Friday, September 30, 2011

Fig Preserves

As I was driving up to Ventura, Melinda Lee was talking about fig season.  Before I came home, I had to stop at a roadside stand and buy some.

Figs have a short season because they are highly perishable.  They also do not ripen any further off the tree, so make sure the ones you get are soft.

Figs are great in salads.  I had fig ice cream in Greece.  There was a one-pint jar of whole fig preserves at the stand for $8.99.  I don't care if it did win a blue ribbon at the Ventura County Fair, the four figs I bought to make nearly the same amount were only $2.

I'm using the skillet jam method because these are moist fruits.  The preserves will be chunky, because preserves are generally whole fruits.  I cut these in pieces to make them easier to serve.  Jam is generally crushed or puréed fruit.  Jelly is from the juice of a fruit, with no pulp.  The way I put preserves in containers is to put in the whole fruit first, then add enough juice to cover.  Any remaining juice, I boil a couple of minutes more and put it in a separate jar as jelly.  Jellies make good glazes, sauces, and even pancake syrup.

1/2 lb (about 4) whole figs
1/2 lb sugar
1 tsp lemon juice

1.  Cut figs into quarters.  If pieces are still large, cut them again.

2.  Put figs and sugar in a saucepan.  Over low heat, bring to a low boil.  Stir frequently to avoid scorching.  Cook until juices are clear, at least 5 minutes.  Stir in lemon juice and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

3.  Have clean storage jars ready.  Pour jam into an 8" skillet.  Bring to a boil.  Skim off any impurities.  Boil until bubbles begin to get large and clear.  Spoon into jars, cool to room temperature on the counter. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Makes about 1-1/2 cups

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I bought too much milk again.

This particular entry is devoted to the pancake part of crepes.  I'll give you some filling suggestions, but actual filling recipes will come along whenever I do them.

Most of the recipes I found included buckwheat flour.  I couldn't find any, even at Sprouts.  That was surprising.  I've always made this recipe with just plain AP flour, so it doesn't matter to me.  You could use whole-wheat flour for part of it to make it more on the savory side.  The recipe I'm posting is neutral, for either sweet or savory.  It's also the single-egg proportion.  Feel free to double or triple the recipe if needed.

I also tend to make my crepes in a 6" skillet instead of the more common 8".  They're easier to flip.  It depends if you plan to serve just one or several per person.  A smaller crepe is ideal for desserts and uncomplicated fillings.

The first crepe is usually a loss, as the pan is either too hot or too cold, and you won't know it until you pour some batter into it.  Don't stress, just move on.  If you're not using the crepes right away, separate them with wax paper, seal in a plastic bag, and either refrigerate or freeze.  They can be reheated in a low oven until they regain their crispy-ness.

There are several folding techniques.  The easiest is to fold it over the filling like an omelet.  Next up is folding it in quarters.  That's how it is usually served in France, so you can put the crepe in a paper cone.  I've even had it open on a large plate with the fillings on top.  You fold it yourself.  The rolled version that most people think of for crepes is actually rarely used.

Fillings can be savory or sweet, with or without sauce.  Today, I put in some brie, fresh spinach, candied walnuts, and oven-dried tomatoes.

*3/4 C milk
1 egg
1/3 C flour
oil for greasing pan

1.  Beat together milk and egg.  Pour into pitcher containing flour a little at a time until thoroughly incorporated.  Let rest in fridge for at least an hour, or even overnight.  This allows the gluten to develop slowly and dissolves lumps.

2.  Stir batter.  It should be the consistency of heavy cream.  If too thick, add a little milk.  The thinner the batter, the crispier the crepe, but it has to have a little body.

3.  Preheat skillet, preferably non-stick, at medium heat.  Grease with a few drops of oil.  Generally, I pour about a tablespoon of oil, swirl it, then drain it to a heat-safe container.  I continue to re-use this oil in the same manner for the whole batch, and it's usually enough.

4.  Stir batter briefly.  Pour several tablespoons of batter into pan and quickly swirl until bottom of pan is coated.  Continue to swirl until batter is set in a thin layer, then place pan back on burner.  Allow to cook until edges are browned, about 2 minutes.  Loosen with a spatula and flip (the easiest way is to use your fingers).  Cook an additional 30 seconds, or until parts of underside are browned.  Set aside on warm plate and cover with a clean towel.  Re-oil pan and start again, stirring batter before each crepe.

Note: if you decide to use two pans to cut your time in half, stagger when you pour the batter.  Also, two pans probably will not hold heat the same way.  I tried it, and one of the pans wasn't very good.  It makes good scrambled eggs, just not so much with the crepes.

Makes about 5 or 6  6" crepes

Difficulty rating  :)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Candied Walnuts

Candied nuts make great accents for salads.  They aren't bad to snack on, either.  All the ones at Sprouts were heavily salted, so I decided to make my own.

*1 C walnut halves
1/2 C powdered sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tb olive oil

1.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Toss nuts in olive oil until evenly coated.  Stir together powdered sugar, salt, and cayenne.  Toss together nuts and sugar.

2.  Spread coated nuts in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes, then stir with tongs to expose more sides.  Continue to bake in 5 minute increments until nuts are dark brown and the sugar is caramelized.  Cool and break apart.  Store in a dry, airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.

Makes 1 cup

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Split-Pea Soup

I'm constantly surprised by how many comfort foods I haven't gotten around to making yet.  On the first rainy day of the fall, I decided to make some hot soup.

Split-pea soup is a bit of a magic act.  You dump everything in the pot and come back in an hour.  It still kind of looks like it did when you left it, only steaming.  Then you give it a quick stir, and it becomes exactly what you were expecting.

Some people think the main flavoring is the ham.  That supplies the salt.  Honestly, I don't know why they don't make pork-flavored salt.  To me, the bay leaf is the primary flavor enhancer.  If you omit the ham for a vegetarian version, it will still taste like it is supposed to.  You just have to add salt to it, instead of it coming out of the meat.

This is the Bible's version, more or less intact.

1 ham bone with about 1-1/2 C meat on it
*1 16-oz package dried split peas
2 carrots, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
7 C water
1/4 tsp whole allspice
1/4 tsp whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
salt to taste

1.  In large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, heat bone, peas, carrots, onion, and water to boiling.

2.  Tie allspice, peppercorns, and bay leaf in piece of cheesecloth.  Add to bone mixture.

3.  Reduce heat to low; cover; simmer 1 hour.  Discard spice bag; add salt if necessary.

4.  Remove ham bone and cut off all meat.  Discard bone.

5.  Cut meat into bite-sized chunks and return to soup for serving.

Serves 6

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chicken Salad

I don't like when people ask me for recipes like chicken salad.  Most of the time, I just had leftover chicken that I put other leftover things into.  In this case, I made the effort to make it from scratch already knowing that was what I was going to do with the chicken.

1 lb (one) chicken breast
1 C celery, diced
1/4 C diced green onion
*1/2 C raisins
*2 Tb white wine
1/4 C mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Place chicken in a large saucepan with water to cover.  Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, lower heat to simmer, and cover.  Cook for 1 hour.  Drain off water and let chicken sit until cool enough to touch.

2.  On a cutting board, remove any bones, skin, or gristle from chicken.  Chop into small pieces and shred with two forks.  Chill until ready to mix.

3.  In a small bowl, combine raisins and wine (apple or grape juice is ok).  Let sit until raisins are plump. Drain off liquid.  This can be done while chicken is cooking.

4.  Combine chicken, celery, onion, and raisins until evenly distributed.  Season lightly with salt and pepper and stir again.  Add mayo and combine until everything holds together, but isn't drippy or mushy.  Chill until ready to serve.

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Forest of Mint

This sounds like some fun fantasy story.  It is not.  Stephen King could make his next best-seller with this title.

Remember way back in Mint Sauce, when I talked about keeping mint in a pot?  I wasn't kidding.  There is some in my front yard, which decided to take over because I had way more important things to deal with.  The gardener either gave up or thought I liked it.  I finally realized it was a problem and decided to rip it out.

If any of you have mint planted in the ground anywhere on your property, go now and rip it up.  As in, leave your seat immediately and do it.  I don't care if it's night, or raining, or 200º outside.

Mint does not simply grow, have a root, flower, and make baby mint plants from seeds.  There are flowers and seeds, but it does most of its propagation through stolons, or runners.  These runners branch out just below the surface and give rise to what look like new mint plants several feet away.  That's why you can't just cut off the parts above ground, which would kill most herb plants.  All of the roots must be removed.  When you start to rip out the plants, and get to a runner, you have to pull the whole thing out.  And the runners have roots, and the new plants beget more runners.  You know how they say the only creatures that will be alive after World War Three are cockroaches?  Well, they're going to be eating mint.

The runners also get themselves entangled in the roots of plants that you would rather not rip out.  It's a defense mechanism,  I think.  I've already sacrificed several bushes, and a small tree may end up as collateral damage.  I'm hoping to save the roses.  It's taking a toll on the concrete edge of the planter, and may be partially responsible for a crack in the driveway.  If I can get it down to isolated areas, I can use weed killer for the sprouts in hard to reach places.

And once you have removed all of the visible mint and pulled the roots down to three inches, you have to keep coming back to check on it every couple of weeks.  Forever.  Short of digging out all the dirt in your yard or planter to a depth of two feet, it's going to keep coming back.

The moral of the story: don't plant mint in the ground.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Bacon and Apple Pancakes

I bought some bacon trimmings because they were cheap.  I thought I'd make bread or scones with them.  Then I got an idea to put them in pancakes.  And while I was at it, put apples in there, too.

I love the internet.  Turns out, this is a Scandinavian specialty.  There are two ways to make it.  One is to make the pancake first, then top it with the bacon & apple mixture.  I chose to mix the flavorings into the batter.  It isn't as pretty, but it works.  Makes it easier to freeze the leftovers for later.  If there are any....

I'm basing this on Paula Deen's recipe.  She considers butter to be a food group all on its own.  Yes, it adds flavor and richness, but I can't do it and live with myself.  My version also cooks the apples.  And I diced them instead of grating.  It was 6 am.  I'm not grating anything that early.

As the pancakes were frying, I realized it would have been even better if I'd put in 1/4 C diced onion.  I'm not putting this in the recipe now because I haven't tried it.  Just leaving it as an option.

1-1/2 C flour
1 Tb sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs
3/4 C milk
1/4 C butter, melted
1/2 lb bacon, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 apples, petite diced
oil for frying

1.  In a skillet, cook bacon over medium heat.  When it is about half done, add the apples.  Stir in and continue to cook until bacon is done and apples are soft.  Set aside to cool slightly.

2.  In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients.  In a small bowl, beat together milk, eggs, and butter.  Combine the mixes and let batter stand 10 minutes.  Fold in bacon & apple mixture until evenly distributed.

3.  Preheat skillet over medium heat.  Add 1 Tb oil.  Spoon batter in 1/4 C mounds and cook until underside browns, about 4 minutes.  Flip and cook other side until browned.  Set on warm, paper-towel lined plate until ready to serve.  Serve hot with maple syrup.

Seves 4 to 6

Difficulty rating  :)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Lentil Cakes

I went into this intending to make the South Indian Lentil Cakes with Raita out of this month's Bon Appetit.    Then I took out the jalapeños because I can't eat them, then the Raita became tzatziki sauce, then I substituted bulgur wheat for the rice because I had some in the pantry... and it kept going from there.  The flavor profile is about the same, minus spicy.

I did notice the fatal flaw in the recipe from the first reading.  This gluten-free dish did not contain anything to hold the cakes together.  The rice, I guess, but how much can rice do once it has been through the food processor?  I put the cakes in the pan as instructed anyway.  They were pretty.  Then I went to flip them, and ended up with what I'm calling fried salad.  Complete disintegration.  Tasted good, though.  One egg and a little Parmesan cheese, and the rest held together just fine.  That's the version I'm going to publish.

*1/4 C medium grade bulgur
*1/2 C dried lentils
*1/2 C shelled edamame (I used frozen)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 C fresh baby spinach leaves, chopped
1 medium scallion, chopped
1 egg
2 Tb grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tb chopped fresh mint
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp black pepper
olive oil for frying

1.  Place bulgur in a bowl.  Add 1/4 C water and allow to soak for 1 hour.

2.  Place lentils in a saucepan with water to cover.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer.  Cook for 20 minutes.  You're just par-cooking them.  It's ok if they're still a little crunchy.  Drain.

3.  Place all ingredients except the oil in the food processor.  Pulse until combined, but not puréed.

4.  Heat 1 Tb oil in a medium skillet.  Scoop up 1/4 C of mixture in a measuring cup, then press down lightly to make the cake.  Invert into skillet and start on the next one.  Cook for about 4 minutes, flip with a pancake turner, and cook another 4 minutes.  Remove to paper towel lined plate and re-oil pan for the next batch.

5.  Serve hot with tzatziki sauce

Serves 4 as main dish, 8 to 12 as an appetizer

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tzatziki Sauce

This yogurt-cucumber sauce is a creamy accompaniment for anything heavily seasoned.  Jerk meat, gyros, blackened fish, or even seasoned veggies.  It doesn't erase the flavor of the seasonings, just balances them with something creamy.

1 C Greek yogurt
1/2 C peeled, seeded, and finely diced cucumber
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tb finely chopped mint leaves (fresh)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tb lemon juice

1.  The easiest way to seed a cucumber: cut in half lengthwise and get out a melon-baller.  One good swipe down the center should do it.

2.  Stir together all ingredients.  Taste, and add more salt or lemon juice if necessary.  Chill until ready to serve.

Makes 1-1/2 C

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, September 5, 2011

Tamale Pie

Let's be clear.  This doesn't taste like a tamale.  It's fancy taco filling with a cornmeal crust.  This Tex-Mex tradition is basic comfort food.  And a whole lot less work than an actual batch of tamales!

I started with the recipe off the box of Albers Corn Meal.  Kind of went off from there.  For one thing, I wish I had put most of the cornmeal on top, instead of making the bottom crust so thick.  It also would have been nice to put more flavoring in the crust.  A small, drained can of diced chilis would do it, for those who can tolerate chilis.  I used extra olives instead, which helped some.

*1-1/4 C corn meal
1/2 tsp salt
1-3/4 C milk
3/4 C water

1 lb ground beef
1 clove garlic, minced
1 C diced onion
1/4 C diced green bell pepper
1 C corn niblets  (I used frozen)
1  3.8 oz can sliced black olives, drained
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes, partially drained
1 Tb chili powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/3 C shredded cheddar cheese.

1.  Preheat oven to 425º.  Grease an 8" square baking dish.

2.  In a saucepan, stir together corn meal, salt, milk, and water.  Over medium heat, cook until thick.  Stir constantly.  A Teflon pan helps later with cleanup, if you have one.  Set aside 1-1/2 C.  Pour rest into casserole and coat bottom and sides.  A spoon will save your fingers.  Bake for 10 minutes, then set aside.

3.  Brown ground beef, garlic, onion, and pepper in a large skillet.  Drain off grease.  Add corn, half of the olives, tomatoes, chili powder, salt, and pepper.  Mix well and cook until heated through.  Spoon into cornmeal crust.

4.  With a spoon, drop reserved corn meal on top of meat.  Spread around to cover evenly.  Sprinkle with remaining olives and the cheese.  Return casserole to oven and cook for 15 minutes, until crust is done and cheese is melted.

Serves 4-6

Difficulty rating  :)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Chocolate Matzoh Brei

Some time before next Passover, I will finish the matzoh.  Why do 5-lb boxes come free with a minimum purchase, while a single one-pound box costs $2.99?

I got this idea from the blog The Bitten Word, then simplified it for an easy breakfast for one.  The big difference is eliminating the oil and only putting a little margarine in the pan, which removes over 200 calories and 25g of fat per serving.

To make this absolutely awesome, peel a banana.  Mash half of it and add to the mix before frying.  Slice up the other half and decorate the top before serving.

*1 piece of matzoh
1 egg
2 Tb milk
*1 oz (about 2 Tb) chopped dark chocolate
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 Tb margarine

1.  Break matzoh into small pieces and place in a heat-proof bowl.  Boil a cup of water and pour over matzoh.  Let soak while you whip up the egg base, then drain.

The banana version
2.  Beat together egg and milk.  Add chocolate and salt (and banana) and beat them into the mix.  Add drained matzoh and let soak for up to 5 minutes.

3.  Preheat a 6" skillet.  Add margarine.  Once it melts, pour in matzoh mix.  Allow to cook for at least 30 seconds before trying to push it around.  At that point, treat it like scrambled eggs.  Once the egg is cooked, it's ready.  Serve hot.

Serves 1

Difficulty rating  π