Thursday, August 29, 2013

Enough with the Tomatoes Already!

Remember when I thought my cherry tomato plant was dying?  My limited gardening skills appear to have paid off, because it grew back even fuller than before, to the point where it was weighing down the cage on one side and I had to tie it back up straight.  I still have to trim off yellowing leaves every week, but tomatoes keep ripening at the rate of one a day or so.  I don't get to all of them before the squirrels do, but that's fine.  I have a bag of them in the fridge, and chop up a couple whenever I remember as a garnish for dinner.  I made a quiche that relied heavily on the tomatoes just to empty the bag before any started to get mushy.

I'm not the only "lucky" gardener this year.  Someone was trying to unload some lovely large tomatoes at choir this week.  I think this summer has been good for the plants.  My area has been warm, but not hot, with foggy mornings at least once a week.  I've been putting more effort into not overwatering than keeping the ground moist.

Meanwhile, the less successful Gus has gotten a second wind.  The ferns are short, but there are several of them.  The one I had expected to thrive appears to have died.  The Brussels sprouts are still puttering along and fighting whitefly, but not ready to harvest.

I had to do some major surgery on the broccoli.  Whiteflies decided they liked it better than the sprouts, there was some kind of caterpillar chewing through the leaves, and a spider took up residence.  Like the tomatoes, I cut off anything that looked diseased, sprayed it with the pesticide, dumped on some coffee grounds, and hoped for the best.  The plant may have just run its course.  I'll give it a few weeks to rebound before giving up.

While I was busy ignoring the green onions, they began to thrive.  Most critters can't eat onions, so I didn't even bother to spray them.  The green parts of some are very strong and ready to use.  The bulbs are small, but the green parts are more interesting anyway.  The only problem is that they don't replicate.  Once I pull one, it's done.

This is still my most successful garden to date, giving me hope that I am not totally inept at it.  I'll be ok with pulling out the remains when everything finally goes in a month or two (except Gus), and I'll just cover the area for the winter instead of planting decorative plants.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Tequila-Lime Chicken

I was just cooking up some drumsticks to shred the chicken for burritos, but it looked too good.  I guess the taste I was going for was like the Cuban restaurant Versailles' chicken, which is ridiculously good.  I didn't put as much salt in this marinade, but the taste came through.  Versailles' is better.  I think they have a flame grill, and marinate for much longer than I did.

I'm less scared of using tequila in a marinade than last time, and still tasted the lime juice far more than the spirit.  I suspect the alcohol was a catalyst for making the marinade flavors permeate the meat.  Whatever works.

1 chicken, cut up (or any 8 pieces) - skin-on
*1/4 C tequila
*2 Tb lime juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
*1/2 C coarsely chopped onion

1.  Make marinade by stirring together tequila, lime juice, salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl.  Add chicken and turn pieces to coat.  Cover and chill for at least 1 hour.

2.  Preheat oven to 325º.  Arrange chicken pieces in roasting dish.  Pour remaining marinade over pieces.  Sprinkle top with onion and bake until thickest piece registers 165º on a thermometer and the juices run clear.  Serve hot, or shred for other uses.

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, August 23, 2013

Chocolate Chip Pancakes

I was tired of oatmeal.

As a kid, I used to make these all the time for Saturday breakfast, since I was usually the first one up.  I had a Disney kid's cookbook with a recipe that produced edible, if not fantastic, chocolate pancakes.  I'd love to get a copy, but they've been out of print for years.  While the link shows that Amazon has them, I'm not sure of the quality of the used ones.  The ones on Ebay average $20, which is way more than I'm going to pay for a kids' cookbook.  As a bit of satisfaction, no one is bidding on them at that price.  I don't care what an item is "worth", it's only worth what people are willing to pay for it.

Back on topic, this is just the Bible's pancake recipe with a little less milk and some cocoa powder and chips in it.

1-1/4 C flour
2 Tb sugar
2 Tb cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 C milk
vegetable oil as needed
*1/2 C chocolate chips

1.  Combine dry ingredients (minus chips) in a bowl.  In another bowl, beat together egg, milk, and 3 Tbsp oil.  Stir wet ingredients into dry until moist.  Let sit about ten minutes, then stir again to remove remaining large lumps.  Small lumps are acceptable.  If too thick to pour, add a little more milk.

2.  Heat a griddle over medium-high heat.  When hot, add about a tablespoon of oil and lightly coat pan.  Pour batter by tablespoons for small pancakes, or quarter cup for large.  When bottom has begun to set, about half a minute, sprinkle with several chocolate chips.  A little goes a long way.

3.  When bubbles stop breaking on the surface, flip pancakes to cook other side, about half a minute.  Remove to plate, re-oil pan, and go for another round.

4.  Serve hot with butter, maple syrup, chocolate syrup, whipped cream, or any topping of your choice.

Makes about 8 large pancakes or 20 small  (4 servings)

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Common Cooking Terms

Most culinary terms are French.  A few are Italian, some are even English, and others are determined by specific ethnic cuisine.  Once you've learned to cook, you throw them around as though everyone knows what they mean.  You may use them yourself without really knowing what you're talking about.   Then, there's the menu at a snobby restaurant that pretty much says "if you don't know what we're talking about, you're not good enough to eat here".

Here are a few I found while looking through cookbooks and the culinary dictionary.  Sorted in order of how likely you are to find the term in a cookbook or menu, not alphabetically.

Sauté:  Pan-frying or stir-frying.  It's cooking something quickly over high heat with some kind of fat in a shallow pan.  Probably the first kind of cooking done to justify the invention of a skillet.  "Oog, just boil it in a pot like everyone else."  "Eela, that's what they said when someone boiled something instead of roasting it on a stick."

Simmering: I do this a lot.  It is maintaining the temperature of your cooking liquid about ten degrees below the boiling point.  It is not boiling.  You may get tiny bubbles coming up through the liquid, but not the big bubbles that a boil produces.  The easiest way to produce a simmer is to boil first, then reduce the heat, but some recipes tell you not to.

Poaching:  About twenty degrees below a simmer, when the liquid is wavy but no bubbles have appeared.  This is for something delicate that you never want to get to a boil because it will get tough or overcook, like fish or asparagus.  It is also a good idea when using alcohol in the liquid, because boiling or even simmering will cook off the alcohol too fast.  The only way to do this right is to pay attention, which is why poaching is often mentioned on a menu if that is the cooking method used.  Bragging.

Blanching:  Cooking something briefly in boiling water or oil just to get it partly cooked.  This may be because the item cooks at a different rate than the rest of the dish.  It can also loosen the skin of a tomato for easier peeling.  It is often followed by an ice bath to stop the cooking.

Adjust seasonings: I really dislike when cookbooks resort to "adjust seasonings to taste".  What they usually mean is that you're probably going to want more salt or pepper than they have listed, but they can't bring themselves to put that much in the recipe.  There are other adjustments you can make, if you know what you're doing.  Too much salt, add potato starch or sugar.  Too sweet, add lemon juice if it's something that can take it.  Too hot, add something creamy.  Too bland, try a dried herb before resorting to something hot.  There are many adjustments out there, and you can feel free to experiment.

Broth vs Stock:  We use these as interchangeable, but they technically have different definitions.  A broth is pretty much anything you boil in water to extract its flavoring and essence.  It is often seasoned with salt, pepper, or herbs.  Stock is a classic culinary term with specific proportions of meat, bones, and mirepoix (a specific combination of onion, celery, and carrot).  It is made in a certain way and takes on the characteristics of how long you brown the bones, what parts of the animal you use, etc.  It is almost never seasoned with salt.  Stock is then strained and used as a base for classical sauces.

Chiffonade:  I kind of went over this in the knife skills post, but the picture wasn't great.  It's thinly sliced strips of a leafy veggie or herb.  While important for a cook to know, it's only important on a menu so the cook can brag.  It's a "look at me, I know what I'm doing!" kind of thing.

En papillote:  Usually fish, it's an item bundled with herbs or veggies and often a compound butter, all wrapped up in something like parchment paper and roasted.  The result is somewhere between steamed and baked.  For a flourish, the paper is usually opened at the table, so you can see the process in action.

Au jus:  Probably the most misused culinary term in America.  It means "with natural juices".  It is an adjective, not a noun.  There is no noun "au jus", and every menu that says "served with au jus" makes me cringe.  Aside from that, it also refers to juices that have not been thickened, as a gravy would be.

Bloom: There are a couple of definitions for this.  Most often, it refers to softening gelatin in liquid.  "Blooming" gelatin puffs up and gels in the liquid.  The other definition is the white stuff on chocolate that is edible, just not pretty.

Al dente:  Italian for "to the tooth".  It refers to that chewy quality of pasta that is neither tough nor mushy.  In 1950's-speak, it's that point where the spaghetti sticks to the wall when you toss it, but falls off a few seconds later.  If it stays there, you've overcooked it.  (I don't toss pasta at the wall, I taste it like a normal person.)

Aïoli: Garlic mayo.  Seriously, that's all it is.

This post got long in a hurry.  We'll revisit this topic when my list of terms gets excessive again.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Beef with Broccoli

Ah, I'm finally able to eat anything I want!  Now I just need the time to cook it.

This is a variation of the "Asparagus with Beef" recipe out of Sunset's Oriental Cook Book, which is so old it not only refers to Asian cooking as "Oriental", but it calls tofu "bean curd" and explains what Dim Sum is.  It was originally published in 1970, and my copy was printed in 1974.  If you can get around the dated material, the basic principles of the recipes are sound.

It did mention an ingredient I hadn't heard of, "bean sauce".  I wondered if it was just soy sauce, but that's a separate ingredient.  What I found in Pavilions' rather limited Asian section was something sitting next to the Hoisin sauce called Black Bean Garlic Sauce.  There's a photo of a stir-fry dish on the label, so I figure that's it.  At the very least, Roommate Smurf and I stir-fry often enough to use up the jar in a couple of months.  It isn't cheap, but it goes a long way.

I bought chuck steak instead of flank steak because of the package size.  They're both tough cuts of meat that should either be cooked quickly after being sliced very thin across the grain or slowly with a braising liquid.

In this version, and several others I found, the thickening agent of cornstarch is part of the marinade.  It's unusual, but it works.  I'm cutting down the recipe from two onions to one, assuming that onions are now much larger than they were in 1970.  The beef and veggies were listed by weight.  I'm also rearranging the cooking process to reduce the number of dishes and so that the meat isn't sitting half-cooked on the side for ten minutes.  I just got 100% on my ServSafe manager's exam(!!!) and don't like that idea.

1 pound flank steak
*1 tsp cornstarch
*soy sauce
2 medium broccoli crowns (about 1 lb)
1 large yellow onion
1/4 C vegetable or peanut oil (NOT olive oil)
3 Tb bean sauce
1/2 tsp sugar

1.  Cut steak lengthwise (with the grain) in 2-1/2" strips, trimming fat as you go.  Then cut across the grain into 1/8" thick strips.  Put meat in bowl and add 1 tsp salt, cornstarch, and 2 tsp soy sauce.  Toss to coat evenly and place in fridge until needed.

2.  Cut onions in half lengthwise, then slice into 1/4" slices.  Cut broccoli into bite-sized florets.  You may have to cut some in half.  They should be large enough that you can pick them up with chopsticks, but don't need to use a knife at the table.

3.  If making rice as a side, start that now.  Once it is simmering, heat oil in a wok or deep-sided skillet over high heat until wavy.  I know it sounds like a lot of oil, but it's going to work.

4.  Add onion to pan and stir-fry until pieces are separated and beginning to cook, about a minute.  Add bean sauce and stir to coat.  Add broccoli, sugar, and a tablespoon of soy sauce.  Stir to create a thin sauce and to make sure broccoli starts to cook.  Cover pan and allow broccoli to steam between stirrings, about a minute at a time.  When onions begin to get translucent and broccoli is almost done, remove cover and add meat.  At this point, you have to stir constantly so the meat browns evenly and doesn't get overdone.  One the surfaces of all meat pieces are lightly browned and the sauce has thickened, remove from heat.  If you're lucky, the rice is done.  If not, cover pan to keep warm until ready to serve.

Difficulty rating  :)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Kale with Garbanzo Beans

I admit, my kale repertoire is limited.  This one tasted different enough for me to post.  At this point, I didn't care; I hadn't had anything resembling a proper vegetable in over two weeks.  You don't miss crunchy veggies until you can't have them.  In this case, I chopped up the kale a lot more than I ever have, so I wouldn't have to chew it much.

This could easily be served on its own as a kind of vegan casserole, and is very good for you.  I used it as a way to dress up frozen fish fillet night.

1/2 C diced onion
2 Tb olive oil
1 bunch green kale, de-stemmed and chiffonaded
2 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 C dried garbanzo beans or 1 can, drained
1 batch oven-dried tomatoes (either chopped or made with cherry or grape tomatoes)

1.  If cooking the beans, soak for 8 to 12 hours.  Drain, cover with water, and simmer for 1-1/2 hours.  Drain again.  Otherwise, just drain a can and rinse.

2.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add diced onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add chopped kale and sprinkle lightly with salt to taste.  Cook until kale is completely wilted and most of the excess moisture has evaporated, about 10 minutes.  Add garlic and beans; cook another 2 minutes, to heat the beans through.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating π

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Whipped Purple Sweet Potato

Two days until I can have food with texture.  I really want a steak.  Meanwhile, I didn't want to have boring potatoes with the frozen fish fillets I picked up.  Instead, I got some purple sweet potatoes on impulse, with no idea what I wanted to do with them.

What I didn't know is that, in Hawaiian and some Asian cuisines, these are used as a dessert flavoring.  They aren't used often as a savory base.  Change of plans, I started soaking some garbanzo beans.  I also saw that coconut milk is a common way to make it creamy.  Whatever, I had cream on hand and some flakes.  I wasn't going back to the store.

Look, I'm using my new ramekins!

1-1/2 lb purple sweet potatoes
2 Tb butter
*1/2 C heavy cream
*1/2 C sweetened coconut flakes
1/4 C sugar
*1/2 tsp ground ginger
*1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
more coconut for garnish

1.  Peel and coarsely chop potatoes.  Place in a medium saucepan with lightly salted water to cover.  Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook until potatoes are very tender, about half an hour.

2.  Drain potatoes and place in mixing bowl while still hot.  Beat until smooth.  Add butter and cream and beat again until butter is melted and everything is incorporated.  Beat in coconut, sugar, ginger, and nutmeg until combined.

3.  Portion into serving cups, about 1 cup each, and sprinkle with coconut.  A topping of crushed macadamias would probably taste great.  (No, I'm not bitter...)  Either serve immediately, or chill as a cold dessert and let everyone try to figure out what's in this "pudding".

Difficulty rating π

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Scallop Ravioli

I bought a pasta machine.  I know, I've always said you can make pasta with just a rolling pin, but I had a gift certificate.  I also picked up some dessert ramekins.  True to my anti-hoarding practices, I went through my sauce and dessert cups and got rid of more cups than I bought.  In the smallwares department, I got rid of the extra waffle iron and immersion blender.  I realized that I never use the stick blender, even though it's easier to clean.  It created just enough room in the cabinet for the box.

This coincided with picking up some scallops in the last-day, 50% off bin.  I haven't made scallops yet on this blog simply because they're way too expensive ($15/lb) for something I don't love.  I'm still making easy-chew food, and this seemed like a good idea because I could purée the scallops before cooking.  They can be pretty tough if you just pan-fry them.

I did research potential recipes, but none were exactly what I wanted.  I was looking for something creamy, maybe cheesy, with plenty of herbs.  Just about everything had tomatoes in it.  I wanted those on the side.  So, I'm striking out on my own for this one.

I had a little more scallops than what I'm suggesting for this recipe, so I tried to make quenelles with the rest of the filling.  That's just a fancy name for a forcemeat that has been poached in an oval shape without any casing.  Kind of like a gefilte fish, but this one wasn't kosher.  They are often made as a way to test the seasoning levels before finishing a dish.  Mine didn't hold their shape very well, but I liked the taste.  That's the meatball-like blob in the center.

1 batch pasta dough

1/2 lb raw scallops, any size
1 stalk green onion
*1 clove garlic
*2 Tb parmesan cheese
*1 tsp parsley flakes
salt and pepper

*1 C white wine
1 Tb minced green onion
*1 clove garlic, minced
*1/2 tsp dill weed
*1 Tb parsley flakes
1/2 C cream
1 Tb butter
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Prepare pasta dough and refrigerate.

2.  In food processor, pulse all filling ingredients into a paste.  You're going to have to guess on the salt and pepper, since you can't taste it.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

3.  Divide pasta into two or four pieces, depending on how you want to work.  Roll out pasta dough to desired thickness, about four inches wide and as long as you can handle it without tearing.  Place teaspoonfuls of filling side-by-side every few inches up to the halfway point of the dough.  Dampen dough between filling and fold over empty side of pasta.  Press down around filling, being careful not to tear the dough over the filling bumps.  With a knife or pizza cutter, cut ravioli squares.  Refrigerate, covered in plastic wrap, if not ready to cook immediately.

4.  Boil a large pot of lightly salted water.  They are going to get slightly bigger as they cook.  Gently place ravioli in water and return to a low boil.  Cook while making sauce.

5.  In a small saucepan, simmer together wine and herbs for about 3 minutes.  You don't want the wine to reduce too much, but it should pick up the flavors.  Add cream and butter and bring back up to a low boil.  Reduce to desired consistency.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

6.  Once pasta is cooked, drain and rinse under cool water.  Plate, then spoon no more than 1/4 C sauce over each serving of ravioli.  Garnish with parsley flakes if desired.  Place remainder of sauce in a gravy boat or similar dish for anyone who wants more.

Serves 3-4

Difficulty rating $@%!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Triple-Chocolate Cheesecake

How long does it take to stock Ding Dongs?  I got Twinkies for the crew at work, but I don't like them.  Want my creamy chocolate.  Meanwhile...

This is why my kitchen will never be certified for commercial use.  I'm taking my food manager recertification exam today, so I'm super-sensitive to any possible sources of contamination.  Princess was really cute, though, and several feet from the cake.  You'd never guess that she's 14.

When making any recipe in a rush, don't skip steps.  And use common sense.  Just because I didn't notice the part in this lovely recipe that mentions buttering the pan as the first step, I should have known better.  As I was pouring the batter in the pan, I decided to read the recipe again.  Fortunately, it turned out ok, but it would have been prettier and less saggy in the middle if I had done it right.

Which brings up the point that you can't rush cheesecake.  Save the drama and make it the day before.  Whipping it up isn't hard, but it bakes for an hour, then cools for at least an hour more before you put it in the fridge to cool for four more hours.  That is, unless you like a dense, fallen cheesecake.  By all means, make it in three hours from start to finish.

*1-1/2 C graham cracker crumbs
*2 Tb cocoa powder
1/3 C butter, melted

*12 oz semisweet chocolate (chips or chopped blocks)
3 8oz packages cream cheese
1 C sugar
3 eggs
*1-1/2 tsp vanilla
1 C sour cream

*4 oz semisweet baking chocolate, chopped
1/3 C heavy cream
1 Tb butter

1.  Butter or pan-spray a 10" springform pan.  If it's the kind of pan with a textured bottom, also line with parchment or waxed paper, then grease the paper.  In a bowl, combine crumbs and cocoa powder. Stir in melted butter until evenly wet.  Press into bottom of springform and place in refrigerator to chill until needed.

2.  To prepare the filling, melt the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl on half power in one-minute increments.  Stir between, and try placing it in different parts of the microwave each minute.  Once melted, set aside and start to preheat the oven to 350º, with a rack set in the middle.

3.  In stand mixer, beat cream cheese with the paddle until creamy.  Add sugar and whip together.  Beat in chocolate next until combined.  Add eggs one at a time and beat in.  Finally, add vanilla and sour cream.  Scrape down bowl, then beat mixture until fluffy.

4.  Get the pan out of the fridge and place it on a rimmed baking sheet, in case of leaks.  Pour batter into pan and smooth top.  Bake about 55 minutes, until mostly set but still a little jiggly.  Cool in oven with the door cracked for one hour.  Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature.
Chocolate can hide anything

5.  For ganache topping, finely chop a good-quality baking chocolate.  Bring cream to a low boil.  Pour over chocolate and let sit a minute.  Stir until smooth, then add butter and make it smooth again.  If having difficulty, a 20-second shot in the microwave at regular power should help.

6.  Place cake on serving platter, removing all pieces of springform and any paper liners.  With a spreader, top with ganache.  Chill until set, at least two hours and preferably four.  When serving, remember how rich the cake is and make the slices small.  People can always come back for seconds.

Serves at least 10

Difficulty rating :-0

Friday, August 2, 2013

Ground Beef Chili with Beans

Still not chewing.  The dentist is on vacation, so I have to deal with the temporary crown for three weeks instead of two.  I'm not a huge chili fan because people seem to challenge each other when they make chili.  Do you dare to eat something that hot?

In a phrase, not without antihistamines and an inhaler.  But I do like the basic flavor of chili, when the hot peppers don't get in the way.

I got the starter recipe from this site, in an effort to find a truly Southern chili, and roughly cut it in half.  Read the whole post; she had fun with this one.

With a side of corn bread, it doesn't even look like I was trying to do anything special, diet-wise.  There are enough veggies in it for me to consider this a meal, since I shouldn't have crunchy salad for a bit longer.  I even lost a pound while working my way through the pot.

You don't have to cook your own beans.  I prefer it for salt and texture reasons.  You need about 3 cups of cooked kidney beans for this recipe, however you choose to obtain them.

1 C dry kidney beans (or 3 C canned, drained)
2 Tb olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 small green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 lb ground beef (15-20% fat)
*2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp sugar
*1 Tb worcestershire sauce
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 14 oz can reduced-sodium beef broth
*1 bay leaf
salt & pepper to taste
*1/4 tsp cumin
*1/4 tsp dried oregano
*2 tsp chili powder
garnishes like sour cream, shredded cheese, onions, jalapeños, etc.

1.  If using dried beans, soak the evening before in plenty of lightly salted water.  An hour before starting chili, drain and rinse.  Place in a medium saucepan with water to cover by one inch.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook until you need them for the chili.  Don't worry about over-cooking; you can't in this amount of time.

2.  In a medium soup pot on medium-high heat, heat oil.  Cook onion and pepper until tender, 5 minutes.  Add beef and cook until no longer pink, about 10 minutes.  Add garlic and cook another minute.  Drain off excess fat.

3.  Add everything else except the beans and garnishes.  (If you want to add something hot like diced chiles, now is the time.)  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook uncovered for 40 minutes.  It will be reduced and everything will be cooked through evenly.

4.  Drain the beans.  Reserve one cup of them and mash, like you would refried beans.  Put the rest in whole.  Add the mash and stir everything until evenly distributed.  Cook another 20 minutes to finish thickening the chili.

5.  Serve hot with corn bread or pasta, adding desired garnishes.

Serves 4-6, depending on side dishes

Difficulty rating  :)