Tuesday, March 25, 2014

No shopping

I was granted an unexpected day off this week. Monday was canceled due to lack of interest, which gave me a free day to do as I wished.
Things I wished to do did not include grocery shopping.
So, a challenge: make dinner with a nearly empty fridge and a cupboard holding only the bare essentials.

I dredged bacon from the freezer, found a forlorn tomato in the crisper, and dug out a bag of mixed lentils.Obviously, it was time for Lentil Soup.

The last thing the internet needs is another Slow Cooker Lentil Soup recipe. But this is really good and I made it all by myself.

Both my bosses went back for seconds and one started fantasizing about spooning leftovers on soft boiled eggs with toast for breakfast. He wanted me to name it after him so that his name could forever be attached to this soup.

He does that sometimes. If he tries to name food after himself, it means he really likes it. And, since I don't have a better name for this soup, I'll go ahead and let him have his way.
This time.

John's Favorite Lentil Soup.

1 1/2 cup mixed lentils
32 oz Chicken broth
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
3 bay leaves
1 tomato, roughly chopped
10 oz. peppered bacon, roughly chopped 
1/2 yellow onion, chopped fine
7 cloves garlic, smashed and minced.

Fry your bacon in a hot pan until crispy. Remove bacon from the pan, leaving fat behind. Cook the onion and garlic in the bacon fat until completely soft and partially caramelized. Remove onion and garlic, leaving the fat in the pan.
Stir all ingredients together in the slow cooker. Stir in a couple tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat. Cook on high for four hours.

Note: The bacon can be optional, if you insist. Leave the bacon out and replace the grease with butter.

One plea before we go. Don't dump out the bacon fat, please. Use it. Save it in a jar in the fridge. There are so many uses for that stuff beyond frying eggs. Another post on that after Lent.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Beef Paprikesh

Warm, fluffy dumplings topped with hot, tender beef smothered in a thick, spicy sauce clinging to every fiber. This is Beef Paprikesh, and it's one of my favorite meals. It's absurdly simple, too. Brown a pound of stew beef in butter, then cook down a minced onion in the juices left from the beef. Toss the beef, onions, a few tablespoons of Paprika, and a couple cups of water together in the pot and let simmer until reduced to thick and hearty perfection. Spoon over simple dumplings or egg noodles and devour. Fuss-free, flavorful, and cheap, this is great for college students, young couples, large families, and anyone who likes food.
Usually, I leave my Paprikesh there and enjoy it. But, this last time I made the dish, I had a few extra ingredients I decided to use up- namely: white wine, beef stock, and tomato paste.

Fair warning to my Catholic friends: This is not something you'll want to make on a Friday- or a Thursday if you like leftovers. This is a lovely, hearty dish, but it makes it tough to remember Lenten Fridays.

My apologies for the terrible picture. 
It's what I was able to get and I wanted to show you the texture of the sauce.

Fancy Pants Paprikesh

2 Tbs Butter
1 lb Stew Beef
1 White Onion, minced
1/2 cup White Wine, more or less.
2-3 Tbs Paprika, according to taste
2 heaping Tbs Tomato Paste
2 cups Beef Stock
Water as needed (about 3/4 cup, according to preference)
Salt and pepper

In a pot, brown the the beef in the butter very well. Remove and set aside. Fry the onion in the beef drippings and a dash of the white wine until soft and just beginning to brown. Add the beef back to the pot and add the paprika and tomato paste and one cup of stock. Stir well, bring to boil, then lower the heat and simmer, letting it reduce for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. When reduced, add the other cup of beef stock and allow to reduce another 15 minutes. When that's reduced down, add a quarter cup of the wine and three-fourths cup of water. Now, stir well, scraping up the bottom and reduce one more time! Once that's reduced, you're almost done. You should have a very thick paste and the beef should be perfectly coated in it. Add a little more wine to thin the texture to your taste, and stir it all together over heat. What ever wine is left is yours to enjoy according to the laws of Cook's Ransom.
Spoon the beef over a bowl of thick noodles, dumplings, a chunk of bread and butter, or potatoes. 
Voila! Fancy Pants Paprikesh!

I highly suggest this to everyone still experiencing cold from our ridiculously long winter. I suggest it to everyone else as well, but this just fits the bill for a chilly, stormy evening and makes the cold a little easier to put up with.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Quest for Pie Continues

Dear, sweet Vinegar Pie. Oh! How I've missed thee!

And with that, you probably think I'm insane.
Unless you've had vinegar pie. Then you know as well as I how yummy, smooth, and sweet that odd-sounding desert can be.

Since this is Pi(e) Month and tomorrow is Pi(e) Day, now is the best time for me to extrapolate on Vinegar Pie.

It's a great pie full of simple ingredients you should already have in your cupboard. Word has it that this pie was popular among American pioneers because it delivered bright flavor without using fresh fruit- which spoiled and was only available with the seasons. The prairie wife could serve something sweet and satisfying to her family at the end of a hard day full of sweaty work regardless of the time of year. And the ingredients are cheap- vinegar, egg, sugar, a touch of flour, and whatever flavoring one has kicking around in the back of the cupboard. If you keep a basic pantry, keep this recipe. You can easily whip it up at a moment's notice for impromptu entertaining or sweet-tooth attacks without a grocery run.

It's been over a year since I last made it way back in July of 2012. Wanting to make it again, I followed the link to my old recipe from the Heritage Recipes website.

And I found nothing.
The site was gone.
I was devastated.

Of course there are other recipes that I can use. However, I wanted to continue my old experiment of making the perfect vinegar pie, and every good experiment requires control group to compare any possible findings against. My 'control' was that recipe. I needed it!

Fortunately, other people needed it too, and they took preemptive measures, caching the recipe in nooks and crannies of the internet to share with people like me and preserve for themselves.

So, before I lose the recipe again, I'm copying it here for you.

Many thanks to Lorna-Organic for posting this on the forum.

Vinegar Pie
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. ground allspice
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 9” pie crust that had been briefly baked (about 3 minutes) at 450 degrees

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar. Sift together flour and spices then add to flour mixture, mix well. Beat in egg, vinegar and water. Pour into a double boiler and cook over boiling water until thick. Pour into the pie shell and bake about 30 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.

Here's another antique recipe, also courtesy of Lorna-organic
Pioneer Vinegar Pie

1 egg
1 heaping tablespoon flour
1 c sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat these ingredients together and add 1 tablespoon of sharp vinegar and a cup of cold water. Flavor with a little nutmeg and pour into an unbaked pie shell. Cover with second pie crust and flute edges. Bake for an hour.

And finally, here's my slight variation. The extra egg ensures that you get a thicker custard and a deeper pie, and the flavoring is wonderfully complex on the simple vinegar custard background.

Spiced Vinegar Pie
2 Tb butter, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tb apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
3 Tb flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
4 whole cardamom pods, cracked
Pie crust - either a blind-baked pastry crust or a cookie crumb crust. I used espresso shortbread cookie crumbs and butter for mine.

Cream butter and sugar, then beat in egg, water, vanilla, and vinegar. Add the flour and spices, except the cardamom pods. Whisk smooth.
Pour into a double boiler and drop in the cardamom pods. They will steep in the custard as it cooks, but you'll remove the pods. Cook the mixture, stirring frequently, until you have a thick custard. Don't be impatient and don't fret if it takes a while. Let it take its time- about 10 full minutes.
Once it's thick, fish out the cardamom pods and lick them clean discard. Pour the custard into your pie crust and bake at 350 F. for 30 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes out clean.

And, before we go off to make our last-minute pies for Pi(e) Day tomorrow, a gif for the month.

It's 3-14, y'all.

Pi Month celebration with lokibubbles and aranelbaggins !
(And anyone who wishes to join!)
(Thank you, Timey Wimey Limey, for your Pi(e) gif!)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mardi Gras - This Happened

My family has celebrated Mardi Gras in our own way for the past decade. We open our home, pour pancakes, and drop our dried-up Christmas trees on a leaping bonfire. It's not decadent, involves no parades or plastic beads, and I see that for the best.

But this year, there's a break in our tradition and I am away from home working during the week. Without our family pancakes, I must fend for myself and celebrate with my nanny-family.
Apparently, I must do this with Banana Funnel Cakes and Deep Fried Fudge Pop Pies.

Banana Funnel Cakes
2 bananas
4 eggs
1/2 tsp baking powder
10 Tbs flour

Smash the bananas thoroughly with a fork, potato ricer, or pastry cutter. Stir the eggs in well, then add the baking powder and flour one tablespoon at a time. You may not need all the flour, or you may need a little more, depending on the size of your bananas or eggs. Just keep adding until you're pleased with the texture. You want it to be like pancake batter.

Heat up a couple inches of oil in a wok until a bit of batter sizzles and rises when dropped in. While it's heating, spoon the batter into a zipping plastic bag, seal, and snip the corner. When the oil is hot, squeeze the batter into the wok, circling the batter around to make connected loops. Alternatively, you could spoon the batter into a funnel over the hot oil, thus making your cake genuinely funnel. When golden at the edges, flip, let sizzle for a few seconds, then scoop out and set on paper towels or on a rack over a plate. Repeat with remaining batter.

Makes 4 funnel cakes.

 We topped ours with fruit salad and drank milk, so it's totally part of a balanced breakfast. Or Dinner. Or whenever you decide to get down with your bad self. But don't worry- these won't make you too bad. Bananas and eggs are the main ingredients, after all- good, healthy potassium and protein. And, you can mound justifying fruit on top, too.
The bananas were very flavorful in the final soft, fluffy, crunchy product. Incredibly yummy.

Deep Fried Fudge Pop Pies.

Pie Crust Dough
Ice Cream Pop
Oil in a Wok
Just a touch of insanity
The ability to work fast

Roll the pie crust 1/8 inch thin. Gently pull the stick out of the popsicle. Lay pop on the pie crust and cut out a portion large enough to fold around the pop. Fold and pinch the edges securely. Don't use egg to seal. Make sure there are not holes or gaps in the dough.
Use a scrap of dough to test the heat of the wok. When it's hot enough, drop in the pop pie and watch it attentively. When the edges are golden, flip. Let sizzle for a few minute until done then remove and drain on paper towels or rack over a plate. Enjoy immediately.

The D.F.F.P.P.s were incredible. The dough cooked up to a tantalizing gold that crackled on the tongue, giving way to cold and melting chocolaty, oozy goodness. Hot and cold, crispy and creamy danced in the mouth and- yes- dribbled down the chin. I did say oozy. One bite and the pie dripped its decadent filling on whatever it could. The mess was worth it though, and possibly added to the fun. There we were, standing in the kitchen, rolling ice cream pops in pie crust and deep frying them. Chocolate coated grins added to the childish feeling welling up in our hearts. Perhaps that feeling of being a kid again was more of a neurological condition brought on by the sudden spike in blood sugar. Perhaps. I did, after all, find myself saying "yolo" at one point during the feasting, so it very well could have been sugar-shock. Still, it was worth it.

But what if I'm compelled to make these again next year?

Why don't I mind?
I'm smitten with these. That's why. Please, nobody intervene.
Yes, Lent will be spent in detoxing. Don't worry, Mother. Don't worry, blue jeans.

To conclude, I'd like to add a public service announcement. Tomorrow begins my Lenten Daily Way posts. You'll notice at the top of this page there is a second tab. On Wednesday, and every day in Lent thereafter, visit that tab to read a section from St. Josemaria's The Way. I know this is a food and life blog, and so it may be a tad out of place here, but this is one of the things I'm doing this Lent. I hope you'll join me.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Potato Salad

Shrove Tuesday is tomorrow- or Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, or whatever you call it. It's a day of all things fattening and sweet for many, but perhaps you need something a little lighter and not so very coated in sugar.

For you, I have a salad from Houston's famous Treebeards Cookbook.

Their recipe book collects gems from both the Treebeards kitchen and local family heirlooms. There are no pictures, but I love pouring over the pages, thinking about the grannies and mammas that shared their children's favorite meals, or about the bustling commercial kitchen whipping up these same recipes at five or six times the volume. The book and the restaurant are treasures of Houston. I respect both the history they keep and their sheer staying power in a city where time and progress move in a distinctly wibbly-wobbly fashion.

The recipe in question was Treebeards' Green Beans and New Potatoes. It was lovely and I see myself mixing this up again for a future picnic with friends in the coming Spring- if Spring ever comes back to us, that is.
This is a potato salad without mayonnaise and without egg. It's perfectly vegan and perfectly light. I'd even make the dressing for other salad of the normal, leafy variety.

Treebeards uses two types of bell peppers and smaller new potatoes. We were going for a Mardi Gras themed side dish, so we stuck to a color palate of green, yellow, and purple. We dropped the red peppers, doubled the yellow, and used red skinned potatoes that looked rather purple once cooked and mixed with the other ingredients. I kept the dressing exactly as the book prescribed.

Now without further ado, the recipe.

Adapted from Treebeards' Green Beans and New Potatoes. p. 186 of Treebeards Cookbook, tenth printing.

4 large red potatoes, cut into pieces just a little bigger than bite-size
4 cups green beans, trimmed
1/2 cup chopped yellow bell pepper

For the dressing:
1 garlic clove, minced very fine
2 Tbs vegetable oil
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs lemon juice
1 1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black

Simmer potatoes until tender- 15 to 20 minutes. You should be able to pierce them easily with a fork, but they should not be so soft that they fall apart when poked. The skins should still be firmly attached, too.
Simmer green beans until they are just barely cooked. They need to be firm, about al dente.
Drain potatoes and beans.

For the dressing:
Vigorously whisk all the dressing ingredients together. You can do this while your veggies are simmering.

Final step:
In a large pan, heat up the chopped bell pepper. You're not looking for a char or even to tenderize them. This is a quick introduction with heat just to waken up the flavor. Add to the peppers the beans, potatoes, and the dressing. Toss together- but don't break up the potatoes.

Serve warm right away or refrigerate and pack on your next picnic or pot-luck. I like it cool.

I hope this bit of healthy food can pull you through this day of fatty feasting, and can give you courage for tomorrow's post. I'll be telling you all about an adventure with Banana Funnel Cakes and Deep Fried Fudge Pop Pies. So, clear your arteries and hunker down.
Until then, enjoy!