Saturday, December 21, 2013

Delicious Pecan Bars ( Low Sodium To Boot)

I am still doing a good bit of cooking for my parents.  Mother's low sodium diet is really not that difficult, but Mom tends to think all she can eat is unflavored baked chicken/fish and a green salad with nothing but olive oil and vinegar.  She seems quite surprised when I show up at her door with food that not only smells good but is pretty tasty also.

She has been missing baked goods. I thought it would not be a big deal to leave the salt out of foods but did a bit of research mainly to see if it would alter the kitchen chemistry much.  I am glad I did and was surprised at what all I learned.  I know I did not realize how many mg. of sodium are in both baking powder and baking soda.  I also found there are either sodium free or extremely low sodium alternatives for both available though our good friends at Amazon. ( Is there anything you can't buy from them?)

I have been scouring low sodium web sites and blogs and have found many things to try, but so far have baked only one thing.  Mom said she would like something sweet and nutty.  It was not much of a request but I had no idea what direction I would go.  I wanted something fairly easy to make that would be delicious and not taste like a low sodium dish.  By combining a couple of recipes and a little trial and error I came up with these pecan pie bars.  Ok there is nothing remotely pieish about them, but it was a dang fine substitute, plus not just the restricted diet person ate them.  Everyone ate them, then went back for more!

                                                             Pecan Pie Bars

Cookie crust
1 1/2 cup unbleached flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter

Mix the flour and brown sugar together.  Cut in the butter until it resembles cornmeal. Mix to incorporate everything.  ( I used clean hands, but use whatever tool you choose.  Hands just work better with dough.)  If necessary add a few drops of water. Dough will be mostly smooth.  Pat it out into the bottom of a greased 13x9 pan.  Bake at 350 degrees until it is light golden brown.  Remove and spread the topping over the cookie crust.

Pecan Topping
1/4 cup dark corn syrup ( Corn syrup has a fairly high sodium content for sweeteners)
1/2 cup brown sugar ( I used light because I had it.  Dark might taste better)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
1/2 cup broken pecan pieces ( can coarse chop if desired)

In a small bowl mix the first 4 ingredients until they are smooth. Add the pecans and stir to mix.  Spread on top of the cookie crust and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool to lukewarm then cut into 36 squares. ( If you let it cool completely before cutting it will break rather than cut)

The entire recipe has about 300 mg of sodium, so each piece has negligible amounts.  2 pieces satisfied my mother's cravings for something delicious, sweet and nutty.  I call it a win-win situation.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Uber Low Sodium Pork Roast

What is the old saying?  If you want to make God laugh make a plan.  I had intended to return to cooking full time after the work at the lake was done.  Instead, I have been busy helping my folks through a difficult time.

 Things are more stable and my stove is going full steam ahead with just a slight difference.  Mom is now on a reduced sodium diet and does not need to be cooking at the moment. Since I live very close  it is easier for me to cook for them and run it down to their house than it would be to cook in their home.  I truly feel grateful that I can do something like this.  They are both so stubborn they refuse to let us help any other way.

One of the things I have learned through this process is how insanely salt laden most commercially prepared foods are.  I am not sure I really looked at packages well enough in the past.  Just check out the labels of whatever you are eating and you will be shocked.  Even something as simple as the chili powder in your spice cabinet most likely has salt added. (Well done Penzy's, who has not one but two chili blends that are totally sodium free!)

Another thing I have learned is how easy it is to mask the true taste of food with salt.  After about 2 weeks of eating what I prepare for Mom and Dad my salt tolerance has really decreased.  I ate some slightly salted popcorn last night and was dying for water to wash the salty taste away.

Today's food is a rather simple pork roast that is packed with flavor.  I found the original recipe on The Pioneer Woman  here.  I did a bit of altering so it would work for Mom.  The result was a truly tasty meal with zero added salt.

                                            Pork Roast With Apples And Onions

2 tablespoons cooking oil ( I used sunflower oil)
1 pork loin roast ( about 3 pounds)
coarsely ground black pepper to taste
3 onions, julienne sliced
3 hard, crisp apples, cored and cut in wedges ( I used Granny Smith because I had them in the crisper drawer )
1 cup apple juice
2 envelopes no sodium beef bouillon
2 cups water
3 bay leaves

In a heavy large pot with a lid heat the cooking oil to medium hot. Generously pepper the pork loin on all sides.  Brown turning so each surface of the roast is uniformly brown.  Put the onion slices in the pan and let them wilt slightly.  Add the apples.  Sprinkle the bouillon powder on the roast then pour the apple juice and the water over it.  When the liquid gets hot add the 3 bay leaves.  Turn the heat down to a medium heat and put the lid on the pan.   Cut the heat down to a medium low and cook until the roast is tender. (About 2-2 1/2 hours)

 Remove the roast to a cutting board.  Using a large slotted spoon remove the onions and apples and put them on individual plates or on one large platter.  Turn the heat under the pan on high and cook until the remaining liquid is reduced by 2/3 and is very thick and sauce like.   Cut the roast into slices and place it on the cooked apples and onions.  Top each slice with some of the reduced sauce.  Serve with whatever starch you prefer and a side green vegetable.

If you prefer a salted version, salt and pepper the roast before browning and use regular beef broth instead of the no sodium bouillon.

This was extremely tasty and quite filling.  The apples tend to turn to mush, which creates the thick sauce.  If you want the apples to have a little more shape and texture, I would add a couple more during the last 45 minutes of the cooking time.

 I served this with a plain boiled red potato and steamed asparagus.  I hesitated to serve it with rice ( I would have used short grain brown rice rather than the wild rice The Pioneer Woman used) because Mom is still balking at the way unsalted food tastes.  I was able to cut her potatoes in fourths  and drag them through the sauce left on the bottom of the plan.  Every bit of flavor counts!  I ate this for lunch and thought it was fantastic but the true test was my salt loving mother's opinion.  She thought it was delicious and actually called me to tell me.  I take this as high praise since she has been telling me how bad most things have tasted so far.  So yeah!  Success that was really good.

Can't wait to see what she thinks of the no salt sausage!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Return To Cooking, Chicken Marinades

I don't think I have cooked at all in three weeks.  Oh I have made a meal here or there but I am not sure grilled cheese and tomato soup count as real cooking.  Pretty sure slicing a hot dog into kraut and heating it doesn't either, but that is what you do when you are in the process of re-doing a small place at the lake.

As of mid-October we are the owners of a little house on a gorgeous lake lot.  The Hub is thrilled beyond belief to have a place to escape from civilization.  I am not as thrilled as he is.  For the past three weeks Son2 and I have painted and scraped and cleaned  and scrubbed and done minor repairs to the house.  The Hub has mostly come after work to tell us that things look good.  Rah.

So__rather than cooking I have been covered with paint and dirt and sawdust and living off of whatever food is brought to me in whatever paper bag whichever take-out place uses.  I think I ate the grilled chicken salad from Jack's for 4 consecutive days.

Now that the place is livable and furniture is in, I am no longer having to go there daily. I am returning to a  more normal life, which is wonderful since The Pig is having incredible sales in it's meat department.  $1.99 per pound for boneless skinless chicken breasts, means I buy at least 20 pounds of it.  The down side of buying that much means I also have to process 20 pounds of it. Tonight I grilled about 10 pounds and then vacuum sealed it for the freezer.  ( Thanks to my newest toy, the Food Saver)

We are trying to eat as many unprocessed foods as we can, so bottled marinades were out.  I looked at a couple of recipes and couldn't find anything that  I had the ingredients for  sounded good, so as usual I punted.

Italian-ish Marinade

1/2 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons red wine
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon parsley
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Whisk together all ingredients in a bowl and pour into a food safe zip lock bag.  Add chicken breasts and let marinate for about 15-30 minutes (I put 10 whole chicken breasts in the bag of marinade)
Cook over a medium grill for 5 minutes, turn and cook for 3 more minutes, if freezing or until done if eating immediately.  I always allow for a little more cooking time when I plan to thaw and reheat. This purposely has no salt in it at all.  I have found when freezing the salt tends to draw the moisture out of the chicken.  I will add a bit when I reheat it.  If you are eating it immediately salt it while it is on the grill or add 1/2 teaspoon to the marinade bag.

Asian-ish Lime Chili Marinade

1/4 cup neutral oil ( I used grapeseed)
1 tablespoon sesame seed oil
1/4 cup lime juice (fresh or bottled, I am not judging)
2 cloves  minced garlic
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and pour into a zip lock bag.  Put the chicken in and seal.  Using your hand mash the bag to get the marinade over every piece.  Let it sit for about 20 minutes and follow the same steps as above for grilling.  Once again this has no salt by design, so salt it while on the grill if you are eating it right away.  Otherwise salt it while reheating.

I only tasted a small bit of each and I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite at this point.  They are both very tasty, but very different flavors.  Because of the brown sugar, the Asian marinade is a little sweet, while the Italian is absolutely just savory.  I say try the both and decide for yourself.

Meanwhile I now have a lot of ready to go foods in the freezer.  When we go to the lake I can pull a few out to take with us.  It will make lake cooking a non-issue.

I still have a boatload of chicken to grill.  Tomorrow I am trying 2 different recipes.  Who knows, I might even go to the store and buy everything so there will be no punting!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Quack, Quack...Yum

I think I have mentioned that I am in the process of eating things from the freezer to get rid of food that is on the cusp of being in there too long.  I took out every single thing on each shelf, and as long as it could be identified, dated it with a very short use by window.  (For my personal future reference and so you don't have to make the same mistakes I did, write the name of each cooked leftover on the little space for it on the freezer bag.  Beef stew, Shepherds pie and scraps for the dog all look remarkably similar once frozen.) I also found all kinds of things I didn't even know I had, but after seeing them I did remember buying them.

One of those forgotten items was a whole duck.  I have no idea why I bought it, though we do like duck occasionally. We usually eat it out though, because I am not a huge fan of cooking it___until today.

I found the beginnings of this recipe on  Jamie Oliver's website.  As usual, once I got in the middle of it, I realized I did not have some (many) of the ingredients so I had to punt__ again. This is exactly how I made it.  Seems I should have served it with an Asian noodle bowl rather than a salad.  Oh well!

Roasted Asian Duck With Asian Side Salad

1 whole duck, giblets removed
1 orange, quartered
2 teaspoon chopped rosemary ( I used fresh, if using dried reduce to 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon dried sage
2 tablespoons Chinese five spice powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

After removing the giblets wash the duck and pat dry with paper towels.   Mix together the five spice powder, salt and pepper. Take the rosemary and sage and rub it into the cavity of the bird.  Use about 1 teaspoon of the salt, pepper, and five spice mix and rub it in the cavity also.  Stuff the quartered orange into the bird and set it in a deep baking pan.  Rub the remaining spice over the skin of the bird, making sure to get in the folds of the legs, thighs and wings.  Bake in the oven for one hour.  Pour all the fat into a jar and save it for later.  Return the bird to the oven for one more hour, repeating the process of pouring off and saving the duck fat.  Let the duck cool and cut the legs and thigh from the body of the bird.  Cut the breasts and wing portion from the backbone.  Throw out the carcass.  Strain the warm duck fat through a sieve that has been lined with a coffee filter. (This can be a rather long and kind of messy step, just be patient.)  Put the duck in the smallest  bowl with a lid you have that it will fit into.  Smash all the pieces together tightly then pour the fat over the top of it all, cover with a tight fitting lid and put it in the fridge until tomorrow or the day after.

The day you are serving it, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Scrape the duck fat from the top of the container* and get as much of it off the duck as possible.  Put the pieces of a rimmed baking sheet and cook for about 20 minutes to heat through and crisp the skin.

Asian Inspired Salad

1/2 head of iceberg lettuce washed and torn in bite size pieces
1/2 head leaf lettuce, washed and torn in bite size pieces
1/2 head of chinese cabbage
1/2 bag of sugar snap peas ( steamer bag) thawed
4 scallions sliced in rounds
chow mein noodles sprinkled to taste


Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon Bangkok seasoning blend ( Any Asian blend would work)
dash of salt
dash of pepper

While the bird is heating, make a salad of mixed greens, sugar snap peas and the scallions.  Sprinkle the chow mein noodles on top of the salad and top with the dressing.

I know this seems like a lot of steps and work, but because it is a two day process there really is nothing to it.  I roasted the duck while I was  baking some chicken for supper.  By the time the chicken was done and we had finished eating the duck was done.

 I did have to drain the fat (If you have a turkey baster use it for this) when I took the chicken out of the oven but I had a clever little contraption rigged so I didn't have to do anything with it but pour it in the sieve.  I had a conical sieve with a coffee filter in it.  The sieve was suspended over a 4 cup pyrex measuring cup and it just slowly dripped and cleaned the fat of the browned duck bits.  I left it there the entire second hour of cooking time and when it was time to remove the bird, it had finished dripping.  I simply had to throw away that filter and replace it with a clean one then I repeated the process.  Worked like a charm!

The duck was delicious.  It might be the best duck I have ever eaten and the sentiments were unanimous, we all loved it.  It was moist and juicy, tender and delicious.  The five spice was the predominant seasoning, but it did not overwhelm the flavor of the duck.

The salad on the side was the perfect compliment to the heavy flavor of the duck.  I think the only thing I would do differently is to add some slivers of sweet and hot red pepper for a hint of color, sweetness and heat.

Son2 just walked by and asked if I was putting this on the blog.  When I said yeas his reply was "Good, it was so good it is worth putting there"  High praise from someone with his cooking skills.

If you are cleaning your freezer and find a duck, try this.  If not, go buy a duck and try it anyway.  I promise it is that good.

* Save the duck fat to cook potatoes in.  Tonight Son3 grated some potatoes and cooked them like hash browns in the duck fat.  Oh My Goodness!  It was fantastic.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Almost Veal Marsala

My freezer is filled to overflowing right now and is requiring that I thaw and use as much as possible immediately. I froze much produce this summer, but I still had a lot of proteins from the winter.  The time has come to do some serious freezer cooking to use the meats while I can still buy decent fresh vegetables for sides.  ( I figure there are only 2 weeks left for traditional summer veggies and we are eating and enjoying them while we can.)

While rummaging  I found 2 huge veal rib chops.  Usually I just grill them in a pan with a little salt and pepper, but last night I wanted  little something more.  I looked through several recipes and tweaked and combined ideas to match what I had on hand.  The following is a composite of all of them with a tad of "just because" thrown in.

                                                                 Veal Marsalaish

preheat oven to 375 degrees

The Veal

2 large veal rib chops
1 clove garlic minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Put oil in a large skillet and heat to medium high.  Sear the veal chops on both sides.  Turn the skillet down to medium, add garlic .  Cook for 4 minutes then turn and cook 3 additional minutes.  Remove from heat and place in an oven proof baking pan (9x9)

The Sauce

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons 
1 pound white mushrooms, sliced
6 green onions sliced crosswise
1 small white onion in julienne slices
2 cloves garlic minced
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup Marsala or dry red wine
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter in the oil.  Add the mushroom slices and cook stirring constantly until they are very wilted.  Add the sliced green onions, the julienne strips of white onion and the garlic and cook until all the vegetables are soft but not browned.  Stir in the flour and stirring constantly cook for about 2 minutes.  Slowly add the beef broth, stirring the whole time until the mixture starts to thicken.  Add the wine, salt and pepper and cook for another minute.  Pour over the chops in the pan and bake uncovered for about 15 minutes.  Place the chops on a plate and spoon the sauce over all.

This was an easy meal, but for me it required a little bit more thought than I give a main dish.  It was a 1 meal 3 pan item which is not something I do often.  I am a big fan of one pan meals or at least a one pan entree.  I think next time I will brown the veal, remove it to a plate then make the sauce in the same skillet.  When it thickens I will return the veal to the same pan, put a lid on it and then finish cooking it on the stovetop.

We loved the flavor, but agreed we would have liked it better using veal scallops rather than chops.  The chops were gigantic, in fact The Hub and I split one and still had a little left over.  I think a thinner pounded veal scallop would have held the flavor of the sauce a little better, and the purpose of all the cooking was for flavor.  So, as a chop dish I give it a MEH, but I will make it again with a thinner cut.  I think I will also have a few par-baked root vegetables and toss them on top of the sauce.  Some carrots, potatoes and large pieces of celery would taste fantastic with the sauce.

And another thing...what exactly is Marsala?  I think it might be similar to cooking sherry but I am not sure.  I just used whatever leftover dry red we had and it tasted very good.  My theory is you should always use a dry white or red wine when cooking everything except for tomato sauces and they scream for a heavy bodied red. For the record, if you are near a Trader Joe's pick up 10 or so bottles of their 2 Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw wine that is now actually 3 dollars)  They have both a red and white that are pretty dry and great for cooking.  They also have a couple of fruity reds and whites that work really well in sangria, but that is another post entirely.    Trader . Joe's . Envy

So here is to Marsala veal with no Marsala at all.  It  was very tasty and I do love a saucy veal!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Gone To The Dogs!

Today Shelby, the dog, needed something special just for her.  She is a peanut butter freak and we have been buying her peanut butter treats, but they are nearly $4 a bag.  As much as I adore her I am a little reluctant to spend that much on dog treats.  We don't want her to eat all the bad stuff in the more inexpensive doggie biscuits so the only other option was to make some for her with ingredients I was certain of.   Son2 emailed a recipe for them so it was a quick jump from reading the recipe to mixing them to shaping, and baking.

                                                        Quick Easy Dog Treats

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup oatmeal
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 1/4 cup water

Mix all ingredients in a bowl until smooth and thoroughly combined.  Roll on a floured surface and cut with cookie cutters into desired shapes.  (Is there another dork besides me who has a dog bone cookie cutter that had only been used before on cookies for people?) Alternate method: Roll flat and use a pizza cutter to make very quick, no waste pieces.  Cut the dough in about 1 inch strips across. cut them up and down into about 2 inch strips.  The result will be a lot of rectangle pieces with a few odd ones from the edges. (Unless you roll yours in a rectangle to begin with, which was more trouble than I thought it was worth.)  I promise your dog will not care about the shape.  Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet or a non greased no-stick sheet.  Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes.  They will become darker brown and very hard.  Remove from the oven and let them cool on a rack. Keep in a plastic bag in the fridge for about a week.  Freeze for longer storage. ( Ours do not last long enough to freeze)

These are a snap to make.  I did not use a spoon.  I just dug in with my hands and kneaded it until everything was mixed completely. It might have taken me 2 minutes.  I patted them out on a floured cutting board and rolled them about between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick.  I only cut a few with the dog bone cookie cutter.  The rest I just used the pizza cutter method.  Shelby does not prefer one over the other. All she cares about is the peanut butter flavor.

We all tried a bite of one cookie treat.  They taste like a whole wheat peanut butter cracker without salt. I guess I could have just as easily made these for us also, but I think Shelby might give me her famous "If I could I would eat your face right now" look.  Your treats are safe Shelby!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Accidental Pizza Casserole (Bad Picture/Excellent Flavor)

We have decided we will no longer eat out on week nights.  It sounded good in theory until I realized it meant cooking every night, which I really don't mind doing.  It 's planning the grocery list, buying the groceries, bringing them in from the car and putting them away that bugs me.  And if that is not enough it means remembering to have something in mind, and thawed before thinking about cooking.

Or it means we have something like we did last night, a punt meal where I scramble through the freezer looking for whatever will thaw easily and will "go" with whatever produce I have on hand.

Toward the back of the freezer I found a bag with about 1 cup of browned ground beef.  I grabbed it and tossed it still frozen in a pan over low heat.  After about 5 minutes of stirring it broke apart into manageable frozen bits.  I quickly added 1 whole onion sliced in thin strips, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 small yellow pepper, ribbed and seeded  and sliced into thin strips.  I knew I had the beginnings of something, but I had no idea what.

Son2 and Son3 have accused me of being a food hoarder.  They claim I have back-ups to the back-ups.  I call it a very well stocked pantry and, after last night, so should they. A couple of looks through the shelves and I had something that could pass as a decent weeknight meal.

                                                             Accidental Pizza Casserole

( And yes I am aware of what a bad picture this is.  It was ready to eat and my cell phone was handy.)

1 lb-ish ground beef ( I used much less and it worked fine)
2 cloves minced garlic
1 onion cut in thin slices
1 small bell pepper seeded, ribbed and sliced thinly
1 large grated zucchini
1 jar/can pizza sauce ( use pepperoni pizza sauce)
pizza sauce can or jar filled with water
ditalini pasta ( about 3/4 cup)
1 cup sliced mushrooms
any other traditional pizza topping you have available that you like
1 cup grated cheese (mozzarella would have been better, but I only had cheddar)
1/4 -1/2 cup parmesan cheese ( Only you know how cheesy you like things)

In a pan brown the ground beef, add the, onion and cook until wilted, toss the garlic in the pan and cook until it is softened but not browned.  Add the peppers and cook just a minute. When no one is watching add the grated zucchini.  They will have no idea it is in there, but it adds to the vegetables in the meal.  Pour the pizza sauce over all and stir to combine.  Pour the water in and go ahead and fill the container with water again just in case you need it.  Add the pasta and stir to mix everything.  Cover with a lid and turn the heat down to  med/ med low.  Let it cook until the pasta starts to soften.  Lift the lid and check to see if additional water is needed. ( Is sticking to the pan?  Mine was.)  If so, add it and stir to combine.  Put the mushrooms on top of everything, put the lid back on and cook until the mushrooms are cooked through and the pasta is done.  Spray an oven proof pan with pam and spoon the mixture into it.  Sprinkle cheese over the top leaving about 1/3 inch around the rim without cheese. (The cheese will melt and spread but will not drip over the sides of the pan).  When melted and hot throughout sprinkle 1/4-1/2 cup parmesan cheese and run back in the oven for a couple of minutes to melt.  Serve hot.

I was actually kind of surprised at how good this tasted and how well received it was.  There was not a morsel left, and that included the part that would not fit in my pyrex dish. (Don't even think all this will fit in a pyrex pie pan_it won't!  My mistake!)

If I had planned on doing this I would have bought some sliced black olives and scallions to put on top of the cheese. It would have been much more attractive and we all know we eat with our eyes first.  I also wish I had used mozzarella instead of cheddar cheese.  It is something I usually keep on hand but I guess the last time I used my back-up cheese I forgot to purchase more. ( And that is precisely why I like to keep a back-up to the back-up.  If I use my back-up and forget to buy it for a week it's ok because I have an automatic back-up anyway. So tomorrow, I have to buy mozzarella, a mozzarella back-up and a back-up back-up)  My advice to myself and everyone else is to keep that kitchen well stocked with staples.  I am going shopping tomorrow!

Try this, it is a quick tasty meal.  I served it with a large green salad and called it supper.  Doesn't get much easier or faster than this!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Indian Lentil Stew

Tonight we tried a vegetarian dish with origins in India. Now if you are from there please don't tell me this is a highly Americanized version of a traditional lentil stew.  Let me be delusional and pretend I am well acquainted with foods of the world rather than just another American messing around with store bought Garam Marala and calling it Indian cuisine. OK?

I found several recipes and took what I had here to make the stew we ate.  It is a compilation of several recipes minus stuff I have never heard of, much less have in the house. (Do any of you seriously have black sesame seed in your pantry?  I am going to buy some just so I can answer "Yes" if anyone ever asks me that.  Of course when they ask the follow-up question about how to use them, I will have to  shrug and say "I dunno")

                                        Authentic Indian (Via Alabama) Lentil Stew

2 teaspoons coconut oil
1 onion chopped finely
3 cloves minced garlic
1 hot pepper, seeded, ribbed and finely minced
1 inch nob of fresh ginger grated
1 can crushed tomatoes ( 28 ounce size)
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
4 cups water
2 tablespoons garam masala (find it in the ethnic section of the grocery store)
3 1/2 cups rinsed and drained dried lentils
1/4 cup minced cilantro
juice of 1 fresh lime

Saute the onion, garlic, pepper, and ginger in the coconut oil in a large soup pot.  Cook until all the vegetables are very soft but not caramelized.  Add the tomatoes, bouillon cubes, and water and stir to blend well.  Stir in the garam masala and add the lentils. Bring to a boil, cover the pot and turn heat down to medium.  Continue cooking until the lentils are soft. ( about 30 minutes) Do not overcook the lentils or you will have a giant pot of mush rather than a stew.  Lift the lid a couple of times and check to see if you need to add any additional water.  This should have the consistency of a thick soup.  Before serving stir in the cilantro and lime juice.  Serve with Naan* in a wide bowl.

This was delicious, earthy dish and makes me want to explore true Indian dishes.   It was extremely filling with a fantastic spice palette.   There is something so pleasing about heavy ginger and garlic anyway, but add the slight cinnamon and turmeric flavors from garam masala and the flavor explodes.  Just smelling it made my mouth water.  The only complaint I had with the dish was not the stew but the Naan.  I bought it at Publix and it tasted like honey and yeast.  I would have preferred the bread to be less sweet.  It almost interfered with the taste of the stew.

 I had a good bit of the stew left over which I froze.  When I serve it again, I am tempted to add some shredded lamb to it.  I think the flavors would compliment each other.  Then again I might just serve it as is with an unsweetened Naan.  If you like the flavors of India you will probably like this.  Even if you are not certain, it's worth taking baby steps and trying it.

*Naan is an Indian flat bread usually baked in a super hot clay oven.  I found  this version and next time I will probably make it. (even though I have no idea what a couple of those ingredients are!)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Variation On A Cajun Sausage Theme

I am unsure why, but it seems like I have a sausage theme going lately.  Last night I forgot to take anything out of the freezer to thaw for dinner.  Yikes!  I found a frozen smoked sausage in the front of the eye level shelf and knew it would thaw quickly. (Especially if I used the microwave).  I hit defrost and let it run for a few minutes.  By then it was still icy, but I could cut it into thin "coins".  ( In truth only about half was soft enough to cut so the universe decided I would use just 1/2 pound of it.)

Next, the only thing to do was ramble around and try to figure what I was going to do with it.  Son3 had mentioned having cajun mac and cheese, which did not sound good to me but did give a direction for the meal. 

                                                         Cajun Sausage Bowl

1/2 to 1 pound smoked sausage cut into "coins"
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 bell pepper chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon instant chicken bouillon or 1 bouillon cube
1 package bow tie pasta
1 can tomatoes with garlic, onion, and peppers ( do not drain)
1 can green beans ( do not drain)
1 1/2 teaspoon cajun seasoning ( I used Tony Chachere's but any cajun seasoning blend would work)
2 tablespoons light cream

Pour oil in  the bottom of a large pot.  Add onions, celery and bell peppers and cook over medium high heat until wilted.  Quickly stir in the garlic to barely wilt.  Immediately add the water and the chicken bouillon.  Stir to dissolve then add the bow tie pasta.  Stir in the tomatoes, juice and all and the green beans with it's liquid.  Add the cajun seasoning and give everything a quick stir.  Lower heat,  cover pot and cook until the pasta is semi soft.  Place the sausage on top of everything, check and add additional water if necessary,  replace the lid and simmer until the pasta is completely cooked and the sausage is hot.  Right before serving add the cream and stir through.

This was very tasty and is something we will try again during the cool weather.  It felt more like a cold weather meal than one when the temps are still so high.  I think when I do it again I will add more vegetables, maybe some shredded zucchini and a whole bell pepper.  The guys here thought it needed more sausage but I was fine with just a little.  The flavor was very good, with a bit of heat but not too much.

If you feel like dipping your toes in the Cajun cooking pool try this.  It's quick, inexpensive and pretty tasty.  Laissez le bon temps rouler!

Friday, September 6, 2013

She's Got A Great Personality...Tastes So Much Better Than It Looks

How often has this happened to you?  The day has gotten away from you, now it's that toxic hour.  Dinner needs to be cooked immediately, but you still have no earthly idea what it is going to be.  You have been busy doing all the glamorous living most of us do and have not given supper a single thought all day.  That happened here a few nights ago.  Sometime close to 6 in the evening, I realized I had no clue what I would cook and equally no clue what I even had that was not frozen.  A quick look through the meat drawer provided me with my options: sliced luncheon ham ( appx 5 paper thin slices), 2 hot dogs, one leftover hamburger patty ( unknown date) and a pound of Conecuh sausage which had fallen out of the freezer a couple of days ago, unnoticed until it was nearly thawed. (This is the down side of having the freezer in the laundry room   So happy it had fallen into a basket of clothes waiting to be laundered.  I found it while sorting  darks and stuck it in the refrigerator when it was still a tad icy.)

OK so I determined I had a pound of smoked sausage but still had no real clue what I would do with it. A quick survey of available produce revealed 3 potatoes, 1 garlic clove,1 onion, a couple of tomatoes and 1/2 of a bell pepper. A quick glance in the pantry, and I saw a can of petite diced tomatoes and a can of whole chili peppers.

                                                        Blind Date Conecuh Sausage*

1 pound Conecuh Sausage or 1 lb of your favorite brand, sliced into 1/4 inch thick "coins"
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large onion coarsely chopped
1/2 bell pepper chopped
1/2 cup diced celery
2 large tomatoes cut into wedges
1 can diced tomatoes, juice and all
1 can whole chili peppers, drained and cut in long strips
3 or 4 potatoes, peeled and sliced in thick slices
dash of red pepper flakes
couple of twists of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup water

Pour the oil into a large enamel pot or dutch oven over a medium high heat.  Add the onion, celery,  and bell pepper and cook until it is wilted. Add the garlic and let it wilt but do not brown.  Immediately
add the canned tomatoes, juice and all and the fresh tomato wedges. Add the chili strips and the potato slices.  Sprinkle with the pepper flakes and ground black pepper.  Add the sausage on top of the potatoes and pour 1/2 cup of water over everything.  Plop on a lid, reduce to medium and just let it all get very happy in the pot.  Check after 15 minutes and add more water if necessary. Turn heat down to a simmer and cook for another 15 minutes.

I served it with some Brussels sprouts and biscuits ( both frozen, because I am trying to use everything that has been living in the freezer a while) The meal was a surprising success.  Every single bit of it was eaten. ( Well, maybe a few Brussels sprouts were still hanging around after the fact.)

This is one of those things I will do again.  I doubt I will make it exactly the same since I imagine my available products will change, but I will stick to the same recipe__mostly.  I think an additional onion would have been fabulous along with another garlic clove and more bell pepper.  I will definitely use the canned chili.  It added a different flavor profile to what might have been bland otherwise.  While I was eating it I thought that whole kernel corn might taste good in it, but only if I had about 1/2 cup leftover.  An entire can would be too much.  I had a similar thought about leftover black beans or kidney beans.

Give it a try if you are low on time and inspiration with limited items in the fridge.

* I am calling it Blind Date Conecuh Sausage because at first glance it might not be the best looking thing you have ever eaten, but after getting acquainted with it you realize what a gem it is.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Pucker Up For Pickled Okra

A recent visit to the Farmer's Market was fruitful in so many ways.  In addition to beautiful peaches, pears, and watermelons I also scored a gorgeous basket of okra.  I cooked some for supper, froze 3 packages for later  and still had about 3 cups of very small okra that needed to be processed.  I have been craving pickled okra so I thought why not give it a try.  It is not something I have ever done before so there was a learning curve, but I will pass my mistakes so you don't have to make them.

                                                                Pickled Okra

2 1/2 pounds smallish okra, washed and blotted dry

4 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup pickling salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 cups water

per jar
1 clove garlic
1 hot pepper
1/2 teaspoon dill seed

Prepare the jars for canning.  Bring the vinegar, salt, sugar and water to a boil.  Reduce heat and let simmer until ready to can the pickles. Place the garlic clove, dill seed, and hot pepper in each HOT STERILE jar.  Stuff the okra into each jar.  By stuff I mean cram as much okra as possible into each jar.  Do not be afraid to continue cramming it in!  Using a funnel ladle the vinegar solution into each filled jar leaving 1/2 inch headspace at the top of the jars.  Run a knife or chopstick around the edge of the jars to remove air bubbles, wipe the rims, and put on the prepared lids and finger tighten the screw rings.  Place in the hot water bath and process for 20 minutes. ( See link above for complete water canning instructions)  Remove from the  water and let sit on a towel or wooden board on a level counter top.  Do not touch until they are completely cool and have sealed.  ( Listen for the "plink" as they seal.)  If any remain unsealed after they are cool re-process in the water bath.  It happens sometimes so don't be surprised if you have to dunk and heat a couple of jars again.

Now we can talk about the mistakes I made so you don't have too.  First and foremost, make these the day you buy the okra.  Just go ahead and plan on purchasing and canning the same day.  I waited 1 and a half days and the okra was not wilted, but it was not as crisp as the day I bought it.  In pickled okra, crispness counts!  If you have access to fresh grape leaves wash them thoroughly and place one in each jar. Supposedly grape leaves have a substance similar to alum that keeps the pickles crisper.  (I have none this year, but grapes are on my fall planting list and I should have some next year.  Will let you know in a year if the grape leaf truly makes a difference.)  When I say cram those okra in, I truly mean cram.  I had mine arranged so cute.  They were SUPPOSED to be a visual canning masterpiece, but when you pour the hot liquid on top of them they shrink slightly and move. Doh!  I should have had at least 1/3 more okra pods in each jar.  My yield was 7 pint jars, but if I had properly stuffed the jars I probably would have only gotten 4 1/2 pints.  The flavor is quite good, but these are a tad too salty for my tastes.  Next time I will reduce the salt to 1/3 cup.  The reason you use only pickling salt has something to do with no additives to cloud the final product.  I used it and the liquid is very clear.  Do not worry about the small amount of sugar making these pickles sweet.  They taste strongly of dill.  I think without the sugar added, it might be too acidic to enjoy eating.  The  final thing I have to say is about the pepper.  I used a Serrano pepper in each jar and there is not much heat in the pickles.  If you want something hot you might opt for a pepper a little hotter on the Scoville scale.

Let me mention dill seed while I am at it.  I went to 4 grocery stores before I found any and they were $2.89 for a small spice jar.  Through various blogs I read I was directed to Mountain Rose Herbs.  There I can find 1 pound of dill seed for $8.00  I am not an accountant, but even I can see that 8 bucks a pound is a much better deal than $2.89 an ounce.  They have similar prices on all herbs.  If anyone in the Birmingham area is interested in splitting bulk herbs let me know.  I am going to place an order next week and like everywhere else the more you spend the less it costs. 

Have a great day and remember if you think you can, well you can!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Chicken with Honey Mustard Plus Sauce

Ever had one of those days that starts with a firm plan and a to-do list that is set in concrete__until you open your eyes and put your feet on the floor?  Then every thing you had so carefully orchestrated falls apart and the day is nothing but a system of punts.  Oh yes, that was my day today.

I had about 10 places I needed to go today before our weekend trip to Atlanta.  Unfortunately The Hub decided we needed to have the car carpet shampooed before said trip.  So instead of getting everything finished like I wanted to, I was at the car detail place at 8 a.m.  My car was held hostage there until nearly 5 this afternoon.  Maybe y'all are craftier than I am but I could not figure any way to get from here to there sans car.   I was stuck at home, carless with errands I now get to do tomorrow.

What to do, what to do?  I looked around and realized I had about 5 pounds of okra that needed to be preserved somehow.  I also had 4 pounds of green pears that could either be left to ripen for eating or cooked into some delicious preserves.  

Since I was stuck at home anyway, the day turned into a processing and preparing day. The  pears have been cooked  and are waiting one more step tomorrow before canning.  3 bags of okra were tossed with cornmeal, spread on baking sheets and par-cooked.  They now swim with the fishes, and pork chops and beef tenderloins and squash packages in the freezer.  That left about 2 pounds for making pickled okra, with enough left for a side dish to go with supper.

By the time I had picked up my car and finished the final 2 jars of okra it was time to think about cooking.  I had a package of boneless chicken breasts, about a pound of okra and a bag of broccoli slaw.  It was pretty meager pickings to make a tasty meal. Since I was frying the okra, I wanted the chicken to be fairly simple.  

I looked online and found a recipe for honey mustard chicken.  It was simple sauteed chicken breasts with a sauce made of honey and 2 types of mustard,  to be brushed on after cooking.  I thought it might make a decent base for a finishing sauce.

                     Chicken Somewhat Like the Honey Mustard Recipe I Found Earlier

4 chicken breast halves, patted dry
2 tablespoons sunflower oil (or any neutral oil)
1/2 cup dry white wine

Heat a dry saute' pan to very warm then add your oil.  When the oil is hot place the four chicken breasts in the pan and cook about 5 minutes on medium high.  Turn the breasts and lightly salt each one.  Cook for 3 minutes, then begin basting with the sauce.  After the 2nd baste pour about 1/2 cup of a dry white wine in the bottom of the pan to keep the sugar in the honey from burning. Turn the heat down to medium and continue basting and cooking for another 4 or 5 minutes minutes.  Flip them again and baste the other side a couple of times and then serve spooning a bit of the sauce on top of  each of the chicken breasts

Honey Mustard Plus Sauce

1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup agave (because I only had 1/4 cup honey)
1/4 cup dijon mustard
1/4 cup coarse grained brown mustard
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
dash of salt
3 turns of freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon dried parsley or 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
2 teaspoons dried savory leaves ( I meant to use thyme but had none. The savory was a delicious punt.)

Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl until blended.

This was a huge hit at the supper table tonight.  Everyone really did like it and each person asked to have it again.  I guess that is the biggest compliment you can get from something thrown together at the last minute.  It would be fantastic served over Jasmine rice with the sauce over it, seeping into the rice grains.  I will make a mental note to serve it that way next time.  I am delighted I was out of thyme because the savory/ parsley combination was a nice light flavor that complimented the mustards without over powering it.  It probably would have been better if I had the full 1/2 cup of honey since agave does not have a very distinct flavor, but it was delicious as it was.

I honestly can't think of anything I would do differently except to double the recipe and make additional chicken breasts.  It would be outstanding sliced cold on top of a green salad  with some sliced avocado. I would be tempted to add some of the sauce to additional olive oil and use it to dress the salad.

If you are in a chicken rut, try this.  You might like it.  You might even be like we were and like it__alot!

Monday, August 26, 2013

With A Cherry On Top

Sometimes I wish I were not such a nerd and didn't feel the need to research things we eat.  It seems every time I do I have to cross another item we used to enjoy off the list.  This time I HAD to read about the process of  making Maraschino cherries.  Dang!  Another food item gone!  Spoiler:  They chemically bleach all the color out of cherries, shoot them with red dye number 5 for that uniform hot pink cherry color, then send them swimming in a dye infused solution of sugar, high fructose corn syrup (GMO)  and water with several preservatives thrown in for good measure.  Ick!

Now don't get me wrong. It's not like we sit around throwing down cherries right and left, but some things like a sundae or certain beverages absolutely require a cherry on top.  Since I had a boatload of Bing cherries in the refrigerator I started looking for a way to make some suitable cherry topper for desserts.  It was easier than I thought.  I found a blog called The Garden of Eating and low and behold, there was a recipe for home canned cherries.

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup cherry juice ( can substitute concord grape or black cherry)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 cups pitted fresh bing cherries

Bring the sugar water and cherry juice to a boil and stir until all the sugar is liquified.  Reduce heat to low and add the lemon juice, extract and cherries.  Cook for about 5 minutes for the cherries to absorb all the flavors.  Put the hot cherries in sterile canning jars.  Pour the juice over leaving 1/4 inch of head space.  Put canning lids on and process in a  water bath for 10 minutes.

Do these look and taste just like the traditional maraschino cherries?  Not exactly but they are a perfectly acceptable alternative and don't have a boatload of chemicals in them.

I have also read of another way to make a spirited version of these  You simply pour Maraschino Liqueur over stemmed cherries and let them sit for a couple of weeks for their "flavor" to develop. Since I live in Alabama and the state mandates what liqueurs are available for purchase, I cannot find it but I  thought I might scout for it in Florida when I am on vacation.  Will amend this post if I find some and it works.

p.s.  If you intend to make anything with fresh cherries, invest in a cherry pitter and work over the sink! When I had finished pitting all of them it looked like I needed to call Dexter to come analyze a crime scene.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Easy Peasy Shortbread

Ever wanted something sweet, but not too sweet.  Then you realize you really want something cookie-like but at the very same moment realize you are totally out of eggs.  That happened to me recently so I started looking through my cookie file.  Eureka!  Shortbread was just what I needed to make.  It requires no eggs, no mixer, no cookie cutters, it's a one bowl operation and takes about 35 minutes from start to finish.

                                                                 Easy Shortbread

1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon reserved

In a medium mixing bowl mix all the ingredients until well blended.  The absolute best way to mix this is to wash your hands well, dry them and then mix with the tools God gave you until it is smooth. If is seems too dry and crumbly add a few drops of milk and continue mixing until smooth.  On an ungreased baking pan pat it into about an 8 inch circle that is about 1/2 inch thick.  With a fork, lightly prick the surface of the shortbread then cut into 8 or 10 pie shaped pieces, but DO NOT separate the slices from the circle. Bake it at 350 for about 25 -30 minutes ( Ovens vary.  You want it completely baked, but not browned)  Remove from the oven and immediately cut the pieces again, following the lines of the previous cut. Sprinkle lightly with the reserved sugar. Remove the pieces from the pan  and place on a cooling rack. Enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea.

This is a very simple but tasty treat when you are low on ingredients and time, but really do want a little something sweet until you can get to the grocery store and buy something truly decadent!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Saving Strawberries

You know how you are about to make a salad for supper and you look in the crisper to get the lettuce and cucumbers and notice an entire carton of strawberries shoved in the back of the drawer?  Then you take them out and see you have to use them right now or toss the entire thing?  (Please tell me I am not the only one who occasionally overlooks fruit.)  You start thinking about how you can incorporate it into the night time meal, but honestly a bowl of strawberries does not sound good with grilled scamp, a baked potato and salad.  Keep? Toss? Keep? Toss?

Right as I was about to throw it away I remembered I had paid 2 bucks for it.  Trashing it would be akin to taking those 2 dollars and flushing them down the toilet, so I started thinking and flipping through my favorite food sites to find a quick recipe for strawberry cake.  Somehow or another during the search a recipe for Strawberry Balsamic Jam popped up. 

 Hmmmmm.  It sounded good, but I did not want to run to the store and buy additional strawberries and I surely did not want to be stuck canning all night.  Instead I played around with the ingredients and the amounts to get a single small jar of what I guess is more like a conserve than a true jam.

                                           Strawberry Balsamic Conserve/Jam

1 pound very ripe strawberries, washed and hulled
3 tablespoons sugar ( I used sucanat  just to see if it would work)
2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 

Put all in a small sauce pan and cook over medium low heat until the berries are very soft.  Mash the fruit using a potato masher (a fork would work) and cook until the mixture is very thick, watching to make sure it does not caramelize. (30 minutes maybe)  Let cool then place in a container in the refrigerator.  

Though I don't dislike jams and jellies, I never actively look for them.  I am not one of those people who want jelly on my toast or biscuits...until this!  I think my indifference has been the lack of compound flavors in the jams and jellies I had had in the past.  I have eaten balsamic over strawberries on ice cream and thought it was delicious. ( Thanks, Cindy!)  That same kick of flavor was what made this jam taste just fantastic.  I have eaten it on toast, a plain scone and on goat cheese spread on a cracker ( Oh my goodness, that was the bomb)

Deliciousness and strawberries saved!   It extended the life of the berries by about 3 weeks and tasted good.  That is what I call a win/win situation.  Next on my list, peach black pepper jam?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Reason To Always Keep Shallots: Steak And Stuff!

Yesterday was one of those horrible, no good, very bad days.  It was not a day you could blame on any one thing either.  It was just a combination of irritants that create those days you just wish would end, because you know tomorrow will be better.

Sometimes my solution to the blues, is to cook something delicious.  When I am upset I bake, when I am sad I bake, but when I am just generally pissed with the world, I dig a little deeper and try to make something really delicious.  Plus I am currently eating no sugar ( Think no chocolate might be contributing to my black mood?) so baking was out of the question anyway.

There has been a recipe floating around Pinterest that is all about making steakhouse steaks.  Thanks to an incredible weekend sale at The Pig, I had 4 steaks in the fridge, plus I already had shallots and garlic in a basket and a carton of white mushrooms.  The only thing I did not have was Marsala.  I am not a very big fan of cooking wines, and since I almost always have a bit of leftover wine, there is just no point in buying it.

There were no amounts or measurements given so I was careful to measure for it to be accurate.  It was really more of a how to than a recipe.  This is a reformed recipe, using the original ingredients  except I added the butter because the sauce tasted flat plus  I had  tablespoon of leftover drawn butter. ( Thanks to The Hub's recent lobstering outing) 

                                                              Steakhouse Type Steak 

3 tablespoons ground beef* (If cooking steak in the skillet omit)
3 shallots, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup Marsala (any dry red wine works)
salt to taste
cracked black pepper to taste
4 steaks, seasoned as usual for you ( I use Angelo's Steak Seasoning * 'cause it is the bomb)

The instructions call for pan cooking the steaks, so if you are inclined to do that omit the ground beef.  If you are going to cook the steak in the pan do it now. ( It will require a couple of additional tablespoons of olive oil)  When you reach your level of doneness remove the steaks from the pan and put then somewhere warm.

 I had purchased a whole beef tenderloin and the butcher had not only sliced and trimmed it, but had ground all the trimmings minus the silver skin.  Since we prefer grilled steak, I put 3 tablespoons of the trimmings in the pan and cooked it well. while the steaks grilled.  Using a slotted spoon remove the ground beef , leaving all of the browned bits on the bottom of the pan.  ( Shelby, the dog, was most happy to have a treat on top of her dry food)

I had 3 shallots and used all of them, peeled and sliced thinly.  The garlic cloves were medium size.  If I had larger cloves I would  use only 3.   Add the olive oil to the pan and heat to a medium high heat.  Toss the shallots in and let them wilt, then add the garlic, stirring to keep the garlic from browning.  Remove from the heat and stir in the mushrooms.  Move them around to coat with the oil then return to heat for about 2 minutes, stirring continually.  Add the wine and stir through the vegetables, scraping the bottom of the pan to incorporate the beef flavors there.  Reduce the liquid by half, stir in the butter, add salt and pepper to taste and serve on top of each steak.

This was an instant mood lifter!  It was delicious and a snap to make.  It amped up the flavor of the steak and even provided some additional vegetables.  There was not a morsel left, though Shelby kept a constant vigil just in case!

Next time I make this I might experiment with some fresh herbs.  I think a little marjoram or thyme  added when the wine goes in might be very tasty.  I have parsley in the yard and should have minced some of that also but I just didn't think of it in time. Next time 4 shallots will be used.  They taste  great and really compliment the garlic.

And this is why you should always have shallots on hand.  You never know when you might have to cook your way out of the doldrums!

* I am going to the beach in a week and will be restocking my Angelo's stash.  Anyone else need any?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Inventou O Prato de Frango ( Brazilian Chicken)

The catchy title of this chicken dish is actually a rough translation from English to Portuguese for the phrase "Totally Made Up Chicken Dish"  I can't verify the accuracy of the translation since I don't speak a lick of Portuguese, but it seemed like I needed to "fancy it up" by using a romance language instead of my own.  If it's not correct take it up with BabelFish.  I was completely at their mercy.

I am always looking for something we have never eaten before to try for meals.  We get bored eating the same food over and over.  A few weeks ago when I was cleaning my cookbook shelf, I happened on an old folder stuffed with recipes I had cut from magazines.  To anyone younger who might be reading this, there was a time, before Pinterest, when we looked through magazines for trendy, new food inspiration.  Once we found something that caught our eye, we would physically cut if from the page and either stick it in a folder, or paste it to a 3x5 card  and keep it alphabetically in a nice little card box. ( Seems insane or like something reminiscent of the dinosaur era, right?)  Of course, once I found the folder, it was a message from above to quit dusting and shuffle through the bits and pieces of magazine pages.

When I looked through it, I wondered what had possessed me to cut some of them out in the first place. Liver spaghetti? I hate liver so why would I bother with that?  Congealed salads?  Ditto with the Jello aversion!   I  also found quite a few recipes that would be considered ancient now, since some of the ingredients are no longer made. ( Anyone remember Whip & Chill)   Some reflected pop culture ( The Saturday Night Fever Dinner Party ) and some were just timeless recipes.

I found a recipe for a Brazilian pork dish  and made it for supper that night. It  met with lukewarm results then, but  the leftovers were stellar when we ate them for lunch a few days later.  I figured the  rub used to flavor the pork was what made it delicious, so I took the spice list and tweaked it a little to make my personal Brazilian* blend.

Brazilian Seasoning Blend

2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Put all the ingredient in a bowl and whisk to blend well.  Store tightly covered. ( I used an empty washed and well dried spice container and wrote Brazil on the cap but I am pretty sure it would live happily in any covered jar)

                          Completely and Totally Made Up On The Fly Chicken Recipe

4 boneless chicken breast halves
1 small onion, sliced in rings
1 clove garlic, minced
3 teaspoons Brazilian seasoning
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup dry white wine ( add an additional 1/2 cup if desired)

Season the chicken breasts lightly with the seasoning mix and let rest for about 5 minutes.  Add the oil to a pan and heat till hot.  Lightly brown the chicken on both sides then remove from the pan.  Add the onions and wilt, then add the garlic.  Put the chicken back in the pan on tops of the vegetables and add the white wine.  Sprinkle the remaining seasoning over the chicken breasts.  Reduce heat to medium low, cover the pan and let simmer until the wine is reduced by half.  To serve put 1/4of the onion garlic mixture on the bottom of the plate and top with the chicken.  Drizzle the top of each piece with the liquid remaining in the pan.

This was a very tasty and very easy dish.  I served it with some funky potatoes I had gotten in my co-op box and a side salad.  Next time I will serve it on a bed of rice and add an additional 1/2 cup of wine when cooking so it will have a tad more sauce.   This seasoning blend is so good, it could possibly become my second most used blend.  Don't worry Cavander's, you will always be my first love.

*This may or may not actually be a Brazilian spice combination.  I am only calling it Brazilian because the recipe I found did.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Tuna Salad? Surely You Jest? Yes!!!

When we were kids my childhood best friend and I both loved to cook.  Some days instead of playing outside we would "play" in the kitchen.  Both of our mothers let us use the kitchen freely with the same rules at each house.  Whatever we created had to be to eaten ( either by us or shared with the family)  and whatever we messed up had to be completely cleaned.  It was a perfect playground for us to cook up anything and everything we could dream of making.

We were only 9 or 10 but were most impressed with party food and drinks. We cooked all kinds of food and we cooked often, but some of our more notable dishes were child appropriate imitations of adult favorites. Mock pink champagne?  We made it and drank it out of sherbet bowls. ( It was the closest thing to a champagne flute we could find.)  Mock chocolate mousse?  Horrible, but we ate it from china cups with demitasse spoons.  Fake pate' made from potatoes and some other vegetable I can't remember?  Made and served on top of the uber gourmet Nabisco saltines.  As I recall other than making us feel pseudo-sophisticated they were all failures. After that I pretty much stayed away from the fake stuff  until a few weeks ago when I began dabbling in alternate ingredients to create everyday foods.

I am not sure where I first saw switching chick peas for tuna in tuna salad, most likely some vegan site, but the recipe they used was nowhere near my traditional tuna experience.  I am sure someone somewhere would love a curry, diced red pepper, and smoked coconut flake type of "tuna" salad, but it did not appeal to me in the least.  Instead I tinkered with it for a more typical take on tuna and came up with this.

                                                                       Tunaless Salad

1 cup of dried chickpeas, soaked overnight, cooked and drained ( or 1 can well drained)
3-4 ribs of celery, diced
3 scallions, sliced
2 teaspoons brown grained mustard
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped pickles ( sweet or dill) optional
1 chopped hard boiled egg, optional

Serves 3-4

Make sure the chickpeas are well cooked.  You want them very soft but not mushy.  Drain them well and using a fork mash them until they are chunky.  Stir in the remaining ingredients and mix until blended but do not over mix or complete mush will happen.  This can be eaten immediately but is much better if it can hang around in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before serving.  I tried it first as a sandwich and have to admit it really does not work eaten that way.  But on some lettuce or stuffed in a tomato it becomes a pretty tasty lunch.  I would say I like it better than tuna salad because it does not have the cat food smell, but I like it slightly less than chicken salad.

Though the egg is optional and I have tried it both with and without, the egg lends a certain body to the mix and richness to the flavor.  The celery provides a needed bit of crunch and the brown mustard and the lemon juice add the tartness. I am a pickle person and have tried it using both dills and sweet pickles.  I liked both of them and could only say let your personal taste guide you. The mayonnaise is what binds it together and if you are a mayonnaise hater, this is probably not the dish for you.

First black bean brownies then adzuki bean burgers now chick pea "tuna"!  I am developing a new appreciation for the lowly bean.  Who said you can't teach an old dog a new trick?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cottage Cheese, Pepper, Onion and Pineapple_____Trust!

You know how it feels to hear about some food combinations and your first thought is something akin to utter revulsion and then you try it, and you are utterly repulsed.  Then other times you hear of strange pairings and you try it, and it is totally delicious.  For me this falls into the latter rather than the former.  I first heard of this from an acquaintance years ago and of course I thought she had lost her ever loving mind.

I understand pineapple and cottage cheese.  I remember it from the school lunch line, a pineapple ring with a scoop of cottage cheese and  maraschino cherry on top of it. I admit to eating it a time or two, especially when dog food and gravy mystery meat was  the hot lunch offering.  We all do what we have to do in dire circumstances.  And I understood the peppers and onion and cottage cheese.  I have often eaten it with a couple of tomato slices and enjoyed a savory cottage cheese lunch.  But I could not wrap my mind around the sweet savory combo.  How in the world could it be decent?

Of course I tried it one day.  I had to do it just so I could go back to my friend to tell her how horrid the concoction was.  So I followed her directions for a single serving.

                                     A Slightly Different Cottage Cheese Lunch

1/2 cup cottage cheese ( full fat tastes best but I use non-fat)
1/2 small container of crushed pineapple well drained but still moist ( don't blot it)
1/4 cup diced bell pepper
1-2 tablespoons minced jalapeno ( seed and remove the ribs prior to mincing)
2-3 tablespoons sliced scallions ( both white and green parts)
salt to taste ( a pinch maybe)

In a small bowl mix all the ingredients until they are well blended.  That is pretty much all you have to do to have this table ready, but you might want to gussie it up just a bit before sitting down to eat.  After all, we eat with our eyes first.  Put a large lettuce leaf on a plate and put the cottage cheese mixture on top of it.  If you want yours to look like the one in the picture just put the mix in the empty pineapple can, center the can with the center of the lettuce leaf, and invert the plate over the can.  Turn it over and the cottage cheese will neatly plop onto the lettuce.  Now the real question is how many of you believe that if I am the only one eating lunch I will plate it on a lettuce leaf rather than just eating it from the bowl I used to mix it.

You might notice in the picture, I used pineapple chunks rather than the crushed pineapple. (Whatever you do use crushed pineapple) I went to the pantry and grabbed the crushed pineapple which was sitting on the shelf next to the chunks.  There is a bit of mystery from that point on. I walked about 12 steps to the counter and got the can opener working.  Imagine my surprise when I opened the crushed pineapple can only to find the chunk variety.

It was an irritant, but I understand how a can of chunk could be mislabeled at the beginning or end of a canning run.  Then I looked at the label and noticed it said pineapple chunks. How did that happen?  Using all my deductive reasoning skills I have come up with the only possible solution.  During the process of walking from the pantry to the counter I passed through a parallel universe and the parallel me was reaching for pineapple chunks.  Through some weird physics we can't yet understand, the cans were switched, leaving me with a can of chunks and the alternate me with a can of crushed.  At least that is my story and I am sticking to it.

The sweetness from the pineapple with the creaminess of the cottage cheese is a nice background for the heat from the jalapeno and the sharpness of the onion.  The bell pepper acts as the bridge between the two flavors and provides lots of crunch.  If you are facing a hot day and want a quick lunch I really do suggest this, unless you are a hater of pineapple, peppers,  onions and cottage cheese.  In that case you might want to just eat a PB&J.

Monday, July 29, 2013

You Say Squash Casserole, I Say Nana's Squash

My Mother-in Law was a wonderful cook and could cook vegetables better than any I have ever tasted.  If it came from the garden she could turn it into a flavor extravaganza.  Even something as simple as new potatoes became a taste and texture affair when she worked her kitchen magic on them. She was never one for gadgets and special use items.  In fact, her best cooking was done in an old electric skillet, ( Can you say Best. Okra. Ever.) a couple of pots, and baking pans.  We all miss Nana so much,  and we miss all of her cooking but we especially miss Nana's Squash.

This is my attempt to recreate it.  I don't think she had a recipe for it, she just did it by feel and smell.  I watched her countless times and know how she made it, I just don't know exactly "how". Mine is not exactly like hers, though I can come close.

                                                                   Nana's Squash

makes 4 servings
2 cups summer squash cut into small pieces
1 small onion chopped (small dice)
1/4-1/2 cup mayonnaise (I use 1/4 but 1/2 is more like Nana's.  More tastes way better but...)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup ( or more) grated cheese
1 tablespoon melted butter ( use real and add another tablespoon if you'd like)
12 saltine crackers crushed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cook the squash in boiling salted water until it is quite soft.  Drain in a colander and using the back of a spoon, push out as much liquid as you can without pushing the squash through the colander holes.  After that grab a couple of paper towels and press on the top of the squash to blot as much excess moisture as possible.  Put the mostly dry squash in a mixing bowl and mash it with a fork until it resembles chunky mashed potatoes.  Stir in the onion  and mix well.  Add the mayonnaise, salt and pepper and incorporate it completely.  Put it into a greased oven safe dish. ( 4 servings fit in a standard loaf pan)  Top with the cheese.  In a small bowl toss the cracker crumbs with the melted butter to coat it evenly.  Sprinkle the crumbs on top of the cheese and pop it into the oven for about 20 minutes or until the onions are soft, the cracker crumbs are nicely browned, and everything is bubbly.

You might notice from the picture my squash is in chunks.  I did not cook it quite long enough to mash so ours was a lot chunkier than it should have been.  You might also look at the picture and ask "Where is the cheese?"  That is a valid question and the answer would be on the plate where I grated it and promptly forgot it until I had already put the cracker crumbs on the squash.  At that point I decided to just bake it as is.
Don't forget the  cheese!
It was good but could have been so much better.  If Nana was watching she would have noticed I am still terribly absentminded.  The upside is I have cheese grated for the next time I make this and because summer is squash prime time, it will probably be next week.

We all agreed it was really good, but it is just not the same as it was when Nana did the cooking.  She truly did have a magic touch!

If you want a delicious way to eat squash try this recipe.  Even the squash indifferent like this. Son3, the vegetable hater, is the exception.  Even he might like it if he would ever let one single bite of squash pass through his lips.  I am guessing the world will never know his true opinion.

I wish I could do this justice, Nana, but even more I just wish you were here!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Healthier "Sausage"

I used to eat Morningstar Farms Sausage every morning that I ate breakfast, which was not often because I don't like food in the morning.  I thought I was doing something a little healthier for me, until I started reading about all the genetically modified foods and realized the soybeans were one of the most modified veggies out there.  Seems I had been ingesting almost straight GMO soybeans.  I figured it was time to change but really had no idea what I was going too change to!  I suppose I could eat real sausage, but I don't like all the grease or the way the kitchen smells after cooking it.

 I recently saw a Youtube video about making breakfast "sausage" using oatmeal rather than pork.  This is an old World War 2 recipe that became popular in a time of rationing.  I am assuming people wanted a traditional breakfast food but did not have access to it like they had before the war.

This is a 3 step process but the results were pretty spectacular considering it is a "meat" composed entirely of oatmeal,  eggs as a binder and spices. The first time you make it, it seems complicated, but it really isn't.  It is just different from cooking traditional sausage.

                                                  Mock Sausage Patties

1 cup uncooked oatmeal
2 eggs *
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon ground fennel ( or crushed fennel seed)
1/2 teaspoon ground rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/2 teaspoon savory
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes ( choose your personal heat level or omit entirely)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne

2-3 cups water flavored with 2 chicken or vegetable bouillon cubes ( low salt is best)
 Bring the 2-3 cups of water and bouillon to a slow boil in a sauce pan.  Mix all of the ingredients except the flavored water in a bowl.  Stir to combine well.  Pat into patties ( this makes 4 very large or 8 medium size patties)  Put about 1 Tablespoon of oil in the bottom of a skillet and brown both sides of each pattie.   Remove from the pan and put into the boiling water. (This step is vital to cook the oatmeal) Turn down the heat and simmer them for about 20 minutes.  Remove them from the pot and drain well.  Once they are drained you have 2 options.  If you are going to eat them immediately brown them again in the same pan you originally used until they are slightly brown ( takes just a couple of minutes).  If you want to eat them later just put them in the fridge in a ziplock bag and brown and heat as desired. 

This had a mouth "feel" similar to meat and the sausage flavor is wonderful. It is a little lighter colored than pork sausage, but comes close to looking like the turkey variety. I toyed with the recipe and altered the spices a bit to try and capture the flavor of commercially prepared sausage.  The taste is pretty darn close !  These even passed the teenage boy test. Son3 ate a couple and declared they were not exactly like sausage but were really good and something he will eat again and again.  This high praise was from the pickiest eater in the family.  I thought they were very tasty, and they paired well with some sauteed green peppers.  I am sure they would have been delicious with some apple slices or apple sauce or eggs ( if you eat them _yuck!).  

After the initial test run of one batch I made 4 batches and cooked them in the same bouillon water adding just a bit more water as it evaporated.  After they were drained I put them in pint size freezer bags, 4 per bag.  I stuck them in the freezer and now when I decide I want "sausage" I take them out the night before and let them thaw in the fridge.  The next morning all I have to do is brown them!  It works very well.

Though I have not tried it yet I intend to crumble a couple up prior to browning and make a cream gravy to serve over a biscuit.  Will let you know how that goes.

Meanwhile if you are craving a healthier sausage you might want to give this a try.  I know I am glad I did!

* I am not vegan so I have not tried to veganize these but the eggs act as a binder, so a flax seed replacement might work to make this an option.