The Reorg

So, The Hubs’ grad school schedule this semester of three nights a week, plus some weekends has been depriving me of those now precious commodities… time and energy.  The Kid has simultaneously developed a severe objection to seeing me sit down.  So, I figured I had to get creative.   I started with running laps around the basement with him.  Then, I just got used to the idea that I don’t get to sit down.  On nights when he didn’t want to do laps I started reorganizing.  The Kid is usually willing to help carry things from one place to another and has no problem going up and down the stairs a million times so it seemed like a good idea.  I made the mistake of believing that the kid would eventually get tired and let me sit down, but it didn’t happen so I ended up reorganizing just about the entire house.  Every night, The Hubs would just come home from work or class and just shake his head as I reorganized something else.  The good news is that I’ve found tons of stuff that we aren’t using and will be able to donate it all just in time for the holidays (tons of baby stuff — seriously, how does someone so small go through so many clothes and need so much STUFF?!).  The bad news, is now I’m so close to reorganizing everything that I can’t stop.

This weekend, I reorganized the pantry.  My pantry serves three purposes: It holds most of my room temp food supply (the freezer is just another story), Holds all my platters and party supplies and lastly, it is where I start the seeds for most of the plants that my mom and I grow in our gardens each year.  So, the pantry has always had a lot going on.  The Hubs used to hate the pantry.  I would send him down to the pantry to grab… anything and eventually he’d give up after repeated trips up and down the stairs and just call me with the camera on his phone to figure out where to look.  Poor Hubs!  The Pantry reorg didn’t take nearly as much time as I thought it would and I found everything I swore I had and almost purchased over again.  Thanks to the reorg, I found my:

 

  • yogurt maker (I had an idea that making yogurt with organic milk would be cheaper than buying it)
  • bread dough container (I became a fan of the Artisan Bread in 5 minutes book and used to make bread, then just lost the time)
  • All my canning jars (I really need to bite the bullet and start canning this summer)
  • more than 25 boxes of pasta (don’t ask, if I had a coupon and it was a great price then I got pasta) … oh and this is after I gave boxes away to the food drive
  • the package of farro, I swore I had somewhere
  • …and so much more
Well now I guess I have to do something with all that wonderful stuff I “found.”
I came home energized for some crazy reason today and pulled off a masterful feat.  I juiced, made kale chips (dangerously addictive by the way), made my Curry Chicken and gravy and served it with the brown rice, beans & corn that the kid loves.  (The Hubs and I loaded the hot rice on the salad of course.)  I butterflied the other whole chicken and added garlic, lemon peel, cracked black pepper, salt & olive oil to the freezer bag so it can marinate while thawing.  I somehow had the presence of mind to clear out the vegetable drawer to make a stock with the remaining chicken bones.  And all this was preceded by me grinding wheat berries and rye into flour to set up the bread dough to rise for 2 hours when I got home according to the Artisan Bread in 5 minutes book!  There’s just something about a clear pantry that makes me want to really get going in the kitchen!
Every year around this time, the pantry has to undergo an overhaul (although I think I got the formula right this year) so I can get ready to start the seedlings for the next year’s garden.  In about a month, my mom and I will be studiously hovered over trays of seed starting systems trying to decide what we are planting this year and what we didn’t like from last year.  I know we are going to plant too much, but i never care.  Now that I have tons of space available, I’m going to have to sit down with my collection of seeds (It turns out that I have more than 600 [and still counting] flower, herb. vegetable or fruit seed packets) so since my greenhouse plans have been delayed, I might as well get started with the seeds so the plants are ready to go into the greenhouse whenever it materializes.  Apparently putting up a greenhouse isn’t a simple feat, but I have every confidence that the Hubs will be able to pull it off as an early Valentines/Mother’s Day/(isn’t there another holiday early next year) gift.  (Hint Hint, Hubs)


What to do…. What to do….?

Sometimes my overindulgence in buying vegetables works out to some sort of magical symphony of ingredients available in the house. That was what happened on Wednesday… National Sandwich Day (I guess there’s a day for everything). So, there seems to be an odd phenomenon in our family… I can’t pick a good sandwich. It is my Food Achilles Heel. If The Hubs and I go to a restaurant and get sandwiches, I always end up liking his sandwich and not eating mine. I’ve learned over the years to just have him help me pick a sandwich because he is a sandwich genius. I don’t even try anymore. So, I was dreaming of The Hubs’ grilled cheese sandwich when I realized I roasted all the tomatoes I had in the house last night to make the Roasted Pepper & Tomato Sauce. I had to come up with some other way to convince The Hubs to make me a grilled cheese. He makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve ever had and I love to dip them into a smooth super creamy soups (usually my Balsamic Roasted Tomato Soup) so I had to come up with something else.

I was at the produce place last weekend and since it’s that time of year, I got winter squash, sweet potatoes and apples which are plentiful and relatively inexpensive at the moment. I ended up roasting the butternut squash (in a 400F oven for 1 hour) and making sweet potato fries (roasted in a 400F oven for 1 hour) and when I looked into the fridge this afternoon and saw the leftovers, I had an idea…. What if I made a super creamy soup with the butternut squash, sweet potatoes and apples. If I made it spicy enough It could hold up to a grilled cheese sandwich….hmmm…. So I started fiddling.

Okay… so here’s the other thing…. my “blender” is a Vitamix which I love (and which is expensive).  If you see any contest to win a Vitamix, I highly recommend entering it.  You won’t be disappointed if you get one.  It blends things really fine so I didn’t peel the sweet potatoes or squash (I did peel the apples).  I leave the skin on most things I puree in the Vitamix to boost the texture since The Hubs likes creamy soups and corporate microwaves don’t generally do a great job with creamy soups when you reheat them.

The soup turned out far better than I expected.  The ground poinsettia peppers gave it a lot of heat.  I really recommend growing them and drying them because their heat sneaks up on you so you get to taste all the spices before the heat hits you like a wave.  The apples are sweet enough so you’re not left with a permanently burnt tongue and if you pair it with a grilled cheese sandwich you’ll be all set.  This is a great cold weather soup!

 

Spicy Sweet Potato &  Butternut Squash Soup

2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 large Spanish Onion, minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or ground poinsettia peppers if you have it)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp apple pie spice
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1 Tbsp salt
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
6 apples, peeled and cored (I used 2 small McIntosh, 2 Gala & 2 Fuji)
1/3 cup AppleJack (or apple juice)
2 large roasted sweet potatoes, cut in large pieces
1 medium roasted butternut squash, cut in large pieces
2 quarts water

In a soup pot over medium heat, add olive oil. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the onions and garlic. Cook slowly moving onions around the pan as needed until the onions have given up most of their moisture. Add the apples and all the spices. Let this cook slowly for 5-8 minutes. Stirring as needed. Add the AppleJack or apple juice to deglaze the pan and scrape up any spices that may be sticking. Add the sweet potatoes and butternut squash and the water and turn the heat up to high. When the mixture starts boiling, turn down to a summer for about 10-15 minutes. Puree the mixture to a smooth texture in a blender and serve.

End of Year Garden Sauce

Every Spring, my mom and I start seeds for tomato and pepper plants. We always end up getting excited by the different varieties of seeds we have and start at least a couple seeds for almost every variety (we never learn). Every year, we end up with around 50 tomato & pepper plants and sometimes more. One year we’re going to get our act together and sell them since they’re all organically raised. So, at the end of every summer season, there are entirely too many tomato and pepper plants and people start hiding from us. So, every year, I end up with a bunch of tomatoes and a bunch of peppers and I make this sauce and throw it in the freezer. It’s not complicated, but it is delicious and it’s my backup to tomato paste. The sauce is a little different every time since the ingredients aren’t always the same, but it is yummy! I add tomato paste to a lot of dishes, but have a terrible tendency to always forget to put it on my shopping list. I’ve run out on several occasions so I just dig some of this out of the freezer and works as a great addition to sauces or soups. BTW: If you don’t make huge batches of food like I do (yes I know I am not feeding an army but I will be raising a teenage son, so I’m in training), freeze the sauce in ice cube trays then store it in the freezer in freezer bags so you can use a little bit at a time.


20111103-125853.jpg Roasted Pepper & Tomato Sauce

An equal amount of sweet peppers & tomatoes
2 Spanish Onions, cut in large pieces
Peeled garlic cloves from 1 head of garlic
Poultry seasoning or fresh herbs
1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon Black pepper
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
4 Tablespoons Vinegar (Either Balsamic or Sherry Vinegar)
1/2 cup White Wine (or Vermouth, or Red Wine, or Vodka)

1. Preheat oven to 400F and move the rack to the top position.

20111103-125729.jpg2. Cut up all the peppers and tomatoes (squeeze out the seeds as much as possible). Add to a large glass baking dish (preferably 11×14 if you have it). Add the onions and garlic cloves. Make sure the garlic cloves are buried underneath the peppers and tomatoes.  Add the herbs, salt, pepper, olive oil, vinegar and wine. Toss together. (NOTE: You don’t have to toss. I had to do this all one handed the other night while holding the Kid so I can tell you it still works.)

3. Roast for 60 – 90 minutes. This just depends on how much you have. At 60 minutes, take a look at the mixture. If it looks caramelized enough then take it out. Otherwise, just keep checking back for the next 15-30 minutes.

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4. Puree just enough that it’s still a little chunky then put it in a large soup pot to simmer on medium-low heat. After about 30 minutes, taste it to see if it needs any more seasoning. Then package it up and store it for the next time you forget to buy tomato paste. This works great in the Lazy Gravy Recipe too instead of tomato paste.

Hot Soup on a Cool Fall Day

I’m on a soup kick. I know. I can’t stop. Every year when the cool air starts creeping in I have that moment where I crave putting on a thick cozy sweater and wrapping my hands around a steaming soup mug. I tend to like my soups a bit spicy since it adds to the warming effect. If you’re not a heat fan, feel free to skip it.  I started thinking about this soup in the summer when all the fresh corn was available. But somehow I just couldn’t get into making soup when it was hot out. So, when I went into the produce spot and saw whole corn and poblano peppers on a cold day I knew what I was going to do. Of course, I wasn’t thinking it through and completely forgot to pick up the potatoes. Thankfully I picked up a Jamaican yam (also sold as Name) which I roasted (in 425F oven for two hours) so I used that instead of potato, but potato works just as well in the recipe. If you’re feeling adventurous give the Jamaican yam (yes I know its not only Jamaican) a try… Why not try something new? The swiss chard also wasn’t part of my original idea, but it’s the end of the season and there was a ton of swiss chard at my parents place, so I’ve been using the stems like celery in my soups. It’s easier than letting them go to waste.  On a side note, if you decide to add the jalapeño (or whatever good hot pepper you have) roast a few extra potatoes just in case.  The potatoes and half and half really help calm down some of the heat in the soup.  If you don’t use all the potatoes for this recipe, then we can come up with some other way to use them.

 

Corn Poblano Chowder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 poblano peppers
4 ears corn
5 cloves garlic
2 Spanish yellow onions, cut in large pieces
1 stalk celery, cut in large pieces
15 stalks Swiss chard, remove leaves and cut in large pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 jalapeño peppers, chopped, seeds & stems removed (optional)
8 cups water or vegetable/chicken stock
1.5 cups beans
1/2 medium size roasted yam (or 2 baked russet potatoes), cut into 1/2″ pieces
1/2 cup half and half

Roasting the poblanos:

Move the oven rack to the top. Turn on the broiler. Roast the poblanos on a metal baking sheet for 8 minutes per side or until the skin is black and blistered.  Put the roasted poblanos in a glass dish and cover with cling wrap.  After about 10 minutes, the steam should have helped separate the skin from the poblanos and you can peel and remove the seeds.  Chop the poblanos into 1/2 inch or smaller pieces and set aside.

Soup:

While the poblanos are roasting, cut the corn kernels off the ears. With food processor running add garlic cloves. When the garlic is minced, stop the food processor, add onions, celery, and Swiss chard stems. In a soup pot over medium heat, add the olive oil and sauté the vegetable mixture. Add the corn cobs, salt and pepper and sauté with the vegetables. Add the jalapeño peppers. After about 8 minutes add 8 cups of water or stock. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Take the corn cobs out of the pot and purée the vegetables in a blender. Put the cobs back in and add the corn kernels. Turn the heat to high until the mixture is boiling. Add beans. Add poblano. Add yam. Turn the heat back down to medium-low and simmer for 15-30 minutes.  Add half and half and adjust salt and pepper to taste while it warms through and serve.

Note: Add some crushed tortilla chips on top!!

Meat Sauce and Not so Meaty Sauce… Whatever I’m in the mood for

I have a huge pet peeve with the marketing of Vegetarian Food.  The idea that a vegetable tastes just like meat is ludicrous.  Meat tastes good.  Vegetables taste good.  Vegetables don’t taste like meat.  They’re not supposed to!  I tend to believe that you would have a much easier time convincing people to give vegetarian food a chance if you didn’t set them up with incorrect expectations.  There are tons of meat substitutes on the market and some of them are good.  I think it’s amusing that they have options like steak and chicken and bacon, and I get that they’re just explaining the gradient of flavor.  But, if you know that it’s not really supposed to taste like meat and take it for what it is, you can find some that you like.  I was vegetarian for about 6 months my senior year of high school.  I didn’t do it for any reason other than I figured I wanted to eat something else for a while.  My dad is an amazing cook and he just alternated.  Some nights everyone would eat vegetarian and some nights I would break out my frozen veggie patties and have that with the vegetable sides.  They didn’t taste like meat, but they were good.  Now that I think of it, I should find out what brand they were and see if they still sell them.

I realize that I am lucky that The Hubs is open minded about going along with my nutty ideas about what we should eat, but I think a lot of people think of vegetarian food and expect a weak attempt at making meat.  That’s just not how I look at our meatless days.  I figure if I just work out how to make something that tastes good then we’ll all be happy.  I try to stick with buying  organic meat which is more expensive so I just buy less of it and sub in meatless options to balance out the budget.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I’m very grateful that I have a Hubs who is willing to at least give it a try.  Which is how I came up with this recipe which I think is pretty cool if you just accept the fact that it’s not meat, that’s it’s actually quinoa and it tastes good in it’s own right.

The Hubs LOVES meat sauce.  I love it too, but I usually find it way too heavy and end up feeling like a sack of potatoes when i’m done eating it so I’ve always lightened it up by using half veggies and half meat in order for us to meet in the middle.  Thanks to the food processor it doesn’t take much time to make.  Using the same basic premise you can make this with meat or without.  The kid likes Quinoa so he loved this and we were still able to get the classic picture of the kid covered in red sauce.

 

Meaty/Not so Meaty Sauce

1 cup black quinoa, uncooked OR 1 pound ground meat (beef/meatloaf mix [whatever you’re in the mood for])

1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned with damp cloth
2 large carrots, peeled & cut into 1-inch pieces
1 stalk celery, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 red pepper, seeds removed, cut in 1-inch pieces
2 spanish onions, peeled & cut into 1-inch pieces
4 large garlic cloves
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp italian seasoning
pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and black pepper  to taste
3 oz tomato paste
1/4 cup liquid of choice (red wine, dry vermouth, vodka, water [whatever you have])
Any Good Red Pasta Sauce 36 oz (or more as needed)
Parmesan Cheese (optional)

Meaty: Add salt and pepper to the meat.  Brown the meat on medium high heat in a wide pan.  Do this in batches so the meat has room to spread and gets nicely browned.  When all the meat is browned set aside in a bowl.

Not so Meaty: Make quinoa according to package instructions.  (If you buy it in bulk, then rinse it first until the water runs clear to make sure you get rid of the soapy coating.) If you expect to be short on time, make the quinoa a day ahead.

While the food processor is running, add the garlic so it gets chopped up pretty fine.  Turn off the food processor and add the mushrooms, carrots, celery, red pepper, and onions.  Pulse the veggies until they are finely chopped.  You do not want to puree them.  Add olive oil to the pan on medium-high heat and add all the veggies.  Add a pinch of salt.  You’re going to cook them for a while so the idea here is to get most of their liquid to evaporate.  Don’t rush it.  It will happen, just move them around the pan occassionally and let them brown.  When you start to see them sticking to the pan, add your herbs & spices.

This part is important.  Depending on how long your herbs have been around they may have varying intensities.  Smell the veggies.  Taste them too.  If it tastes like you need more herbs, add them.  Remember that you haven’t added your “meat” yet so if it seems too intense you still have a chance to even it out.  If it’s not intense enough, add more herbs.

Then add the tomato paste.  Clear out a spot in the middle, and put it in the pan for a minute and leave it to caramelize.  Then start moving it around.  Add a pinch of salt.  Now that everything is sticking to the pan (but not burning), add 1/4 cup of the liquid of your choosing to deglaze the pan.  The idea is to use your wooden spoon or spatula to scrape all of the stuck on bits off the bottom of the pan.  This is where your flavor is and you want to get it in the sauce and not leave it for the dishwasher.  Once the liquid has evaporated, add your black quinoa or browned meat and stir to combine everything.  Then add your red pasta sauce of choice.  Bring it up to a simmer and leave it to cook through.  Before you serve it, check it for herbs, salt and pepper.  Add more of whatever is needed.

Serve over the pasta of your choice with Parmesan Cheese if you’re into that sort of thing.

 

Condiments to the Rescue — Mustard

Some eating establishments cook vegetables as though they are punishing them for existing and punishing you for selecting them despite all the other available menu options.  I usually pick the veggies from the menu, but have lived to regret it on occasion.  Sometimes I think they cook the veggies without even the suggestion of salt just to say they are healthy even though they taste so bad they might as well have left them off the menu.  My restaurant cheat is an odd one I know, but it works in a pinch.  If I get veggies that taste horrible, but I know I need to eat them to stay on my calorie goal for the day, I break out the condiments.  Although ketchup is supposed to be the catch-all condiment, it’s constant companion, spicy mustard is actually my veggie saver.  It has acid (a flavor which is often overlooked in cooking) and just enough salt to give the flavor punch to veggies that are sorely lacking.

Mustard is one of my favorite flavor cheats.  I always have a few bottles of different types of mustard in the pantry because it’s useful for more than just hot dogs.  Just a tablespoon or two give that added kick to sausage and peppers.  And seriously… who can deny the greatness of “real” Honey Mustard?  I love using whole mustard seeds to my spice mixes.  It’s great as a part of dry spice mixes.  When I need a quick side, I find that potatoes roasted with a good spice mix is always a crowd favorite.

 

Potatoes Roasted with Mustard Spice Mix

5 pounds potatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon ground sumac

Preheat oven to 400F.  Slice potatoes  into about 1/4-inch thick rounds.  On a large sheet pan (or two), spread out potato slices.  Drizzle oil and spice mix over the potatoes.  Mix the potatoes and spices around until all the potatoes are coated with oil and spices (hands are easiest for this).  Roast in oven for about an hour.  Check to make sure the potatoes are as crispy as you like them before you remove them from the oven.

 

Fruit as Decoration… or a useful approximation

I love throwing parties.  I tend to put out too much food (though I am getting better) and need fairly large platters to hold all the food.  As a result, I have more platters than any one person should have.  I have a clear and obvious problem since I had to dedicate a “room” in my basement just to storage of my party supplies.  I get the platters at a really good price which simply adds to the problem of the addiction.  But having so many platters and so little storage space has presented an interesting solution (yes I have that many platters).  When I’m not having a party, I have to put the platters somewhere so I had to come up with a solution to store them. I also have a problem with the house looking exactly the same all the time.  If I buy some kind of decoration for one room, chances are, it will end up in another room or put away for a season or in a Good Will pile because I just don’t want to see the room look the same for too long.  Constantly changing decorations can get expensive, but as it turns out these two wrongs can make a right.

 

Since I have been known to buy entirely too many fruits and vegetables and the fridge is usually beyond capacity, I use the fruit as my decorations.  I have the platters carefully placed all over the house to accent the shape of various tables.  And these usually get moved around as I get sick of seeing the same platter in the same location and they get switched out for other platters hidden away in the pantry throughout the year.   So, when I come home with my load of fruits and veggies, and The Hubs gives me the “Where exactly do you think that’s going to go?” look I just load up my platters and walk away.

The other benefit to this system is I know which platter I loaded first/last so all the older fruit can be used at once for juice if I come home with another batch of veggies and need extra space.  Now that I’ve instituted the same weekday breakfast of a bowl of fruit from my childhood for The Kid, it’s much easier to look at the platters and see what I have available.  And even though The Hubs may be intimidated by the fridge crammed to the top with veggies, he can browse the platters and grab a healthy snack.  And… I don’t have to go buy another figurine or decorative ball or whatever to decorate the house.  I may still be buying another platter…  No promises on stopping that addiction.

 

Potsticker-Style Veggies

There are some things that are just irresistible. For me, good potstickers fall in that category. There’s something about the combination of caramelization and soft steamed interior that I just can’t turn down. The method actually works for veggies too. My favorite veggie to do Potsticker-style is Brussels Sprouts.

Brussels sprouts have a bad reputation. They have the same built in pop up timer as the other cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cabbage that can leave a house smelling like rot if they are cooked too long. If you are steaming them, then timing is critical. The Potsticker method works really well when there are distractions. And because of the caramelization, it changes the flavor profile and makes them a bit sweet and a little soft. I did this recipe with baby Brussels sprouts that were small enough for the kid to pick up and paired it with pasta which he loves and they were a big hit.  The hubs loves brussels sprouts this way too although he eats most veggies.

 

Potsticker-Style Brussels Sprouts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved or quartered (whichever you prefer)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup water

Toss the Brussels sprouts with salt and pepper. In a medium hot skillet (select one that has a cover or use a cover from another pan), add 1 tablespoon oil and spread out the Brussels sprouts so that it forms an even layer. After about 5 minutes, turn over a couple pieces and look for some browning. If it is brown, toss in the water and cover the pan. The water will steam the Brussels sprouts. After about 8 minutes try and stick the brussels sprouts with a fork. If it is still hard add a couple of tablespoons of water and cover again. Check again in a few minutes. Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over the finished Brussels Sprouts and serve.