Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Carrot and Coconut Soup

Let's face it, I've been eating crap for the past month.  Yummy, cake-filled crap.  I haven't put on any weight because I adhere to portion control, but the nutritional value of the food has been lacking.

So I decided to use some leftover carrots to make a carrot soup.  But what kind of carrot soup?  Orange, ginger, hearty vegetable, mint, chicken, creamy, broth-based... the list keeps going.  I strolled the aisles of the supermarket, and decided to use a can of coconut milk instead of half-and-half in a ginger-orange recipe.

OK, remember that part about eating crap?  Coconut milk has so much saturated fat in it, I might as well have used lard.  Actually, lard probably has less fat in it.  But I love the taste of coconut.

When served hot, this soup tastes strongly of creamy carrot.  I tried it chilled, and the coconut and orange flavors dominated.  Either way, it's silky smooth and filling.

*1 lb fresh carrots
Juice of 1 orange (about 1/2 C)
1 Tb ginger
1 can coconut milk

1.  Chop carrots into bite-sized pieces.  In a large saucepan, combine carrots, ginger, juice, coconut milk, and 2 C water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Cook until carrots are soft, about 30 minutes.  Stir occasionally, or the coconut will cook weird.

2.  In a blender or food processor, purée carrots and about 1 cup of liquid until very smooth.  Return to soup pot and stir in.  Serve either hot or chilled.  Suggested garnishes: carrot curls, orange zest, or coconut flakes.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mocha Cupcakes

I should have changed the chapter title a while ago.  Seems like I'm making a cake a week.  Part of it is to use the cake flour, but I'm also enjoying the challenge of creating recipes in a field I don't know well, rather than blindly following a cookbook.

While researching various recipes for mocha cakes, I found the common complaint that you couldn't taste the coffee.  I have the same issue with many hot mocha drinks.  The flavor should be mostly coffee, with the chocolate as an enhancement.

This recipe started in the Afternoon Tea book as a coffee-flavored cake.  Then I added as little cocoa powder as I thought you could taste.  I also experimented with flavoring the icing.  Basically, in both the cake and icing recipes, coffee replaces the milk.  You lose the fat content of milk, but get flavor in return.

*2 C cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
3 Tb cocoa powder
3/4 C butter
3/4 C sugar
3 eggs
3/4 C strongly brewed coffee

1.  Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cocoa powder.

2.  Cream together butter and sugar.  Preheat oven to 350º and line two muffin pans.  (Recipe also makes one slightly anemic 8" layer cake.)

3.  Beat eggs into butter mix.  Beat in coffee and flour in two or three stages.  Beat batter for 2 minutes.

4.  Fill lined muffin cups 2/3 full of batter.  Bake for about 20 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then remove cupcakes to wire rack to cool completely.

1/4 C butter (not margarine)
1/4 C shortening
3 C powdered sugar
several tablespoons of coffee

1.  Cream together butter and shortening.

2.  Gradually beat in powdered sugar.  Add enough coffee to make the icing easy to spread.  It should have a faint, not overpowering, coffee aroma.

3.  Decorate cooled cupcakes.

Makes about 18 cupcakes

Difficulty rating  :)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Chicken Tagine with Israeli Couscous

I've never tried Israeli (pearl) couscous before.  I'm indifferent to regular, grainy couscous, and thought I'd give it a try.  Mmmm, spherical pasta.  Can someone invent the Pasta Brick?  It comes in regular, wheat, and tri-color.  Like any pasta, it relies on a sauce or accompaniment for its flavor.  I opted for a heavily-seasoned chicken tagine with vegetables.  Sorry, Wendy, there's eggplant in it.  You can sub in something else.  I liked the color combination, and the opportunity to use the mandoline.

1-1/2 lb chicken pieces, skin on
2 carrots
1 Japanese eggplant
1/2 lb asparagus
1/2 C minced onion
1 Tb olive oil
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
pinch of saffron
1 C dry Israeli couscous

1.  In a stew pot, sauté onion in oil.  When somewhat translucent, add chicken, skin-side down.  Sprinkle with seasonings, turn over chicken, and add 2 C water.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover.  Cook for 30 minutes.

2.  Cut vegetables into similar-sized pieces and add to pot.  Simmer until carrots are soft, about 15 minutes.  While simmering, prepare couscous according to package directions.

3.  Serve tagine over or beside couscous.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chocolate Layer Cake

I admit, I was actually making another half-batch of Red Velvet cupcakes when I got out the ingredients for this.  Then I got tired and lazy, doubled the cocoa powder, skipped the red, added enough milk to make up the difference, and poured it in the 6" cake pan.

We eat with our eyes as much as our taste buds.  I think my problem with Red Velvet is not that it's trendy. The visual experience of red makes the chocolate less pronounced.  I did use the other half of the cream cheese icing, but I usually make a chocolate icing for chocolate cake.  Again, tired.  The reason I had time before to have tea every day quit a couple of weeks ago, and I've been working long hours ever since.  Still, I do get tea time three or four days a week, and I thought a cake would be a nice change from cookies.

*2-1/2 C cake flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 C cocoa powder
1/2 C butter
1-1/2 C sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1-1/3 C milk
2 tsp baking soda

1.  Sift together flour, salt, and cocoa powder.  Set aside.

2.  Cream together butter and sugar until a sugary paste forms.  Beat in eggs one at a time.

3.  Preheat oven to 350º and grease two 8" cake pans.  Line pans with waxed paper for extra-easy removal.

4.  Beat in milk and flour in stages.  Add vanilla and beat on medium for 2 minutes.  Stir in baking soda.

5.  Split batter between the two cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the toothpick test comes out clean.  Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out on to wire racks, remove waxed paper, and let cool completely before decorating or freezing.

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Asparagus and Salmon Quiche

There was some beautiful asparagus on sale, so I decided to do some quiche.  Then came the hard part of what to put in with it.  I don't like quiches with only one ingredient.   Finally, I settled on some canned salmon.  Actually, it came from one of those shelf-stable pouches.  Close enough.  I wanted the fish to be a minor flavor, so there are only 6 ounces in the entire pie.  And I decided to try goat cheese instead of havarti.  Just really mixed it up from my usual comfort zone.

1 unbaked 9" pie crust (frozen is ok)
8 oz asparagus spears, cut into 1" lengths
1 6oz salmon steak, cooked, bones and skin removed
2 eggs
1 C milk
4 oz goat cheese
pepper to taste

1.  Bring 2 C water to a low boil in a saucepan.  Cook the asparagus for 3 minutes, until slightly soft.  Remove from heat and drain.

2.  Preheat oven to 375º.  Place pie crust on a rimmed baking sheet.  Flake salmon into bottom of pie crust.  Scatter asparagus on top of salmon.  Crumble cheese over asparagus.

3.  In a bowl, beat eggs until frothy.  Add milk and beat together.  Add pepper to taste.  Pour custard into pie shell with the fillings.

4.  Bake for about 45 minutes, until quiche no longer jiggles when shaken.  Remove from oven and allow to rest at least 15 minutes before cutting.

Serves about 6

Difficulty rating :)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Marinara Sauce

There are several reasons to make your own marinara ("spaghetti sauce").  The two that come to my mind are to use fresh ingredients and to control salt.  Also, by using sugar instead of the corn syrup in most jar sauces, this becomes a Passover-safe sauce to use on the matzoh pizza.

If the quality of Roma tomatoes in your area isn't sufficient, you can substitute diced canned tomatoes, preferably without added salt.  Saves you the trouble of peeling and seeding them.

To peel a tomato:  First, core out the top.  Then, score a little X on the bottom.  Drop the whole tomato in lightly boiling water for one minute.  Remove, let sit a few seconds, and start peeling from the X.  The skin should come right off.  If not, put it back in the water a few more seconds.

This version is based on the Bible's recipe.  They ask for a 1 lb can, but the current size is 14.5 oz.  I ended up adding about 1/2 C water to make up the difference.

1 lb Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced; or 1 can diced tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
2 Tb olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 C diced onion
1 Tb sugar
2 tsp dried basil flakes or 3 Tb fresh basil
1 tsp dried oregano
salt to taste

1.  Heat oil in 2 qt saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.

2.  Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.  If too thick, add water a tablespoon at a time to desired consistency.  Reduce to simmer, cover, and allow to cook 20 minutes, until tomatoes are completely cooked.  If desired, purée smooth.

3.  Serve hot over pasta, or use as a sauce for fish or on pizza.

Makes about 3 cups, enough for 4-6 servings of pasta

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, February 10, 2012

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Someone accidentally drops a bottle of food coloring into chocolate cake batter, and it's supposed to be the greatest thing ever?

Sorry, I'm still not a huge fan of cake.  And that's not how this recipe originated.  Cocoa powder has a slightly reddish tint under certain baking circumstances.  Someone decided to heighten that with food coloring and call it Red Velvet.

The difference between cakes and cupcakes, or quick breads and muffins, is the size.  They are the same thing, using the same batter.  Any cake recipe can be make as cupcakes, and vice-versa.  What I do find interesting is that most layer cakes say they serve 12-14, while the batter makes 24 cupcakes.  A bit of a tip for people trying to cut back on sweets.

Cupcakes have become very popular, elaborate, and expensive.  $5 each?  They're a bit larger than the ones you make at home, but still...  When I took them to work, they disappeared much faster than the cookies usually do, even though cookies are much easier to snack on.  To make these extra fancy, top the icing with sprinkles, candies, or store-bought cake decorations.

This is the Joy of Baking recipe.  I chose it because it had butter instead of shortening and uses less food coloring.  You should have seen me handling the food coloring.  You would think it was toxic waste!  Don't use wooden utensils with it, and everything will come out.  Actually, I didn't get the color on anything, and it doesn't have to make a mess.

I discovered a substitute for buttermilk.  To just shy of one cup of regular milk, add one tablespoon of white vinegar.  Let sit for five minutes, and it's buttermilk.  I know, this sounds just like the cottage cheese recipe.  If you don't heat the milk first, like for the cheese, what you get is buttermilk.

2-1/2 C cake flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tb cocoa powder
1/2 C unsalted butter
1-1/2 C sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 C buttermilk
2 Tb red food coloring (1 oz)
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp baking soda

1.  Sift together flour, salt, and cocoa.  Set aside.

2.  Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.  Beat in eggs one at a time.  Beat in vanilla.

3.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Stir together buttermilk and food color.  Add to butter mix alternately with flour, mixing well after each addition.  Beat batter for one minute.

4. In a small cup, combine vinegar and baking soda to make it fizz.  Quickly stir into batter.

5.  Portion into lined muffin cups and bake for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then turn out onto cooling rack to cool completely before icing.

Makes 2 dozen

Cream Cheese Frosting from The Food Network

1/2 C unsalted butter
1/2 C cream cheese
2 C powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla

1.  Beat together butter and cream cheese until smooth.

2.  Gradually add powdered sugar and vanilla.  Beat until fluffy.  If necessary, refrigerate for a few minutes before using.

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cross Contamination

Growing up, no one thought about how dangerous it can be to use the same platter for uncooked and cooked meat.  It was just something you did at barbecues.  We are all so much better informed now.  Yet, everyone makes mistakes sometimes.  Hopefully, by highlighting situations that can lead to cross-contamination, we can see how easy it is to avoid it.

First of all, what is cross-contamination and why is it bad?  "Cross-contamination occurs when microorganisms are transferred from one surface or food to another.  Common factors responsible for foodborne illness include:

  • Adding raw, contaminated ingredients to food that receives no further cooking
  • Food-contact surfaces (such as equipment or utensils) that are not cleaned and sanitized before touching cooked or ready-to-eat food
  • Allowing raw food to touch or drip fluids onto cooked or ready-to-eat food
  • Hands that touch contaminated (usually raw) food and then touch cooked or ready-to-eat food
  • Contaminated cleaning cloths that are not cleaned and sanitized before being used on other food-contact surfaces"
ServSafe Essentials, Second Edition

The key is, cooking kills microorganisms that can make you sick.  If something is not going to be cooked any more, make sure it does not get contaminated by something raw.

Easy ways to prevent cross-contamination:

  • Create a flow of traffic at the stove or barbecue, with the raw-food plate on one side and the cooked-food plate on the other.  Have separate tongs or spatulas for moving food.
  • Buy several cutting boards, all in different colors.  Red for meat, yellow for chicken, blue for fish, and green for veggies.  They sell them everywhere.  This set at BB&B is idiot-proof.  Wash with soap and hot water between uses, even for the same meal.
  • Wash hands between tasks, and wash your knives frequently.
  • Change your kitchen towels frequently, and wash in hot water.  I have two separate towels hanging on the oven door.  One is for hand-wiping, the other is for drying hand-washed pots.
  • If a utensil or pot is dishwasher-safe, the heat drying cycle will sanitize it.  I recommend placing the kitchen sponge in the dishwasher at least once a week, and discard it after a month.  If you wipe down the counter with a dirty sponge, it doesn't matter if anything you put on it is clean.
A restaurant trick for storing potentially hazardous food is to place the most hazardous items like raw meat on the bottom shelf (or bottom drawer), and work your way up to the least hazardous items.  That's usually something in a jar, like mayo.  That way, if a container breaks and drips onto whatever is below it, that item is going to be cooked anyway.  I know, "but veggie drawers are near the bottom of the fridge".  Use the little plastic bags from the market.  You can recycle them later.  Pull out the drawer regularly and wash it with hot, soapy water.

Hope this creates some new habits.  Happy cooking!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Reuben's Marinade

Reuben was Papa Smurf's business partner.  I don't know if he created this particular version of a teriyaki marinade, but that's what we always called it.  I've only had it on steak, but there's a note on the recipe card that it works with chicken and fish.  Reuben loves salmon, so I'm sure it tastes good on it.

This is definitely a grilling marinade.  Leave the meat in it overnight, then heat up the barbecue.  The honey carmelizes into the meat and really brings out the juices.

I decided to try out the garlic press.  It's been in the drawer for a couple of decades, but I never think to use it because I never had one before.  There's another press of some kind in there.  It's either a larger garlic press or a small potato ricer.  Anyway, I wasn't impressed.  Yes, the garlic came out very fine with almost no effort, but half of the clove was still in there, and I had to re-press the mashed bits.  Even still, not all of it went through the holes and I just dropped the smushed parts into the marinade.  And then I had to clean the press.  In all, I didn't save any time, but my nails did not pick up the garlic smell.

*1/4 C soy sauce
1/2 C vegetable oil
3 Tb honey
1 Tb white vinegar
1/4 Tb ground ginger (I used fresh because I had some, and it was really good)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 C onion, minced

Beat together soy sauce, oil, honey, and vinegar.  Stir in ginger, garlic, and onion.  Pour over meat and marinate - covered, in the fridge - at least 8 hours.  Turn meat every few hours to distribute marinade evenly.  Cook according to recipe.

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

PB & J Cookies

I'm not a big fan of peanut butter cookies.  To me, they taste kind of dry, even when they're soft.

Better Homes and Gardens has a similar idea to this in this February's issue.  I'm amazed no one has popularized these before now.

I decided to use Grandma Sophie's peanut-butter cookie recipe, since those are the only PB cookies I remember having as a child.  I knew the recipe worked, and avoided dryness by pulling them out of the oven before they were fully baked.  In the 50's, all cookies were thoroughly baked, but no one nowadays complains about an under-baked cookie.

For the jam, I bought Polaner All-Fruit strawberry jam.  The links on their site don't seem to be working, but I'm sure you can find it in the market.  You need the thickest jam you can find, or it's going to run everywhere.  It does soak into the cookie, so don't sandwich them more than a few hours ahead.

As an alternative to jam, Nutella would make an excellent filling, like a Reese's cookie.

I know, a 2" cookie seems very small these days.  This was the size in the original recipe, back before the super-sizing of cookies into 500-calorie monsters.  Besides, you're eating two of them at a time.  Smaller is better.

1/2 C brown sugar, packed
1/2 C granulated sugar
1/2 C butter
*1/2 C peanut butter
1 egg
1-1/2 C flour
1 tsp salt
1tsp baking soda dissolved in 1 tsp boiling water
1/2 C thick jam, like an all-fruit

1.  Cream together both sugars, butter, and peanut butter.

2.  Lightly beat egg and cream into butter mix.

3.  Sift together flour and salt and beat into butter in stages.  Activate and beat in baking soda last.

4.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Form dough into 1" balls and place 2" apart on cookie sheets.  With the back of a fork, press each ball into a criss-cross pattern and bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.  Cool on wire rack.

5.  Place half of cooled cookies upside-down on work surface.  Spread 1 tsp of jam on the back of each cookie, then top with an un-jammed cookie to make a sandwich.

Makes 2 dozen sandwich cookies

Difficulty rating  π