Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fast food

The dilemma of the working family has knocked home cooking off the map for millions of households. You get home late and tired; so much easier to grab some carry-out on the way home, or order a pizza, or throw a frozen lasagna into the oven. Plus, these things are far better in quality, price and nutrition than they were when I was a child, and in some cases approach home cooking in cost.

On my way home the other night I knew that I'd be eating alone, and thought about picking up a rotisserie chicken. But I thought I remembered that there was some leftover rice and fish, or maybe some of the chicken and squash. Besides, it almost seems like too much trouble even to go through the drive-through, let alone stop at the grocery store.

I got myself all excited about leftovers, but when I got home I discovered they were gone. I didn't even have enough food in the house to doctor one of the Thai Kitchen box meals. What I did have was 3 stalks of celery, a romano cheese, three tomatoes and bisquik.

I sat down to eat with the wonderful book of memory and recipes by Molly Wizenberg of Orangette.

Quick tomato soup, with cheese and garlic biscuits
3 large tomatoes
3 stalks celery, diced
1 large clove garlic, crushed and chopped fine
1 small can or 1 1/2 cups broth (beef, chicken or vegetable)
parsley, salt and pepper

Saute the celery and garlic in a soup pot until soft. Core and seed the tomatoes, add them to the celery mixture and saute, stirring constantly, until it breaks down. Add the broth and seasonings, simmer for 30 minutes.

For the biscuits, add 1/4 cup of finely grated romano cheese, 1 teaspoon crushed garlic and 3-6 additional teaspoons of milk to the regular recipe. Bake as directed, adding time if necessary for the additional moisture.

Even with the 30 minutes simmering time, which frankly you could shorten, the whole thing took less time than it would have taken to pick something up on the way home.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The "pressure" cooker

I wrote a couple of posts ago about running out of family recipes to share (although it subsequently occurred to me to get my Hungarian-Polish sister in law to share her family recipes as well). In a way it's true; the recipe reservoir of the nuclear family is going to be small. If you know how to make as few as 20 different things, assuming you eat out once a week, you're going to go nearly a month before repeating anything. Plus, they're favorites, right? So you want to keep making them.

And of course, I did think of some old family favorites that I haven't blogged yet, and some new things to try out on you, and then there's my sister-in-law. But I also realized what an inspiration just writing about these recipes is. I find myself thinking, what can I make that would have an interesting story, what can I try on my small audience, what can I create?

Here's what I created yesterday:

Ginger chicken with winter squash
bone-in chicken breast, one per diner
1 winter squash (acorn or small butternut)
1 pint shiitake mushrooms
2-4 inches fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon green peppercorns
4 cups Ginger-squash broth
1/3 cup rice for each diner

Seed, peel, and cube the squash (you can peel squash and the ginger for that matter with a potato peeler). Put the seeds, peels, ginger bark and peppercorns in a 2-quart saucepan, fill with water, and bring to a boil Simmer for 20 minutes, then strain to create about 4+ cups of broth.

In a large frying pan, saute the chicken in about 3 tablespoons of butter, until skin is browned. Add the ginger root and saute until soft. Add the squash and toss until it is completely coated with butter. Season with salt and pepper. Add the mushrooms and toss, simmering for another couple of minutes. Dredge lightly with flour, toss to distribute flour evenly. Add about 1 cup of the hot broth and bring to simmer. Continue adding up to 2+ cups of broth so that you have a nice gravy.

Use the remaining broth to cook the rice in, which will give the rice a ginger flavor.

Thanks to The Yarden for inspiring the title!

Monday, January 18, 2010

A childhood memory

I always forget about fish dishes because my daughter has just never liked fish. I grew up on fish, having been reared in a seaport. When you grow up on the coast, fish is cheap, fresh and plentiful. When we moved to the midwest, it took years to assimilate the fact that fish was now difficult to obtain, and was neither fresh nor cheap. By the time I made it to another port, a fresh-water one this time, freshwater fish was either so endangered, or so full of pollutants that I was reluctant to feed it to the kids anyway.

But every now and then I want that childhood taste. This baked fish is one that my mother made regularly. I suppose it's probably a Greek recipe; I haven't actually looked for it in the Greek cook book. This can be made with any light non-oily ocean fish, like flounder or sole.

I never did get my daughter to try this dish, but I have to say, both the kids were pretty good with most of the stuff I made.

Baked fish with vegetables
1 lb. fresh fish filets (about 8 to 10 sole filets)

4 stalks of celery, a small bok choy or a small fennel bulb, sliced very thin
1/2 red pepper
1 medium onion
2 small tomatoes
sea salt, black pepper, dried parsley

Saute the vegetables in olive oil until limp. Place half the fish in a 9x12 glass baking dish. Season with salt, pepper and parsley, distribute half the vegetables over this. Layer with the rest of the filets, season the layer, and layer the remaining vegetables. Slice the tomatoes into thinnish discs, place on top. Drizzle with olive oil and bake at 350/175 for about 30 minutes, or until the fish is flaky and white. Serve with white or biryani rice.

It's been so long since I made this. I had really forgotten how delicious this is.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What do I know how to cook?

The limitations of a blog devoted to the stuff you can cook at home for someone like me, a fairly typical housewife cook, is that you just don't make that many different things. Not, you don't know how to make different things, or that you're not willing to try different things. The repertoire, it turns out, just isn't that large.

I do believe at this point, I've chronicled all the family favorites here: pilaf, casserole, stew, meatloaf, shepherd's pie. I'm going to have to start reblogging some of them, or start in on permutation after permutation of soup! One begins to feel astonished and awed by cook book writers. So many recipes.

UPDATE! Thought of two more. Hooray! Watch this blog!

Well, I do have one more, and kids, if you're reading this, let me know what I've missed, and I'll make it! Meanwhile, readers, take the poll-- how many different meals are in your regular "cycle" of recipes?

Pastitio (Greek noodle casserole)
Another recipe from Can the Greeks Cook

1 1/2 lbs penne or other tubular macaroni

Cook according to directions on box. This needs to be timed so they don't sit around getting sticky once you've drained them.

While penne is cooking:
1 lb. hamburger
1/4 cup butter
1 6oz can tomato paste
1-2 large onions, diced
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 egg, well beaten
1 cups boiling water
salt and black pepper

Saute hamburger over high flame until well-browned. Do not drain. Add butter and onions and continue to brown until onions are translucent, stirring occasionally. Blend tomato past with water & cinnamon and add. Turn down flame, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove cover and continue to cook until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, allow it to cool a little, add eggs and mix well. I used a wonderful grass-fed beef gifted us by our friends from Ranney Ranch.

Krema sauce:
1/2 quart milk
1 1/2 heaping tablespoons flour
1/2 stick butter
2 eggs, room temp, well beaten

Scald the milk in a saucepan or the microwave (heat to just boiling). Melt butter, add flour until it becomes a smooth paste. Add eggs quickly and stir vigorously until all is well blended and smooth. Slowly add hot milk. (It will form a thick paste as soon as you put the hot milk in. Keep adding slowly, stirring the whole time to keep the consistency smooth). Salt to taste and set on a light simmer for 15 minutes, stirring constantly. Cover and remove from heat. If it sits around a little it may thicken too much; add a little water or milk to thin it.

Cooked noodles, well drained
1/4 cup butter
1 egg well beaten
1 cup grated Kefaloteri (hard) cheese. Romano will also work, as kefaloteri can be hard to find.

Drain well in collander. Put half of the penne in a large bowl, add egg and mix thorougly. Spray a 9x12" pan with cooking spray, or grease with butter (cooking spray is better). Sprinkle with half the grated cheese. Spread the meat sauce over this, and then layer the rest of the penne on top, sprinkling with the remaining cheese. Melt butter and pour over the entire mixture. Top with the Krema sauce, making sure that the macaroni is entirely covered so little bits don't burn.

Sprinkle with grated cheese and cinnamon. Bake at 400F/200C for 20-30 minutes, keeping an eye on it so it doesn't burn. Cool for 15 minutes before serving so that it doesn't slip apart.

This recipe can be easily doubled. Remember, it's a Greek recipe, so it uses every pot in the house.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A new year of Bloom Days

January Bloom Day is also my birthday, which some how made it rather special both as bloom day and as birth day. I felt like the plants were blooming for me.

Just two plants with actual blossoms-- the coleus actually bloomed about 6 days ago and is starting to fade. The papyrus is also "blooming" if you can call it that. Mostly it's about my solstice plantings. The tradition is described here by my gardening friend Sue.

My plantings were two amaryllis, because I had them and, working with Sue's instructions:

Columbine, for Maggie and Parsley for my mother The first set of seeds are seeds of remembrance and should be seeds of flowers that remind us of someone we knew and loved but who is now gone from our lives forever. This is the only one that hasn't sprouted yet.

Lobelia The second set of seeds are seeds of life and should be for plants that will make fruit or nectar and invite birds and butterflies to our gardens. These have microscopic sprouts as of yesterday.

Mountain Ash cuttings The third set of seeds should be tree seeds. We can honor Mother Nature by growing trees that will help clean the air we breathe, reduce excess sun on the soil, and provide shade for our heads on a hot summer’s day. The mountain ash are budding, which I did not expect, and I hope mean that there are roots.

Mustard The fourth set of seeds are seeds of faith and should be for plants from a zone that is beyond ours in warmth. It will help us to remember that we accept the “Leap of Faith” in our hearts and know that Mother Nature is capable of miracles.

So Happy Bloom Day in the deep midwinter.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Risotto is stone soup, too

Risotto is my new favorite thing to make. That is all I will write on this one, because I have already had two beers.

Goat cheese-mushroom-spinach risotto

6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 medium onion, diced
4 oz spinach (6 cups), chopped up.
1 pint mushrooms, chopped fine
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (9 oz)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground parsley
small goat cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 teaspoons black peppercorns, ground
2/3 cup almont slices, toasted
1 apple, roasted and chopped

for the risotto:
Bring broth to a simmer and keep at a bare simmer, covered. Meanwhile, cook onion, mushrooms and chopped spinach in butter in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring until softened. Add rice, garlic, and parsley and cook, stirring, 3 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup simmering broth and cook at a strong simmer, stirring frequently, until broth is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until rice is creamy-looking but still al dente (it should be the consistency of thick soup), about 18 minutes total. (There will be leftover broth.)

Stir in apple pieces and mix. Stir in cheese, salt, pepper, almonds and simmer, stirring, 1 minute. (If necessary, thin risotto with some leftover broth.)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Heat for a cold day

Sitting here on a frigid, gorgeous winter day, it's ten degrees, sun like daggers shooting off the brilliant snow. I'm waiting for a client to send the rest of the package that I need to edit, and I've already read the entire internet. Cleaned the house, did the laundry. I could go work on the sculpture, but the studio is unheated.

I realized I hadn't run down my blog list in the sidebar, where I came on a post on The Cookbook Junkie asking "do you have balsamic vinegar in your cupboard?" Not only balsamic, but also white (for cleaning), apple cider vinegar, tarragon vinegar, and wine vinegar. I also have a couple of nice pieces of catfish and no ideas.


Fish vindaloo with fennel-apple slaw
(Since I made it with catfish, Bill called it "Cat Valoo.")

fish fillets, cut into chunks
6 dried red chilies (I leave these out-- vindaloo can be VERY VERY hot, use chilis with caution)
2-6 cloves garlic
2 inches ginger root, grated
2 tsp cumin seeds
1-2 large onions, chopped
1 cup wine vinegar
3 tbsp ghee (or butter)
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp garam masala
6 green chilies (again, adjust for your heat tolerance. This dish will be hotter than the sum of the ingredients)

1 small bulb fennel
1/2 onion
1 large apple

Sprinkle the fish with salt and leave to stand for 10 minutes. Rinse then pat dry. Grind the red chilies, garlic, ginger, cumin seeds and onions to a fine paste with a little of the wine vinegar. Heat the ghee (butter) and fry the ground spices for a few minutes. Add the cinnamon and fish, sprinkle with salt, and fry over a high heat for 5 minutes. Lower the heat and simmer until the fish is tender. Add the wine vinegar, sugar, garam masala and chilies and simmer until the sauce thickens.

Slice vegetables, saute in oil until soft, add to vindaloo pot to simmer. Serve over balsamic rice.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A shortcut through mushrooms

You are officially a geek if you get the title reference.

Credit for this one to Julia Child, from whom I learned about using lemon juice to get flavor out of mushrooms.

Cream of mushroom soup
2 pints of mushrooms (just mushrooms. Don't get fancy on me)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
salt to taste
1 T flour
1 1/2 cups milk, scalded
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup white wine

Melt the butter in a sauce pan (i.e. a soup pot). Keep it at a low simmer (don't let it brown) until the center clarifies; all the foam should be at the edges. While you are doing this, heat the milk to just boiling (about 4 minutes in the microwave). Throw all the mushrooms into the clarified butter at once and toss them until they've absorbed all the butter. This will take seconds.

Pour in the lemon juice and simmer until the mushrooms have released a lot of liquid (picture). This is a cooking miracle, and it's how you get your mushroom soup to taste like mushrooms, and not like cream with mushrooms in it. Add tarragon, salt, pepper; toss. Dredge with the flour (use more flour if you like thicker soup) and toss until the mixture has no flour lumps in it.

Now the next cooking miracle: Pour the scalded milk, still hot, onto the mushrooms. For some reason it will not curdle. Please talk to Julia about this, I have no idea why this works. Stir until liquid is smooth. Add the cream and the white wine. Serve with a slice of home made bread and the rest of the wine in a glass. (Never use wine for cooking that you wouldn't drink.)

I buy the sliced mushrooms which cost the same as the whole ones and will save you a lot of work