Sunday, November 28, 2010

Winter Time means CASSEROLE TIME!

Unlike many Americans, I did not really grow up eating casseroles.  My parents were the pasta type, and when I was quite young, my sister and I joked that the question in our household was not "What's for dinner?" but "What sauce is on the pasta tonight?"  Later, due to dietary restrictions, our pasta consumption cut drastically and we experimented with balancing our carb intake with various meat and vegetable dishes, but aside from the occasional scalloped potatoes on Christmas Eve or the rare (but delicious) chicken in some sort of creamy sauce,  my family never exactly turned to the casserole as a substitute. 

I did not really discover the delights of the casserole until I began cooking on my own.  Cooking for one person is a difficult balancing act: You need dishes that you can cook in either very large or very small quantities, preferably that use few pots and pans and are unique and tasty enough to eat over and over again.  Like my parents before me, I turned to pasta, but quickly found that there is only so much carbohydrate a person can eat before they begin to blow up like a balloon.

Instead, this winter, I am exploring the many possibilities offered by two very flexible dishes: the casserole and the stew.  Now, while I have some recipes from my parents' kitchen, I'm looking to expand my repertoire.  Do you have a favorite casserole or stew recipe?  I'm looking for anything: vegetable-based, meat based... doesn't matter.  As long as its tasty, I'll try it!  Send me your recipes please!

In the spirit of sharing I'll offer you a recipe I'm trying out tonight (stolen from my current favorite  Food Network chef Alton Brown).  He calls it Cheesy Cauliflower Casserole, and it sounds delicious.  It's basically your standard "cover it in cheese so we don't know its cauliflower" recipe, but it's got CAULIFLOWER so it can't be too horrible for you... 

The other advantage of this recipe is that at this time of year (especially for those of you on the east coast) cauliflower is one of the few vegetables you can still buy locally.  Look for it at your local farmers market. 

Enjoy the recipe and send me some of your favorites!!!  My stomach thanks you.

Cheesy Cauliflower Casserole

1 large head of cauliflower
1 1/2 Cups grated cheddar cheese
3 Tbs Butter
3 Tbs Flour
2 Cups room temp. milk
Bread Crumbs

Preheat the oven to *350

Divide a large head of cauliflower into small (bite-size) florets and steam them in the microwave for 4-5 minutes or until they are just barely done.

Create a b├ęchamel sauce: In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat.  Add the flour and stir for 3-4 mins or until it becomes frothy (do not let the flour brown).  Add milk 1/4 of a cup at a time, stirring constantly.

Remove sauce from heat and stir in the cheddar cheese.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Put the cooked cauliflower in a casserole dish and pour the cheese sauce over it.  cover with bread crumbs.  Cook at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until the breadcrumbs are brown.

Enjoy hot and delicious :)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Yoga of Cooking

Well, we're nearing the end of the 40 day challenge.  I'll update you with the final report soon, but in the meantime, enjoy this fall-like zenny recipe:

Chai Tea Concentrate
created by Liz Schildkret after some experimentation and failure.
3 cups water (filtered only if your tap water tastes nasty... like mine does)
1tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Ginger
sprinkle of ground cloves
2 Bay leaves
LOTS of honey (I use the entire bear's head...)
1tbs vanilla
3 Chai Teabags (I use tazo, but Stash is also good.  You can also use plain black tea bags or even decaf if you're really crazy.  I like the extra spice.)
Milk or soymilk

1.  Bring 3 cups of water to boil in a medium saucepan.  Reduce to a simmer and add the tea bags (Note: do not turn the heat completely off, if you do, the reduction process will take forever.)  Stir lightly while the tea steeps, until the water turns a deep brown color.

2.  Add the spices and the amount of honey that tastes good to you.  If you don't have a sweet tooth, don't use much honey. 

3.  Get ready for your house to smell like Christmas.

4.  Allow mixture to simmer at medium heat for 20-30 minutes stirring occasionally.  The mixture should turn a bit syrupy/soupy when it's finished.  Here's where the Zen comes in.   If you're into meditation, I imagine meditating while stirring the chai would be an amazing experience.

5.  Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla. 

6.  Try not to drink the entire mixture when you add the vanilla.  It'll smell delicious.

7.  Pour some of the mixture into a mug or cup and add milk or soymilk to taste.  Enjoy heated (in the microwave) or iced.

8. Pour the rest of your chai concentrate into a glass bottle and store in the fridge to satisfy future chai cravings.  (Note: to avoid having to purchase a funnel, try pouring your mixture into a teapot, THEN into your glass bottle.  As a bonus, your next cup of tea will taste like chai :) )

If you try the recipe, let me know how it turns out.  The proportions aren't exact at all and I experimented a lot to find the combination I really like.  Feel free to add or take away ingredients... and then tell me what changes you make!!