Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Links: Basic Techniques

First road bike of the season. Sunny and 70 degrees.
Happy Friday! I managed to mostly succeed at my first attempt at making paella the other night. It needs a little bit of adaptation, but I used my dutch oven and was quite pleased with the results.  I realized when it was finished, that I needed to substitute something in for the chorizo flavor that was lost by my leaving it out.  Other than that, my cooking this week has been rather basic: pasta, roasted chicken, lentil cakes.  On Tuesday we* were invited next door to our landlord's kitchen for wild game night.  Remember: my meat eating is limited to fish, chicken and turkey. However, the hubby wanted to go, and I obliged. They ended up serving some very delicious grilled Colorado trout, along with elk and bighorn sheep.

*I happened to be the only female at this party.

As I was cooking some of my staples this week, I found that I was recalling the many techniques I have learned from google and cookbooks.  Basic techniques in the kitchen are often overlooked by home cooks.  These tricks used to be passed down through families, but with many Americans turning to fast food and restaurants, the tricks of the trade are being lost.  These are some of my favorite and most used methods.  I often modify techniques designed for meat in vegetarian cooking to boost the flavor.

How to break down a chicken (in 6 minutes).
fact: whole chickens are cheaper.
How (and why) to deglaze a pan.
fact: that browned goodness stuck to the pan is not lost.
How to dice an onion.
fact: you will begin to love chopping.
How to pan sear meat or fish.
fact: you too can get a restaurant worthy crust.
How to roast vegetables.
fact: roasted veggies are an easy side for any night.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Waste Not: Celery Leaf Salad

Many years ago, I visited Germany and was amazed that grocery bags cost a small fee.  Our little community is about to initiate a ban on plastic bags and a fee on paper ones.  As of May 1st, you either bring your own bag, or you pay 20 cents per paper bag.  Americans use an average of 326 plastic grocery bags per year.  While some of these are reused as trash can liners and lunch bags, most of them end in the landfill practically new.  Here are 25 good reasons to use your own bags.

I strive to be sustainable in how I live my life.  While seeming to take initial effort, it reduces cost and waste in the future.  Small measures can lead to big changes.  Take your bags to the store, and when you forget, use your purse and pockets.  I use re-usable containers instead of ziploc bags.  Try covering food in the oven with a baking sheet instead of foil.  I try to use rags instead of paper towels (this is one I struggle with). And finally, minimize food waste.  Making a goal to prevent food waste can save money and initiate creativity.

Some commonly tossed edibles with solutions:

1. Broccoli stems and leaves
Peel the stems and slice into sticks. Use as a snack or to dip in a veggie tray.  Bake the leaves like you would kale chips.
2. Celery leaves
See below.
3. Chicken bones
Make stock: bones of 1 chicken, any veggies in your fridge, bay leaf, 8 quarts water.  Simmer 1-2 hours, strain and store 1 week in fridge or 6 months in the freezer.
4. Wilted vegetables
Wilted veggies cook very well, and make flavorful parts in sauces or stir fries.  Simply cut away any parts that have gone bad.
5. Expired baking soda.
Baking soda is an excellent cleaning tool, and may stay active enough well past the expiration date.  To test: add a scoop into hot water with a little vinegar.  If it bubbles, the soda is still active for cleaning.  Even use the stuff you had deodorizing your fridge.

Celery leaves are not only often tossed, they tastily spice up many salads.

Celery Leaf Salad
serves 2 as a side salad
Full meal: boiled artichoke with honey-mustard dip, roasted
acorn squash, quinoa with escarole and celery leaf salad

  • leaves from one bunch of celery (about 1/2 cup)
  • 3/4 cup chopped romaine lettuce
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced cucumber
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 cup diced avocado
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Combine celery leaves, lettuce, cucumber, cilantro and avocado in a medium bowl.
  2. Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper.
  3. Drizzle dressing over salad and toss. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hut Trip Roasted Asparagus

Saturday morning we woke up late and packed up for our trip up to the Benedict Huts, a 5.8 mile steep climb just outside of Aspen.  Our friends Katie and Grant drove up from Mead for the adventure.  We stuffed our packs with produce and wine and set out on the trail.  After making a couple wrong turns and four hours of uphill drag, we made it to the hut at 6pm and quickly lit a fire.  Once my toes had warmed, I got to cooking in our rather plush, yet finicky, kitchen.

The Menu
Oven Roasted Asparagus
Baked Salmon with Lemon and Dill
Brown Rice with Caramelized Onions
Green Salad with White Wine Vinaigrette (prepared by Katie)

And for dessert: Whirley-Pop and Cadbury mini-eggs, it was Easter weekend.

We spent the evening playing games and laughing, and awoke Sunday morning to bluebird skies and gorgeous views.  After a pancake breakfast and an egg hunt (more Cadbury products), we descended back to reality.  I managed to miss taking any pictures of the food, so I remade the asparagus last night for a photo.  I promise it was the same recipe.

Oven Roasted Asparagus

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Trim asparagus to remove the fibrous ends.  Take off 1-1.5 inches.
  3. Spread asparagus on sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil.
  4. Slice garlic in thin slices and spread evenly over top.
  5. Cut 4 thin slices of lemon, then juice the end over the asparagus.
  6. Toss all ingredients to coat asparagus, and place lemon slices on top.
  7. Roast for 15 minutes, or until just beginning to change color.
  8. Serve immediately. 
Some fun pics of the cabin, the view, an Easter cheers, and good friends.