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African Chickpea and Peanut Butter Soup (Gluten and Dairy Free)

March 30, 2017

Happy Spring friends! Over in my neck of the woods, things don’t feel completely Spring-like, but there is a definite freshness in the air that wasn’t there two weeks ago when we had a historic snowstorm that kept us trapped in the house. Well, except for when my husband went to the grocery store to buy pie. Clearly, we did not plan well for Pi Day this year, and clearly we take food very seriously in this household. Don’t hate though, that Price Chopper pie kicked butt and I did not have to do any work for it. My husband brought it to me on a plate, heated, and with fancy whipped cream. Praise hands.

So, while I didn’t bake any pie that day, I did finally make this lovely soup that my friend introduced me to months ago. I saw this soup in a picture on her instagram and knew that I had to have it! It did not disappoint. It is unique and delicious and- you can totally use the veggies you have in the house to customize it and clean out your fridge.

I figured I better post this recipe now in case anyone wants to make it before the weather gets too warm for soup. We’re having a moment of rare quiet  in our house. Nine month old baby Indy started crawling last weekend, and if he isn’t sleeping, he is following me around the house, trying to eat dog hair and random carpet fuzzes, and touch the outlets and the cable modem. How does he know? Are babies born with the capability to zero in on gross and dangerous objects? Anyway, that little love bug is currently napping off a party he had in his crib at 2 am. I’ve already had too much coffee to do the same- but that’s lucky for you, because now you get this soup!

I used this recipe, and made only a few minor changes, based upon the ingredients that I had in my house at the time/ what I thought would taste good! Plus, this one mentioned using tomato paste instead of crushed tomatoes, so I did that as well, because I wanted a thicker soup. I will also mention that I’ve seen pictures of this soup served over rice and garnished with peanuts and cilantro. There are so many different ways to serve this.

African Chickpea and Peanut Butter Soup

Ingredients

Olive oil (for sautéing)

1 medium white onion, diced

2 cloves minced garlic

2 carrots, pealed and diced

1/2 big bag of spinach (like the ones that come in prepackaged salad bags at the grocery store)

1 15 oz can of chickpeas

1/4 cup of peanut butter

1 and 1/2 6 oz cans of tomato paste

2 cups of vegetable broth

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon of parsley

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Start off by heating the oil in a pot (I used a pan because I wasn’t thinking, and enjoy doing unnecessary dishes apparently) and sauté the carrots. Once the carrots begin to soften,  add the onion and garlic and sauté until everything is soft.

Add the chickpeas, and sauté them with the veggies, just to give them some flavor.  Sprinkle on the cayenne pepper, and mix everything together.

In a blender (or food processor if you have one) blend together the peanut butter and tomato paste, then add in the broth and blend until everything is smooth.

Add the peanut butter mixture to your pot and stir everything together. Once the soup is heated, add the chopped spinach and cook just until it wilts nicely. Sprinkle in the parsley, and add the amount of salt and pepper that your heart desires.

I hope you guys try this soup! It really is delicious. It’s nice to be writing again.

Talk to you next time my baby naps;)

 

 

 

Cooking

A souper idea

October 12, 2016

lilysoupWe have a problem in my house. My toddler is addicted to soup.

I’m not even kidding. She’s asking for it at every meal, and since she knows I have some in the refrigerator, she keeps opening the fridge and demanding it. This kid’s enthusiasm for soup is both hilarious and unnerving.

Not that I can blame her, really. I love soup, and I love making soup. My husband is of the opinion that soup is not a meal and I humor him, most of the time, by serving it as a starter or accompaniment. But to be entirely honest, a hearty chicken soup is as much a meal as anything else, in my opinion.

Let’s go back to the beginning here, do you make soup? From scratch, I mean, no packets, bouillons or mixes needed. If your answer is no, it’s time to try. It’s so simple, I am absolutely telling you, if you can cook at all, you can make soup.

You don’t even need a recipe. Guidelines are all you need, and before you know it you’ll be throwing things in the pot and seasoning like a pro, whipping up pots of fragrant, amazing soup, and just in time for the cool weather rolling in.

Starting in the fall, I make a big pot of vegetable soup nearly every week, and Little Miss and I eat it throughout the week for lunches. In the past I would fish out the veggies for her but now, she wants her own bowl with the full experience in it for her. She eats the veggies, then points to the broth and says “soup!” before either asking for help with her spoon or feeding herself (really, rather neatly for a two year old).

Now, why is soup awesome?

  • It’s warm and hearty, and you can make it with nearly anything.
  • It lasts several days in the refrigerator, and the flavors combine even better after sitting for a day or two.
  • You can freeze leftovers in plastic freezer bags for easy defrosting at a later date.
  • It’s wonderfully nutritious, with all the amazing nutrients from the veggies seeping into that yummy broth.

If you’re one of those people who fish out the chunks and leave the broth, I’m not going to go so far as to call you a heathen, but I’m going to imply it. Strongly. Ahem. I don’t mean restaurant or supermarket soup, I mean homemade soup. As mentioned in my list above, all the nutrients that cook out of the ingredients go into the broth, and if the soup is done well, it should be absolutely delicious! There is no real skill necessary to make chunks of chicken or veggies taste like what they are. The broth however, is an art, and art should be appreciated.

Are you ready for the guidelines, or should I keep pontificating? Nah, you’re ready for the guidelines.

Guidelines for the easiest soup ever, which you can and should modify to make all sorts of amazing soups:

Chicken: Chicken soup is the base for matzoh ball soup, and matzoh ball soup is amazing. I do generally use matzoh ball mix (the matzoh ball mix, not soup mix) for convenience, but the soup is all from scratch. Adjust your amounts to what you need and your seasoning to taste.

soupveggiesFirst you take a pot. Add a little olive oil and let it heat up, then sear some skinless chicken thighs on both sides and set them aside. In your hot pot, saute 1-2 diced onions, then add some chopped carrot and celery and a parsnip if you wish (they cook down softer than carrots and add a sweet, earthy flavor). Give it a few minutes so your veggies get a little color. At this point I like to do some basic seasoning with salt and pepper to mix into my veggies, then I add my water. How much depends on how much soup you want; eyeball it, you know what soup looks like. I don’t think I make pots with less than 8 cups of water, honestly. Now I crank up the heat until the water starts to boil and add some seasonings; fresh or dried parsley, dried dill, and maybe a little garlic powder. Once the water is boiling I carefully drop the chicken thighs in, cover the pot, reduce the heat and let it simmer for an hour or two or three. Honestly, the order in which you do these things doesn’t terribly matter as long as it all goes in the pot, but I do recommend the searing and sauteing for extra flavor.

Give it an hour or so for your chicken to cook, then taste your broth. The chicken fat will have added color and flavor, and the chicken should be falling apart, so fish it out, shred it and toss it back in. Does your broth need more salt? A little more herbs? Add as needed, and simmer as long as you have patience. If you make your soup the day before you need it, the time in the fridge will allow the flavors to marry beautifully, and once cold, you can skin off extra chicken fat before warming and serving (you’ll see it, a thick yellow coating on the surface).

Congrats, you made chicken soup. If you want matzoh balls, follow the directions on the packet.

Vegetable: I’m going to surprise you here by telling you the method is nearly the same as above, except without chicken. My standard weekly cold weather soup is just a veggie soup. I saute onion and garlic with whatever veggies I have on hand – this week was a handful of chopped string beans, some broccoli, carrots, celery, cabbage and tomato. I’m big on tomato to flavor the broth in my veggie soup. I also added a handful of red lentils which cook down into nothing, adding a little body to the broth and a little protein too.

So. Olive oil! Chopped veggies! Water! Salt, pepper, garlic powder, dill, parsley, in, in, in! And just let it simmer. And simmer. Taste it and adjust your seasonings. Add chicken, or boil pasta or rice to throw in. Throw some grilled shrimp or parmesan cheese in. The possibilities are endless, and think about how many veggies you get into one dish!

And that’s it. Ilana’s first treatise on the wonders of soup is complete. If you’re a soup beginning, grab a pot and go! If you’re a seasoned (pun intended) soup maker, I’d love to know your favorite recipes!

Cooking Gardening Life

It’s not easy being green

September 30, 2016

I have a lot in common with Kermit the Frog. I’ve been known to flail my arms in the air like boneless wet noodles when I’m excited, and I use the phrase “it’s not easy being green” fairly often. Usually it’s in self deprecation, when my husband has responded to something I’ve told him and I just sigh and tell him, “what can I say, it’s not easy being green.”

This post however, isn’t actually about Kermit the Frog, or my pithy comments, but actual real green stuff.

Namely avocados, olives, basil and figs.

I’ve been stuck on both lately. Avocados in New York are not at their best prices of the year, but I’ve been buying them anyway. I recently did my now traditional annual olive curing. And basil, well, it’s coming to that time where my summer garden is nearing the end of it’s natural life and I’m trying to harvest what I can to keep.

First, avocados

avocadoI love avocados. We make guacamole, avocado toast with runny eggs on top, and avocado salsa. I’ve even made lemony avocado pasta sauce. It’s slightly odd, but surprisingly good.

You know what else is awesome? Tacos. I just want to be sure, do we all realize how easy tacos are to make? Grill meat or shrimp, or fry fish (or often in my case, cook some beans), warm up some corn or flour tortillas, and put the filling on the tortilla. You can add shredded lettuce or cabbage, salsa, diced tomatoes, etc. It’s really so simple, and it’s so easy to take it from a boring little roll up to outstanding. Dicing up a mango and dropping a spoonful on top of grilled shrimp adds an awesome tropical flavor. Or, my personal favorite, the 5 minute avocado salsa.

Ready? Dice a tomato or two. Cut an avocado in half and draw the knife lengthwise then widthwise and use a spoon to scoop out neat little chunks. Toss your avocado with the tomato, plus a little lime juice, salt, pepper, dried cilantro if you have and onion powder (or use fresh diced onion, I just can’t eat raw onions so I opt for powder). The acidity of the tomato, tang of the lime juice and creaminess of the avocado really amplifies and compliments the rest of your ingredients.

Second, olives

olives2 weekends ago I cured 16 pounds of olives with the help of my sister in law and my future sister in law. While Little Miss napped, we took all sorts of aggression out on these olives, crushing and cracking them before putting them in their jars. We used my grandfather’s method (which can be found here) and successfully filled 13 jars with only a minimal amount of difficulty. To fully cure, they need to sit 40 days, so I am (im)patiently awaiting the end of that period.

Last year, my grandfather taught me how to cure olives. He passed in March of this year, and the months since have been filled with those odd moments where I almost forget he is gone, or I do things that in the past I may have done with him or asked him about, or things I learned from him. I was afraid that olive curing would make me an emotional mess, but my sisters in law were an extraordinary team that kept me on task. Nonetheless, I’m extremely grateful for having had the opportunity to learn from grandpa last year.

Third, basil

basilBasil! I’m half Italian, so an affinity for basil is in my blood. I planted several rows of basil in my garden this year and then grew into bushy, unruly bundles of leaves which I’ve been selectively picking from for cooking for months. But, it’s the end of September and everything left in the garden will be dying off soon.

If you’re in the same boat, here’s my tip – I pick the basil leaves, wash them and let them dry, then lay them into a freezer bag and freeze them so even in the dead of winter, I can crumble off some fresh basil. Once it’s in the pot with whatever I’m cooking, you’d never know it was frozen.

Yes, there’s always dried basil, which I have and use…but it’s not the same. You know it’s not the same.

Fourth, figs

figsThis is simple excitement. It’s fig season! My two fig trees are producing slowly but steadily, with me picking a couple of figs each day.

I’m not going to lie, the fig trees were not the selling point on this house, but they certainly didn’t hurt. Between the fig trees, the screen porch, and the italian neighbors who talk loudly in their yard (stop laughing, I seriously find it comforting even though I have no idea what they’re saying), it just felt right.

And as it turns out, Little Miss is a fan of figs and has threatened the entire crop with her enthusiasm.

So that’s my green round up for right now. We’re heading into the season of reds, yellows and oranges, so I guess it’s good that I get all this green out of my system now. What’s been keeping you busy lately?

Cooking Uncategorized

Our Favorite Enchiladas

August 13, 2016

Oh man, guys. This is one of our favorite meals ever. We make them at home, and order them out at Mexican restaurants.  Any excuse to eat enchiladas and we are all over it. Make these enchiladas for someone, and you’ll have a new best friend instantly. They are that good! I first made these for my husband’s 24th birthday the first year we were married. I was still learning to cook and I was shocked that I successfully completed a seemingly complicated recipe.  I used the Pioneer Woman’s Recipe from her first cookbook as a guideline, but over the years, we’ve changed things up a bit- and you can too! I’ve made these with meat, vegetarian, and dairy free with vegan cheese. Once you get the general idea- its so easy to customize your filling. It’s all good! Even though making enchiladas is quite the process, it really is not difficult once you establish a system. There are a lot of steps- but they are all easy!  Bonus points if you have a buddy help you because you can create an assembly line- but you can do this alone.

 

You’ll Need:

1 Rotisserie chicken, completely shredded  (or you could use black beans or lentils)

1 small can of green chiles

Half of a pepper, diced

half of a small onion, diced

1 small bunch of cilantro, minced

Penzey’s Taco Seasoning

1 package corn tortillas

1 large can and 1 small can of red enchilada sauce

shredded mexican blend of cheese (or vegan cheese for the lactose intolerant among us- or just skip the cheese)

Vegetable oil (for frying)

Start by sautéing the diced pepper and onion.

Once they are soft, add them to a big bowl. Mix in the chicken, can of chiles, and a half cup of the cheese. Add a tablespoon of the minced cilantro and a tablespoon of taco seasoning.

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Next, heat vegetable oil on your stove top and bring it to about medium heat. You can always adjust the temperature if things are cooking too quickly.

While the oil is heating, pour some enchilada sauce into a shallow bowl. Add some of the sauce to the bottom of a casserole dish. Take the tortillas out and set them on top of the bag. Put your bowl of enchilada filling on the counter next to that. Now it’s time to grab some tongs and start frying!

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Fry both sides of a corn tortilla. I usually wait until one side puffs up, flip it, and fry the other for about 30 seconds. I would like to add that I always end up breaking one of my first tortillas. If this happens to you, don’t be sad. Just go easier with those tongs! Next, use the tongs to transfer the tortilla to the bowl of sauce and dunk it in.

I always end up burning my fingers a little because I grab the tortilla out of the sauce with my hands, because the tongs always rip them at this point. Do this at your own risk! Place the enchilada in the casserole dish, add some filling, and then roll the tortilla over so that it is pinned closed by its own weight. Then you get back in there, and do it again until you run out of filling or tortillas or both!

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Once your casserole dishes are full and your fingerprints are sufficiently burned off, douse your enchiladas in a generous amount of enchilada sauce and an unholy amount of cheese.

The next step is to bake them at 350 until everything is melted, and maybe a hint browned on top- about 15 minutes. Add some fresh minced cilantro to the top and serve! If you are making these ahead, you can stick the casserole dish in the fridge and just bake them a little before you intend to serve them.

These go great with a shredded lettuce salad, a side of refried beans, and maybe some spanish rice! They  are also great on their own. Or with a Margherita (if you do this- only a little sour mix guys- mostly tequila and lime juice, and just have one because we are responsible adults.) At the very least serve them with some chips, salsa, and guacamole.

Enjoy!

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Cooking

Let’s get cooking

July 1, 2016

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed that cooking is pretty important to me. I think I like cooking more than I like eating, which is kind of weird. So when an adult tells me they don’t know how to cook, I get all twisted up. What do you mean you don’t know how to cook?

I’ve had this conversation twice recently, and read a conversation on Facebook about it the other day. It seems like a lot of people either never had the time or interest to learn to cook, or didn’t have a home cook to learn from and are too intimidated to try. So I’m going to share a little secret, for at least the latter (and the former, if the interest is there) – COOKING ISN’T HARD.

That’s it. Cooking isn’t hard. And you don’t even need to follow recipes. I’m not talking about producing gourmet food here, I’m talking about the basics of being able to prepare a simple, healthy meal.

  • If you can boil water, you can cook.
  • If you can put something in a pot and stir it, you can cook.
  • If you have the ability to pay attention, you can cook.
  • If you can make a cake from a box, you can cook.
  • If you can read basic instructions, you can cook.

Trust me here. You can do this.

If you’re going to say, “but I burn everything I cook”, my answer to you is, so stir more, and walk away less. You can do this.

More or less, here’s my list of reasons you need to know how to cook:

  • Money – it’s cheaper to cook than to order takeout. Some prepared foods may be cheaper…I don’t really consider frozen dinners food, so I’ll digress here.
  • Health – you control what goes into your food. Organic versus non organic, amount of salt, sugar, chemicals, preservatives, etc.
  • Allergens – again, you control what goes into your food.
  • Skill – the ability to feed ourselves should not become a lost art. We need food to live; we should be able to prepare the food we need to live.

If you can get a feel for the different ways to cook, you can cook almost anything. It just takes some getting used to. I have categories, and how I tend to cook them (there are other ways, these are just my standards).

Two notes: First, this isn’t fine cooking here, this is a quick and dirty primer. Second, I learned to cook from my Italian mother, get ready for some olive oil.

Get yourself a the basics, a decent sized pot, a frying pan, a baking pan, a spatula, pair of tongs and a good spoon (I swear by a flat wooden spoon). If you’re cooking meat or fish, a meat thermometer is the easiest way to tell when they’re done. Ready?

For vegetables:

Bake, steam, saute, grill, boil

basic cooking old fashioned modern living

Some of the infamous giant zucchini

Let’s talk zucchini. Zucchini was one of my grandfather’s favorite things to plant, and he let them get big, so we could easy use one giant zucchini for 2-3 meals. How do I cook a zucchini? First I rinse it and cut it in the appropriate shape. Then I cook it.

  1. Bake: cut zucchini into cubes, chop onion into similar size pieces. Toss with olive oil to lightly coat, then place in oven safe pan (I like my Pyrex casserole). Sprinkle with salt, pepper and dried herbs/spices. Place in preheated oven. Check periodically; when zucchini looks a little clear, stab with fork to see if it’s tender enough to eat. Done.
  2. Steam: cut zucchini into half moons, then place in a pot with about 1/2 inch of water. Place lid on, turn heat on. Check in a few minutes, then a few minutes more if needed. Again, when the flesh of the zucchini is more clear than white, stab it with a fork to see if it’s tender. Drain off excess water, drizzle with a little olive oil and seasonings and give it a stir. Done.
  3. Saute: cut zucchini into slices/half moons. Slice some onion. In a decent size pot, add a little olive oil (don’t coat the whole bottom, but drizzle some in). Let it heat up for a minute over medium heat, then toss in the onions and give it a stir. Mix periodically for just a minute or two to give the onion a chance to mellow a little. Add in the zucchini and stir. Then stir again, and again. Not constantly, but every 30-60 seconds. Remember your heat isn’t too high; you want the veggies to get the heat without burning. Just keep it moving. Sprinkle in your salt, pepper, italian herbs, garlic powder, etc. Eyeball it, then do the fork test.
  4. Grill: Remove top and bottom ends of zucchini, then slice lengthwise, thin but not too thin (1/4″ or so). If you have access to a mandolin, use it CAREFULLY; it will give you beautifully consistent slices. Toss with a little olive oil and seasoned salt, then throw it on a hot grill. This may be the toughest, because of flare ups and potential for burning your fine little slices.
  5. Boil: Okay, forget zucchini. Don’t boil your zucchini unless you’re making minestrone soup. The only veggie (okay, tuber) I really boil are potatoes; boiling leeches a lot of the nutrients out of the food and into the water, which gets thrown away. It’s great for soup, but not great otherwise. So let’s talk potatoes. Wash and cut into edible chunks. Place in pot with water completely covering the potatoes. Turn on heat and boil until a fork goes easily into a chunk. Drain and dress with olive oil and spices, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, mash them with a little butter and spices, or quickly fry them to give them a crust.

For fish:

Bake, poach, saute

The seafoods I make most often are salmon and shrimp. So I’m going to go into some of my favorite ways to handle them.

  1. Bake: Take a pan with sides, throw some parchment down on it. Preheat your oven to 400F. Rinse your salmon and place it skin side down on the parchment paper. Then on that nice, fishy top part, drizzle a little olive oil and sprinkle some herbs. Then bake it for maybe 10 minutes and check it. The fish should look more solid, less translucent. I love my meat thermometer here, so I don’t need to flake away any fish to see the inside. Put it in the thickest part, and if it’s the right temperature, it’s done. If not, check again in 5 minutes. So on and so forth.
  2. Poach: This is sort of like steaming, but fish. Prepare your fish as above (oil isn’t necessary here), but instead put it in a shallow pot on the stovetop with a little water or wine. Cover and let simmer at medium heat until the fish starts to look cooked. Check with the thermometer. See the similarities?
  3. Saute: I will sometimes just cook shrimp stovetop with veggies to throw over pasta or rice. If you cut it up, it’ll cook faster. So let’s say I’ve sauteed some onions, spinach and peas…then they’re nearly cooked, I throw in my cut up shrimp and continue mixing for maybe a minute or two until the pieces are pink all the way around rather than raw grey. That’s it.

For meats:

Bake, fry, braise, grill

  1. Bake: Meatballs are REALLY easy. I made chicken meatballs the other night – a pack of ground chicken, 1 egg, a handful of breadcrumbs, finely diced onion, chopped fresh parsley, salt, pepper, garlic powder. Mix. Preheat oven to 400F. Line baking pan with parchment paper. Use those hands and shape your meat mixture into uniform size balls and plop them on the pan. Place in oven. Ground meats cook pretty quick, so check after 10 or 15 minutes, and you’ll notice the meat it darker and doesn’t look raw anymore. You’ll need to stab one and check for clear juices, or use a meat thermometer to make sure the center is cooked. If not, leave it a little longer. Once they’re ready, serve or toss them with tomato sauce. Do the same with ground beef, and substitute raw rolled oats for breadcrumbs if you’re gluten free. Some people fry their meatballs, I like to bake them.
  2. Fry: Chicken cutlets? Mix a container of scrambled up raw egg, then grab a plate with breadcrumbs. Dip your cutlets in the breadcrumbs, then the egg wash, then the bread crumbs, and pile them up on a plate. In a a frying pan or cast iron skillet, heat about 1/2″ oil (olive oil isn’t best here, go for a vegetable, canola, etc) until sizzling hot. Carefully place in your cutlets using a pair of tongs, not crowding them (watch out, the oil may spatter!) Once you start seeing the edges brown, flip them and let cook for about the same amount of time. You’ll watch them nice and brown on both sides, and since they’re thin, they cook quickly. Remove with the tongs and place on a plate with paper towels to rest and drain off excess oil. Next batch goes in.
  3. Braise: I don’t do a real braise (though I’m planning to try), I do a quickie braise. Let’s say some country style spare ribs. Heavy walled cast iron skillet goes on medium heat with a little olive oil until it’s nice and hot (any pot with a cover will work really, just make sure it has a good seal). Use tongs to sear your meat (plop it down in the pan until the outside is cooked, flip it over and try to get all sides – this seals in juices). Take the meat out for a moment, and add onions, then some veggies (sometimes carrots and celery, sometimes I add potatoes or others too). Keep it moving until the veggies have a little color – season as you go. Add the meat back onto your lovely bed of veggies, then add a little water, maybe an inch; you don’t want to submerge the meat. Wine, water, broth, etc – or a combination. Put the lid on and let it simmer (not boil, just simmer, keep that heat low) for an hour and a half up to 3 hours. Check periodically, because if the liquid all evaporates, the bottom will burn (this is why a good fitting lid is important). Add more liquid if needed. Use a meat thermometer if you’re not sure your meat is cooked. This method should turn out a soft, tender meat and nice stew-y veggies. I do beef, pork and chicken this way, including a super simple chicken and dumplings.
  4. Grill: I only learned how to barbecue about a month and a half ago! I’m still not a pro, but I can do it. Take your steak, chicken thighs, pork, etc. and marinate or dry rub as you wish. Turn on the barbecue (there should be instructions on it) and let the grill heat up – do whatever you do to clean it too. Use BBQ tongs to place the meat, flipping it periodically until it’s cooked. Move it or turn down the heat if you’re getting flare ups.

What else?

Rice is easy! White rice cooks in 10 minutes, brown rice is more like 45 – there are instructions right on the package. Add seasonings, or open a can of beans, rinse the goop off them and stir them in, or toss with sauteed veggies. Pasta? Boil water with a bit of salt. At a boil, add pasta and set timer to time specified on the box. Then drain it out and throw your sauce on.

I know I make this sound easy. Forgive me for sounding flippant, I can be casual because I am so sure that anyone can manage this! And the beautiful thing is that once you get used to cooking, you don’t need recipes. You buy broccoli and you think, “hmm, I’ll steam that then dress it with olive oil, salt, pepper and dried shallots.” You learn go-to methods, and then you apply them to different foods within that category.

You’re not going to become a celebrity chef overnight. You may mess up, over or under cook something or burn it just a little. That’s not a big deal.

Like I said earlier, if you can do other basic activities, you can cook! If you still don’t think so (and you’re local), come over so I can prove that you can cook.

Baking Cooking

4 ways to use fresh strawberries

June 24, 2016

When I was a kid, June was an exciting month because it signaled the end of school and the start of summer. These days, no longer attending or working in a school, June is just June. With the exception of one sweet, red little thing. Or in this case, more than one…more like 14 pounds.

lil-strawberryNow the thing I look forward to in June is strawberry picking, even more so now that Little Miss can come with us and experience it too (spoiler: she wasn’t all that impressed). My mom’s birthday falls smack in the middle of June and so her birthday and strawberry picking have become somewhat synonymous. We used to pick upstate when we could, but when I was in college my mother and I began driving out east on Long Island to pick strawberries. Wherever they’re from, fresh strawberries are pretty awesome. The backs of our legs may ache a little bit the day after picking from all that bending and crouching, but ripe red berries straight from the plant, warm from the sun are so worth it.

To make a long story short, we’ve already gone strawberry picking twice. I brought home probably about 7 pounds each time; that’s a lot of strawberries. And don’t think they’ll last because they’re fresh picked, they need to stay in the refrigerator and even so, when it gets close to the week mark you’ll start noticing some funk going on.

So pick away! But the initial rush, where you pick and buy all these berries and think you’re going to use them all might sour a little when you realize you actually need to USE them. In this house, as much as we love fruit, two adults and one toddler just aren’t going to get through 14 pounds of strawberries in 2 weeks.

So, what’s a berry picker to do? Here’s how I managed to use all the berries we picked, losing only a handful to over ripeness.

1. Gift them

I like picking strawberries a whole lot, but that doesn’t mean everyone does. Some people don’t have the time in their schedule, or the patience for the drive, or just would rather relax on their free time. That’s all good! Very good, because when you realize how inundated with berries are, you can sweetly hand off sandwich bags of these rosy beauties into plenty of grateful hands. Many of my friends received quart size bags of berries these past few weeks.

2. Bake with them

strawberry-cupStrawberry shortcake anyone? Whether you want the ease of a cake mix or you’d rather go a more controlled route and bake from scratch, go for it! A quick Google search will turn up plenty of recipes for white cake, shortcake, angel food cake, all of which will be delightful with cut fresh strawberries and whipped cream.

We had to do dairy free and gluten free, so I made a vegan gluten free white cake which we topped with berries and coconut whipped cream and it was lovely. The cake wasn’t as fluffy as I’d have liked, but it came together nicely nonetheless. There are so many recipes available, you’re sure to find something that suits your mood and needs.

3. Freeze them

Do you like smoothies? Of course you do, who doesn’t? Wash your berries, remove the hulls, slice them in half and throw them into a freezer bag to keep them for smoothie making. In a decent blender, you just toss your frozen fruit and some liquid in and you can easily make a smoothie (or go light on the liquid for a fresh, healthy sorbet). Yeah, you could buy frozen fruit in the store, but if you have your berries anyway, why not?

4. Can them

I made strawberry jam by myself for the first time yesterday. I chose a low sugar recipe that I found through – you guessed it – a Google search, and loosely followed it. I’m not going to lie, I made “jammysauce”. It spreads nicely on toast, but is not as thick as a true jam. But it is soooooo yummy. I even canned it properly, using my big canning kettle and sealing with boiling water. It’s not nearly as intimidating as it looks.

canningI worried about burning myself to death with that huge canning kettle, but I was careful and used the canning tongs and I was just fine. It looks like this insane process at first, but then you get it and suddenly you get it. And then after the jars come out of the water, you get the deep satisfaction of hearing each lid pop as they seal. If you’ve ever canned, you know the sound. Admit it, it’s super satisfying.

Try to make a jam or purposely go thin and make a delicious sauce to go on cakes, pancakes, ice cream, waffles and anything else you can think of! Many recipes are very very heavy on the sugar, so feel free to go light when you begin – you can always taste your mixture and add more as it cooks.

That’s more or less how I used up 14 pounds of strawberries in 14 days. I’m looking forward to blueberry picking next, and seeing what I can do with them!

Cooking Recipe

Double dipping – two dip recipes

May 25, 2016

It’s a beautiful day. Warm and sunny, a hair over 80 degrees – it’s the perfect day to hide from the sun like a vampire.

In all seriousness though, it is gorgeous out and we did spend some time in the yard before retreating back into the house. Because yes, I do usually hide from the sun like a vampire.

But anyway, this post is not about my pasty white skin. It’s about double dipping – skordalia and babaganoush to be exact!

There are days where I just want simple. Easy prep, easy clean up, no fuss. Then there are days where I just feel like getting involved and apparently, this is one of them. Sometimes it can be difficult, with my husband being unable to eat dairy. So much has dairy in it! Not these.

Speaking of my husband, he will be home late tonight, so I’ve had the whole day in front of me. I defrosted some pork chops for the mister and Little Miss, which I tossed with lemon juice, olive oil and Penzey’s Greek Seasoning, which can go on the grill later.

But dips. The dips make it. I was giving Little Miss lunch when my eyes fell on the potatoes on my counter. Suddenly, visions of skordalia, the lemony, garlicky Greek spread began dancing through my head. Yes, I decided, I could do this.

Just a quick reminder, I don’t post recipes for the most part. I post guidelines. If you can cook even a little, you can do this, I promise!

The Skordalia Guidelines

Skordalia, if you’re not familiar with it, is a smooth potato spread with plenty of garlic and lemon, perfect for serving with bread, pita bread or sliced raw veggies.

You’ll need:

  • Potatoes (this is a dip, not a size dish, so I found 5 medium potatoes to be just fine), peeled and chopped into 1″ cubes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Lemon juice, and lemon zest/powdered lemon peel
  • 2 cloves of garlic or garlic powder

Remember, this isn’t a recipe, so it’s not exact, but instructions are:

  1. Boil potatoes until fork tender. Drain, but keep the water in the pot.
  2. Transfer potatoes to a bowl and mash with a fork. Stir in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, one at a time.
  3. Salt and pepper to taste. Add 2 cloves fresh minced garlic, or garlic powder to have the flavor without the bite (I used a little over 1 tsp).
  4. Add 1-2 tsp lemon juice and a little fresh lemon zest or powdered lemon peel, mix.
  5. One tablespoon at a time, add cooking water and stir in until the dip is smooth and creamy.
  6. Let chill in the fridge or enjoy warm.

The Babaganoush Guidelines

Or, “Babaganoush – It’s Better Than It Looks”

For this recipe, I use my handy dandy wood chopping bowl and mezzaluna knife. This is also useful for making tuna/chicken salad and anything else you need to chop. It’s a wonderful set and if you don’t have one, you should.

old fashioned modern living babaganoush recipeYou’ll need:

  • A normal sized eggplant
  • Fresh garlic or garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Mayonnaise
  • Parsley (fresh or dried)

The instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit; line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Bake your eggplant for about an hour, or until it can be easily punctured by a fork.
  2. Remove eggplant from oven, let cool enough to handle. Cut the top and bottom off and use your hands to peel the skin off.
  3. Place peeled eggplant in chopping bowl and chop as finely or coarsely as you like.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste, plus as much fresh garlic or garlic powder as makes you happy.
  5. Throw in at least a teaspoon of dried garlic, or a nice handful of chopped fresh parsley.
  6. Stir in mayonnaise (I used 2 teaspoons, but adjust for how much you prefer). Done.

Seriously, it’s not pretty, but it’s really good. Feel free to cook your eggplant on the barbecue for a nice smokey flavor.

This is how we’re double dipping tonight. I’ve got raw veggies sliced for dipping, the pork just about ready to go on the grill, some sliced and seasoned butternut squash to hit the grill with the meat, and “no fail” pita bread from this recipe rising – and yes, they’re rising! I have high hopes these will be nice and fluffy and not terrible little hockey pucks.

Now I just need to keep the toddler busy until daddy gets home.

Baking Cooking Recipe

Frozen Pizza, 2 Ways

May 3, 2016

As many of you know, I’ve been spending the last few months preparing for the arrival of my baby boy! My due date is now less than a month away- and instead of manic nesting energy- I find myself incredibly sleepy! I’m hoping to give my body the rest it needs now so that I can store up some energy for the home stretch. Along those lines, my pre-baby freezer meal prep for the week is cheat your butt off frozen pizza! The sauce, dough, and cheese are all store bought. The meatballs are leftovers from Sunday dinner. The second version is a vegan, veggie pizza with a sweet onion/garlic sauce. I recently saw it on A Beautiful Mess, and I have been dying to make it ever since. This one requires more work, because you have to make the sauce and cook the veggies a little- but the dough is still store bought.

From reading I’ve done, the key to making a good homemade frozen pizza seems to be pre cooking your pizza dough a little bit, and wrapping them really well to prevent freezer burn.  I’m planning on making four small pizzas, so that they aren’t so floppy that they fall apart on me when I am trying to move them to the freezer!

What You’ll Need:

2 bags refrigerated pizza dough

flour (for rolling)

(for traditional pizza)

1 small jar of sauce

1 bag of shredded mozzerella cheese

2 sliced meatballs (or whatever is in your fridge)

Penzey’s Pizza Seasoning

(for veggie pizza- adapted from A Beautiful Mess)

1 medium onion

4 cloves of garlic

1/2 large green pepper

2 big handfuls of spinach leaves

1 quarter of a medium zucchini

Penzey’s Italian Herb Mix

2 tblspn olive oil (plus more for drizzling)

1 tblspn balsamic vinegar

 

The first step is to remove the paper from your onion and garlic cloves, drizzle them with olive oil, and wrap them in tin foil. Bake them for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees.

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While your onion and garlic is roasting, chop up your veggies into thin slices (I chose peppers, zucchini, and spinach- but you can use whatever you want), and sauté them with olive oil and italian herb mix until they are just starting to get soft. You do not need to fully cook them because everything  will be baked when you are actually getting ready to eat your frozen pizza. Once your veggies are slightly softened, you can set them aside while you wait for your other veggies to be done roasting.

Once the garlic and onions are finished roasting, set the temperature to 375 degrees, and begin rolling out your dough into four small pizzas. I baked my rolled out dough for about 6 minutes at first, but I noticed that when I left the dough in for 2 minutes longer by accident, it was slightly more sturdy for wrapping the pizzas later. So, I’d say bake your dough for about 6-8 minutes, depending upon what makes sense to you.

Dough before baking

Dough before baking

Dough after being baked for about 7 minutes. It will look similar to the raw dough, but you will be able to move it without it breaking.

Dough after being baked for about 7 minutes. It will look similar to the raw dough, but you will be able to move it without it breaking.

While you are baking the dough, prepare the onion and garlic sauce. Blend the onion and garlic cloves with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar until it is pureed into a thick sauce. Once that is completed, make room to assemble your pizzas and gather the rest of your toppings.

For the traditional pizzas, I spread on tomato sauce, scattered slices of meatball, and covered them in mozzarella cheese. I figured if I covered the sauce in cheese, it would be less likely to all stick to the plastic wrap! I also sprinkled on the pizza seasoning.

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For the veggie pizzas, I divided the onion and garlic sauce between the two pizzas and spread them over each. Next, I added the softened veggies. It turned out that I cooked a large amount of veggies, but I used all of them anyway since these pizzas do not contain meat or cheese.

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This may be overkill, but I wrapped each pizza tightly in three layers of plastic wrap. I stacked them neatly and nestled them into the freezer. According to Emma of A Beautiful Mess, you need to thaw the pizza for at least an hour before you intend to bake it, and then bake it for 18-22 minutes at 400 degrees. Definitely keep an eye on your pizza as ovens can have some variations! I hope these come out good- because I will be saving them for easy meals after the baby is born! I think either of these types of  pizzas would be a nice dinner for two with a big salad- or a really generous dinner for one with no sides. Enjoy!

Pizzas tightly wrapped and ready to be stored in the freezer!

Pizzas tightly wrapped and ready to be stored in the freezer!

 

 

 

Cooking Health Review

Food Rules: A Review

April 5, 2016

Several years back, my mother let me borrow Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by food writer Michael Pollan. The book features a collection of interesting rules for healthful eating, including:

  • “If it comes from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”
  • “Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored.”
  • “Avoid foods you see advertised on television.”

Plus my very favorite, “eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” I use this one to justify eating 6 homemade low sugar, high protein cookies made with coconut oil, organic oatmeal and organic eggs, should the mood strike me. Stop looking at me like that, I made them.

Anyway, I recently re-discoved Pollan with the Netflix miniseries Cooked (which I will review separately), so I went and purchased both Food Rules and Cooked for myself. Food Rules is a fairly quick read, and a worthwhile one. Here I will share a brief summary, with some of my own input because I just can’t help myself.


food rules review old fashioned modern livingI pretty much think Michael Pollan is a visionary. His views make perfect sense. They may not be popular, because they’re not convenient, and since he hasn’t stuck a fancy name on them, they’re not trendy. Following these food rules can make a huge different in your eating habits, your health and your lifestyle. Even just adhering loosely, but keeping these things in mind can make a big difference.

The dedication in the front of the book reads, “for my mother, who always knew butter was better for you than margarine.” This makes me snicker, because it sounds quite like my mother. Butter has gotten a bad name for being high in fat and cholesterol, but butter is a fairly basic food from a simple source; the fatty part of cow’s milk is churned into butter. Margarine on the other hand, is a man-made, highly processed food product. In moderation, butter should be just fine for the average person as compared to a product that is highly processed and loaded full of chemicals.

This book is broken up into 5 parts: an introduction, 3 main sections and acknowledgements. The table on contents alone offers valuable dietary advice, namely, “eat food…mostly plants…not too much”.

Section one is related to distinguishing real foods from food products, the highly processed food-like substances that fill most of the center of a supermarket. One of my favorites is “don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” My great-grandmother (the only of my great-grandparents I have real memories of) was born in 1901 in eastern Europe. Her family traveled out of necessity (Austria wasn’t a great place for a Jewish family to be at that time), from their hometown to England and eventually, to the United States. She was raised in a largely traditional, religious setting. I would imagine that as a child, her family survived on what was available in and around her small hometown. Basic, whole foods. My grandparent’s generation on the other hand, were having their children in the 1950s, when the post-WWII processed food boom began; they were the very housewives and working husbands the processed food market was looking to pull in.

Also important is rule number 5, “avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients.” Did you know that labels list ingredients by weight, from most to least? Keep that in mind when you look at ingredient labels.

Now that you can distinguish real food from not-so-real food, section two helps you navigate the specifics of what to eat for healthful living. Rule 25, “eat your colors” is a favorite of mine – it’s a point of pride around here than my daughter eats her greens, oranges, reds, blues, and just about anything else I offer her. Aside from being pretty, the different color vegetables contain a vast array of different and important nutrients and compounds.

This section deals with how much to eat of different real foods, discussing meats and veggies, breads and sweets, plus a few cooking tips too! I know from reading this book years ago that when vegetables are cooked in water, that water retains vital nutrients that leeched out during the cooking process. You can save the cooking water for soups or stews, or as I do, simply cook most vegetables by sauteing or steaming, and every now and then make a pot of the heartiest, nutrient packed vegetable soup around – and drink that broth!

Section three is about how to eat, meaning how much, and how often. An early rule discusses being satisfied versus being full, and the next addresses mindless boredom eating. Rules like “limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods” are simple to implement and can go a long way. An apple or cluster of fresh grapes, or a handful of veggie sticks is a lot kinder to your body than a bag of chips.

As I mentioned earlier, this book is a quick read. In paperback, it has a total of 140 pages, nearly all of which are a headline and then a brief description. This is not heavy reading and is so worth the time – plus you can get it for under $8 on Amazon. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy! If you’re already in the know, you may learn something extra or find an interesting tidbit. If you’re new to healthful eating, it can offer some serious food for thought that can make a major difference in your health and life.

Note: This is an independent review of Food Rules by Michael Pollan. I am reading it again and simply decided to share it here.

Baking Cooking Recipe Uncategorized

Irish Soda Bread and an Easy Crock Pot St. Paddy’s Day Dinner

March 17, 2016

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Maybe treat yourself to a Guinness and some Irish Soda bread today. Better yet, throw an easy corned beef and cabbage dinner in the crock pot before you go to work so you can kick back, relax, and watch The Quiet Man later instead of hanging out in the kitchen.  This recipe is nothing fancy (or photogenic!), nor is it health food- but we look forward to it every year. It’s also a pretty lazy kind of recipe. I pour a beer over it, scatter on the seasoning packet that comes with the corned beef and call it a day! You can easily customize it to make it more interesting, but we like it as is! Be forewarned, the cabbage cooking will smell kind of stinky, but cabbage actually has a pretty mild flavor. The soda bread is a little more labor intensive, and requires an hour to bake- but I promise its worth it!

 

Corned Beef and Cabbage in the Crock Pot

1  package of corned beef (ours was a little over 3lbs)

5 potatoes cut into large cubes

1 large onion, halved and cut into slices

5 carrots, cut in half

Half of a small cabbage, cut into wedges (wondering what to do with the other half of cabbage? Make this yummy cole slaw. I’ve made this dairy free by making “fake” buttermilk with nondairy milk and vinegar or lemon juice, and reducing the amount of sugar doesn’t hurt either! Change nothing else!)

Beer of your choice, we usually use a Guinness or a Bass

 

Place all of your chopped veggies, except for the cabbage at the bottom of your crock pot. Next, place the corned beef on top of the veggies, and then nestle the cabbage around it. Pour the entire beer on top of the layered meat and veggies, and then carefully scatter the seasonings from the flavor packet over the top. Funny story- this year I somehow bought a package without the seasonings. I improvised with a generous sprinkle of black pepper, parsley, and a little of Penzey’s Northwoods seasoning.  Cover the crock pot and cook everything on low for about 7-8 hours.

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When it is finished cooking, remove the meat and cut it into slices against the grain, and place the cabbage around it. Using a slotted spoon, strain out the vegetables (they will be hiding in all of that liquid), and place into a bowl.

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I like to eat this dish with a side of applesauce and Irish soda bread, and my husband likes spicy brown mustard instead of applesauce. Do whatever appeals to you! Please note: Corned beef leftovers make good sandwich meat for lunches during the week!

 

Now for the Irish Soda Bread Recipe! This is actually a recipe that my mom passed down to me from my dad’s mom, my grandmother. Its pretty special to me, and I hope you enjoy it! I always think of my Nana when I bake it. She was a pretty amazing lady. She and my Grandpa immigrated from Ireland and raised 10 children together! I remember climbing the trees in her front yard and having sleepovers at her house. I was always running wild, and she tried to get me to comb my hair. I really miss her, and wish she could meet my son.

Irish Soda Bread

4 cups of flour

3 tablespoon of sugar

1 teaspoon of salt

3/4 teaspoon of baking soda

1 tablespoon of baking powder

6 tablespoons of butter

2 eggs

1 and 1/2 cups of buttermilk (once again, you can make your own “fake buttermilk”, although the recipe does include butter, so it won’t be entirely dairy free)

1 and a half cups of raisins (I actually cannot stand raisins, so I always leave them out!)

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, then mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Next, cut in the butter by hand. Beat the eggs in a small bowl, and then pour most of it into the mixture, reserving a little to be an egg wash. Add the buttermilk and stir until everything is combined. Once the mixture is well combined, add the raisins. Form a loose ball with the dough (if it feels too wet, its fine to add a little more flour at this point), and then place into a greased pan (I use a round cake pan).  Use a brush or a spoon to coat the dough in an egg wash. Feel free to crack another egg if you didn’t have enough leftover. Lastly, use a sharp knife to cut a cross into the bread, and place in the oven. The recipe says to cook the bread for an hour and 20 minutes, but I usually keep a close eye on it after an hour.

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Once your bread is cooked and cooled a bit, spread with butter and enjoy!

I hope everyone has a fabulous day and enjoys this easy dinner!