Saturday, June 30, 2012

Quinoa and Kale Salad

I've never bought kale before.  To me, it's not even a garnish, it's what's under the real food at salad bars and buffets.  Until a year or two ago, I didn't even realize it was edible.  But it's supposed to be very good for you, so I'm giving it a shot.  Just to be safe, I picked up a bunch of flat-leaf Italian parsley, in case I didn't like the kale.

The advantage of this salad is that, if you have leftover quinoa in the fridge or freezer and some roasted peppers, you don't have to cook anything.  Or you could omit the peppers.  This salad is also nutritious and filling without the cheese.  I just think everything tastes better with cheese.  Be brave and go vegan if you want.  This is also a healthier alternative to cole slaw or potato salad at your next barbecue, and travels to the beach or a picnic better because the foods in it (except the cheese) are low-risk.

1 bunch (5 or 6 stems) kale
2/3 C dry quinoa (or 3 C cooked)
1/2 tsp salt
clove garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 tsp ground pepper
2 Tb olive oil
1 roasted red pepper
1/4 C crumbled feta or gorgonzola cheese

1.  Rinse quinoa if necessary.  Cook according to directions, adding the minced garlic to the water.  (Most likely, bring quinoa and 1-1/2 C water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.)

2.  While quinoa is cooking, wash kale and cut leaves off the stems.  Cut the kale in a thin chiffonade and place in a large bowl with the salt.  "Massage" the kale, which means kneading the stuffing out of it, for about 10 minutes, until it becomes moist and soft.  Raw kale is too tough to chew if your fingers don't do some of the work.  Drain off any pooled moisture and set aside.

3.  Fluff quinoa and remove from heat.  In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, lime juice, pepper, and olive oil.  Pour over kale and toss to coat.  Stir in quinoa.  The heat of the grain will cook the kale slightly, without making it limp.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

4.  To serve, transfer salad to serving bowl.  Top with bite-sized pieces of roasted red peppers and crumbled cheese.  Serve either chilled or at room temperature.

Serves 6 to 8

Difficulty rating :)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Baby Artichoke

This was supposed to be my dandelion greens post, but they are taking forever to grow large enough to eat.  Silly me, I thought that they would grow like, well, weeds.  I could have harvested some out of neighbors' yards, but I don't know what kinds of chemicals everyone uses.  My pot of organically-grown weeds is the safest bet next to spending big bucks to buy them at the farmers' market.

The basil in the window is extremely happy.  I thinned it down to three stalks.  Most gardening websites say you should only have one basil plant per pot, but I don't have that much faith in my ability to keep a plant alive.  The ones I planted outside aren't doing as well, but they're still trying.  They aren't getting as much water as the indoor ones, plus the soil isn't as good.

After a year of hoping that the gardener wouldn't pull the artichoke plant, thinking it was a weed, I finally have one artichoke bud!  It would take an electron microscope to get a good picture of it, but it counts as a success in my book.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Clearance Rack

I have already extolled the advantages of the meat section's clearance area.  Buy meat on the last day before it expires and get 50% off in most cases.  If you aren't cooking it that day, put it in the freezer.  It's a hit-or-miss proposition, so I freeze things I find if it looks like I will ever use them.  When I gave the freezer its annual defrosting last week (way less traumatizing than last year), I went to the store early and loaded up on 75% off items that I don't normally buy, like ground veal.

The dairy case sometimes has a 25% sticker on items that are about to expire, usually yogurt.  Since you can't freeze dairy for later, it has to be something you need that day.

Lately, I've seen some produce on clearance.  It's usually older bananas that have been taped together with a sticker giving the price of a bunch.  It would be great if they did that with pears.  Or maybe the market has small apples or potatoes that are bagged at a single price.

The baked goods section is always slapping discount stickers on day-olds.  You just have to get there early.

Then there's the non-perishable clearance rack.  It is often hidden in the back, next to an employee door.  All sorts of peculiar items end up there.  Dented cans and partly crushed boxes are the most common items, but you can also find perfectly normal things that are not even close to the end of their shelf life.  Perhaps the market lost its contract with the vendor and needs to clear the stock, or the item has been discontinued, or it's something seasonal like Christmas-themed hot chocolate.  One time, there were several dozen jars of baby food that had nothing wrong with them.  Last week was a Japanese food bonanza, with two brands of Panko bread crumbs, wasabi tins, and tempura batter mix.  One time, I found a jar of saffron discounted to $1.99, by someone who obviously had no idea how expensive saffron is.  Depending on the market, the items will be marked either with a %-off sticker or a new discounted price.

Again, you're not saving money if you never use the items.  But if there's something on clearance that you do use, it's perfectly safe to buy, cook, and eat it.  Just use common sense and you might get to try some new ingredients you have never used before.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Chia Experiments

I keep hearing about how good chia is supposed to be for you.  Protein, fiber, Omega-3, all sorts of good stuff.  And the uses seemed similar to the way I occasionally use wheat bran to up the nutritional value of recipes.  So I got a scoop of it at Sprouts ($9 a pound, and a cup is about 1/4 lb).

I found several helpful sites with chia ideas.  Bravely, I stirred a teaspoon into some iced tea, hoping for a boba-like experience.  The seeds gelled some, but not a lot.

So I tried stirring two teaspoons into a cup of milk and letting it rest in the fridge overnight to make a kind of milk pudding.  I must be doing something wrong, because it didn't thicken the way the site suggested.  Plus, I remembered why I haven't had a glass of cold milk in years.

Next up included two tablespoons of chia in take two of seafood risotto.  This time, I did have the seafood medley (and got it at 50% off of the already low card price) and used 2 fresh Roma tomatoes instead of a large can of pre-diced tomatoes in juice.  I couldn't taste the seeds in it, which is kind of the point.  I did like the risotto much better with vegetable stock instead of clam juice and the mixed seafood.  The gel that forms around the seeds coordinated well with the starch in the rice.

As for the supposed health benefits of chia, it's still too early to know.  I did notice I was in an unusually good mood one day, before linking it with the chia.  Or I could have just been in a good mood because it was nice out.  I lost a couple of pounds that I needed to lose, but that could have been because I stopped eating the pastries at work and started having oatmeal or raisin bran for breakfast.  A tablespoon of chia a day can't hurt you, but I wouldn't rely on it as a vitamin supplement.  Feel free to think of it as doing something healthy for yourself as part of a generally healthy lifestyle.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Balsamic Pizza

I was thinking of making a savory galette after reading about them in the L.A. Times.  However, I put on a bit of manicotti weight and did not think it was a good idea to have pie crust for my next adventure.

This did give me the chance to use the goat's milk quark, and it worked splendidly.  The experiment cost me about $5, but I got over half a pound of cheese out of it, which is at least $8 at the market.  More like $12.  If that's too rich for you, either go for the less-expensive mozzarella or cut the amount in half.  Or both.

The dough is a basic low-fat wheat dough.  It can be used for any pizza.

1 C whole wheat flour
1-1/2 C or more flour
*1 Tb honey
2 tsp yeast
1/2 tsp salt

1/4 lb shallots
1/4 lb crimini (or portobella) mushrooms
1 C frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
1 Tb oil
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 C balsamic vinegar
1/4 C pine nuts
8 oz chevre

1.  Dissolve yeast and honey in 1 C 100º water and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.  In stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine water with the wheat flour.  Beat to make a batter, about 2 minutes.  Add 1 C white flour and 1/2 tsp salt and beat again to make a very thick batter.  If too thin to work with hands, beat in another 1/2 C white flour before turning out dough to a board.

2.  Turn out dough onto well-floured board and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes, adding as little flour as necessary.  Turn in lightly oiled bowl to coat all surfaces of the dough and place in a warm area until doubled, about 45 minutes.  Punch down and let rest for 10 minutes.

3.  While dough is resting, thinly slice shallots and mushrooms and mince garlic.  Heat a large skillet and toast the pine nuts with a little salt.  Remove nuts from pan and set aside.

4.  Grease a non-stick cookie sheet, or use a silpat, or use a well-seasoned pizza stone with corn meal scattered on it.  Whatever you can think of to keep the dough from sticking.  Roll or press out dough into a pizza shape and place on cooking surface.  Preheat oven to 400º.

5.  Drizzle oil into that large skillet you just used and heat on medium.  Sauté onions until they soften.  Add garlic, mushrooms, spinach, rosemary, and 1/4 tsp salt and cook until mushrooms are wilted as much as you like on your pizza.  Add balsamic vinegar and bask in the awesomeness of the aroma until most of the moisture has been absorbed.  Remove from heat.

6.  Spread veggie mixture evenly over pizza dough, leaving half an inch around the edges for the crust. Dot top with crumbled chevre, then sprinkle with pine nuts.  Bake 15-20 minutes, until crust is done and well-browned.  Cut and serve immediately.

makes 1 large pizza (at least 4 servings, but I'm not going to judge)

Difficulty rating :-0

Friday, June 15, 2012

Double Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

Do they even sell buttermilk in pint containers?  Every time I buy some for one thing (in this case, the quark), I have to figure out how to use a quart of it.  Hey, there are way worse uses than cake.

This cake is really a version of Red Velvet, but with a lot more chocolate.  I started with this Good Housekeeping recipe.  A cup of cocoa powder sounded like way too much, so I cut that in half.  Feeling suddenly like I was depriving myself of chocolate, I added the chips.  Since I had already bought the cream cheese frosting, this isn't a Death by Chocolate cake.  The point of the frosting was to enhance the tang of the buttermilk.  Feel free to improvise.

The cake in the photo looks a bit out of proportion because it is of one of my 1/3-recipe 6" cakes.  I kept going back and forth between that and cupcakes, rather than end up with a full-sized cake that went stale.  Since I was calling the recipe a "cake" here, a cupcake photo did not seem appropriate.

2 C flour
*1/2 C cocoa powder
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
*1-1/2 C buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla
1-3/4 C sugar
3/4 C butter, softened
3 eggs
*1 C chocolate chips

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Grease two 9" pans, line bottoms with waxed paper, and dust with a bit of cocoa powder.

2.  Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.  Cream together sugar and butter.  Add vanilla and eggs one at a time, then beat 3 minutes, until light and creamy.

3.  Add flour and buttermilk in stages, starting and ending with flour.  Beat until combined.  Fold in chocolate chips.

4.  Divide batter between cake pans.  Bake 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cakes cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out on wire racks and remove waxed paper.  Allow to cool completely before decorating.  Can even be frozen to make icing easier.

5.  Frost and decorate as desired.  Serve at room temperature.

Makes one 9" layer cake

Difficulty rating :)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Meaty Manicotti

This is what I did with the quark.  I had never made this cheesy pasta dish, and researched several recipes.  Aside from stuffing the pasta with ricotta, there seem to be no rules that can't be broken.  (So of course I'm breaking that one.)  I'm using the quark for ricotta, since that's pretty much what it tastes and looks like, but I'm adding spinach and meat to the filling.  I considered making the sauce from scratch, but I just spent three days making cheese.  A little shortcut by doctoring up a store-bought sauce can be forgiven.

The method and some of the ingredients for this version rely on Recipe Girl's version.  It had never occurred to me to stuff the shells dry.  Using a pastry tube to stuff them does seem to be the universal "secret" trick.  I never really got the hang of it, and ended up shoving a lot of the filling in using my fingers.  Do it over a plate.

I tried, but this was not a budget-saver.  The ONLY box of manicotti shells at the market was $2.69, and the side dishes for the meal ended up costing as much as the main dish.  If you can find really good Barilla Pasta and cheese coupons, you might be able to do this for under a dollar per serving, but that doesn't include a side salad or garlic bread.

1 box dry manicotti shells (about 12, since at least one is bound to be broken)
1 24oz jar of your favorite tomato-based pasta sauce (I used tomato basil)
8 oz ricotta cheese
8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
*1/2 lb ground beef or turkey
6 oz frozen spinach, thawed
2 eggs
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil

1.  In a skillet, cook ground beef completely and break into tiny pieces.  Drain off fat and set aside to cool.

2.  In a bowl, combine eggs, ricotta, spinach, ground beef, garlic, oregano, basil, and all but 1/2 C of the mozzarella.

3.  Pour 1 C of sauce over bottom of 13"x9" casserole.  Place filling in 1-gallon plastic bag, seal, and snip off 1/2" of one corner to make a pastry bag.  Take one dry pasta tube at a time and fill.  It helps to place one finger over the bottom hole, and do it over a plate.  Line up shells in pan so that they fit snugly, but have a little room to expand as the pasta cooks.

4.  Boil 1/2 C water and pour over manicotti.  Pour remaining sauce over the tubes, then sprinkle with reserved cheese.  At this point, the dish can be covered with foil and placed in the refrigerator to cook later.  Or, preheat oven to 350º while you're stuffing the tubes, cover casserole with foil, and place in oven.

5.  Bake until pasta is done, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.  The boiling of the sauce cooks the pasta and the eggs in the cheese mixture.  Let rest until it stops boiling, then serve hot.

Makes 6 servings

Difficulty rating :-0

Saturday, June 9, 2012


I had never heard of this type of cheese until there was an article about it in the L.A. Times.  It is a soft, fresh cheese that requires no special cultures or equipment.  Just my speed.

I'm nervous about letting cottage cheese sit out for four hours while waiting for the curd to set up, so leaving milk out for a day really made me anxious.  I had to keep reminding myself that this is how commercial cheese is made.  That's just how you do it.  As long as it is covered to protect it from stray yeasts and bacteria, only the appropriate culturing bacteria should be able to take root.  Always make sure the aging container is freshly washed in very hot water and air-dried upside down, not with a cloth.  This goes for any cheese.

Since buttermilk is the starter culture, make sure you use "cultured buttermilk".  It's like making yogurt with a starter of yogurt with live cultures (which I plan to do someday soon).

As for uses, think of reasons you would need mascarpone, creme fraiche, neufchatel, or Greek yogurt.  It can be a base for dips, sauces, and spreads, or sweetened up for a dessert cream.

This recipe calls for regular cow's milk.  I tried it with goat's milk, to make a simplistic form of chevre.  Didn't work.  My best guess of what went wrong is that the bacteria which work so wonderfully with cow's milk aren't compatible with other species' milk.  After two days and very little curd, the best I could do to save it was to reheat the milk and stir in a lot of vinegar to make a very small-curd cottage cheese.  The yield was nowhere near what I had expected, but it did taste like chevre.

To make complex flavors, you can probably experiment with fresh herbal infusions like rosemary or thyme during the heating and setting periods.  I'll get more courageous the more successful batches I make.

2 C whole milk
1/2 C cultured buttermilk

1.  In a stainless-steel (non-reactive) saucepan, bring milk to a simmer over medium heat (about 200º).  Remove from heat and set aside, covered, until cooled to around 100º, but no higher than 110º.  Whisk in buttermilk.

2.  Transfer mixture to a glass, ceramic, or plastic container, and set aside at room temperature until the mixture is thickened, with a consistency similar to yogurt or creme fraiche, about 1 day.

3.  Transfer the mixture to a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl.  Do not cut the curds, just pour it into the strainer.  Refrigerate overnight to drain the whey from the cheese; the whey should be clear, not cloudy, as it is drained.  (If it is cloudy, it didn't set up long enough for the curd to form.)  After 8 hours, the cheese will be very soft, like mascarpone.  To make it thicker, leave it in the strainer longer.

4.  Use as desired.  To store, place the cheese in a glass, ceramic, or plastic container.  Cover and refrigerate up to four days.

Makes slightly more than a cup

Difficulty rating  :)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Beer Ice Cream

That beer in the house is coming in handy.  I cut out this recipe from the L.A. Times a long time ago, but this is my first time making it.  It's basically the same as a regular ice cream base, but with beer instead of milk.

The alcohol does not cook out completely.  This has three consequences.  One, I don't recommend giving this to kids.  Two, the concoction is thinner than regular ice cream, more like sherbet.  Three, the ice cream will not freeze as solidly as my usual recipe and ought to be eaten within a week, as though it was something in your refrigerator.

2 egg yolks
1/2 C sugar
*1 C beer
1 C heavy cream

1.  Beat together the yolks and sugar and set aside.

2.  Heat the beer and cream on medium-low heat, stirring frequently to avoid scorching.  As soon as it starts to boil, pour some off into the egg mixture and beat quickly to temper the egg.

3.  Introduce the egg mixture to the cream and stir quickly.  Heat cream, stirring often, until almost back to a boil and mixture thickens.  Remove from heat, place plastic wrap on surface to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours.

4.  Process in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions until of desired consistency.  Transfer to a container and freeze completely before serving.

Makes about 1 pint

Difficulty rating  :-0

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Chicken Cacciatore

My mom used to make a tomato and chicken recipe that she called chicken cacciatore.  My guess is that it was a little less complicated than this one.  It probably involved a can of tomatoes, one chopped up onion, and enough water to braise the chicken.

This recipe from Giada De Laurentiis isn't much more complicated.  Sure, it has more ingredients, but none of them are odd or unusual.  You can tell from reading it that this is a tried-and-true recipe.  I have simplified it some, and taken out a couple of ingredients.  Served over pasta or rice, this is certain to be a family favorite.

2 lbs bone-in chicken pieces (preferably thighs and breasts)
salt and pepper to taste
*3 Tb olive oil
1/2 C flour
1 medium onion, chopped
*3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
*3/4 C dry white wine
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes in juice
3/4 C (or more) reduced-sodium chicken broth
*1-1/2 tsp dried oregano
*Dried basil flakes for garnish

1.  While chopping the onion and garlic, reduce the wine by half in a saucepan over medium heat.

2.  Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour to coat.

3.  Heat oil in a large, deep-sided skillet with a lid.  Add onion, garlic, and chicken.  Turn chicken when lightly browned, about 3 minutes.

4.  When chicken is browned on all sides and onion is wilted, add wine, broth, tomatoes with their juice, and oregano.  Add more broth as needed to cover chicken at least 2/3.  Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cover skillet.

5.  Cook chicken for 15 minutes, then turn over pieces.  Recover and cook until chicken registers 165º on a thermometer, about 15-25 minutes, depending on thickness of meat.

6.  Remove chicken to serving dish.  If sauce is too thin, turn up heat and reduce to desired thickness.  Pour over chicken and serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π