Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Minted Quinoa Fruit Salad

OK! It's been a few days since I've blogged. The Sony digital cam hath shit the bed and I couldn't find the HP. (I prefer the HP, actually, funny, cheaper camera but MUCH easier to use...go figure)

Anyway...we're getting ready to go on a road trip and I wanted to take something good, different and healthy along for our friend. So, searching around the web I found a Quinoa fruit salad. Hrmmmm, sounds really good. Except I had none of the things their salad called for...so...screw it, here goes!

If you've never had quinoa before, try some. It's really very good, albeit it a bit bland. But a VERY healthy alternative to rice and other starches. Quinoa is 12-18% protein, so it's a very friendly 'grain' for vegetarians. Quinoa isn't actually a grain, and is more closely related to the beet than wheat or oats. The seeds are harvested and cooked, although the greens can be eaten as well.

I've only done quinoa as a savory dish before, with sausage and onions, a bit of cumin, it's delicious! So, this was going to be a bit of an adventure. One I'm glad I took, it's delicious! Added to the fact that you get dairy from the yugurt, fruits from, well, the fruit and all that protein, bonus...something good that's good for me for a change.

So, here we go...I had on hand oranges that needed to be used before they went off, some blueberries, mango juice...so...we have orange mango minted quinoa salad. Use whatever fruits you have handy...well, as long as they go well together. I don't think I'd want watermelon or other melons in this...but...apples, banana, strawberries, kiwi...whatever you have on hand. In a pinch, canned mandarin oranges would work.

First, I cut the orange into supremes. This is not as difficult as it sounds, and really, you should do this for all citrus fruits being put into a salad. First, cup the top and bottom off the orange, through the pith but not too deep into the flesh, like so...

Then, cut from the top down the sides, removing peel and white pith, like this...

Now, holding it in your hand, cut on one side of a section, then down the other, the orange section, sans membrane, will drop into your bowl underneath. (Oh yeah, do this part over the bowl unless you want them going SPLAT onto your counter top)

Minted Fruit and Yogurt Quinoa Salad

1 C uncooked Quinoa
2 C water
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 C Plain Yogurt
1 Tbls Sugar
1/3 cup fresh mint (I'm spoiled, it grows wild in the back yard)
2 Tbls Mango juice (or orange, or pineapple, depends on what you have)
4 oranges, Supremed
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (or strawberries, or black berries, or,...)

Put 2 cups water, 1 cup quinoa and 1/4 tsp salt into pan and bring to boil. Cook for 15 minutes or so, until water is absorbed and quinoa is translucent and you can see the root around the edges. Remove from heat.

Pull the leaves from the mint stems and rinse. Chuck the mint, juice, sugar and yogurt in the food processor and pulse it until the mint is finely chopped.

Add fruit and yogurt dressing to bowl and mix. Add the cooked quinoa and fold it all together. Chill for 1-2 hours.

Yum! (OK, if you aren't used to or familiar with quinoa, it may look a bit odd. Trust me. Yum. Try it. It's good for you! And really, I don't care how good something is for you, if it's gross, I won't eat it. I love this!)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

OK! We bought 1/2 gallon of vanilla ice cream to go with all the hot fruit desserts. But, sometimes there is just no substitute for a dish of vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup. Just like when you were a little kid. Or a glass of cold chocolate milk. (Chocolate or Strawberry is actually the only way I will drink milk. Ugh, cow juice!)

The milk thing goes back to my early childhood. My mother, gods love her, was all about saving some money. Growing up in the 70's, meatloaf meant 1/2 TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein, remember that?) and...to save milk...she made 1/2 gallon of evaporated milk and mixed it 50/50 with regular milk. (She did this late at night after we were asleep, as she knew we would INSTANTLY say, "No way!" if we knew. Guess what? We knew.)

That was actually one of the ONLY battles I won as a child. I HATED the milk. There were many nights of, "You are not getting up from that table until you drink your milk!" I sat at that table until bedtime. She finally asked our pediatrician in desperation what to do. His response? "Does he eat a balanced diet? Does he take a childrens multivitamin? Does he eat cheese? Don't make him drink it then!" Score one for enduring loathing!

So, I looked in the fridge and realized that we were almost completely out of chocolate syrup. With the reading of the ingredients (first thing? High Fructose Corn Syrup), I decided to look around and see if I could find something else. I mean, how hard could it be, even with the corn syrup, the ingredients are nothing!

I found this recipe from "The Complete Tightwad Gazette" by Amy Dacyczyn. Hrmmm, this looks really easy! And I can use our fair trade, evaporated organic cane sugar! We found this stuff at Costco. LOVE it! It melts and dissolves beautifully, measures the same. It tastes sweet, but somehow not AS sweet and a LOT better. I don't think we will change to anything else. Granted, it was about 8 bucks for 10 pounds...not a LOT more than just sugar.

Here goes...how EASY is this?

1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Mix the cocoa and the water in a saucepan. Heat and stir to dissolve the cocoa. Add the sugar, and stir to dissolve. Boil for 3 minutes over medium heat. Add the salt and the vanilla. Let cool. Pour into a sterile glass jar, and store in the refrigerator. Keeps for several months. Yields two cups.

It's delicious! And pretty rich, you do not need much for a glass of chocolate milk, maybe a teaspoon!

Oh, and use at least a 2 Quart sauce pan. This WILL boil up. I now have to clean the burner and drip pan on the stove. What a mess. Although, the caramelized/burning sugar and cocoa smelled kind of good! (I would have taken a picture, but the camera had powered down and it was a choice of stopping the fiasco or waiting for the camera to power up. Guess which I chose?)

This fit perfectly into a molasses bottle saved from the ginger bread baking at Yuletide.

So, maybe 15 minutes of your time and you have a really nice chocolate syrup that, yes, it is still almost pure sugar, but...it's REAL sugar...and I really have no problems with real sugar, other than we all eat too much of it. But...if you want some chocolate syrup, you want some chocolate syrup!

Try it! Let me know what you think? I know I won't buy this stuff again!

Just tried it now that it's fully cooled. The only change I would make...I doubled the salt from 1/8 to 1/4 tsp...for me that tiny bit of extra salt brings out the taste. Perhaps it's the organic sugar, but I will go 5 minutes on the boil next time, it's DELICIOUS but just a TOUCH thin, not terribly noticeably more than the store bought, but...OMG it's good!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Instant" Blueberry Crumble and Grilled Fruit Desserts

OK. (Yeah, OK!) More of those wonderful inexpensive frozen bags of frozen fruits from Dollar Tree. I had a good day and made some money (always a good day, right?) and wanted something a little sweet for dessert after the most amazing steak dinner. Not the healthiest, but...a 2" thick steak seared on the stove top grill, some skin on garlic mashed potatoes and some french style green beans. It was good, I mean come on...it was the big ass thick rare steak with garlic, salt, pepper, beautiful grill marks, crisped on the outside and so juicy....(OK, I'm making myself drool). But after, with my cup of coffee, I wanted something sweet. Then I remembered, there's still a half a bag of blueberries in the freezer...

I still don't understand why people think cooking is something magical, or "I don't have time to cook". Our mothers did it every day of our childhoods. Cooking does not have to be this huge hassle or trash your kitchen. Seriously, this took all of two minutes to get oven ready. I had to wait for the oven to finish preheating.

Learn a few basics. Some basic knife skills, some basic techniques and the sky is the limit. This blog will continue to explore both adventurous cooking, as well as some really wonderful come home from work and get a delicious home made meal on the table in 45 minutes or less. Without trashing the kitchen, without breaking a sweat.

Please, learn to cook some basic things. We are all killing ourselves with packaged and processed meals. Once you get over the fear or belief that you don't "have time" to cook and realize just how damned easy it really is, and how much BETTER it tastes when you made it yourself, controlled what went INTO your meal and your body...you cannot beat it!

Anyway, this is the easiest damn thing to make. And who doesn't love a hot bubbly fruit crumble, all gooey and sweet with a crunchy streusel type topping? You can use any fruit you desire for this. Berries, peaches, cherries, apples...it's all good. I made this one in a small corning ware dish. This is a more "eyeball" recipe than anything. You will dirty, in the course of making this, a bowl, a spoon, a fork and the baking dish. I mean, come on, just dump the stuff in there, go on you really can't mess it up! This made 4 small (well, correctly portioned ROFL) servings. A nice bit of something sweet after a wonderful meal. OK, the picture is 1/4 of what it made, but we'll go back and kill this off before bed, I just know it.

1 cup (give or take) frozen blueberries
3 Tbls sugar, divided. (We found a wonderful organic sugar!)
1/3 cup of flour
2 Tbls butter
dash of cinnamon
pinch of salt
(optional 1/8 cup chopped pecans or walnuts)

Preheat your oven to 350. Pour the frozen fruit from the bag into the dish. Sprinkle with 2 Tbls sugar, use a little less if desired. Sprinkle with a dash of cinnamon. In a small bowl, add the flour, butter, 1 Tbls sugar, pinch of salt and another dash of cinnamon. Mash with a fork until the flour is incorporated and it is crumbly, mix in the chopped nuts if using. Sprinkle it over the blueberries. Put it in the oven and let it go for 30-35 minutes until the topping is nicely browned and the blueberries are hot and bubbly.

Remove from oven and let it cool for 10-15 minutes. (There is nothing more horrible than scalding your tongue on molten berry lava!) Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Admit it, you want it. Make it. Tell me about it.

Fruit Cobbler Graham Crumbles are easy on the grill as well. We do this when camping and cooking out often. Make them ahead and let them cook on the coals while you are eating the dinner.

Take heavy duty foil and make a square for each serving. In the center of each square of foil, place 2-3 Tablespoons of graham cracker crumbs. Add about 1/2 teaspoon of butter on top of the graham crackers. Place a scant quarter cup of cut fresh or frozen fruit on top of this. Sprinkle with a small teaspoon of sugar, a dash of salt, nutmeg, cinnamon. Bring corners of foil up to meet each other and twist or fold to close. Set aside until after the meal is cooked on the grill. while you are eating, nestle the packets either into the dying coals, or on the lowest grate height in a moderately warm part of the grill. They will take 10-20 minutes to cook, depending on how hot your coals remain and whether using fresh or frozen fruit. You should see some steam escaping, or poke into one and insure it is hot and bubbly.

To serve, remove from coals or off grate, cut open the top of the packet in an "X" and fold open the foil. (Watch for steam!) Add a scoop of ice dream and you have a delicious fruit dessert on from the grill. The butter and graham made a crust, the sugar and fruit become soft and bubbly...what a wonderful way to use fresh fruits of summer! (And not heat up your kitchen!)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pecan Crusted Chicken with Peach Basil Wine Reduction

OK. Yes I am aware all my bloggings are starting with OK. I think it is better to start any project with an "OK!" attitude rather than "Oh, what fresh new buggery hell is this?". Just sayin...

We have a friend coming over for dinner tonight. As you know, I've been loading up on the frozen fruit from Dollar Tree. So...what to make? I have a bag of peaches in the freezer and I'm thinking Pecan Crusted Chicken Breasts with a Peach Basil White Wine Reduction over them. A friend dubbed this "Ode to Georgia Chicken"

Years ago in Maryland, there was a group of us working in a call center, all confirmed foodies. I came up with this recipe during our play back then and I really liked it. The only tricky bit to this one is making sure your chicken breasts are pounded evenly and thinly so they cook quickly before the pecans burn. But, if you can manage it...so worth keeping in your repertoire for a quick one to impress guests. (Keep your burner moderate. Enough heat to make it sizzle but not enough to incinerate) This one is a simple dish that has such a unique combination of flavors I'm sure you'll like it.

Unless, of course, anyone is allergic to nuts. Then...this dish could KILL THEM! Always be careful. Check with your friends first. If any of them are allergic tell them to not even DRIVE past your neighborhood while you are cooking this, as anaphylaxis inducing nut scented fumes could radiate for miles when you turn on your exhaust fan. (I don't worry about the neighbors, they think I'm crazy with the drum circles around the fire pit in the back yard and stuff anyway.) Nuts and nut oils are more toxic and dangerous than Propecia, nuclear waste, anthrax and all the chemical weapons in the world combined. Do NOT send your child to school with these left overs. They will call the bomb squad and shut down the entire school district while they search for the Juglandacaen threat!

I always carry a peanut in a shell in my pocket now. In case I am attacked. If you get in trouble, simply whip it out and scream, "I have a peanut and I'm not afraid to shell it!" 9 times out of 10 your attacker will flee. Carrying a peanut in this manner is also a good way to hold your place in a line or keep someone from taking a parking space. Peanuts are more dangerous than unattended luggage in the airport.

Oh! The other bonus on this dish...it holds well. You can cook your chicken ahead of time and keep it warm in the oven, while the sauce holds on the stove until you are ready to plate. I love being able to entertain with the majority of the work done and the kitchen cleaned. It makes people think you are magical to produce all this food from a cleared and cleaned kitchen!

Anyway, let's cook.

Pecan Crusted Chicken Breasts with Peach Basil Wine Reduction

4 boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts
12 Oz Whole Pecans or Pecan pieces
¼ C Flour
½ tsp Garlic Salt
½ tsp Pepper
2 large Eggs
¼ cup Milk or Buttermilk
4-5 Tbls Butter
4-6 fresh Peaches (frozen will work)
½ C White Wine (Mead works well)
¼ to ½ cup water or wide (if needed)
4 Tbls Brown Sugar
4 leaves fresh Basil, cut thin chiffonade
small dash Nutmeg
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Peel peaches and slice into sections. Place into heavy pot and add wine, brown sugar, nutmeg and basil. Bring to boil and reduce heat to low and simmer until flavors marry and wine/peaches reduce. Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired once sauce has reduced. If reduction becomes too thick, add more water or wine. You want a thick sauce that will cling, not a watery peach soup. Set aside and keep warm.

Pound out chicken breasts to an even 1/2" thickness.

Process pecans in food processor with a few pulses, do not powder the nuts, but produce a medium grind. (Think the size of Instant Coffee Crystals). Place crushed pecans on plate.

In bowl, beat egg with milk or buttermilk. In separate bowl mix flour, garlic salt and black pepper.

Dredge chicken breasts in flour. Dip into egg/milk mixture, BACK into the flour and then into the crushed pecans. Press pecans into flour and egg clinging to chicken. Continue for all 4 breasts. Set chicken on plate and allow to rest at least ten minutes.

Heat 4-5 Tbls of butter in heavy saute pan over medium heat. Cook and brown 2-3 minutes and turn. Continue browning and cooking another 2-3 minutes until chicken is done through and pecans are nicely browned. Unless you have a REALLY large pan, cook 2 at a time, do not crowd the pan. Cook to an internal temperature of 160*.

Remove chicken from pan and drain on paper towels. To plate, place one chicken breast per service and spoon over the peach wine reduction.

Serves 4

* If you do not have an instant read thermometer, stop now, go get one. Seriously.

(You could use a healthier oil for this instead of butter, but the butter gives a nice flavor and helps you keep the nuts from burning. If the butter will burn, so will the nuts.)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Rum Glazed Blueberry Banana Bread

OK, Dollar Tree. Frozen food section. I can't help it. While I am all about local, slow food...the deals in the Dollar Tree frozen food section are amazing. I have been keeping stocked with 2 cup packages of frozen blueberries and peaches. The frozen broccoli is some of the best I've ever had. It is probably horribly laden with something I don't want to know about. But...in these times and money tightness...I am NOT going to pass up ready to use good frozen fruit like that, since fruit desserts are some of my favorites!

We had a half bunch of mini bananas about to just go completely black...so...I started thinking banana bread. Naturally. Then I thought...Blueberries, why not! (I started searching for recipes and found this one for Best Banana Bread on another bloggers site. Go figure she suggested blueberries as a stir in as well. I made few changes, added some rum, floured the fruits) And...Rum Glazed Blueberry Banana Bread.

Rum Glazed Blueberry Banana Bread

2 medium bananas, the riper the better
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 ¾ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ cup vegetable oil
1/8 cup milk or buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbls rum or rum extract
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and flour your loaf pan. (Doesn’t Bakers Joy rock?)

Peel and mash the bananas with a fork in your mixing bowl. Mash them well, until they are shiny. Don’t worry about getting them completely smooth. (Don’t use a mixer at all for this recipe!) Add the eggs and whisk with the fork. Add the sugar and whisk for a few minutes until starting to thicken a bit and the sugar is dissolved.

Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl. Measure the oil, milk, vanilla and rum into another bowl or measuring cup.

Mix dry and wet ingredients into banana and eggs. Start and end with dry.

If using frozen, rinse blueberries WELL until the water is running as clear as it is going to get. If fresh, just rinse. Shake berries to dry them and sprinkle with a little extra flour. Pour flour coated blueberries into batter. GENTLY fold in until evenly distributed, bring your spatula down the side and up through the center, turn the bowl and repeat. You only want to do this a few times to evenly distribute the berries. Too much and you will turn the batter blue!

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Tap sharply on counter a few times to get out any air bubbles and level batter. Bake at 325 for 60 to 70 minutes. When done, top should be cracked and feel set when pressed, or a toothpick comes out clean. You want this JUST cooked and still moist.

Let rest from oven 10 minutes and run a knife around the edges of the pan. Turn out onto cooling rack.

Glaze this with some rum glaze if you like, or just butter and eat it.

Rum Glaze

¼ cup butter
¾ cup sugar
3 Tbls Water
3 Tbls Rum
Mix all in sauce pan and bring to boil. Boil three minutes stirring constantly. Watch for boil over right after it first comes to boil. Pour over banana bread.

Bento - Free lunch from the bag!

My Bento

OK, this one is gonna ramble a bit...I'll try to make it as cohesive, but...

A few years ago I was working as a telecom contractor. I was living in my RV about two hours from home. JUST too far to drive home every day, and I had per diem so...It was a great experience. I had ordered a Bento box a few months earlier (J-List has some amazing bento boxes, just be prepared to wait a bit as they ship from Japan) My fascination with Bento and Japanese culture began with my Reiki practice. I really think the two best ways to get to understand a culture are to eat with them and learn their food traditions and to sit and get stinking drunk with them!

Anyway...I was growing tired of the cafeteria foods for lunch and the RV gave me the luxury of being able to cook my own meals, but just brown bagging every day...sigh. You all know that feeling. Everyone is going out to lunch, ordering deli sandwiches and you are trying to save money...so out comes your brown bag. Well...why not spend 15-30 minutes after dinner and pack leftovers into a Bento for tomorrow?

When I began I was massively surprised...the bento box looked SO small when it arrived. I thought I would never be able to pack enough food in there to satisfy my fat ass appetite! Wrong! There were many days I could not finish it. My co-workers said it was my "Amazing Clown Car Lunch Box" as the food just kept coming.

Roast pork with chutney over rice, tea died hard boiled egg, two cheeses in tomato cup.

It is very easy to make your own bento. Just think of your left overs. If you are having a roast...cut off a small piece for your bento the next day. Take your small piece and slather it in miso and let it sit while you cook and do the rest of dinner. After dinner, scape the miso off your meat and grill it in a hot cast iron skillet, nice and med rare inside good crust out. Let it rest and slice it thin. You have your meat for your bento the next day.

Miso Beef, seafood salad, rice balls, melon and nectarine salad

I cook a lot of rice, and sushi rice is very easy to make (Rival makes a great 6 cup rice cooker, small, convenient and does a good job), so, Onagiri (rice balls) could not be easier to make. Make your sushi rice (OK, here goes, it's not 'traditional' but its good. Put your short grain rice in the cooker. Add about 1/4 to 1/2 tsp sugar, a splash of mirin and a slash of rice vinegar then fill with water to the markings.) Wet your hands with some salted water and shape the rice into triangles, blocks, whatever shape your heart desires. Onagiri is a staple of bento.

Get a Bento, do a little playing around and start looking at your lunch tomorrow with a different eye! Remember, Bento is supposed to be as delightful to your eye as it is to the palate. Traditional food ratio on Bento is 4:2:1, four parts rice, 2 parts protein, 1 part other. A more common now is a 1:1 on rice and protein, just enjoy it!

Some great places to start...
My Lunch Can Beat Up Your Lunch!
Bento Boxes: Japanese Meals on the Go by Naomi Kijima

Go forth and Bento! Share your own pics or ideas!

Enchiladas Poblanos (in about 1/2 hour)

Ok, I was playing around in Fresh World and they had jar mole sauce. I couldn't resist, I love mole and enchiladas poblanos (rolled enchiladas filled with shredded chicken, mole, tons of cheese and raw onion), so I couldn't resist trying the ready made mole. I'm glad I did!

This made 8 enchiladas, servings for 4.

8 flour totillas store bought or make your own!(recipe below, so easy!)
2 boneless skinnless chicken breasts
Adobo Seasoning (in any grocery spice aisle)
4-6 ounces fresh cheese.
(Queso Fresco, Queso Blanco, I used some left over Fontinella, a good melting soft white will do)
1 medium onion diced
1 jar Goya Mole Sauce
3/4 + 4 Tbls cup Water
2 Tbls Corn Starch

Sprinkle the chicken breasts with Adobo and place in microwave safe bowl. Add 2 Tbls water. Microwave on high 3 minutes. Turn breasts over and microwave another 3-4 minutes until cooked. Shred in the bowl with two forks. If meat is not fully cooked, microwave another 1-2 minutes. Set aside.

Mix Mole according to directions. 1/4 cup of jarred sauce to 3/4 cups of water. Bring to simmer to fully dissolve. Slowly bring to boil. Mix 2 Tbls corn starch and 2 Tbls Water. Whisk into mole to thicken. (I wanted it to really cling to the dish)

Grate your cheese and dice the onion. Take one tortilla, put 1/8th of the chicken in the middle, sprinkle with cheese, add the diced onion. Spoon over this 3-4 tablespoons of the mole. Roll one side over and pull tightly (without tearing) and fold the other over. Place into lightly oiled 9/11 baking dish. Continue until all 8 tortillas are used and lined in the pan. Drizzle 1/4 cup of mole over. Sprinkle cheese and onions over all and place in 350 degree oven until hot and bubbly.

Spoon 2-3 tablespoons mole onto serving plates. Place two enchiladas on each plate. Sprinkle with cheese and a few onions (so you have melted and non melted on top)


Flour Tortillas

Seriously, so easy...

2 cups flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup warm water

Flour for dredging

Mix flour, salt, baking powder in bowl, stir in oil and mash with fork to consistency of meal. Add water and mix into smooth dough. Get your hands in it. Wrap in plastic and allow to sit for 1/2 hour (or until ready to cook).

Divide dough into 12 pieces and roll into balls. Heat a cast iron skillet to just over medium.

Drop ball of dough into flour and begin to roll out on counter. MUCH easier than splashing flour over the whole counter! Roll from the center up, and back down, turn 1/4 turn and repeat. Turn over and repeat. Continue (dipping in the flour again as needed) until the tortilla is thin, just under 1/8 inch. Drop onto hot skillet. Cook until it begins to bubble and starts to look dry. Check underneath, it should be nice and white with brown spots. Turn over and repeat, pressing down with a spatula after turning. The entire cooking time is maybe just over a minute. If it is taking longer, roll them out more thinly. While one is cooking, roll out the next. It takes about 10 minutes to roll and cook the entire dozen.


OK, I've decided to start blogging the culinary explorations, diversions and massively random cooking I enjoy. Sharing my recipes, both found and created, tips and tricks I've learned. Sort of a random place of meals and desserts, whatever has tickled my taste buds. From simple fare made quickly after a long day of work to more elaborate adventures or bento to take to the office.

Follow along and enjoy...the failures should be as much fun as the successes! (And I promise to post the botched god awful things as well!)