Sunday, January 27, 2008

Tuna and Green Beans with Blood Orange Vinaigrette

It was one of those nights when I didn't really have anything in the refrigerator and didn't know what I was going to eat for dinner. I wasn't scheduled to go the grocery store until the next day and it was cold outside so I didn't feel like making a quick run.

What I did have was about a pound of green beans I forgot to cook with another baked chicken I had bought after my most recent successful one. So I washed them, trimmed them, snapped them, and blanched them. Then I thought about what I could do with them.

I could cook them up with some tomatoes like I did here, but I wasn't really in the mood for that. So I went to my cookbooks and found a recipe for green beans vinaigrette. That appealed to me and I had everything on hand for vinaigrette so I thought about what else I could add.

I still had some slivered almonds in the freezer so I pulled those out. I had two blood oranges in the fridge that I had bought with some vague idea of, I don't know, maybe making a . . . vinaigrette.

So I had all the makings of a decent-sounding green bean salad-y kind of thing. But this was going to be dinner. I needed protein. I had some manchego cheese but that didn't seem substantial enough by itself. What else was there?

Oh yes, the can of imported Italian tonno (tuna to you) in olive oil. That had the right appeal.

So I toasted the almonds, whipped up the vinaigrette, and drained the tuna. I had meant to cook the beans a little more, so I would have more of a green beans almondine kind of thing, but I was so hungry I forgot. Instead, I ended up with something approaching more of a Nicoise salad. All that was missing were some olives, which I would have used if I'd had any on hand. Some green onions would also add to the dish.

This made a lovely light supper. It was good enough that I would serve it to guests for lunch. Of course, I forgot all about the manchego cheese, but I think I liked it just fine without it.

1 lb. green beans, washed, trimmed and snapped into 1-1/2" pieces
1 can imported Italian tuna in oil
sliced green onions
toasted sliced almonds
green or black olives (or both), sliced
salt and pepper to taste

Blood Orange Vinaigrette
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
juice from 1 blood orange
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, mashed (with salt)

For Blood Orange Vinaigrette: Combine vinegar, blood orange juice and mustard in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk ingredients together, then slowly add the vegetable and olive oils, whisking steadily the whole time. Add the garlic (and salt and pepper to taste if you like). Taste, and adjust with more olive oil or vinegar if needed. Let stand at least half an hour before serving.

Bring a pot of salted water to a roiling boil. Add the green beans. Cover, turn off the heat, and let stand for five minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Put the beans in a bowl and add 1/2 cup of the Blood Orange Vinaigrette. Let the beans marinate in the vinaigrette for at least fifteen minutes. Add the scallions, salt, and pepper and stir together just before serving.

Drain tuna. Put it in a bowl, separating the pieces so they are bite-sized.

Place the marinated beans on a serving platter, or on individual serving plates. Arrange the tuna on top, then sprinkle the almonds and olives over the salad. Serve with bread and butter.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Times, They Are A'Changin'

For the past eight years I have been driving the checkers and baggers (not to mention the customers standing in line behind me) at my neighborhood Jewel crazy by bringing my own shopping bags and packing as many groceries into my backpack as I could fit in there. It shouldn't have been that big of a deal, but I guess it interrupted their routine and as much as they may care about the environment, they care more about finishing their shift as quickly as possible and going home.

Today, the woman in front of me reached over and grabbed three of the canvas bags they sell in the checkout line and bought them to bag up her groceries, and the woman behind me already had her canvas bags with her.

I guess that means it's hip now.

(photo on
Cafepress from Veggie's Shop)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It's Not Because You're Pregnant, Stacey

Last month in the Wednesday knitting class, the discussion turned to food, as it often does. And Stacey was telling us that since she has been pregnant she cannot get enough of Ben & Jerry's Banana Split ice cream. To which we all politely replied, "Um . . . hmmm." Not being a fan of banana splits, I could not imagine how banana split ice cream could possibly be an improvement. And our lukewarm (at best) response made Stacey question whether it was her tastebuds or her hormones that was driving her desire for that particular flavor.

So to our holiday party, in addition to all the wonderful goodies she and everyone else brought, she brought a pint of Banana Split ice cream for each of us to take home with us so we could help her figure it out. Since I was leaving town that Friday, I threw it in the freezer and forgot about it.

Until I had been back home for a couple of days after the new year. I don't even remember what I was doing, or with what my mind was occupied, when from straight out of nowhere I heard a clear voice say inside my head, "You have ice cream in the freezer." And that was all it took. I grabbed a spoon and the carton and sat down to do some research.

The banana ice cream was almost enough to make me turn back, but I felt obligated to help Stacey in her research. I hesitantly put a spoonful in my mouth. And what do you know? It was good. Really good. Finish-the-whole-pint-in-one-sitting good. None of the flavors was that compelling on their own, but put together they were amazingly delicious.

So no, Stacey, it's not just because you're pregnant that this ice cream tastes so good.

Stacey had also brought a pint of Ciao Bella's blood orange sorbet for our party, which we did not get around to opening. So she gave that to me as well and into the freezer along with the ice cream it went. I did not get around to opening that up until a little while after the ice cream had disappeared.

When I was a little girl, one of the the big dessert treats around our house was orange or lime sherbet with Tang. I guess you could call it a precursor to the smoothie, although not a particularly healthy one. Outside of that, I was never that big a fan of sherbet - there was always something about the texture of it (at least the cheap brands that we had in our house) that was not at all fruity or refreshing to me, unless it was melted into a nice cold glass of Tang. I wasn't really that much of a Tang fan either, come to think of it, but combining them together somehow seemed to bring out the best in each. Besides, we didn't get dessert all that often so we took whatever we could. (Does that sound as pathetic to you as it does to me?)

As an adult, I rarely ate it and never bought it. Once in a while an unusual enough flavor would be on a dessert menu, and it was the best of a poor selection, so I would order it, eat a few spoonsful, and wistfully wonder if they had any Tang back in the kitchen. But other than that, I pretty much avoided it.

And then I had to go and open up this pint of blood orange sorbet. Crisp, cool, refreshing, I would eat this over any flavor of ice cream any day. Well, almost any day. Blood oranges are not as sweet as regular oranges and have a slightly bitter tang that works well as a frozen treat. And it does not have any of the thick gluggy mouth texture that the sherbets of my younger days all had.

It was so good, in fact, that I was jonesing for some more after I finished off the last delicious bite. I don't remember where she said she got it, but I was pretty sure I would not find it at my neighborhood Jewel and I was right. I had the hope that Treasure Island might carry it, and they did not disappoint. I may not always have ice cream in my freezer, but I'm pretty sure there will always be some Ciao Bella in there from here on out. They have more flavors, too. I can't wait to try them all!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Jalapeno Spinach

This is another recipe I made for my review of 12 Best Foods Cookbook by Dana Jacobi for Please pardon the picture - I don't know what happened to make it so garish but I don't feel like playing with it anymore.

As for the spinach? It was so-so, but that was the jalapeno's fault. Another dud. I know I said I wasn't going to use fresh ones anymore, but I couldn't help myself and for the most part they have been fine. But every once in a while I get one that's just not spicy.

And between you and me, even if it had been spicy enough, all that work just isn't worth the return on this dish. But I do like this cookbook overall, and have made several good recipes from it.

But YMMV, so here is the recipe.
Home Cookin Chapter: Beans and Vegetables

Servings: 4

1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
16 oz. fresh curly or flat-leaf spinach, stemmed

In a blender, whirl the jalapeno, garlic, and salt with 1/2 cup cold water until the mixture resembles green water, 1 minute. Set aside for 10 minutes.

Heat the oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the spinach in 2 or 3 batches, stirring after each addition to coat the leaves with the oil. When all the spinach is wilted, 2 minutes, pour in the chile water. Cook until the spinach is dark green and half the liquid has evaporated, 3 minutes. Transfer the spinach to a serving bowl and serve hot or at room temperature.

Per serving: 42 calories, 3 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 2 g protein, 4 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber

from 12 Best Foods Cookbook: Over 200 Recipes Featuring The 12 Healthiest Foods, by Dana Jacobi (Rodale, 2005)

Exported from Home Cookin 5.5 (

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Saga of a Baked Chicken

It was a Sunday night, a week or so after Thanksgiving, and while I had gone to the grocery store and was well prepared for work-week lunches, I hadn't given much thought to dinners and realized I didn't really have anything on hand. I had plenty of rice, pasta, couscous, and polenta, and even a few vegetables, but I didn't have anything to tie any of those things together. I even had some couscous cooked up, using the leftover red pepper and summer squash I had used for the Rocky Mountain Chili with Anasazi Beans. I cooked it with some of my crock-pot chicken stock and it came out really good, so maybe that's why I decided that a nice baked chicken would be just the thing.

But ever since I have been buying my meat from the Red Apple Market, I cannot bring myself to buy that pasty, pale, antiobiotic-stuffed looking chicken that is stocked at my neighborhood stores. And it's a little bit of a challenge to get to the Apple Market on the way home from work. It involves the bus, and an extra 45 minutes to my commute. But what could I do? I really wanted that chicken. I decided it would be worth it on Monday to make the detour.

But Monday was kind of crazy at work and I ended up staying late and I was just too tired to bother. I ended up eating a peanut butter and dill pickle sandwich on toasted bread (don't knock it 'til you've tried it - seriously), and decided to try again on Tuesday.

Which was pretty nasty. It had been really cold and icy over the weekend and on Monday, but on Tuesday it warmed up just enough that the snow turned to sleet, then to icy rain, and then just to cold, miserable rain by the time 5:00 came around. All I wanted to do was go home. But I really wanted chicken and I was not going to be thwarted again. So I took the train to the Van Buren station instead of Roosevelt where I usually catch the red line, and walked up to Dearborn to catch the 36 bus. In the cold. And the rain. And waited for the bus. And waited.

And forgot that when it's rush hour, and raining, everybody - and I mean everybody - rides the bus. So after it came and I got on, we hadn't gone more than two stops before the bus was crowded and overheated and wet and miserable. And traveling about one mile per hour. I would have bailed but there was nowhere I could bail to by then - once you're downtown in Chicago at rush hour there's no quick way out. You just have to go with the flow.

And after an interminably long, miserable ride, we finally came to my stop. I slogged through the rain and went into the store. At least they had my chicken. That would have really sucked. I bought it, along with some green beans that looked pretty fresh, zucchini, and some more yellow squash. I slogged back out of the store to the corner of Fullerton and Clark and waited for the next bus to come by.

Which of course was also crowded, and also miserable. It was after 7:00 by the time I got home, and the last thing I wanted to do was cook a chicken. Maybe I had become feverish in the cold rain, but I was determined to cook that chicken - maybe even a little obsessed. So I pulled out my 9 x 13" casserole, sprayed a little cooking spray in it, trimmed and snapped the green beans, cut the zucchini and squash into large pieces and laid them out in the bottom of the pan. I washed and dried the chicken pieces (thank goodness I had thought to ask them to cut the chicken for me) and laid them out over the vegetables. I seasoned it with salt, pepper and garlic powder, then crumbled some dried thyme and marjoram and sprinkled that liberally over the chicken pieces. I put it in the oven and waited impatiently while it cooked.

And was well rewarded for the wait. It was worth everything - the crowded bus, the extra 45 minutes getting home, the rain - everything. It was tender and flavorful and absolutely delicious with the couscous.

I haven't really used marjoram that much. I had it on hand for the za'atar. If I had any of that, I would have used it on the chicken, but I was out. It's why I thought of the marjoram, though, and it really made that chicken tasty. This was quick and easy and makes a great dinner when you don't feel like putting in too much effort but want something that tastes like you did.

Next time I make it, though, I will add the vegetables for the last 45 minutes of cooking instead of putting them in at the beginning with the chicken. They came out a little too well done.

Serves 4

1 chicken, quartered
1 lb. green beans, trimmed and snapped into 1-1/2" pieces
3 medium zucchini, cut on a slant at least 3/4" thick
2 medium yellow squash, but on a slant at least 3/4" thick
salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste
1-1/2 tsp thyme
1-1/2 tsp marjoram

Preheat oven to 350 deg F.

Grease the bottom of a 9 x 13" baking dish. Wash chicken pieces and pat dry, then lay them in the pan skin side up. Season well with salt, pepper and garlic powder, then crumble the thyme and marjoram over the chicken. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 45 minutes.

Remove from the oven and arrange the green beans, zucchini and yellow squash around the chicken pieces. Cover it back up and put it back in the oven, letting it cook for about 15 minutes more. Remove the foil from the pan and cook for another 30 minutes or so, until the chicken is done.

Serve over rice or couscous.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Curried Peanut and Tomato Sauce

I'm not sure where to start with this post. I had this recipe for Curried Peanut and Tomato Soup from for a while so I finally decided to make it. It calls for two tablespoons of curry powder. I still have some of that awesome madras tamarind curry powder I got for my birthday a while back so I decided to use one tablespoon of that and one tablespoon of the sweet curry powder I get at The Spice House.

It was delicious, but almost too spicy for my (not so) delicate little taste buds, and it was watery. So watery that the onions and tomatoes pushed to the front of the stage instead of blending into the ensemble as they were hired to do. I was not in love with it. But the flavors were there, so I thought maybe it just needed a little magic stick blending.

And justifying my faith in its mystical magical ways, it cut those onions and tomatoes down to size (pun intended). But it was still too spicy to eat by itself. You would think I would have learned from the Carrot Ginger Soup that two tablespoons of any spice is too much in a recipe. But no, I had to go ahead and put it all in there. And that madras curry powder is one hot powder. So what to do with this too-hot-to-eat-by-itself-but-delicious soup?

Why, make a roux and turn it into a curried mushroom sauce of course! I don't remember why I bought the mushrooms, but they were just a day or two away from a full languish in the vegetable drawer of the fridge. If I remember correctly, they may have been the victims of one of those times when I forget what I am making and buy enough separate ingredients to make three different dishes instead of one. What a happy accident, because I would never have thought of it otherwise. And mushrooms were the perfect addition - they absorb so much of the flavor and heat that it really tamed it down, while adding their own subtle earthiness to the mix. I hadn't really planned for it but I had some bread that was slightly stale so I toasted that up and spread the mushroom sauce on top and it was delicious. So delicious that I decided to forget the soup idea altogether and worked on it as a sauce. I thought it might work well with pasta.

And here it is - the final product. And it did go well with the pasta, although I think it might be just a little bit better with noodles, or rice. I thickened it up, which made it possible to leave the tomatoes and onions chopped without having them dominate. I toned down the curry powder and that helped the other flavors come out a little more.

There are a lot of variations possible with this recipe. There are a number of vegetables that would work well with (or even without) the mushrooms. It is so good I'm already thinking of making it again. Maybe for lunches next week . . .
Home Cookin Chapter: Soups and Stews
Curried Peanut And Tomato Sauce

Serves 4
2 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp sweet curry powder
1 tsp madras tamarind curry powder
1 (14-oz.) can diced tomatoes in juice, chopped if large, reserving juice
1-3/4 cups broth
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

1 lb. sliced mushrooms
1 Tbsp vegetable oil

Cook onion, salt, and pepper in the 2 tablespoons oil in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add flour and curry powder and cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and broth and cook, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens.

While the sauce is cooking, h
eat 1 tablespoon oil in medium skillet. Add mushrooms and cook until just done - do not overcook or they will get rubbery. Set them aside. Once the sauce has started to thicken, add the peanut butter and stir until smooth. Continue to cook until sauce thickens to the consistency you want.

Add the mushrooms and stir in the cilantro before serving. Serve over pasta or rice.

loosely adapted from Gourmet Quick Kitchen February 2006 © CondéNet, Inc. All rights reserved.

Exported from Home Cookin 5.5 (

Monday, January 07, 2008

Rocky Mountain Chili with Anasazi Beans

On the same visit to Central Market where I bought the Himalayan Red Rice this past Thanksgiving, I also bought some more anasazi beans. I thought they were also known as Jacob's Cattle beans, but a little research tells me that they are not the same, although there is some similarity in the color and markings. The anasazi beans might be smaller, although it is hard to tell from online photos.

Rumor has it that the beans were discovered in a cave in the American southwest by an archaeological team from UCLA in a clay pot sealed with pine tar, which they carbon dated to about 500 BCE. According to the story, some of the beans sprouted, reintroducing this bean of the ancients to modern civilization. Although not likely, it does make a good story.

I was not terribly pleased with my first attempt using this bean, which I wrote about here. But I have since been the happy recipient of the out-of-print Lean Bean Cuisine (there are still some available on - I cannot recommend this book highly enough if you are interested in introducing more legumes into your diet), which has made me very happy, especially because I found a recipe for Anasazi beans that looked like it had potential.

I am not the biggest fan of bean chilis. In my experience, they never come even close to developing the kind of slow-cooked thickness that an honest-to-god chili con carne achieves, and so I have pretty much avoided both making and eating them.

But this recipe really delivers that thick chili mouthfeel. The unusual ingredients make for a surprising flavor, and there is the perfect balance between vegetables and beans. This one is definitely a keeper.

And it goes really well with the Himalayan Red Rice.
Home Cookin Chapter: Beans and Vegetables
Servings: 8
1 cup anasazi beans (or red kidney, cranberry, or pink), soaked and drained
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup chopped eggplant or summer squash
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 hot chili pepper, seeded and minced
1 large potato, unpeeled, diced
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp chili powder
2 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1-2 tsp Tabasco or other bottled hot sauce
2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp salt

Place beans in plenty of water to cover in a saucepan and cook for 1 hour. Drain, reserving 1-1/2 cups of the cooking liquid, and set aside.

Heat oil in large saucepan and add onion, bell pepper, eggplant, carrot, garlic, and chili. Saute for 7 minutes over medium heat.

Add beans, reserved cooking liquid, potato, crushed tomatoes, sugar, and seasonings and cook for about 40 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.

Ladle into soup bowls and serve topped with shredded Colby or Havarti cheese and diced red onion.

Lean Bean Cuisine: Over 100 Tasty Meatless Recipes from around the World, by Jay Solomon (Prima Press, 1995)

Exported from Home Cookin 5.5 (

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Iced Holiday Peppermint Cookies

I had planned to write this post while I was in Austin over the holidays so I could enter Eat Christmas Cookies, an event hosted by Food Blogga. But the deadline was December 24th, and after writing the White Chocolate Pudding post for Zorra's event I never wrote another thing for the blog. Too busy having a good time visiting my family, driving to Galveston once for Christmas with my sister-in-law's family, and then again to Houston to take my nephew to the airport for his trip to Paris (Paris! I want to go again!) going to soccer games and practices, breakfasts and dinners with my siblings, and just plain spending as much time with everyone as I could. It was a busy trip and, as usual these days, wore me out. In other words, the perfect trip!

As I have mentioned before, this year has not been so festive. Maybe that's why I decided that I would do more than just think about baking this holiday season and actually do some baking. I needed to generate some cheer of my own, and it wouldn't hurt to spread some of it around a little.

I admit I was perhaps a tad ambitious for my first step back into the Christmas kitchen. I already knew I was going to be making the graham cracker brownies for our second annual knitting class party, but I decided to make another batch to take to work with me. Last year I took some Mexican Wine Cookies in, which the owner of the company liked a lot; I decided this year I would make a batch just for her. One of the great tragedies of my friend Mary's life is her recently developed allergy to all things chocolate. She loves gingerbread and I felt guilty that I had not gotten around to making it last year like I had hoped to do, so I was determined to make her some this year.

And then I found two blogging events that looked interesting, and I decided to add those into the mix - Zorra's Sugar High Friday "The Proof Is in the Pudding," and Foodblogga's ambitious Eat Christmas Cookies. I decided to make Butterscotch Pudding for SHF.

But what cookies should I use for Eat Christmas Cookies? I had already written about the graham cracker brownies, Mexican Wine Cookies and gingerbread, and even though I haven't yet posted recipes for any of them, I wanted to find something new because I am a little on a roll with the improvised baking thing. And, more to the point, I had discovered these cute little Andes Peppermint Crunch baking chips and was just dying to try them out.

I don't know if you were on the receiving end of the Christmas Cookie email that went around this year, but I was lucky enough to get it. Someone went to a lot of trouble posting links to every single cookie recipe from (warning: sound effects) into an email where you just click on the recipe title and it takes you straight to the recipe. I have since bookmarked the site and just go there instead of hunting down the email. They also have cake, pie, candy, and other recipes.

I was looking for a recipe that I could use with the peppermint chips. There was a recipe for Peppermint Cookies that looked suspiciously similar to the Toll House Cookie recipe. Less of a butter-to-flour ratio and mint extract instead of vanilla, and water instead of eggs. I don't know if those differences work better for the peppermint; I do know that the less butter, the less the cookie spreads out.

I added the water a tablespoon at a time and the dough never seemed to get to the right consistency, and then as usually happens I added too much and it was kind of sticky, so I added more flour, so right off the bat I figured I might be in a little trouble. Since I wasn't sure how they were going to come out, I decided to make bigger cookies to get it over with, and used an ice cream scoop to measure out the dough. To my surprise, they came out ok. Not great, but OK.

What they needed was some kind of topping. Luckily, I had another bag of the peppermint chips. The cookies were so big that it seemed reasonable to ice them so I decided to improvise some kind of icing out of the chips. I melted them in the microwave and then stirred in the heavy cream I had leftover from the pudding and - voila! - ganache!

That icing made all the difference. I like the way the cookies held their shape with less butter, but I think next time I will use eggs instead of water. Hmmm, maybe I could use the creme de menthe chips and make them for Easter . . .

So, while I am sorry I missed the deadline for the event, I am very happy that I made these cookies. So far, my baking improvisations have turned out pretty well. Well enough for me to keep trying, at any rate. I am going to go ahead and post the recipe, but I might revise it later if I like it better with the eggs.
Home Cookin Chapter: Cookies
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp mint extract
2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
4 Tbsp water
2 10-oz. bag Andes Peppermint Crunch
Baking Chips
1/2 cup heavy cream

Cream together butter with sugars until light and creamy. Add vanilla and blend in.

In separate bowl mix flour, salt and baking soda. Add to sugar mixture. Stir in water as needed. Add more water if necessary until batter is smooth. Blend in mint extract and one bag of the peppermint baking chips.

Drop large spoonsful (an ice cream scoop will give you a good size) of batter on a cookie sheet - 6 to a sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and place on rack. Let cool.

In the microwave using 30 second intervals, melt the other bag of the peppermint baking chips, stirring until smooth. Add the cream and stir until well blended. Spoon over the cookies and let cool.

Makes 2 dozen large cookies.

Adapted from a recipe from the kitchen of Granma Hinckley (Copyright 2007, LLC)

Exported from Home Cookin 5.5 (
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