Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Sweet Vegetarian Curry over Brown Rice

My vegetarian dinner guests came back for more. One had three helpings and I liked it, too. A tasty, sweet, and not very hot curry.  If you like it hotter, add a hot pepper or two.

  • 2 cans chickpeas, drained
  • 1 can  coconut milk
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 large, sweet onion, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 large parsnip, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1-3 carrots, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 white potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 bell peppers, 1 green and 1 red, cut in 1/2 inch squares
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 1 Tablespoon garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • salt & pepper to taste
  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, deep skillet with a cover.
  2. Sauté the onion until translucent and slightly carmelized (about 10 minutes).
  3. Add the rest of the vegetables, including the garlic, and the vegetable broth.
  4. Cover and steam until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork (about 20 minutes).
  5. Add the chickpeas, coconut milk, honey, garam masala, cumin, and ground pepper.
  6. Simmer for another 10-15 minutes.
  7. Adjust the taste with the salt.
  8. Serve over brown rice.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Alton Brown's Baked Brown Rice to the Rescue

As much as I like the flavor and chewiness of it, I've mostly avoided cooking brown rice.  I just don't like feeling strapped to the stove for 45 minutes to an hour, making sure it neither boils over or scorches. I usually ended up serving it before it was really done or adding too much water, resulting in a mushy mess.

But I needed brown rice to go under the vegetarian curry to serve my non-carnivorous friends. So, to the internet to find an easy and fool-proof way to make brown rice, one that needed little or no attention as the rest of the last minute Thanksgiving dinner preparations were underway.

Alton Brown's baked brown rice recipe to the rescue! For once I followed the recipe pretty closely with the exception of using olive oil rather than butter to avoid animal products for my vegan friend. I just made another batch using butter to go under tonight's leftover turkey & gravy. Yummy.

My method varies from Alton Brown a teeny bit, for example, using the microwave to heat the water in the dish I will cook the rice in.  You need steady hands to get the shallow dish of hot water out of the microwave without sloshing. So use your best judgment and avoid getting scalded!

  • 1 1/2 cups brown rice
  • 1 Tablespoon butter or olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. In an 8-inch square glass baking dish, microwave the water, butter or oil, and salt until hot.
  3. Stir to assure the salt is fully dissolved.
  4. Add the rice and distribute throughout the pan.
  5. Cover tightly with foil.
  6. Bake for one hour.
  7. Remove foil and fluff the rice.
No watched pot.  No boiling over. No clumping.  Just perfect brown rice. 

Thank you, Alton!  Brown rice will now be a frequent player in my cooking!

    Wednesday, November 25, 2009

    Easy Baklava made with Walnuts, Sesame Seeds & Olive Oil

    Making baklava is surprisingly easy.  When made with olive oil, it's also vegan, which is important for one of tomorrow's guests.  Although often made with butter, making baklava with olive oil instead is also traditional because it is in line with religious eating traditions in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East from whence it comes.

    The phyllo:
    • "No one" makes phyllo dough from scratch.  For fun, check out this video showing how it's made. Widely distributed brands like Athens Fillo are found in the freezer aisle of the supermarket.  This recipe calls for half a 1-pound box (1 sleeve of 2) which means we will have the other half to make savory turnovers with some leftover Thanksgiving turkey later in the weekend. The other sleeve of dough will keep a good long time in the freezer if we eat all the turkey first.
    The Olive Oil Pump:
    • I find the easiest way to distribute oil on the phyllo sheets is to use a sprayer.  I have a Pampered Chef kitchen spritzer I've nursed along for years but there are also lots of similar beasts on Amazon.  Don't expect an oil pump to make a fine aerosol but they do a good job of making a little oil go a long way.  I keep mine filled by the stove and use it whenever I want to keep things from sticking.  When it clogs, I soak its parts in hot water and detergent and then run them through the dishwasher.  
    Ingredients for the base:
    • ½ pound of phyllo dough, thawed as explained on the package
    • 1 pound shelled walnuts
    • 8 ounces sesame seeds
    • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
    • ½ cup sugar
    • olive oil to moisten phyllo
    Ingredients for the syrup:
    • 1 cup honey
    • 1 cup water
    • ½ cup sugar
    • 2 cinnamon sticks
    • juice of one lemon
    1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.   
    2. Finely chop the walnuts (about 20 brief pulses of a food processor)
    3. Mix walnuts, sesame seeds, cinnamon, cloves, and ½ cup sugar in a dry bowl.
    4. Lay a sheet of phyllo on the floor of a 9"x13" glass baking pan.
    5. Spritz with oil.  You needn't soak the sheet with oil -- just a light spritz.
    6. Repeat until your have a base of 4 spritzed sheets.
    7. Cover with 1/3 nut mixture.
    8. Repeat 4 sheets of phyllo, spritzing each, and 1/3 nuts twice more.
    9. Cover with and spritz each of the remaining sheets of phyllo.
    10. With a very sharp knife, cut into 1½" squares or diamonds.  It is important this be done before baking.
    11. Bake 40 minutes.
    12. As the phyllo and nuts finish baking, simmer the syrup ingredients for 10 minutes in a non-reactive pan.
    13. Discard the cinnamon sticks and spoon the hot syrup over the hot baklava in its pan, making sure to cover the entire top.
    14. Let rest to stick together.
    This baklava is drier and crumblier than others you might have had.  I find it less cloying than some.  You may want to make more syrup to have a wetter pastry.

    You can easily replace the walnuts and/or sesame seeds with other nuts, seeds or dried fruit to your taste.

    And, of course, you could gild the lily by serving it warmed with vanilla ice cream ... but not tomorrow.  Our guest is vegan and it's bad enough we're going to eat turkey in front of her!

    Saturday, November 21, 2009

    No Knead Cinnamon Buns with Laughing Cow Icing

    A friend called recently to wax rhapsodic about the cinnamon he ordered from Penzey's.  Being about out of cinnamon myself, I decided to place an order.  We're celebrating the arrival of the box with cinnamon buns made using the no-knead bread method to start.  Yummy!

    • 4 generous cups bread flour, all-purpose flour, or a combination
    • 1 ½ tsp. salt
    • ½ cup granulated sugar, divided
    • 1 envelope rapid-rise yeast
    • 2 cups water
    • ¼ cup butter (sweet or salted according to your taste)
    • 1 Tbl. cinnamon.  I used Penzey's Korintje Indonesia Cinnamon.
    • 2 wedges Laughing Cow Light Swiss Original cheese (or 1½-2 ounces cream cheese)
    • 2 Tbl. milk
    • ¾-1 cup confectioner's (powdered) sugar
    1. Combine flour, salt, half the granulated sugar (¼ cup), and yeast in a large bowl.
    2. Stir in the two cups water to make a ragged dough.
    3. Cover and let sit 4-6 hours to rise.
    4.  On a slick, well-floured surface with a well-floured rolling pin, shape the dough into a rectangle and roll until ¼" thick.
    5. Melt the butter and brush it on the dough rectangle.
    6. Sprinkle the cinnamon and the remaining ¼ cup of granulated sugar on the rectangle.
    7. Starting with the edge closest to you, roll the dough up as you would a bedroll.
    8. Slice the rolled dough into 1-1½" slices.
    9. Arrange the slices cut side up in greased 2-3 inch deep baking dishes. You can either space them or place them next to each other depending on whether you want them flatter and crisper or soft and pull-apart.
    10. Let rise 1-2 hours until doubled in size.
    11. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven until golden, 30-40 minutes.
    12. Mix the cheese, confectioner's sugar, and milk to make a loose icing and distribute this over the still hot rolls.  
    13. Let cool in the pans.
    This makes a light, tender cinnamon roll.

      Tuesday, November 17, 2009

      Lemon Pepper That Doesn't Taste Like Lollipops

      I was just discussing some turkey meatballs with a young friend.  When I said I used nutmeg and lemon pepper to give them flavor, she looked dubious.  You see, her previous experiences with lemon pepper tasted more like pepper and lollipops.

      I've had that experience, too.  And it's not a pleasant one.  Too many lemon-pepper mixes anymore seem to be flavored with whatever they use in lemon drops rather than having that nice lemon rind taste.So, I've taken to ordering Alessi Lemon Pepper online, six bottles at a time.  I just gave her one because six bottles will last me months!  (Years?)

      She and I then looked at the ingredients, the first being salt.  So it's really "lemon salt & pepper."  Hmmm.  Salt is a preservative. So, would microplaned lime zest with salt & pepper be a handy thing to have in the spice cabinet?  And orange rind?  Clementines when they come in season?  Hmmm.  I think I am building up to an experiment or two or three.

      Sunday, November 15, 2009

      Perky Turkey Meatballs

      Here's a formula for turkey meatballs with sufficient flavor and bite to stand up against most any sauce you put with them. Tonight, we had them with peas and rice flavored with mushrooms, shallots, curry powder and yogurt. I'm looking forward to having them over dilled carrots in a paprikash sauce. Ooh, they'd also be good in a wedding soup. Yum. Luckily, I made enough for several meals.

      • 1-1½ pounds ground turkey
      • 1 egg
      • ½-¾ cup bread crumbs, optionally use seasoned bread crumbs
      • 1 tsp. salt
      • 1 tsp. lemon pepper
      • 1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
      • 2 Tbl. olive oil
      • ½ cup chicken broth
      1. Thorougly mix turkey, egg, bread crumbs and seasonings. This is most easily done with your bare hands although a potato masher will work, too.
      2. Roll the mixture into ¾"-1" balls
      3. Heat olive oil in a large skillet with a lid
      4. Brown the meatballs on at least two sides but do not worry at this stage on cooking them all the way through
      5. Pour the chicken broth into the pan and cover letting the meatballs steam to finish cooking all the way through
      6. Remove the meatballs from the pan and drain.
      7. Use immediately or store for later use.
      When you remove the meatballs from the pan, you can start your sauce in the pan. For example
      1. Sauté finely chopped mushrooms and shallots
      2. Add frozen peas, rice, water and curry powder
      3. Simmer until the rice was done
      4. Stir in some plain yogurt
      5. Add turkey meatballs and warm through
      Add the peas later if you want them bright green.

      Friday, November 13, 2009

      Quick Ham and Beans Inspired by Fannie Farmer

      I've had a facsimile edition of Fannie Merritt Farmer's Boston Cooking School book for many years. It's pages are yellow and brittle not much fun to page through anymore in it's awful condition. So I was very happy to find that makes it available online!

      In her recipe for Boston Baked Beans, she says, "The fine reputation which Boston Baked Beans have gained has been attributed to the earthen bean-pot with small top and bulging sides in which they are supposed to be cooked. Equally good beans have often been eaten where a five-pound lard pail was substituted for the broken bean pot." [emphasis mine]

      Well, if that isn't an invitation to flexible cooking, I don't know one! So, last night, a can of navy beans and some ham turned into a quick and delicious one-pot meal.

      Ingredients for two servings:
      • 1 can of beans — I used navy beans but you could use another kind
      • 6-8 ounces of ham — I used leftover picnic ham AKA smoked Boston butt AKA shoulder ham
      • Several stalks of celery — enough that this will be your prime vegetable for the meal
      • 1 large sweet onion
      • 2+ tablespoons mustard
      • 2+ tablespoons ketchup
      • 2+ tablespoons molasses
      • 2+ tablespoons broth or water
      1. Cube the ham
      2. Coarsely slice the celery and onion
      3. Drain the beans
      4. Put the ham, celery, onion and beans in a covered oven-proof casserole
      5. Mix the mustard, ketchup, molasses and broth (or water) as a dressing
      6. Pour the dress on the other ingredients and stir to mix thoroughly.
      7. Bake, covered, at 350°F approximately 1 hour or until the flavors have melded and the vegetables are soft.
      With such a simple recipe, you can adjust the ratio of ingredients to suite your taste. Want some bite? Add a little horseradish, use a hot mustard or add a little hot sauce. Like it sweet? Increase the molasses. Last night, I "leaned heavy" on the mustard using AJ's Walla Walla Sweet Onion Mustard with Smokey Bacon that I got in our most recent order from the Mustard Museum.

      Wednesday, November 11, 2009

      No-Knead Anadama Lemon Rye Bread

      Anadama bread is a New England recipe including cornmeal and molasses in the dough. Optionally, rye flour is added to the white flour.

      One of the folks who turned me onto cooking is my friend Jaylyn. Back when I was serving boiled meals to my guests, she had already conquered bread making. Every weekend she'd make what she called "Anadama Lemon Rye." It was a wonderful dark, moist bread.

      Here's a formula for a no-knead anadama lemon rye.

      • 2 cups bread flour
      • 1 cup whole wheat flour
      • 1 cup rye flour
      • 1/2 cup cornmeal
      • zest of one lemon
      • 1 1/2 tsp salt
      • 1 envelope rapid rise yeast
      • 1/4 cup molasses
      • 2 to 2 1/4 cups tepid water
      Follow the basic no-knead bread procedure:
      1. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl
      2. Stir the molasses into the water to make it easier to distribute
      3. Stir the water and molasses into the dry ingredients
      4. Cover and let rise approximately 8 hours, give or take a few hours
      5. Stir down, cover and let rise again for 2 hours, give or take an hour
      6. 30 minutes before you plan to cook the bread, preheat a covered pot for baking the bread in a 450°F oven.
      7. Lightly oil the hot pot and flop the batter into it.
      8. Bake 30 minutes, covered, at 450°F
      9. Remove the cover, lower the oven temperature to 440°F and bake an additional 20 minutes.
      10. Remove the bread from the pot and cool on a rack.

      Thursday, November 5, 2009

      Chicken & Rice Base: A Pre-Cooking Shortcut

      I'm still on the hunt for meals that can be thrown together on "teaching nights." A few weeks ago, boneless chicken breasts were on sale so I decided to try a pre-cooking experiment.
      "Chicken & Rice Base" is a meal-sized bag of frozen, pre-cooked chicken and rice waiting for veggies & flavor. It can serve as the base for soup, a casserole, or what we call "glop" around here, too thick to be called a soup or stew.

      • Boneless chicken breasts or other raw chicken
      • Rice
      • Chicken broth or water
      1. Steam the chicken until thoroughly cooked but not tough.
      2. Cook the rice in broth or water.
      3. Let both rest until cool enough to handle.
      4. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
      5. Freeze together in meal-sized portions for later use.
      Some uses for chicken and rice base:
      • Simmer it in chicken broth until hot. Add lots of diced roasted red peppers and sundried tomato pesto in a jar. Simmer a bit more. Finally, add some freshly grated parmesan or other hard cheese.
      • Sauté mushrooms, onions and garlic in olive oil. Add baby spinach and a bit of broth. Cover and let the spinach soften. Add thawed chicken and rice base, salt, pepper & nutmeg and heat through.
      • Sweat chopped carrots and celery in a little olive oil, add chicken broth and chicken & rice base. Throw in fresh parsley, salt & pepper. Voilà, chicken & rice soup!
      • Thaw the chicken and rice base in the microwave. Add plain yogurt flavored with some garam marsala, curry powder or just cinnamon. Finally, add golden raisins and slivered almonds. Vaguely south asian chicken and rice. With cucumbers and onions in vinegar as a side, you have a meal.
      There are unlimited possibilities. Homemade convenience food without the salt and mystery ingredients of store bought.

      Sunday, November 1, 2009

      Onion-Free "Cream" of Chicken-Mushroom-Spinach Soup

      Nothing like hot creamy but low-fat soup for a cold and rainy day. This soup is allium-free for those of us who have onion allergies but is still tasty and satisfying. Where did the cooked chicken come from? It's out of the freezer from the 10 lbs. of chicken legs that were on sale.

      If you don't have a stash of meal-size bags of pre-cooked chicken in your freezer, cut some off a pre-cooked chicken from the deli counter at the grocery store. In a pinch, you could use the bagged, pre-cooked chicken breast or even canned chicken.

    • 2-3 cups chicken broth
    • 1 pkg. baby spinach leaves or julienned larger spinach leaves
    • 1 can fat-free evaporated milk
    • Salt and white pepper
    • Optionally, a dash of nutmeg or other preferred spice

    • Procedure:
      1. Place the flour in a small bowl or mug and mix in 2 Tbl. water until a smooth paste is formed. Slowly add up to 1 cup of water mixing slowly to prevent lumps as much as possible. Let this sit while you prepare the vegetables. Most of the lumps will disappear by the time you are ready to use this flour and water slurry.

      1. In a large soup pan, sauté the diced carrots and celery in the olive oil until the celery is translucent and the carrots are soft, about 5 minutes.
      2. Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté for an additional 5 minutes, covered, or until the mushrooms release some of their liquor.
      1. Add the flour and water mixture and bring back to temperature for another minute until some of the rawness is removed from the flour.
      1. Add chicken and chicken broth to cover.
      2. Bring back to temperature and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.
      1. Add spinach, bring back to temperature, and simmer another 2-3 minutes, until spinach reduces.
      1. Add the fat-free evaporated milk.
      2. Season to taste with salt and white pepper and optional seasoning.
      3. Bring back to temperature and simmer slowly for another 5 to 10 minutes, being careful not to scorch the soup on too high a heat.
      4. Serve.
      This results in a relatively thin soup base. To make a thicker soup, skip the flour and water step but add raw rice or noodles when you add the broth. Simmer longer until the starch is cooked. Then add the milk. Cornstarch can also be used to thicken soup but it tends to get gummy when you reheat leftovers.

      Yummy, warm, with green leafy veggie and little fat. What's not to like.

      Imprecise & Inexpensive

      Two themes predominate in my approach to cooking. 1. Daily cooking of flavorful food need not be a precise art. 2. You can be an adventurous cook on a budget. Cooking and eating should be fun for both cookers and eaters.