Monday, November 21, 2011

November Spice Rack Challenge: Cinnamon

Mom's Kitchen said: "Surely you've got cinnamon in your spice rack."

Of course I do. It's one of those things---along with thyme and chili powder---that my spice collection never lacks. We think of cinnamon primarily as a baking spice. Not so! It is very versatile.

Let's face it: butternut squash by itself is...lacking. It's not the most exciting vegetable around. I've found creative ways around its blandness, and the one that has captured my taste buds right now is this method of preparation. The "let it sit" method for browning I picked up from Cook's Illustrated, but I never would have thought to add cinnamon to squash were it not for my friend Holly at Rust Belt Runner.

Sauteed Butternut Squash with Cinnamon

Butternut squash
Olive oil (and/or butter)

Peel, halve and de-seed the butternut squash, then cut it into chunks. I find that 1-inch chunks are just too "chunky," and fail to yield bite-size pieces, so half-inch chunks are more mouth-friendly (and take less time to cook).

Note: I used the other half of one squash in a stew recipe I made last week, so what was left over was perfect for just me to use in this recipe. Depending on how many people you wish to feed, you may have to adjust accordingly.

Heat oil or butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Butter does provide a richness of flavor that is missing with just oil, but it's your call. I lean towards the healthier fats, so I tend to cook exclusively with olive oil, but when I made this tonight I threw a blob of butter in with the olive oil. I was feeling frisky! As for how much...well, I'm a big fan of "liberal drizzling." A tablespoon? Two? Who knows...I pour oil into the pan until it looks like it's enough to sustain whatever it is I'm cooking.

Once the oil is warm, dump the squash into the pan. Shuffle it around a little so the pieces lie down, but then BACK OFF and leave it alone for a good ten minutes. Resist the temptation to stir it. This is important, as the point here is to allow the squash to caramelize. After 10 minutes, flip a couple of pieces. If the underside is browned, go ahead and stir the heck out of the rest of it! Let it sizzle for another five minutes. Sprinkle some salt over it and stir it some more. Sprinkle cinnamon on it, stir it around, and it's done. That's what I had for dinner. Oh, and some white wine. YUM!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

August Spice Rack Challege: CUMIN!

After dropping the ball on July's Spice Rack Challenge (probably because I was thinking only about my upcoming vacation), I am ALL OVER this one. Why?

I love cumin. I put cumin on everything. Okay, well, not literally everything, but it is one of those spices that disappears more quickly than others from my collection. It seems as if I am always upending an empty jar of cumin over one of my little prep bowls and muttering "better add this to the list..."

My cumin of choice
The problem I face here, however, is what recipe to post when I use cumin all the time. I sprinkled some on the beets I roasted for dinner on Monday. I dusted my stir-fry with it last week. I toss it with grated sweet potatoes, I add it to my saag, I pat it onto chicken trussed up and ready for the oven.

I went with chili, my favorite chili, the chili recipe that came with the instruction/recipe booklet from my parents' first-ever Crock Pot, circa 1982. I received that Crock-Pot's successor (Crock-Pot 2) when my parents upgraded to Version 3.0, but I also have a photocopy of the Favorite Chili (that's really what it's called) from the original 1982 booklet. If I'm aiming to feed a crowd, I go for Favorite Chili every time. I make this for work lunch potlucks and drive my co-workers insane with the smells emanating from my cubicle as I keep the pot on low on my desk.

Favorite Chili (for slow cookers)

2 16-oz cans red kidney beans, drained
2 14.5-oz cans diced tomatoes
2 lbs ground chuck, browned and drained
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground black pepper
Salt to taste

Place all ingredients in slow cooker in the order listed. Stir once, Cover and cook on low for 10-12 hours or high for 5-6 hours.

As with many things, this recipe is ripe for editing and improvisation. I have used a pound of dry beans instead of canned beans. I've used both red and green bell peppers, tossed in a few minced jalapenos, splashed broth over it, added chili sauce for some extra can't really mess it up. It always ends up smelling amazing and tasting just as good. And it's got cumin.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

June Spice Rack Challenge: Mint

Wow. So much for posting every month in 2011. Slacker, thy name is Sun Runner. But! Yesterday I picked up my first box of the season from Tantre Farm. Oh, glorious green bounty of spinach, kale, lettuce, tatsoi, spicy mix, radishes, green onions, and asparagus!

How fortuitous, then, that one of the herbs available for selection was mint. I love me some mint. I grow mint in my herb garden. Well, upon further reflection, the mint sort of grows itself. What started out as one plant a few years ago has morphed into a multi-stemmed invader. I should have stuck that bad boy into his own pot. Be warned, herb garden growers! Isolate your mint, or it will advance on the rest of your garden like the Visigoths on Rome!

Mint is best utilized in my favorite warm weather beverage. After the past two weeks of dreary rain, today's 70 degrees and sunshine were a welcome sight. Thus, I made myself a gin smash, heavy on the mint. Perfect for this month's Spice Rack Challenge.

But what mint to use??

My herb garden mint

Tantre Farm mint
How about BOTH?



Ready to drink!
  • mint leaves (a few)
  • gin (a lot)
  • club soda (to fill the glass)
  • sugar (a teaspoon or so)
I make mine thusly:

Put mint, sugar, and a splash of club soda in a flat-bottomed glass. Smash the heck out of it with a muddler. If the club soda starts turning green, that's a good sign. Measure out some gin depending on how mellow you'd like to be and add to the glass. Throw in some ice cubes. Top off with club soda. Stir it up. Toss on a mint spring (or add some more gin) if you're feeling feisty. Retire to porch, relax in sun with cold beverage and reading material.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Vegetable Chowder

Yesterday I met up with some of the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers for a soup swap. I brought my tub of chowder and went home with five large containers of soup, which will feed me for days. My offering was a vegetable chowder.
  • 4 tsp canola oil
  • 1/2 cup green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup shallots, minced
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 3 cups corn kernels
  • 3/4 lb red-skinned potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups milk (skim if you're fat-content-conscious, 2% if you want a rich flavor)
Heat the oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bell peppers and shallots; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the curry powder and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, 30 seconds.

Stir in the corn, potatoes, broth, salt, and pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender, 10 minutes.

Transfer 1/2 cup of the vegetable mixture to a blender; add the milk and puree until nearly smooth. Return to the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring, until just heated through. Makes four 1 1/2-cup servings.

(adapted from Weight Watchers Ultimate Flex & Core,  "Fresh Corn Chowder," p. 52)

As always, I made some modifications...since I was making this for a larger number of people than specified, I used more corn, more peppers, more potatoes, more broth, and more milk. I also sprinkled a healthy portion of cayenne pepper into it, giving it a spicy kick which elicited a number of comments.

This recipe is my favorite way to use up large amounts of fresh corn scraped from the cob during the summer. When my farm share yields 6 big ears of corn, instead of eating them one at a time, I make this chowder. I also like to use red peppers and potatoes from my farm share.

It was lovely to see the ladies of the MLFB again...I think my last event was the holiday cookie exchange in December 2009!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January Spice Rack Challenge: Rosemary

My, my, my it has been a while since I posted here, hasn't it? I find the lack of attention paid to this blog rather shameful, considering how much I cook. Fortunately, I have an excuse to resuscitate my food blog: a monthly cooking challenge put together by my fellow Michigan Lady Food Blogger Mother's Kitchen: the Spice Rack Challenge. The focus for January was on rosemary.

Rosemary. It grew wild and untended in my childhood home of northern California. There was a particularly lush, fragrant patch in a grassy area on my walking route home from my elementary school. I forgot about the rich piney smell of rosemary bushes warmed by the sun until I went back to California for vacation in 2009. I discovered rosemary being used as landscaping near the house in which I was staying.

It's...a shrubbery! Of rosemary!

It smelled fantastic!

I hosted a large gathering at my house at the beginning of the month which necessitated the cooking of several different crowd-pleasing dishes. Along with the black bean chili and the beef chili and baked ham I made this lamb stew, one of my cold-weather favorites.

Savory Lamb Stew (adapted from Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook, 2006, p. 203)

  • 4 tsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lb boneless lamb leg meat, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 2 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh sage, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme, minced
  • 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 medium red-skinned potatoes, cubed
  • 2 cups cut green beans
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil. Saute the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic until the onion is translucent, 8-10 minutes. Add the lamb and saute until no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, rosemary, sage, thyme, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup of the hot water, stir, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer gently for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes, green beans, and the remaining 1/2 cup of water, cover, and simmer until potatoes are tender and the liquid has reduced, about 20 minutes. Serve sprinkled with the parsley.

I quadrupled this recipe for my party because I was expecting about 20 people at my house. This meant I used almost all of the little container of fresh rosemary I had purchased. It was a huge success and I had several people tell me it was absolutely delicious. You'd never guess it was a Weight Watchers recipe!

I hope the coming months of the Spice Rack Challenge will motivate me to resume regular posting. I have a food blog for a reason: I love to cook and I love to eat, and at one time I wanted to share that with whoever was interested. I can't wait to see what next month's challenge is!