Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Arugula and Walnut Pesto

I'm coming to the party a bit late with the realization that "pesto" doesn't have to be made out of basil.  The list of components is: herb, nut, hard cheese, oil, something garlicky.  Traditionally that translates into basil, pine nuts, parmesan, olive oil, and fresh garlic.  It doesn't have to.

Now that I'm caught up on the radishes, the arugula is a bit overgrown.  Not only that, but this batch is especially spicy.  I'm not considering it a mere lettuce anymore.  It's a full-fledged herb.

I was able to make up a four-serving dinner for a whopping $3 of fresh veggies by using items on hand, including what went into this pesto.  Broiled veggies over quinoa, tossed with some freshly made pesto, was a meatless Monday.  For vegan, replace the cheese with nutritional yeast.

A similar recipe I found used walnut oil.  While that makes sense, the bottle I found at the market was $11 for 8 ounces.  The truffle oil seemed a bargain at $18 after that.  If you happen to have some, or grocery budget to spare, go for it.

*1/4 C toasted walnuts
*1/4 C grated parmesan cheese
*2 cloves garlic
*2 C packed arugula leaves (remove stem if not "baby" arugula)
*1/4 C olive or walnut oil, or to desired consistency
salt as needed

1.  Place walnuts, parmesan, and garlic in food processor.  Pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs.
2.  Add arugula and process into a paste.
3.  With the processor running, drizzle in oil.  Check consistency and for salt.  Add more oil and/or salt and process to distribute.
4.  Store in the fridge or freezer until needed.  The olive oil will solidify, but will turn liquid again when the pesto is warmed.  Don't be concerned if the sauce turns into a rock in the fridge.

5.  Use within 1 week in the fridge, one month in the freezer.

Makes about 1 cup

Difficulty rating π

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Crazy Mac'n'Cheese

The last thing I put back in my diet after recovering from food poisoning was dairy.  I always planned to do this dish with the remaining scraps after the cheese platter.  It merely got delayed a week.

The "crazy" part of this is using several distinctive cheeses together.  Bleu cheese and smoked gouda are each strong.  If you're going to mix cheeses, you need to balance them until you get what you want.  This had more gouda than bleu cheese, and the brie and mascarpone mellowed them out.  If cheddar is more your thing, make it a significant portion of the mix.

The onion and radish in the sauce are introduced to make the cheese a little less all-encompassing.  Even the biggest cheese lover can admit that straight cheese can be overwhelming.

The apple is there because I wasn't quite ready for raw veggies yet, but could manage fruits.  I actually ended up stacking the apple with pieces of farfalle in a single bite.  It was good.

*2 C farfalle or elbow macaroni
*1/2 lb assorted cheeses, some soft and others hard
2 Tb olive oil
*1/2 C diced green onion
*1 C diced radish (or red onion)
1 Tb flour
salt and pepper to taste
*1 C milk, more to taste

1.  Start a pot of water boiling for the pasta

2.  Put all the cheeses together in the food processor.  If you don't have a cream cheese, put in at least 1/4 C Greek yogurt or sour cream.  Pulse into a chunky paste.  It's all going to melt later.  I'm just getting you out of having to grate anything.
3.  In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat.  Add radishes and onions and cook until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes.  By now your pot should be boiling and you can start cooking the pasta.
4.  Add flour and toss until the veggies are pasty.  Add milk slowly and allow to thicken.  Add cheese and stir into cream base.  Once it melts, you can decide if you want to thin out the sauce with more milk.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
5.  Drain finished pasta and add to skillet.  Stir to coat and return to a simmer.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  :)

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Chinese-Style Fried Rice

I got food poisoning on New Year's.  When it was time to start eating a few bites again, I picked up some Chinese food for its digestibility.  I forgot that I had stopped taking antihistamines.  There must have been chili flakes in the sauce, because I broke out in hives.

Instead of blaming all Chinese food for my pepper allergy, I decided to make my own fried rice.  I needed the Sunset Oriental Cook Book to get me started.  Seriously, I've never made fried rice in my life?  It's just leftovers and soy sauce.

1 C dry rice
2 Tb oil
1 egg, beaten
1/2 C thinly chopped green onion
*1 C frozen peas & carrots, thawed
1 Tb soy sauce

1.  Cook rice according to package directions, leaving it on the dry side.

2.  In a 10" skillet, heat oil.  Pour in beaten egg and swirl it around so it cooks very thin.  When almost done, break it up into little scrambled bits.  Add the onion, peas, and carrots and cook until thoroughly heated.
3.  Add in the rice and soy sauce and mix everything together.  Taste and decide if you want to add any salt, pepper, or other spice like ginger or cayenne.  You can also add chopped bits of meat or other vegetables.  This is rice being a carrier for whatever is left in the fridge.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Tomato and Rainbow Carrot Soup

Here's one for people on a New Year's diet.  It's also a vegan main dish, for anyone trying to cut down their meat intake.  A little swirl of cream to finish, and it's still vegetarian.

It's taking me a while to finish the groceries I bought for Christmas.  That's what happens when people don't RSVP before you go grocery shopping, then can't come.  If I'd bought less, everyone would have shown up and brought friends.  That's just how the world works.  Not complaining about five days of prime rib leftovers, but the veggies were going to go bad if I didn't do something.

As long as I was using up stuff from the fridge, I took a look at my pantry staples.  I forgot I had garbanzo bean flour.  Turns out, it's a wonderful thickener for vegan soup and brings protein and iron to the dish.  Just what everyone wants with this week's weather.

I was going to make sticks out of the dark red carrot with a yellow middle to use as garnish, then started taking pictures and forgot until everything was puréed.  Garnish, garnish, garnish, or a bowl of soup looks boring.  I guess I could have thrown a little rosemary on top.

*1/2 C garbanzo bean flour
*1 pint grape tomatoes
*1 lb rainbow carrots
*1/2 C diced red onion
2 Tb olive oil
2+ C water or vegetable stock
*1 tsp dried rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Combine garbanzo bean flour and 1/2 C water.  Let sit for 2 hours to hydrate.

2.  Split tomatoes.  Peel carrots and cut into chunks.
3.  In a large saucepan or soup pot, heat oil over medium.  Add onion and sauté until tender, stirring occasionally.

4.  Add water, tomatoes, carrots, rosemary, and a bit of salt and pepper.  Bring to a low boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until carrots are tender and tomatoes have kind of melted, about 30 minutes.

5.  Stir in garbanzo flour slurry.  Either whiz the pot with an immersion blender or purée in batches in a regular blender.  Return to heat and bring back up to a low boil.  Cook for 5 minutes, to allow the flour to thicken the soup, then decide if you need to add more broth to thin it to your liking.  Taste, then add more seasoning as necessary.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating :)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Fermented Radishes

After successfully not making myself sick with the sauerkraut, I decided to try to ferment something else.  Actually, this came about because I hadn't been harvesting radishes, waiting to use their greens at Christmas dinner on the puff pastry.  As a result, most of the radishes I pulled that day were the size of red potatoes.  I needed something to do with them.
The first recipe in Marisa McClellan's Preserving by the Pint is these fermented radishes.  It actually makes a quart, but whatever.

What you get out of this recipe is a radish pickle.  Actually, the jar smelled just like the sauerkraut when I checked on the finished product.  Like any pickle, they can be served as a tangy garnish or on a sandwich.  Not sure what I'm going to do with a quart of them, other than use this as a learning opportunity to never let the radishes go this long again.
1-1/2 Tablespoons finely milled sea salt
2 bunches fresh radishes (about 1-1/2 lbs with the greens)

1.  Wash a wide-mouth 1 quart jar and a 1/4 pint jar.  Or, get a non-reactive quart container and something that fits in the top which has some weight to it.

2.  Bring 2 cups of water to a boil.  Add the salt (I actually used 2 Tb kosher salt) and remove from the heat.  Stir until the salt dissolves and allow to cool to room temperature.

3.  Wash your hands well.  Wash the radishes and trim away the roots and tops.  Thinly slice the radishes into disks (I used the V-slicer on thin).  Wash your hands again, especially under the nails.  Pack the slices into the jar and cover with the cooled brine.

4.  Fit the quarter-pint jar into the mouth of the quart jar and fill with the remaining brine.  Press down so that the slices are completely submerged and the brine in the larger jar goes all the way to the top.
5.  Set the jar on a plate to catch any brine overflow.  Cover the jar contraption with a towel and secure it with a rubber band.  I used a double layer of thick paper towel.  Let sit at room temperature for 5 to 7 days, until the brine goes slightly cloudy and a sample slice tastes tart.  The color of the radishes will bleed into the brine, but there shouldn't be any mold or yeast scum in the brine itself.

6.  Once the slices are as tangy as you like, remove the smaller jar/weight.  Skim off any scum from the top of the brine and put a lid on it.  Refrigerated, the slices keep for several weeks.

Makes 1 quart

Difficulty level  π

Monday, January 1, 2018

Cheese Platters

Happy New Year.  I don't believe in diets, but in moderation.  Plus, I still had one post from Christmas dinner to finish.

I decided to disguise the fact that I didn't make rolls and could only come up with one side dish for the rib roast I made for Christmas by doing courses.  When food keeps coming every twenty minutes, no one counts what was on them.

The easiest place to start is with a cheese plate as guests are arriving.  It takes the edge off the hunger and absorbs any cocktails so they don't hit an empty stomach.  Ok, I was the only one with a drink, but not for lack of trying.  After a full day of cooking, I earned that half a glass of sherry.

I've learned this year that there's actually an art to the cheese platter.  Growing up, there was usually a ball of something compound that was covered with nuts and set on a plate with some crackers.  After a few cruises and some cooking shows, I've found out that a good cheese plate has at least three cheeses of different profiles, some nuts, jam, dried fruit, and good-quality crackers that go with the cheeses.

What I did in the plate above was have three categories of cheese: brie was the smooth, bleu for the aged, and smoked gouda for hard.  Then there were walnuts, some cherry vanilla jam, dried figs, and a navel orange off the tree.

I did choose to pre-cut the bleu and gouda, but that was about knowing your guests.  Some folks you have over are more coordinated than others.  They still got to use the cheese knife on the brie, because there's no real way to pre-cut that if you're leaving a plate out for an hour.

Cheese and crackers don't have to be hard to be impressive.  It's all in the arrangement.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Roasted Vegetable Puff Pastry

I admit, it's very easy to impress the people I usually have over for Christmas.  They don't eat out much.  That doesn't stop me from making fine dining choices.

This one is a huge cheat that's sure to impress with very little effort.  The total active time is less than 10 minutes, though it does take a couple of hours to get everything put together and baked.

I actually didn't use spinach in mine.  I used fresh greens off my radishes.  You could use any leafy green you like, but I find spinach to be the most widely available.  Plus, defrosting a brick of it is a massive time-saving device.

1 lb rainbow carrots
1 lb fresh spinach leaves or 10 oz frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 Tb olive oil
kosher salt
1/2 tsp rosemary
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 C crumbled bleu cheese
1 sheet puff pastry
flour for rolling the pastry

1.  Preheat oven to 375º.  Peel carrots, then cut into batons, about 1/4 of the diameter and 2" long.  Toss in olive oil, a pinch of salt, rosemary, and pepper.  Bake on a foil-lined sheet until cooked through, about 30 minutes.  If working from fresh spinach, cook until lightly wilted.
2.  While the carrots are cooling, defrost the puff pastry.  It takes 30-40 minutes.  You can keep the oven on, so it doesn't have to reheat.  There can be some overlapping of these steps.

3.  Roll the pastry on a lightly floured surface to get rid of the creases.  Place on a baking sheet.  Distribute drained spinach on pastry, keeping the rims clean.  Then spread carrots over the same area. Finally, sprinkle cheese sparsely over the veggies.  One crumble per bite is more than enough.
4.  Bake until golden, about 20 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly, then cut into pieces with a pizza cutter.  Serve immediately.  The pastry gets soggy if you try to serve it as leftovers, but it can be revived a bit in the toaster oven if it isn't too dark to start with.

Serves 6 as a side, 12 or more as an hors d'oeuvre

Difficulty rating π

Monday, December 25, 2017


Appropriately enough, I asked for a deep fryer for Chanukah.  Then I didn't have time to use it until after the holiday.  Merry Christmas!

Techie Smurf went a little overboard and got me the deluxe model that's twice as big as the one he has.  I'm not opening a donut shop.  Still, this project would have taken three times as long to fry with the slimmer model.  After the holes, I switched from the double basket to the full one and got in all four of the twists at once instead of one at a time.  And now I can fry my own tortilla chips, crispy won tons, and anything else I've been half-assing in skillets and saucepans.
The big thing I learned while doing this project is there's nothing to be afraid of.  Doughnuts sound all kinds of intimidating, but it's just a dinner roll recipe that you fry instead of bake.  I'm not kidding.  If you've ever made kick-ass rolls, or any other roll, the only difference is the cooking method.  Yes, I gave them the third level of difficulty, but that's for working with hot oil and three hours start to finish.

You also don't actually need a deep fryer to make these.  I asked for one because of the apple fritter incident.  If you can control your oil temperature on the stove, any heavy pot will do.  They actually made them in a pot on The Chew the day I opened the fryer.

This is a half-recipe out of the Bible.  It's almost identical to Alton Brown's, but he uses shortening instead of butter and doesn't put in cinnamon.  You don't really taste the spices, especially after glazing, which is the point.  In this case, the use of spice is to avoid any bland bites and not to add a definitive taste.

2-1/2 C flour
2 Tb sugar
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 packet (2-1/2 tsp) yeast
1/2 C + 2 Tb milk
2 Tb butter
1 egg

1.  In a stand mixer with the paddle, combine salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and 1 cup of flour.  Separately, warm milk, butter, and sugar to 100º.  Butter does not need to melt.  Stir in yeast and allow to get foamy, about 5 minutes.

2.  Pour milk mixture into flour and beat into a thick, stringy batter for 2 minutes on medium.  Add egg and another cup of flour and beat again into a dough that comes off the paddle easily.  If you wish, you can switch to the dough hook for this second addition.  I didn't want to wash it.

3.  Turn out dough onto a surface floured with the remaining 1/2 cup.  Knead until smooth, about 5 minutes.  Because this is an egg dough, it will always be a little sticky.  It's also going to be more firm than most of my dough recipes.  Don't worry about the extra weight.  Turn over ball in a greased bowl and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

4.  Punch down dough and let rest for 10 minutes on a rolling surface.  I just didn't wash the pastry board after step 3 and there was enough flour to finish.  Or, you can add more as needed.
5.  Roll out dough to 1/4" thick.  Yes, that thin.  I guess I don't have Grandma Sophie's doughnut cutter anymore, so I experimented with the round cutters I do have, not knowing in which directions the dough would rise.  Turns out, it pretty much goes straight up, so I could have used the next size up for the outer ring.  (A quick side note: the point of cutting a hole is because a torus shape will fry evenly.  If you're doing solid, filled donuts, you just have to cook them longer so the center isn't doughy.). After cutting out round doughnuts and holes, transfer them to a lightly floured baking sheet to rise for 30 minutes.  You can re-roll the scraps because yeast dough doesn't get tough like cookie dough does.  I chose to form the scraps into ropes and make twists instead.
6.  Fill your pot or fryer with 1" of oil and heat to 370º.  Gently place the risen doughnuts into the oil and fry until lightly golden, about 2 minutes.  Turn and fry other side until it matches, slightly less time.  Remove to a paper towel-lined plate or a cooling rack so any excess oil can drip off.
7.  I went a little nuts with the decorating and made them all a little different.  If you're rolling in sugar, cinnamon sugar, chocolate sugar, powdered sugar, etc, do it while they're warm so the granules can stick to the oil.  To make a simple powdered sugar glaze, combine milk and powdered sugar to desired consistency.  Dip or roll cooled doughnuts in the glaze and allow to firm up for about 10 minutes.  You can add sprinkles, coconut, nuts, chopped bacon, etc while the glaze is soft.  To make a "maple" glaze, add brown sugar to the basic glaze.  I didn't have much luck with adding chocolate chips to the glaze and melting the whole thing together.  Better to use a regular ganache.  For simplicity's sake, it really is easier to make them all the same kind and just change up the sprinkles.
8.  Serve within 4 hours (uncooked milk in the glaze, plus they get stale) or freeze unglazed once cooled.  To revive, let defrost to room temperature, then freshen up in the toaster oven for a few minutes.  Glaze and serve.

Makes about 1 dozen, plus their holes

Difficulty rating :-0

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

French Twists

I'm working on something big, but in the meantime:  Christmas Cookies!

This recipe was one of the finalists in this year's LA Times Holiday Cookie Bake-Off.  It was the easiest of the recipes I hadn't done in some form.  I would really like to do the baklava rouladas, but the relative humidity is just too low to open a package of filo.  There isn't enough butter in the world.

The story behind these is that the submitter's Italian grandmother used to make them.  Therefore, I'm not sure if the "French" part is supposed to be derogatory.  Let's go with the pretend notion that Grandma was from Northern Italy and these originated in Southern France.  The cultures meld there because the boundary has shifted back and forth over the centuries.  Natives of Nice and Cannes even speak French with the slightest Italian accent.

Reading the recipe, these are a lot like rugelach, just shaped different.  I'm not a fan of rugelach, and need a big cup of café au lait to make them palatable.  Having these in stick shape instead of crescent makes the dunking easier, but they don't really need it.  They maintained quite a bit of moisture, despite being basically pie crust.  The original recipe suggests apple or raspberry jelly.  I don't like either and hauled out a jar of apricot orange jam.  While not as smooth as jelly - but close - it's what I would have used when I was considering doing the rugelach.  I also subbed sliced almonds for the walnuts because that's what I had in the pantry.  I say, come up with any jam/nut combination that works for you.  The coconut mellows out the flavors, so don't omit it, but I used unsweetened flakes since there seemed to be plenty of sugar between the jam and cinnamon sugar.

I'm decreasing the volume of the fillings slightly because a lot of it ended up on the cutting board.  I may not have rolled the dough thin enough, but it still would have been a lot if I had gone a couple more inches in both directions.

2-1/2 C flour
1 Tb baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
*1 egg
*1/2 C milk
*1 C jelly or smooth, unseeded jam
*1 C coconut
*3/4 C chopped nuts
1/4 C sugar mixed with 1 tsp ground cinnamon
Powdered sugar

1.  In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Cut in butter until it is pea-sized.

2.  Separately, beat together the egg and milk.  Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the milk mixture.  Gently stir the ingredients until they come together into a dough.  I ended up adding about a tablespoon more milk to make it work, but it was a dry day.  The dough will seem to get more hydrated as it rests, so it's ok if it seems sort of dry at this point, as long as you can get it all to stick together in a single ball.
3.  Shape dough ball into a rectangle approximately 4" x 8".  This will make it easier to roll out later.  Wrap in plastic or wax paper and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.   Or, wrap again in foil, seal in a plastic bag, and freeze for up to 3 months.

4.  Preheat the oven to 350º.  Line 2 to 3 baking sheets with parchment or a silpat.  I used a silpat, and the cookies came off easily.  More important, the burnt jam came off the silpat easily.  And trust me, any jam that leaks out of the cookie will end up burnt.  How badly depends on whether your jam was sweetened with real sugar or corn syrup.  Not sure how sugar-free jams react to high temperatures.
5.  Place dough on a large, lightly floured surface and roll to 1/8" thick, trying to keep that rectangular shape.  I ended up taking pieces off one side and patching others.  Dough can do that.
6.  Spread a thin layer of jam over the entire rectangle, all the way to the edges.  On the lower half, sprinkle the cinnamon sugar, coconut, and nuts.  Fold the top half of the dough over the bottom half to completely cover the filling.  Lightly press the halves together.

7.  Using a sharp knife, cut the rectangle crosswise into 1/2"-thick strips.  The fold will be at the top of each strip.  Carefully twist each strip to form a spiral.  Place the spirals on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about an inch apart.
8.  Bake the cookies until they are set and golden, 12-15 minutes.  Remove the cookies from the sheet to fresh parchment paper when cool enough to handle, or the jam will glue them down.  For Silpat, you can wait until they're halfway cooled.  Either way, dust with powdered sugar when cool.

Makes about 2-1/2 dozen

Difficulty rating. :)

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. :)