Saturday, February 11, 2017
One of the things that intrigued me since I was a kid was reading diet plans. Not because I was interested in dieting, but in how they seemed to be so hard to do. First, every meal was different, no left-overs, no eating the same thing (like salad) 4 days a week for lunch. No meals out. No accounting for if you went swimming. No difference because of the weather or season. New recipes every day! No wonder diets fail.
But there is something to be said about planning meals. Good planning can make for fewer trips to the grocery store, more variety, and fewer dinners out because there is nothing in the house to eat. I'm not a traditional, sit down and plan out a week or two type planner. But my weeks have a normal pattern - I usually cook "nice meals" on Friday and Saturday, on Sunday or Monday I will cook something like a soup (part of which will go into the freezer), or roast up veggies to be used in meals during the week. Tuesdays and Thursdays I have class, so I usually have something simple (like leftovers), Wednesday I try to make sure I have used up any vegetables from the previous week. Then adjust as life dictates -- holiday, parties, termite fumigation, colds,
I thought it might be fun to keep track of what I eat - planning in reverse. To make it manageable, I limited it to just dinners (partly because my breakfast and lunches are kind of boring, snacks because they are too hard to keep track of, not to mention the TMI factor). Desserts are only included when they are cooked and served as part of dinner, so a piece of dark chocolate, or a bowl of yogurt because I'm still hungry doesn't count. This month I "really cooked" 10 dinners, went out for 2 dinners, and the rest of the time had leftovers (includes soups from the freezer), something quickly cooked for just me (think quesadilla or hash), or just I cooked one thing (like roasted veggies or rice) to combine with leftovers. It was a wet, rainy January so there is a lot of soup and (Southern California) winter vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale and other greens.
Sunday 1/1 Spaghetti carbonara with spinach (1) (2)
Monday 1/2 Broccoli soup (2)
French bread (from Tartine)
Tuesday 1/3 Sauteed chickpeas, snap peas, and cashews with harissa
Wednesday 1/4 Left-over broccoli soup
French bread crackers (3)
Thursday 1/5 Quesadilla with chickpeas, sundried tomatoes and various cheeses
Friday 1/6 Grilled chicken thighs with Chimichurri sauce
Mashed sweet potatoes
Saturday 1/7 Pasta with bacon, broccoli, and mushrooms
Sunday 1/8 Leftover chicken, sweet potatoes, and cauliflower
Monday 1/9 Curried lentil soup (4)
Tuesday 1/10 Leftover curried lentil soup
Wednesday 1/11 Leftover Pasta with bacon, broccoli, and mushrooms
Thursday 1/12 Tuna Sandwich
Pickles, Tortilla Chips, Tangerine
Friday 1/13 Pizza: Broccoli, red pepper, and chorizo
Saturday 1/14 Sauteed chickpeas, broccoli, red pepper and preserved lemons
Sunday 1/15 Pasta with Swiss chard and onions
Monday 1/16 Roasted Vegetables and made into a Flatbread (aka individual pizza)
Tuesday 1/17 Leftover pasta topped with fried egg and avocado
Wednesday 1/18 Freezer Surprise: Beans and greens
Fresh bread (from leftover pizza dough)
Thursday 1/19 Roasted vegetable wrap
Friday 1/20 Mac and Cheese
Saturday 1/21 Braised lamb shanks (kind of like this, but no tomatoes)
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Sunday 1/22 Hash with lamb and broccoli, topped with over-easy egg (2)
Monday 1/23 Freezer Surprise: Curried lentil soup
Tuesday 1/24 Leftover Mac and Cheese
Wednesday 1/25 Roasted Cauliflower
Leftover braised lamb heated in sauce
Thursday 1/26 Salmon Salad Sandwich
Friday 1/27 Bacon, broccoli, and mushroom pizza
Saturday 1/28 Cocktail Snacks (at party)
Curried Lentil Soup
Sunday 1/29 Freezer Surprise: Beans and Greens
Monday 1/30 Out - Il Pastaio in Beverly Hills
Spinach, Gorgonzola, and Walnut Risotto
Tuesday 1/31 Out - Via Porta in Beverly Hills
Mussels in tomato broth
(1) Kind of followed this recipe (cut in half), except used bacon instead of pancetta, spinach instead of ramps, and just parmesan cheese. Also, just transfer pasta from pot with tongs..
(2) Something I should add to the blog
(3) French bread crackers -- thinly slice day-old french bread, lightly brush with olive oil. Either toast in a toaster oven (mine needs two cycles), or do in a moderate oven on a sheet pan, turning once. They should be brown and crunchy.
(4) Kind of like this bean soup recipe, but no meat. Sauteed the onions with garlic and ginger, plenty of curry powder, some hot chili powder, then added the leftover Chimichurri sauce. Then added water, red lentils, and a little later, several carrots. When the lentils were done, added a bunch of kale (shredded) and a can of coconut milk, then heated until hot and the kale wilted. Yummy... and it freezes very well.
Saturday, January 28, 2017
One of the current fads is #cook90... basically it's a program to cook 90 meals in a month (breakfast, lunch, dinner), combined with a relentless stream of pictures posted on social media tagged #cook90. Most people choose to do it in a month with 31 days, so there are a few passes. I kind of snicker at this, because I guess that I typically "cook" over 80 meals a month. The idea is mostly centered on not eating out, and the rules are pretty loose on what constitutes cooking (assembling a group of things counts, like yogurt, fruit and granola).
So while I snicker, there is a real challenge in finding a good combination of interesting, tasty, good-for-you food on the table day after day, and minimizing how much time you spend in the kitchen cooking and cleaning. Because even if you enjoy cooking, there are days you just don't have the time or enthusiasm to do it. For those days, you need to have a few go-to's that are quick and tasty. Leftovers can fit that bill, but that gets old. And a lot of times, I have bits of things, not enough to make a full meal. And sometimes you need to be able to put something together from pantry staples. Quesadillas fit either of these scenarios.
And when you stuff quesos with more than just cheese it makes a hearty healthy-ish meal.
I typically start with some kind of extra protein -- most often, black beans (from a can - drained and rinsed) but sometimes leftover meat, then add some vegetable (pretty much any leftover cooked vegetable, roasted anything is especially good), or maybe raw green onions or red bell peppers (thinly sliced). Sun dried tomatoes add a nice pop. I usually use sharp cheddar cheese, but sometimes use a mix of small bits of cheese that need to be used up, or will add some goat cheese. And I like a little spice -- usually just some red pepper flakes, but roasted chilis are traditional (for good reason), or diced raw jalapenos. I tend to avoid canned green chilis as they just seem too wet.
These go together quick, so it's best to get everything assembled before you start cooking. You can use any size tortilla, just accommodate the volume of toppings to tortilla size. I have never tried the "alternative" tortillas (like the colored wraps, or low fat, or whole wheat..), so I don't know how they work. For a large tortilla, I use a "big handful" of cheese (about 2 ounces), a small handful of meat or beans, and a handful of veggies.
I put a little oil (any kind) in a skillet large enough to accommodate the flat tortilla and turn the heat on medium high. You want just a very thin layer of oil.
When the skillet is warm (don't need to wait until its hot), put in the tortilla and quickly turn with your hand to evenly spread the oil. Then start building: spread the cheese over the entire tortilla. Add the meat or beans on one size. Add the veggies to the other side. Add any other add-ins, like sun-dried tomatoes or chili's to which ever side is less full. Add goat cheese (or even something like a bit of blue cheese) if that is what you want. Wait for the cheddar cheese to melt. Here are a couple of examples of what the assembled queso's look like:
Black bean, goat cheese, sun dried tom, green onion
Lamb, roasted veggies, sun dried tomatoes
When the cheese is melted, check underneath to see if the tortilla is browning. When it looks like this, fold in half.
It's usually best to fold the veggie side onto the bean or meat side. Press the folded queso with your spatula, and brown a bit more on each side. When nicely golden brown, remove to a cutting board and slice into wedges. Serve with garnish of choice -- avocado, salsa, a sprinkle of herbs, or maybe a salad. If you go on to make a second queso, note that it will cook much faster -- be ready to turn down the heat. I usually add a tiny bit more oil, and don't twirl the tortilla in the pan (or be really quick, as it's really hot fast).
Sunday, January 15, 2017
lemonade. So I decided to try making preserved lemons, which are a traditional food in North Africa (think a Moroccan tagine)... and when you have a giant jar of them in your refrigerator (not small expensive jars from a gourmet store) you start experimenting. And now I get cravings for them, even though I have not tried making tagine yet!
Traditionally, to make preserved lemons, you "almost" quarter the lemons, then stuff with salt, then stuff the lemons in a jar. This seems like a lot of bother. Then I stumbled on this recipe where you just quarter the lemons... Eureka! Actually, the recipe was for Meyer Lemons, but works just fine on Eureka lemons. Next I am going to try with limes (and do a smaller batch). Here is my short version of the recipe, click through the link for more details.
15 lemons: quarter 12, the remaining 3 will be juiced
1 ½ cups Diamond Kosher Salt
Mix lemon quarters and salt in a large bowl. Let sit at room temperature about 1 hour.
Tightly pack lemon quarters into a large 2 quart jar. Use lemon juice to just cover (note – I use pickle weights to help hold down the lemons).
Let the jar sit at room temperature for about 7 days until lemon rinds are glossy and look translucent all the way through, then refrigerate. They will be good for many months, at about a year they start getting mushy.
So, what do you do with them? The first key is to rinse off each piece when you are ready to use it, and remove the pulp... you just use the lemon rind (the pulp is pretty mushy and super salty, although there are some recipes that call for it), and usually dice into small pieces. They have a bright, briny pop, and use them like you might use capers or olives. You can add to most any pasta or grain salad, I also like them with green salads that have fish in them. I sometimes throw them into the Chickpea and Vegetable Saute. They go great on roasted vegetables. I haven't tried this recipe yet, but it looks good: Roasted Carrots with Lemon.
If you want to do something a bit more fancy (and unusual), try this recipe, inspired by El Farol: Tapas and Spanish Cuisine by Chef James Campbell Caruso (one of those cookbooks where every recipe I have tried is really good):
Preserved Lemon Goat Cheese Spread
1 large head of garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces soft goat cheese (such as Silver Goat), at room temperature
1 tablespoon chopped preserved lemons (just the rind part)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Roast the garlic: Preheat oven to 350F (can do in toaster oven). Cut off the top of the garlic. Set the garlic in the center of a square of foil, drizzle with olive oil so that oil runs into the cloves. Bunch (scrunch) the foil around the garlic head, leaving a bit of an opening then bake for 35 – 45 minutes until cloves are nice and soft. Let cool.
Mix the remaining ingredients in a small bowl with a wooden spoon. Slip the garlic cloves out of the skin and add to the bowl. Mash them a bit on the edge of the bowl (you may or may not want to add the whole head depending on how big it is) then stir together. Refrigerate the mixture for at least an hour to let the flavors meld, but let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes or so before serving so that is spreads more easily.
Serve on warm bread, crackers, or crudité.
And last, if you want to go the trendy route with kale and a home-fermented food, try this salad, which was inspired by my favorite salad at our local chop house, Stake. While they do have good steaks, we are much more likely to go there and just have a flatbread and salad, or a roasted vegetable outside on the balcony... along with a nice bottle of wine.
Kale Salad with Almonds and Feta
Per person for a main dish salad:
¼ cup almonds – either slivered blanched almonds or coarsely chopped whole almonds
Handful of kale ~ 4 leaves, thick ribs removed and cut into thin slices (1/4 inch or so)
Handful of cabbage – cut into ¼ slices, each about an inch or two long
1 quarter of a preserved lemon (peel only), diced
1 ounce feta cheese, crumbled
1 small carrot (optional) – 1/8 inch julienne or shredded
¼ cup chickpeas (optional) – plain or roasted
¼ of an avocado (optional) – diced.
Lemon juice – about ½ a lemon
Roast almonds: place on foil on a pan and toast in a toaster oven until light brown. Alternatively, roast in a small skillet over medium heat, tossing frequently. Or start with roasted almonds.
Massage kale leaves with a tablespoon or so of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Let sit while you chop the remaining vegetables.
Add the cabbage, preserved lemon, cheese and optional ingredients. Add the almonds (they should be slightly cooled). Toss. Add the lemon juice and a good grind of pepper, toss some more. If the salad looks dry, add another bit of olive oil. Taste to determine if more salt is needed (the preserved lemon and feta are pretty salty, so more salt may not be needed). Serve in a handmade bowl.
Sunday, August 21, 2016
Bottom line, use this as a guide. Don't hesitate to adjust as you see fit.
Roasted Carrot Spread
1 lb carrots
4 cloves garlic, with the skin still on
~ 1 tablespoon olive oil
~ 1/2 teaspoon spice rub* to sprinkle
1 teaspoon spice rub*
1 tablespoon tahini
¼ cup plain or Greek yogurt. Or Crème Fraiche
Juice from ½ lemon, maybe more
Preheat oven to 425F, convection roast if you have it. Place a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan. If using large carrots, peel, but if using smaller/fresher carrots, just scrub. Split carrots if large.
Put carrots and garlic on sheet pan. Drizzle olive oil over (note – I never measure), and sprinkle with spice rub (maybe a ½ teaspoon.. again, I don’t measure). Toss with your hands to get everything evenly coated. Spread out carrots; put the garlic in the center. Wash your hands, then put the pan in the oven. If using convection, turn the carrots and garlic every 10 minutes or so. The garlic will be done first, in about 20 minutes. (The garlic is done when it is soft.) The carrots should be done in 25 – 30 minutes. The carrots are done when they are soft and edges are starting to brown. If not using convection, turn every 15 minutes, and they will be done in 30 – 45 minutes (again, the garlic will be done sooner).
Let the carrots cool. Squeeze garlic out of its skin into a food processor. Add carrots and remaining ingredients (start with ¼ to ½ teaspoon of salt, and a good grind of pepper), then process until fairly smooth. Taste .. add more salt, lemon juice, yogurt, or spice rub to suit your taste. Serve with crackers, pita, or bread.
* Spice rub:
1 part ground cumin
1 part ground coriander
1 part mild chili powder
Sunday, January 3, 2016
I always have great intentions of posting a recipe that would be great for the holidays prior to the holidays, and this recipe is great for entertaining, but is there really a season for crackers? Not at my house.
Crackers are definitely one of my vices in terms of processed foods. I try to find ones that are "more healthy" ... low in sugar and have some fiber, but generally rationalize that I'm eating crackers with a big salad and that's OK.. Except when I'm having them with a nice piece of cheese. It's a slippery slope.
And my favorite crackers are Rainforest Crisps. They make a bunch of flavors, but the I go for the Original ones. A little sweet, but not too bad, with lots of nuts and seeds. The only problem is that they are $7 or $8 a package (and this is a 6 ounce package), and that you can only get them at places like Whole Foods or specialty stores. And they go stale in about a week. It's one thing to pay a lot for sustainably raised meat, but for crackers?? This just seems like highway robbery.
Then I found a bunch of "copycat" recipes on the web for these crackers. Could it be? Let me say there are a lot of them out there (see here for my inspiration). Most of them are similar... it's basically a soda bread that you bake, then slice, then bake again. (which reminds me, someday I need to find out if I can make good crackers from my Soda Bread when I have leftovers). There are variations in how much brown sugar and/or honey used, plus a lot of variations in different add-ins (nuts, seeds, dried fruit). I tailored the recipe to the nuts and seeds I usually have around, skipped the honey, and have discovered that (like my soda bread) yogurt can be interchanged with buttermilk.
The only hard part about making these is making very even, very thin slices. It helps to refrigerate the loaves to get them to firm up. Also, this recipe makes a lot of crackers (and like the ones from the store, they do lose their crisp pretty quickly). But, you can freeze the loaves (the recipe makes 4 loaves, each loaf makes about the same amount as a package of crackers), then just slice and do the second bake when you are ready for some great crackers!
And the best part, each loaf costs about $1 to make. One note.. If you use sesame seeds, buy them in 1 lb packages, NOT in the spice aisle at your local grocery store. Places like Whole Foods or Asian markets have them, they are priced similar to other nuts. They will keep forever in the freezer.
And Happy New Years!
Crisp Seed Crackers
Makes over 8 dozen crackers.
1 cup flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk or yogurt
1/3 cup brown sugar (or a little less)
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitos)
1/4 cup sesame seeds or sunflower seeds
1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, or slivered almonds, roasted if desired)
Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray 4 mini-loaf pans with non-stick spray.
In a large bowl, stir together the flours, baking soda and salt. Add the buttermilk (or yogurt) and brown sugar, then mix with spoon until combined. Add the seeds and nuts, stir until blended.
Divide batter evenly between loaf pans. Bake 20 – 25 minutes until golden and springy to the touch. Remove from the pans and cool on a wire rack. When cool, wrap loaves and put into the refrigerator (this is an optional step, but it makes them easier to slice). You may also freeze loaves that you don’t plan to bake soon.
To make the crackers: If loaves have been frozen, let them sit out for a half hour or so. Preheat the oven to 300° F. Place a piece of parchment paper on a large sheet pan (one mini-loaf fills one sheet pan).
Slice the loaves as thin as you can with a serrated knife. Place the slices in a single layer on sheet pan. Bake them for about 15 minutes, then flip them over and bake for another 5 - 10 minutes, until crisp and deep golden. Remove slices as they get done, the thinner slices will bake faster than the thicker ones. Cool on rack. Store airtight, they will lose their “crisp” in a week or so.
Sunday, October 4, 2015
One of my pet peeves is recipes that say they will take 30 minutes to cook but not only would it be impossible for a Top Chef to walk into the kitchen and get it done in 30 minutes, it gets every pot and gadget in the kitchen dirty. This makes you feel like a failure when it ends up taking over an hour to cook (not to mention another 1/2 hour to do the dishes). When you dissect the cooking times from even respected recipe sources, it's clear that the clock does not start when you walk into the kitchen; it starts after the ingredient list is assembled: the onion is diced, garlic minced and chicken shredded. Even then, there is sometimes fantasy timing. A couple of weeks ago there was a soup recipe in the Wall Street Journal "Slow Food Fast" column that claimed total time was 50 minutes. When you added up just the cooking times, it was 56 minutes, not including the time to warm up pans or reheat the soup after after pureeing. You might not expect the WSJ to be experts on cooking, but you would at least think they could do the math.
So enough of my rant. How do I get dinner on the the table fast? And without any many dishes? One of my secrets is to use the freezer. I freeze soups, stews, and the like in serving size amounts in 1 quart freezer zip bags. I lay them flat to freeze, then they will stack pretty efficiently. To get dinner on the table in less than 15 minutes, I put the frozen bag into a large bowl of hot water until thawed (this takes maybe 10 minutes.. and you don't really get the bowl dirty), then empty the bag into a serving bowl and reheat a couple of minutes in the microwave. Add some garnish (like avocado or sliced green onions) and it even seems special.
Some things do freeze better than others. I almost always have Lentil Soup in the freezer. Most vegetable soups are good (like Chicken Noodle or Minestrone), but some vegetables freeze better than others (carrots, winter squash, peppers, green beans, mushrooms, greens, onions are good, but broccoli, zucchini, and potatoes have texture issues). Another trick is that if I am making something to just go into the freezer (as opposed to just freezing the last couple of servings of Beans and Greens when you realize that another day of eating beans will not improve your social standing) is to quickly cool down the pot of soup by putting it into the sink that is half filled with cold water and some ice.
The recipe that I adapted from Fine Cooking magazine called for store-bought rotisserie chicken, which I am sure would work just fine (but maybe not fine cooking when you learn what they inject the chickens with). I usually start by boiling a cut up raw chicken with onions and carrots, essentially making broth, pulling out the chicken pieces as they get done, pulling the chicken off the bones, then put the bones back into the broth pot and cooking a while longer for broth. You could also start with left-over roasted chicken (maybe do a half recipe), or some left-over turkey.
Makes about 6 servings.
2 tablespoons oil
1 large onion, diced
4 - 5 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons oregano or Italian herb mix
1-2 jalapeno or other hot chiles, minced (optional, to taste)
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups shredded cooked chicken (chicken from ~ 4 pound chicken)
1 4 oz can green chiles
1 quart lower salt chicken broth
2 cans (15.5 oz) white beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups frozen corn
Salt to taste
Garnish (optional): Shredded sharp cheddar cheese, avocado slices, sliced green onions, cilantro, lime wedges, sour cream or Greek or plain yogurt.
Heat oil in a large pot (5-6 quart). Add the onion and cook until translucent (don’t brown). Add cumin, herbs, hot chiles, and garlic and cook until fragrant (just a minute or so). Add the chicken, green chiles, broth, and 1 can of beans. Bring to a low simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, mash the second can of beans – place in a small bowl and mash with a potato masher or fork. Add the mashed beans and corn to the chili. As soon as it's back to a boil, it’s done. Ladle into bowls and garnish as desired.
Sunday, September 13, 2015
Summer is supposed to be coming to an end, but the last week has been the hottest so far this summer... Not that hot compared to where lots of my friends live, but hot when you don't have air conditioning. But I can't complain, because the ocean is not very far away and the water there is always cool.
Succotash is supposed to have lima beans in it (and they certainly could be added to the below recipe), but this mix of vegetables that has been serving me (and my house guests) well all summer. And I'm still getting corn and zucchini farmers market. It seems that often I have a nice mix of vegetables around, but not enough of any one thing to make a nice vegetable side. So I just put them all together, and its the perfect accompaniment to whatever is coming off the grill.
Don’t fret about the quantities, use whatever you have around.
This will feed about 4, scale as desired.
1 - 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
2 – 3 ears of corn, cut from the cob
2 – 3 small zucchini, cubed
1 red bell pepper, diced
½ an onion, diced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried) or other herbs as desired
Salt, pepper to taste
Green beans (1 inch pieces)
Jalapeno or other hot pepper, minced
Kale or other greens
Melt butter (or heat oil) in a sauté pan. Add all of the vegetables (except greens if using) and cook over medium heat until just cooked, 7 – 10 minutes. Add greens (if using) the last minute of cooking. Add thyme, salt, and pepper.