Epicurean Tendency

A Group Cooking/Eating Blog

The Best Salad Ever

Summer.  Summer.  Summer.  Do you know how you know when it’s here?  It has nothing to do with the temperature, or the school year, or the solstice.  No, you know summer’s here when you walk into the grocery store and see the sign: “Sweet Corn, 10 for $2.00.”

That sign (or its fraternal twin often found on the side of the road, “Turn around for fresh sweet corn!”) is MY sign that it’s time to make the Best Salad Ever.

What You Need:

5 ears of fresh sweet corn, shucked.
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 avocado, peeled and diced (Not too ripe — should wield slightly when you squeeze gently, but still maintain its shape when diced.  We’re not talking guacamole ripe.)
2 15 oz. cans of black beans
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of one lemon (about 2-3 tablespoons)
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Things I didn’t add this time, but that are very good additions: chopped jalapeno; red onion; cilantro

What You Do:

1. Cook corn, covered, in boiling water until it’s done, about 8-10 minutes.

2. Allow to cool.  Then, remove the kernels from the cob.  You can use a knife, or you can use a nifty corn cutter. (Corn cutters work better with thicker cobs — I ended up having to use a knife on these babies, but it’s still early in the season.)

3. Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and cayenne.

4. Drain and rinse black beans, empty into a large bowl.

5. Add cherry tomatoes.

6. Take a picture, cuz it’s pretty.

7. Add the corn and avocado.

8. Pour the dressing over the top and stir gently to combine.

And that’s it.  It’s so simple, but the flavors combine so marvelously — the creamy avocado, the sweet corn and tomatoes, the tangy dressing, the slight zing of the cayenne…It’s perfect.  Chill it or eat it at room temperature, either way — but don’t let it sit TOO long.  The lemon juice in the dressing will keep the avocado from getting brown too quickly, but it’ll happen in a couple of days.  But, on the flip side, the flavors combine if you let it sit…in a perfect world, you’ll fix it at 3pm, put it in the fridge, and eat it for dinner.  Oh, so good.

June 15, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ask and Ye Shall Receive.

Several folks expressed interest in the breakfast casseroles I posted on my slacker post.  It’s kind of fitting, really, because those are the ultimate in slacker breakfasts.

I made these casseroles for the first time just before Christmas.  Every year I have a part called Friendmas — there’s a gift exchange, yummy food, and a fair amount of alcohol.  It’s okay, though — I have a big house, with lots of room, and spending the night is encouraged.  Usually when I’m expecting a bunch of guests in the morning, I make breakfast sandwiches.  However, while breakfast sandwiches are very easy to prepare for two, when you’re talking six or eight at a time it’s a bit more labor intensive.  And really, the last things you want to have to worry about when you’re cooking breakfast after a long night of drinking is making sure that the bacon doesn’t burn, the eggs aren’t overcooked, and all the english muffins are hot at the same time.

So, I started looking for alternatives.  And I found a couple doozies, which are now my go-to recipes whenever I have to cook breakfast for a crowd.  Sorry I don’t have more pictures of them.

Anyway, what makes these awesome is that you do all the prep (and it’s pretty minimal) the night before, let it hang out in the fridge overnight, and just throw it in the oven when you wake up.  So now, you have options.

Option 1: French Toast Casserole

The original recipe for this one came from The Smitten Kitchen: Boozy Baked French Toast.  The ONLY change I make is to the thickness of the bread.  Well, she also gives you flavoring options, but since I’ve only ever made it one way that’s what I’m going to tell you to do.  But you should go and see Deb’s post — she talks about liqueurs I’ve only read about.

What You Need:

1 loaf bread, cut into 3/4 inch slices*
3 cups milk**
3 eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons irish cream***
A little more sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling

*Deb says to use Challah, cut into 1″ slices. I find that 1″ doesn’t give me quite enough slices for two whole layers.  And Challah is great, but I’ve also used plain ol’ Italian, and it was yummy.

**Deb says whole milk.  I’m sure whole milk is even better.  But I always use 2%.

***Brendan’s is my favorite — tastes just the same as Bailey’s but costs much less.

What You Do:

1. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, sugar and Irish cream.  Set aside.

2. Grease a 9×13 glass baking dish with butter (or spray it with cooking spray — that seems to work fine, too.)

3.  Layer the bread in the baking dish.  Like Deb says, rip a piece or two up to fill in the cracks.

4. Poor the egg mixture evenly over the bread.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.

5. Cover the dish and put in the fridge overnight.  The eggy, milky goodness will soak into the bread.

6.  When you wake up, pull the baking dish out of the fridge and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Cook the French toast for about 40 minutes, until puffy and brown.

7.  Top with maple sugar, powdered sugar, strawberry sauce…you know, whatever makes it delicious.  It’s frickin’ awesome.

(To make really simple strawberry sauce: slice strawberries, toss with about 1/4 cup sugar, and cook and stir over medium heat until the strawberries release their juices. Nom.)

Option 2: Hash Brown ‘n Bacon Breakfast Casserole

This is another one that I make pretty much exactly as the recipe says.  It’s from allrecipes.com.  It’s delicious.

What You Need:

1 (32 ounce) package frozen cubed hash brown potatoes, thawed
1 package center cut bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 eggs
2 cups milk
1 dash paprika

1. Grease a 9×13 glass baking dish and set aside.

2. Combine hash browns, bacon, half the cheese and salt and dump into the baking dish.

3. Whisk together the eggs and milk.  Pour over the rest of the ingredients.

4. You can EITHER cook this now, or cover it and put it in the refrigerator overnight.  Either way…

Breakfast Casserole

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Sprinkle casserole with remaining cheese and paprika and cook for about 30 minutes, or until eggs are set and casserole is slightly brown on top.

6.  Eat.  Enjoy.  (I like pouring a little maple syrup on top, but I’m weird.  You don’t have to do that.)

***Note: If you’re cooking for a big crowd, you might want to make both of these at the same time.  If that’s the case, you can cook them both at 400 degrees.  Put the French toast in first, and the other casserole in after about 20 minutes.  That’ll get ’em done at about the same time, I think.***

June 13, 2010 Posted by | Breakfast | 8 Comments

Rosemary Shrimp and White Bean Salad

I have a garden.

I love my garden most of the time.  I love it best in mid-to-late July, when the tomatoes and zucchini are out of control and I can eat my weight in tomatoes fresh off the vine.  And since I’m a chubby girl, that’s a lot of tomatoes.

In late spring and early summer, I kind of have a love/hate relationship with the garden.  After a long winter, it always takes me awhile to get motivated to plant, which means I usually miss the golden opportunity for early crops like peas.  And then there’s an awful lot of work before the stuff I really like grows…weeding, staking, fighting of the slugs.  But greens, especially lettuce, seem to grow very easily, so that’s what I have the most of first.  The problem with this is, I’m not really a fan of lettuce.  I know, I know…it’s good for you, and if I ate more of it I might not be such a chubby girl, but…I dunno. I’m just not a fan.

Right now, I have a LOT of lettuce.  If we don’t eat it, it will just go to seed.  I always plant it because Mike likes it, but I’m the one who plans the meals so I’m the one who has to figure out what to do with it.  This week, I have some lettuce-heavy meals planned…and the first one was tonight.  And it was delicious.

What You Need:

3 tbsp. lemon juice, divided

3 tbsp. olive oil, divided

4 cloves minced garlic, divided

2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, minced (not divided!)

sea salt

black pepper

1.5 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 15oz. can white beans (cannellini or great northern)

~5 cups lettuce (or spinach, or arugula)

1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly

What You Do:

If you haven’t already, peel your shrimp.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together 2 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, 3 cloves minced garlic, about 1/2 tsp. sea salt and rosemary.  Add raw shrimp and toss to cover.  Cover bowl (I always use a tupperware container, so I just have to put the lid on) and refrigerate for about ten minutes.

While your shrimp is chilling, go pick some lettuce and wash it well.  Tear into smaller pieces and toss with red onion and 1 tbsp. lemon juice.  Set aside.

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Open a can of beans.  I used Great White Northern beans, which were delicious.  Cannellini beans work well, too.  Drain and rinse the beans.  Sure, you could do the whole soak-and-cook thing, but why would you?  Canned beans are cheap.  And easy.

Heat the last tbsp. of oil in a large skillet.  Toss in the last clove of garlic and saute for a minute or so.  Throw in the beans, the last of the lemon juice, a sprinkle more sea salt, and a couple more grinds of fresh pepper.  (Whoops. Just realized I forgot to mention pepper when I was talking about shrimp.  You should put some pepper in with the shrimp marinade — but if you forgot, just put a little more in now.)

Add the shrimp and saute until nice and pink — it’ll only take about five minute.  Then, make a nice bed of lettuce on a plate, and pile some beans and shrimp on top.

If you happen to have some croutons lying around, add them, too.  Delicous, and fast, and healthy!  Would probably be even better with spinach.  And maybe some fresh parmesan. (I put parmesan on, but it was the stuff from the green container.)

Enjoy!

June 8, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I’m a Slacker

Sorry, sorry, sorry. I was really going to be GOOD with this blog.  It wasn’t going to be like the other ones I’ve started, where I post a couple times and then abandon it.  It’s a darn good thing there are people like Lisa and Arn around, to keep posting and by doing so shame me into doing the same.

It’s not that I haven’t been cooking.  It’s just that I haven’t been cooking MUCH, and the things I have cooked fall into one of three categories: things that aren’t really that exciting; things that I forget to take pictures of; or things that are fine and dandy but that I just don’t have time to blog about.

Now, I do have some pictures of some of the things in the third category.  The question, though, is do I want to write about things that I cooked a month ago?  Can I really do them justice?  Can I remember exactly what I did?  So what I’m gonna do is post some pictures of finished products, and yinz all can tell me if you’d like me to try to tell you how I did it.  Sound good?  Good.

Stuffed Peppers with Fresh Mozzarella

Breakfast Casserole

French Toast Casserole with Strawberry Sauce

Curried Lamb and Lentil Stew

Ginger Salmon Foil Packs with Grilled Asparagus

Dutch Oven Beef Stew

Jerk Chicken Kebabs with Black Bean and Corn Salad (aka the best salad ever)

June 8, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Spaghetti & Meatballs

The culinary blogosphere is full of stuff extolling the virtues of comfort food, so I’m not gonna bother here.  Some people might wonder why I’m wasting precious broadband for such a ho-hum dish as spaghetti & meatballs.  These are the people who are doomed to eat the frozen pre-packaged meatballs for the rest of their lives.  The rest of us know the savory delight of a hamburger in sphere form.

Dinner is served

Meatballs
  • 1.5 pounds of ground meat, ideally a blend of beef, pork & veal although that’s not 100% necessary
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 bread crumbs
  • 2 sprigs of parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of dried basil & oregano
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • cooking spray

All the ingredients

Sauce
  • 1/2 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 jar of sauce, brand of your choice
  • a splash of red wine
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Spaghetti

  • 1 box spaghetti
  • 4 quarts water, ah you guys know how to boil pasta

Look, the truth is, this isn’t a difficult dish to make, especially using store bought sauce and dried pasta.  But it requires a good deal of kitchen management.  You don’t want the pasta to be finished first, you don’t want to overcook the meatballs and you certainly don’t want to go around handling all kinds of things with raw meat bits still on your hands and under your fingernails because you didn’t leave yourself enough time to wash your hands after you worked with the meat.

This can also be a bit time consuming, what with all the chopping and the waiting for water to boil.  I can make a pretty good red sauce from scratch, but I have busy days filled with video games, internet surfing and yelling at the cats.  With all that going on, I’m not particularly interested in tacking on a couple of hours making a sauce when I can pick up a jar at the store for two bucks on sale.

OK, so here’s what you do…

1.  Cut & prep everything.  Chop your onion, bell pepper and mushrooms and set those aside.  Mince your garlic in two batches (1 for the meatballs and 1 for the sauce) and set aside.  Chop your parsley, grate your parmesan cheese, measure out your bread crumbs, and beat your egg.  And then, you guessed it, set aside.

set those aside, too

2.  At this point, I put the water on to boil because my stove takes forever to boil water.  Also, pre-heat the oven to about 375.

pre-mixed meat

3.  Place the ground meat in a large bowl.  Add all the rest of the meatball ingredients (except the cooking spray) to the bowl and mix with your hands.  I made the mistake of not trimming my fingernails first.  It was gross.  I highly recommend trimming your nails first.  I did however, remember to remove my wedding ring and put it in my pocket first.  Oh, the other thing I forgot to do first was to spray a cooking rack with the cooking spray.  So I had to wash my hands, spray down the cooking rack and set it in the cooking sheet before I could dirty my hands again.

post-mixed meat

4.  Grab a chunk of the meat and form it into a ball  about 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter.  Smaller meatballs cook faster and you get more of them, so it’s kinda win-win in my book.  But I know some people enjoy meatballs as big as your head.  That’s your choice, but be aware that you’ll have to cook the meatballs longer if they’re bigger.  Anyway, arrange the meatballs on the cooking rack, leaving plenty of space between them.

form the meat into a ball

5.  Load the pan into the oven and let them cook for about 10 minutes.

don't crowd the meatballs

6.  Start the sauce.  Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and then throw in the onions and peppers.  Stir them around for about 5 minutes until they’re tender.  Add the mushrooms and let them cook , stirring often, until they release they’re juices.

7.  Add the garlic to the saucepan.  Let that cook about 30 seconds until fragrant, and then pour in the sauce.  Stir to mix everything together.

8.  Some time around now, pull the meatballs from the oven and turn them over.  I suggest using tongs, forks, spatulas, really anything other than your fingers.  Then put them back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

9.  Add a splash or two of red wine.  My go-to wine for cooking any kind of tomato dish is port, but I was all out.  So I just used some nice roble that I had opened the previous evening.  Then pour yourself a glass and take a breath.

10.  Stupid f*ckin’ piece of sh#t stove still hasn’t brought the water to a boil.  Pour myself another glass of wine and continue stirring the sauce.

11.  The meatballs are up.  Moment of truth, are they cooked through?  Yes!  Now it’s time to add those bad boys to the sauce.

meatballs are done

In reality, I don’t worry too much about meatballs being underdone for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it’s worse to overcook them.  Dried out meatballs are such a disappointment.  In fact, they kinda suck.  Secondly, you can continue cooking meatballs when you add them to the sauce.  If they’re still a little underdone when they come out of the oven, let them simmer in the sauce while you prepare the rest of the meal.

12.  The water is finally boiling!  Add salt, add spaghetti.  This is what I mean by management.  It’s OK to have the sauce done before the pasta.  You can let a sauce happily simmer away for a long time over low heat.  But if you let spaghetti sit out for 10 minutes, you’ll have a clumpy mess.

So, let the spaghetti cook.  Give the sauce an occasional stir.  Wash the dishes in the sink so you’ll have a spot to drain the noodles when they’re done.  Here’s a trick I learned from Cook’s Illistrated.  Take a quarter cup of the pasta water just before it’s done and add it to the sauce.  What happens is that while the pasta cooks, it releases a lot of starch into the water.  Adding some of that starch to the sauce will help the sauce cling to the noodles when it’s time to eat.

13.  Drain the pasta.  Plate it, sauce it (make sure everybody has the same number of meatballs so there are no fights at the table), and then drizzle a little bit of fancy expensive olive oil to finish it off and serve.

Olive oil for finishing

Mangia

Spaghetti al fresco

May 24, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Leftovers #1: Chicken Salad

So, I roasted a chicken the other week.  It was delicious, thank you very much.  And no, that’s not what this post will be about.

But to get to my point, a whole roasted chicken created much more food than Lisa and I were able to stuff down our maws at once.  See, here’s all the leftovers:

This could all be more trouble than it's worth

I know, I know.  All that meat, gristle and bone isn’t very appetizing after it’s been in the fridge for a couple of days.  So I decided to do what anybody would do and give it to the dog so I wouldn’t have worry about it anymore.

Then I remembered that our dog is a cat.  Two cats actually.  Both with decidedly lousy attitudes who don’t deserve people food.

Having ruled out cat food, I had turn this stuff back into people food.  After casting around for a few ideas, I came up with chicken salad for the meat.  I’ll save the bone & gristle for another post.

See. Attitude.

I decided to carve the meat off the bones, cut them up into small pieces and turn it all into chicken salad.  That’ll be useful for days when I don’t have anything to take for lunch, I thought.  Or when I don’t feel like cooking.  And indeed it was.

Part 1: The Salad

  • leftover chicken from a roast that you’re not going to give to your cats
  • one small onion, diced
  • one celery stalk, diced
  • mayonnaise
  • dijon mustard
  • pickled relish (in this case, my mom’s super-secret formula for zucchini relish)
  • poultry seasoning
  • salt & pepper

You may have noticed that I’m not including much in the way of amounts.  This recipe is pretty forgiving so measurements don’t need to be anywhere near exact.  I basically used a big spoon and kept throwing this stuff in until it looked and tasted right.

1.  Shred the chicken into small pieces.

shredded chicken

2.  Add the diced onion & celelery

chicken with diced onion and celery

3.  Add spoonfuls of mayo, mustard and relish, a dash of poultry seasoning and salt & pepper to taste.  Stir until it all tastes right.

Add as much as you want until it tastes right

4.  Cover and refrigerate whatever you’re not planning on using right away.  Or stand back and take a few photos of it.

Chicken salad

chicken salad close-up

This recipe could have been a little bit better.  A hard-boiled egg would not have gone amiss, here.  Or maybe a little cayenne, you know, to give it a kick.  Or even some horseradish.  I guess what I’m saying is I’ll have to roast another chicken soon to add all that stuff.

Part 2: The Sandwich

OK, so now that I’ve got some good chicken salad, it would make no sense to let it languish in the fridge like the chicken leftovers did.  Let’s turn it into a sandwich.

Now, we could use regular sandwich bread, but why would you when you’ve got English muffins?

English muffins

English muffins: better than wonder bread!

And this sandwich begins like all good sandwiches do, with bacon!  Um, nobody said this was a health food blog, did they?

A frying pan's just not a frying pan without bacon

I’ll stop now and just let the pictures do the talking for me…

Add the bacon

Pile on the chicken salad

Pickles

Cheese

Enjoy!

May 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Fried Rice

When I was growing up, my mother once told me that it was a sin to waste a single grain of rice.  Sin, I thought at the time, is an awfully strong word.  She must have messed up the translation between Japanese & English.  Many years later I learned that that’s a real saying in Eastern Asia.  Just think about that for a minute.  To waste a single grain of rice is a sin.  It’s not a vice or a bad habit or a not nice thing to do, it’s a sin.  An offense against God that can lead to damnation.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that the Japanese take their rice seriously.  In fact, they take it so seriously that they use the same word for “rice” and for “meal,” gohan.  What my mother’s limited English was never able to explain was that for a long time in Japan, rice was a highly labor-intensive product.  It usually occupied entire families for cultivation.  And afterwards, the rice was to be polished to a bright white.  Back in the day, this white rice was reserved for Japanese nobility, with everybody else eating inferior (or at least considered so at the time) brown rice.

And this long and windy digression brings me back to what my mother told me when I was a child.  Wasting a single grain of rice was a sin.  Too much work had gone into creating the rice in your bowl for you to throw any of it, even the smallest grain, away.  And this leads me to this post’s dish: fried rice.  After all, why should we let the rice in those Chinese take-out boxes go to waste at the peril of our immortal souls, right?

  • About 3 cups leftover rice
  • peanut oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1.5″ peice of ginger
  • 3 green onions
  • two eggs, beaten
  • lots of soy sauce
  • about 1 tsp oyster sauce
  • about 1 tsp cilantro paste (you could probably use real cilantro, too)
  • black pepper to taste
  • sesame oil for drizzling on just before serving

Dump all of your leftover rice into a big bowl.  A big problem I used to have is that cold rice tends to take the shape of whatever container it was stored in in the refrigerator.  That would make breaking up the clumps in the pan kind of messy and a real hassle.  So now I do all of the breaking up of the rice first in a separate bowl.

Next comes the choppa choppa choppa.  Dice up your onions, carrots and celery. This creates a fragrant veggie blend that the French call a mirepoix. I often use a blend like this as a base for soups, stews, rice & bean dishes and other sundry one-pot meals.  It’s also pretty versatile in the choice of ingredients.  For example you can use leeks instead of onions for potato dishes or bell peppers instead carrots for a southwest sort of thing.

a mirepoix makes a fragrant beginning for many dishes

Next, prepare your aromatics.  Chop the green onions, mince the garlic and grate the ginger.

Mmmm, aromatics

Lemme say it again: Mmmmm, aromatics

Set out all your oils, flavorings and spices and start cooking.

Oyster sauce, peanut oil, soy sauce, black pepper, sesame oil & cilantro paste

1.  Heat about 2 Tbsp peanut oil in a large non-stick pan or wok.  Once it’s hot, add your mirepoix. Cook for 5-8 minutes until the veggies are tender

tenderize, veggies. Tenderize!

2.  Clear a space in the center of the pan.  Drizzle a little bit more oil in the clearing.  Once that gets hot, add your aromatics and let them cook for about 30 seconds.  Stir them into the rest of the veggies.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: Mmmm, aromatics

3.  Now it’s time to add the rice.  Shove everything off to one side of the pan and pour your rice in. Then stir it all together to coat the rice with the oil in the pan.

veggies: shoved! rice: added!

4.  Add the soy sauce.  I’m afraid I’m not sure about amounts.  I usually give it an 8 count and see how it’s doing.  Oh yeah, then stir.

What I mean by “giving it an 8 count” is that I’ll count to 8 while adding the soy sauce.  I hesitate to  use   the  word “pour” because the action is more like pumping the bottle up and down, kinda like what you’d do while trying to get the ketchup out of those old-fashioned glass bottles.

5.  As you stir, you’ll see if you’ve added enough soy sauce.  Basically, if you’re still seeing a lot of white rice after stirring for about a minute, you know you’ll need to add a bit more soy sauce.  So keep stirring and adding until you don’t see a lot of white rice anymore.  At this point, give the rice a dollop of oyster sauce and some cilantro paste.  And then stir.

6.  While all of this stirring has been going on, hopefully you’ve used your extra mutant arms to beat a couple of eggs in a separate bowl.  If not, or if you don’t have two extra mutant arms, take a minute to do so now.  After that, clear a space in the middle of the pan and add the eggs.  Let the eggs almost set, kinda like you’re making scrambled eggs.

Let the eggs almost set

7.  Break the eggs up into chunks and mix them in with the rest of the rice.

Fried Rice!

8.  Now, you can just pour the rice out into individual bowls, drizzle with a little sesame oil to finish and serve.  Congratulations, you haven’t sinned by wasting the rice you didn’t eat on the side of the kung-pao chicken you ordered the other day 🙂

Rice is served

Saving my soul has never been so yummy

May 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Old Fashioned Oatmeal Cookies

What makes these “Old Fashioned” oatmeal cookies? Oatmeal cookies are just kind of old school in and of themselves, I think. Unlike margarita cookies, or mexican chocolate cookies, which are wonderful, but really, trendy upstarts in the cookie world. No, oatmeal cookies are right up there with classics like sugar cookies, chocolate chip, and peanut butter cookies with criss-cross fork marks.

Like these other time-tested favorites, oatmeal cookies require almost nothing a standard pantry doesn’t have:

1 cup butter or Crisco®
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
4 1/2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups quick oats

The possible exceptions are quick oats, which aren’t actually “old-fashioned,” and my favorite type of flour, King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose flour. I don’t like bleached flour, as I think it gives a slightly chemically taste to items that are principally made up of, well, flour. There is some scientific explanation as to why you have to use bleached flour in certain items, though– something to do with damaged flour grabbing up moisture better. I’m sure I got it from Alton Brown or Cooks Illustrated. King Arthur does something to their unbleached flour that makes it work like bleached, but without the bleached taste. Sweet!

So. Begin as you begin all classic cookies: preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and cream up your fat with your sugar. Then add in your other wet ingredients: eggs, honey, and vanilla.

Once those are as mixed as they’ll get (it might look like clots of fat floating in egg goo, because it is, in fact, just that) mix your dry ingredients except the oats in a separate bowl: flour, soda, cinnamon and salt. Using a whisk makes quick work of them. Then, add them to the wet mixture bit by bit, mixing thoroughly.

Next, follow the same process with the oats.

At this point, if you don’t have a sturdy electric mixer you’ll wish you do, because this batter is thicker than concrete.

Do your best. Then drop heaping-teaspoon-sized lumps onto a cookie sheet, and bake for 6 or 7 minutes. With Crisco, they won’t spread much at all, so if you like flat cookies try using butter and/or flatten them with a fork or cookie shovel.

This batter will make 60 teaspoon cookies. If you like tablespoon-sized, add 1-2 minutes to the baking time.When they are done, remove immediately to a wire cooling rack if you can, because they will stick more to a pan or plate if cooled there. Not catastrophically, but annoyingly. And, voila! One of your better oatmeal cookies.

Wait a minute, you say. That’s all you got? Plain oatmeal cookies? No raisins? No icing?

Well, let me say first that I don’t understand why anyone would ruin something as wonderful as a cookie with something as disgusting as raisins. What? Did I just lose culinary credibility? I don’t care. I am staunchly anti-raisin. BUT, if your little heart desires raisins, mix a cup of them in with the dry oats before adding them to the batter. It’s your kitchen.

Icing, on the other hand, I have no problem with at all, and in my sweet tooth’s opinion these chewy morsels  just cry out for an extra touch of wet ‘n’ sweet. 1 cup confectioners sugar to 1/3 cup milk makes a nice drizzle-able icing that does the trick. Mix it in a Pyrex measuring cup, put foil under your cooling rack, and pour on as much as you want.

Enjoy!

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Desserts | 4 Comments

Simple Pleasures

Lazy Sunday mornings.  Maybe you have a houseful of friends, maybe you had a bit too much to drink the night before.  Maybe you just slept until 11am and woke up starving.  Whatever the situation, a pot of coffee and some basic ingredients will lead to Sunday morning bliss.  Enjoy!

What You Need:


(Makes two sandwiches — multiply as needed)

  • 2 english muffins
  • 4 pieces bacon
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 slices cheddar cheese
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Thyme, rosemary or other fresh herbs (if available)

What You Do:

First, cook the bacon.  When crispy, set on paper towel to drain.  Pour off most of the fat (but not all!)

Put the English muffins in the toaster oven, set to medium-brown.  Turn toaster oven on.

While muffins toast, fry the eggs with salt, pepper and herbs in the remaining bacon fat.  I’m not the best egg-fryer in the world, and I can’t flip an egg to save my life, so I put the eggs in the medium-hot fat, sprinkle with seasonings, and put the lid on until they’re done.  What “done” means depends on your taste: I like my eggs a little runny, while Michael prefers them solid, so I leave his on a little longer.

By now, your muffins should be toasted.  Assemble your sandwich: first the egg, then the bacon, then the cheese.

Turn the toaster oven to “broil” and put the bottom half of the muffin (the one with the stuff) back in so the cheese gets all nice and melty.  You can skip this step, but I don’t recommend it.  If you just have a regular toaster, use the regular oven — I promise not to tell.

Pour yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy a few minutes of simple, delicious bliss.

April 30, 2010 Posted by | Breakfast | | 1 Comment

Old Favorites: Chicken Marsala

At age nineteen, I moved into my first apartment.  I’d spent eighteen years living with my parents, cooking with my mom, and a year in a dorm room, cooking with NOBODY.  Then I moved into a fantabulous downtown Tucson apartment, with an itty-bitty galley kitchen, and my boyfriend (now my husband, but that’s another story).  My mom gave me a few housewarming presents.  The ones I remember were:

That last is by far the one I use most often.  The first two are novelties, and the third has some great cookie recipes, but the BHG is a go-to cookbook.  It has all the hallmarks of a favorite: damaged binder rings, pages that fall open to favorites, and recipes you can find by smell from all of the ancient stains.  And, the recipe that I use second-most often (first is Tuna Noodle Casserole) — although my version is a bit different from the original — is Chicken Marsala.  It’s the recipe that, when I say to Michael “hey, I’m making a grocery list, what do you want me to cook this week?” is the first suggestion past his lips.

The biggest change I made to this recipe is in the amount of liquid.  While Chicken Marsala might traditionally be served over pasta, I always make mashed potatoes to go with it, and mashed potatoes require gravy.  This is GOOD gravy/sauce/whatever.  The chicken’s pretty good, too.  Enjoy!

What You Need:

  • 1 lb. chicken breast (two large or four small)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. marjoram
  • pinch salt
  • 8 oz. sliced white mushrooms
  • 3-4 green onions, sliced
  • 3 tbsp. butter or margarine, divided
  • 1 cup Marsala wine (you can use red wine, if you don’t have any Marsala. I’ve done it many times.)
  • 1 cup chicken broth.

What You Do:


First, flatten the chicken.  Place it between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound until about 1/4 inch thick.  I made Mike do it this time — he does a better job, and I don’t like touching raw chicken, even though I do it all the time.

On a plate, combine flour, marjoram and salt.  Then dredge the flattened chicken on both sides in the flour and set aside.

Heat a large pan over medium-high heat and melt 1tbsp. of margarine.  Add the mushrooms and green onion and saute until tender, about 4 minutes.  Remove mushrooms and onions and set aside.

Melt remaining 2tbsp. of margarine.  Add chicken and cook about two minutes on each side, until thoroughly browned.  Set aside.

Return mushroom mixture to pan and add about 2tbsp. flour.  I’ve been known to use what’s left on the plate after dredging the chicken — I figure that since I’ll be bringing it to a boil not once but twice it’s safe.

After cooking and stirring the mushroom mixture with the flour for a minute or so, pour in the chicken broth and wine.  Bring to a boil and cook for a couple minutes, until it begins to chicken a bit. (If you’re making mashed potatoes, this is a good time to take them out of the boiling water and mash ’em up.)

Return chicken to pan and cook until sauce returns to a boil.

Serve chicken and sauce over mashed potatoes with a green vegetable* on the side.

Extreme close-up!!

*To make delicious roasted asparagus: break off woody bottom parts.  Put on cooking sheet and toss with about 1tbsp. olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Roast in 400 degree oven for about ten minutes.

April 28, 2010 Posted by | Dinner, Fast | , | 1 Comment