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.