Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fire up the crock pot--"spring" semester has begun!

Spring semester is off and running...and it feels like it's running right over me! It's only Wednesday of the first week, and I'm already WIPED! I guess it's going to take a little time to get my groove back. In the meantime, the only salvation may be my trusty crock pot.

Before I went to bed last night, I prepped a crock of beef, barley and vegetable soup, then chucked it into the fridge overnight. This morning, I put the crock of soup into the heated part of the pot, turned it on low, and went about my day. Six hours later, and it was just about perfect. But I had a bag of baby kale, spinach, and chard in the fridge, so I chopped up a couple of handfuls of the dark leafies to add some extra color and nutrition and threw them in to wilt while I got on with the grilling of the cheese sammies. SO DELICIOUS! Why do I not make beef barley soup more often, especially when the crock pot makes it so easy?

Crock Pot Beef, Barley and Vegetable Soup
(Source: Adapted from Simple, Nourished Living)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound beef chuck roast, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper
1 medium to large onion, diced
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
2 or 3 medium carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
2 cloves garlic, minced (or 4!)
1/2 cup red wine
6 cups beef broth
1 can (14.5 ounce] diced tomatoes, with their juices (I used Italian-style)
1/2 cup uncooked pearled barley
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
more salt and pepper, to taste

In a large skillet, heat one tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. Dry off the meat with paper towels and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the meat to the pan and brown on all sides. Transfer to a 5 or 6 quart slow cooker.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet, and cook the onions, mushrooms, carrots, celery, and thyme, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to color and soften. Stir in the garlic and cook another minute. Add the wine and reduce a bit, scraping the fond from the bottom of the pan.

Add the veg mixture to the slow cooker. Pour in the beef broth, canned tomatoes, and dry barley. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6 to 8 hours. Garnish with fresh parsley OR wilt some chopped, dark, leafy greens into the soup at the end of the cooking time (e.g. spinach, kale, and/or Swiss chard). Season with salt and pepper as desired.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

In which I create guacummus (or hummamole?)

My friend, Janice, was snowbirding down to Florida for most of January, and she just got home yesterday. So she invited a few friends around to have dinner together tonight before the onslaught of spring semester hits us smack in the face come Monday. Of course, I asked what I could bring, and of course, she pretty much had everything covered as she always does, but I thought I might at least bring a little appetizer--nothing too difficult or fancy (I wanted a lazy last weekend before heading back to school).

I recently had a chat with a high school friend about hummus and all the different varieties one might make. This made me crave hummus, and it also compelled me to make a slightly more adventurous variety. As it happens, I had some perfectly ripe avocados looking at me on the counter, so I decided to invent...drumroll, please...GUACUMMUS (or is it hummamole?)! Ok, a quick perusal of the interwebs tells me that I probably didn't invent avocado hummus, but I'd like to think I may have perfected it with the following recipe.

Guacummus (Avocado Hummus)

1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
1 (15 oz.) can of chickpeas, drained
1/4 medium to large onion, roughly chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tablespoon tahini
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 lime, juiced
1 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper
squirt or two of sriracha (or hot sauce or a few pickled jalapeno slices)
1 tablespoon water, if needed

Blend all this in the food processor, adding a little water to achieve the right consistency. Then throw in a small handful of cilantro leaves and pulse a few more times.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Shame on me!

I am embarrassed to even post this "recipe," but in my defense, I've had a long day! It was my first day back to work, and the hours were filled with mind-numbing meetings and multiple syllabi preparations. So when I got home, I sure didn't feel like cooking.  But then I remembered this shameful junk food meal that I saw on Pinterest and thought, PERFECT! The dish is officially entitled Chili Dog Casserole, but one blogger renamed it "Redneck Enchiladas," which I think is quite apt.

I am not even going to type this out like an actual recipe, because it doesn't deserve that much effort. You take one can of chili (I prefer the hot kind without beans for this, but your call) and spread it into the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Then get ten taco-sized soft flour tortillas, place a sandwich slice of cheddar cheese on top of each (that was my twist on this dish--more cheese!), then roll up a hot dog in each tortilla (I used lean beef weiners to make this "healthy"--ha ha). Place them seam-side down in the chili (a row of eight and two on the side), then spread a second can of chili evenly on top. Sprinkle with two cups of shredded cheese (I used colby-jack), cover with foil, and bake at 425 for 30 minutes. That's all there is to it, except that I squirted some yellow mustard on mine and sprinkled on some chopped onion as well. You do as you see fit.

Oh least we didn't resort to calling Domino's as we so often do on a Friday night! Plus, we ate healthy last night, so it all balances out, right? ;-)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Low-carbing it on my last night of freedom...

Well, folks. Winter Break has been fun and relaxing, but my freedom is over, and it's back to the grind tomorrow. I have an 8am meeting in the morning, and the weather threatens to dip to almost 20 below. The only thing that can help me face such a fearsome Friday is a delicious, seasonal margarita--and keep 'em coming!

'Tis the season of lovely citrus in the grocery stores, and I recently bought a box of clementines, mainly because my roommate likes to take a couple to work in her lunch bag. But there are a LOT of those sweet little suckers in that small box! So I decided to incorporate them into my favorite adult beverage, the margarita, because I always like at least a little bit of orange juice in the mix anyway. The resulting drink was delicious, but it also got me to thinking about blood orange margaritas, and minneola margaritas...oh, the list may be endless! It's a little taste of sunshine and summertime in the bleak midwinter.

Clementine Margaritas (on the Rocks)

1 cup clementine juice (about 8 clementines, juiced)
1/2 cup margarita mix
juice of half a lime
1/2 cup tequila
1/4 cup Triple Sec
good pinch of salt
agave syrup, if needed, to taste

This makes two cocktails (in 16 oz. glasses).

For dinner, I prepared something that my friend (who recently completed a Whole 30 regimen) was babbling about on Facebook--Paleo Lettuce Cups. She said that her kids usually can tell when she's "paleo-fied" a recipe and made legal substitutions, but they loved these lettuce wraps and couldn't tell they were Paleo. I completely concur--they were SO GOOD! But I sort of un-paleofied them by swapping out ponzu soy sauce for the coconut aminos, by using non-sanctioned brands of fish sauce and sriracha, by using toasted sesame oil, and also by adding a little Hoisin sauce. So if you are following those strict dietary guidelines, be advised of these adaptations. Whether you stay "kosher" to the Paleo program or not, this is good stuff, something the whole family can enjoy together, even if the rest of them aren't watching their carb intake.

"Paleo" Lettuce Cups
(Source: adapted from NomNom Paleo)

1 lb. lean ground meat
1 lb. thinly sliced mushrooms (I used Baby Bellas, chopped)
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lard (I used toasted sesame oil)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon grated ginger (I added this)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (I used rice wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons coconut aminos (I used ponzu soy sauce)
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce (I added this)
1 teaspoon sriracha, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-2 cups broccoli slaw
1/2 cup shredded carrots (I used 2 cups total of broccoli, cabbage, and carrot slaw)
2 scallions, thinly sliced (I used 4 scallions)
handful of cilantro, coarsely chopped

In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the ground meat with the mushrooms and onion in the lard or sesame oil. When almost all of the pink is gone from the meat, add in the minced garlic and ginger. Keep cooking until the meat has browned through. Add in the fish sauce, vinegar, coconut aminos or soy sauce, hoisin (if using), sriracha, and black pepper, and stir to combine.

Remove the skillet from the heat and add the slaw vegetables, scallions, and cilantro. Serve in iceberg lettuce "cups."

Note: Another non-Paleo addition that's really good here is to toss in a handful of peanuts for some extra texture and crunch. NOM NOM!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cuba Norte

This would probably stress normal people out, but I kinda love it when my foodie friends text me and say that they are experimenting with Cuban cuisine, and that I should come for dinner...and bring dessert.  Naturally, I accepted the invitation without a moment's hesitation. But my reply was that I would come, and I would make dessert, but it wasn't going to be fancy, and I didn't want to have to go to the store.

So working with what I had in my fridge and pantry, I ended up making not one but TWO simple, but traditional Cuban desserts. First off, I prepared some creamy, luscious Arroz con Tres Leches--that's rice pudding to us Americanos, but sweeter and with a flavor like caramel or dulce de leche thanks to the inclusion of three different milks that are cooked slowly with the rice.

To make the pudding, first, prepare two cups of short-grained rice (I used arborio) in four cups of water with a pinch of salt, a cinnamon stick, and the rind of a lemon (removed with a peeler). Rinse the rice three times, drain, add the water and other ingredients, cover, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and barely simmer for 20 minutes--no peeking!

Remove the lemon peel and cinnamon stick, then toss the steamed rice into your slow cooker and stir in a can of evaporated milk, a can of sweetened condensed milk, and a cup of whole milk. Cook this on high for about two hours (or low for four) until the rice absorbs the liquid and is creamy but not runny, stirring every 30 minutes to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the crock pot. Of course, you can simmer this on the stove top, but you'll have to keep a much closer eye on it to prevent scorching. That's why the slow cooker is a big help here. However you cook it, when it's done, add two teaspoons of vanilla extract, and serve warm with a sprinkling of ground cinnamon (or chill for a couple/few hours first if you like it cold).

I wasn't sure how people at the dinner were going to feel about rice pudding (some people are not keen on it...inexplicably), so I also baked a batch of Polvorones, tender almond shortbread cookies that are quite similar to Russian tea cakes or Mexican wedding cookies. The word "polvorone" has the same linguistic root as the English word "pulverize," and the cookie is meant to be delicately crumbly inside, even after it bakes.

The only changes I made to the recipe I referenced was to use butter instead of lard, and then to roll the cookies in powdered, not granulated, sugar with a little cinnamon mixed in. My friends couldn't stop eating them, and one of them said they tasted like "really good Snickerdoodles." LOL! I guess it was that bit of cinnamon in the powdered sugar that I also dusted onto the cookies after they had cooled, mostly to make them look pretty.

(Source: adapted from Three Guys from Miami)

1 cup creamy white lard (non-hydrogenated leaf lard)--I used two sticks of softened butter
2 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup finely ground almonds--I used almond flour/meal
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375º F.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the lard or butter and the egg yolks with the sugar and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, almonds, and salt. Add this mixture gradually to your creamed ingredients until you have a dough that is slightly crumbly. Shape the dough into small balls in the palm of your hand, then flatten slightly. (I used a regular cookie scoop and got 27 cookies.) Rolls the balls in white sugar (I used half a cup of powdered sugar mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon), and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. 

Bake for approximately 12 to 14 minutes until just starting to turn golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack and dust with the remaining cinnamon powdered sugar if desired.

Oh, and one last photo before I wrap this up, a picture of the wonderful Cuban meal that my friends Domenica and Jaime made, which included Ropa Vieja with Rice, Stewed Black Beans, and Tostones (Fried Plantains).

It was all FANTASTICO! And it sure beat driving all the way to Montreal in the dead of winter to search out interesting ethnic food, as we so often must do. *sad trombone*

Monday, January 13, 2014

Saying Goodbye to The Rustique

I complain all the time about the lack of decent food in my fair city. Therefore, every so often, my friends and I travel to the county line to dine at a restaurant called The Rustique. It's cozy, the food is good, and it's closer to where three of my most frequent dining companions live, that is, in Saranac, NY. Sadly, the good folks at The Rustique announced in the fall that they would be closing up shop and retiring at the end of the year. :-(

So my friends I went for one last meal there in December, and I had a Greek-inspired pasta dish called Shrimp Athena with lemon, feta, kalamata olives, and sun-dried tomatoes, and shrimp, of course. It was simple, but simply SCRUMPTIOUS! So now that The Rustique is gone (boo hoo), I guess I have to learn to make something similar at home. Here's what I came up with:

Shrimp Athena

1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup flour
1 lb. large (raw) shrimp peeled, deveined, butterflied
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup julienned sundried tomatoes (or swap out halved grape tomatoes, if you prefer)
1/2 cup sliced kalamata olives
zest and juice of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 lb. pasta, prepared according to package directions (al dente)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
4 oz. feta cheese

In a large sauté pan, add olive oil. Coat shrimp with flour that has been mixed with lemon pepper and shake off the excess. Cook shrimp on medium heat for about two minutes until golden brown on both sides. Remove the shrimp from the pan. 

Add garlic and cook another minute or two. Add white wine, tomatoes, olives, lemon zest and juice, and simmer for an additional two to three minutes. Melt the butter into the wine and veggie mixture, then toss the cooked pasta around in the pan to coat. Add the chopped parsley, feta cheese, and the reserved shrimp and toss once more before serving (with crust bread to sop up the yummy sauce).

*Note: A pound of cut-up boneless chicken breasts can be substituted for the shrimp.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

¿Tacos de Papa? !Qué cosa!

So...I was trolling through Facebook on a random Tuesday, as is my way, and my high school buddy, Kim, who lives near Palm Springs and always observes Taco Tuesday in her household, posted that she made potato tacos that were "the bomb" for dinner. Potato tacos, I say? Never heard of such a thing!

So I interrogated my friend, researched recipes online, and watched a couple of YouTube videos until I was ready to make my own attempt. I must say, Tacos de Papa are muy delicioso, and I suspect that even your most carvinorous friends would enjoy them and not even miss the meat. For the next Taco Tuesday or Cinco de Mayo fiesta at your house, give these tasty tacos a try!

Oh, a few notes. Instead of russets, I used Rooster Potatoes. It's a potato with fluffy yellow flesh that the Brits use for making their chips, I believe. They've never been available in the US...until now. And I found them--of all places--at Wal-Mart! Also, though the lady in the video just browns the tacos on both sides in a dab of oil, but I shallow-fried mine in about a half-inch of oil so they were puffy and crispy. Of course, then they they were too crunchy to open up and add the toppings, so I just piled stuff on the outside of the shell and ate them sideways. Problem solved! Lastly, don't ask me why she calls it "avocado relish" and not, um, GUACAMOLE?? Whatever, Betty. Whatever you call it, I call it YUMMY!

Tacos de Papa (Potato Tacos)
(Source: adapted from Average Betty)

Potato Filling:
10-12 ounces Idaho Potatoes peeled and cubed (about 1 1/2 cups diced)--I used Rooster potatoes
1/2 cup diced onion
1 tablespoon diced jalapeno
2 ounces queso fresco cheese (farmer's cheese would work if you can't find queso fresco)
1/4 teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper to taste
12-16 corn tortillas

Avocado Relish:
1 ripe avocado, diced
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1-2 tablespoons diced jalapeno
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 small tomato, seeded & diced
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
salt & pepper to taste

Prepare the potatoes:
1) Peel and chop potatoes.
2) Place potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil.
3) Lower the heat and cover saucepan with lid.
4) Cook 5-7 minutes, until al dente.
5) While the potatoes cook, saute chopped onion and jalapeno until soft and golden.
6) When the potatoes are cooked, drain water.
7) Using a fork, combine potatoes with sauteed onion and jalapeno, queso fresco, cumin and salt to taste.

Prepare the avocado relish:
1) In a bowl combine diced avocado, chopped onion, diced jalapeno (remove seeds for less heat), chopped cilantro leaves and stems, diced tomato, salt, pepper and lime juice.
2) Set aside until ready to use.

Prepare the tacos de papa:
1) Heat or steam corn tortillas and carefully fill with potato mixture.
2) Fold tortilla to form taco.
3) Heat one tablespoon canola or vegetable oil in a skillet. (I used a half-inch layer of oil.)
4) Fry tacos on both sides until puffed, golden and crispy.
5) Garnish with shredded lettuce or cabbage, avocado relish and your favorite hot sauce or salsa.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Polar Pantry Pilfering

Here's the hip new phrase of the season: POLAR VORTEX! I don't know what the weather is like where you are, but I just took this screen shot from a few minutes ago. Yesterday, the low was "only" -12, but the wind chill factor got down to 35 below! 35 BELOW! Like that's even a thing! This is New York State, not Antarctica!

Because it has been so unbearably cold, and our driveway is one long, deathly ice floe, going shopping is something to avoided at all costs and only undertaken in the most desperate of circumstances. Happily for me in times like these, I have a spare fridge and freezer in the garage, and an overstuffed pantry to keep us alive until there's a brief reprieve in the weather. So for dinner tonight, I raided the pantry for a whole bunch of canned goods and fashioned a quick and hearty taco soup which I let simmer in the crock pot while I kept the taps trickling, the space heaters aimed toward the pipes, and the fire stoked and crackling.

Now this super-quick cheater "recipe" is called 8 Can Taco Soup, but I can't abide canned chicken (except maybe in that Hot Buffalo Chicken Dip, and even then, only in a pinch). I often have a deli chicken half-frozen in the outside fridge for occasions just such as this, so mine was a seven can soup. Actually, six cans and a jar, as I used a homemade salsa verde, because I didn't have green enchilada sauce on hand. Lastly, I didn't have a taco seasoning packet, so I made my own spice blend, which is better anyway--less sodium. Oh, and I used homemade chicken stock, not canned.  So it was really a five can soup! LOL! My point is, and I do have one, is that you can adjust this recipe according to what you have in your pantry so that you don't have to run to the store during the PoVo. (See what I did there?)

Slow Cooker 8-Can Taco Soup 
(Source: adapted from Six Sisters' Stuff)

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed (I used Cuban-style black beans from TJ's, drained not rinsed)
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed (I used dark red kidney beans--just because I didn't have pintos, though chili beans or ranch-style beans would be good, too)
1 can diced tomatoes, drained (I used fire-roasted)
1 can sweet corn, drained
1 can chicken breast, drained (I used a deskinned/deboned rotisserie chicken, torn into pieces)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can green enchilada sauce (I used a pint of homemade salsa verde)
1 can chicken broth (I used two cups homemade stock)
1 packet taco seasoning (I used 2 tablespoons dark chili powder, 1 tablespoon cumin, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper)

Dump all the ingredients into slow cooker and stir together. Cook on low heat for 2-3 hours or high for about an hour. Serve with shredded cheese, tortilla chips, and a dollop of sour cream.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Korean Takeout at a Flash!

As I have griped about many, many times before, I live in tiny little 'Burgh with a dearth of great food, especially ethnic cuisine. Although, to be fair, in recent years, we've have added Thai, Indian, and even Himalayan/Nepalese/Bhutanese. But one thing our fair city is in desperate need of is Korean food!

So when my friend, Jaymie, shared this recipe on Facebook, I was all over it like white on...well, you know. Of course, you could get fancy and make this with sliced flank steak and throw in some broccoli for color and added nutrition. But when you make it with ground beef, it's SUPER easy, and you can have it served up in less time that it takes to find an old take-out menu. The one main change I made to the recipe was to add some of my homemade kimchi, but you can skip it if you don't have any.  Anyway you make it, this is a fast, easy, flexible dish that is DEFINITELY going into the regular rotation around here!

Korean Beef with Kimchi
(Source: adapted from Six Sisters' Stuff)

1 lb. lean ground beef
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce (low-sodium, or 2T regular soy sauce)
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated (I often use the stuff in a tube for convenience)
1/2 - 1 teaspoon crushed red peppers, to taste (I used 1T Korean red pepper paste)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup kimchi, chopped, optional
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 bunch green onions, diced

steamed rice

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and brown the ground beef with the garlic. Drain off the fat and add the brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger, red pepper flakes or paste, black pepper, and kimchi (if using). Simmer for a few minutes to blend the flavors. Remove from heat and stir in the sesame oil. Serve over steamed rice and garnish with green onions.