Cooking the August 2014 Cooking Light “Dinner Tonight” feature: Part 1

I’m three recipes in to the Cooking Light weekly feature, and so far so good!

Monday started with Vegetable Hash with Poached Eggs with Multigrain Toast and Red Pepper Tapenade

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Thoughts: Yum! This was easy to make, but chopping the vegetables is time consuming. I’ll make it again–but I’ll prep all veggies on the weekend so all I have to do to cook them is dump them in the skillet.

Also, the vinegar really did help a lot in keeping the egg together when poaching.

The toast with red pepper tapenade was awesome and a perfect complement to the main dish.

Verdict: Would make again on a weeknight.

Next: Beef and Bell Pepper Kebabs with Mushroom-Ginger Noodles

Thoughts: I totally spaced on getting a picture of this!

OK, so I kinda cheated. I was too lazy to bother threading the beef and peppers on skewers, so I just stir fryed it all. I mean, that has a similar effect, I figure. I feel like this dish took me longer to put together than I thought it would but I’m not really sure why. I hadn’t used five spice before and I liked how the beef turned out. The noodles needed a kick, IMO. Oh, also I forgot to buy OJ so I substituted lemon juice in the marinade, and that worked fine.

Verdict: I’ll make it again, the beef for sure, but I’ll be adding some sambal oelek to the noodles.

And then: Olive and Pesto crusted Cod with Summer Bread Salad

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Thoughts: This. This is what I was looking for when it comes to new weeknight meals. This totally took less than 35 minutes to put together like the recipe says–more like 25. I prepared the cod while the oven preheated, and I made the salad while the cod cooked (and was finished prior to the cod). The fish turned out restaurant perfect. I had never cooked cod before so this was a real shot in the dark for me. The salad was super easy to put together–but I excluded the cucumber. Not a fan. I got the cod at Mariano’s, this fantastic new grocery store in Chicago which is part of the Roundy’s chain. Their stuff is really nice quality and the prices are pretty fair.

Verdict: Absolutely making again and highly recommending.

Also, thus far, I’ve had enough left over of every meal to have lunch for work the next day. That’s nice, considering this is more than I normally spend on meals for a week!

Stay tuned for part two, where I wrap up the two final recipes of the week, and I do plan on FINALLY getting my June books posted here over the weekend as well!

I’m back…with a fun project this week!

Wow, July is flying by! I have a new job at work, effective July 1, and late June and early July was spent transitioning. I worked a lot of late nights and weekends, but I am getting back on track as far as a standardized work week goes.

Because of work, I didn’t do much in the way of cooking the past month. But this weekend, I decided I would get this week on track by cooking all five days of the August 2014 Dinner Tonight column in a row. Each night is supposed to take 40 minutes or less, and all five meals look like something I wouldn’t normally make myself. I’ll also be making all the recommended sides too. Then, I’ll write my review of the recipes over a few posts later this week.

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Today I did most of the shopping–I didn’t get everything, I am going to pick up the cod for Tuesday on my way home from work that night, and I didn’t want to get the pork or chicken for Thurs/Fri this early for fear of it going bad. There’s also a few things I figure I’ll pick up later this week when I get the meats.

Most of the stuff I got at my farmer’s market–the menu is heavily based on vegetables. It’s also not cheap…it cost me about $100 thus far, and I still need to buy some mains! But, I am thinking I’ll have enough leftovers for lunches too, and if that’s the case then it’s a fair price.

Tomorrow I’ll prep as much as I can. I can get a lot of chopping in and make some of the spreads/sauces/marinades too. I’d like for my weeknight cooking to be under 30 minutes, if possible.

Monday’s dinner is Vegetable Hash with Poached Eggs and Multigrain Toast with Red Pepper Tapenade.

Enjoy your weekend!

CRACK PIE

OMG I haven’t posted in three weeks.  How did that happen!?  Well, actually, it happened because I decided to start a new project here.  I’m refinishing 100 year old doors I got for free!  So, stripping the paint, sanding, staining.  It’s going to take all summer.  But I think it will turn out well!  However, this means I spend most of my free time in the alley working on the doors and not in front of the laptop.

Here’s an amazing pie that is actually called Crack Pie.  I make it every year for the office holiday party, as well as for thanksgiving.

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This recipe is from Bon Appetit

INGREDIENTS

OAT COOKIE CRUST

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
  • 5 1/2 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt

FILLING

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly
  • 6 1/2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Powdered sugar (for dusting)

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION

12 servings, one serving contains: Calories (kcal) 350.8 %Calories from Fat 53.8 Fat (g) 21.0 Saturated Fat (g) 12.5 Cholesterol (mg) 141.3 Carbohydrates (g) 38.2 Dietary Fiber (g) 0.7 Total Sugars (g) 30.4 Net Carbs (g) 37.6 Protein (g) 3.0 Sodium (mg) 131.6

OAT COOKIE CRUST

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with parchment paper; coat with nonstick spray. Combine 6 tablespoons butter, 4 tablespoons brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat mixture until light and fluffy, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, about 2 minutes. Add egg; beat until pale and fluffy. Add oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and beat until well blended, about 1 minute. Turn oat mixture out onto prepared baking pan; press out evenly to edges of pan. Bake until light golden on top, 17 to 18 minutes. Transfer baking pan to rack and cool cookie completely.
  • Using hands, crumble oat cookie into large bowl; add 3 tablespoons butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar. Rub in with fingertips until mixture is moist enough to stick together. Transfer cookie crust mixture to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. (Note: I understand it is important to use a glass dish for this.  I guess if you use a metal one you risk the crust burning.) Using fingers, press mixture evenly onto bottom and up sides of pie dish. Place pie dish with crust on rimmed baking sheet.

FILLING

  • Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Whisk both sugars, milk powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add melted butter and whisk until blended. Add cream, then egg yolks and vanilla and whisk until well blended. Pour filling into crust. Bake pie 30 minutes (filling may begin to bubble). Reduce oven temperature to 325°F. Continue to bake pie until filling is brown in spots and set around edges but center still moves slightly when pie dish is gently shaken, about 20 minutes longer. Cool pie 2 hours in pie dish on rack. Chill uncovered overnight.
  • DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover; keep chilled.
  • Sift powdered sugar lightly over top of pie. Cut pie into wedges and serve cold.

Recipe Review: Tofu Lettuce Wraps

wraps

NOTE: This picture is credited to the Pioneer Woman, who created this recipe.  See all that lovely natural light in her photo??  Yeah…I don’t have that when I cook dinner at 9 at night!

OK so this recipe was super tasty!  And vegan!

http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2012/02/vegetarian-lettuce-wraps/

I changed it up a little though.  I omitted the corn and the chili powder.  I added cilantro and chipotles in adobo.

I am so making these again!  Give them a try for a meatless night!

May Books

Floating City, Sudhir Venkatesh

floating city

This wasn’t quite what I expected It to be.  I thought it was going to be about the underground economies of NYC, such as prostitution and drug trades.  What it actually is is a memoir of the author’s experience as a sociologist studying these circles.  Once I got my arms around that I ended up enjoying this book, for the most part.  I generally am not a huge memoir fan, and I was hoping for more factual knowledge about underground economies and less about how the author felt while researching underground economies.  Still, it’s pretty interesting.

And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseni

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Hosseni is a brand name at this point with the massive success of his first two books—The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, which are two favorites of mine.  And if you ask me, his success is well deserved.  If you liked his first two books you’ll love this one, published last year.  The format is really interesting.  It’s basically a series of short stories, but all the people in the stories are related to each other, and the stories are all running parallel to each other.  Some of the stories focus on secondary characters, but as they’re so well done I found them to be completely enjoyable in their own right.  The major themes of this novel are Afghanistan before and after the Taliban, class division, and relationships between people—parents and children and sibling to sibling specifically.  Another theme is characters learning that the way they view themselves does not agree with the way they are viewed by others.  Highly recommended and will likely earn a high spot in the best of 2014 reads for me.

The Plan of Chicago, Carl Smith

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Not much to say here, other than it’s a non-fiction book about the making and implementing of the Plan of Chicago.  Since I live here, I thought I should read it.  It’s pretty cool to see how things in the plan played out in real life.  Now that summer is finally on its way in, I am reminded what a beautiful city parts of Chicago are.

The Fault In Our Stars, John Green

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Yep, I finally got around to reading this YA novel.  I liked the main character, Hazel, and her boyfriend Gus as well—they were witty, thoughtful, honest characters.  Hated the subplot around Hazel’s favorite book and its author….bored me to tears.   All things considered I found it entertaining yet mindless…a good book for a rainy day curled up on the couch.

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

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Our main character, who is a doctor working for a pharmaceutical company, heads to the Amazon to find out what happened to her research partner.  That’s all I want to say about it.  My coworker handed this book to me and I started reading it without even reading the jacket blurb.  Ultimately I found that a fun way to go about reading this book, it makes reading about the main character’s adventure an adventure in itself.  The book starts off slow but really picks up steam about halfway through.  There are a few interesting ethical dilemmas that Ms. Patchett inserts into the story as well, and the ending would be great fodder for a book discussion.  This was the first Ann Patchett novel I’ve read and I plan on reading Bel Canto now also.

Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn

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A Chicago reporter heads back to her home town in Wind Gap, MO, to investigate the murders of two young girls, which opens many old wounds for our main character Camille.  This is a seriously dark book…more so than Gone Girl IMO.  I still don’t know how I feel about it, if I liked it or not.  The main character is an absolute mess, and Wind Gap is incredibly creepy.  She does a great job setting the tone of the characters and town.  It’s hard to read about such a trainwreck of a main character.  Will I read Dark Places?  Probably. But not too soon…need some time off from such dark material!

To Rise Again at A Decent Hour, Joshua Ferris

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Of all the books I read, I would guess 95% come from the library.  4% from used book stores or sales, and 1% purchased new.  I was thinking about that, and decided I need to put my money where my mouth is more often.  But I wanted to do so in ways that didn’t just send profits to Amazon or Barnes and Noble or the major players.  So I signed up for Greenlight Bookstore’s First Editions Club.  I did the six month trial, and this book was the first one sent to me.  Paul O’Rourke is a lonely dentist in Manhattan who longs for a family—the only family he has is feeling part of Red Sox Nation.  One day his office assistant (and ex girlfriend) alerts him to the dental practice’s new webpage, that he didn’t create.  Someone has stolen his online identity.  But it’s far more than it seems.  Themes of this novel are alienation in modern society, religion, and doubt vs. faith.  Would I have ever picked up this book myself? Maybe.  I’m glad Greenlight sent it to me though.  The writing is funny and truthful and touching all at once, however, there are parts which focus on religious history which go on for a bit much.  The next two books in the club look exciting too, and my goal is to read each book in the month it was sent to me.

L.A. Noir, John Buntin

LA

 

 

This book is wild!  It covers the Los Angeles PD from roughly the 20s to the late 60s.  It also covers the Syndicate in Los Angeles, run by Mickey Cohen, and how the mobsters interacted with the police.  It gets into the race riots of the 60s as well.  I was surprised how captivated I became by it.  I learned quite a bit about police operations and govt/police corruption.   Who knew non-fiction could be so entertaining!

Fist Stick Knife Gun, Geoffrey Canada

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Part memoir, part call for action, Mr. Canada tells the story of growing up in the Bronx and how violence is conditioned into children born into poverty at a young age.  I have a much deeper understanding of the effects of normalized violence thanks to this book.  At under 200 pages, I got through it in about two days, because it’s so easy to read and absorb.

Total books read in 2014: 31

 

 

 

Best of Pinterest: Arugula Salad with Penne, Garbanzo Beans, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

It dawned on me as I have been “Cooking Through My Cookbooks” that I should add some Pinterest recipes.  My Pinterest pages are almost entirely recipe based, and I have almost 1,700 pins!  You can find my Pinterest here.

This vegetarian salad is a HUGE hit here at my place.  I make it about once a month.  It’s a great summer dish, as it is nice and filling and best served at room temp or slightly colder.   And it’s super easy to make!  It has basically all my favorite things at once–fresh parmesan, chickpeas, sun dried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, pasta, baby arugula, and so on.

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And you can get the recipe from SkinnyTaste here!

A get-started guide to home waterbath canning

Have you wanted to start canning but didn’t know how to get going?  I can foods pretty regularly, and I often hear from people that they want to can but the process of getting started can be really intimidating.  I canned some pizza sauce back in March, and as I was doing so I realized it was the perfect beginner project.  Here’s why:

  1. A quarter pint jar is the perfect size of pizza sauce for one pizza.  The whole point of canning foods is to prevent waste, right?  It doesn’t make sense, in my opinion, to can pizza sauce in jars that hold more than one serving’s worth, when I only cook for myself and J.  Plus, if I want two pizzas I can just open two jars.
  2. Pizza sauce is SUPER easy to make, and it’s obvious how to use it.  Lots of canning recipes are for jams and jellies which people in small households or households without kids might not have regular use for.
  3. If you prepare your dough in advance and freeze it (the Craftsy class I reviewed here has instructions on how to do so, plus I’m using the pizza sauce recipe from there as well) then putting pizza together is very easy.  Just defrost the dough the day before and you can throw it together the night you want it in a matter of minutes.  It is faster than getting delivery!
  4. Canning in quarter pint jars is really easy because most every kitchen has a pot large enough to process them.

Here’s what you’ll need:

For the pizza sauce:

28 oz crushed tomatoes

1/2 T Red Wine Vinegar

1/4 t pepper

1 t dried basil (optional)

1/2 t dried oregano (optional)

1/2 t garlic powder (optional)

water to thin it out to the consistency you want

salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together.  That’s it!  No cooking required.

For canning the pizza sauce:

Quarter pint jars (they sell them in packages of 12, and if you buy them this way they’ll come with the rings and lids already)

The Ball Canning starter kit.  I highly recommend this kit.  The items in it are really helpful and it’s not all that expensive for what you get.  And I use the funnel that came with it for other purposes too.

Two pots.  One pot needs to be deep enough to hold the quarter pint jars with at least three inches to spare.  But any stock or soup pot should do the trick, really.  Quarter pint jars are only about 2-3 inches tall.  The other pot is to warm up the lids and rings prior to canning.  I use a regular old sauce pan for this, as you can see in my picture.

A bottle of lemon juice (you’ll see)

What you do when you water bath can foods is fill the jars, measure the headspace, put on your warmed up lid and tighten the ring so it’s very secure, then submerge the jar in boiling water for a given period of time.  Now that you have the gist of it I’ll spell it out in detail.

First, fill up the large pot with water and put it on high heat with the lid on.  The water needs to be boiling when you start timing your canning, and this much water takes a while, so I always get this going first.  It needs to be enough water so that when you drop your jars in the water bath they are covered by another two-ish inches of water.  So factor that in when you fill up your pot.

Next you’ll want to fill up the smaller pot with water and get that warming on the stove too—but on medium to medium-low.  Wash your lids and rings well and add them to your saucepan of water on the stove.  You want to get them warmed up so the material on the rings softens—hotter than a bath, but not a rolling boil.  Give your rings and lids about 10 minutes in the warm water before you begin filling your jars.

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You also need to wash out your jars.  You may have heard that you are supposed to sterilize your jars.  This is true—for items that are water bath processed less than 15 minutes.  We’re going to process for 15 minutes here, so hot soapy water is enough.

Then you’ll mix up all ingredients for the sauce in a food processor.  That’s all there is to it—no cooking!

Now you fill your jars. Add about a half tablespoon of lemon juice to your jar, this does not affect the taste but raises the acidity level of the foods for processing.  Using the funnel, fill up the clean jars with ½ inch headspace.  That little tool in your Ball starter kit that has the notches on it?  That’s what you use to measure headspace.  Keep an eye out for air bubbles (but you shouldn’t see much in jars so small) and wipe the rims with a damp paper towel to make sure they’re clean.  Repeat the process for each jar until you’ve used up your sauce.  Note that you CANNOT process a jar that has more than the ½ inch headspace.  If you have a little extra sauce at the end and it is not enough to fill a jar, just stick it in the fridge or freezer.

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Then take the stick with the magnet on the end and lift out one lid at a time from the lid/ring bath and put it right on your jar.  Then lift out a ring and secure the lid.  Try not to tilt the jar much while you do this—you want to minimize any of the sauce getting on the lid as possible.  You also want the ring to be on there pretty tight.

When your jars are filled and lidded, place them in your boiling water bath using the jar lifter in the Ball kit.  Is your water not at a boil yet?  That’s OK.  Put them in there anyways and wait until your water bath is at a full rolling boil.  Do you not have enough water to cover the jars by two inches?  Add more, and wait until you reach a rolling boil until you set the timer.  Only when it is boiling do you set a timer for 15 minutes.  I’ll reiterate, because this is important:  Your jars will be in a full, rolling water bath for 15 minutes.  They will be in the pot longer than 15 minutes total, but 15 of those minutes must be at a rolling boil.  And if they’re in there for more than 15 minutes at a rolling boil, that’s OK too—but you must not do for less.  I like to keep a lid on my pot while I do this so the water doesn’t evaporate, and I know my water level stays stable.

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After the 15 minutes is up, cut the heat on your burner.  Give it another 10 minutes or so, and while you’re waiting set out a towel on the counter nearby in a place where the jars can rest uninterrupted for 24 hours.  Then, using the jar lifter carefully remove the jars and let them rest on a towel.  Do not tilt the jars—again, you want to avoid sauce getting in the seal.  During this 24 hour period is when you’ll hear the lids ping.

Next day, 24 hours later: check and see if all your jars sealed.  If they did not, just put them in the fridge and use up.  However, I’ve never in all my canning had a jar not seal after coming out of the canner.  You can remove the rings now, and the lid will stay put.  You’re supposed to store your jars with the rings off—the seal should be strong enough to keep the lid secure to the point that if you wanted to (not that I’m advising this) you could turn the jar upside down and it would not come off.  I find that the seal is so strong I need to use the edge of a knife or bottle opener to pry the lids off when I go to open them.

This strong seal is what makes the food shelf stable.  However, due to things like extreme heat, or food getting between the jar and the lid, or other Acts of God, sometimes the seal will come loose over time.  If you lose this seal, and the lid comes loose, then the food isn’t safe to eat any more.  I have had this happen exactly once in my canning life and I’ve canned probably 300+ jars of food.  It really sucked to have to throw out a quart of chili but better safe than sorry!  Had I kept the ring on that jar, the pressure from the ring would have prevented me from realizing the seal loosened up, and I could have eaten unsafe food.

The jars and rings can be reused, but not the lids.  However, if you put too many lids in your lid bath at the beginning and did not use them all to seal up your sauce, you can dry those lids and reuse those.  It’s only when they’ve been through the boiling water bath that they cannot be reused.

Your food is shelf stable for, well, really however long your seal stays put, but for best results use it in a year’s time.  Store it in a place where it stays between 40-70 degrees if you can as those temps help hold the seal the best.  I admit sometimes it gets warmer than that in my place, however, since I store with the rings off, I am able to identify if the seal ever becomes loose due to heat.

That’s it!  Once you run through it once you will see really how easy it is.  And between the premade frozen pizza dough and the canned pizza sauce, making pizza at home is super easy and quick.