Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Clean out, eat in

In today’s New York Times dining section, Mark Bittman has a piece on what should be “in” and “out” of our kitchens in 2009. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to actually use up and clean out my food cupboard (yes, singular! The sacrifices of a small studio apartment) and tiny freezer. Although I am not ready to rename this blog “,” I thought I would weigh in on his recs: In the “out” column: Packaged bread crumbs and croutons: Agreed. I recently tossed a four year old can of Progresso Italian seasoned bread crumbs I bought for some unknown reason. I admit, I do have a bit of panko lingering in there but since panko is all about texture of the crumb, and is something I probably could not recreate, I think I will leave it be. Bouillon cubes or powder, or canned stock: Disagree. I like a short cut. I like using boxed broth for soup, and the little packets of gluey broth concentrate (available at Trader Joe’s) when cooking grains. Yes, it’s probably all just sodium and/or MSG, but sue me. Aerosol oil: Um, if this means PAM or PAM-like sprays, disagree. Additives be dammed, cooking spray is a calorie counter’s friend. Bottled salad dressing and marinades: I do like to make my own Asian-style and Caesar salad dressings, but some commercial varieties, especially Newman’s Own Southwest Style, are really good. Bottled lemon juice: Agree! Spices older than a year: Agree! I do love Penzey’s and any excuse to buy a new spice blend. Currently on my shelf are several themed blends, including: Greek, Singapore, Turkish, Northwoods Fire, Bavarian and Herbs de Provence. Dried parsley and basil: Agree about parsley, disagree about basil. I liked dried basil in soups and sprinkled on homemade pizza. Canned beans: Disagree. I am a creature who likes convenience. And Whole Foods’ no salt added line. Imitation vanilla: Agree, although instead of vanilla beans, I recently splurged on a $17 bottle of real, double strength vanilla extract from Penzeys. So worth it. Grated imitation “Parmesan”: Totally agree. Canned peas and other canned vegetables: Except for beets (again, a convenience issue), agree. Tomato paste in a can: Agree. Love the tubes, even if they are $5 a pop at my Whole Foods. Premade pie crusts: Disagree. As we have established, I am not a baker and have not yet made a crust to equal Pillsbury’s, but then again, I really don’t have a need for crust much. Cheap balsamic or flavored vinegars: Is a $5 bottle of balsamic considered cheap? I typically use ultra cheap red wine vinegar and rice wine vinegar on salads any way. Minute Rice or boil-in-a-bag grains: OK, I like what Bittman calls “genuine grains” – quinoa, bulgur – very much but they are rarely substitutes for rice. In my opinion, par cooked brown rice, frozen or shelf stable, is one of the great food inventions of my time. “Pancake” syrup: Agreed! And in the “in” column: Real bacon or prosciutto: Agree, but as you can probably guess, I have ready-cooked vs. “real” bacon in my fridge. When cooking for one, or looking for a slice to add to a grilled cheese, Oscar Mayer Ready Cooked is your friend. Fish sauce: On the fence – have it, rarely use it. Canned coconut milk: Agree. Have it, usually goes into sweet versus savory recipes, like ice cream, or baked rice pudding (sub coconut milk for milk and shredded coconut for raisins in this recipe and it becomes less English and more, I don’t know, Thai?). Miso paste: Disagree – maybe if I cooked more meat? Or liked miso soup? Capers, olives bought in bulk and anchovies in olive oil: Agree! There are some capers and jarred Kalamatas in my fridge right now. Walnuts and pignoli: Agree, but store in the freezer. Dried fruit: On the fence – I recently used up a half pack of dried cherries in Bittman’s Blondie recipe, and do have dried cranberries somewhere in the back. Dried mushroom: Agree, although there are none in my cupboard right now. Frozen shrimp: Agree! Winter squash and sweet potatoes: Agree. I just used some butternut squash I had peeled over a month ago. Once I cut off the slimy parts, it was fine. Really. And I have two additions to Bittman’s list: Irish cut oatmeal and Greek yogurt. When combined in the recipe below with those leftover dried cranberries in my cupboard, they make for a nice breakfast or afternoon snack.

Cranberry Breakfast Bake Adapted from a Cooking Light recipe

Although this was originally a bar cookie recipe, by swapping yogurt for the sour cream originally called for and by cutting the sugar, I think you can get away with eating this warm, right out of the oven, for breakfast and then cut the leftovers into smaller pieces for an afternoon snack (providing there are any leftovers!).
Ingredients Crust: 1 C. Quick cooking Irish oats 1 C. Flour ¼ C. Splenda brown sugar Dash of salt ¼ t. of Baking soda A few liberally shakes of cinnamon, to taste 6 T. Butter, melted 3 T. Orange juice Filling: ½ C. of Orange essence dried cranberries, or regular dried cranberries and some orange zest ¾ C. Greek yogurt 2 T. Flour 1 t. Vanilla 1 Egg white 1 packet of Splenda (optional) Method Combine oatmeal, flour, Splenda brown sugar, salt, baking soda and cinnamon in medium bowl. Drizzle melted butter and OJ over dried ingredients until they form a kind of dough (may be sticky or may be crumbly, either way will turn out fine). Pat all but ½ C. of the dough into the bottom of an 8 x 8 (or approximate) pan that has been coated with cooking spray. In the same, now empty, bowl, mix together ingredients to form filling, adding extra sweetener if you deem necessary (I like it less sweet). Spread filling over crust, top filling with reserved dough the best you can (I recommend the drop method). Bake at 325 for 30-40 minutes or until edges of filling start to pull away from sides of pan and turn golden brown.

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