Category Archives: CrummyCook

My Tender Croppes

The CrummyCook has branched out and begun, over the past few years, to grow stuff.

First, some herbs.

Then, some cucumbers.

This year, some tomatoes (against my better judgment: the problem with tomatoes is they all ripen at the same time and you’ve got a complete surplus of tomatoes for a couple of weeks and a famine the rest of the year.  Maybe there’s a fix for that).

In any case, I was a bit worried about my tender croppes this year.  It was too cold to put the cukes out for a long time in March and even in April, and everything got behind the 8-ball.

But things seem to be working out.

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Here are the cukes.  They are leafing out nicely and are spontaneously trying to cling to the frame.  I’ll have them climbing up this weekend, I think.

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The tomato plant that’s doing the best is in the middle of this picture.  Still pretty spindly and hardly needs the frame around it yet.  The one to its right is not in great shape.  And I only had room for two this year.

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Herbs are doign great.  The chives are in the front, the oregano to the left, thyme in the upper middle, and mint just barely visible at the upper right.  The upper left is hot peppers.  They seem to be doing well, but this is my first time with them.  Have to see how it goes.

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The rosemary (top) and lavender (bottom) are doing well as well.  Not sure how to use lavender yet, but it sure looks pretty.

Jewel in the crown this year seems to be the basil (pictured in the top of the post).

Generally going better than my pessimistic thoughts in May.

Make-ahead Lunch Weeks 3, 4: Ham Bone, Greens, and Bean Soup

Well, make-ahead lunch week 3 got eaten by Snowzilla here in DC.  Couldn’t get out for ingredients.  Too much shoveling to make lunch on Sunday.  Didn’t get out to work a couple of days that week so no lunch needed.

Existing stocks of Peruvian Vegetable Soup and Burritos tided me over the days I did go to work.  All goodness

So this Sunday the snow was largely melted, the game was on again, and so I found a soup recipe that was 1) fibre-tacious, 2) within my capabilities, 3) would freeze easily.

Indirectly, an article on soups that freeze led me to this Melissa Clark recipe for Ham Bone, Greens, and Bean Soup.

A bunch of kale, a half-head of cabbage.  All good.  Used canned beans instead of dry.  Okey-dokey.

The ham bone itself was a problem.  Our Whole Foods doesn’t do deep dish butcher-y things like cut ham bones in three.  I sometimes even think they make meat without any bones, innards, or waste.  Well, not really, but they give a good simulation.

In any case, Debbie was at the Whole Foods while I was doing stuff at the hardware store, and she got a already-cooked ham hock with bone in.

So I figured with the canned beans and the already-cooked ham there was excess cooking time in the recipe.  I went straight to the cabbage and kale after bringing the ham to a boil, and thus reduced the cooking time by 1/2 hour.

Oh, and I used chicken stock instead of water.  I prefer stock to water most of the time anyhow, and who knows what would happen with an ersatz (or at least jury-rigged) ham bone.

It was a huge amount of soup  I froze four portions and there were still 3-4 portions left for the fridge.  I had some for breakfast this morning.  Pretty tasty.

The make-ahead scheme for the year is taking shape.  Each Sunday make one new dish and have enough portions of the previous dish(es) left over to insure that there’s A/B variety each week.

This is all quite feasible in soup season, because these soups are actually pretty easy to make.  I don’t know how it’s going to go once we get to salad season, since salads seem at least much more hard to keep than freeze-able soups.

I’m improving in my ability to eyeball a recipe and see if it’ll taste good and be within my powers to prepare.  I guess it’s like sight-reading music.  If you do it enough you build up a skill for it.  Unlike sight-reading, you don’t have to do it in real time.

I’m also very marginally improving in my abilities to prep food quickly and efficiently.  I can chop a bit better, particularly since I’ve begun to sharpen my knives a bit more diligently.  If you take the time to put a decent edge on them they keep the edge better, so you get more effortless chopping and less holding-and-separating between chops.  But maybe I should take a course in food prep or something.  Couldn’t hurt.

Make-Ahead Lunch Week 2: Peruvian Vegetable Soup

OK, so Week 1 went well.  I had one lunch out, so it was 2 lunches of the burritos and 2 lunches of the Italian Wedding Soup, as previewed here.  The Italian Wedding Soup, honestly, was not that great to begin with, and holding it for a few days didn’t improve the gumminess of the pasta.  Not sure what the answer is, but it’s worth trying freezing it.

The burritos were good, though, although a little bland.

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I jazzed them up with some Sriracha from the portable supply Santa gave me for Xmas.

So there are 5 burritos — frozen — left over from last week, and the plan is to use 2-3 of them this week.

The other lunch comes from Peruvian Vegetable Soup, which I found under the catchy title “How to Make Soup That Actually Fills You Up” on a site called FullPlate which touts a “majority fiber-rich” approach to dieting where 50-75% of your meal or snack should be a “fiber-rich” food (not to be confused with “fiber”; “fiber-rich” foods wants you to eat all kinds of vegetables and fruits as well as beans and such-like in order to eat things with a lower calorie density).

FullPlate is my latest diet gimmick.  Have I explained about me and diets?  What I’ve found about myself is that I get great results from a diet for the first few months (call it 2-4), and then my zeal flags.  Answer?  Refresh the diet gimmick every 3-5 months.  I don’t much care what the diet is as long as I have zeal for it, and by renewing the gimmick I can recharge my zeal.

So anyhow, I ran across the FullPlate diet reading and experimenting with Jane McGonigal’s SuperBetter book and self-improvement scheme.  I don’t know how FullPlate and she got together, but they are one of the “Quests” in the superbetter.com system, and they seemed simple (no measuring and looking up calorie counts) as well as the system seemed to work.

In any case, Peruvian Vegetable Soup is essentially a boatload of fiber-rich vegetables, beans, and qunoa united by a tomato-ey and cumin-ey broth.  The soup is designed (on purpose, says creator Amy Hanus) to be eaten in 3-cup portions, so it’s a huge slug of vegetables.  Reminds of me of a brief flirtation years ago with the Ornish 10% fat diet, where Debbie and I would gorge ourselves on vegetable stews and medleys of one sort or another.  It was OK.

So I ended up with four portions for lunches and a dinner last night for Debbie and me.

On a scale of Italian Wedding Soup to Burritos it’s probably 2/3 of the way to Burritos, so it’ll probably make its way into the lineup.

TBD.

Still on the lookout for fiber-rich lunches that I can make ahead and freeze.  I’ll publicize my efforts with anything you send me, along with a shout out to your blog or other social media.  Let me know.

Rachael Ray “Indian meat” recipe

Not the most catchy title, but this Rachael Ray recipe is called “Indian Spiced Meat with Curried Potato Salad and Creamed Spinach”, and it was really good.

The reason she called it “Spiced Meat” is because you can swap out chicken for beef or lamb chops.  I used boneless chicken thighs, which was how I picked the recipe in the first place.

The “creamed” part of the creamed spinach is notional only, since the creaming agent is yogurt (and since, against her advice, I used 2% yogurt).  So it was nothing like the artery-clogging product you might get, say, in a steakhouse.  But spinach is pretty hard to wreck.

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The potatoes with curry were pretty good.

Dammit, I like Rachael Ray’s recipes.  They’re easy to make (although I can’t do any of them in anything like 30 minutes; an hour is more like it), and, unlike some of the other Food Channel corner-cutters, they’re pretty tasty.

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The curry rub for the chicken was good, and the whole thing just pleased Debbie and me.

Two Casserole-style “one-pot” meals

Debbie was out of town at the end of last week and so I was forced into  cooking action.

It’s a paradox, since the original intent (and much of the moral juice) for the Crummycook effort was to spell Debbie at cooking.  Which I do from time to time, but, sadly, I really jump into action when she’s out of town.

At least part of the problem is that I have nowhere to hide when she’s gone.  I have to cook, or, after I run out of leftovers, I might starve.

Anyhow…

My scheme last week was to do some of Rachael Ray’s “30-minutes tops” meals.  And somewhere along the way I got the idea of doing a one-pot meal.  Heck.  I have penchant for one-pot meals.  I sort of like the mixture of flavors, and they’re easy as leftovers.  Just measure and nuke.

Unfortunately, Rachael Ray’s magazine website was terribly slow when I first went to look for recipes (Tuesday or Wednesday).  I didn’t have the sense to look at RachaelRayShow or Food Network, which might have been alternatives.

So my first shot at one-potted-ness was from Epicurious, which yielded, together with an old Ziploc freezer bag full of boneless chicken thighs, this Moroccon Tagine-style dish.

I see “tagine-style” because my impression is that real tagines take hours of slow cooking and maybe even special cookware, no?  This recipe was easy-peasy.

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Here’s the meal just before serving.  The couscous, the raisins, the garbanzos, the red onion, all visible.  The chicken is a bit back-in-the-mix.

By Friday I actually got onto the Rachael Ray site and did her Savory and Sweet Pork Stew with Ancho Chiles.

I like her stuff, and I like her TV persona (FWIW).  It’s simple, but, unlike others, it’s not cheesy.   Count me as a fan.

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Here’s the stew ready to eat.  I didn’t have tortillas so I put it on corn tortilla chips.  It was really pretty good.

And when Debbie got home on Saturday night she had some of this and thought it was pretty good too.  So a minor-league “spelling Debbie at cooking” Crummycook function was served.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

I’m on sort of a “blast from the past” jag here with Crummycook-ing.  First coleslaw, now tuna noodle casserole.

On the surface, the motivation was quite different.  Debbie and I had bought a boatload of canned tuna at Costco and then more — on sale — at Giant, so we had a surfeit of tuna.

In addition, Debbie had, some years ago, attempted to recreate the tuna noodle casserole of her childhood, complete with potato chips on top.  As I recall, it was OK.  She seemed more wounded by the experience.  Her typical comment: “I thought that the potato chips on top would rescue it.”

So it kind of had to be a retro cut at tuna noodle casserole to honor Debbie’s bad experience, but it didn’t have to use cream of mushroom soup or any of the classic shortcuts.

So I found two recipes in Epicurious, a more classic one, albeit with a real Bechamel sauce and real sauteed mushrooms rather than soup.  And a more healthful one, which appealed to me because it had fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme which I could bring in from my herb garden.

Debbie didn’t like the looks of the healthful one, but I set out to get some missing ingredients for it anyhow.  Fortunately I had the presence of mind to get some cheddar cheese for the classic one, because, when I got home, that’s the one I proceeded to make.

Good news.  It turned out really tasty.  Debbie had small seconds last night, and some for lunch again this noon.  Her only beef was how many dishes it took me to make it.  I do a pretty OCD mise en place, with containers for everything, and the recipe called for three or four different pots and pans — a skillet for the mushroom mixture, a dutch oven for the roux and to combine everything, a baking dish for the sojourn in the oven.  I managed to use just a baking dish and a casserole, so I feel a bit falsely accused of too many pots, but she’s right, really.  I have to learn how to use fewer.

Slaw 3: Bobby Flay as Interpreted by the Madmen from Crummycook

The Coleslaw Project takes its first steps.

Step 1 was to pick a starting recipe for baseline purposes.  For reasons discussed here I started with a Bobby Flay recipe.

Sadly, I improvised.  I didn’t have cabbage, just Napa cabbage.  And I inadvertently put in two tablespoons of dry (Colemans!) mustard instead of one.

Result? Nasal-passage cleansing coleslaw with not quite the right texture.

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Here’s how it looks.  Decent texture, but definitely not cabbage-based coleslaw.

The mayonnaise (home-made) was great.  You could taste it.

So coming up, try the recipe again, this time with the right ingredients.

(Debbie liked it despite the horseradish-esque “notes”.)

Slaw Project 2: Mayonnaise

Phase 1 in the Slaw project seemed to be making my own mayonnaise.

Of course you could do store-bought, but, c’mon, I’m Crummycook, I can’t just do that.

So Debbie and I set out to make mayonnaise from scratch over the weekend.

Or I set out to do it and she helped, criticized, and encouraged.  All at once.

The core of mayonnaise is emulsification: you whip the oil into an emulsion with egg yolk (in some recipes) or whole egg (in others) and a bit of acid (lemon juice, vinegar, Whatever).  By dribbling the oil in slowly while you whisk (or blend) the heck out of it: mayonnaise.

First thing we tried was a Mark Bittman recipe for blender mayonnaise out of the “How to Cook Anything” cookbook.  Foolproof, he says.  Egg yolk, Dijon mustard, lemon juice.

Well, foolproof it might be, but this fool was not able to get it to work.  After whirling away for almost five minutes I had a yellow mess of oil, an encouraging garlic smell, and no emulsification.

So we read a bunch of stuff in our cookbooks and the ‘tubes about the vicissitudes of mayonnaise, and then tried again.

This time a recipe with a whole egg from The Joy of Cooking (this link is the closest I could find to it online).

Maybe it was the whole egg.  Maybe it was the room-temperature ingredients.  Maybe it was slower dribbling.  Maybe it was starting with a small bunch of stuff in a small(er) blender bowl.  In any case, it worked.

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Not a great photo, but you can see the pale yellow emulsion in the plastic container.  And it tasted great.

Crummy Cook Takes on Coleslaw

I’ve been working on half-sour pickles over the summer, having grown cucumbers for the first time against a sunny wall on the South face of our house.

But now it’s time to take on another challenge, and I’ve decided to try for coleslaw.

There’s a theme here.  Both half-sour pickles and coleslaw are:

  1. foods I love
  2. foods that are within my feeble powers to master (I hope!)
  3. foods that give pleasure to Debbie and others

So that’s where I’m going.

I’m not a fan of yuppie coleslaw.  I don’t like hincty ingredients: cabbage and carrot are fine, thank you very much.  And I don’t like too-sour or too-herbal or too-uncreamy coleslaw.

Now I don’t like coleslaw that’s a mayonnaise bath either, so there are some limits in the other direction.

For openers, I decided to make Bobby Flay’s  coleslaw recipe from Food Network.

Creamy Cole SlawI like Bobby Flay’s sensibility generally, as Food Network chefs go.  He’s not a total glutton, but he’s not a weird gourmet either.

I don’t (yet?) have the power to read a recipe and know how it’ll taste, but his recipe read as if it might taste pretty much as I like.  Or at least a good first approximation.

The fact that he calls the recipe “Creamy Coleslaw” gave me a little pause (like I said, I don’t want a bath of mayonnaise), but I think it’ll be a good start for my adventures.

He calls for sour cream, a couple of tablespoons.  I think that’ll sit OK with me.

So the first order of business will be to learn how to make homemade mayonnaise, and then we’ll start on the coleslaw caper.

Crummycook Takes On Coleslaw

I’ve been working on half-sour pickles over the summer, having grown cucumbers for the first time against a sunny wall on the South face of our house.

But now it’s time to take on another challenge, and I’ve decided to try for coleslaw.

There’s a theme here.  Both half-sour pickles and coleslaw are:

  1. foods I love
  2. foods that are within my feeble powers to master (I hope!)
  3. foods that give pleasure to Debbie and others

So that’s where I’m going.

I’m not a fan of yuppie coleslaw.  I don’t like hincty ingredients: cabbage and carrot are fine, thank you very much.  And I don’t like too-sour or too-herbal or too-uncreamy coleslaw.

Now I don’t like coleslaw that’s a mayonnaise bath either, so there are some limits in the other direction.

For openers, I decided to make Bobby Flay’s  coleslaw recipe from Food Network.

Creamy Cole SlawI like Bobby Flay’s sensibility generally, as Food Network chefs go.  He’s not a total glutton, but he’s not a weird gourmet either.

I don’t (yet?) have the power to read a recipe and know how it’ll taste, but his recipe read as if it might taste pretty much as I like.  Or at least a good first approximation.

The fact that he calls the recipe “Creamy Coleslaw” gave me a little pause (like I said, I don’t want a bath of mayonnaise), but I think it’ll be a good start for my adventures.

He calls for sour cream, a couple of tablespoons.  I think that’ll sit OK with me.

So the first order of business will be to learn how to make homemade mayonnaise, and then we’ll start on the coleslaw caper.