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Friday, August 27, 2010

Favorite Kitchen Utensils: Rotary Cheese Grater

We love parmesan cheese, but we do not love scraping our knuckles as we try to get every fragment off the rind. But Parmigiano-Reggiano is expensive, even at Costco, and we don't like to waste any of it. 

Although microplanes work well on larger pieces of cheese, they can wreak havoc on your hands when you get down to the rind—one slip of the wrist, and you're running for the Band-Aid box.  

Fortunately, we invested years ago in a rotary cheese grinder, which with a few turns produces mounds of snowy grated cheese. Even though it's made of plastic, it's endured heavy use for at least a decade now and withstood many trips through the dishwasher.

(For some reason, we can't delete the Amazon link to the left, but it does provide a good view of this marvelous invention.) 

Now we can scrape every parmesan rind down to the very bottom before we toss it into the freezer for future batches of soup. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Too Much Zucchini? Try This Brownie Recipe!

Zucchini growers are always looking for new recipes, for obvious reasons (see photo). Most of you probably have a reliable recipe for zucchini bread, but did you know that you can make zucchini brownies? Ro Ann Redlin once more comes to the rescue of Eat Well, Eat Cheap readers, with a delicious suggestion for using up extra squash.

Ro Ann notes, "I feel guilty about this not being healthier! But if your readers need something to do with all those zucchinis pouring in from their gardens, here is a perfect baking recipe. (Another way to use up the squash and make your spaghetti healthier: grate two cups of unpeeled zucchini into your favorite spaghetti sauce recipe. It cooks down right away and adds no taste other than as a complement to the tomato.)"

Zucchini Brownies

1/2 c. margarine or butter
1/2 c. oil
1 3/4 c. sugar
3 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. sour cream
1/4 c. cocoa
2 1/2 c. flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
2 c. grated zucchini
1/2 c. chocolate chips

1. Cream margarine/butter, oil, and sugar. 

2. Add eggs, vanilla, sour cream, cocoa, flour, baking power, baking soda, and salt. Stir in zucchini.

3.  Pour into a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. 

4. Bake at 325 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool before cutting. 

If anybody else has good suggestions for using up zucchini—particularly those club-size vegetables that too often end up in the compost bin—please send them along!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Veggie Stir-fry That Will Please Meat Eaters

Today we welcome guest blogger Amy Friedman, who combines a love of cooking, a flair for frugality, and a talent for writing. She offers this yummy-sounding stir-fry recipe designed to satisfy both meat eaters and vegetarians:

My husband and I are both meat eaters, but we do enjoy vegetarian dishes. For my husband, veggie dishes have two requirements: hearty and tasty. By “tasty,” he generally means “spicy,” so my many jars of peppers and pepper sauces get quite the workout!

I also like hearty and tasty (although not quite as spicy as my husband), and am also a biiiiiiiig fan of “clean the refrigerator” dishes. You know . . . the last few little cherry tomatoes that are about to die, the half bulb of fennel forgotten in the veggie crisper, etc. 

Here’s a lovely tofu stir-fry I invented one evening that fits several bills: It’s hearty and tasty, vegan, cleans the fridge, and makes my hubby the carnivore happy. He generally asks for it every week to ten days, and always takes seconds (and sometimes thirds). 

The recipe looks complicated, but it really isn’t. You can be a purist and mince your own ginger and garlic, but I generally use the preminced stuff. Also, once you’ve made it a few times and are comfortable with the proportions, you can throw it together right in the frying pan, if you’re so inclined. Saves on cleanup!

Hearty and Tasty Tofu Stir-Fry

1 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu, drained and cubed
 4 or 5 dried tree ear mushrooms, soaked in a bowl of water
1 green pepper
4 ounces fresh mushrooms 
1 large or 2 medium onions
Optional: half a zucchini or yellow squash, diced; thinly sliced fennel or celery; sliced or diced broccoli stem (not florets!) 
1 T. olive oil
1 c. fresh spinach leaves
About 15 grape tomatoes, or an equal amount of Roma tomatoes, sliced
3 or 4 scallions, sliced

¼ c. soy sauce (shoyu or tamari OK)
About 1 T.  mirin 
1 to 2 t. pureed ginger (or 1 t. minced fresh ginger)
1 to 2 t. minced garlic (2 garlic cloves, mince, or about 1½ t. garlic powder)
1 to 2 T. peanut butter (I like the crunchy stuff, but also sometimes just use peanut sauce)
1 dollop honey (optional)
1 to 2 T. sriracha sauce, or ½ t. black pepper, ½ t. red pepper, ¼ t. white pepper (you may want it less spicy—experiment with smaller proportions, but don’t substitute Tabasco!)

1. Mix marinade and pour over tofu. Let it sit while prepping the rest of the meal.

2. Dice green pepper (or halves of two colors – looks pretty!), mushrooms 
(you can also use presliced for a chunkier dish), onion, and the optional veggies, if you're using them. 

3. Heat olive oil in a 12-inch frying pan. 

4. Pour marinated tofu plus all the marinade into the  pan and spread in a single layer.
Let cook about 5 minutes.

5. While the tofu is cooking, slice up the tree ear mushrooms, then add to the pan, along with the green pepper, mushrooms, onions and optional veggies. Stir-fry for about five minutes,  then let simmer for another five minutes.

6. Add the spinach to the pan and stir until it wilts. 

7. Stir the tomatoes and scallions into the mix. Cover, and let simmer for about five minutes.

Serve spooned over hot white sushi rice or brown rice. 

NOTE: if you don’t have the rice already made, start the rice BEFORE you start this dish!

Note: the Tofuzilla photo is from a poster for the Los Angeles Tofu Festival. We wish we could have attended! 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Future of Cookbooks?

Given that just about everybody has a video camera, access to a blog on the Internet, and a creative itch, why wouldn't cookbooks and recipes go beyond the half-hour TV cooking show to something more sensual and inviting?

Eat Well, Eat Cheap posted John Ross's wonderful little self-shot video of himself baking eggplant, complete with recipe instructions and illuminating video. We forgot about another, equally sensual recipe video that we'd seen earlier on National Public Radio's website. This one by William Hereford is a complete meal featuring duck breast, fingerling potatoes and a butter lettuce salad. If you want to read the accompanying story that NPR did on the video, titled "Is This The Future of Cookbooks," click here. If you merely want to watch the video, go straight to the screen below.

Both of these recipe videos are accompanied by splendid music. Even if you hate eggplant or never eat duck breast, these two videos are worth watching, just for the pleasure they convey about how much fun it is to cook a great plate of food at home.

Cooking Dinner Vol. I from William Hereford on Vimeo.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Easy Baked Eggplant Video

Our friend John Ross has made a smashing video of how to bake an eggplant with five other ingredients for 30 minutes to make an fairly healthy, and certainly enticing, vegetable side.
In addition to giving you everything you need to know to make and bake the dish, he's made a food video that has no voiceover, is easy to follow, and is just a joy to watch.

Roasted Eggplant from John Craig Ross on Vimeo.

Bargain Wine of the Week: Sonoma Acres

Remember when you bent the rules just a bit, because you knew it wouldn't really hurt anybody? And, besides, it probably came as an opportunity that would not present itself again — and it was too good to pass up.

Rules are made to be bent, if not broken, right? We're going to bend our rules one time to tell you about an amazing winery that is getting amazing ratings from Jonathan Newman, one of America's premier wine raters.

The broken rule? The two wines (from the same winery) that we're about to tell you about cost more than $10, and that's our rule here: All wines are good to great and they're all under $10. So, just listen, and see if it's not worth a moving the fences a little. Just this once.

We recently purchased, on Jonathan Newman's recommendation, two 2008 Sonoma Acres wines. The first was a Sauvignon Blanc that Newman rated a 90+. It cost us $10.99. The wine is made from grapes grown all over Sonoma County. The cooler vineyards add a little lemongrass and gooseberry to the nose; the warmer vineyards add tropical nuances.

Here's what Newman said about this wine:
This is an outstanding value 08 Sauvignon Blanc with a nice QPR. Grapefruit, honeysuckle and hints of exotic fruit on the nose. A good core of intensity with key lime, honeydew and candied pineapple. Balanced with nice round tropical fruit creaminess with a pleasant, refreshing finish.
The he really popped our cork when he gave the 2008 Sonoma Acres Pinot Noir a 92/93 rating. The wine was a bit more expensive — $13.99 — but we splurged and bought four. What a bargain for a pinot, especially a Russian River Pinot Noir. Because of the popularity of this varietal — the scourge of "Sideways"— it is very difficult to find a great pinot for less than $30. Here is Newman's review of this wine.
Good bright red ruby color. Inspiring aromas of strawberries, bing cherry,and red plum. Well structured, bright, pleasant acidity and medium bodied. A silky lush mouth feel with raspberries, pomegranates, cherries and touchesof cinnamon and plum. Aged in french oak for ten months which is nicely integrated with a very pleasant and clean finish. This is a small production100% Pinot Noir that is all grown in Sonoma's Russian River Valley and has a great quality/price ratio. Enjoy now or over the next several years and pair with roast duckling in a bing cherry sauce, bouillabaisse or seared salmon.
We've posted the two labels here, so if you see them in a wine store, please do yourself a favor and pick up a bottle of each.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fried Parmesan Crisps—Great Garnish, Great Appetizer

Known in the foodie world as frico, these delicate cheese crisps dress up salads and pasta dishes and make excellent quick appetizers. And they could not be easier to make. All you need are a chunk of parmesan, a grater, and a nonstick pan.

Once you've grated your cheese, turn the heat under your pan up fairly high, then sprinkle the cheese in thin circles on the nonstick surface. Be careful not to pile up the cheese, or the crisps won't be very crispy—a light, lacy pattern is best. Admittedly, the cheese in this photo doesn't follow any particular pattern; if we were showing off for guests, we would make more of an effort to keep the crisps round:

Within a couple of minutes, the cheese will be melted and starting to brown. Turn down the heat to medium and let the cheese cook for just a few minutes more, until it is golden throughout. Then set the pan aside to cool; don't try lifting the cheese off it when it's still hot, or it will smoosh.

After a few minutes, your parmesan crisps will be ready. If you want to use them in a salad or as a garnish, you may want to set them where nobody can find them; they have a tendency to be scarfed up as soon as they're done.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Tapenade: A Love Letter

We love black-olive tapenade, especially in the summer, when produce is abundant and as often as not we eat dinner off the grill. Originally hailing from Provence, this pungent olive paste dresses up pasta, grilled vegetables, bruschetta—anything that can benefit from a wallop of Mediterranean flavor.

Not so long ago, we never would have considered making our own tapenade, for the same reason we don't make cherry pies—the prospect of laboriously pitting a couple of cups of stony fruit is overwhelming. (We bought a cherry pitter a few years ago and managed, after great effort, to successfully pit about three cherries; the pitter went into our Worthless Gadget drawer, where it now lives with the garlic peeler and the egg poacher while awaiting its final trip to Goodwill.)

Fortunately, companies like Trader Joe's and others now sell reasonably priced pitted calamata olives, so it's easy to make our own tapenade. Last year Guest Blogger Paul Spring provided this excellent recipe for homemade tapenade, and it's worth repeating, given the ripe tomatoes on the market right now.

Last night we mixed a couple of tablespoons of tapenade with a quarter-cup of olive oil, a tablespoon of sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper. Drizzled over sliced tomatoes and basil, it made an excellent light dinner.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Another Quick Summer Treat: Strawberry-Rhubarb Pops

On the same day that we were posting the easy ice cream recipe, NPR ran a story about two guys in Washington, DC, who started a popsicle company called Pleasant Pops (because Popsicle is a trade name). Their pops are decidedly different, with fruit and herbs mixed to bring about great taste. Imagine Watermelon-Black Pepper or Peach-Ginger.

They revealed one of their easy recipes: Strawberry-Rhubarb pops that can be made in the freezer. No machines needed.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How to Make Ice Cream Without a Machine

No, you don't need one of those old-fashioned crank things, either. According to this article in today's Washington Post (hold your nose and submit to the registration process; it's worth it), all you need are a couple of plastic bags and some ice. Even though we have a machine, we hardly use it, and the simplicity of this process appeals to us. We'll try it soon and report back  . . .

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Frugal Pantry: Walnut Oil

Like most people, we tend to reach for the olive oil out of habit. Indeed, it's the perfect all-purpose oil, good for cooking, salads, marinades, and just about anything short of Asian dishes. But because we use olive oil so often, we tend to take its flavor for granted.

To keep this from happening—and to keep surprising our taste buds—we deploy our can of walnut oil. Combined with a little lemon juice or rice-wine vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper, walnut oil makes the best simple dressing we know: rich, deep, and fancy-tasting. Because it's expensive, we only use it for salads.

For walnut oil lovers, price is one problem—an eight-ounce can or bottle can easily run to double digits. Another problem is perishability: several times we've bought rancid oil from expensive stores.

Fortunately, we've discovered an economical solution: discount stores like TJ Maxx, Ross, and Marshalls. These stores not only sell walnut oil at a deep discount—a 17-ounce can of our favorite brand, La Tourangelle, costs $6.99—but they pride themselves on selling fresh oil, so they're safe places to shop. Your can of walnut oil may be slightly dented, but that won't stop it from giving you dozens of wonderful salads.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Cool Off with Cucumber Mint Soup

Temperatures are rising again after a fairly cool weekend, and we're looking for recipes that will help us beat the heat. Snooping around online this morning, we stumbled across this great-sounding recipe for Cucumber Mint Soup, which makes use of two items that many of us currently have in abundance. (We are always looking for mint recipes.)

This would make a perfect dinner on a day that's so hot you can't bear the thought of using the stove or even the grill. Add some bread and wine—and maybe some cheese and a green salad, if you're feeling ambitious—and those miserable temperatures might suddenly be a lot more tolerable.