Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sausage Spaghetti

Remember the dinner I had planned for last week that was sabotaged by a bacon-loving DDH and a carton of fresh eggs?

This is that dinner.

And the DDH liked it, after all.

So there.

It's super fast to make (a half hour or so), cheap, tasty, filling. Honestly, pasta with some sort of meat sauce is pretty much the perfect weeknight meal.

Sausage Spaghetti

Rustle up some sausage. This should be the crumbly kind like you'd get on a pizza. You can either buy it ground or buy links, cut them open, and remove the casings.

Use whatever kind of sausage you like. I used some spinach and feta chicken sausage from my meat co-op, because it's delicious.

Crumble it into a large skillet and cook until mostly done, about six minutes. You don't want it to get burnt or dried out, as you're going to simmer it for awhile in the sauce later, but you do want it safe to eat.

A note here: in a minute, I'm going to call for some marinara sauce. You can buy marinara sauce in a jar, I guess. Or you could take a can of tomato sauce and some seasonings and make your own. Since you're going to be simmering the sauce with the sausage, the flavors will have time to meld, so you can just stir some dried herbs into the tomato sauce now. I used one can tomato sauce, 1 tsp. basil, 1 tsp. oregano, 1/2 tsp. thyme, and 1/2 tsp. marjoram.

Remove from the pan and drain. I just put some paper towels on my cutting board and dumped it out there; if you want to get more grease off, put a colander inside a bowl and put the sausage into the colander so the grease drains into the bowl. Then throw the grease away--do not pour it down your sink.

Add to the sausage grease remaining in the pan (or you could wipe out the grease and use some olive oil) some finely chopped onion. Cook, stirring, about four minutes or until soft.

Add garlic, pressed and saute for another minute or so.

Personally I would use more than two cloves.
I'm just running out of my homegrown garlic already. :-(
Good thing I planted more this year. ^_^
Stir in your sausage, 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce, and 1/3 cup water. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer, fifteen to twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil. Add some salt and a dash of olive oil.

Add spaghetti (or other pasta of your choice) to the water and cook according to package directions.

Toss the spaghetti into the sauce, stir it up to coat, and serve.

Apparently I never took a picture of the finished project. Just imagine this:

Plus this:

And it definitely equals yummy.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Bean Soup

You don't really need a recipe to make bean soup, right?
I mean, it's basically: beans. liquid. vegetables. meat, if you want. Boil til yummy.

But I will admit that my soup history has been rather hit and miss. So often they end up as what I call "subtly flavored" but the DDH calls "bland."

The problem is that all that liquid dilutes out other tasty flavors, and apparently most people don't have the same appreciation for subtle bean and potato flavors that I have.

Problem number one is definitely my tendency to skip broth and just use water. Duh, you say. Well, to you, I say, I don't feel like buying cans of broth, and I do use bouillon but I guess that's just not strong enough.

I am working on turning all my various chicken bones into yummy homemade stock, but I only have bony chicken parts so often, y'know?

Problem number two is my strange determination to use dried beans. I have a few cans of beans sitting around, because I periodically confront reality and buy them.

But for some reason, I so often end up in the grocery store aisle huffing about the high price of canned beans when dried ones are so cheap and after all it just takes a little forethought to be able to use them and I DO NOT CUT CORNERS I AM A REAL COOKER DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND.

Also, I find dried beans tremendously aesthetically appealing. I find the shiny bulk bins at Whole Foods with their smooth, cool, dried bean contents somehow irresistible. And they look so pretty in Mason jars on my "pantry" shelf.


Planning the week's menu in advance helps me to use the dried beans, since I write myself a big note on my to-do list the day before: Soak beans.

And it worked, this week, anyway.

Bean Soup
Generously adapted from Cooking Light January/February 2012

First, I poured a bunch of dried beans in a bowl. I have no idea how many dried beans equal two fifteen-ounce cans. I also used cannellini and black beans rather than Great Northern ones. Whatever. I covered them with hot water and let them sit on the counter overnight.

In the morning, I drained and rinsed them and covered them in more hot water so they could continue to soak while I worked.

I got home from work and poured the beans with their soaking water (that part's important; see Problem One, above) into a big pot. I added a little more water, put on the lid, and turned up the heat.
Then I wandered off and cleaned out the bunny cage and swept the kitchen floor and spread the bunny litter in the garden and cleaned the kitchen chair rail and at some point turned the heat down a bit since the pot had boiled over everywhere.

That took maybe forty minutes? Somewhere between twenty and sixty minutes. I think.

Then I turned off the stove, moved the pot to a different unlit burner, covered it with a dish towel, and went to the gym.

(I hope what you are gathering from this narrative is the haphazard and non-time-consuming way you can fit cooking with dried beans into your life.)

When I got home, I poured out the beans, reserving the cooking water, tossed some olive oil into the bottom of the cooking pot, added some chopped onion and sauteed for four minutes or so, until the onions were soft.

I added five garlic cloves, minced and sauteed another thirty seconds, stirring constantly.

Then it was time for that liquid. I added about 3-4 cups bean soaking liquid. That's basically the same as vegetable broth, right? It's more flavorful than water, plus your soup gets to retain the bean nutrients that otherwise would get dumped down the sink.

I also added the beans, 1 tsp. savory (the recipe called for rosemary, which the DDH hates), 1 tsp. of thyme, and a chunk of parmesan cheese. This last is supposed to be a piece of parmesan cheese rind, but I guess I don't buy fancy enough cheese to have rinds. It was the little piece left which you are tempting death to try to grate.

Please admire my fancy garlic press, a Christmas present from my mom.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, chop up some carrots and leafy greens. I had kale.

At some point in this process, the DDH wandered in, apparently moments away from death by starvation.

He eyed the pile of vegetables and the pot of beans.

"Is there any meat in this?" he asked.

"No. It's beans. Beans have protein. Beans are filling," I replied.

"Yeah, I guess...." he said. He now looked dejected, as well as starving.

"I guess you could cook some bacon and I could put it in," I said.

And so he did.

Stir in your greens and your carrot (and bacon, or ham, or whatever); cover and simmer for fifteen minutes or until carrot is tender. I had to add some more water here.

Stir in 1/2 tsp. cayenne (the recipe called for ground red pepper), 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. black pepper, and 1 tsp. white vinegar (the recipe called for white wine vinegar, which I both heartily recommend and would have used if I had bothered to actually read more closely and see that it called for white wine vinegar and not just plain white vinegar. Oh well. I like white vinegar in my soups, too. Good substitutes: white wine, red wine, lemon juice). 

You're also supposed to remove and discard your parmesan rind aka chunk o' cheese, but I couldn't find it so I left it in.

Cover in more cheese.

So the cayenne made the soup strangely spicy, and everything else made it souper (ha. hahaha.) delicious.

The DDH comments, "Not enough bacon."

I think that means he mostly liked it, though.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bacon and Egg Tarts

What is that saying? The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft awry?

It definitely applies to home cooks.

Sure, I had a healthier, sausage-ragu recipe planned for Tuesday night. But the DDH looked so dejected when I presented the recipe to him. ("I just don't really want to eat chicken sausage." "But it's spinach and feta flavored!" "Yeah, I guess....")

I had been saving this bacon and egg tart recipe for a weekend (after we got our new egg order in), but the DDH brought home a dozen eggs from a coworker who has chickens. And since he obviously didn't want to eat what I had planned to make, I decided to make the tarts.

The DDH was happy. I'm not sure his arteries were.

This recipe is quick and easy to throw together using ingredients you probably have lying around the kitchen (bread, milk, eggs, cheese, bacon). Children and husbands will love it, and admit it, you will too.

Bacon and Egg Tarts
Adapted from Cooking Light January/February 2012

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Grease a muffin tin. Now, the recipe advises you to spray both sides of your bread with cooking spray and not grease the muffin tin. Do not listen to the recipe. Grease the dang muffin tin, or you will be trying to get the baked on eggy bread off the darn thing for the rest of the week.

I mean, I hate cleaning muffin tins under the best conditions. These are not the best conditions.

Save the crusts to make breadcrumbs.
Take 8 1-oz. slices of bread and remove the crusts. I guess a normal bread slice weighs one ounce. I don't know. I didn't read the recipe all the way through and just cut eight ounces off the loaf of bread I baked Sunday, and then had to try and shave individual slices off that. It was a mess. Note to self: Read the recipe before doing anything, don't just scan it.
Press each crustless bread slice into a muffin cup.

Bake at 425 degrees for ten minutes or until lightly toasted; let cool.
While the bread toasts, cook bacon. The recipe called for two slices. I live by the creed, if two slices of bacon are good, four slices are better. The DDH lives by the creed, if you're putting bacon in the dish, why don't I also cook up four extra slices to eat on the side.

We used local fancy-pants nitrite free blah blah blah bacon (I could go all Alice Waters on you and list the local origin of everything in this meal, actually (ok, except for the cooking spray), right down to the wheat I used to bake the bread, but I won't), but feel free to use microwave bacon or whatever you have. You might want a little more of the microwave kind, since slices are so thin.

Whatever kind of bacon you use, get it pretty crispy so you can crumble it.

Once the toast is done, turn oven heat down to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup milk and 4 large eggs.

Divide egg mixture more or less evenly among your little bread cups.

Sprinkle with green onion or chives and your crumbled up bacon.

Top each tart with 1 Tbs. cheddar cheese or whatever kind of cheese (we used colby jack). And, like you're actually going to measure out one tablespoon per tart. We shredded a half cup and sprinkled it around.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until set.

Now, a serving technically is two of these, but be honest: you will eat as many as you make. If that means you need to halve the recipe (or double it), do so.

They were exactly as delicious as you would expect.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Coffee Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

I'm not much of a baker (really).

I mean, I make a mean oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, decent biscotti, and I've gotten a good bit of use out of my breadmaker (thanks, Mom!).

But while many of my friends mostly bake, more than cook, I definitely cook, more than bake. I am partial to the slapdash, improvisational fun of the stovetop versus the measured precision of the oven.

Just in general, the DDH makes more desserts than I do. I have a serious sweet tooth, don't get me wrong. That's actually why he makes most of the desserts--so we have fewer of them. I could eat muffins and coffee cakes and all manner of breakfast pastries all day long forever, which is why I rarely make them: I would, in fact, eat them all day long forever, and I would weigh three hundred pounds.

All that to say, I saw this muffin recipe in Cooking Light yesterday and promptly made a batch.

We had the instant coffee granules on hand, leftover from a DDH baking experiment. And...coffee chocolate muffins with my morning coffee...who could resist?

Plus, they're caffeinated, so I'll only eat them in the morning. ^_^

Coffee Chocolate Chip Muffins
Adapted (barely) from Cooking Light January/February 2012

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Melt 5 Tbs. butter in a saucepan or microwave safe bowl.

Fun fact: instant coffee is dehydrated brewed coffee.
Combine with the butter: 2/3 cup whole milk, 3 Tbs. instant coffee granules, 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, and 1 large egg, lightly beaten.

Pretend this is a picture of mixed ingredients instead of just its aftermath.
 In a separate bowl, whisk together 9 oz (2 cups) flour (I used half all-purpose and half whole wheat), 2/3 cup sugar, 1/2 cup chocolate chips, 2 tsp baking powder, and 1/4 tsp salt.

Ready to go.
Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in your wet ingredients. Mix until just moistened.

Spoon into twelve greased or lined muffin cups. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until done (toothpick test). Don't overbake them or they'll get tough.

Remove from pan immediately and cool on wire rack.

Nom nom nom.
They are good. Very coffee-y, and dense. They do in fact go well with your morning coffee, or I'm sure they'd be a hit at a brunch meeting.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Caramel Popcorn

So it's January, and theoretically we should not be baking cupcakes and cookies and all manner of buttery rich delectable dessert goodness, because theoretically we should be celery-munching treadmill hamsters right now.

But come on. You still need a sweet treat to end the day, or to motivate you to go to the gym, or just because, let's be real, you're addicted to love sugar.

Let's compromise, shall we?

Air-popped popcorn is pretty much the healthiest snack food you can find, right? I mean, technically it's a whole grain.

So if the base is healthy, slathering it in butter and sugar doesn't disqualify it from being a health food.



Caramel Corn

First, you need to have just plain popcorn that's not all microwaveified. You can find it by the normal popcorn (or possibly the drink mixers, don't ask why) in any grocery store. Or you can buy fun multi-colored stuff from the bulk bin at Whole Foods.

It doesn't make multi-colored puffs, though, sorry.

Anyway. Then you need to pop this nice plain corn. If, like me, you have inherited an electric air popper from a kind friend who had about three of them, you are in luck.

If not, you have to do it on the stove and I can't really help you with that, but Google can. For instance, here is a nice summary of some different popping methods. Stovetop methods of necessity involve some sort of fat, so far as I can tell; vegetable, peanut, or coconut oil should work fine. I think olive oil has too low a smoking point.

Back to the recipe.

Pop some corn.

While said corn pops, or after, if you're popping it on the stove and only want to wash one pot, melt some butter. We usually use one stick to about a half cup (unpopped) popcorn.

Add a few shakes of vanilla.

Stir in some brown sugar. We usually use about 3/4 cup.

Turn up the heat nice and high. It will get really frothy and bubbly:

But eventually should get all melty and gooey and yummy looking. You'll know when you've finally gotten the brown sugar to actually melt and not just dissolve.

Constant stirring is necessary so it doesn't burn up and die. Play around with the ratios, heat level, etc. until you find perfection according to your own tastebuds.

You can add flavorings, too: a dash of vanilla is always good. We brought some to a Christmas party and added nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon for Christmas Spice Caramel Corn. A++.

Pour the caramel on the popcorn.

If you don't turn the heat up high enough, it will be more clumpy and grainy:

If you used a higher heat, it will be smoother and liquidier:

Now, if you are clever and thought ahead, you will have put your popcorn in a big bowl with a lid so that you can pop that lid on top and shake it like a Polaroid picture.

If you are less clever, or lack a sufficiently large lidded bowl, you will need to stir it all together with a big spoon.

Either way, you end up with this:

Lower heat.

Higher heat.
You can see that cooking the caramel on a higher heat and making sure to get it thoroughly melted result in a more liquid caramel that coats the popcorn more evenly. It's also not as grainy, though still more so than commercial caramel.
Homemade deliciousness.

And I will totally back you up on designating it as health food.

Some notes.

This doesn't exactly turn out like commercial caramel corn. That would necessitate corn syrup and greater finickiness. I personally think this is amazing, but I'm a sucker for butter + brown sugar.

It tends to be a bit grainy, and depending on your shaking/stirring skillZ, you might find lots of big clumps of sugar while other kernels have nothing. I do not complain about this. If you are liable to complain about it, adjust your shaking/stirring accordingly. As noted, cooking for longer and on a higher heat helps with this.

And, seriously, this is about as easy and fast (and cheap!) as it gets. It really is, oh-we're-supposed-to-be-at-that-party-in-thirty-minutes-and-I-haven't-bought-a-present-for-the-gift-exchange-yet-either-so-we-need-to-go-to-the-store-on-the-way-to-the-party-so-I-have-ten-minutes-to-toss-something-together-without-a-recipe-from-what-I-have-on-hand easy.

It's also wow-that-actually-turned-out-really-well-let's-make-it-all-the-time-now addictive.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


It would figure that I would manage to mess up lasagna.

I mean, there's not much easier than lasagna, right? Boil some noodles, layer with sauce and cheeses, bake until yummy.

The problem here is my tendency to not measure anything. So I mixed up a batch of sauce, only to discover that it was nowhere near enough sauce for a big ol' pan o' lasagna.

Turns out a good lasagna demands lots of sauce, or it's sort of bland and crinkly and has a funny texture.

Lesson learned, friends. Lesson learned.

Boil up your favorite lasagna noodles according to package directions. One of these days, I will actually make my own noodles for this, because my own noodles are fantabulous and I don't know why I don't make them more often.

For the sauce, I heated some olive oil, softened some onion and garlic, cooked my ground beast.

This is where I went horribly, horribly wrong. It's winter, so I had no tomatoes. I was also out of tomato sauce and, the last time I was at Sam's Club, told myself that there was no reason I should buy both canned sauce AND canned paste, when I could just sort of make tomato sauce out of tomato paste. Which, yes, that would work in theory, except that then I get into weird panicky frugal moods and decide I can't really use more than one or two cans of the paste, either, but then I don't want to have the sauce just taste like water because I diluted the paste too much, and so.

I added tomato paste thinned with water, and it was nowhere near the five cups the recipe called for, and that was a problem.

Added basil, oregano, thyme, salt: the usual Italian seasoning suspects.

Then the layers. Cottage cheese (the DDH hates ricotta), mozzarella, sauce, parmesan, noodles.

It looked cheesy and excellent going into the oven for its designated 40ish minutes at 375 (or it might have been 350. I'm not bothering to be precise since this is a recipe you shouldn't make anyway).

But as you can see...not quite enough cheese. Nowhere near enough sauce. Dried out crispy chewy noodles.

It's a shame, because lasagna is possibly the DDH's favoritest food evAr (that or pizza, it's hard to tell), and I totally failed.

He was very kind, though, and ate it all and even got seconds, so I guess it wasn't that terrible. I just don't care for lasagna to begin with, so it has to be an awesome one for me to enjoy it.

When I do it right, I'll share. In the meantime...don't make lasagna like this.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Granola Bars

For a long time, I cooked my dinners (and by extension, my lunches, since those are just leftovers), but I was still buying snacks and breakfast foods. Primarily, I bought granola and granola/protein bars and used them both as mid-morning snacks and meal substitutes on days when I was too busy or unmotivated or whatever to cook dinner.

Then I realized this was stupid. Here I was, endeavoring to make frugal, healthy, whole food meals, but eating expensive junky granola and protein bars. Seriously, that was the largest part of my food budget. Those things are freaking expensive.

And I thought, I can make soup from tomatoes I've grown myself. I can make bread and pasta and enchiladas and cookies from scratch. None of this stuff is actually hard to do. Why the heck am I shelling out all this money on granola bars when surely I can make healthier ones myself for much cheaper?

Yeah. It is ridiculously easy to make these things from scratch. I seriously probably spend as much time on prep for these as I used to spend dithering in the aisle at Sam's Club trying to figure out which box of bars provided the best nutritional value for the money (answer: none of them).

I bought the e-cookbook Healthy Snacks to Go by Katie Kimball at Kitchen Stewardship, and the below granola bar recipe is adapted from there. I highly recommend the book (I mean, it's only five dollars apparently I got it on sale. It's actually $6.95.) to anyone interested in homemade snacks. I usually use her granola recipe and protein bars recipe, as well, and if you are a Larabar fan, she has pages of recipes for making your own versions of their different flavors, too. Someone gave me a bag of dates recently and I think they are destined for a Larabar experiment. Also: homemade Wheat Thin crackers.

Alternatively, you can google a lot of this for free. So. You know.

Without further ado:

Homemade Granola Bars

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Melt 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, 2/3 cup honey (Katie's recipe calls for a full cup but that was too sweet for us), and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a medium bowl in the microwave (or on the stove if for some reason you'd rather handwash a pot than dishwasherify a bowl). I do this at 30 second intervals, stirring after each, and it takes maybe 2-3 minutes.

(If you want peanut butter granola bars, substitute 1/2 cup peanut butter for 1/2 cup of the butter.)

It will look like this.
Meanwhile, mix together in a large bowl 4 1/2 cups of oats (yes, I just use instant oatmeal oats), 1 cup flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 2 cups of mix-ins.

Dry ingredients.
Mix-ins are whatever you like in a granola bar. For this batch I used chocolate chips, dried cherries, sunflower seeds, coconut flakes, and chopped (well, pestled) almonds. I think it was one cup chocolate chips and then the rest together made one cup. You could use different flavors of chocolate chips, different nuts or dried fruit, whatever. I used all these things because I was almost out of all of them, so I just dumped in the bits I had left. Use what you have on hand, or plot out a delicious flavor combo and acquire those ingredients.

Pour your butter/honey mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well, until all the dry ingredients are moistened.

Before baking.
Press into a greased 9x13 pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brownish and somewhat dried out. They will probably still be sort of moist, which to me is a plus. Let cool in the pan for at least ten minutes before cutting. Slice and store in an airtight container in a cool dry place.

(I'll try and remember to take a picture of the finished bars and stick that in here.)

They should last a month or so on your counter just fine (depending, I guess, on what you use for mix-ins) or longer in the fridge.

The DDH loves these things. He thinks they are more filling and satisfying than my homemade protein bars (strangely) and on par with the big Power Bar things he always requested before.

I love them also, but they are definitely sweet. Skipping the chocolate chips would help, but a lot of it is the honey, too. I'm not sure if you can cut back on the volume any more without affecting the consistency of the bar. You could try substituting unsweetened applesauce maybe for some of the honey, or coconut oil maybe? Things to experiment with. ^_^


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