Saturday, January 30, 2010

Barbeque Tofu

After I met Butler, and we were becoming friends, we quickly bonded over the subject of food. I always love meeting and talking with people who are as passionate about food as I am. As we discussed recipes, methods, likes and dislikes, I once told him I don't eat organ meat. Being the rascal that he is, he turned it around and would tell people, "Rocquie has never had an organ in her mouth", which he still thinks is so funny!

Butler thought tofu to be icky and I loved teasing him by talking about delicious ways to prepare it. As he would tell me about hunks of meat he was smoking and grilling, I would talk about how delicious barbeque tofu is.

Then one day, he asked me if I would bring barbeque tofu to the SuperBowl party he was hosting at his fabulous Bed and Breakfast. I felt flattered, not only to be invited to his party, but to be asked to bring such a dish.

Because I learned that about 50 people would be in attendance, I bought 10 pounds of tofu and made a huge batch of barbeque sauce. I took the platter of barbecue tofu into the party, parked it on the table, laden with all kinds of delicious food, and never said a word about what it was, nor did Butler. I watched people eating it. I saw one woman go back for seconds and tell her companion to try it. He ate a bite and asked, "What is it?" to which she replied, "Pork, I think". Tee hehe.

Barbeque Tofu
1 pound extra firm tofu
1 cup (approx) barbecue sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and oil a baking sheet. Drain the tofu and gently squeeze dry with a kitchen towel. Cut the tofu into bite size pieces and place, close together, on the baking sheet. Brush all over with barbeque sauce. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn the tofu and brush with more sauce. Bake for 10 more minutes, turn and brush with sauce. Repeat this process for about 1 hour, turning and basting every 10 minutes, until the tofu is well carmelized with the sauce, chewy on the outside, and tender inside.

I will be making it for Butler's SuperBowl party again this year, but now everyone knows what it is.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cheese Crackers

Here is one of the more low brow food items to emerge from my kitchen. Saltine crackers have had something of a renaissance with me in the past couple of years. They were once banned due to their lack of nutrition. My figure can't afford eating empty calories. But I also know there is a lot more to food than simple nourishment.

It all started when a coworker and I went to lunch at a nearby diner. The kind of diner with some age on it, where the waitresses call you darlin'. Not one of those retro-themed diners, no this is the real deal, an old timey, been there forever diner. The waitress brought me a couple of those little cellophane packets holding 2 saltine crackers each, along with an individually wrapped pat of butter, to go along with my iceberg lettuce with French dressing salad. At that moment, those crackers smeared with butter tasted so good and perfect with the crispy salad.

And so, I declared the humble saltine cracker "nutrition neutral", and welcomed it back into my life. I had forgotten how darn tasty they can be with peanut butter. I turned them into cheese crackers which are very difficult to stop eating once started. They are so light and crispy and super simple to make.

Cheese Crackers
2 sleeves saltine crackers
1/2 stick melted butter
8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
Cayenne pepper

Place the crackers, salted side up, in single layers on baking sheets. Brush with melted butter, then spread the cheese evenly over the tops. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper, to taste. Place under the broiler until the cheese is bubbly, but not brown. Remove the trays and turn the oven to 180 degrees. Bake the crackers for 2 hours until very crispy and light.

I have made these with whole grain crackers--always searching for the nutritional bang for the buck, and also a variety of cheeses. They just don't work as well. In fact, those bags of grated cheese, which I typically reject, work best. Whatever it is they put on the cheese to keep it from sticking together, works great here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Super Food - Gomasio

For Weekend Cook and Tell: Superfoods, I made Gomasio, which is a Japanese condiment made from sesame seeds and sea salt. Sesame seeds are one of the super foods, and are an excellent source of many beneficial minerals, amino acids, and a good source of dietary fiber. Sesame seeds add a nutty flavor to foods and are also used to make tahini.

I learned to make and use Gomasio some years ago, when I cooked in a cafe whose focus was on Macrobiotics. Gomasio is made by toasting the sesame seeds, adding sea salt, then grinding them with a wooden pestle in a special serrated, glazed clay bowl called a Suribachi. The aroma that wafts up while grinding the seeds is heavenly.

Gomasio is delicious with salads, steamed vegetables, stir-fry, and all kinds of grains. I love brown rice (a super food) which has been drizzled with Tamari soy sauce (another super food) then topped with a generous sprinkling of Gomasio.

1/2 cup sesame seeds
1-2 teaspoons sea salt

Place the sesame seeds in a dry skillet (preferably stainless) and roast slowly over low heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until the seeds turn golden brown, give off a nutty fragrance, and begin to pop, about 20 minutes.

Once toasted, remove the seeds from the pan immediately to prevent burning, and place in the suribachi. Add sea salt and grind slowly with even, gentle pressure, in a circular motion until each seed is about half crushed. Store in a glass jar.

Children love Gomasio!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sailor-Style Bread Salad

While enjoying a break from the frigid weather, we also took a break from hearty soups and stews with this substantial bread and tuna salad which is best eaten at room temperature. Originally, this salad was a clever use for stale bread by Italian sailors, who combined it with the fish they caught at sea, a few spices, and olive oil. Consider this pungent salad a meal in itself and make it early in the day to allow the flavors to soak into the bread.

Sailor-Style Bread Salad
8 cups stale bread chunks
Two 6 1/2 oz. cans tuna in olive oil
One 4 oz. can anchovies in olive oil
1 small red onion, minced
2 Tbsp. capers
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 Tbsp. minced fresh oregano (or 1 tsp. dried)
1/3 cup olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 oz. feta cheese, cubed

Place the bread chunks in a large bowl. Add the tuna with it's oil, the anchovies with their oil, the onions, capers, olives, and oregano. Toss to combine well. Pour the olive oil over the mixture and toss to coat all the bread chunks. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Gently fold in the feta cubes.

Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit, at room temperature, for 2 - 3 hours. (Or refrigerate for longer but bring to room temperature before serving.)

Serve with lemon.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Savory Baked Apples

Savory Baked Apples
4 sweet, crisp apples, such as Gala
3 - 4 slices bacon
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced
Leftover bread, cubed, about 4 cups
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
Apple cider
In a large saute pan, cook bacon until crisp then remove to paper towel to drain. Cook the onion and celery in the bacon drippings, until tender. Add bread cubes, ginger, and cayenne, stirring to coat well. Add enough apple cider to make a moist stuffing, about 1/2 cup, more or less.
Slice off the stem end of the apples and reserve. Scoop out the apple pulp to make a bowl. Dice the slices of apples removed from the top and add to the stuffing in the pan, along with all the pulp, except the core, removed from the apple. Crumble the bacon and add that also.
Spoon the stuffing into the apple bowls, piling it up. Place the stuffed apples into a baking dish. Pour about 1/2 inch of apple cider into the dish, cover tightly with foil, and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Potato Cakes

I have never understood why "leftovers" have such a bad reputation, unless what they are leftover from, was not very good to begin with. I love having leftovers and plan to have leftovers. We really enjoy taking our lunch, comprised of leftovers, to work and are thankful for homemade food as we watch coworkers eat frozen dinners and fast food. I often enjoy food I have cooked, more the next day after taking a step back from it. I have been bolstered through more than one bad day, knowing that a half pan of lasagna or some other home cooked goodness was waiting at home for my exhausted arrival. And, leftovers can be reinvented which is fun!

Potato Pancakes
2 cups cold, leftover mashed potatoes
2 eggs
6 scallions, sliced
1/4 - 1/2 cup self-rising cornmeal
Olive oil

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Add the cold potatoes and mix completely with the eggs, then the scallions. Stir in 1/4 cup cornmeal and depending on how thick your potatoes were to begin with, up to another 1/4 cup cornmeal, to make a thick batter. Drop by large spoonfuls into a hot skillet which has been lightly coated in olive oil. Cook until brown, then flip and cook the other side until brown and the cakes are heated through.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Collard Greens

Yesterday, we finally had a break from the frigidity, with temperatures soaring up to 50 degrees! Like many others, I decided to go to the car wash to rid my car of road salt. I waited patiently as those in line before me drove through the wash. When the car in front of me drove in, I moved ahead to the kiosk, entered my code, and continued to wait. This particular car wash dries your car as you exit and I like that. The blow dry part is always my favorite part of the hair salon experience, and I like it for my Honda as well--prevents streaks and water spots.

The light turned green for me to enter, but as the car ahead of me was still being dried, I waited (a few seconds) for it to finish so I didn't splash water on their clean, dry car. After I finished my wash and was enjoying the drying process, I saw that the person behind me was not waiting until I finished and was going to spash on me. Oh well. Then she blew the horn. I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw her make a gesture for me to move along. Because I had almost 60 seconds left on the very visible drying timer, I ignored her. Then she honked again, a little more insistently this time. Because I continued to ignore her and finish drying my car, she started really getting aggressive, laying down on her horn and gesturing wildly, all while her car was being washed. I wasn't slowing her progress in any way, so why was she so bent out of shape that I was still drying the rear end of my car?

Sigh. . .and my morning inspirational study had just been on the subject of patience and how patience is an active, positive manner, not merely a passive thing. Maybe the honking, gesturing woman needed more vegetables in her diet, specifically greens. Collard greens have an amazing nutrition profile.

Collard Greens
1/4 lb. smoked meat such as ham, salt pork, ham hocks, turkey legs
2 cups water
2 - 3 lbs. collard greens

Place water and meat in a very large stock pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, tear or cut away the very large stems from collard leaves, chop or tear them into bite size pieces, and place into a sink full of cold water. Swish the water around and let it settle before lifting out the greens. If you feel any grit in the bottom of the sink, drain and rinse sink, and refill with fresh water. Continue until there is no more sand or grit.

Add collards to the pot, cover and cook for about 5 minutes; then add more greens, continuing this process until all the greens have been added. Cook the collards, covered for 20 to 30 minutes, until desired tenderness. Do not overcook.

Serve with salt, pepper, and hot sauce or vinegar. And don't forget the cornbread.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Creamy Chicken Bisque

I try not to complain about things that can't be changed, but I have to say I'm getting tired of the record-breaking frigid temperatures we are having. It is not the actual temperatures but the duration--days upon days of single digit temperatures overnight, sub-zero wind chills, and not even making it out of the 20's during the day. We still have snow laying around from our December 18th blizzard. We scurry out to start the car and scurry back inside while it warms up. I don't have the wardrobe to spend any significant amount of time outdoors and the lack of fresh air is starting to make me a little cuckoo.

Making a warming soup like this bisque, with lots of fresh vegetables, cheers and braces me. The slight crunch from the scallions, stirred in at the end, makes a very satisfying texture.

Creamy Chicken Bisque
4 Tbsp. butter
1 celery heart, with leaves, finely diced (5 - 6 cups)
2 medium carrots, diced (about 1 cup)
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
leftover roasted chicken
1 cup cream
2 bunches scallions, finely sliced

In a large soup pot, over medium heat, melt butter and stir in the celery, carrots, and garlic. Cook until the vegetables are beginning to soften. Stir in the flour and seasonings, then the chicken broth and chicken. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the cream and scallions, saving some for garnish, if desired. Heat through and serve piping hot.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Warm Greek Salad

One recent morning, as I contemplated the "what's for dinner this evening?" question, I started thinking about what I had on hand and what needed to be used (leftover roast chicken). Once again, chickpeas popped into my head. I have eaten chickpeas more times in the last couple of weeks than I have in a couple of years. Next I thought of the red bell pepper in the fridge, the big bag of spinach I'd bought on sale the day before and I started thinking Mediterranean.

I humored myself with the thoughts of a Greek Stir-fry. Is there any such thing, I asked? Probably not, I answered. But it did not deter me and I did prepare this dish in a wok. As we were eating, Pritchard Parker called it, "Warm Greek Salad", which I thought was appropriate. We both enjoyed this main dish very much--it was wholesome, healthful, satisfying, and most of all, delicious.

Warm Greek Salad
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium red onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. baby potatoes, steamed until barely fork tender
1 16 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 16 oz. can tomatoes with their juice
Leftover roast chicken, torn into pieces
1/4 cup fresh, chopped dill
12 oz. fresh spinach, thoroughly rinsed
6 oz. feta cheese, diced or crumbled
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in wok or deep skillet. Add onions and cook for a few seconds, then add the bell pepper and garlic, stirring. Immediately add the potatoes and stir until beginning to brown. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, and chicken continuing to cook and stir until heated through. Add the dill and spinach and cook until the spinach is wilted. Gently fold in the feta cheese. Sprinkle with lemon juice and salt and pepper, to taste.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Roasted Cauliflower with Couscous & Almonds

When I saw this recipe posted on Serious Eats I knew I was going to try it. When I saw the plump, firm, creamy white heads of cauliflower, with fresh-looking leaves still attached, on sale, in the produce department, I knew the time had come.

Originally Mark Bittman's recipe, it was adapted by Blake Royer, as he posted it on S.E., then further once I got my hands on it. As this was to be our main dish, I browned my cauliflower in butter rather than olive oil, for extra richness. I also added cayenne pepper to bring up the heat level, helping to brace ourselves against the frigid weather we are having. The entire time I was making this, I was debating on adding sliced olives. In the end, I served olives on the side, which added some "meatiness" to the meal, and was the better decision. Olives throughout would have overpowered the delicacy of the dish.

Seared Cauliflower with Couscous & Almonds
1/2 cup whole almonds, toasted, chopped
3 Tbsp. butter
1 large shallot, sliced
1 medium head cauliflower, half broken into florets, the remainder chopped
1 cup couscous
2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
Parmesan cheese for serving

Melt butter in a large skillet, over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until beginning to soften. Add cauliflower and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for a few minutes until it is browing and beginning to soften. Stir in the couscous until it is beginning to get toasted and is well coated with butter. Add the paprika, cayenne, and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low, and cook for 5 minutes until all liquid is absorbed. Add the almonds and fluff with a fork. Serve with parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Crock Pot Roast Beef

Once I let go of the notion that crock pot cooking is the same as braising, and came to know my food was not going to scorch or stick if there was not enough liquid, and further, that the liquid does not need to be monitored or replenished, my results improved dramatically. I cook meats--beef roasts, ham, chicken, pork shoulder, fairly regularly, with very little, if any liquid.

Crock Pot Beef Roast
One 4 pound (approx.) sirloin tip roast
Salt, pepper & paprika
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 large sweet onions, sliced
6 - 8 cloves garlic, peeled
3 -4 stalks celery, peeled, sliced
2 large turnips, sliced
4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
1/2 tsp. thyme

Sprinkle all sides of the roast with salt, pepper, and paprika. Heat oil, over medium-high heat, in a heavy skillet; sear the roast until very well browned on all sides.

Meanwhile, layer the onions, garlic cloves, celery, turnips, and carrots into the crock pot. Sprinkle with thyme.

When the roast is browned, place into the crock pot, and nestle it into the vegetables.

Slice the beef and serve with the vegetables. You may be surprised by the amount of delicious au jus you have, without having adding any liquid.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Crock Pot Gumbo

I was happy to learn that a truly good gumbo could be made in the crock pot. Ordinarily, I stand over the stove for hours on end to make gumbo, and I don't make if very often for that very reason. What a time saver when I was standing in the kitchen for hours on end baking Christmas cookies.

Before I list a recipe, however, I must talk about roux, which is the secret and mandatory ingredient to making an authentic tasting gumbo. Roux is a thickener made with flour and fat, which is browned to impart a rich, nutty flavor. There is a very informative article about Roux at All Recipes. Or you can cheat, like I have starting doing since I discovered The Cajun Supermarket. Bootsie's roux works well, is very tasty, and will last indefinately in the refrigerator. (This online store is also my source for the Camellia brand beans I adore so much.)

Crock Pot Gumbo
1 lb. keilbasa sausage, sliced
1 lb. cooked chicken, torn into pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery, sliced
3 plump cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. sliced okra (frozen is fine)
1/2 cup roux
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 quart tomatoes, undrained

Layer ingredients, in order given, into the crock pot but don't stir. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour. Lower heat to low and continue cooking for 7 hours.

About 10 to 15 minutes before serving, add:
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp. Worchestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco

Cook until shrimp are done but not overcooked. Adjust seasonings, including the addition of salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle into soup bowls, top with a scoop of hot rice, and pass the hot sauce.