Saturday, February 27, 2010

And I've found my go-to pot roast recipe

Finally! I found my go-to pot roast recipe! And I think the key ingredient was the apple cider vinegar. It added just the right amount of sweetness, along with some acid to make the pot roast melt in our mouths. Give this Old-Fashioned Pot Roast a try, or let me know what your favorite pot roast recipe is.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Waiting for the pot roast to finish

Underneath those veggies is a 2-1/2-lb. chuck roast that is filling my home with rich, yummy smells ... and I have to wait four more hours until I can slice into it.

Life is so unfair.

I've tried a number of pot roast recipes this past year, including this Maple Pot Roast and this Homestyle Pot Roast from Reynolds that uses one of their oven bags, but I still have yet to find that go-to recipe. I'm hoping this is the one:

Old-Fashioned Pot Roast
1 c. plus 2 T. all-purpose flour
1 t. kosher salt
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
2-1/2- to 3-lb. chuck roast
2 T. vegetable oil
1 c. beef stock
Small package baby carrots
6 red potatoes, quartered
2 yellow onions, quartered
1/3 c. apple cider vinegar

Combine 1 c. all-purpose flour with the salt and pepper in a large bag. Add the meat and move it around until it's evenly coated.

Heat a large saute pan over medium-high, add the oil, then brown the meat on all sides for a total of about 15 minutes. Place the roast in a Crock-Pot, then cover with the carrots, potatoes and onions.

Combine the 2 T. flour with the broth and mix well, then pour over the veggies. Add the vinegar, then cook on low for 8 hours.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

And the apple pancake test results are in

I found another apple in my refrigerator this morning, so I decided to make the Apple Oven Pancake from Sunset magazine, to see how it would compare to the Big Apple Pancake from Gourmet magazine (R.I.P.) that has become a staple in our household.

And the results are ... stick with Gourmet's version. The cinnamon in Sunset's Apple Oven Pancake was a nice touch that I might add to the Big Apple Pancake we so eagerly devour, but the sticky bottom added a chewiness that I most certainly did not prefer, and it didn't hold up nearly as well to the fluffiness of our staple.

So my advice is to stick with Gourmet magazine's much-beloved version.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A soothing brew that goes beyond tea leaves

I went to Mom's last night, and after complaining about having a stomachache she made me my favorite tea, full of soothing herbs like ginger and mint. Not to mention that it was delicious.

First, she chopped up a bunch of ginger and let it simmer for about 5 minutes, then she added dried mint leaves and some decaffeinated green tea - since we're all a bunch of caffeine wussies - and let it simmer for another 5 minutes. Then she removed the pot from the heat and let it sit for another 5. Final touch, each mug gets about a teaspoon of instant ginger tea, which is crystallized with a touch of honey to add just a tad of sweetness, but not too much.

Strain the tea into each mug, top it off with a tablespoon or two of vanilla Soy milk, stir well and you've got yourself a Chinese Chai Tea.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Trader Joe's makes a fine red curry

OK, I really can't take credit for this one. Trader Joe's, take it away!

And shame on me for that. It's so easy to make curry from scratch -- it's basically curry powder or curry paste with coconut milk! But sometimes it just tastes better when somebody else makes it. Even if it is full of sodium.

Don't get me wrong, the sauce was tasty enough. First I marinated four sliced chicken breasts in kosher salt and garlic powder for a few hours. Then I sauteed half a small onion and two mini bell peppers, sliced, with a crushed garlic clove in extra-virgin olive oil for about 5 minutes.

After removing the veggies to a bowl, I cooked up the chicken in the same pan, then put the veggies back in along with a can of drained mini corn and the entire jar of Thai Red Curry Sauce. I let it all simmer for about 10 minutes because it was kind of runny, and I suppose I could have added some corn starch, but that would have taken away from the whole point of this, which was simplicity.

My lesson for the day? Once again, being thrifty does not always pay off. Originally I had picked up a mini can of mini corn from the Asian section, but when I found that it was the same price as a full-size can, I opted for the bigger one. But the smaller one actually has smaller, more bite-size corn in it that would have been more appropriate for the dish. Live and learn.

In all honesty, I will say that I was a bit disappointed by the flavor of the sauce, but I hardly blame Trader Joe's. Just last week, I think I spoiled myself by going to my new favorite Indian restaurant, Saffron Grill, (Is it my favorite because it's so close by? Possibly, but it's still quite tasty!) and I think my expectations may have been a bit inflated. No, this sauce was not even close to as good as the food Saffron Grill serves, but for a fraction of the price and the comfort of my home, it's worth it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I come bearing gifts of peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies

Mom's done more than teach me the joy and importance of cooking. She also has taught me a bit about etiquette and how it pertains to cooking. OK, to be completely honest, she never really told me the rule outright, so like most things with her, I had to learn by watching and it did not happen overnight.

But basically, the rule is that you never show up at somebody's house empty-handed. A bottle of wine, a six-pack of beer (or more), a plate of cheese and crackers, anything. Well, she's more likely to bring something like a bag of fresh apples or a cut-up pineapple, but she does hang with a much different crowd than we do.

Anyway, tonight I had a "work" meeting and I wasn't sure what to bring. Alcohol might not have been appropriate, cheese and crackers can be inconvenient unless you know the circumstances ... so I made some cookies. They're easy to bring, and they're a one-hand snack that don't require plates.

And with this great recipe from Bryan's Mom, I knew I couldn't go wrong (and that Bryan would be happy!):

Ultimate Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c. peanut butter
1-1/4 c. packed brown sugar
3 T. milk
1 T. vanilla
1 egg
2 c. flour
3/4 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 c. milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Blend together butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, milk and vanilla, then add egg.

Sift together flour, salt and soda, and add to the peanut butter mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips. Place rounded spoonfuls on cookie sheet and press down lightly with a fork.

Bake for 11 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes before removing to cooling racks. Cool completely before storing in airtight containers.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Homemade Granola has the flavor of love

Over the weekend, I was talking with Mom and something she said brought me back to when I last lived with her and Charlie between school and jobs and traveling and such.

You see, the weekend before they were in our neck of the woods and decided to stop by PCC, where Mom picked up some seeds to make sprouts with. This weekend they were finally ready to eat, and now she just can't get enough of them. She kept going on and on about how delicious they are and how she's never had sprouts this good before, on her chicken salad sandwich, on salads, etc. Then I ruined her party by reminding her that we used to eat them all the time when I lived with her.

OK, she admitted that she simply forgot, and really, it's something we all do. Potsticker phases are a regular occurrence in our household, where for months we eat them nearly every weekend as a midnight snack, then they disappear for an equally long amount of time. This weekend I was struck with a popcorn phase, and the scent of fake butter still lingers in the microwave.

And the last couple of weeks I've been in a granola phase, something Mom got me into when I last was living with them, too. This time, though, I'm following her advice a little more closely and actually making my own. I'm not sure if it's any more healthy, but it's nice to know exactly what is in my granola, and that theoretically I could calculate the fat content.

So far, I've just used what I happen to have in my pantry, which has been equal parts raw pumpkin seeds, raw sunflower seeds and slivered almonds for the nuts, and 1/2 c. each of dried Bing cherries and dried blueberries for the fruit (raisin hater alert). And even though that combination is pure heaven as far as I'm concerned, I will broadening my granola horizons in the future.

Mai Ling's Granola
3 c. rolled oats
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
1 c. dried fruit
1-1/2 c. nuts
1/3 c. canola oil
1/3 c. honey
1/2 c. brown sugar

Spread nonstick aluminum foil over a jelly roll pan and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix oats, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl, then add dried fruit and nuts of your choice.

Meanwhile, heat the oil, honey and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, and stir frequently. Bring mixture to a boil, and continue boiling for about 5 minutes, until it's bubbling and well-mixed.

Slowly add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients in increments, mixing well between additions.

Spread mixture over the prepared jelly roll pan and cook for 10-20 minutes in preheated oven. Stir once or twice to brown the granola evenly.

After removing it from the oven, stir it a couple of times while it cools to prevent it from keeping the shape of the pan.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Don't hold the cheese on Butternut Squash Lasagna

OK, so I guess I lied about never making lasagna again. As a matter of fact, it was probably typing my reference to lasagna that got me thinking it was high time I make some, although I'm not sure what it was that convinced me I didn't need a recipe.

Actually, when I told Bryan that was my plan, he seemed a little hesitant, so I decided to at least loosely base my dish on a recipe Mom shared with me a year or two ago: Lasagna of Roasted Butternut Squash from Michael Chiarello on the Food Network. Not that she really follows the recipe, either, but it's a base. Hey, I learn from the best!

When Mom makes hers, it's much more butternut squashy, but holding back on the cheese is not something I do as gladly. Here was the rendition I made yesterday:

Butternut Squash Lasagna
2-lb. package cubed butternut squash (or you can cut up a whole one yourself if you're as crazy as Mom)
1/4 c. plus 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 T. chopped fresh sage leaves, divided
2 t. Toasted Spice Rub
2 t. kosher salt, divided
1 t. freshly ground black pepper, divided
8 oz. goat cheese
1 lb. fresh lasagna noodles
4 c. milk
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4. c. flour
8 oz. shredded mozzarella
1/2 c. finely grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix butternut squash, 2 T. olive oil, 1 T. sage, toasted spice rub, 1 t. salt and 1/2 t. pepper in a pan big enough that squash can roast in a single layer. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until soft, stirring once or twice.

Let cool for 15-20 minutes, then pulse in a food processor with the goat cheese until cheese is melted and no squash chunks remain. Set aside.

Heat milk to nearly boiling on the stove top or in the microwave. Meanwhile, heat 1/4 c. olive oil in a large saucepan. Add onion and cook for about 5 minutes. Mix in garlic and sage for the last minute, then add flour and blend with a whisk for about 2 minutes. Add heated milk and bring to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent lumps. Turn heat to medium low but continue simmering and stirring for about 5 minutes, until sauce is thick. Stir in 1 t. salt and 1/2 t. pepper, cover and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and spray a 9-by-13-inch pan with cooking spray. Thinly coat pan with 1-2 ladels of bechamel sauce, then cover with a layer cooked noodles. Spread 1/3 of the squash-goat cheese mix, 1/4 of the mozzarella, 1/4 of the Parmesan, then another 1-2 ladels of bechamel sauce. Continue for two more layers, then top with a layer of noodles, the last of the mozzarella, the last of the Parmesan and the last of the bechamel sauce.

Cover with foil and cook for an hour. Remove foil and cook for 15 more minutes, or until top is golden brown. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.