Thursday, September 29, 2005

Yeah, I Know...

...I don't post here nearly often enough. But I'm on a diet and, meh, there's only so much food I allow myself to eat. I'm doing well though - 7 lbs down in September.

My DH has been really good about making lighter dinners, after I complained about the festival of carbs that we usually have (tons of pasta, potatoes, and rice, not nearly enough vegetables). He likes to make soup, so we're living on a liquid diet of sorts. Last night we had a gumbo-ish soup, that was delish, but today I wanted some solid food. Hell, I wanted a cheeseburger. But we had salad instead. A huge plate of greens and thinly sliced carrot, dressed with a nice vinaigrette, and topped with a big mound of tuna salad flavored with cilantro and some southwest-type seasoning that I made up for wedding favors. (Yes, I do know that my wedding was five years ago, and that spices lose their flavor over time, but I did pay good money for this stuff, and there's still plenty of it. I think it's growing, actually.) Quite tasty!

But I still want a cheeseburger. Sigh. Time to hit the exercise bike.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Summer Rolls, and the Livin' is Easy....

Ok, so my rolls didn't look this good....

We had an approximation of Vietnamese summer rolls for dinner tonight. Despite being more than halfway through September, and summer officially over this week, the weather is still hot and humid, with no real relief in sight. We had most of the ingredients on hand already (I like to keep rice paper and rice vermicelli in the pantry) and it seemed like a perfect antidote to the heat.

Summer Rolls
6 Round rice paper sheets
2 bunches rice vermicelli, cooked to package directions, drained and cooled
Handful of cilantro, chopped
Handful of fresh basil leaves
Handful of fresh mint
Handful of baby spinach
Handful of broccoli slaw, or, shredded carrots
24 medium shrimp, cooked
Hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons finely crushed peanuts

Shallow pan of warm water

Place a paper towel on your work surface. Place one rice paper sheet into the warm water and allow to soften. When soft, spread out onto towel. Place four shrimp in a line down the center of the wrapper, but not going to the edges. Top with approximately 1/4 cup noodles, plus a some of each of the herbs and veggies. Squirt a line of Hoisin on it all, and sprinkle on some peanuts.

Fold top and bottom edges of rice paper over filling, then roll the wrapper closed, like a burrito. Place seam side down on a plate. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Slice rolls in half; serve with a dipping sauce of your choice (Hoisin, Thai- or Vietnamese-style peanut sauce, or something like A Taste of Thai Sweet Red Chili Sauce. (No affiliation, that's just what we happened to use tonight. If you check out that site, make sure to look at the recipes...most look really tasty!)

Serves 2-6, depending on appetite, and whether it's a main dish or appetizer.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

I Propose a Gjetost

What the heck is gjetost? I'm pretty sure I remember seeing it sold in Miles Kimball catalogs when I was a kid, and I thought it was some sort of novelty item...Sponge Bob Squarecheese, if you will. Well, it is a bit novel, outside of Norway that is. Gjetost is a cheese made by boiling the leftover whey of cow's and goat's milk until the lactose caramelizes, producing the cheese's Malibu Barbie-tan color. Yes, this cheese is sweet, and has a pliable texture rather like fudge. It also has a pronounced "goaty" flavor, which of course is not at all unpleasant (unless one doesn't like goat's cheese). Gjetost is very much like a solid version of goat's milk caramel, or cajeta (major yum!)

So why am I writing about gjetost? Well, I sent my DH out to buy some goat's cheese for a salad, telling him make sure the cheese was somewhat firm. Not being a goat connaisseur (yet), he bought two kinds, one of which was gjetost...because it felt firm. Not what I was looking for, but what the hell - we'll try it.

Last night's dinner consisted of soupe a l'oignon, sans crouton (DH doesn't like the roof-of-mouth skin-ripping burn of traditional meltycheese bread topping) and an array of cheeses that had been collecting in our fridge, one of which was the red-wrapped cube of Ski Queen.

I tentatively cut off a thin sliver, not quite knowing what to expect, but anticipating the sweetness. It's...interesting...somewhat of an acquired taste, as it doesn't seem to belong on a cheese plate at all. It competed with the vinaigrette on the salad and with the soup. I can see how the Norwegians eat it for breakfast, on bread or crispbread. It would probably work very well with an accompaniment of sliced apples or pears. And looky - I found actual recipes on the 'net. If you try any of them, do let me know.

Eggplant and Gjetost Strudel
Dyresteg (Roast Venison with Goat Cheese Sauce)
Norwegian Baked Apples
Cheese Apple Cups
Norwegian Meatballs

Monday, September 12, 2005

But Do You Want to Attract Flies?

As the old adage goes, "You can attract more flies with honey than vinegar." But does one really want to attract flies?

Vinegar is an important flavor component that adds depth and balance to foods. This past weekend, I prepared a few dishes that showcased my collection of the tart flavorings: marinated asparagus with Trader Joe's Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar; Asian pasta salad with rice wine vinegar; and Golden Whisk Earl Grey Vinaigre de T was used in the dressing for a chopped salad. I also have the now-ubiquitous balsamic vinegar, plus bottles of red wine, sherry, vanilla, cherry, and Golden Whisk Smokey Lap-Souchang Chinese Tea vinegars on hand.

What does one do with myriad flavored vinegars? Make myriad tasty foodstuffs, that's what! The most obvious use is in salad dressings. If using a tasty vinegar, it's possible to skimp on the olive oil and make a really low-fat dressing.

Basic Flavorful Low-Fat Vinaigrette

1 tsp Dijon mustard (but heck, you can use Gulden's if it's all you have on hand!)
1 tsp honey
2-3 tsp flavored vinegar (raspberry, vanilla, fig, cherry, etc.)
salt and pepper

Whisk ingredients together with a fork. Slowly drizzle in some nice olive oil - maybe a tablespoon or so - whisking all the time until the dressing coalesces. Taste it and add more honey or salt to taste. Ok, if you think it needs more oil, by all means, add whatever amount you want.

This tastes great over mesclun with sliced pears, walnut pieces, and maybe some crumbled bleu cheese. Or make the dressing with balsamic vinegar and put sliced strawberries in the salad. Yum!

Ok, you say, what else can I put all of these weird vinegars into? Well, have you ever cooked something that's just, well, flat? Add a tiny bit of vinegar to perk it up! I made a recipe out of one of Rachel Ray's 30-Minute Meals books (An aside: I don't get her popularity. She's got a voice like she snacks on coarse sandpaper, and the few recipes of hers that I've tried are extremely bland. And those cheap travel shows make her seem like...well, a cheapskate) an eggplant sauce for pasta. It tasted like...nothing. So I added a tablespoonful of balsamic vinegar, some honey, and SALT, and it was quite yummy.

Other ideas: use a little balsamic vinegar to perk up a bland tomato sauce. Macerate some orange and grapefruit slices in a little bit of fruity vinegar, add chopped red onion, and either fresh basil or fresh cilantro, and use it as a cool salsa-like topping for red snapper or tilapia.

Speaking of salsa, here's one of my favorite salsa recipes. The cocoa seems weird, but it adds an unusual smoky flavor.

Chocolate Salsa

1 32-oz can chopped tomatoes (with no additional seasoning, drained, juice reserved
1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
1 tblsp cocoa powder
1 tblsp red chile powder (not chili powder)
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup green chiles (canned, not jalapenos)
salt and fresh lime juice, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Let sit for 30 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Yummy on just about everything.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Pasta Possession

I don't know what possessed me, on a warm summer day, to turn on the oven and bake a lasagne. I like to create new dishes out of leftovers, and wanted to make use of the three meatballs and sauce from the delicious spaghetti my DH made earlier in the week. I had not made lasagne in a long time and figured it was a good idea now. I completely forgot how long it took to prep this particular pasta dish...thankfully I had most of the meat and sauce part taken care of already. But still....

I used the pre-cooked pasta sheets, for ease of prep and sanity's sake. These require more liquid than the type of pasta one must cook, so I had to make more sauce. This entailed sauteeing onions, garlic, and mushrooms, adding leftover wine (can you imagine such a thing as leftover wine?) and tomato paste, fresh basil, and water. The extra liquid makes this type of lasagne sometimes soggy, so I didn't over do it. Instead, after assembly, I refrigerated it for a few hours to allow the pasta to start softening.

By the time I had it all together and washed all of the bowls, spatulas, spoons, measuring cups, and other paraphernalia, I was pooped.

The fruits of my labor. It was tasty, but my all-time favorite lasagne recipe is still the one on the San Giorgio lasagne noodle box.

I figured since I had the oven on, I'd make dessert too...a nice baked, non-raw-peach, Kathy-friendly dish I call:

Peach Crisp

3 large ripe or nearly-ripe peaches, sliced
1 tblsp sugar
ground ginger

2/3 cup flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 stick very cold butter

sliced almonds or other nuts, optional

Place peaches in an 8 x 8 baking dish. Sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon, and ginger, and toss to coat. Cover and set aside.

Place the brown sugar and flour into a bowl. Cut the butter into tiny pieces and rub it through the flour/sugar mixture with your fingers until it's the texture of coarse crumbs and a handful squeezed will stick together. Break up clumps, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350. Pour crumb mixture over peaches and top with nuts. Bake for 30 minutes or until bubbly and brown. Serve warm with vanilla or butter pecan ice cream.

Serves 4-6.