Friday, December 11, 2009

Shifting gears

I think it's about time I change things up around here-

I haven't been posting much lately- in fact, I think I went almost a year between posts at one point before coming up with a few new things. But I want to start posting a lot more stuff soon. Problem is, I don't often come up with new 'recipes' or items that are 1. my own, and 2. interesting enough to share. But I've noticed a gradual change in my eating habits over the last six months or so. I'm getting further and further away from store-bought, pre-packaged stuff and more and more into making as much stuff from scratch as is practical. Things like tortillas (both corn and flour) hot sauces, soymilk (and other non-dairy 'milks') bread, yogurt, mayonnaise... pretty much anything that isn't too complicated or expensive to make myself. I even checked out grain mills to see about making my own flour, but decided that that's not really feasible for me at this time (due to a variety of factors, cost being the among least of them). So probably starting sometime in January (December being the busiest month of the year for me) I plan to start posting about the stuff I've made from scratch. Nothing fancy, nothing schmancy, just the simple stuff I make on a regular basis for myself and anyone who happens to be near me and hungry. Not that I'll be posting a lot of stuff or anything- once, maybe twice a month on average- but if I've made something from scratch and liked it (as I did recently with flour tortillas) I'll write something up about it and post the recipe and any changes I might have made, as well as where I found the recipe (if it wasn't something I came up with on my own). I think it's going to be fun. I'm looking forward to it. Homemade is always better (and healthier and cheaper?) than store-bought, and it also doesn't always have to be time-consuming (Artisan bread in 5 minutes a day, anyone?) In fact, I'm somewhat of a lazy cook, anyway. It's not that I just want to get in and out of the kitchen in 10 minutes; I have no problem spending hours prepping and cooking, but I want to strike a balance between time and simplicity. I don't like making complicated stuff. I think the most complicated thing I've made were those tacos I blogged about awhile back, and those are actually quite simple- it only looks complicated when you read about it; actually making them is no big deal. So anyway, here's to making much more stuff from scratch in 2010. Also, I'm always eager to hear about anyone else's experiences, so if you make your own- whatever (doesn't even have to be food, really- I'm going to try making my own version of Burt's Bees Hand Salve pretty soon) please, leave a comment and/or a link to a recipe- I'd love to hear about it!


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Leftover D-lite (vegetarian, even)

(yes, also first posted at Friends of Rutabaga...)

Had some zucchini, yellow squash, and plain ol' spaghetti in the fridge, left from an experimental dish the other day, and was thinking about sautéing up the squash and probably throwing away the pasta (there was so little of it left, just a small handful). But here's what ended up happening:

I heated up the cast-iron skillet and melted some butter in it. Tossed in the squash, along with a pinch of salt, some chopped garlic, and crack (aka MSG). Cooked that for 2-3 minutes, then threw in the pasta. After a couple more minutes, in went a small handful of chopped cilantro. Stir, stir, smell, drool. Then came a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Taste test- oh yeah, how you doin'?
That would have been good enough, yes sir, but did I stop there? No I did not, because then I added a splash of soy sauce. Taste test- ooh, now you're talkin', baby.
And that would have been good enough, yes sir, but did I stop there? Oh no, I did not. That's when I brought out the big guns-

Oil Chili!

A little pricey (I paid 3.25 for a little under 10 oz.) but the stuff is crazy, sick delicious! Well worth it if you can find it. It takes whatever you use it on/in to the next level.

Final result:

(The color's not so great because my home has the worst lighting ever, but the stuff was D-lish! And easily configurable to whatever else you have in the fridge waiting to get used up.)

Cheers, mates!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Magical Salad

Hello kids, and welcome back to another delicious episode of How's it Taste? Today we're going to make a magical salad, and I'm sorry to say, but no, it's not that kind of magic. At least not when I make it. What you put in it is totally up to you. I won't tell a soul, promise. No, the reason I call it a magical salad is because it reminds me of a couple times when I saw some magician on tv do a really awesome trick and I thought, 'Wow, that was really great, but how the heck did he do it?' and then he proceeded to show the audience exactly how he did it, and then I'd think, 'Man, that was so simple. Why didn't I think of that?' Well, in this case, I did think of it, and I love it so I want to share it with whoever happens across this blog.

In an effort to start eating healthier and maybe even lose some weight in the process, I've been cutting out the potato chips with lunch 5 days a week, and substituting some fresh veggies or salad. Most of the time it was just romaine and tomatoes with some salt and pepper and a light dressing of some sort, but then one day at work I threw together the following:

cucumbers, seeded
tomatoes, seeded
kosher salt (sea salt is awesome too!)
black pepper (preferably coarse)
rice vinegar

Magic! That's how good it was! You should totally try it, you won't be disappointed.

Normally I just throw it all together and go with it, but since I decided to post this here, I actually kept track of the cukes-to-tomatoes-to-avocado ratio, and ended up going with the following-

1 medium cucumber
2 largish roma tomatoes
1 avocado

(It's enough for one decent-size salad. I ate the whole thing in one go, but you could make a side salad for two with it.)

Peel the cucumber, if you like. I do those alternating peels you see on the cucumber rings at salad bars and stuff-

Seed the tomatoes and the cucumber, dice and mix up in a bowl. I think it's better to mix them together now before adding the avocado, so as to avoid mashing the avocado too much.

Dice up the avocado- here's how I like to do it:

In the skin, after you've removed the pit.

You just make a bunch of thin slices one way, then turn it 45 degrees and do it again, then you can scoop them all out with a spoon, lickety-split. I also recommend using a not-very-pointy knife, such as a butter knife or something similar, at least for the first couple of times until you get a feel for it. Using a chef knife, it's pretty easy to stab/cut yourself through the avocado skin.

Add a generous amount of salt and pepper and give a couple quick tosses with your fingers, then add some coarsely chopped cilantro and give a couple more. It's pretty damn good just like this, but you can take it to a whole other level by drizzling some rice vinegar over it too. I like it both ways, so I tend to eat half without, then add the vinegar and finish it.

It's Super good and Super healthy- you control the amount of sodium, and it's fairly low-fat. I'm not sure exactly how much fat is in an avocado, but since it's considered one of the 'good' kinds, I have no problem eating as much of this stuff as I like. Try it out and see what you think. Also, if you're not a cilantro fan, give it a go with basil, or your other favorite herbs. I haven't tried anything else out yet, but I imagine they're just as good!

Until next time- if there is a next time- Bon Appétit!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Curry Love

Many months ago, I bought a bottle of curry powder at Sam's Club. I'd never really used curry before, but I'd been wanting to try it out and see how I liked it. So I promptly proceeded to let that bottle sit in my spice drawer for months, until a week or two ago, when I came across this awesome page of pumpkin recipes via Stumbleupon. One of the links was to a pumpkin curry soup recipe, so I tried it out at home and really, really liked it. Then I ended up making it for the soup of the day at work one day. Except I did what I usually do, and made way, way too much. Like gallons and gallons of it. (I tend to cook either just enough for one or two people, or enough for dozens. There is no in-between.) Not really a problem, I just threw the leftover soup in the freezer for another day. But then the next day I was thinking that I could take some of that leftover soup and mix it with some alfredo sauce, coat some chicken in the curry powder, and make a pumpkin curry chicken alfredo pasta for a daily special. Two birds with one stone- use up some of the soup, and have a new special to run. Sounded good to me! Well, I didn't end up using the soup, but what I came up with was pretty close, and maybe even better than the soup would have been anyway. It's a versatile curry-squash, hummus-like sort of dip, which I did use in the curry-squash-chicken-alfredo pasta, which came out super totally delicious! I don't have a specific recipe (though I'm going to try and come up with one sometime) only vague amounts based on what I remember doing. Here's how it all came about: when I went into the freezer to get out the leftover soup, I noticed that I had some butternut squash that was leftover from some butternut squash soup I had made awhile back. So I grabbed that as well, thinking I could use that up, too. And I also just happened to have some extra tahini and garbanzo beans in the cooler. Now, I know very little about Indian food, but those items seemed like they'd go good in whatever I was going to make, so I grabbed them and headed for the kitchen. Again, absolutely no recipe, but here's a list of ingredients-

Frozen butternut squash cubes
Garbanzo beans
Curry powder
Olive oil
Coconut milk

Looking good, no? So basically all I did was just throw all that into a food processor and mix away. Sadly, I didn't record any amounts of anything. But look how simple the ingredient list is! Stuff that anyone can get nowadays, so all you have to do is pretend that it's all salt and pepper and just 'add to taste,' right? Ok, possibly an oversimplification, but that's basically what I did. But here are some vague amounts based on my weak old-man's memory, if you're interested.

Approx. 1 1/2-2 c. garbanzos
1/3-1/2 c. tahini
1-1/2 c. butternut squash
Squirt of olive oil (2-ish Tbs.)
1 can/2-ish cups coconut milk
Dash of salt and pepper
Curry powder to taste. I wasn't even trying to pay attention when I added that stuff, so I have no idea how much I used, but it was a lot.

The olive oil might not be necessary at all, I just added it because it felt like I was making hummus, and you always add olive oil to hummus. (Except that this was at work, so it was 80/20 soybean/olive oil. I hate that cheap stuff. I'd never use it at home.)

So that's the basic Curry Love 'recipe.' It's super, super tasty on it's own. And versatile too, because you can eat it straight (I sure did!) or with pita bread or crackers; you can add it to alfredo sauce (which I also did) and make some alfredo-curry chicken pasta. It has a slightly sweet taste to it, due to the butternut squash and coconut milk, so I'm sure it would go well in muffins or quickbreads. I have no doubt it would make an interesting pie. Sweet or savory, it's delicious either way. Try mixing it up and adding cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, fenugreek, turmeric, or whatever else strikes your fancy. Maybe try different types of curry powders. The stuff I used just said 'curry powder' and was the common yellow kind you see everywhere. Also, I used Tones brand, which I think is a pretty decent, though maybe not great, line of spices. I know I was really happy with this stuff, but I imagine I'd really be loving it if I'd used, say, Penzey's, or had taken whole spices and ground them myself.

At some point (when I get around to it) maybe in a day or two, I'll add the alfredo recipe in here that I used. It's pretty simple and easy to make, and is way better than most stuff you'd get out of a jar- though I'm not exactly an alfredo connoisseur, so I don't know how it compares to other recipes out there, but I think it's pretty decent.

Until next time- if there is a next time- Bon Appétit!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tom Kha Kai (aka Thai Chicken Soup)

Haven't posted here in a long, long time... and it might be awhile before I do again; if I come up with anything new, I'll post it here, but there's only a handful of stuff I like to make, and so I just keep making those same few things over and over. This is one of those things, and I think you'll like it.

(and if you somehow wandered over here from Friends of Rutabaga... yes, I just brought this over from there.)

Anyone who knows me, or has ever been cooked for by me, knows that, man, I really love Thai food (anything with an Asian feel to it, really.) And while not my absolute favorite Thai dish, I still love me a giant bowl of Tom Kha Kai.

Being that this is a soup, there's any number of ways to do it. Here's my way:

(Those chunks of chicken-nugget-looking things are the galanga)

What we have here is the following:

Thai bird chilis
Kaffir lime leaves
Scallions (white parts)
Sea salt
Black pepper
Brown sugar
Fish sauce

Specific amounts, you say? Recipe? Why, I have no idea what you're talking about; I just eyeball the amounts. If it looks right, it is right. And if it's not right, I'll know it when I taste it, and adjust accordingly (I'm generally, though not always, of the opinion that recipes are for cookbook authors and culinary scaredy-cats).
So, cook this down in a little bit of oil, just until soft, you don't want to brown it. Next, add some coconut milk and chicken stock (I used the low sodium kind for this) and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes. (For the total volume of soup, I used approx. 32 oz. each of coconut milk and chicken stock, and added a little less than half each for this part.)

Afterwards, strain out all of the liquid into another container, dump the veggies, and return the liquid to the pot. Add the rest of the coconut milk and chicken stock, taste and add more salt, pepper, brown sugar, fish sauce accordingly, then add the diced (raw) chicken.

(Pro tip: chicken, beef, etc., is so much easier to slice and dice when it's partially frozen!)

I think I used about 1 1/2 lbs. or so for this batch. Chop up some mushrooms of your choice- I used fresh oyster mushrooms, but most anything will do- and add those to the pot. Add in some bamboo shoots- I was lucky enough to have some fresh, thinly sliced and slivered ones on hand, and used about a pound. I'm sure water chestnuts would be delicious, but I didn't have any this time (except for that one small can down in the basement, but I didn't feel like bothering with it). Also, at this point I added a couple tablespoons of crack (aka MSG) because I really like the stuff. Apparently, though, some people have issues with it. I'm glad I'm not one of those people. Let simmer until the chicken is cooked all the way through, and then dish it up, adding copious amounts of cilantro and Thai basil as a garnish-

Although, I think copious means something different for me than it does for other people- I practically have a salad on top of mine.

This is the first time I've used Thai basil with this soup; before, I'd always just gone with cilantro (mainly because when I used to make this for myself before, I didn't have easy access to the Thai basil). I highly recommend it. This particular batch was Out. Standing. Fairly easy to make, and make consistently good. Pad Thai, for me, is always hit or miss- sometimes great, usually just ok. But every time I make this, it always ranges from Very Good, to I Want To Marry Whoever Made This. Substitutions generally work well, too. Where I used Thai bird chilis, if you can't get those, you could definitely go with crushed red pepper. I don't know of any fresh substitutes for Galanga, Lime leaves, and Lemongrass, but the dried versions are relatively easy to come by via mail-order, or even at a lot of co-ops and grocery stores nowadays, and are usually reasonably priced. Not as good as fresh, obviously, but better than nothing. When I can afford it, which is almost never, I prefer sesame or peanut oil for cooking the veggies at the beginning (coconut oil would also be excellent) but in this case I just went with canola.

Finally, it's not a recipe, but here are the approximate amounts I used for the ingredients listed:

Galanga- 1 medium finger/knob
Lemongrass- 1 stalk
Garlic- 2-4 Tablespoons
Thai bird chilis- 5-6
Kaffir lime leaves- 8 leaves, or so. (would've used more, but the rest had gone bad)
Scallions (white parts) - 1 bunch
Ginger- 1 medium finger
Sea salt- 1 T
Black pepper- 1 teaspoon
Brown sugar- 2 T
Fish sauce- 2-4 T
Coconut milk- 32 oz
Low-sodium chicken stock- 32 oz
Diced chicken- 1 1/2 lbs.
Oyster mushrooms- 8 oz.
Bamboo shoots- 1 lb.
MSG- 2 T
Cilantro, chopped- 1/2 C
Thai Basil, chopped- 1/2 C

¡Buen provecho!