Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cheap Eats:Baked Potatoes

Baked potatoes are an inexpensive vehicle for all sorts of tasty things. Things like chili, cheese, stew. I would say anything that can go on top of noodles will also be great on a baked potato. And cheap! A 10 ounce baked potato - that's a pretty hefty potato - costs about 60 cents. You can learn a bit more about potatoes here. The best potatoes for baking are russets, also known as Idaho since most of them are grown there.

Most people go for the convenience of the microwave. I don't think it's the best way to bake them, but it is fast. The best way to bake a potato is to, well, bake it in a hot oven. That's how you'll get crispy skin, if you do it right. I have always loved the crispy skin. You'll never get crispy skin in the microwave because you're really steaming the potato, not baking it.

Though not the preferred way to bake potatoes, here are instructions for microwaved "Baked" potatoes: Poke the potato a few times with a fork so it doesn't explode in the oven. A single large potato takes 6-8 minutes. Two large potatoes take 8-10 minutes.  They will still be firm after cooking; let the potatoes sit for a minute after cooking then check for doneness. Old or dried-out potatoes do not microwave well whole.

The right way to bake a potato: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Rub potatoes all over with a little vegetable oil if you want really crispy skin. Poke potatoes with a fork. Place in the oven on the rack. This allows the hot air to circulate all around the potatoes, which helps to crisp up the skin as well. Bake for 50-60 minutes until tender when poked with a fork. Serve with your favorite toppings. Try with our green chile sauce in our recipe for chicken enchiladas or how about this simple vegetarian chili?

Basic Bean Chili
(makes enough to top 6 baked potatoes; total cost is $5.00)

2 Tablespoons Oil
2 Onions, chopped
1 medium Green Pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 cloves Garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon Cayenne
2 Tablespoons Mild Chili Powder
1 teaspoon ground Cumin
1 teaspoon dried Oregano
1 15-16 ounce can diced Tomatoes (Mexican seasoned tomatoes, like Ro-Tel brand are good here)
1 15 ounce can Pinto Beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 ounce can Kidney Beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon salt

Heat oil in small soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add chopped onions and green pepper. Saute for a few minutes until onion is softened. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add cayenne, chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Cook for 1 minute.

Add remaining ingredients, reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cauliflower in Tomato Sauce

Here's a fairly quick and delicious cauliflower dish. It's quite versatile as well. You can eat it as a side dish. You can use it as a sauce for pasta (add some cheese or chickpeas to make it into a hearty main dish pasta). You can even use it as a sauce on simple grilled meats and fish. One of the nice things about cauliflower is it's very tolerant when it comes to cooking time. You can cook it a fairly long time, relative to many green vegetables, and it still tastes great. In fact, you can cook it to death and it makes a delicious puree. Like broccoli, it is a cruciferous vegetable, meaning it's full of great nutrients.

Cauliflower in Tomato Sauce
(serves 6; total cost is $5.20)

1 ½ pounds cauliflower, about 1 medium head
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1-2 pinches crushed red pepper
20 oz. tomatoes, chopped (Roma or cherry) or 1 28 oz. can peeled tomatoes
½ cup water (omit if using canned tomatoes)
2 Tablespoons minced fresh basil or parsley
¾ teaspoon kosher salt

Cut the cauliflower in small florets. Chop the core and stems into small chunks.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saute pan with a cover. Add the onion, garlic, and crushed red pepper. Saute until onion is starting to brown on the edges, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes (and water if using fresh tomatoes) and reduce heat to maintain a simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cauliflower, fresh herbs, and salt. Stir, cover, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and cook for another 5 minutes.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Protein - ya got to eat it

I had a conversation with my daughter that may be relevant to a lot of people out on their own for the first time. She is studying abroad in Scotland right now and she has to cook for herself, day-in and day-out. She has to pay for the food she is eating, unlike at her American college where the meal plan presents her with many "free" choices everyday.

She didn't understand that the key part of her diet, the one she can't live without, is protein. In the US  few Americans don't get enough protein because our diet provides so much food generally that we get plenty from a multitude of sources. But, as I listened to what my daughter is eating, I started thinking, there's very little protein there. I'm pretty sure her experience is not unique, as many students attempt to economize by cutting out the expensive stuff, like dairy and animal protein. They don't think about replacing it with inexpensive vegetarian protein sources either.

So, for my daughter and all you other starving students out there, a primer on protein sources. Once upon a time, much was made about combining vegetarian foods to provide complete protein(complete protein provides all the amino acids needed by the human body), but further research has shown that your body can make do with incomplete protein provided you get a variety of protein sources throughout the day. Eat your beans with your rice, eat your beans at lunch and your rice at dinner. It will still work out OK. This is not a concern if you eat animal protein, even fairly small amounts daily, since it is a complete protein.

Here's a list of foods, animal, vegetable, grain, and legume, and how they stack up protein-wise in an average serving. This list isn't meant to imply that you must eat meat to fulfill your protein requirements. Far from it! But, if you depend exclusively on non-animal sources of protein, you will want to make sure you are getting protein from varied sources.

High: Beef, Lamb, Pork, Game, Tofu, Tempeh, Shellfish, Finned Fish, Egg, Chicken, Turkey

Medium: Beans, Lentils, Cheese, Milk, Corn, Bread, Pasta, Oats, Quinoa, Yogurt, Peanut Butter, Nuts, Ready-to-Eat Cereals, Edamame, Rice

Low: Broccoli, Kale, Spinach, Barley, Mushrooms, Potatoes, Green Beans

To give you some practical examples of protein content, here are the number of grams of protein per serving from a few recipes on this blog. To put it in context, an adult human who weighs 150 lbs needs a minimum of 54 grams of protein each day (about 0.36 grams x body weight in pounds). If our "average" human is active, she/he will need more like 70-82 grams a day (multiply weight by 0.45-0.55), and for athletes, protein requirements will be even higher.

Chicken Enchiladas: 25 grams
Bowties with Pesto: 25 grams
Moroccan Couscous Salad: 18 grams
Vegetarian Lentil Soup: 15 grams

As you can see, it's not hard to get enough protein as long as you eat a varied diet, something we cannot recommend enough.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Soy Braised Cornish Game Hens

Games hens are a bit fancier than chicken. Everyone gets half of a mini chicken, which is really what a game hen is. My grandmother wouldn't eat them because she thought they were baby chickens (yet, she ate veal; go figure). They really are mini-chickens, a hybrid of Cornish and Rock chickens. Many people who don't like dark meat like game hens better because game hens are all white meat. Also, the ratio of meat to bone is much higher than chicken. As an avowed lover of dark meat, I find the meat on a game hen better than chicken breast meat. It seems to stay moister and this recipe certainly helps because it's a moist heat method. No, there won't be crispy skin with this method. You can always remove the skin after braising if that bothers you.

Game hens are a little pricey, about $4 each at my local supermarket (though they often go on sale for $3.50 each). But, boneless chicken breasts are about the same price. I think game hens are worth it, especially for a special dinner. These would be great served with our Coconut-Ginger Rice.

Heads up if you have never made game hens before: almost all of them are sold frozen these days, so look for them near the frozen turkey. It takes about 3 days for a game hen to thaw in the fridge, so you'll need to plan ahead.

Soy-Braised Game Hens
(serves 4; total cost is $9.60)

2 Cornish Game Hens, 22 oz. each (the most common size)
1 tbl Chopped Garlic, about 4 large cloves
1 tbl Chopped Ginger
¼ cup Soy Sauce
3 tbl Honey
½ tsp Sweet Paprika
1 ½ tsp Siracha Sauce, optional
½ tsp Kosher Salt

Preheat oven to 350℉. Combine the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, honey, paprika, Siracha sauce(if using), and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then remove from heat.

Put the hens in a casserole dish that is just big enough to hold them. Pour the soy sauce mixture over the hens and into the cavity. Cover tightly with foil.

Place casserole dish in the oven and bake for 50 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for another 20 minutes.

Cut hens in half to serve. Serve any sauce in the casserole dish as a dipping sauce. Serve hot or cold (if serving cold, skim off the fat from the sauce and reheat).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pad Thai

Pad Thai is a hugely popular Thai noodle dish. It's a dish that comes together fast. There isn't even much knife work involved, like for many stir fry dishes. The rice noodles cook in no time. You boil some water then let the noodles steep in the hot water for about 5 minutes.

This recipe is spicy, not sweet. Many restaurants make Pad Thai fairly sweet. This is not that kind of Pad Thai. There is a little bit of sugar for balance but it's not the dominant flavor. This sauce is about fish sauce, chile, lime, and soy. Fish sauce smells quite intimidating - very fishy, as you might imagine, given that it is a fermented fish product. But, that very fishy odor cooks off, leaving just a mild fish flavor that gives so many South East Asian dishes that special something. Don't leave it out. Fish sauce will keep for generations in your fridge so don't worry about buying a bottle. It will be waiting for you the next time you get an urge for Pad Thai.

Pad Thai
(serves 4; total cost is $8.90)

7 oz. dried rice noodles, linguine or fettucine width
2 + 1 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
8-10 medium shrimp (about ¼ pound), peeled and deveined
½ pound boneless chicken or pork, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon dried red chili flakes
¼ cup water, to prevent noodles from sticking
3 green onions, coarsely chopped, about ⅓ cup
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
¼ cup coarsely chopped roasted, salted peanuts
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, about 1 lime
2-4 lime wedges

Bring a large saucepan of water to a rolling boil, add the rice noodles, and remove from heat. Let the noodles steep 5-7 minutes, until al dente, and then drain and rinse well in cold water.

In a large, deep skillet or wock, heat 2 Tablespoons of the oil over medium heat until a bit of garlic sizzles at once. Add the garlic, stir well, and then add the shrimp and chicken. Cook about 2 minutes, stirring now and then, until the shrimp and meat are cooked through.

Add the remaining Tablespoon of oil. Add the egg, and once it is almost set, scramble it and push it aside. Add the noodles fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and chili flakes and cook 1 to 2 minutes, stirring now and then. Add the water to prevent the noodles from sticking to the pan. Add the green onions and 1 cup of the bean sprouts and cook about 1 minute, stirring once or twice, until the sprouts are shiny and beginning to wilt. Sprinkle the peanuts and lime juice over the noodles and toss to mix everything well. To serve, mound the noodles on a plate, top with the remaining bean sprouts and place the lime wedges to one side.

Adapted from: Quick & Easy Thai: 70 Everyday Recipes by Nancie McDermott and Alison Miksch

Friday, April 13, 2012

Iced Thai Chai

Thai Iced Tea is pretty tasty stuff. It's made with either black tea or Thai red tea. We tried to find Thai tea, but couldn't find it easily. We don't like to teach recipes with tough-to-find ingredients. We want it to be easy to make our recipes and searching high and low for Thai tea isn't our idea of "easy." Thai tea is redder than black tea and it gives Thai iced tea its distinctive color. Well, we gave up on the color part. It is also flavored with cinnamon and star anise. Star anise isn't really hard to find but it's hard to justify buying star anise just for Thai tea. We started thinking about tea that includes cinnamon and star anise and we ended up at Indian chai. It's easy to find chai tea bags these days. Chai includes a bunch of other spices (ginger, cardamom, among others) but we thought, why not? Besides, we ended up with the snappy name "Thai Chai." We loved it!

Thai iced tea is made by mixing tea with sweetened condensed milk. It's a very simple recipe but it is quite delicious. It is also quite sweet, so best to consider this an occasional treat, not your every-day beverage.

Iced Thai Chai
(serves 4-6, total cost is $2.00)

4 cups water
4 chai tea bags
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
ice cubes

Bring the water to a boil. Place the tea bags in a teapot or glass container and let steep until bright orange in color, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the bags. Let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Add the condensed milk and stir well to combine. Fill glasses with ice and add tea to each glass.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thai Fried Rice

This is Ronnie's favorite fried rice recipe, maybe one of her favorite recipes ever! And for good reason. It's easy, quick, and delicious. I hadn't realized how popular Indian-style curry powder was in Thai cooking until I went looking for Thai tea (more on this in an upcoming post). Thai curry powder, which is very close to Indian curry powder, is sold in large containers so Thai cooks must use it up pretty quickly. Who knew?

Fried rice, whether Thai or Chinese, is always better made with cold cooked rice. Freshly cooked rice is too sticky. You can make the rice before making the fried rice but we strongly recommend you spread it out of the pot onto a baking sheet and chill it for 30 minutes. If you happen to have leftover rice from some recent Asian take-out meal, that's the easiest start to this dish. You'll need 3 cups of cooked rice instead of the 1 cup of raw rice called for in the recipe.

We used the optional brown gravy sauce to make the fried rice above. This is only a coloring agent. Given the bright yellow from the curry powder, this is definitely not essential to the dish, so feel free to leave it out (and we didn't include it in the cost of the dish either).

This dish is very adaptable to whatever cooked protein you have: chicken, pork, shrimp, tofu, ham. All are great here. Or add nothing - it's still delicious. The cashews, pineapple, and curry really make this dish special. If you start with cooked rice, it takes no time at all.

Thai Fried Rice
(serves 2-4 generously; total cost w/o optional meat is $2.80, with chicken the cost is $4.60)

1 cup long grain rice
2 cups cold water
2 Tablespoons oil
½ medium onion, chopped
2-3 teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspoons brown gravy sauce (optional)
2 cups cooked chicken or pork, cut into cubes (optional)
1 cup fresh pineapple, cut into small chunks
¼ cup roasted cashews, chopped
½ cup frozen peas
2 Tablespoons soy sauce

Place the rice and cold water in a 3 quart pot. Cover the pot and bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low and tilt the cover to allow some steam to come out of the pot. Cook for 20 minutes, turn off the heat and place the cover back on the pot. Let it sit for 5 minutes. The rice is best used cold, so make it ahead of time and refrigerate it, or spread it out on a baking sheet to cool.

In a large sauté or frying pan, place oil on medium-high heat. Cook onions in oil until they are soft and golden brown in color. Add curry powder and chicken or pork (if using) and stir until meat is heated. Add brown gravy sauce (if using). Add pineapple, cashews and peas and stir until heated through. Add rice and stir until incorporated with other ingredients. Stir in soy sauce.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Coconut-Ginger Rice

We love Thai food (in fact, our next class tonight is on Thai cooking) but one of the frustrations of making Thai curries is that ½ can of coconut milk that is often left over. As you can see in the photo, your typical can of coconut milk contains 14 oz. which is 2 ½ cups. (Someone out there is saying "Isn't 14 oz. just shy of 2 cups?" No, it weighs 14 oz. but it is 2 ½ cups by volume.* And yes, the can says 14 fl. oz. as my dear friend Deb has pointed out to me, but it's a lie. If you do the math, from the weight in grams per serving, it works out to 14 oz. by weight.)

School of Eating Good is here to help you with that pesky leftover coconut milk. I helped create a similar recipe for a Caribbean restaurant. It goes great with grilled fish or meat. It's pretty addictive stuff.

This recipe doesn't have a definitive amount of coconut milk. It's meant to use up what you have left over. So, if you use ½ a can, use the rest (about 1 ¼ cups) along with 1 ¾ cups of water to get to 3 cups liquid. We suggest you use at least 1 cup of coconut milk and as much as a whole can. We wouldn't want to create more leftovers trying to use up existing leftovers!

Coconut-Ginger Rice
(serves 6; total cost is  $3.10 if using all of a 14 oz. can of coconut milk)

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon grated or finely minced fresh ginger
2 cloves of garlic, minced
½ small onion, minced
1 ½ cups long-grain rice (jasmine rice is exceptionally good though more expensive)
1 cup or more coconut milk
enough water when mixed with the coconut milk to make 3 cups of liquid
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the ginger, garlic, and onion. Saute for a few minutes until onion is translucent. Add the rice and stir well.

Add the coconut milk, water, and salt. Stir well. Bring to a boil. Stir again, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer.

Cook for 20-25 minutes until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes.

* Three common ingredients have the same volume as weight: butter, milk, and eggs. That is, 8 oz. by volume of milk, butter, or eggs equals 8 oz. of these by weight. You can remember this with the saying: "A pint's a pound the world around for butter, milk, and eggs." It's true of water too. It is definitely not true for coconut milk.