Monday, August 31, 2009

I've been out of town and so not cooking lately. I did publish a post I had saved as a draft awhile ago, but it's published as if I published it the day I saved the draft, not today. So skip on down to Homegrown Tomato Soup!

Hopefully I'll get a menu set up for the week soon and we'll be back in business. Have a great Monday!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


The Darling Devoted Husband has a night class tonight, and I'm battling a cold, so I skipped making dinner this morning. Instead, perhaps this is a good time to talk about one of my favorite foods: smoothies!
They're cold and refreshing in the summer, a fast breakfast or snack that you can eat on the go, and a good way to get your daily fruit dose and even sneak some calcium in (especially if, like me, you hate drinking milk).

Like fancy coffee creations, smoothies are an expensive addiction if you buy them from a restaurant--and cheap to make at home. Jamba Juice, Keva Juice, and all those other awesome smoothie places make delicious smoothies at undelicious prices. But they're fast, easy, and cheap to make at home. You don't need any fancy equipment, just a blender, glass, and spoon. You don't need to cook anything or wait for anything. Smoothies are awesome. The end.

Smoothies at smoothie stores are sometimes super delicious because they put ice cream, sherbet, and/or extra sugar in them, pretty much disqualifying them from health food status. When you make them at home, you know what's in them, and at least if you're adding ice cream you have nobody to blame but yourself.

My smoothies are simple. I like to keep frozen fruit on hand, since it keeps for a long time, and I know I sort of tend to go through smoothie-free phases--it'll get cold, or my schedule changes, or whatever. Fresh fruit rots pretty quickly if you don't use it up, for some reason. Plus, frozen fruit gives you that nice cold smoothie taste and texture without needing added ice. Sometimes I mix fresh and frozen fruit, depending on what I have on hand. Typically I have in the freezer mango chunks and some sort of berry. The DDH is a purist and will only eat smoothies made of one sort of fruit, preferably mango (he also will only eat one ice cream flavor at a time, which I don't get at all). I like to mix more than one flavor, though I'll stick with plain mango if I'm wearing anything likely to be stained.

Dump the fruit in the blender, then add yogurt. I like using plain yogurt, since there's no sweetener in it, but sometimes I use other fruit flavors to get that nice fruit mix or vanilla to add a bit of sweetnes. Greek yogurt adds extra calcium and a creamier, yogurtier flavor than regular yogurt, but is also significantly more expensive, so I go back and forth. If it seems like I'll be making a lot of smoothies or have some other uses for it (plain yogurt is a good substitute for buttermilk in baking recipes, for instance, especially pancakes), I'll buy one of the big containers and just spoon out what looks like enough; if I'm facing a possible smoothie dry spell (or they're on sale really cheap, or I want some special flavors) I'll get the little 6 oz cups and use one of those per smoothie.

Finally, add a bunch of juice. The fruit-to-juice ratio determines whether your smoothie will be thick and in need of a spoon or thin and slurpable. I buy frozen juice concentrate (still try to stick with 100% juice, though) for the same reason I buy frozen fruit; I can mix up a pitcher when I need it and usually if I don't use it all for smoothies the DDH will drink it. If I have premade juice on hand for whatever reason (if it's on sale, or for a particular flavor, or so the DDH can drink it), I'll use that. Apple usually will take a backseat to whatever fruit you use; orange adds that citrusy flavor; other flavors add their own flavor. Right now I have apple cranberry juice, which is good. We have some apple cherry in the fridge, which is really sweet.

Then you just blend it all together until it reaches the desired consistency. Pour it out, fill the blender with soap and water, run it on low for 10 seconds, rinse it out, and stick it in the dish drainer to dry, and look! that's the extent of your cleanup.

Good smoothie fruits:
*Fresh or frozen mango
*Fresh or frozen strawberries, blueberries, raspberries (blackberries are really seedy)
*Bananas (you can freeze bananas that are starting to go (in slices or whole, peeled) and they'll keep for another couple weeks)
*Citrus fruits tend to be stringy; I'd suggest getting a citrus juice to add that flavor instead
*Apples (but you've got to core them and cut them up, and it's sort of a strange texture if you use a lot of them)
*Fresh or frozen melon (canteloupe, honeydew, watermelon)
*Really most fruit that isn't super seedy or stringy

Other things to put in smoothies:
*Vegetables. You can make vegetable smoothies (like frozen V8), but you can also sneak in some veggies to a fruit smoothie. Carrots, squash, and green beans are the things I normally add.
*Stick in some banana peel (wash it first). Make sure it gets well blended, and you'll get some extra banana flavor (it's a little sour) and an extra dose of fiber.
*Almonds or other nuts for a protein boost.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Veggie Paella

Yesterday's spaghetti sauce met with approval; the Darling Devoted Husband was strangely proud of the spaghetti he boiled, and we both liked the sauce. Huzzah!

This morning I've put together a veggie paella that will hopefully be tasty despite its lack of meat (the perennial lament of the DDH. And I'm planning another meatless meal for tomorrow. THE WOE).

I boiled some chicken stock and set the brown rice to simmering (to make this vegetarian, just use vegetable stock). While that simmered, I chopped up a bunch of vegetables, tossing them with some olive oil in a saucepan:

In there are an onion, two shallots, a small zucchini, and a big fat sweet potato. As the rice neared completion, I added a teaspoon of turmeric, a half teaspoon thyme, three or four garlic cloves, and a small can of mushrooms. I then added the rice and what stock was left (it was almost but not quite done) and stirred it all together:

It cooked on low, covered, with occasional stirring, for about 8 minutes, while I chopped up some tomatoes. I tossed those in:
stirred it all up, and let it simmer a bit, covered. Tada! Paella:

I was going to put some shrimp in, but apparently we're out. That or chicken would be good in here, as would peas, artichoke hearts, maybe green beans. I suppose if you like bell peppers you could stick those in. Jalapeno peppers and sausage would probably also be a good combination.

This took awhile to chop all the vegetables and cook actual brown rice. Minute rice would make it go faster (though they remove some of the grain in order to make it quick-cooking, so brown minute rice is not as healthy as normal brown rice, if that's important to you), as would using frozen vegetables that were small (like peas) or chopped already (cut green beans) and/or canned tomatoes and other veggies. But it's not difficult, and it makes a good all-in-one meal. We'll get the official DDH opinion tonight. ^_^

Monday, August 24, 2009

Greetings and Salutations

The purpose of this blog is to track my food adventures. I love to cook, but go through phases where I don't make anything and all the delicious ingredients spoil and the Darling Devoted Husband and I end up subsisting on fast food and frozen egg rolls from Sam's Club. Which, ok, sometimes these are good, but they are really not anywhere near as delicious as the foods I can make myself when I put the work into it. Hopefully recording these efforts will help keep me on track with cooking--and the DDH and I will be the better for it!

While I love to delve into fancy foods, and having a garden means I do experiment with a lot of from-scratch preparations, reality is that the DDH and I work full time, he's in law school on top of it, and there are always a million other things to do. I don't have the time or energy to do everything from scratch or fancy all the time.

Money is another issue (did I mention the DDH is in law school?). Now that we've spent all the money starting the garden, I have a plethora of free tomatoes, zucchini, and jalepeno peppers, but beyond that I've got to get creative with the budget. I go to the farmer's market every week and troll for fresh produce, since this is an area where I really notice quality differences. As a bonus, I get to learn how to cook all manner of strange creatures, like callaloo, and try out things like fresh figs:
But as a rule, I do not have the money to buy local meat, so I tend to get it in bulk at Sam's Club or on sale at Reasor's (a Tulsa-area grocery chain). I don't notice a huge taste difference in meat, so I don't mind, and while I would be willing to eat smaller meat portions to get better quality meat, the DDH is a die-hard carnivore and wouldn't. At all.

That's pretty much the bare-bones basics of my food buying and cooking philosophy for now. Read along and we'll see how it goes. ^_^

The Cheating Balance

So I start a new job today, working 11:45 am to 8:30ish pm, meaning I will not be home to make dinner for the Darling Devoted Husband. This means I must once again invest in that pesky little time commitment called Planning Ahead. In order not to resort to various nasty little premade meals (which admittedly the DDH would be more than happy to eat), I'll have to cook in the morning and learn to do better at batch cooking.

Yesterday I began this experiment. I needed to make a dinner for Sunday that would a) have enough leftovers to feed at least one and preferably both of us lunch on Monday, b) be sort of special, since the DDH had been out of town all weekend, and c) not take too much time, because I needed to do some prep for Monday's dinner, too. I had a bunch of extra tomatoes (as so often happens these days), and thought I would make a meat sauce for pasta that the DDH could capably boil himself Monday night.

I started with the tomato sauce. First up: chopping up a colander full of tomatoes (I didn't actually use all of these, but I did use most of them):

I chopped them up and tossed them in a pot:

with some basil, oregano, and parsley (from the garden), garlic, and shallots. I then took a half pound of hamburger, cooked it up with some more garlic and shallots, and then dumped it in:

Voila. Homegrown tomato-meat sauce. Not hard, but chopping everything took awhile. This, I have discovered, is the difference between making things from fresh tomatoes and making them from canned--time spent chopping. I think it's worth it for the taste most of the time, but there are times when you really just need quick and easy.

Which brings me to dinner. Sunday's dinner was a cheat, but a yummy one. Basically I cooked some basmati rice, sauteed some chicken:

and poured in a jar of tikka masala sauce (this was Seeds of Change brand; they had several Indian food sauces available, but this is the only one I've tried. I've found it at Petty's and Whole Foods and I'm willing to bet that those of you with a Trader Joe's nearby could find something similar. I couldn't find it at WalMart or Reasor's, but let's be honest--I didn't exactly walk every aisle. It was tasty, but not as rich as restaurant versions):

Put it all together, and you have chicken tikka masala with rice:

Neither WalMart nor Reasor's had naan, and the Joy of Cooking recipe was too intense for the purposes of this evening, so we did without.

This is something that I could have made from scratch, but for which I do not keep all the ingredients on hand. All the different spices it wants can get pricey, and my little jar was not too outrageously expensive. I like to hunt down jars of sauce or little spice packets in order to make meals that are interesting and tasty but won't take a lot of time commitment or weird ingredients. When I have to, I cheat like this, using prepared sauces or meal starters, but I try to make them interesting and relatively healthy, and whenever possible I balance them with something I made truly from scratch, like the tomato sauce. That's reality cooking. ^_^

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Homegrown Tomato Soup

Here is a meal of which I'm particularly proud. I've made it a couple of times, and it was a success both times.

I sort of overdid it planting tomato plants this year. I knew I planted a lot, but they got much bigger here than I remember them ever getting in Albuquerque, and it's just sort of a tomato jungle out there:

This is from several weeks ago; it's crazier now. At any rate, they all seem to ripen at the same time, which means I either have no tomatoes, or too many tomatoes going mushy at the same time. I can't stand too-soft tomatoes raw, and we can only eat chicken or pasta with a tomato sauce so often in one week. Genius solution: when life hands you tomatoes, make tomato soup!

This turned out to be astonishingly simple and super tasty, not to mention cheap. Even if you have to buy fresh or canned tomatoes, these are usually fairly cheap, and the only other ingredients are onions, olive oil, and salt and pepper, all of which I usually have on hand. So I thought I was going to be doing some fancy, special dinner, but really I was throwing together a fast, cheap, weeknight staple. Plus, it's good for you! (Well, the grilled cheese isn't....)

I followed (more or less) Joy of Cooking's recipe for basic tomato soup:

1. Boil enough water to cover the largest of your tomatoes.
2. Cut a little x in the bottom of each tomato.
3. Drop each tomato into the boiling water for about 15 seconds; pull them out and plunge them in ice water to stop the cooking.
4. Peel off the skins using your fingers or the dull side of a knife. If it sticks, dunk the tomato back in the boiling water.
5. In a soup pot over medium-low heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil.
6. Add and cook, stirring, until tender but not browned, 5-10 minutes, 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped. The second time I made this I also tossed in some peeled and chopped shallots, since I had them on hand. Garlic would also be good to add here.
7. Stir in 3 lbs. tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, with their juices (If you are suffering from a dearth of fresh tomatoes, substitute two 28-ounce cans tomatoes, chopped, with their juice. Since you get to skip the dunking and peeling and chopping, this turns it into a super fast meal, ready in about 35 minutes).
8. Simmer until the tomatoes are covered in their own liquid, about 25 minutes.
9. Puree the soup until smooth. For this, I use my immersion blender so I can leave it in the pot, but you could put your tomato concoction into a food processor or blender, making sure to scrape down the sides so it chops up all the bits. Return to the pot after blending and proceed.
10. Stir in salt and pepper to taste.
11. Heat through.

Whip up a grilled cheese sandwich and garnish with some fresh basil, and voila! Deliciousness.


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