Friday, March 29, 2013

Asparagus Slaw

Still working on leftovers.  The kale salad is lasting longer than I expected, and has served as lunch for most of the week.  I finished off the gefilte fish, charoset, and hard-boiled eggs Wednesday, then a batch of my crunchy tuna salad.  For some reason, I always make tuna salad during Passover.  I used some of my cilantro from the herb pot instead of buying a bunch that goes half-unused, which was the point of growing it in the first place.  When in the mood for a fancy breakfast, I've been doing the Chocolate-banana matzoh brei.  My Passover cooking isn't always this boring, but I had a cancellation for the Seder.  It happens when the holiday is on a weekday and the guests live far away.

Finally, I needed a vegetable side to accompany my meal.  My first head of broccoli is almost ready to harvest, but not quite.  Apparently, I have to be careful not to let it bloom before it is picked.  It never occurred to me that all those little green things are flower buds.  I am such a lousy gardener.  Meanwhile, asparagus is at its cheapest prices of the year, and I've never had asparagus slaw.  I wasn't even sure it existed until I googled it.  As usual, only a few hundred recipes popped up.  The most popular were Asian-sesame themed, but I keep kitnyot and am not eating soy or sesame this week.  I'm going to do a cabbage-style dressing minus the mustard (also kitnyot).  For those who think horseradish can be too overpowering, feel free to use half as much.  It definitely gives the salad a kick.

I have become a huge fan of shallots.  I only started using them a couple of years ago, because they seemed too frou-frou.  What I have learned is that they have a taste like red onions, but the texture is much softer and more subtle.  They are a good idea when you would like to use onion in something, but are afraid it might overpower the other ingredients.

1 lb asparagus
1 medium carrot
1 small shallot
1/2 C mayonnaise
3 Tb vinegar (white wine or apple cider)
*1 tsp horseradish
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp paprika
milk as needed

1.  Peel off any tough skin from the asparagus, snap off the hard bottom ends, and discard the pieces.  Either slice the stalks thinly into coins or use a mandoline to slice on a bias.  Cut the tips in half lengthwise and put all the pieces into a sieve over the sink.  Boil several cups of water and slowly pour over the asparagus pieces. Let sit one minute, then rinse with cold water.  This will blanch the asparagus just slightly, not as much as putting the stalks in the boiling water.  You get the bright green color without actually cooking them.

2.  Peel the carrot.  Either run it through the mandoline, grate it, or do julienne slices.  Peel and dice the shallot.  Place all vegetables in mixing bowl.

3.  In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients to make the dressing.  If it is too thick for your taste, add some milk, a tablespoon at a time.  Pour over vegetables and toss to coat.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Serves 6

Difficulty rating :)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

OCD Shopping List

Ok, so you've scheduled a party and made a menu.  You know how many people are coming and the only thing left to do is buy the ingredients and make the food.

How do you avoid multiple trips to the grocery store because you forgot one very important ingredient?  My solution involves about ten or fifteen minutes of work to make your shopping list.

The first step is to get all your recipes together.  Start making a list of every ingredient.  Chances are, you'll need the same item for more than one recipe, like onions or garlic.  Start adding it up.

The second step is to go through your fridge, pantry, and spices to see what you already have.  My mom never learned to do this step, and there are four canisters of pepper in the house.  Not to mention the dried basil and dill weed.

Once you've crossed out the ingredients you already have, you should have an accurate shopping list.  If you really want to go ocd, rewrite it by department, starting with non-perishable goods so the milk doesn't sit in your cart while you stroll the aisles.  To go really, really ocd, create a shopping pattern through your grocery store and list items that way.  If you're able to do that while sitting at the kitchen table, you obviously spend a lot of time thinking about your grocery shopping and don't need to read this post.

Lastly, check for coupons and online specials before leaving for the market.  Discounts don't help you if you forget the coupon.  And remember to take the shopping list!!

(This post brought to you by forgetting the tomato paste the other day.  The Coq au Vin last night was fine without it, but I'm still kicking myself.)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Passover 2013 (5773)

I didn't realize how hard it is to scare up enough Jews to have a Seder.  Everyone gets into their own family thing and doesn't want to do something different.  Mostly, they have fears that it is going to be a very long service.  I've been stuck at a couple of those.  Then there are the folks that skip too much and miss the key elements.

A few years ago, I wrote my own Passover Haggadah.  It's color-coded.  If you only do the essential elements in black print, and it's not Shabbat or Havdalah, the whole pre-meal clocks in at about half an hour, with ten minutes after dinner.

For the most part, I recycled recipes that are already on the blog.  If you know something works, there's no reason to change when it comes to traditional meals.

The amount of time until my next post will depend on the amount of leftovers.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Seed Cake

I'm already trying out new recipes for this summer's tea.  I have a theme in mind, but won't spill it until I'm sure it's going to work.

This cake sounds like an odd concept.  At first, I assumed the seeds were going to be poppy.  Caraway in a cake?  It's a British thing.  The brandy blends with it to create an almost, but not quite, anise effect.  The first bite is a bit of a surprise, but the taste buds adapt quickly and it becomes a more subtle flavoring.

Also British were the metric measurements I started with.  After translating them into something an American can use (with the help of a digital scale), I realized that the amounts round very nicely into the volume measurements I'm used to.  Most likely, this recipe was translated the other way at one point.  Wish I had found that original recipe; it would have saved me some time.

2 sticks butter (1 C), plus more to grease the pan
1 C sugar
4 eggs
2 C flour
4 tsp baking powder
*1/4 C caraway seeds
*1/2 tsp mace
*1/2 tsp nutmeg
*3 Tb brandy
1/4 C milk
2 Tb brown sugar

1.  Prepare an 8" cake pan by buttering it, lining it with waxed paper, and buttering the paper.  Preheat oven to 350º.

2.  Cream together butter and sugar.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Stir in caraway, mace, and nutmeg.

3.  Sift together flour and baking powder.  Beat in until just combined.  Add brandy and milk and stir to combine.  The batter will be very thick, but able to move with a spoon.  If it is too pasty, add more milk a tablespoon at a time.

4.  Spread batter in cake pan and smooth the top.  Sprinkle with the brown sugar.  Bake 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes in the pan, then remove from pan and cool brown sugar-side up on a rack to room temperature.  The cake does not need to be iced.

Makes one 8" cake, about 8 servings

Difficulty rating π

Sunday, March 17, 2013

First Bloom

It's been a month since the garden went in, and nothing has died yet.  The asparagus isn't doing as well as I had hoped, but one of the ferns is budding.  It's just the only one on that crown, and the other crown has two ferns.  My roommate's dog falling on it didn't help.  The green onions are bravely hanging on.  The big crops, however, are going gangbusters.

A broccoli plant actually smells like raw broccoli.  I have the very beginnings of a crown, and the stalk and leaves are strong.  I got cages for it and the tomato plant, so they don't collapse under their own weight.  Or get knocked over by the dog.

Poor little Gus
The brussels sprouts are taking a little longer to catch on, but the plant is healthy and showing improvement.  It may end up caged, too.  I'm not sure how the little cabbages grow.  They either form on branches or on a dedicated stalk, like flowers.  Hopefully, it will produce something and I will find out.

The cherry tomatoes are already blooming!  (See above)  If the weather stays warm, I could get ripe tomatoes in a month to six weeks.  Then I can be one of those lucky victims who end up with too many tomatoes because their plant it so healthy.  Maybe I'll learn how to can them.

Which brings up a point.  Every time I go online for gardening tips, I get them as they apply to cooler climates.  In the East, it's too early to plant anything outdoors.  In the Midwest, the ground is still half-frozen.  Last year's basil is still alive - outside - and growing fresh branches to replace the dead ones I pruned.  That is unheard-of in most of the country.

My biggest fear at this point is the whitefly fungus.  Many of the plants in the neighborhood have it, including my grafted citrus.  I need to find a non-hazardous fungicide that will not affect pets or anything edible.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lobster Pot Pie

Pi day is a math thing.  π is 3.14, so March 14th is Pi Day.  Techie Smurf and his family observe it almost religiously.  There must be as much pie served that day as possible.  I made a Peanut-Butter Pie to use up some chometz lying around, but then I needed a main dish.

American cooking has a long history of pie.  It was common to have some form of it with nearly every meal until about a hundred years ago.  Many were sweet, but some were savory or resembled quiche.  Sweet potato pie is somewhere in-between, depending upon how much sugar you use.

With Passover rapidly approaching, and facing the inevitability of an entire week without even being able to consider the option of pie, I decided to have some for Pi Day.  I bought some lobster tails on sale a while ago and tossed them in the freezer until the appropriate time.  This was it.

Again, once you do an internet search, you realize that there is no such thing as a new idea.  I guess New Englanders eat this sort of thing all the time.  It's a lot like a chicken pot pie, and works with a variety of veggies.  This particular version I'm using as a model has a puff pastry crust.  That sounds like just the lightness a subtle meat like lobster needs.  The amount I had only made three soup-crock servings, and didn't quite fill the bowls.  I probably could have made two very full bowls.  It all depends on the size of ramekin or casserole you use.

2 lobster tails (about 8 oz) or 1-1/2 C chopped lobster meat
1 C water
1 C frozen mixed veggies such as peas, carrots, lima beans, green beans, etc
1-1/2 C sliced mushrooms
1 medium shallot, minced
3 Tb butter
1/4 C flour
1 C milk
1/4 C dry sherry or white wine
*dash paprika
*dash nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1 egg beaten with 1 Tb water for egg wash

1.  Bring water, veggies, and lobster to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Reduce to simmer and cook until lobster shells are bright red, turning once.  Remove from heat.  Save 1/2 C of cooking liquid.  Set aside veggies.  Remove lobster meat from shells and chop into bite-sized pieces.  Discard shells.

2.  Add butter to saucepan and melt over medium heat.  Add mushrooms and shallot and cook until mushrooms are as done as you want them.  Add flour and cook until mixture is pasty.  Add cooking liquid, veggies, and sherry and cook until thickened.  Stir in milk and allow to thicken.  Add lobster meat and remove from heat.

3.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Butter rims of 3 individual 1-pint ramekins or a 1-1/2 quart casserole.  Ladle lobster stew into containers and cover with pastry.  If the pastry doesn't fit, roll out on a lightly floured board until you get the size you need.  You can choose to cut it to exact dimensions or let it drape over the sides.  Cut a vent hole, then brush with egg wash.  Bake until pastry is risen and golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Serves 3

Difficulty rating :)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Asparagus Vichyssoise

This is for anyone turned off by the Vegan Cream of Asparagus Soup.  They're very similar, with the dairy instead of tofu.

Again, I thought I was being all creative and unique.  Once you do a Google search, you realize there is no such thing.  I bookmarked this version from Food & Wine because there was a Passover tag on the page.  Then I realized the recipe isn't even kosher, much less KLP.  You can make it both by subbing in vegetable broth for the chicken broth.  That's the only way it's getting a Passover label in this index.

I was doing a lot of cooking that day and decided not to peel the red potatoes.  Let's face it, it's really time consuming and you can't get all the peel off anyway.  Despite straining the soup, there were a lot of skin flecks in the final product.  You can even see them in the photo.  Fiber.  If you care about the appearance, either use a russet, which is easier to skin, or just really peel it well.

1 lb asparagus spears
1/2 lb red potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium leek
1 Tb butter
2 C low salt chicken broth
1 C milk
1/2 C cream
salt & white pepper to taste

1.  Slice white and light green parts of leek into thin rounds.  In medium saucepan, sauté in butter.  Add potatoes and broth and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

2.  While that's simmering, cut tips from asparagus and cook in lightly salted, boiling water until bright green and slightly tender, about 1 minute.  Remove and run under cold water.  Set aside in the fridge until ready to use.

3.  Remove tough parts from asparagus stalks and cut the remainder into 1" pieces.  Add to soup once the potatoes are fork-tender and cook until asparagus is done, about 5 minutes.

4.  Working in batches, purée soup in the blender.  Return to the pot through a sieve to remove any tough fibers and at least some of the remaining potato peel.  Stir in milk and cream.  Taste, then add salt and white pepper as needed.  Remember that you have to over-season a chilled soup.

5.  Chill in the fridge until ready to serve.  Garnish with blanched asparagus tips.

Difficulty rating  :)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Apple Dessert Tamales

Now that I have conquered the tamale, I want to try to make different kinds.  They really aren't as hard as everyone makes them out to be.  They're just time-consuming.  And they take less time each time you make them, because you get better at it.

I found this recipe online.  For the most part, I liked where it was going, but the quantities of various ingredients looked odd.  Yes, I was basing that on the one time I had made tamales, but that had been such a successful recipe that I felt secure using it as my base model and treating these as simply another flavor in the tamale spectrum.  Mainly, I was concerned that the apple purée would not give the masa enough stability.  I did not want to pull out little corn-husk packets of applesauce.

And you may notice that these are labeled both as breakfast and dessert.  Honestly, don't a lot of desserts fall into the breakfast category as well?  Fruit pies, many pastries, even some cakes end up on the breakfast table.  This is primarily corn and fruit, held together by dairy and seasoned with spices and sugar.  Sounds like a good start to the morning to me.

20-24 corn husks
2 medium-flavored apples, like Fuji, Gala, or Jonagold
1/4 C + 2 Tb butter
*2 tsp cinnamon
*1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C raisins or cranberries
1/2 C brown sugar, lightly packed
*1/4 C cream cheese
1 tsp baking powder
dash salt
2 C masa harina flour
2 C apple juice

1.  Soak husks in warm water for about an hour before starting.  (I put a couple extra on the ingredient list because some inevitably tear.  Tear those into strips and use as ties.)

2.  Peel apples, if desired, and dice into 1/2" cubes.  Cook in a skillet over medium heat with 2 Tb butter until they start to soften and give up their juices.  Add raisins, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1/2 C sugar.  Simmer until soft, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3.  In mixer, cream together 1/4 C butter and cream cheese.  Beat in baking powder, salt, 1 tsp cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar.  Beat in 1 C masa flour, then 1 C apple juice.  Repeat.  The masa dough will look thin, like cake batter.  Set aside for 10 minutes and it will thicken enough to handle.

4.  Place a clean kitchen towel on the counter.  Set up a lidded pot with about 1" of water and a steamer basket or strainer that fits snugly.

5.  Place one corn husk on the towel, pointy end down.  Spread about 3 Tb of masa batter on the top half of the husk.  Spoon 1 Tb of filling in the middle.  Roll in the sides, fold up the pointy end, and leave open at the top.  Tie with a strip of husk and place in the steamer basket.  Repeat until masa, husks, and filling are used.  (Extra filling tastes great in oatmeal.)

6.  Bring water in pot to a boil.  Place steamer basket in pot and cover.  Reduce heat to just over simmering and steam tamales for an hour.  This gives you enough time to run back to the store for the vanilla ice cream that you forgot you wanted to serve with the tamales.

7.  The tamales will still look gooey after the hour.  Remove the steamer basket and allow them to set for at least 10 minutes before serving.  These are great do-aheads and respond very well to microwaving.

8.  Serve warm (not hot) with ice cream, caramel sauce, or just on their own.

Makes 18

Difficulty rating :-0

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Garden 2013

Cleaning out the pond wasn't as easy as I thought it would be.  I had visions of draining it and cutting the drainage holes in the morning and filling it halfway with dirt in the afternoon.  The second day would be buying the seedlings and remaining dirt and getting everything set up.

Yeah, right, so much for that.  After a week of attacking it javelin-style with Papa Smurf's diving spear, I hauled out the sump pump.  The water was beyond disgusting.  Things weren't just growing in there, they were evolving.  It smelled like low tide.  After another half day of work, I finished the excavation, but simply threw the rocks around, not caring where they landed, as long as it wasn't in the pond.  I got out Papa Smurf's diving knife that was supposed to be able to cut through seaweed if he got entangled, and took to the liner like it was a tough hide.  Finally, the knife came up covered in clay in enough spots to satisfy me that the plants would not drown.

Then it rained, which was actually a good thing, so I could check how well the drainage was cut.

Finally, I was ready to start buying out half the dirt at Home Depot.  Really, this was cheaper and easier than ripping out the pond?  I don't want to know how hard that would have been.

The first trip, I got 8 cubic feet total, 5 in garden soil for vegetables and 3 in soil-conditioning mulch.  I wanted to make sure the bottom half did not compact too tightly and ruin the drainage.  Getting the 3 cu ft bag was an economically sound choice, but it was HEAVY!  An hour after I got home, the pond was half filled, and starting to look like what I had in mind.

On the second trip, I got another 8 cu ft.  This time, I asked for help to get it into the car.  Since I had just been approved for a Home Depot credit card, the cashier found me someone who could chuck around the bags like they were nothing.  I had a hand-truck at home to handle the trunk-to-pond part of the journey.  It didn't fill the hole as much as I had hoped, but it was deep enough for a first-year planting.

Then came the fun part, picking out what I was going to attempt to grow.  For that, I went to Armstrong.  They know their plants and the salespeople can actually answer questions intelligently.  The girl suggested I get things that I like but are either hard to find or expensive.  That made a lot of sense.  After about 15 minutes of strolling around in circles, I picked out two pots of asparagus, a six-pack of green onions, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cherry tomato.  I didn't do my research, and it looks like asparagus is another one that doesn't yield until the second year.  Gus, meet Artie (the artichoke plant; yes, I name my plants.)  I also got a cilantro to put in a pot. That went on one of the waterfall shelves, with the pot of mint on the other one.  To compensate for Gus, I can start picking the cilantro whenever I want.
The asparagus is on the right, somewhere...

The next day, the gardener got into it and set me up with some sprinkler irrigation so I don't have to worry about forgetting to water.  It even reaches the cilantro pot.  The mint is out of range, but I am not concerned about that dying - ever.

I still need to landscape the rest of the corner, mainly to arrange the rocks better and trim back the existing foliage.  Once the Gus twins take off, they're going to need space to "fern".  By the time I have something to harvest, it should look like a properly designed area.  And I'm not going to count investment vs return.  Even if you discount most of the dirt as something I should have bought ages ago, I doubt I'll have a harvest to match my spending.  It's about putting in the effort to grow something, and being glad that grocery stores exist!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Butterscotch Eclairs

I bought a box of butterscotch pudding when I thought I was going to have leftover milk to use.  It never happened and the box remained in the pantry.

There were cream puffs on sale at the market.  Though not expensive, I know that they are way over-priced on a regular basis because people think they're too hard to make at home.  "Ooh, I could fill an eclair with butterscotch pudding and put butterscotch ganache on top."  This is how most of my recipes happen.

If you're not into butterscotch, simply replace the word with "chocolate" and continue with the recipe as written.

1 (4-serving) box of butterscotch pudding
2 C milk
1/2 C (1 stick) butter
1 C water
1/2 tsp salt
1 C flour
4 eggs
1/4 C heavy cream
1 C butterscotch chips

1.  Prepare pudding according to box directions (using the 2 C of milk) and refrigerate to set.

2.  In a small saucepan, boil together butter, water, and salt.  Remove from heat and dump in all the flour at once.  Beat until a paste forms.

3.  Preheat oven to 400º and line two cookie sheets with parchment.  Beat eggs into paste one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition.  Allow to cool slightly.

4.  Fill a quart baggie with the pate a choux.  Cut a 1/2" hole in the corner of the baggie.  Pipe out the rectangular eclairs on the two cookie sheets.  If they are about 1" x 3", you should get two dozen.  Bake for 20 minutes, rotate pans, and bake another 20-30 minutes, until puffy and golden.  Remove to a cooling rack.

5.  When the puffs have cooled, bring cream to a low boil in a saucepan.  Remove from heat and stir in the butterscotch chips until melted.  (This can also be done by microwaving for 20 seconds at a time.)  Spread ganache on top of eclairs and allow to harden, at least 30 minutes.

6.  Fit a pastry bag with a sharp tip, like a six-point star.  Fill bag with pudding.  Puncture the eclair from one end, so it's easier to hold, and fill with pudding.  Move on to the next.  Note: you can freeze un-filled eclairs, but you can't refrigerate them or they get tough.  Do this last step no sooner than one hour before serving.

Makes about 2 dozen

Difficulty rating :)