Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Best Cornbread Ever

We've been posting a lot of cold weather soup recipes lately and I thought I'd include one for cornbread to eat with those soups. This is a sweet cornbread that also goes really well with chili or a salad (try it with the curried chicken salad we posted a while ago). Or, cut a piece in half, toast and butter it and eat it for breakfast.  It's based on a recipe from "A World of Breads" by Dolores Casella. You do need a 9-inch square pan, but you'll use that for lots of other things, so it's well worth getting.

Sweet Cornbread (total price $4.35)

3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups coarsely ground cornmeal
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk, at room temperature

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy with an electric hand mixer. Add the eggs and beat until blended. Stir in the cornmeal. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir the sifted dry ingredients into the creamed mixture alternately with the milk. To prepare the pan, either butter the entire 9-inch square pan or take a 9-inch wide piece of parchment paper or non-stick aluminum foil and place it in the pan with the ends coming over the sides (you'll use these for handles to remove the bread). Butter the 2 sides not covered with the paper/foil. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes, until the cornbread is browned and tests done with a toothpick. Cut into squares.

This bread freezes well.  I usually wrap 1 or 2 squares in plastic wrap and then put all the wrapped pieces in a freezer bag.  That way, I can easily take it out one serving at a time.  Microwave on high for 20-30 seconds to defrost each serving.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Split Pea Soup with Ham

Winter time is soup time. Here's a traditional ham-based split pea soup. Coming soon, a vegetarian version.

Split Pea Soup with Ham
(serves 4-6; total cost is $5.15)

1 tbl butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, cut in half lengthwise then into ¼" slices
1 pound dried green split peas, picked over
1 smoked ham hock (about 1/2 pound)
2 ½ quarts water
1 bay leaf
1 cup diced cooked ham
salt, to taste
1 tsp or more black pepper

Melt butter in a large soup kettle over medium-low and cook  onions and carrots, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add split peas, water, ham hock, and bay leaf and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally. If soup gets too thick, add 1 to 2 cups more water. Cook until split peas are very tender, for about 2 hours. Discard bay leaf. Add ham meat to kettle and simmer soup, stirring, until heated through. Season with generously with salt and pepper. Serve.

If you like a creamier soup, take a couple of cups of the soup after you have discarded the bay leaf and puree them in a blender. Add the pureed soup back to the pot and add the ham. If you don't have a blender, you can use a potato masher or the back of a spoon to schmush up the peas a bit.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon and Mustard

We gave you the basics on roasting vegetables last week. Here's a delicious version of roasted cauliflower that is fancied up a bit. Rather than oil, it uses butter as the fat, which adds tons of flavor. Mustard and lemon add even more. The roasting temperature is lower because the butter will burn at high temperatures. Totally delicious.

Roasted Cauliflower with Mustard and Lemon
(serves 6; total cost is $4.20)

2 lbs cauliflower (1 medium head)
6 tbl butter
2 tbl fresh lemon juice
2 tbl whole grain mustard, such as Dijon
1 ½ tsp fresh lemon zest, minced (see Note)
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
2 tbl chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Remove leaves and the tough core from the cauliflower. Slice into ¼" pieces. Place in a large bowl.

Melt butter over low heat. Add lemon juice, mustard, and lemon zest. Whisk to combine. Pour over cauliflower and toss. Pour onto a large rimmed cookie sheet, spreading the cauliflower into 1 layer. Make sure to scrape all the butter out of the bowl. That's the good stuff; don't waste it! Sprinkle cauliflower with salt and pepper.

Put in the oven for 15 minutes. Stir around, then return to the oven for another 20 minutes until cauliflower is tender.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Note: The easiest way to zest a lemon is with a microplane. If you don't have one, you can use a vegetable peeler to take off just the yellow part of the peel. The white part (the pith) is extremely bitter, so don't peel too deep. The top yellow layer is full of tasty lemon oil and that's what you want.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Pasta and Bean Soup (pasta e fagioli)

I've been sick for the last week.  Runny nose, achey all over, you know the feeling.  Thinking of our soup cooking class coming up and the way I felt, I made this pasta and bean soup for myself.  It was easy enough to do while not feeling well and it really helped me feel better!  It's definitely one I'll make again and again.

Pasta and Bean Soup
(serves 4; total cost $5.25, plus $1 for optional Parmesan rind)

1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 slices of bacon, chopped
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes or canned tomato sauce
1 piece Parmesan cheese rind, about 2.5" x 2" (optional)
1 can (15 oz.) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (15 oz.) low sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3/4 cup ditalini pasta
3 Tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
Olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese for garnish

Heat oil in a 3-quart pot over medium-high heat until shimmering, but not smoking. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add onion, celery and carrot; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and oregano and cook for about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add beans, cheese rind (if using), chicken broth, water, salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes.  When you are ready to serve the soup, cook the ditalini pasta according to package direction separately and add it to the soup.  To serve, mix 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley into the soup.  Ladle soup into individual bowls; drizzle each serving with olive oil and sprinkle with a portion of the remaining parsley, passing grated Parmesan separately.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Roasted Vegetables - all sorts

Roasted Veggies are a quick, easy and a very tasty alternative to steamed vegetables. Roasting concentrates flavors by evaporating some of the moisture and ups the ante by browning. Browning means flavor. I'm sure someone is looking at the above picture of roasted carrots thinking "Those are burned!" but they are not. As we say in the restaurant kitchen, they are well-caramelized. :-) Trust me. I ate them and they aren't burned.

Roasted veggies are great right out of the oven (careful! they are mighty hot) and they are great as a leftover. They can be added to soups, salads, omelets. Even a delicious snack, hot or cold.

The procedure for roasting is the same: grease up the veg, give a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, and stick in a hot oven until just tender. Give them a stir halfway cooking to even up the browning. How long it takes depends on how big you cut the chunks of vegetable and how dense the vegetable is (carrots and Brussels sprouts are dense, broccoli and asparagus are not).

A hot oven and oil are key ingredients. No oil and the vegetables will steam. Not hot enough, the vegetables will overcook before they brown. But, once you figure it out, it's really easy.

Be careful when mixing different vegetables. It works if they will all cook in a similar amount of time. So, carrots and Brussels sprouts will work but carrots and green beans will not. When the green beans are done, the carrots will still be raw and by the time the carrots are done, the green beans will be sad, wilted and overcooked. Or plan to throw the green beans in after the carrots have had some alone time in the oven.

Here's some good vegetable choices for roasted vegetables. Roasting temperature is 400° F.
  • Asparagus: 10 minutes for medium stalks, 5-7 for skinny stalks
  • Beets: 30 minutes for baby beets, an hour for bigger beets. I like to leave them whole because they are easier to peel that way.
  • Broccoli: 10 minutes
  • Brussels sprouts: 30 minutes
  • Carrots: 25-30 minutes
  • Cauliflower: 25 minutes
  • Green beans: 10 minutes
  • Mushrooms: 10-20 minutes, whole. I don't like them raw in the middle so I cook them 20 minutes.
  • Potatoes: 25-45 minutes, cut into chunks. Fingerlings can be roasted whole.
  • Sweet Potatoes: 30 minutes cut in chunks
  • Winter squash: 30 minutes, cut into chunks

Friday, January 6, 2012

Best Ever Peanut Butter Cookies

So, you thought that with the holidays over, it's time for a break from baking (and eating) cookies.  But, here is a recipe for Peanut Butter Cookies that is so unique (and light), you must try it right away!  My husband's grandmother always made these cookies and no one could replicate them, so I scheduled a visit with her to watch her make them.  The secret was in chilling the dough, so the cookies didn't spread when baked.  She also always used Peter Pan peanut butter, but any commercially made (not natural) peanut butter will work.

Grandma Trowbridge's Peanut Butter Cookies
 (makes about 36 cookies)

1-1/2 cups chunky peanut butter
2-1/4 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp flour
1/4 tsp salt
6 egg whites

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream together peanut butter and egg whites. You can do this with a mixer or by hand.  Mix in the rest of the ingredients and refrigerate dough until it is cold - at least an hour or even overnight.  Drop teaspoonfuls of dough (I like to use a very small scoop) onto cookie sheets lined in parchment (or ungreased sheets).  Bake for 12-13 minutes. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Quick Marinara Sauce: Cheaper than the Jar

Is jarred spaghetti sauce a good deal? We think not. Good reasons for making your own:
  • It's really easy
  • It requires no skill and minimal equipment
  • It's not pumped up with added sugar, a common problem with cheap jarred sauces
  • It's cheaper - high quality sauces run $3.50 to $4.00 a jar. A can of crushed tomatoes costs as little as $1.49, which is most of the cost in homemade sauce
  • It tastes much better
If you have a saucepan and a can-opener and you know how to stir, you can pull off a decent marinara sauce. You can customize it according to your taste: add different herbs, add cheese, add veggies, add meat. It's your sauce, so you can make it your own. The basic sauce uses only pantry staples.

We'll be posting other easy tomato pasta sauces in the future, versions that aren't quite so simple. But, really, this one isn't bad in a pinch.

Quick n' Easy Marinara Sauce
(makes about 3 1/2 cups; total cost $2.41)

2 tbl olive oil
28 oz can of crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
1 tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried basil, crushed in your palm
½ tsp dried oregano, crushed in your palm
1 large pinch black pepper
½ tsp salt

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer for 15 minutes.


Tomato-Butter Sauce: replace olive oil with butter (adds 20¢ to cost)
Spicy Marinara Sauce: add 1 large pinch of crushed red pepper
Parmesan Marinara: add ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese before using (adds 20¢ to cost)
Chunky Marinara: add a 14-16 oz can diced tomatoes, increase other ingredients by half (adds $1.95 to cost)
Pesto Tomato Sauce: add 1-2 tbl prepared pesto (adds 30¢ - 60¢ to cost)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Vegetarian Lentil Soup

Homemade soup is so easy, so filling, so inexpensive. Your homemade soup will taste so much better than anything in a can. Why not try to make your own?

Vegetarian Lentil Soup
(serves 4 as a main course; total cost is $4.86)

¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 large onions, diced
7 ½ cups water
1 cup lentils, rinsed and picked over for stones (see Note)
4 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
3 celery stalks, thinly sliced
¼ cup tomato paste mixed with ½ cup water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Heat olive oil and butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add garlic and onions. Cook for about 10 minutes, until onions are very soft and golden. Stir often to get even browning.

Add everything else except the parsley. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Give it a good stir, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes. The lentils and carrots should be very tender.

Just before serving, stir in the parsley.

Note: Nowadays, it's pretty unusual to find any pebbles in your dried beans, but I have found them so it's best to look.