Monday, December 31, 2012

Raspberry Yogurt Mousse

For reasons that I don't understand, this is the most popular recipe on my personal food blog, World on a Platter.

Unlike a traditional mousse, there are no uncooked egg whites or whipped cream. The richness comes from the yogurt. It's a bit denser than a mousse - more like a pudding. Call it what you like; it's still quite good.

The recipe calls for raspberries, but other berries work will too - blueberries, strawberries, blackberries. In fact, I was a little short on raspberries and used some strawberries instead. The most tedious part of this recipe is straining the berry puree to remove the seeds. It does take some work but you don't want the seeds in there - mousse is supposed to be smooth, not studded with hard berry seeds.

The recipe calls for yogurt without stabilizers or gelatin. You want the whey to separate out to make the yogurt thicker. Yogurt stabilized with gelatin or starches won't separate. Don't use Greek yogurt because it's too thick and the mousse ends up too firm.

Raspberry Yogurt Mousse
(makes enough filling for a 10" tart or 10 individual servings, costs $6.75)

3 cups fresh raspberries, or 12 oz. frozen raspberries, partially thawed
½ cup cold water
3 tsp unflavored gelatin (1 packet)

¼ cup orange juice, or apple juice
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons Chambord, a French berry liqueur (optional)
½ cups nonfat or lowfat vanilla yogurt, made without gelatin or stabilizers
fresh berries, for garnish if desired

1. Puree berries in a  food processor or blender. Pour puree through a strainer to remove the seeds. Set aside.

2. Pour water into a medium saucepan, sprinkle on the gelatin, and allow to sit for about 3 minutes to soften. Stir in juices, set pan over low heat, and stir just until the gelatin dissolves. Do not boil.

3. Stir in the berry puree, sugar, and salt, increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in Chambord, if using.

4. Transfer raspberry mixture to a heatproof bowl and sit it in a large bowl of ice water. Cool, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until mixture thickens to the consistency of raw egg whites.

5. While the mixture cools, set the yogurt in a strainer over a bowl and allow to drain for about 10 minutes.

6. Whisk the yogurt into the raspberry mixture. The mousse can be used as a filling for a 10" pie (use a pre-baked crust that has cooled) or pour into 4-6 oz ramekins or wine glasses to serve alone.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Refried Beans

In the second SNAP challenge post, we showed how simple and cheap making up a pot of beans can be. Here, we continue on the simple and cheap food by showing how easy it is to cook up refried beans. Though many recipes for refried beans call for a lot of oil for the frying of the beans, that's not really necessary. The starch in the beans gives the mashed beans a rich texture. We add just a bit of fat to help carry the flavors.

Canned refried beans aren't bad and they are pretty cheap too. But these are really easy to make, and freeze great (you can double the recipe so you have a stash in the freezer). We think the homemade ones have a better texture and flavor.

As with the pot of beans, you have lots of opportunity to improvise here. If you cooked your beans plainly, you can add a sprinkling of chili powder, a dash of hot sauce, garlic powder, some chopped jalapenos. Saute these in the oil before adding the mashed beans if you don't want crunchy pepper bits in your beans. You can use vegetable oil, olive oil, or bacon fat. Olive oil and bacon fat each impart their own flavor to the beans, whereas vegetable oil is neutral in flavor. As garnish, you can add a light sprinkling of grated or crumbled cheese, or a bit of cooked sausage crumbles. You can toss in a handful of chopped parsley or cilantro. Or some diced raw tomatoes. They add nice flavors without a lot of cost. The beans are the main event here.

Refried beans with a sprinkling of hot New Mexico red chile powder for a bit of zip

Refried Beans
(serves 3-4, costs 65¢)

2 cups of cooked beans, plus some of the liquid
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
⅛ - ¼ teaspoon salt
seasonings of your choice

Mash up the beans with a fork, or puree in a food processor for a smoother consistency. If the beans seem dry, add a little bit of the cooking liquid. Mash up the onion and garlic too; they add great flavor.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet (see Note). Add mashed beans to skillet and cook until heated through. Serve in tacos, burritos, or a side dish or entree.

Note: You can skip the oil if you are cooking sausage or bacon to add to the beans. Cook it in the skillet first so that the fat renders out. Add more oil if needed to end up with about 1 Tablespoon.

If desired, saute a ¼ cup of chopped onions or a bit of green chiles in the oil before adding the beans. Or add them as a garnish after the beans are cooked. Very different texture if you don't cook them. See which way you like it better.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The SNAP Challenge, continued

In early December, Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey, attempted to live on a mere $5/day. Mayor Booker admitted that he isn't much of a cook. 'Tis a pity, since he would have eaten a bit better if he had learned a few basic skills in the kitchen. He posted his meals each day of the week, and I have to say, they were pretty pitiful. He knew to use beans to get much of his protein, but he had no clue what to do with them, other than put plain canned beans on a salad. Dude! There were a few disparaging comments from the peanut gallery about this, especially after he had a breakfast of lettuce with beans. He would have been better served by bulking up his diet on the tried and true rice and beans (or beans over those baked sweet potatoes he liked so much). Whole countries in Central and South America live on this combination. Poor guy.

The beauty of rice and beans is there are so many choices. First, there are many beans to choose from and even the more expensive ones are downright cheap compared to meat. Among the cheap varieties, you can choose from black beans, pinto beans, navy beans, pink beans, black-eyed peas, and garbanzo beans. Let's take pinto beans to see how they stack up price-wise with other forms of protein. One pound of dried pinto beans cost $1.49/pound.  A pound of dried beans becomes about 5-6 cups of reconstituted beans. That's equivalent to about 2 ½ cans of beans, which would cost $2.70. If Mayor Booker had used dried beans instead of canned beans, he would have stretched his tiny food budget quite a ways. He said he baked sweet potatoes. If he can bake a sweet potato, he can make a pot of beans. How about beans compared to meat? A half cup serving of pinto beans costs 12¢! Mayor Booker is a big guy. Let's say he ate a cup of beans, just to be generous. That's 240 calories of beans for about a quarter. A 4 ounce portion of 85% lean ground beef is about the same number of calories but it would cost you about 80¢. Beans win, big time.

You can eat beans relatively unadorned, cooked in a pot of water with a little bit of salt, and maybe an onion and/or a couple of cloves of garlic. You can switch up the cooking liquid, using coconut milk or stock instead of water (bouillon cubes are inexpensive flavor boosters). You can add a small amount of many tasty meats, like sausage, cooked beef, cooked chicken, or pig products such as bacon. Great way to stretch a little bit of meat. You can add a shot of hot sauce to give them some zip. You can add herbs such as thyme, bay leaves, rosemary, parsley, or cilantro. You can add spices such as dried or fresh chiles, curry, or cumin. If you think plain beans are dull, there are plenty of cheap enhancements to make them more exciting. Beans offer limitless culinary possibilities.

A pot of beans will feed a lot of people cheaply. Serve them over rice and you have a filling tasty meal. As Mark Bittman says in his book The Food Matters Cookbook: "I'm on a mission to make sure every fridge or freezer in America is stocked with a container of home-cooked beans..." Cory Booker could have used some of these.

Pot Beans
(serves 6 very generously, costs $1.30)

¾ pound dried beans (about 2 cups), rinsed and picked over for shriveled beans and pebbles (see Note)
1 large onion, quartered
10 cups water
1 teaspoon salt

Combine beans, onion, and water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, partly cover, and simmer until the beans are slightly soft but not tender all the way through, about an hour. It might take up to 1 hour 30 minutes if the beans are old.

Add the salt and continue cooking, uncovered, for 15 minutes, or until the beans are tender all the way through. They should be soft enough to mash, especially if you are going to make them into refried beans (yet another tasty bean preparation).

Note: Some beans take longer to soften - garbanzos, for instance. The timing here is good for pinto, black, navy, and pink beans. Though it's unusual to find pebbles in dried beans these days, I still do, so I keep checking! No one wants to bite down on a pebble.

Recipe from Mexico: The Vegetarian Table by Victoria Wise

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What's in Season now?

Winter is setting in but that doesn't mean all the good produce deals are gone. A number of fruits and vegetables are not only at their prime right now, but fairly inexpensive.

Citrus: There was a reason people were excited to find oranges in their Christmas stocking once upon a time. Winter is citrus season in the warmer parts of the Northern Hemisphere and they were still hard to get in cold places until well into the 20th century. Nowadays, there is a bumper crop of any number of delicious and nutritious citrus in US supermarkets. There are navel oranges, grapefruits, satsumas and clementines. Great for eating out of hand or using in recipes.

Kabocha squash from my garden. A delicious Japanese variety.

Winter Squash: We wrote about winter squash back in October. It's still out there. Winter squash is a great keeper but when this year's crop is gone, the price will jump.

Spinach: Spinach thrives in cooler temperatures. As any gardener can tell you, it bolts (goes to seed) with the slightest hint of hot weather. Frozen spinach is cheap throughout the year, but the flavor of fresh spinach is far better. Baby spinach is available year-round too but it is usually three to four times as expensive as fresh bunch spinach. Like other fresh greens, spinach needs thorough cleaning. A lot of sand can hide in those leaves. For tips on cleaning it, see our post on kale. This recipe from a recent class calls for baby spinach, but fresh spinach works just as well if you coarsely chop it.

Onions: Aren't onions in season all the time? Yes, you can get onions year-round and they are usually inexpensive. But, they are harvested in the summer, then stored. They are quite sensitive to raising temperatures (not a problem in commercial storage) so as we move out of winter into spring, they start to sprout and get soft soon after showing up in the supermarkets. This time of year, that's not a problem as temperatures remain low.

Here's a recipe that uses lots of onions: a slow cooker pot roast. Many recipes call for dumping everything in the slow cooker and letting is cook for a long, long time. If you do this, the onions will never get meltingly tender. They will stay crunchy even after hours of cooking. You are certainly welcome to cook it that way but it's much better if you take the time to saute the onions in a bit of oil before dumping it in the slow cooker. Yes, yes, another step, but well worth it.

As with most stews and braises, this recipe is even better chilled overnight and reheated. The sauce also freezes well, though don't freeze it with the pasta. Pasta doesn't freeze well.

Italian Pot Roast with Onion Sauce
(serves 8, cost $14.30*)

1 2-pound piece of beef top round, arm roast, or chuck roast
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
4 large onions, thinly sliced
1 carrot, finely chopped
½ stalk celery, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley, about 5 large sprigs
1 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled in your palm
10 whole white or black peppercorns
1 cup white wine (alcohol-free is fine)
1 teaspoon salt + a bit more for seasoning meat and onions
1 cup of water
ground black pepper for seasoning meat
2 Tablespoons tomato paste (see Note)
1 pound penne or rigatoni pasta
grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Season meat with salt and black pepper. Place in a 3 to 5 quart slow cooker.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions, sprinkle with about ⅛ teaspoon salt (a healthy pinch), and cook, stirring often, until onions are golden and translucent. Pour all the onions on top of the meat. Add carrot, celery, parsley, sage, peppercorns, white wine, 1 teaspoon salt, and water to slow cooker. Set slow cooker to cook on low for 7 hours.

After 7 hours, remove the meat. It should be quite tender. Shred it and add back to onions. Stir in 2 Tablespoons tomato paste. Keep covered while cooking pasta.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Serve meat sauce over pasta and garnish with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Note: Look for tomato paste in a tube. It will keep a long time in the refrigerator, unlike an open can of tomato paste.

*Usually, I use local prices to estimate recipe cost. This time I used the USDA's price average for a boneless choice-grade chuck roast, which is $4.57. That's a national average. In my local supermarket, that cut is selling for $5.49/pound, considerably more. The total cost using local prices is $16.10. Which only points out the difficulty of estimating recipe costs. Still, I think it is a useful gauge of costliness of our recipes and will continue to post it.

Adapted from 12 Best Foods Cookbook by Dana Jacobi (Rodale, 2005)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Hard Cooking Eggs

A 10 minute egg cooked at 5400 ft. Notice the yolk is still creamy and bright orange-yellow. Perfect for deviled eggs.

We have posted a couple of deviled eggs recipes (guacamole and spicy-chipotle). To make the best deviled eggs, you need to know how to hard-cook your eggs. Often, we find that people cook those poor eggs to death, which is easy to recognize. That chalky yolk, green ring and sulfur smell? That's an overcooked egg. We're here to save you from those sad little overcooked eggs.

We have tested two methods, a gentle cooking method and a "just boil 'em" and found that just boiling them works consistently and results in eggs that are easier to peel. We live at 5400 feet where water boils at about 204°F,  not 212°F. If you live at sea level, everything will take just a bit less time and we've noted that below. For deviled eggs, we like yolks that are set but not too hard. That keeps the filling nice and creamy. Use the cooking time at the bottom of the range. If you want the yolks a bit firmer, use the top of the range.

The pinch of salt helps to quickly set any egg white that leaks out from cracks that may form.

Hard Cooking Eggs

Put refrigerator temperature eggs in a saucepan with cool tap water. Add a healthy pinch of salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle boil. Start your timer. At sea level, set it for 9-10 minutes. At an elevation of 5400 feet, set the timer for 10-11 minutes. When the timer goes off, remove from the heat, drain all the hot water and cover with cold tap water. Let sit for 10 minutes. If you don't need them right away, drain off water, and put in the fridge to chill. If you need them now, cover again with cold water and let sit another 10 minutes before trying to peel them. They are easier to peel when they are well-chilled. Running them underwater while peeling also makes peeling easier.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Guacamole Deviled Eggs

It's party time! The holiday season means lots of parties. Here's an easy variation on deviled eggs that's great for the next party. Though avocados are a bit pricey, eggs are really cheap, so it evens out.

This is not a dish that keeps. Serve these as soon as they are made since the guacamole will start to darken very quickly, even with a generous squeeze of lime.

Guacamole Deviled Eggs
(serves 12, costs $3.85)

1 dozen eggs, hard-cooked
1 avocado, diced
2 Tablespoons plain lowfat yogurt (see Note)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
a large pinch of cayenne (optional)
juice from ½ a lime

Cut the eggs in half lengthwise and remove the yolks to a medium bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients except the lime juice and mash with a fork. Using a spoon, pile up the guacamole in the egg halves. Drizzle the lime juice over the eggs and serve.

Note: Rather than yogurt, you can use mayonnaise or sour cream.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The SNAP Challenge

I have been following the Cory Booker/SNAP Challenge with great interest. Cory Booker is the mayor of Newark, NJ. SNAP is Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. Someone following Booker on Twitter challenged him to live on SNAP for a week. He'll be starting his challenge on today, December 4. You can see how it's going at #SNAPChallenge on Twitter, and UB SNAP Food Challenge on Facebook (you can see the rules for the challenge there too). The short story is you need to spend no more than $5/day/person for all your food and drink. This is not an easy challenge.

I'm going to offer some hints on how to eat on a mere $5/day on this blog going forward. Though School of Eating Good does not set a upper limit on the cost of meals, we do bring you delicious real food on a budget. This challenge is a great way to focus on eating decent food on a very strict budget, and I love a challenge!

First, forget about processed food. You pay a premium for food that someone else has prepared for you. Processed food that looks really cheap isn't. That's because the ingredients used in cheap processed foods are absolutely the lowest cost/lowest quality foods they can find. If you are on a budget, provide your own labor, cook it yourself and select real ingredients that are naturally cheaper: grains, beans, potatoes, frozen vegetables (often reliably cheaper than fresh but still nutritious), and sticking to sales for more expensive things like fruit, fresh veggies, and meat. I don't want to minimize the effort required for this. If you have a family and a job, cooking feels like another job, and that is the last thing you need.

So, in these posts, we will focus on recipes that make good food with the minimum of effort and cost. I will give prices, based on local food prices where I live, which is Boulder, Colorado. To further complicate it, I will shop at the supermarket closest to my house. It's a Safeway and within walking distance. I will also compare the made-from-scratch  version with the processed equivalent.

Let's start with some breakfast. A cup of dry rolled oats (either quick or old-fashioned) costs 30¢. That's 300 calories of oats. 300 calories of instant oatmeal costs 75¢. Many store-brand cold cereals are also very cost-effective. Corn flakes cost 47¢ for 300 calories of cereal.

Oatmeal with Raisins
(serves 2-4, costs $1.26)

2 cups milk
2 cups water
2 cups rolled old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats
¼ cup raisins
a large pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons sugar (optional)

Place the milk, water, oats, raisins, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Stir, scraping the bottom so the oatmeal doesn't stick. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for 3 minutes for quick oats and 5 minutes for old-fashioned oats. Make sure to stir a couple of times while it's cooking to keep it from sticking. Stir in sugar, if desired, and serve.

The raisins and the milk add some sweetness to the oats. If you think it isn't sweet enough, add the optional sugar. This isn't supposed to be terribly sweet. It's breakfast, not dessert.

If you boil the milk and water before adding the oats, the oats will be a bit chewier and less creamy. Try it both ways and see which you prefer.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Another chicken roll-up recipe

Last year, we posted a recipe worthy of date night: Chicken Stuffed with Fontina Cheese and Prosciutto. This a very different dish but the concept is the same. It's a bit of work (just a little bit) to pound out and roll up the chicken breasts, but the final dish is impressive. It's pretty economical too, but no one needs to know.

We have noticed that chicken breasts have grown quite a bit. We routinely see breast halves nearing a pound in weight. If you find that all the breast halves in your local supermarket are large, cut them in half horizontally, then pound them flat. Don't have meat pounder? Any glass bottle with a long neck, like a wine bottle, works too.

Chicken Stuffed with Spinach and Feta Cheese
(serves 4, cost is $10)

3 ½ Tablespoons Olive Oil
¼ medium Onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
8 ounces Frozen Spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
½ teaspoon Dried Oregano or Dried Dill
¾ teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Black Pepper
½ cup Crumbled Feta Cheese, about 2 ounces
4 Chicken Breast Halves, about 5-6 ounces each
1 pint Cherry Tomatoes
12 Toothpicks

Preheat oven to 350℉.

Heat 1 Tablespoon oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook onion for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the garlic, spinach and oregano (or dill) and cook for another 3 minutes Season with ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Pour into a medium bowl and add the feta cheese and stir to mix well. Wipe out the skillet but no need to wash; you'll use it again to brown the chicken.

Lay the chicken breasts between 2 pieces of plastic wrap and pound with a meat pounder or wine bottle until a uniform ½" thick. Season both sides of each breast with remaining salt and pepper.

Place a breast on a cutting board and place ¼ of the stuffing on the chicken breast. Spread it out towards the edges, but not all the way to the edge so the filling doesn't leak out. Roll up chicken breast the long way and secure with toothpicks so that the chicken stays rolled up. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts.

Heat up 2 Tablespoons oil in the skillet over medium high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the chicken. Cook until golden brown on all sides (or as many sides as you can given there are toothpicks sticking out). Toss the tomatoes with ½ Tablespoon oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour into a 8 x 8" baking dish. Arrange chicken on top of tomatoes in a single layer. Bake for 35 minutes until cooked through. Remove from oven and cover with foil. Let stand for 5 minutes and remove the toothpicks. Serve by placing a chicken roll-up on the plate and spooning tomatoes and juices over chicken. For a pretty presentation, slice the roll crosswise with a very sharp knife and arrange slices on the plate. Spoon tomatoes and juices on top of slices.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

More Turkey Leftovers - Turkey Mac & Cheese

Are you sick of turkey leftovers yet? I'm not. I love turkey. But, maybe you want to save those turkey leftovers for a couple of months down the road, when you will make some hearty turkey soup in the middle of winter. You can freeze the meat if you wrap it well. I wouldn't recommend thawed frozen cooked turkey for a sandwich but it works great for soups and salads where the soup or mayo can moisten the turkey. It's a dry meat that only gets drier after freezing.

Here's another option: make a casserole with it and freeze the casserole. Or eat it this week, if you aren't sick of turkey. :-)

This is a great recipe for extending a fairly modest amount of turkey. You don't even need to use turkey. It's good with chunks of ham or tofu too. This isn't creamy, cheesy mac & cheese. It is extremely easy, however.

Turkey, Tomato & Cheese Casserole
(serves 6-8, costs $11.80)

1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked to al dente and drained (see Notes)
2 cups cooked turkey, cut into ½ to 1" cubes, about 12 ounces
1 large can (28 ounces) diced peeled tomatoes, drained
15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese (that's a whole medium container)
1 cup milk or cream
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
4 - 6 medium scallions, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano or dried marjoram (see Notes)
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon black pepper
1 slice of bread, grated to make crumbs, about ½ cup of fresh bread crumbs (optional)
2 Tablespoon butter, melted (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter or spray with non-stick spray a 9 x 13 x 2" baking pan.

Combine the macaroni, turkey, tomatoes, ricotta cheese, milk, cheddar cheese, scallions, oregano, salt and pepper in a large bowl and pour into the prepared pan. You can even mix it directly in the baking dish but it is a bit challenging to mix it without making a mess.

If you want a little bit of a crunchy crust, combine the bread crumbs with the melted butter and sprinkle over the casserole. Bake for 40 minutes until hot and golden brown on top.

  • You don't want to overcook the macaroni because it's going to cook some more in the oven. You want it just done, which takes about 8 minutes of cooking.

  • You know those packets of herbs you get with take-out pizza? That's mostly oregano. They can be used here if you have them.

This recipe is loosely based on one in The Turkey Cookbook by Rick Rodgers.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Turkey and Corn Chowder

Turkey leftovers will abound next week. We are here to help you turn them into something delicious. Last year, we posted a turkey curry recipe. This year, it's soup. This is a rich, warming soup, perfect for a cold night. If it's too rich for you right after the eating bacchanal that is Thanksgiving, toss that leftover turkey meat in the freezer (tightly wrapped to prevent freezer burn) and save this recipe for a future chilly night.

If you can find turkey stock in the box, this will have better turkey flavor. It is often available right around Thanksgiving. Chicken stock is a perfectly acceptable substitute. If you are inspired,  you can turn a Thanksgiving turkey carcass into great stock for this soup.

Turkey and Corn Chowder
(serves 8)

3 strips Bacon
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 medium Carrot, chopped
1 rib Celery, chopped
1 medium Onion, chopped
3-4 cups Corn Kernels, fresh or frozen
1 large Baking Potato, cut into 1 ½" cubes
½ teaspoon Dried Marjoram, crushed
¼ teaspoon Dried Rosemary, crushed
1 teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Black Pepper
6 cups Turkey Or Chicken Stock, preferably low-sodium
3 cups Leftover Cooked Turkey, cut in bite-size pieces
1 cup Heavy Cream
4-5 dashes Hot Pepper Sauce
¼ cup Chopped Parsley, for garnish

Heat a soup pot over medium until hot. Add bacon and cook until done but not too crispy. Remove from pot and set aside. Add butter to pot. Then add carrot, celery, onion, ½ of the corn, and potato. Cover and cook for 5 minutes until onion is softened.

Add marjoram, rosemary, salt, pepper, and stock. Increase heat to high to bring to a boil, then reduce to low to maintain a simmer. Cook, covered, for 30 minutes until vegetables are very soft. While soup is cooking, dice bacon and set aside.

Using a slotted spoon, remove ½ the vegetables to a blender. Add about 1 cup of broth. Puree until smooth. Add back to soup along with turkey, bacon, and the rest of the corn. Cook over medium heat to reheat turkey and corn. Reduce heat to low. Add cream and hot sauce. Check seasonings. Depending on the stock, you may need to add more salt.

Add parsley and serve.

Note: if you happen to have leftover roasted potatoes from Thanksgiving, those work just fine. That's what I used. Soup is a great repository for all sorts of leftovers.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Microwave Chocolate Pudding

Microwave Chocolate Pudding, garnished with a few extra chocolate chips. No such thing as too much chocolate.
With this recipe for a quick microwave chocolate pudding you can banish that box of instant pudding forever. This pudding is great hot, warm, or cold. It is deeply chocolate-y if you use high quality chocolate chips. Not chocolate flavored chips. Not chocolate with vegetable oil. Real chocolate.

Though we haven't tried it yet, we believe that this recipe would work just as well with other chips such as white chocolate, butterscotch, or milk chocolate.

Microwave Chocolate Pudding
(serves 1, costs 60¢)

1 ½ teaspoon cornstarch
½ cup milk
Scant ¼ cup chocolate chips
Pinch of salt

Place cornstarch in a 12 ounce mug or 2 cup glass measure.  Gradually, but briskly stir in milk with a whisk so there are no lumps.  Add chocolate chips and salt.  Microwave on high 1 minute or until hot but not boiling; stir briskly with rubber spatula, scraping down sides.  Mixture will look grainy.  Cook 30-45 seconds more until mixture just begins to boil.  Watch closely to avoid boil-over.

Need enough pudding to share with your friends? Here's the recipe for 4 servings:

2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 ⅔ cup milk
1 cup chocolate chips
⅛ teaspoon salt

Put  cornstarch in a 4-cup glass measure or deep 1-quart bowl.  Whisk in milk until smooth.  Add chocolate chips and salt.  Microwave on high 2 minutes and stir.  Then cook 2 minutes more until thickened around edges, but still liquid in center.  Stir with spatula, scraping down sides of bowl.  Cook 30 seconds-2 minutes until thickens to creamy, spoonable consistency.  Immediately place waxed paper or plastic wrap on surface of pudding to prevent skin.

When we made this recipe during the class in a small microwave, it took 2 minutes to thicken the pudding, for 6 minutes of total cooking. At home, in a high-powered microwave, it took a total of 5 minutes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Moroccan Carrot Salad

For the last two classes, we made a simple green salad with a vinaigrette. This time, we switched it up a little. No greens. Carrots instead. Carrots are inexpensive, even in the winter, when lettuce often gets a lot pricier. Carrots are sturdy so this is a salad that can sit in the fridge for a few days. Don't try that with a dressed green salad!

This is a full-flavored dressing. You can leave out the red pepper flakes and it will still pack plenty of flavor. If you want it spicy, use the full ¼ teaspoon. It will be quite spicy! I like it with just a pinch of red pepper so that it doesn't overpower the other spices.

Moroccan Carrot Salad
(serves 4-6, cost is $2.00)

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into ¼ slices
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon black pepper
a pinch to ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
juice of 1 lemon
1-2 Tablespoons chopped parsley

Bring about 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the salt and carrots. Cook over medium heat until just tender, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook or they will fall apart when tossed with the dressing. Drain and cool.

Mix the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Add cooled carrots and toss.

This salad improves as the carrots sit in the dressing.

For a super quick variation, use a 1 pound bag of shredded carrots. Don't cook them. Just dress them raw. Different texture but the same bold flavor.

Chicken Pot PIe

Here's the second chicken dish from our last class. It's a very simple chicken stew, served up on a crispy pillow of puff pastry. Puff pastry is one of our favorite prepared foods. Check out these recipes for samosas and a spinach and cheese appetizer that we posted previously. They are two great ways to use up any extra puff pastry.

Chicken Pot Pie
(serves 4, cost is $9.50)

3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons flour
3 cups chicken stock
3 medium carrots, cut into 1" pieces
2 stalks celery, into 1" pieces
1 medium onion, cut into chunks
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 pound chicken, cooked and shredded
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
¼  - ½ teaspoon salt
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed (see Note)

Melt butter in a large covered saucepan. Stir in flour and cook for a few minutes over medium heat until mixture is a light golden. Whisk in chicken stock, and whisk for another minute to make sure there are no lumps. Add onion, carrots, celery, thyme, bay leaf, and pepper. Stir well. Bring to boil and reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer and cover. Cook until carrots are tender, about 20 minutes. Add shredded chicken and peas and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste for salt. You may not need to add any depending on the saltiness of the stock and your own salt tolerance.

While stew is cooking, preheat oven to 400℉. Unfold puff pastry and cut into 4 squares. Place on a baking sheet making sure they aren't touching. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and puffed up. This step can be done up to a few hours ahead. Store the baked puffed pastry squares at room temperature.

To serve, place the puff pastry in a large soup bowl, break a hole in the pastry and ladle on the chicken stew.

Note: A package of frozen puff pastry contains two sheets of puff pastry. They come apart easily while still frozen. Separate the two sheets. Wrap one sheet well in plastic wrap and place in the fridge overnight to thaw. For this recipe, you can even thaw it for 30 minutes at room temperature, but this method isn't recommended for most puff pastry recipes. The pastry gets too soft to work very quickly. Since we are just unfolding it and cutting it up, the quick thaw works just fine.

Wrap the other sheet well and return to the freezer. Or thaw that one too and make one of our other delicious recipes that use puff pastry.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cinco de Mayo Chicken Casserole

Here's a comforting casserole for a cold winter's night. We made this for our class on easy chicken dishes. Though the recipe calls for cheddar cheese, there are lots of cheeses that work here: monterey jack, colby, Mexican cheese blends, or some combination of those. Great way to clean out the bits of cheese in the fridge.

Cinco de Mayo Chicken Casserole
(serves 6-8, cost is $13.25)

1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
16 ounces green chile salsa
1 cup sour cream
⅓ cup milk
12 6" corn tortillas
¾ pound shredded cheddar cheese

Cook chicken (either by roasting or in microwave). Cut chicken into cubes. Preheat oven to 350°F Place half the chicken in an oiled 9x13 inch pan. Spoon about half the salsa over chicken. Place sour cream in a bowl and thin it with some milk. Spoon half the sour cream mixture over the salsa and chicken. Cut the tortillas into ¼ inch strips. Top the sour cream mixture with half the tortilla strips and half the Cheddar cheese. Repeat layers, using the remaining chicken, salsa, sour cream mixture, tortilla strips, and Cheddar cheese.

Cover pan with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake for about 5 minutes until cheese is golden and bubbly. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Jalapeno-Glazed Chicken

Next week, we have another class at CU. The theme is chicken, requested by the students. Chicken is quick, easy, versatile, and reasonably priced. That makes it a popular choice with time-strapped students on a budget. We'll be posting the recipes we are cooking next week right after the class, but we'll get things started with a very easy but intensely flavored dish.

It's a Mexican-inspired recipe that takes advantage of the sweet and spicy flavors of jalapeno jelly. Jalapeno jelly is not terribly hot but it is very flavorful. You can use green or red jalapeno jelly. The red version is less grassy and herbal tasting than the green. If you don't like cilantro, substitute parsley.

Jalapeno-Glazed Chicken Breasts
(serves 4)

⅔ cup jalapeno jelly, about 7 ounces
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 chicken breasts halves, preferably with skin (about 1 pound total)
salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine jalapeno jelly, cilantro, and vinegar in a small saucepan. Heat over low heat, stirring, until jelly is dissolved. Keep warm.

Place chicken in a 8x5" baking dish. Season with salt and pepper. Bake, skin side up, for 25 minutes. Spoon glaze over chicken and bake for another 5 minutes. Serve with remaining glaze.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Salt & Making Your Own Microwave Popcorn

We don't make a big deal about nutrition here. We think that if you take the time to cook for yourself, eating a variety of real food, you'll do OK. In this post, we're going to talk about salt, a rather demonized ingredient these days.

Salt makes food taste better. We use it judiciously to bring out the fantastic natural flavors of real food. Salt is a flavor enhancer. That's why there's a pinch of salt in our granola and a little bit in our clafouti. In savory recipes, it's not the primary flavor like in many processed foods. It's not added to balance the over-use of sugars (yes, there is often a lot of sugar in even savory processed foods). The combination of sweet-salty and fat in many processed foods makes you want to eat even more of that food, which is key if you are trying to sell more food. We aren't selling anything. We want you to eat better by cooking for yourself.

Even in recipes with a lot of salt (anything with chicken stock with salt added, for instance), you'll find that our version is lower than a commercial version. Because it's made from scratch, our version tastes really good without lots and lots of salt. Our fast chicken noodle soup recipe makes about 8 cups of soup, 4 generous servings. If you use low-sodium stock in a box, the soup will contain about 800 mg of sodium per serving. Most people consider a can of soup one serving, and the whole can contains nearly 2000 mg of sodium! That's very close to all the salt recommended in a day just from your lunch.

One of the hardest things to gauge is how salty other people want their food. We don't eat a lot of processed food and we add a fairly moderate amount of salt to savory recipes. So, our idea of enough salt may not be enough for you. In our recipes, there is enough salt to make it taste good to us. We encourage you to experiment with the amount of salt. Start with what we suggest, and add a sprinkle more if you think it needs more. Eventually, you'll figure out how much salt you like relative to what we like.

Here's a snack that is associated with lots of salt: popcorn. Commercial microwave popcorn has become hugely popular. Sure, it's convenient but is popcorn really that hard to make? No! If you make it yourself, you can flavor it the way you want. It costs next to nothing and contains only real ingredients. Like popcorn, oil, butter, and salt.

You will need a plain, clean, lunch-sized paper bag or a 2 quart microwaveable bowl with a cover. For a single serving, add 2 Tablespoons popcorn kernels and ½ Tablespoon vegetable oil. Fold over the top a few times to keep the popcorn from escaping. Place in the microwave and pop on high for up to 3 minutes, or until you hear the popping slow down. Be careful because it's easy to go too far and burn the popcorn. 3 minutes is usually long enough.  If you want to add butter, place ½ Tablespoon of butter in a bowl, then dump the hot popcorn on top. Toss to melt the butter and coat the popcorn. Sprinkle with salt, about ⅛ teaspoon, and other seasonings, if desired. Instead of salt, parmesan cheese is delicious. Some black pepper is also good. You can double this recipe and still use the same size paper bag.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Spanish Potluck!

I think they liked the empanadas!
What can students cook on campus? My daughter provided these photos from a recent event at her college. She attends a small liberal arts college in upstate New York. Not exactly the center of  the culinary universe. The Spanish Club puts on a Tapas potluck each year. The club buys all the raw materials and the students volunteer to cook the food. The kitchens are pretty spartan but they manage to pull off some nice things, like empanadas.

They come together to enjoy all the delicious Spanish food.

Looks like it was a great success! Food is a great way to bring people together and build community.

Spanish tapas are first-rate party food. Many of them are easy to make. Looks like they had a nice selection of things on toast, including tuna and capers. Very Spanish!

Tuna Salad for Tapas
(serves 6 as an appetizer)

This is a very tasty tuna salad on its own and unlike most tuna salads, it contains no mayonnaise.

1 6-7 ounce can tuna fish, packed in water, drained and flaked
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons minced dill pickles
½ teaspoon pickle juice
½ teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon minced onion
1 hard-cooked egg, minced
1 teaspoon minced capers
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
12  ½ inch slices of French or Italian bread
whole capers for garnish

Combine all the ingredients except the bread and whole capers in a bowl. You can make the salad ahead and refrigerate it until you are ready to serve it; it gets even better after some time in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast until they start to brown. Place a bit of tuna salad on each slice of toast and serve.

(Adapted from Tapas by Penelope Casas)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Baked Rice

Here at School of Eating Good, we want to give you information that makes cooking easy. Like how to make rice, which isn't quite as easy to prefect as most people think. We previously posted an article on cooking rice in the microwave. It's pretty solid, but because microwaves have different power ratings, you need to watch it the first time and possibly tweak it. That makes it imperfect in our mind but if all you have is a microwave, it's great.

Most folks have an conventional oven, however. And baked rice is literally foolproof. You start it just like rice on the stove-top but you finish it in a very hot oven.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

For 1 cup of rice, bring 1 ½ cups water (or stock, if you prefer) to a boil in an ovenproof medium saucepan. Add the rice and stir. Cover and place in the oven. Bake for 17 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes. It will keep warm for another 15 minutes.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Green Beans with Pineapple

Does that sound like a strange combination? It works rather well in this very simple Asian side dish. It's an unusual way to get your fruit!

You can make this with fresh green beans (see our post on cooking fresh green beans) but it works nearly as well with frozen green beans. Frozen green beans aren't quite as good as fresh ones, but what they lack in texture and sweetness, they make up for in convenience. No cleaning, no cutting.

You can cook frozen beans in the microwave or on the stove-top. Takes under 15 minutes either way. To cook in the microwave, put beans in a 2 quart microwavable dish with a cover. Add ¼ cup water. Cover and microwave on high for 4 minutes, give them a stir, and cook for another 4 minutes. Let stand, covered, for a couple of minutes. To cook on the stove-top, bring ¼ cup water to a boil in a 2 quart saucepan. Add beans, cover, and cook for 8 minutes. In either case, drain them well before proceeding with the recipe.

Nutritionally speaking, they are equivalent. Frozen beans are quite inexpensive. Fresh beans in season are close, but the frozen ones are consistently cheaper.

How about canned green beans? Their texture is mushy and their flavor is over-cooked. Stick to fresh or frozen.

Green Beans with Pineapple
(serves 4, costs $2)

12 ounces cooked green beans, either fresh or frozen, well-drained
2 Tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
1 8-ounce can diced or crushed pineapple, drained
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
A pinch of salt

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, if using, and saute for about a minute. Add green beans and stir to cover with butter. Add pineapple and soy sauce. Cook another minute to heat up the Add a pinch of salt if you think it isn't salty enough.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Cajun Meatloaf

Meatloaf - comfort food of the first order. It's easy to make and delicious as a leftover. This recipe is adapted from Bon Appetit's Fast, Easy, Fresh. What makes it Cajun? The Holy Trinity, the Pope and a good dose of heat. "What are you talking about? What does religion have to do with Cajun meatloaf?" The hallmarks of Cajun cooking are 4 ingredients: onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic. The onion, celery, and green pepper make up the Holy Trinity. Garlic, highly revered in Cajun cooking, is the Pope. With a bit of cayenne and Tabasco sauce, there's plenty of heat, if you want it. The meatloaf is still full-flavored without it.

Cajun Meatloaf
(served 6, cost is $6.15)

 2 Tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ green pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, minced
½ teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ - ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, depending on how spicy you want your meatloaf
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound ground beef
1 egg
½ cup fine dry breadcrumbs (see Note)
½ cup ketchup
1 Tablespoon Tabasco or other hot sauce

Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat butter or oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion, garlic, green pepper, and celery. Cook for about 10 minutes. Add thyme, salt, black pepper, cayenne, and cumin and cook for another minute. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes.

Mix together ketchup and Tabasco in a small bowl.

Combine ground beef, egg, breadcrumbs, and about ½ of the ketchup mixture in a large bowl. Add vegetables and mix with your hands. Form into a loaf in a 8"x8" baking dish (it fits best if you form it on a diagonal) or a 11"x7"x2" dish. Bake for 20 minutes. Spread top of meatloaf with remaining ketchup mixture and bake until cooked through, another 40 minutes.

Note: To make your own breadcrumbs, allow bread to dry out until hard then grate it on the smallest holes of a grater. Great way to use up odds and ends of bread.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Food Revolution Day 2013

Last May, the School of Eating Good, as part of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, was proud to host a Food Revolution Day event. You can read about our Food Improv Potluck and get excited about Food Revolution Day 2013, Friday May 17. We'll keep you posted on what we're cooking up. We're hoping we can join forces with our fantastic local Whole Foods on this; we'll be meeting with them early next year.

If you don't live near Boulder, Colorado, we urge you to find a local Food Revolution group so you can join in the fun and support the Food Revolution!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pasta with Greens, Garbanzos & Feta Cheese

A pot full of tasty pasta

Here's the second pasta dish from out latest class. Super easy and quick. It actually takes longer to boil the water and cook the pasta than it does to put the final dish together. The lemon zest is key. Along with the feta cheese and tomatoes, it brings some bold bright flavors to a pot full of earthy ingredients.

The recipe calls for orecchiette (which means "little ears" in Italian) or small shells. Any smallish pasta will work. We used campanelle (which means "bellflower" in Italian) and that worked just as well. We found that it was necessary to cook the pasta for nearly 12 minutes, but we are cooking this at an altitude of 5400 feet. If you are at sea level, it will probably be al dente in 10 minutes.

Pasta with Greens, Garbanzos & Feta Cheese
(serves 4, cost is $10.30)

8 oz. orecchiette or small shells
¼ cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
12 ounces baby spinach
1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup small cherry or grape tomatoes
4 ounces feta cheese, cut into ¼“ cubes or crumbled
1 teaspoon lemon zest (see Note)
Salt and black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm, stirring occasionally, about 8-12 minutes. Reserve about a 1⁄2 cup of the pasta water and drain pasta.

Wipe the pasta pot out with a towel, and over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Using a spoon, remove the garlic and discard.

Add the spinach, the beans and tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the pasta, half of the cheese, the lemon zest, and season with salt and pepper. The feta cheese is quite salty so be careful not to over-salt. Toss well and thin out the sauce with a little of the pasta water. Garnish with the remaining cheese and serve.

Note: How do you zest an lemon if you don't have a lemon zester? Use a vegetable peeler to carefully peel off strips of lemon peel. Try to get as little of the white pith as possible since it is terribly bitter. After you have peeled about ½ the lemon, which should be enough for this dish, mince it. It smells intensely lemony and provides great flavor to this dish, so don't leave it out.
One of our students checking out the intense aroma of lemon zest

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Baked Penne with Butternut Squash and Sausage

Yum! Bubbly cheese.

This week, we had another class for students in CU apartments. What a great group! It's just so much fun to turn them on to real food and good eating. And, they are always so happy to get a great meal.

This month's theme was pasta. This recipe looks complex but, really, it isn't. The hardest thing is cutting up the squash. Though the recipe calls for turkey sausage (which is lower in fat than pork), it's just as wonderful and only slightly more decadent with pork Italian sausage, should you be unable to find sweet Italian turkey sausage. Or use chicken Italian sausage like I did tonight, because that's what I found on sale at the market today.

Though there are some expensive ingredients in here - goat cheese runs about $1 per ounce - this recipe makes a lot of servings. So, this recipe is actually quite economical. You get a lot of mileage out of those high cost ingredients by mixing them with inexpensive things like butternut squash and pasta.

Baked Penne with Butternut Squash and Turkey Sausage
(serves 8, costs $12.60)

1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 medium Onion, chopped
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 ½ cups Vegetable Broth, divided
¾ pound Sweet Italian Turkey Sausage, without casings
½ teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 pound Butternut Squash, ¾" dice, about 4 cups
2 cups Tomato Sauce
⅓ cup Heavy Cream
Salt And Black Pepper
1 pound Penne Pasta
3 ounces Soft Mild Goat Cheese, crumbled
3 ounces Shredded Part-Skim Mozzarella
¼ cup Grated Parmesan Cheese

Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat a 13"x9"x2" baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until golden. Stir in the garlic and saute 1 more minute. Pour in ½ cup of vegetable broth and cook until it has evaporated and the onion is browned, about 8 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up into chunks with a spoon, until it is no longer pink.

Add the ground cinnamon, squash, tomato sauce, broth, and cream. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid boils. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered and stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes. There should be plenty of liquid. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

While the squash is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook penne according to package directions until al dente. Drain well.

Combine goat cheese and mozzarella in a medium bowl.

Add the pasta to the sauce and stir. Add ½ of the cheese and mix well. Spread the pasta in the prepared baking dish, smoothing out the top. Top with the remaining cheese mixture and the Parmesan cheese.

Bake until the cheese melts and bubbles, about 15 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, October 5, 2012

What's in Season Now?

Pumpkins and apples, out in an orchard near Syracuse, NY
Autumn is such a wonderful time of year - crisp weather and there is loads of wonderful produce everywhere. Most of these are available all year, but are at their best in the fall. Apples are freshly picked, not pulled out of storage. Greens, such as kale and collards, are at their sweetest after a touch of frost. Here's a list of great produce now in season and some recipes to help you cook them. Check back in to the blog, because we'll be posting more great fall recipes.

Winter squash: In my supermarket, winter squash is currently displayed in giant bins. That's a lot of squash! There are many varieties, but two of our favorites are acorn squash and butternut squash. Both come in size that a single person can handle. Acorn squash has ridges which make peeling it a royal pain. Don't even try. Microwave them instead and then it is easy to scoop out the cooked flesh. You'll find an easy recipe for acorn squash at the end of this post. Butternut squash is another favorite because it is easy to peel. That makes butternut squash one of the best for roasting. You can learn all about roasting vegetables, including winter squash, in this article we wrote earlier this year.

Sauteed Kale with Asian Pear

Greens: It's true - greens are better in the fall. Extremely cold hardy, they not only thrive in cold temperatures, they produce more sugar. If you are afraid they will be bitter, this is the time of year to give them a try. Try our basic sauteed kale. You can use other greens such as collards or mustard but you'll need to cook them longer. And, kale is the sweetest of the bunch, making it a good "starter" dark leafy green for most folks.

Apples: The most popular fruit of fall in the US. Currently, apples are selling for 49¢ a pound in one of my local markets. Now, that's cheap! There are endless varieties. Need help figuring out which one to use? Check out this post on the most popular ones in US markets. And, we recently posted a recipe for a delicious yet simple apple crumble.

Orange-Pecan Acorn Squash
(serves 4, costs $1.50)

Unlike many recipes for baked acorn squash, this one depends on the natural sweetness of orange juice and pecans.

1 1-pound acorn squash, cut in half lengthwise and seeded (see Note)
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons orange juice
¼ cup chopped pecans
¼ teaspoon salt

Place acorn squash halves in a microwavable container. Cover and microwave on high for 10 minutes. Let stand, covered for 5 minutes.

Combine butter, orange juice, pecans, and salt in a 2 cup microwavable measuring cup. Cover tightly and microwave on high for 1 1/2 minutes.

Using a soup spoon, scoop out flesh from the acorn squash into a serving bowl. Pour over pecan mixture and serve.

Note: Winter squash can be difficult to cut in half because of its tough skin. You can soften the skin by microwaving it for a minute. The best tool for removing the seeds from squash is a soup spoon.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Keeping Brown Sugar Soft

In our last post on apple crumble, we used brown sugar. Brown sugar frustrates many a cook since when it dries out, it solidifies into a useless lump. Here's some advice on keeping it soft and "refreshing" it, should it turn into a useless lump in your pantry.

First, store it properly. Keep it sealed up in a plastic bag or a tight sealing air-tight container. You need to keep the moisture in the sugar. If there are holes in your plastic bag, even little ones, the moisture will evaporate and you have a useless lump of sugar.

What if you discover your brown sugar has dried out? If you don't need it right away, put the sugar in a tightly sealing air-tight container. Lightly wrap a slightly damp paper towel in some plastic wrap and place that in the container with the sugar. You don't need a lot of moisture to refresh the sugar. Too much moisture, and the sugar will dissolve. The sugar will slowly absorb the moisture from the towel, softening in the process. Once the towel is dry, the sugar should be soft again and you can discard the paper towel. If you keep it stored in an airtight container, it will stay soft a long time.

If you need the sugar right away, you can microwave it to soften it up. Put a cup of it in a covered dish and microwave for 30-60 seconds. If it isn't soft after a minute, try another 30 seconds. Watch it carefully because if it's microwaved too long, it will melt. If you use this method, and don't use up all the sugar you softened, you should use the damp towel method for the rest. After the sugar cools, it's going to solidify into a useless lump again.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Apple Crumble or Crisp or Whatever...

We're now into apple season and that means it's time for apple desserts. This one is simply sliced apples with a pastry topping. The distinction between a crisp and crumble isn't clear. Crumbles usually have a pastry topping and crisps have a topping that contains oats. Though, they are really used interchangeably. But, who really cares? They all taste good. This one in particular.

For help on selecting a good apple for your crumble, see our article on apple varieties. We used Honeycrisp in the picture above and they had the perfect combination of tart-sweet as well as an excellent cooked texture.

Here's a tip for slicing apples: cut the sides off the core, as in the photo below. Then slice the chunks. It's a lot easier to slice things if you have a flat side to place on the cutting board. Round things, like apples, roll around, making it much tougher to slice them.

Apple Crumble
 (serves 6-8, cost $3.50)

butter or cooking spray for greasing the pan
6 large apples, peeled, cored and cut into thick slices
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 Tablespoon white sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg
4 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

Preheat the oven to 400 F°. Grease an 8"x8" baking dish with butter or non-stick cooking spray.

Layer the apple slices in the baking dish. Combine flour, dark brown sugar, white sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Add the butter cubes and cut into the flour mixture with a pastry blender. If you don't have a pastry blender, rub the butter into the flour with your fingers

This topping hasn't been mixed quite enough. Still have big chunks of butter.

Not mixed quite enough
 This is just about right - no big chunks of butter and a fairly uniform consistency.

Just right!
Sprinkle the pastry evenly over the apples. Bake for 30-35 minutes until apples are tender and topping is browned. Good just as is but even better if served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream! Make sure to spoon it out so the apples and the topping mix together. That way you get a bit of apples and a bit of topping in each and every bite.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Simple Stewed Zucchini

Here's another simple and quick vegetable recipe: stewed zucchini. Zucchini is quite versatile. It is quite good quickly sauteed but it's also delicious stewed. That is, cooked in a flavorful liquid. It still cooks fairly quickly. Zucchini is a bit of a chameleon when it comes to flavor. It doesn't have a strong flavor and picks up other flavors, like onions or garlic, readily. One of the nice things about stewed zucchini is that it's just as good reheated, unlike barely sauteed zucchini. You can't really overcook it because it's already cooked until soft.

If you are a novice cook, you may have seen the term "simmer" before  but you may wonder exactly what that is. Simmer is used to describe heating liquids to not quite boiling. The surface of the liquid quietly moves with some small bubbles now and then - no big bubbles and splashing. Simmering is a gentle cooking method used for long cooking, like for spaghetti sauce, or cooking delicate things like fish, or in this recipe, zucchini.

Stewed Zucchini
(serves 4-6, costs $2.50)

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
4 to 5 medium zucchini, about 1 ½ pounds, sliced about ¼" thick (see Note)
⅔ cup chicken or vegetable stock
¼ teaspoon dried oregano, crushed in your palm
¼ - ½ teaspoon salt (depends on the saltiness of your stock)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
4 sprigs fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute until edges of onions start to brown. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add zucchini to onions. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring once or twice so they cook evenly. They may start to brown (it depends a lot on how much moisture there is in the zucchini), which is OK. Add the stock, crushed oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes, uncovered, until most of the stock has evaporated. Sprinkle with parsley, if using, and serve.

Note: Any summer squash, such as yellow squash, can be used. Or mix yellow and green. You will find it easier to slice the zucchini if you cut it in ½ lengthwise, put the flat side down, then slice it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cooking Fresh Green Beans

Beans from my garden: green and yellow wax. They all cook up the same.

One of the great things about our classes is I get to talk to college students about what they eat and what they know how to cook. This is my absolute best generator of blog post ideas. I am a chef (why else would you listen to me?) and that means I know how to cook. I take a lot of basic skills for granted. My students bring me back to the real world.

So, here's a basic skill: cooking fresh green beans. Green beans are delicious, particularly fresh ones from the garden or the farmer's market. Green beans from the supermarket are still lovely and often cheap - around 99¢ per pound - during summer and early fall. They are easy and quick. The hardest part is cleaning them, and that isn't so hard.

Selecting good beans: bright green, no brown (those were picked over a week ago), no wrinkles. Definitely no slime. Not too big. Commercial beans are tender until they get pretty big but they are still better when under 6" long. Once you get them home, cook them within 5 days. If they start getting rusty-brown, cook them immediately. Once cooked, they freeze well or keep in the fridge for about 5 days.

Getting the water ready to cook them: put a medium pot of water to boil. Not a small pot and not a little water. Enough water to fill the pot ¾ way full. Add about a teaspoon of salt.

Cleaning them: while the water is coming to a boil, cut off the stem end (see picture below). Put in a bowl of cold water. When all the beans are stemmed, swish around the beans in the water to wash them.

Cooking them: when your water is boiling, it's time to cook. Lift the beans out of the cold water, rather than pour off the water. By lifting them, you are leaving any dirt at the bottom of the bowl. Put in the boiling water and cook for anywhere from 3-7 minutes. Why the range? It depends on how crunchy you like your beans. At 3 minutes, they are still squeaky-crunchy. I prefer them cooked longer, but you can decide for yourself.

Eating the beans later?: if you are not eating all the beans right away, you need to chill them down so they stop cooking. Put them in clean cold water. Add ice to cool them down even quicker if you've got it. Drain them well and store in the fridge. To reheat, zap in the microwave for a minute or two.

Eating now?: season with with some salt (if you like), drizzle on some olive oil or mix with some butter.

This basic process of clean, cook in lots of boiling water, and chill down is common to most vegetables. The big difference is how long you cook each vegetable. We'll have more basic vegetable cooking instructions in the future.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


We made plum clafouti for the class. Smelled amazing, tasted great

Clafouti (pronounced cla-foo-TEE) is a traditional Provencal dessert. It's usually made in the summer when there are wonderful ripe fruits everywhere in Provence. Sour cherries (pie cherries) are traditional but most other soft fruits work just as well. Clafouti is a cross between a cake and a crepe. There isn't a lot of flour in the batter and a lot of eggs. But, it's a whole lot easier to make than most cake and crepes. You mix up the batter, put a layer of fruit in the bottom of a pie plate, pour the batter on top,  and bake.

The amount of sugar here is pretty minimal. French desserts are not nearly as sweet at American desserts. In the class, we tasted the plums and decided they were a bit tart, so we added another tablespoon of sugar. We recommend that you taste your fruit and add a touch more sugar if you think the fruit is tart.

(serves 6-8)

Butter or nonstick cooking spray, for greasing pie plate
2 ½ cups Pitted Cherries, or sliced fruit such as peaches, nectarines, or plums
1 ¼ cups Milk
¼ cup Sugar
3 large Eggs
2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 pinch Salt
½ cup All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoon Sugar
½ teaspoon Cinnamon, optional

Preheat oven to 350°F with the rack in the center of the oven. Butter the bottom and sides of a 10" pie plate. Whisk together the milk, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt until well combined. Stir in flour until  smooth. Arrange the fruit in a single layer in the pie plate. Pour the batter over fruit. Combine sugar with cinnamon (if using) and sprinkle on clafouti. Bake until the edges are golden brown and the clafouti is set(see Note), about 30-40 minutes. Best served warm. If you have leftovers or bake in advance, keep in the refrigerator and rewarm in a 200°F oven before serving.

Note: Set means that when you gently shake the pie plate, the center doesn't jiggle and feels firm to the touch.

Pasta Frittata

Another recipe for our class this week. What a tasty way to use up leftover pasta. The texture of this frittata is really unique because of the pasta. There are a world of wonderful variations to this frittata too. You can use pasta in marinara sauce or pesto. You can toss in some chopped cooked bacon. You can switch up the cheese. You can throw in a ¼ cup of minced herbs, like basil (though probably not a good idea with pesto) or parsley.

Pasta Frittata
(serves 4-6)

8 large Eggs
¾ cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
½ teaspoon Salt
¼ teaspoon Freshly Ground Pepper
4 cups Cooked Pasta, with or without sauce (see Note)
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, cheese, salt, and pepper. Stir in the cooked pasta. In a 10" skillet (either well-seasoned cast iron or non-stick and oven-safe), heat the oil over medium heat. Add the egg mixture and press it flat. Bake for 25-30 minutes until eggs are set and the edges are golden-brown. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Refrigerate any leftovers. Unlike French omelets, frittatas hold up well to reheating.

Note: 4 cups of cooked pasta is about ½ pound of dry pasta.

Chipotle Deviled Eggs

Where did all the eggs go?! Guess they liked them.

Another recipe for our Egg Class on Tuesday: Deviled eggs - that popular picnic dish. This one has some kick, however. You don't need much chipotle because they are smokey-hot! They are dried smoked, ripe jalapenos with an unmistakeable flavor. Chipotles in Adobo are the reconstituted chiles in a vinegary tomato sauce. They come in a small can. It may seem extravagant to buy a can for 1 ½ teaspoons of the stuff, but they will last forever in your freezer. Freeze them in a few small packages and pull them out little by little. They last a pretty long time in your fridge too. If you like spicy-smokey, these are the deviled eggs for you. If you really like the heat, use 2 teaspoons.

Chipotle Deviled Eggs
(serves 6)

6 large Eggs, hard-cooked
¼ cup Mayonnaise
½ teaspoon Salt
1 pinch Black Pepper
1 ½ teaspoon Chipotle In Adobo, finely chopped

Cut eggs in half lengthwise. Gently remove yolks and place in a medium bowl. Mash the yolks with a fork. Stir in remaining ingredients and mix until smooth. Using a small spoon, pile stuffing into egg centers.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

We're breaking some eggs! For a broccoli frittata...

Next week, we're holding our first class of the academic year. We are featuring eggs, because eggs are delicious, inexpensive, and nutritious. Hard to top that!

We'll be posting all the recipes from the class over the next few days. The first recipe is for broccoli frittata. Frittatas are sort of Italian omelets. They are nothing like French omelets which are light and fluffy when made correctly (and they are not all that easy to make). Sure, they are both made from eggs, but that's where the similarity ends. Frittatas are very easy to make. If you can beat an egg and turn on your oven, you are most of the way there. They suck up all manner of leftovers - cooked vegetables, meat, cheese, herbs, even pasta! And, because they are made of eggs, they are cheap. Frittatas are a great go-to meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They also reheat nicely so if you make a big one, you can reheat leftovers the next day and it's still wonderful. Don't try that with a French omelet.

Broccoli Frittata
(serves 4-6, costs $4.75)

1 pound Broccoli, cleaned (see Note)
¼ cup Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic, minced
½ teaspoon Salt
¼ teaspoon Black Pepper
8 large Eggs, beaten
½ cup Grated Parmesan Cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cook broccoli in boiling salted water for 2 minutes until crisp-tender. Cool off quickly with cold water to stop the cooking and drain well. Chop broccoli into bite-sized pieces. Add salt and pepper to eggs and beat well. Heat oil in a 10" oven-proof skillet over medium heat, then add the garlic. When it starts to sizzle, add the broccoli. Stir and cook for a few minutes. Pour eggs over broccoli. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes until eggs are set and the edges are golden-brown.

Note: Frozen chopped broccoli works just as a well here. Thaw the broccoli and use it instead of the cooked fresh broccoli. And it's even cheaper than fresh broccoli sometimes. At my local supermarket, it's $1.33/pound, which is a good bit cheaper than the fresh broccoli at $1.59/pound last week. Though, it's good to check the sales. Broccoli is on sale this week for 88¢/pound.