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Shortcut: Lemon juice. April 6, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. So many recipes call for fresh-squeezed lemon juice. But fresh lemons don’t keep well, and unless you squeeze them through a sieve, the chances of getting seeds and pulp in your dish are about 99-1. If you do squeeze them through a sieve, it’s yet another utensil to wash, an added pain if you hand-wash your dishes as we do.

But there’s a reason recipes call for fresh-squeezed, which anyone who’s used prepared lemon juice from one of those lemon-shaped bottles can attest: That doesn’t taste like lemon juice! It tastes like some acid/chemical abomination. Eeeeewwww!!! Who’d want to put that in their food?!

Searching for a bottled lemon juice that tasted like lemon juice rather than a chemistry experiment, one that would keep effortlessly in the fridge and be ready whenever you needed it, for margaritas or guacamole or to brighten a salad dressing or some asparagus or broccoli or a soup or pasta or rice dish, finally led me to Nellie and Joe’s Famous Key West Lemon Juice. I’ve been using their Key lime juice for years, as Key limes are never available in my area except in the highest-end grocery stores (all far from our rural home), and then only for a very short season. I’ve found that Nellie and Joe’s Key lime juice, while certainly not as good as fresh-squeezed Key limes, is way better than any other bottled lime juice and is ready for use at any time, in any season.

When I first saw that they were bottling lemon juice as well, I confess that I was skeptical. After all, Key limes are a specific type of lime; there’s no such thing as a “Key lemon.” Was the company just slapping an elite name on the usual chemical cocktail? Turns out, the answer is no, and the secret of this lemon juice’s delicious flavor is its comparative lack of acidity, its mildness, which lets the lemon flavor shine through without clutching your throat in a death grip. (This is why so many recipes call for lemon zest, the top, colored layer of lemon peel, which imparts lemon flavor to a dish without the bitterness of the white pith underneath.)

Both the Key lime and “Key lemon” juices are found bottled in the fruit juice aisles of our local groceries. See if your local grocery carries them, too, and if it does, check them out and see what you think! How wonderful to have such essential ingredients at hand whenever you need them, and to know that you can count on them for great taste.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Streamlining Crock-Pot mac’n’cheese. March 21, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. My Crock-Pot (aka slow cooker) mac’n’cheese is simply the best. Based on a recipe from my friend Delilah, it’s incredibly rich, succulent and creamy, but the top is golden and crispy. Unfortunately, it’s also a mess.

First, you cook pasta until al dente in a big, heavy pot. That’s one pot to wash. You melt butter. Two containers. You beat eggs. Three containers to wash. Finally, you add all this, along with evaporated milk and tons of shredded cheese, to your Crock-Pot and stir to combine. I don’t know about yours, but my Crock-Pot is pretty narrow with high sides, so vigorous stirring to make sure it all gets mixed well usually results in some of the contents flying out of the Crock-Pot and onto its rim, sides, the counter, and/or me and the floor. Yuck!

We don’t have a dishwasher here at Hawk’s Haven, which means that all of these containers have to be hand-washed by me or our friend Ben. There just had to be a better way, and it finally occurred to me while making the iconic mac’n’cheese to take to some friends for supper last night. Why not mix everything up in the wide, heavy Dutch oven I used to cook the pasta, then just pour it into the Crock-Pot’s ceramic cooking container? D’oh! It worked like a charm, no fuss, no muss, and just two dishes to clean: the Dutch oven and the Crock-Pot insert.

By the way, our friends chose to serve the mac’n’cheese as the main dish with a side of broccoli and a hearty salad. Good choice! But if you’d rather offset the richness of the mac’n’cheese with something more substantial, we recommend a smaller portion served with Bush’s Grillin’ Beans (we like the bourbon variety) and homemade coleslaw.

We make our basic slaw with shredded green cabbage, shredded red cabbage, shredded carrots, pepitas (roasted, salted pumpkinseeds, for crunch), cumin seeds, cracked fennel seeds, crumbled blue or Gorgonzola cheese, and blue cheese or Dijon mustard ranch dressing (just enough to moisten the slaw, not drench it). You could add any number of other ingredients, such as golden raisins and/or diced dried apricots, if you’d like a sweeter slaw. And I hope it goes without saying, salt (we like RealSalt) and fresh-cracked pepper to taste.

Getting back to the stripped-down mac’n’cheese recipe, here you go:

Crock-Pot Mac’n’Cheese

1-pound (16-ounce) box of pasta, such as elbow macaroni or penne

2 cans unsweetened evaporated milk

2 large eggs

1/3 to 1/2 stick butter

2 packages shredded sharp or extra-sharp white Cheddar cheese (4 cups)

1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Paprika

salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta in a heavy pot until al dente; drain, but leave in pot. Return to heat, add butter, stirring until melted. Add evaporated milk and 3 cups of Cheddar, reserving the rest. Crack two eggs into the pot. Stir very well to blend all ingredients. Add ample salt and pepper, according to your taste. (You can substitute one of our favorite flavored salts, Trocomare, available from health food stores and larger supermarkets, for salt if you wish).

Pour the pasta into the Crock-Pot/slow cooker container. Smooth it out and top with the remaining cup of Cheddar, the Parmesan, and a generous sprinkling of Paprika. Cover the insert and turn the Crock-Pot on low. Cook on low for 4 hours, until the mac’n’cheese is set and the top is bubbly. Yum!!!! Enjoy.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Don’t hit this iceberg. March 13, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. This morning, I read a story on Yahoo news begging people to stop hating iceberg lettuce. I couldn’t agree more. As a health-conscious, salad-loving foodie, I adore Romaine, arugula, watercress, radicchio, endive, escarole, kale, and all the other salad greens that pack more vitamins and minerals in every leaf. But I also love iceberg lettuce and Boston, Bibb and the other butter lettuces with their unrivalled crunch or luscious, buttery texture. Right, they don’t pack the nutrients of the super-greens. But they’re still good for you.

Iceberg in particular has acquired a bad reputation because it has little nutritive value and little taste. Both these claims are true. But what iceberg does have is loads of water, fiber and crunch, and, like most greens, virtually no calories. To my mind, that puts it on the plus side in terms of a dietary addition. Filling, hydrating, no calories? Count me in. I’d rather eat an iceberg salad for lunch or before supper than gag down bazillion glasses of water any day.

Popular culture has come on board with this in the form of the wedge salad, an old, resurrected favorite that features a wedge of iceberg, typically topped with blue cheese dressing and crispy bacon, and served as a fabulous appetizer in steakhouses. Diners just can’t get enough of the crunchy, creamy, crispy treat. As a vegetarian, I make my own as an occasional hi-cal treat for our friend Ben and myself, with wedges of iceberg topped with chopped tomatoes, diced sweet onion, crumbled blue or gorgonzola cheese, and olive oil-based blue cheese dressing. Yum!!! Talk about the perfect salad to go with pizza or a tomato sauce-based pasta dish. Or, say, a lunch all by itself.

But wedge salads aren’t the only thing iceberg lettuce is good for. A nice fat slice of iceberg adds that perfect crunch to a BLT or CLT (cheese, lettuce and tomato) sandwich. A few iceberg leaves also add heft and crunch to a burger, cheeseburger, or veggie burger. And shredded iceberg, available in the produce section of most grocery stores, is the perfect accompaniment to homemade tacos or ingredient in homemade burritos or taco-inspired dips.

We absolutely love making homemade tacos with refried beans and our choice of toppings, including piles of shredded iceberg, shredded cheese, sliced black olives, sliced jalapeno peppers, diced red, yellow or orange bell peppers, sliced green onions (scallions), diced sweet onions, chopped tomatoes, our choice of red or green hot sauce (or both, we both love chipotle and I’m a big fan of tomatillo), and sour cream. Iceberg may not add to the flavor but it sure does add to the crunch, and since its calorie count is close to zero, piling it on can help counter the cheese and sour cream.

This works when you’re loading up a hoagie at Subway or Jimmy John’s or wherever, too. Ask for lots of shredded iceberg lettuce to balance out the calorie load and up the crunch factor.

And if, like me, you hate the soft, revolting texture of the ever-popular “spring mix” and baby spinach, but appreciate the colors and nutrients, consider adding shredded iceberg to the mix to bulk it up and add actual crunch. Yes, you can add nuts and pepitas and sunflower seeds and the like, and you should, they’re giving you omega-3s. But iceberg contributes a texture hit that is desperately needed. Romaine does this too, which I suspect makes Caesar salads so popular: you have crunch, creaminess, and sliced hard-boiled eggs, plus salt and pepper. No soft, decaying spring mix here!

I don’t have a clue why this lettuce variety was called iceberg. It hardly seems like an attractive name. But its sturdy, crunchy texture, its ability to stand up to storage conditions, and its lack of flavor—seemingly a drawback, but actually an asset where crunchy texture is called for in a dish without additional flavor—should make iceberg a respected ingredient on all our grocery lists.

Bring on those wedge salads!

‘Til next time,

Silence

We love labels. March 10, 2014

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We humans just love to label ourselves. And that’s never more true than in our dietary habits.

Silence Dogood here. Humans are all born omnivores—pretty much capable of eating anything they can get their hands on. We share this useful adaptive trait with apes and monkeys, dogs, bears, parrots, rats, and flies, among others. It helped our species spread and thrive wherever there was anything edible to be found.

Of course, some of us are more omnivorous than others. There are those with intolerances, such as to lactose or gluten, and those with allergies, as to peanuts or shellfish. These people have labels, but they’re not of their choosing. And there are people who won’t eat certain foods like pork and seafood for religious reasons. It’s the rest of us I’m writing about here.

Take me. I’m a vegetarian. This means that I choose to avoid all types of meat and foods containing meat products (such as lard and gelatin). But I’ll eat sterile eggs from free-range hens if they’re organic and the hens haven’t eaten feed enriched with fish offal to up the eggs’ omega-3 content. And I’ll eat organic dairy products from humanely raised cows. This is quite different from vegans, who are basically vegetarians who also won’t eat eggs, dairy, honey, or any other animal derivative. Vegans typically make their food choices for moral reasons, while vegetarians may make theirs for moral or health reasons.

Then there are piscatarians (from pisces, fish), who refrain from all meat but fish and seafood. Since killing and eating fish and seafood is the same as killing and eating other animals for meat, I presume that these folks follow this lifestyle for health rather than moral reasons.

Next come the flexitarians, who sometimes eat meat and sometimes don’t, as it suits them. Basically, they’re omnivores who wanted to call themselves by a fancier name.

Let’s not forget the locavores, omnivores who pride themselves on eating what’s in season in their immediate area. While I applaud everyone who supports local farms and wineries, who patronizes their local farmers’ markets, who joins a CSA (subscription produce farm, typically organic), and the like, unless you live in a warm climate or are really invested in canning and freezing in season, winter can be rather bleak for those of us trying to eat out of our gardens or local farmers’ gardens when we’re buried under two feet of ice and snow for three months.

Today, I discovered a new label for people who want to set themselves apart from the omnivorous herd. These people are omnivores, too, but they’ve chosen to call themselves “nutritarians,” to emphasize the wholesome nature of their diet, i.e., stripping all the life and flavor out of food in the name of nutritional guidelines. The sample recipe I saw was horrifying to behold. It was a dish containing kale, potatoes, carrots, two kinds of legumes (black beans and chickpeas), onion, and garlic.

I read on because I could see how to make it a good dish—saute the onion and garlic in olive oil, and when the onion had clarified, add the kale and seasonings (red pepper flakes, fresh-cracked black pepper, salt, oregano, thyme, basil, and rosemary), cooking just until the kale turned shiny bright green. Meanwhile, boil the potatoes and sliced carrots until soft but not mushy. Quarter the potatoes and stir them, the carrots, and the canned beans into the kale-onion-garlic mix, heat until the beans were heated through, then serve.

But no. The “nutritarian” had noted that she’d modified a friend’s recipe to fit nutritarian guidelines, which meant that all the ingredients (minus the oil and most of the seasonings) were boiled together at the same time, then served up as a kind of stewed slop. Eeeewww!!! Doesn’t this person realize that olive oil and seasonings are good for you, making food more digestible as well as more flavorful?! Guess not.

Whatever the case, maybe it’s time to stop labeling ourselves and just eat.

‘Til next time,

Silence

The food stamp challenge. January 23, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I recently read about something called the Food Stamp Challenge in an article called “7 Foods to Buy When You’re Broke” on U.S. News & World Report. The article explained that more and more people were trying to live on the amount of money they’d get for food from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps) for a week to see what it would be like to eat on 4 dollars a day.

Mind you, this is $4 a person, which is certainly better than $4 a household (unless you’re a one-person household). But those costs still add up fast, and trying to add variety when you’re restricted to $4 a day can be a challenge. Reading through the list of recommended foods in the article, I disagreed with some because of time constraints and some because they were simply appalling. Others definitely needed help to be edible, and some crucial foods were left out altogether.

So here’s my list of best foods for folks on tight budgets:

* Beans. The article recommended dried beans, which will swell from 2 cups dried to 6 cups cooked. But that’s assuming you’re unemployed and have all day to soak and cook the damned things, as opposed to simply being poor and working three jobs at minimum wage while trying to care for a family. Yes, dried beans are cheaper than canned beans, but watch for sales and buy the canned beans at 59 cents each, it will save you tons of time and they’ll be just as nutritious (full of protein, vitamins and minerals).

* Rice. The article I read recommended brown rice, which is certainly more nourishing than white rice. But there’s a reason why every single culture where rice is a staple food, from Japan and China to India and Pakistan, eats white rather than brown rice: It tastes better. It’s also, ironically, cheaper (you’d think unprocessed brown rice would cost less than processed white rice, but you’d be wrong). I eat brown rice often, but I make sure I make it palatable by adding sauteed onion, scallions (green onion), sauteed mushrooms, sesame oil, chili oil, shoyu (fresh soy) sauce, salt, herbs or spices, or the like.

* Oatmeal. “Old-Fashioned” oats (as opposed to instant) are a nourishing, cheap, delicious, filling breakfast. Like rice, however, in my opinion, you can’t eat them with pleasure unless you add ingredients like skim milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon, at a minimum, which certainly ups the cost. Plain oatmeal, like plain air-popped popcorn, plain potatoes, plain Cheerios, or plain anything else is an abomination. Maybe there are people out there who choke this stuff down plain, but God help them. Go for the toppings, but count the cost.

* Popcorn. Speaking of popcorn, if you need to fill up, a bag is cheap, and 1/2 cup quickly expands to a huge, full bowl. This is filling and cheap, but you’ll need, in my opinion, to cook it in oil and add salt, at the very least, to make it palatable. Or air-pop, as we do, and add a little melted butter to up the fullness and satisfaction factor, and/or some shredded cheese to add protein.

The key with both butter and shredded cheese is to look for sales: half-price sales on butter and shredded cheese (I’ve often found shredded cheese at 2 packages for $4.) This is significant, since you can also buy a jar of salsa on sale and use the cheese and salsa to flavor your beans and rice.

* Lentils and split peas. Lentils and split peas are legumes like beans, with all their protein and health benefits, but unlike beans, dried lentils cook up quickly. You can cook dried lentils in half an hour, and dried split peas in little longer. You can add them to rice in a rice cooker, put them in a slow cooker, or cook them up on the stove. Add sliced onion, carrots, and potatoes for lentil stew, or onion, garlic, tomatoes, and a little chile and curry for dal, a delicious, filling Indian dish that’s a perfect meal with rice, plain Greek yogurt, and a spoon of chutney.

* Whole veggies and greens. Those pre-made salad mixes and pre-chopped veggies and veggie combos are so tempting. Who wants to wrestle with a bunch of kale or collards or a head of cabbage when you could buy ready-chopped kale, collards, and cole slaw mix? Who on earth would want to struggle with a butternut squash or sweet potatoes when you could buy them peeled and ready-cubed? You can find every conceivable combination these days, from sliced mushrooms and asparagus to diced onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, and herbs.

Who doesn’t love convenience? Who doesn’t love the bright colors and dazzling combinations? But before you grab those packages, check the price against the cost of the whole head of lettuce or onions or sweet potatoes or squash. You might be in for a strong case of sticker shock! Not to mention that whole foods always last longer than pre-cut foods, and are probably fresher in any case, since those savvy grocers know how to maximize sales by chopping up past-prime veggies to add eye appeal while slapping on premium prices. Buy whole asparagus, mushrooms and onions and cut your own.

* Buy the small fruits. Who can eat a whole premium apple these days, anyway? They’re simply too big. And they’re expensive. Instead, buy a bag of smaller apples, which are so much cheaper, and are just the right size for a snack, or even a lunch combined with a couple of slices of (on-sale) cheese and a handful of nuts.

* Buy fresh produce in season. Buy fruits and veggies in season to save big bucks. Corn on the cob, tomatoes, peaches, and watermelon in summer are plentiful and cheap. Find out what’s in season in your area and stock up, but make sure you and your family will eat what you buy.

* Buy frozen foods out of season. Craving corn or strawberries in fall and winter? Your best bet is the frozen food aisle. Frozen fruits and veggies have fewer pesticides and are harvested at peak freshness, so they’re actually better for you (as well as cheaper) than many fresh foods. Just don’t assume that those frozen pizzas, breakfast foods, and branded meals, or for that matter fancy sauced veggie mixes, offer you the same health and price benefits as plain single-veggie or fruit packages.

* Skip the colas, granolas, fried foods, chips, wings, cocktails, and all the rest of it. We know what’s bad for us and what costs money. The problem is, we’re addicted to junk food. But on a Food Stamp diet, we simply can’t afford it.

* Don’t waste food. This should be the ultimate lesson the Food Stamp Challenge offers us: Don’t waste food. As a nation, we waste 40% of our food while so many go hungry. If we buy food we’ll eat and eat food we buy, we could make a real difference. Please, let’s try it.

Beans, pasta, rice. January 22, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. Vegetarians have known since the ’70s that combining beans and grains makes a perfect protein balance, even without meat. Now everyone can get on the bandwagon and enjoy delicious, protein-rich meals without meat. Here are some fabulously flavorful, easy combinations you might want to try:

* Black bean soup and rice. Type “black bean soup” in our search bar at upper right and you’ll find the most luscious black bean soup ever. Serve it over rice and top it with sour cream and cilantro (if desired) for a truly fabulous, filling meal. Enjoy your soup and rice with an arugula-based salad and a citrus-based dessert.

* Refried beans. We like to make refried beans a smorgasbord experience, setting out several kinds of salsas (fresh hot, jarred, and tomatillo-based green), chopped cilantro, chopped green onion (scallion), sour cream, sharp white Cheddar or mixed Mexican blend cheeses, hot sauces, black olives, shredded lettuces, sliced cherry tomatoes, sliced red, yellow, orange, and green bell peppers, diced white and red onions, guacamole, and the like, so we and guests can create their own perfect taco, burrito, or simply create a dish where the beans are served over rice with all the toppings. (Type “refried beans” in our search bar for our favorite homemade recipe.)

* Kidney beans and rice. We like these heated up with salt and a little olive oil and served over rice. Plain, but nice. Add grated “Mexican blend” cheese if you like. To get your greens with this dish, you can choose to sautee kale, spinach and collards with diced sweet onion and mushrooms, or serve up a Caesar-style Romaine-based salad.

* Barbecued beans and pasta. Oh, yes. We love baked beans, barbecued beans, whatever you want to call them. (Bush’s Grillin’ Beans are our favorites.) And we love them served up with creamy pasta—either a quick and simple but thick and rich sauce of sour cream and butter mixed with al dente penne, elbows, or shells, or our all-out favorite, Crock-Pot Mac’n’Cheese. (Type “ultimate mac’n’cheese” in our search bar for the recipe, courtesy of our friend Delilah. Yum!!!) Serve up with coleslaw or a hearty kale salad and you’re set.

* Chili and rice. We’re a little divided about chili: Sometimes we have it over rice, sometimes with cornbread, sometimes over grits. It’s hard to go wrong with a rich, spicy chili. (Type “chili” in our search bar for some of our favorite recipes.) A nice tossed salad helps balance the heartiness of this dish.

* Dal and rice. The Indian version of lentil stew, dal is a luscious lentil- or split-pea-based dish that we like nice and thick, with rice, plain Greek yogurt, and chutney. Dal recipes can be comparatively simple or quite complex (type “dal” in our search bar for our favorites), but the effort is definitely worth it, and the leftovers keep and reheat beautifully for future meals. You can also serve dal as a side with any Indian (not Thai) curry.

* Lentil stew. When we get together for winter meals with friends, lentil stew is the most-requested dish (along with the Crock-Pot mac’n’cheese). This simple, filling, delicious lentil-based dish is extremely easy to put together and reheats well for leftovers, assuming your friends don’t devour it all in one sitting or take the leftovers home for themselves. Type “lentil stew” in the search bar to find the recipe. We like this with cornbread (check out my primo recipe by typing “cornbread” in the search bar), but you could certainly enjoy it with a side of rice or pasta. Broccoli slaw with raisins and slivered almonds makes a great accompaniment.

So, here are a few of our favorite bean- or legume-based dishes. What are yours?

‘Til next time,

Silence

Thank you, Mario Batali. January 15, 2014

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Wednesday mornings tend to be exciting times here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and Silence Dogood share with a variety of animals in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. That’s because on Wednesday, our local paper devotes a section to food, and Silence, a rabid foodie, devours it (so to speak) front to back.

She does not, however, do so in silence. Our friend Ben is greeted with an ever-varying accompaniment of remonstrances, curses, directions, and general commentary as Silence makes her way through the section: “Did somebody actually eat this before they wrote about it?!” “Eeewww, look at this photo!” “Why does everyone have to ruin perfectly good vegetarian recipes by adding beef, chicken or fish stock and/or bacon?!” “Want a side of carcinogens with that?” “Ugh, our dog can write better than this. Please stick to the recipe!”

On and on it goes, with all the muttering and sputtering reminding our friend Ben of a kettle boiling over. Generally, I make appropriate grunts of agreed outrage when necessary and try to keep my head down and my nose in whatever section I’m reading.

Today, however, I realized that Silence was actually on to something. Mario Batali had a column in the paper. Normally, Silence enjoys Mario’s columns, with the exception of the “meatifying” vegetarian recipes part. I can’t say that I’d ever heard her say a bad thing about Mario before.

But this morning, she was spitting fire. She explained that a reader had written Mario to ask if he had a light, healthy recipe that would counteract the endless holiday gorging that had just taken place. In response, Mario proposed a dish of linguine with butter, olive oil, Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese, and lemons. “Who’s calling this healthy?!” Silence fumed.

For our friend Ben, by contrast, it was a revelation. Just think of putting your favorite foods together—say, pasta, butter, oil, and cheese—and then adding a single ingredient that would transform the dish into something healthy. (Actually, there were two in this dish, since besides the lemons, you have olive oil, which as everyone knows is good for you.)

Yowie kazowie! Let’s say you make fettucine Alfredo and toss in some broccoli. Voila, health food! Maybe this is the logic behind chicken wings served with blue cheese dressing and those healthful crudites, celery sticks. Or, say, a dip that’s dripping with calories but contains those healthful veggies, artichokes and spinach! Sweet potato fries? Bring ‘em on! Apple slices deep-fried into luscious fritters? Hey, there’s fruit in there!

Thanks to Mario, our friend Ben has finally found a way to avoid the whole health-food trap. As I sit here, enjoying my lunch of Tostitos Cantina-Style Thin Chips covered with melted shredded white Cheddar cheese, I know that this is a healthful meal because it includes sliced jalapenos and green onions (scallions). And everyone knows that hot peppers and onions are good for your health, right?

A fast, fabulous cold-weather snack (or supper). January 9, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. Here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, it can get pretty darn cold in the winter. (And the polar vortex certainly hasn’t helped this year!) Between the frigid weather and the early nightfall, we enjoy cheering ourselves up and warming our mental world with the occasional movie night. And since we tend to eat supper quite late, if we start our movie night early, we find a snack is in order—a nice, hot snack for a dark, frigid night.

Popcorn might spring to mind, but I confess, I don’t approve of it. We do have an air-popper, so we’re not popping it in oil. But OFB won’t eat the air-popped corn without a vat of melted butter, which sort of defeats the purpose, and I’ll be the first to agree that dry-popped, unbuttered popcorn sticks in the throat and chokes you. Not my idea of a treat!

Instead, I make a super-fast, simple tortilla chip bake, sort of stripped-down nachos. I like to use the super-thin, crispy Tostitos Cantina Chips for this, but any white tortilla chip will do. To make your nachos, put a layer of tortilla chips in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch ovenproof baking pan. Cover with a layer of shredded white sharp Cheddar cheese. Thinly slice a plump jalapeno pepper and sprinkle the slices over the cheese. Slice three scallions (green onions) and spread them over the cheese and jalapeno slices. Repeat with the chips, cheese, jalapenos, and scallions. Bake in the oven at 250 degrees F. until the cheese is melted and the chips are hot.

That’s it! Use a spatula to serve up each portion, sit back, and enjoy! If hot peppers aren’t your thing (or your kids’), you can substitute the much-milder poblano peppers or even diced red, yellow, or orange bell peppers. You can also top the nachos with fresh hot salsa, homemade or from the produce section of your grocery.

Okay, so swapping out butter for cheese and adding hot peppers, scallions, and salsa makes this a little healthier than a bowl of nutrient-free, calorie-laden popcorn. But you can crank the health factor way up by converting these nachos into a meal.

How? Easy. Just take a can or two of vegetarian refried beans and heat them up at the same time you’re heating your chips. (I confess, my favorite is Taco Bell’s brand, and mind you, it’s the only Taco Bell product I’ve ever tried, but the other brands are fine as well.) Despite that “refried” name in the label, you won’t find any fat in the ingredients list, just beans and spices. Strange but true!

While the beans and chips are heating up, assemble your toppings: In addition to fresh and jarred salsa, put out lots of shredded lettuce (you can now get both shredded iceberg and shredded romaine, and I like to heap on plenty of both; you could shred your own kale for even more nutrients), sliced olives, sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, chopped cilantro, more sliced jalapenos for chileheads, shredded queso fresco, diced tomato and bell pepper, even an undressed bagged coleslaw mix of shredded cabbage, carrots, and red cabbage. And, of course, more minced scallions, diced sweet onion (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla). Not to mention an assortment of hot sauces, including Tabasco Chipotle and Pickapeppa.

The amount of veggies you mound on your chips will certainly determine how healthy your supper is. But whatever you choose, your hot, delicious snack/supper will be the perfect accompaniment to winter movie watching!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Hot soup for cold nights. January 7, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. If, like me and our friend Ben, you’ve been caught up in the so-called “polar vortex” bringing unheard-of cold sweeping out of the Arctic, you might feel justified in having a rich, decadent, easy-to-make stay-home meal while cozying up by the fire with a nice, big glass of cabernet.

OFB and I love thick, rich soups and stews in the winter, but normally, we’re talking about black bean soup, lentil stew, curried pumpkin soup, dal, and other healthful treats. But when the temperatures plunge into the minuses, it’s time to pull out all the stops and make cream of mushroom soup.

No, I’m not talking about that gloppy, floury, gelatinous gunk that comes in a can. It’s so easy to make your own, and once you do, you’ll see why it was revered as a luxury soup before that wretched can came along.

This luscious soup is rich enough to be a meal in itself, served up with a nice, crunchy salad and some thinly cut slices of lightly toasted, buttered baguette. I’d suggest adding some bitter greens like frisee and radicchio and some peppery greens like arugula and watercress to the salad, along with sliced hot radishes, to offset the richness of the soup, and use a minimalist vinaigrette rather than a creamy dressing. The crunchiness of the baguette slices will also offset the creamy richness of the soup.

To make the soup, simply saute a large diced sweet onion (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla) in butter in a heavy pot or Dutch oven (I love my LeCreuset Dutch ovens). Then add mushrooms—lots of mushrooms. I like to add a large (16-ounce) carton of button mushrooms, a small (8-ounce) carton of baby bella mushrooms, an 8-ounce package of mixed “gourmet” mushrooms, an 8-ounce carton of shiitake mushrooms, and any other mushrooms that happen to be in the grocery and catch my eye (oysters are favorites, but we’re seldom able to find them).

Slice the mushrooms and add them to the butter and onion with lots of basil, a healthy dash of garam masala, ground fenugreek, salt (we love RealSalt and the hot spiced salt Trocomare), and fresh-cracked black pepper.

Once everything’s cooked down, add a splash of veggie stock or broth, then add a pint of light cream. Stir well and add more veggie stock/broth to create a silky soup base. (I find that any of the boxed veggie stocks/broths are fine.) Pour some Marsala wine in a circle around the perimeter of the soup and stir it in. I like to add a splash of bourbon to kick the soup up even more, but this step is optional. Taste, adjust seasonings, and serve with the crispy buttered baguette slices and salad.

The perfect dessert after a rich soup like this is apple slices, doused with lemon juice, perhaps with grapes and orange slices with pecans and blue cheese. Served with a glass of Sandeman’s Tawny Port, of course. Yum!

‘Til next time,

Silence

What to do with extra buttermilk? January 6, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Silence Dogood here. Supposedly, there are folks out there who just loooove to drink buttermik right out of the carton. Ewwwww. For the rest of us, it’s a crime that we can’t buy a pint or half-pint of buttermilk to go in our holiday recipes, since that’s typically the only time we ever use it.

Unfortunately, where I live, buttermilk only comes in quarts. And this presents the frugal cook, who doesn’t want to toss three cups of buttermilk after using the requisite one in the iconic Christmas corn pudding, with a dilemma. After all, one corn pudding a year is plenty. But what else can you make that will use up that buttermilk?

Cornbread might spring to mind. Lots of cornbread recipes include buttermilk. But none are as luscious as my family’s cornbread recipe, which uses sour cream. (Search for cornbread in the search bar at upper right for the super-easy, super-delicious recipe; you won’t regret it!) Why make a lesser cornbread just to get rid of buttermilk?

I suspect that pancakes would be a natural for buttermilk, but we don’t make them here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. I like to add a little dairy to enrich OFB’s scrambled eggs, but the amount would be so small that it would take weeks to use up the extra buttermilk. And I’ve found to my sorrow that omelettes, which would appear to be an ideal medium for milk, cream, or buttermilk, only really turn out well when you simply whisk three eggs with a whisk or fork.

Two options occurred to me: salad dressing and soup. After all, the original ranch dressing, created fresh by its owner for guests of the Hidden Valley Dude Ranch in the mid-1950s, contained buttermilk. And there just had to be a soup that buttermilk could enhance. So I turned to my good friend Google to see if I could find a solution to the buttermilk problem.

Sure enough, there was a recipe for buttermilk blue cheese dressing, courtesy of Prevention magazine. It involved sauteeing minced shallot in olive oil, then mixing the cooled shallot with 1 teaspoon of mustard, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, a cup of buttermilk, a tablespoon of chopped parsley, 2 ounces of crumbled blue cheese, and fresh-cracked black pepper and salt to taste. Sounds promising, and it uses a whole cup of that quart of buttermilk!

Celeb Brit chef Jamie Oliver’s also a buttermilk-dressing fan. His recipe calls for 9 tablespoons of buttermilk with 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard, 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot, 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried dill, and fresh-ground black pepper to taste.

But what about that soup? Hey, jackpot, and from Martha Stewart, of all things! This hits the jackpot because it uses 3 cups of buttermilk—exactly the amount I have left over—and adds potatoes for a hearty, soothing cold-weather soup. The ingredients are super-simple, too: Besides the 3 cups of buttermilk, you need 2 pounds of potatoes (such as Yukon Gold or your favorite), 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 4 small onions, thinly sliced, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste, fresh-cracked black pepper to taste, and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill. That’s it! Boil the potatoes, sautee the onions, herbs and spices in the butter and olive oil, cool and slice or dice the potatoes, add the other ingredients to the potatoes, and serve hot. Sounds good!

But, you know, now that I look at it, mashed Yukon Golds with buttermilk, lots of butter, and maybe some sauteed minced sweet onion, plus tons of fresh-cracked black pepper and salt (we love RealSalt and hot spiced Trocomare) might just hit the spot perfectly. Who doesn’t love mashed potatoes, especially when it’s cold outside?!

Do you have any recipes for using up extra buttermilk? I’d love to hear them!

‘Til next time,

Silence

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