Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fish Ragout with Rice

My ex brother-in-law is an avid fisherman, and often he gives me part of his catch. I have no complaints, since he catches, guts and cleans them, and there is absolutely nothing I have to do except put on the frying pan and get busy! Nevertheless, I am not a big fish-eaters, so every now and then a trout or two gets pushed to the bottom of the freezer and doesn't emerge until......well until now, I guess. This morning, I retrieved a ziploc bag (this one is a fancy one, it has purple daisies on it) with a frozen fishbody from the depths of the icebox.

For those of you that just joined me and are wondering why I'm listing the contents of my freezer......the people "in the know" say that once a year one should empty the contents of the freezer and either dispose or use up the items stored. Besides, you save money on groceries since these are already paid for! Since my two freezers were full-full-full, I decided to cook, bake or otherwise prepare the foods I found, and share the recipes with you. And while we're at it, we might as well get rid of some of those cans in the pantry as well. Anything past the due date is tossed, the rest is arranged by date and the ones closest to expiring are used up first! I hope you are encouraged to sort through those Unidentified Frozen Objects in your freezer and join the fun.

Back to the trout. I found a can of clam chowder in the pantry, so out comes the crockpot (brilliant invention!) and in goes the content of the can. Read on the can if it requires you to add water or milk, and if yes, please do.

Fish Ragout with Rice
1 can of clam chowder
1 fish (use pollock filets or other white fish, no salmon)
1 cup of mixed frozen vegetables
1 medium potato
1 cup of rice

Fire up the crockpot on high and add the contents of your clam chowder. When it's warmed up, add a cup of frozen vegetables. I found a bag with frozen celery, mushrooms and yellow corn and used it, but feel free to add any vegetables you like. Peppers usually don't fare well, but hey! to each his own.....

If the fish has bones, zap it for two or three minutes in the microwave, or until the meat easily pulls from the bones. Add the meat (preferably chunks) to the crockpot mix and stir once or twice. Peel a medium potato, dice it and add it to the mix.
Cook a cup of rice on the side. Let the ragout come to a boil in the crockpot, then simmer for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked and the fish is done. Salt and pepper to taste, and pour over a portion of rice. Enjoy your meal!!

Oh.......if you have any leftover rice, don't throw it away but save it until the next morning. Grab a bowl, put the rice in it, cover with milk, brown sugar and cinnamon, microwave for three minutes and hey presto! Breakfast is served. Yummmy! But not good for the waist, so we'll only do this every now and then, okay?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Italian Tomato Bread Soup

Today I retrieved a brick from the freezer in the garage. It looks like a brick, it weighs like a brick and to be very honest, it has the consistency and coloring of an (old) brick. Nevertheless, it is not, trust me. What I pulled out of the freezer this morning is a remnant of my pre-bread machine days. It's half a loaf of "Ellie Mae" bread, as someone once referred to it. Presumably, Ellie Mae didn't know how to bake either. It looks like I consumed half of it, only the good Lord knows how, and I froze the rest, frugal as I am. I feed a lot of birds around here and much of my old bread goes into their suet feeders. Not today though, I'm keeping the brick to myself, as it's perfect for making a tasty soup with it.

Italian Tomato Bread Soup
Nothing like a good Italian tomato soup to bring a little bit of summer in your home. You'll need:

1 small onion
1 can of stewed tomatoes (preferably one with herbs, I use the ones with basil, oregano and garlic)
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 cubes of chicken tomato bouillon (or tomato vegetable bouillon if you'd like to make it vegetarian)
5 cups of boiling water
2 tsp italian herbs (or a mix of oregano, basil, thyme)
4 cloves of garlic
5 tbsp good quality olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan (or 3 tbsp of the dry cheese)
5 slices of old bread (no sourdough)

Cut and slice the onion, soften in a pan with the olive oil on medium heat. Add the garlic, sliced or chopped. After the onion has softened and the garlic starts releasing its yummy smell, drain the can of stewed tomatoes and stir. Bring to a boil, slowly. Dissolve the 2 cubes of tomato bouillon and the tomato paste in the 5 cups of boiling water, and add to the tomato mix in the pan. Add the italian herbs (usually sold pre-mixed as Italian Seasoning, or something along those lines), add salt and pepper to taste, turn down the heat and let it simmer.

In the meantime, break the bread in small pieces. You can use whole wheat, old rolls, whatever you can find in the freezer that you saved, just not sourdough. I used my Ellie Mae bread and its bricklike consistence made for a nice thick soup. Okay, now dump the bread in the pan and stir. When the bread has softened, bring out the almighty hand mixer or food processor and process the tomato/bread mix into a nice, thick soup. Check for consistency and add more bread if needed, taste to see if you want to add more salt/pepper/herbs.

Ladle into a nice bowl, put some parmesan cheese on top and pretend you're in Tuscany.... :-)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Biscuit Apple Pie

Ohhhhhhhh where does time go? Last thing I knew I was preparing the recipe for my Biscuit Apple Pie, and all of a sudden a new year has come along and it's been ages since I wrote. Well, no more dilly-dallying, here we go! Did your freezer get any emptier over the holidays? Were you able to flush out that icebox? I look forward to hearing from you!

Ziploc bags are the ultimate tool for storing food in your freezer, I marvel, while I extract one very flat, large frozen bag out of my freezer. The light brown lumpy contents do not look very appetizing, but for once I know what this bag holds: in big, black Sharpie letters it says "Rome Apples w/cinnamon and raisins". Furtherdown it has a date, "10/25/2005" and a measurement, "4 cups". Well, there you go then, four cups of apples with cinnamon and raisins, prepared by me (I recognize the handwriting), not too long ago.

One of the blessings of living in the country is the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables that are readily available, either from your own grounds or from a farmer down the road. During apple harvesting time, we try to enjoy the apples in all its varieties: fresh, baked, boiled (with a little bit of sugar you can have instant applesauce!) and ofcourse in apple pie. The ones I don't get to use immediately I freeze, so I can enjoy a wonderful apple pie in the wintertime. Here is how I do it. Core and peel five to six apples, depending on their size. Put the slices in a pan, add one tablespoons of lemon juice and toss to coat. Then add 3 tablespoons of apple juice, cider or just water and slowly bring to a boil. Add 1/2 cup of plump raisins, 2 tablespoons of sugar and cinnamon or apple pie spice to taste. Everybody likes their cinnamon either stronger or weaker, so go with what you like best. I use 2 teaspoons. The apples will release part of their juices so that, together with the sugar, it will form a sticky syrup. You may add some more water or juice during the short cooking process to make sure the apples don't burn. Instead of raisings, you can add dried cranberries, or substitute apples for pears. No rules here!

Boil on a slow fire for about 10 minutes, then take the pot off the fire and let it cool. When cooled down enough, taste for cinnamon and sweetness and if you like it, pour the apples with the syrupy juice in the ziploc bags, and push out all the air. Zip them, then lay them flat on the counter, so you can mark them. Try to find a flat spot in your refrigerator and allow them to cool for a couple of hours before you put them in the freezer. By freezing them flat, you can stack them afterwards, which saves a lot of space.

Biscuit Apple Pie

1 bag of frozen apple slices
1 roll of biscuits (refrigerated)
3 tablespoons of melted butter

Thaw one of the frozen bags of apple slices. In the meantime, open a roll of biscuits (for a 9 inch springform I use 10) , separate each biscuit on the counter and let them breathe for a couple of minutes, then roll each one flat with a rolling pin. If you don't have a rolling pin, no worries, just use a lightly floured wine bottle or a pop bottle. Coat the springform with an anti-stick spray, and lay each rolled out biscuit in the pan, first covering the bottom, then the sides. The biscuits usually stand to be pulled and stretched a bit, so you should have plenty to cover the bottom and sides. When done, brush the inside of the dough with the melted butter. If you have biscuit dough left, you can cut it in strips and make one of those fancy lattice pies, just make sure to brush the top of the lattice with some of the leftover butter.

Pour the thawed apple slices and syrup into the form. The oven should be preheated at 400 degrees and baked approximately 30 minutes. If you make a lattice top, lay a cooking spray coated piece of aluminum foil over it, and remove that in the last 10 minutes, to avoid burning the dough.

Pull out the springform and check to see if the biscuit is done. If yes, hurrah, turn off the oven, put the pie where it can cool before you "spring" that form. If not, go in three minute increments.

This is a thick, bready dough for a great apple pie. Hope you like it!