Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ten Diet Rules for the Rest of Us

  1. If you eat something and no one sees you eat it, it has no calories.
  2. If you drink a diet soda with a candy bar, the calories in the candy bar are canceled out by the diet soda.
  3. When you eat with someone else, calories don't count if you don't eat more than they do.
  4. Food used for medical purposes never count. Examples include hot chocolate, toast, chicken soup and chocolate cake.
  5. If you fatten up everyone around you, you will look thinner.
  6. Movie related foods, such as Milk Duds, buttered popcorn, Junior Mints, Reese's Pieces, Red Hots, and Tootsie Rolls, do not have additional calories because they are part of the entertainment package and not part of one's personal fuel.
  7. Cookie pieces contain no fat — the process of breaking them causes the fat to leak out.
  8. Things licked off knives and spoons have no calories if you are in the process of preparing something. Examples include peanut butter on a knife, while making a sandwich, and ice cream or chocolate sauce on a spoon, while making a sundae.
  9. Foods having the same color have the same number of calories. Examples: spinach and pistachio ice cream; shiitake mushrooms and chocolate. Chocolate is a universal color and may be substituted for any other food color.
  10. Foods that are frozen have no calories because calories are units of heat. Examples are ice cream and , frozen pie.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vegetable Mosaic Casserole

I'm always on the lookout for ways to add more vegetables to my family's diet. Inspired by the Mosaic Timbale from the Greens Cookbook, I came up with this variable vegetable casserole. It's not a vegan dish by any stretch of the imagination. It's more of an ovo-lacto vegetarian one.

The vegetables and cheese are variable according to season and taste. Use your favorite herbs, as well. The only thing I would keep constant is make sure to use either leeks or an onion, garlic, the eggs and yoghurt for the sauce, and plenty of herbs.

One thing I like about this dish is that it's a casserole. Casseroles have a huge place in Utah Mormon cuisine. Usually you take them to sick or injured neighbor's houses. They can be made in advance and frozen, reheating them for later. This one you'll want to keep for your own table.

Equipment needed
cutting board
kitchen knife
medium mixing bowl
measuring spoons and cups
large frying pan
medium baking dish

2 leeks, white parts only
2 to 3 cups asparagus
2 cups fresh or frozen peas
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 sweet bell pepper, green or red
4 eggs
2 cups plain yoghurt
1/4 cup low fat milk
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup bread crumbs or crushed butter crackers (Ritz)
1 teaspoon dried basil, or 2 teaspoons fresh basil, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoons fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
butter and canola oil as needed

Butter a medium baking dish. Coat with a single layer of bread crumbs, reserving the remainder of the crumbs, and set aside.

Quarter the leeks and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Rinse well in a colander or sieve and set aside. Break the bottoms off the asparagus and cut into 1 inch lengths. Seed the bell pepper and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.

Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl. Beat the eggs, then mix well with the yoghurt, milk, grated cheese, salt and pepper. Mix in the herbs and set aside.

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and add 1 tablespoon of canola oil to the hot pan, melting the butter. Add the leeks and a pinch of salt. Saute until they start to get soft. Add the peas, peppers, asparagus and garlic. Saute until the asparagus is bright green and the vegetables are starting to soften. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

In the meantime, heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once cooled a bit, toss the vegetables in the egg mixture until completely coated. Pour the vegetable-egg mixture into the baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining bread crumbs evenly over the top. Cover and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes to an hour, so that a toothpick can be inserted and come out clean.

Makes 9 servings, enough for dinner and leftovers.

The original Greens Mosaic Timbale was baked and served in individual ramekins with either a tomato or herbed bechamel sauce. They would make a nice addition to this version, as well.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Essential Baking Equipment Part 2: Cakes, Pies and More

In part 1, we discussed some pretty basic ovenware, mostly for breads, muffins, cookies and the occasional casserole. In this baking equipment installment, we're going to start with cakes.

Layer Cake Pan
You can bake a cake in a square baking dish, but there's just something about a round one that screams, “I took extra time for you” when your baking a cake for someones birthday or other special occasion. You didn't actually take any extra time, of course, but they don't have to know that. Mine have solid bottoms, but I know many people who like the loose-bottom variety, making it easier to remove. I can see the appeal, but for the extra cost I don't see the need. The cake will pull away from the sides of the pan, anyway. Butter and flour the pan well and you should have no problems removing the cake by placing a large plate or baking dish over the top and gently flipping it upside down. For that same reason, you don't need to invest in a nonstick surface, but you do want them to be solidly made. I recommend buying two.

Springform Pan
For those who don't know, a springform pan has a clasp on the side that opens up the pan and releases the bottom. They're much better than a regular cake pan for baking cheesecakes and other delicate cakes that can't be turned upside down to remove. Again, non-stick isn't necessary. A springform pan has to be greased and floured well, or lined with parchment paper, no matter what it's made of. Spend the extra money on solid construction, not unnecessary coatings.

These small ceramic baking dishes are really fun for making individual servings of souffles, custards and other dishes. Ramekins come in various sizes, the most common being about 3/4 of a cup,  and can be brought straight from the oven to the table. The larger ones are great for making French onion soup. They can be a little expensive, but keep your eyes open for deals, buying a few at a time as your budget permits, until you have enough for every member of your family and maybe a couple more for guests.

Pie Pan
Some people claim that metal is better than ceramic or ovenproof glass for pie pans. It's reported to give the pie a crispier crust, because the heat distributes more evenly. Understanding the physics of it, I'd have a hard time arguing with them. They may be right, but I've gotten good results with my Pyrex one for the last twenty years so I'm not looking at replacing it very quickly. Regardless of the material, though, plain sloping sides and a good sized lip of the pie edging is essential.

Quiche Pan
I've seen metal quiche pans with lovely fluted edges designed to strengthen the pastry shell. Most of them have a loose-bottom design so the entire quiche can be removed without breaking the crust and for easy serving. To be honest, I've never felt a need to buy one. I've only made a half-dozen quiches in my lifetime and my regular pie pan has worked  just fine for them.

Next time in Essential Kitchen Equipment, we'll cover roasting pans and such.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Easy Slow-Cooker Barbecue Pulled Pork

If you've never had a Southern-style pulled pork sandwich, you don't know what you're missing. My wife and I recently shared one on our vacation to Newport in Oregon. It was the special at Cafe Stephanie in Historic Newport on Nye Beach. It's a great cafe, and their pulled-pork sandwich was pretty good, served with a perfect, crispy dill pickle spear and potato chips. To be honest, though, I like mine better.

You can use whatever kind of barbecue sauce you want. When I think of Southern-style pulled pork, though, I think of a vinegar based barbecue sauce. I've included the recipe I'm currently using. Feel free to change things up, though. That's the beauty of barbecue. Making your own signature sauces is part of the fun.

Equipment needed
Baking sheet
Medium saucepan
Large mixing bowl
Measuring cups and spoons

1 3/4 cups (14 oz.) beef broth
2 – 3 pound pork shoulder roast, tenderloin, or boneless ribs
1/2 teaspoon salt

for the sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (red) pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Trim any extra fat from the pork. Add it, along with the salt and broth, to the slow cooker. Cook on high heat for 4 to 6 hours. Let it cool enough to handle safely and shred with a fork. It may not seem like it's working at first, but trust me. It will shred easily once you get started.

Make the sauce while the pork is cooking.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the pork from the slow-cooker, discarding any remaining broth (there won't be much). Toss with the barbecue sauce in a large bowl. Add as much barbecue sauce as you want, just don't add so much that it turns into soup. Transfer to a baking sheet. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 30 minutes, or until heated through. Serve on good buns.

Makes about 4 – 6 servings.

To Make the Sauce
Heat the water in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the remaining ingredients, reduce the heat, and slowly simmer for about 5 minutes. You don't need to cook vinegar barbecue sauce for very long.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

For the Love of Vinegar

When stocking your pantry with vinegars, think well beyond the distilled white stuff. Mostly I use that to treat sunburns, never adding it to foods. For culinary uses, I prefer a few other vinegars. You know, something to add flavor, not just bite.

Wine Vinegars
Red and white wine vinegars are mild and fruity. Sherry vinegar is more nutty. Each has a distinctive taste and are great for regular use in salad dressings, sauces marinades.

I like using red and white wine vinegars in the same context as their parent wines. Red and sherry vinegars for more hearty pairing, and white for more delicate effects.

Balsamic Vinegar
While technically a wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar deserves it's own mention. It's sweet, strong and a little musky, being aged in oak barrels. There are many grades of balsamic vinegar, mostly based on age and source. The price can vary wildly from grade to grade, even into hundreds of dollars for a small bottle of the well aged “pure stuff.” Much of what is sold in American supermarkets is actually balsamic vinegar that has been diluted with other wine vinegars. Balsamic vinegar is lovely in many applications. It pairs well with fruit, as in the classic strawberries and balsamic vinegar.

Apple Cider Vinegar
Strong and acidic, this is a favorite of mine when preparing vinegar based barbeque sauces, and other exceptional pairings. Pork dishes (such as roasts or pulled pork) do well with marinades that include apple cider vinegar, but it's also interesting when used to make pickles and some dressings. Reported to have many health benefits, some people take a teaspoon or two of organic apple cider vinegar diluted in a cup of water every day.

Rice Vinegar
One of the most mild vinegars, I use rice vinegar as an alternative to white wine vinegar for some dressings. It's a must when making sushi and my first choice when making other Asian dishes requiring a vinegar marinade.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Easiest Pizza Recipe, Ever

This is the easiest way I know of to enjoy pizza at home. It's so easy, in fact, that it's perfect for those times when you don't have the time or energy to cook.

Equipment Needed
1 telephone
1 telephone book (yellow pages)
1 credit/debit card with money in the account.

Favorite pizza drink (I recommend root beer.)

Look up “Pizza” in the yellow pages. You might find it as a sub-section under “Restaurants.” Look for closest pizza place that delivers.

Using the telephone, carefully dial the numbers listed in the in the ad. When someone answers, speak clearly, requesting whatever toppings seem appropriate. When the time comes, the person you are speaking to may ask you for your credit card number. It is okay to give it to them. Make sure to give this person the correct address of your home, or you will not get the pizza.

Pour yourself some of your favorite pizza related drink and wait for the delivery driver. When you sign the receipt, please add an appropriate tip for the driver. Transfer to serving plates if desired, or just eat it out of the box using your hands.

The number of servings are variable based on the size of the pizza.


Photo by  Rob Owen-Wahl