Monday, November 25, 2013

Baton Rouge Sweet Potato Casserole

I'm sure everyone west of the Mississippi has a sweet potato casserole recipe, but this one is my favorite.  It comes from my mother's family in Baton Rouge. This is the original recipe below, with my comments added in blue.  

8 med. sweet potatoes
1 stick butter (I use the Earth Balance buttery sticks)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar (I use evaporated cane juice)
2 eggs (E-n-rge egg replacer works well too)
1 tsp Vanilla
1/2 to 1 cup pecans ( 1 cup is too much for me), pre-roasted for 3-5 min.

Peel and boil sweet potatoes until soft. Use a mixer to blend cooked sweet potatoes, butter and sugars. Add 2 eggs and mix well. Add Vanilla and mix. Add pecans.
Spoon into buttered casserole dish. (It can be frozen at this point). (This is classic my mom and aunt--giving directions for freezing.  I guess this is why they never seemed stressed at the holidays!)

The day of the event, bake thawed casserole for 30 min on 350 degrees. Prior to serving put large marshmallows on top and bake until soft and browned on 400 degrees.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Homemade Broth

This may be one of the easiest things to cook, even if you have no idea what you are doing.  In addition to saving money, homemade broth tastes so much better than store-bought broth.  You will never go back.  You will become a prisoner to your broth.

     First, get a few gallon sized freezer-safe ziplock bags.  If you are a meat eating person, label one "meat," and label the other "veg scraps."  All week long, save all your veggie scraps in that bag and keep it in the freezer.  Examples of veggie scraps are: carrot skin peelings, tops/bottoms of onions, tops of leeks, broccoli stumps, greens, lettuce hearts, mushroom stems, celery leaves...I mean all of it.  Any leftover raw vegetable or it's parts.  It's ok if it looks gross.  It will look gross.
     Do the same with your meats.  Some folks like to separate their meat into different bags (chicken/beef/pork), while others like to mix them.  Keep all scraps, fat, bones, skin, etc in your bag in the freezer.
     On the weekend, throw all your scraps into a very large cooking pot.  Cover the whole thing with water.  Bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover, simmer.  Now simmer that pot as long as you can--at least 1 hour.  If you can, put it on the lowest heat and cook it for 2-3 hours.
     After cooking, you will need to strain it.  I find this to be a 2 person job usually.  Put another large pot in the sink, and cover it with a colander.  Pour your soup through the colander, letting all the big funky wilted weird cooked veggies (and meat) catch in the colander while the liquid pours into the pot.  Discard the solids.  I usually like to get a mesh sieve and run the liquid through it, as some fine veggie funk is present.  You want to get rid of that.  Here is where you may choose to add salt and pepper to your beautiful broth.
     The broth will freeze like a champ.  I freeze my in 2 or 4 cup portions so they are recipe friendly.

Broccoli Soup

It's Fall, which means it is time for soup to be back on the menu here in Pennsylvania.  I made a nice broccoli soup over the weekend--really one of the best I've ever made, so I figured I better write it down.  Don't worry about the quantities being exact for the ingredients--I really just threw things into the pot, and tasted as I cooked.  You should adjust your soups to fit your tastes, and experiment with different blends of herbs and spices.

Ingredient list:
garlic, onion, broth, biggest head of broccoli you can find (or 2 smaller ones), raw cashews, salt, pepper.
optional: olive oil, nutritional yeast
note: if possible, soak 1/2 cup of raw cashews in water for 3-4 hours prior to starting the recipe below.

     Chop up 1 small onion and 1 clove of garlic, and saute in a few glugs of olive oil (or broth) on medium heat.  You want to cook them till the onions are transparent, but try not to let them turn brown. (note: if you are adding any herbs, do it here)
While this is cooking, roughly cut up a very large head of broccoli.  It doesn't need to look pretty, just hack it up--the pieces do not need to be small.
     Throw the broccoli pieces into the pot, turn up the heat, and give it a sprinkle of salt.  Using a large spoon, try and move the pieces around a bit, coating the broccoli pieces in the oil/onion/garlic as much as you can.  Do this for about 1-2 minutes.
     Add 4-5 cups broth.  Of course I like homemade broth the best--you just can't duplicate that flavor from a can or box, but if you must use boxed, you must.  Another option would be to use soup base + water or cubes + water.
     Bring to the boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer.  I usually cook it about 15 minutes--just make sure the broccoli is almost-falling-apart cooked.  Turn off the heat and let it sit there.  Taste and adjust your seasonings (remember that a little teaspoon of red wine vinegar or lemon juice can brighten up a soup a lot).
     Let's pause here and contemplate our cashews.  Did you remember to soak them?  If you did, good for you--you can move to the next step.  If you forgot, you will need to do this first:
Add your cashews to the pot (removed from the heat), stir once, and let it sit there for about 15 minutes.
     Transfer the whole lot to the blender/vitamix.  Those of you who were cashew-responsible and soaked them, add them here (drain soaking water first).  Now, at this point I like to add 2 heaping tablespoons of nutritional yeast before blending.  If you do not like nutritional yeast, don't add it.  If you are a cheese eater, you may want to add a little shaved parm.  Or don't add anything, just blend.

Of course I am a firm believer that soup is better if it sits overnight in the fridge before reheating and serving, but it is edible now.  Enjoy!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Homemade Almond Milk, 2 ways

Homemade almond milk has to be just about one of my favorite things to eat/drink.  Once you try it made from scratch, it will be hard to drink it out of a carton again.  However, almonds ain't cheap!  I usually only make it on weekends around here.

Recipe #1 is for delicious, drinkin-while-you-eat-cookies almond milk.  It tastes like dessert!!

Soak 1 cup raw almonds, 1/3 to 1/2 of a cinnamon stick, and 2 cups water in a bowl for 12-24 hours.  Keep the bowl out at room temp, but throw a dish towel over it to prevent dust or dirt from getting in.  By soaking the almonds for up to 24 hours, you are gently fermenting them.  Foods fermented in your own house provide the best probiotics for you (this can also be done with oats for oatmeal).  After 12-24 hours, throw everything (water too) into a blender and add 2 more cups of cool water.  Blend on high till all the almonds are pulverized, then squeeze everything through a nut milk bag.  Don't forget to put a bowl under the nut milk bag!  Sweeten to taste with raw agave nectar (I use about 1 tablespoon), and place in a jar with a lid.  Store in the fridge--I like it best after it's been chilled for a few hours.

Recipe #2 is much faster to make.  I don't really like having it straight out of the glass as a drink, but rather like it best in recipes for smoothies--or other recipes calling for almond milk.  You can actually use any nut in this recipe (hazelnut, brazil nut, etc), so play around and have fun.  (Did I just suggest you play around with your nuts and have fun?  Well I guess I did.)

In the blender: 1 cup raw almonds, 1 tablespoon dried shredded (unsweetened) coconut, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 4 cups water, and a pinch of sea salt.  Blend on high till the almonds are pulverized, then run through the nut milk bag.  That's it!

Both of these versions will keep for 3 days.  Shake well before serving.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Smoothies 2013

I know, I know--someone says "Vitamix" and you either A) roll your eyes because you don't have one (but secretly wish you did) or B) jump up and down as your eyes turn to hearts because you do have one.
Well, my eyes are hearts.  I generally have a smoothie or fresh juice for breakfast every day.  Usually I make at least a quart, so I can sip on it all morning.  Or divide the quart in 1/2, and have one in the am and one at around 3pm.  A 3pm smoothie or fresh juice will totally get rid of the mid-afternoon slump.
Here are a few of my favorite smoothie recipes from 2013:

Chocolate Cherry
2 cups coconut water
handful of spinach leaves
1/4 cup raw cacao nibs
1 banana
1/2 bag (2-3 cups) frozen pitted cherries
splash of vanilla

Speedy Grapefruit
2 grapefruits, peeled (of course I like the ruby reds from Texas)
handful of ice
squeeze of honey, to taste

Favorite Green
1/2 bunch kale
2 bananas
2 cups water
1/2 bag frozen pineapple

A Soup, Not A Smoothie Actually
1 red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1/4 cup raw cashews
1 cup water
pinch of sea salt
(3 minutes in the vitamix will warm this.  If you have a regular blender, just lightly heat after you blend)

Favorite Juices of 2013

Prepare: Put ingredients in the vitamix in the order listed above--the order is very important for nice blending.  If you are vitamix-less, just do whatever you normally do with your blender.  For the juices you can use a juicer (here's what I use), or just run your juice through a nut milk bag after vitamixing.

NOTE: I realize we are only in the 5th month of 2013, but I think my smoothie/juicing follows a fiscal calendar, starting in the Fall.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Coleslaw--your versatile friend.

To me, you can judge a restaurant by it's coleslaw.  Big awkward slices of cabbage mixed with mayo does not a coleslaw make.  Remember, cabbage is a leafy green, and we need to think of coleslaw as a salad.  A delicious crunchy bite of something cool and green to have in between courses of spicy food (bbq, tacos, etc).  I don't even put mayo in mine (gasp!)--I am a firm believer that coleslaw should be vinegar based.

1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup white vinegar (or half white vinegar and half cider vinegar)
2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp celery seed
1 tsp salt

Mix the above in a large bowl, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
Add the following ingredients to the bowl:

1 cabbage, finely shredded
1 small bell pepper, minced
1 T. minced pimentos
1 small vidalia or sweet onion, minced

Toss well and mix.  Transfer to a ziplock bag and refrigerate overnight.  This coleslaw gets better the longer it sits, and it can last up to 2 weeks in the fridge.  

GOOD WITH: bbq, beans, tacos, sandwich filling, hot dogs, veggie dogs, burgers, seafood.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Infused tequila and vodka (yeep!)

Back in March I spent a few days in the wonderful city of San Antonio.  I love that city, and man do they love their food.  While there, I learned how to make infused spirits from the good folks at The Fruteria.  Although I am still working out the spirits-to-mixers ratio, I thought I would share what I've learned so far, so that you can get a jump on your summer cocktail planning.

Alcohol: Vodka or tequila, a full bottle.  Now, I was afraid to use the super cheap stuff, so I went mid-range and chose Sky Vodka and Sauza Silver Tequila.  Sky has a simple clean flavor, and I've always trusted Sauza.

Fruit: You can use any fruit combination you want, or single fruits.  Following the recommendations from The Fruteria and my own concoctions so far, here's a few to start you off with:

  • 1 pint strawberries/ 2 bananas/ 2 cinnamon sticks (tequila)
  • 1/2 pint strawberries/4 plums (vodka or tequila)
  • 1 english cucumber (vodka)
  • 1/2 cantaloupe/ 1/2 honeydew melon (tequila)

(I've got a lemon infused vodka infusing away in my kitchen right now.  I'll let you know how it turns out)
Make sure your fruit is washed, scrubbed, chopped, and peeled/pitted/stems removed.  Also, you will need a large jar (I use a 1/2 gallon mason jar) that has either been run through the dishwasher or sanitized with boiling water.  Put your fruit in the jar, then fill it up with the alcohol--making sure you add enough alcohol to completely cover the fruit so it's swimming around a bit.  Some will float to the top, but that's ok.  Put a tight fitting lid on the jar, and put it in a corner in the kitchen--away from heat or kids.

After 4-5 days, strain the liquid into another jar and discard the fruit.  Well, you could eat the fruit, but just be sure you are staying in for the night and don't have to drive or do anything responsible.
At this point, you can repeat the whole process and let steep for another 4-5 days if you want the alcohol to have a nice strong flavor.  I usually am too lazy to do that, so my alcohol has a light flavor.  It will keep beautifully in the fridge for a long time.

You really need to put some thought into the drink you are going to mix with this stuff.  The Fruteria told me they only use fresh squeezed fruit juices, tons of ice, and NO syrups, added sugars, or anything artificial.  I think they are right, it would ruin the flavor.  Usually, you can just fill a margarita glass with a lot of ice, squeeze a few oranges and a lime or 2 in, and then add your shot.  If you have a juicer, fresh pineapple juice adds a nice balance to the orange and lime.

For the cucumber vodka--mix it with seltzer water, fresh mint leaves, and a small squeeze of lime.
I think when my lemon vodka is done, I am either going to mix it with pineapple juice, or break some rules: seltzer and (gasp!) raw agave nectar.