29 May 2015

A month of brunches: week 5

For my last installment of Brunch Month, I return to Thug Kitchen's excellent recipes, because they often have a bit of a brunchy, Southern twang to them, and because they are delicious.

I've always liked the idea of biscuits and gravy, but whenever I order them, the waitress brings me some crazy warmed Elmer's glue with deer turds in it, all smothering a pale-looking hockey puck.  Have you had this experience too? Enter Thug Kitchen's Lentil Gravy and Biscuits, which go perfectly with a simple side of vinegar-laced greens.

I used the Lentil Gravy directly from their book/blog, here. However, I didn't want to have to wash my blender because I am lazy, so I just mashed them up a little bit with a hand masher in the pan for a chunkier version:

I also added a teaspoon of liquid smoke, because it is nice.

The whole wheat biscuits we made are similar to those in the Thug Kitchen Cookbook, but with some adaptations.  Here's what my husband did:

Whole Wheat Biscuits
Makes about 8

1 cup dairy or non-dairy milk + more if needed
1/2 tsp  apple cider vinegar
1 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tsp (10 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup solid, refined coconut oil

In small glass, stir together 1 cup  milk and vinegar.

In medium bowl, sift together two flours, baking powder, sugar and salt. Crumble oil into flour mixture a tablespoon at a time, using your fingers to break up pieces so they’re just bigger than a pea. Make a well in center; pour in milk mixture. Stir just until shaggy dough is formed. (Don’t overmix or you’ll have tough biscuits.) If mixture is too dry to stick together, add a tablespoon or two of milk.

Turn out dough onto floured surface. Pat into rough rectangle that’s about 8 inches by 5 inches (20 cm by 12.5 cm) and about 1-1/2 inches (4 cm) thick.

Using open end of a glass or a round biscuit cutter, cut out biscuits (you should have about 8).

Bake biscuits on parchment-lined baking sheet in preheated 425 F oven until bottoms are golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool 1 minute.

And finally, the greens.  Keep it simple.

Vinegary Greens

Serves 8 as a side

coconut, grapeseed, or olive oil
8 cups finely chopped kale, collards, or mustard greens
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup other thinly sliced vegetables (carrots, zucchini, radishes, mushrooms...)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
salt and cayenne pepper to taste

In a large skillet, warm the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and chopped vegetables (not greens) and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the greens (in batches, if necessary) and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted and bright green.  Remove from heat and stir in vinegar.  Season with salt and cayenne and serve.

25 May 2015

Last-minute cookout ideas to celebrate the beginning of the summer season!

Happy Memorial Day to you all here in the States, and happy start to cookout season everywhere in the Northern hemisphere (I hope)! Perhaps you already have your party well-set with a menu you devised three weeks ago and a fridge full of all the ingredients you need to get through the day.  Jerks.  Or perhaps you are still getting ready to make a last-minute run to the store and hope to be back before your firsts guests arrive. As I head out the door to do this very thing, here are the summery staples I'm looking for, and the very easy things I plan to do with them:

Mangoes are so totally not from here, but somehow that doesn't seem to matter anymore.  I see them in the stores all the time.  If you can buy them early enough to let them ripen, there's nothing better than fresh mango slices sprinkles with chili powder and dressed with a little lime juice.  If you're buying them for use today and they're still on the tart side, try this refreshing Vietnamese Green Mango Salad (underripe yellow mangoes work well, too).

Meat for grilling is ubiquitous at Memorial Day Cookouts.  Please don't limit yourself to burgers and hot dogs.  It doesn't matter what you do to them, they are SO BORING.  Visit the DFT archives for tips on grilling amazing shrimp, pork, or some very special vegetarian patties

Fresh green beans are coming into season now, and they make a great addition to a vinegary, mustardy potato salad that can be served at any temperature.

Rhubarb and strawberries go so well together.  Try them in a slab pie, even easier than a regular pie with some puff pastry on hand.

Rhubarb & Strawberry Slab Pie

2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 pound rhubarb, cleaned and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Make the filling: In a large bowl, toss together rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, flour, cardamom, and vanilla. Set aside.

On a floured work surface, roll one sheet of puff pastry out to a 12” x 16” rectangle and place in greased jelly roll pan that's 10" x 14" x 1". Fill with prepared fruit and brush edge of dough with a bit of water. Roll second pastry sheet out to an 11” x 15” rectangle and place on top of fruit. Seal the dough together, tuck excess into pan, and crimp the edge. Cut vents in the top and bake until the crust is golden and the center is bubbling, 50 minutes to 1 hour.

22 May 2015

A month of brunches: week 4

This hash can serve as a complete meal, or it can be supplemented by eggs or a meat of your choice.  You can chop it all up in a food processor and make patties out of it or keep it chunky, and you can fry it up in a pan or roast it in the oven.  So, there's plenty of time to make Bloody Marys and visit with your guests.  Oh, and it also keeps and reheats well.  But don't use Chef Mike--he'll just make it all soggy.

Sweet Potato Hash

Serves 4

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
8 oz. white mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp coconut or olive oil
2-3 cups of spinach or kale
1 medium apple, diced
1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1 handful of walnuts or pecans
Salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
hot sauce for serving

Heat a dry, large skillet over medium-high heat and toast the nuts, stirring constantly until they are brown and fragrant.  Set aside.

Lower heat to medium, wipe out the skillet, add the oil, and return to the burner. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to soften.  Add the sweet potatoes and mushrooms, season with salt, and cook until potato softens, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic, greens, apple, and cinnamon and cook until greens are wilted and apple is soft. Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with the toasted nuts.  Serve warm with organic eggs, chicken, sausage, nitrate-free bacon, or another source of protein if desired..

19 May 2015

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad

Throw some grilled fish in here for a bigger meal, but this makes a great light lunch or late-night dinner as-is, and nothing says spring like fresh, light meals!

Leftovers work great as spring roll filling.

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad

Serves 3-4

For the dressing:
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 cloves finely minced garlic (about 2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons finely minced serrano or jalapeno chile
3 tablespoons fish sauce

For the salad:
8 ounces rice noodles (can substitute udon, ramen, or angel hair pasta if you prefer)
6 ounces white mushrooms, wiped clean and chopped
4 cups chopped spinach
4 medium carrots, cut into short, thin matchsticks
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons minced green onion (from 2 to 3 stalks)
4 tablespoons chopped peanuts
Lime wedges for serving

To make the dressing, whisk all ingredients together. Will keep well covered in the fridge for several days.

Cook the rice noodles according to instructions. Drain, rinse well with cold water, and drain again.
Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil, and then the mushrooms and 2 to 3 tablespoons of the prepared dressing. Cook for 5 minutes, or just until the mushrooms are soft.
To serve, toss cooked noodles with several tablespoons dressing. Toss the spinach with a tablespoon of dressing, and set atop the noodles. Add carrots, mint, cilantro, and green onion to taste. Top with warm mushrooms, peanuts, another drizzle of dressing, and a squeeze of lime
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15 May 2015

A month of brunches: week 3

I love quiche, but it doesn't always stay with me for very long.  This crustless version is amped up with plenty of protein from the quinoa (and all that cheese!), and is just as good at room temperature as a not-sad desk lunch on Monday.  You can also bake this magical mixture in muffin cups for an easy finger food at parties or a freezer-friendly breakfast on-the-go. 

Crustless Quinoa and Greens Quiche

Serves 6

1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch Kale or mustard greens, stems removed and cut into ribbons
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese
3 ounces cream cheese, cubed
4 eggs
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9" pie dish with butter. Rinse the quinoa. Combine the quinoa and water in a pan. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat and then reduce to a simmer. This will take about twenty minutes. Set aside.

Meanwhile, start to caramelize the onions. Heat the olive oil in a large saute on medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the onions. Slowly cook until the onions are soft and browned.

Remove the onions from the pan, and place them in a large mixing bowl. Add the kale or mustard greens into the hot onion pan. On medium heat, cook until wilted and bright green, about two minutes.

Add the greens, quinoa, garlic, cream cheese and cheddar to the mixing bowl. Stir the ingredients so that they are pretty much evenly distributed (it's OK to have some little clumps of cream cheese here and there).

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and mustard with a dash of salt. Pour over the quinoa mixture. Stir until the egg clings to the greens. Add more salt and pepper.

Pour the mixture in the prepared pie dish. Bake uncovered for about 45 minutes, until the top is golden and the pie has started to pull away from the edge of the baking dish. 

12 May 2015

My cheater's guide to risotto

Perhaps you wouldn't call this risotto, as it lacks that extreme creaminess (which I find monotonous after a while, frankly), but this baked casserole is a great way to turn some leftover rice, vegetables, and optional meat product into a satisfying meal.  And as a bonus, you're not stuck standing over the stove, pouring liquids and stirring constantly until it's done.

Italian Rice Casserole

Serves 6-8

Butter for the pan
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 link Italian sausage (vegetarian or meat product), casing removed and chopped or crumbled
½ yellow onion, diced
1’2 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups cooked rice (white or brown)
2 cups chopped spinach (fresh or frozen)
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese + more for sprinkling on top
2 tablespoons chopped herbs of your choice (fresh, dried, or any combination)
2 tablespoons capers
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease an 11 x 7 baking dish liberally with butter and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the oil.  When it shimmers add the sausage, onion, pepper, and garlic and sauté on medium-high heat until the onion is soft and the sausage (I used Field Roast Italian) is cooked, about 7 minutes.  Turn off the heat, and stir in the rice, spinach, wine, cheese, herbs, and capers.  Season with salt and pepper.  Combine thoroughly.

Pour the rice mixture into the baking dish smooth evenly. Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.  Remove from oven, sprinkle a thin layer of additional cheese on top, and broil on high until golden brown, about 10 minutes (you may need to rotate halfway through broiling time).

Bonus meal: dump the leftovers into some hot broth, add more vegetables and beans if desired, and call it a soup!

08 May 2015

A month of brunches: week 2

Brunch doesn't have to involve eggs (though you could throw in some mini quiches to round out this meal in a more breakfast-worthy way for those who disagree).  But it should be kept simple, and reasonably fast if possible, so that you aren't already wiped out for the day by the time you sit down to eat. Serve this with a mixed green salad and some sweet potato biscuits sprinkled with a little cheese, and you've got yourself a great plan for Saturday. 

Leftovers from this salmon dish are fantastic served cold the next day. And I don't need to tell you to serve mimosas with this dish, do I?!

Asian-marinated Oven Salmon

Serves 4-6

1/4 cup honey
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon Sriracha, optional

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 pounds salmon
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil.

Make the marinade: in a small bowl, whisk together honey, garlic, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, and Sriracha.

Season the fish with salt and black pepper. Place salmon onto the prepared baking sheet and fold up all 4 sides of the foil. Spoon the marinade over the salmon. Fold the sides of the foil over the salmon, covering completely and sealing the packet closed.

Bake in oven until cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Then unwrap and broil for 2-3 minutes, or until caramelized and slightly charred.

Serve immediately, garnished with green onions and sesame seeds.

05 May 2015

The hospitality of a Midwestern potluck

Last month, my grandma died. It's bad news, to be sure, but this blog post is about family and the sense of community that a good old Midwestern potluck creates, so put away your hankies. For those of you more familiar with mocking Midwestern cuisine than appreciating it, sit back and get ready to learn.  For those of you lucky enough to claim Midwestern roots, welcome to my nostalgia trip.  And for those of you who never left the Midwest, know that those dishes you're so sick of seeing at potlucks actually have the power to move those of us who left.

I traveled by car, plane, and car again to reach what my grandma so aptly deemed "Forgottonia", a region of Western Illinois where no interstates or reliable airports fear to tread. (Though the not-famous-enough horseshoe sandwich does originate here.) Christ, it is a tedious trip.

After the simple, 30-minute funeral service (where we all artfully hid our crying because that's how we do it in the Midwest), we all trudged the few blocks over from the funeral home to the Methodist Church, where, at 10:30 in the morning, a banquet feast was spread before us in the basement. In this town of 3,000 people (it's a big one), this is tradition; local volunteers--all ladies, of course--bring in a huge spread of food to comfort the bereaved.  It's beautiful, really, and in her better days, my grandma was the bringer of the baked beans (more on this later).

I filled my plate with tan things I hadn't eaten in years, and I was torn; these dishes reminded me fondly of every Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas dinner we had down here, but my older, more boring self wondered if there was a way to make some of it a tiny bit healthier, maybe utilizing some fresh vegetables. Here's what I ate:

From left to right, we have fried chicken, cheesy mashed potatoes, scalloped corn, some kind of pea salad I've actually never seen before, broccoli rice, and baked beans in the middle.  What I didn't take, but were available, included green bean casserole, white dinner rolls, mac-and-cheese, and a shite-load of cakes and fruit salads of indeterminate composition (dear Aunt Joan: I still have no idea what that strawberry thing was, but I'll keep working on it). 

I'm not touching the fried chicken, because there are so many genius recipes out there already, and it can't be cleaned up too much and still be fried chicken. My grandma experimented with a version that involved corn flakes and was baked in the oven after she was told she had high cholesterol, but it was never quite right. Just go all the way and make the racist diabetic's version; it's really good. 

The mashed potatoes are also an art in themselves; ranch dressing is mixed in and they're spread into a casserole pan, then covered with cheese and baked until melting. I prefer to mix my mashed potatoes with some plain yogurt, minced garlic, and shredded cheddar, but I see now where I got that proclivity.  

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Let;s talk about the scalloped corn, because we can do better. It's basically a corny bread pudding. Good, right?  Let's make some alterations here: 

Easy Scalloped Corn

Serves 4 as a side

1 egg
1/4 cup milk or milk alternative
2 cups fresh or frozen corn, cut off the cob
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup crumbs, preferably made from homemade bread (wheat, pumpernickel work well)

Beat egg with milk. Add corn, salt, tarragon, and lemon zest. Place in a casserole dish. Dot with butter and sprinkle with crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

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That pea salad was something I've never seen before, but people loved it.  It was a bunch of frozen peas, grated (mild) cheddar cheese, peanuts (yes, you read right), and mayonnaise.  Here's how I do it now that I'm home:

Quick Pea Salad

Serves 4 as a side

2 cups fresh or frozen peas
1/2 cup peanuts (trust me)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 small garlic clove, minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put all of the above ingredients into a serving bowl and mix until thoroughly combined. Do not add cheese. That's just gratuitous. 

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Broccoli Rice Casserole: this is made with cream of chicken soup, but you could easily re-imagine this as a quick risotto, which is basically what it is. 

Broccoli-Cheddar Oven Risotto

Serves 4 

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 bunch broccoli, cut into small florets
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 3/4 cups arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. Bring the chicken broth to a low simmer in a saucepan. Toss the broccoli with the olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large Dutch oven or ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat. Pour in the wine and cook until evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the hot broth, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste; bring to a boil. Cover and set on the bottom oven rack. Place the broccoli on the upper rack. Bake, stirring the rice and broccoli once halfway through cooking, until most of the liquid has been absorbed in the rice and the broccoli is tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove the rice and broccoli from the oven. Add 3/4 cup hot water, the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and the cheese to the rice and stir until creamy (add a little more hot water to loosen, if necessary).Stir in the broccoli.

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Yes, I have added some citified ingredients (fresh herbs really do a lot) to these dishes, but they're still easy to make, they dirty very few dishes, and they can be placed on a table for hours and served at any variety of temperatures. This is food made for crises, when you need to take care of yourself without fuss, and when your neighbors are trying to find a simple and loving way of saying I'm sorry.

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The baked beans were actually delicious as-is, and I asked my grandma's friend, Lynn, who had made them.  She said she did, using my grandma's recipe.  Knowing that Grandma doctored the hell out of canned food, I knew her recipe was going to be a gem, but I also knew that it worked. Here's what Lynn emailed about the specifics afterward (thanks, Dad, for forwarding):

"When we first started having the funeral dinners Catherine (that's my grandma!) was always asked to bring the Baked Beans. I told her the recipe was similar to mine and what was in it. She said Bushes Beans, onion, catsup, brown sugar, either molasses or pancake syrup, bacon grease and tobasco sauce and bacon Well that what was in mine and I used the recipe from the Joy of Cooking. She did too. It is on page 268 in the book from 1953. As follows:

Bake at 375 for 30 min grease the dish.
(One) No. 2 can of Baked Beans(Catherine used Bushes Original) and this is 20 ounces.
2 Tbs. bacon drippings
4 tbs, catsup (Heinz)
2 Tbs. mollasses or syrup (Log Cabin)
2 Tbs. Brown sugar (packed)
minced onion to taste
3 drops of tobacco sauce
salt and peper to taste
Cover with bacon slices or frankfuters

For this dinner I used three large cans of Bush’s Beans (original) and a 9x12 pyrex dish.
so I upped the ingredients. but I do not use bacon, so there was no bacon in that casserole. I like onions so I used a half of a large yellow one. The syrup was Log Cabins Sugar Free. ( no Molasses)
(I have made this with brown sugar by Splender but did not have any) so I cut the brown sugar in half and used more syrup. Hope this helps. At 30 minutes the casserole was not as cooked as I would of liked it so the ladies in the kitchen put it in oven until we served the food. I usually make this recipe by gosh and by golly and taste as I go along, but I did stay to the recipe this time. Cahterine was a good cook and loved cooking. I really miss her and Bob.

ps. I have three copies of”Joy of Cooking" and in the book printed in 1963, Mrs. Bombauer recommends oven at 350 covering the dish 30 minutes and then another 30" uncovered ."

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BONUS RECIPE: Grandma Riner's Cherry Salad

1 can crushed pineapple
1 can cherry pie filling
1 container Cool Whip

Mix ingredients together and serve in a crystal-cut serving bowl.  This is a salad, not dessert, so put it right next to the ham in the center of the table.


01 May 2015

A month of brunches: week 1

What's more luxurious than forcing yourself to shove aside all your weekend work, pour yourself a beermosa, and pig out on fatty, salty fried things as a treat just for getting out of bed in the morning?  That's right, nothing.  And when it's warm enough outside to sit on the patio listening to the neighbor kids fight while you munch your potatoes, that's even better (at least, it is if you live in the Rocky Mountains or the Midwest, where patio time is very limited each year). This month, I am celebrating my laziness, my desire to eat nonstop, and this beautiful spring weather with Saturday brunches, and I'm inviting you to join me.

Week 1: Testing Thug Kitchen's Baked Okra and Potato Hash

Here's the original recipe on Google Books. I didn't change too much here, but I did swap out the paprika in the original recipe for 1/2 teaspoon of Old Bay and 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika for dusting the potatoes. I also served it with additional lemon wedges on the side, because I still wanted more sour.

The roasting directions, including times given and ratios of veggies to oil, worked perfectly for me. Hey look, there they are up above. I also used frozen okra, which I thawed first and then chopped as per recipe directions.  It doesn't clearly state this, but the recipe reads like you're supposed to be using fresh okra. However, I live in Colorado, so forget that.  The frozen worked just fine.

I also added a fried egg on top, because otherwise this would just be a side to nothing.  I thought it was delicious.  Serve with various hot sauces, coffee, beer, and orange juice.  Liberally.