Thursday, September 30, 2010


It's prime apple pickin' season here in Wisconsin.  Recently, I was lucky enough to spend a gorgeous fall afternoon picking apples with my mom.  Biggest success of the day: I didn't get a stomach ache from eating too many apples!  This was quite a feat.

One of my favorite things to make with our bountiful harvest is applesauce.  Serve it hot or cold, any time of day, and it won't disappoint.  Ah, applesauce.

Now, my recipe for applesauce is rather inexact because I learned how to make it while I was a grandma sitter in college.  Amanda was a lovely woman in her 80s.  Three days a week, I would head over to her house for a various entertaining activities.  Wednesdays we'd visit the dentist to have her dentures re-fitted.  The other days we would write letters to radio stations, take walks around her neighborhood, and order things from catalogues.  My favorite days, though, were applesauce days.

So, Amanda, this one's for you...

Amanda's Applesauce
8 small-medium apples*, peeled and diced into 1/2" pieces
1 cup water
Sugar, to taste
Cinnamon (optional)

Place peeled and diced apples into a medium saucepan and add about 1" of water to the pan  (about one cup.)  Amanda often replaced the water with apple juice or apple cider if she had some on hand.

Crank up the heat to medium high and bring the apples to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 20-25 minutes, stirring often.  If the applesauce looks very dry towards the end, add a couple tablespoons of water. Add sugar to taste.  This will depend on how sweet the apples are.  I usually start with 2 tablespoons and increase from there.  I also add a hefty sprinkle of cinnamon.

Stir for a couple more minutes, smooshing any large chunks of apple with your spoon until your applesauce is the consistency that you enjoy.  Serve the applesauce warm or cold.

*I like to combine several varieties of apples when I make applesauce.  Granny Smiths are delicious because they're tart (and, let's be honest, often on sale), but I think MacIntosh apples are my favorite because they're tart and sweet and they cook down very well.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cashew Chicken

I went through a serious stir fry phase a couple years ago.  I mean, really, I went a bit overboard.  Finally, the husband had to let me down gently and remind me that Asian cuisine, while delicious, is not all life has to offer.


Besides discovering that the husband's taste buds will in fact burn out on soy sauce, I learned a little something from my stir fry phase.  I learned about mise en place.

Mise en place is just the fancy-pants French way to say everything in it's place.  I overcooked A LOT of stir fries before I realized that you must, really must, have all of your ingredients prepped and ready to dump in the skillet before you get started.  Otherwise, you risk loosing a digit due to hyper-speed chopping.  Not good.

Cashew Chicken
From "Great Food Fast"by the good folks at Everyday Food
Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
8 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
3/4 cup toasted cashews, chopped coarsely
Cooked white rice, for serving

Toss the chicken with the cornstarch until the chicken is coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat.  Cook half the chicken, stirring regularly, until browned, about 3 minutes.  Transfer chicken to a plate.

Add the remaining oil and chicken to the skillet along with the scallions.  (If you like a bit more onion-y pizzazz, add only the white parts of the scallions here and stir in the green parts with the cashews at the end.)  Cook, stirring often, until browned, about 3 minutes, adding the garlic for the last 30 seconds of cooking.  Return the first batch of chicken to the pan.  Add the vinegar and cook until it's evaporated, about 30 seconds.

Add the hoisin sauce and 1/4 cup water; cook, tossing, until the chicken is cooked through, about 1 minute.  Remove from the heat and stir in cashews.

Serve over white rice.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Irish Oatmeal

I love oatmeal.  I looooove oatmeal.  For years I enjoyed a packet of instant oatmeal for breakfast every morning.  It was convenient, delicious, and I'm convinced it will at least slow down the effect of all that Wisconsin cheddar on my arteries.  I was content with my breakfast choice.

Until I discovered Irish Oatmeal.

Chewy! Nutty!  FANTASTIC!!  This is the stuff dreams are made of!  Ok, so maybe I'm the only sick-o who dreams about oatmeal, but still.  I am completely hooked.  And the packets of instant oatmeal I once found so delicious?  Sitting in the bottom of my desk drawer, forlorn.

If you're not a morning person (ahem), or if you have an 8:00 a.m. meeting every Monday that you baaarely make it to on time (ahem, ahem), you might want to plan ahead with your Irish Oatmeal by making it on Sunday night.  Then you can pack it into individual storage containers and take it to work ready to go!  Simply re-heat it in the microwave for a couple minutes.  And if your co-workers are looking at you strangely with a big bowl of porridge at your desk, they're just jealous.  At least that's what I tell myself.

Irish Oatmeal
Serves 4

1 cup Irish oats (a.k.a. steel-cut oats)
4 cups water
Pinch of salt
Favorite toppings (brown sugar, raisins, dried cranberries, apples, cinnamon...)

Combine Irish oats, water, and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  Stir oatmeal, then cover and reduce heat to low.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes.  If your oatmeal is looking pretty watery after 25 minutes, keep the lid off for the last few minutes of cooking.

Serve hot with the toppings of your choice or pack it up for the week.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Grilled Peach Salad with Goat Cheese

The husband and I recently purchased approximately 100 million peaches at Costco.  Now, looking back, this may not have been the wisest move for a family of two.  It has been scientifically proven that peaches are ripe for 3 seconds.  So, when all 100 million peaches ripened at the same time, we had a lot of eatin' to do.

Grilled Peach Salad with Goat Cheese
Serves 4

2 peaches*, halved and pitted
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
Mixed greens (about 8 cups)
3 ounces goat cheese

Heat grill to medium.  Brush both sides of the peaches with melted butter.  Place peaches on the grill; cover and grill until peaches are charred and softened, about 4-5 minutes per side.  (Please note, if you grill in the dark, it will be challenging to tell when the peaches are charred in a photogenic manner. See picture above.)  Quarter each half and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar and olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the greens and toss to coat.

Divide the dressed greens evenly among 4 plates.  Sprinkle with crumbled goat cheese.  Arrange peaches on the side.

*If you have 100 million ripe peaches, consider grilling several extra and serving them with vanilla ice cream.  You will enjoy it very much.

A final word about peaches:
There is a common misconception about peaches that they come from a can, and that they were put there by a man in a factory downtown.  While this fallacy was perpetuated by 1996 hit song "Peaches" by alternative rock band The Presidents of the United States of America, it is simply not true.

Peaches grow on trees.  

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Much like the squirrel who lives in my backyard, I feel like it's time to start storing up provisions for the coming winter.  With this nesting instinct as motivation, I scampered off to the farmers market to rustle up some grub.

Unlike my furry friend, I did not carry my bounty in my mouth, but I did return with several sacks of delicious eats.  In the next couple weeks, you can look forward to hearing about them...  

Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Brussel Sprouts.  Mmmm.  Even if you aren't a brussel sprout fan, trust me on this one.  Also, I discovered that the official color of my retro (and by that I mean ancient) counter top is actually "brussel sprout." I'll keep that in mind next time I'm looking for accessories.

Chicken with Cipollini Onions & Riesling.  

 Oven-Roasted Green Beans.  I'm convinced that everything is better when it's roasted.

I also learned something new at the farmer's market.  Winter squash is the candy of the vegetable world, so, of course, I think it's off the hook.  Then I started thinking about those adorable little gourds that I stick in a bowl on my dining room table.  Could the teenie tiny squashes be as delicious as the big ones? Better yet, could they be MORE delicious?? 

One of the friendly farmers ensured me that they were not delicious at all, but rather dry and disgusting.  Good to know.   

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Seasoning Rub for Grilled Meat

As promised, today is dry spice rub day!  Just try to contain your excitement.

First of all, what are they?  They are spices, dry ones, that you rub onto food in order to increase deliciousness.  Meat is the obvious subject for spice rubs, but use one on sweet potatoes and be amazed!  (I should write infomercials.)  All you need to do is sprinkle it on the food, and rub it around until the surface is covered.  Done.  Oh...and then cook the food.

In general, you apply a spice rub right before cooking.  But, if your husband arrives home shortly after you've done your thang with the spice rub, flourishes a dozen roses, and insists on taking you out to the most swanky restaurant in town, DO NOT FRET.  Just stick that hunk of meat in the fridge and cook it the next day.  It'll be fine.  If you turn down the husband, on the other hand, that's the last swanky dinner invite you're gonna get for a looooong time.

So, next time you're feeling uninspired by the food in your fridge, just consider, "Would this increase in deliciousness if I rubbed it with spices?"  If the answer is "yes!" then, by gosh, apply a dry spice rub!

Dry Rub
2 tsp. seasoned salt
2 tsp. poultry seasoning
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne powder

Put ingredients in a jar and shake everything together.  Rub into meat (this is particularly good on pork or chicken) and grill, bake, or saute.  Store leftovers at room temperature in an airtight container for about a month. 

This is fast and easy.  Finding the spices in my poorly organized cupboard, measuring them into my little container, and putting the spices away took me 3 minutes and 39 seconds.  I timed myself: 

If you have a favorite spice rub, feel free to share in the "Comments" section.  Also, if you can make it in less than 3 minutes and 39 seconds, I'd like to know that, too.  

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Grilled Pork Tenderloin

"How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways!"

Although I have a sinking suspicion Elizabeth Barrett Browning penned these words about a fine male specimen, I think they are equally appropriate for a fine porcine specimen.  Pork.  Ah, glorious pork.

I think pork has a bad reputation due to generations of overcooking, misconceptions of fattiness, and, potentially, Wilbur from Charlotte's Web.  But these objections can be overcome!  Well, except for that third one.  How can you eat "some pig!?"  Just don't think about it.

Easy to solve.  USE A MEAT THERMOMETER.  This is a bit of a battle cry for me.  For years I was terrified to cook protein.  I could never tell when it was done!  And being a bit of a weenie when it comes to eating raw meat, this was a major obstacle.  But I purchased a cheap-o meat thermometer, and I've been on easy street ever since.

Pork should be served at an internal temperature of 145-150 degrees.  This means you should cook your pork to an internal temperature of 135 degrees, then take it off the heat.  Cover it with some foil, and let that baby rest for about 10 minutes.  During these extra minutes, the pork will keep cooking and come to the correct serving temperature.  Also, a bonus, the juiciness gets re-distributed.  (FYI, the pork will be a little pink at 145-150 degrees.)

**Please note, these temperatures are for deliciousness, not for food safety.  I don't work for the USDA, so don't sue me if your 150 degree pork makes you barf.  That's just too darn bad.

My favorite type of lil' piggie to cook at home is pork tenderloin.  It cooks quickly and is the perfect size for a household of two (plus a little for leftovers.)  The other nice thing about pork tenderloin is that it's lean.  In four ounces, there are 164 calories, 6 grams of fat, and a whopping 23 grams of protein!  Not too shabby.

So, here's a good technique for grilling pork tenderloin.  Come on back tomorrow to see some of my favorite dry rubs for pork.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin
Serves 6-8

vegetable oil
2 pork tenderloins (3/4 to 1 pound each)
salt and pepper (or dry spice rub...more on this tomorrow!)

Preheat the grill until very hot.  Oil the grill grates using a bit of paper towel that's been dipped in oil.  (Use tongs to hold the paper towel or risk burning off your arm hair.)

Meanwhile, pat the pork dry.  Rub each tenderloin with about 2 teaspoons of oil.  Season with salt and pepper or dry rub, if using.

Grill the tenderloins, covered, until browned on all sides.  Turn the tenderloin throughout cooking to ensure even browning on all sides.  Once the tenderloin has reached an internal temperature of 135 degrees (about 12-15 minutes), remove it to a cutting board and tent with foil.  Let the pork rest 5-10 minutes until it has reached an internal temperature of 145-150 degrees.  Slice on the diagonal and serve.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Steamed Bok Choy

Sometimes I get carried away.  At the farmer's market I often get carried away.  I'll be wandering the rows, peering at the various stands, sampling the bounty of Milwaukee farms, and I just can't help loading up my earth-friendly tote with produce.  It's like the stuff leaps out at me.  Needless to say, I return home from my Saturday morning jaunts a bit over-burdened with veggies.

The Bok Choy Situation was born of such a visit to the farmer's market.

I found this bok choy at the market, and it was ridiculous.  It was ginormous.  It had all these crazy spindly stalks like the legs of a million gawky middle schoolers.  And I couldn't live without it.

Of course, I brought it home regardless of the fact that I'd never cooked bok choy.  I wasn't even sure I liked the stuff.

So, when I went to slay the beast, I consulted my trusty tome, Joy of Cooking.  Irma Rombauer and the gang know all there is to know about everything, so I figured they'd have the answer.  And they did!

In order to prepare bok choy, you need to separate the stems and rinse them well.  Now, this is no joke.  That bok choy was dirty.  And not just, oh a little piece here and there.  I'm talking Christina Aguilera dirrrty-style dirty.  Proof:

Once it's squeaky clean (I rinsed it in my salad spinner about five times), slice the stems and the leaves and cook them separately because the leaves will cook faster.  I decided to steam it: place a steamer basket over 1-2 inches of boiling water.  Place the stems in the basket. Cover and cook about two minutes.  Add the leaves, cover, and cook about eight more minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  (By that I mean lots.)  

Now, in the spirit of honesty, I'm not sure that bok choy will be a regular at our dinner table.  When I served it for dinner with a stir-fry, the husband daintily picked an offending piece from his main course. "This went into my cashew chicken," he said.  I took the hint.

If you like "greens," I suggest giving bok choy a chance.  And if you just can't resist giant vegetables at the farmer's market, it's certainly worth the challenge.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Quinoa with Corn and Black Beans

More foods should start with "Q".  Seriously.  Besides quinoa, the only foods I can think of that start with "Q" are "Quik" and "Suzy Q." And, honestly, neither of those actually start with Q.  Quik is actually called Nesquik, which sounds more like a town in Northern Canada that you wouldn't want to visit in January.  And Suzy Q...well, that's just obvious.

Anyhow, I have a thing for quinoa.  It's absolutely delicious.  It's full of nutrients.  And it's ancient.

According to Wikipedia (a perfectly reliable source, if you ask me), "quinoa originated in the Andean region of South America, where it has been an important food for 6,000 years."  (See? Ancient.)  The Incas even thought it was sacred.  Also, because it contains the essential amino acids, it is a complete source of protein.

So, I stumbled upon today's recipe, and it could be my new favorite side dish.  A few tidbits:

You can certainly use frozen corn, but if there are a few ears left at your farmer's market, this would be an excellent way to use them up.  Or if you're grilling corn on the cob, grill up a few extra, and use the leftovers for this salad.  I use about three ears of corn.  I love corn.

If you happen to like tortilla chips as much as the husband does, feel free to eat this with chips.  Is it the classiest choice?  Not necessarily.  But neither is eating hot fudge by the spoonful, so I'm not going to judge.

Quinoa with Corn and Black Beans
Serves: 8
Prep Time: 15 minutes

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups vegetable (or chicken) broth
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained*
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Stir in onion and saute until lightly browned.  Stir in garlic, cumin, and cayenne.  Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add salt and pepper.  Mix quinoa into the pan and cover with broth.  Bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15-20 minutes.  Stir in frozen corn and simmer five minutes, until heated through.  Mix in black beans and cilantro.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

*If you're looking to make this into a main dish, use two cans of black beans.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Goat Cheese and Tomato Sandwich

I'm always impressed by an enterprising farmer at my local farmer's market.  Each Saturday, I visit a particular stand for a tomato.  (Yes, only one tomato.  Anyone who knows the food preferences of my husband understands that the man does not eat tomatoes.  So, it's just the one tomato for yours truly.)  Anyway, each week the farmer asks me if I would like some fresh goat cheese to go with my tomato.

Ah, the up-sell.  Typically, the up-sell chaps my hide, but I figure it's tough for a small farmer to make a buck.  And, well, I really love goat cheese.

The only issue is that I have a limited farmer's market budget each week, and the $7 ($7!!) for goat cheese would limit the number of caramels I could purchase.  A girl has to have her priorities.

Finally, after several weeks of turning down the chevre, I had enough pennies in my pocket.  When the farmer offered the bait, I bit hard. "Well, yes, I would like some goat cheese to go with my tomato!"

And I was on my way home, dreaming of lunch at 8:30 a.m.

When the husband and I met up later that morning, I proudly announced my farmer's market purchase.  He looked at me with that look that told me I was being dense but wasn't quite sure why.  "That goat cheese is going to be UNPASTEURIZED."

Ahhh.  Unpasteurized.  Dang.

I am the kind of person who sniffs the milk carton even before it's reached the expiration date.  I stopped eating raw cookie dough as soon as I learned the word salmonella.  In my mind, unpasteurized meant consequences I was not interested in.

But goat cheese and tomato sounded so goooood.

God bless the people who invented the internet.  After a quick search, I tracked down my enterprising farmer and confirmed that his product was indeed pasteurized.

Darn good thing because I couldn't have resisted this kind of glorious concoction:

This is simple.  Get bread.  Schmear it with goat cheese.  Top it with sliced tomatoes.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Smile big.