Saturday, February 27, 2010

Where's the Beef?

I had a quarter pound of ground beef defrosting in my refrigerator so I could make a burger for dinner. But the burger didn't happen. Not because I have anything against burgers, or wasn't in the mood for one. I have simply become frugal. Cheap. A penny pincher. A buck stretcher. Yeah, that's me. Apparently inflation is playing a major role in the way I'm cooking and eating these days- it can't be the fear of outliving my IRA or anything like that I hope. My grocery bills would skyrocket if I didn't keep an eye on the bottom line. I've cut out almost all meat and poultry from my weekly shopping trips (for dietary and economic reasons) and stick mainly with rice, vegetables and pasta. (Oprah did want us to do that, right?) So instead of making the burger, I used the small (tiny) amount of beef and made a chili concoction that will award me about 6 meals instead of the one. I can't decide if I'm pleased with myself or annoyed that my mind is working this way. But at the moment I'm pleased, because I did make a mean pot of chili.

Penny Pincher's Chili

2 tsp canola oil
1 1/2 cups diced onion and green pepper- I use the frozen, already chopped
3 cloves garlic minced (2 tsp)
1/4 pound ground beef
2 small zucchini grated and squeezed of all water
1 T chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground corriander
1/2 tsp dried oregano- add up to a tsp if you like
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 T tomato paste- I use the kind in a tube
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
1 chili diced- I used a Serrano, should have used a second one, but a jalapeno or two would be fine
1 can (15.5 oz) black beans drained and rinsed
1 cup water- broth would work too
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 can (8.5 oz) corn
1/4 cup cilantro chopped

In large skillet over medium heat, saute onions and peppers in oil until soft (about 4-5 minutes). Season with salt and pepper. Add garlic and cook about 1 minute. Add beef, zucchini and spices (chili powder through cayenne), stirring often until beef is nicely crumbled. Stir in tomato paste and cook a minute or two. Add canned tomatoes, diced chili pepper, beans, water and Worcestershire sauce. Bring mixture to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or pepper if needed. Add corn and cook uncovered on low for five minutes. Garnish with cilantro, or stir it into the dish right before serving.

I served this with brown rice. I don't think I've shared this before, but cooking brown rice has always been a problem for me. I either didn't cook it long enough and it was soupy. Or I burned the rice and scorched the bottom of the pan. I have a one word solution for this problem:
Yes, Success- Boil-in-Bag Brown Rice. It cooks in ten minutes, not forty. It's an easy clean up, and so far it's worked for me.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Unfinished Business

The Beans

The Southern Living white beans were delicious, but I knew after 2 servings the leftovers needed to be morphed into something else- like a dip or hummus, as I mentioned when I first made them. So that's what I did this morning before I headed over to Ruth's to spend the afternoon cooking with her and Sammie in the kitchen. This was simple. Even for me, the incompetent blender.

Hummus/Bean Dip

In a blender, place 2 cups of my cooked Southern Living white beans and 1/3 cup of liquid. Liquid can be water, left over chicken broth (good thing I saved mine, right?), hot sauce, or a combination of the three. The point is you need some liquid to loosen the thickened beans. I used 1 T hot sauce and the rest chicken stock. Whirl away until you just see specks of bacon and the mixture looks smooth. Taste it for seasoning. I didn't need to do a thing. So I headed off to Ruth's, and we ate it like peasants, on lavash bread, nothing else. No garnish, No vegetables. Yes, we are still hippies.

The unfortunate thing was, Sammie could not have any dip.

The Parmigiano Croutons

Remember these? They were delish on their own. But really, how much snacking can you do? I can do plenty, but I'd rather have croutons in my salad, a salad where they are the star of the show.

Roasted Grape Tomato Panzanella Salad

4 cups of prepared Parmegiano croutons
8 oz grape tomatoes
freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cup English cucumbers peeled and diced
1/4 red onion thinly sliced
10 or more Kalamata olives
4 oz Fontina cheese

1 tsp Dijon mustard
3 T red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Pre heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly spray with cooking oil. Place grape tomatoes on baking sheet, spray with cooking oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake 15 minutes until tomatoes begin to split. Let cool. In large bowl combine tomatoes, croutons, cucumber, onions, olives and cheese. To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a small jar and shake or whisk with a fork. Toss salad with dressing and let flavors meld before serving. This also went with me to Ruth's, and was gobbled up as fast as the bean dip.

A few thoughts about the salad. I roasted the tomatoes because I like the earthiness they offer, plus the juices enhance the flavor. However raw tomatoes are fine. If parsley or basil looked good in my market (or any market around here) I would have added some. And if I had capers in my fridge I would have added a tablespoon as well. Also, I usually put some fresh garlic in my dressings, but since the croutons had that lovely hint of garlic, I figured it wasn't necessary. And the cheese- I like Fontina, but goat cheese would be a winner as well.

I still owe an update on the peanut butter granola bars. I recently made them with cherries and chocolate. I think you'll want the recipe.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Southern Comfort

Last week I bought a cookbook- a purchase these days that seems almost unnecessary with the internet now being so handy. Anyway, this was an impulse buy at Marshall's. On sale. In clearance. Six dollars. With over 850 recipes from Southern Living magazine.

I don't know anything about southern living or southern cooking except what I've seen of Paula Deen on TV. I adore Paula and love her recipes. I've taken many of her decadent, over-the-top dishes and brought them down to earth, cut much of the fat and calories, and ended up with recipes that suit my style of cooking and eating. That was my thought when I bought this book. But after checking out the recipes, many of the dishes don't seem to be overly fatty or calorie laden. They just seem like good recipes.

The other evening I wanted a hot meal and didn't want to stop at the market after work (snow again) so I decided to shop at home in my pantry. Usually that means something with beans or rice or pasta. While thumbing through my bargain book, I came across a recipe called White Beans and Rice. It seemed to fit the bill. I had all the ingredients and then some, so I decided I'd give it a try. First my thoughts... then the recipe.

I couldn't figure out if this was a main dish or a side. It could be either. A side if served with a roast, ribs or chicken. A meal if served with a crisp green salad. I made it my meal and at the last minute eliminated the rice since it cooks separately anyway. One of the things I noticed in many of the recipes I viewed, was that the seasonings consisted of simply salt and pepper, unless you were in the Cajun section. I wanted something more so I added 2 bay leaves. The original dish called for smoked, fully cooked ham. I'm not sure what that is, and I certainly didn't have any on hand. But I did have turkey bacon. I also had a bag of baby spinach that I thought would be a welcome addition. Oh!! And my new discovery, which isn't really new at all...frozen, pre-chopped peppers and onions. I used to be a snob about using these kinds of products but I've seen the light. I'm no longer crying while chopping, nor am I tossing out limp onion and pepper halves that have sat too long in my fridge. I think they're a cost effective buy and so very convenient.

White Beans and Turkey Bacon
adapted from Southern Living
I made this to serve 3 or 4 people. Their recipe serves 6 to 8

3 cans great Northern beans

1 1/2 cups frozen chopped onion and green pepper

3 garlic cloves chopped (about 2 tsps)

2 tsp canola oil

8 strips turkey bacon cooked and sliced into 1 inch pieces- I bake mine in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes

1/2 cup chicken broth- I'm re-thinking this for the next time. I might try some bouillon granules and hot water because 1/2 cup of canned broth makes me not even want to open the can

2 dried bay leaves (my contribution)

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp lemon pepper (my contribution)

1 1/2 cups baby spinach, chiffonade (my contribution)

2 T hot sauce (my contribution)

Rinse and drain 2 cans of beans. Do not drain remaining can. In large skillet over medium heat, saute onion, peppers and garlic until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in all 3 cans of beans. Add bacon, broth, bay leaves, salt and lemon pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The recipe did not say to cover the pan, but I did, because I didn't want to lose the little liquid that I had. After 30 minutes add the spinach if using and the hot sauce. Cook until spinach wilts. If you'd like rice with your beans, they suggest 1 cup uncooked jasmine or long grain rice, cooked according to package directions.

This was a yummy meal. It's creamy and flavorful and the smokey-saltiness of the bacon elevates the dish to what I imagine a southern comfort food is meant to be. I have a fair amount of leftovers which will soon be taking a whirl in my blender and become hummus for tomorrow's lunch.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Last week I got an email from Lori with a link to a cooking contest she thought I might want to enter. It was sponsored by Whole Foods and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Interesting, I thought. I have lots of parmi recipes that I make. It's a staple in my house. But did I really want to buy more ingredients, record measurements, cook the dish, re-measure and cook the dish again? And did I want to carefully write the whole thing out and submit it along with the thousands of other recipes to be reviewed, all in their time frame, which by the time I found out about the contest, gave me 4 days? Well yeah- of course I did.

You see there was a time when I loved entering contests. It was great for my creative juices, good for the self esteem and actually a lot of fun. Until it got tedious, time consuming and expensive. The interesting (and slightly odd) thing about the Whole Foods contest was that you could view the recipes already submitted. When I first went onto the site there were over 700 recipes listed. I browsed for about 45 minutes, quickly read a few hundred of the recipes entered, and chose to make something so simple, and stress free, that winner or not, people would want to try my recipe.

I decided to enter my Parmigiano croutons. They're crunchy on the outside and melt in your mouth delicious on the inside.

Parmegiano Reggiano Croutons

Cooking spray
4 cups French or Italian baguette (about 1/2 loaf) cut into 1 inch cubes
2 T butter
1 T oil- olive or canola
1 tsp garlic minced or grated (about 2 cloves)
freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmegiano Reggiano

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly spritz with cooking spray. In large saute pan over medium heat melt butter and oil. When butter starts to foam and/or bubble, add the garlic and cook 10 seconds. Now add the bread cubes. With tongs or a large spoon, coat the cubes as best you can with the garlic-oil-butter mixture. Turn off the heat and add salt and pepper. Place cubes in a large bowl or a medium size brown paper bag, and add Parmigiano. If using the bowl, stir until cheese coats the cubes. If using the bag (my method of choice) shake until cheese has done it's job. Place cheese coated bread cubes on prepared baking sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, turning bread cubes halfway through the baking process. Watch them carefully so they don't get too brown. The lighter the better. Cool and enjoy.

I always have to eat a few of these as soon as they come out of the oven. And if they weren't so hot, believe me, I'd grab a handful. They are yummy. There's just enough garlic- it's not overpowering. The bread is toasty but still melts in your mouth. Let them cool. I like these croutons as a garnish for soups and green salads. And I make them the star of the show in a tomato, onion, cucumber and fontina cheese panzanella salad (I'll post that recipe soon). And this week, these croutons added a lot of excitement when they appeared in my breakfast strata. One more use for these little puffs of loveliness- stick them on toothpicks and dip them into your favorite homemade or store bought onion dip. Better than chips. Better than crackers. Hey, these may not win a contest, but they're an easy winner in my book.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Berry, Berry Good

Last fall my friend Sandy was selling Otis Spunkmeyer cookie dough for a fundraiser for her son's school. Thinking back, I don't remember Lori's school offering anything like cookie dough for fundraising purposes. I remember gift wrap and magazines. Anyway, these cookies come in a variety of flavors from chocolate chip to strawberry shortcake. Yes, strawberry shortcake. And they are mouth-watering delicious. But I have to say they do not taste like shortcake. And there is no whipped cream in the ingredients. However they are goooood. Good enough for me to have spent way too much time searching the internet for a clone recipe. I found a few for the chocolate chip cookies, but nothing for the strawberry concoction I was looking for. So I came up with one on my own.

I remember there being a lot of butter in the dough, more than I'd typically use. And a richness from brown sugar. My guess was the strawberries are dried. And there were white chocolate chips in there. So that was my starting point. I made these for Sandy's birthday the other day, because with all that butter and hard-to-find dried strawberries, this is a special occasion cookie. I say hard-to-find dried strawberries because they're not a common item in most supermarkets, but do check the produce department. Also, if you know the way I bake, you may be surprised that I didn't use any whole wheat or oats in the dough- just all purpose flour. Not that they wouldn't have worked in the recipe, but birthdays wait for no one, and trial and error time was short.

Strawberry Delight Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 cups AP flour
1 cup dried strawberries
1/2 cup Nestle's white morsels

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees
In large bowl, beat butter and sugars until smooth. Add the egg, vanilla, salt and baking soda. Scrape sides of the bowl to incorporate all ingredients. Add flour, mix, scrape sides again and when blended, add strawberries and morsels.

I don't have a cookie scoop, so I just drop the dough by large tablespoonfuls onto a cookie sheet. I lined my cookie sheet with parchment, but with all that butter, you probably don't have to. Bake 10 minutes until the edges look golden. Don't over bake. This recipe makes 30 cookies.

One thought I had after I made these little gems was to omit the morsels in the batter, melt them in the microwave, and drizzle them over the baked cookies. Yes, I will try that. Who's birthday's coming up soon?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Over Excited

Sometimes I get so excited about making a new recipe that I neglect to thoroughly read it, jump in head first and then realize I'm short a few ingredients and have to improvise. I hate doing that on a first try, and have been pretty good lately. That was until Friday. You see, I'm having some structural work done in my dining room which is connected to my kitchen and hadn't done any creative cooking all week. I wanted to make Bashian chicken with the six thighs I had frozen two weeks ago. Mid week I took the chicken out to defrost, went to the market to get the ingredients and Friday, with workmen gone for the weekend I was ready to rock and roll.

And then I gave the recipe a closer look. First of all it was hand written by me, I haven't a clue when, on a scrap of paper that was stuffed in my little recipe box (from the 70's) that I still use for odd little tid-bits I pick up here and there. Well, the recipe was incomplete. It was for a marinade for Bashian/Caribbean chicken and had no cooking instructions. Okay. I wanted to create, and now was my chance.

You'll need a blender for this.

Bashian Chicken:

2 red peppers diced
1/2 large onion diced-original recipe called for 1, but it seemed like a lot to me
4 scallions diced-original recipe said greens only. What the heck I used the bulbs too
oil- original recipe had no amount, so I started with 1 T and added a tsp more as the mixture was blending
1 Scotch Bonnet pepper diced- I used 3 Serano chilis since I was afraid the Scotch Bonnet would be too hot for even my palate. I left the seeds in
3 cloves of garlic chopped
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon- no specific amount was given so I guessed at the 1/2 tsp
1/4 tsp ground allspice- same with the allspice, a guess
1/4 tsp black pepper
3/4 tsp salt- this wasn't in the ingredient list at all, but it needs to be included
6 bone in chicken thighs, skin removed
1 can 14.5 oz fat free, low sodium chicken broth

Put all ingredients in a blender except chicken and chicken broth and buzz until liquified. I have issues with blenders since I seem to blow out or ignite their motors, so I now use the "ice crush" button for things like this, and so far I've been safe. When liquified you'll still see bits of peppers and onions and the color is a nice shade of coral. At this point taste the marinade. It was here that I realized it really needed salt. Also, the mixture was so spicey I had second thoughts about continuing. But I did. Place chicken and marinade in a large plastic re-sealable bag and refrigerate. There's no acid in the marinade so I imagine you could leave the chicken for a day or two if necessary. I got back to mine the next afternoon. Put chicken and all the marinade into a large pot and add the broth. Bring mixture to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes.

I must say, the aroma in the house while this was cooking was heavenly. Cinnamon, allspice, black pepper and chicken broth are a delightful combination and captured the Caribbean vibe I was looking for. And when I tasted the sauce, the once overwhelming spiciness from the chilis had mellowed and I was a little sorry I hadn't used the Scotch Bonnet.
For the next stage of my Caribbean adventure I decided to make rice. I poured the cooked marinade and broth into a large measuring cup, skimmed off the fat (there was very little) and used it as my cooking liquid for the rice. Oh mon! It was all so good.