Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Herbed Chevre with Pears

How come everyone is so impressed with "goat cheese" on something?  Have they ever met a goat?  They're not the cleanest animals, and they will eat just about anything, including T-shirts.  However, goat is the most consumed meat worldwide, so their milk and cheese are inevitable.  It's just appalling how much stores charge for it because it's trendy.

I saw the opportunity to use some of the Charles Shaw for poaching the pear.  You can cook it in apple juice if you don't want to use alcohol.  You can even introduce the pears raw, but only if you intend to finish the cheese within 24 hours of preparation.  It may turn odd colors or dry out.

5 oz chevre (goat cheese)
1 Tb Greek yogurt
1/4 C pine nuts
2 Tb chopped green onions, green parts only
1 pear
*1/2 C white wine
1 tsp dried basil flakes
salt & pepper as needed

1.  Peel pear and cut into small dice.  Bring wine to a simmer in a small saucepan.  Add pear and simmer for 15 minutes, until tender.  Remove from heat, drain liquid, and refrigerate until needed.  The yield is around 1/2 C.

2.  Preheat a small frying pan.  Add pine nuts and a sprinkling of salt.  Moving pan constantly, toast pine nuts until evenly browned.  Remove to a side dish and keep at room temperature until needed.

3.  In a bowl, use a fork to crumble the chevre.  Add a dusting of freshly ground pepper and half a pinch of salt.  Work in pine nuts and pear pieces.  Add yogurt and combine until mixture holds together.

4.  Lay out a piece of plastic wrap.  Sprinkle wrap with chopped onion, basil, and more pepper.  Spoon cheese paste on top of onion and roll into either a log or a ball.  I used my sushi rolling mat as a guide, and it made it very easy.  Wax paper would also provide some stability.  Chill until ready to serve.

6.  To serve: unwrap onto serving plate.  Serve with crackers, celery sticks, or cocktail rye.

Serves 4 to 6

Difficulty rating  :)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

I found this in The Essential Appetizers Cookbook, which has some amazing and impressive appetizers in it.  There aren't really any spread recipes that I haven't already done, but these tomatoes can go well on crackers.  They are even better accents for salads.  I can see myself just going at them with a fork, too.  Think sun-dried tomato, but you made it yourself, and they aren't rubbery like some of the sun-dried ones can get.

4 Roma tomatoes
1 tsp dried thyme
pepper & kosher salt
2 Tb olive oil

1.  Preheat oven to 300º.  If you have a convection oven, go for 250º with the fan on.  Line a baking sheet with foil for easy cleanup, then set an oven-safe rack on it.  Quarter the tomatoes and place skin-side down on the rack.

2.  Sprinkle tomatoes lightly with pepper, salt, and thyme.  Bake for 1-1/2 hours, turning tray every half hour so they don't burn.

3.  In a bowl, toss with olive oil.  Place in a non-metallic storage container and refrigerate for 24 hours.  Allow tomatoes to come up to room temperature before serving.

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tuna Salad

OK, it isn't exactly a spread, but I like to have mine on crackers.

Most people, when they think of tuna salad, think of a mush of tuna, mayo, relish, and spices.  Mine is more of a salad which happens to have tuna in it, with a mayonnaise dressing.  You don't get this pretty confetti look by mashing stuff together.

You'll also notice the complete lack of added salt.  Celery is salty.  Even tuna packed in water has about 10% daily value of salt.  Onions and bell peppers don't contain as much salt, but their flavor takes its place.

Whenever I can get away with it, I use Smart Beat spread instead of real mayo.  It's basically whipped corn starch, but you can't taste the difference in a composed salad or deviled eggs.  It probably doesn't hold up as a sandwich spread if you're used to real mayo.

10 oz (2 cans) or 1 12-oz can albacore tuna in water
4 stalks green onion
2 ribs celery
1 small red bell pepper
1/4 C mayonnaise
pepper to taste

1.  Open cans and set tuna in a sieve to drain.

2.  Finely chop green onions.  Split celery ribs in half and cut crosswise into 1/4" pieces.  Cut bell pepper into strips, then dice into pieces the same size as the celery.

3.  In a bowl, toss together vegetables.  Add tuna and distribute evenly, breaking up larger chunks of fish.

4.  Stir in mayo until combined.  It does not need to stick together completely.  Season with pepper to taste.  Chill until ready to serve.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Teriyaki Stir-Fry

I put this under Beef because that's what I used in it.  This stir-fry is easily adaptable to chicken, shrimp, or even as a vegan entree.

A word about stir-frying.  It's called that because you don't let the food just sit there and stew.  By moving it around frequently, you can get it to cook more evenly.  It prevents any portion from becoming over-cooked.  And it doesn't sit there soaking up the oil, either.

The wok was invented for a reason.  The shape allows oil and juices to collect at the bottom.  From there, they can be evenly distributed or become easy to avoid when you're serving the dish.  A wok is not required for this dish, but you might as well use one if you have it.

When cooking stir-fry, or most Asian cuisines, it is important to cut all the pieces about the same size.  That way, they all cook in about the same amount of time.

If you want to make your own teriyaki sauce, add sugar and a bit of ginger to some soy sauce and reduce over medium heat until it is the consistency you like.  I just buy Kikoman Baste & Glaze.

4 stalks of green onion
1 red bell pepper
2 heads baby bok choy
1 package (about 6 oz) mung bean sprouts
1/2 lb flank steak
1 package firm or extra-firm tofu
1/2 C teriyaki sauce
1 Tb grated fresh ginger root
1/4 C peanut oil

1.  Early in the day:  Place flank steak and 2 Tb teriyaki sauce in a sturdy ziplock bag.  Press out all the air, seal, and place in fridge to marinate.

2.  Cut everything into similar-sized pieces.  I recommend about 2" x 1/4".  This includes the meat.  I happened to buy pre-diced tofu.  Tofu works better cubed.  It tends to break if you cut it in strips.  Rinse the bean sprouts in a collander.  I don't care if the package says pre-washed.  All sprouts are high-risk for e. coli.

3.  Add oil to wok (or a metal stock-pot).  As it warms, add ginger.  When hot, add onion, pepper, and bok choy.  Keep them moving with tongs or a wooden spoon until they start to soften.

4.  Add beef strips and bean sprouts.  Continue to toss ingredients until the beef is seared.  You don't have to worry about it cooking all the way through.  The thin strips are done as soon as it is browned.

5.  Add remaining teriyaki sauce and tofu.  Work in until all pieces are evenly coated.  The water from the bean sprouts has been added to the sauce by this time.  If it boils, it's done.  Serve over rice, with additional teriyaki sauce on the side.

Difficulty rating  :)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cornish Hens with Apricots in Reduction

Aw, they're so cute.

Cornish hens aren't baby chickens.  They're a breed that only grows that big.  I bought a couple out of the freezer section on a whim.  As always, I had to decide what to do with them.

I have a bunch of dried apricots for some reason.  I saw the opportunity to use up a bottle of the Charles Shaw and went for it.

One thing about reduction sauces is that you need to have a lot of patience.  This is not a race.  If you try to boil them down too quickly, they're going to scorch.  The timing in this recipe is for wine, which evaporates more quickly than juice.  If it's done before the hens, just turn off the heat until shortly before serving.

As for how much to serve, use your judgment.  If you're having an opening course like soup, salad, or an appetizer, half a hen per person should be enough.  If you are only serving the meat and one or two sides, spring for a full hen apiece.

2 Rock Cornish Game Hens, thoroughly defrosted
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 Tb vegetable oil
1 C dried apricots, chopped
*2 C white wine, white grape juice, or apple juice
1/4 C corn syrup

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Rub hens with oil.  Sprinkle liberally with salt & pepper, inside and out.  Stuff with onion.  Either truss legs or place in a steeply angled baking rack to hold the shape, breast side up.  Place in oven and bake until juices run clear and the legs feel loose when you wiggle them, at least 1 hour.  Larger hens may have enough on them for you to use a meat thermometer.  In that case, 165º.

2.  While hens are roasting, bring wine to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add apricots and corn syrup.  Stir to combine, and keep at a low boil to reduce.  Stir periodically.  When the volume of the apricots is greater than that of the wine (reduced by half), it has reduced enough.  Turn off heat until shortly before service.

3.  Remove hens from oven and let rest 5 minutes.  Drain off any remaining juices and plate.  If serving half, cut with a sharp knife down the breastbone.  One half will be slightly larger than the other, but not enough to notice.

4.  Serve with several spoonfuls of apricots on top.

Serves 2 or 4

Difficulty rating :-0

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Strawberry Ketchup

Bear with me on this one.

All kinds of ketchup are sweet-and-sour sauces with a fruit base.  We're just used to the tomato one.  When you buy ketchup in the store, almost all brands identify it as Tomato Ketchup.  Ketchup has a very long history that I'm not going into.  Suffice it to say, the tomato version has only existed for two or three hundred years.

So, this one is based on strawberries.  You can use a variety of vinegars for the sour part, but cider vinegar seems to make the most sense.  Definitely taste and adjust the vinegar-sugar balance near the end.  It will depend entirely upon the sweetness of the berries.

*1 lb fresh or frozen strawberries
1/2 C diced onion
1/4 C cider vinegar
1/4 C light brown sugar
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
salt, white pepper, and paprika to taste

1.  Place strawberries and onion in a medium saucepan.  Simmer over medium-low heat until berries and onion are cooked soft and most of the water has evaporated, about 20 minutes.  Stir periodically.

2.  Purée softened berry mixture in the blender.  Return to saucepan and add remaining ingredients.  If you don't think you'll be able to find the leaf and stick, put them in a cheesecloth pouch first.  Stir and continue to simmer for half an hour, until mixture is thick and has absorbed the herbs.  Taste and adjust levels of seasoning, vinegar, or sugar.  Discard bay leaf and cinnamon stick, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Makes about 1 cup

So, what do you do with it?  You could use it to dip apple or banana chips.  Serve it on a salad as a strawberry vinaigrette.  I made some bizarre, mediterranean-inspired tacos and used it instead of salsa:

Difficulty rating :)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mutant Pygmy Corn

That's it.  I'm done trying to grow vegetables.  This is why grocery stores were invented.

How do you manage to grow corn that doesn't even sprout all its kernels?  I mean, even if you grow veggies that are smaller than the ones in the market, they're complete pieces.  These were so awful, I didn't even try to eat them.  One was so scary, I didn't even finish taking off the husk.

I'm going to stick to the cooking part of the food chain from now on.

Monday, August 8, 2011


I bought some ground lamb because it was on sale.  The only cuisine that comes to mind which uses ground lamb is Mediterranean rim.

I found this recipe in Mideast & Mediterranean Cuisines, but there are several versions floating around.  Sfeeha are often called Lebanese pizza.  I'm giving you the dough recipe, but you can use store-bought pizza dough.

Rose Dosti's version of folding is hamantaschen-shaped.  You can make it four- or five-pointed, or pucker it up like a shiu-mai dumpling.  Size is also up to you.  The twelve this recipe instructs makes pies about as big as a McDonald's hamburger.  For appetizers, just make them half the size and get two dozen out of it.

1-1/4 C warm water
1 package dry yeast (1 TB)
1 Tb salt
3+ C flour
1 Tb olive oil

1 lb ground lamb
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 C lemon juice
1/4 C plain yogurt
1/4 C pine nuts
salt & pepper to taste
Olive oil for brushing

1.  Place 100º F water in a bowl.  Sprinkle with yeast and allow to dissolve.  Stir in 1 C flour to make a batter.  Add salt, 1 Tb oil, and 1 C flour.  Stir to make a soft dough.

2.  Turn dough onto floured board.  Knead until smooth, adding as little flour as needed.  Round dough and place in a lightly oiled bowl.  Allow to rise in a warm place while you make the filling.  Set timer for 1 hr.

3.  In another bowl, combine lamb, onion, lemon juice, yogurt, pine nuts, and salt and pepper.  (If desired, toast nuts before adding to mix.)  Knead together like a meatloaf.  Place in fridge for flavors to meld until the dough is done proofing.

4.  Once dough has doubled, punch down dough and allow to rest for 10 minutes.  Divide into 12 portions by weight.  Heavily oil two rimmed baking pans.  If you have parchment paper, use that, and still grease it.  On a floured surface, roll out each piece into 6" circles.  It's ok if they shrink back a bit.

5.  Preheat oven to 375º.  Fill each circle with scant 1/4 C of lamb mixture.  Pull up three sides to make a three-cornered shape, leaving a venting hole in the middle.  If necessary, pinch the edges closed.  Place pies six to a sheet and bake for about 25 minutes, until golden.

6.  Remove from oven, brush lightly with olive oil, and remove to wire racks to cool.  Serve while still warm.

Makes 12

Difficulty rating  :-0

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Eggplant-Lentil Dip

I swear, I need an index label just for eggplant.

This item is inspired by a mezze I had at a lunch in Turkey.  That was just lemon-marinated eggplant.  I added the lentils for some contrast and to make the nutrition value a little more balanced.

Once thing I discovered was that the lemon juice zing doesn't really last if there's leftovers.  It's best to make this on the day.

1 large eggplant
1/2 C dried lentils
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 C FRESH lemon juice (1 normal-sized lemon)

1.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Pierce eggplant in several places and bake until soft, about 1 hour.  Meanwhile, rinse lentils.  Place in a saucepan with 2 C water, the garlic, and 1/2 tsp salt.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Continue to simmer until eggplant is done, 45 min to 1 hr.

2.  Allow eggplant to cool until it is safe to handle.  Peel, then finely chop flesh and seeds.  Drain and rinse lentils and combine with eggplant in a bowl.  Add salt and lemon juice and stir to combine.

3.  Can be served immediately at room temperature, or chill until ready.  Serve with crackers or khubz bread.  Serves 6 to 8

Difficulty rating π

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Part V: Gone Crackers

Papa Smurf didn't leave me with nearly as many unusual items in the kitchen as my mom did, since I had been doing most of the grocery shopping and cooking for the past four months.  I just took the opportunity to throw out all the really old salad dressings and condiments that he had never let me.  Mayo that expired in 2008?

What I'm stuck with now is two-and-a-half cases of Two-Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw's finest Chardonnay) and a boatload of crackers.  There are six boxes of fancy kinds, several ziplock baggies of partial boxes, and an unopened Costco box of Wheat Thins.  I like crackers as much as the next person, but that's a lot.  And they do get stale if you don't make an effort to finish them.  Plus, I still haven't finished the Passover matzoh.

So, for a while, I'm going to be posting a lot of dips and spreads.  Maybe I'll find sections of cookbooks that I've never read, since my hors d'oeuvres tend to be of the canapé sort, instead of crackers and cheese.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Roasted Parsnips and Carrots with Herbs

On his last visit, Techie Smurf left me with about a pound of parsnips in the fridge.  I had never bought parsnips before, much less cooked them, and was totally at a loss.

I vaguely recalled an episode of Good Eats using parsnips, so I went to the Food Network website.  I didn't feel like making any of Alton Brown's, but there was another recipe for roasted veggies with thyme.  I took some of the comments in mind and fiddled with the recipe to make the carrots come out softer.

*1/2 lb parsnips
1/2 lb carrots
2 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp dried parsley
1 Tb olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt

1.  Start a 2 quart pot of water boiling.  Peel parsnips and carrots and cut into even pieces.  I got three lengths out of mine.  The pointy end stayed whole, the middle one I cut in half, and the base one cut in fourths, so they were all about the same size.

2.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Place carrots in boiling water.  After two minutes, add the parsnips.  After two more minutes, drain and run under cold water.  You're just blanching them to par-cook them.  Otherwise, root vegetables take forever in the oven.

3.  Toss carrots and parsnips in oil.  Add thyme, parsley, and salt and toss again.  Spread in a single layer in a casserole.  Place in oven and bake until parsnips are slightly browned, about 15 minutes.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π