Sunday, January 30, 2011

Quinoa, Squash, and Scones

Dinner tonight was quinoa cooked with Lipton Onion Soup Mix and a butternut squash casserole. The idea for the quinoa came from my friend James who mentioned that he cooked quinoa this way. I boiled the water and then added the quinoa and soup mix. It took longer to cook than I remembered from the first time I made quinoa. I realized after I measured the water into the pan that I didn't have quite a whole cup of quinoa, so I had to scoop out some of the water. I estimated how much based on how much I was short of quinoa, but I think I didn't scoop out quite enough. It took about 30 minutes to cook instead of about 15. I also made a butternut squash casserole from a recipe I found cut out of a magazine in the recipe binder both my mom and I have added to. It was basically caramelized onions and roasted squash with cumin and thyme. Very tasty. The quinoa was good, but I think I needn't have used the entire packet of soup mix as it was pretty intense. I think I'd use a bit less next time.

Yesterday, I suddenly had a yen for baking. I decided to make orange-cranberry scones. As I mentioned in my previous post, I like the ones at Starbucks, but it gets expensive, and lately I've been concerned about what ingredients are going into the things I eat. It's pretty scary reading the ingredients lists on some food packages. Not that there aren't those certain items I purposely turn a blind eye to, but I've been trying to eat those sparingly.

Anyway, I thought I'd try making my own orange-cranberry scones. That way I'll save money, I'll know what's going into them, and I won't have to waste time stopping by Starbucks. I looked up several recipes and ended up using one from the Land-O-Lakes website, but I added a citrus glaze I found in a recipe on another website. Orange zest and dried cranberries went into the dough, and the glaze consisted of a mixture of lemon and orange juice and powdered sugar, which was added after they came out of the oven. They turned out well, I think. The texture was very similar to the Starbucks ones, soft on the inside and a bit crispy on the outside, and there was plenty of orange and cranberry flavor. The recipe didn't call for any salt, and I noticed its absence in the way that salt adds something to the flavor (even though it's not salty). The scones weren't bad by any means, I just think that the addition of a little salt would have punched up the flavor a bit. I think I'll try making some with lemon and currants next time.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Risotto and Fish (again, not together)

Here's the dinner report for the last few days. I cooked Friday and tonight, and we had take-out pizza Saturday.

Friday, 1/21/11
Risotto with vegetables and smoked Gruyere

1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped finely
1 small to medium leek, split length-wise and cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 large carrot, chopped finely
a bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme
3.5 ounces smoked Gruyere
1 cup arborio rice
.5 cup white wine
3.5 cups chicken broth

I made this like a basic risotto; I sauteed the vegetables, added the rice and herbs and then started stirring in the wine and chicken broth about 3/4 cup at a time allowing the broth to be fully absorbed before adding more. Once the rice is cooked, I added the Gruyere and some black pepper.

I think this risotto needed something to offset the smokiness of the Gruyere. It was creamy and rich with a distinct, but not overwhelming, smokiness; it's really good to add some along with the cheddar to the sauce when making macaroni & cheese. It might have been good to add a little Parmesan, which has a sharpness to it or even a little lemon juice or chopped fresh parsley. Perhaps a gremolata would have been good--a little lemon zest, minced fresh garlic, and chopped fresh parsley tossed together--sprinkled over the bowls of risotto right before serving. I definitely should have added some garlic, maybe just one clove, while sauteing the vegetables.

Sunday, 1/23/11
Red Snapper with Crispy Ginger and Baby Bok Choy

Snapper fillets pan-fried in oil and minced garlic, ginger matchsticks frizzled in oil then coated in low-sodium soy. Finally minced ginger, garlic, cabbage, and baby bok choy stir-fried in a non-stick pan tossed with a little soy. Served with brown rice.

This was very good, but the next time I make it, I think I'll reduce the temperature of the stove when cooking the fish and the ginger matchsticks. The fish was slightly dry, and the ginger matchsticks were on the verge of being burned (I managed to rescue them) with the stove on medium-high heat.

Tomorrow night will be leftovers, so I have the time to plan the rest of the meals for the week. I'm thinking chili at least one day. I'm thinking of making my chili with ground turkey instead of ground beef and seeing how it tastes. I'm also thinking of doing some baking this week. I want to try making scones again. I want to try making some with some lemon zest and currants. Either that, or I want to try to make some orange-cranberry scones. I love the ones at Starbucks, but I'd like to try making them myself; that way I know exactly what's going into them and they'll cost me much less.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Not So Good The Second Time Around

I decided to make some Thai food Tuesday night because I was alone for dinner and had leftover rice. Also, the last time I had leftover rice I made fried rice with soy and ginger, so I wanted something different. This time, I used some red curry paste and fish sauce, coconut milk powder, low-fat milk and water. I let it simmer for a few minutes then added 1 1/2 cups frozen veggies and cooked until they were warmed through. I then mixed about a teaspoon of corn starch in a little water and stirred it into the sauce to thicken it a little. I then added 1 1/2 leftover rice and let it all simmer for another 7 or so minutes. I crushed up a tablespoon of roasted peanuts and sprinkled it over the top. I ate half and saved the other half for lunch the next day. It was great when I ate it for dinner, but it didn't keep as well as some foods do. When I reheated it the next day for lunch, it didn't taste as good as the first day. I'm sure you've noticed that many foods taste even better the second day than they do the first...chili, spaghetti, etc. This is not one of them. It was, however, very yummy freshly made.

Tonight I made pizza. It did not turn out well this time. The crust was good (about the only thing that did turn out well). I used some leftover red sauce, mozzarella, cheddar, and Parmesan along with prosciutto. I have to say, I think the prosciutto was not good. I've used it before for pizza, and it is very good. This time, I think the prosciutto was off. I can't remember the actual day I bought it, but it was this month. It's a cured meat; a type of Italian ham, so I thought it would still be good, but that did not turn out to be the case. So, a disappointment. I ended up cutting off several hunks of the crust and eating them with a little butter along with the veggies I nuked to go along with the pizza.

I'd planned to use some of the prosciutto when I make risotto this weekend, but that's not going to happen. I think I'll make a veggie one instead. Maybe add in a little smoked Gruyere. We'll see. I'll post after I make it.

After I posted the not-so-appetizing picture of the roasted vegetable and chicken bake, I looked up some information on photographing food. I found a couple of good blog articles from people who blog about food and take picture for their blogs. One of the main suggestions was to use natural light to take the photos. That's a great idea, except for the fact that it's winter and it's dark by the time I even start making dinner. I guess I'll have to experiment during the day shooting leftovers or maybe my lunches. I think my mom has one of those natural light lamps tucked away somewhere. Maybe I can try using that to take some photos. I might also use my film camera as well as my digital camera to see if that makes any difference. I know a lot more about my film camera than my digital camera. I'll experiment and post some of the results.

Friday, January 7, 2011

New Cookbook

I got a Borders gift card from my wonderful brother and sister-in-law (among other fabulous presents), so I went down to Borders for their big after Christmas sale, and found some great bargains. One of those is The Essential Baking Cookbook (ISBN 978-0681025936) published by Bay Books.

This book has everything from bread to cakes and pies to cookies and muffins. I didn't realize at first, but it's an Australian publication which means it has lots of cool things you don't normally find in U.S. cookbooks (though it also lacks some things you'd expect to find in a U.S. cookbook). Ingredient measurements are offered in cups, grams, and ounces unless they are smaller than a 1/4 cup--then they are in teaspoons and tablespoons.

I made rolls from the bread section on Sunday, and they turned out well. I don't have a lot of experience making yeast bread, so I was a little nervous. I made sure I set the timer so I'd knead the dough for long enough, and I bugged my mom with lots of questions about whether it seemed to be rising properly. The rolls turned out tasty and the texture was right. They tasted good, but there seemed to be something lacking, but I had a hard time putting my finger on it. My mom and I finally decided it might be that a little more salt or sugar was needed. The recipe called for 1 tsp. of salt and 4 tsp. of sugar (divided) for 4 cups of flour. I'll probably up the salt by 1/2 tsp. and the sugar by 1 tsp. next time and see if that makes a difference.

I had a problem with how the rolls browned. The book gave examples of different glazes to use either before or after baking. I did an egg wash that was supposed to give the rolls a "deep colour in the crust." I didn't find it to work well. The bottoms browned faster than the tops, and the tops stayed kind of pale. I will consult the "What Went Wrong" section of the cookbook to see what I can do next time to get they outcome I want.

I have lots of great recipes to experiment with in the coming year. I also will be attempting to plan ahead meals more. It's much easier to get dinner going when you know you have the ingredients on hand to make one of a selection of recipes. What I've done occasionally in the past is to pick out 5 meals to make for dinners for a week (the other 2 days are for leftovers), and then shop for those meals specifically. Then I leave the list of meals on the fridge and when I ask myself "What am I making for dinner tonight?" I can go consult the list and pick out what looks good (or is easiest to make, depending on how I'm feeling about cooking that day). This is probably not revolutionary meal planning to anyone except me, but I like how well it works, especially in avoiding the curse of indecision which leads to ordering pizza or going out to eat.

I've been doing pretty well incorporating more vegetables into my meal plans, listing not just the main dish but also possible veggies to serve as well. Having those veggies listed right on my weekly meal list is a good reminder so I don't end up finishing the main dish without having made any vegetable accompaniment. That's not really a problem if the meal already incorporates veggies in the recipe--like the roasted vegetable and chicken bake, but when I'm making something like oven baked bbq ribs, I hate finding myself with a ready-to-serve main dish but nothing to serve with it.

I'm going to continue to plan meals with plenty of vegetables; I always feel particularly virtuous after eating a dinner with lots of veggies. The baked chicken with roasted vegetables is now on the regular dinner rotation. There's a lot of prep, but it's not hard to make. And really, if I chose just 2 or 3 types of veggies instead of 5 or 6, it would probably take less time to prep.

What I really want to do is improve at making stir fry. Mine seems to always turn out with either overdone or underdone veggies. Perhaps I need a wok instead of using the large skillet. Hmm, maybe I can convince my mom she needs a wok. I will be researching stir fry techniques, but if anyone has a good method they use, please post a comment. Thanks.