Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cauliflower with Orange Sauce

By ( [CC-BY-SA-2.0 ( or CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Cauliflower is one of my favorite vegetables. Unlike green vegetables, it's nearly impossible to overcook. You have to intentionally cook it to death to even make it mashable, which has become a popular preparation of late. That bullet-proof cook-ability  makes it the perfect vegetable for new cooks. You overcook broccoli and it's gross. You overcook cauliflower? It still tastes just fine.

This recipe is a riff on a richer orange sauce. That sauce contains lots of butter and it's thickened with a roux*, which explains all that butter. This is lighter, which is fine for most of us. We don't need quite that much butter - there is still some for flavor but I used a cornstarch slurry for thickening. Chinese stir fries are thickened with cornstarch, and it's a great technique for thickening sauces without a lot of fat (in fact, you could use no fat).

Though there are folks who believe that we should all eat our vegetables unadorned by fat, I find this is rather spartan. My philosophy is a little bit of tasty fat, like butter, goes a long way to making our vegetables more tasty. If that small bit of richness gets you to your vegetables, I'm all for it!

Cauliflower prices vary a bit. This week, I can get a pound for 88¢. Last week, I couldn't find it for less than $1.59/pound. The recipe cost reflects the higher price.

Cauliflower with Orange Sauce
(serves 4-6, costs $3.50)

1 head of cauliflower (about 2 pounds), cored and cut into florets
juice of 1 orange (should yield about ¼ cup juice)
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
¼ cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tablespoon cold water
½ Tablespoon butter
salt and black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the cauliflower for 8-10 minutes, until tender.

Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened. Add the garlic and coriander. Cook for another minute. Drain the cauliflower and add to the pan. Raise the heat to medium high and add the orange juice. When the juice comes to a boil, add the cornstarch+water. Boil until the sauce thickens and coats the cauliflower. Add butter, season with salt and pepper, and serve.

*Roux: flour cooked in a fat, often butter. Used as a thickener in sauces and soups like chowders and gumbos.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Split Pea, Barley, and Vegetable Soup

Cold, cold, cold! It's been more than a little cold here in Colorado. Soup is what you need when it's cold. This vegetarian soup is easy and adaptable. And, it makes a lot. Sure to warm your belly.

The recipe calls for turnips, but you can use rutabaga (a large yellow turnip), or daikon (an Asian turnip). You could use cauliflower. You can even use celery root, which is rather exotic for most folks. It works great here because it is a hardy vegetable that holds up to long cooking but its flavor is subtle, like a very mild celery. You need to peel it and cut away all the brown rough parts which results in a fair amount of waste. That makes celery root a somewhat expensive vegetable. But, this recipe is very inexpensive because it contains no meat, so splurge a little on the veg if you want to experiment with a new vegetable. You can also mix up the turnips/rutabagas/celery root/cauliflower in any proportion you have. I used ½ pound daikon and ½ pound celery root because that's what was in my fridge.

Split Pea, Barley, and Vegetable Soup
(serves 8, costs $6)

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced (or 2 medium leeks, white and light green part, thinly sliced)
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
¾ cup diced red pepper (about ½ a pepper, can use frozen)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 chipotle chile in adobo, seeded and minced
1 Tablespoon ground coriander
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
10 cups water
1 cup dried split peas (yellow or green)
1 pound turnips, peeled and cut into 1" dice
½ cup pearl barley
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon vinegar, lime or lemon juice

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and chile. Sauté for 10 minutes. Add coriander and cumin. Stir to combine and cook for 1 minute. Add water, split peas, turnips, barley, oregano, thyme, and black pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce to low to maintain a simmer. Cover and cook until split peas are tender, at least 1 hour 30 minutes, or longer, if you prefer them softer. Add salt and vinegar or citrus juice. Stir  and taste. Add more salt, if needed. Freezes well.

Adapted from Lean Bean Cuisine by Jay Solomon, 1995, Prima Publishing.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Lime Rice and Salsa Beans

One more recipe from my last class. This is is really simple. You can serve it as a hearty side dish or as a meal in itself. We used the Salsa Fresca we had made during class, but you can use any salsa you have.

Lime Rice & Salsa Beans
(serves 8 as a side or 3-4 as an entree, costs $1.75)

Baked Lime Rice
1 cup rice
1 ½ cups water
juice of ½ a lime (or more if you like tart flavors)
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro (optional)

Salsa Beans
1 15 oz. can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
½ cup salsa
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In an ovenproof medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add rice and stir. Cover and bake for 17 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes. While the rice is resting, heat the beans in a small saucepan until hot. Add salsa, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. To serve, stir lime juice (and cilantro if using) into rice, and pour beans on top.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Though not traditional, guacamole tastes pretty good with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds
Once you have salsa, you need to move on to guacamole. Another recipe from my last class. Guacamole is a great dip with chips, or as a topping for the chicken-potato enchiladas we also prepared in the class.

Avocados are sold ripe and underripe. They always ripen off the tree, so you can buy them underripe. You can buy a lot of them and stick them in the refrigerator. They will happily sit there for weeks. I've heard, though I haven't tried this, that they freeze just as well if you want to keep them even longer. From the fridge, they will take about 3 days to ripen. Once they do get ripe, they will keep in the refrigerator for another week as long as you don't cut them. Once cut, they will darken quickly so plan to eat it within a day.

Here's a tip on avocados: they go on sale in early February for the Super Bowl parties (much guacamole is eaten that Sunday). Plan to make a big batch and share it with your friends.

(4 servings, costs $1.25 - $2, depending on the price of avocados)

1 medium avocado
2 Tablespoons small dice red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon or more minced jalapeño or serrano chile
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon paprika or mild pure chile powder
juice of ½ a lime
1-2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro

Cut the avocado in half by running your knife down from the top to the bottom and back up to the top. Twist the halves in opposite directions. Pull out the pit. Scoop out the flesh into a medium bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mash to the desired consistency. Some like their guacamole chunky, some like it smooth. Taste and adjust salt, pepper, chile for more heat, and lime for more zip.

Friday, November 15, 2013


This week's class featured easy Mexican so we made some fresh salsa. Salsa is very popular. Salsa in the jar surpassed ketchup sales back 20 years (but by poundage, ketchup still wins, hands down). Salsa in a jar is tasty, and convenient, so I'm not knocking it. Fresh salsa is even tastier. It's a great way to turn so-so tomatoes into something delicious. This time of year, tomatoes need all the help they can get. Plum tomatoes are on sale 88¢ per pound in my local market, which makes homemade salsa fresca a darn good buy.

The amount of heat is up to you. Jalapeños are not that hot, but if you don't like your food spicy, start with a little bit, like a teaspoon. If you do like spicy, use a hotter serrano chile, rather than a jalapeño.

Salsa Fresca
(makes 6 servings, costs under $1)

4 plum tomatoes, diced
1-2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro (4 to 8 sprigs)
2 Tablespoons small-diced onion
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced (more or less to taste)
juice of ½ a lime
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Combine everything in a medium bowl and toss to combine. Let sit 15 minutes. Taste and add more chile, lime, and salt if desired.

Will keep about 2 days in the refrigerator but definitely best fresh. If you have extra, stay tuned for a lime rice & beans recipe that gets its kick from salsa.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

National Diabetes Month

A representation of a molecule of insulin, critical for controlling blood sugar
November is National Diabetes Month. The goal: to raise diabetes awareness around the world. The International Diabetes Foundation puts the number of world-wide diabetes cases at 382 million. In the US, just under 26 million people have diabetes, about 8% of the population. Eight million people in the US have diabetes and don't even know it. The rate of growth in the disease is astounding, especially among children and adolescents. You probably don't have to look very far to find someone in your network of friends and family with diabetes. I know I don't: I have family members dealing with it everyday.

Though the exact causes are still not well-understood, nutrition has a big part to play, in preventing diabetes and in improving outcomes for people already diagnosed with diabetes. Given the number of people developing diabetes at a young age, no one should believe they are immune. Which means, we all need to work on eating a healthful diet, whether you are middle-aged like me, or just going out into the world like my 21 year old daughter.

The American Recall Center has a nice infographic that brings together the facts about diabetes. It was put together by top bloggers who write about diabetes. It succinctly gives some key facts about diabetes, the disease, and life with it. Thanks to Dr. Mario Trucillo, the medical editor at the American Recall Center for the pointer to this short, sweet, and very important message.

Though School of Eating Good doesn't specifically provide recipes for diabetics, I try to keep the focus on healthful recipes though not too obviously. It needs to taste good too. Food is about blending health with delicious. I hope you find our recipes do that for you. With some knowledge, a sharp knife, and healthful ingredients, I'm hoping we can turn around this epidemic of diabetes.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Chicken Potato Enchiladas

Another class tonight at CU. We're cooking easy Mexican. The menu is Guacamole, Salsa Fresca, Chicken-Potato Enchildadas, and Rice with Beans & Salsa. We made Cheesy Chicken Enchildadas during our first year of classes back in 2011. Since I am incapable of making the same recipe twice (just kidding, though it's very rare), I had to mix it up. This recipe has less cheese, potatoes, and the sauce is chunkier. I tested this recipe with frozen green chiles. In many places, there are no frozen green chiles, but here in Colorado we have a choice and I would pick frozen every time. Use what you can find and use the heat level that you prefer. I have found that the canned mild chiles are milder than the mild frozen. If you don't like spicy, stick to mild canned chiles.

Chicken-Potato Enchiladas
(serves 4)

Green Chile Sauce
2 Tablespoons oil
2 Tablespoons flour or masa harina (see Note)
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup thawed frozen green chiles or 8 oz. canned diced chiles
1 Tablespoons dried minced onion
1 cup water or chicken stock
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour or masa and stir. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add cumin, onion, and chiles, stir, and cook for another minute. Add the remaining ingredients. Stir. Bring to a boil, reduce to heat to low, and simmer for at least 10 minutes.

2 cups frozen O'Brien potatoes (cubed potatoes with onions and peppers)
½ teaspoon oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
8 corn tortillas
rest of a 13 oz. container of frozen green chiles or 4 oz. canned diced chiles
1 ½ cup cooked chicken
1 cup shredded jack cheese (about 4 oz.)

Warm up tortillas so you can roll them: Heat oven to 250°F. Wrap tortillas in aluminum foil. Heat for 20 minutes. Keep wrapped until ready to roll enchiladas.

Increase oven temperature to 350°F. Place potatoes in a microwaveable bowl, cover, and cook on HIGH for 1 ½ minutes. Stir in oil and cumin. Cook for another minute. Transfer to a large bowl. Add salt, pepper, green chiles, cooked chicken, and ½ cup cheese. Mix to combine.

Spread ½ cup sauce in the bottom of a rectangular (8"x10" or 9"x11") baking dish. Lay a tortilla flat on a cutting board. Place about ½ cup of the filling on tortilla along the diameter. Roll up and place in baking dish, seam side down. Repeat with the rest of tortillas. Pour the rest of the sauce over enchiladas and sprinkle on remaining cheese. Bake until hot and bubbly, about 25 minutes. If you want the cheese to brown, increase temperature to 400°F at the end and bake until cheese has browned, another 5 minutes. You can also put it under the broiler for a minute or two to brown if you have used a baking dish that can go under the broiler.

Note: Masa harina is the corn flour used to make corn tortillas and tamales. If you are avoiding gluten, it makes a great thickener here. It also adds a special flavor because masa has a distinctive taste that is singularly Mexican.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Return of the Tofu

Peanut-sauced tofu, chard with garlic & ginger on rice. Yum.

When you test recipes, you have a lot of leftovers. I had a bit of the peanut-sauced tofu that went into the vegetarian spring rolls. I had some leftover rice and a big bunch of chard leaves. It became my lunch today. Super fast and delicious.

I love leftovers!

The tofu recipe is in with the Vegetarian Spring Rolls from my last class.

The chard is a simple greens sauté,  garlic, ginger, oil, salt, and pepper. Check out my post on kale for techniques and ideas for sautéing greens.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Italian Sausage Casserole

Another recipe for stretching a little meat to a hearty meal. Serve with a tossed green salad or a simple steamed green vegetable, like green beans or broccoli.

Italian Sausage Casserole
(serve 4-6)

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
¾ pound Italian sausage (chicken or pork, mild or hot)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried oregano
2 Tablespoons flour
1 cup 2% or whole milk
½ teaspoon + a little more black pepper
½ teaspoon + a little more salt
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
2 large russet potatoes (about 1 ½ lbs), peeled and thinly sliced
non-stick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tablespoon oil, then add the sausage. Break up the sausage into small chunks. Cook until starting to brown. Remove to a small bowl, leaving any fat in the skillet. You want about 1 Tablespoon of fat left. If too little, add some more oil. If too much, pour off the extra and discard (chicken will have very little, pork a bit more). Add onion and sauté for a few minutes until translucent. Reduce heat to medium-low and add garlic. Cook for 1 minute, stirring. Add oregano and flour. Continue to stir for another minute. Add milk, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Scrape up any bits sticking to the pan and continue stirring until sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce and mix to combine. Add sausage and garbanzos, and carefully mix into sauce. Layer on potato slices, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and spray with cooking spray. Cover (use foil in you don't have a cover) and bake for 1 hour. Remove the cover and bake another 10 minutes to lightly brown potatoes. Or if your skillet can take the heat, turn the oven to broil and broil to brown the potatoes.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Keeping Beasties at Bay: Part 2

Image from Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services. (03/09/1943 - 09/15/1945)
Food poisoning is no joke. Though most people point to food eaten outside the home, there are plenty of ways to give yourself a visit to the hospital with food you mistreat in your very own home (including things you bring home as leftovers from restaurants).

I previously blogged about how to handle poultry. In this post, I'll discuss the ways you can prevent food poisoning nastiness from happening to you and your loved ones.

One of the biggest factors: personal hygiene. A large number of food-borne illnesses are carried by humans and distributed in a variety of ways. We won't get into the how's here. But, the best way to prevent them is to wash your hands. A lot. It's a great way to prevent a lot of disease, actually. When I started working in restaurants, where washing your hands a lot is routine, (or it should be!) I stopped getting colds.

When should you wash your hands when you are cooking?
  • After going to the bathroom
  • After sneezing and coughing into your hands (I'm really good at doing both of these into my upper sleeve)
  • After touching your face or hair, so get out of the habit of touching either when you are cooking. If you have long hair, tie it up so it doesn't fall into your face. Or the food. Blech!
  • After working with any food that can transmit a food-borne illness. This includes raw eggs, meat, seafood, or poultry.
  • After touching surfaces that others touch a lot, like a doorknob
  • After touching your pets or other people, particularly children
I know that seems like quite a list. If you find yourself or members of your family falling prey to that 24-hour "virus," hand washing can go a long way towards reducing that agony. It's worth it. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Microwave Scrambled Eggs

In my last class, one of my students was shocked to learn that you can make scrambled eggs in the microwave. Not really scrambled eggs but if you consider the eggs on most fast food breakfasts sandwiches "scrambled eggs," you won't be disappointed in these. They are more steamed than scrambled, light and puffy. For weekday breakfasts, these are great - fast and easy and sized for a bagel or English muffin.

Glass storage containers or measuring cups work as cooking containers. A 2-cup round one is the perfect size for the egg to fit on your bagel, but any tall round container that’s microwave safe will work. It puffs up quite a bit. A 2-cup measure may sound huge for one little egg, but any smaller and the egg is going to overflow.

Get your bagel toasting if you want it toasted, because the egg will take less time than the bagel. Just crack the egg into the glass container, add 1 Tablespoon milk or cream, and a little salt and pepper, and scramble it all up with a fork. Microwave the egg for about 1 minute. You’ll see it get really big, but it won’t overflow the container. If you want some melted cheese, sprinkle some grated cheese on top and put it back in for 10-15 seconds. Just scoop the egg with cheese on top onto your bagel.

That's it! No messing up a frying pan and it takes about 1 minute. For a quick breakfast, it's hard to beat.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Apple-Cranberry Crisp

Cranberries are back! As we head quickly towards Thanksgiving, the cranberries arrive in supermarkets across the US. They pack quite a punch - both flavor and color-wise. I love them in traditional cranberry sauce but I think they really shine in desserts because their tartness punches up sweet desserts. And what a color - cranberries turn everything an electric red, naturally.

Cranberries are cheap and plentiful this time of year so I like to stock up. Stick a bag or two in your freezer because they can be hard to find (and expensive) after the holidays are over. They freeze wonderfully.

Here's a dessert in tune with the fall season: apple-cranberry crisp. It's apple season too (to learn more about apples check out this post) so this is a perfect intersection of two great fall season fruits.

Unlike most fruits, cranberries are not sweet at all which is why you need to add a lot of sugar to make them palatable. Still, this isn't a very sweet dessert. There's just enough sugar to take the aggressive tart edge off but not so much that it tastes like cranberry candy. Sugar should complement the fruit, not overwhelm it.

This is great for a party or a holiday dinner. It also keeps nicely in the refrigerator. It's best warm - zap it in the microwave for a minute if it's been in the fridge.

Apple-Cranberry Crisp
(serves 8)

non-stick cooking spray

Fruit Filling
1 12 oz. bag fresh or frozen cranberries
4 large apples, cored and sliced (no need to peel them)
½ cup sugar
1 Tablespoon flour

2 Tablespoons brown sugar, packed
3 Tablespoons flour
¾ cup rolled quick or regular oats
½ cup chopped walnuts
3 Tablespoons butter, melted or walnut oil
zest of ½ an orange
1 pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray a 9"x9" baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

Rinse the cranberries. (Use warm water if they are frozen or they will freeze together.) Mix the cranberries and apples in a large bowl. Sprinkle on the sugar and flour and mix again to combine. Pour into the prepared pan. In the same bowl, combine all the crisp ingredients. Mix enough to distribute the orange zest; it tends to clump together. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit. Bake for 40 (45 minutes if you started with frozen berries) until crisp is bubbly and topping is golden brown. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Recipe adapted from Jane Brody's Good Food Book, 1985.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Mug Fudge Cake

It rises up a lot more than that while cooking.You'll see. :-)
The final recipe from this week's class: Mug Fudge Cake. You mix everything in a big coffee mug, pop it in the microwave for 3 minutes, and poof! You have a delicious chocolate cake. You also get a thrill watching it cook because it rises straight up out of the mug while its cooking, and you'll be convinced it's going to overflow. But, if you use a large mug, it will not become a microwave disaster.
That's half, so 1 mug is plenty to share.

This serves 1 person very generously. We suggest sharing with a friend. The chips settle to the bottom, making a fudge-y layer so if you split it, cut in in half lengthwise, rather than taking the top off and giving it to a friend (but, it's chocolate so we understand if you hog the most fudge-y part).

Mug Fudge Cake
(serves 1-2)

4 Tablespoons all purpose flour
4 Tablespoons sugar
1 pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons natural cocoa powder (like Hershey's brand)
3 Tablespoons milk
1 large egg
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 Tablespoons chocolate chips (for a change, try white chocolate)
½ teaspoon vanilla

In a large mug (12 oz.), combine the flour, sugar, salt, and cocoa powder with a fork. Add the milk and egg, Mix well. Add the vegetable oil and mix with the fork until smooth and the oil is well-combined with the batter. Mix in the chocolate chips and vanilla. Cook in the microwave for 3 minutes. It will rise up very high(!), but it will not overflow the mug. Let sit a moment before digging in - it's really hot. Fantastic with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Vegetarian Spring Rolls

I am a huge fan of rice wrappers. They are cheap. They are easy to handle once you get the hang of it. They are light and they look so cool! I used them instead of the traditional Mu Shu Pancakes last year in a class. Huge hit. I brought them back for another class this month in the form of vegetarian spring rolls. They are filled with lettuce, mint (though you could use basil if you prefer), a carrot-cucumber salad, and baked tofu. The tofu is baked in a peanut sauce which does double-duty as the dipping sauce. Delicious!

Whole lot of wrappers - you can wrap a lot of goodies with one package
There are a few tricks to using these.
  • Use warm water and don't leave the wrapper in the water too long. When they start to get pliable, take them out and lay them flat for filling. I like to put the water in a pie pan or cake pan that is big enough to hold the wrapper without any bending.
  • Don't overfill them. They do stretch but if you have pointy things sticking out, like stems of herbs or lettuce, they will rip. 
    This is about as much as you want to fill these.
  • Don't stack them or let them touch once you have rolled them. They will stick to each other, ripping the wrapper.

Vegetarian Spring Rolls
(makes 12 spring rolls)

1 pound firm tofu, sliced into 8 slices (see Note)

¾ cup creamy peanut butter
1 large clove garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar, natural or seasoned
3 Tablespoons Hoisin sauce
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
½ cup warm water, approximately
1 to 3 teaspoons Siracha sauce (adjust to your desired spice level)
juice of ½ lime

Carrot Salad
2 medium carrots
2 medium cucumbers
4 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 Tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt

12 rice spring roll wrappers
about 4 large lettuce leaves, washed and torn into pieces that will fit in the wrappers
24 large mint leaves

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, mix together peanut butter, garlic, rice wine vinegar, Hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and Siracha. Mix until smooth. In the beginning, the peanut butter will resist combining with the liquid ingredients, but keep at it. Add water to thin to a saucy consistency. You want it thin enough so you can dip but not so thin that it drips off the spoon. Place the tofu in a single layer in a baking dish (8"x4" or 9"x11"). Pour on about ⅓ the sauce and turn to coat the tofu. Bake for 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

While the tofu is cooling, prep the carrot-cucumber salad. Peel and julienne (cut into thin strips) or shred the carrot. Peel, seed the cucumber. Cut them into 3" lengths and slice thinly the long way. (If you want more knife practice, you can julienne them too.) Combine the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and mix until the sugar dissolves. Add the carrot and cucumber. Toss to coat. Let marinate for 15 minutes.

Slice the tofu into long, thin slices when cool enough to handle. Set everything out where you can reach it: all the ingredients, a pan with an inch of warm water for softening the rice wrappers, and a surface for rolling. Lay down a piece of lettuce, a couple of mint leaves, a little carrot salad, and a few tofu slices. Roll up like a burrito - fold in the sides, fold up the edge closest to you, then roll the whole thing up to the top.

Add the lime juice to the remaining sauce and stir. Serve with rolls.

Note: You can make this with tofu right out of the carton, but the texture is better if you freeze it first. Slice it into 8 pieces, put them on a cookie sheet in a single layer, and put it in the freezer. Freeze for an hour or longer. Thaw and blot dry before baking.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Faux Pho

This season of classes is driven more by my students. This week's class is a quicker version of pho. I will be the last person to claim this is actually pho. Pho is a light, clear broth with lots of goodies in it (like beef tendon, something many folks probably don't consider a "goodie"). You can recreate the goodies but the broth is another thing. This recipe uses commercial beef stock which is nothing like pho broth. Beef stock is made in the French way, with roasted bones and mirepoix (carrots, onions, and celery). Nothing like pho. So, don't make this and tell me it isn't pho. I know that. I ate my version side-by-side with my favorite pho in Boulder. Similarities, but I'd be a fool to call it pho. Hence the "Faux" in the name. It's still tasty, however!

I tried a number of commercial cooking beef broths in testing this recipe. I liked the King Soopers (part of Kroger's) brand the best. Kitchen Basics has a similar product, but its flavor is more vegetal and tart and I did not like it. Better Than Broth, my favorite for chicken broth, is much saltier than Kroger's brand but its flavor is good.

It's difficult to slice steak as thinly as most pho shops. If you decide to slice the beef yourself, put it in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm it up. I found stir fry beef, if sliced thinly enough, works well. Or, see if the meat counter will slice some up for you. Asian markets with butchers are the best place to find beef sliced to the thinness of your local pho joint.

Pho noodles come in a variety of sizes. Try to find the small to medium size which will cook in a minute. Thicker ones will take a bit longer. You'll find the best selection in Asian markets. Thai basil is not something in most supermarkets either, but try to find it. It was a unique spicy aroma that really says "pho."

Faux Pho
(serves 8 generously)

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 4 thick slices
1 4" piece of ginger, cut in half lengthwise
4 quarts low-sodium beef stock (under 500 mg per cup)
2-3 star anise (see Notes)
3 3" cinnamon sticks
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
2-3 Tablespoons brown sugar
salt to taste (see Notes)

Garnish & Condiments
8 ounces pho noodles
8 ounces thinly sliced beef, such as sirloin, loin, or eye of round
2 large sprigs Thai basil (or regular basil though it's not as good)
8 sprigs cilantro
4 cups mung bean sprouts
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1-2 serrano chiles, thinly sliced (optional)
2 limes, cut into quarters
hoisin sauce
Siracha sauce

Broil onion slices and ginger for 15 minutes, until they start to blacken. Put in a large soup pot. Add beef stock, star anise, cinnamon sticks, fish sauce, and 2 Tablespoons brown sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30-60 minutes. Strain and keep hot. Adjust salt and add more brown sugar - the broth should be very slightly sweet and how much you need will depend on the flavors in the broth you use.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Soak pho noodles in warm water for about 20 minutes. Get all your condiments and garnish ready to go before cooking beef and noodles. First, cook the beef in boiling water for 1 minute. Remove and set aside. Cook noodles for 1 minute until slightly underdone. They will continue to cook in the broth. Drain noodles and divide among 8 large bowls. Place beef slices on top of noodles. Add bean sprouts, sliced scallions, and chile. Pour over 2 cups of broth. Serve with basil, cilantro and lime as garish. The hoisin sauce and Siracha is for dipping the meat. You can use just Hoisin or combine it with Siracha as desired. Serve while piping hot.

Let's say, it's just you. You can't eat 8 servings of soup. No problem. Cook up only the amount of noodles and beef you need. Heat up 2 cups of broth for one bowl of soup. The rest of the broth can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen for longer term storage.

  • The star anise is a powerful spice. If you are not a big fan of anise (licorice), use 2 whole ones. 
  • Pho broth is quite salty. This is not so salty. Season it to your liking. We go pretty light on the salt at School of Eating Good (see this post).

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Turkey Meatloaf with Curry and Dill

I recently made a chicken mousse with curry and dill. It's not a recipe for beginners but the flavor profile is easy to translate to a more traditional meatloaf. The curry flavor is fairly subtle; you can use up to 2 teaspoons for a bolder flavor. This is a sturdy meatloaf, making it great for meatloaf sandwiches, as in the photo of my lunch above.

I also cut it into chunks and used it instead of meatballs in chicken and matzoh ball soup:
A very spicy bowl of matzoh ball soup!

Turkey Meatloaf with Curry and Dill
(serves 8-10, costs $10.50)

cooking spray
½ cup oatmeal, quick or regular
⅔ cup milk
3 Tablespoons dried minced onion
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 ½ pounds ground turkey
½ to 1 red or green pepper, seeded and chopped
2 large eggs
1 ½ - 2 teaspoons mild or medium curry powder
2 teaspoons dried dill weed or 2 Tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 8"x4" loaf pan with cooking spray.

Place the oatmeal in a large bowl and add the milk. Allow to sit for 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and smoosh until combined. Pack into the loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour. Remove from oven, cover and let sit for 10 minutes before slicing.

Reheats well and makes a delicious meatloaf sandwich.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Keeping Beasties at Bay: Part 1

Raw chicken - it's only scary if you don't know how to handle it
I was going to start this series with personal hygiene since it's the most basic way to decrease the chances of picking up a case of food poisoning. But, with the news on antibiotic-resistant salmonella showing up in mass-produced Foster Farms chicken, I decided to bump up a discussion on treating poultry safely in the kitchen.

Poultry contains salmonella. Accept this. Yes, antibiotic-resistant salmonella is worse, but regular salmonella is no picnic either. Nor is campylobacter, another bacteria common in raw poultry. So, no matter what chicken you are using - organic, natural, mass-produced, grown in your own backyard - you better be treating it carefully. All of it can make you sick if not handled properly.

Here's a list of things to do to assure that you don't unwittingly give yourself a dangerous case of food poisoning:

Storing: Always store raw poultry at the bottom of your fridge where raw juice can't drip on anything or place in a bowl or pan to catch the drips. Plastic wrap is notorious for leaking and if raw chicken drips on anything you will eat raw, it's bad news.

Thawing: If using frozen poultry, thaw in the refrigerator. Only thaw thin pieces, like chicken cutlets or tenders, in a bowl of cool water in the sink for no longer than 30 minutes. If you want to speed up thawing in the fridge, place the chicken in a bowl of water. That speeds up the thawing considerably. Remember that this water is now contaminated with bacteria, so treat it like raw poultry too.

Rinsing: Don't rinse raw poultry. You are not going to rinse off the bacteria. Not possible. All you are going to do is spread the bacteria around your sink, contaminating even more surfaces.

Planning during Prep: Think ahead about the tools you will need when working with raw poultry and get them out before you start handling the chicken. This will save you the step of washing your hands so you can get the knife out of the drawer - because you don't want to touch that drawer pull with your nasty chicken-y hands. Tongs are really useful. You can keep your hands clean when moving the chicken around. Don't let anything you will eat raw, like lettuce for a salad, near raw poultry. This is called cross-contamination and it is often how bad bugs get into our food.

Cleaning Up: Anything that touches raw or partially cooked poultry needs to be washed with soap and water or put them in the dishwasher. This includes knives, tongs, cutting boards, your counter, your sink, and your hands. Soap, water, and little elbow grease does a pretty good job of getting rid of nearly all of the bacteria on surfaces. You can also invest in disinfecting wipes for a final wipe down of counters and the sink.

Cooking: Cook poultry to the proper internal temperature, at least 165°F. There should be no pink at all. When you cut into the chicken, juices should run clear, even if you cut all the way to the bone. I think that an instant read thermometer is an excellent investment, but using one does require some practice. You stick it into the thickest part of the chicken, the place it's going to take the longest to cook (in a whole chicken, that's in the thigh). Wait until the temperature stops rising and see what you get. If the temperature is too low, cook it some more. And don't forget to wash your thermometer with soap and water before sticking it back in the chicken again!

After Cooking: As with all cooked meat, chill down any leftovers quickly. Don't let roast chicken sit on the counter for 2 hours. Cooking doesn't kill all the bacteria and they will start to multiply again if given the right conditions. So, put it in the fridge as soon as you can.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Making Perfect Salads - Salad Spinners

Last month, I posted a tip on making a beautiful salad - start with a simple homemade vinaigrette. This week, we're talking about an essential tool for making a perfect salad: the salad spinner. In today's supermarket, you can get pre-washed salad greens. Your greens will be clean (maybe; even with triple washing, there are cases of pretty bad contamination in salad greens) and dry. You won't need a salad spinner. But, packaged salad greens are very expensive, costing as much as steak per pound. Heads of lettuce require more work to break apart and wash but cost as little as 88¢. That is much, much cheaper than any salad green in a bag.

The trick to turning that head of lettuce into a perfect salad? The leaves must be dry before you dress it. If your lettuce is wet, the dressing will dilute and run off. Get those greens dry before dressing. How? Salad spinner!

Yes, it's a bit of an investment. The spinner in the photo above costs about $30 at Target, Macy's, and Kohl's. You can get it for $24 if you have a 20% off coupon for Bed, Bath & Beyond (which you can get by signing up at their website; they will keep sending you additional coupons too). Salad spinners are the most effective way to get nearly all the water off your salad greens. Unlike patting lettuce dry with a towel, it doesn't bruise the greens at all and it spins all the water out of the crevices. They are fun to use too!

The steps to getting clean and dry salad greens are:
  1. Pull off the leaves and trim away any icky or brown parts.
  2. Tear or cut into bite-sized pieces, if desired.
  3. Fill a large bowl with cool water and drop the greens in.
  4. Swish around a bit and let sit for a few minutes. It takes a little while for the water to dislodge the dirt.
  5. Swish it around gently and, carefully lift the greens out of the water. The dirt will sink to the bottom of the bowl, and you want to make sure it stays there.
  6. Place the greens in the spinner but don't try to stuff too many in there at once. They need room to move around. Give them a good spin. Then, I like to open it up, toss around the greens and give them another spin, just for good measure.
You can spin a whole head of lettuce and store your clean, dry greens back in a clean dry plastic bag. They will keep for a few days, even if cut. After a few days, cut lettuce will start to brown at the edges. Because the leaves are dry, they will not break down as quickly, extending the life of your lettuce. 

One way to keep control of your food budget - make sure you get to eat the food you paid for. No one wants to throw away a head of lettuce because it rotted in the fridge. This is a big problem these days because most markets spray lettuce to keep it from drying out. Unfortunately, wet lettuce rots quickly. Spin your lettuce soon after you get it home from the market to prevent "supermarket spraying rot syndrome."

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Easy Cornbread

Cornbread is a great accompaniment to soup or chili. And since soup/chili season is now upon us in Colorado, it's a good time for another cornbread recipe. The previous cornbread recipe is a more Northern interpretation, as it is quite sweet and cake-like. This is a more Southern version because it contains less sugar and a lot less white flour. Truly Southern cornbread has very little sugar - 1 teaspoon - and no white flour at all. Maybe this is a Maryland cornbread, baked somewhere between New York and Mississippi.

You can bake this in a 9" cake pan or a 9" cast iron skillet. The cast iron skillet will get you a crispier crust, which is the way I prefer it. But, a cake pan will work too.

This cornbread comes together quickly with pantry ingredients making is an easy dish for a weeknight dinner.

Cornbread in the Round
(serves 6-8; costs $2.15)

non-stick cooking spray
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder (use 5 teaspoons if baking at sea level)
¼ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
¼ cup honey
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup milk (skim, low fat, whole or a combination)

Preheat oven to 350°F. If using a cast iron pan, place in the oven to get it hot; this will result in a crispier crust. If using a cake pan, spray with cooking spray and set aside.

Whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, beat together egg, honey, and oil with a whisk or electric mixer until well combined. Add milk and beat again. With a spatula, mix in dry ingredients until just combined. It's OK if there are still some lumps.

If using the cast iron pan, remove from the oven and spray with cooking spray. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cut into 6-8 wedges and serve. Can be stored at room temperature for up to 24 hours. After that, store in the refrigerator. To reheat, split in half lengthwise and toast.

Adapted from The New Dr. Cookie Cookbook by Dr. Wayne & Dr. Yarnall, William Morrow and Company, 1994.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Baked Tofu with Peanut Sauce

Baked Tofu with Peanut Sauce and a side of Hot and Sour Mushroom Stir fry

This is a very quick dish or you can do some steps ahead and end up with something very different. Both are really tasty. Just different.

If you start with frozen and pressed tofu, the tofu will cook up very firm, making it excellent for putting in vegetarian spring rolls or using in stir fries. If you start with tofu that is fresh from the carton, it will be saucier - the water that you would have pressed out will combine with the peanut butter mixture and make a sauce. It's good over plain rice or noodles either way.

Baked Tofu with Peanut Sauce
(serves 4, costs $2.50)

1 carton of firm tofu, 14 to 16 oz.
3 Tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pinch of cayenne
1 Tablespoon soy sauce, regular or low-sodium

Drain the tofu and slice it into 6-8 slices, about ¾" thick. You have a few choices at this point:

Lots of time: Freeze tofu, thaw, then lay on a baking rack between paper towels over a dish to catch any drips. Cover with a baking sheet and weight down with a couple of heavy cans to press out even more moisture. Let drain for 30 minutes.

Little time but you planned ahead: Freeze the tofu and then thaw.

No time: Pat dry.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Spray a baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pour the sauce into the pan. Place the tofu on top and turn to cover both sides with sauce. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn over tofu and bake for another 8-10 minutes until sauce is bubbly and hot.

This can also be made in the microwave, which is even faster. Make sure to use a microwaveable baking dish and cook it for 3 minutes on each side.

Note: You can slice and freeze the tofu in advance. I keep some frozen tofu in the freezer so I can make a chewy tofu dish quickly.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Teriyaki Sauce

At some point, a bottle of commercial Teriyaki sauce showed up in my fridge. I have no idea how it got there. Given the list of ingredients (below), I can't imagine ever buying it.

Naturally brewed soy sauce (water, wheat, soybeans, salt), wine, high fructose corn syrup, water, vinegar, salt, spices, onion powder, succinic acid, garlic powder, sodium benzoate (a preservative).

I do find it somewhat odd that they say "naturally brewed soy sauce" while also adding cheap sugar, a mysterious acid, and a preservative. I guess that "naturally brewed" part is supposed to balance out the other stuff. To be fair, succinic acid is not unnatural. It's an intermediate product in the primary energy pathway in every cell and produced during sugar fermentation. But, it is interesting to read that it is also a precursor for some speciality polyesters and was originally derived from amber (that fossilized pine sap with trapped insects). Salt, which appears twice as an ingredient, may be natural too but there is an awful lot of it in commercial Teriyaki sauce.

Why wouldn't I buy this? Because it's so easy to make at home. The results are far superior and you can tweak it to make it your way. Don't like garlic? Leave it out. Really like ginger? Add more.

Teriyaki sauce can be used as a marinade, a basting sauce, and a condiment. If you use it for a marinade, discard it after marinating because it will be contaminated by the raw meat. Use fresh sauce to baste the meat when the food is about 10 minutes away from finished. It has sugar in it and will burn if cooked for too long. Then use some more as a dipping sauce.

A single recipe is enough to marinate about 1 - 1½ pound of meat, so double it if you want to use it for basting and dipping too. A sturdy zip-topped bag is a great container for marinating. Put in the meat, pour in the marinade, squish it around, and pop in the fridge. I like to put the bag in a bowl, just in case the bag springs a leak.

Teriyaki Sauce
(makes ½ cup, costs 80¢)

¼ cup Low Sodium Soy Sauce
2 Tbl Sake Or Dry Sherry
2 Tbl Firmly Packed Brown Sugar
2 Tbl Rice Vinegar (natural or seasoned)
2 cloves Garlicminced or pressed
1 tsp Grated Fresh Ginger
¼ tsp Red Pepper Flakes (optional) 
Mix well to dissolve sugar. Use as a sauce or a marinade. Will keep for a week in the fridge.

Marinate beef for 8-24 hours. Marinate pork or chicken for 1-4 hours.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Kimchee Quesadilla

My other blog, World on a Platter, has a pretty simple recipe up today: Kimchee Quesadilla. The toughest part of the recipe is finding the kimchee, which isn't so hard these days. Head over there and check it out.

Kimchee Quesadilla - an easy, multicultural recipe if you like spicy food.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Well-Dressed Salad

On the left, oil and vinegar. On the right, an emulsion.
I usually make a simple green salad for our classes. It's easy. It's sophisticated because it's...well dressed. :-) Vinaigrette is so useful that everyone should know how to make it. Unlike salad dressings in the bottle, it contains very few ingredients. It's simple to make too. Though chefs (and restaurant reviewers) make a big deal about broken vinaigrette, this isn't some kind of kitchen disaster for most of us. In fact, most of the time when I make a salad, I sprinkle on a little bit of vinegar, salt, pepper, and oil. Give it a toss. Done!

If you want to make a real vinaigrette, it's not much harder. It does take a little bit of patience. Or a blender. Wand or immersion blenders work particularly well for this. If you are making a small amount, enough for 2 servings, you'll need to do it the old-fashioned way, by hand, with a whisk.

We all know that oil and vinegar don't mix and the trick to vinaigrette is getting those two components to stay together. You can create an unstable emulsion with careful mixing but it won't hold together for very long. Enter mustard. Classically, it's Dijon mustard. It's an emulsifier, which means it gets oil and vinegar to stay together through some chemistry you don't need to understand (if you want to understand it, here's the link to Wikipedia's page on emulsion). Just know that it works.

The basic proportions are 1 teaspoon of mustard to 1 Tablespoon vinegar to 3-4 Tablespoons of oil. If you can remember this, you can always make salad dressing.

The method is as follows:
  • Dissolve the mustard in the vinegar. 
  • Start adding the oil a very little bit at a time, whisking as you add. If you add the oil too quickly, you may never get an emulsion to form with a whisk. In a blender, you don't have to be quite as careful because those quickly spinning blades mix together the oil and vinegar far more efficiently. If whisking, start adding the oil drop by drop. 
  • Once your emulsion forms, you can add the oil more quickly. You'll know the emulsion has formed because the you won't have two different liquids that separate but one creamy, cloudy liquid.
  • Season with salt and pepper. You can also add some fresh herbs now such as chopped parsley or basil.
How much dressing do you need for your salad? This depends on taste. I do not like my lettuce swimming in dressing so I go rather light, 1 teaspoon for a small salad and 2 Tablespoon for a entree-sized salad. You can drizzle it on and toss, but I like Bobby Flay's method the best. You drizzle the dressing over the sides of a bowl and then toss the greens against the sides of the bowl to coat the leaves with the dressing. You don't need much dressing and no part of the lettuce gets soaked.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

This was dessert for my most recent cooking class. It doesn't get much easier than this when it comes to dessert. Since this is all about the strawberries and the chocolate, get ripe, fragrant strawberries and a good quality chocolate (milk, semisweet, or bittersweet depending on your preference). Most recipes recommend using long-stemmed strawberries because you can hold the berries by the stem to dip them. This isn't necessary. Stick a fork into the stem end and dip them to cover them until just below the stem end. Then gently push the berries off the fork from the stem end. Or do like my students: use your fingers and enjoy licking the chocolate off afterward!

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries
(covers about 1 dozen medium strawberries)

½ pound medium strawberries
½ cup chocolate chips or chocolate bar, chopped finely

Wash strawberries and dry thoroughly. This is important for getting the chocolate to hold on to the berries.

Line a small cookie sheet with aluminum foil or waxed paper.

Place the chocolate chips in a medium microwaveable bowl. Microwave at 50% power for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave for another 1 minute, again at 50% power. Stir again. Microwave at 50% power for another 30-60 seconds until chocolate is liquid. You don't want to cook it too long because chocolate will burn.

Immediately dip the berries into the liquid chocolate and lay out on the foil lined sheet. When you've finished all the berries, place them in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes or until chocolate is set. If you can wait that long...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Start of another year of classes!

On Wednesday, I'll be back in front of students at CU, teaching them basic cooking skills (and a few cooking tricks, too). They have requested risotto, which isn't what I consider *basic* cooking. But, it's not really hard either. We'll be cooking two recipes: Risotto with Chickpeas, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Greens which has already appeared on the blog and this recipe for Shrimp and Mushroom Risotto.

Risotto takes attention and lots of stirring. It's not particularly challenging aside from paying attention to what's on your stove for about 30 minutes. It's more expensive than white rice, but not so expensive. I found Italian risotto for $2.25/pound which isn't bad at all. Risotto is creamy and rich without being full of fat. The starch in this short-grain rice dissolves out of the rice grains with all that stirring, making a "creamy" mouth feel whether or not you add lots of butter or cream. A little bit of fat is added for flavor but you don't need it for richness. It's a bit of culinary magic!

Risotto is a great place to use up leftovers: add some vegetables or cooked meat at the end. Add a little cheese. Add some cooked beans. Mushrooms. Risotto is a neutral background that backs up all sorts of delicious lead singers. Experiment!

The shrimp in this recipe is cut into ½ inch pieces, so feel free to use whatever size of raw shrimp is cheapest at the market. There are folks who instantly dismiss any  Italian recipe that combines cheese and seafood. This is is a regional thing - depending on where you are, they will either revile or adore cheese combined with seafood. I'm not from anywhere in Italy, so I'm glad to be agnostic in this debate.

Shrimp and Mushroom Risotto
(makes 6 servings)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Nuts and Nut Oils: Green Beans with Almonds

Nut oils are very expensive. They are also perishable, not nearly as shelf-stable as refined oils. That's because nut oils are simply pressed, not treated with solvents and cleaned up before bottling. And, it's why they taste so good, retaining the flavors of the nut. They make a divine vinaigrette. Not everyone wants (or can afford) to spend $8 on a small bottle of oil. Know what? You can use nuts. They taste like nuts too. They are significantly cheaper than nut oil and more nutritious because they contain fiber, protein, and micronutrients. They are lower in calories than nut oils. Oils have 120 calories per Tablespoon. Nuts vary, but 2 Tablespoons of sliced almonds contain 66 calories. That's a pretty good bang for you flavor buck.

Want your salad to taste like almonds? Throw in some sliced almonds. Not only will your salad taste like almonds, it will have some great crunch too.

Green beans amandine is a classic French vegetable dish. This is a quick version of that dish. You cook some green beans, sauté the nuts in a tiny bit of oil or butter, then toss the beans with the sliced almonds. Now, isn't that simple? Impress your friends by called it green beans amandine. They don't need to know.

Here's more information on cooking fresh green beans.

Green Bean with Almonds (Amandine)
(serves 4, costs $1.50 to $2, depending on price of green beans locally)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Knife Sharpeners

In the past, I've recommended that knives be professionally sharpened. Until fairly recently, getting a good edge with inexpensive home sharpeners was next to impossible. You can get a great edge with any number of expensive sharpeners (tri-stones and Chef's Choice brand electric sharpeners, for example). Have the inexpensive ones improved enough to recommend them?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Ugh! Fruit Flies!

Really cheap fruit fly trap protecting my precious garden tomatoes
It's that time of year again. Fruit fly season. Annoying little flies that dive bomb into your wine. They are harmless unless you happen to be fruit, in which case they will lay eggs in you and ruin you for the human who so hoped to eat you. Which is a damn good reason to catch them and rid your kitchen of them. Personally, I find the dive bombing in my wine far more annoying! I'm very protective of my glass of wine.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Why I Use Pre-Made Stock

Given my earlier post on avoiding processed foods, some readers may wonder why I use stock in the box or instant broth. Isn't that a processed food? In most cases, yes. Very few brands are just like the stock you make at home. Even the better ones add chicken flavor. Unless it says low or no-sodium, a lot of salt is added as well. Powdered or cubed instant bouillon, which is significantly cheaper than stock in a box, is nothing like homemade stock and the first ingredient is usually salt. It's basically flavored salt.

So, why do I use it in the School of Eating Good recipes?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Mushroom Barley Soup

Here's a recipe for mushroom-barley soup that originally called for making stock from scratch. But, it's nearly as good with supermarket stock. You can make it with all vegetable stock for a vegetarian version or use ½ chicken and ½ beef stock.

Half the barley is sautéed before adding it to the soup to keep it chewy. You can skip that step for a softer texture. The dried porcini are a bit pricey but they add a depth of flavor that is unique. For a less expensive and very different flavor, use dried shiitake mushrooms (also sold as Chinese black mushrooms). Still delicious.

Mushroom Barley Soup
(makes 8 servings, costs $10 with porcini, $6.50 with shiitakes)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Fresh Granola

Finally, we are cooling off. Good thing because I am just about out of granola. No!! We cannot run out of granola. I stop making it when it's too hot to turn on the oven. It is with great joy that I turn on the oven again and crank out a batch of homemade granola.

This latest batch has hazelnuts and I'll add raisins after it cools.

If you haven't checked out our recipe for low-sugar granola, please do. It's one of our most popular. It's Mark Bittman's recipe actually, but I have tweaked the preparation slightly. It's a winner and one of the most delicious ways to start your day. I don't have a cost on the recipe because it depends on what nuts and fruit you use. But, let's assume you use honey, raisins, and almonds, which is a great combination. The whole batch of granola costs under $5, which is about  8-10 hearty servings. Packed full of goodness and a bargain too!

The original recipe uses vanilla extract, but if you use almonds, consider using almond extract instead. It will boost the almond flavors and is a delicious change from vanilla. Other nut extracts are good too, if you have some in your cupboard.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

No-Can Dill Pickles

Most people don't think of making their own pickles. And, if you have to "can" them (which means put them in jars and and make sure the food is prepared such that it stays safe to eat after sitting on your kitchen shelf), how many people are going to bother? Canning can be fun but it's definitely a whole lot of work.

Then there are these easy refrigerator pickles. You make them and they will keep in your fridge for about 4 months. After that, they start getting mushy. No jars, no hot brine. And the amount you make isn't too much more than a jar of dill pickles. They are quite tart, and deliciously dilly if you use fresh dill. You can use dried dill but it's not the same. Remember: if you buy a bunch of dill and only use a few sprigs for this recipe, chop up the rest and stick it in a small bag in the freezer. It keeps its fresh dilly flavor much better than dried dill and you get your money's worth out of a bunch of dill. For more tips on herbs, check out this post from a couple of years ago.

You need to use unwaxed cucumbers which aren't that hard to find. If you have a garden, all your cukes are unwaxed. :-) If you don't have a garden, English cucumbers, the long skinny ones that are wrapped in plastic, are unwaxed. The other nice thing about the English cucumbers is they are seedless.

This is a great time of year to make pickles because cucumbers are usually quite a bargain in late summer.

Easy Refrigerator Dill Pickles
(makes about 4 cups)

1 ½ pounds unwaxed cucumbers, scrubbed well
1 Tablespoon table salt
several sprigs of fresh dill
about 1 cup natural rice vinegar + 1 cup seasoned rice vinegar or use all seasoned rice vinegar (sushi vinegar) for a little more sweetness

Slice the cucumbers thinly with a knife or a food processor. Layer the cucumber slices with the salt in a colander set in the sink. Place a plate on top and a heavy can on the plate to weight down the cucumber. The salt draws out the water and the weighted plate squeezes it out. Let stand for 1 hour. Rinse the slices with cold water to remove the salt and drain well. Layer the cucumber with the dill sprigs in a 4 cup tall container that covers tightly. Pour in enough vinegar to cover cucumber completely, which should be 2 cups. Refrigerate. Best if you let them soak up the dilly vinegar for at least 24 hours.

Delicious by themselves or on sandwiches.

From Preserving in Today's Kitchen by Jeanne Lesem, Henry Holt and Company, 1992.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Super Easy Summer Pasta

The green chunks are tomatoes too, a variety called Green Zebra
This is an easy pasta to whip up in under 5 minutes with a few ingredients in your fridge. It uses delicious summer tomatoes, barely cooked to preserve their fresh flavor, and pesto sauce. Mix them with leftover pasta and some mozzarella cheese, heat up a little, and you have a tasty summer dinner.

Ripe Green Zebra tomatoes in my garden. It's been a good year for tomatoes!
Fresh ripe tomatoes in summer are a special treat and I used tomatoes from my garden. I particularly like a variety called Green Zebra which ripens to yellow with green stripes. If you can't find summer ripe tomatoes, chopped up cherry tomatoes anytime of year are your next best choice.

You can use plain ole mozzarella cheese, like what you use on pizza. Or to elevate this to incredible, use fresh mozzarella (which is quite a bit more expensive).

This recipe illustrates how easy it is to take some basic ingredients and make something delicious, really fast. We all have busy lives and if you can throw together simple yet tasty meals on the fly, you're a great cook!

Quick Tomato Pasta
(serves 1, costs $2.80)

1 ½ cups cooked pasta
1 cup of chopped fresh ripe tomatoes
1 ounce of cubed or shredded mozzarella cheese
2 Tablespoons pesto sauce (homemade or supermarket)
salt and pepper
olive oil

In a microwaveable bowl, combine the pasta, tomatoes, cheese, and pesto sauce. Season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Microwave on high for 1 minutes and serve. Microwave for about another minute until the pasta is hot and the tomatoes are soft. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Drizzle with a little olive oil, if desired.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Corn and Peach Salsa

It's corn season. It's peach season. Why not combine the two? This salsa recipe is from King Soopers (part of Kroger's). I modified it slightly. They have it paired with a teriyaki-grilled salmon, which you can see in the photo of my dinner. It's very tasty with the salmon but it would be good with grilled chicken too.

To grill corn, shuck it and lay the ears of corn directly on a hot grill. Turn when the kernels are mostly dark brown.

Corn & Peach Salsa
(makes 4-6 servings)

2 ears of corn, grilled, cooled, and kernels cut from the cob
1 peach, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
¼ cup minced parsley, about 6 sprigs (see Note)
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Mix together all the ingredients in medium bowl. You can serve immediately but it gets better if it has a chance to chill for at least an hour before serving.

Note: The original recipe called for cilantro, which would give this a more southwestern twist. Fresh basil is also wonderful with corn, peaches, and tomatoes.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Roasted Eggplant Salad

Roasted eggplant is an easy base for salads. Its smoky flavor, even when roasted in the oven, adds something special. Baba Ghanoush is probably the best-known of these salads but eggplant melds nicely with many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors. In the summer, it is an inexpensive vegetable too. When selecting eggplants, look for heavy, firm fruit with a shiny deep purple-black skin. Though I prefer the smaller Asian eggplants for stir-fries, the large Italian eggplants are better for roasting.

Some beautiful eggplant at the market (photo by USDA)
This is lemony-garlicy salad. If you don't love garlic, you can cut down on the garlic.

To Roast Eggplants:

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. This makes clean-up easier.

Poke eggplants with a fork, 2-3 pokes front, back and sides.

Place eggplants on baking sheet and put under the broiler. The eggplants should be about 4-6" from the heating element. Too close and it will burn before the eggplant is fully cooked. Too far and you'll be waiting all day for it to cook.

Broil eggplant 10-15 minutes per side, for a total of 40-60 minutes. The skin with be well-charred and the flesh will be very soft when it's done.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Scoop out the flesh, scraping it off the charred skin.

If you have a grill, you can place the whole eggplants on the grill and roast them that way. They take about the same amount of time.

Roasted Eggplant Salad
(serves 8)

2 large eggplants, roasted and skin removed
3 cloves of garlic
½ teaspoon coarse salt
juice of ½ a lemon
3 Tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon black pepper
6 large sprigs parsley, minced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 plum tomatoes, diced
salt and pepper for final seasoning

Chop up the eggplant and place in a sieve. Mash it with a fork and let it sit in the sieve to drain while you mix up the dressing. Roughly chop the garlic, sprinkle on the ½ teaspoon salt and mash with the side of the knife to form a paste. Place in a bowl. Add lemon juice, olive oil, and black pepper. Whisk together with the fork. Smoosh the eggplant one more time to squeeze out the moisture. Spoon in the bowl with the dressing and mix to combine. Taste for salt and add more if it seems bland. Sprinkle on the parsley, scallions, and tomatoes. Season tomatoes with salt and pepper and serve as a salad or as a dip with crusty bread.

For a pretty presentation, spread the eggplant mixture on a platter, then sprinkle on the remaining ingredients, like in the photo.

Some optional additions: a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts or a generous handful of pomegranate seeds. Both add a nice crunch.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Italian Wedding Soup

When I was a kid, I loved Progresso's Chickarina© Soup which is chicken soup with little chicken meatballs. It's a regional thing; I can't find it in Colorado. But, Italian Wedding Soup, a chicken broth with little chicken meatballs and greens, is pretty close. It's a good dish for sneaking some greens into your diet.

Here's my rendition of that soup.

The broth is stock in a box, the best way to get a decent stock without simmering bones for hours. The meatballs are made from scratch and take a bit of time, but you can cook them, freeze them, and then reheat them in soup when you want a comforting bowl of soup. These meatballs are very tasty and would be delicious in a meatball sub too. For the soup, we make them small.

Italian Wedding Soup
(serves 6, costs $10)

Meatballs (makes enough meatballs for 2 batches of soup)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground chicken
½ pound ground lean beef
1 large egg
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (see Note)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
10 sprigs of parsley, chopped
1 ¾ teaspoons salt
leaves from 1 sprig of basil, minced or 1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon black pepper

10 cups low-sodium chicken stock
salt if needed
6 cups (about 6 oz.) fresh greens such as escarole, chard, or spinach, washed and chopped coarsely
¼ cup soup pasta such as stars, alphabets, or use broken pieces of angel hair pasta
2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan for garnish
¼ teaspoon black pepper for garnish

Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for a few minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking until onion is soft and golden. Remove from heat and set aside to cool for 5 minutes. Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray or oil lightly with vegetable oil.

Combine the rest of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl and mix together thoroughly. Shape into 1 ½" meatballs and place on the greased baking sheet. Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes. You can turn them after 10 minutes if they seem to be browning quickly on the bottom, but this usually isn't necessary. Remove from oven. At this point, you can drop half of them immediately in the soup and serve. Cool the rest in the fridge and freeze for some later batch of soup or refrigerate for use with a few days.

To make the soup, bring the stock up to a simmer. If using frozen meatballs, add the greens and meatballs. You'll need to simmer them for about 15 minutes. Add the pasta after 10 minutes. The meatballs are completely cooked already but you don't want to bite into a semi-frozen meatball.

If using hot meatballs, add the pasta along with the greens and meatballs and cook for 5 minutes until greens are wilted and the pasta is done. Taste for salt. You may need to use more if you use a sodium-free stock.

To serve, ladle in soup, greens, and 4 meatballs into a bowl. Garnish with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and black pepper.

Note: To make fresh breadcrumbs, very lightly toast the bread (or use slightly stale bread which isn't as soft) and use the fine side of a grater to grate it into crumbs. You can also grate them in the food processor. A slice of bread with yield about ½ cup bread crumbs.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Edamame Succotash Salad

Succotash is a combination of corn and beans. It is an original American dish, passed down from the Native Americans who tended fields of corn and beans. It's usually made with lima beans. Here's my twist: edamame. Edamame are young green soybeans. They aren't as mealy as your average lima bean (not a big fan of lima beans) and now you can get shelled edamame in the frozen food section of most supermarkets. Which is wonderful because it takes a while to shell those edamame in the pods!

In the summer, the best corn is fresh corn. It's not hard to cut the kernels off a corn cob (below is a really short video on how it's done) but frozen corn kernels are a decent substitute when corn is out of season or you don't want to deal with corn on the cob.

Edamame Succotash Salad
(serves 6 as a side dish, costs $3.50)

1 ¼ cups shelled edamame (about ½ pound frozen)
corn kernels from 2 medium ears of corn, about 1 ¼ cups or use frozen corn
2 Tablespoons finely minced onion or scallions
1 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon pickle relish
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Thaw the edamame in the microwave. It's OK if it gets hot; it will soak up the dressing even better. Drain and place in a large bowl. Microwave the corn (either fresh or frozen) like you were thawing it. Again, it's OK if it gets a little hot. Drain the corn and add to the edamame. Add the minced onion. In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, relish, oil, salt, and pepper. Pour over salad and toss well. Can be served warm or refrigerate so it has a chance to absorb the dressing. Season with more salt, if needed, when the salad is cold. Cold dishes need extra seasoning.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Sesame Soy Vinaigrette

My salad lunch with tomatoes and lettuce from the garden, grilled corn, and seared tuna
It's salad days, what with the heat of mid-summer bearing down on us. Here's a delicious dressing for just lettuce or a main-dish salad, like my lunch above. It's great on a variety of cooked things that you might add to your salad: seared tuna, chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp. It's a little sweet but not too sweet.

Sesame Soy Vinaigrette
(serves ½ cup, about 6 servings)

½ teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil (see Note)
4 Tablespoons vegetable oil

toasted sesame seeds

Whisk together sugar, soy sauce, and rice vinegar. Whisk in sesame oil and vegetable oil. The dressing will separate as it sits so whisk it again before dressing your salad.

Sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds after dressing salad.

Note: Toasted sesame oil is used extensively in Asian food. You can find it in supermarkets or Asian markets (where it is usually cheaper). It has a unique flavor. It is used as a flavoring after cooking as the oil is delicate and loses flavor when heated too much. It is used in Mu Shu Tofu and Chinese-style Minced Meat in Lettuce Leaves, if you need some ideas on how to use more of it.