Thursday, January 28, 2010

What to Do with the Leftover Salad

When I was in elementary school, every Wednesday was Mexican food day in the cafeteria, and my favorite approach to the food was to stir it all together into an unrecognizable mush. Sort of a precursor to what many now call “tamale pie.” So I guess I’ve always been fond of mixing a bunch of ingredients together.

Then last Sunday night, we got together with friends to watch the football game. I brought the salad, and as usually happens with me, I made way too much.

“You want to take this home?” said our hostess.

“What for?” I replied. “Even I don’t have much stomach for day-old salad.”

“Stick it in the blender,” she said. “It makes a great cold soup.”

Still skeptical, I took it home and left it in the frig for the next day. I used my husband’s Magic Bullet (which, if you’ve never seen one of these – a sort of Home Shopping Network icon – is an amazing piece of equipment. It makes shakes and smoothies in an instant, and the blending container is the drinking cup. But I digress...)

Wow! You know, it isn’t often you come across a totally new concept with food, but this was an eye-opener. And so yummy that I was really wishing I’d made even more salad. So the next day, I put together an entire salad – dressing and all – and stuck it in a baggie for today’s lunch. I probably got a little overenthusiastic with the veggies; I threw in a couple of kinds of lettuce, some spinach, carrot shavings and yellow bell pepper, and even some sliced almonds. I used low-fat ranch dressing, which I think wasn’t quite as good as the balsamic vinaigrette of the previous version, but it was still very tasty.

A warning: It’s not pretty. In fact, the color (an earthy greenish brown) and chunky texture brought to mind one of those “health” shakes, or maybe the sort of thing the Wicked Witch of the West might have offered to Dorothy. But if you like cold veggie soup, you have to try it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What’s cooking? Ellen’s Mexican Shrimp Dip

So, here we are almost a month into the new year, and I still am not used to writing 2010 on my checks. It’s been 200something for so long that my hand starts moving and I get two zeroes out before I can stop myself. So then I end up with checks that are dated 20blob10. Argggghhh. This would mean that one of my new year’s resolutions has become learning how to write the date. Pretty lame.

Another of my resolutions – along with half the rest of the breathing population – is to lose weight. Again. This time, I have the wedding (my son’s) as sort of a target. It’s in October, so I figure that gives me time to fall on and off the diet wagon several times and still look better than I do today. In the good Weight Watchers tradition, I’m writing down everything I eat, which definitely helps, and going to bed earlier, which restricts the late-night snacking. (Also, there’s now some research that says the fat-burning enzyme doesn’t kick in until you’ve been asleep for at least 7 hours. This could be part of my problem, as I haven’t had 7 hours sleep since about 6th grade. Ah, well.) So, at the end of the first week, I’d only gained 2 pounds. But I’m trying to commit myself to these changes, and after 10 days, I’ve actually dropped 5 pounds. I’m not going to the meetings – I figure I’ve paid the Weight Watchers people enough money over the years to build my own meeting place; so I’m staying home. Anybody who wants to give me a suggestion that doesn’t involve surgery should jump right in.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Grocery Store Avoidance Syndrome

Over the holidays, I was at the grocery store so often I thought maybe I should just set up a cot in the produce aisle. So as we move into the cold, gray days of January – yes, even in Texas, we are having winter weather – I love the challenge of seeing how many days I can go without a run to the market. It’s a little like figuring out if you can make a Halloween costume out of what’s in your closet. Although with the grocery store, it’s mostly a question of how much cat food I have in the house. Not that I’m eating cat food, or that the cat doesn’t like my cooking, but fish in the morning? Yuk.

So, faced with the decision to trek to the store or not, I found myself standing in front of the open refrigerator door, in a position that reminded me of the teen years and the glassy-eyed stance my sons would assume when grazing for snacks. As the cold air wafted out into the kitchen, I unearthed a surplus of carrots (from the dish I thought I’d have time to make for a New Year’s Eve dinner), a bag of parsnips (from the yummy-sounding pear soup I also didn’t have time to make for New Year’s), a wobbly head of celery, a lonely turnip, and a half-finished box of baby arugula that was still – but just barely – fresh.

Random Vegetable Soup

In my kitchen, the solution almost always ends up being soup of some sort. I chopped the top off the celery and submerged the rest in cold water, which freshened it up in no time at all. I cut up an onion, sauteed it for 5 minutes in a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil, then added a minced clove of garlic (without which I would have had to go to the store, as who can make broth soup without garlic?) to cook for another 30 seconds, then poured in 6 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of Knorr Chicken Flavored Bouillon powder.

Kitchen Goddess note: Knorr Chicken Flavored Bouillon powder is, by the way, the best-tasting chicken broth I’ve ever found – so much better than the tasteless stuff that comes in cans, and a whole lot easier than making your own which, though delightful, takes a day, and who has a day when you’re just trying to make lunch out of whatever’s in the fridge? Also, you can buy a gi-normous jar of it at Costco, which means you’re hardly ever without the basis for soup of some sort.

I started chopping veggies, and kept adding them until the soup looked full enough. The carrots and celery take the longest to cook, so I start with them, and the arugula – which ends up tasting a lot like spinach – only needs a couple of minutes, so it's last.

Somewhere in the middle of the veggies, I tossed in my standard veggie or chicken soup flavoring: a bay leaf, a teaspoon of dried dill, and a teaspoon of dried thyme. Garlic salt to taste. And at the very end, fresh parsley if I have it. Then I had a lightbulb moment, remembering a very tasty tortilla soup recipe I tried recently, and I chopped up an avocado(!!), and added it to the still simmering soup. So Texas has taught me something new. It was enough to make the Soup Nazi weep. And voilà – lunch.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Happy New Year!!
What’s cooking? Paris Breakfast

I’m back! Please excuse the delay, but the holiday frenzy was particularly acute this year, what with various relatives and friends coming and going, and the attendant shopping, meal planning, and, of course, the cooking.

It was our first year in the new house, so putting up Christmas decorations was a whole new experience. After 22 years in our New Jersey home, the ornaments all knew their places so well I barely had to open the storage boxes before they’d jump out into position on the mantle or the kitchen table or wherever. Here in Austin, the mantle is totally different and we don’t even have a kitchen table. So a lot of pondering accompanied the process. To say nothing of the Tree Incident.

Every year for the past 22, my husband and I have driven to the same spot in a town near our NJ home where a slightly strange and quirky family sells the best Christmas trees you could ask for. Big, bushy Douglas firs that infuse the house with a sweet, foresty smell. The trees we picked were always so big we’d have to tie them onto the top of the car. When our sons were still at home, they’d help us drag it into the house and set it up. But in Texas – and even in the last couple of years in NJ – the sons weren’t around to help, and the struggle for the two of us to get the tree into the house, while hilarious, was a pain in the butt. So now that we’re in Texas, we thought maybe we’d go for an artificial tree.