Presenting the: It’s HOT – It’s Africa HOT – Tarzan couldn’t stand this kind of heat – Edition of the Lazy Cook

When you don’t have Air Conditioning and it’s this freakin’ hot, the last thing you want to do is cook. Well, the last thing you want to do is move. But even in the Lazy Cook’s household, food prep can sometimes include movement.

And while we eat a lot of cold salads and watermelon in hotter weather, those foods don’t tend to “last” in the tummy. It’s the cooler version of Chinese food: 20 minutes later and you are hungry again. So, how do we resolve that problem? The Lazy Way of course.

Here is a picture tutorial for a cooked vegetarian curry that doesn’t require heating up the house with… heat.

The dish: a nice Corning Ware casserole with lid. The lid is a necessary part of the endeavor, so keep that in mind when following this recipe.

To fill this casserole you will need the following:

About 2 cups of Vegetable Broth, or about 1/2 of this container (Chicken stock is good if you aren’t going vegetarian on this one). Wolfgang Puck brand isn’t necessary, I’m just showing off that I got this at Big Lots for $1.50

1 cup of coconut milk or about 1/2 the can:

3 or 4 tender summer squash from the garden, cubed.

Sweet pepper, chopped. This is probably about 1/2 a cup.

A medium onion chopped. (Hello Kitty bowl is not required) And since I had some curried okra canned up from last year, I thought “Why not?”.

Red Curry Paste. I get mine at the Asian Market for about .60 cents a can.

You’ll use a tablespoon, more or less, depending on how hot you like it. Add it to the broth and coconut milk in the casserole. Mix well. This will keep you from getting lumps of paste in your curry. ‘Cause stirring it while its cooking  is too…  hot.

You can add salt at any time to your taste. But at least 1/2 teaspoon. You can add in the chopped vegetables at this point, along with cubed extra firm tofu and cubed carrots. Try cutting them into smaller bits than shown here.

Once you’ve got it all in there, it should resemble this:


Pepper is optional, I just added it as an afterthought. Now for the lid.


Let’s look at the time. Okay 11:30 ish… so we’ll get this in well before noon.

Now into the cooker.

And to set the temperature, we simply go over…

and make it so.

Serve with brown rice, white rice or millet, along with a tomato, cucumber and onion salad. Enjoy.

Sweet Potato Rice Pudding: the Lazy Cook’s Recipe Hacks

Iva Mae Swinford from Lubbock, Texas offered up a perfectly good Pumpkin Rice Pudding recipe for Thanksgiving from The Cooking Club of America.

And I promptly proceeded to change it.

I’ll give you her version – tasty enough. And then my changes, which involved, among other things ….. you guessed it – butter.

Iva Mae’s Pumpkin Rice Pudding

15 oz can of pure pumpkin
1 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
12 oz can evaporated milk
2 eggs beaten
2 cups medium grain rice
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans

(and a whipped topping which we will skip – buy some Cool Whip, food-tards)

Oven at 350 degrees. Whisk pumpkin, sugar, spices in a large bowl. Stir in milk and eggs. Stir in rice, raisins and 1/2 cup pecans.

Pour into 11 x 7 inch glass baking dish: place in shallow roasting pan. Add enough water to come about 1 inch up the sides of the dish.

Bake 15 minutes, stir well. Then bake 30 to 35 minutes until knife inserted into center comes out clean. Cool 20 minutes.

Sweet Potato Rice Pudding

Well, the condensed milk was the first thing off the list. And the whipped topping. I substituted coconut milk. But silken tofu would work too. And I prefer prunes to raisins. And there wasn’t nearly enough fat to make it interesting. Finally, I had just bought some sweet potatoes on sale, so out with the pumpkin. This allowed me to cut the sugar in half. And I added 1/2 stick of butter.

I made it. It was very good. And well received.

But the Lazy Cook took a few bites and said,  “You know what this needs?”

So I made it again; adding in my extras. And I didn’t put it in the double boiler thingy… frankly I forgot. It came out a bit denser (which I liked), so unless you are a stickler for process or your oven burns things, skip it.

Here is my version which is only slightly more involved.

1 large baked sweet potato
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 brown sugar
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 13 oz can coconut milk: pour off thin milk, keep heavy cream
2 eggs beaten
2 cups cooked medium grain rice
3/4 cup chopped prunes
3/4 cup butter roasted pecans
1/2 stick unsalted butter melted
1 tbsp of cognac (optional)

Oven at 350 degrees. Whisk sweet potato, sweetener, spices in a large bowl. Stir in coconut cream, butter and eggs. Stir in rice, prunes, pecans, cognac.

Pour into 11 x 7 inch glass baking dish. Bake 15 minutes, stir well. Then bake 30 to 35 minutes until knife inserted into center comes out clean. Cool 20 minutes.

This is a great snuggley warm winter food. Really good hot. Really good for breakfast. Just really, really good.

Enjoy.

Split Pea and Barley Soup with Hot Sausage

There is not much that can beat split pea soup. It is warm, creamy and filling. The tastes of the peas in chicken soup stock with onions and the occasional sweet bit of carrot are a completely satisfying experience.

But as with most of the dishes I cook other considerations, like what needs to be eaten, influence the process of my kitchen experiments.

Split pea soup was on the menu and ½ pound of spicy pork sausage was sitting in the fridge looking kinda lonely. In the process of gathering up supplies, I ran across about a cup of barley and I thought: Why not?

As I noted earlier, I like chicken stock as a base for split pea soup. In this instance I thought stock and sausage might be too rich. So, I cut the amount of stock  and added water for the remaining liquid.

2 cups of split peas and 1 cup of barley.

Add 4 cups of chicken stock and 3 cups of water.

Add salt to taste

Add chopped carrots if desired.

Bring to a boil then cook over low to medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Chop up the ½ lb of sausage and place in a skillet,

Chop one small onion and add to the sausage.

Cook thoroughly

When the sausage is cooked, drain the oil for use with other dishes.

Crumble the sausage and add, with the onions, to the soup.

What I liked: The texture of this soup is amazing. It is full bodied and has a great mouth feel. I always like barley in food because it has a slightly chewy texture that I find very satisfying. The hot sausage was an interesting change from ham. And as with many spicy foods, by the following day, the spices had become more pronounced.

What I found less than perfect: Adding the barley flattens out the taste of the peas.

So there is a slight trade off of texture and taste, I will make this again, but it wasn’t so good that I would let it replace the standard version of split pea soup.

Enjoy.

Tofu Cheesefake

The problem with gluten and casein intolerance is cheesecake. Well, okay, not directly. But once in a while, you miss little things like a billion calories in a vehicle of rich, thick flavored cream cheese.

So what’s a girl to do?

Cheesefake.

I’ll leave the choice of crust to you. This is an amazing dessert even if you tolerate gluten well.  So a premade graham cracker crust would work fine. The original recipe called for a 9 inch spring-form pan. To that I say “Fie!” Whatever you use, it needs to be cool and ready to go when you finish mixing the filling.

The filling is often tricky. Mine will sometimes form cracks which call for creative decorating like strawberry slices or pecans. It’s probably because I use egg yolks in the recipe which shockingly had no fat in the original. What were they thinking?

Leave the yolks out if you want to trim the fat. It won’t hurt the outcome. But in my case, nixing the fat would definitely hurt my sense of Yum.

This is a time intensive process, but it can be made ahead and it keeps well in the fridge for about a week.

Preheat your oven to 350.

1.5 pounds of tofu crème cheese (Tofutti makes a good one)

10.5 oz of silken tofu. In a pinch, soft or medium will do; but it might crack.

¾ cup sugar. You might know of a way to make stevia work, I have not figured that one out yet. Sugar is necessary for the body.

2 tablespoons arrowroot starch

1 tablespoon lemon zest

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Blend well in a food processor until smooth. In batches if you have a small processor.

Pour mix into cooled crust. Bake for 50 minutes. Turn off oven and leave the cheesecake in the warm oven for another hour. Remove and cool completely before putting it in the fridge with a tight wrap to prevent uneven cooling (and probably cracks). Cool at least four hours until well chilled.

When you are ready to serve it, hide any cracks with fruit, dabs of whole fruit jelly, whipped cream or any other gilding of the lily you think is necessary. Trust me, this is so good and so light, you might just be tempted to eat it all in one sitting, so to heck with how it looks.

I was so impressed by the nutritional information on this one I actually kept it on hand:

3670 calories in the entire cake. So divide total calories by number of servings. 1 serving = 3670 calories, 2 = 1835, etc. Stop dividing when the guilt goes away.

But they list it as 10 servings, so:

5 g. protein

26 g. fat

28 g carbohydrates

1 g. fiber

450 mg sodium

Less heart clogging than a traditional cheesecake and it makes a great breakfast food too.

 

Wild Rice Stuffing with Nuts and Cherries

This needs to be cooled before stuffing the turkey, so prep this at least an hour before the turkey is ready to go in the oven. Or to cook separately, put it in a covered baking dish at 350 for 20 minutes.

Obviously you can cook your rices at the same time, they just cook at different speeds, so different pots (natch).

2 cups of white rice

Cook the rice in 4.5 cups water (or broth for the best taste) for about 25 minutes.

1 cup of wild rice

Cook the rice in 4.5 cups water (or broth for the best taste) for about 45 minutes. Mix with white rice.

While the rice is cooking, dice:

1 cup of onion

1 cup celery

To which you will add:

1 cup of dried cherries

1 teaspoon rubbed sage

1 cup pecan halves

1 cup of pitted prunes, quartered

And you can also add:

2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 teaspoons dried marjoram

In a heated pan: 2 tablespoons of fat (your choice), toss in the vegetables and fruit. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly until the vegetables are wilted.

Mix together, add salt and pepper. Stuff and bake.

“Butterball” Turkey

Here is a sinful addition to a plain old turkey that will make your guests reach for their nitroglycerine.

You know it’s good when a recipe suggestion starts with: Take a pound of butter. Sweet unsalted is best.

You can mix one or all of the following into the softened butter:

Fresh or rubbed sage

Crushed rosemary leaves

Crushed Russian sage leaves

Black pepper

Or Curry Powder

On the turkey you will want to take a fillet knife (or a thin butcher knife) and lifting the skin near the neck opening above the breast, cut the membrane holding the skin to the breast (and legs, moving in toward the drumstick from the lower leg. Cut slits as needed to reach all areas). Detach as much of the skin as possible while leaving it intact on the turkey.

Take the butter and spice mix, stuffing it under the skin so that it is evenly distributed across the meaty areas.

You will need to massage and pat the butter mix into place. Don’t worry it if it’s a little lumpy. It just needs to be somewhat evenly distributed.

Even though basting seems moot at this point, do it anyway. It makes the skin nice and brown.

This is not a good recipe to serve your friends who are watching the amount of fat they eat. Or who have wives who are in any way concerned about the intake of dietary fat of anybody within speaking distance. This recipe has caused divorce proceedings on those grounds alone.

 

Raw Cranberry Relish

The Mister likes to relate a story of his youth when his parents could not get him to eat cranberry jelly. Then along comes the botulism scare in which people were warned not to eat any canned cranberries. Naturally, after the announcement, all he wanted was cranberry jelly.

Well, there is too much sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup hiding in that delicious treat. I make a much more mouth-puckering raw version (because I’m sweet enough).

Here you will complain that the amounts given are too vague. But every year, no matter how precise I am, the mixture needs a little more X. So, I will give you a general outline and you can discover the balance of ingredients that suits your taste. It is helpful to have a taster who is not working with you in the kitchen. Their noses are clear and they haven’t been sneaking eats that pollute their palette.

2 (+/-) cups of whole frozen cranberries

1 (+) can of drained crushed pineapple

1 (+) cup of shelled pecans

Put a mix of each ingredient in a food processor and grind until you have a very coarse relish. If you have half cranberries remaining, you’ll want to keep grinding.

You’ll end up processing several batches and putting the mixture in a bowl. After it’s all processed, stir well and call in your taster. You may need to add pineapple or nuts, but rarely more cranberries.

For those who aren’t fans of incredibly “whangy” (i.e. super tart/slightly bitter) foods, you might want to add a little frozen condensed apple juice. I find additional pineapple works for me.

This is a great addition to any meal with heavy fats or rich, savory spices. And it reaches it’s best flavor when you make it a day or two ahead.

Tummy Rubbing Good Ham

This is going to take 25 hours. Half hour of prep. 24 hours to cook. Half hour out of the oven to “rest”. So schedule accordingly.

Preheat the oven to 325.

Take a picnic shoulder or butt and put it in a roasting pan.

Mix the following ingredients in a separate bowl:

1 can of crushed unsweetened pineapple

8 ounces of yellow mustard

1 cup of brown sugar

Pour the mixture over the ham, put the lid on the roaster and put it in the oven.

(if you only have the pan, no worries, I’ve cooked this many times sans lid, it cooks and tastes fine, but looks questionable)

Cook at 325 for 2 hours.

Turn the oven to 200 degrees then, cook over night. Be sure to baste the ham in the hours before bed and after rising, especially if you don’t have a lid. (no lid: toward the end, it will turn black. Trust me, after that first bite it’s hard to think about what it looks like with your eyes rolling back in your head.)

And to the temperature wussi (plural of wussy) who will write and fuss about the low temperature cook for 22 hours creating bacteria, pathogens, blah, blah, blah….don’t cook it then. The (literally dozens) of people I’ve served this to are still alive and with no ill effects. And to those who haven’t tried it, a non-pork butt covering disclaimer:

Some people think this cooking method might allow bad things to develop in the meat. Eat it at your own risk or I can give your email address to some of the (still living) people who have eaten this over the years and have them write you. Then you can make a marginally informed decision. While safe is good, deliciously tender ham is better.

To those with a lid for your roaster, remove it about 4 hours before serving, so the remaining liquids can evaporate.

The main problems with this particular dish: the smell overnight, which is maddeningly delicious, then cloying. And the fact that the meat tends to fall apart when you try to move it from pan to serving plate.

The first year I made this, it was black as a cinder, yet there was none left at the end of the night. The remaining turkey (which was most of it) became soup. And the 2 dozen guests are happily still alive and well.

The Lazy Cook ponders ways to cook Spam (so that it doesn’t suck).

Once in a while the Lazy Cook finds her taste for the usual main dish proteins (bean/rice, chicken, pork, beef, fish) has gone off the rails. It might be the restlessness I often feel in the Fall season. It might be the need for a change after a summer of cooking and eating mostly fresh foods. Whatever the reason, I found myself picking up a can of Spam from our cellar stores just the other day.

Winter brings ice storms to our state; nothing as lovely or prosaic as snow. Ice that brings down sappy pines en masse. Ice that weighs on power lines to the point of a sudden brittle snap. Ice that routinely results in power outages lasting for days. No power, no fridge. Fresh foods are a luxury at that point. And living on outlying county roads mean we don’t get service until the main byways have been dealt with, so there is no “running over to the store”. Hence the Spam and other goods both processed and home canned, waiting in our cellar.

The Spam was purchased from the local Big Lots. It’s the 70th Anniversary Edition. And the 3 collector’s cans have graphics and background designs from a variety older advertisements. Snazzy cans aside, it was very….inexpensive.

70th Anniversary

70th Anniversary

No, I don’t think its 70 year old Spam. At least I hope not.

So, when I picked it up the other day, I realized I hadn’t actually eaten spam for about half the span of their entire existence as a brand. I had used it as a worm substitute for fishing in the 80’s by cutting into long strips and microwaving it until it was shriveled and tough. The fish really like it.

For our dinner, however, I figured that the basic frying-a-slice would be the way to go. Sides for the meal were home canned collards with balsamic vinaigrette, pintos and rice. I had wanted cornbread, but found myself without the eggs necessary to make a loaf. As for cooking the Spam,. I did make a last minute executive decision to slather brown mustard on one side, then flip it over to fry the mustard onto the meat. It created a brownish, crispy crust for the meat and ended up being a good addition.

My first bite, while not exactly a spit-take, found me resisting the urge to open my mouth over my plate so I could push the meat out with my tongue.

Salt. Lots of salt. Seemingly more salt than your average country ham. The Mister’s family history of heart disease means I only add small amounts of sea salt to recipes and those partaking in the meal are free to salt as they will. He wryly commented, after his first taste, that this meal comprised the whole of his weekly sodium intake.

Then there’s the texture issue. The Mister doesn’t seem to heed textural issues in the same way I do. So he had little to say on the matter. But I don’t think it’s putting too fine a point on it to call the texture Horrific.

Meat has a certain resistance in the mouth; both to the teeth and to the tongue. It is not supposed to feel like a slimy, chunky Jello. It is not supposed to be meat pudding. Even Livermush, which is a loaf of ground pig’s liver, head-meat and cornmeal (or rice) has a density and heft that Spam lacks.

The, nominal “best parts”, were the slices that were thinner with more of the moisture cooked out. They were slightly chewy with a tiny crust of resistance to the teeth. So the dinner challenge became: “Ways to cook spam so that it doesn’t suck.

The brainstorming session left us with some interesting ideas like Spam Sushi. Coat small rectangles of Spam with Wasabi, fry them, then roll them up in sticky rice with a vegetable, say a spicy Chow-Chow that will cut the salt and compliment the ham.

Or cubed fried Spam in Kraut

Or Budget Meal with fried cubed Spam.  Now Budget Meal is a favorite if, as yet, untried recipe from Goya Foods. I was making hummus one day using dried Goya Chickpeas. While waiting for the peas to cook, I was perusing the plastic bag and spied their suggestion for an inexpensive meal. It was called “Budget Meal” and was basically a ground chickpea soup with hotdogs cut up and added in. Even though I am loathe to consider Budget Meal as something I would actually cook, I can see how the Spam would be a good hotdog substitute.

Note that each recipe requires the Spam be fried.

The other option we came up with was to slice the Spam and immerse it in tap water. The actions of reverse osmosis should pull some of the salt out of the meat, much like the process used with salted pole beans or country ham. What would we be left with then? As close as I can figure it would be Pork Jello. Not an aspic, mind you. Pork. Jello.

The Lazy Cook welcomes any adventurous (and printable) suggestions as to what she might do with the remaining cans of Spam in her stores.

Baked Eggplant Slices with Hot Sausage Marinara

Food For Thought

Food For Thought

Yes, it’s time again for a found entrée. A few days ago, the Mister’s boss gifted him with some beautiful eggplants and a couple of pecks of chestnuts. Frankly, both were a mystery to the Lazy Cook.

I’ve never cooked eggplant, but I’ve eaten it on occasion. Nothing against eggplants, they are beautiful things, but in each instance, there was never enough “something” (texture, flavor, smell, taste) for me to get too excited about seeking it out as an ingredient. Still Life objects definitely. Food…not so much.

And the most I knew about chestnuts was that, ideally, you roasted them over an open fire. Ostensibly to keep some guy named Jack from giving you facial frostbite. So I was going to have to do a little research on chestnuts and what was possible. The eggplants were merely waiting for inspiration to strike.

And yesterday, it did.

I knew you could make Eggplant Parmesan. But cheese is off the list entirely. So, it would have to be some modified version of that. Thank goodness breading has become more feasible since we figured out they sell 5 pound sacks of white sorghum flour at the Indian grocery in Winston-Salem. (Golden India: Awesome food, nice owners, great grocery. Try it if you are in WS. Then, go get a hot, fresh Krispy Kreme)

Evil Children Aside, they are GREAT!

Evil Children aside, they are GREAT!

And adding a little cornmeal to the sorghum gives it some “tooth”. For something as vanilla as eggplant, I figured a little cornmeal excitement would be a good addition.

I knew from the weekend meals I had half a pound of hot pork sausage waiting in the fridge. I also had a half a quart of Marinara Sauce from some other adventure. I figured that was good enough for a start.

Under that Big Rock next to the Tree

Under that Big Rock next to the Tree

I cut the top off one eggplant stood it bottoms up on the now flat top and sliced it into ½ inch slices, and stacked them into a pile. I told the Mister it looked like a stack of half-soles for shoes. We might be in an economic rhyme of the last Depression, but at least we’re not that desperate….yet.

The oven was warming at 350 degrees, while I dragged and sometimes pushed the surprisingly flexible slices of eggplant into the egg. Then I lay each slice flat into the flour mix and gently pressed. Pick it up, shake the pan to even out the flour and coat the other side. Put each slice onto a baking sheet or pan with about 2 tablespoons of oil coating the bottom. After arranging them sort-of-like canned sardines or in this case it would be flounder, I had just enough room in an enameled 9 x 14 inch baking pan, for 4 slices. Into the oven.

I took a 2 cup Corning baking dish (for soufflés or some other thing I’m too lazy to try. But the Mother-in-Law knows I’ll only use Corning or Cast Iron, so she is sweet enough to send along ware when she finds it on sale), plopped the ½ pound of sausage in and about 2/3 cup of Marinara on top of that. I tried mixing it with a fork as the dish was too small for the masher, but it soon became evident that this was going to require putting my hands in there to mix it. Ugh.

I’ve got fingernails. I don’t grow them on purpose. I’m just too lazy to cut them and they are tough as…well, nails. So they get long. And there are things you dread with long nails. Throwing a clay pot and mixing ground meat being the top two items on the list.

So, I rolled up my sleeves, turned to the sink and lathered up my hands with soapy, hot water. Potential fingernail grunge in my food is another no-no. After washing, I thoroughly mixed the Marinara and meat and put it in the oven with the eggplant. And then back to the sink to get the sausage from under my nails. Really, just gross.

As I was tidying up I spied the chestnuts. “Well,” I thought, “the oven is hot. And there is room for another baking pan.” So, I grabbed up about a dozen of the little fellows and set about slicing a couple of vents into each one. Some people cut them in half, some just cut in a couple of vents. Either way, they need a way for the steam from the cooking nut meat to escape or they explode. Considering I had never dealt with chestnuts before, having only one of them explode in the oven was a minor victory.

It was like a muffled rifle shot. All the critters looked up from their dinner at me and the Mister while we looked at each other wide-eyed. I was fearful of opening the oven door to check. Who wants piping hot chestnuts exploding just as you open the door? Luckily, it was just the one and the exploded meal was scattered about the oven, on the eggplant and in the meat mixture. Which gave me another idea……

After about 10 or 15 minutes, I turned the slices once, and noticed they weren’t really browning although they were cooking. I don’t know if the oven needs to be above 350 or I needed more oil, but after another 10 minutes and another flip, I went for the old back-up plan and stuck them in the broiler. It’s a propane stove, so the flame was on anyway. After a couple of minutes on each side they were a little more presentable. I pulled them out and waited just another couple of minutes for the sausage. One does NOT want to eat any undercooked pork.

As I was waiting, I warmed another 2/3rd cup of marinara. I pulled out some kalamata olives, put on some green peas and checked the millet that was in the steamer. The olives were on the list of ingredients, and really should have been pitted sooner, but hey, I never claimed to be organized either.

I pulled out the sausage, drained the fat into my pork fat jar for later use and spooned a couple of tablespoons of meat onto each eggplant slice. I spread it out so that it covered most of the slice, and spooned a little warm marinara over that. Then I pulled out the chestnuts, shelled and chopped about 6 of them, and pitted the kalamatas. I sprinkled chestnuts and kalamatas across the slices and voila, it’s pretty and it’s food.

The one thing I would do differently, although neither Roger (who was over for Monday night HLF practice) or the Mister complained, is peel the skin off the eggplant.

As for the chestnuts. Interesting flavor. And texture. It reminded me of the sweet Mung Bean filling in the Moon Cakes. They are small celebration cakes for offerings or some-such. We get them at the Hmong Market.

And now I’m wondering if you can make a chestnut soufflé? Stay tuned. We might just find out.

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