Larrupin

Uncommonly Good

A Brown Bag Salad

One Brown Bag Salad
When I want something healthy for lunch and end up grabbing a salad from a fast food place I’m always disappointed. The lettuce is mostly spine and rusty on the edges, carrots are pale and dried, and there are usually only 4-5 ingredients.  The tiny cubed croutons are prepackaged and practically melt in my mouth. The dressing is also prepackaged and no matter what flavor I get, too middle-of-the-road for my taste.  And after all that it’s also way more expensive than I could have made at home.
I’m sure everyone would agree a salad is best when made with bright fresh crunchy vegetables with a variety of colors, flavors and textures. Here’s the version I had for lunch today.
 3 leaves of romaine lettuce
8-10 large leaves of spinach
1 inch of zucchini
1 carrot
3-4 red radishes
3-4 button mushrooms
3-4 green onions
1-2 T Craisins
1 T slivered almonds
3/8″ slice feta cheese
6-8 large crunchy homemade croutons
Janz Cranberry Honey Mustard Dressing*
I assembled this last night in a to-go salad bowl I saved from a store-bought salad. 
First a pile of torn romaine and spinach. I used a potato peeler to make paper-thin slices of zucchini, carrot and radishes. I sliced the mushrooms almost as thin. Next came green onions and almonds. Then I put the lid on it and put it in the fridge. 
This morning I added a thick slice of feta cheese and the craisins. I packed it with a separate bag of croutons and my own salad dressing. When I was ready to eat, I crumbled the feta, added croutons and poured on the dressing. 
I tossed it with the fork as I ate. The paper-thin slices of veggies are great for stabbing a and getting lots of variety in every bite. The craisins can soak up moisture and turn back into cranberries if I add them too soon which I why I add them at the last minute. 
*The dressing was made in an almost empty bottle of Cranberry Honey Mustard. I added some red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, a little garlic, and voila!
Larrupin!
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March 15, 2010 Posted by | Brown Bag, Salad | , , | Leave a comment

Janz Hungarian Mushroom Soup

Mushroom soup is one of my favorites, especially since it’s so easy to make from scratch.
Saute a few mushrooms in butter or olive oil and add a splash of white wine or a squeeze of lemon juice for a little tartness. Add chicken broth, or water and chicken bouillon and let it simmer. Thicken with cornstarch if you want, add milk, cream, sour cream or even cream cheese to make it more creamy than brothy if that’s what you like. 
Garnish with fresh grated Parmesan or a slice of provolone, maybe some avocado slices, a dollop of sour cream and a generous sprinkling of fresh ground pepper blend… mmmm. A splatter of sliced almonds would add a tasty crunch. 

A few days ago I had some mushrooms I wanted to use, but I wanted something different. So I did some searching and came across a Hungarian take on mushroom soup which of course I had to tweak.

Janz Hungarian Mushroom Soup

1 T olive oil
1/2 C thinly sliced yellow onion
1T butter
 8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/2 C white wine
1/2 T dried dill weed
1/2 T paprika
1/2 T soy sauce
1 C chicken broth
1 C milk
1 T cornstarch
1 t salt
Ground black pepper to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 C chopped Italian parsley
1/4 C sour cream
Seasoned croutons
3-4 slices of crisp bacon
Feta, crumbled
Green onions, thinly sliced

Saute onions in olive oil until tender, about 5 minutes
Add sliced mushroom, butter, and wine. Saute 5 more minutes
Stir in the dill, paprika, soy sauce and broth. Reduce heat to low, and simmer 15 minutes.
Combine milk and cornstarch in a pint jar with a tight lid and shake well to mix. Pour this into the soup and stir well to blend. Simmer 15 more minutes stirring occasionally.
Finally, stir in the salt, pepper, lemon juice, parsley and sour cream. Mix together and allow to heat through over low heat, about 3-5 minutes. Do not boil.
To serve, place several large seasoned croutons in the bottom of a shallow soup bowl. Ladle a serving of soup over the croutons. Garnish with crumbled feta, crispy bacon and green onions.

Larrupin!


PS: This is a larrupin good brown bag lunch.

Put a meal size portion in a plastic container, the croutons and bacon go in another container and use another small container for the feta and green onions. At lunchtime put the croutons and soup in a microwave-proof bowl (one that won’t get hot when you take it out), and when it’s hot, garnish with the bacon, feta and green onions. 

March 5, 2010 Posted by | Brown Bag, Soup | , , | Leave a comment

Snow Day Minestrone

Thursday, with an ice storm underway and the snow moving in, my daily Chow email came with a recipe for Minestrone.
Minestrone is a hearty Italian peasant soup, made with the vegetables of the season and it sounded perfect for Snow Day. (When the grown-ups have Snow Day it is an official designation and should be capitalized, unlike snow days when the schools close but most of the grown ups still have to work.)

I found there is no “original” recipe for minestrone, but the ingredients were determined by the season and region in which it was made. Minestrone can be a brothy soup with vegetables that still have some crunch to them; or it can be cooked for hours, breaking down all the vegetables into a thick medley of amazing flavors. This recipe leans toward the brothy version.

I skipped the butter in the original recipe and went with just olive oil. I found other recipes that started with diced bacon and then adding the vegetables to to bacon and drippings. I’ll try that next time. This is how my Snow Day Minestrone played out.
Prologue
Early in the day I put 1 cup dried Great Northern Beans (they were the only dried beans I happened to have) in a large saucepan, covered them with water, and brought it to a boil over high heat. Then I got the newspaper and settled down. About 30 minutes later I remembered the beans and ran to the kitchen in time to hear the sizzle of the last of the water evaporating. Fortunately, I caught them before they started to burn, so I refilled the pot and put them back on the stove. This time with low heat. I let them cook for another hour or so and when some were tender and others were still al dente I removed the pot from the heat. You can skip this step if you want to used canned beans.
Act One:  Saute
For the soup, I put my pot on the stove and turned the heat to medium. I tossed in the onions, celery, and red pepper with a splatter of olive oil.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper, tasting as you go. I let them soften and then added the garlic
and stirred it into the mixture for a minute or so. Next came the diced potato and carrot. I scraped the bottom of the pan to include all the good stuff that sticks to the bottom. When everything looked good I poured in the can of tomatoes and the juice and added the bay leaf. I let that cook together a couple of minutes.
Act Two: Simmer
I stirred in the liquid from the cooked beans. I added the green beans and liquid, half the zucchini, the peas and stirred occasionally until zucchini softened, about 10 minutes. Next came the broth, the pasta—I used small shell
macaroni— and half the parsley and let it simmer about 5–8 minutes.  Finally came the cooked beans, the leftover liquid, and the last of the zucchini. And just for fun I threw in a handful of alphabet pasta. The whole pot continued to simmer until the pasta was ready and the last of the zucchini still had a little crunch to it.

Epilogue: Serve

Remove from heat and stir in the remaining parsley, taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with grated Parmesan, freshly ground pepper, and my personal favorite, Tabasco sauce. Garnish with crunchy garlic seasoned croutons.

The Players

1 cup dried Great Northern beans
2 T olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced and diced somewhat chunky
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 small russet potato, medium dice
2 medium celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, peeled, thinly sliced
1 medium bay leaf
1 (14.5-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
15 oz can green beans
1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced
1/2 cup frozen peas
4 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup small shell macaroni and 1/2 C alphabet pasta
1/2 C finely chopped Italian parsley (about 1/2 bunch)
Grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese, for garnish
Garlic Seasoned Homemade Croutons

January 31, 2010 Posted by | Soup | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Homemade Croutons and More

Croutons add a nice crunch to many salads, but I just can’t bring myself to buy a box of croutons at the store. I mean, it’s just toasted bread!
When I first investigated making my own, the recipes told me to cut my bread into cubes and fry it in a skillet of oil. Too much trouble, and too much oil! Over the past few years I’ve come up with my own technique that works for me—and for anyone else who’s enjoyed one of my salads.

I start with French bread, the soft American kind from a grocery store works. Cut what you need into slices about 3/4 inch thick.
Arrange on a foil lined baking sheet. I use my toaster oven.
Coat with extra virgin olive oil—I use a spritzer bottle—and sprinkle with your favorite herbs. The seasoning could be as simple as plain garlic powder. I use my own mix of Janz Seasoning Blend.
Oil and season both sides of the bread before putting them in the oven.

Cooking temperatures vary for toaster ovens because the food is so close to the heat source, but for my current toaster oven, I usually turn the heat to just above 300° for croutons. A lower heat will yield dryer toast, but it takes longer.

When I can smell the croutons I’ll check on them. When the top is hard to touch and starting to turn gold I’ll turn them over so both sides will toast evenly. Leave them as long as it takes for the bread to dry all the way through. Break a piece to determine dryness. If it snaps apart, it’s dry, but if it’s still soft and tears instead of breaks, then it’s not a crouton yet.

If the bread browns faster than it dries through, turn the heat down and leave it in a very low oven, as low as 200° if you have time. Eventually turn the oven off and leave the toast there to cool off slowly.

When the toast is totally cool—probably the next day—store it in a plastic bag. If you bag it before it’s cooled to room temperature, the heat will continue to dissipate and the inside of the bag will sweat which softens up the toast you just spent all that time drying out. So don’t be impatient to bag this up.

When I’m making a salad I’ll take a couple of pieces of this seasoned, dried French toast and break it into bite-size pieces over the top of my salad. If I break it into crouton-sized pieces when I bag it, I found the pieces get smaller and smaller and there are lots of crumbs. Which leads to another use for this seasoned bread. Bread crumbs.

This technique creates some very tasty bread crumbs when you need them. Depending on what you’re using them for, you can break them into small chunky pieces, pound them into crumbs, or put them in a food processor to make some really fine bread crumbs. Store any leftovers in the freezer for future use. I used these bread crumbs, along with my traditional cornbread in my turkey dressing last year, and it was a big hit! My mom even wanted the recipe—and she’s the one who taught me how to make dressing!

Once you turn the toast over, you can top it with a variety of ingredients for a snack or appetizer. It makes a really tasty cheese bread, just top with your favorite cheese and turn the oven to broil until the cheese melts.
This is also how I made the bruschetta I mentioned a few days ago. It’s also tasty to break it into somewhat larger chunks and dip into a marinara sauce for a different kind of snack.

I haven’t priced store-bought croutons recently, but I get a lot more bang for my buck buying a loaf of French bread and making my own crouton toast than I would ever get out of a box.

May 28, 2008 Posted by | Salad, Soup | , , , , , | Leave a comment

NHS Band Teacher Appreciation Salad

Janz Salad Basics

  • Green Leafy Stuff
  • Romaine
  • Green Leaf Lettuce
  • Cilantro
  • Italian Parsley
  • Bright Stuff
    • Red Pepper
    • Purple Onion
    • Red Cabbage
    • Strawberries
  • Other Stuff
    • Mushrooms
    • Feta Cheese
    • Hard Cheese Mix (Parmesan, Romano, Asiago)
  • Garnishes
    • Almonds
    • Sunflower Seeds
    • Homemade Croutons

    To Assemble:

    1. Tear all green leafy stuff (lettuce, cilantro, parsley) put in a salad bowl.
    2. Slice cabbage, dice pepper, slice mushrooms and strawberries and crumbled Feta cheese into the salad.
    3. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds & slivered almonds.
    4. Break thick dry toasted seasoned French bread into bite-size croutons.
    5. Drizzle with with vinaigrette and toss.

    Janz Sweet Balsamic Vinaigrette

    1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    2. Balsamic Vinegar
    3. Honey Mustard
    4. Honey
    5. Janz Seasoning Blend
    6. Pepper
    7. Tabasco

    This is one variation of Janz Sweet Balsamic Vinaigrette. I use the small jar in the photo to mix my dressings.

    • Start with about an inch of extra virgin olive oil
    • An inch of balsamic vinegar
    • A generous squeeze of honey mustard. Maybe a couple of teaspoons…
    • More honey, probably a tablespoon or so.
    • Add your favorite herbs, basil, oregano, garlic… ground herbs mix best
    • A splash of Tabasco

    Put the lid on tight and shake well. I always hold it inside the sink just in case I have a mismatched lid and it leaks. I’d rather not sling oil all over my clothes, it never happens, unless I’m dressed for work and don’t have time to change!

    As to “your favorite herbs…” I’ve come up with my own blend of favorites that I call Janz Seasoning Blend. This is something I mix up every few months and use it in almost everything. It started out as equal parts of ground basil, oregano and garlic powder and now the ingredient list is as more or less follows: basil oregano, thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, onion powder, garlic powder, and marjoram. I usually use dried herbs and when I get it mixed and it smells right, I grind it into a very fine powder. I have a clean coffee grinder I use just for grinding herbs.

    The fine powder seems to readily dissolve into a salad dressing. I also use it as seasoning for croutons. Before I came up with this seasoning concoction, I flavored homemade vinaigrette with basil, oregano, thyme… whatever herbs seemed to be right at the time. Let your taste buds be your guide if you don’t have a favorite herb blend. Any leftover dressing can be refrigerated for your next salad.

    May 20, 2008 Posted by | Salad | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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