The Recipe Box

recipes and life.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

So, I have been trying, to no avail, to make Indian food. I mean, I make it, it's just not very good. I've even bought cookbooks with names like Yes, Even You There, Who I Can Tell From Here Just Isn't Good At This, Can Make Excellent Indian Food Simply By Holding This Book. Only they lie. The one book claims it's for the beginner and includes only simple, easy-to-make recipes. And yet, every time I start to make something, I see that it will take, oh, a half hour of preparation and two hours cooking time. And I think, fine. And then as I read the ingredients, I see that the list includes three other recipes, with page references, so I look there, and those also require preliminary recipes, and it goes on like a treasure map. So, I follow everything intently, and I make the cheese, and strain the yogurt, and roast the spices, and grind them, and puree things, and marinate, and bake, and simmer. And still, blechness remains.

My best attempt so far has probably been the spinach paneer, which did indeed require me to make my own Indian cheese, and I might try to perfect that one and talk about it.

But, in the meantime, last night, I said screw this cooking thing, and made chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes. From a box. And green beans. From a can. And it was the best thing I've made in a while. So, I'm going to talk about that instead.

Lazy Chicken Nuggets
I defrosted 3 half chicken breasts and cut them into cubes.
Then, I mixed 1/4 c honey, 2 tbl mustard, and 2 tbl ginger teriyaki marinade.
I added the chicken to the mix and stirred it around.
Then, I crushed about a half cup of corn flakes and added some onion powder, red chili powder, and salt.
I dredged the chicken in the corn flake mixture, put it on a baking sheet, and baked it at 400 for about 15 minutes.

Then, I made some instant mashed potatoes according to the box directions (using skim milk and low-fat butter), then once it was done, added some fat-free cream cheese. Oh, and I microwaved some canned Del Monte french cut green beans (the best kind).

I also made more marinade as a dipping sauce. Oh, and get this. I checked a few of my cookbooks for nuggets recipes for inspiration (I know, like chicken nuggets really need inspiration, but I was hopeful), and I found one recipe that told you to make up a marinade, coat the chicken, and then serve the leftover marinade as the sauce. Just. Ew. The cookbook wasn't even that old. So, anyway, I just made new dipping sauce.

So, anyway, it tasted much better than the Indian food I spent hours making on Sunday, and it took maybe 20 minutes. Also, it was good for breakfast.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

BLTs
I made almost-healthy BLTs last night that were pretty tasty. I figured I should take a break from bacon, since when we went camping last weekend, we not only had bacon, but we cooked both the hashbrowns and the eggs in the bacon grease.

Anyway, I got the 95% fat-free turkey bacon and baked in on a cookie sheet for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees. It didn't get exactly crispy, but it wasn't too chewy to eat, either. I then assembled them like so:

toasted sourdough bread
light mayo
bacon
tomato slices
shredded lettuce
sliced red onion
sliced avocado
(and well, obviously, more bread)

I also made some french onion soup, but I was lacking some key ingredients, so I was not overly impressed with the results.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Beef Stew
I made beef stew tonight with interesting results. I think, at least, I have something to build on. I had this beef of some kind that the butcher talked me into getting because it was buy one get one free. Well, how good can it be? I'm not going to make steak out of it. The first "one", I ground up and made burgers with. This one has been in the freezer for a while. So, I figured I'd make stew, but I decided this at around 4pm, so the crock pot was out of the question. Also, I have no vegetables left. What I have is at P.'s and I was much too lazy to go over there and get stuff just for stew.

So, I improvised. I started with 2 lbs of whatever bone-in beef this was. I cubed it and put it in a ziplock bag with flour, salt, and pepper. Then, I browned it olive oil in a dutch oven. Then, I added about 2 coarsely chopped onions and most of the cloves from a head of garlic (I just mashed them with the knife once to remove the skin and threw them in whole. I also chopped up a couple of jalapeno peppers and added those. Then, I added some spices: salt and pepper, thyme, oregano, red pepper, a bay leaf. Once everything was mixed together, I added 2 cups or so of white wine (Covey Run Chenin Blanc, which may have been my first mistake; it was a little too sweet). Then, I added probably 4 cups of water and a couple splashes of red wine vinegar (also might have been a bit much). Then, I added four peeled, cubed potatoes. And, well, that's all I had for vegetables.

I let that simmer for about an hour (I went to the gym), and when I got back, it just tasted a bit bland. I had no tomatoes, canned or fresh and no tomato paste. I had tomato soup, but I wasn't going there. Instead, I added some ketchup and a little spicy barbecue sauce. I also added more of the spices, and some water, and let it simmer while I showered.

Once everything was tender, I added a little flour paste to thicken the sauce and ate it with some crusty bread. It wasn't bad, but a little too sweet and vinegary. Next time, I'll try it with a drier wine and some tomatoes and other vegetables. It was pretty good for improvision, I think.
Black Tea Lemonade
I may be a little addicted to the Starbucks black tea lemonade. This afternoon, I was too lazy to go the block or so over there, so I made my own connoction the lazy way. This is in no way a copycat recipe. It's more an alternative based on the same concept. Still good though.

Microwaved a coffee mug full of water for two minutes.
Added three (Lipton black) tea bags and let them steep.
Juiced 3-4 large lemons and 3-4 small limes (er, I forget exactly) and put the juice in a pitcher.
Added 2/3 cup sugar to the pitcher and stirred 'til mostly dissolved.
Add the tea (after discarding the tea bags that is)
Stir again.
Add two trays of ice cubes.
Stir.
Add water to taste. I filled the pitcher about half full, and it was a pretty big pitcher. You don't want to add too much water and make everything bland. Taste it, and if it's too strong, add more water. If you end up adding too much water or if it's too sweet, squeeze in another lemon.

It's nice and tart.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Ratatouille. a la James Beard.
I have this James Beard cookbook that's more a collection of articles he wrote. Subsequently, everything is in prose and you have to really hunt to find the ingredients and instructions. He has a ratatouille recipe in the article about using knives that I make a lot .

He calls for eggplant (a rather standard inclusion) and green pepper, but I generally leave both of those out. However, this time, I had a sweet pepper from my CSA basket, so I chopped it up and added it in. Big mistake. It changed the flavor of the whole dish.

I vary the amount based on how much I want to make. It always makes a ton. He says to use 4 zucchini and 8 plum tomatoes, as well as a couple of eggplant and a pepper. I keep the ratio the same, and up the amount of summer squash (I generally throw some yellow squash in and tonight, I used some pattypan squash from the CSA basket) to make up for the lack of eggplant.

So, for instance, tonight---

1 sliced onion and 4 cloves minced garlic, sauted in olive oil.
Added 2 regular zucchini, a yellow squash, and 3 pattypan squash.
Salt and pepper and a good stir.
Added 1 chopped huge heirloom tomato and 1 plum tomato (James said to seed and peel the tomatoes or use canned italian tomatoes; I generally do a basic seeding and that's it although I can see the point of peeling, since you simmer this for 20 minutes and by that time, the skins tend to peel off anyway. Note I generally use 6-8 plum tomatoes, which works out really well)

Simmer covered for 20 minutes
Add several tablespoons of fresh basil or a couple of teaspoons of dried. I added fresh tonight and I couldn't quite get the flavor I wanted, so I added some dried as well.
More salt and pepper to taste.

Simmer uncovered for about five more minutes. James says to evaporate a good deal of the liquid, but I like it, especially mixed with potatoes. This dish is great with fried potatoes actually.

Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette
I made a salad from some of the CSA vegetables also. I chopped a bunch of cherry tomatoes in half and let them soak in some black fig vinegar. I added a couple of mashed garlic cloves and some salt and pepper. Then I added a splash of olive oil and a little water, along with about a tablespoon of honey and the juice of half a lime. Also salt and pepper. I stirred that up and tossed a salad of greens, spinach, green onions, and carrots. Really good and fresh.

See, getting in the recommended about of vegetables in a day is easy. And it doesn't require that you spent $5 on the little veggie container at starbucks. Really.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Potatoes and Steak

I don't think you can make Rachel Ray's meals in 30 minutes. Oh sure, you see her making them right before your very eyes, but it never seems to work out that way when I make them. For one thing, she's very organized. And I don't think a regular person can be that organized. She pops over to the refrigerator and gets her vegetables and sour cream, but I'm pretty sure those are the only things in the refrigerator. She doesn't have to take out the lettuce and the carrots to get to the leeks. She also has every dish, pot, and cooking utensil lined up on the counter before the show even starts.

I've also noticed that the show ends just as she's finished cooking, so she hasn't put anything away, or done the dishes, or wiped up the splatters. And I never see her eating anything, so who's to say she even cooks things until they're done.

And yes, all of this is to say that I made a variation of one of her meals last night and it took closer to an hour, but it was still very good and very worth it.

I made steak, potatoes, and broccolini. I used her recipes as a base, but sort of ended up somewhere a little different.

Steak
Her recipe called for flank steak, but when we got to the store, sirloin was on sale half price (for $5 a lb) so we got that instead. While we got the grill ready, we marinated it with the following:

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon steak seasoning
1 teaspoon ground chipotle chili powder
dash ground cumin
2 teaspoon hot sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Then we grilled, let the steak rest, and sliced it up. Yum.

Smashed potatoes
These were really really good. In fact, I want some right now. I sort of combined her recipe with Alton Brown's tips.

I scrubbed 6 medium red potatoes and 2 russets and cut them in equal size sections (I quartered the reds and cut the russets into 6-8 sections). Then, I put them in a pot, covered them with cold water, added about 2 tsp of salt, covered the pot, and brought it to a boil.

Then, I uncovered the pot and turned the heat down to a simmer until the potatoes were just soft (not too soft).

Meanwhile, I cooked 4 slices of bacon until crispy, then added one chopped leek. I cooked that until the leeks were limp. In a separate dish, I combined about a 1/2 cup fat-free half and half, 2 tablespoons fat-free sour cream, and 2 tablespoons butter (actually I used the country croock light stuff) and then I microwaved that for about 30 seconds to melt it a little.

Once the potatoes were done, I drained them and then put them back into the pot and back on the heat to dry everything out. Then, I used a potato masher to mash them together (not too much though). I added liquid, did a little more mashing, and then added the bacon and leeks and some salt and pepper.

I cut up an heirloom tomato and added that and then used a spoon to mix it all together.

Broccolini
Easy. I cut the ends off, washed them, then boiled them for a few minutes. They did get a little washed out, so it might be good to blanch them or something. Then, I drained them, sauted 5 cloves of minced garlic in olive oil, then added the broccolini back in and mixed it all around. That's it!

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Vegetable Spring Rolls
Spring rolls are the perfect answer to CSA vegetables that are taunting you from the refrigerator produce drawer (or in my case, from their squished positions wedged between the bread and the milk, since my refrigerator is so full).

You know you should eat them, you know they won't last much longer, but you're just too damn lazy to make marvelous gourmet meals from them. Enter: spring rolls!

I had some eggroll wrappers leftover from the great Cheesecake factory avocado eggroll experiment (verdict? the actual restaurant version is much yummier, which is probably a good thing because since I can't make them at home I will eat them less often, and they're not really the healthiest food ever), so I got those out and then chopped up all of my remaining vegetables and put them into neat little piles. I also grabbed some random condiments from the shelf of lots of little jars (for the record, I ended up with peanut sauce, mango chutney, and chipotle ginger marinade).

I added a little salt and pepper to the vegetables and then made the rolls by first adding some sauce and then adding vegetables that seemed like they possibly might taste OK together. Then, I used egg white to seal the edges once I rolled everything up. I put the rolls on a baking sheet, sprayed it all with cooking spray, and baked them for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

A couple of the combinations I ended up with:

peanut sauce
kohlrabi
carrots
snow peas
green onion

mango chutney
red onion
green chile
cilantro

Everything I tried actually turned out really good. Definitely try it before throwing out the old vegetables. The worst that can happen is that you end up with icky spring rolls and you throw it all away anyway.