Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rice Pudding with Cranberries

I can't believe I've never made rice pudding before.  It wasn't part of my diet growing up, and I hardly ever have it, but it seems like something basic I should have made at some point.

It also seems to be one of those comfort food recipes that have a million posts online that are all slightly different, and none of them are exactly what you want.  There's leftover rice vs dry, long-grain vs arborio, and it goes on from there.  I started with this one at Allrecipes and tweaked it to my liking.

3/4 C dry rice (I used Calrose, or sushi rice)
1-1/2 C milk, divided
1/2 C water
1/4 C sugar
1/4 tsp salt
dash of nutmeg
1 egg
2/3 C dried cranberries
1 Tb butter
1/2 tsp vanilla

1.  In a medium saucepan, bring rice, salt, 1 C milk, and 1/2 C water to a low boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until cooked, 15 to 20 minutes.  Stir halfway through to make sure it is cooking evenly and the milk doesn't scorch.

2.  In a small bowl, beat together egg, remaining 1/2 C milk, sugar, and nutmeg.  Stir in cranberries and add to rice.  Stir together, recover, and let cook for 5 more minutes.

3.  Stir in the pot.  If too thick, stir in more milk a tablespoon at a time.  Stir in butter and vanilla.  Portion into bowls, garnish with more nutmeg, and either serve hot or chill in serving dishes to serve cold.

Serves 4 as dessert, 3 as breakfast

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Teriyaki Tuna Bowl

I'm having dental work done (redone) for the next several weeks, and have to find foods that require minimal chewing so I don't pop off my temporary crown.  I've been through this more than I'd like, and am kind of an expert on making interesting things you don't have to chew.

I haven't tried this yet.  The thought of another batch of non-crunchy tuna salad was more than I could bear, but adding teriyaki and making it a hot rice bowl sounds like something I would make even without the dental work.

I did this one with brown rice for nutritional value and because I had rice pudding for breakfast.  It doesn't make for as pretty a picture as if I'd used white rice.

2 5oz cans tuna in water, drained
1tsp olive oil
2 stalks green onion, finely chopped
2 C frozen peas and carrots, thawed
1 C rice (long grain or calrose, your choice)
1/4 C teriyaki sauce

1.  In a medium saucepan, bring rice and 2 C water to a boil.  Lower heat to simmer, cover, and cook until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes, while you're making the rest of the bowl.

2.  In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium and cook onions until soft but not crispy.  Add veggies and cook until heated.  Add drained tuna and teriyaki sauce and cook until hot.

3.  When rice is ready, fluff with a fork and portion into bowls.  Top with tuna mixture and have extra sauce on hand for those who like more.

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Using Frozen Tomatoes

As an experiment, I froze some of the cherry tomatoes that started to accumulate.  Researching the subject introduced me to the blog Food in Jars, which is primarily about canning.

There are two problems with preserving small tomatoes.  First, they're a pain to peel, and you need to peel any tomato you plan to process because the peel will come off anyway and end up in ribbons in your finished product.  Second, the canning process will overcook a small tomato and turn your preserves into tasteless, lumpy tomato sauce.

Marisa's solution was to freeze them whole, with the skin intact.  So I put almost a pound of them on waxed paper and stuck them in the freezer.  A couple of days later, they went into a ziplock until needed.

For some tamales I was making, I defrosted the bag.  As expected, the tomatoes gave off water as they defrosted, but not as much as I thought they would.  I was surprised that the texture of the tomatoes was very similar to what I would have gotten if I had canned them.  They were as soft as if they had been stewed and the skins were coming off.  I only had to slice them in half and cook them for a couple of minutes to achieve the texture I was looking for.  The taste was very fresh because they had not been cooked as long as they would have been to achieve the same texture with freshly picked and chopped tomatoes.

The moral of the story is: yes, you can freeze tomatoes!  But only do it if you plan to cook them.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

"Bon" Voyage

I reluctantly let my subscription to Bon Appetit expire.  I did it for the same reason I did not renew Smithsonian Magazine, even though I liked the idea of supporting the Smithsonian.  The new Editors for both magazines decided to make them too trendy and "modern".  In the process, they eliminated many of the features that drew me to the magazines in the first place.

Perhaps many readers like the changes.  I didn't like the new layout of BA, which forced me to flip through 12 pages of ads before any content appeared.  And they focused too much on restaurants and the experiences of eating out, instead of ways to bring that elegance and creativity into the home.  I'll probably pick up an issue once in a while if the cover looks good, but not every month.

One thing this decision does for me, cooking-wise, is open me up to new magazines and cooking experiences.  I can use the magazine part of my monthly budget to explore new ideas and ways of cooking.  I won't be getting any gluten-free or raw foods magazines, but there are dozens of food magazines out there.  I'm sure something will catch my eye.  I almost picked up one on canning, but it was $10.  I don't can that much.

If anyone has a favorite food magazine they think I should give a try, please speak up!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Chilled Cucumber-Barley Soup

I was reading this recipe in the L.A. Times, and it sounded like tzatziki sauce with barley, but I decided to give it a try anyway.

Yes, that is what it tastes like, but I liked it.  The barley makes it a nutritionally complete, light meal.  The yogurt gives it a tang.  I can see the jalapeño improving it, but that wasn't an option for me so I put in a little extra onion.  I felt like I should have something else with it for my meal, but I couldn't think of what and let it stand on its own.  I would suggest serving this as an appetizer, so the guests don't ask themselves the same question.  If you were to serve it with fresh veggies on the side, they might think it was a dip.  Maybe a lemon wedge as garnish?

1 C pearl barley
3 C water
salt to taste
4 C (1 quart) fat-free yogurt (not Greek)
1 pound cucumbers
*2 cloves garlic, minced
*1/2 C finely diced red onion
*1 Tb chopped fresh mint, divided
*3 Tb fresh or 1 Tb dried dill, divided
1 to 2 C milk
*1/2 C chopped walnuts
*Paprika for garnish

1.  To cook the barley, place in a medium saucepan and cook dry over medium heat until toasted, about 10 minutes.  Stir periodically to avoid burning.  Carefully add water and 1/2 tsp salt, stir to combine, and simmer until tender, about 35 minutes.  Drain and set aside to cool to room temperature.

2.  Peel cucumbers, seed if desired, and grate finely into a large bowl.  This isn't as hard as it sounds.  Cucumbers grate very easily, even on a box-grater by hand.  Stir in yogurt, garlic, onion, 2 tsp mint, and 2 Tb/tsp of dill until combined.  Add barley and stir.  Taste and add salt as needed.  Chill at least a couple of hours before serving.

3.  When ready to serve, add milk until desired texture is achieved, at least 1 C.  Portion into bowls.  Garnish with walnuts, paprika, and reserved mint and dill.

Serves 6 as an appetizer, 4 as a meal

Difficulty rating :)

Monday, July 15, 2013

They're Back!

Today marks the return of most Hostess snacks.  This time, I'm not going to make the box of Ding Dongs last four months.  They got pretty stale near the end.  I can also recycle the last Ding Dong wrapper I was keeping on my nightstand as a memento, in case they never came back.

Trying to find the exact date of availability, I went to the most reliable source I could think of: the guy who does the ordering for my local 7-Eleven.  He said that today is the beginning distribution date.  In reality, it will be a week or so before we actually see them on store shelves.  It's just as well, because I have a dentist appointment tomorrow.  I'm still going to be checking back on a regular basis.

Food has a strong power over us.  I hardly ever buy Ding Dongs, but the thought of never having them again was devastating.  Imagine life without Mac 'n' Cheese, pizza, or hot dogs.  I don't go to McDonald's very often, but it would be shocking if it disappeared.  Some things are just too firmly ingrained in our culture and experiences to go away, especially when food is involved.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Decorating with Strawberries

I was going to do a fruit spongecake for the 4th, but they only had the individual dessert cups and it was too hot to consider baking a cake.  Without the luxury of a large canvas, I decided to make each one a mini work of art.

When you go on a cruise, the garde manger department spends a long time on elaborate carvings of fruit, vegetables, butter, chocolate, ice, and anything else that can hold a shape at room temperature.  I'm not that good, but I can do simple things like roses out of fruit peels and berry art.  I can also make tulips out of bell peppers with a skewer through a spear of asparagus for the stem.  It's a waste of food when they're only for decoration, but the fruit cups here were dessert.  I feel better about that.

To achieve the effect in the photo is really easy.  First, fill the depression in the dessert cup with half-frozen Cool Whip or vanilla ice cream.  Then hull a bunch of strawberries and cut into quarters.  The stars are each five of the quarters, with three blueberries in the middle.

For the fan, decide which side of the strawberry is flattest.  Carefully slice from the bottom up towards the stem, leaving the stem end intact, in as many fine and even slices as you can get.  Then simply spread the slices on an angle.  When I make a fruit salad, I always save the largest and prettiest strawberry to do this on the very top.  The diners always scoop the salad around this garnish, not wanting to be the one to disturb it.  That's when you know you've done a decent job of finishing your fruit-based artwork.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Perfect Summer Meal

As it gets hotter, large oven-based cooking projects tend to lose their appeal.  So, who said you have to serve a hot dinner?  It may come as a shock to the diners, but they're going to end up really enjoying the result.  Done properly, this could even work for a dinner party.

Course one is a simple green salad with a choice of dressings and a slice of bread.  Don't let everyone fill up on the bread, because there will be more carbs in the next course.

The main course is cheese.  I chose a brie, but you could do a selection of two or three in small portions, no more than an ounce each per person.  Crackers or more bread can go with it and some fruit like apple slices and/or grapes.  If serving a wine, now would be a good time to refill the glasses.

Dessert should be something cool like ice cream, jello, or pudding.

This doesn't sound like it would be filling for a dinner, but eaten slowly on the porch as the sun goes down, it goes a long way toward making a summer memory.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Chilled Cream of Broccoli Soup

OK, this is actually the Allrecipes recipe for a hot cream of broccoli soup, but I found it much too salty for my own taste, and serving it cold dulled that.  Plus, it was really hot the next day and I didn't feel like heating the leftovers.

I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner.  The broccoli plant is relentlessly putting out more crowns than I can eat.  Now I wish I had been weighing them and keeping a tally.  I've probably made back my investment on the plant at 99¢ a pound, and it's only the beginning of July.

The tomatoes are ripening one by one, but the plant itself has a leaf fungus problem.  I trimmed off over half the leaves and sprayed the plant with what I hope is the right product.  It won't hurt, but it may not save it.  One asparagus crown appears to have died, but the less vital one is finally putting out a second fern.

Meanwhile, I've been cutting crowns when they're ready and freezing them.  The frozen broccoli you get at the market has been flash-frozen, which is better for veggies.  To reduce the amount of freezer burn on these, I used the FoodSavr vacuum function before putting them in the freezer.  It doesn't matter if the crowns are slightly bruised and freezer-burnt, since they are getting cooked and puréed anyway.  This wouldn't work if you were planning to serve them raw or lightly steamed.

5 Tb butter, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
*8 cups (about a pound) fresh broccoli, chopped
3 Tb flour
2 C milk
* black pepper to taste

1.  Melt 2 Tb butter in large pot and add onion and celery.  Cook over medium until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add broth and broccoli.  Bring to a low boil, lower heat to simmer,  and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.

2.  Remove soup from heat.  Purée in blender in batches, about a pint at a time.  This is for safety, so you don't end up with hot soup everywhere.  Return to pot and keep warm.

3.  In a smaller saucepan, melt other 3 Tb butter.  Add flour and stir together to make a roux.  Gradually add milk about 1/2 C at a time, allowing it to thicken before adding more.  When white sauce is ready, add to soup pot and stir to combine.  Taste and add pepper as necessary.

4.  Sure, you could serve it hot at this point.  If chilling, allow to cool to room temperature until it stops steaming.  Then chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.  Half an hour before serving, divide into bowls and place in freezer.  Garnish with extra broccoli before serving, if desired.

Serves 6 as an appetizer, 4 as main course

Difficulty rating  :)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Green Pizza

I wish I had thought of this for St. Patrick's Day.  I was cleaning out the fridge after the tea party and houseguests.  I always end up eating weird things to avoid throwing away food.  This one turned out really tasty, despite the odd looks.  The Pantry Project is back, at least for a week.

While looking for pasta to make this pesto-kale-tomatillo thing work, I found the box of matzoh instead and made a thin-crust pizza.  If you like quickie pizzas with almost no effort, you can't do better than to make them on matzoh.

*4 matzoh
*1/2 C pesto
*1 bunch kale
1/4 C diced onion
4 tomatillos, finely chopped
*4 oz chèvre (goat cheese)
1 Tb olive oil
salt to taste

1.  Remove kale leaves from stems and discard stems.  Finely chop kale leaves.

2.  In a skillet, sauté onion and kale in oil.  Add salt to taste, keeping in mind the pesto and cheese are also salty.  Cook until thoroughly wilted.  Remove from heat.

3.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Run each matzoh under warm water for a brief second, then place on cookie sheets.  Spread a thin layer of pesto on each cracker, no more than 2 tablespoons each.

4.  Divide kale evenly between crackers.  Sprinkle chopped tomatillos on the matzohs.  Crumble cheese  on top.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, until cheese looks toasty.  Don't leave in too long, or the kale will dry out.  Let rest 5 minutes, then serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π