Sunday, May 5, 2013

| green pasta |

I have had this recipe in my "recipes to try" file for ages, but just now finally got around to it. As usual, I tweaked it according to the items we had on hand and my basic laziness. It turned out great. A nice simple pasta dish that is super fast and versatile. This sauce would work well with virtually any veggie and I think next time we'll add some chickpeas or white beans for protein.

I made the sauce ahead of time and left it in the fridge in a mason jar. Then when it was time to cook I just shook it up and heated it. The entire thing took less than 30 minutes from start to finish. WIN.

1 T olive oil (or your favorite fat)
1 box frozen spinach
1 bag frozen peas
1 1/2 cup whole milk (or lighter or heavier, according to your preferences)
1 T veggie bouillon powder (chicken would be fine, too)
2 t cornstarch
1 t sesame oil (I used toasted for extra flavor)
1 T whole grain mustard (I am a sucker for Maille)
2 T chopped fresh parsley
12-16 oz pasta (I used rotini)

Ahead of time prep: Pour boiling water onto the spinach and let it sit for a while to get thawed out (a few hours?). Drain before using. Put peas on counter to thaw, too. Combine the milk through mustard in a container to save prep time.

To cook: Bring water to a boil for your pasta. While pasta is cooking, put 1 T oil in a sauce pan and add the spinach (squeezed out first). Warm it, then add the milk mixture and cook until the sauce is warm and starting to thicken. Add the peas and warm again. Add the parsley. Once the pasta is done, drain it and then toss it with the sauce. Salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, April 19, 2013

| spanakopita game-changer |

I have always been a big fan of spanakopita. And it's always seemed easy to make, but every time I've tried it, it's never come out right. Finally, I decided to learn how to make the pointy little triangles (rather than cutting slices out of a pan). I used the method to fold happy little triangles. It was so incredibly easy. Only, instead of using butter, I used non-stick cooking spray making it approximately 1.2 billion times easier. I am never brushing butter onto phyllo dough again. Ever.

Once I got going, I made myself a little assembly line: I'd spray a sheet and fold it in half, then repeat three times until my prep area was full. Then I'd give all four long ribbons of phyllo a spray and put about a tablespoon of filling at the top and slowly triangle-roll them down. One last hit with the spray once they were on the sheet and I baked them for 20 minutes. They are golden, non-leaky and delicious.

You can use any filling you want, of course. I just kind of threw these things into a food processor and whirred them up:
- 10 ounce package of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed thoroughly
- 1/2 c chopped green onions
- 1/2 c fresh parsley
- 1/3 cup cottage cheese
- 1/4 cup parmesan
- 4 ounces feta, crumbled
- 1 egg
- salt and pepper to taste

So now, of course, I want to make a MILLION KIND OF PHYLLO DOUGH TRIANGLES! What other fillings should I try? (need to be vegetarian, please)

Friday, March 22, 2013

| my 13 month old says "water kefir" |

Y'all this may be one of the most exciting food developments I've had in my life in years. I recently discovered the joys of water kefering (yes, I just used it as a verb. I have no idea if that's possible.).

I have long had a nasty Diet Coke soda. Just ask anyone I went to graduate school with. McDonalds Diet Coke is the best Diet Coke in the world, btw. But I am really trying to kick the aspartame habit, so I've been in search of a somewhat healthy, fizzy alternative. I've been drinking plain sparkling water for a while, but it is so, well, PLAIN. Finally, though, I've found it. Water kefir is a healthy, home-brewed, fruity, slightly sweet, fizzy probiotic drink. Imagine a really really weak beer with fruit in it. Or a very weak wine cooler. There, that's water kefir. This stuff is blowing my mind. Sometimes during the day I find myself craving a Diet Coke and then I think, "No, no. I'm going to have water kefir tonight. It's all good."

Water kefir is different than dairy kefir (which if you've actually happened to have heard of kefir, is probably what you are familiar with). Dairy kefir is sour and tastes like yogurt or buttermilk. Water kefir is not at all sour. Although water kefir and dairy kefir are made with different starters, the concept is the same and both result in a healthy beverage filled with probiotics.

How does one make water kefir? Well, first you have to procure some water kefir grains. These little globulues of translucent white goodness are not actually grains at all, so no worries if you're gluten-free. They are called grains but they are actually just bundles of good bacteria. Before you get all grossed out by that, just think about yeast. They are like yeast.

So what you do is you get some water kefir grains from a friend or by purchasing them online. These little ladies live off of sugar water. You need about 1/4 cup of water kefir grains to make a quart of water kefir. I'm not going to go into tons of details about how exactly to make your kefir because there are about a million other blogs that already do that. Use the google.

I have been kefiring for a couple of weeks and have a good system down. I put my grains in a quart mason jar with 1/4 cup sugar and boiled tap water (that has been cooled). I add a few raisins for the mineral content (bonus: you can tell the kefir is almost done when the raisins all float to the top). I slap a coffee filter on there so dust doesn't fall in. I leave it there around 24-36 hours, and taste it to see when it's done. I like mine to be much less sweet than sugar water, but still a little sweet. (Side note: although you are putting a ton of sugar into this to start, apparently as it ferments the grains eat up the sugar and turn it into a simpler form of sugar that is easier to digest and has fewer calories).

After that, the first fermentation is done and things get really fun. I pour mine into two pint jars, straining out the kefir grains and raisins. The raisins go in the trash (I haven't been brave enough to compost them....I'm just not sure if that's okay). The grains go right back into a fresh batch of sugar water. They can be used again and again. You can also put them on hiatus if you need a break. Over time they are also known to multiply, giving you grains to share with your friends (or to start making two quarts at a time - holla!).

With my two pint jars of plain kefir, I add flavors for the second fermentation. Here is what I've done so far:
Blueberry, Strawberry (alone or together. I've noticed frozen fruit works great)
Dried cherries
Raisins (and then add vanilla right before drinking)
Apple cores

Just Okay
Just vanilla (added right before drinking)
Fresh blackberries

Not Tasty
Frozen cherries
Fresh raspberries
Dried apricots
Anything with lemon or lime. I thought this would be awesome, but it was way too strong. I need to try again.

So after another 24-48 hours, you are finally done. I burp my jars every day. If you want them to get very carbonated, put on a tight lid. If you're not into carbonation, use a coffee filter again. When it tastes yummy, strain out the fruit, put them in the fridge and enjoy. I like mine really cold, so I try to be patient. Again, it's good to burp every day or so.

This stuff is amazing. I can't get enough of it. It's easy, cheap, fun, and tastes seriously good. My kids like it, too. Plus, I don't have to remember to take a daily probiotic (which, let's be honest, I never remembered to do). Oh, one last tip, I did read somewhere online to ease into it if your tummy isn't used to probiotics (from a pill, dairy kefir, or quality yogurt). I started by drinking a cup a day and had no problems, but my tummy is also pretty used to probiotics.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

| cheap red wine lentils |

About a month ago, I was invited to a potluck lunch with some midwives. I love spending time with amazing women and I had a hunch that midwives would know how to COOK, so I went. I was not disappointed. This is, most definitely, the best lentil recipe I have ever tried (and, believe you me, I have tried many). I want to carry it in my pocket to hand out to people when they ask me what to cook with lentils. Which actually happens pretty often. Last week I was buying lentils at the store and the cashier said, "What do these taste like? I see people buying them all the time." I replied, "Um....they kind of taste like beans. They kind of take on the taste of whatever you cook them in. I don't recommend eating them plain because they also taste like dirt."

I am seriously thinking about printing this recipe and taking it to her so she can go to lentil heaven. And I hate using my printer. This recipe is that good.

(Original recipe from Deborah Madison's The Savory Way but it has been altered a bit)

You can use regular old lentils, no problem, but those little French green ones make the best version.  Here's the straight recipe (which you should double if you want to feed more than 3 people), plus my comments:

1 cup lentils: soak in hot water while you get started.

Melt together in a large pot 1T each butter and olive oil, and in them fry up a finely diced small onion, 2 garlic cloves, 2 bay leaves, and a pinch each of thyme and marjoram.  Add a handful of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, and stir in a spoonful (t or T) of tomato paste.  Here comes the fun part: pour in 2 cups of cheap, fruity red wine (this is the perfect use for boxed wine; I used Franzia's sangria wine for the ones you had) and bring it to a boil.  Let it boil off the alcohol for a full minute, dump in the soaked lentils, plus some salt, return to a boil and then turn it down and let them slow cook.  Depending on how much water they soaked up, you may need to add more liquid.  It can be water or broth; the batch you tasted had a fair amount homemade turkey stock in it, and I do think that enriches the dish.

Expect to cook them 40-60 minutes.  Check for saltiness and correct that, then before serving give them a dash of red wine vinegar to spike everything up, a bunch of black pepper, and if you are so inclined, another T or 2 of melted butter or really good olive oil.  Throw another handful ofparsley in/on, and that's it.  

The friend I got it from told me it goes great with fine toast. I went out on a limb and make some buttermilk biscuits to go with it. Don't have a favorite buttermilk biscuits recipe? I gotcha covered. This recipe is from a friend of mine who is from Alabama, so you know you're in good hands.

2 1/4 cups self-rising flour (or 2 1/4 cups flour and 1 T baking powder)
1 t sugar
1/2 t salt
1/4 t baking soda
1/3 cup shortening (I used coconut oil)
1 c buttermilk (you can put 1 T of lemon juice in a measuring cup and then fill to 1 cup. Let stand 5 minutes to curdle)
Melted butter for the tops

1) Heat oven to 450.
2) Mix dry ingredients and cut in the fat. 
3) Add the buttermilk slowly, stirring as you go. The mixture should pull away from the sides and form a very wet dough.
4) Roll out on a floured surface. I don't even use a rolling pin...just kind of smoosh it down. You want it to be thick - about 3/4-1 inch thick. 
5) Cut into 3 inch rounds (I use a juice glass). 
6) Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes. Brush tops with butter and bake a few more minutes, until golden brown.

Yield: 7-9 biscuits

Monday, February 18, 2013

| better than canned |

I know this may come as a surprise to you, but I secretly love spaghettios. Well, I thought I did. But I bought a can about a year ago and almost gagged when I tried it. Not sure why...I loved those things as a kid. Luckily for me, one of my friends gave me a recipe for something she calls wagon wheel pasta that tastes a lot like the spaghettios of my memory. Here is my version:

12 ounce box of ditallini (or other tiny pasta)
1 can tomato paste
1/2 t garlic powder
1 T sugar

Combine tomato sauce with about two cans of water, garlic, and sugar. Bring to a boil. Add pasta and reduce to a simmer. Cook until pasta is done. Stir frequently or it will get stuck to the bottom. If it gets too dry, just add more water.

And while I am on the subject of recipes that are better than canned....can I get a holla for homemade FRUIT SALAD? My favorite thing right now is to cut up a bunch of fruit (pineapples, strawberries, kiwis, bananas, apples) and then add a healthy dose of lemon juice and some sugar and water. Then...the secret ingredient? A dash of cinnamon. So good.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

| shepherd's pie again |

I've been making vegetarian shepherd's pie for several years now. It's always a little different and has never been quite tasty enough for me to write down the recipe. Last week I made two - one for us and one I took over to a friend. She reported back to me that her preschooler ate two slices (my preschooler, on the other hand, never touched his, though he did enjoy helping make the pie). She asked me to write down the recipe, so here it is. I do think this one was finally worth writing down.

You've got basically four components happening here: mashed potatoes, lentil filling, cream of mushroom sauce, and pie crust. If you need to shortcut you can obviously use cream of mushroom condensed soup (I'd add a little milk) and ready-made pie crusts. But if you're going fully from scratch, here's everything you need to do.

  1. Boil water and peel potatoes. You're going to need a fair amount of mashed potatoes for the top of your pie. I'm going to assume you know how to make mashed potatoes. I'd recommend using about 2 pounds of raw potatoes.
  2. Heat your favorite cooking oil in a wide saucepan that has a lid (you'll need it later). Dice a small onion, a couple cloves of garlic, one green pepper, and about a cup of mushrooms. Saute them until they start to get soft.
  3. Add about 1/2 cup of dry, uncooked lentils to the saute. Keep it heating for about 5 minutes as the lentils get toasty.
  4. Add some seasonings - I like to use thyme, paprika, marjoram, poultry seasoning, oregano (maybe not all at once, but some combination of them). Also salt and pepper.
  5. Add about a cup of red wine. Doesn't have to be the good stuff. Stir and reduce the heat so the mixture just simmers. Cover it up.
  6. Keep an eye on your lentils as you make the pie crust. When the liquid gets all absorbed check to see if the lentils are done. If they are not, then add more wine (you didn't drink the rest of the bottle did you?) and keep coking.
  7. Pie crust. Use your favorite recipe. If you don't have one, I like this one and I use refined coconut oil in it   instead of shortening, which I never have on hand.
  8. Almost done! You need cream of mushroom soup. It's actually pretty darn easy to make. Chop up about 1/2 cup of mushrooms very fine. Heat 2 T of butter in a saucepan. Once it is melted, add the mushrooms. Once they are looking sautéed, add 2 T of flour and stir until the flour starts to get a little golden. Add 1 cup of milk and continue stirring over medium heat until it thickens. Turn it off.
  9. When your lentils are done and you've got your potatoes mashed, assemble the pie. Dump your mushroom soup into the lentil mixture (the wine should be all cooked off). Pour the lentil/soup mixture into the pie crust. Top with potatoes. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, or until the crust looks golden. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

| cooking up cleaners |

If you cook, you probably also have to clean. I've been making my own cleaning recipes for about a decade now and I thought it might be nice to share my three absolute favorites. These are the ones I use on a weekly basis. If I were better at cleaning, I'd probably use them on a daily basis, but, whatever.

All you need to make the recipes below is:
- water
- tea tree oil
- baking soda
- liquid dish soap
- olive oil
- lemon juice

Chances are good you already have most of these sitting around in your house!

For cleaning up countertops after cooking, light dusting on non-wood surfaces, and anything I'd usually use 409 on I use a spray bottle filled with water and about 10-20 drops of tea tree oil. Tea tree is a natural disinfectant and has a nice smell (at least I think so - if you end up hating it, use lavender instead. It also has antibacterial properties.). You can keep this on hand indefinitely.

If I get sick of the tea tree smell, I sometimes go back to a vinegar/water mix. I do about half and half. Same uses.

For my kitchen sink, stovetop and all my bathroom surfaces I make up a batch of soft scrub. This one you have to make each time you use it, but it takes all of 15 second to whip up. If I'm cleaning a bunch of stuff, I'll put about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of baking soda in a cup and then add about 1-2 tablespoons of liquid detergent. I stir it up well and then lather it on a sponge for cleaning. If I'm just cleaning the sink or the stovetop, I just sprinkle the baking soda directly on the wet surface, then squirt on soap and rub it all together with the sponge.

For everyday cleaning of our wood table, I usually just spray it down with the tea tree water (warning: don't use the vinegar spray on wood). Once a week or so, I do a more thorough cleaning with olive oil and lemon juice. I take an old prefold diaper (any soft cloth will work but diapers are awesome because they are so soft and absorbent in the middle) and pour on about a tablespoon of oil. Then I take my fancy schmancy bottle of "real lemon" lemon juice out of the fridge and pour on an equal amount of lemon juice. I rub it all over the table and then use a tea towel or other clean cloth to buff off any oily residue. The table looks and smells amazing. And that's saying a lot considering our table is a 12 year old JC Penney special that we bought for about $200. 

If you use real lemons you could also take the juiced peels and rub them all over your kitchen sink to help it smell yummy. Another good use for lemon peels is cleaning wood cutting boards. Put a healthy amount of coarse kosher salt on the cutting board, then scrub it all around with the lemon peel. Let it rest for a minute or two, then rise off.

So there they are. My favorite cleaning recipes. If you just used these three recipes above, you could, quite literally clean most of your house. And you could stop wasting your money on $7 bottles of stuff that pretend to be organic and natural. Speaking of which, if you can handle coarse language, you need to check this out because it's hilarious. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

| savory corn fritters |

I was bored with my kids' lunches and saw a recipe for corn pancakes which made me hungry. But I wasn't really excited about sweet pancakes, so I made up this recipe for some savory corn fritters. I am not a southerner, but I think they turned out pretty tasty. They taste like corn casserole in a more portable form. I think it's the coconut oil that made the recipe. I've had this stuff on hand for months now, using it for skin and hair, but just finally got brave enough to start cooking with it. Man, they aren't kidding when they say this stuff is good for frying. If you don't have coconut oil on hand, I'm sure any ol' fat will do ya - veggie oil, butter, bacon grease (but you didn't hear that from me).

3 eggs
1/2 c flour
1/2 c corn meal or dry polenta
2 T butter, melted
1/2 c buttermilk (or mix 1/2 T lemon juice with 1/2 c milk and let it rest for 5 minutes)
1/2 t salt
dash of cayenne pepper
1/4 t paprika
15 oz canned corn, drained
1/8 c bell peppers, minced finely

1) Whip up the eggs. Then add the flour, corn meal, and butter. Add the milk until you reach the consistency of pancake batter. Stir in the seasonings. Stir in the corn and peppers.
2) Melt about 2 T coconut oil in a skillet (electric griddles are great, of course). Use 1/4 c for each fritter and fry for about 3-5 minutes on each side.
Yield: 10 5-inch fritters