Monday, February 23, 2009

Pineapple custard

Pineapple custard, adapted from Sweet and Sugarfree by Karen Barkie
I had crushed pineapple leftover from the sweet potato casserole that I made last week. I looked around for a pineappley dessert, and came across this one. I don't know that I've ever made a custard, but it seemed like the perfect time to try (and the perfect way to use up some milk before I head out of town tomorrow).

Pineapple custard (adapted from "Sweet and Sugarfree" by Karen Barkie)

1 cup crushed pineapple and juice (about 1/2 can)
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
sprinkle of nutmeg

Put pineapple and juice in blender and whip. Add remaining ingredients and whip again. Pour evenly into three custard cups (I don't have any, so I used 2-cup Pyrex bowls). Sprinkle each custard with nutmeg. Put cups in large pan with 1" of hot water around them. Bake at 350 for 50 min (or more, see below) until custard sets. Remove cups from pan, cool, and refrigerate. Serves 3.

This was really good. I'm thoroughly enjoying this book - it's amazing how sweet things can be when they have fruit in them! I don't think I cooked my custards long enough - they looked set, but the middle is a little bit juicier than it should be. Oh well, they're still delicious!

Jamaican red beans and rice

Jamaican red beans and rice with coconut and jalapeno, adapted from Closet Cooking
I love red beans and rice (or any type of beans with any type of grain, for that matter). I also love coconut milk. What could be better than the combination of the two? Ok, I haven't perfected the combination, but the experiments are definitely worth eating.

Jamaican red beans and rice (adapted from Closet Cooking)

1 cup brown rice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno (whole)
3 green onions, chopped
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 can light coconut milk
1 cup water
1 cup cooked kidney beans (or 1/2 can)
salt and pepper to taste

Combine first seven ingredients (through water) in pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for 30 min. Add beans and continue to simmer for 20 more min (until rice is tender and water is absorbed). Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 10 min. Remove jalapeno and add salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4-5.

This was good. As I mentioned before, there's still some room for improvement. It didn't have as much spice as I would have liked. The original recipe called for a habanero instead of a jalapeno, but I couldn't find one (Michigan isn't exactly known for it's spicy cuisine...). I should have minced up the jalapeno and left it in when I served it. Otherwise it was quite tasty. The coconut taste was subtle, but definitely there (and I think the coconut milk made the rice creamier). It's definitely a recipe that I'm willing to work on to perfect...

Tilapia with cornmeal chipotle crust

Tilapia with cornmeal chipotle crust, adapted from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics
I was in the mood for some fish, and already had some in the freezer. Usually I saute tilapia with simple herbs or spices (Italian herb blend or Greek seasoning are my favorites), but I was up for doing something a little different this time.

Tilapia with cornmeal chipotle crust (adapted from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics)

3 tilapia fillets (about 3 oz each)
1 Tbsp canned chipotles in adobo sauce, minced
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/8 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cornmeal

Combine chipotles, oil, lemon juice, garlic, thyme, and salt in a shallow bowl. Place cornmeal on a plate. Rinse and dry fish, dip in the sauce (making sure to cover on all sides), then dredge in cornmeal. Place prepared fish in baking dish and bake at 375 for 20 min, or until fish flakes easily. Serves 3.

I liked the kick that the chipotles gave the fish. It was the perfect amount of spice - definitely noticeable, but not overpowering. I wasn't too impressed with the cornmeal coating, but I think that's because I used a medium-grind cornmeal. It would have been much better with a finely ground meal that could have adhered better to the fish and wouldn't have been so crunchy. Oh well, you live and learn.

I think that I'm also getting tired of frozen fish. It's not bad, but it's nothing like what you get at a seafood restaurant that's right on the coast. Perhaps I need to make more trips to the ocean to satisfy my cravings :)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cream of mushroom soup

Lighter cream of mushroom soup, adapted from the Savory Notebook
While I was in Atlanta in December, A and L took me to Fresh to Order. I ordered the soup and salad combo with wild mushroom soup. I was expecting a brothy soup, but instead had the most delicious cream of mushroom soup I had ever eaten. I tried to pick out some of the flavors to recreate it, but my palate is not very sophisticated. I could tell that it had tons of cream (that didn't take a genius) and some sherry, but that's as far as I could get. I decided to try something similar (but a little bit lighter).

Cream of Mushroom Soup (adapted from The Savory Notebook)

1 Tbsp whole white wheat flour
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 oz. dried mushrooms (I used mix of porcini, oyster, and woodears)
2 tsp butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper
1 lb mixed fresh mushrooms, sliced thinly (I used 4 oz. shiitake and 12 oz. button)
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup half-and-half
2 Tbsp sherry

Toast flour in small skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant (2-3 min). Pour flour into bowl and set aside to cool. Pour boiling water over dried mushrooms, cover, and let sit for 20 min. After they've soaked, chop mushrooms and save liquid.

Melt butter in medium pot. Add onions and saute until tender. Add garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper, and cook for 30 seconds. Add fresh mushrooms and cook until tender, about 5 min. Add dried mushrooms and chicken broth. Pour mushroom liquid into flour (but try to avoid any grit that may have settled at the bottom of liquid), whisk together, and pour into pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for 15 min. Add milk and simmer for 10 min, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add half-and-half and sherry. Use immersion blender (or pour some of soup into regular blender in batches) to blend soup slightly. I blended mine enough to make it creamy (and also frothy), but still had a lot of yummy mushroom chunks left. Serves 3.

This is really good. I love mushrooms, and this has a good mix of different varieties. It's not the prettiest of soups (The Savory Notebook has a much better picture), but that doesn't affect the flavor. You can go crazy and use whatever kinds you want, and it'll be different each time (although this could get quite expensive). It isn't as rich as the one at Fresh to Order, but it's still creamy and good. After looking into it, I found out that the F2O one has 83 calories... in 2 tablespoons!!! No wonder it's so creamy! This one has less than 1/5 that amount but still has a great taste. This is a great day-to-day mushroom soup, and I suppose for special occasions you could throw a cup (or gallon) of cream in the pot.

I've been dying to get an immersion blender, but wanted to wait until I needed it. This gave me the perfect excuse to splurge and get one. It's a wonderful addition to my kitchen gadget collection (although cabinet space is getting very limited...). Now I'm ready to blend everything in sight!

Sweet potato casserole

Sweet potato casserole sweetened with pineapple, adapted from Gittleman's Get the Sugar Out
I love sweet potato pie. And you really can't go wrong with sweet potato casserole... unless you pour tons of sugar in it or put marshmallows on top (I still don't understand how that became popular). Assuming you get the darker ones, sweet potatoes are so delicious that I don't want to cover them up with anything.

A few months back I was reading "Get the Sugar Out" and found many great recipes that exploit the sweetness of fruits and veggies to make remarkably good desserts. I had a few problems with this book (like instead of suggesting ways that you can make your own food to avoid hidden sugars and HFCS in processed foods, she lists brands that are often extremely hard to find), but overall she had some good points. I made this sweet potato casserole and her carrot cake back in November, and both were delicious. I decided the casserole needed to make another appearance...

Sweet Potato Casserole (adapted from "Get the Sugar Out" by Anne Louise Gittleman)

4 large sweet potatoes (get the darker ones)
1 cup unsweetened crushed pineapple with juice (about 1/2 can)
2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup pecans, chopped

Wash sweet potatoes and stab with fork or knife. Bake at 375 for 75 min, or until tender. Let potatoes cool for a few minutes and then scrape flesh out into 11x7 pan. Add pineapple and cinnamon and mix well. Spread evenly in pan, sprinkle pecans on top, and bake at 375 for 40 min. Serves 6.

This is so easy and incredibly delicious. Unfortunately it's almost too good... I can't seem to stop myself from getting a spoonful (or three or four) every time I open the refrigerator. Yes, it's even good cold.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hearty venison lasagna (with fresh ricotta!)

Hearty venison lasagna with fresh ricotta, adapted from The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook
I'm going to a conference next week, and after I get back I have a very busy week full of evening meetings and events. So, I figured that I should prepare now and have things in the freezer ready for just such an occasion. And what freezes better than lasagna? I love lasagna. I like the traditional kinds, and I like the variations that use all kinds of interesting vegetables. You can't go wrong when you put things between layers of noodles (even if your "noodles" are actually sliced vegetables).

But I couldn't allow myself to make lasagna the easy way. I had to give myself a challenge and make my own ricotta. This was prompted by several blogs touting the simplicity of making ricotta. So here we go on another adventure...

Hearty Venison Lasagna (adapted from "The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook")

1 1/4 lb ground venison (or any other lean ground meat)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup parsley, minced and divided
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1 can (14 oz.) whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped
1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
freshly ground black pepper
12 whole wheat lasagna noodles (use brown rice pasta for gluten-free)
3 cups fresh ricotta (see below)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
2 cups grated cheese (I used a mixture of cheddar and havarti)

Brown meat in a large pan. Push meat to the sides of the pan, add onions and garlic, and cook until tender (about 5 min). Add 2 Tbsp parsley and next 7 ingredients (through pepper). Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 min. Remove cover and cook for 20 more min. While sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook noodles until they're al dente. Drain the noodles and set aside. Combine ricotta, remaining 2 Tbsp parsley, Parmesan, and egg in small bowl. Spread 3/4 cup of tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 pan. Layer 4 noodles, 1/2 of ricotta mixture, 2 1/2 cups sauce, and 2/3 cup cheese. Repeat layers again, and finish with the last 4 noodles and the remaining sauce on top. Cover with foil and cook at 350 for 1 hour. Remove foil, sprinkle with remaining cheese and cook uncovered for 10 more min. Let stand for 10 min before serving. Serves 12.

Fresh Ricotta (from Bitten)

3 quarts milk*
1 tsp salt
4 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice

Combine milk and salt in a large pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Once the milk starts to simmer, stir in the lemon juice and turn heat down to medium-low. Let it sit for 5-10 min, until a large layer of curds forms. Line a large colander with several layers of cheesecloth, and transfer curds to the cheesecloth using a slotted spoon. Let it drain for an hour or so. Makes about 3 cups, and keeps in the refrigerator for a few days.

UPDATE (4/23/09): I found that the cheesecloth isn't necessary - just use a colander with very small holes.

*Ideally you want to use whole milk. I used non-homogenized milk and poured off some of the cream to use later in the week. In effect it was probably more like 2%, and it still had a decent amount of flavor.

Fresh ricotta, adapted from the Bitten blog
Ricotta? Yum. Lasagna? Double yum. This ricotta is infinitely better than what you get at the store. For starters, it doesn't taste like plastic, but instead has a buttery, creamy flavor. And making it resulted in a wonderful milk smell permeating my entire apartment. At one point I thought that Paula Deen had invaded my place with pounds and pounds of creamy butter.

This was definitely the most time consuming lasagna I've ever made, but by far the most amazing. It was totally worth all of the effort (assuming you can spare the time). And now I have a ton of leftovers that should keep me going through the busy times. However, I could probably eat all 12 servings in the next week or so and not get tired of it. I'm going to declare this another successful adventure!

Southwestern Kamut Pilaf

**This is not a gluten-free recipe and was posted before I eliminated gluten from my diet. Brown rice would be a great substitute for Kamut in this pilaf.**

Southwest Kamut pilaf, adapted from The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook
I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I love wheat berries. I figured I would like their grain siblings, but hadn't yet tried them. But then last week The Perfect Pantry inspired me to experiment with Kamut. Kamut is an ancient wheat variety, and the berries are somewhat bigger and lighter than those of traditional wheat. I already had some in my pantry and easily found a wheat berry recipe that could be adapted for this adventure.

Southwestern Kamut Pilaf (adapted from "The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook")

1 cup Kamut, picked over and rinsed
2 Anaheim chiles, cut in half lengthwise and seeded
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 small jicama, peeled and diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 medium onion, diced (use a red onion if you have it)
1/3 cup cilantro, minced
juice of 2 limes
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 2/3 cups (or 15 oz. can) cooked black beans

Combine Kamut and 2 1/2 cups water in a medium pot. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 hour. Drain and set aside. Put the chiles skin side up on a baking sheet and press down to flatten. Broil them for 8 min, or until blackened. Then put them in a paper bag and let sit for 10 min. Peel the chiles and dice. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour. Serves 5.

The verdict? Kamut is possibly even better than wheat berries. It has more of a subtle flavor that almost hints on buttery. But, all in all, it's very similar. And this salad is great. I rarely use jicama, but love the crunch that it adds to things. If I were to make any changes, I would add another chile because it's a really good flavor that is a bit too subtle for me. Hmmm... I wonder how this would be with a tomato chopped up into it. And maybe some corn! Ok, so this could be tweaked a lot, but it's really good as is. This is going to make me look forward to lunch all week!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Corn souffle

**This is not a gluten-free recipe and was posted before I eliminated gluten from my diet.**

Corn souffle, adapted from A Mingling of Tastes
I wanted to try something different tonight... something that I had never made before. I've seen about a million recipes for chocolate souffle this week as people prepare for V-day, so I got the urge to make a savory one. But then what do I do? Asparagus? Broccoli? Corn? Cheese? Corn seemed to be a good option because it would still allow me to taste the souffle flavor, and this felt important for my first one. I won't lie, I was nervous. Souffles have this reputation for being impossible to make. You hear stories about them falling if you simply walk through the kitchen. But recently I've read a lot of articles about how they're really not that bad - you just have to be careful about a few things. This gave me some sense of relief, and I was no longer afraid that I would look at my oven funny and ruin my dinner.

Corn souffles (adapted from A Mingling of Tastes)

butter for coating dishes
breadcrumbs for coating dishes
2 Tbsp butter
4 green onions, finely chopped
3 Tbsp whole white wheat flour
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp salt
ground pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
4 large eggs, separated
3 Tbsp cheddar, grated
1 1/3 cup frozen yellow corn, thawed (or use fresh if it's in season)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 375 (it's really important that the oven is hot immediately after you're done assembling the souffle). Grease 2 (500 ml) ramekins with butter and shake breadcrumbs around until bottom and sides are lightly coated. Melt the butter over medium heat in saucepan. Add green onions and saute for 3 min. Whisk in flour and cook for 1 min, whisking constantly. Add milk and cook until slightly thickened, while continuing to whisk. Add salt, several grinds of pepper, and cayenne, and remove from heat.

Lightly beat the egg yolks in a small bowl. Add a spoonful of the milk mixture to the yolks, stir, and then add the yolks back to the big pot of the milk mixture. Stir in the cheese and corn. Whip the egg whites and cream of tartar in a metal bowl with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form (this part is also very important - don't use plastic, and make sure you whip them enough). Fold egg whites into souffle batter very gently in three batches (it's okay if they're not completely mixed). Pour the batter into the ramekins, place ramekins on a baking sheet, and put in the oven immediately. Cook until tops are golden and they're set all the way through (about 40 min). Serves 2-4 (depending on whether you're eating it as a side or main dish).

You could also use more smaller ramekins or one big souffle dish, but of course this would affect the cooking time. My 500 ml dishes were both filled to the very top, so take that into consideration when picking your dishes (this is okay - they won't overflow). Ideally you want something with straight sides so that it can easily climb the dish.

Obviously it worked wonderfully. I'm not sure why one souffle turned out taller than the other, but I don't really care. I was so happy the first time I looked in the oven that I didn't know what to do with myself. I even took them out of the oven a few times to check to see if they were set, and that didn't seem to affect them. So, I don't believe all of the hype. Perhaps sweet souffles are more difficult, but this one is completely doable for a souffle novice. And it tastes great! It's sort of like a combination of spoonbread and an omelet... two fabulous things that go great together.

Now that the other one has cooled, it's fallen a lot, but that's fine because all I was asking was for it to survive the original baking. I'm sure it will still taste good, even if it is flat.

Mission accomplished.

Butternut squash and onion pizza

**This is not a gluten-free recipe and was posted before I eliminated gluten from my diet. Use your favorite gluten-free pizza crust instead.**

Butternut squash and onion pizza, adapted from Vegetarian Planet by Didi Emmons
It's pizza time again! When I first made the pizza dough I was imagining that I would use it to make more traditional pizzas, but lately I've happened upon a number of new and different recipes. So, here's another pizza that will keep your pizza taste buds on their toes (if only we really had pizza taste buds...).

Butternut squash and onion pizza (Adapted from "Vegetarian Planet" by Didi Emmons)

1/3 butternut squash, peeled and sliced very thinly
1 medium onion, sliced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 Tbsp parmesan cheese

Take the pizza dough out of the refrigerator at least an hour before you plan to use it (preferably more like 2-3 hours). If using frozen dough, let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight before taking it out to come to room temp.

Combine squash, onion, oil, and sage and spread onto baking dish. Cook at 400 until squash is tender and onion begins to brown (about 25 min), stirring occasionally. Spread the cornmeal out onto a baking sheet. Pull the dough out into a circle (about 12" in diameter) and put onto cornmeal. When squash is done, increase oven temp to 450 and cook dough by itself for 3 min. Then put squash and onion mixture on top of dough and bake for 8-10 more min, until dough is done and begins to brown. Grate/shred parmesan cheese on top. Serves 2.

The frozen dough worked great, but I did things a little differently with it this time. First off, I let it sit at room temp for 2.5 hours, and that gave it more time to rise and gave me a thicker crust. Also, instead of oiling the back of a baking sheet, I used the cornmeal method on the correct side of the sheet to keep the dough from sticking. This worked a lot better and was easier to clean. And I liked cooking the dough for a few minutes before adding the toppings. In this case I wasn't dealing with juicy toppings, but I think it still helped the crust have more life to it.

I really liked this combo. After eating a ton of cabbage salad yesterday afternoon, I wasn't too hungry when dinner time rolled around, but I was determined to eat a little piece of this pizza. Before I knew it, half of it was gone. I'm having fun trying out new pizza creations, and I'm very excited that there are 4 more balls of dough in the freezer!

Chinese cabbage salad

Chinese cabbage salad with green onions, jalapeno, and peanuts
I spent a lot of time with my dad's parents when I was growing up and, as a result, ate many meals with them. For some reason there are several dishes that Mammom used to make that really stand out in my mind, while I can't remember others to save my life. The ones that I remember are luffa (ok, that was only one time, but it was definitely memorable), spaghetti pie, eggplant casserole, and fumi salad. Perhaps I remember them well because they were some of my favorites (except for the luffa experiment). Fumi salad is one of those great things that you can make in massive quantities (I remember her huge tupperware container that seemed to hold endless amounts of it), and it only gets better as time goes along. I'm sure there's a limit to that, but it was always gone before we got anywhere near testing the limit.

A few years ago, I tried to recreate fumi salad. The basic idea is to combine lots of shredded cabbage, green onions, crushed up ramen noodles, almonds, and chicken (if you want), and a dressing based on vinegar, oil, and sugar. I made it several times, and it was always delicious. It's a great thing to take to events, especially if you need to prepare something in advance. This week I had a head of cabbage, but no real plans for it, so I decided to make a fumi-like salad with a few tweaks.

Chinese cabbage salad

3/4 head shredded cabbage (go ahead and use the whole thing if you want - it wouldn't all fit in my bowl so I boiled the rest)
3 green onions, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1/4 cup roasted peanuts
2 Tbsp sunflower seeds
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce (use wheat-free tamari for gluten-free)
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp honey (or agave nectar)

Combine cabbage through sunflower seeds in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Taste the dressing and add more of something if necessary. Add dressing to cabbage mixture and stir well. Let sit in the refrigerator overnight before serving. Serves 4 (unless you sit down with the bowl and eat half of it, like I might have done...).

This was pretty good the day after I made it, but really good yesterday and today. I like the addition of the jalapeno - it adds a subtle kick to it without being overpowering. The peanuts and sunflower seeds are also good and crunchy - I don't miss the ramen noodles at all. I eat a lot of boiled or roasted cabbage, but this is another great way to eat it and keeps things interesting.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Fast creamy chicken stew with parsleyed dumplings

**This is not a gluten-free recipe and was posted before I eliminated gluten from my diet.**

fast creamy chicken stew with parsleyed dumplings, adapted from The New Whole Grains Cookbook by Robin Asbell
I copied this recipe in late summer, but then promptly forgot about it. For some reason it came to mind the other day, and put it on my menu plan for the week. It's so nice to have recipes that start with whole wheat flour instead of trying to adapt things and hope they work!

Fast creamy chicken stew with parsleyed dumplings (adapted from "The New Whole Grains Cookbook" by Robin Asbell)

2 tsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped (I cut mine in half before making thin slices)
1 celery stalk, chopped
4 oz. cooked chicken, cut into chunks (I used the meat from 2 legs that I roasted earlier in the week)
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried marjoram
2 Tbsp half-and-half
1/2 cup frozen butter beans, thawed

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 large egg (whisk white and yolk together before using half)
3 Tbsp plain yogurt

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium pot. Saute onion, carrot, and celery until tender. Add chicken, stock, thyme, marjoram, half-and-half, and butter beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and let simmer while you prepare dumpling mixture. For dumplings, mix flour, parsley, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Mix in egg and yogurt. If it's stiff, add more yogurt. Drop mixture by heaping tablespoons onto stew, turn heat up to medium-high, cover, and cook for 7 min. Check to see if dumplings are done, and cook for several more minutes if they're still doughy in the middle. Serves 2.

Holy crap this is good. I'm glad that something made me remember this recipe because this stuff needed to be a part of my life. Next time (and believe me, there will be a next time) I'll add more liquid. I halved the recipe but ended up using more veggies because it was more convenient. As a result, there was hardly any liquid at the end. I think this also made my dumplings take longer to cook because there wasn't much steam created. Anyway, the flavor was all there. I'm somewhat sad that I halved the recipe now, but it still remains to be seen how this will taste reheated.

I was planning to make a birthday cake for Darwin tonight (he's 200 today!), but I'm so full that the cake will have to wait. Perhaps he would appreciate a Valentine's cake...

Wheat berry and steel-cut oatmeal

**This is not a gluten-free recipe and was posted before I eliminated gluten from my diet.**

wheat berry and steel-cut oatmeal
I love breakfast, and sometimes it's the only reason that I'm able to get out of bed in the morning. But I don't like your traditional bacon/sausage, eggs, etc. breakfast (it's great at other times of the day, but it's too heavy for me to eat in the morning). For years I ate All-Bran Yogurt Bites cereal almost every day and loved it like nothing else. But, last summer when I decided to avoid all packaged foods and preservatives, this had to go. I had a box left and decided to finish it off while I did my research to come up with good breakfast alternatives. I didn't come up with good alternatives... I came up with great ones.

I started making muesli with oats (rolled, in my first few batches) and anything I felt like throwing in (such as cinnamon, raisins or other dried fruits, seeds, nuts, wheat germ, and flax meal). I ate it just like cereal. At the beginning I would let it sit in milk for 5 min or so to soften, but I got to the point where I liked eating it immediately. That was good, but the magic didn't start until I started using steel-cut oats, and I immediately fell in love. These things have an insanely better flavor than their more processed relatives (in fact, if I didn't already know, I would swear that they weren't the same grain). They'll really give your jaw a workout, but the nutty, sweet flavor is like nothing else. They also keep you amazingly full. The great thing about muesli is that I can make up a batch to take on trips to make hotel breakfasts tolerable. And it's so filling that a quart-sized bag of it lasts for about a week.

Well, last week I had a full bag of SC oats and right before I was about to put it in my muesli container (yes, I now have a container dedicated to it), I decided to cook it. I got so addicted to the raw oats that I never bothered cooking them. Plus, they take about 25 min, and I usually can't wait that long for breakfast. But, after all of the hullabaloo on blogs in the last few weeks about Mark Bittman's SC oats with soy sauce and scallions, I was inspired to use the "quick" method. So I soaked them overnight and then they only took about 10 min of cooking in the morning (plus, they were already measured out in the pan). They're really good. Even better with a dash of half-and-half :). This week I couldn't decide whether to make more or to cook wheat berries and see how they work as cereal. I'm horrible at making decisions, so I decided to combine the two.

Wheat berry and steel-cut oatmeal

Wheat berries
1 cup wheat berries (picked through and rinsed)
3 1/2 cups water
1/2 tsp salt

SC Oats
1 cup steel-cut oats
4 cups water (use 3 if you're not adding wheat berries)
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 tsp salt

2 Tbsp half-and-half (or milk)

To cook the wheat berries, combine everything in a pot, cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about an hour. They never get completely tender, but have more of an al dente texture (one of the things I love about them!). Then drain and store in the refrigerator until you're ready to use them.

To cook the oats, combine oats and water in a pot, cover, and let sit overnight. In the morning, bring to a boil and let simmer until it's fully cooked (about 10 min). Add the cinnamon, raisins, salt, and wheat berries, and stir well. Serve with half-and-half, if desired. Honey would be another good addition, but the whole grains bring their own sweetness, so I don't think it's necessary. Serves 6.

It's good. Very good. I'm still curious to try the wheat berries on their own, but I'm sure I'll get to it. It's been weird to deviate from my normal muesli routine, but it's been a very fun (and delicious!) journey.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Chicken Cacciatore

chicken cacciatore, adapted from Ellie Krieger's The Food You Crave
The chicken finally thawed! I usually get packages of 2 breasts from Otto's, so I drastically underestimated the time that it would take for one of their whole-chicken packages to thaw. Alas, I was patient, and now you can look forward to several chicken recipes in the next few days!

Chicken Cacciatore (adapted from Ellie Krieger's "The Food You Crave")

1 tsp olive oil
2 bone-in chicken breasts, skin removed
salt and pepper
1 onion, sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in deep skillet. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and brown on both sides (will take 6-8 min). Remove chicken from pan and set aside. Reduce heat to medium and add onions and bell pepper to pan. Cover and cook until they begin to get tender (about 5 min). Add mushrooms and cook uncovered until they brown (about 5 min). Add garlic and cook for 30 sec, and then add wine and let reduce for about 5 min. Stir in tomatoes, oregano, and red pepper, cover, and simmer for 10 min. Finally, add chicken back to pan, cover, and let cook for 20 min or until juices run clear (turning once about half-way through cooking time). Serves 4.

This was really good... better than I expected, actually, and that's saying a lot. I loved the taste of this chicken. Otto's chicken always has great flavor, but this was incredible. It wasn't overpowered by the sauce, but complimented it perfectly. I don't normally cook bone-in chicken, and perhaps that made all the difference. Next time I might make more sauce because it was incredibly tasty, too. Ellie was right about this one, because I'll definitely be craving more of it.

Spinach with brown butter and pecans

Spinach with brown butter and pecans, adapted from Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop
It's no secret that I love spinach. I love it raw, I love it cooked, and I would love it any other way it could exist. So, here's another simple spinach recipe that I love.

Spinach with Brown Butter and Pecans (adapted from "Vegetables Every Day" by Jack Bishop)

1 lb spinach leaves
2 Tbsp pecans, chopped
1.5 Tbsp butter

Bring large pot of water to a boil, add spinach (be sure to get it all submerged in the water), and cook until spinach just wilts (about 2 min). Drain spinach and set aside. Toast pecans in dry skillet over medium heat until they get fragrant (about 5 min). Remove pecans from skillet, reduce heat to medium-low, and add butter. Continue to cook butter until it turns brown (about 4 min). Then add spinach and pecans to skillet, stir well, and cook for a minute until spinach is warm. Serves 3.

It's light, fast, and goes well with Italian-themed dishes. Next time I would probably use more nuts for a bit more crunch, and I may try other nuts just to mix it up (the original recipe called for walnuts).

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bread revisited

**This is not a gluten-free recipe and was posted before I eliminated gluten from my diet.**

100% Whole Wheat Bread adapted from King Arthur Flour
When I started making bread I intended to try out a bunch of different recipes, but I fell in love with the first one I tried and I haven't been able to try anything else. I vary it slightly, but mostly stick to the same recipe. It's somewhat hard to make a 100% whole wheat bread that rises correctly in a bread machine, so you might as well stick with what works, right?

I should note that this works fabulously in my Zojirushi S15, but doesn't rise nearly as well in Dad's cheap machine (I can't remember what brand he has). If someone is giving away a Zojirushi (which is a very lucky situation that I fell into), take them up on it without hesitation. I think there are cheaper machines that do a good job with whole wheat breads, but I don't have enough experience to give out advice. No matter what machine you use, it will taste great... but if you want a light and fluffy bread, you'll have to acquire a good machine.

100% Whole Wheat Bread (adapted from King Arthur Flour) - for 1 1/2 pound machine

1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp honey (or agave nectar)
3 cups whole white wheat flour
1 Tbsp wheat gluten
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Add all ingredients except walnuts (in this order, or according to your machine's manual) to the pan. Cook on raisin cycle (or the cycle that beeps for adding nuts and fruits). When it beeps, add the walnuts. During the last few minutes of kneading, check on it to see if you need to add more water or flour (the dough should be tacky, but not so sticky that it won't let go of the sides of the pan during kneading). The flour:water ratio will change depending on the humidity that day, so it's a good idea to get in the habit of checking every time you make bread.

I've also used other nuts (pecans or almonds), seeds (sesame or flax), or dried fruits (raisins) in place of the walnuts, and it's always good. My favorite is the walnuts, though. Either way, be prepared to be extremely happy because there's nothing better than the smell of baking bread.

I have every intention of making another loaf by hand, but it's hard to find a day when I'll be home long enough to let it rise. Until then, I'm still enjoying this kind...

Update: I suppose I should tell you how to store this bread. After it's completely cool, I slice it and put the whole thing in the freezer (unless I want to eat some immediately). I've found that it's just as good out of the freezer as it is right after it's cooked (and much better than if it sits out... even if only for a night). Then if I want some immediately, I throw a frozen slice in the toaster. If I want to pack some for lunch, I take it out of the freezer in the morning and it's thawed and ready to eat in about an hour. I've kept some frozen for as long as a month (while I was doing a lot of traveling), and it was still great.

Eggs Diablo on Polenta

Eggs diablo on polenta, adapted from Karina's Kitchen
I intended to make chicken tonight, but when I went into the kitchen to start dinner, the chicken was still completely frozen. I decided it could wait until tomorrow and I would try something different. It's kind of fun to find a recipe at the last minute that you can make with ingredients that you have on hand. It could be a stressful task, but luckily I keep my pantry stocked. I've been meaning to make polenta for a while, so when I came across a recipe, I figured it would be a good time to try it out.

Eggs Diablo on Polenta (adapted from Karina's Kitchen)

Eggs Diablo
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1 can (15 oz.) tomato sauce
1/2 can diced tomatoes
1 can (4 oz.) chopped green chiles
1 tsp Italian herb blend
2 eggs

1 1/2 cups chicken or veggie broth
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

To get the diablo sauce started, heat oil over medium heat in pan. Cook onion in oil until it's tender. Add the garlic and red pepper and cook for 1 min. Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, chiles, and herbs and let simmer on medium-low while you prepare the polenta. When the polenta is almost done, crack the eggs into the sauce, cover, and let the eggs poach until they are cooked through (about 6 min).

In a separate pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil and slowly add the cornmeal, whisking continuously. Continue to whisk constantly until the polenta starts to pull away from the sides and the bottom of the pot. The coarseness of the cornmeal will determine how long it takes - I used medium-grind stone-ground cornmeal and it took about 20 min. When it's done, whisk in salt and cheese. Serve the eggs and sauce on top of the polenta. Serves 2.

This was super tasty. I love polenta, eggs, and tomato sauce, so I knew this would be a winner. And I hadn't had a poached egg in a long time, so that was a nice change of pace. On top of that, I got a great workout at the same time! This would have been a lot easier to make if I had someone else to help me, but I had the sauce simmering before I started the polenta (and had everything else that I would need measured out ahead of time), so it worked. Be prepared to have two extremely tired arms at the end (especially if you're using a coarse-grind cornmeal). Just don't take more than a very short break from whisking it or it will burn. So if you don't have time to get a workout and make dinner, this is the perfect solution.

African peanut soup

African peanut soup adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen and The Kitchn
I saw a post for an African soup at Kalyn's Kitchen a while back. It sounded good and I made a mental note to make it at some point, but never got around to it. This week I came across several other versions of this recipe and figured that somebody was trying to tell me that this needed to be cooked pronto.

African peanut soup (adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen and The Kitchn)

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 green onions, chopped
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
4 cups vegetable broth
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp chili powder
dash of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup brown rice, sorted and rinsed
1/4 cup lentils, sorted and rinsed
1/3 cup peanut butter (I used some smooth and some chunky because it's what I had handy)

Heat oil over medium heat in pot (I used 3 qt, and it was just big enough). Cook yellow onion and celery until they begin to get tender. Add bell pepper and green onion and cook until tender. Add tomatoes, broth, curry powder, chili powder, cayenne pepper, brown rice, and lentils. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until rice and lentils are tender (45-50 min). Whisk in peanut butter and remove from heat. Serves 4.

Whatever it was that kept sending these recipes my way knew what it was talking about. This soup is very good, but different enough that it's interesting. I was starting to get tired of soup (mostly because if I'm still eating soup it more than likely means that it's still frigid outside), but I really enjoyed this. It has just enough peanut butter that you can really taste it but don't feel like you're taking a spoonful out of the jar (not that that's necessarily a bad thing). The veggie taste really shines through, as well. If you're looking for something out of the ordinary, I highly recommend it.

On a slightly different note, you may have noticed the addition of a link to the Super Natural Recipe Search on the right. That's a new search engine from the author of the 101 Cookbooks blog, and she's compiled a number of recipes (both hers and from others) using natural ingredients. I highly recommend using it to find some tasty recipes.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Asparagus and Mushroom Frittata

Asparagus and mushroom frittata
Decent-looking asparagus finally appeared in the store this week, and I had to splurge and get some. I hate that I can't get local asparagus because our farmers' market doesn't open until the end of May (and the asparagus is long gone by then). So, I have to settle for what's in the store, and apparently it's starting to be in season somewhere in the world. Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about frittatas lately, so I figured that would be the perfect fate for my asparagus.

Asparagus and Mushroom Frittata

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced thinly
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
5 eggs
splash of half-and-half
1/2 tsp hot sauce
salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat olive oil over medium heat in oven-safe pan. Saute onions until they're soft, and then add mushrooms and asparagus and cook until asparagus begins to get tender. Whisk the remaining ingredients together and pour on top of vegetables, moving vegetables so that eggs cover the entire pan. Cook over medium heat until the eggs set on the bottom (about 8 min). Then bake at 350 until the top of the frittata is set (about 10 min). Serves 3-4.

This was simple and delicious. Be careful not to let it cook too long on the stove (mine was on the verge of overcooked on the bottom, but luckily wasn't too bad). Other than that, this is one of those great recipes that you can't really screw up. You can add whatever you want or leave out whatever you want (with the possible exception of the eggs...) and it will always work. I definitely needed a simple recipe after the biscuit adventure.

Biscuit? Pancake?

**This is not a gluten-free recipe and was posted before I eliminated gluten from my diet.**

Whole wheat buttermilk biscuits, adapted from Bakewise by Shirley Corriher
Katie sent me a biscuit recipe, and I've been dying to try it. Originally I was going to substitute whole wheat pastry flour for the white flour, but otherwise follow the recipe exactly. But I have a real problem following recipes and decided that I should try to improvise with the stuff I already had in the kitchen. Here's what I ended up doing:

Buttermilk Bisquit/Pancake (adapted from "BakeWise" by Shirley Corriher)

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour, 3/4 tsp baking powder, and 1/4 tsp salt mixed together (instead of self-rising Southern flour)
1 Tbsp raw sugar
1/8 tsp (3/4 g) salt
1 Tbsp shortening
3 Tbsp half-and-half (instead of cream)
1/3 cup milk mixed with 1 tsp lemon juice (instead of buttermilk)
1/4 cup extra whole wheat pastry flour

I mixed the flour mixture, sugar, and salt. Then I mixed the shortening in with my fingers until the lumps were gone. I stirred in the half-and-half, and then added a little bit of the "buttermilk" until it resembled cottage cheese (I only ended up using about half of it). At this point you were supposed to spoon the mix into a plate of extra flour, coat it, and form biscuits. I spooned some into the flour and ended up with a huge mess. So, I added the extra flour to the mix, poured it into a pie pan, and baked it at 425 until it was cooked through and the edges were browned (I think it took about 15 min??).

I originally thought that all of my substitutions screwed things up, but now Katie tells me that she had the same problem. It tastes delicious, though! I'll have to mess around with this to figure out how to make things that actually look like biscuits. My mouth and stomach will be happy to take care of many experiments until I get it right :).

Monday, February 2, 2009

Extremely easy vegetable dip

vegetable dip with yogurt, adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything
I needed something to take to a Super Bowl party, and I immediately thought of veggies and dip. I could eat veggies all day, and it's always nice to have something a little big lighter to balance out all of the other food.

Vegetable Dip (adapted from "How to Cook Everything," by Mark Bittman)

1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed
2 green onions
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt (sour cream would also work)
1 1/2 tsp dried dill
juice of 1/2 lemon
freshly ground black pepper

Finely chop the vegetables, and then add remaining ingredients. You might want to let the yogurt drain in a fine strainer for a few hours to make a thicker dip (my yogurt had separated, so I poured out most of the whey and the remaining yogurt was thick enough). Makes about 3 cups.

This was simple, but tasty, and it seemed to go over well with my friends. It's basically a permutation of tzatziki, which is one of my favorite sauces/dips. The best part? I used some of the leftovers for a salad dressing today. I love multi-purpose creations!

Waterzooi (Dutch chicken stew)

Waterzooi (Dutch chicken stew), adapted from Je Mange la Ville
(yes, I promise that there's a piece of chicken in there)

While I was in Belgium with Mom and Dad, we came across waterzooi at a restaurant. We spent about 5 min trying to pronounce it, and finally had to get a pronunciation and description from the waitress (or waiter? I can't remember...). Anyway, when I came across a recipe, I had to make it.

Waterzooi (adapted from Je Mange la Ville)

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
8 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
1 1/4 cup white wine, divided
2 carrots, cut into matchsticks
2 celery stalks, cut into matchsticks
2 medium onions, sliced
1 leek, sliced
5 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 tsp marjoram (could also use tarragon, basil, oregano, or thyme)
salt and pepper
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup half-and-half
1 tsp arrowroot powder (you can use cornstarch)
1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Heat olive oil in dutch oven over medium heat. Brown chicken on both sides, then remove chicken and set aside. Add mushrooms to pot and cook until they get soft. Add 1/4 cup wine to pot to deglaze, and allow to cook for a few minutes. Remove mushrooms and set aside. In large bowl, mix carrots, celery, onion, leek, garlic, marjoram, and some salt and pepper. Add half of this veggie mix to the pot, then put chicken and mushrooms on top of veggies, and finally add the last half of the veggies. Pour the rest of the wine and the broth over everything (if this doesn't almost cover the chicken, add some water or more broth) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and allow to simmer for 25-30 min. Remove chicken from pot, increase heat to high, and reduce liquid for about 5 min. Combine half-and-half and arrowroot in a small bowl and add to pot. Allow to cook for 2 more min. Put chicken back in the pot, remove from heat, and garnish with parsley. Serves 3.

Warning: This will make your kitchen smell wonderful. You'll be tempted to eat the mushrooms while you're cooking them in the wine. Don't. Try to wait until it's done because it will be even better.

It doesn't remind me of Belgium - mussels are the food that makes me think of Belgium, but then that reminds me of the horrible rash that I get after eating them :(. Regardless, this tastes great. The chicken was remarkably tender, juicy, and extremely flavorful. And the veggies are perfect too! You can eat it like a stew, but I chose to eat it as chicken and veggies with a sauce on top.

And a fun piece of trivia: waterzooi means "watery mess" in Dutch. Traditionally it was made with fish, but chicken has become more popular. So, I guess to be completely accurate I should call it Kippenwaterzooi. But perhaps I should try it with fish...