Sunday, December 30, 2012

Simple and Satisfying: Sinigang

I love how serendipitous life can be.  At our holiday party this year I was sitting at a table where the talk turned to food.  One of my co-workers was talking about the Filipino foods he grew up eating and every once in a while he would turn to the woman who was sitting between us and ask "Have you had that?"  Her response every time was yes, so I started wondering how she had come to be so familiar with Filipino cuisine.  I finally had to ask her, and it turns out that her husband is Filipino.

One of the dishes they were discussing, called Sinigang, sounded especially interesting to me, so I asked her if she would bring me the recipe when she had a chance.  She got up from the table, went looking for paper and a pen, and sat down right then and there and wrote it out for me.  I put it in my pocket and brought it home, then promptly forgot about it.

That weekend I met a friend for breakfast and after a couple of hours of catching up we decided to walk down the street to Whole Foods.  I had no meal plans for the week and was getting ready for my annual pilgrimage to Austin so I didn't want to load up with too many groceries.  As I was thinking about what I already had in the kitchen and what I might need, I realized that I already had most of the ingredients to make Sinigang so I bought the few items I still needed, hoping that I was not forgetting anything.

Sinigang is the perfect thing to make when you want something hearty and satisfying but do not want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  It comes together quickly and easily and is a perfect one-dish meal for a cold winter's day.  It is usually made with fish or pork, but it sure was tasty with the chicken.  The tamarind gives it a fresh citrus flavor that can be achieved with lime juice of you do not have access to tamarind paste. I usually have it on hand now that I am making my own Worcestershire sauce and am always looking for other ways to use it and this is a particularly delicious way to use it. In fact, it would be worth having the tamarind paste hanging around the pantry just for this dish alone.

And it would make an excellent New Year's Day lunch or dinner.
Home Cookin Chapter: Poultry

Makes 4 servings

2 lbs chicken thighs
2 Tbsp oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
2 tomatoes, chopped
1-2 whole banana peppers
1 lb chopped leafy greens, fresh or frozen
1 Tbsp tamarind paste
pinch of sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Place the chicken in a large dutch oven and add enough water to barely cover.  Season with salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the onions and saute until they are translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute.  Remove from the heat and let cool.

After the chicken has been simmering for the 20 minutes, add the onion garlic and ginger mixture to the pot, then the tomatoes and banana pepper(s).  Bring back to a boil, cover, and cook for another 30 minutes.  Add the greens and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the chicken is done.

Add the tamarind and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Remove from the heat and serve immediately over rice.

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Friday, December 28, 2012

Baking Class: Molasses Spice Cookies

For the past few years I have been searching for a molasses cookie recipe that recreates the flavor and texture of Archway molasses cookies.   While a few came close in taste, I could not find any recipe that provided the soft, chewy texture that I loved.  Thinking it must be the shortening that I no longer use, I had pretty much given up on finding a successful version.

I recently re-discovered the Chicago Public Library and, after updating my card, checked out a few cookbooks.  One of them was Texas Home Cooking, by Cheryl and Bill Jamison.  I saw a recipe for Molasses Spice Cookies that looked different from any of the others I had tried so I thought it would be worth a shot.

 And it was worth more than a shot.  It has been a while now since I have actually had an Archway molasses cookie, but the cookie this recipe produces matches exactly my memory of how it should taste and feel.  It is soft and chewy with the rich dark taste of molasses and just the right amount of sweetness and spice.  I took them to work and got rave reviews there as well.  I will definitely be making these again.  Often.

Home Cookin Chapter: Cookies

Makes about 5 dozen cookies

1 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
1/4 cup unsulphured dark molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp powdered ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp salt
approximately 1/4 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F.

Cream the brown sugar and butter.  Add the egg and molasses and mix well.  Add the rest of the dry ingredients (except for the sugar) and mix into a soft dough.

Pour the sugar onto a small plate or saucer.  Roll the dough into small balls (about 3/4-inch in diameter), then roll each ball in the sugar.  Place the rolled balls onto the baking sheet about one-and-a-half inches apart.

Bake the cookies for 10 minutes, turning the sheets halfway through to ensure evenness.  Do not let them overbake or they will not stay soft and chewy.  Remove from the oven and let them cool for 5 minutes before transferring them  to paper towels while they finish cooling.

Will keep for 5 to 7 days in a tightly-sealed container.

from Texas Home Cooking, by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison(Harvard Common Press, 1993

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Simple and Satisfying: Whole Wheat Couscous with Butternut Squash

With this second "Simple and Satisfying" post, I seem to have created a new series for the blog.  This is another one of those dishes that comes together quickly when you don't have much in the pantry and are looking for something you can throw together for an impromptu meal.  Couscous are an excellent grain to always have on hand, as they can go from pantry to table in less than half an hour.

The beauty of this recipe is that it can be used as a template.  I happened to have a couple of cups of chopped butternut squash left over from something I made earlier in the week, but any vegetable will do - sweet potato, zucchini, green beans, carrots, bell peppers - pretty much anything you have in the refrigerator.  You could even use spinach or Swiss chard, or other greens.  If you don't have chicken or vegetable broth, use water and add dried herbs.  Use raisins, cranberries, dates or any other dried fruit to add a touch of sweetness.  If you don't have pistachios on hand, walnuts or pine nuts would make a particularly good substitute, but any nut will do.  You basically want the fruit for a touch of sweetness and the nuts for texture as well as for taste.

Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Makes 4 servings

2 cups butternut squash, chopped
1-1/2 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
Salt to taste
1 cup whole wheat couscous
1/4 cup dried mango, chopped
1/3 cup toasted pistachios, roughly chopped

Place squash in a small saucepan and add enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes, until the squash is tender.  Remove from the heat and shock the cooked squash in cold water, then drain.

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a 3-quart saucepan over high heat.   Season to taste with salt.  Add couscous and dried mango and cover, turning the heat as low as it will go.  Let it simmer for two minutes.  Add the butternut squash, cover, and remove from the heat.  Let sit for 15 minutes.

Fluff the couscous with a fork, being careful not to mash the squash.  Top each plate of the couscous and butternut squash with the toasted pistachios before serving.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Simple and Satisfying: Pasta with Tomato Sauce

Around the holidays when life gets crazy, sometimes simple is best.  A quick meal that takes minutes to throw together can work wonders to revive a flagging spirit.

But that doesn't mean that you have to end up settling for fast food. Something as simple as pasta and tomato sauce can come together to make a hearty, satisfying dinner.  Garlic bread and salad turn it into a meal fit for company.

The beauty of it is that it does not take long to prepare.  And it can feed a large crowd as well as one or two, for little extra effort.  And as long as you have a package of dried pasta, a can or jar of tomatoes, and some quality parmigiana Reggiano on hand you can have dinner on the table in less than an hour.  And while the fresh basil I happened to have on hand made this quite delicious (and quite Christmas-y as well), you can have an equally delicious sauce without fresh herbs.

I have posted my basic tomato sauce before, but to save you the trouble of clicking through the link here is a brief recap:

Fill a large stockpot with water and bring to a boil.  At the same time, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet.  Add 4 to 5 chopped or sliced cloves garlic and cook until it turns golden.  Add a can or jar of any kind of tomatoes - whole, diced, crushed, or pureed.  Add a teaspoon of dried thyme and half a teaspoon of dried basil (or adjust to taste).  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Let simmer for about 20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened to the desired consistency.

Add salt to the boiling water in the stockpot and cook the pasta a minute or two less than the time given on the package directions.  Reserve a cup of the pasta water, drain the pasta and add it to the tomato sauce and cook for another minute or two, until the pasta is al dente and the sauce is absorbed.  Add pasta water if necessary.  Remove from the heat and add one fourth of a cup of grated parmagiana Regiano cheese and any fresh herbs you wish to use.  Serve immediately with extra grated cheese on the side.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Balsamic Lentil Soup

Now that I have been cooking with legumes for over a decade it can be challenging to find something new and exciting.  I know there is a lot more out there that I have yet to encounter, but as I have been cooking so much from scratch and working with various cuisines many new recipes that I found seem to be variations on similar themes.  There is nothing inherently wrong with that, and every now and then I run into a new ingredient or method that takes a dish to a whole new level, which is why I continue to buy cookbooks and magazines and look online for new recipes to try.  I never know from where inspiration may come.

This Balsamic Lentil Soup is a good example of this.  The only reason I gave the recipe a second look is because I had some escarole left over from a chickpea soup recipe I recently tried (that was not all that successful on its own but has reminded me that I am not overly fond of rosemary and a little goes a looooong way, and about which I have some ideas on how to improve, so I hope to have something new to share with you about that in the near future as well) and I needed a legume dish to take to work with me for weekday lunches.

I have several soup cookbooks, many of which I have not looked through since that first quick once-over I give every new cookbook that finds its way into my home, so I took them off the shelf and started looking through them to see if I could come up with anything.  I found this recipe in a little cookbook called Savory Soups and Stews by Anne Egan that I have had for several years but had not yet taken the time to look through it.

What stood out in this recipe was the use of balsamic vinegar.  Balsamic vinegar is an item that I use often in vinaigrettes and marinades, but I have not found many other uses for it.  That may be a result of its overuse in the late '90s, where every restaurant had its own version of roasted [fill in the blank] with balsamic vinegar.  Inevitably, the dish was drowning in a lesser quality pool of the stuff.

But I thought it might work well with the lentils, and provide a different flavor profile than the ones with which I am familiar.  I thought the sweetness might provide a nice balance with the earthiness of the lentils.

The result was good, but not great.  There was not enough acidity to my taste to balance out the sweetness, and overall the soup lacked a depth that I have come to expect in my lentil dishes.  I had to add more salt than I like because of it, and a dollop of yogurt increased the acidity just enough, although it could still have used more.

Overall I liked it enough to make it again, but I would add some red wine and use slightly less of the vinegar, and I would add either lemon juice or white wine vinegar at the end to up the acid level.  I could barely taste the Tabasco sauce I used as the mild pepper sauce, so I would definitely use more of that next time I make it.  Your mileage may vary. 

(This post has been edited to correct for my inability to correctly spell "Balsamic.")
Home Cookin Chapter: Beans and Vegetables

Serves 4
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups beef, vegetable or chicken broth
3 cups water
1 can (14-1/2 oz) diced tomatoes
1 cup dried lentils, sorted and rinsed
1 bay leaf
2 cups chopped escarole
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp mild-pepper sauce
kosher salt to taste

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large saucepan.  Add the onion and cook until soft, stirring occasionally.  Add the broth, water, tomatoes, lentils and bay leaf and bring it to a boil.  Cover and reduce the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are tender, 30 to 40 minutes.

Remove and discard the bay leaf.  Stir in the escarole, vinegar, and the mild pepper sauce and season to taste with salt.  Cook for 5 minutes to blend the flavors.

from Savory Soups and Stews, by Anne Egan (Rodale Inc., 2000)

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (
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