Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Baked Potato

Consider the potato. So cheap. Delicious. Can keep or quite a time.

Not to mention, that it is, along with fortified milk, a complete diet. It is easily made into many meals, so when you have the time, make extra - it doesn't take any extra time, except for scrubbing, and they make a quick, tasty, and above all cheap meal.

Baked Potatoes
For baking, you generally want the brown skinned russet potato. A light, flaky inside matched with a crispy skin is the ideal.

 So you have a bag of 30 cent/lb. potatoes. (Don't forget, to help keep your potatoes fresh, store a ripe apple with them. The apple gives off ethylenes and other organic alcohols as it respires, which suppresses sprouting).

Take the number you wish to use in the next couple days. Scrub them. Examine the skin - are there any green spots? Not good. Potatoes belong to the nightshade family, and produce solanine in the green bits (leaves and green flesh), and sprouts. It won't likely kill you, just give you gastric distress, but these toxins aren't destroyed by cooking, so trim any spots, and prick deeply with a fork (at least 3 times) per potato. If not, they will explode (been there, done that, have the t-shirt).

At this point most recipes will advise you to coat the skin with olive oil. Don't. Oil moisturizes. Instead, rub the exterior with a light coating of salt. Easiest way it to sprinkle your hands with salt before handling each potato, or just sprinkle them lightly.

Place directly on the rack in a preheated oven between 350-400 degrees (the flexible temp is to allow to cook other things at the same time). Time totally depends on the size of the spud. Smaller spuds, higher temp, check at 35 minutes. Larger spuds, lower temp, start to check at an hour. The largest potatoes will take about an hour an a half. So there's your window. You know they are done when a fork (not knife - too sharp) pierces them lightly.

Just enough time to do a bit of homework.

Pull the potatoes when done. Put any ones not for immediate use in the fridge to cool. So how to make a meal from your bakes potato? Take your hot potato, split from stem to stern and smother with butter, mayo, chives, salsa, chili, leftover veggies, bacon - whatever floats your boat. And enjoy a glass of milk.

Stuffed potatoes:
Take your hot potato and cut it in half lengthwise so you have two little boats. Scoop the insides out, put them into a bowl, and mash the insides with butter, stock, cream, cream cheese - whatever is handy, and refill with the mashed potato plus whatever you think is yummy - bacon, miso, cheese, leftovers etc. You can even whip up an egg white and fold it in for a souffle texture. Grill until hot.

Leftover Baked Potatoes 

While both of the above are best when hot, you can also prepare your spuds ahead of time and reheat them for stuffing. But for a change of pace, you can do some of the following:

Hash browns are an obvious choice. Grate or chop those potatoes, then grate or chop an onion in with it. Or don't - it's fine without it. Heat a generous amount of oil in a pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is nice and hot, put the mixture in and season with salt and pepper. Let it get a nice brown crust, then turn over to crust the other side.

Potato salad - while a hot baked potato is fluffy, a cold one is denser. While boiled potatoes are a better choice, leftover baked will do in a pinch.

Baked potato soup - Link Coming

Baked potato bread - this is an easy quick bread (quick means leavened by baking soda as opposed to yeast), so it takes little time to prepare. - Link Coming

Friday, May 1, 2015

Bean There, Done That - Using Dried Beans

I have to say, I love canned beans. Super easy, pretty cheap (especially if you get it in bulk from someplace like Big Lots or Grocery Outlet), and convenient. Always on hand.

However, you can get dried beans, often for less than $1 a lb. when buying 25 lb. bags, and those bags will last for frickin' ever. Mostly. It can also be inexpensive in the bulk section at the store as well. And when fully hydrated, the beans that you pay $1/can at the store for costs about 12 cents dry. 

So here are the basic steps for using beans (and dried grains). It does call for planning ahead. Hard, but doable. Here are the basic steps for any bean recipes.

Step One: Sort the beans
Most beans are packaged straight from the field, so they have rocks, bugs, and assorted nasties. Measure the amount you want and spread them on a light colored dishtowel. Spread them in a single layer, and keep a sharp eye for anything that is not a bean, including empty hulls. Scoop up the picked through beans, dump them in a colander, and give them a quick rinse.

Step Two: Soaking the beans
Beans roughly double in size when fully cooked, so figure how much you want to deal with. Add enough water to cover by 3 inches, and soak anywhere from 4 hours to 24 hours (beyond that, esp. in warm weather, they can start to ferment). I like to add salt to the soaking water (about a tsp.) since, contrary to myth, it doesn’t cause the beans to be hard. It’s acid that does that, so save the tomatoes for later.

Step Three: Cook the beans
Drain and rinse the soaked beans and put in a pot. Add a clove of garlic, 1 bay leaf, and  enough water (or stock and water, or water and some bullion granules) to cover by about an inch (inch and a half for garbanzos). Partially cover and bring to a simmer. Old beans take longer to cook; long soaked beans take less time to cook. Most beans take about 1 to 1-1/2 hours, chickpeas up to two hours, smaller beans less time. You can use a crockpot on low for this. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid if necessary for the recipe.

To protect from insects, use a double plastic system - rubber band the package it comes in, then put in a nice sturdy ziplock. If you have rodents, you need metal or glass containers - Ikea has cheap containers in a wide variety of sizes, and your local hardware store will have small garbage pails, ash cans, paint cans for low cost, not to mention the ubiquitous mason jar available almost anywhere.

The Musical Fruit

You know what I’m talking about.

This is from the US Dry Bean Board
"If high-fiber foods such as dry beans are not a regular part of your diet, the natural oligosaccharides (complex carbohydrates) in beans may cause temporary digestive discomfort. Research shows that adding beans to your diet on a regular basis — at least once or twice a week — reduces flatulence.

The best way to reduce beans’ naturally occurring oligosaccharides, tannins, phytic acid, and trypsin inhibitors is to use the quick hot-soak method to soften dry beans, then drain the soaking water and start with fresh water for cooking."

Ch Ch Changes

So, quick explanation - nobody reads this blog, it's still up and free, and I can't be arsed to change the theme.

Not to mention, I still make bentos, but it's so routine by now and why bother blogging about it when you have the excellent Just Bento.

So this new blog is all about helping my Darling Daughter, who now needs to start cooking for herself on a student budget, learn some of the ins and outs of cooking.

So quick, cheap, and off the cuff.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

SOS (Save Our Salad)

Salad greens are a handy item to have in your bento stash. Not only do they make a salad, but you can use them to make tasty roll-ups, shred to combine with soup or noodles, or just fill dead spots in the bento. Problem is that most bag salad is not only pre-chopped, but it's expensive and covered in chemical compounds to keep it fresh. But here is a way to keep your greens fresh and tasty for weeks at a time. Buy using this technique, I can make sure I always have fresh, clean greens at hand.

Wash The Greens
Fill a sink or large pot with cold water. Separate the head into individual leaves, discarding any that are bruised or wilted.

Submerge the greens and swish them gently through the water. Gently lift them out place in a colander. Goggle at the amount of sediment left in the bottom. Eew! Drain the water (and sediment), fill up the container and repeat until the water is clear (about 2-3 times total).

After the greens have been washed, place them in the salad spinner to dry them. Alternatively, for those who don't have a salad spinner, place them in a clean, dry pillowcase. Take the pillowcase and spin it around over your head (I recommend doing this outside). It works beautifully, plus there is no need for yet another one-purpose kitchen gadget.

Pack The Greens
Take a paper towel and place a single layer of leaves on it, making sure none of the leaves touch each other. Place another paper towel, then another layer of leaves. Continue until you have placed all the leaves, ending with a paper towel layer.

Slide the stack of paper and leaves into the plastic bag and seal it part way. Gently compress so that most of the air is gone and seal the bag.

That's it! Put the bag in the refrigerator and remove the leaves as you need them. The method works wonders for keeping the greens fresh by 1) keeping them dry on the surface and 2) reducing respiration, so the leaves retain their moisture. It also works great for tender herbs, such as parsley, sage, or even green onions. Plus the plastic bags are really easy to store and remove from the vegetable bag.

I also have this as an eHow article. If you liked this, or have comments to share, please visit the article and rate it!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

One of the things I am always looking for in BentoLand are tasty items that can be served room temperature. One delicious option comes from Italy, in the form of polenta. Cooked to firmness, fried or grilled, and then either topped or eaten plain, it is a filling and tasty alternative to rice or a sandwich.

Aside from it's obvious charms, another thing that converted me to polenta was learning an easy, hands-off method of cooking. It's as simple as can be, plus it can be prepared the night before, cooled, and cut into shapes, grilled, or what-have-you at your leisure.

When I found this method, it really took a leap of faith. But since I was turned off by the idea of standing over a pot of splattering cornmeal (almost as much as I was turned off by those tubes of pre-made polenta in the grocery stores), I decided to give this method a try.

And am I glad I did!

This no-stir method produces fabulous results - creamy and voluptuous, plus the hands-off method leaves you free to make the stew, greens, or whatever else you are having with it.

Types of Polenta
Very soft polenta: 6 parts liquid to 1 part cornmeal. The consistency of grits, best served in a bowl with the toppings of your choice.

Soft polenta: 5 parts liquid to 1 part cornmeal. The consistency of mashed potatoes, works in a bowl, or as a bed for stews.

Firm polents: 4 parts liquid to 1 part cornmeal. When warm, it's like a thick pudding and can be used as a bed for stews, or cooled and sliced into wedges to fry or broil and serve with toppings.

Very firm polenta: 3 to 3 1/2 parts cornmeal. This is the type of firmness like you see in pre-made polenta, made primarily to cool and slice.

Basic Polenta Recipe
1 cup medium-coarse or coarse cornmeal
3 to 6 cups water (or half water, half milk)
1 Tbs. butter or olive oil
1 tsp salt more to taste

Heat oven to 350. Grease a 3 quart ovenproof skillet, preferably non-stick. Pour in the cornmeal, water, milk (if using) butter, and salt, and stir until there are no more dry clumps. The mixture will separate. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes. Stir the polenta, taste, add salt if needed, and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest in the pan for 10 minutes.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I'm back, baby!

Err, my dog ate my blog?

First, I must apologize for the long hiatus. Basically, everyday life decided to throw a tantrum and proclaim "It's all about me, Me ME!!!!". Then there were server and isp provider issues, so finally I took the advice of my Darling Genius Husband, and used a standard blog provider. So here I am.

And it's almost Valentine's Day! So her are a few pics of fabulous heart and flower bentos.

This is one from one of my favorite artists. I love the little apple bunny - it's really easy to make. The rice decorations are so curvy and organic. Scatter few hearts around and voila! You have Valentine's Day!