Monday, March 28, 2011

Bean Soup

I'll preface this post by telling you honestly that I'm not one of those cooks who gets something going early in the morning and labors over it all day. However, Doug and I were fascinated by a bulk bin of dried beans at the market last week, so we decided to get a few pounds and make bean soup. How gorgeous are all those colors?!

The first thing you need to know about bean soup is that if you're using fresh beans, you do not need to do any presoaking, tearing your hair out the night before, letting things sit in water, etc. If this urban soaking myth was true, rest assured that beans wouldn't be in my pantry. Rather, making bean soup is prettay, prettay simple.

And let's face it: At a cost of around $4 for a big soup kettle full of hearty soup, this is a protein-rich, soul-warming dinner.

2 1/2 lbs. dried beans (we used a mix of beans, but you could use just one if you prefer)
1 whole onion, diced
4 carrots, chopped
4 ribs celery, chopped
4 bay leaves
3 large chicken bouillon squares (those ones that are flat and large, not the perfect square small ones)
Water, salt, and pepper to taste

Rinse and drain the beans, picking through them to look for anything that shouldn't be there. (Not like an elephant is going to hop in your colander, but you know what I mean.) Place beans, vegetables, and bay leaves in a large stockpot with enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil, and then turn down to med-low heat.

Simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours on the stove, checking every half hour or so to make sure you don't need more water. When the beans are tender, add bouillon, salt, and pepper to taste. It's important not to add this early on, as the salt in these spices could keep your beans from softening.

When we were satisfied with the taste, we boiled a small kettle of rice so we could put a scoop on top to complete our bean protein. Then we removed the bay leaves and served the soup.  I added a little ketchup to my bowl--family tradition. Doug thought that was ridiculous.

But I'll tell you what--this soup is delicious and filling. I couldn't even finish my bowl. Bean soup is something we don't make nearly enough, but it's such a nice addition to our monthly dinner repertoire. The next day, you can heat leftovers up and add a little chicken stock to thin the soup out (if you want).

I think this soup, after thickening overnight, would be a delicious burrito filling with some additional spices added....or great mashed up as refried beans. These are just thoughts. Lots of possibilities!

Boysenberry Ice Cream

My parents have always had boysenberry bushes. What a treat it is to enjoy those fresh berries right off the vine, still warm from the sun. My mom, never one to let a good crop go to waste, has taken to freezing sheet pans of these berries for future pies, ice creams, and smoothies. I'm not sure that anything excites my dad quite as much as a boysenberry treat my mom's made.

A few nights ago, we made a delicious homemade ice cream with some of these frozen berries. The story goes that my mom took this ice cream to a potluck years and years ago and that it inspired one of the guests to go home and plant boysenberry bushes so he could make his own. I can see this happening.

Here's our boysenberry ice cream. We have this theory that if we eat homemade ice cream, no chemicals, no preservatives, that it's "good for us." After all, it's natural, right? Cream, sugar, milk, food!

1 1/2 c. frozen boysenberries
2 c. whole or 2% milk
1 c. whipping cream
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 carton Yoplait Boysenberry yogurt (red label)

Put half the berries in the microwave to defrost. Mash these up and cool them by adding the rest of the frozen berries (still whole) to this mixture. In a glass bowl, mix milk, cream, sugar, and yogurt. Pour into ice cream freezer. Start freezing according to manufacturer's direction. (We use one of those ice cream makers where you freeze the bowl and then bring it out for the 20-30 mins you need to make ice cream. Then you wash and refreeze--simple and easy!) No rock salt here.

As the ice cream is approaching finished consistency, add the berries to it and mix them all in. (Make sure they are entirely cool when you do this--they should be.) Then enjoy.

Picture this on homemade boysenberry pie. Oh boy. I suppose we could get our own ice cream maker and make these tasty concoctions at home, but the best part of it is gathering around with my parents to enjoy a family treat starring family grown fruit. Such a big believer in making the most of moments like these!

Homemade Butter

When I was a kid, I remember one particular time that a group of us shook whipping cream in a jar to make butter. Then we put it on crackers to enjoy it. Something about this is still so memorable for me. Of course, Doug has been incredulous about this memory and the idea of homemade butter.

So the other night, my mom gave him a jar and some whipping cream and salt to try it for himself. Five minutes of hard shaking later, he had a big pat of butter. We drained off the whey (I guess thriftier people do something with this too), and enjoyed it on LM banana bread. What a treat! Tastes just as good as German butter in the middle of Berlin!!

Doug is now going to make all our butter from scratch. We may even rig him up to a bicycle and do some home churning on a large scale. Just kidding. My dad was thinking of taking this idea to his mentoring group, giving the kids a chance to make butter to put on some bread or tortillas.

Nice to rediscover some of life's simplest pleasures, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Burgers and Fries

I suppose this looks kind of tan and brown in the pic, but we're fascinated by our crinkle cutter. So there you have it. Doug made us turkey burgers and fries tonight for dinner. Boy, were they delicious. My only contribution to the meal was mixing ketchup with jalapeno ranch dressing as a dip for the fries. That was even better--

The excitement never ends over here. :)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Curry Broccoli Chicken

Every family has "that" casserole that may not sound so great but is absolutely genius when you taste it. In my family, it's our curried broccoli chicken. Few things make me so happy after a long day, and while this is a family staple that's been passed from cook to cook, the basic recipe is always comfortingly familiar.

We all have a few variations on this theme, but here goes it:

14 boneless, skinless chicken tenders, cooked
2 crowns broccoli, chopped into florets and steamed
2 cans cream of chicken soup, condensed
Juice of 1 large lemon (to taste)
1 c. mayo
1 c. sour cream
1 c. parmesan cheese
Curry powder to taste
Big crock of steamed rice (10-15 cups, depending on how much your crowd likes rice.)

Mix soup, lemon juice, mayo, sour cream, cheese, and curry powder to form a sauce. Arrange broccoli and chicken in greased 13 x 9 pan, and pour sauce over top. Bake in 350 degree oven for 35-45 minutes or until bubbly. Warning: This is going to be cheesy and creamy.

Serve chicken mixture over rice, perhaps with a lovely green salad. Yum!! Sometimes, I vary this recipe a bit and add in other mixed veggies (carrots, peppers, and spinach, for example). Other times, I use lower fat mayo and sour cream and soup mix. Sometimes, we eat it with brown rice or over noodles. You get the idea--curry, lemony delight....can't go wrong.

My recommendation: Enjoy this dish and its many variations, and get some fresh curry powder! This will be one of those family favorites you won't be able to stop eating. Enjoy.

Dulce De Licious Ice Cream

A week or so ago, we had pizza and frozen yogurt. Doug inspired me with his dulce de leche froyo (I hate that term) topped with slivered almonds. However, it gave me the idea that we too could make this rich, creamy caramel concoction at home and have our own dulce deliciousness.

Now, I didn't know what dulce de leche was before about a week ago, but apparently, it's really sweet syrup boiled down from milk. We found Goya brand dulce de leche in the market, and it's a thick caramel syrup that looks like a sugar coma waiting to happen. It's delicious. Really my kind of stuff, as it turns out. And I'm not generally a fan of anything caramel.

So we made some ice cream in my mom's ice cream machine this weekend. Boy, it was tasty.

2 c. whole milk
1 c. heavy cream
3/4 c. dulce de leche (make sure it's thick and legit, not sauce or thin syrup)
1/8 t. real vanilla extract
Sprinkle salt
2 1/2 c. toasted, salted slivered almonds

Combine first five ingredients in a sauce pan and heat on medium just until dulce de leche melts. Stir with a whisk. Cool mixture in fridge until it's cold. (This is important--you don't want to work with this hot in your ice cream freezer--it won't freeze.) That was the voice of experience speaking.

Pour chilled mixture into ice cream canister and freeze according to manufacturer's directions. When ice cream is about the consistency you're looking for, add 1/2 the almonds and mix in well. Serve with garnish of more slivered almonds on top. Go heavy on the almonds--texture is half of this experience.

We love that this ice cream isn't too sweet--other recipes out there will have you using a whole jar of dulce de leche, and I experimented with much less so as not to make it too sweet. As I often say, have fun with it. Once you get the container of mlik, quart of cream, and jar of dulce de leche home, you can make this recipe twice, and believe me: You'll want to.

Here's to starting off spring with ice cream!!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Homemade Granola

One of our close friends is celebrating a birthday today. He appreciates homemade just as much as we do, so we decided to make him a breakfast in bed gift basket. "Spring forward" mornings are some of the best days to lounge in bed reading (or blogging).

With that in mind, we packed a sturdy basket with two magazines, a bottle of sparkling mineral water, assorted fresh fruit, a quart of fresh-squeezed tangerine juice, a quart of homemade granola, a half pint of fresh pineapple jam, one loaf of sourdough bread, and a bag of Starbuck's coffee. I found myself wanting a breakfast in bed basket by the time we were through. Just add some milk and a few pats of butter, and you don't have to go too far for an instant vacation.

While we always love fresh tangerine juice (makes you forget your love affair with orange juice!), the real star of this basket has to be the granola. Ina Garten was my inspiration on this one, but we tweaked the Barefoot Contessa's idea quite a bit to make our own granola that will now be a household staple. Doug couldn't stop eating it off the tray yesterday!

Homemade Granola

2 c. old fashioned oats
1/2 c. chopped almonds
1/2 c. chopped pecans
1/2 c. dried cranberries
1 c. sweetened, shredded coconut
6 T. canola oil
2 T. agave nectar

This is so simple: Mix it all together in a big glass bowl and then spread onto greased cookie sheet. Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, mixing with a spatula every five. This made about a quart and a half of granola all said and done. (I'm guessing here--we packed a quart jar for the basket and Doug ate a few generous handfuls.)

This came out wonderfully. Toasty, slightly sweet, and very comforting. When I've seen Ina make granolas on her show, I've always thought it looked too fussy when you could go buy a package of Quaker at the store. But I couldn't believe how easy this was to make and how astoundingly good it tasted--so much better than chemical cereal from the market. Even better, we eliminated Ina's sweetener (honey) and added our own (agave, and much less of it!).

Now we're eager to try all sorts of fruit/nut combinations with our base recipe: dried mango and chopped macadamias; dried apricots, almonds, and cashews; dried cherries and almonds; raisins, almonds, and pecans. I'll also probably experiment with unsweetened shredded coconut in the near future, as I have about three cups of it in the pantry. You get the idea.

Here's to milestone birthdays and to springing forward with wonderful new traditions!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Broccoli Salad

Ironically, back when I was really thin (yes, there was such a time), I didn't like salads too much. Now that I'm not so thin anymore, I love them. Why things work out this way, I do not know.

Now, one of my by far favorite treats is broccoli salad. Our good friend made us some recently, and hers is my favorite broccoli salad in the world. She says she uses Souplantation's recipe as a base, but subs in different vinegar. I don't know--I love Souplantation's broccoli salad, and my friend's is so much better.

This is how she made it recently, which is very similar to Souplantation's recipe:

1 bag precut broccoli
1/3 c. raisins
Optional: red onion, sunflower seeds, bacon crumbles (she usually adds these)


1 c. mayo
1/3 c. sugar
2 T. white wine vinegar

Mix salad ingredients and dressing separately, and then combine in large glass bowl. Serve right away or let sit for up to a day. (Souplantation calls for apple cider vinegar--I think vinegar choice must be key to this recipe. Just a guess...)

My mom makes it very similarly, but she sometimes adds dried cranberries. She uses red vinegar. I always make mine a little differently.


2-3 broccoli crowns, chopped (or 1 bag precut broccoli)
1/2 c. bacon crumbles
1/4 c. thinly slivered red onion
1/2 c. chopped cashews or almonds
1 c. chopped red grapes


1/2 c. cashews
Juice of a lemon (to taste)
Sprinkle of minced garlic
Water (to desired consistency)
Drizzle honey or agave for sweetness
Salt and pepper

Blend dressing ingredients, adding water to taste. Mix with salad ingredients in a large bowl. Best let to sit for several hours before serving. This is a twist on a raw recipe (notice the lack of mayo), and we honestly like it just as well as we like the full mayo version.

What's fun about this salad is how versatile it is. It can be a whole meal with crackers, a side, or one of several salads offered buffet style for a lunch. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spicy Vegetable Soup

Even though it's starting to warm up in Southern California, I still think of this time of year as "soup days." If you were fortunate enough to grow up in a family where homemade soup graced the table in these cold wintry months, you know just what I mean. There's nothing so comforting as fresh soup simmering away on the stove.

In my family, soup is different every single time we make it; there are no recipes. There are ideaas and there are full fridges and pantries with unique ingredients every time. One of my fondest memories with Doug is making split pea soup together on Christmas Eve four years ago (yes!)with a bottle of wine, some music, and ample tasting spoons. Then I fell asleep while he tended to it. (Not sure how the soup took long enough to warrant a nap, but it did.)

Growing up, I used to boast that my dad could make chili. It didn't occur to me until years later that he warmed it from the can. Dennison's. Yum! But same story--soup on the stove = good times.

Yesterday, I took the day off and treated us to homemade soup that was just right. Slightly spicy, it had a bit of this and a pinch of that. My deal is building layers of flavor into soups and stews--a tablespoon of this and that makes all the difference.

So I give you...Spicy Vegetable Soup, 3/7/2011 style:

Spicy Vegetable Soup

1/2 large cube chicken bouillon (I buy the huge package of big squares that are the equivalent of four little cubes each)
4 c. water
1 can white beans, rinsed
1 can Italian style stewed tomatoes, chopped, with juice (can puree these)
1 whole white onion, chopped
4 chopped, peeled carrots
1 t. minced garlic
4 T. chopped, dried parsley (went a little overboard here but loved the results)
1 chopped large zucchini
2 t. Italian seasoning
5 stalks celery, chopped
1 monster potato, peeled and chopped, or 2 large potatoes peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Three dashes ground red pepper
1 c. dried rotini pasta
1 T. salad dressing (I used Greek Feta)

Put water, bouillon, and all vegetables except tomatoes and zucchini in large soup kettle. Add spices. Bring to boil and continue boiling for 25-40 mins with lid on. (I boil my soups!) Remove lid and add zucchini, tomatoes, beans, salad dressing, and pasta.

Cook until pasta is tender. (If you anticipate having leftovers and don't want your pasta soggy the next day, cook it separately and add it to each bowl to mix into soup.)

Serve with a good piece of sourdough (maybe some pineapple jam?!) and a little grated parmesan on top, if you like. Sometimes, I add shredded parmesan into this soup, but that makes it a little more minestrone and a little less vegetable-y to me. Semantics, I suppose.

Nothing like a comforting vegetarian meal to make the day feel special! We didn't take any pictures--it's soup. You've seen it before. :)

What do you add to your veggie soup to make it special?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Brunch Gone Bad...

Well, I made an awful Sunday brunch yesterday. We threw together and egg dish, oven-broiled bacon, mimosas, strawberries, and oatmeal muffins.

When I say "throw together", I usually mean that I looked in the pantry and went with what I had. But yesterday it was really a throwing together in short order. Results? Not so good. My blessing and curse is that Doug likes everything I make and says it's all "a revelation", but the truth is that this brunch looked and tasted like an amateur cook put it together.

So I wanted to tell you about it in an attempt to build this rapport with you...we all screw up in the kitchen some days. The oatmeal muffins were dry and like a blank canvas for our jam. Partly by intention, partly by mistake. The bacon apparently needs to be flipped at least once on the broiler pan to cook fully on both sides, something we found out 20 mins. after the flavorless egg dish had been out and on the table. The strawberries, though, were delicious.

And the mimosas were the saving grace. . .I ended up eating this instead of our lousy meal:

What's funny is that I even screwed this up. Last week, while in Temecula, I bought this faux-Lunchables from Winco, thinking I was getting real Lunchables. So the "Brunchables" turned "Funchables" (faux Lunchables) wasn't even good. Oh brother. All said and done, Doug and I were left with no choice but to drink four bottles of champagne. Luckily, neither of us got sick from the meal or the champagne!

Don't look now; my humanity is showing.

Bacon & Egg Salad

A great friend of mine set me up on a blind date with bacon and egg salad. Breakfast items in salad, I thought? But we went to the table together and found that, once given a chance to get to know each other, we did indeed have a very promising future together.

Salty, crunchy, rich, and satisfying, this salad is one I always have ingredients for. There are always eggs in my fridge and real bacon bits or a frozen pound of bacon in my freezer. We almost always have some potent cheese (feta or bleu are favs). Lettuce, I'll tell you, seem to have a long shelf life in my fridge, but it's brown and past its prime for many of those days.

Luckily, tonight, the lettuce was still green, and this salad came together so nicely, as it always does. Play with this one to make it work for your's wonderful. Here's my version of this classic:

Bacon & Egg Salad

2 small heads romaine or 1 big bag mixed green salad
3-4 chopped, hard boiled eggs
1 c. bacon, chopped
1 c. pungent cheese (feta or bleu)

Dressing: (I make all my dressings by feel--these are rough estimates. If they seem wildly off, it means I eyeballed this in the with it and taste with lettuce leaves until it's right.)
4 T. red wine vinegar
2 T. olive oil
Pinch herbs de provence
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch garlic powder
Pinch parsley

Whisk together the dressing. Assemble salad ingredients in bowl. (If your eggs are freshly boiled and still warm, all the better!!) Mix all together and toss well.

My friend makes this with baby spinach and that oil-packed feta that is so sinfully good that I can't bring myself to buy it. That feta oil is her salad dressing, which is a nice two-for. Her original salad is crazy good, and its many variations are delicious as well. I'm eager to try this with pancetta and parm and egg, and I've had it with bleu and bacon. All variations are good variations.

This twist on breakfast for dinner is certainly a staple recipe in our house. Thanks, Jonesie!!

Jams and Jelly!

Over the weekend, my mom and I took some time to make jams and jelly. This is something I never thought I'd have the energy to do...or enjoy doing. But it turned out to be so much fun, and the results are not only beautiful in their jars, but a wonderful set of treasures to put away for the rest of the year.

It started out a with a phone conversation where I was going to track down blueberries by the ton and lots of jars. But it turned out that we made three unexpected flavors, mostly using what we had on hand in our pantries. Why go buy fancy ingredients when you have stuff on the counter, right?

So we made Fallbrook ruby red grapefruit jelly, strawberry jam, and fresh pineapple jam. And the only thing we had to buy was one pineapple and the jars to can. Pantry jam! We used two cases of half pint jars and one case of little mini jars (they hold about half a cup).

The deal with jars, as it turns out, is that you have to sterilize them and then throw the lids in water that you boil to soften the lids' seals. My mom usually sterilizes jars in the dishwasher and then heats the lids, keeping the rings out and handy on the counter.

My mom was very skeptical about grapefruit jelly, but she agreed to try this recipe I found:

3 c. ruby grapefruit juice (we fresh squeezed ours)
1 box pectin
4 1/2 c. white sugar

This one is super simple if you have rubies on hand. Squeeze the grapefruits, and set the juice aside. Measure out your sugar, and get your pectin ready. Clean your jars, and fill them with hot water. Throw the lids in a pan of water, and bring it to a boil to soften the seals. Keep the rings handy.

Set up a cookie sheet near the stove, and place the lid rings behind it. Mix your juice and pectin in a pan until the pectin is dissolved. Then turn on the heat, and bring the mix to a rolling boil. (That basically means that stirring it won't reduce your boil.) Once it's at a rolling boil, add your sugar, and stir vigorously. Once the mixture comes back to a rolling boil, set your timer for one minute, and boil for that full minute. Then remove from the heat. Dump the hot water from your jars, and bring them to your cookie sheet.

This jelly won't need skimming, so you can proceed to ladle the hot jelly into jars. We did this using a kitchen ladle and a wide-mouth funnel. Wipe the rim with a hot washcloth to remove anything that might be sticking. Then use tongs to carefully remove a lid from the pan and place on top. Carefully, and with the washcloth, pick up the jar and screw on the ring so that it's tight but not all the way tight.

Then turn the jar upside down for 30 seconds to a minute, and flip it upright again. Move to the next. This recipe yielded 12 of those small jars for us, and they're so pretty! I'm eager to use it to make a quick glaze for hamsteak: mustard and grapefruit jelly. It would also be terrific to throw into crockpot bbq ribs--that grapefruit tang is irresistible.

You get the idea here about the jar prep, the ladling, the lids, and so on. Next, we made strawberry. I'm not a fan of strawberry jam, but we had strawberries, so what the heck. It's too sweet for me. However, as LM, my mom, says, there's nothing better than strawberry jam on toast right after you've made the jam. So, ahead we proceeded...

We used the MCP Strawberry jam recipe for this one...yes, it was like eating a spoon of sugar, but I suppose that's the point.

Strawberry Jam

5 3/4 c. stemmed, chopped strawberries
1/4 c. lemon juice
1 box pectin
8 1/2 c. sugar

MCP says to use 1/2 t. butter too, but my mom says that's nonsense, and she runs the jam show. So we didn't add it--it's supposed to help with the foaming/skimming, but she's not a fan.

Pulse the strawberries in the food processor until they're desired consistency for jam. (How jammy do you like your jam?) Put into pot with lemon juice and pectin, and stir. Turn on heat, and bring mix to rolling boil. Then add sugar. Bring to rolling boil again, and then boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat, and skim off the foam. This skimming is a little beyond me, so I watched and tried only breifly. Then we filled the jars. Same deal as with the jars and filling for the grapefruit.

We got 11 half pints of strawberry out of this recipe...your results may vary a bit. I'm not sure why, but my understanding is that that happens with jam. :) It was pretty good on peanut butter toast.

Finally, we made fresh pineapple jam. LM was very skeptical about this one, but we were all so happy with the results. We'd only ever seen pineapple jam recipes that use canned pineapple, and we happened to have fresh on hand (and bought a second one). So I searched for a recipe for fresh pineapple jam and was so pleased with this one.

Fresh Pineapple Jam

4 1/2 c. chopped pineapple (two pineapples is all you should need, unless they're small ones...)
1 box pectin
5 1/2 c. white sugar

We omitted the called-for butter in this one too. Same drill--process the pineapple in the food processor to desired consistency for jam. Add to pectin in a pot. Heat to rolling boil. Then add sugar, and bring to rolling boil again. Boil for one minute. Skim a bit. Lots of foam here too. Remove from heat, and fill jars.

We only got 7 half pints out of this recipe, but boy is it delcious and fresh tasting. Just like fresh pineapple. I'd prefer it a little less sweet, but the rule seems to be not to monkey with ratios in jam recipes, for fear of them not setting.

The pineapple jam is by far the prettiest and most distinctive jam we made, and it's great on sourdough toast, English muffins, cheesecake, bread....what is it not good on? It's even good with peanut butter in a sandwich. It doesn't sound great, but it is delicious.

By far, the best part of this experience was learning the art and the pleasure of jam making from my mom, who's been doing it for years and reliably (and magically) produces these wonderful jars that fill our pantry. In our Tahoe move, we lost several of her prized peach jams that very few people get, and of all the things broken in our crazy packing endeavor, it was those jams that I missed the most. Not the plates I'd each peanut butter and peach jam sandwiches on. Not the other cooking utensils that broke. It was the jam.

It's so satisfying to look at a table full of food (okay, condiments....) that you've made and know that you've been the ant saving for the lean months. Would insert picture of me in this play from third grade, but it's not handy at the moment.

As I told my dad, if there's ever some natural disaster and there's peanut butter in the pantry, we're now going to be able to eat well for a very long time! Next time, we're going to try making curds: lemon, lime, and tangerine. Stay tuned!