Wednesday, January 26, 2011

BACON WHAT LOL (I've been near the Internet too long)

I swear I'm going grocery shopping today. Unfortunately, there is a forecast of two inches of snow. This means that the grocery store will be packed, because people are afraid of being snowed in and having to resort to cannibalism. I'm going in. If you don't hear from me in a day or two, it's because I cut a bitch in Whole Foods with a broken bottle of organic gluten-free beer and I'm in jail.

Spaghetti Carbonara is not exactly "healthy", per se, but it's tasty and filling and cheap. It is also made of things that I always have lying around the house: bacon, eggs, and pasta.

It can be a little tricky; the hot pasta cooks the eggs on contact. This means that you have to drain the pasta and immediately toss it with the egg mixture before the pasta starts to cool off. Now normally you want to get the pasta really drained and dry as to not water down your sauce, but in this case it's good to have some cooking water in there. Really the biggest hassle of this whole recipe is cooking the bacon. I have switched to the oven method and I am never going back. I heat my oven to 450 degrees. I line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and I lay the bacon out on the paper. I pop the bacon on to the middle rack of oven for about 15 minutes. Keep an eye on it while it cooks. Cooking time depends on your oven, the thickness/fattiness of the bacon, and how crispy you like it. Flip the bacon strips halfway through, if you like. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven, transfer the bacon strips to a paper-towel lined plate to drain.

The benefits of this method are as follows:

1) You can cook a whole package of bacon at once. More than one package if you need to!
2) No splatter mess, and your hair/clothes/house don't get that grody cold grease smell.
3) Easy clean-up; Let the pan cool and the drippings solidify, and you just grab the parchment from the pan and throw it away. I don't have to drain hot grease into a jar like my mom used to, I don't have to scrub a pan.

I'm telling you, it's the best.

Okay, so here's what you do once you've got your bacon cooked up and ready to go:

Spaghetti Carbonara

1# dried spaghetti, linguini, or fettucini
1/2# cooked chopped bacon
4 large eggs
2T cooled melted butter
1c grated parmesan cheese
1 c chopped fresh spinach
s/p to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions, just in case you are unsure of how to cook pasta. I am not here to judge. While pasta is cooking, beat together eggs, cheese, and butter in a large bowl. Set aside. Right before draining pasta, reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Drain pasta, and add to egg/cheese mixture. Toss to coat, adding reserved cooking water a little at a time. The eggs will cook on contact, the cheese will melt, and the cooking water will thin it out into a sauce. You want to use the cooking water as opposed to regular hot water because the starch left by the cooking pasta is what holds the sauce together. Toss/mix in the bacon and the spinach and serve!

I was a little skeptical as to how this would taste as leftovers, but I reheated some in the microwave and it's still totally tasty.

More soup? Sure, why not.

Lately, all I want to make/eat is soup, so here comes another one. I know, my kids are just as thrilled as you are.

This recipe is one of those last minute meals that ended up working out really well. I was kind of slack on doing proper planning last week, and our meat stash had been whittled down to a few steaks and a package of sausage. Sausage is much more forgiving of the microwave defrost cycle so I started there. A rummage around the pantry, and I came up with;

Slow Cooker Black Bean & Sausage Soup

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 package of italian sausage, crumbled and browned
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
1 lg onion, chopped
2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1T chopped garlic
1T Italian seasoning - or - 1/4c fresh chopped herbs such as rosemary, oregano, thyme
8 c chicken or vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
1 28oz can of chopped tomatoes (in juice or puree, your choice)
a couple handfuls of leafy greens - such as spinach, kale, or chard - chopped

Throw everything except for the greens in your slow cooker and set for appropriate amount of time. Something like this, it doesn't matter if you set it high or low or how long you let it simmer. Right before serving, stir in the greens. If you add them at the end they won't get all manky. No one likes manky greens.

I served with a drizzle of basil oil and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. On the side we had warm crusty bread, and strawberries and goat cheese.

Sorry for the lack of photos, I've been spacing on it until we're already eating and I'm like, "Oh hey I should post this recipe but I'm so hungry NAM NAM NAM"

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Squash Soup & Pizza Stones

I'm going to be honest with you; I like snow when it's falling and for like, a day after that. Then it becomes an immovable mass that makes getting around rather annoying. I cleared a path from the front door to the driveway, but our driveway is so narrow that one ends up knee-deep in snow before getting into the car anyway. As I get older and my upper back gets more jacked-up, I am starting to be envious of all the old people on my street with snowblowers. When we buy a house, we are getting a snow blower. End of story.

It is soup weather, bitches*! That is just fine with me. I think it may be some kind of law around New England that 60% of non-ethnic restaurants must serve Butternut Squash Soup. The best that I've had is at Apollo Grill and since I used to work there in a former life I remember the recipe. Mwah-ha-ha.

BUT since I don't think Casey would appreciate me broadcasting the recipe for one of his key menu items on the internet, I'm going to give you a different version that I think is just as tasty. It is also super easy and CHEAP. In season, butternut squash runs about 39 cents per pound. If you have a farm share, you probably have a ton of it lying around anyway.

I cooked the squash in my crockpot. Slice the squash lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. I quartered it to fit, and cooked with 1/4 c water - high for four hours.

You don't have to puree' the final result, but I like a silky textured soup. This will serve four if it's your main course.

Butternut Squash Soup

1 medium butternut squash, roasted, skin removed
3 c broth (I used chicken, or strong veg stock)
1 onion, diced
1 T chopped garlic
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2T butter
2T olive oil
1 c heavy cream or half & half (or milk, it will just be thinner and not as creamy)
s/p to taste

Sautee' onions, garlic and celery in the oil and butter. Add squash, nutmeg, and chicken broth. Lower heat and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Puree using immersion blender, stir in cream, season to taste.

We like to have it like Apollo serves it, with crumbles of blue cheese and shredded pear (or apple).

I also made pizza, using my shiny new KitchenAid mixer (best boyfriend, best Christmas gift) for the dough. So good! I like a big, bready, chewy pizza crust. I always use Red Star yeast and Hecklers' unbleached flour when I bake bread, and I recommend both. I started using a pizza stone years ago, and I'll never go back to pans. I have one round stone that I've probably had for ten years now, and then my friend Gary showed up with a stack of quarry tiles from Home Depot and I was all whaaaaaaaaat and he was all "duh". Quarry tiles are unglazed terra cotta tiles used for flooring. You can also use them as pizza/bread stones because guess what - it's the same material.

Here's the thing: Pizza stones are expensive. Quarry tile is cheap. A pizza stone comes in a size. If you want to make more than one pizza at a time, you have to buy more pizza stones. Quarry tiles are generally 6x6 squares and a box of ten or so is like, three bucks. I can line both of my oven racks end to end with quarry tiles and bake four small pizzas at once for less than ten dollars.

Like with a pizza stone, quarry tiles should be seasoned to prevent the dough from sticking. Just rub them with a little vegetable oil before popping them in the oven, the first few times you use them.

*Bitches like, "my bitches" - a term of endearment. You are all my bitches, and I love you.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sharing Time

Image taken from the fantastic site "A Year Of Slow Cooking", linked below.

I just have to pass along this recipe. I made it with pork ribs, and I lined the bottom of my crockpot with crinkled tinfoil. That kept the ribs from stewing in their own juices (lovely, but not what I was going for). Then I transferred the ribs to a serving dish and poured the pan juices right over them.

So so so so good, and so easy. I served with mashed potatoes, and a frozen veg mix called "soycutash" - edamame, corn, and red peppers - to which I added butter and sautee'd garlic and shallots. Everyone ate everything, even the vegetables.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Never Slurp The Stroganoff

It snowed yesterday, and everyone freaked the eff out. Seriously, it's New England. We've seen snow before. The first major snowstorm of the winter always has people acting like fools. We took full advantage of the snow day, and laid around the house in a way only rivaled by the cats.

I had already planned Lamb Stroganoff for dinner, and it ended up being perfect for such a cold night. This recipe can be made with any ground meat, or even a vegetarian protein like seitan.

Easy Lamb Stroganoff

1# ground lamb
4 oz portobella mushrooms, sliced or chopped (I chopped mine to hide them from the kids)
1 diced onion
2 T chopped garlic
1 splash white wine or cooking sherry
1 c chicken broth
8 oz condensed cream of mushroom soup (I like Trader Joe's if you can get it)
1 tsp dried dill
1T fresh thyme
1 c frozen or fresh peas
1 c plain yogurt or sour cream (Greek yogurt is nice and thick and gives the dish a little tangy bite)

Brown lamb in a large skillet. Add mushrooms, onion and garlic. Saute' until onion is translucent and mushrooms have released their juices, about five minutes. Deglaze the pan with wine or sherry, add chicken broth and herbs. Bring to a boil. Add peas, boil for about two minutes. Reduce heat to low, stir in yogurt, heat through. Remove from heat. Serve with wide noodles. I tossed whole wheat egg noodles with minced garlic, olive oil, chopped parsley. cracked pepper and sea salt.

As a side dish, I steamed green beans. A traditional spinach salad would also go nicely. Stroganoff is pretty heavy, so you want to team it with some light vegetables to balance out.

I leave you with what I assume is the only song with the word "stroganoff" in it. They even manage to find a rhyme.

Do I get this stuck in my head every time I make stroganoff? Yep. Now I'm sharing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pee Poop (I'm five)

While searching for this image I was subjected to Anne Geddes' photos of Celine Dion, dressed as a flower, holding her baby. YOU'RE WELCOME.

Here's the thing about pea soup: it looks like poopy. Baby poopy, really. I'm not even going to post a photo of the soup I made last night, because it is not a beautiful thing. It is a delicious thing, and you should not think about the poop factor.

Pea soup is easy, especially in a slow cooker. If you can't get a ham hock, get a bone-in ham steak and drop it on top of the other ingredients., then carefully remove it before you puree'.

Slow Cooker Pea Soup

1 bag dried spilt peas
6 c chicken broth
1 onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
3 carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 sprigs thyme - or - 1 tsp dried
1 bay leaf
1 smoked ham hock
2 c (or so) chopped ham

Drop all ingredients except for the chopped ham into the crock pot, and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8. Don't worry, there is no such thing as overcooking this soup.

Remove the ham hock, bay leaves, and the thyme sprigs. Pick any meat off the hock, discard everything else. Puree' soup with an immersion blender. You could also use a regular blender, but for goodness' sake be careful with the boiling soup! Stir in the ham bits, and enjoy!

I served this with warm crusty bread, goat cheese, and sliced Honeycrisp apples.

I went out for our weekly Stitch & Bitch after dinner and drank a wonderful beer - Berkshire Brewing Company's Nitro Coffee Porter. It was the perfect beer for the weather (cold cold cold), but also would have gone so well with our meal. That's not something I would say about many dark beers, as I tend to like then on their own and not as an accompaniment.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year! Resolve To Cook Dinner.

I enjoy Googling phrases like, "cat in chef hat".

The Holidays are OVAH. Done done done. I love holidays, I love presents, I love the big deal of it all. I do not love how stressful it becomes for us to do business between October and January. I also do not love not having time to cook.

....but now I do have time! ...and I have been cooking! It is exciting - for me, to not be chained to the office and for the family, who is tired of pizza. Think about what I just said; My KIDS are tired of PIZZA. I know, right? This is the second week since I have gone back to planning our meals ahead of time and shopping with an actual shopping list.

As it is a new year, and some of us like to make resolutions and get re-organized and start fresh, I am going to reiterate my advice to you busy people out there; planning ahead is invaluable. I sit down on Sunday with a cup of coffee, my laptop, and maybe a cookbook or magazine if something has caught my eye. Since we have a share in a local meat CSA, I have a base to start with. For example, this week I knew I wanted to use a whole chicken, pork ribs, and ground lamb. I look at our family calendar and figure out which evenings I have time to prepare, and which evenings it would be best to come home to dinner already made in the crockpot. I try to work in at least one Tex-Mex dish (everyone's favorite) and one pasta (budget-friendly and versatile). As I choose recipes, I make a grocery list.

We have a whiteboard in our kitchen, on which I've drawn out a weekly calendar. On Sundays I update the calendar with everyone's appointments and activities for the week. Each day also has a space on which I write the dinner menu for that day. This serves a few purposes. It's a reminder for me of what we're having on which night, it keeps the kids from asking, "What's for dinner?" every day, and it makes me feel obligated to cook........because some nights I am sorely tempted to let them eat Trader Joe-Joes* from the can while I knit and watch Lie To Me.

Why yes, that is a cat with Miley Cyrus' face.

This system also saves me money. With proper meal planning and a grocery list, I spend an average of $150 per week on groceries (including the meat share). This is for a family of four, three meals a day (brown bag lunch for Eliza, Cammy likes to buy lunch at school, Jeffrey and I eat leftovers). We always have snacks in the house, and we usually have ice cream, and we drink nice organic coffee. I am no spendthrift when it comes to food, I just plan ahead and shop smart.

Here's our menu for this week, as example:

Monday: Crockpot Split Pea Soup, crusty bread

Tuesday: Turkey Burgers, Fries, Caesar Salad

Wednesday: Lamb Stroganoff on Whole Wheat Noodles, Sautee'd Green Beans

Thursday: (crockpot) Orange-Chipotle Pork Ribs, Mashed Potatoes, Soycutash (edamame, corn and pepper blend from Trader Joe's)

Friday: Butternut Squash Soup, Foccacia

Saturday: Black Bean & Sweet Potato Enchiladas, Fruit Salad

Sunday: Roast Chicken, Pasta w/ Olives, Lemon & Thyme, Spinach & Strawberry Salad

With the exception of roasting the chicken and the crockpot recipes, which are throw-it-in-the-pan-walk-away, none of these meals will take more than an hour to prepare. I looked in my chest freezer and my cabinets and took stock of what I had, then kept that in mind. The lamb stroganoff is because I had nearly all the ingredients already. The burgers are because the kids demand "kid food" one night a week, and Tuesdays are tough because E gets home from school at 5, but C leaves the house at 6, and Jeffrey is usually at the office until late. We have an hour together, so some kind of grilled cheese or burger or quick pasta is usually the best bet.

At least half of the week, I will make enough for leftovers. If it can be frozen (i.e. the soups, the enchiladas, the stroganoff), then I break it down into single servings with my Seal-A-Meal and pop them in the freezer. Single servings work best, because there is not usually enough left over for an entire second meal for four people......but I can grab a piece of frozen lasagna, take it to the office, and nuke it for lunch.

As for the salads, it's easier to just make what you need for the meal - but sometimes I will make lunch salads as I go so that it makes the next morning a little easier.

I'll be posting recipes this week, I promise! Now I am off to the kitchen, bag of split peas in hand. Have an excellent Monday!

*Trader Joe-Joes are the Trader Joe version of Spaghetti-o's. E eats them cold, from the can, for breakfast, like a hobo. Since they don't contain any HFCS or funky ingredients, they are better than actual Spaghetti-o's - or at least that's what I tell myself.