Discovery of the day: You got your quinoa soup in my tamale pie!

So what do you do when you dump a scoop of leftover Quinoa Soup (drained, sans avocado) on top of the leftover filling from the previous night's Tamale Pie?

A surprisingly tasty and filling lunch, that's what. The scoop of Quinoa Soup didn't even require much in the way of draining, since the quinoa had already sucked up almost all of the broth, as it is wont to do.

Oh yeah, and last night my son has decided he's not fond of quinoa. :(

BTW, that Tamale Pie filling is going to be a pretty versatile product. I can think of several uses for it, and that's making me hungry again.



Discovery of the day: Tracking it back

Poking around on the Casual Kitchen blog the other day, I found Daniel's post on Stacked Costs and Second Order Foods. I had read it when it was new but had forgotten about it. In hindsight, it was one of the factors that pushed me onto the Make It Myself path. Purchasing as many first-order foods as possible appealed to me on a very basic level.

Maybe it's because I grew up during the Cold War and always was reading books like 'The Boxcar Children' and 'Little House on the Prairie' where folks had to 'make it or do without.' Sure, I grew up with Shake-a-Puddin' and casseroles made with cream of mushroom soup just like (almost) everyone else of my generation, but in the back of my mind was always this notion of figuring out how to make things myself.

As I got older and read more science fiction & fantasy than could be considered strictly healthy, I was drawn to the 'after the bomb' and other post-apocalyptic tales where people had to start over from nothing. Because of this urge, I learned to knit, and eventually to spin and dye yarn. I learned to make soap and at one point I even had a small business selling it. I learned cake decorating (although I'm not sure how that relates to this discussion, but hey, you never know.) Hell, I even raised chickens for awhile, and I'm a city girl! Unfortunately, I've learned the hard way that I'm too lazy to be a good gardener or you can bet I'd be all over that too.

The yarn and soap and cake and chickens have faded into the past, but Daniel's concept of First Order foods must have pushed that button again. Read it and tell me you don't at least think about what you buy and what you might be able to make.



Discovery of the day: Just say no!

One of the many reasons I'm into the Make It Myself thing is that I am cheap. I pretty much stopped buying sugar cereals years ago, although I admit, occasionally a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch will jump in my cart; strictly for dessert use only, you understand.

However, after reading this excellent treatise by Daniel over at Casual Kitchen, I may have to re-think even that rare treat.

Give it a read, then go look at the cereal in your cabinet. Dare you.



Discovery of the day: Rolling my own

As you might have noticed, my loyal reader, I've been on a 'make my own stuff' kick lately. It's actually a mindset I've drifted in and out of over the years. I like to figure out how things are made, and occasionally those things have been food. But this time it's serious. I'm slowly working up a list of previously-purchased prepared foods that I am awarding permanent 'Make It Myself' status.

I work full time and have a short attention span, so for a regularly-used food item to make the MIM List, it not only has to be acceptable to everyone in the household, it also must be able to be made quickly and efficiently. So far, mayonnaise, jam, bread, and yogurt have been removed from my shopping list. Future projects include making flour tortillas, and probably most critical, replacing our dead waffle iron and figuring out how to replicate the Eggo waffles my son has eaten for breakfast almost every morning for five years. That's a lot of Eggo waffles, my friend.

So what do you think? I'll be blogging about the recipes and techniques that work best for me so that you can try them too, if you're game.

C'mon, it'll be fun! OK, it may not all be fun, but I guarantee it will be easy.



Discovery of the day: A crack in the ice

I actually brought a BAS for lunch the other day, the first time in a l-o-n-g time. Not only that, but we had BBBAS for dinner the night before! I was shocked at the resistance I felt as I was chopping up that head of romaine, though. Where did this anti-lettuce attitude come from, anyway? I have no idea.

Now that things look to be settling down a bit at home, I plan to slowly work myself back into the BAS thing. I think it's critical to getting my weight back on track. I have let my veggie consumption drop way too low.

Speaking of weight, I just found Joy's What I Weigh Today blog and am wondering if I should make myself publicly accountable for my weight. Maybe not every day, though. Maybe once a week? I don't know. Strong feelings both ways (weighs! ha!) The other thing that I think is cool about her blog is that if you add 18 lbs and 18 years, in some ways she sounds like me. Except I'm not in the food industry. Maybe that's a good thing. If I'm having this much trouble controlling my weight now, I can't imagine....



Discovery of the day: Tamale pie

Finally got around to trying the Polenta Tamale Pie I mentioned a few months back and it was a grand success, even if it wasn't quite Project Weeknight-worthy as written. I made a few mods and was very pleased with the results.
Polenta Tamale Pie
Adapted from Epicurious.com

2 15-oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1½ Tablespoons chili powder
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 16-oz bottle salsa (I used mild)
1 15-oz can refried beans
1 to 2 cups* liquid (water, veggie stock, chicken stock)
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley (optional)

2 pounds fresh-cooked polenta or 2 one-pound rolls prepared polenta, sliced into 1/3"-thick rounds (I used quick-cooking polenta)
2 cups shredded cheese (I used monterey jack)

* The more liquid you add, the longer it will take to simmer to the desired thickness. More simmering = deeper flavor. You need at least enough to keep it from scorching.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Combine first six ingredients (beans, spices, salsa, liquid) in a saucepan over medium-high heat, mix well. Simmer until mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Add cilantro/parsley, season with salt and pepper.

Oil 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Spread (or place) half of polenta (slices) in dish. Top with filling and half of the cheese, then spread (place) remaining polenta (slices) and cheese.

Bake, uncovered, until heated through and sauce bubbles, about 35 minutes.

Since there are just three of us, I made a whole batch of filling and used half of it in a 9"x9" pan. I froze the rest of the filling. Next time I'll just make a batch of polenta to use with the thawed filling.

Since the oven time is what knocks it out of Project Weeknight contention, next time I'll try this: Make the polenta, press it into a hot oiled skillet and fry it a little to get some crunch. Plate individual servings of the polenta and top with a scoop of hot filling and cheese.

Acceptability was high -- it got thumbs up from my guys. If you love cornmeal and beans -- and who doesn't? -- I predict it'll be thumbs up for you too.



Discovery of the day: To AB5 or Not to AB5?

So with this whole Bake Your Own Bread thing I've taken a shine to, you are probably asking yourself "Why doesn't she just get the 'Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day' book and be done with it?"

I hear ya, believe me. Having a tub of bread dough in the fridge would make it a snap to bake whatever sort of delicious bread product I needed at a moment's notice.

And that, my friends, is the problem.

I have issues with bread and grains in general. I heart them. I could eat them three times a day for the rest of my life and be happy, happy, happy. And I would weigh 300 lbs.

When I tell myself 'but they're WHOLE grains', I promptly fall right into the Snackwell trap. Remember that? Everyone got on this big fat-free kick back in the early 1990s. Fat was the devil, and anything fat-free was king. Snackwell came out with their fat-free sugar bombs. Hey, it's fat-free, so we can eat as much as we want right? Well, I gained 15 lbs on a fat-free diet.

It took me a long time to learn that the only 'free' foods are veggies. Everything else has limits. And grains, for me, must be especially limited.

That's why I can't have a tub of AB5 dough at my disposal. That's why I can't have bread with dinner every night, or even more than once a day on a regular basis. And it's not just bread; pasta and rice suffer the same limitations. My recent lack of consistency in this area is one of the major reasons I've gained back 10 of the 15 pounds I lost last year.

Honest, AB5. It's not you. It's me.

BYOB: Close Enough Rolls

I mentioned last week that an otherwise perfect Project Weeknight dinner was delayed due to rolls. Fortunately, it was worth it.

At first I'd planned to make focaccia using my default recipe from 'No Need To Knead' by Suzanne Dunaway. I've used it for some years now and it's great -- one quick rise and it's in the oven. But if focaccia is quick, then rolls made from the focaccia dough would be quicker, right?

Uh, no.

I forgot that rolls need to rise again after shaping. But by the time I figured that out, I was committed. I was pretty skeptical about how well they'd come out because I cut the last rise short, but they exceeded my expectation, big-time. They got a 'multi-thumbs up' rating from my guys.

When will I learn to stand so that my shadow doesn't fall into the picture??

The only change I made to the recipe was to sub out a cup of white whole wheat for a cup of bread flour.

(I solemnly promise that the recipe will go here, as soon as I remember to bring it in)

In a perfect world, I'd plan ahead and get some 100% whole grain dough done ahead of time. Oh well, there's always next time.


Project Weeknight: Pasta e Fagioli

Ha! Project Weeknight is back, in a big way. I tackled Pasta e Fagioli last night. I combined elements of two recipes and came up with something I was pretty happy with.

The dish came together very quickly, but I sabotaged myself by pretending I could make yeast buns from scratch in time. I couldn't, and dinner was a good half-hour late because of it. Not that it wasn't worth it, though.

But first, the recipe!
Pasta e Fagioli
Adapted from The Innocent Primate Vegan Blog and Rachael Ray

2 Tablespoons oil/butter (your choice)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
6 cups total stock/water
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
2 cans (15 oz) cannellini or kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 tsp fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 small zucchini, cut in quarters lengthwise then sliced 1/4"
1/2-3/4 cup small pasta (I used small shells)
1/2 cup frozen peas
Salt and black pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese, grated

Heat oil and/or butter in soup pot, then add onions and a dash of salt. Saute until soft, then add garlic, carrots, celery, and red pepper (if using). Saute for another few minutes until celery starts to look translucent.

Add stock/water, tomato paste, beans, herbs, and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for five minutes. Add pasta and zucchini, simmer another five minutes. Add peas and simmer until pasta is done. Adjust salt & pepper.

Serve with grated parmesan.

Sara at The Innocent Primate recommends cooking the pasta separately and adding it to each bowl if you're going to store leftover soup, because the pasta will continue to soak up liquid and grow if left in the soup. I leave the pasta in, but only because I take the leftovers for lunch and I appreciate the more stew-like consistency the next day.

I used all chicken stock, a quart of Evil Corporate stock and two cups of homemade. I can't believe I'm saying this, but it was almost too chicken-y. Next time I'll use a cup or two of water.

As I mentioned above, the 'fazool' cooked up very quickly but we had to wait for the bread. I'll be writing about that next, because it came out pretty well despite the rush job.

How good was it? My son gave it an 'all thumbs up'. I'll take that, even if he did eat around every single piece of zucchini in his bowl. Oh well.



Discovery of the day: Slacker

I realized I haven't done a Project Weeknight post in almost a month. I'd best get on that, eh?

I'm not sure why, really. I'm still saving links to recipes in my Recipe Purgatory and they all look really good, but when it comes time to cook I can only seem to come up with just enough enthusiasm to meet the minimum requirements.

I haven't yet managed to consistently follow through on my threat to pre-select the week's meals and I think that's half my problem right there. But tonight will be different! I have a recipe lined up and I even have all of the ingredients.

Here's hoping....


BYOB: Hot Cross Buns

As you probably guessed, I did make Hot Cross Buns last week. Thursday night I put together half a batch of the AB5 brioche dough -- subbing one cup of white whole wheat flour for a cup of the AP flour -- and set it in the fridge. I wasn't sure I wanted to make it all into buns so I made the brioche dough plain, as written. I decided to use half the batch for the buns and save the other half for whatever. I figured I could freeze it if inspiration failed me.

I wanted to have the buns for breakfast Saturday but I didn't want to have to wait for the dough to warm up and rise after shaping (or get up early enough to make that doable) so I thought I'd be clever and shape them the night before, then put them on the (cool) sunporch overnight.

I pulled out approximately half my dough (¼ batch) and kneaded in my goodies. I cut the lump into eight pieces, formed them into balls, and set them out on the Silpat-lined sheet pan. Then out on the deck they went.

Next morning, I brought them in to warm up while the oven preheated. They were looking more spread out than puffy, but I was hoping maybe they'd rise in the oven.

Nope. They didn't. I ended up with Hot Cross Discs. And since I was too lazy to make the icing for the cross, they were just Hot Discs. They tasted fabulous, though, and the texture was nice.

What went wrong? They may have over-risen and collapsed. Maybe the sunporch wasn't as cool as I thought. Good thing I had the other half of that dough in the fridge!

It took us a few (very few!) days to make that batch disappear and I was ready to go again. Monday I took the rest of the dough, kneaded in the goodies, formed the balls -- nine this time -- and set them in a 9x9 inch baking dish I'd sprayed with baking spray. They rose beautifully and I felt confident enough to snip the cross into the top of each bun.

They baked off without a hitch and were finished off with a honey butter glaze straight out of the oven, just as their flatter brethren had been. The lemon icing crosses were added once they cooled.

Results? Oh yeah, that'll work.

Here's what I added. It's only slightly modified from the AB5 version.

Hot Cross Bun Additions
For approximately ¼ batch of plain AB5 brioche dough.
Makes nine buns.
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 cup currants or raisins, soaked in hot water until plump, drained
1/8 cup dried apricots, cut into raisin-sized pieces, soaked in hot water until plump, drained
1/2 teaspoon orange zest, or a few drops of orange oil (not orange extract)
Honey Glaze: Melt approximately 2 Tablespoons honey and I Tablespoon butter just until butter melts. Stir well to combine.

Lemon Icing: Combine ½ cup confectioners sugar, 1 Tablespoon lemon juice, and either ¼ teaspoon lemon zest or a few drops of lemon oil (not lemon extract). Stir to combine. Adjust consistency with more confectioner's sugar or lemon juice, as needed.

Method: Knead the additions into a chilled 1 - 1½ pound piece of AB5 brioche dough (approximately ¼ batch). Cut into nine equal pieces (use a scale) and form into balls. Place balls in a 9x9 inch baking dish sprayed with baking spray (or lined with a square of parchment). Cover with a towel and let rise for an hour or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

When buns have risen, snip a cross into the top of each using scissors. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until done. (Note: My oven is way off, so I have to use a thermometer to check for doneness. I baked them until the temp in the center bun was ~195 degrees)

Remove baking dish from oven and brush buns with honey glaze. Let buns cool in the baking dish, then pipe the lemon icing onto the snipped crosses using either a spoon, a plastic bag with one corner snipped off, a piping bag, or a parchment coronet. Whatever works.

p.s. Then try not to eat them all in one day. Good luck with that!



Discovery of the day: Going au natural

I don't have the HCB post done yet, but I do have the results of another experiment to share.

The gray eggs on the left were dyed using beet juice. (They were s'posed to be red, honest.) The golden eggs were soaked in a dye made by boiling yellow onion skins and a couple of teaspoons of turmeric. Pretty cool, eh? Next year I'll try red onion skins for red/purple, and I've heard red cabbage will give a blue dye.

No, I have no idea why I decided at the last minute I wanted to color my eggs using homemade dyes, but it turned out to be a fun little project. I can't find the link to the site I used Saturday, but here's one link, and another link, to instructions for next year.

In the meantime, save those onion skins!



Discovery of the day: Menu Recap

Well, it could have gone worse. Just to refresh, we volunteered to take Easter dinner to a friend who had surgery a few days ago. The request was for ham and a few veggie side dishes. Easy, right? Yeah, you'd think. I sure did, but somehow I still ended up spending almost the entire day in the kitchen!

The big-ass ham was marvelous. My SO glazed it with 1/2 c maple syrup and 1/2 c orange juice, reduced on the stove and finished with 2 T coarse dijon mustard.

Glazed carrots w/orange & ginger: Well, something weird happened to the ginger and it ended up being way more HOT than gingery. Of the half we kept for our dinner, we ate a small portion and did not save the leftovers. I actually emailed my friend's daughter and apologized for them. And it was a Mark Bittman recipe, too! Very disappointing.

Napa cabbage salad/slaw: This came out pretty well. I used only one apple for the amount of cabbage I had. Since we weren't sure of our friends' feelings about the blue cheese, we served it on the side. We decided the dish was a little sour without the cheese, but with the cheese it was very nice. Might use a different dressing next time, something with rice wine vinegar. Not sure it was worth buying a whole pint of cream for the two tablespoons called out in the recipe.

Molasses whipped sweet potatoes: I can sum this up easily: Too Much Cumin, and I am a big cumin fan. Maybe because I used fresh-ground seeds instead of jarred? Also, not sure I fully appreciated the three different sweeteners. That said, I can't stop eating it!

Roasted potatoes & asparagus: Great idea, and they looked wonderful coming out of the oven, but then I remembered they were destined to be reheated at their destination. Not a good dish for that. Our half tasted great but lost the just-out-of-the-oven roasted goodness after being stored and reheated.

Fruit crisp: My SO made this, his standard from The New Best Recipe. Even though we didn't get any of it (hard to split a dish of crisp without it looking ravaged) I could tell it rocked, because it always does.

My SO gets a gold star for his dishes. I think I probably get a B-, and that's generous. That'll teach me to compose a dinner I'm delivering to friends out of new-to-me dishes.

Oh, you want to know about the Hot Cross Buns? Check back tomorrow.



Discovery of the day: The Menu

Here's what I'm making for this Sunday's dinner:

Not sure if we're doing dessert, but if so, it will probably be a fruit crisp. The Hot Cross Buns will be for breakfast. :)

Have a fun and veggie-filled weekend!



Discovery of the day: Conflicted, much?

Oh, I am so in trouble. I'm getting the baking bug, which is a Very Bad Thing. I was snooping around the Artisan Bread in Five site and decided I desperately want to make a batch of brioche dough and whip out some Hot Cross Buns, and maybe some cinnamon rolls, for Easter.

It doesn't matter that I don't really celebrate Easter. It doesn't matter that the last thing I need is approximately FOUR POUNDS of eggy, buttery, brioche dough in my possession. I really, really want those damned Hot Cross Buns!

Strange but true: When I was little, my favorite nursery rhyme was Hot cross buns, hot cross buns, one a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns... I'd never ever had them and didn't even know what they were, but there was something about the word 'bun', I guess. Apparently I was a future carb-aholic in the making from the get-go.

Will I do it? We'll see. If I do, I'll swap a cup or two of the AP flour for whole wheat flour for which may assuage my conscience a little. And I could probably palm some of the goodies off on friends, if I can pry them out of my SO's hands.

Or not.



Discovery of the day: An opportunity to serve

Let's be frank here. I'm not a super-social person. I have a very small circle of close friends. Two or three is a circle, isn't it? And they don't all live on the same coast, either.

But even though I don't have a hopping social life, I do care about people I know, even if we're not close. I just don't put those thoughts and feelings into action like I should. I have good intentions, but am lousy on follow-through.

This weekend I have an opportunity to actually do something of value for someone I care about. This person is kind of special to us -- she's one of only a very few people who knew both me and my SO before we got together. We've been intending to socialize over the past couple of years, but everyone's busy, and blah, blah, blah... well, you know.

Anyway, she is having surgery for breast cancer today and my SO and I are bringing dinner over for her and her husband on Easter. I've been talking to her daughter (who's about my age) about preferences and quantities and such, and I think it's going to work very well since the foods they're thinking of match nicely with stuff we like to make. There will be a Big-Ass Ham, of course, and per their request just a few simple veggie sides. I can do that!

I'm anxious for them, hoping that they make it though today with minimal stress. And I'm happy for the opportunity to be of service to them.



Discovery of the day: Not the worst choice

I still haven't figured the salad thing out so I'm still scrambling for lunches most days. I bring leftovers if I have them, and one day a week I hit the (expensive) salad bar at the fancy pants grocery. Other days I've taken to running to the store for a frozen entree.

I was pleased to learn that Kashi has entered the frozen market. I haven't done the research so I can't prove they're nutritionally superior to any other frozen meal, but they do have interesting vegetarian choices, which sucks me right in.

Nah, they won't be mistaken for homemade, but they're not bad. I like them because they are portion-controlled and contain whole grains. Close enough, and I'm guessing they're a better choice than a Whopper Junior.


BYOB: English Muffins

For my first try at making English Muffins, I chose Alton Brown's method. Not a whole grain in sight, but the recipe seemed approachable for a first attempt and reviews were generally favorable. And I like Alton Brown. :)
Of course there were a few modifications: I didn't have powdered milk so I used powdered buttermilk. It took me a while to work out the conversion since I figured it couldn't be 1:1 and besides, powdered buttermilk is expensive! After much head-scratching, it worked out to six tablespoons of buttermilk powder, which still seemed like a lot, so I used five tablespoons. I set the dough up the night before and let it rise in the fridge overnight. That seemed to work just fine.

Next morning, I made rings out of aluminum foil following instructions in one of the reviews. I started with two scoops of batter, using a #20 disher as instructed. They cooked up well although they were tricky to turn because the dough was so wet. Two scoops produced some thick muffins! I could only do three at a time on my small griddle so for the second round I used 1.5 scoops of dough. That seemed to work better, although to be fair they do shrink a lot after they're cool. Probably the hardest thing was keeping the cast iron griddle temp near 300 degrees on the electric stove. Argh! That alone got me thinking about buying an electric griddle, although I have no other use for one. And if you watch Alton Brown, you know how he feels about uni-taskers.
The verdict? They looked right and tasted OK, although I swear I could taste the buttermilk powder. In hindsight, I would cut it back to three tablespoons. What I missed, though, was the chew. Even though they had the 'nooks and crannies' we expected, they were rather delicate -- almost biscuit-like -- and lacked the tough, chewy texture I enjoy in an English muffin.

One of the reviewers said these were actually crumpets, not proper English muffins. I don't know from crumpets, but that may be it.

Will I make them again? Probably not as written. I want to look for a version that is at least partially whole-grain, with a heartier texture. And if I could bake them in the oven, that would be a total bonus.

But I made them myself, and the family ate them. BYOB Score!



Discovery of the day: Avgolemono again

I'm actually becoming quite fond of the Greek Lemon/Egg soup (aka Avgolemono) I mentioned a while back. I have a complicated relationship with eggs, and anything that hints of an unusual (to me) usage makes me nervous. So for me to develop a liking for this soup shows that I have grown as a human being, right? OK, maybe not. In any case, it works.

We each have specific dishes that are 'ours' to cook, and this is my SO's. He made it again last night, adding 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa to the stock and cooking it mostly to done before adding the rest of the ingredients. (He remembered to swap the proportions of cumin & turmeric which are obviously wrong in the recipe.) He was going to incorporate some of the ingredients from Mark Bittman's version in 'How To Cook Everything' but we didn't have any carrots. Next time.

The other change I'd like to make eventually is to use home-cooked chickpeas instead of canned. I think the taste of home-cooked would be much better. I'm a big fan of canned beans and all, but in this case I think it would make a difference.

So when we get our final version figured out, I will post it here. In the meantime, it is definitely Project Weeknight-worthy.