Saturday, October 31, 2009

Red Beans and Rice

I was raised on steak and potatoes. There was always a big slab of meat, usually beef, on our plates accompanied by a small mountain of mashed potatoes smothered in butter and gravy. That was in the 60’s. These days, we know that meat should be eaten sparingly so I’ve been trying to eat more vegetables and seafood.

When I looked into recipes for red beans and rice, I was surprised to find that there were many variations. I decided I should keep it simple for my first attempt and chose a recipe from A’s favorite site, Epicurious. It was billed as simple and easy and could be made with ingredients you already have on hand. True. All I had to buy were the beans and the tomato sauce.

As promised, this is a simple dish to make. It smelled great while it was cooking, but lacked any real flavor when I tasted it. It has heat from the spices and, but no distinctive flavor. It just tasted like beans with a kick. I think I will try some of those variations (Cuban, Cajun, etc) in hopes of finding a recipe with a unique taste.

Verdict: Not bad, but I won’t be making this again.

Red Beans and Rice
(source: Epicurious July 2003)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, finely diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 green pepper, finely diced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 cup tomato sauce
¼ cup water
A few dashes hot sauce (such as Tabasco)
2 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, rinsed well in a strainer
4 cups hot cooked rice (from 1 cup raw rice
Sour cream (optional)

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, and green pepper, and sauté until the pepper is very tender, about 10 minutes.

Sprinkle in the chili powder and paprika, and cook 30 seconds. Mix in the tomato sauce, water, hot sauce, and kidney beans, and simmer about 10 minutes, or until the mixture is hot and fragrant. Serve over rice with a small spoonful of sour cream on top, if desired.

Tip: To give the beans a smoky flavor you can add 1 small chipotle pepper in adobo sauce. Mince it on a small plate with 2 knives before adding it to the beans. Omit the hot sauce.

Recycle: olive oil bottle, Tabasco sauce bottle, kidney beans cans, tomato sauce can

Compost: onion skins, garlic skins, pepper seeds and rind

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Lentil Soup

A cooler than normal summer is being followed by a warmer than normal autumn. Yesterday, a cold front with rain moved in and we’ve been getting a taste of more normal damp, chilly autumn weather. Definitely soup weather.

I’ve been wanting to expand my soup repertoire beyond my usual cream of mushroom, French onion and potato soup standbys. Last year, I added chicken soup. This year, I’m adding Lentil Soup. The recipe is straight from the Goya dry lentils package. I had cut it out when I bought lentils to make I don't remember what. It sounded quick and easy.

My only criticism of the directions is that they don’t specify how long you should simmer the soup. “…until lentils are tender and soup gets thick” is a little vague. A guesstimate would have been nice. A little research on the internet suggested 45 minutes to an hour. I went with an hour.

I chose to make this with ham, not because I happen to have ham in the house but because I couldn’t imagine lentil soup with sausage. And the recipe didn’t specify what kind of sausage. Maybe kielbasa? I also chose chicken over beef bouillon, again, a personal preference. When you make this, go easy on the salt and pepper. The ham provided plenty of salt, I probably didn’t have to add any and I admit to being a little heavy handed with the pepper.

Despite my ineptitude with the seasonings, this soup was delicious and even better the second day.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

Lentil Soup
(source: Goya Dry Lentils package)

½ lb. dry lentils
2 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ lb. smoked ham or sausage
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 chicken or beef bouillon
4 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste

Sort and rinse lentils. In a medium saucepan, heat oil. Stir in ham, onion, celery and garlic until tender. Add lentils and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until lentils are tender and soup gets thick. Add more hot water if necessary.

Serves 4.

Recycle: olive oil bottle
Compost: onion skins, celery leaves, garlic skins

Friday, October 23, 2009

Alexis’s Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies

I fell for the hype. Twice. There was an article on Yahoo about the “best” chocolate chips and the “best” chocolate chip cookie recipes. I’ve been making Tollhouse cookies since I was a child. As an adult, I’m always trying, only to be disappointed by, other chocolate chip cookie recipes. But, hey, these are “the best” recipes.

There was the ubiquitous New York Times recipe, the supposedly “secret” Neiman Marcus recipe, a couple of famous TV chef recipes and a Martha Stewart recipe. From her Entertaining book. Supposedly the recipe has worked perfectly for 25 years. Let me repeat that so that we are all clear on this: Alexis’s Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies have worked perfectly for 25 years.

Like all of Martha’s “best” recipes, this one goes overboard on one key ingredient, in this case, butter. The recipe calls for one pound unsalted butter. Egads!! The recipe doesn’t say so, but I used the usual “softened” butter. Balancing that is a dearth of chocolate chips. Only 1½ cups. In my humble opinion, the minimum should be 2 cups, the whole 12 ounce bag instead of ¾ of it. And by the way, what are “real chocolate chips”? I didn’t realize that there were fake ones.

I liked that the dry ingredients are sifted. It usually makes for a lighter result. I’m not sure why with an entire pound of butter, Martha feels that the cookie sheets need to be greased. I have never greased my cookie sheets when making chocolate chip cookies with a lot less butter. I went with experience and didn’t grease them. I was also unhappy with the amount of batter for each cookie. Two to three tablespoons seemed way too much. And which is it? Two or three? There’s a big difference. I compromised at 2 ½ tablespoons. Sure enough, it was waaaaay too much. This is what the first batch looked like:

They spread out all over the cookie sheet. Can you imagine if I HAD greased the cookie sheet? They would have continued spreading off the sheet and all over my oven. According to the reverential article accompanying this recipe, these cookies have a “…crispy-at-the-edges/chewy-in-the –middle texture.” You will note that in the above photo, while the edges could possibly be described as “crispy”, there is no way that the uncooked batter in the middle could be described as “chewy”.

But we weren’t finished having fun yet. Here’s what happened when I attempted to remove the cookies from the cookie sheet:

An ooey-gooey mess. For the next batch, I reduced the batter for each cookie to a more normal 1 tablespoon and was rewarded with the promised 4 inch “crispy-at-the-edges/chewy-in-the-middle texture”. Look closely at the photo below. Do you see any chocolate chips? I see almost none. For me, a chocolate chip cookie is as much about the chocolate chips as it is about the cookie.

I should confess that the worshipful author of the accompanying article was correct about the taste. “They do not resemble Tollhouse-style cookies in the slightest. They are much more buttery….” She’s right. They were good. We will just have to disagree about the recipe itself. It may have worked for 25 years in her kitchen, but it doesn’t work in mine.

Verdict: What was Martha thinking?

Alexis’s Brown-Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies
(source: Martha Stewart Entertaining)

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter
3 cups brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ cups real chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cream butter until smooth; add sugars. Beat in eggs and vanilla.

Sift flour, salt, and baking soda and beat into above mixture. Add chocolate chips. Drop 2-3 tablespoons of batter onto greased baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake 8 minutes.

Remove from pans and cool on racks.

Note; if cookies become hard while still on the baking sheet, put sheet back into the oven for a few seconds to soften them for easy removal.

Recycle: vanilla bottle

Compost: eggshells

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Indian-Spiced Shrimp

This is a recipe that I “stockpiled” over the summer. I saw it on Yahoo (originally from Epicurious), loved it and bookmarked it for trial during cooler weather. I liked it so much that, when I ran into “A” at a party last month, I told her that I had the perfect recipe for the shrimp that has been in my freezer for too long. The recipe was called …um…um…some kind of Indian dish. I thought I was having a Senior Moment.

I hopped on my computer as soon as I got home and pulled up the recipe. Phew! No Senior Moment. I couldn’t recall the name because it’s not really “named”, just described as “Indian-spiced”. As I was making out my shopping list, I liked this recipe even more. Not only did I already have the shrimp, albeit a little frost bitten, I also had all of the spices. I’m going to have to check back on this blog to see what I have been cooking that I have coriander and turmeric on hand.

The prep time on this is estimated at 40 minutes which is accurate. Peeling and deveining the shrimp took up most of that time. I thought that chopping the tomatoes would take more time than it did and it might have if I had peeled them first. I didn’t have any fresh ginger so I substituted ground ginger at a ratio of 1 to 3. In this case it meant using ⅓ teaspoon of ground ginger instead of 1 teaspoon fresh ginger.

Once you get past all of the peeling and chopping, this is a quick and easy recipe. It smelled heavenly as it was cooking, although it’s probably a good thing that my windows are all closed. I’m not sure how my neighbors feel about Indian food. People who don’t like it often complain of the smell when someone else is cooking it.

The taste, on the other hand, was only so-so. I just couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for it. It tasted okay, not great, just okay. Perhaps I just don’t care much for this particular combination of spices.

Verdict: No bad, but I probably won’t be making this again.

Indian-Spiced Shrimp
(source: Epicurious)

1 medium onion, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced lengthwise
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh jalapeno, including seeds
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¾ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon turmeric (optional)
1 pound tomatoes, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 pound large shrimp in shell (21 to 25 per lb), peeled and deveined
½ cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped if desired

Cook onion in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Add jalapeno, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring, until jalapeno, is softened and garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Add cumin, coriander, salt, and turmeric (if using) and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes break down and sauce is thickened, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add shrimp and cook, turning occasionally, until just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and stir in half of cilantro. Serve sprinkled with remaining cilantro.

Recycle: Vegetable oil bottle, spice bottles

Compost: onion skin, jalapeno stem, garlic skin, ginger peels, tomatoes skins, cilantro stems

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Indian Spiced Carrot Soup

My garden produced a good crop of carrots this year, and it’s cooled down enough now that the idea of carrot soup was appealing. So I went looking for a recipe, and found one on for a soup with Indian spices. I like Indian food, and I didn’t want a recipe that was too sweet, so this sounded like a good idea.

Okay, so I made some changes to the spices. I’m out of curry powder, so used Garam Masala powder instead. I also used powdered ginger rather than fresh. Since I don’t have a spice mill or coffee grinder, I used ground coriander seeds and unground mustard seed. But I did use fresh limes. I know better than to mess with that.

The recipe’s intention, apparently, was that you should blend everything to a fine puree. It was getting late and I was in kind of a hurry, so I didn’t blend it that finely. I liked this; it gave an interesting texture to the soup.

As for the color – I grew purple carrots in my garden this year, and one or two of them made it into the soup. I was alarmed at first, when the cooking liquid turned an unappealing brown color (the purple compounds are water-soluble, so they leach out during cooking). But then when I added the lime juice, the acidity turned the soup reddish. The final result was a light tomato-y color. Definitely better than muddy brown. I wonder what it would look like if I used all purple carrots…

As for the flavor – it’s interesting, but I didn’t care for it. Some of the people who posted comments on the original website said they doubled the amounts of the spices. I’m not sure that would help. It’s not that the flavor was weak, just that I didn’t like it all that much. I used the juice of two fresh limes, and maybe that was a bit much.

So, I’ll continue searching for a good carrot soup recipe…

Verdict: Not bad, but I don't think I'll be making it again.

Indian Spiced Carrot Soup with Ginger

1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon curry powder (preferably Madras)
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
2 cups chopped onions
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled, thinly sliced into rounds (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lime peel
5 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth or vegetable broth
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
Plain yogurt (for garnish)

Grind coriander and mustard seeds in spice mill to fine powder. Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add ground seeds and curry powder; stir 1 minute. Add ginger; stir 1 minute. Add next 3 ingredients. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; sauté until onions begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add 5 cups broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered until carrots are tender, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly. Working in batches, puree in blender until smooth. Return soup to pot. Add more broth by 1/4 cupfuls if too thick. Stir in lime juice; season with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm before serving.

Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with yogurt and serve.

Recycle: oil bottle, broth can, yogurt tub

Compost: ginger, onion, and carrot peels

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dinette Cake with Chocolate Butter Frosting

When I was a child, the custom in our family was that the Birthday Boy or Girl chose the dinner menu and the birthday cake. My mother wasn’t much of a baker, so most birthday cakes were made from mixes. Except mine. I always requested the one cake that she made from scratch. She called it a “One Egg Cake”. The recipe had been cut out of a newspaper or magazine years before and carefully saved . . . I just realized that I don’t know where she kept it.

It was a plain vanilla cake made in a square 8x8 or 9x9 pan and frosted with chocolate butter frosting. Cakes may have come from boxes, but frostings were always homemade. Chocolate butter or vanilla butter, straight out of my mother’s old Betty Crocker cookbook.

In my teens, disaster struck. The precious One Egg Cake recipe disappeared. We searched high and low but it was never seen again. I began a fruitless quest to find a substitute. As an adult, when I purchased my own Betty Crocker cookbook, one of the first recipes that I tried was “Dinette Cake” which called for one egg and was made in a square 8x8 or 9x9 pan. It was close, but not the cake from my childhood. Luckily, my newer edition Betty Crocker cookbook still had the same chocolate and vanilla butter frostings recipes.

It may not be quite the same, but at least I no longer have to wait until my birthday to have a one egg cake frosted with chocolate butter frosting.
Verdict: Yum!! These are keepers!!

Dinette Cake
(source: Betty Crocker)

1 ½ cups cake flour or 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup milk
⅓ cup shortening
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour square pan, 8x8x2 or 9x9x2 inches. Measure all ingredients into large mixer bowl. Blend ½ minute on low speed, scraping bowl constantly. Beat 3 minutes high speed, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into pan.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool.

Chocolate Butter Frosting
(source: Betty Crocker)

⅓ cup soft butter or margarine
2 ounces melted unsweetened chocolate (cool)
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
About 2 tablespoons milk

Mix thoroughly butter and cooled chocolate. Blend in sugar. Stir in vanilla and milk; beat until frosting is smooth and of spreading consistency.

Fills and frosts two 8- or 9-inchy layers or frosts a 13x9-inch cake.

To fill and frost three 8-inch layers, use ½ cup soft butter or margarine, 3 ounces melted unsweetened chocolate (cool), 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla and about 3 tablespoons milk.

Recycle: milk bottle, vanilla bottle
Compost: eggshell

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Chicken or Pork Fried Rice

I was feeling under the weather last weekend, no energy to cook, so I went with one of my default options: takeout Chinese. The local Chinese restaurant is nothing special, just convenient. The garlic shrimp was yummy, but the fried rice left something to be desired. I like mine much better.

This is one of those recipes that I’ve been cooking for years but whose origins are lost in the mists of time. I vaguely remember finding it in a magazine. My first concrete memory is passing it along to a former co-worker who had made a pork roast and was looking for some way to use the leftovers. I almost never eat pork, so I have always made this recipe with chicken.

I use all of the ingredients but consider the amounts as merely suggestions. I buy a package of bean sprouts and use it all. Ditto the green onions. I chop up the whole bunch and put it in. The smallest package of mushrooms that I have ever found is 4 ounces. Again, I use the entire package. Whatever amount of chicken I have on hand is the amount that I use. Today, I bought a package of chicken tenders and cut them into bite sized pieces. I use Japanese sushi rice because that is what I keep in stock. I make 4 cups instead of the 3 cups called for in the recipe to balance the increased amounts of the rest of the components.

Perhaps it is that final dash of white pepper that I find so satisfying, but I have yet to eat any restaurant made fried rice that even comes close to this.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

Chicken or Pork Fried Rice

1 cup bean sprouts
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 ounces mushrooms, sliced (1 cup)
3 cups cold cooked regular long grain rice
1 cup cut-up cooked chicken or pork
2 tablespoons sliced green onions
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
3 tablespoons soy sauce
Dash of white pepper

Rinse bean sprouts with cold water; drain.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 10-inch skillet over medium heat; rotate skillet until oil covers bottom. Cook mushrooms in oil about 1 minute, stirring frequently, until coated.

Add bean sprouts, rice, chicken and onions. Cook over medium heat about 5 minutes, stirring and breaking up rice, until hot.

Push rice mixture to side of skillet. Add 1 tablespoon oil to other side of skillet. Cook eggs in oil over medium heat, stirring constantly, until eggs are thickened throughout but still moist. Stir eggs into rice mixture. Stir in soy sauce and white pepper.

Recycle: vegetable oil bottle, soy sauce bottle
Compost: scallion stems, eggshells