Category Archives: Food

Blog Neglect and Corn Chowder

I certainly have been neglecting this blog, haven’t I? I started this blog many years ago, when I had a lot of extra time on my hands, I wanted to learn blogging, and I wanted to become a better cook. Keeping up the blog helped achieve those goals. Researching cooking techniques and writing down recipes reinforced them in my head, so that now I can do a lot of cooking without consulting a book or a recipe. I also feel more confident in the kitchen and more inclined to experiment or go off the recipe. But that kind of cooking isn’t very bloggable, especially since I’m not one to take a lot of photos of my food.

(Speaking of photos, my husband has taken up photography as a hobby. If he wanted to do some food photography, I would happily showcase his work on this blog.)

Let’s take last night’s dinner, for instance. It was cold and drizzly, and I wanted to make corn chowder. The first recipe I consulted sounded good, but it called for a pre-baked potato. I didn’t have any on hand, and I certainly wasn’t going to bake a potato for an hour just to put it in a soup. But I marked the recipe as something to try when I had leftover baked potatoes, and I also took note of some of the additions it suggested.

The second recipe was in Joy of Cooking. It was much simpler, but I didn’t care for the idea of a soup with a milk base. I’m trying to reduce my dairy intake these days. Still, it was a good base to build on. Here’s what I did.

I fried 3 strips of bacon until crispy and put them on paper towels to drain. I put a spoonful of the bacon grease into my soup pot, along with about half an onion, diced, and 2 celery stalks, sliced. I let them cook a little while over medium-low until they had gotten tender. Then I added 1 baking potato, peeled and diced, about 1 cup of frozen corn kernels, and about 2½ cups chicken stock. I use the word about because I didn’t measure; I just added things to the pot until I had what looked like a good amount of soup. I seasoned the soup with a healthy amount of Southwest seasoning mix (Penzey’s). I brought it to a boil, covered it, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes were cooked. Using a stick blender, I pureed the soup to thicken it up, but I left it relatively chunky.

To serve, I let each person add what they wanted: crumbled bacon; dollop of sour cream; and grated cheddar-jack cheese. It served 3 people with some left over. I thought it was pretty tasty, but when and if I make it again, I doubt I’ll make it the exact same way.

As a matter of fact, this basic formula would work for any potato-based soup. Instead of corn, you could add leeks, tomatoes, carrots, greens, peas–almost any vegetable you like, really. You could vary the seasoning and garnishes as you wish.

After you get experience and confidence cooking, recipes start to seem superfluous–at least for everyday cooking. I’ll still follow a recipe religiously when I’m trying a new and challenging dish. But when I’m trying to get dinner on the table, I tend to follow my instincts and build a dish as a cook, based on the ingredients I’ve got around and how much work I feel like doing.

How do you cook? Do you follow recipes to the letter, or do you improvise as you go along?

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Healthy, Meet Delicious

I really enjoyed this new monthly column by Mark Bittman in the New York Times Dining section: Healthy, Meet Delicious. Bittman’s philosophy of eating vegan before 6pm and having what he likes for dinner seems like an easy way to eat more healthfully and make sure you get your vegetables in. I have been trying something similar, although I allow myself yogurt and occasionally eggs. But I like this method because I don’t feel deprived and because it is an easy lifestyle change to adopt.

I tried Bittman’s recipe for chopped salad last week and I liked it a lot. If you shred a lot of cabbage and carrots at one time, they will keep for a while undressed and can then easily be incorporated into chopped salad, coleslaw, other salads, stir-fries and so on. I have found that the easiest way to prompt myself to eat more vegetables is to have them prepped and ready for when I get hungry, so I don’t default to an easier and less healthy option at lunchtime.

The smoothie recipe also looks good, and is very similar to one I make often, especially during the summer months.

Seedling Buying 101

Are you planting a vegetable garden this year? Here is some good advice for newbie gardeners: How To Spot And Avoid A Crappy Seedling.

The Vegetable Plate

Years ago, when I was a full-time vegetarian living in the South before vegetarianism was an accepted thing, I got accustomed to ordering the vegetable plate when going out to dinner. At many diners and home-style restaurants, the vegetable plate is usually a plate of three or four sides, often accompanied by a roll, biscuit or piece of cornbread. It was offered because no one knew how to do vegetarian entrees back then, at least not in non-ethnic restaurants in the South.

I actually enjoyed the vegetable plate a lot, because it enabled me to sample several different sides, which can make for a more interesting dinner. Now that I do eat meat (but not a lot of it), I find myself gravitating back toward the vegetable plate — but as a way of eating at home, usually for lunch, rather than when I go out. I enjoy the variety of flavors, textures and colors on one plate, and I feel virtuous for eating my vegetables. (Well, they taste good too.)

It can seem onerous to the home cook to make four side dishes for a weeknight meal. The idea behind the home-based vegetable plate is to cook one or two dishes a day that will keep well and can either be reheated or served cold. As the week goes on, the options for the vegetable plate increase. I also try to prep and pre-cook plain vegetables ahead of time so I can quickly assemble a full plate when I’m ready to eat.

Salads of all descriptions are a natural choice for the vegetable plate, especially non-green salads. Homemade salad dressings usually keep for a week or more in the refrigerator, and can be used to quickly assemble a salad from any pre-cut or grated vegetables on hand. Surprisingly, cooked greens like spinach and kale make a great cold salad when dressed with some lemon juice or vinegar.

Roasted and grilled vegetables reheat well or make tasty ingredients for cold salads. If you’re firing up the grill or preheating the oven anyway, throw on more cut-up veggies than you think you can possibly eat. Gratins also reheat well, and a little cheese makes everything taste better.

Vegetable soups are another option. Of course, they must go in a bowl instead of on the plate, but they are easy to make ahead in quantity and often taste even better reheated. Combining a vegetable soup with a salad or two makes a very satisfying meal.

It’s usually nice to have some crusty French or sourdough bread in the house to accompany the vegetable plate. I also plan to experiment more with incorporating whole grains into my made-ahead options, such as farro or wheat berries. Pasta salad is a natural addition, but I am trying to reduce my pasta consumption these days in favor of whole grains.

Since I started doing this, I feel like I am eating better and taking more advantage of seasonal vegetables as they appear in the markets. I don’t feel like I am cooking that much more, but it seems like I am throwing out spoiled vegetables far less often, because I am eating a little bit at every meal, rather than trying to use it all up on one meal. It’s also fun to try different vegetables and different ways of preparing them.

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy the vegetable plate. I think it’s making a comeback.

Review of The Drunken Botanist

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Great Drinks by Amy Stewart

The Drunken Botanist CoverAround the world, there is not a tree, shrub or wildflower that hasn’t been brewed or bottled, according to The Drunken Botanist, a fascinating look at the relationships between plants and alcohol. Amy Stewart explores history, horticulture, trivia, tips for growing your own and, of course, recipes.

Humankind’s relationship with alcohol is a long one. If it grows, we’ve tried to ferment, distill or brew it. There are so many fun facts in this book, found on every page. How to drink absinthe, a particularly literary liqueur. The role bugs play in making booze. Why beer bottles are brown. How to make alcohol from bananas, sweet potatoes and even parsnips. I’m an avid wine drinker, and now I want to try aromatized wines; before this book, I didn’t even know what those were, but they sure sound delicious.

The Drunken Botanist is a pleasure to leaf through, preferably with a drink close at hand. It reminds me of an old-fashioned reference manual, with its charming black-and-white sketches and cocktail recipe “cards.” This book should appeal to all kinds of hobbyists: nature lovers, gardeners, brewers, cooks, mixologists and anyone who enjoys a tipple from time to time.

Note: I received a free advance review copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

In Praise of Comfort Foods

Macaroni and cheese is an American comfort food

Macaroni and cheese is an American comfort food (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The New York Times dining section this week had an article on comfort foods: Comfort Without Color – In Praise of Pale Food – NYTimes.com. We all have our beloved comfort foods, those foods that typically remind us of childhood, and are usually white, fattening and delicious. Macaroni and cheese is one of my favorites; the article also gives recipes for rice pudding and potpie.

I’m thinking I might have to make a batch of mac and cheese tonight, just to kick winter’s butt out the door. We’ve had an unusually cold week for the last week of March, and I am so ready for spring.

What are your favorite comfort foods?

Iceberg Lettuce: Love It or Hate It?

(nl: IJssla krop)Iceberg lettuce

(nl: IJssla krop)Iceberg lettuce (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the 1940s, iceberg lettuce was the only variety bred to survive cross-country shipping, which is why it became ubiquitous in American salad bowls. Its name came from the piles of ice it was packed in for shipping. Now, with so many kinds of salad greens available, iceberg remains popular on restaurant menus.

I can’t stand the stuff, unless it’s slathered with blue cheese dressing. My husband, however, prefers tasteless iceberg over any lettuce that has a modicum of flavor, although he will eat romaine if he has to. What’s your go-to salad green?

Read: Tip of the Iceberg: Our Love-Hate Relationship With the Nation’s Blandest Vegetable | Food & Think.

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