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
*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