Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Sweet Potato Toasts with Cauliflower and Bacon

I wanted something light yet filling, and that I could make in about half an hour.  Wish I had added "not a lot of dishes" to that specification, but it was worth it.  I had these for dinner, but they would be great for gluten-free hors-d'oeuvres or savory tea sandwiches.

I did realize that it looks like you're putting mashed potatoes on top of sweet potatoes.  I also realize that I was ranting recently about not liking over-steamed cauliflower, and that's what I did here intentionally.  Everything has its place, I guess.

I also used frozen for the cauliflower and peas.  Not everything has to be fresh; and then you'd have to figure out what to do with the rest of the cauliflower.

1 wide sweet potato
oil for greasing sheet
1-1/2 C cauliflower florets
1 Tb butter
salt and pepper
*1/4 lb bacon
*1 C peas

1.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Slice sweet potato, skin on, into 1/4" thick slices.  Use oil to grease a sheet pan and arrange slices on it.  On a separate pan, arrange bacon.  Cook until potatoes are soft and bacon is crisp, about 20 minutes.

2.  While that's going on, boil florets in 1" of water until very soft, about 10 minutes.  Drain and beat in butter and a bit of salt and pepper to make fluffy mashed cauliflower.  Cook the peas briefly and drain.  Chop the bacon once cool enough to handle.

3.  To assemble, place potato slices on a platter.  Top with a spoonful of mashed cauliflower.  Sprinkle on peas, then bacon.  Serve warm to room temperature.

Serves about 12 as an hors d'oeuvre, 3 as a light lunch

Difficulty rating :)

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Creamy Carrot Dip

This was inspired by a recipe on The Chew, but I went in a completely different direction.  Otherwise, there would have been too much of an overlap with the baba gannouj I was serving along side it.

For one thing, the recipe on TV went for an absolutely smooth, slightly whipped texture, like a vegan carrot mousse.  I didn't want that.  For another, I already had the food processor out and didn't want to wash the blender, too.

*1 lb carrots
2 Tb olive oil
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp paprika
salt and pepper
*2 Tb white wine vinegar
1 5 oz container plain Greek yogurt

1.  Peel the carrots and cut into chunks.  Preheat oven to 375º.  Toss together carrots, 1 Tb olive oil, and spices.  Wrap in a piece of foil and bake until very tender, about 45 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly.

2.  Pulse carrots in the food processor to get them started.  Add remaining 1 Tb oil, the vinegar, and yogurt and let the machine run, scraping down the sides every 30 seconds or so.  Continue until desired consistency is reached.  Serve chilled with veggie and cracker dippers.  I really liked it on the tomato slices.

Makes about 1 cup

Difficulty rating. π

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Beet and Goat Cheese Tart

I bought some goat cheese to have with bread or crackers, then decided to do something else.  That's a kind of expensive change of mind for me, so I went looking for something else to do with 4 oz of chèvre.  In the process, I spent almost as much as the cheese had cost on golden beets because I didn't have enough red ones in the pond to make a tart.  If I have to buy some, I'm getting a contrasting color.

All of the recipes I saw in my research used only the beets.  What about the serious amount of greens that two bunches of beets come attached to?  So I added a layer of greens under the beets.  They're nutritious, give the tart a little height, and fill in any gaps as you layer.

To go with the root vegetable, savory nature of this tart, I made my crust dough with half whole wheat flour.  I liked the flavor combination, and it made for a crisp crust.

9 oz pie crust #2 or rolled store-bought dough
*1 bunch (3) red beets with greens
1 bunch (3) golden beets with greens
2 Tb olive oil
kosher salt and pepper
*1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 Tb balsamic vinegar
*4 oz goat cheese

1.  Preheat oven to 375º.  Clean beets.  Trim off stem and root ends.  Wrap each color of beets separately in foil after drizzling with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Roast until soft, about 45 minutes.  Once cool enough to handle, rub off skins.  Slice as thinly as possible, about 1/8".  You might as well leave the oven on, because the tart is going to bake at 375º.
2.  While the beets are cooking and cooling, chiffonade the greens.  Drizzle the other tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet and cook the greens over medium heat until thoroughly wilted.  Sprinkle with the thyme.  Turn off the heat and add the vinegar.  Set aside to cool.
3.  Roll out the dough and place in a 9" tart shell.  If you want to do a folded-edge galette, you can simply transfer the circle to the baking sheet.  Sprinkle with the goat cheese, reserving 1 Tb for garnish.
4.  Wring the greens dry.  Scatter on the bottom of the tart.  Starting at the middle, spiral out the beets.  I started with the red in the middle because they were smaller than the golden.  Do whichever feels right to you.  Bake until the crust is baked and slightly browned, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Allow to cool before removing from tart ring.  Slice and serve either room temperature or slightly warmed.

Serves 6 to 8

Difficulty rating  :-0

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Gin-Cured Salmon

I've had this recipe from the L.A. Times sitting on my cookbook stand since February.  I haven't done a cured fish in a while, and there's plenty of gin in the house I don't drink.  Fortunately, the day I decided to start this, salmon was on sale.

Yes, preparing uncooked fish at home is scary.  We don't think twice about buying salmon sushi or lox, but making a preserved fish yourself seems like something doomed to failure and food poisoning.  Just remember that humans have been doing this for over a thousand years.  You're using a tested recipe.  And the quality and safety of fish in American markets meets a high standard.  If the fish doesn't look good to you, don't buy it.

That said, be safe about this.  Only use freshly cleaned surfaces and utensils.  Wash your hands often. I ran boiling water over the pliers after cleaning them, only to find out my filet didn't have any pin bones in it to pull.  I probably also used more salt than I should have (I was scaling it to a smaller piece of fish), just to make sure I didn't under-salt the cure.  After two days, it had a uniform leathery texture all the way through and a peppery undertone.  I did something right.  It was also a bit on the salty side, but I've been hyper-sensitive to salt the past week or so.  It might not have really been that salty to most.

The planted "living herbs" chives got a crew cut for this, but rebounded quickly and are ready to be used again a week later.  This is what I had in mind when I kept trying to grow my own from seed.

I also got to use my new mortar and pestle, which I bought myself for my birthday.  It's only about four inches, since I bought it specifically for cracking whole spices.  My coffee grinder had been doing the job, but it kind of disintegrated the last time I used it.  Had to pick plastic out of the coffee.

1/2 C coarse sea salt
*1/4 C plus 2 Tb (3 oz) honey
*2 Tb black peppercorns
1/2 C finely chopped chives
1 (1-1/2 lb) salmon fillet, skin on
*3 to 4 Tb gin

1.  In a dry pan over a low heat, toast the peppercorns until very dry.  Crack in a grinder, mortar and pestle, or with the back of a spoon in a bowl.  Combine with salt, honey, and chives.  Set aside.

2.  Leave the skin on the fish.  Pull out any pin bones with needle-nosed pliers that you keep in a kitchen drawer specifically for this purpose.  Don't raid the garage.

3.  Lay a piece of plastic wrap in a dish large enough to hold the fillet.  Place the fillet on it, skin-side down.  Brush the top of the salmon generously with the gin.
4.  Spread the cure mix over the flesh side of the fish, then wrap it tightly with the plastic wrap.  I didn't trust my wrapping and put on a second layer.

5.  Place the dish with the fillet in it in the fridge for about 48 hours, until the fish is firm to the touch. Unwrap, rinse off the cure, and pat dry.  It's going to be leathery and darker than it started.
6.  If not using immediately, wrap in parchment (not plastic wrap).  This will let it breathe without drying out.  I cut off the skin before slicing and found it made things easier, but I'd also just had my knife sharpened.  Cut the fillet very thinly on an angle and serve either on a salad or with toast.

Serves 6 to 8

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Carrot-Top Pesto

I pulled quite a few carrots recently.  One of them was even starting to bolt, but mostly I just wanted a lot of carrots in the Vegetable-Millet Soup.  I always feel guilty about throwing away the green tops.  Since I garden organically, there's nothing wrong with eating them.  They taste a little like parsley.

I decided to give the most recent batch of greens the pesto treatment.  There always comes the dilemma of what nut to use in the sauce.  I chose sunflower seeds.  Then I opted to make it vegan by subbing in nutritional yeast for the parmesan, even though I have quite a bit of good-quality shredded parmesan sitting in the freezer right now.  I know a recent vegan who's having trouble giving up cheese, and thought I'd share this option.

Like all pestos, this is super easy and the food processor does all the work.  You just have to peel the garlic and get the greens into manageable pieces.

*Greens from 1 lb carrots, about 8 cups
*2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 C sunflower seeds
1/4 C nutritional yeast or parmesan cheese
about 1/2 C olive oil
salt to taste

1.  In food processor, run garlic, seeds, and yeast/cheese into a uniform mixture.  Don't over-mix, or you'll get a paste too soon.
2.  Add about half of the greens to the mixer bowl and run until somewhat broken down.  Add the rest and run into a green paste.  Scrape down the sides and run it again to be sure everything is pulverized.

3.  With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in oil until desired consistency is reached.  For me, that's about 1/3 to 1/2 cup.  You may like it runnier.  Stop mixer, taste, and decide if it needs a little salt.  Run it again for five seconds to distribute.

4.  Either use immediately or put in containers for storage.  Keeps a week in the fridge or a month in the freezer.  Carrot greens will discolor faster than basil.  If that bothers you, add a little lemon juice or white wine vinegar to the sauce.  The acid will slow the color change.

Yield about 1 cup
Difficulty rating  π

Monday, May 7, 2018

Vegetable-Millet Soup

This week's new ingredient I've never used is millet.  It's another one of those "ancient grains" that has become trendy recently.  It's also an interesting way out of the quinoa rut.

Quick note: when using the homemade veggie stock you stuck in the freezer last week, remember to defrost it first.  Two minutes in the microwave got it halfway there.  The soup pot took care of the rest.

Even with chopping the veggies, this came together pretty quick.  Simmering the carrots does take a while if you use fresh, but the cooking time on the other ingredients is less than fifteen minutes.

*1/2 C diced onion
*2 ribs celery, diced
*2 Tb olive oil
*1 quart unsalted vegetable stock
*1 lb carrots, peeled and chopped
3/4 C dry millet
*8 oz tomato sauce
*1/2 C peas (frozen ok)
kernels from 2 ears of corn (or 1 C frozen)
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Sauté onion and celery in oil in a large soup pot over medium heat.  When tender, add vegetable stock and carrots.  Cover and simmer until carrots are very soft, about 15 minutes.

2.  In a separate saucepan, bring millet and 2 C water to a boil.  Lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until grain cracks, about 20-30 minutes.

3.  When carrots are soft, purée them and some of the liquid, either in the blender or food processor.  Pour back into pot.  Add tomato sauce, peas, and corn and stir to combine.  I happened to use fresh corn because it was cheap, and it really does taste different than frozen.  Plus, now I have a couple of cobs in the freezer to make a corn stock.  Simmer until the millet is done.
4.  Add millet and any remaining water to the soup and stir to distribute.  Taste and add salt and pepper.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, May 4, 2018

Spinach Mezzelunes with Masa Chicken

May the Fourth be with you.

I wanted to make a filled pasta, and I knew what shape I wanted to make it, but I couldn't remember what it was called.  Without the internet, it would have taken me days to figure it out.  Instead, Wikipedia has a page devoted to most shapes of pasta.  Scroll down to the "filled" category, and what I had in mind was number twelve.  The link gets properly detailed.  I remember when research like that would require a trip to the library and flipping through several encyclopedia volumes.  Less than a minute later, I was ready to go.

The site gave me the idea of making the dough with part buckwheat flour.  It's my original pasta dough recipe for rolling by hand, just subbing half of the flour with buckwheat.  I'm filling them with spinach (actually beet greens, but they taste the same) and the last of the shredded mozzarella I didn't put on last week's pizzas.  The mezzelune description specifies light sauces, but I had a jar of free marinara.  I also wanted to do a presentation I saw on The Chew where you place items on top of the sauce instead of tossing them in it, and needed a contrasting color.  I thought it looked cool.

To make this a balanced meal, I decided to coat and pan-fry some chicken alongside the other half of the head of cauliflower from the farroto.  I used a breading similar to the one in The Chew link, but with matzoh cake meal instead of the rice flour.  Corn flour is the same thing as masa harina, for those who have trouble finding it.  The result is pretty much the same, but it's no longer gluten-free.  There's white flour in the mezzelune dough, so that clearly was not my goal.

1 batch pasta dough (sub half buckwheat flour if desired)
more a.p. flour for rolling
*1/4 lb raw spinach or 1/2 C chopped frozen and thawed
*1/2 C shredded mozzarella cheese
*1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tb butter
*1/4 C matzoh cake meal (or a.p. flour)
*1/4 C masa harina
*1/4 C grated parmesan, plus more for garnish
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 lb chicken tenders or boneless/skinless chicken cut in strips
*1/2 cauliflower, cut into florets
1/4 C olive oil
2 C marinara or pomodoro sauce

1.  Cut spinach into a thin chiffonnade.  Place in a microwaveable bowl with the minced garlic and butter.  Cover and microwave until wilted, about 1-1/2 minutes.  Allow to cool, then drain off liquid.  You can even press out more.  Stir in mozzarella to make the pasta filling.  If using frozen spinach, warm with garlic and butter for flavor, drain, and stir in cheese once cooled.

2.  Dust a work surface with flour and roll out the pasta dough to 1/16" thick.  It's going to shrink back a bit, so make sure it has done so before cutting it.  Cut rounds with a 2-1/2" biscuit cutter.  I got 3-1/2 dozen pieces out of it and wished halfway through I'd used a bigger cutter, but that's the size they're supposed to be.  Re-roll scraps until the dough is used up.  The dough starts so soft that it doesn't really get tough after three rollings.  You just don't have to add much flour after the first roll.

3.  Onto each circle, spoon about 1 tsp of filling.  Fold over to make "half moons" and pinch shut.  Set on a lightly floured surface until ready to use.  Any leftover filling can be added to the marinara.  These can be done early in the day and refrigerated.

4.  Start boiling a large pot of lightly salted water, at least half a gallon.  This is going to take a while, so let's make the chicken and cauliflower.

5.  In a shallow dish, combine matzoh meal, masa harina, parmesan, salt, pepper, and oregano.  In a large, deep skillet heat oil over medium-high.  Moisten chicken strips and dredge all sides in the coating.  Place in the skillet and fry until edges are crispy and the meat is cooked halfway through, about 5 minutes.  Flip and do the other side, which should take less time.  You need to pull the pieces out the second the center is done.  Tenders go from cooked to tough very quickly.  If there's room in the pan, start frying the cauliflower.  If not, it can wait until the chicken's done.  The water isn't boiling yet.  When the chicken is cooked through and the outside is crispy, set it aside and keep warm.

6.  If you have any chicken dredge left, go ahead and coat the cauliflower with it.  Everything tastes better Parmed.  Add more oil to the pan if necessary, then fry the florets until golden.  Don't let them get soft.  Keep them warm with the chicken.

7.  Hopefully, your water is boiling by now.  Place the mezzelunes in the boiling pot and cook until the pasta is done, about 4 minutes.  They sink at first and float when done.  Fresh pasta cooks much faster than the boxed stuff.  Drain.

8.  Warm the sauce.  I vote for the microwave at this point.  Spoon half a cup into the bottom of a curved plate or individual pasta bowl.  Arrange chicken, pasta, and cauliflower so they're not drowned in the sauce and serve, topped with a sprinkling of more parmesan.

Difficulty rating  :-0
(Kind of a lot of elements)

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Bob's Farroto

This recipe was on the back of the Bob's Red Mill farro I bought.  It's a wheat version of risotto.  I'm pretty sure the original recipe was intended as a side dish.  I added additional mix-ins and fish to make it a main course.

Like with true risotto, you have to stand there for a while and stir in the broth.  You're not getting out of that if you want a smooth and creamy texture.  The pre-soak is because, unlike rice, wheat will get a hard outer coating during the toasting process and not absorb the broth properly.  That said, I only used about a pint of broth by the time the farro was cooked.  I now have a quart of homemade vegetable stock in my freezer, if anyone needs some.
I was really proud of myself when I chose the ingredients for my version.  I used mushrooms, cauliflower, and cod.  None of those are generally my first choice when I cook.  I'm expanding my palate options.  Tossing a good-quality parmesan on top didn't hurt.

*2/3 C farro, soaked overnight
2-3 C unsalted Vegetable stock
1 Tb olive oil
1/2 C diced onion
*1 rib celery, diced
*2 cloves garlic, minced
*1/4 C dry white wine, optional
8 oz sliced mushrooms
*1 carrot, diced
1/2 C green peas (frozen ok)
1/2 of a small head of cauliflower, finely chopped
1 lb white fish fillet, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 Tb butter
2 Tb shredded parmesan cheese, more for garnish
salt and pepper

1.  Bring vegetable stock to a low simmer in a saucepan and put a half-cup ladle in it.  Drain the farro.

2.  In a larger pot or deep skillet, heat oil over medium.  Sauté onion, celery, and garlic until soft.  Add drained farro and cook until it absorbs the oil and starts to smell nutty, about 2 minutes.

3.  Add wine, if using.  I actually used gin because there was going to be fish in this.  It cooks out.  Stir until liquid is absorbed or cooked off.  Use the ladle to add warm stock to the farro, 1/2 cup at a time.  Allow it to absorb between additions, stirring frequently to develop the gluten.  About halfway through, add the mushrooms, carrot, peas, and cauliflower.  They're going to release more liquid as they cook down, so you don't want to add them after the last of the stock.  The risotto process will take about 30 minutes.  Of frequent stirring and a lot of attention.
4.  Once the vegetables have cooked down and the farro is done (split and fluffy), stir in the raw fish pieces.  Allow to simmer for about 5 minutes, until opaque.  Depending on the fish you chose, it may become flaky.  I picked cod because the finished texture was going to be closer to scallops, which were crazy expensive that day.  Once the fish is cooked, taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

5.  Remove pot from heat.  Stir in butter and parmesan.  Ladle into large bowls and garnish with extra parmesan.

Difficulty rating  :)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Asparagus and Bacon Pizza

Yes, I was serious about baking as soon as the matzoh ran out.  I just went nuts for a few days.  Anyway, I had half a pound of asparagus to use up, some bacon ends in the freezer, and a bit of cheese that I wasn't sure when I bought.  All it took was half a jar of arugula pesto from the freezer to turn this into a "free" pizza.  For good measure, I tossed some walnut pieces on top.

I chose to blanch the asparagus before putting it on the pizza for several reasons.  The main reason is that it takes much longer to roast asparagus than it does to bake a pizza.  It wouldn't be cooked through.  Another is that I don't like the shriveled look of roasted asparagus and hoped to reduce it with a quick simmer.  Third, the bright green color of asparagus is revealed best through blanching or stir-frying.  It gets kind of dark and sickly looking in the oven, and when it's up against the pretty green of pesto it's more noticeable.  Under hollandaise or another creamy sauce that's usually served with roasted asparagus, you don't notice.

1 C 100º water
*1 Tb honey
1 Tb olive oil
*2 tsp yeast
1/2 tsp salt
*1 C buckwheat flour
1 to 2 C all purpose flour
*1/2 lb asparagus spears
1/2 lb bacon
*1/2 C broken walnuts
1-1/2 C shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 C pesto
cornmeal for dusting pan

1.  Stir honey, oil, and yeast into warm water and allow to get foamy, about 5 minutes.  In stand mixer with the paddle, combine water mixture with buckwheat flour and beat into a batter.  Add 1 C all purpose flour and the salt and beat into a thick batter/ soft dough.

2.  Turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth, adding as little flour as possible.  Turn over in a lightly oiled bowl to coat all sides and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.

3.  While the dough is rising, cook the bacon until crisp.  Chop into bite-sized pieces.  Cut asparagus into one-inch pieces and drop in a pot of simmering water for 3 to 5 minutes, until color brightens.  Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.  Soak the walnuts in warm water for at least half an hour; this will improve their texture after baking.  Bring pesto to room temperature so it's easy to spread.

4.  Punch down dough and turn out onto a work surface.  Allow to rest for 10 minutes.  Scatter cornmeal on two baking sheets.

5.  Divide dough into quarters or by weight.  Mine came out to about 5 oz per piece.  Roll into four discs about 6" across for thicker crust, 8" for thin crust.  Place on baking sheets.
6.  Spoon 2 Tb pesto on each pizza.  It looks thin, but there's a lot of flavor in there.  Also, you don't want to make the pizzas soggy.  Sprinkle 1/4 to 1/3 cup of cheese on each disc.  It may not seem like a lot, but there's parmesan in nearly every pesto.

7.  Time for the toppings.  Divide asparagus, bacon, and walnuts evenly between the pizzas.  Allow to rest in a warm place while you preheat the oven to 375º, about 10 to 15 minutes.
8.  Bake pizzas for 15 minutes, then switch racks for the last 5-8 minutes.  The cheese will brown more evenly.  Allow to rest for a couple of minutes before slicing and serving.

Makes 4 personal pizzas.  With a good sized side salad, you could do half per person as a lunch serving.

Difficulty rating :-0

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Whole Wheat Date Scones

The second the matzoh was gone, I started to bake.  Matzoh with jam is fine for tea, but scones are better.

I admit that the title is a bit misleading.  I didn't use only whole wheat flour.  You could, but they would get heavy.  There's just enough in the mix to taste it and get some nutritional benefits without the scones tasting like bark.  You can probably go up to 50:50 without sacrificing quality.  I'm just in a white flour mood.

As usual, I went through my pantry for ingredients to get my inspiration.  Buying fancy ingredients is fine once in a while, but you usually like things you've already bought.  I had some pitted Deglet dates and the yogurt chips I put in granola.  (You can sub white chocolate chips if yogurt chips aren't something you usually use.). I stirred them into my standard scone recipe, reducing the sugar because of the sweet mix-ins.  The last jar of last year's apricot-orange jam got popped for topping, and tea was on the table.

1-1/2 C all purpose flour
*1/2 C whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 C butter
2 tsp sugar
1/2 C pitted dates, finely chopped
1/4 C yogurt chips
*2/3 C milk

1.  Preheat oven to 425º.  Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat.

2.  In a bowl, combine both flours and baking powder.  Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in sugar, then date bits and yogurt chips.  Make sure date pieces come apart.  It also helps to coat each in flour to keep them separate.

3.  Stir in milk to make a soft and sticky dough.  Pat out on a lightly floured surface 1/2" thick.  You can either cut each one out with a biscuit cutter or make two discs that you then score with the back of a knife or bench scraper.  Place on baking sheet.
4.  Bake 10-12 minutes, until well risen and starting to brown.  Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before moving, so the yogurt chips don't melt everywhere.  Then you can place the scones on a cooling rack and break apart any scored discs you made.

5.  Serve warm with butter and jam.  Keeps well in the freezer.  Allow to come to at least room temperature before serving so no one cracks a tooth on the chips.

Makes about 1 dozen

Difficulty rating  π