This is not a big deal at all, just one of the little things I’ve started doing that’s turned out to be awesome, so I’m passing it along…
First of all, whenever I empty a glass spice jar, I never ever toss it out. Those are handy little suckers, and they don’t take up much space. (Note: the jars are infinitely reusable, but the plastic lids tend to take on the odor of whatever spice lived in there before. Please do not try this spice blend and store it in a jar that used to hold garlic powder, okay?)
Last time I ran out of cinnamon, I held onto the jar. Having gotten tired of, every time I made oatmeal or pie or anything of that nature, getting out 5 little jars and putting in a little of each spice, I made up a blend that basically matches what I’d end up doing if I got out all the little jars, and stored it in that jar-formerly-known-as-cinnamon:
“Sweet” Spice Blend:
In a spice jar, put (by the way, really anything beyond the first three or four is optional, just seriously yummy):
- 6 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground allspice
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp ground anise seed
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
Put the lid on, shake well. That’s it. Makes just under half a bottle, with the ones I have. I use this all the time. I sprinkle a little on my ground coffee before pouring the water over it. I put it on oatmeal. I put it in cakes. I put it in pies. I put it in rice pudding. Pretty much any cinnamony-winter-spicy dish or beverage I can think of, this is a great addition. (Like hot milk, with a little vanilla and sugar and some of this sprinkled on top…a lovely before-bed not-very-high-calorie drink…) And it’s incredibly easy. Using it means I crave less sugar in whatever the recipe is, too, because it adds so much really deep and layered flavor to whatever it is…
So–like I say, not a big deal–but do let me know if this works for you, or if you have any similar-type blends with more or less ingredients!
One of my priorities in giving Thanksgiving recipes here is to make things as simple for the cook on the Day Of as possible. The challenge for Thanksgiving every year is that most of us only have one stove and one oven, and managing turkey plus pies plus sides plus gravy plus all this stuff at once is the main headache, because all of a sudden everything is done at once and you’re not sure how to navigate it all…the slow cooker can take a lot of pressure off on that front. And this, by the way, is not just a holiday idea–try this year-round, it makes life much simpler at dinnertime!
Today I’m talking about potatoes, and prepping for both sweet and mashed: you have to cook the potatoes first before doing anything else with them, which can be either done on the stovetop in two big pots (basically, cut ‘em up, boil them for twenty minutes or so or just until fork tender, and drain ‘em in cold water to stop cooking) or in the crockpot overnight the night before. Stephanie over at “A Year of Slow Cooking” has crockpot baked potato instructions that will work perfectly well for this–essentially, wash and dry your potatoes (sweet or white), poke ‘em with a fork a few times, wrap each one individually in foil, and cook them on low in the crockpot for 8-10 hours or so or until soft all the way through. Then you can take them out, let them cool, and deal with them as you wish. Note: you are not really baking the potatoes in here, you are steaming them. Which is better for most Thanksgiving applications anyway.
Sweet Potatoes vs. Yams: the eternal debate, happens every year. Is there a difference? Yes. Will it have any effect at all on your cooking them for Thanksgiving? Not a damn thing. According to this site, the confusion comes from mis-naming sweet potatoes as yams for a long time, alongside with the other confusion that there are tons of different sweet potato varieties–bottom line is that normally we are eating sweet potatoes even when we think they are yams, because sweet potatoes are the ones indigenous to most of our climates, and 95% of genuine yams are grown in Africa and are indigenous to Africa and Asia.
Types of Potatoes to Mash: This is really up to you. But you should know that the whiter, starchier potatoes (the ones we usually bake) like russets and Idahos (Idahos are usually Russets, actually), have more starch in them and don’t stand up to boiling as well, and the smaller waxier ones have more moisture and tend to turn to glue if you smooth them too much. I like “smashed potatoes” better than the smooth creamy ones we all usually think of as “mashed” (really more “whipped” potatoes)–most sites I look at suggest that “Yukon Gold” is a good sort of middle-of-the-road potato…
I’m giving this potato-pre-prep thing its own post, because really this is something you can do any time–toss a few potatoes into the crockpot in foil before you go to work in the morning, and by the time you get home you can turn them into all kinds of things in a matter of minutes. Mash ‘em, smash ‘em, add a little salt and butter to the white ones or brown sugar and cinnamon to sweet ones, you can do all kinds of things. And put some in the fridge for tomorrow or the next day too.
Well, it’s November, which means…it’s time to start thinking about that Gastronomic Holiday of Holidays, Thanksgiving!
I have to say, of all my40+ Thanksgivings on this earth, one of the ones I remember most fondly is the one I spent with two Australians when none of us were able to get home to family, and they wanted to experience a Proper American Thanksgiving Dinner. Part of the fondness, I suspect, came from the fact that Australians–or at least, these two–drink a lot of wine, starting at about noon and continuing till past-pie. A really big part, I also suspect, came from the other fact that I was the only one of the three of us who actually knew how to cook a Proper American Thanksgiving Dinner (or had watched my mom do it for years; I’d never done it myself), so for the first time in my life I actually sort of had sous-chefs!. I didn’t have to peel potatoes or crush pecans or do any of that annoying stuff, I could give instructions and they followed…Mostly, the fondness is because they were just awesome women and it was a lovely lovely afternoon and evening.
Since that year, I’ve done a few Thanksgivings myself, spent a few more with my mom, a couple with my in-laws…I’m sort of getting the hang of this. And it’s just kind of fun.
This is the time of year when bloggers all over the sphere are posting their favorite Thanksgiving recipes, and I figured why not get in on the fun myself? My own spin on the holiday’s cooking is not terribly unique, but it’s still very much in keeping with all the recipes on this blog: I want maximum deliciousness, maximum wholefoodiness, minimum unhealthiness, minimum cost and work. I want a dinner I can pig out on and eat as much as I want and know that there’s not a whole stick of butter in anything I made, and that the grains are whole and the veggies fresh. I want one day to not have to think about portion control, with no accompanying guilt. (I don’t do guilt. Guilt causes stress, which is related to weight gain and all kinds of unhealthy things. )
So my plan over the next couple of weeks is to post most of the recipes I plan to make for Thanksgiving. The turkey recipe I probably won’t, because it comes from a cookbook and it would be sort of a copyright violation to post it–but I use the one from The New Basics Cookbook by the Silver Palate ladies–it involves a lot of port wine used to baste the bird and, especially if you forget and buy ruby instead of tawny port, produces this incredibly gorgeous almost glowy red-orange turkey–I know that sounds weird, but it’s really really pretty and very impressive to see and serve. (That’s a great cookbook, by the way–a little more chi-chi than I normally cook, but when I’m looking for something impressive to make for an event or whatever, it’s the first place I go. And it has lots of good basic information about staple cooking, like poultry, beans, a gajillion different squashes, stuff like that…) Or you could skip the cookbook, use your favorite turkey and stuffing recipe, add some port to it and just baste the bird with the wine along with the normal basting juices. (Makes a terrific gravy too…)
The other reason I’m not going to talk turkey much for these posts is that someone asked me a couple of weeks ago, “What do vegetarians do for Thanksgiving, anyway?” –the thing is, as much as Thanksgiving is theoretically structured around the turkey for many of us, the sides are (for me) what make Thanksgiving Thanksgiving. The mashed potatoes, the sweet potatoes, the dressing, the antipastos, even the brussels sprouts. And of course the pies. Okay, yeah, on some level it wouldn’t seem like Thanksgiving without turkey…but on the other hand, it wouldn’t seem like Thanksgiving without any one of those recipes missing. (Okay, I can sort of live without the brussels sprouts.)
In my opinion, a meatless Thanksgiving would be really easy and delicious without even resorting to a Tofurkey (I’m sorry, no offense, but why bother?)–there’s so much good stuff, how can you even miss?
So: the “side by side” series, yummy holiday dishes (holiday, heck! Eat ‘em all winter!) that are healthy and easy and make good leftovers…additions in the comments more than welcome!
(Click on the links for the rest of the series: potatoes in general, bourbon sweet potatoes, garlic smashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, cranberry relish, and dinner rolls. And maybe I’ll even post some pie recipes…)
This is an especially kid-friendly installment of the Meatless Monday series. (Equally kid-friendly on a meaty non-Monday, too.) Inspired by a conversation I had Saturday with a college student who’d read the sleepover party post, who alerted me that some of the kid-friendly stuff I post is young-single-person-college-student-friendly as well–and it occurred to me after that conversation that if I’d known about this 20 years ago, I would have eaten a lot less bad pizza and had more money in my pocket at the end of the month.
Bottom line, to summarize all that follows: flat grain product + sauce + cheese + whatever else you’ve got=pizza.
If the “whatever else you’ve got” involves a large number of fresh or leftover veggies, so much the better. If you can restrain yourself and just give it enough cheese to hold it together, rather than a quarter inch of goo, better still. Total control over your ingredients, you can make as much as you want or need and don’t have to worry about preservatives or other added weirdness–it’s all good here.
We rely on this pretty much weekly at our house–we either buy naan (Indian flatbread) or pita breads–you can use french bread, english muffins, bagels, even ordinary bread if you toast it first–and spread them with sauce, sprinkle with cheese, and add whatever toppings you want. For my kids, that’s pretty much nothing. My husband and I put all kinds of stuff on there–shrooms (They’re better cooked first, so they don’t give too much liquid off, but if you don’t use too many it’s not necessary), onions, peppers, zucchini, caponata, hey, whatever you want. We usually sprinkle a little garlic powder and oregano on top before baking; gives it just a little extra zing. And kids can help make these–they can sprinkle cheese or spread pepperoni (er…not on Meatless Monday, though) with the best of ‘em. And they love it.
Best of all, everyone can have it Exactly The Way They Like It, even spouses where one knows that the toppings are supposed to go on top of the cheese, and the other comes from some bizarre universe where they go under the cheese. (How the heck do you know what’s on your pizza if it’s all under the cheese? It’s a Chicago thing, isn’t it? I bet it’s a Chicago thing.) Everyone is happy.
If you have a pizza stone, that’s perfect, preheat the oven with the stone in there and you end up with nice crispy “crust”–if not, foil on a baking sheet is fine, or if your “crust” is solid enough and you’re sure no cheese will fall onto the oven floor, they can go directly onto the rack. You can use a regular oven at maybe 400 degrees, or a toaster oven at slightly lower heat than “toast.” I can’t give exact directions for how to bake it, because it depends on what you like–if you don’t have many cold veggies on there and you like the cheese a little browned, just put it under the broiler for a few minutes. If you like softer crust and meltier cheese, just bake normally at 400 or so. Futz with it, and see what works for you.
But in our household Thursday nights are beyond insane–I direct a choir that goes till 4:30, then I have to pick up the kids, and my husband has to come home from work, and my daughter has to get into leotard and tights, and somehow by 5:45 we have to be out the door again to take her to dance class, having already eaten dinner.
I get through most of life without resorting to many pre-prepared foods, but given all this and the fact that Thursday nights at Whole Foods the rotisserie chickens are only $5.99, it’s a pretty good deal all around. While I get the kids and the table set and the bread and veggies–usually raw carrots or cucumbers at the moment–on the table, in between yelling at my daughter to get her dance clothes on and yelling at my son to put down the wii and finish his homework, my husband stops at WF and grabs a chicken. He walks in at about 5:20, and we have a leisurely 25 minute dinner. Or something like that.
Not really blog-worthy, I know–so big deal, we pick up a rotisserie bird once a week. I’ve done that occasionally for years. But the cool part–what I discovered recently as we made this a regular thing is that I can take the carcass (which otherwise would stink up my garbage can till Tuesday when we take it out) and freeze it, and then once a month when I’ve collected 4-5 chicken-bodies I can toss them into the crockpot, fill it with water, turn it on low, and promptly forget about it till dawn. And then I have several quarts of beautifully seasoned chicken stock, since the chickens were usually herb-and-garlic, or lemon-roasted, or some combination of treatments. Enough salt that I don’t have to add any, but–well–not so little that I have to add any.
(Maybe I’m the only one who didn’t know about this little trick. Save and freeze the chickenbodies, avoid buying bland and tasteless chicken broth in difficult-to-recycle-tetrapaks. News to me.)
Friday is my day off. I can strain the stock and make soup for dinner that night, or freeze it in quart containers, or cook it down to a really strong concentrate and freeze it in ice cubes to reconstitute later, or do any of the dozens of things one can do with good stock. If I had any veggies-on-the-verge in my crisper drawer I’d toss them into the pot too–why not, right?
So, for about $24 (4 chickens, one a week) we have 4 total meals for 4, at least 4 extra lunches worth of what didn’t get eaten at dinner, and some good soup makings.
Not a bad deal for the Chicago burbs. I highly recommend it. Don’t throw out your chickenbodies. Save them and make pasta fazool for dinner tomorrow night.
Okay, I know grownups probably aren’t even supposed to admit to eating nachos, except at superbowl parties. (Although, any of y’all who see “nachos” and go “FAT FAT FAT I’m not even going to READ!” might dare to take a look; these are very calmed down on the fat-and-calories front.)
Remember in college and young-adult-hood, when every time you went to the local dive bar with your friends and no one had enough money (or what you had you were determined to spend on as much beer as possible) to buy real food, so you got a giant plate of those fairly horrific nachos, with tortilla chips and loads of cheese that would soak through the chips, and salsa and guacamole and sour cream, and maybe you’d dare someone to eat 8 slices of jalapeno peppers and say you’d buy her another beer if she could do it and not reach for her water glass for a whole minute afterwards, and she did it and didn’t show her agony even though her mouth was on fire, not as much for the free beer as to show she was a real bad-ass?
The thing is, that icky plate of soggy fat-laden nachos can be healthed up quite a bit with a little effort and can even become a really good vegetarian-type dinner. In a hurry.
Bean and Cheese Supernachos
Cover a plate–a non-huge one, preferably–with a single layer of tortilla chips. These can be your regular ordinary chips or choice, baked (less fat) if you choose, or even homemade (baked or fried), though I’ve never tried this. (The single layer part is key for any hope at making this a healthy dinner as opposed to a dressed up snackfest. You can make a really filling dinner of supernachos with maybe 8 or 9 total chips.)
Wait, could we please digress for a moment? My favorite of those “Real Men of Genius” Bud Light commercials: Mr. Giant Taco Salad Inventor:
And…we’re back. We were talking about remembering that we want this to be, at least to some extent, a healthy and body-feeding whole-food dinner kind of thing.
Okay, you have your single layer of chips on the plate.
Over the chips, layer 1/2 cup (or more, it’s your dinner, your appetite, and your calorie count–but these are non-fat, high protein, and really good for you) of black or other cooked dried beans. Again, these can be out of the can (drain first) or something you’ve cooked previously and store as a regular kitchen staple. (Black beans, by the way, seem to cause less of a problem with…let’s just say, noxious methane emissions, FWIW…)
Sprinkle beans with a little cumin and garlic powder; you can add some red pepper or chili powder to this if you’d like. Sprinkle with chopped or sliced jalapenos if you’d like…you can actually add any veggies you want here, but I tend to prefer my nacho veggies cold in the pico de gallo instead of heated over the chips, where they risk making them soggy. (Er…if it’s not Monday, and you’re not avoiding meat, this would also be where you’d spread some of last night’s chili or Saturday night’s shredded rotisserie chicken remains around too.)
Over this, sprinkle a reasonable amount of (organic and hormone-free) grated cheese, of whatever kind you like that melts well. Again, the more cheese, the more saturated fat, so watch that commercial again and make your choice. (Or just because it’s funny.) And the beans with their seasoning honestly make the extra cheese not as needed for texture and flavor.
Heat in the microwave for about 30 seconds, check to see if the cheese is melted, and then heat additionally at 15 second increments until it looks right. (Don’t just stick it in there for a minute on high, or you’ll have burny bubbly cheese on one side and cold unmelted on the other–trust me on this!)
Serve with lots of really good veggie-laden pico de gallo–i.e. fresh salsa you can either make yourself or buy for way too much money at your local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or probably any grocery store, or just cut up some tomatoes and peppers and onions into small chunks and toss them with just enough jarred salsa to hold them together and some chopped cilantro–guacamole, and if you must have something creamy and sour, try a little nonfat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.
Now, obviously, if you want to really make this a healthy lovely meal with nothing for anyone to complain about–you’d leave out the two worst offenders, which are of course the tortilla chips and cheese, without which this obviously wouldn’t be nachos at all. But if you wanted, you could skip the chips and put rice on that plate instead, and have a really good black-beans-and-rice kind of thing, and it’s almost as fast as the nacho version if you have some already-cooked rice around. Or you could compromise and put the rice-and-beans, or just the beans, into small corn tortillas for bean tacos, or larger wheat tortillas for burritos.
But there’s something about those nachos…
Pass the jalapenos, please.
Another of my favorite breakfast-on-the-go recipes–Baked Oatmeal.
I’m not sure really what to call it–it’s not a quick bread, it’s not a cookie, it’s not a muffin–there’s no flour, so its consistency is really just that of, well, oatmeal. Except cool and in bar or muffin form.
The basic original recipe I put up here a while ago; this time I varied it a bit to see if this would work. So:
Baked Oatmeal Recipe, Banana Variation
- 1.5 cups oatmeal
- 1/8 cup oat bran (optional)
- 1 tbs. brown sugar
- 1 mashed banana
- 1 egg
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- pinch salt
- Few shakes cinnamon, ginger, and/or nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (opt)
- 1/2 cup (or more!) dried fruit, like cranberries, currants, raisins, blueberries, whatever (add last)
Spread in 8×8 greased baking dish. (or 9×9, because that’s what I have, it’s just a little thinner) or divide into 12 portions in a muffin tin. (They will be only about an inch thick.)
Bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes in a baking pan or 20 minutes in muffin tins. Let cool. Cut into squares, or remove from muffin tins. Store in fridge if it’s not going to be gone within a day or two.
VERDICT: Delicious. Honestly, even too sweet with the little bit of brown sugar added, because of the banana; next time I’d just leave it out. I wonder what this would be like with a little peanut butter…or with 1/2 cup pumpkin puree in place of the banana, and maybe a little orange juice in place of some of the milk…seriously, any of the funky variations to which we treat oatmeal could be applied here as well…
I honestly cannot be bothered to photograph my food, so please pardon me. (Unlike my brother, whose vacation photos consist largely of pictures of what he ate…)
But one of my favorite REALLY EASY things to make when I want something seriously health-ful, easy, meatless, and requiring not many ingredients is this lentil-and-brown-rice dish–delicious and easy, good complete protein, whole grain, just absolutely nothing bad to say about it.
Curried Lentils and Rice
In a saucepan with a lid, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. (You could use broth if you’d like.)
- 1 cup brown lentils (rinsed and picked)
- 1 cup brown rice
- 1 tbs or so curry powder or garam masala of your choice
- 1 28 oz. can (or quart jar) diced tomatoes with their juice
Stir and bring back to a simmer; cover and simmer for about 40 minutes or until rice and lentils are cooked but not mooshy.
That’s it. You may want to play with the amounts of spices, you may decide to add onions or garlic or sauteed mushrooms or other veggies. You may wish to omit the tomatoes. You can do pretty much whatever the heck you want; it’s still delicious. The lentils and rice take about the same amount of time to cook (don’t substitute white rice, or it’ll go to mush before the lentils are done!), and all that really matters is having two cups of water to one cup of lentils/rice. This makes about 7 cups, which would probably feed 3-4 people, or 2 with lunch leftovers…
If you don’t have curry powder or garam masala–you can make do with your own spice blend, even if you don’t have all the ingredients. Curry powder recipes are available all over the internet, but basically they seem to be a combination of coriander, cumin, and turmeric, with maybe a little cayenne if you like the heat. (I happen to love Pensey’s hot version…) Garam Masala, an Indian spice blend, is another where there are about as many versions as there are Indian grandmas who make them, and it’s a lot like curry only you usually have some “sweet” spices like cinnamon, cloves and/or cardamon, and leave out the turmeric. (By the way, to really do this right you’d toast the spices in the pan first, then grind them, and THEN start the rest of the recipe; I really don’t ever do that…)
Which is to say, if you have cumin and cinnamon but not the others, throw some of that in with some black pepper, and it’ll probably be delicious. Futz around with spices, and don’t be afraid to mess things up.
Okay, I had the most delicious sandwich for lunch today…
Took two slices of whole wheat Italian bread. Smeared some delicious Kalamata olive tapenade on one of them. Put a slice of Havarti cheese on each half. Put them in the toaster oven to toast and melt. Squished it together into a lovely sandwich…It was delicious.
If you don’t have (or don’t like) the tapenade, pesto would work just fine, or a couple roasted red peppers, or some giardinara…Grilled cheese need not be Kraft on Wonder bread, you know.
And by the way–in case you either have never had tapenade or think it’s too much trouble, would you like to see how easy the recipe is?
Kalamata Olive Tapenade
In a bowl, a blender, or your food processor, put a jar of pitted Kalamatas, drained. Add maybe 2-3 cloves minced or crushed garlic (or about a spoonful of the stuff-from-a-jar) and maybe a tablespoon of capers if you have them and feel like it. Drizzle in maybe 2-3 tablespoons olive oil. (And heck, if you are missing any of the above? The only ingredient you really can’t live without is the olives.)
If using a bowl, you need your immersion blender–you just, well, blend. Till it’s blended. Then you eat it.
If using a blender or food processor, well, same thing. Won’t take very long; it needs to spread but should still be a little chunky.
That’s freakin’ IT.
Seriously easy to make, really delicious. Smear this on a grownup grilled cheese sandwich, or serve as a dip with crostini or pita chips, or toss with pasta…go to town. And when you don’t know what to take to that dinner party as an appetizer? Get (or make!) a baguette, slice it up, and serve with some of this tapenade. People will think you very classy and capable, and unless you are one of the thousands upon millions (not) who reads this blog, no one will know how easy it is. (Or if you don’t even want to do that, do the baguette, and serve it with a little olive oil and Parmesan with a few red pepper flakes; looks very chi-chi, and people will love it.)
How about y’all? Anyone got any delicious variations on Grownup Grilled Cheese? What do you put on it?
And see? I’ve just given you a good Meatless Monday recipe to try for tomorrow.
I found a bag of frozen blackberries in the freezer this evening. They’d been there a while, and honestly they were a little freezer-burned. But I figured what the hey, it was a chance to try a variation on my Berry Easy Muffins recipe.
Click on over there, if you’re interested at all–it’s a really easy recipe that uses baking mix (alias Bisquick or some other brand, or for really nice results, make your own!) (In fact, the heck with the pre-made processed lots-of-preservatives-for-endless-shelf-life ones, just make your own to begin with!), milk, egg, oil, and sugar, plus some fresh or frozen berries or cut up fruit. Highly flexible, easy to vary.
Here’s what I did:
Blackberry Tea Cake
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a bowl, mix:
- 1 egg
- 2/3 cup milk or water (or maybe yogurt? I did milk)
- 1/4 cup neutral oil
- 1/2 tsp lemon extract
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Add and mix just till blended:
- 2 1/2 cups baking mix
- 1/2 cup (or less, depending on sweetness of berries) sugar
Last thing, add 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blackberries. (If frozen, do not thaw them first.) Mix just till berries are incorporated.
Put batter into greased 9×9 baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees about 30 minutes. (Maybe a few minutes less if using fresh berries.)
This was delicious. (Okay, I could taste the freezer burn a little, but not much!) The little bit of vanilla and lemon gave the cake part really nice flavor; almond might have been nice too. Because I make my own baking mix, I could make it with a lot of whole wheat flour, which flies pretty well around here. Definitely, give this a shot!