Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Random Odds and Ends Chickpea Salad

Jess posted over at Not A Diet yesterday about learning to cook without a recipe.

I agree with several of the commenters there, it's about practice and trial and error- after a while, you start to develop a sense of what would go with what. It also helps to keep certain items on hand. I feel Jess's pain about going to the grocery store too often, but there are a lot of fresh ingredients that last a long time, impart a lot of flavor, and are key to having around for last-minute meals.

Here's my list of things I try to keep in the house, aside from the usual salt, pepper, olive oil, etc:

Cans/dry goods:
-black beans
-chick peas
-diced tomatoes
-whole tomatoes
-light coconut milk
-chicken broth and veggie broth (I actually get this in those cartons and I know, making your own is better, but let's be realistic, shall we?)
-brown rice
-barilla plus pasta (for emergencies)

Perishables (that last a long time):
-sweet potatoes
-kalamata olives
-lemons and limes (seriously, with a lemon, you can make pretty much anything better)
-ginger (I cheat and get the pre-grated stuff in a jar.)
-thai red curry paste
-block of parmesan cheese
-salsa verde from a jar
-frozen mixed veggies
-block of feta cheese

From these ingredients, all of which are pretty cheap and last a long time, you can make all kinds of stuff. Some of my go-to meals include:

*Scrambled eggs with salsa verde, black beans, and feta
*Mixed veggie red curry with roasted sweet potatoes and brown rice
*Black beans simmered with canned tomatoes and salsa verde, served with brown rice or quinoa
*Pasta with quick homemade tomato sauce
*Mujadara (lentil and onion stew- so yummy, and so so cheap)

But my favorite, and the one I want to share with you today, was a happy accident. I call it "um, we have nothing to eat" chickpea salad:

can of chick peas
1 lemon
olive oil

optional ingredients (if you have them, toss them in)
spinach leaves
red peppers

To make:
1. Whisk together the juice of one lemon, about 1Tbsp of olive oil, some salt and pepper, and one clove minced garlic. If you're feeling really adventurous, toss some lemon zest in there, too. Taste for seasoning and tartness, and adjust with additional oil and/or salt if necessary. Toss dressing with a can of drained chickpeas.

2. Add any additional veggies, if using (spinach and red bell peppers are particularly tasty- you'll probably want to sautee the red peppers before mixing them in to soften them a little.) If you want, pop this mixture in a frying pan and heat through.

3. Prepare some quinoa according to the package instructions.

4. Scoop some quinoa into a bowl, top with some of the chickpea mixture, and sprinkle with crumbled feta and chopped kalamata olives. If you want, grate some parmesan cheese on top. Pat yourself on the back for being so thrifty and gourmet.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Houswarming Lemon Bars

Hey everyone-

Some of you may know me from my own blog, pseudostoops, and I was thrilled when Jess said it would be okay for me to contribute to her recipe blog!

Normally, my own cooking tends towards the healthy side. (My dad had a stroke when I was 5 and he was 46, brought on by high blood pressure and high cholesterol, so healthy cooking has long been a priority in my family, and I'm fortunate to have develped healthy habits as a result.) But when it comes to baking and desserts, I inherited my dad's wicked sweet tooth, and I'd much rather eat a small portion of something delicious and homemade than a larger portion of something filled with chemicals and fake sweeteners and other ingredients I can't pronounce. Plus, I LOVE baking, and would be sad if I stopped. So I've developed a cadre of go-to dessert recipes that aren't healthy, exactly, but aren't over-the-top rich and are so delicious that you can be satisfied with a small portion.

As you may have heard, Jess is currently in the middle of a big cross-country move, and if I lived close enough to bring her and Torsten a small housewarming gift in their new place, this is what I'd bring them. Because I can't bring them in person, I'm giving them a housewarming recipe!

Easy-Peasy Lemon Bars
makes 36 bars

These lemon bars are perfect- lemony and tangy with a satisfying crunchy crust. They're much less rich than many lemon bar recipes, and they only use one bowl and require ZERO special equipment- not even a hand mixer! Plus, I usually have all the ingredients on hand, so I can make them in a flash. They're a winner.

For the crust:
8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, melted in the microwave
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

For the filling:
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons flour
3 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 cup strained fresh lemon juice (it usually takes me about two and a half lemons to get this much juice)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 dgrees. Line the bottom and sides of an 8 inch square baking pan with foil. Spray foil with cooking spray. (for directions on making a foil sling for bars, look below. It's SO WORTH THE EFFORT because it makes cutting easy and you don't end up weeping over ruined brownies that have fused to the pan. Not that I speak from experience.)

2. Make the crust: in the same medium-sized bowl you microwaved the butter in, stir in the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and mix until incorporated. Press dough evenly over the bottom of the pan with your fingers. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the crust is fully baked- it will be well-browned at the edges and golden brown in the center.

3. While the crust is baking, make the filling: Give the bowl you made the crust in a quick rinse and dry out with a paper towel. Stir together the sugar and the flour in the bowl. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the zest and the lemon juice.

4. When the crust is ready, turn the heat in the oven down to 300 degrees. Slide the rack with the pan out and pour the filling onto the hot crust. Bake for 20-25 minutes longer, until the filling no longer jiggles in the center when you tap the pan.

5. Let cool completely in pan. To make cutting easier, after it's cool I pop the pan in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. Lift the foil sling out and set the bars on a cutting board. Cut into 36 equal squares. Dust with powdered sugar if you like.

Store the bars in the fridge for up to a week.

Welcome home, Jess and Torsten!

Foil sling method for brownies and bar cookies, from Cooks Illustrated

1. Fold two long sheets of aluminum foil so that they are as wide as the baking pan (if the dish is rectangular, the two sheets will be different sizes). Lay the sheets of foil in the pan, perpendicular to one another, with the extra hanging over the edges of the pan.

2. Push the foil flat into the corners and up the sides of the pan. Try to iron out any wrinkles in the foil, laying it flush to the pan. Spray the sides and bottom of the pan with vegetable oil spray before adding the batter.

3. After the brownies or bar cookies have baked and cooled, use the foil sling to transfer them to a cutting board before cutting into squares.)