Sunday, March 25, 2012

Chunky Slow-cooker Chili

Many of you already know of my love affair with the slow-cooker. I have a slow-cooker with a removable pot. I particularly enjoy setting things up in the pot on a Saturday night, then pulling the pot out of the refrigerator Sunday morning and letting it do it’s thing all day until Sunday dinner. It certainly makes my Sunday’s less stressful.

I wanted to figure out some way to cook chili in the slow-cooker, but I couldn’t find any recipes that really got me excited. Instead, I modified a stove-top chili recipe that I really like. The original recipe uses ground beef. I had some cheap cuts of beef hanging around my freezer, so I substituted them to make a chunkier version. You can  certainly use hamburger, if you like. Knowing I wasn’t going to get as much of a reduction in the liquid using the slow-cooker, I decided to drain the tomatoes, first. I think the results were pretty tasty.

Equipment Needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Measuring cups and spoons
Garlic press (optional)
Large skillet
Large spoon
Paring knife
Mixing bowls

2 onions, peeled finely chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans (15 oz.) dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds stew meat or other beef, cut into small chunks
1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes, drained
1 can (20 oz.) tomato puree

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the meat and cook until just browned. Transfer to the slow-cooker.

Return the pan to the heat. Add more oil if needed and reduce heat to medium. When the oil is shimmering, add the onions, chili powder, cumin, bell pepper, cayenne pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 15 seconds more, until fragrant. Remove from the the heat and transfer to the slow-cooker. Turn off the stove. Everything else will be done in the slow-cooker.

To the slow-cooker, add the beans, diced tomatoes, tomato puree, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir together. Cook on high for 6 hours, or low for 8 hours. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste.

Makes 8 servings.

Garnish with sliced scallions, sour cream, grated cheese, chopped onion, or diced avocados as desired.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

TNT: A Dynamite Tuna Recipe

One of many questions that plague those of us who attempt to rotate our one-year’s food storage is, “Just what am I supposed to do with all this canned tuna?” That question is second only to “What am I supposed to do with all this hard wheat?”

I dislike canned tuna. You wouldn't know it, considering the number of recipes I've got that use canned tuna. You see, the rest of my family loves it so, I’m stuck trying to figure out how to cook with it in ways that won’t make my stomach revolt all over the kitchen table.

Fortunately, I understand culinary genius. Not mine, thank you. Everything I know, that works, came from somewhere else. I’m not talking about celebrity chefs, either. I’m talking about the true guardians of the ultimate in culinary creations: Italian grandmothers.

If anyone can take something horrible and turn it into something delicious, it’s little Italian grandmothers. Say what you want about the influence of French cuisine (and I often do), it’s the Italians who make food worth eating. Fortunately for me, I have a couple of cookbooks written by Italian grandmothers. One of them even includes a recipe for tuna noodle casserole that actually tastes great.

Based on a recipe by Juilia de la Croce, this version goes way beyond school cafeteria fare. I've simplified it a bit for everyday cooking. The addition of sour cream gives it creaminess and helps it stay moist in the oven. My wife calls it "T-N-T:" tuna, noodle and tomato. For a tuna dish, I think it's dynamite.

Equipment needed
Mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Dutch Oven or other large cooking pot with lid.
Medium saucepan
9 1/2 x 13 inch baking dish
Aluminum foil

14 oz. canned tuna, drained
Milk (as needed, optional)
2 1/2 cups Tomato Sauce
1/2 teaspoon Dried Basil
Salt and Pepper, to taste
3/4 pound Egg Noodles, or dried taggliatelle
4 quarts Water
1 tablespoon Salt
2 1/2 cups Sour Cream
Cooking Spray
1 teaspoon Dried Parsley
1/3 cup Grated Romano Cheese, or other hard cheese (optional)

This first step is optional, but will reduce the "fishiness" sometimes associated with canned tuna. Put the drained tuna into a small bowl and add enough milk just to cover. Let sit for 5 minutes and drain off the milk.

Bring the tomato sauce to a simmer in small saucepan. Add the basil and tuna. Lightly simmer for 3-4 minutes to marry the flavors. Add salt and pepper to taste.

In a Dutch Oven or other large cooking pot, bring water to rolling boil Add salt and pasta. Stir the pasta and cover the pan. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until halfway done, about 4 minutes. Reserve 1/3 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and rinse in cool water to separate the noodles. Drain well and set aside.

Add reserved pasta water to sour cream and blend. Set aside.

Generously spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Pour 1/3 of the tuna/tomato mixture on the bottom and spread evenly. Arrange 1/2 of the cooked pasta, evenly, over the top. Smear half the thinned sour cream over the pasta. Cover with another 1/3 of the tuna/tomato sauce. Spread remaining pasta over that and cover with remaining sour cream. Finish with the remaining tomato sauce and use a spatula to smooth and blend slightly. Sprinkle parsley evenly over the top. Cover with grated cheese, if using.

Spray the reflective side of the foil with cooking spray first, to help avoid sticking, and cover the pan, reflective side down. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 10 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until bubbly, about 5 minutes more. Remove from the oven and allow it to settle for about 5 minutes, then serve.

Makes 8 servings.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Flax Muffins Recipe

Want to add more omega-3 fatty acids to your diet? Need a bran boost for fiber? Step away from the fish counter and the cereal section, brothers and sisters. Head over to the baking aisle for some flax seed meal, instead.

Flax, both seeds and oil, are great sources of fiber and alpha-linolenic acid, the plant version of omega-3. In fact, it contains 150% more fiber than oatmeal, and 500% more omega-3 than the next highest plant based sources, canola and walnut. With all health benefits, you’d think it would takes like a box of cardboard. Instead, flax has a wonderful nutty flavor.

Flax meal, oil, or whole seeds, can be added to a wide variety of baked goods, cereals, or fruit smoothies.. One of my favorite things to do with flax meal  is to make tasty whole-grain muffins. Who said you can’t have your whole-grains and enjoy them, too?

This recipe is chock full of tasty stuff that just happens to be good for you. For sweetness and moisture we add brown sugar, carrots, apples, and raisins (optional). For increased nuttiness and texture you can add chopped nuts or sunflower seeds. The addition of oat flour adds even more robust flavor. In spite of all of this, these muffins won’t weigh your gut down. They’re actually quite light.

Equipment needed
Measuring cups and spoons
Muffin pans
Paper baking cups
Mixing bowls
Large spoon
Cooking spray

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup flaxseed meal
3/4 cup oatmeal or oat flour
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 /2 cups shredded carrots
2 apples, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1 cup chopped pecans, walnuts, or sunflower seeds
3/4 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease muffin tins with cooking spray, or line with paper baking cups and set aside. Grind the oatmeal to a fine powder in a spice grinder, or use oat flour.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the different flours, flaxseed meal, oat flour, brown sugard, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Stir in the apples, carrots, raisins (if using) and chopped nuts or seeds. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, and vanilla. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until all is well moistened. Do not over mix!

Fill muffin cups 3/4 full with the batter and bake for 15 – 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and transfer to cooling racks to completely cool.

Makes approximately 15 muffins.

I like to eat them with jam or cream cheese.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Super Easy, No-Cook Fondant

Fondant is an amazing confection. It can be used to decorate cakes, or rolled into balls and dipped into chocolates to make delicious candies. It’s also a pain to make, at least it used to be. Many fondant recipes I’ve found use marshmallows, melted in a double boiler and put through their paces to finally come up with something that can either be tasty, or disgustingly bland. This recipe is different. It requires no cooking and a minimal mount of work. It also tastes good. The secret is using a ready made product as it’s base: marshmallow fluff.

Equipment Needed
large mixing bowl
large spoon
plastic wrap

1 7.5 oz. jar marshmallow fluff
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 - 3 cups confectioners sugar
Cooking spray

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Pour in the marshmallow fluff. Add the vanilla and confectioners sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, mixing until it loses its stickiness.

Dust a clean counter with more confectioner’s sugar. Pour out the fluff and sugar mixture and knead like dough, adding more sugar as needed to make a stiff dough. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Keep in the refrigerator up to 3 days, until needed.

This makes a bright white fondant, but food coloring or other flavorings can be used as desired for different flavors and colors. It also freezes well.