Saturday, April 18, 2015

Cream of Celery Soup

I kind of wish celery was sold by the rib.  A bunch is usually too much, and the pre-cut sticks are expensive.  Still, I hate to waste any food and needed to come up with a use for it.  I also had a little more milk than intended, so here we go.

This recipe I found online reminded me of the Bible's chilled cucumber soup.  The ingredients and method are similar, except for the chilling part.  My broth bag was completely full after making Seder, so I decided to break out the bones from my deboned turkey and make stock instead of just vegetable broth.  I still have several portions of turkey in the freezer.  Think I'll have those next week.

Anyway, back to the soup.  A low-fat chicken or vegetable broth will make this recipe much lighter than what I ended up with, but it was nice to have the richness with an otherwise vegetarian meal.

1/4 C butter
*2 C finely diced celery
*1 C finely diced onion
*1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 C flour
2 C low-salt stock (veggie or chicken)
*1-1/2 C milk
Salt and white pepper to taste

1.  Melt butter in a large saucepan or deep 12" skillet.  I know it sounds like a lot of butter, but it is going to be the base of your thickening roux, in addition to being a sauté fat.

2.  Add celery, onion, and garlic and cook on medium until everything is soft and translucent, at least 5 minutes.  Stir frequently to prevent anything from browning.

3.  Add flour and work into the mix until everything is coated evenly and all of the butter has been absorbed.  It's going to look a little pasty.  Add liquids half a cup at a time, allowing each addition to heat and thicken.  I recommend starting with whichever liquid contains more fat.  2% milk will have more fat than a veggie or skimmed chicken stock.  Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes, until celery is thoroughly cooked.  Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.  Celery is salty on its own, so go easy.
4.  For a creamier soup, purée with either a stick blender or in batches in the blender.  Serve hot or cold, or use in recipes.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Matzoh Mania

I had maybe three pieces of matzoh during Passover, including Seder.  I'm just not thrilled with the stuff.  Instead, I made quinoa, potatoes, carrots, or decided to forego starch entirely.

So now that Passover is finished, I'm starting to make my way through the four remaining boxes, 14 pieces per box.  (I managed to give away one box from the 5-pack.)  I'm actually in the mood for it now.  I think it goes back to the first Question: On all other nights we eat either leavened or unleavened bread.  Why, on this night, do we eat only unleavened bread?  It's about choice.  If I have a bagel or other breads during the day, one piece of matzoh isn't a big deal.

Besides, a lot of the things I like to put on matzoh (or any cracker) are not KLP.  PB&J is fantastic on it.  Hummus works great.  Even the tuna salad I make with my vegan mayo (I happen to prefer the taste & texture to egg-based mayo) isn't KLP because the condiment is soy-based.  I did make the chocolate-banana matzo brei a few times, and plan to make it more, but that's just because I like it.
This is not necessarily an endorsement of Yehuda Matzoh.
It's just what was on sale this year.

I'll probably get over this in a few days, when I get tired of having crackers and soup with dip for dinner.  After a week of heavy meals, including five days of leftover lamb, I was ready for something lighter.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Seder 2015

I wasn't sure I was going to host Passover this year until I saw a half-priced boneless lamb roast in the market three weeks ago.  I dropped it in the freezer and started inviting people.

I'm glad I didn't invite too many, because others seemed to gravitate.  It was only a 3 pound piece of meat.  I was also glad that folks felt they had to bring something, which would mean the leg of lamb and the sides I had planned would stretch a bit farther.  Really, once you add in the egg and gefilte, there's plenty of protein in a Seder even if the main course is vegetarian.

The thing about festive dinners being hard on the host is only if the person is not prepared or makes it difficult on themselves.  I knew I would be working Friday morning, so I did everything but cook the lamb and the spinach on Thursday.  Both of those were fully prepped and ready for the heat.  Oh, and I didn't peel the eggs because I didn't want them to get dry.  The biggest thing I didn't do ahead was set the table, because the cats don't respect the boundaries I try to set and I can't close off the dining room.

For pre-Passover cleaning, I usually just clean everything very well, including the oven.  This year, I completely took apart the stove, discovering new removable parts.  The toaster proved impossible to make KLP, but it looks better than it has in years.  For the oven, I finally got up the courage to use the self-cleaning mode.  It is fantastic!  I'm sure my electric bill will reflect the three hours of intense heat, but for once a year it is completely worth it and saves a lot of water.  All I had to do afterwards was wipe the inside with a sponge, and decades of buildup that had been reduced to ash were wiped away.

Here's a menu with a few links:

Charoset for the Seder
Roast leg of lamb with garlic and rosemary
Carrots and Oranges with Pumpkin Seeds (I used sage because you aren't supposed to use cumin for Passover)
Steamed Garlic Spinach
Balsamic Vinaigrette (as an all-purpose dressing and sauce)
Date Ice Cream (yes, it's dairy.  We waited a while for dessert.)

As far as my continuing quest to make just the right amount, I did very well.  The only reason we didn't run out of carrots was because one person cancelled at the last moment.  Everything else had one or two servings left over, saving me from cooking for a bit.  I didn't finish washing and putting away the dishes until the next evening, and felt like I'd taken a punishing exercise class.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Date Ice Cream


Last week, I was very proud of myself for choosing to have a few dates for dessert instead of a bowl of ice cream.  That quickly turned into "I bet I can make date ice cream".  I checked out a bunch of recipes online and chose to base mine on this one from Delicious Shots.  The unique factor was creating a date syrup of sorts so the pieces wouldn't freeze in the ice cream into inedible lumps.

My version is less sweet and intense than the other site's because I used more ice cream base than she did but only used the half pound of dates I had left from my trip to Hadley's and no more sugar.  I'm making this to have for dessert at Seder, and one of the guests always brings a heavy honey cake.  This ice cream is something lighter to have on the side.
For the heck of it, and to make the ice cream less likely to form a solid block, I added a tablespoon of rum (KLP) to the sugar syrup.  It isn't in the recipe, and totally up to you if you want to use any alcohol, or even more than I did.  Bear in mind, more than 2 tablespoons in a batch this size will keep it at soft-serve consistency and give it a shelf life of one week, even in the freezer.

2 C heavy cream
2 C milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 C water
1/2 C sugar
*8 oz pitted dates

1.  Set aside any dates you want to use as garnish.  Chop the rest coarsely.  If you use pre-chopped dates, pay attention to whether they're coated in sugar or starch, as you may want to adjust the amount of sugar in the recipe.  Chopping allows the dates to absorb the syrup you're about to make, and so you can check for pits.

2.  Stir together water and sugar in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil and cook until sugar is completely dissolved, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in dates (and alcohol).  Allow to soak while you prep the custard.  I ran errands and they soaked for several hours.

3.  In another saucepan, combine milk and cream.  Slowly bring to a low boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.  Beat the egg yolks lightly and add half a cup of the cream to them to temper the eggs.  Return to pot and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens to coat a metal spoon.  Do not boil, or the eggs will curdle.  Remove from heat.

4.  By now, the dates should be rehydrated in the simple syrup and not too hot.  Purée with a hand blender or in a food processor until only slightly chunky.  Stir into custard until smooth.  Place a piece of plastic wrap touching the surface of the custard and refrigerate until cooled, about 2 hours.

5.  Once cooled, process in ice cream maker to soft-serve consistency.  Pour into serving container and freeze for 4 hours before serving.  You may have to let it sit at room temperature a few minutes to soften before scooping.  Garnish with reserved dates.

Makes about 1-1/2 quarts (6 cups)

Difficulty rating :-0

Thursday, March 26, 2015

No-Pasta Lasagna

I put an eggplant seedling in Kale's spot from last year.  The one I tried to raise four years ago died for many reasons, most of them falling into the category of "I don't know how to grow vegetables".  I have since learned how to water correctly, plant with enough depth for roots, and feed them once in a while.

It's going to be a while before it produces any eggplants, so I bought one for this recipe.  Based largely on this one from the Food Network (but hopefully more clearly written), you use very thin eggplant (or zucchini) slices as the noodle.  I decided to make this one vegetarian, but there is no reason not to use a meat sauce.  It hardly qualifies as low-fat, low-salt, or low-calorie, but at least you get your veggies.  Anyone who thinks eating vegetarian is the same thing as eating healthy all the time has a lot to learn.

I used my V-slicer to make beautiful, thin cuts out of the eggplant so I would only use one instead of two.  Doing it by hand is difficult, but not impossible.  Don't be in a rush.  The eggplant was exactly the width of my slicer, or I would have cut it in half first.

1 large eggplant (or 2 zucchini)
2 medium carrots
1/2 lb crimini mushrooms (brown button are ok)
1/2 C diced onion
*1 clove garlic, minced
*1/2 C diced celery (1 or 2 ribs)
1 medium crown broccoli
1/2 C vegetable broth or water
Olive oil
*2 C marinara (pasta) sauce
1 15oz container ricotta cheese
1 egg
*1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
*1/2 C grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
garlic, basil, oregano, or anything else you want to use to doctor up the sauce

1.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil for easier clean-up and brush lightly with olive oil.  Slice eggplant thinly lengthwise, no thicker than 1/2" slices.  Lay slices on baking sheet and brush tops with about 2 tablespoons of oil.  Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and bake until soft, about 30 minutes, flipping halfway through.  Remove from oven and set aside until ready to assemble.

2.  While the eggplant is cooking, cut the vegetables.  Carrots should be peeled, then cut bite-sized.  Mushrooms can be sliced or coarsely chopped.  Cut broccoli into bite-sized florets.
3.  Sauté onion and celery in 1 Tb olive oil until softened.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add carrots, broccoli, and mushrooms.  Add broth and simmer until vegetables are softened and cooked, about 10 minutes.  Add 1 C sauce and continue to simmer until ready to use.  Don't worry if it looks a little dry; the mushrooms will give up a lot of water as they continue to cook.  Now is the time to add your own special touch to the store-bought sauce.

4.  In a bowl, combine ricotta, Italian seasoning, and egg until smooth.

5.  Reset oven to 350º.  Brush bottom of an 8"x8" baking pan with a touch of olive oil.  Coat with 1/2 C pasta sauce.  Line bottom with half of the eggplant slices, overlapping slightly to ensure coverage.  Dot with half of the ricotta mixture and spread around for coverage.  Pour half of the vegetable sauce on top.  Repeat, starting with the eggplant slices.  If you have any eggplant left over, use it on top of last layer of sauce.  Spread remaining half-cup of pasta sauce on top.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  At this point, casserole can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.

6.  Bake at 350º for 30 minutes, until bubbly and top cheese is lightly browned.  Let rest at least 10 minutes, and preferably 15.  Slice and serve while still warm.  It's going to protest, and possibly fall apart.  The photo above is a total cheat that I took with a cold slice the next day.  Like with a pasta lasagna, it's easier to cut and serve cold and reheated.  Just to prove I'm not anti-gluten, I had garlic toast on the side.  With matzoh instead, this is a Passover-friendly dish (including kitnyot - check the sauce ingredients).

Difficulty rating  :)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Three Green Berries

My boysenberry plant continues its slow growth into a full bush.  This is another one of those multi-year gardening projects.  Once the plant has a year to reach its full potential, I should have a decent crop.  This year, the berries will be few, small, and probably not as delicious as next year's.  I still plan to try them once they ripen.

Artie is developing his main bud for the year, with three baby buds already by his side.  All that horrendous heat at the beginning of the month was good for something.  The plant is probably near the end of its life, but I'm hoping to get one more year out of it.

The spinach didn't like the heat as much and have bolted (gardening term for flowering), but the plants are reasonably healthy and I can use some of the leaves as bitter herb for Passover.  Maybe I'll make a bouquet of mint, spinach, and basil flower stems for an aromatic centerpiece.

I'm trying to decide what to plant in Kale's spot from last year.  I want to take another stab at corn, but I'm not sure that's the best place for it.  If I do it in the pond garden, it's going to take over the whole area.  Maybe some other full-sun vegetable, or even another kale.  I'll decide when I go to the gardening store in a couple of days for plant food and more Neem oil.  Stupid tomato worms.

In sad gardening news, I think Gus has died.  It just never got moist enough for him to winter over, and I don't think I gave him enough root space to start with.  As usual, I won't rip out the roots, just in case. It's in a corner I'm not likely to use for anything except herbs, anyway.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Coconut-Lemon Poppyseed Cake

I transferred to another store and do not have any baking days yet.  They need a properly trained baker, but I'm not about to make waves with the new boss.  I'm letting his boss do that for me.

As a result, I'm not getting as much exercise, and really need to cut down on my intake.  Instead, I keep baking.  Maybe it's withdrawal from not baking at work.  Everyone there thinks I'm awesome because I keep bringing in goodies.

Undecided at the market, I bought both prune and poppy fillings.  I made the prune at Purim and had the poppy staring at me when I ran out of the fruitcake that I made for breakfasts on my vacation.  Half the can became more hamantaschen, while I jazzed up the Solo recipe to do this cake.

This is a modified version of a half-recipe of Solo's poppyseed cake recipe.  It has more wet ingredients and significantly less fat, despite the addition of shaved coconut.  Not sure what it does to the calorie count, but I'm guessing not much.  As for yield, the extra volume of the ingredients made a bigger difference than I thought.  It made two very large mini-loaves.  I would make this in a full loaf pan next time, which would result in a slightly small loaf that cooked more evenly.

1/4 C unsalted butter, softened
*1/4 C light cream cheese
3/4 C sugar
2 eggs, separated
1/2 C poppyseed filling
1 5.5 to 6 oz cup of plain nonfat Greek yogurt
2 Tb lemon juice, divided
1/4 C unsweetened coconut flakes, plus more for decorating
1/2 tsp vanilla
1-1/3 C flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 C+ powdered sugar

1.  Preheat oven to 350º and grease a standard loaf pan or 6" round cake pan.

2.  In a stand mixer with the paddle, cream together butter, cream cheese, and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in poppy filling.  Beat in egg yolks.  Add vanilla, 1 Tb lemon juice, coconut flakes, and yogurt and beat until well mixed.

3.  Separately, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.  With the mixer on low, slowly add to wet ingredients until just mixed.

4.  In a separate bowl, beat egg whites to stiff peaks.  Fold into batter until combined.  Spread batter in loaf pan and bake until the cake passes the toothpick test, about 45 minutes.  Start checking after 40 and in 5 minute increments.  Cool in pan 10 minutes before turning out to a rack to cool completely.

5.  To make the glaze, add powdered sugar to remaining 1 Tb of lemon juice.  It helps to step away for several minutes and let the lemon juice hydrate the sugar without intervention.  Drizzle glaze over cooled cake and sprinkle with additional coconut.  Keeps at room temperature about 2 days, in the fridge for 5.  Or, you can pre-slice the cake, wrap it in plastic then foil, and freeze for up to a month.  Just pull out slices as needed.

Serves about 8

Difficulty rating :)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Lemon & Garlic Chicken


Lemons are expensive for what you get.  The average one in the grocery store yields less than 1/4 C juice.  So I feel really guilty about not using the ones on my tree, which are three times that size and full of Meyer mildness.  Ina Garten's recipe also used more of the open bottle of champagne I had from the sabayon dessert.

You will notice that her original recipe refers to this only as lemon chicken.  Three tablespoons of minced garlic no longer counts as a minor seasoning, but a true ingredient.  What this insane amount of garlic does is blend with and balance the lemon.  They end up tasting like a hybrid ingredient, the garlic-lemon.  One does not come through stronger than the other.  It's an intriguing concept, and a way to sweeten up the lemon a little without sugar.

My servings are also smaller than hers, to reflect my portion-control approach to "dieting".  I left the same amount of sauce because I used boneless-skinless and didn't want to risk drying out the chicken.  400º is a lot for a slab of meat to handle for half an hour.

1/4 C olive oil, divided
3 Tb minced garlic (up to 9 cloves, or buy a jar of pre-minced)
2 lemons
1/3 C dry white wine
*1-1/2 tsp dried oregano
*1/2 tsp dried thyme
kosher salt and black pepper
1 large (1.25 to 1.5 lb) boneless-skinless chicken breast

1.  Zest the first lemon, then ream it for its juice.  Preheat oven to 400º.

2.  In a small saucepan, heat 3 Tb oil over medium.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and add zest, juice, wine, 1/2 tsp salt, oregano, and thyme.  Pour sauce into a baking dish large enough to hold chicken comfortably (my 8x8 was pushing it).
3.  Brush chicken breast with remaining oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.  Cut other lemon in 8 wedges and tuck around the chicken.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.  I turned it after 15 and turned it back right side up after another 15.

4.  Cover dish with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.  Garnish with the lemon wedges and additional sauce.

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Poached Pears with Champagne Sabayon

Sabayon is the French version of zabaglione.  I made a chocolate zabaglione for tiramisu, but I had not tried this before.  Since I now had two egg yolks left over from the brownies, I decided to do a small batch as a trial.

The main difference between the French and Italian sauces is the alcohol.  Zabaglione uses Marsala.  Period.  Sabayon uses any moderate to sweet white wine.  This recipe from Emeril uses champagne but adds just enough sugar to toss it to the sweet side.

Since I was opening a bottle of champagne for a mere 1/4 C, I decided to do the poached pears part of the recipe.  I've never poached fruit, and have only had it a few times.  I only bought two and cut down the use of wine accordingly, so there was still over half the bottle left.  There was quite a bit of sabayon leftover after going through the two pears (which is why this recipe calls for 4), so I cooked up an apple with this same method, using a cinnamon stick and several cloves as the seasoning.  You have to cook apples longer, and I didn't bother to peel them first, but the recipe works.

It sort of feels like wasting the champagne on cooking, but I'm sure many people have a bottle or two sitting around this time of year from New Year's Eve or Valentine's Day.  One commenter remarked that this would make an excellent Passover Seder dessert.  That is especially true because it uses whole vanilla bean; vanilla extract is not KLP.  I don't keep vanilla beans around, and substituted dried lavender.

For those paying attention, this recipe is similar to my first batch of whipped lemon curd, minus the butter.  And like the lemon curd, it took me way longer to achieve the proper consistency than the recipe said.  Either I'm bad at whisking, the water was not hot enough, or the recipe should just admit that it takes close to 15 minutes to make.

I'm posting this recipe in the reverse order of Emeril's.  The pears have to be chilled after poaching- before you make the sabayon, which should be served warm off the double boiler.  Not sure why he posted it the other way around.

4 ripe pears
1-1/2 C + 1/4 C champagne (or other sparkling wine)
1 split vanilla bean, or cinnamon stick, or 1/2 tsp dried lavender
2 egg yolks
2 Tb sugar

1.  Early in the day… Set a medium saucepan of water on the stove to boil.  Wash pears and cut an X mark on the blossom end.  Make a bowl of ice water.  Place pears in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds, until skin starts to peel at the X.  Remove to bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, then rub off the skins.
2.  Rinse out saucepan and place 1-1/2 C champagne and the flavor ingredient of choice over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, which happens quickly with alcohol.  Lower to a simmer for 5 minutes, for the flavoring to infuse the poaching liquid.  While it's doing that, cut the pears in half.  With a melon baller, remove core, stem, and blossom end.
3.  Place pears in simmering champagne for 3 to 5 minutes, until fully cooked but not mushy.  Remove from liquid and store in the fridge until dessert time.

4.  Between dinner and dessert, heat a couple of inches of water in our medium saucepan to a simmer.  While it's warming, you can plate the pears.  I suggest small bowls or dishes with a rim, to contain the sauce.  If you're having another dessert or a scoop of ice cream on the side, half a pear is enough for a serving.  If this is it, use a whole pear per person.

5.  In a bowl that will fit over the saucepan without the base touching the water, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, and 1/4 C champagne.  Use an actual whisk, or this is going to take forever.  Set the bowl over the water and continue to whisk until mixture is thick, foamy, and about doubled in volume, about 10 minutes.  When the sauce falls in thick ribbons, the egg is cooked and the sauce is ready to serve.

6.  Spoon sauce over pears, roughly 2 Tb per half a pear.  Garnish if desired, maybe with a couple of berries or a chocolate sauce on the rim of the plate.  I did a scattering of lavender buds to go with the flavoring.

Serves at least 4

Difficulty rating  :-0

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Vegetable CousCous

I stressed over what to have for Purim way more than I should have.  For one thing, it was just me.  For another, I cook vegetarian or vegan at least once a week.  One presentation-level vegetarian entrée shouldn't have been that hard.  All I knew was that I wanted to use up the rest of the dried chickpeas in the pantry.  I should not have obsessed over "What did Esther eat?" every visit to the grocery store for a month.  She would only have recognized about half of the ingredients in this stew, which tends more toward north African.  So I had some dates with it.  I know she ate those: dates have been popular in Persia for millennia.

I opened one of my recently canned pints of tomatoes for this!  I know, it's kind of silly to can something and use it less than two weeks later.  There's still a pint and a half for another day.

2 C low-salt vegetable stock, divided
1 15 oz can no-salt-added tomatoes (your choice of whole, cut, diced, etc)
1 medium eggplant, cut up in 1" cubes
*2 stalks celery, diced
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut in 1" cubes
1/2 lb spinach, chopped
*1 15 oz can chickpeas, drained; or 2/3 C dried chickpeas, soaked 18 hours and simmered for 2-3
1 onion, chopped
1 Tb olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch of saffron
*1/2 tsp ground cumin
salt and white pepper to taste
*1/4 tsp turmeric
*1/4 tsp paprika or chili powder
1 C dry couscous

1.  Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add onions and celery and cook until softened.  Add garlic and continue to cook one minute, until fragrant.  Add eggplant, potato, and 1 C broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cover.  Cook 30 min, until all vegetables are tender.  I know it doesn't look like there's enough liquid, but there will be plenty once the eggplant cooks.

2.  Add chickpeas, tomatoes (including their water), spinach, and all of the seasonings except salt and pepper.  Crush the saffron threads a bit as they go in the pot.  I saved a bit to add to the couscous broth.  Bring stew to a simmer and allow to cook while you make the couscous.

3.  For the couscous, there are directions on the package, but I used 1 C of broth to 1 C of dry pasta because the stew will bring more moisture once it's all on the platter.  Bring the broth to a boil, stir in dry pasta, cover, and remove from heat.  Let sit at least 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

4.  Taste stew and add salt and white pepper as necessary.  To plate, arrange couscous in a ring on platter.  Spoon stew into middle using a slotted spoon to drain off some of the cooking liquid.  If it looks too dry once it's on the plate, ladle on a bit of the stock.  Serve hot.

Makes 4 generous servings, 6 as a side dish

Difficulty rating  π