Tuesday, November 27, 2007
But what about the Monday after Thanksgiving? The leftovers are just about gone, but there hasn't been a new mission to the grocery store. What then? Especially when it's awfully cold outside?
My family has a love for a soup that we call Pumpkin Soup. I say we call it that because it doesn't have any pumpkin in it. I've never made it with pumpkin. (Too much work, all that scooping.) I suppose it's more accurate to call it Winter Squash Soup. But somehow that name doesn't have the same ring to it.
But with some vegetables dying a slow and ugly death in the crisper, it was time to use them or lose them.
Get a big pot. Peel and coarsley chop 3-4 carrots. Coarsley chop half a "head" of celery (including the leaves). Peel and slice 3-4 potatoes (last night I used sweet potatoes and may make that a permanent change). Dump those in the pot and cover with water (or chicken broth...I used water because of the vegetarians). Simmer. Add thyme to taste (add more than you think you need...it's the defining flavor), and salt and pepper.
Leftover alert: this is a great time to use leftover mashed potatoes or cooked carrots!
Simultaneously, cut a winter squash in half, scoop out the seeds, place in a casserole dish along with 1/2" of water, and put it in a 350 degree oven. Bake while the other vegetables are simmering.
After an hour, remove the squash from the oven and scoop out the flesh (carefully - it's hot), and add the flesh to the vegetables and stock. Simmer until the carrots and potatoes are soft enough to mash with a fork.
Transfer contents of pot to the blender (it takes my blender two batches, so you'll need another pot or a big measuring cup or a bowl for half the mixture) and carefully blend until smooth. Carefully. Because you might get a big mess. Use the lowest speed and hold that lid like your life depends on it.
Return to the original pot, taste, adjust seasonings, and serve.
Delicious with a salad and muffins. Or at least that's what my kids tell me.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
This year we're potlucking with two other families, one of whom includes a 20-year-veteran chef. He's in charge of the meat, which, at press time, is going to be Cornish hens.
My family has a few "traditional" dishes we enjoy on Thanksgiving, which I'll be making. I'm still trying to decide about bread. I'll either bake bread or attempt to make rolls like my mom makes every year. Last time I tried to make them, it was a hideous failure. It's been fifteen years, however, and I'm a better cook. I think it might be time to try again. Plus, I have a better kitchen these days.
I put a great deal of thought into our Thanksgiving menu when we had our first Thanksgiving in our new house. That was two years ago. Last year we went out of town, to Craig's family. This year we're home again, leaving the next day to see my brother get married. Since we're potlucking, I'm not concentrating too much on the menu. Just on making sure the dishes that have to be on the table for my family are there.
From that feast two years ago, a standout was the roasted winter vegetables. It's a flexible recipe, but make sure you start early. Like the same time as the turkey. They need to cook a long time. If you don't time them right, you'll have raw vegetables on the table. I write from experience, as they were, indeed, undercooked on Christmas, when the ham took much more space in the oven than the Thanksgiving duck had.
I got the original recipe from the Food Network's website. You'll notice that the recipe is on a very small scale. So there's math to do. I also switched to new potatoes, upped the ratio of Brussels sprouts because oh my Craig does love them, substituted sage-infused olive oil (thyme-infused, rosemary-infused, or mixed with white truffle oil would all be good choices), added fresh sage to the herbs, and used kosher salt. So, by the time I'm done with it, it's more like this:
2# new potatoes, scrubbed, skins on (cut the big ones in half)
2# sweet potatoes, 3 carrots and 2 parsnips, scrubbed, skins on, in 1/2" thick slices
20 Brussels sprouts, trimmed
2 heads garlic (may need more, since my son had discovered garlic this year), cloves separated and skins removed, poke holes with a toothpick
3 sweet onions, preferably Vidalias, quartered
1 each red, yellow, and green bell peppers, julienned
1 jar kalamata olives, pitted, drained
bunches of fresh herbs - rosemary, sage, thyme (and if you're feeling it, parsley, too, but only if you start singing)
Black pepper, to taste.
This is my once-a-year opportunity to use the clay roaster. It's perfect for this dish.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F and prepare vegetables.
In a large roasting pan (or tagine), add potatoes, carrots and Brussels sprouts. Add olive oil and salt, and toss thoroughly. Roast in oven for 20 minutes.
Add garlic and onions and toss with oil in bottom of pan. Roast for 20 more minutes.
Add bell peppers, olives, fresh herbs and black pepper. Toss with the oil in the pan and return to oven. Cook for 20 to 40 minutes longer, turning once or twice or until vegetables are nicely browned but not charred. Serve immediately.
If you're cooking this with other foods that need a lower temperature, that's okay. Just increase the cooking time. Test the potatoes for doneness with a fork.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
This one is never exactly the same twice, because the whole point is to clean out the fridge. You know what I'm talking about. The celery that's not quite as crisp as it should be. The cabbage that you kind of forgot about but still has a little life left. The remnants of whatever else might be in there and not quite worthy of the bin.
This time, I started with this:
Things weren't as questionable as they often are. Because the fridge had been cleaned out pretty recently. But if it makes you happy to pretend that the celery is wilted and the cabbage is less than perfect, go ahead. Because it usually is. You see that jar? It contains about 1/2 cup of brown rice. I was sick of looking at that almost-empty container. And those cans of tomatoes are essential if I want my kids to eat this soup. For them, it's not good soup without a tomato base and a healthy dose of cabbage.
I sauteed the leeks and a couple of cloves of garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil for a few minutes. When they start getting soft and fragrant, I added the other ingredients: the chopped veggies and about a quart of vegetable stock, along with the cans of tomatoes. EXCEPT the cabbage. Save that for the last 15 minutes.
And honestly, that's about all. Let it simmer the whole time you're baking the bread. The longer, the better. Throw in the cabbage for the last fifteen minutes of cooking.
Oh, seasonings? I used my old standby fresh herbs from the garden: thyme, oregano, basil. There was some shady-looking parsley in the fridge, so in it went. And some celery salt and pepper. If you have other favorites, substitute away.
And when it looks like this, it's ready to eat. Unless you have my kids, in which case you're going to need a few ice cubes. Maybe they're Russian?
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Let's bake some bread!
A few assumptions. I have a Kitchenaid mixer and I use it as much as I can. Even though Jamie Oliver says we should make our dough with our hands, I prefer to make less of a mess and get things done. I'm a busy woman. But last winter I baked this bread almost every day because it has a lot fewer ingredients than grocery store bread, and it slices very well. Recently, in an effort to add fiber to my diet, I've been experimenting with oat bran flour, and this bread seems to accept that substitution nicely.
English Muffin Bread
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup warm water (100-110)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 cups wheat or oat bran flour
3.5 cups unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
cornmeal (about 1/4 cup)
In a small saucepan, warm milk, butter, salt, and sugar until everything is all melty and dissolved. While the milk mixture is cooling (to a little warmer than room temperature), dissolve yeast in warm water in the mixer bowl. After the yeast is dissolved, mix in the milk.
Attach the dough hook to the mixer and begin adding flour.
I start with 2 cups of flour, then add 1/2 cup at a time until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and forms a nice soft ball.
Leave it in the mixer, kneading, for a couple of minutes. Dough should be soft and manageable. After it's kneaded a few minutes, remove it and put it in a greased bowl. Flip it around in the bowl so it's covered with oil on all sides.
Cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and put it in a warm, draft-free location (I usually put it in the oven with the light on). Allow it to rise until doubled. This takes about 30-45 minutes most of the time. Sometimes it takes closer to an hour. Depends on how warm the oven is, how warm the water and milk were, and probably a lot of other factors, like the relative humidity and the barometric pressure. But it will eventually double (if it doesn't, go ahead and throw it away....your yeast was dead....probably because it was ancient or your water was too hot and killed it). Sprinkle cornmeal on your countertop (please, make sure the countertop is clean). Grease a loaf pan (or two).
Punch down the dough, then form it into a loaf (or two of them). Roll in the cornmeal.
Cover, again, place in that same draft-free location, and let rise again until doubled (might take a little longer this time...allow about an hour).
It's doubled again. Remove the cover, heat the oven to 400 (unless you're using glass pans, then heat to 375) and bake until golden, about 25 minutes.
This is really yummy with soup. Or butter. And I'm sure it would be fabulous with bacon.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
But my laptop is in the laptop hospital.
And all my pictures are on my laptop.
But coming soon...baking healthy yeast bread and biscuits (using half oat bran flour), chicken soup, vegetable soup, slow-cooked pears, and more.
Any requests? The holidays are coming and I'd love to try some new ideas.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
I've been working about eight extra hours per week for the last few weeks, adding four hours to my Mondays and Wednesdays. With Craig teaching a night class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a busy weekend this past weekend, something crucial didn't happen.
We didn't plan meals, nor did we go to the grocery store.
Most of the time, cooking is something I enjoy. But only under the right conditions. I like to have sufficient time to cook so I'm not feeling rushed. I like to have company in the kitchen (even if it's just a kid sitting at the counter, chatting). I like to listen to music (preferably Prince) or NPR news. And if it could please be cold outside, as well? That would be great.
Those conditions haven't been met for several weeks. The combination of factors, beginning with Craig teaching evening classes and the kids being out of town for almost four weeks, has gotten me into a pattern of not cooking. Working late, I haven't really had time to get into a cooking groove. And our pantry selection is paltry, mostly consisting of ingredients picked up on quick trips to the store, with the intention of making a specific meal (like tacos, or this one). The kids are making the most of their last week of summer vacation by spending as much of their waking hours as possible in front of the television or computer. They're not interested in hanging out in the kitchen while I cook.
School starts for the kids on Monday, and Craig's summer semester ended yesterday. While I'll still be working late on Mondays and Wednesdays, at least for the next month, our schedule will be a little less complicated. But I've got to get back to planning our meals and shopping.
This weekend, I want to accomplish a few things. I want to go to the Farmer's Market as early as possible on Saturday. What I get there will help set the direction of the week's menu. Then I want to have a family meeting, over breakfast, in which we plan the week's meals (including lunches) and determine who is responsible for which meal. I was inspired by this post at Dirt to Dish for this tactic.
Planning the week's menu, rather than thinking about each day separately, has the added benefit of looking for nutritional "holes" in my family's diet. Since two family members are vegetarian, most of our meals are vegetarian, simply because preparing an extra meat dish is more work and more money. I've always been interested in eating healthfully (but don't begrudge me my weekly cheeseburger...it makes me happy), and I'm pleased to have children who like healthy food. It's too easy, though, to slip into a few favorite dishes (my kids both love starch, and I can happily make a full meal with a loaf of bread) and realize that we haven't eaten anything green or orange in days. But with a weekly meal plan, we can have a day or two that aren't entirely nutritionally complete, as long as the missing components are featured somewhere in the week.
I anticipate lots of fruit smoothies for breakfast, and caprese salads in my daughter's lunchbox. And maybe some locally-grown edamame. I can't wait to taste what we come up with.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
On grocery nights, my kids often eat TV dinners, only because (a) they like them and (b) after working all day and grocery shopping, there's not time or energy to cook. And that's what their tastebuds were expecting.
Plan B. I had some butter beans in the fridge from the farmer's market. The broccoli and cauliflower had held up fine, and there were baby carrots. That's a perfectly balanced, reasonable meal, especially with fruit and yogurt smoothies in the plan for dessert.
But my poor son. When he saw his plate, he literally wept. It hadn't clicked in his brain that we had to buy the TV dinners at the store, and we hadn't been to the store. Since I haven't seen the kids in weeks, I wasn't feeling stern; I didn't want to tell him to get a grip. He was disappointed, reasonably so, and I wanted to make him feel better.
So I opened the freezer, praying that I'd find some old TV dinner from months ago. Nope. But I did see vegetarian chicken patties. And that was enough to make him smile. And enough cooking time to get him to eat his vegetables while it cooked.
He didn't like the beans. He tolerated the broccoli and cauliflower. He deemed the carrots "too sweet." But he hugged me after he finished that chicken patty.
The carrots were delicious and made the house smell great. What did I do to them?
In a saucepan, pour 3/4 cup cranberry juice over 2 cups baby carrots. Add a few (5) whole cloves. Cook over low heat, covered, until the carrots reach desired tenderness. Serve.
Fill a blender with mixed fruit (I use the Spectrum brand that I find at Costco, which has a blend of peaches, melon, strawberries, blueberries and more, covering all the colors of fruit...it's frozen so allow time for it to thaw). Add 1 cup fruit juice (I used the rest of the cranberry), 1 cup nonfat plain yogurt, and a banana. Blend until smooth. It's easier (and more fun) to drink this with a big straw (you can find them with the bubble tea supplies at most Asian markets).
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
So it's time to repay some of that karmic debt. And I'm repaying it with roast chicken, cassoulet, and roasted potatoes with rosemary.
I've pretty much stolen Anthony Bourdain's technique for roasting chicken. I can't claim any part of it. It turns out perfect every time.
My friend gave me a huge steamer in the spring, and the directions say you can steam a whole chicken. Which means my neighbors will get Anthony Bourdain's roast chicken (tried and true) while I'll get the steamed chicken. I'm very curious about this. The chicken at Bouchon is roasted in a very special oven that mists water (steam) frequently, resulting in a very tender, juicy, and amazingly good product.
The cassoulet: a can of white beans, drained, some chopped onion, a few handfuls of spinach leaves, sliced carrots, portabella mushrooms, some vegetable broth, and my favorite, fresh herbs from the garden. Thyme, rosemary, a little sage, oregano. In a large pan, saute the onion in a little olive oil (or broth, if you're watching fat grams), until soft. Then add some broth and the herbs, carrots and mushrooms, cook a few minutes. Add more broth, then the beans and spinach. Cook until the spinach wilts.
The cleaned chicken, ready for seasoning
Pushing a few tablespoons of butter under the skin makes it extra-tasty.
Salt and pepper everywhere.
Half an onion, plus rosemary, thyme, and sage go inside the cavity (giblets removed, of course)
About this much of the herbs.
And chuck it in the oven.
Or the steamer. (Hindsight being 20/20? I'd not repeat this. I had to stick that chicken in the oven after it was cooked because it was albino-looking. Would have been great, however, for chicken salad. Tender and delicious, but no color at all.
After. Note my fabulous trussing methods (not!).
This is the steamed, then oven-browned chicken. Not quite as colorful, but definitely tasty.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
But we finally have a few that are ripe enough to eat (we had more, but some creature took bites out of them a few hours before we planned to pick them, which was heartbreaking).
Since I've got a movie date tonight, I'm going to make a simple dinner.
Goat cheese, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil. If the kids were around, I'd throw it with some pasta, but my husband is not a big fan of pasta. So I think I'll get some crusty bread to eat with it.
Instead of slicing or chunking the tomatoes, I'm going to stuff them with a mixture of goat cheese and basil, drizzle them with olive oil, and broil them for a few minutes.
And maybe a side of bacon, for me.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
As promised, we hit the produce market yesterday, and scored a couple of Arkansas tomatoes so firm, heavy, and juicy that they were nearly obscene. Since neither of us really felt like a big meal last night, we bought some good whole wheat bread, some bacon (for me), some vegetarian salami (for him), and red onion and I made BLTs (or a vegetarian variation).
Years ago, when I worked across town in a posh area, I would often eat lunch at a local health food store that's since been bought out by Wild Oats. Their vegetarian BLT rocked my world, and I still love it (despite my rather unnatural love for bacon). The substitute for B? Toasted sesame seeds. They toasted them in a skillet, and as soon as the seeds began to brown, they poured them over the already-spread-with-mayonnaise slice of bread. Truly, it has the essence and aroma of bacon, without the pesky animal products. And sesame seeds are really good for you - rich in vitamin E. They used a pretty generous amount, maybe a tablespoon or two per sandwich.
Add to the haul a gorgeous, glossy eggplant, a red bell pepper, and some petite homegrown zucchini, and I have a dinner in mind for tonight. Maybe it's inspired by that new movie, the one that I might see without the kids.
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 eggplant, cubed
1 red bell pepper
4 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
3 small zucchini, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves (chopped)
1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
*with the fresh herbs, I usually just leave the thyme and oregano on the stems, then remove the stems after it's cooked.
I'll heat the olive oil over medium heat in my chef's pan, then add the garlic and onions.
I'll cook those until they're soft. Then I'll add the eggplant and stir, and repeat with the pepper. And cover that and let it cook for ten minutes, with an occasional poke with a spoon.
Finally I'll add the other ingredients and cook until the eggplant is soft but not mushy.
I might make some brown rice to go with it, but maybe not. Maybe a side of bacon instead.
Monday, July 9, 2007
He eyed me suspiciously and asked why. (He's a vegetarian, so this is not a problem for him, but it's not what he expected me to say.)
See, the thing is, traveling? Especially by car? Does not mean eating well.
I suppose I had some control over that...I could have brought healthy snacks or stopped at healthier places, but I didn't. And now I need to do better.
So once I get back with the store's bounty, I'll figure out what to make and post some food porn. (Ew, not that! Get your mind out of the gutter.)
Since I have little to offer, I'll share a blog post that someone else wrote. It's worth the effort of clicking here.
Saturday, July 7, 2007
The secret to eggplant is letting it sweat. I've heard and read different methods for doing this, but what works for me is slicing the eggplant, layering it on tea towels, salting it, then pressing it. Ignore for a few hours, then the bitter juices are soaked into the tea towels. It cooks much more nicely (and tastes better) when this step is not omitted.
Gorgeous eggplants from the Memphis Farmer's Market.
Note my classy weighting technique.
Inside this crock-pot's viscous brew is the pork. It was very tasty.
The potatoes with horseradish are so much prettier with rosemary garnish.
Susie made the trifle, with me acting as sous chef.
And the cole slaw, with bleu cheese being blue.
The second to the bottom row of tomatoes were from our garden. And they definitely tasted better than the rest.
Chef Dan approved of the food. A lovely way to spend the Fourth.
Saturday, June 30, 2007
This year, we're celebrating twice, since Memphis's big fireworks display happened June 30 (much to the confusion of my children). We'll host another family on the Fourth. They're new to Memphis, transplanted from New York, and the husband was a professional chef until they moved here, with 20 years' restaurant experience.
I had only intended to make one Red, White & Blue meal, but the kids balked. To them, watching fireworks, no matter what the date, means eating that special meal. And, for little advance planning, it turned out pretty well.
Before we left for the park to watch the largest fireworks display in Mid-South history, we dined on:
Blue corn chips and salsa
Red-skin potato salad
Cole slaw (not quite white, but close enough)
Strawberries, bing cherries, blueberries, and blackberries
And, as we watched the fireworks, we enjoyed these very colorful, and ostensibly healthy(ish) chips.
Tomorrow I need to step up my game a little (remember? one of our dinner guests is a chef!) and because I'm a born Southerner, I feel the need to make barbecue pork. I have a tenderloin thawing right now, which I'll cook tomorrow morning in the crock pot for pulled pork sandwiches. For the vegetarians among us, I'm making grilled eggplant and tomato sandwiches(probably just tomato for the kids). I'll also make red, white, and blue cole slaw.
We'll keep the blue chips and salsa, and we'll get more of the Terra chips. We've also got a watermelon, and more blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and strawberries. I always enjoy making trifles, and a blueberry and strawberry trifle would be perfect with angel food cake (plus, all three colors in one dish!).
Slow-Cooked Pork Tenderloin for sandwiches
Put a pork tenderloin into the crock-pot. You might need to cut it into two pieces, depending on the size and shape of your crockpot.
Add the following:
- Half a beer (Pabst Blue Ribbon is my favorite)
- Cumin (about a tablespoon, adjust to your taste)
- Chili Powder (same as above)
- Cinnamon (less than above, about a teaspoon)
- A little apple cider or red wine vinegar (1/4 cup)
- A little bit of cocoa powder (1/2 teaspoon)
- A pureed tomato
Cook on low until it falls apart when poked with a fork. Serve on buns or rolls.
Red, White & Blue Cole Slaw
Buy the bagged slaw already cut up, or cut up a white cabbage. Dress with cole slaw dressing (I'm far too lazy to make my own, though I often mix the slaw dressing with ranch, since kids love ranch dressing). Mix as normal. (Note: you can just purchase pre-made cole slaw, too, but I don't like how soggy it can be.)
Place the slaw in a rectangular dish and smooth the top with a spatula to make it flat.
Halve some cherry or grape tomatoes.
Arrange bleu cheese and the tomatoes into a flag design, with the bleu cheese being the blue section of the flag and the tomatoes being the stripes.
Bacon, of course, would be a lovely addition to this dish, but the vegetarians in my house don't allow that.
New Potatoes with Horseradish
Boil a bunch of redskinned new potatoes. Drain and cool to room temperature.
Mix plain yogurt (or sour cream, if you're feeling decadent) with fresh horseradish and a little mayonnaise. Toss the potatoes in it. A little fresh rosemary makes it fancy. This one is good served warm, room temperature, or cold.
Red, White & Blue Trifle
- Make and cool, or purchase an angel food cake. Rip it up into bite-sized chunks.
- In a glass bowl (the fancier the better!), layer 1/3 of the cake chunks. Cover the layer with whipped cream (about 1 1/2 cups). You can make your own whipped cream and flavor it with vanilla or a little liquor (cream sherry, Tia Maria, etc.). If you're trying to be virtuous, you can also use lowfat vanilla yogurt. Or cool-whip. Then a layer of strawberry slices and blueberries. Blackberries and raspberries are also great.
- Repeat each layer.
- Repeat again.
- Chill and serve.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Last year, around this time, I got obsessed with the Caprese salad. I would spend hours thinking of variations on that theme. Since the tomatoes in my vegetable garden are this close to ripe, I'll post some of my meditations on the Caprese.
"Typical" Caprese Salad
Fresh tomato slices
Bite-size chunks of fresh mozzarella
Arrange on a plate, enjoy.
See? It's the perfect opportunity for variation. Deconstructed? Foamed? The postmodern possibilities are almost endless.
1. Caprese with a Southern accent
Fried green tomatoes with mozzarella melted on top, served on a plate swirled with olive oil and dusted in basil
2. Liquid Caprese
Pureed tomatoes with basil and a dash of olive oil, with mozzarella on the side
3. Deconstructed Caprese
One tomato, a sprig of basil, a little cup of olive oil, and a hunk of mozzarella
And there are so many other taste variations for this salad. When I had a last-minute dish to make and had no fresh basil, I substituted fresh sage. And used sage-infused olive oil. Delicious.
Or chevre instead of mozzarella.
Or dice the tomatoes and cheese, toss in olive oil and minced basil, and serve as bruschetta.
You see where I'm going.
So what are you going to make?