Thursday, May 31, 2012

Window Garden

I have a lovely greenhouse window with southern exposure in the kitchen, but it is merely a landing spot for tchotchkes and a warm place for the cats to hang out.  I got a packet of basil seeds in the mail from the March of Dimes (I get weird freebies from charities, and am the queen of notepads), and decided to start a window herb garden.

Keeping in mind last year's vegetable failure (although the artichoke plant is still alive and may be growing a flower), and how much Molly likes to chew on things in the window, I'm starting with just the one packet of seeds.  I'm not buying anything.  I'm also planting some of the seeds outside by the lemon tree, where I ripped out a bush last year and never planted anything new.

Since I can't seem to eradicate the dandelions in the front yard, I decided to grow a crop.  If I can't grow weeds intentionally in a pot filled with Miracle-Gro, then I officially have no gardening skills.  I assume all you do to seed it is blow a head of seeds over the soil.  If it works, I'll make some things with dandelion greens in a week or two.  That pot is staying outside.  The basil is the only one in the window.

It is very late in the season to be planting seeds, so I don't know if anything will be able to take root before it gets hot.  California's June Gloom may be enough to keep the basil from withering before 4th of July.  I would love to make recipes with fresh basil, just to use a fresh herb for once.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Lavender Ice Cream

I fell in love with lavender ice cream during my last trip to Paris.  It's almost impossible to find in my area.  Supposedly, there's a shop in Hollywood that has it.  I don't get up there often, but I'll look for it next time I'm there.

One of my birthday gifts was a card for TJ Maxx.  I never shop there, but I spent a little time looking around.  They didn't have much that I wanted, and nothing that I needed.  However, in the food section was a bottle of dried culinary lavender blossoms.  Instantly, I thought of making ice cream.  Don't know what I'll get with the other $36, maybe coffee.  It isn't that I don't like their clothes, I just have a very difficult time finding anything that fits.  It's that gap you get in the back of pants.  I miss pants with tapered waists.  Heaven forbid any woman nowadays has curvy hips and a slim waist!  (I know, tmi)

When shopping for lavender, make sure you get culinary lavender.  That's different than potpourri lavender, even though they smell the same.  If you got it at Michaels, it probably isn't fit for consumption. Stick to the spice aisle.  The bottle should have nutritional information on it.  If you have a lavender plant at home, make sure it's one of the edible varieties before harvesting your own.  My lavender plant by the front door is an aromatic species, not a culinary one.

This recipe differs from others I researched because of the way I prepare the sugar.  It's the same way I make vanilla ice cream, and creates a highly aromatic, intense flavor with very little flavoring ingredient.  I also couldn't get it to turn lavender color.  Resorting to violet food coloring, the best I could manage was not yellow-cream.  It came out slightly bluish-cream, and I didn't want to overdo the color.  Just accept that it will look like vanilla if you use dried buds.

2 C whole milk
2 C heavy cream
1 C sugar
2 Tb dried lavender
4 egg yolks

1.  2 days ahead: combine sugar and lavender in a sealable container.  Shake a couple of times a day until ready to use.

2.  Stir together milk and cream in a medium saucepan.  Put sugar through a sieve to remove lavender and put lavender in the saucepan with the milk.  Beat together sugar and egg yolks and set aside.

3.  Over medium-low heat, bring milk to a low boil, stirring frequently to avoid scorching.  Pour some of the milk into the eggs and beat together to temper the eggs.  Introduce the egg to the milk and stir constantly until mixture thickens but does not boil.

4.  Strain cream to remove lavender and any clumps.  Line surface of custard with plastic wrap to avoid a skin forming.  Refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours.

5.  Process in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions.  Freeze until ready to serve.

Makes about 1 quart

Difficulty rating  :)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sweet & Sour Chili

This is really stretching the definition of chili.  I'm not an expert at making chili, but I know that simply putting chili powder into some beans does not mean it is entitled to the name.  However, I can't think of anything better to call it.

This isn't spicy, but I don't see why you couldn't add Asian chili sauce if you want a kick.  It has a faintly Chinese or Hawaiian flavor profile.

1/2 C dry black beans
1/2 lb ground turkey
*1/4 C medium bulgur
1/2 tsp kosher salt
*1-1/2 tsp chili powder
*1/2 tsp turmeric
1 4oz can tomato paste
1 8oz can crushed pineapple
*2 Tb apple cider vinegar

1.  Rinse black beans and soak in 3 C water for 8 hours, or overnight.  Drain.

2.  In medium saucepan, bring beans, salt, chili powder, and turmeric to a boil in 2 C water.  Lower heat to a simmer and cook for 2 hours, until beans are very tender.

3.  In a skillet, cook turkey until browned and broken into small crumbles.  Drain off what little fat there may be and add to chili.  Also add bulgur, tomato paste, pineapple (with juice), and vinegar.  Continue to simmer for half an hour.  The bulgur will absorb water as it cooks, so add more as needed to achieve desired consistency.

4.  Serve hot.  Suggested garnishes include diced onion, sour cream, shredded cheese, diced jalapeños, and more pineapple.

Difficulty rating :)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sweet-Potato Pancakes

This one comes from the May 5th Los Angeles Times.  The restaurant that originated this recipe is the Highland Bakery in Atlanta.  Because you can microwave the potatoes, it only takes slightly longer to prepare the batter than for other kinds of pancakes.  The recipe specifies a food processor, to get the smoothest texture possible.  If you don't have one, I would suggest overcooking the potatoes slightly and using an electric beater, followed by running the potato-and-buttermilk mixture through a sieve.  Otherwise, you may get stringy pancakes.

I'm assuming the odd amounts of some ingredients are because they are used to making much larger batches of batter.  If you quadruple the recipe, it comes out less awkward.  (3-1/4 C each flour, 5 C sweet potato, 1-1/2 C brown sugar, etc.)

1-1/2 lb raw sweet potato in skin
3/4 C plus 1 Tb whole wheat flour
3/4 C plus 1 Tb all-purpose flour
1 Tb baking powder
1 tsp salt
*1/2 tsp nutmeg
*1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 C butter
2 eggs
1/4 C plus 2 Tb (6 Tb) light brown sugar
1-1/2 C buttermilk, or more
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
1 Tb molasses

1.  Scrub clean the skin of the sweet potato(es) and pierce all over with a fork.  Place on a microwave-safe plate and microwave for 6 to 7 minutes, until fork-tender, rotating halfway through.  Slit open and let cool until easy to handle.

2.  While potato is cooling, sift together flours, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg into a medium-sized mixing bowl.

3.  Scoop out flesh of potato and measure 1-1/4 C.  Pulse in a food processor with butter until smooth.  Add eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, and molasses and run until smooth again.  Add as much of the buttermilk as the processor can handle (I got 1 C) and run one last time.

4.  Add wet ingredients to dry, including remaining buttermilk.  Stir until just mixed.  It makes a thick batter.  If it is too thick to spoon, add a little more buttermilk.

5.  Lightly oil a griddle and heat over medium.  Spoon batter onto griddle as desired.  I made silver-dollar sized pancakes because they're easier to flip and I was taking them to a pot luck.  The thick batter takes a while to cook and doesn't bubble as much as the pancakes I'm used to making.  When the top sets, about 3 minutes, flip pancakes and cook another 1-2 minutes.  Serve hot with syrup or brown sugar butter sauce.

Makes about 2 dozen

Brown sugar butter sauce

1 stick (1/2 C) butter
1 C light brown sugar
1/4 C water

1.  In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add sugar and stir to dissolve.  Whisk in water and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, until thickened.  Makes about 1 C.

Difficulty rating :)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Meatloaf with Quinoa

I was originally going to do this with lamb, but try finding ground lamb at Target.  The already-inexpensive pound of ground pork had a $1-off coupon stuck to it.  All ingredients included, it was about 75¢ per serving.

The flavors are very similar to keftas, but with a quinoa filler.  I figured that would up the nutritional value a lot more than plain breadcrumbs.  Quinoa, it turns out, blends very well with cilantro.  I love when an experiment results in a new flavor discovery.

And the spell-checker now recognizes quinoa!

1 lb low-fat ground meat
1/2 C dry quinoa
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 C chopped green onions
1/2 C chopped cilantro

1.  In a bowl, knead together ground meat, spices, onions, and cilantro.  Set in refrigerator to let the flavors meld, one hour.

2.  In a saucepan, boil 1-1/4 C water.  Stir in quinoa, reduce to simmer, and cook until water has been absorbed.  Set aside to cool until meat is ready.

3.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Knead quinoa into meat mixture.  Spread evenly in a loaf pan and bake until thermometer reads 165º, about 1 hour.  Drain off excess fat and juices, then let loaf rest 10 minutes before slicing.

Serves 4 to 6

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cranberry-Almond Biscotti

This week's tea snack is biscotti.  While I prefer chewy cookies, sometimes I feel like dunking.  The reason biscotti are so hard is to keep them from spoiling.  They're the beef jerky of cookies.  They are also way easier to make than I thought they would be.  Think scones or sugar cookies, only even easier because you don't have to cut anything in or get an appliance dirty.

Biscotti is Italian for twice-baked.  You bake the cookie in long logs, slice them while warm, and put them back in a slightly cooler oven to toast until most of the moisture is gone.  If you do it right, they keep in a jar on the kitchen counter for a couple of weeks, or until eaten.

I recently found out that many non-biscotti recipes can be baked using this technique.  Follower Wendy did it with extra gingerbread dough.  I bet you could do it with the Tollhouse recipe if you cut the sugars and butter in half and replaced them with pastry or cake flour.  Sugar is responsible for most cookie spreading.  If anyone tries this before I get around to it, please comment.

I adapted this from an Allrecipes posting.  I didn't have any egg whites in the freezer, and replaced the moisture with low-fat milk.  You could use water for the same effect.

Budget-wise, I got the dried cranberries and sliced almonds out of the bins at Sprouts.  Only buying what you need, and at bulk price, saves $ at the check-out.  I'm making the lemon zest optional.  I see no reason to buy a 50¢ lemon for a teaspoon of its rind.  I got mine off the tree.  No one will notice if it is omitted.

1 C flour
1/2 C sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp lemon zest (optional)
1/3 C sliced almonds
1/2 C dried cranberries
2 Tb (about) milk or water

1.  Preheat oven to 325º.  Line cookie sheet with parchment or a silpat.

2.  Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda.  In a separate bowl, beat together egg, vanilla, almond extract, and lemon zest.  Stir wet mixture into dry.  It will form a crumbly paste.

3.  Stir in almonds and cranberries.  If mixture is too dry to stick together, add milk or water, a tablespoon at a time, until just moist enough to hold shape.

4.  Form dough into a log 9" long x 3" wide by 1" high on cookie sheet.  Keep it centered, because it will spread out (see photo).  Bake for about 30 minutes, until firm but not hard.  Remove from oven, let sit a couple of minutes, and turn oven down to 275º.

5.  Move log carefully to a cutting board.  Slice crosswise into 1/2" strips, discarding (or eating) ends.  Return strips to cookie sheet, still upright, leaving at least 1/2" between cookies.  Return to oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until cut edges are toasted.  Cool, then store in an airtight container.  If desired, decorate with drizzled icing or by dipping half in white chocolate and letting it set before storing.

Makes 1 dozen

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Package Sizes

I recently picked up some name-brand orange juice.  It was on sale for less than the store brand.  Maybe I had one of the online coupons.

When I went back to get another half-gallon the next week, it was the same price as the store brand, so it should not have mattered which one I chose.  I saw the two next to each other, and the name brand carton appeared thinner.  I looked at the ounces in the carton and realized that the "half gallon" was actually 59 ounces.

Making packages smaller is not new.  It has been going on for about five years.  A "half gallon" of ice cream has been 1.75 qt for some time.  It's how manufacturers avoid raising prices.  Same price, less product.  That's why we notice the cost of meat and produce going up, but not peanut butter.

Almost all grocery stores have a per-ounce cost calculated somewhere on the shelf tag.  Ralphs was recently sued and found guilty of having incorrect ounce prices calculated.  Aside from that, the unit price is what I use to decide which size package to get.  Sometimes, the middle-sized can is a better value than the large one.  It's rare, but it does happen, usually when only one size is on sale or has a coupon.

It's a shame that grocery shopping has become an algebra exam, but the only way to get the most for your money is to be diligent.  Giving the kids a calculator and having them figure out value is a good way to keep them occupied during boring grocery trips and to teach them budgeting skills.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Oatmeal Bread

I have bought one loaf of bread in the past year and a half.  I have ended up with bread from guests, work, and odd sources, but I have only bought one loaf.  In between, I have baked all sorts of loaves, biscuits, pitas, muffins, tortillas, and rolls.  Only bought one box of matzoh this year, since I was gone for half of Passover, and it was gone in a reasonable amount of time.  Some of the breads I have made have been quick breads, but the better ones use yeast.  Here's a new one I've never tried, from the King Arthur Flour recipe box, with my own personal tweaks.

2 C flour
1 C whole-wheat flour
1 C rolled oats (quick or old-fashioned)
2 Tb butter
2 tsp yeast
3 Tb brown sugar or honey
1-1/4 C milk
1-1/2 tsp salt

1.  Warm milk, butter, and honey to 100º.  Butter does not need to melt.  Stir in yeast and allow to proof until foamy, about 5 min.

2.  In stand mixer, combine oats, whole wheat flour, and salt.  Mix in milk mixture, then beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.

3.  Mix in 1 C white flour.  Beat until a light dough forms, about 2 minutes.  Generously flour a work board.  Pour dough onto flour and knead until smooth, adding as little flour as possible.  If you use honey, it will remain slightly sticky.  Lightly oil a bowl and turn dough ball over in it to grease all sides.  Place bowl in a warm area to rise until doubled, about 1 hr.

4.  Punch down dough and let rest 10 minutes.  Grease a loaf pan very well.  Roll out dough into a 9" x 14" rectangle.  Roll up the 9" side jelly-roll fashion.  Seal the ends and place in loaf pan, seam-side down.

5.  If desired, warm together 1 Tb honey and 1 Tb water and use as a glaze.  Top glaze with an additional 1 Tb oats.

6.  Allow loaf to rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hr.  It should rise about 1" above rim of loaf pan.  Bake at 350º for 35-40 minutes.  If loaf starts to get too dark, place a piece of foil over it, like you would for a turkey.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out and cool completely on a wire rack.

Makes 1 loaf

Difficulty rating :)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Chicken Barley Soup

Did everyone save their chicken carcasses from the baked chicken?  Mine sat in the freezer for a month, waiting its turn.

If you're familiar with cooking terms, most Jewish chicken soup is chicken with mirepoix.  In culinary school, my chef once handed me a chicken & matzoh ball soup recipe with mushrooms and broccoli in it, and no celery.  It looked more like won-ton soup with matzoh balls.  I talked him into letting me wing it, and it came out like it's supposed to taste.

Which brings up the point that I'm not very fond of matzoh balls.  It is very difficult to make them light.  Some people like the dense, rocky version.  I'm not one of them.  So, we're cooking up some pearl barley for the starch in this one.

I did a better job than I thought getting the meat off the chicken, so I bought a small can of chicken meat to supplement what I could get off the bones.  Or you could throw an additional thigh or breast in the pot, if you like lots of meat in your soup.

*1 carved chicken carcass
additional chicken meat to taste
*1 qt low-salt chicken broth
*1 C chopped onion (about 1/2 of a large one)
*2 C chopped celery
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
salt and pepper to taste.
1 C pearl barley

1.  Place chicken carcass (& extra chicken), celery, onion, and carrots in a soup pot.  Add broth and enough water to keep the veggies swimming.  It is ok if the bones are not fully submerged.  Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook for 1 hour, turning bones every 15 minutes.

2.  In a 2 qt saucepan, bring barley and 4 C water to a boil.  Lower heat to a low boil and allow barley to cook for 30-40 minutes, until very soft and cracked.

3.  Remove chicken bones from soup pot.  Cut off any remaining meat and return to pot.  Discard bones.  Drain barley and add to soup.  Stir together.  Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.  Serve hot.

Serves 8 as appetizer, 4 as main course

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, May 4, 2012

Waldorf Salad

Still trying to take off bread weight.  I used the Smart Beat fake mayo, so I guess this one is vegan, too.  Princess the cat is really upset with me for not eating meat the last week.  I'm not having anything I can give her.  Molly's a good kitty; she doesn't beg loudly.  Princess flat-out smacks me in the arm when I don't offer her a taste of whatever I'm eating.  I'll have lox and bagel one of these mornings and give her a bite.  Papa Smurf used to give her lox every Sunday morning.  Expensive tastes, that cat.

Gimme oatmeal!
Some recipes for Waldorf salad include sugar or honey.  I find the apples and grapes provide more than enough sweetness.  If you substitute Greek yogurt for the mayo, you may need to add a little sugar to cut the tartness.

2 eating apples (red delicious, gala, rose, fuji, or jonagold work well), cut in bite-sized dice
1 C celery, cut bite-sized (2 or 3 ribs)
1 C red seedless grapes, cut in half (I used green, and it wasn't as pretty as if I'd used red) or 1/2 C dark raisins
*1 C walnut halves
1/3 C mayonnaise
1 Tb lemon juice
lettuce leaves to line serving bowl

1.  Stir together apples, celery, grapes, and walnuts in a mixing bowl to distribute evenly.

2.  Stir in lemon juice and mayo until all pieces are lightly coated.

3.  Line serving bowl with lettuce leaves.  Spoon salad into bowl.  Chill until ready to serve.

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Vegan Cream of Asparagus Soup

This didn't start out to be vegan.  I put on a few pounds after Passover and wanted something light, with a decent amount of fiber, and a reasonable amount of protein.  Once I chose tofu over yogurt, it ended up vegan.

I accidentally bought regular broth instead of low-salt.  You may want to add salt to your recipe if you get a low-salt option.  I always recommend that anyway.  It is much easier to add salt than to add potatoes, lemon juice, or sugar to counteract it.  At least I had planned to put a potato in this anyway, as part of the "creaminess".

And this only counts as budget-friendly if you are currently in asparagus season.  I got mine for $1.99/lb, which is about the lowest price you're likely to see in late April.  Broth isn't cheap, but this was on sale.  Together, the pot of soup cost about $6, and I used it as my main course.

1 Tb olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped (about 1 C)
*2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large red potato (about 1/2 lb)
1 lb green asparagus
2 C vegetable broth
1 package silken or soft tofu
1 Tb lemon juice
salt and white pepper to taste

1.  In olive oil in a medium saucepan, over medium heat, sauté onions and garlic until soft, about 5 minutes.

2.  Peel potato and dice.  Cut tips off asparagus and reserve.  Cut green parts of stalks into 1" pieces, discarding the tough bottoms.  Add potato, asparagus, and vegetable broth to saucepan and stir.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook until potatoes are very tender, about 1/2 hour.

3.  In a small saucepan, bring asparagus tips to a boil.  Turn off heat immediately and let sit for 3 minutes.  Drain water and set blanched tips aside for garnish.

4.  Drain tofu.  In a blender, in batches, purée soup and tofu.  Return to saucepan through a sieve to remove any tough fibers and reheat to serving temperature.  Stir in lemon juice.  Taste and add salt and white pepper as needed.  Serve topped with several asparagus tips.

5.  To serve as a chilled soup:  do not season with salt and pepper.  Chill in refrigerator at least two hours, until thoroughly cold.  Taste, then season.  Serve in chilled bowls, topped with cooled asparagus tips.

Difficulty rating  :)