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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Don't Be Chicken!

I love recipes that are fast and easy to prepare.  They can't just be fast & easy - they have to taste good, too.  Bonus points if they're REALLY tasty.  I think this fills the bill.

One of my favorite ways to fix chicken is to brine leg & thigh pieces in salt water for about 30 minutes, drain, and dredge in seasoned flour.  Place them in a foil-lined oiled pan, spray with vegetable spray and bake about an hour at 425.  Sort of a take on oven fried.  I sometimes mix a little cornmeal or bread crumbs in with the flour.  Easy.  For vegetables I sometimes cut up onions, carrots, celery & potatoes and strew them among the chicken pieces.

This version is even easier.  Don't bother with the flour.  Instead just drizzle the brined chicken & cut up vegetables with oil, dust with some bottled spice blend and toss well.  Spread in the pan and roast, basting about every 20 minutes with the pan juices to ensure a crispy skin.

Boy is this good.  When the vegetables are tender and nicely brown (toss them whenever you baste) the chicken is probably done and dinner is on the table in no time.

Vary the vegetables.  Include sweet potatoes or parsnips, or just use what you have in the house.  Add a green salad or a side of green vegetables and you have a very healthy meal.

Don't forget to save the pan drippings and bones to simmer for soup stock!

Quotable quotes; in the category Chickens Have To Live Somewhere, Even If They Don't Go To Church!

"Regard it as just as desirable to build a chicken house as to build a cathedral."  Frank Lloyd Wright

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Today's Bento

Finally got around to making another bento - have been having too much fun with the Crock Pot Food Warmer and a sandwich maker I also brought in.  Note to self:  when it's time to remove the sandwich ignore EVERYTHING else including water delivery or mailman or sandwich will burn.

But I still love bento and often put myself to sleep imagining the next bento I'll be making.  This one looks tasty.  The mini meatballs were on sale and I could not resist (many bentos include mini "burgers" and this way I don't have to make my own).  Bonus points - they are fully cooked and require only reheating in sauce!

So today's bento includes leftover Jasmine rice, pan fried in the pan after making my favorite one-egg tamagoyaki; mini meatballs & mini sausages glazed in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sake, sesame oil, a little ketchup and a pinch of hot pepper flakes; carrot & gobo kinpiri simmered with onion, soy sauce, sesame oil, mirin and a pinch of sugar.  Gobo is burdock root and is a classic kinpira - we'll have to see if I like it.  It looks like an extremely long, extremely thin parsnip.

Also included is instant cabbage pickle (massage a chopped cabbage leaf or two with salt and squeeze a bit of lime juice over) with some red radish.  Tucked in between the tamagoyaki and the pickle is a daifuku - a sort of sweet rice cake with a dab of strawberry flavored filling.  I like them.

Sorry the picture is so bad - my camera has been giving me problems and this was taken with my less than ideal phone camera.  You get the idea.

Quotable quotes; in the category You Don't Have To Worry With Bento - It's Still Beautifully Arranged But They Use Chopsticks Instead Of Fingers!

"It's so beautifully arranged on the plate - you know someone's fingers have been all over it."  Julia Child

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Last time I blogged about this little guy.  It has certainly come in handy.  So far it has handled cream of tomato soup, cream of broccoli soup and cream of mushroom soup.  Yesterday it surpassed itself reheating some leftover barbecue pork (and will provide an encore performance today).
I have a very simple recipe for pulled pork.  I just cook it.  Well, it's a little more involved than that but not much.  I rub a pork shoulder (pretty much the cheapest cut and the best for long, slow cooking) with a spice rub.  You can make your own by combining approximately equal amounts of salt, pepper, sugar, paprika, and any other other herbs & spices you like - cinnamon, red pepper flakes, cayenne, thyme, cumin, you name it.  Or just buy a jar of your favorite rub or spice blend.

Rub the meat all over with the spice blend and lay it in a roasting pan lined with aluminum foil (for easier cleanup - optional) and place it in a 450oven.  When it starts to sizzle, after about 25 minutes or so, turn it down to 275.  After a couple hours, turn it down to  250and finally turn it down to 225.  In all, it will spend about six hours in the oven after which time it should be fall apart tender.

Of course, if it's summer or you're a die-hard grill master you can do this on the gas or charcoal grill.  Just be sure to monitor the heat and to replenish the coals as needed.  I prefer the easier oven method.  It's just as tasty albeit without the smoky flavor the grill contributes.

Shred the pork with two forks or let it cool a bit and pull it apart with your hands.  Wear gloves or the paprika will stain your fingers.  Mix in your favorite homemade or store bought barbecue sauce and you are in business.  I like to serve this on sandwich rolls.  Cole slaw and potato salad are great accompaniments, as are mac & cheese or baked beans.

Leftovers can be reheated with a little additional sauce in your lunch crock and you can have your barbecue all over again!

Quotable quotes; in the category Okay Maybe He Didn't Really Say It But Maybe He Should Have.  And If You Find It On The Internet It Has To Be True, Right?

"Barbecue is popular because it combines the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity."  George Bernard Shaw

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tooth Hurty!

Well, I finally had the offending tooth pulled and a bone graft to boot (necessary as I plan to have an implant later to replace the lost molar).  Not my favorite activity, let me tell you.

What I did enjoy was finding new things to eat that require little or no chewing and a freezer filled with Dove Bars and Ice Cream Sandwiches, useful both as a food source and as a cold compress to help reduce swelling after a tooth extraction.

One thing I have really enjoyed is this little gizmo. 
It's made by Crock Pot and is a lunch warmer.  It does not cook food, it warms it to eating temperature.  Fill the inner container with soup, stew or (I'm hoping) spaghetti, lasagna, mashed potatoes & gravy you name it.  Plug it in when you get to work and by lunch time your food is hot and ready and you did not have to deal with a line at the microwave (or any body's grody mess) or the high prices at the cafeteria.

There are lots of reviews of this product here.  I'll add my $.02.  There is a little ridge near the top of the inner container where the plastic lid snaps in.  I found after the first use that some of my soup had worked its way into the groove and I had to wash it extra carefully to be sure it all came off.  The container is not non-stick (and I would not want it to be) so you may want to spray the interior of the inner container with PAM or vegetable spray before filling.

The instructions tell you not to place the item on certain surfaces.  Better be sure and get a little wooden cutting board or trivet to place it on while heating.  You cannot remove the inner container while it's full of hot food, so you may wish to move the food into another container (which you'll have to wash) or just eat form the whole thing.  I'm not embarrassed - no reason to be!

I figure if I use this thing even once a week I'll have gotten my money's worth.  I don't often bring in things that need to be reheated, but when I do I hate to use the microwave.  I don't know why, I just do.  This is a great alternative.

I also bought this little guy (mine's bright yellow) thinking I might toast my sandwich once in awhile instead of eating it cold.
I'll let you know how this works out after I give it a try.  Meanwhile, check out the Lunch Crock.  You might like it!

Quotable quotes; in the category That's A Joke, Son!  (Actually, It's A Riddle)!

Q:  What time is it when you go to the dentist?
A:  Two-Thirty!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Comfort Foods - No Really!

I've been having dental issues again this weekend.  Luckily my stock of pain relievers is sufficient.  Sadly, it looks like another root canal is in my future.  If there's anything I hate worse than dental work it's not being able to eat comfortably.  Luckily my experience with dental work is as sufficient as my stock of pain relievers, so much so that I am considering writing a cookbook of soft foods that can be eaten while in extreme dental pain.  Here are a few ideas you might want to try next time you have a cracked tooth or need a root canal.

Potatoes.  Mashed.  Obvious, right?  But to make them just a little more substantial, peel a few potatoes (if they are young or are red or white potatoes with thin skins, just scrub them) and cut in chunks.  Place in a pot with water just to barely cover and sprinkle in a little bullion powder.  Simmer until very tender, drain any remaining liquid and return to the stove to dry a bit.  Plop in a nice amount of butter, a pinch of salt, a grinding of black pepper and top with minced fresh or dried parsley or chive.  Stir with a  fork to smash and enjoy, being careful to chew only on the unaffected side!

Take out.  A bowl of egg drop soup from the Chinese restaurant on the corner is just the thing.  If you can chew at all ask for a couple of won tons (or steal them from the Big Guy's bowl of Won Ton soup).  To make this at home heat a can of chicken broth (or water & bullion) to a simmer.  Season to taste with a little soy sauce, hot chili oil or whatever you like.  Beat an egg and drizzle into the soup while stirring gently to make egg flowers.

Congee . . . sort of.  Congee is actually a very small amount of rice cooked in a very large amount of water until it's a thick sort of soup.  Not exactly gruel, not exactly porridge, more like cream of nothing soup.  It's seasoned with bits of meat, vegetable, and other things.  To make a similar version at home add a few spoonfuls of leftover rice to a cup or two of chicken broth or water & bullion.  Simmer until the rice is completely dissolved and the soup is thick.  You can beat an egg and stir this in if you like.  Season to taste (see above) and enjoy.  Remember to let it cool if your teeth are sensitive to heat.

Don't forget the old standbys like oatmeal, cream of wheat, farina or grits.  Just leave out anything that requires much chewing like whole raisins or walnuts.  Remember to let it cool a bit if sensitive to heat.

For something cool try small curd cottage cheese, jello, or pureed anything (think baby food from a jar).  Any cooked fruit (apricots, peaches, apples) can be pureed, sweetened and enjoyed warm or cold.  Or do the same with vegetables such as squash, peas or cauliflower.  Or just grab a few jars from the baby food aisle.  Nobody has to know.

After a day or two of these dishes you will be eager to make that appointment and get back to steak and salads.

Quotable quotes; in the category What Is This, A Joke?

Q. When is it time to go to the dentist?
A. Two-Thirty! (tooth-hurty).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

I Call It Pork!

I made a pretty tasty dish for supper last night.  You might call it Buta-don.  You might call it Rice Bowl.  You will call it good.

As usual I rounded up several recipes and took my cue from the ingredients that crossed over and what I had in the kitchen.  It came out pretty good.  I'm including links to a few of them.  This was my favorite and the one I based my recipe on.  Here is another that gave me more ideas.

And here is what I did.

I had a couple pork chops in the fridge - not sure what cut they were - they each had a bone in the center and were rather thin.  I sliced them into thinner, bite size pieces and marinated them in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sake and a little sugar.  Being me I also added a little red pepper flakes and a drop of sesame oil.

I also shredded some cabbage because I had some in the house and because I felt like eating some.  Just a few leaves are enough, sliced as thin as you can and then put in a dish of cold water in the fridge to get crisp.

I also thinly sliced an onion partly because I have to use them up and partly because I like them.  Now all I had to do was heat some oil in a non-stick skillet, toss in the onion and toss in the pork (including the bones which had plenty of meat on them).  I sizzled this over fairly high heat until the pork was just about done and the onions nice and golden, then poured in the marinade.  Once it boiled I simmered it until it reduced and thickened to a syrupy glaze.

Serve a portion of rice in a bowl with a portion of pork and onions over it and a bit of cabbage (drained) on the side.  Very tasty, quick and easy.

Quotable quotes; in the category Better Serve Everybody Else First, Just In Case!

"There is luck in the last helping."  Japanese Saying

Monday, July 8, 2013

So What Am I???

Big guy recently bought a tub of chopped chicken liver at the market.  He had seen it for sale and promised himself some next time he went there, which was last week.  He said the chopped liver was good (I did not have any) but the texture was too fine.

We used to eat at Carson's Ribs in Chicago.  Alas, while there once was a branch in nearly every nearby city or neighborhood, they have all closed and only the downtown location (and one in Milwaukee, and one in Deerfield) remains.  Carson's is good but not good enough to double the bill with transportation and parking costs.  But we surely miss the complimentary and excellent chopped liver that was available in the bar.  Grab a plate and load up with rye bread, chopped liver and toppings of minced onion & egg.

Carson's liver was more coarsely textured.  Closer to what I used to make "back in the day".  We did not have a food processor so of necessity I mashed the poached livers with a fork for a chunky-smooth spread spiked with onion, butter & hard cooked egg.  Here's how to make it.

Dice an onion or two as fine as you like.  Saute in melted butter - use chicken fat (schmaltz) if you're kosher or if you prefer it - until onions are turning golden and are very limp.  Cooked longer, they will turn sweeter.  Add a good amount of chicken livers.  Cut them into smaller pieces if you wish.  Simmer until the livers are cooked through but are still soft enough to mash with a fork.  Season judiciously with kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper.  Meanwhile, boil a couple of eggs (instructions follow).

Turn the livers into a bowl and mash them with a fork until as smooth as you like.  If you must use a food processor, pulse in several short bursts rather than letting it run continuously, until as smooth or chunky as you prefer.  Add the egg and mash into the spread with the fork (or food processor).

If you wish to serve this later you can melt some additional schmaltz and pour it over the top to seal it.  Stir it into the spread at serving or just nudge it aside.  Serve with bagels, Challah or rye bread or crackers for spreading.  Serve finely minced onion and chopped egg for garnish, if you like.

To make schmaltz, save bits of chicken fat from any whole or cut up chicken you are preparing.  I just slice off the fattier bits of skin and put it aside.  Dice the pieces and render the fat over low - medium heat in a heavy skillet, pouring off the fat as it accumulates.  Strain or not, as you desire.  The leftover bits or "cracklings" are known as gribenes.  These can be added to the chopped liver, used as a garnish, or eaten out of hand, like peanuts.

To make perfect hard cooked eggs fill a pan just large enough to hold the number of eggs with cold water.  Pierce the wide end of the egg with a push pin or an egg piercer, if you wish, and place in the pan.  Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer about a minute, then turn off the heat, cover the pan and let it stand at least 13 minutes.  Drain and fill the pan with cold water and let stand until eggs are completely cool, or until needed.  I like to tap the shell to crack it all around and let it stand in the cold water for a while, which seems to make peeling easier.

Quotable quotes; in the category But The Chopped Liver Was Just Right!

"Don't be too sweet, lest you be eaten up; don't be too bitter, lest you be spewed out."  Jewish Proverb.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Bento Is As Bento Does

I've been playing with bento, mostly from leftovers, the last few days.  We had some leftover kabobs with chicken, beef, pepper, onions & mushrooms.  I decided they could be repurposed as bento dishes.

For the first reincarnation I sliced a few pieces of the beef & chicken and sliced the pieces of pepper, onion & mushrooms.  I sautéed them in a little sesame oil and finished with the little bit of teriyaki sauce left in the bottle.  It was pretty good.

I paired that with some leftover macaroni & tuna salad.  I mean if you're gonna do leftovers, don't discriminate!  Besides, there are many versions of a macaroni salad in the bento books.  Some watermelon chunks added a "dessert" and helped fill my teddy-bear bento box.

For the next recreation I tried something I had read about - minced meat cooked until saucy and served over rice with a sort of scrambled egg and a vegetable dish.  I minced the remaining beef & chicken in the food processor and sizzled it in a little sesame oil, drizzling with soy sauce and mirin until it was tasty.

Likewise, I "scrambled" an egg, beaten with a little soy and mirin, by holding several chopsticks in my hand and stirring constantly until the egg was cooked and crumbly.  These two "sprinkles" were spread over a bed of rice.  The remaining pepper, onion & mushroom was sliced and cooked as before.  These were accompanied by a quick zucchini pickle.  There was enough of the meat and vegetable left for yet another bento the next day.

For this third and final version, I simply reheated the meat & vegetable (separately) adding a little more soy & mirin and spread them over the rice.  I made a one-egg tamagoyaki and also made a dish of carrot, onion & celery, julienned and cooked in sesame oil with soy and mirin and a little red pepper flakes.  Don't be deterred by using the same "dressing" ingredients in every dish.  For some reason, each retains its own unique flavors, complemented by the sauce ingredients.  They don't all taste the same.

Go ahead and use leftovers in your bento.  Indeed, go ahead and use just about anything in your bento!  From peanut butter sandwiches to marinated artichoke hearts to tuna casserole, anything goes.  And if it tastes good otherwise, it will taste good in your bento!

Quotable quotes; in the category Yes The Bento Lunch Is Tasty But What's For Supper?

"I'm the kind of girl who thinks about what she's gonna cook for dinner when she's finishing her lunch."  Padma Lakshmi, Cookbook Author, Actress, Model & Television Host.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bento Calling My Name

It's time for another bento.  I'll make one tomorrow.   I have some leftover rice in the fridge so I'll make fried rice.  Easy and tasty.  I also have leftover ham from this week's sandwiches so I'll dice up some of that for the fried rice and maybe a couple of those mini cocktail wieners that I like so well.  If I had any bean sprouts I'd use those too, but I don't so I won't.

I have lettuce so a little salad would go nice with the rice.  I have some cucumbers so maybe I'll make a quick pickle too.  I haven't decided if I'll make my favorite tamagoyaki or if I'll just scramble an egg into the fried rice.

Fried rice is easy.  All you need is leftover rice (cold is best) and something else to put in it.  Even sliced garlic will do (and boy is it good - check this out).  My recipe is not authentic.  It's just good.  Try it and see.

Heat some oil in a skillet.  Use a little sesame oil for extra flavor.  When it's hot sauté a little chopped onion and/or garlic, if you wish, then toss in the rice.  Break up the clumps with a wooden spoon and stir and toss until the rice is pretty even and pretty much heated through.  You can push the rice aside and add other ingredients - diced ham, leftover bits of chicken or shrimp, vegetables and bean sprouts - use whatever you like and whatever you have on hand.  When those ingredients are heated through mix them all together with the rice.

Now push the rice over to the side again, add a little more oil to the bare spot in the pan (easily done with a folded bit of paper towel dipped in oil) and break an egg onto the oiled spot.  You can scramble it first or just crack it right into the pan.  Stir it around with a pair of chopsticks to scramble it as it cooks.  When it's pretty well done but still soft and tender, mix it in with the rice (if you like it cooked firmer, go ahead).

Now add some sauce.  You can just pour in a little soy sauce or you can use a bottled teriyaki type sauce or if you have some leftover dipping sauce from your soba noodles or dumplings, use that.  If you want to get fancy mix a little soy sauce with some mirin and sake, or just add these separately, a few dribbles at a time.  Stir and toss so the sauce gets mixed all through the rice and you're about done.  Serve this garnished with minced green onion or toasted sesame seeds and you're off!

To make a quick pickle, slice cucumber (or zucchini) thinly.  Sprinkle with a hefty pinch of salt and toss it around in a bowl, squeezing it to get the salt working.  You can weight it with a plate, put it in a pickle press or just leave it for about 20 - 30 minutes.  Now squeeze out the excess water, rinse and drain and squeeze again.  Dress with a little rice vinegar, or cider vinegar or even lemon juice.  Add a pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes or a few thin slices of chili pepper, toss and serve.  Pickles like this will last a few days in the fridge so make enough for your next couple bentos and you're all set!

I won't try to tell you how to make a tamagoyaki.  Instead, here is a link to my favorite bento web site where you can learn her technique much more easily than by trying to decipher my instructions.  Enjoy your bento!

Quotable quotes; in the category Does It Make Me Feel Good Because I Like It Or Do I Like It Because It Makes Me Feel Good?

"Japanese food makes me feel particularly good."  David Mitchell

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What Do You Call These?

If you read my bento posts you know that tamagoyaki is practically my favorite part of any bento.  Another favorite is budo mame.  As near as I can tell, budo mame means soybeans simmered until tender then simmered in sugar and soy sauce until caramelized.  They are, in my humble opinion, delicious.  Sweet, tangy, toothsome and tasty.

Of course, they don't really get totally tender.  Either that or I have never let them cook long enough.  My recipe says 4 -5 hours.  I skimped on that last time and the beans were decidedly not tender.  Not crunchy, but with lots of texture.

This is a recipe I do not make often.  Not because it's difficult - it's actually remarkably easy requiring only a few steps (soaking the beans, simmering the beans, skimming and adding water as needed and simmering in sugar and soy sauce at the end).  No, I don't make them often because by the time I think of them it's too late to soak them overnight and to simmer them the required 4 - 5 hours.

Never mind.  You are much more organized and forward thinking than I and you will get the beans soaking and cooking well in advance of when they will be wanted. 

For an "official" recipe visit my very favorite bento web site.  The recipe is here.  Enjoy!

Quotable quotes; in the category Having Your Cake And Eating It Too Is A Snap Compared To This!

"Wishing to eat the fugu, but wishing to live too."  Japanese proverb

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

It's Not Easy Eating Greens

I have been interested in foraging and wild foods for a long time.  Several times I have attempted to cook and eat dandelion greens.  Somehow, there is something enticing about the idea of foraging for food, something you did not have to plant and cultivate, and having a  tasty dish for your trouble.

There is a reason Granny (remember the Beverly Hillbillies on TV?) served greens with possum gravy and pot likker.  They taste pretty terrible on their own.  Which is why I kept trying them but never actually got around to eating them.

According to some of the books and web sites I have read recently part of the trick is boiling.  And boiling.  And more boiling.  It apparently helps to remove, or at least tame, some of the bitterness.

I happened to have cooked some bacon that morning and had not yet washed out the pan.  I figured what better way to cook dandelions than in bacon grease, my Greek cookbook notwithstanding.  I headed out to the back yard in the cool misty drizzle (not really rain) and pulled a hefty handful of dandelion greens and a few sprigs of garlic mustard (there was not much that I could reach).

I doused the greens in a pot of water and swished them around, let them stand, then lifted them from the water to allow any grit to settle to the bottom.  Drained and rinsed the pan and repeated a couple times to make sure the greens were clean, then I chopped them coarsely (another tip to help with bitterness).  I added a fat pinch of salt, brought them to a boil and let them simmer about ten minutes.  I tasted and they seemed okay - not overly bitter.  Next time I will likely drain and boil them at least two or three times - the finished greens were decidedly bitter.

After boiling I drained them and tossed them into the skillet that contained the bacon grease (and luckily a few specks of bacon which had stuck to the pan).  I turned up the heat and let them go a good long time - maybe 20 minutes or so - stirring occasionally and seasoning them with a little more salt, pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes as well as a dribble of olive oil.  I would have added a splash of vinegar if I had thought of it.

They were bitter.  But not un-eatable.  Tender but still toothsome.  If I try them again I'll let you know.  For now I'll stick with kale and Swiss chard, challenging in their own way but a little easier to relate to.

Quotable quotes; in the category Nuts About Nuts Or Just Nuts?

"I look for natural ingredients in my food.  That's why Grape Nuts is part of my breakfast . . . Its naturally sweet taste reminds me of wild hickory nuts."

Euell Gibbons, American Food & Nature Writer, from his Post Grape Nuts commercial

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bent uh-oh

I brought a bento to work for lunch today.  I am not posting a picture of it because it is decidedly ugly.  I tried making a tamagoyaki (rolled egg omelet) with asparagus spears rolled up inside.  It failed dismally, falling apart and looking extremely un-photogenic.  I know from experience that tamagoyaki is delicious.  In fact it's usually my favorite part of the bento and I try to include one in every bento I make, so I'm confident that this ugly duckling will still taste great.

In addition I have beef strips with shitake mushroom and a sort of spicy chicken teriyaki.  I cooked the mushrooms the day before, then added them to the beef.  I also cooked some carrot, celery and radish (raw veggies from a couple days ago) and glazed them with the chicken.  In case you want to try them here are my "recipes".  I don't claim they are authentic but they are all based on recipes I have found at other bento blogs and cookbooks with my own adaptations imposed up on them.  Enjoy!

Simmered Shitake Mushrooms:  my recipe said to use fresh mushrooms.  I didn't have any so I soaked dried mushrooms in water, trimmed & discarded the stems, then sautéed them in sesame oil.  I added a drizzle of soy sauce, mirin and sake and a pinch of sugar and simmered until the liquid had cooked away and the mushrooms were glazed.  Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.

Sesame Style Beef:  slice any tender cut of beef thinly against the grain.  About a half dozen generous slices will make a nice serving.  Marinate 15 - 30 minutes in soy sauce, mirin and sake -  about a teaspoon or so of each.  Saute over medium high heat in sesame oil, then add the marinade and simmer, turning often, until the liquid has reduced to a syrupy glaze and the beef is coated.  Optional - you can add a pinch of red pepper flakes and garnish with minced green onion if you wish.  Add the mushrooms and finish the beef & mushrooms together.

Spicy Chicken:  use chicken breast or thigh, as you prefer, boneless, skinless or not.  Marinate in a little hot sauce such as Tabasco or Picante sauce.  Saute in sesame oil until browned on all sides then add a little teriyaki sauce or a dribble each of soy sauce, mirin and sake (are you getting a picture here?) and simmer until thickened and chicken is glazed.  Optional, include some celery, carrot and onion or radish, thinly sliced and cooked in sesame oil, soy sauce & mirin.  Alternately, toss the marinated chicken in a little corn starch or potato starch, omit the teriyaki sauce, and cook until browned and crusty.

Pack your bento with steamed rice, the beef, chicken and tamagoyaki, if you made one, and some extra spears of asparagus or steamed broccoli florets.  Add a couple cherry tomatoes for color.  Allow the bento to cool completely before placing the cover on the box.  This bento should require no refrigeration as long as it's eaten within a few hours of preparing.

For more bento ideas check out my favorite bento blog, Just Bento.

Quotable quotes; in the category This Way To Tasty But Ugly Tamagoyaki!

"Failures are the finger posts on the road to achievement."
C. S. Lewis

Monday, April 8, 2013

It's Gonna Happen

My friend made a carrot cake last time she had us over for supper.  From scratch.  It was good.

I have a penchant for making things from a mix and messin' with 'em to fancy 'em up a little.

I have bags of carrots in the fridge.  I have boxes of cake mix in the pantry.  I have tubs of frosting in the pantry.  I have eggs.  I'm gonna make a carrot cake.

Perusing the web I found three different recipes for carrot cake, all starting with a boxed yellow cake mix.  Some call for instant vanilla pudding, some for crushed pineapple, some call for 3 eggs and some call for 4.

I also found a recipe for a low-fat, low-calorie carrot cake in an old issue of Prevention Magazine.  Ya, THAT ain't gonna happen.  At least not this time.

Sometime before the weekend there will be a carrot cake coming out of my oven.  I'll let you know how it is.  Raisins need not apply.

Quotable quotes; in the category Eating A Balanced Diet Is Its Own Reward!

"Vegetables are a must on a diet.  I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread and pumpkin pie."  Jim Davis, creator of the Garfield comic strip.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Simple Pleasures Are Best

That's something my sister-in-law often says and usually she's right.

I'm thinking right now about the brownies I bake.  No, not from scratch - while I love the idea of from scratch baking I almost always use a box mix of some kind, at least for cakes & brownies.  But I have my ways of making them special.  And they're all simple and easy.

For brownies, I almost never make a batch without adding something extra.  Walnuts or pecans are a natural (unless you're making the brownies for someone who cannot have or does not like nuts).  To make them extra tasty toast them before adding.  This is as easy as placing the nuts on a baking pan in the oven for a few minutes, or in a skillet on the stove top.  Toast just until they become fragrant, shaking or stirring a few times to prevent burning.

Another addition is chocolate.  I like to break a chocolate bar up into little pieces, or just toss a handful of chocolate chips into the batter.  Pour it into the pan and scatter a few more pieces or chips over the top.  The bits melt to different degrees making the brownies extra special.  Bits of caramel or candy bar can also be tried.

You can add spices to the batter while mixing.  I like to shake in a little cinnamon for a subtle boost of flavor.  A shake or two of cayenne pepper adds a pleasant bit of warmth and a hefty pinch of sea salt - well I got those last two ideas from adding chocolate bits that contained those ingredients.  I figured if it's good for chocolate it's good for brownies.

Finally, if you like those marbled cheesecake brownies, well it's as easy as this.  Combine one beaten egg with one package (8 ounces) cream cheese, 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla.  Beat well.  Pour the brownie batter into the pan, then plop spoonfuls of the cheesecake mixture in as well.  Use a knife or skewer to swirl the two batters together in a marbled effect until it's as mixed as you wish.  Bake as usual.

Next time you bake a batch of brownies, whether from scratch or from a mix, try one or two or all of these ideas to make them a little special.

Quotable quotes; in the category Oh, So That's What That Smell Is!

"Childhood smells of perfume and brownies."  David Leavitt, American Novelist

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bento - Finally!

I finally got around to making another bento.   I have been meaning to for a long time but it just didn't seem to get done.  I am so out of practice this bento took me a half hour or more to prepare.  But it was worth it.
I included some of my favorites - chicken teriyaki, sauteed cocktail wieners and my most favorite of all, a tamagoyaki (egg cake).  I also included some peppers, onion & carrots cooked in soy sauce & mirin and a cucumber pickle.  I placed half an umeboshi plum on my rice.  This was my very first umeboshi.  It was very salty but tasty in its way.

I put the bento in a recycled take-out container as I could not lay my hands on an "official" bento box.  The only problem was I could not pack it quite tight enough to prevent any shifting around so I had to carry it carefully to prevent it becoming "messy".

I hope it does not take me so long to make my next bento.  This was fun . . . and tasty!!!

Quotable Quotes; in the category Yes, Especially If There's Bento For Lunch!

"When people you greatly admire appear to be thinking deep thoughts, they probably are thinking about lunch."  Unknown

Monday, March 4, 2013

Long ago I posted about Spam and referenced Spam Musubi, a "snack food" similar to onigiri and popular in Hawaii.  I had purchased a can (read several cans) of Spam and even bought a musubi mold from our local Japanese import store and kept promising Mr. that I would make Spam Musubi.  Mr. loves Spam.  There was no reason he would not like Spam Musubi.  He liked it.

I made a small batch of Japanese rice and opened a half can of Spam (it was on sale at a great price - until we learned it was a can only half the size of the regular Spam - we bought it anyway).  I figured if we did not like it I would not have wasted a full can of Spam.

My musubi was largely based on the recipe found here.  As instructed I sauteed the Spam in a skillet until golden brown, then added a little soy sauce and Mirin (okay, not exactly as instrected since I had misplaced the "recipe" but it worked out great).  I simmered until the "sauce" had cooked into the Spam and carmelized a bit.

I moistened my mold and started assembling the musubi.  The first one got way too much rice in it, meaning the subsequent versions contained too little.  No matter.  The Spam was the important thing.

I sprinkled a bit of seasoning, wrapped it with nori and we feasted on musubi with forks as the rice kept crumbling and falling out.  Note to self:  make rice stickier next time and cut the nori wide enough to wrap the entire thing.

Oh yes, there will be a next time.

Quotable Quotes; in the category Well That's Not Quite What I Meant But . . .

"Life would be easier if you could mark people as spam . . . "  Anonymous

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I'm making these biscuit dough pizzas again for only the second time.  I first blogged about them at madKnews.  I was almost embarrassed to confess to liking them as they stand for everything I dislike in the kitchen, namely convenience foods.  But I also confess I buy and use these biscuits (and crescent rolls and bread and cookie dough and pizza dough) all the time so . . .

The reason I decided to make these again is because they were so good the first time.  That and the fact that I found pepperoni in the freezer when I thought there was none.  Moral of the story - clean your room!  You'll find things you thought were gone!

Another reason is that tonight is a special TV night which means I'll be in front of the tube pretty much all night long and these can be made oven-ready in just a few minutes, then baked when wanted.  Nifty.

Quotable Quotes; in the category That's What I'm Talking About - Less Talk!

"So I promise you that this State of the State, like a good pizza, will be delivered in 25 minutes or less."  Ruth Ann Minner, Governor of Delaware 2001- 2009

Monday, February 11, 2013

Totally Easy Pot Roast

I was looking through some recipes this weekend and came across this wonder.  It reminded me of a recipe I saw made back in the 1970s by the housekeeper of my dance teacher, who used to have us over to her house for meals.

Keep in mind I never knew growing up that things like stew and pot roast were supposed to taste good.  I thought stringy beef in watery gravy with mealy potatoes was how it was supposed to be.  Thus my dislike for things like Swiss Steak.  Indeed, once when offered a serving of homemade lamb stew by my boss, who brought in a crock pot full, made by his wife, for lunch I at once declined.  Thankfully he insisted and I tasted the most delicious stew ever.  Unfortunately I have never been able to duplicate the recipe, though not for lack of trying.

I also thought pot roast was supposed to contain lots of vegetables and lots of water.  How else was it supposed to feed a family of eight and how else were you going to get those mushy carrots and soggy potatoes?

Watching this woman prepare the pot roast was interesting.  She laid a large chuck steak in a shallow corning ware pan, seasoned it and covered it all over with thinly sliced onions.  She added a splash of vinegar.  When I asked why she replied that "it cuts the grease".

When I saw this recipe for the very best pot roast I remembered the sight of that woman preparing this humble dish, the smell of it cooking slowly all afternoon and the taste of succulent meat and rich gravy.  This recipe may not provide rich gravy (unless you thicken it with a roux and add some cream or butter) but it will produce delicious pan drippings to spoon over potatoes or noodles.  Don't blink or you'll miss it.

Lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch shallow pan.  Lay in the pan a 3 lb. chuck steak with ALL fat removed.  Season with salt & pepper and 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme) and a crumbled bay leaf.  Thinly slice one or two onions and lay the slices over the meat.  Do not add any water as the dish will make its own.  A teaspoon or tablespoon of vinegar may be added.  Cover the pan with heavy duty foil and seal tightly.  Place in a 275 f oven for six hours.  Don't lift the foil until done.  Allow to rest briefly before slicing or shredding the meat for serving with its juices.

Quotable Quotes; in the category Does Anybody Really Know What Thyme It Is?

"A minister has to be able to read a clock.  At noon, it's time to go home and turn up the pot roast and get the peas out of the freezer."  Garrison Keillor

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Meat . . . Loaf . . . Meatloaf!

I made meatloaf yesterday.  Since it's only the two of us I made a small one using 1 pound of ground beef.  I know a meatloaf should be made bigger but even using a whole pound of beef meant half the loaf was leftover.  What to do with the leftovers?  I don't like meatloaf sandwiches and I was not confident I'd enjoy it reheated - and reheated leftover mashed potatoes are never my favorite thing.  Cottage pie to the rescue!

I know most people talk about Shepherd's pie but that, strictly speaking, is made with leftover roast lamb.  A similar dish made with leftover roast beef is known as Cottage pie.  Just sayin'.

I know there are recipes for Shepherd's pie that start with ground beef that is browned, things added, then assembled into the well knows dish with a mashed potato topping.  I make it a rule never to cook two meals when I will only end up with one.  Better to cook once and have two meals.  Thus my Shepherd's or Cottage pie is always made of leftover meat and mashed potatoes.

My sister confirmed that my leftover meatloaf would make a successful pie.  Here's how it goes.

Slice, cube and crumble cold leftover meatloaf into a lightly oiled casserole of appropriate size.  Moisten the meat with enough leftover gravy or juices just to make it moist - not wet.  If you don't have any leftover gravy add some tomato sauce and a little Worcestershire, or even ketchup and/or barbecue sauce.

Add any leftover vegetables you may have or add some canned or frozen (cook first) vegetables.  We want this to be a one-dish meal so go ahead and add plenty.  I like to make sure there is some corn and green beans.  Diced carrot is also good.  Use what you like or what you have.  Give it a stir so it's well combined, and spread it evenly in the dish.

Now plop some leftover mashed potatoes over the top.  Moisten your hands with water and smoosh the mash all over until it's evenly covered.   You want a layer about 3/4 inch thick or so.  (If you wish you can moisten the potatoes with a little milk first to make them easier to spread).  Take a spoon or a dinner knife and dollop little swirls over the potatoes as if icing a cake.  (Optional, some people like to mix a little shredded cheese into the potatoes - I do not - do what  you like best).  I dot a few bits of butter over the potatoes and sprinkle generously with paprika for a pretty color.

Pop your pie into a hot oven - about 375-400 f - for about an hour until the pie is piping hot throughout and the potatoes lightly browned on top.  Covering the casserole with a lid or a layer of aluminum foil will help it heat and prevent too much browning.

Serve your pie hot with a side salad, a little crusty bread or whatever you like best.

If you do not have any leftover meatloaf use any leftover meat such as roast beef or lamb, pot roast, steak even!  If you do not have a favorite meatloaf recipe here's one you can try.

Combine in a bowl about a cup of bread crumbs, cracker crumbs or crushed cornflakes with an egg and a small onion, finely minced.  Season with Worcestershire sauce, salt & pepper, a little cayenne pepper and some green herbs.  An Italian seasoning blend or poultry seasoning will do or you can add a pinch of oregano, basil, thyme, tarragon, parsley, you get the idea.  Add about a pound of ground beef (or a combination of ground beef, veal and/or pork) and mix well to combine.  Use your hands - the best kitchen tools for the job!

Spray a piece of foil with vegetable cooking spray and fold up the edges to form a rim.  Place this on a baking sheet and plot the meat mixture on it, shaping it into a free form loaf about 2 inches or so thick.  Smooth the top and pop it in a 350 f oven for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

While it bakes mix in a small bowl about a cup of ketchup or a combination of ketchup & barbecue sauce with a little more Worcestershire and/or soy sauce, some lemon juice and some molasses or brown sugar.  Or just use plain ketchup.  After the loaf has baked about a half hour start spooning the ketchup mixture over the top, repeating about every 15 - 20 minutes.  This forms a glaze that will be crusty in spots.  When the meatloaf is done turn off the oven and allow to rest while you finish preparing your mashed potatoes and gravy and other sides.  Enjoy and think about the meatloaf sandwich or cottage pie you'll be savoring the next day.

Quotable Quotes in the category It's Comfort Food But Is It Hip?

"The day that I ever become hip . . . please shoot me and put me out of my misery!"

Meat Loaf, Rock Musician

Monday, January 14, 2013

It's a scone . . . It's a biscuit . . . no, it's HAM & BLUE CHEESE!

Oh wow.  Y'know how sometimes you discover something you should have known all along, and it turns out to be something wonderful?

The other day the boss went to the deli/bakery around the corner to pick up a sandwich for lunch (my tighter budget required a trip to Schlub-way for the $5 daily special).  Back at the office, we ate our lunch together and perused the crossword puzzles, as usual.  After the sandwiches were gone the boss produced one of those plastic bakery boxes with something inside.  It was irregularly shaped and rubbly on top and had red chunks in it with little dark flecks.  It looked like a scone with dried cherries or cranberries baked in.  I assumed he had brought it for dessert, maybe.

He picked it up and broke it in half, presenting one half to me.  "Is it a scone?", I asked.  "Are those dried cherries or cranberries?"  He just held the half out to me, an inviting look on his face.  I took it and he replied "It's ham and blue cheese". 

One bite was all it took.  The little dark bits were neither poppy seeds nor flecks of herb - they were specks of blue cheese.  The red bits were chunks of ham.  Oh.  Wow.  Ummmm . . . . .

It took me mere seconds to realize I could make these.  Their taste and texture are similar enough to those wonderful cheddar cheese biscuits that are available at a certain seafood restaurant chain and whose recipe appears in countless "copycat" versions in Church Lady Cookbooks and cooking websites everywhere.

Without further ado, get yourself a box of Bis-Qwik or Jif-fee baking mix and commence to something yummy.

Ham & Blue Cheese Scones . . . Or Biscuits . . . Or Whatever

2 1/2 cups baking mix
4 tablespoons cold butter, divided, cut in pieces
3/4 cup cold milk
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (or seasoned salt, Lawry's, Old Bay etc.)
about 1/2 cup ham cut in 1/2 inch dice
about 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees f.  Cut 2 tablespoons butter into baking mix with a pastry cutter or two knives, as for pie crust.  There should be large and small bits of butter coated with the floury mix. Add remaining ingredients and stir gently just until combined.  Don't over mix.

Using a 1/4 cup measure or similarly sized ice cream scoop, drop scoops of the mixture onto an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake for 15 - 17 minutes until tops are golden brown.

Meanwhile, combine remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter with 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and a pinch of salt (or 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt, omitting the pinch of salt).  Remove biscuits from the oven and brush with the melted butter mixture.  Allow to cool as long as you can stand it, then commence to gobbling these down.

Quotable quotes; in the category  He Says Biscuits But He Means Cookies . . . Or Crackers . . .

"I love cheese and biscuits, the stronger the better."  Eric Bristow, English darts player