HowTo: Crisp Lettuce for Salads and Keep It

sd530709So, I’m starting yet another new series of posts.  This is my HowTo series, where I show you how I do some things around the house, or my craft projects, or various other things that I know how to do that other people may not.  (There won’t be any serious math work here, I promise!)

For my inaugural post, I’m going to show you how I prepare lettuce to keep in the fridge.  I like salads; crisp, crunchy, sweet, sour, fruity, collections of random tasty stuff.  However, I used to have a problem with my lettuce going bad, long before I used it all.  Produce isn’t cheap, so this was very disappointing for me.  This method fixed all that.

So, here’s my process.  First, I buy a head of lettuce.  I’m sure this will work on any kind, but I’m partial to green leaf lettuce.  It has darker green leaves, which makes me think it has more vitamins than iceburg or romaine.  Not a nutritionist though, so don’t quote me on that.  Green leaf lettuce tends to have cone-shaped heads, narrow at the stem at the bottom, and spread out due to the thick leaves at the top.  As soon as I get it home, I do this:

  1. Prepare a bowl of ice cubes, ice water, and water from the tap (to finish filling it up). Tear off whole leaves from the base of the head and submerge in the ice water.  Fit as many as you can while still having the top leaves covered in water.  You’ll probably have to do 3 or 4 batches, depending on the size of your head.
  2. If you notice in the above photo, there’s a white thing in the upper right corner.  That’s my salad spinner.  I used to think these were useless unnecessary contraptions, used by yuppies and lazy cooks.  My view has definitely changed.  The first time I tried crisping, I used only paper towels, and wasted almost a whole roll trying to dry lettuce leaves!  Mine’s super cheap, so I recommend getting one, even if you used to think like me.   So step 2 is to run your leaves through the salad spinner.  Don’t overcrowd the spinner.  You’ll probably need to spin in 3 or 4 batches for one full ice water batch.  Also, be careful not to break or tear the leaves.  That will cause them to brown in the fridge.
  3. Now you should have some nice crisp dry leaves.  Pull out some paper towels (or cloth towels if you’re going eco.  I haven’t found any that I like touching my food yet.)  Arrange the leaves on the paper towel like the photo at right.  I alternate the orientation so that when I roll up the paper towel, I don’t get a cone shape.  This makes them fit better in the plastic bag.  Once you have the paper towel full of leaves, roll it up like a yoga mat.sd530710
  4. Place your new lettuce paper towel roll in a gallon size plastic food bag.  (I don’t have any eco suggestions for this one, sorry.)
  5. Repeat the above steps until you’ve gone through the whole head of lettuce.  This process probably takes about half an hour, but then you’ll have lettuce ready for a week or two (however long it takes you to eat through it).  You’ll probably also notice that when you are done, your ice water will have some dirt or sand in it.   You didn’t really want to eat that, did you?  So the process serves two purposes.

To use the lettuce, pull the bag out of the fridge, take out the top roll, unroll it and select your leaves.  Tear them up into a salad, put them on a hamburger, whatever you use lettuce for.  No further prep work.  I like this compared to some other crisping methods I’ve read about because the leaves are ready whenever you want them, and there’s no additional prep work.  Some methods have you crisp right before you eat, but that means you’d be pulling out the salad spinner every time you want to eat salad.  Here, you only have to pull it out when you buy the lettuce.

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The bag of lettuce, ready for the fridge

At the moment, I’m buying my lettuce from the supermarket, but the farmer’s market is supposed to start next month, and I’m going to try growing some mixed baby lettuces indoors this spring.  I will definitely try this method on those as well and report back.  If it works, this means that my garden lettuces could potentially last much longer and I wouldn’t always have to wait for new growth to have an interesting salad.

Random: Valentine’s Dinner

sd530706So, I’m not normally one for Valentine’s Day.  I like chocolate and all, but I spent so many Valentine’s Days alone that it’s never been a special occasion for me.  I gave out cheesy paper valentines cards in grade school, and I’ve given chocolate to close friends in past years, but it wasn’t that big a deal.

Valentine’s Day fell on a Monday this year, which is one of my very busy days.  The kind that I don’t want to cook after I come home.  Andrew, on the other hand, doesn’t really have anything on Mondays.  So he offered to cook.  This, my friends, is the result of his effort.  It’s not the fanciest meal, but we had a couple glasses of wine, and ate by candlelight.  I was absolutely tickled.  It made me feel very special.  I thought I would share.

Slow-Cooker Wednesday: Exploded Chicken and Rice Soup

sd530693I am pleased to announce the return of my Slow-Cooker Wednesday series.  My schedule once again has created a night where I won’t get home until late, and I definitely won’t want to cook at that time.  In an effort to keep up with my 2-month resolution Eating at Home More, I decided to reinstate the slow-cooker.  It also helps that the weather has been bitterly cold lately.

Now, in actuality, I use the slow-cooker on Monday nights, but I’ll still post these on Wednesdays.  Also, this wasn’t the first recipe I tried.  The first one was a flop.  It seems that most “traditional” slow cooker dishes end up tasting weird to me, strange spices, strange textures, I just can’t seem to get it to work.  I’ve made my chili in the slow-cooker successfully, so I think it’s just the style of recipe.  So, I’m restricting myself to mostly soups and stews, to see how that goes.

This recipe originally comes from the blog A Year of Slow Cooking.  I made enough modifications to the original that I feel ok listing things here.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup chicken, already cooked
  • 1/2 cup rice, uncooked (I used brown long-grain rice)
  • About 4 cups of chicken broth (I used homemade 🙂 )
  • About 1/2 cup water
  • About 1 cup of vegetables (I used onion, celery, and carrot.)
  • Spices

Directions:

Puree the vegetables in a food processor or blender.  You will get a thick multi-colored goop.  Because I only used celery, onion, and carrot, mine looked very orange.  Put all the ingredients in the slow-cooker. Cook on low for as long as you want, at least until rice is soft. Serves 4?

Tastiness Factor:

This is where I explain the title.  I let my soup cook for so long that the rice didn’t really seem like rice anymore.  It had exploded.  I don’t know why, or what I could do for next time, and I actually don’t mind exploded rice.  Flavorwise…pretty good.  Mine needed salt and pepper and was oddly spicy hot.  The original recipe calls for herbs de provence, which I didn’t have.  I used a salt-free Mrs. Dash blend.  Next time I’ll try something else.  Also, you could really taste that the only vegetables I put in were the celery, carrots, and onion.  These are the traditional veggies my grandma put in her chicken soup, so I thought they were good starters.  Next time, I’ll definitely add a wider variety.  Maybe just chop up a stir fry blend or something.

Another big thing about this soup: it seems like it calls for a lot of liquid, but a lot of that ends up getting absorbed by the rice.  My soup ended up more like a gruel.  I don’t mind this, but some people may want something more soup-y.  I’d add more broth after the rice has been cooked.  Also, you want to eat this quickly.  Once it’s cold, it’s not as tasty.  But I think that goes without saying for most soups.

Reheat Factor:

Since the rice is already exploded, this reheats very well.  This is another place where you can thin it out, if you have some water or chicken broth on hand.  It does tend to thicken up in the fridge, again, not sure why.  But the flavor and texture are consistent with the fresh stuff once it’s reheated.

Overall Impression:

Not bad.  It has a lot of room to use leftover veggies, broths, meats, what have you.  Lots of flexibility.  I’d like to try it again, but I have other recipes to work through.  Also, I don’t know how much the original was supposed to make, but I ate this for about three days in a row, at about one to two meals each day.  Andrew didn’t eat any; he doesn’t really like soups.

Nutrition Facts (from here): 171 calories, 2.2g fat, 23.8g carbohydrates, 2.6g fiber, 12.4g protein

Musings: Foods we Like…or Don’t

sd530697As a kid, I remember hating coconut.  I mean, really hating it.  And pineapple.  To this day, I haven’t even tried a piña colada, simply because of what’s in it.  Over the years, I have actually developed a liking for coconut.  I can eat German Chocolate cake, coconut cake, put shredded coconut in something, I’m fine.  It’s all good.  Just the other day I had ice cream with a coconut caramel sauce on it.

This, you might say, is one of the things that happens when you grow up.  Your tastes become more sophisticated.  And on some level, I believe that.  But then, there are some things that no matter how much you want to like them, they just don’t work for you.

Recently, my friend Erin and I started having a weekly get-together.  One of us would make dinner, the other would bring dessert.  It was a nice way to fill a lonely Friday night when Andrew runs off to play D&D.  It’s also given us a chance to try recipes we normally can’t.  Erin lives with a bunch of people who have a combination of allergies and “keep that thing away from me” aversions to some of her favorite ingredients.  I live with a man who has no love of cheese or pasta.  Solution: test these things on each other.

The above photo is from one of these adventures.  This isn’t a Recipe Du Jour post, because I didn’t like this.  It’s supposed to be 5-spice shrimp, an Indian inspired tomato-y shrimp dish served over rice.  It looks great, doesn’t it?Erin loved it.  I…picked at it.  I didn’t know why.  I had had Indian food before, there wasn’t anything in the dish I inherently disliked.  But after a process of elimination, we think we found the culprit: turmeric.

Turmeric, that spice that gives the signature yellow color to curries and other spicy foods.  Suddenly a lot of things began to make sense.  I normally liked curry, but not “yellow” curries.  (I put it in quote marks to refer to the actual color of the sauce, not whatever they decide to name it.)  Andrew would make Japanese-style curry on occasion and I just couldn’t get behind it. I always felt bad, because there wasn’t anything in the dish I should dislike, but now, apparently, I’ve discovered it.

This is boggling to me.  I’ve eaten turmeric before, I’ve considered it a mostly harmless ingredient.  I was once told that you could mix it with smooshed up tofu to mimic scrambled eggs.  Such a little thing ruined a whole series of dishes for me.  I used to make fun of Andrew’s dislike for oregano.  He can’t stand the stuff (which partially explains his dislike of most pasta dishes and pizza.)  But now, I guess we’re even.

Do you have any weird ingredients that you can’t eat?  Not necessarily things you hate, but they just make dishes seem unappealing or less appetizing after you notice them?  Things that you want to like, but you just can’t stand once you actually taste it?  I’ve heard some people have a sensitivity to cilantro.  If you have it, is that like this?

Recipe Du Jour: Samoas Scones

sd530695So, I spend a lot of time reading blogs.  It’s what got me thinking maybe I could start one of my own.  Now, most bloggers have a single thing they write about, a specialty.  I obviously don’t, and that’s because if I find something neat worth sharing, I want to be able to share it.  My blog is about pulling my life together one day at a time, and the life of Shay.

Anyway, one of my favorite blogs is Baking Bites.  I stumbled across it when I was looking for a whole wheat pie crust recipe.  My skill at pie crust hasn’t improved, but my drooling skills certainly have.  Nicole is an absolute genius.  She’s done copycat Girl Scout cookie recipes, and this delightful confection here is a Samoa Scone.  It has all the flavors of a samoa cookie, in a delightful breakfast treat.  Andrew couldn’t stop eating them.

Anyway, in the interest of giving credit where credit is due, you can check out the original recipe here.  I’m going to reproduce it below, for the lazy among you.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, chilled and cut into pieces
  • 3/4 – 1 cup milk
  • 6-oz semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used semi-sweet chocolate chips)
  • 1 cup prepared caramel sauce (store bought or use recipe below)
  • 3/4 cup shredded coconut

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add in chilled butter and cut it into the flour mixture until no pieces larger than a pea remain visible (this can be done in a food processor).
Add in 3/4 cup milk and stir to combine. Gradually add in remaining 1/4 cup milk until dough comes together into a ball.

Divide dough in half. Working with one piece at a time, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and flatten into a disc about 1/2-inch thick. Cut into quarters and place on baking sheet. Repeat with second piece of dough.
Bake for 16-20 minutes, until scones are a light golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Melt the chocolate in a small bowl. Use a small knife or spatula to spread a thin layer onto the bottom of each scone. Place coated scones on a cool baking sheet lined with a piece of wax or parchment paper to set up.
Combine caramel and shredded coconut in a small bowl. Spread about 3 tbsp of the caramel and coconut mixture onto each scone and drizzle with remaining melted chocolate. Allow chocolate drizzle to set for at least 30 minutes before serving. Makes 8 scones.

Caramel Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 7 tbsp heavy cream (I actually used canned evaporated milk.)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, water and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until syrup turns dark gold. Working carefully, stir in cream and vanilla. Caramel will start to steam and harden when you add the cream – continue to cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until caramel is smooth. Transfer caramel to a refrigerator-safe container and cool. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Note: You may have extra caramel sauce if you use it for the scones, so feel free to use it as a topping for ice cream, etc.


Tastiness Factor:

Yum!  I love Samoas cookies, and had tested Nicole’s recipe for homemade Samoas last year.  (I fully intend to remake them this year, too!)  As expected, this recipe is a winner!

Reheat Factor:

What are you, nuts?!

Overall Impression:

These are awesome.  Surprisingly, for the amount of chocolate and sugar involved, they’re actually not too sweet.  They have a sweet topping, sure, but the scone seems to counteract it a little.  My photo obviously didn’t turn out as well as Nicole’s, and I think I know part of the reasons why.  First of all, I just mixed the coconut into all of the caramel sauce I made. It looked like a cup, so I figured, eh, close enough.  This may or may not have been wise.  Second, I used unsweetened organic coconut.  I measured out a cup, but it came in these tiny tiny flakes.  Not sure if that made a difference.  Third, I don’t have pastry bags.  I used a sandwich baggie that I had snipped the corner off of.  So I’m not going to get that pretty piped effect.  But I still love these things and would totally make them again.  I think everyone else should try some!

Recipe Du Jour: Johnny Carino’s Penne Alfredo

Penne Alfredo
Penne Alfredo

So, a long, long time ago, in the land of Italian chain restaurants, there was Johnny Carino’s, and their Penne Alfredo.  It was a scrumptious dish, with peas, tomatoes, bacon, mushrooms, and chicken or shrimp, depending on how you ordered it.  It was downright addictive.  But for whatever reason, they did away with it.  Occasionally, you might find a waiter or a chef who remembers how to make it, and then you’re in for a treat.

This dish has a beautiful brown tinge to the normally white alfredo sauce.  It’s how you knew it was the right one.  I used to think that this was a result of something special they did to the alfredo sauce.  But no!  It’s just a result of the cooking methods of everything else!  Come, join me in a plate of this super easy pasta dish.

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz butter
  • 4 slices of bacon, already cooked
  • 1-2 roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup peas (I used frozen)
  • 4 oz alfredo sauce (I used a bottled sauce, but you could use homemade if you make it.  It just needs to be made ahead of time.)
  • cooked pasta (enough for a huge portion for one person)

Directions:

Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat.  Add mushrooms, bacon, tomatoes, peas, and spices.  Saute until mushrooms are a golden brown and the tomatoes are soft and starting to fall apart.  Add alfredo sauce, and stir until you get that brownish tinge to the sauce.  Remove from heat; add pasta directly to saucepan, toss to coat.  Dump out on the plate, grab a fork and enjoy.  Serves 1 huge portion (probably should be 2)

Tastiness Factor:

It’s another One Pan Wonder, folks.  And it tastes just like the Johnny Carinos dish I miss and love.  I made this with bowties, and made a few too many, but it was fantastic.  A little salt and pepper to round out the flavors.

Reheat Factor:

Sadly, didn’t get to test this.  I ate the whole plate in one sitting.  I would imagine that it would reheat ok, if the Johnny Carinos one was anything to go by.  Maybe use a little water to thin out the sauce in the microwave.

Overall Impression:

I have been searching for this for years.  Years, I tell you.  Now, sure, I could have used real garlic instead of garlic powder, but the powder provides a more even flavor I think.  And it was super quick once I had everything chopped, cooked and ready to go.  Next time, I’ll try adding shrimp or chicken.  Probably need to cook those separately as well.

Nutrition Facts: Trust me, you don’t want to know.  This is a copy of a restaurant dish, of course it’s high in calories, fat, and carbs.