Saturday, November 29, 2008

Oatmeal Latkes

I don't throw away food easily. Usually, that's a virtue, sometimes it just gets in the way, and the refrigerator gets a little tough to navigate. The other morning I made some steel cut oatmeal, and had some leftover, so I dutifully put it in a plastic container for another day, with no idea of what I would do with it...perhaps figuring I'd just beep it some morning.

Well, tonight's dinner was to be a hodgepodge of leftovers, and I was pushing the oatmeal aside to get to other things in the fridge when the idea of shaping them into patties and pan frying them started to form. It just continues on the idea of savory oatmeal. I've done this with leftover mashed potatoes before, so why not oatmeal?

I heated up the cast iron skillet, put in a few tablespoons of canola oil, plopped the stiffened oatmeal mass onto the cutting board, and found I didn't have to form them, I just had to cut them into pancake shaped disks. Fry on medium-high (turned down to medium after a bit) and flip when then start to brown.

They were good. Not great, but good. Some salt and pepper helped. What would have really helped would be some minced onion. So next time, I'll try to have the presence of mind to add some minced onion before I put the mess into the fridge. Or...maybe just sprinkle in some onion powder -- that'll just give it a little more interest. Or, just fry them up with some onions in the skillet. I ate them by themselves, as an appetizer, but they could easily be a side dish.

It could also be served like potato latkes, with some apple sauce, or something else on the sweet side, even some maple syrup, brown sugar or cinnamon. But I think I'll stick with the savory them for awhile.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Breakfast Redefined

Thank you food blogging community.

The thing I love most about this blogging adventure is that it's not just about the experimentation, the writing and the photography, but about the collaboration and sharing that is happening, spreading culinary ideas around the globe as fast as people can blog and comment.

Case in point. Steel cut oats with egg. Consider this journey.

It's getting cold, and I've been eating oatmeal more frequently in the mornings, and had worked off last winter's supply. Shopping list in hand, at Trader Joes, I headed over to the oatmeal, and instead of buying the usual rolled oats, I bought the steel cut oats -- which I'd never made before (or even eaten).

Next morning, excited by my new acquisition, I was all set to put in a large bowl, add some water and salt, stick in the microwave for 2.5 minutes, and add some agave nectar and dried fruit -- just like I usually do with my oatmeal. Until I read the directions. Thirty minutes on the stove top. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Stir occasionally. I was NOT going to do that on a weekday morning, so I abandoned my plan, and had a bowl of cold cereal (I was even out of granola, which I often have with milk warmed in the microwave, when I'm not in the mood for oatmeal). I figured the steel cut oats experiment would have to wait until the weekend.

Then I saw this Tea and Food post about savory oatmeal. Encouraging readers (not for the first time) to skip the sweet and revel in the savory at breakfast. Hmmmm. I thought I'd give that a try. As soon as I bought some more of my old standby rolled oats.

In the comments to the original post, though, Karen B mentioned making steel cut oats in a rice cooker. !. I could do that, even on a weekday. Roll out of bed, put oats and water in rice cooker, hit the button, then proceed with other morning activities. A half hour later, my oats would be ready. And indeed they were. For my first foray into steel cut oats, and I decided to take the traditional path. Agave nectar and a banana. Wonderful. Great texture. Great taste. A keeper. The oats did foam a lot, overflowing the top, making a bit of a mess, but not really so bad that I wouldn't do it again.

I mentioned this all to Susan, who said: "Cheesy Grits"! She'd been doing this for years. Grits, cheese, salt and pepper. Perhaps an egg on top. So we proceeded to have that yesterday morning, with that sage cheddar that she hordes whenever she finds it. Delicious. She's always trying to get me to have grits, which I now realize after many grit adventures with Susan is way more tasty than the sorry looking puddle of white tasteless stuff served with eggs and bacon in the South Carolina hotel I stayed at 25 years ago and prejudiced me against grits for a long long time. (We didn't have grits growing up in New York). Someday I'll fill you in on Shrimp and Grits.....but not today.

Today was the day to try the savory steel cut oatmeal, done in the rice cooker. Easy as can be. 1/3 cup of grits. 4/3 cup of water (that's four-thirds). A half hour, and presto. When it's all done, fry up a sunny side up egg, add salt and lots of black pepper, and that's a tasty hearty breakfast. Which I will do again and again. I may even try cooking the egg on top of the oatmeal itself, as Tea and Food's Aaron suggests.

But beyond all this, when I had first read about the rice cooker steel cut oatmeal, I decided to do a little browsing to see if others were on board with this technique, and indeed they were. And some have been using a slow cooker, started the night before, and ready by the time you wake up. That'll be the next experiment. Stay tuned.

So...thanks to Aaron, Karen B. and the forgotten web site that suggested the slow cooker. Breakfast just got a lot more interesting.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Weeknight cuisine in a flash - Part 2 - Warm Slaw

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Once I got that red cabbage going last night, I was in the mood for more. I had seen a bunch of recipes using red cabbage in a slaw, with all sorts of interesting dressings, some Asian inspired. Sounded good -- I was set. But when I got home, it was COLD...and I wasn't going to munch on cold cabbage. So I thought, why not warm it up a bit. Just a light saute, heat it through, done.

So I took that pile of ingredients you see up there: red cabbage on a rough chop, cilantro, ginger, carrot, little bit of jalapeno, and dumped it all in at once to a heated skillet with a little olive oil, and sauteed just for a couple of minutes, till the veggies brightened and were warm...barely starting to wilt. A pinch of salt, some sesame oil and rice wine vinegar, and I had a tasty side dish to go with the leftover steak and couscous.

Weeknight cuisine in a flash - Part 1

Anatomy of a weeknight meal. Two steaks picked up at McKinnon's over the weekend, needing to be eaten or frozen. Checking the blogs and assorted online food resources at lunchtime at work for Steak au Poivre....representing one of the best meals I ever had when in Paris. Susan coming after some drinks with a friend. Getting the basic gist of it. Not hard, and I didn't expect it to be. But I did pick up a good hint about how to crack those peppercorns....back end of a cast iron skillet. And some thoughts about the sauce. Unbeknownst to me, the sauce is usually made with Cognac...which I just happened to have picked up a bottle of the other day....but the directions said that it would probably flame up, and I wasn't in the mood for dealing with that (I hadn't ever done flaming food). Other sites suggested red wine as a good substitute, which was great, because I had an open bottle under vacuum seal waiting to be used.

Susan and I were both starving, so we munched down some caponata from Trader Joes with a few crackers....instant satisfaction, and gave me a little time to play. Get some TJ's Israeli couscous mix in the rice cooker (cool stuff...10 minutes, and it's got nice colorful addins). Chopped some onions and red cabbage for a simple saute, and got to cracking those peppercorns...which took a little longer than I thought it would, but was effective. Salt and press the peppercorns into the meat (rump steaks), and I'm ready to hit the heat. Cast iron skillet...a little cooking spray, make it hot, and 3 minutes per side. Wave kitchen towels under the smoke detectors (the fan over my stove vents into the kitchen....not helpful). When cooked, remove to a plate, and add some wine and butter to the skillet and reduce to a sauce. (I was supposed to use shallots, but I didn't have any). Serve. Done.

Next time I'll cook the steaks a tad longer...but the flavor was great. The shallots will make a nice addition, but really, the were very tasty....with one leftover for the next day.

With the kitchen smoky and us starving, I didn't stop to take a picture. Sorry!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pumpkins and cranberries

Susan introduced me to pumpkins. Of course I'd always eaten the seasonal pumpkin pie at the right time of year, but I never took pumpkins seriously. Nor squash for that matter, but pumpkins...certainly not. I've since learned that they can be made to taste great, and their great for you. And you can get pumpkin right out of a can, to use anytime you feel like it. Susan has a whole recipe book of pumpkin. It's orange.

So the other morning, I saw the cranberries that had been in the freezer since last year this time. And I had several cans of pumpkin that I picked up at whole foods for 99 cents a can, and I thought that these two November-like ingredients should go together. I can't say that I'd ever seen them together in one dish. Sure...cranberry sauce for dinner and pumpkin pie for dessert, but never all in one. So I riffed on my standard pancake recipe, added half a can of pumpkin, some chopped cranberries, and we had pumpkin cranberry pancakes. They were tasty, but something was wrong. The pancakes never quite set right. They were still mushy the texture of pumpkin meat. Maybe I used too much pumpkin...I'm not sure, because Susan and I successfully did pumpkin pancakes at her place one day.

But that left a half can of pumpkin in the fridge waiting to be eaten, and inventing pumpkin-cranberry bread seemed like just the thing. Except that a quick web browse found LOTS of such recipes, so I guess I wasn't the first to think of this (so why hadn't I seen it before?)

Choosing a recipe from among the many options is a fascinating process. I wanted something with whole wheat, and most of the recipes used white flour. I'm not quite confident enough to transpose white flour to whole wheat yet. Some just didn't appeal. But one was perfect. It used the orange juice I bought the other day just in anticipation of this project. And the buttermilk I had leftover from some other project. And just cinnamon, so I could show off that Vietnamese cinnamon I bought the other day. And only a cup of pumpkin, which I figured was pretty much what was left in the can. Sold. The original recipe was at this site devoted to spas. It goes to show, you don't ever know. But it was a good start. Here's what I ended up doing, based on the fact that I had orange juice, not concentrate, and lemon zest, not orange zest, and frozen cranberries, not dried.

And I didn't wait until it cooled completely to slice it. Come on...really now. That would've been tomorrow morning.

Pumpkin Cranberry Bread

1-1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz/235 g ) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup (5 oz/155 g) whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup (8 oz/250 g) butternut squash or pumpkin puree
1/2 cups (3 1/2 oz/105 g) packed light brown sugar (I used Turbinado Raw Sugar)
1/2 cup (4 oz/125 g ) plain nonfat yogurt or buttermilk (buttermilk for me)
1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed (Just OJ, not concentrate)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon grated orange zest (lemon's what I had around)
1 tablespoon canola oil
3/4 cup (3 oz/90 g) dried cranberries (frozen...and probably a full cup...I just wanted to use them up).

Lightly coat an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2 (21.5-by-10-cm) loaf pan with vegetable oil spray. In a large bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a blender or food processor, combine the squash or pumpkin puree, brown sugar, yogurt or buttermilk, orange juice concentrate, egg, orange zest, and canola oil and process until smooth. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the squash or pumpkin mixture. Stir just until blended; do not overmix. Stir in the cranberries and scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for about 5 minutes; turn out onto a wire rack and let cool completely.
(I didn't have a food processor, and didn't feel like getting the blender messy...using a whisk worked just fine)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Freeze it in

I grew up with the phrase "freeze it in". These three words represented a simple philosophy of shopping, cooking and kitchen management, that meant....cook way more than you need when you can get something, and put the extra in meal-size packages in the freezer for another day. Growing up, the goods that were frozen were typically a variant on pot roast -- either brisket, or veal breast. Now, in my own kitchen, it can mean anything. The bean/squash mole from the other day? Now frozen in, to be extracted when I'm in the mood.

At the end of this summer, Susan and I found ourselves with a bumper crop of basil, meaning it was time for pesto making. There are many ways to make pesto, pick your favorite, but we had way more than we could use in a few days, so we froze it in. In ice cube trays, with one cube about enough for a dinner. (Do not mix Parmesan cheese in with the pesto can add that when you serve). Pictured up there, next to that frozen, cooked shrimp (Trader Joes takes the frozen in thing to the next level).

The problem with the freezer is remembering whats in there, but when you do, you're in for some fun surprises. So, I had two remembrances of late summer in the last few days when I extracted the pesto. The first was a little unusual, but surprisingly good. The second, a bit more traditional.

Potatoes, Kale, Chicken - and Pesto

In the spirit of "what I have lying around", this was a solution to using up the Kale that had been leftover after a few other meals. The red potatoes had been patiently waiting in the cupboard for an appropriate opportunity, the frozen chicken pieces had been in the freezer for months, needing to be used up...and the big bag of pesto cubes was begging for a chance at something besides pasta.

This was a straightforward preparation, sauteed onions, thinly sliced potatoes over medium high heat. I had hoped that the potatoes would cook quickly when cut so thin, but the took their time, so I turned the heat to low, covered the cast iron skillet, and let them steam a bit in the moisture from the cooking vegetables. About 10 minutes later, I was able to add the cubed chicken meat, then the kale, cooking until the kale shrunk a bit. When the chicken was cooked through and the potatoes tender, I removed it all from heat and added the defrosted pesto. With some shredded Parmesan on top, it had a savory, flavor and succulent texture that was a pleasant surprise.

Pesto, Pasta, Shrimp
The next dish was more straightforward. Whole wheat pasta served with defrosted pesto and defrosted cooked shrimp from Trader Joes. And some shredded Parmesan with a dose of freshly ground black pepper completed the preparation. Hard to beat for a quick meal, but all made possible from the little bit of effort at the end of the summer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Derivative works

At least half the fun about blogging about my food adventures is sharing in the adventures of others. We're all out there cooking...scouring our recipe books, or our fridges and pantries...looking for inspiration. We're also looking at each others posts. Since we're all doing this in real time, we're all cooking with seasonal produce, food that's appropriate to the season. So there are times you see what other bloggers have posted, and you think...I HAVE to make that.

Such was the cast a couple of weeks ago, and the reason I have that luscious looking butternut squash up top. Squash was one of those things I just stayed away from....too much work. I was always afraid I'd slice my hand off cutting them open and peeling them. And those seeds were such a pain to remove. But then I saw this recipe on 101 Cookbooks called Borlotti Bean Mole with Roast Winter Squash. Squash, beans, kale. I had to make it. And risk severing my hand. (They do have peeled and cubed squash available from the grocery, but Whole Foods had butternuts on sale...)

Fortunately, Susan's sister was in town, and she doesn't eat meat, so I had the perfect excuse to make my version of this. Truth be told, I followed the recipe pretty much verbatim, but I substituted in Anasazi beans (which I could find in the local health food market) for the borlottis (which I'd never seen, much less heard of). I won't repeat the recipe, because it's done in nice detail in the original.

I will give some warning though...make sure you're willing to spend the afternoon. When I fell in love with this recipe, I hadn't quite figured out how much time it would take. But, after you've soaked and cooked the beans, which you can do ahead of time, it was about 3 1/2 hours, start to finish. Which was no problem at all, because I had plenty to do at home, and the house smelled great. But this was one time where I had to sit down with the instructions and lay out a time line so that I could figure out how far in advance I had to start.

It was all worth it. I'd never made a mole before, and it was fun chopping up the chocolate, dumping it in the pot, and watching it slowly disappear, coating everything with chocolate and infusing it with a rich, slightly sweet, but not too much, flavor. And a little heat from some long red peppers I had lying around made it perfect.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


To me, beets had always been those pickled red disks in salad bars. Or, the base of the borscht that my Dad used to pour out of a bottle, topped with a dollop of sour cream. The borscht thing never appealed to me. And the pickled beets were OK, but I wouldn't go through a lot of effort to create them. And they always just seemed like too much work....especially peeling them when they were hot. But then beets were on one of those lists about the things that you should be eating. And I found out you can eat the skins. And the greens. So....I started exploring with beets.

The thing about beets is that you've got several meals there, with the greens and the bulbs. I understand that the greens are pretty much the same thing as swiss chard, but grown for the bulb instead of the leaves, but that you can eat the leaves too. I started out simply. On the first day, I make something -- a stir fry usually -- out of the greens. And while I'm doing that, I boil the bulbs -- let them cool, stick them in the fridge, and have them the next day. They don't need anything else, they're so sweet. No salt, no vinegar, no nothing. Just slice 'em up and eat 'em. Just like that.

The other day I was in whole foods and they had some huge beet bulbs attached to some very nice greens (see the picture above), so in the cart they went. First I gave the bulbs a nice scrub with that new vegetable scrubber -- aren't they pretty like that? The greens got fried up with some onions, garlic, ginger, parsnips (cut thin....I'll need to post about parsnips one of these days), a small crown of broccoli I had lying around, and some tempeh that I'd been dying to try. Simple stir fry, but very tasty.

While that was going on, I graduated from boiled beets to roasted. As I've said before, roasted veggies rock. The thing about beets though, is it's difficult to know how long to cook them. I've learned to take them out before they seem to be soft, because they continue to cook in their own heat even after you remove them. A little olive oil (not even any salt), and roasting for about 1.5 hours and I had some very tasty beet quarters.

I popped a few in my mouth right after my stirfry, and kept the rest in the fridge for later. To eat cold, or hot, or even cut up into another stirfry a couple of days later. This time with cabbage, carrots, onions and kielbasa. And I just popped the last two in my mouth today, a week after.

Moral of the story...don't be afraid of beets!