Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Garden 2014

Everyone remember to mail their tax returns?

This felt like really late to plant, but I guess most climates aren't even warm enough yet.  I was waiting for a very warm day to try the pumpkin seeds again.  85º should be warm enough.  Plus, Home Depot was having a sale on planting supplies and I had a $30 credit.  I can do a lot of damage with that.

The drainage holes I cut in the fountain liner aren't perfect, but they're keeping a new lake from forming every time the sprinklers go off.  Putting more plants in the soil to use that water will help to keep it from flooding.  Plus, I really don't think it's going to rain more than a quarter of an inch until fall.  I bailed out the remaining puddle and bought more dirt.

So many plants, so little space.  It's tempting to buy a bunch of seedlings, but they do grow.  You have to plan ahead, especially when at least one is a tomato plant.  They will take over if you let them.  I got a pink tomato hybrid called Bradley that said it was good for canning and freezing, something I wished I could do last year with the cherry tomatoes.  I also picked up a tomatillo plant.  I don't buy them often at the market because I don't think of it; they're on the top shelf at Pavilions, above my eye level.  Those two plants quickly took on the nicknames Tommy and Brad.  They have both taken root nicely.  I had a lavender plant by the front door that died over the winter (also from poor drainage), so I got a rosemary bush to take its place, opposite my basil.  I like the idea of having fragrant herbs near the front door.

Artie must be auditioning for the part of Audrey II, because he got huge.  The plant is about as tall as I am, which isn't that impressive in itself, except it isn't a tree!  Artie put out one central bud the size of my fist.  Not huge, but enough to top the salad at Seder.  As that was happening, he also developed three baby buds, each with its own grandbaby bud attached.  That will definitely be worth preserving as marinated artichoke hearts.

The redleaf lettuce lost interest in becoming a head and grew vertically so it could flower.  The leaves became the bitter herbs at Seder and I ripped it out.  The two little red lettuces got considerably bigger and I mixed some into the Seder salad.  They get to live a while longer.  Gus, after the post-flood bonanza, has been looking kind of sickly.

Kale is no longer organic.  Some mama butterfly or moth decided to lay her eggs on it.  Time to get out the spray.  It was a good thing I was going to pick a few leaves for dinner that day, or the caterpillars would have eaten half the plant.  I ate something else.  Brad and Tommy lasted five days before bugs discovered their leaves were yummy, so they're not organic either.

No pumpkin shoots yet, and this is the last time I'm going to plant seeds.  If I buy another packet, I will have spent more than a small pumpkin costs, which totally defeats the purpose.  Five more days until I give up on my totally awesome Halloween idea.  Bummer.



UPDATE (11:12 am):  This is what I get for posting before the sun comes up.  Three of four pumpkin hills have at least two seedlings!  I'm not a total failure at gardening from seed.  I also found another baby artichoke tucked in a lower stalk.  It's name is now Heidi.  Now I have to figure out how to keep the pumpkins healthy.  I have heard good things about diluted milk sprays preventing leaf mold.  Once they have more than a few leaves, I'll start treatments.

UPDATE AGAIN (2:18 pm):  Make that 4 out of 4 hills!  Only one sprout on the last so far, but we do have successful germination.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Baked Pumpkin Pie

Found another can of pumpkin in the pantry.  I'm doing very well getting rid of the chometz, but there's a box of graham crackers.  Pie crust!

I'm calling this post "baked" as opposed to the Pumpkin Chiffon that I usually make.  This recipe started as the one on the Libby's can.  I don't normally keep evaporated milk on hand, decided I prefer brown sugar in my pumpkin pies, and subbed in a graham crust.  Not that big of a tweak, for me.  You can actually see where the recipe came from.

Some people shy away from making pies because they think they're either too difficult to make or too messy.  Including pulverizing the crackers, this took ten minutes to prep.  I did it all in one bowl, plus a microwaveable cup for the butter.  About halfway through adding ingredients, I realized it isn't much different than my quiche recipes, which I just throw together when I can't think of anything else to make with items on hand.  It takes longer to read the recipe as you go along than to make it.

*7 full graham crackers (or 14 squares)
2 Tb granulated sugar
1/4 C butter, melted
2 eggs
*1-1/2 C milk
2/3 C light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cloves
1 (15 oz) can packed pumpkin - not pie mix

1.  Place graham crackers in a quart ziplock and seal.  Run over with the unopened can of pumpkin until it breaks into fine crumbs.  Pour into a small mixing bowl and stir in granulated sugar.  Add melted butter and stir into a thick paste.  Press paste into a pie pan and place in the oven while it's preheating to 425º and you're mixing the filling.  That will give it enough time to set and dry out a bit, without making it too dark.

2.  Rinse out bowl and wipe dry.  Beat eggs until well blended.  Beat in milk, spices, and brown sugar.  Add pumpkin and stir until fully combined.  Go get the pie crust out of the oven, which should be nearly to 425º by now, and pour the filling into it.

3.  Bake pie at 425º for 15 minutes.  Lower oven temp to 350º and continue to bake 30 minutes.  Test with a toothpick, which will probably come up wet, but the hole will vent the middle and allow more even cooking.  Test again in 10 minutes, and 5 minutes after that if necessary.
That cool starburst pattern is because I didn't mix in the spices well enough.
4.  Once toothpick finally comes up clean, remove pie from oven and allow to cool at room temperature for about 2 hours.  This slow cooling is to reduce the number of surface cracks, like you would with a cheesecake.  Once pie is room temperature, either serve immediately or refrigerate for later.

Makes about 8 servings

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Garlic-Roasted Baby Eggplant

Sprouts keeps stocking these adorable baby eggplant.  They run between 8 and 12 to the dollar, and the cuteness factor goes a long way to make something appetizing.  About the size of an egg, they're probably the reason someone named them eggplant in the first place.

Then you get your dollar's worth home and realize you have to make something edible out of them.  They are perfect for an hors d'oeuvre-sized portion of something, so I just thought of what I would do to a regular eggplant and made it a whole lot cuter.

8 baby eggplant
*2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tb olive oil

1.  Preheat oven to 375º.

2.  Peel garlic and slice crosswise thinly.  Cut a lengthwise slit in each eggplant, not cutting all the way through and leaving both ends intact.  Carefully cram garlic slices into the slits.

3.  Place eggplants in 8"x8" baking dish.  Drizzle with olive oil and rub all over.  Sprinkle with salt and bake until soft to the touch and somewhat prune-like, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

4.  Serve hot, either as is or with a dipping sauce such as tahini or marinara.

makes 8

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sushi Rice

I have a little bit of Calrose rice left to use up before Passover.  I happen to like sticky rice, so I keep it on hand as a base for stir-fry and rice-based salads.  I accidentally bought more rice wine vinegar because I thought I was out, making this a Pantry Project recipe.

"Sushi" refers to the rice you use to serve the fish, just as "sashimi" is the fish without rice.  The vinegar, salt, and sugar used to season the rice acts as a short-term preservative for the raw fish.  "Nigiri sushi" on a menu means fish with just a specific amount of rice and probably wasabi, as opposed to "tekka" or a hand roll, which include seaweed.  The dish called "Onigiri" is a plainly cooked, unseasoned rice with some kind of garnish.  I tend to use sushi rice for onigiri, which is completely not authentic, but I like the taste.

You'll notice that the dressing ingredients are almost identical to those of sunomono.  Same basic flavor profile, but it's more subtle in the rice.

*1 C medium- or short-grain white rice, such as Calrose
2 Tb rice wine vinegar
1 Tb sugar
1/2 tsp salt

1.  Soak rice briefly in cold water to rinse off the dust that always accumulates on rice.  The water doesn't have to run clear, but you should drain it off and refill the pot two or three times.

2.  In a small saucepan, cover rice with 1 C cold water.  Slowly bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to its lowest, and cook until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to sit 10 more minutes.  If rice appears too dry, add 1/4 C water.  Stir only briefly to disperse it.

3.  In a small bowl, combine vinegar, sugar, and salt.  Microwave for 15 seconds to help dissolve the solids.  Turn out rice into a bowl and fold dressing into it with a wooden paddle.  You don't want to overwork the rice, but you need to keep it moving until it reaches room temperature or it will stick together oddly.  This can take 15 minutes or more.

4.  Once cooled to room temperature, rice is ready to be used in sushi or other dishes.

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Seafood Risotto #2

Because I still have a gallon of fish stock in the freezer.  I was more than happy to defrost a quart for this.

My last endeavor in this field was less than impressive because I thought the tomatoes overpowered everything.  Using the fish stock, that was not going to be an issue, but I still chose fennel as my veggie.  It does have a strong taste of its own, which tends to dull as it is cooked until it tastes more like an herb than a veggie.  You will notice the absence of much seasoning in this dish.  That's because the essential ingredients bring most of it with them.

For the seafood, I used half scallops and half fake lobster, which I've never used before.  I use the surimi-based crab often because it is easier to deal with than getting real crab meat out of the shell.  This was a cheaper alternative to chopping up a lobster tail.

I forgot to buy white wine and popped open a bottle of champagne instead.  My alternate go-to would have been an ounce of anisette.  While alcohol isn't 100% necessary in risotto, it does help to bring out the flavors.  You put it in at the beginning, so the alcoholic content is mostly cooked off during the 45 minutes or so it simmers.

1 Tb olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 bulb fennel
1 C arborio rice (risotto)
*1 C champagne or dry white wine
*1 quart fish stock
1 lb assorted white fish or shellfish, bite-sized
1 Tb lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

1.  In a 2-qt saucepan, heat fish stock to a low boil.  Lower heat to simmer and keep it near the pot you're going to use for the risotto.

2.  Add oil to a large pot (4-qt minimum).  Over medium heat, cook onions in oil until softened.  Slice bulb of fennel thinly, saving feathery tops for garnish (a step I forgot, then had to go scrounging around for something else to use and ended up with parsley).  Add fennel and cook several more minutes.  Add rice and cook until lightly glazed, about 3 minutes.

3.  Add champagne to the risotto pot and stir.  Continue stirring lightly until absorbed.  Begin adding fish stock one ladle at a time, stirring frequently to avoid scorching and to develop texture.  Wait until each ladle-ful is absorbed before adding more.  This is going to take at least half an hour.  You may want to pour yourself a glass of the champagne to pass the time.  If mixture starts to boil, lower heat.

4.  At last addition, stir in fish and lemon juice.  Continue to stir until remaining liquid is absorbed and fish is cooked, about 5 minutes.  Taste and add salt or pepper as necessary.  Serve in bowls, maybe with a salad or something light on the side.

Difficulty rating :)

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sunomono

I had half a cucumber in the fridge and decided to slice up some sunomono.  This is the little cucumber salad you get in a bento box.  It's slightly tangy from the vinegar and more than a little sweet.  Sunomono is an easy side for lunch, and it tastes better the second day.

The trick to an even marinade is very thin slices.  If you have a mandoline or food processor, set it to the thinner blade.  If you have an offset vegetable peeler, you may be able to use that as your slicer if you get a Japanese or Persian cucumber.  Those should be narrow enough for the peeler to straddle.

*1 English cucumber or 3 Japanese or Persian cucumbers
1/2 tsp salt
*3 Tb rice wine vinegar
1 Tb sugar
1 drop soy sauce
sesame seeds for garnish

1.  Peel cucumber if desired.  Slice cucumber as thinly as possible.  Arrange in a sieve and sprinkle with salt.  Allow to sit for 10 minutes, then squeeze out any water the salt has drawn from the vegetable.  Transfer to a bowl or storage container.

2.  In a small bowl, stir together vinegar, sugar, and soy sauce until sugar dissolves.  You can microwave it for 15 seconds to speed up the process.  Toss dressing on cucumbers and chill for at least 1 hour to marinate.

3.  Serve as 1/4 C mounds on the edge of the plate or in a sauce cup, topped by a tiny sprinkle of sesame seeds.

Yield depends on size of cucumber, about 4

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, March 28, 2014

Starfruit

I'm not sure I've ever devoted a post to a single ingredient, but I learned something from this one and decided to share.

Sprouts had starfruit, and I realized I've never had it, so I picked up a small one.  When I got it home and went online, I found out that it wasn't quite ripe.  I had to let it sit on the counter a few days to get fully yellow.

A YouTube video explained that you can eat all of it, but most people choose to remove the seeds because they are unexpectedly crunchy.  You just slice it crosswise and go.  It makes a fruit salad into a conversation piece and can decorate a fish or poultry dish.  If you're looking for something mildly sweet for a green salad and don't feel like using citrus, this is an option.  Starfruit is a little tart.  I think I was expecting it to taste like mango, and it doesn't.  Somewhere between a mango and a grapefruit, I think.
Just a reminder that a trip to the grocery store doesn't have to be a chore.  If you keep your eyes open, you may discover a new-to-you culinary gem.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Gefilte Fish

I've toyed with the idea of making my own gefiltes, but it always sounded too gross.  Either I have matured, or I really want to get rid of last year's matzoh meal in the pantry by the end of this Passover.

There are two ways of preparing fish for a gefilte recipe.  The more modern ones have you get the fishmonger to grind it for you.  See previous post for my recent history with the fish counter.  The traditional versions have you hack it into tiny bits.  Since I was working with previously frozen fish, I thought this would be the way to go.  While it's still a little frozen, fish isn't that difficult to mince.  I could have done it in the food processor, but then I would have had to clean it.  This recipe is just like making a meatloaf.  If you usually make your meatloaf in the food processor, it will work just as well for gefilte.

There are also two traditions of flavoring a gefilte.  Recipes from Poland and the western end of Russia have a bit of sugar in them.  Sephardic do not, but use more herbs and spices.  Manischewitz is on the sweet end, and most of the selections in the kosher aisle aren't far behind.  I'm of Ashkenazi descent, so I put the sugar in it.

The recipe I'm using is mostly from Wolfgang Puck's on Food Network, except I'm simmering instead of baking, and skipping the cabbage part.  I'm sure it looks beautiful and presents well.  I also found out from a woman on the cryptograms site who goes by momof7 that you can pre-shape the loaves in a plastic freezer bag and keep them in the freezer until you're ready to cook them.  It just takes 1-1/2 hours of simmering if you drop it in straight from frozen.

The taste when they came out was excellent.  Just the right balance of seasonings.  I chose sole and rockfish (no relation to the one in the stock) as my fish.  You want to pick a white fish that is low in fat.When I used horseradish, it did overpower the flavorings.  What I had not been prepared for was the delicate texture.  This isn't the lump you get out of the jar.  I didn't whip the egg whites as Puck does, and it was still so soft and delicate that you almost wouldn't know it's gefilte.  It was more like a fish-flavored matzoh ball.  This could have been because I used matzoh cake meal, or maybe I changed the proportions of something, or because I had it slightly warm instead of the typical chilled.  Whatever, I was happy.

1 Tb olive oil
1/2 medium onion, minced
2 lbs white fish, finely chopped or ground
*1/2 C matzoh cake meal
2 eggs
1/2 C parsley, finely chopped
1/2 tsp white pepper
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 carrot, cut in julienne strips
1 leek, white part only, julienned
more parsley for garnish
1 quart fish stock

1.  Sweat the minced onion in the olive oil until translucent.  Set aside and allow to cool slightly.

2.  In a mixing bowl, combine fish, matzoh meal, parsley, white pepper, salt, and sugar.  Knead together to mix well.  In a small bowl, beat eggs slightly and add to fish.  Knead again to distribute.  Refrigerate mix until ready to use, or divide into portions in plastic bags and freeze.

3.  In a medium saucepan, bring fish stock to a low boil, then lower to a simmer.  Shape handfuls of mix, about 1/2 C each, into quenelles.  That's like a cross between an egg and an aspirin.  It's not a sphere, but the shape two large spoons would make.  Gently lower portions into simmering broth and allow to cook for 30 minutes (90 from frozen).  If some of it is exposed because they're floating, turn over for last 10 minutes.  Remove from heat.  If serving chilled, transfer to a storage container and place in fridge.  To serve warm, set aside in the broth while preparing garnish.

4.  Bring water in a small saucepan to a boil.  Drop in julienned carrots and leek and allow to boil for half a minute.  Remove from heat, drain immediately, and place in a cold water bath to stop the cooking.

5.  To serve, place one quenelle in a small bowl or dish with a spoonful of the broth and garnish with vegetable slices and parsley sprigs.

Serves 10 to 12

Difficulty rating  :-0  (for chopping the fish)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Fish Stock

After the success of the vegetable stock, I got it into my head to make my own fish stock - or fumé to the classical chef - for the next post that you'll see in a few days.  After all, it's pretty much the same thing, but you add fish bits while boiling.

The "fish bits" seemed to be the hard part.  I buy fillets because I don't want to deal with heads and stuff.  I don't think the average consumer does, because most of what you find in the market is beautifully filleted and mostly skinned.  The first two seafood counters I went to had no idea what Fish Stock was, much less what I meant by "trimmings".  Big chains apparently do not butcher their own seafood.

Whole Foods to the rescue.  I almost never shop there, but they do have an elaborate seafood section.  Plus, they have a big sign over the fish counter that they will skin and fillet fish for you.  Bingo.  They'll even cook your seafood, which to me defeats the purpose of buying it at a market instead of going to a restaurant.  I pre-ordered a pound or so of any white fish bones, heads, fins, and skin that he could accumulate over the weekend.

What I ended up with was the cuttings off of two big rockfish.  It was the size and weight of a newborn, and he gave it to me for just a token price that made this project economical.  Time to scale up the recipe and freeze the leftovers.  Frankly, I wasn't sure it would fit in my stock pot.  I went out and bought quart mason jars for the first time ever.  I never can a batch that big, but this was going to require several.  It is important to mention that, even though I stored the stock in mason jars, they are not "canned".  You can't water-bath can stock, and I don't own a pressure canner.  This was simply a cheap, reusable storage medium that allowed me to keep track of the yield.
What are you complaining about?  I'm the one who had to touch it.
Fumé sounds all fancy because it's a classical sauce.  I used the recipe out of my garde manger book, with the exception of using kale instead of leeks because that's what I had in my stock freezer bag.  Oh, and I used some sherry instead of opening a bottle of white wine.  There are no carrots because you want a white stock.  It's really easy because nothing has to be cut pretty.  You're only going to be using the liquid when you're done.  I didn't even bother with a bouquet garni pouch and just tossed everything in.  I trust my strainer.

1 lb fish heads, fins, bones, and skin (no gills)
1 C chopped onion
1 rib celery, chopped
1 leek or 2 leaves kale, chopped
1 Tb olive oil
1 small bay leaf
1 sprig fresh parsley
1 sprig fresh thyme
5 whole peppercorns
1/4 C white wine (or 2 Tb dry sherry)
1 qt water

1.  Open the windows.  In a large stock pot, heat oil over medium low.  Add fish trimmings and cook until opaque, stirring frequently.  Add vegetables and spices and sweat vegetables until onion wilts, about 5 minutes.  Add wine, spices and herbs, and water.
2.  Bring to a low simmer.  Do not boil, as that will kick up impurities.  If it gets foamy, skim off top.  Keep heat very low, cover, and let simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

3.  Remove from heat.  Strain through a fine-mesh sieve or doubled cheesecloth.  Either use immediately, or refrigerate or freeze for later use.  When chilled, it will become slightly gelatinous.  This is normal.  Keeps in the fridge for 5 days, freezer for 1 month.

Makes about 1 quart

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Blackberry Muffins

I ended up with a package of blackberries and no reason to turn them into jam.  I've never made this recipe out of the Tea book because I wouldn't buy blackberries just to use them in muffins.  Having some foisted upon me, I decided to try it.

I was surprised that this uses regular flour.  For something so delicate and - let's face it - high in oil and sugar, I would have expected cake flour.  For my batch, I used one cup of cake flour and the rest regular.  It reduces the chance of over-mixing and creating holes, but still allows enough gluten development for them to rise without whipping the egg.  You could also use any kind of berry in this recipe, but adjust the amount of sugar to match the sweetness.

Full disclosure, I had extra blackberries and put a couple on top of each muffin before baking.  There are probably closer to 10 oz in mine, so don't be surprised if yours looks more sparse.

2-1/2 C flour
1 Tb baking powder
1/2 C sugar
1 egg
1-1/3 C milk
6 Tb (1/4 C plus 2 Tb) vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
*6 oz fresh blackberries
2 Tb light brown sugar

1.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Grease or line a 12-cup muffin pan.

2.  Sift flour and baking powder into a medium bowl.  Stir in white sugar.

3.  In another bowl, beat together egg, milk, oil, and vanilla until smooth.  Add to dry ingredients and stir just until blended, no more than 5 strokes.  It's ok if there are still some lumps.

4.  Stir in blackberries, which will get rid of remaining lumps.  Let sit for 5 minutes for everything to hydrate evenly.

5.  Spoon batter into muffin pan.  Sprinkle tops with brown sugar (1/2 tsp per muffin, if you want to do the math).  Bake 15 to 20 minutes, until well-risen and golden brown.  Cool in pan 5 minutes, then turn out muffins onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 1 dozen

Difficulty rating π