Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms

So good, and really pretty easy as long as you can find the main ingredient:

Mushrooms the right size for stuffing. Not huge, like Portobello, although I guess you could use those and each one would be a meal. But too small, and it would be a pain to stuff them, although I suppose you could. This is pictured on a small "bread" plate, so don't think it is a dinner plate with a huge mushroom.

I like mushrooms at least an inch across and two inches across is better. Some stores here actually sell "Mushrooms for stuffing" in the 2-inch size, with most but not all of the stem cut off. Well, the stem is cut off flush with the bottom of the cap, which means I still need to do some work. And that's OK.

This recipe makes enough filling for however many mushrooms you can fit in a 9 by 12-inch Pyrex baking dish or similar pan. I always plan to have an emergency overflow pan because it is hard to tell how many will fit in one pan. And that's OK, too.

  • 12-24 mushrooms, depending on size (more smaller ones, fewer big ones, obviously)
  • approx. 1 lb. Italian sausage. You can go up to 1-1/2 pounds, and you can use a mixture of hot and mild, or all of either one, depending on what you like. I like hot. If you can buy it not in casings, that is a little easier, but really doesn't matter.
  • 1 8-oz. package cream cheese, room temperature (open it while it is still cold, before it gets gooey, and put it on a plate or whatever and let it sit while you do the other things.)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. garlic buds or powder (but not salt! or put some fresh garlic in with the sausage while frying it)
  • about 2T Worcestershire sauce, give or take
  • a couple of T of vegetable oil, your choice, or butter
  • 1 egg yolk (could you leave this out? possibly, but I don't)
  • Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, about 1/2 cup (or more!)
  • White wine
Prepare the mushroom caps. Wash or wipe off any obvious dirt, but don't soak. I find that an ordinary teaspoon makes a good scoop to hollow out the mushrooms without piercing the caps. Save the stems and associated innards to make soup, or whatever. You don't have to completely hollow out the mushrooms, just make a cavity for the filling.

Put enough oil or butter in the baking dish to coat the bottom. Arrange the mushroom caps, cap side down. Pour about 1 tsp. of white wine in each hollowed out cap. Let that soak in while you proceed.

If the sausage is in casings, squeeze it out. The casings are edible but tough and chewy, so they aren't an asset here. Fry the sausage, breaking it up with a spatula or fork -- the back of a fork actually does work pretty well. You want it to be fairly granular, not huge lumps. Cook it until there's no pink showing. Transfer the sausage, without the grease, to a bowl to cool. (A slotted spatula or spoon is good.) You could certainly save the melted fat to saute other things in, but we don't need it here.

Combine the egg yolk, Worcestershire sauce and garlic (if you haven't added it to the sausage) in a large bowl and add the cooled sausage and the cream cheese, and up to 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan. Or you can leave out the Parmesan at this stage and just add some on the top later. You can try mixing with a spoon, but truthfully, just wash your hands really well and get in there to mix it all together.

Fill the mushroom cavities with the mixture, put grated Parmesan on top.

You can stop here and refrigerate overnight. Or:

Preheat oven to 350, then bake for about 25 minutes. Might need another 5 or so, if they are really large mushrooms.

To serve, lift out of the liquid that will have cooked out. It is wine and sausage essence and mushroom essence, so unless you are insane, do not throw the liquid away. It's tricky to serve with the mushrooms, which are meant as finger food, but why not have it with pasta or bread after everyone has gone home?

These reheat nicely. I doubt that they would freeze well.

If you have filling left over, and you could, depending on the size of the mushrooms, well -- chop up those leftover mushroom stems and saute them, then make a spread for some good bread and stick it under the broiler.

You can "stretch" the filling, and pretend it's healthier, by adding some bread crumbs, but be sure to check the seasoning so that you don't make it all too bland.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Whole Wheat Bread (well, mostly)

This is adapted from my dad's recipe, and is an excellent thing to do on a cold winter weekend. The house smells terrific. The "well, mostly" part is because it does have some white flour as well as whole wheat.

for two loaves:
2 pkgs or about 3 T of dry yeast, which these days is sold as "Bread Machine Yeast"
1/4 cup warm water
2-1/2 cups hot water
1 Tablespoon salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup of some sort of fat: butter or oil or shortening, melted
4 cups whole wheat flour, approx.
4 cups white flour, preferably unbleached, approx.

  • Dissolve the yeast in about 1/4 cup warm water.
  • Measure the 2-1/2 cups of water into a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup or some other larger microwavable vessel. Add the butter/shortening/oil, salt and the brown sugar and heat until it's all dissolved. Yep, you could also do this in a pan on the stove. Let cool to lukewarm. (Baby's bath temp.) Put into a big bowl.
  • Stir in the whole wheat flour, using a sturdy whisk if you have one. Add the yeast mixture. Start adding the white flour. When it starts getting too stiff to mix with a whisk or spoon, I'm sorry, but you will just have to use your hands. You did wash them, right?
  • When the dough is moderately stiff, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and satiny. It really helps to have flour to keep dipping your hands into so the dough doesn't stick. This is a great stress reliever and I'm not telling you who I think about while I smack the heck out of that dough. (Knead = press/punch the center, then fold the back over, then press, etc. Hard to describe, fun to do.) Why would anyone let a bread machine do the fun part?
  • Shape the dough into a ball. Rinse out your big bowl with hot water and dry it. Rub it with butter or a little oil. Put the dough in and turn to coat all sides with a little of the oil. Let it rise to double its original size at least once, and twice is better. Takes about an hour each, depending on the temperature. (If in a hurry, put it in a warmish place covered with a clean dish towel. Not too warm, but above the dishwasher (if it is running) is good or inside the oven with just the oven light on is good. Or on top of the dryer. But it is better to not be in a hurry, because the texture will be better.)
  • Punch down and divide in half, pressing each half into a loaf pan. Let rise again until about double.
  • Preheat the oven to 375 F
  • Bake 45 minutes, but after about 20-25 minutes, brush the tops with some butter or oil and turn the oven down to 350. It will work if you don't do this, but this is better. Also, if the tops are getting brown long before the 45 minutes are up, cover with foil. I've never had to, but I think it depends on your oven.
  • Take the pans out of the oven and let sit for about 5 minutes, then tip them over to remove the loaves and put the loaves on some kind of cooling rack, or at least a clean towel, so they don't get soggy (which they would do if left in the pans)
  • Wait as long as you can stand, but by all means cut some slices while the loaf is still warm. All you really need is butter, or maybe some good soup.
This freezes well, especially if you don't slice the second loaf.
You can get away with using more whole wheat and less white flour, but the loaf will get denser and denser. You can make up for this by letting it rise more slowly for longer, maybe. It starts to get into science. It is fun to experiment, but I will tell you that if you are baking at home, trying to use all whole-wheat flour with no white (or unbleached white) flour will yield a VERY dense bread. The commercial bakers have other tricks up their sleeve.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Oyster Stew, again

Oyster stew is such a great supper on a cold night. Especially with these cornbread crackers. And it is so easy. And fast. Once you have the celery and shallot diced, you're just about done!

  • 8 oz. (that's a half-pint) of standard oysters and their "liquor." You don't need the extra fancy, more expensive ones.
  • 2-3T butter
  • about a cup of milk. I used skim, because that's what I keep on hand, but of course whole milk would taste even better. (Although, because I am using skim, I don't feel at all bad about going with 3T butter!)
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 plump shallot (maybe two if they are little), diced fine
  • salt
  • white pepper if you have it, otherwise fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon or more of sweet paprika. I don't used the smoked paprika for this because it might mask the delicate flavor of oysters. Can't think of anything else I wouldn't use smoked paprika in.
  • optional but very good: One leftover baked potato, large dice (When I am using the oven for something else, like the pork chops with cranberries in the previous recipe, I often throw a few potatoes in to bake. They can be used in so many things, and they taste way better than spuds "baked" in a microwave.
  • also optional, but I wanted to try it: a few "threads" of saffron, if you happen to have some kicking around.
Sweat the celery and shallot in the butter. Add the potatoes if you are using them. This is a good time to add salt and pepper, and of course you'll taste it at the end to see if it needs more. Start with 6 good dashes of salt and a couple of pepper.

Add the liquor from the oysters, but don't hurt yourself straining it. The rest can come along later when it is time to add the oysters, which go in last.

Add the paprika -- you don't put it in earlier because you don't want it to burn. I use a lot, close to a full teaspoon for this much stew.

Add the milk. If you need to "stretch" things, add more milk. Heck, even more potato, celery and shallot.

When the liquid is hot and just starting to simmer but before the milk really boils (scalded milk, yuck), dump in the oysters and any remaining liquid. Keep heating until the oysters curl, which really only takes a minute or so, then turn off the heat right away. It's done.

Grab some crackers -- I like cornbread, some people like traditional oyster crackers -- and a spoon. If you are hungry or if you are selfish about shellfish, this serves one as a full supper. You could easily make it serve two, maybe more if it's just a first course and you add more milk, etc.

If you are lucky enough to be sharing with someone who doesn't like oysters, you may find that they like the rest of this "stew" just fine if you call it potato soup, and then you get to eat all the oysters.

Last January I posted a recipe for Oyster Stew made with leeks. That was good, too, and you can look it up. This is more traditional.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cranberry Pork Chops with Morels

OK, full disclosure: This is slightly adapted from a recipe my Mom sent me. The original didn't have morel mushrooms and was slightly different in process. It's really good, and it's easy -- especially if you skip the part about stuffing the chops first!

  • 3 pork chops (I used thick, boneless ones, about 1/2 pound each)
  • 1 half-ounce package of dried morel mushrooms (you could use another kind of mushroom or another kind of stuffing, or skip the stuffing. I can't help myself when I have thick pork chops and morels on hand.
  • One cup chicken broth, heated in the microwave
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup sugar (a little less if you like your cranberries on the tart side!)
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. of Penzey's Cake Spice, or a pinch each of ground cloves, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon
  • 1 cup cranberries (washed an picked over, as always)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • cooking oil, about 1T-2T
Preheat oven to 350.

Soak the dried mushrooms in the hot chicken stock for at least 15 minutes. Longer doesn't hurt.
Then cut each chop open, fill the "pocket" with mushrooms, tie loosely with kitchen twine (or use toothpicks to hold them together. Grind pepper over both sides of the chops. Add a teaspoon of salt to the flour in a shallow bowl or pie pan or whatever and dredge the chops to coat lightly. Using an ovenproof pan (my cast-iron standby, of course), brown the chops in the oil on both sides, a couple of minutes each.

Mix the water, honey, sugar and spices. Heating the water and honey in the microwave helps the honey dissolve.

When the chops have had a chance to brown on each side, pour the cranberries over them, add the sugar/spice mixture, and put in the oven, covered, for 20-30 minutes. Remove cover and continue baking, but not too long. Doneness depends on how big the chops are. The good thing is that the cranberry sauce keeps the chops moist.

Taste the cranberries and add more sugar if you really have to, but don't make it dessert-sweet -- should be on the tart side to complement the meat.

Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes before cutting and serving. The photo shows one chop, sliced, with less than a third of the sauce. I am looking forward to the leftovers!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy ThanksWeen

It's spooky turkey. Same turkey you make on T-day, just earlier. The black spots are paprika. Paprika does burn -- but in a good way, I think, unlike garlic, which gets nasty when it burns. Ok, because it is ThanksWeen, I also added a little cayenne pepper, to make it more devilish.

Oh, yeah, I do roast it upside down, after brining it overnight. The goal is to keep it from drying out. And then I carve it and make a big batch of turkey stock from the carcass.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bread --also, the proof is in the .... proof

Wish you could smell this, and taste it. Nothing smells as good as fresh-baked bread. And it's so easy, really.

First, this is my basic recipe for French bread: Water, flour, yeast, salt, and a little oil and a little butter. It's also about checking your facts, or having the courage to try and possibly fail.

I wanted to check that my flour was still fresh and good, ahead of making pies and such for Thanksgiving. So my plan was, make bread. Then I reached into my fridge for the jar of freeze-dried yeast, and saw -- expiration date, 2003. Uh-oh. I'm pretty sure it worked a couple of years ago, but, uh-oh. Also, I can't believe it has been that long since I baked bread. Duh.

Now, most things, you would toss, with an expiration date like that. I would. But I know that the yeast is in hibernation, so the thing to do is proof it. I poured the yeast (normally I would use about 2T, in this case slightly more) into 2 cups of very warm water (think baby's bath, the wrist test) and threw in about a cup of flour and a teaspoon of sugar. Bubbles occurred. That meant, whoo, baby, that yeast was wakin' up. Six years past expiration date. I left it overnight. It bubbled further, and proved it was still good. It was ... ALIVE! (And, yes, I do have to go to the store to buy a new jar of yeast, but only because I used it up.)

Then I added more flour* and about a tablespoon of salt, until I had to turn it onto the counter and add even more flour* kneaded it, put it in a bowl that was lightly oiled, covered with a clean dish towel and let it rise. And it did. Twice. (That is not expired yeast.) Then rolled it into a loaf (remember your Play-Doh skills), let it rise again, then baked it. 400 degrees, about an hour, watched it, brushed it with butter at the very last minute. Broke off chunks to consume with cheese, grapes and wine.

I have all kinds of bread recipes, mostly using whole wheat and healthy stuff, but this really is my fave. Yeast, water, flour and a little salt. And a little oil, but only that teensy bit in the bowl. And butter, that teensy bit on the top at the very end.

*Footnote: I once asked my dad, who taught me how to bake bread, "How much flour do you add? " He said, "Enough." OK, really, I had put about 1 cup in with two cups of water. So I added somewhere between 3 and 5 cups more of flour. Enough. You just have to know. You add it in the bowl until it is too stiff to whisk, then turn it out on a floured board, flour your hands, and knead until it becomes, well, satiny. Once you know, you know what "enough" means.

What about the time involved? Well, most of the time is waiting. Most important about bread is waiting. You work for 5 minutes, and wait -- even overnight -- then work for maybe 10 minutes, then wait. At least an hour, maybe two or more. Oh, and then work for a minute and wait. Repeat. Now put in the oven at 400 and -- wait.

You can leave the house while waiting, except for the hour of baking. Making bread lends itself to multitasking. You do have to be there to take it out of the oven. I even saw a recipe once timed to a football game. Get the dough mixed up, watch the game. At halftime, punch it down. Etc. I'd actually rather watch dough rise, but maybe that's just me.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bean Soup and Mixed Greens

Well, I normally wouldn't serve these together, (Editor's note: Not so fast -- see addendum below) as there is too much in common with the whole ham broth/smoked turkey broth flavor, but they sure are easy to make together. Or, either one is a good way to use up a ham bone and leftovers or a couple of smoked turkey legs. I happened to have both.

The smoked turkey legs were new to me, and I made the mistake of baking them, you know, like turkey. Or ham, for that matter. I was thinking sandwiches or salad. It may have just been this particular brand, but they came out way too salty and too dry. It tasted like very salty ham with just a little bit of a turkey "finish." Next time, if there is a next time, I'll try a very wet braise, with plenty of liquid to try to leech the salt out. Maybe even the slow cooker.

I also had a ham bone with some scraps still attached.

The two most obvious things to make are bean soup and a mess o' greens.

After removing most of the meat from the bones, I boiled the turkey bones and the ham bones together for a couple of hours. Not a riotous boil, just above simmer. Now I had a nice broth, and some meat set aside. (The meat still on the bones gives up its flavor to the broth and doesn't have much left to offer! But that's kind of the point.) For either the beans or greens, you could throw the bones in while cooking the rest, but then you have to fish them out, and the turkey legs, especially, have those dangerous sharp little splinters. I wanted to have that all taken care of. In fact, I refrigerated the stock overnight.

Bean Soup
Turkey/Ham stock
1 pound white beans -- I used Great Northern
1/2 an onion, chopped
ham and/or turkey meat, a cup or two, chopped into bite-size pieces

Rinse and pick through the beans -- the package always warns that there could be little rocks or other debris, and my dentist already makes enough money from me.

Put the beans in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and boil for a minute or two or five. Remove from heat and let stand an hour. (Alternatively, you can soak the beans overnight in cold water.) Drain and rinse with cold water.

In a large pot -- I used my cast iron Dutch oven -- heat the stock if it has been refrigerated. Add the beans, onion and meat. Add water if needed to cover the beans. Cook for at least an hour, or until the beans are tender. There's only one way to tell! As you taste for doneness, check the seasoning; in my case, there was no need to add salt. I stopped short of cooking them until they were mushy, because this is a big batch and will be reheated. The beans definitely soften further during refrigeration in the liquid. One of those cases when "it is even better the second day."

For serving, I added a dollop of Greek yogurt, and it was a good call. Balances the saltiness. When I was growing up, we added ketchup to bean soup at the table, and that was good, too. I think it's the touch of acidity. If I had good, ripe, fresh tomatoes, I'd garnish with them, in fact.

Now for the greens. This makes a huge batch, but not as huge as you will think when you start, because all the leafy greens cook down.

You can use any combination, but this is what I was taught: Use at least two, and preferably three, kinds of greens. I used about half a pound of each, and yes, at the beginning, my big stock pot was full.

Collard greens
Mustard greens
ham/smoked turkey stock
1 or 2 cups of ham and/or turkey, bite-size pieces, as much as you have left over, really
1/2 an onion, chopped
secret ingredient: sugar -- at least a spoonful, probably up to 3 for this amount of greens. Less, or maybe none, if you are using honey-roasted ham and it still has some of the sweet "sauce" attached.

Rinse the greens REALLY well, preferably in a sink full of cold water. Chop or tear, removing any big, tough stems. They can go in the compost as far as I'm concerned; it's not as though there's a shortage of greens here.

Put everything in your biggest stock pot, add water to cover, and cook for about an hour. Taste once in a while. Again, you probably won't need to add salt, but you never know. And if you are using mustard greens, pepper probably isn't necessary either.

But you might decide to add another spoon of sugar. It definitely cuts the bitterness of the greens as well as complementing the saltiness of the ham. Isn't that why we all like honey-glazed ham? I learned about adding sugar several years ago when I was buying kale and a ham hock at the store, and the cashier, obviously a Southerner, and obviously a woman who knew what I had in mind, told me that I needed collards, mustard greens and at least a spoonful of sugar. Bless her heart for helping an obvious Northerner.

Oh, I wish I had made corn bread, too. It would go well with either the soup or the greens.

I've packaged up and labeled some of the soup to go in the freezer. I don't think the greens will freeze well, but I may try. And I saved all the liquid from the greens, so I'll at least freeze any of it that I don't slurp down. It IS a beverage, right?

Addendum: I took some soup and some greens, in separate containers, to work for my dinner, to reheat in the extremely low-end microwave. There was only one clean bowl (I don't like to microwave things in plastic), so I put some of the greens and "pot liquor" (greens juice) in with the bean soup to heat. They were very, very good mixed together. I would still cook them separately, for the flexibility, and because I don't have a pot big enough to cook both at once, but ... beans and greens do go together nicely. Still wish I had made cornbread.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New York, New York

Oh, dear, NY Strip Steak at $4.99 a pound. OK, that's not 49-cent-a-pound chicken, but it's down from $9 a pound. And, this is about $2 worth. Cheaper than fast food, better, and, well, nearly as fast.

Easy. Salt, pepper, under the broiler (aka the upside-down gas grill). 5 minutes one side, 2 minutes (or 3) the other. Obviously, longer if you want to cook it until it is gray, and you know who you are. Shudder.

Toast and some tomatoes and basil.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Rack of lamb equals lamb chops, yum

A couple of years ago, a friend told me that if you want to cook with lamb, go to the Lebanese grocery in Falls Church, Va., because they have the best lamb.

No kidding. Lamb is a big part of Lebanese cuisine, so it makes sense. You go in, you say I want a rack of lamb "this big" and indicate. They show you, you say yes, or ask for an adjustment. It's $6.99 a pound, which may sound expensive but isn't. It is the absolute best, outrageously tender and delicious lamb ever.

You don't do much to it. "French" it -- and the butchers there would do it, but I wanted practice -- by taking the meat off the "handles" of the chops. Rub it with a little olive oil, a lot of crushed garlic and some fresh rosemary, and refrigerate it for a couple of hours.

Put it in the Dutch oven, or even on a baking pan. Add some Kosher salt (oh, the irony -- it was a Halal butcher; Halal is to Islam as Kosher is to Judaism; we can all get along, at least in the kitchen) and roast at 375 for about 10 to 15 minutes per pound. Internal temp should be 150-160 at the most, if you like 'em pink, which as you can clearly see, I do. Remove from oven, tent with aluminum foil, wait 10-15 minutes. Carve into individual chops. Serve with a nice Pinot Noir (in French, a Burgundy). Eat with a knife and fork, or just realize that there's a reason it comes with handles and go for it. Three or four chops per person is reasonable. Six would just be decadent.

I don't think anything tastes better.

Lobster salad

Not a recipe, just a suggestion

Leftover lobster. Remove from shell and chop, but not too finely. You still want to know it is lobster and not some fake seafoody thing.
Miracle Whip -- maybe just one dollop instead of two
1 shallot, minced
Good whole-grain bread, toasted

If you had good, crisp celery on hand, maybe, or a teensy bit of jicama. I decided to keep it simple. But the heirloom tomatoes are just too good to leave off the plate.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lobster tails and sweet corn

Summer isn't over quite yet!

Lobster tails for $5.99 each, fresh sweet corn, a perfectly ripe heirloom tomato and a baked potato. Almost doesn't need a recipe, more like a timetable! The only other ingredients are:

Butter, 1 stick, melted (and you wouldn't need that much, but leftovers are good)
3 cloves of garlic, peeled, smashed and minced
a few leaves of fresh basil, chiffonnade (roll'em up and chop them into ribbons)
fresh ground pepper

Fill your big soup pot with water and add some salt. Put it on to boil.
Scrub the potatoes, pierce them with a knife or cooking fork, and lightly rub with butter or cooking oil. Put them in the oven. Turn the oven to 400 degrees and bake for about half an hour.

Husk the corn and get all the stringies out. (Or get your nephew to do it. Thanks, Mike!)
Split the lobster tails to expose the meat. Turns out a good kitchen scissors is a good tool. Put the tails meat side up on the broiler pan. Spoon a little of the melted butter over each one.

Put the garlic and some of the basil in the butter.

When the potatoes are done, take them out and put in a pan, covered, on top of the stove to keep warm. No heat need be applied because the oven is still warm and should keep them hot for the next 10 minutes. Or you could leave them in the oven, won't hurt anything.

Put the corn in the boiling water. Plan on cooking for 8 to 10 minutes, tops.

Put the broiler pan with the lobster into the oven. Cook for 3 minutes, then turn them over and cook for about 8 minutes more. Don't overcook. When the meat is opaque white instead of shiny gray, they're done.

Slice the tomato and put some of the basil on it.

Plate it all up, and bring the garlic butter, salt and pepper to the table.

Have lots of napkins and a chilled rosé wine.

This takes less time to make than to eat, I think! The corn on the cob and the lobster definitely require slow eating, just because of the mechanics of eating them, which is also conducive to savoring. The hardest part is getting the lobster out of the shells, but since it's still summer, we went with the "hands-on" approach. And this will be one of the few times I'll ever say this: The baked potato was my least favorite thing on the plate! Only because everything else was so spectacular. Although a dollop of Greek yogurt along with the garlic butter is definitely a good substitute for sour cream.

We each actually only ate one lobster tail, which means I have two left over. Gee, I wonder what I will do tomorrow with leftover lobster?!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

It's fall: Time to give thanks and give food

OK, so it is time for my annual fall routine of rotating the provisions. By that, I mean, giving canned goods to the local food bank and re-stocking.

Here's the deal. Ever since I was in Minnesota, which was way before terrorism and swine flu, but in the presence of blizzard-blocked roads and power outages, I knew that in that fall, I needed to have a week or so worth of provisions that didn't need refrigeration, water or cooking. That would mean canned goods.

And every fall about this time, I would stock up.

And every fall about this time, I would realize that I hadn't needed the emergency provisions from the year before. Not that they would go bad in a year, but it would be good to freshen the larder. I mean, you really don't want 5-year-old Spam. Not that anyone could tell the difference, but ...

So every fall, as a special Thanksgiving, I give those provisions from last fall to the food bank. The giving thanks part is, I'm grateful that I didn't need to use my emergency provisions. Usually the Scouts come around. In some places, the grocery stores have a bin. Most churches collect. It isn't hard to donate food. And I'm pretty sure someone would like it.

Then I restock. Even without blizzards, it's recommended that you have several days worth of non-perishable food, etc., in case of emergency. You don't have to be a survivalist with cases of beans in the basement, just a few things to tide you over so you don't need emergency services. If you aren't part of the problem, you are part of the solution. Or, as the Scouts say, "Be prepared." So, a few cans of protein, a few cans of fruit in juice, a couple of boxes of crackers, some water, yeah, I'm good.

And next fall, we do it again. My favorite part is the grateful part. So far, so good.

Oh, and just for fun: People who live off food banks may be grateful for tuna and peanut butter, but if you had to live on that, wouldn't you love some salmon and pineapple? Anything different? I'm still chuckling over the bottle (plastic) of barbecue sauce that I put in one of the Scout bags. I mean, you gotta get tired of stealing packets of ketchup! I just know someone was happy to get something different.

So: Clean out your pantry for a good cause. And be thankful.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Chicken salad

For my friends in the Midwest, because a good chicken salad is better than a bad crab salad! I'm lucky to live where I can get good crab meat, although it's still relatively expensive. But canned crab, I'm not so crazy about. So after crab recipes, I thought it was time for this!

Besides, I had cooked two leg quarters and stuck them in the fridge overnight. Obviously, chicken salad is a great thing to make from leftover chicken, even one of those rotisserie chickens from the store!

Mix together:
Meat from one chicken leg quarter, chopped
1/4 of a red bell pepper, chopped
6-8 slices of dill pickle (the small round slices, not the slabs; would equal 1-2 of the big, long slices)
1-2 Tablespoons Miracle Whip or mayonnaise

I was lucky enough to find some really good heirloom tomatoes, as the squirrels got most of mine. Shaved some Parmesan on the tomatoes and gave them a dose of fresh-ground black pepper. Made toast with some good whole-grain bread. Done.

Possible additions: Chopped chives or shallot; celery; a few grapes, cut in half; chopped almonds or other nuts.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

General Tso's Chicken

OK, this is sort of cheating, but it's better than most fast food.

I buy the General Tso's sauce at Trader Joe's, and really, I don't think that's cheating any more than buying American style barbecue sauce, or ketchup or mustard. Then all I have to do is cut up some chicken and whatever vegetable I'm using, stir fry, and voila.

The "cheating" part is that the salad in the background is leftover from Fiery Beef Salad from the local Thai restaurant that delivers! They believe in truth in advertising: The Fiery Beef makes the General Tso's the least spicy thing on the plate! I like that the lettuce is nice and cooling, though.

So here it is:
  • Cut the raw chicken into bite-size pieces. I used the meat cut off from one chicken leg quarter. It would be even easier if you started with boneless parts. Skinless if you insist.
  • Cut up the veg. I used about 1/4 of a red bell pepper. Broccoli is typical when you get it from a restaurant, but I like the red bell pepper for a change. Both would also work.
  • General Tso's sauce
  • Red chili oil (optional)
  • Canola oil or peanut oil or some other high-smoke-point oil
Get your big skillet or wok hot and add one or two tablespoons oil. When it's hot, toss in the chicken, and, well, stir at least occasionally. Keep it moving most of the time, although it is nice to let it get a sear. It will cook in a couple of minutes. Add the cut up pepper and a few dashes of General Tso's sauce and a dash or two of the chili oil and cook for another minute. That's it.

If I were using "bigger" veggies, such as broccoli florets, I would actually start cooking them first, then take them out to sear the chicken, then add them back.

If I didn't have the Fiery Beef Salad already, I would add garlic to the General Tso's. Didn't feel the need this time.

I like the General Tso's sauce from Trader Joe's best of the ones I've tried. Got a different brand from a supermarket once that was disappointing. Best tip if you are trying ANY new sauce or condiment is to taste it before starting in to cook. If it is disappointing, go in a different direction (or figure out a way to doctor it up).

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Crab salad with avocado toast

OK, this is experiment II.
Actually, III, because over the weekend I returned to my roots and realized there is a reason people often put mayonnaise -- or in my case, Miracle Whip -- with crab, in potato salad, in chicken salad, in ham salad. It's good. Just don't overdo it, especially with crab, or you might as well be eating chicken salad.

In fact, I like this so much with Miracle Whip that I felt fine leaving out the bacon. Sort of. I also left out the Old Bay seasoning to go with a fresher approach.

So for this dish, which will also supply enough crab salad for my lunch tomorrow as long as it is in the fridge:

  • 4 slices of rustic whole wheat bread, or whatever you have. These would be the equivalent of 2 slices from a big loaf. Don't toast it until the last minute unless you like cold toast. Right.
  • 8 ounces of crab meat. I used pasteurized claw meat because it was less expensive and tastes great. Rinse in a sieve and pick through to make sure there are no shell pieces -- or live dangerously.
  • 1 large, ripe avocado or 2 little ones.
  • juice of 1/2 lemon or lime. Please don't use the stuff from the bottle.
  • about 1/5th of a red bell pepper, minced. Well, maybe that's just me. I don't want to get a bite that's mostly bell pepper. You could use green bell pepper, but I won't.
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 T Miracle Whip, approx.
  • salt, a few dashes
  • freshly ground black pepper, about four grinds, or whatever
  • dill weed
  • Smoked Spanish paprika (to replace the bacon; contributes a nice smoky flavor that isn't overpowering)
  • two dashes of cayenne pepper
  • a splash of soy sauce, maybe
  • lettuce or other greens, tomatoes for garnish
Chop the bell pepper and paprika and add salt and pepper. Rinse and check the crab meat and stir in. Add 1 T of the Miracle Whip (or mayo) and the other spices and herbs and TASTE it. Adjust seasonings, including MW, to taste. The crab meat is pasteurized and there's no raw egg in this, so tasting is the way to go. No double dipping, though, at least not if you are sharing.

Refrigerate the crab mixture. You could actually refrigerate it for a few hours, but here it's just while doing other things.

Squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl. Cut the avocado in half. If it isn't completely ripe, the pit might be a little stubborn, but I still say it is safer to pry it out with a tablespoon, or even scoop out all the meat and scrape it off the pit. Dunk the avocado flesh into the lemon juice and smash it up with a fork until it is spreadable. You might want to add a teensy bit of salt.

Toast the bread. Spread the mashed avocado on the toast and top with the crab mixture. To me, the avocado means I don't need to butter the toast or put olive oil on it, but that's your call. The lettuce and tomato on the plate are mostly for garnish, but yeah, edible garnish.

Note: instead of the red bell pepper, you could add a little finely chopped radish, which would punch it up. Just remember to let the crab be the star!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Avocado Crab Salad

  • 1 avocado, ripe
  • 1/2 lemon to 1 whole lemon, depending on how tart you like things; if you have a lime sitting around, use it instead! You could probably use orange or tangerine juice -- anything acidic.
  • 2 Tablespoons of olive or other happy oil
  • 3 strips bacon, cooked (optional -- to you, maybe)
  • 1-2 handfuls of greens -- I had green leaf lettuce and spinach
  • one shallot or a couple of tablespoons of chopped red onion
  • Old Bay seasoning or a collection of spices of your choice, probably including salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne, garlic powder. I could also imagine going in a completely different direction with this and using various Asian spices. Or really simple with a little salt, pepper and dill.

Cook the bacon any way you like. Easiest is on two sheets of paper towel on a microwave-safe plate for 1 minute per slice. So, 3 minutes. Take it out right away and remove the bacon or it will stick to the paper towel. Trust me.

Rinse the crab and pick out any shell pieces, unless you really like your dentist.

Wash the lemon and roll it on the counter. Grate some of the rind (zest) or take some with a parer, or both, in either case making sure not to get the white pith, just the yellow part. Set aside.

Cut the lemon in half. If seeds are visible, poke them out with the tip of your knife, just because it saves trouble later. Squeeze at least half the lemon into a bowl. For this recipe, a cereal bowl will be the right size.

Cut the avocado in half and pull it open. You can probably just pull the pit out. If not, take an ordinary flatware tablespoon and pry it out. I've seen chefs on TV whack into the pit with a chef's knife to pull it out. Unnecessary, potentially dangerous, and probably does the knife no favors. Use the spoon to scoop all the flesh out of the avocado onto a cutting board and use any old knife to cut into one-inch cubes. Immediately dunk into the lemon juice to prevent browning.

Arrange greens on a plate. Place the avocado chunks on the greens, reserving the lemon juice.

Chop the shallot/onion if you haven't already. Add the Old Bay or whatever seasonings you've chosen. Add those, some grated lemon peel and some olive oil to the lemon juice and stir. Taste. If it is too acidic for you, add more oil or add some honey. I won't tell.

You can either crumble the bacon and add to this dressing, or just mix it with the crab, which is what I did. Or wait until last and use it as a garnish.

Drizzle some of the dressing over the avocado and mix the rest into the crab mixture and add to plate. Garnish with a little more lemon zest.

That's it. Especially with a piece or two of whole-wheat toast, this is a meal.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Braised Chicken with green beans and cous-cous

I love starting with whatever protein is on sale and whatever veggies look good, then coming up with something that tastes good.

This week, chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks, still attached) were on sale at my store for 49 cents a pound. That's a 1978 price. Had to buy the "family pack," so most are in the freezer. Here's what I did with one leg. The green beans looked good, and I could buy only as many as I wanted. Yay!

More philosophy. I love all those "30-minute" cooks, especially Rachel Ray, but when I come home from work, the last thing I want to do is spend another 30 minutes multitasking and rushing around the kitchen like a mad woman. So this is a recipe that takes 3 minutes upfront, rests for an hour, takes 5 more minutes, then goes in the oven for 45 minutes, then takes 5 minutes at the end. In between, I can do whatever I want, which is my kind of end-of-day multitasking. I'm really only working for 13 minutes.

Put the chicken in a zip-top bag. I only use them for cooking; otherwise I use re-usable containers. And you could. But a zip-top bag is good for this. One leg/thigh combo fits in a quart-size bag.
In a 2-cup measuring cup (because it has a pour spout), put 1 cup of apple juice, a couple of splashes (Tablespoons) of soy sauce, a couple of splashes of balsamic vinegar, a couple of splashes of sesame oil, a splash of canola or other oil, 2 tablespoons of garlic jam and a few drops of chili oil. (Or whatever marinade you come up with that has salt, sweet and flavor.)

Pour it into the bag. If you need more liquid, add water to which you have added salt, or add chicken stock. Mostly, just make sure there is liquid surrounding all the chicken.

Let sit in the fridge for an hour. Wisely, you will put the bag in a bowl or other container in case there is a spill. Watch your favorite TV show.

Hour's up.

Get out your cast-iron skillet or any oven-proof skillet, put in 2 Tablespoons of canola oil or other high-temp-tolerating oil and get it hot. Turn the oven on to 350.

Take the chicken out of the bag and dry it off. This is one of the few things I will use paper towels for. SAVE the marinade. (Good thing it is in a bowl, huh?)

Sear/brown the chicken on both sides. It will only take a couple of minutes on each side if the pan and oil are hot.

Once the chicken is nice and brown on both sides, pour the marinade into the skillet and add one chopped shallot, or some minced garlic. When it comes to a boil, cover and stick it all in the oven at 350 for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes, take it out. Take the chicken out of the liquid. Put the skillet on a burner to return the liquid to a boil

Put water on to boil for the couscous, following the recipe on the box; it's usually about 1 cup of water to 3/4 cup of couscous.

While things are coming to a boil, wash and de-stem the green beans. Put them in the boiling broth from the chicken for 1 to 2 minutes.

When the water boils, add the couscous, put the lid on, turn the burner off and wait a minute. Fluff it with a fork and put some on a plate.

Add the chicken, cutting it off the bone if you wish.

Fish out the green beans using a slotted spoon.

Spoon some of the sauce over top.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

Pork tenderloin stir-fry

This time, with cabbage, onion, carrot, mushrooms and black sesame seeds (optional, but I happened to have them!)

Pork tenderloin is really great to stir fry. It comes out tasty and moist and, well, tender. Stir-fry can use just about any vegetables you have. I happened to have these. I posted a pork tenderloin stir fry with bok choy a while back, so check that out, too.

Ingredients -- approximate amounts, don't be too fussy -- to serve two really hungry people or even four people if you make rice, noodles or couscous. I skipped the extra carbs. What's on the plate is about one-third of the batch:

  • 1/2 pound pork tenderloin, cut into large bite size pieces (1-inch to 1-1/2 inch)
1/2 cup or so each:
  • shredded cabbage (I just took narrow slices with my chef's knife)
  • onion, cut in half, peeled and sliced
  • sliced mushrooms (I used creminis, aka baby portobellos)
  • carrot, "shaved" into ribbons using vegetable peeler
  • fresh ginger, peeled and chopped very fine, about 2 teaspoons. More if you really like the zing. (You might be able to use candied ginger, although that would add a sweetness that you might need to counter with something sour, like vinegar, but do not try to use the ground ginger in your spice cupboard. Different taste.) Be sure to mince this very fine, because fresh ginger is very potent, and you probably don't want to get a bite of food that has a whole slab of the stuff.
  • canola or other high-temp oil (peanut would work)
  • soy sauce
  • a couple of dashes of hot chili oil, if you have it. If you don't, pepper or cayenne pepper or pepper flakes. Of course, if you happen to have fresh hot peppers around and like them, sure
  • garlic, two cloves or as much or as little as you want, peeled and minced
  • sesame seeds, optional
  • any other Asian type seasonings you might like, from five-spice to curry. Probably not both!
Heat about 2T oil in your wok or large skillet, on high heat. Carefully add the pork and allow to brown a couple of minutes, stir/turn, let brown, repeat, until all sides are nice and brown and the pork has cooked for about 6-8 minutes. Remove from pan. The pork will keep cooking itself as you cook the veggies, never fear.

If needed, add a little more oil to the pan and put in the onions and mushrooms. Stir occasionally. In a few minutes, when they've softened a little bit and gotten some "golden" brown spots, either remove from the pan or scoot them to the side to make room for the cabbage, garlic, ginger and carrots. Let those soften/fry a couple of minute, stirring frequently. Add the sesame seeds, soy sauce and other flavorings. Stir the pork back in.

Dish it up. Grab a fork or a pair of sticks.

If I had been making rice, at this point I also would have added a little chicken or vegetable stock and some cornstarch to make a little sauce, so there would be something to give the rice some flavor and a reason to exist. But in this case, I didn't want extra sauce, just the little bit of naturally occurring sauce from the ingredients themselves.

You know, if I chopped up a bunch of different veggies on the weekend and had them ready to go in bags or bowls in the fridge, I could do a different stir-fry for dinner every night with no prep and little cleanup. Hmmm.

Friday, July 31, 2009

London Broil and "Pommes Patricia"

My grocer had London broil on sale, 2 for 1, which worked out to $2.65 a pound for a cut of beef that has virtually no visible fat and is boneless. It isn't the world's most tender cut of beef, but it's pretty versatile, and quite flavorful. The important thing, no matter how you cook it, is to slice it across the grain when it's done, and as thinly as possible. If you slice it with the grain or in big chunks, your teeth and jaw have to deal with the long muscle fibers. If you cut it across the grain, the knife has done the work and it "feels" as tender as, oh, filet mignon!

Each package was about 1-3/4 pounds. I wrapped one in foil and labeled it and stuck it in the freezer. If you calculate it at about 4 ounces a person, one of these pieces would serve 4. Or 1 meal and three magnificent sandwiches to take to work.

Most recipes I've seen for London broil call for marinating it, at least 4 hours and up to 24. While marinating might not really do much to tenderize it, it might help a little and it definitely adds flavor. What flavor depends on the marinade, but the basics are garlic, herbs, salt, pepper, and two kinds of liquid: something sweetish and fruity, and something acidic, such as vinegar. I had a little peach-white grape juice sitting around, so I used it for the sweetish fruity part. Other options include wine, ale or even tequila. For the vinegar, balsamic is nice, but anything you have on hand will work. Some recipes add Worcestershire sauce or Dijon mustard. Or honey or cherry preserves. I would avoid using more than 4-5 ingredients other than salt and pepper, just because it might get, well, weird. So if I used tequila, I wouldn't also use mustard and cherry jam.

So here's what I did.
For the marinade
In my biggest Pyrex measuring cup, stir up:
--6 cloves of roughly chopped garlic
--1 shallot (because it was leftover and I might as well)
--six inches worth of fresh rosemary (strip the needles or leave the stems on, because this will get tossed out anyway, so no worries)
--about 1/4 cup of peach-grape juice
--about 1/4 cup of wine vinegar
-- salt and pepper

Some recipes call for mixing up the marinade in a food processor or blender. If you like washing yours, fine, use it. I used a fork.

Put the meat in a non-reactive container -- either a zip-top plastic bag or a Pyrex or ceramic dish that has a tight fitting cover. Add the marinade. If using a plastic bag, squeeze out as much air as you can before sealing. And put it in a dish or pan before you put it in the fridge, just in case. Marinate for up to 24 hours, turning at least once or twice. Do not be dismayed as the outside of the meat turns brownish in the marinade. It is supposed to do that.

I marinated mine for 5 hours and only turned it once.

Now, very important: Before cooking, dry the meat off very thoroughly. Otherwise, the outside will not brown, it will steam. Ick. This is one of the few things I use paper towels for. You could be even more eco-friendly and use clean dish towels, but then they wouldn't be clean any more, would they? I do compost the paper towels. Also be sure to wipe away the garlic, etc., which will burn. Do not be afraid to press down firmly on the meat. I have not heard of actually using a meat pounder, but I have heard of putting weights on while grilling. I think a good firm press down, in conjunction with thorough drying off, is effective enough.

You could slap this on a grill, or heed the wisdom of Alton Brown, who points out that an outdoor gas grill is just an upside down gas broiler, or vice versa. I used my indoor gas broiler and STILL got two mosquito bites. No way I was going outside. Six inches from the heat source is a good guide, but you are the only one who knows your grill or broiler.

I like mine brown on the outside but red in the middle, so 4 minutes on one side, 4-5 on the other. As always, let it rest for 10 minutes or so before slicing. As I mentioned above, slice it thinly across the grain. It will probably be a rectangle, so across the grain means the short way.

This is unbelievably tender for such an inexpensive cut of beef. And no, there was no obvious peachy-grape juice flavor from the marinade. It just helped keep things juicy and flavorful.

Could you do more? Sure, make a mushroom sauce or a wine sauce or ... but I didn't feel the need. But maybe that's because I had home-grown vine-ripened itsy bitsy "Sweet Million" tomatoes. And fresh basil. And Pommes Patricia, which is the associated recipe.

"Pommes Patricia"

Pommes Patricia

I love "Pommes Anna." Julia Child's recipe calls for 2 sticks (one-half pound) of butter for 3 pounds of potatoes. Well, of course that is delicious. And there are many recipes that try to pare down the butter. And they are still good. But they still use a lot of butter. And I love butter, but ...

I also love any combination of potatoes and cheese, including, and I'm not kidding, Tater Tots and brie. You bake the Tots first until they are golden brown and crispy, then add some brie (or whatever cheese you have) until gooey. But that's not going to help our national health care crisis. Scalloped potatoes, potatoes au gratin -- all in the family. Can we make them easy and (relatively) guilt-free?

I wanted to try a combination that has the essential goodness without too, too much fat. You can cut some or all of the salt and use other seasonings.

--2 pounds of potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8 to 1/4 inch. I love getting out my mandolin for this, but a knife and cutting board would work. This was four largish, but not mutantly gigantic, russet potatoes. If you use a mandolin, cut the spuds in half to make it easier to use the finger guard. Do not not use the finger guard!
--1-2 T Canola oil
-- 2-3 ounces of cheddar cheese, or whatever meltable cheese you have. Parmesan doesn't melt. Remember, as the cheese melts, some of its fat goes into the potatoes, which is why this is delicious without all that butter. And the cheese has calcium and protein, as well as cheesey goodness. So even if it is adding fat, it has redeeming qualities. And it still isn't 2 sticks of butter!
-- salt, cayenne pepper and Spanish smoked paprika. You don't have to use cayenne, but that's just the way I roll
--2 cloves of shallots, chopped (optional for you onion-haters, and you know who you are)

In a shallow oven proof vessel -- I used a small au gratin dish -- put about a tablespoon of canola or other healthy but high-temp-tolerant oil. Arrange one layer of the potato slices. Salt. Add about an ounce of crumbled, grated or chopped up cheese. Add another layer of potato, more salt, sprinkles of cayenne and paprika. More potato. Salt. More cheese, but only an ounce or two.

Cover with foil and bake for about an hour at 400. If the taters on top are fork tender and the cheese is bubbly, you are done. If not, cook longer. If fork tender but not bubbly, take off the foil and broil for a minute.

To serve: Well, the traditional way is to invert the whole thing on a plate or platter. Or you could slice off a portion and flip it onto the plate. Unless you have stuck it under a broiler, the "bottom" should be the top, for presentation.

This makes four generous portions, and remember that the "generous" adjective comes from a person who could possibly live on potatoes and cheese. You might be able to serve six.

Of course you could be decadent and add more cheese, but, really, these tasted fantastic. Of course you could add (already cooked) bacon or ham or sausage and make a meal of it. Of course you could add -- well, be careful about anything that would add water, like frozen peas, because the potatoes wouldn't get as crispy. But if you dried them off ...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Smoked Salmon, purist style

I know I posted something like this last year, with the addition of clementines and arugula. And it was tasty. But for those who don't go into archives, or don't have clementines and arugula handy, here's the purist version of a great late supper or snack. You could go fancy and build an appetizer from it. The only thing you have to cook is, well, toast. If you can't make toast, we need to talk.

Simple list of ingredients:

2-3 tablespoons of chopped onion, depending on how much you like onion. This time I had red onion.
1 4-oz. package of smoked salmon. I do prefer wild to farmed, but that's your call and maybe your grocer's call
2 or more pieces of good bread. I like whole grain, and recommend it.
2 or more tablespoons of good Greek yogurt, which I prefer to sour cream and usually have on hand.
Butter, or whatever your doctor lets you have. I hope it is butter. Just this once.
(p.s., a little bit of chopped shallot, or green onion, or any kind of onion -- wouldn't hurt! If I have it, I use it.)

Put the bread in the toaster oven (or toaster if you have one). Chop some onion and put the rest in a sealed container of some sort in the fridge.

Open the salmon package and do your best to peel the little filets apart and make them into curls. Doesn't affect the taste, only the presentation, so don't get worked up about it.

Put a couple of dollops of Greek yogurt and the chopped onions on a plate. If you have other garnishes such as oranges, capers, arugula, radishes -- go nuts. Well, but don't get too complicated. I would limit it to two accoutrements.

When the toast is the way you like it, pop it out and butter it. Cut it into quarters -- the triangular way is sexier, but no one really cares.

Serve. If sharing or obsessive, provide implements for scooping the other ingredients onto the toast. Serve while the toast is still hot, though, for best appreciation.

As an appetizer on a more formal occasion, build the little bites on pieces of toast with a little salmon, onion and yogurt, put on a tray and let people grab them. But this "country style" way is more fun.

Feel free to click on the photo to enlarge it. The butter literally glistens.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Lasagna, II

Well, it is a work of art, isn't it? When the hostess at the potluck dinner party opened the lid on the whole pan, she said, "That is a thing of beauty."

This is a riff on my sister-in-law's recipe. As you know, I can't follow recipes exactly, and made this up using hers for guidance. (Hint: She uses a different quantity of tomatoes, and tomato sauce, where I used more tomatoes and tomato paste. I think it comes out about the same. But this way, it's my recipe! heh, heh, heh)

Tomato sauce:
Chop and "sweat" one huge onion (comes to about one and a half cups, give or take)
add about six cloves of garlic, smushed and chopped
1 32-ounce can of plum tomatoes
1 16-ounce can of diced tomatoes
2 of those little cans of tomato paste
salt, pepper and Italian herbs, including fresh basil if you've got it, which I do, and of course oregano

Brown ground meats. I used 1 pound each of ground beef, ground pork and ground veal. I added salt, pepper and more Italian seasonings to each meat. Plus some garlic. Add to tomato sauce.
Simmer as long as you want, longer is better.
Note: this is too much meat and too much sauce. It won't fit, with all the other ingredients, in a standard Pyrex rectangular pan. You will have extra. To fit in the pan, use only 2 pounds total of meat. (Or just save some of the sauce for later, yum!)

You can refrigerate (or freeze) the sauce separately, or assemble the whole thing and refrigerate.

Cheese mixture:
32 ounces ricotta (that's the big tub)
1 egg
salt and pepper
parsley and/or basil (I used fresh basil)
Italian herbs ( aka oregano and whatever)
1/2 cup Parmesan, freshly grated

Additional cheese component: Shredded/chopped mozzarella, about 1 pound

Lasagna noodles: boil salted water, cook 'em, drain 'em. Do not fall for the "oven ready" variety. No good.

Put a thin layer of the sauce on the bottom of a rectangular Pyrex or metal pan. Put in one layer of the noodles. Layer sauce, cheese mixture, mozzarella, noodles, sauce, cheeses, etc. End with sauce and cheese on top. Cover with aluminum foil.

You can stop here and refrigerate.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes if you haven't refrigerated either the whole thing or the separate sauces. One hour, at least, if you have. Uncover for the last 15-20 minutes.

Let stand at least 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

I was stuck in traffic for literally an hour, and this was still hot when I got to the potluck dinner party. I was very late. People had already stuffed themselves. Some took a taste anyway. Others just took some home in whatever container they could find. It's quite tasty.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Stuffed pork chops, again

Made these again, using TWO packages of dried morel mushrooms so I could make extra stuffing. Decadence!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pork stir fry with bok choy and mushrooms

What I love about stir-fry is you can make many different combinations, depending on what you have. I had:

pork tenderloin
bok choy (washed and roughly chopped)
leeks (washed inside and out, chopped in half-inch pieces)
garlic, peeled and chopped
oyster mushrooms, washed and roughly chopped
soy sauce and/or salt
chili oil
sesame seeds
a couple of teaspoons of onion garlic jam (just happened to have it in the fridge and decided, why not?)

The difficulty with stir-fry is that when you start throwing that many ingredients in, enough to make it interesting, you can end up with a lot! I could have used small quantities of each and saved the rest for later, but honestly, it was fridge-cleaning time. So I ended up using two pans: my cast-iron chicken fryer (skillet, but deeper) and my dutch oven (very deep -- needed because the bok choy starts out big before it cooks down).

Cut up the meat into large bite-size pieces. (Think General Tso's chicken.)
Heat a tablespoon or so of peanut or canola oil in the skillet. If you have a lot, as I did, cook half in another pan so there is only one layer and the pieces aren't completely touching. You want them to brown a little and not just steam. Cook the pork, stirring frequently, until just barely pink inside, then remove it to a platter or bowl. Leave the oil in the pans.

Put the bok choy in the larger pan. Add the garlic and soy sauce. Stir occasionally. When the greens have wilted and the stem parts are soft but still have some crunch, turn off the heat. It actually won't take but a few minutes even for a big pot ful. You can smack a lid on to keep it hot, but it will be going back on the heat later anyway.

Meanwhile, put the leeks and mushrooms in the other pan. Keep 'em moving from time to time so they don't scorch. when they have softened, add the pork back in. Sprinkle in some sesame seeds if you have them. Dash with soy sauce. Stir in the onion-garlic jam, or not.

There will be what may seem to be a lot of liquid in the pan -- not soup, but it's probably going to be more watery than you are used to seeing in Chinese food. Not to worry. Combine a teaspoon of cornstarch with about 1/8 cup of cold water in a small bowl, stirring with a fork until it is thoroughly combined.

Turn down the heat in the skillet to very low and add the cornstarch mixture and stir it in well. See the liquid thicken up into a sauce that glazes everything else. Now add the bok choy/garlic mixture (and its liquid -- it won't hurt). If the result is still not thick enough, make another cornstarch slurry; if it is too thick for your taste, add some white wine or water. Hit it with a few dashes of hot chili oil.

That's it.

You will notice there is no rice in the picture. I don't really like white rice and wasn't hungry enough to make brown rice. Sometimes I make couscous, and in the future I might make quinoa, or use some that's left over.

Now, here's the thing. Substitutions are a snap.
Instead of pork, I could have used chicken, beef, shrimp or even eggplant.
Instead of bok choy I could have used regular cabbage, red cabbage or Napa cabbage
Instead of oyster mushrooms I could have used any other kind of mushrooms
Instead of leeks I could have used onion, shallots or scallions

I still would have wanted the soy sauce and cornstarch, although instead of cornstarch it's even better to use arrowroot. What, you don't have arrowroot kicking around? Me neither, usually.

I could have left out the chili oil and sesame seeds nd onion-garlic jam. I could have added real chilis, or any color of bell pepper, any kind of seed or nut that I like, and just about any other veggie, preferably fresh, but even frozen will do in a pinch: peas, snow peas, carrots, green beans, broccoli. Water chestnuts, canned but drained and sliced. The trick, actually, is to not get TOO carried away, or you will end up with enough to feed a small country. (I would leave out the bok choy, for example, if using a different green thing.)

I could have used a little hoisin sauce or sesame oil or even barbecue sauce.

The other trick is to cut things roughly the same size and then cook each thing only as much as it really needs, so you don't end up with a soggy mess. Sometimes it is best to cook one thing (like the pork) and take it out, cook the next thing, take it out, etc., and then reunite everything just at the end to heat it all through again and get the sauce on everything.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Quinoa with cabbage and ham

A ham bone with ham bits attached
half a head of cabbage
1 cup of quinoa (KEEN-wah)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

I wanted to try making quinoa, an increasingly popular (because it is healthy) grain, a first for me. And I had a few things in the fridge that I wanted to use up.

The day before, I bought a spiral sliced, bone-in ham on sale and baked it. I know, you technically don't have to, but it tastes so much better. I throw away the seasoning packet that comes with the ham. Sometimes I "doctor" it myself with brown sugar, mustard, etc., but this time I just baked it, let it cool, sliced it and made up packets for the fridge and freezer. It was a 9.5 pound ham, so I will be enjoying it for a while!

I can't stand to throw out the ham bone and the bits that always cling to it, so tonight I made ham stock by putting it in my cast-iron dutch oven and covering it with water to simmer for a couple of hours. This made about 7 cups of stock, and also made it easy to pull the ham bits off the bone. They still had oodles of flavor, so I decided to go ahead and use them If they hadn't, well, I could have dipped into my ham supply!

The obvious thing to do with ham stock and the little bits would be bean or lentil soup, which I also love. But I have also used it for couscous, so I thought, why not quinoa?

I also had half a head of cabbage still leftover from the Borscht project. Yes, it was still good, wrapped well and in the crisper. But it was time.

The box of quinoa I had, and various recipes online, warned that it is important to rinse the quinoa very thoroughly in cold water. Not just a quick rinse, but a good one -- apparently the outside of the grain contains a kind of soapy-tasting substance that you want to remove. Fortunately, I have a big sieve with a fairly fine mesh, which is important because the quinoa is tiny and would fall right through, say, a typical colander.

The ratio is 2 parts liquid to 1 part quinoa, so I used 2 cups of stock and 1 cup of quinoa, knowing that it would make a lot. But I was using a saucepan on the stove, and I've learned the hard way that it is hard to time smaller quantities of things like rice or oatmeal and get them cooked without scorching. If you use a rice cooker or the microwave -- follow the directions on the box -- you can probably make a lot less at a time. I'll try that next time.

Put the liquid and quinoa in the pan, bring to a boil, turn down to simmer, cover and cook 10-15 minutes until the water has been absorbed. Taste. Because of the ham stock, I didn't add any seasonings. Using water or even chicken stock, I might have put in a little pepper and salt or something.

While the quinoa is simmering, slice the cabbage into ribbons. Put about half a cup of liquid -- I used ham stock again because I could -- in a big pot. I used the same one the ham stock had just come out of. (I still have a quart of ham stock in the fridge.)

Bring the liquid to a simmer and toss in the cabbage and the ham bits. Season. I used pepper and cumin. No salt -- ham stock takes care of that! Stir/toss gently for a couple of minutes, only until the cabbage is beginning to wilt. Smack the lid on, turn the heat off, and walk away.

Well, actually, it might be time to peek at the quinoa, if 10-12 minutes have passed. Mine took the full 15 minutes, and I'm sure it depends a bit on what pan you use and what you consider "simmer" to be. When the liquid is absorbed -- nothing puddling in the bottom of the pan -- turn it off.

Check the cabbage now. It should be softish but with a little bite left, sort of like in a stir-fry. Cabbage al dente, as it were.

Dish it up.

I like how this came out. The braised cabbage didn't stink up the whole house, either! That little bit of cumin gives it a little subtle flavor that I liked. I'm sure other seasonings would be interesting, too.

The quinoa itself has a mildly nutty flavor and I think it worked well with the ham. I think you would always want to combine it with some pretty flavorful ingredients to avoid too bland of a dish.

Oh, and I have about three servings left for the rest of the week. I might try freezing one, to see how the cabbage holds up.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Oh, for cryin' out loud. If I had known how easy this was, I would have been making it for years. The hardest part was finding the Tahini in the store. (Look in the International foods aisle and the peanut butter aisle. Where I live, it turns up more often with the peanut butter.) I have been told that a little peanut butter can be substituted. Tahini is basically sesame seed paste, and it does have a similar taste. I would use less peanut butter, though, because the sesame paste is milder. Although I have never heard of anyone being allergic to sesame seeds, I guess it is possible; otherwise, tahini would be an interesting substitute in other recipes for people who can't have peanut butter. (Check with allergist, please!)

Here's the recipe, such as it is:

One can of garbanzo beans, a.k.a. chickpeas. I drained them and rinsed them. I am not sure that is even really necessary. Well, maybe the draining part.

A couple of cloves of garlic. Optional but highly recommended.

A little lemon juice (about half a lemon's worth, for me)

Tahini. Be sure to shake the jar, because the oil will have separated out. (Kind of like unhomogenized peanut butter -- and like it, once you open the jar, you need to refrigerate it.) I used quite a bit of tahini, but I would start with about 1/4 cup to 1 can of garbanzos, even less if you aren't sure.

Spin it in a food processor until it looks like dip. Less than a minute, for me.

That's it.

I picked up some Jalepeno Pita chips (baked) at my store. I recommend the concept. Or if you were using plain pita or plain chips, maybe add some cayenne or other pepper to the hummus.

I have read recipes that call for adding any number of ingredients to hummus, from yogurt to jalepenos to curry. Probably not all at once! Now that I get it, I will probably put more garlic in and more spices.

Because this is not dairy based, I think it should keep pretty well in the fridge. Well, as long as I don't eat it all first!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Pork Tenderloin sandwich

For someone who grew up in the Midwest, this is a favorite. In fact, last Christmas I had a horrible airline adventure that included being diverted to St. Louis and had to stay overnight, and the saving grace was that the hotel restaurant served breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches.

These aren't difficult to make, but kind of messy in terms of the prep work, so it isn't something I make often. And I wouldn't make fewer than six, just because it wouldn't be worth going through all the steps just to make one! But now I will have yummy sandwiches for several days. The rest of the pork tenderloin will be prepared in different ways.

At my store, pork tenderloin usually comes in a package of 2 pieces totaling a little under 3 pounds. This one was 2-3/4 lbs. This took about half of one of the pieces, so each sandwich actually has just about 2 ounces of meat. You could make them bigger -- I've had some that were nearly the size of a dinner plate -- but that seems excessive!

I used slices one inch thick. Pound them as thin as you can. They will be very tender and also will cook quickly.

Salt and pepper the slices.

Set up a three-pan breading station.
Pan 1: Flour, with salt and pepper added
Pan 2: Egg mixture. I used two eggs, a dash of soy sauce and a tablespoon of Dijon mustard. You could easily add Worcestershire sauce. I would avoid barbecue sauce or anything else with sugar in it, as that would burn.
Pan 3: Cracker crumbs. I used three handfuls each of Gorgonzola cheese crackers and wheat thin crackers. Put 'em in a gallon size heavy duty zipper plastic bag, squeeze the air out before closing, and go at 'em with a rolling pin. You want some really fine crumbs, but you also want some still in the 1/8- to 1/4-inch range.

Heat up that cast iron skillet with some oil that has a high smoke point. I used canola oil; peanut oil would be another good choice. Dad used to use Crisco shortening, melted, and we all survived.
Be sure to get the oil nice and hot so the tenderloins won't get too greasy (my one complaint about the ones in St. Louis!). You don't need a lot of oil, but maybe 1/8 inch across the entire bottom of the pan. There needs to be enough not only to keep the breading from sticking but also to help transfer heat to the inside.

Dip the pork in flour, shaking off the excess, then egg, then cracker crumbs, giving another shake. You want them thoroughly coated but only with what will stay stuck on.

I fried two at a time, turning when they were brown on one side, and it only took a couple of minutes on each side. Because the pork has been pounded so thin, it will be cooked in that short time.

I was able to get all six cooked without having to clean the pan, but that would be about the limit, as some of the breading does fall off anyway and starts to burn. So if I were doing more, I would stop and wipe/rinse out the pan (careful! hot!) and start with fresh oil.

I like mine with barbecue sauce on one slice of bread, mayo and pickles on the other, but that's a truly personal thing.

You don't even have to make a sandwich. I guess then it would be pork scallopini.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Gardening and an observation on compost

It has gotten really hot here, for April, so I set out three tomato plants. One is a grape tomato, one is an heirloom "German yellow" and one is called "Mortgage lifter." I couldn't resist. Apparently the guy who developed it in the '40s sold so many that it paid off his mortgage!

I gave each of them a nice dose of my homemade compost, which doesn't smell bad at all. Meanwhile, the neighborhood reeks from the county-supplied "leaf mulch" that everyone is using -- I can't even stand to have the windows open at night, or sit in the backyard to sip a glass of wine. So for everyone who is afraid compost will stink, I can only say, no.

I was also lucky enough to find a summer savory plant at the garden center this year. Usually I look to no avail.

These are all planted on the west side of my house, the only truly sunny spot, and a few feet in front of a west-facing brick wall that should keep them nice and warm if we have a cold spell. In fact, my only concern is that it will get TOO hot and I will have fried green tomatoes! Guess I'll be spending a lot of time watering.

Hummus, a quest

Had dinner last night at a Lebanese restaurant that has the best hummus I've ever tasted. In fact, not long ago, I didn't think I even liked hummus, which means what I had tasted was, well, not very good. So that will be one of my next recipe quests. I could swear there was yogurt in the hummus, but all the traditional recipes I've seen use chick peas, tahini and lemon juice. It appears to be very simple to make, but again, this was special. Maybe they just really whipped the tahini and lemon juice together to make it so fluffy, like making mayonnaise. Anyway, that will be a challenge to replicate.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lasagna, Part II

Well, I have learned that lasagna is about the perfect food to take to work and reheat in the microwave. I like almost everything about it, but as I said earlier, I might rethink the noodle part. And I also think the real key is seasoning the bolognaise sauce, which in my first attempt was a little wimpy. More seasoning is called for, probably especially because I was using ground turkey instead of ground beef.

On the positive side, I really do like that I put the grilled eggplant in. I think I will always try to buy an eggplant anytime I am planning on firing up the grill. Turns into sort of a freebie on the coals. Just like my old trick of throwing a few extra potatoes on; leftover baked potatoes are always a bonus. (I also do that when I'm using the oven for something -- throw a few potatoes in; I don't care what anyone says, an actual baked potato is way better than a microwaved potato any day. And you can do so much with them.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

First-timer's lasagna

Yes, it's true. I've never made lasagna before. I have a lot of nerve even trying it, as my sister-in-law is half Italian AND allegedly has a killer lasagna recipe. Of course, she could share it. ...

I used basically a sauce bolognaise that I made in order to use some ground turkey that I had gotten on sale. I spiced it up pretty good. I had Parmesan, but bought the lasagna noodles, mozzarella and ricotta. I also had some leftover grilled eggplant slices, and thought, "Why not?"

I am not entirely sure I believe the lasagna noodle package that said I didn't have to precook them. In a couple of places, the noodles were a little crunchy. Maybe my sauce was a little too thick to give them enough moisture. But this still beats any frozen lasagna I have used.

So now it is a matter of getting my hands on the best recipe. Ahem.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Stuff it! (If it's a pork chop)

My grocer had beautiful thick-cut pork chops -- over an inch thick. They begged to be stuffed.

In the category of "How did THIS happen?" I discovered in my pantry a package of dried morel mushrooms that for some reason I had not used. Obviously an oversight, because they are my very favorite fungus. So I knew I would include them in the stuffing.

2 thick cut pork chops. Mine were 1.99 pounds for 2, including the bones.
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 cups warm water
2 cups apple juice (or just more water, I happened to have apple juice)
4 cloves garlic, smushed, peels removed

For the stuffing:
1/2 medium onion
3-4 morel mushrooms (or any kind, but it won't be as good!)
cracker crumbs (from a handful of crackers, actually the dregs and broken pieces I had save) and bread (I used 1 big slice of a 12-grain bread) You could use all bread, but I wouldn't use all crackers.
1 egg
chicken broth (or water)

For the garnish: The rest of the package of dried mushrooms and some arugula

In a large non-reactive container that has a leakproof lid and is big enough for the chops -- I used a food storage container made from that rigid plastic -- combine the water, sugar, salt, garlic and juice. Put the lid on, making sure it's on tight, and shake, shake, shake. Add the pork chops, put the lid back on and shake a little more. Then stick the whole thing in the fridge for about an hour. This is called brining, and it helps make sure the pork chops won't be dry. Plus, it starts adding flavor.

Rinse the dried mushrooms and put in a glass bowl. Cover with chicken broth. Put that in the fridge, too.

Chop the onion fairly finely -- if the pieces are too big, it will be difficult to get them inside the chops.
Saute the onion in a little butter or oil, but only until it just begins to turn color.
Crumble the crackers and bread in a bowl and add the onions.

After the mushrooms have soaked for about half an hour, or until they've plumped up, chop 3-4 of them fairly finely. Add them to the stuffing bowl. Add one egg.

If you haven't used seasoned crackers, as I did, you might need to add some salt and pepper. I didn't.

If the mixture seems too dry, and it probably will, add a little of the broth that the mushrooms were soaking in.

Once the chops have been in the brine about an hour, take them out and dry them on paper towels.

Using a boning knife or thin-bladed utility knife, cut a slit in the center of each chop, starting from the center of the edge opposite the bone. You want to insert the knife until it touches the bone on the other side, but not poke through the meat. Keeping the "entry hole" as small as possible, probably an inch or so, work the knife inside the chop to cut a pocket. I also use my finger to feel along inside to see if I can enlarge the pocket a little.

Cram as much of the stuffing in each chop as will fit. The chop will definitely "pooch out" to let you get in more than you probably thought. Put any extra in an ovenproof dish to bake as an extra treat.

Set the oven for 350. While it is heating, grind some fresh black pepper onto the chops. I would not add salt at this stage because of the brine. Brown the chops in 2T oil or butter in a cast-iron skillet (or other skillet with oven-proof handle), turning once after about 4 minutes. Tip: Use a pair of tongs AND a turner; it also helps to lift one completely out of the pan to give yourself room to turn the other one, then use both utensils to flip and reinsert into the pan. Move the skillet to the oven and cook for 15-20 minutes.

Remove from skillet to let rest.

There should be a couple of tablespoons of fat/drippings in the skillet. Yay. That means gravy. Add an equivalent amount of flour to make a roux, and use the rest of the chicken stock that the morels had been soaking in as all or most of the liquid, and add the morels. I like to leave them whole, but do what you need to do to avoid fights. (If you need more liquid, grab more stock, some milk or even just water.) Do not be tempted to use the brining liquid, though! Way too much salt and sugar.

And, oh, yes, these chops each would easily feed two people, or last for two meals, especially if you made extra stuffing.

If I had happened to have celery on hand, or had thought to grab a couple of sticks from the grocer's "salad bar," I would have used some in the stuffing. That is, by the way, a tip for getting a small amount of an ingredient when you know you won't use up a whole plant/package. Sure, it's more expensive per pound, but you don't end up throwing a bunch of stuff away. And even if you are wary of public salad bars, and I don't blame you, it's not so worrisome when you are going to be cooking the ingredient!

Depending on many variables, including the crackers you used and how salty your chicken broth was and even how long the chops stayed in the brine, it is possible that you might want to add salt at the table. I added just a touch, mostly for the gravy, because I used low sodium chicken broth.


Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
This is me enjoying a limoncello in Rome on the last night of our trip to Italy. Funny thing is, I don't really like limoncello that much, but thought it would be great in a dessert. And wouldn't you know, The Barefoot Contessa just did a great fruit salad with limoncello. So now I can't. Oh, well.