Follow by Email

Monday, April 14, 2014

Indian-Inspired Split Peas and Vegetables

I cannot claim that this is any kind of authentic food from any part of Asia, but the combination of yellow split peas, typically far eastern seasonings, and some familiar vegetables should work for most Americans to bring the flavor of an Indian restaurant into their own kitchen.

   Split Peas and Vegetables, Indian Style

8 oz yellow split peas
olive oil—about 2 T
2 c chopped onions
1 large jalapeno, seeded and all white membranes removed—chopped (for more heat, use more jalapeno or chop some of the membrane into the mix)
3 c carrots, sliced
2 to 3 c finely shredded cabbage
½ t turmeric
½ t coriander
1 t curry powder or to taste
2 T vegetable broth powder
½ t cumin
1 c chopped cilantro, leaves and stems
1/3 c unsweetened applesauce (optional)

1.            Rinse the split peas until the water runs clear. Cover with water, about an inch above the peas. Cover and simmer until soft. See the following comments about cooking with yellow split peas on the amount of time needed for cooking. (This step can be done ahead of time, with the peas refrigerated or even frozen until you are ready to add them.)
2.            Sauté the onions and jalapeno in the olive oil for about 5 minutes. Stir in the carrots and lower heat to medium. Continue cooking for a few minutes, until the carrots are just starting to become tender.
3.            Stir in the cabbage and seasonings, adding a small amount of water as necessary to keep the mixture from sticking. Cover and simmer another 5 minutes or until the cabbage is just barely tender. Add liquid as needed to keep the mixture moist. (Water, broth, or even tomato or apple juice can be used for this liquid.)
4.            Stir the cooked split peas and applesauce into the vegetables. Taste again and adjust for seasoning before simmering together for a few minutes to meld the flavors. 

Serve with rice or naan.   

Cooking with Yellow Split Peas

When you begin cooking with dried beans, lentils, and peas, you will quickly learn that the length of time it takes to cook a particular batch can vary quite a bit, depending on how old the beans are. Perhaps because yellow split peas are less commonly purchased in my area, I have found that most of the time the ones I buy require much more cooking time than the green variety. 

Unlike dried beans, split peas don't generally have to be pre-soaked, and you will find many recipes that add them directly to other ingredients without any pre-cooking or preparation. However, after having an experience or two where I had to choose between having hard little nuggets of peas or very overcooked vegetables, I have found the approach in this recipe the best: cook the peas separately until they are almost done and then add them to your other ingredients to finalize the cooking and blend the flavors.  

So how long should you allow for cooking the peas? If they are "fresh," 30 to 45 minutes will be needed without pre-soaking. However, older peas (indistinguishable in the bag or bin unfortunately) could take twice as long. If you suspect you are dealing with peas that have been dried for some time, you can pre-soak for a few hours, just cook for a longer time, or use a pressure cooker, if you have one. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Toast the Old-Fashioned Way

Though I have had a toaster in my home all my life, I rarely use this appliance and have it tucked away in a corner cabinet, behind a crockpot and a stack of cake pans. Not too long ago, I had some homemade bread a little less fresh than I wanted for a sandwich. Toasting is a great way to use bread that is still flavorful but just this side of stale, so it seemed time to drag out the toaster.

For one little sandwich? All that cabinet clearing just for one little sandwich? There had to be a better way.

And indeed there is. In fact, now that I have been reminded of this ancient method for making toast, I may never drag out the toaster again.

Almost as long as people have been making bread, they have been making some kind of toast. The earliest method seems to have been to put chunks of bread on a stick and hold them over a fire, much like we might toast marshmallows. Later when pans were hung over a fire area, bread began being toasted there. Only in the late 19th century did the toaster that we know today become a reality, and people continued with the more old-fashioned approach for years after the pop-up toaster became a standard appliance in most western kitchens.

Now, in a step backward in time, I have come to love the more old-fashioned approach, for several reasons:
  • It requires no specialized appliance, a nice thing when one's kitchen storage space is limited
  • All sizes and shapes of bread can be toasted, even the little ones that always seem to fall way down in the slots and need fishing out (dangerously, if you don't unplug the thing) with a fork or knife

  • The final product can be much lower in fat than a slice of toast taken out of the toaster and buttered while hot
  • This method may actually be quicker than a pop-up toaster, especially if you have several slices of bread that you want to toast.
  • This method leads right into grilled sandwiches of all kinds, just by adding fillings of your choice. 

Basics of Old Fashioned Toasting

The best pan for this is a cast iron (of course!) skillet or griddle, large enough to place several slices of bread flat in the bottom. If you don't have cast iron, any heavy, flat pan will do. Because you will be preheating the empty pan, avoid non-stick cookware.
Canola oil or olive oil, flavored if desired, are probably the best fats, but butter can also be used, by itself or mixed with a little oil. If using butter, you will have to be more watchful to be sure the toast doesn't burn.
It will be easier to do this on a gas stove rather than an electric one because of the responsiveness of the flame, but either range will work.

  1. Heat the empty pan over medium high heat, adding only enough oil to barely cover the bottom. Even in a 12 inch skillet, you may not need more than a teaspoon.
  2. To test if the oil is hot enough, drop a few large crumbs into the pan. They should "dance"  and sputter a bit if the pan is hot enough.
  3. Arrange slices of bread flat on the pan. Allow to toast for a few minutes.  Lift a corner now and then to check on the progress; as you become comfortable with the length of time needed, you'll find yourself doing this less and less.
  4. When the first side is browned to your preference, flip the slices and continue toasting until done.
If a second set of slices will be toasted, add a bit more oil as needed. However, you may be surprised at how very little fat is needed with a well-seasoned cast iron skillet.

Other things you can do

Once you become proficient with this method of toasting, you can do all kinds of things, like toasting the bread for your sandwiches and grilling the fillings at the same time or toasting a couple of slices of bread and then, with a few more drops of oil added, frying up an egg or two in the same pan for breakfast with minimal clean up. And, as the photo below shows, you can even slice up slightly stale rolls into rounds that could be a great  base for your favorite bruschetta toppings.

Using up stale bread

And you can even turn dinner rolls, hot dog buns, etc., into garlic bread, mini-pizza bases, or toasts for using with spinach dip, etc. Talk about frugal--no more stale bread that has to be thrown away!

 As shown below, take a sandwich roll and slice it like a mini-loaf of bread, with most rolls able to be cut into four slices. Toast  these slices just as for full bread slices. The rounded part of the top slice of the roll can be pressed gently to be sure that all parts are toasted.

So that's it. Toast without a toaster. How easy is that!

Leftover Salads


Images of warmed over, unappetizing lumps of food kind of plopped on a plate or microwaved in a sad looking take out container. Rarely does the term have any kind of positive image. Still, if you are trying to be a more frugal cook, using up leftovers needs to be part of your "kitchen skills."

Maybe you can revitalize your attitude toward leftovers if you start to think of these ingredients in the refrigerator as "idea starters," "creativity makers" for coming meals.

My mother was a creative cook, and she always found ways to u leftovers so they were appetizing and never dull. Probably one of the biggest disappointments with her leftover cooking was the problem of duplication. I remember often having a main dish that was so wonderful, we all asked her to make it again and, if there were guests, there would be requests for the recipe. Her answer would have to be, sorry, but I just stirred some leftovers together and then tasted for seasoning. Since there would never again be quite this same combination of ingredients to work with, that very appealing "casserole" or stew or soup couldn't be exactly re-created.

I was reminded of this today as I stirred up a main dish salad. After a potluck this weekend, a friend shared a wonderful pasta salad, enough for several servings. Yesterday I had some of this with turkey breast and squash, but today I wanted to lighten it up, and have enough to share with several guests. There was also just a tiny smidge--about 2 to 3 tablespoons--of the coleslaw I had made last weekend (posted here Though the weather has turned cold again, it still was a day for a main dish salad with warm homemade rolls on the side, so it was time to make a Leftover Salad.

Salads like this are great for this time of the year, when I try very much to avoid the hard imported tomatoes that are the only fresh ones available. Some of the other summer salad ingredients are also harder to find. I haven't gone completely to local foods, but I do like to stay at least somewhat with the seasons as I choose salad ingredients. There were radishes and green onions on special this week, both very springlike tastes for me, and Aldi's was featuring cucumbers and mixed color bell peppers at very reasonable prices. (Yes, I know they aren't local, but the price was such that I could splurge a little here.) There is still cabbage in the crisper and some nice fresh spinach for color, so a salad could be pulled together quickly. The pasta salad and coleslaw each brought some dressing into the bowl, so I just tasted and added a little more (ranch dressing for this combination) as needed to dress the salad well.

The final salad proved to be just right for a hearty lunch. Some fresh strawberries (also on sale this week) and orange wedges made a great finale, and everyone had at least four servings of vegetables and fruit all in one colorful package.

Following is what I used in this salad, along with some suggestions for other additions that might be made. Note that the amounts given are very approximate and should definitely be varied, depending on what you have on hand.  When using something like a pasta or chicken salad, the key is to add this in small portions to the greens and then tossing the mixture well so that the thicker salads don't remain as big unmixed lumps in the overall dish.

Today's Leftover Salad

6 to 7 romaine lettuce leaves, coarsely chopped
about 1 to 2 c fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
2 to 4 large radishes, sliced
about 1/3 large cucumber, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, coarsely diced
1 to 2 t finely chopped onion, to taste
1 to 2 T sliced black olives
2 c coarsely shredded cabbage
about 1 to 1 1/2 c pasta salad
about 1/2 c cole slaw, including dressing
ranch dressing (or dip) to taste

Toss all ingredients together and taste for seasoning, adding dressing as needed to moisten appropriately.

Other possible add-ins:
diced or shredded cheese, any variety
crumbled bacon or artificial bacon bits
diced turkey, chicken, ham, or roast beef
chopped hard-boiled egg
other lettuces or greens
broccoli, peas, corn, or other leftover cooked vegetables
shredded red cabbage
grated carrot
diced celery
broccoli or cauliflower
sliced mushrooms
nuts, sunflower seeds, etc.

Dressing choices:
The nice thing about including some "pre-made" salad leftovers is that you will be able to take advantage of the dressing already on that part of your ingredients. What is already included in your mix may well guide you in the rest of your dressing. For today's salad, the pasta had a mayonnaise dressing that had many of the same herbs as ranch dressing, so that was my choice for finishing the salad. Had the pasta salad been made with a basil flavored vinaigrette, I might have mixed up a little more oil and vinegar dressing or pulled a bottle of similar dressing from the refrigerator. The cole slaw's sweet and tangy vinegar dressing went well with the ranch dressing but would have also blended well with many others as well.

...or Fruits and a sweeter salad:
You can also take your salad in an entirely different direction by adding in fresh (diced apple, pear, banana, pineapple, strawberries, etc.) or dried (cranberries, raisins, diced dried apricot) fruits. My preference is to keep these sweeter elements out of salads that are more savory or vegetable-oriented, but feel free to expand your horizons with these leftovers as well. Who knows when you might come up with your own special, never to be quite duplicated recipe too!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Best. Cole Slaw. Ever

Okay, so maybe t"the best cole slaw ever" is just a little too emphatic, but this recipe is one that I have been making for decades, and it always is greeted with acclamation and requests for the recipe. Now that I have a stockpile of cabbages from the St Patrick's Day sales, I have made a huge batch for a couple of dinners for others this week.

First, the original from a Midwestern church cookbook my mother had in her large collection. Unfortunately I didn't write down the specific title when I completed the now stained and faded recipe card. Since this makes such a large batch, I am also providing an adjusted version that is the
amount I usually use. However, you may want to go ahead and make a large batch while you have the processor or cutting board out, since this keeps in the refrigerator for as long as two weeks.

This can also be frozen. Be aware that, after thawing, the frozen slaw will have a slightly softer texture, almost reminiscent of good quality sauerkraut. Still a very refreshing, and slightly crunchy, salad with fish or lots of other meats.  (The photo at the top was taken after the slaw had been frozen.)

Overnight Cabbage Salad

1 large head cabbage
1 large or two medium bell peppers
1 large Bermuda onion

Grate together and cover with 1 c sugar and set aside.

Meanwhile, mix together in pan and bring to a boil:
  • 1 c vinegar--I usually use cider vinegar
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 t celery seed
  • 3/4 c oil
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 t dry mustard
Pour over cabbage while still hot. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, but best after being refrigerated overnight.
Serves 10 to 12.
(If you are looking for more specific amounts, use 4 to 4 1/2 pounds of cabbage, and a total of about 1 1/4 pounds of onions and peppers.)

Refrigerator Cole Slaw

6 to 7 cups finely shredded cabbage
2 c diced bell pepper--use a mixture of colors or 1 whole pepper of your choice
1 c finely chopped onion
1/3 to 1/2 c sugar, to taste
1/2 c cider or wine vinegar
1 T sugar
1/2 t celery seed
1/3 c olive or canola oil
1 1/2 t salt
1/2 t dry mustard OR 1 T prepared yellow mustard

1.  Combine the cabbage, bell pepper, and onion in a large bowl. Sprinkle the sugar over the vegetables and set aside.
2.  Combine the vinegar, tablespoon of sugar, celery seeds, oil, salt, and mustard in a small saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil and immediately pour over the cabbage mixture.
3. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

  • Add in 1 to 2 cups shredded carrots and/or diced celery.
  • Substitute dill seed for celery seed. If desired, a few sprigs of fresh dill can also be added.
  • While red cabbage may add lots of color, do NOT add to this mixture, as the dressing will cause its color to bleed into the entire recipe. If you want to use red cabbage for color, finely shred a small amount and stir it in just before serving

Corn Bread

When I was growing up, I was often jealous of those around me who had "ethnic" backgrounds that gave them lots of unusual foods and celebrations. A Midwestern farm kid whose family had been in the US since as far back as the 18th century, our food seemed plain and ordinary at times. Oh,  there were lots of summer garden meals with corn on the cob, tomatoes straight from the garden and big bowls of creamy mashed potatoes served alongside the chicken or beef that came from our very own farm animals. At Christmas, we made pfefferneuse, but these spicy German cookies were from a recipe shared by a good friend of my parents. When my sister married a Norwegian, we got to sample krumkake for the first time, and an Italian exchange student shared stories of what "real" pizza was like back in his home town.

Still, what "ethnic" food did we really have? I guess it took a move to the mountains of Virginia to start to understand that our cuisine really was a little bit unique. It didn't take very long to learn that stuffing (or dressing) at Thanksgiving could be very dry, with lots of cornbread and not at all like the much more moist recipe I had eaten all my life to that point.

And beans and cornbread? Ah, that is when I realized I really did still have some New England roots.

One evening, I invited a neighbor child to stay for dinner. What are you having was her first question, so I said we'd be having beans and cornbread. "My favorite," she squealed, so she called her mom and the permission was given.

Soon enough, we were sitting down to eat, and I brought the dark brown, molasses and mustard spiced beans out of the oven and placed the hot casserole next to the basket of still steaming yellow cornbread squares. As she gazed at the dishes before her, Marla's shoulders sagged and her expectant smile turned into a sad little face.

"I thought we were having beans and cornbread," she whispered.

"But we are," I explained, and then I stopped. I had been at another neighbor's home just a few days before and watched as she dumped pinto beans into a large pot and began cooking them for the evening meal. She stirred in some salt, but that was the extent of the seasoning she used. When I asked for the rest of the recipe, she said that was it; she hadn't had time to pick up any bacon or fatback to add to the beans, but this would be fine with the greens she was also cooking for the meal.

Then I thought back to some cornbread I had seen served at a restaurant near our home. It was flat and hard and "lily-livered" white, very different from the golden, sweet, and moist side I had enjoyed all my life.

Aha! The difference in regional cuisine couldn't have been illustrated more starkly. Marla gamely tried the dishes she was served and then, as I recall, we made some peanut butter sandwiches to make sure she didn't go home hungry. And though I have since learned to love pinto beans in their many (mostly Mexican) guises, I have not moved from my "classic" corn bread recipe--maybe the closest thing to an "ethnic food" I can summon up.

As presented below, this is virtually the same as the now stained recipe card from my high school home ec class. I now use stone-ground cornmeal exclusively, and I use either all butter, canola oil, or some combination of the two. I often substitute up to half of the flour with whole wheat flour, and I have discovered that the original four teaspoons of baking powder is really not necessary.

Following the main recipe is a variation using biscuit mix, making this an even quicker quick bread, and then, instructions for making a cast iron skillet cornbread that has a lovely crunchy crust even as the center is moist and rich with sweet corn flavor.  (Sorry, friends from the south, but I just have to call this the "real" recipe.)

The "Real" Corn Bread

1 c yellow corn meal
1 c flour
¼ c sugar
1 T baking powder
½ t salt
1 egg
1 c milk*
¼ c soft shortening

1. Sift dry ingredients together.
2 Add egg, milk, and shortening. Beat with egg beater till smooth, about 1 minute. 
3. Pour into a well oiled 8 or 9 inch square pan. 
4. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. (If a glass pan is used, reduce temperature to 400 degrees.)

*May substitute 1 cup water and 1/3 c nonfat dry milk powder. Mix the powder with the other dry ingredients. 

Serve warm or cold, with butter and jam or honey, or as a wonderful side for chili.

This doubles easily--use a 9 X 13 pan.

Biscuit Mix Variation

1 ¼ c biscuit mix (Bisquick for example)
1 c cornmeal
¼ c sugar
1 c milk
1 egg

Prepare as in original recipe.

Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread

Put about a tablespoon of the butter into a 9 or 10 inch cast iron skillet and put the skillet in the oven.
Turn the oven to 425 degrees and proceed to stirring up the cornbread.
When the oven has reached its full temperature, carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven and swirl to be sure the butter covers the entire bottom of the pan.
Spread the batter into the hot pan and return it to the oven. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes.

One more thing--while you are mixing up a batch and have all the ingredients out for measuring,  measure out the dry ingredients for another batch (or more) directly into a quart-sized freezer bag. (This is especially good using the dry milk variation, stirring in the powder with the other dry ingredients.) Use your hands to mix the ingredients in the bag and label with date and information on the liquid ingredients needed, and you will have a "mix" just as convenient at one of those little boxes you might buy in the store--without all the extra preservatives and at a lot better price! These can be kept on the shelf for a few weeks and in the refrigerator for even longer.

Note the following photo. If you get a few cracks in the top of your baked cornbread--don't worry! That is just the way this quick bread sometimes bakes. In fact, it just shows that you have baked this yourself, from scratch.