Friday, December 15, 2017

Pasta with Squash Sauce

Ok, maybe not the best title.  I mixed leftover canned pumpkin and half a roasted butternut squash for this one.  I'm making the recipe slightly larger for four servings and an entire squash.

I did discover that butternut squash is a whole lot easier to cut if you buy the smallest one in the pile. The larger ones are dense and generally have it out for me, but I had no trouble getting through this one.  Peeling it raw is still pretty much impossible, so it was just as well I wanted the roasted flavor in the sauce.

As for the pasta, the photo shows some leftover soba noodles.  A white pasta would be considerably more appetizing.  That little patch of green at the top is the greens from the first radishes I picked.  I'm good at growing radishes.  The greens taste like spinach when blanched.  Need to come up with more uses for the radishes themselves.
*1 small butternut squash
*1  C canned pumpkin
*1/2 C diced onion
1 Tb olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 C mascarpone cheese
milk as needed
2 Tb pine nuts for garnish
4 servings cooked pasta of choice

1.  Preheat oven to 375º.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds.  Place cut-side down and roast until skin is easily pierced by a fork, about 45 minutes.  Allow to cool until you can handle it and peel off the skin.  Dice flesh into bite-sized pieces.

2.  Start boiling water for your pasta.  Drizzle oil in a 10" skillet and heat over medium.  Cook onion until softened, 3-5 minutes.  Add pumpkin and squash.  Once everything warms together, the butternut will start to give off more moisture.  If you want the sauce thinner, stir in half a cup of water or vegetable broth.  That's what I did.  Stir in salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
3.  When your pasta is finished and draining, add mascarpone cheese to the sauce and stir until creamy.  If you need to thin out the sauce again, use milk.  Either add pasta to skillet and toss to coat, or plate pasta first and spoon sauce on top.  Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts if desired and serve hot.

Difficulty rating. :)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Basic Plating

"Plating" is the fancy word for putting food on a plate.  It's considered as much a part of a restaurant's menu as the food itself.  You want the food to look at least as good as it tastes.  There is often an employee called the "expeditor" whose function is to check the appearance of an item before it leaves the kitchen.  They wipe off stray bits of sauce, add a final garnish, and make sure the temperature is appropriate.

Some restaurants lately have taken the concepts of plating and presentation to extremes.  The presentation should not overshadow the food itself.  Bubbles of ganache that house mint-infused CO2?  Truffle foam?  That's not food, it's performance art.  That said, there are some practices from finer restaurants that can be applied at home.

The simplest is putting food on the plate in a clean and organized manner.  Not only does it reduce sibling quarrels over who got the biggest piece, it looks nice.  I use this technique a lot when I do cold dinners, arranging the different pieces of the tapas into their own areas of the plate.
Generally, the central focus of the dish should be either in the middle of the plate or the spot closest to the diner.  I'm left-handed, so I tend to put it in the 8 o'clock position, nearest to the hand holding the fork.  You'll notice the edge of the table in the above photo.  Tilt your head a little to the right, and the meatballs are at 8 o'clock.  If you use formal-style table manners, you're holding the fork in your left hand when you cut, so that's still a thing.  I learned how to use the knife with my right hand and don't have to switch.

Garnishes don't have to be parsley.  I made some lemon meringue tarts on a whim to use up pie crust, and garnished the plate with a few grapes.  An already above-average tea treat went gourmet in five seconds.
Negative space is a technique I don't use all that often because it requires a plate larger than the food needs.  I generally do portion control when I plate something, and using a large plate runs counter to that.  I went hunting through my photos and found a decent picture of the concept in yam toasts.  If I'd garnished the board with raisins or some kind of sauce, you'd get a better idea.
I'm not a huge fan of using height as a presentation tool.  If something falls between plating and setting down the dish, it just ends up looking sloppy.  The easiest example of this is leaning ribs or chops up against each other so the bone sticks up.  Here's a photo of doing it with scones.
You could get height by sticking a spring of garnish that stands up, by using a stemmed goblet instead of a soup bowl, and by making a stacked dish like a sandwich.  Again, I don't really care how tall my food is.  It's just another presentation option.

The timing of this post is a good reminder of presentation during holiday parties, but these techniques can be applied to any meal.  Cut a PB&J in a new way and you've made your kid a special treat.  Set up plates instead of serving family-style and a weekday meal feels unique.  A meal can be as interesting as you feel like making it, even something as boring as mac-and-cheese out of a box.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Office Potluck

It's that time of year again, when everyone has to bring something to work for the holiday party.  An office potluck inevitably turns into 3/4 desserts and 1/4 veggie and fruit trays from the people who forgot until that morning.

I signed up to bring a brisket and didn't find out until after it was bought that one person didn't eat red meat, another was vegetarian, and a third is trying to be vegan.  Feeling guilty, I also signed up for a vegan main dish.  I'm turning the polenta with broiled vegetables vegan, with soy milk and nutritional yeast taking the place of the goat cheese.  I've never used nutritional yeast before, so I'm glad they carry it in the bins at Sprouts.  I don't want to be stuck with a full package of something I might never use again.  The rest of the soy milk I can use in coffee or tea.  Not my first choice, but I don't dislike the taste.  Mostly, I still have dairy at least once a day because you lose the enzymes to digest it if you go off dairy completely.  I haven't been able to drink a cold glass of milk in over a decade, but I can have some in coffee or any heat-treated dairy product.

I also dug out the hot plate I never use.  It's probably from the '70s, but hasn't started a fire yet.  The oven at work is the size of a closet, so reheating wasn't an issue.  This was just for anyone who wanted to keep things warm afterwards.

What I've learned from this year's endeavor is that there are too many specialized diets out there and you can't please everyone.  I only did the broiled veggies because I seriously doubted anyone else would bring something with nutritional value.  And because it goes with the brisket.  My advice is to bring something you like and don't mind bringing home the leftovers.  If everyone does that, they'll at least be able to eat their own dish.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Leftovers in Action

By now, everyone has fruit and vegetables in the crisper that are threatening to turn.  My main culprit was celery.  I actually had to throw away half the bag.  It took some serious trimming to come up with enough for a Waldorf salad, but the only thing I had to buy for it was the grapes.  I usually catch things like that and transfer them to the broth bag, but I had just finished another 45 hour work week.

The other thing was coming up with a use for the sauerkraut other than grilled cheese.  I went with the obvious and grilled up some bratwurst.

So after putting on a bit of weight from that little adventure, I went through the pantry for some plant-based protein.  That ended up being some black bean veggie burgers, but with butternut squash instead of the one sorry plantain at Sprouts.

The fridge is mostly empty now, and I don't have a lot of leftovers in the freezer.  This works because my garden is getting useful again.  Produce doesn't go bad as quickly when it's still in the ground.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Radish Farm

Ok, I admit I'm doing a gardening post because I haven't had time to cook anything interesting.  There was going to be one on fixing a broken hollandaise, but I didn't manage to resurrect it.  I've also been looking for a gap to show off my latest gardening coup.

For the most part, my winter seeding has not been going well because the weather is not cooperating. My large tray of indoor seeding has produced two struggling celery sprouts.  Period.  The lettuce patch has a solid row of little arugula and sprouts of what I assume is Romaine.  I kind of forgot what I put where.  The herb pots haven't sprouted squat.
The Pond is doing slightly better.  I have two solid rows of carrots after two seedings, but they take months to grow.  The beet seeds must be quite old, because I only have four plants out of two rows, and they're struggling.  I'll try again.  I have a slightly newer packet of beet seeds that are a different variety.

Where I'm succeeding beyond all expectations is the radishes.  I hope I like them, because there are two solid rows of a radish every 2-3 inches.  While weeding, I found out the leaves have little spikes on the underside, like nettle leaves.  I appear to be slightly allergic to whatever natural defenses those leaves contain.  Generally, blanching makes them edible.  I have to remember not to eat them raw.

The citrus tree is doing quite well this year.  The fruit is smaller than usual, but there's a lot of it.  Normal sized lemons for a change.  There are even two grapefruit way up there.  Maybe this year they'll ripen.  I haven't had very good luck with the grapefruit.  There are even more navel oranges than I'm used to.  Really hoping I can do something with them for Christmas.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Sauerkraut

I was looking for a recipe to use up half a head of cabbage on the same day Food in Jars posted this month's preserving challenge.  It's fermentation, and she suggested that newbies try sauerkraut.  Unlike my resistance to trying this concept before, the cabbage was going to waste anyway.  I wasn't buying anything new if this didn't work.  I also realized that others might be faced with a similar vegetable problem after Thanksgiving, so this is good timing.

I expected this to be a whole lot harder than it was.  Shredding the cabbage took a little while, even on the V-slicer, but it was super easy after that.  Massage for a couple of minutes with salt, come back in 15 minutes, and stuff it in a jar.  Ok, and the part where you have to ignore it for a week.

I tend to think of sauerkraut as limp and a bit slimy.  This was still a little crunchy, but definitely had a fermented tang.  It tasted like I had put vinegar in it.  I'm assuming that's the goal.  Maybe if you process it for canning it gets limp.  I had it with a grilled cheese sandwich (pictured at top).  I've gotten used to having them with homemade mustard and ran out.  This was the same kind of sharp taste.

I do have to admit that I almost didn't try it.  Everything in my food safety training tells me this is a bad idea.  But then I thought of all the foods we buy that are fermented or aged: vinegar, yogurt, cheeses, preserved meats, wine, beer, kimchi, pickles...  The only difference was I wasn't processing it afterwards.  If I'm still leery of it tomorrow, I'll simmer it for 5 minutes and put it back in the fridge.

*1-1/2 lb cabbage
2 tsp salt

1.  Wash out a wide-mouthed quart jar and whatever you're going to use to weigh down the kraut.  There was some research involved, and you don't need to sterilize the fermenting jar.  If you're going to boil-bath can it later, definitely sterilize those jars.  I used a half-pint jar as a weight because it fit very well in the larger jar just as deep as I needed it to go.  Wash your hands carefully, especially under your nails.  Remove any rings, which tend to harbor bacteria.
2.  Thinly shred cabbage and discard core.  I kept one leaf to cover the top of the batch and help keep everything submerged.

3.  Sprinkle shreds with salt and massage with your hands until they start to give up water.  After about two or three minutes of squishing, you can go do something else for about 15 minutes.  The cabbage will continue to break down without your help.
4.  When you come back, knead the shreds again and watch them magically clump up into a ball surrounded by water.  Pack the shreds into the jar, making sure to get out as many air bubbles from the bottom as possible.  Pour liquid on top.  If you saved a leaf, place it on top of the shreds.

5.  Get your weight/jar filled with water/plate or whatever.  Press it down into the jar and make sure it keeps everything submerged.  That brine prevents bad things from growing until the fermentation kicks in.  At that point, the lactic acid will ward off evil bacteria.  Put a dish towel or double layer of paper towel over the jar lid and secure with a rubber band.
6.  Here comes the hard part.  Place the jar on a plate (in case anything bubbles out) and place in a room-temperature spot away from sunlight.  Now, leave it there for a week.  Look in on it daily to make sure there's no mold.  Skim off any scum from the surface before that happens, but otherwise don't touch the jar.  After a few days, you'll notice the color start to fade as the acid begins to develop.
7.  The Ball book said that the kraut is done when it stops bubbling.  I never really got a head of foam on mine, and gave up after 10 days because the water was starting to evaporate off during the Thanksgiving heat wave.  Possibly, everything was too clean and didn't have the necessary natural yeasts for a full ferment.  Since this was such a small batch, it just went straight in the fridge.  If you're doing the 25 pounds in the Ball book then yes, you would probably want to process it.  Refrigerating slows the fermentation to almost nothing.  Boil-bath canning for 15 minutes stops it and makes everything shelf-stable.

Makes about 3 cups

Difficulty rating π

Friday, November 24, 2017

Farmer's Pie (Poultry)

Today officially marks the start of the week of creative Thanksgiving leftovers.  While I used ground turkey, you can use shredded leftover turkey or chicken and make this in half the time.  It already only takes 45 minutes.

This is a lot like Shepherd's Pie, but shepherds grow sheep and this has turkey in it, so I'm calling it Farmer's Pie.  While cheddar does go well with turkey, I chose to top this with some herb goat cheese mashed potatoes.  They make everything taste better.  I didn't get out the food mill this time, used russets, and left the skin on, but goat cheese makes everyone forgive shortcuts.  You could also use whatever mashed potatoes you had at Thanksgiving.  This definitely counts as a leftovers recipe.

1 lb ground turkey or shredded leftover turkey
*2 C frozen veggies like peas and carrots
1/2 onion, diced
1 Tb olive oil
*2 ribs celery, diced
*2 Tb tomato paste
1/2 tsp each salt, dried sage, and thyme
1/4 tsp pepper
1 batch herb goat cheese mashed potatoes

1.  Start preheating oven to 350º.  Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and celery and cook until they start to soften.  If working with raw meat, add to skillet and cook until browned.  With leftovers, skip to next step.

2.  Add frozen veggies, tomato paste, spices, and cooked turkey.  Cook until everything is heated through and uniform, about 5 minutes.
3.  Spoon meat mixture into an 8x8 baking dish and spread evenly.  Top with the mashed potatoes and sprinkle with parmesan (from the mashed potato recipe).  Bake until bottom layer is bubbly and top is lightly browned, about 15 minutes.  Let sit until it stops boiling before serving.

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Creamed Corn Rolls

This is what I get for gloating about my whopping two days off.  More people quit before the new hires were on the schedule, so I'm pulling 45 hour weeks in 6 days.  Everyone is, but the point is that none of us should be working that much.  Next week it should start to get a little better, unless someone else quits.

Oh, and I caught a cold.  So yeah, a couple of long weeks.  For once, I'm glad I'm not hosting Thanksgiving.  I made a big pot of Spice Soup, heavy on the ginger root.  After a week, I'm feeling mostly better, at least well enough to feed myself.  All that salt from drive-thrus and Chinese food was taking its toll.  So I threw a pot of Baked Beans in the oven and went shopping.

I didn't want to have regular cornbread with the beans, and got it into my head to have a yeast bread flavored with a can of cream-style corn.  Surprisingly few recipes exist for it, so I took the lessons of recipes that weren't exactly what I had in mind and struck out on my own.  What I ended up with does not taste heavily of corn, just as challah does not taste heavily of egg.  It's a subtle richness, not an attack.

1 15 oz can cream-style corn
2 Tb butter
1-1/2 tsp yeast
2 Tb sugar
3-4 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
more butter for brushing

1.  Warm corn, butter, and sugar to 100º.  Butter does not need to melt.  Stir in yeast and let sit until it starts to get foamy, 5 minutes.

2.  In stand mixer, combine 2 C flour and the corn mixture with the paddle.  Beat into a thick batter for 2 minutes.  Add salt and half a cup of flour and beat again.  If still too soft to knead, add another half cup of flour.

3.  Turn out dough onto a floured board and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes, adding as little flour as necessary.  Turn over in an oiled bowl and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

4.  Punch down dough and let rest 10 minutes.  With a scale, weigh out 2 oz rolls.  Round into balls and place in greased muffin pans.  I got 12 rolls and a mini-loaf out of my batch, which would have been 16 rolls.  Allow to rise again, 45 minutes.
5.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Brush tops with melted butter and bake for 20 minutes, until lightly golden and crust has started to set.  Remove from pan as soon as they're cool enough to touch and they won't stick.  Cool on a rack thoroughly before freezing, or serve immediately.  I do recommend freezing any leftovers.  They will spoil at room temperature within a day or two because of the corn.

Makes about 16 rolls

Difficulty rating  :)

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Leftovers Salad

Admittedly, I had some pretty fantastic leftovers this day.  Pomegranate seeds, half a cucumber, green onion, and some sliced almonds.  I bought a small package of arugula on discount and cooked up some dried chickpeas from the pantry.  Drizzled with balsamic vinegar and grapeseed oil and rounded out with a bit of bread from the freezer, this main-dish salad cost me $2.50 for four servings.  Then I added a couple of pan-seared scallops on top because they were also on sale and I hadn't spent much on the rest of it.
I bring this up partly for a presentation topic and partly because most people are out spending a whole lot on groceries this week.  Using your leftovers to make salad, quiche, stew, soup, or casseroles will help you to recover from the spending spree.  Even those who aren't hosting tend to spend more because the sales are so good.

Just remember that any day can be "Thanksgiving" if you present the meal with care.  Even leftovers.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Pomegranate Bread

I really debated what to call this.  It's a naan bread recipe with a few additions, but baked in free-standing loaves instead of pan-fried.  It would have helped if the Internet was more forthcoming with a recipe to match what I wanted to make.  All of the pomegranate bread recipes I found were sweet quick breads.  Just because it isn't there doesn't mean it isn't worth trying.

These breads are tangy and lightly sweet, but the addition of rosemary keeps them savory.  I highly suggest them for Thanksgiving, if you have time to make a yeast bread on top of everything else.  They're definitely a step up from the butter rolls that grace most Feast tables.  It's just amazing to have a burst of juice come out of a bite of bread.  Slight warning, you don't get that pop if you freeze and defrost them later.  They taste the same, though.

1/2 C warm water
2 tsp yeast
2 tsp sugar
1 Tb olive oil
*1/3 C Greek yogurt
*1/2 C whole wheat flour
1-1/2 to 2 C all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
*1/2 tsp dried rosemary, crumbled
1 C pomegranate arils
1 tsp sesame seeds to garnish (optional)

1.  Combine yeast, sugar, oil, yogurt, and water and let sit until yeast starts to proof, about 5 minutes.

2.  In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, stir together wheat flour and 1/2 C of the a.p. flour.  Add liquids and beat into a batter, about 2 minutes.  Add salt, rosemary, and 1/2 C flour and beat again.  Beat in 1/2 C more flour to make a dough, then transfer to a floured board.
3.  Knead dough until it starts to get the smooth and elastic consistency, then very gently knead in the arils.  I kind of developed a kneading technique that pushed horizontally rather than down towards the board, but I could still feel some of the arils pop.  Knead only until arils are evenly distributed.  Let rest 10 minutes while you pan-spray parchment on a sheet pan (or use a silpat).

4.  Divide dough into 4 pieces for small loaves or 8 for dinner rolls, or bake as a full round loaf.  I have no idea if making this in a loaf pan or muffin cups is a good idea.  Round off dough pieces and transfer to prepared baking sheet.  For loaves, flatten slightly.  Allow to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until doubled.
5.  Preheat oven to 375º.  Spray loaves lightly with water and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  You could alternatively sprinkle with more rosemary and/or a bit of kosher salt.  Bake 20 minutes for 4 loaves, about 30 for a single loaf, and maybe 15 for rolls.  Bread is done when lightly browned and crust has formed.  Remove to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Difficulty rating :-)