Saturday, June 29, 2013

My new pickled OBSESSION!

I discovered the pungent joy of spring's garlic scapes quite a few years ago, but up until now, all I've ever done with them is add them to a stir fry or make a powerful pesto. But this year, I decided to try making them into PICKLES! I just used my favorite dilly bean recipe (without the garlic cloves, of course), and they turned out PERFECTLY!

However, the most important thing I learned was that the wispy, chive-like bit at the end of each scape are tough and NOT good eats. So just trim those away, and then cut the thicker stems into lengths that will fit into pint jars. IF the flower head is slender and still tightly closed, you can add those to the jars as well, then proceed as you would do with green beans. You really should wait two weeks before you open and try them (even better, wait a month), but I only made it week before I ate the first jar, and went in search of more scapes to pickle a second batch! ;-)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sugar Snap Solstice Salad

Today was the second annual Summer SolstiCelebration at my friend Joanna's homestead, Woven Meadows Farms in Saranac, NY. Despite the fact that the omnipresent rain turned it into a barn party, we still had a lovely time and a TON of good eats! For my contribution, I wanted to make something with sugar snap peas because they are starting to really produce, plus the nice lady at work who shared seeds with me was going to be at the party. (Shout-out to Barbara!)

I knew the crowd was fairly "crunchy," so I thought I would made a salad with whole grains, veggies, and herbs. I had some leftover volcano rice (that's brown and two kinds of red rice) from dinner the other night, then I added some red quinoa. I steamed the sugar snaps and corn cut from the cob, cut up some fresh chives, also from my herb garden, then chilled everything overnight. Right before the party, I added a zesty avocado-cilantro dressing and some crunchy pepitas. I am pretty sure that this is the most DELICIOUS salad I've ever made! Even though four other people brought similar "hippie" salads, I took home a nearly clean dish. POTLUCK WIN!

Volcano Rice and Quinoa Salad with Sugar Snap Peas, Sweet Corn, and Chives

For the salad:
3 cups prepared volcano rice, chilled
1 cup prepared red quinoa, chilled
1/2 lb. sugar snap peas, blanched for 2 min, shocked, and sliced in half width-wise
2 large ears sweet corn, steamed in the husks in the microwave for 10 min, kernels cut from the cobs and cooled
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup toasted/salted pepitas

For the dressing (blend until smooth in a food processor):
1/3 cup white vinegar
2/3 cups olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 bunch cilantro, mostly leaves not stems
1/4 bunch parsley, mostly leaves not stems
1/4 white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 Anaheim pepper, seeded and cut into chunks
1/2 serrano pepper, seeded
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 ripe avocado, seeded and cut into chunks

Combine the salad ingredients then add enough of the dressing to suit you (you won't need it all). Chill or serve room temp. if you prefer.

*You can substitute brown rice for the volcano rice and regular quinoa for the red if that's what you have on hand.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

One sunny day!

PRAISE BE! It stopped raining for one glorious day! I got dinner going in the crock pot, went off to teach my afternoon class, stopped at a local farm stand to buy a couple of hanging baskets for the porch (on sale!) and more strawberries for our nightly salads, and then came home and planted all of my herbs and veggies that I bought this past weekend.
The dogs loved snoozing in the sun (in the extra-long grass that's still too wet to cut--boo hiss) while I did my digging in the dirt, and I swear I could feel the vitamin D soaking into my skin and coursing through my veins. Just a lovely day!
As for today's crock pot creation, I decided to rework my favorite recipe for Indian butter chicken for the slow cooker. Mainly, I swapped out chicken thighs for breasts, as they stand up to a longer cook time, and using coconut milk for creaminess without curdling like dairy productswould do. And of course, I had to rearrange the steps of preparation a bit, but I must say, it turned out FABULOUSLY well, and I would absolutely make it this way again in the future, especially when I'd rather be outside than chained to a hot stove.
Crock Pot Butter Chicken (Murg Makhani)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 inch fresh ginger (about one tablespoon), peeled and grated
3 large cloves garlic (about one tablespoon), peeled and chopped
1 medium jalapeno pepper (whole, fresh), seeded and chopped

1 small can tomato paste
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 teaspoons chicken soup base (or bouillion granules)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

1 can coconut milk
2 tablespoons butter (divided), cut into pieces
2 lbs.boneless/skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1" chunks
1 cup plain yogurt (or cream)
1/4-1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped (to taste)

Heat vegetable oil in a large (preferably, nonstick) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, ginger, and jalapeno, and cook for a few minutes, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened and slightly browned. Add in tomato paste and garam masala and cook for another minute or two, stirring constantly. Transfer the vegetable mixture to the crock pot. Add chicken soup base, salt, pepper, and coconut milk. Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth.
Melt butter over medium high heat in the same skillet, then brown the chicken pieces. Add the chicken to the blended vegetable mixture in the crock pot, and cook on low for 3-4 hours. Stir in the yogurt or cream, and serve with steamed (preferably, jasmine-scented basmati*) rice, and garnished with chopped cilantro leaves.
*I used volcano rice tonight (as pictured).

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A semblance of summer...

I have decided that I am just going to pretend it's summer, even if it rarely looks like it outside! So I am going make simple suppers, like a crusty French baguette, sliced and slathered in butter, drizzled with balsamic, sprinkled with minced garlic, and topped with shaved garlic. (This will be even more phenomenal when local tomatoes are ready to be sliced and added to the mix!) And I will eat many, many of my beloved buttery, bright green, Castelvetrano olives on the side.

The strawberries are finally here, so I will have lots of salads topped with these red ripe beauties, and also sliced red onion, blue cheese crumbles, pepitas, and creamy balsamic dressing. Oh yes, I shall.


And my own little garden has started to yield good things, too, like herbs, lettuces, and my very first sugar snap peas! YUMMY!

I will also make silly, girly cocktails based on things I've seen floating around Pinterest and Facebook, like the one drably called "Summer Pool Drink." But as I like my drinks frozen and frothy, I will adapt the recipe to be made in my fabulous margarita machine! And I will rename this libation, Grown-Up Hawaiian Ice.

Grown-Up Hawaiian Ice

1/2 cup whipped cream vodka (or regular)
1/4 cup Key Largo Schnapps (or any tropical flavor you prefer)
1/4 cup dark rum
1/4 cup frozen pineapple juice concentrate
1 cup water
1/2 little cup of Crystal Light or Totally Light lemonade mix
1 can Fresca
3 cups ice (or to desired consistency)

Blend, pour, and share with a friend!

Sunday, June 09, 2013

If you're gonna eat that much butter, you'll have to rope a lot of cows!

Now y'all know that I love me some Pioneer Woman, but I was watching a recent episode, where she used almost a pound a butter, a brick of cream cheese, and heavy cream in her mashed potatoes, then put two more sticks of butter on one loaf of French bread, and  used the rest of that pound to drench two beef tenderloins. 

Then in yesterday's episode, she made a truck bed picnic lunch for her crew consisting of spicy roasted chicken legs, cowboy bacon beans, and mocha brownies with double-thick frosting for dessert. In this one meal, she used THREE POUNDS of butter plus a POUND of bacon! Granted, she was feeding a lot of people, and those people do hard, physical labor. But still...the Pioneer Woman, while a nice lady, might be trying to kill us.

So sure, I make fun of The Pioneer Woman and her predilection for a preponderance of butter. And yet, did she compel me to go immediately to the kitchen and start a big crock of sweet and spicy cowboy beans to serve over cheesy chive cornbread for dinner tonight? Yep, she did. Well played, PW, well played.

Crock Pot Cowboy Beans
(Source: adapted from The Pioneer Woman's Cowboy Bacon Beans)

1/2 pound pork belly or bacon, cut into small pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 red pepper + 1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 lb. beans of your choice (traditionally, pinto)
4-6 cups water (cover by at least an inch)
smoked ham hock
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon instant espresso, optional
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (up to one teaspoon, to taste)
1 can Ro-tel tomatoes (I like the cilantro and lime variety)
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup mustard of your choice (I used spicy brown and grainy Dijon)
1/4 cup brown sugar, optional

Cook the pork belly or bacon pieces in a skillet over medium heat until just starting to brown. Add the peppers and onion and cook until tender, then toss in the garlic for a minute or two more. Scrape this mixture into the crock pot and add the rinsed beans, water, ham hock, bay leaves, chili powder, oregano, cumin, instant espresso (or swap out a cup of the water for brewed coffee), black pepper and salt. Cover and cook on high until the beans are tender--this took about 8-9 hours for me and my Rancho Gordo Good Mother Stallard beans. Remove the bay leaves and discard. Fish out the ham hock, remove the skin and gristle and chop the meat, then add it back to the beans. Stir in the Ro-tel, ketchup, mustard, and brown sugar, and cook for another hour or two on high.

Serve as a side dish to grilled meats or over cornbread, garnished with any or all of the following: cheese (I like queso blanco), diced red onion, chopped cilantro, sour cream, and/or pickled jalapeno slices.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

You say homemade CLIF Bars; I say fancy Rice Krispie treats.

One of my friends from college, Heather, has a special interest Facebook page called Healthy Cooking on a Budget. Recently, she asked people if they they knew of good recipes for homemade power bars. I read through the responses, and the following recommendation for homemade CLIF Bars looked delicious and EASY! And I must admit, it has made my life much easier this week by being able to grab one of these energy bars as I run out the door to work. I will be making them, and their endless possible variations, again and again.

Homemade CLIF Bars (No Bake!)
(Source: adapted from Power Hungry)

Note: This recipe can be doubled pressed into a 13×9-inch pan instead of an 8-inch pan.

1 1/4 cups crisp rice cereal (I used Cocoa Krispies!)
1 cup uncooked quick-cooking oats (I used old-fashioned oats)
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed/flaxseed meal (I used whole flaxseeds)
1/4 cup finely chopped dried fruit (e.g., raisins, dried cranberries, dried cherries, etc.)
1/4 cup finely chopped nuts or seeds (I doubled the nuts, using pepitas and macadamias)
1/3 cup honey, maple syrup or brown rice syrup (I used honey)
1/2 cup nut or seed butter of your choice, e.g., peanut butter, almond butter, sunflower seed butter (I used this awesome organic maple almond butter we got last summer in the Hudson Valley)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Combine the rice cereal, oats, flaxseed meal, dried fruit, and nuts in a large bowl.
2. Combine the syrup and nut butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until melted and well-blended (alternatively microwave in small microwave-safe bowl 30-60 seconds until melted). Stir in vanilla until blended.
3. Pour nut butter mixture over cereal mixture, stirring until coated (use a wooden spoon at first, then get your hands in it. It will be sticky, but this way you can really coat everything. Just scrape off your hands when you’re done).
4. Press mixture firmly into an 8-inch square pan (sprayed with nonstick cooking spray) using a large square of wax paper (really tamp it down).
5. Cool in pan on a wire rack, then chill at least 30 minutes to help it set.
6. Cut into 12 bars. (Wrap bars tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator).

Will You Cherry Me?: Use chopped dried tart cherries for the fruit and lightly salted roasted almonds for the nuts. Use any nut butter (almond butter is great, but I know, a bit pricey–but worth it!), and add 1/4 teaspoon almond extract.
Apple Pie: Use chopped dried apples for the fruit and rice syrup or honey for the syrup. Be sure to add the cinnamon option, and use toasted walnuts or pecans for the nuts.
Chocolate Chip Cookie: Replace the dried fruit with an equal amount of semisweet miniature chocolate chips (or cacao nibs, or carob chips). Combine the cereal mixture with the syrup mixture, then let the combined mixture stand 10 minutes before adding the chips.
Pepita-Cranberry: Use chopped cranberries for the dried fruit and raw pepitas for the nuts/seeds. Use either honey or brown rice syrup.
Peanut Butter Cookie: Use chopped dates for the dried fruit and dry roasted peanuts for the nuts. Use honey, or half honey-half molasses for the syrup and peanut butter for the nut butter.

Friday, June 07, 2013

What if macaroni and cheese...was a SOUP? Oh yeah.

The eternally soggy spring shows no signs of drying up anytime soon. In fact, when Cyd got home today, she set about making a fire in the wood stove for us, as I was finishing up with a cozy crock pot of soup for our dinner. SOUP! IN JUNE! THAT ISN'T GAZPACHO OR VICHYSSOISE! That's just not right. Oh well. I'll take it over 100 degree days anytime.
I'm not sure where I first ran across this recipe. It was probably something a friend posted on their Facebook wall. In any case, I adapted it to be made in the crock pot because I wasn't exactly sure when we would feel like eating dinner. So I basically made a cheese soup and cooked it on low all day, then I made the pasta and held it separately until serving time. That will help keep the leftovers from getting mushy, too. Am I not clever?
I think it turned out very well. Of course, Cyd's initial remark when she came in from work? "Smells weird." Her second comment? "I'm going to go get a cheeseburger from the drive-thru." Cyd thinks soup is just a precursor to "real food," but she ate a whole big bowl of it, begrudgingly admitted it was good and quite filling, and never did go get that burger. Ha! This also makes a nice meatless meal, I might add, if you're trying to cut down on the carne.
Crock Pot Mac and Cheese Soup
(Source: adapted from Seeded at the Table
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 of a large onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons flour
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
few shakes of hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 cup sharp pub cheese spread
1/2 lb. extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 pound elbow macaroni or small shells

Garnish: sun dried tomatoes in oil, chopped

Melt butter in a small skillet or sauce pan and saute the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Whisk in the flour and cook for two minutes, stirring constantly. Scrape the roux into the crock pot, then whisk in the chicken broth, a little at a time. Whisk in the cream, mustard, hot sauce, pepper, and salt. Cook on high for two hours or low for four, then whisk in the pub cheese and shredded cheddar until smooth.

Meanwhile, prepare one pound of pasta according to package instructions. Drain and rinse with cool water to hold until the soup is done. To serve, add a handful or two of pasta to a bowl, then fill with the cheese soup and stir. Garnish with a spoonful of chopped sun dried tomatoes.


Thursday, June 06, 2013

Pan-Asian Persuasion

Tonight's dinner was the result of my asking myself, "Why can't I combine that Lap Gai (spicy chicken) salad that I love so much at the local Thai restaurant with the lettuce wraps that I adore from P.F. Chang's?" The result: LAP GAI WRAPS! Yum and yum, and healthy to boot!

*Please note that there is MUCH confusion about the Thai-to-English translation and spelling of this dish. The most linguistically correct is probably lap, but I do recognize that "lap gai" sounds like a bachlorette party at Chippendale's, and tends to make one inclined to giggle when ordering at a restaurant in public. So choose whichever pleases you aesthetically and aurally (again with the giggling?): Lap, Laap, Laab, Lahb, Lahp, Larb, or Larp. You won't hurt my feelings.

Lap Gai Lettuce Wraps

1/2 head iceberg lettuce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 lb. ground chicken
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Thai fish sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups shredded Napa cabbage
1 red chili pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
juice of a lime
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 package vermicelli rice noodles/sticks

Cut a head of iceberg lettuce in half, remove the core, and soak in cold water for a few minutes. Separate the leaves, shake of excess water, and place on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels, then stash in the fridge to chill.

In a skillet, on medium, heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil, then brown a pound of ground chicken. Remove from the heat, then douse the meat with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, Thai fish sauce, and sugar. Set aside.

In a large bowl, gently mix together the cabbage, chili pepper, carrot, cilantro, basil, mint, onions, ginger, garlic, lime juice and black pepper. Once the meat mixture has cooled down a bit, combine with the rest of the salad ingredients.

To prepare the rice noodles, bring a saucepan of water just to the boil, turn off the heat, and add the noodles to the hot water. Let soak for five minutes, then drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Let them drain in a finely-meshed sieve, and use kitchen shears to cut them into shorter, more manageable lengths.

To assemble, place some of the cooled, drained noodles in a chilled lettuce cup, add a generous scoop of the larb gai salad, and top with a little more soy sauce and a squirt of sriracha, if desired. 

Makes about twelve lettuce wraps.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

A brief glimpse of summer...

Cyd installed the air conditioners this past weekend because the heat was doing us in. Then last night, I froze to death with the windows open and a fan blowing on me all night. Tonight, I am running around, closing all the windows and reaching for a blanket because it's too late to build a fire. I'm afraid that Spring 2013 has a bipolar disorder.

But during that brief burst of heat, I fashioned a lovely summery beverage to cool us off, based on a recipe in the May Bon Appetit (photo credit to them as well): Thai Chai Berry Iced Tea!

Combine ten star anise pods, three tablespoons sugar, and eight cups of water in a large saucepan. Scrape in seeds from one vanilla bean and add the scraped bean to the pot as well. Bring just to a boil, then remove from heat and add 15 black tea bags (I used an organic berry white tea). Cover and let steep for about 20 minutes. Strain into another large pitcher. Stir in 1/2 cup heavy cream and 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk until dissolved. Chill thoroughly, then serve over ice.