Thursday, June 28, 2012

Croutons with oregano

We’ve been going through store-bought croutons like there’s no tomorrow, with all the lettuce bounty I photographed & posted last week. I didn’t think they’d be too difficult to make at home, and sure enough, thousands of recipes popped up on my computer screen. I was thrilled to see one with oregano, since that was still on the list of spices to cook with (despite it going into various tomato-based dishes all the time). Here’s what I jotted down on a scrap of paper from several recipes combined– to save a tree! 
“bread, garlic, oil, salt/pepper, oregano, paprika”

After I measured out a sampling of each (and remembered the quantities until after the taste test), I wrote down:
6 slices of bread, 1 clove garlic (minced), 1/8 cup olive oil, 5 grinds each of salt and pepper, handful of oregano (freshly cut, dried in our kitchen for a week or two), sprinkle of paprika). 
Chop the bread. Mix all the other ingredients in a bowl, and add the bread. Mix well, then spread the bread cubes on a cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes at 300 degrees, then stir the croutons. Bake another 15 minutes, stir again and check for done-ness. Mine were ready to come out then, but the more bread you use, the longer it will take if they’re more than 1 layer deep.
I’ll admit, the oregano flavoring was nice and strong, so if you’re using oregano in the spice rack, try it with 2 teaspoons and see how you like it. It was tasty to have in a garden salad with yogurt dressing (store bought, sorry, no recipe!).
I’ll definitely save the money on overly crunchy and possible chemical additives from a product with a long shelf life, to this quick 30 minute baking job.
Here is our oregano plant! What is your favorite oregano or crouton recipe? 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Chicken Tortilla Stack with Cilantro

Again, the question of fresh vs. dried spices is at hand, but since I have dried cilantro in the spice rack, I'll plan on using fresh cilantro after it grows in plant form (and maybe in a different recipe).

This Pampered Chef recipe is not on their website, but remains a family favorite (I got it out of one of their catalogues many years ago and have adapted it). You’ll need:

4 or 5 tortillas (I used whole wheat 10 inch tortillas)
1 can – 16 oz. -  refried beans (fat free is fine)
¼ cup to ½ cup sour cream (fat free is fine)
1 jar salsa OR fresh tomatoes, olives, peppers, onions, chopped 
1 cup grated cheese (reduced fat is fine; original recipe calls for 2 cups of cheese)
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or chopped (leftover chicken with any flavors from the original meal is great, you can add any seasonings you like if using plain/raw chicken)
¼ cup fresh cilantro or 1-2 tablespoons dried cilantro

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Use any type of baking dish/ stoneware- you can see that I used a small round baking pan and lined the bottom with foil. I used cooking spray on the foil. Spread refried beans on a tortilla, spread a few tablespoons of sour cream on that, then put the tortilla on the baking dish. Sprinkle some chicken on it, sprinkle cilantro, pour some salsa on (I ended up using an entire jar this time, while previously I’ve been inspired to chop up a bunch of fresh veggies) & top with a handful of shredded cheese. Repeat. Repeat. The original recipe suggests spraying the top tortilla with cooking spray, but I ended up using the last of the refried beans and cheese…not a pretty picture, but tastes great!

Bake 30 minutes or until inside cheese is melted. Garnish with tomato and/or sour cream, etc. and cut into wedges to serve. 
Do you prefer cooking with fresh or dried spices?
I don't have a photo of cilantro growing, but here is what I have on hand now:

Friday, June 15, 2012

Lavender Lemon Cookies

To use fresh herbs or not? That has been the question on my mind as I’ve been looking at my spice rack, trying to decide about all the recipes I’ve found that call for the “real thing”. I was inspired by this recipe to grow some lavender, but when I found dried lavender that was suitable for cooking, I decided to make these cookies and not wait for the fresh stuff this time around. Obviously, this wasn't in my spice rack already, too bad all the bottles are already filled with other things!
I adapted the recipe only slightly, once by accident, and once on purpose. I put mint on the grocery list, and then forgot the list, thereby forgetting to buy the mint at the store. This is my new favorite shortbread recipe, and it was delicious without the mint, so you decide how you’d like to make them. I used 1 ¼ cups of whole wheat flour, and added 2 teaspoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice to prevent the dough from being too dry with the whole wheat flour. The end result was great, but the extra lemon flavor may have masked the lavender…although I did a poor job of “finely chopping” the lavender (tried using a knife, switched to a mortar & pestle, then used scissors). Also, an on-line source recommended using 1/3 the amount of dried lavender when substituting for fresh, so I used just under 1 tablespoon, which may not have been enough. I will definitely make this recipe again, so I’ll experiment with fresh lavender and the time after that with using more dried lavender.

This is a great recipe to prepare over two days, since the dough needs to chill for at least one hour. If you chill it overnight like I did, it will take time to be pliable enough to roll out after you remove it from the refrigerator. If the dough becomes too warm after rolling out a couple of times, you may need to put the “scraps” back into the refrigerator (wrapped up and pressed to 1 inch thick).
These cookies were a hit at an office pot-luck lunch! Looking forward to making them again...
Have you ever cooked with lavender?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Stuffed Green Peppers with Allspice

I typically think of allspice as a baking flavor, especially at the holidays (pumpkin pie, etc.), so I was pleasantly surprised when I looked for a recipe for stuffed peppers and the first one I saw included allspice! The cookbook “From Asparagus to Zucchini” by the Madison Area Community Agriculture Coalition includes drawings of each vegetable, which is helpful for people like me who don’t know what celeriac is or what to do with it! Some of the recipes omit meat, which we’ve tried to do more of recently, but this time I added meat to the pepper recipe (meanwhile, last night we had pasta with “fake meat” tomato sauce).

Here’s what you’ll need for the modifications I made to this recipe:
4 large green peppers (hey, who said they have to be green? Ok, any color you like)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
splash of olive oil
½ cup rice, uncooked
1 cup water
bullion or any other spice flavoring
¼ teaspoon allspice
1 pound ground meat of your choice
¼ cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted
½ to 1 cup shredded cheese
1 cup chopped tomato
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Sautee the onion and garlic in oil, add rice and stir for a few minutes, then add water, allspice, and bullion or other spice (I used “stew mix” spices because the bullion cubes I have on hand are for 2 cups of water and I have a jar of stew spices that I can measure out). Cook rice until done. In another pan, cook the meat, add almonds, tomato, and when the meat is cooked through, add in the rice and cheese.
While the rice and meat are cooking, slice the tops of the peppers off, remove the seeds, and boil the peppers in water for 2 minutes. I skipped this step and even after baking for longer than the called for 30 minutes, the peppers were still very chewy. Your choice!

Place the peppers in a baking dish and fill with the meat & rice mixture. You may have extra filling that you can serve on the side of the peppers. Next time, I would use a full cup of rice and 2 cups of liquid in proportion to the pound of meat, but half a cup of rice was all I had! Bake for 30 minutes (or longer if you didn’t boil the peppers).

These were the most delicious stuffed peppers I’ve ever had, definitely a repeat recipe. I’ve had plainer-flavored versions in the past, so I’m glad to have discovered the allspice in addition to onion, garlic, and bullion/stew spices (the jar doesn’t list what’s inside it, but there were “green” spices- maybe oregano or thyme and salt for sure). Do you have a "secret" ingredient for stuffed peppers?