Monday, October 31, 2016

Accidentally Gluten-Free

Very few of my dinners lately have contained gluten.  I do work in a bakery and bake at home as well, so there most certainly is gluten in my life.  It hasn't been a conscious choice, just something I noticed after the meal was made.

And that's the point I'm making.  I don't like diets that try to pretend you're having meat if you're a vegan or bread if you're gluten-free.  You shouldn't feel like you're missing out by having substitutes and instead embrace the variety of what you can have.  I like following a meal plan that makes delicious food that just happens to conform to the guidelines.  I won my senior competition in culinary school with a vegetarian meal in part because no one noticed there was no meat in it.  Delicious and nutritious meals should be your goal.  Whatever restrictions you or your doctor have placed on your dietary lifestyle simply have to be built into the recipes.

Meanwhile, I've lost a little more weight than I should because of the gluten-free thing.  I tend to replace bread with low calorie, high-fiber foods like beans and brown rice or just more veggies.  Not much of a potato person, I rarely add salt to anything, and I haven't been frying lately.  So I'm having ravioli with alfredo sauce and garlic bread for dinner.  Nothing like packaged food to put a little weight back on.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Tortilla Soup

I spent a wonderfully drizzly morning off watching cooking shows.  (When your area is in a drought, any rain is "wonderful".)  One of them was The Pioneer Woman doing recipes that included tequila.  As a result, pretty much all of them were Tex-Mex.  Her tortilla soup looked especially good.

I've never had tortilla soup that I remember, but it sounded like something I could make.  I read several recipes to get a sense of the hybrid that everyone started with before making it their own.  Pretty much the only part of Ree's that I'm keeping is the tequila, which didn't make it into the online version, and thickening the soup with masa flour.  I still have a lot of tequila from my parents because I don't drink hard stuff.  I do cook with it.  The method I'm using here will cook off all the alcohol, so don't worry about serving it to kids.

Full disclaimer, I didn't make the recipe exactly as I'm posting it.  El Pollo Loco set off my capsicum allergy one day, and their food isn't usually a trigger for me if I stay away from the salsas.  So I'm not even risking bell peppers at this point and subbed in tomatillos.  All the chiles and peppers in this version I'm posting because they probably taste good.  What I risked was a teaspoon of chili powder in over half a gallon of soup.  Mild heartburn, but no tingling nerves or asthma.

If you don't feel like making your own chicken, two cans of it will do.  That will cut 45 minutes off your prep time, but can get kind of expensive.  Making this as a way to use up leftover chicken is probably the most efficient use of your time.  I used the last of the turkey.

Since I hadn't had tortilla soup before, I didn't realize it needed garnishes.  I guess it's kind of like chili.  These garnishes could get as elaborate as the soup itself, making this great for group meals.  Have a big crowd in the house over the holidays? Make a double or triple recipe and put out garnishes and some tortilla chips.  Each bowl would be unique and the guests would feel like they were participating.  Oh, and here's yet another gluten-free recipe (I seem to be making a lot of those lately, but making up for it during the rest of the day), so you wouldn't have to worry about that increasingly annoying part of the dietary spectrum.

1 C diced red onion
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
*1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tb olive oil
*2 Tb (one ounce) tequila - optional
1 qt unsalted chicken stock
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes and chiles
1 15 oz can black beans
1 C frozen corn kernels
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 jalapeño or Anaheim chile, seeded and diced (or to desired spiciness)
*2 C cooked, shredded chicken
4 6" corn tortillas
*1 Tb masa harina or corn meal
salt to taste
garnishes such as more diced onion, crumbled cotija cheese, sour cream, diced avocado, lime wedges, cilantro, jalapeño…

1.  Early in the day, take the tortillas out of the package and let them sit in the air to get a little stale.  Think croutons.  When you cut a stale tortilla into strips for the soup, they will soak up the broth better than fresh.  If making your own black beans instead of using the can, soak and cook 2/3 C dry to get roughly the same yield.

2.  In a large soup pot, sauté onion in the oil.  Add the cumin and chili powder and continue to cook until the spices are fragrant and the onion starts to soften.  Add minced garlic and continue to cook another minute.  Add tequila and let it boil off until the pan is mostly dry.
3.  This is where it gets crazy easy.  Drain beans and rinse several times so the color won't dull the soup.  Add beans, broth, tomatoes in their juice, corn still frozen, diced peppers, diced hot pepper, and chicken.  Bring everything to a boil.  Lower heat to a simmer and cook 15 minutes.
4.  While it's simmering, dissolve masa harina in 1/4 C water.  Think of it like adding cornstarch to a dish to thicken it.  Cut tortillas in half, then slice into 1/2" wide strips.  Start preparing your garnishes.

5.  When the soup has half simmered, taste and add salt or spices as necessary.  Stir in the masa mix.  Keep simmering until the raw veggies are as cooked as you like them and the soup has thickened slightly.

6.  If serving all of the soup at once, stir in tortilla strips.  If there are going to be leftovers, treat the strips as a garnish and just put a handful at the bottom of each bowl before adding the soup.  You could also serve with a starter lime wedge squeezed into it and just have more available with the garnishes.  If you cook the lime directly into the soup, it won't have the same freshness.

Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Year-Old Turkey

No new recipes this time because I had a slight epiphany.  They were clearing out the freezer bins at the market to make room for the turkeys and I realized I still had a pound of last year's in the freezer at home.

This pound is from the small turkey I bought early last November when I wasn't sure who was hosting Thanksgiving.  Then I was invited out, so Tom languished at the bottom of the chest freezer for over six months.  I finally got around to deboning and roasting him, I think in June.  That gave me about six pounds of usable meat, four or five of which ended up frozen.

Some of it went into turkey tetrazzini.  Some turned into sandwiches.  Some was just sliced and eaten with sides to use up the cranberry sauce I made way too much of two years ago.  And my new favorite, the yam toasts.

So, what I've learned from this yearlong odyssey is that I don't really eat much turkey.  And it's not simply the roasting process that's a turn-off, because I've had four months to finish the leftovers.  I need to think about that before I buy another simply because it's cheap.  I already know I'm not hosting Thanksgiving this year.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Planting Greens

Once the current heat wave passes, I'm going to plant my winter lettuces.  Some of the seeds I bought won't germinate if the soil is above 75º.  Since I don't have to worry about frost, that means I can direct sow when the autumn Santa Ana winds are done, generally the week of Halloween.

First up, I had to dig out the last of the past winter's lettuces.  My least favorite of the mesclun mix refused to die or bolt, no matter how hot it got.  They also didn't want to pull out, even with moist soil.  I got out the shovel and dug down to get out the taproot.  And then I dug some more.  And once again to make sure I got all of it.  I wish my carrots would grow that deep.

So what did I pick?  Not another mix of random seeds.  With a year of experience in unusual greens and past experience with spinach, I had a better idea of what I wanted to grow.  I got spinach, arugula, romaine, and cress.  The first three I chose because I like them, but often have a hard time going through a package before it starts to spoil.  The cress, just because it's cool.  It's also hard to find in stores and expensive when you do find it.  I actually don't have room for it in the lettuce patch, so it's getting the cucumber pot.  Eggy is still producing, so I'll keep her for a bit, but the last tiny cucumber squeaked itself out last week.
Meanwhile, I'm going to have a Halloween pumpkin!  It's in the pond and not the front yard, but at least it's something.  There might be one on the remaining front yard vine, but I'm not counting on it.  And on my latest round of de-minting, I found three long runner roots over two feet long.  So tired of battling the mint.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Harvest Ragout

Ragout sounds fancier than stew.  For Sukkot, I decided to cook up my garden.  Well, three small eggplants, the last mature carrot, and some celery.  Supplemented by some tomatoes, onion, and leftover spinach and served over quinoa, this made a vegetarian meal.  I threw feta on it for a little extra flavor, but this can be made just fine as a vegan meal.  And yes, (grumble) it's gluten-free.

1 small eggplant, cut in 1" cubes
1 large carrot, chopped bite-sized
1 lb Roma tomatoes, large diced
*8 oz fresh spinach, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
*1/2 C diced onion
1/2 C diced celery
2 C low-salt vegetable broth
1 Tb butter (or olive oil for vegan)
1 Tb cornstarch
3/4 C dry quinoa
salt and pepper to taste
Feta cheese for garnish

1.  Sautée the onion, celery, and garlic in the butter in a large saucepan until soft.  Add 1 C broth, eggplant, carrot, and tomato.  Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until soft. about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching and to make sure everything makes it into the broth at some point.
2.  While that's going on, dissolve corn starch in 1/4 C cold water.  Cook quinoa in remaining cup of broth by also bringing to a low boil, then simmering covered for about 15 minutes.  Lightly salt and pepper both pots.  If you're using feta, that will add to the saltiness.

3.  When the quinoa is almost done and the vegetables have cooked down, add cornstarch slurry to the veggie pot.  Stir in and cook until the broth has thickened.  Stir in spinach, taste, and adjust seasonings.

4.  Serve ragout in a ring of quinoa, then lightly sprinkle with feta cheese.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Freezing Cookie Dough

It's baking season again.  This is the time of year that I want to make stuff all the time.  What usually stops me is "who's going to eat it?"  You can freeze pretty much any baked good, but there's something special about eating a cookie before it has cooled.  However, most recipes make at least two dozen snack-sized cookies.

Commercial sources discovered long ago that selling dough in the freezer section increased their sales.  That's great, but there are only about five kinds of cookies made that way.  It is great to break off a square or cut a slice and pop them into the toaster oven at a moment's notice.  You can do this yourself for much less money and only a little more time.

Version 1: The Log

These doughs can be used straight out of the freezer and sliced with a very sharp knife, or defrosted for a few hours so they can be rolled and cut with a cookie cutter.  Baking from frozen generally won't affect the baking time since the slices are under 1/4":

Version 2: The Scoop

Go to a restaurant supply store and get a purple scoop.  They're under $10, and sometimes referred to as a size 40 or 3/4 ounce.  I think the size below that is a steel-handled one, but a leveled-off purple will make a 2-to-3-inch drop cookie.  For very small cookies, use a melon baller.

Lay out a piece of waxed paper on a cookie sheet.  Scoop leveled-off portions onto the paper and freeze the entire sheet overnight.  Once they're solid, you can toss them in a gallon freezer bag and keep them frozen until needed.  Give them a 15 minute head start to defrost before preheating the oven and you're set:

For both methods, make sure to label the baggies with the name of the cookie, the date, what temperature to bake them, and for how long.  Most doughs will still be as good as new for about three months.

Not every cookie dough can withstand freezing.  Sponge cookies that are raised by whipped egg and cookies containing only baking soda and not baking powder will have issues.  Anything fluid you have to pipe, like a macaron or ladyfinger, cannot be frozen.  Actually, I'm not 100% sure on the macaroons, but they're just nuts, sugar, and unwhipped egg white.  All of those ingredients can be frozen separately.  And you have to work fast with the Toll House, because the dough is very soft.  Cookie-press doughs are fine to freeze.  I just don't have any here because I gave up on my skills with the press years ago.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Pumpkin Crepes #2

I used my third pumpkin on this one.  I haven't had as many pumpkins as the last time I grew them, but they're bigger.  And unlike the first two, I didn't purée this one.  I cut it up after roasting and peeling.

The main difference between these crepes and the first one I posted is that I did not try to make these vegetarian.  You could, just by leaving out the bacon.  They are also a lot more complex, with more ingredients, all of which have to be prepared separately.  I also made buckwheat galettes for them instead of buying some, which fit the flavor profile much better than a white-flour crepe.

As long as I was buying more spinach than I needed to fill the crepes, I decided to put the rest into a cream sauce, making it basically creamed spinach spooned on top.   If you decide to use fresh spinach, you can opt to put it inside raw and only cook the half for the sauce.  I got the inside spinach to the just-wilted stage.  You never want to cook spinach all the way how you want it because it's going to keep cooking in its own heat.  Now, if you opt for frozen, it's going to be wilted as soon as it's defrosted, but you can buy it already chopped.

*1 lb fresh pie pumpkin (about half of one)
1/2 lb bacon
1/2 lb spinach
1/2 C cream
*1/4 C diced onion
1 Tb butter
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp white pepper
salt as needed
1 batch galettes
pumpkin seed kernels for garnish

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Cut pumpkin open and remove seeds.  Place cut side down on baking sheet (line with foil for easy clean-up).  Place bacon slices on a rack on another baking sheet.  Bake for about 40 minutes, rotating pumpkin and flipping bacon halfway through.  If using fresh spinach, use the time to wash it and remove the stems.

2.  When pumpkin is cool enough to handle, peel and coarsely chop.  Stir with nutmeg, white pepper, and a dash of salt.  Set aside.  Chop bacon into bits and place in a separate bowl.  This is when I started cooking the crepes.

3.  Place butter and diced onion in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  While it's cooking, chiffonade the spinach.  Add to pot and toss to coat evenly.  When spinach begins to wilt, remove half of it.  Continue to cook down the other half, then add cream to make the sauce.
4.  To assemble, place about 1/4 C pumpkin in the center of the crepe.  Top with a generous pinch of spinach, then sprinkle with bacon.  Fold over crepe and spoon sauce on top.  Sprinkle generously with pumpkin seeds and serve, two crepes to a serving.

Makes 4 to 5 servings

Difficulty rating  :-0

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Grapes in Syrup

I bought a lot of fruit one shopping trip.  Then I got mild food poisoning from the cantaloupe and it kind of put me off the rest of it for a few days.  Yes, you can get ill from a melon, usually if the water used to grow it was not entirely clean.  Fortunately, I didn't have very much and figured out the cause of my tummy troubles on the second day.  I did hate to throw out the rest of it.

Meanwhile, the bag of grapes in the fridge was on the verge of spoiling and getting thrown out themselves.  There was no way I could finish them in time.  So, I went looking for grape recipes.

I know, that's not something you normally think of, a "grape recipe".  I found several in just my own cookbooks and never googled.  The Bible has one for marinated grapes, but they're still fresh and have to be eaten in a few days.  Out came the Ball book, and their simplest offering of canning whole grapes in syrup.  After all, canning was created to preserve foods for the long term if they couldn't be finished fresh.

Once I thought about it, those cans of fruit cocktail from the market mostly have peaches, pears, grapes, and cherries.  I already have canned cherries from earlier this year.  (I didn't post the recipe because it's basically the same as the nectarines.)While I was not about to peel two pounds of grapes, I can see myself having a mixed bowl of canned grapes and cherries over cottage cheese some day.

Like most of the recipes in the Ball book, you don't actually have to process can the grapes.  You can simmer them in the syrup for 15 minutes if they are going to be served in the next few days.  It's basically poached grapes, and there is no reason you couldn't add white wine to the syrup if you're just putting them in the fridge to use later in the day on some kind of dessert, perhaps jam tarts filled with lavender-lemon jam.

2 lbs seedless grapes
1 C sugar
2 C water

1.  Remove stems from grapes and place in acidulated water (fancy term for putting lemon juice in it first).  Measure the volume.  If canning, prepare jars for that yield and get your water boiling.  This step took me the longest of everything in this recipe.
2.  While the lids are heating and the jars are sterilizing, bring water and sugar to a low boil.  Continue to boil until all of the sugar is well dissolved, about 5 minutes.

3a, non-canning:  Drain grapes.  Pour into syrup and stir to coat.  Add a little more water (or 1/2 C white wine) if too dry.  Simmer for 15 minutes, until grapes have softened.  Store chilled in the syrup for up to 1 week.

3b, canning:  Ladle 1/2 C hot syrup into bottom of pint jars, 1/4 C for half-pints.  Raw-pack drained grapes to 1/2" from top.  Ladle more hot syrup over if needed, to generous 1/2" headspace.  Shake to settle and remove air bubbles.  Wipe rims, center lids, and screw on lids fingertip-tight.  Process 15 minutes for pint jars, 20 if you go crazy and do quarts.

For both methods, remember that the remaining syrup can be used to sweeten iced tea or adult drinks.  You could even put it in a hummingbird feeder.

Makes at least 2 pints

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Bunching Celery

When people ask what I'm growing in the garden, I usually forget to mention the celery.  Those three little plants have been in the Pond for maybe six months and I still haven't done anything with them.  I also don't mention the mint that I'm constantly thinning out of the front yard, but there's a whole post on that.

There was more grass growing in the Pond than on my back lawn, so I decided to do some weeding.  I got out the twist ties I normally use to tie up tomatoes when I'm growing them and pulled in the little bushes of celery so I could get under them.

Huge moment of epiphany.  Those bands around the celery in the market are because celery grows wide as a bush!  The farmers have to bind them to make them grow up instead.  I've been waiting since late winter for the magical point at which the plants only grow upward in a tight column.  Somehow, none of the sites I checked when they were seedlings mentioned that.

So really, celery is more of an herb than a vegetable.  We've just decided to use the stalks more and the leaves rarely.  It's like growing cilantro, which also has edible stems.

And at some point, I will start picking some stalks and using them.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Apple Compote

I made waffles and was out of bananas, so I decided to top them with a basic apple compote.  It's just a fancy name for cooking down a fruit with just enough sugar and spices to make it interesting.

There are canning recipes for compote out there, and this one might have enough acid in it to qualify, but I made this for use fresh.  Only process using a recipe from a trusted source.

I did research a tiny bit before starting, and Martha Stewart's recipe had alcohol in it.  That might be a good idea for certain dessert recipes.  I was having breakfast.  You could also add a bit of butter or cream if you plan to use this in something that would need extra creaminess.  I just put it on the waffle straight and hardly needed any syrup to help things along.

*2 Granny Smith apples
*2 tsp lemon juice
1 Tb water
1 Tb sugar
*1 Tb raisins (optional)
dash cinnamon

1.  Peel apples if desired.  I almost never peel mine because so many nutrients are in them.  Core apples and cut into 1/2" chunks.
2.  Place apple pieces in small saucepan with remaining ingredients.  Bring to a low boil over medium-low heat.  Cover and lower heat to a simmer.  This is going to take a while.  Stir occasionally.  As the fruit cooks, it will give off more moisture.  Continue cooking until apples are very soft, at least 20 minutes.  Remove lid and let some of the water boil off until desired consistency.

3.  Serve hot or cold.  You can serve it as a side, or on pancakes, waffles, crepes, ice cream, with poultry, etc.

Makes about 2 C

Difficulty Rating  π