Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sauerkraut with Gin and Caraway

The fifth installment in this month's blog project was such a dismal failure, I didn't even bother taking a photo.  It sounded promising - sauerkraut with gin and caraway seeds - and the accompanying article in Bon Appetit by noted blogger and fellow Okie Molly Wizenberg was lovely.  Besides, we already like sauerkraut, and my husband is a fan of gin.  What could go wrong?

The plan was to make the kraut as a side/topper for some grilled bratwurst, served alongside fried potatoes.  I opened a can of regular kraut, drained it, and added the gin (Tanqueray No. 10) and caraway seeds as instructed.  After simmering for the called-for 30 minutes, I gave it a taste.  So did my husband.  Neither one of us thought it was palatable. 

We enjoyed our brats and potatoes.  Next time, I'll stick to my usual can of Bavarian sauerkraut, which is sweet and already seasoned with caraway.  :\

Monday, May 9, 2011

Recent cakes I've done!

As an amateur cake maker who only bakes for family and friends, I don't get to do cakes very often.  However, when I do, it's riotously fun and enjoyable.  Here are some of my recent creations!

Smash cake (left) and full size cake for a 1 year old boy- my first time baking without dairy.

Cupcakes for my sister's birthday.

Detroit Red Wings jersey cake for my husband's birthday.  Logo is hand painted.

Tree stump cake for a girl's 5th birthday.

Ballerina cake for my grandmother's 80th birthday.

For my dad and stepmother- my first wedding cake.  Italian cream cake with cream cheese frosting, cream cheese-pineapple filling.

Thomas the Tank Engine cake for my cousin's little boy's 3rd birthday.  Hand painted.

Beef Stew from America's Test Kitchen

The fourth installment in this month's experimental recipe project, Operation: Expand Horizons, was a creation from the venerable America's Test Kitchen for beef stew.  I already have a good recipe for beef stew in the repertoire, but when we watched the episode of this version being made, we got quite curious (and hungry).  So here it goes.

This recipe turned out just okay, especially disappointing considering the expense of the meat and the time it took.  It's not going to replace my regular stew, especially since it's terribly time-consuming.  Granted, much of the time is non-active oven-cooking time, but still.  My regular old stew is better, in our opinions, and takes less than a third of the time.  Plus, it cooks on the stove.

The cooking process for this recipe was rife with substitutions and omissions, some less advised than others.  Use your best judgment in your own kitchen.

I wound up using sardines instead of anchovies despite the advice of foodies on various websites, since the amount was so small as to not matter, and I didn't want to go back to the store for one damn can of anchovies when I already had Spanish sardines in olive oil (the good kind, not mustard packed cheapies). 

I couldn't find chuck eye roast and used arm roast instead, which yielded tender meat overall, but with some dryness. My husband doesn't like pearl onions, so I left those out.  There are sliced onions already in the stew, but the cooking process renders them into the base of the sauce, which was just fine.  I added a palmful of minced fresh chives before serving for a punch of oniony flavor. 

He's also not a huge fan of peas, so I only used half a cup instead of a whole cup.  I also left out the addition of softened gelatin, which is instructed to be added at the end to thicken the liquid.  The stew was more than thick enough already.

Overall, the stew was not really impressive.  My husband said he definitely likes my old version better, which has a thinner tastier broth, pearl barley, and cabbage.

Best Beef Stew

Serves 6 to 8

Use a good-quality, medium-bodied wine, such as Côtes du Rhône or Pinot Noir, for this stew. Try to find beef that is well marbled with white veins of fat. Meat that is too lean will come out slightly dry. Four pounds of blade steaks, trimmed of gristle and silver skin, can be substituted for the chuck-eye roast. While the blade steak will yield slightly thinner pieces after trimming, it should still be cut into 11/2-inch pieces. Look for salt pork that is roughly 75 percent lean. The stew can be cooled, covered tightly, and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat it gently before serving.


2 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
4 anchovy fillets , finely minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 boneless beef chuck-eye roast (about 4 pounds), trimmed of excess fat, cut into 1
1/2-inch pieces (see note and step by step below)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion , halved and cut from pole to pole into 1/8-inch-thick slices (about 2
4 medium carrots , peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups red wine (see note)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 ounces salt pork , rinsed of excess salt (see note)
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes , scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups frozen pearl onions , thawed
2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin (about 1 packet)
1/2 cup water
1 cup frozen peas , thawed
Table salt and ground black pepper


1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine garlic and anchovies in small bowl; press with back of fork to form paste. Stir in tomato paste and set mixture aside.

2. Pat meat dry with paper towels. Do not season. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over high heat until just starting to smoke. Add half of beef and cook until well browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total, reducing heat if oil begins to smoke or fond begins to burn. Transfer beef to large plate. Repeat with remaining beef and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, leaving second batch of meat in pot after browning.

3. Reduce heat to medium and return first batch of beef to pot. Add onion and carrots to Dutch oven and stir to combine with beef. Cook, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits, until onion is softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until no dry flour remains, about 30 seconds.

4. Slowly add wine, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits. Increase heat to high and allow wine to simmer until thickened and slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Stir in broth, bay leaves, thyme, and salt pork. Bring to simmer, cover, transfer to oven, and cook for 1 1/2 hours.

5. Remove pot from oven; remove and discard bay leaves and salt pork. Stir in potatoes, cover, return to oven, and cook until potatoes are almost tender, about 45 minutes.

6. Using large spoon, skim any excess fat from surface of stew. Stir in pearl onions; cook over medium heat until potatoes and onions are cooked through and meat offers little resistance when poked with fork (meat should not be falling apart), about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, sprinkle gelatin over water in small bowl and allow to soften for 5 minutes.

7. Increase heat to high, stir in softened gelatin mixture and peas; simmer until gelatin is fully dissolved and stew is thickened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste; serve.

Marinara Sauce

The third installment for Operation: Expand Horizons was a recipe for classic Marinara sauce from America's Test Kitchen.  I must admit that I've been gleefully consuming jars of Prego traditional style pasta sauce for years, having tried several recipes for homemade spaghetti sauce but never finding one that really hit the spot.  This one comes darn close.  It will be tweaked on future incarnations.

Like most of the recipes provided by the lovely folks at the Test Kitchen, this one may seem a little intimidating at first, but don't fret.  All of the instructions, while thorough, are intended to help you do a better job.  Read carefully beforehand, purchase good quality ingredients, take your time, make sure you do your mise en place, and cook away.

As I said, this recipe comes *thisclose* to being my go-to for spaghetti night.  My husband said it needed some spice, and I agreed.   A little red pepper flake would do some good on that point, as would a bit more oregano.  The depth of flavor could be improved if I'd had a drier, more robust red wine.  Instead of the Chianti or Merlot called for, I used Pinot Noir that I already had, and although I'm no connoisseur of wine, I'm pretty sure Pinot is milder.  So blame that part on me.

The only change I made in the recipe was in technique, not ingredients: I did not do any blending or pureeing of the sauce.  We like a little chunkiness to our pasta sauce, so I just tore up the peeled tomatoes by hand before cooking.

I served this sauce atop a pile of spaghetti and homemade meatballs from a recipe by Alton Brown that I've made dozens of times.

Marinara Sauce

Makes 4 cups

This recipe makes enough to sauce more than a pound of pasta; leftovers can be
refrigerated or frozen. Because canned tomatoes vary in acidity and saltiness, it's best to add salt, pepper, and sugar to taste just before serving. If you prefer a chunkier sauce, give it just three or four pulses in the food processor in step 4.


2 (28 ounce) cans whole tomatoes , packed in juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion , chopped fine (about 1 cup)
2 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup dry red wine , such as Chianti or Merlot
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 - 2 teaspoons sugar , as needed (see note above)


1. Pour tomatoes and juice into strainer set over large bowl. Open tomatoes with hands and remove and discard fibrous cores; let tomatoes drain excess liquid, about 5 minutes.  Remove 3/4 cup tomatoes from strainer and set aside. Reserve 2 1/2 cups tomato juice and discard remainder.

2. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden around edges, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and oregano and cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3. Add tomatoes from strainer and increase heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring every minute, until liquid has evaporated and tomatoes begin to stick to bottom of pan and brown fond forms around pan edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Add wine and cook until thick and syrupy, about 1 minute. Add reserved tomato juice and bring to simmer; reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally and loosening browned bits, until sauce is thick, 8 to 10 minutes.

4. Transfer sauce to food processor (or transfer to saucepan and insert immersion
blender) and add reserved tomatoes; process until slightly chunky, about eight 2-second pulses. Return sauce to skillet and add basil and extra-virgin olive oil and salt, pepper, and sugar to taste.

Mediterranean Grain Salad

The second installation for Operation: Expand Horizons is a simple dish from the folks at Martha Stewart's magazine Everyday Food called Mediterranean Grain Salad.  The original version is slated as a vegetarian main serving one, but I decided to serve it as a side dish in my pregnancy-related craze to pack more veggies onto my plate at every meal.

As are all of the creations of the folks at Everyday Food, this dish wasn't difficult or ground-breaking.  It's a basic riff on classic tabouli salad, sans cucumber- soaked bulgur wheat, tomatoes, fresh parsley, and a simple vinaigrette of minced shallot, red wine vinegar, and olive oil, with the nontraditional inclusion of goat cheese. 

Being a fan of tabouli, I knew I'd like this one.  My husband, as expected (not a tabouli fan), passed, but 4 year old Eva enjoyed it.

I made one small adjustment in my preparation- leaving out the goat cheese.  First, I knew I'd be serving this as a side instead of a main, and didn't want to add more fat to my plate.  Second, goat cheese is freakin' expensive, and part of my adventures in the kitchen is to make good food on a reasonable budget.

All in all, a modicum of success was achieved.  I will make this simple salad again when I have some lovely garden-grown tomatoes this summer.

Note the sunny yellow tomatoes- sweet and lovely in salads.
I ate the salad as a side with grilled pork chop, steamed green beans, and mashed potatoes.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

The first recipe for week one of Operation: Expand Horizons was stovetop macaroni and cheese from America's Test Kitchen.  I've tried several different mac and cheese recipes and never really found one that we all liked.  This one is a step in the right direction- simple and fast- but just needs different cheese next time. 

The original recipe calls for sharp cheddar as one option, which is my husband's favorite, but the Vermont white cheddar I used was too sharp.  I will probably use a mixture of sharp cheddar and a milder cheese like Colby next time.  My husband thought it was too cheesy, so I might adjust the amount down too, but maybe milder cheese would take care of that issue.

I made a couple of minor adjustments when I prepared this dish.  First, I cut the recipe in half to serve it as a side dish for 2 adults and a 4 year old.  We had some left over.  Thankfully, our child is a mac-o-phile and devoured hers, so I'm trusting she'll eat the leftovers as well.  Secondly, I skipped the bread crumb treatment, since it's not usually our thing.  I might try it next time though.  Cody thought the macaroni could use a little punch of garlic, and garlic bread crumbs would be a good way to do that.

Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
Recipe by America's Test Kitchen
Serves 4 as a main course or 6 to 8 as a side dish

If you’re in a hurry or prefer to sprinkle the dish with crumbled common crackers
(saltines aren’t bad either), you can skip the bread crumb step.

1 cup fresh breadcrumbs from French or Italian bread
Pinch table salt
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted

2 large eggs
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 teaspoons table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard , dissolved in 1 teaspoon water
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese , American cheese, or Monterey Jack cheese, grated (about 3 cups)

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix bread crumb ingredients together in small baking pan.  Bake until golden brown and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes; set aside.

2. Meanwhile, mix eggs, 1 cup of the evaporated milk, pepper sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, pepper, and mustard mixture in small bowl; set aside.

3. Meanwhile, heat 2 quarts water to boil in large heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt and macaroni; cook until almost tender, but still a little firm to the bite. Drain and return to pan over low heat. Add butter; toss to melt.

4. Pour egg mixture over buttered noodles along with three-quarters of the cheese; stir until thoroughly combined and cheese starts to melt. Gradually add remaining milk and cheese, stirring constantly, until mixture is hot and creamy, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately topped with toasted bread crumbs.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Operation: Expand Horizons, Week One

The first week's worth of recipes for Operation: Expand Horizons are:

~ stovetop macaroni and cheese (America's Test Kitchen)
~ Mediterranean grain salad (Martha Stewart Everyday Food)
~ marinara sauce (America's Test Kitchen)
~ iron skillet succotash (Bon Appetit)
~ sauerkraut with gin and caraway (Bon Appetit)
~ best beef stew (America's Test Kitchen)

This week is short one new recipe because of a night out for my darling husband's birthday.  Never you fear, I will do my best to make it up to you.  <3

Operation: Expand Horizons, second edition!

Well, dear readers, May is once again upon us, and I have decided to revisit last year's blog project I called "Operation: Expand Horizons."  If you haven't read about it yet, check out the archive here.  This project is basically an attempt to introduce a wider variety of choices into our gustatory repertoire here at the Errant Home. 

It accomplishes a couple of other things in the process: it helps me to flex my culinary muscles, helps expose our 4 year old daughter to new tastes (whilst I sneak in extra veggies for good measure), and gives me an opportunity to try things out on my husband, who was raised in a less-than-adventurously-eating household.

Last year, I put a lot of pressure on myself for this project.  That was Mistake Number One.  This is supposed to be FUN!  I also put a lot of pressure on my husband to LOVE. EVERY. DISH. NOMATTERWHATDAMNYOU!  Again, wrong-headed.  So this year, I'm easing some of the pressure by having my husband actually help choose the recipes.  Involving him in the process ensures that although we are trying new recipes, we are trying things that he might actually eat.  Whoda thunk?

Another part of fixing last year's mistakes is how I'm assembling the recipe list.  Last year, I chose all the recipes in advance.  This year, I've got a 20-item list to start, but I'm going to be more flexible and go week by week with the actual choosing.  This will also enable me to select recipes based on what I find on sale at the grocery store and what looks good at the farmer's market.

I hope you'll follow along with this year's project and maybe get inspired to do your own.  I love feedback and questions, so sock it to me.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Errant Cook is cookin' up another baby!

Hey y'all, long time, no post.

No excuses, people.  I'm lazy.  I still cook dinner every night, though, and occasionally make a fancy lunch for me and the 4 year old spawn when leftovers don't interfere.

A couple of big news items- me and my husband have successfully bred again, and we'll be having an Errant Baby sometime in mid-November.  This pregnancy is going as well as can be expected (giggle- see what I did there?) - I'm eating all the damn time, taking regular naps, and already outgrowing my regular jeans (argh).  But my mom friends assure me that fattening up early is very common to second pregnancies.

Secondly, I've officially decided to redo last year's blog project called Operation: Expand Horizons this May.  This time, however, to assure more success and less stress, I'm choosing the recipe list with the help of my husband, rather than foisting my choices upon him.  :D

Thanks for continuing to read this little project of mine!  I love you all! 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fish Tacos with Green Chile-Yogurt Sauce and Cilantro-Cabbage Slaw

I've been in the mood for fish lately, and decided to try some from my regular grocery store's meat and fish counter instead of driving through the construction-riddled hell that surrounds my local fishmonger at present.  I picked up some fresh Basa fillets for under $4.00 a pound.  Can't beat that with a stick!

I was undecided as to how I was going to cook these bad boys until I decided to make grilled chicken fajitas one evening for dinner.  I thought, why not throw the fish in a foil packet and grill it, too?  So here we are.

First I made a slaw of sliced cabbage, chopped cilantro, fresh lime juice, and salt and pepper.  After tasting a few times, I tossed in a sprinkle of sugar to balance the flavors.


Then I threw a small can of diced green chiles into the blender with some homemade yogurt, a little cilantro, and salt and pepper.  I put the resulting mixture into a reusable bottle since it made more than I needed.  This is a good general sauce for tacos of all kinds.

The Basa fillets were seasoned with kosher salt, black pepper, and New Mexico chile powder before being wrapped up in their foil packet and grilled until flaky.  Make sure you don't overcook them- fish cooks very quickly.

Chunks of fish were laid out on warmed flour tortillas, drizzled with the green chile sauce, and topped with cabbage slaw.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Happy birthday, Barney!

Happy 14th birthday to our beagle Barney, resident old man, sad eyes giver, lover of little kids and ladies with fingernails, loud-ass snorer, sneak farter, and stealer of hearts.

We love you, Bug.  Many happy returns.

Laying on Pookie, his teddy bear, whom he snuggles, noms, and kneads.
Dad's butt makes a good pillow.
Kissin' on Mama.
Wearing a yarmulke and curls I crocheted for his Barn Mitzvah last year. *snicker*
He used to do this when he wanted to go outside.  HA!!!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Banana Bread with Cinnamon Crumble Topping

Kitchen Apprentice Extraordinaire sprinkles on the cinnamon topping.

She mixes like a pro!

Oklahoma pecans...oh, how I love thee.  I added about half a cup, because to me, if it's banana bread, it's gotta have pecans in it!

Practicing her Paula Deen "Hey, y'all!"

I somehow neglected to take a finished photo of this uber-tasty banana bread before we scarfed it all down, but please enjoy some production shots anyway.

I don't have a lot of time or energy to type right now, but please trust me when I say that this banana bread is freakin' awesome. Make some this weekend. It's almost more like cake than bread, and it'll make an impressive showing at your next brunch.

Find the recipe here.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pasta E Fagioli

Sometimes, you just have to depend on an outside source to get something accomplished that you can't do yourself.  Such was the case with this recipe.  I've had a copy of a recipe called "Olive Garden's Pasta E Fagioli" in my collection for a few years, but never made it because my husband seemed apathetic about it.

A lady he works with brought a batch of soup to a potluck recently, and he uncharacteristically raved about it, telling me it had hamburger, beans, carrots, tomatoes, etc.  I said, "That sounds a lot like a recipe I have already..." and asked him to get the coworker to give him a copy of what she had cooked.  Well, lo and behold, it was the exact same, a creation of the folks over at Top Secret Recipes.

The recipe is super simple, hearty, and delicious.  Best of all, it doesn't call for any abnormal ingredients that you'll have to lay out ridiculous cash for.  Most home cooks will have these things on hand already.  Nice, right?  Nothing irritates me more than trying a new recipe that requires weird stuff, and then subsequently tastes like utter crap.  Thankfully, this wasn't one of those.

The recipe as it stands worked great.  I did not make any modifications to the ingredients list. I did make one small change in technique, though, and I would recommend you do the same.  The original recipe calls for cooking the ditali pasta for 10 minutes until al dente.  Previous experience with soggy pasta in soups gave me pause.  Six minutes of cooking the pasta was enough- I set the timer after dumping the pasta into boiling salted water.  After draining the pasta and adding it to the hot soup, it was cooked just perfectly and not at all soggy.

A green salad beforehand and some crusty bread alongside, and you'll have the perfect comforting meal for a cool winter's evening.  We have plenty of leftovers for tomorrow's lunch, and in this case, I'm glad that's so.

Just perfect for a late February evening.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Black Bean Soup

The finished product, topped off with a little homemade yogurt and fresh cilantro.

Tonight's dinner was comprised of two prongs- a new recipe from a trusted source (chicken enchiladas from chef Rick Bayless, a future blog post), and an experiment of my own for a simple soup.

I've made black bean soup once before from a Bon Appetit recipe and found it lacking in taste and interest.  Also, my 4 year old kiddo has taken a recent liking to the version offered at Panera Bread, thanks in part to our regular weekly visit changing from Monday to Tuesday.  She usually ordered baked potato, but now that we go on Tuesday, it's not available and she has to make do with "black soup," as she calls it.  Thankfully, it's very tasty, healthy, and she likes it a lot.  These things inspired me to give another shot to making it at home, and I decided to wing it.

It seemed like an easy enough proposition to make a small pot of black bean soup myself, without a recipe.  Several ingredients of Panera's version are easily discernible: red bell pepper, onion, garlic, a bit of cumin.  I started with those things and added my own tweaks.  I wound up with a pretty good little pot of soup- so good, in fact, that my normally picky little eater asked for a second bowl and declared it better than Panera.  (!!!)

Because of my new budget-friendly habit of freezing beans, I have a stack of zip-top bags of legume-y goodness on ice.  You can certainly use canned beans, if you prefer.  I have packaged my frozen beans in roughly the same quantity as a can, about 15 ounces, liquid included.  My frozen beans are only lightly salted, so if you use canned, make sure you don't add too much salt until you've tasted the finished product.

This recipe also makes use of the vegetable bouillon paste I blogged about not long ago.  If you want, you can use canned veggie broth or a combination of water and bouillon cubes.  Again, make sure you go easy on the added salt.

TIP: This recipe calls for a single chipotle chile, which are sold in small cans containing a dozen or so chiles plus adobo sauce.  When you first open a can of chipotles, use what you need and put the rest of them in a clean ice cube tray, one chile and its clinging sauce per space.  My ice cube trays hold about 1 Tbsp. per section, which is the amount often required for a recipe.  When frozen, pop them out and put in a zip-top bag in the freezer.  They keep for a long time, and are fine even if frost accumulates in the bag.

Black Bean Soup
Serves 4-6

2 bags of thawed frozen black beans, or two 15-ounce cans of black beans, not drained 
1/4 cup jarred roasted red pepper, diced
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced (optional- I added this for my husband's taste but since he didn't seem interested in eating the finished product, I'll leave it out next time.)
1/4 tsp. New Mexico chile powder
1/4 tsp. Ancho chile powder (Note: find New Mexico and Ancho chile powders in the Latin section of your supermarket, or in Latin grocers.)
1/2 tsp. cumin
2 cups water
2 tsp. vegetable bouillon paste
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
Sour cream or plain yogurt and chopped fresh cilantro, optional, for garnish

In a stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to turn translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic, roasted pepper, and chipotle, if using, and cook for another minute.  Stir in chile powders, cumin, bouillon paste, water, and beans.  Cover the pot and bring to a good steady simmer for about 30 minutes.  Remove the lid and simmer for another 10 minutes or so until the soup is thickened.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve with small dollops of sour cream or yogurt and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro.

Used this brand for the first time.  Good stuff.  The peppers in the jar are nearly whole.  I used about half of one.

Chipotle, garlic, roasted red bell pepper.

Dueling chile powders.  Each type of chile powder in the Latin section has a distinct flavor.  New Mexico gives a light spiciness while Ancho offers a darker, smokier taste.

Sauteing the veggies and spices.

Bags o'beans

Yum!  Very filling but completely good for you- high in fiber, low in fat.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Vegetable Bouillon

I'm the type of cook that's always looking to see if something I can make myself is better for me/tastier/cheaper than the versions people usually buy at the store.  In the interest of saving time and shelf space, I often use bouillon cubes and water in place of stock or broth.

I came across a recipe for homemade vegetable bouillon on a food blog called Simple Scratch Cooking and decided to give it a shot.  The recipe was, as promised, so simple.

I cut the recipe in half, because the original makes a full quart (that's 4 cups for you cooking measurement n00bs) and I never make that much of a recipe until I know for sure it's a keeper.  I did a couple of small substitutions based on what I had on hand.  A package of reconstituted dried wild mushrooms were added to a few fresh mushrooms to make the full contribution, green onions stood in for leeks, and dried parsley was substituted for fresh, since my garden was covered in snow.  Next time, I will smash the peppercorns first, because they did not get ground up in the food processor.  I filled a pint jar with the resulting paste and it sits in my fridge now.

It is quite tasty- not by itself, naturally, unless you're into eating wet, salty, pureed vegetables.  But stir a spoonful into a mug of hot water if you're feeling a bit under the weather, and you've got a quick, tasty, and healthy bit of broth.

It's not very picture-worthy, being an orangish-brownish paste and all, but once you taste it (simmered with water and lentils, perhaps, for a simple soup or as a flavor base in a recipe, or stirred into the cooking water of white rice), you'll be glad you tried it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

This week's menu

Menu planning is a big help to me, and I try to make a regular habit of it.  It helps me create an accurate grocery list (I'm bad about forgetting things that I need), lets my husband know what we're having for the week in case he needs to object or has something in mind he wants, and eases my self-induced stress when 4:00 rolls around and I don't have to wonder what I'm supposed to cook.

Here's what I have planned for this week.

Fried chicken (a new recipe from the Pioneer Woman cookbook I got for Christmas), mashed potatoes, hominy

Penne alla Betsy (ditto, from the PW cookbook), salad, crusty bread

Wienerschnitzel, braised cabbage, German potato salad

Enchiladas Especiales Estilo Tacuba (a Rick Bayless recipe), fruit salad, rice

Marsala chicken with sage and mushrooms (from Martha Stewart), rice pilaf, broccoli

Pork and poblano chile verde (an adaptation of a recipe I made camp-side and blogged about here), three-cheese beer bread from Brown Eyed Baker

Pasta e fagioli (an Olive Garden soup), garlic bread

Monday, February 14, 2011

Magic Chocolate Ice Cream

A recent freebie issue in the mail from Cook's Country, one of the publications from the charming and oh-so-scientific folks at America's Test Kitchen, arrived at La Casa Errant Cook not long ago, and I've begun working my way through some of the supremely delicious-looking recipes.

Naturally, when I came upon the recipe for Magic Chocolate Ice Cream, promising rich and creamy chocolaty decadence without the need for churning in an ice cream machine, I knew that I had found my first test subject. 

My husband and I normally eat chocolate ice cream with shovels rather than spoons, but even we were floored by the richness of this stuff.  Small servings won't leave you disappointed.  You and your waistline have been warned.

Magic Chocolate Ice Cream
Adapted from Cook's Country
Makes about a half gallon

2 tsp. instant coffee or espresso powder
2 tbsp. hot water
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch salt
2 1/2 cups cold heavy cream

Combine the coffee powder and hot water in a medium bowl and let it sit for about 5 minutes, until the powder is dissolved.  Add the chopped chocolate and sweetened condensed milk and microwave until melted, about 2 minutes, stirring every 20 seconds or so.  Stir in salt and vanilla and set aside to cool.

Whip the heavy cream in a large bowl or in a stand mixer until soft peaks form, about 5-7 minutes.

Whisk about 1/3 of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture until incorporated.  Stream the chocolate mixture into the remaining whipped cream and fold gently with a large rubber spatula until combined.

Transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze 6 hours or overnight.

The inspiration.

The chocolate.

If you don't have sweetened condensed milk, you can use evaporated milk and sugar- one 12 oz. can to about 1 2/3 cups of sugar, heated gently in a saucepan and stirred until the sugar is dissolved.  Measure what you need out of the pan and put the rest in a glass jar with a lid in the fridge to use later.

Chopped chocolate.  Try not to eat too much of it.

Chocolate is combined with coffee powder, hot water, and condensed milk before being melted in the microwave.  Try not to eat too much of it.

Whip the tar out of the cold heavy cream until soft peaks form.

About 1/3 of the whipped cream is whisked into the chocolate mixture.

Fold the chocolate mixture into the rest of the whipped cream.

Be careful.  You too will make stupid faces like this once you taste what you've created.  Try not to eat too much of it.

The completed mousse-like mixture, ready for the freezer.  An old sherbet container serves me well in this instance- it's the perfect size and it's a good way to reuse!