Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Glorious beets! They turn a whole meal pink. I reproduced the Russian beet salad reasonably well using canned beets, but need fresh to get it absolutely right. The sauteed beets and carrots were wonderful over pasta.

Sautéed Beets and Carrots (quick side dish)

Beets, carrots, and onion are all delicious when cooked with brown sugar and butter. Makes 2 to 4 servings. This makes a complete meal when served over buttered pasta.

2 or 3 fresh beets, peeled and diced, or one drained and chopped can of beets
2 or 3 carrots, scrubbed and chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped small
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
(optional) minced or dried garlic to taste

Melt the butter in a sauce pan; add the onion, and sauté for a few minutes. Add the beets, if you are using fresh, and sauté a few minutes more. (If you use canned, add the beets at the end, after the carrots have softened.) Add the carrots and brown sugar, and continue to sauté until the carrots and beets are softened. Add salt, pepper, and the optional garlic.

Simple Buttered Pasta (quick meal)

This dish is simple to make, and goes well topped with sautéed vegetables of any sort.

½ pound of uncooked pasta of any sort
2 tbsp butter or olive oil
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
(optional) Italian spices

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain the pasta, and return it to the hot pot. Add about a tablespoon of butter for each ¼ pound of pasta, and stir it until it melts; or use olive oil, or use some combination of the two. Then stir in the grated cheese. Add salt, pepper, and optional spices. Serve with sautéed vegetables, such as spinach or beets.

Russian Beet Salad (quick side dish)

This slaw is a glorious hot pink color, and surprisingly sweet, given that it contains garlic.

1 can of beets, or about 1 ½ cups cooked fresh beets, cut small
½ cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, minced, or ½ tsp dried garlic
¼ cup chopped or smashed walnuts
Salt and pepper to taste
(optional) raisins, or chopped prunes
(optional) 1 tsp brown or white sugar, or honey

If using fresh beets, peel, boil, and cool first. Then chop them into fine bits, or grate them using the largest holes of a cheese grater. Combine all of the ingredients, and serve!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Progress on the cookbook has been almost non-existent these past weeks. But Chris is back at work today, and Gabe is back at daycare, so for the next two weeks, it's just Kaylee and me and free time!

I tried making tuna burgers for the first time. My expectations were low. I assumed the results would be stinky, crumbly, and taste overwhelmingly of canned fish. I was wrong on all points, and can't wait to make this a regular meal at our house!

I still need to refine the two tuna-noodle pasta dishes below. . .


Canned tuna is an excellent source of protein, selenium, tryptophan, vitamins B1, B3, and B6, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, and, especially, omega 3 fatty acids.

Drain canned tuna by opening the can, and then using the lid of the can to squeeze out the water or oil. Canned tuna is cooked and ready to eat as-is.

Pregnant women should not eat “albacore” tuna, because this type of tuna tends to be high in mercury.

Tuna Salad (also Egg Salad, Chicken Salad) (quick meal)
Serves two.

Tuna salad makes a great sandwich filler or salad topper. Tuna salad is made by mixing canned tuna with minced vegetables and mayonnaise. Chopped hard-boiled egg or chopped cooked chicken can be used in place of the tuna to make egg salad or chicken salad.

1 small can of tuna
1 cup or so of any combination of the following: chopped celery, onion, apple, sweet or dill pickle, cucumber, walnuts, pecans.
About ½ cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
Pepper to taste
(optional) other herbs or spices, such as powdered garlic, dill, parsley, cayenne pepper, or curry powder.

Drain the tuna by squeezing it with the lid of the can. Then mix in the vegetables, and spoon in mayonnaise to taste. Season with pepper and optional herbs or spices. Serve over lettuce or on toast.

Creamy Tuna Pasta (quick meal)

This is a quick version of Tuna Noodle Casserole that uses whole ingredients instead of canned “ cream of” sauces. Such canned sauces are low in nutrients and high in sugar, salt, oils, and other things that would be best left out of one‘s diet, such as MSG.

The dairy in this recipe helps to mask the fishy flavor of the tuna. Feeds three or four.

1 chopped onion
(optional) canned or fresh mushrooms
(optional) minced garlic
1 to 3 cans of tuna
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 ½ cup milk
1 to 3 cups vegetables, such as frozen peas, frozen or fresh carrots, broccoli, or spinach, etc.
(optional) 1 cup of grated cheddar, Swiss, or other cheese
(optional) dill,
Salt and pepper to taste
Egg noodles, or pasta, or rice

Start cooking the noodles or rice. In another pan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter, and sauté the onions, optional garlic, and optional mushrooms for a few minutes. Add the remaining vegetables until they are cooked. Then put all of the vegetables aside in a bowl, and melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in the pan. Sprinkle in the flour, stirring over the heat for another couple of minutes, and then add the milk and stir thoroughly with a whisk or fork. Bring the milk comes to a boil, then stir in the grated cheese to make a cheese sauce. Add the cooked vegetables and the drained tuna and add salt and pepper and optional dill to taste.

If you opt not to use cheese, try adding more tuna or more vegetables to fill out the meal.

Serve over egg noodles, pasta, or rice.

Tuna Noodle Casserole (cook in advance)

Cooking tuna noodle as a casserole may take too long to be convenient on a busy weeknight, but comes in handy if you have more cooking time and a large group of people to feed. It also makes sense for pot lucks, because it can be cooked a few hours in advance, kept warm in the oven on low heat, and then brought to the potluck in just one container.

Tuna Noodle Casserole is almost the same as Cheesy Tuna Pasta, except that it is baked. To make tuna noodle casserole without using canned “cream of” sauces, use the same ingredients as the “Creamy Tuna Pasta“ recipe, doubling or tripling as necessary. Egg noodles are traditional, rather than rice or pasta, but any of the above should work.

Start by cooking the noodles or rice. Chop the vegetables, but don’t cook them. Make the cheese sauce, and drain the tuna. Then, in a casserole dish, put a layer of noodles or rice, followed by a layer of veggies, a layer of tuna, and a layer of cheese sauce. Add more layers until the casserole dish is full, and top with more grated cheese. Bake at 350 degrees until the sauce bubbles.

Tuna Burgers, or Tuna Cakes (quick meal)

These tuna patties can be served on bread, like a hamburger, or as part of a salad or along with side dishes, as a fish cake. A tasty dip can be made for the latter by mixing equal parts of mayonnaise and Dijon mustard.

This makes two patties:

1 small can of tuna
½ cup bread crumbs
1 egg
½ cup chopped vegetables, such as onion, celery, or red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste (careful with the salt, as canned tuna tends to be salty)
(optional) other herbs, such as dill

Drain the tuna. Mix the ingredients thoroughly and form into two patties. Cook in a little oil - if the tuna is in oil rather than water, you can use a tablespoon of that to cook in - over medium heat for about five minutes on each side. Turn the patties carefully, as they are a bit fragile.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I need to include a canned corn recipe, too. Hmm.

Kaylee is a day shy of two weeks old! Last week, I cooked popcorn with Gabe using one hand while nursing Kaylee with the other. Success! Alas, so many other kitchen tasks require two hands.

Popcorn with butter, cinnamon, and sugar was sinfully good, and Gabe liked it so much that he tried to claim the entire pot of popcorn for himself.

Corn on the Cob (quick side dish)

Corn on the cob is simply sweet corn that has been heated up, but good corn is delicious raw, too, so you don’t have to worry about undercooking it. There are several ways to cook corn on the cob.

Stove top. Boil a big pot of water. “Shuck” the corn by peeling off the corn husk. Put the corn in the boiling water for five minutes or longer.

Oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Optional step: briefly soak the unshucked corn in water. (This will prevent the husks from getting too burnt.) Place the corn, still in the husk, in the oven, either on a cookie sheet, or directly on the over wrack. Bake for 15 minutes or longer.

Grill. Prepare the corn exactly as you would to cook it in the oven. Then place it, unshucked, on a hot grill for ten minutes or longer. Turn at least once.

Serve hot corn on the cob with butter, salt, and pepper.

Popcorn (quick snack)

Popcorn is a special variety of corn that explodes into the familiar popcorn shape when heated. You don’t need a special microwavable bag to make it. Microwave popcorn contains all sorts of unnecessary ingredients, as well as being expensive and wasteful. Nor do you need a special appliance that does nothing but make popcorn. All that you need to make popcorn are popcorn kernels, a pan with a lid, and a bit of oil or butter.

There isn’t much nutritional value to popcorn, but it’s a great way to entertain children in the kitchen! (Use caution with toddlers, however: popcorn is a choking hazard because they tend to put too much into their mouths at once.)

To make popcorn, heat a tablespoon or oil or butter over medium-low heat. Add a few tablespoons of popcorn kernels. Stir the kernels until they begin to pop. Then put the lid on until the popping slows down. . . But be sure to let a few fly out of the pot to entertain the kids!

Add butter, if you like, by putting thing slivers of butter right into the pot with the t popped corn. Stir until the butter is melted. Season with salt, or try some other spice combinations out, such as cinnamon and sugar, or curry spices.

Corn Bread (quick side dish)

1 cup corn meal
1 cup whole wheat or white flour, or use a second cup of corn meal
1/4 cup brown or white sugar
3 tsp baking power
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter
1 cup milk (or 1 cup water)
1 beaten egg

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Combine the dry ingredients - the corn meal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt - in a bowl. “Cut in” the butter by cutting it into pieces with a knife, and then mashing it into the dry ingredients with a fork.
Mix the egg and milk together and add the to the dry ingredients with a few quick strokes. Do not over mix, or your batter will not rise well. It is okay if the batter contains some small dry lumps.

Grease a small casserole dish, or a bread pan, or a small cast iron skillet by drawing on the inside of the pan with a stick of butter, as if the butter were a big crayon. Or rub on some butter (or cold bacon grease, or a bit of cooking oil) onto the pan with a paper towel.
A nine by nine pan will need to be baked for 20 to 25 minutes. Test the bread by sticking it in the middle with a toothpick or knife. If the toothpick comes out clean, the bread is done.

How to Save Money at Whole Foods

Here is a good little article on how to save money when shopping at the notoriously expensive Whole Foods. But the author missed one thing: avoid buying prepackaged foods.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Not sure what to think of this. . .

A school in Chicago has banned homemade lunches.

I knew too many students in my high school who subsisted on soda and chips, but the school lunches there weren't much better. I was among the lucky tier who often got to eat healthful lunches lovingly made by a parent.

But I also recall once hitting another student with my lunch bag, and unexpectedly hurting him, because the bag contained a soda.

I guess it all depends on the quality of the school's food. . . not that I have ever encountered a decent public school lunch.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nutrition and Income; a Rival Cookbook

This is interesting - and it fits with some observations that I have made. A Canadian study has confirmed that people at low incomes eat less nutritious foods. But the study shows that people at high incomes have the same problem. Those who have too little money can't afford the food. Those who make a lot of money lack the time to cook.

In other news, I ordered up a copy of the Washington State Chef's Association Food Bank Challenge Cookbook, created by professional chefs as a way to give something back to the community. This is the best food bank cookbook I have found so far. (The competition isn't stiff; of the handful I have found, most are collections of recipes available only online, small in scope, some seemingly abandoned halfway through compilation.)

It's an interesting read. At 77 pages, it contains 64 recipes, organized into the categories of breakfast, appetizers and snacks, soups and salads, veggies and starches, entrees, and desserts. The balance of recipe types seems well considered, as does the nutritional content of the recipes.

And these recipes are nothing if not fun. "Peach Rice Pilaf", "Portuguese Goulash with Garlic Smashed Potatoes", "Polenta Cake" (a dessert), and "Pan Seared Halibut in Grapefruit Cilantro Butter Sauce" are just a few of the recipes.
Many of the recipes do call of oddly specific ingredients, such as a specific brand of cookie. But I understand how they arrived at this: those who contributed were required to choose ingredients from the shelves of the food bank. However, I can't help but imagine the frustration of a food bank patron with limited cooking experience faltering when the one specific brand of canned soup couldn't be found.

I also find it disturbing that several recipes call for the use of infant formula. If a food bank client is in need of formula, then life has gone very, very wrong for them, and if the food bank is in short supply because some jerk has gone and taken the formula for use in a casserole - that makes me angry.

(I will now divert myself from ranting further on the topic, and instead get this post finished so that I can go feed my own hungry 11-day-old baby.)

Back to the cookbook. So, it is a robust and well-rounded collection of for the most part nifty recipes. Good job WSCA! What a great way to help your community!

And now, for my own cookbook project, I must ask: how could a food bank cookbook be even better than this? More explanation of cooking terms and techniques would help. Less assumption that the cook owns items such as a food processor, or can afford disposables such as aluminum foil. Less ambiguity in general - there is, for example, one recipe which calls for "chicken cutlet slices" and makes no mention of whether these chicken pieces should be cooked or not. This sort of ambiguity wouldn't phase a professional chef who already knows how to handle chicken, but to a novice, it's dangerous. I recently listened to a coworker's tale of attempting to make chicken quesadillas. Because the recipe was ambiguous, he used raw chicken. And he ate the half-cooked results.

I hadn't thought about it before, but just because someone is a professional chef does not necessarily make them a good writer. And I begin to see more clearly the awesomeness of professional food writers and editors.

On a slight tangent, I read a disparaging comment about Alton Brown recently, saying that he is not a chef, merely a cook. But in the opening of one of his cookbooks, Brown explained that he did not merely want to give a list of recipes, like most cookbooks. As he said, a recipe is like directions to a location in an unfamiliar city. Make one wrong turn, and you are lost for good. Alton Brown wants to give the reader a map. And that is what I want to do, too. All hail Alton!

I'm a mediocre cook and a mediocre writer, but perhaps these two things combined can work to my advantage.

Says the WSCA website of their cookbook, "So far we have given out 3000 copies to local food banks. 6 other states have also expressed interest."

An impressive number! I wonder if I can beat that? I suppose I had better get my nose to the grindstone if that's what I want to achieve.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Thanks for the recipes, Jamie and Kelly! What other potato recipes should I include to round this out?

Mashed Potatoes
(quick side dish)

You will need about one large potato per person. The potatoes may be mashed with the skin on, if you like it that way. If you leave the skin on, be sure to scrub the potatoes thoroughly under running water with a scrub brush. You may want to trim the eyes off of your potatoes even if you leave the skins on.

You can speed the cooking time by cutting the potatoes into pieces. The smaller you cut them, the faster they will cook.

Watch out – when boiling the potatoes in water, if your pot is very full, the water may suddenly boil over the top, due to the starch in the water. If your pot starts to boil over, reduce the heat and stir the pot.

about 1 large potato per person
salt and pepper to taste
(optional) milk, cream, or butter
(optional) garlic powder

Scrub and/or peel the potatoes. Slice them into medium chunks into a pot, and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil. In ten minutes or so, stick a fork into one of the potato chunks. When the fork slides easily into the potato, it is time to drain and mash.

Drain the potatoes using a colander, or by holding the potatoes in the pot with the lid while pouring the water in the sink. Add some salt and pepper, and a little of the optional milk, cream, or butter, and garlic powder. Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes. Taste, and add more seasonings and optionals as necessary.

Serve as a side dish with gravy, ketchup, or butter.

Leftover mashed potatoes can be used to make Cheesy Potato Soup.

Cheesy Potato Soup
(quick meal)

This soup can be made from scratch, or can be made from leftover mashed potatoes. For one serving of soup, you will need:

1 large potato (or about a cup of mashed potatoes)
½ cup grated cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
(optional) milk, cream, chicken stock, beef stock, etc.
(optional) some cooked sausage, cooked chicken, or other leftover cooked meat, or ham
(optional) other herbs and spices
(optional) chopped vegetables

The basic soup is made by slicing the potato into rough chunks, covering with water (just like mashed potatoes), boiling until a fork easily slides through the potato, mashing with a potato masher, and then adding cheese and seasonings. If starting with mashed potatoes, add water to the mashed potatoes and heat until boiling; then add cheese and seasonings.

Using just potatoes, cheese, and seasonings, you can make a hearty soup. However, this recipe is a blank slate waiting for other things to be added to it! Here are some possible variations:
Italian Potato Soup. Start by browning the meat from one or two Italian sausages (squeeze the meat out of the casing like toothpaste, and discard the casing) and a chopped onion Put the cooked sausage and onion aside, and cook the potatoes. Drain off half of the potato water, mash, add grated parmesan cheese, and then add chicken stock until the desired consistency is reached. Add the sausage and onions, and Italian seasonings. Salt and pepper to taste.

Potato Soup with Carrots and Ham. Sauté some sliced carrots in the pan, then put the carrots aside while the potatoes cook. When the potatoes are done, drain off half of the water, mash, add cheddar cheese, add the carrots, add diced ham, and add milk until the desired consistency is reached. Salt and pepper to taste.

Potato and Greens Chicken Soup. Cook the potatoes in chicken stock, along with a few peeled cloves of garlic. Mash; add cheese, cooked chicken, and chopped greens. Salt and pepper to taste.

Home Fries
(quick breakfast or side dish)

You will need about 1 large potato per person.

1 large potato, diced
½ an onion, diced
2 tbsp butter or oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel or thoroughly scrub your potato, then cut into bite-sized pieces. Cut the onion into pieces of about the same size. Heat the butter and oil in a pan on medium high heat until the butter melts; then add the potato and onion. Stir to coat with the butter and oil, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. (Go easy on the salt and pepper - you can always add more later.

Stir often, browning the potatoes, until they start to stick to the pan, at which point, turn down the heat to medium low. Continue to stir about once every 45 seconds. After about five minutes, test a piece of potato (by tasting it). When the desired tenderness is reached, remove the pan from the heat, add additional seasonings to taste, and serve.

Possible variations: add ham. Add curry spices. Add hot pepper flakes. Toss grated cheese on top when the potatoes are done cooking. Serve with Southern style gravy and sautéed greens, and call it a meal.

Potatoes au Gratin
(meal or side dish; make in advance)

At its simplest, potatoes au gratin is sliced potatoes in a creamy sauce. But with the addition of a few other things, it can become a complete meal. The following makes enough to fill one small casserole dish, and will feed about six people as a main dish:

3 or more medium potatoes, thinly sliced (use more if you are not adding optionals)
2 cups grated cheese
2 cups milk
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper
(optional spices) paprika, minced garlic or garlic powder, curry spices, dill, etc.
(optionals) ham, cooked chicken, cooked bacon, sliced onion, chopped kale, chopped carrot, sliced hard boiled egg

Preheat the oven at 350 degrees. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, and whisk the flour into it, stirring occasionally for two or three minutes. Add the milk, stirring until the lumps are gone. Bring to a boil to thicken the sauce, and season with salt, pepper, and optional spices.

Spoon a little of the sauce into a small casserole dish. Then put a layer of potato slices, followed by a layer of cheese, a layer of optional ingredients, and a layer of sauce. Continue adding layers until the pan is full or the ingredients are used up.

Bake for 50 minutes, or until a fork slides easily into the potatoes at the middle of the casserole.

Friday, April 8, 2011