Thursday, January 29, 2015

Creamy Vegetable Soup

I didn't feel like grocery shopping and cleared out everything in my crisper except for citrus.  Also used every ripe tomato, since I still can't amass enough at once to can a quart.

Reviewing my soup category, in case I was duplicating, I seem to use barley a lot in my soups.  It's an easy way to up the nutritional value, is good for the digestion, balances any accidental over-salting, and makes a side dish into a light meal.  Besides, I had the right amount left.  Adding milk to make this a creamier soup was just because I have a lot of milk on hand I'm not going to use before it spoils.  I'll probably have to make cottage cheese next week.

I started the soup by making my own broth, and it smelled pretty fantastic even before the real ingredients went in.  Even my painter wanted to know what I was making.

*1/2 lb carrots, chopped
*1 lb tomatoes, chopped
*1/2 C diced onion
*1 C diced cucumber
1 Tb olive oil
1 qt low-sodium vegetable broth
salt and white pepper to taste
2 Tb fresh basil or 2 tsp dried
*1/2 C milk
*1/2 C dry pearl barley

1.  Bring barley, a light sprinkling of salt, and 3 C water to a boil, lower to a simmer and cover, and let cook while you make everything else.

2.  In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high.  Add onion and cucumber and cook until onion is translucent, stirring occasionally.

3.  Add vegetable broth, carrots, and tomatoes and bring to a low boil.  Lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until everything is tender, about 20 to 30 minutes.  Add basil and cook 5 more minutes.
4.  Purée soup in batches in the blender, checking base seal first (grr…).  Let it run for at least 30 seconds, to make sure everything is very smooth.  Return to heat and stir in milk.  Taste and add seasoning as needed.

5.  To serve, ladle soup into bowls first.  Drain barley and add several generous spoonfuls to each bowl.  Doing it this way, the barley mounds up so the diners can see it's in there.  They can distribute it themselves.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cherry Pineapple Blondies

I intended to do considerably more baking last month and now I have holiday-style ingredients leftover, like candied fruits for stuff like fruitcake.  Since I'm eating stollen for breakfast, I needed something different for tea snack.  This recipe was on the back of the lid, and I cut it in half for posting on this site.

I'm not sure what I was expecting these to taste like, but I had completely forgotten that I don't like fruit and chocolate together.  The cookie dough recipe is excellent, and I'll probably use that part again with some butterscotch chips I found in the chip box.  The addition of chopped nuts and/or coconut would work if you like that in your cookies.

I made these in cupcake liners like the note at the bottom of the recipe suggested for individual servings, then ate the three in the photo before they were cool.  I was cutting this in half and was not sure what size pan to use.  Plus, I have a lot of cupcake liners.  The original recipe did not include how much to fill each liner, so I just made 18 (original was 36).  It was roughly halfway, and they came out very soft and fully cooked all the way through.

I'm also presenting a simplified, one-bowl method of mixing the dough.  For many recipes, you do need a wet team and a dry team, but cookies come together so easily that the extra step just makes more work.  And speaking of work, the original recipe sneaked in that you have to chop the fruit at the very end.  I should have read the recipe more thoroughly before starting, but they could have arranged their method for people in the real world.

1-1/4 C flour
1-1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 C brown sugar, packed
6 Tb butter, room temperature
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
*1/2 C chocolate chips
*8 oz candied cherries and pineapple

1.  Chop candied fruit the same size as the chocolate chips.  Prepare 2 muffin pans with 18 paper liners.  Preheat oven to 350º.

2.  In a stand mixer with the paddle, cream together the butter and brown sugar.  Beat in egg and vanilla until creamy and thoroughly mixed.

3.  Beat in baking powder and salt for about 30 seconds, to make sure they are evenly distributed.  Add flour gradually and beat into a uniform cookie dough.

4.  Stir in chips and fruit pieces.  Spoon into cupcake liners about half full.  Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate pans.  Start checking for doneness at 15 minutes.  They should be lightly golden and not gooey in the middle.  Mine were in for about 20 minutes.

5.  Remove pans from oven and let sit 2 minutes, until cool enough to remove the liners from the pans without burning yourself.  Cool blondies on wire racks.  Can be served with or without the cupcake liners.

Makes 18

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sesame-Crusted Ahi

So I was downloading some photos to send someone, when I realized I had pictures of last week's dinner that I had never gotten around to posting.  Whoops.  Now that I'm not forcing myself to post every 3 or 4 days, I'm forgetting it altogether.  I'm also not cooking much, and mostly doing pantry projects because I stocked up on a lot of grains and beans in December without thinking that they have to be gone by April.  I may have to lock up some in the garage for Passover.

Previously-frozen Ahi tuna steaks were on sale at Sprouts for $6.99 a pound.  That's a great price, so I bought one big enough for three meals.  If you're not going to cook a fish thoroughly, getting previously-frozen is a good idea.  It kills most of the possible pathogens, including worms.  When you go out for sushi, the restaurant knows the right suppliers to get safe fish to consume raw.  At the market, they assume you're going to cook it and get slightly lower quality.

This recipe was super easy.  I did it in the last five minutes that the rice was cooking, from start to finish.

1 thick-cut ahi tuna steak, a little over 1 pound
1 Tb olive oil
*1/4 C sesame seeds
salt & pepper

1.  Set medium skillet over medium-high heat to preheat while you season the fish.

2.  Cut steak into 4 pieces.  Rub all sides of fish pieces with oil.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, then coat tops and bottoms with sesame seeds.  They might not want to stick at first.

3.  Set pieces in hot skillet.  Cook until sesame seeds are toasted golden and the fish looks cooked about 2 or 3 millimeters deep.  This should take no more than 2 minutes, preferably closer to 1.  Turn up the heat if it's taking too long.  Flip the fish and do the other side until seeds are toasted.  Carefully turn the pieces on their edges to lightly sear the open ends, but only for about 10 seconds per side.  You want the center of the fish to be raw.

4.  To serve, you can either place the fish on a plate as-is, or slice it for effect.  This also works well as a salad topping, sliced into thin strips.  I used soy sauce, but a ponzu or ginger dressing would work well.

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Herbed Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes

I arrived at this recipe by the Barefoot Contessa via The Bitten Word.  It was the most popular dish at their annual Fakesgiving feast.  Fakesgiving is part dinner party, part practice for Thanksgiving, part "I have a blog and need to post these things before the actual holiday", and part "I love these kinds of foods and wish we had them more often".  This casserole is a new twist on cheesy mashed potatoes.

I've never used Yukon Gold potatoes before.  I've used pretty much every other kind the market carries, but always gravitate to Russets when I'm buying a "plain potato".  They're good, with a slightly more solid texture.  And they cream up very easily with a spoon.  You don't need to whip them.
Ever since I bought my food mill, I have been coming across recipes that use one.  I've probably been making these all along and just ignoring the food mill part.  You can certainly do this recipe with an electric beater or stand mixer paddle.  What the mill does is rice the potatoes first, and also remove the skins so you don't have to peel the potatoes.  It's also one more gadget in the cupboard and one more thing to clean afterwards.

Even though this counted as one of my non-diet dishes (duh), I did lighten it up from the original.  This version is slightly lower in fat and uses less than half as much salt.  I also cut the recipe in half for a 4-serving version.

Next up is trying to figure out a way of making a Dairy menu for Passover so I have an excuse to make a really big batch of this.

1-1/2 lbs Yukon gold poatoes
3 large cloves garlic
kosher salt
*1/2 tsp cracked pepper
4-oz log of garlic & herb goat cheese (chèvre), room temperature
2 Tb butter, room temperature
3/4 C (one 6oz container) plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
1/4 C milk, more as needed
*1/4 C grated parmesan cheese

1.  Peel potatoes if not using a food mill and cut into 1" cubes.  Peel and slightly smash garlic.  Put in medium saucepan and fill with water just barely to cover.  Add 1/2 tsp salt and bring to a boil.  Lower to a simmer, cover, and cook until very tender, about 20 minutes.

2.  Drain potatoes and process with an electric beater, stand mixer paddle, potato ricer, or food mill on the coarsest setting.  While still hot, stir in cheese, butter, yogurt, milk, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  If you like your potatoes creamier, add more milk 1 Tb at a time to desired consistency.

3.  Spoon potatoes into an oval or round casserole.  Personally, I like the corner crusts, but this recipe probably specifies a curved casserole for a reason.  Sprinkle top with the parmesan cheese.  At this point, you can either bake right away or refrigerate until ready to use, within 24 hours.

4.  To bake, preheat oven to 375º.  Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until top cheese is lightly browned and you get a slight crunchy crust when you spoon it out.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating :)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Half-Way Diet

My boss went to her check-up and discovered that falling off her diet has caused her medical problems to worsen.  I'm still on her diet, even though I don't have the same conditions, because it's a generally healthy way to eat: low salt, high fiber and potassium, moderate meats, fats, and sweets.

The reason people fall off diets is because they see them as temporary from the start.  They think that they can fix whatever motivated the change of eating patterns and go back to their old ways.  A diet is an ongoing thing.  It's what you eat on a regular basis, and a lifestyle.  Returning to the eating patterns that caused the original problem is only going to bring them back.

The second reason dietary changes fail is because people miss the foods they used to eat.  "Cheat days" only remind you what you can no longer enjoy.  I don't believe in cutting out anything unless it's a matter of life and death.  Just have it in moderation.  Frankly, after six weeks of indulgence over the holidays, I'm beyond ready to go back to my usual light and fiber-rich life.  Oatmeal is starting to look pretty good.

So, for at least a while, I'm experimenting with a half-way diet.  One time I cook, it's Mediterranean, vegetarian, or a similar healthy cuisine (like the above salad and falafel pie).  The next time, I'll make something with meat and maybe a less healthy side dish, but still not overly fatty or salty.  By alternating, you can ease yourself into a new routine.  After a month, maybe cook "healthy" twice for every one indulgent dish, then three to one.  By easing yourself into a new lifestyle, you may be less likely to get a craving for something really bad, like the greasiest burger you can find and a large fries.  There's nothing like denying yourself something you enjoy to make it stand out as the only thing you want.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Winter Garden 2015

So, looking it up on the USDA climate zone website, I live on the border of 10b and 11a.  That means it never freezes, and rarely gets below 40º.  That also means I can plant any time I want, and almost any plant I want.  I still waited until yesterday to plant seedlings, when they would have a couple of days above seventy degrees to take root.

Really, planting now had more to do with weed suppression.  I love the look of clover, but it was starting to take over the planters and was encroaching on Bradley.  For that, I planted a six-pack of spinach.  I love fresh spinach, but I don't always want to deal with a whole pound of it at once.  Within a few weeks, I'll be able to pick one serving at a time.  There was one seedling that didn't fit in the pond, so I put it up in the unused herb pot.  That one's only empty because I kept forgetting to water whatever was in there.  Maybe now I'll make the effort.

For the front planter, one of the bushes was killed last year by the pumpkins.  I had hoped it was merely wintering over, then finally admitted defeat.  Instead of putting in another ornamental, I decided on a berry bush.  They didn't have blueberry, but they did have boysenberry.  It is almost impossible to find boysenberries in a form other than preserves, other than a few weeks in late spring at farmers' markets.  I'm not that dedicated.  I'm very curious to find out what they taste like off the vine.  Since they were first created about thirty miles from my house, I have a shot at making this work.  Plus, it's at least as cool as growing pumpkins.

For ongoing projects, Artie is thriving.  Bradley and the beefsteak are hearty.  The beefsteak has gotten so big that the mail carrier set my holiday packages behind it to hide them from the street.  There are at least a dozen green tomatoes, but it isn't warm enough to ripen them.  Whenever one starts to show a hint of orange, I pick it and ripen it in the kitchen window.  I picked the dozen green tomatoes off of Cherry so I could cut back the dying branches.  I'll pickle them this afternoon.  Oranges are ripening about as fast as I feel like eating one.  There are more lemons than I can use.  Not bad for January.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Leftovers and Reruns

So, now that I finally have time to cook, I'm not making anything interesting.  Or, I made too much of it during the holidays and froze the leftovers, which will last me until spring.  I also lined up my jars in the pantry and realized that, between preserves and dried grains, I have a lot of food on hand.  I should do something with it.  That's why this post is just links to stuff I've made before.  After four years, I want to eat some of these things again.  It isn't fair that I can't have something I like just because I haven't posted in a while and need to come up with something new.


  • Pasta with Peanut Sauce (above)  This one was spaghetti, simmered chicken tenders, and carrots.  Side salad not pictured, but it included oven-dried tomatoes.
  • While we're talking tomatoes, it's been so cold that I don't think the rest of the cherry tomatoes are going to ripen.  I'll probably have to pickle them.
  • And back to peanut butter, I made a peanut butter pie for dessert at Chanukah.  Dinner was leg of lamb, latkes, and asparagus.
  • Breakfast lately, when I'm not at work, is toasted slices of stollen and a piece of fruit.  I made a dozen two-serving sized loaves, then only gave out about four.
  • Lunch has been crackers with baba gannouj and cheese.  There's also a jar of trail mix that I have been very good about not eating all at one sitting.
  • Next up, I think I want to make a falafel pie.  The jar of garbanzo beans is staring at me every time I open the pantry.  I do have a potential soup in mind that would use some, but there's enough in the jar for both recipes.  I also have two ripe tomatoes (one Bradley and one Beefsteak) that I can dice up for the topping.
  • There's still candied fruit that I didn't use for the stollen.  Once it's gone, I'm going to make some fruitcake for myself.  Slightly out of season, but still a sweet treat for breakfast or tea.
I'll post again when there's something of interest.  That may be a gardening post.  I'm seriously considering replacing a dead bush with blueberries or a similar perennial, fruity bush.  Just not raspberries.  I don't like those.  I'm not making any decisions until it gets a little warmer.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Pinto Protein Bowl

I'm getting an early start on my "healthy" new year's eating with this one.  I know it looks bad for you, but there's more fat and salt in the cheese than anything else, and pintos are high in iron, fiber, and protein with very little fat.  Paired with a lightly dressed side salad, this is far less decadent than it tastes.  Plus, your kitchen smells like Taco Bell and bacon for a day.

*1 C dry pinto beans
water
4 oz thick-cut bacon
1/2 C diced onion
cracked pepper to taste
1/2 C shredded cheese of choice

1.  Place beans in a medium saucepan with a generous amount of water, at least 4 cups.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for about 3 hours, until tender but still hold their shape.  Turn off the heat while you make the rest of it.

2.  Chop the bacon into 1/2" pieces and cook in a medium skillet until almost done, about 10 minutes.  Instead of draining off the rendered fat, add the onions and continue cooking the whole thing until the onions are translucent.

3.  Drain the beans and rinse, then return to the saucepan.  Add the bacon and onion mixture.  Add as much pepper as you like, then sprinkle the top with shredded cheese.  Since this is basically a tortilla-less tostada, feel free to add diced tomatoes, avocado, salsa, or sour cream.  Whatever sounds good.

Difficulty rating π

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Tomatoes Grow on Vines

Most of the time we talk about gardening efforts, we refer to tomatoes as "plants".  Sometimes, we talk about individual branches as "vines", but in a kind of loose way.

After this month's rain, I kind of ignored my Bradley and Beefsteak plants because I didn't have to water them every few days for a couple of weeks and they didn't have any ripe tomatoes on them.  When I finally decided to work on them a bit, I found that they had been taking lessons from the pumpkins.

Bradley, who I had almost ripped out several times in the past nine months, is making a break for it.  He has far outgrown his cage.  I could have cut back the longest vines, but they have healthy tomatoes on them.  Instead, I'm training them up the waterfall so they don't languish in the dirt.  The rest of the pond is getting overrun by some weeds, so I really should plant something there to hinder them.
The Beefsteak is also very healthy and developing fruit.  The local tomato worms have infested such a yummy plant.  I trimmed off as much as I could and sprayed it all over with neem oil as a deterrent.

This is what winter gardening looks like in a Zone 10b neighborhood.  It may be too cold for the tomatoes to ripen on the vine, so I plan to bring them in as soon as they show any hint of red and let them finish in the greenhouse window.  Other than that, it's business as usual.  I may get to use those quart jars yet.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Applesauce

I was going to pick up a jar of applesauce to have with the Chanukah latkes, but I never make it through a whole jar and it's disgusting when I find it in the back of the fridge two months later.  Hey, I always have a few apples in the fridge.  I can make my own!

Frankly, I was expecting this to be a whole lot more complicated.  Cook apples until soft, run through food mill, serve.  It was almost more difficult to come up with proper recipe amounts for everything than to make it in the first place.

As for what apples to use in the sauce, there are an awful lot of kinds of apples available at the market.  Keep in mind the texture and sweetness of whatever you use.  I keep galas on hand because they work either for cooking or eating raw.  Fuji, honey crisp, and pink lady are similar in sweetness and texture.  You want to stay away from red delicious because they don't cook well.  A tart apple like granny smith is fine, but you may choose to add a bit of sugar in the end.  You can also use an assortment instead of all one kind.

2 medium apples (I used gala)
water
*cinnamon stick (optional)
sugar if needed
lemon juice if needed

1.  If using a food mill or tomato press, remove stems from apples, cut in quarters, and remove cores.  If using a blender, food processor, or potato masher, peel the apples first.

2.  Place quarters in a small saucepan and fill with about 1" of water.  Water does not need to cover the apples.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, lower to a simmer, and cover.  Cook until very tender, 20 to 30 minutes (depending on type of apple).  If using cinnamon, place stick in the pot while simmering for a subtle hint of flavor.

3.  Remove apples from heat and drain.  Run through whatever processing gadget you choose for a fine sauce, or use a potato masher for chunky.  Taste and add sugar if too tart, lemon juice if too sweet, and cinnamon powder or other spices to taste.  Refrigerate before serving.

Makes about 1 cup

Difficulty rating :)