The food stamp challenge. January 23, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: eating well for less, Food Stamp Diet, healthy eating, saving money
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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, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
Tags: bean recipes, beans and pasta, beans and rice, dal recipes, lentil recipes, winter recipes
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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,
Thank you, Mario Batali. January 15, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: blog humor, food, health food, healthy food, Mario Batali
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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, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
Tags: best homemade nachos, easy homemade nachos, healthy homemade nachos, homemade nachos, nachos
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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,
Hot soup for cold nights. January 7, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
Tags: cream of mushroom soup, homemade cream of mushroom soup
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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,
What to do with extra buttermilk? January 6, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
Tags: buttermilk, buttermilk recipes, buttermilk salad dressings, buttermilk soup, corn pudding, cornbread, leftover buttermilk, ranch dressing
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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,
Melt-in-your-mouth… Brussels sprouts?!! December 31, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
Tags: Brussels sprouts, recipes for Brussels sprouts
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Silence Dogood here. Okay, so some of us love the mini-cabbages called Brussels sprouts (named for the city of Brussels in Belgium, don’t call them “brussel” sprouts), and some of us hate them. Those who hate them were probably exposed to horrible, overboiled, bitter Brussels sprouts. Eeewww!!! No wonder most Brussels sprout-haters won’t try them again, unless they’re so cleverly disguised that no one would recognize them.
I happen to love Brussels sprouts. I love shredded Brussels sprouts sauteed in butter or olive oil with red pepper flakes. I love Brussels sprouts halved and roasted, drizzled with olive oil, salt (my favorite for this is the seasoned herb salt, Trocomare) and fresh-cracked black pepper. I love Brussels sprouts boiled and buttered like broccoli (just to doneness, mind, they should be brightly colored and emit not even a trace of foul sulfurous fumes).
Unfortunately, our friend Ben doesn’t share my love of Brussels sprouts, doubtless having suffered a hideous childhood encounter with the hated sprouts. I’ve occasionally been able to trick him into eating some if I mix them in with other roasted veggies like quartered new potatoes, sweet onions, and mushrooms. But normally I have to wait until he’s out enjoying a night with friends to enjoy Brussels sprouts and his other most-hated foods, all of which I adore: beets, okra, and big, meaty butterbeans (mature lima beans).
That’s why, when we were grocery shopping last week for our always-opulent, luscious Christmas feast, and I saw a package of plump, halved, delicious-looking Brussels sprouts, I surreptitiously slipped them into our shopping cart while directing OFB’s attention to the fresh-baked bread. Yum! Those sprouts looked really good.
I’d been planning to roast them, drizzled with olive oil. But when push came to shove, I decided to boil them up as I do green beans, asparagus and broccoli, until just tender. I add lemon juice, butter, salt, and fresh-cracked black pepper to the asparagus and broccoli after draining it, then swirl the pot a few minutes to let the butter and etc. blend in. For green beans, and now for the halved Brussels sprouts, I simply add butter, salt (again, Trocomare or RealSalt) and pepper, give the pan a good shake, and serve.
I can’t tell you how surprised I was by the deliciousness of the results. The sprouts were buttery, soft, melt-in-your-mouth good! It would never have occurred to me to boil halved Brussels sprouts; I’d always boiled them whole and roasted them halved. But I think halving them, then boiling them, gave them that meltingly good texture.
I’ve reheated the leftovers several times now (sob, now they’re gone), so I know my reaction wasn’t a fluke. I’ve never tasted Brussels sprouts this good before. If you love them, try this. If you love them and are trying to convince a sprout-hater to convert, serve this (if you can spare the extras!). I’m planning to halve my sprouts and cook them this way from now on. Yum!!!
‘Til next time,
Pumpkin’s biggest booster. November 21, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Alexander McCall Smith, Precious Ramotswe, pumpkin recipes, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
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Silence Dogood here. If you’re a fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, you know that the agency’s founder, Precious Ramotswe, loves her pumpkin. Apparently pumpkin is a staple dish in Mma Ramotswe’s native Botswana, and she turns to it as a comfort food, and to preparing it as a way to calm herself when thinking about a perplexing case.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, we might turn to Mma Ramotswe for tips on new ways to serve up pumpkin. And fortunately, we have some clues from Stuart Brown, who wrote Mma Ramostwe’s Cookbook (Polygon, 2009). Problem being, most of us Americans (including yours truly), measure things in numbers and cups and the like—3 large butternut squash, 4 cups vegetable broth, 2 tablespoons olive oil—and Mma Ramotswe’s cookbook is British, which means that everything is measured by weight, and oven temperatures in degrees C rather than F. Ow!
Fortunately, one of the pumpkin recipes the book offers is so straightforward, even I could make it. Apparently, Mma Ramotswe favors pumpkins with greenish rinds; over here, we might consider them to look more grey. Consider this alternative to sweet potatoes as you plan your Thanksgiving menu:
Steamed Pumpkin Slices
To steam, place slices of pumpkin in a pan with a little water, salt (and sugar, if you love your sugar as Mma Ramotswe does). Cover with a lid, ensuring that the water does not all evaporate. Cook for 30-40 minutes until the outer skin is soft (the greenish pumpkin has a thicker skin). Serve with butter.
“It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems in life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That gave you a reason for going on.”
—Precious Ramotswe, The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
Mellow mushroom-cashew stroganoff. November 6, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
Tags: mushroom-cashew stroganoff, stroganoff recipe, vegetarian recipes, vegetarian stroganoff
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Silence Dogood here. One of my favorite go-to recipes for fall and winter is mushroom-cashew stroganoff, which is simple to make but so satisfying on a cold night! You only need five ingredients—a sweet onion, mushrooms, cashews, sour cream, and olive oil—plus fettucine and salt and pepper to taste.
To make my mushroom-cashew stroganoff, heat a large pot of water for the fettucine. While it’s heating, add extra-virgin olive oil to a heavy pot (I love my LeCreuset Dutch oven for this) and toss in a large diced sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Walla Walla) and sliced or diced mushrooms, depending on how you like them.
You can add a large carton of button mushrooms, or mix them up (the other night, I added shiitakes and portobellos to the buttons, simply because I had them in the fridge). We like lots of mushroom in our stroganoff, but suit your own tastes. Then add plenty of salt (we like RealSalt or Trocomare) and fresh-cracked black pepper. If the onions and mushrooms start to stick, add veggie broth or stock (or water) in splashes to prevent burning.
Once the onion has clarified and the mushrooms have released their juices, add a 16-ounce (2-cup) carton of sour cream and a good half-cup of shoyu (fresh-fermented soy sauce), tamari, or soy sauce. We love Ohsawa Organic Nama Shoyu, which is available from health-food stores and has a deep, rich, almost winey flavor. Your goal is to create a dark-brown, sort of beef-gravy-colored sauce, so add as much shoyu or tamari as you need (making sure you taste as you go).
By now, your pot of water should have come to a boil. But be patient; don’t add the pasta until your stroganoff sauce has really started to thicken up. Your goal is to have a rich sauce that thickly coats each piece of pasta and wouldn’t even dream of dripping, and you don’t want the pasta to be done before the sauce reaches this stage. (You can always turn the sauce off once it’s reached the desired thickness, cover it, and it will be just fine when you add it to the hot al dente pasta.
Now that your sauce and fettucine are done, you might be wondering, hey, what about the cashews? Well, you don’t want them to go soft and gummy, so you stir them in the exact second you’re ready to serve up the pasta. You can toss the fettucine (or spaghetti, if you prefer it, but you need a strong, sturdy pasta to hold up to this sauce, no “thin” or angel-hair spaghetti, please) with the sauce and cashews, or top it with the cashew-laden sauce.
As with the mushrooms and onion, our friend Ben and I like lots of cashews in our stroganoff; we’ll typically use almost a whole can or package, but suit yourself. They add a yummy crunch that sets off the creamy sauce perfectly, but I never want to overwhelm the sauce with cashews, so I make sure I add plenty but not so many that it becomes cashew-mushroom stroganoff rather than the other way ’round.
While the fettucine is cooking, I throw together a crunchy salad to serve with our stroganoff. We like a simple Caesar with this, but certainly a mix of any combination of romaine, arugula, radicchio, kale, iceberg, red cabbage, endive, shredded carrot, diced bell pepper, and scallions would be great. The salad just needs plenty of body and a non-creamy dressing, such as a simple extra-virgin and balsamic vinegar, because the stroganoff is so rich. And I never serve bread with this stroganoff! We do find that it goes well with a full-bodied red wine like a cabernet sauvignon or a zinfandel.
So simple, so good. Enjoy! I think this will become one of your cold-weather go-to dishes, too.
‘Til next time,