homemade refried beans

We’ve gotten onto a bit of a kick of working with whole ingredients whenever we can – in Ian’s case it’s mostly to save money, but in my case it’s also because I really like knowing exactly what’s in my food whenever possible – and avoiding ingredients that I can’t identify. I mentioned to Ian earlier that I was intending to make burritos for dinner, and he decided to put some pinto beans on to soak, so that we could make homemade refried beans to go in the burritos. They had a good long soak in the water, thanks to our little Emergency Room visit this afternoon (no worries – Ian’s just gotten himself a little eye infection – probably from rubbing his eyes too much this week, as he’s been sick all week, and we live in a little town where no walk-in clinics are open after noon on Saturday). Once we got home, Ian had a nap to continue working on getting rid of his crud, and then he made up the beans while I prepped the rest of the burrito fixings. Here’s what he did:

Ingredients
3/4 cup dried pinto beans
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp bacon grease (or make this vegan by using vegetable shortening)
1 clove garlic

Directions
Soak the beans for up to 8 hours or so. Cook the beans – we did ours in a pressure cooker for about 30-40 minutes at 12psi. If you’re cooking them on the stove, you’ll need to boil them for 90-120 minutes. Once they’re cooked, drain the beans but reserve the leftover cooking liquid.

Melt the bacon grease in a frying pan. Pulverize the clove of garlic and cook briefly in the grease. Put the beans in the pan on top of that. Mash the beans with the back of your spatula until they’re almost totally mush. Add about 1/4 cup of the bean water back into the pan, which will water the beans down quite a bit. Add in the rest of the spices, and then simmer the whole thing until the beans are the thickness you like them. We cooked these until they were about the same consistency as the type you’d get in a can.

Eat however you like refried beans… we added them to beef burritos, topped with the usual fixings – grated cheddar, shredded lettuce, salsa, sour cream and cilantro. They were SO much better than the ones you’d buy in a can, PLUS we know exactly what all went into them!

perfectly awesome potatoes

Wow, it’s been way too long, hasn’t it? In our defense, Ian and I were a little busy there for quite a few months. We got married in mid-October, and then moved 1200km north at the beginning of December! We’re now firmly ensconced in our new town, new home, new jobs, and married life. Ian has started an apprenticeship, and I’ve found a job doing almost the same thing I used to do, only with much better details — and a 5 minute commute, instead of an hour! This leaves me much more time for more interesting things, like blogging. We’ve also got some pretty epic plans in the works for the next few years, which will make some very interesting blog fodder if they happen. They’re just plans at this point, so I’ll save the details for when they actually happen.

We’re also getting used to a completely new climate. While we used to live in the temperate rainforest, we’re now on the prairies, and far enough north that we get snow 5-6 months of each year. There was snow on the ground when we arrived, and there’s still snow on the ground, 4 months later. On the plus side, we haven’t seen a drop of rain since we arrived!

The weather has finally warmed up enough to allow us to take advantage of the lovely large front porch we have at our new home, which is where we’ve put our grill. Ian grilled me up some of my favorite herbed chicken breasts tonight, and I made these awesome potatoes to go with it.

Boil nough new or baby potatoes to feed however many people you’re feeding (plus a few more, they’re THAT good) until tender. Drain, and then return to the pot, and toss with enough butter to coat the potatoes lightly. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet, and smash each potato individually just enough to flatten them slightly. You could use the lid of the pot you cooked them in, or your potato masher, if it’s the right style. Mine has square openings in a round tool, so it worked well. Dust the potatoes with the seasonings of your choice – I used a generous amount of dried parsley, and some herbed garlic sea salt – and then sprinkle generously with grated parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven at 350F until the edges of the potatoes are crispy and the parmesan is melted and browned.

bread three weeks in the making

sourdough

I had hoped to be able to tell you about my first successful cheese made at home today, but alas, it was not to be. I made my third attempt today and it still didn’t turn out, but today I figured out that a big part of my problem laid in the fact that I was reading the temperatures in the instructions in Celsius, and they were written in Fahrenheit. I’m such a Canadian. I even went out to Avalon Dairy and bought good old-fashioned cream-on-the-top non-homogenized milk. I realized what had happened part way through, but it was too late to save my cheese. I will be trying again next weekend, and will hopefully be able to show you my homemade fresh mozzarella then.

In the meantime, though, I get to tell you about my latest creation… a loaf of bread three weeks in the making! Obviously it’s not three week old bread, but rather a loaf of sourdough made from starter I created from scratch three weeks ago. I read about the process on a number of different websites and then put together my own method that worked wonderfully, so rather than linking you elsewhere, I’m going to tell you what I did.

Start with a glass container. You really don’t want to use plastic or metal here. I’m using an old pickle jar, and it works perfect.

Take a cup of the freshest whole-wheat flour you can get, a small handful (approximately 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup) of cracked wheat berries, a half cup of lukewarm water, and a couple glugs (maybe 1/8 to 1/4 of a cup) of pineapple juice, and mix it all up together in your glass container. Cover the container loosely with plastic wrap and set it out on the counter and leave it for a good 12 hours.

After the first 12 hours, you should see some bubbles starting to form. Add another half cup of flour and 1/4 cup of water and stir it all up. Make sure you scrape down the sides of your container so that it can’t go moldy. Leave it for another 24 hours.

Every day, add another half cup of flour and quarter cup of water and stir it well. After the 3rd or 4th day, when your container starts getting quite full, you will want to dump out half of it and throw that away before you mix in the new stuff. If you just kept adding more, you’d have enough starter to fill a swimming pool in a few weeks!

It’s going to take 2-3 weeks of this before your starter is ready to use, but it’s well worth it. Here’s what my first loaf of sourdough looked like:

Keep going, and in my next post, I’ll tell you how to turn your starter into bread!

basil pesto

basil plant

Last night, it was still hot out (it has since cooled off nicely, and I’m looking forward to a nice relaxing weekend full of puttering around the house and baking), and I wanted something nice and light for dinner. Ian and I bantered back and forth via text, as we often do when trying to figure out something for dinner, and then it hit me. I had a nice lovely basil plant on the balcony just waiting to be picked and turned into dinner.

Pesto is such a simple pasta sauce, yet turns out so impressive tasting and looking once it’s finished. I put some linguine on to boil, and while that was cooking, had enough time to pull out my stick blender and mix up a batch of pesto, AND saute some garlic butter prawns to serve with it.

linguine with basil pesto, accompanied by garlic butter shrimp


Ingredients:
1 bunch of washed basil leaves
2-3 cloves of garlic
A small handful of raw pine nuts
3/4 to 1 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese (not packed in the cup)
A few tablespoons of olive oil
I also added about 1/8 of a cup of cream, as I like my pesto sauce creamy, but this is certainly not mandatory

How to put it together:
Put everything in the cup of your food processor (I used my stick blender, which has an attachment that turns it into a small food processor) and buzz until the basil, garlic and nuts are chopped and everything’s mixed, but not so long that it turns into a paste.

If you want to do it the old fashioned way, chop the basil, garlic and nuts together on wooden cutting board with a large knife or mezzaluna.

more Greek food

bbq

In my last post, I went into the reasons I think you shouldn’t buy store-bought Greek food. I mentioned that we had an almost entirely Greek dinner on Tuesday evening (the exception was the coleslaw we had for our veggie, which was leftover from the previous night), but didn’t give you the recipes for any of the other dishes I prepared.

Fortunately, a lot of Greek style food is really simple to prepare – but still darn tasty! I made myself a souvlaki-style grilled chicken breast (which I should have cut into chunks and put on a skewer so that it would be ready in time – in the end, I didn’t have any chicken on Tuesday, and instead used it for lunch yesterday and today), two skewers of prawn souvlaki for Ian, lemon roasted potatoes, and grilled pita bread. Other than the rising time for the pita bread, all of this came together really quickly!

I have to admit though – the secret to making the souvlaki taste Greek to me, is Cavender’s Greek Seasoning. The chicken and prawns were marinated in a mixture of lemon juice and olive oil (about 3 parts lemon juice to 2 parts olive oil), with a healthy dose of Cavender’s mixed in. The potatoes were mixed with the same (though in this case, more like 2 parts juice to 1 part oil), the Cavender’s, and a sprinkling of dried oregano. Once my container of Cavender’s is gone, I’m going to try out one of the copycat recipes that are readily available on the internet and see if I can make my own version.

The final part of our dinner was homemade pita bread. I used King Arthur Flour’s Golden Pita Bread recipe, but rather than baking it in the oven, I grilled it on the barbecue! It takes a bit longer than 5 minutes, but it turned out wonderfully. Put it on the grill for a few minutes, until the first side firms up enough that it’s easy to flip, and then turn it over. Once you flip it, it will puff up quite easily. It will probably deflate once taken off the heat, but will still be nice and fluffy. Serve with tzatziki sauce, hummus, or any other sort of dip you like!

why you shouldn’t use store-bought tzatziki sauce

tzatziki

I have been craving Greek food something fierce lately. When I say Greek food, I usually mean specifically chicken souvlaki and tzatziki sauce. I used to be a not-very-adventurous eater, and that was my standard at Greek restaurants. I’ve since gotten a lot better about trying new things, thanks to my darling Ian, but old habits die hard. Besides, the good Greek restaurants in the area I live in run to the expensive side, and we’re trying to avoid eating out while Ian’s not working, and it’s really easy to grill up some souvlaki on our barbecue.

A few years ago, I was in a rush and grabbed a container of tzatziki sauce from the cooler area at my local grocery store. It’s been a while, so I don’t remember what brand it was, but I do remember how absolutely AWFUL it was. It didn’t taste like tzatziki at all! Then I looked at the label, and realized why. It was then that I vowed to never buy store-bought tzatziki again.

Click to embiggen and read the ingredients list

I had to stop at the grocery store for lemon juice and dill for last night’s dinner anyway, so while I was there, I grabbed a quick shot of a commercial tzatziki ingredients list. Look at all those unnecessary ingredients in there! I know that plenty of them are stabilizers, preservatives and thickeners, and I really don’t want all that sort of thing in my food. My tzatziki sauce recipe only has 6 ingredients in it, and it’s SO darned easy!

Here’s how to make my tzatziki sauce.

Ingredients:
A 500ml container of greek or balkan yogurt. This needs to be plain/unflavoured.
1 long english cucumber
1-2 cloves of garlic
fresh dill
fresh mint
lemon juice

How to make it:
Drain the yogurt in a strainer lined with cheesecloth. If the yogurt you’ve bought is already really thick, you might not have to do this for very long. Dump it into a bowl that will hold at least twice that much yogurt. Rinse the cheesecloth out, because you’re going to be using it again.

Grate the cucumber, and then put it into the cheesecloth. Wrap the cheesecloth up, and then wring as much water as you possibly can out of it. Doing this will give you a MUCH thicker sauce, and will make your sauce last a lot longer in the fridge.

Finely dice or press the garlic. Finely chop the mint leaves and the dill (use these to taste – I use about 6 mint leaves and about 1/4 cup of fresh dill – use less if you’re using dried). Add about 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and the herbs and garlic to the yogurt and cucumber, and stir everything up.

This works best if you can make it ahead of time and leave it in the fridge for at least a few hours to let the flavours mix. A word of warning: don’t overdo it on the garlic, as the flavour will develop over time! 1 clove was plenty to flavour an entire container of yogurt and I’m still tasting it today.

peanut butter and banana muffins

peanut butter and banana muffins

Y’know, I could go into some sort of welcome post here, but I think I’d just rather jump right in with the recipes.  After all, that’s the whole point of this blog, right?

The other day, Ian noticed we had an overabundance of overripe bananas.  Typically when I see extra bananas around here (which usually doesn’t happen, as we both love them), I will toss them in the freezer for later, but then they tend to get forgotten about and one of us just ends up throwing them out in the end.  This time, I suggested that maybe I’d bake with them – I think I suggested banana bread.  Ian latched on to that idea, and started thinking of other things I could make instead, and ended up requesting muffins, probably because they’re easier to portion out for lunches.

Rather than go with the old standard of banana chocolate chip, I wanted something a little bit healthier.  Bananas go well with peanut butter in a sandwich, I figured… so why not banana peanut butter muffins?

I did some digging around on the web for a recipe, but couldn’t find a recipe I liked the looks of.  They all either used what seemed like way too little peanut butter compared to the other ingredients, or had bad reviews.  So I came up with my own recipe.

Ingredients:

4 medium bananas, preferably with way more black spots on them than you would ever consider eating fresh
3/4 cup of white sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup peanut butter (I used Kraft regular, crunchy would be good too)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups flour

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Get out your muffin tin, and either grease the cups in your preferred method, or line them with cupcake liners.  Personally I use good ol’ Pam spray.

Peel your bananas and mash the heck out of them.  I like to use a pastry cutter or potato masher for this.  A few small chunks are fine, but you don’t want large ones left or they’ll leave huge mushy spots in the muffins.  Mix together the banana, sugar, egg, oil and peanut butter until thoroughly blended.

Add your baking soda and baking powder and mix in well.  Add the flour, and mix until just incorporated – you don’t want to overmix them at this point, or they’ll turn out tough.

Fill your muffin cups about 3/4 full and pop the pan in the oven.  Bake for 23-25 minutes, until golden brown on the edges.

I found that these tasted better when cool, as it lets the peanut butter flavour come out more.  Also, you really don’t need butter with them at all – they’re plenty moist on their own.