Friday, February 27, 2015

Cold-Packed Canned Tomatoes

So I finally had enough tomatoes to fill a quart jar, then got realistic.  I never buy the large cans of tomatoes, just the 15 oz ones.  I simply don't use that much at once.  There is no reason for me to can a quart of tomatoes in a single jar.  So I got out two pints instead.  I guess the quarts will be for beverages and stock.  I've been doing batches of cold-brewed tea during my vacation to stay low-caf.  It's so hard; I spent the first two days in a fog and never completely woke up.  I had some half-caf over the weekend when I decided to drive out to Palm Springs for the day, and really felt the difference.

Sidebar, if you ever go out that way, there's a grocery store at the Cabazon Outlet Mall/ Morongo Casino exit called Hadley's Orchards.  It has been there far longer than the other two destinations, and was a must when I was little.  On the way there or back, we would always stop for lunch, dates, and peanut butter.  I didn't buy any peanut butter this time, just dates and a banana-date milkshake.  I was in a bit of a rush to beat the Oscar Sunday rainstorm home.  I had barely made it up and down the Tramway before the fog settled in and made the hiking trails less interesting.
As with most canned foods, prepping is the time-consuming part.  Because these are packed raw, you don't have to stand over a pot very much.  I just hate peeling tomatoes.

For other tomato canning options, see the Ball page I got this recipe from.

*2 to 2-1/2 lbs tomatoes
2 Tb bottled lemon juice (for consistent acidity)
kosher salt if desired

1.  Wash tomatoes, 2 pint jars, and a half-pint jar in case there is more than you expected.  Set the jars in  your canning pot to get hot.  Wash new lids and the bands and set aside.  Set a smaller pot of water to boil and fill a bowl with ice water.

2.  Core tomatoes and score the bottoms with an X mark.  Blanch in the smaller pot for about 30 seconds, until the skin starts to peel away.  Immediately remove to the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.  The skins will peel right off.

3.  Either quarter, halve, or leave the tomatoes whole.  I quartered mine because I always end up chopping up whole tomatoes from the can.  Might as well do it today.

4.  Rescue the jars from the now-simmering water and crank it up to full.  Fill jars with tomatoes, leaving a half-inch headspace.  Add 1 Tb lemon juice and 1/2 tsp kosher salt (if desired) to each jar.  I left mine salt-free so I can add it as I go with whatever dish they get added to.

5.  Ladle hot water from the blanching pot into the jars up to the half-inch of head space.  Remove bubbles with whatever poky thing you use (I have the plastic tool that's long enough for quart jars) and wipe the rims with a damp paper towel.  Warm the lids in the not-quite-boiling canning pot water for several seconds to soften the sealant and center on the jars.  Close with bands to a finger-tight tension and place jars in the pot.

6.  Bring water to a boil, then start timer.  45 minutes for quarts, 40 minutes for pints, and 35 for half-pints.  (I used my spillover jar for possibly the second time ever.  I usually overestimate how much product I have.)

7.  Once processed, remove jars to a towel or wooden surface.  Never place a hot jar on tile or rock.  It will probably crack from the sudden change in temperature.  The two on the left of the top photo show that the tomatoes will be floating near the top.  The jar on the right shows that they settle back down after they have cooled a bit.  Allow to cool to room temperature and check seals after 24 hours.  If they hold, you can remove the rims and store for up to 1 year.  If the seal fails, put the jar in the fridge and use within one week.

Makes about 2 pints (1 quart)

Difficulty rating :-0

Thursday, February 19, 2015

An Extra Thanksgiving

I deboned the turkey that I bought in November.  It took a lot longer than I remember, mainly because the phone kept ringing.  Then I had to make a conference call, and the handyman came over to finish putting my back room back together, and….
I made a stuffing of wild rice, celery, and onion.  Tied up back together, it weighs about 8 pounds and I have a gallon ziplock of bones in the freezer for whenever I want to make turkey stock.  I expect to divide the bird into what I can eat in four days and freeze the rest for some time I don't feel like cooking.

So much for eating healthy spa food for my vacation.  I made the rice-stuffed turkey, a green bean casserole, yams, and a fruitcake to use up the last of the candied fruit from December.  This morning, I decided I wanted bacon and apple pancakes.  Tomorrow, I'm going to make a babka and a Friday challah.  Oh, and the handyman brought over a pizza he didn't plan to finish, so there went my plan to have a piece of fruit and some bread and cheese for lunch.

On the other hand, I started wearing a pedometer last weekend and found out that I take about 15,000 steps on work days and at least 6,000 on my days off.  That puts me squarely in the not-as-much-of-a-couch-potato-as-I-thought-I-was camp.  No wonder I seem able to eat when I'm hungry and not put on weight.  It's when I eat when I'm not hungry that I get in trouble.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Chilled Cantaloupe Soup

Long before smoothies and Juicing, a well-made chilled soup was haute cuisine.  The trick was to create balanced flavors in something cold, which is not easy to do.  It's easy to season something hot because the flavors pop.  In the cold, flavors dull.

The inspiration to make this was twofold.  One, Sprouts had cantaloupe on sale for 88¢ each.  Not per pound, each.  The other was that I'm taking a stay-cation next week and want to eat healthy, elegant food as if I was at a spa.  I even bought a five-pound bag of grapefruit to start my mornings healthy.  And I don't want to hear about how stupid it is to make a cold anything in February.  It was 85º yesterday and I picked yet more ripe tomatoes and huge spinach leaves.  If the local fauna and flora can't tell what time of year it is, then neither can I.

Going with the elegant theme, this is all about the presentation.  This recipe does not need a pine nut garnish, but it's the kind of thing you would get at a resort.  The yogurt is because I bought some for the roasted carrots and oranges and later decided not to use it.  Other possible garnishes include mint, sliced cucumber, walnuts, creme fraiche, or a purée of a complimentary fruit like raspberries.

I'm using lemon juice as the mixer in my recipe here because there are tons on the tree, but if you don't think your fruit is sweet enough you can use apple or white grape juice.  Alcohol is also optional.  It brightens up the flavors in cold foods without becoming a major presence.

1 medium cantaloupe (4 to 5 cups once cubed)
*1/2 C lemon juice (or apple or white grape)
1/8 tsp salt
sugar (or other sweetener) to taste
*1 Tb orange liqueur (optional.  other suggested alcohols are white wine, champagne, vodka, or rum.)
garnishes of choice

1. Remove peel from cantaloupe (how to cut a melon).  Remove seeds.  Chop into one-inch cubes.

2.  Place juice, salt, and about half of the fruit in a blender.  Purée until mostly smooth, then put in the rest of the fruit and run the blender until everything is very smooth.  Taste, and add sugar if needed.  Also add alcohol if using, and run blender again to distribute.

3.  Pour soup into a wide, shallow container and refrigerate at least 2 hours.  The foaminess the mixture picked up in the blender should settle out during the chilling process.

4.  Ladle into chilled bowls or cups and garnish.  Serve immediately.

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Roasted Carrots and Oranges

I found this recipe by Russ Parsons in last weekend's L.A. Times.  It sounds weird, but it's really just a cooked version of a carrot and orange salad, with an emphasis on the savory flavors.

Parsons calls this a side dish, but I made it as the focal point of a "cooked" salad, using my garden's spinach as the base and topped with chicken simmered in Williams-Sonoma's Tagine spice mix and some cumin-roasted pumpkin seeds I still have in the pantry, giving the whole dish a Moroccan flair.  The bread on the side is a buckwheat loaf I whipped up when Sprouts didn't have any baguettes because their proofer was broken.  I had already put the brie in my cart and decided not to spend $4 on an artisianal loaf when I had all the ingredients for one at home.

I'm omitting Parsons's yogurt topping because of the way I used the veggies, but I can see how some might prefer having a dressing on top.  It cuts the acidity of the oranges and melds the cumin with the carrots.  Maybe I'll make it that way some day, but it did not work with how I planned to serve this batch.

1 lb carrots, a variety of colors if you can find them
*1 large or 2 small oranges (I used valencias off the tree)
1 shallot
*1 tsp cumin seed or 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp kosher salt
*black pepper to taste
1 Tb olive oil
1 Tb orange juice
*1/4 C toasted, salted pumpkin seeds

1.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Not kidding, this is the most important step in the whole recipe.  Preheat oven to 400º.

2.  Peel carrots.  Cut in half lengthwise, then quarters.  If more than 3" long, cut spears in half crosswise.  Put in a small bowl.

3.  Slice oranges very thinly, rinds and all, like you were making marmalade.  Remove seeds.  Add to bowl.

4.  Peel shallot and slice very thinly.  Add to bowl.
5.  In a separate small bowl, make the dressing by whisking together cumin, salt, pepper, olive oil, and orange juice.  Add to carrots et al, and toss until everything is well coated.  Spread out in an even layer on baking sheet and cook until the oranges are fragrant and starting to pick up some color, about 20 minutes.

6.  Stir mixture with a spatula and spread back out on sheet.  Roast until carrots are soft and starting to brown, about 10 more minutes.  Remove from oven and scrape off the foil into a serving bowl.  Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and serve hot or room temperature.

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, February 9, 2015

Coconut-Lavender Scones

I was bored while the guy was working on the floor of my guest room.  It's going to look great, but the constant drone of the sander and smell of various chemicals made me want to bake something as an antidote.  Last week, I made a 1/3 size walnut cake and iced it with some leftover coconut icing I found in the freezer.  That reminded me of the many flavors that unexpectedly blend well with coconut.

The recipe here is based on my standard scone recipe from the Tea Book.  All I did was add dried lavender, lavender extract, and unsweetened coconut flakes.  In lieu of the extract, you could make lavender sugar by placing half a teaspoon of dried buds in a tablespoon of sugar and letting it sit at least 24 hours.  Use the entire portion when you add the sugar to the mix.

1 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 Tb butter
1 Tb sugar
*1/3 C milk
*1/2 tsp lavender extract
*1/2 tsp dried lavender
*2 Tb unsweetened coconut flakes

1.  Preheat oven to 425º.  Into a bowl, sift flour and baking powder.  Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in sugar.

2.  Make a well in the center and add milk and extract.  Stir until partially moistened, then add dried lavender and coconut.  Continue to stir until a dough forms, then knead several strokes to get the last bits evenly mixed.

3.  Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and pat down to 1/2".  Either cut out rounds or make a large disc and divide into portions with a knife.  Place on baking sheet.  For softer scones, have them touching.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, until well-risen and lightly golden.  They should not get dark.  Cool on a rack for about 5 minutes before serving, then break apart and serve warm.

4.  Because of the delicate nature of the flavors, serve with butter or Devon cream, but not jam.  The preserves would overpower the flavors in the scones.

Makes 4 to 6, depending on serving size

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Mushroom Risotto

Again, I haven't forgotten the blog, just not cooking anything new.  If my staycation ever starts, I'll have loads of time to cook and be creative.  Among other things, I'm going to debone that turkey in my chest freezer, because that freezer really needs to be defrosted and I have nowhere to keep the turkey for two days while that's going on.

Meanwhile, I had a little arborio in the pantry and decided to try something like this recipe from Giada. I'm not a big fan of mushrooms.  This sounded good enough to manage.  And then I saw pretty much the same thing available as a frozen dinner, but decided to make it from scratch anyway.  Less salt, for one thing.  I have been eating drive-thru a lot again and need to cut back.

My version is heavier on the veggies than Giada's, mainly because I cut out using the dried mushrooms.  I also left them in slices instead of mincing.  They're going to turn the rice a muddy color either way, so it's better if the diner can see that it's from mushrooms and not some crazy ingredient you forgot to mention.

The wine in risotto isn't 100% necessary and you can substitute more broth for it, but it will bring up more flavors than not using it.  Same with the chicken stock versus vegetable.  If you're not making this for vegetarians/vegans, go for the subtleties of chicken stock.

1 qt (4 cups) low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
*3/4 C arborio rice
2 Tb butter (olive oil for vegan)
*1 C diced onion
*2 cloves garlic, minced
16 oz baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
1/2 C white wine (optional)
1/2 C frozen peas, thawed
salt and pepper to taste
*1/4 C grated parmesan (omit for vegan)

1.  Heat broth in a small saucepan and keep at a simmer.

2.  In a larger saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and mushrooms.  Continue to cook until the mushrooms stop giving up water and mixture starts to dry out, up to 10 minutes.

3.  Add rice and cook until lightly glazed, only a couple of minutes.  Add wine and let rice absorb, cooking out the alcohol.  Keep stirring so the rice doesn't scorch or stick to the bottom.

4.  Start adding the broth one ladle at a time.  Stir into rice and let each addition absorb for several minutes before adding more.  Don't drown the rice.  This is going to take at least half an hour, and you have to stir almost constantly to keep the texture creamy.  Risotto doesn't take any longer than brown rice, it just feels like it because it's all active time.  If you run out of broth and the rice doesn't seem cooked enough, add water.  Stir in peas and let everything come up to temperature.

5.  Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary.  (This is why you used the low-sodium broth.)  Portion into bowls or one large serving bowl and top with the parmesan cheese.  Serve immediately.

Serves 3-4 as a main dish, 4-6 as a side

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Creamy Vegetable Soup

I didn't feel like grocery shopping and cleared out everything in my crisper except for citrus.  Also used every ripe tomato, since I still can't amass enough at once to can a quart.

Reviewing my soup category, in case I was duplicating, I seem to use barley a lot in my soups.  It's an easy way to up the nutritional value, is good for the digestion, balances any accidental over-salting, and makes a side dish into a light meal.  Besides, I had the right amount left.  Adding milk to make this a creamier soup was just because I have a lot of milk on hand I'm not going to use before it spoils.  I'll probably have to make cottage cheese next week.

I started the soup by making my own broth, and it smelled pretty fantastic even before the real ingredients went in.  Even my painter wanted to know what I was making.

*1/2 lb carrots, chopped
*1 lb tomatoes, chopped
*1/2 C diced onion
*1 C diced cucumber
1 Tb olive oil
1 qt low-sodium vegetable broth
salt and white pepper to taste
2 Tb fresh basil or 2 tsp dried
*1/2 C milk
*1/2 C dry pearl barley

1.  Bring barley, a light sprinkling of salt, and 3 C water to a boil, lower to a simmer and cover, and let cook while you make everything else.

2.  In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high.  Add onion and cucumber and cook until onion is translucent, stirring occasionally.

3.  Add vegetable broth, carrots, and tomatoes and bring to a low boil.  Lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until everything is tender, about 20 to 30 minutes.  Add basil and cook 5 more minutes.
4.  Purée soup in batches in the blender, checking base seal first (grr…).  Let it run for at least 30 seconds, to make sure everything is very smooth.  Return to heat and stir in milk.  Taste and add seasoning as needed.

5.  To serve, ladle soup into bowls first.  Drain barley and add several generous spoonfuls to each bowl.  Doing it this way, the barley mounds up so the diners can see it's in there.  They can distribute it themselves.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cherry Pineapple Blondies

I intended to do considerably more baking last month and now I have holiday-style ingredients leftover, like candied fruits for stuff like fruitcake.  Since I'm eating stollen for breakfast, I needed something different for tea snack.  This recipe was on the back of the lid, and I cut it in half for posting on this site.

I'm not sure what I was expecting these to taste like, but I had completely forgotten that I don't like fruit and chocolate together.  The cookie dough recipe is excellent, and I'll probably use that part again with some butterscotch chips I found in the chip box.  The addition of chopped nuts and/or coconut would work if you like that in your cookies.

I made these in cupcake liners like the note at the bottom of the recipe suggested for individual servings, then ate the three in the photo before they were cool.  I was cutting this in half and was not sure what size pan to use.  Plus, I have a lot of cupcake liners.  The original recipe did not include how much to fill each liner, so I just made 18 (original was 36).  It was roughly halfway, and they came out very soft and fully cooked all the way through.

I'm also presenting a simplified, one-bowl method of mixing the dough.  For many recipes, you do need a wet team and a dry team, but cookies come together so easily that the extra step just makes more work.  And speaking of work, the original recipe sneaked in that you have to chop the fruit at the very end.  I should have read the recipe more thoroughly before starting, but they could have arranged their method for people in the real world.

1-1/4 C flour
1-1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 C brown sugar, packed
6 Tb butter, room temperature
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
*1/2 C chocolate chips
*8 oz candied cherries and pineapple

1.  Chop candied fruit the same size as the chocolate chips.  Prepare 2 muffin pans with 18 paper liners.  Preheat oven to 350º.

2.  In a stand mixer with the paddle, cream together the butter and brown sugar.  Beat in egg and vanilla until creamy and thoroughly mixed.

3.  Beat in baking powder and salt for about 30 seconds, to make sure they are evenly distributed.  Add flour gradually and beat into a uniform cookie dough.

4.  Stir in chips and fruit pieces.  Spoon into cupcake liners about half full.  Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate pans.  Start checking for doneness at 15 minutes.  They should be lightly golden and not gooey in the middle.  Mine were in for about 20 minutes.

5.  Remove pans from oven and let sit 2 minutes, until cool enough to remove the liners from the pans without burning yourself.  Cool blondies on wire racks.  Can be served with or without the cupcake liners.

Makes 18

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sesame-Crusted Ahi

So I was downloading some photos to send someone, when I realized I had pictures of last week's dinner that I had never gotten around to posting.  Whoops.  Now that I'm not forcing myself to post every 3 or 4 days, I'm forgetting it altogether.  I'm also not cooking much, and mostly doing pantry projects because I stocked up on a lot of grains and beans in December without thinking that they have to be gone by April.  I may have to lock up some in the garage for Passover.

Previously-frozen Ahi tuna steaks were on sale at Sprouts for $6.99 a pound.  That's a great price, so I bought one big enough for three meals.  If you're not going to cook a fish thoroughly, getting previously-frozen is a good idea.  It kills most of the possible pathogens, including worms.  When you go out for sushi, the restaurant knows the right suppliers to get safe fish to consume raw.  At the market, they assume you're going to cook it and get slightly lower quality.

This recipe was super easy.  I did it in the last five minutes that the rice was cooking, from start to finish.

1 thick-cut ahi tuna steak, a little over 1 pound
1 Tb olive oil
*1/4 C sesame seeds
salt & pepper

1.  Set medium skillet over medium-high heat to preheat while you season the fish.

2.  Cut steak into 4 pieces.  Rub all sides of fish pieces with oil.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, then coat tops and bottoms with sesame seeds.  They might not want to stick at first.

3.  Set pieces in hot skillet.  Cook until sesame seeds are toasted golden and the fish looks cooked about 2 or 3 millimeters deep.  This should take no more than 2 minutes, preferably closer to 1.  Turn up the heat if it's taking too long.  Flip the fish and do the other side until seeds are toasted.  Carefully turn the pieces on their edges to lightly sear the open ends, but only for about 10 seconds per side.  You want the center of the fish to be raw.

4.  To serve, you can either place the fish on a plate as-is, or slice it for effect.  This also works well as a salad topping, sliced into thin strips.  I used soy sauce, but a ponzu or ginger dressing would work well.

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Herbed Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes

I arrived at this recipe by the Barefoot Contessa via The Bitten Word.  It was the most popular dish at their annual Fakesgiving feast.  Fakesgiving is part dinner party, part practice for Thanksgiving, part "I have a blog and need to post these things before the actual holiday", and part "I love these kinds of foods and wish we had them more often".  This casserole is a new twist on cheesy mashed potatoes.

I've never used Yukon Gold potatoes before.  I've used pretty much every other kind the market carries, but always gravitate to Russets when I'm buying a "plain potato".  They're good, with a slightly more solid texture.  And they cream up very easily with a spoon.  You don't need to whip them.
Ever since I bought my food mill, I have been coming across recipes that use one.  I've probably been making these all along and just ignoring the food mill part.  You can certainly do this recipe with an electric beater or stand mixer paddle.  What the mill does is rice the potatoes first, and also remove the skins so you don't have to peel the potatoes.  It's also one more gadget in the cupboard and one more thing to clean afterwards.

Even though this counted as one of my non-diet dishes (duh), I did lighten it up from the original.  This version is slightly lower in fat and uses less than half as much salt.  I also cut the recipe in half for a 4-serving version.

Next up is trying to figure out a way of making a Dairy menu for Passover so I have an excuse to make a really big batch of this.

1-1/2 lbs Yukon gold poatoes
3 large cloves garlic
kosher salt
*1/2 tsp cracked pepper
4-oz log of garlic & herb goat cheese (chèvre), room temperature
2 Tb butter, room temperature
3/4 C (one 6oz container) plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
1/4 C milk, more as needed
*1/4 C grated parmesan cheese

1.  Peel potatoes if not using a food mill and cut into 1" cubes.  Peel and slightly smash garlic.  Put in medium saucepan and fill with water just barely to cover.  Add 1/2 tsp salt and bring to a boil.  Lower to a simmer, cover, and cook until very tender, about 20 minutes.

2.  Drain potatoes and process with an electric beater, stand mixer paddle, potato ricer, or food mill on the coarsest setting.  While still hot, stir in cheese, butter, yogurt, milk, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  If you like your potatoes creamier, add more milk 1 Tb at a time to desired consistency.

3.  Spoon potatoes into an oval or round casserole.  Personally, I like the corner crusts, but this recipe probably specifies a curved casserole for a reason.  Sprinkle top with the parmesan cheese.  At this point, you can either bake right away or refrigerate until ready to use, within 24 hours.

4.  To bake, preheat oven to 375º.  Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until top cheese is lightly browned and you get a slight crunchy crust when you spoon it out.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating :)