Monday, January 31, 2011

Happy Birthday Joel, Ole`!

Joel's birthday was earlier this month, but we finally got around to having his party yesterday.  He picked Mexican food as his theme, and I will be sharing the dishes we prepared this week.  It was a big success, and we have lots of yummy leftovers for the week's lunches!
I love to use Mexican food to entertain, as it often is make ahead, and there aren't a fussy lot of ingredients in the dishes.  I am still kind of slow moving, and have to rest often, so I made most of the dishes the day before.
We had a taco bar set up, and served a marinated slaw salad, and a fruit and panela salad, but the main dish was the beef ancho chile (see earlier post for the recipe for Spaghetti Western).  My good friend Mel brought a crock pot of green chile from the Laredo in Rawlins (YUM!) so people had a choice between the spicy green and the milder red.
At Joel's favorite Mexican restaurant, they always serve a marinated cabbage slaw as a condiment.  We all really love it, and I think I've finally nailed down the recipe.  It is definitely a make ahead, as it needs to develop in flavor, as does the fruit and panela salad.

El Sol Slaw

1/2 head green cabbage, thinly shredded
3 large grated carrots
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/3 C rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Combine all the ingredients, and put in a sealed container to store in the refrigerator.  Much better the second day, so make ahead!

Panela is a hard white cheese with a very mellow flavor.  It pairs really well with fruit, and with the color contrast of mango and honeydew melon, it was a pretty addition to our buffet.
Tajin seasoning can be found in your grocer's fresh produce section.  It is a blend of chile, lime and salt.  If you can't find Tajin, you could substitute a sprinkle of chile pepper, and salt.
Agave nectar is a syrup that has a low glycemic index, so doesn't cause the spike of blood sugar common to other sweeteners.  It could be replaced with sugar or splenda. 

Mango, Melon and Panela Salad
4 ripe mangos peeled and diced
1 honeydew melon peeled and diced
1 pkg panela cheese diced
zest from one lime
juice from 2 limes
3 T agave nectar
1/2 tsp tajin seasoning
In a large salad bowl, add all ingredients and toss.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  Toss again before serving.   

Jalapenos can be very mild and tasty if roasted in the oven.  I stuff mine with Queso Fresco cheese mixed with Neufchatel cheese,  but we have also made them with cream cheese mixed with parmesan.
The hardest part of making these healthier version of Jalapeno Poppers is splitting and cleaning the chiles.  You need to split them length ways and cut out the white membrane and remove the seeds for stuffing.  We have family that shy away from anything spicy, so I also stuffed smaller sweet orange and red chiles.
These poppers are an easy do ahead recipe, and can be either served hot from the oven, or at room temperature.

Jalapeno Poppers

6 large firm jalapenos
2 pkgs small sweet red and orange peppers
1 pkg Queso Fresco cheese crumbled by hand
2 pkg Neufchatel cheese softened
1 tsp garlic Mrs. Dash seasoning
Split chiles and remove membranes and seeds.  In a medium bowl, mix together remaining ingredients, and stuff into chiles.  Place on baking sheets and bake in 350 F oven for twenty to thirty minutes, or until peppers have softened, and cheese is slightly brown.  Serve either hot or at room temperature.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Easy Sour Pickles, Even In Winter!

When making pickles this time of year, it is darn near impossible to find pickling cukes, so I have found the the English cucumbers that come wrapped in plastic make wonderful pickles.  If I can't find them I'll use the waxy skinned ones and just peel them.  They aren't as pretty, and don't stay as crisp as the English ones, though.
Pickles are so easy, and you can pickle lots of different vegetables and fruits besides just cucumbers.  I love the hot pickle mix that has cauliflower and celery and those little onions.  I can easily make a batch of three quarts of those to have without having to drag out my big canner, by just storing them in the refrigerator.  They'll be gone in a couple weeks anyway, so why bother.  Once you master a spice blend you like, and have a basic pickling liquid, you can pickle all year round.
They make a great hostess gift to take when dining at someone's house, and last a long time in the fridge without losing quality.  Plus you have the satisfaction that you've made them yourself!
I discovered Ball's pickle crisp a couple of years ago, and have been very impressed by how crispy my pickles come out.  You can presoak the cukes in a solution of water and pickle crisp, but I just add it to the jar before pouring in the hot pickling liquid. 
I recently had a heart surgery, so I am restricted in the amount of salt I can ingest.  This causes a problem for me in that I am a pickle nut.  I panic if we are running low on pickles, and it is my snack of choice for any time of the day.
Well, I am trying to be good, but still need my pickle fix, so I found a recipe for no salt sour pickles and have adapted it to my taste.  Below is the recipe:

No Salt Sour Pickles

5 or 6 English Cucumbers, sliced thin
6 sprigs of fresh tarragon
6 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 large onion sliced thin
3 heaping T minced garlic
1 tsp coriander
2 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 quart white vinegar
3 C water
1 T sugar or splenda
12 whole cloves
1 tsp alspice
1 1/2 tsp Ball Pickle Crisp per jar
Place the sliced cukes and onions in 3 sterilized canning jars.  Add the fresh herbs, garlic, and pickle crisp.  In a saucepan, heat the remainder of ingredients until boiling, and pour carefully into the filled jars.  Using a spatula, release any air bubbles.  Seal and let the pickles cool to room temperature before storing in the refrigerator.  Store at least one week before serving.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My Sourdough has Bought the Farm

I have been "under the weather" lately, and haven't been doing the normal baking and cooking I usually do.  Consequently, my sourdough has died.  It sits on my counter lifeless with a layer of black ooze liquid on top.  I feel a tremendous amount of guilt, as I had cultivated a very tangy and tasty starter, and now I will have to start over.  Poor little bugs.  I neglected them to death. (Don't let the HSUS know! They'll file a lawsuit against me!)
All is not totally lost.  I can do one of two things:  Try to rehabilitate the old starter and hope some spark of life is left, or start fresh with a new one.  To rehabilitate a dying starter, I would stir it up, black gunk and all, and add a cup of milk and a cup of flour.  After 24 hours, I would pour off half that starter and add milk and flour again, until I get a bubbly fresh starter going again.  It could take several days to bring it back to life, which means wasting a lot of milk and flour.
It seems at this point, it would take several tries to get this baby alive a kickin' again, so I will opt to dump it down the sink (great for your septic system, if you live out of town) and start over.   Here is my recipe for sourdough starter:
Sourdough Starter
1 C plain yogurt with active cultures
1 C milk that has been scalded and cooled
1 1/2 C flour
1 tsp yeast
Mix all ingredients together with a whisk in a plastic or glass jar/container.  Let the mixture set out in a warm place for 24-48 hours, (uncovered) or until it becomes bubbly and smells sour.   If at any time your starter turns pink, throw it out and scald the container before using it again.
You can store this in the fridge for a week without feeding it, or leave it on the counter if you use it frequently during the week, just remember to add a cup of flour and a cup of warm water to feed it, every time you use it, and at least once a week.

With this starter, I can provide my family with tasty warm breads and cakes that are much cheaper than buying store bought.  It really doesn't take much more effort to use sourdough in my pancakes, or make up a batch of refrigerator biscuits, or fill the freezer with waffles to pop in the toaster.
I have about three or four standby recipes that I use every week, but you can add sourdough to any recipe.  You just add 1 cup of sourdough, and reduce the liquid and the dry ingredients by 1/2 C each.  You can also add in a cup of sourdough to store bought cake mix, or brownies, and not reduce the ingredients, and get a very moist and tangy product.  Just follow the directions on the box, and add the 1 C sourdough also.

Sourdough Refrigerator Biscuits

1 T yeast proofed in 1/2 C warm water
6 C flour
1 T baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 1/2 t salt
3 T sugar
1 C Crisco or Lard
1 C Sourdough starter
2 C Buttermilk

Cut shortening into dry ingredients, in a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients, and add to flour mixture. Turn into a greased 10 C plastic container with a tight fitting lid, and store in the fridge. This is good for five days if kept cold.
To make biscuits, take out desired amount of dough, and pat out to 1/2 inch thick on a floured board. Cut biscuits, place on a baking sheet or pizza stone with sides touching, and let rise for half an hour. Brush with melted butter, and bake at 400 for 15-18 minutes. This makes about five dozen light as air biscuits.

You can make a quick starter the night before, if you are wanting to make sourdough pancakes for a special occasion, but don't want the responsibility for keeping a starter full time.  Just use 1 C warm water, 1 C flour, 2 T sugar and 2 1/2 T yeast.  Mix the ingredients up in a bowl the night before, and then dip out 1 C of starter and make the pancake recipe below.  
I like to use this recipe instead of a more traditional one where you make the "sponge" the night before, and then measure out 1/2 C of the mixture to put back in your starter.  I am not disciplined enough to remember to set out the sponge, so I just dip out of my starter jar and make these. 
Sourdough Hotcakes
1 1/4 C flour (I use a whole wheat) 
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 T sugar
1 egg
1 C sourdough starter
2 T oil
about 2 C buttermilk, (just add it until you get the desired consistency)
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl with a whisk.  Fry on a hot greased skillet until lightly golden brown on both sides, and serve with hot syrup and butter, or stewed spiced apples. 
As I bake this week, I'll add more sourdough recipes to the blog, and take pictures.    

Friday, January 21, 2011

Spaghetti Western

Today's pantry star is spaghetti squash.  I love them for the fact they keep so long.  I grow enough in our garden to last all year long, and keep them in the cool lower shelf in my under the stairs pantry.  Spaghetti squash is a nutrition powerhouse:  low in Saturated Fat, and very low in Cholesterol, a good source of Niacin, Vitamin B6, Pantothenic Acid, Potassium and Manganese, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber and Vitamin C.
There are several recipes I make regularly with spaghetti squash.  There are two preparations I use for spaghetti and other hard skinned squash to use in recipes.
Oven baking:
Split the squash lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds with a metal spoon.  Drizzle with oil or a pat of butter and cracked pepper, and place cut side up in a baking dish that has an inch of water in the bottom.  (It keeps the squash from getting over browned).  Bake at 350 F for one hour, or until the squash "squashes" when you squeeze it together.  For spaghetti squash, I let it cool and shred the fibers with a fork, making it look like a pile of pasta.
Microwave steaming:
Place cut and cleaned squash half into a large zip lock bag with a couple of T of water.  Poke the top of the bag to vent steam, and microwave 3-4 minutes until the squash gives to pressure.  Cool and shred with a fork.
I have a few favorite recipes I use:  in a cold salad, to make a vegetarian spaghetti using buttered squash in place of noodles, and our new favorite is a slow cooker chili over the top of the baked spaghetti squash.

Spaghetti Squash Salad
Cooked and cooled squash pulp
2 diced green peppers
1/2 diced red onion
1/4 C cider vinegar
2 T sugar or splenda
2 T corn oil
salt and pepper to taste 
Combine all ingredients, and chill before serving.  Better if made a day before using!

*This next recipe uses enchilada red sauce, made from dried Ancho chiles.  To make the sauce, combine 1 quart/box of low salt chicken stock with 6-8 dried anchos that you have cut in half with scissors, and removed the seeds and stems.  Bring to a boil in a saucepan, and reduce the heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes.  Blend until smooth.  This makes the richest, mild chili with a lot of spice, but not so much heat.  
Spaghetti Western
1 # ground beef
2 cans mexican stewed tomatoes 
1 40 oz. can of pinto beans with jalapenos and it's liquid
1/2 grated yellow onion
homemade enchilada sauce* (above)
Place raw hamburger in the bottom of the slow cooker, and break up with a spoon.  Top with the remaining ingredients and cook on high for 8-10 hours. About an hour before serving, add 1 C salsa (I used tomatillo, as I have homemade on hand). This adds a fresh tang. 
An hour before supper, I put the spaghetti squash in the oven to bake.  I serve a bed of spaghetti squash topped with the chunky beef chili in large soup bowls, with lime and hot sauce.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My Kind of Baking!

I have a few favorite baking recipes, that are easy and not fussy at all.  This is what we're up to today:  A chocolate brownie/cake for supper, and cookies for later in the week.  I will also throw in my pie recipe.
It is lazy baking, I know, but you won't miss the work when you eat it!
Don't be afraid to use premixed baking mixes as a base for your own creations.  

Chocolate Cherry Cake (Brownies)
1 chocolate cake mix.  (I don't have a particular favorite, just what's on sale on shopping day.)
1 can cherry pie filling
Mix the dry cake mix with the pie filling and pour into a greased 9x13 pan. You can add an additional egg if you like fluffier cake rather than the dense moist cake you get from the lack of egg.
If you want brownies rather than cake, top the batter with a package of semi sweet baking chips.
Bake at 350 F for 30-35 minutes, or until cake pulls away from the sides of the pan. 

Lemon Crackle Cookies
Lemon Cake Mix
1 C Rice Crispies
1 egg
1 stick of real butter melted
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients.  Shape into balls, and place on a cookie sheet.  Bake at 350F for 12-15 minutes until set.  Cool a bit before transferring to a wire rack. Also good with white cake, or for kids, the kind that has confetti sprinkles.

Lemon Snowflake Cookies
1 Lemon Cake Mix
1 C of Cool Whip
Powdered sugar

Mix cake mix and cool whip.  It should not be a stiff batter, so you may need to add a little more cool whip until a soft batter is achieved.  Handling the dough gently, make into soft 1" balls, and roll in powdered sugar.  Bake on a greased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart, 10-12 minutes at 350F.  When these bake, they spread, and the powdered sugar makes them look like snowflakes.  I have also made these with spice cake, and chocolate devil's food with good success.

Poor Man's Pie
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1 stick of melted butter
1 C of self rising flour
1 can of pie filling
In a glass 9 inch pie pan, mix the melted butter, milk and flour with a fork until well blended.  Into the middle of the batter, pour a can of pie filling.  Bake at 350 F until the batter is springy, and pulls away from the sides. Scoop out servings with a big spoon, and serve with vanilla ice cream.
If you don't have self rising flour, just add a pinch of salt, and a tsp of baking soda and 1/2 tsp of baking powder to a C of flour.  

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Case Lot Sales!

This morning, I am pouring over the case lot sale advertisement.  It is really good timing, as my stash of canned goods has dwindled, and I need to restock.
There are two good reasons to buy cases of food:  Convenience, and savings.  I can save up to half the cost of canned vegetables and fish, and significant savings on fruit and other canned goods.
The key to stocking up on canned goods is to only buy it if it is something you regularly use.  It's only a savings if you use it! 
It is so nice when I am planning weekly menus, to have the building blocks for my meals already in the house.  It means an initial cost, but buying case lots a couple times a year means I will have a shorter grocery list, and spend less in my weekly budget on my shopping day. 
I think store bought canned fruit tastes like the metal can it comes in, so I personally would not choose to buy it.  However, my husband likes to take cans of fruit in his lunchbox, so I will be purchasing pears and peaches and mandarins for him.
Beans make up the bulk of my canned vegetable stash, as they are so versatile. I buy a variety of canned beans, but not necessarily whole cases, except for green beans.  I always have kidney, white beans, garbanzos, pintos, and cannellini beans on hand. 
In a pinch, canned beans can work for quick meals if we have unexpected company, we don't get back until late, or I forgot to thaw out the meat for a meal.  (It happens)  I can put together a soup, salad, chili or casserole in no time by using these gems.  The bulk of our bean consumption is canned green beans.  I can get fresh green beans almost year 'round in my grocery store, so for a side dish I would use fresh or even frozen green beans, with one exception:  the recipe at the bottom of the page. I like canned beans to use in soups and stews, or salads. 
I also buy cases of sliced mushrooms, and low sodium corn. Some foods should not be canned, and in my opinion, canned peas top the list.
We eat a lot of tomato based foods, so I will buy 2 cases each of diced and crushed tomatoes, and the little cans of tomato paste.  When I can my own tomatoes, I can them whole in their own juice, but diced or crushed are a better value in store bought tomatoes.  Why pay for all that water? 
I will also buy low sodium tomato juice by the case if I can get it.  I stopped buying canned tomato soup years ago, when we discovered that we could make a much tastier and healthier tomato soup by using tomato juice or V-8 and a few herbs and spices, and it took no more time than heating up a can of store bought soup.  We also eat tomato juice based homemade soups like Minestrone, Cioppino, and Manhattan Clam Chowder quite frequently in the Autumn and Winter.
We eat a lot of canned fish.  I buy tuna, oysters, salmon and clams by the case, but I also keep several cans of anchovies and sardines on hand.  
I had a bumper crop of tomatillos and hot peppers two years ago, so I still have lots of salsa.  I use it often in cooking, and I would consider buying salsa by the case if I didn't have homemade already in the pantry.

Tonight we are having Grilled Lamb Chops.  I like to serve a rice with lamb, and will use today's pantry star- canned green beans for a delicious side dish.  As I said above, I like fresh or frozen beans for side dishes, but this recipe is better with canned.  My favorite vegetable is the green bean, so I was crazy for this when my mother in law made it for me.  

Baked Green Beans with Tomato

2 Cans/pints of green beans and their liquid
1/3 C ketchup, or 1 small can of tomato paste
1slice of cottage bacon* diced
1/2 yellow onion diced

In a skillet, render the bacon in a small amount of olive oil.  Add onions and cook until transparent.  Add green beans and their liquid, and stir to get the browned bits off of the bottom of the pan.  Add in ketchup, and once mixed, pour into a greased casserole dish.  Bake at 350F uncovered for about thirty minutes.   Can be made ahead, and freezes nicely before baking.  Ketchup with beans sounds weird, but is surprisingly good!  Made with tomato paste, they are equally good. 
*Cottage bacon is a meatier, leaner cut of bacon, (from the shoulder I think), that is similar to Canadian Bacon.  We get ours from our local butcher, but I am sure if you ask, you can get it in your regular grocery.   

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Baking From Scratch

It was my husband's birthday last week, and we had his party this Sunday to celebrate.  We had eighteen guests, which makes for cramped quarters in my small house, but as usual, everybody had a good time.  It is after all, mostly about the fellowship.

Of course the star of the party was the cake(s).  I baked two:  Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, and Sourdough Brandied Cherry Cobbler. The Carrot Cake was the sugared version, and I made the Cobbler with Splenda, as I am diabetic. 

Both of these recipes are easy and NOT fussy, so would be a good choice for a beginning baker.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting:
In a large mixing bowl, sift together the first 5 ingredients
2 C Cake Flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
In another bowl combine the following until well mixed: 
2 C sugar
1 1/2 C oil
4 whole eggs
Add this to the batter:
2 C grated carrots
1 8 1/2 oz. can crushed pineapple drained
1/2 C raisins (dusted in a little of the 2 C of flour to prevent them sinking to the bottom of the cake).
Add in dry ingredients until fully incorporated. Pour into a greased 9 x 13 baking pan, and bake at 350 F for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
1/2 C butter softened
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese softened
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 pound of confectioner's sugar

Cream the butter and cream cheese, and add the vanilla and powdered sugar.  Beat until soft peak stage.

Sourdough Brandied Cherry Cobbler:
2 cans/ pints cherries in water
3 T cornstarch
1 tsp cinnamon
1 C Splenda ( or sugar)
1/3 C Brandy (or so, )
In a cold saucepan, combine the liquid from the canned cherries with the cornstarch with a whisk.  Add the cherries, and the cinnamon and sugar.  Bring to a boil and simmer until thickened.  Add Brandy, and cook a couple minutes more, and then remove from the heat.  Place filling in the bottom of a greased 9x13 pan and top with the following cobbler batter:
1 C pancake or biscuit mix
1/2 C rolled oats
1/2 C Splenda brown sugar
1 stick of melted butter
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 C sourdough starter (can omit, just increase buttermilk by 1/2 C and baking mix by 1/2 C)
1 C buttermilk
2 eggs

In a large mixing bowl, mix the above ingredients until batter is uniform.  Pour over cherries, and bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes.
Top with chopped pecans if desired.  Serve with a big spoon, and add ice cream or whipped cream.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Day Before Payday Casserole

Sometimes, there is just too much month at the end of the money.  It is good to know how to use a well stocked pantry to "get you over the hump" to the next payday.
Today's pantry star is canned tuna.  I always keep at least a dozen cans in my little pantry under the stairs to use for lunch meals.  I can whip up some grilled tuna and cheese on an english muffin, or fix any number of casseroles and noodle dishes, or creamed tuna on toast, plus the old standby tuna salad sandwiches.
This recipe pairs tuna with tomatoes and rice.  Try it, I think your family will like it!

2  5 oz. cans tuna packed in water
1 small can tomato paste
1 can green beans and their liquid
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 C uncooked rice
2 T Worcestershire Sauce
4 T Franks hot sauce
salt and pepper to taste

In a large mixing bowl, add all ingredients, including the liquid from the tuna and the beans.  Mix well and spoon into a greased casserole dish.  Bake at 375 F for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the rice is done.