Thursday, January 31, 2008

Oh How I Love A Good Curry!

As soon as it was suggested to me the other day to make a curry with my languishing vegetables, I truly had no choice. I was consumed with the idea of making a vegetable curry, and I spent quite a bit of time looking for the perfect recipe. I couldn't find what I was looking for, believe it or not! With most of the recipes I found, I was missing a vital ingredient or two, and I just didn't want to head out and hunt down random ingredients.

I started with a recipe from the recent Eating Well, but in the end, I treated it more like guidelines and completely changed it up to what I was looking for. It worked very well, and it made a great curry. I served it with basmati rice, plain yogurt, my cranberry chutney, and some homemade pita bread. It ended up being quite spicy, so the kids had something different, but Andy and I thoroughly enjoyed the curry, and it made plenty, so I can eat it for lunch the rest of the week.

My recipe for Vegetable Curry looks very long and daunting- don't be afraid! You can use whatever vegetables you have on hand and it will turn out great. Many of the ingredients are also spices, so it's just a matter of measuring and dumping. Overall, it takes about the same amount of time to cook a pot of rice, so while it looks complicated, it really is quick and very delicious.

Vegetable Curry
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup coarsely chopped almonds
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
2 jalapenos, stems removed, coarsely chopped (remove seeds for less heat)
1 onion- 1/2 chopped, 1/2 sliced thinly and reserved for later
2 tsps oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
1 tsp Garam Masala
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or 2 cups prepared from dried)
1 1/2 cup cubed butternut squash
1 cup fresh green beans, snapped (or 1 cup frozen)
1/4 cup thinly sliced fennel
1/2 large red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
2 handfuls baby spinach
To serve:
Basmati rice
plain yogurt or raita
assorted chutneys

In a large pot or dutch oven heat the 1 tsp of oil over medium high heat. Add the raisins and almonds and saute for about 2 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

Combine the can of diced tomatoes, jalapenos, and chopped onion in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth.

Add the 2 teaspoons of oil to the pot. Add the cumin seeds, cardamom pods and bay leaves, and saute for about 1 minute, or until nice and fragrant. Add the thinly sliced onion to the pot, and cook for about 3 minutes- or until onion begins to turn golden, stir very frequently ro prevent burning.

Carefully, add the tomato mixture to the pot, as well as the Garam masala, cinnamon, salt, and turmeric. Bring to a boil, and add the vegetables all at once. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook for 20 minutes- or until the vegetables are tender.

Serve with your choice of accompaniments, sprinkling the top with the raisins and almonds.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Menu Planning 101: Part 1

I've been trying to think of the best plan of attack for menu planning...there are so many avenues that can be gone. But I think what we'll do is just forge straight ahead down one way, one method of doing so, and then we'll come back and try a second method. And maybe a third method or a fourth method, as far as it will take us.

Today we are going to walk through planning a menu for two days. It may not sound like much to begin with. But we're going to connect the two days together through common ingredients, to keep waste at a bare minimum. To me, that has been one of the toughest parts of menu planning. You plan a dinner, and buy the right ingredients, but then you have all this miscellaneous left over, and it goes bad before you can get around to using it.

The first step, is to decide what is going to guide your planning decisions this week. Do you already have something in the fridge that needs to be used up? We should start with that. Are you on a slim budget this week? We should pull from the freezer and pantry then. Maybe you have a craving for a particular cuisine, let that be your starting point then. Another method would be to just begin with one recipe- one that you've been wanting to try, pull it out of your pile and let that be day one and we'll go from there. Or maybe it's -40º outside and you're thinking a hearty soup will be perfect for dinner- then that would be your starting point. That's how it's going to be for me today. Today, It truly is -40º with the wind chills, so I am going to menu plan day one with soup. Specifically, a recipe from Cooking Light for Cheddar Chicken Chowder. Let's look at the ingredient list, shall we?

2 bacon slices
Cooking spray
1 pound skinned and boned chicken breast -- cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup diced red bell pepper
2 garlic cloves -- minced
4 1/2 cups fat-free chicken broth
1 3/4 cups diced peeled red potatoes
2 1/4 cups frozen whole-kernel corn
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups 2% low-fat milk
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese -- (3 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

First, we write down on Day 1: Cheddar Chicken Chowder, and we always include the source of the recipe in our notation, so we know where to find it when it comes time to actually make it. So my entry will look like this in my notebook:

Day One: Cheddar Chicken Chowder, CL Annual 2002 pg. 340

Next I will make a list underneath that entry of ingredients in the soup that are not always on hand. So in my case, I need to write down Bacon, Chicken breast, red bell pepper, red potatoes, and cheddar cheese. The onion, garlic, chicken broth, corn, salt and pepper I have on hand at almost all times. The other things I don't always have on hand, so they will likely go on my shopping list. So now my notebook entry looks like this:

Day One: Cheddar Chicken Chowder, CL Annual 2002 pg, 340
Chicken Breast
Red Bell Pepper
Red Potatoes
Cheddar Cheese

Now we need to find a recipe for our second day. The key to the second day is to find a recipe that may use one or two of the more perishable ingredients on your list. In this case, the perfect recipe will have red bell pepper, cheddar cheese, or red potatoes in it. Bonus pounts if it uses the bacon and chicken breast (which extras of freeze nicely if we don't use them all). I score by looking through my recipes and deciding to make Herb Roasted Mushroom, Chicken and Vegetables. Here's that ingredient list:

1/3 cup olive oil
3 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-1/2 inch pieces
1 pound fresh white mushrooms, halved (about 6 cups)
1 pound small red potatoes, halved (about 3 cups)
3 medium onions, cut in wedges (about 3 cups)
1 large red bell pepper, cut in 2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
6 large garlic cloves, peeled

My next entry is going to be much smaller, and it will be underneath the Cheddar Chicken Chowder.

Day Two: Herb Roasted Mushrooms, Chicken & Vegetables, Mastercook
Dried Rosemary (check this one)

Everything else in the recipe, I will already have from the Chowder, or will be on hand. I make a note to double check and make sure that I have dried rosemary as well, 3 teaspoons is a lot, and I'm not sure I'll have enough. So let's look at my new list, and then I am ready to make my shopping list, and I also have a few more thoughts about these two days and how they will automatically turn into four!

Day One: Cheddar Chicken Chowder, CL Annual 2002, pg 340
Chicken Breast
Red Bell Pepper
Red Potatoes
Cheddar Cheese

Day Two: Herb Roasted Mushrooms, Chicken & Vegetables, Mastercook
Dried Rosemary (check this one)

My shopping list will look like this:

2 pounds of Chicken Breasts
2 Red Bell Peppers (3 if on sale)
1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes
1 block of medium cheddar cheese
2 large packages of mushrooms
Dried Rosemary
Flour tortillas
Sour Cream

You'll notice the two additions at the end. I've decided that since I have all these ingredients already in the house, that it will only take some tortillas and sour cream to turn these into quesadillas with some salsa I already have in the pantry. Leftover roasted chicken and vegetables will make wonderful quesadillas, so now I have a third day planned that I hadn't intended to. And finally, that fourth bonus day? The Cheddar Chicken Chowder makes plenty- more than enough for my family to eat out of the pot twice. For us, the trick is to not eat the same thing two days in a row, so my week will end up looking like this:

Day One: Cheddar Chicken Chowder, CL Annual 2002, pg 340
Chicken Breast
Red Bell Pepper
Red Potatoes
Cheddar Cheese

Day Two: Herb Roasted Mushrooms, Chicken & Vegetables, Mastercook
Dried Rosemary (check this one)

Day Three: Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Quesadillas

Day Four: Cheddar Chicken Chowder Repeat

Just like that, we've got four days menu-planned, and we'd only intended to really do two. One of the things that I've found really helpful with menu planning is to think of the leftovers, and most often, how they can be transformed into something completely different. The roasted chicken and veggies will be delicious the first night- the second night I'll want different flavors. So by adding the cheese we already have, the salsa, sour cream and tortillas, we've given it a whole new flavor from south of the border. The chowder is served three days apart, so no one will mind eating it twice- especially if accompanied by homemade bread.

And look at how small our grocery list is too! Part of that comes from having a well-stocked pantry, and that does take some time to get to the well-stocked point. My pantry staples will be a part of a future post here with Menu Planning 101. I have two posts in mind for the week ahead- one will be planning out a whole week at one time. The second post will be devoted to attempting an organization method for recipes. (Of course, on second thought, maybe that will take more than one post.) As a reminder, Menu Planning 101 will take place on Wednesdays and Saturday's for now.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

So What Did I Make?

I went back and forth on this all day...sort of. I just wasn't in the mood to think about it, really. And as dinner would draw closer, I would tell myself to think of something for dinner, and then I wouldn't. So dinner was inspired by leftovers anyway, because I waited until the last minute.

I went with Josie's first idea- and made a fried rice. And let me just say right here and now, that fried rice is not a specialty of mine. I've never had it turn out well, and Andy can attest that when I say I'm making fried rice, he's secretly dreading whatever comes out of that pot. I've just never done it right, I guess. So I chopped a shallot, red bell pepper, a piece of the fennel, a carrot, some squash, and my sugar snap peas and got them nice and soft in my wok. Then I added the nicely cold rice and fried for awhile before adding some soy sauce and seasoning, followed by an egg that I'd scrambled up earlier. And actually, it turned out quite well! The kids still didn't want to eat it, but at least it tasted good to Andy and I. My kids just don't like rice, I guess. Now I'm really thinking about the curry suggestion from Lia...I still have plenty leftover from my photo, and still have a ton of rice, so that may be tonight's dinner.

The leftovers that inspired dinner were actually some Filipino Spring Rolls leftover from Sunday Company Dinner. Aunt Lita's Lumpia are one of my favorite things to make for friends and company because they are so good, and they are truly crowd pleasing. And every single time I find myself rolling them up and deep frying them, I can't help but think of my Aunt Lita and my cousins. Growing up we spent many a summer weekend in their backyard, playing and exploring, and feasting on mountains of Aunt Lita's delightful Lumpia.

This time, for the first time ever, I changed up the recipe a touch. I left out the onion called for, due to an allergy, and instead I added half a bulb of fennel, and about 2 cups of haricot verts-or green beans. I chopped up the fennel and the beans finely in my food processor so they blended right in with the ground carrots, celery, and ground beef. The extra vegetables were a great addition, as usual, no one thing stuck out, other than the ground beef. For the most part, all the children at the table enjoyed them as well- so they are most definitely kid friendly. These are much easier to make than it seems- you simply grind vegetables, mix with beef, seasoning, and eggs, and then roll into spring roll wrappers. While they could be baked, you're really going to get the best flavor if you brave the deep-fat fryer-and it's so, so worth it! Definitely feel free to play with the combination of vegetables- just try and keep the same proportions going.

Aunt Lita's Lumpia
2 pounds ground beef
4 stalks celery
3 medium carrots
1 onion
4 eggs
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 package egg roll wrappers

Grind celery, carrots, and onion in a food processor, or chop finely. Mix with the hamburger, 3 beaten eggs, and seasonings.

Beat remaining egg and put on a shallow plate

Place egg roll wrapper on table and put meat mixture in a long narrow row. Roll up, sealing with the egg.

Heat oil in a frying pan or deep fryer to 400º. Fry until golden brown

Monday, January 28, 2008

Let's Play A Game Shall We?

These are the things languishing in my fridge. In the photo below, I have 2 handfuls baby spinach, about 2 cups cubed butternut squash, 2 red bell peppers, half a bulb of fennel, 2 jalapenos, 1 pound of haricot verts, and about 2 cups of sugar snap peas.

Not pictured, I have about 12 cups of cooked basmati rice that I need to find a use for. My pantry and fridge are fairly well stocked with the staples, and I have many odds-n-ends as well, but these are the things that are on the verge of expiring. Any ideas? I have a few, but nothing really exciting.

A Really Delicious Cake

Zander requested both cupcakes and cake for his birthday this year, chocolate of course. I debated making a small layer cake to decorate for him, and then having the cupcakes on the side, but then I saw an instance where someone had used fondant to cover a layer of cupcakes, and then decorated like a regular cake. I thought it was brilliant, but I've never worked with fondant myself, and I also don't care to eat it, so I thought I'd play with making my own "cupcake cake".

I baked and cooled the cupcakes, and then I placed them on a platter and snugged them up to each other as much as I possibly could. I decided to do two layers of frosting so the first one would be thicker and serve as a base for decorating the rest. So my first batch of frosting was a little thicker than normal. Usually, my frosting is butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk, mixed together to a consistency I like. In this case, I used less milk so it was a really thick frosting, and I smeared that first layer on the cupcakes. There were spots where the cupcakes weren't quite touching that there just was a really thick gob of frosting- but it worked perfectly. After my first frosting had set up a bit, I mixed up a second batch, tinted it into green and blue, and then a tiny bit had cocoa added to it for the train track, and I went to town.

I simply used an offset spatula to spread the colored frosting around, and then grabbed a piping bag to do the train track. The horses, rocks, fence and train are not edible- they were just toys that I'd washed, but they served their purpose perfectly. The cupcake cake was a huge hit- and it was effortless to pull the cupcakes apart for eating. I did end up cutting off some of the thicker portions of frosting with a knife, but for the most part, I was thrilled with the cupcake cake.

I used this recipe for Devil's Food cake from King Arthur Flour. I did sub in some margarine for the butter, and rice milk for the liquid, as we were having company that has an allergy to dairy. It was my first time baking with the rice milk and it worked beautifully. I did the same for the frosting, and you'd never know- they were incredibly moist and delicious cupcakes.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Happy Birthday Little Man!

May four years old be wonderful for you!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Menu Planning 101: An Intro

Why Menu Planning? Well, I'll tell you, it has really been an asset to me, and I really think that anyone can benefit from even the smallest bit of menu planning. Planning out what you're going to eat during any given period of time is a benefit in so many ways. First of all, it's a money saver- you're not heading to the store every day of the week and buying much more than what you need. Secondly, it's far healthier for you. How many times do we look in the fridge, decide we don't feel like cooking, and either order in or head out for dinner. I'm not against dining out, but it's a quick way to drain a budget doing it over and over, and it's also almost a less healthier version than what you can make at home.

I am far from perfect at it, and there are still nights where I decide I don't want what I have planned for that night, but then I also know what else I have on hand, and I can decide accordingly. What I am going to try and do with this blog series is present menu-planning in a not-so scary light. Sometimes, it can be really overwhelming. I remember when I really first started doing it, being daunted by the empty calendar in front of me. And then further on, being daunted by the sheer volume of groceries and ingredients. I promise, I can help make it much easier. I've also decided to do this for now on this blog. However, if it takes off, and I end up with a volume of posts and eventually the interaction I'm thinking of, then I'll move it all over to a new blog specifically designed for it. Right now, though, it's a bit of an experiment.

So...the very first step in menu planning is to decide how long you would like to plan for at a time. This is a decision for what fits you best. For someone brand new to menu planning, perhaps starting small with just one or two days would be progress. Maybe you'd like to plan according to a pay day, resulting in planning for one week or maybe two. I know some people who get paid monthly and plan ahead for an entire month at a time. Personally, I range between one week and ten days. I plan for a week at a time according to when Andy gets paid, so for me, I plan for Friday through Thursday. And then, because life happens, and I never really know if I'll get to do my shopping when I want to, I often like to plan a cushion of an extra three days. But for this purpose, for Menu Planning 101, I'll stick with planning for a week to make it easier. Whatever you decide, make absolute certain it's manageable for you at this point. I would hate for someone to get overly ambitious and then give up before even getting started.

I should also mention, that when I do my menu planning, I don't do a full day at a time. We always have an assortment of breakfast foods and lunch foods on hand, plus leftovers for lunch on occasion, so also for Menu Planning 101, we'll be planning the dinner menu only- with occasional suggestions for leftover lunch or breakfast uses. You will also find that I'll be adding the Menu Planning 101 label to my postings. This way you'll have a handy way to reference all the wonderful tips we're going to explore together.

I think we'll do Menu Planning 101 twice a week for now- on Wednesdays and Saturdays. We'll do it one step at a time, and take our time as well. My goal is that by the end of this series, anyone will be able to go through the series step by step and learn how to menu plan. And as always, comments, suggestions, and questions are always welcome.

So step one is actually a two-piece step. First, you need to choose your time frame for planning. And second, you need to choose your format for planning. I like to use a notebook myself, but maybe you'd prefer an electronic means. What I like about the notebook is that I can use the same notebook week after week and then look back at past weeks when I need inspiration. You could also use a calendar and write on each day if you prefer, or maybe a white board hung on your fridge or in the kitchen somewhere. You could use a day planner, or your blackberry, Microsoft Word, or maybe even start your own menu-planning blog. If you already blog- that would make an excellent weekly post. Maybe you could share your preferred format here in the comment section.

Be sure to come back next time with a manageable time frame in mind, as well as your preferred format. And then we'll start tackling the menu planning process.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I Love My Son

So this morning we made a quick dash to Sam's Club to pick up a few odds-n-ends for Zander's birthday celebration this weekend. Our number one goal was to find some nice kiwi for his birthday fruit salad, and while I was putting that in the cart, he spied something from a ways away, and told me we should get that too for a snack. What was it?

Green Beans. :-)

And then just a few seconds later, after the beans were in the cart, he pointed yet again, and told me just how much he loved those beans with the peas inside.

So we also picked up a bag of Sugar Snap Peas.

And now he is home and happily munching on a bowl of raw beans and snap peas. I must be doing something right. :-) And I can't believe he's turning four this weekend...

An Excellent Fish Dish!

Last night's dinner was the second success out of the latest issue of Eating Well. So many recipes caught my eye this time, and I'm thrilled that many of them use pantry staples to get dinner on the table! Last night's was another one of those. The only thing I needed to pick up was the fish, as I had everything else on hand already. And while I switched out the fish for a different white fish, the Baked Cod with Chorizo and Beans was a great treatment for fish.

I used the kielbasa called for in the recipe instead of the chorizo, because the only chorizo I have on hand is Mexican, and that one is not smoked. I knew I wanted a smokey flavor, so I opted for the kielbasa instead. The "sauce" came together very quickly, as shallots, sausage and thyme were sauteed together, and then halved grape tomatoes and white beans were added with broth to finish the sauce. I'm just not a fan of wine in my cooking, so I used chicken broth instead of the white wine. I prefer to drink my wine- I don't care for it much in my food. I put the fish fillets in a baking dish, added the bean mixture, and then it baked for a few minutes. Quick, easy, and very tasty!

In fact, I am thinking that the bean sauce in general was delightful with just a touch of smokey sausage in it. I could see it used in many other applications- or even by itself as a side dish. Honestly, I think it would also be very nice with shrimp instead of the fish, and Andy and I are thinking that this would be an excellent candidate for packet cooking as well. We'll be playing with that, as we're always looking for a camping alternative.

Sorry, I didn't snap a picture. I had someplace to be after dinner last night, so it was kind of a dine-n-dash night, and I just didn't think of the camera. You can check out the recipe at the Eating Well website for a great picture if you feel so inclined. Be sure and come on back tomorrow for the first edition of Menu Planning 101.

Baked Cod with Chorizo and White Beans

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 ounces Spanish chorizo or turkey kielbasa, diced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup dry white wine, divided (I used chicken stock)
1 15-ounce can great northern beans, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1 1/4 pounds Pacific cod, cut into 4 pieces
Freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Coat a 9-by-13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.

2. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallot, chorizo (or kielbasa) and thyme and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and 1/4 cup wine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are broken down and the wine is almost evaporated, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in beans and 1/4 teaspoon salt and remove from the heat.

3. Sprinkle fish with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper; place in the prepared baking dish. Top each piece of fish with equal amounts of the tomato mixture (about 1/2 cup per fillet). Pour the remaining 1/4 cup wine into the pan and cover the pan with foil. Bake until the fish is just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve the fish with the sauce spooned over the top.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Soup of The Week: Can't Win 'Em All

This week's soup was another one that I've had on my radar for forever. See, I use the computer program Mastercook to organize a lot of my recipes. I put a lot of them into the program, but mostly I use it to import recipes I see online that pique my interest. And then, of course, I tend to forget about them. Not so with my new soup revolution, slowly we're making our way through the pile, and this week's was something a little different for us.

Autumn Harvest Red Lentil Soup caught my eye initially because of the red lentils. I've never cooked with them, but I've wanted to. The combination of vegetables also intrigued me, and I couldn't recollect having a similar soup before. I picked up the red lentils on a recent shopping trip, and since I had everything else on hand, this was the soup of the week. As I started putting the soup together, I was faced with a few minor decisions, and also a wonderful aroma from the stove.

My first decision came with the second ingredient, 5 1/2 cups of water. Water? I wanted this soup to be full of flavor, and while I'm sure the creator knew what she was doing, I have a beautiful veggie stock in the freezer, and I decided to use that instead. I ended up using 4 cups of veggie stock and 2 cups of water, since the stock was a little concentrated. The soup began with cooking the lentils in water-or in my case, the stock. Oh how disappointed I was to check on the lentils later only to discover they'd lost their beautiful red color! Meanwhile, a second pot had been readied for simmering the vegetables to soften. When I added the cumin and coriander, a fabulous scent wafted up and totally permeated the entire house. I thought briefly of using whole seeds and toasting them, but then decided to just use the ground spices. In retrospect, I really wonder how that toasting would enhance the flavor of the soup.

The lentils were then pureed with my immersion blender. As I continued adding vegetables to the simmering pot, I found that I did not have the parsnip called for. So instead I added an extra carrot, and then, when digging for that carrot, I found a few lonely radishes, and decided they would match that turnip texture wise, and flavor wise since they were on the sweet side. So those went in as well. Once the vegetables were softened, I added them to the pureed lentils and gave them a few minutes to combine flavors. A little seasoning went in, as well as a splash of lemon juice and a few handfuls of baby spinach leaves.

The soup was lovely, the color was fantastic, and I thought it tasted great- like no soup we'd had before, and I loved that. I portioned out about half of the soup to send to my parents for dinner- they'd been travelling home in less that stellar conditions, and thought they'd appreciate a pot of warm soup when they arrived home. (They certainly did.) I was excited for dinner that night, and as my family gazed into their bowls, I knew this was going to tank. The kids took a bite or two, and then spent the rest of the meal dunking crackers in and nibbling on their muffins. Andy didn't finish his bowl either- he thought the soup was much too sweet for his tastes. And it was sweet- that butternut squash I'd used was so sweet! But I loved the soup! Sadly, I will probably not be making it again, unless Andy goes out of town sometime and I have a hankering.

One note on the ingredients. Don't skimp on the coriander. Leave things in and out according to your tastes, but the coriander really was the essential ingredient. It added a floral-citrusy note that even the lemon juice could not match. In fact, my parents called later on to ask what the dominant spice was, because it really made the soup what it was.

Autumn Harvest Red Lentil Soup

Recipe By The Healthy Hedonist, Myra Kornfeld

1 cup red lentils -- sorted and rinsed
5 1/2 cups water
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions -- cut into small dice (2 cups)
4 garlic cloves -- minced
One 2-inch piece fresh ginger -- minced
2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 pound butternut squash -- cut into 1/2-inch dice (2 cups)
1 parsnip -- cut into 1/2-inch dice (1/2 cup)
2 carrots -- cut into 1/2-inch dice (1 cup)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 pound spinach -- stemmed, washed, and torn into bite-size pieces or one 5-ounce bag baby spinach, rinsed
Cayenne pepper

Combine the lentils, 4 cups of the water, the bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

Discard the bay leaf, and purée the lentils with an immersion blender or in a standing blender. (If you want a little texture, you can simply whisk the lentils until creamy.) Set the lentils aside.

Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and sauté until they are softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, cumin, and coriander, and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the squash, parsnips, carrots, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the remaining 1 1/2 cups water. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.

Stir the lemon juice and spinach into the lentils. The heat will immediately wilt the spinach. Add the vegetables and simmer for 5 minutes to marry the flavors. Season with a generous pinch of cayenne. Taste and add salt if necessary. Serve hot.

Makes 4 generous servings.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Quick Muffins

After the success of that Olive Oil Salt bread, I flipped a page or two and came upon a few recipes for muffins as well. I am a sucker for a good muffin. I hope no one's going to get sick of the recipes from How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, but by golly, these are great so far! And if I turn a few more pages, there are a few Indian flat breads too! They need to be eaten freshly made, but still!

Anyway, back to the muffins. What struck me right away was that these muffins used oil, and not much of it. It did say in the recipe that you could use melted butter, but I wanted to use a heart healthy oil, so I went with olive oil. The first muffins I made I added a chopped banana too, and then sprinkled the top with cinnamon sugar before baking. Yesterday was another batch with chopped cranberries and some grated orange zest. (Those needed a pinch of nutmeg- I must make a note of that.) You literally can mix anything you want into these muffins and they come out delicious and lightly sweet. You can sweeten them more if you'd like with some extra sugar, but they're very nice, just the way they are. The only problem with them, if you consider it a problem, is that they don't puff up and crown beautifully. They're rustic looking, but terribly delicious and addictive. They are best fresh, but a quick pop in a warm oven will refresh them for a short while. I won't post the many variations here that Bittman gives, just use your imagination and add it to the batter.

Muffins, Infinite Ways

from HTCEV by Mark Bittman

3 tablespoons melted butter or neutral oil, plus a little fat for the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk, plus more if needed

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin or line it with muffin cups.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Beat together the egg, milk and melted butter or oil. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into it. Using a large spoon or rubber spatula, combine the ingredients swiftly, stirring and folding rather than beating and stopping as soon as all the dry ingredients are moistened. The batter should be lumpy, not smooth, and thick, but quite moist; add a little more milk or other liquid if necessary.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, filling them about two-thirds full and handling the batter as little as possible. (If you prefer bigger muffins, fill the cups almost to the top. Pour 1/4 cup water into those cups left empty.) Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the muffins are nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of one of them comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before taking them out of the tin. Serve warm.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Olive Oil Bread?

But first, yesterday I briefly mentioned my latest brain-child. I've had soooo many people ask me lately about menu planning, or tell me how they've been doing with it. It's taken me a long time to get it down to where I can do it well, and I thought it would be a very worthwhile thing to share. What I can't decide is where I want to do it. This is where you come in- there is a poll up on the sidebar today asking if you have a preference. Should I focus several of my posts here at Tummy Treasure on menu planning? Maybe do a series one or two days a week? It would take place of some of the actual recipes though most likely. Or, do I set up a completely new blog that would be focused solely on menu planning. How to do it, tips on tweaking it just so, suggestions for recipes to use up leftover bits, and actual menu plans are some of the things I plan to cover. Let me know what you think. I'm also thinking about making it completely interactive and allowing whomever wants to, the ability post their attempts at menu planning. Please let me know your preference, this could be a bit of work, and I want to make sure it's going to be worth my time.

On to the recipe today! This is one that I think I would have seen 100 times in a cookbook and never made myself if it hadn't come so highly recommended. It also happens to be the first recipe I actually cooked out of my new book, "How To Cook Everything Vegetarian" by Mark Bittman. Thanks to a duplicate Christmas gift, I had a gift card to use at the bookstore and brought this puppy home last week. It is quite the book! It was not written to convince people to eat a vegetarian diet, but it was written to give everyone more vegetarian options. Many of the recipes are also vegan, or at least suggest a vegan alternative. It's a wonderful addition to my cookbook library and I expect it will get a lot of use.

This Olive Oil Salt Bread is the perfect addition to a meal where you want a bread or a biscuit with it. Soup or stew is a perfect accompaniment. Very few ingredients, very little work, the result is a rustic loaf of bread that is reminiscent of a biscuit in texture, but almost tastes like a soft pretzel. You can bake it in the oven, which is what I did, or you can also griddle it on the stovetop. And while we had it plain with some butter and preserves, this bread is screaming for some mix-ins. Whether it be herbs and spices, cheese, caramelized onions, raisins, whatever, it's the perfect base to mix a few things in and truly make it special. I happen to be dreaming about a cheddar-apple-bacon combo myself. Try it- you gotta see it and taste it to believe it.

Olive Oil Salt Bread
from How To Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman

1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing pan
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt, preferably coarse or sea salt, plus more for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Grease and 8-inch skillet or square baking pan with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Put the flour, baking powder and salt in a food processor and turn the machine on. Pour through the feed tube first the 1/3 cup of olive oil, then most of 1 cup of warm water. Process for about 30 seconds, then remove the cover. The dough should be a well-defined, barely sticky, easy to handle ball. If it is too dry, add the remaining water 1 tablespoon at a time and process for 5 to 10 seconds after each addition. If it is too wet, which is unlikely, add a tablespoon or two of flour and process briefly.

Put the dough into the prepared pan and press until it fits to the edges. Flip it over and press again. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes; then remove the foil, sprinkle the top with a little coarse salt, and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes, until the top is lightly golden and springs back a bit when touched gently. Cool in the pan a bit, then cut into wedges or squares and serve.

Griddled Variation: Instead of preheating the oven, heat a griddle or set a heavy pan over medium heat. Have the extra olive oil handy for greasing. In step 2, divide the dough into 8 to 12 pieces and pat them into patties between your hands until they're about 1/2 inch thick. When the griddle or pan is hot, use enough olive oil to film the bottom and put in as many breads as will fit comfortably without crowding (you will probably have to work in batches). Cook, undisturbed, until they begin to brown around the edges and the tops bubble a bit, about 5 minutes. Then turn and cook the other side until crisp and golden.

Serves 4 to 6

Monday, January 21, 2008

Coming Soon!

Menu Planning 101. Watch for it...

Are You Sick of Squash Yet?

Apparently I'm on a bit of a squash kick. Whether it's pumpkin or squash, I've really been enjoying discovering them over the last month or so. I've discovered versatility that I didn't know was there before- or rather, versatility that I was afraid to try. So when I saw a recipe in the latest issue of Eating Well magazine, it called to me, and I knew I had to make it.

Squash Topped Cottage Pies looked really simple to put together. Essentially, a shepherd's pie, except it was topped with smashed squash instead of potatoes, and I guess technically, shepherd's pie must be made with lamb, while cottage pie is made with beef. This was cottage pie, and I just wasn't sure it was going to work out, I had my doubts, but I plugged ahead anyways.

I started with my squash. The recipe called for frozen squash, but I had fresh, so I needed to prepare it. I peeled and cut my butternut squash into cubes and put in a pan with water, and simply boiled until tender, then drained and mashed, and set it aside.

Next, came the beef mixture. I drifted a bit from the directions for this one. First of all, it called for garlic powder, and I opted to use a clove of fresh garlic instead. And secondly, I had these gorgeous red bell peppers in the fridge, I decided to add about 1/2 cup of chopped bell pepper as well. I sweated the onions a bit, then added the garlic and bell pepper, and then added the beef to brown. Once all browned, I added the flour and tomato paste, followed by the beef broth and some seasonings. After it thickened, I added several good handfuls of chopped baby spinach and salt and pepper. I didn't use as much spinach as called for, because Abigail doesn't like spinach cooked-loves it raw in a salad, but I wonder if it's a texture thing for her cooked.

Anyway, next I went to get my ramekins out, and only then did I remember that I'd broken one a while back, so I only had three instead of four, and then sine I also figured the kids wouldn't eat that much, I decided to make one big cottage pie instead of several little ones. I cooked it a little longer than called for then, but overall, it was still a fairly quick dish to put together. Had I started with frozen or already-cooked squash, it would have been much faster. Since I had plenty of time, I certainly didn't mind.

Overall, I loved these. I thought the beef mixture was nicely flavored- but not overwhelming, and it really played off the sweetness of the squash nicely. I would most definitely add the bell pepper and the garlic again just the way I did. I should mention though that Andy was ambivalent about the squash as the topping. He didn't think it added to it, but he also didn't think it took away from it. He really liked the beef filling though, but to him, he ate the squash portion because it was there. Zander liked the beef filling, but was careful to remove any traces of other vegetables. Abigail was freaked out by the spinach and basically didn't care for it. I thought it was a great way to use squash, and so much healthier than other versions of cottage pie. I can't quite figure out a good way to make this vegetarian, but I suppose if you like TVP or soy crumbles you could substitute accordingly.

Squash-Topped Cottage Pies
from Eating Well magazine

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
12 ounces 93%-lean ground beef
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup reduced-sodium beef broth
6 ounces baby spinach, chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, divided
2 12-ounce packages frozen winter squash puree, thawed
1/3 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

1. Position rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, stir in beef, tomato paste and flour, and cook, stirring, until the beef is mostly browned, about 3 minutes. Add broth, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until the broth is the consistency of thick gravy, about 4 minutes. Stir in spinach, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder; cook until the spinach is just wilted, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

3. Place squash in a fine-mesh sieve and gently press on it to extract excess liquid. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder. Divide the meat mixture among four 10-ounce broiler-safe ramekins. Top each with about 1/2 cup of the squash. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet. Broil until heated through and bubbling around the edges, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese and broil until it is just melted, about 3 minutes more.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Grocery Budget Tools: The Price Book

I thought I'd share more on the grocery budget this week for my Weekend Extra posting. I received a very nice e-mail after my last budget post, sharing a tool that I thought was definitely worth mentioning. I also found that people seem to appreciate any tips on saving a few dollars, so I'll be continuing with my occasional frugal postings.

So, the Price Book. I've read about this many times on different sites about trying to save money, and I've read about it in other books as well. I had been thinking that I never did a price book myself, only as it turns out, I sort of do a reverse price book. Here is how a price book works.

Essentially, you begin with a notebook, or a spreadsheet and a computer if you prefer. On the far left side of a page, you list the grocery items you buy the most (including the correct size, and brand preferred) and then you list in columns, the price of that item at different grocery stores. Here's an example:

Item Mike's Grocery Food Emporium Lilly's Organics

Stewed tomatoes-28 oz $1.09 .89 $1.79
2 pounds carrots $2.29 $2.49 $3.49
1 pound ground beef $2.29 $1.99 $2.99

The idea is then that when it's time for you to do your grocery shopping, you can make your list, dividing it up by store. Obviously, this only works if you live somewhere with grocery shopping options. You also use the sales flyers at this time as well. You can look and see who has the best sales on something, and also, you can check your price book and see if it's a better price than a regular price somewhere else. The person who originally e-mailed me about price books told me that she saved between 30-50% on her groceries by using a price book. That's incredible savings, and right there tells me it's worth trying out!

Obviously, with gas prices being what they are, using a price book is a great way to see if the great deals on the other side of town are worth the gas usage to get there. Lilly's Organics above is an excellent example of this. One or two items on sale certainly wouldn't be worth a 10 minute drive out of the way. But say they're having a super sale, plus you have a few coupons to use as well, you may very well save more money buying more of your groceries there that week. This would also be a great way to take advantage of store savings cards. Several stores around me have member cards where you get an extra discount on some items- occasionally I'll save a lot of money shopping via club cards.

So what did I mean when I say I do a Price Book in reverse? Well, after several trials at different stores, I found the store where I could do my weekly shopping in one store for the least amount of money. So for a long time, when I came home from grocery shopping, I would sit with the receipt and put all the prices into a program I have on my computer for recipe and meal planning. (Mastercook for anyone interested.) I found this was the best way that I could pre-plan a shopping trip and try to keep within my budget. Then, as each week came along, and sales flyers were around, I could check other stores and see if they had a better price on anything, and occasionally I would find it worth a trip to go to a different store to purchase the sale items that week. I've been doing this for so long, that so many things I can just tell you the price. I can look at, say, Wal-Mart at the canned tomatoes and know that the price there is easily 20 cents more than where I shop. It really helps me save money. Of course, this also means that I've definitely noticed that over the last six months literally everything has increased in price. And some things, like cereal boxes, are going up in price, while coming down in size.

I think I need to do a real price book for myself. The spreadsheet is appealing to me because I love to use my computer to organize things like that. But at the same time, I'm a paper person. I love writing in a notebook, and I easily have a dozen different notebooks floating around holding old shopping lists, menu plans, recipes, and random notes and bits. So I think that I would like to do one in a notebook. This way, my list is also portable. I can physically take it with me when I grocery shop, so when something unexpected is on sale, I can check my book and see if it truly is a good deal. I'll have to try giving this a whirl. Maybe in a few months I'll post an update and see how we do. Anyone else have thoughts on a price book? I'd love to hear it!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Cooking For Pleasure

I get asked quite often why I cook and how I became interested in cooking. I could say that for us cooking is a necessity- there's no way we could afford to eat out all the time or get convenience food. I could also say that I simply enjoy cooking, it's a hobby, and I enjoy doing it. But ultimately to me, cooking is all about the pleasure it brings to other people. Seeing others be nourished by what I have prepared is the ultimate reason for me to cook, whether that be family, or a guest in our home.

Food and eating is a vital part of life. We must eat, or we literally will shrivel up and die. Yet we are not cattle. We do not belly up to the trough and eat with no thought to what goes in our mouths. We eat because we enjoy eating, eating is full sensual experience. We see, touch, smell, taste, and sometimes hear what we eat as well. There are few things in life more satisfying than putting something truly delicious into our mouths. Yet because food is vital, so often we find ourselves eating just because we need to. We call meat and eggs by it's food group- protein. Doesn't that sound tasty? Here, have a plate of protein for lunch. We lose something when we view food as an energy source and fuel. Instead, I choose to view food as a pleasure.

I cook to bring pleasure to those around me. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing my family at the dinner table enjoying what I've prepared for them. Sometimes it's a simple bowl of soup or stew, sometimes it's an elaborate creation, but it's always something I think they'll enjoy. And I extend this. Anytime I cook, anytime someone is coming to my house to eat, or I take a dish somewhere else, I cook for those people as if I were cooking for myself. Nothing makes me happier than having company and feeding them well while they are with us. I try very hard to keep in mind people's dislikes and likes when they eat with us. We have a group of friends that we get together with regularly, and I do my best every time we get together to adjust for their tastes. Someone doesn't like broccoli? I seldom cook with it when they're here, and if I do, I make an alternative that doesn't have the broccoli. Someone has troubles eating mango? That's okay, I can use something else instead. If someone is following a diet, I do my best, although everything may not be a wise choice for them, I do put some effort into meeting the needs of the dieter.

Recently, I encountered a new one for me with food allergies. I've had people over who are picky eaters or exclaim their dislike for this or that, but the food allergies was a new one for me. It was a scary thought- that one bite of food with this item in it could literally kill this person. This wasn't an intolerance, or something that could cause discomfort- this was something absolutely vital. I took on this challenge with relish! I found it very easy to cook without the offending ingredients. I had to take the extra effort to read all the labels of everything I used, and I made sure that I used fresh cutting boards that hadn't had the offensive ingredients on them recently. And let me tell you, I never enjoyed cooking more. It really and truly gave me great pleasure to know that the bread I was kneading with my hands would be enjoyed by everyone- including the allergy sufferer.

Let's think for a minute on the opposite. Imagine a new friend coming to your home for dinner. You work very hard at making a nice dinner- let's say a multi layered lasagna, a spinach salad with homemade croutons and some gorgeous crusty bread on the side. You've chosen a few wines to accompany, and made a decadent chocolate layer cake for dessert. Then your guest arrives, and upon seeing your feast laid before them, they become apologetic and explain that they have an allergy to wheat. They can't eat a thing on the table. First, they're embarrassed, because they can't eat the wonderful food you've prepared. Secondly, you're horribly embarrassed, because there isn't a thing they can eat, and the evening ends with mortification on both sides.

When we invite someone into our home for a meal, I am going to make certain that the meal I make is number one, something the guest can eat. And two, something they enjoy eating. If someone coming to my home eats a vegan diet, I am going to try my hardest to make sure that the food I'm preparing meets their needs, while being something that everyone can enjoy. There's no hard and fast rule that we need to have meat and dairy at every meal. If a guest in our home doesn't eat them, I can make the main course something they can eat, and perhaps I'll roast a chicken on the side for the meat eaters. Nothing will bring me greater pleasure than seeing a guest in our home truly enjoying what I have made for them. To me this tells our guest that they are welcome in our home, and it also tells them that we care. And often times, there will be the wonderful side effect of finding something new that we enjoy as well!

I guess my point is that to me, there is no point in cooking if it's not going to be enjoyed by whomever I'm cooking for. Think about a football player. When they are getting ready for the big game, they bring their best game to the field. There's no point in them showing up if they aren't going to play their best. When I cook, I always bring my best game to the kitchen. As I cook, I imagine the pleasure my family is going to get from what I'm making, and that can really complete the whole experience. Say I'm browning some beef for a stew, as it's sizzling away noisily and giving off this incredible aroma, I can think of those who will eat it and take the experience of cooking to a whole new level. Cooking is for pleasure. And yes, anyone can do it, but it takes time and practice to take it to that next level. It's definitely worth reaching for.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Soup of The Week Times Two

This past Sunday for Sunday Company Dinner we had a soup night. It was really fun to do, each person brought a pot of soup, and I made some homemade bread to accompany. I, of course, had to make two pots of soup because I like to overdo it. Overall though we ended up with five pots of very different soup. We had a ham and bean soup, a beer-cheese soup, tomato and white bean, cheeseburger, and a chicken and rice with apples in it. Each one was very good, and I made sure I sampled each and every one, as I am always looking for a new variation on soup.

I went back and forth on what I was going to make. I knew I was going to make a tomato soup of some kind. One of our guests has food allergies, so number one I needed to make something they could eat, and the tomato fit the bill perfectly. Then I also needed a soup that I thought the kids would go for, so I decided on a cheeseburger soup.

For the tomato soup I ended up choosing a Cooking Light recipe for Tomato and White Bean soup, and found a surprising new favorite for the kids. They actually chose the tomato soup over the cheeseburger, so that's definitely going in the tried and true files. It is a very nice, clean tomato soup. It also reheated wonderfully and we enjoyed it just as much last night with some quesadillas on the side.

For the cheeseburger soup, I normally just throw things into the pot I'm afraid. I do have one version in the Recipe Trove that I make when I have leftover Cheddar Meat Loaves. I really like that one, but was missing many of the ingredients. So I went searching through my Mastercook cookbooks and found one that I'd pasted in some time ago. I had all the ingredients, and it looked easy enough to double- which I needed to do. As it turns out, this recipe was from fellow blogger Sweetnicks, and boy, does she make a mean cheeseburger soup! It was excellent, creamy and cheesy and full of flavor. This was a huge hit and is also going into the files as Another Cheeseburger Soup. Definitely a repeater here, this soup was perfect with a chunk of nice crusty bread to scrape the bottom of the bowl. Yum!

I'll post both soups below, because they are both just so good! On tap for tomorrow is a post I've been thinking of doing for some time. It's a post from the heart about the pleasures of cooking, and why I do it, so come back for that, and maybe another recipe or two.

Another Cheeseburger Soup
recipe shared by Sweetnicks

1/2 lb browned ground beef
4 cups diced potatoes
3/4 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup shredded carrots
8 oz Velveeta
3/4 cup diced celery
1 1/2 cup milk
1 tsp dried basil
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp dried parsley flakes
1/4 tsp pepper
3 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup sour cream

Saute onion, carrots, celery, basil and parsley in 1 T butter for about 10 minutes. Add broth, potatoes and hamburger. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10-12 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, melt about 3 T butter. Add flour and cook, stirring, for about 3-5 minutes or until bubbly. Add to soup. Bring to boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Add cheese, milk, salt and pepper. Cook and stir until cheese melts. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream.

Tomato And White Bean Soup
from Cooking Light Magazine, October, 1997

Serving Size : 4

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves -- crushed
2 cans no-salt-added whole tomatoes -- (14.5-ounce) undrained and chopped
2 cans white beans -- (16-ounce) drained
1 can fat-free chicken broth -- (14 1/2-ounce)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and sauté 4 minutes or until tender. Add tomatoes and next 5 ingredients (tomatoes through pepper), and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Ladle into bowls, and sprinkle with cheese.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Apparently It's Mark Bittman Week Here

Without intending to, I made two Mark Bittman recipes this week, where previously, I don't know that I'd really made any before. Both recipes were extremely simple to put together and took very little effort on my part. Yesterday I shared the squash pancakes, but a few days ago I found a forgotten package of short ribs in the freezer. Short ribs! It was not quite 1 1/2 pounds, so it was something that needed to be slow cooked and combined with something else. There certainly wasn't enough short rib to just cook and nibble on. After looking through several recipes, I settled on one that I had in my Mastercook program. I assumed I found it while perusing the CLBB ages ago, and since it used all on-hand ingredients, I was game to give it a whirl.

It could not have come together easier. First I browned the short ribs in a bit of oil, then I added canned tomatoes, cinnamon, clove, salt and pepper, and that was it. I turned the pot on to simmer and walked away. I came back to stir every once in a while, but that was it. It took about 4 hours for my short ribs to tenderize and fall off the bones. Then I removed the bones and just like that I had a short rib pasta sauce. I tossed it with some pasta, and that was that. That sauce was so flavorful! Short ribs are packed with beefy flavor, and the cinnamon and clove really gave the sauce a wonderful depth and flavor. The kids didn't care too much for the shreds of beef, but the gobbled up the pasta anyways.

According to Andy, this is a sauce that should be made ahead of time. He finished off the leftovers for lunch and said that the flavors really came together after an overnight or two in the fridge. So if you do make this and have the time, make it and pop it in the fridge overnight. Not only will the flavors marry and tenderize further, but you'll be able to scrape a good layer of beef fat off the top of the beef- always a bonus. Mark Bittman's Pasta Sauce with Beef Ribs and Cinnamon was excellent! It's a fantastic way to use short ribs, and as long as you have the time to really let it simmer until tender, it's practically foolproof. Tomorrow I'll be sharing two soups for soup of the week- so be sure to come back for those!

Pasta Sauce with Beef Ribs and Cinnamon

Recipe By :Mark Bittman

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 pounds meaty short ribs of beef
salt and pepper -- to taste
2 cans whole plum tomatoes -- undrained
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Heat olive oil in a heavy Dutch oven or casserole over medium-high heat; a minute later, brown the meat on all sides, seasoning with salt and pepper as it cooks. Add the tomatoes, garlic, cinnamon and cloves, reduce heat to low, and cover, with the lid slightly ajar.

Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for at least 1 1/2 hours, until the meat falls off the bone; if the sauce begins to get too thick, add a little water and continue to cook.

When the meat is tender and fallen from the bone, remove the bones from the sauce and break the meat up with a spoon. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A New Leftover Re-Invention

After last weeks wonderful black bean and pumpkin enchiladas, I had a lone cup of pumpkin puree sitting in the fridge waiting to be used. Part of me wanted to make muffins with it, but part of me was holding out for something more unique- and maybe savory.

Well, I did end up with something different, but not in the savory sense. While visiting with the fine folks at the CLBB the other day, I saw a thread about squash pancakes. Squash pancakes? I love pancakes... but squash? I was intrigued, clicked, and found my lunch.

Full credit for the recipe goes to the minimalist himself, Mark Bittman, and I believe that this recipe comes from his latest tome, How To Cook Everything Vegetarian (which I really have to purchase sometime!) If you're familiar at all with Bittman recipes, they offer a basic idea, and then several variations. This one was in that fashion, so the recipe ends up being what you make of it. Here are the notes from the CLBB.

The formula is simple.


1 cup vegetable puree
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
a sprinkle of salt

Beat in 1 egg, then add liquid of choice to get a proper consistency. I used low fat milk, but other suggestions are ricotta and sour cream.

For other quantities, just add the same quantities of everything. Got 2 cups? Add 2 cups flour, 2 tsp. baking soda, 2 eggs, etc.

Cook the usual way.

I also added 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon to my batter. At the very last minute, I diced up half a pear and threw that in as well. I cooked these up just like regular pancakes- waiting for the tell-tale bubbles before flipping, and then serving up with butter and syrup. They were excellent, and they really were the bright shade of orange you see in the photo above! They had a very nice moist and dense texture, while still lightening up a bit from the baking powder. They were also quite healthy as far as pancakes go, what with the antioxidant loaded pumpkin and pears making an appearance. I used pumpkin puree because that's what I have, but I'm already eyeing this recipe up for the next time I have butternut squash lying around needing to be used. I suspect you could up the ante on nutrition by using wheat or white whole wheat flour. And because you can use whatever liquid you'd like, soy milk, almond milk or rice milk would be excellent here as well.

Since these pancakes lean towards the side of healthy, I thought they'd be a perfect addition to the weekly ARF/5-A-Day round-up over at Sweetnicks. It's been awhile since I participated, and I really need to remember to do so more often. It's a great way to remember to eat more healthy, and pay attention to those foods that really do our bodies good. Be sure to head on over to Sweetnick's later on for this week's complete round up.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Let's Kick Off The Week With A Brownie

A Peanut Butter brownie to be exact.

When I first saw this recipe on the CLBB I was very intrigued. It called for demerera sugar to be in the brownie, and to me, that sounded strange. I use demerera (or washed, raw) sugar for rolling cookies in or topping something because it's pretty, and it has a nice clean, sweet flavor as well. It's also a large-grained sugar, so using it in a brownie...well, it intrigued me. I filed it away for another day, but then recently I've been seeing it pop up in a few other places. Since I had a bag of Sugar In The Raw just sitting around waiting to be used, I decided to go ahead and try these brownies.

The only problem I had baking these brownies up came because I didn't have as much of the raw sugar as I had thought. I had just over a cup of the raw sugar, and since I already had my butter and peanut butter blended together, I needed to improvise. My first thought had been to use straight up granulated sugar, but when I went to grab it, the brown sugar caught my eye instead, and I decided that adding a little caramel flavor to the brownies couldn't be a bad thing. S0 my 2 1/2 cups demerera sugar became 1 cup demerera sugar, 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar. I did use the extra demerera to sprinkle on top too.

I had to bake my brownies about 10 minutes longer,but I am sure that was because adding brown sugar added more moisture to them. And let me tell you, I had a very hard time waiting to cut into these brownies! It did not help that Zander kept checking on them too- "Are they cool yet?" We didn't quite wait for them to chill all the way, but one bite into these peanut butter brownies, and we were besotted. Thick, chewy, caramelly, peanut-buttery, and crunchy from the raw sugar, these peanut butter brownies are all that AND the bag of chips. My little family of four managed to polish off an entire 9 x 13 pan in just three days...we literally could not stay away from them. These Demerera Topped Peanut Butter Brownies are definitely company worthy and swoon worthy. Don't let the demerera sugar scare you either. If you have it, use it. But you could also use turbinado sugar if that's what you have on hand, and I had great success using half brown sugar as well. I think you'd lose something if you used all brown sugar though, so make sure you use a sugar with some crunch. I need to make these again soon!

Demerera Topped Peanut Butter Brownies
1 cup peanut butter -- not natural PB
1/2 cup butter -- at room temperature
2 1/2 cup Demerera Washed Raw Sugar (I used Sugar In The Raw)
3 eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips or chunks, to taste
4 tablespoons Demerera Washed Raw Sugar -- for topping

Preheat oven to 350.

Line a 9x13 pan with release foil or grease the pan.

Cream peanut butter, butter, and sugar until light in color. Add eggs and blend to combine. Add vanilla and blend well.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, soda, and salt. Add to peanut butter mixture and blend until just combined. Stir in chips, if using.

Scoop batter into prepared pan and smooth it out. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons demerera over the top. Bake 28-30 minutes. Brownies will sink slightly in the center while cooling. Cool completely before cutting.

**watch the bake time, I had to give mine an extra 10 minutes

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Penzey's Blends- My Favorites

Someone recently asked my what Penzey spice blends I could recommend. I thought it was a good question, and I admit that my first thought was that it was Penzeys, how could any of them be bad? I told this person a few of my favorites, but then later on I thought of a few more that I really like. Today I thought I'd talk a little about Penzeys and my favorite blends that they make. I'm lucky enough to have a Penzeys store nearby in Appleton, so I have the luxury of being able to dash in anytime I need a new spice or I've run out of something. If you aren't so lucky, have no fear, Penzeys has an online store where you can fill your cart to your heart's content. I do find that their shipping tends to be on the side of high, but it is extremely prompt, and they always throw in a sample. There's always a free small jar of something tucked inside, and I always appreciate that extra thought.

My first favorite spice blend isn't really a spice at all, rather a salt. Penzeys 4/s Seasoning Salt, to be specific. I use this on just about everything, and it sees use about 50% of the time, the other 50% I opt to use straight up sea salt (also from Penzeys, but not a blend.) This seasoning salt is especially excellent on chicken and pork. The ingredients on the label are coarse sea salt, sugar, ESB black pepper, paprika, onion, turmeric, garlic, spice extractives (including oleoresin of paprika, black pepper, celery, rosemary, thyme)

Next we have Fox Point. It took me a while to get around to try Fox Point. First of all, it's one of the more pricey blends that Penzey's carries, and I was worried that the price wouldn't reflect the flavor inside the jar. Oh, was I mistaken. Fox Point contains salt, shallots, chives, garlic, onion and green peppercorns. It's particularly excellent for eggs in my opinion, as well as chicken and fish. A nice fillet of tilapia needs nothing more than a sprinkling of Fox Point and some lemon juice to be really tasty. I also add Fox Point to a lot of creamy soups where you want just a touch more flavor. Baked potato soup would be glue without Fox Point, and for that matter, anything potato is great with a little Fox Point added to it. I keep meaning to try some oven fries using Fox Point as my seasoning.

One all-purpose seasoning for me is Penzeys Northwoods seasoning. It's simply an all-purpose seasoning that's really good on just about anything. In particular, I think it's excellent on all things pork, and it also adds fantastic flavor to a simple grilled steak. Northwoods Fire is similar, but packs a little heat from some extra chipotle chili. It's also good, but I don't use it as much. Northwoods contains salt, paprika, black pepper, thyme, rosemary, garlic and chipotle. It is also excellent for seasoning fish and chicken, and I've used it with great success on grilled vegetables.

A pepper blend that I've recently discovered is their California Seasoned Pepper. Now this is a great pepper blend. It contains black pepper, red and green bell peppers, granulated garlic, and onion. This is excellent sprinkled on any vegetables, or in scrambled eggs, or sprinkled on a roasted chicken. The added seasonings gives plain old pepper a bit of pep, and really works great in tomato based soups as well.

My favorite classic herb blend that Penzeys carries is their Herbes de Provence. Herbes de Provence is a classic French spice blend that has been used for centuries. I've tried many other blends, and since each one is a bit different, they're not quite the same. I love Penzeys version. Theirs contains French rosemary, thyme, tarragon, basil, savory, fennel, lavender, and marjoram. It's in the perfect proportions, and I absolutely love the slightest hint of lavender I get when I use this. Herbes de Provence is particularly good on chicken, and in places you wouldn't expect, like macaroni and cheese. I also typically use Herbes de Provence any time I make a chicken pot pie.

My new favorite herb blend is their new Tuscan Sunset. This is a salt free blend that is like adding a dash of sunshine to any dish. Tuscan Sunset contains basil, oregano, Aleppo pepper, garlic, thyme, fennel, black pepper and anise. This is good on just about anything. It's awesome for vegetable dishes- in particular, I like it with roasted vegetables. It also adds great flavor to chicken, pork, and while I have yet to try it on fish, I suspect it would be excellent on a firm white fish. I've also added this to meatloaf with great success. As an added bonus, it is salt free, so if you're watching your sodium, it's an excellent choice. If you're not watching your sodium, a pinch of grey salt really makes this blend sing.

To be honest, I have yet to try a blend from Penzeys that I don't care for. Even their basic Italian Herb blend or the Pasta Sprinkle are excellent at times. The Pasta Sprinkle makes a quick pizza sauce when added to crushed tomatoes. The Chicago Steak seasoning has smoke flavor added to it, so that when you like to make a steak in the middle of winter, it has that grilled smokey flavor added to it. The Indian spices I've tried, like Garam Masala and Sweet Curry have served me well when a curry craving strikes. Their chili powders and taco seasonings are pretty good, and I love that they are divided by heat. Their Cajun Seasoning is excellent for when grilling season rolls around, or for adding just a different flavor to a vegetable soup. Overall, you just really can't go wrong with Penzey's spices. Give them a try if you haven't. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Dish Worthy of a Wow

Last night's dinner was a recipe that has been on my radar for...well, at least 3 years. It originally was featured in Everyday Food magazine, but was brought to my attention, and adapted by a gentleman on the CLBB. I know I've mentioned Bob before on this blog- he is responsible for my Cranberry Chutney, the Lentil and Potato Stew we love, among many other fabulous recipe. And I daresay he is at least partially to blame for my love of beans. This particular recipe has been in my Mastercook program for 3 years now, and I am so glad we finally got around to trying it.

I was going through my files, looking for recipes that used a lot of on-hand ingredients. When I got to the enchiladas, I realized I would need only a jalapeno, everything else I had on hand. I also would need corn tortillas, but if I didn't get anywhere to pick those up, I could always make my own. I put them on the menu plan for the week, and yesterday I decided it was enchilada day.

Black Bean Enchiladas with Spicy Pumpkin Sauce came together easily enough. It did dirty up both the blender and the food processor, but since they take 30 minutes to bake, I had plenty of time to wash them up before dinner. First of all, let me tell you, I loved the filling. I didn't quite use it all for the enchiladas, and Andy and I sat and scraped the bowl clean with tortilla chips and decided that it would make an excellent bean dip with a squeeze of lime and a pinch of cilantro added. The black beans, sour cream, and chipotle created magic together, and I just knew the enchiladas were going to be good. The sauce itself came together just as quickly with the push of a blender button, and before we knew it, we were waiting anxiously for our first bite of enchilada.

We were not disappointed. The enchiladas really melded together, and the pumpkin sauce was the perfect accompaniment to the black bean filling. The corn tortillas themselves were pronounced in flavor, and I really don't think flour tortillas would be used to good effect here. Our only problem was that they packed some heat. Certainly not enough to bother the grown-ups at the table, it was a pleasant heat. But it was definitely too much for the little palates. That was a shame, because Abigail liked the flavor of the enchiladas, she took two bites, but couldn't take anymore. Once Zander heard they "made Abigail's tongue spicy", the game was over for him, he wouldn't even try them. Next time though, I will make a few without the chipotle chili in the filling and they will be just fine. There will be a next time. These are completely vegetarian, yet you'd never know. They were very filling and satisfying, and no meat was necessary.

Black Bean Enchiladas with Spicy Pumpkin Sauce
a recipe adapted from Every Food magazine by Bob on the CLBB

Serving Size : 4

1 can pumpkin puree -- (15 ounce)
2 1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 garlic cloves -- peeled and coarsely chopped
1 jalapeno -- quartered, seeds removed, if desired
1 tsp. chili powder
8 corn tortillas (6 inch)
2 cups black beans, cooked -- or canned, well drained and rinsed
1/2 cup light sour cream
1 chipotle chile canned in adobo -- chopped
2 scallions -- chopped
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 425.

In a blender, puree pumpkin, water, salt, pepper, garlic, jalapeno, and chili powder until smooth. (Hold blender top firmly as blender will be quite full.) Pour 1 cup of the sauce into the bottom of an 8 inch square or other shallow baking dish.

In a food processor, combine 1 cup of the black beans, sour cream, and chipotle chili. Pulse until well pureed. Stir in remaining cup of black beans and scallions.

One at a time, dip tortillas in simmering water to soften (don't let tortillas sit in water). Roll tortillas with filling; mound on half of the tortilla and roll up; place seam side down in baking dish.

Pour remaining sauce on top; sprinkle with cheese. Bake in a 425º oven until cheese is golden and sauce is bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool five minutes before serving.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Soup of The Week: Simple Clam Chowder

Last week after grocery shopping by myself, I arrived home to find two children who were very willing to help me unpack groceries. They were very willing helpers, scrutinizing everything and putting things where they belonged. It was very comical though when they removed the cans of clams and the bottles of clam juice from the bag. Instantly the kids were horrified. Clam juice? Ew! Canned Clams? Yucky! I hope you're not going to make us eat those! So I tucked them into the pantry, waiting for another soup day to come into being.

Yesterday was the day. I got Zander busy with a computer game and headed to the kitchen myself to make a pot of Simple Clam Chowder. I was trying to do it covertly so that he didn't see the clam products on the counter. I'd had a head start from the day before. We had bacon with our waffles, and I saved a few strips of bacon, plus some of the grease for using for the chowder. Even if I'd had to brown the bacon though, this would have been a very quick chowder to put together. There were a few minutes of inactive time, and all I could do was hope that this chowder turned out. I'd only ever made clam chowder once, and that one was a crock-pot recipe, and used cans of cream of potato soup. I wasted no time in tasting it the second I thought it was done.

It was very good! I admit that a part of me was surprised at that. This was a Cooking Light recipe, and while Cooking Light is a source that I can usually count on, I really didn't expect this chowder to be that good. I expected it was going to need a few pinches of something to perk up the flavor. It didn't it was excellent on it's own, and was going to make a fantastic dinner. I dumped it into my crock pot to keep it warm until we got back from dance class, and when we got home, a fabulous aroma greeted us. Andy and I were very careful to call this just chowder to the kids. Any mention of the word clam, and they would have gone running, scared. Abigail dropped a few oyster crackers into her chowder, took a tentative taste, and then went to town. This girl inhaled her clam chowder! Zander, on the other hand, couldn't be swayed to take more than one bite. I was okay with that. Clam chowder is very distinctive, and if he didn't like it, no amount of persuading was going to get him to change his mind.

I'm thrilled with this recipe. Andy and I found last night that it really didn't need the crumbled bacon on top, it really stood on it's own two feet nicely. My only problem was that I had inadvertently picked up minced clams instead of chopped clams, and as a result, I missed some real bites of clam. The minced worked okay, but next time I think I'd like to use chopped. I'm looking forward to leftover Simple Clam Chowder for lunch, and I can gladly add another soup to my repertoire.

Simple Clam Chowder
from Cooking Light magazine.

2 bacon slices
2 cups chopped onion
1 1/4 cups chopped celery
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 garlic cloves -- minced
6 cans chopped clams -- (6 1/2-ounce) undrained
5 cups diced peeled baking potato (about 1 pound)
4 bottles clam juice -- (8-ounce)
1 bay leaf
3 cups fat-free milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Cook bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving 1 teaspoon drippings in pan. Crumble bacon; set aside. Add onion, celery, salt, thyme, and garlic to drippings in pan; cook 4 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Drain clams, reserving liquid. Add clam liquid, potato, clam juice, and bay leaf to pan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until potato is tender. Discard bay leaf.

Combine milk and flour, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Add flour mixture to pan; bring to a boil. Cook 12 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly. Add clams; cook 2 minutes. Sprinkle with bacon.

Serves 12

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

This One Is Clean-Your-Plate Good!

Just ask Zander! My son never, ever cleans his plate at dinner time. He eats until he's full, and no more- sometimes less, but no more. Last night, he literally wiped his plate clean after polishing off two Spiced Pumpkin Waffles with homemade pear butter. In fact, he's waiting patiently for Abigail to head off to school this morning so that he can have leftovers for breakfast. He loves these waffles! I am inclined to agree with him. The spices, while they may look like a lot, come together perfectly to just give the waffles a delightful pumpkin pie-like flavor. And of course, with the pumpkin puree, these are a waffle you can feel better about serving to your children.

I've been working a little bit on this recipe to tweak it a little, but so far am coming up a little short. I think these waffles would work best on a Belgian waffle iron, but since I have a regular iron, they come out just a touch on the soft side. I've been playing with the baking soda-baking powder ratio to try and come up with a waffle that is crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. I think I have the perfect ratio now- only for a Belgian waffle maker which makes nice deep pockets for holding plenty of pear butter or warm maple syrup. It's still a work in progress, but so far, this is my favorite incarnation, and definitely worth sharing.

Spiced Pumpkin Waffles

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
pinch of salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 (15 oz) can evaporated milk
4 Tbs butter, melted and cooled slightly

In a small bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat the two eggs together. Add the brown sugar, pumpkin puree and evaporated milk, and mix well. Slowly drizzle in the melted butter, stirring to incorporate.

Gently fold in the dry ingredients. Stir until combined.

Cook waffles on waffle iron according to manufacturer's instructions. The batter will work for both Belgian and standard waffle irons.