Monday, November 22, 2010

Silken Sweet Potato Pie

1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes
8 oz silken tofu
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 T molasses
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp cardamom
pinch salt
pinch nutmeg

bake crust
puree filling add to baked crust, return to off oven.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Calaveras Cookies

I meant to get these posted before Dia de los Muertos [All Souls Day], but that didn't happen.  Instead, you can marvel at them this year and plan to make your own next time... They would, of course, work as Halloween cookies, but since I was using my Mexican Chocolate Cookie dough it seemed only appropriate to wait for November 2nd.  Sometimes decorated cookies don't taste as good as the look, but that cookie is a workhorse and has enough flavor to power through my as-tasty-as-it-gets royal icing. [Royal icing looks great but tastes flatly sweet, even with a goodly amount of almond extract. That's why the flavor of the cookie underneath is so important.]

These were pretty fun to make.  As you fill them, different features appear and I'd intentionally leave "highlights" here and there and I found the emerging characters very entertaining... which is good, because I made a double batch (~80) and it did take a while.  On further consideration, I could have made the cookies twice as thick (1/4") and it probably would have made them even tastier.

You also don't need the fancy cookie cutter.  I have one (that I think I got after Halloween one year at Williams-Sonoma) so I use it, but you could do the same technique with a simple oval and get almost the same effect (minus the little teeth).  I have no artistic talent*, so I like guidelines.

Recipe: Royal Icing

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Gluten-Free Brownie Skins

I recently made these guys over the weekend for a gluten-avoiding friend of mine.  They have very few ingredients and come together in a minute.

The recipe comes from 101 Cookbooks, where they're called "Chocolate Puddle Cookies," but I think they taste like gooey brownies when they're still warm, so I've renamed them accordingly.  They do firm up as they cool but they maintain a thin layer of goo in the middle.  The first time I made them without nuts; this time I used toasted and skinned hazelnuts... both were tasty but a little too sweet for my liking [though JG's a big fan].  I think next time I might swap out some of the powdered sugar for rice flour or buckwheat [which would be a different cookie entirely but a little grain's always better for you, right?].  I'll let you know how it goes.

Also, I made a half recipe and a #60 scoop and managed to get about 20 the size of my palm [10 on each cookie sheet].  The ones in the original recipe must be monsters... which makes sense since each cookie would have almost a quarter cup of powdered sugar.[!]  Even the smaller ones I made have about 1.5 tablespoons per cookie... so, yeah, they're not low-calorie, but they are a decadent, gluten-free addition to the cookie plate.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lamb Stew

Here's a perfect example of why I love leftovers.  It was a blustery New England day and JG and I both got home chilled and hungry.  We had a leftover shank. We made soup. It tasted like something we'd labored over for hours, when all the work had been done by a slow cooker a couple days ago.

No recipe here... We sauteed another onion, threw in a couple bunches of coarsely chopped kale and let it wilt [kale is a superior soup green because it won't turn to mush], then threw in a can of garbanzo beans [including canning liquid], the leftover meat juices [the sauce had congealed from the gelatin in the bones], 4 cups of water, and a Parmesan cheese rind [I save these in the freezer for just such a purpose]. Once it came to the boil, we threw in some of the leftover risotto in the soup, checked the salt [it had plenty from the lamb], threw some bread in the toaster, ladled out the soup, pulled the toast, and dinner was ready.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Slow-Cooked Lamb Shanks

The leaves are starting to change here in Yankee Land, and that makes me want to break out the slow-cooker.  To whit, I present an epic-looking dish which is actually an easy midweek dinner that's just about ready whenever you walk in the door.
[Mark Bittman totally stole my thunder on this one.  The good news is, I was going to tell you that preserved lemons take time to make but are easy to buy, but Bittman just posted a recipe that only needs a few hours... so there you go. His uses sugar as well as salt (many do) so it won't taste exactly the same as mine, but I'm sure it'd be great.]

The wet rub for these shanks was actually JG's creation from about a month ago... I think because the weird jar of salt-packed lemons had been taking up pantry space and we weren't using them very fast, so he created a marinade with them and a few other powerful ingredients that was fantastic smeared on lamb steaks...  but I also thought it could be great for slow-cooked hunk o'lamb with just a little modification [reducing the oil and adding a bit of salt].

In the end, the texture of the meat [fall off the bone tender] and flavors were great and the onions were pure caramel-y goodness.  The sauce was a little on the salty side, so recipe below reflects my "notes for next time" adjustment.  People tend to call anything with preserved lemons "Moroccan-style." I think these flavors -- particularly with the rosemary-- are more eastern Mediterranean, but I don't really know.  I do know that they taste great together, and that's all that really matters to me.

Recipe: Slow-Cooked Lamb Shanks with Rosemary and Preserved Lemons

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pressure Cooker Chicken Posole

I've posted my posole recipe before, but I recently went back to the post [after I made the current batch] and discovered the pictures were no bueno so I'm posting it again.  Plus, posole is a beautiful thing and I want everyone to try it.  It can be hangover food or comfort food [it is Mexican chicken soup, after all] or chilly-day food and it doesn't require anything you can't find at any grocery store. [Hominy is sometimes with the canned veggies and sometimes with the Mexican food, but it's always there somewhere.]

I made this batch in the pressure cooker in just under 45 minutes last Sunday as chilly-day food and it was just what I needed.  The only problem was that after cooking the bone-in legs and thighs for 30 minutes, the meat fell apart so thoroughly that I had trouble finding the cartilage caps that had slid off the bone and secreted themselves in the meat chunks.  [Have I mentioned that I love pressure cookers? Modern ones aren't scary at all.]

As for the garnishes -- which I considered weird the first time I had this at a friends house -- none of them are required, but each adds complexity in both texture in taste.  I forgot to add cilantro to this bowl and didn't miss it 'til I saw it sitting on the counter.  I threw in raw tomatoes and they added a great brightness that could be used in place of the lime juice.  Sometimes I eat it plain.  Sometimes I add a lot of hot sauce.  Sometimes I add the juice of a whole lime.  Sometimes I throw in pickled jalepenos... Do you catch my drift?

Recipe:  Pressure Cooker Chicken Posole

Friday, October 8, 2010

Superfast Elote Asado... with a Caveat

The polenta was almost finished when I remembered I had a couple ears of corn languishing in the fridge. It's not like me to neglect sweet corn, but we went out of town for a wedding and sometimes these things happen.  I thought a little roasted corn flavor might be nice in that polenta, but there just wasn't enough time to make elote asado before everything else was ready for dinner, so I gave it the chile pepper treatment and held with tongs over the open flame of my stove burner.  The kernels spit as they charred, making these wacky little bursts of sparks [It's not as scary as that may sound.]  As soon and they were spotty all over,  I transferred them to a cutting board, gave them a minute to cool while I checked the polenta, then cut the kernels from cob and stirred everything together.  The texture of the kernels was a little chewier -- it's definitely not a replacement for stand-alone elote asado* -- but it had the desired flavor and made the polenta dish taste like super gooey, whole-kernel cornbread.  It was good.
I topped it with fried eggs and scattered raw yellow tomatoes and roasted wax beans around the plate. It was supposed to be a textural and tonal dish, harkening back to the early days with JG when I'd regularly make an all-yellow meal of blue box macaroni and cheese, fish sticks, and canned corn [I've come a long way, baby]. Aesthetically it wasn't much prettier than that meal from the old days... I could have scattered some bright green cilantro over the whole thing and it would have been lovely, but I didn't garnish back them and I was overly committed to the theme.  At any rate, it tasted great with a few splashes of [tonally acceptable] Cholula hot sauce and was a _bit_ healthier than my yellow dinner of yore... and at ~15 minutes of total cooking time, the new, whole grain/fresh produce version might have even been faster.

*that's the caveat

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Wax Beans

I know many people are scarred by cans of three-bean salad.  Personally I always liked it, but I like most pickled things.  I will admit, however, that I've never been inclined to buy fresh wax beans, in part because I didn't know what to do with them beside three-bean salad.

The answer is one of my favorites*: Roast them!  A woman I know was waxing poetic about them at the market, about how much more meaty and flavorful they were than supermarket green beans, so I figured I may as well try them... and once they were home I figured I may as well cook them like I usually cook green beans.**
I sprayed them with oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and then broiled them in my toaster oven for about 15 minutes [ovens vary; check at 10 just to be safe].  I usually stir beans halfway through, but I got distracted and they were no worse for it.

They were meatier, and while I can't be sure they were more flavorful [roasting tends to heighten the flavor of everything] they were quite good.  Color-wise they may not be as striking, but if you pair them with wilted greens or something tomato-based, they'll look pretty as a picture on your plate.

If you see some, snatch them up.  I've already gone back to the market for another bag.

*right up there with "Add alcohol!"

** The other green bean preparation in regular rotation is to blanch them, douse them liberally with green salsa, stir in some olive oil and chopped raw shallot, sprinkle with sea salt, and chill.  This was faster.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Simple Polenta [Grits]

Polenta has a bad reputation as a very fussy starch, but it may help your confidence to think of it as "corn grits" -- a simple, salt-of-the-earth sort of dish.  The name polenta is derived from pulmentum, the Latin word for "porridge."  In practice, the big difference between "polenta" and "grits" is that the former is traditionally adulterated with cheese and butter [and sometimes milk] while the latter makes use of bacon fat [and cheese on occasion, but those are usually called "cheese grits"].  Despite these conventions, a plain mixture of cornmeal, water, and salt can rightfully go by either name.

Polenta making is often seen as hot and tedious, requiring a long simmer with constant stirring to prevent the dreaded clumps... but this, my friends, is completely unnecessary.   Clump-free polenta can be made in your microwave in 10 minutes or less with a minimum of stirring!
[I sound like an infomercial, but wait! There's more!]

Actually, there's not.  You can certainly get fancy with your polenta, but its glory lies in its simplicity -- you don't have to do much at all.... and that makes it a regular guest at my weeknight dinner table.

Recipe: Microwave Polenta [Grits]

Monday, September 27, 2010

Simple Berry Dessert

I threw this together to satisfy a must-have-something-dessert-ish impulse one evening during the June strawberry season.  I didn't think it was worth sharing, but I've made it so many times over this summer with various berries (blueberries may have been my favorite) and now a second round of berries have appeared in the markets, so I may as well share the fun. You could certainly add a scoop of ice cream, but it was really nice just like this... and pretty.  

To make: Slice a pint of berries [or halve cherries, or use whole blueberries].  Stir in a tablespoon of maple syrup and another of amaretto. Set it aside to macerate for 10-20 minutes.  Toast 1/4 cup nuts until sizzling [use pre-sliced or crush after toasting].  Sprinkle over strawberries and toss a pinch of salt over the top. Garnish with chopped fresh basil or tarragon (optional).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Steel-Cut Oatmeal, a Whole-Grain Breakfast Favorite

The weather's turning crisp up here in Yankee Land.  Right now the days are sunny and warm, but the pumpkins and winter squash are appearing in the farmers' markets and the floor feels chilly against my
bare feet in the morning.  Hence, it's time to resurrect the oatmeal breakfast.

I was never a fan of oatmeal as a kid unless it was rolled oats in cookies (surprise).  My mom never made it for breakfast, but for some reason we had packages of the instant, stir-in-hot-water stuff in the pantry that I tried a couple of times and found the texture extremely offputting.  Somewhere in my quest for tasty whole grains I discovered steel-cut oats and the difference is stark.  Steel-cut oats have a nice toothy bite, nutty flavor, and tons of soluble fiber that sticks to your ribs on brisk bike ride to work.  They do, however, take a bit longer to cook (~25 minutes) and I have two appliance-base ways around that:

1) Throw it in a rice cooker when I first get out of bed and go on about my morning business until it's ready.
2) Put it in a slow cooker with a "keep-warm" function the night before and it's ready when I am.  Mini crockpots are perfect for this, but I just use my giant Cuisinart and nuke the leftovers on subsequent days.

With both appliances, use 1/4 cup steel cut oats, 1 cup water, and a pinch of salt for each serving. There will be a gooey layer on top and maybe some crusty bits on the bottom by the time it's finished.
Just stir it to combine before serving.

My favorite oatmeal: raisins, pecans (sometimes toasted), maple syrup, and a splash of half & half.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cold-Wilted Spinach

In my quest to heat my kitchen as little as possible, I discovered an interesting way to wilt spinach by beating it up.  It started with a tomato salad I was letting sit to meld the flavors.  About an hour before I was going to serve it, I decided to stir in some baby spinach in as well.  When I came back to it, the spinach was completely wilted -- not in a sad-salad kind of way, but more like I'd given it a whirl in the skillet before combining.

It wasn't exactly what I was going for at the time, but I was intrigued. A couple of nights later, I tried making a wilted spinach salad to go with cold soba noodles [no recipe, but they were something like this].  About half an hour before dinner, I tossed the spinach with the dressing, left it on the counter, and gave it a stir every time I passed by.  Come dinner, I squeezed out all of the juice, plated it in a little mound, and poured the dressing over the top.  It was perfect.
I'm guessing it has something to do with the acids in the tomatoes first and the vinegar second, aided by the bruising caused by the stirring.  It's probably not chemically identical to cooked spinach (though it could be, ceviche-style) and it's really only a valuable technique when lack of heat is more important than speed [a cold salad or... a picnic?] but I liked it... so I'm sharing it with you.

Recipe: Cold-Wilted Spinach with Soy and Sesame
Hourensou no Goma-Ae

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Undisputed Victory

If you ever read my recipes, you know I generally use equal parts white whole wheat flour (or WWWF, as it's known on my grocery lists) and oat flour to make a whole-grain base that acts just like all-purpose flour. [Regular {red} whole wheat flour and whole wheat pastry flour comes close, but it's a little gritty.]
Back in Texas, the only brand of WWWF available was King Arthur and they make a great product, but it ain't cheap and I use a lot of it.  Several months back, our Trader Joe's started carrying a store brand WWWF at roughly half the price and I was, well, probably more excited than I should have been about that five pound bundle of joy. 
After months of testing, I'm sticking with KA for my WWWF.  As you can [sort of] see in the picture, the TJ flour [right] isn't ground as finely and the baked results have been closer in texture to a red whole wheat base.  It's fine in breads and quick breads when I want a hearty wheat flavor, but in cookies and cakes where the wheat is mostly for structure, it doesn't play nearly as well with others as King Arthur. 
And now that I'm committed, I figured I can save money by buying it in larger quantities once I find a spare corner in my tiny kitchen for a 40lb sack...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Gazpacho for Grownups

The tomatoes are finally ripe here in Yankee Land.  I think I understand why eating green tomatoes is such a Southern thing.  Up here you only get one big crop that takes forever to ripen... eating any before they're ready is just wasteful.

I bought ~8 pounds of heirlooms at the farmers' market this week and we've been eating them in:
in paella, with our last chunk of cured venison sausage
as a raw salad, with herbs from the garden
as bruschetta, with homemade rosemary bread
with hummus plates, which reminds me I need to ask JG if I can post his recipe
stuffed full of taggelio (a riff on these), which was fine, but not amazing
and -- my favorite-- as light gazpacho, with ceviched bay scallops added to the individual soup bowls.
[The scallops were actually too tender and mild to add interest, but the soup was still fantastic.]

A couple days later I was sipping a little of the leftover gazpacho straight from the storage container. [It was cold and I was thirsty; don't tell JG.] It was just a little spicy from the poblano I'd used in lieu of bell pepper and it was so refreshing to drink! It occurred to me that the only thing that would make it better [like so many things] was a shot of alcohol, using the gazpacho as a base like a lighter alternative to a bloody Mary.

I mixed 2 parts gazpacho to 1 part vodka [I'm keen on Tito's], shook it with a little ice, and garnished with a pick-full of olives and a big fat caper berry... and it was sublime.   It was also little dangerous, because it goes down so very, very nicely.  The flavors of the pepper and cucumber were present without asserting themselves and the olives and made a nice brine-y counterpoint.  [I also salted the glass rim, but I'm not sure it's necessary.]

I kept calling it a gazpacho martini, which I know is a misnomer as it contains neither gin nor vermouth; I guess it's just a "gazpocktail", which doesn't sound nearly refined enough for its sophisticated flavor. Whatever its name, it'll definitely be the belle of my next brunch.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bike Spider

JG left his bike on the porch for a day and a half and discovered someone had set up camp in his front tire and laid an enormous egg sack.  Wikipedia says they're up to an inch in diameter and this one was at least that big.
 She didn't react much when JG transferred the sack, via stick, to the hibiscus bush.  Frankly, if I'd just laid that many eggs, I'd be beat, too.

Bonus:  Here's one rolling a wasp on YouTube.  It'd be even better set to "Flight of the Bumblebee."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cantaloupe Bars

I entered a farmers' market bake-off this weekend.  I didn't win, but I _did_ come up with a new way to eat cantaloupe.  The judges preferred a blueberry buckle to my quirky melon dessert, but it _is_ melon season and the markets are full of unusual varieties.  I've only recently become a melon lover, but they really are refreshing and "clean" tasting and I think their upgrade to dessert status is overdue.

I thought it would be fun to play on my beloved agua fresca flavors, and the result was a gorgeous melon-y curd paired with a tangy buttermilk/crunchy pepita crust. [The crust is a winner by itself; I've got lots of ideas for it.]  These bars are definitely more rich than my normal fair, so I suggest making them to share... at a Labor Day cookout, perhaps?
Recipe: Cantaloupe Bars

Friday, August 27, 2010

Howdy Cakes

[Where did I go?  I certainly didn't mean to abandon the blog, but in my evergrowing frustration with self-taught web design, I kept working in Dreamweaver until I couldn't possibly sit at the computer a moment longer and stormed away.  My apologies to anyone who reads regularly and has felt snubbed... but that's probably only my mother and she's holed up in the woods for the summer so she probably hasn't noticed.]

Whoopie Pies are a New England thing and not pies at all [chalk another one up to "Yankee know-how"] but two chocolate cake discs and a gooey white filling usually made from a marshmallow fluff base.  [I've also seen the cakes in trendy flavors like vanilla and pumpkin.] Now, chocolate cake is easy and marshmallow fluff ain't hard if you know how to make marshmallows, but I thought I'd try them in a traditional red velvet as homage to my southern roots... and that, of course, means doing it old-school with pureed beets and roux frosting!
Despite the magenta batter, beet-colored red velvet cake is not as bright as the artificial kind and the rosey hue can easily be overwhelmed by the cocoa content.   The beets actually go really well with chocolate and give it a little more sweetness and earthy complexity. I wanted a chocolaty cake, but was bummed at first by the normal brown-black color of the final product. The taste, however, is fantastic and I'm not going to quibble because the tint wasn't as odd as I hoped. 
Roux frosting is traditional for red velvet cake and amazing -- if you don't try these pies you should at least try the frosting the next time you have a need. It's equal parts milk, butter, and sugar (plus a few other things) and it's got all the texture of a great buttercream but without the overwhelming sweetness and is far less likely to break into grainy bits when it gets warm. I added a little buttermilk powder and amaretto for flavor, but if you don't have those things you shouldn't let it stop you.  I'm in love with this stuff -- real love, too, not just some trashy fling.**

Recipe: Howdy Cakes
I refuse to call them pies.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It worked!

My epazote has returned from the dead.  For once, my excess of optimism paid off.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Garden Woes

Remember my happy little garden?  While I was out of town I lost: the tomatoes, cucumbers, cayenne, nasturtiums, oregano, thyme, cilantro, lettuce, aroogula, and epazote.  Boston's freak heatwave and an unnoticed faucet drip baked some and drowned the others.

Most of them were summer flings, but I'd had the epazote plant ~6 years and was one of 3 herbs [and 9 orchids] I brought from Texas. I'm still watering it, hoping some tiny shoot will emerge from the brittle twigs. [I realize that my optimism often serves to set me up for even more disappointment.]

I went to the garden store to replenish the rest and discovered there is a very small planting window in Yankee Land and it has passed... there were simply no herbs or vegetables to be had: Better luck next year, kid.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Kansas Report

No offense to any native Kansans; I'm sure it's a lovely place to live, but the drive through kills me.  On the way out I hit Kansas City at sunset and wasn't sure I'd be able to give a report on the grain content of the state.  Coming back from Colorado, however, I got to see Kansas in all of its interminable glory. 

So here's what I learned on I-70: 
Western Missouri= more soy and corn
Eastern Kansas = even more soy and corn
Central Kansas = high plains, no crops... just like the big buffalo hunt in Dances with Wolves

Western Kansas = what I think was recently harvested winter wheat [the color was wrong for hay, but it may have been oats],  sunflower fields and a few fields of milo [the mother of sorghum].
Eastern Colorado = corn, winter wheat, some soy

[photo courtesy of JG]
Central Colorado = pine and poplar

I enjoyed visiting family, learning to skin chipmunks [yes, there're pictures, but not a lot of meat], and eating gooey butter cake [we'll revisit that soon], but I'm also very happy to be back in my own kitchen, sweltering though it may be.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Where's the Wheat?

I've just driven through over 700 miles of Missouri and Iowa and have seen nothing but endless fields of fuzzy golden corn and velvet green soybeans [plus occasional bales of alfalfa--now there's a fun word!].  This strip of the nation's breadbasket is decidedly gluten-free.
So where do they grow wheat? Or oats? I'm hitting up Kansas over the weekend.  We'll see what we see.

[I also hit an insane rain storm outside of Des Moines.  The sky went deep twilight at 2pm, the wind started flattening the corn, and the gauge on my {borrowed} car told me the outside temperature dropped almost 25 degrees in the ten minutes before the rain hit. I was sure I was going to have a cow fly by me, Twister-style,  but all I had to dodge was a giant Rubbermaid-type trashcan in one lane and the giant lid in the other.  Frankly, that's as close to cow-dodging as I need to get... You may recall I haven't had a car since I moved to Yankee-Land last year -- and my former cars were stick-shift, so I tend to use both feet in danger-reflex situations.]

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bulgur Salad Lettuce Wraps [aka Mediterranean Tacos]

I needed to cut back all of my herbs and lettuce before depositing my garden in the bathtub and skipping town, so I made this pretty little no-heat salad for dinner.  

I salted the remaining tomatoes and left them to drain over a measuring cup, then combined that with the juice from my 2 remaining lemons, stirred in 1/3 cup of fine bulgur (parboiled cracked wheat) and let it sit until the grains absorbed the liquid ~ 15 minutes.  

Then I tossed it with my herbs (mostly the cilantro and burnet, which were bolting), diced my remaining queso seco as a feta cheese stand-in, threw in a few pinches of salt and pepper,  drizzled it with olive oil, and served it with lettuce leaves, taco-style.

I was pleased with the result.  It was a nice dinner for two, but I imagine it'd make a nice side dish with shish-kebabs.  A diced cucumber and chopped kalmata olives would have added some nice texture, but I didn't have the first and I didn't think of the second until later.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Chocolate Macarons

JG and I are spending a bit of time in the heartland, which meant we had to clear out the fridge and put the garden in the bathtub [it wasn't easy].  I had 6 egg whites leftover from a couple projects and chocolate that was starting to bloom in my warm pantry, so I figured I may as well make a triple batch of David Libovitz' chocolate macarons and my own low[er] fat caramelized chocolate ganache.    
My only adjustment was that I sifted the dry ingredients into the whites because the nut oil/cocoa powder combination was clumping together... and the final result was still a little too bumpy.
 As for the ganache, I caramelized the sugar and browned the butter before adding fat-free evaporated milk [in lieu of heavy cream] and then stirred in nearly a pound of chocolate... and had nearly a pound of the resulting ganache left over, waiting for me in the freezer when I come home.

Recipe: Caramelized Chocolate Ganache