Sunday, January 17, 2010

Meh Muffins

Not every new recipe can be a success, and my propensity for ad-libbing doesn't help sometimes. I think one sign of a good cook is knowing which elements of a recipe are up for interpretation and which ones are best left alone. I feel pretty confident when it comes to changing spices or skipping an overly-fussy garnish. Not every chili has to be finished with a dollop of sour cream, you know? But sometimes this laissez faire attitude in the kitchen can be dangerous.

Tonight I made minestrone soup, which I've been making without a recipe since college. Sweat onions, then tons of garlic & other Italian spices, add tomato paste & veggies, then a big can of whatever kind of tomatoes you have on hand plus stock to make it soupy, followed by a can of cannellini beans & a handful of tiny pasta. Finish with a grating of parm and a hunk of crusty bread. That is all I can say about it because that's close to a recipe as I have.

So I was feeling pretty competent about my cooking ability after the minestrone got two thumbs up from Jim. Imagine my surprise when ginger-spice muffins later in the evening turned out terribly. I'll eat them, there's not that bad, but I discovered something very important: read the whole recipe! I inadvertently used 1 3/4 cup of pumpkin pureed instead of the 1 cup the recipe actually calls for. The muffins, they are moist.

Weekly New Recipe #3 = Meh

Ginger-Spice Muffins

1 1/2 cup(s) all-purpose flour

2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp table salt

1/2 cup(s) packed brown sugar, dark brown-variety

1 3/4 cup(s) cooked cubed butternut squash, pureed (yields 1 cup puree)

3 Tbsp canola oil

1/3 cup(s) plain fat-free yogurt

3 Tbsp molasses

1 large egg(s)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place cupcake liners in a muffin tin. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, pumpkin pie spice, ginger, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, combine sugar, squash puree, oil, yogurt, molasses and egg. With an electric mixer on medium speed, mix for 1 to 2 minutes (or mix by hand). Make a well in the center of dry ingredients; pour in liquid mixture and gently fold to just combine (batter will be lumpy). Evenly pour batter into prepared muffin pan about two-thirds full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Yields 12 muffins.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Made Up Moroccan

Last week I joined the Fit Milwaukee Weight Loss Challenge. I've been stalking the group on twitter (#fitmke or @fitmke) for a while now and joining this challenge was a big step in my progress to get healthier. I'm excited to have @tiffanyannweber as a partner, and she invited me to a Bay View Neighborhood Association potluck at Humboldt Park. There was ice skating, but we didn't have any skates so we just around walked in the effing cold and hung out with other Bay Viewers. Not the greatest workout, but I did make something fairly healthy for the potluck at least.

I didn't want to make anything too complicated or time consuming. Couscous immediately came to mind because I already had some on hand and it only takes 5 minutes to cook. Couscous always makes me think Moroccan. I'd just seen a recipe for Moroccan chicken stew with fennel and orange, so I incorporated those flavors in to a light and easy couscous salad. Tasty, fast and all I had to buy were a couple oranges and a fennel bulb. Nice!

Weekly New Recipe #2 = inventive

Orange and Fennel Couscous Salad

4 cups prepared couscous
1 14.5 ounce can chickpeas
1 fennel bulb, sliced thin
1 tablespoon fennel fronds, chopped
3 navel oranges, supremed
juice from the 3 orange guts
zest from 2 oranges
.25 cup olive oil
cider vinegar or lemon juice, optional depending on now juicy your oranges are
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon cumin
.50 teaspoon cinnamon

While couscous is steeping, slice fennel and zest and supreme oranges. When segments are cut out of the oranges, squeeze the orange membranes and the reserve juice. Combine zest, juice, olive oil, honey and spices. Whisk to combine. Check seasoning, add salt, pepper and vinegar or lemon juice if necessary. Put aside.

Combine fennel, orange segments and chickpeas in a large bowl. Add couscous (it should still be hot) and stir to combine and fluff the couscous. Add dressing and fennel fronds to the couscous mixture and stir again. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Makes 6-8 servings, I think.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Delicious Orangy Goodness

In my attempt to eat more healthfully, watch my budget AND cook new recipes in this new year, I cracked open one of my forgotten cookbooks. The Best 30 Minute Recipe is published by the fastidious folks from Cook’s Illustrated, so you know the methods are sound and flavors full. Really, my only gripe with Cook’s has been that many of their recipes are too involved and tedious, forsaking time for taste. Not so with this collection. The only problem I have with this cookbook is that the 30 minute chicken stew recipes involve partially cooking the chicken in the microwave. Grossness. I will gladly tack an extra 20 minutes onto the cooking time to avoid the sin of microwaving meat.

Anyway, there are lots of recipes that sound promising, such as Caldo Verde or Ravioli with Butternut and Sage. Later this week I’m making Tamale Pie. Simplest thing in the world, I know, but what sounds better than chili and cornbread on a cold night?

And yesterday, I made Carrot Ginger Soup. I only had to purchase three ingredients, everything else I had on hand. That’s my kind of soup. The plan is to eat it with a salad and hunk of hearty bread for lunch this week. My only substitution was skim milk for whole milk. I’m not buying whole milk for one recipe.

Weekly New Recipe #1 = success.

Carrot Ginger Soup

3 cups low sodium chicken stock
1.5 lbs carrots, chopped coarse
2 Tbsp butter
1 onion, chopped
2 Tbsp grated ginger
Salt and pepper
.75 cup whole milk (I subbed .5 cup skim milk + .25 cup light sour cream)
.25 cup orange juice

Bring stock and carrots to a boil in a covered saucepan, reduce heat and set aside. In a Dutch oven or similar soup-making device, sauté onion in the butter over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add ginger and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add broth and carrots to the onions. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 15 minutes or until carrots are tender. Puree soup with an emulsion blender or in batches in a traditional blender. The emulsion blender yields a chunkier, more “rustic” soup, but it is +10 easier and -10 messier, so that’s what I used. After the soup is smoothified, add the milk and OJ. Season to taste, serve with chopped chives if you’re feeling fancy.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year end round-up

A lot has happened in the last year. I got a house and a cat, in that order. I love them both. One is furrier. I started composting and flossing regularly. I started working on some new stuff at work that promises to keep me challenged. I went to many baseball games and hosted friends and family from across the country. Sometimes I even took them to baseball games or made them pet the cat. Everything is connected.

All was not well in 2009, though. That new house? Robbers liked it, too. And April ended at my agency in the worst way: layoffs. I was lucky to be spared, but morale was damaged and the mood around the office is still not great. There were two family deaths, one especially heartbreaking.

In the end? I'm looking forward to carrying over all the good stuff from 2009 into the new year, and leaving the rest behind.

I've come up with just a few resolutions, and I think they're vague enough that I might actually do them. I've also got some other lifestyle changes in the works, but I want my resolutions to all be somewhat fun, positive changes or improvements.

1. Pay better attention to my finances. I'm not saying anything needs to change, but I've been really bad about being aware of expenses.

2. Cook one new recipe a week. We have so many cookbooks and some of them have barely been cracked. Jacques Pepin, I'm looking at you.

3. Do something to the yard. Anything. There is a small lump of herbs courtesy of a loving sister-in-law but that's it.

4. Dine out at mostly new-to-me places. I'm not saying there will never be a trip to Honeypie ever again. But if I'm so uninterested in doing something new, I should probably just eat at home (this will also positively affect items 1 & 2).

5. Read two books a month. I'm already about 1/3 into Sense & Sensibility and I'm going to let that count toward January.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Eve

Preparations are underway already. The bread is cubed and drying for stuffing. The pumpkin cheesecake bars are baking. The wine is being sipped. I even have something resembling table decor. I know, I think I must have hit my head on something.

My favorite Thanksgiving food, to eat and to cook, is stuffing. When I was wee my maternal grandmother's stuffing was the best. I made it once as an adult; it is not actually the best. It is kinda gross, in fact, a mixture of finely ground hamburger buns, hard boiled egg, celery and oregano, it was clearly a product of the 60s. I wished that stuffing was nearly as good as I remember it to be, since it would be nice to have a family recipe to turn to.

Instead I usually look up a couple different recipes and end up improvising. This year I'm using a mix of white and wheat bread, though in years past I've used challah or a baguette. The flavorings are dried apricots, cherries and pecans, along with the traditional celery and onions. Herbs are mostly from the garden (that's how mild the weather has been, I've still got herbs growning!). I decided on fruit and nut because it turns out that all my recipes this year have nuts in them. Look at all the bags of stuff from Trader Joe's!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tracking Thanksgiving

OK, this week I'm going to write about my Thanksgiving preparations, since this will be our first year hosting family for the big day. Thanks to Craig and Carrie for being our guinea pigs in years past. My family isn't demanding, but being responsible for the official family fete does add some pressure. What to cook? When to cook it? What should my tablescape be?!

Yesterday we purchased the majority of the groceries. Which involved two grocery stores. By the end of all the shopping I imagine we'll have hit at least four distinct. Also, word to the wise: Discount Liquor closes at 2 pm on Sundays. Also, there are no plums to be had in November, no matter how warm it is. So no plum tart. We'll have to get by on my dad's two pies. Are two pies enough for six people? We'll see.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Cheating on SACFTB

I've started writing some posts for the Women's Fund of Greater Milwaukee. Wish I had as clear a POV for this blog as we do for that one. I've been volunteering for the Women's Fund for over 4 years and this by far my favorite task. Check out my latest post.