Archive for July, 2009

Easy Breakfast Recipes

French toast

I love sitting around on weekend mornings, drinking coffee and eating something delicious. This is particularly true when the breakfast recipe is fast and easy. This is why I have posted so many quick breakfast recipes since starting this blog. So, in honor of breakfast, here’s a listing of some of my favorite morning recipes.

Perfect Scrambled Eggs
Scrambled eggs are a no brainer, right? You just stir them a bit in a bowl or a hot pan with some butter and then voila — scrambled eggs! I used to think this was true. I thought that scrambled eggs were all alike and wasn’t really a fan. I always preferred a nice fried egg with a slightly runny yolk, or one poached or soft boiled. And then, about two years ago while reading Julia Child’s autobiography, My Life in France, my relationship with scrambled eggs was changed forever…

Stuffed Challah French Toast with Berries
Challah French toast stuffed with cream cheese and jam and topped with berries. Regular French toast is a universal favorite, but with just a little extra effort, you can make it exceptional. Even better, this breakfast couldn’t be easier to make and you can even prepare most of the dish the night before…

Blueberry Muffins
Although you can easily use frozen blueberries for muffins, there’s no reason to do that now, when berries are fresh, in season, and moderately inexpensive. Frozen berries are for the winter, when you have to pay little buckets of gold for a half pint of fresh ones. Plus, fresh berries exude bursts of sweetness that are unmatched by their frozen cousins…

Nut and Fruit Steel-Cut Oatcakes and Strawberry Oat Squares
After a few tries, I came up with a recipe that created great breakfast cakes: supple, yet still firm, with a hint of nuttiness, and just the right amount of fruit to add bits of sweetness to each bite. They are the perfect quick breakfast for a hungry child before school, and an antidote to a crazy Monday morning…

Homemade Buttermilk Pancakes
Pancakes– also known as flapjacks, hot cakes and griddle cakes — are part of the quintessential American morning meal. They’re made in diners, fire houses, home kitchens, school cafeterias, and most other places serving breakfast throughout the country. But if they’re so beloved, why do most people resort to using box mixes? I realize these mixes are supposed to be faster and easier than cooking up a batch of homemade pancakes, but honestly, from-scratch pancakes just taste much better than anything you can make from a box mix. They are also easy to whip up and take only about a minute longer to prepare than “quick” mix pancakes.

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A Dinner Party for Under $30: Chile Verde

chile verde
I love to entertain, but hosting a dinner for 8-10 people can get pretty expensive. Between the main course, side dishes, and dessert, the grocery bill can easily run over $100 (and that’s a modest calculation when shopping for organic and sustainable food in the Bay Area). But what if you could impress your guests without breaking the bank? Would you believe me if I told you I made a dinner for 9 people that cost under $30?

I didn’t plan to spend so little on this dinner party. When I went to the farmers’ market and then the butcher I was shopping only to purchase the groceries I needed to make chile verde, a corn and pasilla pepper salad and Mexican rice. I was in the mood for chile verde, a Mexican pork stew made with tomatillos, which is one of my favorite South-of-the-Border dishes. I thought it would be fun to sit in the backyard with friends while eating Mexican food and drinking cerveza. The fact that I spent so little on the meal was a bonus that I’ll try to replicate in the future.

tomatillos

If you’ve never tried chile verde, you are in for a treat when you finally taste it. Chile verde is one of those magical stews that melds together the distinct flavors of a regional area into a unique whole. The tomatillos, onions, and hot peppers roast slowly with the pork, creating a rich and slightly spicy gravy that clings to the succulent and falling apart meat. Served with warm corn tortillas, it’s about as good as a stew can get, and inexpensive to boot.

Chile Verde is made using either pork shoulder or butt, which just happens to be one of the cheapest cuts of meat you can purchase. Because it’s a bit fatty and tough, it’s a terrible choice for grilling or cooking quickly, but stew it for hours and you have one of the most luscious type of meat available.

Pork shoulder is about $2.99 a pound and you only need 4 lbs for this recipe so your meat tab should be about $12. Add in the tortillas (less than $2 a pack), some rice (also less than $2 for 10 people), corn chips and fresh tomatoes to make homemade salsa (about $5), 2 cans of black beans as a side dish (about $2) and all the veggies needed for the chile verde plus a corn and pepper salad, and you’ve spent less than $30 for the meal. Obviously the prices of the fruits and vegetables will vary, but because it’s summer, most are fairly inexpensive (for instance, I saw five ears of corn for a dollar at the farmers’ market the other day).

A delicious yet inexpensive meal with friends: in this economy, that’s a combo I can appreciate.

Other Pork Recipes

chile verde in a pot

Chile Verde

Makes: Enough for 9 – 10 people

Ingredients:

4 lbs pork shoulder cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 pounds tomatillos
2 large white or yellow onions
2 Serrano or Jalapeno peppers (depending on how spicy you want the dish. Serranos are hotter.)
1 cup chicken stock or water
2 Tbsp vegetable oil plus more for broiling vegetables
3 tsp cumin powder (or more if you’d like)
2 Tbsp dried oregano (or more if you’d like)
2 Tbsp flour
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
Kosher or sea salt and black pepper to taste

Preparation:

1. Cut pork into 1-inch cubes. Sprinkle 1 1/2 tsp cumin, 1 Tbsp oregano, and 1 tsp salt onto the cubed meat and set aside.

seasoned pork

2. Sprinkle the flour over the meat and mix everything together so the flour and spices cling to the meat chunks. Set meat in the refrigerator until ready to use.

3. Place your oven on its broiler setting. While oven is heating, peal your onions and slice into 1/4-inch pieces. Dehusk your tomatillos and wash them thoroughly as well. Slice them into 1/4-inch slices as well. You can just slice the smaller tomatillos in half. Slice your Serrano or Jalapeno peppers in half. If you want to reduce some of the heat in the dish, take out the seeds and the inner whitish flesh as these are the real hot parts of the pepper.

4. Drizzle some oil onto a baking sheet and set the onions on top. Flip the onions over so each side has a light coating of oil. Sprinkle with kosher or sea salt. Place pan under the broiler and cook until onions are browned. Be careful not to burn them.

roasted tomatillos

5. Remove the onions from the pan and place them into a bowl. Drizzle a bit more oil onto the pan and lay the tomatillo and pepper slices on top. Season them with some salt and set under the broiler. Cook until they are soft and browned.

6. Place the cooked onions, tomatillos and peppers into a food processor and pulse until the mixture is blended thoroughly but still a bit chunky.

7. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a large Dutch oven (I prefer one made out of cast iron as it distributes the heat evenly, but this is not necessary). When the oil is hot, evenly distribute a portion of your pork pieces into the pot. Be sure not to add them all at once, or even to crowd the pan, as overcrowding will make the meat steam and we want the pork to sear.

seared pork

9. Sear the pork pieces on each side until they are slightly crispy and then remove them from the pan. Continue browning in batches until all the pork is seared, adding oil as needed. Note that you are not trying to cook the meat through at this point and that you actually want the inner portion of each cube should to remain uncooked. You are simply searing.

10. Once all the meat is browned, add your chicken stock or water to the pot and then scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula to release the delicious caramelized bits. This will really help to flavor your sauce. Add in the meat and tomatillo mixture along with the rest of your cumin and oregano. I like to crush the dried oregano in my palm before adding it, which helps release its flavors. Add some salt and pepper to taste and stir.

simmering chile

11. At this point you can either set the covered pot in the oven for two hours at 350 degrees (but be sure you use an oven-proof pot and cover), or you can simmer the stew on the stove for 2 hours. Either way, the stew needs to now simmer covered.

12. After about 45 minutes of simmering, stir your stew and add more cumin, oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Recover the pot and place back in the oven or simmer further on the stove for at least another hour and 15 minutes.

13. When stew is thoroughly cooked, with the meat literally falling apart when you touch it and the gravy clinging onto the meat, check your seasoning (adding more salt or pepper if needed; the cumin and oregano should be fine at this point) and serve with warm corn tortillas.

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Roasted Corn and Pasilla Pepper Salad

corn and pasilla pepper salad
I freely admit it. I’m on a corn kick right now. But how can I resist making meals with freshly roasted corn when it’s in season, deliciously sweet, and so inexpensive? So when I saw five ears of corn for a dollar at the market the other day, I knew I had to make another corn dish. The timing was perfect as I was making chile verde for a dinner party on Sunday and needed to pair it with a salad — and roasted corn and pasilla pepper salad seemed a perfect compliment to the pork stew.

I roasted the pasilla peppers, as charring them brings out a smoky flavor and helps curb any underlying heat. As the grill was on anyway, I decided to also roast the corn, which brings out an inner sweetness to the vegetable. The combination of smoky peppers with sweet corn was perfect. Topped with salty crumbled cotija cheese and a lime dressing and we were ready for  business.

Other Corn-Related Recipes


Roasted Corn and Pasilla Pepper Salad

Makes: 5 cups

Ingredients:

5 ears of corn
3 large pasilla peppers
1/2 cup crumbled cotija cheese
3 limes
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

1. Heat grill to high.
2. Place husked corn on direct heat and turn down the grill. If using a charcoal grill, place on indirect heat.
3. Grill for about 5 minutes a side or until the kernels start to brown. You may even hear a popping sound.
4. When corn is thoroughly cooked, remove it from the grill. Set aside to cool.
5. Lay pasillla peppers on the grill and cook until each side is nicely charred.
6. Place cooked peppers in a small paper bag for at least five minutes to steam.
7. Take peppers out of the bag and remove the charred skin. I like to rip open the bag and then remove the skin on top of the paper. This makes it easy to clean up afterward.
8. Trim kernels from the cobs and place the corn in a bowl. I place my knife at a slight angle, which makes it easier to remove the kernels.
9. Chop peppers into 1/4-inch pieces and add to bowl with the corn.
10. Add olive oil and juice from the three limes. Salt and pepper to taste.
11. Top with the cotija cheese and serve.

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Roasted Cream of Corn Chowder with Parsley Pistou

corn chowder

Poor corn. It’s been pimped out to animal feed and fructose companies, making it top the most-wanted list of dietary no-nos. But real corn — and by “real” I mean those delightful yellow and white cobs that come in green husks and not the mass-produced grain in monoculture fields — is a summer treat.

Corn is at its best roasted on the grill where that direct intense heat makes the kernels sweeter. After eating our fill of grilled corn a few weeks ago, however, I wanted to try something a little different. Soup. Yes, I know. Soup is not a summer standard. But we live in the Bay Area, where hot days are followed by cool, foggy ones, so soup is an every-season dish as far as I’m concerned.

Corn chowder is a favorite of mine. In the past, I have always just cooked the corn on the stove to make soup, but this time I wondered how everything would turn out if I roasted it first. I had to give it a try. Now keep in mind that this is a simple recipe. Unlike other corn chowders, which are usually made in the winter, this soup doesn’t include root vegetables, like potatoes, or spices. Corn is now in season so I really wanted it to be the star and adding other ingredients meant it would have to share the stage. I therefore settled on just corn, bacon and onion along with stock and milk. The result was lovely: just-picked corn sweetness caramelized on the grill with a salty bacon accent.You could easily serve the soup just like this, but because I am growing parsley in my backyard, I decided to top everything off with an herb pistou to round out the flavors.

What, you may ask, is a pistou? It’s just a fancy name for herbs blended with olive oil and seasonings. I often make a parsley pistou for my lentil soup, so whipped one up for the chowder. The result was more than I had hoped for. Like lime with jalapeno, or coffee with chocolate, the pistou heightened the corn’s natural essence and elevated the flavor to a new level.

Roasted cream of corn chowder with parsley pistou has now become one of my favorite summer dishes, with or without a fog bank.

Other Corn-Related Recipes

grilled corn

Roasted Cream of Corn Chowder with Parsley Pistou

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients:
2 strips bacon
1/2 onion diced
3 large cobs of corn
1/2 cup half and half or whole milk
2 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:
1. Heat grill to high.
2. Place husked corn on direct heat and turn down the grill. If using a charcoal grill, place on indirect heat.
3. Grill for about 5 minutes a side or until the kernels start to brown. You may even hear a popping sound.
4. When corn is thoroughly cooked, remove it from the grill. Set aside to cool.
5. Chop bacon into small pieces and cook in a medium pan. Add the diced onions when the bacon is 2/3 cooked through. Continue cooking until bacon is crispy and onions cooked through.
6. Trim kernels from the cobs. I place my knife at a slight angle, which makes it easier to remove the kernels.
7. Place bacon and onions in a blender along with the corn, chicken stock and milk. Puree until the mixture reaches the consistency you desire. I like it mostly smooth, but with some small chunks. You can also use a hand blender.
8. Place the soup into a medium-sized pot and heat through.
9. Ladle into bowls and top with parsley pistou.

Parsley Pistou

Makes: 1 cup

Ingredients:
1/2 cup parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:
1. Place parsley and olive oil in a blender and puree until the herb is fully integrated into the oil.
2. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Stuffed Globe Squash and Eggplant

stuffed squash and eggplant

I love buying fruits and vegetables that look a little different than the norm. Face it, purple cauliflower, baby bananas, and red carrots are just fun. Same goes for the different squash and eggplant varieties you can find in abundance during the summer months. I adore those striped zucchinis, flat and yellow squashes, and long thin eggplants. Better yet, my kids think they’re cool. And when kids think vegetables are cool, they’re far more likely to eat them.

My daughters love to go to the farmers’ market with me to pick out the vegetables that look the most appealing to them that week (although this is not as much fun as the bounce house they have there). During our visit last week, my kids were intrigued by the small globe squash and eggplant available at one of my favorite stands. They thought they looked like little vegetable planets and started deciding which one was Venus and which was Jupiter. If there’s anything better than “cool” vegetables, it’s vegetables that make my kids think, so obviously I bought two bags. As I handed over my money, I realized that in addition to the minor science lesson, this was the perfect opportunity to make one of my favorite summer dishes: stuffed squash and eggplant.

baby globe eggplant and squash

Stuffed squash and eggplant really make a great mid-week meal as the shape of the veggies are ideal for stuffing with leftovers. Sure you could cook up some fresh items for the stuffing, but this is really the perfect opportunity to use the rest of the chicken or beef you made on Monday, or the rice leftover from Chinese takeout the day before.

hollow squash

I start off by scooping the inner meat from the vegetables (this is easily accomplished with a grapefruit spoon if you have one) and then making a type of quick ratatouille out of it with some tomatoes, garlic and onion. I then mix in whatever grain I have in the fridge (although you could of course make some if you don’t have any handy) and then toss in some chopped meat. When I made the dish this week I used some leftover beef brisket from the 4th of July. By the time I made this dish my husband and I were a little tired of the BBQ flavor of the brisket, but stuffed inside the vegetables with the ratatouille, rice and some cheeses, its flavors added a depth to the dish that really wowed us. Chicken, pork, or marinated tofu would also work well, as would lentils or chick peas.

grilling the veggies

Usually I bake my stuffed squash and eggplant in the oven, but this week I wanted to try grilling them. The result was really quite good. The intense heat from the grill brought out a sweetness in the squash and eggplant that baking hadn’t in the past. The dish also cooked in about half the time it takes in the oven. The only problem was keeping everything upright on the grill so the stuffing didn’t spill out; this was easily remedied, however, by a muffin pan.

grilled squash and eggplant in muffin tin

As we sat down to dinner, my kids saw a fun-shaped vegetable they were excited to eat, while I was marveling at how that leftover brisket and rice looked so mouthwatering inside the fresh squash and eggplant. The frugal side of me was quite pleased not to waste those perfectly good leftovers. Everyone was happy.

squash and eggplant on a plate

Other Eggplant and Squash Recipes

Stuffed Globe Squash and Eggplant

Makes: Enough for 4 – 6 people

Ingredients:

6 baby globe squash (also known as summer squash) — around 2 inches in diameter

6 baby globe eggplants — around 2 inches in diameter

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup cooked grains (such as rice, barley, couscous, or small pasta)

1 cup chopped tomatoes or drained canned tomatoes

1 medium or 2 small onions

2 cloves garlic

1 cup cooked meat (beef, chicken, or pork diced) or cooked beans such as lentils

2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano

1/2 cup cheese (mozzarella, jack, or anything you like that melts smoothly) chopped into small cubes

Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

1. Wash squash and eggplant and then slice off the top stem-side.

2. Scoop out the interior flesh of the vegetables, being sure to leave at least a 1/4-inch intact so the outer skin can hold the filling.

3. Chop all the vegetables (the onions, garlic and tomatoes, along with the squash and eggplant meat) into small pieces.

4. Heat about 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large non-reactive pan to medium heat. Add in the onions and garlic and cook for 1 – 2 minutes or until soft. Add in the squash and eggplant pieces and cook for another couple of minutes. Add more olive oil as needed at this point as the eggplant really soaks it up. Add in the tomatoes and cook until everything is soft. Season to taste.

5. Line squash and eggplant shells on a baking pan and sprinkle with olive oil and salt.

6. Add parsley and oregano to the mixed vegetables and then start scooping it into each squash and eggplant skin until half-way filled.

7. Add a cube or two of cheese to each vegetable and then continue stuffing until each vegetable is full. Top with the remainder of the cheese.

8. Heat your grill to medium high and then set each stuffed squash and eggplant onto direct heat (being careful to stand them up straight so the filling doesn’t fall out). Cook for around two minutes with the cover down.

9. With tongs, transfer the eggplant and squash to a muffin pan (you can pair up some of the smaller vegetables) and set the pan inside the grill with the cover down.

Note: Use an old muffin pan you no longer care much about or, if you have a nice one, cover each receptacle with aluminum foil.

10. Grill for another 5 minutes or until everything looks nicely cooked.

11. Repeat until all vegetables are cooked.

12. Serve with a salad or bread.

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Hot Dogs 101

hot dog on a bun

“On Independence Day, Americans will enjoy 150 million hot dogs, enough to stretch from D.C. to L.A. over five times.”
National Hot Dog and Sausage Council

My first reaction to this quote was “is there really a national hot dog and sausage council?”; while my second reaction was mild nausea mixed with a hankering for my own dog slathered in mustard and relish.

The all-beef American hot dog should not be confused with its namesake the frankfurter, which is a German regional sausage made from pork. Nor should you think it tastes much like an Austrian wiener, which is a pork and beef delicacy. Sure, frankfurters, wieners and hot dogs are all sausages, but there’s very little that is European about a hot dog. Mass produced, precooked, and stuck in a bun it’s as American as a food can get. Dirty Harry even eats one right before famously saying his “Do you feel lucky” line. So here’s Clint, eating his dog, for you to enjoy.


Unlike Harry, my family and I don’t eat a lot of hot dogs. Nothing against them; we just tend to eat more sausage when we want some sort of meat product in a tube, probably due to my Italian upbringing. I’m also not a big fan of processed foods. But there are certain occasions when a hot dog is the perfect meal, especially if you have a couple of hungry kids with you. Baseball games and the 4th of July top that list.

hot dogs in wrapper

So in celebration of National Hot Dog Month, and also to better educate myself about American hot dogs, I have created an unscientific comparison of the major brands. Included in the list are organic, nitrate-free, and standard hot dogs that you can find locally. I am not recommending one frank over another as I did not try every brand, and, honestly, I’ve only tasted a few. Rather, I wanted to share the nutritional information and ingredients lists provided by the manufacturers so people can make their own educated decisions.

The following list is also limited to beef hot dogs as these are the traditional choice at block parties, backyard barbecues, and baseball games. Plus including chicken, turkey and tofu dogs would make the list ridiculously long. Please note that my inventory is in no way complete. I am not attempting to compare all the brands; just the ones I see most often. If I have missed something obvious, or something you really like, feel free to add the information in the comments section. Finally, I should say that I don’t distinguish between kosher and non-kosher brands.

When comparing the hot dogs on the list, you should note that each brand’s hot dogs vary in size. So while the Nathan’s Famous beef franks look at first to have the most sodium, they are also twice the size of many of the other hot dogs, so be sure to look at the size column when comparing products.

Here are the lists. I have grouped the brands by type for easier viewing and listed the size, calories, calories from fat, saturated fat grams and sodium levels, along with ingredients lists. I was very interested by what I found. I hope you will be too.

Organic and Grass Fed Hot Dogs
These hot dogs are all made from organic, and often grass-fed, beef. No nitrates are used for organic hot dogs.

organic and grass fed hot dogs
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Nitrate-Free but not Organic Hot Dogs
Non-organic beef but no nitrates are used.

nitrate free hot dogs
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Standard Hot Dogs
The hot dogs are all beef and the meat has been preserved with nitrates and other preservatives.

standard hot dogs
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