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?

Light and ephemeral, just like "real" ghosts, there are hardly any ingredients at all to speak of. Had we not run out of butter just before Hallowe'en, who knows if I ever would have attempted meringue cookies again. Funny how those things happen, huh? You might say, it's almost... spooky even. Mummy will be so proud...
Notes: Used the recipe from 101 Cookbooks. It intrigued me with it's use of powdered sugar. I doubled it before thinking about oven space, cookie height, and rack clearance. Kitchen was cold and the egg whites were still chilly after being out of the fridge almost an hour. Took over half an hour for stiff peaks to form. Decided that it had to be ready, as it just wasn't changing anymore. Added a quarter teaspoon of vanilla in the very last minute of whisking and went for it...

Filled up a disposable pastry bag (without a tip) with the mixture and started piping mini-ghosts. Refilled it for the second tray-ful and continued. Put both trays in the oven and continued to follow recipe. It looked like the cookies on the second tray had started to shlump after 10 minutes in oven, or maybe I just made them squatter because I was afraid there wasn't enough clearance under the top rack? Make sure to leave them in the oven for as long as the recipe states... or even longer. They must dry out completely or they will be chewy on the inside.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Kicking the Can (of beans)

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/or 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.

Cooking Dried Beans In The Slow Cooker from the Crockpot365 blog

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. For the life of me, I don't know why... it's cheap, tasty, filling, sort of healthy, freezes well and tastes great even without butter (not many foods can boast that).
Page 106, The Martha Stewart Cookbook: Collected Recipes For Everyday, 1995
Notes: Doubled the recipe. Didn't measure the bananas. Recipe called for 1 cup mashed (doubled would be 2 cups). Most recipes say 3 bananas, so I doubled it and used six (and crossed my fingers once I realized what I'd done). Greased pans with butter wrappers. Tester was not clean at 1 hour. Rotated pans and baked for 10 more minutes... still not clean. Another ten minutes did the trick. One hour and 20 minutes total. Rested on sides on rack for 10 minutes then attempted to turn out. The first loaf released perfectly, the second... we'll just say less than perfect. Should have let it rest a bit longer probably and not insisted when it resisted. But broken or not, it tastes great!

*I'd love to know the origin of that phrase. Tried to look it up online but its etymology is apparently unknown. Lots of definitions, lots of guesses, no definite origins. Regardless of where the term came from, I have six less bananas in my freezer and can now shake a stick at the remainder as much as I want. Still don't know just why I'd want to though.

**I'm not a woman who has issues with receiving cooking implements from my husband on gift-giving occasions. Other household accoutrements are a whole different story. We would have to have a "discussion" if I found a pretty bow tied to a dust-buster or some such item. Cool tools for the kitchen though? Bring it on. Just maybe not on Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ham Hock Bean Soup aka Navy Bean Soup

Went chasing after a memory today. Recent coversations 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 from scratch. 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.*

We all grew up hearing that "soup is good food". And it really is. But not from a can. Or a jar. Soup from scratch takes time, and it's main ingredient is love. Cheesy... yeah, bear with me though, because it's true. If it wasn't, I'd just grab a can opener and be done with it. Most soups are made from a few simple, even humble, ingredients (it almost doesn't get much humbler than a ham hock, not in my kitchen anyway), most of which are already in the pantry. That leaves: time. And to spend that much time preparing food means putting love into it. You must love the process or the people who will be nourished by it. Or both.
Ham Hock Bean Soup, page 61, Sunset: Homemade Soups, 1986**  
(similar recipe here from Cooking Light: Hearty Navy Bean Soup )
Notes: The day before starting the soup, I soaked the beans for 6 hours, then drained, rinsed, and drained again. Stored them in the fridge until I was ready to use them. Used homemade chicken stock that my sister made during one of her visits (I won't say how very long ago that was, let's just say it wasn't made in this kitchen), dried beans from the bulk bin at the store, and my own dried rosemary (from that same other residence). Tried to chop the dried rosemary into smaller pieces and it flew around like a cloud of confetti! Don't chop... just crumble into the pot! Used a stick blender directly in the pot instead of trying to pour half into a blender like the recipe suggests. I may not use it often, but that stick blender has more than earned the real estate it takes up in my kitchen cupboard.

The recipe made 6 servings. I divided up what we didn't eat; two servings in the fridge and two in the freezer. I do wish it had made more, for all the work that went into it. But now that I've done it, it won't seem like so much effort the next time.
Realized the next day that I forgot to add the salt and pepper at the end. It didn't need it! While the pepper might add a nice extra note, the ham hocks were plenty salty and neither of us noticed any absence of flavor.

*Do you know that the only packaging that I had to open, was the plastic wrap over the foam tray from the ham hocks? If I'd purchased them from a proper butcher counter, they probably would've been wrapped up in paper instead. When all was said and done, the only things I had to throw in the trash were to do with the ham hocks: the aforementioned packaging, the bones, skin, and fat. Since I'm going to make this again and am not willing to forgo the ham hocks... I'd better find an "old school" butcher counter! As for the rest: the produce bags get reused, and the veg scraps went into a bag I keep in the freezer for future vegetable stock.

**Now I know this isn't mom's recipe because of the publishing date. It tasted a whole lot like her soup though, and sensory memories like that don't lie.

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 when I turned around and saw Hubs dipping pieces of bread into the bowl of dip... before we'd left for the party. Uh, yes. He did.

I thought that this dip would be a perfect choice, given that the ingredients were few, and the technique simple (even considering that it involved the use of the food processor), and in addition, it sounded really tasty.

All we needed at the store were beans and lemons. There wasn't time to cook the beans from scratch, so we bought a can of navy beans and a can of cannellinis. We also picked up some coffee and steel cut oats while we were there. "Hey, we should get some dried beans to cook up for soup this week. We'll need carrots and celery for that"...

Can you believe I forgot the lemons?* Don't answer that. Hubs graciously went back to the store while I started making the dip. He came back with eyes wide open. He'd never purchased lemons in a grocery store evidently. Why would you, when you know lots of people with lemon trees? Of course, when you move away, even a few miles, all of that is moot. The supermarket is closer than your old friends.

What did you say? Why yes, we do have a lemon tree! Funny you mentioned it. The lemons on it don't seem to be getting any bigger or yellower though. They've been green so long that twice now I've accidentally referred to it as "the lime tree" and Hubs had to correct me.

Well, he came home with those pricey store-bought lemons and went straight past me to the back yard, where he proceeded to show them to our little tree while yelling, "GROW FASTER!" at it. Really loudly.

Simply Smashing White Bean Dip
Adapted from: Rosemary-Lemon White Bean Dip by Mark Bittman

2 - 15 oz. cans of white beans (3 cups)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
3/4 cup olive oil, plus 1 Tblsp
1 "three-finger" pinch of salt, plus more to taste
3-4 grinds of black pepper
2 lemons, zested
1 good squeeze of lemon juice
1 Tblsp fresh rosemary, finely minced

Drain the two cans of beans and put them into the bowl of a food processor along with the garlic and salt. While the machine is running, drizzle the olive oil into it and continue processing until smooth. Taste the dip at this point, add the black pepper and any additional salt if needed. Pulse a couple of times to distribute the seasonings evenly. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the dip into a bowl and mix in the lemon zest, juice, rosemary and a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Garnish the bowl with a leftover sprig of rosemary and serve with raw veggies or little toasts (see notes).

Notes: Each 15 oz. can contained 1-1/2 cups of beans, drained. Since the original recipe called for 2 cups, and I had 3, I decided to make half a recipe more and use up all the beans. I kept all the other quantities pretty much the same except for the olive oil which I increased roughly by half. The Hubs sliced up a baguette I had bought at the farmer's market yesterday, brushed the slices lightly with oil and popped them under the broiler for a few (watching the whole time and flipping them over once the first side started to get color).

*We were there for two items and I forgot one. Proof that my memory/retention is holding strong at 50%. Note to self: WRITE IT DOWN!... AND BRING THE LIST WITH YOU!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Beans, Beans...

My 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 little 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.

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.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Baked Apples a la Betty

A few 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 today, I had the lovely idea to augment the porridge with baked apples. Oh yum and yes, please!

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 Crocker to the rescue! The New Good And Easy Cookbook (circa 1962) to be precise.

Yes, the home of such delectable dishes as: Asparagus-Dried Beef Savory, Feast-A-Pie, and Pacific Lime Mold*, 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.

Magic Apples 
(page 47, Betty Crocker's New Good And Easy Cookbook, 1962)

These are the basic steps...
  1. 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 some butter. 
  2. Place apples in saucepan with 1/2 inch of water and put the lid on it. 
  3. Cook on medium heat for 10—12 minutes or until tender, removing lid for last couple of minutes.
Notes: Not quite 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).

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 start to 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...