Monday, September 22, 2008

This weekend's adventures

Even though the weather was nice this weekend, I still managed to do quite a bit of cooking.  On Saturday I cooked a lot of the veggies that I got at the farmers' market and also made a lentil salad.  I was trying to recreate something that I have had several times before, and I came pretty close.  I cooked lentils and let them cool a little bit, then added red onion, red bell pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, pepper, and feta.  Then I put it in the fridge to have on Sunday (it's good when it's still warm/room temp, but I think it's even better cold).  I highly recommend it, and it's incredibly easy!

Yesterday I experimented with crackers.  I love crackers, but now that I'm trying to avoid all of the preservatives and numerous variations of corn and soybean products added to everything, they're off of my shopping list.  I found several easy recipes, and decided to try one out.  This one came out of the King Arthur Whole Grain book that I got from the library, but I also found it at Kitchen Link.  I made half of a batch in case it was a disaster, and I reduced the sugar quite a bit.  I wasn't able to roll the dough out quite as thin as they describe, and it definitely did not resemble a square (more like weird abstract art), but that's ok.  They turned out great, especially the ones that I let get extra brown and crispy.  I never would have thought of putting paprika and vanilla together, but it definitely works (and tastes very similar to wheat thins!).  I'm looking forward to making a bigger batch soon!

I've also made a few desserts recently that I forgot to mention before.  Last week I made oatmeal raisin cookies sweetened with apple juice concentrate (and raisins, of course).  They don't have the typical cookie texture and are more gummy/chewy, but they taste really good.  I'm not sure that the consistency would work well with other cookie types, but it goes along nicely with the oatmeal.  I've also been making individual servings of fruit crisps from time to time.  The peaches at the farmers' market have been amazing lately, so some nights I'll slice one, add some lemon juice and cinnamon, sprinkle some oats on top, and bake it for a while.  It's SO good, and easy enough that I can make it fresh every time I want it.  I'm very sad that peach season is winding down, but I guess I'll have to try it with other fruits.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lesson #1: You can never have too many veggies

Shopping at the farmers' market has been a learning experience... but a good one.  I never know how much to get.  I usually think about how much I'll need, and then walk around and buy the stuff that looks really good (unless I need something specific).  Unfortunately that backfired this Saturday.  I already had a lot of veggies, so I decided that I shouldn't buy too much.  I failed to consider the fact that I've been eating 6 or 7 large servings of veggies a day.  So by Monday I was almost out, and had to resort to the grocery store for some back-up supplies.  So now I've learned that I can basically buy unlimited veggies and I'll end up eating them all.  Luckily my grocery store veggies lasted me until today, when I went to the Select Michigan festival on the steps of the capitol.  There was a ton of local produce, honey, maple syrup, cheese, oils, yarns, pickles, etc.  I picked up some olive oil from a local family that has a farm in Lebanon (run by their daughter, an MSU grad), my first honeycrisp apples of the season, more peaches, and some winter squash (a spaghetti and a delicata).  Along with my leftovers, I should be able to last until Saturday morning.

After eating a lot of leftovers from the weekend, I was definitely in the mood to cook tonight, and I ended up making one of the most delicious (and easiest!) dinners I've had in a while.  I finally got around to cooking some of the salmon that I got while Mom was here.  I spritzed it with oil and sprinkled a little bit of salt and pepper on top, then baked it, and it turned out perfectly.  I'm glad I have a freezer full of salmon to enjoy :).  I also made a super easy version of creamed spinach.  You make a little bit of bechamel sauce, boil spinach for about 30 sec., then drain it and add it to the sauce.  It was amazing.  And finally, I tried my delicata squash.  I had never had one of these before, but everyone at the festival was raving about how sweet they are.  I baked it whole and took it out when it was really tender, but I think it could have cooked a little longer.  I added a little butter and some cinnamon, and it was definitely tasty.  I'm looking forward to cooking the spaghetti one this weekend.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

My first flop...

Ok, so it wasn't exactly a flop, but it wasn't what I expected.  It had been a week since I used my sourdough starter, so it was time to use more (or throw away some of it).  I decided to try making a sourdough loaf in the machine.  I enjoy sourdough occasionally and I hated to throw away some of my starter, so I decided to see what kind of loaf it would produce.  I added some sunflower seeds and raisins to a basic whole-wheat sourdough recipe.  For comparison, here's my first loaf of bread:

And here's the sourdough one:

No, I didn't cut the top off.  Needless to say, it's quite dense, but actually tastes pretty good.  I still don't think it's something I'm going to want often, which means I'll either stop keeping up with my starter or throw some away most weeks (probably the former).  It was a good experiment, but not exactly what I expected.

Fortunately I had other successes this weekend.  It's been raining (or pouring, rather) since Friday afternoon, so I've spent most of the weekend cooking, reading, and watching movies.  Yesterday I made a good stir fry with lots of leftover things I had (brown rice, chicken, peppers, and mushrooms), and today I baked some tomatoes that I had stuffed with ground beef, brown rice, and a bunch of spices.  I enjoyed both, especially along with veggies (which consisted of more sauteed squash, steamed spinach, and steamed carrots).  

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mmmm... milk

While I'm thinking about it, I want to mention a few things I've discovered lately.  After reading several books (which I'll make a post about soon), my thoughts about food and eating have changed drastically.  One of the many changes I've made is buying milk from grass-fed cows and eggs from free-range chickens (with neither being given hormones or antibiotics).  It's a little bit more expensive (although not much, because I'm buying from local dairies/farms), but the difference is AMAZING.  I've never tasted milk this delicious.  It's skim, and it has the consistency of skim, but it's so much creamier.  And the eggs taste better, have much harder shells, and they don't have to dye the yolks to get them yellow!  There are some times when I think it may not be worth the extra money to buy organically grown/raised products, but theses two definitely don't fit in that category.  And on top of that, I'm supporting local farmers and eating food that's better for me.  How does life get any better?

Adventures in baking without sugar...

A few weeks ago I bought two books with recipes for desserts (and other sweet things) that use no sugar, honey, or artificial sweeteners. Cook with Me Sugar Free tries to mimic the normal sweetness by using fruits (both juices and dried fruits, especially dates). Sweet and Sugar Free incorporates fruits, too, but the recipes tend to be less sweet. I've been dying to try some of this stuff out, and I had some ripe bananas that I needed to use, so I decided to make some banana coconut bars.

Here's the recipe (as I made it):

1/6 cup unsweetened applesauce and 1/6 cup oil (originally called for 1/3 cup oil)
1 cup mashed banana
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 tsp lemon juice
1 3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour (originally called for unbleached white flour)
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup flaked unsweetened coconut (originally called for 1 cup)

2 Tbl flaked coconut (originally called for 1/2 cup)

Beat together oil and banana until creamy. Add eggs, milk, and lemon juice; beat well. Measure in flour, baking soda, and baking powder and beat. Stir in 2/3 cup coconut. Spoon batter into oiled 9x13" baking pan and sprinkle with 2 Tbl. coconut. Bake at 350 for 15-20 min or until browned. Cool and cut into bars. Serves 8 to 10.

Because I used pastry flour, it turned out more like a cake than bars, but it's incredibly moist and light. It's barely sweet, but I've adjusted to that, and that's all I want. If I make it again, I would probably add some cinnamon, but otherwise it's definitely a good recipe.

And, I had some leftover banana that I froze, which made for a great dessert last night :)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My new favorite spice

With everything that went on this weekend, I forgot about the potato salad that I made last week. I've been looking for something interesting to make with the potatoes that Jess gave me, and then I remembered how much I enjoyed the potato salad that she made one Sunday night a few months ago. She got the Mother's Day potato salad recipe from a vegan website. I adapted it quite a bit (I didn't want to use nutritional yeast or relish, and I didn't have any Old Bay). Basically I mixed up some mayo, turmeric, dill, minced garlic, a little piece of a veggie bouillon cube, and a little bit of greek seasoning and tossed it with my cooked potatoes. The turmeric gives it a slight mustardy flavor (since that's one of the main spices in mustard) without overwhelming the potato taste. It also gives it a brilliant yellow color. I'm now trying to find more and more uses for turmeric because it's so tasty, yet subtle. And apparently it has the most health benefits out of all of the spices! Now if only I can avoid permanently staining my hands/countertops/floors yellow...

Cooking with Mom

Even though Mom and I did quite a lot while she was here this weekend, we also managed to make a few things.  We went to Traverse City on Friday and spent the night, which meant that I missed my usual farmer's market trip on Saturday morning.  So, we decided to visit the one in Traverse City to make up for it.  It was HUGE, and even though I didn't intend to buy anything, we went home with some veggies (squash and zucchini, spinach, and corn) and some white-fleshed peaches.  We also tasted some jalapeno cilantro hummus, which prompted us to make some when we returned home.  We used this recipe but with much less oil (and a little bit of water).  It's very good (in fact, I was just enjoying some with my veggies), and has quite a kick due to the jalapenos and the enormous garlic cloves we used.  I bet it would be even better with dried chickpeas (unfortunately we didn't have enough time for them to soak).  It's a nice change from traditional hummus.

We also made some sourdough pretzels... mostly because I needed to use some of the sourdough starter that Jess gave me.  I let the bread machine make the dough, and I ended up adding a lot more water than the recipe called for because it was looking very dry.  Apparently I went a little bit overboard and we ended up with very sticky dough.  We had quite an adventure trying to roll it out and form pretzel shapes.  We were unable to achieve the traditional pretzel shape, but they still taste very good.  I added sesame seeds on top (instead of salt) for a new and different twist.

I also made Mom a loaf of herb bread by adding thyme and rosemary to the first recipe I used (and keeping the sunflower seeds).  It smelled good, and I can't wait to find out how it tastes...