Tuesday, April 28, 2009

a day of food. (discovering sardines, 10-hour chicken soup.)

feets

Yesterday I woke up at 7 a.m. and broke down a chicken. My husband and son are recovering from a bout of the sniffles (NOT SWINE FLU, THANKS) so I wanted to make a big batch of chicken soup to fortify their souls. I needed to get it going before my son woke up and demanded my full attention, so I was in the kitchen bright and early, shoving my hands up a chicken, slicing it apart, and starting a big pot of stock.

fat

Because I'm a huge weirdo about leaving things on my stove when I'm not home (I even called my mom the first time I used a crock pot to verify that it was REALLY OKAY to leave it plugged it when you leave the house. Duh, that's the whole point.) and because I find myself having to constantly adjust the temperature on my stupid range to keep my stock from bubbling too much, I sat around the house with my son yesterday for like 4 straight hours while I made stock. I drained it and chilled it around lunch time, and made myself a snack.

chillin

So, everyone knows I'm trying to be more health conscious and blah blah. I'm still in the process of losing all my 'baby weight' (or maybe should I call it "daily milkshake binge" weight, because let's be honest- Eli didn't hold me down and force feed me all that Mike's Drive-in while I was pregnant) and I get really bored eating the same crap all the time. I first got the idea to start snacking on sardines from The 10 Cent Designer, and as it weaseled its way into my noggin, I started picking up tidbits here and there about how sardines were like, the only sustainable seafood, and how they don't have a bunch of mercury and blah blah blah. Awesome! I don't particularly like canned tuna, and I'm freaked out by all the warnings about mothers/children consuming too much, so I like that I can sit and polish off a tin of sardines without DAMAGING MY BRAINZ.

tin2

But, I'm also broke-ass. Student loans: NOT A GOOD IDEA. Just sayin. So, tins of sardines are the logical choice for someone who wants to enjoy the health benefits of those lovely omega-3's, not melt their brains with mercury poisoning, and only spend like 2 bucks. I bought this package of Moroccan sardines packed in olive oil at (duh) Trader Joe's for less than 2 dollars (I think. Maybe they were 2.50, I don't know.) and they were pretty tasty. I guess I have no idea what canned sardines are supposed to taste like, but I keep hearing horror stories of fishy little bites packed in slimy tomato sauce or whatever, so I guess I lucked out for my first try.

tin3

tin4

sardines

All I did was mash them up and throw them on top of a green salad- not very creative, I know. A friend of mine told me, "Try making a fennel slaw with some heat to it and putting the slaw and sardines on a soft roll." which is exactly what I plan to do next week when I go grocery shopping again.

Oh, but wait! I still have soup to make! So anyway, after lunch I had to run out for parsley (and I just needed to get the hell out after the whole 4-hour stock wait) so I did. Then I got home and realized I only had 1 tiny carrot, so I ran back out for carrots. Then I started the soup!

soup

If you've invested enough time in this post to get to this point, I guess I should reward you with some kind of recipe, but let's be honest- I put like 10 hours of my day into this soup. Unless you're a stay at home mom with no life like I am, I don't expect the same level of commitment out of you. Go ahead and use store-bought stock, or make some in advance, I don't care.

For my sick family, I knew I wanted a traditional, don't-screw-around chicken soup. All that went into it was fresh homemade stock, 3 small carrots, 3 celery stalks, 1 onion, 3 cloves of garlic, a handful of chopped parsley, and 2 chicken legs. I sauteed the vegetables, added hot stock, let it simmer for a few minutes, and then added 2 whole chicken legs (bone-in) with most of the skin removed and let it simmer on low heat. After the legs were cooked through (about half an hour later) I pulled them out, shredded the meat off the bone, and added it back into the soup. I seasoned it with salt and pepper, and served it to my family with wheat toast and butter.

soup2

I don't think I need to tell you that it really fit the bill for MOST PERFECT CHICKEN SOUP EVER. Maybe it was just that I devoted my whole day to it, maybe it was the quality of the ingredients, but it was hella good and I think it helped everyone's immune systems tackle this bug that's going around. I'm going to eat the leftovers today for lunch with a grilled cheese sandwich.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

pizza!

dough

I've been in the market for a good pizza dough recipe for ages. Usually, when we decided to do homemade pizzas, we opt for the Trader Joe's pre-made dough, and it works just fine. It's not the best dough in the world, but it's cheap and made from decent ingredients. I even tried the Pastaworks dough one time, just for variety. It was good, but not something I'd go out of my way to get. Plus, I love making stuff from scratch.

dough3

When my friend Alia had us over for dinner one night, she presented us with a couple of lovely homemade pizzas. She'd made the dough herself, and it was thick, chewy, puffy in all the right places, and very tasty. When it comes to pizza, everyone is really picky, of course. Personally, when I go to a restaurant for pizza, I like the thin, slightly charred, chewy-crispy crust- like the famed Apizza Scholls makes. But, when making pizza at home, I accept the limitations of my small oven and opt for a more bread-like crust.

ikea advert

So, when pizza made its way onto our grocery menu for the week, I decided that I'd go ahead and whip up a batch of dough myself. I emailed my buddy and asked for her recipe, and through a convoluted series of attempts to connect, I ended up heading over to her house with a bag of flour and a packet of yeast, ready to be coached through my first pizza dough.

Her recipe comes from Vegan with a Vengeance, which surprised me- frankly, it's never been my favorite cookbook. I've never gone through it recipe by recipe, but the few things I've tried didn't really blow me away. Of course, I'm not vegan, and I never have been. I understand the scavenger-hunt like enthusiasm vegans have for trying to find good recipes, but it gets kind of old when things that are just vegan by default (salads, smoothies, etc.) start popping up. BUT! This was an excellent, easy-to-follow recipe (even though the instructions are way too long- even the author pokes fun at herself by titling the recipe, "Pizza Dough: A novel.) and I'm keeping it in my recipe box as my official pizza dough.

pie

Pizza Dough: the condensed novel
From Vegan with a Vengeance, transcribed in my chicken scratch as a bare-bones recipe, then re-elaborated at home.

1 cup warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 (1/4 oz) packet of active dry yeast (the book says "not the rapid-rise stuff!" but that's what I used and it was fine.)
2 tablespoons olive oil (and more for drizzling)
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
cornmeal for dusting

In a small bowl, proof the yeast for 10 minutes by stirring in into the cup of warm water. If your yeast doesn't foam up within 10 minutes, it's dead and you should start over. (Apparently this doesn't really happen anymore, but just so you know.)

In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients and whisk together. Add yeast water and oil, and mix up until a dough forms. It will form quickly, and if you have leftover flour at the bottom of the bowl, just set it aside. Knead for 10 minutes until dough is elastic and somewhat firm. If it's too sticky, you can add in small amounts of flour. When finished kneading, form into a tight ball.
In another large, oiled bowl, place the ball and turn to coat the entire thing with a thin film of oil, then cover bowl with a damp cloth. Let rise for 1 hour, then punch down (it feels so good to punch dough, haha!) and knead for another minute, dusting with flour if necessary, until dough begins to feel less like a sponge (it should be spongy) and more like dough. Form into a ball again, place back in the bowl, and let it rest for AT LEAST 10 minutes, but really more like an hour or two. You can also freeze it and use it another time!

When it's time to make pizza, cut the dough into equal sections (you can do 2 medium sized pizzas, 1 really big one- tonight we made 3 smallish ones) and roll/stretch out into shape. This dough rolls GREAT- I rolled it out into super thin pies and it puffed up pretty nicely anyway.

Preheat your oven to 500ºf, (preheat your pizza stone if you have one. I wish I had one!) slide your pie onto a baking pan, and let it go until it's done- 8-10 minutes.

pie2

I think it goes without saying that you can put whatever you'd like on a pizza, but if you're curious about what you see above, I'll tell you. We made 1 traditional-type pizza with red sauce (it was just classico pasta sauce, haha) and mozzarella. We did a white pie with garlic paste (garlic smashed up with salt), olive oil, caramelized onions, and mozzarella. (Go easy on the garlic, I overdid it and I was a little bummed.) And lastly, a pesto pie, because why not? It only takes a few seconds to whip up a pesto, and now I have some leftovers kicking around my fridge for later.

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3 small pizzas happily fed 3 adults and 2 toddlers, but you could probably even squeeze in one more person and if you served it with a big salad, everyone would fill up.

allgoneee

Also, on the recommendation of several readers, I picked up a copy of Real Food: What to Eat and Why from the library and I'm really enjoying it so far. It's a pretty fascinating read, especially as a former vegetarian. If what she has to say is true, (that buttered bacon is delicious AND HEALTHY, in a nutshell) its kind of shocking to realize how much misinformation we are given about our diets growing up. I'm hoping that it will help me get over some of my food neuroses. It definitely reinforces most of my ideals about food- now if I could just find a book called, "IT'S OKAY, WHITE FLOUR IS STILL GOOD FOR YOU. EAT PIZZA AND PASTA EVERY DAY FOREVER." that would rule. Maybe I should just write one and see if I can sucker my body into agreeing with me?

ALSO! My friends The Klines are having us over for dinner this weekend to share the bounty of their first ever asparagus harvest! Holla! I can't wait to eat some home grown asparagus. Apparently it takes like 3 years after planting before you can actually harvest any, but after that it comes up every year like clockwork. Yum! I will post pictures, for sure.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

last soup of the season? and cheddar biscuits.

soupandbiscuits

Good gracious. Let's hope I never have to complain about my computer here again. ANYWAY, last night, my husband and I tossed together what might be our last soup of the chilly season. The sun is peeking out more and more frequently, and we'll probably be trading our hearty bowls of soup for light salads as the weather gets hot.

moderndinner

This simple vegetable soup follows pretty much the same formula as all of our other soups- broth, mirepoix, and a handful of extra veggies and spices. My husband was in the mood for something more like a minestrone, so we tossed in a can of tomatoes and shaved some parmesan on top to finish. We served it with a big plate of cheddar onion biscuits, and stuffed ourselves on broth-soaked bread product. It was great!

soupysoup

Springtime Vegetable Soup:

6 cups of vegetable broth (I made mine the same afternoon- in a big pot with carrot, onion, shallot, celery, garlic, and bay leaf- I simmered about 8 or 9 cups of water for about 2 hours. Strained, cooled, and refrigerated it to be used at dinner. )
chopped vegetables- carrot, celery, onion, garlic, zucchini, yellow squash, red bell pepper
1 can of fire roasted diced tomatoes
can of kidney beans
bay leaf
butter
white wine
a tiny pinch of rosemary
lemon
fresh basil, if you have it
salt & pepper
egg noodles, if you want them.
red chili flakes

In a large pot, saute onions & garlic in a little bit of butter. Cook for a few minutes, then splash in some white wine. Reduce for a moment, then add the rest of the chopped vegetables. Saute until soft, then add vegetable stock and bay leaf. Add fire roasted diced tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper (we used a pinch of steak seasoning because we didn't have any 'italian seasoning' kicking around) and a small pinch of rosemary (fresh is better, dried is fine). Simmer for an hour or so, or until vegetables are soft and the flavors melt together and get all delicious. When it's getting close to serving time, add the can of kidney beans. (If you add them too early, they can get mushy.) Add a pinch of lemon zest or just a squeeze of lemon juice for a little bit of acid, and garnish with fresh basil and shaved parmesan. Serve over a bed of egg noodles. We added chili flakes to our noodles but omitted them from the big pot because our 2 year old son doesn't dig spicy stuff very much.

This makes a giant pot of soup, but we love having leftovers for the next few days.

Now- the cheddar biscuits.

haha

Sorry, I had to use this ridiculous picture. I was trying to be all adorable and model the biscuits, but my husband came up behind me and started doing something to me (moose antlers? bunny ears?) and I cracked up just as the shutter clicked.

Anyway, I just pulled up this recipe from my friend Alia and modified it based on the ingredients I had on hand and added cheese for deliciousness.

Altered rom the cookbook "How It All Vegan!" by Tanya Barnard & Sarah Kramer

"Fancy Biscuits"
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil -or- shortening
1 cup sour milk (milk + 1 tsp vinegar) (hey vegans- just use soy milk.)
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
1 tbsp dried dill (I didn't have any dill. I never have dried dill! I should get some.)
1/4 tsp pepper (I was very liberal with my pepper cracker, I wanted them to be peppery!)
A large handful of grated cheddar cheese.

Preheat oven to 450ºF. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Crack in some pepper, and toss the cheese and onions into the mixture until it's all evenly distributed. Add the oil and sour milk, and mix together gently until "just mixed." Spoon into lightly oiled muffin tins (Or just spoon onto a baking sheet. My husband claims that biscuits should be "rugged."). Bake for 12-18 minutes. Makes about 6 biscuits. (Or a random assortment of oddly sized biscuits, if you're me.)

Eat soup while it's still (sorta) chilly!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

grumble grumble.

Do you miss me? My laptop is back in the shop. Hopefully the second set of repairs will do the trick, and I will be able to joyfully return to real internet, instead of this craptastic mostly-text version I am forced to use to feed my addiction on my husband's blackberry. Boooo! (I know, I know. First world problems. Poor me.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

fettuccine with yogurt & herbs

pastainyogurt

When I come across a recipe that I really want to try, I usually follow it to the letter so that I have an idea of how it should work, and then as soon as I'm done eating it, I am already coming up with ways to alter it. In this case, I can't say that I can come up with a single improvement.

The other day, I bummed a copy of Edible Portland (they're free in grocery stores around town) off my buddy so I could check out a recipe, and instead of making the one I'd planned to, I stumbled across this one instead. It requires prepping a day ahead, but since I plan my meals in advance, it wasn't a problem.

From Edible Portland (adapted from Cathy Whims, Chef/Owner, Nostrana)

2 cups whole milk yogurt
extra virgin olive oil
3 large onions, thinly sliced
sea salt
1 lb fettuccine
2 cups fresh herbs (a mixture of chervil, basil, parsley, chives, and fennel frond) roughly chopped
2 oz Proscuitto di Parma, thinly sliced (optional)
1 bunch green onions
1 cup grated pecorino


1. The day before, fold a long piece of cheesecloth in fourths. Spoon yogurt into its center and tie the bundle to the center of a long, wooden spoon. Lay the spoon across a bowl, so that the yogurt drains- whey will drip into the bowl below. Refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. Remove yogurt from cheesecloth and bring to room temperature. Discard whey. (Editor's note: that business with the spoon sounds rather complicated. If you have one of those wire colander things, you can just set the cheesecloth in it, then spoon the yogurt on top, then set it in a bowl. That's what I did.)

2. Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add onions, toss well and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 40 minutes or until the onions turn creamy and golden brown. Turn heat to low if onions darken too quickly. While cooking, add salt to taste, a little at a time. The onions can be caramelized in advance and kept in the refrigerator. (That's what I did. It made dinner prep go a lot smoother.)

3. Bring a six-quart pot of water to a boil. Season with sea salt- enough so that the water tastes like seawater. Drop in pasta. Cook until al dente and drain, reserving a half-cup of water. (Whoops, I just realized I used a whole cup. Oh well.)

4. Place thickened yogurt in a large bowl and whisk with the reserved hot water. Toss pasta with yogurt until coated. Add caramelized onions, herbs, proscuitto, and green onions. Season with salt & pepper and toss well.

5. Place pasta in a warm serving bowl. Garnish with pecorino and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve.

(Makes 6 servings.)


Woo! The only thing I'd do differently next time is cut the recipe in half for my own little family. We were lucky to have a dinner guest this evening, or we'd surely have had a ridiculous amount of leftovers (though there's still a good sized portion sitting in my fridge right now). The tanginess of the yogurt was delicious, the caramelized onions gave the whole dish a sweet and savory touch, and the fresh herbs were delightful, of course. I loved that it had the weight and feel of a nice thick alfredo sauce, but without making me feel like total crap after I was done eating it. I didn't have any proscuitto or bacon or anything like that on hand, but next time I make this, I'm definitely going to throw some in. Because you know- meat.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

no knead forever and ever.

NICELOAF

This is your friendly reminder that no-knead bread is AWESOME. I love having this recipe tucked away in my brain to pull out in a pinch, like this week when I had mini-quiches on the menu again (this time with pureed kale mixed in with the eggs, poured over caramelized onions and gorgonzola!) and I didn't have anything to go on the side. We ran out of bread early in the week, and the evening before quiche night, I quickly whipped together a batch of dough and let it rest overnight on the counter. I had it in the oven by the following afternoon, and that evening we had fresh bread with our eggs. Somehow, we managed to restrain ourselves, and we still have half a loaf, waiting to be topped with poached eggs for breakfast tomorrow.

NICELOAF2

In case you've forgotten, the recipe is (from memory, snagged from the NY Times):

HELLO! READ THIS! You need a deep, oven-safe dish with a lid for this. The material isn't really crucial, so don't sob if you don't have a Le Creuset dutch oven. (I don't. Mom? Christmas? J/K MOM I LOVE YOU.) The lid keeps the steam in so that a nice crust can form while the dough bakes. I use an oven-safe stainless steel stock pot (you've seen it around here) but you can use a glass casserole dish with a lid, or a cast iron guy, or whatever you have that is oven safe.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp instant yeast (for this loaf, I used a full teaspoon of yeast so that it'd be ready by morning. You can play around with the amount of yeast if you have time constraints, but the longer you can let it rest, the better the loaf will be.)
1 1/4 tsp salt
about 1 1/2 cups of water
a pinch of cornmeal

Whisk together dry ingredients to combine evenly. Slowly add water, stirring gently, until dough forms. The dough should be sticky and shaggy, but not too wet. Place in a large, oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for 15-24 hours. The dough is ready when the surface is dotted with tiny bubbles. Dump dough onto a nicely floured surface and flip it over onto itself so it's kind of folded up. Let it rest for 15 minutes, then, as quickly as you can, attempt to form it into a ball and let it rest another 2 hours, covered with a cotton cloth. (terrycloth will stick.)
After an hour and a half of rest, pre-heat your oven to 450ºf with the covered dish inside, and let it go for about half an hour. By then, your dough should be ready (you can test it by poking a floured finger into it- it will leave a dent that takes a moment to spring back. the dough doesn't rise much, so don't freak out if it's still the same size when you go to bake it). Remove the dish from the oven, sprinkle the bottom with a little cornmeal, and then do your best to flop the dough into the pan without burning yourself. (Good luck, I almost always burn myself when I bake bread. What is wrong with me?!) Put the lid back on, put it in the oven, and bake for 20 minutes with the lid on, and then another 20 with the lid off.

I've done all kinds of experimenting with this recipe and it really appeals to my type of cooking- it's an adaptable recipe that you can sort of play with and it's hard to screw it up too bad. It requires a great deal of patience but not much skill, and the payoff is a gorgeous loaf of bread. My favorite part is listening to the bread crackle as it cools on my cutting board. And the smell, duh.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

roasted vegetables and polenta.

polenta

The other day I made some chili, and I didn't have any bread or muffins or anything to serve it with, so I poked around in my cupboard until I found a bag of polenta that had been lying around for awhile. I prepared it according to the package directions, and it was a delicious addition to the chili.

polenta2

This simple dish popped into my head shortly after making the chili, and I scrawled "ROAST VEG + POLENTA" on my chalkboard so I could remember when it was time to make our grocery list for the week. I've been babysitting a good friend's daughter the last few months on a pretty regular basis, and the constant refrain as my friend walked out the door was, "There's roast veg in the fridge if you want to have some for lunch!" After hearing that so often, I finally started roasting big pans of vegetables for us, and it makes for such a simple, delicious meal.

polenta3

I chopped up a big pile of veggies- brussels sprouts, broccoli, parsnips, carrots, summer squash, zucchini, and a handful of mushrooms (but obviously you could use whatever you want). I dumped them into a big bowl, and tossed them liberally with some olive oil, salt, and cracked pepper. Then I spread the veggies out into 2 roasting pans so they'd have plenty of space to cook, and popped them in a 400ºf oven until the broccoli started to get blackened and crispy- my favorite way to eat broccoli.

To make the polenta, I just followed the package instructions (actually, I halved the portions) on my Bob's Red Mill polenta, only I used homemade chicken stock instead of water. Because why use water when you could use stock?

In a large-ish pot, bring 3 cups of stock or water to a boil. Slowly stir in 1 cup of polenta and reduce heat to a medium low simmer. Stir frequently, and feel free to add a few hunks of butter or a splash of olive oil. Add some salt, too- unless you're using store-bought broth, that stuff is usually pretty salty. Continue stirring frequently until mixture becomes very thick, about 25 minutes. Spoon or pour into a mold of some kind- I happen to have a miniature bundt cake pan, which I was really (DORKY) excited to use as a mold. I buttered the molds and spooned in the polenta, allowing it to cool in the windowsill until it was firm enough to hold the shape. If you don't have a cute bundt pan, you can mold the polenta in small bowls, or put it in a large bowl and then slice it when it's firm. The other day when I made chili, I actually used some tinfoil to make a tube-type shape around the polenta, so that it set into a cylinder, which I then sliced into small patties.

polenta4

Spoon some warm red sauce over the whole thing (just spaghetti sauce or whatever you have in the cupboard) and enjoy. It took some cajoling but I actually got my kid to eat this, a whole plate of vegetables.

(Of course, in a perfect world, the whole thing would have been topped with some parmesan cheese, but I didn't have any. Surprise!) So, readers- what's your favorite way to eat polenta?