Thursday, August 11, 2011

Blueberry Fool

[The hybrid --a double X-- arrived shortly after the okra post.  The past two months have been a bit of a blur.  Right now I'm typing with one hand while little CG sleeps in the crook of my other arm, so please pardon any typos... not that I didn't have typos when I had free use of all fingers, I just think there may a few extra this time.] 

My oven has also been on the fritz for the past two months [great timing] so there've been almost no crisps, cobblers, or pies around this summer; we've mostly been enjoying the bountiful fruits of the season in a little macerating juice or a dollop of cream.  The fancier version of this is the "Fool," a British dessert [those Brits and their crazy dessert names!] where the fresh or stewed fruit is folded into cream.  JG and I did it one better by pureeing the stewed fruit and whipping it into the cream which --particularly with blueberries -- makes for a more dramatic presentation.

This does require a little make-ahead time sine the puree has to cool before you whip it in, but I don't think it takes any longer than macerating... and blueberries don't really lend themselves to maceration anyway since their skins are strong enough to block the sugar leeching and halved blueberries are frankly unattractive.

Recipe: Blueberry Fool

Monday, June 20, 2011

Roasted Okra

I've been on an okra kick lately.  I'm not sure how it started.  Growing up I only ever had fried okra at school (yes, in the south, fried okra is a school lunch vegetable) and when I lived in Houston I got to know it as a component of gumbo and some Indian veggie dishes, but I wasn't really partial to it and I have no idea what possessed me to buy some at the grocery store the other day, except for the fact that I don't think I'd ever seen in my Cambridge grocery store.

Once I got it home I wasn't sure what to do with it, so I did what I do to all new vegetables [and most of my favorites]: I roasted it.

It was fantastic.  The okra flavor was rich and earthy, and the roasting made it not at all slimy. [Okra is boiled in gumbo and curries because the goo it releases acts as a thickener.]  I wanted more, but a week later the store seemed to have the same batch of okra sitting out and they were no longer green and firm but soft and spotty brown... I guess when you don't usually carry a product and your customers aren't too familiar with it, you can get away with letting it go bad in full display?

I was bummed until I discovered something wonderful.  I went to little Indian convenience store on the corner for a quick gallon of milk and down on the bottom shelf of their refrigerated section was a giant box of fresh okra for half the price per pound I'd paid at the big grocery store.  Of course!  I think of it as "Southern", but it's native to Africa and grown throughout India... and Indian food is much cheaper than Southern food in Yankee Land. The ethnic store wins again!

Recipe: Oven Roasted Okra

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Granola Cookies

These guys are a variation on my Flourless Oatmeal Cookie.  I was making them for a friend and wanted them to be a sort of homey power food, so I was looking to give them a little more nutritional value and nuts and seeds seemed like a logical way to go... and then I realized I was basically making granola bars in cookie form, except they use egg as a binder [more protein!].

I'm rather pleased with the results.  I decided with the Flourless Oatmeal Cookies that processing the ingredients into tiny bits made them stick together better,  but I missed having chunks of things, so this time I reserved a little of everything and combined them by hand at the end.  Much better.  I also upped the egg to oat ratio, which means they don't have to be pressed flat; they'll spread of their own accord more like a normal oatmeal cookie.

If you have a serious problem with gluten, be sure to get rolled oats specifically labeled "Gluten-Free" since most commercially produced oats will have cross-contamination from other grains processed at the same facility.  If you just have an intolerance, you're unlikely to notice the trace amounts in standard oats.

Recipe:  Granola Cookies

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Go Texan

I took my last flight before I'm grounded.  JG and I went back to Texas, visited my parents, my brother out on the ranch, and lots of friends in Austin.  I was a little worried I wouldn't be able to handle the heat, but then I found myself dragging a reclining lawn chair into the grass to a nap in the 100F shade of a tree at my parents' place because it felt so good outside.
These pastures should be green right now.
West Texas is in serious drought mode right now... Dust Bowl serious.  There's nothing green out there except the mesquite trees and only because they have very deep tap roots -- which, FYI, also makes them very hard to clear from fields.  If it keeps going, they may even have to sell off the cattle, and that's pretty bad.
 I love this heifer; it looks like she got a bowl cut.
Austin was much greener, not quite as hot, and lovely to visit.  We didn't make any plans [except a single dinner reservation] because I think the key to a great Austin experience is to just hang out and see what happens.  We ended up spending a lot of time around Lady Bird Lake [JG ran, I'm not quite so spry], eating dinner at our old haunts and catching up with old friends [who frequently chided me about my recent lack of blog posting], and doing a bit of work in coffee shops.
The public arts program scattered pianos all over town. This one was on the running trail.
The first night in town, I saw a display of the urban bat colony that surpassed any I'd ever seen the entire time I live here, and it was only because we happened to be walking back from dinner at sunset and crossed the bat bridge at the just the right time. [No pics though, I don't believe in hauling my camera to restaurants and photographing my dinner... I limit that behavior to my own kitchen.]   

A stand at a year-round farmer's market -- most markets in Bean Town don't start 'til late May.
I've eaten quite well this week and I'm including a list of my destinations in case you find yourself in my favorite town.  When I step on the scales at my next checkup, the nurse will probably assume the little hybrid had a growth spurt... but we'll know better.

Where I ate in Austin:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Pasta e Fagioli

I know it's been unseasonably warm back home [upper 80s instead of upper 70s] but Yankee Land just got more snow [April Fool's!], so hearty soup is still on my menu. The first time I saw a recipe for pasta fagioli I thought a soup comprised almost entirely of beans and pasta couldn't be that tasty.... but I was very very wrong. Italians cooks have a long history of making the whole far greater than the sum of its parts, and this soup is a part of that strong tradition.
Since the primary components are so simple, the seasonings and garnishes are very important in this soup, and fresh herbs really make a difference.  I quit using chicken stock in it a while back in favor of cheese rinds -- I keep a "rind baggie" in the freezer and any time I get down to the hard end of a wedge of parm or pecorino, I just throw it in there for later use.  You _could_ also buy a wedge, cut off the rind for the soup, then use the rest later.  The reason you want to use the rind is that it will impart great flavor [umami] but holds together throughout cooking and won't change the texture of the soup. I'm not the biggest fan of eating the rind, but JG loves them, so everyone wins.  You _could_ just discard them at the end, but there's probably someone at the table who would be happy to have them.

This soup is traditionally meatless, but I had some ground turkey that needed to be used so I made some super-simple mini meatballs [no binder required].  I included a recipe, but it's certainly not necessary for the soup. 
Finally, I believe this soup demands whole wheat pasta [shocking, I know].  Refined flour pasta will eventually turn to mush and make the leftovers much less appealing, but the bran in the whole wheat pasta maintains its structural integrity so each reheated bowl is even better than the one before.

Recipes: Pasta Fagioli and Mini Turkey Meatballs

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bartending with JG: The Second Trimester

JG's been spending a lot of time in the lab lately.  He says his research is going well, but the other night he came home rather frustrated because the computer he was using to run his experiments died and he was going to have to take some time away from his actual research to calibrate a new one.

The man needed a nice drink.  Martinis and Manhattans have always been our friends, but the recent infrequency of hard alcohol consumption in our apartment had left the bar a little understocked.  We had no gin, so the martini was definitely out (we don't believe in vodka martinis here).  We had rye whiskey but no sweet vermouth or Angostura bitters -- and at this point I think JG might have been on the verge of saying something unkind about our hybrid.

BUT we did have Peychaud's and a blanc vermouth we'd randomly purchased a while back because it was unfamiliar (verdict: possibly sweeter than sweet vermouth).   JG made himself a new drink he calls "The Second Trimester." It's not quite the same as a Manhattan, but it's still tasty.
[Yes, I tasted it and it was delicious.... I couldn't put a recipe up I haven't tasted, could I?]

A note about the cherries. I think maraschino cherries are foul and always omitted them from my Manhattan.  Then, ~5 years ago, I happened to have a Manhattan at a place called The Pegu Club in Manhattan and they served it with the most wonderful, dense, dark, richly flavored and not-too-sweet amarena cherry.  It took me a bit of research to figure out what they were  -- a small preserved sour cherry from italy -- and even longer to find them in a specialty store but they are _so_ worth it. [You can easily order the pictured Fabbri brand online, but they're a little sweeter.] Their flavor is wickedly decadent.  If maraschinos are The Monkees, amarenas are The Rolling Stones, know what I'm sayin'?

Recipe:  The Second Trimester [or 2nd Tri]

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Sign of Spring

Yes, it snowed all day today in Yankee Land, but I'm feeling perkier than my last post.  Why?

My rhubarb is sprouting!

Surely this snow -- and the forecasted snow on Wednesday and Thursday -- is almost the end of it...


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Carbonara-esque Fried Rice in 10 minutes or less

bMarch is my least favorite month in Yankee Land.  A few warm (50+) days melted the remainder of our 7 feet of snow and made everyone think spring was imminent... but today it never got above 39 and snow flurried all afternoon. [Actually, I appreciated the snow. If it's gonna stay cold, it may as well snow.] I mean, I love my jaunty red thrift-store puffy coat, but I'm getting tired of wearing it, know what I'm saying? 
These plants are all supposed to come back to life "in the spring"
My real problem is that it's so gray without the white snow or green trees. The trees will start budding in a few weeks and blooming in another month, but I'm not supposed to replant my fire escape until after the last freeze in May. [I think greens like arooogula can start sooner, since back in Texas they're a winter crop.] My poor kitchen herbs are all leggy and dying to get away from the grow light and back in some real sun [and I brought half of them from Texas with me, so they know what they're missing.] Sigh.

Anyway, my winter malaise doesn't inspire creative or complicated cooking.  To wit:  Carbonara-esque Fried Rice 

I think I've mentioned leftovers fried rice is a staple at my house, but this time I didn't have anything but the [brown] rice left over.  I did, however, have some prosciutto that was a little on the dry side, so I diced a few slices and pan fried them in a teaspoon of olive oil 'til crispy while I nuked some frozen peas for  a minute to warm them up*, then stirred still-cold rice in with the meat and let it sit for ~ 1 minute, untouched, to let a crust to form, stirred it, let it sit again, stirred in the peas and let it sit long enough for me to beat a couple eggs in a bowl and pour it over the top.** 

Stir until the egg is no longer runny [but not dry] dump in a serving bowl and top with some cracked black pepper and maybe some hot sauce.

Note: A real carbonara would have some kind of hard cheese like pecorino or parm grated into it, and the eggs would be added off heat to make sure it stayed creamy... and there's nothing wrong with either of those things as far as I'm concerned. 
You could add frozen peas with the cold rice, but the peas can get a little starchy where they touch the pan directly too long, and I'm just not a fan of starchy green peas unless I'm turning them into soup.

** That may be an excessively long sentence, but that's how the recipe works: once you start you just keep going 'til it's done.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Toasted Mushroom-Avocado Sandwich aka "The Gandalf"

So there's this place in Houston called The Hobbit Cafe.  [It was The Hobbit Hole when it was located in an appropriately hobbit-like old house, but it moved well before my time.]

It's quaint. There are Lord of the Rings drawings and posters and figurines, most of which are at least 40-years old, and the food is great and mostly healthy-ish... and named after LOTR characters.  Back when JG and I lived in Houston, we'd go there fairly often and split a "Gandalf"... a toasted sandwich of sliced avocado, mushrooms, and swiss cheese on whole-grain bread, served with a side of shredded carrots [though this was before I was particularly interested in healthy eating and we usually subbed potato chips for the carrots.]
There was a certain magical flavor in the sandwich not attributable to any of the stated components which elevated the whole thing to the sublime, and one day JG asked what it was.  The server went back to the kitchen and reemerged with a spice bottle labeled "Spike."  We'd never seen it before but promptly went to the grocery store and found it with the rest of the spice blends.  [It turns out it's like the MSG of hippie food, created by a natural foods advocate circa 1925 named Gayelord Hauser, whose dislike of white bread might have been greater than mine.]  It was indeed the key ingredient to recreating the perfect Gandalf at home.
JG and I had kind of forgotten about that lovely sandwich [It's getting close to 10 years since we lived in H-Town] but we made blue cheese turkey burgers with avocado -- on homemade buns -- the other day, and as the slices popped out the sides it brought back memories... so I picked up another avocado on my way home from work yesterday [there's one grocery store on the way that always has acceptable if not great avocados] and we made paninis for dinner on leftover buns.  In tribute to the Hobbit Cafe, I also made my spicy carrot slaw to go on the side [it's so easy and surprisingly good]... and it really was a much better meal than with chips.
It was a slightly odd dinner for a 30-degree evening, but it felt like spring in the kitchen.

Recipe: Mushroom-Avocado Sandwich: The Gandalf

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Jamaican Oxtails

JG pulled out this recipe from the NY Times a few weeks back, and I'd bought oxtails at the butcher shop across the way [which always has oxtails but rarely has turkey thighs] and threw them in the freezer so we'd be set when we decided it was time to proceed. It finally happened last Sunday, the apartment smelled amazing, and the flavor was quite good [if a little sweet for our taste]....

BUT... for some reason we actually followed the recipe on this one (well, I used a little less meat and twice as many beans) even though I was dubious of methodology outlined... and as a result I had to spend the better part of an hour scouring my enamel Dutch oven -- after an overnight soak -- and I'm afraid it'll never be the same again.

The problem was that I'm not really familiar with Jamaican cooking, aside from a few jerk chicken recipes. I have made blackened sugar before [it's the natural way to color dark rye bread], but because the particulars of the cuisine aren't totally familiar to me, I decided to trust the recipe and not my instincts. I didn't see any way we could effectively brown meat and aromatics in blackened sugar, but I thought, "Maybe I'll learn a wonderful new technique!" because I know the NY Times employs recipe testers verify these things... and I'm an incorrigible optimist...
... And it may well be that that is in fact how Jamaicans make their oxtails, but if so, I'd rank Jamaican restaurant dish washing as one of the worst jobs in the world.  We did not get our meat properly browned.  By the time the aromatics were only partially cooked, we started trying to deglaze for the love of our pot... to no avail.  When half of the sugar -- supposedly there for flavor -- turns to pure carbon that doesn't release when deglazing the pan,* I don't see how that benefits the dish or the cook. 
It was good though, and it introduced me to butter beans, which are huge and buttery [I think they'd be great in some kind of salad.], so I'm keeping the recipe... with these changes:

Steps 1-4:  Separately brown meat and veggies in oil, remove to large bowl, deglaze with ~1/2 cup water, scraping all the browned bits from the pot.  Pour deglazing liquid into the bowl and wipe cooking pot dry. Add brown sugar and blacken. Immediately add a couple cups of water, scraping to loosen from the bottom of the pot, then return meat, veggies, and juices to the pot.  Add additional water as needed to bring the water level 2/3 up the sides of the meat, then cook, covered, for 1 hour.*

Step 5: Omit sugar, substitute tomato paste for the listed ketchup (which has additional sugar or corn syrup)  After removing the thyme stems [our pepper disintegrated, but it wasn't too hot], let cool completely and refrigerate at least 4 hours or until the rendered fat solidifies enough to remove -- it'll be close to 1.5 cups of solid fat 
Step 6: Reheat with beans and serve with rice and pigeon peas [traditional] or green peas [colorful].

Leftovers: Shred any remaining meat [there's not a lot] into gravy and add additional butter or cannellini beans for meaty, brothy beans and rice.

Recipe: Simple Coconut Rice
We did make some pretty simple-but-good coconut rice to go with it by adding 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, chopped, to our regular brown rice recipe of:  2 cups short grain brown rice,  4 cups water and 1/2 tsp kosher salt, cooked ~50 minutes

*I actually thought, "Well, maybe since it's sugar it'll dissolve as it boils and this really is a wonderful technique!" but JG didn't think it was sugar anymore, just carbon.   He was right.

**If I hadn't had to clean the pot this time, I might have been willing to consider adding the sugar with the meat and letting it caramel as the meat seared, but I'll be playing it safe from here on out.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Low-Fat Refried Beans

Here's another simple, wholesome-if-you-make-it food that cooks fast: refried beans.  The name comes from frijoles refrito, which actually means "well-fried beans" not "twice-fried beans" but there needn't be much frying at all to get a flavorful spread that's great for layering or dipping... friends back in Texas even include lean refried beans in their baby food rotation since it's a more substantial food than carrot puree.

I know plenty of people will think refried beans have limited Tex-Mex uses, but I learned better from my Grandpa Ed. Back in the day, he was a man who ate peanut butter like nobody's business; if my grandmother was away for a few days, he'd just eat peanut 'til she got back -- not because he couldn't cook but because it was all he really wanted to eat anyway.  [You may recall I made a stick-to-your-mouth peanut butter shortbread in his honor.]

Unfortunately, sometime in his late 60s or early 70s, the doctor told him his cholesterol was too high and the peanut butter had to go... forever.  It was a blow, but he soon discovered he could use canned low-fat refried beans as a substitute. It wasn't the same flavor, but somehow the texture was enough to satisfy him.  How he discovered this, I do not know, but as a result I've tried refried beans in and on many things you may not otherwise consider...  and, frankly, refried beans in a lunchmeat sandwich was a lot less weird than the peanut butter version.  Refried beans and celery sticks?  Delicious.

Think of it as "pinto bean hummus" if that makes it easier to diversify.  Despite its "refried" name, this recipe actually has less fat than hummus...

Recipe: Low-Fat Refried Beans

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fat-Free Whole-Wheat Tortillas, aka Chapati Bread

JG made lentils for dinner this weekend and decided to try his hand at chapati bread, which are thin round flatbreads usually made with at least some whole-wheat flour.  He'd planned to have it all done when I got home from work (my hero) but the cookbook he used just isn't a good one (the flavors are great but the liquid ratios or the cooking times are _always_ way off, but never the same way twice) and the lentils weren't ready when they were supposed to be, so I helped with chapati while he finished up the dal. [Plus I wanted to tinker with the recipe, using all whole-wheat and some salt... I think the salt was an omission.]  It's a super simple process and they turned out great for scooping up the lentils, but they inspired JG in another way.

"These taste like flour tortillas"
"Well, they kinda are, but without the lard. They won't keep."
"But these right now are flour tortillas.  It makes me want to make fajitas."

I had to agree.  I've always shunned flour tortillas because they're made with lard or butter and refined flour, whereas corn tortillas are made from whole grains with no fat.  You can get whole-wheat versions now, but they've still got some kind of fat to keep them soft... but classic Tex-Mex fajitas really do require some type of flour tortilla.  I don't know why, but they're my only exception to the corn tortilla rule... but I've never been really okay with that until now.

A few days later we made more hot, fresh chapati tortillas and cooked up some flank steak (no skirt up here), onions, and peppers on the cast iron.  We still need to perfect the cast iron recipe before it goes public, but the tortillas were spot on.

Recipe: Fat-Free Whole-Wheat Tortillas or Chapati Bread

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Healthy Food in 5 minutes?

Last week, a commenter who knew me before I could cook* asked about healthy meals for toddlers... to be consumed within 5 minutes of the parent arriving home from work.  She said he's so hungry when she gets home that she usually just microwaves something quick -- boo her.  Here are my thoughts [I apologize if it's a little disjointed and rambling, but I wanted to respond before the question got too old]:

First, I've got nothing against microwaves and reheated dinners... it's just a matter of what you're reheating.  Whole grains win every time for having more vitamins, minerals, and protein than their white/refined counterparts, and if you make them part of your diet, you'll have them around to reheat in a jiffy.  Some of them do take 20-50 minutes to cook, but they can also be made ahead and kept for a week in the fridge or months in the freezer. 
Stewed lentils with Indian spices
My basic wholesome dinner includes:
Whole Grains:** brown rice, polenta, whole-wheat pasta,  and corn tortillas are my go-tos but wheat berries, whole-wheat cous cous, bulgur wheat, and quinoa are good to mix it up
Lean Proteins: BEANS,*^ lentils, chicken, fish, tofu, egg, lean chorizo, plain yogurt
Veggies: canned tomatoes, hearty greens like kale, and frozen green peas, broccoli, and green beans are my winter staples.  Salads are good as long as you don't drown them in dressing.
Optional Toppings: hot sauce/salsa/fresh herbs/cheese/fried egg

[BONUS: Bean and lentils -- which are a subset of the bean family -- count as BOTH lean proteins AND vegetables, but are lacking certain aminos, which is why they require a grain to make a complete meal. Beans & rice is my #1 weekday meal, and with so many varieties of beans and spices available, it never has to be the same meal twice. If you make your own hummus or bean dip (to control the fat content) and serve it with raw veggies and whole-wheat pita, that's a perfect meal, too.]
Microwave Polentta
or Eggs:
As I mentioned in my initial response, eggs are always a solid option.*^* They cook in just a few minutes and can always be topped with a little cheese, if that's a selling point.
Scramble eggs with thawed frozen veggies and serve with whole-grain toast or corn tortillas.
Stir veggies into polenta and top with a poached or fried egg and mild-enough salsa  or serve that egg over beans and corn torillas
Turn your wholesome leftovers (grains included) into a Leftovers Frittata that can be served hot or eaten cold [leftover's leftovers].
Leftovers fried rice can be done with any grain or pasta, and probably makes for less messy toddler eating since it clumps the grains together.
... and it's a great idea to have some hard-boiled eggs on hand for my next option:

Fried eggs over polenta with roasted wax beans and fresh tomatoes (summer produce)
Stall for Time When You Need It! 
A few slices of hard boiled egg, a single stick of bumps-on-a-log, a small handful of nuts, a glass of whole milk, a little wedge of whole-wheat pita with a smear of thick hummus, a low-fat string-cheese stick... anything with good protein takes a bit of time to digest and should take care of immediate hunger pangs to give you a little more time when you get home... even if that means just sitting with your toddler for a few minutes to collect yourself before starting the 5-minute dinner reheat.

A Caveat:
I do not have children. I have one in the making that feeds on my dinner through an umbilical cord with no conscious effort on my part. I do not speak from experience about feeding toddlers. I don't know if any given toddler will eat these things I've listed -- particularly if they've gotten used to pre-packaged foods that always taste a certain way -- but I don't believe in feeding children entirely separate meals based on what they prefer and if you encourage picky eating of limited foods you're doing both their growing bodies and their palates a disservice.... but check back in a few years and see if I managed to maintain my ideals.
Cannellini dip
Other Resources:
I looked for other blogs and websites that might be useful to you, but most seemed healthy but not super speedy (nothing under 30 minutes) or speedy but not healthy at all.  I thought this site might be useful.  They have a Toddler nutritional guide and a few recipes to make ahead and freeze.
My pantry bean supply.  I'm not necessarily advocating Goya, but they're usually the cheapest beans in Beantown.
Beans and rice are infinitely adaptable with whatever you have on hand, but it's nice to start with recipes. I just realized I've only posted a couple for beans and one for lentils, but Google'll give you a million and this page has some nice variations.

The commenter and the blogger, circa 1984
Our first forays into cooking were scrambled eggs which occasionally [always?] had too many additional ingredients to hold together properly and probably would have been too dry except we smothered them in melted American cheese. We would make them for the hosting parents whenever we spent the night at each other's house -- pretty much every weekend -- and were very proud of our culinary skills.

Cooking times for stovetop, unless specified otherwise.  You can make a big batch one night or weekend afternoon and it'll keep all week, or you can freeze any grain (not the pasta) in smaller portions and switch up your grains from day to day. 
Whole-Wheat Pasta - 8minutes
Whole-Wheat Cous Cous - 5minutes
Bulgur Wheat - Pour boiling water over and let site 10 minutes
Polenta [corn grits] - 10 minutes in the microwave.  
Quinoa -  20-25 minutes... the same as white rice, except it's a complete protein
Brown Rice (short grain Japanese rice is much tastier than long grain) - 50 min
Wheat Berries - 50 min 

I keep dried beans on hand, but almost always use canned for convenience  If you have a problem digesting beans, it's because your body isn't producing enough of a certain enzyme that breaks down the beans in your gut.  [same goes for cabbage, but different enzyme, I think] Keep eating them and you'll stop getting unpleasant side effects... and maybe take Beano in the interim.

My grandad's entire family lived off eggs for the most part during the Great Depression [his mother worked at an egg factory and she got to take home the fertilized eggs they couldn't sell] and it didn't stunt him in any way-- he still grew over 6 feet tall, played football on scholarship, became a rare earth chemist, and is still mentally sharp as he approaches his 90th birthday.  If that's not an ad for eggs, I don't know what is.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Grandma Sue's Valentine's Cookies

My grandmother used to send us each a big heart-shaped cookie for Valentine's day.  Each one was uniquely frosted with botanically-correct flowers [She once was an in-house artist for a university botany department] and the cookies were as tasty as they were pretty.  These lemony sugar cookies were my first experience with lemon zest, and for a long time I thought it was weird that Grandma Sue put lemon peels in her cookies, but they sure were tasty.

I deviated from the original recipe by swapping in whole grain flours [shocking, I know] and meyer lemons, plus butter for "oleo" [it has the same water content, and isn't hydrogenated]... but they still taste just right to me.  They're fantastic plain and I don't have Grandma's artistic abilities, but I do like to play with the royal icing.

[I'm sending these to my nieces, whose names all begin with A, as thanks to their mom for sending me maternity clothes.]

Recipe: Sue's Granddaughter's Lemony Valentine's Cookies

Friday, February 11, 2011

Easy Pea Soup

Do you ever get frozen peas that just aren't great? I got a huge bag of them from my little corner store.  Granted, they made no claim of being sweet or young or tender, but after the first serving of the big, starchy things I knew I wouldn't eat the next two pounds very fast.

Boston Snow Meter
...but you may have heard we've gotten a bit of snow here in Yankee Land (~6 feet total with more expected this weekend) and it's an excellent time to make soup.  JG has a deep affection for his mom's split pea soup with ham [which was only made with the bone from a big ham feast] and I happened to have a pork joint bone stashed in the freezer from a bone-in shoulder we slow cooked a while back.  I used it to make a simple pork stock, pulled out the bone and bay leaf, threw in the peas, and pureed it all together.  It was really, really good.

Stock after simmer
You could make this with a quart of store-bought stock, but you'd want to add a little powdered gelatin. Why?  Gelatin is gelling agent [guess where the word "gelling" comes from] that's derived from animal collagen, and bones/marrow release a lot of it to gives the stock more body.*  You can see it in the viscosity of the liquid in the picture above. That gelatin content is key to the texture of the soup.  As it happens, gelatin is most commonly made from pig skins and bones.**  How's that for an easy cheat?

Recipe: Frozen Pea Soup