Stuff and Nonsense: rice and grains

Showing posts with label rice and grains. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rice and grains. Show all posts


Making Martha Stewarts "Asian-Style Chicken and Rice"

After therapy last week, I popped into the Asian market across street for a big bowl of tonkotsu ramen and a poke around the produce section. The produce section is small, but always packed with amazingly cheap and delicious things and it's difficult not to go buyallthethings. Having only a vague idea of what I needed/wanted for the weekend, I picked up a pound of shiitake mushrooms ($3!), a ridiculously large bouquet of scallions, and a fat bundle lemongrass.

While I wasn't sure what I'd end doing with the lemongrass stalks, I had a faint memory of a bookmarking a Martha Stewart chicken-thighs-and-shiitakes recipe that seemed like it might make excellent comfort food on a snowy weekend. The recipe "Asian-Style Chicken and Rice" does not get high reviews, but I chose to go ahead and make it, anyway, as many of the complaints were about the dish's lack of flavor, not about cooking method or gaps in the recipe. Flavor is subjective, after all, and there was never any chance I was ever going to limit myself to four scallions or three garlic cloves, anyway.

Changes I made:
I ended up doubling the amount of shiitake, garlic, and scallions.
I also seasoned the chicken with five-spice powder (in addition to the salt and pepper) and crisped it using a combination of sesame and olive oil.
I didn't have quite enough arborio rice, so subbed in enough carnaroli rice to cover the difference. (Like arborio, carnaroli is a medium-grained rice that is used in risottos. However, carnaroli holds its shape better during long, slow cooking).
After the chicken and rice had cooking for twenty-five minutes, I took the lid off and let it cook for another five as there was still a bit of liquid in the pot.

The Husband and I both enjoyed this chicken rice dish and look forward to eating the leftovers for lunch. Admittedly the reviewers were right to complain that the flavor was not strongly "Asian" and, next time, I might use something like Pacific Foods Organic Chicken Pho Soup Starter or Simply Asia Japanese Inspired Ramen Soy Ginger Chicken Broth to boost the flavor a bit more. That said, it is deliciously creamy and chicken-y.


#ImprovCooking: Asparagus & Cream

I've made Betty Crocker's "Baked Vegetable Risotto" several times now and it is always uniformly delicious. Pairs really well with grilled salmon or chicken -- just add a green salad and a bottle of wine and you have a meal that seems rather fancy without being a giant time-sink.

Of course, being me, I couldn't leave well enough alone, and decided to try it with asparagus and cream for this month's Improv Cooking Challenge. I used very thin stalks of tender young asparagus in order to keep the cooking time the same as the original recipe. If you have thicker stalks, you might want to blanch the asparagus first -- much depends on how firm you prefer cooked asparagus. The Husband likes very tender asparagus, so that's what I aimed for.

Asparagus & Mushroom Oven-Baked Risotto

Yield: 4-6 as a side dish


  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 oz chopped sweet onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 8 oz sliced mushrooms
  • 1 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning blend
  • 1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
  • 14.5 oz low-sodium fat-free chicken broth
  • ½ pint container heavy cream
  • 10 oz very thin stalks tender young asparagus, trimmed & chopped into ⅓-inch pieces (leave tips whole for max prettiness)
  • 10 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 4 oz shredded Italian cheese blend


  1. Heat oven to 400°F. Heat olive oil in 2 1/2-quart French/Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, mushrooms, and seasoning bend. Cook 3 to 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mushrooms start to soften.
  2. Add rice. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add broth and cream; heat to boiling.
  3. Cover pan. Transfer to oven. Bake 15 minutes.
  4. Stir in asparagus, cherry tomatoes, and half of the cheese. Cover; bake 10 to 15 minutes longer or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. Stir in remaining half of cheese and serve.

The #ImprovCookingChallenge is a monthly blogging event where two ingredients are assigned to a month. Bloggers can make any recipe they like as long as it features the two ingredients. If you are a blogger and would like to join us, please visit our Facebook page.You can also read more about the event on our our home page.

If you’d like to see previous creations, check out our Pinterest board.


Improv Cooking Challenge: Apples & Honey

September's Improv Challenge Cooking ingredients were apples and honey. Classic fall flavors, they'd usually inspire me to bake some variety of yumptious bundt cake, but ... it's still in the 80s here and very humid, making baking very much a NOPE.

So here's a simple, yet tasty, autumnal-ish salad. Featuring lots of whole grains, protein, healthy fats, and whatnot, it's rather healthy and you can feel righteous while you eat it (if that's your thing).

This salad is delicious as written, but I can see that it would also make a very good base for all sorts of variations, depending on what's in the pantry and fridge. For example, I think a combination of dried cranberries, hazelnuts, and chopped kale could be quite tasty!

Quinoa Apple Salad

Yield: 2


  • 4 oz cooked quinoa, cooled
  • 2 oz baby spinach, chopped
  • 1 oz walnuts, chopped
  • 1 oz dried tart cherries, chopped
  • 3 oz cored, chopped Granny Smith apple
  • ½ oz shallot, minced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp runny apple blossom honey [or your favorite variety]
  • Salt & pepper to taste


  1. Combine cooked quinoa, spinach, walnuts, cherries, apple, and shallot in a large serving bowl.
  2. Whisk together oil, vinegar, and honey in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Pour dressing mixture over quinoa mixture; toss to coat. Adjust seasoning as needed.
  4. Best if allowed to rest for 20 minutes before serving. (If refrigerating, allow to come to room temperature before serving.)

While this makes a lovely light vegetarian lunch all on its own, feel free to add crumbled feta cheese (and/or sliced grilled chicken breast if you do meat) to make it more filling for larger appetites. One serving on its own at lunch kept me going until supper, but then I found I did need to add a little chicken to keep me going through the evening shift.

For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the second Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.


Easy Yellow Rice

We eat a fair amount of rice -- certainly, enough so to justify my totally awesome/adorable rice cooker -- and I usually make it with medium-grain white rice, low-sodium chicken broth, roasted garlic powder, parsley, salt, pepper, and a bit of butter. It's good rice, but it gets a little samey-samey so, lately, I've been experimenting.

I made this yellow rice as I would usually make rice, but added ½ tsp turmeric, 1 tsp roasted garlic powder, ½ tsp black pepper, and a pinch of salt to the broth before starting the pot. When the rice was done, I stirred in a cup of partially-thawed peas and carrots and let everything sit for 15 min or so while I finished the main dish. As I'd hoped, the rice came out a beautiful golden color and was fragrant with garlic. The peas and carrots were heated through, but retained their firmness -- I definitely did not want squishy carrots.

Medium-grain white rice is pretty much the standard rice I use for everything. Medium-grain rice is, unsurprisingly, shorter and plumper than long-grain rice. In my experience, it's also a little bit stickier. I find that I prefer its flavor and texture to long-grain white and now use it wherever I would use long-grain.


Improv Challenge: Lamb & Rice

I really struggled with this month's Improv Challenge ... which is a bit surprisingly, considering how much I love lamb! My problem was that while I could think up many yummy ways to prepare lamb, the rice basically remained a surface to serve it on. It was never lamb and rice, but lamb with rice. I was probably overthinking the whole thing, but I really wanted the lamb and rice to form a stronger partnership ...

So. Here. "Greek Style" slow cooker lamb and rice stuffed peppers. They're mixed together all higgledy-piggledy and stuffed in a pepper. It doesn't get much more "and" than that, does it?

When I made these peppers the first time, I cooked them on High for 4 hours and that was too hot too long as the peppers just disintegrated when I tried to remove them from the slow cooker. They were delicious, yes, but not very nice to look at, so I tried them again on Low for 4 hours and they were, while clearly cooked, firmer. Unfortunately, I only took pictures of the falling apart fail peppers, so you will just have to believe me! And the falling-apart-peppers were delicious -- like very sweet roasted peppers -- just rather messy and unpretty.

Flavor-wise, I use crushed tomatoes, onion, garlic, Greek seasoning blend and cinnamon to try to create a filling that tasted something like the meat-and-rice stuffed dolmades I buy at the local Greek festival. The goat cheese is just there because it seemed like a good idea, but it's not really necessary and can easily be omitted. Or, maybe, just stir the cheese into the meat and rice mixture before you stuff the peppers?

Also, while you certainly could make rice for this dish, I just used brown rice leftover from Chinese takeout. It was a bit clumpy, so I crumbled it between my fingers to break it up as I added it to the skillet.

"Greek Style" Slow Cooker Stuffed Peppers

Yield: 4 peppers


  • 4 large red bell peppers
  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 3 oz minced red onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 14 oz canned crushed tomatoes
  • 8 oz cooked brown rice
  • 1 Tbsp Greek seasoning blend [Penzeys]
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 oz goat cheese crumbles
  • &frac; cup low-sodium fat-free chicken broth


  1. Trim tops off bell peppers. Remove ribs and seeds. Set aside.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add lamb and cook until no pink remains.
  3. Remove lamb from skillet to a fine mesh strainer or colander set over a large bowl and let fat drip through.
  4. Meanwhile, add onion and garlic to empty skillet and cook, stirring regularly, until onion softens and garlic is fragrant.
  5. Add drained lamb back to the skillet along with the tomatoes, rice, seasoning blend, and cinnamon. Set aside.
  6. Stuff peppers with lamb mixture and arrange in slow cooker. Pour broth AROUND peppers. Cook on LOW for 4 hrs.
  7. Remove lid. Sprinkle tops of peppers with goat cheese. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes.


Simple Slow Cooker Steel-Cut Oats

I'm enrolled in a life-style modification program at local cardiology center and I'm really enjoying it. The physician assistant I see is very kind and has, so far, managed to make the program seem fun and interesting. Currently, we're focusing on adding good sources of whole grains and fiber to my diet in ways my sensitive gut will tolerate. Oatmeal seems just the ticket -- steel cut oats are easily digested, rich in dietary fiber, have a low glycemic index, and are a good source of protein.

The PA recommended microwaving steel cut outs for a quick breakfast, but I've slow cooked them in the past with good results and that's what I decided to go back to. I don't cook the oats with much in the way of added ingredients or any sweeteners, for that matter, as I prefer to add those things when I reheat them.

Slow Cooker Apple Almond Oatmeal

Yield:Approximately 5 1-cup servings


  • 1 cup steel-cut oats
  • 4 cups Almond Breeze Original Unsweetened Almondmilk Coconutmilk Blend
  • 1 cup diced unsweetened dried apples
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon


  1. Coat slow cooker insert with cooking spray. Add all ingredients and stir to combine.
  2. Cook on LOW 6 hours, stirring occasionally.

When I reheated the oatmeal, I stirred in a little more almond-coconut milk to loosen it up and sprinkled it with flaked almonds and ground flaxseed. I didn't add any sweetener as the oatmeal seemed sweet enough from the apples and almond milk blend.

Why almond milk? The PA recommended it as unsweetened almond milk is low calorie, contains no saturated fat or cholesterol, contains vitamins E and B12 as well as healthy fats that may help reduce my bad cholesterol levels. I'm not sure I'm ready to add the stuff to my tea, but it tastes just fine in oatmeal!


Improv Challenge: Pork & Rice

Baby, it's cold outside! And blustery! And greygreyGREY. What better time of year for a big spicy pot of carbs and meat? I kept thinking I had more time for January's Improv Challenge (pork and rice), than I did ... and then it was Tuesday and I realized I'd been so obsessed with Good Cheap Eats' pantry challenge and reading library books that I'd completely forgotten about the Improv. I knew no-one would hold it against me if I skipped January, but I felt that the ingredients were so basic I should be able to come up with something.

(On the plus side, except for the chorizo, all the other ingredients were already in-house. So, yay for that!)

I used Supremo fresh Mexican chorizo for this recipe, because I knew I wanted loose meat and not chunks of cured/dried sausage and that was all my grocery store had for fresh. It's packaged in inedible plastic casings and I just cut off the ends and squeezed the meat out like toothpaste. That sounds kind-of disgusting, I know, but it cooked up delicious.

Chorizo Rice & Bean Pot

Serves: 6


  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 14 oz fresh Mexican chorizo [Supremo]
  • 1 cup medium grain white rice [Goya]
  • 14½ oz can no salt added diced fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained [Muir Glen]
  • 1½ cups low-sodium chicken broth [Pacific Organic]
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 14½ oz can low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed


  1. In a large pot over medium heat, sauté onion, garlic, and chorizo, bashing the meat with a spoon to break it up as it cooks, until onion is tender and chorizo is cooked and crumbled (about 8 -10 minutes).
  2. Drain off most of the fat, leaving approximately 1 tablespoon behind. Stir in rice and sauté for 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add tomatoes and broth. Bring pot to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. Stir in beans and corn. Cook 10 minutes more or until heated through. Season to taste.
I didn't add any seasoning to this -- not even salt and pepper -- because I found the chorizo added enough flavor on its own, but YMMV. Also, while we ate this dish in bowls with a little salsa and sour cream on top and found it good, it was even better the next day mixed with a little cheese and used as filling for burritos.


A Soggy Saturday Means Soup

This soup is based on a Taste of Home recipe for "Stuffed Pepper Soup" that went a little awry. First, I intended to simply halve the original recipe. Then, I thought it needed additional seasoning. Then, I realized the original recipe wanted cooked rice instead of raw. So mine is a very rice-y soup. But still yummy!

Stuffed Pepper Soup

Yield: 6 generous servings


  • 1 lb ground beef [Nature's Promise Organics]
  • 1 small red onion, chopped [Farmers Market]
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped [Connecticut Garlic & Harvest Festival]
  • 2 32 oz containers beef stock [Nature's Promise Organics]
  • 28 oz crushed fire-roasted tomatoes [Muir Glen]
  • 1 cup medium grain rice
  • 1 large chopped green pepper [Farmers Market]
  • 2 Tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher flake salt
  • 1 Tbsp parsley flakes
  • 1 Tbsp salt-free Italian seasoning blend [Penzeys]


  1. Heat olive oil in a French oven. Add onions, garlic, and beef and cook until beef is no longer pink.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients; bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat; cover and gently simmer for 30-40 minutes or until rice is cooked the way you like it.
Medium-grain rice became my white rice standard in 2010 when The Husband bought a bag by mistake. Medium-grain rice is, unsuprisingly, shorter and plumper than long-grain rice. In my experience, it's also a little bit stickier. I find that I prefer it's flavor and texture and now use it wherever I would use long-grain white rice.


Plated: Cheesy Quinoa Stuffed Tomatoes

When I selected Plated's "Cheesy Quinoa Stuffed Tomatoes," I was pretty sure I was taking a big risk at it simply isn't the kind of thing The Husband would ever consider eating. Indeed, when it came down to it, I completely chickened out on serving it to him and kept all the tomatoes to myself. He was happy in his ignorance and I was in heaven. Who knew mixing quinoa with goat cheese could make it so darn delicious?!

Ingredients straight out of the box
Unwrapped ingredients
Obviously, this dish would be better in a few months when tomatoes are in season, but roasting makes most vegetables taste better and these pale, refrigerated tomatoes were no exception. They turned out juicy and flavorful and I was quite pleased to not have to share them.

I did not think the instructions for preparing the quinoa were very good -- not enough time or liquid -- so I chose to make them The Kitchn way and with low-sodium fat-free chicken broth instead of water. Other than that, the instructions were fine and I didn't have any trouble preparing this "plate."

The salad dressing was surprisingly tasty. Creamy balsamic is never something I'd ever considered and the color was a little off-putting, put the flavor was good and I'd definitely make it again. The recipe made a little more than I needed and I'll probably use the extra on that head of butter lettuce I forgot to serve with the seared salmon.

Every bite was delicious!
I had two tomatoes for lunch the day I made them and then took the others to work over the following days, packing the tomatoes separately from the (undressed) salad so they could be reheated in the toaster oven. They reheated well and made an elegant meal there in the staff room amongst the snack machines and work safety posters.

So that's my first Plated box done with and I can't wait for my next!


Eating A to Z: B is for Bay Boletes & Barley

I've found that Polish import shops are excellent places to pick up an interesting variety of good quality dried mushrooms for much less than regular grocery stores or, godloveaduck, Williams-Sonoma. Unfortunately, as a non-Polish speaker, I'm frequently at a loss as to what kind of mushroom I'm purchasing. This doesn't stop me, of course, and when I get home and run them through Google Translate, I find they're never so weird that I don't know what to do with them.

Most recently I purchased a 20 gram package of dried Bay Bolete. Bay Bolete is found in both North America and Europe and, according to the internets, make a perfectly okay substitute for porcini. They dry very easily and can be used in soups, stews, and sauces.

Mushroom & Barley Soup

Of course, I used mine in soup for February's Eating A to Z Healthy Recipe Challenge hosted by Meal Planning Magic, Sparkles and a Stove and Alida's Kitchen as now is the season for hearty soups that speak comfort and warmth. This is a real ribsticker, so feel free to add extra broth (or vegetable juice!) for a soupier soup.
Bay Bolete Mushroom Barley Soup
Serves 4 as a main dish

¾ oz dried mushrooms [IMBA Suszony Podgrzybek Krajanka aka bay bolete]
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 large carrots, diced small
2 celery ribs, diced small
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp salt-free Italian seasoning blend [Whole Spice]
2 8 oz containers fresh crimini mushrooms, cleaned and coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp concentrated beef base [Penzeys Beef Soup Base and Seasoning]
3 Tbsp sherry [Taylor]
1 Tbsp tomato paste
4 oz quick-cooking barley
32 oz low-sodium fat-free chicken broth [Pacific Organic]
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper, to taste

Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl, cover with boiling water, and leave to soak for 25 min.

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch/French oven and add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and seasoning blend. Sauté for 5 mins on a medium heat or until softened. Drain the dried mushrooms, saving the liquid, and finely chop.

Add both mushrooms to pan. Sauté for another 5 mins, then add the concentrated beef base, sherry, tomato paste, barley, broth, bay leaf, and strained mushroom liquid.

Cook for 30 mins or until barley is soft. Remove bay leaf and season to taste with salt and pepper, if desired. Serve with garlic bread or biscuits.

Mushroom & Barley Soup


Eating the Alphabet: M is for Mango (& Mint!)

For this August's Eating the Alphabet Challenge we're selecting M, N, and/or O ingredients. I chose mango and mint (with a little bit of spring onion) and made a yummy quinoa salad appropriate for breakfast or a light lunch. It was only after I'd made and eaten the salad that I realized it might be better to save it for September's tricky "Q" and make a different mango and mint dish for August. Trouble is, it's nearly the end of the month and I haven't come up with anything I liked better!

Mango & Mint

Mango is one of my favorite flavors, but it's not a fruit I cook with much. For the Eating the Alphabet Challenge, I wanted to push the envelope a little by trying something more savory, rather than going for a sweet like mango lassi or pudding. I paired the mango with mint simply because I thought it sounded like a great idea and not because I actually knew how the two would work together. I also decided to add spring onions (scallions) to my ingredients list as I reckoned the inclusion of onion would land whatever I made squarely in the land of savory. Also, it's an "O" ingredient and I am nothing if not an overachiever.

Mango, Mint, and Quinoa Salad

I based my salad on BBC Foods' Quinoa Salad With Mint and Mango" recipe, but I changed it up a bit -- adding crushed almonds, increasing the mint, decreasing the spring onions, and cooking the quinoa in orange juice.
Mango and Mint Quinoa Salad

4 oz quinoa, well rinsed
8 oz fresh orange juice
1 mango, peeled, finely chopped
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro leaves (omit stems to avoid soapy flavor)
2 spring onions, including the green parts, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
zest and juice of ½ a lime
4 Tbsp crushed unsalted roasted almonds

Toss mango with mint, cilantro, onions, lime juice and zest, and olive oil. Set aside and allow the flavors to marry.

Meanwhile, cook quinoa in orange juice using your favorite method. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

Toss quinoa with mango mixture. Divide between two plates. Garnish with extra mango and mint and crushed almonds.
This is a fabulously refreshing summery salad well-suited to a humid August morning. The flavors are really clean and bright and the whole thing positively shouts "good health!"

That said, this salad is best eaten within a few hours of making it. You don't want to refrigerate it unless you're going to let it come back up to room temperature before consuming. Trust me, it just doesn't taste very good chilled.

If you want to add meat to this dish and serve it for lunch or supper, I would serve it over a bed of baby greens with a skewer of citrus-grilled shrimp.


Southwestern Chicken & Rice Bowl

Southwestern Chicken & Rice

As with many of the dishes I've made lately, there's no real recipe for the above -- it's just beans and rice, sliced grilled marinated chicken, and guacamole. It's yummy, though, and worth posting about simply so I remember to make it again.

The rice is my first attempt at beans and rice and I think it turned out pretty well. Maybe not restaurant-worthy, but I wouldn't be ashamed to feed it to supper guests.

Start a pot of rice. Sauté chopped red onion and garlic in olive oil. Add one can drained, rinsed black beans and a splash of broth. Season with salt, pepper, and Penzeys Arizona Dreaming. Cook, stirring occasionally, until beans are heated through and broth has evaporated. Give them a bit of a mash and set aside. When rice is done, add to beans and stir well. Sprinkle with cilantro and adjust seasonings as desired.

A bit of lemon or lime juice would be a nice brightener. Oh! A little lemon zest mixed in with the cilantro?

Southwestern Chicken & Rice


Not Improv Challenge: Cinnamon & Not Sugar

When I saw April's Improv Challenge ingredients were cinnamon and sugar, I immediately knew I wanted to do something with that bundle of cinnamon sticks lurking in the back of the spice cabinet. I also knew I wanted to use maple syrup or honey, as refined sugar is something I'm using less and less of. I figured maple syrup would be fine, as participants are allowed to make substitutions due to dietary restrictions, but then I actually read the monthly email ...
You can use cinnamon in any form: ground, whole, extract, baking chips. Sugar
forms: white, powdered, brown, cane juice. I think we will save honey,
maple syrup, and other sweeteners for other challenges.
Erk. As I'd already made my dish and had no time to make another, I give you my Not Improv Challenge recipe, "Breakfast Barley."

Raspberries & Barley for Breakfast

I've been toying around with the idea of eating other grains for breakfast ... mostly because I have a cupboard full of random grains, but also because even the most delicious oatmeal gets a little boring after a while.  I'd seen recipes for quinoa and barley "rice" puddings, so I guessed what I wanted could be done.

In the end, I went with quick-cooking barley and prepared it mostly by following the directions on the back of the box. Coconut milk for water, of course, because I wanted delicious creaminess and I didn't see why I needed to bring the liquid to boil before adding the barley, so threw them into the pot together.

I think the dish turned out pretty well. Creamy, nutty, slightly sweet, and very filling. (The Husband, however, took one look at it and said "that looks horrible" so ymmv).
Breakfast Barley
Serves 3

1 cup quick-cooking barley [Mother's]
13.6 oz can coconut milk [Thai Kitchen]
Water, as needed
⅛ tsp salt
1-inch cinnamon stick
2 Tbsp ground flaxseed [Bob's Red Mill]
1 Tbsp maple syrup
Fresh raspberries, as desired

Dump the coconut milk into a two-cup measuring cup and whisk it about until the solids are reincorporated. Add enough water to equal 2 cups. Add to saucepan with barley, cinnamon stick, and salt. Bring to boil. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer, stirring regularly to prevent sticking, for 10 minutes or until barley looks creamy, but not all liquid has been absorbed.

Remove saucepan from heat. Stir in maple syrup and flaxmeal. Let sit 5 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick. Taste. Add more maple syrup, if desired.

Portion into bowls. Serve topped with raspberries and, if desired, grated cinnamon and more maple syrup.


Quinoa & Ham Salad

The Husband does not like ham. Therefore, I seldom buy ham. However, I like ham. And Dakin Farm was offering a 1.5 pound boneless smoked ham with free cob-smoked bacon and since I needed to stock up on Cabot cheese anyway ... well, it's no surprise there's a ham in my fridge.

I've been making ham-and-cheese microwave scrambled eggs -- beaten eggs, splash of milk, shredded Seriously Sharp, diced ham, cracked pepper all in the microwave for a minute or so -- and while that's a nomilicious combination, it's not very adventurous. Also, I neglected to go grocery shopping over the weekend, so I really needed something hammy to take to work.

Ham & Quinoa Salad

Obviously, I made a salad. Salad-making has become my default cooking setting. When I don't know what to eat, I just start chopping all the things and then toss them in a bowl with random vinaigrette and call it a meal.
Quinoa & Ham Salad
Serves 4

1 cup quinoa, cooked according to packet directions, cooled
15 oz. low-sodium black beans, rinsed, well drained
1 small shallot, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 carrot, shredded
8 oz cooked ham, chopped
½ cup vinaigrette of choice [Cindy's Kitchen Fresh Avocado Vinaigrette]
Chopped cilantro, as desired

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss until vinaigrette is well distributed. Serve over salad greens with additional dressing on the side.
I served this salad over mache, my new salad green BFF. Not only is it tasty stuff, but mache is high in vitamins A, C, K as well as high in omega-3 fatty acids. Yum.


Fishy Rice Salad

I saw a sardine rice salad posted on flickr a while ago and the idea of it has been lurking in the back of my mind ever since, waiting for an "I'm starving, but there's nothing I want to eat" moment. Which was yesterday.

Fishy Rice Salad

The original version used canned sardines in olive oil, warm jasmine thai rice, lettuce, mayonnaise, onions, and lemon juice, but I adapted it for my kitchen. I imagine most tinned fish would work well -- particularly a really good olive-oil packed tuna -- but I went with mackerel, because it's my fishy new BFF.
Mackerel & Rice Salad
Makes 1 large serving

1 romaine lettuce heart, chopped fine
1 can oil-packed mackerel fillets, drained and flaked, oil reserved
1 cup cooked brown rice, hot
Lemon juice, to taste
Black pepper, to taste

Toss lettuce, mackerel, and rice together in a large bowl (the heat from the rice will wilt the lettuce a little bit). Add reserved oil, lemon juice, and black pepper, until salad is dressed to your taste. Nom away.
(If you're using fished packed in water, definitely add a tablespoon of olive or flaxseed oil to the dish).


The Blizzard of 2013: What We Ate

My cupboards and fridge always have food in them. My mother raised me to keep a little extra laid by in case Something Bad Happened and I didn't think this was unusual until I stopped at a grocery store Wednesday night to pick up cat noms and was bewildered by the number of people zooming up and down the aisles, their carts overflowing with food as if they might lose access to the grocery store for a week or more. Aside from the people whose regular shopping days fell on Wednesday and Thursday, I have to wonder ... do you all not have food at home? Is there nothing in you cupboards or fridge that could tide you over for a few days?

From our preexisting food stocks, I made:

Vegetable Beef Barley Stew

A fabulous pot of vegetable beef-barley stew we ate over three days with buttery slices of toasted home-baked bread.

Ingredients: thawed beef (cut into thumbnail-sized cubes), pearl barley, sliced mushrooms, red onion, garlic, carrots, frozen corn, frozen peas, canned diced tomatoes, marjoram, thyme, bay, Penzeys beef soup base, water, leftover Layer Cake Malbec, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper.

Mushroom Barley Pilaf w/ Smoked Lamb Sausages & Green Beans

"Byrdhouse Mushroom Barley Pilaf" with smoked lamb sausages and green beans. The Husband liked this so much he had seconds! I used a combination of pearl and quick-cooking barley, simply because I did not have enough pearl barley left, and the quick-cooking gave the dish a comforting creaminess while the pearl barley remained slightly chewy. It was a good combination and I must remember to do it that way again.

Ingredients: thawed smoked lamb sausages, pearl barley, garlic, red onion, sliced mushrooms, dry sherry, low-sodium fat-free chicken broth, Penzeys herbes de provence, black pepper, parsley, garlic oil, fresh green beans.

Making Pumpkin Oatmeal

"Pumpkin Pie Steel Cut Oats in the Crockpot," because oatmeal is the best comfort food for consecutive snow days and pumpkin is full of good nutrition.

Ingredients: steel cut oats, pumpkin puree, coconut milk, Penzeys baking spice, pumpkin oil flavor. (I sweetened each individual portion to taste with maple syrup and drizzled it with Barlean's flax oil for extra goodness).

I made pancakes and waffles, as well, but was too hungry at breakfast time to faff about with the camera. Not a morning person, anyway. Food and hot tea must go in my belly before I can function properly.

I heated up a frozen lasagna, too, but since it was made by Marie Callender it does not count as real cooking. It was, however, pretty darn good and I will be stocking up on more "Three Meat and Four Cheese Lasagna" the next time they go on sale. (I know, I know ... "Making and freezing your own is so much healthier/thriftier").

Our regular shopping day is usually Sunday so we're a bit low on milk and I've switched over to green and white teas to save what remains for The Husband's tea. Otherwise, we're in fine kip and could avoid the shops until next weekend. Which would be great, because here's the thing: while I like eating and enjoy cooking, grocery shopping does not fill me with joy. And, yes, we use Peapod quite heavily, but there are things Peapod can't be trusted to supply properly. What I really need is a replicator.


Accidental Workhouse Porridge

I know. My soup looks like the kind of wretched porridge they would have served at a Victorian workhouse, if the Victorians had known about quinoa. It's not at all pretty. Indeed, it's down right homely. But, O my darlings, it is quite tasty.

Quinoa & Acorn Squash Soup

This soup is based on Crisco's "Butternut and Quinoa Soup," but I used an acorn squash, yellow bell pepper, and no-sugar added cashew butter. Also, I was out of cayenne so seasoned the finished soup with sriracha.

I blame the soup's sad, washed-out color on my choice of ingredients as orange butternut and red bell pepper would have held their own against the brown cashew butter and ultimately yielded a prettier soup. But yellow and yellow, when mixed with the brown cashew butter, just went ... beige.

And then I had the brilliant idea to puree the finished soup as the large chunks of squash didn't really seem to go with the tiny grains (would really recommend dicing squash into fingernail-sized cubes) ... No, pureeing did not help its looks at all.

But the taste was better! The squash blended with the quinoa and corn forming a spicy/sweet/nutty/creamy amalgam that I couldn't stop sampling.

Since it looks like porridge, I've been eating it for breakfast and find a one-cup serving is quite filling and doesn't leaving me starving by midmorning. I do look forward to making it again, but with a butternut squash and a red or orange bell pepper.


Improv Challenge: Oatmeal & Raisins

October's Improv Challenge ingredients, oatmeal and raisins, are a traditional combination and can be combined in many delicious ways. Being on an oatmeal-for-breakfast kick, I decided to make Sunset's "Aloha Oatmeal" which uses steel-cut oats, golden raisins, flaked coconut, sliced almonds, pineapple, and banana. It's a tropical flavor explosion and perfect for giving good belly cheer on a wet, grey October morning when leaving a warm bed to go to the dentist just seems unbearable.

Aloha, Oatmeal!

I omitted the honey from this recipe as the fruit and coconut provided enough sweetness. I also omitted the extra milk/water the original recipe suggested stirring in at the end because this oatmeal was already plenty creamy for me and I don't like porridge-y oatmeal.

This was good with steel-cut oats, but I don't see why you couldn't use whatever kind of oats you prefer or have on hand. I happened to have both old-fashioned and steel-cut oats as I use the old-fashioned quite a lot and keep buying the steel-cut out of some kind of misquided cookery guilt -- "I should prefer steel-cut oats! They're so good for me! The extra time is worth it! The tin is so pretty!"
Aloha Oatmeal
Adapted from a recipe by Sunset

1 cup Irish steel-cut oats
3 oz golden raisins
1 tsp canola oil
1 pinch sea salt

1 cup chopped banana
1 cup diced fresh pineapple
½ cup toasted sliced almonds
½ cup toasted sweetened coconut


Cook oats according to package instructions, but adding ½ cup more water. As soon as the oats come to a boil, add the raisins, oil, and salt. Continue to cook as directed.

When the oats are done, divide between four bowls and top with banana, pineapple, almonds, and coconut.
(I toasted the coconut and almonds by heating a nonstick skillet up and then stirring the coconut and almonds around for about 5 minutes).


October is for Oatmeal

It's October! Time to dust of the slow cooker and make with the oatmeal. There are many ways to make oatmeal in the slow cooker, but it basically boils down to 4:1 ratio of liquid to steel-cut oats, plus flavorings, all in the slow cooker for eight hours on low.

The first few times I made oatmeal in my slow cooker, I was fairly worried about leaving the appliance on overnight. I don't know why, really, as I leave it on all day while I'm at work and don't even think about it. There was just something about an appliance working away while I slept that made me uneasy. As if the slow cooker would run mad and burn the house down around us while we slept.

Well, that did not happen. I eventually got over myself and now love slow-cooking oatmeal overnight. (Tomato sauce is good for overnight slow-cooking, too, as long as you don't mind waking up with a terrible craving for spaghetti for breakfast!)

Breakfast, Woo
Pecan-cranberry oatmeal topped with fresh banana & Barlean's flax oil. Yum!
Over the weekend, I made pecan-cranberry oatmeal to use up some odds and ends hanging out from last winter's holiday baking. I could just as easily have used dried blueberries or golden raisins and slivered almonds or walnuts. And probably will try those combinations out over the next few weeks. My baking cupboard overfloweth with bits and bobs.
Pecan-Cranberry Oatmeal

Cooking spray
4 cups water
½ cup low-fat milk
[omit if you don't like creamy oatmeal]
1 cup steel-cut oats
2 oz dried cranberries
1 scant cup chopped pecans
1 tsp Penzeys baking spice blend
1 tsp Penzeys Mexican vanilla
1 scant tsp sea salt

Spray slow cooker insert. Add all other ingredients, stir, cover, cook on low for 8 hours. Stir. Adjust seasonings or add more liquid, if desired.

Portion out for later or eat with fresh sliced banana and a little honey or maple syrup.
Slow Cooker Oatmeal


My First Kabobs

Several years ago, when my parents were moving house, my mother gave me her old set of stainless steel kabob skewers. I didn't really know what to do with them, having never made kabobs, but I was loathe to refuse them as I had fond memories of using them to toast marshmallow/fence with my cousins at many family picnics.

I was the Errol Flynn of marshmallow toasters, I tell you.

Anyway, the skewers sat, unused and unloved, in the back of my kitchen's junk drawer until last week when I decided it was darn well time to skewer something or let them go.

There was a pound of thawed beef chunks in the fridge I'd intended for stew, before the marvelous spring weather we've been having persuaded me that stew was the last thing I wanted to eat. Why not, I thought, skewer and broil 'em?

Beef Skewers, Marinated

I marinated the beef for two days (it was supposed to only be overnight, but ...) in McCormick Grill Mates® 25% Less Sodium Montreal Steak Marinade prepared with vegetable oil, water, and zinfandel vinegar. Sunday afternoon, I threaded the meat onto two metal skewers, lay them on a broiler pan, poured some of the remaining marinade over each skewer, and let them sit for about 20 minutes on the kitchen side.

Beef Skewers, Broiled

Then I heated the broiler and broiled the kabobs about four inches from the element for about 4 minutes on each side.

Beef Skewer Over Rice w/ Pigeon Peas

I served the kabobs on a bed of Southern Living's "Basmati Rice and Pigeon Peas" and it made for a rather nice Sunday dinner. The kabobs were tender and peppery with a good hit of garlic and the lemony basmati rice paired well with them.

Beef Skewer Over Rice w/ Pigeon Peas

Overall, I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself and expect we'll be eating a lot of meat-onna-stick this summer!