Monday, August 31, 2015

The Grill Pan

I wanted to get a grill pan at the beginning of summer, but they seemed too expensive for such a specialized item that would only get used a couple of times a year.  Then there was one in the half-off, end-of-season section at Target and I decided to go for it.  It's supposed to be for cooking pizza on the grill, but can be used for anything.  Besides, bbq-ing pizza?

Brussels sprouts are not an obvious choice to serve alongside burgers, but I really wanted to try out the pan.  And grilling or roasting the sprouts until they are slightly charred is my favorite way of having them.  I only wished I had remembered I was out of parmesan when I was at the market.  Besides, whenever I light up the grill, I want to make the most of the charcoal.  I also made the grilled polenta for dessert.

One little caveat, keep some oven or grill mitts handy.  The handles get hot.  Yes, I was stupid.
And this has nothing to do with my most recent grilling session, but I took this photo of the corn while the charcoal was getting up to temp.  I have about four ears for sure.   I'm fine with them being small, since I usually cut my ears from the store in half.  I'm just hoping they grow healthy.
This isn't my house.  It's a few blocks away, and I thought it was totally amazing.  They trained their squash vines up on the roof!  I'm not sure exactly what they all are.  I think some are zucchini and there may be butternut squash.  Really hoping there's enough pumpkin in there to make the most awesome Halloween decoration ever.  You can see on the left that they trained the vines up a trellis until they were long enough to toss on the roof.  It's actually a very good idea.  The leaves won't get sprayed with water and form mold, and there are probably fewer pests up there.  It provides shade insulation for the house against the summer heat.  Getting the fruit down is another matter.  I have a rock roof, so this won't work for me, but a handy person who has limited garden space and no fear of heights could do this easily.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Fruity Coffee Cake

Thanks to everyone else's availability, I've been closing at work lately and having split days off.  It's a horrible schedule for a morning person, and even worse for preparing interesting dinners.  However, I'm not falling asleep during choir rehearsals and I get to have elaborate breakfasts.

Instead of making my apple coffee cake, I decided to blow the last of the canned nectarines on this one.  It wasn't going to be enough to flavor an entire cake, so I added a small container of fresh blueberries for the top half.  I think this makes the cake healthy…ish.  There's fruit in it.  Other than that, it's the same recipe, minus a little sugar because canned fruit is sweeter.  Since that post was five years ago (!), this isn't so much a rerun as a reminder.

1/4 C flour
1/4 C quick oats
dash nutmeg
2 Tb sugar
3 Tb butter

1.  Stir together flour, oats, nutmeg, and sugar.  Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly.  Refrigerate until needed.

1 C flour
1/3 C sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ginger
1/4 C melted butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 C milk
1 15 oz can sliced peaches (since you can't buy canned nectarines) drained
1 5 oz container blueberries

1.  Preheat oven to 350º and butter an 8" square or 9" round cake pan.

2.  In a bowl, sift together the dry ingredients.

3.  In a separate bowl, combine butter, egg, and milk.  Stir into dry ingredients until just combined.  Do not over mix, and it's ok if there are dry patches.  Add peaches and stir to distribute.

4.  Pour out batter into baking pan and spread even.  Rinse blueberries, remove any lingering stems, and distribute evenly over top of cake.  Sprinkle top of that with the crumb topping.

5.  Bake for 50 minutes.  Turn off oven and let the pan sit in there another 10 minutes in the residual heat.  Remove from oven and cool completely before trying to turn out, or serve from pan a lot sooner.

Serves 6 to 8

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Cucumber Gazpacho

I was massively skeptical when most of the "cucumber gazpacho" recipes I found included yogurt.  In gazpacho?

Guess what… it works.  The soup isn't overly creamy and has a distinctive bite, even though I skipped the hot sauce myself.

I'm not calling this "white gazpacho" because it came out green.  Also because I didn't cut the cucumber with honeydew or green grapes.  There were a lot of cucumbers to use.  The herbs add to the flavor enough to give it depth and not taste just like cucumber.

And it only takes minutes to make!

*1 lb cucumber
*1/2 C fresh parsley leaves
*1/4 C fresh mint leaves
1 C water or vegetable broth
*2 stalks green onion
*2 Tb white wine vinegar or rice vinegar
*2 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp salt
dash pepper
tobasco or other hot sauce to taste
2 Tb plain yogurt (Greek ok)

1.  Peel cucumber and chop into bite-sized pieces.  Also chop the green onion.

2.  Put everything except the last four ingredients into the blender.  Pulse until large pieces are broken up, then run until smooth.  Add yogurt and run again to mix.

3.  Taste, then add salt, pepper, and hot sauce as needed.  Remember that flavors will dull as the soup is chilled.

4.  Keep soup cold until ready to serve.  Chilling the bowls is a good idea.  Garnish with more yogurt, parsley or mint leaves, or cucumber slices.

Makes 4 small appetizer servings

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, August 22, 2015


Even though the corn stalks are only knee-high, they started flowering right on cue.  I'm really hoping this doesn't turn into another disaster.  I'm giving them plenty of water and nutrients and taking pest control seriously.  Even if the ears are small, I'd really like a successful corn crop.  The cucumber isn't complaining.

The eggplant crop isn't a problem.  Finding people who want it is.  I'm probably going to end up cooking a lot of them and freezing the mash to use later in baba gannouj and casseroles.  I used three with a package of ground veal on clearance and the last of the Bradley marinara to make the stacked parmigiana.  There was also a batch of eggplant and lentil dip, which made a light side for some poached salmon.  The bush itself is healthy and very pretty.  I would like it even if it was only a decoration.  The same spider/ticks that killed Kale found it, which makes sense because it's in the same place.  I'm taking care of those the second I see one.

The carrots keep getting nibbled on by tomato worms.  As if keeping them off the tomatoes weren't hard enough!  I'm going to guess they're ready when the corn is.  I'm used to seeing my produce above ground.  Nothing from the sweet pepper seeds I planted last week where some carrots never sprouted.  Considering I may not be able to eat them, it's not such a loss.  Once that planter's experiments are over, I'll let the boysenberry run wild.  It's mad at me for training it in a cramped space.  All I can think of is how many berries I might get next year!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Fruit Galette

I'm not all that good at making pie crusts, but this dessert uses a "pastry" crust, which is somewhat more forgiving.  It's also supposed to look "rustic", which is code for being allowed to be imperfect.

One thing I noticed in every photo I researched online was that the fruit did not look very good once it was baked.  It was dry and shriveled because you can't add as much liquid with a stand-alone crust as you can in a pie tin.  I decided to solve that problem by making this for canned fruit, which is already cooked and infused with simple syrup.  Specifically, I'm using two of my three jars of canned nectarines.  This is the kind of thing I made them for.  For those picking up ingredients at the store, peaches or pears would be the obvious choice.  Pie filling would be a second-best option.

I have never understood refrigerating pie dough to make it "easier to handle".  I chilled it overnight and had to let it sit on the counter for an hour before it was warm enough to roll out without cracking.  I'm putting in here to chill it a mere half hour, which is enough time for the dough to hydrate evenly and for the butter to firm up.

This recipe is based on one from The New York Times.  Since I'm always into pastry cuteness, I made four breakfast-sized galettes instead of one large one which would serve six to eight.

1-1/3 C flour
1 Tb sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C butter (not margarine-one stick) cut into chunks
1 tsp lemon juice (optional)
1 egg
heavy cream

1.  Place flour, sugar, and salt in the food processor.  Add butter and pulse until evenly distributed into crumbs.  This can be done by hand with forks or a pastry cutter, but it's easier in the processor.

2.  Beat egg.  Add enough cream to make 1/3 C and beat together.  Add lemon juice to flour mixture and one tablespoon of egg cream.  Pulse and continue to add mixture 1 Tb at a time until pastry sticks together, up to 1/4 C.  Reserve remaining mix for egg wash.

3.  Form dough into a disc and wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap.  Chill for at least 1/2 hour.

4.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.  Either roll out one large, round crust that is 1/4" thick or divide for four or six mini pastries and make smaller circles about 1/8" thick.  Use the rolling pin to transfer the crust to the baking sheet and refrigerate it while you prepare the filling.

Filling & Baking
1 29oz can peaches or another stone fruit (about 3 C)
1 Tb sugar
2 Tb cornstarch
1/4 tsp ginger, cinnamon, or another accent spice
1 tsp lemon juice (optional)
egg wash from above
extra sugar for sprinkling

1.  Preheat oven to 400º (375º for minis).  Drain fruit and immediately transfer to a bowl so it still has a little juice in it.  Add sugar, lemon juice, and spices and stir together.  Stir in cornstarch and allow to sit a few minutes, until the starch dissolves.

2.  Spoon filling into center of crust.  Don't pour, or the filling will be too wet.  You will end up with a little juice still in the bowl.

3.  To form the galette shape, pull up a thumb-sized part of the circle.  Pinch it into an inward-leaning pleat and move on.  You will end up with something that looks like an inside-out pleated skirt, with most of the filling visible.  Brush egg wash on crust and sprinkle with sugar.  Use a large-grained or sanding sugar if you have it.
4.  Bake for about 35 minutes, until crust is golden and filling is bubbly.  The boiling filling is cooking the cornstarch and thickening.  Mostly, you want to make sure the crust is done but not burnt.  Cool for five minutes on the baking sheet before trying to transfer the galette to a cooling rack.  Cool another 20 minutes before serving, or the filling will run everywhere.

Serves 4 to 8, depending on slice size and if you make minis

Difficulty rating  :-0

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Coconut Chicken

I bought a can of coconut milk a while ago to make this.  Then I used it to make some carrot coconut soup, and totally forgot about that.  By the time I figured out why my can of coconut milk had disappeared, I already had my heart set on making this.

You probably don't even need the coconut milk to make this work.  You can dredge the chicken in beaten egg or cream.  What you need is something with fat content to seal in the juices.  It's just hard to keep skinless chicken tenders moist.

I'm putting panko breadcrumbs in the recipe, but I actually used some stale buckwheat bread heels for the crumbs.  Any stale bread will do.  If you use unsweetened coconut, you could even use stale poundcake and skip adding sugar.

1-1/2 lbs skinless chicken breast tenders
1/4 C coconut milk
1/2 C panko bread crumbs
*1/2 C unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tsp sugar (or omit for sweetened flakes)
dash salt

1.  Place chicken tenders and coconut milk in a sealable bag and marinate for at least 1 hour in the fridge.

2.  Combine breadcrumbs, coconut flakes, sugar, and salt.  I used the food processor because I was breaking up bread.  With pre-made breadcrumbs, you can stir everything together in a pie pan.

3.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Use pan spray on a foil-lined baking sheet. Let the coconut milk drip off the chicken for a moment, then dredge in crumbs, coating all sides.  Arrange tenders in a single layer on pan.

4.  Bake for 8 minutes.  Turn pieces over and cook an additional 6 minutes, until the coconut flakes get toasty.  Don't flip them a second time, or you're going to start losing crumb.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Quick Pickles

So, the kind of cucumber I planted (straight-eights) isn't recommended for pickling.  The cooking process makes them mushy, not crisp.  However, I did turn the first one into sunomono, proving that they could handle no-cook pickling.  Basically, it's marinated cucumbers.  You don't put them through a canning process, they live in the fridge, and you should try to finish them in a week or two.  They also take a whopping five minutes to make.

*1 English or Straight-Eight cucumber
1 C white vinegar
1 C filtered water
1 Tb kosher or pickling salt
1 tsp sugar
*1/2 tsp whole peppercorns
*1/4 tsp mustard seed
*1 bay leaf
*1 tsp dill weed
3 cloves garlic, slightly smashed
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (if you want them spicy)

1.  Leaving the skin on, remove the ends of the cucumber and slice into wedges.  Into a jar or tall, narrow container, place garlic, bay leaf, peppercorns, mustard seed, dill, and red pepper flakes.  On top of that, pack in cucumber spears.

2.  In a small saucepan, bring vinegar, water, sugar, and salt to a low boil.  Continue to boil until everything is dissolved, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and immediately pour over cucumbers.  They should be completely submerged.  If not, quickly heat up some more water and vinegar.  The pickles will float, as you can see in the photo, but not until the brine reaches the top.

3.  Allow to cool to room temperature with the lid slightly ajar.  Then refrigerate with a closed lid for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight.  They will continue to soften the longer they're in the fridge, so don't make more than you can eat in a few days.

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, August 10, 2015

Broiled Vegetable Panini

I don't have a "sandwiches" label on purpose.  This sandwich almost made me create one.

My first eggplants were barely large enough to eat.  Only slightly larger than my hand, I figured the first one would be good for one or two sandwiches.  That is how much I got out of it in quantity, but the quality was a new discovery.  A very young eggplant, with few to no seeds, tastes different than the large ones you get in the market.  It's buttery and mild instead of tough.  I could get used to that, not having to use lots of salt and garlic to mask any squashiness.  (Believe it or not, that's the spelling auto-correct came up with.)  They also have very sharp thorns in the cap, hence the gardening gloves.  I still got stuck.

The inspiration for this sandwich came from an article in Cooking Light, but I changed it a lot to suit my tastes and what I had on hand.  I had a "garden dinner".  The eggplant was fresh, the tomatoes were recently dried, and the juice in the coconut carrot soup was from a Valencia off the tree.  I wished my spinach was still around, since I can never get through a whole pound before it starts to turn.
I'm going to scale this to a market-sized eggplant, which I believe will make four sandwiches.  Since I was only making one sandwich at the time, I did all the cooking in the toaster oven, just to see if it would work.  You can use the oven broiler or light up the grill.

8 slices ciabatta bread (or 4 rolls split)
*1 medium eggplant
olive oil
1 C oven-dried tomatoes and their oil
2 C fresh spinach leaves
4 oz goat cheese log

1.  Slice eggplant into 1/2" rounds.  Coat both sides with olive oil.  On a foil-lined pan, broil for 5-8 minutes, until lightly browned and starting to soften.  Turn and broil other side until slices are soft.

2.  While that's going on, spread one side of ciabattas with several dried tomatoes.  Go ahead and drizzle a little oil on them for added flavor.  The other side gets coated with 1 oz of chèvre crumbles.  Toast until everything is warmed and lightly browned.  This can also be done under the broiler while the eggplants are on the second side.

3.  Top warmed tomatoes with a generous handful of fresh spinach leaves.  Place eggplant slices on top of spinach.  You may have to cut them in half to make them fit, because ciabatta is a low-profile bread.  Top with cheese side of bread.  Cut in half if desired.  Serve warm with soup or salad.

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, August 7, 2015

Aw, Shucks

I had to rip out Brad.  The spider/beetle things killed him.  It was heartbreaking, but he did last a full season longer than a tomato plant is supposed to.  I bag-ripened as many of the tomatoes as I could and made a pint of oven-dried tomatoes.  The ones that were too young ended up as pickled green tomatoes.  And when the beetles migrated to the other side of the yard and started to climb Cherry's pot, I coated the outside of the pot with organic pesticide.  Problem mostly solved, but I'll get to that in a minute.

The carrot seeds I planted in the fountain while Brad was dying never sprouted.  Once he was gone, I had only one struggling pea plant and the prolific cucumber around the rim, but nothing in the main body of the pond.  Seeing nothing but tomato plants and herbs in the seedling section, I picked up a packet of corn seeds and read it carefully.  I realized my mistakes the first time I tried to grow corn and decided to give it another try.

I must have done something right, because the first sprouts came up in only 5 days, two earlier than the packet predicted.  Pretty soon, I had a pretty sprinkling of green inside the pond.  It looked much better than the lawn around it (technically, corn is a grass).  A freak July storm produced enough rain to water the pond deeply without damaging the seedlings.  That allowed them to take root before I had to go back to using the watering can.  This is when the beetles discovered the corn, so I re-introduced them to the Neem spray.  A month after germination, I was hoping for a little better than knee-high.  I was probably not watering them enough, and this week upped it by several gallons.  The cucumber is loving all the extra water as a result of sharing dirt with the corn and I'm eating a lot of pickles.

As for the carrots, there were still a lot of seeds in the packet.  I churned up the dirt where the pumpkins had been last year and planted two rows on each side of the boysenberry bush.  Things started to germinate right on cue, and some of them were carrots.  I had to pull out a lot of clover.  What was left is just about the right amount for me to be able to use during September.  There is only one on the left side, but the right is doing great.  So is the boysenberry, again because it's getting watered as a side effect of watering the young plants near it.  I found a tomato worm on one of the carrots yesterday, so I'll probably have to start treating them with Neem as well.  Technically, it's still organic gardening, but I'd rather not use anything.

As all of this was getting started, the eggplant was blooming up a storm and starting to produce.  It's even harder to share a bounty of eggplant than of zucchini.  At least they're much smaller than the ones in the market.  When you have four or more growing at a time, that's a good thing.  By picking them when they are only slightly larger than my hand, I am able to get very good quality fruit that makes one or two servings.

Oh, and Artie is starting to come back, after only two months of dormancy.  Nice to know I'll get another year out of him.  He must be close to the end.  It has been a positive experience, and I'll probably plant another when he finally gives up.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Lettuce-Wrap Burritos

I bought a head of greenleaf lettuce with good intentions, then made two anemic side-salads with a couple of cherry tomatoes and straight balsamic vinegar.  It was time to either make a real salad or come up with a creative use for the lettuce.

The thing about recipes on the internet is that you come up with what sounds like a unique idea, give it a logical name, and google it to find dozens of recipes.  Usually, none of them are exactly what you had in mind, but they give you a starting point.

My starting point was that none of the lettuce "tacos" used greenleaf.  They all used something sturdier with a central spine like bibb, romaine, or endive.  That ruled out a taco that wouldn't fall apart, but not something wrapped.  I settled on a sushi hand-roll approach and started to think of fillings.  Basically, I went through the pantry and freezer, until I only had to buy cheese.  How did I run out of all cheeses except cream cheese?  Whatever.

I'm going to list what I put in mine, but this idea will work with whatever you like in your burritos.  It was vegetarian night; I saw several versions with cooked ground turkey or diced chicken breast.  All of the avocados at the market were hard, so I used a spoonful of zucchini spread instead of guacamole.

The experiment did get pretty messy when I ate them out of hand.  It works a little better with a knife and fork.  It's kind of an inside-out salad, and it tastes a lot like whatever lettuce you used.  I didn't miss the tortilla, partly because it was the day I made creamed corn.  I think it would have been satisfying anyway because of the beans.

*8 large lettuce leaves
1 batch not-refried beans
*1 C guacamole or zucchini spread
8 oz grape or cherry tomatoes, split
4 oz shredded cheese
cilantro for garnish

1.  Lay out lettuce leaves on a platter, spine down.

2.  Spoon beans on center of leaves first, followed by guacamole.  Sprinkle on tomatoes, cheese, and cilantro.

3.  To make hand rolls, carefully pull in sides and secure with a toothpick if necessary.  Either use utensils or eat from the leafy end down to the base.  Other possible garnishes include onions sour cream, or anything else you like in a burrito.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Apple Pancakes

I thought I might like to make apple fritters, then I looked at a recipe and decided that was more calories than I had in mind.  Meanwhile, I kind of had my heart set on using apples for breakfast and ended up with this.

Yes, I did get out the food processor at 4am to shred apples.  (Equivalent to 7am for a normal person.)  That meant doing a lot of breakfast dishes at 5am.  You could dice the apples very small and get a slightly chunky pancake, like the bacon & apple ones.  I preferred the way the apples cook and melt into the batter when they are shredded.  It makes for a very moist pancake.  You also don't have to cook them before putting them into the batter.

I happened to have Gala apples on hand, so I didn't use much sugar.  If you use Granny Smith or a similar tart baking apple, use at least 1 Tb of sugar or to taste.  If you opt for butter instead of margarine, add 1/8 tsp of salt.  I didn't want the butter to firm up against the cold ingredients and get clumpy.

2 medium to tart apples
1 C milk
1 egg
1/4 C margarine, melted
1 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp sugar, or to taste
oil for the pan

1. Shred or grate apples.  The food processor is the easiest way.

2.  Combine apples, milk, egg, and margarine.  In a separate bowl, combine flour baking powder, cinnamon, and sugar.  Stir dry ingredients into wet and stir until just moistened.  Let sit while the griddle is heating.

3.  Lightly oil a griddle or skillet and preheat over medium.  Spoon or pour about 1/4 C of batter for each pancake.  Cook until browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes.  It won't get "golden" because of the cinnamon.  Flip and cook the other side about 1 minute.  Re-oil skillet as necessary.

Serves 4 to 6

Difficulty rating  π