Saturday, July 30, 2016

Jam Tarts

I once tried to make jam tarts by just putting jam in pie crust and baking it.  The jam boiled and got too hard to eat.  I figured that was the end of that experiment.

Recently, I noticed all the open jam jars I still had in the fridge from the tea party.  I thought I might want to give tarts another try and went looking online to figure out what I did wrong the first time.  Probably nothing.  All the recipes looked pretty much like what I did, even with high temperatures.

The day I decided to try them again, I also remembered that I still had hamantaschen dough in the freezer (also from the tea).  It's basically a pastry dough with baking powder in it, so I figured I would give that a try.  It does bake at a lower temperature than pie crust, and the jam would weigh it down so it wouldn't puff too much.  Besides, I really like that dough recipe.

They came out nice and soft, like the cookies they are, not crisp and crumbly like pie.  Since mini-muffin tins make tarts small enough to eat in a single bite, either texture would work.  Most important, the jam did not turn hard-crack.

1-1/3 C flour
1/4 C sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp grated orange peel
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C butter
1 egg
1 Tb milk
jams for filling

1. Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, orange peel, and salt in a medium bowl.  Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add egg and milk and combine until dough forms a ball.  Wrap in plastic or waxed paper and chill for at least 30 minutes, or you can freeze to use another day.

2.  Roll out dough on a floured surface until very thin, 1/16".  Cut out rounds with a 3" cookie cutter and coax into mini-muffin cups.  For standard muffin tins, use a 5" cutter.  The circles look big, but you've rolled the dough so thin there's no room for it to stretch into the cups.  Press lightly against the sides of each cup.

3.  When all cups are filled, get out the jam.  Spoon 1 tsp into each mini tin, about 1 Tb for standard size.  The jam should come up no more than halfway into the cup.  Place tin in the fridge to chill while the oven is preheating to 350º.

4.  When the oven is ready, bake tarts for 20 to 25 minutes, until lightly puffed and golden.  Cool and remove from tin to serve.

Makes about 2 dozen mini tarts

Difficulty rating  :)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Great Ant War of 2016

I keep a decently clean kitchen.  I regularly sweep, mop, and scrub the counters and sink.  Once in a while I'll leave a half-rinsed pan in the sink, but I always wash everything before going to bed.  The only things that are left out are whatever is in my fruit basket and a serving of cat kibble.

Ants got in and found the kibble.  When I cleaned up that and poured salt in the crack they were coming through, they found another way in.  And another, and another, and another.  I left the bottle of shower bleach on the counter all week, zapping every stray that dared to invade.  I must have gone through a cup of salt.

Then I finally thought to ask others what they do.  One woman on the cryptograms site forwarded a link to a child- and pet-safe site of ant fighting remedies.  I was shocked and dismayed to find out that Aspartame is a pesticide.  Fortunately, I keep artificial sweeteners for guests and opened a packet all over the counter, tossed a handful of cornmeal over it, and figured I'd clean up everything after shopping for a more permanent solution.

I knew borax was an old-fashioned way to clean, before more gentle detergents came along.  I've even been to the 20-mule team site in Death Valley.  Cousin Smurf uses it to freshen her laundry because she's allergic to perfumes and dyes.  Apparently, it's also a pesticide that works on the smallest of household intruders: ants, fleas, some roaches, silverfish, spiders, and pretty much anything that weighs less than a dime.

I didn't do the sugar caps outside because of the cats and all kinds of critters in the neighborhood.  I bought sealed outdoor-grade ant traps to attack the colonies.  But I did scrub the whole kitchen and reline the spice cabinet (had to throw out a couple of containers because the contents were moving), allowing some borax residue to remain in the cracks.  A spider crawled across the wet floor and promptly died, so I must have done it right.

It's too early to know if the choice of cleaning product made as much of a difference as loosing the wrath of ant baits did. (The commercial Terro baits are borax-based.)  The sprinklers also ran the day they stopped coming in, so maybe they were just looking for water and I only run the sprinklers once a week.  I still haven't put the cat food back on the floor.  They're eating on the dining room table.  I know, posh cats.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Bacon and Turkey Burgers

I was thinking of calling these Turkey-Bacon burgers, but quickly realized that could be perceived as something different.  You could use turkey bacon in them if you want, but it will alter the fat content, and therefore the tenderness.

I wanted to grill, but I'm still using up what's in the freezer and the only ground meat I had was turkey.  Ground turkey is so lean that grilled burgers are easy to turn into hockey pucks.  After all, you can't make them rare because they have to be cooked all the way through.  Whenever putting ground poultry on the grill, there should be some kind of filler in it.  I would suggest something to add moisture and/or fat.  Like bacon.  (Or veggies, but where's the fun in that?)

It's also a good idea to season the meat pre-grill.  The flavors can soak up what little fat is in the turkey. Just be careful to see how much salt was added to the turkey before it was packaged.  It's usually a lot more than what they add to beef.  I decided not to salt mine at all, and they were fine.

*1 lb ground turkey
*1/4 lb bacon
*1/2 C diced yellow onion
*1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp paprika

1.  Chop bacon into small pieces, like slightly large bacon bits.  Cook in a skillet until about half done.  Allow to cool to room temperature.

2.  In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients.  If using turkey with no added salt (like from an expensive meat counter where they have freshly-ground meats), add a touch of kosher salt to the mix.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to let the spices meld.

3.  Form into 4 patties and place on preheated grill (or on a rack in the oven at 350º).  Close lid and cook until underside is toasty brown, at least 15 minutes.  Flip and cook more until thermometer reaches 165º.  Serve hot on a bun with veggies and condiments of choice.

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, July 18, 2016

Black Eye and Olive Hummus

It's my blogiversary!  Six years of keeping track of my meals.

The thing I dislike about doing a pantry endurance test, especially when the garden is producing, is not going grocery shopping.  The vast majority of the time, I don't see the market as a chore.  It's a time to be creative, to inspire my palate.  Rooting through the pantry and freezer for odd items just isn't the same.

The eggplant I was going to use for this hummus turned out to be too old and had rotted on the bush.  Bummer, but it gave me an excuse to shop for more than just orange juice.  I'm not going to buy an eggplant when there are six more small ones growing, so I spent much longer than I should have at the market deciding if I wanted to do olives or artichokes.  Even with splurging on some smoked gouda cheese and a picnic bottle of wine, my entire grocery bill was $15 for about four days.  I have maybe one more week of this before shopping gets back to normal.  I'm still going to have a lot of bacon in the freezer, though.  Kind of stocked up on that when it was on sale.  And four one-pound packs of the turkey I deboned a couple of weeks ago.

*1/2 C dry black-eye peas, or one 15 oz can, drained
1 2.5 oz can sliced or diced black olives, drained
*3 cloves garlic
*1 Tb lemon juice
*1/4 C tahini paste

1.  If making peas from dry, soak for at least 4 hours.  Drain, simmer in lightly salted water for 2 hours. Drain.

2.  Place all ingredients in food processor.  Run to make a slightly chunky paste.  It's ok to have larger bits of olive.  Taste and add more garlic, lemon juice, or a touch of salt as needed.  Canned beans won't need more salt, but from dry might.

3.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Serve with pita or fresh veggies, like a cucumber you just picked out of the garden.
There is just no polite way to photograph a whole cucumber

Makes about 2 cups

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, July 14, 2016


I discovered a new food I've never heard of.  Savory chickpea pancakes, called socca.  They seem to have originated near Nice, France, and have variations around the Western Mediterranean rim.  I don't remember seeing them on any menus when I was in that area, but I'm the kind of person who stops reading the menu when I see something I really want.  I don't always look at all the offerings, and probably wouldn't order something I didn't know if something else looked better.

You're probably thinking, chickpea pancake?  I read the article in the L.A. Times and, thanks to the photos, decided it was really a cross between a pizza and a quiche by way of falafel.  Chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour is naturally gluten-free, vegan, and as good for you as any legume.  Once I finished topping the socca, they were not vegan and probably not gluten-free, but you can certainly go that way.

The article suggests getting the flour at a Middle-Eastern market.  I hadn't been in one since I left Orange County and had no idea where there was one in my area.  I googled some, only to remind myself that I work two blocks from the largest concentration of Persian (Iranian) expats in the U.S.  I stopped at Sprouts first, but they were out of the Bob's Red Mill.  I guess I wasn't the only one who read the article.  Down the street, the Persian market had two brands.  I do trust Sadaf brand (which, despite its Arabic name, is packaged in the city of Vernon, just south of downtown L.A.) and hadn't heard of the other, so that's what I got.  $3.49 for a one-pound bag isn't bad for a specialty grain flour.  Bob's is only 80¢ less.  If you don't have a Sprouts, I would suggest Whole Foods or a market with a good selection of gluten-free items.  If you live in a less diverse area and really want to try this recipe, you can order online for a reasonable price and just pay shipping.

This recipe can be as simple as pouring the batter in the pan and baking it like that.  You can make it plain and top it later.  I followed the article's lead and baked the toppings into the pancake.  I made two 6" instead of one large 10" so I could make two different kinds.  I don't have any cast-iron because I don't want to deal with the maintenance and made them in my oven-proof skillet.  It just has to be a pan that won't melt in the oven at a high temp.

I made several mistakes with this first attempt that resulted in a less-than-ideal product.  My first mistake was not measuring the batter.  I eyeballed it instead of making two separate portions, and ended up using too little in the first one and a lot in the second.  The texture of the first was crispy and perfect, but there wasn't enough to hold all the toppings.  The second one was too thick and ended up a little gummy.  My other big mistake was using too much topping.  The ground lamb one was similar to a sfeeha filling.  It tasted great, but overwhelmed the pancake.  I used a beet's worth of greens and a few oven-dried tomatoes for the other, and the only reason it didn't overpower that socca was because it was the one with a bit too much batter.  I also had a lot of trouble getting them out of the pan in one piece.  I think that had more to do with the heavy fillings than not oiling the pan enough.  When I cut the second one in the pan before lifting out the pieces, it held together much better.
The next time I do this (there's about 4 recipes' worth in the bag), I'll probably go crepe style and make a plain pancake, topping it after it's baked.  I'll also go ahead and make the full 10", so I can use the batter in one shot.  I only split this one so I could make more than one kind.

3/4 C garbanzo bean flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 C water
1 Tb olive oil, plus more for pan

1.  Stir together flour and salt.  Add water and 1 Tb oil and whisk to combine.  It's ok if there are still lumps.  Let sit 4 to 8 hours, for flour to absorb the water.  (Think of it as allowing dried beans to soak, just in flour form.)

2.  Preheat oven to 450º (425º for convection).  Place a 10" oven-safe or cast-iron skillet in the oven to preheat, about 10 minutes.

3.  Using an oven mitt, place skillet on a stove burner or somewhere that can tolerate such a hot pan.  Drizzle 1 Tb oil in bottom of skillet and swirl to cover.  If any spots are dry, add more oil.  This is going to fry the socca and make it easier to get out of the pan.

4.  Whisk the batter, as it will be thick on the bottom and watery at the top.  Remember to put the oven mitt back on before you grab the pan handle.  Pour onto skillet and quickly swirl to cover bottom of the pan.  It's going to start to fry immediately.  If you're going to top it with anything pre-oven, now is the time.  Still using the oven mitt, return skillet to oven and bake for 15 minutes, until socca is set and the edges are crispy.

5.  Remove skillet from oven and let sit a couple of minutes so you don't get oil erupting onto you.  Don't forget to put the oven mitt back on!! That handle is going to be too hot to hold for at least ten minutes, maybe half an hour.  Using a high-temp spatula or wooden spoon, gently lift the edges of the pancake until you can slide the whole thing onto a serving plate.  Cut into wedges with a sharp knife or pizza cutter.

Difficulty rating :)

Friday, July 1, 2016

Pumpkin Shoots

Two gardening posts in a row.  I'm in trouble.  But there's no point in posting the tuna salad I had for dinner, with a salad topped with pickled beets.  The next time I plan to cook is Tuesday, when I'm going to debone and roast the turkey that's been keeping my freezer cold during power outages for the past several months.  It is currently keeping my fridge around 34º as it slowly defrosts.  I'm not stuffing the turkey or anything.  I'm just so bad at carving turkeys that the 1-1/2 hours it's going to take to debone it will pay off in the yield.  If I carve it, about 25% of the meat ends up staying on the bones.  Good for soup, but I'm saving the bones for that anyway.  I'll probably separate the cooked meat into smaller packs and freeze them for use in casseroles.  Hopefully, I'll go through those before Fall and the next turkey on sale.

Anyway, the pumpkins have broken the surface.  I have at least two in every spot except the one it's sharing with the cantaloupe.  That one (hill #4) is the only one that does not look very strong and healthy.  Seriously, the spot that gets the most water is the one that fails?

I finally have a cantaloupe!  Well, it's the size of a gum ball, but it is definitely growing.  Right now, the stem is thickening and it has developed a fuzzy protective shell.  It should start to grow any day now.  Just a month after I was expecting it.  The rest of the plant has also grown stronger, even if the leaves aren't any bigger.  I guess that's just how big they're supposed to be.  I don't want to over-fertilize if some of the pumpkin seeds in that spot decide to catch on.

And the cucumber is looking very productive in its pot and up the chicken wire.  Now some of the girl flowers just have to turn into actual cucumbers.  I don't have nearly as many bees visiting my back yard as in the front.  Maybe I need to get out the Q-Tips and help things along.