Monday, July 8, 2019

Asian Cucumber Salad

Asian Cucumber Salad
When I cook, I like to serve a variety of dishes so that each meal will have a variety of contrasting but complimentary flavors, textures and temperatures.

With many meals, that simply means that I put a nice green salad on the table with my entree and some bread. But, a salad made out of lettuce just doesn't seem to "go" with most Asian-Style meals.

Inspired by the actual salads I have enjoyed at Asian restaurants over the years, I created this simple salad. It became a huge hit at our house!

Here's how to make it:

Asian Cucumber Salad
Slice cucumbers lengthwise, then slice each half into semi-circles'
(I use one large English Hothouse Cucumber OR 3 small Salad Cucumbers)
3-4 Tablespoons Seasoned Rice Vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Dark Sesame Oil

Toss & Serve
*If you have them handy, you could sprinkle on a few Sesame Seeds, too 

This dish is best chilled, but usually cucumbers are in the fridge anyway, so that detail takes care of itself.

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Monday, July 1, 2019

The Best Chef's Knives - With the Least Money

The Best Chef's Knives for the Least Money
There is a popular opinion that spending more on a Chef's Knife, will enable you to become a better
cook than you would be with cheap, ordinary knives.

For a long time, I bought into that opinion.

As a young person, one of my first jobs was in the housewares department of a higher-end department store. I became familiar with the better brands, and how amazing they were.

And, in fact, I own some "great knives." Some of them were gifts, and I love them for sentimental reasons. They have a "steel" that you can use to keep the cutting edge in perfect condition. And, of course, you'd never put them in the dishwasher!

But, on a recent adventure, I left my "good knives" behind, and decided I could wing it with "cheapies" for a short period of time - a few months. I  started out with an 88cent model - one of those things that could serve double-duty as either a kitchen knife or a saw. It worked well enough to get me by for the short term, but was no joy to use.

Then, one day, I was shopping at the Dollar Tree, and saw a Santoku 7" Chef's Knife, and decided to splurge and upgrade - after all, it was only $1! What could go wrong?

I brought it home, and was quite pleased with it! It cut nearly as well as my "good knives!" And, it was CHEAP!

But, of course, it wasn't long before it wasn't cutting so well. So, I bought another one for backup - because I could see this wasn't going to be a long-term solution.

Then, I thought about knife sharpeners. I had always been told that you could ruin a good knife by sharpening it with a home sharpener. And if you sharpened a knife too often, or too ambitiously, you'd wear the blade away! (To prove it, we had a family hand-me-down in a drawer that had met with that exact fate - and could nearly double as a toothpick ; )

But then it occurred to me - these are $1. knives. So WHAT if I ruin them with a cheap sharpener?!

So, I ordered one from Amazon. The locally available sharpeners at the national retailers were "too rich for my blood" ; ). This is the one I bought - by "Smith's"

And, I honed my $1. knife.  First with the coarse edge, then with the fine edge.

Guess what? It has turned into - hands down - the most effective knife I've ever owned!

I "over sharpen" it - nearly every time I use it, I run it thru the fine edge - just two or three times.

I can put it in the dishwasher if I want (tho, usually, I DO wash it by hand, just out of habit).

Instead of a knife block (who has that kind of counter space?!), I made my own sheaths out of cereal box cardboard.

This knife is a dream to own, and a pleasure to cook with. And, is embarrassingly cheap ; )

I haven't had to open the "back up" knife! BUT - I did buy an additional one in a smaller size to use where a smaller knife is better.

Who knew? Like my previous experience discovering that the Bread Machine and the High Speed Blender weren't necessary, Fancy Knives just aren't necessary kitchen equipment!

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Monday, June 17, 2019

Vegan Dump Dinners - Claire's Southern Delight

Vegan Dump Dinner, Claire's Southern Delight
This is a perfect meal for those times when you need to walk in the house, and have food right away. Plan this for nights when you're coming home late after a weeknight Vespers, or for a great Lenten luncheon after Sunday Liturgy.

Planning ahead for this simple meal means avoiding the frustration of hurried cooking when everyone is too hungry, and also avoiding the temptation to stop by for a restaurant meal that would probably be less healthy and more spendy.

And, it's great that this is a meal the family really enjoys, and only takes minutes to assemble as a "Dump Dinner."

This delicious dish is named for our dear family friend, Claire, who is a phenomenal cook, and an expert in Christian Hospitality!

Here's the Plan:

Claire's Southern Delight, Dump Dinner
In a Labeled, Gallon Zipper Freezer bag (or other favorite container) pour

3 (15oz) Cans Kidney Beans, (Drained. Light or Dark Red, your preference)
1 (8oz) Can Tomato Sauce
3/4 teaspoon Celery Salt
1 teaspoon Onion Powder
Dash Cayenne Pepper (optional)
1 Tablespoon Dried Parsley
1 teaspoon Fresh Minced Garlic (I use the kind from a jar in the produce section)
1 1/2 Tablespoon Vegetarian Bacon Bits
1/4 Cup Water

Seal Bag, Combine ingredients by squishing the bag with your hands (squeeze gently - don't try to mash the beans!)

Toss in Freezer.

Thaw in fridge 12-24 hours before use.

Pour in Slow Cooker. Cook on Low, Three Hours. Alternately, you can simply heat this on the stovetop for about 20 minutes.

Serve over Rice (I make rice ahead of time, then simply heat at serving time if time is an issue)

Accompaniments (all optional, according to what you have on hand): Tortillas, Green Olives, Shredded Lettuce, Better than Coleslaw, Corn Chips.

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