Friday, October 30, 2009

Ghostess With The Mostess

Spooky & Cute: Little Ghost Meringue Cookies
When I was younger, my Mom used to make meringue cookies. It seemed like she made them for every occasion. She made plain ones, pastel-tinted ones, and even mint chocolate chip ones. I think she must've loved making them as much as I loved eating them. As a youngster, I tried making them by myself and they turned out gooey and chewy. We still ate them. But they didn't have that airy crispness that made hers so wonderful. I always meant to try them again, but with so many other cookies out there that weren't finicky, they never were attempted a second time.

As fate would have it, the other day we found ourselves wanting cookies (needing, really) and there was not a lick of butter in the house. (Everyone knows that the "b" in baking stands for butter). We were dejected for sure. But inspiration struck and I said "Honey, there IS a cookie that doesn't call for butter: meringue cookies! Hot diggety!" And so I planned to make some. But before I did, I realized that it's Hallowe'en and I remembered seeing those same meringue cookies made up like little ghosties with chocolate eyes. How perfect was that?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Kick The Can

We always stock up on cans of black beans when we find a really good sale on them. They're great for adding to quesadillas and burritos, and they're super healthy too. We learned some things the hard way though. The sale/store brand beans had ingredients other than just beans and water (and I don't mean spices). They're canned right? What else do you need in there?

What really got our goat was that after draining the "liquid" from the can, we were left with half a can or less of actual beans. By comparison, the regular/name brand cans of beans had less "ingredients" and more beans. Sometimes, every so often, you do get more when you pay more. More of the good and less of the bad. Of course, good healthy food does seem to cost more on the whole than the unhealthy junk. So that really shouldn't surprise me. But, beans?

Well, we finally finished off the last of those bargain beans the other day and it hit me that instead of buying more cans, I could just buy dried beans and cook them myself. And in the interest of our utility bill, I found that I could cook them in the crock pot for even less. Thanks to the instructions linked-to below, I have pre-measured baggies of cooked black beans in our freezer, and more space in our pantry. Not to mention more coin in our pocket... and that's always a good thing.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Banana Bread (Basic)

There were more frozen bananas in our freezer than you could shake a stick at.* Probably enough for four loaves of banana bread. At least. That's kind of a lot. So I thawed 6 of them, got out my favorite recipe and then realized that I don't have any whole wheat flour. I don't even have any white whole wheat flour. Back to the books in search of a basic, but potentially yummy banana bread recipe. I found one that looked promising; the most exotic ingredient was sour cream. This also turned out to be the perfect opportunity to try out the Beater Blade Plus that I got as a birthday gift.** After a couple little adjustments, it was running smooth. Yee Haw! I could just kiss the person who invented this thing! Seriously, but I digress... It's like banana bread central around here sometimes. The funny thing is, I never really made it before this last year. But it's cheap, tasty, filling, sort of healthy, freezes well and tastes great even without butter (not many foods can boast that).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ham Hock Bean Soup

Went chasing after a memory today. All this talk about moms, comfort food and cold weather got me thinking about my mom's navy bean soup. While she's looking through her bazillion cookbooks for the recipe she used, I decided to forge ahead and see what I could come up with. What I found was Ham Hock Bean Soup. It had all the required elements, and it seemed a lot like the one I remember. Not that I've ever made it. Mom made it, we ate it and loved it.

This would be the first soup I've ever made. How bizarre is that? There are so many things like that, basic things, that I've never cooked before. I feel like such a newbie in the kitchen sometimes. But now I can say that I've made soup! The Hubs thought it seemed like a really involved and complicated recipe. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. I don't know... never made soup before! There were lots of different stages to this soup, to be sure, but it was pretty straightforward. And it was pretty delicious too. There were no complaints when all was said and done. The house smelled fabulous all afternoon, and we both had seconds. I'm sure there are shortcuts, but I don't want to know about them.*

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sweet Potato "Fries"

If these taste anything like the ones I've had in local restaurants... yum! Those are probably deep fried however, which increases their delectability tenfold. I'm not about to deep-fry anything though, so these sound like my best bet for making this treat at home...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Rat Patootie (Ratatouille)

I
n the movie Ratatouille, one of the characters goes off on a tipsy tangent about the French dish of the same name, saying that the pronunciation sounds like "rat patootie". Terribly cute and one of those little things that stick with you. We loved the movie, but neither of us had ever tasted ratatouille before. Until last weekend. Friends of ours invited us over, and that's what they were preparing for our dinner. Now we know what we've been missing all this time. Why did our Moms never make this for us, like the mom in the movie flashback? She prepared it lovingly for her child in order to soothe him, to make him feel better... it was comfort food. What was up with our moms? Was it simply that they weren't French? I found quite a few recipes for it in my library of cookbooks (results below). There was even an Italian version of ratatouille called Giambotta* that looked to be almost identical to what my friend made us. Alas, our moms are not Italian either. No matter, we've tasted it now and have seen how it's made. There's no going back. Endlessly versatile, hopelessly easy, and amazingly comforting; I know what will be cooking in our kitchen come the next cold snap...

Basic Ratatouille:
  • Page 202 of The Silver Palate Cookbook (anniversary edition)
  • Giambotta, pg. 263 of Moosewood Restaurant: Lowfat Favorites (borrowed)
  • Page 321 of the American Heart Association Cookbook
  • Page 198 of the "Say Ahhh!" cookbook (just don't ask)
Ratatouille Variations:
  • Baked Macaroni & Ratatouille, page 140 of Gourmet's Quick Kitchen
  • Ratatouille Pie with Basil Crust, page 158, Great Recipes For Great Weekends
  • Oven-Baked Ratatouille, page 616 of How To Cook Everything
  • Ratatouille Omelets, page 392 in The Martha Stewart Cookbook
  • Ratatouille Soup With Beans, page 77, BH&G Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes
  • Steak Sandwiches With Ratatouille, pg. 183, BH&G Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes

*I wonder if that's what they called the movie when it was released in Italy?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Simply Smashing White Bean Dip

Simply Smashing White Bean Dip
Made this dip for a party we went to today. It's hard to say whether it was a success or not. Some of it was eaten, certainly, but there was plenty left to take home. Of course, there was a ton of food at this get together. So much that whole sub-sections of party food neglected to make it onto my plate. Assuming that other people had a similar experience, I should take it as a positive sign that a few people did indeed try my dip. There was no real feedback other than from the Hubs; like when I turned around and saw him dipping the extra pieces of bread into the bowl of dip... before we'd left for the party. Uh, yes. He did.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Beans, Beans...

M y sister taught me a charming little poem when we were children*, which I will not repeat (oops, pun!). Unfortunately, it's been stuck in my head as I collected the following recipes. I apologize profusely. Terribly embarrassed and all that. If you don't know the poem, ask a kid (or a big kid). You won't read it here. I am grown up now and am above that type of humor. Really. Where was I... Oh yes... Beans are really good for you in lots of ways, and if you cook them up into something delicious, it's a win-win situation all around. And they're inexpensive too (win-win-win). Here are some raved about recipes and techniques to try...
*Mom doesn't think that I need to use the past tense there.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lentil Sausage Ragout

This looks to be mighty tasty over pasta or polenta, and a nice change from marinara...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

One-Bowl Apple Cake

Easy & Delicious One-Bowl Apple Cake
The last of the sad apples have been reincarnated as this easy apple cake. They must've done something right during their little apple lives to have ended up here. The warm cinnamon and apple smells coming from the oven are just so good. Maybe they're not exactly reincarnated, but with so many other obvious metaphors to choose from, this one was as good as any. A few weeks ago these little apples had fallen off of a tree. That's pretty much the end of the road for an apple. These particular windfalls found their way into my kitchen and there they sat. And sat...and sat. Until today. I washed and dried them, cut them up and baked them into this cake (o.k. cakes - I made two), now cooling on my counter top. Those little apples are now fully realized as our breakfast. They're happier now. Tender, moist, nutty and fragrant. It's a good thing I made two.

Warm Apples For Cool Mornings

Some easy ideas for apples in the a.m. (or anytime really)...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

Mairsy Doats

Here are some other tasty ideas I came across for using steel cut oats...
  • Toasted Oatmeal from MSL (toasting first always improves flavor)
  • Bruléed Irish Oatmeal also from MSL (anytime you can make breakfast more like dessert is fine by me)
  • More ways to prepare this healthy breakfast than you can shake a stick at, direct from the source
  • Breaking News (10/13/09): An American just won the World Porridge Championship in Scotland! Porridge is Scotland's National Food. They're really serious about their love of porridge. I get that. Go to goldenspurtle.com for recipes, nutritional info, and more. If nothing else, you can find out what a spurtle is.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Baked Apples a la Betty

Sad apples were pleading with me from the drawer in the fridge. They felt forgotten. And so they had been. Since there wasn't quite enough leftover oatmeal from yesterday to feed both of us, I had the lovely idea to augment the porridge with baked apples. Oh yum! Then the realization hit me... Crank up the oven to 350° for a whole hour, just to cook 4 apples for breakfast? Holy gas & electric bill, Batman! Not gonna happen. Betty to the rescue!
  • Magic Apples, page 47, Betty Crocker's New Good And Easy Cookbook, 1962
Yes, the home of such delectable dishes as: Asparagus-Dried Beef Savory, Feast-A-Pie, and Pacific Lime Mold* (just to name a few), also provided the time and money-saving fake for our breakfast this morning. Baked apples on the stove top. Who knew? Betty did, that's who.

Notes: Prepare apples according to your favorite baked apple recipe. I core them from the bottom with my trusty melon-baller and stuff them with whatever chopped nuts and dried fruits are on hand, along with brown sugar, cinnamon, and a teensy bit of butter. Place apples in saucepan with 1/2 inch of water and put the lid on it. Cook on medium heat for 10 - 12 minutes or until tender, removing lid for last couple of minutes. Not as good as traditional baked apples but way faster and a whole lot easier on the electric bill!

*All delectable dishes listed are actual recipes found in the above-mentioned cookbook and were chosen randomly, however the weirdest ones were given preference. And let me tell you, it was hard to limit the list to just three!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Overnight Irish Porridge

E-Z Overnight Irish Porridge
Every kid knows that The Three Bears ate porridge. But did you know that when we eat oatmeal for breakfast we're eating porridge too? Porridge is made from cooking cut, crushed, or rolled grains in water or milk until soft and creamy. And totally comforting. Why we refer to the ingredient and the finished preparation as the same thing, I just don't know. If I laid awake at night thinking about it (yep, did that), I would want a hot bowl of porridge the next morning to make me feel better. For my money though, I would want that porridge to be made from steel cut oats.

When I was a kid, my oatmeal generally came from a little packet that was mixed in a bowl with hot water. Healthy, maybe. But kind of lacking in the texture and flavor department. Goldilocks would have pronounced it to be "too boring!" (in that petulant little way that she has).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Brownies

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vegan Chocolate Slime Cake

Vegan Chocolate "Slime" Cake
So maybe that's not the best name for this, but it's the one I like best. The real name is below in the link. But I made this as a Halloween cake and frankly the frosting reminded us of the movie Ghostbusters. More specifically, it reminded us of the ectoplasm or slime that covered Dr. Peter Venkman after his first encounter with the gluttonous hotel ghost (appropriately nicknamed "Slimer").

Perhaps this is not the best cake to take to a potluck, but with various people's allergies and other nutritional restrictions to consider... I thought I'd try it. Besides, it looked like a lot of fun and all I had to buy were avocados which we picked up at a little roadside stand on the way home. My favorite recipes are always the ones I don't have to go shopping for.

We later decorated the top with little rubber bats, rats and black cats, hoping to ensure the interest of the kids present... unnecessary really, with that bright green frosting! I won't repeat what the Hubs told them it was made from, but it was ironic that while they thought it was (insert name of gross stuff here), they ate it without a problem; once the mystery ingredient was revealed to be avocado*, they scraped it off. Kids! As far as I noticed, none of the adults scraped it off, and some even had seconds.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October = Pumpkins

With each change of season I think to myself, "This is the season I love best!". If I were forced to pick a favorite though, it would be autumn, hands down. There are no extremes in the autumn. The days are warm, dry and clear, and the evenings are cool. You can wear your favorite suede shoes all you want. You no longer need to try and keep the house cool, but it's not quite time to worry about heating it either. Hot drinks replace iced ones, and you don't mind a bit. October in particular is synonymous with so many wonderful things: bringing sweaters out of storage, the leaves turning colors, noticeably shorter days, Hallowe'en candy, and the gorgeous golden light coming from the sun. But best of all, it's time to start adding the earthy flavors of fall into our cooking. Starting with pumpkin. Here are a bunch of pumpkin recipes and ideas to get us all in the mood...