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Never in a million years did I think I’d say it, but we ate seaweed twice this weekend. On purpose.

It all started a few weeks ago when Brent and I watched a webinar on how eating well is essential to overall health. That’s no surprise, but we did learn a thing or two. Among the handful of application points we took away was a big thumbs up for the virtues of seaweed. Did you know that this sea vegetation can help curb appetite, and provide a tremendous amount of vitamins, minerals and protein? It can also aid digestion and promote other health benefits.

Most likely, that’s not enough to make you run out and indulge in a heaping bowl of seaweed. But we enjoy an occasional cooking adventure, so we decided to do a little research and give it a try.

Before we got that far, we actually ordered a seaweed dish when we stopped for lunch at Crave at the MOA on Friday. We shared their seaweed salad and it was delicious. Really!

If you’re not used to cooking with seaweed, your first question might be, “Where do you get it?” That’s what we wondered. We started off at a local Asian grocery store, but came up empty-handed. When in doubt, give Whole Foods a shot. And wouldn’t you know, they have a whole section full of the stuff.

After pulling ideas from a bunch of online recipes, here’s what I came up with. It’s much like a Miso soup. Honestly, I had very cautious expectations as I watched the hunks of green leaves simmer on the stove. But if Brent’s response is any indication, it turned out quite nice.

P.S.: If you’re a family member reading this, don’t worry, we don’t plan to bring this soup for the holidays, but if you give us a heads up, we’d love to make a bowl for you.

Seaweed Soup
Prep and Cook Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients
12 whole dried medium shiitake mushrooms
6 cups warm water
4 medium-sized pieces 
Kelp seaweed, cut to bite-size pieces
1 medium onion, quartered and sliced thinly
5 medium cloves garlic, minced
3 T minced fresh ginger
1 carrot, thinly sliced
4 T dry Veggie Base powder
4 T chopped dulse seaweed, cut to bite-size pieces
4 T Amino Acids or soy sauce
2 T rice vinegar
3 T green onions, thinly sliced, for garnish
1 tsp “Sea Seasonings” Kelp Granules (optional)

Rinse mushrooms, kelp and dulse and soak in 2 cups of warm water for about 10 minutes, or until soft. Save the water. Directions:

  1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the mushroom/seaweed water in medium soup pot. Add onion and healthy sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and ginger and continue to sauté for another minute.
  2. When mushrooms and kelp are soft, thinly slice the mushrooms and chop the seaweed into bite-sized pieces. Cut out the mushroom stems when slicing mushrooms and discard. Add to the soup pot along with the soaking water, and 4 more cups of water and Veggie Base. Add carrots. Bring to a boil on high heat.
  3. Once it returns to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes. Season with Amino Acids (or soy sauce), rice vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add green onion and serve.

Serves 6

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We’re by no means vegetarians, but we have tried to cut down considerably on our meat consumption over the past few years. Doing so has meant researching creative vegetable dishes to add to our repertoire. Brent discovered this one in our “Vegetarian-Tasty Recipes for Every Day” cookbook. It definitely lives up to the “tasty” title. We both went back for seconds!

We also learned a new word. Bocconcini are small mozzarella cheese balls. They are semi-soft, white and rindless unripened mild cheeses which originated in Napoli. They were once made only of buffalo milk, but today are often combined with cow’s milk. The Italian word, bocconcini, means “small mouthfuls.”

One of our long-range goals is to one day learn Italian. Looks like we’re one word closer.

Eggplant Parmigiana

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Total cooking time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Serves 6-8

3 T olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed or pressed
2 1/2 lbs tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 lbs eggplant, sliced thinly
8 oz. bocconcini, sliced
6 oz. cheddar cheese, finely grated (I used 1/2 this amount.)
1 C basil leaves, torn
1/2 C grated parmesan

1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until soft. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Preheat the oven to moderately hot 200 degrees. (I also added Italian seasonings at this point.)

2. Slice the eggplant very thinly and shallow fry in oil in batches for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

3. Place one third of the eggplant in a 7-cup ovenproof dish. Top with half the bocconcini and cheddar. Repeat the layers, finishing with a layer of eggplant.

4. Pour the tomato mixture over the eggplant. Scatter with torn basil leaves, then parmesan. Bake for 40 minutes.

Serve with crusty bread and enjoy. 

Buon appetito!

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It feels like we’ve been going non-stop for about a week straight. Maybe because we have. It’s one of those beyond-busy-seasons of life for us right now. And it’s exactly those times that it’s often easy to rationalize grabbing some fast food and falling off the healthy eating train. Our track record isn’t perfect, but we’re trying to cook more than a couple healthy meals each week.

I find the key is to pick a few relatively easy recipes that don’t call for a lot of ingredients. And if you don’t mind being repetitive, go ahead and make them every week for a while to get you through the crazy times. Repetition means you don’t have to think so much. When there’s so many other details to keep straight, that’s huge.

Over the past three or more weeks, this is one of those recipes for us. It’s easy and we love it. A good friend got the recipe from her doctor and shared it with us. We’re not sick of it yet.

Sausage with Wilted Spinach  & Fennel
Ingredients

1 lbs. ground sausage
2 T almond oil
1 bulb fresh fennel, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 chicken broth
1 bag baby spinach

Directions
1. Put the sausage on a lipped baking sheet (in small chunks).
2. Place the baking sheet into oven, set to broil.
3. In a large frying/sauté pan heat oil on medium high.
4. Add garlic and fennel. Cook for 4 minutes.
5. Turn sausage to finish cooking in the broiler.
6. Add broth and spinach to pan. Stir until spinach wilts.
7. Spoon spinach mixture onto plate and top with spinach.

The recipe didn’t call for it, but we’ve also served it on quinoa.

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This Bouillabaisse a noble dish is–
A sort of soup, or broth, or brew,
Or hotchpotch of all sorts of fishes,
That Greenwich never could outdo;

(Lines from: The Ballad of Bouillabaisse by William Makepeace Thackery)

Adding the Claw!

Our 2nd annual New Year’s bouillabaisse party was a success. Last year we introduced you to our recipe and posted it here. This year we prepped ahead and ordered most of the seafood a week ago and picked it up fresh from Byerly’s on New Year’s morning at 8am. I didn’t have walleye this year (too bad), so instead we substituted a white fish that I’ve recently noticed at the market called swai. I was curious about this fish so I did a little investigating.

What is swai? It’s a very mild, flaky, inexpensive white fish eaten throughout Southeast Asia. The texture of the meat and the skin of the fish is like a catfish, and

Setting the table!

thus it’s often called an Asian catfish, but it’s not. It’s usually sold in long fillets that can be broiled, baked or breaded. Ask your butcher or read the label on the package to confirm the origin. It should say “Vietnam or Mekong Delta” vs “Mississippi Delta.” If you Google “What is swai,” you’ll see plenty of posts that describe this white fish.

All in all it was fine to include swai, but next time I think I might try some fresh flounder instead. Experimenting is part of the fun. The other changes I brought to this year’s recipe were fresh shrimp, fresh snow crab and fresh cod. Instead of using frozen, I wanted to see how this might change the character of the bouillabaisse. I was pleased with the results.

I was pleased because the fresh fish cooked better and looked terrific. We invited 2 friends over to enjoy the meal with us. We began prepping the base 3 hours before the guests arrived and then as they came through the door, we were ready to begin the process of adding the fish. Part of the process is to add the shrimp, white fish and shell fish in separate groups bringing the broth up to a slow boil and back to a simmer each time. So the guests can hang out with you in the kitchen and watch the magic happen. Once the seafood starts going in, it takes less than 30 minutes to complete the process. The bread can bake and the bouillabaisse can simmer until everyone is ready to sit down. Did you try a new recipe over the long New Year’s weekend or have a suggestion we could try for the next batch of this delicious fish soup? Please comment as we’d love to hear!

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A Tasty New Soup Recipe

It’s soup season. I can somehow “swallow” that a bit easier than admitting it’s the season that starts with a “w.” Besides, officially, it’s still fall. But the white stuff on the ground makes that point irrelevant. Why must we be over-achievers in Minnesota?

I like soup a lot. It’s on my list of what’s good about the “w” season. A few years ago I posted this list in my office to help me maintain a better attitude. I think it worked. There were actually a few dozen things on that list. Maybe I should dig it up again. 

With the chill in the air and the roads icy on the way to church, I knew it was time to bring out some real ammunition. So, we found a new soup recipe to help beat the chill and the tendency to complain.

It was quite yummy. On one of those upcoming cold, blustery days I recommend “Italian Lentil & Sausage Soup” to warm you up.

Italian Lentil & Sausage Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1/3 cup pearl barley
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 cup onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 1/2 cups broth
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 14 1/4 ounces Italian-style tomatoes (crushed or diced)
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 pound ground Italian sausage (crumble and cook over medium) Remove this ingredient for a great vegetarian option.

Directions

1.     Sort lentils to remove debris and shriveled beans. Rinse good beans.

2.     Add lentils to crock pot, along with barley, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, dried herbs and bay leaf.

3.     Pour in broth, water and tomatoes.

4.     Cover and cook on low heat for 12 to 14 hours or on high heat for 5 to 6 hours.

5.     Discard bay leaf and just before serving stir in parsley and vinegar. (The vinegar is a key ingredient.)

6.     As soup begins to cook add in cooked sausage.

 7.     A lengthy cooking time is needed unless you like fairly al dente veggies and beans.

8.     Serve with salad and crusty bread.

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Our evening temperatures have been dancing around the freezing mark as of late. Today was cloudy, rainy and a bit dreary as I pulled out the leather coat for the first time. There’s no escaping. We must be venturing awfully close to that “less-than-loved” season. (I’m afraid I have a hard time even uttering the word yet.) I certainly don’t want to jump ahead, but I know w_ _ _ _ _  isn’t far away when I begin searching for recipes like the one I pulled out today.  Looking for consolation, I busied myself in the kitchen with all the makings of Shepherd’s Pie.

It’s not the quickest meal to prepare, but it’s worth it. There’s something about pouring myself into the creativity of cooking a tasty meal that can be relaxing and peaceful, at least when I have a rare, lazy afternoon like I fell into today.

It’s baking even as I type. The lovely scents of nutmeg, rosemary and sage are wafting through the house, making the chill outside somehow less daunting. I’m not ready for what’s ahead, but I’m content.

Which comfort foods help you get through the season I’m not quite ready to mention?

Lisa’s Shepherd’s Pie

Serves: 6
Prep time: 1 Hour
Cooking time: 45 minutes 

Potatoes
1 pound potatoes, peeled/chopped
3 T butter
¼ C milk
Ground nutmeg

Meat
1 pound ground beef or turkey

Onion Mixture
1 T oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green or red pepper, finely chopped
1 T paprika

Veggies
1 (20 oz.) pkg. of mixed frozen vegetables (or chopped fresh)

Sauce
3 cubes chicken bouillon in a cup of boiling water (I use 2 “Not Beef” boullion cubes by Edward & Sons: No MSG and less salt.)
1 tsp. dried rosemary
12 oz. tomato sauce
2 T Worcestershire sauce
2 T soy sauce (I used Bragg’s Liquid Aminos: less salt.)
4 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 pinch dried sage
1 pinch salt (optional)
1 pinch ground black pepper
3 T tomato paste

Directions
1. Boil potatoes until tender. Whip with milk and butter until smooth and creamy. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside.

2. Cook meat until it is browned. Drain if needed. Set aside.

3. In a dutch oven, sauté the onions with the paprika in the oil. Add the garlic and green pepper. Set aside.

4. Combine the cooked meat, onion mixture and sauce mixture.

5. Blanch frozen vegetables for five minutes in boiling water. Drain. Add to meat mixture.

7. Spread a thin layer of the meat mixture into large casserole dish. Top with thin layer of mashed potatoes. Repeat until a thin layer of potatoes is on the top.

8. Dot with flakes of butter, nutmeg, paprika, salt and pepper.

9. Cover and bake at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Uncover for an additional 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.  (You may wish to place it under the broiler for the last 5 minutes. Serve with crusty bread.

Hint: Make a double portion of everything but the potatoes. It freezes well. I’ll be glad I did the next time I have a busy evening and not much time to cook!

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Marinated Lamb Chops

We discovered another winning dinner: marinated lamb chops. We thought we’d post the recipe in case you’re feeling a little adventurous or perhaps comment with your own suggestions on how to improve it. We’re always on the lookout to try something new and different, especially if it involves grilling. SuperTarget had some nice looking lamb chops so we decided to experiment. Lamb chops are not inexpensive so I was thinking if we messed up it would be an expensive mistake. We paid about $13 a pound. But if you want to treat yourself to something delicious, consider splurging a little. Maybe you know where to get the best deal on lamb.

The prep time takes about 15 minutes and cooking time is 8-10. The majority of time is spent waiting for the meat to marinate. We reviewed several recipes online and decided to go with Ellie Krieger’s recipe from Food Network. She includes a video of the process, but she uses an indoor grilling pan on a gas stove. That would be fine in winter, but I used the outdoor grill on our patio.

Here are the ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lemon, zested (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1 lemon, juiced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano leaves, or 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 (4-ounce) lamb loin chops
Ellie recommends trimming the fat off of the chops, but I thought the chops we bought were already pretty well trimmed, so I skipped that part. The marinade doesn’t appear to be a lot for 8-10 chops, but it spreads out pretty evenly when you treat the marinade more like a “rub” in the plastic bag. Ellie refers to the marinade as a “rub-inade” and she’s right. It worked really well.
In a bowl stir all the ingredients together except for the lamb. Then place the lamb chops in a plastic bag and pour the marinade over them. Rub the marinade by moving the chops around in the bag until they’re well coated. Ellie recommends marinating for 1 hour, but 30 minutes did the trick. So if you’re in a hurry, you can cut down on some of the time that way.
We don’t really like rare or medium rare meats, so we left the chops on a medium high grill for about 4-5 minutes per side.
For the side dish, we picked up fresh brussel sprouts at the co-op. We prepped the brussel sprouts and then built a foil boat and steamed them in a little olive oil on the grill along with the chops and then salted them to taste.

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