09 February 2016

Baked Oatmeal Squares

A wee bit healthier than chocolate chip cookies, but dessert-y enough to round out a properly indulgent coffee break, Swedish-style (If you don't already know and love the Swedish tradition known as fika, read about it.  It will make you want to move there.), these baked oatmeal squares can be justified anytime of day.  And they're pretty easy to make.

Baked Oatmeal Squares

1 1/2 cups old fashioned (not instant) rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup dried fruit or chocolate chips
1/4 cup seeds (i.e., sunflower, pumpkin, flax, sesame)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 cups skim milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix dry ingredients. Mix wet ingredients. Pour wet into dry. Stir to combine.
Pour into a 9×9 baking dish either coated in cooking spray or lined with parchment. Bake for 40 minutes. Cut into squares. Eat with strong coffee in the middle of the day. 

The variation pictured below includes pecans, chocolate chips, a combination of millet, flax seeds, and sunflower seeds, and a little coconut. 

05 February 2016

I tried Mark Bittman's Paella Master Recipe. It was OK.

Bittman's paella from NYT

I referenced Mark Bittman's latest cookbook, Kitchen Matrix, less than a month ago in this blog, and I still say it's a great book. It is written as a set of master recipes and basic techniques with ingredient options to cater to your tastes.  I have long admired Bittman's pedagogical approach to food writing, whether it's in the New York Times, his classic handbooks, How To Cook Everything and How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, or delivered charmingly on his various PBS shows. He is practical, flexible, and incredibly clear in his directions, and his recipes always turn out as promised (for me). So when I saw that Matrix contained a paella recipe, I jumped on it.  I remembered having it on various occasions during sea-faring vacations and loving it, but I have always been too intimidated to try to make it at home.  Partially because I live in a very landlocked place, and partly because I (therefore) have no experience cooking a good many of the creepy-crawlies that go into the dish, I never thought I should try it, until I saw Bittman's inviting instructions taking up no more than a page. So I got a packet of mixed frozen seafood and got to work.  

If you don't have access to Kitchen Matrix, you can also read his Paella Master Recipe on the New York Times site here. Basically, as he explains it, paella is rice and things, but what truly makes it paella is the lack of stirring, so that a crunchy, browned layer forms at the bottom of the pan. I followed his recipe, with this exception: instead of saffron, I used about half a packet of Goya sazon to season the rice.  I stand by that decision, as I really like the flavor, and it's way cheap, while saffron is far to precious for my taste. I also used water instead of stock, with a splash of red wine.

My flavoring agents were as follows: that mixed seafood packet, which contained mussels, shrimp, squid, and clams; a drained can of tomatoes, chopped Kalamata olives, half a zucchini, and some frozen peas; a chopped vegetarian sausage (why, you ask, when I'm already eating seafood? CANCER, that's why!), and of course the bell pepper and onion.  I also threw in  two minced cloves of garlic, because it's garlic.

As for the crunchy bottom, mine got a little closer to the black side of the spectrum, after having to add more water a couple of times until the rice was tender enough.  I probably should have lowered the heat more, and sooner; the rest of it I blame on the higher elevation (approx. 4700 feet above sea level), which can make cooking rice a little tricky. But again, a lower temp would have done the trick, so that one's on me. 

The result was...OK.  The shrimp were very rubbery and overcooked, but the rest of the seafood was a good consistency.  Everything else worked the way it should have.  It was a bit bland, and I found that generous squeezes of fresh lemon and hot sauce (Tapatio has a great chili flavor) helped, but I think that the nature of paella is actually to be quite bland.  So, in my cobwebbed memories of this dish, I think it was an accurate rendering, but I also discovered that, once the novelty wears off, it's kind of a boring meal. If you think you would like a very mild, tomatoey rice dish with bits of seafood and vegetables in it, this is a very user-friendly recipe to try.  If you want something truly exotic and/or brightly flavored, I would recommend Bittman's take on Asian dishes in the book, which are much more interesting and equally accessible to the home cook. 

My paella from Greeley, CO

02 February 2016

Italian Drunken Noodles

This fast and easy recipe is slightly sweet from the caramelized onion and pepper, earthy and boozy from the wine, and oily from the...well, oil.  What more could you want on a dark winter's night?

Italian Drunken Noodles

Serves 4

1 lb. pasta (stick or shape, whatever you like)
1 cup broccoli florets
Olive oil
2 spicy Italian sausage links, casings removed (I used veggie sausage by Field Roast)
4 oz. white mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 small onion, quartered and sliced thinly
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 orange bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
½ cup dry red wine
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Bring a large, well-salted pot of water to boil.  Cook the pasta al dente according to package directions, adding the broccoli in the last 4-5 minutes to cook until crisp-tender. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, place a large, heavy-bottom pan or over medium-low heat; add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and once the oil is hot, add the sliced onion and bell pepper and allow it to caramelize and become golden for roughly 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Increase the heat to medium, add the mushrooms, and crumble the sausage into the pan in small chunks, allowing it to brown in the oil for a few moments on each side; once the crumbled sausage is browned, add the salt, dried herbs, and cracked black pepper, and stir to combine. Next, add in the garlic, and once it becomes aromatic, add in the wine and allow it to reduce for a 3-4 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes with their juice and stir to combine; allow it to gently simmer for about 3-4 minutes to blend the flavors, then turn the heat off; to finish the sauce, drizzle in another 1-2 tablespoons of the olive oil to create a silky, rich. Stir in the cooked pasta and coat thoroughly with the sauce.  Garnish individual plates with grated Parmesan cheese, if desired. 

29 January 2016

Winter: It snows a lot, and also people watch football

You might be surprised to hear this, but I'm not much up on all of the various sportballs that are in season throughout the year.  I used to get invited to people's shabby apartments to watch the Superbowl when I was in grad school, but eventually people gave up on me.  I do know that drinking and eating fatty snacks are a part of that tradition, and for that reason, I almost regret never joining the festivities.  But really, you can drink and eat garbage without having to watch people ruin their lives with massive concussions any ol' time, right?

Which brings me to the other thing I am tired of hearing about on Facebook: snow.  It has snowed here in the Rockies, it snowed somewhat in the Southeast last week, it snows a terrible amount every week in the Great Lakes.  It is winter.  You don't need to complain about it, though you can post beautiful photos of your magically transformed backyard (sans whining) and/or fun outdoor adventures all you want, and I will "like" every single one of them.  I don't spend all summer whining about having to sweat, because for some reason no one can relate to this complaint. You should not spend all winter whining about getting to snowshoe and wear awesome sweaters, because I think that is stupid.

That was all a slightly offensive prelude to winter things I want to celebrate this weekend, and hopefully with the help of these links to clever peoples' sites, this list will enrich your weekend, too. New year's resolution: be more sassy. Check.

Drinking: Thank you, Bustle, for encouraging day drinking with the delicious-sounding spiked hot chocolate recipes. #4 (picture above) is definitely my favorite.

If you're feeling sad that tequila is getting left out here, try adding it to your mulled hot cider in place of rum (better try both): dump a gallon of apple cider into a Dutch oven or similarly large vessel, and add 1 large orange studded generously with cloves (great project for someone stationary who's not helping enough), 2 cinnamon sticks, and 1 dried star anise (optional). Simmer over medium-low heat until it's good and hot, and let it cook for as long as you like--the flavors get stronger with time. Add the rum or tequila directly to your cup to avoid cooking off the precious alcohol.

Eating Garbage: Or not.  Oh My Veggies has some great ideas for indulgent snacks that seem pretty junky, but aren't that bad for you. These Oven baked pickle chips are THE BEST:

Going Outside: I've posted pretty recently on showshoeing and ice skating in the Rockies, and if you're not coming out here anytime soon, you can easily search for opportunities to do the same in your neck of the woods.  Add to your list of stuff to look up: sledding.  Don't you miss it?  And if you don't miss it because you never did it as a kid, then you really owe it to yourself to get out and sled now.  Because there are few activities that make it OK for a grown adult to roll around on the ground and scream bloody murder while narrowly missing head-on collisions with large trees.  It's a real rush, I tell ya.