Thursday, August 17, 2017

Look What I Made!

They're small, but I successfully grew watermelons!  I'm actually glad they're not huge.  This first one was almost exactly a kilogram.  It also didn't grow into a normal watermelon shape, but the other two look like they should and are about twice the size.

When I cut this one open, I was relieved to find it ripe.  I have no idea how to tell when a green fruit has ripened.  Despite its pale-ish flesh, it was plenty sweet and even had a sugar spot.  It made three servings, about as much as I can eat before it loses too much water and sweetness.
What you might be able to see in the photo is how large the seeds are.  They're actually normal seed size and it's just a small watermelon.  Americans are so spoiled, I had forgotten that watermelons come with seeds.

I'll probably cut up the next one for work instead of hogging it for myself.  Well, I'll probably eat quite a bit while I'm dicing it, but there should be enough left over to take.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Bread and Butter Pickles

I grew pickling cucumbers this year instead of the salad kind.  Yes, there's more than one kind of cucumber.  These are the little, mottled ones that are sold in the specialty produce section, the ones most people say "who would buy those?" to.  And the ones that are more expensive because so few people buy them.

I used to love pickles when I was little.  I especially liked the ones put on the table at Junior's, a Westside deli that closed a few years ago after many years as a neighborhood landmark.  My parents would get me my own dish, so everyone else could share the other one.  I've gotten out of the habit since then, but always like them when I get served one.  I just don't buy them.  It's like the way I'll drink soda when I'm out, but almost never buy it.

This is the first I've tried to make canned pickles.  I've done sunomono and quick refrigerator pickles because I was not growing the proper kind of cucumber to do canned.  This summer, I have a few one and two-day canning recipes I plan to try, but I'm not doing a fermented pickle.  The fermented kind scare me.  Fermenting anything scares me, which is why I kind of abandoned making cheeses.

These are a standard hot-pack recipe that can be adapted to any vegetable you wish to pickle.  I've left off the peppers that Marisa and most other B&B recipes use for my personal taste, but otherwise left her recipe intact.  I just cut the whole thing in thirds because that's how much cucumber I had.  The nice thing about Food in Jars recipes is that even though they start small, they can often be cut down further without much effort.  I had three little cucumbers, enough for two half-pint jars, which is about four servings.  Next week, I'll have enough for another little batch.  You shouldn't hold the cucumbers too long, or they start to dry out.  Assuming you bought yours at the market, I'm adding the brining step in the comments to help keep them a little crisp.

Here's something I learned in the process.  Cut off the blossom end of a cucumber before pickling, or the enzyme in it will make the whole batch mushy.  If you don't know which end that is, just level off the stem and blossom ends, like taking the heels off a loaf of bread.

*2 C pickling cucumbers, sliced 1/2" thick
*2/3 C sliced onion
2/3 C apple cider vinegar
1/4 C sugar
1 Tb + 2 tsp pickling or canning salt
*scant tsp mustard seed
*scant tsp celery seed
*1/4 tsp red chili flakes
*scant 1/4 tsp ground cloves

1.  Toss cucumber and onion slices with 1 Tb salt in a bowl.  I actually used kosher salt.  Normally, if you sub in K salt for canning, you have to increase the amount by about 1.5, but I'm doubling it anyway to do this process.  Safety is not an issue.  The finished product was just a little saltier than the average pickle.  Cover the slices with cold water, then toss in a few ice cubes.  Refrigerate the bowl for a minimum of 1 hour and up to 12.

2.  Prepare jars and canner for a 1 pint yield.  My slices fit neatly into a regular mouth half-pint jar, so I used two of those.  You could fit all of this in one wide-mouth pint jar by packing half of the slices vertically down the sides.

3.  Pour out vegetables into a strainer and rinse to remove excess salt.  Let them drain over the sink for a few minutes.  In a medium saucepan, heat vinegar, sugar, and other 2 tsp of salt.  Once salt and sugar have dissolved, add remaining spices and bring to a boil.

4.  Add vegetables to the brine and return to a boil.  Cook until everything is heated through, about 5 minutes.  Don't cook until the cucumbers look cooked, because these are going to spend ten minutes in the water bath.

5.  Pack veggies into jars using tongs, leaving 1/2" headspace.  Fill with the hot brine, poke out any air bubbles with a chopstick, and add more brine if necessary to bring it back up to that 1/2".  You can hang on to any leftover brine for up to a week to use with another batch.  Wipe rims, center a lid, and screw on rim finger-tight.  Process sizes up to a pint for 10 minutes, quarts for 15.  Check seals when cooled and refrigerate any failed seal jars immediately.  Sealed jars can be kept at room temperature, out of the light, for up to a year.  Let sit for at least two days before opening, and refrigerate after.

Makes 1 pint

Difficulty rating :)

Friday, August 11, 2017

California Roll Sandwich

I'll give Einstein Bros Bagels credit for this one.  Recently, they had a California Lox sandwich.  It was pretty much this, but lox instead of crab.  It always made me want sushi afterwards.  The bagel was a bit much, but putting the ingredients of a California roll on slices of white bread turns this into a tea sandwich.  Party or not, I'm still thinking about things that would go well at tea.  Besides, my pickling cucumbers were ripening, and I had left a carrot in the ground for this.

This sandwich is all in the prep.  It's very easy to make, but there are a lot of layers.  Kind of a cucumber sandwich on steroids.  You could even substitute this for the regular cucumber sandwich at a tea.  Subbing in portobello mushroom or tofu for the crab makes it vegetarian.

I did skip the seaweed in a regular California roll.  I couldn't figure out how to get some in each bite without it becoming tough.  Sushi is a one-bite deal, but even a finger sandwich is at least two bites.  The bread was too soft to hold things together once the crust was cut off, so I would suggest a very light toasting first.

2" length of cucumber (or 1 pickling cucumber)
2" length of carrot
*1/2 C rice vinegar
2 tsp sugar
1/2 C whipped cream cheese
*1 Tb wasabi powder
*1 Tb pickled ginger
1 large avocado
4 oz crab meat (I used leg-style fake crab)
8 slices white bread
toasted sesame seeds for garnish

1.  The day before, peel carrot and cucumber (also remove seeds from cucumber).  Slice thinly into matchsticks.  In a bowl, combine rice vinegar and sugar.  Warm in the microwave to dissolve the sugar.  Stir in cucumber and carrot pieces until submerged.  Refrigerate until needed.

2.  In a small bowl, add 1 Tb water to wasabi powder. Finely chop ginger and stir into wasabi.  Add cream cheese and beat with a spoon until smooth.  Your eyes should water slightly, but it will mellow out in a few minutes.  Refrigerate until needed.
3.  Mash avocado pulp with a fork until mostly smooth.  If not using immediately, beat in a tsp of lemon juice or rice vinegar and seal with plastic wrap before refrigerating.  The last of the prep is to open the package of crab (or krab) and separate the flakes along the natural grain.

4.  To assemble, lay out the bread slices.  On the bottom half, spread the wasabi cream cheese.  On the top, spread the avocado pulp.  Drain the pickle mixture and spread the carrot and cucumber over the cream cheese.  Distribute the crab meat on top of that.  Sprinkle with sesame as a garnish, then top with avocado half of bread.  Cut off crusts if desired and cut into finger sandwich sizes.  Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 hours before they start to get stale.

Makes 4 sandwiches, 16 hors d'oeuvres servings

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Basil Maintenance

Once in a while, YouTube brings up a suggested video that teaches you something you should have sought out yourself.

I've been blindly growing my basil for years.  I got the seeds free when I went to see the Rose Parade floats and MiracleGro was a sponsor.  When the plants got too big for the free pot they gave me, I moved them outside into a much larger pot.  Since then, I've just let them grow as they wish, flower, and die in the fall.  The blossoms make seeds, which fall into the pot, and every spring new basil plants grow.

Apparently, that's not how it's supposed to work.  When the plants go to seed, the leaves get thin and less flavorful.  My plants never look like the lush ones you see in the market with wide leaves.  That requires you to do some actual gardening.  Who knew?

Now, whenever a branch starts to form flowers, I prune them.  I just go down a few sets of leaves to where I see some side buds forming and snip off that top few inches.  Those little leaves now have incentive to form their own branches.  I've only done it twice, and already I can see the difference.  The plants look a lot healthier.  Plus, it provides for a generous basil harvest every couple of weeks.  If I can't think of a culinary use for them immediately, I can go pull out some mint and made basil/mint tea.  Or, they can be hung up to dry for some eventual pesto.

Within a month, I'll let one go to seed so it can make next year's seeds.  I love this system.  I wish all my plants were this easy to recycle.  Well, then there's Eggy.  I actually want her to die this fall so I can put some celery in there.  We'll see what happens.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Blueberry Turnovers

This is why I decided to make the pie filling.  Only a little bit was used for this recipe, so I can easily make a cobbler or something with the rest.

I made these small.  Most recipes get 8 out of a sheet of puff pastry and I did 12.  I like smaller pastries because I can decide if I really want that second one at breakfast, when I usually have a protein and fruit as well as something carbey.  Or, if I have it as a tea snack,  I'm really good at only eating one small thing.  I know, not everyone has that kind of willpower, but this is my recipe.

*1 sheet puff pastry
1/2 C blueberry pie filling
Coarse or sanding sugar for garnish

1.  Thaw pastry according to package instructions.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out thinner than simply erasing the creases, to get another inch or two out of each dimension.

2.  Preheat oven to 400º and line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat.
3.  Cut pastry sheet into a grid of 4x3 pieces, either with a sharp knife and a ruler or a pizza cutter and a steady hand.  The trifold of the pastry out of the box is a big help.  Transfer pieces to the baking sheet and spoon 1-2 tsp filling into the middle, depending how large your original sheet was rolled.  Fold over on the diagonal and press the seams closed.  You can use your fingers or a fork, but frankly I liked the look of the ones that popped open a little.  Cut a slit in the top to vent, brush lightly with water or milk, and sprinkle with sanding sugar.  This last step is important, because the pastry is not sweet and it's going to need a little help.

4.  Bake for 15 minutes, until well-risen and golden brown.  They'll brown more if you used milk than water.  Remove to a rack to cool and serve.

Makes 12

Difficulty rating π

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Blueberry Pie Filling

Blueberries are the cheapest they have been in years.  This is the best crop in anyone's memory, to the point that the government is buying some of the surplus.  So, I couldn't resist $1.98 for an 18-oz box.  Some of it went on my morning steel-cut oats, but a lot of it went toward this.

Unlike jam recipes, this is super easy and quick.  Fifteen minutes max.  It's also important to note that although I'm storing it in mason jars, this is not a canning recipe.  There isn't enough acid or sugar, and the cornstarch would break down if you processed it and then used it in a pie.

You'll note that there's relatively little sugar in this recipe.  My taste-test proved that the berries were plenty sweet on their own, so I kept it to a minimum.  If you want so much sugar (or corn syrup) that you can't really taste the fruit, buy canned filling.  The point of this was to make it taste home-made.

18 oz blueberries (about 3-1/2 C)
1/4 C water
6 Tb sugar (1/4 C + 2 Tb)
*1 Tb lemon juice
*1 Tb cornstarch

1.  Stir together 2 Tb water, the cornstarch, and the lemon juice.  Set aside.
2.  In a medium saucepan, combine blueberries, sugar, and 2 Tb water.  Cook over medium heat until berries are soft but not mushy, about 10-15 minutes.  If you break some of the berries, you'll get a better color in the syrup and the filling will cook faster.

3.  Once desired doneness of berries is reached, stir in cornstarch slurry.  It's going to thicken up in 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and pour into storage containers.  Allow to stop steaming before putting a lid on it.  Can be refrigerated for one week or frozen for up to a month.
Pro tip:  If you end up with more goo than you expected, like I did, there are a few solutions.  One, strain it out to use as syrup for pancakes, yogurt, crepes, ice cream, in soda, etc.  Two, add more fresh berries when you use the filling, not necessarily the same kind.  Three, use it for something where the drippiness is an asset, like on cheesecake.

Makes about 2-1/2 cups

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Tapas Dinner

I do this a lot in the summer, and have posted the concept before.  It bears repeating under the current topic of presentation.  You can chop up some fruit and veggies (or buy them chopped), set out some bread, cheese, and nuts, and everyone will think you're a genius.  It's all in the presentation.  Whether you put out a little bit like I did here for just myself, or several boards, each with a theme, it turns snacks into a leisurely meal.  It's how Mediterranean-rim countries eat during the warm summer evenings.  There usually isn't dessert, just a pile of grapes or other finger fruit.

This is also a great thing to add to a barbecue gathering for vegetarians and vegans, so they don't feel left out.  I wanted tuna salad, but a cup of hummus or dairy-free bean dip would be a vegan protein.  It's a way to cater to a special dietary need without anyone feeling like you reluctantly made something just for one person.  There are many specialty diets that can work with this concept, including paleo, diabetic, and gluten-free.  Plus, it's just a generally healthy way to eat.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Overnight Steel-Cut Oats

The grocery store keeps posting coupons for English muffins, so I've been having them for breakfast and cracking open jars of homemade jam.  It's great, but I'm ready for a change.

On the cruise this spring, Holland America had cups of cold oatmeal out every morning.  I tried one by mistake, thinking it was rice pudding.  It was too sweet, but not bad.

Instead of rolled oats, I decided to do this experiment with steel-cut.  Logically, it would simply take longer to soak in the milk than with rolled oats, but if you're doing it overnight, that's eight to ten hours. More than enough time to soften the grains.

You could also do this as a shortcut to hot steel-cut oats by soaking overnight and bringing the whole thing to a simmer with a bit of water in the morning.  That cuts 45 minutes down to no more than 10, with the same result.  What I liked about the concept was making a single serving at once.  Since steel-cut oats take so long to make, you usually make several days' worth at a time.  I just put everything for one breakfast in a one-cup ramekin and stashed it in the fridge overnight.

I went a little crazy with the toppings, but it was a nice way to break up the monotony of the oats.  Two chopped dried figs made the whole thing sweet enough that I didn't have to add sugar.  Then I sprinkled in a pinch of coconut flakes, a tiny bit of chopped crystallized ginger, and about a tablespoon of chopped walnuts.  All of it was in there while it soaked, which softened up everything into a kind of thick oatmeal soup, but not soggy.  I liked it.

1/4 C dry steel-cut oats
1/4 C milk
2 Tb water (or to taste)
*up to 1/4 C (4 Tb) mix-ins such as dried fruit, chopped nuts, coconut flakes, sweetener, spices, or fresh fruit

1.  Into a bowl or 1-cup jar, place oats.  Pour in milk.  If serving cold, put in the water now.  If planning to serve warm, you'll boil the water in the morning and stir it in.

2.  Add mix-ins, but you don't need to stir them in now.  There's enough liquid that they can float on top and still soften.  For fresh fruit, you can add it to the oatmeal at serving time.
3.  Refrigerate for at least 8 hours, and up to 12.  At serving time, either have it cold or boil water and add about 2 Tb to warm it.  Alternately, you can microwave the oatmeal, adding more water if it's too thick.

Serves 1

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, July 24, 2017

Cream of Fennel Soup

Yes, I am aware how hot it is outside.  That's why I made something which would work as a cold soup as well.  Besides, the watermelon is kind of taking over the pond and the fennel were bolting anyway.  I'm letting one flower to collect the anise seed, but the other two decent bulbs got pulled for this.

This recipe is an excellent example of why you should save trimmings to make your own broths.  I made a "white" vegetable broth to preserve the color of the fennel, picking around the carrots and red onion in the broth bag in favor of kale ribs, yellow onion, celery, fronds from the fennel, and some fresh radish greens from the previous post.  I also used juniper berries, coriander seed, and caraway seed from my pickling spice collection as excellent complements to the flavor of fennel.  Or, you could use store-bought vegetable or chicken stock.

1 qt stock
*4 C chopped fennel bulb
*1/2 C diced onion
*1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tb olive oil
2 Tb flour
1 Tb anisette (optional)
1/2 C cream
salt and white pepper

1.  Heat oil in a soup pot over medium heat.  Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook another minute, until fragrant.

2.  Add fennel and stir into onion mix.  Sprinkle flour on top and cook into a pasty roux.  If using, add the anisette.  Slowly add broth and allow soup to come to a low boil.  Lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until fennel is softened, about 20 minutes.

3.  In batches, purée soup in a blender.  Strain back into the pot, to remove any fibers that refused to break down.  Stir in cream and return to a simmer, not a boil.  Taste and add salt and white pepper to taste.

4.  Serve hot, or chill to serve cold.  I saved some fennel fronds to chop up for garnish.

Serves 4 to 6

Difficulty rating  :)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Roasted Radishes

One advantage of random recipe searches is that you discover new ideas.  I don't remember which blog had these as a garnish, or if it was for soup or salad, but a specific search for roasted radishes produced a plethora of hits.

The only reason I don't grow radishes is because, really, how many can you eat?  I'll put a single one on a full salad that serves four to six, sliced thinly so its tangy crunch goes a long way.  Then what do you do with the rest of them?

So I made the 50¢ investment on a bunch of radishes at the market.  Half of the greens and one radish went into the lentil burgers for both volume and spice.  The other half of the greens went into some vegetable broth.  What was left is now in this post.  Not bad for half a dollar.

So, how do they taste?  Kind of like tangy red potatoes.  I never realized that radishes were starchy.  You could eat them as a side, or on a salad, or in a soup.  Maybe stuff chicken or fish with them.  The point is, they're not like the crunchy, spicy root you eat raw.  Maybe I'll buy a packet of seeds.

1 bunch red radishes
salt and pepper
1 Tb olive oil

1.  Preheat oven to 400º.

2.  Cut off taproots and stems from radishes.  Slice in half lengthwise.  Toss in oil to coat, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3.  Place cut side down on baking sheet and roast until softened and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.  Serve either hot or chilled.

Difficulty rating  π