Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Lunches, Again

Over here in LaLaLand, we're all gearing up for holiday hiatus and you know what that means, right? Minimal updates!

Instead of leaving you totally bereft over the holiday season, though, I thought I'd treat you to a second dose of festive food.

Here we have my accidentally festive lunch from December 18th. I justsohappened to use a green box and those wonderful farmers' market-found cherry tomatoes couldn't help but cheer up my lunch. The less exhilarating companion to the green box is a microwavable Lock-N-Lock container filled with the same leftover beef stew we've been suffering from (actually, it's delightful, but I'm glad to see it gone). Inside the green box are some of those tomatoes, some small bite-size chunks of homemade bread, and some unsweetened dried mango slices from the bulk bin -- pretty healthy and awesome, in my opinion. If you notice that I packed the green box pretty lightly, you're right: together, the Lock-N-Lock plus the green sidecar is entirely too much lunch for me, so a mostly filled beef stew and lightly packed side are the perfect amount for a filling, wintertime meal, especially in our arctic office environment. Frigid!

Though the last meal was accidentally holiday-themed, this next bento set was purposefully crafted as a tribute to our Christmas spirit. Taking some of the spicy shortbread cookies that I made and coupling them with leftover spaghetti with sausage, and happy green peppers was a great start. Throwing those delightful cherry tomatoes completed the package in the best way. For TheBoy's lunch, I simply cut slices off the top of a green bell pepper and set them aside. I sliced until the bottom of the pepper was shallow enough to sit in his lunchbox. You can see some of the extra slices plugging a hole next to the "wreath" pepper and, of course, over in my box, covering my leftover lasagna. He also got a layered snack area filled with banana chips, salted almonds, and a single spiced shortbread cookie -- I got the same, just with smaller portions.

TheBoy loved how much thought (he thinks) I put into this lunch and gobbled it up in record time. He loves anything to do with spaghetti and tomatoes and peppers, so this was a huge hit. I also loved my lunch and we both got compliments on our wonderful meals. So, I'll sign off now for the holidays with a clear blog-conscience. Happy Holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Festive Food

Because L.A. is so different from my old, cold Christmas home, I've been having some difficulty getting ready for the holidays. So, to help me, I've started making festive food choices. Beginning with my holiday cookie spree and edging into our lunches, Christmas has started to seriously invade the kitchen here.
Let's start with a small example: Saturday night hit and cookie craving set in bigtime. I needed my fix, so I made another batch of Chocolate Rocky Road cookies. These ones didn't turn out quite so beautifully as the last ones, but were delightful, especially when photographed on holiday wrapping paper!

A little bit of red and green has snuck into our lunch boxes in the form of lasagna and green grapes. Let me tell you a bit about the lasagna. First, I started by making the sauce. You can find the recipe at the bottom of the post, but mostly it's a sham-recipe -- I just throw in whatever I have around. While the sauce is bubbling away, I work on the ricotta (following the directions on the lasagna noodles box... too easy!). While both the sauce and ricotta are getting delicious, I'm also, sometimes, heating up hot Italian sausage to mix into the sauce. Then, it's just a matter of throwing all those ingredients into the baking dish and making delicious, holiday lunches with the resulting leftovers. The other defining holiday aspect of these lunches are my Christmas cookies. A recent post dealt with the cookies, so I won't go into too much detail, but... they are pretty festive, aren't they?

How about the naturally red and green produce from our local farmers' market? Swiss red chard is big in my book, I've even blogged about it before. I love how it looks, smells... I even love how it feels. I took some of that fabulous vegetable and cooked it up into a sort of Mediterranean stir fry: Swiss red chard, zucchini, mushrooms, and, of course, garlic and olive oil combined to make MMM the best stir fry I could whip up. And plenty of leftovers for the next week. It's even in the red and green bento pictured in this post.

Chard was not the only festive farmers' find this week. I got tons of great red and green produce there. Take a look at our veggie basket, brimful of bright red heirloom tomatoes, pretty purple onions, and, best of all, a subtly colored and heavenly smelling bunch of thyme. I can't wait to use it in the Parmesan-Thyme Savory cookie recipe I have stored up in my recipe file. This image of our produce basket even has my "rolling pin" off to the side. You can read about my wine bottle rolling pin reuse project over at my eco blog, Light Up My Room.

Homemade Sauce Recipe

  • 1 huge can (smaller than a basketball, bigger than a softball) of stewed tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste (for thickening. give or take for taste and preferred thickness)
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh, or 1 tsp. dried, basil leaves (or to taste)
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh, or 1 tsp. dried, Italian herbs (I use a dried blend, but you can use parsley, sage, oregano.. whatever)
  • 1-6 cloves garlic, minced (have I mentioned we LOVE garlic?)
  • Olive oil for the pan
  • Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat olive oil in a tall-sided pot and add garlic. Don't let the garlic brown, just get your kitchen smelling delicious.
2. Add the stewed tomatoes, crushing each one with your hands (OVER the pot! or else you'll make a huge mess!). Crush or cut to your preferred texture; I like chunky sauce. TheBoy calls it "stylish"
3. Add spices and stir well.
4. Let it cook until the tomatoes have started falling apart and the taste is to your standards. It's really up to you how this sauce turns out. If you decide to add meat, especially sausage, make sure you either buy loose ground meat or crumble it up before browning, because it's a hassle if you try to crumble after cooking.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Recipes with Molasses: Cookies

Imagine Wednesday of Thanksgiving week: the dough is already whipped up and chilling in the fridge. (After much searching for the appropriate recipe, I went with the one on the molasses bottle... find it at the bottom of the post). TheBoy and I went out to find a rolling pin to tame the dough and... no place had one! Well, Target had one for $20, but I couldn't see myself buying a stick with handles for that much money. One extremely unpleasant (though productive) Wal-Mart visit, later, we were ready to head back to Target to pick up that over-priced pin.

Well, there must have been a serious run on rolling pins because there were no absurdly expensive cooking implements left. At all! Commence calling: I called TheBoy's mother (future Mother-in-Law of yours truly) and asked if I could use her rolling pin and oven at Thanksgiving (she said yes, but I was able to avoid that fate, anyway) and TheBoy called our wonderful friend J----- for his help. J----- suggested a floured wine bottle and, voila!, we had our answer. We rushed home to the already-opened bottle of FishEye and TheBoy chugged it down (my Tylenol-cured headache prevented me from joining him) so that I could fill it with cold water, which both added heft to the pin and kept the dough extra cold so I could work with it longer.
Overall verdict: I will likely NEVER buy a rolling pin, I'll just drink more and more Merlot to sustain my baking habit. The cookies turned out delicious (if I do say so myself) and everyone ate them right away.

Gingerbread Cookie Recipe
makes uncounted dozens of mini cookies (probably about a gallon, if you must know)
  • 3/4 cup molasses, light or dark (I used dark)
  • 3/4 cup margarine or butter (I used butter)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 3 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 egg

1. In a saucepan, heat the molasses, butter, and brown sugar until the mixture boils, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, cool.
2. In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients.
3. Stir egg into molasses mixture and mix together the flour and molasses mixtures.
4. Put the dough into the fridge (I left it in the bowl, but you might want to wrap it in plastic wrap) for 1 hour or more.
5. Divide dough in half. On a floured surface, roll the dough out to a thickness of 1/8 to 1/4 inch. Use floured cookie cutters to make precious little shapes (I used everything from a mini gingerbread man to a lion).
6. Bake at 350 F for 6-14 minutes, shorter for softer cookies.
7. Remove from pan to cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Recipes with Molasses: Bread

Well, I made two over-long posts both featuring molasses-heavy recipes... so how about a single over-long molasses post! On better thought, how about a two-part series?

As for the Honey Molasses Whole Wheat Bread, this yeast bread was really really easy and bakes to be ENORMOUS. I was terrified of using yeast... so I stuck to beer bread. But now.. mauahahah! No yeast bread is safe from my kneading and mixing.

I had a wonderful time making this bread. Because I was making it for a special occasion, where more than just TheBoy would suffer if I created a lousy product, I was particularly careful to follow the directions. I measured things precisely and didn't stray from the recipe at all! Let me tell you -- it was a crazy experience. But, my diligence definitely paid off. We came home with only scraps and our host was more than delighted to keep the rest.
My little bread pan was overwhelmed with flavor and expansion. I've always stayed away from bread-baking in the past to avoid the hassles of yeast and the troublesome rising, kneading, and patience required, but this loaf was a pleasure to make: no kneading and only very minimal time to rise. I was really impressed with this easy bread and I will definitely be making (and blogging about) more loaves in the future. Do you have any favorite yeast bread recipes? Please share in comments!

Easy Honey Molasses Whole Wheat Bread Recipe
makes 1 loaf
Recipe shamelessly lifted from ZestyCook. Thanks!

  • 2 Tsp. honey
  • 2 2/3 Cup lukewarm water
  • 4 tsp. dry yeast
  • 3 Tbsp. Molasses
  • 5 Cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 Cup wheat germ (you can forego the wheat germ, but it's so useful that I splurged)
  • 1 Tbsp. Oatmeal (for optional decoration)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 Degrees F.
  2. Stir 2 teaspoons honey into 2/3 cup lukewarm water and sprinkle yeast over the mixture. Set aside for 10 minutes.
  3. Combine 3 tablespoons molasses with 2/3 cup warm water and combine with yeast mixture.
  4. Stir the mixture into the flour. Add salt, wheat germ and 1 1/3 cups warm water. Dough will be sticky. (I mixed all the dry ingredients first)
  5. Pour the dough into a loaf pan -- I grease just the bottom of mine and everything comes out great. Don't grease the sides!
  6. Smooth the top of the loaf with a wet spatula and sprinkle on the oatmeal, if you choose to.
  7. Let the dough rise to the top of the pan, then stick that baby in the oven for 30-40 minutes. The bread will rise like crazy. I had to take the top rack out of the oven to prevent the bread from baking into it.
  8. Cool the bread - in the pan - on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn your bread loose into the world. Let it cool down some more (if you can stand to wait!) before slicing into it and devouring every last wholesome morsel.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving Kitchen Adventures

What exactly did I make over Thanksgiving? Well, to the first Thanksgiving celebration, I brought my now-famous cornbread casserole (extremely simple recipe at bottom), gingerbread cookies, and guacamole + tortilla chips. The future MIL was very pleased with my offerings (^_^) and all the guests loved them, too.
For the second Thanksgiving (on Saturday), I brought the same cornbread casserole (not leftovers, 'cause there weren't any), gingerbread cookies (leftover because I made so freakin' many), guacamole + tortilla chips, cranberry sauce (with ginger and orange; recipe at bottom) and two loaves of bread: beer bread and super easy Honey Molasses Whole Wheat bread (recipes in future post... ahah! now you have to continue reading into the future!). We came home with almost none of the food we brought, but super full and delighted to have spent such a lovely time with friends. I posted a recipe for and wrote about the guac in my World AIDS Day post. Find the molasses bread in a future post about molasses-based recipes.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to show off my new bread-making skillz. The beer bread is toooo easy and I love that you can add all manner of extras, even though I kept this loaf simple. I'm sure I'll get a little more adventurous with it soon. Despite how easy this bread is, I really messed up my first try at it. Originally, I had thought to make a beer loaf because I had a whole fridge full of almost unpalatable Miller Lite (failed Halloween party, anyone?). Using cheap-o beer, though, didn't really work out as well as using a better beer, so I ended up finding a pretty reasonable lager at Trader Joe's.
Of course, the first, Miller Lite loaf may have failed because I stirred the batter for too long. What happened was I used a small bowl, not the enormous one that I really should have used for mixing up bread. Because the bowl was so small, I had to overstir the batter to get to all the hidden flour deposits. Also, I think months-old Miller Lite maybe loses a little carbonation. Or, maybe that's why it's "less filling" ... because it's less able to rise my bread!

In any case, the loaf I made for SaturGiving turned out great! I was more than pleased with the feel of the loaf and, more importantly, everyone else at the party really enjoyed the flavor and texture. This is a really moist bread and tastes great slathered in holiday leftovers. I'm really super-excited about bread-baking, now. Look for more bread in the future!

Now bread wasn't the only new item on my cooking agenda. Cranberry sauce was a really interesting avenue for me to explore. The future MIL actually requested that I not bring my own cranberry sauce to her Thanksgiving because she wanted to try her hand at it, first. Her sauce was great -- very tart and tasted fantastic on the turkey! So, what did I do? Totally stole her recipe inspiration.
My future MIL is a great lady, but I wouldn't call her exactly adventurous. She tends to find a recipe, maybe tweak it a bit, and turn out a fantastic meal. I am a big-time food explorer, though. Now, I won't buy that $15 package of Thyme when I have nameless-random-spice-of-the-day at home. So, I took the basic cranberry sauce recipe, and combined it with several other sauce recipes to make, what I think, is a superb, fascinating rendition of traditional cranberry sauce.
Well, all cranberry sauce begins with 1 cup each of water and sugar along with a package of cranberries, easy enough. So, I stuck those into the saucepan to get started and then went to town! I peeled a good-size ginger root and just grated the heck out of it, right over the boiling, frothing cranberry deathpit brewing in my saucepan. Then, I got out a great-big orange and zested it to death. All the zest from an orange the size of both of my fists went into my sauce. Admittedly, I have tiny hands, so both fists is still reasonably sized for a citrus fruit. Of course, I couldn't stop with just the zest: I chunked up the orange into little pieces (maybe 3/4 inch, all around) and threw those in toward the end (if I had put in the orange pieces too early, they would have disintegrated, leaving me with a smoother, less stylish sauce).
Ultimately, I think I ended up crafting cranberry relish, rather than sauce, but I was very happy with the results and came home with only a few tablespoons out of several cups that I brought over.

Cornbread Casserole Recipe

1 package Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 can creamed corn
1 can whole kernel corn

1. Mix up the corn muffin mix batter in a bowl. Follow the directions on the box!
2. Add the creamed corn and whole kernel corn to the mixture (don't drain, just dump in the whole can, liquid and all)
3. Pour the resulting, super-liquidy batter into a 9"x13" casserole dish (or whatever other size you have available; this recipe doesn't rise very much at all)
4. Bake at 400 F until casserole has set (doesn't wiggle when you shake the dish), about 15-20 minutes.

Ginger-Orange Cranberry Sauce Recipe
recipe courtesy of Ocean Spray bag and Martha Stewart's suggestions

1 12 oz. bag cranberries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 orange, cut into small sections, pith and seeds (duh!) removed
zest from 1 orange
some fresh ginger, grated (make it TINY!)

1. In a large (the taller the sides, the better, because you're exploding cranberries) saucepan, heat water, sugar, and cranberries until boiling.
2. Reduce the heat to a gentle boil and add grated ginger, orange zest, and orange pieces. (Do this at your own pace... you really can't go wrong).
3. Cook until all the cranberries explode and sauce has reached desired consistency, 10-30 minutes, with the sauce thickening as it cooks longer.

Beer Bread Recipe
makes 1 loaf (recipe credit to Farmgirl Fare blog of delight)

3 cups flour (I used 1 cup white all-purpose and 2 cups whole wheat all-purpose)
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking powder (unexpired, or else your bread will FAIL)
1 12oz. bottle/can of beer (I used Miller Lite at first, then switched to Trader Joe's Bohemian)

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease just the bottom of a bread pan. (I used an 8"x4" Chicago Metallic one)
2. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl (you'll need a great big bowl, because otherwise you'll end up overmixing). Slowly mix in beer just until moist. Don't overmix!
3. Pour the thick batter into the bread pan and smooth the top with a wet spatula.
4. Bake until golden-brown and a toothpick (or chopstick!) inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 45-60 minutes, depending on your stove.
5. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then cool out of the pan on a rack another 10-20 minutes. Don't put it in an airtight package until it's all-the-way cooled.

World AIDS Day Post

Originally posted December 1st, World AIDS Day.

So, I'm a lousy updater.. no surprise. But, today I'm feeling motivated, so I thought I'd make amends. And let you know how important I think World AIDS Day is (even though I try not to let my politics take over the food, AIDS affects everyone).

Let's start with how, once upon a time, I traded food for transportation. Here's the story: I needed a bike for some serious, Los Angeles movement, but I had zero money. So, I posted to Craigslist's barter page "My Baked Goods for Your 20" Bike Frame." And, lo, the responses! The best response was from a lovely man in Eagle Rock who promised a sweet 1980's Japanese bike (along with compliments to this blog!) in return for some grub.
Some negotiation later, I had a slightly-too-large bike without gears in exchange for dinner for the gentleman and his wife. He received: one big bag o' hand-ripped garden salad, one big bag o' sundried tomato-cream sauce penne, one big bag o' cantaloupe/grape/Mandarin orange salad, and one little tray of cheapy peach cobbler.

The bike is a masterpiece and I gained some useful leftover sundried tomatoes to feed to TheBoy when I'm feeling generous. Excellent trade and I look forward to taking advantage of someone else's hunger soon.

What other crazy things have I done with food, you ask. Well, I completely failed to make guacamole. My first time making smushy avocado goodness turned into a complete disaster when I tried to use one ripe and one not-so-ripe fruit. I tried everything from a fork to a shot glass to smash that ornery plant, but nothing worked... so I gave up. That attempt was a waste.
My next attempt, though, pleased TheBoy, a major guacamole fanatic, and one guac-hater. Her opinions have changed! Now, she is a guac-hater with the sole exception of my guacamole-of-intense-pleasure-and-love. Though I posted a recipe for guacamole only a few months ago, I'm going to go ahead and post the actual recipe that I sort of follow to make the guac that disappears at parties. One great idea stemmed from that avocado adventure: serve your guac in the peel to the avocado. Yum and fun!

The resulting sort-of-smushed avocado also made a good omelette filling. Omelettes are great way to use up less-than-perfect leftovers. In fact, we've used not only lousy avocado, but also leftover beef stew (complete with potatoes!), ginger-garlic-mushroom stir fry, and even salad.

Another absurd food adventure? How about the time I made gingerbread cookies from scratch, but couldn't find a rolling pin anywhere... so I made do with a wine bottle? See a future post for details, pictures, and adventure story.

Creamy-Spicy Sundried Tomato Pasta Recipe
Recipe adapted/shamelessly stolen from epicurious.com
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped (don't skimp!)
  • 1 cup chopped drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 7.25-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained, chopped
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (I cut them with a kitchen scissor instead of a knife)
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (you know I used the pre-grated refrigerator stuff)
1. Cook pasta according to package directions. When you drain it, make sure to keep 3/4 cup of the cooking liquid. You'll use it later.
2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute 1-2 minutes, but don't let it burn (totally gross).
2. Add tomatoes, cream, red peppers and crushed red pepper; simmer over medium heat 2 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup basil and simmer 1 minute longer.
3. Combine the pasta, the delicious cream sauce, the remaining basil, Parmesan cheese, and enough cooking liquid to moisten in a large bowl.
4. Season with salt and pepper to taste; serve and seriously enjoy (or stick it in an bag and trade it for something awesome).

Cheapy Peach Cobbler Recipe
Recipe adapted/shamelessly stolen from recipezaar.com
  • 1 large can sliced peaches, or 6 sliced peaches
  • 1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (I used at least 1 tsp., but I'm a cinnamon fanatic)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3 Tbsp. butter (margarine is a fine substitute)
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used vanilla flavored soymilk)

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
2. In a large saucepan, combine peache, 1/3 cup sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and cinnamon. Toss to coat peaches evenly. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to boiling, cooking until the mixture thickens, about 1 minute.
3. Transfer mixture to 8" square baking dish.
4. Make the topping: mix all the rest of the dry ingredients together! Smash in the butter with a fork until the topping is crumbly. Stir in milk just until the topping is moistened.
5. Drop the topping by tablespoonfuls onto the peach mixture and pop that baby in the oven until the topping is golden brown and the filling is bubbly, about 20-25 minutes.

Disappearing Guacamole Recipe
serves 4-6 moderate afficianados or 1-2 really hungry gaucsters (as an appetizer)
  • 2 avocados, smushed by hand (not in a food processor.. break out those muscles!)
  • 1/3-1/2 lime
  • 2-3 Roma tomatoes, chopped (use any kind of tomato you like... but I use Roma)
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2-1 cup grated cheddar cheese (I have no idea how much I actually use... I grate until I'm tired)
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Peel the avocados and smash with a fork. Dont' worry about getting the consistency too smooth -- bumps make it extra delightful.
2. Squeeze the lime juice onto the smushed avocados. This step keeps the green guts from turning brown through oxidization. Mix well to coat the avocados.
3. Add all the other ingredients! Stir 'em up and taste frequently (TheBoy bravely suffers through this stage every time). I like to stir using a rubber scraper so I can scrape off every last bit of goodness. Add the salt and pepper last and in small increments -- a little goes a long way.