Saturday, January 30, 2016

Soba Noodles

I had been eating a lot of rice, and decided to have soba noodles with my beef teriyaki.  Except I thought of that after getting home from the market.  No problem, I have buckwheat flour, and I have been meaning to make and post soba noodles here for over a year.

The post I used for my reference talked about only using certain brands of buckwheat flour and other specialized equipment and techniques.  I just used what I had on hand, which was Arrowhead Mills, and it came out fine.  It's actually a lot like making tortillas out of masa flour, just boiled instead of pan-fried.  Slightly different texture.  I don't recommend putting either through a pasta roller.  The lack of gluten makes it pointless.

These noodles do have a little gluten in them, to make them easier to handle.  Since buckwheat is kosher for Passover if you do not observe kitnyot, I got the brilliant idea to make one batch with matzoh cake meal instead of flour.  I used arrowroot powder for the starch, but you could use potato starch if you have it.  Really good KLP noodles, but you can't put soy on them because it's fermented.  Still, any noodle during Passover is a relief.

I made what the original recipe said was enough for one serving and it was way too much for me.  Cut it in half the next night and found it just right.  If this doesn't serve your family, just double the recipe.

*1 C buckwheat flour
1/4 C all purpose flour
corn starch as needed

1.  Stir together two flours.  I did the whole thing with my hands.  Add 1/4 C water and stir to make a crumbly meal that almost sticks together.  Knead in water 1 Tb at a time until you get a ball of dough.  It will still crumble apart if you make the effort.

2.  Start boiling a medium pot of water.  Scatter corn starch lightly on a flat surface.  Place dough on top and dust with more starch.  Roll into the thinnest rectangle you can manage, less than 1/8" if possible.

3.  Fold over half of rectangle, dust with more starch, and fold again.  You should have a thin block of folded pasta.  Slice into ribbons as thin as you can make them.
4.  Shake apart folds as you drop the strands into the boiling water.  A thick foam will form on top as the noodles cook.  That's the corn starch.  The noodles will cook in 1-2 minutes.  Drain, rinse, and serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Washing Produce

I took a picture of some spinach taking a bath and realized I had never gone over how to wash produce.  What needs to be washed and how well?  Any special cleaning products?  Doesn't it all cook off?

The only thing I don't wash is bananas, but I do wash my hands after peeling if I'm going to cut the flesh.  I know some people who do wash banana skins.

So why do we need to wash produce?  Especially the stuff that comes "triple-washed" in a bag.  It's washed.  It says so.  And organic food isn't treated with pesticides, so it's ok.  Right?

I wash the veggies I grow myself even more than the ones from the store, and I know I've used only organic, herb-based pesticides, if any at all.  Scary, disgusting things come out my artichokes, and I'm not going into what came off the broccoli a few years ago.  Those bugs may not make it into the grocery stores, but they were on your veggies at some point.  Birds poop, rain sends down pollution, and countless other things happen in fields and orchards.  Not to mention you have no idea how clean the hands were of every other person who picked, packed, stocked, or handled the item you eventually bought to take home.  Wash your produce.

I wouldn't buy into any of those vegetable cleaning products, though.  I scrub tough things like root vegetables and citrus with dish soap and their own dedicated scrubby.  Whole fruits, including tomatoes, get run under water for several seconds.  For easily bruised fruits and leafy greens, the procedure is very easy.  Scrub a sink and its plug with either dish soap or a light bleach solution and rinse thoroughly.  Fill the sink a couple of inches deep with cold water and a couple handfuls of ice.  Toss in fruit or veggie and swish it around.  Strain or spin dry and you're ready to go.  The spinach in the photo was remarkably clean as spinach goes, but it still looked like the beach at the bottom of the sink when I was done.

Also a neat trick for cleaning leafy veggies:  Cut unwashed lettuce, kale, or cabbage on a cutting board, then slide the contents into the prepared sink.  You don't have to cut dripping veggies.  They can go straight to the next step in your recipe, all washed, cut, and ready to roll.

And a little reminder not to wash your produce until you're ready to use it.  If you put it back in the fridge even slightly damp, it's going to spoil and/or get moldy.  The stuff in the market can stand a periodic misting because it's exposed to the air and has excellent drainage at the bottom of the shelf.  Most of us store produce in plastic bags in a plastic drawer in a closed fridge.  Not the same thing.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Pear Butter

I found some Allspice I didn't realize I had in the back of the spice cabinet when I was tidying up after all the cooking in December.  When I decided to do Pear Butter as a pizza sauce (see prosciutto et brie pizza for one with apple butter) I was thrilled to find out that most recipes used the spice.  I was also happy to see that the concept is just like making applesauce and reducing it into something thick and spreadable.  I can do that.

I can't believe I spent an hour on 1/3 C of sauce, but the large-batch recipes put the purée in a slow cooker for 12 hours, so I guess it's not too bad.  It was exactly how much I needed for the pizzas, so none of it went to waste.  And that's the best kind of recipe.

1 large or 2 small bartlett pears (about 3/4 lb)
1 TB honey
1/2 tsp orange zest
dash allspice

1.  If using a blender or food processor, peel and core the pear.  For a food mill, just cut it in chunks.

2.  Place in a small saucepan with just enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cook until pear is very tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain.

3.  Either run through the blender or press through a food mill on the fine or medium setting, depending on what texture you want.  Return mash to pot and add spice, zest, and honey.
4.  Bring to a low boil and reduce to desired consistency.  Stir frequently to avoid scorching.  This will take at least half an hour, and probably closer to a full hour.  Remove from heat and chill.

Note:  This is not a canning recipe.  It is a small batch intended to be used within a few days or frozen.

Makes about 1/3 C

Difficulty rating  :)

Oh, and this is the pizza I used it on (before baking): buckwheat crust, pear butter, balsamic onions, wilted spinach, beets, brie, and walnuts.  Yes, beets.  Sweet and tangy both go well with brie.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Pancake Mix Fail

I received a package of Dove's Red Velvet Pancake Mix and decided to make up the whole bag one early morning to freeze in single-portion baggies for breakfasts at work.  Pancakes always take longer than it feels like they should, so I thought I'd just spend an hour on it and get it over with.

This is not a good mix, and I regret wasting 4 eggs on it.  The pancakes taste good, but the batter is very hard to work with.  There isn't enough baking powder in the packaged mix and I suspect they use too much butter, so the pancakes spread out far more than they should.  They won't set unless you turn up the heat higher than is recommended.  By the time the pancakes are firm enough to flip, the underside is burned.  They still taste fine, but appearance fuels the appetite as much as actual hunger.  A child would not eat a pancake that looks burned or squashed, and neither would most adults.  And if you try to flip them when they are properly golden, they mash up and/or fall apart.
I got the impression that someone modified a cupcake recipe and packaged it as pancake mix.  With an extra tablespoon of baking powder and 1/4 C more milk, this batter would be perfect for cakes or cupcakes.

So why am I reviewing a mix?  Mainly because I'm surprised that it failed.  Mixes are generally trustworthy, as that gets you to buy them again.  If a cookbook has a bad recipe in it, you've already bought the book and maybe just won't buy the author's next one.  A mix that makes a good product could get you to spend money on that company for years.

I couldn't find a scathing review of the mix, but there was a suspicious number of recipes turning the batter into something other than pancakes.  All of the photos showed pancakes much smaller than the directions and they were as flat as mine.  Yet no one was willing to say that the mix is a flop.  Maybe it's because, despite the technical difficulties, they do taste good.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Diet Frustration

I'm trying to lose a couple of pounds.  I know why I put them on.  It's because I didn't have any baking shifts for several months.  The muscle mass I had put on melted away because I had not replaced the weightlifting aspect and higher level of activity with another kind of exercise.  Light hiking once in a while will not improve your metabolism.  Exercise has to be regular, and I don't do it.

I'm baking again a day or two a week, but I need to go back to some of my better diet habits as well.  I especially don't drink enough water.  It's just inconvenient to pee all the time while your body is adjusting.

So I started watching the new diet show on ABC that shows five different approaches to weight loss.  Everyone lost a respectable amount of weight the first week because you always lose more the first week, especially when you're seriously overweight.  It was just a cleanse and hydration reaction.  The second week, everyone lost about half as much, and one woman's weight was flat.  She was the one on the vegan/cleanse diet.  I don't blame her for dropping her trainer.  If my vegan diet wasn't making me lose weight and the guy on the all-meat diet had lost the most in two weeks, I'd be out of there too.

The real trick to making a diet work is to make it a lifestyle change.  You have to make foods you like, and get used to eating like that 90% of the time, while following whatever guideline works for your metabolism and health needs.  Drive-thru lunches are not on any nutrition plan, and I've been doing too many of those.

As for me, I'm going back on my portion-control, mainly Mediterranean diet.  It's also what the new Food Guide follows.  Except I don't like avocados without some serious help like onions and citrus.  Which are also good for you.  I planted a whole lot of salad greens, beets, more carrots, and some cilantro.  Eggy finally died, about two months after I was expecting her to, so I had more space than just the Pond.  An excess of salad greenery will not make me instantly healthy, but it will make me more likely to have a spontaneous salad, or even just stick a bit of lettuce into whatever I was making anyway.  I won't be thinking at the market about what I'm going to do with the rest of a head or bag of lettuce after the one meal I plan to make.  That's what all my vegetable gardening is about, flexibility and inspiration.

We'll see how long this takes.  I already got my fluids balanced, which is halfway there.  It's only two more pounds!  It should be a lot easier than this.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Date and Walnut Bites

They made these on The Chew last week.  Carla Hall went to all the trouble to make them with vegan cream cheese, then put honey in the mix.  That instantly renders them non-vegan.  You could substitute agave or maple syrup.  She did mention that in the next segment, but there were already comments.

You'll note that I put these under both desserts and appetizers.  There's often one sweet hors d'oeuvre at a party.  They also work at a dessert buffet or tea.  You can pass these off at Superbowl by having bacon-wrapped dates on the next plate.

I decided to make a very small batch of three dates cut in half, just enough for a snack and a photo.  The recipe really should be made with Medjool dates, but there weren't any pitted ones at the market and I usually snack on Deglet Noors.  The Medjools are larger and more moist.

I had never heard of soaking walnuts, but it's a great idea.  They don't get soggy, just easier to chew.  And I looked for vegan cream cheese.  It's a soy-based whip much like the fake mayo I use.  Despite the lower calorie and fat counts, I passed.

The only thing that concerned me about the original recipe was the number of ingredients in a single bite.  I was right.  There's just too much going on.  I'm reducing the complexity a bit so you can actually taste everything in it.

12 Medjool or about 20 Deglet dates, pitted
24/40 walnut halves
1 C cream cheese, softened
1 Tb honey, maple syrup, or agave

1.  An hour before assembly, soak walnuts in warm water to cover and sprinkle with a touch of salt.  Drain when ready to begin.

2.  Slice the dates in half and arrange open-faced on a platter.  In a small bowl, beat together cream cheese and sweetener until combined.  If still too stiff, beat in water a teaspoon at a time.  Place in a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip.  I don't recommend subbing a plastic zip bag.  Cream cheese is sturdy and will probably break it.  I wasn't sure the pastry bag would hold.
3.  Gently pipe a line of cream cheese into the date cavity to fill.  Repeat until all the dates are filled and you run out of cheese.  Top each half with a drained walnut and serve at room temperature.  Do store in the fridge if making ahead.

Serves at least 12

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Pork and Apple Chili

This is a case of cooking for the blog.  I was going to make a simple pork and beans "something" to use the chops I had gotten on sale, but that isn't post-able.  So I "invented" a chili while I was at the market, then googled the idea and got new ingredients to add I hadn't thought of, but had on hand.  This happens a lot.  There are no new recipes in this world, just variations on something someone else made up.  I can't attach this to any one specific recipe.  Everyone makes chili their own way.

We'll get to the chili in a moment.  I just wanted to share the cornbread I made to go with it.  I used a round casserole with a rounded bottom.  The loaf came out looking like a flying saucer.  So cute!

OK, back to dinner.  I spent half a rainy day working on this, only to have it clear up just as the cornbread came out of the oven.  At least I got to pick a pepper off the bush, and find out they are indeed bell peppers.  From the shape, I was worried they might be hot.  I'm putting the pepper in this recipe as a jalapeño, but the bell worked fine in mine.

My friend gave me a seasoning mix from her Dove chocolate business.  The ingredients read like a mole base and I was out of chili powder, so I used that.  It worked well in this case and did not taste like chocolate.  If anyone feels inclined, add a teaspoon of cocoa powder for an unusual flavor note.

*3/4 lb pork stew meat, cut into 1" pieces
2 C low sodium chicken broth
1/2 C diced onion
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
*1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tb chili powder
*2 small or 1 large apple, such as gala or golden delicious
1 15 oz can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed, or 1/2 cup dry soaked and cooked
2 Tb brown sugar
*1/4 C apple cider vinegar
1 6 oz can tomato paste
dash cloves
salt to taste
*shredded cheese and/or cilantro, to garnish

1.  In a medium saucepan over medium heat, brown pork and onions, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.  Add pepper and garlic and cook 1 minute.  Add broth and chili powder and bring mixture to a low boil.  Lower heat to a simmer and cook until pork starts to fall apart, at least 1 hour.

2.  Dice apples (peeling optional).  Add remaining ingredients except garnishes and return to a simmer.  Cook until apples begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Don't cook too long, or they'll lose integrity and melt into applesauce.

3.  Ladle into bowls and serve hot.

Difficulty rating  :)

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Supermarket Humor

I have two good shopping related stories to share today.

The first was in the baking goods aisle.  I went to grab some flour and overheard a couple talking about buying some.  Because of specials, a 5-pound bag was 20¢ cheaper than a 2-pound.  They were standing there trying to decide if it was worth buying the 5 pounder, when they did not need quite so much for whatever they were making.

First of all, I find it funny that someone couldn't use five pounds of flour in the three or four years you have before it starts to go funny.  Mine last three months at most.  Then, the woman actually did the math on the seventy-five 1/4-cup servings that the package said it contains to come up with over 18 cups of flour!  To be fair, I've always found it funny that a 50-pound bag of sugar has the number of servings listed on it.  If you're buying a 50-pound bag of sugar, you're not counting them unless you get stuck with inventory and recipe-costing.

My other story is about marketing.  The packs above are tubes of fruit purée that have become popular. They're easy to put in a lunchbox for kids or gym bag or purse for adults.  They have recently become a hot enough item to have their own shelf at the market, and several brands make them.

But these pouches are not a new idea.  They have existed for several years… in the baby food aisle.  Exact same product, except the adult ones sometimes have yogurt.  The ingredients are nearly identical, including the level of preservatives and other ingredients you may not want to give an infant or toddler.

But here's the kicker: in the baby food aisle, these pouches are double the price - or more.  Same product, similar size.  Plus, there are more coupons available for the non-baby version.

Just a little reminder to be a smart shopper.  And it's still cheaper to poach your own fresh fruit and make purée of it in a food mill.  Just my two cents.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


I picked a couple more fruits off the tree than I needed, and decided to make orangeade.  It's basically the same thing as lemonade, with less sugar.  Watered-down orange juice may not sound appealing, but it's very refreshing and light.  You can make it sparkling with some soda water, or into an adult drink with vodka.  You can freeze it into ice cubes to add to a punch bowl or iced tea.

I tried to edit the photo of the finished product, but it really does look too yellow.  That's mainly because one of the "oranges" I picked turned out to be a lemon.  Grafted tree.  Thought it was a Valencia.  I also cut corners and didn't soak the peel in the simple syrup.

Which brings up the subject of mixing up your citrus fruits.  Go ahead and use some lemon juice.  Or mix grapefruit into it. You just have to pay attention to how much sugar you use and adjust it for the ratio of fruits.

1 C fresh-squeezed orange juice (about 3 oranges)
3 C water
1/4 C sugar, or to taste

1.  Wash oranges and remove the peel from one.  Cut them in half and ream (or squeeze) the juice.
2.  In a small saucepan, heat the rind, sugar, and 1 C water to a light boil, so that the sugar is completely dissolved.  Allow to cool slightly, remove peel, then combine with juice and 2 C water, to make 1 quart orangeade.  Chill and serve over ice.

3.  For quicker serve: combine syrup and juice in a one-quart container, then fill the rest of the space with ice.  Shake slightly and give it a few minutes to chill, then serve over more ice.  This will be slightly stronger than the regular way to make it, but two hours faster.

Makes 1 quart, about 4 servings

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, January 1, 2016

Drunken Scones

Happy New Year.  Not sure what it is about this time of the year that makes us put alcohol in everything.  In this case, it serves the purpose of plumping up currants.  I opened a bottle of port for the cookie party and decided to put a tablespoon in with the currants to soak overnight.

Don't think you have a recipe memorized at 5am.  At some point, I realized that I had put in twice as much butter as I was supposed to for my basic scone recipe.  And I had used real butter, not margarine.  So I threw in some oatmeal to absorb it as it melted in the oven.  I eventually realized that this is the fixed version of the oatmeal currant scones that didn't come out the way I wanted them to, just with a little alcohol.

As for the "drunken" part of this recipe, it's one tablespoon (half an ounce) for eight scones.  That's less than half a teaspoon each, most of which bakes off in an oven that is hotter than twice the boiling point of water.  If you've ever had an accident with the bottle of vanilla over a bowl of cake batter, it's the same thing.

*1/4 C currants
*1 Tb port or brandy
1 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
*1/3 C rolled oats
1/4 C butter
2 tsp sugar
*1/3 C milk

1.  Several hours or the night before, pour port over currants.  Heat in microwave for 10 seconds.  Cover and set aside to let the currants plump.

2.  Preheat oven to 425º and line a sheet pan.  Get out a 2-1/2" round cookie cutter while your hands are still clean and you don't have to root through the box with dough under your nails.

3.  In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and oats.  Cut in butter until the pieces are the same size as the oatmeal.  Stir in sugar.

4.  Make a well in the middle of the flour.  Pour in milk and currants, including any unabsorbed port.  Stir to form a soft and sticky dough.  Add a tablespoon more flour if too soft to handle.

5.  Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and press 1/2" thick.  Cut out rounds, squishing together the scraps until all the dough is used.  Do not add any more flour.  Arrange scones (you should have 7 or 8) on baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until lightly golden.  Cool on wire rack.

Difficulty rating  π