Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sloppy Joes

A perfectly ripe peach, an iced tea, and a freshly bathed dog at my feet on a gorgeous Sunday morning. Life is good, good, good.

These Sloppy Joes are a great casual lunch or dinner, and the meat freezes well. Since we have a two-person household we like to freeze in dinner-for-two sizes.

If you're watching your carbs or calories, or just want a less-sloppy Joe, try hollowing out the roll before putting in the meat filling. This is especially helpful if you're feeding kids who haven't fully mastered clean eating [true story - when Cutie and I were making cheese dip she spilled a little mustard on her shirt. She noted that it clashed with the blueberry stain she'd acquired earlier in the day but couldn't care less about staining the shirt.]

Good side dishes include french fries, green salad, or corn on the cob.

Sloppy Joes
Everyday Food - I think it was 2005

1 and 1/4 pounds ground meat (beef, beef chuck, bison, chicken, turkey, pork, whatever). And you can go up to 1.4 pounds or down to 1.1ish with no adverse effects on the recipe
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (14.5 ounces) tomato puree or tomato sauce
2 tablespoons light-brown sugar
1 tablespoon vinegar - cider vinegar is preferred, but plain white vinegar is fine. Fancy fruit-flavored, herb-infused vinegars won't work here.
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce - check the label to see if it's gluten-free, if that's a concern
4 hamburger rolls or hoagie rolls

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped pickled jalapeno chiles
1/2 ripe avocado, thinly sliced

1. Remove the papery outer skin of the onion, chop off the pointy ends, and dice the onion.

2. Remove the papery outer skin of the garlic cloves and either chop with a knife or smoosh through a garlic press.

3. In a small bowl combine the tomato puree/sauce, light-brown sugar, vinegar, tomato pate, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir with a spoon or fork and set aside. If you stir with a rubber spatula, then you can scrape all the sauce out of the bowl easily.

4. Spray a large skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Over medium-high heat (5 on an electric stovetop) cook ground meat, breaking apart pieces with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned. This will take about 5 minutes. [Note: If you are using non-stick cookware just cook until the meat is no longer pink. Food doesn't brown as well or as much in non-stick as it does with other cookware]

3. If you're handy with a hot skillet, drain the fat by pouring it out. If you're not comfortable with that there's an alternative method - get a large spoon and four or five paper towels. Push all the meat to one side of the skillet. Tilt the skillet slightly, lifting up the side that has all the meat in it.

4. The fat should start to collect in the other side of the skillet. Spoon out the fat and wipe out the rest with the paper towels.

5. Redistribute the meat evenly over the pan. Add salt and peper to taste - two or three shakes of each. Add the chopped onion and smooshed garlic. Cook, stirring every so often, for about five minutes or until the onions are no longer solid white.

6. Add the tomato/Worcestershire/vinegar/sugar mix to the skillet. Also add 1 1/2 cups of water. Stir to coat the meat with the sauce.

7. Reduce heat to medium-low (3ish on an electric stovetop). Simmer until thickened, about twenty minutes.

8. IF you're using the optional garnishes, stir in the cilantro and jalapenos. THOROUGHLY WASH YOUR HANDS after handling the jalapenos.

9. Split the hoagie rolls, top with meat and - if you wish - an avocado slice.

Enjoy an easy dinner on a holiday weekend!

WTH, TGIF? YOU TOO, Pizza Hut!

When College Roomie and I were on Girl Trip '08, weary from our outlet mall excursion and in need of sustenance - we skipped lunch!! - we decided to partake of local delicacies and, well, we ended up at TGI Fridays instead. As chain restaurants go I don't mind Fridays; it's consistent, it's tasty, and our server in Williamsburg kept the iced tea flowing.

The Dragon Chicken I ordered has an Asian flavor and was billed as being a relatively healthful dish. Chicken, soy sauce-based glaze, veggies, rice. All good. And "topped with pico de gallo."


Pico de gallo is a tasty Mexican/Central American condiment. Who thought that combo was a good idea? Why did my tongue do trans-continental flights for the first few bites before I scraped off the pico de gallo? Since when does Asian cuisine include tomatoes???

It just wasn't meant to be. Not that we need to apply a hazmat/Ph.D. nuclear fusion-level restriction on food fusion, but for God's sake put some thought into it and have a little respect for the cultures from which the foods and spices and styles come, because it can be done really well but is often disastrous. Years ago, when airlines used to feed passengers, I was bumped up to first class and got a hot meal. My seatmate's dish was elbow macaroni with a creamy queso and salsa concoction with alleged flecks of ground beef AND pepperoni. He asked, "In what country does this mess naturally occur?" and wisely munched on his peanuts instead. That sums it up, I think.

The marketing is another story. A few days ago Sweetie got the mail, handed me a Pizza Hut ad and said, "Only Pizza Hut would call macaroni & cheese with bacon 'Tuscan'." Being part Tuscan myself, OUCH.

Breathe... breathe...

This week's Learn To Cook/No-Fuss recipe is stylistically consistent throughout - Sloppy Joes! Could you buy a jar of Sloppy Joe sauce at the store? Sure. Can you pronounce everything on the label of the jarred sauce? Maybe. And really, it's just not that much work to make your own, and you don't have all the sugar/corn syrup/high fructose corn syrup/corn syrup solids (get the point?) when you make it yourself. The leftovers make great lunches, and the meat freezes well.

You'll need:

Ground meat - the recipe calls for beef chuck but really, you could use pork or chicken or turkey.
1 onion
Fresh garlic
1 can (14.5 ounces) "tomato puree" - which is Martha Stewart for "tomato sauce"
Light brown sugar
Vinegar - cider vinegar is preferred, but if you have plain white vinegar that's fine. If you have fancy-flavored vinegar (thyme-infused sherry vinegar, for example) it's not going to work here
Tomato paste
Worcestershire sauce
Hoagie/sub rolls

These other ingredients are called for in the recipe, but I consider them completely optional. When Sweetie made this recipe recently he left them out and we didn't feel anything was missing.
Chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Pickled jalapeno chiles (optional)
1 ripe avocado (optional)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

When They Duped Me Into Boot Camp

They say that you will enjoy fitness if you do the same active things you were drawn to as a child.

The swimming I can still manage, and my gym offers a cardio dance thingie that addresses my ballet cravings. Anyone know of a gymnastics coach for the over-35 set?


Sweetie (naturally drawn to running) did boot camp last summer and fall and did tremendously well with it. I would listen to him, with a combination of horror and admiration, as he described the drills that consumed an hour of his morning.

And then I realized - I did that, too! But I was eleven years old and they called it Gymnastics Camp. Held at the local elementary school over the summer, when gymnasts aren't competing, we had 5-hour gymnastics extravaganzas every camp day. A half-hour of stretching and ballet, three and a half hours of gymnastics, a half-hour of calisthenics, and a half-hour of wind sprints. And what did my sister and I do after all that? Ride our bikes to the community pool and swim for the rest of the day before riding our bikes the 1 to 1.5 mile home.

Doing any one of those things now would about kill me. Still, it's nice to know that at one point in time I was able to pull it off.

For now Sweetie and I are doing the One Hundred Pushups program . It's free, free, free! Yeah, and healthy and bone-building and all that, but amen and alleleuia on "free." Not surprisingly, he's pretty far ahead of me... for now.

If you're in boot camp right now then you're counting your daily grams of fiber and protein. This soup will get you there on the fiber. Even if you eat with joyful abandon and no concern whatsoever for the healthfulness of the food, this soup is worth eating just for the yummy factor.

It freezes well and makes a good lunch with a salad. You can't throw this together at a moment's notice, though - the beans need to soak overnight.

Ham and Bean Soup
Cooking Light

1 (12-ounce) package variety dried seven-bean mix (I haven't found seven-bean; I use whatever bag of multi-beans I can find, usually it's 12-bean)
Cooking spray
1 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 cup chopped carrot (about 2)
1 cup chopped celery (3 ribs)
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil (preferred; use 1 TBSP dried basil if that's what you have)
1 TBSP chopped fresh oregano (or 2 tsp dried)
1 TBSP chopped fresh thyme (or 2 tsp dried)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (preferred; use 1/4 tsp regular table salt if that's what you have)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 smoked ham hock (about 4 ounces)
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, undrained
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Sort and wash beans; place in a large Dutch oven. Cover with water to 2 inches above beans; cover and let stand 8 ours. Drain beans. If you don't have a Dutch oven and/or don't know what one is, use a large cooking pot.

2. Heat a large Dutch oven (cooking pot) over medium-high heat. Coat with cooking spray. Add onion and garlic to pan; saute 3 minutes. Add beans, broth, and remaining ingredients except juice; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 2 1/2 hours.

3. Remove ham hock from pan, cool slightly. Remove ham from bones; finely chop and return meat to pan. (Are they kidding? What meat is there on a ham hock? I remove the hock and throw it away).

4. Discard bay leaf. Stir in juice. Yields eight one-and-a-third cup servings.

Per serving: 231 calories, 4.5g fat, 15.6 g protein, 10.9g fiber

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Do Involuntary Shakes Count As Aerobic Activity?

I've been benched for the past four months. Nothing catastrophic, nothing big, just a serious of unfortunate events, as they say.

Tonight was my first Body Flow class since April. It's a mix of yoga, tai chi, and Pilates. This wasn't a carefully planned return to the world of physical activity; I've been in a ridiculous rage all day for no reason and even my intern was hiding from me (not that I blame her). I decided a yoga class might do me a world of good.

Rather than focus on how it was literally shaky there for a while (poor legs!), I'll accurately point out that I held every pose, lengthened every stretch, and sat every up. Not the best, not the strongest, but I made it through and I'm so glad I did. I'd love to believe that the instructor kept looking over out of admiration for my gumption but I think it was more of a concern that I'd just fall over and not get up.

Hopefully, this is the first of many steps towards body and psyche becoming better friends. I'm making no promises about how steady actual, physical walking steps will be tomorrow or the next day.

Oh, and I figured out one of the things I've been doing wrong. "Dancing With The Stars" pro Julianne Hough was recently profiled in one of the fitness magazines. When asked about her diet while she's dancing - and that dancing is an unbelievable workout - she said something like "I stick to lean protein with lots of veggies, but during rehearsal season I add a protein shake and a banana. I want to keep some curves, too!"

Really. A protein shake and a banana. That's what I eat when I'm trying to lose weight.


For y'all doing boot camp, more boot camp-friendly recipes will follow over the next few weeks.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Garlic Sesame Pork Tenderloin

This will be short, since I've got a kitchenful of activity today - making veggie quiche for my work lunches this week, making chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting for Cutie, and getting turkey burgers* in the freezer since I ran out. My friends have all assured me there is absolutely nothing fun going on at all today, anywhere, so I'm not missing a thing.

Garlic Sesame Pork Tenderloin

Get a large Ziploc bag and measure the ingredients directly into the bag. It's silly to dirty a bowl when all you're going to do is put it in a ziploc, anyway.

1 tablespoon honey
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil - this really does have to be sesame oil and not vegetable or canola
4 cloves garlic, minced - take the papery skin off and either chop finely OR smoosh through a garlic press
2 tablespoons brown sugar (light or dark, it doesn't matter)
1 tablespoon dry sherry or white wine - this is not an essential ingredient and you can skip it if you wish. Adding it gives a little more depth to the marinade, but if you don't drink or won't ever use the rest of the bottle, don't bother
3 - 4 scallions, chopped - scallions are those long, thin green onions; they burn easily. You'll use this for garnish, so you don't have to chop these right now or add them in the Ziploc.

Add all ingredients into the bag, tightly close the bag, and shake vigorously to combine all ingredients.

Add the pork chops or pork tenderloin to the bag. Marinate 3 hours in the refrigerator; this is not a hard & fast timeline. You can easily let this go for 10 hours with no problem if you wish. Try and flip the bag over once an hour or so to make sure all of the meat gets immersed in the marinade.

Either grill the tenderloin OR bake it in a 450-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

THROW THE MARINADE AWAY. It is unsafe to use for anything else now that it has flavored raw meat for several hours.

If you're using the oven method, the easiest way I've found to do this is to take a cookie sheet with sides or a large-ish baking dish and line it with foil. Put a wire rack on top of the foil, spray it with cooking spray or vegetable oil, and put the meat on the wire rack.

Insert a meat thermometer halfway into the thickest part of the meat. When it reaches 160 degrees it will be pink but safe to eat; at 170 degrees it's thoroughly cooked.

When done remove from the oven and let the meat "rest" for five minutes or so. Without this resting period the juices will flow out too freely when it's cut and you'll quickly end up with dry meat.

And that's what I love about this recipe - the food does all the work. Mix up the marinade, and let the meat sit in it for hours. Take it out of the oven and let it sit for ten minutes.

Slice and serve!

*I'm using the Confetti Burgers recipe posted on July 4, with a twist. On Friday night Sweetie and I threw some vegetables on the grill and called it dinner. The leftover pieces of grilled squash, carrot, and red pepper have been finely diced and are going into the turkey burgers.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Enough, already!

Earlier this year I was in Bethesda, Maryland for a conference - nice town, good restaurants, and the Doubletree really knows how to host a group of people begrudgingly far away from home (All.Day.Snacks. Good ones).

I asked someone for restaurant recommendations and she gushed about the creative menu at this place up the street. She of the bouffant hair and heavy makeup and six bangle bracelets and high heels (hello, it's a business conference!!)recommended a restaurant with dishes like "Capon stuffed with Chinese broccoli and diced currants glazed with a port-mustard reduction on a bed of whipped celery leaves and saffron cream." There was not one menu item - including coffee - that hadn't been fussed over and forced into an unhappy, arranged, polyandrous marriage.

First off, not one of those things goes with any other. I have a whole rant on that stored up for later. Secondly, I'm increasingly inclined to believe that high-maintenance folks like high-maintenance food. When I returned to the hotel she asked me if I liked the restaurant; actually, I had stared at the posted menu in horror and scurried off to the Indian place down the street. I very nearly said "It looked great, but I'm really more of an Ann Taylor/Tahari kinda girl." As if that would've made any sense to anyone but me.

It's apparent in my dogs, though... Boy Dog will sleep anywhere, take whatever petting he can get and, when we don't catch him in time, eats poo. Girl Dog likes to survey her domain from the sofa, tells you where to pet her and likes her pink collar just so. When I refill their water she waits to see if maybe I'll float some cucumber slices in the bowl. Occasionally at dinnertime she shoots me a look that says, "Waitress? Oh, waitress! I ordered the canned food, with a side of piggie."

If you're looking for a constant stream of dessert recipes that go on for four pages (I make one of those maybe once every two years), or fish recipes that incorporate five aquatic species and eleven pieces of specialized equipment before you get to the second sauce, this probably isn't the blog for you.

So anyway.... today's shopping list! Tomorrow's Learn To Cook/No-Fuss Recipe is Garlic Sesame Pork Tenderloin, which sounds much more complex than it is. While it's not any more difficult than the other Sunday recipes we've done, this is one you could serve to guests at a dinner party. Also, this freezes well.

Shopping List
Honey (if you don't keep honey on hand, two or three of those honey packets from Starbucks should do the trick - you don't need much)
Soy sauce - I usually get the low-sodium kind
Sesame oil - it really does need sesame oil. The flavor is integral to the dish, and regular vegetable or canola oil just won't deliver.
Fresh garlic
Brown sugar
Dry sherry or dry white wine - this adds a nice complexity but it's not essential. If you'll never use sherry again or hate dry white wine or don't drink, just leave it out. Thee are non-alcoholic versions available in the supermarket if that's an option for you.
Pork tenderloin OR boneless loin pork chops
A frozen lasagne - having a backup dinner available takes off all the pressure while cooking because, even if the recipe happens to not turn out, you're not dinnerless.

Since pork tenderloin can be expensive, I recommend making this recipe once to make sure you like it before planning to make extra for freezing.

This marinade is too heavy/intense for fish. It could work for beef, but my understanding is that beef tenderloin is very expensive and probably should be prepared simply to let the beef taste shine through.

Good side dishes include rice, broccoli, carrots, soba noodles, grilled pineapple, and/or spinach. I'm eating breakfast at the moment and just had a black plum, which I think would go nicely with the pork for dessert.

Off to the farmer's market, recycling center, etc.... have a wonderful weekend and I'll post the recipe tomorrow.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sunday Dinner

Greetings from Girl Trip '08!

My college roommate and I take a long weekend together every other year, no husbands (either of us) and no kids (roomie). Since 2000 (or was it '98?) we've rafted the West Virginia white water, rode horses, demonstrated in DC, and hit the spa. I didn't think she'd be able to make it this year due to an incredibly busy schedule of work, graduate school, and parenting.

"Vacation is good for the soul," she replied. Words to live by.

Whilst I wait for the cabana boy to freshen my drink, here's today's no-fuss recipe. As a rule, cheese- or cream-based soups don't freeze well. If you're cooking for a smaller household I recommend cutting the recipe in half. It keeps well in the refrigerator, so you can lunch on this for a few days.

Broccoli and Cheese Soup - Full Recipe
Cooking Light

1 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced ("smooshed")
3 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 (16-ounce) package broccoli florets, or one large head of broccoli. Really, you can go a half-cup up or down according to your taste.
2 and a 1/2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk. Skim is more calorie-conscious but the soup will be thinner; whole milk will be richer and thicker.
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
8 ounces light processed cheese, cubed - yup, Vel-vee-ta

Broccoli and Cheese Soup - Half Recipe-
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 garlic cloves, minced ("smooshed")
1 1/2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth. If you're not going to use much chicken broth for other dishes, just get the box single-serving one-cup portions. They're a little more expensive but much more convenient if you're not making a lot.
8 ounces broccoli florets, or one small head of broccoli. There's flexibility with this according to your taste; use a largeish head of broccoli if that's what you have on hand and need to use up.
1/4 cup all-purpose flour, minus one tablespoon. Don't take this as gospel, I made it up and it's close enough.
4 ounces light processed cheese, cubed - Velveeta!

1. Heat a large nonstick saucepan coated with cooking spray over medium high heat (#5 on an electric stovetop). Add onion and garlic; cook 3 minutes or until tender. The onion will start to look a little see-through. STIR CONTINUOUSLY so that the garlic doesn't burn.

Remember that a metal spoon will scratch a non-stick pan, and it will get hot to the touch. Use a wooden spoon or a silicone spoon/spatula. Target has them and they're not expensive.

Add broth and broccoli. Bring broccoli mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium (#3 on an electric stovetop); cook 10 minutes.

In a small bowl combine milk and flour, stirring with a fork or whisk until it's well-blended. I find it clumps less if I put flour in the bowl first, then add the milk slowly while I whisk (or add a little milk, whisk, then add more).

Add milk mixture to broccoli mixture. Cook 5 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring constantly. The best way to see if it's the right consistency is to see how quickly it slides off the spoon - if you coat your spoon with soup then hold it above the pan, does it run off like water? Cook longer. Does it cling a little bit, like chocolate syrup? You've got it.

Stir in black pepper to taste. If you wish, also add a dash or two of Tabasco sauce.

Remove from heat; turn off the burner if you're using gas, and turn off the burner AND move the pan away from the still-hot burner if you're using electric.

Add the cubed cheese, stirring until cheese melts.

If you're happy with it as-is, you're done. If you want a slightly thicker soup, ladle a cup or so of the soup with broccoli pieces into a blender, puree, and pour back into soup OR use an immersion blender to puree some of the soup.

A good whole grain roll is terrific with this soup. At this time of year a fresh, homegrown, sliced tomato is a perfect side dish.

My soup is too thin!
If you want to eat it as soup, whisk some more flour and milk with more flour than last time - OR put it back on medium-low heat and let it cook down a little further. OR you can steam some broccoli in the microwave, add it to the soup, and puree.

If you're ready to be done with the whole thing and eat already, boil some pasta and toss it with your brocoli cheese sauce.

I feel like I haven't eaten dinner without meat!
Add diced ham.

My soup is too thick!
Put it back on medium-low heat and add 1/4 cup chicken broth. Let it simmer a few minutes, then add another 1/4 cup if necessary.

If you have a baked potato handy heat it up, split it down the middle, and add the broccoli/cheese mixture for a great baked potato with broccoli & cheese.

Cheesy Ain't Always Bad

I would be a much thinner woman in a world without chocolate or cheese. Or with some willpower.

But we live the life we have, right? And my life has Broccoli and Cheese Soup, tomorrow's Learn To Cook/Quick Dinner recipe. You'll need:

one onion
fresh garlic
Chicken broth (preferably low-sodium)
2% milk but really, any kind of milk is fine - your soup will be thinner and more calorie conscious with 1% or skim, and richer and thicker with whole milk.
Light Velveeta. Yes, Velveeta. On my blog! There's probably a $30/pound cheddar that melts just as beautifully, but we don't eat like that here.

Sorry for the short post, but I'm en route to Girl Trip '08. I had big plans of visiting grandparents and doing productive things, but I'm throwing responsibility and fiscal caution to the wind - it's all about me, me, ME! for the weekend.

Of coure the question to be answered is this: Can I really continue to write a food blog once I'm on a calorie- and budget-conscious diet of gruel? Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What A Sailor Wants, A Sailor Gets

There are a lot of people in Iraq and Afghanistan who are spending precious time away from their families and seeing things they'd rather not see and pining for a cold glass of milk and a little air conditioning.

One of those uniformed people headed over to far-flung nooks and crannies is my brother-in-law. His and my sister's three beautiful children, the two old enough to understand, know that Daddy won't be home until after Christmas but he will be thinking of them, and of Mommy, every single day. Interestingly, my niece and older nephew have become obsessed with camo after a long talk about what the uniform means.

Anyone have a cute denim skirt in pink camo, size 6x? Call me.

Anyway, due to distance I couldn't make the going-away party that my Mom hosted (though I suspect the menu was much the same as it was for my 1987 graduation party, my sister's 1990 graduation party, and other events since then...). Hey, when you find something that works you stick with it, and Mom's deviled eggs are unparalleled.

On request I shipped this apple cake for the event. When a departing serviceman wants apple cake, by God he gets apple cake. Unless Mom is lying to me, which isn't really her style, it's still fairly moist 5 days after baking (it was VERY well-wrapped).

Be safe, Marc - wear your helmet, and we'll all take care of T and the kids while you're away. Another cake will be waiting for you when you come home.

Apple Spice Cake

1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup (3 ounces) low-fat cream cheese (also called Neufachtel), softened
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 cup chopped, peeled apple (Granny Smith, Braeburn, Pink Lady, or Fuji work well. DO NOT use Red Delicious or Golden Delicious - too soft, too bland)
2 TBSP brandy (optional) - I've never used it

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place dark brown sugar, cream cheese, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract in a large bowl and beat with a mixer until well-blended (about 3 minutes). Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber scraper if necessary. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Lightly spoon flour into dry easuring cups, level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, cloves, and nutmeg, stirring with a fork or whisk. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture, beat well after each addition. Stir in the apple and, if desired, brandy. Spoon mixture into an 8x8-inch square bakign pan coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan, cool completely on wire rack.

The recipe says to sprinkle with powdered sugar; personally, I've never thought it needed it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


As promised, here is this week's Learn To Cook recipe. Surprisingly, this is from Gourmet magazine, a publication I wouldn't recommend to beginning cooks, the health-conscious, or the un-wealthy. Gourmet tends to answer such questions as "Why are there no real five-star restaurants in Istanbul?" and where to find the best caviar for under $200/ounce.

So as unlikely a source as it is for an easy, stuff-real-people-eat recipe, it came through. This 2004 recipe is under the heading "Five Ingredients One-Pot Wonder" and has graced our table repeatedly. Enjoy. This recipe halves well to feed two (or one person twice) instead of four.

Baked Chicken with White Beans and Tomatoes

6 uncooked bacon slices, cut into 1-inch pieces - turkey bacon is fine
4 large chicken thighs with skin and bone (1 1/2 pounds total - very inexpensive)
2 medium onions, chopped (1 1/2 cups - no big deal if it's a little over or under. If you love onions, add more)
1 (14 to 16-ounce) can stewed tomatoes, including juice. If you can't find stewed tomatoes, just use diced. If you can find Muir Glen's Fire-Roasted canned tomatoes, they're wonderful in this dish and well worth the extra money
2 (15- to 16-ounce) cans small white beans, rinsed and drained. If you love other white beans like Great Northern, go ahead and use them instead.

Put oven rack into middle position of the oven. If there is no middle position, use the upper-middle.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook bacon in a heavy ovenproof skillet (cast iron, or something with a metal handle). Cook over moderate heat (#4 on an electric stovetop), stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp - about 8 minutes. If you're using turkey bacon it won't be all that crisp.

Transfer bacon - but not its fat - to a plate or cutting board with folded paper towels on it. Allow the bacon to drain. It's OK to fold some of the towels over and dab the top of the bacon. DO NOT throw away the bacon fat in the skillet.

While bacon is browning, shake some salt and pepper - two or three shakes of each - on the raw chicken. In your still-hot skillet with bacon fat brown the chicken. Turn each thigh after 4 minutes; it will be nicely browned, but not burned, after 4 minutes of medium heat.

Layer more paper towels on another cleanable surface like a plate or cutting board. Using tongs or a fork, move the thighs onto the paper towels to drain.

Pour off most of the fat from the skillet - leave about 3 TBSP, or a shot glass worth - in the skillet. Lower the heat (between #2 and #3 on an electric stovetop).

Cook onions in skillet - if you just washed the onions and they still have water clinging to them dry them off with a paper towel. Otherwise, when cold water hits hot oil it will sputter and spit hot oil, possibly in your direction but definitely somewhere you'll have to clean.

Cook the onions until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Stir regularly - otherwise the onions with the skillet-bottom real estate will overcook and the raw onions on top will stay raw.

Add the tomatoes and juice to the onions and boil, uncovered, 3 minutes. This lets some of the water cook off and leaves the tasty, more-concentrated juices behind.

Stir in bacon and beans. Heat until you see light steam coming off the skillet and tiny channels of bubbles in the juice - this is called a "simmer."

Nestle the chicken, skin side up, in the dish. Bake, uncovered, 20 to 25 minutes.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

What is this "cooking" you speak of?

I'll cut to the chase.

I've heard from three of you so far who don't cook but want to step-by-step learn how to put a week's worth of dinners on the table. Nothing fancy, just tasty. And I'm soooo flattered you've included Nostinkycheese in your online reading if you don't cook!

Stay tuned - every Sunday, online, we'll do a Beginner Dish with plenty of instructions and no exotic ingredients or specialized equipment. The ingredient list will be posted every Saturday.

Tomorrow's recipe will be Baked Chicken with White Beans and Tomatoes . You'll need bacon (turkey bacon is fine), chicken, onions, canned stewed tomatoes, and canned small white beans ("cannellini"). Do not use dried beans as they require a good 12 hours of soaking.

To take the pressure off, also pick up a frozen pizza. That way if the dish doesn't turn out, you've still got something for dinner.

And if you're just getting familiar with that room in the house where you chill your white wine and store those "mixing bowl" things your grandmother gave you when you got your first apartment, here are a few things I've found helpful and some that I ended up tossing:


1. Salad spinner - it took up way too much room in my cabinet and I just don't care enough about dry salad greens to justify the space and cleaning the numerous parts of the damn thing. If you adore salad dressing and don't want it the tiniest bit diluted by water clinging to greens then a salad spinner may be worth it for you.

2. The Gitmo Herb-icide - Holy hell, this thing is scary. It looks like four or five mini-pizza wheels spinning on the same axel (picture of the $35 Williams-Sonoma version above). Its alleged intent is to help, not hurt, the cook by speeding up the herb-mincing process - lay your herbs on the cutting board and roll this razor-sharp instrument of destruction over them, leaving finely-chopped herbal carnage in its wake.

It didn't really work that way for me. It smooshed some herbs and pushed others forward bulldozer-style, but that's not the problem.

Clean it. HA! I dare you! Don't beribbon your sponge. Don't unwittingly attempt suicide or digital amputation at your sink. Don't leave gunk on the parts of the inner wheels that you can't see. Don't buy into the drama as it smirks at you.

Sleep with the lights on, it's not finished. I had to figure out how to safely dispose of my gunked-up Cheney-designed utensil. Medical sharps container? Didn't have one handy. Goodwill? No, inflicting it on someone else wasn't the answer. Besides, little kids run all over that store brandishing whatever they find on the shelves. I can't live with being the indirect cause of the Thrift Store Massacre and the resulting Arlo Guthrie song.

Ultimately I wrapped it in most of the Sunday paper, put that mass in several layers of plastic, taped it up and wrote "DANGER! SHARP!" on it with permanent marker. That may not have been enough.

3. Potato ricer - not dangerous, just annoyingly large and cumbersome for no real benefit that I could see, and no other use besides mashed potatoes.


1. Digital thermometer - you can get one for about $10 at Target and they are a godsend for grilling and cooking meat or poultry. One of the reasons chicken and turkey can end up dry is because it often doesn't look quite done, even though it has reached fully-cooked temperature. This is more advanced, but I also use mine to check the water temperature when I use yeast.

Note: the difference between a digital candy thermometer and a digital non-candy thermometer is the range of temperatures it measures. Candy thermometers will measure over 250 degrees; since most meat is fuly cooked at 180 or less, non-candy thermometers usually max out at 200 degrees. You probably can't use an all-around or meat thermometer for candy, but you can use a candy thermometer for anything. If you don't ever plan to make candy - which is a royal PITA to clean up - just get whatever strikes your fancy. Either is fine for checking meats.

2. Wooden spoons - these aren't given nearly enough credit in today's high-tech world, are they? They don't scratch non-stick cookware. They don't get hot, even if you leave one in a pot of soup or spaghetti sauce for an hour or two. They happily take a dunk in soapy water with no special cleaning or maintenance. I have one with a flat bottom (or top, depending on how you look at it) that scrapes the bottom of the skillet or saucepan really well. It's from Crate & Barrel and was $5 or less.

3. Immersion blender, also called a stick blender - cookbook authors think it's a terrific idea to ladle hot soup into a blender - without spilling the soup or burning yourself - put the top on (which doesn't allow the steam to escape and that can't be good), then whirl the soup into a frenzy before pouring the now-pureed soup into yet another pot.

Ummmm, no.

To smooth out soups and gravies just plug in your stick blender near the stove, immerse the whirly parts and hit the "on" switch - in that order. Move the blender around in a slow stir, and hit the "off" switch before you pull the blender out of the liquid. Unplug and rinse. I had an inexpensive stick blender for about 5 years before it gave out. After an appropriate mourning (and saving) period I prepared to buy a Kitchen Aid version, but Sweetie found an old Braun for $4 at a yard sale. That was a good 5 years ago and it still works beautifully.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

And the lowly chicken clasped its wings together, clicked its feet, and became a butterfly

Or something like that.

Tonight's dinner, which I started last night by making the marinade, was Emeril's Caribbean Chicken from this month's Everyday Food subdivision of the Martha Stewart Empire.

This is the first time I had to butterfly a whole chicken - for grilling, no less - so after careful analysis of the instructional diagram I outsourced it. I texted Sweetie and told him I had a manly food task for him that required sharp knives and fire. He did something or other - waved a magic wand, maybe? - while I was at work to ready the chicken and de-bone parts of it. I'll have to ask him for the details someday. On the household level we'll consider that skill mastered.

He popped the chicken into the marinade I'd already made and, to have it ready at dinnertime, threw it on the grill before I got home from work. "Vegetable?" he said. "Broccoli or sugar peas," I said from the depths of the crisper. Fresh sugar peas it was. It took me WAY longer than it should have to learn that one nicely-done dish per weeknight meal is plenty, and a cup of crudites is too a side dish. We loved the whole dinner. With more time and energy than I had at my disposal this evening this would be great with a green salad or, in cooler weather, baked sweet potato and black beans.

Cooking for a small household? Halve the marinade and make two Cornish game hens instead of a whole roasting hen. Wrap some of the meat tightly in Saran wrap, pop into a Ziploc, and freeze.

No grill? Use a grill pan (Calphalon makes a great one), or a regular large skillet.

Emeril's Caribbean Chicken

4 scallions, ends trimmed, cut into thirds
2 to 4 Scotch bonnet or jalapeno chiles, stems and seeds removed (use gloves) - I had one poblano and two serrano pepers in the crisper, so I used those
6 garlic cloves, peeled - seriously, it's not that garlicky. 6 cloves is fine.
3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 TBSP fresh lime juice (or bottled)
2 TBSP soy sauce
2 TBSP light-brown sugar
1 TBSP pumpkin pie spice (I have no idea what that is. I used a few hearty shakes of cinnamon, allspice, and a less-hearty, teensy pinch of ground cloves)
1 tsp dried thyme
1 whole chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds)
Vegetable oil for grates
Coarse salt

1. In a food processor, combines scallions, chiles, garlic, ginger, lime juice, soy sauce, sugar, spices; puree into a thick paste. Set aside. (I don't think my marinade was a "thick paste" - it was fairly liquid. No matter, it was wonderful.)

2. To butterfly chicken: Using a knife or poultry shears, cut out the backbone. With a heavy pot, crack breastplate so the bird lays flat. Place butterflied chicken in a gallon-size resealable plastic bag. Rub reserved paste over chicken and seal bag. Refrigerate for 12 hours (or up to 1 day).

3. Heat grill to medium-low; lightly oil grates. Wipe chicken with paper towels to remove excess paste, and season with 1 tbsp coarse salt. Place, skin side down, on grill and cook, turning occasionally, until lightly charred and an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part of thigh (avoiding bone) registers 165 degrees, 35 to 40 minutes. If browning too quickly, move to a cooler part of the grill. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.