Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Dollops

Here's a recipe I would not have considered posting (in large part because it's different every time I make it, and I don't measure anything), but it's my youngest son's favorite dish right now, and it's loaded with vegetables. Even one formerly-picky eater likes it (although without celery)!

First start with the most important but often unmentioned preparation: shopping for the ingredients. I recommend seasonal vegetables from your local farmers' market, if you can. You can look up USA-local farmers' markets from the USDA or from Local Harvest (click on Find Farmers Markets). Vegetables that are in season have more nutrients, taste better, and are usually cheaper. You can look up what's in season from the USDA, from Sustainable Table, or from fruits and veggies: more matters! (some sites assume Northern Hemisphere). Get a lot of fresh vegetables. Also get some ground meat, potatoes, and an onion. Ground meat freezes well, and root vegetables like potatoes and onions keep well (except in spring and summer, when they want to sprout, but that's also when buying them fresh is easier!).

For an example, here's what I made tonight.

First I diced four organic russet potatoes. I usually get yukon gold instead of russet, but variety is the spice of life! I placed them in my largest mixing bowl (4 quart Pyrex), and sprinkled with salt, garlic powder, brown gravy mix, and a small scoop of Better Than Bouillon beef. I generally use garlic powder instead of minced garlic because the taste doesn't change with time; with fresh garlic, the flavor gets deeper and more pronounced the longer you keep the leftovers. I agree with Budget Bytes about Better Than Bouillon; that stuff is a tasty time-saver! Then I covered the potatoes with water, and placed them in the microwave set for 20 minutes. (These potatoes were still crunchy after 30 minutes, and finally soft after 35 minutes. Usually 15 to 20 minutes in the microwave softens diced potatoes.) Then I diced an onion, and put them in the potato bowl about 6 minutes later. Then I sliced two medium zucchini, quartered the slices, and put them in the same microwavable bowl. Next I diced a very large green pepper, and, you guessed it, added it to the bowl in the microwave! At this point, I couldn't submerge all of my vegetables, so I added more water and more spices. At the same time, I also added grated carrots from my freezer, that I bought and grated and froze when they were at their seasonal peak. I let all of that microwave until the 20 minutes ended. The vegetables were still fairly crunchy, and my eaters prefer soft, so I put the bowl in for another 10 minutes. Then I got out my large sauteuse pan (5 quart size) and put in 18 ounces of ground turkey with the same spices as earlier. I use the same spices so that all the food pieces would taste as though they cooked together. In the winter, I cook everything together for a long time in the pan (and heat the kitchen); in the summer, I prefer to use the microwave as much as possible. Once the ground turkey was completely cooked into tasty crumbles, I added a big scoop of frozen corn kernels and turned the heat down to low. When the vegetables in the microwave were finally done, I added them as well using a slotted spoon to drain the water, and turned the heat up to medium. This time, I also added several big scoops of mashed potatoes that I was afraid would go bad before we remembered to finish them. (Tip: this dish is a great home for lonely leftovers.) I kept an eye on the pan, stirring it every so often, and when food looked like it was about to stick to the pan, I added cooking water from the microwave bowl. When everything in the pan was the same warm temperature, I served dinner. I left the pan simmering on low until the excess water had cooked off. After eating a little for dinner, I packed up 10 cups of leftovers.

If you go the frugal route and select a lower-cost ground meat, it will often have a high fat content. Counter this by draining the grease off the meat after cooking, and add 2 Tablespoons (or more) of flour to soak up the remaining grease for a more palatable mouth feel.

I save the cooking water from this recipe and similar preparations. In this case, the cooking water is a flavorful vegetable broth with seasonings added. I could use it to make bread (yeast doesn't like garlic, so you may need to add a yeast enhancer like Vitamin C / powdered ascorbic acid), as a base to make a tasty soup, or to cook rice. Cooking water that's nearly a soup base on its own can be used in any recipe with compatible seasonings that calls for water. I've also used juice in place of water in some recipes; it all depends on how I think the flavors will work together.

I realize that's not the easiest recipe to follow, so here it is without the prose:

4 potatoes, diced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp beef bouillon
  place in large bowl
  cover with water
  microwave for 5 minutes
1 onion, diced  microwave in same bowl 5 minutes
2 medium zucchini, sliced and quartered
1 large green bell pepper, diced
2 cups of grated carrots, very loose (probably 1 cup or less if packed)
  microwave in same bowl 10 minutes
  if needed, continue to microwave vegetables to desired doneness
18 oz ground turkey
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp beef bouillon
  loose-fry into tasty crumbles with no pink on medium heat
1 1/2 cups frozen corn  add to pan, and cook on low heat until thawed
   add the bowl vegetables to the pan when they're done, and return to medium heat
  add water as needed to keep food from sticking to the pan
  when all food is the same temperature, it's ready to serve!

One thing I try to do with this dish is to include a rainbow of vegetable colors. Red: I'm the only one who likes tomatoes, so when I pack some for my lunch tomorrow, I will add tomatoes. Orange: carrots! Yellow: corn. Green: green bell pepper. White: zucchini, onion, and potatoes. I'm only missing purple/blue, but otherwise I have a (fairly) complete meal in one shapeless dollop of tasty, filling food.

When I "follow" recipes from the Internet (not that I ever follow a recipe exactly), I tend to double the vegetables in the recipe, and halve the meat so that I'm happy with the result. In this case, although this has a lot of meat by my standards, you may wish to double the meat and possibly halve the vegetables.

One thing I love about this concept (it's more of a concept than an actual recipe) is that it's so flexible. You could even view it as a "mix and match" recipe!

1 pound meat or proteinground turkey
3 cups starch / starchy vegetables2 cups potatoes and 1 cup corn
5 1/2 cups vegetables3 cups zucchini, 1 cup carrots, 1 cup bell pepper, 1/2 cup onion
seasoningsalt, garlic powder, beef bouillon

So, let's imagine where we could go with this concept! I really enjoyed the pork potstickers, so how about this wild idea?

meat or protein1 pound ground pork
starch2 cups potatoes and 1 cup corn
vegetables3 cups shredded cabbage, 1 cup carrots, 1/2 cup baby corn, 1/2 cup bean sprouts, 1/2 cup onion
seasoningminced ginger root, garlic powder, soy sauce

What about an Indian variant? Hmm, curry or garam masala? I would probably use ground chicken, rice, a selection of fresh vegetables, and curry! My mom makes a delicious curried chicken salad with rice, so that's why I'd lean in that direction. What about a pizza variant? Perhaps using sausage, potatoes as a neutral base (or skip the starch and serve with rolls), tomato sauce with bell peppers and mushrooms (my favorite pizza toppings!), and seasoned with garlic and oregano. Oooh, that one might require a topping of mozzarella cheese! For a Mexican variant, beans are both protein and starchy (ground or shredded meat will also work), fajitas have bell peppers, mushrooms, and onions, and season with garlic and cumin - possibly lime and cilantro too! There are so many choices! Enjoy, and feel free to experiment!

Notice that all of these combinations are gluten-free, dairy-free (GFCF unless you sprinkle cheese on top!), and soy-free (GFCFSF). This dish is allergy-friendly and infinitely adaptable. Unlike many allergy-kind recipes, it can be made frugally. It can easily be made vegetarian. You can use up or hide leftovers in it. I have used vegetable purée in it to thicken the base (stirring soft potatoes will also do that). Use your imagination!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Tasty Potstickers

I ran an informal taste test of potstickers from my grocery store's freezer section. Potstickers are so yummy, but they would be so much more convenient if I could keep some in the freezer.

  1. Pagoda Express savory pork potstickers - the best of these choices, with a wide flavor profile and a good texture
  2. Tasty Select vegetable and pork potstickers - I thought these were a very close second with a good flavor range, but the other opinion rated them a distant second
  3. Tai Pei chicken potstickers - nothing exciting here
  4. Ling Ling chicken and vegetable potstickers - bland with a thick wrapper

Now I wonder if pork potstickers are tastier, or just those two brands. I still have too many leftovers from this test to want to start the next test of potstickers right away, but I do have more questions for later.