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Another recipe made up of odds and ends to use up whatever is lying around.  Grain salads like this are fun because they are a little heartier and can be used as a main or a side.  I hope it inspires you to come up with some creative combinations.  Here’s what I tossed together in this salad (which was quite lovely – the creaminess of the goat cheese and the chewy rice, fresh green parsley -yum!)

Fresh Herb and Black Bean Salad

  • About 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • About 1 cup (1/2 a can) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • Approx 2 oz soft goat cheese (mine was rolled in Herbes de Provence)
  • a Tablespoon or two of vinaigrette (leftover one that I made with olive oil, a purple basil vinegar, dijon mustard, salt & pepper)
  • A cup or so of flat-leaf Italian parsley leaves – I left them whole without stems, but I would roughly chop them next time.  Baby spinach, or other small greens would work too.
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste

Toss all the ingredients together, adding more vinaigrette if mixture seems dry.  Made about 3 main course servings and with the sturdy parsley, lasted a few days refrigerated.

Mushroom Gravy

Mushroom Gravy made with Hard Cider*

Today was a little cold and mostly rainy here – an odd quirky weather pattern for sunny Denver.  Between that and the novel I’m reading (set in rainy England), I wanted something warm and comforting for dinner, but not really in the mood for meat – plus I’m trying to use up stuff I already have…so I decided to make mashed potatoes and a hearty mushroom gravy.  The nice thing about mushroom gravy is that you can make a vegetarian gravy that actually tastes good this way.  Gravy is not something I cared for too much until the last couple of years – especially on mashed potatoes.  Probably because I’ve been served a lot of pretty gnarly pre-made gravy growing up.  Making gravy from scratch really isn’t difficult, despite the many horror stories, and if you do mess it up, you can fix it easily.  Too thick?  Add a little more liquid.  Too thin?  Swish some cornstarch or flour in some COLD water, add it to the gravy and boil for a minute.  Lumps?  Strain it through a sieve (if you use cold liquid with the flour or make sure to have equal parts fat to flour and combine it well you can avoid lumps entirely – a whisk also helps with this)  Too salty?  Thin it out with an unsalted liquid and thicken it back up.  Flavorless?  Add some soy sauce, worchestershire sauce, chicken or beef stock base, beer, herbs, vermouth or wine – any number of flavoring agents.  See?  Not as intimidating as you think!

Basic Mushroom Gravy

  • A few shallots, a small onion, or some cloves of minced garlic – or any combination
  • 8-16 oz mushrooms, sliced or chopped
  • A few Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil, butter or pan drippings
  • 1-2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour (for gluten free use arrowroot or cornstarch, following the directions on the package)
  • 2-3 cups liquid, such as stock, beer, wine or water – or any combination
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste
  • Fresh or dried herbs, as desired

Heat a saute pan over medium heat.  Add a glug of olive oil or a Tablespoon of butter and the onion/shallot/garlic of choice.  Cook until translucent.  If using garlic, only cook it a minute and keep it from browning or it will taste bitter.  If using garlic with onion or shallot, add to pan after onions are cooked and soft.  Remove onion mixture from pan and reserve.  Add a little more oil and the mushrooms in batches, so they brown and cook (if you cook them all at once, they will steam themselves and you won’t get the deep flavor from caramelizing the surface), removing each batch and reserving with the onion mixture.  When the last batch is done, keep it in the pan and add back the other mushrooms and onions along with any herbs you may want.  Add about a Tablespoon of oil or butter and a Tablespoon or two of flour – mix thoroughly and cook for about 2 minutes, or flour is completely saturated with oil and juices and the raw flour taste has cooked out – you should not see any bits of white flour.  Gradually stir in liquid, whisking constantly, until you’ve created a thinnish soupy consistency.  Do not salt at this point because the gravy will still need to reduce, which will concentrate any salt you add now.  Whisk occasionally until the mixture boils and let boil a minute or two to thicken, whisking often.  Adjust the seasoning to taste, adjust the thickness, and serve.  Makes enough for about 4 people and will keep a few days in the refrigerator.  I probably wouldn’t freeze it.

*For the specific gravy I made, I used cremini & white mushrooms and 2 shallots.  I added about a teaspoon of fresh thyme, used leftover hard (alcoholic) cider (Strongbow, from England) and instead of salt, I added concentrated beef stock base (basically stock that has been really cooked down until it is a paste – less sodium and yucky stuff than boullion cubes and the added bonus of being able to make any amount of stock at any concentration level you want.  I used Better Than Boullion brand) to beef up the flavor.  It was delish!

Life and yard work have been conspiring to keep me away from blogging about what I have been making to clean out the pantry and freezer, but there will be several posts here in quick succession…this was one of my favorite creations over the last week or two – perfect for springtime!  I found it was good hot or cold, and you could always add fresh herbs to change the flavor around.  Below is just a loose guideline – with soup I have found it is all about proportions.  Aromatics such as onions, leeks or shallots should be about 1/3 the amount of your main ingredients (for example,  1 cup onions to 3 cups asparagus, etc). Frozen veggies work really well for a fast assembly (I like to dice onion and freeze it to have on hand for times I’m rushed or feeling lazy – works in all kinds of recipes, just dice and freeze in a tightly sealed freezer bag), but fresh veggies are great too! For thicker soup (or soup you plan to add milk or cream to), just barely cover with stock or water, and for thinner soup add more liquid.  Use the recipe below as a great technique for making all kinds of yummy pureed soups…

Quick Asparagus Soup

  • 1-3 teaspoons butter or extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 2-3 cups chopped asparagus, frozen or fresh
  • 1 small potato, peeled and diced very small, optional (use it to replace the cream or if you want to use milk)
  • 2-3 cups vegetable or chicken stock or low sodium or homemade
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream or milk, optional (If you want no or low-fat dairy but a creamy consistency, use the potato)

In a large saucepan, heat butter or oil and add the onions.  Cover and let sweat and soften for 5-6 minutes.  Add the asparagus (and potato, if using) and pour on enough stock to barely cover. Season with pepper and if stock is unsalted, with salt.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, UNCOVERED,  until veggies are tender, about 10 minutes.  (If you cover the pan while the asparagus – or most green veggies – are cooking, they will turn an unappetizing greyish color)  Remove from heat and taste for seasoning.   Carefully puree in batches and recombine soup in a saucepan and add the cream.  (If you want to serve the soup chilled, forget the saucepan and recombine the soup and mix in the cream in a large shallow bowl. Cool in the refrigerator.)  Reheat gently and do not bring to a boil or the soup may curdle.  This will make 2-4 servings and will last for up to a week refrigerated.  I am dubious about it freezing well because of the milk & asparagus, but I don’t know for sure as my batch never got that far.

An amazingly good carrot salad came with a Moroccan meal I had last month – my dining companion loved the unusual floral notes to the salad – secret ingredient:  Rosewater.  Rosewater was a very common flavoring all over the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and ultimately the Americas until Vanilla was  made easily available during the 1800’s.  Although most commonly used here in the States as a perfume, rosewater lends a lovely floral note to desserts and fruit salads.  It is fantastic with carrots!  This may look like your grandma’s carrot salad, but it sure doesn’t taste like it!

(This recipe is part of my new “clearing out the pantry, fridge & freezer” project.  I’ve been eating it as a side to the smoked turkey wrap I had yesterday and the leftover tacos I’ll be having for lunch today…if you are curious as to what I am scrounging up)


Moroccan Carrot & Rosewater Salad

  • 4 large carrots
  • about 1/2 cup raisins (dried currants, apricots or pineapple would also be nice)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice (don’t be tempted to add more!)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons rosewater*
  • 1 Tablespoon creamy or fruity Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I used a Mandarin & Lemon Olive Oil)

Peel and grate the carrots.  In a medium bowl mix all ingredients.  Mixture should be lightly moist, not sopping wet.  When it sits it will create more moisture.  Let rest as least a couple of hours in the refrigerator, preferably overnight for the flavors to meld.  Serve cold or at room temperature as a side dish or part of an appetizer (mezze) platter.  Yum!  Serves 3-4 as a side, 6-8 as part of an appetizer platter.  Unfortunately, not something you can freeze, but it should be good for up to a week in the fridge.

*Rosewater can be found at Middle Eastern markets, Natural Foods stores or Savory Spice here in Denver (www.savoryspice.com – they ship all over the US)

I have a new project for myself.   After searching through my freezer and finding quite a bit of food I had forgotten about, I’ve come to the decision that I am going to eat whatever is in my fridge, freezer, pantry and what I can scrounge from my garden until the end of the month, so I can clear out all the random foods hanging around – it’s like spring cleaning my meals!   I am allowing myself $20 a week for fresh produce and anything I can’t live without, like eggs and milk.  Already I have come up with some fun combos – I am trying to give you an idea of what I throw together for myself on a daily basis, so recipes will probably be a little informal.  But on the bright side, they will be easy, too!

Inspired to spring clean you pantry?  I’d love to know what you are making!

(Caveat – this is not my real pantry – I wish!  It’s the main student pantry at the Ballymaloe Cookery School)

Hot Cross Buns

I made a giant batch of 4 dozen buns this year – perhaps a few too many, but my friends and co-workers are happy to eat them!  Since I am experimenting with white whole wheat flour, I decided to try these out with a little of it added to the dough.  Maybe it will help offset the effects of all the Peeps and Cadbury Cream Eggs I’ve been eating! (Or not.) Don’t try to add in any more of the whole wheat flour or your buns will be heavy and not as nice…

Hot Cross Buns

  • 1 cup lukewarm milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) dried yeast
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup dried currants or raisins
  • zest of one lemon or orange
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For Glaze:

In a small bowl, mix 1 Tablespoon of sugar with 2 Tablespoons warm water until dissolved, reserve.

For Icing:

  • 2 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2-2 Tablespoons milk
  • pinch of salt (if using unsalted butter)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large bowl if mixing by hand, combine milk, sugar and yeast.  Let mixture rest for 5 minutes, or until foamy.  Mix in salt, egg, butter and flour until a nice dough forms (use a dough hook if you are using the stand mixer)  Knead in (by hand or machine) the currants/raisins, zest and spices.  Knead dough until smooth and elastic – about 6-8 minutes with the mixer or 10-12 by hand.  Form dough into a ball and place back in bowl to rise, covering with plastic wrap or a non-terrycloth towel.  *Remember, this dough has raw egg in it, so make sure to thoroughly clean off your work surface and wash hands to prevent cross contamination.  Let rise in a warm spot for about and hour at room temperature, or overnight refrigerated, until doubled in bulk.  Punch dough down and knead a few times.   Cut dough into 24 pieces (I usually halve the dough, then quarter each half, then cut each quarter in thirds for more or less even pieces) and form into balls.  Divide buns between 2 large, parchment paper lined cookie sheets and lightly cover with non-terry cloth towels or a piece of plastic wrap lightly draped over.  *Do not tuck edges of towels or plastic wrap around the tray or the buns won’t rise as well and they will stick to the covering and deflate when you pull it off.  Let rise 45 minutes to an hour at warm room temperature, or until doubled.  Start preheating your oven to 375F about 30 minutes into the final rising.  Meanwhile make glaze and reserve.  When buns are doubled, slash a cross on top of each bun with a sharp knife (optional) and bake buns in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden and they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.  Remove from oven and brush quickly with glaze.  Return to the oven for a minute or two to dry the glaze.  Remove buns from oven and let cool on a wire rack.  Make the icing by combining the butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and salt, if using.  Stir in just enough milk to make the icing just thin enough to pour from a spoon.  Using a spoon, pour icing in a cross pattern on top of the buns (this is where cutting the cross in the bun comes in handy – you can fill the slashes).  Makes 24 buns.  Best eaten the day they are made, but are still good the next day.  These can be frozen, well wrapped, up to 3 months.

Lula McDaniel, (or Grannie Mac, as we called her) my maternal great-grandmother, was known throughout her county for making the best Chicken’n’Dumplings.  Now down in rural Alabama, this was a big deal!  When I was a child, she rarely cooked, (after a lifetime of farming and feeding a large family, she deserved the break!) so I only remember eating her version of this dish once, but it sure made an impression!  When I asked her about how she made it, she told me “Well, hon, I didn’t get to making the dumplin’s, and I’m sorry, but they’re just store bought biscuit dough.  The rest you just throw together!”  Pre-made dough or not, her Chicken and Dumplings were still the best I ever had.  This recipe is as close as I get.  Chicken and Dumplings were a delicious way for Grannie Mac to stretch one chicken to feed her family of 11 down on the old homestead.  Feel free to adapt it to whatever veggies and herbs you have on hand – Southern thrift at its finest…

Chicken and Dumplings

  • 1 whole chicken, or 8 individual pieces (bone-in makes for more flavor)
  • 2 small onions, chopped (approx. 1 ½ cups)
  • ¾ cup chopped celery, optional
  • 7 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ cup dried parsley, or ½ cup chopped fresh
  • 1 tsp dried thyme, or 1 ½ tsp fresh
  • 2 ¼ tsp granulated sea salt, or to taste
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper, or to taste

In a stockpot, combine all ingredients and barely cover with cold water , about 8-10 cups.  Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer, covered, for one hour or chicken is fully cooked and falling off the bones (If using boneless pieces cook with some stock added for flavor and cook only half the time).  Remove chicken from pot and place on a plate to cool for a few minutes – until cool enough for you to remove meat from bones.  Discard bones and add meat back to pot.  Mix dumpling dough (you can use your favorite biscuit recipe instead) and drop 3/4in pieces on top of chicken mixture.  You can either let them steam on top for fluffy dumplings or stir them in for chewy dumplings. After all dumplings have been added, cover and allow to cook 15-20 minutes, or until dumplings no longer taste floury and raw.  All ingredients can be altered to whatever you have on hand- it’s real country cooking, have fun!  Serves 6-8, 12 if you double the dumpling recipe.  This freezes well for up to 6 months, tightly sealed.

Dumplings

  • 2 cups flour
  • ¼ cup shortening or butter
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 7/8 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Stir dry ingredients together in a medium bowl.  Cut in shortening until there are pieces no larger than a pea.  Add milk, stirring until just blended.  Knead dough together lightly a few times, then form into dumplings.

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