Chives or Not Chives

For produce, I went to an Asian grocery store on Nicollet, Shuang Hur, which has a rather comprehensive selection of produce and different kinds of meat. I was hoping to get a bunch of the vegetable, 韭菜, which one can easily find in a supermarket in China, but rarely in a US store. Gladly, I was able to find it at Shuang Hur, along with some Chinese celery, the kind with much thinner stems, with flavorful stalks and leaves, than those found in “typical” grocery stores. 韭菜has three translations, why I used the Chinese name, according to one online dictionary, garlic chives, Chinese chives, and Chinese leek (http://www.mdbg.net/chindict/chindict.php?wdrst=1&popup=1&wdqchid=%E9%9F%AD%E8%8F%9C), and google translates it to “leek” from Chinese to English and chive to “韭菜” from English to Chinese. I know it is not leek. I wondered why such a simple item that is very popular in China is so difficult to have a simple name in English. My wife insists that it is chive since the store labeled it as “chive” and she recognizes it as the invasive plant that has overtaken many of her garden plots over the years, so the store should know what they are selling and must be right as is my wife. For “chives”, I had the impression they would be used as an ingredient, as the “chive” used in China is a vegetable. There has to be some differences, and indeed, according to Wikipedia, the common edible plant in Western cuisine, known as chives, refers to the species Allium schoenoprasum, whereas the Asian vegetable is Allium tuberosum. The flowers of the former are pinkish, and the latter has white blossoms.

Recipe 1: When韭菜 is used as the main component in Chinese dumplings, or 饺子,its flavor is particularly striking. Since next week will be the Chinese New Year, and 饺子 is the standard, traditional food at midnight of the New Year, perhaps after fireworks, I have decided to make dumplings. I used three items as the main contents, 韭菜, Chinese celery and fried egg. One can use ground pork or beef to replace the egg, and other vegetables. Perhaps, 韭菜 and Chinese celery do not typically go together since they both have pretty strong flavors. Surprisingly, the result is quite flat, perhaps their flavors cancelled one another, or probably they do not have as strong flavors as I thought. Dumplings are fairly easy to make. You chop all the ingredients in fine pieces, wrap them up with flour dumpling skins and cook in boiling water.

I used a method as I have seen when I was young to decide when the dumpling is cooked.  First, when they are put into the boiling water, they will sink to the bottom. As the water is brought to boiling again, they rise and float on the surface. After a minute or two, pour a couple tablespoons of cold water, and bring it to boil again. Repeat this twice or three times, it’s all done.

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Recipe 2 is Kaffir Lime Scallops with Browned Butter from food52.com. Here, I have replaced kaffir lime leaves by the Chinese celery leaves, skewered around scallops which I seasoned with various herbs and spices. The scallops are then browned on the flat, uncovered sides in browned butter and olive oil. Then, add in minced chives (1 teaspoon), chili peppers, and other seasonings. I also pan fried some Shiitake mushrooms to go along.

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Recipe 3 is very simple. Pan stir fry eggs with 韭菜, mixed with a bit of Chinese celery.

 

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Swede Flower

At least these two words were the brief reminders at the top of the veggies part of my co-op shopping: swede as that reminder to get rutabaga, and flower for cauliflower.  I do cook with both – but generally I’d put swede into soups, especially a stew of lamb shanks and cold weather veggies, which is known as cawl in Welsh families; and my use of cauliflower seemed to extend to roasting in the winter along with cabbage and carrots as side to a beef or pork roast. I grew up primarily knowing this veg as “relief truck food” from my Pops’ family, who consumed far too many root vegetable meals in a 1930s southwestern Minnesota beset by droughts on multiple fronts – no rain and no money.

While on leave 5 years ago in Northwest England, I re-met rutabagas – with swede as the naming, and with a wonderfully nutty sweet taste in a dish from my favourite Liverpool deli.   My Manchester and Salford friends made use of swede in the same ways I was raised to use potatoes – in soups, as mashed sides (with carrots, with potatoes, with shredded cabbage), as chips with fish fingers.

There I also re-met cauliflower in savory soups akin to the ones we made/tasted during the lab session last week – and as roasted, thick “steaks” with a savoury gravy, or as another veg that could be featured in a cold roasted salad, or as the base for something akin to a falafel.

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Cauliflower Roasted & Other Ingredients Assembled

So, this week I consulted my UK cookery resources and came up with these recipes:

From How to turn a big batch of cauliflower into four different meals in Cook (a section of The Guardian) I made these two recipes while working at home on Saturday:

  • The tangy salad: Cauliflower, sultana and pine nut salad with garlic yoghurt
  • The lunch wrap: Spiced cauliflower patties

Both recipes require a bit of time from start to finish, but most of it is “hands off” time.

The tangy salad includes pretty much what the title says along with wedges of red onions; the prep includes about 50 minutes roasting time – with minimal knife work to get things ready, then addition of some ingredients at a 1/2 way point, then the stirring up of 3 ingredients to make a dressing before mixing the cauliflower mixture with spinach leaves for the salad.  I made just a couple of substitutions based on what I had in my pantry – Aleppo pepper nuggets in place of chili flakes, and dried currants in place of sultanas (golden raisins would work, too).

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Tangy Salad at the Left – Start of Lunch Wraps at the Right

I chopped items for the lunch wrap recipe, also from the big batch collection, while roasting the cauliflower as part of the tangy salad prep – not much difficult to do here, either, tho a bit more “hands on” as after the chopping of various items I needed to steam the sweet potatoes and saute the onions before adding in the remaining ingredients.

I did change the basic ingredients to make use of what I had on hand:

1 large baking potato (about 300g), peeled and diced – I used sweet potatoes
2 tbsp vegetable oil – used olive oil
1 red onion, roughly chopped
1 green chilli, finely chopped – used small sweet orange peppers
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tbsp garlic and ginger paste – mashed two big cloves of garlic with powdered ginger
200g cooked cauliflower, roughly chopped – the recipe calls for steaming, but I roasted
A handful of breadcrumbs – used Panko, could have crushed last of the oyster crackers
A large bunch coriander (cilantro), roughly chopped – used a mix of this & rosemary

Really good call on using the sweet potatoes – while any mashed up potato will help in holding the mixture together, the sweet potato added a depth of flavor that would have been missing with the baking potato option.

As patties, the mixture held its shape, and cooking up in a non-stick pan with a bit of oil was easy.  Rather than opening a new jar of chutney, I made extra of the garlic yogurt dressing for the tangy salad to use as if Tzatziki.

In all, making these two dishes involved about 90 minutes of relaxed cooking with ample “hands off” time – and after a supper that combined the both, I have left overs I can bring for lunch (the patties) or use as a side for supper (salad).

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Supper with a side of Shiner Bock.

Soon I’ll follow up with making other dish from that big batch collection – a cauliflower and blue cheese bake, and a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi for a cauliflower cake; both will be great for upcoming weekend brunches.

The rutabaga use comes with tonight’s meal. I’m making Sheperd’s Pie, but in this iteration of a UK favorite the starchy potatoes for the pie topping are replaced in full by mashed swede, or in part with combo of swede and carrot mash.  The mix is the option I’ll be taking.  This pie recipe is from another issue of Cook, which features ways of making four different recipes from one batch of mashed swede.

And I’ve bookmarked one more of the mashed swede recipes for some weekend when I want to make use of a Friday or Saturday night to stir up the makings for a next morning breakfast, as the cover feature of the mashed swede special is a savory beignets recipe featuring tumeric, garam masala, and cayenne pepper in the flavoring.  It looks luscious – and should taste so after a night of the flavors mingling together in the fridge between stirring up, frying up, and topping up with with cilantro and lime pickle.

 

 

 

Home Assignment 1: The red meat adventure

  I am a  scientist that loves cooking, and I enjoy putting both parts into one pot. To me, cooking is also a series of chemical/physical reactions that take place under various heating conditions, yet the final products are more delicious and exciting. We have pipette,  lab bench  and heat plate in lab, meanwhile in kitchen we also have knife, chop board and cook stoves. We need to have things well planned and organized in the lab, so is in the kitchen.

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  I live in a small apartment with a small kitchen, so I don’t have too many places for storage. But since there are only me and my wife in the house, we don’t need too many things either. Me and my wife share the duty of cooking because we both busy, but I would love to cook whenever I have time. Since I often get excited about cooking new dishes, I usually taking care of the grocery, while my wife in charge of making sure I buy enough vegetable and fruit for the week’s menu. Yes I am a big meat guy, I could come up with seven different ways of cooking meat and proteins, but obvious that’s not healthy.

  When it comes to meat, fish of seafood, some people always have the impression that they are either unhealthy (steak) or not tasty (chicken breast, one of my friends said it tastes like wood…), either expensive (shrimp) or difficult to cook (fish). But I believe there is a huge sweet spot of meat dishes in terms of nutrition, taste and cost. And if we cook them right, they are not difficult to cook at all, actually  the process is pretty fun. Moreover, of course, it is always a good idea to mix the meat dish with vegetable dish, and thereby we have a perfect dinner for two.

  As a result, for this week’s home assignment, I scavenged my fridge and decided to do one meat dish and one veggie dish.

Meal Planning: Braised pork belly, shredded vegetables

   I briefly checked my fridge, and I found I don’t have too much meat, but I have a lot of vegetables. The only meat I have is 2 lb of pork belly. Therefore the meat dish I was going to do is braised pork belly. It is a Chinese dish and in China we call it “red-cooked pork”, because of the dark brownish color that the meat obtained during the braising process. So basically it is red meat, and we made it even redder!  There are a lot of ways to redden the meat, and people in difference parts of China have different ways. For example, people in eastern China prefer using dark soy sauce and rice wine, while people in northern China prefer using red yeast rice. In my recipe, I go for the Hunan style, in which the meat were colored by brown sugar. There is a specific reason that I opted for this style, which I will elaborate further.

   Pork belly is actually one of my favorite part of meat. It’s cheap (usually less than $5/lb) and full of flavors. Unfortunately in many cases the pork fat is a deal-breaker for many people. The fat tastes horrible if lightly cooked, thus in order to bring out the beautiful smell of fat, people usually grill or bake it. This will lead to pyrolysis, or thermal degradation, of fat, and consequently release a lot of carbohydrates that smell good. But at this temperature, a lot of carcinogens are also formed, so it is basically a trade-off between taste and health. Also, pork belly can be further processed into sausages or bacon, which taste even better but much more unhealthy.

  Does it always have to be like that in cooking? Is it always a zero-sum game between tasty, cheap and healthy? Maybe not. There is a sweet spot for pork belly that, although not addressing this dilemma completely, we could have a little bit of three of them. And I believe braised pork belly is within the spot.

   Basically, if we look at the chemical reactions that take place during cooking meat, there are 3 types of reactions involved, and they are:

  1. Mailard reaction,  which is the reaction between amino acid and reducing sugar, both presents in meat,  at 320F. This will give away a very unique and delightful scent;
  2. Caramelization  reaction, which only involves sugar and take place at the similar temperature;
  3. Pyrolysis reaction, which is thermal degradation of fat above 400F

That is to say, if we can control the cooking temperature below 400F, we will have Mailard and caramelization reaction dominate the cooking, and therefore the dish will have very rich taste and smell, meanwhile contains minimum carcinogen. This is basically the idea of braised pork belly. Moreover, to control the temperature, I used brown sugar and employed its caramelization process as the indicator of cooking temperature (of course it will also give some richer flavor to the dish). That is reason I opted coloring the pork belly with brown sugar.

When the meat dish is determined, I decided to accompany it with pan fried shredded carrot, radish and potato. Because I believe the textures of the two dishes fit each other well. The pork will have intense umami taste, with a hint of salty and sweet, so I decided to give the vegetable a little sour and spicy taste to go with the meat.

Recipes

I. Braised Pork Belly

  1. Basic ingredients: pork belly (2~3 lb), brown sugar, scallion, garlic and ginger, people do add more ingredients (such as mushroom or dried tofu) now and then, but in the picture shows the minimum requirement;

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You may also need some Chinese rice wine during cooking, but I am running low on it, so I had to use some of my Vodka, which is a huge waste T_T

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2. Immerse the ENTIRE piece of pork belly into COLD water, add some scallions and gingers to help removing the smell of pork belly, you could also add a star anise and a piece of cinnamon if you like ( I did), bring the water to boil, and keep it boiled for 25 min;

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3. Chop the boiled meat into 1 inch cubes;

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4. Heat the pan at medium, add some vegetable oil, wait until the oil is heated, then add ginger and garlic, stir, and finally add meat;20160116_181121_HDR

5. Saute the meat at medium heat, you will see the fat coming out from the pork. When they start to pick up some yellowish color, add 2 tablespoon of brown sugar, stir until the meat are evenly coated with caramelized sugar;

*One can also reverse step 4-5, that is add sugar before everything, heat them until caramelized, and quickly add meat and garlic. In this way one would have more thorough caramelization, but more likely to get burned as the syrup is hot.

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6. Add 1-2 table spoon of wine, stir until it boil, then add HOT water to immerse everything in the pan (I transferred them to a sauce pan so that I could use the wok to cook vegetable), braise for 20 min at medium heat (I added some mushroom while braising), then turn to high heat to reduce the broth;20160116_190821_HDR

That’s it. Braised pork belly with amazing taste and smell. Since a large amount of fat had been released during sauteing and braising, the pork belly tastes pretty smooth and creamy, anything but fat. 20160116_191329_HDR

 

II. Shredded Vegetable: Radish, Carrot and Potato

  1. Major ingredient: similar amount of radish, potato and carrot. skinned and shredded20160116_174143_HDR

 

2. Heat the pan at high with vegetable oil, add radish and carrot first, season, stir fry until the radishes are transparent (10 min);

3. Add potato slices, also add some soy sauce and a half lime juice(I also added some wood-ear fungus but just to make it looks more colorful), stir fry until potato is soft;

4. Turn off heat, add a half teaspoon of rice vinegar, keep stirring;

5. Finally put all the vegetable slices in a plate, garnish with lime juice and cilantro.20160116_191510_HDR

 

Saturday dinner for two, done! Used everything available in the kitchen, cost less than 10 bucks for ingredient, and takes us 2 meals to finish them.

Thoughts on Meal Planning

After cooking the pork belly, we have completely running out of meats, so we have to go grocery again, although we went grocery last week and we barely cooked during the week days. We still have half fridge of vegetable untouched since the previous grocery, and they are not going to be fresh when we cook them. The reason for such unbalanced purchase was when we did our latest grocery at an Asian supermarket in St Paul, they happened to have a lot of fresh vegetables, but their meats look miserable. So we bought a lot of good looking vegetable and only little amount meat.

I guess it is always a good idea to think about the week’s menu before we go grocery. So that we can always have fresh food, while not doing too many grocery.

 

 

HOME ASSIGNMENT 1:

Assessing your home cooking environment and pantry
● Self reflection on meal planning and budgeting

My meal planning and budgeting are chaotic at best.  I buy things that can be quickly thrown together using lots of processed foods or less than healthy items.  I usally do not have a list or a plan when grocery shopping.
● Kitchen inventory (pantry and equipment)

Hamburger Helper, Can Soup, Premixed Rice, Frozen Pizza are the staples of my pantry.  Although I do have chopped onions, peppers, carrots and celery in the freezer along with chicken breasts and various other meats.  Missing are things are basically all the dry goods listed flour, sugar, oats, baking soda, baking powder, vinagers, but I do have many spices and seasonings beyond salt and pepper and olive oil, soy sauce, mustard etc.

I do have most of the pots pans and utensils listed on the kitchen cooking basics list except for the cheese grater, mason jars, and dutch oven.

Finding a recipe to make only using items in my pantry was very difficult as my pantry is lacking in several areas.

Recipe 1

Asparagus Soup
Recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse
Asparagus Soup
Total Time:1 hr 20 min
Prep:20 min
Cook:1 hr
Yield:8 to 12 servings
Level:Intermediate
Ingredients
3 pounds fresh asparagus, rinsed
8 cups chicken stock  -I used 33% less sodium canned stock
4 tablespoons unsalted butter – I only had salted butter
1 cup minced shallots – did not have shallots used combo of white and red onions
1 cup minced leeks, whites only, well rinsed – did not have any
1 tablespoon minced garlic – used more that this
1/2 teaspoon salt  -did not add salt as I used salted butter
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper –only have black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream – used half and half 
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan, garnish – used preshredded cheddar cheese
Directions
Trim the attractive top tips from the asparagus, about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Cut the woody stem ends from each spear and reserve. Cut the remaining tender stalks into 1/2-inch pieces.

In a medium pot, bring the stock to a boil. Add the tough woody stems, lower the heat and simmer to infuse with asparagus flavor, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and discard, reserving the stock.

Add the decorative tips to the stock and blanch until tender, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Remove with a strainer and refresh in an ice water bath. Drain on paper towels and reserve for the garnish. Reserve the stock.

In a medium stockpot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. When foamy, add the shallots and leeks and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chopped asparagus stalks, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the reserved broth and simmer until the asparagus are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat.

With a hand-immersion blender or in batches in a food processor, puree the soup until smooth. Adjust the seasoning, to taste. If serving right away, return to medium heat and add the cream and reserved asparagus tips. Cook, stirring, until the soup is warmed through, about 3 minutes.

Alternatively, if serving the soup later, do not add the cream and let cool at room temperature (or in an ice water bath). Cover and refrigerate. Before serving, add the cream and asparagus tips, and warm the soup gently over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

 

I roasted the onions, garlic, aspargus in oven before adding to soup and blending

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Recipe 2

 

Deviled Eggs
Recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse
Total Time:30 min
Prep:30 min
Yield:12 deviled egg halves
Ingredients
6 eggs, hard boiled, cooled, and peeled
2 tablespoons mayonnaise –used premade jar mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard – wow actually  had this in the fridge
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar – used a different vinegar forget the type at the moment
1 teaspoon finely chopped chives – did not have
Hot pepper sauce – used tobasco sauce
Paprika
Salt and pepper
3 parsley sprigs, for garnish – did not have
Directions
Place the cooked egg yolks in a bowl. Using a fork, work the mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, chives, and salt and pepper into the yolks to form a smooth paste. Taste. Place 1/2 of this mixture in a small pastry bag with a large star tip. To the remaining mixture, add the jalapenos and season with Hot pepper sauce. Fill 6 of the egg halves with the basic filling. Fill the pastry bag with the jalapeno filling. Fill the remaining egg white halves. Top with paprika. Place on a platter on the radicchio leaves, and parsley sprigs.

I did add some finely diced red onion to this

 

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They did not turn out pretty but I liked the taste 

I definatly have a lot of planning and work ahead of me to make meal planning and cooking part of my normal routine.  It also felt like all I did all day long was do dishes 😀

 

 

Lettuce Wraps & Taco Hot Dish

Lettuce Wraps

Had iceberg lettuce and canned water chestnuts on hand with these in mind but not yet made them.

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Lettuce wraps

The other ingredients weren’t a stretch as we have made these before and had the fresh ginger, hoisin sauce, chili paste and bean threads from previous recipes. My finicky kid loves these but was not happy that I had the water chestnuts finely chopped and intermixed with the ground beef. His added request was bean threads. We added in fresh basil leaves as a bonus we don’t often have in the refrigerator. Due to family differences each of the sauces have to be individually added so as to not include the sweetners or spiciness.

Taco Hot Dish

Needing to throw something together fast, pulled out two different cans of refritos (one with spice and one plain), and canned corn. In a baking dish, I layered these with chicken (leftover from a Costco broasted whole chicken), topped with salsa and cheddar cheese (one third rice cheddar cheese), and baked for 20-25 minutes. We had a few chips on the side and topped with fresh lettuce and tomatoes. Nothing special and no photos, but was a tasty meal and provided some left-overs.

Week 1: Pantry & Planning

I often over-buy in an effort to not have to go shopping so often. Because we have particular items we wanIMG_3288t from three different stores, keeping  the panty stocked keeps me from having to make those added trips.  I easily have the suggested panty item list
covered,  plus some. With storage not a limitation, bulk purchases make it possible to feed an army! My Costco fresh bulk items are at risk of going bad if not I haven’t planned or used accordingly.

Most of our meals are spontaneously created with proximate plans for the next night or two. Some routines kick in, like standard Vitamix (our 2015 big investment in nutrition) smoothies for breakfast (loaded with lots of good stuff), packed lunches for each of us, Friday night out, weekend sour-dough and sprouted wheat bread/bisquit baking, daily kefir making, and weekend meals with leftovers. Oh, and vThat said, planning is a challenge. Considerations due to our family special diets: my wife doesn’t eat any sugar or sweetner of any kind, no fruit, nothing but sprouted-grain flours, no white rice or white potatoes and no dairy. My child is fructose intolerant and should avoid gluten. I am someplace in between.eggie juice made most weekends (favorite is kale, carrot and ginger).IMG_3289

Equipment  — hated to cave to fads but the Vitamin demonstrator sold me on it when she used an avocado seed in a delicious frozen dessert! With Tuesday’s pesto recipe using the hand held mixer, I may cave  for purchasing one of those. Love my Juiceman, Vitamix and  rice cooker. Could use a new pan or two.

NOTE: We often have extra kefir culture to give away. Ask me in class if you want me to save you some.

 

I’ve Got Polenta of Nothing, and Nothing’s Polenta for Me

Wow! These topics: meal planning and pantry inventory have been occupying me for a few years now.

First, meal planning:

Back when my husband and I were raising kids instead of lawn, I had a routine. I had maybe 15 to 20 supper entrees that appeared on the menu regularly, and I shopped for the items I would need to produce those meals within 45 minutes after getting home from work. It was boring, and I occasionally broke the tedium by experimenting with a new recipe, to inevitable complaints from one or more of my guinea pigs, but in that way I was able to cycle in a few new recipes now and then. Despite the boredom, I was inordinately proud when my son grew to be over 6’6” tall, as if my superior fertilizer had somehow grown the biggest tomato in the garden!

Once the empty-nest syndrome set in, my routine fell apart, I became spontaneous, and my husband and I both gained weight. Eventually we strategized and found ways to lose some of that weight, but I’m still strategizing by taking this class and thinking more about what I will cook so that we can be as healthy as possible.

I’ve also been taking some retirement seminars, and the theme there has been to consider whether “retirement,” even if it includes work, will provide opportunities to do more of what I enjoy and less of what I don’t. Given enough time and opportunity for experimentation, I enjoy cooking, so that’s something I want to do more of.

 Second, pantry inventory:

In general, I have pantry inventory. When I compare what I have in my kitchen with the recommendations handed out in class, I find items from almost every category.

Current flaws/solutions for problems in my pantry are:

  • In order to get some use out of hidden storage in one corner of my kitchen cupboard, I have put my dry herbs/spices/salts/peppers on turntables in that corner. Since I can’t actually see into the corner, I try to keep them grouped together:

salts and peppers on the bottom shelf

a-l on the middle shelf

m-z on the top shelf

Then I just swing the turntables around to find what I need.  This might work better if I were the only cook in the house. Over the holidays, things got jumbled as multiple cooks put things away. Also, I’ve recently inherited some overstock from my mother’s house, which puts a strain on the system.

  • Most of the rest of our non-perishable foods are stored in a 23-inch deep “pantry” cupboard, with no slide-out shelves or drawers. This makes it impossible to see anything at the back. When we moved into this house three years ago, I bought a big plastic bin as a substitute “drawer” for each shelf, so I can find out what’s hiding in there.  This month, I’ve added a cardboard can organizer for the top shelf, because the bin with the cans in it was just too heavy to deal with. The organizer holds up to 16 cans and I can easily flip through them with one hand to find out what’s in there by pulling cans one at a time from the bottom and loading them back in the top.
  • The third flaw is simply planning. When I saw the first assignment, “using only what you have on hand . . .” I felt so thankful that I’d just been grocery shopping. But even though I’d been to the grocery store, I’d only made sure to buy ingredients for one single meal. I may be able to make a second “recipe,” but I’m not certain that I will be able to make a second meal (that my husband will enjoy) using “only what I have on hand.”

I would like to do a better job of planning in the future. This would also allow me to be better prepared to entertain unexpected guests.

Polenta with Sausages and Mushrooms

For my first recipe, I chose “Polenta with Sausages and Mushrooms” from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Fast.  I worked last weekend, so had Monday and Tuesday off, and was thinking about this upcoming class, and of what I had seen of previous classes’ blogs when I signed up for WordPress. That got me thinking about whole grains, which I tend to like more than my husband does. That reminded me that when I was a kid in New England, I ate lots of cornmeal. I never thought about it being a healthy whole grain back then. So I started looking online for cornmeal recipes, and quickly came up with a couple I used to love: cornmeal pancakes and Indian Pudding. Then I started looking for supper recipes with cornmeal and instantly hit upon polenta, which I’ve never made. So I picked up some Bob’s Red Mill Coarse Grind Corn Meal at the grocery store, along with the remaining ingredients for this recipe.

When I got home from work on Wednesday, I began cooking.  In How to Cook Everything Fast, author Mark Bittman argues against the “mise en place” way cooking in favor of putting the pan on to heat, for example, while you chop the vegetables. For the most part, I stuck to the “mise en place” plan though, because I’d never made this recipe before, and I’m not as quick as Bittman. It helps me a lot to have everything measured and laid out before I turn the heat on.

The recipe involved simmering cornmeal in a saucepan on one burner for polenta, while sautéing sausage, onions and mushrooms on another burner as a stew to go on top. Luckily for me, Bittman’s recipe mentioned that it would be O.K. to add more milk or water to the cornmeal if it got too thick, because it kept turning into sludge every other minute (maybe because I bought the coarse grind?). Bittman’s suggestion of continuing to slice mushrooms and add them to the pan during sautéing worked well here, because I couldn’t possible have fit all one and a half pounds of mushrooms into my frying pan at once without waiting for some of them to cook down.

I was tense, watching both pots without knowing how this would turn out, but in the end it all worked out and made a quick and easy dinner.

My husband’s comment was, “Wow, that’s spicy.” (That was good, because he likes the hot sausage and I like the sweet sausage. I made this with the hot in the hope that he would like it.) Toward the end of cooking, I was surprised to realize how few ingredients were going into the stew. (When I’m sauteeing sausage, I’m usually making spaghetti sauce, so I thought there ought to be some tomato or something.) I was also surprised how MUCH it made. All those mushrooms really expanded the volume of stew, so there were plenty of leftovers. I felt good about serving a whole grain, and about using enough mushrooms so that each of us ate a smaller serving of meat for dinner.

In my opinion, the end result tasted terrific. It did lack color, though. It made me wish we had some carrot sticks or sliced peppers or something to serve with it. Here’s a picture of our grey but delicious dinner:

SausageStew

Epicurious Corn Pancakes

For my second recipe, I searched online for something I could make with the can of salmon I found in my pantry. I really felt I should be able to make another “supper” with the bounty stored in my pantry and fridge, but keeping in mind that my husband would want an animal protein as the centerpiece of his evening meal, I ran into difficulty. Usually, I would make a salmon loaf, but I had no crackers or bread crumbs to add to the salmon. Then I found an intriguing recipe for a Russian/Alaskan pie, “Salmon Perok.”  It started with a layer of cooked brown rice in the bottom of the pie plate, followed by a layer of caramelized onions (something my husband loves!), topped by the salmon, and then covered with a pie crust, and I had one premade pie crust still in my fridge from the holidays. However, once I searched my cupboard, I discovered no brown or white rice. I had lots of wild rice, which seemed to me would make this Alaskan dish even more delicious and Native American, but after 35 years or marriage I know for a fact that my husband’s not going to eat wild rice. I also had some black rice: ditto. I found some variations on the recipe online, using potato or cabbage, but I didn’t have either ingredient.  Finally I returned to the bag of cornmeal I purchased before the first class, and decided to make cornmeal pancakes for breakfast over the long, cold weekend.

I used to make cornmeal pancakes when I was 9 or 10 years old from a recipe in my mother’s Betty Crocker cookbook, which I believe was the 1956 edition. I searched online for that recipe, with no luck, and then chose a more elaborate recipe I found on Epicurious. The Epicurious recipe starts with mixing up the dry ingredients, the wet ingredients (including egg yolks), and whipping the egg whites in a third bowl.

Wet and dry ingredients are combined and then egg whites are folded in, half at a time.

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This resulted in a fluffy batter, and it was easy to fry it up into pancakes.

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These made a very filling breakfast, and I kept the leftover batter in the fridge overnight for a repeat the following morning.

Compared to my memory of the Betty Crocker cornmeal pancakes from my childhood, these were less sweet, even though the batter included some honey. In childhood, I was at first using the same type of de-germed cornmeal (non-whole grain) that is easy to find in grocery stores in 2016, although by my early teens we were buying stone ground cornmeal that had a better texture and was better tasting. The extra-course cornmeal I used for these pancakes was not the best choice. It didn’t have time to soak or cook, and was a little too crunchy on the first morning. I was curious to see whether these would improve on the second morning (or whether the cornmeal would soak up all the liquid from the ingredients and make the batter too thick to cook with). In fact, the batter was just as light and fluffy to use on the second day, but the pancakes were better because the crunchiness had softened.

Looking ahead, I’ve got the day off today, and will go grocery shopping again. I’m going to try to do a better job of buying the few items I need to combine with my pantry ingredients to serve supper every day without running to the store.