Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Easy Dessert: Pot de Creme

I have had the lovely ability the past few Saturday mornings to enjoy a cup of coffee on the couch and watch cooking shows.  Pioneer Woman has a show on the Food Network now and I pretty much always want to make at least one recipe after watching.  This last week I watched her chocolate episode and wanted to try two, one chocolate and one main dish soup. 

I literally spent 1 minute and 30 seconds preparing the pot de creme and it had women closing their eyes to enjoy the sheer chocolateness.  It is worth your time and 3 ingredients. 

So, hop on over and check out those pots.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Hot Cocoa Cookies

Yes, I am still alive.  and yes, I am still cooking new recipes all the time. 

here's some proof: try out these delicious puppies I made last night:

Hot Cocoa Cookies

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Scones

I seem to bake when the hubs is out for the day, uninterrupted time in the kitchen is a nice way to spend a Saturday morning. Follow it up with a warm cup of coffee, a warm baked good, add a cooking show, and it equals a pretty good day. If the hubs is home in time to enjoy them with me it makes it even better.

Strawberry vanilla bean scones were the result of a lovely half pint of late summer strawberries from the farm. I used my favorite base of oat scones, omitted the orange, added vanilla bean paste, and folded in diced strawberries at the end. 

I also love to freeze my baked goods to prevent me from eating them all in one sitting, and prolong the tastes of summer.  It makes for a great grab-and-go breakfast on those days when the mornings are frosty and those warm covers just seem too good to leave. 

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Scones

3 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into small pieces
2 cups rolled oats
1 T vanilla bean paste
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup coarse turbinado or Demerara sugar, for sprinkling
1 c diced strawberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a stand mixer, combine the first 4 ingredients and on lowest setting, add in the butter, mixing until the butter ins incorporated and it looks like sand.  Stir in oats, then milk and vanilla bean paste.  Fold in strawberries on lowest setting just until incorporated. 

Bring the dough together with your hands. If the dough is still too crumbly, stir in more buttermilk a tiny splash at a time, but try to avoid over mixing.

After bringing the dough together, cut int into two and gently pat it into two 8-inch rounds. Cut into triangle shapes (see photo) and transfer to the prepared baking sheet with some room between each scone. Sprinkle the tops with coarse sugar.

Bake for 12 to 15 minute or until the bottoms are deeply golden.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

No-Knead Bread and a Muffaletta

I have been trying to make bread more often instead of buying it...you know exactly what is in it, save money, and what beats bread still warm from the oven? One of the first recipes introduced to me by Mark Bittman was for a bread that you seriously mix together until barely combined, then let it sit for a day, and bake it.  Now, this is my kind of bread. 

For some reason, I have put off trying this recipe, though I must say that any reason to not make this bread seems a little paltry considering the amount of time dedicated compared to most other yeast breads.  I finally decided to make it (the one down side is waiting a day and thus having to plan a day ahead) for a muffaletta.

Try it tomorrow, the no knead bread recipe, or try watching the video if you happen to be a more visual learner.  Or simply watch it for the sheer wonderfulness that is the ease of making this bread, it really is simply barely mixing the ingredients and then letting it sit.

Now, I made the bread for a muffaletta but it wasn't quite tall enough for the general idea, so I sliced the bread and made what I could of the sandwich (every time I make it tends to turn out in a mess).  The hubs came home after I ate dinner, so I left the fixings out for him to pile his own sandwich.

I grilled onions, peppers, eggplant, and mushrooms, but do you see that pile in the left foreground of the photo?  That is the skin that I peeled off the peppers and left there until I could make it to the compost bin.  And despite my best intentions, I forgot to warn my less-than-observant husband that it was not something he should eat.  Upon walking into the kitchen while my husband was assembling his sandwich, I noticed a huge pile of pepper skin on top of his sandwich, and proceeded to lose it.  He stared in confusion until I was composed enough to tell him that he shouldn't eat the skin, to which he replied, "Why not?"  Well folks, I guess that is a legitimate question...and the answer is probably just that it doesn't have as pleasing of a texture, but if you are so inclined, go for it.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Menu Planning

I know I have posted on this before, but I keep running into people who want to start menu planning but say they don't have the time.  I can understand being rushed each day and not really wanting to sit down and figure out what you are going to eat a week in advance.  I like to have freedom each night to cook what I am in the mood for and not feel boxed into what is on the menu, yet having a loose plan helps in those nights when you just can't figure out what to make or when you are pressed for time.  On top of that, menu planning really helps to cut grocery bills significantly, something that has let me start working on buying more organic foods while still even cutting our grocery bill. 

My goals in menu planning probably go in this order:
1. use all of the vegetables from the farm that week
2. make as many meals from whole ingredients as possible (making as many parts at home as possible)
3. have meals that are appropriate for the schedule of each day
4. mix it up and  try new things
5. have at least 3 vegan meals per week
6. incorporate as many organic and fair trade items as possible
7. stay in budget, and if at all possible, get as under budget as possible
Now, I love to cook, and I love to browse cook books so menu planning isn't something I generally have trouble working into my schedule because I enjoy it.  For many, cooking is a hassle that just makes another mess to clean up, and another responsibility to add on to your plate.  But I find that by taking at least a half hour to create a menu each week really allows me to be creative in my cooking and use cooking as a creative outlet.  By using new recipes each week (at least 1-2), I have gotten to learn different techniques and a lot about how to pair ingredients.  The more new recipes you use, the more familiar you will become with spices and ethnic foods.  It takes time, but you can eventually use recipes as a starting off point, and really look to your ingredients to determine your meal. 

When I do not have a box of food from the farm, I do try to look to vegetables that are in season.  This not only is easier on your wallet, but it is also better for the environment and you get tastier vegetables since they are local and not grown in the wrong situations.  Tomatoes were just not made to be eaten in December fresh, and the flavor just isn't there in January.  So in January, if you are hankering for a fresh vegetable, look up what is in season in your area.  Some cookbooks are even separated into seasons, giving you seasonal recipes that highlight the best your area has to offer. 

So, I encourage you to give menu planning a try.  I bet you can even start with 10-15 minutes if it is something you truly dread. 

Grab a pen and pad of paper and start by browsing your fridge and pantry, do you already have a can of black beans or a half-eaten jar of spaghetti sauce?  Write those down to the side of your paper so if you crack open a cook book or magazine, you have in your head those things you don't want to waste. 

Using a cookbook or magazine may add some time, or it may significantly reduce your time spent menu planning, depends on if you need the inspiration.  A cooking magazine will already be pretty seasonally organized for you and make it easier to stay within budget. 

Next, write down each day of the week and note the activities you have that evening, keeping in mind if you have to get home and leave within a half hour.  Don't plan a lasagna for that night, you know that it takes at least an hour to prep and bake.  That night would be a good night for tacos, burritos, pizza, or sandwiches. 

With that half jar of spaghetti sauce, can you add a can of tomatoes and make soup or eggplant parmesan?  Those black beans are a good start to a big pot of chili (which also calls for a can of tomatoes- so get the bigger can, it's cheaper).  Maybe you have 10 green peppers in your fridge (like me right now)...perhaps sausage and peppers is in order that week, and chili, and gumbo.  Use up what you already have, and see if there are areas you can make once, use twice.  A few weeks ago I made cashew cream for the lime-agave tofu recipe, and knew that I would have a lot left over, so I also put on the menu creamy tomato soup to use up the rest.  Not only did I not waste the rest, I also cut my prep time for tomato soup night by about 15 minutes. 

What if you don't have much food in the house at all?  Start fresh, and create a menu that sounds good to you.  If you have a hard time getting started, flip quickly through that cooking magazine or cookbook.  What if you hate cooking and menu planning even moreso?  Start by writing down why you cook: providing nutritious meals for your family, preserving family dinner time conversation, saving money as opposed to eating out, etc.  I cook for my family because for me sharing a meal with someone and feeding them is a sign of love and care.  Food is a sign of that no matter your culture, to feed someone is to show your care for them.  If you hate cooking or dislike spending all the time, start small, and paste the person's picture for whom you are cooking above the sink or the stove.  Show them you care so much about them you are willing to take time at an activity you'd rather not do to serve them. 

What's in season this week?  Greens (spinach, swiss chard, lettuce), eggplant, apples, pears, winter squash (butternut, spaghetti, delicata), bok choy, potatoes, etc. 

Do you have any menu-planning tips?  Any other vegetable that is in season I let out?  Why do you cook for your family?  Or yourself?

Chickpea "Crabcakes" and Three Bean Salad

I must begin with a disclaimer, I don't think I have ever actually had real crabcakes.  My mother in law would balk at that, I am pretty sure it is one of her favorite foods if done well.  But these cakes turned out pretty tasty in my book, so perhaps I should just call them Old Bay Chickpea cakes. 

I also made the tartar sauce to go alongside them, though I cannot think of a more odd combination of ingredients than tartar sauce: pickles, lemon juice, hot sauce, greek yogurt.  I paired them with a three bean salad of sorts, simply dressed in a little olive oil, red wine vinegar, and herbs.  Needless to say, we had a lot of beans that night. 

This is a great and simple recipe for a fast weeknight dinner loaded with flavor and protein.  I also came across a few recipes adding shredded zucchini to the cakes, a unique way to use up all that summer squash!

Friday, September 30, 2011

White Bean Escarole Soup

And again, another vegetable that us vegetarians over here don't particularly care for.  Escarole.  If you remember last year, we tried it and promptly decided to eat something else.  But this one topped the cake. 

Side note: I am watching Top Chef Just Desserts right now and drooling, you may see something pumpkin and chocolate coming up soon. 

Escarole belongs to that class of bitter vegetables that apparently we Americans are not all too fond of.  I think the trick in this soup was not only the simmering of the greens, but also the strong flavored ingredients which must balance out the bitter.  I also think that the addition of a bit of acid helps plead escarole's cause.  Even if you don't like escarole, please make this and let me know what you think!

White Bean Escarole Soup (based on Recipes from an Ecological Kitchen)

1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 T olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 carrots, chopped
6 c vegetable stock
2 t fennel seeds
1 head of escarole, sliced into 1" strands, then chopped
3 T tomato paste
rind of parmesan
1 T dried basil
salt and pepper
seperately sauted sausage (we love morning star farms breakfast sausage)

Heat T of oil in a large pot, then add onion and garlic and saute for 3 minutes.  Stir in the rest of the ingredients except for the broth, parmesan rind, and escarole.  Saute for 2 minutes.  Add broth, rind, and escarole, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about a 1/2 hour. 

If using sausage, especially vegetarian sausage, I strongly suggest cooking it until browned in a seperate pan, then adding to each bowl right before serving.  Imitation meat tends to soak up all the liquid  so it should be left out till the last minute.  But, if you use vegetarian sausage- no cholesterol!  And no leftover parts used!