Sunday, January 24, 2010

Easy Cheesy Potatoes

Trillian and I both love potatoes, especially in the cold of winter. We've been keeping them around, mashing, sauteeing, roasting, whatever sounds good. When we had family up for dinner in December, I got all fancy and made Pioneer Woman's Creamy Herbed Potatoes. They are decadent and delicious! Trillian was in the mood for them again yesterday, a perfect side for the ham we had on hand, but I knew we were short on a few of the ingredients.

So I did a little searching on line, looking for fairly simple potatoes au gratin or something similar. I ended up combining a few recipes, adapting for what we had on hand, and using a shortcut I found. The results were not at all bad, although this has made us resolve to keep better cheese on hand. I used mostly a colby/cheddar mix we had on hand, intended for dressing up tacos and nachos and the like, but this would be just divine with a really sharp cheddar! We will also add chives and/or leeks next time.

  • 4-6 russet potatoes, peeled and sliced--a food processor makes this incredibly easy (ours varied greatly in size, so I just used up the rest of what we had in one bag)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp flour (I used Pamela's Baking and Pancake mix, which works really well)
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (about 200 Celsius).
  2. Place sliced potatoes in a glass casserole dish. Add some salt and pepper as you do this.
  3. Microwave potatoes for about 8 minutes--this will cut the baking time down greatly!
  4. Make white sauce: melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat and then add flour. Be sure to get the flour fully stirred in and cooked. (NB: since the Pamela's mix includes some baking powder, it will bubble a bit when you first add it, but it's otherwise just like using regular flour.)
  5. Add milk and stir frequently until thick. My little white sauce trick is to get the mixture up to a low boil and let it stay there for about a minute. This gets it to just about the right thickness a little faster, but you have to be careful not to burn the mixture!
  6. Either turn off the heat or put it as low as possible and add the cheese. Stir until smooth. You can add salt if you want.
  7. Pour cheese mixture over potatoes.
  8. Bake for about 30 minutes. The top should be just a little brown.
I'm almost sorry I discovered this recipe. It's incredibly easy, especially with our food processor. Trillian and I have started to justify the likelihood we'll be making this on a regular basis with the fact that it's a lot lower fat than it tastes--we used 2% milk and can adjust the cheese to our mood. Compare that to recipes using cream cheese and heavy cream, and it would be foolish not to eat this all the time!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cooling off

A fair number of kitchen gadgets reside in our cupboards and drawers. We do use most of them (I rarely--or at least, no longer--buy gadgets just because they're gadgets), but some rank higher in my heart than others.

A particular gadget that is currently near and dear is our Kitchen-Aid ice-cream maker. We keep the bowl in our extra freezer at all times. It fits right into the mixer stand and whips up soft serve in under half and hour.

The big downside to most ice-cream recipes is the amount of time from start to finish. With a custard-based recipe, there's the cooking time and then it has to go back into the fridge to cool off completely before it can be put into the ice-cream maker.

Enter the no-cook ice-cream recipe. With this, you can be eating soft serve in about 30 minutes. The basic recipe: 1 cup whole milk, 3/4 cup sugar (though you could go with less), 2 cups cream, a little vanilla extract. Whisk the milk and sugar together, add the cream and extract, throw into the mixer for about 25 minutes. Once you've dished out what you want of the soft serve, put the rest into a container to ripen in the freezer.

Being the kind of cook I am, I improvised a chocolate version. And since we didn't have whole milk, I started with 1/2 cup of 2% and 1/2 cup of 1/2 and 1/2. I whisked this with a generous portion of some chocolate syrup we have on hand and a little cocoa powder plus a scant 1/4 cup of sugar. Then I added the cream and extract and continued as above.

I packed one of our food-storage containers completely full and put it in the freezer. With the rest, I made an ice-cream cone for Scooter and a small bowl for myself. Scooter didn't care for his, possibly due to the texture--he generally eats harder ice cream. Trillian happily finished it off for him.

Kind of like the truffles, it's almost dangerous that this is so easy to make. But it sure will be a nice, quick treat this summer.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Chocolate chip cookies--don't tell him they're good for them

I've been craving carbs lately, particularly of the sort I haven't tried since going gluten-free. Biscuits, English muffins, bagels. I'm still working on finding recipes for these that will work. I tried to make bagels once, but they wouldn't hold together in circles and just weren't very appetizing. And I need English muffin rings before I try those. But I think I have found the answer to my biscuit craving.

I just found a gluten-free baking mix over at Ginger Lemon Girl. Since we were having unseasonably cool weather, I mixed some up today in preparation for some baking.

Despite all my savory cravings, I ended up making two sweet dishes. The Almond Joy pie is in the oven right now, so I can't comment on it yet. But this afternoon, while Scooter was at a playdate, I mixed up some of the Secret Chocolate Chip Cookies. (I followed her recipe very closely, so head over there for the details.) Their big secret? Zucchini. Oh, and all sorts of whole grains: the brown rice and oat flour from the baking mix, additional oats, and ground flax meal.

Scooter was in a bad mood, particularly with me, when we got home from the playdate, so he wouldn't initially take me up on my offer of chocolate chip cookies. But while I was working in the den (in a flurry of printing and faxing), he accepted Trillian's offer and ate three of them.

I tried a few (or 6) for myself and agree that they are wonderfully delicious.

These are going to become a household staple. And now I'm going to be looking for a few more gluten-free recipes to stuff with veggies!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A simple celebratory dinner

Before I headed back to Springfield after running a number of errands, I decided to stop by Whole Foods--not because we needed anything in particular, but because I needed to use the restroom, happened to be nearby, and know that they keep their facilities nice and clean. (Should not have had the large soda!)

But I figured I should call Trillian up and see if she could think of anything I should pick up. She suggested I decide on something for dinner and mentioned that she would always be happy with some pastry or dessert item.

As I headed in, I thought about what a good day it had been. No big surprises. Just that Trillian's contract for her new job was on its way, and some other things were coming together. So it seemed like a day worth celebrating.

After making a beeline to the facilities and with my plan formed, I headed to the bakery section, picking up individual sweet treats for each of us. And then to the meat counter, where I found NY Strip Steaks on sale.

It's been too hot to do a lot of cooking here, so I knew I'd be using the grill. For the steaks, I salted and peppered liberally. And then I chopped up a bunch of vegetables we had on hand (from our CSA box): a potato and onion, a couple zucchini, some celery and carrots. These I sprayed with a little olive oil and some salt and pepper.

I should have started the veggies about 10 minutes before the steaks, but everything turned out wonderfully. (We even had some steak left over, which I sliced up to put on salads.) It's really amazing how the simplest of spices can bring out the best in good food. I had thought about creating a marinade for both the meat and vegetables, but salt and pepper were the right choice.

A simple dinner to celebrate the pleasure of a day that has us moving in the right direction.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The vegetable and fruit bin are so very full

Although Trillian and I are not locavores, we do try to shop at farmer's markets and choose other foods from nearby when possible. In other places we've lived, we've thought about joining a CSA. That's Community Supported Agriculture--the general idea behind it is that people buy memberships/shares from a local farm and in return receive a certain amount of produce, usually spread out over time.

We had considered one CSA in our area last year, but we would have had to go to Capital City for a mid-day, 2-hour window on a weekday to pick it up.

Then Trillian found a brochure for another CSA, one which would either deliver our box or allow us to pick it up at a local business during a 5-hour window. They also give us the option of committing for only 4 boxes and choosing an alternating week schedule, both choices we made for our initial foray.

An interesting aspect of this CSA is that they supplement their boxes with produce from other close-ish farms. This means that we get a greater selection of items in our box, including--this week--a few apples and oranges.

Most of the items this week were various greens, and I made a huge salad tonight, throwing in a little of this and a little of that. Even made my own vinaigrette, mixing in some green onions (from the box) and the herbs we're growing at home.

For the veggies I wouldn't usually buy, I'm diving into one of my favorite cookbooks: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. The section I refer to most often has an alphabetical listing of different vegetables, general information on each one, and then several recipes. Did you know you can cook turnip greens? I'll be giving them, and the turnips too, a try tomorrow.

For us, this is a fairly economical choice too. For the amount of produce we're receiving in a box, we wouldn't be able to buy the same things in a grocery store for much cheaper, especially with all the organics. And since I've decided to figure out a way to use every last bit, we'll definitely be getting our money's worth.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Black beans in the crockpot

I really need to write a separate post on the challenges of cooking at altitude, but for now let me address one specific problem: getting beans fully cooked. This has become a goal of mine, since beans are one of the few foods (tomatoes are the other) I continue to use in canned form and I remain very concerned about bisphenol-A. So I set out this past weekend to make it work.

I tried a crockpot refried bean recipe, but even though I cooked on low for 10 hours, the beans still weren't nearly soft enough and I lost patience. The short version of the problem is that water boils at a lower temperature here and just does not get as hot as I might need.

This time, I set out to give them as long as they needed. I just realized in looking for the refried beans recipe that Stephanie has black bean directions similar to mine, but I actually devised this on my own with some tweaks for the altitude.

I started with 1 1/2 pounds of dried beans from the Whole Foods bulk bins. They cost me just over $2.00 and were organic. I probably could have gotten a cheaper bag for around $1.00 per pound, but this seemed reasonable to me. In the end, I got a little more than 5 ziplocs with about 2 cups of beans. (I mashed up the extra 1/2 cup or so to make Scooter's black bean quesadilla.) Given that a can would usually cost me a little under $1.00, this was a good return.

The "recipe" itself is very straightforward. I started around noon, specifically so I could leave the beans overnight. I used my old 4-quart; the beans nearly filled it, but something about the cylinder shape struck me as better suited than my oval 6-quart. (By the way, I have absolutely no idea if there's any truth to that and I suspect that larger batches would be fine in the 6-quart.)
  1. Rinse beans and discard those that don't look right. The batch I had were really good and so I didn't have to discard many.
  2. Place beans in crockpot and cover with water. Let soak for 6-8 hours.
  3. Drain water, which will be dark. Add new water to a couple inches above the beans.
  4. Turn beans up to high. Most recipes I've seen keep the heat at low, but I think this was key for getting the beans up to a high enough temperature at altitude. I probably did this around 6 or 7 pm.
  5. Before bed, check water level and add some more if needed. Turn crockpot down to low. Go to bed. I did this around 10:30 pm.
  6. First thing in the morning, check beans again. This was 6:15 am for me. Add more water if needed--I didn't need to. I also turned the temperature back up again.
  7. At about 9 am, I turned the crockpot off and took the lid off to let the beans cool a bit.
  8. To speed the process of preparing the beans for freezing, I dipped some out, trying not to get too much liquid with them, into a mixing bowl so they'd be spread out a little more. Once they were cool enough, I put just under 2 cups into each freezer bag.
So the process takes nearly 24 hours, but there's not a lot of hands-on time. The biggest issue was making sure I planned it for when I'd be around at the critical times (we sometimes spend the night at my in-laws' on the weekend) and when I hadn't already planned another use for the crockpot or the counter space where we set it up.

I've also got white, kidney, and garbanzo beans in the pantry, so you can bet I'll be doing this again. Just not tomorrow, as I'll be using some of my black beans in a delicious tamale pie.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Quick "baked" pear

On days when I have ballet in the evening, my eating schedule is, by necessity, a bit odd. I try to have something that's not too heavy just over two hours before class. And then I try not to snack anymore (which is really hard for me).

By the time I get home, it's 8:30ish, so a full dinner seems like too much. And after working out like that, it seems ridiculous to indulge in anything too extreme.

Tonight, I grabbed a few corn chips to satisfy the carb-desire, but I wanted something sweet and healthy. A baked pear sounded wonderful, but I didn't want to heat up the oven and then wait 30 minutes for a single piece of fruit.

So I used the microwave.

  • One pear (I quartered it, cored the quarters, and then halved each of those)
  • Cinnamon (optional)
  1. Put pear, cut into eight pieces, in microwave-safe bowl and sprinkle on cinnamon, if desired.
  2. Microwave for about a minute, then move pieces around.
  3. Microwave another minute or so.
I did mine for a total of 2-1/2 minutes. It was soft and sweet and cinnamon-y, just what I had wanted.

(We'll ignore the fact that I also had a couple of Scooter's Valentine's Hershey's Kisses.)