Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Food for Thought: Rising Food Prices

Have you noticed your grocery bill creeping up on you?  Along with rising fuel prices, the cost of food has been steadily increasing worldwide as well.  This article from the New York Times talks about some of the causes- increased demand for both food and biofuels, political unrest, and even global warming, to name a few.

From The New York Times, based on Bureau of Labor statistics
Does this affect what you buy and what you cook?  Are you doing anything differently to keep your food costs down?  I know I'm looking forward to the farmers markets opening here, where I can get better-quality produce and meat for the same, if not better, prices as the grocery store.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Orange-Teriyaki Chicken with Noodles

I participate in an online cooking forum, and I love getting to peek at what others are up to in the kitchen.  It's also a great source of inspiration for me.  Recently, members have started a weekly recipe swap, and this week's theme was Asian recipes.

I received a recipe for Orange-Teriyaki Beef with Noodles from Jaida at Sweet Beginnings, originally from Betty Crocker.  I changed up the cooking steps a little to follow my usual stir-fry method, and subbed chicken thighs and chicken broth since I had them on hand, but don't be fooled.  The original flavors are still up front here, with the sweetness from the marmalade and teriyaki sauce and heat from the cayenne melding nicely.

Orange-Teriyaki Chicken with Noodles

What's in it:

1 1/2/ cups chicken broth
¼ cup of teriyaki stir-fry sauce
3 tablespoons of orange marmalade

Cayenne pepper to taste
2 tsp cornstarch
1 teaspoon olive or canola oil
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, about 4, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 cups of broccoli florets (fresh or frozen)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups of uncooked fine egg noodles, prepared according to package directions

How to make it:

Whisk together broth, teriyaki sauce, marmalade, cornstarch and cayenne, and set aside.

Heat canola oil and sesame oil, if using, in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook for 2 to 4 minutes, stirring until browned on the outside.

Add the broccoli, scallions and garlic and noodles and cook until broccoli is just tender.  Add teriyaki mixture.

Continue to cook 2-3 minutes until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is cooked through.  Serve over egg noodles.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Quinoa Pilaf with Peas and Asparagus

Do you fall into the weeknight starch and veggie rut?  I definitely hit weeks where I am just completely uninspired when it comes to side dishes.  Cook some pasta, steam some broccoli, call it a day.

But luckily, spring is here, and with it beautiful vegetables just begging to be paired with something lighter than pasta or potatoes.  I kind of started with this beautiful green version from Bon Appetit, but streamlined the process because pulling out the food processor just seemed like too much work.  I also added a bit of lemon juice, because it just seemed to need some brightness.  The leftovers were great on their own the next day for lunch- filling, flavorful, and really good at room temperature.

Quinoa Pilaf with Peas and Asparagus

What's in it:

1 cup quinoa, regular or red, or a mix 
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 small onion, diced
1 small bunch asparagus, trimmed, cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
Juice from half a lemon

How to make it:

Cook quinoa according to package instructions, replacing water with broth, and salt to taste.

Heat oil in a large pan, and sautee garlic, onion, and asparagus until asparagus is cooked, but still crisp.  Stir in quinoa, then peas and mint, and squeeze lemon over.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Food for Thought: Earth Day 2011

Happy Earth Day!  Started in 1970 by Sen. Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day now has over 200 million participants every year, involved in projects ranging from local recycling drives and tree planting to seminars on going green and town hall meetings on environmental change.  This year's theme is "A Billion Acts of Change."  We can all do something small, and together they add up to something big.

Some small things you can do:
  • change out your incandescent light bulbs for CFLs
  • plant some flowers, vegetables or herbs
  • shop with reusable bags
  • buy local food whenever possible
  • stop to appreciate the world around you!
Are you doing anything to celebrate Earth Day? 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spicy Pork with Asparagus

Somehow, Bon Appetit managed to make this stir-fry look so fresh and lovely in its April issue, but I suspect it had something to do with lighting and, uh, the professional taking the pictures.  I don't have that kind of skill or equipment, but I still think this recipe was worth sharing.

Ready in under a half hour, this was a great weeknight dinner.  I marinated the meat while I sliced asparagus and minced ginger; after that everything gets a quick sautee, then served on whatever rice or noodles you prefer. Just one minor change, I didn't have a red jalapeno handy, so I added a tablespoon of chili garlic sauce with the oyster sauce.

Spicy Pork with Asparagus

What's in it:

3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
1 tablespoon rice wine or dry Sherry (I used mirin, found in the Asian food section at my grocery store)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
12 ounces ground pork
3 teaspoons Asian sesame oil, divided
12 ounces thin to medium asparagus spears, trimmed, cut 1-1 1/2 in pieces 
1 Tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp chili garlic sauce
1 tsp honey
2 green onions, thinly sliced on diagonal

How to make it:

Whisk 1 tablespoon soy sauce, rice wine, and cornstarch in medium bowl. Add pork; toss to blend. 

Heat 2 teaspoons oil in large saucepan over high heat. Add asparagus and ginger. Toss until asparagus is crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer asparagus mixture to plate.

Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add pork mixture and stir-fry until browned, using spoon to break up pork into small pieces, 2 to 3 minutes. Return asparagus mixture to pan. Add remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, oyster sauce, chili garlic sauce and honey; stir-fry until pork is cooked through, adding water by tablespoonfuls if dry, about 2 minutes.  Add green onions; toss to incorporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

My Favorite Potato Salad

We are so ready for summer at our house.  Alexa is starting to ask about swimsuits and pools, and we've already taken advantage of warmer weather by grilling and eating out on the deck.  One thing I love about summer is all of the cold salads- pasta, vegetable, potato and so on.  But they're often heavy, with lots of mayo involved.  When it's hot out, I want something lighter and fresher tasting.

This Dijon potato salad is always a hit wherever I take it.  Work picnics, backyard cookouts, tailgates, no matter where, my bowl always comes home empty.  Admittedly, this is the weeknight version- some crispy bacon and fresh herbs of your choice are great additions to dress it up for company.  The quantities below serve 3-4, but it's easily scaled up for bigger get-togethers.

Dijon Potato Salad

What's in it:

1 lb. Yukon gold or red-skinned potatoes, diced into bite-size pieces
2 tsp kosher salt
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp herbes de provence
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp olive oil
Pinch sugar
Salt & pepper to taste

How to make it:

Put potatoes in a pot with cold water to cover.  Bring to a boil, and add salt.  Cook until done, about 7-10 minutes.

Place next six ingredients, through mustard, in a bowl large enough to hold potatoes.  Whisk together to combine, then drizzle in oil while still whisking.  Season to taste with sugar, salt and pepper.

Drain potatoes, put in the bowl with the dressing, and stir to coat while still hot.  Serve warm, room temperature, or cold.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chinese Marinated Pork Ribs

I always get a little nostalgic when I cook something from the blog Chocolate & Zucchini.  I can't remember what recipe I was looking for when I stumbled upon this site about six years ago, but I do know that this was the first food blog I ever read.  And it led me to another, and then I found more from there, and so on, until now, where I follow dozens of them in Google Reader.  Chocolate & Zucchini was the start of a rewarding, constantly evolving hobby for me.  The collection of food blogs I read consistently leads me to new ingredients, new techniques and new recipes, and make me think about how I approach dinner time differently.  I've learned about regional specialties and traditions, and how the smallest tweaks to a recipe can make it something new and different.

For all my affection for C&Z, though, it's rare that I see a recipe on there that I can make without tracking down specialty ingredients, searching farmers markets for a new vegetable, or compromising with a substitution.  So when I skimmed through the short list of ingredients for these Chinese marinated ribs, a recipe given to Clotilde by yet another blogger, I was surprised to see that I actually had everything in the house already.  Slightly sweet, a little spicy, these were great with rice and this pickled cucumber and radish salad.

I adapted these for the slow cooker too, and it worked out perfectly.  When I got home from work, they were fall-off-the-bone tender, but still held together well enough to easily transfer them to the baking dish.

Chinese Marinated Pork Ribs

What's in them:

4 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
4 Tbsp. oyster sauce

2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. rice wine (I used mirin that I had leftover from AB's Ramen Radiator)
1 tsp. ground ginger

2-2 1/2 lbs. pork ribs
1/2-1 c. beef or chicken broth
3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. honey

How to make them:

Combine first five ingredients in a ziploc bag.  Cut ribs into pieces small enough to fit into your slow cooker, and place in bag.  Seal bag, making sure that marinade coats all of the meat, and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, put the contents of the bag into the slow cooker, add broth, and cook on low for 8-9 hours.  About a half hour before you want to eat, preheat the oven to 350.  Spread ribs in an even layer in a large baking dish, brush with honey and sprinkle scallions over top.  Bake for about 15 minutes, until ribs are starting to caramelize on top.  Slice into 1-2 rib pieces to serve.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fajita Chicken and Rice Bake

I first started making this casserole several years ago when Vince was working in Norfolk during the week and coming home on the weekends.  During the week, I would cook for myself, making meals that could be divided.  When Vince headed back on Monday mornings, I would pack up the meals for him to take back, frozen so that they would stay cold for the trip.

This is now a favorite of mine to take to new parents as well.  The level of spice can be adjusted, and it can be stuck in the freezer until needed.  All that needs to be done is pop it in the oven.  And just recently, I had the chance to make this for friends who just had a beautiful baby girl!  Served with a tomato, avocado and spinach salad, I hope this keeps the new mom and dad going through some long days.

Fajita Chicken and Rice Bake

What's in it:

2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1-2 bell peppers, any colors, diced
1 small onion, diced
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
Juice of one lime
3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 Tbsp. taco seasoning (this is my favorite recipe)
1-2 cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes or Rotel
4 oz. cream cheese (I usually use Neufchatel)
4 cups cooked rice, brown or white, or a mix
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
1/2 cup shredded cheese, cheddar, monterey jack or pepper jack, or, again, a mix
1/2 cup crushed tortilla chips

How to make it:

Heat 1 Tbsp. of the oil over medium high heat.  Sautee peppers and onions, until they start to brown at the edges, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.  Add garlic, cook for about a minute, until garlic is fragrant, then add lime juice, scraping up any brown bits in the pan.  Move pepper mixture into a bowl.

Mix chicken and taco seasoning.  Heat the rest of the oil in the same pan, and add chicken.  Sautee until nearly cooked through, stirring as needed for even cooking.  Add tomatoes to the pan, and then the cream cheese.  Stir to combine as the cream cheese melts, then stir in the cilantro.

Spray an 8x8 or 9x9 in baking dish with oil or cooking spray.  Spread the rice in the bottom of the pan, then layer pepper mixture, then chicken on top.  Pour any remaining tomato-cream sauce over the layers.  Top with cheese and crushed tortilla chips.  Bake, refrigerate, or freeze.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350.  Bake until casserole is heated through and cheese is browned and bubbly.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Friday Food for Thought: Where Do You Get Your Calories?

As an engineer, I'm can usually be drawn in by a pretty graph; more so if it's interactive.  So when I saw a link for Civil Eats Infographic on where Americans get their calories on the Kitchn, and how that distribution has changed over the last 40 years, I was pretty sure I'd be interested.

Non-interactive graph from The Grist

Using USDA data, the infograph shows that while some food groups' shares of the American plate have remained stable, grains and added fats (among others) have tacked about 20% more calories today than the average in 1970.

Personally, I definitely lean towards proteins and fruit.  I feel like I could be getting more veggies onto my plate, despite my best intentions. 

What's on your plate?  Is the average shown at all representative of your calorie distribution?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Boxty Potato Cake Salad

Yes, this is an Irish recipe, but no, this wasn't for St. Patrick's Day.  Three years ago yesterday, Vince and I had a beautiful wedding day, surrounded by our friends and family, and were then lucky enough to have an amazing honeymoon in Ireland afterwards.

One of our favorite parts of our trip was our time in the southeast, in County Wexford, where we stayed at the Dunbrody Country House.  Part luxury hotel, part cooking school, and set on a gorgeous country estate, Dunbrody is certainly an experience.  As part of our visit, we had a fabulous dinner at the Harvest Room, run by award-winning chef Kevin Dundon, who happens to own Dunbrody with his wife Catherine.

While I didn't get to participate in a cooking class (it was our honeymoon after all, and Vince is not an enthusiastic cook), I did buy Dundon's cookbook, Full on Irish, while we were there.  To celebrate our anniversary this year, I decided to make the boxty potato cake recipe from it.

What I love about this recipe is that this is pretty common pub food in Ireland, but dressed up with a few special touches.  Dundon suggests serving with balsamic vinaigrette-dressed baby lettuces and a slice of pancetta, while I prefer to dress greens with his mustard vinaigrette, also in Full on Irish.  I also like to sprinkle the final potato cake and salad with crispy crumbled bacon and sliced scallion, finished with a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche, instead of the pancetta.

Boxty Potato Cake Salad

What's in them:

1 lb. potatoes, scrubbed
4 oz. bacon, finely chopped
3 scallions, sliced
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup flour
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1-2 cups chopped salad greens (I used crunchy romaine, delicious with the creamy potato cakes)
1-2 Tbsp balsamic or mustard vinaigrette
2-3 Tbsp sour cream

How to make them:

Cover the potatoes with cold water in a pan and add a pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil, continuing to simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until tender.  Drain well, and set aside to cool.  This can be done the day before.

Once potatoes have cooled, peel away the skins and grate into a bowl.  (I used the grater on my food processor, and didn't bother to peel the potatoes.)  Heat a pan over medium-high heat and cook bacon until crispy, 2-3 minutes, draining away most of the excess fat.  Remove 2-3 Tbsp of bacon crumbles from the pan, and reserve for garnish.  Add scallions, again reserving some for garnish, and cook for another minute, until soft.  Transfer bacon and scallions to the bowl with the grated potatoes.  Add the egg yolk and flour, season well with salt and pepper, and mix until just combined.

Divide potato mixture into four and shape into patties, dusting with more flour if necessary.  Lay on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for 1-24 hours.

Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan, add the butter, and then add boxty cakes once butter has stopped foaming.  Cook for 2-3 minutes per side, until cooked through and golden brown.

Place one cake on serving plates, and dress greens with dressing.  Arrange greens on plate, and top with reserved bacon and scallions, and sour cream if desired.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Chocolate Cookies with Salted Caramel Drizzle

Look, I know.  The salted caramel trend has had its day.  But I love it.  Especially with chocolate.  Creamy caramel with that salty bite to it, covering bittersweet chocolate is one of my favorite indulgences.  I've been making these cookies for a while, and they always go fast when I take them to parties, picnics or into work.  Which is why I always hold some back for my personal stash.

These are rich cookies, so I usually make them on the small side, about 1/2-2/3 Tbsp. of dough per cookie.  They also keep well at room temp for about a week, but eventually the caramel starts to run off, so if you make them ahead, hold off on the caramel until you're just about ready to serve.

Chocolate Cookies with Salted Caramel Drizzle
adapted from the cookbook Salt, as seen on The Nest

What's in them:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa solids), roughly chopped
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
about 20 caramel candies

1-2 Tbsp. milk or cream
1 tsp. fleur de sel, sea salt, or kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and baking soda and set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugars in a stand mixer on medium high speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Add the egg and vanilla extract. Continue to beat for 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to slow and add the flour mixture. When that is well mixed, stir in the chopped chocolate.

Put the mixture in the refrigerator for 5 minutes to harden slightly. Scoop very scant tablespoons of the mixture onto parchment-lined baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake in the preheated oven for 7-9 minutes.  Move cookies to a cooling rack, and continue to bake cookies until dough is gone.

While cookies are cooling, unwrap caramels and put into a microwave-safe bowl.   Add milk or cream, and heat in microwave in 30-second intervals, until caramel is completely melted and smooth.  Stir in salt.

Place cookies back onto parchment-lined pans, and drizzle caramel over each cookie using a spoon, squeeze bottle or pastry bag.
How to make them:

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday Food for Thought: Expiration Dates

What do you do when leftovers have been hanging out in your fridge for a while?  Do you open it up, take a look, maybe give it a sniff, trying to decide if it's still okay to eat?  What about cartons of milk, canned goods, and condiments?  Do you go by its sell-by/use-by/best-before date, or do you use your senses for those as well?

It turns out you may be better off assessing the food in your fridge on your own.  According to this article, Take Back the Trash, in the New York Times, these dates aren't federally regulated, but are determined by the manufacturers themselves, with no transparency into their methods.   And those dates cause Americans to thrown away a lot of perfectly good food each year. 

I have to admit, I often go on the purging rampages Bruce Feiler describes at the beginning of the article.  I get frustrated trying to find a spot for leftovers, and start tossing stuff.  For the most part, we do a decent job of packing up leftovers in a way that makes them convenient to freeze or grab for lunch the next day, and minimize how much is thrown away, but stuff definitely slips through the cracks.  

What do you think of the dates stamped on your food?  How do you decide if your food is off?  What do you do to avoid having to throw away food?