Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mini Ham and Swiss Quiches

The best thing about miniature sized versions of regular food (besides the fact that they're cuter, of course) is that you can eat ten in one sitting and get away with it.  I'm pretty sure that one piece of chocolate cake equals about 17 two-bite brownies.  They're so tiny, just one more couldn't possibly hurt, right?  And they're so cute!  Wait, did I have five or six?  I think it was three.  Better make it an even number.  Eh, there's only one left.  I really don't want to put it away.  And it's so cute!

Just to be clear, I have never eaten a whole batch of anything in one sitting (I don't think...).  I don't really make mini food that much anyway--I'm lazy, and it's a lot easier to dump batter into a cake pan than to ladle it into individual muffin cups (which are a pain to clean).  Sometimes, though, a special occasion calls for pretty little parfaits or bite-sized cakes, and it's all worth it.  They really are cute.

These individual quiches are great for brunches, showers, and lazy Saturday mornings.  I know a lot of the ingredients aren't usually available in the co-op, but most of them are pretty basic items and you can also try using different types of cheese, meat, and vegetables based on what you have on hand.

Mini Ham and Swiss Quiches
Makes 12
Time:  30 minutes

2 cups shredded Swiss cheese (or try cheddar)
1/2 cup half-and-half OR 2% milk
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I use the kind with olive oil)
2 eggs
2 T. flour
1/2 tsp. seasoned salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1 cup diced cooked ham (or try cooked bacon or shrimp)
1/4 cup diced mushrooms
1/4 cup finely chopped onion

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Thoroughly grease 12 standard-size muffin cups.

Combine cheese, half-and-half, mayo, eggs, flour, salt, and pepper in a blender.  Process until well blended.  (You can also combine the ingredients in a large bowl with a hand mixer.)  Stir in remaining ingredients.

Equally fill muffin cups with egg mixture.  Bake 22 minutes, or until quiches are lightly golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Venison Chili

You know you're a real, official Blogger when your fans start giving you gifts.  Okay, so I probably only have one fan, but she did give me a pretty exciting gift:  two beautiful pounds of ground venison.  Since the only hunting I ever do is for lost keys and my husband's glasses, you would be right in guessing that I have never eaten venison, much less cooked with it.  Thus my excitement--it's not every day that I get to work with such exotic ingredients.  On the other hand, I didn't want to ruin the meat with my inexperience, so I decided to stick with the classics and make a nice, meaty pot of chili.

I wasn't disappointed.  Working with the venison was pretty much like cooking ground beef, but it was leaner and had a deeper, richer taste.  It didn't have a strong gamey flavor, though--just a subtle earthiness.  I tried to shorten the cooking time by condensing some of the steps, but I think you really have to be patient and follow the recipe to make sure the liquids thicken properly.  There's lots of down time, so I was able to make some cornbread and steamed broccoli while I was waiting--it took about an hour and 15 minutes in all.

Venison Chili (slightly modified from this recipe)
Time:  1 hour, 15 minutes
Serves:  4-6

1 pound ground venison
cooking oil
1 cup chopped onion (regular or sweet)
1 cup chopped green bell pepper (about 1 small)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and chopped
2 T. chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 3/4 cup chicken broth (or one 14-oz. can)
1 T. tomato paste
1 (15-oz.) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (or use two cans if you like)

Heat a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat.  Drizzle with about 1 tsp. cooking oil.  Add venison; cook 5-7 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble.  Remove from pan with a slotted spoon; keep warm.

Reduce heat to medium.  Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, and jalapeno to pot; cook 10 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently.  (Add a little water if mixture starts sticking to pan.)  Stir in chili powder and next 4 ingredients (through pepper).  Add venison, tomatoes, broth, and tomato paste, stirring until well combined; bring to a boil.  Cover; reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes.  Add kidney beans; cook, uncovered, 15 minutes.

Classic Cornbread

My dad always used to make "johnnycake" for breakfast on Sunday mornings before church.  At least, we called it johnnycake--I can't attest to the historical accuracy of our terminology.  My dad's version was just cornbread, baked in a big cast iron skillet in the oven, then sprinkled with sugar and doused with milk.  Sometimes he used cinnamon and sugar to make a smiley face on top.  He was the only one who liked it with milk, though; my brothers and I would just eat the cornbread plain.  Cornbread for breakfast was johnnycake.

So maybe we were a little weird.  I'm pretty sure I wouldn't serve my houseguests cornbread for breakfast.  But I still remember coming down in the morning to the smell of baking cornbread, and hoping to get the piece with the most cinnamon and sugar, and eating it upside down so the tender, buttery top could be saved for last.  And I still love cornbread--I just think it goes better with chili than with milk.

This recipe is pretty basic.  It's the one my dad always used; I think you can still find it on the back of the Martha White cornmeal bag.

Classic Cornbread
Time:  30 minutes

1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup cornmeal
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
1/4 cup cooking oil

Preheat oven to 425 F.  Grease an 8-inch square baking pan or a 10-inch round iron skillet (a round cake pan works too).  Whisk together first five ingredients.  In a separate bowl, combine eggs, milk, and oil.  Add to dry ingredients and stir to blend thoroughly.  Pour into pan and bake about 25 minutes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cranberry-Sweet Potato Bread

Turkey isn't just for Thanksgiving and Christmas (in fact, it isn't for Christmas at all in my family--but that's another story).  Last week, I decided to free up some precious space in my tiny little freezer and hauled out the turkey that had been hibernating there since before Thanksgiving.  (I used Alton Brown's brined roast turkey recipe; you should try it.)  Since I had the giblets and beautiful brown bits in the pan, I made homemade gravy to go with the turkey.  And you can't have gravy without mashed potatoes, so I made some of those, too.  And a pumpkin pie, because pie makes everything better.  And since I can never pass up an excuse to try a new recipe, I finished it all off with a loaf of this cranberry-sweet potato quick bread.  Yum.

Now I know that cranberries aren't exactly common co-op fare, but I still had a bag in the freezer from Thanksgiving, and I'm guessing I'm not the only one.  I've seen them recently at Aldi and Scott's/Kroger, so you can still get them.  I try not to pay more than $1 for a bag.  They keep well, too, if you find a good deal--just pop the whole bag in the freezer.  For this recipe, just make sure to thaw the cranberries first, so they aren't too hard to chop (I would recommend using a food processor; they tend to roll away from a knife blade).

Cranberry-Sweet Potato Bread
Yield:  1 loaf
Time:  1 hour, 25 minutes

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 cup mashed sweet potato (about 1 medium sweet potato, or you can use canned)
3 eggs
1/3 cup orange juice
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup chopped fresh cranberries
2 T. sliced almonds (optional)

Combine first 7 ingredients in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture. Combine sweet potato, eggs, orange juice, and butter in a bowl; add to dry ingredients. Stir just until moist. Fold in cranberries.

Spoon batter into a greased 9 x 5-inch loaf pan; sprinkle almonds over batter (press them down a bit so they stick). Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Let cool completely on wire rack.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Glazed Steamed Carrots (and Other Veggies)

Meet my steamer basket.

I use this thing at least once a week.  Steaming is probably my favorite cooking method for basic, unadorned vegetables (except for grilling, of course, but my husband doesn't like to stand out in the snow every day).  Forget boiling and microwaving.  Steamed vegetables taste ten times better (in my opinion), plus they're quick and easy.

My mom actually had two steamer baskets when I was growing up, which is probably why I'm such a fan.  I even used mine to cook some pork ribs the other day (they were okay), and I think it might even work for Chinese steamed buns or wontons (maybe).  Anyway, if you're sick of eating watery, overcooked vegetables, or if you've got this weird looking metal contraption buried in the back of your kitchen cabinet and don't know what to do with it, today's your lucky day.  (If you don't have a steamer basket, they're usually about $6 to $7.  Kroger has them half off through tomorrow for $3.50.)

My favorite vegetables for steaming are carrots, broccoli, and green beans.  (Cauliflower works too, but it's currently banned from our house for reasons of taste.)

Start by rinsing, peeling/trimming, and cutting your vegetable of choice into bite-size pieces.  Place your steamer basket into a saucepan that is big enough to hold all the vegetables (make sure the saucepan has a tightly fitting lid).

Fill the pan with just enough cold water that you can see it starting to come up through the holes in the basket.  Add your vegetables, replace the lid, and set on the stove over high heat.  After the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-high.  Check the vegetables after about five minutes, then every 2-3 minutes after that.  Vegetables are done when they are bright in color and easily pierced with a dinner fork.  (You can also rinse a piece in cold water and do a taste test.)

That's it.  You're done.  On weeknights, I often just serve the veggies right out of the saucepan with a dot of butter.  Just make sure to remove the saucepan lid or vent it, as the vegetables will keep cooking otherwise (I have, sadly, ruined some perfectly good broccoli that way).  You can also drain your vegetables and add sauces, glazes, and other delicious toppings, as I did with these freshly steamed carrots.

Glazed Carrots (adapted from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cook Book)

4-5 large carrots, cut in bite-size pieces, steamed
1 T. butter
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
dash ground nutmeg
dash salt (optional)

In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients.  Cook, stirring constantly, until sugar is melted and carrots are glazed.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rosemary Shepherd's Pie

I was recently inspired with the delicious idea of making a shepherd's pie.  It's pie for dinner, after all.  What's not to like about that?  Having no family recipes to follow, I found one that looked sufficiently mouth-watering and set to work.  The recipe was for a single mini shepherd's pie, so I quadrupled it and made four.  They came out of the oven, bubbling and golden and beautiful.

They tasted horrible.  The carrots were underdone, the peas were mushy.  And since the recipe called for 2 T. tomato paste, my calculations brought it up to an entire can of tomato paste.  People.  Do not put a whole can of tomato paste into anything, unless you know what you are doing (which I certainly did not).  I hate wasting food, but a large percentage of that dinner might possibly have gone uneaten.

Anyway, last week I decided to try again (with a different recipe, of course).  I just couldn't admit defeat (or give up the idea of pie for dinner).  Let's just say the result was a million times better.  My husband described it as "the gourmet version of shepherd's pie."  Forget the tomato paste.  I'm going with rosemary and Parmesan from now on.

The original recipe called for 2 cups prepared instant mashed potatoes.  You can do that, of course, or use leftovers, but I decided to make up a mini batch of fresh potatoes.  I used 3 large red potatoes, 2 T. butter, about 2-3 T. heavy cream (milk or half-and-half are fine too), and a dash of salt and fresh-ground pepper.  Peel and dice potatoes; bring to a boil in a pot of water.  Simmer until tender.  Drain; mash together with butter, cream, salt, and pepper.

I was also going to list the rosemary as an optional ingredient, but I think it really makes the recipe, so now it's part of the title.  Kroger often has fresh rosemary on clearance for $1 (in the produce section), and it's worth grabbing since you can always freeze it for later (just rinse, dry, and strip off the leaves).  Otherwise, dried rosemary will also work.  You won't regret the splurge.

Rosemary Shepherd's Pie (based on this recipe)
Time:  1 hour
Serves:  6

1 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can cream of celery soup (cream of mushroom would work also)
1 cup frozen peas and carrots (I used frozen peas and cooked fresh carrots)
1 can mushroom stems and pieces, drained
1/4 cup water
1 T. minced fresh rosemary OR 1 tsp. crushed dried rosemary
1 tsp. garlic powder, divided
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 cups mashed potatoes (see note above)
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat until cooked through; drain.  Stir in the soup, peas and carrots, mushrooms, water, rosemary, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, salt and pepper; heat through.  Transfer to a greased 9-inch deep-dish pie plate (I used a 10-inch quiche dish).

In a large bowl, combine mashed potatoes, sour cream, and remaining 1/2 tsp. garlic powder until blended.  Spread over top.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Bake, uncovered, at 350 F for 20-25 minutes or until heated through and potatoes and cheese are lightly browned.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Acorn Squash

Butter and brown sugar make everything better.  This is my favorite way of preparing (and eating) acorn squash (actually, I think it's the only way I've ever eaten it, so if someone wants to suggest some new ideas, go for it).  It always reminds me of my parents' big garden back home, and how my dad would plant a whole row of acorn squash, usually resulting in more produce than the six of us could ever hope to eat in a year (we tried hard, but the summer squash and zucchini sort of got in the way).  All autumn long, my mom would pop those babies in the microwave, and they emerged dripping with a buttery, tender, deliciousness.  I could never resist.  Yum.

Acorn Squash with Brown Sugar and Butter
Serves 2
Time:  15 minutes

1 acorn squash
2 T. butter
2 T. brown sugar

Using your biggest kitchen knife, split the squash in half horizontally.  Scoop out the seeds and pulp; place both halves on a microwave-safe plate.  (I like to use a quiche dish because it has sides to keep the juices contained.)  Place 1 T. each of butter and sugar in each half.  Loosely cover with wax paper.  Microwave on high for 6-10 minutes (if your microwave doesn't have a turntable, stop halfway through and turn plate).  Squash flesh should be easily pierced with a fork when done.  Let cool slightly before serving (they will be very hot!).

Monday, January 9, 2012

Chunky Black Bean Salsa

One of my favorite things about cold weather is dusting off my pile of delicious winter recipes--roasts, soups, casseroles, and, of course, hot chocolate and pumpkin pie.  Sometimes, though, I get tired of all the heartwarming comfort food and long for something fresh and summery.  Yep.  I'm fickle.  But I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person in the world who's dived (or is it "dove"?) headfirst into a bowl of ice cream in the middle of March.  (Actually, that's not a very good example, as I will happily devour ice cream no matter the day or the season.)

This black bean salsa (or, as my family likes to call it, "dip") is one of my favorite year-round recipes.  It takes less than ten minutes to prepare and is great as a snack, appetizer, party contribution, or even a side dish to your favorite Mexican meal.  The ingredients aren't set in stone--I make it a little differently every time--but I'll try to give the basic idea with possible variations.  The best part?  The ingredients are almost always available at the co-op.  You'll just need to buy tortilla chips.  I think Aldi has the best deal, at $1.67 a bag for several varieties.  Scott's/Kroger often has them on sale for $1, but it's a smaller bag.

Chunky Black Bean Salsa
Time:  10 minutes

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can whole corn, drained
1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 medium tomato (or 2 roma tomatoes), diced (optional--I usually leave them out in the winter, when good tomatoes are hard to come by)
mild or medium salsa, to taste (last time I used about 1/2 cup medium Chi-Chi's salsa)*

Combine all ingredients.  Serve with tortilla chips.  Pretend it's summer.

*For a dryer consistency, you can leave out the jarred salsa and instead season with chili powder and cumin to taste.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Salmon Croquettes

You really should make this recipe.  Yes, even you, Picky Eater Who Hides Your Fish in Your Napkin.  In fact, if you only try one new fish recipe this year, I think it should be this one.  Even though it's only January 7, I think I've just discovered one of my favorite recipes for the year.  Enough said.

The ingredient list may be a bit long, but most of the items are pretty standard condiments and pantry staples.  I have seen both canned salmon and panko (don't use regular breadcrumbs) at the co-op a number of times.  Lemons and green bell peppers are also usually available.  Green onions are under a dollar at Meijer and Kroger/Scott's; I like to keep a bag of them (chopped) in my freezer, so I can just scoop some out when needed. 

Salmon Croquettes (based on this recipe)
Serves 4
Time:  30 minutes

1 (15 oz.) can salmon
1/4 cup mayonnaise, divided (I used olive oil mayo)
4 tsp. fresh lemon juice, divided
2 1/2 tsp. Dijon or spicy brown mustard, divided
1/4 cup finely sliced green onions
2 T. minced bell pepper (I used green)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs--NOT regular breadcrumbs)
2-3 T. cooking oil
1 T. chopped fresh parsley OR 1 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. minced garlic (1 small clove)
dash salt

Drain salmon liquid into a bowl; set aside.  If salmon includes skin and bones, place on a small plate and carefully remove inedible parts using a fork and your fingers.  Flake meat with fork and place in a medium bowl.  Add 2 T. mayonnaise, 1 T. lemon juice, 1 1/2 tsp. mustard, and the next 6 ingredients (through egg), stirring well.  Add panko; toss.  Shape mixture into 8 (3-inch) patties (flatten with a spatula for an even thickness).  If mixture is too dry, add about 1 T. of the reserved salmon liquid; discard any remaining liquid.

Heat about 1 1/2 T. oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add patties; cook 4-5 minutes on each side or until browned.  (I cooked four at a time and added more oil for the second batch.  Make sure the oil is nice and hot before you add the first patties, or they will get soggy.  The second batch should cook more quickly.  The most difficult part is keeping the patties from falling apart when you flip them.  I used a very thin metal spatula, along with a fork to keep them flipping too quickly.)

Combine remaining 2 T. mayonnaise, 1 tsp. lemon juice, and 1 tsp. mustard with parsley, garlic, and salt, stirring well.  Top each croquette with about 1/2 T. sauce; serve immediately.

(Since these taste best fresh, you could also cook only as many croquettes as you plan to eat in one meal.  The leftover uncooked patties can be stored in the refrigerator for a day or two--just separate them with waxed paper.)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

In honor of National Soup Month, I hereby present... yet another soup recipe.  Yeah, you're right.  I was going to post it regardless of the month.  But this gives me a really good excuse, don't you think?  Not that I need an excuse.  This stuff is amazing.  Along with Zuppa Toscana (which you should also try if you haven't yet) and beef barley soup (which isn't exactly co-op friendly, unfortunately), this chicken and wild rice soup is definitely one of my favorites.  It comes from my pastor's wife back home, and it's just as delicious as I, a little kid reading Maurice Sendak's Chicken Soup with Rice, once only imagined it could be.

You will need to buy a couple of items for this recipe, but they're both inexpensive and keep well.  Green onions were on sale for $.59 at Scott's/Kroger this week; Meijer also has them for under a dollar.  The leftovers can be sliced and frozen.  Parsley is $.79 at Meijer.  It keeps for two to three weeks if prepped properly:  rinse and pat slightly dry with a paper towel, then strip off the leaves and put them in a zip-top bag lined with paper towel.  Keep the bag in the refrigerator, unsealed.  Every week or so, remove any yellowing leaves and replace the paper towel if it gets too wet.

The original recipe calls for wild rice, but since that's generally out of my budget, I usually use a box of mixed long grain and wild rice (like Rice-A-Roni or Uncle Ben's), which shows up in the co-op pretty often.  Try to get mixes where the seasoning packet is separate, since you're going to add your own fresh seasonings, which taste ten times better and are better for you anyway.

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
Serves 6
Time: 1 hour

2/3 cup long grain and wild rice (about 1 box; discard seasoning packet)
4-5 cups chicken broth
dash black pepper
1 1/2 cups fresh mushrooms, halved then sliced (or coarsely chopped)
1/2 cup green onions
2 T. butter
1 1/2 cup cooked chicken, cubed
1/2 cup fresh parsley, snipped

In a large saucepan, mix the rice, broth, and pepper.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat.  Cover and simmer 40-45 minutes, or until rice is tender.  Meanwhile, in a skillet, cook mushrooms and green onions in butter until tender, but not brown.  Add mushroom mixture, chicken, and parsley to soup.  Heat through.

(I usually serve this with Rustic Herb Bread.  Yum.)