Monday, January 30, 2017

Herb-Steaming Fish

This isn't really a recipe, just a cooking technique.  There isn't anything to measure and minimal ingredients to buy.

I had some dental work done and decided to have fish as something soft I wouldn't really have to chew.  I got a couple of rockfish fillets and was considering how to poach them, when I hit on this idea and went out back to cut some celery.

I made a bed of celery, including the leaves, at the bottom of a skillet.  In went the juice of half a lemon, about a cup of water, and a couple of tablespoons of gin (I didn't have any white wine).  I put a lid on it and got the mixture simmering, then turned down the heat to low.
When the pan was hot, I carefully set the fillets on the celery ribs and closed the lid.  About three minutes later, I took off the lid just long enough to flip the fish to do the other side.  About five minutes after that, I was satisfied that it was cooked through.

The fillets were fall-apart tender and aromatic without being spicy.  I flavored them with some kind of new dill paste I had gotten for free.  I know the promo was so you would decide you love the brand and would buy it in the future.  It's kind of a meh product, and I could have sprinkled dried dill into the water for the same effect.  Still, not a bad dinner.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Basic Frittata

This is a quiche for the lazy person who doesn't want to make a crust.  It's the same concept, just baked in a pan until it can stand on its own without over baking into something rubbery.  And it's fast; even with chopping some of the ingredients, it's half an hour from start to table.

Bon Appetit did a piece on common frittata mistakes.  What they missed was how easy it is to misspell the word.  Two Ts, then one.  That's what spell-check and auto-correct are for.  And it's pronounced free-Ta-ta, not fritta or Frih-tuh-tuh.

Aside from that, it's baked scrambled eggs with a bunch of stuff in it.  Very similar to an omelet, you're looking for a more firm texture, so there's less dairy here.  The general rule is one tablespoon milk per egg, and two eggs per person if this is the main dish.

It's also a quick dinner that you can make scrounging through your leftovers.  What I'm giving here is a guideline, but feel free to change absolutely every filling ingredient.  Most of the ingredients are either left over from the Mexican Pizza or taken from the garden.   The end result was an Italian feel.  And yes, I had it for dinner.  This works any time of the day.

As the BA article points out, you need to put the other ingredients in it already cooked, especially if they're going to give off a lot of moisture.  As with a quiche, they aren't really going to cook any more than when they go in the oven.  That can be a pretty cool thing when you have almost-raw tomatoes in a cooked frittata.  Since I was putting what may be Eggy's last eggplant in it (kind of how this dish got started), I had to cook it first.  I diced the tomatoes early in the day so they could give off their water naturally into the container, then patted them in paper towels before stirring them into the mix.  For the arugula, I just chopped it and put it in fresh.  It didn't give off excess water when I did this in the chickpea pancake, so I knew I could get away with it.  Store-bought greens may behave differently.

This ended up being yet another accidentally gluten-free dish, so I had it with a slice of bread.  I'm back to baking a couple of times a week, and my metabolism is speeding up.  I do prefer it to closing shifts.  I never really adjusted to Pacific Time and kept waking up super early.  That just made me cranky by the end of the day.  So much happier working mornings.

8 eggs
*1/2 C milk
1/4 C olive oil, divided
*1/2 C diced onion
*1 garlic clove, minced
*3 C chopped arugula
*1 C roasted eggplant
*2 Roma tomatoes, finely diced
*1 Tb chopped fresh basil or 1 tsp dried
*1/2 C mascarpone cheese
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  In an oven-proof 10" skillet, sauté onion in 2 Tb oil until tender.  Add garlic at the end for one minute, until fragrant.  Keep pan warm on low.

2.  While onion is cooking, beat together eggs and milk in a medium bowl, just until combined.  You don't want to beat the eggs fluffy.  Over-beating will make the frittata rise in the oven, then collapse into a dense egg jerky that doesn't hold well.  It's ok to have streaks of egg white.
3.  Stir rest of vegetables into egg batter.  Add basil, salt, and pepper.  Between the arugula and eggplant, you're probably going to need a little more salt than I normally use, to counteract any bitterness.

4.  Turn the skillet heat back up to medium and add other 2 Tb of oil to the pan.  When sizzling, pour egg batter into skillet.  Cook for about 3 minutes, to firm up the bottom, then add the mascarpone in small dollops so every serving is guaranteed to have some.  It will spread out a bit in the oven.
5.  Bake frittata until well set, about 15-20 minutes.  If it's still gooey on top, you can either leave it in the oven a bit longer or switch to broiler setting for a minute or two to crisp it up.  This is a good effect if you use a cheese that browns, like mozzarella.  Allow to sit a couple of minutes before gently edging it out of the pan and cutting it into wedges to serve.  Frittatas can be served at any temperature, garnished or not.  Leftovers can be kept refrigerated for one day.

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mexican Pizza

I had a lot of corn tortillas in the freezer.  I think they were from the tortilla soup.  And I do like Taco Bell's Mexican Pizza.  Figured I'd give a shot at something similar.

You'll notice I'm not calling this a non-American dish.  I seriously doubt there is any Latin cuisine that makes anything vaguely resembling the Taco Bell creation.  The odd thing about American food is how it assimilates ingredients from other cultures until you have no idea where it came from.

There are many copycat recipes online.  Mine doesn't have enchilada sauce or packaged taco seasoning in it because I didn't want to go back to the store and just made my own taco seasoning mix.  By all means, use them if that's what you normally put in tacos or tostadas.  I'm labeling this an appetizer because you can serve the wedges that way.  Or, give each person a whole one.  With a side salad, this is a full meal.

*8 8" corn tortillas (or I used 12 of the 6")
1 15 oz can refried beans
1 lb ground beef (I had 1/2 lb leftover ground chicken and felt like it was enough)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
2 C shredded Mexican blend cheese
oil for frying
toppings of choice like diced tomatoes, cilantro, green or red onions, avocado, sour cream, sliced jalapeños, shredded lettuce, etc.

1.  Heat 1/8" oil in a 10" skillet.  Fry tortillas for 20 seconds on each side, until just starting to brown, then place on a baking sheet.  Add oil to the pan as necessary.
2.  While they're frying, heat refried beans until easy to use.  Cook ground beef in another skillet with the seasonings until done.  Drain off any excess fat.  There's plenty of oil already in this dish.
3.  Once you have the first four tortillas cooked, you can start assembling.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Spoon one quarter of the beans onto each tortilla, then sprinkle with 1/4 of the meat.  Once top 4 tortillas have been fried, top with 1/2 C cheese on each one.  Bake until cheese is melted and pizzas are heated through, about 15 minutes.  Use that time to prepare your toppings.

4.  It's easier to cut the pizzas in wedges if you garnish them after cutting.  Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Chicken-Stuffed Dates

This was the other recipe on The Chew that I decided to make, minus the sauerkraut.  The ground meat and sausage selections were limited on the day I shopped, and I ended up with some ground chicken.

The reason dates are often stuffed with sausage and wrapped in bacon isn't merely because it's yummy. You need the extra fat to keep the filling from being too dense.  And considering I picked up chicken, I really had to come up with a way to keep it from becoming a lump of meat in a date.

I decided to add coconut oil for the added fat necessary to keep the meat from clumping.  In addition, I set the filled dates on a rack above a little water and wrapped the whole thing in foil before putting it in the oven.  By steaming the dates, any extra oil had somewhere to run, and the dates themselves stayed moist.  The faint coconut flavor that stayed in the pieces was a nice accompaniment.  For those who do not wish to use coconut oil, regular shortening will produce the same result, minus the flavor.

16 Medjool dates (seriously, it made exactly 16)
1/2 lb chicken (or lamb if you can find it)
*1/2 C finely diced onion
*1/2 tsp cumin
*1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
dash pepper
2 Tb coconut oil or shortening

1.  Combine ground meat, onion, and spices.  Work in oil or shortening.  Refrigerate for 1 hour to let flavors meld.
2.  Pit dates by slicing them longways and pulling out the pit.  You now have a slit-open date that is still attached in the back.  Also check the stem end for any hard bits.

3.  Start preheating the oven to 400º.  Set a rack in a baking pan and pour no more than 1/4" water in the bottom.  Spoon about 1 Tb meat mixture into each date and set on rack.  When finished, cover pan tightly in foil.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Check internal temperature of one of the middle pieces.  If not quite 165º, continue to cook in 5 minute increments.  Serve hot.

Makes 16 pieces, about 8 hors d'oeuvres servings

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Herbed Chickpea Pancake

I finally made a decent socca!

They were doing appetizers on The Chew last week and I realized that the reason I had been enjoying soup and salad so much was because it was like an appetizer meal.  Also, TGIFriday's has been advertising their Endless Apps promo.  The idea of an appetizer dinner sounded good, so I made something resembling two of the dishes on that episode.  First up is Mario's chickpea pancake.

The water to chickpea flour ratio in this recipe is 1:1 by volume, which must be where I went wrong following the other recipe.  This version also puts just a bit of flavoring inside the pancake, then you top it however you like after it's baked.

This was also an excellent pantry dish.  The only thing I bought new was 50¢ worth of Roma tomatoes for the garnish.  Bear in mind, if you don't have these things on hand, it's going to cost you about $15.  Most of that is the flour and cheese, and counts buying staples like onion and oil.

*1 C chickpea flour
1 C warm water
*4 Tb olive oil, divided
*1 clove garlic, minced
*1/2 C finely diced onion
*1/2 tsp dried rosemary, crumbled
*1/2 tsp dried oregano
*1-1/2 C chopped herbs or baby greens
salt and pepper to taste
Dollops of *cheese, herbs, or chopped tomatoes for garnish

1.  Early in the day, stir together the chickpea flour, water, 1 Tb olive oil, rosemary, and a dash of salt.  Let sit at room temperature a minimum of 2 hours.  I did this step before work and left the pitcher covered on the counter.

2.  I also did this step in the morning.  Sauté onion and garlic in another tablespoon of oil.  Sprinkle in oregano and cook until translucent.  I put this part in the fridge until I was ready to move on.

3.  Go out into the garden and pick handfuls of your suddenly overgrown arugula.  JK.  Start preheating oven to 450º with an oven-safe 10" skillet or cast-iron pan in it.  Finely chop your greens or herbs.  Add to batter, and add the onion mix to the batter as well.  Add a bit more salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine evenly.  Oh, and it's safe to taste the uncooked batter.  I wouldn't drink it, but a quick taste won't make you sick.
4.  USING OVEN MITTS, pull pan from oven.  Set on a heat-safe surface like the stove.  Drizzle 2 Tb of oil on pan and swirl to coat.  Make sure every part of the pan has at least a little oil on it.  Pour batter into pan.  It will sizzle around the edges as it starts to cook.  Swirl batter a bit to make sure it spreads evenly and put back in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until edges are crispy and center is dry and firm.
5.  Carefully loosen pancake with a wooden or heat-proof spatula and slide onto a serving plate.  Cut into wedges and serve hot, topped with a soft cheese like ricotta or mascarpone and a sprinkle of herbs or diced veggies.

Difficulty rating :)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Pumpkin Barley Soup

I was trying to decide what to put in this soup to make it more interesting.  Then it started raining again, and I realized that sometimes simple is better.  This is definitely a rainy-day comfort soup, only pumpkin instead of tomato.

I'm really going to miss the rain next week, when some Santa Ana winds are going to kick in and dry things out for at least five days.  For one thing, I haven't had to water what's left of my lawn in over a month.  Part of drought relief isn't just the rain filling reservoirs, it's the reduced water usage due to nature doing the work.  As long as we get at least a quarter inch a week, I can leave off the sprinklers and use sump water for the two covered planters.  I'm on a raised foundation, and a small lake forms under the kitchen table if I don't go out there and turn on the pump every few hours when it rains.

Aside from the lawn, the garden is loving the fresh rainfall.  I could have put mushrooms in this soup, but the celery is going gangbusters.  So is everything else in the pond, hence beets on fresh greens as a side salad.

2/3 C dry pearl barley
1 Tb olive oil
*1/2 C diced onion
*1 C diced celery
*1 quart chicken or vegetable broth (unsalted)
*1 15oz can pumpkin purée
*1/2 tsp dry sage
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Rinse barley and place in large saucepan with water to cover by two inches.  Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook 30 minutes.  Drain.

2.  Leave the barley in the strainer and put the pot back on the burner.  Add oil and heat over medium.  Add onion and celery and cook until onion is soft, about five minutes.

3.  Add broth, pumpkin, cooked barley, and sage.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.  Taste and add salt and pepper.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Change in Tactics

My schedule at work changed drastically.  I have all closing shifts for at least three weeks.  In addition to not being a fan of later shifts, it alters how I cook and shop.  On the other hand, it brings me more in line with the rest of America.

My culinary energies have been focused on balanced breakfasts and the occasional quick, early lunch as I head out the door if it's only a half-day afternoon shift.  Dinner has to be easy or made in the morning to reheat, so I'm not temped to pick up something on the way home.  I'm taking snacks to work like granola or a meal-supplement drink so I don't grab an expired pastry at the end of the day.  And grocery shopping can be done in the morning before work, not on the way home at mid-day.  Or, I can shop for the whole week on one of my days off.  Yes, I'm now more like normal people who don't have every afternoon off to prepare dinner.

The real trick for me is to stay out of the drive-thru.  I had one meal at KFC last week and actually put on a pound.  Two days of hydration and normal eating got rid of it without any hunger.  I'm going on a cruise in two months and this is telling me that I'm going to have to be careful if I plan for my clothes to fit at the end of that week.  After 40, it's also a lot harder to lose vacation weight.  If I make good choices and don't pressure myself to finish everything on my plate, I'll only have to lose water weight from the extra salt my body isn't used to.  It's all about portion control.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Creamy Turkey Soup

Still using up stuff before it spoils.  Today's goal was roughly one cup of heavy cream.  The only legumes I had left was a little over half a cup of dry chickpeas, and I considered making a vegetarian soup with that.  Then I remembered the turkey bones in the freezer, some of which had nearly a serving of meat on them.  Oh, and the 5-pound bag of potatoes that I keep forgetting I need to chip away at.  Actually, the only ingredient I bought was the carrots, and that was because none of the ones in the pond are ready to pull.  That made the cost of this soup a whopping 56¢ on the day.

Aside from that, this is a basic main-course soup: broth, veggies, something carb, something protein, and a thickener.  You don't have to make any of it from scratch if you don't want to, just assemble and simmer for half an hour.  I had it with a side of bread slathered with mascarpone and fig mustard.

*1 qt chicken stock (or low-sodium broth)
*2 C chopped turkey meat
*2/3 C dry garbanzo or 1 15 oz can, drained
*1 lb russet potatoes, 1/2" dice (peeling optional)
*1/2 C diced onion
*1/2 C diced celery
1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced
*1/4 tsp dried sage
*1 C heavy cream
salt & pepper to taste

1.  If making the chickpeas from dry, soak for at least 18 hours and simmer for 1-1/2.  If making turkey stock, do it the day before so you can chill it and skim off the fat.

2.  Everybody in the pool.  Bring stock, turkey, beans, potatoes, onion, celery, carrots, and sage to a low boil in a large  pot.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until carrots and potatoes are done, about 20 minutes.

3.  Add cream and bring back up to a simmer without boiling.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.  If soup is too thick, add more broth or water.

Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a side

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Pantry Lasagna

This isn't really a recipe.  I didn't have time to go grocery shopping and cook.  I had to choose one or the other, and decided to rummage through the fridge, pantry, and garden instead of microwaving a frozen meal.  This turned out to be the better choice.  I had no idea how many "half of" things I had accumulated during the holidays.  It came down to pizza or lasagna, and I had too much sauce for pizza.
So what I ended up with was: half a jar of marinara; a cheesy sauce of ricotta, heavy cream, an egg, mozzarella, and parmesan; and veggies of my last tiny pumpkin, some baby bella mushrooms, onion, celery and a lot of arugula from the garden, and fresh basil out of the pot.  After a long stretch of only flowers, Eggy started to grow an eggplant, but it's still too small to use.  Layered with half a box of lasagna noodles, we had a dinner in the making.
The lesson here is to open up your mind to possibilities.  Groceries are the most expensive when we let them spoil and don't eat them.  It's the whole reason I started this blog.

Sunday, January 1, 2017


Happy New Year!  Let's hope this one goes a bit better.

I decided to make poundcake for a fondue dipper instead of buying it, just for the experience.  However, I didn't want months of poundcake lurking in the freezer.  It took quite a while to find a recipe without a prime number of eggs.  In the end, I found this one on Allrecipes with a traditional proportion of ingredients that uses six eggs.  I made a 1/3 recipe to fill two mini-loaf pans.  It will also make one slightly under-portioned standard loaf.

Poundcake has that name because it consists of a pound of each of the main ingredients, plus enough milk and extracts to suit the baker's taste.  It's risen by whipped eggs only and given structure by the all-purpose flour.  Don't be tempted to use all cake flour in this one; it needs more gluten than that.  You can substitute up to half of the flour with cake flour, but I used all regular for the traditional feel.

This is not going to have the same texture as a Sara Lee or supermarket cake.  Those are halfway between a true poundcake and a spongecake.  This is more dense and prone to drying out.  It also tastes great toasted with a topping of fruit and whipped cream, or spread with Nutella or jam.  Poundcake is a blank slate for whatever your meal requires.  It can even be staled out and run through the food processor as a substitute for streusel topping.  Go wild.

2/3 (slightly over 10 Tb) unsalted butter
1 C sugar
2 eggs
4/3 C flour
3 Tb milk
1/4 tsp extract (I used lavender, you could use vanilla, almond, or coconut…anything)

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Grease a standard loaf pan or two minis, then line with parchment or wax paper.

2.  Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time and beat until very pale and smooth.  This is your leavening.

3.  Add flour and milk in alternating amounts; 1/3 C flour, 1 Tb milk, etc.  Beat only until combined.  Add the flavoring extract with one of the milk additions.

4.  Spread the paste in the pan(s).  Bake for 60 minutes and check for doneness.  Add on time in 5 minute increments until toothpick comes up clean.  Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out and peel off paper.  Cool completely before storing.  Cakes taste better the next day, and even better out of the freezer with ice cream on top.

Makes 1 loaf

Difficulty rating  π  (the hardest part was the math)