Monday, September 15, 2014

Teriyaki Sauce

So I went to go get the teriyaki sauce for a stir-fry in the works, and didn't have any.  Whoops.  I did have a brand-new bottle of soy sauce, fresh ginger for the stir-fry, and I always have fresh garlic around.  Fine, whatever, I'll do it the hard way.

Most teriyaki recipes call for mirin, a rice wine similar to sake.  I didn't happen to have either mirin or sake.  I could have run to the market for some, but then I could have bought the teriyaki and this post wouldn't exist.  I also would have come back to a cold, half-cooked, slimy stir-fry and rice I had forgotten to turn off.  You can substitute cream sherry or forgo the alcohol altogether and just add a bit more sugar.  That's the direction I'm going.

This recipe is for the thick kind of teriyaki that you use as a glaze.  For a marinade-only version, omit corn starch and only do step 2 (use the water).

*1 Tb corn starch
1/4 C water
1/2 C soy sauce
1 tsp grated fresh ginger (about 1" root)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 C brown sugar or *honey, plus more to taste

1.  Start soaking the corn starch in the water.

2.  In a small pan, heat remaining ingredients until sugar is dissolved and spices are aromatic.  You do not need to boil the sauce.  Taste and add more sugar if necessary, more soy if it's too sweet.

3.  Stir in cornstarch slurry and work into sauce.  Continue to heat over medium and stir so the sugar doesn't scorch until mixture thickens and becomes glossy.  Use immediately or store up to one week.

Makes about 1 cup

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, September 12, 2014

Veal and Eggplant Parmigiana

There was more of the veal cube steak on sale at the market, but only half a pound.  To make this a full meal for four, I added one eggplant to be the other half of the "meat".  The end result was a beautifully stacked, relatively balanced meal.  For the sake of this recipe, I'll allow twice the meat to make the eggplant slices come out even.  Each serving ended up with one slice with veal and one without.  Since our baker quit, I've been baking five days a week.  My metabolism has gone up from the insane amount of lifting and running around, so I can get away with dishes like this.  Enjoying it while I can.

I had to buy breadcrumbs.  Never thought I'd do that again, but I only had one slice of bread left and this was the easy option.  Unseasoned panko crumbs give a lot of crunch and you can flavor them however you like.  I bought the smaller canister.  It will not take me another four years to go through this one.

This was about the time I was expecting to pop open a quart jar of homemade marinara.  Brad has put out a total of two edible tomatoes, with several starting to rot before ripening.  Cherry is ready to beat the pants off him as soon as her half-dozen green tomatoes ripen.  Combined, their output wouldn't fill a half-pint jar, much less a quart.  The poor quart jars appear to be destined for stock and homemade beverages.  Ooh, but Artie has started to grow again!  I noticed the sprout a couple of weeks ago, and it was probably at least a week old then.  I don't check the spot often, because that's crazy.  Of course, I keep checking the pumpkins daily for new buds, but that's because I can hand-pollinate if any females bloom.

This recipe is based largely upon Table for Two's eggplant parmesan and this Food Network offering of veal parmigiana.  Both had wonderful techniques for developing both tenderness and crunch.  And then I messed with it.

1 large eggplant
vegetable oil as needed (not olive oil)
1-1/2 C panko bread crumbs
*1/2 C grated parmesan cheese, divided
*1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 egg
1/4 C flour
1 lb veal cube steak
2 C marinara, doctored up as much as you want
1 C shredded mozzarella cheese
*fresh basil for garnish

1.  Preheat oven to 425º.  Slice the eggplant into 8 thick slices.  Lightly smear bottom of an 8" x 12" casserole with oil, then arrange slices in it so you're sure everything is going to fit later on, then flip over the slices so you have a bit of oil on both sides.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, until about half-cooked, then place to the side to cool slightly.  Reduce oven to 350º.
2.  While the eggplant is cooking and cooling, prepare the dredge and skillet: Stir together bread crumbs,  1/4 C parmesan, and Italian seasoning in a pie plate.  In another pie plate, beat together egg and 2 Tb water.  On a third pie plate, scatter flour.  Cut the cube steaks so you have 8 pieces.  Those can go in the flour now and wait their turn.  For the skillet, choose a 10" and pour in just enough oil to barely coat the bottom.  Eggplant will absorb as much oil as you give it.  Preheat skillet over medium until water pops on the oil.

3.  Turn several eggplant slices over in egg, then in crumbs, to coat.  Add as many to the skillet as fit comfortably and fry until coating is lightly browned and crispy, about 5 minutes.  Turn and fry other side, then return the slices to the casserole and go at it again with the rest of them and a little more oil.

4.  Cover each cooked slice of eggplant with about 2 Tb of pasta sauce.  Then sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese over all.  Heat up some more oil in the skillet.

5.  Take the flour-coated pieces of veal and dip them in the egg.  Coat with breadcrumbs and place in skillet.  These only need to cook for one minute on each side, less if they look like they're almost done. Don't worry if they're still a bit raw in the middle, because this whole thing is going in the oven.  Place each slice of cooked veal on top of a slice of eggplant.

6.  Spoon more pasta sauce over veal, about another 2 Tb per piece.  Scatter mozzarella over pieces and sprinkle top with any remaining breadcrumbs.  Bake for 20 minutes, until cheese is melted and everything is heated through.  This should be enough time to make the pasta for it.  For a browned top, place under broiler for 2 minutes.  Allow to rest 5 minutes before trying to transfer it from the casserole to a plate.  Serve with spaghetti and a few bits of fresh basil as garnish, two slices to a serving.

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Gourmet to Go

So I bought fresh food to go in my new fridge, and then my schedule got rearranged and I wasn't going to be having dinner at home for a while.  As tempting as take-out was, I really needed to cook what I had bought before it went bad.  The most expensive part of grocery shopping is what you let go to waste.

After breakfast one morning, I started to make dinner.  I made poached salmon with a lemon cream sauce over barley and steamed broccoli.  Then I packed it up in containers and took one of them with me to work.  Far more nutritious than the drive-thru, even using the heavy cream.  (I had most of a pint left over from the tea party that would soon go bad, and had some form of cream sauce on my entrée for over a week to use it up.)

One thing to remember when you do something like this is how you're going to reheat the meal.  Microwaves are the usual, but a toaster oven can work, depending on what you have.  Reheating by either method will also cook your food more.  With something delicate like fish or steak, you have to undercook it slightly in anticipation of this.  My salmon was almost raw in the middle when I packed it, but perfectly cooked and flaky once it was hot.

You can also see that I attempted something resembling an attractive plating.  I mashed it all together at some point during the meal, but there was barley on the bottom, the veggie arranged neatly, and a properly sliced piece of salmon on top, lightly coated with the sauce.  Leftovers don't have to look like leftovers.

Yes, it's a bit of work, but no more than I would have put into it in the afternoon.  I was just doing it at 9am.  Packing a meal just transfers the cooking time to a more convenient hour.  It saves money, is generally more nutritious, and has fewer calories than anything you pick up.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Mashed Pumpkin

After trimming off the dead vines, the last two pumpkin plants went bonkers and filled the planter.  Unfortunately, all of their female flowers keep dying before blooming or fail to pollinate.  I won't give up hope until the vines die, but it looks like my pumpkin season is over just as Bradley and Cherry finally start to put out tomatoes.  That is so backward.  Oh well, time to start cooking up the rest of the pumpkins.

You can treat pumpkins similar to butternut squash in recipes, as I did here with a mashed pumpkin.  It's a way to serve up pumpkin as a fall treat, perhaps as a replacement for yams at Thanksgiving.  And the nutrition makes you feel less guilty about adding butter and sugar.

1 small sugar pie pumpkin (about 3 lbs)
salt
2 Tb butter
1/4 C brown sugar (or less, to taste)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
2 Tb milk

1.  Chop up pumpkin and scoop out middles.  Save seeds for roasting and discard strings.

2.  Place pieces in a large pot and fill with 1" of water.  You can even put the pumpkin in a steamer basket.  Salt the water lightly and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, cover pot, and steam until pumpkin is fully cooked, about half an hour.  Remove pumpkin and allow to cool slightly.

3.  Once you can handle the pieces, either pare off the skin or scoop out the flesh, whichever you think you're better at.  Place in a bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher.  You can use an electric beater, but it's going to make a mess.  Drain off any pooled liquid and add remaining ingredients.  Beat thoroughly and serve hot, maybe garnished with cinnamon.

Difficulty rating  :)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Veal Scallopini

I picked up some veal cube steak in the discount bin.  I don't usually buy veal, but this was a good deal and already prepped.  I wouldn't have to pound it before cooking.  Then I had to find something to do with it.  After a long and exhaustive google search of about three minutes, I chose this recipe.  His portions are larger than what I normally serve, as this recipe will reflect.

Dave (of the link) did this as a one-pan meal.  That's how I tend to work, too, but I don't usually do it this fast.  Because of veal's short cooking time, you're really hopping throughout this process.  I highly recommend cutting everything before you ever turn on the heat.  This is like one of those recipes they do on TV cooking shows, where everything is pre-portioned and they make it in five minutes.  You think it's all for show and assume it's really going to take you at least half an hour.  Nope, maybe ten minutes.  Plus, you're probably making pasta and/or vegetable side dishes at the same time, so everything is hot together.  I started boiling the water for the pasta when I turned on the pan for the mushrooms, then got the beans simmering just as the mushrooms were done.  It felt like I was in a restaurant kitchen, it was so fast.  I had wanted to take pictures throughout the process, but there was no time to grab the camera.  Please, please, read this recipe thoroughly before starting and commit as much of it to memory as possible.

Note that the white wine doesn't have a star next to it.  I am finally out of Papa Smurf's white wine and had to buy some.  I still have some red, but the end is in sight.  It is so much easier to open a wine you have just bought than one that has been stored in questionable surroundings.

2 C mushrooms, chopped
2 Tb olive oil
1/4 C butter
1 lb veal cube steak or pounded veal scallops
*2 cloves garlic, diced
1 large shallot, diced
1 Tb Dijon mustard
1 C chicken stock
1/2 C white wine
*1/2 C heavy cream
2 Tb fresh tarragon, chopped (or 2 tsp dried)
salt and pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 200º, to keep veal warm while making sauce.

2.  In a 10" skillet, cook mushrooms in olive oil over medium.  Lightly salt and pepper while cooking.  They are done when they have stopped giving up moisture, and will not cook any more when you add them to the sauce.  Transfer to a holding bowl.

3.  Crank up heat in skillet and add butter.  When melted, add veal.  Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Turn after one minute and cook for a minute on other side.  It's ok if they are not completely cooked, because they are going to spend the next few minutes in the oven keeping warm.  That will finish them.  It's better that they are undercooked than tough.  Transfer veal to a heatproof plate and place in oven.

4.  Add shallots and garlic to the hot pan and cook for about 30 seconds, leaving the heat on high.  Deglaze pan with the wine, then add the chicken stock.  Everything should be boiling.  Reduce the sauce by 1/2.

5.  Add the mushrooms back into the pan.  Stir in the mustard, tarragon, and cream.  Reduce again to whatever consistency you like in your sauce.  Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary.

6.  Remove veal from oven and plate as desired.  Spoon sauce over veal and serve.

Difficulty rating :)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Coconut Ice Cream

We lost another baker at work, so my schedule is all over the place.  For his last day, he wanted me to make him something.  I had already bought the ingredients for a coconut cake, so I made cupcakes for everyone, which was still only a half batch.  I had about half a cup of coconut milk left over, and only a mini-fridge to work with.  I just wanted to use it up and not deal with storing it.

So here you go: dairy free, gluten free, and vegan if you use an appropriate sweetener.  This isn't a health food; there's more fat in this ice cream than one made with dairy.  It's KLP if your extract was made with a KLP alcohol, or you can just omit extracts and use a natural flavoring like nutmeg.

As a variation, you could add cocoa powder to this, or coffee, or fruit.  To make an added-sugar free ice cream, toss a very ripe banana and the coconut milk in the blender and run until smooth.  Pour directly into the ice cream maker.

*1 (13-ish oz) can full-fat coconut milk, not the light kind
1/4 C sugar
unsweetened coconut for mix-in or garnish
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (I used lavender extract for mine, and it was awesome)

1.  In a saucepan, heat coconut milk and sugar until sugar dissolves and mixture is smooth.  All those lumps are coconut fat.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  Cool in refrigerator until chilled, at least 2 hours.

2.  Process cream in ice cream maker until thick.  Add coconut shavings and allow the machine to distribute them.  Either serve immediately or place in a container to firm up another hour or so.

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, August 28, 2014

My New Fridge

Ooh, a fridge with nothing on it
I unloaded my old side-by-side refrigerator after Roommate Smurf moved out.  The ice maker didn't work, who knows what was lurking in the water tube, it was old and energy-sucking, and platters don't fit in a side-by-side.  Plus, I do not need two refrigerators, even when throwing a party.  Technically, I had three, but usually turned off the mini-fridge in the bar.  Yes, my parents bought a party house all those years ago.  The family room even has an overhead light in an odd place which is for a poker table when you think about it.  Gotta love the 50s.

A month later, just as I was celebrating how much my electric bill had gone down, the other one started to go.  I turned on the mini-fridge and went online to get an idea of what I wanted before driving all over creation.

Ok, wow, I had a very unrealistic view of how much refrigerators cost.  That's what happens when you hang onto a fridge for 20 years.  It was also the first time I had bought a brand-new major kitchen appliance.  One side effect of a generation that lives in apartments is that we have no idea what it costs to keep up a house.  Something breaks and you call management.  I reviewed my finances and started visiting showrooms.

My parents built a cabinet for the fridge when they remodeled in the 90's.  It was a good idea then, but made it very hard to buy a refrigerator now.  I went shopping for several days with the dimensions and a tape measure.  At long last, I found a salesman who really knew his product and helped me to find something that fit my needs, cabinet, and budget.  He even did some online comparison shopping to price-match before ringing it up.  This guy was a great salesman and I would probably go back to him the next time I need an appliance (please, washer & dryer, just hang on until the fridge is paid off). I'm not mentioning where I got the fridge because I want to stress that it wasn't the company that sold it, but this salesman.

My new French-door fridge arrived last Monday.  I couldn't hook up the water right away because the valve needed to be replaced.  Again, 20 years old.  The wallpaper behind the fridge is even from the last kitchen remodel, before the 1990s fridge.  For one thing, the new fridge completely obscures the wall and it doesn't matter, and the other thing is that the pattern is so similar to the current wallpaper that you have to look twice to realize it is different.  Replacing the valve happened the next day, and I was in business.

Note that the exterior has no water/ice dispenser.  I don't use them a lot, and they tend to rust the exterior of a fridge.  The ice maker is in the lower freezer compartment, and the water dispenser is inside the left side of the door.  How cool is that?
Side note, because it happened yet again.  When I gave the salesman my house phone number, up came my parents's names and the address.  This happens a lot, even with a random plumber I picked out of the phone book.  I guess it's a good reason to keep the land-line.  Initially, I was keeping it for friends of my parents who didn't know they had passed away, then later as an emergency phone if the power went out and my cell's battery died, which did happen when a transformer on my block blew last year and the power was out for almost 24 hours.  (Also why I hang onto the actual phone book.)

Anyway, that's why this post isn't about something I cooked.  When you're only keeping as much refrigerated food as fits in a mini-fridge for two weeks, not a whole lot of cooking happens.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Spinach and Plum Salad with Balsamic Vinegar

My boss is on a diet for medical reasons.  She's doing an excellent job of it, which has guilted me into monitoring my own salt and nutritional balance.  It's amazing how quickly you lose weight when your system is balanced and not bloated on things you know you shouldn't be eating anyway.  It's all water and intestinal weight and the hard work starts when that is under control, but your pants fit better and you feel like the results are much bigger than a week of oatmeal for breakfast should accomplish.

I needed something to accompany the falafel-crusted chicken, preferably something with next to no fat. Fiber wasn't an issue because of the chickpeas in the falafel, but there was bound to be quite a bit of oil in the crust.  I have no problem with using vinegars straight as dressings or dipping sauces.  You just have to watch the flow.  It is very easy to pour too much.

You can see in the photo that I used almonds as the nut, but I'm recommending candied walnuts as the garnish.  I hadn't realized I used the last of my walnuts on the pumpkin tamales and didn't want to go back to the store.  The almonds weren't bad, but walnuts are more traditional.

8 C raw spinach leaves (about 1 lb or a bag)
2 black plums
1/2 C candied walnuts
2 oz crumbled tangy cheese such as gorgonzola, feta, or chèvre
about 1/4 C balsamic vinegar

1.  Rinse spinach, remove stems, and tear into bite-sized pieces.  If plating, place about 2 C on each salad plate.  Otherwise, place in serving bowl.  Everything else is going to go on top.

2.  To slice plums, run knife around groove in the plum, and you can twist it into two halves.  Remove pit and slice each half thinly.  Arrange slices over spinach.

3.  Sprinkle cheese and nuts around top of salad, then drizzle with vinegar (1 Tb per individual salad, or all of it on the bowl).  Do not toss salad, just let the vinegar work its way down.  The plums will absorb some of it, making a tangy sweetness.  Serve immediately, or chill for up to 1 hour.

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, August 22, 2014

Falafel-Crusted Chicken

I'm calling this the Chilafel, even though that really should be reserved for a fried patty of falafel mix and ground chicken.  I just wanted to use the word.

I'm finally out of bread crumbs!  That only took four years.  So, what else to use for coating skinless chicken?  Let's face it, chicken skin provides flavor and keeps the meat from drying out.  I recently stocked up at Sprouts with stuff out of the bins, and one of the bags was full of garbanzo beans.  Every recipe for something similar that I found online uses boxed falafel mix, and there is nothing wrong with that if you happen to like the stuff.  I find it too salty and spicy and make my own.  Plus, now I know how much of it you need to coat four thinly-sliced chicken breast pieces.

And you do need to cut them in half the hard way.  The pieces should be no more than half an inch thick, or the falafel will burn before the chicken is done.  You could use chicken tenders, but then the chicken may cook before the falafel is crispy.  I got lucky and found the right thickness on the first try.

1/2 C dry garbanzo beans
1/4 C yellow or green onion
*2 cloves garlic
*1 Tb parsley flakes
*1 Tb flour or matzoh meal
*1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt
*2 Tb fresh cilantro
*1/4 tsp coriander seeds
*dash pepper
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 lb)
Vegetable oil or Peanut oil, for frying (Not olive oil)

1.  The day before, start soaking beans in 2 C water.  Garbanzos can soak up to 24 hours.

2.  Drain beans and dump in food processor with onion, garlic, parsley, flour, cumin, salt, cilantro, coriander, and pepper.  Pulse until beans are all broken up and mixture is a coarse paste similar to lumpy oatmeal.  Do not make it too smooth.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour for flavors to meld.

3.  Pour enough oil into a 10" skillet to coat the bottom.  The reason you're not using olive oil is because olive oil has too low a smoke point to cook meat.  We need this to get up to about 350º.  Start heating oil on medium while you prepare the chicken.

4.  Slice chicken in half horizontally, like you're cutting cake layers.  It isn't easy, and I tore the first one a few times.  The great part is that you can't tell once it is coated.  Rub oil on all sides of chicken so the falafel can stick to something.
5.  Transfer falafel mix to a shallow pan for easier coating.  Press chicken into mix until both sides are covered.  My falafel didn't want to stay on at first.  Just keep sticking it back on like spackle.  If you have extra, just make falafel balls out of it.  They won't be vegetarian because the mix has touched chicken, but at least you're not wasting it.  I got one falafel ball, meaning that this is very close to the exact amount of coating you need for the chicken.
6.  Test oil with a drop of water to make sure it's hot enough.  If the drop pops or dances, you're good to go.  Turn on fan and maybe open a window.  Gently place chicken in skillet, because it might splatter.  Cook until coating is lightly browned and crispy, about 5 minutes.  Turn with tongs or a spatula and cook other side for slightly less time, 3 or 4 minutes.  Only turn the chicken once.  I found out that turning it again makes the coating fall off.  Remove to paper towel-lined platter and serve hot.

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Pumpkin Dessert Tamales

I went back and forth a lot with this one, trying to decide if I should make these sweet or savory.  But after the little overdose of cumin in the pumpkin hummus, I decided to sweeten them up.  I could also keep them in the freezer for tea snacks at a later date, or even breakfast.

For the most part, I followed my apple tamale recipe and just made a few substitutions for the new flavors.  Pumpkins have a lot of water in them, so I reduced the amount of apple juice.  As an experiment, I decided to use cream cheese instead of butter.  The apple recipe only replaces half of the butter with cream cheese.  I'm not trying to make a low-fat tamale, but I don't see the need for half a stick of butter when the pumpkin provides a substitute texture.  Anyway, I had half a brick left over from the danishes, and those things don't keep.

Before and after:
2-1/2 C pumpkin + 1/2 C roasted seeds
I'm reducing the difficulty rating for these because I realized that they are basically cookie dough minus the egg and the only hard part is wrapping them.  I'm guessing the active work time to be less than 45 minutes, with an hour before for soaking the husks and the hour of steaming.  I will definitely make these again during the holiday season, if for no other reason than there's plenty of pumpkin left.  I roasted up two in case the yield was low, and now have over a pint of purée in the freezer, plus three more pumpkins waiting their turn.

20-24 corn husks
*1/2 C (half a brick) cream cheese
1/2 C brown sugar
*1/4 tsp nutmeg
*1 tsp cinnamon
*1/8 tsp cloves
*1/4 tsp ginger
1 tsp baking powder
dash salt
2 C masa harina flour
1 15oz can pumpkin purée (not pie mix) or 2 C homemade purée
1/2 C apple juice, or as needed
1/2 C raisins
*1/2 C chopped walnuts

1.  An hour before starting, place husks in a deep pan.  Pour boiling water over them and let sit to soften.

2.  In stand mixer, beat cream cheese with paddle until fully creamed.  Add brown sugar, baking powder, and spices and beat until combined, about a minute.  Scrape sides and bottom and beat again until fluffy.

3.  Add 1 C masa flour and beat until incorporated.  Add half of the pumpkin and beat until smooth.  Repeat.  If batter is too thick to shape easily, add apple juice a tablespoon at a time until the consistency is like a soft sugar cookie dough.  Refrigerate 10 minutes to allow the moisture to distribute evenly.

4.  Set up a steamer pot with 2" of water.  My setup is a 2-gallon stock pot with a strainer that happens to fit the rim perfectly.  Any kind of drop-in steamer insert will work, but it should be big enough to hold 18-24 tamales.  If you have to steam them in batches, you'll be there all day.  You don't actually have to turn on the heat until you're down to the last 4 or so, but remember to get the water simmering before you're done wrapping.

5.  For the filling, stir together raisins and walnuts.

6.  Lay down a clean kitchen towel on your work surface.  Get out a corn husk and lay it flat.  Place about 3 Tb of batter in the middle of the upper half and spread it out slightly.  Spoon on about 1-1/2 tablespoons of filling.  Fold in the sides, fold up the bottom, and if you don't trust it to stay there, wrap it with a strip of corn husk.  Place in your steamer basket and move on to the next one.

7.  When all are wrapped, place basket over now-simmering water.  Cover tightly and steam for 1 hour.  Check the water at least once and add more if necessary.  After the hour, remove basket from heat and let tamales sit for about 10 minutes before serving, to firm up.  Leftovers are easy to freeze and microwave later.
Makes 18 to 24

Difficulty rating :-0