Friday, February 26, 2010

Beef Stroganoff - my way

The morning after report.

The beef was still pretty frozen when I took it out to cook. I love my new fridge, but it's sometimes a bit too good at keeping cold things cold. The ice crystals made the beef very easy to slice. I cut the strips in half (it was a wide piece of meat), but that was just a stylistic preference.

The meat cooked easily and I got a nice brown coating on the bottom of my pan. I'm getting better at being able to watch a pan and not fuss with it. If the meat doesn't lay long enough before you try to flip it -- it will either stick and tear (leaving little meaty bits behind) or not deposit the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.

Once cooked, and set aside, I added 2 whole shallots (for some reason, I read the recipe as requiring 1 cup not 1/2 cup -- sigh) and 8 oz of sliced button mushrooms (I halved the slices because the SO doesn't like mushrooms--so small=good). I turned down the heat and let it cook, stirring occasionally and trying really hard not to scrape up too much of the brown bits. The mushroom stems went into my collection of food scraps for soup. The SO tends to notice the stems way more than the tops, so I don't often cook with them.

The chicken broth (I prefer the flavour of chicken broth to beef broth--and I had fresh homemade chicken broth in the fridge as compared to the box of stuff in the pantry) went in with the tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce. And then I stirred. My arms got a workout from the stirring. I scraped every bit of brown stuff up off the bottom and into the broth. Then I added the meat back into the pan (flank steak is pretty tough and the extra cooking time helped tenderize it a bit).

I set the noodles to boil, and ignored the sauce as it reduced (I did up the heat just a smidge under the sauce--because I'm impatient when my kitchen starts to become so wonderfully fragrant).

As the noodles were done, and the (nuked frozen) vegetables were ready I made the realization that I was out of sour cream. So I used unflavoured yogurt. Unfortunately, I didn't strain it. It had been sitting for a while, so I poured off the liquid and scooped from what was left -- but once added to the sauce, it separated rather than becoming creamy. I put the meat back into the pan and stirred it all together. The sauce wasn't a pale brown or a pink, instead it was brown with a multitude of white pokadots!

I served the mix (and the rather thin sauce) over egg noodles with a side of green beans for me and corn for him. It tasted delicious, but it didn't look too good.

Now I know better. This morning I googled "sour cream substitution" and realize that I should have (a) drained the yogurt for at least 30 minutes, (b) added 1 tablespoon flour and 2 teaspoons water to the mix before adding. This replaces some of the strained-out liquid without adding an acid, and the flour provides the thickening-agent that the fat (in the sour cream) would provide.

The recipe came out really well. We both liked it, and since I had friends cancel out on me (I had intended to double the recipe), I made 1/2, have leftovers for lunch today and have enough ingredients to make it again next week. It's a win-win situation.

The recipe
  • 1 lb steak (top round or flank), cut into strips
  • 1/2 tsp each salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp non-hydrogenated margarine
  • 1/2 cup shallots, chopped
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup chicken broth (low fat, low sodium)
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp dried mustard
  • 4 servings of egg noodles.
  • 3/4 cup unflavoured yogurt (strained for 30 minutes)
  • 1 tsp flour
  • 2 tsp water
  1. Measure out 1 cup of yogurt and place it in a fine sieve or piece of cheese cloth suspended above a bowl. Leave to drain for 30 minutes.
  2. Cut the steak to the desired size and lay out the pieces.
  3. Sprinkle steak strips with salt and pepper.
  4. Dice your shallots and cut up your mushrooms.
  5. In large non-stick frying pan, heat oil over high heat.
  6. Add meat in single layer (working in batches if necessary) and cook until just brown on outside, about 1 minute per side. Reduce heat if the pan begins to smoke or if meat gets more than a bit brown. You're building a layer of brown on your pan here -- so patience is the rule.
  7. Remove meat to plate and set aside.
  8. In same frying pan, melt margarine over medium-high heat.
  9. Add shallots and cook until starting to soften, about 2 minutes.
  10. Add mushrooms and cook until tender and all liquid is evaporated, 8-10 minutes.
  11. Put a pan on to start cooking the egg noodles. Bring the water to a roiling boil.
  12. In a small bowl, whisk together broth, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard.
  13. Return steak to pan and pour broth mixture over.
  14. Scrape the bottom of the pan to get all the brown bits up into the liquid.
  15. Simmer until liquid reduces and thickens slightly, about 12 minutes.
  16. Cook the egg noodles (ideally they're done the same time as your stroganoff. Your stroganoff can wait, the egg noodles can't).
  17. Prepare your steamed vegetables.
  18. Mix the flour and water together to form a slurry. No lumps. Add it to the strained yogurt.
  19. Add the yogurt mixture to the pan (stir to incorporate) and cook on low heat until heated through.
  20. Serve over freshly-cooked egg noodles with a side of steamed (nuked) vegetables.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Menu for the week of 21 Feburary

Belated posting.
I'm following my own advice from last week, buying only what I need and trying to use up what I have. The hardest part is actually sticking to the menu. I remembered to put it on my kitchen table, and that's helped. I also chose recipes that weren't supposed to be too fussy (see my notes to see how well that worked).

I've learned from practice, that since by Friday I'm just tired and uninspired that I'll either cook up with the leftovers in the fridge or eat out. It's pretty much whatever strikes my fancy.

Breakfast: Breakfast out.
Lunch: Chicken sandwich on whole wheat with hummus & salad
Dinner: Beef fajitas
Lunch: Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup
Dinner: Quiznos
Breakfast: Cinnamon oatmeal
Lunch: Leftover meatballs, spaghetti sauce and basmati rice
Dinner: Salad-dressing marinaded and breaded (baked) chicken [Springpad link], green salad with red wine vinagrette
Breakfast: Cinnamon oatmeal
Lunch: Tortierre and green salad with red wine vinagrette
Dinner: Almond haddock fillets [Springpad link], green salad with red wine vinagrette and basmati rice.
Breakfast: Cinnamon oatmeal
Lunch: Empanadas and broccoli with salsa
Dinner: Hamburgers, all dressed.
Breakfast: Toast & banana with almond butter
Lunch: Tortierre and salad with red wine vinagrette
Dinner: Beef Strogonoff [Springpad link]
Breakfast: Toast & banana with almond butter
Lunch: Almond crusted fish with basmati rice and green beans
Dinner: Leftover buffet & Steamed vegetables

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Roasted chicken legs with black bean marinade

I actually remembered to marinade something last week (I feel so proud!). The marinade itself was a simple mix of black bean garlic sauce, olive oil, lime juice, and chili garlic paste. I was a bit worried that the lime juice might make the mix too acidic - the last think I wanted was to roast already-cooked chicken.

I've not been cooking of late. My choice in meals have had less to do with nutrition and more to do with quick, hot, and full of protein. I have been trying to reduce the amount I buy - and use up what I do. Black bean garlic sauce is a truly amazing flavour, but there are very few recipes that use it.

I skinned the chicken legs (ew!) and then coated them with the marinade. I wrapped them up and put them in the fridge overnight. I've made this recipe before, but never with so long a marinading time. The extra time in the freezer was worth the wait.

By the next morning my fridge smelled pretty garlic-y, and by evening it was time to get roasting.

I roasted the chicken at 375 F for 50 minutes, turning the chicken once. I served it with some pre-bought risotto balls, spaghetti sauce, and salad. It was delicious.

Roasted chicken with black bean marinade
It's a great and tasty meal for a weeknight. The preparation can be done the night before, so all you have to do is come home and cook.

  • 12 bone-in chicken thighs or 6 legs with thighs
  • 2 tablespoons Black Bean Garlic Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Thai Chili Garlic Paste, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice
  1. Remove the skin and trim all visible fat from the chicken.
  2. Mix marinade ingredients, then put the chicken pieces in a single layer inside a dish. Cover with marinade (on both sides) and let marinate for 6 hours or more in the refrigerator.
  3. When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature while the oven preheats to 325 F.
  4. Arrange the chicken on a roasting pan, keeping as much marinade clinging to the chicken as you can.
  5. Roast about 50 minutes, turning several times and baste often.
  6. When the chicken registers an internal temperature of at least 165 F, it is done.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Menu for February 7th and a change for the better

Friday night, coming back from work - and the car dies. Drama ensues, a good Samaritan with jumper cables are found -- but then the car starts. We heap praises on the Samaritan, and head directly home. No stopping at the butcher, the bulk store, or the box store. Straight. Home.

We count our pennies. We pinch our belts. And I do a quick inventory and menu based completely on what's in my pantry.

I make my menus on Thursday nights, and my planned menu used very little of any of what I actually had in my pantry. I was surprised at what I had in my pantry.
  • navy beans (dried and tinned),
  • split peas (about 1 cup),
  • a ton of popcorn (microwavable & kernels)
  • mixed beans (tinned),
  • corn meal,
  • lots of flour (whole wheat, barley, AP) and baking stuff (baking soda, baking powder, ...),
  • 6 tins of no-salt-added diced tomatoes,
  • lots of herbs (including fresh garlic & ginger, pesto, cilantro, and fresh parsley)
  • 2 L chicken broth,
  • 1 lb of hamburger,
  • a box of frozen appetizers,
  • a bag of shrimp with shells on (uncooked),
  • a bag of frozen cranberries,
  • a bag of frozen strawberries,
  • a tortierre and a bit,
  • some leftover Shepperd's pie
  • some leftover sausage,
  • some yogurt (flavoured & not),
  • 1 lb flank steak,
  • 1 box of mac and cheese,
  • lots of milk,
  • 1 box of tomato soup,
  • sandwich bread,
  • eggs,
  • bacon,
  • rice,
  • frozen vegetables (broccoli, beans, summer mix, endame, and corn).
So, what can you make with that handful of ingredients? Turns out, quite a lot actually. I didn't use it all this week, although I did put a serious dent in my pantry.

Breakfast: Spiced Cranberry (Overnight) Oatmeal [Spring pad link]
Lunch: Appetizers
Dinner: Beef empanadas with salsa & cheese [Spring pad link]
Desert: Rick Gallop's Banana bread

This was a day I went rummaging and digging stuff out of the corners of my kitchen. I have a tube of steel-cut oats, so I set those to bake overnight and stored what I didn't eat for lunches during the week.

The box of frozen appetizers has been in the freezer since before Christmas ('09). They made a tasty lunch. For the banana bread I ended up mixing white, whole wheat, barley flour and flax together; but you can't really tell in the finished product.

It seems I made a double batch of empanadas, enough to store the dough and mix and have it again later in the week. I baked them, but the original recipe also has instructions for frying.
Breakfast: Spiced Cranberry Oatmeal (leftovers from Sunday)
Lunch: Leftover tortierre & steamed vegetables
Dinner:Mac and Cheese (boxed) & best ever green salad [Spring pad link]

I went out and bought salad greens and 1/2 a dozen apples (lunches and snacks), and some cheese for tomorrow night. I finished off the flavoured yogurt in the fridge, and found a few forgotten containers of leftovers in the freezer that made good lunches.

Mac and cheese is one of those pantry staples I always have around. Normally it's used as the odd weekend (or day off) lunch; but paired with a salad with goat cheese & pistachios (leftovers from my last attempt at making pistachio ice cream) it made for a very filling meal.
Breakfast: Spiced Cranberry Oatmeal (leftovers from Sunday)
Lunch: Shrimp salad with olives and herb vinagrette dressing
Dinner: Grilled cheese & bacon sandwiches & Hearty Tomato Soup

The bag of shrimp were another frozen leftover. I cooked them the night before and garnished some leftover (and undressed) salad for lunch. The vinagrette is simple- olive oil, red wine vinegar, and a teaspoon (total) of oregano, pepper, and thyme. Store in a bottle. Shake before using.

Dinner was another lunch time favourite. The tomato soup came from a box, but it was a good box. :)
Breakfast: Spiced Cranberry Oatmeal (leftovers from Sunday)
Lunch: Leftover Sheppard's pie
Dinner: Fried chicken & french fries

The car was out of the shop, and we wanted to celebrate. I bought a bag of freezer fries, we picked up fried chicken at the grocery store and went home to have dinner. Total cost: 15.00. We also picked up some cold cuts, cheese, and a box of smoked meat (adding another 15.00 to the bill). The former for lunches fro the rest of the week, and the latter for the weekend (and because it was on sale).
Breakfast: Banana bread & peanut butter (leftovers from Sunday)
Lunch: Chicken sandwich with Havarti cheese & chicken soup
Dinner: Marterdi [Spring pad link] & steamed basmati rice

Friends are coming over. I've made Marterdi successfully before, and it's regularly well received. This week I'm adding vegetables to this dish and using leftover ground beef (empanada mix & one lone hamburger) and sliced cooked sausage instead of uncooked 12 sausages. I'll serve it over chicken-broth infused basmati rice, cooked with a nob of butter.
Breakfast: Banana bread & peanut butter
Lunch: Chicken sandwich with havarti cheese & chicken soup
Dinner: Leftover buffet & Steamed vegetables

Right now this looks like it will be the last of the chicken broth, leftover marterdi (mostly beans & veg), and/or more appetizers and empanadas. It could be fried eggs over beans, or maybe a big salad with some cheese, beans, and slices of apple; we shall see

It got me thinking.
At some point, I began buying what I wanted to make and supplementing from my pantry. Instead, I should have been starting with my pantry and supplementing with what I buy. The realization that I had it all backwards was rather startling. I read all kinds of cooking, frugal, and menu-planning blogs; but I'd forgotten this step.

  1. Inventory your pantry.
  2. Look at the flyers to figure out what's on sale (and where).
  3. Make your menu from your inventory.
  4. Figure out the maximum you can make from your inventory, then supplement by buying extras.
So, that's what I'm going to do next week.
Also, I'm going to stop planning (and buying for) 7 dinners & lunches. Instead I'll plan 5-6 a week, and expect to make at most 5.