Four Meals, One Way

When I was a kid, my mom started cooking all of our meals either by browning ground beef and onions or by making a white sauce (and in the case of hamburger stroganoff, she did one and then the other in the same pan). As a result, four of our mainstays—eggs a la goldenrod, creamed chipped beef over toast, creamed salmon over biscuits, and cheddar chowder—all started the exact same way.

This week, I decided I’d make one of these (creamed salmon over biscuits) and post the recipe, complete with photos and variations so you, too, could make all four meals. It was going to be in the spirit of Amy Sedaris’s I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influencefunny, but kind of serious at the same time in the sense that it’s a real recipe that you could (theoretically) eat. We doubted anyone in our family would eat it (except maybe my spouse who prides himself on being a true omnivore in that he eats anything except American cheese), but, “All for the sake of the blog!” my spouse and I joked as we surveyed the resulting salmon sauce.

Except then he and our kids loved it. Read More

Savory Smoothies: Sapping the Joy from My Morning

With all of our recent travels and visitors, s’mores and dark chocolate honey mints, martinis and more martinis, my body has been thrown entirely off-kilter and is telling me so with all kinds of interesting and very uncomfortable symptoms, which I will not describe because I like you and because this isn’t that kind of blog.

My solution involves lots of probiotics and a return to normal eating—which my husband already thinks is fairly extreme, given the amount of leafy greens I consume—via a more extreme no-sugar, no-alcohol, no-grains, no-fruit kind of plan until things feel normal again. Basically, I’m giving up all of the things that make life worth living. But I added chicken back into my diet for the moment, so at least I have that.

I thought it would only be a few days before I felt back in balance again, but it’s taking a little longer than that. As a result, I’ve done something I’ve been avoiding for years: I’ve begun researching savory smoothies.

By savory smoothies I mean smoothies without fruit. Kind of like cold, blended vegetable soup. Which is just why I’ve avoided them for so long.

Before I could change my mind, I found seven savory smoothie recipes online and I went shopping.

Today’s has kale, tomato juice, half of a fresh hot pepper, a cucumber, curry powder, scallions, celery, and ice.

Mmm…

Don’t worry: It looks better than it tastes. Actually, the flavor’s not too bad; the texture is the real challenge. A straw helps.

My three-year-old son, adventurous chap that he is, took a sip. He gagged and said, “There’s lettuce in my mouse!” (which, because he can’t pronounce a TH sound, translates to, “There’s lettuce in my mouth!”). Of course, there’s no lettuce in the smoothie, but I didn’t bother to correct him. I just got him a glass of water and a bowl of raisins.

I’ve got six days of recipes remaining, and I’m going to stick with it until I get through them all. By the end of the week, I may or may not feel back in balance physically, but I’m pretty sure that I will no longer fear death.

Related articles (but this is NOT the recipe I tried this morning)

Nonalcoholic Yumminess

I recently discovered my new favorite refreshing beverage, and I thought I’d share it with you all.

I accidentally made a still life!

Here’s my disclaimer up front: I do not like sweet drinks. Sodas? Yuck. Cocktails that call for simple syrup? Eww. So this drink really hit the spot. If you are someone who loves sugary drinks, bless your soul, but this isn’t the drink for you. It’s not bitter or sour or anything, but it’s definitely not sweet.

If you’re not familiar with Angostura bitters, while it technically contains alcohol, it’s available in grocery stores (even in Utah). Like vanilla extract, you use it in quantities so small that the effect is essentially non-alcoholic.

An interesting tidbit: My maternal grandmother was once featured in her local small-town Ohio newspaper for her award-winning recipe for marinated short ribs, the marinade for which features Angostura bitters. Those marinated short ribs remain in my memory as a major comfort food from my youth, along with twice-baked potatoes and hamburger stroganoff (which my family also called “hamburg stroganoff.”)

Okay, you’re probably thirsty after reading all of that, so here’s the recipe for my yummy, nonalcoholic beverage:

Ingredients:

Ice cubes

2-3 dashes Angostura bitters

A squeeze of lime juice (2/8 fresh lime, or a splash of bottled lime juice, unsweetened)

Carbonated water/seltzer to top up

Fill a tall-ish glass with ice (5-6 cubes). Add 2-3 dashes Angostura bitters. Squeeze 2- 1/8 sections of lime into the glass, rub the rim with a lime wedge, and drop the sections into the glass. Top up with carbonated water/seltzer. Enjoy and repeat as many times as you’d like!

Pumpkin Yumminess (for the Grown-Ups and the Kids)

While the turkey was cooking, we made the Pilgrim’s Pumpkin 75 from Drink of the Week. That’s it above. It was a very yummy while-the-turkey’s-cooking beverage. Just make sure that you have a little snack before drinking it, or maybe make it your dessert drink. I mixed ours up in a lull in the cooking activities. I’d finished about half of mine when I remembered I’d not eaten in several hours. I’d like to point out here that these glasses aren’t all that big. They’re the closest I had to champagne flutes. They’re taster glasses from a double IPA festival my husband and I attended back before we had kids and before I found that gluten is not my friend. I think they hold about 4 ounces each. This is how they look on the front side, with green beans for size comparison:

When the kids found out we were making pumpkin drinks, they wanted one. Of course, I’m not going to give my children gin. But aside from the alcohol, the ingredients seemed pretty kid-friendly, so I mixed up a non-alcoholic version that I poured into two plastic cups. My daughter didn’t like hers at all and spit it out into the cup so no one else wanted to drink it. My son liked his until he found out his sister didn’t like hers. Then it got spilled on the carpet during the demolition of a giant tower of plastic blocks.

I actually quite like the NA version, and I can see mixing one of these up for myself when I’m looking for a tasty and refreshing pumpkiny beverage that won’t make me tipsy. And that the kids won’t want to share with me.

Non-Alcoholic Pumpkin Punch

(based on Pilgrim’s Pumpkin 75 from Drink of the Week)

Ingredients:

1 oz water

1 1/2 oz pureed cooked pumpkin

1/2 oz lemon juice

2 pinches pumpkin pie spice (or a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves)

1/2 oz simple syrup (I used agave nectar)

Sparkling water for topping up

Shake all ingredients except the sparkling water with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a glass and top up with sparkling water.

Kitchenette Dinners, or Hotel Home-Cooking

As I’ve mentioned, we’re still living in a hotel. It’s a nice extended-stay type hotel with a little kitchenette and reliable wifi, but it’s been almost a month since we lived in a house, and I’m kind of missing some things.

Like my kitchen.

Every morning the hotel serves breakfast downstairs, and Monday through Thursday evenings, they serve a “light dinner.” Tonight was meatloaf and mashed potatoes; I’m not sure how that qualifies as “light,” but it’s the hotel’s descriptor, not mine.

Because I don’t eat gluten or dairy or undercooked eggs, there’s not much on offer for me at these meals. I’ll attend dinner when they have their “barbecue” theme and serve hamburgers, and I get their decaf from downstairs every morning, but mostly I eat my meals in the room. When someone offers me free food, I feel fairly neutral about it. It’s there whether I eat it or not, so if I don’t want it, why would I eat it?

My husband does not share this opinion about free food. When my husband is offered free food, he sees it as a challenge. I try to explain that they make more than they need and it’s not “wasting” if he doesn’t gorge himself, but he doesn’t seem to see my logic. To him, the more he eats, the more money he saves. To me, the more eggs and sausage and home fries he chows down on, the more likely we’re going to have to pay for some kind of heart procedure down the line a few years.

We are, however, both putting on weight living here. His is because of the free food. Mine is because the one place I’ve found to buy food is Trader Joe’s, and living in a hotel room is the perfect excuse to buy convenience foods that I otherwise never let myself buy. Beef tamales? Yes, please! Chocolate-covered frozen banana slices? Better get two boxes! A hummus quartet? Heck, I could live on nothing but hummus and those tiny rice crackers. And don’t even mention the wines.

I don’t think I’m eating too poorly. I’m just driving more and eating more and visiting the gym never (they’ve got a fitness room here but I find it excruciatingly boring to jog on the treadmill while watching at full volume a documentary about the Loch Ness Monster). The kitchenette is better than nothing, but it’s fairly rudimentary compared to my kitchen at home. The kitchenette has three not-so-sharp knives, one teeny cutting board, and one small colander. This setup doesn’t lend itself well to the rather complex meals I’m used to preparing.

So, what exactly am I cooking for dinner for myself?

Here’s one example:

This is the basic gmish.

When they sampled  it at the store, they used the Trader Joe’s brand Soyaki sauce. But that’s got wheat in it, so I passed on that and created my own. It’s Trader Joe’s pre-cooked frozen chicken breast strips, their canned pineapple chunks (with juice), and a sauce made of wheat-free tamari, canned minced garlic, fresh ginger, and a touch of honey. I mixed the sauce while thawing the chicken, then tossed it all together.

I was going to serve it over rice, but I forgot to cook the rice. So these are the ways I served it, one night and then the next night:

Over salad (lettuce, cucumber, bell pepper)

 

 

Surrounded by steamed broccoli (TJ’s ready-cut organic broccoli steamed in the microwave).

It’s pretty good stuff. But I get tired of pineapple pretty quickly. I bought more of the chicken strips, but I think I’m just going put them on salad and call it a day. Or I guess I could dip them in hummus.

What $5 wine would pair with chicken strips dipped in hummus with chocolate-covered frozen bananas for dessert?

Super-Secret Vegetarian Lasagna. Part Two: Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free

This one has the approval of vegans and dairy-eaters alike, but if you eat gluten and dairy (and love lots of cheese), also check out my Super-Secret Vegetarian Lasagna!

I have been trying since 2004 to make a yummy vegan lasagna. Back when I could still eat dairy, I would top the ones that weren’t yummy with a thick layer of melted cheese and that would make them palatable. Now that I can tolerate neither gluten nor dairy, the stakes are higher.

This weekend, however, I seem to have broken the code. This lasagna had me going back for seconds (and thirds, if truth be told). For the first time ever I didn’t spend my meal wishing I was eating the gooey cheesy lasagna on my husband’s plate rather than my own.

It was a red-letter day. And I got to serve yummy lasagna to the vegan friend who was over, which made me quite proud!

CJ’s Kick-Butt GF Vegan Lasagna

Ingredients:

1 batch of sauce (see Saturday’s post for the sauce recipe)

1 pound gluten-free lasagna noodles (uncooked)

1 package extra-firm tofu

1 bunch spinach (washed very well)

1 bunch basil (washed well as well)

1 T olive oil

1 yellow summer squash, sliced into half-moons

1/2-pound cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 generous dash each, oregano and garlic powder

1 package mozzarella-style vegan cheese (Daiya is gluten-free and not awful, but it seems like everyone’s got their favorite brand. Use what you like.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the basil and spinach into thin ribbons and combine in a large bowl. In a food processor, process the tofu until it’s smooth and creamy, like ricotta cheese, about 30 seconds. Spoon tofu into the basil and spinach mixture and stir until incorporated evenly.

Spinach/basil/tofu mixture

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced squash and mushrooms along with the oregano and garlic and saute until the mushrooms have released their juices and the squash is just softened.

mushroom/squash/garlic/oregano mixture

Now you’re ready to assemble your lasagna.

Put a layer of sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan.

Layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan.

Getting artsy with my layering.

Put a layer of uncooked lasagna noodles on top, using broken pieces to fill in the space at the end of the pan, if necessary. Spread half of the spinach/tofu mixture on top of the noodles and top that with half of the mushroom/squash mixture. Add another layer of noodles and cover the noodles with a generous layer of sauce. Add remaining spinach mixture and then mushroom mixture, and then cover with another layer of noodles. Cover the top layer of noodles with a generous portion of sauce and sprinkle with vegan cheese.

Cover the lot with a layer of foil and place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and vegan cheese is melted.

Ready for the oven! (once I put the foil on)

Super-Secret Vegetarian Lasagna. Part One: The One I Can’t Eat

For you gluten-free and/or dairy-free types, check out my Super-Secret Gluten-Free Vegan Lasagna!

I always loved my mom’s lasagna when I was a kid. Then I grew up and became vegetarian and had to modify the recipe so it didn’t include beef. Then I started eating meat again, but by that time, I loved my lasagna so much without meat, I never bothered to add it back. Plus, with darned near four pounds of cheese, who needs meat?

Then I stopped being able to tolerate gluten and dairy. I’ve not eaten this lasagna in more than three years. I’ve only recently started making it for my family again. I would make it to drop off to friends, but I didn’t want the yummy smell of bubbling cheese, slightly browned on the edges, to tempt me into eating something that would make me feel awful for days.

This story has a happy ending, though, which I will reveal in Monday’s post.

For those of you who can eat gluten and dairy without pain, this one’s for you. For those who can’t, patience, my friends. Monday’s post will bring you wonderful news!

Because of its awesomeness, I’ve been keeping this recipe a secret thinking that sharing it would cause everyone to make lasagna as awesome as mine and then mine wouldn’t be special anymore. But then I realized that not only is it selfish to deny people kick-A lasagna simply because they don’t live near enough for me to make them one, but that even with a “recipe,” this lasagna is likely not reproducible exactly anyway. I’ve done my best to write down just how I make it, but really, I just toss things in without measuring. Maybe one day I’ll post a video of myself cooking lasagna, and you can copy my technique precisely, down to the Skip James songs I sing while cooking (tonight it was “Be Ready When He Comes,” because I was thinking that I wanted to make sure the lasagna was ready when our guests arrived). Until I get the video made and get over my phobia of posting images of myself online, hopefully this recipe gets you close-to-awesome lasagna.

Oh, and you could certainly use a meat sauce with this, if you’re so inclined. I just, as I’ve mentioned, don’t see much need for it.

CJ’s Kick-Butt Vegetarian Lasagna

If you wait a little longer to cut it than I do, the molten cheese won’t goo together this much.

Ingredients:

Sauce:

1-2 T olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 15-oz cans of tomato sauce OR 1 jar spaghetti sauce (any variety; I usually use 365 or Muir Glen marinara).

1 28-oz can diced tomatoes

1 can tomato paste

generous amounts dried oregano, rosemary, basil, garlic powder, dill, crushed red pepper (I use a LOT…like ~2 T of each (except the red pepper…that’s more like 1 teaspoon). If you use jar sauce, you likely won’t need this much. Adjust to your taste. I also grind the dried rosemary leaves with a mortar and pestle so they don’t poke me in the gums. If I use fresh garlic, I press about 1 bulb (yes, bulb) into the sauce.)

 Other ingredients:

1 lb lasagna noodles (uncooked)

1 lb ricotta cheese (lowfat is okay)

1 bunch fresh basil leaves, washed

1 bunch fresh spinach leaves, washed

1 12-oz package provolone slices, cut into 3/4- to 1-inch squares

1 pound shredded mozzarella

1 pound parmesan, shredded

Sauce

Heat a couple tablespoons olive oil in a large pot. Add chopped onions and saute for a few minutes until translucent. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients. Bring nearly to a boil then simmer gently for, I don’t know, 30-60 minutes? Longer if you’ve got the time. Add up to 1 cup additional water during simmering. It’s OK if the sauce is a little thin because the lasagna noodles will soak up some of the liquid.

Preheat oven to 375. Unless you like cleaning your oven, you may want to place a sheet of aluminum foil or a baking sheet on the bottom rack to catch any spills while the lasagna is cooking. While the sauce simmers, gather the basil and spinach leaves together and slice into thin ribbons. Make sure the spinach is very well rinsed before slicing. There is nothing worse than gritty lasagna.

Ricotta not yet incorporated into the spinach and basil.

Combine the basil, spinach, and ricotta in a large bowl, and mix well. The ricotta will need a fair amount of working in to incorporate it evenly through the greens.

Spread a layer of sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 pan (a relatively thin layer…this is just to keep the noodles from sticking to the bottom). Place a layer of uncooked lasagna noodles on top of the sauce, leaving a little space between the noodles to allow for expansion. Break a noodle or two if necessary to fill space at the end of the pan.

Spoon 1/2 of the ricotta mixture over noodles and spread as best you can. Cover with a layer of about 1/3 of the mozzarella, provolone, and parmesan.

Ready for the oven.

Add another layer of noodles as before and cover liberally with sauce. Add the rest of the ricotta mixture and another 1/3 of the cheese. Top with another layer of noodles, a final layer of sauce, then the remaining cheeses. I like ending with parmesan because I like the way the shreds look, but that’s a matter of personal taste. Bake at 375 for 45-60 minutes, or until sauce at sides of pan is bubbly and cheese on top is browned to your taste. (If you don’t like browned cheese, start checking it around the 40-minute mark.)


Cleaning Out the Freezer: Steak Fajitas

It’s another “taking pictures of dinner” post!

Tonight: Steak Fajitas!

I don’t normally buy steak. But I ordered meat from a local farm as part of their meat CSA (which included steaks), and it’s been sitting in the freezer for a few months. Since we can’t take it with us, I’m trying to finish it up before we hit the road for Massachusetts.

We had about a pound of beef tenderloin steak in there, which isn’t enough for a steak dinner for four people (especially with as huge red meat fans as my kids are…you’d never guess their mom was vegetarian for seven years before they were born by the way they eat cow). So, I made fajitas.

I don’t really have a recipe for this, but I’ll try to walk you through. It’s pretty basic.

The marinade is the same for the meat as for the veggies. Lime juice, olive oil, garlic powder, salt, and oregano. Mix it in a dish and put the steaks in. Let them marinate in the fridge for an hour or more.

Line your broiler pan with foil (so you don’t have to scrub it) and start up the broiler in your oven. Once it’s preheated, put the steak on the broiler pan. Mix up the veggie marinade, toss with peppers and onions (I used three small green bell peppers and one large vidalia onion, sliced into half-moons). Then spread peppers and onions in a single layer on the baking sheet and pop in the oven part of the oven while the steaks broil.

Cook the steaks to your liking. We like ours medium-rare to medium, and with inch-thick steaks, this took about 15-18 minutes total, turning them twice and checking them once after about ten minutes. The veggies were beautiful and just starting to caramelize at the end of the steak cooking time.

When they’re done, put the steaks on a cutting board and cut into 1/4-inch thick strips. Warm some corn tortillas (I usually do this in a dry skillet because it seems hip to do that, but this time I just did them two at a time in the microwave, ten seconds on each side) and pile with steak and veggies. My husband eats his in a whole-wheat tortilla with cheese and avocados, but I’m something of a fajita purist and just did the steak and veggies (plus, I don’t do dairy, so that limits my topping options).

My son shared my husband’s fajitas with him, and my daughter ate the fixings separated on her plate and didn’t like the green peppers because “they taste just like they smell.” I agreed with her, but I cleared my plate and went back for seconds because I liked the way the peppers smelled and tasted.

My New Comfort Food: Oyako Donburi

Oyako donburi means “parent and child rice dish.” It’s called parent and child because it has both chicken and egg in it. If you make it with beef and egg, it’s apparently called “stranger and child” which sounds kind of ominous. I’m thinking since I used turkey broth in it, I could call it “parent and child and cousin,” but I’d have to call it that in English because I don’t know the word for “cousin” in Japanese.

Oyako donburi is another dish my friend Amanda shared with me. She’s taught me a number of awesome Japanese dishes, even though neither of us is Japanese. She did live there for a period of time and can speak the language, which is more than I can say for myself. I just like the food. Of the language, I only know what I’ve gathered from cooking and the Buddhist temple (and I usually mess those up when I try to say them).

My recipe is a combination of Amanda’s, one from My Kitchen, and some modifications I made based on what was in my kitchen (ie, it called for dashi and I didn’t have that or the stuff to make it, but I did have homemade turkey broth in the freezer. And I didn’t have green onions, but my kids don’t like green onions anyway).

At any rate, my family loved it (except for my daughter who didn’t like the “oil” even when I told her there was no oil in it. “Whatever it is, I don’t like it,” she proclaimed). My husband said, “Oh! It’s Japanese comfort food!” And it was incredibly easy to make.

Oyaku Donburi

Serves 4

Prep time: 40-60 minutes, less if your rice is already cooked and you don’t have to thaw your broth.

Ingredients:

Cooked brown rice (about three cups)

1 quart turkey broth (you could use chicken broth or dashi or veggie broth or mushroom broth. I probably could have gotten away with 2-3 cups broth)

1/4 c tamari or soy sauce

1/4 c mirin

2 T sugar (I’m going to use 1 T next time I make it…it was a little sweet with 2)

1 package boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 4), cut into 1/4 inch strips

2 carrots, sliced thin

1 small onion, chopped or sliced thin

4 eggs, beaten well

1. Bring the broth, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar to a boil in a large skillet or saucepan. Allow to reduce slightly

Block-o-turkey-broth

while you’re prepping the other ingredients.

2. Add the chicken pieces, carrot and onion and cook until done (I don’t know, about 15 minutes?).

3. Gently pour the beaten egg over the top and cover tightly. Let cook until eggs are set to your taste. I like mine well, well cooked, but there seem to be people online who like runny oyako, which pretty much turns my stomach to think about.

4. Spoon rice into each individual bowl and spoon the oyako over the rice. Enjoy!

One-Hour Fresh-Baked Bread (This is Not an Ad for a Blender)

I don’t really know the mechanics of this process, but somehow I can make whole wheat bread from scratch in my Vitamix (in the special grain/dry pitcher) from start to finish in about one hour.

I use the Whole Wheat Bread recipe that comes with the special pitcher (also found here. Search for “whole wheat bread”). I proof the yeast, mix the dough, let the dough rest while I’m greasing the pan, “knead” the dough by turning the machine off and on again a total of 25 times, let it rise in the pan for 20 minutes, then bake it for 35. If I wanted to, I could start with wheat berries rather than flour and add a couple of minutes, but even that wouldn’t take it up over one hour.

It seems like decent bread. Stays fresh pretty well. My family really like it (especially the kids who don’t like “seedy” bread like I usually make for my husband). I can’t eat wheat without pain, so I’ve not tasted it, but it smells good. And it’s helping me use up the whole wheat flour that was aging in my cupboard and saves us some bucks on bread. As long as my family eat it, I think I’ll keep making it.

I just can’t figure out why it’s so fast to make.

*Note: I do not get any compensation of any sort to talk up my blender, nor does Vitamix have any knowledge that I’m writing about their product. I include the links to their site just so you can see what I’m talking about since I know that several of you have this blender (and others are scratching your heads wondering why the rest of us talk about our blenders so much). I just found this fast yeast bread phenomenon curious and decided to write about that instead of Happiness Through Service today.