Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Betsys Lentil and Couscous Curry

Recipe #106: http://vegweb.com/recipes/betsys-lentil-and-couscous-curry

I seem to be on a bit (ok, a lot) of a lentil kick lately. I have no idea why - I never really thought much about lentils before, but now that I've discovered them, I keep eating them. Maybe it's the red colour... cheap and cheerful?

I don't actually know Betsy, the author of this recipe. I just happened to find it on a random search for a way to use up some of my stock of staples, both in the interest of not wasting food and also preparing to move in the (hopefully!) very near future. I was going to bring the results of this recipe attempt to a birthday party on the weekend (I figured it would meet with approval from my vegetarian friends there), but I ran out of time that day. In retrospect, it's probably a good thing as I wasn't sure how this would turn out. 

I adjusted a few things when I made my version tonight. I used an entire small onion, 1 orange pepper, 2 stalks celery, 1 bunch broccoli including stem, 1 small zucchini, 1 regular-sized carrot, and some low sodium organic vegetable broth (2 cups total) that I found at the store. [Word of advice: if you make a cup of mint tea, don't put it next to the vegetable broth. They look identical at a glance.] I also added 2 tsp of curry powder, 2 tsp black pepper and 1/2 tsp salt. I think I simmered the vegetables with lentils for about 35 minutes as they weren't yet cooked after the suggested 20 min. Oh, and to change things up a little, I weighed the couscous to the 250g called for. For the record, that equals more than 1 cup. I think I'll go back to a 1:1 ratio next time.

Well, the end result is tasty, filling and healthy. I did make an effort to up the spices as I knew that adding bland couscous would take the flavour down a notch. I think I could ramp the spices up even more next time, but there is a nice little trail of fire that lingers after a mouthful - not bad for someone who almost never improvs recipes, IMO. My next cooking goal is to get a better idea of how many servings a recipe will make when it doesn't outright tell you. The finished version of this one appears to feed 25+ people.... I may hate couscous and lentils in another week or so.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Spiced Red Lentil-Carrot Soup

Recipe #105: http://www.kraftcanada.com/en/recipes/spiced-red-lentil-carrot-soup-131081.aspx?pf=true

Guess who just remembered that she bought a 5 lb bag of carrots recently because they were a super good deal but has yet to eat almost any of them? Uh, me... So what to do? Well, it's cold outside (actually, today was a really balmy +9C because methinks we have a Chinook) and I need to feed myself something other than beef stew so... soup!

This recipe was a good choice for me for more reasons than just the 12 carrots required. It also gave me a chance to use up my lentils (and a good excuse to buy more), spices along with some of the ginger I still have from a previous recipe plus the cooking creme that I found in the freezer recently. I have no actual memory of putting it there... could have been in the freezer when I moved in 7 months ago... I should know by tomorrow morning if it was a bad idea.

As for tweakings (not twerkings, whatever those are), I actually did very few for this recipe. The carrots were a mix of skinnier ones and fatter ones (I AM NOT JUDGING HERE), but I tried to chop them all to be roughly the same size; I used a mixture of store brand lentils (Co-op if you live in the West and President's Choice Blue Menu because that's where I went shopping today); the chicken stock was No Salt Added (next time, I'll choose the reduced sodium version for a little more flavour) President's Choice Blue Menu and I used the whole tetra; the Philadelphia Cooking Creme was the original flavour (finders keepers can't moan if they don't find the flavour that the recipe calls for) so I threw in a chopped clove of garlic with the onion and ginger at the beginning to pretend it was garlic cooking creme. Mmmmmm, didn't quite get that part right. I think I'll add more garlic next time if I'm using original creme again - or just buy the one they tell you to use.

All in all, this was pretty straightforward although I always seem to at least double the prep time they suggest. I'm putting the "slow" in slow food... My version is slightly on the bland side (I haven't got a good enough sense of taste/smell to figure out exactly what's missing beyond what I deduced above) so I did hurl in a grandiose pinch of black pepper at the end which gave it a faint hint of more flavour. It is flavourful and has lots of healthy benefits, but if I make it another time for someone else to eat, I'll try the actual recipe version. Good thing I like carrots and soup!

[The bottom photo is an homage to my maternal grandmother who is holding me, her granddaughter, in the photo that her granddaughter is saluting with her grandmother's bowl. My grandma also gave me the cook book, "How To Cook Everything" back in 2000. I like to think she'd be proud of how far my culinary skills have come since then.]

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Red Wine Beef Stew with Potatoes and Green Beans

Recipe #104: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/dave-lieberman/red-wine-beef-stew-with-potatoes-and-green-beans-recipe/index.html

Guess what I got for my birthday this year? PURPLE sweet potatoes! Cheap and cheerful and PURPLE!! Thanks to the Mumsicle for helping me to "eat the rainbow".

I suppose I should say that I chose this recipe as a way to cook the sweet potatoes or for the fact that the red meat is a source of iron, but who am I kidding? I chose it for the wine! I think I need to cook with wine as often as I can afford it.

Mmmmm, wine....

I stuck fairly close to this recipe as it was laid out. The butter was salted (I only buy unsalted for fussy baking recipes that demand it), the salt was denomition-blessing-free ordinary table salt, I added 4 stalks of celery because I can, and the Yellow Tail Shiraz was delicious.... I used a 900 mL tetra pak of reduced-sodium chicken broth and the store was out of crushed tomatoes (am I missing some kind of crushed tomato recipe frenzy in Calgary right now?) so I bought a can of small cut tomatoes with garlic and olive oil (President's Choice - who am I to argue with the president of something?) and measured out 1 cup. I'll use the remainder in pasta or something. I opted for dried rosemary - primarily because I didn't know what to do with what would have been leftover had I bought fresh - so I used 2 tablespoons and threw in a haphazard half-capful of dried thyme, too. Lastly, I used 2 average PURPLE! sweet potatoes instead of the white options listed.

The beef cooking was an interesting process. I've never done it like that before, but it actually wasn't terribly complicated. One just has to make sure they're not too distracted by dishes or the internet. Hooray! I can now cook "intermediate" skill recipes. BUT, word to the wise: if your prep skills are on the slow-because-you-are-really-determined-to-chop-everything-to-death side like mine, you might end up having to do the prep one night and the cooking the next (as was the case for me this week). It's ok to do so because then you get to drink the wine for two nights :)

End result, you might be wondering...?

I AM A BEEF STEW COOKING CHAMPION! Flavourful, filling and I'm eating it again for breakfast. Anyone else want any? I've got lots...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Moroccan Tomato Soup

Recipe #103: http://www.canadianliving.com/food/moroccan_tomato_soup.php

I'm baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!

Did you miss me? Life fell apart a while ago and I fell off the blogsphere for a while. Suffice it to say, among other major changes, I'm now cooking for one.

But enough about my chaos.

Now that I get to make all of the decisions about what to cook, I'm trying some new recipes. I'm attempting to eat more meat and dark leafy greens to keep my iron stores up as well as eat more vegetables in a generally healthier eating setting. We are not going to discuss my recent out-of-control potato chip overdoses.

I found this recipe while looking for a Fall squash one... and there is no squash in this one... but I digress.

What prompted me to try this soup is the number of spices in my collection that I got to use. I also had most of the ingredients already. And peanut butter! I've never made peanut butter soup before. Have you? I don't eat a lot of ethnic food (I'm working on that) and I don't know any Moroccan person to ask if they eat a lot of peanut butter in their soups, but I'm operating on the assumption that it's legit in this case. If not, I blame Canadian Living for shoddy research/marketing. Recipe helpfully states that it makes 6 servings of an unknown quantity so I measured it out because I'm a detail person - 1 cup is a serving.

For this recipe, I used a can of store brand diced tomatoes that came with herbs and spices. My little can of tomato paste by Hunts also came with herbs and spices. My dry spice measurements may not have been exact. The stress of this year has my hands with a fine tremor most days so I likely over-measured slightly. I gave the cinnamon a big pinch. Awwwww, cinnamon, you're so cute, cute, cute! ... I used Kraft Natural peanut butter (no jelly this time)  and because I am still impatient, the slow cooker was on HIGH, not LOW as directed, for about 4 hours with random stirring when I remembered. I don't own an immersion blender so I chucked everything (in small batches) into my regular blender - first puree, then blend.

For best results, the entire recipe was made with "Go - The Very Best of Moby" album playing in the background.
Mangia! Mangia!
Speaking of results, SCORE! Once you get past the ugly orange colour (ironic if you know my birthday), this soup is DELICIOUS! I topped mine with 1/2 tsp of unsalted sunflower seeds that I found in the cupboard. The peanut butter flavour is nicely blended with the tomato and spices. The soup goes down smoothly and leaves a trail of manageable fire from mouth to belly. Goodbye, House of Bland! This baby has some kick. I look forward to having more for breakfast tomorrow. Maybe it'll wake me better than coffee at 0500.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

3-Bean Garden Chili

Recipe #102: http://www.calgaryherald.com/health/diet-fitness/Moroccan+chickpea+stew+three+bean+garden+chili+easy/7985185/story.html#ixzz2LedYZJgi

Since newspaper websites tend to change more quickly than some others, here's the recipe written out:

[Serves 8]
15 mL (1 tbsp) canola oil
500 mL (2 cups) chopped onion (I used 1 medium yellow and 1 small yellow which equaled 2 cups)
3 cloves garlic, crushed (I minced, poorly)
375 mL (1.5 cups) diced red bell pepper (I just diced 1 red pepper)
375 mL (1.5 cups) diced green bell pepper (I diced 1 yellow one. Yellow is prettier than green. I'm not making Christmas chili here, people.)
2 cans (each 796 mL/28 oz.) diced tomatoes (I used 1 can regular diced and 1 can diced with Italian spices)
1 can (540 mL/19 oz.) kidney beans, drained and rinsed well
1 can (540 mL/19 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed well
1 can (540 mL/19 oz.) chickpeas, drained and rinsed well (I substituted white beans to increase the odds of the Meatatarian eating this vegetarian recipe. He suffers through the carrots, but refuses to eat chickpeas.)
250 mL (1 cup) chopped carrot
125 mL (1/2 cup) corn kernels, fresh or frozen (I used a 341 mL/12 oz can of peaches and cream corn, drained. Fresh corn is NOT in season here at the moment.)
30-45 mL (2-3 tbsp) chili powder (I used 2, not 3, and my chili has a bit of kick)
30 mL (2 tbsp) unsweetened cocoa (I used some organic stuff we have)
2 mL (1/2 tsp) cinnamon
1 mL (1/4 tsp) cayenne pepper, or to taste (turns out they don't mean you should taste the cayenne straight up. They mean taste it in your chili.)
30 mL (2 tbsp) tomato paste (I used 2 heaping tablespoons)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste (or grind until you feel like stopping)
Fill me up, buttercup!
In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. When pan is hot, add onion and saute for 8-10 minutes (if you are using our stove, you will notice the onion starting to turn brown and smoke at about the 7 minute mark so you'll turn the heat down a little - or shrug and carry on). Add garlic and bell peppers and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add tomatoes, kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas (or whatever you substituted in the bean selections), carrot, corn, chili powder, cinnamon, cocoa, cayenne pepper and tomato paste (I don't understand why they don't just write "add everything else except the black pepper"). Stir to combine. Season with black pepper. Cover and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 35 minutes (at which point your carrots will still be kind of crunchy even though you sliced them very small and thinly so next time, you will saute/cook them with the onions or the peppers, at the beginning of the recipe.)

This fibre-rich recipe will fill you up for any meal. In fact, after eating a LOT of it recently, I wrote a haiku about it today:
Fibre overdose
I will pay for this later
Exploding colon

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Chicken Cacciatore Pronto

Recipe #101: http://www.kraftcanada.com/en/recipes/chicken-cacciatore-pronto-108121.aspx?cm_mmc=eml-_-rbecaen-_-20130306-_-2085&cm_lm=ECBBCAE26A9EBFC4D6C4C17426109BFA

What to do when you dig forgotten chicken pieces out of the back of the freezer and need a saucy (sauce-y?) recipe to go with them? Check your inbox for Kraft's weekly recipe idea email! That's how I found this one. When I read that I was supposed to make spaghetti to go with the chicken, I decided to make the Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes and Basil recipe (#100) instead. Whoa - 2 recipes in 1 meal!

I don't really know how much the chicken that I used in this recipe weighed because I forgot to check before I cooked it, but we estimated it at about 1.5 lbs when it was served. Instead of the 2 small red peppers, I used 1 orange pepper, diced instead of chopped, because neither of us is in love with peppers. I figured it would be more palatable in teeny, cheerful orange form. I can still taste it faintly when I eat the finished product, but it's not a peppery punch in the palate like I feared. As for the tomato paste, I think I measured roughly 3 tablespoons (slightly on the more "heaping" side), and neither of the cheeses I used were "light" versions.
Breakfast so good!
Given that I was following 2 different recipes for the same meal, I'm pretty impressed with myself for having them both ready within about 7 minutes of each other. If you know me or have watched me in the kitchen, it's a big deal. Like the web address of my blog says, I'm still learning to cook (and manage my time... but that`s a different story for a different day). Once the chicken was simmering in the pot, I was able to focus on the spaghetti squash for a while.

Speaking of which, I was delighted that my impulsive idea to substitute squash for pasta (say what?!) turned out REALLY well. The Meatatarian made himself rice instead of squash, but we both agreed that the chicken was really good. The gooey cheese on top was a nice touch and he didn't even mention the orange pepper I snuck in - maybe he didn't even notice? When I piled the finished versions of these two recipes one on top of the other, I had a pile of food that was so delicious (have I said that enough already? No.) that I ate it again for breakfast this morning. Score one for me!

Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes and Basil

Recipe #100: http://www.steamykitchen.com/19385-microwave-spaghetti-squash-with-tomatoes-and-basil.html

I think I should rename this recipe as "Dinner so good you'll eat it for breakfast the next day, too". And I don't even like squash.

I think this might be the first time in conscious memory that I've chosen to eat spaghetti squash. As we know from my Apple Squash Soup post (Recipe #98), I tend to avoid squash. However, now that I have made two recipes of two different kinds of squash and loved them both, it's much more likely that squashy recipes will show up on the stove more often. The Meatatarian will not be as happy about this...

This recipe was SO easy to make. A few words to the wise: Stab the squash with gusto but CAUTION. That sucker rolls around very easily and the knife may slip. Also, I nuked mine on a plate so that any of the gooey juices that came out would not require me to clean the microwave. Did I mention I hate cleaning? Be sure to wear oven mitts or some kind of thermal hand protection to handle the squash once you've started nuking it because it'll be RIDICULOUSLY hot. I found that the trickiest parts of this recipe were trying to get the seeds out after cutting the cooked squash open, then trying to "toss with tongs" once the squash was in the pan. This was probably partially due to the fact that I only used 1 fork to scrape the squash out of the hulking skin.

Spaghetti squash - my new amore
I don't know what size of spaghetti squash I had - average, if I had to guess. I didn't have fresh basil so I used 2 enthusiastic squeezes of my squeeze tube basil instead. Our parmesan cheese was the regular Kraft kind and I did not add salt, just some grinds of pepper.

I was amazed at how "delicious and Italian" this recipe smelled before I even tasted it. Did I mention that Italian food is my second love after fresh fruit? I served it (to myself because he refused to try it) as a bed for the Chicken Cacciatore (recipe #101) in lieu of the spaghetti that it called for and the only difference was the texture - spaghetti squash is crunchier than pasta spaghetti. My mouth was in heaven from the combination of garlic, tomato and basil.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bring Your Own Granola

Recipe #99: surprise! You get to make it up yourself.

I recently got my Apprentice Interpreter (natural history/ecology, not languages) certification, then followed that up with a workshop hosted to give people ideas for more outdoor activity foods that you can easily make yourself. It was a small turnout but I had a lot of fun. Here's the outline we were given to make your own granola (credit to Laurie Schwartz of the Interpretive Guides Association):

Do-it-yourself granola
Pre-heat oven to 300° F.  Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Start with 2 cups of large flake oatmeal, add a pinch of salt, then add ¼ cup to ½ cup each of your selection of yummy additions, such as…
Dried fruit: raisins, cranberries, cherries, pears, peaches, mango, pineapple, figs, apricots, dates, currants, banana chips, blueberries  (Chop any big pieces of fruit into small dice.)
Nuts: almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, cashews, pecans, walnuts (nuts can be chopped or left whole)
Seeds: sesame, flax, pumpkin, sunflower, hemp hearts, chia
Other: shredded or flaked coconut, soy nuts, wheat germ, bran
Spices: cinnamon, candied ginger, nutmeg, vanilla
I like to mix at least one of each of the kinds above. If you want to add chocolate, you’ll have to wait until after it has baked and cooled or you’ll have a big mess!
½ cup oil (canola or sunflower)
½ cup honey
Melt honey with oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until bubbly.  Stir briefly to combine, and then pour the syrup over your dry mix.  Stir to combine well. Spread the mixture on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes.  Be careful not to over-bake, because the granola will continue to darken as it cools.  You can stir the granola while it’s still hot to break it up into little chunks for cereal, or press it into a greased pan to cut into bars for the trail.  It’s easier to cut while still a bit warm.  
I made my own granola!

When I made mine last night, I randomly threw in 1/2 cup of whatever I dug out of the cupboard that fell within the suggestions above. I think I ended up with:  unsalted sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup chopped dried mango, banana chips, crushed walnut pieces, sliced almonds, 1/4 cup prunes, and raisins. I freehand measured some cinnamon and nutmeg, too. 

Mine turned out really well (in my unbiased opinion, of course). Even the Meatatarian ate some. I stirred it a couple of times while it was baking to keep it from sticking. Give it a good stir when it starts to cool after coming out of the oven for good. Mine was quite stuck to the pan. I laughed out loud when I finally figured out that the grapes which had suddenly appeared were actually the raisins. Cooking is fun! 

For next time, I will reduce the oil quantity (mine's a bit too oily for me) and maybe not get quite so excited with the nutmeg. And now that I finally found the dried coconut, I'll probably add that, too, along with dried apricots (if I have them) and Sean's dried apple slices. The best part about this recipe is that you can make it entirely yours!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Apple Squash Soup

Recipe #98: Apple Squash Soup

If it's possible to fall in love with the enemy, I have done so after making this soup. Squash and I have never been friends for as long as I can remember. Whenever squash is served - usually at a family holiday get-together or something similar because my mother knows I avoid it at her house - I give it the ol' evil eye and eat extra mashed potatoes instead. However, I am wise enough now to recognize the nutritional benefits of squash so I decided to see if I could fool my palate by eating the evil vegetable hidden in a soup.


The worst part of making this pot of deliciousness was peeling and dicing the butternut squash and the sweet potato. I've never dealt with butternut squash before and today, I discovered that it oozes clear sap-ish stuff when you cut it. Weird. I had to manhandle it quite a bit to get all of the skin off with the knife after discovering that my peeler was not up to the job. I also had to stop to sharpen the knife I was using - yes, I worked so hard that I dulled my knife! Ok, maybe not, but it sounds good. This be one dense vegetable and I have the calloused hands to prove it.

I ended up buying 2 squashes (squashi? squishes?) at the store this morning to get the weight called for in the recipe. I guessed on the sweet potato weight and went for a "medium" size one. For apples, I used Spartan because they were from Canada and the cheaper ones next to them were not. The chicken stock tetra that I used all of (said 900 mL on the container, but measured to 4 cups...?) was the no-salt-added kind by Campbell's. I opted for the dried spices since I already had them on hand; I actually added the 1 tsp of salt (I don't normally add salt) since the stock had none added; and I freehand measured the pepper as I am prone to doing. Grind, grind, grind, stir, grind, grind, good enough. I used regular Carnation Evaporated Milk instead of the 2% or Fat-Free, and then I used some of the leftover to make more tea. Mmmm.....

As far as the cooking goes, this soup was very easy to make. Once it got to boiling, I could finish the dishes and attempt to restore order in the kitchen which actually ended up more like me checking Facebook and texting friends. What dishes? Ha! Although we own a food processor, I don't like using it because it has all these blades and parts that I have to clean afterward so I pureed the soup in the old-school blender. I hate cleaning it, too, but at least I know it better. I learned from painful past experience to puree small batches at a time - no more pea soup burns on my arm!

At last, it was time to taste the soup and - oh, joy! What delight! This soup is SO GOOD! Mine has a nice flavour to it (probably from the pepper, in part), and it's filling and nutritious. I'm bringing some to my yoga buddy tomorrow morning for her breakfast. I think I might need to eat more of this one for dinner tonight!