Archive | May, 2012

Bok Choy, Tequila and Escargots

31 May

I did not accidentally ingest any slugs.  That’s the disclaimer.

I got a huge bok choy from my produce vendor, fresh from a farm in the next state over.  Why?  Because I ordered a bok choy.  I expected a big one, I just didn’t realize how big it would be.  I put it in the refrigerator and left it there for several days.  What to do with the enormous bok choy?  There are only two of us.  I looked up bok choy on Epicurious.com.  All the recipes are for Shanghai bok choy (green stem bok choy or baby bok choy) and while they could be adapted for a huge bok choy, it seemed like too much trouble.  I searched blogs for bok choy recipes.  I still had an enormous bok choy in my fridge.

Finally, I had to do something, so I pulled it out.  There was a slug on it.  Okay.  I’m a grown up, I threw that leaf away.  It was on the outside anyway.  I started to peel back the layers.  Another slug.  Ugh.  Are the slugs dead or just tired from being in the cold?  I started to freak out.  They’re just escargots without shells, right?

Another slug.  Shudder.  Find husband.  Conversation goes like this:

  • Me:  You are going to have to clean and cook the bok choy because it has slugs in it.
  • Him:  Um, okay.  What are we going to do with it?
  • Me:  Dunno, but there are slugs in it.  They’re just in there.  (Making undulating motions with body.)
  • Him:  Okay, we can cook it.  We have to clean it anyway.
  • Me:  You have to cook it, but I might not be able to eat it now.  There were slugs in it.
  • Him:  Okay, I’ll take care of it.
  • Me:  They left slime tracks on it.  (Extremely rude comment deleted in case my mother reads this.)  I’m really freaking out now.
  • Him:  Are you going to be able to eat this at all?
  • Me:  Maybe if we boil it in bleach?
  • Him:  This should go in the blog.
  • Me:  Listen.  (Making Lewis Black finger gestures.)  There are slugs in it.
  • Him:  I will take care of it.
  • Me:  (Leaving room and heading to bar to mix a drink.)  Uh-huh.
  • Him:  (Calling after me.)  This should go in the blog.

South of the Border

  • 3 parts tequila
  • 1 part coffee liqueur
  • 2 parts lime juice

Pour over ice.  Stir.  Sip.  Try not to think about slugs.

Back to the bok choy and what I am now calling “Free Range Escargots”:

Calm down.  Write blog post of conversation.  Go back in kitchen to look at bok choy.  No slug.  It moved.  Apparently, it was not dead, just cold.  Grab bok choy by leaves, run squealing from house and put it on the front step.  It falls open.  Another slug.  I know this one is different, because it’s smaller than the others.  Squeal again.

I am now convinced that the slug in the trash can is going to climb out and do, what, exactly?, in my kitchen when I’m not looking.  Maybe some of the other slugs escaped and they are in my refrigerator, too.  The original bok choy is on the front porch, waiting for my husband to do something with it.

Update:  My husband has finished cleaning the bok choy.  The official count:  three large “free range escargots”, two small “free range escargots”, one pill bug, two green caterpillars.   I told him the first large slug was looking for me and I am scared.  He was unimpressed.

Aside

I’m here to talk to you about cheeses

31 May

While I’m not vegetarian, I do plan meatless meals, and these are some of our favorites. I caught this blog post by fellow blogger loveonice that mentions Parmesan cheese. I want to address this issue because it’s really important.

I have a number of vegetarians in my life, some by choice, some for religion, and their reasons don’t matter to me. What matters to me is that when they are in my home, they are comfortable and when I go to their home, I don’t take anything into their personal space that might be offensive to them. To me, their personal space includes their cubicle at work. I was shocked once to see a colleague munching down a beef burrito in the cubicle of my Hindu vegetarian colleague. Manners, people!

So here’s the deal. Some cheeses are made with rennet. Rennet is a product made from calf stomach that helps to curdle milk in cheese-making. Not every cheese is made this way. Parmigiano Reggiano is, and so are many others. What to do? Check the label if you’re making something for someone who is a vegetarian and don’t call anything you make vegetarian if you aren’t sure.

It should go without saying that you should never, ever use chicken or beef broth in a soup you are serving to a vegetarian. Here is a simple rule I use. If there is no meat going into the soup or sauce, then I use vegetable stock. It makes it very easy when I have a crowd over to say: if you can’t SEE meat in it, then there isn’t any. I will apply the same rule to recipes with cheese. If the dish is meatless, so will be the cheese I used.

Years ago, I caught an episode of the television series e.r. where one of the doctors had been sent for several weeks in the deep South of the US to work off some student loan debt or something like this. The man was a vegetarian and couldn’t find anything suitable to eat. Finally, his landlady made him a sweet potato pie. He had wolfed down about half of it when she said, “I didn’t know if you’d eat that or not because of the lard.”

I have added a “Cheese List for Vegetarians” link to the blog roll at the lower right hand side of the page. In the future, when meatless meals contain cheese, I will direct your attention to that list so you have the information available.

Frozen Overs – Eggplant Parmesan

31 May

My husband loves eggplant.  His mother used to make some sort of eggplant sandwich filling when he was a kid and he’s always loved it.  So I make a lot of eggplant parmesan, moussaka, and ratatouille for us, all of which freezes beautifully.  If you tell my husband to ‘just go pick something easy out of the freezer’, it’s almost always the eggplant Parmesan or moussaka that finds its way to the kitchen.  I always roast or grill the eggplant to avoid using a lot of oil and I never peel the eggplant. It’s not haute cuisine, but my husband loves it, so it works for a busy weeknight.

I buy square Glad OvenWare pans to store my Frozen Overs and I usually make up four pans at a time.  I only buy eggplant when the price is reasonable (should be under $1.50 each).  Late last summer, eggplant was $5.00 each and I just had to be patient and wait for the price to come down.  If I can spare the time to do a LOT of work, I can get a really good case price at Daisy Mae’s Market, my local produce company.  Be warned that a case of eggplant is a LOT of eggplant, so you need to be prepared to cook it all within a few days.  I also buy prepared marinara/pasta sauce when it is on sale and stock it for later use.  I have a special cabinet in the basement that’s just for these buy-ahead things like marinara and canned tomatoes. 

Eggplant Parmesan (makes four 8×8 OvenWare pans), each pan makes 4 servings

  • 5-6 medium eggplants, rinsed and sliced into 1/2″ thick steaks
  • 1 1/2 – 2 large jars marinara sauce
  • Shredded Mozzarella
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Cajun seasoning (if desired – this will add salt, but I do like the red pepper kick it gives this simple dish)If you are making this as a vegetarian dish, please check a list of cheeses for vegetarians. This is a permanent link in my blogroll to the right now. Cheeses made with rennet are not appropriate for vegetarians, but there are soy substitutes and also some brands making Parmesan (albeit not Parmagiano Reggiano) that give a similar flavor without the rennet.

To griddle:  Heat a large cast-iron griddle.  Spray the eggplant ‘steaks’ with olive oil spray (or lightly brush with olive oil), sprinkle with seasoning and grill until brown on the outside and semi-soft on the inside.

To roast:  Preheat oven to 450F.  Spray a baking pan with pan spray.  Place the eggplant in individual slices on the tray and brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning.  Roast until browned and the inside is semi-soft.

While the eggplant is cooking, spoon a bit of sauce, just to coat, in the bottom of each OvenWare pan.  Put a single layer of eggplant on the top.  Top with more sauce and cheeses.  Continue cooking eggplant steaks and layering pans until each pan has about 3 layers of eggplant.  Finish with cheese on top.

To cook it – defrost on 50% power in the microwave for 15 minutes, then bake at 350 F on a cookie sheet until bubbly and browned.  The plastic pan requires a cookie sheet underneath.  If you used another type of casserole dish, you can skip the cookie sheet.  Alternatively, you should defrost this for at least 36 hours in the refrigerator before baking.

In our two-person household, a pan of Frozen Overs will make Loved Overs, but they are truly loved, and they don’t last long.

Planned Over Baking – Bebop-a-Rebop Rhubarb Pie

30 May


 
I got this Rhubarb Pie recipe from Saveur.  I used Jeanne’s Pie Crust in this recipe, which meant my filling ingredients were:

  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 eggs

Combine the dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately.  Add the egg mixture to the sugar and then stir in the rhubarb.

I used frozen rhubarb this time, because I got some on sale.  As usual, I made two 7″ pies and I found that there was a bit too much filling for the two pies, so I put in all of the rhubarb and just added as much of the egg mixture as would fit.  I baked one at 350F for about 45 minutes (keep in mind this was a 7″ pie) and I froze one unbaked.  This filling is a little bit tart, so make sure to buy some ice cream, too!

Random Recipes – Quick Grill Fries

29 May

Yesterday, I was in the kitchen and I spied the bowl of potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic and shallots that I keep on the counter.  We had a lot of potatoes.  Quick glance at the week’s menu plan.  No potatoes needed.  This could be a problem.  Adjust the plan for the week or not?  What the heck am I going to do with all of those potatoes?  I made some quick ‘fries’ to go with the hamburgers I had planned for Memorial Day. 

I love roasted potatoes, especially when they are nicely crisped and brown.  Unfortunately, it takes a long roasting to get them as crispy as we like them and I’m often trying to cook a meal in under 20 minutes.  My husband came up with a method to par-boiling the potatoes on the microwave.  It works perfectly to accelerate the cooking time and then you just need a really hot oven or grill to finish them off.  For the oven, I would do 425F or 450F.

Ingredients:  potatoes, water, olive oil, salt, pepper

Preheat the oven or grill.  If using the grill, put a cast-iron skillet on the grill to heat.

Cut the potatoes into ‘fries’.

Put the potatoes in a microwave-safe container (a Pyrex measuring cup with a handle works great).  Fill the container with water to cover the potatoes.  Microwave until you can easily prick the potatoes with a fork, but not until they are mushy.  You want the potatoes to be mostly cooked, but you are going to finish cooking them on the grill or in the oven.  In my microwave, this is usually about 8 minutes.

Drain the potatoes and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Put the potatoes in a single layer on the griddle. 

Husband’s Onion Note:  Grilled onions are great.  Grill them with the smaller side of the concentric onion rings down so that the onions don’t fall apart when they are grilled.  Don’t flip them.

Let them cook until crispy on one side and then turn over.  8-10 minutes per side should work fine on a hot griddle.

Quickie – Glazed Pork

29 May

I love this super-easy quick meal from Cooking Light magazine so much that I have a little container of the flour/spice mixture stored in my pantry.  A list of the remaining ingredients is taped to the top.  There is nothing to look up.  I just grab the little container of flour and spices and I’m ready to go.

Here is the recipe for Glazed Pork at myrecipes.com.  They suggest serving it with couscous cooked in chicken broth.  In a pinch, a package of Near East Toasted Pine Nut Couscous works great with this and cooks in less than the time it will take you to saute the pork.  I do this all the time, although my husband vastly prefers pearl couscous to this mix and my friend Karim would probably tell me that this stuff isn’t proper couscous anyway.  Shhhh, fellas!  This is about making weeknight dinners quick and easy, not about being authentic and perfect. 

Okay, back to dinner.  I’m going to heat three things:  1) water in my steamer pan for vegetables, 2) water for the couscous, according to package directions and 3) my saute pan.  This is going to go fast. 

The pork gets dredged in a flour and spice mixture and sauteed.  Once it has been cooked on both sides, you deglaze the pan with a mixture of orange juice and balsamic vinegar and then add raisins and capers.  It’s not strictly ‘correct’, but while I’m cooking the pork, I measure out all of the remaining ingredients, including the sugar, raisins and capers and just put it all in a small bowl so I can add it to the saute pan at the same time.

When I flip the pork, I put the vegetables in the hot steamer and drop the couscous mix into its pan.  Both of those items will be done in 5-8 minutes. 

As soon as the pork has cooked through, remove it to a plate and deglaze with the sauce mixture.  It just takes a couple of minutes for it to thicken and you can plate the other items while the sauce is finishing.  Spoon the sauce over the pork and we’re done here.  This would be great on chicken as well.  In that case, I might consider pounding the chicken breast a bit or butterflying it to make it a quick saute.  Note that I haven’t tried that, I just think it’s a good idea.

Note on Cousous Alternatives:  My husband liked this very much when I served it with miniature gnocchi once.  He said it was kind of like having it with spaetzle.  In combination with the flavors in the glaze, it made sense to his palate.  You can buy gnocchi in the Italian foods or pasta section of your grocery store.  (You can also make it and freeze it, but one thing at a time here.)  Gnocchi cooks similarly to pasta, but very, very quickly.

Planning – Freezer Prep

28 May My big freezer prepared for my 8 week disability aka "The End of Days"

I’m fortunate to have a big freezer.  I use it throughout the week to make my planning and cooking easier.  If you don’t have a big freezer, you can still freeze sauces in zipper lock bags (see below for instructions).  This will save space if you don’t have room to freeze meat or other additions with the sauce. 

Here are a few tips on preparing food for the freezer.

  • Don’t freeze meat in the container (styrofoam/plastic wrap) in which you brought it home from the grocery.  Wrap it properly, eliminating any air from around the meat.  This means either a) tight plastic wrap and then into a zip-seal bag for protection or b) freezer paper.  I always use freezer paper and tape.  It’s easy to use and relatively inexpensive. 
  • Sharpies are great for labeling things.
  • Glad OvenWare goes freezer to microwave to oven to refrigerator.  The 8×8 size stacks up great in my freezer.  I label both the side and the top with tape.  I have found that labels can be difficult to remove.  Always remove labels or tape before heating the pan.  If I have a casserole with a dairy-based topping, I usually put a layer of plastic wrap between the food and the lid so that the cheese or sauce doesn’t get stuck to the OvenWare lid in the freezer.
  • Glad FreezerWare is great for things that don’t need to go in the oven.
  • Foil ‘hotel’ or ‘steamtable’ pans also work great for larger quantities, with the disadvantage that they obviously can’t go in the microwave.  If you are going to stack them in your freezer, you will need to buy lids as well.  You can usually get these at a warehouse store (Sam’s Club, Costco, BJ’s) or you can get them at a restaurant supply store.
  • Zipper lock bags are also a great choice for sauces and smaller portions.  If space is at a premium, you can stack them, sealed, in an appropriate size container until they are frozen.  Once solid, you can remove the container for easy viewing.
  • Baked goods can be wrapped in plastic wrap.  I recommend overwrapping:  pull out a big sheet of wrap, place the item in it and wrap up and over the top.  A pastry chef I worked with used to say, “The only think plastic wrap always sticks to is itself.”  I often freeze bar cookies, cheesecakes, and other baked goods right in the pan, wrapped in this manner.  You can also freeze certain unbaked doughs in plastic, such as pie dough, or even whole unbaked pies, still in the pan.  I wrap raw cookie dough in parchment and then in plastic wrap before freezing.
  • I’m not a fan of aluminum foil for freezing, unless it’s as an additional layer over plastic or inside zipper lock bags.  It tears.

Martha Stewart has labels you can download and print at home.  They are kind of cute, but I would rather have BIG block letters that I can read easily.  Plus, a roll of masking tape and a Sharpie works really well and costs very little, whereas adhesive labels tend to stick to my containers and cost more, both in terms of printer ink and for the blank labels themselves.

Aside

The Weekly Plan – 28 May 2012

27 May

This week, I have some old favorites on the menu.  There is the Smoky Almond Mole that I published earlier today, my husband’s favorite Eggplant Parmesan (destined for a future post), and an old stand-by Quickie meal, Bon Cha, which is a Vietnamese dish with noodles (another big favorite of my husband’s, and one he makes very well, so I may ask him to do it).

In addition, I am trying out some new recipes from bloggers Malou (“Going Dutch“) and priya20g (“quête saveur“), as well as a recipe I pulled from Cooking Light magazine over 10 years ago and still haven’t tried.  When you are making a lot of meals ahead, as I obviously do, the trap is that you can end up eating the same thing, over and over again and never expanding your horizons.  I try to plan at least one new thing a week, even if it’s just a thrown-together side dish that I invent on the fly.

Frozen Overs – Smoky Almond Mole (with Chicken or Without)

27 May

This rich, flavorful recipe originated from Cooking Light (you can find the original recipe for Smokey Turkey Almond Mole at myrecipes.com).  I have adjusted it in several ways.  First, I use dried ancho chilies in place of the anaheim.  This is primarily because I stock ancho chilies in my pantry anyway, but there are some other good reasons I like them.  Anchos are a bit sweeter and typically a bit hotter than anaheim chilies.  Anaheims can range between 500-2,500 Scoville units, whereas anchos tend to stay reliably between 1,000 and 2,000, so I know what I’m getting.  Because I use a sweeter pepper and because I’m not much of a fan of adding sugar to things, I significantly reduce the sugar content in the recipe as well.  The first time I made this, I felt it was too sweet and not hot enough.  At the time, my brother-in-law was living with us and he liked it that way.  (Rude comment about brother-in-law’s palate deleted.)

A note on the heat level:  this dish is warm, not hot.  The chilies are so rich and flavorful that when you take a bite of this, you keep waiting for the afterburn and it never comes.  The heat you feel when you first taste it is exactly what you get.  It doesn’t sneak up on you.  If you are worried about the heat, leave out the chipotle pepper entirely.  Once you have completely finished the dish, you can add a bit of pureed chipotle or even just a little bit of the adobo sauce from the can, to suit your palate.

Finally, I never bother making something like this in a small batch.  If I have to pull out the food processor and make even a small mess, I’m going to make sure I have a full pot of sauce going and I will freeze some for another use.  Typically, I freeze some of this without any additions for use as a marinade/slop for grilling meats, or to offer as a condiment with any kind of Southwest meal.  The rest of it gets some poached chicken breast before it goes to the freezer.

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz sliced almonds, roasted in the oven and processed in a food processor fitted with the knife blade until smooth.  Don’t bother cleaning the food processor, we’re going to use it again.
  • 1/2 T. olive oil
  • 6 dried ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded.  The Cooking Light recipe says to chop them, but you’re going to puree them in a few minutes, so don’t bother chopping them.
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce.  The Cooking Light recipe says a can, but then in the instructions says ‘use 1/2’.
  • 4 1/2 cups of fire-roasted crushed tomatoes.  A big can + a  small can.
  • 1 tsp sugar.  Per my quantities, the Cooking Light recipe would tell you to add 3 Tablespoons.  I say – start with a bit and add just a bit more to taste after you puree if you think you need it.
  • 1/2 T (1 1/2 tsp) ground cumin
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 6 corn tortillas, torn into small pieces.  Most grocery store tortillas are made with vegetable shortening, but double-check if you are planning to serve this as a vegetarian/vegan meal.
  • 42 oz unsalted vegetable broth or stock
  • 3 T. white wine vinegar
  • Optional: about 4 pounds (2 kg) of poached, chopped or shredded chicken breast or cooked, chopped turkey breast (or about 6 cups of cooked vegetables and beans) if you are planning to freeze this as a main dish.

Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat.  Add chiles and saute until softened.  Add onion and garlic and saute 4 minutes or until onion is lightly browned. 

Add the remaining ingredients except almonds and vinegar and optional additional ingredients.  Bring to a boil and simmer approximately 15 minutes.

Transfer the mixture into the food processor and process in batches.  Return the puree to the pot, add the almonds and vinegar and simmer until slightly thickened.  Adjust to taste with salt, pepper (and sugar, if needed).

At this point, you can pack it up for the freezer.  If adding chicken, I allow this to cool to room temperature before packing.  I almost always save a bit of the sauce out before adding chicken so that I can use this yummy sauce for another purpose.  I have not tried this as a vegetarian meal, but I am anxious to do so.  I will probably add cooked black beans and an assortment of vegetables instead of the chicken.  I expect that would work beautifully.

Defrost it in the refrigerator overnight.  To reheat (if chicken or vegetables have been added), put it in a big pot with a little bit water (you can also do this while it is still frozen) and cook it over medium until it is hot.  While it is heating, I cook some rice and make a big salad to go with.

Note on Chipotle Peppers in Adobo SauceThese, smoky, wonderful peppers can be found in the Hispanic foods section of your local grocery store in little bitty cans.  They are hot (Scoville scale:  3,000 to 10,000), so go easy on them.  Because they are so hot, the issue of what to do with the rest of them comes up.  I can’t bear to waste the rest of the can.  I spoon them out, with a bit of their sauce, onto a parchment-covered cookie sheet (don’t use foil) and pop the tray in the freezer for a few hours.  When they are hard, I put them into a freezer bag and put them back in the freezer.  Then when I need one, I have one.

Husband’s Note on Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce:  No reason to leave these little beauties cooling their heels in the freezer waiting for some recipe to call for them.  Add them, chopped up, to scrambled eggs or omelettes, to canned soup, to macaroni and cheese, to chilis and other dishes like the one above, which clearly do not have enough heat to satisfy.

Reduced Quantities of This Version:

 

  • 2 oz sliced almonds, roasted in the oven and processed in a food processor fitted with the knife blade until smooth.  Don’t bother cleaning the food processor, we’re going to use it again.
  • 1/2 tsp. olive oil
  • 2 dried ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded.  The Cooking Light recipe says to chop them, but you’re going to puree them in a few minutes, so don’t bother chopping them.
  • 3/4 cup chopped onions
  • 1 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/4 to 1/2 ea. chipotle pepper in adobo sauce.  Use more for hotter, but it’s easier to add it later than take it out once it’s in. 
  • 1 1/2 cups of fire-roasted crushed tomatoes. (14 1/2 oz can).
  • 1/4 tsp sugar.  Drastically reduced from original recipe.
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 corn tortillas, torn into small pieces.
  • One 14 1/2 oz can unsalted vegetable broth or stock, or scant 2 cups if you have your own
  • 1 T. white wine vinegar
  • Optional: about 1 1/4 pounds (.75 kg) of poached, chopped or shredded chicken breast or cooked, chopped turkey breast (or about 2 cups of cooked vegetables and beans) if you are planning to freeze this as a main dish.
Aside

Introducing: Auby, my temporary kitchen friend

26 May

Auby came to stay with us on Thursday, hidden in a case of eggplants from Daisy Mae’s Market.  The other eggplants lacked his charm and personality.  I know he can’t stay long, but I couldn’t resist taking this photo of him, sporting my husband’s glasses, since his vision is obviously quite poor.  My husband suggested that we give him a rhinoplasty of sorts, but that just seems cruel.  Plus, as my husband knows, I like a man with a big nose!

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