Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Crockpot Curried Vegetables & "Rice"

I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again--I love crockpot recipes, and I especially like making them for Monday night dinner. This way, we usually have plenty of leftovers for lunches and even one dinner throughout the week.

This recipe for Curried Vegetables & Rice (I'll get to the rice part) jumped out at me while flipping through my Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes. I love anything with curry, and I wanted to find a vegetarian recipe.

The recipe was super easy and had lots of great, tasty stuff in it. That being said, there are a few things I would do differently next time.

Curried Vegetables

  • 3 medium potatoes, cut into 1/2-in. chunks (3 cups)

  • 4 medium carrots, cut into 1/4-in. slices (2 cups)

  • 1 large red onion, cut into strips (1 cup)

  • 1.25 cups apple juice

  • 2 Tbs. quick-cooking tapioca

  • 2 teas. curry powder

  • 1 teas. grated fresh ginger (I used a little less than a teaspoon of ground ginger)

  • 1/2 teas. salt

  • 1/2 teas. ground cardamom

  • 1 12.3-oz. (or 14 oz., like I used) package extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into 3/4-in. cubes

  • 1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-in. slices

  • 1 cup frozen peas

  • 1/3 cup golden raisins

  • chutney (optional) (we used mango chutney)

  • 1 cup rice uncooked

In a crockpot, combine ingredients from potatoes to cardamom.

Cover, cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5 hours.

Cook rice according to package directions.

If cooking on low, turn to high heat setting. Add tofu, zucchini, peas and raisins to cooker. Cover and cook for 30 minutes more. Serve veggie mix over hot cooked rice and top with chutney.

There are two things I would do differently next time (and I would definitely make it again--it was very tasty and satisfying):

  • I'd brown the tofu a bit first to create a better texture and seal in some flavors before putting it in the crockpot.

  • The tofu wasn't as warm as we would have liked--cooking it a bit before would help this, but it would also help to cook everything on high for more like 45-60 minutes.

So, the rice ... Neither of us can make rice all that well on the stovetop, so we invested in a rice cooker a few years ago. It works really well and makes great rice. The problem is, is that Nate is usually the one who cooks it, and he was working late Monday night. So I had to make it. Long story short, the measurements didn't add up and the rice was crunchy and inedible. So instead of rice, we served the curry veggies with rice noodles I cooked. It was OK, but the rice noodle flavor was too overpowering. It would have been better with fewer noodles or just plain with no type of rice/noodle. Tonight's leftovers will be served over couscous, which I think will taste better.

Chipotle-Rubbed Flank Steak

Nate picked out this recipe for Chipotle-Rubbed Flank Steak in the June issue of Cooking Light. I'm not usually a steak fan, but the chipotle part intrigued me and I knew it wouldn't be a huge slab of steak, so I agreed to it! We also made the side dishes suggested: couscous (just regular couscous made with vegetable broth) and spinach with toasted almonds (recipe below).

The entire meal was very straightforward and easy to make. we followed the recipe fairly closely, but changed a few things:

  • We couldn't find flank steak at Outpost, so we used something similar (I can't remember what Nate picked out).

  • I also couldn't find shallots so we just used part of a yellow onion we had.

  • We used skim rather than 1% just because it's what we buy.

  • We don't have a broiler pan and, frankly, I think we're both a bit nervous to try broiling anything. So we just cooked the steak in a skillet.

The steak was really good, and the Gorgonzola sauce paired nicely with the chipotle spice.

Here's what you do for the spinach with toasted almonds: Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add 6 oz. package baby spinach; saute 2 minutes or until spinach wilts. Add 1/8 teas. salt. Sprinkle with 3 Tbs. toasted sliced almonds.

The spinach was really good, and I liked the toasted almonds with it. However, I think I could eat the entire 6 oz. on my own! Spinach shrinks so much, that when it was cooked, there really wasn't a lot there (and it was supposed to be 4 servings!). Nate and I ate it all.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Homemade Dog Treats

I was all set to bring the three types of human baked goods to the bake sale, when I had the idea to make dog treats, too. I'd been wanting to make them for my dog, April, for a while now, so I figured this was a great time to do it.

A high school friend sent me a recipe she uses for her dog and said the recipe makes a whole bunch and dogs love them. I figured it was worth trying!

Dog Bone Recipe

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour

  • 1 cup flour

  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I used just 2 cups cheddar)

  • 1/2 cup wheat germ

  • 2 Tbs. minced garlic

  • 3 eggs

  • 1 stick butter (I used unsalted)

  • 3/4 cup molasses

Preheat oven to 350*. Mix all ingredients together. Roll out the dough. Cut out using any shape cookie cutter or just cut in squares. Lay on greased baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes.

They were very easy to make, but incredibly messy and there was no way I could have used a cookie cutter--the dough was way too sticky. I'm not sure if it's the type of molasses I used or what, but I ended up using quite a bit of extra flour. I ended up just cutting them in strips with a pizza cutter and then into small squares after I put them on the baking sheet.

I think they turned out all right, though. April sure loves them! And my friend was right--they definitely make a ton!

Indian-Spiced Rice Treats

This was the third batch of baked goodies I took to the bake sale.

I've made these once before--for an Indian-themed potluck with the ethnic dining ladies. They're super tasty and put a great spin on the typical rice krispy treat. I found the recipe from

They're pretty straightforward and I followed the reipce exactly.

You could substitute different nuts and fruits if you wanted, but I like this combination.

Coconut Macaroons

For my second batch of cookies for the bake sale, I wanted to try making coconut macaroons. I've never made them before, but alway enjoyed eating them. I contemplated trying to make French macaroons, which I love, but they seemed a bit more complicated and I wasn't sure I wanted to try a new, slightly more difficult baked good to try to sell to strangers.

After doing some Googling, I found this very simple coconut macaroon recipe on I followed the recipe exactly, and took some of the advice I found in the comments section: let the dough sit in the frige a bit so the cookies are easier to shape. I'm not sure what it's like if you don't chill the dough, but it was easy enough--although a bit messy--to make them into balls for baking.

I doubled the recipe so that I could maximize the amount of cookies I could bring to the bake sale!

These were really easy and really good.

Dark Chocolate Bark

When I was trying to figure out what I was all going to make for the Cookies for Kids' Cancer bake sale, I found this recipe in my Moosewood Restaurant Cooking For Health book (I've been using it a lot lately!). The recipe sounded delicious and easy enough to make and bag up.

It's a good recipe to tweak as you like it--you can add all different types of nuts and dried fruits. I had forgotten it called for orange peel, so I didn't pick one up and I think the dessert was just fine without it. Additional suggestions call for adding lemon peel instead of orange peel, using different nuts like pistachios or cashews and mixing in ground cinnamon or cayenne. Yum!

Here's what I did:

  • 12 oz. 60-70% cacao dark semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (I think the chocolate I used was like 67%)

  • 1 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts and hazelnuts

  • 1/2 cup chopped, dried apricots and cranberries

  • 1/8 teas. coarse salt

Smoothly line a 9x13-inch baking dish with foil.

Heat the chocolate over a double boiler or in an ovenproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and smooth (don't let any water get in!). Stir in half the nuts and all the fruit, and immediately pour into prepared pan.

Spread chocolate mixture evenly. Sprinkle with salt and top with remaining nuts. Press down lightly to set nuts in chocolate.

Stick in fridge for about 30 or until firm and cool (or can let harden at room temps). Break or cut into pieces. Store in covered container at room temps or keep in fridge.

Cookies, Cookies and More Cookies!

Last Saturday, I--along with lots of other Milwaukee foodies, food bloggers, local chefs and people who just wanted to bake some goodies--helped with a bake sale to help raise money for an organization called Cookies For Kids' Cancer. You may remember me blogging about it here. Check out that link for the back story about the organization.

We had a great time with TONS of baked goods (anything you could think of, we had it!), great auction items (I won a huge assortment of Rishi teas) and a great group of people--both volunteers and those who came out to support us (thank you if you're one of them!). All together we raised about $2,100 which will be matched by Glad products. Pretty cool! Check out this link for pictures from the event. Check out some one of my Twitpics from the event here.

I came home with lots of great treats, including bourbon brownies, French macaroons, turtle bars, cupcakes, cookies and dog treats. I contributed four different types of baked goods. Check out each link for photos and recipes:

All in all, it was a great day and great event! If you're interested in contributing to Cookies for Kids Cancer, visit this website. (The box below was almost full to the top with baked goods (thanks to my neighbor, Eileen, too for contributing 8 dozen-some cookies!)!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pepper-Stuffed Portabellas

I came across a recipe for Tex-Mex Stuffed Portabellas while flipping through Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health last weekend. The dish sounded delicious and easy enough for a weeknight meal, so we gave it a try.

The dish is supposed to be vegetarian--and it would be excellent as a vegetarian dish--but I had some Mexican-spiced ground turkey to use up, so I threw that on top, too. I made the "filling" for this dish the night before and reheated it, along with the turkey, before stuffing the portabellas before baking. It was a great dish and you can really do a lot of different things with it.

Tex-Mex Stuffed Portabellas (serves 4, but we halved the recipe for just 2 servings)

  • 1.5 cups chopped onions

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil

  • 1 canned chipotle in adobo sauce, minced (I used quite a few (maybe too many?) shakes of our chipotle powder)

  • 1 yellow and 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped (2-2.5 cups)

  • 1 teas. ground corinader

  • 1 teas. ground cumin

  • 1/2 teas. paprika (I used smoked paprika)

  • 1/2 teas. salt

  • 1/4 teas. ground black pepper

  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

  • 3 fresh plum tomatoes, seeded and finely diced (about 1 cup)

  • 6 oz. Monterey Jack cheese (I used pepperjack), grated (about 2 cups)

  • 4 large portabellas (4-5 in. in diameter)

  • minced scallions (I skipped this step)

In a skillet on medium-high heat, cook the onions and garlic in the olive oil for a couple of minutes. Add the chipotle and bell peppers and cook for 2 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until the peppers are tender but still firm. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cilantro and tomatoes and two-thirds of the cheese.

Break off the stems of the portabellas and save them for another use or discard. Rinse the caps (gently, so they don't break--not that I broke one or anything ...), and place smooth side down in a lightly oiled baking dish large enough to hold them in a single layer. Mound each mushroom with about 1 cup of the filling. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Cover the baking dish with the foil folded lengthwise to form a little tent so the foil won't stick to the cheese.

Bake in a preheated oven at 350* for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the cheese browns, 10-15 minutes. Serve topped with scallions.

We served the mushroom caps with the bulgar and butternut squash dish I made earlier in the week. I've determined the bulgar mix is good both cold and warmed up. This was a great meal, and Nate really enjoyed it, too.

Restaurant Review: Antigua

It had been a while since the ethnic dining group made it out to dinner, so it was nice to get together this week and go to dinner at Antigua in West Allis. I had been to Antigua before, but years ago and I didn't remember much about it, other than it wasn't a Mexican restaurant, but a Latin restaurant.

We had a great experience--and great food--when we were there. The menu contains many tapas you can have for appetizers or order a couple to make up a meal. There is one page dedicated to Mexican food and two types of paella. Another page has different entrees from Latin American countries including Peru, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Spain, as well as Antigua-created dishes.

Rather than the usual chips and salsa, we were treated to a plate for small-bite appetizers: a piece of mango and cheese quesadilla. a lightly fried potato-puff sort of thing and an empanada-style dough pocket with meat (sorry I don't have better descriptions for the appetizers!).

Even though we had those to snack on, we couldn't pass up an order of guacamole. The guacamole was very fresh and flavorful--it had a good, strong lime taste--and it came served with fresh, homemade tortilla chips that reminded me of the ones we had in Mexico.

For meals, the other ladies each ordered a bowl of the caldito xochitl, Mexican "hot flower soup," made with chicken broth, shredded chicken, avocado, onions, tomato, rice, tortilla strips and lime. Sun and Leah had different salads, and Lisa tried one of the tapas, Yolanda empanadas.

I ordered the Peruvian dishes: lomo saltado, which was strips of beef, yellow aji pepper, vegetables and fried potatoes, served over green rice. It was delicious! My only (small) complaint was that it wasn't spicy at all, despite having two peppers next to the dish name on the menu. No worries, though--I added some of the spicy salsa our waitress brought.

We had a great time at Antigua. The service was a bit slow, but it was pretty busy for a Tuesday night, and it was nice catching up, so the time went quickly. On Tuesdays, if you tweet from Antigua you can get a free drink, so I enjoyed a mango margarita with my meal. Not a bad deal! I can't wait to go back and try something else. I'd like to check out their brunch menu sometime, too.

Restaurant Review: Firefly Urban Bar & Grill

Last Friday, Nate and I went out to dinner at Firefly Urban Bar & Grill in Tosa with our friends Craig and Margo. We've been there a few times before, but hadn't been in quite some time and not since they changed up their menu.

There was a nice crowd in the back part of the restaurant, or the bar area, which I prefer. The two dining rooms at Firefly are very different from one another. The front room is much more formal. It's nice, but it's not so much my style. The back bar area, though, is more lively and has a nice bar-slash-dining room atmosphere.

I knew at least one thing on the menu I wanted to have before we even go there--the crunch salad. This salad is unbelievably good. It's made with bok choy, baby spinach, wasabi peas and a chili buttermilk dressing. Luckily, you can get the salad as a side with any of the sandwiches. So I ordered the microburgers (sliders). There were three microburgers: one had goat cheese and mojo salsa, another had tomato, basil mayo and mozzarella and the other had smoke bacon and white cheddar. The flavors were good, but the burgers were a bit dry, despite asking for them to be cooked to medium.

Nate ordered the firefly burger, which came with pepperjack cheese, bacon, pickled jalapenos, lettuce, tomato, haystack onions and chipotle mayo. Schwoo! He had it with a side of creamy tomato soup. I had a bite of it and it was really tasty. Very filling, too--he couldn't even finish it!

Craig had the all-you-can-eat fish fry (for the record, he didn't even get seconds) which he said was good, and Margo had the chicken torta--pulled chicken, coriander sour cream, cilantro, avocado and pickled onions--as well as the crunch salad, after I told her both were delicious. Both of them seemed to enjoy their meals!

Overall, we had a good experience. They have a great beer list, which of course was great. Service was just a tad slow, but that was OK, as we just chit chatted the whole time.

We talked about saving room for the tableside s'mores, but we ended up going to Cold Spoons for gelato afterward. Yum! (That's a combo of sea salt caramel and blood-orange gelato.)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bulgar & Butternut Squash Side Dish

There were a few reasons to make this dish, which is based on a recipe I found in my Moosewood Restaurant Cooking For Health book:

  1. I needed a side dish to go with the Tex-Mex stuffed portabella mushrooms I plan to make for Wednesday's dinner (recipe from this same cookbook).

  2. I needed to use up the rest of the butternut squash I had, after making the chickpea chili.

  3. I needed to come up with a good pre-workout snack that had complex ("good") carbs and other good stuff.

I found a recipe for quinoa and sweet potatoes, and decided to adapt it to what I had--bulgar and butternut squash. Bulgar is a whole grain that has lots of protein and fiber, plus lots of vitamins and minerals.

Bulgar & Butternut Squash

  • 2 cups cooked bulgar

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil

  • 1 cup diced onions

  • 1/2 teas. salt

  • about 2 cups diced butternut squash

  • 2 cups lightly packed finely chopped fresh spinach

  • 3 Tbs toasted pine nuts

  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries

  • 2 Tbs. minced scallions

  • 1 Tbs. lemon juice

  • salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepan, bring water to a boil then add butternut squash. Cook for 5 minutes or until tender. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil and cook onions and salt over medium-high heat for about 7 minutes. Turn off heat. Add butternut squash, bulgar and rest of ingredients to pot. Stir to mix. Season as desired.

I've only had a few bites of this so far, but it's really pretty tasty. There's a lot you can do with it--add other foods or take some out. I can't decide yet if it'd be better hot or cold--I think it would work both ways! You could also add some cooked ground chicken, turkey or beef if you wanted to make it a full, well-rounded and healthy meal.

CCC: Crockpot Chickpea Chili

In the same issue of Cooking Light that I found the shrimp pad Thai, I also found a recipe for Chickpea Chili in the crockpot. I had been looking for a vegetarian meal and something to put in the crockpot for a Monday night meal. Perfect!

The meal took some prep time, so don't think you can just throw a few things in the crockpot, all willy nilly, and be done with it. The recipe calls for dried chickpeas (although I supposed canned would be all right), which you have to let stand in boiling water for 1 hour. There is also a lot of chopping, as the recipe calls for butternut squash, onion and garlic. BUT, it's all worth it. This meal was delicious and hearty. And it makes a ton--we've had six servings of it, plus there are at least two, maybe three more, in the freezer.

We pretty much followed the recipe, but did a few things differently:

  • Used veggie broth rather than chicken broth to make it fully vegetarian (and, honestly, I had veggie broth on hand!).

  • I couldn't find golden raisins at Outpost, so we used regular (brown?) raisins.

  • I didn't have fresh cilantro, but I had had some in the freezer, in ice-cube form, so I defrosted that and used it. I think fresh cilantro would be better, but alas.

The chili was great over the couscous, but I think it would be great just plain, too. The only thing I would do differently next time is make it spicy--the recipe calls for a bit of ground red pepper, but I'd add more or a jalapeno--something. Also, one thing to note--the recipe calls for pimiento-stuffed olives, which I love, but Nate doesn't like. We added them anyway, and he said they tasted just fine.

Shrimp Pad Thai a la Cooking Light

While flipping through the March 2011 issue of Cooking Light not too long ago, a recipe for Shrimp Pad Thai caught my eye. I love just about any kind of Thai or Thai-inspired dish, and we hadn't made anything with shrimp in a while, so this was great.

The recipe was super easy and didn't take much time. We followed the recipe exactly. I think next time we make it I would do just a few things different:

  • Add more Sriracha, although it's fine to add to the plate after it's cooked.

  • Add a bit more shrimp. The recipe only calls for 8 oz., so divided by four servings, that's not too much. We cut up the shrimp, too, for maximum plate coverage! Also, I think tofu would be good in it, too.

  • I think most pad Thai recipes call for eggs to be mixed in while stir frying the veggies and shrimp, so I'd definitely do that next time.

We served the pad Thai with some baked spring rolls we picked up in the sale bin at Outpost. It was all very tasty!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Vegetarian Lentil Loaf

I've had a vegetarian cookbook, Quick & Easy Tasty Vegetarian, for a few years now (it was on sale at Border's for $1.99! I couldn't pass it up). I've only made one or two recipes out of it, although everything looks really tasty (well, the name of the cookbook indicates that!). I thought a good vegetarian meal would be good after a somewhat meat-heavy weekend.

I picked the lentil roast, because it looked healthy, easy and was something I could make Sunday afternoon and pop in the oven when I got home Monday night.

Lentil Roast

  • 1 cup red lentils (I used brown (I think that's what they were) lentils, as I had a bunch in the pantry)

  • 2 cups vegetable stock (I used broth)

  • 1 bay leaf (I used 3 because mine are pretty old)

  • 1 Tbs. butter, softened (omit if decide just to use cooking spray)

  • 2 Tbs. dried whole wheat breadcrumbs (I used some random, probably white bread, breadcrumbs I had)

  • 1 cups grated sharp cheddar

  • 1 leek, finely chopped

  • 4.5 oz. button mushrooms, finely chopped

  • 1.5 cups fresh whole wheat breadcrumbs

  • 2 Tbs. chopped parsley

  • 1 Tbs. lemon juice

  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten

  • salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375*. Put lentils, stock/broth and bay leaf in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed and the lentils have softened (this probably took me more like 45 minutes--I'm not sure if it's because I used different lentils or what, but the lentils didn't soak up the broth for quite a while). Discard bay leaf.

Line a 4 oz. loaf pan with baking parchment, grease with butter and sprinkle with dried bread crumbs (I ended up just using cooking spray because the parchment paper wasn't working too well for me).

Stir the cheese, leek, mushrooms, fresh breadcrumbs and parsley into the lentils. Bind the mixture together with the lemon juice and eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon into prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake in preheated oven for about 1 hour, or until golden.

Loosen loaf with a spatula and turn onto warmed serving plate (ours didn't exactly loosen so well and really look like a loaf when we were done. I figured it all tasted the same, though!).

This was really pretty tasty--the browned, crusty parts were my favorite. The recipe doesn't say how many servings this makes, but we turned it into five servings--six or seven would probably be better, though, as all those lentils and breadcrumbs make it really filling! We served the lentil loaf with some peas and leftover zucchini and yellow squash.

Homemade White Corn Tortillas

After having such delicious, fresh and always homemade tortillas in Mexico, I knew it was only a matter of time before Nate and I would attempt to make them from scratch. Luckily, my parents happened to have a tortilla press they bought at El Rey's years ago that was just collecting dust in their basement.

I had looked up a few tortilla recipes (including one from Pam Mehnert's A Year of Inconvenience blog), and they seemed really easy to make and just included three ingredients: maseca (instant corn masa flour), salt and water.

We ended up following the recipe on the back of the maseca bag, as we wanted to make quite a few tortillas so we could freeze them for future use. Here's how much of everything we used and what we did:

  • 2 cups maseca (we used white corn, but you can buy yellow corn maseca, too)

  • 1.25 cups water

  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Combine all three ingredients. Mix thoroughly for about two minutes, forming soft dough. If dough is too dry, add more water, 1 Tbs. at a time (I think we added 1 or 2 Tbs.).

Divide dough in 16 equal balls (we weighed the entire mound of dough on our food scale and then divided by 16). Cover with a damp cloth to keep dough moist.

Line a tortilla press with two sheets of thick plastic wrap (we took a quart-sized resealable bag and split the seams. This worked very well). Place each ball between the plastic and press down until the tortilla measures 5-6 inches in diameter (this is pretty much the diameter of our tortilla press). Carefully peel off plastic wrap.

Preheat ungreased griddle, skillet or cast iron pan (very important--I don't think the skillet was warm enough for the first few we cooked). Cook tortillas one at a time (well, we ended up cooking two at once in our big skillet--it worked fine), for about 1 minute per side (we generally cooked them until they browned just a bit). Cover tortillas with cloth napkin (or keep in warm oven) to keep them soft and warm.

These were fantastic, and I doubt I'll ever use store-bought tortillas again. The size is great, too--I much prefer having one or two small tortillas or tacos to one giant one. Yeah, it takes more time to make these than going out and buying some from the store. But the process was not complicated and really only took us about half an hour. Now that we at least kind of know what we're doing, I think it will go even faster next time.