Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup

I love my crock pot. I have found, however, that almost all the recipes in my crock pot cookbooks are for meat-based entrees. That's all well and good, but there are some times you want something lighter, or vegetarian (or that isn't made with a can of cream of chicken soup!) I ordered a book on Amazon.com, hoping to find something new and different, and I did: "Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow Cooker" by Robin Robertson.

The recipe for Black Bean Soup was easy to follow, and I had everything I needed for it already in my pantry and fridge - and I'm betting you do too. This came out better than I expected! The texture was both chunky and smooth after I used my immersion blender (you can put your soup in the blender or food processor and pulse lightly, or even use a potato masher to get your desired consistency.)

Serve this with chopped green onions, cilantro, sour cream, shredded cheese, salsa, tortilla chips, or any or all of the above. Terrific!

(Sorry about the photo. It's bean soup, and it's delicious and nutritious, but there's just no way to make it look glamorous in a photo!)

Black Bean Soup
(recipe courtesy "Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow Cooker" by Robin Robertson)

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1/2 green (I used red) bell pepper, seeded and minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cans (15.5-ounces each) black beans, rinsed
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, left undrained
  • 4 cups stock (I used less, probably closer to 3 cups)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (optional)
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, bell pepper, and garlic; cover and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Transfer the cooked vegetables to a slow cooker, add the beans, tomatoes and their juice, stock, bay leaves, cumin, thyme, and cayenne, and season with salt and black pepper. Stir to combine. Cover and cook on Low for 8 hours.
  3. Remove and discard the bay leaves and taste to adjust the seaosonings. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice, if using. To thicken, puree at least 2 cups or up to one half of the soup solids with an immersion blender used right in the cooker, or ladled into a regular blender or food processor and returned to the cooker. Serve hot.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


One of my favorite breakfasts is yogurt and granola. I had a stash of crunchy granola bars in the cupboard, and I would bash one, still in its wrapper, with my meat tenderizer mallet until it was all crumbles, and mix it into my yogurt. All good things come to an end, however, and I ate all the granola bars before I ate up my supply of yogurt.

But all is not lost! With a quick search of the pantry, I found I had all the ingredients I needed to make a batch of homemade granola. You probably do too.

The basics you need are oats, vegetable oil, and maple syrup or brown sugar. Everything else is to your own taste. Some ingredients have more fat than others (the nuts and coconut are high in fat, but are still good for you, so don't let that dissuade you.) If you don't have wheat germ in your refrigerator, I highly recommend it. It's great for you and mixes into many recipes to contribute a sweet, nutty flavor.

This is what I used - please feel free to experiment and make a granola that your kids will like. You can eat this with yogurt (and honey and bananas and berries....) or with just a splash of milk. It's good stuff - believe it.

Homemade Granola

  • 2 cups whole oats
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup or brown sugar
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. Combine oats, nuts, and other dry ingredients (EXCEPT cranberries) in a large bowl.
  2. Combine oil and maple syrup in a saucepan and simmer on low for a few minutes, stirring, just until it bubbles. Remove from heat and pour over the dry ingredients. Stir it to make sure everything is coated and damp.
  3. Spread on a foil-lined cookie sheet and bake for 60 - 90 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to ensure even toasting. Let cool, add the cranberries, and store in an airtight container.
That's it! Try adding these or other ingredients for different combos: raisins, dried cherries, dried apricots, cashews, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, or even M&Ms (when it's cooled) if you are feeling naughty.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bread and Jam, a Double Post From Scratch

Every week I buy a 3-pack of strawberries from the farmer's market. They are super-sweet and very ripe right now, so I have to use them quickly. Last week, I had too many to eat before they were going to go over the edge into Slimeville. What to do, what to do? I could freeze them and use them for smoothies, or ...

Bread and strawberry jam - great with eggs for breakfast, or a nighttime sweet tooth snack. You can make both at home, today, without much fuss. Yes, there's more labor involved than just throwing some groceries in your basket, but it's worth it!

First, the bread. For some reason, I usually have a really difficult time working with yeast. But this bread baked up fluffy and hearty. I found the recipe on the Fleischmann's yeast web page, so the recipe I list below is based on that, with a few changes to fit my needs. If you've never made your own bread, this is the easiest recipe I could find, and I think it's a good place to start. Considering a loaf of sandwich bread can go for $4 nowadays, it might be worth your while to try baking your own.

The jam was even easier to make. I used a three-pack from the farmer's market, so I'm not sure exactly what the weight is (since they load those green plastic pint containers to the top.) It's worth it to buy organic strawberries, since commercial farmers spray the heck out of those little fellas. I included the instructions for canning the jam, and you can pick up mason jars and lids at the grocery store. Canned jars of jam will last a year or more - it's a total money-saver, especially if you have kids (mine eats jam on toast as often as you'll let her). If you don't can it, the jam needs to stay in the fridge. You'll have a lot, so pick up some plastic storage containers and share with friends! This recipe made five 8 oz. jars of jam to store in the pantry, plus about 16 ounces I am keeping in the fridge ... to eat on the bread!

Easy Wheat Bread
(based on this recipe: http://www.breadworld.com/Recipe.aspx?id=235)

  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour (you can use all-purpose if you don't have wheat)
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 envelopes Fleischmann's RapidRise yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  1. In the bowl of your electric mixer, stir together 2 cups of the flour, the sugar, yeast and salt. Use the dough hook attachment. (You can do this with just a bowl and a wooden spoon, but the electric mixer is much much easier!)
  2. Mix together the water, milk and butter and heat to 120*-130* F. Stir the liquid mixture into the dry mixture to combine. Beat for 2 minutes on medium and scrape the sides.
  3. Add another cup of flour and beat for 2 minutes on high, scraping down the sides. Keep adding flour, little by little, until the dough is soft and clings to the dough hook.
  4. Lightly flour a big cutting board or your counter and knead the dough for 8-10 minutes, until it is elastic and smooth. Put the dough in an oiled bowl and cover for 10 minutes to rise.
  5. Spray two loaf pans with Pam. Divide the dough in half. Flatten and stretch the dough into a 12"x7" rectangle, then, starting at a long end, roll up tightly like a jelly roll. Pinch the seams and place the rolls seam-side down in the pan. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about an hour.
  6. Bake at 400*F for 25-30 minutes. The bread should sound hollow if you tap the top of it. Take the bread from the pans and let cool on racks.

Easy Strawberry Jam
(Courtesy Sure Jell)

  • 2 quarts ripe strawberries
  • 1 box Sure Jell (I found it on a high shelf in the baking aisle, by the cake mixes and spices)
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter
  • 7 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (optional, but I like the depth of flavor it adds)
  1. Wash the canning jars, rings, and lids with hot soapy water. Put the empty jars in a tall pot of water - there should be at least an inch of water covering the top of the jars. Bring the water to a simmer, and keep the jars simmering until they are ready to be filled. Using a smaller pot, simmer the lids and rings on low until ready to use.
  2. Hull the strawberries. In the bottom of a pie plate, crush them with a potato masher (or a fork) and measure them, until you have 5 cups of berries. Put the berries in a large pot on the stove. Measure out 7 cups of sugar into a big bowl - you want to add the sugar all at once, so have it ready to go now.
  3. Stir the pectin, butter, and balsamic vinegar into the strawberries - make sure the pectin gets dissolved and that you don't have any clumps of pectin in the pot. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil (that doesn't stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in the sugar, and return to a full rolling boil for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and skim off any foam with a metal spoon.
  4. Take the jars from the simmering water and pour out the water, but don't dry them. Ladle the jam into the jars, leaving 1/8" - 1/4" room at the top of the jar. Screw on the lids and put the jars back in the big pot of water. Make sure jars are covered by at least an inch of water; cover and simmer for ten minutes. Remove the jars from the water and place upright on a towel to cool completely. After the jars cool, check seals by pressing on the middle of the lid with your finger. If the lid springs back, it's not sealed and the jar needs to be refrigerated.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Baked Beans (Mom's Recipe Box Find #2)

One of my guilty food pleasures is a right-off-the-grill hot dog. I know, not the most gourmet of foods, or the healthiest, but everything in moderation, right? And what goes better with hot dogs than baked beans? Now you could just open a can of baked beans and plop them in a saucepan, but where's the fun in that? Make your own!

Once I decided to do just that, I found my Mom's recipe for baked beans. That poor note card has seen better days, but its hard-used appearance proves what a popular recipe it is.

I didn't have any canned white beans in the pantry, but I did have a one-pound bag of dried white beans. They take more preparation than canned beans (obviously - canned beans come out ready for use) but are worth the effort. First, dried beans are cheaper than their canned cousins, because once you soak and rehydrate them, they double in weight. (Put another way, when you buy canned beans, you are paying for water.) Second, you are avoiding any salt, preservatives, or chemicals in the canned beans, not to mention the chance of BPA in the can itself.

Anyway, I soaked the beans the night before, but they double in size, so I only used half. (You can now freeze the rehydrated beans in a Ziploc bag and thaw them when you have another recipe for them.) I used my Mom's recipe as a jumping off point, and they were just as delicious as hers were. I realized they don't need to bake in the oven and are great on the stovetop - that way you won't have to heat up your kitchen on a hot summer day to make them. These are easy, cheap to make, and will impress everyone who has them. Hearty, smoky and fantastic, these put those watery, gloopy canned baked beans to shame!

Baked Beans

  • 1/2 pound dried white beans, soaked overnight in 6 cups water (or use 2 cans of white beans, reserving some of the canning liquid)
  • 5 slices bacon, diced (obviously, vegetarians can omit this, or replace with soy bacon)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 1/4 cup BBQ sauce (optional, but I like the smokiness - you could also try a few dashes of liquid smoke)
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  1. Drain the water from the beans you soaked. Put the beans in a pot, cover with about 4 cups of water and a lid, and cook over medium heat for about 2 hours. You don't want to cook off all the water, so check in on them every once in a while. When they're done, save about a cup of the cooking water to use in the baked beans, in case you like them a little "saucier" than I do.
  2. In a Dutch oven or very heavy-bottomed pot, fry the bacon. When it's about halfway to crunchy, add the onion. When the bacon looks done, add the beans. Turn the heat down to low and stir everything together for a few minutes.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine. Give it a taste and see if you need to adjust the seasonings. It likely won't need salt, but you may like some pepper.
  4. Cover and cook on low heat for half an hour. Check the consistency - if it's too thick, add some of the bean cooking water; too thin, take the lid off and let simmer. Serve hot.
These make great leftovers (I had them for breakfast and felt sort of British.) Even better, add leftover hot dogs for a white-trash-tastic lunch.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Experiments With New Foods: Bulgur

Let me clarify: I've had bulgur before, because I LOVE tabbouleh. I've just never cooked with it myself. For whatever reason, I've always shied away from buying it and have made tabbouleh at home with couscous. But the bulgur called to me, yesterday in Whole Foods from the bulk bins, and I decided now was as good a time as any to try my hand with it.

Bulgur is minimally processed wheat, so it counts as a whole grain, and is in fact more nutritious than brown rice. It is high in fiber, has six grams of protein per cup, and is really easy to prepare (to my relief.) While I found several different suggestions for how to cook it, I chose what I would call the "steaming" method. I added half a cup of uncooked bulgur to 1 cup of water and a little salt in a pan and brought it to a boil. As soon as it boiled, I turned off the heat, put the lid on the pan, and let the water steam and absorb into the bulgur, for 20 minutes. I drained off what little water remained (maybe 2 tablespoons) and it was ready to go into my tabbouleh.

Tabbouleh is one of the healthiest, tastiest salads you can make, and it comes together in a snap. By the time your bulgur is ready and has cooled off, all your other ingredients can be prepared. And what to do with leftover bulgur? I made it for breakfast for my daughter and I. I added a little milk, some raisins, and cinnamon and microwaved until warm. It was delicious, like a cross in flavor between oatmeal and Cream of Wheat. A nutritious ingredient (and pretty cheap, at $2.69 a pound) that makes a terrific meal at dinner AND breakfast? I'm sold!


  • 1/2 cup uncooked bulgur
  • 1 large or 2 small bunches parsley
  • 2 green onions
  • 2 small Persian cucumbers or 1/2 large hothouse cucumber (you can use regular cucumbers, but remove skin and seeds if you do)
  • 1 roma tomato (or more, I'm not a fan of raw tomatoes)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large lemon
  • 3tbs - 1/4 cup olive oil
  1. Follow the instructions above to cook the bulgur, or if you have another method, feel free to use that. Let the bulgur cool, so it is warm or at room temperature.
  2. While the bulgur is cooking, chop the parsley. Use the leaves and the stems. I pulsed mine in the food processor and it came out great, but you can easily do this by hand. Finely slice the green onions, and dice the cucumber and tomato into 1/4-inch pieces.
  3. In a large bowl, add the parley. Stir in the onion, cucumber and tomato. Pour about 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil over the salad - you want everything coated, but you don't want a pool of oil in the bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. In a small bowl, juice the lemon, making sure to remove all the seeds. You can add the zest too (I did, just because I love it!) Stir into the salad and taste - if it's too acidic, add more oil.
  5. When bulgur is cool, mix into the salad. Let this marinate for an hour for the flavors to develop. This goes great with hummus and pita!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mom's Recipe Box Find: Zucchini Bread

When my Mom passed away in October, the first thing I called dibs on was her recipe box. I remember that same old beat-up box sitting on the kitchen counter from my earliest memories. Some of the recipes were on index cards in my Mom's school-teacher penmanship, while others were from relatives, or in an unfamiliar hand, and still more were torn from newspapers or magazines. This one is of the first kind, in Mom's writing, giving credit to my Grandmother's friend Sue Bohner for the recipe.

We used to eat this often when I was a kid. This snack bread (and her recipe for banana bread) stood in for the cookies and candy available at other kids' houses. Full of raisins and walnuts (though I omitted the nuts from this batch, since my daughter is allergic), it's sweet enough to please any kid, but also sneaks in some vegetables to keep healthy moms happy.

I made a few changes from the original. A cup of oil seemed heavy, so I subbed with half a cup of applesauce. I also switched out a cup of regular flour for some whole wheat flour. Then I realized I only had one largish zucchini left, so I subbed half the zucchini with a cup of grated carrots. These changes were pretty negligible as far as consistency and taste went, so please feel free to use my Mom's original, or my doctored version.

Zucchini Bread
(recipe courtesy of my Mom's recipe box, via Sue Bohner)

  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (or use regular if you don't have wheat)
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup grated zucchini, about one large zucchini
  • 1 cup grated carrots, about 2 or 3 large carrots
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (I omitted these)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, beat eggs with sugar. Stir in oil, applesauce, and vanilla.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture, stirring well.
  4. Stir in the zucchini, carrots, raisins and walnuts (if using).
  5. Pour batter into a well-greased loaf pan and bake. Unfortunately, my Mom's recipe doesn't specify how long it needs to bake for. Mine went for about an hour and 20 minutes. I recommend baking it for an hour, then checking it with a toothpick every 15 minutes or so.
This bakes up big and dense. My daughter likes hers, for dessert, with butter. I like mine with cream cheese.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Experiments With New Foods: Dandelion Greens

Dandelion greens are something that I've been aware of, but never encountered myself (aside from the ones messing up the back yard!) From Ray Bradbury's "Dandelion Wine" to settler's stories read as a kid, I'd always known you could eat them, but not the methods of preparation.

Now that spring is here, there are many kinds of greens and veggies to be found at the farmer's market, and some of them may be new to you. I decided to take the plunge and buy some dandelion greens, since neither my husband or I had ever tasted them. I searched my cookbooks, to no avail, and then turned to the internet for ideas. I found a recipe from Emeril Lagasse, and they turned out pretty good!

Dandelion greens are very bitter. I mean, kale and mustard greens are bitter, and dandelion greens go way beyond that! I liked this recipe because the white beans gave a mellowing balance to the greens, and the bacon (I subbed for pancetta) contributed a smoky, Southern feel. It came together quickly and (aside from the bacon fat) was quite healthy.

I highly recommend experimenting with new ingredients. You might be surprised and find a new favorite flavor. Worst case scenario, you don't like it - it's just one dish. In our case, we liked them, but won't be planting our own soon ... or trying to graze on the ones in the backyard.

Garlic-Braised Dandelion Greens with White Bean Puree and Crispy Pancetta
(recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse, via foodnetwork.com)

  • 3 cups cooked white beans, drained
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 pound fresh young dandelion greens, tough ends trimmed, well washed
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • chopped parsley and thyme, for serving
  • kosher salt, for serving
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving
  1. In a food processor, combine the beans, 1/4 cup of the chicken broth and 6 tablespoons of the olive oil and process until mostly smooth, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside, covered at room temperature, until ready to serve.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the pancetta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until crispy and all of the fat has been rendered, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a paper lined plate to drain and set aside. Reduce the heat to low and allow rendered fat to cool slightly. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, until garlic is lightly golden around the edges, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the greens and remaining chicken broth and cover the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook 1 to 2 minutes, until greens are wilted. Uncover the pan and add the sugar and salt to taste. Stir to thoroughly combine. Cover the pan and continue to cook until the greens are tender, 5 to 10 minutes longer. The greens may be served warm or at room temperature.
  3. When ready to serve, divide the bean puree evenly among 6 appetizer plates. Divide the greens among the plates, arranging them around the bean puree. Drizzle each plate with 1 tablespoon of the remaining olive oil and a pinch of chopped parsley and thyme, and a pinch of the kosher salt. Divide the reserved crispy pancetta evenly among the plates and serve each plate with a lemon wedge.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Oven-Roasted Pork Chops with Lemon-Caper Sauce

Where others have a sweet tooth, I have a sour tooth. I've been known to use only vinegar, and skip the oil, when dressing my salad. I eat cornichons like other people eat bon bons. So when I saw this recipe for pork chops in a lemon caper sauce, I knew I was going to like it.

Using a recipe from my "Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook", I skipped the step of brining my pork chops, mostly because I didn't read the recipe far enough in advance to do it before dinner. They came out fine without it, and were very juicy. These were easy, quick, and nearly fool-proof. They were tart and tangy (but not puckery, so if you are not a sour-lover like me, you won't be put off.)

Oven-Roasted Pork Chops with Lemon-Caper Sauce
(adapted from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook)

  • 4 pork chops, about 1 1/2 inches thick, trimmed of excess fat
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup juice from 2 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat, and brown the pork chops on one side, for about 2 minutes. Flip and brown the other side, another 2 minutes.
  2. Transfer the chops to a foil-lined baking sheet, or large, wide baking dish (so they aren't crowded or touching each other.) Roast in the oven until the internal temperature reaches 140 to 145 degrees on a thermometer, about 15 minutes, turning them over halfway through the cooking time. Remove from the oven, place on a platter, and cover with aluminum foil. Let them rest for about 5 minutes, and check to make sure the internal temperature has reached 150 degrees.
  3. While the chops are in the oven, add the shallot to the skillet you cooked the pork chops in, and cook over medium heat until softened, about 30 seconds.
  4. Increase the heat and add the broth, stirring to scrape up any bits stuck to the pan. Add the lemon juice and capers and cook until the sauce reduces to about 1/3 cup, about 4 minutes.
  5. Off the heat, whisk in the butter, and pour over the pork chops.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad

My husband and I were young and in love, eating miraculous food and drinking amazing wine. It was our first trip to Napa Valley. We stopped for lunch at Bistro Jeanty, and I ordered this salad. It was my first time eating roasted beets in a salad, and I never forgot how delicious it was. This is the perfect starter salad, or make it a light lunch with some crusty bread.

Beets are a winter veggie, so find them now, in the store or at the farmer's market, while they are in season and the price is right. Any salad greens mix will work: from delicate baby spring greens or butter lettuce to hearty spinach or the more bitter frisee or arugula. Goat cheese is available almost everywhere - pick some up next time you're at Trader Joe's! As for the dressing, I like the most basic combination of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. You can experiment with citrus or fruit vinegars too.

Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad

  • 1 pound of beets, red or golden
  • 1 package of soft goat cheese
  • 1 bag salad mix
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  1. Wash the beets and remove the green stems. I also like to nip off the little root tail, so the beet is pretty spherical. On a large piece of aluminum foil, nestle the beets together and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap the foil over and around the beets so they are sealed in. Bake at 375 for about an hour. To test for doneness, squeeze the foil package - the beets should feel tender under pressure.
  2. Open the foil and let the beets cool so you can handle them. You might want to wear plastic gloves for this: with a paring knife, remove the skin from the beets. It should peel right off, and you may not even need the knife, you can just grab and pull. The beets will stain your hands shocking red for a while if you don't wear gloves, but it will come off before work in the morning!
  3. Cut the beets into your preferred shape: julienne, slices, whatever you like for bite-sized eating. Set aside to finish cooling.
  4. Wash your greens, plate them, and dress with oil and vinegar. Sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of crumbled goat cheese and a handful of beets. I like to add a little more vinegar at this point. Add salt and pepper to taste.
If there are any beets left over, I like to eat them the next day ... with oil, vinegar and goat cheese. Sometimes lettuce just gets in the way.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Lunar New Year Dumplings

Happy Lunar New Year! Some might call it Chinese New Year, but other Asian countries celebrate it as well. Good luck food traditions abound and apply to Chinese, Korean, and other cultures: oranges and tangerines for sweetness and good fortune, long noodles for a long and healthy life, and dumplings, which look like silver ingots and are said to bring wealth and luck. I've always loved dumplings (or "gyoza" in Japanese, and "mandu" in Korean), so I decided to make some to celebrate the new year!

I had no trouble finding recipes online. They all varied infinitesimally, so I cobbled together a generic recipe for pork mandu. A few of the recipes called for the pork to be cooked before stuffing into the mandu skins, but most did not. I, however, was a little freaked out by stuffing raw meat into the skins, so I did cook the pork a little - not to doneness, but just so it wasn't pink anymore. Yes, the filling will be more cohesive and less crumbly if you leave it raw, and please feel free to do so, but it just creeped me out!

Everything should be pretty easy to find in your regular grocery store. You can use won ton wrappers, which are square, instead of mandu or gyoza wrappers, which are round. I used Napa cabbage, but you can easily substitute green cabbage - just be sure it's diced very small since it's pretty stiff.

May you have good luck in the Year of the Rabbit, and may your dumplings be delicious!

Pork Mandu

  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1 large carrot, shredded or chopped in a food processor
  • about 1/2 cup cabbage, shredded finely
  • 4 green onions, chopped small
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped small
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for the cabbage
  • 1 package gyoza skins (mine had 25 skins in the package)
  1. After you've shredded your veggies or chopped them in the food processor, sprinkle with a good teaspoon of salt, focusing on the cabbage. Let sit for 15 minutes or so, and then squeeze out the water. You can do this by hand, or put them in a strainer and press with your hands or the back of a spoon. You don't want watery filling.
  2. You can skip this if you like, but I browned the pork in a little sesame oil, just until it wasn't pink anymore. Take the meat off the heat and into the strainer and press out any water and fat.
  3. Add pork and veggies to a mixing bowl, then add the ginger, garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce and salt. Stir to combine.
  4. To fill dumplings, hold a gyoza skin in your left hand, and spoon a teaspoonful (don't be tempted to over-fill!) of filling into the middle. Dip your finger into a bowl of water and wet one half of the edge of the skin, making a C. Fold the other half over and press to seal. I gave mine two little pleats, just to be pretty, but a straight fold is fine too.

To cook: you can add these to soup, or just boil them in chicken broth and add some green onions and a little soy sauce for a really fast dumpling soup. I like mine fried. Heat a teaspoon of sesame oil in a skillet and add your dumplings. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes on medium-low heat until they get golden and crispy (watch carefully, they burn quickly!) Flip the dumplings, add 3 tablespoons of water to the pan, and cover. This steams them and cooks the filling evenly. After 3 or 4 minutes, remove lid and cook until golden and crispy. Serve with a dipping sauce of 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar, and 1 tablespoon sugar.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rice Krispies Trail Mix Treats

Yes, that sorry little rectangle you see is all that remained of this recipe before I took a photo. My husband and I demolished an 8x8 pan of these babies in record time!

I was craving Rice Krispies treats, but felt a little guilty about it - not a whole lot of nutritional value in all those marshmallows! Then, I turned the cereal box over, and low and behold, a much healthier alternative! Rice Krispies Trail Mix Treats!

I made a few substitutions when I made the recipe. First off, instead of using a muffin tin, I just pressed them into an 8x8 metal pan - worked just fine. Also, I used sunflower seed butter instead of peanut butter - just as tasty! This recipe seems like it could take on a whole lot of added flavors - M&Ms or chocolate chips instead of raisins, dry-roasted peanuts in addition to the sunflower seeds, or even adding coconut into the mix. Try them - I think you (and maybe even your kids) will like them!

Rice Krispies Trail Mix Treats
(recipe courtesy of Melissa d'Arabian, on the back of the cereal box)

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups miniature marshmallows, or 20 regular marshmallows
  • 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups Rice Krispies cereal
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup raisins or dried tart cherries
  • 1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds
  1. In large saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat. Stir in peanut butter and vanilla until peanut butter melts.
  2. Add Rice Krispies cereal, oats, raisins and sunflower seeds. Stir until well coated.
  3. Portion evenly into twenty 2 1/2" muffin pan cups coated with cooking spray. Firmly press cereal mixture down into cups. Refrigerate about 30 minutes or until firm. Use fork to lift treats out of cups.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Curried Chicken Salad

After using leftovers creatively, my most frugal tip is to buy whole chickens and cut them up yourself as opposed to buying chicken pieces at the grocery store. This guarantees that, if you are cooking for two (or two plus a toddler, like I am) you will get two meals out of one bird. The first, of course, is what you make with the thighs, drums, and breasts. The second is what you do with the carcass. Here is what I did with my bird last week: Curried Chicken Salad.

Chicken salad is an incredibly flexible dish and can be simple (mayo, celery and dill) or all dolled up, like it is here. Apples and raisins are always in my house, so that was easy. Celery is a useful veggie and adds base flavors in soups and stews - just be sure to wrap it tightly in aluminum foil so it doesn't wilt within the week. Curry powder is another staple to have on hand. Experiment with different brands - some are sweeter, some are spicier - and find one you like. I stuffed the Curried Chicken Salad into a split croissant, but it goes great on whole wheat bread, and is even easier on the diet when served in Bibb lettuce leaves.

Curried Chicken Salad
  • I chicken carcass, or two bone-in breasts
  • 1 small apple, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1/3 cup raisins (or dried cranberries)
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 - 2 teaspoons curry powder, to taste
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Boil the chicken carcass in salted water until cooked through and falling off the bone. When done, remove from water and let cool in a bowl.
  2. While the chicken is cooking, dice the apple and celery and add them in a large bowl. Squeeze the lemon over them to keep the apples from browning. Add the raisins and cilantro.
  3. Mix the curry powder and mayo together, and taste - it will need salt and maybe pepper and more lemon juice.
  4. Remove the chicken from the bones and shred or chop finely. Add to the apple mixture and stir in mayo and curry dressing and chopped cilantro. Mix well and chill until ready to eat.
You can substitute plain yogurt for half of the mayo, if you like. Also, chopped walnuts would be great in this!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chicken with Tarragon and White Wine

Of all the things in the refrigerator that can go bad, fresh herbs are the worst. I can't tell you how many times I've purchased a bunch of cilantro / parsley / basil / et cetera for one recipe, put the remainder in the veggie drawer, and forgotten about it until it was useless green mush. Herbs are expensive, especially in the winter when you can't grow them outside, so to waste them is painful to me.

Case in point: I made the Green Goddess Salad, which used a few tablespoons of chopped tarragon, a few nights ago. I still had more than half a container of tarragon to use, and desperately needed a recipe for it. A quick search of foodnetwork.com found a Giada De
Laurentis recipe for Chicken with Tarragon and White Wine.

Buy a whole chicken, cut it up for this recipe, and use the carcass for another. I didn't have cippolini onions, so I diced half a red onion instead. For the wine, I had half a bottle of Reisling in the fridge, and I liked the brightness and gentle acidity it lent to the sauce. We mopped up the leftovers with crusty bread and ate it with a salad.

Chicken with Tarragon and White Wine
(recipe by Giada De Laurentis, courtesy of foodnetwork.com)

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 (4 -5 pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • salt and pepper
  • flour for dusting
  • 1 1/2 cups cipollini or pearl onions, trimmed and peeled
  • 4 cloves garlic, halved
  • 1 cup white wine, such as Riesling
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus 1/3 cup
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh tarragon leaves, plus 2 tablespoons
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  1. In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat the oil over high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, to taste, and dust with flour. Cook the chicken, turning occasionally, until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Remove the chicken and set aside.
  2. Heat the same pan used for the chicken over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to high. Add the wine and scrape up the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
  3. Return the chicken pieces to the pan. Add 3 cups of chicken broth and 1/2 cup of tarragon and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan and cook, turning the chicken pieces over every 10 minutes, until cooked through, about 30 minutes total for the breasts and wings and 40 minutes total for the legs and thighs. Transfer the chicken to a platter and loosely tent with foil while finishing the sauce.
  4. In a small bowl, mix together the remaining 1/3 cup chicken broth and flour. Whisk the flour mixture into the sauce until smooth. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the butter and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve the sauce over the chicken and garnish with the remaining 2 tablespoons of tarragon.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Green Goddess Salad With Shrimp

I am a huge believer in eating what's in season. It ensures you eat a variety of fruits and veggies, and can help you save money, because it's cheaper to buy what's fresh at the farmer's market than to pony up the big bucks for foreign produce at the grocery store (not to mention the environmental impact of shipping fruit from South America.) That said, sometimes, in the midst of winter, when days are cold and nights are long, you crave a bright bit of summer. Rules are made to be broken, and when I saw the fresh tarragon in the produce aisle, well, I couldn't resist.

Green goddess dressing is really easy to make and easily adaptable to whatever fresh herbs you have on hand. Parsley is always available, and so are green onions, so you just need to find one more flavor component to make your dressing zing. Tarragon is my favorite, but other recipes I've seen feature basil or even arugula. And don't leave out the anchovy paste! If you've never used it before, don't be scared - it adds a salty, almost soy sauce flavor, and isn't fishy or gross. A tube of it will keep in your fridge forever, and I keep it handy for Caesar salad.

You could easily sub out the shrimp in the salad for cooked chicken, canned tuna, or hard-boiled eggs for you vegetarians out there. This salad is terrific during the summer when herbs are plentiful, and a real treat in the depths of winter.

Green Goddess Salad With Shrimp

  • 1 pound fresh raw shrimp (I used 21-25, but smaller or larger is fine)
  • 1 large bag salad greens of your choice (at least 3 oz. salad per person)
  • 1 small red or yellow bell pepper, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons toasted pepitas (optional)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • juice of one lemon
  • a 2-inch-long squeeze of anchovy paste
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 green onions, white and green parts
  • 3 tablespoons parsley, or more
  • 2 tablespoons tarragon, or more
  1. Make the dressing: I just put everything in the food processor. Yup, it was that easy. Blend it all up, taste it - does it need more tarragon? More lemon? More anchovy? Fix it, blend it, taste again. Once you have it perfect, put it in the fridge to chill while you make the salad.
  2. Shell the shrimp. In a large pan, heat 1 tablespoon butter, and add shrimp. Salt them and cook for about 90 seconds, or until pink on the bottom. Flip the shrimp and cook for another minute or two until opaque and hot through. Be careful not to overcook or the shrimp will get tough and rubbery.
  3. Add the pepitas and shrimp to the salad and dress liberally with the green goddess dressing and fresh cracked pepper.
We ate this with pita chips and some hummus for a light and fantastic supper!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Project: Rescuing Rice

The Patient: 12 ounces cooked Basmati rice
Status: Declining
Solution: Indian Rice Pudding!

I love Basmati rice. It has the most wonderful perfume to it and isn't as sticky or heavy-feeling as the Korean rice we usually eat here. I made a pot of Basmati rice in the rice cooker, to go along with a vegetable curry and Lamb Kofta Curry. We ate everything but a good cup and a half of cooked rice. Instead of trying to cobble together something to eat with that small amount of rice, I decided to tackle it head-on. Rice, once cooked, doesn't stay nice for long, so that night, after dinner, I made Indian Rice Pudding.

In my pantry I had a can of coconut milk, and I pawed through my spice cabinet to find something to bring life to an otherwise bland dish. I think it was a success. The proof? I ate half for dessert and the other half for breakfast.

Indian Rice Pudding

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked Basmati rice
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1/4 cup sugar (or to taste)
  1. Place the rice and coconut milk in a small pot over low heat. Add the spices, stir in the sugar, and simmer on low for about half an hour. The rice will de-clump, the milk will thicken, and the kitchen should smell heavenly.
  2. Once your preferred consistency has been reached, remove cinnamon stick, anise, and cardamom pods. Serve warm with cinnamon sprinkled on top. You could eat this with some sliced mangoes, if you have them on hand.