Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Composed Salads, Grain Bowls, and Organizing Photo Files

IF YOU LOVE COOKING AND YOU LOVE PHOTOGRAPHY (a match made in heaven) you will most likely end up with a backlog of photo files to sort through.

My files had gotten so big, they were bogging down my computer. It was time to stop procrastinating and get to work. I have deleted hundreds on photos and transferred others to an external drive.

I do photograph many things other than food and this process has taken me down a memory lane of the past couple of years. There are so many cute pictures of the children--they grow and change so fast. There were pictures of my head, bald from chemo, to growing out, to my first haircut last week. There are many photos of beautiful flowers, birds, bunnies, butterflies, and bugs from our yard. Scenic photos from the gorgeous, vibrant, and hip place I am blessed to live--Asheville, North Carolina.

Mandarin Chicken Salad

As I culled photographs, I decided to share some of the things I have made, we ate, but never made it to my blog. Mainly because I wasn't pleased with the photos. But also because I wasn't thrilled with the taste of the food. I only blog about things I think are delicious.

For example, the Mandarin Chicken Salad. Ho-hum.

Shrimp, Brown Rice, and Vegetable Salad

I can see the salad has a dressing but I don't remember what it was. Which is another danger of letting my photo files back up. I can't remember what I did.

I remember loving the brown rice and tofu bowl--I would happily eat it right now. I suppose I could fake some recipes. . .

Many things I love, tuna, cheese, boiled eggs, radishes, cornichons, sprouts (!) with baby lettuces.

Waldorf Quinoa Salad

I was really happy with this meal, but I didn't get any photos I loved. Quinoa, grapes, celery, apples, lettuce, candied pecans, and crumbled blue cheese. (Some kind of dressing). Mmmm, I think I'll try this again.

I was also happy about this meal, but again did not get shots of it that I loved. It was an awesome combination of flavors, quinoa, black beans, roasted Japanese sweet potatoes, pineapple, cheddar cheese, and spinach. I dressed this one with a Honey Lime Vinaigrette.

Honey Lime Vinaigrette
1 small sweet onion, preferably Vidalia, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 large tomato, washed and peeled
1 lime, washed, roughly chopped and seeded
2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive oil

Put all ingredients into blender and process until smooth.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Vegetarian Sawmill Gravy (S.O.S.)

I LOVE GRAVY.  I love mashed potatoes and gravy, rice and gravy with fried chicken, biscuits and red eye gravy for breakfast, French bread dipped in au jus, tomato gravy, sesame gravy on brown rice.

In my neck of the woods, Biscuits and Gravy for breakfast is made from browning crumbled bulk sausage, then using flour and milk to make a gravy, with plenty of black pepper.  It is then served over piping hot biscuits.

Not sure if it is still the case, but I have heard more than one veteran from the U.S. Navy speak of enjoying S.O.S. (Sh*t-on-a-Shingle) while aboard ship. That recipe uses dried chipped beef to make the gravy which is served over toast. It is delicious!

I recently stumbled upon a fun food blog, The Egg Farm. The blogger, Mary, had made a country gravy with eggplant, to serve over biscuits. I fell in love with the concept.

I didn't really follow her recipe, but I have to give her credit for the idea--I'm pretty sure I would have never thought of this. Because I started with a "zebra" eggplant, one that is paler purple in color and streaked with white, with much thinner skin than the classic dark purple eggplant, I didn't bother to peel it. It gives my gravy a darker appearance than the one Mary made.

I took some other shortcuts with Mary's recipe and also served it over toast because I love toast I was too lazy to make biscuits.

Vegetarian Sawmill Gravy
1 medium eggplant, peeled if desired, finely diced
1 small, sweet onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 - 3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. each sage, thyme, fennel, red pepper flakes
Pinch each ginger and nutmeg
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the eggplant and onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are tender and beginning to brown. Add the garlic and all the spices, stirring for about 30 seconds.

Sprinkle the flour onto the vegetables and stir well. Cook for a minute or two then stir in the milk. Continue cooking and stirring until the gravy has the desired consistency. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Serve over toast, biscuits, rice, or noodles with roasted tomatoes.

For roasted tomatoes, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash tomatoes but don't bother to peel or core. Cut the tomatoes in half and place cut side up on a rimmed baking pan. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with bread crumbs, grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Bake for about 15 minutes. As you can see the tomato skins slip right off, but during cooking they hold in the juices.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Brown Rice Bowl with Grilled Halloumi Cheese and Massaged Kale

THIS SIMPLE AND HEALTHFUL MEAL IS TYPICAL of how we eat most of the time in the summer. We love fresh vegetables. We love brown rice. We love cheese. The black olives, roasted red pepper, and toasted pumpkin seeds please the eye and palate and make the dish more satiating.

A word or two about brown rice. I don't really care that much for the commercially available packaged brown rice found in typical grocery stores. When purchased from a Natural Foods Market, it can often be found in bulk bins. There, it will be fresher, organic, tastier, and less expensive. You will most likely be given a choice of long, medium, or short grain.

How do you choose? In my experience, long grain brown rice cooks up fluffier, medium grain is stickier, and short grain is creamier. Some nutritionists recommend using the fluffier long grain rice in summer and the creamier ones in cooler weather. I almost always choose medium grain and that is what is pictured here.

 This was our first time experiencing  Halloumi Cheese, which the package described as the "Grilling Cheese of Cyprus". I think my husband was somewhat dubious about it because it was squeaky on the teeth. I believe he felt the texture was a little suspect. He even asked, "What kind of animal is this from"?  (Answer: Sheep).

Myself, I loved it and I will buy it and use it again. Pritchard Parker will be more receptive next time--it was just not what he expected. But it was exceptionally delicious!

For the greens, I used kale, one bunch of red kale and one of lacinato. Here they are going for a little swim in my sink. After the greens were washed and dried, I massaged them with lemon juice, sea salt, and olive oil as I did in my Massaged Kale Salad.

Brown Rice Bowl with Grilled Halloumi Cheese and Massaged Kale
(4 servings)
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
2 bunches kale
Juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil
Sea salt
1 red bell pepper, roasted and chopped
1 cup (approx.) black olives
8 oz. Halloumi cheese
1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

Place rice and water in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat to a bare simmer, and cook for 50-55 minutes. Stir and taste rice. If needed, add about 5 more minutes cooking time. Remove from heat and keep covered.

Wash and dry kale. Remove large stems, cut or tear into bite-sized pieces, and place into a large bowl. Sprinkle with sea salt and squeeze on the lemon juice. Drizzle with olive oil. Massage for 5 minutes, until desired tenderness,

Cut the cheese into 8 slices. Saute in a little olive oil, over medium heat, until golden on each side.

Arrange the rice, kale, cheese slices, peppers, and olives on a plate or salad bowl. Sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds. If desired, sprinkle a little tamari or soy sauce on the rice.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My Family's Favorite Eggplant Parmesan

 OF ALL THE HUNDREDS THOUSANDS OF MEALS AND DISHES I have cooked, my Eggplant Parmesan is the standout favorite and most cherished of all my family and friends. Everyone who has ever eaten it loves it. Even the pickiest of picky-eaters like it.

Almost any time I see Eggplant Parmesan on a restaurant menu, I order it. I have enjoyed many good versions and some not too great. But never one as tasty as this recipe.

I must confess, this is not my favorite thing to cook. It is not difficult but it involves many steps and it is messy. It involves two different cheeses, one of which needs to be sliced and the other grated. Three bowls are used for preparing the eggplant for frying--flour, then egg, then crumbs. And yes, frying, the messiest of messy for the home cook. Fresh garlic is minced and a sauce is made. It is a true labor of love.

This is not an everyday meal at our house. I make this for special occasions. Special occasions are times when family gather, whether for birthdays, holidays, weddings, family reunions, even funerals.

The recipe comes from one of my old hippie cookbooks, The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas, c.1972. I love the author's philosophical introduction to the book and have read it many times over the years; almost every time I take out the book.

I always chuckle when I read, "The two-hours-later course is especially recommended if grass is smoked socially at your house. If you have passed a joint around before dinner to sharpen gustatory perceptions, you most likely will pass another one after dinner, and everyone knows what that will do--the blind munchies can strike at any time".

Use the best quality ingredients including the olive oil which lends so much flavor to the dish. Over the years, I have used dried and fresh breadcrumbs, wheat germ, and panko, all with good results. I have used both Swiss and Mozzarella cheese and prefer the latter. For the wine, I have used several good, dry reds, but my personal favorite for this dish is Burgundy.

The recipe is easily doubled and tripled to feed a crowd. And while you're at it, why not?

Eggplant Parmesan
1 medium eggplant
1 egg beaten with some milk
Breadcrumbs or wheat germ
Olive oil
1/2 pound Swiss or Mozzarella, sliced
6 oz. tomato paste
Red wine as needed
Pinch of oregano
Clove of garlic
Salt and pepper
1 cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese

Wash your eggplant and, without peeling it, slice it about 1/2-inch thick. Dip slices first in flour, then into the egg, then into the breadcrumbs. Saute them in a little olive oil, a few at a time, until they are nicely browned on both sides. Tend them carefully and add oil as it is needed.

When they are crisp and brown, arrange them in a baking dish and put a slice or two of Swiss or Mozzarella on each one. Make a thick tomato sauce by diluting the tomato paste with wine. Mix the tomato sauce with the oregano, salt, pepper, and crushed garlic clove. Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons on each slice. Finally, sprinkle the grated Parmesan on top of it all. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes and serve steaming hot.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Barbie Birthday Cake

OUR GIRL TURNED FIVE! Four years ago, I made  a very simple Chocolate Layer Cake for her first birthday, which you can see at the link. This year's cake was much more elaborate.

For months, she has asked me to make her a Barbie cake for her birthday. And because I had taken a cake decorating course last fall, I agreed and looked forward to the challenge.

There are a number of ways this project could be approached. Specialty pans are available. Also available are Barbie torsos on a pick that can simply be pushed into a cake. Because I try to limit my consumerism, I knew I would not buy a cake pan to use only once. Also I didn't want a Barbie bust on a stick--I wanted a whole doll that could be played with after the cake was gone.

I decided on making a chocolate sour cream pound cake using my old fashioned tube pan. Also, I used Stacie, one of Barbie's younger sisters. She is just as beautiful as Barbie, but I didn't need to make a cake big enough to accommodate the taller doll.

I made the cake the day before I decorated it. After it was baked and cooled, I place it on a fanci-foil covered cake board, applied a thin coat of frosting, which seals in the freshness of the cake and prevents crumbs in the decorations. It was refrigerated overnight.

I made 2 batches of butter cream frosting. One batch, I left white for the crumb coat, crinoline, and bodice. The other, I tinted pink.

I styled the doll's hair into a ballerina bun for both elegance and for saving from the frosting.

I began by marking, with a toothpick, the lines for the over skirt. Then I began piping the crinoline ruffles, using star tip #21, from the bottom up.

Wrap the bottom of doll with plastic wrap and insert her into the hole. Use extra balls of wrap to steady her and also to fill the hole. Don't worry about plastic wrap showing because you will pipe frosting right over it.

Because I wanted the skirt to look like fluffy and shaggy pink peonies, I used a 1M tip and made rosettes both clockwise and counter-clockwise, beginning at the bottom. Then I filled in any gaps by pressing a blossom, again using the 1M tip, into the space.

Then I applied blossoms onto the bodice, using a small #16 star tip, creating a modest halter top.

I know doll hair is highly flammable, so didn't want to put candles directly on the cake. Instead, I used the birthday cake candelabra (by Fred) I bought several months ago. To give it an anchor, I used a candied apple.

Looking back at the pictures, I thought it looked a little goth or malevolent but it didn't seem that way at the time. It looked really cool when lighted up while we were singing, "Happy Birthday". And our girl loved it.

Chocolate Sour Cream Pound Cake
(A Paula Deen Recipe)
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter, softened
8 ounces sour cream
3 cups sugar
6 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup cocoa

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sour cream, and sugar. Add the eggs, 2 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla.

In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and cocoa. Add 1/2 the flour mixture to the creamed mixture, beat well, add the remaining 1/2 flour mixture, and continue to beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes. Continue to bake for an additional 15 minutes if necessary, but do not open the oven to check the cake for at least 1 hour.

Butter Cream Frosting
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 tsp. vanilla
4 cups (approx.) powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. milk

Cream butter and shortening with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Add milk and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.