Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Quick Side Dish: Roasted Vegetables

Now that Fall is coming I want to share one of my favorite kitchen hacks.  I am always looking for ways to eat more vegetables but often, especially on week nights, I do not feel like taking the required time to prep and cook them.  I want something simple and tasty.

The solution?  Cut them up and throw them onto a baking dish then season them with salt, pepper, and any other herb or spice your heart desires.  Sprinkle olive oil over the whole thing, shake the pan to evenly distribute it so they are as close to one layer as you can easily get, and throw it into a 425-degree oven for about 20 minutes, taking them out to stir and redistribute on the pan halfway through.

It is the perfect side dish to just about any meal.  And often I will take a serving, cover it with cheese, melt it under the broiler and call it dinner.

It never fails.  My favorite combination these days is red onion, broccoli and mushroom.  When I want to change it around some I will add red peppers, use cauliflower instead of broccoli, or add a few cloves of garlic.  It is good with a little balsamic vinegar splashed on just before serving and sometimes I will even dress it in vinaigrette if I have any leftover from salads.

The only thing I keep in mind is to cut the vegetables as close to the same size as possible so they will cook evenly and to use vegetables that take about the same amount of time to cook to the desired consistency.  The broccoli takes a little longer to cook than the onion and mushrooms but I like it a little on the crunchy side and I like the onions and mushrooms to be a little more done so it works out perfectly.

No recipe here, just a tried and true technique.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Prepare and chop desired amounts of broccoli, cauliflower, onion, mushrooms, red peppers, and fennel. Spread evenly on a large baking sheet.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and desired dried herbs and spices such as thyme, oregano, cumin, coriander, dried chilies, or paprika. A favorite curry blend is also nice.

Pour just enough olive oil over the vegetables and spices to coat them and stir them around on the baking dish so they are all coated and in as even a layer as you can get them.

Bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and gently stir them around to redistribute the layer. Return to the oven and cook another 10 minutes or so, until they have reached the desired consistency.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Pico de Gallo

I love my homemade salsa recipe but sometimes it feels like it can be a production to make so I do not make it as often as I would like.  Most of the time it is an afterthought to a dish I have made and it is only when I am ready to dig in that I realize how much better it would be with salsa.

This happened the other day, when I made corn casserole, another favorite dish.  It is delicious all by itself but it is so much better with a little salsa on top and I rarely think to make the salsa ahead of time.

In this case I had all of the ingredients on hand so I decided rather than get out the processor and dirty up my kitchen again I would just chop up the fresh ingredients and make pico de gallo instead.

What is the difference between pico de gallo and salsa, you ask?  It's quite simple, really.  Salsa is sauce that is sometimes, but not always, cooked, that was originally used as a dip, although it is often also used as a topping for casseroles, tacos, enchiladas, etc.  Pico de gallo (which translates as "bite of the rooster") uses fresh chopped raw ingredients, including tomatoes, but with no additional tomato liquid added as is usually the case with salsa. 

In all honesty the lines have been blurred between the two for a while now and one person's salsa might be another person's pico.  For me, the main difference is that I use canned stewed tomatoes and the food processor for salsa, and I just cut up all of the raw fresh vegetables for pico.  Is it authentic?  I do not know.  But they work for me for different uses.

What I love about pico de gallo other than its incredible flavor is that it is easily adaptable.  With some versions you do not even need tomatoes and can use mango, pineapple or corn (or some combination of any of those) instead.

This is the basic recipe.  If you don't have all of the ingredients available don't let that stop you.  No serrano peppers?  Use jalapnos.  No fresh chilies?  Use pickled, or even dried.  No cilantro?  Use oregano.  No green onion?  Use yellow, or red if you have them.  No limes or lemons?  Use vinegar.  No fresh tomatoes?  Use canned.

No olive oil?  Shame on you.
Home Cookin Chapter: Appetizers Spreads Dips Sauces

All amounts to taste

1 to 3 serrano chilies
3 large cloves garlic
4 to 6 fresh tomatoes
4 to 6 green onions, tops and whites
juice of 1 lime
2 to 4 Tbsp olive oil
salt to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Mince the chilies and garlic. Finely chop the tomatoes and thinly slice the green onions. Combine in a mixing bowl and add the lime juce, olive oil and salt.

Add the cilantro and mix well. Taste and adjust salt, lime juice and olive oil as desired.

Exported from Home Cookin' v.9.70 (

Monday, September 18, 2017

Baking Class: Skillet Cornbread

There are two main kinds of cornbread - sweet with flour added (Yankee) and non-sweet non-flour added (southern), and folks are passionate about which one embodies the true essence of the dish.  Having grown up in Texas, I skew toward the non-sweet non-flour version.  It should be coarse and full of corn flavor.

But not dry.  For the longest time my cornbread came out dry.  I guess that might be why those Yankees started adding sugar and flour to it.  But I wanted to see if I could find a recipe that would match the great savory flavorful cornbread one finds in diners all across the south.

I found this recipe in a cooking newsgroup that has been around since the early days of the worldwide web and it is a keeper.  You put whatever fat you are using into a cast iron skillet and let it heat up in the pre-heating oven.  When it is smoking hot you add the batter.  That is the secret to getting a nice, crispy crust.  And the lack of sugar gives it a more intense corn flavor that is delicious all on its own or as an accompaniment to a big old pot of beans.

I use coarse cornmeal for this recipe.  I am sure it would be quite lovely with the finer grind as well. 
Home Cookin version 9.69 Chapter: Breads and Muffins

Servings: 8

1 Tbsp lard, bacon grease or grapeseed oil
2 cups coarse cornmeal (preferably yellow)
2 cups buttermilk
1 egg, well beaten
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

Put the fat in the skillet and place the skillet in the middle rack of the cool oven. Turn the oven on to 450° F and let the pan heat up while you mix the rest of the ingredients.

Combine the cornmeal, salt and baking soda in a large bowl and mix well. Beat the egg and add it to the buttermilk.

When the oven is up to temperature add the buttermilk and egg to the cornmeal, salt and baking soda and mix together quickly. Pull the skillet out of the oven just long enough to quickly pour the batter into it and return it to the middle shelf.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

recipe from usenet newsgroup

Imported from Home Cookin (

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Slow-Simmered Pinto Beans

There is nothing more satisfying in the chill autumn months than a heaping serving of slow-simmered beans.  This recipe is about as easy as they come.  You basically just throw everything into a pot, bring it to a boil, then simmer for a few hours until the beans are nice and tender.  It pairs really well with oven-baked polenta but would also be good with rice or even all by itself.

This is another example that proves my theory that you do not need to pre-soak beans before cooking them.  Even chickpeas can become tender and delicious in a couple of hours without soaking.  The oven-cooking method I wrote about here also works on the stove top.

Yes, I said a couple of hours.  This method does not necessarily save time.  If I decide on a Monday that I want beans that night then I cook up some lentils, which take about 30 minutes to cook.  If I decide that I want any larger beans on Monday then I cook them that night for use on Tuesday.  So I still need to plan ahead but that is fine with me because I much prefer the texture of beans that are cooked without pre-soaking.  Pre-soaking can cause the skins to come off during cooking, and the beans come out more mushy than I like.

This is a perfect weekend dish.  You can throw everything together in the morning, put it on the stove, and then go about your day.  You just have to make sure to check on it every half hour or so.

There is nothing like the aroma of beans simmering on the stove in the cooler autumn months.

The leftovers work well for weekday lunches as well, so you can kill two birds with one stone.

Home Cookin v.9.70 Chapter: Beans and Vegetables
Slow Simmered Pinto Beans
Servings: 8 to 10

1 pound dried pinto beans
1/4 pound bacon, roughly chopped
10 sprigs cilantro, chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed
2 serrano chilies
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
Kosher salt, to taste
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, for garnish

Combine all the ingredients with about 7 cups of water in a 6-quart dutch oven. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until beans are tender, about 3 hours. Stir occasionally.

Season with salt to taste and sprinkle with additional cilantro if desired.

adapted from Saveur Number 121

Exported from Home Cooking v.9.70

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Apricot Chutney

I had rye bread in the freezer and wanted to take it to our Fourth of July cookout as I did not have time to bake anything new for the occasion.  But what to serve with it?

photo from
I had recently discovered this lovely MontChevre lemon goat cheese at Treasure Island when I was looking for something to go with a loaf of rye I had made earlier.  Goat cheese and lemon make for a heavenly combination.  I planned to take that but I wanted something extra to make it a more substantial dish.  So I thought about what might go well with rye bread and cheese and decided that some form of fruit would work well.

Having recently discovered the most delicious Turkish dried apricots at, my go-to place for that kind of thing, I went looking for recipes that included them and found a recipe for Apricot Chutney that I had marked years ago as something that had potential.  I had all of the ingredients on hand and it looked quick and easy so I gave it a try.

It was delicious and the perfect complement to the lemony goat cheese and was a huge success.  It works well as an accompaniment to dals and curries and pairs well with chicken and lamb as well.

This is one of those big reward for little effort kinds of things.  You can't go wrong with it.

I did not add the sugar.  It was sweet enough without it.
Home Cookin Version 9.70 Chapter: Appetizers Spreads Dips Sauces
Apricot Chutney

Makes 2 cups

3 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 tsp curry powder
1 small onion, minced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 inch piece peeled ginger, minced
3/4 cup chopped dried apricots
1/3 cup raisins
1 cup water
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp sugar (optional)

Heat oil and curry powder in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until curry powder is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add onion, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes.

Add apricots and raisins along with 1 cup water, lime juice, and sugar (if using). Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20 minutes.

from Saveur Number 123

Exported from Home Cooking v.9.70

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