Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pumpkin Spiced Oatmeal

Fall is finally here and with it, a plethora of pumpkin foods.

Seriously. Everybody has a pumpkin everything. The bakery where I get the office's Saturday morning bagels had pumpkin scones and pumpkin bars; the coffee shops all have pumpkin lattes, and restaurants serve pumpkin soups.

The DDH, who is not a huge pumpkin fan (he doesn't like sweet potatoes either, except as fries), rolls his eyes at this particular trend. But I like pumpkin (and sweet potatoes, for that matter), so it makes me happy.

For three-quarters of the year, I eat oatmeal for breakfast. It's fast, it's easy, it's tasty. I can change it up by adding different dried or frozen fruit. In the summer, it's too hot for oatmeal, and for most of this pregnancy I haven't been able to stomach it or similar warm foods. But my oatmeal appetite has returned with the cooler weather, and I've been happily noshing on strawberry-cherry oatmeal every day.

But then. Then I found a recipe for pumpkin spiced oatmeal.

My favorite fall food fad combined with my everyday, quick-and-easy breakfast?

The end.

This recipe is super easy to whip up, but, let's face it, waaaaay too complicated to make in the morning before work. Because scrambled eggs are too complicated to make in the morning before work. Sometimes coffee is too complicated to make in the morning before work. If it takes more effort than stirring water and ingredients in a bowl and popping it in the microwave, it's too complicated to make in the morning before work (which is why I tend not to eat breakfast in the summer when oatmeal isn't an option, oops).

BUT. This recipe reheats quite well. So I can make a big whopping batch of it on, say, a Thursday afternoon, and have breakfast for almost a week.

It's healthy and filling and fast--everything a breakfast should be. I'm in love.

Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal
Adapted from this recipe at Becky Bakes.

Make sure to read the notes at the end of the recipe regarding oat types and some tasty variations!

Set a medium saucepan on the stove on medium-low heat and gather up your ingredients. You may wish to measure your honey and pumpkin out in advance so you can add them quickly. Not that I speak from an experience wherein I almost burned my honey or anything.

To the hot, dry pan, add: 1/4 tsp. ground cloves, 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, and 1/8 tsp. ginger.

Toast the spices for about two minutes, stirring occasionally so they don't burn. It seems silly to say "toast until fragrant" with these spices, because they're already fragrant. But you'll notice a point at which you suddenly say, "oh! that's what they mean by fragrant," because they'll suddenly smell even more like themselves than before.

Turn the heat down to low.

To the spices, add 1/4 cup honey

and 1 cup pumpkin puree.

You could probably do with as little as 1/8 cup of honey if you want less sweet oatmeal. See the Variations note below for some other options.

Stir the honey and pumpkin together until well combined and smooth.

Add 4 cups water to the puree mixture. (Note: If you use steel-cut oats, you may need 1/2 cup more water.)

Turn the heat up to medium high. Stir until combined and bring to a simmer.

Add 2 cups quick oats (1 1/2 cups steel-cut oats). See Oat Note, below.
Turn heat down to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, twenty to thirty minutes or until tender.
After ten minutes, mine looked like this (remember I'm using quick oats):

Quick oats after ten minutes.
 After another ten minutes, they looked like this:

Quick oats after twenty minutes.
I declared them done at that point because I wanted them to still reheat well, but if you plan to eat it all right away, you may wish to let them go a little longer.

Either serve or remove from heat to a heat-safe container. Allow to cool before covering and refrigerating.

Pumpkin spice oatmeal.
 It reheated well the next morning:

Oatmeal reheated.
 And was delicious with a splash of cold milk:

Oatmeal with milk.
It of course lends itself to toppings: more cinnamon, fruit, nuts. I've been eating it with chopped almonds and it's delicious.


Oat Note:
Now. There are about a million and one types of oats out there. I usually buy the giant cardboard tube of "quick oats" because they cook quickly for my morning oatmeal but are a bit larger than "instant oats" for when I use them in recipes like this one. Sometimes I get rolled oats or steel-cut oats.
People will argue until they're blue in the face about what kind is better and how you REALLY ABSOLUTELY MUST use this one kind for one recipe or the other. But honestly? You can use any kind of oats in almost any recipe and you'll be fine. You may want to adjust the water : oats ratio of the recipe. You may need to adjust the cooking time. But don't let not having the Exact Perfect Right Kind of oats stop you from making a recipe that looks delicious. Try it with what you have on hand. Let me know if it's a total abject failure so I can delete this note. ;-)

Pumpkin spice oatmeal with almonds and milk.
  • Sub any winter squash puree for pumpkin: butternut, acorn, etc. Also, sweet potato.
  • Sub banana puree for the pumpkin. Add some chopped nuts for Banana Nut Oatmeal.
  • Sub any liquid sweetener, such as agave or maple syrup, for the honey.
  • Or sub unsweetened applesauce for the honey for a not-sweet but very autumny version.
  • Use 1/8 cup honey and 1/8 cup molasses and up the ginger to 1 1/2 tsp. for Pumpkin Gingersnap Oatmeal. Bonus points for adding diced fresh ginger. This is my real new favorite.
  • Play around with the spices, increasing or deleting them until you get it juuuuust right.
What variations can you think of?
I never bothered with any of the millions of baked oatmeal recipes on the internets, because heating up the oven seemed a lot of work for oatmeal. But I'm thinking a lot of those different flavor combinations could adapt well to this cooking method. Yum!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Beef and Bean Taco Filling

My default meals--you know, the meals you cook (or make your husband cook) when you realize you forgot to plan ahead and it's six o'clock and for some reason your husband is hungry--are pretty much all Mexican.

They are, in order of time/energy/thought needed to make:
  1. Nachos (cheese on tortilla chips, melted in the microwave. Maybe some pickled jalapenos on top. If we add meat, that places it down at taco level on this list).
  2. Quesadillas (with canned chicken).
  3. Tacos with canned chicken.
  4. Tacos with ground beef.
In fact, I make variations of the ground beef tacos so often that I have branched out into putting taco meat on nachos and salads and other random things.

I could tell you that tacos make a great default meal because they're cheap, meaty, filling, tasty, relatively healthy--all of which are true.

But the real reason I make them so often is because tortillas last forever in the fridge.

So I always have them on hand.

Also a few months ago I went in on sixty pounds of ground beef with my mother-in-law, so we've been eating a lot of that.

Anyway, the problem with default meals is that they're all in my head. That is, I don't usually follow a recipe or write anything down. I just look to see what we have on hand, mix it all together, and serve.

Sometimes this means that the resulting dish, well, isn't very tasty. It's bland, or oddly seasoned.

Sometimes it means the dish is totally awesome, but I have no idea how it got that way and so will never be able to replicate it.

Having suffered through a few too many One Time Only tasty dishes, the DDH has learned a trick. If he likes his dinner, he immediately asks me, "How did you make this?" If I tell him I just made it up, he tells me to write it down before I forget.

When I  served this particular taco meat combination last week, he not only told me to write it down, he retrieved the laptop from whatever corner of the house it was hidden in, booted it up, set it in my lap, and refused to let me do anything else until I had written down what I did.

I guess that means he liked it.

Beef and Bean Taco Filling

Heat 1/2 Tbs. oil in a large pan.

Cook 1 onion, diced and 3 cloves garlic, pressed on medium heat until soft.

Add 1 pound ground beef.

As the beef cooks, add 1 tsp. paprika, 2 tsp. cumin, 1 Tbs. chili powder, and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. Stir to combine.

Cook five minutes or until beef is just about done.

A bit of pink is okay, as it will cook for a bit longer.
Add 1 can kidney beans,

Black beans also work well.
9 Tbs. tomato paste (there's a reason this is a weird number. It's my estimate of how much of a can of tomato paste I used (about 3/4 of one of those little cans) based on how much was left in the can afterward. Really I just kept adding tomatoe paste until it tasted right), and 1 Tbs. hot sauce of your choice (sriracha, Tabasco, chile paste, etc.).

Sriracha strikes again!
Stir to combine. Cook on low for about five minutes or until heated through.

Serve in tortillas as soft tacos, crispy shells as crispy tacos, on lettuce for a taco salad, or on chips for beef nachos. Add cheese, sour cream*, tomatoes, lettuce, and other Mexican garnishings as desired.

*I actually just use a bit of plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, because I rarely have sour cream on hand. Yogurt does taste different than sour cream, but it still adds a creamy tang that contrasts pleasantly with the meat.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Vegetarian Fried Rice

I ate a lot of fried rice growing up.

My mom loves to cook, and we ate a lot of different foods when I was young. I don't think I really realized how--varied? international? something like that--our diet was until I went to college.

Still, we did have a few staple recipes in frequent rotation. A lot of them were plays on pasta--pasta with tuna fish, clam spaghetti, garlic spaghetti, even, infrequently, spaghetti with meat sauce.

Another one of those staple recipes was fried rice. And for good reason--fried rice is cheap, easy, and makes a lot of food. Mom's version included ground beef as well as a couple of eggs, so it serviced adequately as a main dish. We ate a lot of it, and with gusto.

So it's perhaps surprising that I don't think I've ever made fried rice in the history of my married career.

For one, neither the DDH nor I are big rice eaters. I am stupidly terrible at cooking rice, and after suffering through one crunchy dish too many, the DDH learned to greet rice dishes with trepidation. Rice isn't cheap if you're ruining it (and all the ingredients you add to it) all the time.

For another, though I remember scarfing down huge portions of the dish as a child, I remember fried rice as being too salty, with a slightly weird sour flavor (sorry, Mom), and generally not interesting enough to attempt to recreate.

But since the DDH has flatly refused to acknowledge the awesomeness of Tuna Fish Pasta, and with the impending arrival of someone who will eventually be a teenage boy, I've decided I need to revisit some of those cheap-and-easy childhood staples.

Then I ended up with a whole bunch of free cooked rice, and I knew that it was time to tackle fried rice. I could attempt the recipe without risking poorly-cooked rice. And since I didn't need to spend forty minutes cooking rice, I could actually get dinner on the table on a Monday evening when I had a Zumba class quickly followed by a church meeting.

I tweaked my mom's recipes in a few ways.

First, I eliminated the ground beef, not because I don't like ground beef in fried rice but because I didn't have any defrosted and didn't really have time for the extra step of cooking it anyway. Eliminating that and the accompanying beef broth turned this into a vegetarian recipe, but I'll report back with a meaty version one of these days.

Second, having eliminated the beef, I needed to punch up the protein somehow. The bites of scrambled egg are my favorite part of fried rice anyway, so it was a no-brainer to increase the egg in the recipe.

Third, I cut back on the soy sauce, since I remembered it being too salty (though cutting the beef broth probably also saved some sodium).

And finally, I added some other sauces and spices to give it a more interesting flavor. Adding sambal oolek gives it a touch of bite--not what I think of as a lot, but you do taste it. In retrospect, it's possible that Mom's fried rice was mild-flavored because we were kids. Specifically, I'm the kid who liked everything bland and hated spicy foods. So, umm, keep in mind that it's probably entirely my fault her recipe wasn't perfect to begin with. I bet when she makes it for just herself and Dad it's deliciously seasoned. Ahem.

Vegetarian Fried Rice

Vegetarian Fried Rice
Adapted from my mom's recipe.

As I mentioned, I started with pre-cooked rice leftover from an office lunch. If you did not have the opportunity to rescue rice destined for the trash can, you should cook it first. Cook 1 1/2 cups rice according to package directions (to yield 3 cups rice, cooked). Set it aside and allow to cool. If you're really on top of things, you could cook the rice over the weekend and refrigerate it so it's ready to go for a fast weeknight dinner. I have never actually been this on top of things, but I pretend I am all the time.

Rice courtesy P.F. Chang's and my boss.
Once you have some nicely cooked rice ready to go, proceed with the recipe:

Chop 1 medium onion and 4-5 cloves garlic so they're ready to go. I speed-demoned them in the food processor:

They never knew what hit them.
Heat 2 Tbs. oil in a large wok or skillet (if you know me, you know this is coconut oil, but clearly you can use whatever fat you'd like).

Add the onion and garlic

and sautee until onion is translucent.

Transluscent onion.
Add 12-16 oz. vegetables. The fastest and easiest is to use a bag of the small mixed veggies (peas, cube-cut carrots, and the like), but you can use any kind of frozen veggie mix or fresh vegetables. Almost any vegetable will taste good in fried rice.

I cut the bag open with scissors and still managed to spill
veggies all over the counter.

Cook until soft (aka thawed, if using frozen). You can stick the lid on the skillet to speed up the process.

Meanwhile, if you promise not to get distracted, scramble six eggs. I got distracted measuring out the ingredients for the next step and semi-burned the eggs. Luckily I sort of like semi-burned eggs, and the DDH didn't seem to notice. It's best if you don't get distracted, though.

Once your eggs are off the heat and your vegetables are done,

add 3 cups cooked brown rice and a scant 1/3 cup soy sauce (between the 1/4 cup and 1/3 cup lines).

Or more, if you like soy sauce.

In a measuring cup, spoon out 1 tsp. fish sauce and 1 tsp. sambal oolek/chile paste/hot sauce. Fill the measuring cup with water to make 1/4 cup liquid.

Add to the rice mixture.

Stir to combine and cook until rice is heated through.

Add your scrambled egg

 and mix thoroughly.

And there you have it. I was worried the DDH wouldn't find it filling enough without any meat, but six eggs seemed to add enough protein to satisfy him. Plus, brown rice tends to be pretty satisfying, fullness-wise, versus white rice. And then there's the fact that that particular combination of frozen vegetables is his favorite. At any rate, it got two thumbs up from him.

Quick, easy, cheap, tasty--it even tastes just as good the next day. Huzzah for fried rice!

Vegetarian Fried Rice

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sriracha Garlic Bread

I like food. All kinds of food. I'm not sure I can pick a favorite food. I would have difficulty choosing a Top Ten list.

But if you put a gun to my head and forced me to write such a list, garlic bread would probably make the cut.

Well. Until last week, when I discovered something even better than garlic bread.

Sriracha garlic bread.

Clearly, the only thing fluffy French bread, creamy butter, garlic, and a nice toast in the oven needed to turn it into the food of angels was a shot of srirarcha. Oh, and cheese.

Unlike the sriracha shrimp recipe, this sriracha recipe is not particularly spicy. You get a zing, perhaps a playful nip of spice, but the butter, bread, and cheese all counteract it so it's not overwhelming or painful at all.

Try it.

You'll like it.

Sriracha garlic bread with sriracha shrimp.

Sriracha Garlic Bread
Adapted from this recipe at Bon Appetit (which pretty much just says, make garlic bread. With sriracha).

Clearly, for garlic bread, you need a good bread. Something fluffy, with a nice crust. When the French bread at Reasor's goes on sale for a dollar, I usually stock up on several loaves and freeze the extra. The thinner loaves (long with a smaller diameter) work as well and will make cute little bite-size toasts that are great for serving at a party.

The DDH cuts.
Make sure to cut nice thick slices, Texas toast style. You want to still have fluffy warm bread innards even once the outside is crisp and toasty.

Line a cookie sheet with foil (to cut down on cleanup) and lay your bread slices out on it.

Through trial and error (delicious, delicious trial and error), we discovered that you need about 1 Tbs. butter per slice of bread. You can get away with as little as 1/2 tablespoon, but why bother?

It helps if the butter is softened, but it's not necessary.

Put some garlic, minced, in with your butter. This is a matter of taste. We used three big cloves for five pieces of bread.

The DDH, a purist with much better knife skills than I, truly minced the garlic; I usually toss it in the garlic press because I'm lazy like that. If you like bigger chunks of garlic on your bread, I would use more and merely dice it.

Minced garlic.
Anyway. Whip in 1/2 to 1 Tbs. sriracha. Again, this is a matter of taste. The DDH says he used about a squeeze per tablespoon of butter. Remember that you can always add more, but you can't take it out if you use too much. :-)
You'll notice that the mixture is liquid in the picture. The recipe DDH used said to whisk the sriracha and garlic with melted butter, but through the aforementioned delicious, delicious trial and error, we discovered that it is more effective to whip the softened-not-melted butter, garlic, and sriracha using a handheld beater or a whisk and a strong whipping arm. The butter goes further this way when spread on the bread; it's hard to distribute liquified butter evenly to all the bread pieces.

You want whipped, not liquid, butter mixture.
Spread the butter mixture on your bread slices. Make sure to butter both sides of all the breads!

Orange bread.
Preheat the broiler; we discovered that low was safest with our broiler but broilers vary greatly.
Grate Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese over the bread slices.

Broil for about three minutes on low. Broilers take bread from toast to terrible pretty quickly, so keep an eye on them.
Flip, add more cheese, and broil for another three minutes or so, until the cheese melts and the bread is golden brown around the edges.

Astute readers may notice there is more bread on this pan
than in the pre-toasted pictures. I *told* you we learned
that broiling bread on low was safer....

 Those bits of crisped cheese between the bread slices are good eating, too. Just saying.

Serve with a meal or as a delicious, delicious snack.

Sriracha garlic bread and soup.


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