Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Gotta Love Those Leftovers
I'm continually amazed at the quick meals one can throw together with a well stocked fridge. Using leftovers in creative ways to produce another meal is not only time saving and economical but an adventure as well.

Opening the veggie bin, I noticed two large sweet bell peppers; one yellow, one red. I had bought them for salads or to serve with hummus as an appetizer, but hadn't used them over the weekend and I didn't want to let them get old.

The shelves of the fridge held several containers of leftovers. Mahogany rice, fresh corn kernels and about a cup of chunky marinara sauce. Having rich, chewy rice already cooked clearly called out, "Stuffed Peppers", plus I had the added bonus of some savory sauce already made.

I washed, seeded and deveined the peppers, then cut them in half from north to south. I placed the rice (about 1 1/2 cups) in a large mixing bowl, tossed in the raw corn kernels (maybe 1/3 cup) I used what I had and it turned out to be just right.

The brown and yellow mix looked as if it could use a colorful pick me up, so I washed two big hands full of baby spinach, sliced it up (chiffonade) and tossed it with the rice and corn adding two generous teaspoons of a spicy hot tomato/chipotle salsa. I like things spicy. This hit of heat is optional.

I scooped the stuffing into the pepper halves, packed it down , mounding a bit on the top. Then I stretched the scant cup of sauce with a little water, spooned a bit over each pepper half and then drizzled the remainder into the bottom of the shallow sauté pan.

The covered pan went into a 350° oven for about 40 minutes. I removed the cover and let the peppers bake for another 10 minutes.

Fat free, fast and easy, another tasty nutritional powerhouse.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake?

Marie Antoinette is reported to have replied, "let them eat cake", when told the people had no bread to eat. There is some controversy over that. Some suggesting the translation of "cake" was not the traditional word for cake, gateau, but rather, brioche, a butter-rich fancy bread.
Well, whatever . . .

If you, like me, rarely have baked sweets in the house—cakes, cookies, pies, etc., then, like me, you might find a dense loaf of oatmeal bread, enriched with full cream butter and sweetened with a bit of raw honey, to be a sweet treat to be savored and treated like cake.

This tender loaf is particularly good thickly sliced, then toasted, or thinly sliced for a sandwich. Even better yet, slather it with a bit of all fruit jam or marmalade accompanied by a hot cup of tea.

Truthfully, as soon as it was cool enough to cut, I ate two slices with nothing on it. The rich moist lightly sweetened dense crumb seemed like cake to me.

Oatmeal Toasting & Sandwich Bread

(Adapted from King Arthur Flour)

3 cups King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats (old-fashioned oats)
2 TBS butter
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 TBS brown sugar or honey
2 tsp instant yeast OR 1 packet active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups lukewarm milk (I used almond milk)
3/4 cup raisins (optional)

For complete baking instructions, check out the original recipe at the source.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Black Beans

Having a pot of cooked beans on hand makes for quick, delicious, nutritious meals.
I cooked a pound of black beans, and then went on to enjoy them by the bowl full with the rich pot liquor and warm tortillas the first night.

Then as chilaquiles (pureed beans with baked corn chips) over yellow squash another day and then as soft tacos yet another day.

Laced with fresh salsa and drizzled with a piquant chipotle salsa, topped with green onion and diced avocado, they made a satisfying supper, yet another day.

Eating frugally, yet deliciously isn't difficult. It just takes a bit of planning and a spot of imagination.
With Rick Bayless to spur me on–with his early volume of Mexican Cuisine—I'm now inspired to add a few more Mexican dishes to my repertoire.

Beans are a simple, yet important staple. Given a few little twists, beans can become the star of the show, able to compete, and win hands down, with any flesh-centered meal. At least in my humble opinion. Here's one of my simple adaptations of the many instructions for cooking beans:

Simple Black Beans
1 lb black beans, washed and sorted for debris
6-8 cups water
2 garlic cloves
1/2 large white onion, diced (or one medium onion)
1/2 tsp Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp ground chipotle
1/2 tsp adobo powder
1 tsp salt
You may choose to soak the beans overnight, this does shorten the cooking time a bit, or you can just cook the beans after washing and sorting. I cover the beans with about two inches of water and keep it there after bringing it to a boil then turning the heat down to allow the beans to simmer gently.
Add two or three whole peeled garlic cloves at the start. Gently stir the beans from time to time, keeping the water level at least an inch above the top of the beans. Start checking for doneness after about 90 minutes. The beans will take 1 1/2 hours or more. When the beans are tender, but not mushy, add the rest of the seasonings and let them simmer for another 30 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste.
There are so many variations, but this is a good starting place. The resulting pot of beans along with the succulent pot liquor is fine on its own. It also makes a great base for many other dishes.
Learn from the masters. Bayless instructs throughout his book, offering insights, variations and complete instructions to help us produce and reproduce fabulous Mexican meals.
It's delicious, nutritious, fun and best of all—very economical!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Caponata Hot and Cold

Here's another instance of cook once; eat twice.

Eggplant relish is a sweet and sour dish that lends itself easily and well to many uses. I've been making a variation of Jeff Smith's caponata recipe for over 20 years.

Lately the variations have been to prepare it in a healthier fashion (less oil). But often a variation happens because of a missing ingredient or two. As long as the basics are there: eggplant, celery,onion, tomato, raisins and vinegar, it always turns out to be a satisfying dish.

Eggplant relish is a piquant side that will complement many a meal. It's a wonderful sandwich topping, great spread on crackers as an appetizer — and for me, it often becomes the main event.

The salad above is simply hearts of romaine and arugula dressed with a few drops of olive oil and a good splash of apple cider vinegar, then the greens are tossed with a few heaping tablespoons of cold caponata. Scatter on a few pine nuts (roasted or not) and you've a wonderful luncheon salad or an intesting first course.

When this batch of caponata was still warm from the stove, I used it to top chewy, nutty flavored Bhutanese red rice. Red rice is another interesting grain to use in a one bowl meal. It provides a satisfying rich flavor along with high nutritional value. Red rice is unhulled, the germ left in tact when processed. It's my next best favorite after mahogany rice.

The quantities listed in the recipe below produce about 5-6 cups of relish. Alter the amounts based on the size of the eggplant you have. Then add the other ingredients proportionately.

Jeff's directions are straight forward sauteéing using a good deal of olive oil. The original recipe includes 4-5 anchovies packed in oil, while all this extra fat certainly adds to the flavor, cooking the relish in a more heart-healthy manner doesn't detract from the final finished flavor.


(adapted from the Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian)

2 pounds eggplant

2 cups celery, sliced 1/4" thick

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1 TBS sugar (agave, stevia or omit entirely)

3 cups crushed plum tomatoes (canned is okay)

2 TBS tomato paste

2 TBS pickled capers, drained

6 large pitted green olives, drained and sliced (mandarin olives are okay)

1/4 cup golden raisins (dark ones work fine, too)

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts (roast in dry pan over medium heat or serve raw)

salt and pepper to taste

Trim the tops off the eggplant(s) and dice into one inch pieces. Place in a large bowl and toss with one tablespoon of olive oil. Spread diced eggplant in a single layer onto a cookie sheet (or two) and roast off in a 400° oven for 15-10 minutes until soft.

While the eggplant is roasting, slice the celery and chop the onion. Place in a large sauté pan over medium heat with about a 1/4 cup of filtered water. Bring to a boil, then gently sauté the aromatics turning and adding more water, if needed, until they are shiny and soft. Allow the water to evaporate toward the end of the cooking time.

Transfer the cooked aromatics to a deep 3 or 4 qt saucepan, and place over medium heat. As the pan heats, add the tomato paste stirring to allow it to blend thoroughly with the onions and celery. Add the roasted eggplant pieces, along with the remainder of the ingredients except the raisins, pine nuts, salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until all is tender, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Stir in the raisins, pine nuts and salt and pepper.
Traditionally, for best flavor, allow to cool and serve at room temperature or cold.

But I suggest you give it a try warm. Ladle a generous portion over red rice, brown rice, mahogany rice, whole wheat angel hair pasta, quinoa, or even couscous to make a tasty grain bowl. Then the next day, use it in a salad or stuff it in a pita pocket with lots of crispy greens.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

50% Fat Free!
Unable to decide what to have for lunch, I elected to split my sandwich into a spicy, green, fat-free portion, and a juicy, creamy avocado-rich half. Turned out to be a great combination.

Stuffing a pita pocket with lightly steamed kale is a favorite snack—the leaves are sprinkled with fresh lemon juice, a dusting of garlic powder and a few pinches of hot chili powder and then chilled until needed. This clever kale treatment, along with many other fat free offerings, I learned from Dr. John McDougall and his clever recipe-developer wife, Mary, in The McDougall Program.

Slather the inside of a whole wheat pita pocket with dark, spicy mustard or even wine infused Grey Poupon, then stuff with chilled kale leaves. Munch away for a great fat-free, tasty vitamin-rich lunch, or as a side to a rice or grain bowl.

The second half is another of my favorite luncheon sandwiches. But hardly fat-free. Not only does it sport a few generous slices of Haas avocado, but one side of the pita pocket is spread with a couple of tablespoons of homemade hummus, then sliced tomato and avocado are layered on.

Having some of each made a tasty lunch. The kale half was a nice counterbalance to the rich hummus and avocado half. 50% fat-free!