Category Archives: better than takeout

“The Special Beans”

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So I’ve been home about a week and a half now and I’m bored.

Not in the sense of “I-have-nothing-to-do” definition of the phrase. No. It’s more like “I-have-lots-to-do-and-don’t-feel-like-doing-any-of-it”.

I started socks and cast on for an afghan for the living room couch, which needed a big jump start since I screwed up the first couple of rows. I still have socks that need mates, fingerless mitts that need thumbs and my little crafting area in the living room is quickly descending into crafty chaos. I have knitting stuff in with my crocheting stuff and crocheting things in with the knitting things and the next thing you know cats and dogs will be living together and all hell will break loose.

Ahem.

Anyway, part of the problem is going through the whole recovery process again. I figured that going down this road wouldn’t be such a big deal the second time around and while it really isn’t, it’s still yet another chunk of time where I’d love to Get Things Accomplished. And every time I start down that path, the brain steps in and says, “Yeah, not so fast. I’m healing up here. Let’s go and take a nap.”

Which is all very well and good, but I’ve become absolutely used to knocking things off of my to-do list left and right. I haven’t picked up my DayRunner in a couple of weeks and I can’t remember when my spring semester starts. One of the happier consequences about getting back to “real life” in the spring was being able to organize my life around working again. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but structure is good and it was something I craved.

And because of that, it was nice being able to sort of slip back into doing something food-related yesterday afternoon. As usual, we did our weekly food shop and since it was cool, it was really sweet to be able to put something together that wasn’t very hard to do. This recipe comes from “The New England Cookbook” and even though it looks like it takes a long time to cook, you can pull this together and be eating in about an hour, if not less. I thought there was some leftover oatmeal molasses bread in the freezer, but it turns out it’s all gone. That’s okay. Multigrain crackers and goat cheese worked just fine, too.

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Oooh!

Incidentally, this is the kind of “pantry dish” that you always hear about. You can absolutely substitute white or cannellini beans for the chickpeas and spinach is fine in place of the chard. Any type of a small pasta will work and a bit of tomato paste instead of the canned chopped ones.


Chickpea and Pasta Soup

  • 4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 rib of celery and celery leaves, chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 7 cups of vegetable broth (chicken would be fine too, if you must)
  • 2 14.5 oz. cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 4 oz. of small pasta, like ditalini or elbows or small shells
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes (I use 1/8 tsp., so do what you like)
  • About 3 or 4 large Swiss chard leaves, trimmed and chopped small-ish
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Pecorino Romano cheese

 

  1. Heat a large soup pot and warm up the olive oil in it.
  2. Add the celery and garlic and let it cook for about 2 minutes. Do not let the garlic burn!
  3. Add the broth, chickpeas and the tomatoes. Give it a bit of salt and pepper since it’ll need a bit of it. Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat and let it cook, partially uncovered, for about 10 minutes or so.
  4. Now add the pasta, sage and red pepper flakes. Let it cook for about 5 minutes and then add the chard. Give it a good stir, put the lid on and let it cook for another 5 minutes. That should do it.
  5. Check for salt and pepper and enjoy!

“Up Jumped Spring”

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It must be spring.

The daffodils are poking up in the front garden, I’m clearing out my yarn basket and the college basketball tourney’s on the TV.

And with Sir Charles Barkley it gets one hundred percent better right there. Who cares if it snows tomorrow?

Yes, they do say what you think they say.

Yes, they do say what you think they say.

I finished up a couple of winter projects and I’m doing a bit of spring cleaning to make room for the new projects. There’s a sweater and an afghan and a store sample for Hidden River Yarns promoting the market bag crochet class I’ll be teaching there in May.

And socks. As long as I have luscious sock yarn, there will be socks.Tammy socks done

It feels good to get all tidied up and organized again, even though I know it’s all going to go to hell in a few days. I start out strong and then I pull everything out again like a five year old. Hell, I’m sure five year olds have a longer attention span than I do on some days.

It’s great to have the energy to do all of this, too. A month ago I probably would have looked at the yarn basket and said, “Nope. Not today. That can wait.” But now that I’m two months’ removed from all the treatment, I can finally say “yes” to some bigger things that I want to get done.

But “easy does it”. I’m not trying to conquer the world; just get back into the swing of things. The sweater is a simply constructed cardigan knitted in just one color. No colorwork or lace or anything too elaborate. The afghan is lots and lots and lots of bobbles in a deep shade of burgundy that is incredibly soothing to crochet. Even the sock patterns I’ve been looking at are simple. Elegant, but simple. It’s a good marriage.

And as long as I keep it simple, I’ll be just fine.


 

asianfish1 (1)This is about as simple as cooking gets, too. There’s nothing really complicated in here, just some great Asian flavors made with ingredients you can get at the local supermarket. The original recipe comes from Moosewood’s “Cooks At Home”, but since I can’t seem to leave well enough alone, I’ve tweaked it a bit to make it even easier. The original recipe called for making individual foil packets for everyone; I put it into a big baking dish instead. I added lots more veggies and a hit of chili garlic sauce, too. asianfish3 (1)

We usually have this with jasmine rice and shrimp spring rolls from the supermarket, but since I’m having issues with rice, it’ll be Asian egg noodles instead. There will be lots of slurping.


Asian Fish

  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 heaping tsp. of fresh grated ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. of chili garlic sauce or a shot or sriracha
  • a little bit of freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 pound of fresh fish (cod, tilapia, salmon, anything firm. I’d stay away from flounder or fluke)
  • 1 bunch of bok choy (or 4 baby ones), trimmed and sliced into 2” pieces
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, slices (baby bellas are great in this)
  1. Preheat the oven to 450°*. Lightly oil a 13”x9” casserole dish.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the scallions, vegetable oil, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, chili garlic sauce and white pepper. Set aside.
  3. Place the veggies in an even layer into the casserole. Lay the fish on top.
  4. Pour the sauce evenly over the fish. Cover it tightly with foil.
  5. Let it bake for about 20 minutes.
  6. Enjoy!
*Since we usually have spring rolls with it and they bake at a different temperature (I think it’s 375°), I put the fish in at that temperature. It bakes fine; it just takes a little longer.

“Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.”

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If you follow me on Twitter, you may be familiar with my Saturday morning tweets which usually say something like “Off to do the usual Saturday morning stuff. I’m so domestic, I can’t stand myself”. And that “stuff” always involves food shopping.

I love food shopping. I hear there are people who hate food shopping; I don’t speak to those people. No, that’s not entirely true. I don’t understand people who hate food shopping.

What could be more fun than going to the supermarket? You buy stuff to cook with, you make it and then you eat it!

Unless you don’t feel like running out to the supermarket or cooking, of course. And today’s one of those days for me. I picked up a pound of frozen shrimp and some cheese tortellini at the supermarket last week and put them in the freezer, knowing I’d be looking for them sooner rather than later. 

Yum.

Yum.

So, tonight’s dinner is going to be a shrimp and tortellini salad with semolina bread. The tortellini salad is my take on “Dom’s Seafood Pasta Salad” from ““Eat This!”. The original recipe calls for dressing that’s made with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, basil leaves, minced garlic and grated Parmesan cheese, which is pesto. There’s good commercial pesto out there, and that’s what I usually use. It is better with homemade pesto, but if you’d prefer to use your own, go for it.

The original recipe serves 8 to 12 people, but I’ve scaled it down to serve 4-6.


 

Tortellini and Shrimp Salad

  • 1 pound of cheese tortellini (do not defrost frozen tortellini!)
  • 1 pound of medium or large shrimp, in the shell
  • About ½ cup of pesto
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • finely grated Parmesan, if you like
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add a teaspoon of salt, and bring the water back up to a boil.
  2. Add the tortellini, give it a good stir, lower the heat to a simmer and let it cook for about 2 minutes. Once they start floating to the top, they’re about done. Fresh torts should be done by then and frozen ones might need another minute or two. If you’re in doubt, scoop one out and eat it, lol!
  3. When the torts are done, drain them in a colander. Put them into a large mixing bowl.
  4. Once again, bring a pot of water to the boil, add a teaspoon of salt, and bring the water back up to the boil. Add the shrimp, give it a good stir, and lower the heat to a simmer.
  5. Cook until the shrimp are pink; this will take only around 5 minutes or so. When they’re pink, they’re done!
  6. Drain them in the colander, rinse them with cold water and peel. Add the shrimp to the tortellini.
  7. Add the pesto, lemon juice, salt and pepper to the salad. Give everything a good toss and see if it needs anything.

Enjoy!

 

Salad Recipes, Anyone?

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In less than two weeks I have my first appointment at Fox Chase and I’ve started doing all the things I want to get done before then.

Like getting the knitting projects organized and making sure that I have what I need. I know all too well from my previous post-surgical recovery experiences that if I’m stuck at home without any planned projects, it’s so, so simple order the yarn online and have it show up on my doorstep a few days later.

And, it’s easy to do that with food, too. You pick up the menu, and you find something that sounds tasty. A little while later you’re digging into shrimp lo mein or an eggplant grinder, which is all very well and good until your sweats start getting snug around the ankles.

I’ve been making and freezing a lot of soup so we won’t have to resort to take-out while I’m getting better. So far, there’s two bags of split pea and one of lentil tomato and I’m going to add some marinara sauce and a bag or two of rolls and a couple of loaves of my friend Nate’s fabulous beer bread.

This means we’ve been enjoying lots of soup for dinner over the past couple of weeks. It’s also still August, so we’ve been eating a lot of salad with those soup dinners.

We’re big salad eaters. There’s always a jar of vinaigrette or some other homemade salad dressing in the fridge along with a bottle of Ken’s or Newman’s. Our usual go-to salad is the standard lettuce-and-tomato combination and with good greens and tomatoes and homemade dressing, it’s very good and goes with everything.

So, here’s two salads and my current favorite vinaigrette. You can make them all year ‘round and if you make these a couple of times, you’ll no longer need a recipe for any of them.


Cucumber Salad

Lookin' good.

Lookin’ good.

The cucumber salad from my childhood! It was always made with fresh cukes, but you can use the long European seedless ones in the dead of winter, too. This will keep for a couple of days

And if you’d like to make this Polish, add a little bit of sour cream and some fresh dill to the dressing.

  • 2 medium or 1 large unwaxed cucumber, sliced thin
  • ¼ cup of cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. ground dried mustard (I use Colman’s)
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

Slice the cucumbers into ⅛ to ¼ inch rounds.

Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt and mustard in a serving bowl and stir until well-blended. Toss the cukes in, give it a good stir and add pepper to taste. Serve it immediately or put in into the fridge for later, where it’ll keep happily for a few days.


 

Dee’s Cold Broccoli

This is a salad my late stepfather’s family always served with a pasta dish. For some reason, it was always made with frozen broccoli and either a package of “Good Seasons” or bottled “Wishbone” Italian dressing, but it was always good.

And it makes sense; it’s easy to put together, especially if the cook is going to spend a lot of time at the stove making lasagna or gravy or manicotti. You can even make this the day before you plan to serve it and it’ll be just fine. Maybe even better. Remember this one around the holidays when you’re looking for something you can make ahead of time or stash in the fridge for later.

  • 3 or 4 broccoli crowns, bottoms trimmed and cut into quarters
  • 1 bottle of good-quality Italian salad dressing, or homemade
  • Red pepper flakes, optional
  • Freshly ground pepper

Steam the broccoli until it’s the way you like it. Really. If you like crunchy broccoli, only a few minutes. A bit softer? A few more. Just check it as you go along and make sure it’s not mushy.

Place the warm broccoli into a large lidded container. Shake up the dressing and drizzle it over the warm broccoli. If it looks like it needs more, add it. Just make sure it’s not drowning in dressing.

Add the pepper. Put the lid on and give it a good shake to mix everything. Stick it in the fridge and you’re done.


 

My New Favorite Vinaigrette

For the longest time I loved Nigella’s vinaigrette to the point where I was wondering if I should have it tattooed somewhere on my arm for easy reference. It’s great stuff, but it’s a bit heavier on the olive oil and…everything, it seemed.

So, here’s my latest version of one I learned a long, long time ago. You mix it all up in a glass jar, give it a good shake, and let it chill out in the fridge until you need it.

If you wanted to change it up, you could always add some feta or blue cheese crumbles. This is another recipe you can play around with.

Vinaigrettes keep well for about a week or so in the fridge.

In a clean glass jar, add:

  • 2 Tbsp. of vinegar (red wine or balsamic)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • ½ tsp. Dijon mustard
  • A few drops of cold water
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ⅓ to ½ cup of olive oil

Put the lid on and shake until it’s all combined. Taste it and see if it needs anything else.

Enjoy!

 

 

“If Dee Can Cook, So Can You!”

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I love Chinese food.

I love shopping for ingredients in Philadelphia’s Chinatown or at my local HMart. I spent 7 hours scrubbing and oiling and baking my authentic Chinese cast iron wok into non-stick perfection. I nearly wept when I finally found a bulk source for Szechuan peppercorns locally. A cup of Dragonwell tea makes me feel settled and whole and relaxed and it’s tastes so, so good with a little bit of honey. Good tea is never cheap, but a little bit is always good. 

I have a couple of Chinese cookbooks in my bookcase and they really come from opposite ends of the “Let’s All Learn How To Cook Chinese Food At Home!” spectrum. 

“Ladies and gentlemen! Here in the right corner we have Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, who just might chop off your finger with a meat cleaver if you use canned water chestnuts in one of her recipes! The author of ten cookbooks, who wants you to make your own shrimp stock and wants you to know that you suck as a cook if you don’t add pork to your soup stock, and the winner of multiple awards and honors, she’s ready to take down…”

Martin Yan! The PBS audience favorite for almost 30 years and another multiple culinary award winner! Who believes that if you don’t want to make your own sauces it’s okay! And that you can buy really good spring rolls in your supermarket! And that fresh is always better when you can. If Yan can take her down, so can you!”


This baked fish recipe is split down the middle from both sides and it keeps it’s Asian roots at the same time. This is my take on a recipe from a Moosewood Cooks At Home recipe, and you can get the ingredients at your local supermarket. The original recipe served only two, but this one will serve four…or provide two with a great lunch for the next day.

We like this with jasmine rice and some spring rolls that we get from the local supermarket. 

Sauce:

  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. of vegetable or peanut oil
  • 1 Tbsp. of fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce, preferably tamari
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 good tsp. chili garlic paste or sriracha sauce
  • A couple of good grinds of fresh pepper…black, white or Szechuan

1 – Mix it all together and set it aside.

Incidentally, make a bunch of this, put it into a glass jar and stick it in the fridge for a couple of months. It’ll keep just fine for other things, too.

Fish:

  • 1 1/2 pounds of sturdy greens (bok choy, Shanghai choi, Swiss chard, mustard greens), sliced thinly
  • 3 carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 1 pound of mushrooms, wiped clean, stems trimmed and sliced thinly
  • 1 lb. of firm white fish fillets, cut in 4 pieces. Tilapia, snapper, cod or halibut would be great
  1. Preheat the oven to 450°.
  2. Oil a 13 x 9 baking dish. Place half of the greens on the bottom. Add the carrots and the mushrooms.
  3. Add the rest of the greens, and then place the fish on top. 
  4. Pour the sauce over the fish and then cover the baking dish tightly with foil. Put the pan into the oven and check it after it’s been in there for about 15 minutes or so. If the fish and veggies look like they’re about done (check to see if they are), that’s enough. Pull them out of the oven and let them sit, covered, for a few more minutes. If not, give them a few more minutes.

Enjoy!