Saturday, October 10, 2015

Crazy-Pizza Night

Lately, it has been all about what I can make with eggplant.  At one point, there were 10 eggplants on the bush of various sizes.  This is why I rarely plant the same thing twice.  By the time the plant runs its course, I am thoroughly over whatever it was for the next several months.
So I decided to make pizzas that incorporated roasted eggplant.  I was originally going to do a Greek theme with ground lamb, like a moussaka pizza, but wasn't impressed by the quality or price of the ground lamb at the market.  So I went with Italian sausage and your basic red sauce/mozzarella kind of pizza with a bit of spinach to round things out.  The dough is the same one I used for the prosciutto & brie pizza.

I usually clean as I go, especially when rise time for dough is involved.  This time, I just got busy and didn't have time to do dishes until the pizzas were in the oven.  That's when I found out just how many pots, pans, bowls, etc I had been using.  And it doesn't count the two baking sheets in the oven.
Yeah, that took a while.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Hearty Pumpkin Soup

It's going to be cool-ish for a couple of days, so I'm making soup.  Hot Santa Ana winds won't be here until the weekend and I'm pretending it's Fall.

There are two ways to make this, the way I did it and the easy way.  I made my own stock and soaked and pre-cooked the beans.  The chicken was from a leftover carcass in the freezer.  Something close to 24 hours for a pot of soup.  On the other hand, you could buy broth, canned beans, and canned chicken and be done with this in about half an hour, so I'm going to post that.  The biggest difference with my version is the salt content.  I've been eating way too much salt.  I did an experiment recently where I only ate food I had prepared and drank plenty of water for a day.  Woke up the next day a pound lighter, and that's including snacks and ice cream.  All salt.

1 qt low-salt chicken broth
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped bite-sized
4 stalks celery, chopped bite-sized
1/2 onion, diced
1 (15 oz) can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 small can chunk chicken
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin purée
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp dried sage
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp nutmeg

1.  Bring broth and bay leaf to a simmer in a large pot.  Add carrots, celery, and onion and simmer until carrots are tender, about 10 minutes.

2.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  Bring back up to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.  Discard bay leaf and serve hot.

Serves 4 to 6

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, October 3, 2015

No-Plan French Toast

When you look up French Toast recipes online, what you're going to find requires a trip to the grocery store and several days of preparation.  What if you just wake up and decide you want it for breakfast?  That requires all the skill and ingenuity of the average home cook.  It's called dropping bread into an omelet mix.

Any bread will do, even the cheap stuff from the market.  I happen to have some raisin challah in the freezer.  That's as fancy as this gets.

I'm giving the single-serving, one-egg recipe.  (Or 2 small children.)  That makes it easiest to scale up.

1 egg
1/4 C milk
2 slices bread
1 Tb margarine (so you don't have to salt the egg)

1.  Beat the egg in a shallow pan.  I use a pie tin.  Add the milk and beat to combine.  If you want to get creative, you can add spices directly to the egg like cinnamon or nutmeg.
2.  Set bread slices in egg mix.  Go make coffee, or sausage, or something.  In five minutes, flip the bread to let the other side soak up the mix.  Preheat a skillet over medium-low and melt the margarine, even if you're using a non-stick.  It will be creating the browned look on the bread.

3.  Place the bread slices in the skillet and allow them to cook undisturbed for about 5 minutes.  You're cooking this over a lower heat so the outside doesn't burn before the egg on the inside is done.  It's also how I make grilled cheese, so the bread is browned around the time the cheese melts.  I used to throw out any egg that didn't absorb, but they're expensive nowadays, so I just pour it on top of the bread in the skillet.

4.  Turn the bread and cook until browned, about 3 minutes.  Serve hot with powdered sugar and/or syrup.

Serves 1

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Molasses Baked Beans

While I'm technically not on my endurance test anymore, I'm still using pantry items first.  The idea of leaving the oven on all afternoon was pretty hideous, but I cooked this at a low temperature.  I have a very well-insulated oven, so it didn't really heat up the kitchen.

For the most part, I followed a scaled-down recipe from  I skipped the pork because I was having this with short ribs done kalua style.  I was happy that there's no added salt.  For once, a recipe doesn't resort to it for flavor.  Yes, ketchup is salty.  That was enough.  I've been eating out too much and noticed my face getting a little puffy from all the salt.  Started having high-potassium foods and more water to compensate.

This is a soak-the-beans recipe because the ones out of the can are already cooked and will come up entirely too mushy.  Plan the day before.

1 C dry great northern beans
1 bay leaf
1/2" thick slice of onion, quartered
1/4 C ketchup
3 Tb brown sugar
3 Tb molasses
1 tsp mustard or 1/2 tsp dry mustard powder
1/4 tsp ground pepper

1.  The night before, soak beans in 3 cups water.  Early in the day, drain.

2.  Preheat oven to 300º.  Into an oven-safe 2 qt casserole, place all ingredients.  Cover with 1 C boiling water.  Stir until sauce is even, cover with a tight lid, and bake for 4 hours.  Check every hour to make sure the water didn't all evaporate.  If still too watery at the 3-hour mark, leave the lid cracked slightly.  You want a thick sauce, but not dry beans.

3.  Remove from oven, discard bay leaf, and serve hot or cold

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Nothing Special

I went a little crazy at the market and spent about $50 restocking.   Basically, I bought anything I thought I might use in the near future that was a decent price.  Only the chicken thighs and broccoli were part of a planned meal.

The reason I'm posting something as basic as this is to show that a "special" meal (in this case, my Shabbat Shuvah dinner) is all about the attitude and presentation.  You can make something fancy, or you can present the ordinary with an air of elegance.  Half of what makes restaurant food so appealing is how it is plated.  (The other half is salt.)

I haven't been cooking much because it has been so hot.  Boiling the veggies and throwing chicken in the oven felt taxing.  I'm mostly doing dips and cheeses.  Or picking up stuff. The last thing I baked was a batch of Oatmeal Everything cookies.  Since it makes over four dozen, I just threw the rest in the freezer for teas over the next few weeks.  Don't be surprised if I don't post for a week.  Unless my cooking mojo comes back, I'm not making anything until next Tuesday, meaning the post would be the day after.  I really hope it's cool enough by then to slow-roast some pork ribs I picked up.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Garden Meatloaf

I'm going grocery shopping this morning!  I had hoped to sneak in a small batch of chicken soup with a carcass I found at the bottom of the chest freezer, but there isn't enough to round it out.  It would have been just chicken and lentils or navy beans.  I used up the last bit of onion on this.  Still, 18 days is pretty impressive for someone who shops every three to four days (the shelf life of bananas) and primarily uses fresh produce.  I'm going to clean the fridge first.  It hasn't been this empty in a year.

I pulled the first ear of corn and the largest-seeming carrots for this.  Eggy was getting jealous until the carrots turned out to be extremely small.  So I threw in the two largest eggplants instead.  This turned out to be an excellent idea.  This has to be the most moist and delicate meatloaf I've ever made.  It does not taste like eggplant, except for a lingering hint of something different.

I used rice for the filler, but did not pre-cook it.  I soaked the Basmati for several hours and put it in raw, so the juices of the vegetables and meat could soak into it as everything baked.  The rice did cook, so that experiment is a success.

*1 small eggplant, cut up
1 carrot, chopped
*1/2 onion, chopped
*1 ear of corn
salt and pepper
1 egg
1/4 C dry rice
1 lb 80/20 ground beef
*1/4 C ketchup

1.  Early in the day, soak the rice in 1 C water.  Drain and toss in the food processor.

2.  Preheat oven to 325º.  To the rice, add eggplant, carrot, and onion.  Scrape the kernels off the ear of corn and add.  Run the processor until the veggies are a coarse paste.
3.  Add ground beef, egg, and ketchup.  Process again until uniform.  Spread in a loaf pan and bake until internal temperature reaches 160º, about one hour.  It's ok to drain off the juices after about 45 minutes.  There will still be enough in there to finish cooking the rice.  Let loaf sit for 10 minutes to rest and reach 165º.

4.  Slice and serve.  It may be very soft and break apart.  Given the alternative of a sturdy chunk of meat, I'm cool with that.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Lemon Meringue Tarts

Rooting through the pantry doesn't have to mean weird, mish-mash food.  It just means you have to look at what's in there with an open mind.

I have no idea how old the box of graham crackers is, but the "sell by" date was Jan 2013.  It's pie crust now.  One lemon off the tree, an egg before I finish them off, and the rest is pantry staples.

I had debated whether to do these as simple lemon curd tarts, but then I'd have an egg white left over.  Instead, I did a 1/4 recipe of a full sized lemon meringue pie.  Fun with math.

4 graham crackers (8 squares)
2 Tb + 1 tsp butter
4 tsp cornstarch
2 Tb lemon juice
6 Tb water
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 egg, separated

1.  To make the crust, crush the graham crackers.  You can use the food processor, but I just put them in a ziplock and ran over them with the rolling pin.  Melt 2 Tb butter and pour into crumbs.  Stir with a fork until moistened.  Press into 4 patty pans or - if you're into insanely cute kitchenware like I am - individual tartlet pans.  These are so small that you do not need to pre-bake the crusts.

2.  In a small saucepan, stir together cornstarch, 8 tsp (2 Tb + 2 tsp) sugar, and a dash of salt.  Stir in lemon zest, lemon juice, and water and allow everything to dissolve.  Cornstarch will clump when heated if it is not dissolved in a cool liquid first.

3.  Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.  It only takes a couple of minutes because there is so little in the pot.  It will start to thicken and turn glossy.  Remove from heat.

4.  Beat egg yolk slightly.  Add a couple of spoonfuls of the lemon mixture to the egg to temper it, beat everything together, then return the gloppy mess to the pot.  Heat over low until thickened further, but do not boil or you'll curdle the egg.  Turn off heat and stir in 1 tsp of butter until melted and incorporated.  Divide filling between tart shells.
5.  Preheat oven to 375º.  Beat egg whites with a dash of salt to soft peaks.  Slowly add 1 Tb of sugar and beat meringue into a firm, glossy peak stage.  Top tarts with meringue and bake for 10 minutes, or until meringue is as dark as you want it.

6.  Cool tarts to room temperature before trying to remove from tins.  I left the removable bottoms on mine and served them without the rims.  You can chill the tarts to serve cold, but the meringue will start to get chewy after a day or so.  I don't recommend making these more than one day ahead.

Difficulty rating  :)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Pantry Endurance Test

I'm redoing my guest bathroom and trying to find ways to save a few dollars here and there.  It isn't a huge, expensive redo, but replacing a toilet turns into redoing the cracked floor, and of course the old wallpaper doesn't come down far enough to meet the new baseline.  And while the medicine cabinet and light are off the wall anyway, might as well get new ones…  Not redoing the vanity or shower, which would have been much more expensive than the rest put together.

So I decided to see how long I could go without grocery shopping.  After all, I eat at least one meal a day at work anyway, so we're only talking about one or two meals a day plus snacks.  My last shopping trip was on August 29th.  There's still plenty in the pantry, a few things in the freezer, and I'm getting close to harvesting carrots and corn.  There was a surprise cucumber hiding behind a rock and all the cherry tomatoes ripened at the same time.  Plus, Eggy keeps producing, even if the eggplants are on the small side.  My guess is I'll run out of OJ, milk, and eggs around the same time.  I have dinners planned until the 16th if I can harvest a couple of carrots and ears of corn.  Maybe later if I have to run from work to choir rehearsals and pick up drive-thru, but I don't think the milk will last that long.  I can do without OJ, but I need milk in my coffee.  I'm out of cheese, too.  Had a dollop of cream cheese on my nachos (home-made tortillas).  It was different, as it subbed in for both the cheese and sour cream.
What I'm finding is that I still look longingly at the weekly grocery ads, thinking what I could make with what's on special.  But I do have loads of food on hand that I should prepare before stocking up again.  Most of our food waste as a nation is what we throw away because it spoiled before we could eat it.  It's an expense, and somewhat immoral when you consider those who do not have enough to eat.

But I really do miss grocery shopping.  I already started a list for when this ends.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Summer Picnic at Home

It was hot in late August, as it often is.  Combined with closing shifts and not having time to cook, I decided to do a picnic-style dinner.  Sprouts carries pre-made patés.  They also had cantaloupes on sale for 48¢ each.  A wedge of brie, a loaf of fresh bread, and some pre-cooked mini eggplants later, I had the fixings for a no-cook meal that only needed some red wine to make it elegant.

If this looks like a lot of food on the plate, it was.  It was a nice snack-style assortment of fruit, veggie, meat, and dairy.  This is the kind of meal you eat slowly, enjoying the contrasts in flavor and texture.

I hope everyone enjoyed their summer.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hash Browns

When I go out for a fancy breakfast, the main dish may be what I order, but I'm really there for the hash browns.  Crispy, slightly greasy, over-salted hash browns.  I'm not even all that into potatoes, and tolerate fries as a tradition with certain foods.  That's one of the reasons Passover is so hard on me starch-wise.

Making them at home is another matter.  The frozen ones taste great and cook up somewhat quickly, but they are much more expensive than they should be for something so simple.  You're paying someone else to clean the food processor.

This is basically Alton Brown's Man Hash Browns, with my own variations and substitutions.

Warning, these take a while.  That's another thing about getting them at a restaurant: minimal wait.

1 large Russet potato, about 1 lb
2 Tb rendered bacon fat or butter
salt, pepper, and paprika to taste

1.  Scrub the potato clean and cut off any eyes, but leave the skin on.  Either shred in a box grater or run through the food processor's shredding attachment.  Rinse, then dry on a kitchen towel.  Keep the towel closed while you heat up the pan.

2.  Preheat a 10" skillet over medium heat.  Melt bacon fat or butter and swirl around to coat the pan evenly.  Spread dried potato shreds evenly in pan.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and paprika.  Cook until browned and crispy, about 15 minutes.

3.  If you're talented and have two wide spatulas, you can flip the whole thing to brown the other side.  My attempt was less than successful, but I finally got all of the sections turned over.  You don't need to season the second side because it has most of the bacon grease on it.  Cook until browned and crispy, another 10 to 15 minutes.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  :)