Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tilapia chowder with fresh tarragon

I used to buy those frozen packages that contained several fillets of tilapia; they were cheap, and what did I know? I've come to find it's worth spending an extra few bucks to get fresh fillets. Not only do they taste much more delicious, but they are much meatier than those flimsy frozen ones that have very little flavor until you add a bunch of stuff to them.

The idea for this recipe came from a recipe I saw a long time ago. It sounded so wonderful, but it had bacon and heavy cream. I think those ingredients are great for special occasions, but I wanted to make an everyday kind of soup that I wouldn't feel guilty about. I think part of what's so great about fish is that it's so healthy low-cal, and tilapia in particular is super lean. I also wanted a recipe I could throw in the crock pot and forget about for a while -- especially this week because I've got a lot on my plate (hee-hee).

Here's what I came up with. The fresh tarragon is very important, so don't consider leaving it out! It's a favorite herb of mine, and if you've never had it, take a taste to make sure you like it. It's got a hint of anise (slightly licorice-y).

Tilapia chowder with fresh tarragon (serves about 5)

1 pound tilapia fillets, cut into bite-sized chunks

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

3 celery stalks, chopped

2 potatoes, chopped (I left the skins on)

2 carrots, sliced

1.5 teaspoons chicken broth powder

1/2 cup frozen peas

1.5 cups frozen corn

2 cups water

coarsely ground salt and black pepper, to taste

1.5 cups soy milk

about 4 tablespoons fresh tarragon, torn

1.) Put all ingredients except 3 tablespoons tarragon and the soy milk in a crock pot. Stir gently to blend, and cook on low for about 3.5 hours.

2.) Sprinkle the leftover tablespoons of tarragon on top of the chowder just before serving. I sprinkled a little on each individual bowl.

"I believe that if I ever had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around." (James Beard, as quoted at Timeless Quotes)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Roasted asparagus with parmesan crisps

I thought I'd try roasting asparagus the same way I do broccoli -- super hot and super fast. It turned out great. I made parmesan crisps to go with them, and I ground them coarsely and sprinkled them on top of the veggies. The general consensus about the crisps: They rocked. (I got that recipe from Domino magazine.)

Roasted asparagus with parmesan crisps (makes 4 side servings)

1 bunch asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and black pepper, to taste
1 cup grated parmesan (I recommend buying a nice, aged chunk and grating it yourself)
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour

1.) Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. While that is heating, mix your parmesan with the teaspoon of flour by hand.

2.) Heat a non-stick skillet medium-high, and drop tiny amounts of the parm mixture into it. As soon as they start to bubble and turn golden, flip them with a plastic spatula and let them sizzle on the other side. Cool them on a plate.

3.) Toss the asparagus with olive oil and roast for 5 minutes. Turn them once, and roast another 5 minutes.

4.) When the parm crisps are cool, grind them coarsely. Sprinkle the asparagus with salt and pepper, to taste, then sprinkle the crisps liberally on top. (You might have a few crisps left over...)

Up next: Tilapia chowder with fresh tarragon

Today's question: Can you help me find a really good broccoli recipe? I'd like to make it more often.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Olive oil dipping sauce

I mentioned in this post that Dan and I had a tasty meal at Grazie Italian Eatery recently. I love places that serve olive oil with bread... So I decided to try to copy Grazie's dip, which was very good. The server told me it had thyme and crushed red pepper, and I noticed there was some rosemary in there, too.

Here's what I came up with, and I cheated on the dried herbs -- I used herbes de Provence, which is a mixture of dried herbs you can buy. I didn't include measurements here because it's much easier just to put your dried stuff in a little bowl and swirl some olive oil on top... There's no need to worry about quantities; it's easily fixable if you feel there's too much or too little of anything.

My favorite bread to dip into this is La Brea's whole grain loaf.

Olive oil dipping sauce

extra-virgin olive oil

crushed red pepper

freshly ground black pepper

herbes de Provence*

granulated garlic

coarsely ground salt

*By the way, this would be delicious with just rosemary, garlic, oil, salt, and pepper. But be sure the rosemary is dried; it can be a little bitter when it's fresh.

Today's question: Do you have any favorite dipping sauces for bread?

Friday, September 26, 2008

A healthy breakfast: Barley cereal with fruit

It sure didn't sound too exciting to me, either, but it wasn't bad. I like warm cereals, and this one reminded me quite a bit of brown rice. Needless to say, the toppings were key, and next time, I'll use fresh apple, cinnamon, and walnuts. I'll never tire of that combo.

I had never bought or cooked barley before, though I've enjoyed it when I've had it in soups. I thought I'd try it as a breakfast cereal because I get bored with my usual whole-grain options -- flaky cereal, oatmeal, 11-grain, etc.

Barley cereal with fruit (makes 1 large serving)

1/2 cup barley

about 1.5 cups water

1/4 cup blueberries (fresh is best, for sure, but I only had frozen) OR 1/2 banana, sliced, 3-4 sliced strawberries, or 1/4 apple, chopped

1/2 cup yogurt

drizzle of honey -- by the way, I love Hunter's Honey from Martinsville

optional: dash of cinnamon with the apple

sprinkle of toasted almonds, walnuts, or pecans, chopped

1.) Boil the barley, covered, with the water, until the water is soaked up. (This took me about a half-hour, I think.) It will cook like rice.

2.) Put the grains in a bowl, and top with fruit, nuts, yogurt, and honey. Brown sugar would taste good, too.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Corny cornbread

I decided to make this last-minute the other night, with blackened catfish and zucchini slaw. It went so well! It would also go great with the Jamaican pumpkin vegetable curry stew and the spicy white bean and sweet potato stew with collards.

When I need a basic recipe for something typically American -- meatloaf, zucchini bread, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, etc. -- I turn first to the Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book (mine is from 1989, and there are newer versions being released all the time it seems). It's a trusty source, with loads and loads of recipes, pictures, info about cooking time for poultry and cuts of meat, and the like.

So that's where this cornbread recipe comes from, and there are alternative options, too, such as corn muffins and green chili corn bread. I opted for the one with kernels in it.

Corny cornbread (makes 8 large servings)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cornmeal (any color)

2-4 tablespoons sugar (I used 3)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

one 12-ounce can of corn, drained (I used 1.5 cups of defrosted frozen kernels)

1.) Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

2.) In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, and oil.

3.) Combine the two mixtures, stirring just until smooth.

4.) Stir in corn kernels.

5.) Bake in a non-stick or greased round pan -- or a 9x9x2-inch pan -- for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown, at 425 degrees. Serve with butter on the side!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Heaven (must be missin' a pumpkin stew)

It's true, I did just add music in my head to this one. It's absolutely yummilicious! The photo does not do it justice.

I was a little worried about how it would turn out, but I thought the ingredients sounded really tasty and interesting... Could have been a disaster, I guess, and I would have felt really terrible because I made it for my friend Stefanie and her family, who just welcomed a baby boy.

I know that Stefanie, her husband Dyvan, and their 2- and 4-year-old boys like spicy food, so I took a chance on this new recipe. I thought pumpkin was fitting for this time of year, and we have lots of habaneros in our garden.

The recipe is from "Lucinda's Authentic Jamaican Kitchen," which I found -- once again -- at my public library (which has a positively humongous cookbook section, by the way). The only changes I made were using a little less oil and a little less salt.

I am a fan of Jamaican food. I went to Jamaica once, with my mom, back in '98. We had an amazing time, eating fruit that tasted sweeter than I would have thought possible, spicy jerk, raw sugar cane, perfect coffee, giant sweet potatoes that were white, not orange... The sights were incredible, too; we biked down part of the Blue Mountains in the rain -- in the rain forest, literally -- and it was just awesome. (This is the exact tour we took.) On the way back to our hotel, our bus was trapped on the mountain by a mudslide, and for a moment, we thought we might die on that bus, with Bob Marley music playing on the speakers. People who lived in small huts on the mountain came out to help dig out the bus. Definitely surreal.

Well, this stew is so good, I wish I had made even more, so we could have kept some at home! I will make it for my own family this fall, that's for sure. Maybe for Alice's first birthday, which falls on Halloween (though she'll probably just have some plain, cooked pumpkin...).

I used fresh, local, organic pumpkin from Bloomingfoods, and I do believe it was my first time cooking with fresh pumpkin. A super-cute pumpkin at that, as you can see below.

Jamaican pumpkin vegetable curry stew (serves about 6)

4.5 tablespoons vegetable oil

a 2-pound pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and chopped

2 onions, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

4 tablespoons curry (I like Madras curry)

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1.5 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper (I used black)

4 chopped tomatoes

1.3 cups water

2 carrots, sliced

2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped

2 green bananas, chopped

2 whole green Scotch bonnet peppers (habaneros will do)

1.) Heat the oil medium-high in a soup pot. Add the onion, cook about 2 minutes, then add the garlic, and cook another minute. Add the curry, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and pepper, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring.

2.) Add the tomatoes, and stir. Add the water, scraping the pan bottom.

3.) Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and simmer, medium-low, for 20 minutes.

4.) Remove the Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers before serving.

Today's question: Where have you traveled where the food just delighted you?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Super low-calorie zucchini slaw

It's time to get serious again about watching what I eat. I mentioned in this blog that I had 5 more baby pounds to lose. Sadly, I still have those 5 pounds. But, hey, at least it's not more!
Anyway, it hasn't been easy to diet with visitors here -- I want to make good meals that they will remember -- and I think I've indulged for good reasons (my dad's birthday and my parents' anniversary).

I'm pretty good at finding recipes that are fun to make AND low-calorie and low-fat. I guess it's become sort of a mission in my life. You know, it's easier to make delicious meals with lots of bad ingredients, such as butter and cream. And who doesn't love deep-fried things like fried chicken or donuts? To make delicious meals that are also good for you, well, that's a real challenge.

Here's a recipe that has just 31 calories per serving! Sure, it's just a side dish, but how many side dishes can you say that about? 31 calories is nothing.

Also: It's got no fat, 2 grams of protein per serving, and 6 grams of carbs per serving. Oh, yeah: and it tastes really good! I like it with blackened fish. (FYI, I got this from Eating Well.)

Zucchini slaw (makes 6 servings)

1.5 pounds zucchini, grated

1 medium sweet onion, such as vidalia, very thinly sliced

1.5 teaspoons coarse salt

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1 small red pepper, diced

3 tablespoons frozen apple juice concentrate

2 tablespoons fresh basil

salt and pepper, to taste

1.) Toss the zucchini and onion with the coarse salt, and set in a colander to drain for a half-hour.

2.) Squeeze them to get rid of the juices, and place them in a bowl.

3.) In a separate bowl, combine apple juice concentrate, cider vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add the zucchini, onion, red pepper, and basil to the dressing.

4.) Add salt and pepper, and toss to coat.

Coming up this week: OK, I know, I know, I've slacked again... I promise I will post the olive oil bread-dip recipe this week. I will also post a warm barley cereal recipe, corny cornbread, and Jamaican pumpkin curry stew (I'm most excited about that one!).

Today's question: What's your favorite diet-worthy meal, side, or snack?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Healthy way to start the day: Super smoothie

At only about 300 calories, this nutritious beverage is great for breakfast, a mid-day treat, or a post-run snack. I'll soon post another recipe for breakfast -- for warm barley cereal.

Super smoothie (makes 1 pint-size drink)

1 banana

5-6 fresh strawberries

1/4 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

1 cup yogurt

1/2 cup soy milk

Combine all ingredients with a hand blender or food processor.

I like my smoothies pretty simple, but you can add any of the following to kick up the healthy factor a notch:

1/2 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon ground flax seed

1/2 teaspoon fresh, grated ginger

1 tablespoon raw wheat bran

1 tablespoon toasted wheat germ

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Stuffed tofu with spicy tahini sauce

I'm always looking for new tofu recipes. I've grown to love those chewy, protein-packed pieces of mysteriousness. (Is that even a word?)
One of my favorite things is that deep-fried tofu appetizer at Japanese restaurants. Mmmm.

Well, I was browsing through The Wine and Food Lover's Diet and found a recipe for tofu "pockets" that were packed with fresh herbs, then topped with a spicy tahini sauce. I love tahini, and the sauce actually is the star of the meal. It's loaded with garlicky-lemony goodness, and it will become a regular dip of mine. In fact, I had some today on roasted salmon and Brussels sprouts that I got in a hurry at my beloved Bloomingfoods coop.

As usual, I've adapted the recipe for the tofu, but the sauce has been kept in tact from the book. I like the idea of stuffing tofu, so in the future I will make it with other fillings, such as spinach or other greens, or maybe spiced couscous.

Stuffed tofu (serves 2)

8-10 ounces water-packed, firm tofu

10 basil leaves, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

1 green onion, thinly sliced

zest of half a lemon

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1.) Drain the tofu on a paper towel, with something weighted on top, such as a pan or plate.

2.) Cut the tofu in half lengthwise, then in half across the width. Then split those pieces into triangles. You should have 8.

3.) In a small bowl, combine basil, red pepper, lemon zest, green onion, and toasted sesame seeds.

4.) Slice each triangle, lengthwise, halfway through. Stuff with basil mixture.

5.) Heat oil in a non-stick skillet, and sear the tofu, about 2 minutes per side. Be careful not to break the tofu or lost the filling when flipping. Serve with spicy tahini sauce.

Spicy tahini sauce

1/3 cup tahini
1/4 cup water

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

juice of half a lemon

pinch of cayenne pepper

salt and black pepper

Put all ingredients into a food processor and blend. Heat in a small saucepan before serving. It should be creamy and bubble while heating. Dish is shown below with roasted lemon broccoli.

Broccoli for the discerning

Something that makes you gassy, smells a little stinky while cooking, tastes terribly bland raw, and needs lots of seasoning to be palatable? No thanks!
That's how I felt about broccoli for ages (although I confess I do like it in Chinese food, the kind at greasy buffets, drenched in MSG-laden sauce).

But really? Broccoli? As a side dish? F0r regular dinners?! I've steered clear.

I was a little stressed about it because I try to be healthy, and broccoli has long been touted as a "super food."

Then I found this super simple recipe. Actually, to make a short story long, ever since I roasted Brussels sprouts this way (with shallots mixed in: Heaven!) one Thanksgiving, I've been sold on the method.

It's so simple. Regardless of what you're roasting -- zucchini, bell peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, etc. -- all you do is toss with some olive oil -- enough to coat it nicely -- and roast briefly in a very hot oven. For broccoli, that means at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, stirring once, halfway through cooking. The florets will brown nicely, giving those fumey, green mini-tree-looking things a whole lot of flavor. At the end of this, lemon adds the final touch.

Here's the recipe. (For info on the rest of the meal, pictured above with spicy tofu packets, "tune in" tomorrow!)

Roasted broccoli with lemon (2-3 side servings)

One bunch of broccoli, tough stems cut off

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice -- about half a lemon

salt and pepper, to taste

1.) Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.

2.) Toss broccoli with oil and spread onto a non-stick roasting pan.

3.) Roast for 5 minutes, then remove from oven and turn the broccoli florets, brown side facing up.

4.) Roast for 5 more minutes.

5.) Remove from oven, add salt and pepper, and drizzle lemon on top.

Q: How do you fix a broken pizza?

A: With tomato paste. (from the Scholastic "ROFL" book)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The ultimate pecan pie

The name says it all.

My friend Lissa makes a pecan pie that does give this one a run for its money -- I'll see if she'll let me post the recipe here; it's a family recipe -- but this tried-and-true calorie bomb is fit for a king. Alas, it was the dessert for my dad's 66th birthday last week.

I can't remember where this recipe came from. But, instead of tossing all ingredients together, as is customary with pecan pie, this one requires a little more work with the nuts. It's worth it, I promise. The crust I use also has no partially hydrogenated oils.

Ultimate pecan pie (makes 8 servings)

1 cup toasted pecans -- toss them with 1 tablespoon butter, melted, and roast them at 325 degrees for 12 minutes on a cookie sheet

1 cup quartered pecans

1/2 cup finely crushed pecans -- use a mortar and pestle or a food processor

3 eggs, beaten with a fork

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light corn syrup

3 tablespoons butter, melted

3/4 cup brown sugar

pinch of salt

prepared pie crust -- I love the frozen Wick's kind, so I no longer make my own (it was never very good!) -- make sure to follow the directions on the crust

1.) Combine the eggs, corn syrup, melted butter, brown sugar, and salt. Stir in the quartered pecans.

2.) Spread the crushed pecans on the bottom of the pie crust. Pour the filling on top. Spread the toasted pecans on top of that.

3.) Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Cool on a wire rack.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Indian potato and pea soup

This soup, slightly adapted from the book Practical Cooking: Soups, is wonderful in chilly weather. It's also great for those watching calories -- it's got about 150 calories per serving -- and for those cooks who desire something intensely flavorful but easy to make on the stove.

I made this recently for the first time, and as I mentioned in a previous post, I forgot to take a photo! It turns out quite chunky, but it's not pureed, so you'll want to pay attention to cutting the veggies attractively (if you care about that kind of thing).

Indiana potato and pea soup (makes 5 servings)

2 tablespoons canola oil

1/2 pound potatoes, diced

1 large onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon garam masala (a favorite spice of mine)

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3 cups vegetable stock

1 cup soy milk

1 seeded and chopped red chile (leave unseeded if you want it extra spicy)

4 ounces frozen peas

5 tablespoons plain yogurt or soy yogurt

salt and pepper, to taste

1/4 cup chopped, fresh cilantro

1.) Saute the potatoes, onion, and garlic in heated oil in a soup pot, stirring, for 5 minutes, then add the ground spices and cook for another minute.

2.) Add the veggie stock and red chile. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes.

3.) Add the peas, and cook another 3 minutes or so.

4.) Stir in the soy milk, letting it heat up but not continue to cook.

5.) Serve in individual bowls with a tablespoon of yogurt on top of each. Garnish with cilantro.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Leftovers: Lobster, sweet potato, and corn bisque

Finding this recipe was absolute luck.

When Dan and I had whole lobsters quite a while back, I kept the shells and boiled them to make a stock, adding carrots, onion, and celery. I knew I wanted to make some sort of lobster-infused stew or soup, but beyond that, I wasn't sure what it would turn into.

I had sweet potatoes and corn in the house, and I thought those would probably go really well. Lo and behold, I opened a cookbook I had only used for a mushroom soup recipe a couple times -- Totally Dairy-Free Cooking, by Louis Lanza -- and found a recipe for lobster, sweet potato, and corn bisque. I cut the recipe in half and adapted it for my needs (i.e. I didn't have any brandy or white wine). Here's the resulting concoction, which turned out really delicious. The soy milk adds a little sweetness, and the lobster flavor really permeates the whole thing.

You could make your stock with the leftover shells from my broiled lobster tails recipe. Just boil the tails gently in enough water to cover them completely for about two hours -- cover the pot, too -- then strain the broth and discard the shells. Refrigerate if not using immediately to make the bisque.

Lobster, sweet potato, and corn bisque (makes 6 servings)

2 sweet potatoes

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/2 cup chopped carrots

1/2 cup frozen corn

1/2 cup cooking sherry

1/2 cup water

5 cups lobster stock

1 cup lowfat soy milk or vanilla soy milk (I like WestSoy Plus)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1.) Peel the sweet potatoes, cut into chunks, and steam until tender (for several minutes).

2.) Heat the olive oil in a stock pot, add the onion and cook about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and corn and cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes.

3.) Add the sherry and water and simmer, reducing the liquid to about half. Add the lobster stock and bring to a boil.

4.) Reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes.

5.) Add the sweet potatoes to the soup, and blend with a hand blender. Slowly add the soy milk while blending.

6.) Season with salt and pepper.

Coming up this week: I plan to re-create the tasty dipping olive oil from Grazie Italian Eatery, and I will share a roasted broccoli recipe that changed my mind about the green cruciferous veggies that I had been avoiding for so long. Also, I promise to post the Indian pea and potato soup recipe -- finally! If I have the time, I will also post the pecan pie recipe I made for my dad's 66th birthday on Friday. Otherwise, you'll just have to wait for that one. (It's worth it.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Broiled lobster tails

If you like lobster, buying tails alone is better than getting whole lobsters. Not only is the preparation much, much easier, but eating them is not such a difficult mess -- although I'd still serve a bowl with lemon water on the side.

The tails are the tastiest part of the shellfish, and more affordable, I would say. Dan and I had whole lobsters one year on our anniversary, and we paid about $50 for two. Two tails, frozen, are $12.99 at Kroger.

The other night, we had tails on another anniversary, not our own. September 10 was my parents' 42nd anniversary! Here are photos to prove it.

The first photo was Sept. 10, 1966; the other was taken Sept. 10, 2008.

I decided to broil the lobster because most recipes I saw were for broiled, not grilled. But we grilled local, bi-color corn to have with them, along with this potato salad, made with extra tarragon. This butternut squash-potato puree with fresh thyme would go really well, too.

Check your diet at the door, and pass plenty of melted butter on the side.

Broiled lobster tails (serves 4-5)

8-10 frozen tails *

lots of butter

1.) Thaw lobster tails, unwrapped, in the refrigerator for about 4 hours.

2.) Brush them with butter and place them under a pre-heated broiler, about 4 inches from the flame. Let them cook 10-12 minutes. They will be ready with the tails turn up and the shells turn red.

3.) Serve with melted butter on the side.

* Keep the tail shells to make a lobster-corn bisque. I'll post that recipe sometime soon.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Spicy white bean & sweet potato stew with collards

I grew up in a meat and potatoes kind of family. It wasn't until I met Dan that I realized I could eat meatless meals.

When I first got to know him, I went to his house for breakfast with some fellow workers from our local watering hole, Bear's Place. He had made delicious biscuits and gravy, an Indiana breakfast staple packed with sausage. It was only much later that I learned the whole purpose of the breakfast was to prove to our mutual friend Forest that he could make good biscuits and gravy with vegetarian sausage. (He used Gimme Lean, by the way.)

Now, we rarely eat meat substitutes, except for breakfast "sausage" -- the Morningstar Farm patties are really good -- and of course veggie burgers and veggie hot dogs. But we eat vegetarian dinners about four times a week.

When my parents come to visit -- and they're here right now -- I try to make vegetarian meals that I think they will really enjoy. So last night I stuck to a favorite, from my book Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker. It's a little bit spicy, and we all added extra hot sauce to it in our bowls. We also dunked warm sourdough bread into it.

Spicy white bean and sweet potato stew with collards (serves 4 to 6)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 red pepper, seeded and chopped

1 small hot red pepper, seeded and minced (I used a habanero)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

a 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes

two 15.5-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 teaspoon light brown sugar or other natural sweetener (I used sucanat)

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

2 bay leaves

3 cups veggie stock

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups chopped collard greens, simmered in water until tender and drained

1.) Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook the onion, bell pepper, and garlic, covered, until soft, about 5 minutes.

2.) Transfer that to the slow cooker. Add all the rest of the ingredients except the collards, and cook on low for 4-6 hours.

3.) Stir in the collards just before serving. Remove the bay leaves before serving.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Butternut squash-potato puree with fresh thyme

OK, here it is, a brand-new recipe of mine -- inspired by Cottage Living magazine's butternut squash and potato mash with thyme. (The link I just provided has the recipe listed, but for some reason it wasn't popping up for me this time; try it out for yourself.)

The thing that was so good about this side was its subtle sweetness -- and its serious richness. It tastes like I used tons of butter -- in fact, there were remarks about how buttery it was -- and it's unique, which is not something one can say often about mashed potatoes.

We all four -- mom, dad, husband, and I -- wanted more of this, so next time I'll double the recipe.

Butternut squash-potato puree with fresh thyme (makes 4 side servings)

1 pound butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, cubed

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup whole milk yogurt

1.5 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

1.) Steam the squash in a steamer until tender. Boil the potatoes until tender.

2.) Melt butter in a pan, add the time and cook, stirring, over medium heat, for about two minutes.

3.) Combine all the ingredients and mash or puree with a hand blender. Add salt and pepper. (If you like, you can brown the top of the potatoes under a broiler for about 3 minutes.)

Today's question: Do you have a favorite way to fix up mashed potatoes?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Kara's green chile pork

Well, I learned a good lesson from this one. I will no longer think I'm so smart about recipes that I neglect to ask for details, including measurements, when I write someone's recipe down! Here's the recipe I scribbled in my recipe book. I've been assuming it's a crock pot dish, but now I'm not sure:

3/4 pound pork


green chiles

stewed Mexican tomatoes


chopped onion

2-3 cloves garlic

1 cup chicken stock

Hmmm... Whatever what I thinking? What are stewed Mexican tomatoes? What kind of pork should I use? Is that fresh oregano or dried? A lot or a little? You get the picture.

At any rate, it turned out pretty yummy, but I was kicking myself for having to do guess work. Yes, I could have picked up the phone and called Kara, but I wasn't about to go back out to the store for any ingredients, and time was of the essence as I stood in my kitchen with my apron on, all ready to go.

My only complaint is that the pork was a little dry. I seem to have face that sad reality a lot. Any readers have any tips on how to keep the pork juicy? We solved the problem post-cooking by passing lots of the leftover broth from the crock pot on the side.

Here's the recipe I wound up using for the dish, and my family liked it a lot. They even had seconds. (The real star of the meal, however, was the butternut squash-potato mash, which I'll post tomorrow!)

Green chile pork -- maybe Kara's, maybe not (serves 6)

2 pork tenderloins, about 3 pounds

2 teaspoons cumin

9 Anaheim peppers, seeded and chopped

1 serrano pepper, seeded and chopped

1 chopped yellow onion

6 cloves garlic, minced

about 20 ounces canned, diced tomatoes

2 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

salt and pepper, to taste

1.) Put all ingredients into the crock pot, and cook on low for 6-7 hours.

2.) Remove tenderloins, slice thickly on a cutting board, and place on a serving platter.

3.) Using a slotted spoon, remove as many green peppers and tomatoes as possible from the crock pot. Spoon them over the pork.

4.) Pass the remaining broth from the crock pot on the side, with a gravy spoon.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A quick update

I realize I haven't yet posted the recipe for the Indian potato and pea soup. I did indeed make it last week, and it was scrumptious! But, sadly, I forgot to take a photo. I still plan to get the recipe up here when I have a little more time than I do today.

I just want to update you on what to expect this week. My parents are coming to town, and I am going to take a mini break from blogging, at least for tomorrow, that is. But sometime later this week, I will post recipes for Kara's green chile pork -- a crock pot dish I've never and plan to use a slew of Anaheim peppers from my garden - -as well as a butternut squash-potato mash with fresh thyme and grilled lobster tails. That last one is going to be for my parents' anniversary. Keep your fingers crossed that those tails aren't hard to find here. (By the way, I think it's their 42nd anni!)

Check back later in the week. I won't forget to take any photos, I promise. I love recipes with photos because it helps me figure out what to do in the kitchen, so I try to make sure there are photos with my posts.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Bonus weekend recipe: Stove-top s'mores

It's kind of pathetic, I know, but I have a horrible new habit. Well, maybe it's a horrible longtime habit. Whatever.

When my sweet tooth gets the best of me late at night, I often turn to marshmallows. I like marshmallows, but I tend to pull them out of the cupboard in a pinch, when there's no ice cream, cookies, or pudding in the house.

I've always been a fan of gas stoves, but toasting marshmallows is one of the reasons I think they are so great. I just put two or three of the fluffy white sweets on a metal skewer and slowly brown them over a medium flame.

In case you've never had the pleasure of making s'mores, you should take your toasted marshmallows and a couple chocolate squares, and make a sandwich with them between graham crackers.

Who needs a campfire, anyway?

Today's question: What's your favorite late-night/quick-and-easy snack?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Chickpea soup with porcini mushrooms

My instincts must have been right-on when I was craving soup. Not only did I get a cold earlier this week, but the weather turned pretty cool today -- at least by Indiana summer standards -- so soup was definitely in order.

This is the second impressive recipe I've tackled from Lidia's Italy. I love the book because it's packed with interesting tidbits about culture, how the regions in Italy embrace different dishes, and so on. The first recipe I tried was her beef goulash, and oh man, I could eat that every day. The recipes are fairly time-consuming, though, so thankfully that's not a possibility.

The chickpea soup with porcini mushrooms took a total of two and a half hours, from start to finish. That's key. Because the chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) and the mushrooms cook for almost two hours together, so the texture becomes what Lidia describes aptly as "velvety."

I cut the recipe in half here; hers makes 12 servings, and because it's just my husband and I eating it, that was overkill. Below is how I interpreted her recipe.

Chickpea soup with porcini mushrooms (serves 6)

1/2 pound dried chickpeas, rinsed and soaked overnight covered by about 4 inches of cold water

1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms

1/2 small onion, coarsely chopped

1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped

1 clove garlic

1/4 cup fresh parsley

1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary

1.5 teaspoons coarse sea salt, divided

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

3/4 cup canned plum tomatoes, hand-crushed

1 pound fresh mushrooms -- I used shiitake, portabello, and white button

black pepper, to taste

optional (and I highly recommend!): some fresh parmesan, very thinly sliced

1.) Drain and rinse the chickpeas and put them in a soup pot, along with 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, add the dried porcini, and leave lid partially covered while that gently bubbles.

2.) Put the onion, celery, fresh herbs, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt into a food process, and proces into a paste-like consistency. (Lidia explains, by the way, that this paste is used in various sauces, stews, and soups in food in Maremma, Italy. It's called a pestata until it's browned in a skillet, at which point it becomes a soffritto. See next step.)

3.) Put the oil in a skillet, and cook the paste over medium-high heat until it starts to brown and stick to the skillet (about 4 minutes).

4.) Add the crushed tomatoes, and scrape the paste into the soup. Cook, uncovered, for about an hour.

5.) Add the fresh mushrooms and 1 teaspoon of salt. Let it continue to cook another 45 minutes to an hour, or until the broth is thick and the chickpeas tender.

6.) Pour soup into serving bowls and if using parm, sprinkle some of that on top. Drizzle with a little olive oil, and serve with warm crusty bread.

Today's question: What's your favorite kind of soup? I have so many... I'll have to get my Mexican corn chowder and chicken mulligatawny recipes up here someday...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Stuffed garlic mushrooms

Ah, one of my all-time faves: mushrooms stuffed with bread crumbs, parsley, and garlic. Lots of garlic. How could you go wrong?

I usually make this as an appetizer, serving one large portabello cap per person. I think, having now tried out this button-size hors d'oeuvres dish, that the larger caps are the way to go. The little ones still tasted great, but the large caps for some reason allow the bread crumbs to get a little crispier on the top. It's always possible to give the shrooms some time under the broiler to achieve that in a pinch, though.

A note -- I use Jaclyn's All-Natural Bread Crumbs, the plain kind. They are made with organic whole wheat flour. You could use white bread crumbs instead, if you like.

Stuffed garlic mushrooms (makes about 6 servings)

5-6 large portabello mushrooms, about 1 pound

3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

1.5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 ounces dried, whole wheat bread crumbs

salt and black pepper

1.) Wash the shrooms and cut off the stems. Chop them finely.

2.) Mix the stems with the parsley, 1 tablespoon of oil, and garlic, and mix well by hand.

3.) Brush the remainder of the oil on the bottom of a baking dish. Pre-heat the oven to 350.

4.) Place the caps, bottom side up, into the dish. Fill them equally with the crumb mixture. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until they start to turn golden brown. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Overweight is something that just sort of snacks up on you. (from All the Jokes)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Vichyssoise for a hot summer day

When my friend Jean made this soup, I thought it was one of the yummiest things ever.

When I made it, well... not so much. It's good, but it didn't satisfy the way Jean's did earlier this summer, so I don't think it's good enough for a wedding.

That's the second disappointment for me in as many days. (The first was the movie "Dan in Real Life." It was just another predictable romantic comedy. Blech.)

I thought it was weird because Jean and I used the same recipe, but then I realized I used 2 tablespoons of lemon instead of 2 teaspoons. Damn.

Anyway, the recipe is from a really great cookbook called Practical Cooking: Soups. It's divided into categories -- hot & spicy, European, International, low fat, vegetable, special occasion, and tradition. I've had the book for years, and I love its variety -- there are more than 175 soups -- and photos. I have to say, I'm a sucker for cookbooks with good photos, as well as those with nutritional information. (It's always helpful to have that these days, and there's no excuse not to include that in new books. There are myriad computer programs that figure that can figure that out for you.)

Here's the recipe for vichyssoise. I hope it turns out fabulous for you!

Vichyssoise (serves 6)

3 large leeks, green parts removed, white parts thinly sliced

3 tablespoons butter

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 pound of potatoes, peeled and chopped

3.5 cups veggie stock

2 teaspoons lemon juice

pinch of ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1 bay leaf

1 egg yolk

2/3 cup light cream

salt and white pepper

freshly snipped chives to garnish (I only had green onion in the house; chives are preferred)

1.) Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the leeks and onion, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Do not brown.

2.) Add the potatoes, stock, lemon juice, nutmeg, coriander, and bay leaf, as well as salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until vegetables are soft.

3.) Cool the soup for about a half hour, then remove the bay leaf and process in a food processor until smooth.

4.) Blend the egg yolk with the cream, then add a little soup to it, whisk, and pour slowly into soup. Reheat, but do not boil. Allow it to cool thoroughly before serving with chives.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Coming up this week

My friend Courtney, aka CC (short for CC DeVille -- long story), is getting married next summer! A definite cause for celebration, and a great reason to try out new recipes. I'll be helping with the food part of the wedding, so over the next several months, I'll be making some things to see how well they would work on a large (albeit tapas-style) scale, and how much the soon-to-be-married folks like them.

This week I'll be making two wedding-hopeful treats: vichyssoise, a cold leek and potato soup that my friend Jean recently made -- it was AMAZING -- and either stuffed mushroom caps or mini carrot-rosemary scones. The mushroom caps are a longtime favorite of mine; the scones just sound interesting -- and cute, to boot! CC and her beau, Mike, will be coming over to babysit Wednesday evening, and I will leave out the goodies for them at that time. Hopefully their reactions will make it here to the blog.

Also this week: I'm in a big-time soup mood -- not sure why; it's going to be 92 degrees today, yikes! I plan to make an Italian chickpea and porcini soup, as well as an Indian potato and pea soup, my husband's pick of the week.

Kara's Asian slaw

We had a cookout on Sunday and provided hamburgers, hot dogs, and veggie versions of both those. Our friends brought the sides and the sweets, and it was quite decadent: There was bean salad, red cabbage salad, dill coleslaw (modeled after Anatolia's tasty version), BBQ chicken, Italian sausage, panzanella (bread salad), jalapeno cornbread with butter, pasta salad, habanero salsa, Southwest potato salad, watermelon, vegan sloppy joes, baguette with pesto, rosemary-olive bread, cherry cobbler, chocolate cake, brownies, cookies, a variety of chips, and plenty of other goodies I'm probably forgetting.

If I had made something for a side, I would have made my sister-in-law Kara's Asian slaw. It's a simple recipe she came up with some years ago, and the "secret" ingredient is a Trader Joe's sesame soy ginger vinaigrette (but any such vinaigrette will do). Now, there's a running joke in the family that Kara always "accidentally" leaves out an important ingredient when passing along her recipes because they never turn out quite like her versions, but fear not! Having made this slaw quite a few times now, I feel secure in saying that she gave me the real deal.

If you haven't tried the TJ dressing, it's really yummy -- and at a bargain price, of course.

Also, if you are avoiding peanuts, this slaw works really well with sunflower butter (my favorite is Sunbutter Natural Crunch) and sunflower seeds in place of the peanut butter and peanuts.

Kara's Asian slaw

2 tablespoons crushed peanuts

1 package pre-cut slaw

3/4 cup sesame soy ginger vinaigrette

1 tablespoon peanut butter

a few shakes of soy sauce

a drizzle of sesame oil

Whisk together the vinaigrette, peanut butter, and soy sauce. Toss with the slaw, sprinkle the peanuts on top, and drizzle with sesame oil.