requires a total of 5-7 minutes of prep time, and a day of advance thinking.
You will also need a study pot of some kind-- a stock pot, a deep pan, something oven safe up to temperatures of 450. People say dutch ovens work amazingly, but if you're reading this blog and can afford a dutch oven I think you're in the wrong place. I would go with the biggest, heaviest metal pot in your kitchen, provided it fits inside your oven.
You will also need a kitchen towel (yes really), flour, water, salt and yeast.
I claim absolutely no credit for this recipe, which seems to have found a lot of popularity after it was published in the New York Times in 2006... I'll paste below with my notes, and link you to the original story at the end.

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting (I sometimes use 1 cup whole wheat, 2 cups white flour. More than this and the loaf doesn't rise well. You can compensate by adding a bit more yeast but this is a dangerous game for an inexperienced baker! Baking is not cooking. Cooking is an art. Baking is a science. Chemistry, specifically.)
¼ teaspoon instant yeast (or a heaping 1/4 tsp of dry active yeast, activated*)
1¼ teaspoons salt

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water (I use 1/8 of a cup of hot water and a bit of sugar to activate the yeast, then use 1 1/2 cups for this part) , and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature. This means don't put it in the fridge. Maybe put it over the dishwasher if you have one, since the gentle warmth helps it rise.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes. You can do this. I know you can!

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. This is very important to give the loaf it's amazing all over crustiness. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Seriously, be careful. I grabbed such a 450 degree pot with a bare hand, and it left quite a mark! 450 degrees is much warmer than your flesh would ever like to be. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. In fact, the messier it is, the more likely your guests will gush over it's handmade quality, or it's "rustic" appearance. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

*To activate yeast: turn your sink on as hot as it goes. Let it run to warm up if it isn't hot. Measure out about an 1/8 of a cup of this hot water. Add it to a small bowl with your yeast and a little bit of sugar. Stir, and let stand for at least 5-10 minutes. When your yeast is ready to go, it'll be frothy. Scrape it into your main bowl with a spatula and let those yeasties do their work. 

This recipe is so easy, and makes a magnificent 1lb loaf of bread with a great crust. And you can actually find blog posts where a 4-year old makes this (minus the oven part). Here is the NYT article, and here is the little kid. 

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sauce

A basic sauce has 4 parts:

oil
liquid
(thickener-- optional. Cornstarch, masa, flour, or heat are typical thickeners.)
spices

These parts can take lots of forms based on culture and what you have on hand. But for example, a nice italian sauce might use olive oil, tomatos/tomato juice (i.e. from a can of tomatoes), and basil and garlic. Basically, heat some oil. throw in the spices. Add the liquid, stir, reduce heat to get everything warm and bubbly. Let the desired amount of liquid cook off, or add a little cornstarch to thicken things up.

Another version: a little oil, some onions, herbs and garlic sauteed. Add white wine to deglaze the pan (see below! you can do it.) let it simmer. Add lemon, or reduce the heat and add cream (or whole milk-- not less than that, though, the fat keeps it from curdling too fast). Throw in a little pepper, and toss over pasta. Instant homemade wine sauce.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Potato Soup

So, with the upcoming SNOWPOCALYSE 2.0 hitting Maryland soon, I figured it'd be a great time for some hearty, creamy potato soup! Yummmm. Bacon always makes a great topper, and so do cheddar cheese and fresh green onions if you've got 'em. 

INGREDIENTS
8 cups diced potatoes (I add as many as I have. It's a lot of potato, but that's the point.)
3 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 cup chopped onion (more if you want!)
3 (14.5 ounce) cans chicken broth, divided
4 cups half-and-half cream (you can use whole milk if you prefer, or if you run out, add milk to make up the difference)
6 tablespoons butter, melted
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cubes chicken bouillon (this sounds redundant. But it's not. BUT it does mean you do not need to add salt.)
ground black pepper. lots of it. and white pepper if you have it. lots of that too.


DIRECTIONS
In a large pot, bring potatoes, celery, carrot and onion to a boil in 2 cups of broth, or as much as you need until the veggies are covered. Cook until potatoes are tender, 15 minutes. Drain and reserve liquid. Leave the veggies out in a bowl nearby, and put the liquid back into the pot.
Combine reserved broth and half-and-half in pot. In a bowl, combine melted butter and flour. Stir into half-and-half mixture over medium heat. Stir until thickened. Stir in reserved vegetables, remaining broth, bouillon and pepper. Add some more pepper. If you want, add the bacon. Heat through and serve.

As an afterthought: if you're cooking up some bacon either to throw into the soup or to put on top, I reccomend cooking it while the veggies are cooking. That way, you can use the bacon grease in place of some of the butter, which gives the soup a much richer flavor without losing the buttery goodness of it. I cooked up 3 strips of bacon, which left me ~1 tbsp of grease. So I used that and a sparing 5 tbsp of nice melty butter.
Also, when you blend the butter (or butter and bacon fat) into the flour, you're making a roux, which is a very useful way to thicken plenty of things. It's 1 part solid to one part liquid, basically-- you can make them with (usually) flour and a liquid/fat, like melted butter or milk. 

My Spice Rack (part 1)

I love spices. Mm.
Here's some stuff in my spice rack, and what I use it for.
  • Cumin-- I put it in everything western, southwestern, Mexican, etc. It also makes a great corn topping-- cut a fresh lime into wedges, brush the limes over an ear of hot corn, then sprinkle with cumin. Unbelievably delicious. 
  • Chile powder. Hot. Delicious. 
  • Red pepper flakes-- for an Italian kick. Great to throw into hot olive oil for a quick sizzle with onions and garlic.
  • Curry powder-- adds a nice warmth to any savory dish. I love it in lentils, and it's the secret ingredient in my lentil soup.
  • Cinnamon-- good for sweet things, but also adds a nice brightness to any savory dish. Often adds a great sweetness to anything you put curry powder into. 
  • White pepper-- a nice contrast to normal black pepper. Can be expensive, but I found it really cheap at my local Asian supermarket.
  • Ginger-- for my favorite cookies, and Asian dishes of many varieties.
  • basic Italian mix-- everything from pizza to homemade tomato sauce needs its basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, etc blend.
  • Bay leaves-- good for flavoring soups, stews, and other thick and hearty dishes. They're not poisonous as commonly thought, but they do not feel good if you bite into one. They don't get soft no matter how long you boil them, so don't eat them. Very not worth it.
  • Rosemary-- very distinctive flavor. I associated it with spring. Complemented nicely by fresh spring veggies, a light butter or olive oil sauce, and a little salt.
  • Turmeric: the miracle spice, according to nutritionists. It's supposed to be absurdly good for you but I'm not sure how much you have to eat to get the benefits. It's used mostly in Indian and related cuisines. Wikipedia's take here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cutting Onions

I HATE cutting onions. Every onion I've ever cut has made me cry. But I love eating them.... what's a girl to do?!

(My solution: ask my parents for the Vidalia for Christmas. I'll post a photo of it someday, I'm a little bit in love...[warning: video plays with sound automatically])

If you're not into that, and I understand, it's cool.
  • WikiHow has a not-useful list of ways to not cry while cutting onions (except for the part about the sharp knife. That is true, and another reason to invest in good knives.)
  • Some advice from the folks at Reluctant Gourmet.
  • And this is my favorite way!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cajun Chicken Pasta

So, I attempted this last night. It turned out well, and it was easy too! As I've said before, she has my favorite cooking blog.




I didn't buy the Cajun Blend (why spend $6 when you may well have all the stuff already?) You can find various versions of the blend online, but at heart you need:
  • cayenne pepper
  • garlic (can be fresh, as in the recipe)
  • paprika
  • thyme
  • salt
  • black pepper
You can also add garlic powder, onion flakes, chili powder (reccomended), white pepper, or allspice.
Basically, you want equal parts of all of them, with perhaps more cayenne pepper for spice, and less allspice (that stuff is strong!!). If you end up making a blend in a bowl and have too much, you can save it in a sealed jar. I just eyeballed it, and added to taste.

Other notes for this recipe: as directed it served 4 people for dinner, and we were fairly hungry. It would not, however, feed 4 hungry athletes. Halved, it would make a good dinner + lunch leftovers portion. 

Monday, February 1, 2010

Things My Kitchen Is Never Without

Ok, maybe not never. But some basic things I attempt to always have on hand:

  • olive oil
  • butter
  • salt/pepper/some kind of spice
  • hot sauce
  • wine (even, or especially, cheap-o cooking wine) 
  • canned tomatoes
  • rice, lentils, pasta, etc-- whatever your favorite starches happen to be
  • onion
  • green pepper (my favorite veggie. I put it in almost everything. Substitute other stuff at will) 
  • milk
  • chicken broth, or boullion 
With just this stuff, or not even all of it, I can feed myself (not that well, but still) for almost a week. See, for example, finals week. 

I also love to keep these "luxuries" on hand:
  • frozen dumplings
  • jars of pasta sauce
  • frozen stir-fry veggies
  • jiffy mix-- both cornbread and blueberry. great for impressing someone with 'homemade' muffins or cornbread in under 30 minutes. 
  • cheese, tortillas and salsa-- the perfect microwave quesadilla lunch in 30 seconds
  • frozen meat, meatballs, etc
  • different kinds of hot sauce (at last count, i had 4 or 5 kinds of bottled hot sauce...)

Monday, January 25, 2010

My favorite cooking blog

So, just so y'all know, The Pioneer Woman Cooks is totally my favorite cooking blog. Her recipes are usually really easy, super delicious, and don't usually use crazy ingredients that you would never have on hand. Everything is extensively photo-illustrated, and recipes now come with handy printable versions. Personally I just bring my laptop into the kitchen, and leave it perched precariously on the coffee maker.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Wonton Soup

If I do say so myself, I make a mean wonton soup. I don't make the wontons myself-- so much time and effort for a bowl of soup! But if you can find decent frozen wontons, homemade wonton soup is just a few minutes away.

Ingredients:
chicken bouillon (I actually prefer Better Than Bouillon)
ground ginger
soy sauce (I use low salt, but whatever you like)

hot sauce, like my favorite, Sriracha
white pepper
sesame oil
green onions (optional but awesome)
noodles (optional but also awesome)

Boil your dumplings in cold water, following package directions. Scoop them out when they're done with a slotted spoon or tongs, and put then in a bowl. 
Add or subtract water from the pot according to how much broth you want. (i.e., how many people are eating, how hungry are you? etc).
Bring it back to a boil. Stir in some chicken bouillon, about two glugs of soy sauce, a little hot sauce (it goes a long way and you can always add more later!) You don't want the broth to turn red. Stir in pepper and ginger.
Add noodles and boil until they're done, if desired.

In a soup bowl, add 3-5 drops of sesame oil. It should be about the size of a nickel on the bottom of a flat bottomed bowl. Add the dumplings to the bowl, and pour broth and noodles over it. Garnish with green onions for maximum awesome.

Total cooking time: 10 minutes.

Molten Chocolate Cake

So, I made these last night. They really were fantastic. I cannot claim any credit for them at all, except that I followed the recipe. So here's the recipe!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Beans part 1

Ah, the miracle fruit.

So easy to make, but pretty tricky to make delicious. But they're cheap, and they're easy, so they may as well enter your pantry. They also keep well, so you can keep them around for rainy days when you just can't bear to make a grocery run.

Some kinds require soaking, others do not. The bag will tell you. You can also buy beans by the can, which is moderately easier, a bunch quicker, and lot more expensive. You can get two servings of canned beans for the same price as a whole bag of dry beans, which will feed you a lot longer.

But a can of black beans and a package of Knorr's "Spanish Rice" and a little onion and garlic or salsa can make a quick one-pan meal...


In a saucepan, follow the package directions for the rice.
Chop up the onion, and whatever other veggies you have.
You can also brown some chicken if it's handy.
When the rice is almost done, throw in a can of black beans, and the veggies. Let it simmer until everything is warm, and the texture you like.
Throw it onto a plate. Garnish with salsa, or cheese, or both.

I usually find that this makes two meals for me, even without the chicken added. And total cost is somewhere around $3, even with the onion (and without meat).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Harness the power of steam

Steamed things can be quite delicious. Veggies steam quickly, and don't get as mushy and gross as they do when you boil them. Dumplings are meant to be steamed. Potatoes, I discovered today, also steam up really well. (A friend suggests steamed potato pieces mashed with coconut milk. Sounds awesome!)


You can get a metal steamer basket or a bamboo steamer really cheap. Then you set whatever it is (bamboo or metal) over a pot of boiling water. With a bamboo steamer, you set the wooden tower in already boiling water. You can even season the water for a nice aroma! You can do more than one food at a time, and even steam delicate things like fish. Line the basket with lettuce, cabbage, or other leafy greens. Or parchment paper, or a ceramic plate. Just leave room at the edges for the steam to get through.


A metal steamer is not quite as versatile, but it'll also do anything in small pieces-- veggies, or dumplings for instance. With the metal steamer, put it into cool water in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil, and cover the saucepan with a lid, and voila, steam.

In both cases, you want the water to be below the food, even as it boils and bubbles. But you can't let your pot run out of water. That'll burn your bamboo or start your pot smoking (hehe) and that is not good for the taste of your food.

You can also get a basket insert for your rice cooker, if you have one, which does the exact same thing at the same time as it cooks your rice. (Or doesn't cook your rice, if you're not having rice. Just be sure to get the water hot before you start timing.)

Steam for as long as you like, but you can overcook with steam. Small veggies can take as little as 3 minutes. Here's one suggested table of cook times.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Spice Tip

When you're cooking something savory, you use the process to get spices to open up.

Many recipes ask you to start by sauteeing something (i.e. onions) or browning your meat. When you add and heat the oil/fat/butter in your pan, add some spices then. The heat helps them release their full flavor and aroma.

For example, when I make Italian meals, I almost always do the following:

1) heat olive oil in a skillet/frying pan
2) add crushed red pepper flakes, stir for 30 s
3) add onions, stir for ~1-2 minutes
4) add minced garlic, stir until onions are translucent (i.e., cooked)

You can use this same process with cumin, coriander, etc. It works best with ground spices (chili or curry powder, for example) or even cinnamon or nutmeg. Really, almost anything!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Meat

As a graduate student, or otherwise on limited budget, you may have noticed that meat is pretty expensive. I've noticed that I have cut down on my meat-intake just based on this alone. (There is evidence that this is both good for your health and good for the environment. But don't get me wrong, I love my meat. I just love it less when I have to purchase it.)

White meats tend to be the cheapest-- chicken and pork. Because of swine flu or other fluctaions in food prices, pork seems to have been really cheap recently, so I've been eating a lot of pork.

Chicken is pretty reliable-- I like the ease of fresh or frozen chicken breasts. I can slice them or cook them whole, or butterfly them.

Beef is the most expensive-- except perhaps ground beef. One can only eat so much ground beef, but if you love beef then it's a good way to eat it on the cheap. Plenty of options there-- tacos, chili, meatballs...

Fish is best fresh; I've never had any luck with frozen fish. But fresh fish is tricky. So that's for another time.

Deglazing

Sometimes fancy recipes ask you to "deglaze" your pan. That sounds pretty complicated, but it isn't. Basically, to deglaze a pan, you pour cold liquid into your hot pan.
That's easy!
Why?  To make a sauce, or to otherwise catch all the flavorful stuff on the bottom of your pan.

You can use this in one of my favorite "whatever happens to be in the fridge" concoctions.

Ingredients:
chicken breasts, or pork chops, or fish, or whatever
onion, minced
garlic, chopped. fresh is best but a jar works too.
spices like basil, thyme, marjoram, "Italian blend", etc
salt and pepper
red wine
chicken broth (or chicken bullion dissolved in hot water)
other veggies, if handy. For example, I use green pepper, chopped into 1" pieces.

1) heat olive oil or butter in a skillet
2) heat spices until "aromatic", i.e., until you can smell them. try not to burn them.
3) add onion, stir for a while (1-2 minutes)
4) add garlic, sautee until the onions are clear
5) add meat, and cook it until it's done (depends on the type of meat)
6) add about a glass of red wine. be careful-- it's best to add alcoholic liquids away from open flames or heat sources, so take it off the stove. But leave the stove on medium high.
The wine should boil fast; let it. Stir it, gently scraping the bottom of the pan to get all that good stuff on there, and stir it into the sauce. This is two fancy things: deglazing the pan, and making a reduction!
7) Let the wine cook down for a few minutes. Add chicken broth if you want a thinner sauce, or just more of it. Let it simmer together for a while. Add the other veggies if you want.
8) Let it cook until the sauce looks right, and tastes right. Serve with a starch-- rice, pasta, couscous, polenta, baked potatoes, whatever. Yum.

Time: ~30 minutes, if you have defrosted your meat.

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