Monday, April 30, 2012
Friday, April 27, 2012
- A roughly-torn dried chile pepper; mild, such as a guajillo, or hot, as you prefer.
- A teaspoon of coarsely-ground or crushed black pepper.
- A stick of cinnamon.
- Several strips of lemon or orange zest.
- Green tea.
- Coffee beans.
- Saffron threads.
- Rose petals.
In the interest of science and the vain hope of reconstructing what I made the other night (which like most things made in haste with no record-keeping was entirely perfect) I used different proportions of cream, butter, sugar and water in each batch. Here is my conclusion: you cannot go very far wrong with butter, sugar and cream. The differences between these three batches in terms of consistency are negligible at best, so do not sweat it if you have a little too little of one or the other ingredient. In all likelihood, it is going to work out fine. Adding the proposed infusions can make it slightly harder to tell how caramelized the sugar is, which I largely judge by color, but even that did not prevent all three jars from being something you would want to retreat to a corner with by yourself. Tips for achieving this outcome in your kitchen are below.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
- Bored silly by everything you make and how it all tastes the same.
- Confounded by a few too many tricky recipes and longing for something simple that will make you feel like you should have your own show on the Food Network.
- Heading for a potluck and wanting a boost for your self-esteem.
- Listening to your voicemail and hearing "we would LOVE to come! My husband's sister is in town to get an award from the Culinary Society and she'll be with us--by the way, she's vegan and on a raw food diet. Hope that's cool with you! See you at 7!"
Put all the ingredients except scallions and cilantro in food processor and pulse to blend until chunky.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
The sauce of the day is sofrito, which I should come right out and say I am not exactly making in any kind of way that is intended to be perceived as authentic or definitive. As I learned when I tried to make a mojo sauce, there are certain foodstuffs that speak directly to the inner child-on-the-playground for people of or loyal to various nations, and sofrito has to be right up there in the top 10. Google it and you will see that it is a staple seasoning of about ninety-four different countries, and in each place it is made differently: peppers or no peppers, this kind of pepper vs. that kind, this herb or that, pork or no pork, and so on. One belief common to all is that is highly seasoned, and another is that it is very useful. It can form the flavorful backbone of cooked beans, meat, stew or rice. I am on board with both these philosophies. It’s also a useful thing to throw on top of something grilled or roasted, as you might use a chutney. This is all I propose to suggest. A useful sauce. Perhaps inspired most closely by the Puerto Rican version, but not purporting to be it.
Monday, April 23, 2012
Apologies for the fact that vacation week kind of got away from me and I vanished without notice; also apologies for the fact that our internet has been down all day and I am only getting this out now. The little gerbils who drive the wheel that makes our modem run at such blisteringly glacial speeds must have the day off. But it’s a full week, so I am posting even given the late hour.
My friend Julie has said, on occasion, that I am the only person she knows who will spend an entire day making sauces and at the end of the day have nothing for dinner. She has even coined a term for my disorder: Condimentia. I agree entirely with the diagnosis. I love sauce and relish and chutney and salsa and so on. I think a person wealthy in sauce is wealthy indeed. That person can cook for a fussy group of diners, or a toddler, or an invalid—-anyone who requires plain steamed this and that—-and still, when their turn at the table comes around, eat like a king. A king of several countries, most of them below the Equator. Persons wealthy in sauce can be so tired that all they can muster is a pot of rice or an egg, and still present a festive dinner to themselves or others. With a cracker or two or a few vegetables and their sauce arsenal, they can manifest a toothsome plate of snacks in a heartbeat, if called upon to do so. They have options. They are set.
I am highly symptomatic now. Thinking about talking sauce, sauce and nothing but sauce all week has my mind and pulse racing. How could I possibly choose just five? This could go on for a while. May have to change the name up there. Welcome to The Sauce Channel.
This one comes from Madhur Jaffrey’s weighty tome, World Vegetarian. It’s a splendid book. Almost never steers me wrong. Her recipe produces (pardon the technical terminology) a metric buttload of this sauce, which is handy for gift-giving or periods of epic sauce consumption. I have adapted it here so that you end up with a more reasonable quantity of the stuff, but if you have pals you think might appreciate a jar, go ahead and triple it back up. You will win friends and influence people.
This is a simple recipe but it's also a good time to practice a little mise en place, because you need everything in short order and it's good to have it all ready before you begin. I almost never cook like that, and yet I am always happy when I do. I feel like Julia a little, even though I have to wash all my own little wee bowls.
Jaffrey mentions that this condiment keeps unrefrigerated for several months, which I have seen to be true, and she also is careful to note that good ventilation in the kitchen is helpful for your breathing comfort when you make it. Any sinus conditions lingering from the winter weather will be cleared when you are done. A final note on the ginger, if I have not mentioned it already—my pal Amy taught me that you can peel it easily and comfortably with an ordinary teaspoon and once you try that, you never look back.
crunchy sichuan garlic relish
Makes about a cup
2/3 cup canola or peanut oil
I bunch scallions, finely sliced (white and light green parts)
About a half-inch knob of fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
Cloves from three whole heads of garlic, peeled and finely chopped (you can use a food processor for this; pulse until it is all minced and remember to wash that appliance well before you make pastry)
About 15 dried hot red chiles (the kind that are about 2” long), crumbled, or one heaping tablespoon of red pepper flakes (the kind you shake on a slice of pizza)
Scant ¾ T of sea salt
1 teaspoon of soy sauce or tamari
1 T roasted sesame seeds
¼ t toasted sesame oil
Heat the oil in saucepan or frying pan until it ripples lightly. Drop in the scallions and stir and fry them, scraping all areas of the pot, untl they barely begin to take on some color. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes. Now add the ginger and garlic and continue to stir and fry for another 10 minutes or so, until everything is light golden. (they will darken and crisp more as they cool).
Stir more as time goes on, because as things brown up they tend to stick more, and keep the heat on the low side. Drop in the chiles now (remember that they will send up a mighty pepper fume) and stir for a few seconds, and then add the salt and soy sauce and stir for another minute. Turn off the heat and add the sesame seeds and oil, then let it all cool completely before scraping it into a sterilized and completely dry jar with a tight-fitting lid.
This is an excellent addition to rice, to stir-fried greens, or on top of a bowl of noodles. It was heaven to night on some braised Chinese broccoli, and I bet the same effect can be achieved with baby bok choi. Also, it's great on toast. But not everyone takes their sauce that way, I know.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Just had a romp through the women's magazines while I waited for my daughter at the pediatric dentist. I am resolved to be slimmer, make better use of my closet space, and get totally invested in date night. Also I am all about quinoa. Well, my children would tell you that is nothing new. Like the lamented chickpea, it is one of those foods that they reflexively express dislike for, even though they eat it pretty happily. But everyone else in the universe seems to be about it now, so my quiet devotion to quinoa no longer has to be a shameful thing for the family.
It looks to me from a scientific survey of the mainstream blog and magazine universes that this is the Age of Quinoa 'n' Cheese. Here it is, baked with chunks of ham. There it is, bright orange with conveniently pre-shredded colby. If it means more people eating quinoa, there probably isn't much to object to in the trend.
Also, they happen to be on to something. What suspect food is not improved with bakey crispy cheese on top? And when I saw the quinoa muffins (and wee little muffinettes) moving in herds across the Great Housewifely Plains, I decided to get a little of that women's mag action here at home.
"Don't think I am fooled by the whole muffin thing," said the Chief Quinoa Skeptic.
Fooled in what way?
"I can see that these are made of quinoa," said the CQS, but by then she had eaten it. And then she ate another. I really wasn't trying to fool anyone, I swear. But I will say I enjoyed the reduced grumbling. They come across like something between a nice, not-at-all dry muffin and an amusingly portable frittata. We ate them hot, with a big messy salad, for dinner, but they look like likely suspects for flinging into a lunch box, too, or onto a brunch table.
Like a frittata or quiche or omelette, they are kind of a blank canvas. I am not sure there is any limitation on what you could add here, so this is another non-recipe recipe. Go hog wild. Suggestions below, but feel free to ignore them.
convincing quinoa flingers
2 1/2 cups of cooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups of coarsely grated cheddar, divided
1 c coarsely grated zucchini (about one 7" zuke)
a generous sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs, like chives or parsley
salt & pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly spray or brush a 12-cup muffin tin with olive oil.
Combine the quinoa, 1 cup of the cheddar, the zucchini, herbs and 3 of the eggs in a medium bowl and mix well. If it seems dry, add the remaining egg. You want a nice thick batter, not soupy but not a dry, clumpy situation. Add a fat pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper. Divide among the muffin cups and sprinkle the tops with the remaining cheese. Bake about 20 minutes, until nicely golden brown, and cool on a rack to ensure cheesy crispiness on the bottoms (they will sog a bit if left to cool in the pan).
Variations on that theme:
Replace the zucchini with shredded baby spinach, or finely chopped, cooked greens like chard or kale. Replace part of the cheddar with some crumbled feta.
Add some cubed & roasted sweet potatoes, drained black beans and a handful of chopped cilantro.
Roasted or sauteed red onion would be tasty with smoked cheddar or gouda, and a fat pinch of cumin.
Use mozzarella, or a smoky scamorza, and some chopped roasted or dried tomatoes, and a handful of chopped fresh basil.
Pig out: crumbled bacon, slivers of ham, cooked sausage....oh, you get the idea.
Monday, April 16, 2012
It is seventy degrees here, sunny as all get-out, and all three progeny are off school for the week. So you can relax in total confidence that nothing I tell you about this week will be especially complicated.
Here are the cookies I promised you on Friday. Here is what they are not, particularly: complicated, beautiful, indulgent.
Here is what they are: insanely simple, delicious, satisfying and exciting for your mouth.
The recipe comes from my friend Naomi, who got it from her friend Lina. These two women wield mighty spoons. Do not doubt them. Especially do not doubt Naomi's warnings and caveats, reproduced for you almost verbatim below from the text message she wrote me on the train where she was when she received my frantic plea for the instructions.
I cannot even really tolerate eating raw almonds; it produces the kind of itchiness that leads directly to scraffing your front teeth along your tongue repeatedly, pausing only to manifest that garchy hairball noise in the back of the throat that is so taxing on a marriage. And yet I ate the dough, and then I ate some more. When I say the recipe makes about a dozen nuggets, I mean that in the end, that is about how many you will be able to bake. If, in your haste to get the dough in the oven and away from your grabby hands, you do not heed the warning about compacting it firmly between two spoons and the cookies look a little fall-apart-ish once baked, you can smish them together a little while they are still warm. Again, this is not the sort of thing I would want anyone to know that I recommend. I am just saying it can be done.
Lina and Naomi's version requires not one iota of improvement, but for giggles there is a variation below it that seems to have worked out fine.
naomi & lina's almond cookies
makes about a dozen
Turn oven on to 300 and line a baking sheet with parchment.
1 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup maple syrup
A good fat pinch of good salt
2 cardamom pods, shells removed
2 tsp water
Chop everything up in a food processor until it looks right and kind of sticks together. Try not to eat it all when raw. (Maybe make a double batch next time, eh?)
Put small spoonfuls, well-compacted between two teaspoons, onto the parchment-lined pan. Bake about 20 minutes or until they are a nice golden color. Remove them to a cooling rack. Eat them before anybody notices and start another batch right away.....
Variation on that theme:
Replace the maple syrup with honey. Replace the cardamom with a fat pinch of red pepper flakes, add a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger root and then proceed as above, in the vain hope that the kick of spice will slow you down before you eat it all.
Friday, April 13, 2012
First, a team of scientists has established credible data that weekly consumption of fish significantly reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease later in your life, so they counsel us to fire up the broiler and get busy with the filets.
Second, stocks of jack mackerel in the South Pacific have been depleted by approximately 60 percent in the last six years, ironically the same exact six years since the three nations that fish the area most heavily (Chile, Australia and New Zealand) established a coalition to protect the fishery. Depletion is due to, well, greed mainly, and due to the huge proportion of juvenile fish in the catch, caught before they can breed and repopulate the stock. In 2008, independent review showed that more than 60% of the mackerel caught were below the agreed-upon minimum size limit, and last year that percentage had increased to more than 90%. Increased! Awesome coalition, dudes. Rock on. Sicken yourself further here, if I have not ruined your day already.
OK, let me keep trying. Who is eating all that mackerel? Salmon. Farmed salmon. Most of the mackerel are ground up to produce fish meal for salmon farms, where the conversion ratio is approximately 4 pounds of mackerel to your dinner for 4 (or one pound of salmon.) 80 to 90% of the salmon consumed in the US is farmed, by the way, with disastrous results for natural populations.
I'm as attentive to resources like Good Catch and the Monterey Bay Aquarium list of "greener" fish choices as the next self-flagellating, confused, hungry, do-good wannabe. But the lists begin to lose some of their powers of persuasion for me when I hear a back story like this one. It's all relative, and the conditions of that relativity are unknown to most of us, who see "organic eco-farmed salmon" and think that sounds like it might be an OK choice. What is it that is supposed to matter, now that I think of it here in the store with the line forming behind me? Organic means no chemicals, so that's good because I think regular salmon is colored with synthetic dye and pumped up on pharmaceuticals, or was it farmed is better, because then natural stocks are not overfished, or was it that wild-caught that was the way to go, because there's something about farming that is bad? What did I read, again? (For reference, just file away that you can freely ignore the "organic" label in the fish market; there are no standards for organic certification for fish, it is not regulated at all and is entirely at the whim of the producer to slap the label on).
The thing of it is, these are tough times for the mackerel, and the native apple, and the honeybee, and for any human trying to source their food responsibly. What is good for our geriatric brains is hell on the planet; increasingly, it seems that what's good for the planet is for all of us to lie down very quietly and try not to work up an appetite or drive anywhere.
It's tempting to respond by throwing the hands upward. Too much to attend to! Gotta eat!
In times of dietary confusion, I always roll back to two things: something I can source near me, and vegetables. Thank goodness it's spring, and those twain are getting ready to meet again. Something from the dirt close by always soothes.
No recipe today. Just some sparks, to light the fire of the first foods of spring. What's ready where you are? (Forgive me but I don't really want to hear your answer on this one if you live west of, like, Pennsylvania, OK? You folks just answer in your heads.)
Here's your sparks:
These raw and sprightly asparagus, or these cooked and spicy ones, or this soup.
Make a radish salad, with slivered radishes and plenty of lemon and parsley and good coarse salt and pepper, or Indian-style, grated, with fresh grated ginger, lime juice and a spike of chile. What about a radish sandwich, using plenty of good butter and salt and dark bread? Or make radish hash browns! The rest of the world seems to be doing it.
Pickle a ramp.
Have good eggs? Make ricotta (there she goes again!) and a frittata thereafter, maybe using not only the mint called for, but the first chives and lovage and greens that are poking up.
Make soup from weeds (and that whey you have in the fridge now!).
Have a great weekend. Monday is cookie day! (No fish in the cookies.)
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
One of the nice things about the internet is that in a matter of seconds, you can determine that you have never had an original idea in your life. This is a process that used to take months, if not years. It doesn't matter if you think you have some wildly original idea. Even if you thought it up alone, on a mountaintop, in a lead-lined underground cave, with earmuffs on, using an abacus, one minute’s tarantella on google once you come back down will establish that a minimum of 49 other people have posted step-by-step instructions, a short YouTube video and a host of tweets regarding this item in the time it took you to take off your backpack.
This is all going to work out to your advantage, dear reader.
I used some of my milk glut from our party last weekend to make a batch of ricotta, and I had these artichoke and olive calzones to tell you about today, wherein I used the ricotta. But I kind of wasn’t going to emphasize that I made the ricotta. It still feels a little like the actions of a fringe-dweller, like the mention of it might cause some eye-rolling. Even though I made a really tasty soup with the leftover whey, and I wanted you to try that, too. Still, I was going to give it a low profile, this wacky, out-there making of cheese.
Then I saw Food52’s feature on What To Do With Your Leftover Whey.
Then I saw the New York Times Dining section was featuring Melissa Clark’s easy-peasy-this-is-so-mainstream-how-have-you-not-done-it-yet?-recipe for home-made ricotta.
Then, for poops and giggles, I did a search on the interwebs for “make ricotta.” There may still be a few fringe-dwelling activities that I engage in, but cheese-making is no longer one of them.
So I am just going to wait here a moment while you get psyched up to make a batch of ricotta. A HUGE undertaking (it will take you 30 minutes)! You need lots of exotic ingredients (milk and lemon)! Fancy equipment (pot, spoon, strainer)! Rest up, carbo-load, push fluids, off you go. Use this excellent recipe, or check out the buttermilk vs. lemon juice debate here (with links to more recipes) or try this one—zounds!—that uses the microwave and makes the process even faster.
Was that not so much fun? Snip, snap—you made cheese! You’re a cheese-maker.
Now, about that pizza dough….well, there is a world of opinion out there beyond my own slightly suspect and subjective one that making your own is not a deviant or time-consuming activity. And we all know it is sold by the knob at every grocery store, too.It's entirely up to you, of course. But if you are thinking of making your own, now that you have that golden carafe of whey to play with the time is truly ripe. Just substitute it for the water, and remember that you are best off starting it the night before you want it. Then, all the next day, no matter what you are doing, you can be thinking "I am making pizza right now. Here I sit in this meeting, and yet, I am working on dinner at the same time."
As for the calzone, the ones I produced were a homely bunch, and they detonated when I baked them. Producing them ate up most of the time I had set aside, and I had some serious doubts about posting this at all. But I bailed by using the remaining filling and remaining dough to make a white pizza, which was a snap to throw together. Your call. I know which exercise I will repeat next time....
artichoke & green olive & ricotta pizza/calzone
2# of pizza dough, home-made or store-bought
1 # fresh ricotta (about 2 cups)
6 ozs fresh mozzarella, cubed (about a cup and a half)
1/2 to 2/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
2 T chopped fresh basil
2 T olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
a generous handful of pitted green olives, coarsely chopped
about 8 water-packed or thawed frozen artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
2-3 tsp finely chopped preserved lemon, or a pinch of fresh lemon zest, finely grated
fresh black pepper and sea salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees to bake the pizzas. I bake mine on a baking sheet, not a pizza stone, and the results are fine, so don't sweat the lack of a stone. I have no stone, I have no peel, and yet I produce a pizza.
Combine the cheeses and the basil in a medium bowl. (Start with the lesser amount of parmesan, and reserve the remainder).
Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat, and toss in the minced garlic. Stir once or twice, then dump in the preserved lemon, stir, then the artichokes and olives. Sauté until nicely fragrant, about two minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Mix into the cheese. Taste the mixture and adjust the flavor to your liking with more parmesan, a twist of pepper, and possibly some salt if your olives are not terribly salty. I used a mondo, slightly oily and extremely salty olive from the antipasto bar at the grocery store, and between those and the remaining salty items in the mix, needed no more salt.
Roll out the dough for two pizzas. Divide the filling between the two crusts and, if you like, sprinkle any remaining parmesan on top. Bake 15 minutes or so, until the crust is nicely golden and the topping is dotted with golden spots as well. If you bake on a sheet, you can slip the baked pizza onto the oven rack directly for a minute, to completely crisp the bottom crust--but don't tell anyone that I do it, OK? It's one of those wacky workarounds that we all use privately but wouldn't want to get out.