Saturday, December 27, 2008

Apple Puff Pancake

I don't especially like breakfast food -- except at night. And in the winter, pancakes and omelets for supper warm the soul. This is a simple recipe my parents picked up years ago at an inn somewhere in the California Gold Country. Put a little vanilla ice cream on top, and you could probably use it for dessert, too.

Start to finish: 35 minutes
Yield: 2 servings

*Notes: This is equally tasty with peaches, and would probably be good with any cookable fruit that you fancy. This recipe also doubles, triples, etc., well. Just be sure to use one pie pan for every 2 servings to ensure even cooking and nice puffing.

Apple Puff Pancake
1 apple, cored and sliced thinly
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs
Dash of salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place the butter in a pie pan and melt in the oven while it's preheating. When it's melted, take the pan out and swirl the butter around to coat the sides.
  3. Sprinkle the brown sugar and cinnamon evenly over the butter. (You can premix them if you want to, but there's no need.) This will create a nice caramel glaze.
  4. Arrange the apple slices over the butter. There's no special strategy to this. Just try to cover the bottom of the pan relatively evenly.
  5. Mix together the milk, flour, eggs, and salt. Don't worry if it has lumps in it.
  6. Pour the batter over the apples in the pan.
  7. Cook for 30 minutes.
  8. Take out of the oven and immediately invert onto a plate. The caramel side will be on top. Cut into slices and serve.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tipsy Missionary Toast

This is a rich and tasty breakfast dish that I invented for a special occasion I can no longer recall. In my house, it's a Christmas and birthday morning treat.

Start to finish: 20 minutes
Yield: 2 servings

Tipsy Missionary Toast
2 1-inch slices Hawaiian sweet bread
1 cup cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier (or other orange-flavored liqueur)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon butter

1 cup pulpy orange juice (I use 4 pulped mandarins, with the large pieces removed)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  1. Mix cream, eggs, Grand Marnier, and vanilla.
  2. Cut two 1-inch slices of Hawaiian sweet bread from the center of the loaf.
  3. Place bread slices in an 8 x 8 dish. (It doesn't have to be this size. Any dish that will fit both slices without a lot of room left over will do.) Pour the cream mixture over the bread and let it sit.
  4. Mix the juice or pulped mandarins, sugar, sweetened dried cranberries, and cinnamon in a small saucepan. Bring it to a boil, then reduce heat and let it simmer until it thickens slightly.
  5. Melt the butter in a skillet. Put the bread slices in the butter, and fry on both sides until golden brown (about 3 minutes).
  6. Put one bread slice on each plate, pour orange sauce over it, and serve.

Monday, December 22, 2008

New Mexico Chile Corn Chowder

While living on the New Mexico side of the Navajo Reservation, I had this soup at the Navajo Nation Inn, just across the border in Window Rock, Arizona. Theirs is scorchingly hot, but I went home and recreated a less fiery version. Since then, it's become a part of my family's Christmas tradition. The big dinner is always Christmas Eve, but on Christmas Day we enjoy tamales, frybread, salad, chile corn chowder...and homemade snowballs for dessert.

Start to finish: About 1 hour
Servings: About 6

Note: Made according to the recipe, this is neither especially quick nor especially healthy.

New Mexico Chile Corn Chowder
1/2 pound bacon, plus 2 strips for garnish
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 small onions, diced
2 tablespoons butter
salt to taste
black pepper to taste
2 cups cream-style corn
2 cups roasted corn kernels*
4 cups chicken broth
1 small can diced green chiles, undrained
red pepper flakes to taste
2 cups milk
6 small potatoes, cubed
2 carrots, chopped
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  1. Chop the bacon before cooking, if desired. Fry bacon in pan until done. Remove from the pan and set aside. Reserve the 2 strips' worth for garnish.
  2. Add onions and celery to the pan the bacon was in, and saute until lightly browned.
  3. Transfer onions, celery, and all but reserved bacon to a large stock pot. Add cream-style corn, kernel corn, chiles, red pepper flakes, butter, broth, carrots, and potatoes. Cook for about 5 minutes.
  4. Mix together flour and a little of the hot broth to form a paste.
  5. Add milk and flour paste to the stock pot. You might want to add more flour paste, depending on how thick you like your chowder. Simmer for 30 minutes or until you are ready to eat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with crumbled reserved bacon and serve.
*You can substitute frozen whole kernels in a pinch, but the roasted flavor is wonderful.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Penne Siciliano with Jewel Fruit Salad

It doesn't get much easier than this. You just toss a bunch of stuff into a pan and heat it together. It's simple, light, and very tasty. For a non-vegetarian option, add sliced grilled chicken. The salad makes a sweet and pretty accompaniment.

Start to finish: 45 minutes
Yield: 2 servings with plenty of leftovers

*Note: Start marinating for the salad before you do anything else.

Penne Siciliano
1 cup vegetable broth
12 dehydrated sun-dried tomatoes
1 (8 oz) package uncooked penne pasta
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups bagged baby spinach
1 small can sliced olives, drained
1 jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained
Parmesan cheese to taste

  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Place penne pasta in the pot, cook until al dente (9-12 minutes), and drain.
  2. When you put the water on to boil, put the broth into a small saucepan and bring the broth to a boil. Remove from heat. Place the sun-dried tomatoes in the broth for 15 minutes, until softened. Drain, reserving the broth, and chop the tomatoes.
  3. While everything's boiling and soaking, place the pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat. Cook and stir until lightly toasted, then remove from heat. (Watch carefully -- they can burn quickly. You can skip this step if you want.)
  4. When the pine nuts are done, heat the olive oil and red pepper flakes in the same skillet over medium heat. Saute the garlic for about a minute, until tender. Mix in the spinach and cook until almost wilted. Stir in the olives, artichoke hearts, and chopped tomatoes. Pour in the reserved broth. Cook for about 2 minutes, until heated through.
  5. In a large bowl, toss the cooked pasta with the spinach mixture and pine nuts. Top with Parmesan cheese and serve.
Jewel Fruit Salad
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pomegranate juice
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

3 tangerines
1 cup pomegranate juice
4 cups mixed greens
1/4 cup sliced red onion
2 tablespoons pine nuts
  1. Before you do anything else: Peel and section the tangerines. Place the tangerines in the cup of pomegranate juice and set aside to marinate.
  2. Mix all the vinaigrette ingredients together in a jar with a lid. Set aside.
  3. Drain the tangerines.
  4. Mix marinated tangerines, greens, red onion, and pine nuts in a large bowl.
  5. Toss with vinaigrette and serve.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tips and thoughts

I wouldn't say that I have a philosophy -- about anything, really. There are just some things that I think are a good idea. I think it's a good idea to be healthy, but I'm not a fanatic about it. I think it's a good idea to care for the planet, but I don't have the energy to obsess about it. I think it's a good idea to do more with less, but I don't save well and I accumulate stuff just like everybody else.

So I'm imperfect even about the things I care about, but there are some areas where compromise just doesn't make sense. Here, in a nutshell, is my non-philosophy for the kitchen.

  • Buy local produce if you can. There are good ecological reasons, of course. You're eliminating the massive carbon footprint of shipping your asparagus from Peru, which is hard to ignore at this point. You're also supporting people within your community. Just as importantly, local food is in season, so it tastes a lot better. Try farmer's markets or farmstands, or just keep an eye on the labels at the supermarket.
  • Green Bags are amazing. How many times has broccoli liquefied in your crisper drawer? I'm not getting a percentage or anything, but those "As Seen on TV" Green Bags really are terrific. Your produce will last so much longer.
  • Canned beans are your friend. Beans take forever to cook, but they're really good for you and very versatile. To save time, use the canned ones. Just be sure to drain and rinse them to get rid of the excess salt.
  • Eat less meat. It's expensive, and most of us don't really move around enough to need all that fat and protein. And did you know that the earth could support something like twice as many people if we all ate only a little meat? I'm not saying I want 12 billion people around me, but I think it's important to take care of the ones we already have.
  • Variety is the spice of life. I don't know how people survive on rice and fish, or hamburgers and french fries, every single day. Try new things. You might not like all of it, but you're bound to like some of it.
  • It's okay to hate tomatoes. Or Brussels sprouts, or liverwurst, or tea, or whatever it is you don't like.
  • You can't overdo cinnamon and garlic. Okay, you probably can. But I love these two seasonings (not together), and I tend to use a heavy hand with them. Caveat eater.
  • Moderation is the key. Feasts are great, but not every day. Desserts are terrific, but not at every meal. Wine is lovely, but not to excess. Veganism/raw foodism/Atkinsism/whatever is fine, but don't become an evangelist for the cause. Nobody will thank you for ruining their meal with guilt. Not much is inherently bad for you -- just enjoy it all in moderation.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mostly Vegetarian Beanie Soup

When the weather turns cold enough to break out the sweaters, soup is the perfect meal. This is a simple, tasty soup I made up one night this week. Notes for vegetarian options at the bottom.

Start to finish: About 30 minutes
Yield: About 4 servings

Mostly Vegetarian Beanie Soup
2 leeks, white and light green portions only, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 cup baby carrots, quartered
7 oz smoked turkey sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces (half the package, use all if desired)
4 cups low sodium vegetable or chicken broth
2 cans white beans, drained and rinsed
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons cumin
1 bag (6 oz) fresh baby spinach
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a soup pot, saute leeks, garlic, carrots, and sausage in a little oil until the vegetables are slightly softened.
  2. Add the broth, beans, bay leaves, and cumin. Bring to a boil.
  3. Remove pan from heat, and discard bay leaves.
  4. Stir in spinach, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve immediately.
*For a vegetarian version, simply omit the sausage and use vegetable broth.
*If you won't be eating all of the soup right away, you might want to add the spinach to individual bowls of hot soup. That way, no matter when you eat it, the spinach is bright and fresh.