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Tuesday, November 29, 2011


This recipe is from A Family Christmas, a hodge-podge sort of book from Reader's Digest that has Christmas stories, crafts, menus, recipes, poems, essays and other Christmas-related oddments in it.  The cookie section is hands-down the best bunch of Christmas cookie recipes I know of.  Lots of easy to make, shippable cookies that just sing "Winter!"  This cookie is very suitable for shipping as well as for prepping ahead and freezing.  Freeze the cookie dough balls after they've been rolled in chopped filberts, and thaw them while you preheat the oven when you're ready to bake.

Filberts, also known as hazelnuts, are delicious little guys.  They have a sweet, unusually spicy sort of aroma in the oven.  They're a pain to crack out of the shells, but I was pleased and surprised to find chopped hazelnuts in the baking aisle at my grocery store.  And for about the same price as walnuts and pecans!  If you have food allergies to work around, you can use another type of nut.

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Tempeh Salad

Packed for eating on the run tonight.
After the richness of Thanksgiving, I need some vegetables that aren't covered in cheese sauce or deep-fried onions.  This recipe is just the ticket, plus it goes together fast and can be made entirely in advance for a chilled salad. 

Tempeh is a soy-and-grain based food product that has a sturdy texture (unlike tofu) and a robust flavor (also unlike tofu). I'm not going to say that when you eat it, you'll think you're eating a steak but it hits the same textural and flavor points that a lot of meat products do. In fact, as I was cooking this one day, I had a delivery person at the door who commented that dinner smelled really good and he thought he might make some sausage for dinner, too LOL

I like wilted salads, so I top the greens with the hot tempeh mixture.  I get a little crunch by leaving the bell pepper and celery in this recipe raw.  You could saute the pepper and celery as well, though and wait for the whole mixture to cool before adding to the salad for a different effect.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Lemon Sweet Rolls

That sounds contradictory, doesn't it?  The lemon filling on these sweet yeast rolls is tartly sweet, and the yeast roll is just delicious.  Sort of like a grown-up cinnamon bun.  The recipe is originally from the Argo Cornstarch recipe book and calls for a gooey sweet cream cheese frosting which I left off, but feel free to make it as instructed or use a store-bought cream cheese frosting.

This recipe requires some planning as the dough is a yeast-leavened dough.  However, you can do all the raising over a period of several hours in the refrigerator if that works better.  You can also make this up to the point of slicing the rolled dough and freeze the slices!!  Just arrange them in a pan to freeze, take it out at night and put it in the fridge to thaw/raise overnight, then bake in the morning.  Or make them totally ahead the night before for instant yummy breakfast in the morning.

This is also a handy way to use up a bit more of your Thanksgiving leftovers...1 pan of the rolls needs 1/2 cup of spuds.  Just be sure to use pretty plain cream-and-butter mashed potatoes (or bake a medium potato in the microwave to mash) rather than a heavily herbed or garlicked version.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dim Sum

If you've ever had an appetizer and said "I could make a meal of that", this is the post for you!  We've got names for this concept from a variety of culinary cultures...Spanish tapas, Italian antipasti, Chinese dim sum...making a meal of several small plates of varying foods. 

These recipes are adapted from the Frugal Gourmet's Three Ancient Cuisines.  In spite of being a meal composed of multiple attention-needing dishes (I don't usually plan to give significant attention to more than 1 dish in a meal), it came together pretty quickly and with a lot fewer swear words than I expected.

Steamer basket workaround
One of the beauties of dim sum is how easily the recipes lend themselves to prepping or making ahead.  I prepped all the sauces the night before (chopped/measured/combined ingredients), made the dumpling dough the night before, formed the dumplings right before dinner (but could have prepped them earlier if the dough was ready) and was able to cook everything in 15 inattentive minutes at the last minute.  All these dishes could have been prepped and frozen ahead as well, or fully cooked ahead and reheated in a steamer.

Speaking of steamers, the stacked bamboo steamer is apparently a staple in a Chinese kitchen.  I don't have one.  I do have a variety of metal steaming baskets, cooling racks, and ceramic ramekins that I assembled into a 3-tier arrangement inside of a large stock pot.  Work with what you've got!

The squid/calamari recipe originally calls for plain, cleaned squid to be stirfried with aromatics and sauce.  My grocery store only had pre-breaded calamari, so I decided to oven-bake the calamari and toss it with the sauce which I prepared using the microwave. 

Calamari, dumplings and meatballs
The dumpling filling calls for using leftover Chinese BBQ pork and a bit of napa cabbage, but you could use any combination of cooked meat and vegetable you want (or go totally vegetarian and skip the meat).  If you've got a small serving of leftover steamed veg of any type, I'd use that rather than cooking additional vegetables for the filling.  Also, if you have a premade stirfry sauce, you can use about 3 tbsp of that rather than measuring half-teaspoons of all the ingredients listed below.  Just add a bit of cornstarch if necessary to thicken the mixture.  Again, I made use of the microwave to deal with what is really a small bit of filling.

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Lower Carb Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie

I say "lower" carb b/c pumpkin naturally has a LOT of sugar, so it's hardly a sugar-free recipe.  But in making a couple of simple and tasty swaps, I got the total number of grams of carb from about 50g per slice to 14g per slice.

No deep dish pie plate?
Use a cake pan!
I haven't done anything really extraordinary here...just started with this delicious recipe from King Arthur Flour, made my State Fair Show-worthy nut crust and subbed in Splenda for sugar.  I did however learn a few interesting things in paying close attention to my ingredients. 

First of all, nuts are not carb-free.  They're not like double chocolate cake or anything, but there's enough there to pay attention to.  Pecans and walnuts contain about 3 or 4g of carb per 1/4 cup serving and almonds have twice that much, so I chose pecans for this pie. 

Also, if you get lower fat dairy products (like fat-free evaporated milk and 1/3 less fat cream cheese), they tend to have slighter higher amounts of carb than their full fat counterparts...no extra sugar is added to these products but the part of the milk they are made from naturally contains more sugar.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Chinese BBQ Pork


My kids are sick and therefore on a hunger strike against snot, but they demolished this pork (while leaving everything else on their plates untouched).  You can make this in advance to serve cold or reheat or just plan to use it in something else (recipe for THAT to come!)

This is adapted from the Frugal Gourmet (who else?) and his recommended cooking set-up is to put the marinated meat directly on your oven racks with a water-filled drip tray underneath.  My oven racks aren't clean enough for that ::blush:: and really, who wants to scrub honey-marinated pork bits off your whole flapping oven rack?  I devised a good work-around in using a cooling rack positioned over a 13x9 pan filled with water placed on a baking tray for transportability.

If you don't have red miso or black bean sauce on hand, you can sub in Marmite or just leave this out.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chicken Biscuits

What doesn't taste better in a biscuit, I ask you?  This is a fabulous upcycle recipe for chicken (or turkey) leftovers.  You can tweak it to suit your palate...add Italian seasoning if you want a Mediterranean flavor, taco seasoning for Mexican, Cajun seasoning for a little Creole flavor, or leave it pretty plain with just salt and pepper.  Any type of cheese will do, though I prefer a cheese in the "melting" family...mozzarella, provolone, gruyere, fontina....rather than the "shape-retaining" family...goat, cheddar, jack, swiss.

You don't want the filling to be soupy, so be sure to drain canned tomatoes well or squish the seedy innards out of fresh tomatoes.  I use dry minced onion to help absorb any extra liquid from the tomatoes, though you can choose to use a bit of fresh onion instead. 

I usually use refrigerated "whomp" biscuits (as the Sweet Potato Queen calls them, cuz you "whomp" them on your kitchen counter to open the tube) for this recipe.  Nota bene: you'll want to get "regular" size biscuits, not "jumbo" biscuits (I screw up so you don't have to!)  When I do make homemade biscuits though, I use a recipe from a fundraiser-type cookbook called All Maine Cooking.  It is *the* best biscuit recipe I've made...not too heavy, not too wet, not too salty, not too sweet, and easy to put together and roll out.  I give the recipe halved as you'll only need half to go with the Chicken Biscuit recipe.

Nerd Note of the Day...did you know cream of tartar is a by-product of winemaking?  Tartaric acid (which is what CoT is) comes from the leftover grape bits.  You could use about 3 tsp of baking powder instead of the baking soda and cream of tartar if you don't keep cream of tartar on hand, though there are other uses for it like stabilizing whipped egg whites and making your own playdoh.
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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Saffron Chili

Dratnabbit, I made this chili the other night and forgot to take any pictures!  It *looks* like regular ol' chili, so you're really not missing much in the visual aid department, but what really sets it apart is the flavor and aroma that the saffron brings and we don't have smell-o-blog technology any way.

This is an adaptation of another Frugal Gourmet recipe.  I halve the recipe b/c I'm only feeding a small army, not a huge one, and do a lot of the steps differently to keep from making every single pot I own dirty. 

The recipe calls for 2 spendy ingredients...shallots and saffron.  They really are worth it here.  If you don't want to splurge on both, substitute red onion for the shallots, but you must, must, must have saffron for this recipe to be anything but plain ol' chili.  A small pinch goes a long way and really does shine through.  Other ideas for using saffron include: Saffron cornbread, Scalloped Potatoes and Saffron Griddlecakes. 

For prep-ahead/make-ahead instructions...to prep ahead, chop the shallots/onion and garlic and combine.  Stir saffron into broth.  Measure out spices.  That's about all you need to do.  You can ofc make this entirely ahead to reheat (in a crockpot, perhaps) or freeze.  I served this chili same-day and froze the leftovers for another meal of chili stroganoff (2 cups chili melted with 8 oz. cream cheese and served with bread and veggies for dipping). 

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Talking Turkey

It's November which means Holiday Cooking Season is officially open!  If I'm cooking, I start planning my menus weeks in advance.  If I'm making the whole meal, I also break each recipe into steps, figure out which ones I can do in advance and how far in advance, and draw up a schedule to save myself the grief of discovering that I need to do 8 different intensive cooking tasks at once.  Making Thanksgiving (or Christmas or New Year's or Easter) dinner in a step a day makes life so much easier on the holiday itself!

I don't generally subscribe to notions of "tradition" and "convention" and "because we always do it this way" LOL  I mean, I've done that for holiday meals b/c my husband prefers it when I don't muck around with his favorite dishes, but truthfully, it kills a little bit of my soul not to try at least one thing new.

I have come to a point though where I've found a few things that work really well and so I gravitate to those recipes.  I don't do exactly the same thing every year, but I've got a rotation of less than half a dozen Thanksgiving main dish recipes now.  My favorite preparations are either brining the turkey or using some kind of butter-herb rub under the skin.  Brining gives a very moist turkey with crispy skin after roasting, while the sub-q butter gives the turkey an unmatched flavor although it sacrifices the crispy skin.

Either way, you want to make some turkey stock in advance for gravy.  I have occasionally seen boxed turkey stock at the store, if you wanted to buy it rather than make it.  No, homemade gravy is not hard (whereas canned gravy is yucky).  The turkey needs to cool before you whack into it anyway, so there's plenty of time for gravy-making.  If you make stuffing, you can also use the turkey stock for the stuffing.  Btw, I do not stuff my turkey, partly b/c of the health recommendations against doing so and partly b/c if I make stuffing, I want those crunchy, crispy bits that only come from being baked next to rather than inside of a turkey.

A quick thought about thawing...the standard line is that you want to give the bird 24 hours in the fridge for every 5 lbs, so a 15 lb. turkey should thaw in 3 days, etc.  I find that this never is sufficient to thaw that block of ice in the cavity, the one you'll have to chisel the giblet package out of if you don't have a totally thawed turkey.  So I calculate 1 day per 5 lbs. plus an extra day for the giblets.  And if you plan to brine, don't forget to set your thawed-by target 24 hours prior to actual cooking (I screw up so you don't have to).

First things first, stock.  Make some the weekend before Thanksgiving (or earlier) and freeze it.  Use the meat from the wings/drumsticks in tacos, soup, pot pie, salad, sandwiches...you know, any of the Thanksgiving leftover recipes.

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Thanksgiving leftovers

I've gotten pretty darn good at handling Thanksgiving leftovers without resorting to five straight days of turkey sandwiches.  The trick is to shop ahead for a few extra ingredients to make the following recipes at the same time you're shopping for your holiday meal.  And it's not just the turkey that needs using up, so I have a couple of leftover side dish recipes as well. 

In giving shop ahead lists, I assume you'll have pantry and refrigerator basics on hand already...spices, onions, garlic, butter, oil, eggs, and basic baking ingredients.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Kitchen Math

I am so geeked. 

I have a recipe for a timballo (a pasta-filled casserole entirely encased in a layer of meatloaf) that I want to make as 8 small, pot-pie-sized invidual portions instead of as a giant 8-serving behemoth. 

No problem, you might think, just divide the pasta and meatloaf equally among enough small pans to use up all the ingredients.  But you would be wrong.  The original recipe timballo is baked in a springform pan, with meatloaf mix pressed into the bottom of the pan, up the sides of the pan and over the top of the casserole, forming a shell around the entire casserole.  When you divide the mixture among smaller pans, you keep the same amount of pasta filling but wind up with a lot more "shell" surface to deal with.

In fact, according to my calculations the ratio of shell surface area to pasta volume is 1.4:1 for pot pies and only 1.1:1 for the springform pan.  So the problem for this recipe is in figuring out by how much to increase the meatloaf part of the recipe to fully cover the smaller pans while simply dividing the pasta part of the recipe. 

The trickiest part was figuring the volume of the slope-sided pot pie pans.  I decided to conceptualize them as a slice of a cone.  I used bamboo skewers taped to the side of the inverted pan to create the "invisible" portion of the cone and measure its height.  I calculated the volume of the full cone and the volume of only the "invisible" part (using the top of the inverted pan, ergo the bottom) as the base of the "invisible" cone and subtracted the "invisible" volume from the full volume to find the volume of the slice remaining. 

It's not exactly A Beautiful Mind, but I'm so excited to have such a tangible example of math in action.  And so for any math geeks out there who want to play along, here is what I did:

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Healthy Sweet Potato Pie

I am told this pie was delicious, but alas, I didn't get to try any before my 1.5yo penetrated the kitchen countertop forcefield and pulled the cake dome down, ruining both the cake dome and pie.

Before Destructo Toddler

The recipe came in a mailer about women's health or heart health or something like that from a local hospital (who would be sending you recipes chock full o' fat and calories if they were really serious about drumming up business).  It includes several Miracles of Modern Chemistry.  I've retained one or two calorie/carb-reducing elements and reverted the remainder to "real food" which is IMHO where "healthy" really lives.

After Destructo Toddler
Because there are no eggs in the recipe, it can be stored at room temperature for a few days rather than in the fridge.  You can also freeze it for future service, and perhaps even serve it frozen in an ice-cream-cake sort of way (didn't get to try that one, but I had planned to).

If you happen to bake a lot of pies, these are very nice for weighting a prebaked pie shell to prevent bubbles in the crust.  I used dry beans for a number of years, but the ceramic beads do a better job.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Garlic Artichoke Pasta

I <heart> artichokes.  They're supposedly cancer-fighting and they're exotic and they're amazing with butter.  That's the first thing that made me want to try this recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Better Than Mom's Slow Cooker Recipes book.  The second thing was that this is a recipe that is made practically entirely from pantry goods without being one of those can-of-cream-of-death-soup type of recipes.  You can buy all the ingredients you need for this ahead and keep them on-hand as a pantry meal kit.  You can also prep the crockpot mixture ahead to fridge or freeze.

Until I had a toddler, we never had dairy beverages in the fridge routinely.  I had to buy milk or cream or half-and-half specifically for a recipe that called for it.  These days, I use whole milk for all recipes calling for cream or half-and-half because it is what we have in the fridge.  So use whatever you happen to  have here (or use canned evaporated milk, if you are like pre-toddler, dairy-drink-less me) if you throw this recipe together out of "ingredients on hand".  If you're planning to make a meal kit for this recipe, you can freeze an appropriate amount of milk or cream, rely on having some in the fridge on Dinner Day or buy canned evap milk for the "pantry kit". 

Comparatively, cream and half and half will be the highest in calories and fat, then evaporated milk and regular milk.  If you get non-fat evap milk, you'll get the best of both worlds...the lighter caloric/fat profile of milk with the rich mouthfeel of cream.

So a meal kit for this recipe will look like this: canned tomatoes, canned artichokes, box of pasta and can of evap milk (if using) labelled and stored in the pantry with garlic+dry herbs and milk/cream (if using) on hand or frozen in ziptop bags.  OR everything except milk mixed together and frozen with pasta/evap milk in the pantry.

The one gripe I have about this recipe is that it's a crockpot recipe that still requires significant cooking right before dinner.  The joy of the crockpot is that you don't have to cook at dinnertime, right?  Boiling pasta isn't hard, but getting the water up to a boil takes time...more time than I'm willing to spend to "finish" a crockpot meal. 

The solution is to cook the pasta almost fully in advance, toss it with a bit of oil or butter to keep it from sticking, fridge it and stir it into the crockpot at the end to warm up and finish cooking through.  Or you can boil the pasta at the last minute, whatever works with your schedule.  Just please don't rinse the pasta...rinsing washes away starch which will prevent the pasta from sticking to itself but then it also won't stick to the sauce.  Besides, the starch is where the flavor lives (yes, pasta does have a flavor of its own) so rinsing washes away flavor, too.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Easy-Easier-Easiest: Brussel Sprouts

I know brussel sprouts are not everyone's favorite vegetable.  But they do come into season in the fall, and I've got three recipes that will make you see these mini-cabbages in a new light.

Roasting, as always, is one of my favorite prep techniques.  Put these in the oven while roasting a chicken or thick-cut pork chops for a super-easy, attention-free side dish.  Roasting radically changes vegetables, so if you think you don't like brussel sprouts, do try these.  The mustard-parm sprouts are conventional-but-stepped-up and work well with stove-top main dishes.  And I promise that you've never brussel sprouts like you'll have if you make slaw.  If you want, you can let the dressingn cool a bit before adding it to the veggies for a crispier slaw.
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Pumpkin Soup and Pumpkin Muffins

Oh look!  There I am, reflected upside down, in the spoon!
I was reading a newspaper article recently that claimed Halloween was the only "major" American holiday that didn't have a signature food or meal associated with it...Thanksgiving has turkey, Mother's Day has brunch, St. Patrick's Day has green beer, the list just goes on LOL

That statement rang true at first, but as I thought more about it, I realized Halloween does have a signature food...the pumpkin!  I think most of us tend to think of pumpkins as edible only in pie form, but they're part of the winter squash family and as such, are versatile menu players. 

Peeling a fresh whole pumpkin for a recipe is an undertaking, and I prefer when possible to use canned puree (not pumpkin pie filling which is actual pumpkin plus a bunch of other stuff).  The following recipe for soup (which I made for our pre-trick-or-treating repast) only calls for 1/2 a can, so I made muffins with the remaining puree...less waste = less cost = less aggravation.  I am brilliant ;)

The soup recipe is from the Frugal Gourmet Cooks American.  You can make this soup up to the point of adding the scallops and milk and fridge or freeze it (be sure to include scallops and milk as part of the freezer kit to finish the soup).  Just reheat the soup base to a simmer, add the milk and scallops and simmer 5 minutes to finish.  Or if you don't have front-end time to make the soup in its entirety, prep and group the ingredients for next-day or same-day cooking: onion/celery/garlic/ginger in one bowl, flour/spices in another, stock/Worcestershire/Tabasco in a bowl, pumpkin/squash cubes in yet another and scallops/milk saved for last. 

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