Thursday, May 31, 2012

Book Review: An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler

I didn't have to read far to know that I would like An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler. I just had to get to the subtitle, "Cooking with Economy and Grace" and I was already ready to tell people about it. Because truly, if we could all learn to cook with economy and grace this world would be a better, happier, more peaceful place. As it is we're often cooking with McConomy and Rat Race (yup, it took me a whole minute to come up with that). Even if we haven't descended to the depths of McConomy, we're often cooking with either economy or grace, and struggling to combine the two. Adler argues (though she would never use such a word) that the two go hand in hand. In fact, in her way she seems to argue that economy cannot thrive well without grace and visa versa. I would have to agree. To a large extent, to cook without economy is to cook with lots of waste or to cook as a vehicle to show off our excess, neither of which is extremely graceful. And to cook cheaply without a little grace can be summed up in one word: shortening, or two words: industrial farming, or maybe three words: boxed mac & cheese. Anyway, you get the idea.

Adler's book combines philosophy, memory, prose, and cooking. Her philosophy on cooking (and if I had to pin this book down to a genre, I think philosophy might just be it) is that one meal should run seamlessly into the next: today's chicken will be tomorrow's fried rice will be the next day's soup. It was all terribly romantic. 

In fact, if I was to choose my largest criticism of the book, that romanticism might be it. The prose was perfumed, her descriptions of using leftovers might as well have swept the sea breeze through my hair. Yet there was little humor and not so much as a nod toward those days when you're rushing home and everyone's tired and whining and the last thing anyone's in the graceful mood for is a nice hearty appetizer of bean broth (with or without a generous dose of good olive oil and a squeeze of lemon). You know those days. Don't we all? So it would have been nice to at least have a hat tipped to them occasionally.

I had three other problems with the book. The first is a little personal. Adler has no kids and as near as I can ascertain no husband either. That's okay; I'm not saying she must have a family to offer valuable food advice. However, it meant that the only thing you get about cooking for a group (or cooking around other individuals' tastes, for that matter) was a wee bit about hosting dinner parties. Also, it meant no comforting jokes about your husband's pickiness, which is something I always appreciate in a book about food (yeah, I might have to be the one to write that one). 

My second problem with the book is a cross between a critique and praise. There was so much good advice that it was tough to take it all in. It was quite poetic and although she offers a fair number of recipes, they don't come to us in the neat categorical way they would in a typical cookbook. This isn't inherently a problem--at least it's not a problem I'm sure has a simple solution in a book like this--but it did make it a little hard to find a recipe you wanted when you wanted it. 

My final problem was that for every cooking woe, she pronounced a good drizzle of olive oil and a squirt of lemon. I like olive oil and lemon as much as the next guy and truly there's a lot that a little fat or a little acid really can cure, but I thought it was a little over-prescribed. 

Now on to what I liked best about this book: Despite my skepticism about a few of Adler's methods (she begins the book by suggesting that to begin dinner, you get a pot of water on to boil and then scrounge around and find some things to put in it--vegetables, meat, "ends" and that all these things will surely come together into a marvelous whole--see I told you, romantic).. yes, anyway, despite my skepticism I decided to give several of them a whirl. They worked really beautifully. I took some of her advice on "striding ahead" and prepared nearly a week's worth of vegetables from what I had languishing in my refrigerator. They tasted delicious hot that first day, but were also very good on sandwiches throughout the rest of the week or as snacks. This is just as Adler promised it would be and I'll be darned if she wasn't right on. The boiling water method of dinner preparation is still waiting for me to try (though in all fairness, the months I spent living in The Netherlands, there was plenty of vegetable boiling on the natives' part and it always came out perfectly delicious and flavorful and not a bit like the boiled vegetables we tend to remember our great aunts pushing on us), but she also has great ideas on how to eat food we normally expect to be hot cold or with a different sort of spin. She was masterful at taking things you'd normally throw out and adding them to bread, rice, or carb of choice and producing dinner or lunch

The part I was most excited about was her chapter on "ends." Ends are the bits of food we normally discard--the ends of vegetables, the green vegetable tops (as in carrot tops), the stems of herbs, bones, etc. Adler has many ideas for how to use them and I have to admit that they are perfectly graceful (and by nature terribly economic). You end up feeling that you will never discard a parsley stem again (though you probably will, but maybe not quite as many).

She also has a chapter on salvaging the foods you messed up. In addition to that, she dedicates an entire appendix to the fixing of burned/mushed/undercooked/oversalted foods that would otherwise end up in your trash compactor. That's economy, of course. And if the redemption of imperfect food doesn't equal grace, I don't know what does.

In short, it was a great read on food, economy, and grace. I've bookmarked a booty load of recipes and plan to dedicate a couple of posts this week to a few of the things I gleaned from her wisdom.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

One Pot Alfredo Pasta with Vegetables

I have a thing for Alfredo. I have an even bigger thing for Alfredo with a hearty dose of chopped basil. People make Alfredo sauces differently, ranging from the purist's version of cream, Parmesan cheese, and butter to the more Americanized cream cheesy versions or the foodie ones with a dash of nutmeg or whatever else is the seasoning de jour. I like mine pretty pure and I usually make it as a sauce. But this recipe caught my eye because it is just so darn simple, so delightfully one-pot. You finish cooking your noodles in the cream, which really incorporates the cream into your dish (a trick Cook's Illustrated also suggests). It's a well-balanced, one-pot, 25-minute meal that would cost you $15 at Applebees.

It's also a great way to use up random vegetables that you have. Broccoli, cauliflower, spring peas, spinach, asparagus--whatever you've got or a combination thereof. I used spinach and the peas from my garden. In that way it was sort of a celebratory dish as well. I've never gotten enough peas from the garden to satisfy both the garden snackers (me and my girls) and actually have enough leftover to create a dish. It was very exciting. I'll be making it again tonight with the last of my peas. Here's to the exit of spring and the onslaught (which is certainly how it felt this weekend) of summer.

Easy One-Pot Pasta with Alfredo
serves 6-8
adapted from Everyday Food
Prep and cook time: 25-30 minutes
Cost: $3.35
pasta: .75, vegetables: .50-1.00, basil (I'm guessing here; I grow it myself): .50, cream: .35, Parmesan: .75

3/4 lb short pasta (something with swirly parts is nice--it catches the creaminess)
3 garlic cloves, halved
3-4 C vegetables of your choice (peas, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower--go with a cool-season vegetable and you'll likely be okay)
1/2 C fresh basil leaves (or several tablespoons of pesto)
1/3 C heavy cream
3/4 C grated Parmesan

In a pot of (preferably salted) boiling water, cook pasta and garlic 2 minutes less than the package instructions. Add vegetables and cook for 1 minutes (Note: I know I'm giving exact times here, but I didn't use exact times--essentially get your pasta almost cooked, throw the veggies in near the end so they get a quick boil--they'll cook a bit more in the cream, so this isn't all the cooking they get, but it gets them started.)

Reserve 1/2 C pasta water (um, I forgot to do that and all was still well) and drain.

Add cream and basil to the pasta in your pot and heat over medium with the pasta. If you need to add some of the reserved cooking water to thin it (I didn't need to). Cook this, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Stir in Parmesan and remaining pasta water if you need to loosen it up a bit (I didn't need to). Season with salt and pepper.

Serve warm.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Food Essay Friday: Four Cooking Instructions that Keep People From Cooking

I hate it when cooks make cooking seem daunting. It needn't be. At least the type of cooking that gets dinner on the table. Below are a few of my own pet peeves--things chefs sometimes say or do that make cooking seem so mysterious and perfectly undoable for the rest of us mortals.

1. Spoon your ingredients into your measuring cup. I don't know why I hate this instruction so very much. Oh wait, I do know. Because it's tedious and painstaking and--for most good recipes--completely unnecessary. I have been making cookies and cakes for a long time. They are very good. I have never spooned flour into anything and I never intend to. A good recipe can forgive a few extra or less grams of whatever. Dropping ingredients into a measuring cup spoonful by painful spoonful while some child grabs at my legs begging to help sounds like the type of thing the devil forces his minions to do for the rest of eternity (oh, and I and bet they burn their cookies every time too). It's also the type of thing that Yahoo articles love to include in their 'how to cook better' articles. (Why, yes, I am equating Yahoo cooking articles with Satan.) If you need to be intensely accurate in a recipe (and I'm going to maintain that you usually don't if you have a good recipe), buy a kitchen scale and weigh your ingredients.

2. Use 17 bowls. Okay, maybe that's not the exact instruction, but the point is that some recipes just seem to employ an inordinate amount of dishes. I admit that there's a place in life for a really stunning dish that requires several bowls, spoons, measuring implements, etc. But we should definitely save those recipes for the fancier things in life or at least a lazy Saturday afternoon. Chocolate chip cookies, 30 minute meals, and the like should never require that we spend two hours afterwards cleaning up our mess. Also, I'm much more willing to forgive a less-than-perfect dish that only required one bowl or pan than I am one that created a sinkful of dishes.

3. Wash your rice/lentils/beans 3 (or however many) times before cooking. I admit that there's a place for rinsing grains, but to do so over and over in a neurotically prescribed fashion makes me quacky. Rinse them once if need be. Or if you're feeling nice and anal, rinse them until the water runs clear.

4. Giving some oddly specific instruction and not explaining why--like being told to tie up your roast with twine. As though we all have twine just lying about. And why exactly are we tying it up--because it's going to get so tender that it will fall apart or what? There are jillions of mysterious cooking instructions in our cookbooks and on blogs. I don't mind doing something weird, but I'd like to be told why. That way I can decide if the twine (for example) is worth going out to buy or not. Without a wee bit of explanation, we're stuck wondering if our rebellion/laziness/cheapness is going to ruin a perfectly good recipe or not.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Stuffed Pretzels

I first discovered homemade pretzels last October. Because it was National Pretzel Month (like, duh). And because I had three cute 4-year-olds at my house. What wouldn't you do for cute 4-year-olds?

And I discovered that homemade pretzels are not too hard to make. They are a quick 2-steps past making a regular old loaf of bread. I can make bread. I can make Playdough snakes. This is the skill set you need for pretzels. But bread/pretzels does not itself a dinner make. (Unless of course you're only serving 4-year-olds, in which case, you're good.) If, however, you are serving people who are not 4-year-olds, people we will, for illustration's sake, call grown men, well, you might need something more. Possibly something with meat. Or cheese. (Vegetables are still optional). You see, man does not live by bread (or pretzels) alone. And your man will probably complain if that's all your make for dinner. Or at least he will go out later and buy a burger and shake while he's at work (nope, still no vegetables).

Yet, making pretzels--while it need not be considered impossible or daunting--is not exactly a 15-minute process. to make your pretzels and eat them too? In other words, how to have fun making pretzels with your kids and still wind up with a dinner to put on the table? You stuff them of course. Everyone wins. In fact, if you make enough, everyone can win the next day (or the day after that) too because these needn't be served hot and are therefore perfect for lunchboxes or snacks or meals one grabs on the go.

I made a few plain pretzels for the breadatarian among us. I also made pizza stuffed pretzels and hot dog stuffed pretzels. I was thinking today how fun a Mexican stuffed pretzel or a jam and cream cheese stuffed pretzel would be.

Here's what you do:

1. Make this recipe. Or double it.
Note: I've tried a couple of different recipes since October and I still like this one the best. However, I have learned that you can greatly reduce your baking soda bath if you wish. I cut it in half for my recipe, but some recipes just put a couple teaspoons baking soda with a a cup of water in the microwave and let it get really hot. This came out not quite exactly the same, but pretty close. And it was less hassle. So don't skip the baking soda bath, but feel free to reduce and/or nuke it.

2. Chop up whatever you plan to stuff. Unless it's something already skinny like a hot dog (or cheese stick or pepperoni stick). I chopped up my pepperoni and added shredded mozzarella cheese. I could have mixed a little sauce in, but instead we chose to dip our pretzels in sauce (easier and it doubles the fun--men and children alike love dipping).

3. Roll your dough into a long snake as your would if you were making a regular pretzel and then flatten your dough into a 2 or 3 inch wide rectangle (my "rectangles" would have displeased my geometry teacher, but they worked for pretzel-making).

4. Add the stuffing and seal the stuffing inside by pressing the dough together (perhaps with a bit of water on your fingertips).

5. Make whatever pretzel-y shape you wish. I couldn't get mine into bonafide pretzel shapes so I went for rings. The hot dogs I just made into, um, hot dog shapes.

6. Do the baking soda bath/boil.

7. Sprinkle with salt, cheese, herbs, or whatever seems appropriate for your stuffed pretzel.

8. Bake per the recipe.

Ideas for Types of Stuffings (that I have either tried or think would be great)

1. Pizza Pretzels. (Tried and true) Mozzarella and chopped pepperoni sealed in the pretzel and served with sauce for dipping. You can sprinkle some Parmesan or some Italian herbs on top.

2. Hot dogs. (Tried and true--Kip loved these) You can dip in ketchup or mustard or whatever.

3. Cooked sausages, string cheese (or any long cheese), pepperoni sticks.

4. Mexican pretzels. Chop some cheddar, olives, and peppers. Dip in sour cream or guacamole.

5. Chicken broccoli pretzels. Chop chicken and broccoli (chop it small) and mix it with some cream cheese, salt, and pepper.

6. Sweet fruit pretzels. Spread cream cheese on your "rectangle," then spread it with a good jam. Seal up, twist, and bake.  Go all out and sprinkle with some chunky sugar.

7. (And while we're spreading things...) I bet you could even do a PBJ pretzel with peanut butter and jam spread on your rectangle, then sealed, twisted, and baked.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cookies and Cream (An Icebox Cake)

Growing up, we had a favorite family dessert--like, it was a favorite, for all of us. We didn't get to have it often as the cookies (Nabisco Chocolate Wafers) were hard to find. Whenever Mom did find them, she bought them. And we made this obscenely rich dessert. And we ate it until we were sick. That's pretty much how it still is.

[Tangential story alert]: One time, my mother made it in a plastic bowl she'd used for some sort of onion-containing salad. The cookies and cream ended up tasting like onions. It was tragic. We were all broken-hearted. There were tears. In fact, I still remember my mom looking at it like she herself was going to cry. And Mom wasn't much of a crier. I was so little, but I still remember it. It's one of those things that haunts you. At least if you grew up in a 1st world country with parents who loved you and you had clearly not enough other problems to haunt you.

Anyway, I remember that whenever people asked me what my favorite dessert/food was, I'd tell them "Cookies and Cream." They'd assume I was talking about ice cream and I'd tell them no, it was this really awesome dessert my mom made with, ahem, cookies and cream. No one had ever heard of it. Nabisco Chocolate Wafers were never sitting there by the Oreos year round (as well they certainly should be; what's wrong with us as a country) and cream was something that people just didn't discuss in the '90s. No one I talked to as a child or young adult had ever heard of, much less tasted, the concoction we called Cookies and Cream. I assumed it was a deep, dark family secret--a quirky family addiction, like some sort of collective family alcholism, only much sweeter and much better and with that cookie hooch that was hard to find, so that we were spared from constant obsessive dependence (I guess I should thank Nabisco, but I won't).

And then one day a couple years ago, I saw this pop up on one of my favorite food blogs. I was not alone. There were others in this world making and eating my dessert. But they called it by another name. A perfectly logical name and one that people would not constantly be mistaking for some kind of cheap ice cream. They called it Icebox Cake. I felt like a kid discovering that Aslan wasn't really just a lion. Whoa.

Icebox Cake is an apt name and icebox cake is a perfect summer dessert because this dessert requires no cooking at all. You layer the cookies with whipped cream. You throw it in the refrigerator overnight. And then you have the best dessert you've ever had in your life.

I made this on Mother's Day. I almost didn't. Why? Not because I don't love it. Not because I didn't want it. Not because it doesn't remind me of my own mother (it totally does or did you miss the tangential story above). But because I love it so very much, I knew that I would eat myself into sickness over this dessert and I didn't want to. I usually have good portion control. I usually stop when I'm full. But this cake--I don't know--I just can't stop. And it really is a cake that is intensely rich and therefore begs for a little stopping at some point. In fact, on Mother's Day my husband brought home a bunch of store bought cookies that were leftover from his work and offered to feed them to the kids for dessert. "No way," I told him. "Why not," he asked, "don't you want more of your favorite dessert." "Heck no," I said, "I need some other mouths to contribute to the consumption of that dessert so I don't make myself sick." And those other mouths did. I still ate more than I should have and felt a wee bit blah that night, but not, you know, completely sugar/cream hungover or anything. And here I'm going to have to apologize for this post because it's clear reading it that I really do have a problem. Two problems really, because I don't want help for my first problem. So ha.

Now on to the practical matters:

This recipe requires Nabisco chocolate wafers. No, you can't use Oreos (not even with the middles painstakingly scraped out and, yes, we've tried). No, you can't use chocolate graham crackers. (And yes, I've tried that too.) I mean, you can and it will still be an icebox cake and all, but it won't be transcendent. I could pass it at your party and not even take a lick (no offense, okay, I'm just being honest here). For this you need Nabisco chocolate wafers. Maybe you're lucky and they carry them at your store right in the perfectly logical cookie aisle. If not, here are some tips for finding them.
-Check the ice cream aisle. Sometimes they're stocked with the hot fudge sauce and other ice cream toppings. (And truly, they would be lovely in your ice cream, but not as lovely as in this dessert. In fact, these cookies taste really really really good on their own and I'm always surprised they're not more available and popular.)
-Look around Christmas time. I don't know why, but these have a seasonal air to them. Apparently people like icebox cakes in their Christmas festivities. I prefer them in summer when I don't want to bake (who am I kidding, I prefer them whenever, but Christmas-explosion-of-sugar-month is not my first choice), but don't worry; the cookies freeze great, so you can buy when you find them and freeze them whenever.
-You'll find them sometimes in the darndest places. I found a bunch at Big Lots once.
-When all else fails, you can order them from Amazon (bless you Amazon). They tend to be pricier than if you find them at a local store (I usually find them between $3 and $5/box), but sometimes--like when you're staring your own dessert co-dependence in the face and wondering how it ever got to this point and considering, but not really, a 12-step program of some sort--you just shell out the extra three bucks.

I noticed that Smitten Kitchen's is way pretty. She stacks her cookies up nice and neat and that's really lovely. I do as my mother did and make this in a salad bowl (although not one that has ever contained onions). It's just a bit easier that way. It takes literally 3 minutes to layer them and then it's really easy to put it in the fridge without worrying it will fall over or that little hands will find their way into all it's layered goodness while you're not looking.

To serve, you just scoop it out.

It's not Hollywood glamour or anything, but it works and makes for easy serving and easy putting away.

Also, Smitten Kitchen's recipe has less sugar than mine. You can do that if you want, but I like mine better. I just do. I only eat this every 3 years or so, so I add the extra few tablespoons of sugar and I enjoy

Cookies and Cream (An Icebox Cake)
Serves: Um, my family of 6 (but it should serve more; it really should; we have issues)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Fridge time: 24 hours
Cost: $5.12 (Okay, I know I've been highlighting some sort of pricey desserts lately, but May is my holiday month, okay. Besides, this is way cheaper than you'd get even one teeny from-a-box-of-some-sort dessert at a chain restaurant.)
(cookies: $3, cream: $2, sugar: .12)

1 box Nabisco Chocolate Wafers
1 pint cream
3/4 C sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Beginning by whipping your cream. Pour it in a bowl and blend it until soft peaks form. When they do, add the sugar and vanilla. Whip or beat until firmer peaks form.

Put a blob of it on the bottom of a salad bowl and spread that around. Make one layer of cookies, breaking some if you need to so they don't overlap. Add more whipped cream and spread. Add another layer of cookies. Repeat until you top it off with a thin layer of whipped cream.

Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours or until the cookies are perfectly soft.


Linked to Sweets for a Saturday

Friday, May 18, 2012

Smoothies in a Bag: Five Days of Smoothies

Note: I'm wordy and keep telling tangential stories. To get to the meat (or fruit as it were) of this post, hop on down to the bolded bit.

So I celebrated Scaling Up by taking yesterday afternoon "off" and spending 4 hours to plant approximately 100 jillion irises (lovingly donated by my dear friend who was Scaling Down her flower beds) in my gardens and around my yard. It was very satisfying and pleasant until the last half hour or so when I hit the wall, but still had to water everything and then got attacked by gnats from the place that is definitely not heaven. [Note: Just as a little warning to the wicked, being attacked by billions of irritating insects who want something from you that they surely cannot have is unpleasant. You should repent immediately.] But somehow I've strayed from the point.

The point was that I finished and then drove my tasty and cheap self to Rally's and got a bunch of burgers and fries for our dinner that night. I felt pretty guilty about it, but then we managed to actually eat together before Kip went to work and I realized that it wasn't as perfectly perfect as an inexpensive pre-planned crock pot meal would have been, but then there are moments in life that aren't always preplanned inexpensive events and I've really got to learn to roll with that. Our meal together (which, incidentally, was enjoyed by all) was good enough for that day.

And, you know, that wasn't really my point either. My point was that it was nice to have a little extra time. I also got to do something else I've been meaning to for a long time. I got to plan out and prepare these smoothies in a bag. There is one for each workday of the week. But first, some back story (don't you just love back story?)

About a month ago, I was at a little gathering of women and one of the ladies commented about how her family never has time for breakfast because they're always running out the door. Her family's solution was to blend up some quick whey protein smoothies and then drink them in the car. Whey protein isn't my thing, but I thought it was a pretty good idea. The problem was (and she was bemoaning this fact as well) was that the smoothie powder/mix was expensive--she said it cost her family $50-60 dollars a month. That put a little bee in my bonnet. And I've been meaning to come up with ideas for inexpensive weekday smoothies ever since.

Below you'll find Five Recipes for Five Days of Smoothies. Each recipe makes about 4 C of smoothie (or 4 servings). The idea is to put the main ingredients in a bag in the freezer so that each morning you can just pop them out and add liquid and voila out the door you go--just as you would be able to do if you had a pre-prepared smoothie powder or mix of some sort.

I've tried to use a variety of tastes so that no one will get bored. Some are milk/yogurt based. Some are fruit/water based. They all contain fruits and vegetables. One contains peanut butter. You can be as creative as you like with the fruits that you put in. However, for consolidation purposes (so you can just buy one bag of frozen fruit if you want) I used blueberries/strawberries (essentially a berry mix) for the berry ones. You could sub in peaches or any other berries/fruit you wished to buy a variety of frozen fruits and then use the leftovers for next week's smoothies.

A few notes:
1. These smoothies are made with whole foods and will provide a lot of fruits, vegetables (and usually greens).
2. They have (usually) no added sugar (most commercial varieties of smoothie have a decent dose of added sugar and if you get it from Starbucks or the mall you can count on a ton of added sugar), though using apple juice as I sometimes do is cheating a little since it's quite sweet.
3. Most of them provide good protein sources.
4. 1 C of smoothie isn't a meal for everyone, but it's better than nothing when you're in a hurry. Also, although a cup of smoothie is a little skimpy for me, my little kids can't usually drink that much--they tend to drink 1/2 C or so. Also if I drink one of these at 8:00, I'm usually getting hungry around 11:00 or 11:30. That's not a huge stretch of time, but it's long enough for an early lunch, and it's just as long or longer than a bowl of cereal will get me. 
5. You don't have to use them as out-the-door-in-a-flash meals. I think they're really nice to have around for after-school snacks that are quick, or to get your fruit/veg's in at lunch or dinner or as a more filling (and overall better imho) substitute for coffee.

What You'll Need for 5 Days of Quart Sized Smoothies:

1 avocado ($.50-1.00)
1 bag baby spinach ($1.79)
1 ripe mango ($.50-1.00)
1 bag mixed berries, (or blueberries or strawberries or peaches or whatever frozen berries make you zing) 16 oz. ($2.50-3.00)
2 C-1 quart apple juice ($1.00)
1 quart plain yogurt ($1.79-2.00)
1 quart milk ($.50-1.00)
3-4 Tbsp peanut butter (.25)
4 bananas (.50)

Total: $.9.33-$11.54. That's between $32 and $45 per month on homemade whole foods smoothies (Or...$1.86-$2.30/day or $.47-$.58/serving)

[Note on pricing: I could get all these things for the cheaper price at Aldi within the last 2 weeks. However, I also included prices that are Walmart comparable and more realistic for many who don't have access to such an inexpensive store as Aldi. Pick your own farms can be a good source of cheap local berries and Asian stores/markets often have great deals on avocados/mangoes/yogurt]

The method:

1. In 5 separate Ziploc bags, freeze all ingredients except the yogurt, milk, fruit juice, or water.
2. When you're ready for a smoothie, throw that in the blender with the appropriate liquids.

Note: If using apple juice concentrate (I always do because otherwise my family drinks all the apple juice before it ever makes it into a smoothie), use 1 Tbsp concentrate and 3 Tbsp water for what would have been 1/4 C juice. You can add the appropriate amount of concentrate into your bags of frozen fruit.

Day #1: Avocado Spinach Smoothie

To freeze:
1  ripe avocado
2 C spinach
1 large banana (broken in chunks)

To blend, add:
1 1/2 C apple juice (or 6 Tbsp concentrate and 1 C plus 2 Tbsp water)
1/2 C plain yogurt

Day #2: Berry Soup

To Freeze:
1 C blueberries
1/2 C strawberries (or just sub some mixed berries for the blueberries and strawberries)
1/2 C spinach

To blend, add:
1 C plain yogurt
1/2 C milk

(This is only as sweet as your fruit, so if you're using sub-par frozen fruit, you can add a bit of honey, sugar, or a Tbsp apple juice concentrate to sweeten it.)

Day #3: The Brown Berry

To Freeze:
1 C berries (peaches work wonderfully too)
2 C spinach
1 banana (broken in chunks)

To blend, add:
1/4 C apple juice (or 1 Tbsp concentrate and 3 Tbsp water)
1-2 C water

Note: This might come out a little sludge colored depending on the kind of berries you use. I realize this can put some kids off, so please note the following:  Red berries = sludgy color; blueberries = purple color, peaches = bright green color.

Day #4: Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

To Freeze:
2 ripe bananas (broken in chunks)
3-4 Tbsp peanut butter
1/2 C spinach (optional--it will turn your smoothie greenish, so if that'll ruin it for your kids, beware)

To blend, add:
3 C milk (I like whole; oh yes I do, but other kinds will work too)

Day #5: Mango Lassi

To freeze:
1 mango, peeled and fruit cut off the bit
2 Tbsp sugar (here's the exception to that no sugar thing; sorry, although seriously, compared to yogurt bought at the store, this is nothing)

To blend add:
2 1/2 C plain yogurt
1 scant C cold water
Note: A quirt of lime doesn't hurt, but if you don't have it, it's not a problem.

This is what I did to prepare:

1. Measured my fruits in their baggies.

By the way, these little mug things people use for coffee...We love to use them in the summer to keep drinks cold. They work wonderfully for cold water when you're running errands, and they can hold cold smoothie too. 

2. Added a sticky note with instructions (a permanent marker would work well too, but I couldn't find one--it's probably in my 2-year-old's dresser drawer or some wonderful place like that)

3. Stuck them in my freezer.
4. It took me 15 minutes to prepare these and I was taking pictures.

PRINTABLE recipe and instructions.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Thoughts on Scaling Up

Lately I've been rethinking this blog. I do that about every 6 months. That's because I make a whopping $40/year on this thing, which comes out to about a penny a day or approximately $.015/hour, which means it really needs to be fun and rewarding for me. It usually is, but lately...lately it's been starting to feel more like an whom I'm not quite sure--to that force of the universe that pushes compulsive, goal/duty-driven people like me to keep their habits even if those habits aren't quite leading them to the places they exactly want to go. 

When I started this blog a year and a half ago, it was super fun for me. I didn't care if it was just my mom and sisters and friends viewing it becase I loved the writing, I loved the challenge of eating super cheap, and I loved the recipes/ideas I was posting each day. At that time, I was posting recipes that I'd tried several times and in several ways. These days I feel like I try something once and if it comes out pretty well, I post it. Let's take last Wednesday's Crock Pot Rotisserie chicken for example. The chicken was fine, the breasts were a bit dry, and I didn't much care for the rub. I posted it because I thought the idea was great and that with a few tweaks it would be perfect (and I posted it because I try to post every day and I needed something to post). Yet, I didn't give myself time to try the tweaks out. I had no idea if they would work or taste good. This is one thing I'd like to remedy in this blog. I think one reason the blog has started feeling ho-hum-do-I-have-to-do-this-today is that many of my greatest family recipes have been blogged and I've started blogging more and more recipes that are just circulating online--ones I've tried and liked, but that I haven't taken the time to make my own or to perfect. Thus, blogging starts to have a desperate feel to it. And I don't like it. I also don't like feeling like I "have" to post something even if it's not perfect when I'd rather be in the garden or hanging out with my kids or, heck, taking a nap. If I'm going to post, it has to be worth the exchange. And a dull post like yesterday's Leftover Tuesday just isn't. I've even noticed that posting is taking so much of my free time that I haven't had enough to plan my meals out well (oh, the irony) or work on other writing projects that are meaningful to me.

Consequently, I'll be making some changes to the blog. I'll most likely be posting less often, but in exchange I'll be posting the best of the best--recipes I've tried several times and loved and perfected or recipes that are truly bang-up winners or ideas I really think will benefit the lives of others. If I don't think something is a recipe or method I'll use over and over again, I won't be posting it. So even though you can expect fewer posts, you can expect better ones. You can also expect more ideas for using scraps and leftovers, and other tips for food frugality. I'm planning to keep Leftover Tuesday around, but only insofar as it continues to be fresh and fun and useful, not like, "Oh, yeah, and then I made soup again." I'll also be taking a day each week to call out incredible recipes that I've tried (I try quite a few, so I'm hoping this will be helpful to folks). I won't re-blog them, as I've been doing; I'll just link to them and say why I loved them so very much. In the distant future, once I've made them a jillion times and they've become my own, I may blog them, but only then. At the end of the month, I'll dedicate a post to the recipe I made this month (mine or someone else's) that was the very best recipe of the month. I'm hoping that all these changes will give readers really amazing ideas for food and frugality and not just a bunch of good, but not great, food information. 

In short, the blog will be scaling back, but in doing so I hope that it will also be scaling up. I hope that although it will have fewer posts, those posts will full of ideas and tips that are higher quality than what I've been turning out lately. And I hope it's funnier than it has been lately. And that people will read it and think that they've stumbled upon a Dave Barry post (I have every intention of naming a chicken--when we get them--after Dave Barry.) And I hope it will be more thoughtful that it sometimes is and that people will stumble upon it and think that Wendell Berry finally embraced modern technologies for all the thoughtfullness that's going on (I fully intend to name a chicken after Wendell Berry as well.) And finally--I hope that posts on this blog will be thoroughly successful and go completely viral and make me rich and famous, or at least rich and 10-minute famous. But mostly, mostly, I just hope it's more useful and fun for you and more useful and fun for me. Because that's what it was about in the beginning and that's what I hope it to be about always. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Leftover Tuesday: Stir Fry

I remember having stir fry frequently growing up (is that accurate Mom?). Now that I'm a grown-up, I'm a little like, "Well, duh." Because it can happily incorporate lots of leftovers into its satisfying realm.

This week we have a bunch of chicken, rice, vegetables, and a bunch of peas in the garden (how awesome is that).

If you're using fresh veggies, you'll put them in with the oil and seasonings and give them a few minutes to cook. But you can use not-too-mushy leftover vegetables as well. You'll just cook them until warm and voila--you'll have yourself a 5-minute meal.

Another great thing about a nice Americanized stir fry is that you can use fresh spices if you've got them, but dry spices will work just fine for it too.

I like just about any meat in a stir fry, except ground meats. You can also add nuts. Cashews are my favorite, but I like it with peanuts or almonds too. I like just about any vegetables in my stir-fry. Here are a few of my favorites: carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, asparagus, peas.

What I did:

Cut chicken and let it sit in some soy sauce while you chop your vegetables. This applies if your chicken is raw or cooked (mine was already cooked).

Heat 1-2 Tbsp oil (I use olive) in a skillet. When hot, add a dash of onion powder, garlic powder and a small dash of ginger powder. If using cooked chicken and raw veggies (as I was), throw the vegetables in first and let them cook until tender but still crisp. Douse them with a shake or two of soy sauce or teriyaki sauce or plum sauce. If your chicken is raw, add it first (with the soy sauce) and cook until no longer pink. If everything's already cooked, throw it all in (with soy sauce and another asian-ish sauce if desired) together and heat it up.

When all is cooked, taste for seasonings.

If you'd like your stir fry to be saucy (I always did as a kid), add a bit of water (so that it's just 1/4 inch deep in the skillet), heat to boiling (which will only take a minute) and then add 1 tsp corn starch that has been mixed with 1 Tbsp water. Add to skillet and stir until somewhat thickened.

And you're done.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Salty Caramel Ice Cream with Chocolate Chunks

Time for another Secret Recipe Club recipe. This month I had A Little Bit of Everything. And I have to say that it was easy to pick a recipe because this Salty Caramel Ice Cream just jumped up and sang to me. Although I knew it wouldn't really be a part of my life without swimming in some chocolate chips. (Kip's swam in some chocolate sauce too. We have trouble with chocolate limits around here.)

I should tell you a few things about this recipe.

1. It's very good. It was the smoothest homemade ice cream I think I have ever made.
2. I was nervous about this method of sugar melting since I tend to burn my sugar unless using this fool proof caramel recipe, but Julie's method of sugar melting worked very well.
3. It's even better with chocolate.
4. It is, as it says, salted. When I tasted the un-frozen liquid, it was a little too salty for me, but the freezing took care of that (I assume by making the concoction less dense). However, if you don't like salty caramel or like it just a little tiny bit salty, you should omit or reduce the salt in this.
5. The liquid was thick--almost pudding-like. I figured this would make freezing a snap. However, in my lowest-possible-end ice cream maker, it made it a bit too much of a snap as the outsides froze so quickly that the ice cream maker couldn't move enough to get the middle frozen. Kip ended up churning it by hand--holding the churny thing and turning it around and around. It only took 5-10 minutes and we lived, but if you have a low end ice cream maker, you may want to omit or reduce the corn starch or cook it with the cornstarch for a shorter period of time. [Alternately this would be the perfect ice cream to make in a non-traditional manner like a kid-friendly bag throwing recipe like this. The quick freezing of this ice cream would make it perfect for something like this.]
6. That said, this ice cream was intensely creamy for homemade ice cream and I'm pretty sure we've got the corn starch to thank for that.
7. Heat your cream to simmering!!! (Please notice the exclamation points.) Yes, that dirties one more pan and is a wee bit of a hassle, but it is not as much of a hassle as pouring cold cream into your amber sugar and having the whole thing seize up into one enormous hard caramel candy and then spending the next 30-45 minutes slowly stirring this hard candy thing around your pan until it finally melts. Which is what I did. So do yourself a favor and heat up that cream before you pour it in.
8. This recipe requires a few bowls. Not big obtrusive tough-to-shove-in-your-dishwasher bowls, but yes several. Three to four bowls and 2 pans to be exact. In this way, it's not exactly the perfect weeknight dessert dish (unless of course your kids are throwing bags of it around, in which case it's great). For a warm Sunday afternoon, however, there's nothing better.
9. Julie recommends that when the liquid is done cooking, you throw a bowl of it onto ice to cool it quickly. This is what you should do if you want your ice cream right now. However, I was way to lazy for that and just put mine in the refrigerator overnight.

Salty Caramel Ice Cream with Chocolate Chunks
adapted from A Little Bit of Everything
Makes 1 quart
Prep time: Well, this took me a good hour due to my caramel seizing. I think that with warm cream it will take 20-30 minutes
Freeze time: 10 minutes
Cost: $2.73
(milk: .26, cream cheese: .20, cream: 1.25, sugar: .12, chocolate chips: .90)

2 C whole milk
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp cornstarch
1 1/2 oz (3 Tbsp) cream cheese, softened
1/2 tsp fine sea salt (reduce or omit if salty caramel isn't your thing)
1 1/4 C heavy cream
2 Tbsp light corn syrup
2/3 C sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 C chocolate chips, chopped so that some of big and some are small

To Prepare:

1. Mix 2 Tbsp of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl.
2. Whisk cream cheese and salt (if using) in a medium bowl (this is the bowl where all your ice cream will end up so make sure it's big enough.
3. Put cream in a small pot to warm. You're going to bring it to just under a simmer. Have your 2 Tbsp corn syrup ready to put into the cream just before you pour the cream on the sugar.
4. Fill a bowl with ice if you're going to do the ice bath thing.

To make ice cream:

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, spread an even layer of sugar over the bottom of the pan. Now heat it WITHOUT STIRRING until there is a full layer of melted sugar on the bottom, but still some white unmelted sugar on top. When the edges/bottom layer start to turn golden, gently pull the melted golden sugar towards the unmelted sugar with a heatproof spatula. In other words, nudge the sugar around until it's all melted and amber (dark goldeny orange) in color--like a penny.
2. As you're waiting for that bottom layer of sugar to melt, be sure your cream is heating up and go ahead and add the corn syrup to it. Give it a stir.
3. When the sugar is melted and golden, remove it from the heat and gradually whisk in the cream mixture. It may still seize a bit and it may bubble up a bit, but it should come together into a beautiful caramel. If there do happen to be chunks that are like hard (or soft) candy, just stir them around on medium low heat until they melt and incorporate into the mixture.
4. Return to heat.
5. Whisk in milk. Bring mixture to a rolling boil for 4 minutes.
6. Remove from heat and stir in cornstarch mixture.
7. Bring back to a boil and cook for 2 minutes until slightly thickened (Note: If you've got a low-end ice cream maker like I do, you may just want to stir this in until thoroughly incorporated and not give it the 2 minutes in an effort to keep it a little less thick so that your ice cream maker can handle it.)
8. Remove from heat. Pour this into your cream cheese mixture (whisking as you do this if you can; borrow an arm if you've got an extra around). Whisk until smooth. Add vanilla extract and whisk.
9. Place in ice bath if you want your ice cream now. Otherwise, cover it and put it in your fridge until you do want it.
10. Freeze in and ice cream maker according to manufacturuer's instructions.
11. Add chocolate chunks at end of freezing time.
12. Eat up. It's really good.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

I first made this cake (from a couple of years ago. I wasn't sure I would like it. Not because I don't like chocolate. Or peanut butter. Or sugar for heaven's sake. But because sometimes when peanut butter is added to things it sort of takes over. I was worried this would end up tasting like peanut-butter-and-something-sort-of-hiding-under-the-peanut-butter cake. And that's not really what I wanted to eat. Lucky for me I had a little faith. Because this is my Most Favorite Ever in the Universe Cake (although a really good Waldorf red velvet may give it a bit of a run for its money depending on my mood). The cake is moist and light, but not too light and, at risk of speaking like a hopelessly out of touch foodie, it has a wonderful crumb--meaning it's not crumby or sticky or just generally weird.

And the frosting, well, I could write sonnets to the frosting. I won't, but I could. The frosting does taste like peanut butter, yes, but it is nevertheless more subtle and creamier than you would expect. It plays off the chocolate of the cake in perfect balance. The ganache is just, um, well, the icing on the cake. Originally, I thought it might be just too much, but it is the perfect compliment to all that is going on in/on this cake.

Do you know what else I love about this cake? You make it in one bowl. One bowl. When it's your birthday and you're making a cake with three layers and two frostings, the fact that it can all be contained in just one bowl, well it's enough to make you cry for joy. One bowl. I might just fall asleep murmuring such glorious birthday words.

Unless you will die from anaphylactic shock by eating this cake, you really should (eat it, not die from shock). It might change your life.

I have but one suggestion for this cake: Invite a lot of friends and maybe their kids too. If you don't, you might have to eat it all yourself. And if you do that, your butt may never fit through your doorway again. Capice?

Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
from smittenkitchen
makes 3 layers
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 15-30 minutes
Cost: $6.80. Yes, this is expensive, but it feeds a crowd and when you consider how much you'd pay for a junk store-bought cake, it's downright frugal.
Cake: (flour: .20, sugar: .40, cocoa: .40, oil: .16, sour cream: .50, eggs: .20)--$1.86
Frosting: (cream cheese: 1.20, butter: .50, sugar: .70, peanut butter: .60)--$3.00--hmmm, interesting
Ganache: (chocolate: 1.40, cream: .25, milk: .04, peanut butter: .25)--$1.94

2 C flour
2 1/2 C sugar
3/4 C unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 C neutral vegetable oil (I used canola)
1 C sour cream
1 1/2 C lukewarm or warm water
2 Tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line bottom of each with wax paper and butter the paper.

Sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk. Add oil and sour cream and whisk (or blend--I got out the hand mixer). Gradually blend in water. Blend in vinegar and vanilla. Blend in egg. Once it's well combined, divide it evenly among the three pans.

Bake for 15-20 minutes (the original recipe says 30-35; mine didn't need nearly so long--perhaps my cake pans are 9-inch and therefore the cakes were thinner; at any rate, check your cakes at 15 minutes just to be sure).

Let cool in pans for 10 minutes. Loosen from pans and put on a rack to cool completely. (Note: If you don't have a rack, and I didn't for years, you can turn them each out onto a plate, although you should put a big square of wax or parchment paper on each plate first or your cakes my get stuck to the plates and then you'll have Stuck-to-Plates Gloppy Tear Inducing Mess when you want to assemble your cake and no one need that on her birthday or anybody else's birthday for that matter.)

These cakes are soft/tender so you might want to freeze them for 30 minutes or so before you frost them. I didn't and I lived to tell about it (and didn't even end up in tears over anything), though I did wind up with some crumbs in my frosting. I was serving to a family crowd and nobody cared.

For Frosting:

10 oz cream cheese, at room temp
1 stick (1/2 C) butter, at room temp
5 C confectioners' sugar
2/3 C smooth peanut butter (NOT all-natural because that may cause the oil to separate out)

Beat cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Add confectioner's sugar a cup at a time, mixing thoroughly. Add peanut butter and beat thoroughly. Do not, I repeat do not, get a spoon and start eating it right them and there. Remember your cake. And your butt. They will both thank you not to consume all of this straight up out of the bowl.

For Ganache:

8 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 Tbsp smooth peanut butter
2 Tbsp light corn syrup
1/2 C half and half (or 1/4 C milk and 1/4 C cream)

In microwave safe bowl (or on the top of a double boiler), combine chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Microwave at 20 second intervals, mixing in between until all is smooth.

Add half and half and whisk together until smooth.

Note: Put on cake while ganache is still warm (i.e. immediately)

To assemble: 

Place a layer of cake on a plate or cake platter. Frost it (with about 2/3 C of the peanut butter frosting). Add your next layer and frost. Add your top layer and frost. Then frost the sides.

Let it chill for at least 15 minutes in the fridge (okay, if you're pressed for time you don't have to do this, but it will make the ganache drizzling much easier).

Prepare your ganache in the microwave and then, while it's still warm, drizzle it on the top of your cake. It will pool in the center and start to drip down the edges. If it's dripping a little unevenly, you can take a spatula and direct it to the other side so it drips down that too.

Refrigerate for another 30 minutes to let the ganache set.

If you'd like, you can decorate this bad boy with peanut brittle or chopped Reese's Cups, but considering this was already a 3-layer, 2-frosting, 17,000,000 calorie cake, I thought that was sort of overkill.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Dare Dream Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream

Nope, that's not the title of a recipe (though it'd be a doozy of one, wouldn't it?).

It's the name of a new book authored by the lovely and talented Whitney Johnson, who also happens to be my aunt. Which is all wonderfully cool.

Even cooler (well, to me anyway): I've got an essay in the book. And it's about food. And this blog. Ta-Da.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mother's Day Breakfast: Cinnamon Swirl Pancakes with Apple Cream Topping

If you ever look at Pinterest with your kids, you're bound to wind up with a few recipes like this. My son doesn't love many foods, but he loves pancakes...with cinnamon...and sugar...and whipped cream. The apples were my own little bit of genius. So take your kids' sweet cravings and indulge yourself (or your own mother if she's near enough by; sorry Mom) a bit this Sunday.

For these, I use my normal pancake recipe, which is nothing fancy and which contains whole wheat flour. Which--when added to these indulgent pancakes--is sort of like taking your Mormon date to an after-prom party. Yet in my humble opinion, the whole wheat sort of worked as its substance played nicely against the sweet that this recipe otherwise is (what? you think that sentence is awkward). Which just goes to show why Mormons are so awesome to date and even better to marry and produce children with and then serve Mother's Day breakfasts to (what? you think my prepositions are dangling).

I could not get my Pinterest link to work for these, so I just followed the commenter's directions. The original recipe recommended swirling the cinnamon sugar combo (which I did) and then topping it with a frosting-like syrup (which I did not) figuring that whipped cream would do us just fine (which it did). However, after my last pancake I had some leftover cinnamon stuff and I had an apple just sitting there right next to the stove. Coincidence? I think not. I heated a little butter, peeled and diced the apple and threw it in the butter to soften up a bit (about 2-3 minutes) and then covered it with some of the rest of my cinnamon/sugar concoction. After 2-3 minutes it had thickened into the most delicious apple syrup ever. And then I put that on the whipped cream. And then I ate my pancake. I didn't even have the decency to feel guilty about it. And it wasn't even Mother's Day.

Cinnamon Swirl Pancakes with Apple Cream Topping
makes about 8 pancakes with leftover cinnamon stuff
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Cost: $.85 (for pancakes and cinnamon swirl)
(flour: .20, milk: .15, butter: .25, sugar: .25)

1 C whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 C milk or buttermilk

1/4 C butter
6 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 Tablespoon cinnamon

Whipped Cream

1 apple
1/2 Tbsp butter
leftover cinnamony stuff

Start by preparing your cinnamon stuff. Melt the butter in a bowl with the sugar and cinnamon.

I did this in the microwave. You'll want to mix them and let it sit long enough that your sugar dissolves somewhat.

If you don't allow the sugar to dissolve a bit and then mix it thoroughly, the butter/cinnamon will rise to the top while your sugar gets left in the bottom. I then put mine in this little plastic bottle that is meant for making chocolates, but that we use for homemade BBQ sauce.

It worked perfectly, but if you don't have one, a measuring cup with a spout or even just a spoon and a bit of grace would work fine too.

Now make your pancakes. Combine dry ingredients and add milk. Mix them up, but leave a few lumps.

Pour onto a hot buttered pan and then add your cinnamon concoction (give it a shake before you pour just to be sure that heavy sugar isn't sinking to the bottom). You can make a cinnamon swirl as we did.

And yet it occurs to me that you could make any shapes you desired--stars, hearts, initials, zig zags, peace treatises--the sky's the limit. The swirly-do keeps it's shape very well (provided you can flip a pancake; if you can't I don't judge you; I always seem to get one that folds on itself too), so your shapes will be very delightfully preserved.

Until you put the whipped cream on them, of course.

You can stop there or add syrup or add berries or add apples, butter, and more cinnamony stuff.

To do that, melt a pat of butter in your pancake pan, and add peeled, chopped apples. Allow this to cook 2-3 minutes, giving it an occasional stir. Then douse it with a good dose of leftover cinnamon stuff and let that cook another 1-2 minutes until it has become syrupy and smells like exaltation itself.

Put this on top of your whipped cream if you're a glutton. Pretend it's healthier that way if you're a glutton in denial. And have a great Mother's Day. We love you.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Work-a-Day Wednesday: Rotisserie Chicken in a Crock Pot

Wow. It has been a busy week. I'm enjoying a lovely tension back ache as I write this. What better day to post about super easy chicken (with any luck, I'll get to a Mother's Day recipe and my birthday cake later on in the week). Also, I really wanted to post a picture of the whole chicken, but the pic's I had--well, they looked like a chicken had just walked into my crock pot, given itself a good plucking and sat down. In other words, they were not exactly perfectly appetizing.

Today's post is more of a method than a recipe. I got the idea from Busy Mommy (and if you want to see some non-lame pictures you should look there, although I should warn you that even at its best, my bird never looked quite that good. But then I have food posing laziness issues). Also, although the chicken turned out quite well, the rub wasn't my favorite.

Here's what you do:

1. Get yourself a thawed chicken that's between 3 and 4 pounds.

2. Rub it with salt. I recommend using 1/2 tsp. This will add flavor, but that's not all it will do. It will also sort of act as a bit of a brine and allow your chicken to hold more moisture. Rub the salt all over, inside and out.

3. Rub it with whatever other rub you want. The link above gives a paprika rub. Next time, I'll do a lemon/garlic rub (zest of a lemon and 3-4 garlic cloves, minced or mashed, and then a good squeeze from the lemon). To make a rub you put a bunch of your favorite herbs together and rub them all over the chicken. If you'd like, you can add a few teaspoons water (or lemon juice in my case) to your rub to make it into a paste. You'll want to rub the bird inside and out. I even loosen the skin from the breasts and rub some rub between the breast skin and meat (clearly I have no issues with invading others' space).

4. Put the bird in the crock pot WITHOUT ANY WATER. The recipe I used said to do this breast side up, although next time I'm going to do it breast side down because my chicken's breasts were just a wee bit dry (poor bird--what a way to go) and by cooking them on bottom, they'll eventually be soaked in the juices/fats from the bird.

5. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-7 hours.  The thickest part of the bird should read at least 165-170 degrees (though if you take it's temp, it may well read higher than that. Know that by the end of cooking, your bird will be in plenty of juices/fat.

6. That's it. You'll have meat for a meal or two and then even more leftovers to boot.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Filling

You have no idea how beautiful this cake is. My pictures could not even begin to do it justice (btw, could somebody tell me how to take a decent picture of red things).

(What? Professional photographers/food bloggers don't lick up their chocolate drippings? Fine, whatever.)

Usually I'm not one to go for the chocolate fruit combinations. I don't really care for the chocolate oranges at Christmastime or the Lindt chocolates with the raspberry/orange/whatever fillings. And those chocolate fountains meant to go with a plate full of strawberries. You may call me uncouth, but they're just not my thing (whatever; you can't call me uncouth; they have those things at Golden Corral now).

Nevertheless after my sister-in-law's testimonial about the amazingness of this cake, I decided to give it a try. It's a chocolate cake with a raspberry filling, which is then surrounded with chocolate ganache and then topped with more raspberry filling.

It was very good, even for those of us who don't love chocolate fruit combinations. Even for those of use who don't love cakes frosted with ganache. If you really can't bear the thought of mixing your five a day with your chocolate fix, know this: This recipe is worth your while if for nothing other than the amazing raspberry sauce. Seriously, so good. I actually think it would be even more butt kickingly good on this cake (or, uh, your morning yogurt).

Chocolate Raspberry Cake
adapted from Cupcakes by Elinor Klivans
Makes 18 cupcakes, 2 8-inch round cakes or 2 thin 9-inch round cakes
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Cook time: 15-20 minutes

Note: I melt the butter because I believe it makes cakes moister. I don't know why, but I have great success with it. I highly recommend it.

3 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 C all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted completely--if using salted, omit salt above
1 1/4 C sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 C sour cream
1/2 C water
1 C chocolate chips (optional; I didn't use these, but Kip's sister says it's an incredible addition)

Melt chocolate. I do this in a microwave in 20 second intervals, stirring at each interval. Stir until melted and smooth.

Sift dry ingredients and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until smoothly blended and creamy, at least 2 minutes. On low speed, mix in melted chocolate. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until well blended. Add vanilla and beat until mixture looks creamy and the color has lightened slightly--a minute or two. Mix in sour cream until no white streaks remain. Add half the flour mixture and mix. Add water. Add remaining flour mixture and mix until just incorporated.

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Remove with fork or cake tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Remove cakes from pans after 10 minutes (I line my pans with wax paper and grease them well). Let cool.

Raspberry Filling
from Food

3 C raspberries
2 Tbsp cornstarch
4 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 C sugar

Mix together and gradually bring to a boil, stirring until thickened.

Let cool completely before using on cake.

Milk Ganache

1 1/3 C chocolate chips
2/3 C milk

Combine in microwave safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Mix. Microwave for 30 more and mix. Repeat until smooth. This should be thick but spreadable and thin enough to spread, but not so thin it will all drip off your cake. If it needs a little more milk, add it. I have a confession here. I measured out my ingredients for this and then forgot to write them down (because I enjoy self torture.) I think these are the measurements, but cannot guarantee it and I am not willing to go make a batch to see because then I will eat the batch and that will make me sad.

To Assemble:

Put 1/2 of the raspberry filling between your cake layers.

Cover cake with ganache. [Note: If I made this cake again, I'd put a thin layer of Kip's fudge frosting on it before I covered it with ganache.] Put it in the fridge for 30 minutes to let it set. Then add the rest of the raspberry filling to the top of the cake. Pretty huh?


Friday, May 4, 2012

Food Essay Friday: How to Make Great Cake

My birthday is coming up. I never dread my birthdays. I look forward to them like a seven-year-old. I think part of the reason for this is that I love cake. And I make very good cake. It's not really a gift. It took a bit of practice and a few good recipes. Below you'll find a link to a post I wrote with several long-winded, but nevertheless very good tips for making great cake (and frosting).

Below that, you'll find a few of my favorite cake recipes.

Tips For Great Cake

Carrot Cake. I love carrot cake, but Kip doesn't. This is one for lovers of a dense cinnamony carrot cake.

Wacky Cake. This cake is full-proof, just as easy as a boxed cake, super cheap, and otherwise awesome in every way.

Apple Cake. This cake caused me to need addiction therapy.

My two favorite chocolate cakes. No I don't have to decide.

Orange Cake. This cake improves with age (as many a good cake does). You can mail this cake. And I once did. To my sister for her birthday. I expected (because they at the post office told me this was so) it to take about 2-3 days and therefore be at its peak in moisture. Nine days after her birthday it arrived. They ate it; they liked it; yeah, it would have been better at 3 days, but what kind of cake is edible after nine days. A very good one. Also, this cake can be made complicated (as it is in my post) or simple as a loaf or sheet cake (I sent my sister a loaf).

Red Velvet Cake. Here I swirled it with vanilla for a truly neat-o cake, but I really love it on it's own too. Truth be told, I think I even love it more on its own.

I have a bunch more, but will stop now. Must. Stop. Now. By the way, among those favorite cakes, you'll find many of my favorite frostings as well. And then tomorrow I'll have a gorgeous raspberry cake up on the site. And then on my birthday (or shortly thereafter) you'll get my most favoritest cake ever. EVER.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mini Banana Chocolate Pops

I don't know about your neck of the woods, but here it is suddenly hot. On Monday I was making a nice soup and then yesterday, as my son put it, "Ever since I got home from school, I've been sweating." Which was very true. That night I finally broke down and turned the AC on, only to find the air cool but not cold, only to find that the AC would not even bring the temperature of the house down one degree. Sigh.

So today we're on to cold things. These are just about as easy as they come. Though not as perfectly nutritious as these or this, they still have something substantial at their core (which isn't to say your kids won't eat the chocolate off the banana and leave it to become a sliming mess on the table as my youngest did--It's like that old saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but he might eat the chocolate off and leave the rest." Don't you just love old sayings?)

Anyway, I thought they were really good, though they did give me a little teeth freeze. I didn't mind; it's toasty 'round here.

Mini Banana Chocolate Pops
adapted from Everyday Food
Makes 8
Prep time: 5 minutes
Freeze time: 30 minutes
Cost: $.90
(bananas: .30, chocolate: .60)

2 large ripe bananas, cut into 4 or 5 pieces
3/4 C chocolate chips
2-3 Tbsp milk
sprinkles if you wish

Cut your bananas into 4-5 pieces. Place them on a pan with wax paper or parchment paper. Stick toothpicks or small skewers in them. Freeze for at least 30 minutes.

When bananas are ready, combine chocolate chips and milk in microwave safe bowl. Microwave in 20-30 second intervals, stirring in between. (If it's too thick, add a little more milk and heat and stir. It should be thick, but not unspreadable.)

Remove bananas from freezer and spread chocolate onto each one. I just used a spoon and globbed and spread. Globbing and spreading is often my method of choice (maybe you should know this before asking me to make you a birthday cake). You're going to glob and spread around the outside edge (of course you could glob and spread the top and bottom too, but that might not be nutritious, right?). Put them back on the was paper and sprinkle (be sure to get those sprinkles on quickly or the chocolate will set and they won't stick). Repeat with other bananas.

If your chocolate becomes too hard to work with, throw it in the microwave for another 15 seconds and then have at it again.

The chocolate will freeze pretty quickly to the frozen bananas so you can eat these immediately if you wish. Otherwise put them back in the refrigerator. Once they're fully set, you can store them in a Ziploc bag.

And you're done. You can eat these straight out of the freezer, but if you'd like to avoid serious tooth freeze, take them out and give them 4-5 minutes before you bite in (they'll still be cold, but not quite as hard).


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Work-a-Day Wednesday: Braised Salmon with Lettuce

Raise your hand if you've never cooked lettuce.

Now raise your hand if you've never thought about cooking lettuce.

Now raise your hand if it seems a little grody-potody to cook lettuce.

Whatever. Put your hands down; I get enough of that non-adventurous pickiness at home.

Apparently, from my latest issue of Everyday Food (which started coming to me free in the mail btw; we'll see how long it keeps coming), cooking lettuce is something people do. Not only that, but it's, like, cool and stuff. I, being rather decidedly on a certain unflattering end of the cool-o-meter, had never cooked or thought about cooking lettuce in my life. In fact, when I made this recipe, I did so only because I had a couple of heads that were getting a little wilty around the edges and I figured I had nothing to lose by throwing them into a pot with some salmon. Nothing to lose indeed. Because the meal took a mere 20 minutes from start to finish, was super nutritious, and it tasted pretty darn good too.

But why, I can hear you asking. Why cook lettuce instead of doing up a nice salad on the side? Because...

1. Your lettuce is getting a little wilty--not rotten, but wilty. Perfect for a pot.
2. You have too much lettuce and can't bear the thought of one more salad. I get this way sometimes. I go on a salad kick and keep buying tons of lettuce and then one day my kick ends and I have a couple heads in my refrigerator that I don't even want to look at.
3. Cooking does destroy the enzymes, but to offset that, I notice that I tend to eat more of a green when it's wilted than when it's crisp. (Perhaps simple mouth mechanics are to thank--slurp versus chew chew chew.)
4. Sometimes I've got lettuce on hand and nary another salad fixing to speak of. What do you do? Have lettuce salads. Well, I've done that before, but cooking lettuce is a nice (and more satisfying) alternative.
5. Good-bye salad dressing; you're not needed here. In this dish at least, the flavor from the broth, coupled with a little salt and pepper was all the lettuce needed to be perfectly tasty.
6. Your lettuce is bitter. This is a problem I come up against especially as a home gardener. If my lettuce stars don't align I wind up with bitter lettuce. Cooking removes that bitterness.

One final note on cooking lettuce. I am far from being crazy experienced here, but I used 2 different types--a loose leaf red lettuce (no, I don't know what it's called; why would I know that?) and a Bibb type head. The Bibb was much better. It maintained a little crunch in the stemmiest parts, which made for a good mouth feel. And, for whatever reason, it came out sweet and perfect with the lemony broth. The other was fine, but not nearly so impressive. So go for something with a little more structure.

Here you can see the two types I used in the pot. 
(P.S. I realized a couple minutes later I was supposed to chop them and took them out and did that--so don't throw your lettuce in like this. The head-like one won't ever cook fully.)

Braised Salmon with Lettuce
adapted from Everyday Food
Serves: 4
Prep time: 2 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes (tops)
Cost: $5.85 (or $1.40/serving)
salmon: 4.40, lettuce: 1.00, lemon: .40, other stuff: .05

1 Tbsp butter
1 shallot (I didn't have so used a dash of onion powder.  I think a small leak or green onion would be good too)
2 tsp grated lemon zest (that of one small lemon and if you skip this, you'll be sad)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 C low-sodium chicken broth (water with some type of seasonings might do the trick too)
4 skinless salmon fillets (about 6 oz. each)
salt and pepper
2 heads loose-ish leaved lettuce, chopped
chopped dill (for garnish and yumminess; I forgot it and missed it about halfway through the meal)

In large pot, melt butter. Add shallots (or onion-y substitution) and stir occasionally until tender.

Add lemon zest and juice. Add broth. Bring to a simmer.

Add salmon. Cover and cook 3 minutes.

Add chopped lettuce. Cover and cook until lettuce is wilted and salmon is cooked, about 6-9 minutes.

Sprinkle with lemon juice and serve topped with dill.

We had this with a side of rice and I found it light and satisfying both.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Leftover Tuesday: Green Gumbo

This week we have so many leftovers that I think every night might wind up as leftover night. We've got a little bit of beef, marinara, a wee bit of alfredo sauce, a few ounces of ricotta, lettuces, salsa, chips, nubs of cheeses, and greens. Lots and lots of greens. Apparently, I was a little delusional the last time I went to the store (maybe I have a second personality who actually believes people other than me in my family will eat greens) and went a little nutso in the greens section. And yesterday, when I was making our leftover meal, that second personality must have taken over again because greens were what called to me. I have to admit that in some ways this isn't the perfect leftover meal. It takes time to prepare. It calls for a Cajun spice blend. It's not a slap together in 12 minutes kind of meal. Yet it can be the vehicle to use up lots of leftover meats, vegetables, and greens, greens, greens.

Which is why I think this dish might be really helpful to you, dear readers. Because sometimes at this time of year (and definitely in the fall) CSA baskets start to overflow with greens--weird types of greens that none of us who spent our childhoods in the '80s (motto: iceberg iceberg rah rah rah) have any idea what to do with. Well, here's an idea. And it's a really really good one.

Besides being a really great idea, this meal is totally cheap. It uses water, not broth and the fat you use for the roux can be peanut oil or any old cheap fat you've got hanging around. In fact, it's the type of meal that your grandmother would be proud of because it's one of those meals you can just start throwing things into (hamhock, sure; bacon grease, perfect; random bits of meat from random leftover meals; what could be better).

Of course the other thing I love about this meal is that it allows any yankee white chicks among us to pretend we're from the deep south, cooking from the garden out back, using the resources given to us, and even scouring the bounteous earth for any wild greens we might have found along the way. As we posers sit in our cool houses using greens from a bag.

Unfortunately, there is one thing I dislike about it: It takes a bit of time. There's the chopping and a slightly time-intensive roux and a long cook time. I still think it's worth it, especially when I stop to consider how many cups of greens I've eaten in the last couple of days.

Green Gumbo
from Simply Recipes
Makes: A Whole Heck of a Lot--probably 14-16 servings (I halved it--it's my lunch for the week)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1.5 hours
Cost: $5.00 (or about $.30/serving)
oil: .20, flour: .10, sausage: 1.00, onion: .20, pepper: .40, celery: .10, greens: 3.00 or less depending on how resourceful you are

Note on oil: You can use any old oil, but I got the best results when I used the fat from the sausage and some bacon (I also made this once with canola oil, which was still good, but not quite as good). Simply Recipes says that peanut oil or lard are traditional and give a great flavor.

Note on greens: You can seriously use whatever you have. Simply Recipes says that traditionally you always add an odd number of greens and that for every green you add, you'll make a new friend. I used collard greens, Swiss chard, parsley, spinach, and kale. You could use dandelion greens, the tops of carrots, beet greens, arugula, mustard greens, the tops of turnips. Seriously, this is a greens gone wild kind of a recipe. And if you've been a little hesitant to try some of these, this is a really friendly way to introduce them because the broth is super flavorful and the greens don't have a chance at staying bitter and because it has sausage.

1 C oil or fat
1 C flour
2 C chopped onion (about 2 medium small onions)
1 C chopped green pepper--1 small pepper or 1/2 large pepper (I used red)
1 C chopped celery (2-3 stalks)
4 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp Cajun seasoning (recipe below for more than you'll need in this recipe)
1 ham hock (optional)
10 C hot water (you can simmer it as you prepare the roux or just use really hot tap water)
3 pounds greens (about 14 C--that's what I'm talking about)
1 pound sausage (I used smoked sausage, cut into rounds; I bet that any sausage would do)

Cajun Spice Blend

1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp sweet paprika (I used smoked)

Prepare your Cajun Spice Blend unless you've got one from the store.

Next you probably want to chop all your vegetables. Unless you are a very good multi-tasker and can chop and stir a roux at the same time. I'm not that good.

Add your oil to the pot. Whisk in the flour. Cook this on medium. And here comes the trickiest part of this recipe. Normally for a roux you cook it for about a minute. Not here. Here you're going to cook it until the flour becomes the color of chocolate. Simply Recipes says the darker, the better, but the darker is also the riskier. I tended to go with a mild chocolate color because I was afraid to go anywhere darker. Oh--and I forgot to take a picture so I'm going to refer you to the pictures in the Simply Recipes post. (Yeah, I know that's lame, but it's what I've got.) So keep stirring that roux until it's nice and brown. You might get a little nervous. I know I did. It might even start to smell a little almost-burny. The first time I made this I thought I'd burned it and was going to have to throw it out, but have faith because...

Once it's nice and milk-chocolate colored you'll throw in the onion, peppers, and celery. And then the best smell in the universe will suddenly burst from the pot and you'll know that all will be well in the world.

Stir the onions, peppers, and celery until they begin to get tender. Then add the chopped garlic and stir it for a couple minutes.

Add the Cajun seasoning and bay leaf and stir. Add the water and hamhock (if using). If the water makes it seize up (i.e. get lumpy), just keep mixing until it's nice and smooth.

Add those lovely greens.

Stir it all up. Put the lid on and simmer for a good hour. (When I halved the recipe, I got away with simmering this for less time, but the fuller your pot, the longer you'll want to simmer.)

About 20 minutes before it's done, cook your sausage in a pan. (Bacon is also good.) 15 minutes before you want to eat this add your sausage.

When done, taste for seasoning. (If you haven't used a hamhock, you're going to need some salt.)



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...