Monday, June 30, 2008

Roasted Chicken and Veggies

Alright... I'm going to say it, but I'm only going to say it this one time. I tried to find a way around it tonight and was unsuccessful. So I apologise in advance if you get sick when I say it. Miracle Whip. Yes, that's right. Miracle Whip. The most foul, unnatural substance. I have always said that people who claim this is a replacement for mayonnaise are crack-smoking heathens. Unfortunately, I was right about that.

I got saddled with a bottle of Miracle Whip a few years ago. I really hate throwing food, and food-like approximations, away so I found one use for it: it's great, slathered on a chicken pre-roasting, to help crisp up the skin. I'd mixed it with avocado, and despite the flak I caught from everyone before the chicken came out of the oven, I'd been right that whatever unnatural thing Miracle Whip is would work for this specific job (and no other).

You have to understand, I hate mayonnaise. And Miracle Whip, the supposed substitute, is so foul as to make me want to eat mayonnaise out of the bottle (I almost threw up when I typed that). In keeping with this, I tried to use mayonnaise tonight. It was a little rocky (I also had no avocado, which may have had some impact). It appears mayo doesn't melt as well as I thought it did, so I ended up scraping off a bit of it so it could crisp the skin. Fortunately, the chicken was still delicious, despite this little hiccup. I'm not really sure if they sell bitty bottles of the other stuff, so I may just go sans-fat-and-sugar-additions in the future.

1 chicken, ~4 pounds
1 small orange, cut into quarters
ends from the celery below
handful fresh mint
handful fresh parsley
1 scallion, cut into thirds
2 sun-dried tomatoes
salt and pepper

1 large leek (or 2 littler ones), washed, trimmed and sliced into 1/4" half moons
1 cup baby carrots
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (ideally, when you buy them not soaked in oil, they should be supple and pliant and not scary to consider eating without cooking first)
1 small winter squash (in fairness, this should probably not be part of the recipe, since I was storing this squash as part of an experiment, much like the cilantro experiment), cut into 1/2" pieces
3 celery stalks, sliced into 3" chunks
1/4 cup Miracle Whip (and toss in an avocado; mash them together)
14 garlic cloves
salt and pepper
few ladlefuls of stock (optional)

Heat oven to 350F. Salt and pepper the cavity of the chicken. Fill it with the parsley, mint, orange, celery ends, tomatoes and scallion. Line a dutch oven or other cooking vessel with the veggies. Slather the miracle whip onto the chicken and salt and pepper the chicken as well. Nestle the chicken in the veggies and cover. Put it in the oven. Bake 45 minutes, then uncover. If it seems dry in there, add a bit of stock. Return to oven and roast another 45 minutes. Turn the heat up to 450 and continue cooking until the chicken is 180F. Serves 2 w/ leftovers for chicken salad, or serves 4.

I forgot to take pictures. I realised this as I was starting to shred breast because I like it in little bits.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Calculus Kitty

Does this make sense to you?

I'm getting frustrated.

Maybe I just need a break?

I've had enough. Let's eat the book!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tuna Casserole, Apple Pie and Apple Drink

3-in-1 today... Woo.

Today appeared to be, "I am too freaking tired from trying to learn half a semester's worth of integrals in two days to not sit in the kitchen and destress a bit." Enter, Russian Apple Pie, otherwise known as "apple cake." A delicious treat that takes so little to make and provides such a wonderful, love-filled reward. Every bite is paradise.

I learned about apple cake when some Russians I knew asked me if I could make an apple pie. I said yes, and appeared some time later with an apple pie. The Russians were confused. Apparently, what we Americans think of (is it us?) apple pie is about as far from what they think of as is possible. The "pie" was described to me. It sounded like a more pudding-ish version of pineapple upside down cake, except with apples. So I hunted around on the internet until I found one whopping recipe (now I see there are dozens out there), on some obscure site I've now lost, written by a wonderful, godly woman named Olga (I am not being sarcastic. This cake is next to godliness, as anyone who's had it can tell you), whose English was a little confusing in some parts, but I figured it out. Hi Olga. If you ever see this, by some stroke of fortune, say hi. I'd like to thank you personally for all the happiness you've brought me. The Russians were happy, and I had a new dessert to cherish. See, it's not only inexpensive to make, but it requires so little of me that it's truly a joy to make, even when I'm stressed past the point where even baking is soothing for me.

I'll be honest, though. I lost the recipe once. I had to reconstruct it, which resulted, sadly, in a number of years without apple cake. I now call it apple cake because I've learned that I will have to listen to "thaaaaaat's not piiiiiiiiiiiieeeee. That's caaaake" when I feed it to people without calling it cake. So, just in case, so I don't lose it again, here's the recipe.

Apple Cake

3 small sour apples (I use granny smith)
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup flour

Turn the oven to 350F. Core, peel and slice the apples. Put them in a prepared 8" pan (mine is 8x8, 'cause I like 'em square. I also use one of those silicone bits on the bottom, since it's easiest to clean). Whisk together the eggs, sugar and soda. Add in the flour. It should be like sour cream (that's what Olga said. I never understood what that meant until recently, when P and I got some freaking amazing sour cream that was also Russian and the texture was ... different, in a good way, from ours). Pour it on top of the apples (don't shake it or mix it; it'll get all over the apples, don't worry). Bake 30 minutes (I have never found this 30 minutes bit to be accurate; it's always about an hour. But maybe she had convection and I don't) or until done. Let it cool somewhat in the pan, then flip it over onto a plate. Cut, eat, enjoy! And try to share - more people should get to eat this stuff.

Anyway, I was making simple syrup at the same time as all this, so I could make P some iced raspberry tissane and some bergamade also. Usually I just use honey powder or caster sugar, but, eh. I was looking at the apple peels and cores and I realised I could make an apple simple syrup too, which might be nice mixed with some club soda. I didn't want to waste the peels, and I also didn't feel like getting out my stock leavings bag from the freezer, and I'm kind of into syrup right now. That's all.

Apple Syrup/Apple Drink

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
peels and cored of 3 small granny smith apples

Bring the water to a boil. Add and dissolve the sugar. Let it hang out and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat and toss in the apple bits. Stir and push the bits down. Let it steep for an hour. Strain and pour into a bottle to cool. Store in the fridge for a few weeks, or use it quickly (I think it'd be good on pancakes, but P told me I make griddle cakes, not pancakes, so if someone wants to tell me how they're different, and share a pancake recipe with me, I'll make them and try the syrup with them).

Apple Drink

apple syrup
club soda to fill the rest of the glass
ice if you like it

Mix, drink, enjoy. I am enjoying about 1/4 cup in a 1 pint glass, the rest with soda and with no ice.

And lastly, my dinner. This is the only time you will ever see (read?) me use a canned soup as part of... well, anything. I only do it because I'm too lazy to make my own soup, and because I make this when I don't feel like cooking dinner. Because it's easy. I used to eat this a lot in College Round One, too.

Tuna Casserole

1 large can tuna in water; water drained and given to the cat with a couple bits in it of flesh
1 can cream of celery (I buy the generic; I can't stomach the idea of paying 2 bucks a can or whatever Campbell's sells it for)
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup frozen vegetable of some other type (or more corn, but mainly I like greenbeans and corn)
1/2 bag egg noodles; I get the Manishevitz ones
1 tablespoon lemon pepper, or to taste

Make the pasta according to package directions (I go 6 minutes, so I don't actually know what the package says). Drain the pasta and mix with everything else. Bake at 350F for one hour, or microwave for 10 minutes. That's how I do it when I'm famished.

On a happy note, I found some freakishly large leeks at the store, and I am excited. I love oddly sized vegetables. And no pictures today, because I mainly just didn't really feel like it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Shepherd's Salad

Ok, so in fairness, this is not exactly a normal shepherd's salad. I added some stuff. But it's how I like them best, so there you have it.

1 cucumber, peeled, and cut into big chunks (I leave the seeds in; you do what you like)
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into big chunks
2 scallions, cut into 1/2" long pieces
1 medium tomato, cut into big chunks
3 stalks celery, cut into 1" long pieces
2 teaspoons dried oregano (if you have fresh, use it. I have some I dried from my old garden, and I am scared to plant it here since it truly is a weed), crushed
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, torn up
1/4 cup fresh mint, torn up
large handful kalamata olives, pitted*
2-3 ounces fresh feta, crumbled (in this instance, I have a French feta)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste (optional)
sumac for sprinkling on individual portions (meaning I didn't put it in the whole salad)

Combine everything and stir. Chill, or not, and eat! Serves 1-2.

*I buy my kalamatas still with pits in them. If you do the same, you can either not pit them, or you can put them on a cutting board, bash them with the flat of your knife (as though you were peeling garlic) and pop the pits right out. Kalamatas are an ideal olive for this, because they tend to expel their pits rather easily.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pita and Hummus

I've been having some weird problems with hummus lately. Weird as in, no matter what I do, the hummus comes out wrong. So I decided to pray to the hummus gods and give it one more shot before retiring my bag of chick peas forever. Thankfully, they heard my pleas and allowed me to make a fabulous batch of hummus this time.

The pita I also made, but I used this recipe (not being a talented enough baker to make up my own bread recipes). In my oven, they required almost 20 minutes of baking time rather than the 10 specified. These pita are absolutely delightful, though. If any is left by tomorrow, I might fill one (they puffed up so beautifully!) with any hummus (if there's some left, though at the current rate, there might not be) remaining and take it to school with me.

Hummus (hummus bi tahini)

1/2 cup chick peas, picked through and rinsed
water, water and more water
1 teaspoon salt
2 medium cloves garlic (I used 1 large and 1 small)
1-2 tablespoons tahini*
juice of 2 lemons

Soak the peas overnight in lots of water. Transfer to a saucepan and fill with new water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until very, very soft (~2 hours-ish). Do not discard cooking liquid. In a food processor or large mortar and pestle (sadly, I actually cooked too many beans to do it in my biggest mortar; which means maybe I need a bigger mortar if I can find space for a third one) blend together garlic and salt. Add beans and blend until relatively smooth paste. Add tahini and lemon, blend again. Add cooking water, a little at a time, until you have the right texture. Transfer to plate, add olive oil to the top (today I have Pegasus oil, which tasted just ducky) and ground sumac or paprika. Eat, enjoy. Serves 2-4 (if you're making this as a meal, it serves 2. As an appetizer, 4).



*I used Joyva tahini, but I actually think both Krinos and Sadaf make a much better tahini than Joyva does. So if you have to go to the store to get the tahini, get the Krinos or Sadaf. And if you know of one better than those two, please tell me so I can pick it up when I run out of the Joyva.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Ultimate Snacking Box

No recipe today, per se. I just wanted to talk about my snack boxes. When I know I'm going to be somewhere for a long time, I generally bring a snack box. Being hypoglycemic means I actually have to pay attention to how often I eat (which I am occasionally lax about, for which my body punishes me). Loving food gives me the inclination to eat as often as possible. Since I'm a huge fan of snacking, I have spent a lot of time coming up with what I consider to be "the perfect snacks" and combinations of snacks. Below is one of my favourites of the perfect snack combinations.

I usually pack roughly the same things in my snack box these days. I've found this particular combination of foods has enough variety to keep me full and energized for a pretty good length of time, even when my activities are more grueling. The box I use is really similar to this one at the Container Store. In fact, the one in this picture is nicer than the ones they used to sell, and only 50 cents more expensive. My snack boxes have 3 bottom compartments in varying sizes and 1 large top compartment. I don't use a lunch box anymore because these little snack boxes are the perfect size and construction to hold a good variety and quantity of sizes, while occupying much less space in my bag.

In the square bottom compartment, I put:
1 orange, cut into eighths

In the long, rectangular bottom compartment, I put:
2 pieces of feta cheese
2 pieces of aged sheep cheese
2 pieces dry salami or lunch meat
15-20 lupini beans

In the smallest bottom compartment, I put:
3 picholine olives
5 nicoise olives
3 large lemon brined olives
4 kalamata olives
2 cocktail/brined onions

In the large top compartment, I put:
1 cut up nectarine or 3 strawberries
2 green almonds
1 small spinach borek (the ones I get are individual pies in triangles, containing only spinach, onion, lemon and salt in the breading. I buy them at Phoenicia for ~$0.35 each)

Other frequent additions/substitutions include:
oil-soaked sun dried tomatoes
cut up pita and hummus
baby carrots
cucumber slices (I prefer the Persian ones, as they need no peeling and have a delicate, sweet flesh with delicious, soft seeds)
extra meat and/or cheese
little can of V-8 (obviously not put in the box, but next to it)
mango slices or other extra fruits
piece of candy, typically 1 piece of good quality dark chocolate (this or this, usually - if you have a good chocolate you'd like me to try, I will happy accept samples and I will worship you for sending them to me!)
marinated artichoke hearts
roasted garlic
hard-boiled egg
cornichons

It seems like a lot of food, but it's really not. Anyway, this is what I like to snack on. Aside from the benefit of getting to eat more food, I've noticed people tend to be really, really curious about the foods in here, which gives me an extra opportunity to expose people to new foods they might otherwise have been unwilling to try. So it's pretty much a win, n my book.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Infused Vinegars

Ok, I have a lot to say about vinegar, mainly because I'm a little obsessed. So I'm going to try to keep it short(er). I really love vinegar. Everything about vinegar. I love how it cleans just about everything, I love how I can wash my hair with it (for a little less than a penny per wash, as opposed to paying for shampoo). I love the smell of vinegar, and I love making vinegar and baking soda volcanoes, I love its odor-absorbing properties and I love that if I spray it, Aleister stays out of the room for a little while and doesn't try to get whatever I'm into.

But more than anything, I love the myriad ways it can be used with food. I love a splash of Asian vinegar (I flit between rice vinegar, coconut vinegar and plum vinegar in this context) can liven up a stir-fry (keep your nose from the fumes!). I love a drizzle of vinegar on veggies I intend to roast. I love salads, and salad dressings. I love making infused vinegars. Mostly because it's fun, it's a nice gift to be able to give (I have even sent my spiced fig vinegar to my "nephew" in Israel) when placed in a pretty bottle with a couple recipes tied to it, and because I have a short attention span which results in me being easily bored. Plus, you can get a lot of diverse flavours out of vinegar if you infuse it with unusual items. Additionally, infusing vinegars can give you a way to retain out-of-season-ingredient flavours in your cooking.

It is probably due to my love of vinegar that the only dressing I ever buy is cucumber ranch (which I dip things in; I don't actually put it on my salads). I suppose I could make that too... but it'd involve me acknowledging mayonnaise is present in it, and I want to just pretend. So let me, ok?

I first realised I love infusing vinegars when I was soaking cucumber slices in white vinegar with piles of salt and pepper. It occurred to me one day that it'd save me money (oh, the first college days!) if I didn't throw the vinegar away, and instead retained it for the next time I got hold of a cucumber. I noticed the difference in the smell and flavour of the vinegar over time, and then the proverbial light bulb went off in my head. Did this mean I could keep tasting things I couldn't afford to buy all the time? I thought it did!

And it did. Basically, infusing a vinegar is about as simple a "cooking" event as you can have. You get some stuff, you put it in a jar or container, pour vinegar over it, let it sit. Presto. The only thing I ever tried to infuse in vinegar that didn't work out was pumpkin. The pumpkin probably needed heat infusion, and I just don't like doing that. I feel like I have to use the vinegar quickly then, and I really do hate being rushed. So there it is. Below is a list of some of my favourite infusion recipes. I hope you like them. I personally love them all. With all of them, infusing times are estimates. Check that the vinegar has the strength of infusion you want before straining.

Chive Vinegar (for people who grow chives, but who probably already know this)

1 jar full of chive flowers
vinegar to cover

Let sit at least a couple weeks. If you feel spunky, let it sit in the sun.

Mushroom Vinegar

16 oz. mushrooms
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 oz pimentos, diced
½ c celery, minced
1 shallot, minced
white distilled vinegar to cover
1 t salt
½ t black pepper

Allow to marinate an hour or so. Strain and discard food particles, reserving vinegar in a clean container. [This is a two-recipe deal, because if you do half-vinegar, half water, you can make those delicious marinated mushrooms I love so much. If you don't put the water in, the mushrooms won't taste all that good when you strain it].

Truffle Balsamic Vinegar:

1 bottle 6 or 10 year balsamic vinegar
1 thumb-sized piece black truffle

Pour out a little of the vinegar. Shave the truffles, and combine. Allow to meld for several months before using. Do not shake before using. [Use good quality balsamic for this]

Cucumber Vinegar

1 cucumber, thinly sliced
White distilled vinegar to cover
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Arrange cucumbers in a bowl, dressing each layer with a healthy amount of salt and pepper. Cover with vinegar. Let sit for no less than 30 minutes and no more than 2 hours. Strain and reserve the vinegar in a clean container.

Fig Vinegar

6-7 figs, cut in half
10 ounces cider vinegar

Arrange figs in a bowl. Cover with vinegar. Allow to steep in refrigerator for 5 days. Strain and reserve the vinegar in a clean container.

Spiced Fig Vinegar (this is one of my favourites; if you only make one, let it be this)

6-7 figs, cut in half
2 cloves
2 red peppercorns
4 allspice berries
10 ounces white wine vinegar

Combine figs, spices and vinegar in a bowl. Allow to steep in refrigerator for 5 days. Strain and reserve the vinegar in a clean container.

Tangerine-Basil Vinegar (this makes a lot; be warned)

2.5 pounds satsuma tangerines
1 pound fresh basil
cider vinegar to cover

Cut up the tangerines, put in a container with basil. Add vinegar. Soak until aromatic. I think this one took a while, though it could simply be that since I was in the middle of extracting myself from a marriage while making this, that I simply didn't strain it as soon as I could have. I still have bottles and bottles of it left.

Spice Road

1 large knob fresh ginger, cut into strips
teaspoon crushed (not ground) black peppercorns
3 shallots, sliced
1/8 cup star anise
white wine vinegar to cover

You know the drill. Put it in a jar, cover with vinegar. This one takes a couple weeks.

Summer Comfort

small piece of black truffle (oregons are fine)
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 lemon, chopped up
1 large bunch tarragon
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
distilled white vinegar to cover

Mix, let it hang out for a while. This vinegar has always been a favourite of many of my friends. I let this one go a week or two.

Ok... So I lied when I said I'd keep it short.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

And, the Foodie Blogroll

I was accepted today to the Foodie Blogroll. For people who enjoy reading food blogs, this is an excellent resource. It houses a large collection of food blogs, listed alphabetically. I've discovered some really amazing blogs due to its presence, so I encourage y'all to check it out!

Brussels Sprouts with Pasta

As you can see, I'm really stalling on my calculus. Today, I snacked on cheese, salami and lupini beans. P texted me on his way home from school to see if I wanted him to pick up some fast food before he arrived. I said I'd start the oven instead. I wanted something that required a minimum of effort from me, because although I'm poking along with my calculus, I am still trying to get it done. I didn't want to have to give up too much time to the kitchen.

12 brussels sprouts, cleaned, washed and cut in half
1 cup (or so) celery, cut into 1" pieces
1 cup (or so) baby carrots, cut in half (or just cut normal carrots into chunks)
6 bulb onions, de-greened and cut in half (the vidalia-style one)
6 cloves of garlic, cut in half or into large bits
salt and pepper to taste
healthy sprinkle of sumac
1 tablespoon citrus vinegar*
1 tablespoon each: vegetable oil, olive oil

8 ounces campanelle
2 quarts water
large pinch salt

3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Heat oven to 425F. Spread vegetables over a baking sheet, drizzle with vinegar and oils, then sprinkle with salt, pepper and sumac. Roast until soft, about 15 minutes (by cutting them up like this, they take hardly any time at all to roast). Turn off the oven and boil your salted water. Cook the campanelle for 7 minutes. Remove veggies from the oven, then drain pasta. Put pasta back in the pot it was cooked in and add butter and lemon juice. Stir until butter is melted, then stir in veggies. Serves 2.

*I make my own citrus vinegars (in this instance, I used a satsuma-basil vinegar), though you can buy them as well. This site has recipes for different home-infused vinegars. I'll try to remember to write some stuff about infusing vinegar, as it makes for a cheap and delightful flavouring to many, many foods.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Spicy Shrimp with Pasta

The first time I touched uncooked shrimp, I was either 5 or 6. I'm not sure which age, I but I am sure it was when we lived in Lake Elsinore. We had these raw shrimp my father intended to cook, and for some reason I (I don't remember my siblings taking part of this, though it could simply be that I was so engrossed in my own trauma I neglected to notice theirs) had to clean them. I will never forget how disgusted I was as I pulled the poop out of each and every shrimp. A huge metal bowl full of them, one at a time, my hands went into cold, cold running water. I remember them being numb a little, and I remember wondering if I would ever finish cleaning the shrimp. I also wondered if I'd been born to do the gross jobs.

I wanted to hate the shrimp, for being so gross. But how could I hate anything that tasted so amazing? Over the years, I've spent most of my cooking life buying pre-cleaned shrimp. I guess I never really recovered from that first experience. Sometimes, though, I have to buy shrimp that haven't been processed for me. It always icks me out a little, and I almost always try to talk someone into dealing with it for me.

They had some 10/12 head-on shrimp at the store for 5 bucks a pound. Despite the crowd of women scooping huge quantities of them into bags, I got in there and hand picked a few (I get a little squeamish around crowds) for us. I wanted to make some spicy shrimp. I would've just ponied up the extra 2 dollars a pound for headless, but I also wanted to make stock and I thought Aleister might like to eat the heads. Gods know I wasn't eating them - they squick me a bit too. Mostly I just feel guilty, and a little unnerved, when I deal with headed shrimp (which is weird, since I feel no remorse when dealing with mammal head-bits).

Anyway, I brought them home and today I made them. First I cut off the heads and shoved them in a saucepan, trying hard not to think about the antennae flopping near me. Then I yanked the shells off and chucked them in there too. A pinch of salt, a quarter teaspoon of peppercorns and 3 cups of water later, I had a fish broth simmering. 30 minutes later, I picked the heads and large shells out and started reducing it (it got reduced by half). Aleister, punk-ass that he is, just smelled the heads a lot and meowed like, "Mommy, Daddy... What do I do with this?" We ended up taking them away since he didn't want them. Well, there's still one in his bowl because I'm curious if he'll get curious enough to try it, but I won't hold my breath. Anyway, I got out my seam ripper and I cleaned the shrimps, which wasn't terribly unpleasant since I'd already had heads to deal with.

So, to make a long story short (too late!), the meal was delicious, although in fairness I made it way, way, way too spicy. I'm going to put the recipe up just like I made it, but if you're not highly tolerant to spicy foods, cut the chile in half at least. Hope you enjoy!

1/3 (ish; it was somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2) teaspoon crushed chile flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 sliced shallot
pinch salt
4 diced kumquats (I cut them in eighths lengthwise and then sliced them thick)
1-1.5 tablespoon shrimp broth
1 teaspoon lemon juice
8 shrimps, processed
8 ounces spaghetti
salted water

Put the chile flakes and olive oil in a small skillet. Over low heat, infuse for 15 minutes. Boil the salted water. Add the shallot to the chile oil and fry on medium heat for 6-7 minutes. Cook the spaghetti (I cook it 6 minutes, you cook it like you like it). Add the kumquats, lemon juice, pinch of salt and shrimp broth to the shallots. Simmer on medium heat for 3 minutes or so. Add the shrimps and cook them 2 minutes per side. Drain the pasta and put it back in the pot. Dump the shrimp and such in the pasta and stir it around. Get some milk in case it's too hot, or if you're like me and you don't like milk, find something else to drink (Simply Apple apple juice appears to work well). Serves 2.

Oh, I forgot to take the picture again, as per often. Sorry 'bout that.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Wow I am Lazy This Weekend! (Sun-dried Tomato Couscous)

I have completed a whopping 32 out of 119 algebra problems, and 0 of 59 calculus problems. Lazy, lazy.

A quick favourite:

2/3 cup moroccan couscous
1 cup broth
6-10 sliced sun-dried tomatoes

Put broth and tomatoes in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add couscous, stir and remove from heat. Let it hang out for 5 or 10 minutes. Eat. Serves 1-2.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Appaloosa Bean Salad

As a food creativity reward for making it through these two exams, I made this for the June challenge of No Croutons Required. They have a monthly themed competition. This month's challenge was to make a soup or salad (vegetarian) containing beans. Typically when I make bean salad (to which I get to hear from P, "Beans AGAIN?"), it's a southwestern-style salad. This time I just wanted something... else. Something that didn't involve corn, and did involve eggs. I really like eggs, especially hard boiled. This salad tastes good still warm and chilled.

Anyway, enough babble. I've got piles of homework to do, so I'll just post the recipe and move along with it (and look - I'm using fractions today!).

1/2 cup appaloosa beans (you can replace these with pinto or cranberry beans, or whatever other beans you like)
3 cups water
pinch each (3g): oolong whole-leaf tea (I used tieguanyin), jasmine tea
1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/2 cup celery, stalks cut in half lengthwise, then sliced
3/4 cup diced cucumber (remove skins if you're not using persian cukes)
4 oil-soaked sun dried tomatoes, sliced or chopped
3 chopped hard-boiled eggs

Dressing:
1 teaspoon stone ground mustard
1/4 teaspoon tahini
1 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (I used a little bit of the oil I was soaking the tomatoes in, too)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh mint, rough chopped

Soak the beans overnight. Put them in a pot and add water. Put the tea in cheesecloth or similar and put in the water. Simmer the beans until almost tender. Add salt and simmer until tender. Remove tea, drain and chill (or you can be lazy like me and wait to chill them until it's all done). Add the remaining salad ingredients and mix. Do NOT salt anything else - the beans should be fairly salty. Whisk together all the dressing ingredients then fold into the salad. Chill. Serves 2-4

Lemon Pepper Pasta Salad

In all honesty, I don't think of this as a "salad," even though I suppose it meets the criteria for pasta salad. I think of it as an easy, delicious means of using up leftover pasta (leftover pasta? How can that be? Well, in truth, I always make extra pasta to make sure I'll have some leftover).

I started eating this when I was 9 or 10. Maybe as late as 11. I'd be hungry, and there'd be "nothing to eat" in the fridge. Except leftover pasta. We ate so much meat sauce and pasta after my parents split up there was always leftover pasta in the fridge. My mother one day told me it was good mixed with lemon pepper and mayonnaise.

Now, if you've seen me eat, you've also seen me go to great lengths to navigate away from anything containing mayo. The only two exceptions to this rule are the pasta salad I posted before, and tuna salad. And I always make them as dry as possible, because I just detest mayo. It's thick and fatty and it feels too congealed on my tongue in a manner that only makes me want to vomit. Gross (now why don't I tell you how I really feel?). If I get a burger and didn't know there'd be mayo, I will carefully scrape every last bit off the bun. If I can't get it all off the bun, I will deconstruct the burger, sometimes going so far as to slice off bits of the meat that still have mayo glued to it. I really, really dislike mayonnaise. I can't state it strongly enough. So in reality, I thought she was messing with me. We like to play pranks in my family, sometimes.

But then she made some and convinced me to try just one bite (I'll always try a food at least once, usually twice, even if I'm sure I will hate it). She made it with only the tiniest bit of mayonnaise - just enough to get the lemon pepper to stick (and I'm sure you all know how much I love, love, love, love and love lemon pepper). Y'know what? It was good. Really good. Somehow, the lemon pepper was able to make the mayonnaise non-toxic. I'm not sure how, but it did. I've been hooked ever since.

When I went to the U, I ate it all the time. Kind of like the romaine with lemon, lemon pepper and vinegar, except a lot more filling. I could use those 19 cent Janet Lee packages, or I could splurge and get a bag of spaghetti. This works with any pasta, but spaghetti is my personal favourite. When I'm really, really short on time, I shove the pasta in a plastic bag, dump in the mayo and lemon pepper and just squish it around in my hands until combined. Sometimes I eat it with my hands, but it's kind of messy that way.

So here it is: a short recipe to go with a long prelude. Alter the quantities as you see fit.

1 large bowl of pasta
1 tiny forkful of mayonnaise (mayonesa, the Mexican version of mayo, is better)
1 tablespoon lemon pepper (you will want to use less, I promise, unless you're a freak like me)

Mix, eat. Serves 1. Unless you're nice enough to share, in which case it serves 1 and gives a 2nd person a couple bites.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Chicken Parmesan... In a Manner of Speaking

I say, "in a manner of speaking," because there is breaded chicken, there's cheese, and there's tomato sauce. However, as a generally strictly-from-scratch kind of girl, I can't in fairness call this a proper chicken parmesan, since I used some pre-made ingredients. Like uh... pre-breaded chicken. So just go with it. I'm in the middle of prepping for an exam about things I only marginally understand, and I'm about to take another test. So I feel pretty good about the fact that I didn't go to McDonald's again, even if what I made only marginally counts as cooking (imo).

1 pound pre-breaded chicken breast (or you could always do this the right way and bread it yourself)
3 grams (that's .1 ounce, or in other words, just a little bit) each: dried lobster and pine mushrooms
1 cup warm water
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 clove garlic
1 anchovy, or .25 teaspoon anchovy paste
pinch sugar
.5-1 teaspoon italian seasonings
2-4 ounces shredded parmesan cheese (who'm I to say how much cheese you like? I like a lot).

Put dried mushrooms in a bowl. Add warm water and let sit until swollen. Remove mushrooms, reserving liquid. Chop mushrooms into little bits. Put the mushrooms, the mushroom water, tomato sauce, sugar and italian seasonings into a small saucepan. Bring to a slow boil. Chop the garlic finely, then add the anchovy and mush them together until they're a paste. Add it to the saucepan. Let this mixture hang out and reduce for about an hour.

Once the sauce is put together and melding, heat the oven to 375F. Put your chicken breasts on a cookie sheet and when the oven is heated, add them. Bake for 10 minutes, then flip them over and give them another 10 minutes. Top with cheese, bake 10 more minutes. Remove from oven and top with sauce (and more cheese if you want). Serves 2.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Farfalle with Prosciutto

Ok, I bit off a lot this semester. Not more than I think I can handle, but definitely more than I'd be able to deal with if P wasn't here for me to nag constantly with questions. Why? Why? Why? He keeps reminding me that the whys will be answered in a couple years (ok, in reality, he keeps reminding me some of my questions might not ever get answered, but that most of them, at this point at least, will be eventually). I am impatient. I want to know everything about math. Now.

All this has resulted in fourteen hour days, when I'm lucky. And I'm still working on the weekends (where, sadly, I screwed my knee up and it is now full of Kool-Aid, or some other fluid. You'd think I'd've learned to use care when walking after having just recovered from a sprained ankle, but I evidently have not learned this very important lesson). So today I did not get to play Final Fantasy XI, as planned.

I did get to do some homework, though. And an exam review. So we were hungry, and I'm embarrassed to admit how much fast food we've been eating this week. I decided what I really wanted (wanted? No. Needed. Badly.) was a nice, simple pasta that just got to be what it was. No pretense, and no effort on my part. I am, after all, STILL working on homework (ok... technically I'm blogging. But you know what I mean. We all need breaks sometimes). Originally I'd intended to just use onion, parmesan, olive oil and pasta, but P really wanted a little bacon in there. I discovered some cooking prosciutto in the freezer and used that instead. If I'd had nuts, I might've added them too. Walnuts or pine nuts or... I think I'd really have liked some chopped brasil nuts in here too.

Here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

.34 pound cooking prosciutto*, sliced into 1"x.25" strips
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 vidalia onion, sliced in half, then sliced toward the root end, ~.25" thick
1 tablespoon lemon juice
.25 teaspoon white pepper
3 garlic cloves, sliced
large pot of salted water
12 ounces farfalle pasta, or other pasta of your choice (originally this was going to be spaghetti, but P likes the bowties better)
.5 cup finely shredded parmesan
1 tablespoon grapefruit-infused extra virgin olive oil, or evoo of your choice

Heat a large skillet, then add the olive oil and prosciutto. Render it down, then add the onion, lemon juice and white pepper and cook on low heat. Start boiling the salted water. When the water boils, add the garlic to the skillet and the pasta to the water. Cook the pasta according to package directions or personal preference (I don't cook anything, really, according to package directions but I'm guessing I'm one of the few people who ignores everything I'm told to do) and shimmy the garlic, prosciutto and onions around until they're carmelised. I didn't add any salt because the pork is already salty. Surprisingly, I didn't salt it in my bowl, either. When the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the skillet. Stir it around and get the pasta covered by the nice onion and lemon juices, then add in the parmesan and the extra virgin olive oil. Toss lightly to combine everything well, then serve. Serves 2.

*Cooking prosciutto is an awesome thing. It's the exact same thing as the prosciutto you might normally buy, except it is the ends of the meat. I'm not really sure what they normally do with it, or if the deli guy takes it home, but I like to buy it and use it in place of bacon in recipes, when I remember I have it. I usually buy 1-2 pounds at a time, break it up into third-pound bits (the deli counter will also slice it thinly for you, or thick, or whatever you want) and freeze it until I want it later. They will often charge you less than they do for "regular" prosciutto, which makes it an extra value since people appear to not buy it (they're always surprised when I ask for the ends). If you don't feel like going to all the trouble of getting it, just use a slice or 3 of bacon instead. Chop it up and proceed.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Pork Chops and Potatoes

So rarely do P and I eat a meal where the meat is just.. meat. Not a minor component to the meal, but the main attraction. But today we had some lovely, thin, bone-in pork chops that had a really good amount of fat left on them, and I decided to braise them.

The first time I was in college, I was beyond broke; living exclusively on a small amount of financial aid in a one-bedroom ghetto apartment that contained two people aside from myself. My tv was given to me by a neighbour who was throwing it away. It still had dials for the channels, and this was in the later 90s. Same with my melmac dishes - a hand-me-down (I wish I still had those dishes). Someone gave me a dinner table, and some chairs. My neighbours were really quite generous to me. My microwave was given to me, and I think my entire living room set was battered, but a great deal at a hundred bucks. I had to save up for it.

I ate "salads" comprised of 2-3 leaves of torn up romaine with a teaspoon of white vinegar, the juice of 1/8th of a lemon and a healthy dose of lemon pepper. I ate lentils, tiny cubes of a potato and split peas boiled together. I'd buy 19 cent boxes of Janet Lee macaroni and cheese, because the pasta was cheaper than buying a bag. I'd just toss the cheese packet or give it to someone else. For spices, I usually went to Pic'n'Save and bought spice bottles that were 2 for a dollar, or sometimes 4 for a dollar. As staple spices, I had salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, celery salt, paprika, seasoned salt, cayenne, italian spices and... that's it. My splurge was lemon pepper. I ate... well, I ate cheaply. More than I do now, by far.

Sometimes my neighbours would be in my apartment when I got home, with food for me. I'd sit and advise them on how to fix their problems, or I'd watch their kids while they made and/or sold drugs, in exchange. I figured it was better for the kids, anyway, particularly given my advice was never taken.

Occasionally, I'd get a crappy piece of beef, or a pork chop when they were either deeply discounted at the store due to a sale, or due to being nearly past their "eat by" date. I always used to braise them. When I couldn't afford alcohol to cook the meat in, I'd get some from a neighbour. More babysitting; more counseling. I was so happy back then, though. Despite the high level of drama surrounding me, my life was interesting and exciting in a way I'm glad it isn't now. I never would trade those experiences, though. Now, eating pork cooked like this always makes me smile with reminiscence and nostalgia.

So I'm sharing this recipe with you now. The potatoes are a new addition, to reflect the fact that groceries are not something I struggle to come by anymore (that's the upside of working while in school!). I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

A note: most of the ingredients in the pork chops are "a little of this" or "a splash of that." It's intended that you just put as much or as little as you want. If you don't like a component, take it out. If you'd like to see another in there, put it in. It's flexible that way.

Pork Chops

12 ounces pork chops (2 pork steaks)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Splash on each side of each chop: lemon juice, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce
Sprinkle on each side of each chop: lemon pepper, seasoned salt, mustard powder, onion powder, garlic powder, celery salt, paprika, cayenne, italian spices
.5-1 cup booze*
.5-1 cup broth or water

Heat a pan to medium or medium high heat. Add butter and oil. Add your flavourings to one side of each piece of meat. Put the meat, spice side down, in the pan when the butter is melted. Sear. While it's searing, put flavourings on the other side of the meat. Flip the meat and sear the other side. When seared, add the booze, and if you'd like, a bit more lemon. Let the liquid come to a boil, then turn it down. Simmer until the liquid is nearly gone and a thicker sauce is forming. Flip the chops, then add the broth or water. Raise the heat a little and simmer, again, until the sauce is thickened. Remove chops and pour the sauce over them. Serves 2.

*Booze? I prefer using whiskey, vodka or burgundy. I have, however, used every kind of booze there is, except beer and schnapps. So you just use what you have.

Potatoes

4 small-to-medium yukon gold potatoes
1 small vidalia onion
.5 teaspoon: salt, pepper
.25 teaspoon: dill, tarragon
1 tablespoon truffle-infused balamic (or regular, if that's what you've got)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Heat the oven to 375F. Dice the onions and potatoes small (.75"-ish). Put them in a baking dish, add the other stuff and stir well. Bake at least 30 minutes and up to an hour. Serves 2.

No picture today, because I forgot. I got excited to eat.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Mujadarra

I had no idea how much homework I was really going to have this semester. It's a lot more than I thought. And when I say, "A lot," what I really mean is, "Well, I've been at school since 8am, and I hope I'm done with all my homework before school tomorrow." But I'm having fun.

In light of all the math I'm doing this evening, I decided to go with a really low-effort dinner (in addition to the frozen burritos P and I snacked on while I was finishing part 2 of 7 of homework sections). Enter mujadarra. Mujadarra is a Lebanese dish - lentils and rice. It's delicious. And doesn't require a lot from me. Even better!

2 medium onions (I used one regular yellow and one Vadalia)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
.5 cup lentils
.5 cup rice
1.75 cup water
1 tablespoon each: chopped fresh mint, chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon cut in half

Dice an onion. Slice the other onion into rings. Heat a pan and add half the olive oil. Add and fry the diced onion with a little salt (~.5t) until you can smell hash browns, then set aside. Put the lentils and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat. Simmer the lentils for 15 minutes, then add the rice, some salt (~1t) and cooked onions. Cover again and cook another 15 minutes, then turn off the heat and let it all hang out for 10 or so minutes. While it's sitting, reheat the pan, add the rest of the oil and fry up those beautiful little onion rings (with the rest of the salt, of course). Put the food in dishes and top each with half the onion rings, then half the mint and parsley. Add a lemon half to the dish to squeeze over the food. Serves 2.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Gems, Lovely Gems

I actually have a bit more homework than I anticipated, so today I just want to tell you guys about gems. It appears that no one really knows what gems are anymore, but back in the 1800s they were a popular, if heavy, treat. So much so, that many pioneers even found room in their wagons to bring a gem pan. By the early 1900s, gems had fallen out of favour and most people just went with muffins. It's a sad, sad thing, really.

Traditionally, gem pans were made from cast iron. You can still find beautiful, old cast iron pans on eBay. In fact, aside from scouring antique shops hopefully (and often fruitlessly), eBay is the only place I know that routinely "carries" them. You can find a proper gem pan for as little as US$5, and I've seen them as much as US$300. You just never really know.

My advice, however, is to find one that's shallow, made in the mid-1800s (this is when the pans were really in their prime, quality-wise), and in extremely poor condition. I say to find one in poor condition because it'll be cheaper. The beautiful thing about cast iron is that no matter how poorly it's been treated, one can almost always resurrect it and make it beautiful again.

Here is my pan:
As you can see, it's made of cast iron. I found this beauty on eBay a few years back. If you look at the picture closely (does anyone other than me actually care enough to do so?), the batter wells are very shallow (~.75"). My pan was a wreck when I got it. Rusted completely, pocketed, unloved.

When I got it, I washed it in warm soapy water (this is the only time this pan has ever been washed by me; I cannot speak for any of its former owners), then immediately dried it with a soft towel (I don't know why it was important to me to use a soft, fluffy towel, but it was). Then I slathered it in shortening; top, bottom and in the cracks; then laid it upside-down on a sheet pan. It went in the oven set at 250F for several hours. Periodically I'd take it out of the oven, wipe out oil residue (and rust - this sort of a shortening bath is the most efficient means of repairing a pan like this I'm aware of) and put a little more on. Rinse and repeat. I did this over and over until I had ever speck of rust off. And then I did it one more time, to season it. The only remnant of its former life to remain is one hair that is burned into one of the cups. It's been there as long as I've had this pan, and it appears to be fused into the metal now.

Onward. Gem pans came in a variety of shapes (such as chickens, clubs, spades, hearts, etc), but I personally am not really a fan of those pans (I used to have one, but I think it would work better as either a decorative piece or for a product that's less dense than gems, so I gave it to my second mom. I believe she uses it as a decorative piece) because the cups are too small to give the gems the right texture. This is a rustic food; I'm not making cupcakes in the pan. So to me, the best pans are the ones like mine (d'uh) or ones like this. Shallow and wide - this allows for the right crust to form, as well as allowing the batter to get the right texture while it cooks.

When you make the gems (if you make the gems), you'll want to open them with a fork, just like you would an English muffin or a crumpet. Using a knife crushes the little holes. To me, those holes are a perfect carrier for pure maple syrup. I also occasionally like jam in them (this is really how P likes them - with jam), and I also love to fry up a little ham, fill the holes with syrup, put ham in the middle and make a little breakfast sandwich. They're great for munching on in the car, too.

I do not have a home recipe to give you for gems, however, I have a couple of other people's recipes I will share (please do not sue me).

The Old West Baking Book, by Lon Walters (which, btw, is an awesome book for many reasons, this being just one of them) has a lovely recipe for corn gems on page 30 (additionally, he gives recipes for a lot of other foods commonly eaten by pioneers. This book is wonderful, not only for its historical significance but also as a working cookbook). He also lists recipes for buttermilk gems and graham gems. I actually don't use this recipe, but I adore its authenticity, so here it is:

Cornmeal Gems

Baking Time: 15-20 minutes
Oven Temperature: 400 degrees

1 cup cornmeal
.5 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup boiling water
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1.5 cups all-purpose flour (Lon says if you want to make them authentically, to ditch the flour and ad in a second cup of cornmeal)
2 teaspoons baking powder

Mix cornmeal, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Add boiling water and stir briskly. When cooled slightly, (so eggs won't cook), add both eggs and milk, and mix. Now stir in flour and baking powder. Mix should appear to be a very thick batter. If not thick enough, add more flour until it reaches the consistency of thin mashed potatoes. Do not overwork. Spoon into well-greased gem or muffin (Lon says to stack together 2 muffin pans to make it heavier, but I want you to buy a pan and help me revive this tradition) to two-thirds full. Bake immediately. When golden brown, remove from oven and turn out on cooling rack.

I make them a little differently. I make them based on this recipe. Instructions follow (I don't actually remember if the other recipe lists the baking instructions, or if it's just in my head because I love to make them):

1/2 cup corn meal
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg

Cut 1 tablespoon of butter into as many pieces as there are wells in your gem pan. Put one bit of butter in each well, then place the pan in the center rack of your oven. Heat the oven to 425F.
In a bowl, mix together the cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. Whisk in egg, then milk. Lastly, whisk in butter. Mix it together as soon as your oven dings that it's preheated. I don't really like to leave the batter sitting for too long, although there's certainly nothing wrong with doing so. Cut up yet another tablespoon of butter and put the bits in the wells again. Dip your spoon into ice water (tip from Lon, thanks!), get a big spoonful of batter then put it in each well. If there are wells remaining once you've used up all the batter, fill them up with water (for the health of your pan). Bake for 25 minutes or until golden. The gems should pop right out of the pan by lifting them w/ a fork.

And last, cleaning. I clean my gem pan by knocking off any little bits of batter I spilled outside a well while pouring it in the wells, then I simply rub it (inside each well, in the little nooks and crannies, and on the bottom) with paper towels. That's it. I am utterly unwilling to clean it any other way. You do what you like with your cast iron, though.

And now that I've rambled, here's the finished product. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Beef Filet and Grilled Vegetables

One more little bit of camping food, and then I'll move on to other things. Technically, I did not grill the vegetables. I cooked them on a hot rock. But since I find it more likely that people reading this will own a grill than a hot rock, let's just go with the whole grill thing.

1.5 pounds filet
1 teaspoon each: whole cumin seeds, lemon zest, orange zest, italian spices, peppercorns, salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

1 zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 6 planks
1 bell pepper, cut into 6 pieces
6 button mushrooms, cut in half
1 large onion, cut into 6 rounds
3 lemons, halved

Slice filet into .25"-.5" rounds. Crush the cumin, zests, italian spices, peppercorns and salt in a mortar (or use pre-ground. I've just been really into the mortar and pestle lately, so I'm crushing everything I can get my hands on, and I've been only buying whole spices recently). Mix olive oil in, then slather all over the beef. Let it marinate at least 2 hours, or as much as 24 hours (we ate brisket, so it sat in the cooler marinating an extra day which made the beef extra-special flavourful and tender). Grill/hot rock/put-it-in-a-pan the beef rounds for 2 minutes per side. Remove and keep warm.

Grill/whatever the vegetables AND the lemon halves. You may salt the veggies if you want, but I opted to just let them be themselves. Squeeze grilled lemons on top of veggies (and meat, if you like). Serves 3.