Friday, February 26, 2010

Crocked collards

This week's potluck had a southern theme. It was quite a spread: fried chicken, mac & cheese, ribs, and pecan pie. I decided to contribute cornbread and collard greens. Can't get more southern, right? But I've never made collards before, and I don't even like them that much. So, I experimented.

I looked up a few recipes for these greens, and most seemed to include cooking for more than an hour, had a little vinegar, some broth, and ham hocks or something similar.

Since I wasn't going to have a lot of time between work and the potluck, I decided to use the crockpot to cook the greens all day. And because I don't like ham, I decided to use bacon instead.

I washed and coarsely cut two big bunches of collards (cutting off most of the stems). I cut a 1/2 lb of thick bacon into big pieces. I mixed these with some white wine vinegar, 2 cups of chicken broth, some sugar, and salt and pepper and stuck them in the crockpot. They barely fit.

Then I just put it on low and let it go for 9 hours. It cooked down A LOT, but was nice and moist and flavorful. I liked them, and others raved about them. A successful experiment!

In the theme of experimentation, I also used a new recipe for cornbread. I can't say it's my favorite. It was from one of my favorite cookbooks - The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins - and was called "Hot and Sassy Cornbread". To me, it wasn't moist or flavorful enough. It was fine, but I might find a different recipe next time.

If you feel so inclined:
1 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
fresh ground pepper to taste
1 cup canned cream style corn
1/2 cup frozen corn kernals, thawed
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tblspn vegetable oil
1 Tblspn packed brown sugar
1 or 2 fresh jalepeno peppers, minched

Heat the oven to 400. Butter an 8 or 9 inch square baking pan.
Mix dry ingredients in large bowl. Mix wet ingredients in smaller bowl. Add 1/2 the wet mix to the dry - stir till just combined. Add the rest of the wet stuff and mix again until just combined. Pour into the pan. Bake for 25 minutes - or until knife comes out clean. Cool in the pan for a bit before cutting and eating.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Blueberry muffins

Picking blueberries is fun. With delicious rewards. This past summer I went with my friend Amy and her two little kids to McKenzie River Farm to pick amazing organic berries. We ate a TON of them over the next week or so. But I also slyly froze a few bags for later use.

"Later" came last week when I remembered I had these tasty treats and made some blueberry muffins.

This recipe also comes from the 50's era Joy of Cooking, a few pages past biscuits. They usually turn out pretty good. But this time I added a smashed banana and they came out really nice and moist. I recommend doing that.

You'll need a muffin pan. I like the metal ones, and use little wax paper cups. These make 12 good sized muffins.

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
2 eggs
4 Tblsp. melted butter
3/4 cups milk
1 cup lightly floured blueberries - fresh, canned, or thawed from frozen
1 small banana, smashed

Preheat the oven to 425.

Combined all the dry ingredients. In a seperate bowl, beat the eggs, and then add the butter and milk. Pour the liquid into the dry stuff and stir just enough to wet all the dry stuff. Ignore lumps and don't stir too much. Add the mushed up banana and stir in briefly. Then carefully stir in the blueberries so they don't break.

[To flour thawed blueberries, try to dry them as much as possible first or it won't work. When as dry as you have patience for, toss them gently with flour in a bowl or bag just so they are covered lightly.]

Spoon the batter into prepared muffin cups, about 3/4 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Best eaten warm!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Surprising winter greens

I said this blog would be about both cooking and gardening, but since I started in January there obviously hasn't been a lot about the garden. But how about a teaser of what's to come on our little plot of land...

In the fall, I planted a few different things - hoping the weather would be mild enough so they'd grow slowly, maybe even yield a crop before shutting down for the winter. Let's see what's still alive:

Garlic... check. That's been up and looking good for a while. It'll be ready in June or so.

Kale... check minus. The stretch of super cold weather in December killed some of it and set back the rest pretty bad. It's still not looking good even with all our warm weather in January and February.

Swiss Chard... choke. Yeah, it croaked the second night of below 20 degree weather.

Cilantro... surprise check plus. It made it through the cold, and has offered enough to pick for garnish all winter long. It's looking super happy right now.

Spinach... check. I thought it all died in December, but I weeded its little patch this weekend and found it's starting to do better. Score! I think I'll have s good early crop that I can tear up before planting something new in its spot.

I haven't experimented much with winter gardening, but it's so great to live in a place where it's possible!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Coconut Beef Curry Valentine's dinner

We stayed in for Valentine's Day. Usually do, actually. It's especially nice this year since Monday is President's Day and we both have the day off. Ahhhh....

I decided on a recipe I've made once before and vaguely remember liking. It's a coconut beef curry I got out of the newspaper years ago.

Here's what you need:
1 lb. stew beef, cut into small pieces (1/2 to 1 inch cubes)
2 Tblsp. butter
1 onion, chopped (recipe calls for 2, but that seems excessive. 1 is plenty)
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. of each spice: allspice, coriander, paprika, turmeric
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup prunes, chopped (doesn't have to be this much, but they are tasty)
1/2 cup chopped carrots (recipe doesn't call for this, but I had some baby carrots, and they were a delicious addition)
2 Tblsp. brown sugar
1 1/2 cups pumpkin or other orange squash (like butternut), cut into small chunks.
(I had some frozen pureed pumpkin from a few years ago, and I used a cup of that mixed with some frozen butternut squash chunks bought at the store)
2 jalepenos, chopped
1 can coconut milk (NOT lite)

Cook the onion in the butter in a big saucepot/soup pot until brown.
Add garlic and meat. Stirfry thoroughly.
Add spices, lemon juice, water, prunes, carrots, and brown sugar.
Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add pumpkin and peppers. Stir in coconut milk. Simmer another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until it's a nice thick gravy.

In the meantime, make some Basmati rice. For this amount of curry, I made 1 1/2 cups of rice. Rinsed it. Added 2 1/2 cups water. I cook rice by putting a lid on the pan and turning the stove on high until the water is about to boil over. Then I turn down to low and cook until the water's all gone - about 30 minutes total.

Serve the curry over the rice. Top it with fresh cilantro (I got some out of the garden, even in February!) and chopped toasted almonds. Yumm!!

Seeing how it's Valentine's Day, we wanted to have a nice wine with this dinner. But it was really hard to figure out what to have. Beef might suggest a Cabernet Savignon, but curry might suggest a Gezurstraminer... We tasted the sauce and decided on a Syrah: a 2006 Penner-Ash Syrah we got when we were up near Dundee in November. I think we chose well. The bit of smokiness in this wine complimented the coconut and toasted almonds, and the fruity, rich nature complimented the beef and spices.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Quesadilla medicine

Mmmm, quesadillas. They cure what ails ya!
What's more comforting than delicious melty cheesy quesadillas? (except maybe grilled cheese and tomato soup, which we also had last week - I guess it was a comfort food week.)

Quesadillas are great because you really can put so many different things in them. We always put refried beans and cheese in ours, and sometimes other veggies.

Last week, I had half a red bell pepper left over and a few green onions, got a nice ripe avocado at the store, and had a mixture of pepper jack and cheddar cheeses. We were out of refried beans, but I had a can of "chili beans" - pinto beans mixed with spices - which I just mashed up and used like refrieds.

We spread the beans on half a tortilla, then put any veggies on, then cover in cheese and fold the other half over. Then, we heat up our cast iron skillet, spray it with oil, and put two quesadillas in. Cook for a few minutes, then flip them over. You can put a plate or lid on top to really keep the heat in, or transfer the 'dillas to a baking sheet and put in a nice warm oven to keep warm and melty.

The skillet browns them up really nice, but you have to be careful not to burn them.

This time, we topped the quesadillas with avocado slices, sour cream and salsa. (We're already out of the salsa I canned last summer, so we used local Sweet Creek Foods salsa, which is delicious!)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

White Bean & Garlic Puree

I have wonderful friends. And am lucky enough that they are all fantastic cooks and love to eat. So we have a lot of potlucks. Which is why it was so great when Mrs. Monkey gave me "The Big Book of Potluck" (by Maryana Vollstedt) for my birthday. (Wait, what was she trying to tell me?!)

I've tried a few things out of it, with good success.

Last night our potluck had an Italian theme. So I found an appetizer in the book that said it was perfect for such an event. And it was! This White Bean and Garlic Puree was perfect with the roasted veggies with Italian sausage, semolina gnocchi, baked ziti, and good wine served at the party.

Here's what you need:
1 can (15 oz) white beans, drained and rinsed
(I used Great Northern Beans)
1 large clove garlic, coarsely chopped
Leaves from one sprig of fresh rosemary (mine's from the yard!)
(the recipe calls for basil and parsley, but I think rosemary is way better!)
1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)
fresh ground pepper to taste
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons olive oil

Put all this in a food processor and blend until smooth. Then put it in a bowl to refrigerate for a few hours.

Take it out of the fridge to warm up to room temp before serving.

Serve it with some crostini:

Slice a baguette. Brush both sides of the slices with a little olive oil. Broil on each side to brown them up a bit.

While I liked this spread all-around, I think the best part was the rosemary and the nice hint of balsamic - so don't skip that ingredient!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Cheddar-chutney-egg-muffin breakfast

I don't know what to call the breakfast I'm blogging about today, so I just used all the words for what's in it. Hubby told me to just call it "tasty". Which it is.

I think I originally got this recipe from the newspaper, and we have it every few months and love it every time. If you're feeling adventurous, I highly recommend giving this a try.

For one person you need:
- 1 or 1 1/2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
- 1 English muffin, halved
- Some kind of sweet/fruit chutney (a mango chutney is good, or we use some chunky homemade pear chutney from a few years ago)
- A few slices of cheddar cheese

Boil, peel, and slice the egg(s). Turn the broiler on.
Spread the chutney on both halves of the English muffin. Top with as many egg slices as will fit, and then cover with slices of cheddar cheese. Put under the broiler for a few minutes until the cheese in melted and bubbly. Eat as an open-faced sandwich - which is a little messy.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Instant Soup

I needed to make something for a potluck tonight, and decided to throw together a soup. And throw it together I did! Soup can be so easy - and healthy.

I saw this morning that I had a big can of tomatoes, an old carrot, and half an onion. I picked up a can of garbonzo beans, a couple little zucchini, a red pepper, and some spinach at the store.

I like to do all the prep for things like this ahead of time. I cut up the half onion, a clove of garlic, half the red pepper, a carrot, and the two little zucchini into pretty small pieces. I drained and rinsed the garbonzo beans, opened the large can of crushed tomatoes, and heated 2 cups of water to near boiling in the microwave and stirred in some powdered veggie stock (you could of course use any stock).

In a big pot, I sauteed the onion in a little olive oil for a few minutes, then added the rest of the chopped up veggies. After another few minutes, I added the tomatoes and the stock, the garbonzos, plus a little more water. Salt, pepper, and some dried basil completed the picture. I let it simmer for 15 or 20 minutes. Then I added a few handfuls of baby spinach and stirred it in until it wilted.

Then, it was ready to eat, but it can also stay on the stove on low for a while. I grated some parmesan cheese on top before eating. Delicious!

This soup has endless possibilities: different veggies, different kind of bean, what have you. It's a great, fast, healthy weekday main dish!