Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thai, Thai, Thai again

As I mentioned in some prior posts, Dad has been in the hospital for quite a while now. He is improving daily, but still has a long road in front of him. While I do not begrudge the time I am spending with him, I still have a home and family who also require a little piece of me and it is getting harder and harder to stretch the time between the two worlds. Thank you Pinterest for this wonderful quick meal I pinned a while back that came to the rescue a few nights ago. ( Honestly, I can't remember which night)

This is a vegetarian dish, but some chicken, shrimp or sliced pork could easily be added for any of you serious carnivores who don't feel they have truly eaten unless there is a protein in the dish. It is not vegan, but could be altered for anyone who balks at using animal product in their food. ( Not judging, but vegan chocolate is bad and would kill the entire vegan concept for me.)

Spicy Thai Noodles
1 box fettuccine noodles or spaghetti noodles
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes ( Add more if you like it really hot. This was just a tad under medium heat)
1/2 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil
6 tablespoons soy sauce
6 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup sliced scallions
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
2 carrots, peeled and grated
3/4 cup chopped peanuts

Cook the noodles until done and drain in a colander until dry. ( To me this means dump the noodle in the colander and jiggle them until most of the water is gone. Then put the noodles in a large bowl with enough room to thoroughly mix everything.

While the noodles are cooking mix the 2 oils together in a small pot and add the pepper flakes. Heat to a medium heat for 2 minutes, remove and strain the pepper flakes out.

Combine the soy sauce and honey in a small bowl and stir well. Add it to the oils and mix together.

Pour over the hot pasta and stir thoroughly to mix. ( Here the recipe calls to put everything in a covered bowl and chill for 1 day. "I say Nay Nay!"*

Immediately sprinkle the onions, cilantro, carrots and peanuts over the hot pasta mix. Put it on the table along with 4 plates and let everyone see how lovely it is before mixing and serving. It was delicious hot, tasting very much like pad thai.

I followed this to the letter except for that silly chilling part and all that honey. Next time I make it, I will use about 1/3 cup of sesame oil and 1/4 cup vegetable oil. ( Thought it was a tad too oily) I used a 6/3 ration of soy sauce to honey because I thought it would be too sweet with the one to one measure called for in the recipe. It was perfect for us, but you might want to try it sweeter for you. ( If you are vegan using agave syrup instead of honey would work) If you use less honey the mixture becomes a tad thin. Next time I make this ( and I will make this soon) I probably will add a little peanut butter to the liquids ( 2 teaspoons maybe ) just to thicken it up a bit . Since the peanuts are on top of it anyway the added peanut flavor should not be an issue at all.

Prep the veggies early in the day and the meal will come together in just the time it takes to boil and drain the noodles. Super good super quick meal. We added a side salad with some asian dressing ( bottled) and called it a meal.


* " I say Nay Nay" tagline from my favorite comedian John Pinette

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Happy Mardi Gras and all that Jazz!

Yesterday I didn't have to go to the hospital at all, so I filled the day doing laundry and running errands. Until you are in one of those situations you forget how precious time to do the little things actually is. I am one of those people who does not look at preparing supper as a chore. ( Well, except for the pesky clean up part which I am none too fond of) I actually enjoy the process of chopping, mixing, stewing, stirring, whatever the process is. To me it is some kind of therapy. I can start fixing meals and go into a Zen like meditative state where the world moves beyond me and I am one with my knife and onion. Truth be told, when I am at my most vulnerable emotionally, I bake. So, if you ever stop by and there are 3 kinds of freshly baked cookies and a pie sitting around you can rest assured it has been a stressful day. I was not stressed at all yesterday but did get to enjoy the planning and prepping of our meal.

Unlike a lot of people we did not get to a city that is steeped in Mardi Gras tradition, but what good is having a day like that without celebrating somehow. I was leaning toward etouffee' or jambayla, but I would have to make 2 different versions since Son3 is allergic to shrimp and I did not want to do that ( use more than one pot). With those traditional meals out of the picture it left just one other dish, red beans and rice. I have made it tons before, but I found and tried a different take on it. I have always used sausage and what I consider very normal cajun spices when I make it. This recipe was a little different, plus it used up about 1/2 pound of roasted pork I had left over in the fridge.

Red Beans and Rice

1 cup chopped onion
12 cup chopped celery ( I chop mine in paper thin slices so the celery itself almost disappears but you have all that wonderful celery flavor )
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
1 clove minced garlic
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1-1 1/2 pounds smoked ham hocks
1/2 pound roasted pork, chopped
10 cups liquid ( chicken broth, water or combination of each)
1 pound red beans rinsed and sorted

Put the oil in the bottom of a nice heavy dutch oven and bring to a medium high heat. Toss in the onion, celery and the bell pepper and stir while wilting. These should not brown but just be wilted very well. If you want the garlic add it now and let it just wilt also. I opt to skip the garlic in beans and rice. Personally I see no point in using the ham hocks then overshadowing the delicious flavor of the smoke with the garlic, but that is a personal choice of mine. Immediately stir in the cooking liquid then add the cleaned beans. Cover and let them come to a boil, then reduce the heat to a strong simmer. Add the bay leaves, thyme and parsley, stir and then add the ham hocks and chopped pork. Cover and bring it back to a rolling boil, then reduce heat a little below medium. ( I have a gas stove so this is easy to do. If you have an electric stove I would reduce it to medium for about 20 minutes and they reduce it further to low for the remaining time) and let it just cook away until the beans are soft and the flavors have all combined. ( Do not cook the beans uncovered. They will never become wonderfully soft and creamy otherwise.)

The recipe called for smushing some of the beans with the back of a spoon to thicken the cooking liquid. Instead, about 20 minutes before serving, I kicked the heat back up and brought it to a rolling boil. We only eat brown rice and I always have Minute Brown Rice on hand. I added enough to equal 6 servings, put the lid back on the pot and turned the heat off. If you cook the rice with the beans the rice also absorbs the flavors and makes everything twice as good. I let it sit for 7 minutes and then our supper was ready to eat. These were the best beans and rice I have ever made or eaten. The entire family loved them!

Meanwhile back at the ranch..I had decided to make cornbread to go along with the RB&R but surfing the net found a recipe for Louis Armstrong's supposed cornbread recipe. I have no way of knowing whether it was his or not, but thought we would try it anyway.

Louis Armstrong’s Spicy Pepper Cornbread

3 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup cream-style corn
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped jalapeno peppers
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and pour into a 9 x 13-inch ungreased pan. Bake in preheated oven at 350° for 30 minutes.

I made this almost by the recipe. A can of corn has slightly more than a cup so I used all of it. Other than that I did not change a thing. This is going to be our go to cornbread from now on. It was even better today !

We threw in a little jazz and had our own Fat Tuesday, Birmingham style!

So after a day of laundry, errand, and cooking therapy I am off to the hospital.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Life Changes on a Dime

You know how you are rocking through life thinking everything is going well and you get a little complacent? Then suddenly one day everything changes. Well, we have had one of those defining moments that has restructured life, at least for a while. Over a week ago my dad was ushering at a musical event, traipsing up and down the stairs, and woke the next morning with limited mobility. By the next morning he was virtually paralyzed with esophageal limitations and breathing difficulties. A diagnosis of Guillian Barre Syndrome, massive immunogloblulin infusions and time have stopped the progress and now he is in rehab, s-l-o-w-l-y gaining back some function. It is going to be a long process and in the meantime he requires a lot of assistance. ( We are calling it that because he DOES NOT like feeling helpless)

Long story short, I am most often on the late afternoon, supper, bedtime detail so my cooking has just about disappeared. I feel for the next month or so I will be doing crock pot or salad meals for the most part. A few nights ago I saw a post on the blog of my friend Jill @cooking what I pinned and realized I had everything it called for: boneless pork chops in the freezer, cream of chicken soup, and a package of ranch dressing mix. Since it would cook in the crock pot and The Hub and Son3 would be home for supper and gone again before I got back from the hospital it was a done deal.

Creamy Crock Pot Pork Chops

1 Package of Pork Chops
1 Package Dry Ranch Dressing Mix
1 Can Cream of Chicken Soup

Put the pork chops in the bottom of the crock pot. Stir the soup and dry ranch dressing and spread over the chops to cover. Put the lid on and cook on high for 4 hours.

Ok I have to admit I did not do it exactly as called for. The cream of chicken soup I was sure I had turned out to be cream of mushroom which was fine with me. Cream of anything except cream of shrimp would have worked equally well. Since I am a Piggly Wiggly meat snob, I buy all of our meats and poultry there. I love having an old fashioned butcher who will actually butcher things the way I want them. I had bought 2 whole pork loins and had them cut into boneless loin chops that were a little over 1/2 inch thick. They were frozen in packs with either 3 or 6 slices and for this I pulled out one of the 6 piece packages. I thought it might require a little more sauce than just one can of soup would create and when I looked through the pantry I found an accidental purchase, cream of mushroom with roasted garlic. I figured since the ranch dressing already had garlic a little more wouldn't hurt. I mixed both with the dressing mix and spread it over the chops. I had a green salad already made in the fridge but thought the guys would want a little more than a hunk of meat and some greens so I added a cup of short grain brown rice on top of the soup and then poured about a half cup of white wine on top of the rice. I put the top on and set the temp to low and let it rip.

There is no picture this time because I put this on at 7:30 in the morning. At about 4 when Son3 got home from school he called me at the hospital and I got him to stir just the rice and soupy sauce. He replaced the top and it continued to cook until about 6:30. They ate and turned the crock pot to warm and left it for me. When I got home right about 9 there was a crock pot with nearly shredded pork and the most delicious brown rice I have ever eaten. It was so overcooked that I was about 2 hours late for sauce. According to Son3 they had wonderful rice with chops and a delicious creamy sauce, but I had forgotten to ask them to take a picture of it. I could have but it would have been very unappetizing to look at, still trust me, it was delicious. I will do this again another time when I can obey the cooking instructions. I think the only thing I will do differently is to add some frozen peas and a half a cup of sliced mushrooms about 2 hours before serving and just let them sit on the top of the rice to mostly steam but pick up some of the sauce flavors.

Thanks Jill, you were a supper savior! If you want to see what it was supposed to look like, take a look at Jill's blog!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Let Them Eat Kale

In the ever difficult quest to eat 5 servings of vegetables each day I am trying to expand the variety and the serving method of different veggies. ( Is is possible to o.d. on green beans?) Tonight I had a bag of sliced kale and no desire to eat more sauteed green stuff. I found a recipe in " More with Less" the Mennonite cookbook I have had since the late 70's. I had no idea there were so many ways to serve kale, none of which sounded appealing until I found one with enough garlic to overpower the bitterness of the kale. Woo Hoo! Since there are just 2 of us tonight and The Hub is still a tiny bit under the weather, we decided to have a soup and biscuit night. (The 7 Up biscuits from a few nights ago were requested and as easy as they are to make I only had to pretend I was doing The Hub a huge favor by making them. I did act like it would put me out and he would be indebted to me on a later date. No sense in letting a request go without a future pay off)

Anyway this recipe was simply called Kale and Vegetable Soup

1 quart of chicken broth from the carcass of Sunday dinner (????????? Translation: 1 box of chicken broth and enough water to equal 1 quart.
4 cups shredded kale
4 carrots chopped
1 medium winter squash ( used butternut) peeled and chopped in cubes
2 onions chopped
1 whole head garlic minced
4 parsnips chopped
2 turnips peeled and chopped
1 jar of tomatoes ( No idea what size jar, but I assume I should have canned these this past summer. Instead I bought 4 tomatoes at The Pig)
1 jar of white beans ( Again I am sure I should have done these sometime recently. This meant 1 can of navy beans to me)

Saute' the aromatics in a little bacon fat or oil ( When is the last time you remember someone saving rendered fat?)
They suggested you then put everything but the kale and the canned beans in the soup kettle over a medium fire. I don't have a soup kettle and unless the dial on my stove top is set to medium I have no idea what it might be. Anyway the recipe is pretty much a "cook it all until it is soft" then using the potato masher squish all the vegetables. When they are all nice and mushy stir in the canned beans and kale and cook until the kale is cooked through. Serve and enjoy

When all was said and done I am not sure I used this recipe at all except as a starting point. I cut all of the vegetables except the garlic and kale into quarters. There were no parsnips at The Pig and the turnips were on the large side so I left them out entirely and added extra carrots and a couple of zucchini I cut off the top of the entire garlic bulb and set it on a lightly oiled baking pan, I put the other cut vegetables on the same pan and drizzled a little olive oil over all. I popped it in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes stirring them every 10 or so minutes. When the vegetables were done I transferred all* but the butternut squash and the carrots to the blender and pureed it. The pureed mixture went into the pot along with the chicken broth. Be sure to scrape all the brown caramelized veggie bits from the pan. It deepens the flavor of the soup base. When it was a gentle simmer I added the kale and beans (undrained) and cooked till the kale wilted and the soup was hot. The carrots and squash were stirred in along with a little salt and pepper. It was served with the 7 Up biscuits and nothing else.

The verdict: I was surprised at how good this was. Oven roasting the vegetables was an easy way to develop the flavor a little more and blending the blender made the consistency a dense vegetable laden soup. I left the carrots and squash out of the blend because I thought they would turn the soup base orange. It turned orange when they were all blended anyway, so when I do it again I will go ahead and add them to the puree mix. I will also at least double the kale. The flavors of the garlic and onion are intense enough to carry a lot more kale. Plus roasting the veggies brought out all of their natural sugars to offset a lot of kale bitterness.

I had 4 servings left over so i put them in little ziploc food containers for the freezer. If any of you have a silicon muffin pan you can freeze the soup in each cup then pop them out and put them in a freezer storage bag. Throw a couple or 3 of the soup "pucks" in a microwave safe bowl and you have soup for 1 anytime . I go ahead and freeze mine in 2 serving containers for those nights when we need something quick. I used to just put it in a big bowl in the fridge but I always felt obligated to eat it until it was gone. The Hub refuses to eat the same thing 2 days in a row so I would eat it for lunch. By day 3 I would be sick of it. When it gets frozen, it comes back in a couple of weeks as a completely new meal, no waste and no one but me knows it was leftover.

As a totally unrelated aside, I had lunch today with several lovely ladies. Somehow or another the discussion turned to physics and string theory and wormholes. " Blonda" was talking about a movie she had seen with the star traveling through a wormhole and having a visit in real time with her long dead father, but for everyone else it looked like no time had lapsed at all. Her quote to explain time and space folding in on itself was " See! It's always 5 o'clock somewhere!"

Love it and now love kale!

* The garlic was roasted whole with just the very top of all the cloves cut off. All you have to do to get it out of the skin is turn it upside down and squeeze it out. This gorgeous roasted garlic turns into a paste after roasting. Its not a bad idea to roast about 10 bulbs at one time and freeze it in individual containers. You can use it in tons of things or mix it with a little olive oil and spread it on a baguette round