Thursday, March 10, 2011

Like an insensitive houseguest, winter will not take the hint and LEAVE already!

I am off to the Southlands to find me some spring, but as it was EIGHT degrees when I left Burlington yesterday, I thought I might share this easy casserole--a hearty and warming favorite, in case springtime hasn't found you where you live either!

Simple Shepherd's Pie

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb. ground meat (beef, turkey, lamb or a combo)
1 large onion, diced
1 bag frozen mixed vegetables
1 cup frozen peas (I like lots of peas in my shepherd's pie!)
1 tablespoon beef or vegetable bouillon (I like Better Than Bouillon)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 stick butter, divided
1/4 cup flour
1 cup water
6 cups prepared mashed potatoes

In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat and cook the meat and the onions until the meat is no longer pink and the onions are translucent (sliced mushrooms would have been good here, too, but I didn't have any on hand). Add the frozen vegetables and cook for a minute or two until thawed. Add the bouillon, Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, granulated garlic, and pepper and stir to combine.

Make a well in the middle of the meat and vegetable mixture, and melt four tablespoons of butter. When the butter is melted, toss the flour over the mixture and cook everything together for a couple of minutes, stirring the whole time. Pour the water over the mixture and cook for another couple of minutes until the gravy thickens, stirring constantly.

Pour the meat and vegetable mixture into a 9x13 baking dish and top with the mashed potatoes. Top the potatoes with bits of the remaining four tablespoons of butter, and bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes until browned on top and bubbly.

*If the potatoes are not crispy enough to suit you, run the pan under the broiler for a minute or two.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A tasty shot of fiber for ya...

I don't even have a picture for you today, but I have a great recipe. One of my college friends started a group on Facebook called Healthy Cooking on a Budget, and another college friend posted a bran muffin recipe that is very yummy and quite easy. In fact, I had a batch whipped up and out the door to take to a meeting at work before I remembered to take a picture! They aren't much to look at anyway, but they are delish, and full of nutritious ingredients.

Of course, I made a few tweaks to the original recipe below. The first change was a mistake. When I was at the store, I remembered that I needed some kind of bran cereal, but I bought All-Bran instead of oat bran. Oops. But I just stirred the cereal in with the wet stuff and let it soften while I got on with the rest of the batter. I also used whole wheat white flour, because that's what I had on hand. It made the texture very light. And instead of chopped dates, I used date crystals, so they ended up dissolving into the muffins like sugar. I upped the vanilla to one full teaspoon, and I added an extra couple of tablespoons of oil, too, but the batter still looked a bit heavy to me. So I ended up stirring in a scant 1/4 cup of buttermilk. I baked them in cupcake liners, and they came out just beautifully. Using a regular muffin scoop, I got 14 muffins. They took 20 minutes to bake, and I let them cool in the pans for 10 minutes before turning them out. YUM!

Mimi’s Muffins

3/4 cup whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
3/4 cup oat bran cereal (I accidentally used All-Bran*...and would do it again)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix all dry ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.  Then mix the following in a larger bowl:

1/3 cup mashed banana (=one banana)
1/2 cup yogurt or sour cream
2 egg whites or 1 egg
2 tablespoons oil or applesauce (I increased this to 1/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (I increased this to one teaspoon)
1/2 cup brown sugar
*I stirred the All-Bran cereal into the wet ingredients to let it soften while I mashed the banana and grated carrots and chopped nuts.
**I also added about 1/4 cup buttermilk to the wet mixture.

Combine the dry ingredients with the wet mix, then fold in:

1/2 cup carrots, shredded
1/2 cup dates, chopped (I used date crystals)
1/2 cup nuts, chopped (I used walnuts)

Bake in muffin tins at 400* for 18-20 mins. Makes about 10-12 muffins. (I got 14 using a regular muffin scoop.)

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

It's just not funny anymore.

We awoke to almost 13 inches of new snow today, making it the second Monday in a row of no school, and third inclement weather day of the semester. You might think that I would revel in these unexpected days off, but it's wreaking havoc on my academic course schedules, and I fear that my Monday-Wednesday and Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes will NEVER get caught up from missing a whole week of classes! UGH!

However, the crazy, persistent winter has--as you may have noticed in recent posts--inspired a streak of marvelous soups and stews. The most recent of which started with a pound of 32 bean (and 8 vegetable) soup mix that I bought in the bulk food section at the Healthy Living Market in Burlington. The brand name is North Bay Trading Company and you can order online, or they'd probably have something similar at your local co-op. I didn't follow any particular recipe, but here was my general methodology for Ham and 32 Bean Soup:

In my large Dutch oven with some olive oil (two tablespoons or so), I sauteed some diced/sliced veggies--2 medium onions, 3 large stalks celery, 2 large carrots, a few hot peppers, two or three cloves of garlic, and about 8-10 large mushrooms. Then I added the bean mix in its soaking liquid (water to cover, soaked for two hours) and added a tablespoon each of vegetable soup base (Better Than Bouillon) and salted herbs (it's a Canadian thing--feel free to add a total of two tablespoons of soup base instead). I also added a teaspoon of dried oregano, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.

I brought this to the boil for five minutes, and turned it to simmer for two hours. I ended up adding two more cans of vegetable broth to the mix, as it thickened during cooking. Then I added a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, and about a pound of diced ham, and simmered it for almost another hour. Good stuff!

To go with the soup, I made a batch of the most wonderful potato rolls! I ran across the recipe for crusty potato bread on Allrecipes, and I thought I might prefer rolls to bread. Several of the reviewers had reported that they had successful produced rolls with the dough, and also offered helpful recipe amendments which I also adopted. This were so easy and really lovely--they rose high and were airy in texture, despite my using some white whole wheat flour. I don't know why I don't make homemade bread more often, especially when I now have a perfect dough rising spot near the warm fire and no longer have to rely on home-rigged contraptions to get bread to rise! Even if you fear yeast doughs, I urge you to give this one a try...
Soft Potato Rolls
(adapted from Allrecipes)

3 cups all-purpose flour (I swapped out one cup white whole wheat)
3/4 cup instant mashed potato flakes
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/4 cups warm--not hot!--water (up to 1 1/2 cups)
2 teaspoons instant yeast

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix all of the ingredients until they come together, then continue to knead with the hook for five minutes until a smooth ball forms (you may have to add a little extra water, a teaspoon at a time, to get the right consistency--there shouldn't be dry stuff at the bottom of the bowl). Scrape the bowl down with a rubber spatula, cover with plastic wrap and a tea towel, and place in a warm spot until the dough has doubled in size.

Punch down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. Divide into 12 equal portions and roll into smooth balls. Place in a 9x13 baking dish that has been coated with nonstick spray. Spray a piece of plastic wrap and cover the dish with that and the tea towel. Put the rolls back in a warm spot to rise until doubled.

Carefully brush the tops of the rolls with melted butter and bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes until deep golden brown on top.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Winter's Bitch

"In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours." ~ Mark Twain

In the span of less than a week, we've experienced five below zero, then 40 and raining, and then back to the Snowpocalypse. I've given up on trying to understand it or predict it; I'm now just trying to ride it out. So it doesn't look like the winter is going to be through messing with us anytime soon. Thus, we need more hearty, rib-sticking, soul-warming comfort food.

Now I have always been a big fan of a roast chicken, as evidenced many times on this blog. But here's a slightly different approach to the dish that was shared with me by my friend, Heather. She and her husband have two small boys, and it's their family favorite.  I can see why, as it's simple, delicious, and elevates a random Tuesday night to something pretty special.

One Pot Chicken Dinner

1 chicken, cut up -- or 4 chicken breast halves
4-10 red or yellow potatoes, peeled and quartered (depending on how many mouths you're feeding)
4-12 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inches pieces (again, depending on how many people you're serving)
1/4 onion, diced (I used a whole onion)
1/3 cup butter, room temperature, softened or melted
1 clove garlic, finely chopped (or more, if preferred--LOTS more!)
pepper (to taste)
* I added a pinch of red pepper flakes and a good sprinkling of dried oregano.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees (F).

Place potatoes, carrots, and onions in bottom of large casserole dish or Dutch oven. Rinse chicken thoroughly and pat dry. Place chicken on top, skin-side up. In a small bowl, mash up and mix butter with garlic, salt and pepper. Spread or drizzle butter mixture over the top of the chicken. Cover* and bake (at 450) for 60 minutes, or until chicken reaches internal temperature of 165-170. (Basting a few times, every 20-30 minutes, is a really good idea!)

*OOPS! I missed the part of the instructions where you were supposed to cover the dish, which explains why the garlic on top of my chicken pieces burned. But I just scraped the burned bits off, and the dish was perfect. Next time, I will cover it, but I would think that the foil should come off (or go on) halfway through.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Butter Lane (is in my ears and in my eyes...and in my tum-tum!)

Recently, a friend of mine got in on a Groupon deal to take a cupcake-making class at Butter Lane, my favorite cupcake shop in NYC, for $25! That includes a dozen cupcakes to take home, and they sell those for three bucks apiece in the shop! So it's like they're paying YOU to take the class! Well, as you can imagine, I was very jealous of my friend, especially as I live in a city that's too small to be able to use Groupon! Boo hiss!

So what's a gal to do but to make her own cupcakes? Luckily, I found this blog where the author took the same class as my friend and documented her experience, including sharing their recipes for banana cupcakes and cream cheese frosting. Mind you, this very cupcake was profiled by Ted Allen on Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" as the best cupcake in the City.  I don't even like bananas, and I have to concur!

Of course, I can never leave well enough alone, so I made my own way with the frosting. I added some local, Grade B maple syrup and a whole bunch of buttered pecans, and in doing so, I may well have produced one of the best baked goods to ever come out of my kitchen! (This was confirmed by my top three most faithful taste testers.)

If you're in the Big Apple, you have to check out Butter Lane. You have your choice of vanilla, chocolate or banana cupcakes, with a whole menu of different frostings, including both American and French buttercreams. In the meantime, MAKE THESE:

Butter Lane's Banana Cupcakes
(Should make 15 cupcakes...I got 18!)

1 stick butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 eggs (mix the second egg, and approximate half)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups cake flour (or 1 1/4 cups all-purpose)
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
1 cup pureed bananas (about three)

Cream butter and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until light and fluffy. Add half the flour mixture followed by half the buttermilk and repeat. Fold in banana mixture on low speed, finishing folding by hand. Scoop with ice cream dasher into lined muffin tins about 2/3 to 3/4 full. Bake at 300 for 23-28 minutes (until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs). Cool cupcakes completely before frosting.

Maple Pecan Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 stick of (salted) butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons maple syrup (preferably, Grade B)
1 cup pecans browned in 2 tablespoons butter, cooled and chopped

In a large saute pan over medium heat, melt two tablespoons of butter. Add one cup of whole pecans and brown them in the pan, stirring frequently. When the nuts have turned a deep golden brown and smell toasty, remove from heat and cool the nuts completely. When cool, chop with a large knife into fairly small pieces.

Beat the cream cheese and butter for five minutes. On low speed, mix in powdered sugar, then add vanilla and maple syrup and mix for another three minutes until very smooth. Finally, add the buttered pecan pieces and mix until thoroughly combined.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

In which I am revealed to be a tightwad...

This story begins with my love of all things pickled. Starting around Thanksgiving, I make up a big vat of pickled things, comprised of all the homemade pickles in my pantry, plus some purchased pepperoncini and olives and whatever else I decide to toss into the brine, and keep the bucket in the fridge to munch on when I get the urge. But then tragedy struck, and I ran out of homemade pickled carrots.

I was just going to buy some more, but A) you can't often find carrots by themselves that aren't in giardiniera (and I hate cauliflower), and B) if you do find a jar of just carrots, they are $6 or $7 a jar! Refusing to fork out that kind of dough, I bought a 3 lb. bag of baby carrots at Sam's Club for four bucks, a package of Mrs. Wages kosher pickling mix at Wal-Mart for a dollar-fifty, and with less than an hour's worth of work, I had six pints of pickled carrots cooling on the counter for about $1.33/jar!

Did you know that you can use Mrs. Wages on vegetables other than cucumbers? Me neither! I simply followed the instructions on the package but used (rinsed) baby carrots instead, although I added a peeled and cracked clove of garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes to each jar. Also, I hot water bathed the jars for ten minutes, as I did not sterilize the jars up front.

It's only been ten days, but I opened a jar and snuck a sample. DELISH, and just the right texture between tender and crunchy (at least, to my tastes). And the flavor will be even better in a couple more weeks. Score one for the cheapskates!

My second miserly tale begins in Burlington, Vermont when my roommate and I took our youngest kitty (Nova aka Itty Bitty or just Bitty) for his big boy surgery. While he was having his, err, bits removed, we took ourselves to brunch. We initially wanted to go to our favorite cafe, Penny Cluse, but the wait was over an hour! So we walked over to Church Street and down to Leunig's Bistro, which I had heard from friends was wonderful, but a bit pricey for dinner. I am pleased to report that brunch was quite reasonable, and SO GOOD!

We started with some piping hot beignets drizzled with real maple syrup. Then Cyd had their signature skillet with local bacon and Cabot cheddar and caramelized onions, and I had this awesome twist on Eggs Benedict. It had a big, fluffy English muffin on the bottom spread with an avocado hummus, then it was supposed to have a tomato slice, but I opted for fresh salsa, then a spicy black bean cake, a perfectly poached egg, and finished with cilantro Hollandaise. Amazing! And everything on the menu looked wonderful--I can't wait to go back!

After brunch, we made our way down to our favorite health food market, the store we affectionately call the Wealthy Living Market or the Healthy Wealthy People Store. They have an incredible deli and salad bar there, and I saw this edamame and corn salad that I wanted to try, but it was $5.50 for a little cup of it! I think you know what I did. I took note of the ingredients of said salad, and I went home and whipped up my own version that turned out very well--so fresh and tasty!--for much, much less.

One of the ingredients in the salad was miso, something I am not that familiar with. Oh, I have enjoyed miso soups and miso dressings in my travels, perhaps even salmon with a miso marinade or glaze, but I have never cooked with it myself. Despite my tightwad ways, I actually splurged and spent twelve bucks on a large jar of sweet white miso that was handcrafted according to ancient Japanese traditions at a small farm in Massachusetts called South River Miso Company. And guess what? I tasted a little from the jar, and I love it! It sort of tastes like something in the soy sauce family, but also kind of nutty.

South River Miso makes at least a half dozen kinds of miso, but I thought I'd start with the mildest variety which would probably be the most versatile. Now I find myself throwing a little into everything! And miso is a fermented product, so it has all of those probiotic benefits like yogurt and such IF you don't cook it. So either use it uncooked or stir it into whatever you're making at the very end over the lowest heat. Good stuff!

Edamame and Corn Salad with Orange-Miso Vinaigrette

1 lb. bag frozen edamame
12 oz. bag frozen corn
1 small red pepper, seeded and diced
2 or 3 hot peppers (jalapeno, serrano, Fresno, cascabella, etc.), seeded and diced
4 large scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds (preferably, 2T white and 2T black)

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon Thai fish sauce
2 teaspoons miso (I used mild/sweet white)
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add a couple of good pinches of salt, then the edamame and corn. Cook for five minutes, or until the veggies are tender. Drain and run under cold water until completely cool. In a large bowl, combine the cooled edamame and corn, along with the chopped peppers, scallions, cilantro and sesame seeds.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, orange juice, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, fish sauce, miso, honey, soy sauce and black pepper until thoroughly combined. Stir 1/2 to 3/4 cup* of the vinaigrette into the vegetable mixture. Refrigerate for at least a couple of hours until the flavors marry.

*Use the leftover dressing to make a tasty salad with mixed greens, shredded carrots, slivered shallots, some cilantro leaves, and sliced almonds. MMM!