Saturday, December 20, 2014

Baklava

This is the other recipe I was excited to make for the first time.  I bought the filo dough for this over a month ago, then had to wait for a humid day to make it.  You can't do anything with filo on a dry day.

This was what my mom used to make every Christmas for us to take as gifts to teachers, and the reason I kept her Welcome Wagon cookbook, despite its horrendously dated recipes from the '70s.  Baklava was a giant, two-person project and explains why I have so much wax paper in the house.  She would buy a new roll every year when she went to pick up the ingredients, then never use the open roll from the previous year, or the one before that, or the one before that…  When I moved in, there were eight barely-used rolls of wax paper in the cabinet.  And more plastic wrap than you can imagine.  Some of it was so vintage that it was a different thickness than what you can buy nowadays.

I was a bit nervous about making this alone, without someone on the side to tend the sheets, so I just got hyper-organized before starting.  My mom had left notes in the cookbook's margins that I can pass along as helpful hints.  Once I had all my ingredients prepped, assembly was far easier than I had expected.  There were no disasters, unless you count having no idea how big to cut the pieces.  They're a lot bigger than my mom used to make.  I'm going to suggest in the recipe a more manageable, two-bite way of cutting.

Glaze
1 C sugar
*1/2 C honey
1/2 C water
*2 Tb lemon juice

Combine ingredients in medium saucepan.  Warm just barely to boiling and cook until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.  Stir in lemon juice and remove from heat.  Let cool to room temperature while you're making the rest of it.

Pastry
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 lb walnuts
1 C sugar
*2 tsp cinnamon
*1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 lb Filo dough, room temperature (defrost per directions on box)

1.  Prepare the mise en place:  Melt the butter on low and keep liquid but not boiling.  Pulse walnuts in food processor until chunky.  Add sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and pulse until finely ground.

2.  Prepare the pan & work area:  Get out a rimmed cookie sheet (roughly 12x18x1) and line with wax paper.  Let "handles" hang off the edges in case things stick.  Place another sheet of wax paper the same size on the counter and have a slightly damp kitchen towel ready to cover the filo while you're working.  Preheat oven to 300º.

3.  Before unrolling the filo, compare the width to the width of the baking sheet.  If it is wider, cut off that extra inch or so before unrolling with a very sharp knife.  Hang onto the knife, we're going to use it again in a few minutes.

4.  Take a deep breath, then carefully unroll the filo over the wax paper on the counter.  This is the most anxious part of the project.  Once it unrolls intact, you're good to go.

5.  Place 10 sheets of dough on bottom of pan, then cover remaining sheets with cloth until needed.  Again, there will be a bit of overhang the long way, but those are the edge pieces you don't use and it's less than an inch total.  Spoon a very thin layer of nut mixture over the dough, add a single sheet, and repeat until nut mix is gone.  You will get between 4 and 6 layers.  I wish I had photos of this step, but it's the part you have to do fast before the dough dries out.  Once nuts are used up, cover with remaining dough.
6.  To cut the shapes, make 6 divisions with that sharp knife down the long side (not the 4 I did).  Do not drag the knife, but press straight down, move the knife, and do it again.  Dragging will tear the filo.  For triangles, make squares and then cut diagonally.  For diamonds, just do the diagonals after the long lines.  You're going to have leftover triangles on the edges.  Snacks.

7.  Drizzle with all of the melted butter.  If you get more coverage in some areas than others, use a pastry brush to spread it around.  Let it soak into the dough for 2 to 3 minutes, then bake for 30 minutes, until lightly golden.

8.  Turn up oven to 450º and place baking pan on the top rack.  Bake until as dark as desired, about 4 to 5 minutes.  Watch it, it can go from dark golden to burnt in under a minute.  Remove from oven and pour glaze evenly over all.  Run the knife through all the cuts again, to be sure, then let sit for at least 15 minutes so the glaze can soak in evenly.  Remove from pan and store on wax paper or in baking cups.  If you have trouble removing it from the pan, warm it in a low oven for a minute and try again.  Can be served at any temperature and keeps in the fridge for weeks.

Makes about 3 dozen, depending on size

Difficulty rating :-0

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Eggnog

Yes, I'm aware it has been a whole week since I've posted.  Not only have I not had any time, I haven't made anything interesting.  I don't think you're interested in reading about last night's burritos (even though I did the pintos from scratch) or the basic steak and veggies I had before that.  But this is one of the adventurous recipes I was referring to before my roof sprang a leak and I worked six days in a row.  So, I literally just made this less than 10 minutes ago and rushed to post it.

I love eggnog.  I always have, and never understood why the adults "ruined" it by adding alcohol.  I didn't know that some people find eggnog gross, and only drink it because it's spiked.  To me, it tasted like drinkable ice cream.

Ok, so I was really nervous when I made this.  This is basically raw eggs and cream, not the pasteurized stuff you get in the market.  You can't use pasteurized eggs in this because the whites won't whip to stiff peaks.  I went grocery shopping today, so this is as fresh an egg as I can get short of raising a chicken.  Let you know later if I got sick.

To make this an anytime drink and fine to put in my morning coffee, I made this batch alcohol-free.  I'm going to add a little rum or bourbon later to a single cup (it's 11:30 am!), but nowhere near as much as Alton Brown's recipe calls for.  It's probably safer to drink with the alcohol in there to kill whatever lurks in raw eggs, but the American supply is generally safe if stored properly.

I put the custard in the stand mixer and did the whites with the hand electric beater, so this took far less time than Alton's 15 minutes.  Totally up to you.

4 eggs, separated
1/3 C + 1 Tb sugar
*2 C whole milk
*3 oz burbon (optional)
1 tsp nutmeg
*1 C heavy cream

1.  In a stand mixer, beat together egg yolks and 1/3 C sugar until pale and foamy.  Slowly add milk, cream, bourbon (if using), and nutmeg and beat on low until smooth.  If you have a splash collar for the mixer, use it.

2.  In a separate bowl with clean beaters, beat egg whites until foamy.  Add remaining 1 Tb sugar and beat to stiff peaks.

3.  Whisk together milk and whites until smooth.  Chill.  Before serving, stir mixture smooth again if the whites have separated.  Serve plain, or with a garnish of whipped cream and nutmeg.  Use within 2 days.

Serves 6-8

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Broth Bag to the Rescue

I hate going to the grocery store with no idea what I'm going to make.  I just wander the discount meat and dry goods until something sparks.

In this case, lamb was way marked down.  I got some chops for that day and a boneless leg of lamb for whenever I have guests.  To go with the chops, I decided on vichyssoise and green beans.

When I got home, I realized that I had not bought any chicken broth.  When I don't plan ahead and haven't looked at the recipe for a while, these things happen.  Darn, and I had eaten chicken the night before and not saved the bones.  I did, however, have a half-filled broth bag in the freezer and vegetable broth is better than just plain water.  I pulled it out and rummaged through for trimmings that would go with the vichyssoise.  The recipe only needs a pint of broth, so I tossed in 2-1/2 cups of water and enough bits to flavor that much, about an equal amount.  That simmered while I played a few online games and took a shower, then it was time to make soup.

I have only been keeping a broth bag for about a year, but it's a great idea.  I fill it with vegetable cuttings and peels whenever I cook, and make a batch of broth when the gallon bag is full.  The taste is never exactly the same, so you can make a recipe slightly different each time.  The project costs nothing and saves quite a bit of money over time.  All around, it's a great idea!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Good to Go

So, in getting back to my non-NaNo routine, I kind of forgot to post here.  To be fair, the only thing even remotely interesting I've made since the last post was a kale and wild rice side dish, and I don't see any point in posting my fourth thing to do with kale and grains.

It rained last weekend!  Around here, that's a big thing.  And it rained over an inch.  To my relief, the vegetable garden did not turn back into a pond.  Whatever I did to the drainage is working, so I'll start checking out what's good for a winter garden around here.  Last year's assorted lettuce worked out nicely.  I'll see what the garden store has.

There are two recipes coming up that I definitely want to make, and I'll see what inspiration I get tomorrow at the market for other posts.  Maybe I'll come upon a new cookie recipe to try when the Times puts out its annual top ten.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Acorn Squash and Black Bean Stew

So the thing about not hosting Thanksgiving is that you don't have leftovers.  Had to cook the next day.

I've never had acorn squash, but they looked so cute in the market that I bought one.  I figured that I would want something somewhat light after Thanksgiving and decided to make a squash dish with some kind of beans as a one-pot meal.

I'm not calling this a chili, because it would be too much like the butternut squash chili I made a couple of years ago.  Unlike that recipe, I went ahead and soaked the beans first.  I was trying to get rid of the black water the beans give off, but more came off into the broth when I cooked it.  Also to be different, I seasoned it with savory herbs instead of spices, and topped it with queso fresco right before serving.

Beware, this is a very high fiber dish.  It's fine for anyone as a side, but don't make it a main course like I did unless you can handle it.  Most Americans don't have enough fiber in their diet to manage something like this without discomfort.  For the day after Thanksgiving, it was a wonderful change from the heavy dishes slathered in fatty sauce.

*1 C dry black beans
1 acorn squash (about 2 lbs whole)
*1/2 C diced onion
*1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tb olive oil
*2 C vegetable or chicken broth
*1/2 tsp dried oregano
*1/2 tsp dried sage
*1/4 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper as needed
4 oz crumbly cheese such as feta, chevre, or queso fresco

1.  2 to 4 hours before starting, rinse beans and soak in water.  When ready to start, drain and rinse again.

2.  In a larger saucepan than I used (make it a big one), heat 1 Tb oil over medium.  Add onion and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about another minute. Add broth, beans, oregano, sage, and cumin.  Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cover.  Allow to cook 1 hour while you go make the squash.

3.  Preheat oven to 350º and line a baking sheet with foil.  Cut squash in half across the equator and scoop out the seeds and strings.  (You can roast the seeds while the squash is cooking, if you want.)  Rub surfaces of squash with the other tablespoon of oil and place cut-side down on baking sheet.  Bake until mostly cooked, about 40 minutes.  Remove from oven and let sit until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes.  If you're making corn bread, just turn up the heat as soon as the squash comes out and put in the bread when it gets to temperature.  Everything should finish around the same time.

4.  If squash is mostly cooked, the skin should peel right off.  Cut flesh into 1" cubes and add to pot.  This was when I realized my pot was too small.  Continue to simmer another 15 minutes to finish cooking the squash.  Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary, but keep in mind that whatever cheese you're using as a garnish is probably salty.  Ladle into bowls while hot.  Top with crumbled cheese and serve.

Serves 4-6

Difficulty rating :)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Roasted Root Vegetable Soup

I finally hit my 50,000 words yesterday!!  It felt like forever, and involved coming up with two more short stories out of desperation when I clearly was not going to make the count with what I had started. Now I can start feeding myself again without feeling like it is taking away from writing time.
This was a recipe of leftovers.  The only thing I picked up new was the parsnips.  It is also low in active time, since you purée the whole thing and don't have to make any of the vegetables pretty.

The taste was intriguing.  I added the parsnips because you all may be tired of how many different ways I can turn carrots into soup.  Mixing the veggies with the rosemary gave the soup a sweet/savory combination that tasted like I had added nutmeg.  It is also a very filling soup, and much thicker than I had expected, given how watery everything looked in the pot.

*1/2 lb carrots, peeled and chopped
1 lb parsnips, peeled and chopped
*4 ribs celery, chopped
2 Tb oil, divided
*1/2 tsp dried oregano
*1 tsp dried rosemary
*1/2 C diced onion
*1 quart chicken or vegetable stock (low sodium)
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Line a baking sheet with foil and preheat oven to 400º.  Coat carrots, parsnips, and celery with 1 Tb oil and arrange on the baking sheet in a single layer.  Sprinkle with oregano and rosemary and bake until just beginning to char, about 45 minutes.  Stir every 15 minutes to keep from sticking to pan.

2.  Remove vegetables from oven and set aside.  In large saucepan, sauté onion in 1 Tb oil until browned, about 8 minutes.  Add stock and roasted vegetables and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until vegetables are completely softened, about 15 minutes.
3.  Purée soup in blender in batches until smooth.  Return to heat and taste to see if it needs salt or pepper.  If too thick, thin with water.  Serve hot.

Serves 4 as lunch, 6 as an appetizer

Difficulty level :)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Stuffing (Dressing)

I'm finally up to 40,000 words.  I have been very busy, and skipped at least two days trying to fix a leaky toilet, but it looks like I'll be able to finish the project if I can find an hour a day to work on the book.

Meanwhile, I'm still not cooking as much as I would like.  I'm currently on a batch of macaroni and cheese with bacon.  It tastes great, and used up most of the random bits of cheese in my fridge, but it is a rerun.  I think I'm going to make a simple margherita pizza tomorrow to use up the last dregs of some spaghetti sauce and some shredded mozzarella.  A dozen cherry tomatoes are in the oven right now, dehydrating to use on future salads.

I bought two bags of cranberries and canned up a year's worth of sauce while typing at the kitchen counter.  Five half-pints will even be enough for me to take some next week to Thanksgiving.

There was talk of Costco stuffing at the meal, so I decided to make some of the real stuff to have at home with pork chops.  Stuffing is super easy, can be baked alongside most meats, and can be flavored with absolutely anything you want.  I did celery, onion, an apple, and the sage pumpkin seeds I loved.  You could easily swap out the apple for a carrot or parsnip, but I thought the sweet would go well with the pork chops and apples come with fiber.

This is a small version for a family dinner, not the huge mounds you make for a holiday meal.  Yes, it takes longer than the box, but you can flavor it any way you want.

*1/2 French bread or baguette, stale and cut into 1/2" cubes
1 C chicken or vegetable stock
1 Tb butter, plus greasing
1/2 onion, diced
*3 ribs of celery, diced
*1 medium apple, diced (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp dried sage
1/4 C pine nuts or pumpkin seeds, toasted

1.  Cut bread and set aside.  It can get as dry and stale as it wants.  Butter an 8"x8" baking casserole.  Preheat oven to 350º.

2.  Melt 1 Tb butter in a large skillet.  Add onion and sauté until it starts to get soft, about five minutes.  Add celery and apple and continue to cook over medium until everything is soft, stirring occasionally, as much as 10 more minutes.  Stir in sage and 1/2 C stock to deglaze pan.
3.  Stir in bread.  Once the bread soaks up all the liquid, transfer to baking dish.  Drizzle with remaining stock and allow to sit a few minutes so the bread can soak it up.  Sprinkle top with seeds or nuts and bake until bread is toasty and everything is heated through, about 20 minutes.  Serve hot, with gravy if desired.

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, November 14, 2014

Everyday Fancy

I haven't been doing a lot of cooking because of NaNo.  As in, barely being able to feed myself.   I went almost two weeks without grocery shopping, when I usually go every three to four days so that I have fresh produce in the house.  Used up almost everything in the freezer and about half of my pantry staples.  Eggs and toast for lunch, until I ran out of bread.  You know it's bad when you're checking the tomato plants just to have something to eat.  Mmm, baked tomato with mozzarella.  I finally have some time to go grocery shopping this morning and to cook this evening, but I'm going to stock up on enough food to last until Thanksgiving, which I won't be able to host this year because of work.  Got invited out, and I'll take my pumpkin chiffon pie.

I made some meatballs with leftover sweet & sour sauce over rice.  There was more veal on sale, so I did another veal & eggplant parmigiana bake.  I really liked that the first time.  But really, after working six days a week and writing 2,000 words a day, all I want to do is pick up something on the way home.

A lot of people feel that way, but it isn't a healthy way to eat long term.  So here's something that can be put together out of packaged foods that isn't so bad for you.  Personally, I tore the lettuce off a fresh head of green leaf, got the seeds from a whole pomegranate, and roasted the pumpkin seeds, but there is no reason it can't be thrown together in two minutes or less.

1 package salad greens, rinsed
1 8 oz container pomegranate arils
1/2 C roasted pumpkin seeds
2 Tb balsamic vinegar

1.  Place lettuce in serving bowl (or divide into servings).

2.  Sprinkle generously with pomegranate seeds, then pumpkin seeds.

3.  Drizzle top with balsamic vinegar and allow to sit for a minute so the vinegar can make its way through the salad.

4.  Serve before seeds become soggy.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Blossoming Tea

That baker I was supposed to train fell through, so I'm still getting my tea time.  I made a batch of scones to go with the guava jam.

One of the stories I'm working on for NaNo involves a girl who works at a tea shop.  As research, I went to the one at the mall and ended up buying a couple of tins of blossoming tea buds.

These are simply regular teas and flowers that have been wrapped by hand into a little ball and dried.  As they rehydrate, they "blossom" into an anemone-like mass in the bottom of the tea pot.  It's kind of gross when you watch it, but fascinating.  The tea tasted wonderful, at least until I got halfway through the pot and it started to be bitter.  That happens to all teas.

The blossoming teas are rather expensive, about $2 per bud, but fun for a party or special occasion.  I'll probably give a few as gifts this holiday season because they're so unusual.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Guava Jam

It took me a little longer to get to 10,000 words than last year.  I actually made this on the first, but haven't had the time to post it.

My neighbor received a boatload of guavas from another neighbor and passed on several pounds to me when I mentioned that I sometimes can stuff.  I don't think I've ever had a guava, only guava juice.  Off to Wikipedia we go, and it looks like guavas are great for canning because they have a lot of built-in pectin and are usually sweet enough to go easy on the sugar.  All I needed was a proper recipe and a few free hours for canning once the fruits were fully ripe.

I put the guavas in several paper bags to ripen more quickly, along with a green tomato to make sure the process was working.  Fruits give off a gas as they ripen, which then helps to ripen other fruits stored with them.  There was a chance these were the green variety of guavas and I would not know if they were ripening, but I had accidentally knocked a green Bradley off the bush and figured it would be a great control subject.  Sure enough, it was much more pink the next day.  I moved it to another bag to help those along.

These guavas were the green kind, with white flesh.  I kind of let some of them go a little too long and had to throw out a few, but there were still 4 pounds of fruit once I had trimmed off the stem and blossom ends.  They almost filled my second-largest pot to the brim.  Since my 2-gallon stock pot is also my canning pot, it's a good thing they fit.
I finally broke down and bought a food mill.  I have been able to avoid it and use either a sieve or the food processor because I cook in small batches.  Pressing this much guava through a sieve would have taken all day.  I can use it on all sorts of things that I make anyway, like not-refried beans.  Just one more toy.

This is the one-pound version, for those who don't own a tree.

*1 lb ripe guavas
1/2 C water
*2 tsp lime or lemon juice
1/2 C sugar

1.  Cut off stem and blossom ends of guavas.  If using a blender, peel.  For a food mill or sieve, that is not necessary.  Quarter and scoop out seeds if using a blender.  Food mill or sieve, put in pot whole.

2.  Add water and cook fruit over medium until completely softened, about 30 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly.

3.  Either purée fruit in a blender if peeled and seeded, or run through a sieve or food mill to remove seeds and skin.  Return fruit to pot, add juice and sugar, and bring to a boil.

4.  Boil jam until thickened, about 15 minutes.  Either cool and store up to a week in the fridge, or process in a water bath 15 minutes to can.

Makes just under 1 cup

Difficulty rating :-0