Spices Gone Wild: Nutmeg's Surprising Secondary Use

If you are still thinking about making this week's Rumbledethumps recipe, but you were looking around for a lower-cost spice to replace ground mace, I've found an extremely compelling reason for you to consider nutmeg as a substitute.

You see, in addition to deliciously spicing up your home-cooked recipes, nutmeg has an unexpected secondary use--as a hallucinogen. From Wikipedia:

In amounts of 10-40 g (~2-8 teaspoons) nutmeg is a mild to medium hallucinogen, producing visual distortions and a distinct euphoria. According to some, the effects have a striking similarity to cannabis intoxication, except with a longer duration, and more side effects.

Wow. So using the midpoint from the figures above, my 2-ounce jar of nutmeg should provide me with 2-3 trips! All for the reasonable price of just $4.99! Suddenly, spices don't seem like such a ripoff anymore. And better still:

A user will not experience a peak until approximately six hours after ingestion, and effects can linger for up to three days afterwards.

Time to fire up a few Google searches! It's amazing what you can learn on the Internets. However, as always, there's a catch:

...use of nutmeg as a recreational drug is unpopular due to its unpleasant taste and its side effects, including dizziness, flushes, dry mouth, accelerated heartbeat, temporary constipation, difficulty in urination, nausea, and panic.

Uh, does anyone have an idea of what they might mean by "temporary" constipation? And it gets worse:

A risk in any large-quantity ingestion of nutmeg is the onset of 'nutmeg poisoning', an acute psychiatric disorder marked by thought disorder, a sense of impending doom/death, and agitation. Large doses of 60 g (~12 teaspoons) or more are dangerous, potentially inducing convulsions, palpitations, nausea, eventual dehydration, and generalized body pain.

Way to take the fun out of everything, Wikipedia!
Note: Casual Kitchen readers hereby indemnify and hold harmless the writer of this blog from any and all claims, damage, lawsuits, judgments, including attorneys' fees and costs, arising out of: bad spice trips, bad recipes, bad writing, and any other dumb idea acted on by said readers as a result of reading this blog.

Related Posts:
Why You Should Always Read Ingredient Labels
Fake Maple Syrup
The Shandy
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How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by linking to me, subscribing to my RSS feed, or submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon.


Rumbledethumps is an unusual recipe, perhaps one of the most unusual we've made over the past year. I think the best way to describe it is to call it a sort of a shepherd's pie for part-time vegetarians.

But isn't it true that the unusual recipes in your repertoire are often the family favorites? You'll find this recipe to be relatively inexpensive, easy to make and absolutely delicious. Oh, and one batch will last you several meals. In short, this is a textbook Casual Kitchen dish.

Laura and I did have a little bit of a disagreement on how closely we should follow the recipe instructions when it came time to eat:

Dan: Hmm. According to the recipe, everyone is supposed to shout 'Death to the Red Hag!' before the first bite. It says that this drives away the specter of starvation.
Laura: Um, let's not and say we did, okay?
Dan: But it says here that we might offend the agricultural spirits!
Laura: Okay, how about you shout it? I'll watch you.
(adapted from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant)

5 large potatoes (2-2 1/2 pounds)
2 1/2 cups chopped cabbage
1 1/2 cups green beans, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 1/2 cups broccoli, coarsely chopped
2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped

4 Tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon mace (see below)
salt and black pepper to taste
3/4 cup milk

1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese

1) Peel the potatoes, chop them into chunks and boil them in water for 15-17 minutes until tender.
2) While the potatoes are boiling, steam the carrots, green beans and cabbage for 5-7 minutes, then add the broccoli and steam for another 5-7 minutes until the vegetables are tender but not mushy.
3) Melt 2 Tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan on low heat. Add the mace. When the vegetables are done, drain them and then drizzle the butter/mace mixture on top of the vegetables.
4) Drain the potatoes and mash them with the milk and 2 more Tablespoons of the butter (a hand-held electric mixer works well for this task). Add salt and black pepper to taste.
5) Combine the vegetables with the mashed potatoes, then spread the entire mixture into a 9x13 inch lasagna pan. Sprinkle the grated cheese on top and broil for 3-5 minutes, or until the cheese is completely melted, bubbling and just beginning to brown.
Serves 6-8 (or 10+ as a side dish).
A few recipe notes: 1) A word on potential recipe modifications: This is an enormously flexible recipe, and the most obvious place to start modifying is with the vegetables, since practically any vegetable can be used in this dish. You can also add meat into the mix--pieces of sausage, cooked chicken or beef. This doesn't have to be a vegetarian dish.

2) What the heck is "mace"? Mace is a spice made from the seedcoat surrounding nutmeg seeds.We were very pleasantly surprised by the unique and unusual flavor the mace added to this dish--I don't really even know how to describe the subtle taste of it. It tastes and smells a bit like nutmeg, and in a pinch you probably could substitute ground nutmeg for mace in this recipe.

One drawback however, was the cost of the mace: a wallet-melting $7.00 for a pathetically small 1.5 ounce jar. My mistake was in leaving the shopping to the last minute and not having a chance to apply some of Casual Kitchen's well-known tips to save money on spices. The checkout girl should have at least kissed me.

Still, if you are okay with the extra expense, use genuine mace. It really helped this dish rise to the extraordinary.

3) You can reheat this dish the next day simply by putting the entire 9x13 pan back in the oven for 30-40 minutes at 275F. It handles a lot like lasagna in this way. And if you're in a rush, just measure out each serving-size portion and microwave it for 40-60 seconds.

4) While making this recipe, I absolutely could not get the song Tubthumping out of my head. Did anyone else have this problem?

Related Posts:
How to Tell if a Recipe is Worth Cooking With Five Easy Questions
Why I'm a Part-Time Vegetarian
A Simple Way to Beat Rising Food Prices

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by linking to me, subscribing to my RSS feed, or submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon.

Six Cookbooks That Should Be the Foundation of Your Cookbook Collection

Are you looking for a list of reasonably priced cookbooks that can be the foundation of your cookbook collection?

I'm often asked to recommend cookbook titles, and today's post is a brief list of the six cookbooks I would recommend the most highly out of the dozens of cookbooks I've bought, borrowed and used over the past 20 years. Today's six recommendations are our "foundation cookbooks" here at Casual Kitchen.

It's all too easy to have many of the cookbooks you buy just sit on your shelf, wasting space and money. That's why it's so critical to get trustworthy recommendations, so you can be certain that the cookbooks you buy will be a part of your critical few. I hope you enjoy these cookbooks as much as we do.

Readers, what are the foundation cookbooks in your kitchen?
Six Foundation Cookbooks:
1) Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant

This is our favorite cookbook here at Casual Kitchen, and in my humble opinion, it's one of the best cookbooks in existence. It contains some 500 recipes across 18 different ethnic cuisines, and after more than ten years of cooking from it we've still barely scratched the surface of what this book has to offer.

2) The Vegetarian Epicure

A classic work of the vegetarian cookbook canon. Even if you're just part-time vegetarians like we are, or if you're just looking for ways to cook great recipes at reasonable expense, this is an exceptional cookbook that I recommend highly. It's filled with straightforward and delicious recipes of all types, and it includes highly informative chapters on vegetarianism, as well as a discussion of issues surrounding processed foods and food additives (given that the book was written in 1972, this book was far ahead of its time in addressing these subjects). Still more amazing is the fact that author Anna Thomas was only 24 years old when she wrote this treasure of a cookbook.

3) Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook

Don't expect to see exotic ethnic cuisine in this warhorse cookbook (although the book tries valiantly on occasion), but do expect to find all of the information you'll ever need to know to cook every meat, vegetable, casserole, bread and cake under the sun. In short, for under $20, it's all you'll ever really need to master hearty American cuisine.

Also, for supporters of breast cancer awareness, there is a limited edition "Pink Plaid" version of Better Homes, which contains the full Better Homes cookbook with bonus feature recipes from a variety of female celebrity cookbook authors.

4) Vegetarian Soup Cuisine: 125 Soups and Stews from Around the World

Jay Solomon's cookbook is unfortunately becoming more and more difficult to find on bookstore shelves, but you can still get plenty of copies at Amazon. This wonderful, modest little cookbook opened an entire new world to me of simple one-pot soups and stews, most of which are easy to make and laughably cheap. If you're looking to make an investment in reducing both your food bill and the amount of time you spend cooking, this book is an excellent place to start.

5) 365 Ways to Cook Pasta

On a per-dollar-spent basis, I've found more great recipes in this cookbook than in any other cookbook I've ever purchased. By far. I highly recommend this book if you're looking for a big selection of affordable recipes, most of which are extremely easy to make.

6) Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen

The least healthy, but the most fun, cookbook on this list. This cookbook is suitable for intermediate-level cooks, as some of the recipes in here can be a bit involved and complex. But if you've mastered the basics of cooking, this book will teach you how to make exceptional Cajun and Creole food and blow away your family and friends with what is arguably America's greatest cuisine. Just take one look at the picture of chef Paul on the cover and you can tell that there's gonna be some great recipes in here.

Related Posts:
How to Get More Mileage Out of Your Cookbooks
Cookbook Review: The Cornbread Gospels
How to Apply the 80/20 Rule to Cooking
The Most Heavily Used Tool in Our Kitchen--Our Rice Cooker.

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by linking to me, subscribing to my RSS feed, or submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon.

* A note to readers: As always, along with each book title, I've included links to Amazon for your convenience. If you are interested in buying any of these cookbooks, you can help support Casual Kitchen by using those links to visit Amazon. I will receive a small affiliate fee based on your purchases, and it will not cost you anything extra. I thank you, readers, for all of your support!

Easy Sopa de Lima

Whenever I get discouraged in the middle of the dark, cold winter, I like to cook a dish that reminds me of summer. This one fits the bill perfectly.

There are many different types of sopa de lima recipes out there, but this one is one of the easiest ones I've seen. It's also healthy and, if not laughably cheap, at least relatively inexpensive to make. I hope it reminds you that summer is just a few months away!

Sopa de Lima
(adapted from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant)

3-4 Tablespoons olive oil
1-2 medium onions, chopped coarsely
4-6 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
black pepper to taste
1-2 fresh jalapeno peppers, chopped finely

3-4 medium tomatoes, chopped (roughly 4 cups)
3 cups vegetable stock (see here for a stock recipe)
1-2 limes
Grated Monterey Jack cheese and cilantro, both optional.

1) In a large pot, saute the onions, garlic and spices in the olive oil for 4-5 minutes on medium heat. Add the jalapenos and saute for another 5 minutes or so.

2) Add the chopped tomatoes, cover the pot and cook on medium, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes begin to release their juices, perhaps 10 minutes or so (depending on the tomatoes).

3) Add the stock, bring everything to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the lime juice and serve immediately. Garnish with optional Monterey Jack cheese and cilantro.

Serves 6.

A few recipe notes:
1) This is a highly scalable recipe--a great recipe to cook for a dinner party or any large group. A double or triple batch of this soup could be made in under an hour.

2) A word on potential recipe modifications: If you want to add even more heat to your soup, you have a few options: You can add the jalapenos to the pot when you first start sauteing (sauteing them longer in oil will release more of their heat). You can also use a hotter chili instead of the jalapenos (say Serrano peppers, or if you're completely insane, bhut jolokia peppers). Of course the easiest option is to leave a bottle of Tabasco on the table and let people choose their own heat.

3) One more modification idea: You can also certainly add meat to this soup. Chorizo or other sausages, chicken or leftover roast turkey--any of these would complement this soup.

4) I highly recommend making homemade corn tortilla chips an accompanying side dish. You can even use crumbled tortilla chips as a garnish for this soup, by crumbling a few chips right over the top of each bowl. The two foods go together perfectly.

Related Posts:
Braised Pork in Guajillo Chile Sauce
Black Beans and Rice: Laughably Cheap Comfort Food

Pernil: Puerto Rican-Style Roast Pork Shoulder
How to Make a Mole Sauce: Intense, Exotic and Surprisingly Easy to Make

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by linking to me, subscribing to my RSS feed, or submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon.

The Muffin Blogroll: 12 Great Muffin Recipes You'll Love to Bake

Muffins are one of nature's perfect foods. They are addictively easy to make, so they are an excellent entry point into baking for novice cooks. And because muffin recipes are surprisingly flexible and can be made in endless variations, even the most experienced cooks never get bored with baking them.

And after the success of Casual Kitchen's Granola Blogroll and Apple Recipe Blogroll, both of which ran earlier this year, I decided to bring a little bit of order to the muffin universe by capturing for my readers some of the internet's most creative and interesting muffin recipes. As always, you can be assured that these recipes will be reasonably easy and will contain reasonably easy-to-find ingredients. You should find every one of them a pleasure to make in your own home.

Making this blogroll was an absolute blast. I hope you find it a helpful source of new ideas for your kitchen!
1) Raspberry and Lime Muffins from Closet Cooking
Kevin adapts and simplifies a recipe from Elle's New England Kitchen (worth checking her site out too by the way). What's attractive about this recipe is the counterintuitive combination of lime juice and raspberries. This recipe has quite a few steps, but don't be intimidated--it's not that complicated. Glorious.

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (room temperature)
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lime zest
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries
1/4 cup lime juice
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
1/2 cup icing sugar
3 tablespoons sugar

1. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
2. Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl.
3. Beat in the eggs, vanilla extract and lime zest.
4. Mix in the milk.
5. Mix in the dry ingredients.
6. Gently fold in the raspberries.
7. Spoon the mixture in to a greased muffin pan.
8. Bake in a preheated 375F oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes.
9. Mix the lime juice and zest with the icing sugar and pour over the muffins.
10. Sprinkle the muffins with the sugar.
11. Broil the muffins until the sugar on top bubbles, about 2 minutes. Be careful and watch them to make sure that they do not burn.

2) Classic Bran Muffins from Allrecipes.com
Ah, the bran muffin. Delicious, easy to make, and full of healthy fiber. I've selected this particular recipe because it uses buttermilk rather than plain old milk. This variation gives the muffin a rich, buttery flavor, yet this added richness comes without too much of an increase in fat content. Also, feel free to consider the raisins optional.

1 1/2 cups wheat bran
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners.
2. Mix together wheat bran and buttermilk; let stand for 10 minutes.
3. Beat together oil, egg, sugar and vanilla and add to buttermilk/bran mixture. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir flour mixture into buttermilk mixture, until just blended. Fold in raisins and spoon batter into prepared muffin tins.
4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool and enjoy!

3) Zucchini Basil Muffins from Nancy's Kitchen
Wow on this really unusual but delicious-sounding muffin recipe! You don't always have to have fruity-sweet muffins, you know. If you follow the link, look for the recipe about 2/3 of the way down the page.

2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
2/3 cup oil
2 c. flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. Salt
2 cup shredded zucchini
2 tbsp. minced basil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Beat eggs in bowl. Stir in milk and oil. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Mix dry ingredients into egg mixture just until flour is moistened. Batter should not be completely smooth. Gently mix in zucchini and basil. Fill greased muffin caps about 3/4 full. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Remove from pan. makes 10-18 muffins depending on size of pan.

4) Lemonade Muffins from That's My Home
Talk about creative use of an everyday ingredient! Thanks to Mary Ellen of That's My Home for an absolutely amazing-sounding recipe. For a lower-budget variation, consider the walnuts optional. See also her Ginger Rhubarb muffins and her Strawberry Coconut muffins as well.

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
6 ounce can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup cooking oil
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. In another bowl, mix only 1/2 cup of the lemonade mix, egg, milk, and oil. Add to dry mix, stirring until just moistened. Gently stir in (optional) nuts.

Spoon into greased muffin pans and bake and bake at 375° F. for 15-20 minutes or tests clean (
CK note: what she means by this is if you stick a knife or a toothpick into the center of a muffin and it comes out clean, then the muffin is done). While hot, brush with remaining lemonade and sprinkle with white sugar.

Yield: 8-9 large muffins.

5) Triple Chocolate Muffins from Bed and Breakfast Inns Online
I'd like to extend a personal thank you to the Glynn House Inn Bed & Breakfast for somehow reading my mind and sharing this glorious recipe.

1 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1/4 cup Dutch Cocoa
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Put flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa in a large bowl. Stir together making a well in the center. Beat butter, sugar and egg together well. Mix in milk and vanilla. Pour into the well and stir to moisten. Fold in the two types of chocolate chips. Do not over mix. Bake in 400 F oven for 15 to 18 minutes. Use a wooden skewer to test the center of the muffin to ensure they are done.

Makes 6-8 Muffins

6) Simpson House Corn Blueberry Muffins from Bed and Breakfast Inns Online Simpson, eh? Here's an excellent and easy-to-make breakfast muffin that melds the infrequent combination of corn meal and blueberries. Thanks to the Simpson House Inn for this recipe, which they suggest pairing with huevos rancheros.

1 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 beaten egg
1 1/2 cups blueberries

Sift dry ingredients.
Add wet ingredients, stir slightly.
Fold in blueberries.
Bake in greased muffin tins at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.
Yields 12 muffins

7) Whole Wheat Apple Muffins from Smitten Kitchen
One can always count on Smitten Kitchen for quality recipes. This one really stood out because of the combination of fresh apples (don't worry, apple season will return soon enough), wheat flour, and a delectably crunchy brown sugar topping.

1 cup (4 ounces) whole wheat flour
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk or yogurt
2 large apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Grease and flour an 18 cup muffin tin and set aside.

Mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, and set aside. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and add the granulated sugar and 1/4 cup of the brown sugar. Beat until fluffy. Add the egg and mix well; stop once to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.Mix in the buttermilk gently. (If you over-mix, the buttermilk will cause the mixture to curdle.) Stir in the dry ingredients and fold in the apple chunks.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, sprinkling the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar on top. Bake for 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 400°F, and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool the muffins for 5 minutes in the tin, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Yields 18.

8) Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins from Food Art and Random Thoughts
Anyone who's made banana bread will love this classic recipe. The chocolate chips add immeasurably to the pleasure.

100 grams (3 1/2 oz) butter, melted
2-3 ripe bananas (you need approx 1 cup)
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 teaspoon cinnamon

In a large bowl mix together melted butter, mashed banana, vanilla essence and milk
In another bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar and chocolate chips
Tip the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until just combined
Do not overmix or else you will end up with tough, peak topped muffins
Spoon into prepared muffin pan
Bake in a preheated 220 C/430 F oven for 10-12 minutes
Leave in muffin pan for 5 minutes before turning out to cool on a wire rack

Makes 12 muffins

9) Mocha Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins from Allrecipes:
And if bananas and chocolate aren't enough, how about adding a delicious coffee essence? Truly delicious, and an easy recipe too.

1 cup margarine
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 egg
3 ripe bananas
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules, dissolved in
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. Blend butter or margarine, sugar, egg, banana, dissolved coffee, and vanilla in food processor for 2 minutes. Add flour, salt, baking powder, and soda, and blend just until flour disappears. Add chocolate chips and mix in with wooden spoon. Spoon mixture into 15 to 18 paper-lined muffin cups.
3. Bake for 25 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

10) Orange Oatmeal Muffins from Allrecipes
This recipe features inexpensive oats as the base and hints of orange flavor as the, uh, treble. An excellent example of combining everyday ingredients in a highly creative way.

1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup raisins (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease or paper-line muffin pans.
2. In a small bowl soak oats in orange juice and water for 15 minutes.
3. In a large bowl cream together butter or margarine and sugars. Beat in eggs and oat mixture.
4. In a separate bowl, blend flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and nutmeg. Stir into batter. Stir in vanilla and raisins. Spoon batter into prepared muffin pans, filling 2/3 full.
5. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.

11) Cranberry Zinger Muffins from CheapHealthyGood
Not only will you enjoy this easy, zesty and laughably cheap muffin recipe (only 34c per muffin!), but you'll also enjoy the hilarity of a post structured in the form of an SAT exam. The math section could have only been written by an English lit major.

2 c flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 large egg
3/4 c sugar
1/4 c unsalted butter, softened but not melted
1/2 t grated fresh ginger
Rind of one lemon grated
Rind of one orange, grated
3/4 c citrus juice (combined juice of 2 lemons and 2 oranges)
1 1/4 c fresh or frozen cranberries
2 T sugar

1) Preheat oven to 400. Coat a 12-muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk together the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside. Using a hand mixer or pastry cutter, cream the sugar and butter until smooth, mix in the egg. Add the orange juice and ginger, lemon, and orange peel and stir to combine. Mix the flour and cranberries into the batter just until combined. Spoon the batter into the muffin pan. Sprinkle each with sugar.

2) Bake for 15 to 20 minutes our until the muffins are lightly browned, puff up, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the tin set on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Remove the muffins from the tin and eat them warm or let them cool completely on wire rack.

Makes 12 muffins.

12) Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Muffins from Jugalbandi
I saved the most unusual--and the most compelling--recipe for last. These muffins are savory, not sweet, and they sound absolutely amazing.

1 cup green onions, chopped (both green and white parts)
4 egg whites (or 2 whole eggs - half cup)
3/4 to 1 cup milk
2 cups wholewheat pastry flour (or all purpose flour)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp. dry crumbled oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 cups skinned and chopped roasted red peppers (canned okay)
7 oz. goat cheese, in little bits
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp ajwain (bishop’s weed) or cumin seeds
1/4 tsp cayenne powder or red pepper flakes
lots of freshly cracked black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease a muffin tray or add paper liners.
2. In 2 tbsp. of the oil, add the ajwain/cumin, stir for a couple seconds, add the garlic and onions (white part) and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Let cool. (Pour cold milk over them. Start with 1/2 cup milk)
4. Beat eggs until foamy; blend in remaining oil, milk and onions. Add the chopped onion greens.
5. Add flour, baking powder, oregano, salt, black pepper and cayenne/pepper flakes. Mix gently until there are no floury lumps.
6. Stir in chopped roasted red peppers and cheese. Add more milk if you need to. Check the salt and other seasonings.
7. Spoon into 12 greased muffin tins. If you have one empty spot, fill it halfway with water.
8. Bake 20 to 22 minutes. Test the muffin in the middle with a toothpick. If it comes out clean, it’s done. Let the muffins cool for 10 minutes on a rack.

Makes 12 medium muffins.

Let me conclude today's post with three pieces of advice on muffin-making:

1) Two important rules on using fruit in muffins: 1) If you are using frozen fruits or berries, don't put them directly into the batter, or you'll have cold spots in each muffin where the batter will be undercooked. Instead, thaw them and let them get to room temperature before adding them to the batter. 2) With either fresh or frozen-but-thawed fruits or berries, be sure to fold the batter very gently so the fruit doesn't get too badly beaten up.

2) On overworking muffin batter: for most muffin recipes, you do not want to use an electric mixer except for combining the liquid ingredients. When it comes time to combine the dry and liquid ingredients, gently stir everything together with a rubber scraper (many recipes even specify that your batter should still be lumpy). This way you won't overwork the batter, which will make your muffins come out with a tough texture.

3) Equipment: another advantage to muffin recipes is the de minimus cost for equipment. If you've already set up even a basic kitchen, you will already have basic tools like mixing bowls, measuring spoons and an electric mixer. Thus all you will really need to purchase is a trusty muffin pan and perhaps some optional paper muffin cups. I inherited a castoff aluminum muffin pan from my mother's kitchen that's still going strong after some 40 years of use, so you certainly don't need to spend big money for a muffin pan. Something like this Farberware 12 cup muffin pan (available on Amazon for a measly $10) will suffice.

Related Posts:
How to Tell if a Recipe is Worth Cooking With Five Easy Questions
An Easy Granola Recipe
The Favorite Cookbooks of My Favorite Bloggers
Blueberry Coffee Cake: Nostalgia Foods

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by linking to me, subscribing to my RSS feed, or submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon.

Mushroom, Barley and Swiss Chard Soup

We always want to eat healthy food here at Casual Kitchen, but we don't want to have to suffer too much to do it. So whenever we find a healthy and hearty recipe that's both inexpensive, easy to make and really good, I'll be sure to bring it to my readers.

Today's Mushroom, Barley and Swiss Chard Soup is all of these things, and it has the added advantage of being preposterously healthy for you. It's yet another delicious classic from Jay Solomon's Vegetarian Soup Cuisine.

Recipes like this are excellent examples of the advantages of practicing partial vegetarianism: not only is vegetarian cuisine typically healthier and lower in fat than meat-centered meals, it's often much less expensive too. And in just one brief cooking session and one big soup pot, you can make a fully balanced meal and have plenty of easy leftovers for later in the week.
Mushroom, Barley and Leafy Greens Soup
(slightly modified from Jay Solomon's Vegetarian Soup Cuisine)

2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt

12 ounces mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup dry white wine (optional, but strongly suggested)
6 cups water
2 teaspoons dijon-style mustard
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup barley (see below)
3 Tablespoons fresh parsley

4-5 cups swiss chard (can substitute kale), chopped coarsely
1 lemon, cut into wedges (optional)

1) Heat oil in a large pot. Saute onions and garlic with spices for 3-4 minutes on medium heat. Add mushrooms, saute for another 4-5 minutes.
2) Add white wine, let simmer for 2 minutes or so. Then add all other ingredients except swiss chard and lemon. Simmer on low heat for 50 minutes.
3) Add swiss chard and simmer for another 10 minutes.
4) Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Ladle into bowls and (optional) squeeze a wedge of lemon over your soup just before eating.

Serves 8.

A few quick recipe notes:
1) Barley. Here's a grain you don't see all that often in everyday recipes; in fact, unless your grocery store has a whole grains or health food section, you might have to make a side trip to your local health food store to find it. Our local health food store carried two pound bags of barley at a fairly reasonable $2.99.

2) Kale or swiss chard (either red or green varieties) are pretty much interchangeable for this dish. These are some of the healthiest greens in the entire produce section, with a wide range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants--and of course lutein for good eye health.

3) We had a bit of a dispute here as to whether to bother with the lemon wedge. My bias is to skip it--you can save yourself an extra step and 66 cents. Laura, however, preferred the subtle tang that the lemon juice added to the soup.

4) Finally a word on costs: This soup should cost roughly $8.00, which works out to a laughably cheap price of $1.00 per serving. Another of the often unsung advantages of vegetarian food!

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Pasta with Tuna, Olives and Roasted Red Peppers

Today's recipe is easy, scalable and inexpensive to make, and it's quite a bit fancier than many typical low-rent pasta dishes. Better still, it's a fully balanced meal, with protein, complex carbs and veggies all rolled into one recipe.

Most of these ingredients can be easily kept on hand in your pantry at all times, which makes this recipe perfect for a last-minute dinner when you don't have much time to cook.

Pasta with Tuna, Olives and Roasted Red Peppers
(modified from 365 Ways to Cook Pasta)

3-4 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into thin lengthwise strips
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 7-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and cut into thin strips
1 6.5-ounce can tuna, drained
3-4 Tablespoons black olives, chopped coarsely
1 pound pasta (most any type will do)
3-4 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped coarsely

1) Cook pasta according to directions.
2) Meanwhile, saute onions in oil on medium-high heat until they begin to brown and caramelize, about 5-7 minutes. Add garlic, saute for another 1-2 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and saute another 1-2 minutes just to heat through. Toss with pasta and serve at once.

Serves 4-5, can be easily doubled.
Two brief recipe notes:
1) The recipe specifies that you slice the onions into "thin lengthwise strips." You can reduce your defenseless onion to strips in seconds by cutting the onion in half and running the knife across each half like this:

2) Don't underestimate the culinary importance of giving the onions a good browning in the oil as shown in the picture below. When I want to caramelize onions (as opposed to simply sauteeing them), I'll use a higher heat setting under the burner--usually medium high as opposed to just medium. This caramelization gives the onions a slightly sweet taste, adding an extra depth of flavor to the entire dish. Enjoy!

Related Posts:
How to Make Risotto
Pasta Puttanesca
Applications of the 80/20 Rule to Diet, Food and Cooking
How to Create Your Own Original Pasta Salad Recipes Using the Pasta Salad Permutator

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

41 Ways You Can Help the Environment From Your Kitchen

This blog has mainly focused on making cooking at home fun, easy and affordable, and until now, I haven't really addressed any environmental issues here at Casual Kitchen.

Don't worry, I'm not going to turn into Al Gore, narrating global warming documentaries from my 10,000 square foot Tennessee mansion. But I do want to make the case that every one of us can adopt an ethic of conservation by thinking about what we can do, in our own small way, to help reduce our impact on the environment.

In that spirit, then, today's post is a list of 41 things you can do to make your kitchen greener and more environmentally friendly. I've broken the tips out by category and included brief explanations and details where appropriate.

One final note before we get into the list: I'll be the first to admit that this list is in no way exhaustive or complete, and I hope you will share your own ideas in the comments section below. Let's tap into the wisdom of crowds to save money and reduce our environmental footprint!
1) Eat more local foods

The further your food has to travel to get to you, the heavier the carbon footprint that food makes.

2) Know the origins of your food
Good environmental stewardship involves knowing where your food comes from and knowing something about that country's general environmental standards. Visit Cheap Healthy Good for an informative post on country of origin labeling.

3) Scale your meals
A common refrain here at Casual Kitchen is when you make a double batch of many recipes, you get 2x the food for only 1.2x the work. You can use this same logic to quantify the savings of energy applied toward making scalable meals.

4) Become a vegetarian, or better still, a vegan:
We're neither vegetarians nor vegans here at Casual Kitchen. However, the option of going entirely meat-free exists if you want to pursue it, and the environmental savings of giving up meat can be compelling (although please, let's for once set aside the nauseating jokes about cow flatulence). According to the UN, "livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions as measured in carbon dioxide equivalent." And researchers at the University of Chicago concluded that you can reduce your carbon emissions more by becoming vegetarian than by switching to a hybrid car.

5) Adopt part-time vegetarianism
If full-time vegetarianism isn't for you, consider adopting part-time vegetarianism, something we do practice at Casual Kitchen. Replace one, two, three or more of your weekly meals with vegetarian dishes. It's a great cuisine to explore, it's healthy, and it will save you money too.

6) Avoid prepackaged snacks
I recently read somewhere that a 2-ounce pack of Twix candy bars contains the saturated fat equivalent of eleven slices of bacon. Energy-dense, yet oh-so-delicious treats like these are not only wasteful in terms of health, nutrition and cost, they are worst offenders in terms of packaging waste.

7) Emphasize basic staples in your diet
Staple foods, like rice, oats, brown rice, and other grains are an inexpensive and environmentally sound way to satisfy human nutritional needs. You'll also save money and packaging by buying these foods in bulk.

8) Avoid second-order foods
The opposite of basic staples, second-order foods are made from staple foods. For example, corn only gets turned into a bag of Doritos after quite a bit of processing, transportation costs, branding and marketing costs, and so forth. Every one of these steps uses energy and costs money. And guess who bears those costs? You do. That's why a non-biodegradable plastic bag filled with Doritos can cost up to $4.00. I've written an entire essay on this for any readers who are curious about this subject.

9) Go simple with sugars, flour and fats
Another idiosyncrasy about the food processing industry is this: the more energy and refinement you apply to a food staple, the less healthy it is to eat. Fats that have been hydrogenated (e.g., Crisco, margarine) are far worse for you than simpler liquid fats like corn oil or olive oil. Sugar is better for you in its more unrefined form. And the less processed your flour is, the more fiber and nutrients it contains. And in each case, the refinement process is highly energy-intensive. So by staying "unrefined," you simultaneously help your wallet, your health and the environment.

10) Avoid Most Branded Cereals
Branded cereals tend to be the perfect storm of heavily processed and heavily refined foods combined with bulky, inefficient and non-biodegradable packaging. And with the price of branded cereal approaching $5.00 a box, the environment and your wallet will thank you. Try a simpler food for breakfast, like fresh fruit or oatmeal.

11) Grow your own food

I've written at length about you can defeat the spice industry by growing your own spices. It's surprising how many different herbs, greens and vegetables you can grow at home, even if you have limited space.

12) Go raw
If you really want to get away from foods with embedded energy-heavy process steps, there's no better way than make raw foods a bigger part of your diet. Yes, the produce still has to be trucked to your local store, but that's pretty much it. A diet focused on fresh, raw foods is an extremely energy-light and environmentally-friendly diet. I'll be exploring this subject in more detail in the coming months.

13) Eliminate non-obvious sources of food waste
Often we waste food without even really thinking about it. Did you make an inefficient grocery list this week and buy food that ended up rotting in your fridge? Did you overindulge at your last restaurant meal and miss a chance to take home leftovers for tonight's dinner? Did you read the recipe twice so that you wouldn't screw up dinner and have to throw it all out? Wasted food is wasted energy.

14) Prepare your food safely

There are few things more wasteful than feeding your family or your guests improperly cooked meat or improperly washed produce, and thus spreading food-borne illnesses. Don't transform an otherwise great dinner into multiple cases of projectile diarrhea.

15) Wash your hands
While some might quibble on minor details like whether to leave the faucet running or not when washing your hands, the larger point is this: unclean hands can spread all sorts of disease. See tip #14 for potential outcomes of not following this tip.

16) Consider canning rather than freezing
If you think about it, freezing is convenient, but highly wasteful, way to store food: keeping food frozen requires a consistent, year-round application of energy. Canning food, on the other hand, involves only one application of energy to briefly heat and then vacuum-pack the cans; after that canned food can sit at room temperature for a very long time without spoiling.

17) Pay attention to food expiration dates
If you are buying food, especially meat, close to its expiration date, be sure to consume or freeze the food immediately. Once again, wasted food is wasted energy.

18) Replace one (or more) weekly dinner out with cooking in
You'll avoid a drive, and you'll save money too.

19) Reduce takeout meals
What kind of restaurant food uses the most non-biodegradable packaging per unit of food? You guessed it: takeout food.

20) Encourage low-impact packaging use
If you see high-impact packaging like styrofoam used at your favorite restaurants or takeout joints, say something to the manager or write a letter to the company's headquarters.

21) Invite neighbors and friends over rather than going out to eat
Not only will you save money and save the incremental energy involved in all of you travelling to a restaurant, you'll get to spend quality time at home cooking great food.

(A brief side note: for an interesting look at one man's efforts to minimize his household trash generation, have a look at 365 Days Of Trash.)
22) Buy kitchen products in bulk
What's the difference between an 8-ounce jug of dish detergent and a 32-ounce jug of dish detergent? About a 50% savings in total plastic packaging per unit of product. Plus, you'll save money on the detergent too, because the per-unit costs will be lower for the larger-sized jug. That's less plastic that ends up in a landfill and more money in your pocket.

23) Ban bottled water from your home
Bottled water can cost up to 100 times more than tap water, and worse, some eight out of ten plastic water bottles end up in landfills. For more on this subject see Lighter Footstep's thought-provoking post on five reasons not to drink bottled water.

24) Eliminate plastic wrap and aluminum foil from your kitchen

Use reusable plastic containers instead, or cover your food with a (clean) reused grocery bag, or reheat your food using another plate or dish as a cover.

25) Eliminate paper towel use
Use a sponge, dishrag or dishtowel instead.

26) Compost
Composting is a nearly cost-free way to dramatically reduce the trash output of your kitchen, and it has a great side benefit: compost can be a nutrient-rich, natural fertilizer for your vegetable or herb garden. Even if you live in a small apartment, you can still compost. Look for a community garden nearby, or if you have a small balcony, you can use a tiny corner of it for a small composting container.

27) Skip the dishwasher drying cycle
Heck, the dishes come out broiling hot anyway. Just open the dishwasher door, let the steam fog up your glasses, and let the ambient heat warm up your home.

28) Run your dishwasher only when full
If you have just a few dirty dishes to wash, you'll use a lot less water and energy by doing them by hand. Dishwashers are only good for the environment when they are used at scale.

29) Run high energy-use appliances during off-peak hours
During peak hours of energy demand, power companies will turn to less efficient fuel sources and less-efficient plants to top off their generating capacity. If you run your dishwasher at night, rather than during afternoon peak hours, not only will you save money, but your power company will face less demand for energy during peak times.

30) Don't use your oven during hot weather
During the dog days of summer, bias your menus toward summer salads or sauteed dishes. Save the baking and roasting for the cooler weather, so your air conditioner doesn't have to fight it out with your oven.

31) Keep your oven door closed
As tempting as it can be to peak in at those cookies, opening the oven door, for just a few seconds, can waste the energy of several minutes of oven baking time.

32) Turn down the temperature settings for your freezer and refrigerator
You don't need to have your refrigerator set at the coldest possible setting. You'll want to experiment with this a bit until you find the ideal temperature, but if done right, this is the kind of tip that keeps on giving--one simple action can drive savings for years on your electric bill. [A side note: for years, Laura and I have debated the semantics of refrigerator temperature settings; in her view, the proper way to phrase this tip is: Turn UP the temperature settings for your freezer and refrigerator. I hope you understand what I'm trying to say here, regardless of the word choice.]

33) Unplug kitchen appliances when not in use
There are studies that claim that as much as 10% of your home's electricity use is in the form of "vampire load"--electric current pulled from devices that are plugged in but not in use. This tip may be a problem for obsessive-compulsive cooks who need their programmable coffeemaker to tell the correct time.

34) Don't buy electric gadgets when human power will do
Do you really need an electric can opener, when a manual can opener will be cheaper, smaller and use less power--and in the long run, will probably be less likely to break?

35) Try sharing appliances and kitchen tools
Most of the tools and gear in your kitchen will spend most of their time sitting in the cupboard, unused. What if you could get together with your (trustworthy) friends or neighbors and share the purchase and the use of some of the most expensive, and least commonly used items? Pricey products like food processors, pressure cookers or even a grill could be shared among two, three or more friends. Everybody will save plenty of money, and your tools will get a lot more regular use. In theory, this sharing approach can even be broadened to include big-ticket household items like lawnmowers or snowblowers.

36) Hold off on renovating your kitchen
This tip is a bit counterintuitive because people generally focus on the incremental efficiency gains that they might get when they buy new appliances, but they ignore that the incremental gains from those new appliances may pale in comparison to all of the waste generated by the renovation itself. Your old refrigerator and oven need to go somewhere, and so do the counters, cabinets, and flooring that you replace. Everything will likely end up in a landfill. Unless your kitchen is a truly horrible shade of 1960s-era dark green, the world might be better off if you held off on gutting your kitchen.

37) Never turn on the hot water for brief use
When you run the hot water tap in your kitchen, most of the water you actually heat never makes it out of the tap--it just stays somewhere in the pipes and then cools back down again. That's energy you've paid for and wasted.

38) Use cold water for almost all of your kitchen tasks.
Cool or even cold water is sufficient for washing most produce. Add a little detergent and you can use cool water for washing many dirty dishes. We make a point of using hot water only for cleaning utensils and cutting boards that have been in contact with meat.

39) Soak dishes before washing
This helps dissolve food residue on your pots and pans and saves you time doing dishes.

40) Consider installing a tankless hot water heater
Traditional hot water heaters work by heating a big tank of water somewhere in your house, and keeping that tank hot at all times, even when you're not using any hot water. In contrast, tankless hot water heaters use a just-in-time heating system to heat only the water you use when you use it. Depending on the nature of your hot water usage, a tankless system could be far more efficient, saving you money and using much less energy. If you have a big family and there are people taking showers at all hours of the day, don't bother, but if your household hot water use is fairly low and sporadic, you may want to consider one of these systems.

41) Never leave the faucet running when performing kitchen tasks
Water that simply runs down the drain is obviously water wasted. But it's also worth thinking about all the energy used by your municipal water supplier to make that water potable--it takes quite a bit of energy to filter, process, and treat tap water to make it safe. Worse, water rinsed down your drain simply goes directly to your sewage treatment facility, wasting resources there too. When you think about it in this way, wasting tap water is really a triple waste.

Readers, what have I missed? What would you add to this list?
This post was inspired by a recent visit to Berea College, in Berea, Kentucky.

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

Casual Kitchen's Top Five of the Month: December 2008

This once-a-month post is for those readers who may not get a chance to read everything here at CK, but who still want to keep up with the best and most widely read articles. With one glance, you'll be able to see what your fellow readers have been focusing on over the past month.
Top Five of the Month for December 2008:

1) Pernil: Puerto Rican-Style Roast Pork Shoulder

2) 15 Creative Tips to Avoid Holiday Overeating

3) How to Make a Mole Sauce: Intense, Exotic and Surprisingly Easy to Make

4) Pasta With Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

5) How to Make the Best Cornbread. Ever.

From the Vault: Top Five Posts from One Year Ago:

1) Shrimp in Garlic Sauce (Camarones Ajillo)

2) How to Team Up in the Kitchen

3) How to Divide and Conquer Your Cooking Labors

4) The Recipe Filebox

5) Italian Sausage and Tortellini Soup

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by linking to me, subscribing to my RSS feed, or submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon.