Monday, May 22, 2017

Wasabi-Iced Sugar Cookies

I recently came into possession of slightly over a pound of wasabi powder, so expect crazy things from me using wasabi as an ingredient.

Most "wasabi" sold in markets in the US is actually colored common horseradish treated to taste like wasabi.  Like "turkey ham", Bac-os, or fake crab.  (PS: most fake bacon bits are vegan and kosher.)  Americans can't tell the difference, but it's a whole lot cheaper than the real thing.  If you insist on true wasabi, go to an Asian market and ask the grocer.  It's going to cost significantly more.

I didn't like wasabi growing up.  A lot of kids don't.  I only got used to it when hot and spicy foods became an everyday thing and I discovered I was allergic to them.  When horseradish became my alternative spice, I learned to appreciate wasabi.  Still, there has to be a balance so the spice adds to the taste and experience and doesn't merely clear out the sinuses.

And that's where combining wasabi powder and sugar comes in.  It really isn't unheard-of to have a spicy cookie.  Ginger snaps can be quite strong.  Actually, they would taste great with this icing.  The color combination wouldn't work, though.  Maybe replace part of the ginger in the cookie dough with wasabi powder, then ice as normal.

The cookies in the photo were from a mix.  For a better recipe, I do have one for sugar cookies on this site.  Here's the icing:

1 C powdered sugar
*1 tsp wasabi powder
milk as needed

1.  While cookies are in the oven, stir together powdered sugar and wasabi powder.

2.  Add milk 1 tsp at a time, until desired consistency is reached.  Go slowly.  You may think the icing is too thick, then it will thin out after sitting a minute.  Do not go by the taste to judge how strong the wasabi flavor is.  It will get stronger over time.
3.  Once cookies are cooled, ice one and let it dry a bit.  (Keep stirring the icing in the bowl every few minutes to keep it soft.)  Taste and decide if you need more wasabi or more sugar to create the balance you want.  Then ice the rest of the cookies.

Makes enough to ice about 18 two-bite cookies thinly

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, May 19, 2017

Well, That Was Hard

As is usually the case with home improvements, the pantry painting took longer than expected.  I did learn a lot.  For example, the top shelf is about 3" less deep than the others.  Those other shelves are patched in the back with a second strip of wood.  My guess is that all the shelves were cut to the top size, then someone changed their mind after the first was installed.  Instead of starting over, the patch strip was put in the back and the original shelf was lined up in front of it.  I'm sure the change was invisible originally, but in 60 years the wood shrank and warped unevenly.  That was how the scary black stuff grew, between the pieces.  The warping was less than 1/4" vertically and the pieces are still flush together, so I hit them up with some spackle while I was doing the walls.  Yes, that's the wrong product to use on wood, but you can paint over it and anything was better than nothing.

One thing I learned while doing the cleaning was not to wear my glasses or shoes once the painting started.  I can see well enough a foot and a half not to leave any unpainted areas.  Oh, and once I changed the bulb to a white one, the color in there didn't change a whole lot.  The paint was a slightly yellowish pink off-white.  I'm sure the choice was either because the whole kitchen was going to be that color or because you want lower light levels in a pantry.  I hardly ever use the bulb, so it didn't matter.  I just picked a lower wattage than was in there before.
Once everything was bleached, spackled, and sanded, it was time to wedge all 4'8", 90 pounds on a fat day of me into the pantry with the first color to do the walls.  I decided to free-hand the flat blue color and use tape for the Swiss Coffee latex on another day.  If I'm patient enough, I can stay in the lines.  Probably failed coloring in kindergarten, and there's a reason I'm a bread baker instead of a cake decorator.
The first coat took only an hour.  I was disappointed that it was obvious from the start I'd need a second coat, but again, I'm only doing this once.  There was a bunch of paint on my hands and elbows, but none on the bandana over my hair.  Small victory.  A couple of isolated, stained patches needed a third coat, but that dried while I was putting up the blue painter's tape before doing the semi-gloss.

Then I woke up the next day and was very sore from holding up half my weight on the door frame.  Imagine doing one-armed pull ups for an hour straight.  I decided to wait a week for the strain to heal before hitting the project again.  Meanwhile, I did paint my bedroom and bathroom door frames, which have had blue tape on them for about six months.  Not the best paint job ever, but a whole lot better than they looked before I put up the tape.  You would have to be looking for flaws to find them, and I seriously doubt anyone who doesn't live here would do that.

Fast forward a week of my food sitting in the hall.  I'd only just gotten the last of the paint off my feet, and there was still a little around my nails.  I hoped to finish the project in one day, but semi-gloss takes longer to dry than flat.  Still, I had a full coat on all but the top shelf and the ceiling.  Those just had the cuts around the edges in preparation for the roller.  The door frame and baseboards were done, though.  I decided that a single coat was so beyond what was there before that I'd call it and focus on the parts that would actually be seen and used.

So, the next day I got in there again with the roller.  Once I got down to the shelves with a full coat, it got easier.  Four hours later, everything was dry enough to pull off the tape.  A quick trip around with the blue paint to patch anything the tape pulled off finished the messy part of the project.

Then came the hardest part of all, waiting three days for the paint to dry completely before covering it with the padded shelf liners I had bought before deciding to paint.  I was not about to scuff or stain the shelves after all this.  Finally, I felt confident enough to put down the liners and put all the food back.
At which point, I'm the only one who can tell it was even painted.

Difficulty rating  $@%!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

New Ingredient of the Week: Papaya

This is not a new feature, just something I thought I'd mention.

While I've had papaya before, I've never bought it.  There was a giant pile of them at Sprouts for only 88¢ a pound, so I bought the smallest, most ripe one I could find.  At just over two pounds, it was a small investment to bring something new into the kitchen.
Preparing papaya is very basic.  Cut it in half lengthwise and scoop out the caper-like seeds.  You can pare off the skin and slice or dice it, or leave the skin on to serve wedges.  It can be blended into drinks, or you can freeze the purée as a sorbet.  Papayas are not overly sweet, so they can adapt more easily to uses in savory dishes.

I ended up serving it based on an idea from the Bible to use lemon-infused whipped cream.  Instead, I took some plain Greek yogurt I had on hand and stirred in lemon juice, honey, and a couple of drops of orange liqueur.  Dolloped on wedges, it was a summery dessert.
And this is post #800!  My seventh blogiversary is July 18th.  I'm astonished that I'm still coming up with anything to write about, even though the posts are sometimes over a week apart.  More of the mix is gardening and non-recipe posts, but at least I'm writing something.  Everyone should write at least weekly, to exercise the brain and language skills.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Chickpea "Ceviche" Salad

This was a lot of effort so I wouldn't waste half a bunch of cilantro.  One of my co-workers brought ceviche, and it was really good, but I only had a couple of bites because I'm uncomfortable with the idea of raw shellfish.  (She didn't blanch the shrimp.)  Even sushi shellfish is cooked.

Which brings me to the air quotes in the title of this dish.  The proteins and eggplant are cooked, making this much safer to eat and easier to digest, but technically not ceviche.  Also, subbing in legumes for tilapia makes this less of the fish dish that ceviche is supposed to be.  Ceviche doesn't merely mean raw any more than carpaccio merely means thinly sliced and raw.  There's a whole lot more to those concepts, and it really bothers me when vegetables are called carpaccio because they're paper thin.  This title is the closest approximation of the taste based on terms familiar to an average cook.  It's kind of a Mediterranean salad with a Mexican flair.  Since I'm mashing up cuisines, this isn't getting the Non-American label.  The definition of American cuisine is adapting foods from other lands.

For texture, I'm soaking and cooking the beans.  If you don't mind them a little mushy, go ahead and open a can.  Also, it's traditional to put tomatoes in ceviche, but I've been eating a lot of them lately and skipped it.

2/3 C dry chickpeas or one 15oz can
1/2 lb shrimp: peeled, deveined, and chopped
* 1 lemon
* 1 C chopped cilantro leaves
* 1 C diced red onion
*3 cloves garlic, minced
*1 small eggplant - more traditional, avocado
1/4 C finely diced cucumber
salt and pepper to taste
1 jalapeño, diced (optional)

1.  If cooking the chickpeas from dry, soak for at least 12 hours.  Drain, place in a small saucepan with 3 C water, and bring to a simmer.  Cook for two hours and drain again.  Or, just open a can and rinse well.

2.  If using eggplant, preheat oven to 400º.  Cut off stem cap and pierce in a few places.  Roast until softened, about 1 hour.  Cool, then dice pulp.  For avocado, cut in half and scoop out flesh, then dice.

3.  To cook the shrimp, bring a medium pot of water to a boil, then turn off the heat.  Immediately stir in shrimp pieces and cover.  Let sit in the hot water until just barely cooked all the way through, about 2 minutes.  Drain and place in ice water to stop the cooking.

4.  To assemble, get out a large bowl.  Put in cooked chickpeas, eggplant, and shrimp.  Add chopped cilantro, diced onion, diced jalapeño, and minced garlic.  Stir in the juice of the lemon and allow everything to marinate in the refrigerator until chilled, about 1 hour.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.  Stir in cucumber shortly before serving so it doesn't pickle and get soft.  Serve chilled, preferably with chips or tortillas.

Difficulty rating :)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Pineapple-Mango Salsa

I finally remembered to get a mango to make a topping for some black bean burgers.  This is also a light topping for fish, shrimp tacos, or anything on the lighter side that can handle a bit of tangy sweetness.  It also works as a dip or salad element.  And best of all, it's raw.  Chop, toss, and go.

I know that some people really don't like pineapple.  A few are even allergic to it.  You could sub in a second mango.  If that's too sweet, maybe a cup of chopped tangerine.  As long as you have the acid from the lime juice, the colors should still stay vibrant if this is not served the same day.

1 mango
1 8oz can crushed pineapple, drained
*1/2 C diced red onion
1/2 C cilantro leaves, chopped
juice of 1 lime
dash of salt

1.  To cut a mango, run the knife down longways just off center, on one side of the flat pit.  Then do the other side.  You can get a little flesh off what's in the middle.  To each half, cut a criss-cross pattern in the flesh, then turn the skin inside-out.  The diced pieces come off with a spoon.  (You can do the same thing to an avocado.)
2.  In a bowl, toss together mango, crushed pineapple, onion, and cilantro.  Drizzle lime juice and salt and stir again to distribute evenly.  Refrigerate for at least half an hour to let flavors meld.  If you want a drier topping, set the mango and pineapple in a sieve over a bowl in the fridge for an hour before returning to the bowl and adding the remaining ingredients.

Makes about 1 pint

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Just to be Different

I only had cool-weather seeds left and things were starting to bolt.  Plus, the middle celery never really grew tall enough to be useful.  Four fennel did sprout before it started to get warm, but I doubt I could get any carrots or beets started this far into spring.  Time to go shopping.

It's amazing how many vegetables I suddenly don't like when faced with a wall of seeds.  Something I might pick up once a year at the market isn't as appealing when I consider a small crop of it.  There was also space and planting depth to consider.

I got chives for a pot that I forgot to use on the last round of planting.  They're hard to start, but once they take root you have chives forever.  Then I got Roma tomatoes because, when I pulled out the watercress, I realized that the soil was still very rich and held moisture well.  I'm doing a second one in place of the lettuces, but plants in that spot never make it more than one season.  I don't expect it to last past November.

This year's gourd experiment is watermelon.  The variety I picked says the melons grow up to 35 pounds.  I did a little math on how big stuff I grow ends up in various locations, and mine should max out at 20 pounds.  The ones alongside the front yard tomato probably won't make it past 10.  Now I just hope that they grow in the same kind of vine system as pumpkins and cucumbers.  I passed up a variety that grows in a bush because there isn't space for it.


The boysenberry is doing extraordinarily well.  All that rain this winter did wonders for it.  I took this photo before it was in full bloom.  Imagine at least twice as many white blossoms.  I'm looking forward to eating more than one or two berries at a time.  Pretty soon.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Leftover Vegetables Soup

I'm putting this one in the Presentation category.  Like most home cooks, but unlike me, I had a bunch of uncooked veggies left over after Passover.  I'd bought too many tomatoes, bought "insurance carrots" in case the ones I pulled from the garden were unusable, had half a crown of broccoli, most of the parsley, and several varieties of partially used onions.  The race was on to come up with something appetizing to do with them before the broccoli and tomato spoiled.  (Carrots keep a lot longer.)

I decided on soup, and it evolved from there.  What I ended up deciding to do was purée a tomato and carrot soup, with some help from a can of tomato paste to even out the tomato-to-carrot ratio.  Garnish would be blanched broccoli and chopped parsley.  Presented well, even that crazy mishmash wouldn't be too awkward.  It kind of tasted like marinara, but more carroty.  And it counted as at least one vegetable side dish.

Obviously, everyone has different vegetables sitting around, wilting helplessly.  Too much kale and cilantro?  Do a green base and garnish with something bright, like that jicama you grabbed instead of a potato and couldn't figure out what to do with.  (That actually sounds really good for a summer soup.  Possible future recipe.)  Kindly neighbor "gifted" you with several zucchini?  Actually, the best solution for that is Marisa's zucchini spread, but soup works too.  The point is, this is one solution of many to reduce waste in the kitchen and your grocery bills while you're at it.

*1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced
*1 Roma tomato, diced
*1/2 C diced yellow onion
*1 rib celery, diced
*1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tb olive oil
*1 5oz can tomato paste
1 qt water
salt and white pepper to taste
*1/2 lb broccoli florets
*1 C chopped fresh parsley leaves

1.  In a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté onion in olive oil until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about one more minute.

2.  Add water, carrots, celery, tomato paste, and tomato.  Stir until the tomato paste breaks down.  Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat and simmer until tomatoes and carrots are cooked, about 30 minutes.
3.  When soup is softened, separately cook broccoli in a medium saucepan in 1" of water over medium heat, covered, just until the color changes.  You don't want it completely soft.  This is your texture.  Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking.

4.  Purée the soup in batches until smooth.  Return to pot over low heat.  Taste and add salt and white pepper as needed.

5.  To serve, ladle hot soup into bowls.  Top with several pieces of broccoli and scatter the top with the chopped parsley.

Difficulty rating  :)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Odd Man Out

One thing they taught us in cooking school that I never really understood, but follow nevertheless, is to serve things in odd numbers.  Think about it: there are usually three shrimp in a shrimp cocktail, or something is cut in wedges (triangles), or an item is plated off-center to create an unbalanced look.  Even Artie grows buds in odd numbers.
Maybe symmetry is considered boring.  Maybe round is too easy.  Whatever it is, I do tend to serve things in odd numbers now when creating a look.  But when it's just me, I usually end up with an even number of whatever.  I don't exactly have a fear of odd or prime numbers, but the lack of symmetry makes me uneasy.  That may be the point.  Put diners off guard by creating something that upsets expectations.  I'm not all that into food as art, but that's what really expensive restaurants specialize in.
Just remember that the point of a presentation is to make the food more appetizing.  And also that you're feeding someone, so don't make it so weird that they don't want to eat.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Fried Baby Artichokes

The day I went out to get the artichokes for Seder salad, Artie was laying on the ground.  Either he uprooted from his own weight or something jumped on him overnight.  I was able to prop up the plant and cut off the largest buds, but he was clearly in trouble.

After Seder, I decided that the few remaining buds weren't going to get any bigger and cut them.  Barely as large as my thumb and mostly tough leaf, I went searching for a way to salvage them.

The Chew had a labor-intensive recipe for twice-fried artichokes.  Their baby artichokes were twice the size of what I was working with, so I've adapted this for the itty-bitty pieces I ended up with.  This method will also work with any size of immature bud, but not a mature one with a choke.

I don't think I've ever discussed the Baby Artichoke debate.  The way an artichoke plant blooms is to put up one thick stalk in the middle, which develops the largest bud.  That is what generally makes it to the market for $3 apiece.  The stalk then branches off into 5 thinner stalks.  The top of those produces what is normally considered "baby artichokes", which are no bigger than a baseball.  Some markets call them Medium, depending on where you live.  Each of those stalks is good for at least one more generation, and I was getting two (down to great-grandbabies of the main bud) until the root snapped.  If those are large enough in a commercial farm, they end up as frozen or marinated artichokes.  They're generally underdeveloped and never build a choke.  So, next time you see "baby artichokes" in the farmer's market, you now know that they're just full-grown later buds that the farmer has named something cute to sell it.

*12 baby artichokes (8 if they're a little larger)
*2 cloves garlic
*1 lemon
olive oil for frying
salt to taste

1.  Fill a small bowl halfway with water.  Squeeze half a lemon into it and drop in the empty peel for good measure.

2.  To prepare the artichokes, tear off the toughest leaves until you start to get down to the more edible ones.  Pare off the skin of the base and short stem, then cut off the top 1/3 of each bud.  Slice into 1/4" thick cross-sections.  I got 3 out of each of mine.  Drop slices in the acidulated water as you go to keep them from turning black.
3.  Once done with the artichokes, drain them while you heat 1/2" of oil in a 10" skillet.  Slice garlic thinly and toss into heating oil.  Once the garlic is browning, the oil is hot enough and you can toss in the artichoke in a single layer.  I highly recommend finding that splatter guard you never use.  Cook until petals brown, turn outward, and get crisp, about 5 minutes.  You can turn them during cooking if they're not submerged.
4.  Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.  Sprinkle with salt, place on a serving plate, and drizzle with juice of remaining lemon half.  Serve hot, maybe with a garlic aioli on the side.

Difficulty rating :)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A New Coat of Paint

When I did my annual clearing out the pantry for Passover, I decided to strip off the old shelf paper and reline everything.  That's when I found out that adhesive contact paper isn't really used anymore.  All I could find was clear or really ugly, so I got padded non-stick liners instead.

Then I stripped off the old paper and found all kinds of horrors underneath.  I don't know if it was mold, syrup, or general rot, but it was scary.  I was in there so long, scrubbing with various chemicals, that the condition of the pantry walls and shelves started to bother me more than usual.  I don't know how many decades it has been since it was painted, and it was a pretty bad job then.

So I've decided to paint the pantry.  I have lots of paint left from various projects, including the adjacent laundry room.  Palest blue refreshed the whole south side of the house and goes with the kitchen.  I also have enough semi-gloss for the shelves and woodwork.
After cleaning.  Need to scrub it again.
Yes, it is going to be cramped in there, but I'm a very small person.  I did my bedroom closet, and parts of that weren't any wider.  The biggest problem is that the shelves were nailed in with thin nails instead of modern wide screws.  I'm not going to be able to take them out, do the painting, and re-install them.  Time to find out just how small I am.

I am not trying to do this in one day, or even two.  This is the only time I'm ever going to paint it, and I plan to do a proper job.  At least this is the time of year when I have the least pantry inventory.  I managed to get everything that is opened into two boxes, which I can stash in the pantry any time the walls or shelves aren't wet.  There are things which can go in the fridge or freezer that I normally don't put in there, like vinegars.  The cat food bucket will go in the pantry every night no matter what.  It isn't like everything is going to be in the hall for two weeks.

I'm also going to change the light bulb.  Yellow?