Archive for Entrees and Sides

Red Lentils and (Soaked) Whole Wheat Naan

 lentils and naan 001

Tonight I had one of my first attempts at making ‘real’ Indian food (previous attempts have basically consisted of throwing a TON of all the Indian style spices I had into a pan of lentils, which turns out surprisingly well, in case you were wondering). I based this lentil dish off of this recipe, and my naan off this recipe for whole wheat naan.

Despite the fact that this was a meatless meal (using fairly inexpensive ingredients) my husband and I both really enjoyed it (!) AND my husband approved the naan despite the fact that it’s whole wheat. Oh, yeah, and it’s all healthy too. Win, win, win.

I should probably warn you that I didn’t measure  most of my spices, so the the amounts listed below are estimates…

Red Lentils

1 cup split red lentils

water for soaking (optional)

2-3 cups chicken stock

1 diced onion OR 2 TBSP dried minced onion

1 TBSP minced garlic

1 tsp ground ginger

1 6oz can tomato paste

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp black pepper

salt to taste

1/4 cup butter

2 tsp black cumin seeds (nigella sativa)

1 tsp mustard powder

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp paprika

Soak lentils overnight, if desired. (This improves the digestibility a bit, but isn’t strictly necessary.) Drain soaked lentils.

In a medium sized pot, mix lentils, chicken stock, onion, garlic, ginger, tomato paste, crushed red pepper and black pepper. Cover and cook over medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes, or until lentils are completely soft. Add salt to taste.

(I’ll admit I don’t entirely understand how this next bit is supposed to work, but this is what I did in my attempt to mostly follow the recipe I was working from.) Melt butter in a small pot. Meanwhile, measure black cumin seeds into one small bowl, and remaining spices into a second small bowl. Once the butter is beginning to sizzle, dump in the cumin seeds all at once and quickly put the lid on to avoid being spattered. (Mine didn’t really spatter. Perhaps I didn’t heat the butter as hot as I was supposed to.) Remove the lid, add the remaining spices, and let them sizzle and bubble for about 30 seconds without letting them burn.

Mix the butter/spice mixture into the lentils and serve, preferably in a large bowl, scooping it into your mouth with warm whole wheat naan bread.

Whole Wheat Naan

3 cups whole wheat flour (I used red hard wheat aka whole wheat bread flour)

1 tsp honey

1 tsp coconut oil

1 cup sour milk or thin yogurt

1/2 cup warm water

2 1/4 tsp yeast

dash of ground ginger

 

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp cream of tartar

1 tsp salt

coconut oil or ghee (for frying)

melted ghee or butter (for brushing)

Mix first four ingredients and allow to soak overnight. (If using a different type of whole wheat, such as white wheat, you’ll need less liquid, maybe about 3/4 cup.)

Mix yeast and ginger with warm water and let sit until foamy.

Sprinkle baking soda, cream of tartar and salt across top of soaked wheat mixture, and mix it in a bit. (Mine was so crumbly that I just crumbled it around a little with my fingers so everything was distributed. If your mixture is more dough like, giving it a few fold-and-press kneads would probably work better.)

Pour in foamy yeast mixture and mix or knead until all ingredients are incorporated together. Knead for a few minutes, until the dough is beginning to feel firm and dough like. (If I’d been doing this in my mixer I probably would have kneaded it a lot longer, until it was closer to passing a windowpane test, but I get tired of hand kneading whole wheat dough.)

Let rise for about 2 hours.

Divide dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll out each piece into a circle about as big as your skillet.

Heat a small amount of ghee or coconut oil in a skillet, just about enough to cover the bottom of the skillet well, but not quite enough to pool. The original recipe says medium-high heat, though I found that medium on my stove got the skillet plenty hot enough–hot enough that the skillet started smoking if it was empty for more than a few seconds, but not hot enough burn the naan.

Put one circle of dough in the skillet, cover with the lid and let cook for 1-2 minutes. Flip over the bread, replace the lid, and cook for another minute.

Brush with melted ghee or butter while still warm, and serve promptly.

Homemade Spice Mix for Corned Beef Brisket

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, St Patrick’s Day is a holiday we really enjoy celebrating at our house, for both culinary and historical reasons.

Our typical main course for a St Patrick’s Day dinner is corned beef. This is one of those areas of compromise between health and budget: the best option would be to get a high quality beef brisket and brine it myself to avoid all chemical additions to the meat. Instead I buy inexpensive corned beef on sale, throw away the spice packet and use my own blend of spices, so that I at least avoid any msg or other mystery ingredients in the spices.

In case you’re wondering, the rest of our St Patricks Day menu typically looks something like this:

Cabbage (cooked with the corned beef)

Potato wedges (cooked with the corned beef) OR Mashed Potatoes OR Boxty (Irish Potato Pancakes)

Irish Soda Bread (my husband prefers a sweeter version, technically closer to Spotted Dog Bread than traditional plain Irish soda bread) with butter

Sometimes we may also add an Irish cheese such as Dubliner which is made by Kerrygold (I’ve seen this particular cheese both at Aldi and Costco) or homemade Irish Cream. (Because it’s already a hearty meal, if we do get an Irish cheese, we’re more likely to it as an appetizer or an evening snack than part of the meal. The Irish Cream is also more of an after dinner drink.)

Today I’m sharing my recipe for the spice mix I add to my corned beef brisket. This is my own interpretation of a pickling spice blend, which is basically what the mysterious spice packet included in the corned beef package is supposed to be.

I’ve found it to be a pretty forgiving recipe. In fact, until I was getting ready to write this post, I’d never measured the spices, I just used a heavy sprinkling of some spices and a lighter sprinkling of others. You should be able to pretty easily adjust this recipe to taste and based on what ingredients you have on hand.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

As with a lot of my recipes, your healthiness results will vary based on the quality of the ingredients you use, in this case most notably the quality of meat. However, this spice blend is on its own merits good for you, and allows you to replace a prepackaged spice packet with mystery ingredients that might include MSG. It seems to me that should merit a healthy rating.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

It’s been so long since I’ve had corned beef fixed with the included spice packet that I’m not going to try to make any claims this spice mix tastes the same. What I can say is that this spice mix makes the corned beef taste very good and very savory, and based on the results I have no reason to wish for a spice packet or any other spice options.

Spice Mix for Corned Beef Brisket

3-4 pound corned beef brisket

1 TBSP mustard powder

1 TBSP black pepper

1 tsp dill seed

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp ginger

1 tsp turmeric

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

½ tsp clove

Sprinkle spices on corned beef and cook according to favorite method. This is how I like to do it:

Chop 1/2 a head of cabbage and 2-3 pounds of potatoes and put them in the bottom of a crock pot. (If you’d like, give the potatoes a light sprinkle of salt, but be careful because the corned beef is going to add a LOT of salt to the dish.)

Remove corned beef from packaging, discarding the spice packet and juices. (If you like you can rinse the corned beef as well.) Put the corned beef brisket on top of the potatoes and cabbage, sprinkle with the spices, and cook on high for 4-7 hours or on low for 7-10 hours. (Corned beef is best with a long, slow, moist cooking time in order to tenderize well.)

 

Sourdough Stuffing Casserole

Sourdough Stuffing Casserole

 This is a bit different from a lot of my recipe posts so far. I didn’t video myself making it and I barely even got a picture of it (we won’t talk about whether I managed to get an appetizing picture of it at all…). Think of this as a chance to peek into my recipe box and read my notes on how I changed the recipe to use what I had on hand because it turned out so well that I didn’t want to forget what I did.

 We really enjoyed this casserole, and especially since I used sourdough bread, organic raw milk and organic cornstarch, the wholesomeness and nutrition levels were very high for such a ‘comfort food’ kind of dish. I always consider it a big win when I use all healthy ingredients in a dish AND my husband loves it.

 I worked from this savory bread pudding recipe as a base, but after browsing a couple of other recipes (and looking in the fridge) I knew I also wanted to add parmesan, mushrooms and peppers.

 I made this to use up one of my early loaves of sourdough bread that was bit too sour and dense. I think it would be a good way to use up any kind of bread that’s going stale or didn’t turn out quite right. (I left the crusts on mine and they softened up just fine in the milk mixture.)

 The original recipe calls for putting the whole casserole into a 9×13 pan, but because I’m cooking for only two people I split the recipe between two 8×8 pans and put one in the freezer. That made my cooking time just a smidge shorter, but I think either way probably works just as well.

 I skimped a bit on the cheddar cheese compared to the original recipe, which isn’t my normal strategy when it comes to cheese (it’s nearly impossible to get my husband or I to say that something has too much cheese), but we were getting a bit low on cheese, so I wanted to make sure I reserved enough to not run out before my next grocery trip. It still turned out to have a very good balance of cheese–the cheese isn’t the star of this dish, but adds a lot to the texture and flavor as a background ingredient.

Stuffing Casserole

1 loaf of bread, cubed (about 4 cups of bread cubes?)

1 pound fake sausage

1/2 cup of butter

1 medium onion or 1/2 large onion

4 oz mushrooms (about 1/2 an 8oz package)

1/4 cup diced sweet peppers (I used about 4 of the larger mini peppers)

3 cups milk

2 TBSP cornstarch

1/3 cup parmesan cheese

1 3/4-2 cups cheddar cheese

salt and pepper to taste (in a rare turn of events, I thought this was fine without any extra salt, because I put plenty of salt in the fake sausage)

Preheat oven to 350 and grease pan or pans.

Cook fake sausage in a skillet. Transfer to casserole pan(s) and mix with bread cubes.

Melt butter in skillet and sautee vegetables. While vegetables are cooking, whisk cornstarch into 1/2 cup of milk, then mix with remaining milk.

Add vegetables and cheeses to meat and bread cubes, mix, pour milk mixture over the whole thing. Let sit for a few minutes so bread can absorb the moisture, then mix again so all the bread is moistened. (The original recipe said to let it sit in the fridge for at a few hours, but mine only sat for about ten minutes on the counter.)

Bake at 350 for 50 to 60 minutes.

How to Roast Squash

This post is really more of tutorial than a recipe. I use butternut squash in the video, but this method can be used on any kind of squash or pumpkin.

Most squash roasting instructions will tell you to roast the squash for 30 minutes, which results in tender but firm squash to serve cut into pieces. I prefer to roast the squash for closer to 60 minutes, resulting a squash which has essentially pureed itself. (If desired, a quick whirl through the food processor will remove any lingering stringiness or lumps.)

I generally roast squash to prepare it for freezing, though, of course, the roasted squash can also be served immediately, preferably with a pat of butter and perhaps a sprinkling of turbinado sugar and cinnamon or of garlic. I often defrost the squash for a hearty winter breakfast (usually with served with that bit of turbinado sugar), but it can also be used in any soups or casseroles that call for squash puree, or as a substitute for pumpkin puree.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

It’s squash, plain and simple.

Yumminess Rating: Kinda Yummy

The yumminess rating really depends on what you do with the squash. On it’s own it’s okay, but not that amazing, however it can be turned into yummy amazingness as desired.

How to Roast Squash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. This isn’t really an exact science. 350 or 450 will still get you roasted squash, 350 will just take longer and at 450 you start to risk scorching the squash.

Rinse any loose or excessive dirt from the outside of the squash. You don’t have to be meticulous because you won’t be eating the skin anyway, but I like to avoid the risk of having large chunks of mud fall into the food part of the squash.

Cut of the top of the squash, then cut the squash in half lengthwise. Unless you have a particularly small squash or are particularly handy with a knife, it may be easier and safer to cut the squash in half once crosswise before cutting it in half lengthwise.

Scoop out the seeds. I like to use a large spoon for this because it has enough edge to easily scrape out the orange stringy bits clinging to the seeds, but won’t take away much of the flesh of the squash with it. If you like, you can set aside the seeds to clean and roast later.

Arrange the squash on cookie sheets with sides. (Once I forgot to use cookie sheets with sides and water released by the roasting squash spilled all over the floor of my oven and scorched there. Not ideal.) I can normally fit one squash per cookie sheet unless the squash are abnormally large.

Put the squash into a hot oven for 45 minutes to an hour. The squash is done when a fork easily pierces the skin and slides through the squash.

Remove from the oven and let cool. (If you’re not going to get to it within a reasonable amount of time you can throw it in the fridge and deal with it later, but generally just letting it cool to room temperature on the counter works fine.) If you like, you can save any ‘squash water’ that’s collected in the cookie sheet and add it to soup or stock.

Peel the squash. Once again, I like to use a large spoon for the process. If the squash has been cooked very well you may just be able to remove the peel easily with your fingers, and if it’s still a bit hard it’s best to peel it with a knife as you would any vegetable. However, for everything in between the spoon does a good job of scraping the squash from the peel without making too much of a mess.

Use or freezer the squash puree/pieces. Half a squash serves the two of us for a breakfast or side dish and fits nicely into a quart size freezer bag.

Did you notice how at 40 seconds in I said “cut the half in piece” instead of “cut the piece of half”? Yeah, I’m smooth like that. But I make up for it and prove I’m a cool person anyway  with that Tetris reference at 2:52 right?

Creamy Spicy Chicken Broth

Creamy Spicy Broth

When I first ran across a recipe for Thai broth I thought it looked amazing. I knew my husband wasn’t likely to go for it as a thin, brothy soup though, so I filed it away on Pinterest, waiting for a flash of inspiration. Maybe I could make a reduction sauce based on Thai broth and serve it as a gravy? Maybe turn it into a noodle soup?

Every time I ran across it again it still sounded good, but I never wanted to go to the trouble of making coconut milk that day just to try it. Then one day it suddenly dawned on me that I could give a try with the regular cow’s milk I always have on hand. (I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took me, the queen of changing recipes, to come up with that idea.)

Once I started changing it though, I just couldn’t stop. I didn’t have fresh herbs on hand either, so I fell back on my standbys garlic powder and ginger powder, and of course, I had to add turmeric, that powerhouse of adding anti-inflammatories and richness of flavor at the same time. I salted it heavily and added just a dash of cayenne (especially because I was going to be drinking it instead of eating it as a soup, I was skeptical of the chili flakes, and their tendency to burst unexpected waves of heat in unpredictable intervals).

The result was a rich and creamy broth, with lot of flavor and just a bit of spice on the back end. For the first time in my life I found myself drinking chicken stock every morning, and even enjoying the experience.

Now, I’ll tell you that my husband does not like intense flavors first thing in the morning, so I haven’t gotten a good read on whether he will like this broth or not. I’ll let  you know when I get some kind of conclusion one way or the other. I’m thinking maybe adding homemade ramen noodles for supper one night would be good way to introduce him to this broth…

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

This is one of those recipes that just about everyone can agree is healthy. (Except angry vegans, but I generally try to ignore them.) You have all the minerals and gut healing gelatin from the chicken stock, the enzymes and minerals from the raw milk, and the metabolism boosting and immune boosting spices to top it all off.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

As I mentioned, I don’t yet have my husband’s opinion on the yumminess factor, but myself, I give it a completely yummy rating.

Creamy Spicy Broth

4 servings

4 cups chicken stock

1-2 tsp salt*

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp ginger powder

1/8 tsp cayenne, or to taste

4 cups milk (preferably raw and organic)

Heat chicken stock to just below boiling. (If you like your broth very hot, go ahead and heat it to boiling–I prefer more moderate temperature for drinking broth, and a moderate temperature also preserves some of the enzymes in the raw milk.)

Whisk in spices and salt.

Add milk.

Drink as is, or use as the base for a soup.

*NOTE: I use homemade chicken stock which has not yet been salted when making this recipe. If using store bought or pre-salted homemade stock, you will need a lot less salt, and possibly none at all.

Cooking 101: How to Brown Ground Beef

Today I’m continuing in my Cooking 101 series, aimed at novice cooks. This post may be a bit dull for old hands at cooking, as I really don’t have any new or exciting comments about cooking ground beef, I simply wanted to provide a basic tutorial for beginning cooks to have some confidence about how to to perform this foundational task in cooking a meal.

Once again, my nephew Toby guest starred on this video, lending his status as a bona fide beginner to make sure my instructions qualified as simple and comprehensive enough for anyone to follow.

When we went to film this video, I discovered that my ground beef had not defrosted as quickly as it should have, and so this video does provide some technique for cooking ground beef even from a partially frozen state. I include written instructions below for both the standard method of cooking completely thawed ground beef, and the jury rigged method of cooking partially frozen ground beef.  (I have recently learned that putting a bit of water in the skillet helps when cooking ground beef that’s still frozen, so I will be including that in the instructions below, though it was not included in the video.)

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

Not only is ground beef healthy, but learning to brown ground beef, if you don’t know how, opens up a lot of options for making your own meals that don’t include chemicals and processed foods.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

Adjust the salt to your own taste, and again ground beef a great tasting food just on it’s own, but it’s also the foundation of a lot of other even more amazing dishes.

How to Brown Ground Beef (The Basic Method)

1. Remove ground beef from packaging and place in a skillet. (I like to wash the raw meat juices off my hands at this point before I proceed.) Turn on burner to medium.

2. Use spatula or wooden spoon to break up the ground beef into small pieces.

3. Stir ground beef every minute or two (or more often if you like) as it begins to brown. You might also like to continue to break up the ground beef into smaller pieces as you stir.

4. Continue cooking the beef until all traces of pinkish hue are gone and the beef is completely brown all the way through.

5. If there’s an excessive amount of fat in the pan after brown the ground beef, you may want to remove the fat. You can do this by (a) scooping out the meat with a slotted spoon, leaving the grease behind, or (b) pouring the meat into a colander. If you choose option (b) remember that the grease has to go somewhere. You can put the colander in a bowl and empty the grease into the trash after it’s cooled, or put the colander in the sink, remove the colander after the meat has drained, and run lots of hot water and bit of dish soap down the drain to prevent the grease from clogging your drain.

How To Brown Ground Beef (From Frozen)

1. Remove ground beef from packaging and place in a skillet. (I like to wash the raw meat juices off my hands at this point before I proceed.) Turn on burner to medium low.

2. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to scrape any thawed meat off the sides and edges of the hunk of frozen meat.

3. Add a bit of water (maybe 1/4 of a cup) to the skillet. Put a lid on the skillet and let it simmer for about 3 minutes.

4. Repeat step 2, stir and break up any clumps of cooking meat that are separated from the main block of frozen meat, then put the lid back on the skillet for another 2-3 minutes.

5. Repeat step 4 until all the meat is thawed.

6. Increase heat to medium. Stir ground beef every minute or so (or more often if you like) as the ground beef continues to brown. You might also like to continue to break up the ground beef into smaller pieces as you stir.

7. Continue cooking the beef until all traces of pinkish hue are gone and the beef is completely brown all the way through.

8. If there’s an excessive amount of fat in the pan after brown the ground beef, you may want to remove the fat. You can do this by (a) scooping out the meat with a slotted spoon, leaving the grease behind, or (b) pouring the meat into a colander. If you choose option (b) remember that the grease has to go somewhere. You can put the colander in a bowl and empty the grease into the trash after it’s cooled, or put the colander in the sink, remove the colander after the meat has drained, and run lots of hot water and bit of dish soap down the drain to prevent the grease from clogging your drain.

Fake Sausage

One of my all time most used pizza toppings is something I usually call ‘fake sausage’. It generally involved dumping a bunch of sausag-y seasonings on any ground meat I had around as I browned it, and it was a big hit with my nieces and nephews.

I have managed to standardize my recipe a bit for the purposes of this blog post, but there’s still plenty of room for adjusting the seasonings to taste. As I generally make it, it has a strong herby, savory flavor without being too spicy hot.

Using this seasoning blend allows for control over the healthiness of all the ingredients of your sausage, but it also allows for using cheaper meats (such as ground turkey) in place of sausage if you’re trying to save money, and the convenience of being able to make a quick sausage replacement for a recipe out of any ground meat you have on hand.

(Edit: I don’t normally keep fennel on hand, but I have added it to the list of optional spices in the recipe, as you may find it greatly increases the sausag-y flavor of your fake sausage.)

 Healthiness Rating: Healthy

One of the main advantages of this seasoning mix is that you have complete control over the ingredients. Want to avoid MSG? Just don’t add any. Want to use only non-irradiated spices? No problem. Want to make sausage out of your grassfed beef? Easy.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

As every sausage brand and blend is a bit different, this one has it’s own flavor profile, but it’s been pretty popular with everyone who’s tried it, and qualifies as husband approved.

Fake Sausage

1 lb ground meat of choice

2 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp onion powder

1-2 tsp cumin

1/2-1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp salt

2-4 tsp dried herbs (your choice of): oregano, thyme, basil & parsley

optional: 1 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp turmeric, dash (or more) of cayenne, 1/2 tsp fennel

Brown meat in skillet, adding spices as it cooks. (Measuring spices is optional. I prefer the sprinkle, stir, taste method myself. ) If you prefer, you can mix up a larger batch of seasoning ahead of time, and simply add a couple TBSP of the mix to your ground meat, but I prefer to be able to customize the exact blend on the fly as needed.

Fried Dandelions (Dandelion Fritters)

 

 

 

Fried Dandelions (Dandelion Fritters)

Dandelions taste wild–a little bit flowery and a little bit green and bitter, but mostly like nothing else you’ve ever tasted.

These pretty little yellow flowers (yes, they are pretty, and I can’t for the life of my understand why people hate them and try so hard to get rid of them) are high in antioxidants and lecithin and a smattering of vitamins and minerals. And not only are they quite nutritious, but most of us have them available for free and very little work involved in getting them to grow.

A couple of cautions before you start eating dandelions though:

First, make sure the dandelions you gather have not been sprayed with pesticides, weed killer, or any other chemicals. If they’re in your lawn this may be as simple as refraining from spraying any chemicals (as long as your neighbors aren’t spraying anything that’s drifting over to  your yard), but I would be reticent to use dandelions growing in any public places, unless I could confirm a lack of chemicals.

Second, if you’re allergic to ragweed or daisies you may also be allergic to dandelions. Be very cautious in starting your dandelion consumption if you have allergies these or similar flowers.

Fried Dandelions can be eaten plain as a simple side dish, with savory sauces such as ketchup or ranch dressing (think anything you might dip onion rings in), or with sweet toppings such as powdered sugar, honey or maple syrup.

I recommend making this recipe with a whole wheat flour made from soft white wheat, but the recipe can quickly be adapted to use white flour or hard red wheat by adjusting the amount of liquid used. The basic ratio is 1 cup of milk to 1 cup of white flour. Use less milk for soft white whole wheat flour and extra milk for hard red whole wheat flour.

You can fry your dandelions in any oil you normally use for frying. Coconut oil makes a nice healthy (and fairly neutral flavored if you use expeller pressed coconut oil) light oil, while lard would have a heavier flavor which might be better suited to a plain or savory side. Vegetable oils would be completely neutral flavored. You might even be able to fry these in plain butter, but you’d want to keep the butter at a lower temperature, and fry the dandelions more slowly so as not to burn the butter.

In the video I demonstrated making individual fried dandelions, but for a faster process, you can also just mix all your dandelion flowers into the batter and form the batter into small pancakes.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy to Kinda Healthy

While dandelion blossoms are definitely healthy, your choice of topping or sauce might downgrade this kinda healthy. (Though if you make your own powdered sugar from turbinado sugar, you’re moving back toward healthy territory again.)

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

As I said, it’s an odd, wild flavor, but very yummy. These are very much husband approved, and as far as I can tell, my version even measured up his very fond childhood memories of fried dandelions.

While fried dandelions are definitely addictive, there are plenty of other uses for dandelions which I’m looking forward to trying this summer. If you’re also intrigued by using up your dandelions, dandelion flowers can be added to green salads, or used in any of these recipes:

Dandelion Jelly

Dandelion Soda (fermented)

Dandelion Lotion Bars

Dandelion Muffins

Fried Dandelions (Dandelion Fritters)

based on this recipe

3/4 cup milk (or more depending on flour used)

1 egg

1 cup soft white whole wheat flour (or flour of choice)

about 80 dandelion blossoms (a little less than two cups)

water and salt for soaking flowers

 

Remove the entire stem and as much of the green part as desired from each flower. (The green part is somewhat bitter, but if you remove all of it your flowers will tend to fall apart. I find it simplest to just remove the stem.) Soak flowers in salt water for five to ten minutes to remove any bugs that might be hiding in them.

Heat coconut oil or oil of choice over a medium (or slightly lower than medium) heat in a skillet.

Beat egg into milk, then add to flour. Mix just until combined. Mixture should be about the consistency of a thick pancake batter–add more milk or flour if needed to get the right consistency.

Dip flowers into batter, using a fork or tongs to make sure each flower is well coated with batter. (Or, mix all your flowers into the batter, and make small pancakes instead of individual fritters.) Drop each flower into the hot oil. (If you’re not sure whether your oil is hot enough, you can drip a small amount of batter into the oil. When the batter floats and begins bubbling briskly, your oil is hot enough.)

Fry for about two minutes on each side, or until each side is golden brown and slightly crispy.

Remove to plate lined with paper towel or a clean rag to absorb the extra grease. Immediately sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

Continue until all dandelion blossoms are fried.

 

Onion Rings

Homemade Onion Rings

The problem with blogging about yummy food is that sometimes by the time you go to take a picture there’s not much left.

 I have really fond memories of pre-packaged onion rings. When I was growing up we would often have a brunch on Saturday mornings, usually while listening to Car Talk as a family. (When I was little I more often got to listen to Children’s Bible Hour and Ranger Bill while my father listened to Car Talk in the other room, but as I got older Car Talk became the official family activity.) I didn’t know it was technically a brunch until much later, as we always just called it Big Breakfast, and it usually included scrambled eggs, some kind of potato such as french fries or tater tots, often onion rings, and occasionally juice, which was a huge treat for us. Every so often it shifted to focus more on either creamed eggs or chipped beef gravy over biscuits, but no matter what, Big Breakfast kind of summarized everything that was good about Saturdays: Daddy was home from work, everything was on a later schedule because we got to sleep in (because no schoolwork!) and we got to just hang out together eating fun food and listening to fun radio programs.

 I distinctly remember my confusion the first time I watched my father making homemade onion rings. I hadn’t known my father could cook, to start with, and I had no idea that you could make onion rings out of real onions. Onions were a prosaic food, and raw onion was pretty much the only food we were allowed to be picky about eating, as they were deemed too strong for young children to be expected to eat.

 And, as it turns out, real homemade onion rings are completely different from the store bought ones. Store bought onion rings are uniformly crispy on the outside, but with a vaguely onion flavored mush on the inside.  Homemade onion rings have a more knobbly kind of crispness on the outside, with a whole piece of beautifully tender onion on the inside, which, if you’re not careful as you bite into it, pulls right out of the breading, leaving behind a ring shaped shell that tastes only of crispiness.

 I loved both kinds of onion rings.

 I remember my father’s recipe as being very much a ‘throw stuff in a bowl and tweak it until it comes out right’ kind of recipe, and also being heavily egg based. Since I was at the height of my egg allergy symptoms around the time I decided to try making my own onion rings, I started searching for a recipe on my own. I didn’t want to have to deal with egg substitutes (flaxseed onion rings anyone?) or complexities like double breading the onion rings. This turned out to be the best and simplest base recipe I could find. I have, of course, tweaked it heavily since discovering it, but the concept of using carbonation to make the batter light and airy was a vital discovery in my onion ring quest.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

A couple of caveats to the rating of healthy: 1, the healthiness of the onion ring depends on lot on what you fry it in. Choose the healthiest oil you have access to. I would rank lard and tallow as the best frying oils, closely followed by coconut oil, followed by ghee if your frying temperature isn’t too high. If none of those are option you can use a neutral oil such as grapeseed, safflower or rice bran, but stay away from soy oil, corn oil and hydrogenated oils like Crisco if you possibly can. 2, the whole wheat flour is unsoaked in this recipe, leaving a high phytic acid content. I think this is fine for most people, especially for occasional use, but if you have digestive issues or chronic health problems you may want to stay away from unsoaked whole wheat. (For a more full discussion of my opionions on phytic acid, see this post.)

 I go back and forth on whether I consider onion rings a full vegetable side in a meal or not, but especially when paired with homemade ketchup, and as part of a diet that includes raw vegetables at other times, I think they can reasonably be considered to fill the vegetable niche for a meal.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

This one is a favorite at our house. The whole wheat doesn’t seem to bother my husband at all as he raves about homemade onion rings, and it always rates an, “Ooh, onion rings. Yum!” when he comes home from work to find me frying onion rings.

Onion Rings

2 cups flour (white or whole wheat, depending on preference)

1 1/3-2 2/3 cups seltzer water (depending on type of flour used)

1-2 tsp salt

1 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1-2 onions

lard or oil for frying (about two cups)

( The basic ratio of flour to seltzer water is one cup of white flour to one cup of seltzer water. If using a soft white whole wheat (my flour of choice for less ‘wheaty’ flavor), start with 2/3 of a cup seltzer water per cup of flour, and add more seltzer water if needed. If using a hard red wheat, start with 1 1/3 cups of seltzer water per cup of flour, and again, add more seltzer water as needed. I haven’t tried this with hard white wheat, but I would start with the soft white wheat ratio, and plan on slowly adding more seltzer as needed.)

 Begin heating lard or oil over a medium heat. (Unsurprisingly, I prefer my cast iron skillet for frying, but you can use any skillet you have around.)

 Peel onion and slice into 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch slices. Separate slices into rings. Don’t worry if you break some–they make great onion ‘strings’. I also fry up the centers that are too small to separate into rings. Those are onion nuggets, and they taste just as good as the onion rings.

 Mix flour with seasonings. Add seltzer water and mix. The batter should be thinner than even a very soft dough, but on the thick side for batter. If in doubt, throw in one onion ring. If the batter clumps and sticks to itself more than the onion, add a bit more liquid. If it coats the onion ring with a very thin layer of batter and drips off quickly, add a bit more flour. If it sticks to the onion ring in a thick layer, it’s perfect.

 Drop a small bit of batter into the oil to see if it’s hot enough. The batter should bubble and begin to brown within a few seconds, but not smoke or start to burn quickly. Adjust oil heat if needed.

 Drop onion rings into batter, coat thoroughly, and transfer to hot oil. (I like to use tongs or a fork for this part of the process.) Let cook for 1-2 minutes on each side, flipping over when the bottom is light golden brown and lightly crispy. (I like to use a clean pair of tongs for this part, but a metal spatula can also work.)

 When light golden brown and crispy on both sides, transfer to a plate lined with a couple of paper towels or a clean rag to absorb the extra grease. If needed, keep the plate in a warm oven to keep the onion rings warm as you continue frying the rest of them.

 Serve with ranch dressing, homemade ketchup or other sauce of choice. (We just discovered that homemade french dressing mixed with mayo and just a dash of hot sauce make a great onion ring dipping sauce.)

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Chinese dumpling swimming in a soyless sauce based dipping sauce.

 This is one of those meals that scores you major points as a cook. People are impressed that you can make ‘restaurant food’ and it’s really yummy without requiring any particularly exotic ingredients.

 If you like, you can buy the wonton wrappers in the refrigerated section of most grocery stores, but considering that you can make your own with just flour and boiling water, it’s worth at least trying to make your own and see if you like it. (They’ve worked perfectly every time I ever tried to make them, except for the first time I tried to make them on camera….)

 If you’re considering freaking out about the fact that I don’t use whole wheat flour for these, first, my husband liked them so much when I made them this way the first time that he didn’t want me to change them, so I decided not to start monkeying the the recipe. Second, I’m not sure white flour is quite the evil specter it’s made out to be.

White flour simply provides large amounts of energy (carbs and calories) with no nutrients.

 Some people can actually put large amounts of readily available energy to good use, and only need to be sure that their energy intake is balanced by high nutrient foods such as vegetables. Others may not be able to process such concentrated energy as easily and need to significantly limit their intake of processed foods such as white flour.

 Pay attention to how to feel after eating various foods to determine how your body functions best, but as long as you’re eating a variety of different kinds of foods prepared in a variety of ways (cooked, raw and fermented), don’t kill yourself stressing about having a perfect diet. (That would kind of defeat the purpose of having a healthy diet anyway…)

 These dumplings are completely scrumptious when made with pork, but they’re also good with ground turkey (which is much cheaper, and a bit more readily accessible), especially if you increase the seasonings a bit to compensate for a blander meat. I’m listing a range of amounts for the seasonings in the recipe below. Simply use the least amount recommended if you have real ground pork, and the largest amount if using ground turkey.

Healthiness Rating: Kinda Healthy 

Yeah, after my whole explanation of how white flour isn’t awful, I’m still only rating this kinda healthy. It’s not unhealthy, because you manage to avoid all the chemicals and additives you’d get buying ready made pork dumplings, but white flour is still a zero nutrient food. It could be part of the healthy meal, but in itself, it’s not a particularly healthy food.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

One of my husband’s favorites, and definitely a fun dish to have in your cooking repertoire.

Pork Dumplings

Dough:

2 cups white flour

1 cup boiling water

Filling:

1 lb ground pork or ground turkey

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 egg

2 TBSP fresh parsley, minced

AND/OR

2 TBSP chives or green onion, finely sliced

2-4 TBSP soy sauce or soy sauce substitute

1 1/2-3 TBSP sesame oil, peanut oil or other oil

1 TBSP fresh ginger, finely grated OR 1 tsp ground ginger

Dipping Sauce:

1/2 cup soy sauce or soy sauce substitute

1 TBSP rice vinegar (try lemon juice if you don’t have rice vinegar)

1 TBSP sesame oil, peanut oil or other oil

Mix together all filling ingredients and set aside. (You may refrigerate for as long as overnight if you want to make the filling ahead of time.)

If you have a food processor, use the blade attachment, put the flour in, and turn it on. Slowly pour a stream of the boiling water into the flour, and continue mixing until the dough forms a ball. Dough should have a ‘squeezy’ elastic consistency.

If you’re not using a food processor, just put your flour and water in a bowl, mix, and then knead until the dough comes together into a ball with an elastic consistency. (Be careful not to burn yourself on the boiling water!)

Roll out the dough (half the dough at a time) to 1/16 inch or thinner, until translucent. If it sticks to the counter use a little corn starch, potato starch or flour as you roll it out.

Cut into three or four inch squares. Put about a tsp of meat filling in the center of each square. If needed, spread a little cold water around the edge of the square to help it stick together. (Sometimes mine stick better with water, and sometimes without.)

Fold the square of dough from corner to corner, into a triangle shape, and press down firmly on the edges to seal them. Take the two corners of the triangle and fold them up, squeezing them together over the center of the dumpling. Repeat for each dumpling.

Boil about a quart of water in a medium saucepan. Put about six dumplings in the boiling water and let cook for five minutes or so. You’ll see the dough become more translucent, and if you like, you can cut open the first couple to make sure the meat is cooked properly.

Cooking Pork Dumplings

The pork dumpling on the left is cooked. The one on the right is still raw.

Fish out the dumplings with a slotted spoon or other implement of choice and repeat cooking directions with another batch of dumplings.

If  you need to keep them warm as you’re cooking more, you can put them in a warm oven in a small casserole dish with a couple tablespoons of water in the bottom to keep them from drying out.

Mix together dipping sauce ingredients.

Serve dumplings warm with dipping sauce.

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