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2009 In Review: The Recipes

December 30, 2009

(sadly, not my kitchen nor my photo… randomly found on the web; if it’s yours, let me know!)

Well, I’m not sure how I want to do this post, but I have a few favorite new recipes I wanted to share, and talk about how my cooking changed this year.

I’ve always liked to cook, but since Terri got so sick, we pretty much stopped going out, um, ever (that’s slowly starting to change, but in the beginning, she could barely leave the house). But I still liked to eat yummy food of all kinds and so decided that I needed to learn how to make whatever I would previously had gone out for (Indian, or Japanese, for instance).

Once we moved from the nightmare mold house, about a year ago, we needed to really watch money so my cooking became even more important. I intended to be as cost-efficient as possible while still serving really delicious food so we wouldn’t feel the least bit deprived.

Overall, I’ve done a pretty good job. Dinner is still a struggle because Terri’s tummy has some issues (another CFS side effect) but we’ve found that if we make a weekly menu, it helps her to anticipate what’s coming, and things seem to go better. Also, making a menu means very efficient shopping and cooking. We’ve fallen out of the practice in the past couple months but we’re all geared up for the new year, making a couple two-week menus that will simply rotate. Also, Terri is branching out and will be making dinner once a week, probably in the crock pot. So that’s exciting! (I made a simple reference site for her — feel free to use it, yourself!)

Anyway. So here are a few favorite recipes and dinner ideas from the past year.

We really like thin-crust pizza, but Terri doesn’t like very much cheese and we like it very crispy, which is hard to find, especially delivery (and as we know, hello, not cheap). I already had a pizza stone, which makes this really easy to create excellent crispy thin-crust pizza. I use this extremely easy home-made pizza dough recipe from Smitten Kitchen, which only takes a little advance planning and tastes great. I make a quick homemade pizza sauce by lightly simmering a small can of tomato sauce with Italian herbs and extra basil. Then I heat the oven with the stone in it. I roll the dough and then take out the hot stone, sprinkle cornmeal over it, and then lay the dough out on the hot stone. I spread a VERY thin layer of sauce over the dough (lightly painting it, really), and then a very thin sprinkling of cheese (usually a four-cheese blend, preshredded, which, if you make a ton of thin-crust pizzas and use very little cheese, is actually pretty cheap). Our favorite topping is thinly sliced red peppers and chopped Kalamata olives. Into the hot oven (about 450) for 10-15 minutes, until nice and crispy. This makes very yummy next-day snacking.

I’ve also always wanted to learn how to make good Indian food. I don’t have a recipe on-hand, but I do have a book recommendation. 660 Curries was a great book and my best friend just gave it to me for Christmas! This isn’t a vegetarian book but there are a TON of vegetarian recipes in here, and the four that I tried turned out great, very tasty and flavorful without being bland or too sharp, as most homemade Indian turns out. The secret is using fresh spices and sometimes grinding your own when it calls for it. If you can buy bulk spices, it’s very economical to buy fresh spices since you can just get a little bit. I’m going to continue trying out recipes and figure out what our favorites are.

Although I don’t really like fish, I love Japanese food (well, the stuff that doesn’t have fish in it). I especially love miso and udon soups. It took me a very long time, but I finally figured out how to make decent miso soup at home. It’s very simple, but you really have to have the dashi. It was surprisingly difficult to figure out how to make this at home. All the recipes I saw were like, “Oh, just add miso to hot water — ta da! Miso soup!” Not so. The simple recipe I figured out makes very yummy, quick, satisfying miso to which you can add very simple garnishes, or more substantial items for a heartier meal.

As for udon, surprisingly, the instant (or near-instant) udon packs from the grocery store work great and are not very expensive (a little over a dollar a bowl, and that’s a BIG bowl of soup). I’m still figuring out if there’s a non-pain-in-the-rear way to make the broth. But really, the instant packs are pretty delicious so I might not really bother.

If you follow my blog at all, you’ll know that we like brownies here at our house. I went through a period of trying to find our perfect brownies. And then finally — there they were. Our Perfect Brownies (again I refer to Smitten Kitchen, whose recipes I really love). They’re adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Classic Brownies. I use regular flour with no problem, and I don’t add nuts to ours. They are really, really good.

We also like rice pudding and it’s a sure-fire winner when tummies are upset, which they frequently are at our house (mine included). Here’s the recipe we’ve been liking a lot lately, which is adapted from a few different recipes, including, of course, Smitten Kitchen’s):
1/2 cup short-grain rice (although I made it with jasmine rice too and that was quite good)
4 cups milk (both whole and reduced-fat are fine)
1/4 cup sugar or less (we like less)
3-4 cardamom pods
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
(if you don’t have bay leaves and/or cardamom pods, I also like to leave them out and then grate fresh nutmeg on top when it’s done cooking)
In a large saucepan, place all the ingredients, except the extracts. Bring it to a gentle boil and then turn it down to a low simmer, stirring occasionally to keep it from sticking to the bottom, for about 30 to 40 minutes. Taste the rice to check for doneness. We like it a bit thicker; you may like yours soupier.
Take the pudding off the heat and stir in the extract(s). Serve and eat!
(word to the wise — be very careful this doesn’t boil over. I actually ended up gluing the lid to the pot and heat-sealing it because I wasn’t paying attention. It was quite a comedy of errors trying to get that damn lid off the pot, and it’s still warped. So don’t do that)

Well, I could go on and on. I also made a lot of cinnamon bread.

The next year is going to bring lots more recipe development and fun with international comfort food. I’ve got an idea and I think I’m finally going to quit dithering and do something about it. And of course I’ll be blogging all about it!

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