Monday, January 28, 2013

Happy Australia Day!

Every nation has their day.  The day where the flag is proudly waved, backyards and beaches are full of revelers, and the night is capped off with good cheer and fireworks.  Australia is no exception to this, and the national day of revelry is held on January 26th.  Happy Australia Day to all those down under!

Having lived down under for approximately 4 years, we returned to the Northern Hemisphere just about a year and a half ago.  Last year was our first Australia Day spent in America, and although the chilly weather of winter makes us long for hot January days, we had a wonderful celebratory dinner last year to commemorate our time there.  The people of Australia are truly remarkable and we have many fond memories of good friends and good times.

Down under, no Australia Day would be complete without time spent in the backyard "undercover" area with the barbie fired up and a few snags ready to cook, along with a tantalizing assortment of cutlets, steaks and seafood.  Unfortunately, we have yet to replace the barbecue we had in Australia with a grill here in the USA.  The combination of cold weather and lack of equipment drives our celebratory meal to an indoor affair.  Our food tradition is developing into a meal centered around an Aussie Meat Pie with Lamingtons for dessert.  More of a winter meal for the Aussies, which works well for our cold January days.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

You got Chili in my Cornbread...

So it is Tuesday - one of the days that the schedule in our house requires that dinner be ready to go at 4pm - or else chaos reigns supreme after all the afternoon activities are wrapped up.  I wish I could say that I am always on top of things and my kids never eat dinner after 7pm, but alas, that is not always the case. Today I am determined that our life will follow the routine - for if it is so, life is so much easier.

When I am in the kitchen these days I find myself imagining what to write about next.  Today, I was in the midst of preparing a super simple, from a can, sort of dinner that often gets bumped into the Tuesday lineup.  I was thinking about the recipe and thinking that no way would this ever make it to the written page.  It's too easy.  It's too low brow.  It reeks of suburbia.  It involves canned chili.

Whole Food's One Pot Chili Casserole
The Whole Foods recipe app has led me to some spectacular recipes.  Some are spectacularly time consuming but amazingly delicious and nutritious.  Some - like their One Pot Chili Casserole - are a God send on Tuesdays.  The ingredients for this casserole are always in my cupboard.  Occasionally I'll have store bought cornbread on hand, but more often than not I just keep some cornbread mix around or make it from scratch using cornmeal.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Falafel... Tommy style!

My infatuation with falafel began at a long since forgotten restaurant in Michigan.  I was reintroduced to my lost love of this crispy delight by a dear friend after a late night in Washington D.C.   Quick Pita in Georgetown soon became a favored way to cap off a night on the town.

The Humble Chickpea

Then came another move and another loss of this flavorful treat - local eateries versions never really compared.  I suspect that most establishments rely on the dry powder version that can be found on most grocery store shelves.  What I longed for was the true blue prepared from scratch version I had fallen in love with...

Imagine my delight when I was listening to NPR at work one day and heard the story of NYC's own Tommy Tsatsaroni.  I was almost ready to plan a road trip to sample his wares when they announced at the end of the story that his recipe could be found on their website.


Friday, January 11, 2013

What to do with the Tempeh... Lasagna??

The one problem item lurking in my refrigerator is a package of tempeh.  It was purchased during my two month experiment leading up to the holidays.  My experiment with eating only organic foods, and maintaining a strictly vegetarian diet in an attempt to remove GMOs from our food supply.  The experiment that introduced a plethora of new recipes into our routine, with only one ingredient that my eldest can identify from a mile away.  Tempeh.  She developed a distinct dislike for tempeh and can identify it in any recipe - so the package of soy tempeh that I picked up with the wild rice tempeh for use in this amazing Whole Foods Tempeh and Mushroom Stroganoff recipe has lingered in the fridge - luckily it has a long shelf life...

So here I am during my January pantry purge looking at that lonely package of tempeh, wondering if I might be able to slip it in a favorite meal - Lasagna.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Pantry Purge

The blessings and bounty of the holiday season always pour over from the old into the new, cluttering my shelves as well as my imagination.  Every January I find myself reflecting on the excess that remains in my pantry.  The cookie ingredients that didn't get used, that extra side dish that I had in the corners of my mind and had to have on hand just in case, the appetizer that was never needed... these all roll over into the new year and I never feel a clear need to make that journey to the grocery store for a proper shop until I have done my best to purge the pantry.

This year my inspection of my cupboards, freezer and refrigerator revealed a bounty that has carried me from my preholiday shopping well into the New Year with nary a trip to the store for anything more than milk or eggs.  The ham bone hastily placed in a ziplock bag on Christmas Eve and pushed into my bursting freezer has already been consumed in a lovely split pea soup.  The extra ingredients for the Green Bean Casserole were hastily combined with some frozen meatballs which turned an easy side dish into a delicious Sunday night dinner served over grains.  The possibilities that remain in my larder are tantalizing - and hopefully help make the bite that the holidays took out of my food budget a little less startling.

My goal is to make January a food budget phenom - and refrain from purchasing any groceries other than the fresh food needed to keep our diet nutritious.  Milk as needed, fresh fruit and veg to keep our diet from turning into a carb/protein overload - but I'm on track to keep January the month where we clear out the cobwebs and have a successful New Year pantry purge!

Split Pea Soup

1 leftover ham bone hastily placed in ziplock and tossed in freezer on Christmas Eve - partially thawed
All leftover carrots, celery, onions and any other soup veggies leftover from holiday shopping binges
Bacon drippings collected during course of holiday cooking - if desired
2 pounds of split yellow or green peas (used yellow this year for first time - yum!)
Garlic (fresh or granulated)
2 Bay Leaves
1/2 cup flour
butter/bacon drippings

Sort and rinse split peas watching closely for stones.  Peas can be soaked overnight in water, or can be softened using a quick soak method by covering peas with ample amount of water and allowing to come to a boil.  Peas should be boiled for 2 minutes and then allowed to rest for 1 hour, covered.  Chop up onions and veg.  Place 2 to 4 tablespoons of bacon grease (butter or olive oil can also be used) in frying pan large enough to hold onions and celery.  Soften onions over low heat taking.  Once onions are soft and begin turning a golden brown color, add the celery.  Keeping the heat low, cover the celery/onion mixture and allow the celery to soften.  Stir this mixture occasionally.

Once the peas have soaked, turn heat on and bring to gentle simmer.  Add the partially thawed ham bone  and diced carrots to the soup and allow to cook for about an hour.  Add onion and celery mixture and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes longer.  Add garlic and bay leaves to taste, simmer for about 30 more minutes, or until peas are cooked to your preferred state of doneness.

In pan used to cook onions, stir together 2 to 4 tablespoons of bacon drippings (butter or olive oil can also be used) and 1/2 cup flour until roux is formed and golden brown in color.  Stir roux into soup to help bind the soup together.  Simmer gently for additional 30 minutes.

Enjoy with crackers leftover from those cheese trays or bread rolls remaining from holiday dinners.

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Green Bean and Meatball Casserole

The ubiquitous green bean casserole has many forms, so I will leave it up to each of you to either use your favorite or follow the recipe below.

1 pound frozen meatballs (I always keep a bag of these on hand during the Thanksgiving to New Years rush)

2 cans green beans
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 cup french fried onions, divided
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Arrange meatballs in a single layer in the bottom of a 9x13 pan.  Place in oven.

Meanwhile, mix condensed soup, soy sauce and milk using a whisk.  Gently stir in green beans and half of fried onions using a spoon.

Remove pan of meatballs from oven using oven mitts.  Carefully spoon green bean mixture over meatballs and smooth out.  Cover with foil and place back in oven for 45 minutes to an hour.

Remove foil and sprinkle remaining fried onions over top of casserole and return to oven for 15 minutes.

Enjoy over rice, noodles, cous cous or leftover mashed potatoes.

My favorite is to serve with a mixture of whole grains - such as brown rice, wild rice and millet.  Goes great with any combination of whole grains.

Happy New Year and here's to a pantry freed from the excesses of holidays past!

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