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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Great App(etizer): Brie with Honey and Thyme

Here's a great — and quick — appetizer that will satisfy cheese lovers and also guests with a sweet tooth at the same time. It comes from Chris Kimball, editor of Cook's Illustrated.

Buy any old brand of Brie cheese in an 8-inch round. With a serrated knife, carefully slice off the top rind, leaving the side and bottom rind. Place the round on a microwave-safe serving plate, drizzle the brie with honey and sprinkle thyme or rosemary on top.

Heat in a microwave until the brie bubbles, probably about a minute or two. Serve with crackers to the delight of your guests. Easy, peasy!

For this recipe and other holiday cooking tips from Chris, click on this link, then click on "See the Recipes."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Video: A Fresh Side of Pears, Cauliflower, Sage and Hazelnuts

Here's another recipe video from John Ross. He made it for Fine Cooking, the magazine and website. It features pears and cauliflower in a delightful side dish that is perfect for the holiday season — and very simple, too. Unfortunately, our layout cuts off part of the video, so we've included the link, so that you can go to to see it in wide screen.
Watch the video at

A Beautiful Banana

This beautiful banana photo was taken by our friend John Ross, an up-and-coming food videographer whose recipe videos we have featured here (pasta w/ pumpkin, sausage and kale) and here (easy baked eggplant) on Eat Well, Eat Cheap. The banana photo was chosen as Photo of the Day by See it in all of its glory at the link below:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bargain Wine of the Week: 2010 Pacific Rim Riesling

If you're in a quandary about wine for Thanksgiving dinner, here's a last minute tip that'll get you by with the dozen or so people gathered around your turkey on Thanksgiving.

Pacific Rim winery in Washington state is making superb Rieslings. If you think that Rieslings are too sweet for serious wine drinkers, here's the catch: Pacific Rim makes four 2010 Rieslings varying from dry to sweet and only one of them is too sweet for our palates.

There are two more notes about these wines that are worthy of mention. The first is that the three we like all scored 90 or 91 on Wine Enthusiast ratings. These are seriously good wines, no matter how sophisticated your mouth.

The second is that at our local liquor store, they range in price from $9.99 to $12.99. That's a tremendous bargain for three such high rated varietals from the same winery.

The three we like are Pacific Rim 2010 Dry Riesling, rated 90 points by Wine Enthusiast magazine. It's got only 1% residual sugar.

The next is Pacific Rim 2010 Riesling, which is an medium-dry wine that your sweet-wine friends will enjoy. It garnered a 90 from Wine Enthusiast. It's got a colorful label that says only "Riesling," without characterizing its level of dryness.

The third is Pacific Rim 2010 Organic Riesling, which is also medium dry and we find it the best of the three — as did the Wine Enthusiast folks who gave it a 91 rating. Look for the totally white label and the word "Organic" at the bottom. This bottle is three bucks more at $12.99, but well worth it.

Buy one of each and see which one is the favorite at your holiday meal.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Happy Hippie Eggplant Casserole

Ro Ann Redlin sent us this wonderful sounding—and wonderfully named—recipe in August, when tomatoes were ripening on the vines, and we're sorry to only be posting it now. Blame France, work, general life stresses, but this recipe has been in the back of our minds all along: whenever we spot a sleek, fat eggplant, we think, "We've got to try Ro Ann's recipe." She assures us that it's just as good in the cold months as in the summer. On this, as on all matters of cooking, we trust her. 

Happy Hippie Eggplant  Casserole

2 large eggplants, peeled and cubed ( I don't salt and wipe my eggplant. No need.)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 to 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
A handful each of fresh basil and thyme, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, sliced

1. Throw the eggplant cubes, onion, garlic, basil and thyme into a cast-iron skillet or heavy skillet. Cook it down until the eggplant cubes are soft and the onion is translucent. 

2. Spread half of the eggplant mixture into a baking dish and top with sliced tomatoes and half of the cheese. Spread the remaining eggplant mixture on top of the tomatoes and cheese. 

3. Top the casserole with crushed butter crackers. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. 


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Don't Toss That Old Cast-Iron Pan! Restore It

It seems that for our entire cooking lives we've heard, "Nothing cooks better than a cast-iron pan." But we associated cast-iron with the heavy, rust-prone, pain-in-the-neck pans of our parents, so we went on to amass a collection of Circulon, Calphalon, All-Clad—anything but cast-iron.

But when Ruth's mother moved into assisted living and Ruth had to clean out her house, she found the old skillet that her father had used to fry sausage, eggs, pastrami, and other cholesterol-laden delights under the disapproving eye of his health-minded wife. The pan had fallen into neglect since his death, covered with rust and dust, but Ruth could not bring herself to put it in the Goodwill box. She took it home and—well, we'd like to say that she used it religiously, but she put the skillet in a out-of-the-way cupboard where it went on to collect years' more rust and dust.

Then we moved to a different house, leaving a few things behind for our occasional trips back to Connecticut. On these trips we discovered that we needed a good frying pan, and we remembered the old skillet in the back of the cupboard. Could it be restored?

Indeed it could. We were amazed by how easy it was to clean—and how well it cooked. We feared food, particularly proteins, would stick, but the cast iron released food at the perfect moment of doneness. The skillet held heat evenly—better, in fact, than our much more expensive pans in Virginia.

The handle is smooth from decades of use; the inside is scarred from decades of spatulas; the outside is as rough as an old ship's bottom. When we use it, we remember Ruth's father defiantly cooking his beloved sausage in a long-lost kitchen in upstate New York. We love this pan.

How to Restore a Cast-Iron Pan

First, we gave the skillet a good scrubbing, washing off as much of the accumulated crud as we could.

Then we set the empty pan on top of the stove, added about a quarter-inch of vegetable oil, and heated it at a medium setting until the handle was too hot to touch. That took about ten minutes.

We added about a third of a cup of kosher salt and—wearing a rubber glove on one hand and clutching a potholder in the other—rubbed the oil-and-salt mixture into the pan with a wad of paper towels, making sure we cleaned every bit of the inside surface.

We washed the pan with soap and water, then dried it completely and—important!—wiped a tiny amount of olive oil onto the cooking surface to prevent further rust.

As long as we apply that small dab of oil after each washing, the pan stays rust-free.

Did we say that we love this pan? It's true: Nothing cooks like cast-iron.

If you don't have a pan of your own, it's worth checking your local flea market or thrift stores, which always seem to have a lot of them, in varying stages of rustedness. Don't let their abused appearances scare you; chances are they can be salvaged.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Make It Yourself: Pizza Dough

Actually, this may be a pointless post, as we are possibly the last people on earth to have figured out that there's nothing easier, and few things cheaper, than making your own pizza dough.

Why did we put off trying this? Maybe we thought it was a time-consuming process, with lots of kneading and rising times; maybe because we feared that the dough wouldn't rise. We don't even remember our thinking; we just got in the habit of buying raw dough from the supermarket. To be fair, there's a lot of good dough out there (as well as some bad dough—we're looking at you, Trader Joe!).

But when we went to the store the other day, there was no raw dough to be had. As we were craving pizza, we decided to take the leap.

Boy, did we feel stupid. What could be easier than this:

Homemade Pizza Dough

3 cups flour
2 t. salt
2 t. yeast
1 cup warm water (let your faucet run until it's almost hot)
2 T. olive oil, plus a little extra for the dough bowl

1. Put flour, salt and yeast in the bowl of a food processor. Give it a quick spin to mix things up.

2. Turn the processor on, and pour the water through the feeding tube, followed by the oil. After about 30 seconds, the ingredients will form a clump. (It will be pretty sticky at this point.)

3. Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead it for just a few seconds until it's a smooth ball.

4. Oil a bowl, drop in the dough ball, and turn it until it's covered in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for an hour or two, until it doubles in size.

5. Remove the dough from the bowl and let it rest on a floured surface, covered, until it puffs up again (maybe 20 minutes). Then it's ready to use.

Makes one good-sized pizza or two small ones.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Frugal Pantry: Brown Rice Syrup

This liquid sweetener is less sweet than honey or maple syrup, with a rich caramel flavor that works well in many desserts. The other night we sautéed some apples that had turned mealy, as we sometimes do, and we decided to try our brown rice syrup instead of the usual brown sugar. The resulting dish tasted fantastic, like a hot, soft caramel apple.

Brown rice syrup is also a good addition to oatmeal cookies and quickbreads—basically, to any recipe that would benefit from a shot of caramel.  You can find it in health food stores or, if you're lucky, near the honey and molasses in your supermarket.

Caramel Sautéed Apples

2 T. butter
Three apples, cored and sliced into crescents (we don't mind skins, but if you do, pare away!)
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
Pinch of salt (more if you like the flavor of salted caramel)

1. Melt the butter in a frying pan. Add the apple pieces and turn them until they are covered in butter. Stirring occasionally, let them fry until they are soft and golden, about 20 minutes.

2. When the apples are cooked, add the brown rice syrup and let them fry for another few minutes, until the syrup and apples have gotten to know each other.

You can either eat these plain or use them as a topping for cake or ice cream. Enjoy!