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[25/100] Homemade Resource Round-Up

These recipes aren’t mine, though I’m happy to have memorized most of the methods by now.   Over the last year or so, we’ve shifted to making some things from scratch at home in order to have more control over ingredients and/or cost per unit, and also discovered some methods of cooking that make things easier.  This is a brief round-up of resources to be referenced over time (sort of like my “how to bake a potato” post). 

1. How to cook bacon in the oven.  By far, the simplest way to make a bunch of bacon all at once, without a lot of mess.  (You’ll even be able to pour off the grease once the pan has cooled a bit so you can use it for cooking later, if that’s your thing.) A web search will turn up myriad opinions about specifics, ranging from “cook at 375 degrees for 15 minutes” to “cook at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.” It’s all just about calibrating temperature and time for your preferred crispiness, but I think this link has the best set of pictures and explanations.  http://www.101cookingfortwo.com/how-to-cook-bacon-in-oven/

2. Homemade vinaigrette.  This is my favorite recipe for vinaigrette, which includes some Dijon mustard and a little honey — they add a bit of thickness and some sweet/savory “notes” (pretend that I know some culinary terms).  I make it about once a week in a mason jar, which gets stored in the fridge and shaken up whenever I want a drizzle of YUM on my salad or with some grilled meat.  Very flavorful. I have been known to lick the jar.  Don’t tell. Mine comes out a bit darker than what you’ll see in the picture at this URL.  Also: olive oil will solidify at refrigerator temperatures.  Don’t be alarmed.  Give it a few minutes to come to room temperature on your counter and then shake it up before pouring. If this kind of dressing isn’t your thing, then it’s well worth the difference in taste and freshness to investigate making small batches of whatever sort of dressing prefer. If you don’t like balsamic vinegar at all, then there’s no hope for you, but we can still be friends.  Probably.  http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Honey-Dijon-Balsamic-Vinaigrette/

3. Baked sweet potatoes.  I have something of a love affair with sweet potatoes.  You *can* cook them exactly the same as regular baked potatoes (as described in an earlier post), but due to their much denser texture, I’ve had better luck with using the “wrap ’em in foil” method.  It hardly counts as a recipe.  No URL for this one, sportsfans.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Scrub clean under water and dry (don’t peel).  Poke some holes — I use a fork, stabbing nine times because I’m weird about the number nine.  Wrap with foil.  Place directly on the oven rack and bake for about 1:10 (that’s one hour and ten minutes).  Gently squeeze the sweet potato bundles after the time is up; they should feel quite smooshy.  Cooking time might vary by 10 minutes or so in either direction, due to the differences in size and thickness of your tubers.  (That sounded a bit naughty.)  Let them cool a little while, open, and enjoy!  This method of cooking will separate the “meat” from the skin very easily, if you don’t like the skin.  MORE FOR ME.  Foil-wrapped sweet potatoes keep well in the fridge and reheat really nicely, but be prepared for some sticky juices when you unwrap.  I’ve heard that they can also be cooked in the crock pot (on low for 8 hours, wrapped in foil), but have yet to test that method. 

4. Magic almond butter.  I’ve heard that, if you’re expecting almond butter to taste like peanut butter, then you’ll be disappointed.  If you’re not expecting that, then it’s delicious.  I like it with apple slices or on a toasted English muffin (nooks and crannies FTW!).  Almond butter can be pretty pricey by the ounce at the grocery store, however.  This URL provides the most comprehensive description of the process I’ve found.  What it takes is almonds, your food processor, and TIME — specifically, about 20 minutes of noise.  Yes, it really does take that long for the magic to happen, but it *does* happen! I make about one cup at a time and all I add (toward the end) is a bit of sea salt to taste.  I don’t bother with drizzling in any oil or whatever, but you might experiment for your own tastes.  Keeps well in a mason jar in the fridge for a week or two.  http://detoxinista.com/2012/09/how-to-make-homemade-almond-butter/

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2014 in Recipes

 

[24/100] Homemade Granola

[24/100] Homemade Granola

I can’t believe this hasn’t been posted yet.  We’ve been making it for months now — and the kids make it now, even — and I think it’s pretty well calibrated to our tastes.  Credit where it’s due, though:  found the basis for this recipe via Martha Stewart at http://www.marthastewart.com/285175/homemade-granola.  We’ve changed it quite a bit, however.  You’ll need:

  • four cups old-fashioned oats (the rolled kind)
  • one cup sliced almonds (raw will be best)
  • one cup pulverized pecans (or 1/2-cup pecans and 1/2-cup almonds)  
  • one cup dried cranberries (craisins)
  • 1/2-cup sweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/3-cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4-cup honey
  • 1/2-cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Mix your dried ingredients in a large bowl — oats, almonds, pecans, craisins, coconut, cinnamon, salt.  Start the oven preheating to 325 degrees, and prep a large cookie sheet with either some vegetable cooking spray or parchment paper.  In a small- to medium-sized saucepan, warm the oil, honey, and brown sugar slowly, then bring to a low boil.  Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract (the mixture will “flare” a bit, but don’t worry…it won’t catch fire).   Quickly empty the warm liquid into the dry ingredients and stir thoroughly to coat.  Empty the mixture onto the cookie sheet and spread evenly.  

Cook for about 20-25 minutes, stirring a few times to everything browns evenly.  It’ll smell toasty when it’s done, but pull it out before it’s deeply toasted or it’ll be overcooked.  Let cool and then crumble up by hand.  It’ll keep in a sealed container (unrefrigerated) for a week or so, but you’ll likely finish it up before then.  Tasty on its own or stirred into some yogurt.  Serving size is about 1/3-cup.  It’s much better than it looks in the photo, which is my actual hand holding a fresh batch we baked in our actual kitchen, rather than some random photo from the web.  So there’s that.  

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2014 in Recipes

 

[23/100] Sweet Potato Hash

[23/100] Sweet Potato Hash

Just discovered this blissful weekend breakfast dish, though I bet you could eat it happily any time of day.  It ain’t pretty, but dear heavens it’s good.

This recipe serves one, but it’s pretty easy to scale up to two.  It’s not really something easily made for more than two people at a time…which is cool for me, because it only makes sense for me to cook this on a weekend morning when nobody else is around anyway.  You’ll need:

  • One small- to medium-sized sweet potato, grated — I think teeny-tiny chopped pieces would do, but I really love the texture of the shredded sweet potato and how quickly it cooks up.  You’ll get one serving from about half a sweet potato, and the other half will keep (unshredded) and wrapped up in the fridge for a day or so).
  • About a handful of finely chopped onion — I’ll dice up one onion at the beginning of the week and use it up one handful at a time.  I estimate a single serving will use up about 1/4 cup of onion bits.
  • 2-4 slices of your favorite bacon — less than two slices probably won’t give you enough bacon grease, so make as much as you’d like to serve for yourself

You’ll use one large, nonstick pan for the whole process.  Start by cooking the bacon over medium heat.  Once it’s done, set it aside to cool on a paper towel and leave the grease in the pan.  (Incidentally, the time the bacon takes to cook is just about the right amount of time to get the sweet potato shredded.)  Throw the onions and shredded sweet potato into the pan; stir it around so it’s all nicely coated with the bacon grease and the spread it out in a thin layer.  For the next five minutes, you’ll stir and flip it around a few times, until it’s browned and a bit crunchy.

I’ll usually empty the hash onto my plate — onto a smallish bed of greens, if I’m clever — and then put the pan back on (sometimes with a bit of butter if needed) and then cook up an egg or two over-medium to have on the side.  Oh, yeah.  And the bacon.  BOOM.  Breakfast magic.  I swear, I don’t get hungry for at least four or five hours after this.  You’re welcome.

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2014 in Recipes

 

[22/100] Stuffed Chicken Breasts (which aren’t scary at all)

We had some goat cheese around the house (from Thanksgiving), and I was looking for a yummy recipe that we wouldn’t have to go shopping for and which would use up some other ingredients before they went bad.  It was also one of those rare weeknights when nobody had anywhere else to be so we could take our time.  That said, stuffed chicken breasts can be on the table in less than an hour.  Family gave it two thumbs up and three smiley faces.  Even better:  they’re a much simpler and more adaptable dish than I’d ever guessed, and I don’t think I’ll ever have to refer to the recipe again.

Credit where it’s due: I started with Ina Garten’s recipe, found at http://www.barefootcontessa.com/recipes.aspx?RecipeID=526&S=0

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In my search for such recipes, I also came on a few that called for caramelized onions or some sort of balsamic vinegar reduction, so I added that twist, which I think went a long way toward making this super-juicy, but resulted in a far less photogenic result than pictured above (which is from the Barefoot Contessa website).  One thing I like is how easily I was able to scale this up for more people.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • a casserole dish — about 9×13 for six chicken breasts (smaller if you have fewer mouths to feed)
  • One onion, sliced into crescents — there’s no harm if you’d rather chop it up into tinier pieces, but I liked the look and texture we got from rings and half-rings
  • Olive oil (about 1 Tbsp)
  • 1 cup of balsamic vinegar — this amount worked great for 8 chicken breasts, but if you use half this amount then also plan on only using half your onion (unless you really really like onion).
  • boneless chicken breasts — Ina used them skin-on, but I went with skinless.  I recommend using fresh chicken breasts, because the frozen ones just aren’t quite thick enough to slice through the center, but feel free to prove me wrong.  The chicken breasts we had were pretty big; most of us had a half-breast as our serving size, though some went back for seconds.
  • About 2 oz of cheese for each chicken breast — you could use goat cheese, like we had, or whatever yummy cheese you think would work well.  Something that has a bit of body and a stronger flavor will do better than a mild cheese.
  • About 2 Tbsp of some other chopped vegetable — we used sun-dried tomatoes, but I think something like artichoke or sautéed mushrooms would work, too.
  • Toothpicks — one or two for each chicken breast
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prep the casserole dish with non-stick spray and set it to the side.

In a shallow saucepan, sauté the onion over medium heat until translucent.  Add the balsamic vinegar.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer until reduced to about half volume (it’ll take something like 10 minutes.)  A note on reductions: “reduction” is just a fancy word for something that’s been simmered until it gets thicker (because a certain volume of it floats away as steam).  Very smooth and flavorful!

While the sauce is “reducing,” butterfly your breasts.  With a sharp knife, you’ll slice the chicken not quite in half across its, uh, equator.  Don’t go all the way through.  What you want to do is be able to open it up like a book.  A raw, chicken-y book.  If this doesn’t make any sense, you can go to YouTube and search for “how to butterfly a chicken breast.”

Once the chicken book is open, you’ll smear your cheese inside, pack whatever else you want to put in there (like the sun-dried tomatoes), and then lovingly set the breast in your casserole dish.  Repeat until all chicken breasts are resting happily.

By this time, your sauce should be ready.  (It doesn’t matter a whole lot if it’s reduced by precisely 50%, but that’s what you’re aiming for.)  First, scoop a little bit of the sauce inside each chicken book…er, breast…and then use the toothpicks to anchor the stuffed breast together.  This part is kind of important.  Stuffed chicken breasts are structurally unsound.  If you skip this step, be prepared for the yumminess to be much harder to dish out at the end of it all.  You can get fancy and try to “stitch” the sides together with the toothpick.  I just skewered them and called it good.  Salt and pepper generously.  Finally, drizzle the sauce over and around all the chicken breasts.

Bake (uncovered) for about 30-40 minutes.  You’re looking for the inside temperature of the chicken to be 160 degrees.  When they’re done, let them rest for about 10 minutes before *removing the toothpicks* and serving.  This gives you a good amount of time to steam some veggies or make oven rolls to slop up the sauce.

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2014 in Recipes

 

[18/100] Lemon & Tuna Pasta

Since FionaPie went gluten-free, Wednesday nights have sort of become “spaghetti nights,” because that’s a night when she’s generally hangin’ with her dad…and because I like to protect those nights when I can be as lazy as possible with my cooking.  You’re all shocked, I know.

I’m not sure where I originally found this recipe — on somebody’s Pinterest board, somewhere, I’m sure — but I’ve made it often enough and changed enough now that it’s my very own.  No surprise that it’s quick and easy, but it’s also a very light flavor that feels just right with the sunshine we’ve finally been getting.

This recipe is scaled, as usual, to feed eight with (hopefully) some leftovers.  Along with a good spaghetti pot, you’ll need:

  • spaghetti sufficient for your needs — I usually cook up a whole 16-oz package of the stuff we purchase approximately 200 pounds at a time from Costco
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • about 4 tsp minced garlic — fresh or from the jar (use more if you like)
  • about 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt, black pepper
  • canned tuna (two of the 6-oz cans, or the mathematical equivalent) — I use the stuff packed in water, but you could go with oil-packed if you like
  • about 1/2-cup of Parmesan — grated or shredded or shaved, whatever

Cook the spaghetti according to the package directions.  Before draining, set aside about a cup of the cooking water.

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After you drain the pasta, let it sit in the strainer for a few minutes and return the pot to the stove.  Lower the heat to medium.  Add the olive oil to the pan, then sautee the garlic and red pepper flakes for a minute or two until they’re tender and smell awesome.  At this point, you’ll add all the other ingredients.  It doesn’t matter a whole lot what goes in first from here on in, and you’ll want to adjust the seasonings to taste.  If this sounds like a jumble, then…well, it kind of is.  But it’s a TASTY jumble.

Tonight, once the garlic was ready, I stirred in the tuna, followed by the spaghetti.  Then I added the lemon juice and dribbled in most of the cooking water I’d set aside.  Finally, I added a bit more salt and pepper before adding the Parmesan   That’s it.  Less than 20 minutes and pretty much all stuff that’s in the pantry.  We serve this up with a side of steamed green veggies.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2013 in Recipes

 

[17/100] Baked Potatoes

So this isn’t actually a RECIPE.  So sue me.  I just really wish I’d known how to do this when I moved out on my own.  It was so embarrassing to have to call my mom and ASK.  Simple stuff, but time and temp matter, and I didn’t have the Internet way back then to help me.  Go ahead.  Make a joke about my age.  I’ll stab you with a fork. Just like I stabbed these potatoes.  Did you see that segueway right there?  Here’s what you need:

  • Potatoes.  You’ll want to use Russet potatoes for baking.  Those are the big, dirty ones.  Like Mr. Potato Head.  The golden ones and red ones may be nice for steaming or roasting, but Russets have ’em all beat for baking.  If you choose potatoes all about the same size, then they’ll all take about the same amount of time to cook.
  • Olive oil or vegetable oil.  About a tablespoon will do for six potatoes, so you don’t need much.
  • Coarse salt.  Again, about a tablespoon (probably a bit less) will do for six potatoes.

Wash the potatoes in cold water.  Use a scrubby brush if you’ve got one.  Dry them off.  (Don’t soak them or use hot water, because that’ll make them sort of soggy and sad.)  Stab them a bunch of times, all over, with a fork or a knife.  This part is important, if you don’t want them to explode in the oven.  If you don’t eat the skin, then you can skip the next part, but I’ll make fun of you. Eating the skin is splendid.  That’s also where about 103% of the vitamins are.

***  Put some oil in a shallow bowl, and the salt on a small plate.  Massage the oil into the skin of each potato, and then roll it in the salt.  You don’t need to *coat* the skin with salt…just get the outside nice and sprinkled.    ***

After that, the baking part is marvelously easy.  You can even adjust the time and temp as necessary, if you’ve got other things cooking in the oven at the same time.  Place them right on the rack in your preheated oven, but try to put a cookie sheet or square of aluminum foil on the rack underneath them, to catch any drippings. Those beauties are done when they’re fork-tender.

  • At 325 degrees, they’ll bake about 90 minutes
  • At 350 degrees, they’ll bake about 60 minutes
  • At 400 degrees, they’ll bake about 45 minutes

baked potatoes

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2013 in Recipes

 

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[15/100] Rescued Apples

Technically, this recipe should be called “baked apples” or “baked stuffed apples,” but really . . . what we’re doing here is rescuing some apples that were going bad.  It makes me sad to lose any fresh produce.   But first, a little bit about the French.

I remember hearing a story once, which may or may not have involved my Great-Grandpa Harvey LaMonte, in which a French cook was asked why he was so scornful of American cooks.  He answered, “Because Americans BUY their bread crumbs.”

Harvey, whether he was the subject of this interview or not, was a great believer in what I call “life cycle” cooking.  On a particular day of each week, he’d bake a bunch of bread.  After the first day or so of ideal freshness had passed, he was making toasted sandwiches and French toast out of it.  By the end of the week, he’d cube it up to bake and season some croutons, and then swept the crumbs into a bag to
freeze until it was needed.  The idea of *buying* breadcrumbs was ridiculous to him.

Now, I admit that I buy breadcrumbs.  We go through a lot of bread, but we don’t bake it fresh . . . and we seldom have bread go unused such that it gets stale for any of these other recipes.  But I still like to use things rather than have them go bad.

Back to the present moment.  It was a quiet evening and I was still bustling with domestic creativity, being in the midst of baking for gifts and such, when I notice the apples languishing on my table, which happened to be Red Delicious (which nobody really likes as eating apples around here, so I can’t be 100% surprised).  I don’t
want to *make* people eat them, but I don’t want them to go bad. Answer:  BAKED APPLES.

ugly applesI’ll warn you now:  This is not a pretty recipe.  (I don’t know how food photographers make ’em look good.) But they’re YUMMY, I promise you.  Making them isn’t so much a recipe as a formula, so you can make them a little bit differently every time if you like.  The idea is to have some depth of flavor with the brown sugar (which I’d recommend over white sugar every time for this dish), some sweet/tart contrast from the dried fruit, and some crunch with the oats or even some chopped nuts.  Once, we totally forgot to add the nutmeg and cinnamon, and everything turned out just fine without those, so REALLY.  Don’t overthink this.  Here’s how we did it last week:

  • Four apples.  If you’ve got a choice, a crisper “meat” (like Granny Smith or MacIntosh) will bake better, but the recipe is great for salvaging the taste of not-so-great apples that happen to be past their prime, so there’s no need to be picky.  Unless you’re French.
  • That’s on you.
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup rolled oats (even instant oatmeal mix will work, in a pinch)
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ cup chopped dried cranberries (but you can use raisins if you like, or nothing)
  • ¼ cup chopped nuts (if you like them, which I don’t)
  • 4 Tbsp butter (actual, unsalted butter)

Line a baking dish with foil.  OMG don’t forget this step or clean-up will be a real bear.  Wash and core your apples, making sure to leave enough of the bottom that the juices won’t just run straight through. If you accidentally go too deep, then plug up the bottom with some balled-up aluminum foil.  (Just remember to take that bit out before serving!)  Sprinkle the apples with lemon juice.

In a mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  Portion out and stuff those apples until they can’t take any more, plus a bit on top. Finish each apple with a little “hat” of butter shoved into place. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.  After letting them sit for a few minutes, serve with ice cream or whipped cream or caramel.  Keep napkins handy and enjoy!

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2012 in Recipes