Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Other Side of the Peeler

Everyone at work was saying that the veggie peeler was dull and it was time to get a new one.  I wasn't having that problem, and thought it was another one of their issues that I always seem to have to fix.  I'm Mama Smurf at work.  They were mixing orange juice concentrate by hand for two days because the machine was "broken".  It wasn't turned on.

At home, I was using the peeler a lot one day.  My hand started to get tired, so I switched hands and kept going.  The peeler was a lot sharper on that side, because I hardly ever use it right-handed.  That was when I realized that my co-workers were probably right about the peeler.  I'm the only lefty at work.  My guide knife is sharper and my side of the peeler is more effective.  Maybe I should buy them a new peeler.

Now, if you're not really ambidextrous, I don't recommend switching hands with anything sharp.  Peelers aren't expensive and they do last several years under normal household conditions.  It's just something to consider.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Passover Vegetable Chili

I really did have enough toppings for the potato bar at Seder, but I wanted to make sure there was enough variety so guests could make completely different dishes even if they had two or more potatoes.  Harkening back to the butternut squash chili, I saw that I could easily replace the bulgur with quinoa and just veggie it up enough so you didn't notice the missing beans.  The crimini mushrooms took on the bean texture.  I discovered a few weeks ago by accident that they don't soften much during a short stewing and keep a chewy texture.

I did get it to thicken enough to count as chili, but it can also be thinned out with stock into a soup.  I dropped spoonfuls into the leftover turkey soup as a filling lunch.  In a non-Passover week, you could use it as a vegan protein pasta sauce.

It's always odd to me when the experiments are the memorable dishes.  Honestly, this is what I consider a barely edible leftovers concoction I would make only for me and not for company on a normal day, but it got raves as a new way to use quinoa. It's like the gingered bok choy I made once for seder, assuming most of it would be left over, and instead was completely gone.

And yes, I know many consider cumin kitniyot.  I'm relaxing my personal kitniyot rules to no soy, rice, corn, mustard, or legumes (and their derivatives), but otherwise naturally KLP items processed in a facility with them are ok.  I did experiment with using grapeseed oil instead of olive.  It was terribly expensive for an 8oz bottle, and I only used half the bottle in the entire seder, including salad dressing.  It's light and neutral, but too pricey to become a regular thing.

1/2 C dry quinoa
1/2 C diced red onion
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 red bell pepper, diced
6 oz crimini mushrooms, quartered
1 jalapeño pepper, sliced (optional)
1 Tb chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 C water (or more)

1.  Pre-soak quinoa for two hours to remove residue.  This isn't necessary for health or safety reasons, but it will reduce the starchiness of the chili.  Drain and rinse.
2.  Into a larger saucepan than I used, place quinoa, onion, diced pepper, diced mushrooms, canned tomatoes with their juice, and seasonings.  Add 1 C water and heat to a simmer on medium.  Don't stir yet, because you want the quinoa on the bottom to absorb the liquid.  Cover.

3.  After fifteen minutes of simmering, stir chili and add the jalapeños if you want a spicier chili.  If the quinoa is cooked, you can estimate how thick you want your chili to be.  If it isn't completely done, you may need to add a bit more water.  Simmer for 5 more minutes, then taste and adjust seasonings.  Serve hot as a chili or cold as a salsa.

Makes about 1-1/2 quarts

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Turkey Matzoh Ball Soup


In culinary school, Chef invited some Jewish friends to our restaurant for lunch and assigned me the matzoh ball soup.  I think he had been waiting for a Jewish student for years for this.

I looked at the recipe he handed me.  It had broccoli and mushrooms in it, and no chicken.  I could not in good conscience make the recipe as written.  I got permission to strike out on my own and made what most Jews consider to be matzoh ball soup; mirepoix with a lot of salt and pepper, leftover chicken, and matzoh balls that hopefully don't break any teeth.

I did make my own stock for this one out of the last of the frozen turkey.  There was one wing in the bag, giving me just enough meat for two quarts worth of soup.  The matzoh balls were from a mix, so sorry if you clicked on the link in the hopes of getting a matzoh ball recipe.  Reform Jews reach for the box.
*2 lbs turkey bones with meat on them, like wings or a carcass
2 qts water
*1 bay leaf
*1/2 tsp dried sage
*1/4 tsp peppercorns
*2 C out of the broth bag or:

  • 1 onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 stalks celery
1 package matzoh ball mix and whatever you mix into it
salt and pepper to taste (the mix is going to be salty, so go easy)
1.  Brown bones in a large saucepan over medium heat, about 5 minutes.  Add water and simmer, covered, for two hours.

2.  Add 2 cups assorted veggie trimmings or half of the items listed above.  Also add bay leaf, sage, and peppercorns and simmer an additional hour.

3.  Strain out everything until you have just the clear broth.  I used a double layer of cheesecloth over a mesh strainer to keep it as clear as possible.  Place the bones on a cutting board and get as much meat off them as you can.  Everything that isn't chopped turkey gets thrown out.

4.  Return stock and turkey to the pot.  Cut remaining onion, carrot, and celery into attractive pieces and add to the pot.  Simmer for half an hour while the matzoh balls are cooking.  Taste the broth and add salt and cracked pepper as needed.  Serve hot, with one to three matzoh balls per bowl.

Serves about 6-8

Difficulty rating :)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Seder 2017

I started to make my menu, keeping in mind what I have on hand and what was ready to pull in the garden.  Starters are always the same, boiled eggs and gefilte fish.  Then I decided to make matzoh ball soup, making my own stock with the last of the turkey bones in the freezer and using my home grown carrots and celery.

Then I got to the main course, and realized that I'd already planned a whole lot of protein.  Roast anything would get heavy fast.  Did I really dare to make a vegetarian (or even vegan) main course for a dinner party?  I have been to a kosher dairy seder before, and remember being unimpressed because it was all roasted vegetables and potato gratin.  I started thinking of quinoa and roasted veggies, plated in the kitchen, but couldn't come up with an appropriate side.  What would I serve, a baked potato?

And then the light bulb over my head clicked on.  A baked potato bar as the main course!  Like taco night, but on potatoes.  Totally crazy idea, but also really easy to make kosher for Passover.  Omit either meat or dairy and don't serve anything obviously out like beans.  I could easily create a chili around quinoa and veggies.  Since you wouldn't serve chili without sour cream and cheese, that settled it to dairy.  (In my house, separating meat and dairy by courses is the closest we ever get to kosher.)  That made a Greek salad an easy side dish.  Poached pears and ice cream made with my two mature beets finished off the menu.
The potato toppings got a little out of hand.  There were tiny spoons and tongs everywhere.  However, I didn't cut up the avocado because there wasn't enough interest in it.

The potatoes were more filling than I expected.  I had baked up a 5 lb bag so everyone could have two.  With everything else in four courses, no one had the second one.  On the other hand, I don't have to cook for the rest of Passover.

Since I wasn't investing in a meat dish, I sprang for making my own gefilte.  Well, half of my own, and half ground gefilte from Whole Foods.  I bought a whole rainbow trout so I could make fish stock and chopped up the meat to add to the gefilte mix.  I didn't like them as much as the ones I had made entirely on my own, but I was over-extended that week and needed the one shortcut.

Starters:  Boiled Egg, Gefilte Fish

Turkey Matzoh Ball Soup

Main:  Baked Potatoes and Greek Salad

Dessert:  Poached Pears and Beet Ice Cream

Since I didn't want flowers in the house as I recover from bronchitis, my hostess gifts were boxes of matzoh.  So glad I had only bought one box, because now I have the 5-pound case I had tried to avoid buying.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Orange Marmalade

That nasty cold ended up being bronchitis, so I've been kind of out of commission for a while.  The most elaborate thing I've made lately is a pot of wor wonton soup minus the won tons.  Not much to blog about there.

Then I opened my last jar of last year's jam, which happened to be a blueberry, and realized that it's almost Passover and I need more corn syrup-free jams.  It was time to have a major jamming session.  Strawberries and blackberries were on sale at Sprouts, but I needed a third something to make the day worthwhile, preferably of a lighter color and flavor.  I almost asked if I could pick a bag of apricots off the tree at an estate sale, but figured that would be too tacky.

I checked my tree to make sure I had enough lemons not to buy lemon juice, and realized how many Valencia oranges I have been not eating this winter.  I haven't posted an orange marmalade here because I haven't made one.
How to use up a 4 lb bag of sugar in one day
I read a bunch of recipes in the Ball book on how to make marmalade.  It's very labor intensive.  Then I found their recipe that involved tossing the oranges in the food processor.  I was about to use that when I found the Food in Jars recipe for blood orange marmalade and decided that I could apply it to my Valencias without too much more effort than the Ball since I wouldn't have to clean the food processor after.  The reason I read Marisa McClellan's blog is because she makes everything in small batches.  I don't need eight half-pint jars of any one flavor.  That's about how much jam I go through in an entire year.  Yes, this one involves an overnight soak.  So does my strawberry-lavender jam, so I was already doing one two-day jam and might as well add another.

*1 lb oranges (about 3 or 4)
2 1/2 C sugar
3 C water

1.  The night before, wash oranges well.  Cut off top and bottom, slice in half, and remove the seeds and core membranes.  Set those aside in a cheesecloth tied tight.
2.  With a very sharp knife, cut the thinnest slices possible of orange.  Then cut those semi-circles in half to have tons of little quarter slices.  Place those in a bowl with 3 cups of water.  Nestle the cheesecloth bag in the water and refrigerate the whole thing overnight.

3.  If canning, prepare for a 3 C yield.  Discard the cheesecloth bag.  Place the orange slices and water in a medium saucepan with the sugar.  Over medium heat, bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
4.  Once boiling, reduce the mess by at least 1/3.  It's going to take at least half an hour.  It will get thick and sticky and start to sheet off the spoon.  Check for set with a chilled plate or the wrinkle test.

5.  If not canning, cool and refrigerate.  For canning, spoon into half-pint jars, center lids, screw on rims finger-tight, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Makes about 3 cups

Difficulty rating  :)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Decorating with Food

I'm going to start this post by admitting that food art is wasteful.  The whole point of this blog is to avoid wasting food.  Yet, part of food presentation includes the table, and that doesn't have to mean just flowers or candles.

This isn't about garnishing.  If a decorative element is a part of the dish and meant to be eaten, I heartily endorse it.  I'm talking about tomato roses, radish sunbursts, and bell pepper tulips.  Of course, with my so-so relationship with peppers, I would rather see them as decoration most of the time.  Somewhat less offensive is watermelon whales or baskets, since you scoop out the insides.  It isn't like a carved melon that isn't eaten, unless the back of that is carved out to put a light in it.

For some real fun with food that will never be eaten, check out this game I played recently.  Almost all of the scenes are dioramas made entirely of edibles.  You don't actually have to play the game to access the scenes, just look for arrows and hotspots.

I've also used bolted lettuce flowers as decoration, which is a much better use of the concept.  The bunches smell like freshly picked salad (in this case, arugula), and are an economical way to make use of the plant before giving up and ripping it out.  If you're growing broccoli, you can let some sprigs bloom for the same effect.  If the plant is successful, you won't mind in the least if some of it goes to seed.

A food decoration should also make sense with what you're serving.  For my senior culinary competition, I made tulips of bell peppers supported by asparagus stems reinforced by skewers.  Both vegetables were in the dishes I made.
If you're interested in the decorative garnishing aspect of garde manger, there are plenty of YouTube video demonstrations.  Just enter "vegetable carving" or "fruit carving" or something along those lines.  Something to do with all that zucchini you can't unload this summer.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Preserves in Action: Reuben Sandwich

I was on vacation during the time I would have marinated my own corned beef, so I bought one for considerably less.  Not the same as bragging rights.

Then of course came deciding what to do with the resulting meat.  I'm not a massive fan of the Reuben, but I kind of like it.  My problem is the Thousand Island dressing, because I don't really like the stuff.  It's the sweet pickle relish.  I don't like sweet pickle anything, and routinely pick them out of my hamburgers.  (I learned long ago never to make more than one adjustment when ordering off a menu, so I always choose that one thing to be the mayo or 1,000 Island, which you can't pick off.)  Looking at how I planned to alter the recipe, it was pretty close to Papa Smurf's Special Sauce, so I just made that.

I decided to do the variation of the sandwich that includes mustard, to finish off an open jar of Beer Mustard.  Instead of buying sauerkraut, I opened a jar of kohlrabi relish.  Same taste, and it's still veggies.

8 slices rye bread
1/4 C 1000 Island dressing
1/4 C mustard
8 thin slices Swiss cheese
1 lb thinly sliced corned beef
1 C sauerkraut

1.  Lay out bread slices in pairs, insides facing up.  Spread 1 Tb thousand island on each top, and 1 Tb mustard on each bottom.  Lay a slice of swiss on every bread slice.  Top with 1/4 lb corned beef per sandwich, a little on each face.

2.  Warm up sandwiches in the microwave for 30 seconds.
3.  If you have a sandwich or Foreman grill, close them up and go for it.  If not, toast open-faced either in the toaster oven or under the broiler, to melt the cheese and crisp up the bread.

4.  Spoon 1/4 C of drained sauerkraut on each sandwich.  Close, cut in half, and serve warm.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Tahini Lettuce Wraps

This was inspired by a couple of different dishes on The Chew, with an assist from some very healthy romaine in my front yard.  Really, a lettuce wrap is just putting the salad inside the leaf.
You could use pretty much any protein in these.  Tahini goes with everything.  I happened to choose tofu because I haven't had it in a while and I ate a lot of red meat and shellfish on the cruise.  The veggies were mostly what was on sale and some leftover tomatillo salsa.  And a one-pound carrot out of the garden that I kind of forgot about because it was behind a massive beet that I also should pull soon.

I also decided to try amaranth, a cousin of quinoa, as the grain.  It isn't KLP, but those rules are so arbitrary that if you use kitnyot, there's no problem with it.  It's a gluten-free seed that is loaded with nutrients and has been a staple of mesoamerica for millennia.  Personally, I found it gummy and dense, but the flavor was nice and once it merged with the tahini dressing, it wasn't so clumpy.

Tahini Vinaigrette
*1 Tb tahini paste
*2 Tb lemon juice (half a lemon)
*1 Tb rice wine vinegar
1 Tb olive oil
*1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper
*pinch of fresh grated ginger (optional)

1.  Whisk together all ingredients except the salt and pepper.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

2.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to let flavors marry.  Re-whisk before using.  Makes about 1/3 cup.

Top quinoa, bottom amaranth
Amaranth Salad
1/2 C dry amaranth
*1 lb carrots
1/2 lb asparagus
1 Tb olive oil
*1 C tomatillo salsa or chopped Roma tomatoes
1 container extra-firm tofu
1/4 C chopped green onions for garnish
1/2 C raw cashews for garnish
1/4 C Greek yogurt for garnish
*1 head Romaine

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Peel carrots.  If you get stuck with thick asparagus like I did, peel asparagus.  You can't be picky for 88¢ per pound.  Cut both veggies into 2" sticks, like you were doing a stir-fry.  Carrots may have to be cut in halves or quarters.  In a bowl, toss with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Wrap in foil and bake until just getting soft, about 30 minutes.

2.  While the veggies are roasting, make your salad dressing and amaranth.  In a small saucepan, combine amaranth and 1/2 C water.  Bring to a low boil, lower heat to simmer, and cover.  Cook until all water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

3.  Prep your garnishes and chop the tomatoes (or drain extra liquid out of salsa).  Slice the tofu into manageable pieces.  For cashews, toast in a dry pan over medium heat.  Season with salt, chili powder, or whatever you want.
4.  In a bowl, toss together roasted veggies, tomatoes/salsa, amaranth, tofu, and tahini dressing.  Salad can be served at room temperature, or pre-made and held in the refrigerator.  Spoon a generous amount of salad onto each leaf of Romaine.  Garnish with yogurt, cashews, and onions and serve 2 to 3 per person, depending on size of leaves.

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Less is More

Sorry this took a while.  I got a nasty cold on the boat and only just got around to uploading photos.  At least my worst days were after the cruise was over.

I did get photos of some wonderfully arranged food.  Holland America, for the most part, has reduced the likelihood of illness (the petri dish of shaking hands and pressing elevator buttons not included) by setting out pre-portioned dishes, even at the buffet.  It upset many of my traveling companions that they could not serve themselves, but I appreciated the effort from a food safety point of view.

My lunchtime favorite quickly became the small-plates array.  Any appetizer I had skipped the night before was likely to be there in a slightly altered fashion, as well as creative vegetable dishes.  There was always a charcuterie plate and a cheese arrangement.  Small bowls of grain salads that I later learned were the vegan options were less popular, but still available.
What really struck me was the portion size.  It was appropriate.  You could have two or three small plates and a roll and call it lunch.  Sure, there was a taco bar and a hamburger window.  Someone else was making carvery sandwiches that would put Subway to shame.  And fancy desserts were set out at all times.  Let's not even go into the extensive breakfast options.  (I tried every version of Eggs Benedict they served.)  But what really struck me was the adherence to the three-ounce rule.  Only dinner entrees were large, and even then it was a manageable amount of food.  I ate more in port.  And managed to gain less than two pounds in the week.  Yes, even with two or three desserts a day over the course of four meals (we were late seating, so we had some kind of teatime every day).
There's also a beauty in presenting a few slices of something.  It's almost about the negative space on the plate.  You can decorate with a few leaves or nuts and a light drizzle of sauce.  While this technique is impractical for a large buffet party at home, you can still do some presentation with tasting cups or small plates and just leave the big stuff for self-serve.  I did that with some individual 6-layer dip cups once.
Parisian Benedict: baguette, arugula, prosciutto, poached egg, hollandaise
It may be a few more days before I feel like cooking anything interesting.  Right now, it's mostly canned soup.  I did buy a blueberry pie.  Happy π Day!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Part X : Presentation

It has been a very long time since I've changed topics.  Since I'm always learning, I'm always finding new things to share.

Part of culinary arts - a big part - is an exciting presentation.  Anyone can throw food on a plate.  Think of what your meal looks like when you sit down after loading up at a buffet, or even serving yourself from the items on the table at home.  Then think about a meal presented by a server.  Even a cheap diner will make some kind of effort.  Granted, an expensive restaurant will have a more elevated level of presentation.

Right now, I'm driving down to San Diego to board a weeklong cruise.  (Don't worry; I wrote this ahead of time.)  Assuming cruise ships aren't declared enemy combatants in the next week - odder things have happened recently - I'll have plenty of photos when I get back of elegantly arranged food and decorative elements.

I'm not taking photos of every meal.  I really hate when people Instagram everything they eat.  Plus, I'm not taking my computer and the memory card would fill up.  I'm going to photograph things that anyone can do without much added time and expense that will make a meal look professional.