Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Harvest Ragout

Ragout sounds fancier than stew.  For Sukkot, I decided to cook up my garden.  Well, three small eggplants, the last mature carrot, and some celery.  Supplemented by some tomatoes, onion, and leftover spinach and served over quinoa, this made a vegetarian meal.  I threw feta on it for a little extra flavor, but this can be made just fine as a vegan meal.  And yes, (grumble) it's gluten-free.

1 small eggplant, cut in 1" cubes
1 large carrot, chopped bite-sized
1 lb Roma tomatoes, large diced
*8 oz fresh spinach, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
*1/2 C diced onion
1/2 C diced celery
2 C low-salt vegetable broth
1 Tb butter (or olive oil for vegan)
1 Tb cornstarch
3/4 C dry quinoa
salt and pepper to taste
Feta cheese for garnish

1.  Sautée the onion, celery, and garlic in the butter in a large saucepan until soft.  Add 1 C broth, eggplant, carrot, and tomato.  Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until soft. about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching and to make sure everything makes it into the broth at some point.
2.  While that's going on, dissolve corn starch in 1/4 C cold water.  Cook quinoa in remaining cup of broth by also bringing to a low boil, then simmering covered for about 15 minutes.  Lightly salt and pepper both pots.  If you're using feta, that will add to the saltiness.

3.  When the quinoa is almost done and the vegetables have cooked down, add cornstarch slurry to the veggie pot.  Stir in and cook until the broth has thickened.  Stir in spinach, taste, and adjust seasonings.

4.  Serve ragout in a ring of quinoa, then lightly sprinkle with feta cheese.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Freezing Cookie Dough

It's baking season again.  This is the time of year that I want to make stuff all the time.  What usually stops me is "who's going to eat it?"  You can freeze pretty much any baked good, but there's something special about eating a cookie before it has cooled.  However, most recipes make at least two dozen snack-sized cookies.

Commercial sources discovered long ago that selling dough in the freezer section increased their sales.  That's great, but there are only about five kinds of cookies made that way.  It is great to break off a square or cut a slice and pop them into the toaster oven at a moment's notice.  You can do this yourself for much less money and only a little more time.

Version 1: The Log

These doughs can be used straight out of the freezer and sliced with a very sharp knife, or defrosted for a few hours so they can be rolled and cut with a cookie cutter.  Baking from frozen generally won't affect the baking time since the slices are under 1/4":

Version 2: The Scoop

Go to a restaurant supply store and get a purple scoop.  They're under $10, and sometimes referred to as a size 40 or 3/4 ounce.  I think the size below that is a steel-handled one, but a leveled-off purple will make a 2-to-3-inch drop cookie.  For very small cookies, use a melon baller.

Lay out a piece of waxed paper on a cookie sheet.  Scoop leveled-off portions onto the paper and freeze the entire sheet overnight.  Once they're solid, you can toss them in a gallon freezer bag and keep them frozen until needed.  Give them a 15 minute head start to defrost before preheating the oven and you're set:

For both methods, make sure to label the baggies with the name of the cookie, the date, what temperature to bake them, and for how long.  Most doughs will still be as good as new for about three months.

Not every cookie dough can withstand freezing.  Sponge cookies that are raised by whipped egg and cookies containing only baking soda and not baking powder will have issues.  Anything fluid you have to pipe, like a macaron or ladyfinger, cannot be frozen.  Actually, I'm not 100% sure on the macaroons, but they're just nuts, sugar, and unwhipped egg white.  All of those ingredients can be frozen separately.  And you have to work fast with the Toll House, because the dough is very soft.  Cookie-press doughs are fine to freeze.  I just don't have any here because I gave up on my skills with the press years ago.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Pumpkin Crepes #2

I used my third pumpkin on this one.  I haven't had as many pumpkins as the last time I grew them, but they're bigger.  And unlike the first two, I didn't purée this one.  I cut it up after roasting and peeling.

The main difference between these crepes and the first one I posted is that I did not try to make these vegetarian.  You could, just by leaving out the bacon.  They are also a lot more complex, with more ingredients, all of which have to be prepared separately.  I also made buckwheat galettes for them instead of buying some, which fit the flavor profile much better than a white-flour crepe.

As long as I was buying more spinach than I needed to fill the crepes, I decided to put the rest into a cream sauce, making it basically creamed spinach spooned on top.   If you decide to use fresh spinach, you can opt to put it inside raw and only cook the half for the sauce.  I got the inside spinach to the just-wilted stage.  You never want to cook spinach all the way how you want it because it's going to keep cooking in its own heat.  Now, if you opt for frozen, it's going to be wilted as soon as it's defrosted, but you can buy it already chopped.

*1 lb fresh pie pumpkin (about half of one)
1/2 lb bacon
1/2 lb spinach
1/2 C cream
*1/4 C diced onion
1 Tb butter
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp white pepper
salt as needed
1 batch galettes
pumpkin seed kernels for garnish

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Cut pumpkin open and remove seeds.  Place cut side down on baking sheet (line with foil for easy clean-up).  Place bacon slices on a rack on another baking sheet.  Bake for about 40 minutes, rotating pumpkin and flipping bacon halfway through.  If using fresh spinach, use the time to wash it and remove the stems.

2.  When pumpkin is cool enough to handle, peel and coarsely chop.  Stir with nutmeg, white pepper, and a dash of salt.  Set aside.  Chop bacon into bits and place in a separate bowl.  This is when I started cooking the crepes.

3.  Place butter and diced onion in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  While it's cooking, chiffonade the spinach.  Add to pot and toss to coat evenly.  When spinach begins to wilt, remove half of it.  Continue to cook down the other half, then add cream to make the sauce.
4.  To assemble, place about 1/4 C pumpkin in the center of the crepe.  Top with a generous pinch of spinach, then sprinkle with bacon.  Fold over crepe and spoon sauce on top.  Sprinkle generously with pumpkin seeds and serve, two crepes to a serving.

Makes 4 to 5 servings

Difficulty rating  :-0

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Grapes in Syrup

I bought a lot of fruit one shopping trip.  Then I got mild food poisoning from the cantaloupe and it kind of put me off the rest of it for a few days.  Yes, you can get ill from a melon, usually if the water used to grow it was not entirely clean.  Fortunately, I didn't have very much and figured out the cause of my tummy troubles on the second day.  I did hate to throw out the rest of it.

Meanwhile, the bag of grapes in the fridge was on the verge of spoiling and getting thrown out themselves.  There was no way I could finish them in time.  So, I went looking for grape recipes.

I know, that's not something you normally think of, a "grape recipe".  I found several in just my own cookbooks and never googled.  The Bible has one for marinated grapes, but they're still fresh and have to be eaten in a few days.  Out came the Ball book, and their simplest offering of canning whole grapes in syrup.  After all, canning was created to preserve foods for the long term if they couldn't be finished fresh.

Once I thought about it, those cans of fruit cocktail from the market mostly have peaches, pears, grapes, and cherries.  I already have canned cherries from earlier this year.  (I didn't post the recipe because it's basically the same as the nectarines.)While I was not about to peel two pounds of grapes, I can see myself having a mixed bowl of canned grapes and cherries over cottage cheese some day.

Like most of the recipes in the Ball book, you don't actually have to process can the grapes.  You can simmer them in the syrup for 15 minutes if they are going to be served in the next few days.  It's basically poached grapes, and there is no reason you couldn't add white wine to the syrup if you're just putting them in the fridge to use later in the day on some kind of dessert, perhaps jam tarts filled with lavender-lemon jam.

2 lbs seedless grapes
1 C sugar
2 C water

1.  Remove stems from grapes and place in acidulated water (fancy term for putting lemon juice in it first).  Measure the volume.  If canning, prepare jars for that yield and get your water boiling.  This step took me the longest of everything in this recipe.
2.  While the lids are heating and the jars are sterilizing, bring water and sugar to a low boil.  Continue to boil until all of the sugar is well dissolved, about 5 minutes.

3a, non-canning:  Drain grapes.  Pour into syrup and stir to coat.  Add a little more water (or 1/2 C white wine) if too dry.  Simmer for 15 minutes, until grapes have softened.  Store chilled in the syrup for up to 1 week.

3b, canning:  Ladle 1/2 C hot syrup into bottom of pint jars, 1/4 C for half-pints.  Raw-pack drained grapes to 1/2" from top.  Ladle more hot syrup over if needed, to generous 1/2" headspace.  Shake to settle and remove air bubbles.  Wipe rims, center lids, and screw on lids fingertip-tight.  Process 15 minutes for pint jars, 20 if you go crazy and do quarts.

For both methods, remember that the remaining syrup can be used to sweeten iced tea or adult drinks.  You could even put it in a hummingbird feeder.

Makes at least 2 pints

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Bunching Celery

When people ask what I'm growing in the garden, I usually forget to mention the celery.  Those three little plants have been in the Pond for maybe six months and I still haven't done anything with them.  I also don't mention the mint that I'm constantly thinning out of the front yard, but there's a whole post on that.

There was more grass growing in the Pond than on my back lawn, so I decided to do some weeding.  I got out the twist ties I normally use to tie up tomatoes when I'm growing them and pulled in the little bushes of celery so I could get under them.

Huge moment of epiphany.  Those bands around the celery in the market are because celery grows wide as a bush!  The farmers have to bind them to make them grow up instead.  I've been waiting since late winter for the magical point at which the plants only grow upward in a tight column.  Somehow, none of the sites I checked when they were seedlings mentioned that.

So really, celery is more of an herb than a vegetable.  We've just decided to use the stalks more and the leaves rarely.  It's like growing cilantro, which also has edible stems.

And at some point, I will start picking some stalks and using them.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Apple Compote

I made waffles and was out of bananas, so I decided to top them with a basic apple compote.  It's just a fancy name for cooking down a fruit with just enough sugar and spices to make it interesting.

There are canning recipes for compote out there, and this one might have enough acid in it to qualify, but I made this for use fresh.  Only process using a recipe from a trusted source.

I did research a tiny bit before starting, and Martha Stewart's recipe had alcohol in it.  That might be a good idea for certain dessert recipes.  I was having breakfast.  You could also add a bit of butter or cream if you plan to use this in something that would need extra creaminess.  I just put in on the waffle straight and hardly needed any syrup to help things along.

*2 Granny Smith apples
*2 tsp lemon juice
1 Tb water
1 Tb sugar
*1 Tb raisins (optional)
dash cinnamon

1.  Peel apples if desired.  I almost never peel mine because so many nutrients are in them.  Core apples and cut into 1/2" chunks.
2.  Place apple pieces in small saucepan with remaining ingredients.  Bring to a low boil over medium-low heat.  Cover and lower heat to a simmer.  This is going to take a while.  Stir occasionally.  As the fruit cooks, it will give off more moisture.  Continue cooking until apples are very soft, at least 20 minutes.  Remove lid and let some of the water boil off until desired consistency.

3.  Serve hot or cold.  You can serve it as a side, or on pancakes, waffles, crepes, ice cream, with poultry, etc.

Makes about 2 C

Difficulty Rating  π

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Zester Trick

Everyone at work loves when I slice the cucumbers.  They all think it's some kind of pretty magic.  No, I just follow the company's instructions.  But those instructions did manage to teach me a trick that I can carry on to other aspects of my culinary life.

Most serious cooks have a zester somewhere in a drawer that doesn't get much use because they've moved on to microplane graters.  Mine's usually next to the tomato corer.  They're about the same size.
The big trick with the cucumbers is, instead of peeling them, run the zester down the skin in long strokes.  Strips of peel come off easily and leave you with a half-naked cucumber.  Then you slice it, and all those little ridges appear on the rims of the slices.  The thinner the slice, the more impressive the effect.  Plus, you don't have to worry if some of the stripes aren't straight.  At work I have a guide knife, but at home I use the thin side of the V-slicer.  This will make your salads pop and generally impress guests.
The trick also works with citrus.  Lemons work especially well.  Imagine a very thin slice of ridged lemon in a glass of fresh lemonade.  Really, any fruit or veggie that has a thin, edible peel and firm flesh can benefit from the method.  I went ahead and did it to an eggplant before cutting it up for the grill.  I tried doing it to a pumpkin one year, but the ridges aren't deep enough.  I ended up going back with a knife.  Carrots are harder, but still work.

Just something to add to your bag of tricks.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Yam Obsession

So, after eating my way through the Sweet Potato Toast and thoroughly loving it, I went out and bought another one.  This time, my eye was on lunch ideas.  As much as I loved having them for dinner topped with turkey, I wasn't making large enough portions.  On the other hand, I did lose a couple of pounds without trying.  Good diet food: very filling for the calories it provides, and completely nutritious.

I didn't like the look of the bananas at the market, but I did buy a new package of dates.  So, first up was peanut butter with dates and the lightest drizzle of honey.  There was a little mascarpone left after the pumpkin tiramisu, so I made some with that and leftover oven-dried tomatoes.  Then I got all kinds of crazy and tried swiss with cilantro.  What the heck, I wasn't using the cilantro for anything else and it's still too early to grow spinach or arugula.

I'll probably continue to experiment periodically.  I definitely want to do something on sweet potato toasts for next year's tea party.  Cut crosswise, they make great two-bite hors-d'oeuvres.  If I threw holiday parties, they would be on the menu.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Panko-Fried Rockfish

When I fry stuff, which has become more rare lately, I'm usually lazy about the three-dip breading process.  I run the meat under the faucet, smack the breadcrumbs on until they stick, and drop it in the pan quickly.  Sometimes the crust stays on, sometimes it doesn't.

This day, I decided to suck it up with the extra dishes and fry some fish the proper way.  The ingredients are all pantry staples, so all you need to pick up is the fish.  I chose rockfish because it was on sale, but any fatty white fish will do.

And yes, the pintos in the photo were an awkward choice of a side dish.  I did it for nutritional reasons. Rice or barley would be a better idea.  The oven roasted tomato, eggplant, and asparagus, however, were perfect accompaniments, and filled the plate disproportionately to the calories involved.  This crazy full plate contains fewer calories than the average hamburger with fixings - before sides.

4 rockfish fillets (about 1 lb)
*3/4 C panko breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp kosher salt
*1 tsp parsley flakes
1 egg
1/4 C milk
*1/2 C cornstarch
oil for frying

1.  In one shallow dish (I use pie plates), sprinkle corn starch.  In next one, beat together egg and milk.  In third, combine panko, salt, and parsley.  In a large skillet, start heating 1/8" oil over medium-high heat.  Open windows and turn on the hood fan.
2.  Turn fillets in cornstarch to coat all sides.  I did this 2 at a time, since that was all the pie plates or skillet could hold.  Move pieces to egg wash and coat well.  Then to the crumb coating, which should adhere on the first try because you're doing this the proper way.
3.  Place fillets in hot oil and pan fry until the edges are thoroughly cooked, about 4 minutes.  This is plenty of time to run the next batch through the plates.  Turn and cook another 2 minutes.  Both sides should be crispy.  My fillets also kind of fell apart, which at least meant they were tender and cooked through.  Remove to paper-lined plate and serve hot with fresh lemon juice, tartar sauce, or even no dressing at all.

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Pumpkin Tiramisu

I had a huge scare while shopping for this one.  The ladyfingers were marked $13.99.  I stood there for a while, trying to decide how badly I didn't want to make my own.  I had already passed on the last two shattered pie crusts in the freezer section, reluctantly accepting that I would have to make one for the dutch pumpkin and apple pie.  Finally, I put the ladyfingers in the cart.  It turned out they were only $2.99.  Massive difference, and a huge relief, but it did show me that my recent schedule of working six days a week, plus choir the evenings before my baking days, was taking a toll.  Two more weeks until Rosh Hashanah, and I'm just now back to 5-day weeks.

Considering I've based this recipe on a half-batch of this one from Food & Wine, it is very easy.  Much easier than the other tiramisu I posted.  You don't make zabaglione because the pumpkin provides a similar texture and richness.  I just chucked in the little bit of alcohol that would have been in the zabaglione for effect.  Including brewing the coffee, this only took half an hour.

This version is sized for a loaf pan, about 8 servings.  Refer to the original recipe to use a single-pie 15 oz can of pumpkin and feed a small army out of a trifle bowl.

1 C brewed and cooled coffee
1 package (12 split) ladyfingers
*1 C pumpkin purée
1/4 C brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
dash kosher salt
dash nutmeg
*1 Tb marsala (optional)
1/4 C + 1 Tb granulated sugar
3/4 C mascarpone
1 C heavy cream (whip a little more if you want for garnish)

1.  While the coffee is brewing and cooling, start by lining a standard 9" loaf pan with plastic wrap.

2.  In a stand mixer, combine pumpkin, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, marsala, 1/4 C of the granulated sugar, and mascarpone until smooth.

3.  Separately, whip cream to relatively firm peaks with a tablespoon of sugar.  However sturdy the cream is will dictate the firmness of the finished product.  Beat lightly into pumpkin mixture until smooth, less than a minute.
4.  Dip 6 ladyfinger halves into the coffee and arrange in a single layer in bottom of loaf pan, rounded side down.  This whole thing is going to be inverted.  Top with 1/2 of pumpkin mousse.  Repeat.  For top layer, which will be the base, dip remaining half of ladyfingers and arrange in a more solid layer.  Close plastic wrap and chill at least 8 hours.  It works best made the day before.  If you're serving this directly from the loaf pan, refrigeration is fine and you don't need to line it with plastic.  You can also place the cookies right side up.  If removing, freeze for about an hour first.  The cookies will become solid, but the cream will still be a little soft.  Invert onto serving platter and remove plastic wrap no more than 15 minutes before serving, or it will start to melt flat.  Cut slices and serve with additional whipped cream.

Serves 8 to 10

Difficulty rating  π