Sunday, May 29, 2016

Poached Swai with Black Eye Peas

I've felt like eating healthy lately.  It's odd: I go on health binges instead of fast-food ones.  At some point, my body will get mad and insist I eat junk, but that will probably happen around the tea party, so I'm covered.  Actually, what I have planned for the tea isn't all that bad for you.

I don't think I've ever had black eye peas.  This fits under the heading of trying a new ingredient.  I was going to serve the fish over Israeli couscous, but that cost more than the fish, so I looked at the rest of the grocery shelf it was on and opted for the beans.

I also poached the fish instead of pan-frying it coated in breadcrumbs, which was my first instinct.  And fresh herbs in the tomatoes just sounded like a good idea.  Ever since I moved my basil to the other side of the doorway, it has gone gangbusters.  I still had a bit of cilantro, and stewed tomatoes were born.

This is my second entrée in a row that's gluten-free.  It would have been three, but there were breadcrumbs in the meatballs.  Seriously, not my intention.  Remember, first choice was the spherical pasta.  At least this one wasn't vegan.  I do work at a bakery, so it isn't as through I'm not getting my bread products.

1 C dry black eye peas or 1 15 oz can
*1 10 oz package grape or cherry tomatoes
1 Tb fresh basil
*1 Tb fresh cilantro
1 Tb olive oil
4 small (6 oz-ish) swai fillets
1/2 C lemon juice
salt and pepper

1.  If soaking beans, start the day before.  2 hours before mealtime, drain beans, bring to a simmer with 3 C lightly salted water, cover, and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours.  For canned, drain and rinse, then microwave shortly before serving.

2.  For tomatoes, wash and cut in half.  In a small saucepan, place tomatoes, olive oil, basil, and cilantro over medium-low heat.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a light simmer and reduce heat.  Cover and let stew in the tomato juice while you prepare the fish.  Don't let the tomatoes get dry, because they are your "sauce" for the dish.

3.  For the fish, bring 1/2" of water and lemon juice to just under a boil in a large skillet.  Poaching means you don't boil the water, just keep it under a simmer.  I was using frozen swai from a package, and salting the water was a mistake.  Unless you got it fresh from the meat counter, check the sodium content on the package before adding anything.  Add fillets and poach until opaque and fully cooked.  Times will vary depending on frozen vs fresh and the thickness of the fillets.  For fully defrosted, it's about 4 minutes per side.

4.  To serve, spoon a bed of beans onto the plate.  Add fish, then top with tomatoes.  Dust with pepper and serve hot.  Maybe accompanied by a salad.  Yes, I still have a lot of lettuce in the garden.  It's going to have to make room soon for the celery I have started in cups.

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Apricot Orange Jam

Two days after my "red canning" day, apricots went on sale at Sprouts for 88¢ a pound.  I'm not a huge apricot person, but that has more to do with not liking fuzzy-skinned fruit than the taste itself.  I picked up slightly over two pounds.  Half were turned into apricot butter, which used the same process as pear butter (except I added extra lemon juice for shelf-stable processing), and the other half were for jam.

I got the recipe from the Ball Book of Preserving, -ish.  It's a cross between the old-fashioned apricot jam and the apricot-orange conserve.  I didn't want to put nuts in it, but I did want to use an orange off the tree.  They've been up there a long time and are on the verge of spoiling.  I did appreciate that both recipes were based on volume yield of fruit, rather than trying to estimate pitted weight.  It made it a lot easier to do the math on how many jars I would need.  I still managed to come up with one less jar than I expected, but a pound of fruit should make a pint or so of jam.

Papa Smurf loved apricot jam.  He would buy the big Costco jar for breakfast toast.  I didn't like it as much, but I loved how pretty it was.  The apricot bits looked like bright candy in a golden syrup.  That was what I was after, and was not disappointed.  This batch of jam gelled faster than I expected and had that lovely clarity to it.  It also only needed one skimming, mainly for the orange.

2 C peeled, seeded, and chopped apricots (about 1 lb)
1-1/2 C sugar
2 tsp orange zest
*1/2 C orange juice
2 Tb lemon juice

1.  To prepare apricots, boil a pot of water.  Place whole, washed apricots in pot for one minute.  You'll see the skins start to bubble.  Remove fruit to an ice water bath to stop the cooking.  At this point, the skins should come off relatively easily.  Cut fruit in half, remove pit, and chop into small pieces.

2.  Place all ingredients in a medium skillet at least 2" deep.  Heat over medium and stir until combined.  Bring to a boil and continue to cook until gel point is achieved, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Test set with a chilled spoon.
3.  If canning, process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.  Or just cool to room temperature before transferring to a container for refrigeration or freezing.  Lasts in the fridge about 2 weeks.

Makes about 1 pint

Difficulty rating :)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Stuffed Eggplant #2

It's been a while since the first stuffed eggplant recipe.  I am by no stretch of the imagination a vegan, and firmly believe that you shouldn't go gluten-free unless you have a diagnosed medical condition that advises it.  However, a meal that just happens to fit both of those descriptions because it sounds good at the time is not a lifestyle.  In my case, it was a combination of some lovely spring weather and my new eggplant starting to blossom.  I'll be sick of eggplants in a few months, but I wanted one NOW.  Some of the quinoa I bought for Passover, leftover cilantro from the meatballs, and a very inexpensive visit to Sprouts later, I was ready to roll.

2 medium eggplants
olive oil
4 oz grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
*1/2 C diced onion
2/3 C dry quinoa
*1/4 C chopped cilantro
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
tahini sauce (see below)

1.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Cut eggplants in half lengthwise and remove caps.  With a melon baller, scoop out insides like a canoe, leaving at least half an inch all around.  (I used the scraps to make baba gannouj.)  Rub inside and out with olive oil to reduce sticking and place cut-side down in a baking dish.  If they're roasted on their skins, they'll deflate.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until very soft.
2.  While the eggplant is baking, make the stuffing.  Cook onion in 1 Tb olive oil in a medium saucepan until "sweated".  Soft, but not browned.  Add tomatoes and cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add spices, cilantro, and quinoa.  Stir together, then add 1 C water.  Bring to a low boil, then lower heat to a simmer.  Cover and cook until quinoa is done, about 15 minutes.  If stuffing gets too dry, add a few tablespoons of water and continue to simmer.

3.  Plate cooked eggplant halves and spoon in a generous amount of quinoa stuffing.  Drizzle with tahini sauce and serve.

Tahini sauce
2 Tb tahini paste
1 tsp garlic powder
1 Tb lemon juice
water for thinning

1.  Combine tahini, garlic, and lemon juice.  Add water a tablespoon at a a time until desired consistency is achieved.

Difficulty rating :)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Meatballs with Coconut-Peanut Sauce

I've never gone out for Thai food, mainly because I don't like curry or very spicy dishes.  But making this at home, I could substitute cumin for the curry and move the recipe slightly west.

I'm not going into a long discussion of the bridge of flavors between the Mediterranean and South Asia.  It's a gradual progression as some spices and herbs gradually fall out of use as they are replaced by others that grow well in the Asian climate.  What I ended up doing was making beef keftas and putting more or less the same sauce over them as in this recipe.

Cooking spices in the pan before adding liquids to the sauce brings out a deeper flavor as the spices are "activated" by heat.  It's a different effect than adding spices to an existing sauce.  This is more a habit in Pan-Asian cooking than Western, which is a big part of why South Asian and Indian dishes taste so heavily spiced.  Most recipes have little to no added salt; it's all in the herbs and spices.

For meatballs
1 lb 80/20 ground beef (too lean will be too dense)
*3 stalks green onion, finely chopped
1/2 C chopped cilantro
*1/4 C Panko breadcrumbs
1 egg
*1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
dash pepper

1.  In a medium bowl, knead together all ingredients until evenly distributed.  Refrigerate for 15 minutes to 1 hour to allow flavors to meld.

2.  Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment for easy clean-up.  Foil works almost as well, but I didn't even have to wash the pan.  Preheat oven to 375º.

3.  Shape meat mixture into 1" meatballs.  Yes, they're small, but they will cook evenly without burning anything.  I got about 30.  Bake for 20 minutes, then turn to crisp the other side and cook another 5 to 10 minutes.

While they're in the oven….

For Sauce
1 can coconut milk (I used light)
1 tsp cumin
*1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp salt
1 Tb oil
2 Tb peanut butter

1.  Heat a deep skillet over medium.  Put all the spices on the dry pan and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the oil and turn spices into a paste, another minute.

2.  Add coconut milk and peanut butter.  Cook until sauce simmers and peanut butter has melted into everything.  If too thick for your liking, thin with as much water as you need.

3.  Once meatballs are done, place in sauce and stir to coat.  Serve hot over rice or with toothpicks for an hors d'oeuvre.  Suggested garnishes are cilantro, peanuts, or coconut shavings.

Difficulty rating :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Pickled Beets

As usual when I manage to grow something successfully, I have a bit of freedom to experiment.  I needed some greens for a pizza, and they happened to be attached to three beets that were small, but ready to pull.  (I had to toss Kale.  She was too yummy and every bug in the neighborhood decided to move in.)

I'm not sure I've ever had a pickled beet.  Canned, yes.  They sounded good.  I looked up a recipe in the Ball Book of Preserving, then went and found Alton Brown's.  This is somewhere between, since I did not plan to process these and didn't have to worry about acid levels or sterilizing.  This recipe fits under the "refrigerator pickle" category.

But I did do a lot of canning that day.  Cherries were cheap, so I bought two pounds.  One was for jam and the other for whole cherries in syrup.  A pound of strawberries made two half-pints of strawberry-vanilla jam, and my "red" spring jamming was done.  I still have some blackberry-rhubarb and meyer lemon jams in the pantry.  Apricots were on sale this week, so more jam is happening and will be posted soon.  This will be plenty to get me through next month's tea party, and probably most of the summer.

And apparently this is my 700th post.  Not bad for almost six years, especially with how little I've been posting lately.

3 medium beets
1 large red onion
1/2 C white wine vinegar
1/4 C apple cider vinegar
1/2 C water
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 C sugar
1/2 tsp rosemary
1/4 tsp thyme
olive oil

1.  Wash beets and trim, leaving most of root and 1" of stem attached to reduce juice bleeding.  Rub with just enough olive oil to coat and seal in a foil pouch with rosemary and the ends of the onion.  Roast at 400º until softened, about 40 minutes.

2.  When cool enough to handle, cut off root and stem ends and rub off skins.  Discard flavorings with the foil.  Slice as desired, or even leave whole.  I cut mine in bite-sized pieces.

3.  French the onion, which means cutting it in half the "wrong" way, from stem to root ends, then slicing to get long strips.  This is as opposed to making rings for burgers.

4.  In a quart container, layer beet slices and onion.  If you're an onion fanatic like I am, getting pickled red onion out of this recipe is a bonus.

5.  In a small saucepan, combine vinegars, water, salt, sugar, and thyme.  If you have a favorite pickling spice, toss it in.  I added a couple of juniper berries from the corned beef.  Bring to a low boil and continue to cook until the salt and sugar are dissolved.  Pour over beets, cover, and refrigerate 3 to 7 days before eating.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, May 14, 2016


I was so happy to be able to eat legumes and grains after Passover that I almost forgot about Cinco de Mayo.  I was going to buy pintos anyway, but I've already done a post on a basic Pinto Bowl.  So, here's a recipe for something to go with it.

These are not what Taco Bell calls a gordita.  It's a masa harina based pita bread.  The difference is that you have to cut the pocket yourself.  No gluten to make the dough bubble in the middle.

Most gordita recipes are basically the same.  You cook a chubby tortilla on a dry pan, then deep-fry it.  For proportions, I'm using Hilah Cooking's version.  It's a cute post with great pictures.

2 C masa harina flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tb vegetable oil
1-1/2-ish cups of warm water
oil for frying

1.  In a bowl, stir together masa flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add 1 Tb oil and 1 cup of water and stir to combine.  The dough probably won't stick together unless it's a very humid day.  Add water 2 Tb at a time until the dough forms a not-crumbling ball but is not sticky.  Let it sit aside while you heat the oil, and that will give it time to hydrate properly.

2.  Heat a pan or fryer at least 6" round with 1" of peanut or corn oil to 375º.  Olive oil's smoke point is too low and it will break down halfway through the project.

3.  Divide dough into 4 pieces.  Pat each into a disc 1/2" thick, about 4 to 5 inches in diameter.  Heat a second pan over medium heat.

4.  Cook gorditas on dry pan for about 2 minutes per side, until lightly browned.  Transfer to fryer and repeat, except the second side only needs about 30 seconds to 1 minute.  You can get an assembly line going and do all of them in about 15 minutes.  Drain the waiting ones over paper towels, or even in a low oven if making a larger batch.

5.  With a sharp knife, cut a deep slit in each gordita to make a pocket.  Fill and serve.

Difficulty rating  :)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Fixing Honey

In high school chemistry class, we did a demonstration on supersaturation.  We added sugar to water over heat, then kept adding more sugar until a thick syrup was formed.  We let the syrup cool, then dropped in a few grains of sugar.  Instantly, the beakers were filled with fantastic sugar crystal formations.

That's fun to watch, and cool to build on a string as rock candy.  (You can also do the experiment with salt.)  It isn't as amusing when it happens in a bear-shaped bottle of honey.  Fortunately, you can fix it.

First, get a saucepan and fill it with an inch or two of water.  Place it over the lowest heat.  Get a heat resistant jar with a wide mouth and place it in the water.  Add the honey to the new jar.  I assume it will be clumpy.  If you can't transfer the honey, set the bear in the saucepan, but keep an eye on it.  The plastic will start to melt if you leave it on too high a heat.  Just keep trying to move the honey every minute or so.

Once all the chunky honey is in the jar, you can turn up the heat a wee bit.  Stir every minute or so until the crystals are gone.  If any remain, the honey will start to crystallize again as soon as it cools.  Remove the jar from the water and allow it to cool to room temperature before covering for storage.  All honey has some botulism in it naturally, but it is dormant.  Factory processing takes care of the issue for the grocery shelves, but there's no reason to create a new seal that may cause problems.
Yes, you may have to do this again, and you won't have a convenient pouring spout anymore, but at least the honey is in a usable state.  Plus, it's in a container that you can run through the process.  It's better than throwing it out because you can't get it out of the bottle.  And next time, buy a smaller bottle.  I don't care how good a deal you got on that 24 oz bear, if an 8 oz bottle is all you can go through before it starts to turn.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Baked Potato

This one falls under the same category as hard-boiled eggs.  It's one of those things you assume you know how to make until it's time to turn on the oven and you realize you have no idea how long to cook the potatoes or at what temperature.  Obviously, I bake potatoes about as often as I hard boil eggs, maybe once or twice a year.

So I hit up the bible for a basic recipe.  It gave me an oven temperature of 450º, but that seemed awfully hot.  Plus, I was using olive oil, which has a lower smoke point, and I was using small potatoes from the 5 lb bag.  So I opted for 400º and fifteen more minutes.

The week after, I was barbecuing and decided to throw some on the grill.  Over coals, that took over 90 minutes.  But I had lit the grill, and wasn't doing anything else all afternoon.  Why turn on the oven?

*4 small or medium potatoes
vegetable oil
aluminum foil

1.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Wash potatoes and rub all over with a drizzle of oil.  Wrap each potato in foil.
2.  Place potatoes either directly on oven rack or on a rack in a roasting pan.  Cook for one hour.  Let rest for five minutes before unwrapping.  Serve hot with toppings of choice.

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Greens and Potato Soup

This started as a recipe from the LA Times in an article about vegan Passover dishes.  But I decided to use beet greens from the beet I used on the Seder salad instead of spinach.  There weren't enough of those, so I grabbed most of the usable kale from the back yard.  That still wasn't enough, so I threw in  the rest of the parsley from Seder.  I didn't feel like overdosing the soup on dill and basil after that, so this is really kind of a new recipe, and half the size of the one in the paper.  It is still vegan, with the potatoes doing the thickening.  I still have half the bag of potatoes, and they're starting to grow.  Sensing a pot of vichyssoise in the near future.

This soup is green.  Kids are not going to eat it.  Some adults may balk.  And it required more salt than I was hoping to use.  But it also counts as your veggies for the meal, so you don't have to make the main plate green as well.  Maybe have it alongside a grilled cheese sandwich for color contrast.

*1/2 lb russet potato, in 1" cubes
from my lettuces…
they bolted
*1 C chopped yellow onion
*2 large cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
*1 lb assorted greens like spinach, kale, collard, or beet
*1/2 C herbs like fresh parsley, dill, cilantro, and basil
3 C water

1.  In large soup pot, combine potato, onion, garlic, and water.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until potatoes start to fall apart, about 15 minutes.

2.  Add all greens and herbs and cook until completely wilted.  This will take longer for tougher things like kale than they will for the herbs or spinach.

3.  Purée soup in a blender in batches until very smooth.  Pour back into pot and return to medium heat. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary.  Serve hot, garnished with toasted nuts or quinoa as desired.

Difficulty rating  :)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Passover Mayonnaise

Even though I'm not much of a mayo person, I eat a lot of tuna salad during Passover.  The few KLP mayos available are very expensive and you have to brave the kosher markets to find them.

What makes a mayo kitniyot?  Usually, the oil.  Soybean is widely used, even in the ones "made with olive oil".  Cottonseed oil is ok for Passover if you ask the right person, and those are the $6 for a 12 oz jar mayos.  The other ingredient that renders a mayo kitniyot is mustard.  Seriously, someone decided that mustard seed looked too much like a chametz grain?  I get that legumes swell when soaked and therefore could be mistaken for something that rises, but a spice?  There are some rabbis who now have decided that kitnyot are ok for Conservative and Reform movements.  Since I don't change overnight, I'm going to be ok this year if there are trace amounts of extracts such as "soy lecithin" and stuff like that.  If the first ingredient is soybean oil, I'm not eating it.

There is a very easy way around this problem, and it's really cheap.  One egg yolk, a cup of olive oil, and a couple of KLP spices are all it takes.  About $1 per cup of mayo if you're a careful shopper.  The downside is that the shelf life is about five days to a week.  You don't get the long list of stabilizers and ultra-pasteurized ingredients found in commercial mayonnaise.

I don't remember why I got rid of my immersion blender.  Maybe I dropped it too many times and it cracked, or I decided I didn't use it enough.  If you have one, you can make a one-egg mayo in a pint jar or similar sturdy, small container.  Other options are with a whisk by hand, in a food processor, pulsing in a blender, or with a hand-held electric beater.  I did a large batch once in a stand mixer at school, but most households don't go through a quart of mayo in a week.  This time, I opted for the hand mixer.  I just didn't have the time for the whisk or the inclination to clean any more parts than I had to.

For taste, well, I'm not a mayo person.  They all taste like seasoned oil to me.  This batch came out kind of 1000 Island-pink because I used paprika.  Different spices and oils will create different colors.

As usual, when preparing a classic recipe from scratch, I'm basing this on Alton Brown's.  Yes, you're using a raw egg yolk.  There's a disclaimer on AB's version.  There are recipes out there for cooked mayonnaise if you're too squeamish.

1 egg yolk
1 C olive oil (not extra-virgin)
1/8 tsp salt
pinch of sugar
1/4 tsp paprika (or another spice)
2 tsp lemon juice
1 Tb white wine vinegar

1.  In a small container, combine lemon juice and vinegar.

2.  In a small bowl, whisk (or beat) together yolk, salt, sugar, and spice.  Add half of acid and beat to combine.

3.  Add oil slowly, drops at a time at first.  It's going to take at least five minutes to incorporate the first 1/4 cup, even with the beater on medium.  Once there's substantial volume to the mayo, you can pick up the pace a little.  At the halfway mark, add the rest of the acid.  It's going to make the mix lighten up immediately.  Continue to beat in a thin stream until all of the oil is incorporated.
4.  If the mayo "breaks", meaning it separates into oil and liquid, reduce speed on beater and add half a teaspoon of water at a time until the emulsification stabilizes.  You probably had a small yolk or didn't put in quite enough liquid, or maybe had an unsteady hand and poured too much oil.  It's fixable, but this sauce requires a lot of patience.  It's going to take 15-20 minutes, even if you're a pro.

Makes about 1 cup

Difficulty rating  :)