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
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


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)
*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 :)

Saturday, December 20, 2014


This is the other recipe I was excited to make for the first time.  I bought the filo dough for this over a month ago, then had to wait for a humid day to make it.  You can't do anything with filo on a dry day.

This was what my mom used to make every Christmas for us to take as gifts to teachers, and the reason I kept her Welcome Wagon cookbook, despite its horrendously dated recipes from the '70s.  Baklava was a giant, two-person project and explains why I have so much wax paper in the house.  She would buy a new roll every year when she went to pick up the ingredients, then never use the open roll from the previous year, or the one before that, or the one before that…  When I moved in, there were eight barely-used rolls of wax paper in the cabinet.  And more plastic wrap than you can imagine.  Some of it was so vintage that it was a different thickness than what you can buy nowadays.

I was a bit nervous about making this alone, without someone on the side to tend the sheets, so I just got hyper-organized before starting.  My mom had left notes in the cookbook's margins that I can pass along as helpful hints.  Once I had all my ingredients prepped, assembly was far easier than I had expected.  There were no disasters, unless you count having no idea how big to cut the pieces.  They're a lot bigger than my mom used to make.  I'm going to suggest in the recipe a more manageable, two-bite way of cutting.

1 C sugar
*1/2 C honey
1/2 C water
*2 Tb lemon juice

Combine ingredients in medium saucepan.  Warm just barely to boiling and cook until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.  Stir in lemon juice and remove from heat.  Let cool to room temperature while you're making the rest of it.

2 sticks unsalted butter
1 lb walnuts
1 C sugar
*2 tsp cinnamon
*1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 lb Filo dough, room temperature (defrost per directions on box)

1.  Prepare the mise en place:  Melt the butter on low and keep liquid but not boiling.  Pulse walnuts in food processor until chunky.  Add sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and pulse until finely ground.

2.  Prepare the pan & work area:  Get out a rimmed cookie sheet (roughly 12x18x1) and line with wax paper.  Let "handles" hang off the edges in case things stick.  Place another sheet of wax paper the same size on the counter and have a slightly damp kitchen towel ready to cover the filo while you're working.  Preheat oven to 300º.

3.  Before unrolling the filo, compare the width to the width of the baking sheet.  If it is wider, cut off that extra inch or so before unrolling with a very sharp knife.  Hang onto the knife, we're going to use it again in a few minutes.

4.  Take a deep breath, then carefully unroll the filo over the wax paper on the counter.  This is the most anxious part of the project.  Once it unrolls intact, you're good to go.

5.  Place 10 sheets of dough on bottom of pan, then cover remaining sheets with cloth until needed.  Again, there will be a bit of overhang the long way, but those are the edge pieces you don't use and it's less than an inch total.  Spoon a very thin layer of nut mixture over the dough, add a single sheet, and repeat until nut mix is gone.  You will get between 4 and 6 layers.  I wish I had photos of this step, but it's the part you have to do fast before the dough dries out.  Once nuts are used up, cover with remaining dough.
6.  To cut the shapes, make 6 divisions with that sharp knife down the long side (not the 4 I did).  Do not drag the knife, but press straight down, move the knife, and do it again.  Dragging will tear the filo.  For triangles, make squares and then cut diagonally.  For diamonds, just do the diagonals after the long lines.  You're going to have leftover triangles on the edges.  Snacks.

7.  Drizzle with all of the melted butter.  If you get more coverage in some areas than others, use a pastry brush to spread it around.  Let it soak into the dough for 2 to 3 minutes, then bake for 30 minutes, until lightly golden.

8.  Turn up oven to 450º and place baking pan on the top rack.  Bake until as dark as desired, about 4 to 5 minutes.  Watch it, it can go from dark golden to burnt in under a minute.  Remove from oven and pour glaze evenly over all.  Run the knife through all the cuts again, to be sure, then let sit for at least 15 minutes so the glaze can soak in evenly.  Remove from pan and store on wax paper or in baking cups.  If you have trouble removing it from the pan, warm it in a low oven for a minute and try again.  Can be served at any temperature and keeps in the fridge for weeks.

Makes about 3 dozen, depending on size

Difficulty rating :-0

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Yes, I'm aware it has been a whole week since I've posted.  Not only have I not had any time, I haven't made anything interesting.  I don't think you're interested in reading about last night's burritos (even though I did the pintos from scratch) or the basic steak and veggies I had before that.  But this is one of the adventurous recipes I was referring to before my roof sprang a leak and I worked six days in a row.  So, I literally just made this less than 10 minutes ago and rushed to post it.

I love eggnog.  I always have, and never understood why the adults "ruined" it by adding alcohol.  I didn't know that some people find eggnog gross, and only drink it because it's spiked.  To me, it tasted like drinkable ice cream.

Ok, so I was really nervous when I made this.  This is basically raw eggs and cream, not the pasteurized stuff you get in the market.  You can't use pasteurized eggs in this because the whites won't whip to stiff peaks.  I went grocery shopping today, so this is as fresh an egg as I can get short of raising a chicken.  Let you know later if I got sick.

To make this an anytime drink and fine to put in my morning coffee, I made this batch alcohol-free.  I'm going to add a little rum or bourbon later to a single cup (it's 11:30 am!), but nowhere near as much as Alton Brown's recipe calls for.  It's probably safer to drink with the alcohol in there to kill whatever lurks in raw eggs, but the American supply is generally safe if stored properly.

I put the custard in the stand mixer and did the whites with the hand electric beater, so this took far less time than Alton's 15 minutes.  Totally up to you.

4 eggs, separated
1/3 C + 1 Tb sugar
*2 C whole milk
*3 oz burbon (optional)
1 tsp nutmeg
*1 C heavy cream

1.  In a stand mixer, beat together egg yolks and 1/3 C sugar until pale and foamy.  Slowly add milk, cream, bourbon (if using), and nutmeg and beat on low until smooth.  If you have a splash collar for the mixer, use it.

2.  In a separate bowl with clean beaters, beat egg whites until foamy.  Add remaining 1 Tb sugar and beat to stiff peaks.

3.  Whisk together milk and whites until smooth.  Chill.  Before serving, stir mixture smooth again if the whites have separated.  Serve plain, or with a garnish of whipped cream and nutmeg.  Use within 2 days.

Serves 6-8

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Broth Bag to the Rescue

I hate going to the grocery store with no idea what I'm going to make.  I just wander the discount meat and dry goods until something sparks.

In this case, lamb was way marked down.  I got some chops for that day and a boneless leg of lamb for whenever I have guests.  To go with the chops, I decided on vichyssoise and green beans.

When I got home, I realized that I had not bought any chicken broth.  When I don't plan ahead and haven't looked at the recipe for a while, these things happen.  Darn, and I had eaten chicken the night before and not saved the bones.  I did, however, have a half-filled broth bag in the freezer and vegetable broth is better than just plain water.  I pulled it out and rummaged through for trimmings that would go with the vichyssoise.  The recipe only needs a pint of broth, so I tossed in 2-1/2 cups of water and enough bits to flavor that much, about an equal amount.  That simmered while I played a few online games and took a shower, then it was time to make soup.

I have only been keeping a broth bag for about a year, but it's a great idea.  I fill it with vegetable cuttings and peels whenever I cook, and make a batch of broth when the gallon bag is full.  The taste is never exactly the same, so you can make a recipe slightly different each time.  The project costs nothing and saves quite a bit of money over time.  All around, it's a great idea!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Good to Go

So, in getting back to my non-NaNo routine, I kind of forgot to post here.  To be fair, the only thing even remotely interesting I've made since the last post was a kale and wild rice side dish, and I don't see any point in posting my fourth thing to do with kale and grains.

It rained last weekend!  Around here, that's a big thing.  And it rained over an inch.  To my relief, the vegetable garden did not turn back into a pond.  Whatever I did to the drainage is working, so I'll start checking out what's good for a winter garden around here.  Last year's assorted lettuce worked out nicely.  I'll see what the garden store has.

There are two recipes coming up that I definitely want to make, and I'll see what inspiration I get tomorrow at the market for other posts.  Maybe I'll come upon a new cookie recipe to try when the Times puts out its annual top ten.