Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Carrots with Parsley

I love carrots.  I don't know why I don't make them more often.  Easy, starchy even though they're a vegetable, and malleable to a host of cooking styles and flavorings.

I have a lot of Italian parsley and fresh thyme left over from Thanksgiving.  Yes, they're still good.  What I ended up with here was almost a carrot and parsley salad, but cooked and tossed with a little butter.  Carrots are one of the few vegetables I still toss with butter.  I've grown beyond drowning my veggies in it.  My mother always put butter on veggies, and I never knew how good some tasted without any sauce or seasoning until I started to cook for myself.

1 lb carrots
*2 C Italian parsley leaves (off stem)
* leaves from 2 sprigs of thyme
1 Tb butter

1.  Peel carrots and chop into manageable chunks.  Place in a medium saucepan with water to cover and bring to a boil.  Lower heat to a simmer, cover pot, and cook until somewhat tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain.

2.  Return carrots to hot saucepan and add butter.  Stir until butter melts.  Add parsley and thyme.  Stir to mix, but don't let the parsley cook too much, or it will wilt.  Serve immediately.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Masa-Crusted Sole

I'm already starting to eat lighter at dinners.  There are just too many cookies and calorie-laden drinks during the day.  And my manager introduced me to the concept of a steak breakfast platter.  It was really nice of her to buy one for each of us who worked on Christmas, especially because she had not gotten much sleep the night before.  Long story short, I need to find more dishes that are filling without as many calories as I have been eating the past month.

Yes, this is pan-fried, but fried food does not have to absorb as much oil as we all assume.  Masa harina does not absorb as much as wheat flour would, and frying quickly at a higher temperature is how you avoid any food from getting too greasy.  I'm not deep-frying, just enough to get the skin crispy.  And fish is lower in calories and fat than most meats.

I used Dover sole because it was on sale.  A more traditional fish for this treatment is tilapia.  Really, any white fish would work.

1 lb Dover Sole fillet, or any other white fish fillet
*1/2 C masa harina
*1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
oil for frying
lemon wedges, tartar sauce, or seafood sauce for serving

1.  Start heating 1/8" oil in a medium skillet, about 1/4 C.  Use high heat, but watch it to make sure it doesn't start to smoke.  Turn on vent fan.

2.  In a shallow bowl, mix together masa flour, paprika, and salt.

3.  Rinse fish to get it damp, but not dripping wet.  Dredge pieces of fish in flour.  Set as much as fits comfortably in skillet.  Fry until bottom starts to turn light brown, about 3 minutes.  Carefully flip.  I tried with tongs, but the pieces were too tender and broke.  A spatula is a better choice.  Brown other side, about 1 or 2 minutes, then remove to paper towels to drain.  Add oil if necessary and start cooking the next batch.

4.  Serve hot, accompanied by lemon wedges or sauce of choice.

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Travis House Oysters

Merry Christmas Every One!  (I read A Christmas Carol every year.)

In many parts of the world, it's a thing to eat oysters at Christmas.  Even in Southern California, the grocery store kept running out of the fresh ones in jars.  I finally got the last two, then had to decide what to do with them.

I flipped through every cookbook I own, searching for something other than a raw oyster recipe.  Sorry, that creeps me out.  There were several oyster soups which sounded interesting, but they involved puréeing the oysters.  Again with the ick factor.  Finally, I found what I was looking for in the Williamsburg cookbook.  Seasoned, baked, with a lightly crunchy top coat.  It would work as an appetizer or a main course alongside pasta.  Besides, I got to use my little ramekins.

I did make a slight change in the recipe.  I subbed celery for the bell pepper, and topped it with Italian seasoned breadcrumbs instead of crumbled saltines.  For such a small amount, I wasn't going to buy a box.  And I was having it with pasta with a spinach marinara, so it fit the meal.

One word about the plastic jars the oysters come in.  They are very difficult to open.  I finally got one after putting on a wrist brace and using two grip pads.  I ended up walking up the block with the other, hoping to find a neighbor who could open a jar.  Met my new neighbor across the street, but that's not the point.  And the jar said Medium Pacific oysters.  If those are medium, I don't want to meet the large in a dark alley.  I only needed two per serving.

1/4 C butter
1/4 C flour
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
dash pepper
dash cayenne pepper
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 C diced onion
2 ribs celery, diced
1 pint oysters
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
4 tsp cracker or bread crumbs

1.  Butter a 1 quart casserole or 4 individual ramekins.  Preheat oven to 400º

2.  Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Remove from heat and add flour.  Stir until smooth, and all lumps have been incorporated into the paste.  Return to heat and cook until light brown.

3.  Add paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic, onion, and celery.  Cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring constantly to keep the roux from scorching.

4.  Add the oysters and their liquor, lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce.  Stir to combine and heat a minute longer for everything to thicken.

5.  Pour into large casserole or divide evenly into ramekins.  Sprinkle tops with the crumbs and bake for 20 minutes for the casserole or 15 for the ramekins.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving, as it will be very hot.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Gingersnaps

Last chance to make Christmas cookies!  Everyone at work is starting to expect me to bring goodies.  They ate the fruitcake because I called it "coffee cake".  It's all in the marketing.

I would have made gingerbread for them, but I've already posted that here.  Gingersnaps are lighter, with much less molasses and spices, and small enough to pop in your mouth.  They're also a great do-ahead that you can stick in the freezer until you want cookies.  Just slice them off the log and pop them in the oven.

This recipe was from the L.A. Times and titled "Old-Fashioned Gingersnaps", but I'm not the one who clipped it.  Grandma Sophie must have, dating it pre-1990.

1/2 C unsalted butter, softened
1/2 C sugar
1/4 C molasses
1-1/2 tsp ground ginger
*1 tsp ground cinnamon
*1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1-3/4 C flour
sprinkles for decorating

1.  Beat butter in mixer until fluffy.  Add sugar and beat in.  Beat in molasses, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, soda, and salt.  Add flour 1/4 C at a time and mix thoroughly.

2.  Shape into two logs 1-1/2" thick.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or even stick it in the freezer for another day.

3.  Preheat oven to 325º.  Grease baking sheets or line with silpat or parchment.  Cut roll crosswise with a sharp knife into 1/8" thick slices.  You can leave on the plastic wrap and peel it off each slice to make the process a bit easier.  Place slices on cookie sheets and decorate with sugar, sprinkles, or cinnamon if desired.  Or you can leave them plain.  Bake until golden, about 8 minutes.  Don't wait until they get browned, or they will be very hard when they cool.  Just a hint of doneness.

4.  Let cool on cookie sheet for a minute to make them easier to move.  Cool on racks until room temperature, then serve.

Makes about 5 dozen, but they're very small

Difficulty rating :)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

December Tomatoes

The cherry tomato plant doesn't seem to realize it's December.  We had a cold snap last week, and it got down below 40 three nights in a row.  I thought that would kill it, but it seems to be rebounding.  There are a few frosty patches that are probably cold damage, but the majority of the plant is fine.  I trimmed off the dead or dying parts, as I've been doing all year.  As you can see, that pretty much stripped the bottom half bare, but the newer parts of the vines just don't know when to quit.

There were some fully grown tomatoes on dead branches when I pruned them.  They were in various stages of ripening, from solid green to ready-to-eat.  Those are at the bottom of the photo.  I made a mixed jar of pickled tomatoes and got nearly a pint.

One thing I've never had to deal with before in a garden is weeds.  My vegetables never lasted long enough to worry about it.  With only the remaining green onions and tomatoes as competition, weeds are starting to take root.  I'll have to remember to pull them weekly during the winter, or it's going to be a mess in three months when I go to  plant something else.

I had also assumed that everything would die when I put soil in the empty pool, and did not fill it.  I'm not sure how much new soil I can add next year if the asparagus and tomato are still there.

This may sound like I'm complaining, but I'm simply trying to come to terms with the reality of a successful garden.  This has never happened before!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Holiday Baking Tips

What with this being baking season and all, there is always room for a few tips to make the goodies come out better.

1.  Know your pans.  You know which of your cake pans and cookie sheets cook more evenly than others.  Which ones are non-stick?  Which ones benefit from parchment or a silpat?  Which is the one that warps when it hits 325º, making it a bad choice for gingerbread house pieces, but perfectly fine for smaller cookies?  It seems counter-intuitive, but now is not the time to buy a new baking sheet.  You don't know how it is going to react with your favorite cookie recipe.

2.  Know your oven.  Does it run hot or cold?  Does it have a convection function, and if so, do you need to alter the temperature from the given one in the recipe?  Where should you place the racks to achieve the desired browning and cooking time?  I've lived in this house for almost three years, and I'm still experimenting with the oven.  Getting closer to understanding it.

3.  Remember carryover baking when deciding if something is done.  You know how you have to let a turkey or roast sit for a half hour after cooking to finish?  The same applies to baked goods.  Always pull cookies and smaller baked goods before they are done.  A car doesn't come to a halt when you take your foot off the gas, and a cookie doesn't magically stop baking when you take it out of the oven.  Even when removed to a cooling rack, enough heat remains in the product to continue the cooking process for several minutes.

4.  How to do the toothpick test.  No one will complain about an underdone cookie, but cakes are different.  To do the toothpick test, insert a wooden toothpick about an inch from the center of a cake.  You don't test the dead center because of carryover baking (see above).  If it is done almost to the center, the center itself will be cooked by the time the whole cake has cooled.  If you have chocolate chips or anything else in your cake that should be gooey when warmed, remember that it will come up on the toothpick.  That doesn't mean the cake itself is underdone.  Cheesecakes are really hard to guess, because they will fail the toothpick test until they are overbaked.  For those, the jiggle test is a bit more reliable.

5.  Storage of baked goods.  Unless they have a lot of alcohol in them, the best way to store baked goods is at room temperature for short-term (one or two days) or in the freezer.  A properly frozen and defrosted baked good will taste exactly the same as freshly baked.  To freeze, make sure the item is completely cooled.  Seal it in plastic, getting out as much air as possible.  Then wrap in foil.  Then place in a ziplock bag and squeeze out the air.  It should survive the freezer for up to three months.  Try to avoid refrigerating baked goods for more than a couple of days, as that will cause them to absorb moisture and get stale.  As for the rum balls and fruitcakes, those have enough hard stuff in them to sit out for a week.  Just cover them with plastic wrap or seal them in a tin and you're good.

6.  Unloading goodies when you realize you went too far.  Use cute tins and bags.  Honestly, it's all about being festive.  Take a tin to a neighbor, work, or school.  You won't have to worry about how badly you underestimated the yield when you made four different batches of Christmas cookies.  Even people who proclaim themselves super-healthy "juicers" will break down for a couple of holiday treats.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Fruitcake

No, wait, come back!

The fruitcake is so maligned in our society that I don't think I've ever had it.  I remember seeing one at Grandma Sophie's once, but I'm pretty sure it was store-bought.  If I had some, I was under twelve and have no recollection.

I went in search of a lighter recipe, as a way to ease myself into this subculture.  King Arthur Flour has one for a Golden Fruitcake which seems much less dense than I had imagined.  It beats the recipe in the Bible, which talks about the batter yield in pounds, as in a seven-pound loaf.

The original recipe calls for five eggs and makes a bit more product than I had in mind.  I scaled it down to three eggs, or 60% of the original.  It's a good thing I like math.  I rounded most of it so I don't need to bother anyone with "1/2 C plus 1 Tb plus 2 tsp of dried cranberries".  Just call it a heaping 1/2 cup and be done with it.  Oh, and I used candied ginger instead of lemon peel.  It seemed lighter and like it would add a brighter note to the finished product.  You can swap out any of these dried fruits for something you prefer.  This amount yielded three mini-loaves and a 6" round.  That's about a full loaf and a half.
There were more cherries on the round cake.  They sank in.
I didn't know that fruitcake was a long-term project.  "Quick-bread" refers to no yeast, but this is certainly not something you can make on a whim.  At the very least, the fruits have to be soaked overnight.  Because of the low baking temperature, it takes much longer to make this than, say a banana bread.  After baking, it should "age" over several days.  If it sits around longer than a week, it needs to be brushed with several tablespoons of rum or brandy.  The alcohol is a preservative.  These aged cakes are probably the heavy ones that everyone instinctively cringes against.  My goal was to eat or freeze all of them in under a week.

*1-1/4 C raisins (golden, dark, your choice.  I used mostly currants.)
1/2 C (heaping) dried cranberries
1/2 C (heaping) dried apricots, chopped
1/2 C (heaping) candied ginger, chopped
1 8 oz container candied red cherries
*1/2 C brandy (or apple juice), plus more for brushing
1/2 C (one stick) butter
1 C sugar
2 Tb corn syrup
1-1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 eggs
2-1/4 C flour
2/3 C milk
1-1/4 C walnuts (or pecans)

1.  The night before, combine all the fruits except the cherries.  Stir in brandy and let sit at room temperature.

2.  Prepare pans by greasing with shortening or using pan spray.  Preheat oven to 300º.

3.  In mixer, cream together butter, sugar, corn syrup, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.  Scrape down sides, then beat in eggs one at a time.  Beat again until soupy.

4.  Add flour and milk in alternating amounts, starting and ending with flour.  Try not to overbeat, or cake will develop air pockets.

5.  Pick through the nuts and save the prettiest ones for decoration.  Place the rest in a ziplock bag and whack with a rolling pin until bite-sized.  Add to batter.

6.  Add soaked fruit and most of cherries, saving some of the latter for decoration.  Stir until combined.

7.  Portion batter into pans 3/4 full.  Arrange reserved nuts and cherries.  Bake for about 50 minutes for mini loaves, 80 to 90 minutes for a full-sized loaf or cake.  You are looking for a light-brown cake, not the really dark kind that haunt nightmares.  Use the toothpick test for doneness.

8.  Cool in pans 5 minutes, then brush with a few tablespoons of brandy and let sit for 5 more minutes before turning out to cool completely.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then seal either in gift baggies or foil.  If freezing, always wrap in foil first to reduce freezer burn.  Can be kept at room temperature for a week before needing another brandy treatment.  Without alcohol, they must be refrigerated or frozen a couple of days later.  The cakes taste best if they can sit for at least 24 hours before serving.

Makes about 5 mini loaves, or one full loaf and a 6" round cake

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Greek 8-Layer Dip

Yes, I'm running a little behind on the posts.  There were a lot of Thanksgiving leftovers.

Despite my best attempts, Techie Smurf and his family left a few foodstuffs behind, including a box of Brown Rice Triscuits.  I needed something to do with them to avoid mindless munching.  I was going to make a Mexican-style layered dip, but I was out of pintos to soak.  I did have some garbanzo beans, and so this dip was born.

I had fun, and stacked on a couple more ingredients than originally intended.  It was a bit expensive, but I hadn't been grocery shopping in almost two weeks and could afford it.  I even found pre-sliced and pitted Kalamata olives!  Sprouts is way too much fun.

2/3 C dried garbanzo beans (or 1 can cooked)
6 oz plain Greek yogurt
*1 C diced tomatoes
*2 stalks green onion, chopped
1/2 C kalamata (or your favorite) olives, sliced or chopped
6 oz marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/2 C crumbled feta cheese
2 Tb pine nuts, toasted

1.  If cooking, soak garbanzo beans overnight.  Drain, place in a casserole, add 2 C water, and bake at 300º for three hours.  I used leftover chicken broth as the cooking liquid.  You could add salt, cumin, garlic, or other seasonings.  Drain.

2.  If using canned beans, drain and rinse.  Now you're caught up to the cooked team.  Mash beans with a fork until a chunky paste forms.  Spread on the bottom of a loaf pan or other clear, steep-sided serving dish.

3.  The next layer is the yogurt.  This makes the beans seem less dry in the layered scheme of things.  Sprinkle tomatoes next, then finely chopped green onion.  Top that with the olives.  The layer of artichokes was thicker than the three previous, and served as a more defined break in the flavors.  Next comes the crumbled feta, and lastly a light sprinkling of pine nuts.

4.  Cover and chill for at least an hour, to let flavors meld.  I know it seems like there aren't any seasonings in this, but the feta has salt and the olives and artichoke hearts have been marinated in vinegar and spices.

5.  Serve with crackers and/or crudités.

Serves about 12 as an appetizer dip

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, December 6, 2013

Champagne Granita

Sorry about the poor contrast.  Maybe a glass dish?
Eight of us at Thanksgiving dinner, and we barely made it through half a bottle of champagne.  At least we know that none of us has a problem.

So, what do you do with leftover champagne?  You can freeze it into ice cubes and make mimosas at a later date.  They just won't have any fizz.  Off in search of another idea.

Granitas are just flavored syrups that you run a fork through as they're cooling.  Every half hour, you pull it out of the freezer and grate it so it doesn't form a solid popsicle.

The rules with alcohol are a little different.  Since champagne never freezes completely, I didn't sweeten it or bother to work on it as it chilled.  I just poured it into a loaf pan and chopped it up with a fork in the morning.  Champagne Icee.

Bear in mind, don't serve this as a big scoop like you would ice cream.  It is intended to replace a small cocktail between courses or as a palate cleanser.

1.  Pour champagne into a loaf pan.  If using a full bottle, you may need two.  Place in freezer overnight.

2.  Run a fork through the champagne ice, shredding it as you go.  Even hacking at it like an ice pick will create shards small enough to use.
3.  Spoon into small bowls or glasses and serve immediately.  You may even want to freeze the dishes first.

Serves a lot, assuming small quantities of no greater than 1/4 C per serving.

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sloppy Moussaka

When I was still trying to avoid chewing on my temporary crown, I considered making sloppy joes.  Then I wondered what new thing I could make with ground lamb.  That evolved into a joke about Sloppy Moussaka.  After a bit, I realized there was no reason I couldn't do that.

This is the cheating, not from scratch version.  Store bought sauces, so it only takes half an hour to make.  I did try to do the oven-roasted eggplant for the slices, and it didn't taste as good as frying them.  I tried.

1 lb ground lamb
1 C tomato-based pasta sauce
1/2 C alfredo sauce
1/4 C grated parmesan
8 hamburger buns
1 small eggplant
oil for frying

1.  Slice eggplant crosswise, thinly.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and let sit 10 minutes to leach out some of the moisture.  Pat dry with paper towels.

2.  Fry eggplant slices in a skillet in 1/4" vegetable oil until lightly browned.  Remove to paper towels to drain.

3.  In a large skillet, brown lamb, chopping into small pieces.  Drain off excess fat and add tomato pasta sauce.  Stir to coat, and add more sauce if necessary.

4.  Lightly toast hamburger buns and set the bottom halves on a cookie sheet.  Start preheating broiler.  Cover bottom of buns with half of the fried eggplant slices.  Divide meat mixture on top, then top with remaining eggplant.  Spoon on about a tablespoon of alfredo sauce on each, then sprinkle with parmesan.

5.  Broil until parmesan gets toasty.  Transfer to plates.  The buns I bought were kind of small, so two were a serving.  Serve either with top bun on the sandwich or on the side.

Difficulty rating  :)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgivukkah

This is a once in 79,000 years event.  Chanukkah started the night before Thanksgiving.  Jews talk about holidays falling "early" or "late", but humans will have evolved into the next species by the time this happens again.

We didn't do a full feast for Chanukkah on Wednesday, just a fancier normal dinner.  This goes into my preference for only celebrating one holiday at a time.  I don't do anything Thanksgiving-like until the Halloween decorations come down, or put up winter decorations until after Thanksgiving.  Had to do the Chanukkah at the same time this year, but I don't have that much stuff.  Took all of five minutes.

Line pans with foil!
Techie Smurf lives in this magical world where kitchens and pots clean themselves.  While they went bird-watching, I scrubbed the counters and stove.  I like to have most of the cleaning done before the guests arrive, since it's only going to make it that much harder after they leave.  He had left burnt pomegranate molasses and sausage drippings all over the burners.  By the time they returned, the kitchen looked normal (clean) and ready for the next round of cooking.  We had already prepped the casseroles, the turkey was in the oven, and we had the whole afternoon to relax.

Roommate Smurf bought a Tofurkey feast.  Then she handed it to me to prepare because she can't cook.  I followed the instructions for the glaze she wanted, but it ended up tasting like soy sauce.  Not much you can do with a log of tofu.

And I finished NaNoWriMo with 60,053 words.  I hope I can find the interest to complete the book without a looming deadline.  They can be annoying, but they do help you to finish what you started.


Chanukkah
Roast Leg of Lamb with Pomegranate Glaze
Steamed Broccoli
Potato Latkes with Applesauce

Thanksgiving
Pepitas for pre-meal snacking
Roast Turkey
Gravy (jar)
Cranberry Sauce
Green Bean Casserole
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallow topping
Bean and Sausage Cassoulet
White Rolls (brought by a guest)
Pumpkin Chiffon Pie
Pecan Pie and Dutch Apple Pie (brought by Roommate Smurf's dad)
Champagne (because, why not?)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pumpkin Waffles

I have five cups of pumpkin purée.  This was bound to happen.  There is actually a blog devoted to nothing but perfecting a recipe for pumpkin waffles.  Someone really likes them.

This recipe is more complex than most waffle recipes.  It involves a third bowl for whipping the egg whites.  You end up doing a lot more breakfast dishes than you want to, but the whole house smells like Thanksgiving for at least a day.

For topping, I recommend a good butter syrup and whipped cream.  Some toasted walnuts would be great on it.  You get just enough pumpkin flavor to be happy without it being overwhelming.

1/4 C brown sugar
*3 Tb cornstarch
1-1/4 C flour
*1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
*2 tsp cinnamon
*2 tsp ginger
*1/4 tsp cloves
*1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs, separated
1 C milk
1 C pumpkin purée
1/4 C unsalted butter, melted

1.  In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar and cornstarch evenly.  Add flour, baking  powder, and all the spices.  Combine until uniform.

2.  Start whipping egg whites in stand mixer until firm peaks form.  While that's going on, combine pumpkin, milk, egg yolks, and butter.  When the butter cools, it's going to clump up slightly.

3.  Oil waffle iron and start preheating it.  I used a round Belgian Waffle maker.

4.  Stir together wet and dry ingredients.  A few lumps are okay, because you're going to be folding in the egg whites next.

5.  Fold egg whites into batter.  Combine until uniform.  Pour onto center of griddle until it covers the middle half.  Close iron and let cook until almost no steam comes from the waffle.  For extra crispy, leave on another minute.  Repeat.  I did not have to re-oil between waffles, but mine has a good teflon coat.  The original recipe says it makes four. I got 4-3/4, but I was being a bit stingy with the batter so it wouldn't run off the edge.

6.  Serve hot with toppings of choice.

Difficulty rating  :)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Autumn Fool

And I'm done!!!  Well, I've hit 50,000 words.  The story is far from over.  I'm guessing about 100,000 words.  And that's with cutting stuff.  What this means is that I can now devote time to cooking without feeling guilty.  Plus, my thumb is well enough that I can go without a bandage and cut acidic foods without pain.  And just in the nick of time!

This one was in the L.A. Times months ago.  I just needed the time and pumpkin to pull it off.  I subbed a few ingredients and did not make the graham crackers from scratch, as tempting as it sounded.  This version has fewer calories and takes about fifteen minutes to make.

I only had two of the cool Irish Coffee mugs, so I made the other two in old-style champagne goblets.  You don't get as many layers, but it looks elegant.  A champagne flute would also be acceptable.

Oh, I found out you can't whip previously frozen whipping cream.  Should have researched that one before putting it in the freezer.  You can still use it in recipes requiring whole cream, like sauces, soups, ganache, or ice cream.  It just won't whip.  I estimated how much whip out of the can would produce the desired effect.  My yield was a touch lower than it would have been, but not enough that a newbie would know the difference.

And they had Ding Dongs at the market!  I was disappointed when I opened my box and they are all individually wrapped... in plastic.  No tissue-thin foil wrapper.  Perhaps that's why they seem to taste a bit different.  Not bad, just different.

4 graham crackers, pulverized (about 1 cup)
3/4 C whipping cream
1/2 C (4 oz) cream cheese
1/4 C brown sugar
1/2 C pumpkin purée
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1.  Start beating the whipping cream in the stand mixer.  At soft peaks, add brown sugar and cream cheese.  Beat until firm peaks form.

2.  Stir cinnamon into pumpkin.  Fold the pumpkin purée into the whipped cream, and you now have your filling.

3.  To assemble, line bottom of four 8oz cups or jars with 1 Tb of graham cracker crumbs.  Fill a pastry bag or plastic zipper bag with filling and use a plain 1/2" tip (or small snip of the corner of the bag).  Pipe a 1/2" layer of filling over crumbs.  Add another layer of crumbs, then another layer of filling.  Continue as needed, ending with the crumbs on top.  Chill for at least an hour, then decorate with a dollop of whipped cream before serving.

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, November 18, 2013

Roast Pumpkin Purée

40,000 words.  I'm almost there!  I've really missed cooking.  Elaborate dishes (blogged or not) and computer games are what I had to give up to find time for NaNo.  It took me a long time to get from 30k to 40k because I cut my thumb badly at work and had to go to the ER to get it patched up.  No stitches, but it hurt a lot and wouldn't stop bleeding without strong pressure for nearly two hours.  Fortunately, I almost never use my left thumb while typing, so I was back at it once the pain became bearable.

I kind of forgot to carve my pumpkin for Halloween.  It sat by the fireplace until I had time to work with it.  I decided it could roast while I sat in the kitchen doing some writing.  (This was before the thumb thing.)

The only ingredient in this is a pumpkin, so I'm going to skip straight to the procedure.

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Line a rimmed cookie sheet with foil to make cleaning easier.
Before and After

2.  Cut open pumpkin and remove stem.  Remove seeds and scrape cavity clean.  You can wash the seeds and make pepitas while the pumpkin is cooking.

3.  Place pumpkin cut-sides down on cookie sheet and roast in oven until fork-tender, about an hour.  Let rest until cool enough to handle with your fingers.

4.  Remove skin by peeling it off with your hands.  If your pumpkin is fully cooked, it will slide right off.  You can simply cut up the roasted pumpkin at this point and use it, or keep going with the purée.  Place pulp in the food processor and pulse until smooth.  Use in recipes as needed.

5.  To store:  It keeps in the fridge for about a week.  For longer, freeze in small batches in jars or plastic baggies.  Do not try to can it.  Even a pressure canner is iffy.  When you defrost it, you'll probably have to leave it in a sieve for an hour or so, as some of the water will have separated out of it.

I got 5 cups out of my pumpkin.  Yield depends on size.

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Brown Rice with Mushrooms

30,000 words.  And I've already decided what I'm going to write next year.  I know, finish this one first.

It is November, and writing project or not, I can't ignore possible Thanksgiving dishes.  This one isn't imaginative, which is kind of the point.  If you're going to introduce something new to the feast table, it has to look a lot like something you had on it last year.

1 C dry brown rice
*2 stalks green onion, thinly sliced
*3 Tb minced garlic (I used roasted)
1 5oz package sliced white mushrooms
1 Tb butter
water

1.  Preheat oven to 325º.  In a medium skillet, melt butter.  Cook onions, garlic, and mushrooms until mushrooms are mostly cooked, but not completely limp.  Start boiling 1-1/2 C water.

2.  Place dry rice in an oven-safe casserole.  Top with mushroom mixture.  Pour boiling water over all of it and cover without stirring.  Bake until water is absorbed, about 50 minutes.  Stir to distribute mushrooms and serve.  (Or you could not stir it and serve with the two-layer thing going on.)

serves 4-6

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Postseason Wrap-Up

20,000 words.  Almost halfway there.  I fixed a big problematic section yesterday, which felt great.  I hated to quit for the night, but I was baking this morning at 3am.

Last Wednesday, I ripped out the broccoli and Brussels sprouts.  They were both heavily infested, and the sprouts never sprouted anything bigger than a gumball.  On the other hand, I can now get to the backside of the tomato plant much easier.  It doesn't seem to realize that it's November.  I'm still getting strong shoots, blossoms, and tomatoes.  They're less frequent and smaller, but they are happening still.
The onions are healthy, and I really do need to use some before they aren't so healthy.  I also pulled the dead asparagus crown.  I'll leave in the one that's hanging on and see what happens next year.

So, here's the rundown on the 2013 gardening season.

  • Coffee grounds as mulch seemed to have worked.  I used plant food a few times, but mostly kept dumping coffee leftovers on the plants.
  • Pesticides are a necessary evil.  While I'm not fond of chemicals, they kept the plants alive.
  • Read the instructions on your plants before buying.  Artichoke and asparagus are not easy to wait for when you're expecting fast results.  Plant herbs and lettuce if you want to start harvesting in a few weeks, not years.
  • I finally turned a profit.  It was primarily in cherry tomatoes, which run $2 a pound.  I'm going to guess I've picked close to five pounds over the past five months.  A pound a month doesn't sound like a lot, but it paid for the underperforming Brussels and Gus twins.  I'm going to call the onions a break-even and the broccoli a slight profit.  This doesn't take into account the many pounds of dirt I had to buy to fill in the pond.  I'm going to "pay" for that one in artichokes and lemons, since they were paid for in previous years.
We'll see how long the tomato plant lasts before I start planning for next year.  Imagine, I don't even have to buy temporary filler plants yet!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Corn-Crab Chowder

This is my reward to myself for hitting 10,000 words.  Yes, more writing becomes my treat.  I haven't been doing much cooking anyway.  When I first signed up for NaNo, I wasn't getting enough hours at work.  That doesn't seem to be a problem anymore.  Lucky me.

I'm in the middle of another really painful crown.  I'm surprised I still have anything left on my dental insurance.  Looking for something soft to chew, I remembered this idea and then threw a bunch of other stuff into it.  This soup is almost as thick as a stew, but it covers all the nutritional bases.

1/2 C dry black beans or one 1 lb can, drained and rinsed
1 C diced onion
2 Tb minced garlic, roasted if you have it
2 Tb butter
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 C frozen corn kernels
12 oz crab flakes, real or imitation
1 medium russet potato, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/4 C flour
2 C milk
1 C white wine
salt and pepper to taste

1.  If starting with dry beans, soak 4-6 hours.  Drain and rinse.  Refill saucepan and bring to a boil.  Simmer beans for 2 hours, drain and rinse again.  Set aside until ready to use.

2.  In a medium saucepan, bring potatoes, corn, and carrot to a boil in lightly salted water.  Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

3.  While vegetables are simmering, melt butter in a soup pot.  Add onions and any raw garlic and cook until soft and translucent.  If using roasted, add after onions are cooked.  Add flour and cook until absorbed by the butter.

4.  Add 1 C milk to soup pot and stir to combine.  Over medium heat, cook until thickened.  Add wine and cook again until thickened.  Add other cup of milk and cook until thickened.  Add beans and vegetables and combine.  Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.  If too thick, add more milk.  Serve hot.

Serves 6

Difficulty rating :)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Roasted Garlic

This is the best thing I've had in ages.  I also wrote this post in October and post-dated it.

How did I forget about roasting garlic?  It's so easy, and imparts massive flavor to anything.  Cooking the bulb caramelizes it and mellows the flavor.  You get all the garlic flavor without bad breath.  I mashed it and sprinkled it over pasta with just some olive oil.  You could toss it in salads, mash it in with potatoes, or use it as a condiment on steak.  The possibilities are endless, including putting it on buttered toast as an appetizer.

The site I got the method from had you peeling the head and cutting off the tops of the garlic cloves, which is harder than it sounds without a really sharp knife.  After doing all of that, I remembered that the really easy way to make this is to cut off the root end, but I didn't feel like going back to the store for more garlic, so don't go entirely by the photo.

Garlic heads
olive oil

1.  Preheat oven to 400º.  With the skins on the head, slice off the root end of the garlic to expose the cloves.  Lightly brush off any loose skins, but don't go deep enough that the cloves separate.

2.  Drizzle a small amount of olive oil onto your hand and rub it into the exposed surfaces of the garlic. It's ok if it gets on the outer skin, too.

3.  Wrap the head tightly in foil so it can self-steam as it cooks.  Place directly on the oven rack if the head is large enough, or place smaller ones in a muffin tin first.  Cook for at least 30 minutes, and as much as 45, until head is squishy.  Remove from oven and let rest several minutes until cool enough to handle.

4.  Here's the fun part.  Open the packages.  Over a bowl, turn the head cut-side down and hold onto the pointy end.  Squeeze down and watch the cloves pop out of their skins.  Make sure you get all of them, then discard the skin.  Use the cloves whole, diced, or mashed.

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, November 1, 2013

NaNo 2013

That book I was going to rewrite last year?  It got derailed when my computer died in January.  Still haven't gotten past page 10.  So much for 50,000 words, National Novel Writing Month's goal.

So I got an external hard drive and a new word processing program.  Write 2 is only slightly more advanced than a spiral notebook, which is what I want in a word processing program.  I write a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, which is hell on auto-correct.  Low-tech is exactly what I need.

I have no illusions that I will complete the rewrite this month, but signing up on the NaNo site makes me more accountable than just the honor system.  I don't think I can average 1,667 words a day, even though my hours at work have been cut a bit.  Techie Smurf and his family are visiting for an entire week at Thanksgiving, so I whatever I have the day they arrive is pretty much it.  If I can get through the first section of the book, which was 67 pages in the original formatting, I will be very happy.

Don't be surprised if there are long gaps between posts this month.  I'm not going to have the time to cook, much less research, photograph, and write about it.  If I have the urge to post here, it's because I've made something super-yummy that I absolutely have to share.  You won't have to read about whatever I had for dinner unless it's the best thing I've eaten in ages.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cranberry Sauce

I went to the grocery store on Monday, and the butcher was clearing out the freezer bins to stock with turkeys.  Before Halloween?  I'm waiting until the "spend $25 and get your turkey for $10" specials start.  So far, there are only going to be 8 of us, at the most 10, so I can get a 14 lb or under.  There are usually plenty of those until mid-November.

There are a few reasons to make your own cranberry sauce instead of opening a can.  Mainly, it's bragging rights.  Personally, I prefer the can, but I had 2/3 of a bag of cranberries left after the pumpkin-cranberry muffins, and what else am I going to do with them?  Since we're a month out from the big day, I have to process the jars.  15 minutes in a boiling water bath is enough to preserve it.  I also keep it refrigerated, to be extra sure.  One of the jars didn't seal, so I froze it.  Hope it defrosts with the same texture.

This is one of those recipes that tastes better the less you mess with it.  A touch of orange juice or apple cider, maybe a bit of cloves or cinnamon, and you've given it your personal mark.  There's no reason to go overboard with flavorings unless you're trying to make it into something really different.  If this is what you're serving with the bird, no one expects - or wants - anything unusual.

1 12oz bag fresh cranberries
1 C sugar
1/2 C water
2 Tb orange juice
dash ginger

1.  Rinse cranberries thoroughly and place in a clear bowl of water.  Throw out anything that doesn't float.  Drain.  Change clothes into something that isn't white.

2.  Combine 1/2 C water and the sugar in a medium saucepan.  Heat over medium until sugar dissolves.  Add cranberries and bring to a low boil.  As skins begin to pop, stand back.  Stir frequently.  Once all the skins have popped, continue to boil and stir until berries have softened and you have achieved the texture you want.  Add ginger and orange juice and boil another minute.

3.  Either place in a container for the fridge or pour into jars and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.  If just refrigerating, allow to stop steaming before putting on a lid; use within one week.

Makes about one pint

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, October 28, 2013

Pumpkin-Cranberry Muffins

Really, I haven't made these in three years?  Perhaps it's because putting both pumpkin and cranberries in anything seems like Thanksgiving overkill.  Or, because then you need something to do with the rest of the can of pumpkin.  In this case, it is what I'm doing with the rest of the can from the pumpkin risotto.

The reason the L.A. Times posted this recipe originally was because it is very low fat for a muffin.  Pumpkin is one of those veggies that take the place of fat in a recipe, like prunes.  If you use egg substitute and nonfat milk in this recipe, each muffin has only 142 calories, 1 mg of cholesterol, and 2 g fat.  They're also not huge like bakery shop muffins.  They are the size muffins used to be before people started to want more food for their money than was good for them.  I call it the "Claim Jumper Effect".

A fair warning for those who have never had a cranberry outside of jam or juice: they're tart.  Like "why did anyone ever think these were edible" tart.  It makes a wonderful flavor contrast against the creamy sweetness of the pumpkin, but it's a bit of a shock the first time you try it.

*1/2 C canned pumpkin purée
1 egg or 1/4 C egg substitute
3/4 C nonfat milk (1% or 2% is ok)
2 Tb canola oil
2 C cake flour
1 Tb baking powder
*1-1/2 tsp cinnamon
*1 tsp ginger
*1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C dark brown sugar, packed
1 C fresh cranberries, finely chopped (my onion chopper worked great here)
butter
1/4 C granulated sugar

1.  Combine pumpkin, egg, milk, and oil in a small bowl.  Start preheating oven to 400º and lightly butter 12 nonstick muffin cups.

2.  Sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt into a large mixing bowl.  Stir in brown sugar to mix.  Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour liquids into it.  Sprinkle with cranberries and stir just until ingredients are moistened.  If there are lumps, let the mix sit for five minutes before portioning instead of stirring again.

3.  Divide mixture evenly between the 12 muffin cups.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let muffins sit in the pan for 1 minute, then invert onto wire rack.  They may need some convincing with a thin knife.  While still warm, roll in granulated sugar, then allow to cool completely.

Makes 12 muffins

Difficulty rating π

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pumpkin Risotto

It just sounded good.  I'm on a pumpkin kick, and there will be more recipes with it as a base.  After checking out a few recipes, one of which said it was for pumpkin risotto yet did not contain any pumpkin, I decided to use Giada's as a starting point.  Her bacon idea sounds awesome, but I've been eating a lot of meat and decided to make this vegetarian.  Being all Fall-themed, you could use this as the vegetarian main course at Thanksgiving.

I find it interesting that she uses the purée to make a pumpkin broth, instead of using chunks of roasted pumpkin, which is what I was originally looking for.  This is way easier and cheaper, since canned pumpkin is available year-round.  Don't get the one labelled "pie filling".  That has sugar and spices.  You're looking for the one that contains only pumpkin.  You can also substitute a purée of any gourd such as butternut squash or even a non-gourd veggie like zucchini.  Just swap the nutmeg for something more appropriate like cumin if you go too far out of the box.

1 quart low sodium vegetable broth (not reduced sodium)
1 C canned pumpkin purée
*4 stalks green onion, finely chopped
1 Tb butter
*1/2 tsp dried thyme (1 tsp fresh)
1-1/2 C arborio rice (Calrose or medium-grain ok)
*2/3 C dry white wine
*1 Tb dried parsley or 1/3 C fresh
1/8 tsp pepper
*1/4 tsp nutmeg
8 oz mascarpone cheese (cream cheese can be a substitute)
salt to taste

1.  In a medium saucepan, bring broth and pumpkin to a simmer and keep warm on the side.

2.  Reserve a few tablespoons of the green chopped onion for a garnish (which I totally forgot to use for the photo).  In a larger saucepan, cook the majority of the green onions in butter until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the thyme and rice and cook about 1 minute, until rice is slightly glazed.  Add wine and simmer until absorbed, 2 to 3 minutes.  This is your chance to cook out the alcohol.  Don't start the next step until it is completely absorbed.

3.  Start to stir in pumpkin broth 1/2 C at a time.  Stir until absorbed before adding more.  Unfortunately, you have to stir almost constantly to achieve the creamy texture and avoid scorching.  This process is going to take up to half an hour.  If the rice absorbs all the broth and still doesn't seem soft enough, add water 1/4 C at a time.

4.  Once rice is cooked, stir in parsley, pepper, nutmeg, and mascarpone.  Stir until the cheese melts and is incorporated.  Taste and add salt or more pepper as needed. Portion into serving bowls and garnish with reserved onion.

Serves 6

Difficulty rating :)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

London Broil

I had half a piece of meat labelled "London Broil" in the freezer.  I think I used the first pound of it in a stir-fry.  One night, I actually remembered to marinate it for the next day, so here we go with a post.

I found a good recipe online, but I wasn't thinking ahead.  The marinade called for olive oil, and I blindly went along.  If you put olive oil in the fridge, it's going to harden, and not infuse the meat.  I'm writing it here as vegetable oil, which does not glob up when cold.

This gets a "gardening" label because I added some broccoli to the leftover pasta primavera I had with the meat.  Gotta clean out the fridge and freezer before buying the turkey.  I forgot/ignored the plant until the florets grew into bouquets.  I hope they do it again for the centerpiece the next time I have people over.  I also found photos of my cherry tomato plant from when I was six.  That thing was enormous - at least four times the size of this summer's - and put out clusters of six or more tomatoes at a time!  No wonder I was so proud of it and so upset when the bugs killed it.

2 lbs "london broil" meat (flank steak or top round)
*1/4 C balsamic vinegar
2 Tb vegetable oil
*4 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
*1 tsp dried rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

1.  The night before, whisk together vinegar, oil, garlic, and rosemary in a small bowl.  Score the steak in a diamond pattern to aid the marinade in infusing the meat.  Place steak and marinade in a one-gallon plastic bag and seal, getting out most of the air.  Place on a plate or baking dish, in case the bag leaks, and refrigerate.  Turn every few hours to let the marinade coat all sides.

2.  Either fire up the grill or preheat the broiler.  Remove meat from bag and place on a broiler pan if using the oven.  Coat both sides with salt and pepper.  Broil/grill about 8 inches from heat for 6-8 minutes on each side, until a thermometer reaches at least 135º in the thickest part of the steak (for rare to medium-rare).  Allow to rest about 5 minutes, then slice thinly across the grain.

Makes about 6 servings

Difficulty rating :)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sausage & Onion Crepes with Apple

I keep forgetting that the green onions are doing so well.  They were struggling for the better part of the summer, but are getting pretty big.  The broccoli rebounded enough from its hatchet job to put out a couple of florets, but not enough to star in a meal.  Still haven't gotten any decent Brussels sprouts, but the plant is thriving.  And in a surprise moment, the artichoke has already started to grow back.  I'm going to credit the coffee grounds I've been using as mulch and not any improved gardening ability on my part.  In fact, the more I forget that I have a vegetable garden, the better it seems to grow.

At one point, we had an electric crepe pan.  I vaguely remember it, and still have the instruction book.  It's dated 1976, and so are the recipes in it.  Most of the recipes are smothered in rich sauces, which taste great but are not what I had in mind today.

I need to use the green onions before they grow into actual bulbs, and none of those recipes use them in any significant quantity.  I found a recipe I liked online by searching for "savory galette fillings".  It was a bit complicated and used some things I didn't like, but it was a good starting point.  By subbing in the onions for leeks and various other minor changes, I came up with this recipe.  I'm not using any sauce because the goat cheese really takes the place of one, with the same creaminess and unexpected flavor contrast.

1 batch galettes (about 8)
1/2 lb sweet or hot Italian sausage (pork or chicken)
*1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
*1 Gala or Fuji apple, diced
3 stems kale
salt to taste
4 oz chevre, crumbled

1.  Prepare galettes and set aside, keeping warm.

2.  Remove sausage from casing and brown over medium heat in a 10" skillet, using the fat from them to cook the onions at the same time.

3.  Once sausage is browned, add the diced apple and continue to cook until apples soften.  This is a good time to prepare the kale: rinse, cut or tear from the main stem, and chiffonnade or finely chop the greens.  Add kale and a little salt and cook until thoroughly wilted and there is little moisture left in the pan.  Taste and add more salt if necessary.  I'm assuming the sausage is sufficiently seasoned not to add any pepper or other seasonings.

4.  Divide filling between crepes and fold over.  Top with cheese crumbles and serve hot.  You can even pass them briefly under the broiler first to brown the cheese and make the crepes crispy.

Difficulty rating :)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Oatmeal-Currant Scones

One problem with this blog is that I end up with more food than I really need.  I try to cut down recipes to four or fewer portions, but my freezer is still filling up.  Techie Smurf and his family are visiting for Thanksgiving.  That's over a month away and I don't want to feed them only defrosted leftovers.

Case in point is this recipe, mostly from Martha Stewart, but with the oatmeal idea from Bon Appetit and a few alterations of my own thrown in.  You can't cut an egg in half.  Well, you can if you use egg substitute, but I don't normally have that around unless I'm baking a lot of eggy things.  When I make my usual scone recipe out of the Tea book, I can reduce it as small as I want by doing the math on the butter.  I only make a full recipe for my summer tea party.

The dough for these scones came out very moist, almost to the point of spoon batter.  It was almost impossible to use a biscuit cutter on them, and they did not hold the shape during baking.  I'm going to blame my own substitution of oatmeal for part of the flour, and am posting slightly more flour in this recipe than what I actually used.  Yours will not look exactly like mine; they'll probably look better.

Currants are easy to get in California because we're a major raisin-producing state (even mentioned in a line from The Music Man, "I hope I get my raisins from Fresno"), but I'm unsure of their availability in other areas.  If you can't find them, or they're too expensive, any other small dried fruit will do: black raisins, golden raisins, cranberries, blueberries, cherries, etc.  Using currants is a British Isles thing, and comes up a lot at Christmas.

1-3/4 C flour
1/2 C rolled oats
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tb sugar
1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter
*3/4 C currants
1/2 C milk
1 tsp vinegar (I used appple cider vinegar)
1 egg

1.  Stir vinegar into milk and let sit while you prepare the dry ingredients, to make sour milk.

2.  In a bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar.

3.  Start preheating oven to 425º and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silpat.

4.  With fingers or a pastry cutter, cut butter into flour mixture until you can't tell the chunks of butter from the oatmeal.

5.  Beat the egg into the milk.  Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the liquid ingredients.  Stir just until combined.

6.  Lightly flour a flat surface and turn out dough onto it.  Lightly press into a mass 1/2" thick.  With a 2-1/2" biscuit cutter, cut rounds and transfer to baking sheet.  Try to remold and repress the scraps only once.  If desired, lightly brush tops with milk for a more glossy finish.

7.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, until somewhat risen and lightly golden brown.  Let cool on cookie sheet for a couple of minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely.  Serve warm or room temperature, with butter, jam, and whipped cream available.

Makes about 12

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Salmonella Scare

A good number of antibiotic-resistant cases of salmonella have been traced to the popular brand Foster Farms.

Here is why you don't need to stop eating chicken, of any brand:

  • A significant percentage of all kinds of meat, eggs, and dairy products on the market carry salmonella, yet few people get sick from it because we have the knowledge to avoid poisoning our family.  Even if the raw version of...say milk... carried some bacteria, it has since been pasteurized.  If a whole chicken or turkey is affected, we don't generally eat chicken raw.
  • Salmonella is one of those bacteria that most affect the young, elderly, and infirm unless ingested in great quantities.  Even then, it is eradicated at a mere 165º, well below even the boiling point of water.  A pre-cooked chicken nugget or similarly processed and then frozen food only needs to be reheated to 135º.  (Almost missed that question on my test.)
  • Now that we know the source of this contamination, it will be remedied.  There may not even be a recall because it is expected that the product will be cooked properly before eating.

Things you can do at home to reduce your chances of contracting or spreading salmonella, or any foodborne illness:

  • Wash your hands before cooking, between cooking tasks, and after washing dishes.  Sounds simple, but this is where most problems occur.
  • Have separate cutting boards for veggies, chicken, fish, and meat.  Barring that, fill a basic spray bottle with cold water and add a mere capful of bleach.  After washing and rinsing the board, spray it lightly with this sanitizer and let it air dry.
  • Wash things that have touched raw food after pots that held cooked food.  Run your scrubbies and sponges through the dishwasher at least once a week and change them every month.  Sanitize your countertops and sink after cooking with that same bleach spray.
  • Cook potentially hazardous foods to at least their recommended temperatures.
With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, I don't want anyone to think they can't serve a turkey because it may have come from the same plant as these chickens.  Just pay attention and don't undercook it because everything else is ready and it's "close enough".  165º-175º in the oven for a large fowl, plus a half hour of resting time on the counter for the temps to even out.  End of story.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Pork Mole

Remember that disclaimer on my bio that refers to "less than authentic".  I considered calling this Gringo Mole.  After the Pasta Primavera, my system couldn't take another pepper-based recipe, and especially not a spicy-pepper one.

For those not coming back after Googling "mole" and fortunately getting the sauce as the first Wikipedia hit, it's a Mexican sauce based on chilis and chocolate.  I'm basing mine on tomatoes and chocolate, with a small bell pepper and chili powder representing the chilis.  Also there to kill the heat are plantains, stewed in with the sauce.  You can kind of see them in the photo, bottom left.

Yes, there is chocolate in mole, but it does not taste like chocolate.  It is just another spice and flavor note, like putting a touch of chocolate in pumpernickel.  If you taste a lot of chocolate in it, you put in too much.  I used the scant 1/4 C remaining from my mom's Costco 5 pound bag of semi-sweet morsels, even though unsweetened is a better choice.  It took me nearly three years to go through that bag!  And chocolate chips do go stale after five years, becoming much more difficult to melt evenly.  I wouldn't buy more than a year's worth at a time, no matter what kind of coupon or Costco deal you think you're getting.  Quality is more important when you're talking chocolate.

Vegetable oil for sautéing
*half an onion, chopped
*2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb pork for stew
salt and pepper to taste
1 small bell pepper, seeded and chopped
*1/2 lb tomatoes, chopped
*1 tsp each oregano, cumin, chili powder, and cinnamon
1 C unsalted chicken stock (comes in a Tetra-Pak, probably on the highest shelf)
2 medium-ripe plantains (yellow, few black spots)
*1/4 C unsweetened or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

1.  In a medium saucepan, sauté onion in a tablespoon of oil until soft.  Add garlic and pork and cook until pork is browned.  Add water to cover, about 1 cup.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover.  Cook until pork is tender, about 1 hour.  Continue to simmer while you make the sauce.  It's stew, you can't overcook it.

Action shot
2.  In a 10" skillet, cook bell pepper on medium in another tablespoon of oil until soft.  Add chopped tomatoes and dry spices and cook until tomatoes soften.  Add chicken stock and simmer 10 minutes, for flavors to combine.  Place sauce in a blender and let it run until very smooth, about a minute.  Let it sit in the blender while you cook the plantains.

3.  Peel and slice plantains on an angle into 1/2" slices.  Fry in the skillet with just a touch more oil until they turn golden yellow on both sides.  Pour sauce over them and stir in chocolate.  Heat until chocolate is melted.  Drain pork and add, including the onions, to the sauce.  Stir to coat and heat through.  Serve over rice.

Difficulty rating :-0

Monday, October 7, 2013

Plum Pie

I haven't made a dessert pie in a long time.  Plums are on sale and the Bible has a very pretty pie that shows off the plums nicely.

I got brave and made pie crust so I could do the rectangular one they show in their recipe.  I don't know how they had enough leftover dough to make all the lattice and edging the recipe describes.  I barely got strips going the short way across.  The rest of the recipe works as intended.

I did make a couple of changes.  First, I'm not partial to almond flavoring and used brandy instead.  Second, I got away with using a lot of sugar because the plums were on the hard side.  (Probably why they were cheap.)  For the post, I'm cutting down the amount you need by 1/3.  You won't get as much of a pretty gel, but it won't taste like plum jam either.  All the white stuff on the tops of the plums in the photo is excess sugar that never hydrated.

Pie Crust
2 C flour, plus more for the board
1 tsp salt
3/4 C shortening
5 to 6 Tb cold water

1.  Stir together flour and salt.  Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

2.  Sprinkle in cold water, a tablespoon at a time, until mixture just holds together.  Shape into a ball and let rest 30 minutes, to let moisture make its way through the dough and relax the glutens.

3.  Roll 3/4 of dough into a rectangle 18" by 14".  Lay in a 13" by 9" baking dish and trim off the overhang, returning it to the remaining 1/4.  Chill while preparing filling.

Filling
4 lbs plums (I used a mix of red and black)
1 Tb brandy
4 Tb butter
1 C sugar
1/4 C flour
milk for brushing

1.  Halve plums and remove pits.  One side should come off when you twist it open.  If it's stubborn, use a melon baller to get it out.  Once all are halved, arrange in pie crust, cut side down.  Sprinkle with brandy and dot with little bits of butter.

2.  In a small bowl, stir together flour and sugar.  Sprinkle mixture around sides of plums.  You can see from the photo above that I shouldn't have let much sit on top of the topmost plums.

3.  Preheat oven to 425º.  While it's heating, roll remaining dough into a 15" by 5" rectangle, which is where I said "how?" to myself.  I got 10" by 3".  Good luck.  Cut whatever you get into 1/2" wide strips and lay across top of pie, hopefully in a grid pattern with round plums showing through the squares.  If you have enough, create a rope edge along the top of the pan.  Brush tops with milk to help in browning and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until filling is bubbly and crust is golden brown.

4.  Allow to cool until just warm before serving.  It's easier to cut when cold, then reheat in microwave.

Serves 10

Difficulty rating :)

Friday, October 4, 2013

Pasteli

Wonderful, a recipe that is entirely honey and sesame seeds, both of which I have in a confusing abundance.  I can't remember why I bought half a pound of sesame, but I'm pretty sure I moved here with the jar two and a half years ago.  Then, there was an additional jar of toasted sesame seeds in the pantry from my mom.

Pasteli is a very simple, and very sweet, candy from Greece that is basically seeds stuck together with honey.  You could do something fancy with it like add lemon peel or a cinnamon stick to the honey while it's boiling, but you don't have to.  Just make sure the honey tastes good, because that's literally half of the flavoring.  It tastes like crunchy honey with a sesame aftertaste.

As far as the consistency of the candy is concerned, temperature is the key.  You use the same guide as if you were making sugar candy.  I thought I wanted a fudge consistency and cooked to 240º, but I should have gone a bit further, like 250º or 254º.  Too hot, and it's going to be hard.  It just needs to be sturdy enough to hold its shape, without breaking teeth.  If you want to make this like a sesame brittle, you can go as high as 280º and spread it very thinly on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.

*8 oz honey
*8 oz (by weight) sesame seeds

1.  Generously butter an 8" x 8" baking pan, or at least line a cookie sheet with parchment.

2.  Heat honey over medium heat until it boils, then start using the candy thermometer.  Stir frequently to avoid boiling over and/or scorching.  Don't walk away!

3.  When honey has reached at least 250º, remove from heat.  Stir in sesame seeds a bit at a time until all are incorporated.  Pour into baking dish or onto parchment.  Spread evenly (make defined sides on cookie sheet) and allow to cool to room temperature.

4.  Wet a knife and make squares, rectangles, or diamonds in the sesame sheet.  Keep them small, no larger than 1" x 2".  A little of this stuff goes a long way.  Place in fridge or freezer to complete cooling.  Break apart pieces and wrap or place in bon bon papers.

Makes 1 pound, about 2 to 3 dozen pieces

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tomato Jam

Tomatoes are fruits, so making jam out of them shouldn't be too far out of the range of comprehension. I was going to do ketchup, but I didn't want to peel a zillion cherry tomatoes.  The lovely part about this recipe from Food in Jars is that you leave the skin on for both texture and flavor.

This is the honey version of the recipe.  She also has one that uses sugar.  I have had an unopened 3 lb container of honey in the pantry since my mom died.  I haven't been holding onto it for sentimental reasons.  I just knew that, once it was opened, I would have to use it within a few months.  I may have enough ideas saved up to finish it by the end of the year, as we're getting close to baking season.  There will be many middle-eastern sweets in the near future.

I only had half a pound of tomatoes saved up, so this is not even a small batch.  It's a micro batch.  I got half a cup of the jam, but I got to use the 1/8 tsp spoon from my measuring set.  I knew I kept that thing for a reason.  For sanity's sake, I'm going to post the one-pound version here, giving you enough to use as a garnish or dip for several servings.

I'm not a fan of red chili flakes, aside from the faintest trace of them on pizza that I end up regretting later.  Instead, I'm opting for a combination of paprika and cumin to bring in the savory tones.  Also diverging from Marisa's recipe, I did mine in a 10" teflon skillet and stirred with a wooden spoon, since I was not planning to process and can.  It cooked up in a mere half hour, probably 45 minutes for the full pound version.

Other uses besides spreading on bread with brie are diverse.  It can be a finishing touch to any poultry, or on pork chops.  Use it instead of ketchup on burgers.  Leave it out with other dips at a party.  If you're into cheese molds, you can use it as the center layer in a molded wheel of goat cheese.  Dolloped onto a spinach salad instead of dressing sounds good.  Actually, it would go well with any leafy green, cooked or not.

*1 lb tomatoes, finely chopped (Roma would be a good choice)
* 1/2 C honey
*2 Tb bottled lime juice
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
*1/4 tsp each ground ginger, paprika, and cumin
*dash each cinnamon and cloves

1.  Finely chop tomatoes and add to a 10" non-reactive skillet with the rest of the ingredients.  Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat until it reduces to a gooey, sticky glob, 45 minutes to an hour.  Stir frequently to avoid scorching, and almost constantly near the end.
2.  This jam is not going to set up much thicker when it cools, so make sure it's how you want it without going too far and burning the honey or tomatoes.  Transfer to serving container and chill below room temperature before serving.  (Or you can do the whole canning thing, but it's hardly worth it for such a small amount.)

Makes about 1 cup

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Pickled Green Cherry Tomatoes

Oops.

I got a little overzealous while trimming the cherry tomato plant and ended up with a dozen green tomatoes on the ends of what I thought were dead branches.  I also found one disgusting tomato caterpillar that I screamed at and dropped a few times before throwing it and its branch in the greens bin.  It can munch away at discarded leaves until trash day.

Fortunately, it's a thing to make pickles out of green tomatoes, and it is surprisingly easy.  If you're doing a small batch like mine, you don't even need to process them, just keep the jar in the fridge and eat them within a month.

Since I've never made any kind of pickle, I researched various recipes before settling on Food in Jars'.  It is intended for full-sized tomatoes, but I figured I'd do it anyway.  I didn't have dill seed, so I substituted dill weed, as a different site recommended.  By the time I sliced the tomatoes in half and got them in the jar with the seasonings, they exactly filled a half-pint jar, so I'm scaling her recipe for that.

As for the all-important question of taste, they taste like "pickles".  Dilly, vinegary, and crunchy.  They don't really taste like tomatoes.  I had some on rye bread with cottage cheese, and it made a nice lunch.

*1 C green cherry tomatoes (about 12), sliced in half
1/4 C white distilled vinegar (you know, the one with the picture of a pickle on the label)
1/4 C water (purified if you have it)
*1 tsp pickling salt or a slightly heaping teaspoon of non-iodized kosher salt
*2 cloves garlic, peeled
*1/4 tsp whole peppercorns
*1 bay leaf
*1 tsp dry dill weed

1.  Wash, then boil a one-cup container and lid, even if you're not canning, for several minutes.

2.  Drain jar or container and place garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf, and dill at bottom.  This is because they will float when the brine is introduced and not infuse the pickles.  Cover with cut tomatoes and cram everything in.

3.  In a small saucepan, boil together vinegar, water, and salt until salt is dissolved.  Carefully pour over tomatoes to top of jar.  Cover and refrigerate if not processing, or process for at least 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

4.  Let pickles marinate, in the fridge for non-processed or on the shelf for processed, for at least several days before serving.  Keeps one month non-processed, over a year processed.

Makes one cup

Difficulty rating  π