Sunday, January 31, 2010

Six Dinners, and Dessert, to Brighten your Kitchen

Greetings, dear readers!  January has been long, cold, and dark.  I've been cooking often and keeping up normal routines, but the early mornings and testing season have made it difficult to be positive this past month.  But!
January is over!  I'm looking so forward to February.
Things are already looking up!

I have to give some serious blog love to Linda at One Scoop at a Time.  We have followed each other on the blogosphere for some time now, and she is one of the few (but mighty!) early customers of Rosie's Best, my little food business.  She was even kind enough to send me feedback about the pretzels AND post about them on her blog!  If you want to see some pretzels in action, or f you are in the Bay Area, check her out! Thank you Linda!

For this post, I thought I'd share the dinners I've been making these dark evenings in the hopes that they might brighten up your evenings and tide you over until the days are longer and produce more abundant.  No recipes, just ideas.

Braised Chicken with Vegetables

There, served with saffron cous cous.  And here, as filling for a casserole with puff pastry on top.

Local Grass-Fed Burgers with Fries and Lime Chili Aioli 

(Those are some jalapenos I pickled.  You can also see the awesome local gouda we melted onto the burgers from Frisian Farms in Oskaloosa, and the a-ma-zing mustard from Illinois)

Red Peppers, Onions, and Buffalo Chicken Sausage

Quick Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese

Tacos, with Avocado, Mashed Black Beans, and Local Grass-Fed Ground Beef

and for dessert, 
Meyer Lemon Curd Tart

It was all delicious.

Take the time to make a meal and sit down to enjoy it with your family and these days will become brighter.  We'll make it to spring yet!
I'm still working on that entry I've been thinking about regarding social networking and food, but it's turning out to be much longer than I'd anticipated, but I hope to share it with you soon.
Until then, soak up what sunlight you can, and make dinner!

If you want a daily checkup on what I'm doing, check out my Flickr 365 stream.  

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Simply Food, Nothing Extra: Scrambled Eggs

Hey!  I hope this long wekend finds you well.

I whipped up a great little post about scrambled eggs over at Simply Food, Nothing Extra, an awesome blog that I've been invited to participate in.

If you want to know how to make the best scrambled eggs ever, head over HERE!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Quickie Post: My New Knife!

Hey folks! I apologize for the lack of a real post, but it's testing season and I've got a good post coming.

In the mean time, I wanted to share with you the knife I just purchased!

I bought an 8" chef's knife from Forschner by Victorinox with a rosewood handle.  You may have heard of this knife from its fantastic review in Cook's Illustrated, who deemed it a 'best buy' for its performance and value.  I found this review, which which is actually a compilation of reviews from both subscription and free sites.  (It includes a review from a site I love, Cooking for Engineers)  It's a stamped, rather than forged blade, (read about the difference here) which means it's a little lighter, but a LOT cheaper.  This knife set me back $30.

I'll need to hone the blade often, and plan to learn how to use a stone to keep it sharp myself.  (Thanks for recommendations for both from Chef Friese.  You can read his great piece on the subject of knives on this really cool website, Nourish Network.)

While I was ill-advised to buy a knife without having held it in my hand, I've been entirely pleased with the Forschner's fit for me and performence so far.  Assuming the handle holds up, I see this knife serving me well.  Here it is with onions and garlic.  (This is my 365 photo for today, too. Did you know there's even a 365 pool just for food bloggers?!)

Having a sharp knife to work with makes every cooking job easier, faster, and most importantly, SAFER!

So, until next time, do you have a knife you love?  Hate?  Do you pay to have yours sharpened, or do it yourself?

Take heart!  The days are getting longer and spring is coming!  

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Saved Fail: Vegan Curry Chickpea Cauliflower Stew with Saffron Quinoa

If you haven't heard, it's really cold out there.  Like, REALLY cold.
I took my dog out for a walk this week to take some photos for my new 365 Project on flickr, where I take a photo every day of the year.
Some brave souls were out sledding.  He really wanted to join them.  Frankly I think he prefers laughing children to dogs.

When the weather gets cold I like to cook something really warm, and that usually means chili.  That said, one can only eat so much of it in a day.  I reflected on the fact that we describe things that have a high temperature and things that have a high level of spice both as "hot" and decided that I wanted something hearty and spicy to warm us up.

I had a bag of dried chickpeas and had been seeing roasted chickpeas all over the internet.  I also had some cauliflower, so I decided to roast them both together in lots of Punjabi Chhole Masala from this company.  (I just went into my local Asian grocery store and picked out a spice mix that looked good.  The label lists: chilli, big cardamom, cumin, black pepper, ginger, salt, coriander, dry mango powder, mint leaves, black salt, and ajwain)

I soaked the beans for a few hours then rinsed them. If you don't rinse dry beans they will be much harder on your digestive system.  I chopped up the cauliflower and tossed them both with lots of the masala, oil, and salt and pepper.  They smelled delicious and looked beautiful, but when I pulled them out of the oven I was disappointed with the texture.  The chickpeas didn't seem totally cooked through but they were starting to brown on the outside.  Since I love coconut milk and will use any excuse to use it, I decided to make a stew using the roasted vegetables.  It turned out to be really delicious and the perfect bit of sunshine in this freezing cold.  After I put it all together, I realized that it was vegan as well, which is always a nice surprise.  If you're a meat eater, I think ground chicken would be absolutely delicious in this.

Vegan Curry Chickpea Cauliflower Stew with Saffron Quinoa

2 cups chickpeas, soaked over night and simmered for 1 hour
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 tbsp. punjabi chole masala (to taste)
2 tbsp. turmeric
4 tbsp. oil of your choice
1 onion, diced
1/2 can masaman curry

zest of one lime
juice of one lime

1 can coconut milk
1-2 cups stock of any kind

Roast the chickpeas and cauliflower, covered in the masala, turmeric, and 2 tbsps of the oil in a 350 oven for 40 minutes, or until the edges of the cauliflower start to brown and the beans are still slightly undercooked.

While they cool, in a dutch oven, cook the onion in the remaining oil.  Once it's starting to get translucent, add the roasted vegetables to the pan.  Then add the remaining spices and lime zest.  I also find my masaman at the Asian grocery store.  Any curry blend you like will do. (As a linguist, masaman curry is very interesting to me.  It's a Thai style of curry whose name is a version of the word Muslim!  Read the wiki here)

Stir gently to coat everything in the spices and flavored oil.  Then add your liquids, using all the lime juice and coconut milk and just enough stock to cover.  Simmer this away until you can't stand it any more.  If you like it a little chunky, leave it as is.  I used my immersion blender to mash things up a bit but still left some texture.  Serve with saffron quinoa, below, or your grain of choice.  (Don't know about quinoa?  It's awesome.  Read about it here.)

Saffron Quinoa

2 cups water or stock
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 tsp saffron

Combine all ingredients in a pot with a heavy lid.  Bring to a boil, reduce to low, cover and let it sit for 15-20 minutes or until the grain has absorbed all the liquid.

This dish isn't pretty, but it's spicy, creamy, tangy, and very filling.

That's all for now, but I have a meaty (figuratively) writing post rolling around in my brain about social networking and food that I'm working on and can't wait to share with you.

Until then, eat up and stay warm!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Hands-Off Smoky Chili and NYE: Whiskey Sours and Cheese Straws

Greetings, and Happy New Year!

I have friends who deliberately keep their expectations for New Year's Eve low, but I was excited to have many dear old friends over on Thursday, and the evening turned out to be everything I'd hoped for.  I tossed a few little things together in the hours before people came over, enjoying the rare opportunity to make finger food.  I chose things that were simple but still a little special.

I wanted to make a special drink for the evening and our friends are whiskey drinkers, so I decided on whiskey sours, choosing Ina's ratio.

Whiskey Sours  

2/3 c. simple syrup (just boil equal parts granulated sugar and water until the sugar dissolves, then cool)
3/4 c. whiskey  (we used Jameson)
1/2 c. freshly squeezed lime juice (3-4 pieces of fruit)
1/2 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine, shake with ice, and serve in a martini glass.

One adorable party-goer enjoying one, and a glass of blush Andre, ringing in the East Coast New Year.

Party food must be easy to grab, easy to hold, and very easy to eat.  It should also be a little over the top in calories, with small portions and quality ingredients.  I decided to make a tray of vegetables with yogurt herb dip, plain shortbread, brie en croute, spanakopita trangles, and cheese straws.  We had leftover fudge from Christmas and someone brought nuts, making a very well rounded plate, especially when combined with a local beer.

There are two main styles of cheese straw recipes out there: those that start with puff pastry and those that are light doughs.  I chose the latter, getting inspiration from Smitten Kitchen for the basic dough, which is apparently an adaptation from this cookbook.  I decided to swap their chili flakes with cayenne because I love its flavor, especially with cheddar.  I also used white whole wheat flour instead of all purpose.

Spicy Cheese Straws

3 c. grated extra-sharp cheddar
8 tbsp (one stick) butter at room temperature, cut into tbsps
1 1/2 c. white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh black pepper
1/4-1 tsp. cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
1 tbsp. milk


Combine all ingredients but the milk in a food processor, pulsing until they make a sandy dough.

Add the milk, then pulse again until the dough comes together.

Roll this into a rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick.

Use a pizza cutter or knife to cut the dough into strips 1/4-1/3 inch long.

Bake these on an ungreased cookie sheet at 350 for 13 minutes, or until the edges are just brown. They will puff up, the bottoms will get crispy, and they will be light and airy.  I put these in a glass and they were beautiful and delicious, and very easy to eat with a cocktail in the other hand.

Despite not being terribly hung over on New Years Day, we didn't really feel like doing any cooking, so I decided to make something that was very simple but comforting, and that would last us all day.  We went with a version of our bean chili.  Then I used canned beans, but I'm trying to avoid them so I used dried beans.  I didn't have the forthought to soak them the night before, so I just cooked about 1 cup each of dried black beans, kidney beans, and great northern beans for around two hours at a simmer, until they were just undercooked.  You can use canned beans if you want, but truthfully the flavor and texture of dried beans is far superior to canned, and canned do pose some health issues, since the lining contians chemicals which can easily leach into your food.

Hands-Off Smoky Chili

2-5 slices of smoked bacon
3-4 c. cooked beans of any type
1 lb. meat (optional) we used ground beef from Organic Prairie
2 quarts of tomatoes, we used home canned
2 small cans of tomato paste
1 lb. carrots, diced
1 sweet onion, diced
1/4-1/3 c. beer (this can be cheap and stale)
1-2 c. stock as needed to cover
2 tbsp. cumin
3 tbsp.+ chili powder to taste.  we used hot chili powder
1 tbsp. cayenne powder to taste
2 tbsp. salt, or more to taste
2 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper

To serve:  plain yogurt or sour cream, extra sharp cheddar, sliced green onions, and corn chips

Cook the bacon first, until it's cooked through and the fat has rendered.  Then add the vegetables and cook for 2-5 minutes until they're about half done.  Move the vegetables to the edges of the pan.  Then add the meat to the middle of the pan in small batches, browning it as well as you can.  Season with a little salt and pepper.  Add in all your seasonings and stir to coat.

Then pour in the beer and use it to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.

Add your beans


Then enough liquid to cover.  Simmer until you're ready to eat, then top with anything and everything.

2009 brought big things, and 2010 promises to do so, too.  I don't tend to make resolutions, but I know this year will be a more positive and exciting one, without question, and I can't wait to share it with you. I've been writing this blog for three years now, and don't see myself wanting to stop anytime soon.  I appreciate each and every one of my readers, and thank you for taking the time to be a part of my journey through life as a cook, gardener, and woman.

To family, farms, food, and the blogosphere:  Happy New Year!

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