Monday, November 28, 2011

Vegetable Soup

I'm trying to figure out why most vegetable soups have beef, or at least beef broth, in them.  And the ones that don't, have zucchini as a main ingredient.  The great thing about being a grown-up is that you don't have to eat zucchini if you don't like it.  That's it, I'm going off the grid.

Vegetable soup is a good way to clear out the crisper while making something healthy.  Feel free to adjust to your own tastes.  For example, subbing in a russet potato for the parsnips.  I had a cold and just wanted something hot and good for me.

1 C dried Navy beans
1 yellow onion, minced
4 celery stalks, chopped into bite-sized pieces
4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 lb parsnips, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 C fresh green beans, ends snapped, cut into 1" pieces
1 large (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 Tb olive oil
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Sort Navy beans, rinse, and soak overnight in cold water.  Drain.  In a medium saucepan, cover beans with water two inches deep.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Cook for 2 hours.

2.  In a large soup pot, sauté onion in oil until soft.  Add 3 C water, celery, carrots, parsnips, green beans, and bay leaf.  Drain beans and add to pot.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes.

3.  Add canned tomatoes with their juice and bring back up to a simmer.  Stir, taste, and add salt and pepper as necessary.  Discard bay leaf before serving.

Serves 6

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, November 25, 2011

Part VI: Safe Cooking

AKA, how not to poison your guests.

I've done a few posts on food safety, but this section will go into a bit more detail.  The holidays are a fun time to share food, but more people contract foodborne illnesses in November and December than in the rest of the year.

To check out some previous topics:


Most of the lessons I'm going to be boring you with are from ServSafe Essentials, the food safety textbook of the National Restaurant Association.  I don't have this newest version, but anything that has changed will be to make it more lenient than what I know, not more strict.  A lot of it is common sense, and the rest is stuff that you feel like you should have known, but no one ever told you.  I'm not going to go into any of the picky stuff that you'll never need to know.  This is about how to be a successful home cook with food safety in the back of the mind.  All of these lessons will become second nature after a while.

Don't worry, there will still be plenty of recipes.  It is baking season, after all.

This also means that I've finished the crackers and matzoh!   Yay, me!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bison Meatballs

I really need to stop buying ground meat just because it's on sale.  Cuts, sure, I can do something with those.  Ground meat just gets worked into some sauce until it doesn't matter what it was originally.

But, come on, 75% off a $9 package of an unusual meat?  It ended up cheaper than ground beef would have been, just because I had to use it the same day I bought it.  I do that anyway.

Bison is leaner than beef.  Look at a one-pound package of ground bison and one of lean ground beef.  It is considerably smaller.  So, I had to use filler.  Yes, I had some leftover bacon fat, but what's the point of buying lean meat just to add fat to it?  Out came bread crumbs.  And I did have some spaghetti and sauce lying around.  Fine, spaghetti and meatballs it is.

Another thing I've always wondered about is why you have to brown meatballs in a pan to cook them.  They never remain round, and tend to cook unevenly.  Would the world end if I simmered them instead?  It turns out, the answer is no.  They did not fall apart, and cooked evenly in the same amount of time it took to boil the spaghetti and warm the sauce.  I would say that you can use this method any time you do not care if the outside of the meatball is crispy.

1 lb ground bison
*1/3 C Italian bread crumbs
1/4 C milk
*1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 clove minced garlic
1 egg
1 can beef broth
1 bay leaf

1.  Soak bread crumbs in milk until they absorb all of it.  Add ground bison, egg, Italian seasoning, and garlic.  Knead thoroughly and let sit in refrigerator at least 15 minutes, for flavors to meld.

2.  Boil beef broth and two cups water in a pot with the bay leaf.  Reduce to a simmer.  Get out the meat mix and start making 1-1/2" balls.  I got 20 out of my batch.  Drop them in the simmering water.  When all are in the pot, add more water, if necessary, to cover.  Maintain at a simmer for 15 minutes.  I stirred them once, to make sure nothing was stuck to the bottom and they cooked evenly.

3.  Drain, discard bay leaf, and serve.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Radish Dip

I had some radishes left over from the calamari salad.  Dip time.

Most of the recipes I found involved a brick of cream cheese.  Really?  Is that the cop-out when you can't figure out how to turn a veggie into a dip?  Back to the nonfat Greek yogurt, with some feta to bring out the bite in the radish.

*1 bunch red radishes (about 8)
1 C nonfat Greek yogurt
4 oz crumbled feta chese
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1/4 tsp dill

1.  Trim off stem and bottom of radishes, then cut into quarters.  Chop in food processor.  Add remaining ingredients and process until a chunky dip forms.  Chill until ready to use.

makes about 2 cups

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bacon Pie

Bet that got your attention.

This is one of those things that comes to you in the middle of the night.  Does bacon pie exist, and if it does, what's in it?  I did a Google search, which produced some interesting ideas, including this gorgeous bacon lattice, but they weren't what I had in mind.  Then, this month's Bon Appetit arrived and one of the recipes solved the problem for me.  Hash brown crust.  Yes!  That's what this idea needs.

Technically, this is a quiche.  I tried to come up with some way not to make it a heart attack waiting to happen, but broccoli doesn't work for breakfast.  The best I could do was to leave the skin on the potatoes.  If your goal is to make this a stuffed potato in pie form, go for the broccoli.

3/4 lb russet potatoes, shredded or grated
1 Tb oil
1/2 lb bacon, excess fat trimmed, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/2 C finely chopped onion
1 C shredded cheddar cheese
2 eggs
1 C milk
salt and pepper

1.  Heat oil in a skillet.  Add shredded potatoes, onion, and a little salt and pepper.  Cook hash browns until browned and crisp.  Press into a pie plate to form the crust.

2.  Fry bacon in the skillet until done.  Place bacon in crust, then sprinkle with cheese.

3.  Preheat oven to 375º.  In a bowl, beat together milk and eggs.  Season with pepper, then pour on top of cheese.  Let custard settle a bit before placing pie in oven.

4.  Bake pie 45 minutes, until egg is set.  Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Serves 6

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Apple-Stuffed French Toast

We had some leftover round raisin challahs at work after the High Holy Days, so I took one home.  Not being a huge fan of raisin challah, but a big fan of French toast, this was a no-brainer.

It's very important for stuffed anything to cut your own out of a large piece.  This applies to bread, chicken, loin, roast, and veggies.  Buy an unsliced loaf of challah or brioche for any French toast, slice it to the thickness you want, and let it sit out overnight to dry out slightly.  It will absorb the egg better that way.

4 2"-thick slices of challah
1 apple, cored and thinly sliced
1 Tb brown sugar
2 Tb butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs
1 C milk

1.  In a skillet, melt 1 Tb butter.  Add apple slices and cook over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes, add brown sugar and cook one more minute.  Set aside.

2.  While apples are cooking, slice a deep pocket into the challah pieces.  Make a slit in the bottom and cut all around, leaving about half an inch to the crust to hold the slices together.  In a bowl, beat together milk, egg, and cinnamon.

3.  Divide apple and stuff each pocket with its portion.  Place all of the slices in a baking dish and pour the custard over them.  Let soak 5 minutes, then turn over the slices and soak again, until all of the custard is absorbed and the pieces are evenly soggy.

4.  Preheat a large skillet over medium heat and melt remaining tablespoon of butter.  Transfer bread slices to skillet and cook about 5 minutes on each side, until egg is cooked.  Serve dusted with powdered sugar and syrup on the side.

This method also works with pears, peaches, cherries, bananas, and just about any fruit that you might want to stuff inside a piece of bread.

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tequila Chicken

Yes, I have a very well-stocked liquor cabinet.  I had never even had tequila, but this recipe from the Barefoot Contessa sounded interesting.  And I was going up to the produce stand in Ventura again anyway.  They have limes at 4/$1.

I figured I should taste the tequila before soaking the chicken in it.  I had the tiniest sip.  Have you ever seen "The Three Amigos!"?

After getting tipsy from less than a teaspoon of the stuff (I'm really a lightweight), I cut the amount in the marinade by half.  I don't care if very little of the marinade actually makes it into the meat and most of that cooks off.

This is really a recipe for grilling.  I found a cool frying pan with grilling ridges and used that to get it started before putting it in the oven.

This also works better with boneless chicken breasts, or even chicken tenders.  Hey, it's what I had in the freezer.

1 lb chicken breast
2 Tb tequila
2 limes, zested & juiced
1 lemon, zested & juiced
1 tsp chili powder
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 Tb olive oil

1.  Prepare marinade: Combine tequila, lime and lemon juice and zest, chili powder, garlic, salt, and pepper in a bowl.  Add chicken.  Refrigerate for at least 8 hours, turning periodically.

2.  Preheat grill or a frying pan and the oven to 325º.  Brush oil onto grill or fry pan.

  • For grill:  Cook for 3 minutes on each side, and continue turning until meat thermometer reaches 160º.  Baste periodically with marinade, but stop before the last time you turn the meat.
  • For stovetop:  Pan-fry for 3 minutes on each side, basting each side with marinade.  Transfer to a baking dish and cook in oven until meat thermometer reaches 160º, about 20 minutes.

Serves 3 to 4

Difficulty rating  :)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Banana Bread

This is what happens when I forget I bought bananas.  I prefer mine almost green.  Once a banana has a few spots, I don't like the texture anymore and save it for cooking.

I still feel bad about that almost-homemade muffin post way back at the beginning of this blog.  I am so glad the original Pantry Project is a distant memory.  This is an actual from-scratch recipe.  It's from Sunset Easy Basics for Good Cooking.  The version I have is out of print, and I seriously doubt it was one of the expensive versions Amazon lists.  I don't think I've used this cookbook ever, but it has extremely easy-to-prepare recipes.

One thing I noticed is that most banana bread recipes ask for 3 bananas, but then they say 1 cup of mashed banana.  I have a feeling the size of the average banana has increased significantly since most banana bread recipes were written.  I'm going with the one-cup measure.

You don't have to do the rum-soaked raisins, especially if children will be eating this.  I have inherited a very well-stocked wine collection and liquor cabinet, and I'm not much of a drinker.  Might as well cook with it.

*1 C mashed, very ripe bananas (2 or 3)
1 C sugar
1 egg
1/4 C butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1-1/2 C flour
1 tsp each salt, baking soda, and baking powder
*1/2 C raisins
1 Tb rum

1.  Preheat oven to 325º.  Lightly grease a 9" x 5" loaf pan.  (I used 2 of my minis).  Soak raisins in rum. You may have to soak them in hot water first if they're a little older.  Otherwise, they won't absorb the rum.

2.  In one bowl, combine bananas, sugar, egg, and butter.  In another, combine flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.

3.  Pick a bowl and pour the other into it.  Stir until just combined.  You don't have to get rid of all the lumps.  Add raisins.  (With the rum, if you feel like it.  Otherwise, drain them first.)

4.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake until toothpick comes out clean, 50-60 minutes for a full loaf, 30-40 for mini pans, and 20-25 for muffins.  Cool in pan on a rack until you can handle the pan.  Remove bread from pan; it may require a spatula.  Cool until room temperature, then let it sit out another half hour.

5.  Banana bread tastes better the next day.  Wrap in plastic wrap and store in refrigerator.  The easiest way to slice it is with a very sharp knife, through the plastic wrap.  It keeps it from disintegrating.  Warm to room temperature for serving.

makes 1 loaf

Difficulty rating  :)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Fennel & Calamari Salad

Fennel tastes like celery and licorice had a baby.  Calamari is squid.  If this doesn't appeal to you, move along.  For those who like the light, fresh taste of a mild seafood paired with a crisp salad, please continue reading.

There are two ways to cook calamari so it is edible.  The first is to fry it for the shortest time possible.  The other is to poach it for five to ten minutes, until it is opaque, but you're not completely sure it's done.  We're doing the second today.

This is also an amazingly low-calorie salad.  Even with the two slices of olive bread I had with it (btw, excellent choice with the fennel), the meal came in well under 400 calories.

1/2 lb calamari (steak or whole, either will work)
1/2 lb fennel bulb
4 oz greenleaf lettuce
2 radishes
1/4 C lemon juice
1/2 Tb olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1.  To a 6" frying pan with sloped sides, add 2 C water, 1 tsp lemon juice, and a dash of salt.  Bring to poaching temperature, which is just under a simmer.  You don't want it to boil.

2.  Slice calamari into 1/2" strips for steak or 1/2" rings for whole, and cut the tentacles in half.  Place in frying pan and poach for at least 6 minutes.  Turn every minute or so, to avoid the bottom cooking more quickly than the top.  Remove from water and chill until ready to use.

3.  Slice fennel bulb thinly in rings.  If you have a mandoline, that's great.  I would love one.  Tear lettuce into salad-sized pieces.  Slice radishes thinly.  Need a mandonline....

4.  In a small bowl, combine remaining lemon juice, oil, and a touch each of salt and pepper.  Whisk dressing until oil is broken into small beads.

5.  Place greens on two plates.  Arrange radish slices on top of greens.  Arrange calamari pieces on top of salad.  Drizzle with lemon dressing.  Serve promptly.

Serves 2

Difficulty level  π

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Spinach Dip

Crackers and dip are really fattening.  As if the crackers didn't have enough fat and calories in them, whatever dip you use probably has more.

Not this one.  There's a touch of oil used to sautée the onions and garlic, but the rest is non-fat and actually very good for you.  Guilt-free dip!  Now I need to find guilt-free crackers.

10 oz frozen spinach
1/2 C finely chopped green onion
1 Tb olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon pepper
1/2 tsp dill
1 tsp lemon juice
2 C non-fat Greek yogurt

1.  Defrost spinach.  Microwaving is fine.  I specified frozen for its texture, but it needs to be defrosted before you can use it.

2.  In a medium fry pan, sautée onion and garlic in olive oil until soft.  Add spinach and combine.  Season with salt, lemon pepper, and dill.  Cook until excess liquid has evaporated.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

3.  In a bowl, combine spinach mixture and yogurt.  Stir in lemon juice.  Chill until ready to use, and do not let it sit at room temperature more than 2 hours.  I recommend putting out smaller bowls of it as necessary.

Makes about 1 quart

Difficulty rating  π