Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Happy 100th!

Back when she was only 92 years old Miss Jeannette would sit in front of us in church every Sunday. Mostly blind, she has a watch that speaks aloud the time when she presses a button. And when she felt the sermon had gone on quite long enough, she'd crank up the volume, aim her watch at the preacher, and hit the button. Three or four times. And said preacher would pick up the pace and wrap it up.

A few years ago, in her late 90's, I brought a poinsettia to her house at Christmastime on behalf of the church. She graciously invited me in - she was still in the home she'd been in for 60 years - and invited me to set on the davenport with her. In the way of stately senior Southern women, she coats her words with honey.

Miss Jeannette: Now what part of town are your Mama and Daddy in?
Me: Actually, I'm from Pennsylvania.
Miss Jeannette, reassuringly: Why, honey, that's all right! The important thing is you're here now. I'm sure it's the second-nicest place to be from.
Me: It's beautiful in the Fall. I grew up near Valley Forge, so it's very historical.
MJ, patting my knee: Yes, dear, of course it is.

She's a trip. And she turns 100 this week. In her honor, a recipe for one of the Dixiest of desserts - a rich, nostalgic caramel cake. Use cake flour - it gives the cake that wonderful from-the-bakery texture and lightness. This recipe uses light brown sugar for the cake itself, and gets its richness and caramelliness from the dark brown sugar in the frosting. It works perfectly.

Happy birthday, Miss Jeannette!

Cooking Light

Cooking spray
1 tablespoon cake flour
1 cup packed light brown sugar
7 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup egg substitute
2 cups cake flour (about 8 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup fat-free milk

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare cake, coat 2 (8-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray; line bottoms of pans with wax paper or cooking parchment. Lightly coat wax paper with cooking spray; dust pans with 1 tablespoon flour. Set aside.

Place 1 cup light brown sugar and 7 tablespoons butter in a large mixing bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed 3 minutes or until well blended. Add egg substitute to sugar mixture; beat well. Lightly spoon 2 cups flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture alternately with 1 cup milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

Spoon batter into prepared pans. Sharply tap pans once on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Remove wax paper; discard. Cool cakes completely on wire rack.

To prepare frosting, combine 1/2 cup dark brown sugar and remaining ingredients in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat; bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes or until mixture is thick, stirring constantly.

Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread with 1/3 cup frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sweet and Sour

You've been heard, stinkycheesers! It's time for a break from the chicken. Fair enough. And if y'all are willing to trust Mr. Nostinkycheese's judgment, I'll even experiment with red meat; I don't eat it myself (long story about having lived in West Africa in college), but he's an enthusiastic consumer and I'm happy to give the cooking a whirl. You're on your own for shellfish, though - my commitment to Nostinkycheese ends where my allergies begin. Love ya anyway.

Last week's grouper recipe was a keeper. SO good. So let's keep with the fish theme for a little bit - salmon is super easy to find and incredibly versatile. Oh, and it's pretty, which is always a plus.

Speaking of versatility, this recipe also works extremely well with tuna steaks. Also pretty. Kind of the same color as the ruby grapefruit I'm doing battle with right this very second. No wonder grapefruit is a diet food - out of a half-pound fruit you can only get an ounce of sustenance out of the damn thing and wear the rest.

Moving on....

I don't usually order anything sweet & sour in restaurants, because they seem to forget about the sour. One of the very few times I've sent food back was when there were actual sugar crystals on my sweet & sour chicken. EEEEWWWW.

This 2004 Cooking Light recipe is one of the few I haven't embellished in any way - but of course, that doesn't mean you shouldn't. And if you want to report back your results, so much the better!

For some reason I'm compelled to always serve fish with rice. Personally, I'd serve this with plain rice and not last week's Rice/Baby Bok Choy salad - I'd let this sauce stand on its own without competition. Steamed broccoli is fabulous on the side. So is asparagus.

If you have a Costco nearby that's almost certainly your best deal on salmon (unless, of course, you have a salmon stream nearby). We're a two-person household so we just split up the big Costco sizes into two-person servings and freeze. There's controversy about farmed salmon vs. wild caught (I guess they don't call fish "free range", do they?). I'm not entering the debate, just saying that wild caught will be more expensive and usually tastier, but I eat farmed salmon all the time. Dang, food has gotten political.

Salmon with Sweet-and-Sour Pan Sauce
Cooking Light

1 TBSP vegetable oil (or canola oil)
1/4 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth (have you seen the small juice-size boxes of chicken broth? FANTASTIC for these small uses)
2 TBSP brown sugar
2 TBSP fresh lime juice (bottled is fine)
1 TBSP low-sodium soy sauce
1 TBSP fish sauce - available in the Asian foods section of your supermarket
2 garlic cloves, minced - don't use dried garlic, it will taste metallic
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets, about 1 inch thick
salt & pepper

1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over low heat.

2. Combine broth, brown sugar, lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce, and garlic in a small dish. Whisk to combine (use a fork if you don't want to dirty a whisk), and set aside.

3. Increase heat to medium-high, and heat 3 minutes.

4. While pan heats, sprinkle fillets with salt and pepper. Add fillets to pan, cook 4 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. With both salmon and tuna the color will change - it will become more opaque and less red.

5. Drain fat from fan and discard fat. Add broth mixture to pan, scraping to loosen browned bits (note - you only get browned bits when you cook with a stainless steel pan. If you use nonstick you'll have "stuff" on the pan, but not the cook-treasured browned bits. Still tastes good.).

Bring to a boil, cook 30 seconds. Remove from heat. Serve sauce over fish.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Fishing For Compliments

I feel amazing. Spring has awakened the outside, bringing color and joy and energy and daffodils. My weekend started early with a fun coffee night with a girlfriend, and moved on to ditching the gym in favor of power walks through the park, getting through the to-do list, and wrapping it all up with a manicure. Life is GOOD.

And did we eat well last night! Craving fish, I tried a recipe from the March issue of Cooking Light (in which I've flagged at least 5 other recipes to try). Sometimes people tell you that dinner is wonderful. Other times, like last night, your dining companion simply focuses on eating and gettng extra helpings and making the occasional yummy-noise. And that's every bit as much of an "I love this" as actually saying the words.

Since I also made the recommended side dish of rice with baby bok choy and a light dressing, it's probably more of a weekend recipe here than one I can pull off during the week. And yes, I'm challenging CL's assertion that this is a 30-minute recipe. No matter, it's in The Binder and will be made again.

The big substitution I made was to get grouper instead of halibut. A quick word about that - I can squeeze the copper off a penny. Regular readers of nostinkycheese know that. But cheap fish, as a rule, sucks. I paid about $12/pound for excellent quality fresh grouper and it was SO worth it. Just remind yourself that this entree would easily be $20/person at a restaurant, if not more, and therefore it's a STEAL. And I figure that one of the reasons we watch our food budget is so that we can have these little splurges.

For those of you environmentally focused, click here to link to the Blue Ocean Institute guide on species that are overfished.

Cooking fish can be a little intimidating. I've written up the directions a little differently than they appeared in the magazine - by mixing the sauces ahead of time, you can focus your attention completely on the fish without trying to go all octopus doing 6 things at once and having NO idea that 10 minutes has gone by, it couldn't possibly have been more than 3! Been there.

If you don't want to make the rice/bok choy, plain rice will work fine. So would a bed of spinach with a little sesame oil, or a plain steamed broccoli/carrot combo.

Halibut (or Grouper) with Coconut-Red Curry Sauce
Cooking Light

2 teaspoons canola oil, divided (or vegetable oil)
4 (6-ounce) halibut or grouper filets
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green onion (a nice addition, but not essential in my opinion)
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger. Yes, fresh.
1 cup light coconut milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce (soy sauce will also work, but not be as rich/authentic)
3/4 teaspoon red curry paste - check the label for gluten, if that's a concern
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice (bottled is fine)

Rice/Baby Bok Choy Salad
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup basmati rice
2 cups chopped baby bok choy
1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dark sesame oil

1. Chop the onion, green onion, and ginger. Set aside.
2. In a small bowl or larger measuring cup, combine the light coconut milk, sugar, fish sauce, red curry paste, and coriander. Stir until mixed. Set aside.
3. If making rice, chop the bok choy and set aside. In a small cup or bowl mix the soy sauce, lime juice, sugar and dark sesame oil - set aside.

At this point you can keep going or take a breather for a few hours if you have something else to do. If possible, let your fish sit at room temperature for 20 minutes or so before cooking.

4. Combine water and basmati rice in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 12 minutes (or, if you're like me, you just follow your rice cooker directions)
5. Stir in chopped baby bok choy; cover and cook 8 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Set aside.

6. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add fish to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. I find the fish cooks more evenly if I put a lid on the skillet to trap the steam.

7. Remove fish from pan. I just put some on each dinner plate.

8. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add onion, green onions, and ginger - saute 2 minutes.

9. Stir in the coconut milk/curry mixture that you have wisely already measured and assembled. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in basil and juice.

10. Add soy sauce/lime dressing to rice/bok choy dish and toss.

Seriously - yummynoises abounded. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

My Name Is Stephanie, And I Shamelessly Eat Carbs

And peanut butter. Such a rebel!

Seriously, all I've had today is carbs. Cereal (with milk & blueberries) for breakfast, and a nibble of pasta around lunchtime (never got to eat my lunch today). And since I needed comfort food earlier in the week, I had some Butternut Squash Souffle in the fridge that I just heated up for a dinner of sorts - carby, but it's a vegetable. I'll shortly break the trend by meeting a friend out for caffeine and/or alcohol. Maybe a salad if I'm feeling virtuous, who knows?

I'm loving this stuff. It's not the lightest dish in the world, but it's both sweet and savory, and soft on my sore throat. Really, I'm trying to increase my vegetable repertoire over the next few months and will share the successes with y'all. I suppose I could share the failures, but that never made sense to me - "this sucks, and here's how you can make it in your own home." ???

From Southern Living:

Butternut Squash Souffle
1 large butternut squash (about 2 lb.)
3 large eggs
1/2 cup light sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage* (I used dried)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1. Remove stem from squash. Cut squash lengthwise into 4 pieces; remove and discard seeds. Cook squash in boiling water to cover in a large saucepan over medium-high heat 10 to 15 minutes or until tender. Drain well; let cool for 25 minutes or until completely cool. Remove and discard peel. It was much easier to spoon out the flesh than to use a knife.

2. Process squash and eggs in a food processor until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides. [Note: I don't have a food processor - my hand mixer worked fine] Add sour cream and remaining ingredients; process 20 to 30 seconds or until smooth. Pour mixture into a lightly greased 8-inch square baking dish.

3. Bake at 350° for 55 to 60 minutes or until set.

*1 tsp. ground sage may be substituted.