Sunday, January 18, 2009

It is inevitable that if you are a person who knows how and likes to cook or knit or craft or woodwork or whatever, at some point you will become that annoying person who looks at something nice in a store and say, "eh, I can make that better myself." Usually you will be right. There are few things in this world that are for sale that could not be personally made cheaper or of higher quality in your home. The trick, however, is knowing which things are worth your time, because unfortunately, everything you make yourself, be it flaky tender pie crust or a handknit computer bag, takes way longer than buying the same product of inferior quality in the store. For example, I can make both homemade rolls and homemade pasta, but in the complicated quality versus precious time formula (similar in format to the quadratic equation, except with more swear words and heart shaped doodles) buttermilk rolls are totally worth it and gluey homemade fettuccine just isn't that great compared to the fancy pasta I can buy at Pike Place Market.

Recently, I was inspired to make homemade instant oatmeal. Ridiculous, right? Hear me out. For most of last year, I would hurriedly make homemade oatmeal on the stove every morning before work. It can be done in about ten minutes, is a truly delicious and filling breakfast, travels to work and reheats in a tupperware beautifully, and is entirely worth the time investment. Oatmeal is wonderfully adaptable to whatever add ons you happen to have already in your kitchen: almost any fruit- fresh, dried or jammed - nuts and seeds, it all works. Nevertheless, despite one's best intentions, ten minutes before 7 am is still ten minutes, and it can be hard to work up the motivation or speed up the morning grooming process enough to make time for breakfast preparation. The obvious and widely used solution to this problem is instant oatmeal which is available relatively cheaply at virtually every grocery location. And I'm not here to knock store bought instant oatmeal, but it just has never really blown me away or become a fixture in my morning routine. Besides which, it's generally full of sugar and preservatives, which I won't pretend that I don't consume with vigor, but when possible, I like to save those ingredients for my daily intake of food pyramid items cupcakes and goldfish "fishy" crackers. I came across some instructions for homemade instant oatmeal not too long ago and decided to jump on that potentially time and calorie saving train.

To start, you're going to need:

7 cups oatmeal
1 box powdered nonfat milk

Also necessary:

For this batch I used what I had in my pantry - dried cranberries, sunflower seeds and toasted slivered almonds. Clearly, most anything would do to the trick here. Like apple cinnamon oatmeal? Use dried apple bits and cinnamon. Like peaches and cream? Dried peaches. This isn't rocket science, yo. One blogger I read even said that he mixed maple syrup into his and it worked well, but I can't quite get behind that.

The only fancy tool you'll need for this is a food processor. I unfortunately, do not own one of these. For this project I made the mistake of borrowing my grandmother's food processor and received daily heckling phone calls asking for it back immediately thereafter. At one point she even asked me if I broke it and the was the reason I hadn't returned it to her yet. Why? Who really knows? My grandma is crazy. A few summers ago she accused me of stealing a pink towel and red plastic bowl from her apartment while she was in Greece. Then again, at this very moment, she is very kindly hemming several pairs of dress pants for me because I feel to busy/lazy to deal with it myself. So I'll give her a break, I guess. Temporarily.

Take two cups of the oatmeal and pulverize it in the food processor until you have oatmeal powder. Dump it back with the non-pulverized oatmeal and add the dry milk. If inclined, you can think deep thoughts about the oatmeal to powdered milk ratio, but since I'm not really interested in having half empty boxes of powdered milk hanging around, I find that a whole box (you know, the one about the size of a hardcover novel) is the right amount for 6 to 7 cups of dry oatmeal. If you make your oatmeal with salt, add a few teaspoons at this point. Add the aforementioned "fixins." Bam. You have enough instant oatmeal to make several dozen breakfast bowls. I put the entire batch in a gallon ziplock bag and keep it in my bottom desk drawer, spooning it out, half a cup at a time into my "work bowl." Look at me, saving the environment too. If you're more of a single serving type person, you can premeasure your servings into ziplock sandwich bags while you contemplate your resource consumption and wasting all that plastic. Whoa. Sufficiently high and mighty for you? Yeah, me too.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New Years Resolutions are boring. Fact. That doesn't mean that they aren't useful or meaningful, granted, but there is nothing interesting in platitudes about healthy eating or renewed devotion to exercise or diligent housework. And by boring I don't mean that I'm just embarrassed to admit that a week of houseguests back to back with an exhausting headcold and many extra hours at work have left my apartment in a state unfit for company, just that there is nothing inherently electrifying in a discussion thereof.

That being said, I do hope to do all those pedestrian and grownup things in 2009: eat out less, cook in even more, put my laundry away after I do it and not just pick clean underwear out of a pile on my floor which badly needs a vacuum, put more vegetables and less fried food into my body, attempt to have a much lower percentage of my bloodstream be comprised of diet coke and beer, read more novels and watch fewer bret michaels based reality tv shows, blah blah blah, etc.

Killing several birds with one green leafy stone, I made amazing roasted brussels sprouts this week. This recipe is adapted from a crappy recipe I found on The Kitchn. My mom and I decided to serve brussels sprouts on Christmas Eve, and I foolishly prepared this recipe for the meal without giving it a test run first. Bad call. Barely blanched brussels sprouts sitting in a cold soup of lemon juice and olive oil are just not very good. The flavor combinations were a good idea, but the execution as a cold salad doesn't come close to working. We repurposed the leftovers the next day by roasting the whole mess in the oven with plenty of butter and had a much better dish at Christmas dinner. Since then, I've prepared this sprout recipe as a hot dish two more times to great happiness and success.

Lemon Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Preheat your oven to 350. Wash, trim and halve a pound or two of brussels sprouts straight into your dutch oven. Add a shallot or onion thinly sliced and several cloves of garlic chopped as finely as you have the patience for (I barely chop mine in half; peeling and chopping garlic is my very least favorite kitchen task). Zest a lemon and squeeze the juice over the mixture and salt and pepper generously. Add a glug or two of olive oil or softened butter and stir everything to coat. I also added some shredded zuchinni because I had it lying around. I like preparing roasted vegetables because they are especially forgiving of experimental vegetable combinations.

Cover the vegetables and place in the oven for 30 minutes. At that point stir and put back in the over for another 20 minutes or so. This dish keeps well and can be served alongside most things. I ate it plain the night I made it, for lunch a few days later with leftover sausage and potatoes, mixed into black bean soup the day after that, and on Friday night I threw whatever was left of it into the crock pot with a pot roast. Delicious and magical.