Sunday, May 18, 2014
Back when I was doing a series of pantry-cooking posts, I wrote about my favorite recipe that I turn to when (a) I’m hungry (b) I need to fix something at home, going out is not an option and the food fairy is not coming, and (c) I feel like I have nothing in the house to make a meal out of.
It is the Universal Pilaf recipe from Amy Dacyczyn’s The Tightwad Gazette.
Typically I end up at this recipe when I’m thinking about how hungry I am and I start going down my mental list of what I can make and multiple items have to be abandoned due to a lack of key ingredient.
Omelettes? … no eggs. Tacos? … no beans no chicken. Quesadillas? … no cheese. Scrambled eggs and cheese grits? I JUST SAID NO EGGS NO CHEESE. Are you even listening to me?!?
Sometimes the part of my brain that can keep track of what is in the pantry/refrigerator/freezer gets cranky with the part of my brain that just wants to eat. And once I get to that point, it’s time to head for the pilaf options.
Usually I have either cooked chicken or ground beef in the freezer, so I think of this as a recipe for chicken or ground beef. But the last time I went through this mental exercise, I had neither. But I did have a can of chickpeas in the pantry, one that I had bought to make a large batch of hummus with but ended up making a smaller batch and reserving the second can for future use.
Okay then. The future is now.
We have grain (rice), vegetable (spinach and/or peas, carrots), aromatic (garlic), and protein (chickpeas). We always have chicken stock, because I buy whole chickens and poach them and freeze the chicken stock, and I can’t imagine ever not having some kind of fat (butter, olive oil, coconut oil, bacon grease) somewhere.
We can make pilaf.
As I was pulling the vegetables out of the freezer, I ran across a small container of chicken fat, and that seemed like a good option for the fat.
So I put the frozen chicken stock and frozen spinach on the stove to thaw, peeled and sliced carrots, and heated a tablespoon or so of the frozen chicken fat.
When the fat was hot, I added minced garlic, then added a cup of rice and coated the grains with fat, then put in the rinsed and drained chickpeas, then the two cups of chicken stock. Covered and returned to a boil, then added the carrots and spinach along with a little bit of salt and fresh ground pepper. Covered, turned down the heat, and let it simmer. When most of the liquid had been absorbed, added about two teaspoons of Penzey’s Hot Curry Powder. Kept on the heat until the liquid had all been absorbed, then turned off the burner and let it sit for a few minutes, then moved off the burner entirely and let it sit for a few more minutes.
While it was finishing up and steaming, I chopped some dried coconut flakes and some cashews (roasted, unsalted), and put into a dry skillet and toasted them lightly.
Put the pilaf on a plate, sprinkled on the coconut and cashews, mixed it all together.
Makes two large servings, four small ones, or one large-ish and two small-ish ones. (Usually when I make this recipe, I eat it once for dinner and twice for lunch, so I think of it as three servings.)
Not bad for a dang I am hungry and I have nothing in the fridge night.
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Okay I know all of you have been anxiously awaiting this recipe for the past FOUR YEARS. Well here it is, the wait is over.
A long, long, time ago, I wrote about making a burrito recipe that my dad had sent me from the New York Times. Because it was the first time I had made it, I decided to follow the recipe pretty much exactly (though I did cut it down a bit, it called for four pounds of steak, there was really no possible way for me to make that work) and I spent more than forty-five dollars getting groceries for that one recipe. This is not a viable recipe for me given my meager food budget of $90-$120 per month.
However they were really quite delicious and I said I’d work on a revised edition, to see if I could come up with something that wouldn’t require me to take out a payday loan to make it happen.
And I did actually figure all of this out a couple of years ago, and even wrote it up, but never managed to post it. So I’m sorry it’s taken so long, but I made these the other day and they are just darn good, and not too expensive, especially when you get everything at the Hispanic grocery. Even the meat (I used flap steak) was affordable, at around five dollars per pound.
Because they are so good, and because burritos happen to be one of the things that I could eat every day for the rest of my life, it actually seems worth the trouble and expense for me to make these occasionally and have the exact same thing every day for a week, until, with sadness in my heart that it is all gone, I scrape the last re-heated leftover drop of sauce out of the pan and lick it off my finger.
The Twenty Dollar Forty Dollar Burrito
1 to 1-1/2 lbs skirt steak, hanger steak, or beef flap meat
1/4 cup mild taco sauce or tomato marinade (see recipe below)
garlic powder or fresh garlic
approx 1 Tbsp oil for pan
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup diced onion
1 yellow pepper, diced
1 chipotle chili pepper in adobo sauce, chopped
1 to 2 Tbsp adobo sauce
1/2 cup prepared salsa
4 to 6 oz. beer
1/4 cup water
1/4 to 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 to 1 tsp ground chili peppers
salt and pepper to taste
the original recipe calls for mild Old El Paso Taco Sauce — if you have that or can easily get it, feel free to use it (it’s not very expensive). If not, here’s a homemade substitute
1/2 tsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp minced garlic
2 T onion
1 can tomato sauce
1/2 tsp vinegar
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp chili powder
Heat oil in small saucepan over medium heat. Saute garlic and onion in oil. Add tomato sauce. Stir in vinegar, sugar, chili powder. Simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375F. Rub garlic over both sides of steak, then coat with taco sauce or tomato marinade. Cook for 10 minutes, turn over, and cook for another 10 minutes. (This is like a fast-track marination process; it tenderizes the steak.)
While the steak is roasting, heat oil in large skillet. Saute garlic and onion until onion is translucent, then add the pepper and cook until softened.
When the steak is done roasting, remove from the oven and slice across the grain into strips of about an inch wide.
Add the sliced steak to the skillet, along with the chopped adobo pepper. Stir to combine. Season with cumin, ground chili, salt and pepper.
Add the adobo sauce, salsa, beer, and water to the skillet. The sauce will be quite thin. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low and cook at a lively simmer, uncovered, until the sauce has cooked down, about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper, as needed.
Serve in warm flour tortillas with any or all of the following accompaniments:
grated cheese, sour cream, salsa, rice, beans, chopped cilantro.
For some of my recipe testing I bought beer, but in one of them I remembered that I had some leftover beer that I had saved to cook with and I used that and it worked fine. So if you don’t always have beer around, I recommend sacrificing a few ounces of a beer that you or someone else is drinking to save for later use in the recipe. I did make it once without beer, and I thought it was not as good. A friend suggested using malt vinegar in place of the beer but I never got around to trying any versions with that.
You can buy a can of chilies in adobo sauce, use what you need for the recipe then freeze the rest. You’ll be able to make it a bunch more times before having to buy another can.
The original recipe includes a jalapeño with the onion and yellow pepper, but the first time I made it, I included the jalapeño and it was extremely hot. The next time, I took the seeds out and it was still very hot. The last time, I decided to leave the jalapeño out entirely and it was still plenty hot. If you like things very spicy, or if you are using very mild salsa, then you might want to add the jalapeño, but I’ve found it to be fine without it.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
For Christmas this year I gave my nieces hot chocolate mix, made with Droste chocolate and vanilla sugar (sugar that sits in a jar with the spent husks of vanilla beans), and peppermint marshmallows that I made using Alton Brown’s recipe with peppermint extract substituted for vanilla.
It was reportedly a big hit, with special kudos from their cousins who declared it “better than Starbucks” and “peppermint heaven.”
[A friend of mine made marshmallows a few years back while I was visiting her, otherwise I'm not sure I would have attempted these. I don't think I even knew you could make homemade marshmallows before that. But they are not difficult. They are especially not difficult if you have a stand mixer, but even if you don't, it's not bad.
My friend and I were discussing recipes etc. in December when I was trying to decide whether I should make them. She said she wasn't sure if she would do them without a stand mixer. I decided to try it anyway and see how it was. It was fine. It does take a little while but it's easy -- as I said to my friend, you're just standing there holding a mixer, it's not like you're trying to hold a Volkswagen over your head. I looked at it as quiet time, like meditation. I was busy that week, it was a nice break.]
Because of the rave reviews, and because we are in the thick of hot chocolate season, I decided to post the recipes.
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water, divided
12 oz granulated sugar (approx 1-1/2 cups)
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp peppermint extract
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
Prepare the pans.
Combine confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly coat a 9×13 pan with oil, or use nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle the sugar and cornstarch mixture into the pan and shake the pan to completely coat the bottom and sides. Return the excess mixture to the bowl for later use.
Place the gelatin into a large bowl along with 1/2 cup of water.
In a small saucepan, combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Place over medium-high heat, cover and allow to cook for a few minutes, until the sugar has melted. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.
[No candy thermometer? Here's how to tell what stage it's at the French chef way.]
Turn the mixer on low speed using the whisk attachment if you have one (if not, regular beaters will work fine), and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the mixer speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and has cooled to lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the peppermint when the mixture looks to be about done, and continue mixing for another minute or so to incorporate.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan.
[Note: The mixture will be VERY sticky, and the process of getting everything out of the pan and smoothed will be somewhat challenging. Just do the best you can and happily enjoy the batter that is stuck to the beaters and the bowl and the spatula as a special bonus for the cook. That's all for you. Yum.]
Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later.
Allow the marshmallow to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
Turn the marshmallow out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel dusted with the confectioners’ sugar mixture. Once cut, roll each square in the confectioners’ sugar mixture to coat all sides. Store in an airtight container.
Alton Brown says these will keep for three weeks, but I’m here to tell you they will keep pretty much indefinitely. They will dry out somewhat, but will still be edible, and will taste fine.
I looked up a few cocoa mix recipes online, and the one that looked best was from Martha Stewart, so I went with that. The only problem was that it makes a huge amount, 92 eight-ounce servings, so I cut the recipe in half.
Hot Cocoa Mix
1 and 3/4 cups sugar
1 and 1/4 cups cocoa
1 and 1/2 tsp salt
Combine ingredients in a bowl or jar, and stir to distribute evenly. Store in an airtight container.
To serve, heat one cup of milk per serving. (Whole milk will taste good. Whole milk with a tablespoon of cream or half & half will taste better. Other forms of milk are an acceptable substitute. Do not attempt with water.)
To each mug, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of cocoa mix. (For a less sweet version, use two teaspoons of mix plus one teaspoon of straight cocoa.)
Pour a tablespoon or two of warm milk into the mug, and stir to make a slurry of milk and cocoa. Then slowly add the rest of the milk, and stir to thoroughly combine.
Top with peppermint marshmallows.
Share with your cousins to make them jealous that you get to drink this all the time and they only get it when they come over to your house.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
If you are looking for something to give to whoever you might want to give holiday treats to — friends, neighbors, clients, coworkers, teachers, hairdressers, doormen, elevator operators (everyone needs to go read the John Cheever story “Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor” when you’re done here) and of course, Santa — and you would like something other than butter-laden, chocolatey-ness to send out into the world, I am here to remind you of the delicious granola bars that smitten kitchen posted a recipe for in 2009 and that I made a few times in 2010 but never got quite right.
I came back to the recipe this year because I was looking for something I could eat in the morning shortly after getting up, on days when I had to be up and out of the house on an accelerated schedule. (The problem with not being hungry for an hour or two after you get up is that if you have to actually get up and get out of Dodge, you get really hungry right in the middle of whatever it is you had to leave early for. And then you are trapped somewhere with no access to food. And that is a bummer.)
After a few more tries with the granola bars, I am now completely in love with them. (I gave some to a friend a week or two ago and told her I was still working on the recipe but that they were pretty good, I hoped she liked them. She emailed a few days later and said she thought I could stop working on the recipe, and could I please send it to her.)
So here’s the latest version, and what I learned.
The first thing I learned is that you should definitely get quick-cooking oats; the ones I made with old-fashioned oats pulsed in the blender or food processor, as the original recipe gave as an alternative to quick-cooking oats, did not hold together. The ones with quick-cooking oats worked much better.
The second thing I learned is that you should follow the instructions and use parchment to line the pan.
I feel like every cookie or brownie recipe I see these days tells you to use parchment, which just seems like a waste of paper to me, just oil the pan like they used to do back in the olden days. But because of the falling-apart problem, I’m going with parchment, because you can pull the whole thing out of the pan and then cut it, which keeps it from falling to pieces when you try to put a spatula under individual squares and pull them out.
So after making those two changes, I ended up with actual granola bars, not granola bar crumbles. Hooray.
And in terms of ingredients, you can mix and match and put in whatever strikes your fancy.
The main downside of these is that nuts are expensive, and some oils and sweeteners too. You feel like you spend a million dollars getting everything together. But if you get a bunch of different things, you don’t use that much of any of them, so you can make a whole bunch of batches with a whole bunch of different things in them. Just keep them all in the freezer until it’s time for the next round. And also you can mix in lower-cost options — sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, raisins, coconut — and that helps.
The last batch I made had coconut oil and safflower oil as the oils; honey, molasses, and agave syrup as the liquid sweeteners; dried apricots and raisins as the fruit; cashews, pecans, almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and coconut flakes as the mixed nuts and seeds; and peanut butter as the nut butter. (The previous two batches had pepitas, which I missed in this last batch; I didn’t realize I’d used all of them up.) And I made it with 1/4 cup of brown sugar, instead of 1/2 cup, because the first few batches felt too sweet for breakfast.
They are much better than store-bought granola bars, and maybe even better than cookies (well, for breakfast, at least). Enjoy!
1-2/3 cups quick cooking oats
1/3 cup oat flour (or oats processed into flour in a blender or food processor)
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup sugar (brown or white)
1/4 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup nut butter
1 cup dried fruit
2 cups mixed nuts and seeds
6 Tbsp oil, or melted butter
6 Tbsp liquid sweetener
1 Tbsp water
In a large bowl, combine oats, oat flour, sugar, cinnamon (if using), and salt. Stir to mix.
Chop nuts and fruit into small pieces.
Over low heat, combine sweetener, oil, and water and stir to combine.
Pour combined oil and sweetener mixture over oats. Add nut butter. Stir until everything is mixed together and the oats are coated with oil and sweetener. Add nuts and seeds and stir until everything is coated and uniformly distributed.
Place a sheet of parchment in the bottom of an 8 x 8 inch pan, with enough overhang on the sides to use as handles when removing.
Spoon the mixture into the pan and, using a sheet of plastic or waxed paper between your hand and the batter, press press press until it is all packed into the pan.
Bake at 350 degrees until the top is evenly brown.
Remove from oven and let cool. When completely cooled, remove from pan using parchment overhang, peel off parchment, and cut into squares.
These keep well in a closed container (e.g., plastic storage container or cookie tin) for at least a week. I don’t know how they freeze because I’ve never been able to keep them around long enough to need to freeze them.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
I had total sticker shock in the nut butter aisle at Whole Foods last week.
Peanut butter prices had been rising because 2011 was a terrible crop. But then 2012 was a bumper crop, so I had seen a few articles that said that prices should be coming down, that consumers should see some relief from high peanut butter prices in 2013. But then there was also news about the closure of a peanut butter processing plant due to salmonella outbreak that was likely to affect organic brands, because the kinds of peanuts used in the plant were those used in natural and organic peanut butters (those without added sugar and fat). So then it seemed like that might make some prices go higher instead of lower. But I was still thinking that prices might go down.
The Whole Foods 365 store brand of peanut butter used to be $1.99 and then it was $2.19 and then it was $2.79. That’s a big jump. But still in line with peanut butter prices for comparable products at other stores, and still pretty cheap, so it hadn’t affected how I shop.
I generally like peanut butter in any form — peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter cookies, the divine peanut butter cookie, my family Special sandwich – and I really like those peanut butter filled pretzels that Trader Joe’s sells, but I don’t make it to Trader Joe’s all that often and also they are not cheap, I think it’s around three dollars for a small-ish bag. Then at some point I had a revelation that I could just dip pretzels into peanut butter and it would be basically the same thing. Duh. So I started doing that.
Last week I stopped at Whole Foods on my way to work to pick up some snacks, and was thinking that some peanut butter and pretzels would hit the spot. So I picked up a bag of pretzels and headed to the peanut butter aisle and was stopped dead in my tracks by peanut butter at $3.39 a jar. Gah! That’s a twenty per cent jump! Since the last time I bought peanut butter!
I think if I’d been expecting an increase I might have dealt with this better, but I was actually thinking it was going to go down this year. So that really threw me. I decided I didn’t need peanut butter and pretzels after all (I didn’t) and would think about alternatives.
And then that made me think about what lessons were there for shopping on a limited budget. What do you do when the price of something suddenly goes up? What are the options?
(a) see if there is a brand that is cheaper and buy that instead,
(b) see if there is a different but similar item that is cheaper and buy that instead,
(c) check different stores to see if any of them have the item for less than the store you usually shop at and stock up,
(d) think about whether there is an item that is processed differently that is cheaper, and that you can finish processing on your own to make a comparable finished product,
(e) just go ahead and buy it anyway.
If you always do (e), your grocery bill will just keep going up and up. Most people start with (a) because it’s the easiest. I usually go with (d) because I think that buying less processed, cheaper items and finishing the processing myself not only saves money but also often results in higher-quality food.
An example of this would, of course, be buying dried beans and cooking them yourself instead of buying canned beans. But anything you can buy in a ready-to-eat form and also a raw-ingredient form would apply. Often prices of the raw-ingredient form increase much more slowly than for the ready-to-eat form. It just depends on how much time (and energy) it takes to get to the finished product, and whether that’s worth it to you.
There are some crazy expensive artisanal peanut butters for sale in shops around here, and there was an article in the N&O not too long ago about making your own nut butters starting with raw peanuts, and roasting them yourself, which sounded interesting to me. (As you might have figured out by now, I have a thing for making things from scratch that normal people just buy.)
So then I started pricing raw peanuts and I’m not sure if it would actually be cheaper than buying peanut butter.
Whole Foods had a three-pound bag of shelled raw peanuts for around twelve dollars, so that’s four dollars a pound. The Hispanic stores and Li Ming’s have small bags of raw peanuts in the shell for (I think) around $2 a pound. Stone Brothers & Byrd, which is mostly a garden supply store but also carries traditional Southern foods, sells raw peanuts in the shell in bulk for $2.80 a pound.
Roasted peanuts in the bulk section are about the same price as a pound of peanut butter. Trader Joe’s peanut butter was $2.79 a jar (Whole Foods’ previous price), and I was over there, so I bought a couple of jars. But I don’t like it as well as the 365 brand.
I did buy some peanuts from Stone Bros., and am thinking about roasting them and making peanut butter, but in the meantime, I decided to turn some of them into one of my new favorite things — Bill Neal‘s recipe for Hot and Spicy Peanuts.
If you like the spicy peanuts sold in convenience stores, make these. They are along the same lines, but a million times better, because they are fresh fresh fresh, they don’t have all those preservatives in them, and you can decide if you want them more spicy or more sweet or whatever tastes good to you.
The first time I made them, a couple of months ago, I followed the recipe exactly. The second time, I think I reduced the sugar slightly. This last time, I used three different kinds of Penzey’s paprika — Hungarian sweet, Hungarian half-sharp, and smoked Spanish — along with sea salt, Habanero salt, white sugar, and cayenne. And didn’t measure anything at all.
My strategy now is to mix the seasonings together in a small bowl and taste. When it tastes good — a little salty, a little sweet, a little spicy — it’s ready to go. This is definitely a recipe that you can adjust however you want, and it is very easy. The only hard part is not eating all of them at once as soon as they are cool.
Hot and Spicy Peanuts
from Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp (or more) ground cayenne
1/2 tsp (or more) sugar
1 Tbsp peanut oil
1-1/2 cups raw, shelled peanuts
1-1/2 Tbsp water
Combine the salt, paprika, cayenne, and sugar and reserve. Heat the oil in a skillet or saute pan over medium high heat. Add the raw peanuts (in their skins), shaking the skillet frequently to prevent their scorching. When the peanuts are golden brown throughout (after 8 to 10 minutes), sprinkle the combined dry seasonings over all and shake well. Carefully, but immediately, pour in the water and agitate to help the flavorings coat the peanuts. Serve immediately or let cool. These will keep for weeks in an airtight container.
Yeah, right. Good luck keeping those around for weeks. That’s all I have to say.
I’ll let you know if I decide to roast the peanuts and make peanut butter. Still on the fence about that.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
I read an article today in the News & Observer about the “ten habits of happy cooks” — things that people who like to cook have in common.
Do I do any of these things?
Uh, no. I do not.
I do like to cook, though, so I just wanted to put up a short post to say that if, like me, you are unable to make a meal plan, think ahead, keep a running shopping list, and clean while you go (that last one especially kills me, it just does not happen in my life), there is still hope.
My solution is to keep things really simple.
Figure out a few things you like and just make those things. Pick things that are reasonably healthy, that are affordable to you, that you (and the people you are feeding, if you are feeding people other than yourself) are willing to eat on a regular basis, and that are easy to make and easy to clean up.
Things you make frequently are always going to be easier because you don’t have to think so much about them. It also makes shopping easier because you can narrow your focus to the things you usually buy.
When you get sick of eating the same thing, stop making that thing and find something else that is equally good/cheap/ healthy/easy.
And that is my solution. It seems easier than trying to be organized. That just feels like a losing battle.
Thursday, April 4, 2013
At some point over the winter I ran across a great website called TrailCooking.com that has recipes for things to make and take with you camping. I like camping as much as the next person (depending of course on how much the next person likes camping), but it’s not something I do very often. The appeal for me of the site is not that it gives recipes specifically for outdoor activities, but that it gives recipes for things that can be made ahead of time and easily taken with you. Think of an eight-hour shift at work as a camping trip and you’ll see where I’m going with this.
I haven’t tried any of the make-your-own dried mixes yet, though I found many of them intriguing. The main thing that interested me were the recipes for healthy snack-type foods. You can’t eat a lot of crap when you’re out hiking, you won’t make it, so most of the snacks involved nuts and fruit and other whole foods. And also they don’t require refrigeration (obviously) and are easy to pack and carry with you.
I did food for the March Third Friday opening at The Scrap Exchange, and the show for the month was an installation by Elsewhere artists from Greensboro. For the opening, they did a live cooking show. They were highlighting foraged and fermented foods (mushrooms, sourdough, kimchi, etc.), so I decided we should have some raw food snacks, and I remembered the Trail Cooking site.
I was planning on splurging and getting cashew butter, even though it costs an arm and a leg, but I started to have second thoughts when actually faced with the SEVEN DOLLAR price tag. But then I took a deep breath and decided it was for a good cause and got it. And I also got peanut butter. And I continued to have reservations about using the seven dollar cashew butter and thought about just doing the peanut butter ones and returning the cashew butter but eventually I overcame my fear of seven dollar nut butter and decided to just Use It.
The original recipe is called Easy Nut and Chocolate Truffles and that is no joke, these are easy. And they are good.
It calls for 1/2 cup of nut butter, 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder, 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons of mini chocolate chips, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. You mix everything together and then scoop out balls and roll the balls in a coating of your choice.
I made two versions.
The budget version had peanut butter, regular cocoa powder, a combination of white sugar, brown sugar, and honey for sweetener, regular-size milk chocolate chips that I chopped up to make closer to mini chocolate chip size, and vanilla extract. I rolled them in unsweetened shredded coconut.
The deluxe version had cashew butter, a combination of regular cocoa powder and dark cocoa powder (Valrhona) that I had left over from the Baked brownies I made over the holidays (which were truly divine — and the spiced version from Smitten Kitchen were even better), the same brown sugar/white sugar/honey combination for sweetener, chopped chocolate chips, and vanilla extract. Then I mixed some of the dark cocoa powder with vanilla sugar that I make by putting the husks of vanilla beans (what’s left after I scrape out the seeds to make vanilla extract) in a small plastic container with granulated sugar and let sit forever.
The budget version was good, the deluxe version was really good.
But what I decided was needed was a super deluxe version. So I made those next. And those were the best yet — richer but much less sweet.
Here’s the recipe:
Cocoa Cashew Truffles
1/2 cup cashew butter
1 T dark unsweetened cocoa powder
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1 T sugar
1-2 T brown sugar
1 T honey
1 tsp instant espresso powder (optional)
2 T chopped bittersweet chocolate (60%-70% cacao) or milk chocolate
1-2 tsp dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1-2 T vanilla sugar
Combine the first eight ingredients in a bowl and stir until all is combined and the cocoa/chocolate/sweeteners are all evenly distributed. Taste and add more sweetener if you’d like a sweeter confection.
Mix the cocoa powder and vanilla sugar together and put in small, shallow bowl or plate.
Scoop out using a tablespoon or other small scoop (I used a 2 tablespoon coffee scoop) and, using your hands, roll into a ball. Roll the ball around in the cocoa/sugar mixture to coat.
Share with people you like. Or keep and eat all for yourself. No one will know.
Friday, March 8, 2013
Yesterday at work I started thinking about ramen. Not straight-up five-for-a-dollar grocery store ramen, but not David Chang ramen, either. Something in between.
I had driven to work because I had to go to the post office, so that meant I had more options for stopping points on the way home. Usually I walk, and in theory I could walk to more than one store, but the two stores I generally go to are not in the same direction, so it makes for a long trip, and rarely am I up for that on my way home.
But this time, car. The world was my oyster.
So I stopped at Food Lion and bought three packages of ramen for eighty-nine cents. Then I drove to Whole Foods and considered the options for vegetable and meat additions.
I thought about getting chicken and poaching or roasting it but decided against that, I wanted something simpler. I’m not much of a beef eater at this point, so flank steak or something like that didn’t feel right either. I decided to go with the Other White Meat, and got a small boneless pork chop, around five ounces.
Then I was thinking I should get some kind of greens, bok choy or napa cabbage or baby spinach.
The bok choy and napa cabbage were both HUGE, I knew it would be too much of a challenge for me to use that all up before it went bad, and also they were both $2.99 a pound or something like that, it was going to be way over $5, which is out of my price range for vegetables. Sometimes they have loose baby spinach, you can buy just a handful, but I didn’t see any yesterday. But they did have baby bok choy, so I bought a small one of those for around a dollar. And some green onions for $1.49, which always feels like highway robbery, but I decided to just suck it up this time.
And on the way home, I thought about how I was going to cook it.
And then by the time I got home, I was tired and hungry, so I ate leftovers instead. (Wonh, wonh, wonnhh. You lose. No soup for you.)
But tonight. Tonight! I took a nice afternoon nap and had energy for dinner.
I cut the pork chop into bite-size-ish pieces and marinated in sesame oil, soy sauce, chinese rice wine, while I did the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen. (Things are kind of a mess around here, don’t ask.)
I took a quart of chicken stock out of the freezer, ran the container under water to loosen it, slid the big frozen chunk out of the container into a pot on the stove, turned the stove to medium high and left to thaw.
I chopped the green onions, minced a clove of garlic (from the pantry), grated some ginger root (from the freezer).
I chopped the baby bok choy into bite-size-ish pieces and heated a frying pan in which I’d cooked some bacon earlier in the day and added a little bit of canola oil and sautéed, with some salt and pepper for seasoning. When it was tender but not cooked all the way through, I poured in some of the stock (which was by now thawed), covered the pan, brought to a boil, and simmered until seemed sufficiently done, cooked but not mushy. I tasted and decided to add some soy sauce for flavor.
I heated a little bit of canola oil in a pot, and when it was hot threw in the garlic, ginger, and white part of the onion. Stirred for a minute, when that was fragrant, added the pork. When the pork was browned and seemed more or less cooked, I poured the chicken stock into the pot and tasted and adjusted seasonings — added salt, pepper, chili salt (salt a friend gave me — kosher salt plus some kind of crazy spicy chili, it’s totally spicy, a little goes a long way). Tasted again, needed more … something. Added msg (figured it would not be a true ramen experience without msg) and a little bit of chili paste with garlic. Tasted again. Salty, spicy, good. Brought to a boil, then let simmer.
In the meantime, I cooked the ramen noodles the normal way, boiled in water.
When the noodles were about ready, I added the cooked greens to the pot with the pork and heated those together for a minute. Put the noodles in a bowl, ladled the broth/pork/greens over the noodles, added the green part of the chopped green onions for garnish.
Not the cheapest thing in the world, because of the pork — around six dollars for two servings (with almost half of that being the pork). But cheaper than going out somewhere for a noodle bowl, and better too.
And these are the kinds of things you can make that aren’t very expensive, and aren’t very hard to make, and use some things you buy fresh (vegetables, meat) and some things you have in the pantry (noodles, garlic, condiments, spices) and some things you have in the freezer (chicken stock, ginger).
And are really, really good.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
Another strategy for using up odds and ends is to make a casserole with some kind of pasta, leftover meat and vegetables, and a white sauce to hold it together.
If you have powdered milk on hand, and butter or margarine and a little bit of flour, you can easily make a white sauce.
Basic White Sauce
2 Tbsp butter or margarine
2 Tbsp flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup milk (fresh or reconstituted from dry milk powder)
Melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and stir with a fork or whisk until combined and clumped together and bubbling. (This is called making a roux. I know, so fancy!)
Cook and stir for a minute or two to lose the raw flour taste. Add milk and stir to disperse all of the butter and flour in the milk, and continue stirring until smooth. As it heats up it will start to bubble and thicken, which is what you want.
This is for a medium sauce. For a thinner sauce, use one tablespoon each of flour and butter; for a thicker sauce use three or four tablespoons of each.
You can add up to one cup of shredded hard cheese to it if you want, to make a cheese sauce, and spice it up with pepper, mustard powder, paprika, chili powder, etc. Once you add the spices and you’ve combined it all with pasta and vegetables, no one will even be able to tell it was made with powdered milk. Or you can use fresh milk if you want, that’s fine too.
Note that this is the same technique used to make gravy — add flour to fat, stir together to make a roux, then add liquid, heat and thicken.
You can make milk gravy from chicken fat left from frying chicken and serve with mashed potatoes, or sausage gravy from the fat rendered from cooking bulk sausage. Add the cooked sausage to the gravy when done and serve over biscuits.
You can also make gravy from the broth you get when you stew chicken — add a flour/water mixture to the stock in a 1:2:8 ratio (e.g, mix 1/4 cup flour with 1/2 cup water then add to 2 cups stock) — which you can serve over dumplings or potatoes.
I feel like gravy is a lost art. It gets a bad rap for being unhealthy, and it’s true, its key ingredient is fat, how healthy can it be. Unless you’re out slopping the hogs at the break of dawn every day, you probably don’t want to eat it at every meal. But man is it good. And cheap. And it holds things together to make a meal like nothing else.
Also in the casserole-ish leftover department, you can change things up and skip the pasta and use pastry instead — combine vegetables and leftover meat with a white sauce and a pastry crust, to make a pot pie.
Or skip the white sauce and mix everything up and then make pastry dough to make some kind of meat pie (like an empanada — I use the recipe from the More with Less cookbook, and wrote about it in 2010, with pictures and everything).
Or use potatoes and mix the meat and vegetables with that and fry everything together to make hash. (And if you have some gravy to serve with this, all the better.)
There’s really no excuse for not using up leftovers, there are so many things you can do with them to turn them into a new meal.
I once had an odd assortment of leftovers, including potatoes that I’d cooked when I roasted a chicken, so they were coated with chicken fat and rosemary, and some bacon and scrambled eggs (and honestly I don’t know how I ended up with leftover bacon and scrambled eggs, I think I must have thought I was really hungry and cooked a lot and then realized I wasn’t that hungry and didn’t want to throw them away so I stuck them in the fridge, that’s not something I usually have around). It was Weird Food Night where I eat whatever odds and ends I have, and I mixed together the potatoes and bacon and eggs and heated it up and it was SO GOOD.
The down side of mixing up stuff like that it’s really hard to recreate, so if it turns out to be super delicious you end up being kind of sad about it because you know you’ll never be able to have that exact same thing again. But you get a good meal and you can just try to live in the moment. And once you start making things like that, there’s almost nothing that isn’t worth saving, you can use it all.
You can also incorporate assorted leftover things into quick bread/muffins — things like cookie crumbs, small amounts of nuts, leftover jam, cooked grains — and that’s magical too. I wrote about that in 2010 also, so won’t go into it again here. That technique is also from the Tightwad Gazette. Thank you again, Amy Dacyczyn.
The bottom line is that you want to learn how to be creative in the kitchen and to get away from the idea of needing a recipe to make a meal. Which doesn’t mean that you will never make anything from a recipe again, making a nice meal with things you went out and got just to make a nice meal is enjoyable and you should definitely do that as often as you’d like. But doing that takes time and energy, and you don’t want to have to expend time and energy every time you’re hungry. It also generates leftovers that will go to waste if you’re making a fresh new meal with newly purchased ingredients every day.
The ultimate goal is to develop a repertoire of things you can make that require hardly any time or energy at all, and once you know what those things are, you can work on keeping the ingredients for those things on hand.
So when it’s late and you’re tired and hungry, coming home and going to the freezer and pulling out some chicken and tortillas and vegetables, and heating the chicken with spinach and corn and eating it in the tortillas with a little bit of salsa, and maybe some cheese, feels like less work than stopping somewhere and standing in line and ordering and waiting for your food and bringing home a styrofoam container of food that, despite the styrofoam, will not be hot by the time you eat it, and will not be very good. And will cost ten dollars.
That’s the place you want to get to.
Friday, February 15, 2013
In my last post, I talked about the kinds of food I like to keep on hand most or all of the time. For those looking for a more thorough explanation, or those who like to learn from example, I will give details on a few meals I like to make using those things.
I can almost always make a good breakfast-type meal — omelette or scrambled eggs — with eggs and between one and three of the following add-ins…
in whatever combination sounds good.
One combination I like especially for an omelette is herbed cream cheese (combine about a tablespoon of cream cheese with a squeeze of fresh garlic from a garlic press plus pepper and Herbes de Provence or whatever herbs you have — thyme, oregano, basil, etc.) with diced avocado and fresh tomato.
An omelette is nice but scrambled eggs are almost just as good and easier to make. As far as I’m concerned, scrambled eggs with cheese wins for best/easiest combination, it’s hard to go wrong with that.
The key to good scrambled eggs is to cook over low heat and don’t stir too much, just enough to scrape the cooked part off the bottom and let the uncooked part flow over so it can cook. And then don’t cook too long or the eggs get dry.
If you keep cream or half-and-half around for coffee, try making scrambled eggs with a little bit of that, it’s very good. If I’m not doing that (which I usually don’t), I use a tablespoon of water mixed with the eggs. (I don’t use milk because I can’t tell the difference, I think it’s totally fine with water. I like to save my milk for things that matter.)
Along with the eggs I’ll eat some kind of bread/carb thing…
—cheese grits (with Worcestershire sauce, or, since I’m out of that and trying to use things up, lately I’ve been adding Pickapeppa Sauce)
—biscuits with honey or jam
—half a bagel with cream cheese or jam
—toast, but only if I have bread from my neighbors
plus some kind of fruity thing …
—fried apples (peel apple, heat a skillet and add a little bit of bacon grease, when hot, slice apple into skillet and cook until tender, YUM)
—half a grapefruit
—smoothie made with frozen berries, frozen banana, juice
—sliced apple or pear
So as long as I have eggs, I have a good meal. And I don’t limit myself to breakfast with that, I’ll eat eggs any time of day or night.
—fat or oil: e.g., olive oil, canola oil, bacon grease, chicken fat, butter, margarine, shortening
—base (aromatic) vegetable: e.g., garlic, onion, shallot, leek or green onion (white part only)
—protein: e.g., cooked or raw chicken, ground beef, ground turkey or other meat; or any kind of canned (or cooked) legume; or tuna or whitefish
—grain: e.g., white rice, brown rice, couscous, millet, quinoa, bulghur, wheat berries
—vegetable: e.g., frozen or fresh peas, carrots, corn, spinach, celery, tomatoes
—liquid: e.g., water, broth, vegetable cooking water, stock
—seasonings: e.g., salt, pepper, basil, oregano, curry powder, chili powder, paprika, etc.
in the following proportion, for approximately two servings:
2 Tbsp fat
1-2 cloves garlic plus 1/2 cup onion (or more, or less, it doesn’t really matter)
1/2 to 2/3 cup protein
1 cup grain
2 cups liquid
1/2 cup vegetable (or more)
seasonings to taste
The basic procedure is as follows:
1. Heat fat in a large skillet, for which you have a lid that fits.
2. When the fat is hot, add the aromatic vegetable (garlic and onion) and cook until the onion is translucent.
3. If using uncooked meat, add it now and brown. If using cooked meat or beans, add to heat through. (If using tuna, do not add yet.)
4. When the meat is browned and/or heated through, add the grain and stir until coated with fat.
5. Add the liquid and bring to a boil. (Add tuna now, if using tuna.)
6. Add vegetables and seasonings, stir, and return to a boil.
7. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed.
How long this takes to cook depends on what grain you use — couscous will be done in 15-20 minutes, brown rice will take closer to 45 minutes, white rice somewhere in between.
My favorite version of this involves ground beef, white Jasmine or Basmati rice, peas, carrots, and curry powder. It is also good substituting cooked chicken for the ground beef, or using couscous or brown rice instead of white rice. (The reason I usually use white rice is because I often make this on Saturdays when I eat a big breakfast then do stuff around the house all day and then all of a sudden realize that I am really, really hungry and I need something that will be ready now now NOW. Or soon, at least. And white rice cooks quickly and I almost always have it on hand.)
This is a really great technique; unless your cupboard is truly bare, you can almost always make something that tastes delicious and is ready quickly. It’s a winner.
The other thing I rely on is tortillas with some kind of filling — you can do a breakfast-type thing with beans and cheese and scrambled eggs or a taco-type thing with corn tortillas and chicken and vegetables (and cheese … and salsa … and …) or enchiladas with spinach and cheese and beans or chicken, or a wrap with cheese and tuna or salmon. Or, or, or. The possibilities for that are nearly endless.
At any point in time, I will almost always be able to very quickly make a good tortilla-based meal out of what I have in the pantry and/or freezer.
I can also usually make a stir-fry with rice or noodles (or leftover rice, as fried rice).
Making a stir-fry is a great way to use up bits and pieces of things that are not enough to make a full meal but that you want to use and not throw away. Even noodles go much further when you stir-fry everything together than when you boil and eat. Two ounces of pasta with tomato sauce is not much of a meal but two ounces of pasta stir-fried together with vegetables and soy sauce feels like plenty.
And there’s more, but that’s enough for today. I’ll do a separate post with the rest.