Saturday, August 30, 2008

Rushing the season

Tonight's Menu

  • pork chops with apples & onions in a cider mustard cream sauce
  • mashed potatoes
  • sauteed cabbage with bacon
Oh people, it's not even quite September yet and I am SO ready for fall! I can't help it; it's been a loooong summer here in central Texas. I was in the mood for fall food tonight, and nothing says fall to me like pork, apples and cabbage.

So, the pork! I had some really large but thin bone-in chops that I just seasoned with salt and pepper and then browned on both sides in a heavy skillet with a little bit of oil. I removed the chops to a plate and covered them with foil to keep warm, then dumped half a Granny Smith apple (peeled and sliced relatively thin) and half a sweet yellow onion (also sliced thin, lengthwise) into the skillet. I tossed them around to pick up some color, then briefly removed the pan from the heat so I could pour in about 10 ounces of hard cider. (You could also use regular non-alcoholic apple cider, in which case there's no danger of a flareup and thus no need to take the pan off the heat.)

I put the pan back on the heat and left it to simmer away, uncovered, until the onions and apples were tender and the cider had evaporated by about half. Then I stirred in one tablespoon of whole-grain mustard (because I like the seeds) and slowly added about half a cup of heavy cream. I let it bubble away for just a minute before taking it off the heat.

The idea is to serve the apple-onion sauce over the chops, but I put it on the side because I knew the kids would never eat it that way. And yes, they are still free to Make (Their) Own Damn Dinner(s) if they don't like what I'm serving, but they both DO like pork chops and it's no skin off my nose to put the sauce on the side.

The mashed potatoes were my usual frozen Ore-Ida, jazzed up with milk, butter, salt and pepper. I KNOW! But for a processed food this one doesn't contain too much scary crap, and I just HATE making mashed potatoes from scratch.

For the cabbage, I just browned off some chopped bacon in a skillet and then dumped in a bunch of chopped cabbage. Stir, stir, stir until the cabbage is tender, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Easy!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What's cookin'

Hey, everyone! I know my dinner posts have been a little spotty lately, so I thought I'd list some stuff I've been making that I haven't had a chance to tell you about.

Cold Boiled Shrimp
This is the girl child's favorite way to eat shrimp, and it really could not be easier to make. I buy shrimp with the shells already split down the back and the mud veins removed, but it's pretty easy to do that yourself with a pair of kitchen shears. Bring a big pot of water to a boil with a couple of tablespoons (or more, if you like it spicy) of crab/shrimp-boil seasoning. You can buy this already made, which is what I do, or mix up your own blend of spices, which is what I keep telling myself I'll do one of these days.

Give your shrimp a good rinse in the sink and then, once the water on the stove is at a full boil, CAREFULLY add the shrimp. It only takes a couple of minutes for them to cook. As soon as they curl up, fish them out with a slotted spoon and dump them directly into a big bowl of ice. This will stop them from cooking any further and getting rubbery, plus make them easier to peel. And spicy, cold shrimp is soooo good on a hot day! I like to dip mine in a little melted butter with some hot sauce mixed in, but you could go the cocktail sauce route or whatever. Yum!

Spiced carrots
I made these the other night while DH was grilling steaks. I had a gorgeous bunch of organic carrots (with the tops still attached! love that!) and ended up using the whole bunch for this -- about 8-10 carrots -- because they were kind of small. But you know, adjust the amount however you like. All I did was peel them, cut them into 3/4-inch chunks, stick them in a bowl and steam them in the microwave until they were crisp-tender.

While the carrots were nuking, I bashed up a couple of teaspoons each of whole coriander and cumin seeds with my mortar and pestle. Then I melted a couple of tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium heat, added the spices and stirred them around for a bit before dumping in the steamed carrots and tossing them to coat. Season with salt and pepper and you're done! These were really yummy with the grilled steaks (and baked potatoes, which the kids DEVOURED after claiming not to like baked potatoes. go figure!).

Coconut milk ice cream
We bought an ice cream maker this summer and I had resolved my lactose-intolerant self to a summer full of TEENSY dabs of homemade goodness, with the occasional fruit sorbet (boring!), when I learned there was such a thing as ice cream made with coconut milk. I was hesitant to try it because my past experience with non-dairy ice creams has NOT been good (ice milk, Rice Dream, bleargh!). But the one VERY expensive pint of coconut milk ice cream I purchased at the store was good, so off I went to Google to find some recipes for the homemade version.

I didn't find all that many, really, but I did find one for chocolate coconut milk ice cream over at The Nourishing Gourmet that sounded fabulous and really easy. AND it was sweetened with my new best friend, agave nectar! So I whipped up a batch of it and OH DUDES. It was seriously the best ice cream I've ever eaten IN MY LIFE. A monster was born in that moment, because I figured that with a base of coconut milk and agave, the possibilities were ENDLESS. And so far they have proven to be!

So yeah, I have been making a LOT of coconut milk ice cream this summer! My machine only makes one quart at a time so I use one can of organic coconut milk (NOT the "lite" variety) and three tablespoons of agave nectar and go from there. For a simple vanilla ice cream, I just add one teaspoon of vanilla to the above ingredients. For a kick-ass strawberry ice cream, I add the vanilla plus a bunch of fresh strawberries (you could use frozen, but thaw them first) and whizz the whole thing up in the blender before adding to the machine. My next experiment will be strawberry chocolate chip (or chunk).

This ice cream is sooooo rich and creamy, you'd never know it was non-dairy (and hello, IT'S VEGAN). Some flavors do retain a bit of coconut taste, but others don't really taste of coconut all that much. Or maybe I'm just getting used to it, I dunno. Anyway, DELISH! Thank you, Nourishing Gourmet! (And OMG, you all have GOT to check out her blog. It's full of fantastic whole-food recipes and tips!)

Homemade "magic shell" for the ice cream!
My kids are flat-out ADDICTED to that hard shell/magic shell ice cream topping. You know, the stuff that starts out as a liquid and gets hard (behave, children) when you pour it over ice cream? It's pretty expensive for a teeny little bottle of it, not to mention it's full of crappy ingredients, and after purchasing a new bottle pretty much every week for a couple of months solid I figured there HAD to be a better way.

Google came to my rescue once again, when I found this recipe for a homemade version over at The Accidental Vegetarian. Dudes, it's just coconut oil (I used unfiltered, organic) and chocolate chips! Melt it in a pan or the microwave, cool it, and pour it into a squeeze bottle! I have no idea how long it keeps because we're mowing through it at a rapid pace, but you don't have to refrigerate it or anything (which is good, because it would turn solid). It tastes and works EXACTLY like the stuff you buy, but it's healthier and way cheaper.

So yeah, I am topping my VEGAN ice cream with VEGAN magic shell over here. Right after a nice big steak dinner. Heh. (Sorry, vegans. I have a condition!)

Well, that's all I can come up with for now. My kids are back in school which gives me a little more free time to blog, and our CSA is off its one-week hiatus, so look for more dinners and whatnot coming soon. I'm also working on a FAQ, finally, so stay tuned for that!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Plan B sausages

Tonight's Menu

  • mild Italian sausages with onions
  • buttered noodles
  • green salad "bar"
We had kind of a crazy dinnertime tonight, y'all. The girl child has been doing a theater camp all summer and tonight was their performance, with a dress rehearsal beforehand. So she wasn't home for dinner, and the rest of us had to wolf ours down so we could get to the show on time.

I put the sausages on the stove to simmer as usual and had planned to finish them on the grill, but while they were simmering away this freak rain/wind storm popped up from out of nowhere. We are talking black skies, wind that nearly bent our trees in half, and giant pounding raindrops. Welcome to Texas weather, y'all! Sooo, yeah, I was not going out to grill in that! Instead I browned the simmered sausages in a skillet on the stovetop (say that three times fast!) and decided to drop in a chopped onion along with them. I added just a tiny bit of EVOO to the pan because the sausages were fairly lean, and just flipped everything around for 10 minutes or so until the sausages were nice and brown and the onions were tender. Not as good as grilled, but really yummy nonetheless!

The noodles were just plain old egg noodles, cooked according to package directions and tossed with a little butter.

Tonight's salad was torn green leaf lettuce, sliced cucumbers, shredded carrots and wedged tomatoes. The boy is NOT happy about my decision to stop buying bagged lettuce. Apparently he didn't get the memo that I am no longer catering to his whims. Since, oh, about two years ago!

We DID make it to the play in time, by the way. And it was SO cute!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pumpkin seed pesto

Tonight's Menu

  • penne with pumpkin seed pesto
  • green salad "bar"
I have a complicated relationship with basil, y'all. I love the way it tastes and I love having a supply of fresh basil in-season, but I have a horrible time growing it. I don't know what it is, but sweet basil HATES me. Whenever I plant it, either something eats it all or it dies within a week.

However, my parents bought me a plant this summer that was called Pesto Basil and I've had a great deal of success with that one, finally! It has smaller leaves than sweet basil and they're sort of variegated light green and white. I planted it in my garden instead of in a pot and it's done really well. With summer drawing to a close I've been worried about losing it all and decided that the thing to do was make pesto with it. However, as you know, the girl is allergic to tree nuts so pine nuts are out. I googled for nut-free pesto recipes and found several that featured various types of seeds instead of nuts -- why didn't I think of that?! We know she isn't allergic to pumpkin seeds (we always roast them after carving jack o' lanterns and she pretty much eats her weight in them) so I bought some raw ones in bulk and set to work.

I wasn't really measuring but here's approximately how I made it:

2 cups basil leaves
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese (NOT the stuff in the green can)
extra-virgin olive oil

Dump the first four ingredients into the food processor and whiz them until blended. Then, with the processor running, drizzle in the EVOO until the pesto is to the consistency you like. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. (I've heard it helps to cover the pesto with a layer of olive oil before storing it, so that's what I did.)

I served it with penne pasta (dried, prepared according to package directions) and it was really good! The pumpkin seeds give it a slightly different flavor from pine nuts, but the texture is the same. I used CSA garlic to make it and it was REALLY strong so I'm going to have garlic breath for a week, but it was worth it!

Tonight's salad "bar" was torn green leaf lettuce, shredded carrots, and wedged tomatoes.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Za'atar bread = yummy

Tonight's Menu

  • grilled marinated shrimp
  • za'atar bread
  • green salad "bar"
Okay, well this was just plain tasty! A perfect end-of-summer meal.

The shrimp was the usual. So yummy. I've finally figured out how to tweak this recipe to our liking -- use ACTUAL tomato paste instead of my usual substitution of ketchup (the ketchup makes it too salty), the full amount of KOSHER salt (not sea salt), half the hot sauce, and put my grill burners on LOW, not MEDIUM-LOW. The skewers are messy to assemble but it's SO worth it, y'all.

I have to tell a story about the za'atar bread. The girl and I were at World Market the other day and I was browsing the spices (looking for whole cumin seeds, if you must know) when I saw a packet of za'atar spice. For some reason that pinged something in my brain -- I KNEW I had read a recipe recently that sounded really good and featured za'atar, but I couldn't remember what the recipe was for. The spice packet was only a couple of bucks so I bought it anyway and brought it home, and then I remembered that the recipe was from my beloved bread book. (I don't have a deal going with the authors of this book, I swear. I've just been using it A LOT and really loving it.)

ANYWAY, the za'atar bread was really easy to make -- it's a flat bread that's similar in concept to a focaccia, only sprinkled with za'atar spice instead of fresh herbs and onion (or whatever you like on YOUR focaccia). I made it with the olive oil dough from the book and it came out so flavorful and tender and delicious! DH has requested that I make this bread again, and often (and hello, OMG, my picky DH ate something kind of exotic AND LIKED IT!) so I'd better head back to World Market and stock up!

I think I've managed to work through my salad boredom. Tonight's salad was torn green leaf lettuce (I tried that romaine thing you all suggested but the kids wouldn't touch that either! curses!) with sliced red onion, shredded carrots and tomato wedges. So far, so good on my plan to avoid pre-bagged salad greens! I'm sure I'll have an even easier time of it when greens are actually in season, argh.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Strange meats

Tonight's Menu

  • grilled cross-cut baby back ribs
  • chips
  • coleslaw
  • sliced tomatoes
  • freezer pickles
My grocery store has had some unusual cuts of meat lately. I usually go for spareribs if I'm going to do ribs, but these cross-cut baby back ribs were WAY cheap. We'd had some at a neighborhood potluck not too long ago and they were yummy, so I decided to try something different for a change.

I had purchased a locally produced molasses-garlic marinade for the ribs but upon getting it home, I discovered that soy sauce was the second ingredient on the label. Argh! DH and the girl are allergic to soy, so that meant I couldn't use it. (I have GOT to learn to read those labels a little more closely in the store! I never dreamed a molasses-garlic marinade would be soy-based. Stupid!) So I had to cobble together a marinade from what I had in the pantry/fridge. I ended up whisking together some bourbon, brown sugar, orange juice & zest, minced garlic (I actually grated a large clove on my microplane), garam masala, salt & pepper, onion powder and cayenne. I marinated the ribs in a big plastic zipper bag for about 3-4 hours.

After the ribs had marinated I grilled them over medium heat for just a couple of minutes per side to get some nice grill marks/browning on them. Then I moved them to an unlit burner for a good 45 minutes. They weren't QUITE as tender as I would have liked, but they weren't too terribly chewy, and they were super flavorful! If I made these again, I'd leave them a bit longer over the unlit burner to really render out all that fat and get them nice and tender.

Coleslaw was the usual, left over from last night when we had fish tacos.

We're still eating the freezer pickles I made a few weeks ago from the CSA cucumbers. Yum!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Pizza night

Tonight's Menu

  • homemade pepperoni pizza
The girl told me after tonight's dinner that I'm not allowed to buy frozen pizzas from the grocery store anymore. Um. Okay, then. Fortunately, with a little advance planning, the homemade version was just as fast and easy as the frozen version.

The crust: was made with the olive oil dough from the bread book. I mixed the dough up the day before so it could sit in the fridge overnight. This was my first time working with the olive oil dough (we usually make the master recipe or European peasant dough) and it was fabulous! It made for a soft, tender, and delicious crust.

The sauce: was made from roasted tomatoes, eggplant and and garlic, pureed with a stick blender. I made this earlier in the day -- chunks of tomato and eggplant, whole garlic cloves, a bit of fresh basil and oregano, salt and pepper, a glug or two of balsamic vinegar, and lots of olive oil roasted at 300 degrees F for about two hours, stirring occasionally (do this on the weekend and it'll keep in the fridge for use during the week). I let it cool and then pureed a small amount with my stick blender, adding a bit of tomato paste and water to get it to the right consistency. The puree was NOT pretty -- hello, red and green make BROWN -- but it was delicious! And no, I did NOT tell my family they were eating eggplant. That's just between you and me, a'ight?

The toppings: since I live with a bunch of pizza traditionalists over here, I went with fairly mundane toppings -- shredded mozzarella and sliced pepperoni. That's it.

It really wasn't any trouble to assemble. While the baking stone was heating up in the oven (at 500 degrees F), I covered the pizza peel (that's the wooden paddle thing) with cornmeal, rolled out the dough on the countertop, moved it to the peel, spooned on some sauce and sprinkled on the toppings. By that time the stone was hot, so I transferred the pizza to the stone (I get a little thrill out of successfully executing that jerk-and-tug motion it takes to get the pizza off the peel and onto the stone)(though I am NOT always successful at it, I hasten to add) and baked it for 8-10 minutes. While the first pizza was baking, I made another one (we can put away A LOT of pizza over here, y'all) and stuck it in the oven when the first one came out.

There is something about pizza made with FRESH dough, y'all. I don't know. I think I agree with the girl -- we can never go back to frozen now!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


Tonight's Menu

  • bay scallops with bacon and spinach
This was kind of an experiment, y'all. I think it worked out okay, but there are a few things I'd do differently if I made it again.

All I did was take about 4-5 thick slices of bacon (I used Pederson's Apple Smoked) and chop them up, then stick them in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until the fat had rendered out and they were about 90% on their way to being crispy. Then I dumped in a pound of bay scallops (those are the little teeny ones) that had been rinsed and blotted dry. When I make this again I will do the scallops in BATCHES, because the idea was for them to get a nice sear, and in reality they just kind of simmered in their own juices. Oh well. I tossed them around for 3-4 minutes until they'd gone opaque, seasoned with salt and pepper, then removed the bacon and scallops from the pan with a slotted spoon.

With the pan still hot, I dumped in a pound of fresh baby spinach and let it wilt down. When it was nearly done, I sprinkled in a couple of teaspoons of sugar and an equal amount of red wine vinegar and tossed the spinach around to mix it all together, then seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper. The combo of sugar and vinegar gives a really nice, slightly sweet and sour flavor to the spinach and works especially well with the bacon fat still left in the pan.

To serve, just make a nice bed of spinach on the plate and spoon the scallops and bacon over top. This was really tasty -- the flavors were all there -- but like I said, I'd do the scallops in batches next time so they'd sear instead of simmering. By some miracle I managed NOT to overcook them, so they weren't rubbery, but the texture wasn't quite what I was going for. Or maybe sea scallops would be better, cooked a few at a time? Hmmm. Must experiment!