Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday's Bread Bowl: Memorial Day

A day of reflection
The Mixed Stew crew hopes that everyone is enjoying their Memorial Day and remembering those who sacrificed in the service of the country. Like many of you, we’ve also been keeping track of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Click here to learn how you can help from the National Wildlife Federation.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday's Last Spoonful: Garden Variety

Bigger and greener everyday
We’re happy to report that our tomato plants have tripled in size. The runner bean plants already have flower blooms. Meanwhile, the hot Thai pepper plants are growing in slow-motion. We’re very surprised at how the bok choy seems to be growing the fastest with huge leaves. Take a look at the progress in these photos. We hope you’ve been inspired to plant your own vegetable garden.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Thursday's Side Dish: Cream of Asparagus Soup

Rich, green, and satisfying

Need a yummy and nutritious soup in a jiffy? The Mixed Stew found a prepared and precooked cream of asparagus soup at Balducci’s Food Lover’s Market in Bethesda, Md. Shoppers can buy two servings (14 0z) for $5.49. The rich and satisfying ingredients include heavy cream, butter, and milk. Balducci’s cooks also add sweet onions to sweeten every spoonful. This soup is a convenient and easy microwaveable lunch at the office. We suggests adding chopped ham or shredded cheese to a warmed serving to make this yummy soup even more filling.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wednesday’s Helping: Asparagus

A vegetable that’s all spears

The Mixed Stew crew admits that fresh asparagus has a tendency to wow us. If this vegetable is cooked right, it has a crisp yet tender bite with a leafy green flavor akin to peas. This plant, Asparagus officinalis, is a member of the lily family and is indigenous to the Mediterranean region.

Historical evidence suggests that asparagus has been cultivated for food since the time of Ancient Greece. It has always been prized for its edible spears; although, it fell out of popularity during the Middle Ages. Asparagus regained popularity and gradually spread throughout most of the world beginning in mid 1700s. King Louis XIV of France enjoyed them at court and reintroduced it to French farmers.

Today, there are 20 edible varieties of asparagus that may be grown for food around the world. The vegetable comes in three colors: purple, green, and white. Consumers buy the spears of the plant, which shoot up from a part of the plant that’s similar to a crown. Asparagus can be expensive since plants take three years to mature before they start to produce spears. The prime season for asparagus runs from April through May. Some commercial growers will force asparagus to grow from February through June. Select fresh asparagus with firm and thin stems. The best ones have deep green or purplish closed tips. Cooks can blanch, boil, grill, panfry, and stir-fry fresh asparagus. Asparagus is a good source of folate, which helps promote healthy cell growth and function.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tuesday's Cupful: Shaved Steak

Where’s the beef ?
This type of thinly sliced beef is popular for making Philly steak sandwiches. Sandwich makers pile on several strips of this food item to make their heavy sandwiches. Consumers may fine boxes of frozen-shaved steak in their grocer’s freezer. Some pricier brands specify shaved beef ribeye. You can also ask the butcher to thinly slice a chosen cut of steak that you’ve selected from the chilled meat section in your supermarket. If you’re attempting to make shaved steak at home, we suggest partially freezing the piece of raw beef before cutting it into thin strips with a very sharp knife. Can you think of any other dishes that require shaved steak?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday’s Bread Bowl: Asparagus wrapped in Beef

Veggie sticks covered up in meat

In honor of national asparagus month (May), The Mixed Stew offers a tasty spring recipe featuring the healthy veggie. Serve these beef-wrapped asparagus spears as a hearty appetizer or a charming main course. Enjoy the crisp flavor of al dente asparagus and grilled shaved steak. They’re also easy to prepare and cook. Here is our recipe:

What you will need:

1 medium-sized bowl
1 frying pan
Non-stick cooking spray
1 pair of metal thongs
1 lb uncooked beef steak, shaved into thin strips (More commonly used in Philly Steak Sandwiches)
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup pepper
12 asparagus spears, blanched and drained

Cooking and Directions:

Combine olive oil, garlic powder, salt, soy sauce, and pepper in medium-sized bowl. Add beef. Marinade beef in olive-oil mixture for at least 15 minutes. Roll each asparagus spear in a strip of shaved steak. Set aside. Heat frying pan on medium-high heat for a few minutes. Spray hot pan with non-stick cooking spray. Next, gently place beef-wrapped asparagus spears in greased pan for grilling. Being careful not to unwrap the spears, turn wrapped asparagus with metal thongs until meat is cooked on every side. Serve immediately.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday’s Last Spoonful: Grated Parmesan

A canned variety from back in the day
Kraft introduced grated parmesan in 1945. The Mixed Stew crew, like others, grew up buying the old canisters that were green and red. The product came in 1 oz and 3 oz sizes and consumers couldn’t see the cheesy contents. Consequently, we’ve spent the last several years buying chilled parmesan cheese that’s sold in the dairy case because we’re convinced that it’s a better product because of the temperature controlled setting. Does the canned product get a bad rap since it’s sold on regular store shelves? Is it real parmesan cheese? The front label says, 100% grated parmesan cheese but the product also contains cellulose powder and potassium sorbate. The cellulose powder helps prevent caking and the potassium sorbate helps protect flavor. So depending on your circumstances and needs, use what you must. Sometimes, the nostalgia of a childhood standby adds to the food experience.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thursday's Side Dish: Mustard/ Caper Vinaigrette

A salad dressing that gets the tang(y) on

This salad dressing has a lot of flavors and it’s very easy to prepare. The saltiness of capers compliments the mustard’s tangy tastes. We’ve also added sesame oil for a refreshing kick. Here is our recipe:

What you will need:

1 medium-sized bowl
1 spoon
¼ cup sesame oil
¼ cup virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or regular cider vinegar)
1 tablespoon capers, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons yellow mustard (not Dijon)
Pepper to taste


Combine all ingredients in bowl. Mix well. Chill before serving.

*Helpful Hint: Give this vinaigrette a spicier kick by adding ½ teaspoon dried cayenne pepper flakes.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wednesday's Helping: Capers

Little buds with flavor

Interested in capers? These small immature buds of a small bush, that is native to the Mediterranean, can add lots of tangy zing to many savory dishes. It’s known scientifically as Capparis spinosa. The word “caper” is a common name for the bush and the bottled product sold in stores.

This plant produces edible buds and fruit that are harvested, dried, and then pickled in a salt/vinegar solution. The curing process brings out the somewhat citrusy and tangy flavors of this valued food item. The best capers are olive green and about the size of a pea when harvested. Capers are distinguished and sold by their size. The smallest and most prized capers, which are called nonpareille, are no larger than 7 millimeters. Most nonpareille capers come from the southern region of France.

Chefs may use this ingredient in many Italian salads, pasta sauces, and pizzas. Look for bottles of capers right next to pickled olives in many major supermarkets. We suggest adding capers to lox and cream cheese on a toasted bagel or a slice of toasted brioche. Health studies have revealed that capers contain antioxidants that can help fight the occurrence of cancer.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesday's Cupful: Marjoram

Makin' something with marjoram

Marjoram has an aromatic fragrance with sweet mint and citrus flavors. The plant is indigenous to the Middle East -- where it’s commonly used in many regional dishes. It’s especially used to season meats. This herb still gets confused with oregano, which historically was known as “wild marjoram.” Marjoram has a milder sweet flavor and tastes more earthy or woodsy compared to oregano. This plant, with pungent green leaves, is a member of the mint family. It’s known scientifically as Origanum marjorana. The Ancient Egyptians and Ancient Romans used this herb for spicing up dishes and associated marjoram with happiness. Look for dried marjoram in the spice aisle of any major grocery store. Marjoram has antioxidants and antimicrobial effects. It can prevent the growth of bacteria in some foods.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday's Bread Bowl: Spaghetti Pizzaiola

Pasta dish with a capered twist

This spaghetti dish really needs to be served in bowls instead of plates. The Mixed Stew Crew bets that you’ll eat more than just one serving of our Spaghetti Pizzaiola. The addition of marjoram and capers adds unique and yummy flavors to the meat sauce. Here is our recipe:

What you will need:

1 large pot with lid
1 wooden spoon
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
2 garlic gloves, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
½ cup red wine
1 (28 oz) can tomatoes, crushed
1 (14.5 oz) can tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon capers, chopped
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon fresh basil, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 lb thin spaghetti multigrain or whole wheat pasta, cooked until al dente

Cooking and Directions:

Heat oil in pot on medium heat. Add garlic and onion. Stir and cook until onion turns translucent. Add ground beef and ground pork. Let meat brown while breaking up with spoon. After meat has browned, drain excess liquid. Add cans of crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, capers, wine, marjoram, basil, salt and pepper. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 20 minutes or until sauce reduces by at least a third. Add parsley to pot and stir well. The sauce is now ready. Serve meat sauce over al dente pasta. Or you might want to add noodles to pot of meat and mix well. Serve immediately with grated parmesan cheese and garlic bread.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday's Last Spoonful: Garden Variety

Going for green (and red) right outside our doorstep

We’ve planted seeds and watched them sprout. Now, we’re waiting for the several tomato, pepper, and cucumber plants to continue to grow and bear fruit. We’ve also planted some bok choy for a change. It takes a lot of patience to be a successful vegetable gardener. There’s one Japanese eggplant we’re fond of watching. Our favorites have to be the runner bean bushes that will produce veggies to go in several stir-frys. Take a look and maybe guess what plant is in each photo. Periodically, we'll share the progress of our plants this growing season. Have you tried growing your own vegetables?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thursday's Side Dish; Savory Blueberry Sauce

An elegant berry sauce that rivals cranberry sauce

This savory blueberry sauce reminds the Mixed Stew Crew of Thanksgiving dinner. We decided to try making and serving this blueberry sauce to change things up. Blueberries have a lot of tart flavor, which combines with the other ingredients in a tasty sauce that enhances the tastes of roasted meat, poultry and ham. Leave the canned cranberry sauces on the shelf and try this yummy sauce made with blueberries.

What you will need:

1 wooden spoon
1 medium-sized sauce pan
2 tablespoons butter
1 ½ cups blueberry preserves
½ yellow onion, chopped
1 teaspoon thyme, minced
½ teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
½ cup red wine
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon flour
Pinch of salt

Cooking and Directions:

Heat sauce pan on medium heat. Add butter and onion. Saute onion until translucent. Add flour, salt, and herbs. Stir until mixture bubbles and thickens. Gradually add wine, water, and blueberries while constantly stirring with wooden spoon. Cook until mixture thickens and boils. Let sauce simmer for 2 minutes.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wednesday’s Helping: Blueberries

Juicy fruit bites with nutritional value

Their sweet and tart flavors hide the fact that blueberries pack a lot of nutritional benefits. The berries can be as small as a pea and no larger than a marble. These berries, which grow in clusters, are in season from May through October of each year throughout North America, where they are native to mountain regions and forests. This shrub plant belongs to the Ericaceae family and is related to the cranberry. There are more than 30 known species.

Americans were slow to embrace them because of their tart flavor. The use of sweeteners led to greater consumption of blueberries in the mid 1800s. The commercial production of blueberries began in 1916 with help from the USDA. Look for berries that have a deep blue to black purple color. Blueberries also have a white/ gray sheen to their thick skin with a semi-transparent inside flesh. At the supermarket, select fresh blueberries that are firm with a uniform color. Avoid berries with excess moisture. Consumers can also find canned blueberries and frozen blueberries, which are available year-round.

Blueberries are a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin E, manganese. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron and make collagen for building strong cartilage, strong bones, and blood vessels. Also, Vitamin E promotes building strong cells. Finally, the manganese in blueberries helps the body break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. The body creates enzymes with manganese.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tuesday's Cupful: Baking Powder

An ingredient that many cakes and breads can’t do without

Have you noticed that baking powder is required in so many pastry recipes? A good baking powder usually contains a base (baking soda), acid (cream of tartar), and filler (corn starch). These three distinct chemical agents combine in baking powder to make a strong leavening and rising agent in cakes or quick bread recipes. Adding water forces the base powder and acid powder into solution, which causes a chemical reaction that forms carbon dioxide bubbles. Baking powder helps make some pastries light, soft, and airy. Also, there’s no waiting for the dough to rise and leaven when dealing with baking powder in many recipes. Baking powder forms bubbles instantly; in contrast, yeast may take hours to form bubbles. Cooks can make muffins and biscuits in 15 minutes because baking powder works fast. Can you think of another pastry that requires baking powder?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday’s Bread Bowl: Blueberry Waffles

Flip over these blue speckled treats

These yummy blueberry waffles are worth all the effort and mess in mixing batter and working with a waffle iron. Blueberry waffles have more flavor and nutritional content when compared to regular waffles. Hide a serving of fruit in every waffle that you serve the kids with this recipe:

What you will need:

Waffle iron
1 Wooden spoon
1 large bowl
1 cup blueberries, chopped
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 whole eggs
1 ½ cups milk
5 tablespoons melted shortening
4 tablespoons melted butter

Cooking and Directions:

Combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in bowl. Add two eggs, milk, melted shortening, and melted butter. Mix well. Add chopped blueberries. Again, mix well. Cook in a waffle iron until crisp. Follow the instructions for your waffle iron. Serve blueberry waffles with butter, powdered sugar, pancake syrup, or honey.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday’s Last Spoonful: Stuffed Mushrooms

An appetizing idea that is tops

They make the perfect finger food and snack. The Mixed Stew likes stuffing mushrooms with chopped zucchini and chopped bell pepper. The earthy flavor and chewy texture of baked mushrooms are tasty palettes for a rich filling that also includes diced parsley, chorizo, and a top crust of breadcrumbs and grated parmesan cheese. If you need to spice it up even more, we suggest using jalapeno peppers instead of bell peppers. Here is our recipe:

What you will need:
1 medium-sized bowl
1 wooden spoon
½ cup to 1 cup bell pepper (or jalapeno pepper), chopped small
2 cups zucchini, chopped small
½ cup chorizo, chopped small
4 tablespoons breadcrumbs
¼ cup parsley, minced
1 tsp garlic powder
grated parmesan to sprinkle on top
12 mushroom caps
1 baking pan
1 small saute pan
Non-stick cooking spray
Pinch of salt

Cooking and Directions:

Preheat oven at 425 degrees. In small pan, warm up a tablespoon of olive oil on medium high heat and when hot, quickly saute peppers, chorizo, and zucchini until the peppers soften to al dente. Remove pan from heat. Combine chopped peppers, zucchini, parsley, breadcrumbs, garlic powder, and salt in bowl. Mix well. Spray baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Carefully fill mushroom caps with mixture. Arrange stuffed caps on greased baking pan. Top mushroom caps with a dusting of parmesan cheese. Place everything in preheated oven for 8-12 minutes. Remove mushrooms from oven and let them rest for a few minutes before serving.
Helpful Hint: You may substitute cooked shrimp or artificial crab for chorizo.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Thursday’s Side Dish: Cream of Mushroom Gravy

A simple shortcut for a mealtime accessory

Nothing makes a dinner of baked chicken or grilled pork chops more satisfying (or sleep-inducing) than adding gravy to the meal — especially when feeding a whole family. A can of cream of mushroom soup goes a long way with baking pan drippings or fry-pan drippings after cooking poultry or meat. The creamy consistency of this canned soup along with the yummy mushroom flavors work well together. Here’s an easy mushroom gravy recipe:

What you will need:

1 wooden spoon
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 medium sized saucepan
2-3 tablespoons fat drippings
1 garlic clove, minced
1 (10.5 oz) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
Up to an equal (10.5 oz) amount of water or milk (it all depends on how thick you like your gravy)
Pinch of salt and pepper

Cooking and Directions:

Heat up drippings over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add yellow onion and minced garlic clove. Let the onion and garlic sautee until onion turns translucent. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir well. Next, add cream of mushroom soup and then slowly mix in desired amount of water or milk. Stir well. Let gravy simmer for a few minutes before removing from heat. Serve hot or warm.

Helpful Hint: Add sliced fresh mushrooms to this recipe for chunkier gravy. Just throw slices in after onion and garlic.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wednesday's Helping: Mushrooms

Fungi that we adore

They’re often treated like an ordinary vegetable in cooking recipes. People like their have a rich earthy flavor and firm texture. Edible mushrooms are actually the stems and caps of fungi. They can grow above or below ground since they really don’t require light to grow and thrive. Mushrooms are living organisms that have no roots, leaves, flowers or seeds. Ancient Egyptians thought they were a food item reserved for royalty. It was the French that began collecting mushrooms from caves in the 1800s. They’re Their popularity reached the United States in the late 19th century. Today’s consumers can find white button mushrooms and brown crimini mushrooms at most major supermarkets. These most popular mushrooms are available year-around through many commercial growers. Generally, mushrooms are a good source of healthy nutrients, such as iron, copper, and manganese. Also, vegetarians can look to mushrooms as a great source of protein.

Helpful Hint: This site has a short primer on different types of edible fungi.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tuesday's Cupful: Oyster-Flavored Sauce

Story behind the Chinese food staple

You might have tried Chinese entrees made with oyster-flavored sauce at your local Chinese carryout. Authentic Asian oyster-flavored sauce is a byproduct of boiling oysters. Lee Kum Kee was the first company to mass produce this tasty sauce and sell it back in 1888. Makers of this condiment add sugar, salt, and cornstarch. These sauces tend to be rich, thick, and dark brown in color. There really is a distinct savory taste that’s nowhere near fishy in flavor. Cooks use oyster-flavored sauce in different savory dishes that may contain poultry, seafood, and meat. Look for bottled oyster-flavored sauce in the International Foods Aisle of many supermarkets. Expect to find this ingredient in Cantonese, Thai, and Filipino recipes. Note that many brands contain MSG. Meanwhile, some cheaper oyster-flavored sauces substitute oyster extract (made mostly with mushrooms) for real oyster broth in their sauce recipes.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Monday's Bread Bowl: Shrimp W/ Mushrooms in Oyster Sauce

Prawns are sexy in this Asian classic
Need a Chinese food fix? You don't have to order out. Shrimp with mushrooms in oyster sauce is deceptively easy to prepare compared to other Chinese entrees, such as sweet and sour dishes. Dark colored oyster sauce enhances the seafood flavors of shrimp and earthy tastes of cooked mushrooms. Preparing this dish created a kitchen filled with the aromas of oysters and a shrimp-stir fry. The Mixed Stew crew definitely had second servings of this Asian staple. Here is our recipe:

What you will need:

1 large fry pan
1 wooden spoon
3 tablespoons cooking oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 medium-size yellow onion, sliced
12 large or 14 medium-size prawns, shelled and veined
1/3 cup oyster sauce
6 button mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup, green onion, sliced
½ cup water with 1 teaspoon cornstarch diluted
Pinch of salt and pepper
Cooking and Directions:
Heat pan on medium-high heat. Add oil and throw in yellow onion and garlic. Let onion and garlic sautee until onion turns translucent. Add salt, pepper, and prawns to pan. The shrimps should grill nicely in seasoned oil. They should also gain a pinkish color from cooking. Stir occasionally to avoid burning garlic or overcooking shrimp. Let shrimp cook for 6-8 minutes. Add oyster sauce and stir well. Next, add sliced mushrooms. Let mushrooms cook for another 3 minutes. Finally, add cornstarch liquid and green onions. Continue to stir well. The ingredients should end up coated in an oyster flavored sauce. Serve immediately.