Sunday, October 22, 2017

Clearing out the Pond

I've had something growing in the pond garden constantly for about two years.  The contents rotated from warm to cool seasons, but there was always something in production.  As this summer comes to a close, I have decided to let everything run its course without planting anything new so I can clear it out.

That is easier said than done.  It's taking the watermelon a long time to die.  (The one in the front yard still has a 10-pound fruit on it and the vines are healthy.  It's postponing my lettuce planting.  I definitely have to pick it before Halloween, because someone will steal it that night.)  I finally remembered to use the last two beets in something.  And that stupid fennel that I let bolt has taken forever to get those seeds made.  I already bought all the planting seeds I need.  They're just sitting on the kitchen table, categorized by front yard, pond, and pots.
I did some starters, as long as I'm waiting for space to be available.  Some of the things I want to grow don't need to be direct sow.  It's just everything in the Pond that I can't transplant.  Sheesh.  Those should start to sprout within the next few days.
Once I finally get sick of waiting and rip out the watermelon and fennel, I'm going to rehab the soil with vegetable food, a lot of water, and another bag of garden soil.  I add about twenty pounds a year, to make up for tracking some out, what is lost when you pull out a plant, etc.  It's also a nice influx of nutrients.

This is such a tricky time of year in So Cal.  One week, it's too hot for winter greens, the next it's too cold for some varieties to germinate.  I'm hoping this is the last heat wave so I can put in the carrots, beets, and radishes next weekend.  Ah, the woes of a home farmer.  I'm just hoping to have a home-grown salad to serve for Christmas dinner.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Bavarian Apple Fritters

I've been reading the Diary of a Mad Hausfrau blog.  Most of the recipes are German, but made familiar to an American audience.  She publishes about as often as I do, making it a reasonable rate of new ideas.  As much fun as it is to read a blog daily, the backlog of bookmarked recipes can get excessive, until you finally decide it isn't worth making any of them.

I have researched apple fritter recipes before, then decided not to make them for one reason or another.  Usually, that reason had to do with not having a deep fryer.  I think I'm going to break down this year and ask for one for the holidays.  A small one isn't expensive and ultimately saves oil because I'm not throwing it out after every use.

This recipe is not exactly like her ApfelKrapfen.  I tweaked it as I went along, mostly by simplifying the process, as well as cut it in half.  After the first four were frying, I decided that her idea of how big they should be was not what I had in mind.  The rest are half that size, meaning that my half recipe still makes 18.  Bear that in mind if you read both and can't figure out why they don't seem to match.

1-1/2 C flour
1/4 C milk
1 package (2-1/4 tsp) yeast
1/4 C sugar
3 Tb unsalted butter
1 egg
pinch of salt
1 Granny Smith apple
1/3 C golden raisins
3 Tb candied orange peel
oil for frying
1 tsp cinnamon stirred into 1/4 C sugar

1.  Warm milk to 100º.  Stir in sugar, butter, and yeast and allow to get foamy.  The butter does not need to melt.
2.  In a stand mixer, stir together 1 C flour and salt.  Add milk mixture and beat into a crumbly mess.  Beat in egg, and it will look more like a soft dough.  Add the other half cup of flour, and it's a real dough, but still on the soft side.  Allow to rest in the mixer while you start the next step.
3.  Core the apple and chop into itty bitty pieces.  I never peel apples unless truly necessary, but you can peel it first if you prefer.  I also chopped the raisins because they were big.  I couldn't find candied orange peel this early in the season, and substituted half the amount in candied ginger.  Stir all of that into the dough.  It's not going to look or feel like a bread dough, more like a yeast scone dough.  Allow to rise 45 minutes in a warm place.
4.  Heat 1/2" of oil to 375º.  I used a 6" skillet to make it easier to get them out.  You can use a deeper pot or, ideally, a deep fryer.  Set up a plate with paper towels to drain them.  The next plate is for the cinnamon sugar.  Then set up a rack over a sheet pan for the finished project.  It took up a bit of space, but each step made the process easier.

5.  Turn out dough onto a floured surface and lop off pieces about 1-1/2" to 2".  Make into balls and place in the oil.  Turn when the bottom is browned, about 2-3 minutes.  I got 4 of the large or 5 of the smaller fritters in the pan at once, which made the oil come up higher.  They do expand a bit as they fry.  When the other side is golden, remove with a slotted spoon to the paper towels to drip off most of the oil.  Then roll in the cinnamon sugar before placing on the rack to cool.  You may need to add more oil and/or let the temperature recover after each batch.

Makes 18

Difficulty rating  :)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Falafel Cups

For Sukkot's traditionally vegetarian/dairy meal, I made these variations of falafel pie.  Each one is filled with a dollop of baba gannouj  and topped with shreds of lettuce and diced tomatoes.  A little baguette and brie, plus a glass of wine, and you have an elegant picnic dinner under the sukkah.
These are also adorable appetizers or savory tea items.  You can make them with gluten-free flour if necessary.  The flour isn't for leavening, but for structure.

2/3 C dried chickpeas
*1/2 large onion, coarsely chopped
*1/4 C fresh parsley leaves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
*3 cloves garlic
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 C flour
olive oil for greasing pan

1.  The day before, soak garbanzo beans (chickpeas) in 3 C water.  Working from dried really makes a difference in texture, so it's worth planning ahead.  Let sit 12-18 hours, then drain.

2.  Place all the ingredients through the baking powder in the food processor.  Pulse at first, then let run into a grainy paste, about 30 seconds.  Add flour and pulse into a stiff batter.

3.  While oven is preheating to 375º, make the cups.  First, get as much oil to stick to the muffin pan as possible.  I was out of pan spray, so I can't vouch for its effectiveness.  Press the batter into the muffin cups, working it up the edges.  As for yield, I ended up with ten cups because that was how many I needed.  You can probably coax between 8 and 12 out of this, depending on how full you make the cups.
4.  Bake for 20 minutes.  The upper edges should turn darker brown and pull away from the sides.  Allow to cool slightly, then carefully remove from pan with a thin spatula.  It isn't a disaster if a hole tears in the bottom unless you plan for folks to eat them by hand.  On a plate, it's fine.

5.  Fill with a tablespoon of baba gannouj, savory yogurt, or another dip, then top with fresh vegetables.  Serve room temperature.

Makes 8-12

Difficulty rating. :)

Friday, October 13, 2017


Omg, omg, omg, Vons had a giant pile of spices on the half-off rack!  I was very good and only got items I needed, plus saffron.  Half-off saffron, hell yes!  All of the dates were fine, seals good, product not caky.  Sometimes, the manufacturer redesigns the labels or changes the size, so markets clear out the old lot.

Oh, then the lady next to me pointed to another bin of spices behind me of a different brand that was 75% off.  Found all the pumpkin pie spice that wasn't there the time I gave up and mixed my own.  Never mind, I'm good.
And the reason I went rooting through there in the first place, cinnamon for the previous two posts, wasn't as good a deal as the It's Delish brand.  It may be local in California, but they make inexpensive spices, nuts, and candies that are kosher and often kosher for Passover.  You can also order online, but shipping generally negates the advantages of a discount brand.
A couple of days later, I realized I should have bought paprika, so I headed back to the now severely decimated pile of jars, this time with my camera to get these photos.  (My phone's camera stopped working a couple of months ago.)  No paprika, so I bought It's Delish again.  We go through paprika in my family; 8oz will not go bad.  Techie Smurf keeps his next to the stove with the salt and pepper.  What got me mad was that someone in the intervening two days had opened the saffron and vanilla bottles and stolen the spices in them, then put back the empty jars.  Just the two most expensive spices in the world, nothing else.  They knew what they were doing, making off with about $200 of spices out of only ten jars.  People can be gross.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Cinnamon Chip Muffins

One of our choir members throws an epic Break-the-Fast every year.  She doesn't provide dessert, though, so there's something for people to bring if they're not into bringing drinks.  I only drink water there.  For one thing, I'm driving home, and for another either alcohol or a sweet drink will hit the system very hard after a fast.

I also got to break out my new mini-muffin tin.  Two dozen cute, one-bite muffins on a single tray.  They're so poppable!  It also means that I have no idea what the yield on this recipe is for any other shape, except that The Bright Eyed Baker got 18 regular muffins out of her batch.  I got the two dozen minis and two mini loaves, because Yom Kippur morning services ran long and I only had enough time to throw in all of the batter at once, instead of the two bakes I had planned.

When you get down to the muffin ingredients, there's buttermilk listed.  Since there isn't any baking soda in this recipe, which requires an acid to activate, you can use regular milk.  To approximate the taste of buttermilk, add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to the milk and let it sit five minutes to sour up a bit.

Crumb Topping
3/4 C sugar
1 Tb cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
6 Tb (3/4 C) melted unsalted butter
3/4 C whole wheat flour

1.  Stir together sugar, cinnamon, and salt.  Pour in melted butter and stir into a glop.  Add flour and it will become more crumbly.  If not using immediately, form into a ball and wrap in wax paper.  Refrigerate until half an hour before you need it, so it can soften a little.  Then you can break it into crumbs.  Also freezes for long-term storage.

1-1/2 C All-purpose flour
1/2 C whole wheat flour
2-1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C sugar
1/3 C oil
2 eggs
1-1/4 C buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 C cinnamon chips

1.  Preheat oven to 375º.  Grease or pan-spray nonstick muffin pans for 18 muffins.  You could do liners, but these came out of the greased pan pretty well.  The mini-loaves put up more of a fight, so I'd hesitate to use a patterned cake pan.

2.  Combine both flours, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.  That's the dry team.  The wet team is the buttermilk and vanilla.

3.  In mixer, beat together sugar and oil until smooth.  Add eggs one at a time until uniform and a little fluffy.

4.  Alternating dry/wet, add flour mix and milk, beating just until combined.  Stir in cinnamon chips.
5.  Fill greased muffin cups 2/3 full.  Top with crumb.  Bake 15 minutes, then lower oven to 350º and start checking for doneness at the 18 minute mark.  Allow to cool 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling before storage.

Makes 18 muffins

Difficulty rating  :)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Cinnamon Chips

I've had these from the Bright Eyed Baker bookmarked forever, but never got around to them.  Part of the problem was that my Vons apparently only buys one case of Karo syrup a year.  As early as March, they didn't have any.  Finally thought to check on a visit to Target, and here we are.

I didn't know that cinnamon chips existed until we started using them at work.  The grocery store didn't have them.  Same store that didn't have corn syrup, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised.  I could have bought them online, but it wasn't worth the shipping.  I went looking online for a recipe, and of course found one.  It's very rare not to find something online, but it does happen occasionally.

This is a very simple recipe, up to the point of cutting out thousands of chips.  It isn't difficult to cut through the slab, just time-consuming.  I was also in a rush to get to Kol Nidre, so there wasn't a lot of patience to be had.  A lazy day off, when you're looking for projects to keep you from watching yet another Hallmark movie, is a good time to do these.  They keep.

2/3 C sugar
3 Tb cinnamon
2 Tb shortening
2 Tb light corn syrup

1.  Preheat oven to 200º.  If you have a Silpat to place on your baking sheet, it works great.  If not, pan spray a piece of parchment.
2.  In a bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon.  Cinnamon tends to repel wet ingredients, but sugar absorbs them, so it's like tricking the cinnamon into softening.  Stir in shortening and corn syrup until everything becomes crumbly.
3.  Spread mix on prepared sheet.  I used an offset spatula to press it into a flat-ish, sort-of rectangle about 1/4" thick.  At some point, I realized I could use the rolling pin with thickness guides, but the mix stuck to the pin quite a bit and I almost had to start over.

4.  Bake for 35 minutes.  It isn't going to look hard, but it will firm up as it cools.  You're not making bark, where you crack it.  This has to be soft enough to cut.
5.  When cooled, transfer to a cutting board.  I tore mine into several pieces to make it easier to do straight lines.  Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut into 1/4" cubes.  Thousands of them.  It's going to take about ten minutes.  If not using immediately, store in a sealed container.  They should keep for at least a month.  I used mine the next day, so I can't vouch for it.

Makes about 1 cup of chips

Difficulty rating. π

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Seared Scallops with Mixed Vegetables

The scallops I wanted last week were finally a reasonable price, so I started looking for something to have with them.  There was the last fennel in the pond, which was starting to bolt, some celery, a bit of onion, and half a can of sauerkraut.  A serving size of kraut in someone's mind is a lot more than I put on a Reuben.  I had considered using cabbage in this anyway.  Having it pre-fermented just meant I didn't need to add any lemon juice or vinegar.  I picked up a carrot for color, and a meal was begun.

Slicing and shredding the veggies took the longest, even with the V-slicer.  Maybe ten minutes.  The veggies steamed for another ten while the scallops were cooking and the toast was toasting, and the whole thing was photographed and on the table a few minutes later.

You'll notice that this also has an appetizer tag.  Even with a bruschetta on the side, this was more like a spa lunch than a proper dinner.  There was pie an hour later.  On the other hand, if you're dieting, it's very nutritious and pretty fancy for a weeknight dinner.

1 lb scallops
1 large carrot
*1/2 cabbage or small can sauerkraut
*1/2 C diced onion
*1 small fennel
*2 ribs celery
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tb butter
2 Tb lemon juice if not using sauerkraut

1.  Shred, or at least very thinly slice, all veggies.  You can use a V-slicer with julienne attachments or the grater on a food processor to speed things up.  Place in a large pot with about 1/2" of water.  Cover, bring to a simmer, and allow to steam while you make the scallops.
2.  Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Melt butter and swirl to coat bottom of pan.  Before butter burns, drop in scallops.  cook until the bottoms get golden, about 4 minutes.  Flip and sear other side.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3.  If you used fresh cabbage, now is the time to add the lemon juice, plus a little salt and pepper for either ingredient.  I used tongs to put the veggies on the plate, so any excess water would drip off.  Top with several scallops and serve.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Harvesting Fennel Seed

It took a few months, but the fennel bulb I let go to seed is finally finishing the process.  Santa Ana winds helped.  I hardly ever use fennel seed (anise) in cooking, but I believe that's because I wouldn't buy it for one recipe and would just substitute some other kind of seed.  Now that I have some, I'll put it in stocks, pickles, and stews.

The process for harvesting the seed from an herb is pretty similar for any herb.  You get the best results when you let them dry on the plant, then place the flower head in an open paper bag for a couple of weeks to dry even further.  At that point, the seeds fall off the stems and you can seal them in a container.
It is critically important that the seeds be completely dry before sealing the jar.  Any moisture will cause them to get moldy.  I left my coriander seed on the plant until the whole thing shattered when I pulled off the seeds.  This is the nose-to-tail version of growing herbs, since mine seem to keep bolting in region 11a.  A few more weeks, and it will be cool enough to start my winter herbs and greens, just when pretty much everyone else is planning for a first frost.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Roasted Acorn Squash Soup

It's Fall, dammit, and I want to have 18th century American foods.  This usually lasts until Thanksgiving, when my tastes transition to Dickensian England through Christmas.  Unfortunately, the weather in Southern California does not always accommodate my moods.  Never mind the heat, I'm making a thick, hot soup anyway.

I had a pint of vegetable stock left from the paella and chose to make soup with the squash I picked up at the market.  This is a very simple project.  Roasting the squash brings out a richer flavor than simmering, plus it's a whole lot easier to peel after it's cooked.

1 medium acorn squash, about 2 lbs
*1 C diced onion
*1 rib celery, diced
2 Tb olive oil
*2 to 3 C chicken or vegetable stock
salt and white pepper to taste
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1.  Preheat oven to 350º and line a baking sheet with foil.  Cut squash in half across the equator and scoop out seeds and strings.  You can roast the seeds for garnish if desired.  Rub inside and out with 1 Tb olive oil.  Place cut-side down on baking sheet and roast until easily pierced by a fork, about 45 minutes.  Allow to cool until you can easily handle it, then peel off skin and break into 1" pieces.

2.  While the squash is baking, heat other Tb of oil in a medium saucepan.  Sauté onion and celery until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add 2 cups of stock and the nutmeg and simmer until the squash is ready, at least 30 minutes.

3.  In batches, purée squash with stock.  If too thick, keep adding stock or water until desired consistency is reached.  I ended up using close to 3 cups, but it's going to depend on how big your squash is.

4.  Return soup to medium heat.  When warmed, taste and add salt and white pepper as desired.  I found this to be creamy enough without adding anything, but you can make it "cream of" by stirring in half a cup of heavy cream, or even drizzling it on as a garnish.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  :)  (use a sharp knife on that squash!)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Vegan Quinoa Paella

I've never had paella before, and this kind of isn't really it either, but the seasonings are the same.  Basically, I wasn't in the mood for meat, and scallops were $15/lb.  You could throw sausage, shrimp, or another seafood in this and it would be closer to paella, but slightly more nutritious than the rice version.  For a vegetarian - but not vegan - version, top each serving with a poached egg.  They're both still gluten-free.

I took the recipe off Simply Quinoa, but - as she suggested - made it my own.  I've been looking for a use for my last two carrots in the pond, so I made one the garnish on top instead of bell pepper.  I also had celery in the fridge, which went into the mix instead of green beans.  Really: green beans, chickpeas, and quinoa?  Sure, I eat more fiber than the average American, but this could hurt a person.
This is never going to be as creamy as a rice paella, so I didn't stress about the constant stirring thing. There just isn't enough starch in quinoa to stick to anything.

You'll notice the scarcity of stars on major ingredients, although I did have all the necessary spices.  At least it gave me a chance to find out how much four servings cost.  $7, with nothing on special but buying store brands or bulk.  Oh, and making my own broth.  Now, if you have to invest in saffron, it's going to more than double that.  This is why I pick up expensive items when they're on special.  They will come in handy eventually.

2/3 C dry quinoa
1/2 onion, diced
*2 ribs celery, diced
*2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tb olive oil
1 C chopped baby Bella mushrooms (about 6)
1 15 oz can diced low-sodium tomatoes
1 15 oz can artichokes, either quartered or hearts
1 15 oz can low-sodium chickpeas
Salt and pepper to taste
*1/4 tsp saffron threads
*1/4 tsp turmeric
*1 tsp paprika
1 C low-sodium vegetable broth
*2 medium carrots: 1 petite diced, the other one thinly sliced
*Juice of half a lemon to finish

1.  If you like to rinse and/or soak your quinoa, give it a 2-hour head start.  If not, don't drain the artichokes and that should provide enough liquid.

2.  Drizzle oil in a 10" skillet.  Over medium-high heat, sauté onion, celery, and garlic until softened.  Stir in (drained) quinoa and saffron, turmeric, and paprika.  Allow it to toast lightly, like a pilaf.

3.  Drain and rinse chickpeas.  Drain artichokes if pre-soaking quinoa.  Add to skillet, along with tomatoes in their juice, mushrooms, the diced carrot, and 1 cup of broth.  Stir to combine, lower heat to a simmer, and cover.  Simmer until quinoa is cooked, about 15 minutes.

4.  Remove lid and taste.  Add salt and pepper if necessary.  This is why I specifically put "low-sodium" on all the canned ingredients except the artichokes.  You're opening four cans of various items, and canned food can be very high in sodium.  Rinsing the beans and artichokes helps to reduce it, but I still only added maybe 1/8 tsp to the entire skillet.  If too dry, add a little more broth or water.  Stir again after these additions.  Top with sliced carrots, recover, and simmer for 5 minutes, to soften carrots a little without cooking them all the way.

5.  Serve hot, after letting everyone see the pretty skillet.  In a mixed group, you can top the non-vegan servings with poached egg, shrimp, or sausage.

Difficulty rating. :)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Pork Chop Experiment

Thick-cut, boneless pork chops were on sale.  I hadn't had them in a while, but really didn't feel like frying anything.

That got me to wondering why we cook pork chops over high heat and coated in bread crumbs.  I think Shake'n'Bake is to blame.  They gave us the idea to bake chops with high heat to get dinner on the table quickly.  It does help to seal in the juices the way they do it, but I know I've had pork cooked other ways.

I also had a couple of tablespoons each of beer mustard and cranberry sauce.  After I pulled them out of the oven, I realized I should have stirred them together for a really nice glaze, but this was good too.

4 boneless pork chops (a little over 1 lb)
1/2 C leftover jam, mustard, or sauce of some kind

1.  Preheat oven to 300º.  Smear both sides of pork chops with glaze and place on a shallow rack in a baking dish.

2.  Cook for 20 minutes.  Turn and cook another 20 minutes.  Unless the chops are super-thick, this should be long enough.  Use a food thermometer if you're nervous.  They only have to get to 140º.  That 160º stuff was when food wasn't as safe as it is now (or for any ground meat).

3.  Let chops rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Italian-Style Mashed Potatoes

Using up stuff again.  I had a few cheese balls left from the skewers, plenty of herbs, and some milk and butter.  All I needed for this was a pound of potatoes.

I almost always leave the skins on my potatoes when I mash them because that's where most of the vitamins are.  It also produces a more rustic look.  I realize that not all kids will eat mashed potatoes that aren't smooth, but you should be able to convince adults to get over it and eat what they're served.

The kale is just there so you can see the potatoes better.  Cream on white isn't much contrast.  Notice that most photos of mashed potatoes have a dark background.

1 lb Yukon gold potatoes
*4 oz mozzarella
*1 tsp dried oregano
*1 tsp dried basil
2 Tb butter
*1/2 C milk
Salt to taste

1.  Cut potatoes into chunks and simmer until easily pierced by a fork, 15 to 20 minutes.  Drain.  While that's happening, chop mozzarella into small pieces so they melt evenly.

2.  Into a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, place potatoes, oregano, basil, and butter.  Beat until mostly smooth and butter is melted, then add milk in a steady stream.  Taste and add salt as necessary.

3.  Beat in cheese pieces until mostly melted.  You may end up with strings or unmelted bits.  That's fine.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, September 16, 2017


I've only eaten Indian food a couple of times.  As with Mexican and other cuisines South, Indian sneaks in stuff I'm allergic to in the spice mix.  The few times I've tried Indian recipes at home, I've liked them.

Instead of buying a loaf of French bread to do a cold dinner, I decided to try making naan.  Most recipes are similar: a basic yeast dough with yogurt in it, cooked on a skillet instead of in the oven.

The process is basic for anyone who has made yeast bread before: knead, rise, punch down, shape, apply heat.  (There's no second rise.)  The taste is my new favorite pizza crust.

I skipped the ghee, instead melting butter and brushing it whole on the finished pieces.  I've done clarified butter before, and after deciding it didn't make a difference in whatever it was I did it for (probably hollandaise), I gave it up.

These are just plain naan, but you can jazz them up by sprinkling them with garlic, herbs, or spices on top of the final brush of butter.  You can see that I was having them with hummus, and didn't think the competition would add anything to the meal.

2 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/2 C 100ºF water
2 Tb olive oil
1/3 C plain yogurt
2-1/2 to 3 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tb butter or ghee, melted

1.  Combine yeast, sugar, water, olive oil, and yogurt.  Let sit until it starts to foam, about 5 minutes.

2.  In stand mixer with the paddle, stir together liquid mix and 1 C of flour.  Add salt and beat until a batter forms, about 2 minutes.  Add another cup of flour to make a light dough and beat another couple of minutes until it pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

3.  Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.  Coat a bowl with a few drops of oil and turn dough over in the bowl to coat all sides.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.
4.  Punch down dough and turn out onto that lightly floured surface again.  Cut into 8 identical pieces.  Roll out one into a 6" circle while you preheat a 6" skillet on medium-high heat.  Drop the circle onto the skillet and let cook while you start rolling out the next one.  When the cooking one is lightly browned and slightly firm, about 2 minutes, flip it and do the other side.  Brush top of finished bread with butter and start a stack.  Repeat until all are cooked, keeping the finished ones on a plate under a towel to keep them warm and soft.
Makes 8

Difficulty rating. :)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mini Mozzarella Skewers

I had some tomatoes to use and it was time to trim the basil again, so I bought a package of the smallest mozzarella balls at the market and made these cute little bites.  The whole project, including cutting the tomatoes and going outside to pick basil, took about three minutes.  Granted, I only made four of them (3 in the photo because you display food in odd numbers), but you could knock out a couple of dozen for a party in less than ten.  Maybe five.

8 oz cherry Mozzarella balls
*6 oz grape tomatoes
*large handful of basil leaves
salt to taste

1.  Wash the tomatoes, remove any stems, and cut in half.
2.  To assemble, get out a box of toothpicks.  Onto each, skewer a basil leaf, cheese ball, and tomato half.  I did them in that order because it's the colors on the Italian flag.  You could put the basil in the middle.  Taste one.  If a little bland, sprinkle all of them with a touch of salt.  Repeat until out of either tomatoes or cheese.  Arrange on serving platter. Serve cold.

Makes 2-3 dozen

Difficulty rating. π

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Summer harvest, round 2

Tiny watermelon is on the white container lid
I had to pick the last watermelon because it had split, all of the cucumbers were canned, and there were only a few tomatoes left to ripen.

Then it got hot and humid, so the plants decided to go at it again.

I knew that vine-type fruits started a second round once the first was harvested, but these guys were taking so long to get to it, I thought I'd just planted to late.  Practically overnight, I found a new watermelon growing near the base of one of the plants.  The tomatoes started to bloom again, and a long-lost cucumber seed germinated.  I might end up with a passable harvest after all.

The fennel that I let bloom is starting to develop seeds.  I watched several videos on harvesting fennel seed, and they're not ready yet.  More on that when it's time.
Every time I think Eggy has had it, she cranks out another single-serving eggplant.  There's a big grasshopper that keeps eating the leaves, so that may be the ultimate downfall.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Chicken Keftas with Persian Rice

This is a lot like the last post because I had some of the same ingredients on hand.  It's actually closer to what I had in mind before trying the polenta.

This brings up a lesson in restaurant menu design.  It's cheaper to reuse ingredients across a menu than to have many only used in one dish each.  The biggest example that comes to mind is Taco Bell.  They combine a very limited ingredient list in dozens of ways to make different items.  Here, we're just reusing the broiled vegetables.  You could easily have this on the same restaurant menu as the polenta.  Put the polenta on the appetizer menu and this under main courses.  The description would be something like "seasoned chicken skewers over saffron rice, served with broiled vegetables".  Actually, I think I had something very similar to this at a Persian restaurant once.  Only a food critic or restaurateur would make the connection with the polenta.

And yes, those are Bread and Butter Pickles on the plate.  Many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes are often served with some kind of pickle.

1 batch of Persian Rice
1 lb ground chicken
*1/2 C finely chopped cilantro
*1/2 C minced yellow onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp each salt, paprika, cumin, turmeric
1/4 tsp white pepper
*1/2 red onion, frenched
*1 medium eggplant
*6 oz grape tomatoes, halved
olive oil

1.  While the rice is on its long steam, knead together the chicken, cilantro, yellow onion, garlic, and spices in a bowl until thoroughly combined.  If using bamboo skewers, start soaking eight pieces so the broiler doesn't set fire to them.

2.  Slice the eggplant crosswise into 1/4" thick slices.  Slice each round into 1/4" sticks.  In a medium bowl, toss together eggplant, red onion, tomatoes, and about 2 Tb olive oil.  Add more oil if they still look dry.  Spread out in a single layer on a sheet pan and broil until soft, about 10 minutes.

3.  That gives you time to form the meat around the skewers.  I tried to do it on a rack, but the meat was too soft and started oozing through.  I gave up and just laid them flat on a roasting pan.  When the veggies are done, swap them out with the chicken and broil until meat reaches 165º, about 10 minutes.  It depends how you formed it on the stick.  Mine were more like meatballs, but you could do longer and thin, like a satay look.

4.  The rice should be done around now.  Turn it out onto a plate and start dividing it for serving.  By the time you have rice and veggies on each plate, the skewers will be sizzling and you can place them on top.  Serve immediately.

Difficulty rating. :)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Goat Cheese Polenta with Broiled Vegetables

Ok, I hate recipes with long titles, but I couldn't come up with anything shorter without splitting this into two posts.

I had a handful of tomatoes, one small eggplant, and some cilantro to work with this time.  I was going back and forth with making something on Persian rice, couscous, or risotto.  Then I hit upon the idea of polenta, which I haven't really done on this blog unless you count the dessert one I grilled a couple of years ago.

There are a couple of ways to do polenta dishes.  As a main course, you often create a bed of mush and put a stew on top of it, or mound it like mashed potatoes with a chicken leg or something on the side and a sprig of herb in the middle for garnish.  Since we're in presentation mode, I did these as polenta cakes cut into shapes, with the veggies on top.  They could just as easily be on the side.  These are too fragile to serve as finger hors d'oeuvres, but they can be plated as appetizers.  To pick up polenta, it either has to be very stiff or very small.  Even then, I would put them in bon bon liners.

I need to broil onions more often.  They were the best part of this dish.  I was also pleased that the eggplant "fries" cooked through in the same time as the tomatoes and onion.  I was concerned they'd still be a little underdone.

For those really paying attention to the photo, yes there is lamb in it.  I made this a main dish by shredding about half a pound of lamb into the veggie mix, but it didn't really add anything extraordinary to the concept, and I like the vegetarian appetizer version.

I didn't buy fine-grain polenta and just used regular cornmeal.  The justification was the goat cheese, which will cream up pretty much anything.  It did not come out gritty, and I saved a little money.

*1 C cornmeal or dry polenta
4 oz goat cheese log or crumbles
1/2 C chopped fresh herbs (I used cilantro and basil) or 3 Tb dried
*1/2 red onion, Frenched
*6 oz grape tomatoes, halved
*1 small eggplant (or 3 Indian)
olive oil

1.  Early in the day, make the polenta.  Stir together cornmeal, 1 C water, and 1/2 tsp of salt in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a low boil over medium heat, and turn down the heat if it starts to spit at you.  Gradually add 2 more cups of water, stirring occasionally, until polenta is cooked and thick, about 15 minutes.  Stir in herbs and cheese.  Line an 8" square or round pan with plastic wrap and you can just lift the finished piece out of the pan.  Pour polenta into pan and refrigerate until serving time, at least 2 hours.
Because everything tastes better with a log of chèvre in it
2.  To prepare the eggplant, cut off the cap.  Slice 1/4" thick rounds, then slice into baton strips about the same size as the onion pieces.  Toss all three veggies with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, until thoroughly coated.  Spread in a single layer in a baking dish and broil for approx 10 minutes.
3.  Remove polenta from pan and cut into desired squares, triangles, or diamonds.  Plate, then spoon broiled mix on top.  Serve before the polenta starts to melt and run.

Serves 8-12 as an appetizer

Difficulty rating. :)

Friday, September 1, 2017

Repurposed Ingredients

I made a random pasta dish recently that only "cost" me 50¢ of pasta.  In reality, I had bought remaining ingredients for other dishes or grown them.  This has been going on for a while.
I had a cold, mezze style dinner and didn't finish everything, so I bought a bit of ahi and kept going.  More leftovers and some backyard produce made me buy a pack of pita bread and some feta to make Greek sandwiches.  There was baba ghannouj left from that, so it went on bread, and you can kind of see how it kept rolling until I threw pretty much everything else together into two days of salad.
This continues my mantra of any food you waste being the most expensive thing you bought.  I can justify a more expensive ingredient here and there because I use it.  Even a bit of leftover pumpkin seed from the horchata came in handy on some overnight oats.

The only things I have that are in danger of spoiling are half a bunch of cilantro and maybe the milk, so I can feel free to look for deals the next time I shop.  A couple of days after Labor Day, all the meats they couldn't sell get discounted, so that's a good place to start.