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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The One Essential Kitchen Pan


Eat Well, Eat Cheap has always been a big fan of old cast iron skillets. People abuse them. Thrift shops are full of rusty, grungy old ones. Many kitchen cabinets have unused cast iron pans hidden away. We've written that you should salvage any one you find. It's not that difficult.

Now Joanna Pruess of Fine Cooking magazine has written an ode to this neglected-but-essential and indestructible cooking pan. She says its a great pan for searing and sauteing, baking (including desserts), braising and frying.

"My favorite pan to cook in, by far and with no close runner-up, is my 35-year-old cast-iron skillet. It was my mother’s pan, and just seeing it on the stove conjures memories of her fried chicken, her macaroni and cheese, and her pot roast," she writes.

Her article explains how to use this wonderful old invention and includes many recipes for each of the four types of cooking you can do with it.

For those of you who might be young and just starting your kitchen adventures, this pan is cheap and omnipotent. For those of you who are old hands in the kitchen, your food will taste better in this pan that is the original non-stick skillet.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Summer White-Wine Deals

For a couple of years it's been very easy to fine red-wine bargains for less than $10 in just about any wine shop or supermarket in the U.S. But a good white — a quality white you'd serve to a large dinner party without breaking the bank — has been elusive.

We've been collecting some examples of good white wines for less than $10, but we'll wait a bit to drop that list into Eat Well, Eat Cheap.

Today we'd like to tell you about two or three whites that are on sale at ridiculously low prices, and yet they're very tasty wines and fit for a summer meal.

At least two of our local supermarkets have some version of this sale, so we assume the two companies that make these wines have reduced prices to push these bottles while the summer heat is driving us all to our wine cellars or refrigerators.

The first is Barefoot Chardonnay, a good white for this hot summer, that is being offered for $5.50 a bottle. That's a wonderful price for a drinkable Chardonnay.

The second, and our favorite of the three is Flip Flop's Chardonnay. It's an even better wine for an even better price: $5 a piece. And besides drinking very good bargain wine, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that Flip Flop donates money from all sales to Soles4Souls, which buys shoes for poor kids around the world.

This Chardonnay is not oaky or overly dry, but it's a great before-dinner or deck wine for wine snobs like us who want to save a little money.

The last wine we'll mention is Flip Flops Pinot Grigio, also offered at $5 at our local supermarket. We're not big Pinot Grigio fans, but we know a lot of you are, so this one is definitely worth picking up if you're a PG lover.



Little Lettuce Cups: Big Burst of Flavor


Traditional Thai restaurants often serve a tasty offering that is part salad, part grazing buffet and part appetizer. Those three parts equal a whole lot of flavor in your mouth, and a great way to turn on your taste buds.

It's a very simple idea: some sour, some sweet, some salt, some fruit.

For our cups we used baby romaine leaves, but any green will do. We've had them in cabbagey Asian greens, Boston lettuce leaves and green leaf lettuce.

The idea is to put a little of each of seven ingredients into the leaf along with an Asian sauce, then roll it up and pop it in your mouth. A wonderful, before-meal treat.

The sauce can be sweet or savory. For ours, we mixed two Tablespoons of Hoisin sauce, two Tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter and one Tablespoon of soy sauce. If you want spicy, add a teaspoon or less of rooster paste or srirachi sauce.

The seven tasty ingredients:

Coconut, sweet or savory, toasted in a small dry pan
Peanuts, not salted, toasted in a dry pan
Ginger, chopped
Lime, chopped into small pieces, skin included if you want
Peppers, chopped, any degree of heat from jalapeño to bell. We used banana pepper
Onion, either raw or toasted
Shrimp, either cooked or dried. If you're vegetarian, keep the sea taste by including dried seaweed used for sushi rolls.

When we make ours, we smear the sauce on the lettuce to act as a kind of paste. Then we add about a half teaspoon of coconut, a couple of peanuts, a pinch of onion, a pinch of peppers and one piece each of ginger, lime and shrimp.

Roll it up and pop it in your mouth for a fresh and wonderful burst of flavor.

A nice crisp wine such as a Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Grigio, or unoaked Chardonnay is a nice accompaniment.




Monday, August 6, 2012

Danny Redlin's Foolproof Bread

Tim and Ruth are still flailing around and unable to post, but luckily our much-appreciated guest bloggers are stepping up! Ro Ann Redlin's son, Danny, appears to following in his mom's footsteps as a fine cook, and he offers this recipe for what he swears is foolproof bread. The recipe comes courtesy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.



The Master Recipe: Boule  (Artisan Free-Form Loaf)


Makes four one -pound loaves

3 c. lukewarm water
1 1⁄2 T granulated yeast (1 1⁄2 packets)
1 1⁄2 T coarse kosher or sea salt
6 1⁄2 c. unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour
Cornmeal for pizza peel

The artisan free-form loaf called the French boule is the basic model for all the no-knead recipes. The round shape (boule in French means “ball”) is the easiest to master. You’ll learn how wet the dough needs to be (wet, but not so wet that the finished loaf won’t retain its form) and how to shape a loaf without kneading. And you’ll discover a truly revolutionary approach to baking: Take some dough from the fridge, shape it, leave it to rest, then let it bake while you’re preparing the rest of the meal.
Keep your dough wet — wetter doughs favor the development of sourdough character during storage. 

1. Heat the water to just a little warmer than body temperature (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit).

2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a five-quart bowl or, preferably, a resealable, lidded container (not airtight — use container with gasket or lift a corner). Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve.

3. Mix in the flour by gently scooping it up, then leveling the top of the measuring cup with a knife; don’t pat down. Mix with a wooden spoon, a high-capacity food processor with dough attachment, or a heavy-duty stand mixer with dough hook, until uniformly moist. If hand-mixing becomes too difficult, use very wet hands to press it together. Don’t knead! This step is done in a matter of minutes, and yields a wet dough loose enough to conform to the container.

4. Cover loosely. Do not use screw-topped jars, which could explode from trapped gases. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flatten on top), approximately two hours, depending on temperature. Longer rising times, up to about five hours, will not harm the result. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period. Refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and easier to work with than room-temperature dough. We recommend refrigerating the dough at least three hours before shaping a loaf. And relax! You don’t need to monitor doubling or tripling of volume as in traditional recipes.

5. Prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent the loaf from sticking to it when you slide it into the oven. Sprinkle the surface of the dough with flour, then cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-sized) piece with a serrated knife. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on four “sides,” rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go, until the bottom is a collection of four bunched ends. Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it doesn’t need to be incorporated. The bottom of the loaf will flatten out during resting and baking.

6. Place the ball on the pizza peel. Let it rest uncovered for about 40 minutes. Depending on the dough’s age, you may see little rise during this period; more rising will occur during baking.

7. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 450 degrees with a baking stone on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on another shelf.

8. Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will allow the slashing, serrated knife to pass without sticking. Slash a 1⁄4-inch-deep cross, scallop or tick-tac-toe pattern into the top. (This helps the bread expand during baking.)

9. With a forward jerking motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off the pizza peel and onto the baking stone. Quickly but carefully pour about a cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the oven door to trap the steam. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is browned and firm to the touch. With wet dough, there’s little risk of drying out the interior, despite the dark crust. When you remove the loaf from the oven, it will audibly crackle, or “sing,” when initially exposed to room temperature air. Allow to cool completely, preferably on a wire rack, for best flavor, texture and slicing. The perfect crust may initially soften, but will firm up again when cooled.

10. Refrigerate the remaining dough in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next two weeks: You’ll find that even one day’s storage improves the flavor and texture of your bread. This maturation continues over the two-week period. Cut off and shape loaves as you need them. The dough can also be frozen in 1-pound portions in an airtight container and defrosted overnight in the refrigerator prior to baking day.



Ro Ann notes: It takes a few minutes to stir. It rises and you 'cloak' it (get it in an acceptable round shape by pulling the edge over the whole round in a continuous motion.) Then shove it in the oven. Voila! I have watched him make it a lot and I continue to be amazed.  

Ruth and Tim note: We can't wait to try this. Will it displace Mark Bittman's No-Knead Bread in our affections? We'll find out. Thanks, Danny! 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Amy's Favorite Oatmeal Raisin Cookie

Given the sad state of our recent postings over the past month—nonexistence—we are very grateful that two of our guest bloggers came through this week. Amy Friedman offers her recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies below, and later this week we'll feature a foolproof bread recipe courtesy of Ro Ann Redlin. 


As we love, love, LERVE oatmeal raisin cookies, we can't wait to try this recipe. Thanks, Amy! 


In the past, when I've contributed to this blog, it's been a recipe I made up myself. This time, at Ruth's request, I'd like to offer my very favorite oatmeal raisin cookie recipe.

The recipe comes from Gifts from Your Kitchen, a 1988 Sunset book. The Sunset books, which focused on the domestic arts (recipes, household organization, woodworking and the like) were incredibly popular back in the day, especially for do-it-yourselfers. I have a small collection of them (so do we!—R&T), and this one is a particular favorite—so well-thumbed that the pages are all loose from the binding! But I digress . . . 

Anyway, as oatmeal cookie recipes go, this one is a little different from most. It's one of the few that doesn't include vanilla but does include lemon juice. It's flexible: you can halve it (I do so frequently), subtract the nuts for allergic friends, use light brown instead of dark brown sugar, throw in a little ginger or cinnamon, leave out the raisins or put in chocolate chips instead. No matter what, it works fine. 




Oatmeal Raisin Cookies


1 c. (1/2 pound, or two sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
2 c. firmly packed brown sugar (light or dark—your preference)
2 eggs
3 T lemon juice (RealLemon OK)
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 t salt 
1 t baking soda
3 c. quick-cooking oats
1 1/4 c. raisins
1 c. chopped walnuts

1. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar till creamy. Add eggs and lemon juice. (I use a handheld mixer.)


2. In another bowl, stir the flour, salt and baking soda. Gradually add these dry ingredients to the wet, and blend well. Add the oats, raisins and walnuts, mixing well after each addition. , 

3. Drop dough onto ungreased baking sheets. (I roll the dough into little balls, about one inch in diameter, and place them on the sheets. Don't worry about not greasing the sheets—you won't need it. Promise.) 


4. Bake cookies in a preheated 350 oven for 12 to 14 minutes. (Check after 12 minutes: the edges of the cookies should just be browning, and they should smell GOOOOOOD.)


5. Take the cookies out of the oven, and let them sit for about five minutes (they'll bake a little more, from the heat of the cookie sheets). Loosen cookies from the sheets with a metal spatula, and place on a plate to cool.  I store them in a Ziploc bag. And no, they don't last long! 

A few notes:

 I sometimes substitute craisins for the raisins or put in a mix of the two. 
* You can use margarine instead of butter.
* If you use salted butter, omit (or reduce) the salt.
* If you forget to take the butter out to soften the night before, just put the stick(s) of butter on top of the stove when you're preheating - by the time the oven is at the right temperature, the butter should be usable. (I tend to keep my butter in the freezer till ready to use, and this method works even with frozen butter. It won't be soft, but will be usable.)
* Half the recipe will produce about 3 dozen 1 1/2 inch wide cookies.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Refreshing Summer Zucchini 'Sushi' Rollups


Our vacation house had little in the way of food or good utensils, but we did have a lot of zucchini from our CSA box. We had invited some other couples over and the main course was prepared ahead of time.

 But what to serve for appetizers while we sat around and got reacquainted?

Boursin or Rondele cheese spreads are now available everywhere, so we bought two tubs (the Boursin was on sale, so we went that way) with he idea of making zucchini rollups that looked like little sushi rolls.

 With the mandolin and super slicer back at home, the generic potato pealer would have to do -- and it did nicely. Thin strips of zucchini, a teaspoon of cheese spread, and a slice of bell pepper to give it some color. Red would have looked best, but oddly, we had a yellow pepper, so that's what we used.

 Secured with a toothpick and served on a plate where we gathered for refreshments, these rollups were very popular, and had just enough tang to go with the crisp white wines we were serving.

 A pretty quick and easy app.

 We also served watermelon squares drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction. Also very refreshing during our heat spell.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Herb Sugars Add Flavor to Summer Dishes and Drinks

By mid-June our herb garden is bursting with basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, and (of course) mint, and we take full advantage, mixing and matching the leaves to liven up whatever we're cooking. But we've just discovered how great herb-infused sugar can be.

Sprinkled over cut melon or strawberries, mixed into black tea or lemonade, or used to rim a cocktail glass (mojitos or Liberators, anyone?), these simple herb-and-sugar mixtures provide a powerful flavor boost. And they could not be easier to make. 

Most recipes call for large amounts of both herbs and sugar—a cup of sugar, half a cup or more of herbs—but unless you're planning on using a large amount right away, you could end up with depressingly blackened herbs. Basil, for one, does not like hanging around after it's been cut. Given how easy it is to make a batch of herb sugar, why not whip up smaller portions you can easily use? Say, a couple of tablespoons of minced basil, cilantro, or mint combined with a quarter-cup of sugar. 

Some recipes call for pounding the herbs with a mortar and pestle to release more of the flavor, but a food processor works very well. Just add your herbs, add your sugar, pulse a few times, and you're ready to go. 

If you know of other uses for this amazingly easy and delicious ingredient, please let us know. 


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fast-Cooking Polenta Saves the Day

We're happy to report that the long-awaited CSA season has arrived. Our first box, from Great Country Farms in Bluemont, Virginia, was heavy with fresh goodies, including a big bunch of kale, a pint of tart cherries, spring onions, summer squash, and zucchini.

Over the years we've been CSA members, we've learned that "the box," as we reverently call it, provides a great service in addition to its reliable load of produce: it reliably provides dinner. As long as our pantry has some grains, herbs, and spices, we always can pull dinner together.

Take last Friday. An exceptionally stress-filled week had left us exhausted, to the point that we didn't even want to go out for a quick bite. At the same time, we hadn't had time to shop for groceries, so the refrigerator shelves were pretty bare. What to do?

We remembered that big bunch of CSA kale. Combined with polenta, it would make a fast, nutritious, delicious dinner. So we trimmed the kale, cut it into thin strips, and sautéed it with a little chopped garlic. We heated the oven to 400 degrees. And we made polenta.

Basically cornmeal mush, polenta is one of the fastest-cooking dishes you can make. You just boil water, whisk in the yellow grains, stir for a few minutes over low heat, and there you have it: an excellent base for just about anything. You can rich it up with globs of gorgonzola or goat cheese, or just a few tablespoons of grated Parmesan; you can cool it and slice it for grilling.

In this case, we combined the mushy cooked polenta (dressed up with a little Parmesan) with the cooked kale and garlic, then transferred the mixture to a pie pan. We baked the polenta pie for about 20 minutes (if we hadn't been in a hurry, we would have let it bake for an additional five or ten minutes, for a light-brown crust). Combined with a fast tomato jam and a crisp chardonnay, this made a fine fast dinner.




Saturday, June 9, 2012

Fry Sauce: It's Good with Everything

We're lucky to have very accomplished foodie friends—people who can not only eat but cook, and cook much better than we could ever dream of cooking. One is Susie Middleton, queen of all that is fast, fresh, and green. Another is Martha Holmberg. Martha, a former editor of Fine Cooking magazine, just published a book on crêpes that will make you want to eat crêpes for the next year.

Lately, we've been enjoying Martha's recipe for fry sauce. We'd never heard of this luscious, slightly spicy condiment until we read the article; now we slather it on everything from Martha's sweet potato fries to roasted asparagus to grilled zucchini. We figure it would make a wonderful substitute for Russian dressing in a Reuben sandwich (or, in Ruth's case, seitan sandwich). We figure it would be good with just about anything.

As grilling season fires up, we're looking forward to making a lot of fry sauce. Try it yourself—it will make your summer delicious!

Monday, June 4, 2012

It's Always Something!

If you have one of Black & Decker's Spacemaker under-the-counter coffee machines, you should beware! Your coffee pot may decide to attack you.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Cool Off with Aguas Frescas

Here in Northern Virginia, summer arrived with its usual wallop on Memorial Day weekend, complete with lung-crushing humidity and sledgehammer sunlight. We love summer, but the sudden change in weather made us crave cooling food and drinks.

We had just bought a nice watermelon, so we decided to try making aguas frescas. These refreshing Mexican fruit drinks are a great alternative to sugary sodas and very easy to make. Watermelon and cantaloupe are excellent; so's pineapple. It's good to have a sweet piece of fruit, but if the fruit isn't sweet enough for you, you can add sugar or agave syrup to get the sweetness the way you want it.

Watermelon Agua Fresca

4 cups seedless watermelon chunks
4 cups water
2 T. sugar or agave syrup
2 T. lime juice

1. Put two cups of watermelon chunks in a blender and whir until liquified. Strain.

2. Mix the liquified watermelon juice with the water, sweetener, and lime juice.

3. Finely chop the remaining two cups of watermelon, and add the fruit to the liquid mix.

4. Let sit for one hour, then enjoy. For extra coolness, garnish your glass with a sprig of mint or a wedge of lime.

This drink is the perfect reward for a bout of lawn mowing or gardening.







Friday, May 18, 2012

Seven Mistakes Wine Drinkers Make

Today Huffington Post has a great slideshow, courtesy of the wonderful wine site Snooth, illustrating and explaining seven big mistakes wine drinkers make. Don't know about you, but we've probably made all of them at one time or another.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Great Book to Help with Healthy Eating

We rarely push cookbooks here at Eat Well, Eat Cheap, but we do note when we've found one that helps make healthy eating a lot easier.

We did note the publication of Susie Middleton's "Fast, Fresh and Green," because it offered so many vegetable recipes that were easy to prepare and tasted great. In fact, we noted the publication of the book and then we wrote about one recipe for smashed red potatoes with parmesan that we particularly like. We find ourselves pulling this cookbook off our kitchen book shelf with great regularity.

The reason we're bringing it up again is that this little gem is being offered for Kindle readers at an especially low price until May 31. The price is only $3.99. If you were inclined to add this book to your collection, now might be the time.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, we get nothing from the sale of this book. We're promoting it because we think it is a great cookbook for people who want to eat well and with health in mind.)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rave Review: Mini Sweet Bell Peppers

First off, apologies for the long post drought. How long has it been? So long that Blogger switched up the formatting while we were gone and we no longer know how to do anything. So, more apologies if this post ends up looking weird.

Anyway, we've been intending for weeks to write about our most recent supermarket find: mini bell peppers. These have been showing up at Costco and our local Asian market, and we love them. They're much smaller and thinner-skinned than regular bell peppers, so they cook faster and you don't have to worry about peeling them. Best of all, they have virtually no seeds, so preparing them is a snap. They come in a mixture of red, yellow, and orange, and they're very sweet.

If you see them, buy them. You will not be sorry. We promise.

We like to roast them, then add them to pasta dishes. Simply cut off their cute little heads, cut them in half, lay them on a lightly oiled baking sheet, and roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. They will end up soft and lightly charred, with a sweetness that's wonderful paired with basil, olive oil, garlic, and many other things.

You can skip the roasting and add them to a stir-fry for color and sweetness.

Raw, they're an excellent crunchy addition to a salad.

We imagine that they would also be good skewered and grilled, and plan to try that soon. Would it be possible to stuff them with a little goat cheese before grilling? We'll find out and let you know.

If you've found these peppers in your store and have any ideas you'd like to share, we'd love to hear them!




Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Save Schleppy Fruit by Stewing It

Guest blogger Amy Friedman coined the wonderful term "schleppy fruit" to describe fruit that has gone around the bend: mealy apples, fibrous oranges, grainy raisins. Too often people toss these sad specimens, when it is very easy to rehabilitate them by cooking them. Amy's recipe for fruit preserves is a fine example. We also like to make stewed fruit.

We don't really like to call it stewed fruit, as that sounds like something they feed people in nursing homes. On the other hand, it does contain prunes—or "dried plums," as they have been rebranded in recent years—so who are we kidding? The fact is, it tastes great, and it's a wonderful way to use up schleppy fruit.

All you need is some fresh fruit, some dried fruit, some liquid and a little bit of time.

Typically, we have three or four or five mealy apples on hand, as well as a couple of dried-up tangerines or oranges. We usually have at least part of a bag of frozen cranberries. Thanks to Costco, we also have a store of dried fruit that can include prunes, raisins, dried cherries, and/or apricots. We mix and match these depending on what's on hand, but the result is always weirdly the same.

First, cut the apples into bite-size chunks, and toss them into a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Cut up prunes, if you're using them, and add them too, along with a cup or so of cranberries (if you have less than that,  that's fine). Add some dried apricots or raisins if you like. Add a little bit of liquid—orange juice, pomegranate juice, or even water—just enough to keep things from sticking. Then let the mixture cook for about half an hour.

You'll end up with a not terribly attractive fruit mush that will taste delicious, especially under a spoonful of Greek yogurt. And everyone who turns up their nose at your grandma-sounding "stewed fruit" will ask for seconds.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Goat Cheese and Beet Dip


We attended a birthday party recently where one of the guests brought a delicious roasted beet and goat cheese dip. Even the beet-haters loved it, so we asked for the recipe. Turns out it was from Dave Leiberman of the Food Network.
The flavor of the beets is enhanced by roasting the beets and by the addition of chives and thyme. Here's the recipe:

Ingredients

  • 2 medium beets, leaves trimmed, or 1/2 pound roasted beets from deli or salad bar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4-ounce goat cheese
  • 1 small bunch chives, finely sliced
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • Crostini, crackers or bread sticks

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
If using raw beets, wash them clean of sand and dirt. Set aside to air dry or dry well with a towel or paper towel. If using roasted beets, proceed to food processor step.
Toss the beets in a mixing bowl with oil, thyme, a few pinches of salt and about 15 grinds of pepper.
Turn the beets out onto a baking sheet and roast until fork tender, shaking the pan occasionally to insure even cooking, about 40 minutes.
Remove beets from oven and set aside to cool. (You can do this up to a couple days ahead of time if you store them sealed in the refrigerator.)
Remove and discard the skins from the beets. Cut beets into quarters. Add the beet quarters to a food processor or blender. Pulse a few times until beets are roughed up into small but still chunky pieces.
Dump the blended beets into a serving bowl. Crumble the goat cheese into the beets and add the chives and lemon juice. Toss together and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Serve with crostini or breadsticks.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Gorgeous Veggie Centerpiece

For a recent dinner, our friend Chris Stinson dispensed with flowers and made a beautiful centerpiece featuring ruffly green kale, svelte red peppers, and curly leaves of purple cabbage. The deep colors and rich textures of the vegetables combined for a mouthwatering still life and put us much more in the mood for dinner than any flowers could have. At the end of the evening, Chris split up the centerpiece and gave the goodies to her guests. Naturally, we made kale chips.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Freaky Freekeh (Yes, You Read that Right)

We thought we knew every edible grain that the planet had to offer, but guest blogger Amy Friedman proved us wrong. Check out her recipe for freekeh (also known as "farik." (This is also a good example of the "try, try again" approach to cooking.)
Amy writes:
I did some experimenting a few weeks ago with freekeh, which is smoked, unroasted wheat (the same kind that's used for bulgur). Some friends had raved about it, so we bought some, but I hated it—just thought it tasted awful. So I decided to think up a way to make it palatable and came up with a solution that wound up being quite tasty.  Last night I cubed some chicken breasts and mixed them in, and it came out great. It's good on its own or as a side dish or quick lunch. (Next time I'll see if diced tofu works in there.) I suspect any hearty grain would work in the mix—just substitute cup for cup.


Freaky Freekeh

1 c freekeh, soaked per instructions
1 medium chopped onion
3-4 oz. mushrooms, chopped
1 8 oz can creamed corn
1 16 oz can diced tomatoes
½ cup (appx) chicken broth
olive oil for sautéing
spices to taste: white and black pepper, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, cumin, fennel


Sauté onions and mushrooms in olive oil for three to five minutes over med-high heat.
Pour in creamed corn, continue to sauté until combined and starting to simmer.
Pour in diced tomatoes, continue to sauté until combined and starting to simmer.
Pour in the grain, stir to combine.
Pour in the chicken broth. Should feel like a thick-ish stew, not watery. Use less broth if it starts to get watery – you can add more later. 
Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the grains seem cooked through. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Balsamic-Parmesan Salad Dressing

Are you as sick of balsamic vinegar salad dressings as we are? Don't get us wrong—the mellow, aged vinegar is wonderful stuff, but we unthinkingly overused it for years, to the point that we almost stopped tasting it. And when we did taste it, the rich flavor seemed cloying. So our big bottle of balsamic vinegar gathered dust on the back of the shelf.

That changed when we came upon a recipe that added a bit of Parmesan cheese, adding an extra layer of flavor to a pretty simple balsamic-and-olive-oil dressing. This has become our go-to salad dressing in recent weeks, but we're going to be careful not to overuse it and get sick of it.

The recipe is from the tiny but excellent Very Salad Dressing, by Teresa Burns.

Italian Parmesan Salad Dressing

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 T. lemon juice
2 scallions, green part only, chopped
2 t. Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic
1 T. fresh oregano or 1 t. dried oregano
1/2 cup plus 1 T. olive oil
Dash of hot sauce
Salt and pepper

1. Using a food processor, combine the vinegar, cheese, lemon juice, scallions, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, and oregano. Blend until the scallions and oregano are finely chopped.

2. While the food processor is running, slowly add the olive oil, and combine until the mixture is emulsified.

3. Stir in hot sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Chill.

4. Let stand at room temperature for five minutes before serving.

Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

No Need to Knead This Delicious, Easy Bread

Mark Bittman's recipe for No-Knead Bread may end up being his greatest legacy to cooking. Removing the tedious chore of kneading from breadmaking, the recipe is justifiably famous and has spawned scores, if not hundreds, of imitations.

We tried it ourselves not long ago, and although we were pleased with the bread we made, our friends Chuck Miller and Phil Van Kirk tweaked Bittman's recipe and came up with a version we like even better. Incorporating wheat germ, this bread is a bit denser than Bittman's, and it's tastier when it cools. Like Bittman's bread, it features a crackling, crunchy, irresistible brown crust. And it's jaw-droppingly easy. All you need are a few hours to let the dough rise.

Because the recipe requires us to run the oven at 450 degrees for almost an hour, we like to save energy by making two loaves at a time and freezing one until we need it.

No-Knead Bread

1/2 t. yeast
1/2 t. sugar
1/4 cup warm water
2 cups warm water

4 cups unbleached flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
2 t. salt

1. Mix yeast and sugar in 1/4 cup warm water, and stir to break up any yeast lumps.

2. Put two cups of warm water in a large bowl, and add the yeast/sugar mix. Stir a little to distribute the yeast.

3. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, wheat germ, and salt.

4. Slowly pour the flour mixture into the yeasty water, mixing with either a wooden spoon or your hands.

5. Cover the mixed dough with plastic wrap and set in a warmish place. (We've found that if we put it in the oven with the light on, that works great.)

6. After five hours or so, the dough will have risen considerably. Turn it out on a floured work surface, dust it with flour, and fold it over itself a few times. (The dough will be extremely sticky.) Put it back in the bowl, and return it to its warm spot.

7. After two more hours, the dough will have risen again. Remove it from the oven. Turn the oven on to 450 degrees, and put a Dutch oven or another covered dish into the oven to heat up. Make sure that the pot you use can withstand the high temperatures; plastic handles will melt. We use a Calphalon Dutch oven, but Le Creuset would also work well.

8. When the oven (and pot) are hot, carefully remove the pot from the oven and, using a spatula, scrape the dough into the pot. Let it bake with the cover on for 35 minutes.

9. After 35 minutes, remove the cover and let the bread bake for an additional 15 minutes.

10. When the bread is done, let it cool on a rack as long as you can stand it before tearing off a piece for yourself. Butter and honey make particularly fine accompaniments.

Makes one good-size loaf.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Make It Yourself: Vinegar

Yes, vinegar is plentiful and often cheap if you buy it in the store. And we do: rice, sherry, balsamic, pear, you name it. But we've had trouble finding a good red wine vinegar. The cheap stuff is sour and awful, and even the expensive stuff can taste a little harsh if you grab the wrong bottle, as we so often seem to do.

At the same time, we frequently end up with dribs and drabs of leftover red wine—the end of a bottle that never manages to get used for cooking, the half-glasses abandoned after a dinner party.

We were ruefully tossing a guest's half-full glass one evening when we remembered that back in Connecticut our friend Ruth Lively made her own red wine vinegar using a little oak cask she'd bought. We remembered that the little barrel made mellow, lovely vinegar. So we decided to get one of our own.

We turned to the Internet, which did not disappoint. Two-liter (and larger) casks were available at Oak Barrels Ltd.

The company recommends buying toasted oak for red, robust vinegar and non-toasted for white.

 The process of vinegar making is incredibly simple: Simply add your base (wine, cider), your starter (appropriately called "mother of vinegar" and also available online), and some water, and wait two months.

We waited eagerly for the weeks to pass, and after they had, the resulting vinegar was just as smooth and rich as we remembered Ruth Lively's to be.

So there will be no more wasted wine at this house, and lots more delicious salads.

* Photo from oakbarrelsltd.com/

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mindful Eating: You Don't Have to Be a Monk to Try It

Today's New York Times Dining section has a wonderful story on mindful eating that ranges from the techniques of Buddhist monks to everyday tips for the rest of us. Check it out! You'll be inspired to spend more time noticing what you put in your mouth.

Be sure to check out the story today if you aren't a NYT subscriber; tomorrow it goes behind the paywall!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Last Minute Appetizers: Quick & Easy Bean Dips

We would find it hard to believe that the Super Bowl crept up on anyone, but let's imagine for a minute that the host of a party got sick and you volunteered to take on the hosting duties. Here are two very easy dip recipes for the big game that will tax neither your wallet or your cooking ability.

Complementary white bean and black bean dips for chips: preparation time, mere minutes.

Ingredients:
1 can (15.5 oz.) white Great Northern, Navy or Cannellini beans (Great Northern or Navy preferred), drained
1 can (15.5 oz.) black beans, drained
1 medium onion, divided into two halves and chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided in two
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon white pepper (or black if you have no white pepper)
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese
4 garlic cloves
1 4.5 oz. can chopped green chiles, drained
1/4-1/2 cup sliced green onion tops

Recipes:
For the White Bean Dip
In a food processor, combine the white beans, half the onion, Parmesan, half the salt, white pepper, and 2 garlic cloves and pulse until smooth. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Then remove to a bowl, cover and refrigerate.

For the Black Bean Dip
In the food processor, combine the black beans, half the onion, green chiles, black pepper, cumin and 2 garlic cloves. Pulse until smooth. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Remove to a bowl, cover and refrigerate.

Assemble
In the spirit of opposing teams, spoon the black dip into one half of a serving dish. Then spoon the white dip into the other half. Garnish the dish with the sliced green onion tops, especially covering the middle where the two dips meet.

Serve with your favorite chips.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Our Wine Philosophy

 "Drink good wines habitually and fine wine occasionally."
—Andre L. Simon, wine writer and author of A Concise Encyclopedia of Gastronomy

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Use Gourmet Cookware As Plateware

We saw a clever idea for a dinner party in the latest issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Use your special gourmet cookware or some other non-traditional item as a serving platter or as plateware.

For example, you could use a picture frame with an appropriate photo as a serving platter, e.g. Sushi served on a frame with a photo of a beach or the sea.

Or if you have similar Le Creuset pans, use them as plates for a hot entrée.

One we've seen in restaurants lately is the small-single serving of dessert in a shot glass for those who don't want to overindulge in sweets.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Bargain Wine of the Week: 2009 Bordeaux?

As a blog that preaches “eat cheap,” and exalts good wines costing less than $10, Eat Well, Eat Cheap doesn’t get much of a chance to talk about wines from Bordeaux, the most acclaimed wine region in the world.


It might not be the birthplace of wine, but it is certainly the Mecca of wine. Both because of the marketing value of its name and the actual greatness of its wine, Bordeaux wines are so expensive that four figures is not an unusual price.

But if you’ve been watching your online wine bargains lately, you would be excused for wondering whether the decimal point had been misplaced. $10.99, or even $9.99, is not uncommon for more than a few 2009 and 2010 Bordeaux bottles.

So, what gives? Are these wines any good? The answer, as is so often the case, is yes and no. Yes, there are Bordeaux bargains to be had. But no, not every $10 Bordeaux is worth even that miserly price. The new, lower prices are the result of lots of factors, but mostly it’s because the world’s wine regions produce an oversupply of wine and because 2009 and 2010 were good years in Bordeaux, both in quantity and quality. Only bad wine makers shipped bad Bordeaux in these years, so that’s good news for wine drinkers who want to try a Bordeaux that they normally wouldn’t even consider.

What to do? It’s somewhat difficult because the big names of Bordeaux are not dropping anything on the market at a reasonable price. And when you get into the unknown cousins of grand cru who live out in the Bordeaux burbs, the names are mysterious and the quality can be anything from rags to silk.

There are lots of DOCs (appellations or sub-regions) even within Bordeaux. Some you might look for are: Cote de Castillon, Cote de Blaye or Entre Deux Mers. These DOCs are all on the right bank of the Gironde River that splits the region. As with all Bordeaux output, the wines are blends of several grapes, but the Right Bank wines are typically Merlot blended with Cabernet Franc.

You still might have trouble finding a good Bordeaux for less than $10, but you could certainly find good bottles for less than $20 or $30.

These outlying DOCs, including the ones mentioned above, are the place to look. And while there is a big argument in rarified wine circles about whether ’09 or ’10 is the better vintage, our recommendation in the short-term is to go with an ’09, because they tend to be slightly fruitier and less tannic than the ’10s. The 2010 wines will be great, but they probably need a little time in the bottle.

Still confused about what to buy? Good, because there’s a lot of Bordeaux swill out there on the shelves.

With some help from our friend Paul Spring and lots of reviews, here are two suggestions:

1. If you see one or two reasonably priced ’09 Bordeaux bottles on the shelf of your local store or at your favorite online merchant, Google that wine and vintage to see what other online merchants and reviewers are saying about it. If they’re silent, stay away. If several are praising it, buy away.

2. Go to the biggest wine merchant in your area — one where they sell at least some Bordeaux wines — and tell them that some knucklehead who writes a wine blog said there are good ’09 Bordeaux wines to be had at decent prices and could he recommend one or two?

Take a chance. Buy a bottle or two at whatever price you can afford. Better yet, buy two and lay one down for 10 years in your cool cellar. If the first one tastes great now, go buy a case and put it away for a while. It will only get better.

You might not get a chance again for many years to put some inexpensive but good Bordeaux bottles in your cellar or on your table.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Can't Argue with This

Gawker says it better than we ever could.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pantry Project: Barley and Mushroom Risotto

The pantry project continues apace! We've had a jar of pearl barley kicking around the shelves for a long time; even though we love barley, we never seemed to get around to using it. Then we saw a recipe from Bon Appetit that used barley in place of rice to make a chewy, rich risotto.

We were skeptical at first—wouldn't the barley get tough? But it nicely absorbed the vegetable stock, and the final addition of sautéed mushrooms made for a satisfying winter dish.

Barley and Mushroom Risotto

4 1/2 cups stock (vegetable, chicken, or meat)
2 t. butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup pearl barley
2 t. chopped fresh thyme or 3/4 t. dried
1 bay leaf
2 t. olive oil
1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms, sliced (we used Chinese shiitakes)
1 minced garlic clove
2 T. chopped Italian parsley (we used curly because Ruth hates Italian parsley)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring stock to boil in a heavy saucepan. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside.

2. Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over low heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about five minutes.

3. Add barley, thyme, bay leaf, and two cups of hot stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until most of the stock has been absorbed, stirring frequently (about five minutes).

4. Add remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time, allowing it to be absorbed by the barley before adding more, and stirring frequently (about 45 minutes).

5. While the barley is cooking, heat olive oil in large skillet over high heat. Add mushrooms, and sauté until brown. Stir in chopped garlic. Reduce heat to medium and cook until mushrooms are tender (about five minutes).

6. When the barley is done, add the mushrooms, mix in parsley, and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Serves four.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pantry Project: Great Cold Side Salad


In looking for a barley recipe (to use some of the multiple bags of grains in our overstuffed pantry as part of our pantry-reduction project), we stumbled into a great cold side salad recipe from cooking.com. It is one of those sides you could serve anytime, and it uses the sorts of ingredients that most people typically have around the pantry.

Our only problem was that our barley canister was short by a quarter cup. We quickly realized that this salad recipe's barley could be replaced by just about any grain or rice. We remembered that we had an overabundance of black rice, also called forbidden rice.

The consistency of black rice is about the same as cooked barley. You just have to make sure that you rinse it well so that the reddish-black cooking liquid doesn't color everything else in the recipe.

(We cold have substituted quinoa or faro or any of a number of other grains. But the black rice was crunchy and colorful.)

This salad would be particularly good in the summer, but it worked well in the cold depths of January as well.

Ingredients

2 cups cooked rice, barley or other grain
2 cups frozen corn, thawed
1 red pepper diced, or 1/2 red pepper and 1/2 green pepper, diced
3 scallions, sliced or chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley

Dressing
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper

Recipe
Cook the rice, barley, faro or other grain. A good rule of thumb is to cook the grain in twice as much water or stock, with a little salt, and simmer for about 40 minutes. Toward the end you might have to add a bit more liquid or drain off any excess. Just taste for doneness with a bit of crunchiness.

In a bowl, mix the first five ingredients.

In a small container with a tight lid, mix the dressing ingredients and shake well. Pour dressing over the salad and refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

We've Got Worms

That may not be the most appetizing post title, but it's true: determined to keep making compost during the slow winter months, we've started a worm farm to make use of our abundant kitchen scraps.

Our homeowners' association short-sightedly restricts the size of compost makers that residents can use. This limits us to one of those small drum units that are better than nothing, but not much better—especially for two cooks who prepare and eat a lot of vegetables and produce a lot of coffee grounds. Last winter our compost maker had filled up by December, and because the compost process goes dormant in the winter, we were looking at the wretched and wasteful possibility of tossing our kitchen scraps until spring.

We tried saving scraps in a covered container on the patio. That handled the overflow well, but the spring thaw was very smelly and messy.

Then we remembered that our friend Chuck, a fine gardener and veritable compost king, had built a worm farm in his garage to handle kitchen overflow. A helpful website showed us how to make our own worm farm with nothing more than a couple of Rubbermaid containers, a drill, a scrap of cardboard, a few pages of newspaper, and a handful of yard dirt.

We ordered a pound of red worms online, and soon our farm was up and working. Although the worms slow down a bit in the cold months, we can see that they're doing exactly what they should be doing: eating, digesting, and making more worms.  Come spring, we'll add their efforts to our garden; in the meantime, we'll keep our new friends happy with buckets full of coffee grounds, eggshells, and other kitchen scraps.