Monday, July 18, 2016

Black Eye and Olive Hummus

It's my blogiversary!  Six years of keeping track of my meals.

The thing I dislike about doing a pantry endurance test, especially when the garden is producing, is not going grocery shopping.  The vast majority of the time, I don't see the market as a chore.  It's a time to be creative, to inspire my palate.  Rooting through the pantry and freezer for odd items just isn't the same.

The eggplant I was going to use for this hummus turned out to be too old and had rotted on the bush.  Bummer, but it gave me an excuse to shop for more than just orange juice.  I'm not going to buy an eggplant when there are six more small ones growing, so I spent much longer than I should have at the market deciding if I wanted to do olives or artichokes.  Even with splurging on some smoked gouda cheese and a picnic bottle of wine, my entire grocery bill was $15 for about four days.  I have maybe one more week of this before shopping gets back to normal.  I'm still going to have a lot of bacon in the freezer, though.  Kind of stocked up on that when it was on sale.  And four one-pound packs of the turkey I deboned a couple of weeks ago.

*1/2 C dry black-eye peas, or one 15 oz can, drained
1 2.5 oz can sliced or diced black olives, drained
*3 cloves garlic
*1 Tb lemon juice
*1/4 C tahini paste

1.  If making peas from dry, soak for at least 4 hours.  Drain, simmer in lightly salted water for 2 hours. Drain.

2.  Place all ingredients in food processor.  Run to make a slightly chunky paste.  It's ok to have larger bits of olive.  Taste and add more garlic, lemon juice, or a touch of salt as needed.  Canned beans won't need more salt, but from dry might.

3.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Serve with pita or fresh veggies, like a cucumber you just picked out of the garden.
There is just no polite way to photograph a whole cucumber

Makes about 2 cups

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Socca

I discovered a new food I've never heard of.  Savory chickpea pancakes, called socca.  They seem to have originated near Nice, France, and have variations around the Western Mediterranean rim.  I don't remember seeing them on any menus when I was in that area, but I'm the kind of person who stops reading the menu when I see something I really want.  I don't always look at all the offerings, and probably wouldn't order something I didn't know if something else looked better.

You're probably thinking, chickpea pancake?  I read the article in the L.A. Times and, thanks to the photos, decided it was really a cross between a pizza and a quiche by way of falafel.  Chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour is naturally gluten-free, vegan, and as good for you as any legume.  Once I finished topping the socca, they were not vegan and probably not gluten-free, but you can certainly go that way.

The article suggests getting the flour at a Middle-Eastern market.  I hadn't been in one since I left Orange County and had no idea where there was one in my area.  I googled some, only to remind myself that I work two blocks from the largest concentration of Persian (Iranian) expats in the U.S.  I stopped at Sprouts first, but they were out of the Bob's Red Mill.  I guess I wasn't the only one who read the article.  Down the street, the Persian market had two brands.  I do trust Sadaf brand (which, despite its Arabic name, is packaged in the city of Vernon, just south of downtown L.A.) and hadn't heard of the other, so that's what I got.  $3.49 for a one-pound bag isn't bad for a specialty grain flour.  Bob's is only 80¢ less.  If you don't have a Sprouts, I would suggest Whole Foods or a market with a good selection of gluten-free items.  If you live in a less diverse area and really want to try this recipe, you can order online for a reasonable price and just pay shipping.

This recipe can be as simple as pouring the batter in the pan and baking it like that.  You can make it plain and top it later.  I followed the article's lead and baked the toppings into the pancake.  I made two 6" instead of one large 10" so I could make two different kinds.  I don't have any cast-iron because I don't want to deal with the maintenance and made them in my oven-proof skillet.  It just has to be a pan that won't melt in the oven at a high temp.

I made several mistakes with this first attempt that resulted in a less-than-ideal product.  My first mistake was not measuring the batter.  I eyeballed it instead of making two separate portions, and ended up using too little in the first one and a lot in the second.  The texture of the first was crispy and perfect, but there wasn't enough to hold all the toppings.  The second one was too thick and ended up a little gummy.  My other big mistake was using too much topping.  The ground lamb one was similar to a sfeeha filling.  It tasted great, but overwhelmed the pancake.  I used a beet's worth of greens and a few oven-dried tomatoes for the other, and the only reason it didn't overpower that socca was because it was the one with a bit too much batter.  I also had a lot of trouble getting them out of the pan in one piece.  I think that had more to do with the heavy fillings than not oiling the pan enough.  When I cut the second one in the pan before lifting out the pieces, it held together much better.
The next time I do this (there's about 4 recipes' worth in the bag), I'll probably go crepe style and make a plain pancake, topping it after it's baked.  I'll also go ahead and make the full 10", so I can use the batter in one shot.  I only split this one so I could make more than one kind.

3/4 C garbanzo bean flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 C water
1 Tb olive oil, plus more for pan

1.  Stir together flour and salt.  Add water and 1 Tb oil and whisk to combine.  It's ok if there are still lumps.  Let sit 4 to 8 hours, for flour to absorb the water.  (Think of it as allowing dried beans to soak, just in flour form.)

2.  Preheat oven to 450º (425º for convection).  Place a 10" oven-safe or cast-iron skillet in the oven to preheat, about 10 minutes.

3.  Using an oven mitt, place skillet on a stove burner or somewhere that can tolerate such a hot pan.  Drizzle 1 Tb oil in bottom of skillet and swirl to cover.  If any spots are dry, add more oil.  This is going to fry the socca and make it easier to get out of the pan.

4.  Whisk the batter, as it will be thick on the bottom and watery at the top.  Remember to put the oven mitt back on before you grab the pan handle.  Pour onto skillet and quickly swirl to cover bottom of the pan.  It's going to start to fry immediately.  If you're going to top it with anything pre-oven, now is the time.  Still using the oven mitt, return skillet to oven and bake for 15 minutes, until socca is set and the edges are crispy.

5.  Remove skillet from oven and let sit a couple of minutes so you don't get oil erupting onto you.  Don't forget to put the oven mitt back on!! That handle is going to be too hot to hold for at least ten minutes, maybe half an hour.  Using a high-temp spatula or wooden spoon, gently lift the edges of the pancake until you can slide the whole thing onto a serving plate.  Cut into wedges with a sharp knife or pizza cutter.

Difficulty rating :)

Friday, July 1, 2016

Pumpkin Shoots

Two gardening posts in a row.  I'm in trouble.  But there's no point in posting the tuna salad I had for dinner, with a salad topped with pickled beets.  The next time I plan to cook is Tuesday, when I'm going to debone and roast the turkey that's been keeping my freezer cold during power outages for the past several months.  It is currently keeping my fridge around 34º as it slowly defrosts.  I'm not stuffing the turkey or anything.  I'm just so bad at carving turkeys that the 1-1/2 hours it's going to take to debone it will pay off in the yield.  If I carve it, about 25% of the meat ends up staying on the bones.  Good for soup, but I'm saving the bones for that anyway.  I'll probably separate the cooked meat into smaller packs and freeze them for use in casseroles.  Hopefully, I'll go through those before Fall and the next turkey on sale.

Anyway, the pumpkins have broken the surface.  I have at least two in every spot except the one it's sharing with the cantaloupe.  That one (hill #4) is the only one that does not look very strong and healthy.  Seriously, the spot that gets the most water is the one that fails?

I finally have a cantaloupe!  Well, it's the size of a gum ball, but it is definitely growing.  Right now, the stem is thickening and it has developed a fuzzy protective shell.  It should start to grow any day now.  Just a month after I was expecting it.  The rest of the plant has also grown stronger, even if the leaves aren't any bigger.  I guess that's just how big they're supposed to be.  I don't want to over-fertilize if some of the pumpkin seeds in that spot decide to catch on.

And the cucumber is looking very productive in its pot and up the chicken wire.  Now some of the girl flowers just have to turn into actual cucumbers.  I don't have nearly as many bees visiting my back yard as in the front.  Maybe I need to get out the Q-Tips and help things along.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Summer Sowing

I haven't posted in a week because I haven't made anything new.  It has been all reruns.  I don't do summer well and really haven't felt like cooking.  Last night, my side dish was celery sticks.  I didn't even dip them in anything.  And yet, the process of cutting them felt like I had made a proper side for my broiled vegetable panini, using my first eggplant.

And this is where this turns into a Gardening post.  After a very bitter salad, I decided to rip up the rest of the greens in the front yard.  I have two plants in the pond that haven't turned bitter yet, but the front 2'x2' were old and not tasty.  Out they came.  I turned the soil and added some moisture control mulch. And then I dug a few more holes and mulched them.  And all of this was so I could - drum roll - put in pumpkin seeds.

There are four hills in the front yard and one in the shallow corner of the pond.  I plan to train that one across the back of the yard.  I managed to put one in an odd area at the edge of the driveway that gets watered by the neighbor's sprinklers.  The rest are going to need a lot of watering.

Meanwhile, my cucumbers from seed are very healthy in their pot and climbing the chicken wire I set up for them.  They're blooming, so I may get cucumbers soon…if the bugs I keep picking off it don't eat them first.  The cantaloupe is finally taking off as a plant and blooming, but no fruit yet.  I do feel like the leaves are too small for a species that produces a 2-pound fruit.

It will be about a week before the pumpkins sprout.  The weather is perfect for them, warm and a bit humid.  Next year, I'm definitely going back to tomatoes.  They require less water and the nightshade bugs have pretty much left my area, to be replaced by squash-loving bugs.

Oh, and the neighbor a few blocks down is growing vines onto their roof again!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Vegan "Creamy" Tomato Soup

I got the bill from the card I use for grocery shopping.  Between the tea party and houseguests, I spent way too much in May.  I'm going to do a modified pantry endurance test - I'll still need to buy produce and dairy.  There's loads of protein in the house, including the turkey I bought in November.  That sucker is going to take a week to defrost, it's been at the bottom of the chest freezer so long.

First up is things that need to be used before they go bad.  Top of that list was an opened can of tomato paste.  I wonder if the stuff would last longer if it was sold in those pouches like fruit purées.  It's just a shame to toss a can after you've used only one or two tablespoons.  The last bit of white beans in the pantry and a quickie veggie broth out of the full broth bag makes this a nice starter or light meal.

There was a minor snafu the day I made this.  The power went out due to the heat wave, and it wasn't even a very hot day.  Somewhere in the back of my memory was the fact that you used to have to light gas stoves with a match before electric starters were invented.  Half of the problem solved, I had to figure out how to purée the beans.  I got out the food mill, which is a manual food processor.  Unfortunately, food mills catch all the skins and fibers in food and pass through only the soft matter.  Beans are all fiber and skin.  Still, it mashed them fairly well.  I scraped all the mash that didn't pass through the holes into the pot.  My soup was not nearly as smooth as if I had been able to use the blender, and the bean solids kept sinking to the bottom, which meant my basil garnish wouldn't float.  The flavor was still what I expected, just not the texture.

I added too much salt.  The vegan way to fix this is to add more bean purée or a dollop of unseasoned mashed potato.  Lacking either, I used some un-vegan heavy cream.  For the leftovers, I simply had it chilled.  The saltiness was perfect for a chilled soup and I didn't have to add anything for balance.

1 quart vegetable broth (low-salt if you can find it)
*1 6oz can tomato paste
1/2 C dry Navy beans (or 1 15oz can)
salt and white pepper to taste
fresh basil for garnish

1.  If using dry beans, soak for 8 hours and simmer for 2.  For canned, drain and rinse.

2.  Purée beans in blender with 1 C of broth.  Bring purée, tomato paste, and all of broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan.  Taste and add salt and white pepper as necessary.  Serve hot, garnished with fresh basil or another herb that works with the rest of the meal.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Counting Eggplants Before They've Hatched

As soon as Eggy's first blossom opened, I started wanting eggplant.  The day that you could start to see the first fruit emerge from the cap, I picked up a bunch of baby eggplants at Sprouts.
I'm going to be buried in eggplant very soon, so it's time to review all my old recipes and plot some new ones.

Those seem to be the ones good enough that I've made them more than once.  That should pretty much cover all I'm going to get off the plant, but maybe I'll come up with something new.  After reading this list, I'm definitely in the mood for homemade pasta.  Any new recipes are probably going to involve some.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Lemon Loaf

I've had a post-it on the page of the Bible reminding me to make this for my tea for two years.  I don't remember why it didn't make it onto last year's menu.  Probably, I had not flipped past that page in a while and forgot.

Because this was on one of the mass-baking days, the mixer was in use and I actually made this by hand the way it was in the cookbook.  I don't own a pastry cutter because it's a waste of drawer space.  I just break up the butter with clean hands.  It's very therapeutic and kind of hard to stop even when you're done.  Yes, it takes a couple more minutes than throwing everything in a stand mixer, but the texture of the final cake was exactly as it should have been.  If the end result is the same, do whatever works for you.

I baked two mini-loaves and only ended up using one.  The full recipe fills one regular loaf pan, so I did all that 2/3 math for nothing.  The other one is in the freezer until I finish every other leftover from the tea.  I did go a bit overboard.

It was generally agreed that this cake was lemony and refreshing without hitting you over the head with the lemon.  The problem with some lemon cakes is that you know they exist from across the room.  There's some zest in the batter and a soaked-in glaze on top, but this is otherwise a plain poundcake.  Sometimes, a hint of flavor is more effective than a lot of it.  Chocolate doesn't count.

1 lemon
2-1/4 C flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
sugar
3/4 C butter or margarine
3 eggs
*3/4 C milk

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  From lemon, grate 1 tablespoon of zest and squeeze 1/4 C juice.  Put juice in the fridge for later.  Grease 9" x 5" loaf pan.

2.  In large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt, and 1-1/2 C sugar.  With pastry blender, 2 knives, or your fingers, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in grated peel.

3.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs slightly with a fork and stir in milk.  Stir wet into dry mixture until just moistened.  Do not over mix.

4.  Pour batter into pan.   Bake 1-1/4 hours (40 minutes for minis).  Test with a toothpick at the 1 hour mark until it comes up dry.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack.

5.  While the cake is still warm, heat reserved lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of sugar over medium-high heat to boiling.  Boil until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.  Brush evenly on top of loaf to glaze it.  Whatever soaks in will help to keep the cake moist.  You can serve it warm, but quick breads tend to develop a better flavor the next day.  They're also easier to slice.  For long-term storage, freezing is better than refrigerating.  Slice it first, then wrap in plastic wrap and again in foil.

Makes 1 full-sized loaf or 3 minis

Difficulty rating π

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Jamnesia

While spooning apricot butter onto a couple of dozen hamantaschen rounds for the party, I mused on how I'm able to forget all the effort that went into making it.  It's like it just magically appeared in the fridge.  No memory of cutting all the apricots, cooking them, running them through the food mill, cooking them again, and going through the whole boiling bath canner routine - only to have the seal fail and have to put the butter in the fridge anyway.

This isn't the same as tea party amnesia.  I don't forget how much work it is, but I've learned how to spread it out so it doesn't all fall on the party day.  There were two baking days, neither more than four hours, and under an hour of running three batches of flavored cheese through the food processor.  Tuna salad only takes about five minutes, and the V-slicer made quick work of the cucumber.  I had help for assembly from Techie, Writer, and Melody Smurf.  I didn't make them do any hard work on their vacation, but piping stuff is fun when someone else sets it up for you.  At least until Techie broke my pastry bag.  I wasn't heartbroken; it was one of the middle-priced Wilton ones that you expect to last a year.

Well, off I go to make and can a batch of blueberry jam.  I swear, that's the last batch of jam I'm making this year.  Really.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Tea Party 2016

For the first time since I moved back to L.A., word of my tea party has spread.  I invited more groups of acquaintances, who responded in droves.  Well, at least too many to use real plates.  I had to break out the "Costco China", which is plastic plates so sturdy that I wash them and reuse until they crack, usually about four parties.

I had tried to time it so I could use one of my own cantaloupes as the fresh fruit.  I don't have any growing yet.  The only garden items in this year's tea were the lemons for lemonade, herbs in the iced tea, and all the bolted lettuce flowers for arrangements.

As usual, I pre-baked whatever I could get away with.  Unlike usual, I ended up with considerable leftovers.  I wasn't able to get an accurate estimate of the attendance and erred on the not running out side.  The deviled eggs and dates were the only things I got right.
My brother and his family were visiting and we were out longer that morning than I had planned, so I put them to work.  It was weird having three sous-chefs, but it definitely made it possible to put together everything in an hour.

It wasn't intentional, but this is a kosher-dairy menu.  That came in handy when my choir wanted to come.  I have no idea how many observe kosher or how strict.  My kitchen isn't, and the plates and utensils aren't, but most Reform will eat off a non-kosher plate that's clean.  There's clean, and there's kashered with boiling water and/or a blowtorch.  As long as I'm not subbing lard for butter, it's close enough.

I also made more options than usual, but most recipes are repeats.  That isn't a big deal when most of the guests have never had it.  The gathering is more about socializing anyway.

First Course
Cucumber Sandwiches
Tuna salad on buckwheat toasts
Deviled Eggs
Bleu Cheese Mousse on Celery
Date and Walnut Bites

Second Course
Scones
Drunken Scones
Assorted Jams
Devon Cream

Third Course
Lavender Iced Sugar Cookies
Apricot Hamantaschen
Lemon Loaf
Chocolate Cream Puffs
Fresh Fruit Salad

Drinks
Fresh Lemonade
Basil-Mint Iced Tea
Assorted Hot Teas

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Close Call

I almost had to bake all the bread for the upcoming tea.  Passover was so late, I only just finished the matzoh.  And that's with giving away 3 of the 5 boxes.  I'm serious about not buying a loaf of sliced bread until the matzoh is gone.  If there's an option, I'll never eat it.

But I did start prep-and-freeze.  I made two mini-loaves of buckwheat bread and two batches of cookie dough.  I do the latter sometimes even when there isn't a party.  Just write what it is and basic baking directions.  Defrost and bake as needed.  Way cheaper than store-bought frozen dough, and you probably have all the ingredients on hand.  Five minutes to measure and mix for a couple of dozen later.

Somewhere in all the stuff I had to do last month, I forgot to maintain the lettuces.  They bolted again, even worse than last time.  One of them started blooming purple flowers, something I hadn't foreseen.  So I don't have to buy flowers for the party.  I'll trim them down before the guests arrive.

As long as this is turning into a gardening post, I'm getting my first eggplant!  The cantaloupe is flowering, but the plant is small and weak.  I'm not sure I'm going to get anything out of it.  The cucumbers are very happy and growing very strong leaves.  I have some beets to pull and nothing lined up to do with them.  One can go on tonight's salad.  The best surprise was that Artie is growing back!  I get at least one more year of him.

And then a notice went out of a recall of the flour I often buy.  We threw out the flour at work, even though we don't buy that brand.  I found that silly, but the whole company was instructed to toss all the flour in the store if it was out of the wrapper and unable to provide proof of the source.  Bakeries do not keep flour in the bags.  It gets poured into an NSF-certified container to keep it from getting damp or infested.  My stash at home, which I've been using for weeks, is the same brand but one day different than the recall.  Plus, the recall was on unbleached flour and I use bleached.  Yes, it's a chemical, but I sometimes make something that will look odd in natural wheat color.  The aforementioned sugar cookies come to mind.  I'm not really concerned, since the recall was for potential E. coli contamination, which is killed at 165º.  Wheat starch doesn't gelatinize (cook) until considerably higher than that, and I'm not in the habit of eating raw flour.  The greater danger is if traces of flour contaminate surfaces that are then used to prepare food that will not receive further cooking.  I generally wash the countertops and bread board after every baking session to eliminate yeast or egg traces.  That will take care of E. coli as well.  I'm going to finish off that bag tomorrow, and the next one I got from the same place I bought the flour for work.