30 Second Snacks: Jicama Sticks

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Put the French fries down.  Seriously… nobody needs that in their body.  Instead, try a snack of fresh sliced jicama sticks.  Delicious!

WIN_20150228_114833What is jicama, you ask? It’s one of those veggies you walk right past at the market… it looks like a potato on the outside, looks like a radish on the inside, and tastes a bit like an Asian pear.  My pint size diners call jicama a “fruit vegetable” because it’s sweet.  Even better than the taste is the nutritional punch – jicama is starchy, with enough calories and carbs to make a filling WIN_20150228_115040snack, and offers a LOT of fiber and vitamin C.  Take that, French fries!

Simply cut a jicama in half, trim off the peel, and slice into French fry size sticks. Sprinkle with cinnamon (not sugar, just cinnamon) and enjoy. Sometimes, healthy eating really is this simple!

Yes, you really do need chili vinegar in your life!

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Why? Because it is the most stone simple pantry staple you will ever make, it is eternally replenishable, and amazingly versatile!  Simply add 1/2 cup chopped Thai chili peppers, seeds and all, to a pint jar – then fill the jar with plain ol’ white vinegar.  That’s it.  Store it in the refrigerator and use abundantly (more on that in a moment).  Within a day, your chili vinegar will offer up a delightful Hot & Sour flavor! As you use up your chili vinegar, simply add more white vinegar to the jar… there’s no need to purchase new peppers, as those babies stay HOT!

“How can I use chili vinegar?” You might ask.  Here are a few ideas…

1) Make fast ‘n fiery pickles! Combine 3/4 cup hot water, 1/4 cup chili vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon sugar.  Pour over sliced cucumbers, bell peppers, or green beans, and refrigerate for a few hours.  Delicious!

2) Make a spicy vinaigrette dressing!  Whisk together 2 tablespoons chili vinegar, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic, 1/4 teaspoon powdered thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Enjoy over a fresh green salad.

3) Make a Thai-inspired Easy Peanut Cabbage Slaw!

The sky’s the limit! Have fun with chili vinegar, and be sure to comment with any fun uses you discover in your kitchen!

Chinese New Year Noodles

 

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Today marks the celebration of Chinese New Year, the most grand holiday on the Chinese calendar.  2015 is the Year of the Sheep (or goat or ram, depending upon the source).  If you were born in 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, or 2003, tradition suggests this will be a lucky year for you!

Chinese celebrations are famous for their traditional foods, and Chinese New Year feasts are laden with an amazing variety of dishes.  Feasts may vary from village to village, but will always, always include noodles.  Long noodles are said to represent long life, and must never be cut! Great care should be taken to cook and eat the noodles whole.

While I cannot claim any Chinese heritage, I see Chinese New Year as an opportunity to sample wonderful new (to me) foods and learn a bit more about the almost indescribably rich cultural history of China.  In that spirit, we are making Chinese New Year Noodles today.  I hope you enjoy them!

WIN_20150114_180605Ingredients (Makes 6 servings)

1 package rice vermicelli noodles (8 ounces dry)

1 cup snow pea pods, sliced into matchsticks

1 red pepper, diced

1/4 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon (more or less to taste) chili paste, such as Nam Prik Pao

Directions

WIN_20150114_182203Step 1) Boil vermicelli noodles according to package instructions (they only take a few minutes, like spaghetti noodles).  DON’T BREAK THE NOODLES!

Step 2) While noodles are cooking, use a fork to “whisk” together the peanut butter and vinegar. This will look like a gloppy mess for the first minute or two, but just keep mixing… soon the mixture will be smooth and uniform.

Step 3) Stir the sugar, soy sauce, and chili paste into the peanut butter mixture.  The end result should have a consistency like salad dressing.  If the mixture is too thick, add a tablespoon of water.

Step 4) Gently mix together the cooked noodles, vegetables, and sauce.  That’s it!  For a heartier dish, top with a few cooked shrimp or pieces of cooked, cubed chicken.

Happy Chinese New Year!

 

 

Mardi Gras Lemon Sweet Rolls

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Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, and Pancake Day, is the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Christian observation of Lent.  The forty days of Lent are considered by followers of many Christian denominations to be a season for reflection, penance, and atonement. As such, it is also a time when many Christians forego indulgent foods including butter and sugar.

Mardi Gras is “the last hurrah” – the last opportunity to participate in revelry, including the joyful consumption of rich and fatty foods – before settling into an extended period of austerity.  This recipe is perfect for Mardi Gras, being laden with butter, eggs, and sugar.  These Lemon Sweet Rolls are really a cross between a yeast roll and a donut.  I used my German Great-Grandmother’s stollen recipe as a base for the dough, adding candied lemon, a boozy lemon icing, and decorations appropriate for this festive day. Enjoy!

WIN_20150128_150210Ingredients (Makes approximately 50 small rolls)

1 cup milk

1 cup sugar

1 cup butter

WIN_20150128_1521312 envelopes yeast

4 eggs, lightly beaten

6 cups flour (plus more for kneading)

1 cup diced, candied lemon peel

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

WIN_20150128_1529553 tablespoons Lemoncello or other lemon-flavored liqueur

Green, Purple, and Gold decorations (colored sugar sprinkles, or whatever else catches your eye!)

Directions

WIN_20150128_164417Step 1) Heat milk, sugar, and butter in a saucepan over low heat just until butter melts.  Allow to cool for a few minutes until mixture is not hot, but is still lukewarm.

Step 2) Add yeast. Stir and let sit for 2 minutes.

Step 3) Add eggs, then add flour, stirring in WIN_20150128_171620one cup at a time.

Step 4) Turn loosely combined dough onto a floured countertop and knead for 8 minutes.  If dough is sticky, knead in a bit more flour. Knead in candied lemon peel.

Step 5) Place dough in a large, greased bowl. Turn over once so that both sides of the dough are greased. Cover bowl with a clean towel and allow to rise in a warm place for 1 hour.

Step 6) After 1 hour, cut golfball-sized pieces of dough and shape them into smooth balls. Allow to rise on greased baking sheets, 2 inches apart, for 30 minutes.

Step 7) Bake in a preheated, 375 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until tops just begin to brown. Place rolls on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Step 8) Stir together powdered sugar and Lemoncello. Dip tops of rolls in the icing, and add decorations! Voila!

Salmon Nori Maki

WIN_20150114_185930Delicious, nutritious, simple, and elegant – what’s not to love? Dried nori sheets are available in most supermarkets now, and are (or should be) very reasonably priced. Pick up a package, and have some fun in your kitchen today!

picture669Ingredients (Makes 6 rolls, or 48 bite size pieces)

2 cups sushi rice

3 cups water

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

WIN_20150114_1750351/4 teaspoon salt

8 ounces of frozen salmon fillet

1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Directions

WIN_20150114_182051Step 1) Rinse rice several times in cold water until water drains clear.

Step 2) After rinsing, combine rice, 3 cups water, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large pot with a tight fitting lid.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low, cover, and simmer for approximately 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

Step 3) While rice is cooking, slice frozen salmon into 1/2 inch slices. Place salmon slices on an oiled baking pan.

picture670Step 4) Stir together soy sauce and brown sugar.  Using a basting brush, coat salmon slices with mixture.  Bake salmon in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.

Step 5) Gently transfer cooked rice to a large bowl and spread rice up the sides of the bowl (gently!) with a rubber spatula.

Step 6) Combine rice vinegar and sugar in a small bowl.  Microwave for a few seconds until lukewarm.  Stir until sugar dissolves.  Then, drizzle the vinegar mixture all over the rice.

Step 7) Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the rice over a few times to distribute the vinegar as evenly as possible without mashing the rice.  Spread the rice up the sides of the bowl again.  The rice should look glossy.  Cover the bowl with a slightly damp cloth and let sit at room temperature for one hour.

WIN_20150114_183953Step 8) Center one sheet of nori in the middle of a bamboo sushi roller (very inexpensive; sold in markets next to the nori sheets).  As an alternative, try using a thin, flexible silicon baking mat instead of the bamboo.

Step 9) Carefully spread 1/2 cup of rice all over the sheet of nori, except for 1 inch at the top.  I find it is easiest to drop small teaspoons of rice all over the sheet and then spread them together – this helps avoid tearing the nori sheet.

picture680  Step 10) Place your salmon pieces end to end over the rice about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom of the nori sheet, as shown.

Step 11) It’s time to roll up your Nori Maki!  This takes a bit of practice, but it’s not rocket science.  Using your bamboo or silicon mat, fold the bottom of your nori sheet up until it just barely covers your salmon.  Press firmly and evenly along the bamboo or silicon, to give the roll a tight, uniform shape.  Continue rolling the nori sheet, being careful not to roll the bamboo or silicon “into” your Nori Maki.

picture681Step 12) When you get to the top inch, dip your finger in water or vinegar and run your finger along the top edge of the nori.  This will help to seal your Nori Maki.  Set aside, seam side down, and continue with your next roll.

Step 13) Slice each roll into 8 pieces using a very sharp, non-serrated knife.

Step 14) After the effort that led you to this last step, be sure to respect the Japanese tradition of presenting food in an artful manner.  Have fun with this!  Put some thought into arranging your Maki Sushi on individual serving plates or a buffet platter, and garnish as you see fit.  Remember that wasabi, pickled ginger, and soy sauce are traditional condiments, but don’t be afraid to experiment with other dipping sauces and toppings.

Valentine Snack Mix

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A month ago, I had ambitious plans for Valentine’s Day treats – plans that involved hours of baking and decorating. Somewhere over the course of a month, real life snuck in, and I just flat ran out of time.  So, I improvised.  Valentine Snack Mix is fast and festive!  If you stop at the market tonight for just a few ingredients, you’ll be able whip up a treat in no time! Have fun!

WIN_20150212_184918Ingredients (Makes enough snack mix for a classroom or office break room)

1 pound bag of pretzel twists

1 bag of white vanilla candy melts (sold by cake decorating supplies) or white baking chips

Red sugar crystals

1 bag of chocolate chips

1 bag of red gumdrops or other small, red candy

Directions

Step 1) Melt the candy melts or white baking chips in the microwave. Stir every 30 seconds until fully melted.

WIN_20150212_210445Step 2) Dip tops of pretzels in melted white chocolate.  Then, dip into red sugar crystals. Allow to harden on baking sheets.

Step 3) Mix together pretzels, chocolate chips, and gumdrops. Serve in a large bowl, or in individual muffin liners.

Seven Layer Dinner

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If you’re looking for haute cuisine, folks, this ain’t it.  Seven Layer Dinner is Old School comfort food, right out of the Midwestern US, circa 1950.  Exotic ingredients? No.  Fancy presentation? Nope.  Just the thing to win a contest on one of those Cable TV foodie shows with celebrity judges? Not a chance.  HOWEVER, if you’re having one of those days where you were late for work, spilled coffee all over yourself, and spent your lunch break trapped in an elevator, Seven Layer Dinner might be just the dish to turn your day around.

In the recipe below, I’ve made a few minor changes to an old recipe hand written by my Great Aunt Nancy. I added a yam with the potatoes, some garlic with the ground beef, substituted Arborio rice for Minute Rice, and used salsa instead of plain canned tomatoes.  The premise of the dish really hasn’t changed; I don’t think Aunt Nancy would mind.

WIN_20150127_174417Ingredients (Serves 4, with leftovers)

2 large yellow potatoes, sliced into bite size pieces 1/2 inch thick

1 large yam, peeled and sliced into bite size pieces 1/2 inch thick

1/2 of a small onion diced

3 large carrots, sliced 1/2 inch thick

1 cup Arborio (risotto) rice, uncooked

WIN_20150127_1752243 cloves garlic, diced

1 pound lean ground beef

1 quart of salsa

2 stalks celery, sliced 1/2 inch thick

Directions

Step 1) Brown ground beef with garlic. Drain and set aside.

Step 2) Grease a large casserole dish. Line the bottom with potatoes and yams.

Step 3) Over the potatoes and yams, layer (in order) onions, carrots, raw rice, browned ground beef, salsa, and celery.

Step 4) Sprinkle the top with salt and pepper. Cover and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 2 hours. Relax and enjoy!

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Bacon Wrapped Chicken Legs

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This recipe is stone simple – I mean simple as in “if you can make a frozen pizza, you can handle this!”  There are no strange ingredients, making this dish a real crowd pleaser even in a finicky crowd. When chicken legs or “drumsticks” are on sale for 99 cents per pound, this recipe is also very economical.  Add a starch like mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese, along with the vegetable of your choice, for a complete meal. Leftovers freeze well, so go ahead and make a few extra!

Ingredients (Makes 12 chicken legs, or about 6 servings)

12 chicken legs

6 strips of bacon, cut in half

1 tablespoon soy sauce (or tamari)

1 tablespoon brown sugar (or use honey as a Paleo alternative)

WIN_20150123_174457Directions

Step 1) Grease a baking pan with the raw bacon.

Step 2) Wrap a half slice of bacon around the meaty part of each chicken leg.  It’s OK to stretch the bacon a little if needed; make sure the bacon ends meet underneath the WIN_20150123_175636chicken leg on the pan.

Step 3) Bake in a preheated, 375 degree oven for 35 minutes.

Step 4) Mix together the soy sauce and brown sugar.  After the chicken has baked for 35 minutes, remove chicken from the oven and turn your oven up to 400 degrees.

WIN_20150123_190326Step 5) Baste the tops of each bacon wrapped chicken leg with the soy sauce/brown sugar mixture. Return chicken legs to the oven for a final 10 minutes.  Enjoy!

Kids in the Kitchen: Let’s Make Ice Cream!

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All set to play with our food!

Cooking with children is dreadfully messy but delightedly fun!  Few things are more fun than making ice cream.  Personally, I’d like to try the semi-famous “Play and Freeze Ice Cream Ball” – allow you to play with your food quite literally, for just a few dollars.  Here’s a link, if you’re curious:

YayLabs Play and Freeze Ice Cream Ball Ice Cream Maker, Pint, Blue

If fancy-schmancy grown-up ice creams are more your thing, Cuisinart has a few models that will set you back a few more dollars, but still cost less than a good stockpot:

Cuisinart ICE-21 Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker, White

We used a “Young Chef” brand children’s ice cream maker, which for some strange reason I can no longer find online (sorry).

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Young Chef brand ice cream maker

The premise behind most ice cream makers, however, is essentially the same.  Milk, cream, sugar, and flavoring go on the inside, while ice and salt go on the outside.  The rest is just window dressing.  Here’s what we did…

Step 1) Add 2 cups of ice cubes, 1/3 cup salt, and 2 tablespoons hot water to the inside of the metal “freezer drum.”

Step 2) Seal tightly and set the freezer drum inside the ice cream maker so that it locks into the gears of the handle (very easy).

Step 3) Combine 1 cup milk, 1 cup cream, 1 heaping tablespoon sugar, and a flavoring in a small pitcher.  For flavoring, you could add 1 teaspoon of any baking extract, a bit of pureed fruit, or perhaps a tablespoon of chocolate sauce.  We used 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.

Step 4) Pour half of the ice cream mixture over the freezer drum and turn the handle.  Give the handle about ten turns, then use the orange lever to “scrape” ice cream off of the freezer drum and into a wide container (to avoid spills). Transfer ice cream into little serving cups.

Step 5) Continue turning the handle, scraping, and adding more ice cream mixture.  You will end up with about 2 cups of ice cream.

WIN_20150102_172550On a scale from 1 – 10, I’d give the “Young Chef” ice cream maker…

10 for fun! The kids loved it.

8 for ease of use! This wasn’t complicated, but I suspect the “Ice Cream Ball” ice cream maker would be even more simple.

5 for ice cream quality! As you can see from the photo on the left, the ice cream wasn’t very creamy. I still give this a solid “5” because the kids really didn’t care about the consistency.

Whatever model of ice cream maker you try, just go play in the kitchen. There will be plenty of time to keep sugar off of the floor when the kids grow up.

Tortilla Soup

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Recently, I had lunch at a favorite Mexican restaurant on a subzero day. As a thoughtful “thank you” to customers who braved the frigid temperatures, the restaurant offered free cups of tortilla soup to each diner. It was an appreciated gesture, and the soup was fantastic!  I enjoyed it so much that I began tinkering in my kitchen to create something similar.

If you are unfamiliar with Queso Fresco cheese, don’t worry – it is readily available in any supermarket with a decent selection of tortillas and other Central/South American staples.  If you are preparing this soup in parts of Europe where Central/South American grocery items are not as ubiquitous as they are throughout the US, you may need to get a bit creative and substitute another fresh, crumbly cheese.  Feta might work, although the flavor will be stronger. Here you are. I hope it keeps you warm!

WIN_20150111_172241Ingredients (Makes 4 hearty servings)

8 fresh corn tortillas

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon chili powder (hot or mild)

6 cups good quality chicken stock

1 cup of salsa

1 ripe avocado, sliced thin

1 lime, quartered

4 ounces Queso Fresco cheese, crumbled

WIN_20150111_170919Directions

Step 1) Brush tortillas with oil. Stack and slice into thin strips.  Spread tortilla strips onto a large baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt and chili powder.

Step 2) Bake tortilla strips in a preheated 350 degree oven until they are slightly browned and crispy. Check after 10 minutes, and every minute thereafter – once the tortillas dry out (which you want), they will burn quickly!

WIN_20150111_173519Step 3) While the tortilla strips bake, combine chicken stock and salsa in a saucepan and heat to almost boiling.  Ladle stock into 4 large bowls, filling the bowls halfway.

Step 4) Squeeze the juice from a lime quarter into each bowl (I leave the squeezed lime right in the bowl).  Divide your sliced avocado and crumbled cheese between the 4 bowls.  Top each bowl with a handful of warm, baked tortilla strips.  Serve immediately!

Olive Pull-Apart Ring

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Olive Pull-Apart Ring

If you have a Bundt pan, you can make a fancy looking ring of pull-apart rolls without any more effort than plain old regular rolls (have I mentioned that I love my Bundt pan?). I like to add olives, but feel free to be creative… a few tablespoons of sliced, sun dried tomatoes and perhaps a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan cheese would work just as well.

 Cuisinart AMB-95FCP Chef’s Classic Nonstick Bakeware 9-1/2-Inch Fluted Cake Pan

Ingredients (Makes 24 bite size pieces)

24 round pieces of bread dough, a bit smaller than golf balls

2 tablespoons Kalamata olives, halved

2 tablespoons pimento stuffed green olives, halved

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend

1/4 cup melted butter

WIN_20150104_163126Directions

Step 1) Grease Bundt pan well with butter. Layer bread dough, olives, and Italian seasoning blend in pan. Drizzle melted butter over all other ingredients.

Step 2) Cover pan with a clean towel and let rise in a warm (not hot) draft free location for one hour.

WIN_20150104_183146Step 3) Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until top of loaf is golden brown. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes.

Step 4) Gently loosen sides and around inner ring with a butter knife, and invert pan onto a large serving plate.  Serve while warm!

Fish Tostadas

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Fish tostadas are a pretty common dinner item here at Crowded Earth Kitchen. My pint size diners call tostada shells “big chips,” and seem to think they are getting away with something sneaky when they enjoy “big chips” for dinner. Fish tostadas are a healthy, economical, complete meal. They’re also fast – small filets of tilapia and other whitefish bake in just minutes.  Enjoy!

WIN_20150106_181339Ingredients (Serves 4)

8 tostada shells

1 small onion, sliced

1 pound tilapia (or other whitefish) filets

1 lime, halved

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

2 cups shredded red cabbage (add a bit of Do Chua for something a little different, if you wish)

1 avocado, sliced into thin strips

1 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese (optional)

WIN_20150106_183943Directions

Step 1) Lightly grease a baking sheet with coconut oil. Line baking sheet with onion slices.  Place fish filets over onion. Squeeze lime juice over fish and sprinkle with chili powder.

Step 2) Bake fish (uncovered) in a preheated, 400 degree oven for 10 – 15 minutes, until fish flakes easily.

Step 3) Flake fish into bite size pieces using two forks.

Step 4) Assemble tostadas. If using cheese (not strictly traditional, but tasty), sprinkle cheese on tostada shells first so that it melts underneath the fish. Add fish and onions, then cabbage, then avocado slices.  Serve immediately.