Saturday, September 28, 2013

Pickled Green Cherry Tomatoes


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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pasta Primavera

Yes, I am quite aware that it is Autumn and not Spring.  Try telling that to my vegetable garden.  Really, most of the vegetables used in a classic Pasta Primavera are late-summer veggies like yellow squash and zucchini (both of which I am not using today because I don't like them).

Pasta Primavera is all about the veggies rather than the sauce and cheese.  They are there for accent.  I'm following Giada's lead and roasting everything except the tomatoes.  Her sauce is also lighter than some of the others I found.

I was surprised to find out this dish is an American invention and less than 50 years old.  Kind of like chop suey, which doesn't exist in China.

This was the first time I used the julienne inserts on my mandoline.  It was both fun and terrifying.  Those things point up!  Wore the chain-mail cut resistant glove for this one.  I got some lovely sticks of veggies for the carrots and eggplant that would have taken forever by hand.  The rest I did the old-fashioned way, to give my blood pressure time to return to normal.

3 medium carrots, peeled and julienned
1 medium eggplant, julienned
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
1 onion, halved and sliced thinly
1/4 C olive oil
*1 Tb Italian seasoning (yay!)
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb pasta of choice
*1 lb cherry tomatoes, halved
parmesan cheese for garnish

1.  Preheat oven to 450º and start boiling a large pot of water.  In a large bowl, toss veggies except for tomatoes in olive oil and spices.  Spread evenly on a baking sheet and roast in oven until tender, stirring every 10 minutes.  It will take 20 to 30 minutes total.

2.  After first stir, start cooking the pasta.  When done, drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid, and rinse.  Return pasta to the pot and add a touch more oil to keep it from sticking together.

3.  Add roasted veggies to the pasta.  Once combined, add tomatoes.  Slowly add some of the reserved pasta water until it no longer appears dry.  Serve, topping with a small amount of parmesan.  Don't drown out the taste of the veggies.

Serves about 6

Difficulty rating :)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Pasta Recipe #2

One thing I discovered with my new pasta maker is that my very soft pasta recipe doesn't work in it.  That one is meant for a floured board and covered with more flour for the rolling pin.  You need something much sturdier and drier for the pasta roller because you won't be adding any flour during the process.

This is the recipe that came with the machine.  I scaled it down to 3 eggs because the original 5 made almost two pounds of dough.  Also, it was in metric, so I have added approximate volume measurements.  You're welcome.

2-1/4 C (300 g) flour, plus more for sprinkling
3 eggs
1 Tb extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt

1.  Into a mixing bowl, place flour and form a well in the center.  Crack the eggs into it, and add the oil and salt.

2.  With a fork, whisk together eggs and gradually bring flour into the mix from the sides.  When the dough gets too thick, switch to kneading by hand until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.  If too dry, wet hands under the faucet, shake off excess, and knead with damp hands.  Even on a dry day, that should take care of it.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for half an hour.  This will distribute the moisture evenly and finish gluten development.

3.  Cut dough into manageable pieces and either process through your pasta maker or roll out by hand with a rolling pin on a floured board.  Shape as desired.  I tried the spaghetti cutter for the first time.  Don't let the pasta sit on the board too long, or it sticks together.  Stirring it in the pot was like breaking apart ramen noodles as they cook.

4.  Cook in lightly salted, boiling water to an al dente consistency, about 10 minutes.  Drain and rinse.  Serve immediately with sauce or topping of choice.

Makes about 1 lb of dough, 6 to 8 servings

Difficulty rating :)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Canned vs Dry

I was scooping up some dry garbanzo beans out of the bins at Sprouts to cook up for a salad when another shopper asked me if they were better for you than canned.  That made me think about the reasons I usually do go the soak-your-own route instead of opting for the convenience of a can.

There is nothing wrong with buying canned beans.  If you like a certain recipe, you probably won't be able to recreate it exactly without some of the fancy additives the processors use.  I have been trying for years to make something like the now-closed restaurant Love's baked beans.  I've gotten close a few times, but I wish they came in a can.

So, here are the pros and cons I have come up with for soaking your own beans...

  • You control the recipe.  No added salt or preservatives.  Nutritionally, the beans are identical.  It's what's done to them in the soaking and cooking processes that make the difference.
  • You can decide the cooking method.  Some beans and grains can be eaten after only soaking, no cooking required.  Then there's the boiling versus baking and for how long, which produce various textures.
  • You can make how much you need.  Recipes have not kept up with the changing sizes of canned products, and beans are no exception.  Plus, everyone's idea of a portion differs, and it rarely matches the number on the can.  A dry volume or weight measure, whichever you prefer, will differ only slightly between batches.
  • The texture is different than canned, usually more firm unless you have baked them for many hours, simply because the canning process includes a cooking treatment to destroy pathogens.  This can make a difference in many recipes.  You use soaked garbanzos for falafel, canned for hummus.
  • It's cheaper, especially out of the bins.

  • It's time consuming and you have to plan ahead.  You can't decide at the last minute to add beans to something if they require a minimum of four hours of soaking and one hour of cooking.  You can get around the long cooking time on a busy day if you have a crock pot, but you still have to plan your dinner 12 hours before suppertime.  This is a huge "con", and the reason canned beans were invented in the first place.
  • They just don't taste the same.  Americans have been trained to prefer processed food.  In the 70 years or so that this was the preferred method of preparing beans, we lost our taste for "real" food.  It took me several tries to decide that I liked the lower-salt, firm-textured, harder-to-prepare beans and grains better than their convenient counterparts at the other end of the aisle.

Most of my bean-related recipes will give the instructions for soak-and-cook, but you can almost always substitute canned and reduce the amount of salt you add to the recipe.  It's just one of those things I chose for myself as part of my diet.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mushroom Burgers

It was still hot, so I decided to barbecue.  The packages of ground beef that day at the market were not the weight I wanted, and the line at the meat counter was long.  Instead, I picked up one that was slightly small and half a pound of crimini mushrooms.

These aren't mushroom burgers in the traditional sense of spooning prepared mushrooms on top of a burger.  I put them inside with other seasonings as a filler.  Flavor-wise, it worked.  They did not stick together as well as I'd hoped, and I lost a bit when I flipped them.  This was possibly from not letting them rest after shaping.  Or, maybe I should have added an egg as a binder.  You can tell that I don't do hot weather well, and barely managed to cook up a few burgers and some corn.  I can't wait for Fall and all of the inspiration it brings.

1 lb 80/20 ground beef (the ideal fat for burgers)
1/2 lb crimini (baby portobella) mushrooms
2 stalks green onion
*salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste
4 hamburger buns for serving

1.  Finely chop mushrooms and onions.  Mix all ingredients together and let flavors meld in the fridge while you heat up the grill, about one hour.

2.  Shape into 4 patties, about 1/3 lb each (I had 5 small buns, so I made the patties a little smaller).  Grill until browned and cooked on bottom, then flip to finish cooking the other side.  You want to try to flip them only once, so they are less likely to fall apart or lose their juices.  When patties have reached 165º, serve on toasted hamburger buns with desired toppings and ketchup or bbq sauce.

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, September 13, 2013

Ultimate Margherita Pizza

You know you're me when ordering a pizza online and hoping it arrives in a reasonable amount of time is too stressful and making one from scratch seems easier.  In my defense, it was very hot that day and I had all the ingredients laying around.

A basic Margherita pizza is just pizza sauce, mozzarella, and a bit of basil on top.  I added a boatload of cherry tomatoes to the topping.  Anyone with a tomato plant at this time of year will understand why.  Techie Smurf is making marinara out of his Heirloom crop to freeze for later, and will probably can a bunch.  Cherry tomatoes are too much of a pain to peel.  I'm going to be drying and/or freezing most of my extras.

I also did not use normal pizza dough, which is usually made with water as the liquid and honey as the sugar.  I had too much milk in the fridge and used that, and didn't feel like opening a new bottle of honey for one tablespoon.  Then, I also added half a cup of buckwheat flour to the mix because I had it in the pantry.  There is nothing wrong with mixing in a different flour such as whole wheat, buckwheat, or rice flour.  Just remember that a low-gluten flour will change the texture of the final product because it might not rise as well.

*1 C milk or water, 100º
*2 tsp yeast
1 Tb sugar or honey
Olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
about 3 C flour
*corn meal
1/2 C pizza sauce (or leftover spaghetti sauce)
8 oz mozzarella, either shredded or thinly sliced
*1 lb cherry or grape tomatoes
about 8 leaves fresh basil, chiffonaded

1.  Dissolve the yeast and sugar into warmed water or milk and let sit until slightly foamy, about 5 minutes.  Stir in 1Tb olive oil.

2.  In stand mixer with a paddle, stir together a total of 1 C of the flours.  Add milk mixture and beat into a batter, about 2 minutes.  Add another cup flour and the salt and beat again into a thick, slightly stringy batter.

3.  Pour batter onto a well-floured board and knead until elastic, adding flour as necessary.  If using honey, the dough will stay sticky.  Even with the oil, it will be slightly sticky.  Round into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat all sides.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.

If you don't use a lot of corn meal,
they're never coming off
4.  Punch down dough and divide into four balls.  Round each ball and allow to rest while you prepare the pans and toppings.  Generously coat two sheet pans with corn meal.  Slice mozzarella if necessary and cut tomatoes in half so they don't explode in the oven.

5.  With a rolling pin, roll out each ball of dough into a disc six inches in diameter.  You can make them larger if you like thin-crust pizza.  Place two circles on each sheet pan.  (I went for three, and you can see that they were crowded.)  Spread about two tablespoons of pizza sauce on each circle, leaving the edges clean.  Divide cheese evenly between the pizzas, then sprinkle with tomato halves.  Top with shreds of basil and place in a warm place to rise for 30 minutes.

6.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Bake until bubbly with a golden brown crust, about 15 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly before trying to slice and serve.

Difficulty rating :)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Since I didn't know how I'd be feeling after my oral surgery, I decided to make a casserole ahead of time, and make it something soft and easy to eat.  When ground lamb was on sale at the market, I instantly thought of this.

Moussaka is not exactly difficult to make, it just has a lot of parts and ingredients.  Once you can get past that, it simply requires time coordination.  Rose Dosti did a good job of breaking it down in her Mideast & Mediterranean Cuisines book, except she used beef for the meat instead of lamb.  An acceptable substitution, but I'd rather go for the good stuff.  As long as we're talking substitutions, I did not use her recommended six egg yolks.  Half a cup of fake egg has about the same thickening power.

One thing I could not get around was the number of pots and pans required.  I did cut out one by making a roux and adding cool milk instead of her recommended heated milk.  Any assembly-line related project is going to take a while to wash.

Eww, that is all oil
I ended up using about a cup of oil for frying the eggplant.  That's after using tongs to wring out as much as possible.  I drained off a third of a cup from the cooking casserole because it bubbled up in the corners.  Ick.  Also, every time I heated up leftovers, there was a small pool of at least a tablespoon of oil left on the plate.  The next time I try to make this, I'm going to brush the slices lightly with oil and bake them at 400º for 45 minutes.  I'm not recommending that now because I haven't tried it.  On the plus side, you don't need to grease the pan, and it cleans up very easily.

I don't know how big the "large" eggplants were when Rose made her recipe, but mine came up short in the suggested 9"x13" pan.  I even got out a ruler to make sure my slices were about 1/2" thick.  Either get three, or the largest two in the pile.  They shrink up a bit once fried.

Meat Sauce
2 Tb olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1-1/2 lb ground lamb
*1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of sugar
*3 Tb dried parsley or 1/2 C fresh & chopped
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tb tomato paste

Cream Sauce
*2-1/2 C milk
6 Tb butter
1/2 C flour
6 egg yolks or 1/2 C egg substitute
*pinch of nutmeg
1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
salt and white pepper to taste

2 large eggplants, unpeeled
oil for frying
1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese

1.  Slice eggplants crosswise in 1/2" slices and sprinkle lightly with salt.  While that is sitting and leaching out the water and bitterness, prepare the two sauces.

2.  For meat sauce, heat olive oil in a saucepan or medium skillet.  Add onions and cook until tender.  Add lamb, cinnamon, sugar, parsley, salt, and pepper and cook until meat is browned and crumbly.  Drain off fat.  Stir in tomato paste and cook until everything melds, a few more minutes.  Set aside.

3.  For cream sauce, melt butter in a medium saucepan.  Add flour and stir together to make a roux.  Gradually add milk about half a cup at a time and cook each addition until thickened and lumps disappear.  Keep stirring, or the bottom will scorch.  Beat yolks in a small bowl.  Add about half a cup of hot milk mixture to eggs and beat until incorporated to temper the eggs.  Add back to saucepan and stir.  Stir in nutmeg, Parmesan, salt, and pepper and keep stirring until thickened.  Set aside.

4.  Pat eggplant slices dry with paper towels and start heating 1/2" of oil in a skillet to 365º.  Fry several slices at a time until golden brown on both sides.  When done, set on paper towels to drain, add more oil as necessary, and go at it again.  Warning, you may get splattered by hot oil both as the slices go into the pan and when you flip them.

5.  Preheat oven to 350º and get out a 9" x 13" baking pan.  Arrange 1/3 of fried eggplant on bottom of dish.  Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of Parmesan.  Pour half of the Meat Sauce over the slices.  Place another layer of eggplant on top, sprinkle with more cheese, and top with remaining Meat Sauce.  Top that with remaining eggplant and spread the Cream Sauce over the whole thing, making sure to cover the edges and corners.  Sprinkle top with remaining cheese and bake for 1 hour, until the top is golden brown and bubbly.  Serve hot.
Serves 8 to 12 if you have side dishes, 6 without

Difficulty rating :-0

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Maids of Honor

I made this recipe out of the Tea book as a thank-you to some friends for giving me a ride to the oral surgeon for yet another procedure.  I really hope I'm done with all of this dental work before the end-of-year holidays.  It has been enough of a trick to sing in a Rosh Hashanah choir with stitches in my gums.  Fortunately, he was able to fix the problem under local anesthetic; I just had a few days of pain, swelling, and ice packs.

These little bite-sized pies are kind of like sweet quiches, minus the eggs.  The original recipe called for pie crust, but I had some puff pastry dough in the freezer and gave it a shot.

I made them in a mini-muffin pan, and it didn't go as well as the ones in the cookbook's photo.  Either I cut the rounds too small or this recipe really should be made as slightly larger tarts.  A regular muffin pan might work better, resulting in half as many tarts.

There seems to be an awful lot of butter in this recipe.  I used it anyway, but you can probably do this with half as much.  It will simply result in a lower yield for the filling.

1 sheet puff pastry dough, thawed
flour for dusting board
1/2 C cottage cheese
1/4 C butter, softened
1/4 C sugar, plus more for dusting
*shredded zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 C ground almonds (almond meal)
*1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
*2 tsp brandy
1/3 C dried currants

1.  Roll out puff pastry dough on floured board.  Cut 12 4" circles if using a regular muffin pan, 24 2" circles for mini-muffins.  Unlike pie dough, you can't reroll the scraps of puff pastry and get the same results.  Use the space economically.  Lightly press circles into muffin pans and refrigerate until ready to fill.

2.  In a bowl, beat together cottage cheese and butter until smooth.  Add sugar, lemon zest and juice, ground almonds, nutmeg, and brandy.  Mix thoroughly.  Stir in currants.

3.  Preheat oven to 375º.  Spoon batter into pastry cups.  Bake 20 to 30 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown.  Sprinkle tops with sugar and let sit in pan until cool enough to handle.  Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 12 to 24, depending on size

Difficulty rating :)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Blueberry Sorbet

I finally ran through all my ice cream.  It was embarrassing how much I had accumulated.  Looking for a lighter alternative, I found an article on sorbets and granitas.  They're very similar, but the process is different.  You don't need an ice cream maker for a granita, but I've got one and it might as well be doing something.  The problem with making a batch of granita is that it's going to freeze solid if you don't finish it that day.  Sorbets are a bit more forgiving.

To make this even less likely to fail, I added just enough vodka to make it almost impossible for the sorbet to freeze solid.  If you're serving this as an elegant dessert with a single scoop accompanied by something like a shortbread cookie or orange slices, no one is going to get more than a teaspoon of alcohol, or 1/6 of a shot.  If even this sounds like too much, omit the vodka and serve the sorbet within a day or two of making it.

This recipe is incredibly easy because the blender and ice cream maker do all the work.  If blueberries aren't in season, you can use any other berry.  Maybe try it with kiwi or mango.  The lemon juice should still be there to keep the colors and flavors bright.  A slight acidic tang gives the sorbet depth.

The base of this is a simple syrup, which is just equal parts sugar and water boiled together until the sugar dissolves.  This is great to have around in a squeeze bottle for iced tea, iced coffee, or any other time you wish sugar came in a liquid form.  It's stable at room temperature for several days, and over a week in the fridge.

1 C water
1 C sugar
1 dry pint blueberries
1/4 C lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
*2 Tb vodka

1.  In a small saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching.  Turn off heat once sugar has dissolved and allow to cool to room temperature or below.

2.  In a blender, place washed fruit (remove any stems, they're sneaky), lemon juice, vodka, and the cooled simple syrup.  Cover and purée until fairly smooth.  There will still be bits of skin, but that adds character.

3.  Pour mixture into ice cream maker and run until mostly firm, about 20 minutes for the electric models.  Transfer into freezing container and freeze for at least 4 hours, until set.

4.  Serve in small portions in dainty bowls, maybe with silver spoons.  Make it an event.

Makes about one quart, depending on overrun

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Grapefruit Barley Water

This is considered a healthful herbal tea in much of the world.  I'd never heard of it, but it's in the Tea book, and those recipes almost always turn out well.  Besides, I happened to have 1/3 cup of barley left, and what are you going to do with that?

Unflavored barley water is considered a moderate curative and is often tolerated by infants.  Adding grapefruit juice gives the benefit of cholesterol-lowering compounds.  What you get is similar to a thick lemonade.  It tastes like a slightly sweet, creamy grapefruit juice.

As for the barley you just cooked, I let mine cool and froze it with the vacuum sealer.  I figure I'll use it on a salad at some point, or drop it into a vegetable soup at the last moment.  It still has significant nutritional value of its own.

1/3 C pearl barley
1/4 C sugar
2 pink grapefruit

1.  Place barley in a medium saucepan.  Add cold water to cover and bring to a boil.  Immediately remove from heat and strain.  Rinse barley with cold water; this step washes off impurities and extra starch brought out by the milling process.

2.  Return barley to saucepan.  Add 2-1/2 C cold water and bring to a boil again.  Cover and simmer for 1 hour.  Strain liquid into a pitcher and do whatever you want with the cooked barley.  Stir sugar into the water to dissolve and refrigerate until room temperature or lower.

3.  Squeeze juice from grapefruits and add to cooled barley water.  Refrigerate until chilled.  Serve cold, or even over ice as a grapefruit iced tea.

Makes about 2-1/2 cups, or at least 2 servings.

Difficulty rating  π