Thursday, January 28, 2010

Guest post: Breakfast cookies

(hi, this is jennyalice with a sneaky little guest post.)

My son eats a lot of food. No really, a lot of food, and since he has a physical disability, he needs quite a bit of help at meal time. Breakfast is always a blur at our house, and in an effort to be most efficient, get out of the house on time, and offer Jack more opportunity for independence, we have tried every cereal on the market. They all end up in little pieces at the bottom of the box, or scattered all over the floor. So we want him to be able to feed himself, and it has to be fast, and his sister has to like it. Frustrated by the $4.00 price tag on 5 ounces of granola nuggets, I decided to try to make cereal cookies. This is my first try. It is basically a takeoff on any oatmeal cookie recipe, with cereal instead of the oatmeal.

I use a professional grade KitchenAid stand mixer and aluminum jelly roll (cookie) pans in a non-convection electric oven.


  • 3 eggs (I used large, not extra large)
  • 2 sticks of softened butter (I do not ever bake with margarine)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2T vanilla extract
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 2/3 cup wheat flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 15 oz box muesli cereal (I used Safeway brand)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup oatmeal (as much as needed to make the batter more on the stiff side.)

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350F
  2. Cream butter and sugars
  3. Add vanilla
  4. Add eggs one at a time, beat until smooth
  5. If you are a good person you will sift your flours, baking soda and baking powder. But since you are not a superhuman, just try not to have any hard nuggets of baking soda or baking powder, then with the mixer on a low to medium speed, slowly add the flours, baking soda, and baking powder.
  6. Mix in the box of muesli. You could hand mix at this point, but I have a heavy duty stand mixer, so I make it do the work.
  7. Add in the oatmeal a little at a time until the cookie dough is more on the stiff side.
I use cookie sheets with parchment paper to cook most all of my baked goods. It allows me to place all of the batter onto the sheets, then I can slip baked goods onto the counter and a new sheet with raw dough onto the pan and pop it back into the oven faster. No lag time between baking and I don't need to get my hands dirty very 13 minutes.

I tested three different sizes for the cookies. A 1 tablespoon dough ball makes a normal-size cookie, and was more on the soft side. A 1/2 tablespoon dough ball, made a small cookie, and would probably work just fine for most people, but I really wanted them to be "one bite" cookies so there would be less of a chance of my kid taking a bite then dropping the rest. I settled on a fat 1 1/2 tsp. So I just scooped up batter 1 tablespoon at a time and divided it into four little dabs. This made cookies slightly larger than a quarter, which was perfect for my family.

Bake cookies for 13 minutes at 350F, slightly less time if you want them softer; we wanted crisp. This recipe makes, um, a lot of little cookies; it filled a 10 cup container.

I do not know how long these keep, they were finished within 3 days. Even my husband ate them (note to self: do not tell husband that muesli has dates or he will never eat them again). I have several other types of cereal in the cupboard, so I'm going to keep making different kinds until I can find the tastiest, highest protein, lowest cost, batch of breakfast cookies that my family will still eat. Once I figure out a few that work, my goal is to get a ton of cereal on super sale, then spend a day and make batch after batch of breakfast cookies, and freeze them in 1 gallon zip-top bags. I'm sure they will freeze well, since oatmeal cookies do. Of course the way my family mowed through them, it's possible I won't need to freeze any at all.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Oven roasted rosemary potatoes

I wish I had some interesting story to tell you about how I first tried these at so-and-so's restaurant (I did not) or how my mother used to make these every Sunday (she did not).  Alas, I've got nothing for you.  Just some yummy potatoes which are so easy to make (no matter how you do them) and are so versatile that you can substitute just about any seasoning you want to complement any meal or to satisfy any taste.

Here's how I made them (this week):

6 medium red potatoes
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
olive oil
sea salt

The 18-minute version:

Preheat oven to 400F.  Wash potatoes and cut into chunks approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inches large.

Using a mortar and pestle or a small burr grinder, grind up the rosemary just enough to release the oils and flavor.

Place potatoes into a microwaveable bowl or casserole.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Add rosemary and sea salt, to taste, and stir the potatoes to spread the mixture evenly.

Cover dish with plastic wrap and microwave on high for approximately 8 minutes until almost completely cooked. Potatoes are cooked when they can be pierced with a fork.

Transfer potatoes to a shallow baking dish or cookie sheet.  Brown in oven for 10 minutes or until golden crust begins to form on the potatoes.

Serve piping hot and enjoy!

The 45-minute version

Preheat oven to 400F. Wash potatoes and cut into chunks approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inches large.

Using a mortar and pestle or a small burr grinder, grind up the rosemary just enough to release the oils and flavor. Add rosemary and sea salt, to taste, and stir the potatoes to spread the mixture evenly.

Put the potatoes, oilve oil, rosemary and sea salt (to taste) in a plastic food storage bag.  Seal it and shake to coat evenly.

Transfer potatoes to a shallow baking dish or cookie sheet. Bake in oven for 45 minutes or until golden crust begins to form on the potatoes.  They are done when the potatoes can be pierced with a fork.

Serve piping hot and enjoy!
Now, you may be asking yourself why I would go to the trouble of microwaving the potatoes when I can just roast them in the oven.  Two reasons, actually.  First, I don't always have the time to get the oven ready with enough lead time for preheating and cooking for 45 minutes.  I can set the oven to preheat while I'm mixing and microwaving and then toss it all into the oven to brown away while I am giving Nik his dinner.  Second, I like my potatoes a bit moister than I think they come out when cooked in the oven for so long.
Another plus to the shorter method is that they can be cooked ahead of time —say the night before I want to serve them— and baked/browned in the oven the next day.  If I cook them completely and then have to store them in the fridge, they get kind of mushy and I end up having to re-brown them anyway.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Eating locally

Rather than share a recipe today (Kristen and I were obviously on the same wavelength this week), I wanted to talk to you about something that I have become somewhat passionate about.

Eating locally. That is, choosing to eat food from my local foodshed. A term has been coined, even, to identify people that are striving to eat locally: locavore. Isn't that a great word?

Local eating isn't entirely a new concept to me. I've heard about it from time to time in the past but, if I'm being completely honest, the people that were talking about it weren't anything like me. These were people who lived more rurally, or who were already into all things organic. In some ways, they struck me as modern-day hippies.

I'm a typical suburban housewife with a minivan and two kids, one of whom will probably eventually play soccer. Eating locally, and how I could be part of this movement, just didn't hit me.

That all changed when I began reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I was inspired to read the book after watching the documentary Food, Inc., and deciding that I wanted to switch to completely organic produce as well as avoid foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The documentary as well as the book were very eye-opening to me. I have no farming roots, my parents never planted a vegetable garden, I know next-to-nothing about growing my own food. It was shocking to learn how large corporations have taken over farming, rendering small family farms nearly obsolete.

And, as is all too often the case, when large corporations take over anything - profit becomes the driving force. Squeezing as many rows of corn as possible onto every acre. Breeding the so-called "perfect" tomato that can withstand long-distance transportation and also fit neatly into a case pack, and can be available year-round (devoid of all taste in my opinion).

Eating local food has many benefits - not just to us, the consumer, but also the local economy. Here are just a few:

Eating locally is the best way to know the source of your food. A quick review of the frozen food section at your local grocer will reveal broccoli and peas (just to name a few) that are grown outside of our borders. Broccoli flown to my supercenter on a jet plane from China? No thanks.

When you eat locally, whether by joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or shopping local farmers market, you can get to know the person who is growing and caring for the food you are putting your body.

Local food is fresher and also tastes better. Commercially produced vegetables and fruits have to be able to withstand a long, oil-fueled commute to the supermarket in your area. It has been in transit or cold-stored for weeks. At your local farmers market, the produce you are buying was likely picked during the previous 24 hours.

Additionally, because the foods are purchased in season, they are at their peak taste, available in abundance and are the least expensive.

Eating local supports your local economy. Yes, there is chance you will spend a little bit more than at your local mega supercenter, but the dollars go directly in the hands of local farmers who are not only supporting families, but they are keeping pasture land open and undeveloped.

The benefits don't stop there, though. Shopping locally allows for greater variety for consumers, healthier and fresher food, and unique products.

Eating local isn't just for produce either. In nearly every community you can find pasture-raised, antibiotic-free beef, pork, chicken, dairy and eggs. Click here to learn more about the benefits of eating pasture-raised meat and dairy.

There are a variety of ways one can find local food in your community. In my town, the newspaper lists the farmers markets every weekend. You can also visit Local Harvest to find locally grown products.

For our part, we have decided to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). We pay a fee which buys us a share of the farm. That share entitles us to 18 weeks of fresh produce, approximately enough to feed our family. The CSA uses organic farming standards, and with our membership we are able to buy fresh chicken and eggs.

It's going to be a big challenge, to be honest. I am going to be getting a LOT of vegetables week after week after week that are going to be completely new to me. I didn't grow up loving a variety of vegetables, and have very little experience with fresh vegetables outside of a dinner salad. We're talking a steep learning curve.

Fortunately, there are many great resources out there. And I plan to use this blog to share my trials and hopefully solicit suggestions for what else can I do with another head of cabbage.

I'm curious: do you shop farmers markets or do you belong to a CSA? I would love to hear your experience!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Kitchen style: What would you do?

Most weekends I'm cooking for family, so if I don't have something planned for Monday's post, I make an effort to document an old recipe or try something new on Sunday.

But this week, I just didn't have it in me. I made TC's mom's chicken with crunchy rice on Sunday because it's easy and it's delicious and, honestly, I didn't feel like cooking. It's the kind of meal that's perfect for when you don't feel like cooking. You just load up the pan, toss it in the oven and make a salad.

The truth is, I didn't feel like cooking all weekend. Friday night, in fact, I went to dinner with a friend to celebrate my birthday belatedly and her birthday coming up. We went here. I had the most delicious chicken (I'm partial to chicken, it seems). It was cooked in Yucatan spices and it was moist, tender, true perfection.

Anyway, I don't have a recipe for you today. But I do have some thoughts on kitchens. Mine is small and galley-like, but it's a good layout. I have ample storage and an easy to use workspace. When we bought the house, we assumed we'd eventually extend the kitchen and add a half-bath on the main floor. But this plan, for a huge variety of reasons, never panned out.

Last week, we replaced our back door, the one that leads from the kitchen to the back yard. The old one was rotted, the sill was broken away, and what we found when the contractors got into it was a lot of old termite damaged wood that needed to be replaced. So now we have a new back door and storm door, we've ordered a new window, and suddenly my very workable little kitchen is looking old and tired against so much new.

Since major construction is out of the question, we're leaning toward a simple facelift. Paint and a new floor. I'm a simple girl. I don't need much. There's just the three of us here, after all.

We've updated our appliances little by little and I am in love with my Bosch range and dishwasher. The fridge—eh, I have yet to find the fridge that would make me truly happy. Bottom line: we don't need appliances.

If this were more than a facelift, I'd probably be looking for a farmhouse sink, bronzed fixtures and new lighting. I'd be thinking about a wood or bamboo floor, maybe even radiant heated tile. (I would not be thinking about granite—too shiny and common.)

If it were more than a facelift, I would be interested in seriously upgrading surfaces and inching my way toward my "dream" kitchen.

But, as I said, it's a facelift. And, if we do, in fact, keep this simple, use less costly materials, we can probably manage a decent overhaul without spending too much.

Anyway, here's what it looks like now.

Long, narrow, but good cupboard space, natural light, and plenty of usable countertops.

What you can't see too clearly in the photos is the horrible unmentionable broken linoleum floor tiles and the really tacky (though thankfully dark) faux wood cabinets.

And here's what I'm hoping for.

Yeah. I know.

Seriously, this is what I'm hoping for.

A faux Euro-stone floor, freshly painted walls and cabinets, and a natural concrete countertop, all in shades of olive and gold and plum. A very Arts & Crafts sort of look to go with our 100-year-old Prairie style four-square in the quiet little town of Mayberry.

If you could change one thing about your kitchen (or a lot of things), what would you do?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lasagna, Trader Joe's style

My family is often a pain in the neck to cook for. I won't even get into Baroy's bizarro food issues. (He hates PASTA, people! Pasta and CHEESE! Pity me!) N? Well he pretty much ONLY eats pasta and cheese. (PITY ME, I said!)

And Em, while generally a total foodavore like me, has a few quirks as well. Cheese? No. Well, except for parmesan. And mozzarella, when it's melted on pizza. But NOT when it's melted on (or in) lasagna.

P. I. T. Y.

M. E.

So, as you might imagine, lasagna? Not a household favorite.

At least, not until I found the recipe on the side of Trader Joes' no-boil lasagna noodles.

Now, it's such a household favorite that when N had some (minor) surgery last week, it was what he requested as his special feel-better dinner. Em adores it. And even though it's different from most lasagnas I've had (and made), I'm a total convert, too. (Baroy? Will have nothing to do with it. But in this house, three out of four ain't bad.)

Trader Joe's No-Boil Lasagna (adapted from the noodle package directions)

1 package no-boil lasagna noodles
1 pound ground beef
1 jar Alfredo sauce
1 jar Marinara sauce
grated parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Brown ground beef in skillet; add to marinara sauce. (The TJ's recipe actually has you browning some kind of Italian sausage instead, and when I made it the first time, I did that and used chicken sausage and it was INCREDIBLE. But...sigh...N doesn't like sausage, and picked it all out of his lasagna, whereas he loves the ground beef in the sauce, so... Did I mention that you should pity me?)

3. Spread a thin layer of Alfredo sauce on the bottom of an 8x8 baking dish.

4. Add a layer of lasagna noodles.

5. Add a thin layer of the marinara-and-meat sauce.

6. Pour some Alfredo sauce over the marinara-and-meat sauce. I like to then spread it out with a pastry-type brush, because I like everything spread out evenly. (Yes, I'm a little obsessive. You can pity my family, too, if you want.)

7. Sprinkle a thin layer of parmesan over the Alfredo sauce.

8. Repeat layering one or two more times, until you reach the top of your baking pan, or until you run out of noodles.

9. After your last noodles, top with alfredo sauce layer and parmesan only. (This leaves the top really crusty, crunchy, and brown. It's awesome.)

10. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until bubbly.

11. Let sit for five minutes or so before cutting, so lasagna can settle.

Yum! No, seriously. YUM. This lasagna is not at all pitiful.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Savory ricotta, onion and bacon tart

Weekdays are so busy with caring for Nik that on the weekends, when my husband is home and I get some breathing room, I just want to create.  I'm not sure what prompted me to decide to make a tart this weekend; I've never made a tart in my life.  Yeah, I'm a little crazy like that sometimes, I guess, but the bug had bitten so I was off and running.  Besides, it was the perfect excuse to go out and buy myself a tart pan!

Did I bother to look at any recipes? Nope.  Well, okay, one recipe —my great-grandmother's pie crust recipe; I substituted my gluten free sorghum flour blend and it came out fine.  The color isn't as golden as a traditional wheat-based flour crust would be but it was tasy and had a good texture to it.

I knew I wanted to keep the tart simple, in terms of ingredients, but wanted it layered with complementary flavors.  I decided on a simple ricotta cheese base with a few ingredients and seasonings added on top.  Kind of like a "white pizza" but on a pie crust. (Hey, roll with me here, okay?)

I have to say, I think it turned out well for my first foray into the land of tarts.  My husband loved it!  There were no leftovers remaining after lunch the next day and he's already asked me when I'm making another one.  My answer? Probably soon; it's so darn easy to make!

The ingredients and recipe for the crust:

1/2 cups flour (I used a GF sorghum blend.*)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening (I used palm shortening. You could use Crisco, margarine or butter.)
4 to 6 tablesppons cold water
* 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum (ONLY for GF flour) (gives dough elasticity)

Mix dry ingredients together in mixing bowl. Using either a pastry blender or two knives, cut in shortening until the mixture is the consistency of lumpy corn meal.  (NB: you may use your hands for this but it gets pretty messy!)  Add 4 tablespoons cold water until the dough is a soft pasty consistency with which you can clean the sides of the bowl.  If it's too dry add more water a little at a time until you get the right feel.  If it's too wet simply add a bit more flour.

Form dough into a soft ball.  Roll the dough into a medium sized circle. Place the dough in the tart pan, pressing the dough to the edges and creating a slightly raised edge.  You want it high enough to hold the ingredients you will add after you bake the shell. 

Bake at 350F for approximately 12 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan.  Tart should be cool enough to touch the pan with your bare hand before adding the filling. Do not remove the shell from the pan.

Filling ingredients:
[NB: These measurements are approximate; I did not actually measure as I concocted.]

1 cup ricotta cheese (Use regular fat, not skim. Skim will make the filling very dry.)
1 cup diced tomato
1cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 onion, shaved or very thinly sliced
5 to 6 slices cooked bacon, crumbled in large bits
1/4 to 1/2 cup romano or asiago cheese, finely shredded
1 Mrs. Dash Garlic & Herb blend (You can sub equal parts oregano and garlic powder)
black pepper to taste

In mixing bowl, blend ricotta, oregano and pepper.  You may add bacon if you want it throughout the tart.  Spoon seasoned ricotta into the cooled tart shell.  Layer tomatoes, onions, bacon and mushrooms on top in any fashion you wish.  Top with shredded romano/asiago.

Bake at 350F for approximately 30 minutes or until the cheese on top is melted and lightly golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool approximately 10 minutes before serving.

Makes a nice light main dish which goes perfectly with a spinach or caesar salad.  Or serve it as a side dish with something like Kristen's braised chicken with artichoke hearts.  Either way, you can't go wrong.

The beauty of this non-recipe is that you can really take it and play with it to make it your very own. Don't like mushrooms? Leave them out. Adore bacon? Add as much as you like.  Try it with cottage cheese if you don't have ricotta.  Top it with cheddar.  Mmm, layer sliced potatoes and bacon with cheddar and chives and you've got your very own potato skins tart! Garnish with sour cream for a yummy Super Bowl party snack! 

The possibilities are limited only by your taste and creativity.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

White bean and kale soup with sausage

Last week I decided to try two new things. One was to cook dried beans, and the 2nd was to try kale (a dark, leafy green vegetable like spinach).

I have attempted to cook dried beans once before and it was horrible. I tried a crock-pot method and they turned out really gritty. I never tried again. But dried beans are both a healthier and more frugal choice, so (a mere 10 years later) I tried again.

Whole Foods, where I do the vast majority of my shopping, featured a recipe in their monthly newsletter for white bean and kale soup with chicken sausage. I decided to use Italian sausage instead though. The newsletter also gave a basic recipe for cooking dried beans.

I am thrilled to say that my beans turned out great and the soup was a huge hit. I am pleasantly surprised by how much I liked kale. Much better than I expected.

I am no longer afraid to cook my own beans! And as they are so healthy and a great option for meatless meals, I think I'll be doing it more often!

First, how to cook the dried beans.

You'll need:
1 lb dried white beans (cannellini, navy or great northern - I used cannellini)
1 yellow onion, quartered
2 dried bay leaves
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Spread the beans in a single layer on a large sheet tray; pick through to remove and discard any small stones or debris and then rinse well.

Soak the beans using one of these two methods:
  • Traditional soaking method: in a large bowl, cover beans by 3" with cold water, cover and set aside at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight.
  • Quick soaking method: in a large pot, cover beans by 3" with cold water, cover and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, remove pot from heat and set aside, covered, for one hour.
Drain soaked beans and transfer to a large pot. Cover by 2" with cold water, add onion and bay leaves and bring to a boil; skim off and discard any foam on the surface. Reduce heat, cover and simmer, gently stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Drain beans, if desired, discard onions and bay leaves and season with salt and pepper.

Makes about 7 cups total.

Now, the recipe for White Bean and Kale Soup with Sausage (originally from Whole Foods). This recipe is naturally free of both gluten and casein.

You'll need:
2 32-ounce boxes of chicken broth
1 lb of Italian sausage, sliced
Thinly sliced yellow onion (to taste, I used about 1/2 of one)
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
7 cups cooked white beans
1 bunch organic kale, stems and tough ribs removed, leaves roughly chopped

Heat 1/4 cup chicken broth in a large pot over medium heat. Add sausage slices and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated and sausage is just browned. (About 10 minutes.)

Add onions, salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until softened. (About another 10 minutes.)

Meanwhile, puree together 3 cups of beans and 2 cups of chicken broth, and set aside.

Once onions are softened, add remaining broth to sausage mixture in pot and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits.

Add kale, reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until wilted and softened. (About 5 minutes.)

Uncover and add remaining 4 cups of beans, bean puree, more salt and pepper, and simmer until hot throughout.

I served this with a loaf of gluten free French bread.

Monday, January 18, 2010


There's something about the cold weather, the grey skies, that makes me want to put a pot of chili on the stove. A big pot. One that will leave me with at least two more meals—one for later in the week, another to freeze.

And while there are more chili recipes than any of us could ever count, here's the way I make mine.

2 pounds of ground beef
1 large can of crushed tomatoes
1 small can of diced tomatoes
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium zucchini, diced (trust me on this)
1 can of great northern beans
1 can of black beans
2 scant tablespoons of Penzeys Chili 9000 seasoning (this can get spicy, so easy does it)
1 teaspoon of ground coriander
1 teaspoon of cumin
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

Swirl a bit of olive oil into a heavy stockpot. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the beef and cook through. At this point, I start seasoning—I add salt, pepper and the garlic.

Next, toss in the tomatoes, beans and zucchini (I like the balance of the zucchini's sweetness in this dish. Admittedly, we are huge zucchini fans in this house, but it really does add a lot of flavor.)

Stir and heat through. Add the chili seasoning and other spices (and if you can't get your hands on the Penzeys—which really is special—try chili powder, chili flakes, any combination that will spice it up is fine, even a pre-packaged chili mix would work).

Simmer for at least an hour, preferably two. I always taste it again towards the end to either add to or temper the heat. If it's not spicy enough for you, that's easy to fix. More chili seasoning. But if you think you might have spiced it up too much, try adding another can of diced tomatoes. You can also garnish with sour cream or serve it over white rice (both of which will cut the spice).

I garnish with grated cheddar and jack cheese, sour cream and diced green onions.

I serve the "next day" leftovers over rice or spaghetti, just to change it up a bit. No matter what, it's a winter-time favorite in our house, with everyone but the 8 year old, who clearly has no idea what he's missing.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Curried shrimp with peas

N had minor surgery on Wednesday (all's well, nothing to worry about), and I don't know what it was in my insane preop mom brain that made me assume I would actually bring him home that afternoon and then sit down and do my usual Wednesday-night-NTMC-recipe-writing ritual.

Because, clearly, I did not. Thus, please accept my apologies for the dead air here today.

Please accept, also, that I'm just going to sort of throw this recipe at you, without much in the way of witty and interesting introductory text.

Oh, and the blurry picture above. I don't know what happened there!

I will say the following: This was a first-time-tried recipe. I was in the library the other day, picking up something I'd placed on reserve, and I decided to browse through the cookbooks. When I saw this recipe in The Best Recipe (by the editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine), I grabbed the book with one hand, and fished out my library card with the other. I went straight from the library to the grocery store across the street, got the needed ingredients, and headed home. Because Cooks Illustrated is, by far, my favorite cooking magazine. Nothing else even comes close.

The only other thing I'll say is this: I think I may have had a slight allergic reaction to this dish, delicious as it was. Hives, itching...on my thighs. I'm guessing it was the shrimp, though it could just be my head. In any case, as I was reaching for the antihistamine, I thought of Niksmom, and how I should have known better than to even contemplate a recipe she's allergic to! Niksmom, you have some powerful mojo, girl!

And with that, I present the many-ingrediented (yes, I made up that word) but easy to make and utterly delicious...

Curried shrimp with peas (adapted from Cook's Illustrated's The Best Recipe)

For whole spice blend
2 cinnamon sticks
4 whole cloves
4 cardamom pods
8 peppercorns
1 bay leaf

For rest of recipe
1/4 cup canola oil
1 medium onion, sliced thin
4 large garlic cloves (puree in food processor with ginger, below)
about 2 inches fresh ginger, peeled (puree in food processor with garlic, above)
1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined (mine were frozen, and so had to be thawed along with peas, below)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
about 3 canned plum tomatoes
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
chopped fresh cilantro leaves (plus some for garnish)
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed

Some notes: You can omit as many of the spices as you like, or even other ingredients; this seems like a pretty forgiving recipe. In fact, the original has a bunch of other suggestions for things to add and/or subtract. This is not one of those recipes you need to sweat. At the same time, I do suggest getting everything out and measure and cut and prepare and set aside beforehand, as if you were the host on a cooking show. I almost always just grab ingredients as I go, but in this case, that would likely have spelled disaster, because the actual cooking goes QUICKLY.

1. Heat oil in pot or skillet; I used my dutch oven, and thought it was perfect for this. Let the oil get good and hot, then add the whole spice blend, stirring for less than 30 seconds. (The book's recipe never has you remove these whole spices, but I didn't like the idea of biting into them while eating, and so searched for and removed as many of them as I could find before serving the dish.)

2. Add onion; saute until softened or slightly browned.

3. Stir in garlic, ginger, ground spices (including salt), tomatoes, yogurt. Stir pretty much constantly until spices smell cooked, about two minutes.

4. Stir in cilantro and two cups of water; bring all to a boil. Taste and season with more salt, if needed.

5. Add shrimp and peas. Simmer for three minutes.

6. Serve over rice, because you're going to want something to sop up the spicy liquid. Trust me on this.

Enjoy. Because this is some hive-worthy stuff!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Spicy sausage and black bean stew

Cold and snow have arrived in my little town.  That means time to think about hot soups and stews and hearty breads fresh from the oven (or bread machine).  Here's a super simple one which requires a minimal number of ingredients and is so easy to throw together you can do it when you come in from sledding with the kids! Or, in our case, shoveling out the most snow my town has seen in at least a couple of decades!

The ingredients are simple:
1-2 pounds of ground sausage.  Don't like or don't have sausage? No problem. Substitute ANY meat of your choosing...anything you like will work. (See, I told you it's easy!)
1 large onion, chopped
1 14 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained. (Don't have black beans? Substitute navy beans or cannelloni)
1 large can crushed tomatoes
Mrs. Dash Extra Spicy salt-free blend (What? No Mrs. Dash? *gasp* Fine, substitute cayenne or tabasco sauce to taste)
1 1/2 cup uncooked rice (I use a long-grain/wild rice combo I buy locally. Just about any rice will do except Minute Rice or any other "instant" variety.)

In a large pot, brown the meat.  As I said, if you don't have— or don't like— sausage, feel free to substitute just about any meat you want. Seriously. Stew meat, cut up chicken breast, ground beef...whatever makes you happy.  After all, this is nearly in the realm of comfort food!

Rinse and drain the beans and add them to the pot.  Add the tomatoes and onion.  Season as liberally or conservatively as you wish with seasoning.  I have a heavy hand because everyone in our house likes it spicy.
Simmer for about ten minutes then give it a few good stirs.

Add the rice and stir.  Add enough water to make it a soupy consistency.  Cover. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for about an hour or until the rice is thoroughly cooked.  You will want to stir occasionally so nothing burns on the bottom of the pan.

The beauty of this "stew" is that you can make it as thick or as thin as you want.  Too thick after simmering for so long? No problem; just add a little water or broth to get the desired consistency.  Too thin? Just let it simmer a bit longer.

Serve piping hot in bowls.  I topped ours with some sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese and garnished with fresh cilantro.  Add a salad and some hot bread or cornbread and you've got yourself a nice heart meal guaranteed to warm your insides.

** This stew is naturally gluten free and casein free.  You may also adapt it for slow cookers by tossing in all the ingredients, including rice and water, and cook on low for about 8 hours.  Longer is fine, too if you need to set it going before work, for example.

Omit the meat completely for a delicious vegetarian stew. You may want to add more beans for additional protein.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Roasted pork tenderloin

If I were to wager a guess, I'd have to say I cook pork tenderloin about once a month. In the summer, I toss it on the grill; but when the weather doesn't permit, I'm not afraid to roast it. In some ways, I consider this cut of meat fairly idiot-proof. And though (as a born and bred California girl) I prefer my meat on the grill, this is just as tasty and tender—if not more so—when oven roasted.

As a bit of an aside, I'm not a huge fan of marinades—some cuts of meat (flank steak is one example) simply beg for a marinade to add flavor and tenderness, but I find when cooked properly, pork tenderloin is more than capable of standing on its own.

I don't have a "recipe" to share here, as much as a technique. And as far as cooking techniques go, this one is fairly simple.

First, I buy my pork tenderloin wherever I can find it. At the butcher, at the grocery store; and honestly, since most of the time it's a pre-packaged cut (I think one brand I see often here is Hormel) it doesn't matter. I do, however, prefer the cut that gives you two thin tenderloins, rather than one thicker one. There's no way to know what's in the package until you open it, so it's a bit of trial and error.

Anyway, here's what it looks like out of the package:

Once it's in the pan, I rub the meat with some good olive oil and a flavorful roast seasoning. I really like Snyders Prime Rib seasoning, but I can't find it here so I make my mom buy it from her butcher and ship it to me. Yes, it's that good.

I add some rosemary—fresh if I have it, dried if I don't—and since I had some fresh pearl onions on hand tonight, I tossed those in the pan too.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and roast (turning once or twice) for about 45 minutes, or until the internal temp reads 160 degrees. I add a little water or white wine about 15 minutes before taking the meat out of the oven—just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. The liquid creates a nice au jus that you can pour over the meat, or use as a base for gravy.

After the meat comes out of the oven, let it rest for about 10 minutes before carving.

I served mine tonight with an orange and feta cheese salad, stuffing, peas and applesauce. Four adults, an 8 year old, and there wasn't a slice leftover. Come to think of it, there wasn't ANYTHING leftover.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Jewish penicillin (aka Chicken soup with matzo balls)

"I don't know why," my friend's son, Joey, said to me the other night, when he arrived at my house for a sleepover with N, wiggling with delight when he smelled the soup cooking on the stove, "but I love Jewish food!"

Chicken soup with matzo balls goes so far beyond Jewish food, though. It's comfort food, too. And if you'll allow me to depart from my usual steadfast belief in peer-reviewed studies for just a moment, it's downright medicinal. (And I'm not the only one who says so.) I'll never forget my junior year in college in snowbound Schenectady, New York, sitting in a classroom trying to study for finals despite a fever and sinus pressure I thought would make my head explode, and smelling...I swear, I smelled it like there was a pot right in front of mother's chicken soup with matzo balls. (Yes, even though it was pure hallucination, I knew there were matzo balls in it. There are always matzo balls in it.) Afterwards? I felt better. Seriously.

Joey's mom, my friend A, prone to bronchitis and other wintertime infections, will undoubtedly back me up on the curative powers of my soup; I've made her more than one batch in my time for just that purpose.

But wait. There's more.

Both my kids graduated from baby foods to soft foods via matzo balls scooped out of the soup. Em has more than once requested chicken soup with matzo balls as her special birthday dinner...despite her birthday being in late August. When we head up to Big Bear with "the gang" for our annual four-family trip next weekend (eight adults; ten kids under the age of 13; more fun than you can shake a sled at), I will be expected to bring my enormous 15-quart pot with me, and soup will be one of my culinary contributions. (I'll have to add extra turnips and parsnips, or A and I will fight over them.)

But, really, I doubt I needed to sing this soup's praises for quite this long. I'm guessing--especially if you've ever had a bowl of the "real thing"--that I had you at "matzo balls."

Chicken soup with matzo balls: A recipe in two parts

Part 1: Chicken soup

None of these amounts are set in stone; this is very much a go-your-own-way kind of recipe. But I'll give you the approximate amounts I use.
  • chicken (for a big batch in my 15-quart pot, I use either two whole chickens, or one whole chicken plus as many additional parts as I can find, depending on what's on sale)
  • carrots (I'll come clean and admit I've gotten lazy over the years, and so I usually just throw in a couple of handfuls of those already-peeled baby carrots, rather than peeling and chopping my own; if you go the peel-and-chop way, I'd use about a pound of carrots)
  • onions (one large or two medium)
  • turnips (one if you're not a turnip fan; more if you are)
  • parsnips (see turnips)
  • celery (the leafiest bunch of celery you can find; that's where the flavor is, soup-wise)
  • dill (one bunch)
  • parsley (one bunch)
  • kosher salt (to taste)
1. Clean the chicken: Keep neck, pupik, any other hard stuff; get rid of liver, fat, kidneys and membranes. Run water through until clean.

2. My mother's method of making this soup--and she's the one who taught me--is to run cold water into the pot, bring it to a boil, then add the chicken. I, on the other hand, find that too much water makes it impossible to get a really chicken-y soup. So instead, I put in as much chicken as I have, then add water to about an inch above. (This level will rise as you add the various veggies; make sure you don't start the soup with water anywhere near the top of your pot. Mine is generally between the half and two-thirds point. It's why you need a really big pot if you want to make a lot of soup. My pot? Makes a LOT of soup.) I then bring the water to a boil with the chicken already in the pot, and skim the foam that arises. (No, I don't want to know what that foam is or where it comes from.)

3. Again, my mother and I differ here. She has you next wash the dill and parsley and tie them together before throwing them into the pot; makes it easier to remove them later on. I find that no matter what I tie them with, they always fall apart, and then I'm fishing around for a string in the soup. I just wash them and throw them in, and my soup is full of green bits, and sometimes my kids complain, but most of the time they ignore it. So my instruction would be just to wash the dill and parsley, and toss 'em in the pot.

4. Peel and chop carrots (if you need to); peel and chop turnips and parsnips. Use leaves from celery, plus some of the stalks as well, cut into pieces. Take skin off of onion, but leave whole. Add to soup.

5. Boil over very low heat (you barely want it to bubble) for several hours. Taste as you go, adding whatever is needed, usually salt.* Once it's done, and if the whole chicken-fat thing bugs you, you can let it cool overnight and then skim the fat off in the morning before adding the matzo balls. But me? Not a chance.

*OK. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the soup never gets chicken-y enough. The world will not end if you add a couple of bouillon cubes or whatever to boost it along. Not that I have ever done that. No way, no how. Except for, um, pretty much every time when I first started making my own soup; about a third of the time now that I have the proportions down a little better. If I don't have five or six hours to simmer it, though? I almost always need to add a little somethingsomething.

Part 2: Matzo balls

Get ready, folks: Your cholesterol is about to go up 30 or 40 points just by READING this recipe. Don't say I didn't warn you. Oh, and also? My mother's recipe is for half this amount, and if you have a smallish pot or make just one chicken's worth of soup, you might want to halve it, too. But I don't think I've ever made that few matzo balls; the natives would revolt if I tried. So I'm giving it to you the way I make it most of the time. Sometimes, I'll up this by 50% again!
  • 8 eggs
  • 10 tablespoons oil (I use canola)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (or just eyeball it, which is what I do)
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2-3 cups matzo meal (very approximate; see instructions)
1. Beat eggs and oil together well.

2. Add water; mix again.

3. Add salt; stir.

4. Stir in matzo meal. How much? It's really an eye thing. What you want is to form a batter that is no longer watery, but isn't too thick.

(See this? This is too soupy. It needs more matzo meal.)

Now, this? Is perfect. It's not a leaden lump at the bottom of the bowl; it'll flow, slowly, like lava, if you tilt the bowl. But it still has a little 'shape' to it.

5. Place batter in refrigerator for several hours. It needs to chill well in order for the batter to firm up properly.

6. About half an hour to an hour before you want to serve the soup, it's time to make the matzo balls. You do this the old-fashioned rolling them with your hands. To keep the sticky batter from sticking to your hands, you'll want to wet them (your hands, not the balls) frequently with cold water. Drop each matzo ball into the soup as you make it; if there's room, they will sink into the soup, then rise to the top as they cook. Oftentimes, though, there's not enough room for all of them to do this (at least not in my crowded-with-veggies-and-chicken pot!) and you'll need to occasionally stir the soup around so that the matzo balls roll over and get a chance to absorb the soup on all sides.

And that is it! (Are you happy now, Green? Me, too.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Oven pork chops

I'm not one to make New Year resolutions too often. But if I were, no doubt one of them would have something to do with seeking more variety in what we eat, and trying new things.

It's one of the reasons I like this blog, (Never) Too Many Cooks, so much. I aim to try at least one new recipe per week. And because I post once a week, I aim to try an additional something new at home too.

This week, however, coming off the holidays and all manner of colds and viruses running through the house, I resorted to an old familiar for dinner.

These oven pork chops are a tried and true recipe that comes from a family friend. It is naturally free of gluten and casein. And ridiculously simple.

Oven Pork Chops

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Mix together
1/4 cup diced onion
1 Tbsp vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 cup maple syrup

Brown pork chops in skillet.

Place in baking dish and pour the mixture over the pork chops.

Bake for 45 minutes, covered.

Remove foil and bake an additional 15 minutes uncovered.

Usually I like to serve this with mashed potatoes, but the few potatoes in my cupboard had started to go soft. So we went with our standard (gluten-free) pasta and a side of peas.

For those of you who don't eat pork, I can't see why this wouldn't work just as well with chicken.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My mom's meat sauce

I'm not Italian. I just play one in my marriage.

And I've often thought that the recipe for my mom's meat sauce would make my Italian mother-in-law's hair stand on end. There's something about the ingredients for this sauce that lacks authenticity, but the end result is really really really good. Even my mother-in-law thinks so (though I've never actually told her how it is made). I've served this sauce, in fact, to countless members of my husband's family and never once has anyone labeled me a fraud.


Here's what you need:

2 pounds of chopped meat (you can use all beef or all pork, or a combination of beef, pork and veal)
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1 large can of tomato juice (see? not an authentic ingredient)
1 large can of tomato puree
1 large packet of spaghetti sauce seasoning mix (again, not authentic)
3 heaping tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
1 generous teaspoon each of dried basil, and dried oregano
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion and garlic in about a tablespoon of olive oil, then add the chopped meat. Cook until the meat is no longer pink, stirring often.

Pour in the tomato juice and the tomato puree, mix well. Add the seasonings: basil, oregano, bay leaf, salt, pepper, seasoning packet and then stir in the parmesan cheese.

Bring to a low boil and then reduce the heat to simmer for about 30 minutes. The beauty of this sauce is that it almost doesn't matter how long you let it simmer. If 30 minutes turns into an hour, no problem. If you only have 20 minutes to get dinner on the table, no problem.

Spoon over hot pasta, sprinkle with more parmesan cheese and you're done.

I admit to enjoying this sauce so much that I will very often eat it out of a mug with a spoon. So, again, in the most inauthentic way, I guess the pasta could be considered optional. ;-)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Maple sage pork roast

It's no mystery that I love my slow cooker...a lot.  The way things have been going around my house lately —what with snowmageddon before Christmas, all of us being in varying stages of some respiratory illness or another, and the challenges of keeping up with my child who doesn't stop until he passes out in bed at night—you better believe my slow cooker is my new BFF.  Sorry, Red, I still love you but you don't give me the warm fuzzies the way my slow cooker can.

What? Oh, am I freaking you all out a bit with my appliance love? Sorry.

Since I was all set to do my pulled pork recipe last week but didn't, I needed a plan to use my yummy pork shoulder roast.  As the temperatures dropped over the last few days, I found something too irresistible to pass up.  How could you not love something which includes a succulent roast, winter squash and maple syrup?

The original recipe comes from one of those publications one nearly always sees in line at the grocery store.  This one's a Betty Crocker mini-magazine of slow cooker meals dating all the way back to 2006.  Yes, I saved the magazine all these years because I'm apparently too stupid to realize that Al Gore gave me this nifty tool called the internet.  You, my friends, can find the original recipe here.

With all the aforementioned hindrances to leisurely and organized cooking in my household of late, I didn't have all the ingredients on hand.  I knew I couldn't use corn starch because of a food sensitivity and I don't use bouillon granules or cubes (I can't handle the msg and nitrates that are usually in those things so I avoid 'em like the plague).  So I did what any self-respecting cook would do— I made it up as I went along.

I have to say, it turned out really delicious.  Even my finicky eater who's just learning to chew meat has been enjoying the leftovers!  Now that I think of it, that's not a rousing endorsement as he'll eat pretty much everything. Hmmm...

My husband enjoyed this so much he's asked me to make it again with a slight change which I'll share at the end of this post.

Here's the recipe as I made it:

2- to 3-lb boneless pork shoulder roast
4 tablespoons real maple syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons ground sage (I didn't have leaves on hand)
1/2 cup beef broth
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 1/2 cups baby-cut carrots
2 small onions, cut into wedges
3 tablespoons xanthan gum
1/2 cup water

If the pork roast comes in netting or string, remove that and put the roast in the bottom of the cooker.
In a small bowl, mix the syrup, beef broth, garlic and sage.  Pour the mixture over the pork.
Arrange the carrots, onions, and squash around the pork roast. 

Do not put the vegetables on top of the roast or they won't cook thoroughly. (This is a great tip if you are making, say, beef stew and don't want your vegetables to be mushy.)
Cover; cook on HIGH heat  setting for 4 hours. (NB: original recipe says 8-9 hours on LOW)
Remove the pork and vegetables from the cooker and cover them to keep them warm.  Now would be a great time to slice the roast and put it on a platter or in a casserole with the vegetables arranged oh-so-artfully around it like I did.  (Wow, I typed that with a straight face; lightning is about to strike me.) 

Pour the juices from the cooker into either a sauce pan or a large microwavable measuring cup.
Mix the xanthan gum and water until smooth. Add it to the juices in the cup or pan, Heat and stir until it thickens into a nice glaze.  Spoon the maple glaze over the pork and veggies.
If you plan your menu ahead of time, you definitely should consider adding these yummy side dishes to the meal.  Homemade biscuits (they're easy, I swear!), superb applesauce and maybe even some roasted brussels sprouts.  And, voila, dinner is served!

While I think this dish is absolutely yummy, both my husband and I tend to like a bit more depth and complexity; we like to play "What's in this?" sometimes. (Yeah, we're a little quirky that way; what can I say?)  We discussed several recipe modifications but the one which intrigues us the most —which I will make tomorrow— is to substitute garam masala for the sage for a flavorful Indian-style dish. I may add some chopped dates and serve it with naan bread. 
What are some of the ways you get adventurous when you cook?