Thursday, September 30, 2010

Modular Food: Pork and Black Bean Chili in 5 Minutes

A few weeks ago I crock potted some pork. Froze a few small containers of it, and left some out for immediate use. 

Sunday, cooked up a pound and a half of black beans. Added pre-chopped onions, celery, and carrot from T-Jo.  A little garlic. Not a whole lot of other seasonings. Froze some, left some out.

And, there's almost always some cooked brown rice around here, either in the fridge or the freezer.

So, last night I finally got around to one of the combinations I'd intended when making the pork oh so many crock pot sessions ago: Pork and black bean chili.

Very easy:

  1. Grab a container of pork from the freezer and pop it in the fridge before you leave for work -- about a cup or so.
  2. Also grab a container of precooked black beans, preferably one in which you've put lots of the black bean juice.  Maybe 3 cups total. or 4?
  3. When you get home, dump the pork and black beans into a pan and shred the pork with a fork.
  4. Get it started heating while you finish adding stuff:
    • Pre-cooked brown rice - maybe a cup?
    • Some tomato paste - about 1/2 or 2/3 of a 6 ounce can.
    • Dehydrated garlic, chili powder, cayenne - to taste 
    • pre-chopped onions from T-Jo - probably 1/4 or 1/2 cup
    • A dash of salt
Boom. You're done. Chili in 5 minutes, and only one pan and a few freezer containers to wash.  It probably won't win any prizes in a chili cook off, but it is easy, healthy, and fast.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Definitely Not Hideous

Cornmeal lemon cookies.

Sounds kinda gross, huh?  Especially if you really, truly, completely loathe lemony desserts.

But, my friend Alice's cornmeal cookies were the best.  Lots of crispy buttery sugary goodness, the gritty crunch of cornmeal supplemented by a little walnutty crunch on top.  Just enough lemon zest to give it a little ... zest.  A subtle hint of vanilla to soften the sourness of the lemon.

So, with the new dietary restrictions, was it even worth it to try to replicate Alice's cornmeal cookies?

In my not-so-considered gluten-free experience, G-free flours can be...well... a little gummy. Cakey. They have their own flavor. Or lack thereof.

Alice's cookies call for a mix of shortening and butter. But, I'm not doing hydrogenated shortening these days. Would all butter burn? Be too buttery and thus overpower the cornmeal?

Raw sugar is a lot more coarse than white sugar, and it's a bit more moist. Would that mess with the perfect texture of Alice's cornmeal cookies?

And the cornmeal itself.... Spouse is supposed to avoid white and yellow corn. He can have blue.  But,organic blue cornmeal is significantly more finely ground than normal yellow cornmeal. What if the cookies were too smooth and didn't have any cornmeal grittiness whatsoever?

On top of that, blue is such a misnomer. Blue cornmeal is really lavender-gray. Not exactly a cornmeal lemon cookie color. Would lavender-gray cookies be just too hideous?

But, having experienced relative success with the oaty-oat cookies and the cashew butter ones, I just had to give cornmeal cookies a try.

I'm still enough of a G-free cooking novice that I'm not ready to convert normal recipes.  But, Alice's cornmeal cookies are unusual.  Surely, nobody out there has concocted a G-free cornmeal cookie recipe. Google google google and...

Woo hoo! 

Except... ginger??? Spouse would love that. But me, not so much. And, while I want him to be able to enjoy the cookies, I'm really the one with the hankering for cornmeal cookies.

I didn't have the specified sorghum flour mix.  So, I used a random combination of brown rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca flour.

With blue cornmeal instead of yellow, raw demerara sugar instead of white.

And, of course, Alice's 1 tsp of vanilla instead of that 1/4 tsp of ginger.

Results:  Heavenly. Absolutely the best cookies -- in fact, the best anything -- I've made since going healthy.  

And, while my cookies were brown instead of the happy pale yellow of Alice's cookies, they were not hideous. Not hideous at all.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lament for a Messy Kitchen

In my first hour and a half of wakefulness this morning I had breakfast, cooked rice, started a recipe of rice pudding in the crock pot, halved and scraped two baby pumpkins, put the aforementioned pumpkins in the convection oven to roast, loaded the dishwasher, and hand washed the dishes needing that.

And, my kitchen is a mess.

Actually, since I've started cooking, the kitchen is always a bit cluttered and messy.

Not dirty.

I simply could not abide that. 

Crumbs, food bits, sticky spots.  Ewwww. No way.

But, it is messy.

Dishes draining.  Butter softening. Pudding cooking. Pumpkins roasting. Recipes standing ready.

My kitchen is a mess of verbs. 

That's probably what makes it tolerable. If it were a nounly mess, I think I'd go ballistic.

I suspect that when my spouse wakes up, he'll just see nouns. Lots of 'em.  All over the place.

But, when he smells the pumpkin and tastes the pudding, maybe he'll embrace the verbs.  And help me tidy up some of the nouns.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cookie Extravaganza

I'm turning into Alice.

Alice was my friend Rose's mom.  Alice lived through the Great Depression, and was extremely frugal.  So, Alice made everything from scratch.  She never, ever bought a store-bought anything if a little time and effort could cause that thing to be grown, dried, canned, frozen, baked, or otherwise manufactured at home.

Alice made her own soap. She used lard and lye.  It smelled kind of.... lardy, but when I used her soap, I had the best skin.

Another thing Alice made was cookies.  She would periodically bake batches and batches and then freeze them. I'd drop by to hang out with Rose, and Alice would pull a ginormous Tupperware container out of the freezer.  Icebox cookies. Snickerdoodles. And, what eventually became my favorite: Cornmeal cookies.

I haven't started making my own lye soap (yet), but this weekend I did make cookies.

Two batches. If I were really channeling Alice, this weekend's cookie extravaganza would have included at least three kinds.

Of course, I froze most of them for future consumption.  In little Tupperware containers. 

Because Spouse 1.0 is supposed to go gluten-free, I was experimenting with recipes using oat flour and brown rice flour.

G-free flours are, according to my cookbook, a lot less forgiving than wheat. Precise measurement is essential; experimentation is discouraged. And, my cookbook contains recipes for neither snickerdoodles nor cornmeal cookies.

Probably just as well that it doesn't contain a cornmeal cookie recipe. The spouse is only permitted organic blue cornmeal, not white or yellow.  I'm thinking blue cornmeal cookies might not look very cookie-like.

So, Friday night's cookies were oatmeal, made with whole oats and oat flour.  Think of them as oaty-oatmeal cookies.  The recipe called for raisins, which neither of us loves. But, the recipe said you could substitute chocolate chips. 

So, of course, I substituted dates & carob chips for the raisins, plus added a few pecans. 

Results:  A little cakey, but generally yummy. Mostly because of the carob chips and the pecans.

Today's cookies were peanut butter with rice flour. Except we aren't supposed to eat peanut butter. So, I substituted cashew butter. And, I substituted brown rice flour for the rice flour. But, other than that, I stuck to the recipe.

Results: A bit bland. 

Part of the problem: Cashews aren't peanuts. This is OK in Thai cashew sauce, where the flavor is supplemented by other strong ingredients. But, in peanut butter cookies, your strongest flavor is the peanut butter. So, with cookies you're a lot more aware of the fact that cashews aren't peanuts.

Another part of the problem: Rice flour is bland.  It just is. Even brown rice flour.

Third part of the problem: The recipe no doubt was formulated using normal commercial peanut butter, which contains lots of yummy salt and white sugar and hydrogenated oils and preservatives in addition to the peanuts.  The cashew butter contained... cashews.

This has ramifications on both taste (bland) and texture (a bit oily and cakey).

So, next time I'll try almond butter. Or use potato flour. Maybe add more salt and raw sugar.

But, in the meantime, we have cookies in the freezer.

Just like Alice.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

I (Mostly) Know What's In It Barbeque Sauce

Last weekend I cooked up some pork with good intentions of making barbeque sauce to go with.  Luckily I froze some of the pork, because I only today got around to making the sauce.

Have you ever looked at what's in commercial barbeque sauce?  Mostly it contains scary stuff.

Even the organic ones sold at the expensive organic-minded stores can contain "spices" or "flavorings" -- without bothering to tell you what's in the spices or flavorings. Could be anything. Could be monosodium glutamate.

Some simply contain corn syrup -- which is on the naughty-for-us list.

Most recipes for homemade barbeque sauce contain ketchup.  Even organic ketchup contains the ubiquitous and unnamed "spices."  There might be an organic ketchup out there that gives full disclosure. If there is, I haven't found it. And it's probably $10 per bottle.

Sorry. I want to know what's in it before I put it in me.

And, if it's going to have unnamed ingredients, then I'd rather pay $2 per bottle to poison myself than $10.

I had seen a recipe online for homemade barbeque sauce that started with tomato paste.  I couldn't remember what else was in it. Besides, it's so much more fun to just throw things in a pan and see what happens.

The first thing to go in was some dehydrated onions and a can of tomato paste.

Next, some water, molasses, garlic, allspice, cumin, cayenne, black pepper, wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, raw sugar. Oregano.

Too thick. Add some more water. And some more.

Stir and taste.

A little more molasses, garlic, cayenne, vinegar, Dijon.

Stir and taste.

A bit of bamboo salt.  More vinegar and Dijon and raw sugar.

Too thick.

A dribble more water.

Stir and taste.

A few more sprinkles of dry onion. A pinch more raw sugar.

Stir and taste.

OK, I think this will do.

Most Americans would want it sweeter, though it seemed I'd already dumped an alarming amount of sugar into it.

Well, at least I (mostly) know what's in it.  I just couldn't tell you how much of what's in it, is in it.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Joy of Eggs

My friend and acupuncturist Cathy raises chickens. The real kind. Like in the song "Cluck Old Hen." Free-range. Organic. Cage-free. Like great-grandma used to make.

Sometimes the squirrels and other free-range organic cage-free critters get to the eggs before Cathy can. Sometimes she gets to them first. And when she does, she likes to share.

Before I went all healthy, I didn't have much use for eggs.  They aren't microwave-friendly, and they aren't the protein-per-calorie bargain that cottage cheese is.  So, I used about 3 cartons of eggs per year, all on weeks when it was my turn to do Friday breakfast for the coworkers.

But, the new and improved microwaveless me loves eggs. Especially on those nights (like tonight) when I get home late and hungry and want food NOW.

Eggs were great-grandma's fast food. 

They were also Aunt Gail's.

I spent a summer with Aunt Gail when I was 12.  Aunt Gail worked in Hollywood as a manicurist, and she lived in Glendale. Even back then it wasn't a fun commute.  If microwaves existed, they didn't exist for people living on a manicurist's wages and tips.

So, five nights a week we had eggs and frozen hash browns for dinner. We probably had bacon or sausage, too.  Aunt Gail was, after all, a Southern girl. With her growing boy of a son and her 6'7" giant of a brother living with her, there was surely some meat.  But, it's the eggs and hash browns I remember. 

Every night.

Five nights a week.

All summer long.

I don't recall ever getting bored with that. It felt scandalous, avant-garde, and decadent to eat breakfast for dinner.

Every night.

Five nights a week.

All summer long.

And, now, I come home tired and hungry and grumpy from my commute, having done my fair share of, if not painting toes, at least trying not to step on them.  And, once in a while, it's still delightfully scandalous, a wee bit avante-garde, and deliciously decadent to eat breakfast for dinner. 

Especially when dinner is a couple of Cathy's free-range organic cage-free eggs.