Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Italian Dressing, Russian Beet Salad, Curried Pot Roast, and Bittman's How To Cook Everything

Once again, I don't have all that much to report. I haven't found much time to write, but I have been refining various recipes, and trying variants, such as a curried version of my pot roast. I confirmed that my Russian beet salad recipe works even better with fresh beets, tested my mostly-theoritical enchilada sauce, and figured out why my cheese sauses have been curdling (don't boil the cheese, dummy). And I have dived into salad dressings.

I have come to the conclusion that I will need to continue testing recipes through tomato season, because I need to include recipes for salsa, bruscetta, and ratatouille - recipes that are perfect for using up those over-abundant summer garden veggies. (And which should never be made using out-of-season grocery store produce. Yuck.) But since tomato season has snuck up on me anyway, it's no big deal. Cripes, this was supposed to be a small project.

But it is still a small project, compared to my new favorite cook book. The Joy of Cooking has met its match! Mark Bittman's book How to Cook Everything has taken its place in my kitchen, and I don't even own a copy yet. My new friend Nicole let me borrow it, and I have been devouring the darn thing.

Here is the coolest part: I swear Bitman traveled through time and read my mind on how a cookbook ought to be structured. Horray, proof that I was thinking in the right direction! And even better: the intent of his book is to free the reader from both "convenience" foods, and the silly confines of recipes, teaching how to cook creatively and intelligently, rather than slavishly reproducing the author's exact concoctions. It is geared to teach people basic good cooking, for all the right reasons, rather than reproducing fancy restaurant fare.

I had a moment of doubt when I realized all of this. Why should I bother to reinvent the wheel with my cookbook? But the answer is obvious: my cookbook will be much cheaper. And perhaps since it is smaller, it will be less intimidating. My readers won't have to sift through recipes for lamb, roast goose, hush puppies, and lists of seaweed types in order to get what they need, nor will they have to filter out recipes that require food mills and other things that go whirr.

Anyway, here are some of the updates:

Curried Pot Roast (cook in advance)

For a variation of the above recipe, cook the roast with a can of whole or cubed tomatoes. When the roast is done cooking, scoop out the cooked onion and tomato using a slotted spoon, and puree in a blender with curry spices to make a spicy sauce. Serve cubes of the pot roast in this sauce over rice.

Enchilada Sauce (quick ingredient)

Use this with reheated chicken, tortillas, and some grated cheese to make quick soft tacos.

1 tbsp chicken fat, butter, or oil
1 tbsp flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup tomato sauce, OR 2 tbsp tomato paste and ½ cup water or chicken broth
(optional) minced onion or garlic, as much as you like.
1 tsp cumin
hot pepper to taste

Sauté the optional onion in the fat, add the optional garlic, and then follow the directions listed above. Season to taste.

Italian Dressing

¼ cup apple cider or balsamic vinegar, or lemon juice
¼ cup water
½ cup oil
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp oregano
1/8 tsp basil
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt

Put all of the ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake until mixed. Olive oil has the best flavor, but it turns solid when it is refrigerated, so use a more neutral oil like canola if you want to refrigerate some of the dressing for later.

Russian Beet Salad (quick side dish)

This slaw is a glorious hot pink color, nice garlicky flavor, and just a little crunch.

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

If using fresh beets, peel, slice, and boil for five or ten minutes, until a fork can pierce them. Dunk the cooked beet slices into cold water to stop them from cooking, and then chop them into fine bits, or grate them using the largest holes of a cheese grater. Add just enough mayonnaise to coat the beets. Stir in the remaining ingredients, and serve!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Turkey Meatloaf, Italian Dressing, and Fruity Bread Pudding

Well, life as a stay-at-home mother of two has been busy. I hardly have time to check my e-mail one-handed while nursing every day, let alone sit down and write something. But I'm not short on sleep (I write, as I blink sleepily), and I'm cooking two or three meals a day. Having a body of fast and nutritious recipes to draw on and refine has been mighty useful. The recipes are getting more polished; my family is getting fed well.

Though with the chaos around mealtimes, I usually don't have time to consult the computer in order to get my dang recipes. But on the plus side, I am now a ninja when it comes to pancakes. Recipe schemesipe. I measure nothing, just going by what looks right; and I'm always throwing something new in. I haven't had a failure yet.

Along those same lines, I served up a turkey variant of my meatloaf at a recent gathering of friends. They demanded the recipe. Here are the specifics:

2 pounds ground turkey, dark meat
1 egg
1 medium onion, minced
2 large kale leaves, minced
½ cup bread crumbs, maybe more
½ cup rolled oats, maybe more
1 tsp salt, I think
¼ tsp pepper, maybe?
1 tsp chopped fresh sage

The recipe could have used some rosemary, but I had none. Anyway, mix the above and bake at 350 until the middle is 165 degrees. Feel free to use more kale; I would have used about three times as much, if I’d had more on hand. The gravy was a chicken gravy made with butter, flour, chicken broth made from bullion, milk (to counteract the saltiness from the bullion), and pepper.

This was actually the first time I’ve ventured into poultry meatloaf. The results were so good, I don’t know if I’ll ever want to go back to icky greasy ground beef.

I got around to asking my mother what her meatloaf recipe is, seeing as it’s so delicious. Surprise! Like me, she throws in whatever is on hand. It’s never the same twice.

Here are a couple of other things I’ve tested lately:

Italian Dressing

¼ cup apple cider or balsamic vinegar
¼ cup water
½ cup olive oil
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp oregano
1/8 tsp basil

Put all of the ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake until mixed. Drizzle over salad greens and serve.

I'm just starting to dip my toe into the wide ocean of salad dressing possibilities. I suspect that it is far cheaper to make your own than to buy the stuff. And less wasteful - I hate those empty bottles going into the trash! And also more fun. I have a hand-written recipe for a delicious concoction entitled "Linette's Good Dressing" that is bowel-licking good, but not eligible for the cookbook due to it having about 200 ingredients.

Hmm. . . I should consult my friend Dori. She is a salad dressing wizard.

Fruity Bread Pudding (dessert, make in advance)

Walt, this is my variant of your amazing pineapple bread pudding. Thanks for the inspiration! I still need to test this with other canned fruits, but I suspect any number of things can be used. Cherries, perhaps?

This dessert bread pudding is pure comfort food. It’s as tasty as pie without all of the work. Eat it hot or cold, by itself or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This makes enough for about six people.

1 or 2 small cans of pineapple, peach, or other canned fruit
2 or 3 cups torn-up stale bread
2 eggs
¼ cup butter
½ cup sugar
(optional) 1 diced banana, or other fruit
(optional) pumpkin-pie spices, such as nutmeg and cinnamon

If the canned fruit is in large pieces, cut it up into bite-sized chunks. Beat together the eggs, sugar, and optional spices with the canned fruit, and the liquid from the canned fruit. Combine this with the bread and diced fruit. If the bread is particularly dry, give it ten minutes to soak up the liquid, stirring once or twice. Then put the mixture into a baking dish and bake at 350 until the center reaches 165 degrees.