Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday afternoon cooking

I'm making pie crust and don't have a pastry blender. I agree with Alton Brown about "no uni-taskers," therefore there is no such implement in my kitchen. (A pastry blender looks like look like a handle with 5 or so wires or blunt knife-like loops.) Instead, I daydreamed having Wolverine's claws to speed up blending the flour and shortening.
-from Nerd's facebook status, Sunday March 6

It's late Sunday afternoon, and I have a quiche and a casserole in the oven.

I made the quiche crust from the single-crust pie pastry recipe in my trusty Better Homes and Gardens red-check binder cookbook. It's not the same one my mother gave me in my college years: I broke the binding of that one and replaced it with a later edition a few years ago. The filling is also based on the basic quiche recipe in that cookbook. Instead of sliced green onions, I used shallots that I sauteed in olive oil. For the meat, there was leftover turkey breakfast sausage and bacon. I added baby spinach leaves. Instead of milk or cream there is soy milk, and Daiya non-dairy cheddar style shreds in the place of shredded cheese. I wanted to use almond milk for its creaminess, but I decided to use soy.  That way, the quiche could be a school lunch for my older daughter, and not run afoul of the no-nut lunchroom policy.

The casserole is an improvised layering of cooked brown rice, black beans, leftover "salsa chicken" (chicken stewed in salsa and then shredded), chopped sweet pepper, and more salsa, with some crushed tortilla chips on top.  We will add cheese and sour cream individually at serving, or, in my case, Daiya cheddar and pseudo sour cream.

That was a well-spent afternoon.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Double Citrus Special

I have to admit I don’t usually think of citrus as a seasoning, but it is this month’s Spice Rack Challenge ingredient.

I like citrus quite a bit, especially freshly squeezed into my iced tea. Fresh lime juice in a batch of guacamole is a requirement at our house. Lemon-poppy seed muffins are a particular weakness of mine.

My friend Mary, of A Million Grandmas, gave me a jar of her Meyer Lemon and Blood Orange Marmalade. [Thank you!!]  It is amazing on sourdough toast. But since I’m the only one in my family who eats marmalade on toastmy kids prefer cinnamon-sugarI worried about using it all before June without overdosing on the yummy thick-cut-peel goodness several mornings per week.

I found my solution by making a glaze for baked chicken. To go with the chicken, I made black bean and corn salad with a lime-based dressing.

Black Bean and Corn Salad with Mexican Lime Vinaigrette

14.5-ounce can black beans or equivalent in cooked, rehydrated dry beans
½ cup cut corn, frozen is fine
1 avocado, diced
1 medium tomato, diced, or about 2/3 of a 14.5-ounce can of diced tomato
1 small red onion, diced

Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon salad oil
1 teaspoon ground dried ancho chile pepper, or more to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 serrano pepper, seeds removed, minced (optional)

Combine the first five ingredients in a non-metallic bowl. Combine the remaining ingredients in another bowl or a salad dressing shaker. Whisk vinaigrette vigorously with a fork or shake to combine. Pour dressing over bean and corn mixture and lightly toss. Chill until ready to serve.

Nerd’s Notes
This salad is best made ahead so the flavors can combine.  It is usually better the second day than the first.  It can easily be doubled or quadrupled, and is a great vegan-friendly potluck dish!

Feel free to use your favorite chili powder in the place of the ground ancho and cumin. I happen to have whole cumin seed in the spice cabinet, which I grind in my mortal and pestle. I urge everyone to try using freshly ground cumin; it's almost a whole different spice than the pre-ground variety.

After grinding spices in a mortar, a good way to clean it is to put kosher salt in the mortar and grind it around. If your recipe happens to need salt, use the salt from cleaning your mortar and pestle. Or, save the resulting flavored salt in an airtight container for a future use. I like to imagine that this is how seasoned salt was invented, but I could be wrong.

 Citrus-Herb Glazed Chicken

Combine 1/3 cup marmalade with the juice of half a lemon and a splash or two of vinegar in a small saucepan. Add a heaping teaspoon of dried herbs of your choice. I used balsamic and an American Herbes de Provence blend, one with lavender. Stir over low heat until the marmalade dissolves. Arrange chicken pieces in a lightly oiled baking dish; you should have enough sauce for perhaps four breasts or about eight to ten thighs. I chose to use boneless, skinless breasts for ease. Spoon about half of the warm sauce over the chicken pieces, and bake in a 425-degree oven. About halfway through the cooking time, carefully take the baking dish out of the oven and spoon the remaining sauce over the chicken. Bake until the internal temperature of the chicken is 160 degrees, which will vary depending on the chicken pieces you are using. Allow to rest briefly before eating.

Nerd’s Notes
Everyone in my family except my picky eater loved this chicken. It’s an easy and delicious dinner entrée. There were no leftovers at all.  If you do manage to have leftovers, they would make dynamite chicken salad with some green onions or minced shallots and diced celery.

If you don’t have a lemon or other citrus on hand to juice, use more vinegar in its place. Try a different flavor combination. Rosemary works especially well with raspberry vinegar, for example. Another option is to use preserves or jelly in place of the marmalade.

For a full meal, perhaps add a green salad and baked sweet potatoes.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Vegetable Stew with Rosemary and Garlic

I often make a beef stew with rosemary and garlic, but for this month's Spice Rack Challenge centered on rosemary, I decided to change it up a bit and make a vegetarian/vegan version.

Many cooks know that rosemary and garlic pair well together on simple roasted potatoes, but the rosemary really shines in this stew.  The extended cooking time allows it to infuse the entire dish with its fragrant presence.

Vegetable Stew with Rosemary and Garlic
1 ½ to 2 pounds root vegetables, cut into approximately equal size pieces; I used a mix of carrots and fingerling potatoes (purple, redskin, and gold-skinned)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small to medium onion, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup wine or vegetable broth
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced or quartered
1 heaping tablespoon dried rosemary
1 – 15 oz can diced tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place root vegetables in a 4-quart slow cooker. In a small pan, sauté garlic and onion in olive oil until the onions are translucent and just starting to gain color. Add garlic and onion on top of the root vegetables, then deglaze the pan with the wine or broth and add that too. Add the mushrooms, rosemary, and diced tomatoes. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Add salt and pepper to taste just before presenting with a salad and crusty bread. Serves about four.

Nerd’s notes:
I happened to use a white wine, but a red works as well or better in my experience.  This stew also does well with a shorter cooking time on high, or even in a covered Dutch oven on the stovetop for an hour or more on medium to medium-low heat.  

Green beans can be a tasty addition or substitution for some of the vegetables.  If using fresh green beans, cleaned and snapped to one-inch lengths, add to the stew pot after the root vegetables.  Frozen green beans also work well, but can turn to mush if cooked all day.  I therefore recommend adding them in the last hour or two of cooking.

If you insist on a meat-eaters’ version, just add ½ pound of beef stew meat cubes that have been browned between adding the garlic and onion to the stew pot and deglazing the pan.  In this case you might reduce the root vegetables by a similar amount or omit the mushrooms.  Otherwise you may find it doesn’t quite fit in your 4-quart crock.  Or, use a bigger crock and consider adding an extra can of diced tomatoes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Beginning

It's time for a new venture, a new blog for sharing recipes and thoughts on food and cooking.

Q: So what makes you qualified to have a cooking blog?
A: I cook? That's enough, isn't it? I'm not half bad, or so I have been told.

Q: You've been cooking for a while now and you're just meeting your kitchen?
A: I have been cooking for a long time. I've even blogged about food before, but just like you can't go home again and you can't step into the same river twice, I meet my kitchen anew nearly every day.

Q: So why should anyone read your blog?
A: I plan to post at least twice per month. My posts will showcase recipes that I discover and use, cookbooks I am exploring, and foods my family and I enjoy. I will consider the challenges of having a picky eater in the family, and my interest in vegetarian and non-dairy cooking. Sometimes my other interests such as board games or exercise may get mentioned. If you have an idea for a post, feel free to let me know. Thanks for reading!