Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Spinach and Feta Pinwheels

Here's a delicious appetizer using puff pastry (check out our samosas for another one), one of our favorite store-bought products. Just remember that the puff pastry can't get too warm or it will be very difficult to work with. Thaw it overnight in the fridge for best results. You can thaw it on the counter (follow the directions on the package) if you need to use it sooner, but if your kitchen is hot, you may find the puff pastry too sticky to roll out. Stick it back in the fridge for a little while to let it firm up.

Some very impressive finger food to bring to a party, and you don't have to tell anyone how easy it is to make.

Spinach and Feta Pinwheels
(makes 16, total cost $5.30)

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed and cold
1 large egg
1 Tablespoon water
10 ounces chopped frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove most of the moisture
2 ounces (about 2 slices) muenster cheese, chopped
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1 scallion, washed and thinly sliced (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Mix together egg and water and set aside. Combine cheeses, pepper, salt, and scallion in a small bowl and set aside. Unfold sheet of puff pastry and on a lightly floured counter, roll out until it is 9" x 12". Brush the puff pastry with egg. Spread the cheese mixture evenly over puff pastry then spread the spinach over the cheese. Starting on one of the 9" ends, roll up the puff pastry so you end up with something that looks like a jelly roll. Using a very sharp knife, slice the roll into ½ inch slices. The end slices won't have much filling, which is normal. Place them about 1 ½" apart on an ungreased cookie sheet (you'll need 2 cookie sheets for all the pinwheels). Brush the tops with the egg. Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove from cookie sheets and serve.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Stocking Your Pantry with Herbs & Spices

Spices and dried herbs are a great way to add variety and big flavor to your food. But, pound for pound, they are expensive. You don't need much for each recipe but they are often sold in jars that provide enough for the average family for the next 4 years, by which time the herbs taste like dust.

Today, a few suggestions on how to economically stock your pantry with dried herbs and spices.

Find a store that sells dried herbs and spices in bulk. You only have to buy a little itty-bitty bag of whatever you need. You can often buy just enough for one recipe (particularly useful if you don't  know what that spice tastes like). You won't have spices and herb lying around forever, waiting to be used up. You are a savvy shopper who knows to buy just a little bit. Many supermarket chains are starting to carry spices and dried herbs in bulk. Both Kroeger's and Safeway in my area have bulk spice departments. Whole Foods and health food stores usually carry them in bulk too.

If you have never tried a herb or spice before, try to buy the bare minimum, not a whole jar. If you don't like tarragon, what are you going to do with the rest? Herbs and spices are about big flavors, so it's not like you can use it and cover up the basic flavor. You are just going to throw it away. So, think small.

Think about the kind of food you like to eat and purchase things that you know you'll use. Tempted by  glossy pictures of recipes, it's easy to select recipes that force you to buy a bunch of spices, adding big bucks to your food bill. We are all for being adventurous eaters, but it makes sense to focus on the types of food you like first and then slowly accumulate the more unusual things. Unless you expect to do a lot of East Indian cooking, don't go out and buy a whole jar of cardamom. This is also good advice when it comes to stocking your condiment pantry. Condiments are often expensive so pick recipes that use the same ones until you feel like you can justify buying new ones. You'd be surprised how far you can get with Dijon mustard!

Don't buy things that you don't like. That may seem obvious, but sometimes you don't know what you don't like about a cuisine. You just know you don't like it. Here is a list of some ingredients typical to a few cuisines and some descriptors of their flavor to help you out.

  • Cumin: earthy and smokey
  • Chili Powder: a blend of cumin, oregano, and dried ground chiles
  • Fresh Jalapenos: very green and hot
  • Fresh Serranos: less green but very hot
  • Chipotle chiles: smokey and very spicy
  • Other Dried Chiles: various heat levels, generally a little sweet
  • Cilantro: strongly herbal and to many, it tastes like soap
  • Basil: complex with licorice, grass, spice
  • Rosemary: piney
  • Oregano: a little grassy, a little spicy. It's the distinctive herb in pizza sauce but it's also used in Mexican cooking quite a bit.
  • Thyme: piney and grassy
  • Tarragon: licorice
  • Lavender: very floral and can get soapy if you use too much
  • Marjoram: similar to oregano but sweeter and spicier
  • Shallots: like onions but a little milder and sweeter
  • Sage: a little floral, a little medicinal
  • Coriander: bright and citrusy. It tastes nothing like cilantro,  the leaves of the same plant.
  • Cumin: earthy and smokey
  • Cardamom: powerful, sweet and smokey, hints of citrus
  • Turmeric: very earthy and bitter. It's the spice that gives curry powder its yellow color.
  • Curry Powder: a blend of spices where the turmeric can be dominant. Brands vary so try to sniff before you buy to get one that appeals to you. If it smells mostly of turmeric, it's going to taste that way too.
  • Black Mustard Seeds: hot, sharp, and peppery like arugula
  • 5 Spice Powder: a blend but the star anise, which tastes like licorice, is usually dominant
  • Chiles: Chinese chiles are small and extremely hot
  • White Pepper: the same seed as black pepper but its flavor is very different. Hot like black pepper but with a funky odor and flavor.
  • Chinese Mustard: very pungent yellow mustard. This stuff will clear your sinuses like horseradish or wasabi.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Food Revolution Day

Nancy and Cindy enjoying the bountiful offerings of delicious food

Saturday was Food Revolution Day, a day to celebrate real food,  cooking and eating it. It was an event held in 62 countries and 664 cities, promoted by Jamie Oliver through his Food Revolution Foundation. School of Eating Good (aka Boulder CO Food Revolution) held a Potluck/Food Improv. Everyone brought some delicious food - brie baked with blueberry preserves, a colorful fresh green bean salad from the Moosewood Cookbook, mashed potatoes and cauliflower with an onion gravy, prosciutto wrapped pears, little peppers stuffed with curried chicken salad, and more. All wonderful food!
Donna and Jim's contribution - how can you go wrong with prosciutto?
All the guests also brought an ingredient for the Food Improv. I didn't use everything, but I sure tried! We had eggplant, artichokes, fennel fronds, maple syrup, broccoli, and goat cheese. What did I make?
Braised artichokes. Meltingly tender and tasty.
  • Thai eggplant in a spicy green curry. Didn't make the curry paste - canned green curry paste is good stuff and it packs quite a punch! No coconut milk in the house (shame on me!) but heavy cream works nearly as well.
  • A very simple broccoli and lemon soup made with chicken stock.
  • The most challenging ingredient, fresh artichokes were braised with the fennel fronds and some lemon, white wine, garlic, onions, and olive oil. I used the pressure cooker to speed up the cooking some.
  • Another challenging ingredient was maple syrup. With mostly vegetables, I had a hard time figuring this one out. But, one more guest showed up with plain mild chevre and I knew there was something to work with. I spread the goat cheese on amaretti cookies, sprinkled on some toasted walnuts and drizzled with a little maple syrup. Really simple and a great way to end a meal packed with real food.
Amaretti cookies with chevre, walnuts, and real maple syrup from the Lehman sugarbush in W. NY State
School of Eating Good is proud to provide food education to young adults (and other folks too) as part of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and we hope that our guests learned a little something watching me frenetically put together something tasty from the ingredients that showed up. I know everyone enjoyed a delicious meal full of real food!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Granola - a low sugar recipe

Here's another recipe for granola. It's less sweet than our previous version (Homemade Granola), but it's still very tasty and cost-effective. We don't give a cost here because the recipe is so variable. But, it's definitely cheaper than the store-bought variety. Even better, you can put exactly what you like in it. There are some suggestions at the end, but you can make it your own with your custom combination of nuts and dried fruits. You can even leave out the fruit and mix a handful of whatever kind you like when you eat your breakfast.

Make sure to find unsweetened coconut. Most of the coconut sold in supermarkets is sweetened. Look in the health food or bulk food section to find the unsweetened kind. You can use the sweetened coconut but your granola is going to be a lot sweeter, definitely not a low-sugar variety.

The basic proportions are from a recipe by Mark Bittman, but I've modified the instructions a bit.
The nuts and coconut will brown more than the oats. It smells so good when you add the vanilla.

Crunchy Granola
(makes 4 cups, at least 8 servings)

3 cups Rolled Oats , not quick-cooking or instant
1 cup nuts and/or seeds, whatever kind you like
½ cup Dried Unsweetened Shredded Coconut
½ teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
Dash Salt
¼ cup Honey Or Maple Syrup
½ cup Raisins Or Chopped Dried Fruit
½ teaspoon Vanilla

Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine oats, nuts, coconut, cinnamon, sweetener and salt in a large heatproof bowl. If using honey, it's going to be clumpy, but don't worry about that. Dump onto a large rimmed cookie sheet. Don't clean out of the bowl; you'll be using it again. Bake for about 30 minutes, stirring it every 10 minutes so that it browns evenly. Keep an eye on it near the end of baking so that it doesn't burn. Transfer the cooked, hot granola from the cookie sheet back to the bowl. Drizzle on the vanilla (boy, does that smell good!) Allow to cool and mix in the dried fruit. Store in a cool, dry place.

Some tasty combinations:
  • chopped pecans, maple syrup, and chopped dried apricots or pears
  • chopped or sliced almonds, honey, and raisins
  • peeled chopped hazelnuts, maple syrup, and chopped dried apricots or peaches
  • chopped walnuts, honey, and craisins

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Great Grilled Chicken

It's nearly summer time and that means grilling season is here. I love grilling. Though these days I have a gas grill, I'm a huge fan of cooking over wood or charcoal. Back in the day, I would go camping with my aunt and uncle and most dinners were cooked over a wood fire. It's hard to beat those memories.

Any grill from a little hibachi to a gas grill to a massive wood-burning combination grill/smoker can give great results. It helps to know some simple rules. Today I'm going to talk about chicken because it's the toughest thing to get right. Chicken is a flare-up just waiting to happen, if you cook it with the skin on. For this reason, chicken with the skin and on the bone needs to be grilled at a low temperature. It is not a fast cooking item. If you want fast-cooking, choose a pounded flat chicken breast, not whole parts. When you first put the chicken on the grill, you need to watch it for flare-ups and move the chicken to a non-flaming spot ASAP. If flare-ups engulf your grill when you put the chicken on, your fire is too hot. Those flames are bad, bad, bad. They create char and lots of nasty off flavors. Usually, the flare-ups die down after the first few minutes and you don't need to watch your chicken like a hawk (chicken hawk?) through the entire cooking time. Depending on the size of the pieces, they will take from 1 to 1 1½ hours to cook through (the juices will run clear when poked with a knife). Turn them halfway through cooking to get even golden crispyness but when you do the flip, make sure to be again vigilant for flare-ups.

If you are cooking skin-on chicken, the skin will keep the meat juicy. Marinade is optional here but it adds a lot of wonderful flavor. If you are cooking skinless chicken, a marinade is essential because the oil in the marinade keeps the meat moist.

To recap, grilling chicken
  1. Requires longer, low temperature cooking unless you are cooking thin boneless pieces.
  2. Flare-ups will occur, especially if you cook with skin on. Watch carefully to prevent charring and move if flare-ups occur.
  3. Marinades add lots of interesting flavors and are essential for keeping skinless chicken moist.
Simple Grilled Chicken
(serves 4-6, total cost is $6.15)

4 leg quarters, cut into drumstick and thigh pieces (3 ½ to 4 pounds)
½ cup vegetable oil (olive oil tastes great but it will solidify in the fridge)
3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 6-inch sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves stripped off stem
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
salt and pepper

Line a large bowl with a large ziploc bag. Add oil, red wine vinegar, rosemary, and crushed red pepper to the plastic bag. Squish it around a bit. Add the chicken pieces and squish around again. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.

Preheat your grill, if using gas, or get the coals going so they gray all over.

Remove chicken from plastic bag, spread the rosemary leaves on the chicken, and discard the rest of the marinade. Season chicken pieces generously with salt and pepper. Place on the grill. If flare-ups occur, immediately move chicken to a non-flaming part of the grill. If there are flames everywhere, remove the chicken, reduce the heat (if using charcoal, you'll need to push some of the coals to the side, away from the chicken) and put the chicken back on the grill. Cook for about 35 minutes on one side, flip (again, watching for flare-ups), and cook until done, another 30-50 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken pieces. Serve hot.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ham, Asparagus, and Fontina Bruschetta

We've got another Mother's Day treat for you: crunchy bread topped with chopped smokey ham, asparagus, and fontina cheese. Aside from watching carefully as the cheese melts in the broiler, this is an easy appetizer or light lunch. It is certainly an elegant combination. The first time Sharon and I had this dish was as the appetizer in a multi-course Italian dinner. Cooked by our Italian friends, this was the real deal. It's a little pricier than many of our dishes, but isn't Mom worth it? With a green salad, this would be a lovely lunch to share with her.

Ham, Asparagus, and Fontina Bruschetta
Serves 4 as appetizer, 2 for main dish
Total cost $6.00

4 oz. smoked deli ham, the best you can afford
4 oz. Fontina cheese
3-4 asparagus spears
8 slices Artisan bread (½ to 1” thick)

Finely chop the ham. You can do this in a food processor, but a knife works just as well (and gives you a chance to practice your knife skills). Grate the Fontina with a box grater, using the largest holes. Cut off the woody stems of the asparagus and cut them into 2” pieces. Steam the asparagus either with a steamer in a pot with 1” of boiling water or in the microwave by placing them in a glass dish with ¼“ of water. Cover with plastic wrap, folding over one corner, so it leaves a vent for the steam. Microwave for 3-4 minutes on high. Toast the slices of bread in a toaster. Then, place the toasted bread in an oven-proof dish or broiler pan. Carefully spoon the chopped ham onto the bread, then place 2 pieces of asparagus on top of the ham and sprinkle the cheese over that. Broil the bruschetta for about 5 minutes. The cheese and/or the bread can easily burn, so don’t walk away from the oven during this step and check it every minute or so.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Dutch baby for Mom

Dutch babies are egg-y puffed-up pancakes that bake in the oven. When I was growing up, we called them German pancakes. Whatever you call them, they are delicious and very easy to make. One piece of special equipment is needed: a heavy 10" cast-iron skillet. I don't think of a solid cast-iron skillet as special equipment since it can be your everyday skillet. Cast-iron is cheap, a fantastic conductor of heat, and when well seasoned, non-stick. Its one drawback is it is heavy. But, think of it as weightlifting. Also, you'll be able to pass the thing down to your children. They are virtually indestructible. Even horribly rusted old ones can be rejuvenated with a good scrubbing and a few re-seasonings. (For instructions on seasoning and care of your new or abused cast iron cookware, check out the Lodge website. Lodge makes most of the cast-iron cookware in the US.)

The pancake has no sugar in it (some do), so serve it with something sweet. I like a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar or sliced apples sauteed in a little butter and maple syrup.

You'll get some fiber (not much since there is only ¾ cup flour) if you use whole wheat pastry flour, but it will puff more dramatically and bake up a little lighter if you use all-purpose flour. You can usually find whole wheat pastry flour in the bulk section of supermarkets or health food stores.

This makes a dramatic breakfast for Mom and since the whole thing is done at once, you can sit down with Mom rather than flipping the rest of the pancakes. But, make sure to get it to the table right away because it sinks very quickly!

Dutch Baby Pancake
(serves 4; total cost is $1.25, not including accompaniments)

2 Tablespoons butter
3 large eggs
¾ cup milk (skim, lowfat, whole)
¾ all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour
1 pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 425°F. Place a 10" cast-iron skillet in the oven with the butter while you prepare the batter.

Whisk together eggs until yolks and whites are totally combined and a little frothy. Add milk and whisk vigorously to combine. Add the flour in 3 parts, whisking vigorously to combine after each addition. There should be no lumps. Add the salt and whisk for another 30 seconds.

Remove skillet from oven, swirl butter around and pour batter into skillet. Return to oven and bake for 15 minutes. It will puff up a lot, usually around the edges. Reduce oven to 350℉ and bake for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown.

Serve hot, straight from the oven, with fresh lemon juice and powdered sugar, or sliced sauteed apples and hot maple syrup.

Note: The batter can also be made in a blender. Blend the eggs for 30 seconds, slowly add the milk while the blender is running. Add the flour and salt and blend for another minute.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Chilaquiles for Cinco de Mayo

Saturday is Cinco de Mayo and I thought I would share one of my favorite Mexican dishes: chilaquiles. In Mexico, chilaquiles are a breakfast item designed to use up stale corn tortillas. When I vacationed in Mexico, I ate it every single day for breakfast. It's a delicious combination of corn tortillas, chiles, tomatoes, and cheese, though, the recipe is pretty adaptable to what you have on hand. This recipe could be a breakfast dish, but it's more like a Mexican lasagna, which makes it a hearty dinner dish. It is a great way to use up stale corn tortillas, or tortilla chips. If you don't have stale tortillas, it's easy to toughen up fresh ones by baking them at 350°F for 10 minutes. You want them dried out so they soak up the tomato sauce.

(serves 4, total cost is $5.35)

1 ½ Tablespoons oil
½ medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 15 oz. can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 10 to 16 oz. can Mexican tomatoes (tomatoes with green chiles, such as Ro-tel brand)
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
6 stale tortillas, torn into bite-sized pieces
½ cup sour cream (lite or regular)
4 oz. colby or jack cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent and golden. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add pinto beans, Mexican tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Cook for 10 minutes, then remove from heat.

Grease a 8x8x2 inch baking dish with a little bit of oil. Spread ½ of the tortilla pieces in the bottom of the dish. Spread with ½ the tomato-bean sauce. Put on ½ the sour cream in 4 blobs and spread over tomato sauce. Sprinkle on ½ the cheese. Repeat the layers. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes until hot, bubbly, and starting to brown. Serve.

Avocados or guacamole are a delicious garnish for this dish.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How to Make a Fruit Salsa

I fell in love with fruit salsa while working at a Southwestern restaurant. Salsas were a big part of the garnish for grilled foods, like fish or chicken. It's a great way to boost flavor in a simple dish. It's also a fun way to get fruit into your diet. We didn't have a recipe most of the time, but the method was always similar.

Here's the basic recipe:
  • diced fruit, 
  • some crunch (like red onions or diced sweet peppers or both), 
  • something tart like lime juice,
  • a bit of heat from chiles,
  • some chopped fresh or frozen herbs,
  • and salt to bring it all together.

The "recipe" is very flexible and it's a good way to use up fruit. Just about any fruit will do. The salsa in the picture is mango, but melons, pineapple, berries, grapes, peaches are wonderful too. For the tart part, lemon and lime juice are good, as are fruity vinegars like raspberry vinegar or balsamic (particularly good with strawberries). The chiles add some punch and you can pick the level of heat you like. Leave them out if you don't like spicy. Use jalapenos for a little, serranos or chipotles for a bit more, and habarnero for hot, hot, hot! Habarneros are wicked hot - be very careful handling them - but they go especially well with fruit because of their own fruity notes. I used chipotle in adobo because that was all I had. No fresh chiles in the house! For herbs, mint, basil, parsley, cilantro and chives are all possibilities. Mint and basil work in almost any fruit salsa. For something really exotic, use lemon thyme or Thai basil.

To get you started, here's the recipe for the mango salsa. Great on grilled chicken breasts or fish fillets.

Mango Salsa
(makes about 1 1/2 cups, total cost is $1.50)

1 mango, peeled and diced (see Notes)
1 scallion, sliced thinly
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon chopped chipotle chile in adobo (see Notes)
4 leaves of mint, chopped fine
1 large pinch of salt
1 small pinch of black pepper

Combine everything in a bowl. Serve immediately though it usually tastes better if it sits in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

Mangoes can be tricky to cut up. Check out this video from the Mango Board on how to do it right.
Chipotle chiles in adobo are smoked dried red jalapenos that are packed in a vinegary tomato sauce. They come in small cans. They are hotter than most green jalapenos.