Winter slow-roasted tomatoes

Merry almost Christmas! Why am I posting about tomatoes? It is the first day of winter and tomatoes are at their peak in the thick heat of the summer, not in this cold, cold winter. The reason is a few weeks back my mother-in-law gave me a quart of cherry tomatoes. My father-in-law had bought them at the supermarket because she likes to munch on them year-round, but apparently he had bought the wrong kind so she passed them along to us in case we would eat them.

img_4423

Ready for the oven

I consider it a gift (or a curse) of mine to not waste food. I either try to repurpose it or eat it as is. Sometimes I forgive myself if I realize I’m taking it a little too far and I will throw something away, but most of the time I try to think of creative ways to use it. Though I like tomatoes, I don’t get excited about eating them by the handful, particularly in the off season when they tend to be lackluster. When I worked at a country club in Ohio we would roast the little beauties in a low oven with dried herbs and oil until they puckered into sweet, intensified tomato gems. To be honest, I can’t remember how we served them after that: on salads perhaps, or as part of an appetizer. However you decide to use them, they will make a most excellent winter condiment to spice up your lunch sandwich, mix into your pasta, or to toss into your green salad. There is really no recipe, just guidelines, so take them with a grain of salt.

img_4426

Blistered and beautiful

Roasted Tomatoes

inspired by Smitten Kitchen

1 quart of cherry or grape tomatoes

1 head of fresh garlic

salt, pepper, and other herbs

olive oil or canola oil

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees F. Rinse tomatoes and slice in half from stem to bottom. Toss to coat in oil, a tablespoon or two maybe. Sprinkle with coarse salt, pepper, and other herbs desired such as thyme, rosemary, or basil. Break up the garlic into cloves (unpeeled) and toss with tomatoes. Spread on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and roast until puckered and sweet. This should take 1-2 hours. Let cool or use right away. You can keep the garlic cloves whole and peel them before use or peel and chop finely or mash into tomatoes. If you don’t use right away, feel free to store in the fridge with a little bit of oil. Note that if you use olive oil it will solidify around the tomatoes in large yellowy chunks, but it will liquefy again when heated.

Possible uses: Mix into pasta, soups, salads, or sandwiches.

Advertisements

Post 104 – Homemade Hamburger Buns

IMG_1195I’m not even sure what day it is anymore. Tuesday? Saturday? Snow day? My long weeks have turned into long weekends and I’m beginning to lose track of what the real world is like. Is anyone else feeling that way with all this snow? Isolated? Stuck in a time capsule?

This kind of weather can bring out the best and the worst in people. Here in Boston the T has been shut down, traffic has been backed up for hours, the roads made narrower by heaping snow piles and pedestrians avoiding un-plowed sidewalks. All this snow can make a person grumpy. And let’s face it, Boston isn’t known to be the friendliest city.

IMG_1197But despite the countless feet of snow (I’ve lost track anyway) I have been pleasantly surprised. On the days when the snow keeps piling up and Sam and I decide to venture out into the white wonderland to relieve our cabin fever, we have gotten more hellos and smiles than on any sunny day. People make eye contact and nod, even say a hello and how are you? It’s as if those brave enough to go out in the snow get a special recognition from other like-minded people. That happens with runners sometimes, I find, especially in the morning. You’ll be out for an early morning jog and you get the smile and nod from another runner as if to say: “Look at us. We made it out to enjoy the natural world before anyone else.”

IMG_1198

I have been enjoying our wintery walks as a way to get out, but I’ve also been enjoying the snow days as an excuse for lots of cooking and baking. During the first storm we had a pot of Cincinnati Chili ready to go and leftover Cinnamon Swirl Bread. The second storm started around the Super Bowl. As usual, Sam and I went to the store well before the predicted blizzard to stock up on food for the week. There was no Super Bowl party on our agenda, but we still wanted a tasty meal to enjoy while we watched the game. After deciding on pulled pork and more delicious sweet potato salad (we’re a bit obsessed – thanks, Sister) we found the store was out of our favorite hamburger buns. They had another brand, but we decided not to risk it. “It’s okay,” Sam told me. “We can go without.”

We could go without OR I could make them. I mean, how hard could it be? So I looked up a few different recipes online, considered my ingredients and went to work. And actually it’s really not that hard. It’s like baking any other loaf of bread in that it takes time and patience and a little bit of technique. I used this recipe (which provides tips and technique help as well) and within a few hours we had the delicious smell of homemade bread, soft, warm buns and a salty, savory pork to pile on top of them.

IMG_1199

The buns that we didn’t eat that night, we put in the freezer to keep them longer. A few weeks later we are down to only one! If you’re home on a snow day and looking for something warm and delicious to make, give these a try. You’ll thank yourself later.

Post 102 – Sushi making

IMG_0493

With all the snow falling this time of year (in Boston especially), I find myself leaning toward the heavy, filling foods: meaty, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs kind of food. Winter time means you load up on the food that keeps you warm and satisfied. You bust out the crock pot and get your oven cranking so that you can make all of the thick stews and freshly baked breads needed to fill you up. I love a big pot of Cincinnati Chili or Beef Stew, but after a few days, I find myself wanting to balance out my heavy meat consumption with something a little lighter, but this time of year most veggies seem scarce and a summer salad hardly seems appealing. So how do I lighten things up?

In general I try to eat a balanced diet and as wide a variety of all food groups as possible. Nonetheless I still struggle on a daily basis with what I should be eating for my diet in general. More protein? More veggies? Less fat? More fat? The answer I give myself is constantly changing. After reading this National Geographic article on the evolution of diet, though no more enlightened on the issue of what to eat, I realized the wide diversity of diets that are sustaining people across this planet. I began to think about how grateful I am not to have to hunt for or gather my food. I do have to lug my groceries back from the store, (less than a mile away, though in this snow it’s more of a chore) but I’m not afraid of not having enough to eat because I have to catch dinner. In this country we are privileged to have so many choices of what to eat. Without this choice I would never be asking myself what should I eat. Perhaps the ability to choose itself is something to appreciate.

IMG_1204So I’m getting my veggies in today via sushi. Admittedly most of the veggies are eaten outside of the sushi, but hey I ate them so that counts for something. If you make your own sushi, you’ll realize how few veggies really fit inside.

IMG_1206After college when I lived in Ohio for a short time before moving to Boston, I enjoyed volunteering at a small cooking school associated with an upscale grocery store. In exchange for helping to set up and clean up I got to watch each chef in action and keep the recipes from the class. It was a great gig and though it could be exhausting, it gave me a good introduction into the professional culinary world. I loved the nights I volunteered at a cooking class. In one of the many classes that I went to we learned to make sushi.

IMG_1207Of course after going to the class and seeing how relatively do-able it is to make your own sushi, I got suckered in to buying the sushi rolling bamboo mats, which I use every now and then (including for this week’s school cooking club!). I learned that just learning how to cook the rice correctly takes years of training in Japan! Sushi making is definitely a skill.

IMG_1208I filled mine today with carrots, cucumber, avocado, and shrimp. I used brown rice because that’s what I had on hand, but there is a special type of sushi rice available that has the right stickiness for sushi.

IMG_1209

IMG_1210Served with thin slivers of pickled ginger, soy sauce, and the extra fillings on this side, this made for a tasty way to eat my veggies! It makes for a nice break from the usual heavy winter fare.

IMG_1212Sushi Rice

It’s hard to write a real recipe for sushi as technique is easiest demonstrated rather than described and fillings can be whatever you want. One way to make your sushi extra… er sushi-flavored (?) is to make sushi rice. After you cook your rice, whether it is actual sushi rice or just short grain brown rice, mix in a mixture of rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt. You’ll want about 1 teaspoon of rice vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, and an 1/8 teaspoon of salt per half cup of uncooked rice (though you’ll add this mixture after cooking).

Stir the vinegar, sugar, and salt together to dissolve the mixture. When the rice is done, spread it out on a plate or a sheet pan to help it cool and let out some of the moisture. Drizzle in some of your vinegar mixture, carefully folding it into the rice. Taste and add more as desired for flavor. Be careful not to add too much as you want your rice to be somewhat sticky, not wet. Use your sushi rice to spread on Nori (seaweed) and top with fillings as suggested below for your sushi. Enjoy!

Possible fillings

cucumber, carrots, avocado, red pepper, scallion – cut in long thin strips

cooked shrimp, smoked salmon, tofu, cooked chicken

IMG_0493

Post 101 – Snowed-in Cincinnati Chili

Here in Boston we got a ton of snow. Schools were closed. Traffic banned for the day. Stores wiped out of all essential food items. (Luckily we had unknowingly stocked up last Saturday and we still have plenty of food leftover.)(null)

Before we knew about the impending blizzard, I decided to make a big batch of chili. Growing up in Ohio we often had this Cincinnati-style chili which you could have served three-way, four-way, or five-way! (Check out Skyline Chili’s menu for an explanation of these “styles,” which basically refer to the toppings.) My mom made it frequently (admittedly with a packet of Skyline seasoning mix) and my sisters and I loved it. Contrary to Texas-style chili or other tomato-bean-based chilis, Cincinnati chili is served over spaghetti noodles and topped with cheese, onions, and beans. It falls somewhere between a traditional “spaghetti and meat sauce,” as many Americans know it, and a traditional chili.

IMG_1188

Don't forget to fish out the bay leaves!

Don’t forget to fish out the bay leaves!

Yes it is unattractive in its natural state, but this chili has the bold flavors of cinnamon and cocoa (though you wouldn’t say it tasted chocolate-y if you tried it) playing along side the usual suspects of chili powder, garlic, and onion. Cook up a big batch of this, boil your choice of noodles (we chose medium shells for the way they collect the rich sauce in their cup-like nooks), and eat up. This will keep you warm through the snowstorm and make the house smell divine.

Pasta and chili

Pasta and chili

Four-way?

Topped with cheddar cheese and onions. Four-way?

Cincinnati-Style Chili

adapted slightly from Causing A Stir (an Ohio-made cookbook)

Now don’t be intimated by the long list of ingredients and the fact that my mom made hers with a packet. If you have all of the ingredients, this chili will be a cinch to make. You simply throw it all in a pot and let it go. What could be simpler than that? I’ve never tried it, but I imagine you could even make it in the slow cooker.

2.5 pounds raw ground beef*

3.5 cups cold water

6 oz. can tomato paste

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1.5 T. vinegar

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 clove garlic, minced

2 T. chili powder

5 bay leaves

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. allspice

1.5 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

1.5 tsp. salt

In a large pot crumble the beef into the water. I find the beef breaks up easiest if you put it under water. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Stir a few times at the beginning to break up the meat. When it comes to a boil, turn down to a simmer, cover, and cook for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaves and discard.

When chili is ready, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook your pasta according the directions. Drain and serve topped with chili, shredded cheddar, and chopped onions if desired.

*I try and pick a lower fat percentage for this chili so you don’t end up with a sheen of grease on the top of your pot. I’d recommend 90-93% lean ground beef.

This chili is also often served on hot dogs to make “chili-dogs.”

Eat up and stay warm!

Post 99 – Warm Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Bacon

IMG_1146

I like solving problems. Like too many lentils problems. Or extra fresh rosemary from a previous recipe problems. Or what do you make for dinner that sounds delicious and enticing problems. These are the kinds of problems one is willing to face when one cooks for a living. I do love to cook, believe me, but it’s also nice to take a break from it sometimes. Then when I do come back to it, I can have the energy for creativity. I admittedly don’t get a lot of breaks from cooking between my main job, my side job, and my home job (plus I just started a cooking club at school once a week so there you go), so when I get a good solid 16-24 hour period off that’s good enough for me. That and the smell of a neighbor’s bacon cooking as I walked to the train yesterday was enough to inspire last night’s warm lentil salad.

Caviar or lentils?

Caviar or lentils?

I get a certain satisfaction from using things up (have I mentioned this before?) and so when making my grocery list I often try and plan around what ingredients we have in our fridge or cabinets that have been taking up space for too long. When something is nearing the end of its life, it’s time to use it up! When a non-perishable has been getting pushed to the back of the cabinet, it’s time to use it up! So with (some of) the remaining fresh rosemary from my sweet potato salad (which I will also be making again) and the lentils and the last of the red wine vinegar (satisfactory sigh) I made this lentil salad.

So let’s get started. This is not a hands-off recipe, but you can make a big batch of it and then eat the leftovers for a few days. Start by cooking your lentils while you roast some peppers and garlic (garlic not pictured).

IMG_1150

Fry up some bacon (and save the fat!)

New grill press on the bacon - Bobby Flay!  (this post is not sponsored by Bobby Flay)

New grill press on the bacon – Bobby Flay! (this post is not sponsored by Bobby Flay)

IMG_1156IMG_1157

The finished roasted red peppers:

IMG_1154

Break out the colors to brighten up your winter. Fresh rosemary green (why is that not a common color)! Golden roasted garlic! Ruby red peppers! (And some stray bacon bits)

IMG_1158

Add some goat cheese for a little tang and voila! This could almost be a Christmas salad with those colors!

IMG_1159

Warm Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Bacon

inspired by Causing A Stir

1.5 cups small lentils, rinsed

1 medium carrot, diced (optional)

1 bay leaf

1/2 tsp. salt

6-8 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled

2 oz. soft goat cheese

1 red bell pepper

3 T. chopped fresh rosemary

2 T. red wine vinegar

3-4 T. olive oil, plus additional for roasted the pepper and garlic

3-4 cloves of roasted garlic (see recipe for preparation)

Combine the lentils, carrot, bay leaf, salt, and 5 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes or until lentils are tender while still holding their shape.

Meanwhile prepare your garlic and red pepper. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment. Wash your pepper, cut in half, and remove the seeds. Place flat side down on your sheet pan and rub lightly with olive oil. Take a head of garlic and place in a small square of foil big enough to wrap around it. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, wrap in the foil and place on the sheet with the pepper. Roast the red pepper and garlic at 425 for 30-45 minutes until the pepper begins to blacken and the garlic feels soft when lightly squeezed or when the garlic is pierced easily with a knife.

While those are roasted cook, cool, and crumble your bacon.

When the lentils have finished cooking, remove the bay leaf and carefully drain the excess water in a fine colander, shaking off as much water as you can. Remove the lentils to a large bowl as you prepare the other ingredients. Add the red wine vinegar, 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil (to your taste), fresh rosemary, and crumbled bacon.

When the red pepper and garlic have finished cooking, let cool until you can handle them comfortably – 10 minutes or so. Carefully peel the skin from the red pepper (as much as possible) and dice the pepper. Cut off the bottom of the garlic head and remove a few cloves. Holding a clove at the more pointy end, carefully squeeze the roasted garlic from its skin. Mash and add that and the diced red pepper to the lentil mixture. Drop the goat cheese onto the lentil salad in small dollops. Carefully fold in the goat cheese into the salad, taste to adjust the seasonings and serve. Add more salt, pepper, vinegar, or oil as desired. Serve and enjoy!

IMG_1160

Post 98 – Homemade Chicken Pot Pie

Happy New Year! It’s 2015!

We’re supposed to be eating more chocolate and doing fewer jumping jacks and packing on the pounds for hibernation, right? No? Since when did winter mean resolutions – green smoothies, early work-outs and cutting back on holiday sweets? If we can’t eat all the delicious foods that help us gain that extra fat as we hunker down for the cold weather, than I’d rather just sleep. That’s what winter should be all about – hibernation! Well, at least we can pretend on snow days… that is if we get any.

If your goal is fat and happy hibernation food, then here’s a good recipe for you. Or if you’ve made a resolution to do more cooking, here is something you can try: Chicken Pot Pie. Now don’t be scared – it’s not as hard as it sounds (or if it is as hard as it sounds see below where I’ve given you some simplified options while still maintaining the “homemade” feel.) You start with a pie crust (one of my favorite things to make because I get to use my favorite kitchen tool – the pastry blender (pictured below).

IMG_0379

The best kind involve flour, butter and/or shortening, salt, and ice water. It’s as simple as that. This extra flakey recipe also adds a little egg and vinegar. Don’t ask me why the vinegar, but trust me. It’s good. You want the fat to be cold and the water to be cold because the chunks of fat in the flour is what gives you your flakey pie crust. You can also use your hands (equally fun) to break the fat up into the flour. You’ll want it to look like this (this one I did by hand).

IMG_1123

Now I know you’re probably nervous because the chunks are uneven and large and ugly, but this is what will make the most delicious pie crust ever. Add your liquid ingredients and gently mold it together. Don’t knead, don’t overwork, just bring it together so it holds in one piece and embrace the shaggy dough that you’ve made. Wrap, refrigerate, and wait.

IMG_1124Now for your pie filling. Cook some chicken – poached to keep it simple and mostly hands off.

IMG_1125

Saute some vegetables – the usual trio of onions, celery, and carrots (or leave out the onions if you’re like me and they seem to bug you).

IMG_1126

Add some flour to thicken it and slowly ladle in chicken broth to make your sauce. Add your shredded, cooked chicken and some peas and ta-da! Was that so hard? (Ok, ok different strokes for different folks.) I will break it down for you below.

IMG_1132Roll out your chilled dough. Cut some slits for breathing. (You see those giant butter chunks in there? That’s okay! It’ll be great!)

IMG_1133Pour your filling into a dish. Tuck your crust in and put in the oven. Everything is cooked but the crust so this is really about getting a good golden-y crust. Egg wash will help you with that one.

IMG_1137See that flakey crust? Yum!

IMG_1139Chicken Pot Pie. Hibernation. Ready, set, GO!

Chicken Pot Pie

adapted from Ree Drummond’s recipe

For the crust: (double the recipe if you want a bottom crust)

1.5 cups all purpose flour (I did 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour in mine)

1/4 tsp. salt

6 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

6 T. cold shortening, cut into 6 pieces

1 egg, beaten

2 T. ice cold water

1.5 tsp. white vinegar

In a medium bowl (or food processor if you must) mix flour and salt briefly to blend. Add in butter and shortening and toss briefly to coat in flour. Blend with a pastry blender, your hands, or two knives to break up the fat into smaller pieces. Drizzle the ice water, vinegar, and HALF of the beaten egg over the mixture and gently mix to combine. If necessary use your hands to bring the dough together. Save the remaining beaten egg, cover, and refrigerate. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes or up to a day. When ready to bake, remove the crust from the fridge 10 minutes before to making it easier to roll.

For the filling:

3-4 chicken breasts (about 1.5-2 lb.)

6 cups chicken broth

3 T. unsalted butter

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

3 stalks celery, diced

1/4 cup flour

frozen peas, add to your liking

In a large saucepan lay your raw chicken breasts, without overlapping if possible. Add enough cold water or chicken broth to cover by a few inches (for me that was 6 cups) and put the lid on. Bring to a light boil, lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile start your veggies. After 10 minutes, use a digital thermometer to check your chicken breasts. They should all be at least 165 degrees. When done, remove and set aside to cool. Reserve chicken broth! If you used water to poach the chicken broth, measure out your remaining water and add enough bouillon to flavor it (I use Better than Bouillon). OR heat up 4 cups of chicken broth in a separate saucepan until warm.

In a large skillet melt the butter. When it begins to foam add your chopped veggies (an onion too if you like) and saute for 5 minutes or so until they begin to soften. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the flour over the veggies and stir. Cook for a few minutes to incorporate the flour. This will help thicken your sauce. Now gradually add your chicken stock, one ladle at a time, stirring carefully as you add. You will notice the sauce will thicken immediately. Add the stock to your liking. I find 3-4 cups seems the right amount for me. The filling will thicken a little more as it cools so you don’t want it to be too thick.

Chop or shred your cooled chicken and add to the filling along with peas if desired. Stir and taste. If it’s bland, add some salt. If it’s too salt, add a little water. Then remove from heat and pour into a deep dish pie pan.

On a floured surface roll out your dough to the size of your pie plate. Cut slits in a few places to let the pie breathe. Place on top of your filling, tucking in carefully to avoid burning your fingers. Crimp the edge if you like. Brush with the remaining beaten egg you saved (you may not need all of it). Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Let cool and enjoy!

Shortcuts

Buy Rotisserie chicken instead of poaching the chicken – you’ll want 2-3 cups worth of meat

Buy chicken stock (notice I didn’t give you a recipe to make your own!)

Buy pre-made pie crust (It’s okay – I forgive you)

Buy frozen carrots – if you do this, use an onion to develop some flavor and then add the carrots in at the end with the peas.

And if you’re looking for more winter delicious-ness…

Make this delicious sweet potato dish!

Yum!

Yum!