Friday, June 26, 2009

Crouching Insect

Here's one last picture from my former garden. I like the way the ant balances on the fennel fronds. I think it's a carpenter ant, which is technically a bad thing for houses... but it's not mine anymore.
It's like the sword fight in the bamboo grove in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, no?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Low-Fat Fegatini

Fegatini [little livers] is an Italian chicken liver pâté, usually made by pureeing the liver with onions and butter and marsala wine... which didn't really sound like anything I'd want to eat until JG and I stumbled upon this fantastic mousse at Mulberry in Austin. We used to eat there on my Tuesdays off, and we'd get the fegatini at least twice a month. As it came time to leave Austin, we realized we were going to have figure out how to make it ourselves.Liver pâtés usually need a lot of butter to emulsify, to give it a creamy quality. A mousse requires additional heavy cream to incorporate air for a lighter texture... but just like folding in whipped cream, it's not "lite." It's one thing to order a dollop, it's something else entirely to have a tub of it in my fridge.

My silken chocolate pie gave JG an idea -- an idea sure to offend tofu lovers and pâté lovers alike.... Silken Fegatini: glorious, glorious tofu-liver.
It's been weeks now since I've had the fegatini at Mulberry and I'm sure Zach's would still win in a side-by-side tasting, BUT compared to a standard recipe this stuff is obscenely healthy. Low-fat, high protein... nutritionally dense... instead of a little dab on a toast point, you can actually slather this on a sandwich. It's a rich, meaty, guilt-free indulgence. Can you tell I'm excited?

Recipe: Silken Fegatini

The mousse sets as it chills. The butter isn't absolutely necessary, but that little bit at the end brings the flavor profile much closer to the original.

8 oz chicken liver, trimmed, rinsed, patted dry, and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, diced
1/2 cup brandy, divided use (or 1/4 cup brandy, 1/4 marsala)
2 tablespoons butter
6 oz firm silken tofu

high quality balsamic vinegar
good honey
toasted bread, pita, or crackers

In a large skillet over low heat, pan fry shallots in olive oil until lightly golden brown ~8 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and add liver [a spatter guard is handy] stirring frequently until browned and just cooked through, then transfer meat to the bowl of a blender or food processor.

Add half of the brandy (1/4 cup) to the skillet and scrape to deglaze the pan. Once liquid is almost completely gone, add remaining brandy or marsala, turn off heat, and pour liquid into the liver container, making sure to scrape all the flavorful goodness from the pan. Puree until mostly smooth, scrape down the sides of the bowl, add butter and tofu, and puree further until completely smooth, scraping down bowl once or twice more as you go.

Transfer to an airtight container and chill. To serve, scoop with a small ice cream scoop and drizzle with balsamic vinegar and honey and serve with toast points, pita, or crackers.

Serving for a party:
Select a nicely shaped bowl or dish [I often use the cover of my butter dish], line with plastic wrap, fill, cover and chill. Turn out onto a decorative plate, remove plastic, and dress as above.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Roadside Raspberries

I'm spending a little time at a lake house about an hour away from St Louis. I went for a walk the other day and discovered these growing anywhere the trees were cut back far enough to give them light, mostly along the roadside:
They're native black raspberries. My grandmother used to pick wild red raspberries in Minnesota, and I valued those jars of jam more than anything else in her vast pantry.

Seeing these berries on the roadside got me a little overstimulated. Over the past week and a half I've made a dozen jars of jam, a pie, and filled a 750ml whiskey bottle (those won't be ready for a few months). If I lived here, I'd freeze some on a sheet tray then keep them in a freezer bag for all my pancake/muffin/smoothie/yogurt needs, but I need my berries to be mobile for now.
I've also picked up ticks, lots of mosquito bites, and a fine network of scratches all over my hands and arms from the thorns of the berry canes. It was absolutely worth it... as long as I don't end up with Lyme disease.

Recipe: Wild Black Raspberry Jam
You can, of course, use frozen berries. The sugar preserves the berries by inhibiting bacterial growth, so don't be tempted to reduce the amount. The lemon and cider vinegar gives the jam a little of that tart edge present in the berries that the sugar tends to mute. I usually use a scale and add 1 cup of sugar per 1 lb of fruit pulp, but it was too big for the travel bag. Use the biggest stockpot you've got. It'll seem like overkill until it starts sputtering boiling stickiness.

Yield: 4-5 jars (if you have a partial, just put it straight into the fridge)

4 cups smashed berries, ~2 lbs
2 cups sugar (unrefined if you've got it)
juice of 1 lemon (and optional zest, finely grated)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

In a large stock pot, combine all ingredients over medium-low heat until juices begin to simmer and sugar dissolves ~5 minutes. Increase heat to medium high and cook, stirring frequently, until it reaches jam consistency* ~10-15 minutes. Ladle into sterile jars and seal.** Store in a cool place up to 2 years. Refrigerate after opening.
* There are a couple ways to check this. If you have an instant read thermometer, the jam needs to reach 220F at the bottom of the pan. Otherwise, put a small plate in the freezer before you start cooking the jam. Once the jam looks to be almost as thick as you want it (it'll thicken as it cools), remove it from heat and drop a spoonful onto your cold plate, let it sit ~30 seconds to cool, and check the consistency. Remember, any jam that doesn't set makes an excellent sauce for pancakes and french toast.

** There are lots of proper, USDA recommended ways to store your jam like a boiling water bath. The common European way is to simply pour the jam into clean jars and seal. At 220F, the jam is actually hotter than boiling water, and as long as you seal it quickly the heat will kill anything lurking in your jars that the sugar and acid won't. If, however, the jam cools too much before you ladle it and/or the lids aren't sealed (the little button pops) after 8 hours, you will need to do a water bath to properly seal them.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Delicate Tomato Soup

Tomato season makes me happy. This soup, a light gazpacho or raw tomato soup, makes me extremely happy. It's easy to make and the cold and clear flavor is a refreshing way to start a summer meal.The catch, of course, is that this soup depends entirely on the quality of your tomatoes, so you've got to eat a slice and make sure the tomatoes are worthy before proceeding. If you don't sigh inwardly and think "Ah, that's a great tomato!" then you'll have to hold off.
Recipe: Delicate Tomato Soup
The recipe makes ~6 starter-sized servings.
*Update: a wise commenter noted that this soup would be great with shrimp or mussels. I've included instructions for a seaood variation at the bottom of the recipe.*

1 lb tomatoes [~4 medium-sized], preferably home-grown and/or heirloom
1 cucumber, peeled [divided use]
1 bell pepper, any color but green [divided use]
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
2 cups water
1 clove of garlic
1 shallot
juice of 1 lemon [divided use]
1 tablespoon olive oil
additional salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

Chop all of the tomatoes, and half of the cucumber and bell pepper. Smash the garlic clove and put it in the bottom of a large mixing bowl. Transfer chopped veggies to a colander or large strainer and set over the bowl, scraping any accumulated juices from the cutting board into the container as well. Toss contents with salt and let sit 30-60 minutes or overnight.

Gently press solids with a spatula or spoon. The tomatoes should disintegrate, leaving only skins behind, while the cucumber and pepper solids remain intact. Discard solids and garlic clove [or save for a pasta sauce]. Add water to the collected juice and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hr. Meanwhile, fine dice remaining cucumber, bell pepper halves and the shallot, putting each into a separate small bowl. Squeeze 1/2 the lemon juice over the shallot to take off the sharp edge.

Stir soup to recombine liquids and solids, adjust salt, then ladle into 6 individual cups or bowls. Squeeze a few drops of lemon juice into each, drizzle with a little olive oil, then grind a little black pepper over the top. Serve with garnish options.

Spicy garnish options:
diced jalepeno, seeded
diced avocado

More Traditional Gazpacho:
Puree tomatoes with bell pepper, cucumber, water, and 2 slices of bread.
Chill. Serve with garnishes as above.

*Light Seafood Gazpacho:
After the vegetable solids have been pressed and removed, fill a large bowl with ice and a little water. Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a simmer in a large skillet and add ~1 lb small peeled shrimp or shellfish, cover, and steam a few minutes until the shrimp pink or the shellfish open. With a slotted spoon, transfer the seafood to the water bath to quickly cool them off. Strain the cooking liquid into a measuring cup, add enough ice to make 2 cups and use this seafood broth in place of the called for water in the recipe. Transfer seafood to a paper towel lined airtight container and chill along with broth. Distribute evenly among servings.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Silken Chocolate Pie

This pie is fantastic. It's rich and creamy. It melts in your mouth yet cuts perfect slices. It's low-fat and has fewer calories per slice than a standard chocolate chip cookie, and more protein. It's tofu, baby.
It started with a recipe by Mark Bittman for chocolate tofu pudding. I've come across vegan chocolate pie recipes that consist of a bag of chocolate chips and block of tofu, but this one seemed a little more refined. I also had a bunch of biscotti crumbs I'd been saving and it was time to empty out the freezer in preparation for the big move... and I just happened to have a block of silken tofu in the bottom of my fridge that had to go, too. What's a girl to do?

Add liquor, for one thing. I had a small squeeze bottle of blended strong stuff that was left over from the beef cake. I also reduced the sugar and melted chocolate and added cocoa powder in its place, both because I wanted it to be a richer chocolate flavor and less pudding-like and because I didn't want to just throw out the last bit of cocoa powder in the pantry.

I love this recipe. I've now tried it out on friends, parents, in-laws, and a 4-year-old niece. With every group I told them part way through that the pie was tofu-based and they still finished it -- well my mother-in-law had already finished hers and I'm not sure if she would have -- but my dad sure did and he's not the tofu type... he's not even the chocolate type, actually, but he still liked it.
If you reduce the water and add more cocoa powder, you get something the consistency of chocolate truffles... I'm pretty excited about the possibilities.

Recipe: Silken Chocolate Pie

The picture is a small pie that I made in a 6” cast iron skillet, which used a half recipe of the filling and easily served 8. For the full recipe I used 3 tablespoons each rum and amaretto, then topped it off with water. The liquor boils off for the most part so it's safe for kids. I think brandy would work well, or crème de menthe for a grasshopper pie. You can also use all water… I'm still working on a crumb crust from scratch. I've tried to come up with one that doesn't have to be baked, but it hasn't really worked yet. You can use oil in place of the yogurt to make it non-dairy... but only if your crumbs are vegan to begin with.

Crumb crust:
1 1/2 cups cookie or cracker crumbs (I used my biscotti)
2 tablespoons fat-freet yogurt or sour cream
1 tablespoon rum or water

In a 9" pie pan, mash yogurt and rum into crumbs until they stick together. Add a little more yogurt if necessary. Use a dampened drinking glass or spoon to press the crumbs into place.

Pie filling:
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup liquor and/or water
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/3 cup cocoa powder
pinch salt
1 pound firm silken tofu

Chocolate shavings or additional cocoa powder, sifted, to garnish.

In a large glass measuring cup in the microwave or in a small saucepan on the stove, boil liquid and sugar until sugar is mostly dissolved. Add chocolate and let sit a minute or two until the chocolate is mostly melted. Stir in cocoa powder and salt, then transfer to a blender (or use an immersion blender), add tofu, and puree until smooth. Pour into prepared crust, and chill at least 30 minutes before serving.

Yield: 8-12 servings

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Whole-Grain Texan is on the Move!

I won't have my own kitchen for the next 3 months, so I'm preying on the hospitality of others... I've found the best way to cook in other people's kitchens is to bring your own tools. My host may have them as well, but it's a bummer to need a whisk and settle for a fork.

My packing list:

2 cast-iron skillets -- 6" and an extra deep 10" -- I don' t like to do high heat in other people's teflon

2 silicone spatulas -- I once forgot they're not all heatproof & ruined my mom's

Thermapen -- for making breads, jam, and grilled meat

2 knives -- chef's and paring

immersion blender -- the travelling food processor, although it doesn't pulse well

yogurt maker -- yep

ladle -- I can't really explain how great this particular ladle is

2 whisks -- big and small

vegetable peeler -- it's a good one

citrus juicer -- for micheladas y mas

measuring spoons -- I've been surprised how many people don't have these

2-cup liquid measuring cup -- for all my other measuring needs

comal -- a double burner skillet for making corn tortillas [tacos]