Thursday, August 27, 2009

Chocolate-Banana… Er...

The "hot" weather is breaking; I don't think it'll get much above 80F here again this year. I admit there were times when I was actually reluctant to bake bread in my non-airconditioned attic apartment. The heat also made the breakfast bananas ripen too fast... and that led to a lovely new treat that uses neither the stove nor oven.This is not a mousse. Mousses use egg yolks and whipped whites. It’s not a custard; that requires baking cream and eggs in a water bath. It’s not really a pudding either since there’s no milk or starch involved. It's great frozen, but there's no sugar syrup so I wouldn't call it a sorbet. At cool room temp or in the fridge it sets to the consistency of a good cream pie filling, but it’s no pastry cream and uses none of the pastry staples: egg, cream, butter or flour… I think it’s almost vegan.
I have no idea what it should be called. All I know is it’s shockingly easy and as long as you like bananas, you’ll love the result. It's versatile, too. You can increase the recipe by 50% to fill a 9” pre-baked pie shell or crumb crust.* You can use it to fill a layer cake, Boston Cream Pie-style. You can freeze it in one container and scoop it like ice cream or freeze it in those popcicle molds and make them into healthy fudgecicles.So many possibilities!

Recipe: Chocolate [Peanut Butter] Banana… Dessert

The nut butter is optional but fun for variations... cashews and rum would make the whole thing South American-ish. As you can see in the picture, it does have a slightly grainy texture from the bananas. You can press it through a sieve if you'd like it more smooth, but then you get less fiber.

4 bananas
2 oz dark chocolate (preferably 60% or more)
1 tablespoon peanut butter [optional]
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla (or 1 tablespoon liquor; I like rum or kaluha in this)
pinch of salt

Combine bananas and chocolate in a microwave-safe container and nuke until chocolate is mostly melted,~2 minutes, stirring after 1 minute.
Combine in a small saucepan over medium-low heat (no water bath needed), stirring frequently until chocolate is mostly melted, ~5-7 minutes.

Use an immersion blender or transfer to a blender . Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Pour into 4-6 containers of your choice and refrigerate or freeze until set.

*It takes 6 bananas, 3 oz chocolate, and ~2 tablespoons cocoa to fill a 9” pie crust.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Smokey Melon Balls

Sweet, salty, smokey; it's like prosciutto wrapped melon without the prosciutto and it's a great quick snack or party appetizer [and cheap]. I used to buy pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika) in the bulk spice section of the grocery store, but McCormick also packages it so I think it has pretty wide distribution and a little goes a long way. [It's also great on popcorn, eggs, squash, & chicken, among other things. Once you own it, you will find many uses for it.] You could also just sprinkle smoked sea salt... the black would be a nice visual contrast, too.

Recipe: Smokey Melon Balls

Melon -- this was a Crenshaw, just be sure any melon you pick has a good melon scent
Sea salt -- I used coarse gray salt for crunch

Ball or dice the melon and refrigerate until you're ready to serve, then sprinkle with the salt and spice. The salt will make juices to flow, so it's better eaten with picks than fingers.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hatch Cookies

I'm one of those people who get obsessed with Hatch chiles right about this time every year. I didn't figure they'd be as excited about a specific New Mexican pepper growing region up here, but Whole Foods (again, Texas-based) actually has them and I'm buying them in 5 lb. increments. Anything I make right now has a pepper or three thrown in and my baked goods are no exception.

This is a recipe I created a couple years ago. They're spicy/sweet/tangy/crunchy and they've been a staple casual dessert at my fajita/taco parties. My only frustration is that I haven't been able to get a satisfactory texture without a higher butter content. I'm pretty sure the problem was the whey, so substituting yogurt cheese or fat-free cream cheese would probably work, but I had a deadline that needed to be met so I decided to "re-familiarize" myself with my recipe before I tinkered with it again.
Recipe: Hatch Cookies with Cornmeal and Lime
As always, you can just use all-purpose flour in lieu of both whole-wheat varieties. I tend to use whatever cornmeal I have on hand: yellow, white, stoneground, polenta, etc. Stone ground cornmeal will have a crunchier texture; blue cornmeal obscured the flecks of green and was my least favorite.
My mother thinks I just like to get things dirty* but I think it's best to use both the food processor and the mixer on this one because you want to make the lime bits as small as possible and the Hatch bits as non-pureed as possible. If you can't possibly wash both contraptions, try doing it all in the food processor and let me know how it goes.

1 Hatch chile, roasted, skinned, and seeded ~1/4 cup

1 cup cornmeal [yellow or white]
1 cup white whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup white or evaporated can sugar
zest (rind) of 3 limes, juice after zesting and reserve for divided use
8 tbs (1 stick) butter
1 large egg
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/8 teaspoon almond extract

~2-3 tablespoons remaining lime juice
~2/3-1 cup powdered sugar
pinch of salt

Fine dice the chile and refrigerate to cool [you don't want it to melt the butter]. Whisk dry ingredients together [evenly distribute cornmeal and flour] and set aside.

Process sugar and lime zest in a food processor until sugar is uniformly green and only tiny flecks of lime skin remain ~2-3 minutes. Transfer to mixer bowl and add butter. Beat on high until pale and fluffy ~4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg, and beat until fully incorporated ~1 minute, then drizzle in lime juice and almond while the mixer is running. Scrape down the bowl, add chiles, and mix briefly on low speed until dispersed [the flour will clump on them if they're not already mixed in].

Add half of the dry mix, mix on low until mostly incorporated, then add the rest. Dough should be soft and somewhat sticky. Chill no more than 20 minutes in the freezer or refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 375F. Drop by tablespoons** onto parchment lined baking sheets, ~12 per sheet, and bake for 16-19 minutes or until cookies are faintly golden around the edges, rotating sheets after 8 minutes. Transfer to cooling racks.

While cookies are cooling, measure out remaining lime juice into a small mixing bowl and add 1/3 cup powder for each tablespoon of juice and a pinch of salt [2 T juice should be enough for 2 dz cookies]. Whisk with a fork until no clumps remain, or pass the mixture through a strainer. Once cookies are no longer hot, line them up as close together as possible and use a fork to drizzle/spatter the lime glaze over them. Once glaze dries, store in an airtight container.

* She's not wrong. I do.

** If you happen to have a portioning scoop, let the dough warm up a tiny bit before you scoop it. Higher-butter doughs get pretty hard and can bend the ratcheting mechanism and I now need to buy a new scoop.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fresh Pond is my new friend.

Any trail that's willing to share mixed (!) wild berries on my first visit is okay in my book.
It was a lot lonelier than Lady Bird Lake, but it was also the hottest time of the day on the hottest day of the year (~90F) so I can't be too surprised that more people weren't around.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pantry Burgers

I've been exploring the capabilities of the rice cooker in our sublet this summer. It’s not a fancy model and it’s not supposed to do anything but white rice, but it did brown rice just fine… so I started throwing other grains and legumes in it just to see what happens. The lentils turned out mealy with tough skins [I think it was a bad water ratio], but I had a lot of them so I started going through my cookbooks for ideas. The Natural Foods Cookbook, has oodles of veggie burger recipes that are some combination of lentil, soybean, and bulgur and I happened to have a big bag of whole-wheat bulgur in my pantry tub from the old house.
The tricks to a good veggie burger are hearty flavor and firm texture (what else is there?). For flavor, I hit up my old friend umami, that savory flavor that separates deliciousness from old-timey veggie loaf. It’s mostly found in proteins, but not strictly in meats. Lentils have more than soy beans, but fermented soy (soy sauce) has a lot… as do onions and mushrooms and nuts and they’re all compounded by browning them and caramelizing some of their sugars. Kombu or sea kelp has more than anything else I know – it’s basically a natural form of MSG – and if I’d had some I would have thrown it in with the lentils, too. [If you try that , take it out before pureeing… the solids shouldn’t actually go in the burger.]For texture, I found the basic ratio of legume to grain wasn’t too variable across multiple cookbooks and internet sites. The big problem with most of them is that they’re too tender to hold together and have to be rather carefully pan-fried. [Commercial veggie burgers use various combinations of corn- or algae-based coagulants like dextrose or carrageen to hold it all together.] I noticed that most of the recipes called for the bulgur to be precooked, but I remembered a tabouleh recipe in Cook’s Illustrated that just soaked the grain in a few tablespoons of room temperature lemon juice. Since I was planning on adding soy and balsamic for flavorants, I figured I could just use them plus any cooking water that clung to the lentils to hydrate my bulgur. By adding a little egg to help gum it all together, I managed to come up with a base that was perfectly sturdy and sculptable.

JG and I have made these bad boys multiple times now and I think the recipe is a pretty good one, and it’s based entirely on what I consider pantry and fridge staples. You can throw other things in it.. mushrooms, shredded squash, etc... based on what you have on hand.
These should be sturdy enough to grill, but I’m not actually sure since my grill stayed in Texas, along with my little red picnic table... it was a great picnic table.

Recipe: Pantry Burgers
You can use a 15oz can in lieu of dried lentils and water. How easy is that? You can also add squash or carrots or whatever you have in your crisper drawer, but you may need to add an extra tablespoon or so of bulgur to soak up the extra juices.

3/4 cup dried brown or green lentils
3 cups water
2 slices dried porcini mushroom (optional)
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil (divided use)
1 medium onion , chopped
2 ribs celery (large), chopped
2 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press
3/4 cup whole-wheat bulgur
1 tablespoon shoyu (soy sauce)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup unsalted pecans (or walnuts/ cashews/almonds)
1 egg (or 2 tablespoons regular or vegan mayo)
Salt and pepper

1. In a medium saucepan, bring lentils and water to the boil over high heat; then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring once or twice, until lentils are tender, about 25 minutes.

2. While lentils simmer, combine bulgur, soy and vinegar in a medium bowl and set aside. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add onions and celery and sauté, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic and nuts and let sit until fragrant ~ 1 minute. Transfer veggie/nut mix and bulgur to a food processor [this will eventually be too thick for a blender] and puree until no large chunks of nut remain. (You can just wipe out the skillet and reuse it for cooking the burgers… no need to wash it twice.)

3. Once lentils are soft, drain them in a strainer or colander and shake out as much water as possible.* Add lentils to the other ingredients in the food processor and pulse until few entire lentils remain. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper as needed. Add egg or mayo, pulse until combined, then let sit for at least 5 minutes to allow the bulgur to soak up more of the liquid. This is a good time to collect your burger toppings, slice tomatoes, etc.

4. Add remaining oil to the skillet and heat over medium-high. Shape patties and place them in the skillet (or use an ice cream scoop and drop them in, then flatten them with a spatula). Sear each side until golden brown and crusty ~3 minutes per side.

Store unused patties in an airtight container for a few days, or wrap individually in plastic and freeze in a zip-close bag.

* The liquid is pretty flavorful; I used it for baking a savory bread... which I then used for the "bun" in the picture. It could also be used for cooking another legume or grain.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ta Da!

Et Voila! The kitchen has almost no cupboards or counter space and the horsehair plaster doesn't take to wall anchors so well, so we picked up some steel rods, eye bolts, and a few dozen S-hooks from the hardware store and staggered them over the studs. We also got a roofing company to make a copper countertop to protect the old sideboard so it can be useable worksurface... it's technically an upside down "shower pan."

We also got an industrial shelf for our gadgets and flour cannisters that just fit between the fridge and pantry closet. Each shelf can hold up to 300 lbs, so if somehow there's a flood that rises all the way to our 3rd story attic apartment, JG and I can safely climb another 6 feet to wait out the waters... or something.
I have been gone, but I haven't stopped cooking. You'll see what else we've been up to shortly...