Saturday, January 30, 2010

Pumpkin Bread

I made pumpkin bread last weekend, tossed some plastic wrap over the loaf pan, and it stayed moist and delicious until I finished eating it on Thursday! It's best when warm (or toasted) in thick slices with butter. I highly recommend this recipe, which is another one from Joy of Cooking:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together:
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves

In a large bowl, beat until light and fluffy:
1 1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup shortening
2 eggs

Add and beat in:
1 cup canned pumpkin

Now add the sifted dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with:
1/3 cup water or milk (I used milk)
1/2 tsp vanilla

(I found that particular section of instruction to be confusing. Just mix into the sugar/shortening/eggs combination 1/3 of the dry, 1/3 of the wet, 1/3 of the dry, etc etc until you have it all blended together).

Do not overbeat between each addition. Fold in (optional, I didn't do this part) :
1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts
1/3 cup raisins or chopped dates

Pour batter into a greased pan and bake about 1 hour or until a toothpick, inserted into the bread, comes out dry.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ghormeh Sabzi - my favorite Persian dish!

My aunt and uncle live in Montreal and my childhood long weekends and breaks from school were spent visiting them. I always looked forward to seeing them, going into the city, and eating the delicious food they always made. My aunt is Iranian (and a fantastic cook) and makes all sorts of delicious foods that I have no idea even where to start if I were to want to make them, but there is one in particular that I just absolutely love. Ghormeh Sabzi. It's a green stew that you can make with chicken, beef, lamb, whatever meat you wish, or even vegetarian, plus greens, obviously, and kidney beans. I beg for her to make it everytime I visit, but since I am barely on the east coast these days, I haven't had it for years, so I decided it was time I try making it myself. I found a recipe online and had her edit it to be more like hers, and tried it out. The result? A grand success! She has always served it with basmati rice cooked with saffron, and with tahdig, which is a crusty layer that forms on the edge of the rice if you do it right. I also made this (it's a favorite of mine), and so I'll include recipes for both.

Ghormeh Sabzi
Serves 4

Ingredients: 1 bunch parsley, 2/3 bunch cilantro, 4-5 scallions, 1 medium onion, olive oil, 2 t turmeric, 1 t cumin seeds, salt & pepper to taste, 1.5-2 lbs chicken (or desired meat), lime juice, 1 lime, 1 can kidney beans (unsalted if possible).

Directions: Rinse, dry and finely chop all greens. When you think they are chopped enough, chop them for a few more minutes, then you'll be good. :) Only use the green part of the scallions, save the tips for another recipe. Alternatively, you can use all of the scallion but use only about half of an onion. Put all of the greens together in a bowl and put to the side. Chop the onion finely and add to a saute pan with 2 T of oil, cook over medium heat for a few minutes. Add turmeric and cumin seeds to the onions and continue to stir and cook. Dice the chicken and when the onions begin to brown, add it to the onions. Now depending on how you would like to cook it there are 2 options. Option one is on the stove in a few hours, option 2 is in a crock pot during the day.

1. Move the ingredients to a big pot. An enameled cast iron or other heavy pan is best, but whatever you've got. If it's a good pan, you can just saute the onions and chicken in this pan. Continue to cook until the chicken is browned on all sides. Add 1 1/2 cups of water, 1/4 - 1/2 cup of lime juice and 1 lime, quartered. If you have access to a store that carries them, use dried limes. Add the greens, stir. cover and let cook on medium low heat for at least an hour. Add the can of beans and stir. You can drain the beans or not, depending on the consistency you would like. I drained mine. Add salt and pepper and stir all ingredients. Cover and cook again for at least another hour. When getting close to serving time, remove the cover and let the stew cook down until it is not too soupy. Though it's called a stew, I like it best with little 'broth'.

2. Once the chicken has browned on all sides, add to crock pot. Add 2 cups of water and the greens. Add 1/4 - 1/2 cup of lime juice and 1 lime, quartered. If you have access to a store that carries them, use dried limes. Set to low and cover. Let cook all day. About an hour to half an hour before serving time, add beans to the mix and continue to cook. If there is more liquid than you would like, transfer the dish to a pot as described in option 1 and let cook uncovered until it has cooked down to the consistency of your liking.

Ta da! That's it! Now for the rice...

Saffron Basmati Rice with Tahdig
Serves 4

Ingredients: 2 cups basmati rice, 1 T olive oil, 1 t milk, 1 T butter, 1 pinch saffron.

Directions: Boil 2 cups of water. Add olive oil, milk and butter to a heavy pan over medium heat. With those ingredients warming, move the pan around so that the oil coats (or makes contact with) the whole bottom of the pan and up an inch or two on the side. Add saffron to a pyrex measuring cup and pour the boiling water over it until you reach the 2 cup mark. Pour in 2 cups of water (not the boiling water) to the oiled pan and let sit uncovered to warm. Before the water boils, add the rice. Shake the pan a little to settle the rice. Pour the saffron water into the pan, cover and turn heat to low.

Cook the rice for 15-20 minutes. Do not stir the rice at anytime. About 10 minutes into cooking, put a dish towel or paper towel between the pot and the cover, make sure it doesn't get close to the flame if you have a gas stove. What works well is to use a dish towel and just tie the corners together so you've essential wrapped the cover. This allows steam to escape so that a better crust can form.

Check the rice every few minutes starting at about 12 minutes and see what the edges look like. If you are doing the full 2 cups of rice it may take more than 30 minutes to cook, but you want to keep checking it just to be sure. You should be able to see a bit of a crust forming. If you can't tell, use a spatula to kind of pull the edge from the pan and see if there is a crust. You want a deep golden. When ready, run a spatula around the edge of the pot between it and the rice. Take a large plate and put it over the pot, quickly flip upside down. If the seal worked well, it should slip right out, carefully pull the pot straight up so that it leaves the rice cake intact on the plate. If nothing happens, flip it back over and run the spatula around again, a little more aggressively (ie, try to get the spatula down to the bottom of the pan a bit, not just the sides). If it still doesn't release when you flip it, then use a firm spatula to make a slice across the middle and try to just carefully scoop it out, almost like a piece of pie or something. I usually sprinkle the crust with a little salt if you like. If the crust turned out of the pot, then cut it like a cake and serve 'slices'.

Use basmati rice and if you have time, rinse the rice with cool water in a mesh strainer a few times. A lot of people soak the rice for 20 minutes or so also, but I only do that if I have a lot of time on my hands, so I usually skip that step. If you soak the rice, use a little less water when cooking it. Use a 1:2 ratio, so if you use 1 cup of rice add 2 cups of water. I usually cook 1/2 c rice and 1 c water when its just me.

Serve a slice of the rice and then serve the sabzi over the rice (not on the crust though!). Enjoy!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fresh Tomatillo Salsa

I noticed the other day that tomatillos are currently available in my produce section. If you are not familiar with this fruit (that seems like it'd be a vegetable), I encourage you to learn more. They look like green tomatoes in a paper wrapping, and my Vegetable Love cookbook describes them as having "a delicious combination of sweetness and mild acidity" which seems as accurate as any description I might come up with here. It reminded me of some awesome homemade salsa that I made last summer when my CSA provided me with a generous number of tomatillos.

This salsa, which could be made very easily any time fresh tomatillos are available, tastes like summertime has come alive in your mouth. I highly recommend it. It is from the aforementioned Vegetable Love cookbook:

Fresh Tomatillo Salsa
2 medium cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and deribbed
4 medium sized tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed well, cored and coarsely chopped
2 scallions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place garlic and jalapeno in a food processor and chop very fine (I used my hand held one, and it worked great). Add the tomatillos and scallions and process until finely chopped but not pureed.

Transfer the mixture into a bowl and stir in 1/3 cup water and the remaining ingredients. Allow to stand 30 minutes, then adjust the seasoning and serve. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Roast Chicken

Many of my friends do not cook meat, though they enjoy eating it. I think that's a shame, especially now that such healthy and safe meat can be purchased with relative ease. I get all my meat now at the Seward Co-op, which has a Meat and Seafood Department that "features delicious, locally raised beef, pork and poultry" and makes my shopping and cooking quite pleasant.
With the temperatures well below freezing these past few weeks, it felt appropriate to roast a chicken, and for that, I turn to my Joy of Cooking: The All Purpose Cookbook for it's delightfully straightforward recipe:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the bird on a rack, uncovered, in the oven and reduce the heat at once to 350 degrees. Roast about 20 minutes per pound. Baste frequently with pan drippings. Serve with gravy.

Here's the kicker: I don't have a rack, and I didn't even baste the thing. And it was perfect. I do stick an onion (cut in half) inside the chicken, and I rub a drizzle of olive oil over the top, along with some rosemary and thyme. I also make gravy, but that part is easy:

Pour the juices into a pan, and heat until boiling (on the stove top). Whisk in flour until all the liquid is absorbed. Whisk in water until the gravy has reached a thickness you are happy with. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Homemade Pasta - easy, delicious and fun!

I was trying to decide what to eat last night, and was coasting around the grocery store. Asparagus was super on sale, so I picked that up and was thinking "I can't eat JUST asparagus, what else will I have for dinner?" when my mind started yelling "asparagus, cream, butter, pasta...Fettuccine Alfredo!!!!" Oh yes. I've been sick for the last week and was in need of a good, warm dinner full of cream and butter, and what is better than homemade fettuccine alfredo? So I got the ingredients I needed and headed home to make my treat of a dinner.

I pulled out my Cooks Illustrated "New Best Recipe" cookbook, usually the first place I check, and sure enough, they had Fettuccine Alfredo. "Fresh egg pasta is a must here; dried pasta can't stand up to the richness of the Alfredo ingredients". Well shoot. I own a pasta maker, which I should use more. It was barely 6 pm and I had no plans for the evening. No reason why I shouldn't make the pasta myself! So with all that running through my head, it was set, I was going to make myself some pasta. So easy. Homemade egg pasta is just eggs and flour, not hard at all. The recipe called for 3 eggs, so I did a 1/3 recipe, just using 1 egg, since I was making dinner for 1. I made the dough, let it rest, got the alfredo sauce ingredients ready to go, rolled out the dough, cut it and laid it out. Made the sauce while the pasta cooked, and before I knew it dinner was ready. And delicious. Obviously, fettuccine alfredo is a bit heavy for a regular dinner, but, once in a while, whooo boy it's delicious. On the other hand, homemade noodles are super easy (if you have a pasta roller) and taste delicious in dishes.

Fresh Egg Pasta (from Cook's Illustrated: The New Best Recipe) Makes about 1 pound.

Ingredients: 2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour, 3 large eggs, beaten.

Directions: Pulse the flour in a food processor fitted with a steel blade to distribute and aerate it evenly. Add the eggs; process until the dough forms a rough ball, about 30 seconds. (If the dough resembles small pebbles, add water, 1/2 t at a time; if the dough sticks to the side of hte workbowl, add flour, 1 T at a time, and process until the dough forms a rough ball.) Turn the dough ball and small bits out onto a dry work surface; knead until the dough is smooth, 1-2 m inutes. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for at least 15 minutes, up to 2 hours, to relax. Using a manual pasta machine, roll out the dough. Leave the pasta as is for use in filled pastas. Cut the pasta sheets into long strands to make fettuccine.

Fettuccine Alfredo (from Cook's Illustrated: The New Best Recipe) Serves 6 as an appetizer, 3-4 as an entree.

Ingredients: 1 2/3 cups heavy cream, preferably not pasteurized, 5 T unsalted butter, salt, 1 recipe Fresh Egg Pasta, cut into fettuccine, 2 ounces (1 cup) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, ground black pepper, pinch freshly grated nutmeg (optional). *

Directions: Bring 4 quarts water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Combine 1 1/3 cups of the cream and the butter in a saute pan large enough to accommodate the cooked pasta. Heat over low until the butter is melted and the cream comes to a bare simmer. Turn off the heat and set aside. When the water comes to a boil, add 1 T salt and the pasta to the boiling water and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until almost al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the saute pan. Add the remaining 1/3 cup of cream, the Parmesan, 1/2 t salt, pepper to taste, and the nutmeg. Cook over very low heat, tossing to combine the ingredients, until the sauce is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve the fettucine immediately in heated pasta bowls.

* I parboiled asparagus for 2 minutes, chopped it up, and added it to the sauce when I added the pasta...delicious! You can also add chicken to this of course, though it will need to be cooked ahead of time, poached or grilled is best.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Review: Smart Ground (Veggie Protein Crumbles)

Okay. I've always been very skeptical about veggie stuff that is trying to look and taste like meat. I'm also not a vegetarian, so I've always thought, why bother when you can eat the real stuff? One of my coworkers at an old job used to cook lunch for the company (there were only 7 of us) once a week. It was usually something she could make in a slow cooker, and since she was vegetarian and we had someone who was vegan, she'd often try out new vegetarian dishes on us (they were almost always fantastic). Once she made us some sort of dish that would usually have ground beef in it, but she used fake stuff, protein crumbles. It was shockingly good! That made me a little less skeptical.

As I've said in previous posts, I've been trying to eat less meat, for ethical, health related and financial reasons. One of the meats I pretty much refuse to buy these days is ground beef. Unless you get a nice wholesome piece of meat and have the butcher grind it for you, it's really not something you should trust (read this October 2, 2009 New York Times article if you question this statement: With all this said, Beef Stroganoff, made the way my family makes it (with ground beef, ketchup and sour cream, no fancy schmancy beef stroganoff in my family!), is one of my favorite dishes, but everytime I make it I can't stop thinking about how I'm eating dodgy ground beef.

So I was buying tofu the other day (I love to make crispy tofu...I'll follow this with a post about that) and I saw that 'Smart Ground' veggie protein crumbles were on sale. Hmmm I thought. Could I make beef stroganoff with THAT? So tonight, I did, and guess what? It was quite tasty!!! I did learn that the stuff looks pretty weird when you add water to it, so rather than add Smart Ground to the sauted onions and THEN water with bullion in it, I would do the water first, let it cook down a bit, then add the Smart Ground. I would also use a bit more beef bullion and add mushrooms, because, well, mushrooms are delicious, and the only thing I didn't like about the final product was a slightly odd smell, so having mushrooms and a stronger beef presence via the bullion cubes would probably make it perfect. The final product had the same texture as my normal beef stroganoff, but this time I wasn't all nervous about suddenly becoming paralyzed. Whew. Now that's a relief!

Anywho, I highly recommend using Smart Ground if you're also hesitant about ground beef but have some favorite recipes that incorporate it. The package was pretty big and I was just making two servings, so I have some left over. I'm thinking of making chili or a good (well, we'll see) pasta sauce with the remainder and seeing how that turns out. Also, health wise, it's really good for you. 12 grams of protein, plus it's fat and cholesterol free...pretty great huh?

Here's the recipe, not how I made it but how I would make it next time! :) It's really up to you what ingredients you want to emphasize, so feel free to mix up the amounts of 'Smart Ground', onions and mushrooms, just make sure you keep the ketchup/sour cream ratio about the same! The following recipe would serve 3-4 people, depending on how much 'meat' you use.

Ingredients: 1 package Smart Ground, olive oil, 1-2 diced onions, 1/2-1 cup of sliced mushrooms, 1 cube beef bullion*, 1/2 cup ketchup, 1-1 1/2 cup sour cream, salt and pepper to taste, egg noddles.

Directions: Add olive oil to pan over medium high heat, add diced onion mushrooms and saute for a few minutes. Add 3/4 to 1 beef bullion cube to 1 1/2 cups of water and mush to break it up. Add to hot pan, stirring to make sure the bullion dissolves fully. After about 1/3 of the water has cooked off, at the beef protein and stir around. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the water is gone. Add ketchup, and continue to stir. Remove from heat, stir in sour cream and serve over egg noodles. As always, enjoy!

* As a wise friend pointed out, this is not vegetarian if you use beef bullion. Rumor has it (according to my friend) a bit of Marmite or Vegemite will do the trick for the flavor, and, of course, is vegetarian!

Also, as noted in the comments, too much soy can be bad news. Don't live on this stuff. There was a really interesting article about soy and how it relates to so many of our societies current health woes, I thought in the New York Times, but this is all I can find for now, still informative(!) :

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

One tasty (and super easy) meal!

Wow! I just threw together a dinner that was fantastic and I am SO pleased! One of the things I love about cooking is that you can just wing it, and sometimes it's not so good, it's usually fairly tasty, and sometimes, it is DELICIOUS, and that, I love! Tonight I whipped something together in less than half an hour and it was tasty, healthy and satisfying, so here's the recipe - try it out!

Ingredients: Campanelle pasta, diced onion, minced garlic, sliced spinach and feta chicken sausage (or something like it), olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, shredded parmesan cheese.

Heat water for pasta. While the water is heating up, add olive oil to a pan over medium heat, add onion and sausage and begin to brown. Add the pasta to the boiling water. Once the sausage is about halfway cooked, add the garlic and turn the heat down to medium low. Saute all of the ingredients until the sausage is just about done, be sure to move everything around so it doesn't burn, but try to make sure the sausage stays in contact with the pan as much as possible. Add the cooked pasta, plus a tablespoon or two of the cooking water, and mix with the rest of the ingredients. Add salt and pepper and continue to stir around and cook until sausage is cooked through. Turn off heat and while keeping everything in the hot pan, add lemon juice and parmesan. Stir well and serve!