Friday, November 6, 2009

Pureed Vegetable Soup

I have been experimenting with rice milk this week and found out that I like it a lot. It cooks well, goes good with cereal, and is easily digestible. One of my favorite kinds of soups to make is a pureed veggie soup. I had some regular potatoes, onions, carrots, broccoli, garlic, and pureed pumpkin on hand, and bought a sweet potato at the store. Or what the store says was a sweet potato. Those are always being mixed up with yams. Whichever it really was, it was the lighter colored one, almost the same shade as the potatoes. Peel what you want, chop it up, toss it in a pot. Cover it with liquid of some sort. Usually I use chicken stock but this time I used vegetable to make it truly vegan. Salt and pepper. Cover the pot and cook till all the veggies are soft. Then use a hand-held blender in the pot to puree all the veggies. Add rice milk, soy milk, or dairy milk to thin it out to desired consistency, then put it back on the heat for a while. I added some curry powder and lemon juice to this batch and quite liked the flavor. You can add cheese to it and mix, which is also rather tasty, but I left it out this time. It was still a little sweet for my tastes, but the curry mixed well with it. This is great comfort food.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Vegetable Chicken Cobbler

Turned out to be mostly broccoli cobbler. Smelly broccoli cobbler...The biscuits, however, were amazing. This made up recipe definitely has potential, it just needs different veggies. Already cooked chicken, homemade chicken gravy, potatoes I think, carrots, onions, mushrooms, maybe some zucchini, and then the biscuits on top. Like a potpie but with a biscuit topping instead of a pie dough topping. Great time-saving technique: prep the veggies a day ahead and it'll save a lot of time when you have to do everything else at the same time.

Potatoes au Gratin

I keep trying new au gratin recipes because I love the dish, but I grew up on the Betty Crocker kind, so I have to retrain my palate to like the homemade stuff. But the best kind have all sorts of cream and things I can't eat, so I tend to go with the simpler kinds with just milk and cheese. Only problem is, it all tastes the same. My sister didn't like the recipe, and I thought it was ok, but not fantastic. The cheese sauce would make an amazing macaroni and cheese, I think.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cold, Catching up, Part Two

Last weekend I did some cooking and baking as well. We watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and I had a recipe for Treacle Tarts, just like the books. Only problem? It turned out to be Treacle Scones, and they were rock hard. It might be the 4 year old molasses I used, or maybe it was over-mixed, but either way, but either way, Hagrid would have been proud...Needless to say, it was not a keeper recipe.

The next night was a traditional roast chicken dinner, with the works. Minus the vegetables. Because I forgot to make them. I had them, I just didn't remember I did...Everything turned out great. We had enough for leftovers, and made chicken stock and froze some of the meat for later use. I still have gravy and mashed potatoes if I want them later on. All around, delicious dinner!

Cold, Catching up, Part One

So I've been dealing with a cold over the last couple weeks and haven't had much time and energy for cooking. I did manage a few things, however. First up was a quick chicken marsala. It was ok, I didn't have quite enough marsala, and it didn't have enough liquid to suit my taste, but it was easy to make. I have started using Foster Farms chicken which doesn't inject their poultry products with salt water which means that when you cook it, you dont end up with a watery mess that won't brown up. If you ever end up trying to saute chicken and end up mostly boiling it because it's so watery, you've been had...They charge more for the weight of the salt water they inject too. I'd rather pay more but get a better product.

Next up was homemade pork stew and whole wheat drop biscuits. I miss my mom's beef stew, and since I gave up red meat, I found that pork, while a very different meat, still makes a wonderful stew. It cooks much more quickly than beef as well. I use chicken broth as the liquid base and thicken it with cornstarch. Veggies I enjoy in it: mushrooms, fresh green beans, carrots, onions, Yukon Gold potatoes--with the skins still on.

The biscuits were easy to make and I think they turned out pretty well. If I make them again, I would take the extra time to roll them out properly, though, because of the whole wheat making it pretty crispy on the outside when you do a drop biscuit. There's a lot more rough surfaces when you make it that way.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pie Time

All weekend long I was going to make the pineapple pie recipe I had. Safeway had pineapples on sale for $2 so I bought one and thought it was the perfect excuse to do it. And as usual I didn't read the whole recipe through before I was going to do it and saw that I had forgotten to buy the tapioca I needed. My sister bought some for me later on Sunday but by then it was too late to make it. In a fit of insanity I decided that yesterday, after a long Monday at work with a headcold, was the appropriate time to make a pineapple pie. Again after reading the recipe just before making it I see that the dough needs to be refrigerated for 3 hours before baking. I got the dough ready a little before 6pm. It's gonna be a long night...

At 8 I find out my show isn't going to start till 8:30 so I decide to go ahead and make the pie anyway, refrigeration be damned. The filling cooks in a double boiler and ends up looking like those store-bought fruit pies with the jelly-ish like filling. The dough is so soft it pretty much disintegrates when I try to pick it up and put it in the pie pan. With the filling inside and the now-melting top layer of dough I somehow manage to form it into some semblence of a pie. Again, it's a good idea when making pie, to put it on a cookie sheet to catch all the goop that dribbles out of it. I still managed to get a bunch on the bottom of the oven, though.

The pie turned out fine. The crust is lovely actually, not so much to look at, but to eat. The's a pie...not sure it was worth all the work, but it was fun to attempt. And sometimes that's all that really matters. I still have a long way to go with pie dough, but I am determined to get it right.

Eggplant-tastic Ravioli

I posted the recipe on my Facebook page so I won't bother putting it up here. This was a really great recipe. It's one of those fun recipes that has a lot of steps but they're pretty easy, but you feel like you're actually making something from start to finish. Ravioli is something I've always wanted to make, and now I feel like I've pretty much made it. I did in the sense that I assembled all of the items and turned it into ravioli and cooked it, etc., but I feel that I didn't totally do it because I didn't make the pasta myself. I used wonton wrappers which are a good substitute, but someday I must make the pasta too...

The tomato sauce I made was probably the best I've ever had and it was just heirloom tomato, garlic, basil, and olive oil all heated through till the tomatoes started to break down. Add a little water from the pasta and it thins out to just the right consistency. It was heavenly! I am now a firm believer in heirloom tomatoes.

I froze the leftover ravioli and I hope they'll cook normally when I try it again sometime. *Fingers crossed*

Next Recipe Test for Bridal Shower

Pumpkin streusel coffeecake. Fail. Sigh. I was going to test a different recipe and changed my mind at the last minute because I don't have the proper pan to bake it in and thought that might actually matter. So I whipped out this recipe from my files and made it instead. The streusel and pecans sunk into the batter and the bottom of the cake was dry and crispy, not what I want in a coffeecake. And the flavor was just blah. Oh yeah, I did get canned pumpkin. My parents bought a 7lb can of it from Cash and Carry. We freeze the leftovers and are set for the rest of the year pretty much! Yay for canned pumpkin! Boo for failed recipe. I'll try to find more to test, but I'm leaning towards muffins now. We'll see what my cousin says...

Getting Caught Up: Oven-Fried Chicken

Saturday night I decided to actually make food instead of buy out. I had purchased some fresh chicken earlier that day and thought it would make sense to use it. I found an easy recipe for oven-fried chicken that you marinate in yogurt and then dip in seasoned breadcrumbs. I made a smart choice to drizzle a little bit of oil over the tops before putting in the oven. It really helped make it crisp. The only problem was the bottom was a bit soggy. Next time I'd make it on a cooling rack in a pan so that the air hits it on all sides. This was definitely worth keeping the recipe. Delicious with a baked potato, no recipe needed for that!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weekend Baking

I managed to test another recipe for my cousin. Austrian Apple Twists. And I tried the best I could to find canned pumpkin to test her other recipe, and am saddened and dismayed to find out that there's a national canned pumpkin shortage.

The Apple Twists were really easy to make and really delicious. I thought they'd be more difficult than it turned out to be. My cousin tasted them and gave them her official approval, which is nice to have.

And today I used some raspberries and the tart pan I bought yesterday to make a Raspberry Tart. The dough was one that you pre-bake and I think I did it for too long because by the time it was done with the filling in it it was rock hard and burnt, but just the side crust. The bottom was fine. It was a delicious tart, with the exception of the crust. It was really buttery, and it's good that I cooked it on a sheet pan because a lot of butter leaked out of the crust while it all baked. It was super easy to make too.

The Horror...the horror...

Yesterday my sister and I got a crash course in dealing with fruit flies. Now, normally if we have one or two flying around the place, I don't really mind. They just disappear a day later and you move on with life. Yesterday, was different. Yesterday was an infestation. Yesterday ended up with my sister and I fleeing from the apartment, buying all new garbage cans and a new cutting board. Because really, no amount of soap and bleach wipes will wash away the memory of what I saw on my cutting board. That horror will stay with me forever. You know in the movie The Birds, that scene where they come out of the house and the birds are all over the yard and the roof and the phone lines and they have to tiptoe to the car to escape? That's what our kitchen looked like yesterday. But I learned something. I learned that Lysol, if used heavily enough, will kill fruit flies. Especially if they are trapped inside a plastic bag first before said Lysol is administered. I learned that you can trap fruit flies using a bowl, fruit, and plastic wrap with small holes in it.

We never learned where the source of the fruit flies was, but it has been a "scared straight" experience for us. Never again will food be left out. Never again will unrinsed dishes be left out. Never again will I not have a can of Lysol on hand for emergencies such as that one. I also learned something about myself. In the midst of horror, I can remain calm. It's sort of comforting to know this about myself.

Dinners this week

I had last week off, which was wonderful, and some of the days it was cool enough to use the oven. I made a delicious pork roast dinner, complete with mashed potatoes and homemade gravy. My mom always made the best pork roast, but she used cream of mushroom soup, which, while delicious, is not in the category of dairy-friendly foods I can eat. So I had to figure out a way to make gravy that doesn't have dairy in it. I discovered chicken broth works great as a base. Add some of the drippings from the roast for flavor, thicken with cornstarch and voila! Gravy!

And tonight I made baked penne pasta with tomato sauce, veggies, cheese, and some Italian sausage. I used whole grain pasta, which is very nice, and far healthier for you than the regular kind. It was my first time making it and I had a recipe but I tweaked it quite a bit. The recipe said it made 4 servings, but it made 8 big servings, so I don't know how they possibly thought anybody could eat such a huge serving.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fizzy Lifting Drink

I volunteered to do some baking for my cousin's upcoming bridal shower, which involves testing the recipes first. Since it was too hot to cook this weekend, I decided to try out the cold beverage first. Fizzy Lemonade-Cranberry Punch is the name. Her request was to use cran-raspberry juice instead of straight-up cranberry juice. It turned out really tasty and really pretty. Using a funnel helped get everything into the container more easily with less spills. We'll definitely be serving it at the bridal shower.

Fizzy Lemonade-Cranberry Punch
1qt. cranberry-juice cocktail
1 container (6oz.) frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1 liter seltzer or club soda, chilled
1 small orange, cut into 1/4"-thick slices, then each slice cut in half
Ice cubes, optional

In large pitcher, stir together cranberry-juice cocktail and undiluted lemonade concentrate until blended. Then, stir in seltzer, and ice cubes if desired. Garnish with orange pieces. Serve immediately. Makes about 12 servings.

Rice Krispy Treats

It was too hot to use the oven this weekend, so I made something on the stovetop from my childhood. Until I was in my late teens, this is the recipe I knew as Rice Krispy Treats. I remember seeing the traditional ones for the first time and thinking something was horribly wrong with them...I mean, they're all good and fine too, but I like these the very best. I've experimented with it in the past, and I like the organic brown rice krispies you can find in some stores, as well as the natural-style unsweetened peanut butter. Dark chocolate instead of semi-sweet is always a wonderful choice. Some time I want to try using agave nectar instead of the corn syrup, but I have to figure out the proportions first. Oh, also, make sure to wash the pan and spoon immediately when finished because it will harden to cement otherwise. Here's the recipe:

Chocolate Rice Krispy Treats
1 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup peanut butter
6 cups rice krispies
12 oz. chocolate chips

Cook corn syrup and sugar, stirring until boiling, in a large saucepan. Remove from heat and add peanut butter until well combined, then add the rice krispies. Press into a greased 9"x13" pan. Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler and spread on top.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Weekend Review

I did far more baking than I normally do, except for the holiday season. But this is really the kick-off of cooking/baking time of the year.

I tried out three new recipes. Two successes, one failure. At least $20 went into buying ingredients. Half a bag of flour gone. At least seven towels in the laundry. Two loads of dishes, and three bags of garbage created.

I am exhausted. Maybe not the best way to go into the week, but it was fun. If only I could figure out a way to cook and write simultaneously...

Pizza Crust

Last night I tried making homemade pizza dough for the first time. It's something I've always wanted to make, but I've always been rather intimidated by yeast breads, so I tend to put off trying it.

The recipe I chose had cornmeal and whole wheat flour mixed in with the white flour, and I think it definitely added to the texture. It called for fine cornmeal, and all I found was regular, so it might have been slightly less grainy if I'd had the right kind.

I tried one for dinner last night, and one for lunch today. The one last night was ok, but the one today was a lot better, texture-wise. I think letting it sit, covered, overnight might have been good for it. It continued to rise in the fridge, so maybe that's what made it better.

As for toppings, I tried turkey pepperoni last night for the first time, and I found it too chewy, so I probably won't eat it again. But flavor-wise, it's very similar to traditional pepperoni. I used Canadian bacon today, which is always a winner. I also added an extra layer of cheese on top today and more cheese is always better!

I think I'll keep this recipe, I'd definitely make it again. I have other recipes to test too, some other time.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Pistachio Baklava and Pie Taste Test

So my family thinks the pie turned out great, but I couldn't even taste any cheese flavor in the crust, which to my palate, tasted dry, hard, and flavorless. The apple filling was a good, standard apple pie filling, but I won't be keeping the recipe. I only keep the recipe if I ever plan on making it again. I have other cheddar apple pie recipes I can try. Hopefully one of them will work.

The next recipe I made this morning was Chocolate Pistachio Baklava. This was a fun one to make, but it took a lot of work too. I started early this morning shelling a bag of pistachios and listening to A Very Potter Musical at my desk, always fun. When that was done, I took one of the packets of phyllo dough out of the freezer to thaw, assuming I'd use the entire thing. I was wrong. I only needed 4 sheets of dough. So I now will be eating something with phyllo dough in it this week.

My sister was up by the time I got started, and it's a good thing too, because this definitely took two sets of hands to prepare. I didn't have a second brush for the honey sauce I had to put on each layer after the butter, but I improvised and used a pie server as a trowel, which worked perfectly.

I didn't have the parchment paper for the baking sheets like they said to use, so I just greased the pans instead. I think I need to invest the money and get some parchment paper, because it would have saved a lot of time cleaning up afterwards. Everything melted out of the baklava and onto the pans, but it was pliable enough that I could just cut around it and lift them out of the pan. I spread some melted chocolate over each piece and stacked them up three high. Then we listened to some more A Very Potter Musical while the baklava baked in the oven and rain poured outside.

I had made a simple syrup mixture to pour over the baklava, but I forgot to put it on. It turns out it really didn't need it. I tested another piece with it later and it just felt like cold, wet liquid dripping off the baklava. The chocolate hardens and keeps it from absorbing into it, so I wouldn't make the simple syrup again. But I would make the baklava again. It was soooo delicious! And it looked really fancy on the serving plate. This is definitely a keeper recipe.

I am also slowly being converted over to unsalted butter. I used it for the baklava and it was really wonderful. Because I had to use salted pistachios, I think salted butter would have been too much. I'm glad I bought unsalted.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Pie Crust, A Noble First Attempt

The weather here is finally changing, making it easier to start cooking and baking again. I jumped right in with a two-recipe card recipe: Cheddar-Crust Vermont Apple Pie. I've had this recipe for years, but have been afraid to try it because of the cheddar factor. But I've kept it all this time because it intrigues me as well.

I should have known things might not go perfectly when I bought 3 apples instead of 6 like the recipe called for. But it clearly said 3/4 lb, and I weighed them...It turns out that my writing sucks and it was actually 3 1/4lb of apples...So I had to take a second trip to the store to get the rest. And buy shortening which I had thought we'd had, but apparently didn't.

It was a quick trip from the store, and I quickly wipe down all my counters before starting to set out stuff. Now I'm really getting into it. I got my mis en place, aka, my stuff all ready to start working, and I start measuring out ingredients. 2 1/2 cups flour into the bowl for the dough. Everything looks great, except it's a bit dry. Actually it's very dry. But I thought it might be the weather or something and wrapped it up, threw it in the fridge, and hoped for the best.

Now for the apples. Everything's going just fine for these, until I come to the part where I add the rest of the ingredients. "Add the last 1/4 cup of flour"...Except that I didn't have an extra 1/4 cup of flour, I'd put all of it in the dough. That would explain the dryness...Sigh...I did my best with the rolling and kneading and adding extra water, but it's tough-going and really crumbly. I manage to get it all together into some semblance of a pie, and cut the slits in it to let the steam escape.

I set the pie pan on a big baking sheet to catch any juices, and it's a good thing I did, because it oozed at least a half cup of sugary juice. Then I proceeded to wash up the worst of the dirty dishes, wipe down the counters, and shake out the flour from the towel I used to cover the counter for rolling the dough. From start to finish, this took me two episodes of NCIS to watch, so I'd estimate about 1.5 hours of prepping, assembling, and cleaning.

It looked good when I took it out, but it's too late and the pie is still too hot to taste. That'll happen tomorrow. My feet were sore by the time I was finished, but it was fun to make. And that's the most important thing, right?