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
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


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
Drunken Scones
Assorted Jams
Devon Cream

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

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.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Poached Swai with Black Eye Peas

I've felt like eating healthy lately.  It's odd: I go on health binges instead of fast-food ones.  At some point, my body will get mad and insist I eat junk, but that will probably happen around the tea party, so I'm covered.  Actually, what I have planned for the tea isn't all that bad for you.

I don't think I've ever had black eye peas.  This fits under the heading of trying a new ingredient.  I was going to serve the fish over Israeli couscous, but that cost more than the fish, so I looked at the rest of the grocery shelf it was on and opted for the beans.

I also poached the fish instead of pan-frying it coated in breadcrumbs, which was my first instinct.  And fresh herbs in the tomatoes just sounded like a good idea.  Ever since I moved my basil to the other side of the doorway, it has gone gangbusters.  I still had a bit of cilantro, and stewed tomatoes were born.

This is my second entrée in a row that's gluten-free.  It would have been three, but there were breadcrumbs in the meatballs.  Seriously, not my intention.  Remember, first choice was the spherical pasta.  At least this one wasn't vegan.  I do work at a bakery, so it isn't as through I'm not getting my bread products.

1 C dry black eye peas or 1 15 oz can
*1 10 oz package grape or cherry tomatoes
1 Tb fresh basil
*1 Tb fresh cilantro
1 Tb olive oil
4 small (6 oz-ish) swai fillets
1/2 C lemon juice
salt and pepper

1.  If soaking beans, start the day before.  2 hours before mealtime, drain beans, bring to a simmer with 3 C lightly salted water, cover, and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours.  For canned, drain and rinse, then microwave shortly before serving.

2.  For tomatoes, wash and cut in half.  In a small saucepan, place tomatoes, olive oil, basil, and cilantro over medium-low heat.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a light simmer and reduce heat.  Cover and let stew in the tomato juice while you prepare the fish.  Don't let the tomatoes get dry, because they are your "sauce" for the dish.

3.  For the fish, bring 1/2" of water and lemon juice to just under a boil in a large skillet.  Poaching means you don't boil the water, just keep it under a simmer.  I was using frozen swai from a package, and salting the water was a mistake.  Unless you got it fresh from the meat counter, check the sodium content on the package before adding anything.  Add fillets and poach until opaque and fully cooked.  Times will vary depending on frozen vs fresh and the thickness of the fillets.  For fully defrosted, it's about 4 minutes per side.

4.  To serve, spoon a bed of beans onto the plate.  Add fish, then top with tomatoes.  Dust with pepper and serve hot.  Maybe accompanied by a salad.  Yes, I still have a lot of lettuce in the garden.  It's going to have to make room soon for the celery I have started in cups.

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Apricot Orange Jam

Two days after my "red canning" day, apricots went on sale at Sprouts for 88¢ a pound.  I'm not a huge apricot person, but that has more to do with not liking fuzzy-skinned fruit than the taste itself.  I picked up slightly over two pounds.  Half were turned into apricot butter, which used the same process as pear butter (except I added extra lemon juice for shelf-stable processing), and the other half were for jam.

I got the recipe from the Ball Book of Preserving, -ish.  It's a cross between the old-fashioned apricot jam and the apricot-orange conserve.  I didn't want to put nuts in it, but I did want to use an orange off the tree.  They've been up there a long time and are on the verge of spoiling.  I did appreciate that both recipes were based on volume yield of fruit, rather than trying to estimate pitted weight.  It made it a lot easier to do the math on how many jars I would need.  I still managed to come up with one less jar than I expected, but a pound of fruit should make a pint or so of jam.

Papa Smurf loved apricot jam.  He would buy the big Costco jar for breakfast toast.  I didn't like it as much, but I loved how pretty it was.  The apricot bits looked like bright candy in a golden syrup.  That was what I was after, and was not disappointed.  This batch of jam gelled faster than I expected and had that lovely clarity to it.  It also only needed one skimming, mainly for the orange.

2 C peeled, seeded, and chopped apricots (about 1 lb)
1-1/2 C sugar
2 tsp orange zest
*1/2 C orange juice
2 Tb lemon juice

1.  To prepare apricots, boil a pot of water.  Place whole, washed apricots in pot for one minute.  You'll see the skins start to bubble.  Remove fruit to an ice water bath to stop the cooking.  At this point, the skins should come off relatively easily.  Cut fruit in half, remove pit, and chop into small pieces.

2.  Place all ingredients in a medium skillet at least 2" deep.  Heat over medium and stir until combined.  Bring to a boil and continue to cook until gel point is achieved, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Test set with a chilled spoon.
3.  If canning, process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.  Or just cool to room temperature before transferring to a container for refrigeration or freezing.  Lasts in the fridge about 2 weeks.

Makes about 1 pint

Difficulty rating :)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Stuffed Eggplant #2

It's been a while since the first stuffed eggplant recipe.  I am by no stretch of the imagination a vegan, and firmly believe that you shouldn't go gluten-free unless you have a diagnosed medical condition that advises it.  However, a meal that just happens to fit both of those descriptions because it sounds good at the time is not a lifestyle.  In my case, it was a combination of some lovely spring weather and my new eggplant starting to blossom.  I'll be sick of eggplants in a few months, but I wanted one NOW.  Some of the quinoa I bought for Passover, leftover cilantro from the meatballs, and a very inexpensive visit to Sprouts later, I was ready to roll.

2 medium eggplants
olive oil
4 oz grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
*1/2 C diced onion
2/3 C dry quinoa
*1/4 C chopped cilantro
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
tahini sauce (see below)

1.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Cut eggplants in half lengthwise and remove caps.  With a melon baller, scoop out insides like a canoe, leaving at least half an inch all around.  (I used the scraps to make baba gannouj.)  Rub inside and out with olive oil to reduce sticking and place cut-side down in a baking dish.  If they're roasted on their skins, they'll deflate.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until very soft.
2.  While the eggplant is baking, make the stuffing.  Cook onion in 1 Tb olive oil in a medium saucepan until "sweated".  Soft, but not browned.  Add tomatoes and cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add spices, cilantro, and quinoa.  Stir together, then add 1 C water.  Bring to a low boil, then lower heat to a simmer.  Cover and cook until quinoa is done, about 15 minutes.  If stuffing gets too dry, add a few tablespoons of water and continue to simmer.

3.  Plate cooked eggplant halves and spoon in a generous amount of quinoa stuffing.  Drizzle with tahini sauce and serve.

Tahini sauce
2 Tb tahini paste
1 tsp garlic powder
1 Tb lemon juice
water for thinning

1.  Combine tahini, garlic, and lemon juice.  Add water a tablespoon at a a time until desired consistency is achieved.

Difficulty rating :)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Meatballs with Coconut-Peanut Sauce

I've never gone out for Thai food, mainly because I don't like curry or very spicy dishes.  But making this at home, I could substitute cumin for the curry and move the recipe slightly west.

I'm not going into a long discussion of the bridge of flavors between the Mediterranean and South Asia.  It's a gradual progression as some spices and herbs gradually fall out of use as they are replaced by others that grow well in the Asian climate.  What I ended up doing was making beef keftas and putting more or less the same sauce over them as in this recipe.

Cooking spices in the pan before adding liquids to the sauce brings out a deeper flavor as the spices are "activated" by heat.  It's a different effect than adding spices to an existing sauce.  This is more a habit in Pan-Asian cooking than Western, which is a big part of why South Asian and Indian dishes taste so heavily spiced.  Most recipes have little to no added salt; it's all in the herbs and spices.

For meatballs
1 lb 80/20 ground beef (too lean will be too dense)
*3 stalks green onion, finely chopped
1/2 C chopped cilantro
*1/4 C Panko breadcrumbs
1 egg
*1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
dash pepper

1.  In a medium bowl, knead together all ingredients until evenly distributed.  Refrigerate for 15 minutes to 1 hour to allow flavors to meld.

2.  Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment for easy clean-up.  Foil works almost as well, but I didn't even have to wash the pan.  Preheat oven to 375º.

3.  Shape meat mixture into 1" meatballs.  Yes, they're small, but they will cook evenly without burning anything.  I got about 30.  Bake for 20 minutes, then turn to crisp the other side and cook another 5 to 10 minutes.

While they're in the oven….

For Sauce
1 can coconut milk (I used light)
1 tsp cumin
*1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp salt
1 Tb oil
2 Tb peanut butter

1.  Heat a deep skillet over medium.  Put all the spices on the dry pan and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the oil and turn spices into a paste, another minute.

2.  Add coconut milk and peanut butter.  Cook until sauce simmers and peanut butter has melted into everything.  If too thick for your liking, thin with as much water as you need.

3.  Once meatballs are done, place in sauce and stir to coat.  Serve hot over rice or with toothpicks for an hors d'oeuvre.  Suggested garnishes are cilantro, peanuts, or coconut shavings.

Difficulty rating :)