Friday, December 31, 2010

For Pita's Sake

My mom and I ate at a Greek food place the other week, and they had the most amazing pitas. These were not like the ones I used to get at the grocery store that were thin and dry. These were softer and thicker with a better taste and a great chewy texture. We bought some to bring home with us.

We had some ground lamb that for Christmas my mom was going to make into meatballs from her new Tapas cookbook, but she didn't end up making them. (Instead, she made the best apple pie I've had in years, so I wasn't disappointed.) Earlier this week I decided I'd better cook the lamb since I didn't want to waste it by letting it go bad.

Inspired by the Greek food I'd had, I made meatballs with the ground lamb, cumin, coriander, garlic, cayenne, and a little cinnamon. There might have been something else in there too, but I've forgotten. I rolled them into small balls and cooked them in a skillet. I made a yogurt sauce with non-fat Greek yogurt, finely minced garlic, a little lemon juice, salt, and pepper. I also cut up some lettuce, grated a carrot, and very thinly sliced up some yellow onion.

To assemble the sandwiches, I warmed the pitas up on a cast-iron griddle pan, let them cool for a few seconds and then spread them with the yogurt sauce. I sliced up some of the meatballs and layered them on 1 side of the pita, added lots of lettuce, carrot, and onion, and then folded the pita in half.

They turned out really yummy. I liked the combination of hot pita and lamb with the cold yogurt and vegetables. The lamb was spicy but not too hot and the yogurt was creamy with the sharp bite of garlic and tanginess of lemon.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dessert Report

Today's post is about the dessert I made because the dinners I made yesterday and tonight were both things I've made and reported on--pizza and stir fry. However, tonight's dessert was a thing born from necessity. The necessity to do something with the milk before it went bad.

     My mom buys Strauss non-fat milk. It's organic milk from a Northern California dairy where all the cows are happy California cows. They are grass-fed and pasture raised, so the milk is a little different from everyday milk (read expensive). Here's the thing about Strauss milk though. As the days go by, it starts to get sweet. There's a point, based on how sweet it tastes, at which I know that in another day or so the milk will go bad. That day was today. I didn't want to waste almost 3 cups of milk, so I knew I had to do something with it.

     Pudding! I like pudding. I even like the boxed stuff. Unfortunately, we didn't have any of the boxed stuff, so I was out of luck. But wait...people made pudding before Jello ever started boxing the stuff. What to do? Ah, the internet, I love you (even though sometimes you infuriate me.) I found a recipe for Chocolate pudding made with cocoa and cornstarch (I had both of those things!). It also called for sugar (check), milk (duh), salt, butter, and vanilla (just a little of the last 3).

     The recipe did take some effort, but it wasn't complicated. It just took some time. I am not renowned for my patience; I always want to hurry things up. This sometimes leads to unpleasant results when cooking. I managed to be patient this time, and it was worth it. The pudding came out creamy and chocolate-y with the added bonus of being low-fat and without any preservatives or weird food additives.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Friday and Saturday Nights' Dinners

Yesterday I made Fennel and Squash Gratin from the Raley's 75th Anniversary cookbook. (For my east coast friends, Raley's/Bel Air is a chain of grocery stores here in Northern California.) This recipe consists of butternut squash, acorn squash, fennel bulb, onion, mascarpone cheese, and havarti cheese. The squash was microwaved ahead of time to minimize baking time, and the onion and fennel were sauteed until the onion was soft. Then everything was mixed together including the mascarpone and cubed havarti and put in a baking dish. After baking for about 30 minutes, it came out bubbling and lightly browned on top. I let it set for a little while before serving.

I have to admit that it was tasty, but it was pretty rich. There are different kinds of richness in foods, at least to me. Some kinds of richness I can enjoy more of, and other types I can only handle in small amounts. This squash dish was of the latter variety, unfortunately. I'd never had fennel bulb before and was nicely surprised by the way it tasted. The licorice smell was pretty strong coming off of it when I was chopping it up. You can find the recipe for the gratin on the Raley's website here. I have found many good recipes from Raley's on their website and in their free magazine, Something Extra. Check it out.

Last month, I wrote a post in which I mentioned making Curried Chicken and Vegetable Roast from a recipe I cut out of the November issue of Food & Wine magazine (I mistakenly attributed it to Eating Well magazine). The chicken had come out on the bland side, but the vegetable were okay. I decided to try making it again, but this time I made some changes to the recipe and to how I made it last time. (Sorry, the photo doesn't look super appetizing, but the food tasted really good.)

This time I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which the recipe originally called for. These worked much better than the cut up chicken I used last time. For the curry marinade/sauce stuff, I began like last time making half the recipe. However, this time, I used half the non-fat Greek yogurt, but I kept all of the spices at the original amounts called for--essentially doubling the spice I used last time. I also used fresh ginger this time instead of powdered ginger--this made a big difference to the taste. I also included the juice from half a lemon. I mixed it all up, tossed in the chicken, and stirred until all the pieces were well-coated. I then covered the bowl and let it sit for about 90 minutes.

Once again, I used carrots, onions, beets, and Brussel sprouts. I did not put in any squash since we just had squash yesterday. A little olive oil, salt & pepper, and a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary rounded out the vegetables. Everything went into a rectangular baking dish (the one I used was slightly smaller than a 9x13) and then set the chicken pieces on top. Everything roasted for about an hour. This time, the dish turned out sooooo good. Everything was cooked just right, and the chicken was very flavorful.

Here's the recipe for the yogurt marinade:

1/2 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
2 Tbs minced fresh ginger
2 large garlic cloves minced
1 Tbs Madras curry powder (I used one from Williams-Sonoma, but you can get this at Cost Plus and even some regular grocery stores)
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Put all ingredients in a bowl and stir well to blend. Coat chicken pieces and allow them to sit for at least an hour before cooking.

This is really good, and if you don't like really hot-spicy curries, I recommend the Madras curry powder I got from Williams-Sonoma; it wasn't very spicy, just a really flavorful blend of spices.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Soup's On

     I made soup tonight. The only soup I'd made before was ham & bean, and I'd only made that a couple of times. Making soup is kind of a long process, and you end up with this huge amount of soup. When you live alone, you can end up eating soup for days and still have a bunch to freeze. A few weeks ago, I got an email from Borders saying they were giving me free $10 in Borders bucks, but the offer expired just a few days later. I ended up using it to buy a copy of The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. It's a fun book, full of recipes for food mentioned in the books and also some typical and traditional British dishes. There are recipes for cauldron cakes, pumpkin pasties, pork pies, and even homemade marshmallows.

     As I was looking through the book, I came across a recipe for Scotch Broth. My mom used to love Campbell's Scotch Broth, but they stopped carrying it in any of the local grocery stores. When I saw the recipe, I thought that it might be a treat for her if I made it. I made it the first time on Thanksgiving. My mom had to work, and so I went over to the hospital at lunchtime and had turkey dinner with her. I knew she'd be hungry when she got home and though soup would be good for dinner. It turned out really well. My mom really liked it, though she said it didn't taste like the one made by Campbell's.

     This is one recipe I followed strictly. As I mentioned, I don't have much experience making soup, so I wanted to make sure I followed the recipe (that way if it didn't turn out, I could blame the recipe, lol). The recipe calls for lamb or beef chuck, but it's traditionally made with lamb or mutton, and since we like lamb in our family, I deboned some lamb chops and cubed the meat. Also in the recipe are barley, onions, carrots, celery, turnip, leeks, garlic, cabbage, and fresh parsley. The base is chicken broth. The process was to brown the lamb on high heat then remove it to a plate, and then cook the onions in the same pan. Then you add the broth, barley, salt, and add the meat back in. That has to cook for an hour and a half. Then you add the vegetables (except for the cabbage and parsley) and the garlic and simmer for another hour. Finally, add the cabbage and parsley and cook for an additional 30 minutes. This is not a quick soup. Cooking time alone is 3+ hours, and that doesn't count the initial prep of the meat (I think the deboning took me almost half an hour.) and onions. The rest of the veggies can be prepped during the first stage of cooking.

     However, all the work is worth it. The soup turns out thick and creamy with a great mix of vegetable flavors. The barley adds an interesting texture and helps thicken the soup, and the meat ends up fork tender. The first time I made it, I made some biscuits to go along with it. They didn't turn out so well. They didn't taste bad, but I think my baking powder is old because they didn't rise; they ended up pretty flat. My mom suggested letting them rise on the baking sheet for a while before baking them. I think I'll try that next time. I don't really have a biscuit recipe I regularly use. In the past, I've mostly used Bisquick. If anyone has a good biscuit recipe, let me know. Thanks.

     Sorry for the long delay between the last post and this one. I have been cooking, but not a whole lot, and nothing too exciting--mostly things I've mentioned before in the blog or on facebook posts. Over the next several days, though, I'll be making some new dishes. I got a copy of the Raley's 75th anniversary cookbook, which had some tasty-looking recipes. I'll be making a winter squash gratin and a quinoa salad as well as blackened fish, which is a favorite of my mom and me.