Friday, September 30, 2016

The Zester Trick

Everyone at work loves when I slice the cucumbers.  They all think it's some kind of pretty magic.  No, I just follow the company's instructions.  But those instructions did manage to teach me a trick that I can carry on to other aspects of my culinary life.

Most serious cooks have a zester somewhere in a drawer that doesn't get much use because they've moved on to microplane graters.  Mine's usually next to the tomato corer.  They're about the same size.
The big trick with the cucumbers is, instead of peeling them, run the zester down the skin in long strokes.  Strips of peel come off easily and leave you with a half-naked cucumber.  Then you slice it, and all those little ridges appear on the rims of the slices.  The thinner the slice, the more impressive the effect.  Plus, you don't have to worry if some of the stripes aren't straight.  At work I have a guide knife, but at home I use the thin side of the V-slicer.  This will make your salads pop and generally impress guests.
The trick also works with citrus.  Lemons work especially well.  Imagine a very thin slice of ridged lemon in a glass of fresh lemonade.  Really, any fruit or veggie that has a thin, edible peel and firm flesh can benefit from the method.  I went ahead and did it to an eggplant before cutting it up for the grill.  I tried doing it to a pumpkin one year, but the ridges aren't deep enough.  I ended up going back with a knife.  Carrots are harder, but still work.

Just something to add to your bag of tricks.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Yam Obsession

So, after eating my way through the Sweet Potato Toast and thoroughly loving it, I went out and bought another one.  This time, my eye was on lunch ideas.  As much as I loved having them for dinner topped with turkey, I wasn't making large enough portions.  On the other hand, I did lose a couple of pounds without trying.  Good diet food: very filling for the calories it provides, and completely nutritious.

I didn't like the look of the bananas at the market, but I did buy a new package of dates.  So, first up was peanut butter with dates and the lightest drizzle of honey.  There was a little mascarpone left after the pumpkin tiramisu, so I made some with that and leftover oven-dried tomatoes.  Then I got all kinds of crazy and tried swiss with cilantro.  What the heck, I wasn't using the cilantro for anything else and it's still too early to grow spinach or arugula.

I'll probably continue to experiment periodically.  I definitely want to do something on sweet potato toasts for next year's tea party.  Cut crosswise, they make great two-bite hors-d'oeuvres.  If I threw holiday parties, they would be on the menu.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Panko-Fried Rockfish

When I fry stuff, which has become more rare lately, I'm usually lazy about the three-dip breading process.  I run the meat under the faucet, smack the breadcrumbs on until they stick, and drop it in the pan quickly.  Sometimes the crust stays on, sometimes it doesn't.

This day, I decided to suck it up with the extra dishes and fry some fish the proper way.  The ingredients are all pantry staples, so all you need to pick up is the fish.  I chose rockfish because it was on sale, but any fatty white fish will do.

And yes, the pintos in the photo were an awkward choice of a side dish.  I did it for nutritional reasons. Rice or barley would be a better idea.  The oven roasted tomato, eggplant, and asparagus, however, were perfect accompaniments, and filled the plate disproportionately to the calories involved.  This crazy full plate contains fewer calories than the average hamburger with fixings - before sides.

4 rockfish fillets (about 1 lb)
*3/4 C panko breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp kosher salt
*1 tsp parsley flakes
1 egg
1/4 C milk
*1/2 C cornstarch
oil for frying

1.  In one shallow dish (I use pie plates), sprinkle corn starch.  In next one, beat together egg and milk.  In third, combine panko, salt, and parsley.  In a large skillet, start heating 1/8" oil over medium-high heat.  Open windows and turn on the hood fan.
2.  Turn fillets in cornstarch to coat all sides.  I did this 2 at a time, since that was all the pie plates or skillet could hold.  Move pieces to egg wash and coat well.  Then to the crumb coating, which should adhere on the first try because you're doing this the proper way.
3.  Place fillets in hot oil and pan fry until the edges are thoroughly cooked, about 4 minutes.  This is plenty of time to run the next batch through the plates.  Turn and cook another 2 minutes.  Both sides should be crispy.  My fillets also kind of fell apart, which at least meant they were tender and cooked through.  Remove to paper-lined plate and serve hot with fresh lemon juice, tartar sauce, or even no dressing at all.

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Pumpkin Tiramisu

I had a huge scare while shopping for this one.  The ladyfingers were marked $13.99.  I stood there for a while, trying to decide how badly I didn't want to make my own.  I had already passed on the last two shattered pie crusts in the freezer section, reluctantly accepting that I would have to make one for the dutch pumpkin and apple pie.  Finally, I put the ladyfingers in the cart.  It turned out they were only $2.99.  Massive difference, and a huge relief, but it did show me that my recent schedule of working six days a week, plus choir the evenings before my baking days, was taking a toll.  Two more weeks until Rosh Hashanah, and I'm just now back to 5-day weeks.

Considering I've based this recipe on a half-batch of this one from Food & Wine, it is very easy.  Much easier than the other tiramisu I posted.  You don't make zabaglione because the pumpkin provides a similar texture and richness.  I just chucked in the little bit of alcohol that would have been in the zabaglione for effect.  Including brewing the coffee, this only took half an hour.

This version is sized for a loaf pan, about 8 servings.  Refer to the original recipe to use a single-pie 15 oz can of pumpkin and feed a small army out of a trifle bowl.

1 C brewed and cooled coffee
1 package (12 split) ladyfingers
*1 C pumpkin purée
1/4 C brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
dash kosher salt
dash nutmeg
*1 Tb marsala (optional)
1/4 C + 1 Tb granulated sugar
3/4 C mascarpone
1 C heavy cream (whip a little more if you want for garnish)

1.  While the coffee is brewing and cooling, start by lining a standard 9" loaf pan with plastic wrap.

2.  In a stand mixer, combine pumpkin, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, marsala, 1/4 C of the granulated sugar, and mascarpone until smooth.

3.  Separately, whip cream to relatively firm peaks with a tablespoon of sugar.  However sturdy the cream is will dictate the firmness of the finished product.  Beat lightly into pumpkin mixture until smooth, less than a minute.
4.  Dip 6 ladyfinger halves into the coffee and arrange in a single layer in bottom of loaf pan, rounded side down.  This whole thing is going to be inverted.  Top with 1/2 of pumpkin mousse.  Repeat.  For top layer, which will be the base, dip remaining half of ladyfingers and arrange in a more solid layer.  Close plastic wrap and chill at least 8 hours.  It works best made the day before.  If you're serving this directly from the loaf pan, refrigeration is fine and you don't need to line it with plastic.  You can also place the cookies right side up.  If removing, freeze for about an hour first.  The cookies will become solid, but the cream will still be a little soft.  Invert onto serving platter and remove plastic wrap no more than 15 minutes before serving, or it will start to melt flat.  Cut slices and serve with additional whipped cream.

Serves 8 to 10

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Oktoberfest Beer Mustard

After my success with the fig mustard, I thought I would try another.  The Ball book had this intriguing one that looked really simple.  Lots of dishes, but simple.

I was able to get all the spices easily enough at Sprouts from their bulk section, so I wouldn't be stuck with more than I could use.  The malt vinegar was a little more difficult.  I found one labeled "Fish & Chips" malt vinegar.  Now I have to figure out what to do with the rest of it.  At least it's a small bottle.  Expensive, but small.

The Ball book recommends you pick a strong beer.  I'd say anything stronger than the average Bud or Corona.  I happened to have some Sierra Nevada on hand, but if you like beers that kick you in the butt go ahead and use a Stone.

Now, you'll notice that this is a lot of mustard.  I got a full cup more than the recipe said I would, and I thought I had boiled it down pretty thick.  Fortunately, this recipe is easy to cut in half or thirds.  You could use the rest on a small loaf of beer cheese bread, beer ice cream, or just drink it to keep you company while you're cooking.

This is also a very easy recipe, if you're looking for something to get you into canning that you can't mess up.  If the seals fail, you get a very long time in the fridge to use the mustard.  Vinegar, alcohol, and sugar are all preservatives.  I still had to pop a couple in the freezer for much later, but most of the seals held.

12 oz (one can or bottle) beer
1 C brown mustard seeds
1 C water
1/2 C malt vinegar
1/2 C lightly packed brown sugar
1/4 C dry mustard
1 Tb onion powder

1.  In a medium stainless steel saucepan, combine beer and mustard seeds.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Remove from heat, cover, and let stand at room temperature until seeds have absorbed most of the beer, about 2 hours.  For those who soak their own beans, this is similar to a quick-soak method.
2.  If canning, prepare jars and lids for a 3-cup yield.  The book says five 4 oz jars, but I got that and a half-pint out of this.

3.  Purée everything in the saucepan with a blender or food processor to break up the seeds.  This is when you get to decide how chunky you want your mustard.  I left mine pretty grainy, to look more homemade.

4.  Return mixture to the non-reactive saucepan and whisk in remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly.  Some of it is still going to scorch to the bottom, but do your best.  Reduce heat to medium and boil gently, stirring frequently, until reduced by a third, about 15 minutes.

5.  If canning, ladle into hot jars.  Wipe rims, set lids, and screw down rims.  Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Check seals when cooled, then store.  If not canning, allow mustard to cool to room temperature before transferring to a container for the fridge, so there isn't condensation on the lid.

Makes about 3 cups

Difficulty rating

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Sweet Potato Toast

Here's a new thing I heard about on The Chew that seems to have started around May.  They didn't make them, just featured photos.  It's a thing with the gluten-free and/or vegan community, but I made it because it sounded very good, and because I haven't been eating as healthy as I usually do.  Pie and a donut on the same day, for starters.  Sure, it was my Dutch Pumpkin and Apple pie, which is pretty healthy for what it is, but it's still pie.  For some beautiful photos and really good links to many sites that have made this, go to Happy Body Formula.

The basic idea here is to slice a sweet potato thinly into a bread-like slab, then toast or roast it.  You can even use a drop-in toaster if you don't want to turn on the oven.  After that, you can top it any way you think would taste good.  Some of the photos were gorgeous, but I don't see how avocado goes with sweet potato.  A simple cinnamon-butter and almond topping makes this a dessert.  Peanut butter and banana for a gluten-free lunch sandwich.  White cheeses would work on it.  I got out some turkey and cranberry sauce from the freezer for an open-faced, Thanksgiving-style sandwich.  The others are brie and blanched asparagus.

You can pre-bake these and refrigerate, re-toasting them slightly when ready to use.  You can also just pre-slice them and keep them refrigerated, raw, and sealed until ready to cook for several days.  Just rinse them first if they have started to dry out.  The number of pieces per serving will vary depending on the size of the potato and whether you sliced it into rounds or lengthwise.  I picked the fattest sweet potato in the pile; some of the slices were 3" across.  These also make good hors d'oeuvres bases for the gluten-frees at your party.

2 large sweet potatoes, or one really fat one

1.  Pick a direction, lengthwise or across.  Slice potatoes, skin on, into 1/4" slabs.
2a, toaster method:  Drop slices into toaster on darkest setting (or 20 minutes for toaster oven).  You may need to put them through two or three times, until slices are softened but not falling apart and have a bit of a crust.

2b, oven method:  Preheat oven to 400º.  Lightly grease a parchment-lined sheet pan.  The site didn't specify with what, so I used some duck fat I had in the fridge.  Arrange slices and bake about 20 minutes, until softened but not falling apart.

3.  Serve hot or cold, topped any way you want.

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, September 12, 2016

Bacon and Cheese Scones

Let's start with "I should have cooked the bacon the night before".  This would have only taken about as long as regular scones if I had made the bacon and chopped the onion and cheese ahead of time.  Instead, it was close to an hour.  But it was definitely worth the hour.

Most versions of this recipe call it something for brunch or a savory scone for tea.  I say it's good any time.  King Arthur Flour's recipe, and the entire first page of Googling "bacon and cheese scones", uses cheddar.  I felt like using swiss.  Pepperjack, colby-jack, or white cheddar would work.  You could possibly use a stronger cheese like feta or chèvre, but they would start to overpower the bacon.  The other versions also tended to use chives or green onions.  I love onions in general and went with a stronger red one.

I don't normally use cream in my scones, just milk.  There's enough fat from the butter, and I did use actual butter.  But, I had bought a quart of cream for the many recipes I have lined up and could spare enough for a half-batch, which was how much bacon I had on hand.  I don't know if it made much of a difference in the richness, since the cheese would have made it creamy as well.  Brushing it on top did make them brown better.

1 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 Tb baking powder
1 tsp sugar
2 Tb butter
*1/2 C finely diced swiss or similar cheese
*2 Tb minced red onion or shallot
*1/2 C cooked, diced bacon (about 1/4 lb)
1/2 C cream divided

1.  Preheat oven to 425º.  Line a sheet pan with parchment or a silpat.

2.  Stir together flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar.  Cut in butter to make coarse crumbs.

3.  Stir in cheese, onion, and bacon to distribute.  Reserve 1 Tb of cream and pour the rest in the bowl.  Stir to create a soft, sticky dough.

4.  Scrape out batter onto parchment.  Press into a disc.  Using a knife or bench scraper, cut disc into 6 pieces, keeping them touching.  Brush top with remaining cream.  Bake for 22-24 minutes, until center is set.  Allow to rest for several minutes before breaking apart and serving.

Makes 6 (or 8 smaller)

Difficulty rating  :)

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Summer Reruns

No new recipes this week, and possibly none for a few more days.  I decided to use up some more things hanging out in the pantry and freezer, to make way for some seasonal things that are going to be on sale soon.
I finally got a decent tahdig on Persian rice.  I think I was making it too thick.  You really should just make enough to barely coat the bottom of the pan.  Less is more.  I also used a different pan.  I had that with some keftas and peas with carrots from the garden.
After that, I had turkey and swiss sandwiches with fig mustard.  The salad was some fresh spinach with oven-dried tomatoes, pickled watermelon rind, and some sage flavored pumpkin seeds.  Yes, I still have a little bit from two years ago, and two ripe pumpkins on the vines.  There's also a handful of candied ones from last year's Halloween pumpkin.
Next up will be harvesting the pumpkins in a couple of days, then deciding what to make with them.  I also discovered a new cucumber hiding under a leaf.  Too bad it wasn't in time to make it on this salad.