Tuesday, August 29, 2017

My Oktoberfest

A while back, I bought one of the expiring corned beef packs from St. Patrick's Day because it was dirt cheap and threw it in the chest freezer.  Recently, Edison shut off my power for the day to install a new power pole, so I inventoried the freezer a couple of days before.  Nothing was in danger of defrosting in a mere 8 hours, but I did decide to put the corned beef on my to-eat list.

I'm not sure why Oktoberfest starts in August.  Probably as an excuse to drink more beer.  It was a bit warm out to simmer a brisket all afternoon, but I've done worse.

I rummaged through my pantry, fridge, and blog for ways to make this a complete meal, and came up with something light enough to have during these warm days.

German corned beef and cabbage, served with the last jar of Oktoberfest Beer Mustard, and a hefty slice of beer cheese bread was enough for a meal.  I threw in some quick pickles that were ready to eat and this rather boring-looking meal was plated.  Two baggies of cooked and sliced corned beef went back in the freezer for another time.  This is quickly becoming the beef version of the year-old turkey.  Still, not a bad meal and the only new expenditure was the cabbage.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Pumpkin Seed Horchata

Drinks have weird names now that not all Americans are familiar with.  Horchata, Chai, Kombucha (that one set off the spell-checker).  What happened to good 'ol tea?

After reading this article about horchata in the L.A. Times, I realized that I've made it before.  The grapefruit barley water out of the Tea book is a form of horchata.  So are almond, rice, and soy milk.  It's about suspending a starch or nut/seed in water in a way that it doesn't settle out completely.  You usually have to shake them some, but the suspension should hold for a couple of days.

The recipe in the Times is amazingly easy.  Pour water over seeds and spices, refrigerate overnight, and run through the blender with a little sugar and salt.  It takes more effort to strain out the chunks than anything else.  I'm posting a half batch, since this blog usually serves 4 and I only had enough cash in my wallet for 1 cup of pumpkin seeds.  I'm not putting $2.25 on a credit card.

A quick word about the sugar.  I only used half of what I'm posting, and it was just barely sweet enough.  What really came through was the spices, which is what I wanted.  If you regularly drink soda or sweetened espresso drinks, your taste buds will probably prefer the full amount.

1 C raw, shelled pumpkin kernels
1 qt water
*1 cinnamon stick
*3 allspice berries
1/4 C light brown or turbinado sugar (or to taste)
1/4 tsp salt, or to taste

1.  Combine pumpkin seeds, water, cinnamon stick, and allspice in a bowl.  Let sit at room temperature for two hours or in the fridge overnight.

2.  Add sugar and salt and run mixture through the blender, in batches if necessary, until smooth.  This will take 3 to 4 minutes.  You're creating the suspension, so the kernels need to be broken down as much as possible.

3.  Strain mixture through a fine-mesh strainer.  I started with a food mill on the finest screen so I could push the liquid through, then used a regular strainer for a second go.  Discard the solids, or combine them with an egg white and sugar to make macaroons.  (Sorry, I'm always trying to avoid waste.)
4.  If too thick for your personal taste, add water.  Serve over ice, or refrigerate up to 3 days.  You may need to shake it a little to distribute the suspension if it sits a day.

Makes up to 1 quart

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Grandma's Dill Pickles

Here's my next canned pickle adventure.  This one's out of the Ball Book of Canning.  While I tried to follow their directions, my cucumbers must be less dense than the ones they used.  I couldn't fit half a pound of them in a single pint jar.  So I followed the method and guessed the amounts by volume.  This can be scary when you're canning and is generally not a good idea.  In this case, the canning liquid is mostly vinegar, sugar, and salt.  All three of those ingredients are preservatives.  The only concern was the garlic clove, so I added a couple of minutes to the process time.

The bread and butter pickles were hot-pack.  These are cold pack, as in not cooked before processing.  They're also a two-day project.  Actually, I started soaking them in the early morning before work and processed them after dinner.  Each half of the recipe is easy and the most time consuming part is waiting for the water bath to boil.  The more I do canning, the less effort it is.  Jams are still a bit of a drama, but pickles are very easy.

After a year or so of just ignoring the spices-in-a-cheesecloth part of pickling instructions, I had a brilliant idea.  I own several stainless steel tea balls.  Put the spices in that, shut it tight, and use the hook that they all have to hang it on the edge of the saucepan.  Do not try this with aluminum or silver.  The acid will ruin the tea ball and the metal will turn the vinegar funky.
To be fair, this time I did look for pickling salt and spices.  My Pavilions didn't have either, and it was too hot outside to go traipsing to other markets.  I used what I already had of the spice mix listed in the Ball Book and 1.5 the amount of kosher salt.  These will probably come out salty, but better salty than unsafe.  Next time I'm at a market that caters to canners, I'll stock up on proper supplies.  I'd buy online, but I don't pickle enough to buy in large quantities.  That prague powder I bought for the corned beef is going to be there forever.

The one confusing part of the recipe was the instruction that the cucumbers be "trimmed".  Maybe that means something to someone who grew up making pickles.  I just took off the blossom end, since I learned that leaving it on makes pickles mushy.  These are whole pickles, not spears, halves, or slices.  It hasn't been long enough to crack open a jar, so I don't know if this was the right choice.  Let you know in a couple of weeks.  So far, this summer's pickles I've enjoyed the most were from re-boiling the brine from the bread and butter pickles and pouring it over halves of the last little cucumbers to make quick refrigerator pickles.

1 lb pickling cucumbers, blossom end removed
1 lb ice cubes
3 Tb pickling or canning salt, divided
1-1/2 C water, divided
1 tsp pickling spice
3/4 C white vinegar
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp mustard seed
1 fresh dill head or 1 Tb dill seed or weed
1 clove garlic

1.  In a non-reactive container, layer cucumbers and ice.  Dissolve 1 Tb of the salt in 1/2 C water.  Pour over cucumbers and add more water, if necessary, to cover them.  Weigh down with a jar or plate to keep them submerged and refrigerate 12-18 hours.

2.  Drain cucumbers and rinse.  Wash out some jars, starting with a pint, and do a practice pack to see how many you actually need.  Re-rinse cucumbers in case any soap residue remained.  Prepare those jars and their lids, plus the water bath.

3.  In a non-reactive saucepan, combine 1 C water, vinegar, remaining 2 Tb salt, sugar, and spices in a tea ball or cheesecloth.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve salt and sugar.  Reduce heat, cover, and boil gently for 15 minutes to infuse spices.

4.  Pack cucumbers into now-sterile jars to within a generous 1/2" of top of jar.  Add mustard seeds, dill, and garlic to jar.  Ladle hot pickling liquid into hot jar to cover cucumbers, leaving 1/2" headspace.  Remove air bubbles and, if necessary, adjust headspace by adding more brine.   Wipe rim, center lid, and screw on band fingertip tight.

5.  Process jar(s) in boiling water for 12 minutes.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  Test seals.  If seal is bad, refrigerate promptly and use within a month.  If seal is good, store at least a month before opening, and up to 1 year.

Makes about 1 pint

Difficulty rating  :)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Breakfast Taquitos

I had some tortillas in the freezer and an avocado going soft.  Plus, sausage was 2-for-1 at the market.

I've considered making chilaquiles for the blog, but they're so much work.   This is a bit of work, too, but they're freezable after baking.  The nachos kind of have to be eaten fresh.

Don't freak out that there's so much going on in an itty-bitty tortilla.  This is just a breakfast burrito that you bake until crisp.

Because I was going to freeze half of them, I didn't put anything in there that would look weird defrosted, like the avocado.  That got mashed for dipping with some plain Greek yogurt.  This is breakfast, after all.  Although, you could easily serve this at any meal and no one would complain.

*10-12 6" corn tortillas
4 eggs
8 oz sausage
1 C shredded cheese of choice
any kind of dipping sauce like guacamole, salsa, etc

1.  Cook the sausage into crumbles, then drain off most of the fat.

2.  Beat together the eggs and a few tablespoons of water or milk.  Pour into the sausage skillet and cook until scrambled.
3.  Get out a sheet pan and preheat the oven to 400º.  Lightly oil pan to prevent sticking.

4.  Warm tortillas in the microwave under a damp towel to make them more pliable.

5.  Assemble the taquitos:  Place on the oiled sheet so each one gets coated in a touch of the oil.  Onto each tortilla, place a pinch of cheese, a spoonful of egg, and a spoonful of sausage in a line across the diameter.  Roll the tortilla into a cigar shape and place, seam-side down, on the baking sheet.  If the tortilla cracks, like the one on the top left, put the rest of them back in the microwave for 20 seconds.  That was the first one I tried to roll.
6.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until heated through and the tortillas are crisp.  Serve hot with dip.  Cooked taquitos can be frozen.  Defrost in the microwave, then crisp up in the oven or toaster oven.

Serves 4-6

Difficulty rating  :)

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