Saturday, October 29, 2011

Quinoa-Stuffed Peppers

The cats are ticked that I've been eating vegetarian the past couple of weeks.  No particular reason, just haven't been feeling the need for meat every night.  Maybe when it starts to get cold.

Most of the stuffed-pepper recipes I found online include canned tomatoes.  After the whole thing with the risotto being too tomato-ey, I decided to do without.  It was plenty flavorful, and slightly sweet from the corn I substituted.  There is easily enough filling for four split-open peppers, and you'll probably have some left over.  The filling would make an excellent stuffing for poultry, as well.  I would have no qualms about serving this as a vegetarian entrée at Thanksgiving.  Leave off the cheese, and it's vegan.

4 red bell peppers
3/4 C dry quinoa
1/2 C dried black beans
1 C finely chopped red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tb olive oil
4 crimini (baby portobello) mushrooms
1/4 C corn kernels
1/2 C chopped carrot
salt to taste
1 tsp Italian seasoning
2 Tb grated Parmesan cheese

1.  Rinse & sort black beans.  Place in saucepan with 2 C water.  Soak for 6 hours or overnight.

2.  Drain and rinse beans.  Return to saucepan and add 2 cups fresh water and a touch of salt.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for 2 hours, drain, and set aside.  If you need to pre-soak your quinoa, this is a good time to do it.

3.  Bring quinoa, 1-1/2 C water, and a dash of salt to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

4.  While quinoa is simmering, sautée onions and garlic in olive oil in a large frying pan.  Discard stems of mushrooms and slice caps into thin slices.  Add to pan and continue to cook until mushrooms are soft. Add quinoa, black beans, corn, carrot, Italian seasoning, and about 1/2 tsp salt.  Combine over very low heat.  Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.  Remove filling from heat and set aside.

5.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Wash bell peppers.  Split in half lengthwise.  Discard stems, seeds, and ribs (those white membrane things).  Arrange peppers in a casserole with the cut ends up.  Fill each half with as much of the filling as it will hold.

6.  Bake for 45 minutes, until peppers start to look soft.  Sprinkle tops with Parmesan cheese and bake 10 minutes longer, until cheese browns.  Allow to sit a couple of minutes before serving.

Serves 4 as a main dish, 8 as a side

Difficulty rating  :-0

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Matzoh Pizza

Yes, I still have matzoh.  What part of 5-lb box did you miss?

This is actually some of the best thin-crust pizza you will ever have, and you get to make it at home!  I would even serve it to guests.  At any time of year, it's a good way to use up that last bit of spaghetti sauce you always seem to have left over.  It can also use the last bits of some veggie in the crisper that you forgot about.

*1 piece of matzoh
1/4 C spaghetti sauce
1/2 C shredded cheese of choice
pizza toppings of choice (frozen spinach in photo)

1.  Preheat oven or toaster oven to 375º.  Run matzoh under hot water for a few seconds to wet surface.  Do not soak.

2.  Place matzoh on foil-lined baking sheet.  Spread spaghetti sauce over surface.  Top with shredded cheese and toppings of choice.

3.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, until cheese is melted.

serves 1

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Corn Bread

I can't believe I haven't made corn bread in over a year.  Especially with all the corn meal I have lying around.

I use the recipe off the Alber's corn meal box.  Their site has a lot of great recipes.  I prefer to make the sweet corn bread instead of the regular corn bread.  The latter comes out a bit dry and tastes like grits.  I guess it depends upon how much butter you're willing to use.  The sweet corn also uses two eggs, so you can do half a batch if there's a smaller gathering.  You can also make them into muffins, freeze them, and have your picnic's corn muffins done days in advance.

1-1/2 C flour
2/3 C sugar
*1/2 C corn meal
1 Tb baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/4 C milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 C vegetable oil
3 Tb butter, melted

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Grease an 8" x 8" pan or line 20 muffin cups.  The bread in the photo was made in a really cool 10" casserole I have.  Bake 5 minutes less, and it won't rise as high as one made in a smaller pan.  (If you're really brave, just grease the muffin cups and don't line them.  Warning, these will not travel as well as paper-lined.)

2.  Combine all dry ingredients in one bowl.  In a separate bowl, beat together milk, eggs, oil, and melted butter.  Stir wet and dry ingredients until combined, but do not beat until smooth.  The smaller lumps will disappear on their own as the bread bakes.  Over-mixing produces large air bubbles.  Maybe someday I'll explain the science behind it.  Pour into prepared pan for bread, or fill muffin cups 2/3 full.

3.  Bake for 35 minutes (20 for muffins), or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Serve bread from pan, or it will fall apart.  Leave muffins in their paper liners.

Serves 12

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Maybe I should make a category for nuts or seeds.  I'm calling this a salad garnish, even though most people just eat them as snacks.

This is what you do with the seeds out of the pumpkin you have sacrificed for Halloween.  It's either this or the trash.  It helps that they're a yummy snack and beyond easy to make...not counting the getting them out of the pumpkin part.

One pumpkin's worth of seeds
1 Tb olive oil
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chili powder

1.  Rinse as much of the guts off the seeds as you can.  Shake off excess water.  Toss in oil.  Add salt and chili powder and toss again.

2.  Preheat oven to 300º.  Spread seeds in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet (so they can't escape). Bake about 30 minutes, until golden brown, moving them around every ten minutes or so.  Add more salt after cooling if desired.  Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, October 17, 2011

Chicken Pot Pie

Ah, comfort food.  Pot pies are basically stews with a crust.  I like this version because you don't have to make a pie crust.  Scone dough is much more forgiving.  I'll give you a how-to for cooking the chicken, but any leftovers will do.

If the crust looks unusual, it's because I used half whole-wheat flour.

1 lb chicken breast or assorted meat
1 batch white sauce base
1/2 C diced onion
1/2 C frozen peas
1 C frozen sliced carrots
1 5oz can sliced mushrooms
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 batch scone dough

1.  To roast chicken:  Season meat with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Roast at 350º for 45 minutes, or until center reaches 160º.  Cool enough to handle, cut meat from bones, and chop or shred into bite-sized pieces.

2.  Prepare white sauce base.  Add onion, peas, mushrooms with their juice, and carrots and bring back up to a simmer.  Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary.  Stir in chicken.

3.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Prepare scone dough and roll thin.  Place chicken stew in an 8" x 8" baking dish.  Cut strips of dough and place on top of stew, covering entire top.  (For individual pies, divide stew into ramekins and cover with a round of dough.)

4.  Bake pie for 15 minutes, until crust is done and stew is boiling.  Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Difficulty rating  :)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pumpkin Crepes

This is the reason I bought the mascarpone cheese in the first place.  Putting it in the risotto was an afterthought.

The idea for this dish came from Princess Cruises.  It was the vegetarian entrée on the night that everything looked amazing.  Since none of us was going to order it on the night they had beef Wellington, rack of lamb, and lobster, we made Melody Smurf order them and passed everything around.

The first thing you will notice is that these are not sweet.  We tend to add sugar to anything with the word "pumpkin" in it, but these are savory.

When choosing a pumpkin for eating, don't get one of the big ones with ridges all over it.  Those are the ones you carve up and stick on the porch.  They don't taste very good.  Get the little one marked "sugar" or "pie" pumpkin.  It should weigh no more than five pounds.

I cheated on the crepes this time and bought some.  They were very thin and slightly sweet.  It was ok for the pumpkin's flavor profile, but I wouldn't use them again for anything savory.

1 small pie pumpkin (about 3 lbs)
1/4 C butter
1/4 tsp each nutmeg, cumin, and paprika
8 8" crepes
1/2 C mascarpone cheese
2 Tb milk

1.  Wash skin of pumpkin and cut in half.  Not as easy as it sounds.  Scrape out seeds and strings.  (Keep seeds for making pepitas.)

2.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Place pumpkin, cut side down, on a baking rack in a roasting pan.  You may want to line the pan for easy cleaning.  Roast pumpkin in oven for 45 minutes, until soft.  Surprisingly, mine smelled like roasted seasoned potatoes when it was done.  Allow to cool slightly.  Using a spoon, scrape flesh off of skin and place in a bowl.  Mash, either with a fork or a potato masher.

3.  Place pumpkin in a medium saucepan.  Over low heat, add butter and seasonings.  Stir until warmed and creamy.

4.  Beat together mascarpone and milk until smooth enough to drizzle off a spoon.

5.  Lay a crepe on a plate.  Spoon 1/3 C pumpkin mixture in center and spread into a line.  Roll crepe to one side.  Repeat with a second crepe to make one serving.  You should get 8 crepes out of a 3 lb pumpkin.

6.  Drizzle with mascarpone and garnish either with candied walnuts or pepitas.

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Seafood Risotto

I decided to make some kind of risotto, so I went to the local supermarket to buy arborio rice.  Wow, it's expensive for something I'm not sure I'll make again.  So I made something else and waited until Sprouts was having a 25% off bulk items sale.  I got a cup of it out of the bins for a dollar.  That's plenty for 4 to 5 servings.

Arborio rice is very short grain.  It is similar to calrose rice, which is what you usually think of as the sticky rice in sushi, but more refined.  And it soaks up a lot of liquid.  What you end up with is something with a creamy, cheesy taste, even if there's no dairy in the dish.  That said, I did use cheese here, mainly because the tomatoes were a bit overwhelming.  It was a balancing flavor, not to add creaminess.

Risotto does take patience.  You have to add the liquid in stages, or the grain gets overwhelmed.  However, you don't have to stir it constantly.  That's an old tradition.  You have to stir it almost constantly.  You can take half a minute off every so often.  And it's going to take at least half an hour to cook.  This is the price you pay for a unique texture.

For the seafood, I was hoping to find something called "seafood medley", which is kind of like all the little odds and ends that the fish counter can't use for anything.  They were out, but any assorted seafood can be used, as long as the total weight is about a pound.  I ended up using half shrimp and half mahi-mahi.

1 C arborio rice
1 C (8oz bottle) clam juice
2 C water
*1/4 C dry sherry or white wine
1/2 C diced onion
1 Tb oil
*2 tsp Italian seasoning
*1 tsp dried parsley
1 15oz can diced, no-salt tomatoes
2 C chopped spinach leaves (or 1 C frozen spinach)
1 lb mixed seafood, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 C mascarpone cheese
salt to taste

1.  In a small saucepan, heat clam juice and water to a simmer.  Keep warm on the side.

2.  In a larger saucepan, cook onions in oil until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add rice and sautée for two minutes, until lightly toasted.  Add 1 C of cooking liquid and stir lightly until absorbed.  Every addition of liquid will require several minutes of cooking time.

3.  Add sherry and the can of tomatoes, including the liquid.  Stir until absorbed.  Add the spinach, Italian seasoning, and 1/2 C of cooking liquid.  Continue adding liquid when needed until entire amount has been added.  At this point, add seafood and stir until cooked thoroughly.  If rice begins to look dry, add another 1/2 C of water.

4.  When rice is creamy and seafood is cooked, remove from heat.  Stir in mascarpone.  Garnish with parsley before serving.

Serves 4 to 5

Difficulty rating :)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pantry Remodel

It used to look so much neater
The pantry has taken a downturn from its glorious organization.  I realized this when I almost dropped the food processor on my head.  Why was it on the highest shelf I can reach?  It was time for some serious redesign.

First, I had to conquer the spice cabinet once and for all.  At 5:30 on a Saturday morning, I decided enough was enough and I was going to get that plastic shelf out.  Only four screws held on the door, and they weren't even hard to get out.  The plastic thingy made it through the opening with a millimeter to spare.  Getting the door back on was a touch harder.  I really needed a third arm.  Still, I managed to set it evenly and the entire project took me a whopping 15 minutes.

Ah, that's better
Next up was how to put the spices back in.  I decided that duplicates were no longer allowed.  Ground spices on the bottom shelf, herbs and whole spices in the middle, and seeds and extracts on the top.  Everything fit with loads of room to spare and nothing was difficult to find.

So, what to do with all the duplicates?  Went out and bought some plastic boxes.  Placed them in the boxes neatly and kept multiples of the same item together, labeled the lids, and snapped on the top.  Which brought me to my main project of the pantry, where these boxes needed to be kept.

Everything came out again.  Wiped down all the shelves again.  Scrubbed the floor again.  Sorted out stuff to throw away or donate for Yom Kippur again.  And then it was time to put it back.

I bought a small wire shelf to put opposite the wine rack, even though I'm really not fond of putting things on the floor.  It's just that the first built-in shelf is so high that you lose a lot of storage space.  The wire shelf is for cat food, to protect it from the ants that found the pantry.  Sidebar, the most environmentally friendly way to deter ants is to pour table salt over their point of entry.  Another thing of which I have way too much.  Close to four pounds.  Two tablespoons of it got rid of the ant problem in about three hours.

All the heavy stuff like the food processor, ice cream maker, and my canning jars went on the bottom shelf, even though I don't use them very much.  The foods I use regularly moved up to the second shelf, leaving the baking supplies on the third one, where they've been since the last sorting.  The top shelf became storage for rarely-used, lightweight items like sprinkles, party sugar, and the duplicate spices from  the spice cabinet.
Fall cleaning accomplished
It will take a little getting used to, like any change.  But, now I know for sure that there is only one of each kind of spice in easy reach, and where to look if I run out of something, rather than run out to buy more.

Which reminds me, I discovered that my baking powder is six months expired, and here we are approaching baking season....

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Black-Currant Jam

I've never tried to make a jam from dried fruit before.  I wish I had chosen a fruit that did not taste so much like prunes, but the technique should be sound.

There's some cheating involved in this.  I wasn't sure this would set up, so I used some orange marmalade as a contributing flavor.  It was from one of those cute little jars you get at a hotel breakfast.  And I only needed one ounce to make this work.

1/2 C dried currants
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C water
2 Tb (1 oz) orange marmalade

1.  In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, warm water and sugar until sugar dissolves and it begins to boil.

2.  Add currants and stir together.  Allow to boil until currants have plumped, the water has taken on some color, and the bubbles are at least a quarter of an inch in diameter.  Stir every minute or two to prevent scorching.

3.  Remove from heat.  Stir in marmalade.  Chill.

Makes 1 cup

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Venison Terrine

Sprouts had ground venison.  I've had venison steak, but never worked with it ground.  They also have ground antelope and several cuts of bison.  I'm starting a new catchall category for every uncommon meat.

Terrines are fancy meatloafs that are served cold and take two days to make.  Other than that, they're easy.  You can use a regular bread loaf pan if you don't have a terrine mold.  Because I wanted something the right size to put on crackers, I used the three mini-loaf pans I bought this summer.  Generally, there should be more fat in a terrine, to keep it tender.  I subbed in bread crumbs because I don't care if it isn't buttery smooth.  There's a lot of cream to supply some fat.

Yes, there are a whole lot of ingredients in this one.  However, you're only using a few at a time.  I'll try to break it up to make it more manageable.

1 lb ground venison
marinade ingredients (see below)
top garnish (see below that)
1/4 C breadcrumbs
1 C heavy cream
1 egg
1/4 C pine nuts, pan-toasted
1/4 C dried cranberries, plumped in 1 Tb red wine

1 tsp ground peppercorns
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp kosher salt
2 Tb (1 oz) red wine
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Top Garnish
2 shallots (1/4 lb), thinly sliced
6 baby portobello (crimini) mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 Tb balsamic vinegar
1 Tb oil
1/2 tsp salt

1.  Combine marinade ingredients.  Knead marinade into meat.  Cover and place in refrigerator at least 8 hours or overnight.

2.  The next day, sauté mushrooms and shallots in oil until very soft, about 10 minutes.  Add balsamic vinegar and salt.  Cook one more minute.  Set aside.  Try not to eat out of pan.

3.  In food processor, place marinated meat, bread crumbs, cream, and egg.  Process until a very smooth paste forms.  Transfer to a mixing bowl.  Fold in pine nuts.  Drain any liquid from cranberries and fold them in.

4.  Preheat oven to 300º.  Place terrine mold in a 3"-deep roasting pan.  Start boiling a whole lot of water.  If desired, line mold with heavy plastic wrap to make it easier to turn out the terrine and clean the pan.

5.  Spread onion mixture on bottom of mold.  This will be the top when you turn out the terrine.  Drop forcemeat paste on top of onions.  Spread evenly throughout the mold.  Wrap top of mold tightly in heavy foil.  This prevents steam from getting into the mold and upsetting the moisture balance.  Place roasting pan setup on oven rack.  Add the boiling water at least halfway up the side of the mold, for gentle cooking.

6.  Cook terrine until thermometer reaches 160º, about 1-1/2 hours if using a loaf pan, slightly less for a terrine mold.  The mini-loafs took less than 45 minutes.  When you pull out the thermometer, the juices should run clear instead of red.  Remove from oven and from roasting pan.  Remove foil and allow to cool to 120º on the counter.

7.  Place plastic wrap on top of terrine mold, then add a weight which fits the pan.  I suggest another loaf pan if that's what you're using, and weigh it down with something like jars of tomato sauce or soda cans.  What you're doing is forcing the liquid fat in the pan to disperse evenly within the terrine and on the bottom.  Place the pressing terrine in the refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.

8.  Half an hour before service, turn out of mold onto serving plate and allow to warm slightly.  If it sticks, loosen edges with a thin spatula and/or use the warm-water Jello unmolding technique.  Once the fat gets a little warm, it will fall right out.  Use as a spread or serve as an appetizer with currant jam.

Serves 8 to 12 as an appetizer

Difficulty rating  :)