Thursday, August 17, 2017

Look What I Made!

They're small, but I successfully grew watermelons!  I'm actually glad they're not huge.  This first one was almost exactly a kilogram.  It also didn't grow into a normal watermelon shape, but the other two look like they should and are about twice the size.

When I cut this one open, I was relieved to find it ripe.  I have no idea how to tell when a green fruit has ripened.  Despite its pale-ish flesh, it was plenty sweet and even had a sugar spot.  It made three servings, about as much as I can eat before it loses too much water and sweetness.
What you might be able to see in the photo is how large the seeds are.  They're actually normal seed size and it's just a small watermelon.  Americans are so spoiled, I had forgotten that watermelons come with seeds.

I'll probably cut up the next one for work instead of hogging it for myself.  Well, I'll probably eat quite a bit while I'm dicing it, but there should be enough left over to take.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Bread and Butter Pickles

I grew pickling cucumbers this year instead of the salad kind.  Yes, there's more than one kind of cucumber.  These are the little, mottled ones that are sold in the specialty produce section, the ones most people say "who would buy those?" to.  And the ones that are more expensive because so few people buy them.

I used to love pickles when I was little.  I especially liked the ones put on the table at Junior's, a Westside deli that closed a few years ago after many years as a neighborhood landmark.  My parents would get me my own dish, so everyone else could share the other one.  I've gotten out of the habit since then, but always like them when I get served one.  I just don't buy them.  It's like the way I'll drink soda when I'm out, but almost never buy it.

This is the first I've tried to make canned pickles.  I've done sunomono and quick refrigerator pickles because I was not growing the proper kind of cucumber to do canned.  This summer, I have a few one and two-day canning recipes I plan to try, but I'm not doing a fermented pickle.  The fermented kind scare me.  Fermenting anything scares me, which is why I kind of abandoned making cheeses.

These are a standard hot-pack recipe that can be adapted to any vegetable you wish to pickle.  I've left off the peppers that Marisa and most other B&B recipes use for my personal taste, but otherwise left her recipe intact.  I just cut the whole thing in thirds because that's how much cucumber I had.  The nice thing about Food in Jars recipes is that even though they start small, they can often be cut down further without much effort.  I had three little cucumbers, enough for two half-pint jars, which is about four servings.  Next week, I'll have enough for another little batch.  You shouldn't hold the cucumbers too long, or they start to dry out.  Assuming you bought yours at the market, I'm adding the brining step in the comments to help keep them a little crisp.

Here's something I learned in the process.  Cut off the blossom end of a cucumber before pickling, or the enzyme in it will make the whole batch mushy.  If you don't know which end that is, just level off the stem and blossom ends, like taking the heels off a loaf of bread.

*2 C pickling cucumbers, sliced 1/2" thick
*2/3 C sliced onion
2/3 C apple cider vinegar
1/4 C sugar
1 Tb + 2 tsp pickling or canning salt
*scant tsp mustard seed
*scant tsp celery seed
*1/4 tsp red chili flakes
*scant 1/4 tsp ground cloves

1.  Toss cucumber and onion slices with 1 Tb salt in a bowl.  I actually used kosher salt.  Normally, if you sub in K salt for canning, you have to increase the amount by about 1.5, but I'm doubling it anyway to do this process.  Safety is not an issue.  The finished product was just a little saltier than the average pickle.  Cover the slices with cold water, then toss in a few ice cubes.  Refrigerate the bowl for a minimum of 1 hour and up to 12.

2.  Prepare jars and canner for a 1 pint yield.  My slices fit neatly into a regular mouth half-pint jar, so I used two of those.  You could fit all of this in one wide-mouth pint jar by packing half of the slices vertically down the sides.

3.  Pour out vegetables into a strainer and rinse to remove excess salt.  Let them drain over the sink for a few minutes.  In a medium saucepan, heat vinegar, sugar, and other 2 tsp of salt.  Once salt and sugar have dissolved, add remaining spices and bring to a boil.

4.  Add vegetables to the brine and return to a boil.  Cook until everything is heated through, about 5 minutes.  Don't cook until the cucumbers look cooked, because these are going to spend ten minutes in the water bath.

5.  Pack veggies into jars using tongs, leaving 1/2" headspace.  Fill with the hot brine, poke out any air bubbles with a chopstick, and add more brine if necessary to bring it back up to that 1/2".  You can hang on to any leftover brine for up to a week to use with another batch.  Wipe rims, center a lid, and screw on rim finger-tight.  Process sizes up to a pint for 10 minutes, quarts for 15.  Check seals when cooled and refrigerate any failed seal jars immediately.  Sealed jars can be kept at room temperature, out of the light, for up to a year.  Let sit for at least two days before opening, and refrigerate after.

Makes 1 pint

Difficulty rating :)

Friday, August 11, 2017

California Roll Sandwich

I'll give Einstein Bros Bagels credit for this one.  Recently, they had a California Lox sandwich.  It was pretty much this, but lox instead of crab.  It always made me want sushi afterwards.  The bagel was a bit much, but putting the ingredients of a California roll on slices of white bread turns this into a tea sandwich.  Party or not, I'm still thinking about things that would go well at tea.  Besides, my pickling cucumbers were ripening, and I had left a carrot in the ground for this.

This sandwich is all in the prep.  It's very easy to make, but there are a lot of layers.  Kind of a cucumber sandwich on steroids.  You could even substitute this for the regular cucumber sandwich at a tea.  Subbing in portobello mushroom or tofu for the crab makes it vegetarian.

I did skip the seaweed in a regular California roll.  I couldn't figure out how to get some in each bite without it becoming tough.  Sushi is a one-bite deal, but even a finger sandwich is at least two bites.  The bread was too soft to hold things together once the crust was cut off, so I would suggest a very light toasting first.

2" length of cucumber (or 1 pickling cucumber)
2" length of carrot
*1/2 C rice vinegar
2 tsp sugar
1/2 C whipped cream cheese
*1 Tb wasabi powder
*1 Tb pickled ginger
1 large avocado
4 oz crab meat (I used leg-style fake crab)
8 slices white bread
toasted sesame seeds for garnish

1.  The day before, peel carrot and cucumber (also remove seeds from cucumber).  Slice thinly into matchsticks.  In a bowl, combine rice vinegar and sugar.  Warm in the microwave to dissolve the sugar.  Stir in cucumber and carrot pieces until submerged.  Refrigerate until needed.

2.  In a small bowl, add 1 Tb water to wasabi powder. Finely chop ginger and stir into wasabi.  Add cream cheese and beat with a spoon until smooth.  Your eyes should water slightly, but it will mellow out in a few minutes.  Refrigerate until needed.
3.  Mash avocado pulp with a fork until mostly smooth.  If not using immediately, beat in a tsp of lemon juice or rice vinegar and seal with plastic wrap before refrigerating.  The last of the prep is to open the package of crab (or krab) and separate the flakes along the natural grain.

4.  To assemble, lay out the bread slices.  On the bottom half, spread the wasabi cream cheese.  On the top, spread the avocado pulp.  Drain the pickle mixture and spread the carrot and cucumber over the cream cheese.  Distribute the crab meat on top of that.  Sprinkle with sesame as a garnish, then top with avocado half of bread.  Cut off crusts if desired and cut into finger sandwich sizes.  Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 hours before they start to get stale.

Makes 4 sandwiches, 16 hors d'oeuvres servings

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Basil Maintenance

Once in a while, YouTube brings up a suggested video that teaches you something you should have sought out yourself.

I've been blindly growing my basil for years.  I got the seeds free when I went to see the Rose Parade floats and MiracleGro was a sponsor.  When the plants got too big for the free pot they gave me, I moved them outside into a much larger pot.  Since then, I've just let them grow as they wish, flower, and die in the fall.  The blossoms make seeds, which fall into the pot, and every spring new basil plants grow.

Apparently, that's not how it's supposed to work.  When the plants go to seed, the leaves get thin and less flavorful.  My plants never look like the lush ones you see in the market with wide leaves.  That requires you to do some actual gardening.  Who knew?

Now, whenever a branch starts to form flowers, I prune them.  I just go down a few sets of leaves to where I see some side buds forming and snip off that top few inches.  Those little leaves now have incentive to form their own branches.  I've only done it twice, and already I can see the difference.  The plants look a lot healthier.  Plus, it provides for a generous basil harvest every couple of weeks.  If I can't think of a culinary use for them immediately, I can go pull out some mint and made basil/mint tea.  Or, they can be hung up to dry for some eventual pesto.

Within a month, I'll let one go to seed so it can make next year's seeds.  I love this system.  I wish all my plants were this easy to recycle.  Well, then there's Eggy.  I actually want her to die this fall so I can put some celery in there.  We'll see what happens.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Blueberry Turnovers

This is why I decided to make the pie filling.  Only a little bit was used for this recipe, so I can easily make a cobbler or something with the rest.

I made these small.  Most recipes get 8 out of a sheet of puff pastry and I did 12.  I like smaller pastries because I can decide if I really want that second one at breakfast, when I usually have a protein and fruit as well as something carbey.  Or, if I have it as a tea snack,  I'm really good at only eating one small thing.  I know, not everyone has that kind of willpower, but this is my recipe.

*1 sheet puff pastry
1/2 C blueberry pie filling
Coarse or sanding sugar for garnish

1.  Thaw pastry according to package instructions.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out thinner than simply erasing the creases, to get another inch or two out of each dimension.

2.  Preheat oven to 400º and line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat.
3.  Cut pastry sheet into a grid of 4x3 pieces, either with a sharp knife and a ruler or a pizza cutter and a steady hand.  The trifold of the pastry out of the box is a big help.  Transfer pieces to the baking sheet and spoon 1-2 tsp filling into the middle, depending how large your original sheet was rolled.  Fold over on the diagonal and press the seams closed.  You can use your fingers or a fork, but frankly I liked the look of the ones that popped open a little.  Cut a slit in the top to vent, brush lightly with water or milk, and sprinkle with sanding sugar.  This last step is important, because the pastry is not sweet and it's going to need a little help.

4.  Bake for 15 minutes, until well-risen and golden brown.  They'll brown more if you used milk than water.  Remove to a rack to cool and serve.

Makes 12

Difficulty rating π

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Blueberry Pie Filling

Blueberries are the cheapest they have been in years.  This is the best crop in anyone's memory, to the point that the government is buying some of the surplus.  So, I couldn't resist $1.98 for an 18-oz box.  Some of it went on my morning steel-cut oats, but a lot of it went toward this.

Unlike jam recipes, this is super easy and quick.  Fifteen minutes max.  It's also important to note that although I'm storing it in mason jars, this is not a canning recipe.  There isn't enough acid or sugar, and the cornstarch would break down if you processed it and then used it in a pie.

You'll note that there's relatively little sugar in this recipe.  My taste-test proved that the berries were plenty sweet on their own, so I kept it to a minimum.  If you want so much sugar (or corn syrup) that you can't really taste the fruit, buy canned filling.  The point of this was to make it taste home-made.

18 oz blueberries (about 3-1/2 C)
1/4 C water
6 Tb sugar (1/4 C + 2 Tb)
*1 Tb lemon juice
*1 Tb cornstarch

1.  Stir together 2 Tb water, the cornstarch, and the lemon juice.  Set aside.
2.  In a medium saucepan, combine blueberries, sugar, and 2 Tb water.  Cook over medium heat until berries are soft but not mushy, about 10-15 minutes.  If you break some of the berries, you'll get a better color in the syrup and the filling will cook faster.

3.  Once desired doneness of berries is reached, stir in cornstarch slurry.  It's going to thicken up in 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and pour into storage containers.  Allow to stop steaming before putting a lid on it.  Can be refrigerated for one week or frozen for up to a month.
Pro tip:  If you end up with more goo than you expected, like I did, there are a few solutions.  One, strain it out to use as syrup for pancakes, yogurt, crepes, ice cream, in soda, etc.  Two, add more fresh berries when you use the filling, not necessarily the same kind.  Three, use it for something where the drippiness is an asset, like on cheesecake.

Makes about 2-1/2 cups

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Tapas Dinner

I do this a lot in the summer, and have posted the concept before.  It bears repeating under the current topic of presentation.  You can chop up some fruit and veggies (or buy them chopped), set out some bread, cheese, and nuts, and everyone will think you're a genius.  It's all in the presentation.  Whether you put out a little bit like I did here for just myself, or several boards, each with a theme, it turns snacks into a leisurely meal.  It's how Mediterranean-rim countries eat during the warm summer evenings.  There usually isn't dessert, just a pile of grapes or other finger fruit.

This is also a great thing to add to a barbecue gathering for vegetarians and vegans, so they don't feel left out.  I wanted tuna salad, but a cup of hummus or dairy-free bean dip would be a vegan protein.  It's a way to cater to a special dietary need without anyone feeling like you reluctantly made something just for one person.  There are many specialty diets that can work with this concept, including paleo, diabetic, and gluten-free.  Plus, it's just a generally healthy way to eat.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Overnight Steel-Cut Oats

The grocery store keeps posting coupons for English muffins, so I've been having them for breakfast and cracking open jars of homemade jam.  It's great, but I'm ready for a change.

On the cruise this spring, Holland America had cups of cold oatmeal out every morning.  I tried one by mistake, thinking it was rice pudding.  It was too sweet, but not bad.

Instead of rolled oats, I decided to do this experiment with steel-cut.  Logically, it would simply take longer to soak in the milk than with rolled oats, but if you're doing it overnight, that's eight to ten hours. More than enough time to soften the grains.

You could also do this as a shortcut to hot steel-cut oats by soaking overnight and bringing the whole thing to a simmer with a bit of water in the morning.  That cuts 45 minutes down to no more than 10, with the same result.  What I liked about the concept was making a single serving at once.  Since steel-cut oats take so long to make, you usually make several days' worth at a time.  I just put everything for one breakfast in a one-cup ramekin and stashed it in the fridge overnight.

I went a little crazy with the toppings, but it was a nice way to break up the monotony of the oats.  Two chopped dried figs made the whole thing sweet enough that I didn't have to add sugar.  Then I sprinkled in a pinch of coconut flakes, a tiny bit of chopped crystallized ginger, and about a tablespoon of chopped walnuts.  All of it was in there while it soaked, which softened up everything into a kind of thick oatmeal soup, but not soggy.  I liked it.

1/4 C dry steel-cut oats
1/4 C milk
2 Tb water (or to taste)
*up to 1/4 C (4 Tb) mix-ins such as dried fruit, chopped nuts, coconut flakes, sweetener, spices, or fresh fruit

1.  Into a bowl or 1-cup jar, place oats.  Pour in milk.  If serving cold, put in the water now.  If planning to serve warm, you'll boil the water in the morning and stir it in.

2.  Add mix-ins, but you don't need to stir them in now.  There's enough liquid that they can float on top and still soften.  For fresh fruit, you can add it to the oatmeal at serving time.
3.  Refrigerate for at least 8 hours, and up to 12.  At serving time, either have it cold or boil water and add about 2 Tb to warm it.  Alternately, you can microwave the oatmeal, adding more water if it's too thick.

Serves 1

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, July 24, 2017

Cream of Fennel Soup

Yes, I am aware how hot it is outside.  That's why I made something which would work as a cold soup as well.  Besides, the watermelon is kind of taking over the pond and the fennel were bolting anyway.  I'm letting one flower to collect the anise seed, but the other two decent bulbs got pulled for this.

This recipe is an excellent example of why you should save trimmings to make your own broths.  I made a "white" vegetable broth to preserve the color of the fennel, picking around the carrots and red onion in the broth bag in favor of kale ribs, yellow onion, celery, fronds from the fennel, and some fresh radish greens from the previous post.  I also used juniper berries, coriander seed, and caraway seed from my pickling spice collection as excellent complements to the flavor of fennel.  Or, you could use store-bought vegetable or chicken stock.

1 qt stock
*4 C chopped fennel bulb
*1/2 C diced onion
*1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tb olive oil
2 Tb flour
1 Tb anisette (optional)
1/2 C cream
salt and white pepper

1.  Heat oil in a soup pot over medium heat.  Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook another minute, until fragrant.

2.  Add fennel and stir into onion mix.  Sprinkle flour on top and cook into a pasty roux.  If using, add the anisette.  Slowly add broth and allow soup to come to a low boil.  Lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until fennel is softened, about 20 minutes.

3.  In batches, purée soup in a blender.  Strain back into the pot, to remove any fibers that refused to break down.  Stir in cream and return to a simmer, not a boil.  Taste and add salt and white pepper to taste.

4.  Serve hot, or chill to serve cold.  I saved some fennel fronds to chop up for garnish.

Serves 4 to 6

Difficulty rating  :)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Roasted Radishes

One advantage of random recipe searches is that you discover new ideas.  I don't remember which blog had these as a garnish, or if it was for soup or salad, but a specific search for roasted radishes produced a plethora of hits.

The only reason I don't grow radishes is because, really, how many can you eat?  I'll put a single one on a full salad that serves four to six, sliced thinly so its tangy crunch goes a long way.  Then what do you do with the rest of them?

So I made the 50¢ investment on a bunch of radishes at the market.  Half of the greens and one radish went into the lentil burgers for both volume and spice.  The other half of the greens went into some vegetable broth.  What was left is now in this post.  Not bad for half a dollar.

So, how do they taste?  Kind of like tangy red potatoes.  I never realized that radishes were starchy.  You could eat them as a side, or on a salad, or in a soup.  Maybe stuff chicken or fish with them.  The point is, they're not like the crunchy, spicy root you eat raw.  Maybe I'll buy a packet of seeds.

1 bunch red radishes
salt and pepper
1 Tb olive oil

1.  Preheat oven to 400º.

2.  Cut off taproots and stems from radishes.  Slice in half lengthwise.  Toss in oil to coat, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3.  Place cut side down on baking sheet and roast until softened and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.  Serve either hot or chilled.

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Red Lentil Veggie Burgers

This recipe was less about finding a use for the rest of the kale than a redemption on the burger bun recipe.  This time, I set the timer.

I love my black bean veggie burgers, and it was time to do a meatless meal, but I decided to try something different.  Unlike the black bean ones, I wasn't trying to make something that tasted like meat.  This one was supposed to taste like a chewable lentil vegetable soup.  When I changed my mind and decided to fry them instead of bake, the flavor trended more towards falafel.  They're still tasty, but the lentil flavor got drowned out by the veggies.  For some people, that's a plus.

*6 C leafy greens such as kale, chard, spinach, etc
*1 rib celery
1 carrot
*1/2 C chopped onion
*1 clove garlic
3/4 C dry red lentils
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
olive oil for frying

1.  Simmer lentils in lightly salted water until soft, about 10 minutes.  Drain very dry.

2.  Chop all veggies and pulse in food processor until no large pieces remain.  Add to drained lentils and stir in seasonings and eggs.
3.  Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Spoon about 1/2 C mixture onto skillet per patty for bun-sized pieces.  Cook until underside browns, about 4 minutes.  Flip and cook other side until browned, another 2 or 3 minutes.  Repeat until all of mixture is cooked.

Disclaimer:  I had a bit of trouble flipping these guys.  It wasn't as bad as the fried salad incident, but you should use a wide spatula.  Some of the pieces were more like sloppy-joe veggie patties.

4.  Serve hot on buns.  I used two per serving, with tomato slices between them and a yogurt sauce on top.  It still made a lot more than I was expecting.

Serves 6 to 8

Difficulty rating  :)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Baby Watermelons

After two weeks of nothing but male flowers, I finally started to get female ones on the watermelon vines.  I hand-pollinated as many as I could find, since about half usually fail anyway.

Pretty soon, the stems started to thicken into umbilical cords, and the ovaries started to swell.  All of them.  A few failed after that, but at least three are still growing.

Ok, it's one thing to plant a few watermelon hills and hope for the best.  When you're facing the real possibility of three or more watermelons at the same time, it's a bit overwhelming.  Even if they're smaller than the packet advertised and more like "personal" watermelons under five pounds, that's a lot.

The vines are also taking off and overrunning the pond.  I have to keep snapping the tendrils off the carrots.  I'm less concerned about the fennel, which is mostly bolting in this heat.  Some parts of the garden you want to flower, others not so much.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Fennel and Kale Salad

I miscounted my meals and ended up with a bundle of kale in search of a purpose.  At the same time, the largest fennel bulb in the pond was casting so much shade on its neighbors that one beet had completely given up.  Salad time.
Full Pond
This was quickly shaping up to be a very monochromatic salad.  At some point, I'm going to run out of boysenberries, but they worked to perk up this.  After that handful, I switched to some dried figs.  The sweet tones worked well in this salad.  I didn't need nuts, since the fennel was plenty crunchy.
Minus 1 Fennel

Wish I had realized the root
is edible.  Next time.
*1/2 bundle kale, about 3 stems
*1 large fennel bulb
*1 rib celery
salt
*2 Tb white wine vinegar
2 Tb olive oil
*1/2 tsp anisette (optional)
*cracked pepper
*berries or dried fruit for garnish

1.  Remove kale leaves from rib and finely chiffonade.  In a large bowl, sprinkle kale with salt.  Knead kale for several minutes, until the tough fibers are all broken down.  It will look wet and won't feel as crunchy.

2.  Thinly slice fennel bulb, keeping stems and fronds for another use.  I discard the core because it's hard to chew, but it is edible.  Thinly slice celery, so it's pretty much indistinguishable from the fennel.  Toss in with kale.

3.  To make the dressing, beat together vinegar, oil, and as much pepper as you like.  Add anisette, if using.  It heightens the fennel flavor a bit.  Normally, I would add salt, but you just massaged up to 1/2 tsp into the kale.  Toss into salad and serve, garnished however you like.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Hot Dog & Hamburger Buns

At some point, I bought sausages to have with kohlrabi relish.  They come five to a package, which skewed my hot dog bun count.  Instead of always having three buns in the freezer until the next time I bought hot dogs, I decided to make a small batch of buns to resolve the issue.

I settled on the King Arthur Flour recipe because the directions talk about how "slack" - or not firm - the dough is.  That's the key to a soft bun as opposed to a hard roll.  I probably could have made kick-ass rolls without the egg and achieved the same effect.  I also picked this recipe because it makes 18 rolls.  With a quarter recipe, I could squeak out five smaller buns.  I had the cheap hot dogs, so it isn't like the buns had to get around a bratwurst.

I tried to get creative with the photography, but the truth is I ruined the batch.  I didn't set a timer for the second rise and forgot about them for well over an hour.  They over-proofed.  They were still edible and tasted pretty decent, but did not have the delicate texture they should have.

I'm going to post a half-recipe here for the sake of one packet of yeast.  You're looking at nine rolls if you go by the original recipe.  You could do 8 or 10 without really affecting the size of the buns.

1 Tb sugar
2-1/4 tsp yeast (one packet)
1/4 C water
1 C milk
1 Tb oil
1 tsp salt
3+ cups flour
1 egg
seeds for garnish (optional)

1.  Warm sugar, water, milk, and oil between 100º and 110º.  Stir in yeast and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.

2.  In stand mixer with paddle, stir together salt and 1 C flour.  Stir in liquids and beat into a thin batter, about 2 minutes.  Add another cup of flour and beat again.  You'll start to see gluten strands.

3.  You may need to beat in a little more flour to get the dough firm enough to knead.  It's ok if it oozes a bit when you turn it onto a well-floured board.  Knead until smooth, but add as little flour as possible to achieve the effect.  Turn into an oiled bowl, coating all sides, and place in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.

4.  Turn out dough onto a clean surface.  Divide into 8 to 10 pieces.  For hamburger buns, form into rolls and flatten slightly.  For hot dog rolls, form into cylinders about 4-12" long, then flatten slightly.  Place on parchment on a baking sheet or use pan spray.  Allow to rise in a warm place for half an hour.
5.  At the end of that half hour, start to preheat oven to 400º.  Beat egg with 1 Tb water to make an egg wash.  This is to make the buns shiny.  If you don't care about that, you can skip this step.  Brush rolls, then sprinkle with seeds, if desired.  I didn't have sesame, but I did find dried onion, poppy seeds, and celery seed.  Three were decorated with one of these each.

6.  Bake rolls for about 20 minutes, until lightly golden.  Once out of the oven, cool on a wire rack to prevent the undersides from getting soggy.

Makes 8 to 10

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Nectarine and Bleu Cheese Tart

Just because I'm probably not having the tea party this year doesn't mean I'm not coming up with new tea foods.  This appetizer/side dish/vegetarian main/low-sugar dessert could easily be served at tea.  And it used up some bleu cheese I had sitting in the fridge.  I know, it doesn't look like enough for an entire tart, but bleu cheese is pretty strong.  You do want to taste the other ingredients.

One thing to remember about puff pastry is that it is not sweet.  It is a blank slate, like croissant dough.  It's usually used for desserts, but works just as well in savory dishes.  I don't use it often because it's expensive, but that's the only reason.  It's very user-friendly and doesn't dry out before you're done preparing it like filo does.

Because this is a more savory dish, your fruit doesn't have to be super-ripe soft.  Just the same, it shouldn't be rock hard either.  I put mine in a paper bag for two days to achieve something in between.  The best compromise is to taste a slice and decide if a light toss in sugar or honey is warranted to achieve the level of sweetness you want.  If too ripe and starting to get mushy, a toss in more concentrated lemon juice than I state here will balance it out.

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
4 or 5 nectarines
*1/2 lemon
*1/2 C crumbled bleu cheese
3/4 C chopped pecans
honey or sugar, if needed

1.  While 1 sheet of pastry is thawing on the counter, cut nectarines in half, remove pit, and slice thinly, cutting the slices in half to make semi-circles. I forgot how hard that was, or this recipe would have used plums.  Toss slices into a bowl filled with water and the half of a lemon, after squeezing the juice into the water.  This will slow down the oxidation so you have time to prepare everything before the fruit starts to brown.

2.  Start preheating the oven to 400º.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry until the fold lines disappear and it's all the same thickness.  Transfer to a parchment-lined cookie sheet.

3.  While nectarines are draining in a strainer over the sink, start to build the tart.  Sprinkle bleu cheese over the sheet, leaving about 1/2" clean all around the edges.  Scatter half the chopped pecans the same way.
4.  Taste a slice of nectarine.  If on the bland and crunchy side, put them back in the now-empty bowl and toss with a couple of teaspoons of sugar or honey.  If too sweet, toss in the juice of the other half of the lemon.  Then start to shingle them across the pastry.  Remember that the pastry will puff up wherever it is not weighed down with ingredients.  You can go all the way to the edges if you want, but a little crusty rim looks pretty.

5.  Once the nectarines are arranged the way you want them, scatter the remaining pecans on top.  I tossed a handful of boysenberries on the tart as garnish because they're on pretty much everything I eat right now.  For a more savory note, you could garnish with chopped rosemary or sage.

6.  Bake for 20 minutes, until edges are puffed up and browned.  Cool on a wire rack, then cut with a pizza cutter into desired size of servings.  Serve room temperature within a few hours.  If you must serve them at a later date, a quick trip through the toaster will crisp it up slightly, but it will still look like leftovers.

Makes one tartlet, about 6 to 10 servings

Difficulty rating  :)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Cauliflower Couscous

I still had that other half of the head of cauliflower to eat before it spoiled, and decided to try this.  It's a basic and easy recipe.  The most time-consuming part is grating the cauliflower, which is why I gave up after about 30 seconds and threw everything in the food processor.  Instead of "cauliflower rice", the finer texture looked and tasted a whole lot like slightly sweet couscous, so that's what I'm calling it.

Having learned my lesson from over-cooking the roasted cauliflower, I did this as a simple stir-fry until it started to smell cooked.  You can feel free to change the flavorings.  I used what I had on hand and what would work with the lamb chops I was having.  The chops weren't ready when I took the picture, and you couldn't really see the cauliflower on my white plates, so I added paprika and a quick side salad for contrast.  Hey, feel lucky I didn't think to throw wasabi powder in it.  I bet it would taste great.

*1 medium head cauliflower
1 Tb olive oil
*1/4 C finely diced onion
*2 Tb fresh cilantro leaves
salt and pepper

1.  Wash cauliflower and shake dry.  Remove all the green leaves.  Cut into quarters to expose the core.  Cut the florets off the core and place in food processor with cilantro and several shakes of salt and pepper.

2.  Pulse food processor until cauliflower is chopped into very fine pieces, but not so much that it makes a paste.  Any resistant florets can be finished on a box grater.
3.  Heat oil over medium high in a large skillet.  Cook onion until softened, then add contents of the food processor.  Cook for about five minutes, stirring frequently for even cooking.  As soon as it starts to smell cooked, take it off the heat and serve.

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, June 30, 2017

Fruit Syrup Soda


On one of my canning days, I made some jellies that didn't set up.  No problem, I just renamed them "syrup".  You can use them to garnish desserts, as sweet dips, stirred into plain yogurt, and to flavor drinks.

So I bought a liter of sparkling water and cracked open a strawberry-lavender.  Mmm, strawberry-lavender soda.  Way better than a Shirley Temple because you made the syrup yourself.

1 Tb failed jelly, or good jelly that has been microwaved until liquid
8 oz unflavored sparkling water

1.  In a tall glass, stir together syrup and water.  Add several ice cubes.  Stir and enjoy.

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Roasted Cauliflower

This also counts as the new ingredient of the week.  I've never bought cauliflower.  I don't like it.  That's kind of weird, because I love broccoli.  Cauliflower is very nutritious, which usually makes me want to eat something.  Not so much this.

The real problem became obvious when I was looking it up in the Bible.  Until recently, the only way anyone prepared it was steamed.  I do like my broccoli on the mushy side, but I guess not cauliflower.  It must be similar to my yes eggplant/ no zucchini issue.

Nowadays, you can get it roasted, riced, mashed, and several other creative ways.  On a whim, I decided to buy a head and add half of it to some pasta primavera-ish thing I was going to make with pesto.  Everything tastes good doused in pesto, so I figured I was safe.
Most recipes posted online are pretty much the same if you're looking for the basics.  I chose to go the garlic route because it was going on pasta.  You could use fresh or dried herbs as the flavoring, or put a dry cheese like parmesan on it.

So the big question is, did I like it?  It was ok.  I think I cooked it too long.  It kind of tasted like Brussels sprouts that had been steamed too long.  I'm the weird kid who liked Brussels sprouts, so this wasn't all bad.  Kind of a cabbage-ey note, but not in the stinky feet category.  I still have half the head, so I'll try something else with it in a few days.

1 medium head cauliflower
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tb olive oil
salt and pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Cut head in quarters to make it easier to remove the core.  Cut the florets into bite sized pieces.

2.  In a bowl, toss together florets, garlic, and olive oil.  Spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.  Dust with salt and pepper

3.  Roast 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned and can be pierced easily with a fork.  Use a spatula  to loosen a piece and check underneath.  It should be browned but not burnt.

4.  Serve hot as a side or cold in salads or as a crudité.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Sugar Cookie Fruit Tartlets

I had already defrosted a ball of sugar cookie dough for tea when I remembered that I had planned to do something with the half cup of boysenberries I had picked that morning…for tea.  Instead of either putting the cookie dough back in the freezer or making two tea items, I threw them together.

The main difference between sugar cookie dough and pastry dough is the sugar.  Structurally and procedurally, they're the same thing.  Boysenberries are very tart, like raspberries, so I figured they could compensate for the sugar in the crust.  I just used half as much as I would have if there was a plain pastry crust.  The couple of bites I ate without much cookie in them were really sour, so it was a good call.

Notice how much I'm stressing the tartness of the berries.  Don't try to do this with a sweet filling.  You'll hurt someone.

My biggest concern was actually that the cookie would overbake while I was waiting for the berries to cook.  By making these small tartlets and not piling the berries past the rim, everything finished at the same time.  The berries still had their shape, but the sugar had glazed with the juices into what you would consider a pie filling.  The edges of the crust got a little dark, but everything touching the filling was still soft cookie.

2" ball of sugar cookie dough
*1/2 C berries
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp butter

1.  Roll the cookie dough into a circle roughly 4-1/2" across.  Coax into a 3" mini tartlet pan with a removable bottom.  Trim off the excess.  Preheat oven to 350º, even if the cookie dough recipe calls for higher.
2.  In a bowl, toss berries with sugar and cornstarch.  Pour into tart shell and arrange in a single layer.  Dot with the butter.

3.  Bake until the cookie edges are browned and the berries are softened, 15 to 20 minutes.  Allow to cool before loosening shell from the pan and removing tart.

Makes a single tartlet.

Difficulty rating  π  (assuming you already had the dough made)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Apricot-Cherry Jam

This new jam came from the same day as the mixed berry.  I did a batch of apricot orange jam and had two large apricots left over.  I combined them with about an equal weight of cherries for this jam, then made a small batch of Cherry Vanilla jam with the rest.  It was a long day of canning, which I'm calling Jam-a-Palooza.  This time, I really am done making jams for the year.  When you can't fit them all on the same shelf, it's time to call it quits.

*1 C apricots: peeled, seeded, chopped
1-1/2 C cherries: pitted and halved
1/4 C lemon juice
1-1/2 C sugar
*1 tsp powdered pectin

1.  Refresher on peeling apricots:  Boil water.  Drop in whole apricots.  Wait for skin to bubble, about 1 minute.  Remove to an ice bath.  Rub off skin.
2.  Place all ingredients in a medium skillet at least 2" deep.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Skim off foam and continue to boil, stirring often, until jam thickens and sheets when spilled off a spoon, about 20 minutes.  At some point, you won't be able to see the apricots anymore.  Cherry tends to take over the color scheme.

3.  For canning, process in a water bath for 12 minutes.  For refrigerator storage, wait for it to cool to room temperature before putting a lid on the container.

Jam-a-Palooza
Makes 1 pint

Difficulty rating  :)