The grand thing about cooking is you can eat your mistakes. -Julia Child

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Anna's Simple Summer Gazpacho


Wow, talk about a food that doesn't photograph well.  Well, I'm sure someone with more skills than I have could do a better job.  But amateur me had a hard time with this one, so hopefully this picture here looks appetizing to you.  Because the dish itself is really yummy.

Summer is finally here.  Tomatoes have been very slow in making their way to our farmer's markets here in NY, but I think all of you down south have had these ready and ripe for quite some time now.  In fact I know that's the case, as my friend Anna in DC told me weeks ago about gazpacho she made with her farmer's market finds.  She shared her recipe with me in a random online chat; the below recipe is my interpretation of her informal directions.

Gazpacho is a traditional Spanish chilled soup.  Like many "traditional" recipes, many variations pop up.  This one keeps it simple, blending all the ingredients together to create a uniform yet chunky consistency.  Some people prefer to chop some vegetables by hand and add them to a blended base.  Some add bread crumbs for texture and consistency.  But in the summer when you probably want to minimize your time spent in the kitchen, simplicity wins.  The taste isn't sacrificed, trust me.

Anna's Simple Summer Gazpacho
Serves 4
Printable version

1 1/2 lbs. tomatoes (about 4 medium vine tomatoes)
1/2 English cucumber (or 1 regular cucumber)
1 orange bell pepper (or 1/2 red pepper and 1/2 green pepper)
1/2 red onion
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar, plus more as needed

Cut all the vegetables into large chunks.
Add everything to the jar of a blender. Pulse until vegetables are cut into small pieces.
Blend for a few seconds until mixture reaches desired consistency.
Taste mixture; add more salt or vinegar if more "tang" is needed.
Pour into serving bowls and drizzle a small amount of olive oil on top of each bowl.

Verdict?  Refreshing veggie goodness.   It is good to serve right away or can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days.  Note that the garlic flavor will intensify after a while.  But that's a good thing.  Serve this as a starter or along with something salty (and maybe crunchy?) for a light meal.  A very light meal - one serving weighs in at less than 80 calories.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Chocolate-Kissed Angel Food Cake


When I was young, I don't remember my grandmother baking very often.  This was the 80s, everyone was busy learning to microwave!  Or at least she was.  Don't get me wrong - there were still several grandmotherly treats issued:  small candy bars from my grandfather's stash (Snickers!), caramel and butterscotch hard candies (Werther's!), gum (Freedent!), trips to Dairy Queen (Mr. Misty slush!), even the occasional pan of brownies.  But I have this one vague memory of a true baking marvel - my first angel food cake.

Or that's at least what I think I remember.  I have the worst memory ever.  (Apparently for everything but prepackaged food products.)  But when I think angel food cake, I think grandma, so I'm going to just fill in the blanks here and imagine that we baked one of these together and had a special moment.  I think the story went something like this:  We were in the cake mix section of the Kroger or some other southern grocery chain, and my grandmother asked me what kind of cake I'd like to bake.  I chose angel food cake because it had the prettiest name.  Doesn't angel food sound better than just "yellow"?  It baked up big and tall and fluffy good.

Ever since then I've loved the stuff.  The adult in me can look past the name and love it for what it is - a light, fluffy cake that is fun to eat.  Added bonus - it is lower in fat and calories than most other cakes, so a slice isn't going to derail your diet.  This version involves the addition of flecks of chocolate, giving the interior the speckled appearance of cookies and cream ice cream.  And oh yeah, no box mix needed.

Chocolate-Kissed Angel Food Cake
Adapted from Ina Garten
Printable version

1 1/3 cups cake flour (make your own if needed)
2 cups sugar, divided
1 1/2 cups egg whites, room temperature (from 10-12 eggs)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/2 cup grated semisweet chocolate, plus extra for garnish (grate a chocolate bar with a cheese grater or Microplane)
powdered sugar, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift together flour and 1/2 cup of the sugar.  Sift the same flour/sugar mix one more time and set aside.
Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on high speed (or using your own arms and a whisk) beat egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar together in the largest bowl you have until mixture just barely reaches the firm peaks stage (about one minute).
Slowly add the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar with mixer on medium speed.  Return to high speed and beat for a few more minutes until mixture is billowy and shiny.  (Admire how pretty it is!)
Whisk in the vanilla.
Sift 1/4 of the flour mixture over the egg mixture and fold it in gently with a rubber spatula.  (See the link on the side of the page for a good demonstration of proper folding technique.)  Fold in the rest of the flour mixture in three parts, sifting flour prior to addition.
Fold in the grated chocolate.
Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan.  Use your spatula to smooth the top.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until cake will spring back after a gentle touch.
Remove cake from oven and invert pan on cooling rack.  (If your pan does not have those helpful prongs to keep your cake elevated, place the pan upside down on top of a bottle with a long neck like a wine bottle.)
When the cake is cool, gently run a knife along the sides of the cake and lift the center portion of the tube pan out of the sides.  Run a knife along the bottom of the cake to separate it from the base of the pan.  Invert cake and  remove pan base.
Dust top with chocolate shavings and powdered sugar.  Serve.

Verdict?  Such a good take on angel food cake.  Ina's original recipe calls for a thick, chocolatey glaze to be poured over the cake.  Since I'm not a huge fan of chocolate this seemed like overkill to me and I didn't make it, but if that seems like your cup of tea then I urge you to follow the link above and check out the original recipe.  My pictured cake also uses a scant 1/4 of chocolate.  I was worried that the cake would be too chocolatey for me to properly enjoy as an angel food cake so I went light on it.  My concerns were relatively unfounded, though, so feel free to use up to Ina's recommended 1/2 cup.  This was great with a scoop of coffee ice cream on the side.  Yum.....

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cherry Popovers


Another AZEats recipe.

Do you know what a popover is? Tell me. Mmm hmm. Oh really?

Okay, so maybe you're right. But maybe you, like me before baking today's recipe, had only some sort of vague idea what a popover was, just knowing it was something doughy and yummy. Which is, of course, correct. But there's more to it than that as I learned while trying to figure out a recipe.

A popover is an eggy batter baked up until it puffs and "pops" up over the top of the baking dish. Popovers can be made in their own little popover tins, or in a muffin pan. The finished popover should have a nice crusty exterior and a just barely doughy interior (think the texture of the inside of a french cruller donut).

Anyhow, cherries are in season both here and in Azerbaijan. My friend there told me they're big and pretty and so I had to figure out something to make with them. Cherry popovers came to mind, I don't know why. And that is why I had to go figure out exactly what a popover was and how to make them. I was happy with the results and hopefully you will be, too.

Cherry Popovers
Adapted from Maida Heatter's famous 1966 recipe
Makes 12 small popovers (in a muffin tin, probably more like 8 if you use a popover tin)
Printable version

1 heaping cup of cherries, pitted and halved (about 24 cherries or 1/3 lb)
3 teaspoons sugar, divided
3 eggs
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (plus more butter for greasing the pan)
1 cup flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash of cinnamon

In a small bowl, mix cherries and 1 teaspoon sugar. Set aside.
Grease bottom and sides of muffin cups.
Beat the eggs. Add in the milk and melted butter.
In a small bowl, blend together flour, salt, remaining sugar, and cinnamon. Stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture a small amount at a time. Beat until just barely smooth.
Divide the cherries among the muffin cups. Pour the batter over the cherries, ensuring there is an equal amount in each muffin cup.
Bake for about 50 minutes. Try not to open the oven during that time to retain heat/steam. Popovers should have risen and the outsides should be somewhat dry. Remove from oven and use a knife to cut a few small slits in the top each popover.
Return to oven and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Cool and serve.

Verdict? It was quite a surprise when I took these out of the oven. They did actually puff up big and tall like they were supposed to, despite the fact that I have to keep opening my oven to make sure the temperature hasn't suddenly skyrocketed as my picky oven likes to do. I know those of you in Azerbaijan don't have the most user-friendly ovens. Just do as I did and keep a close eye on the popovers - watch for them browning and remove them from the oven when they've puffed and the outsides look crisp, don't worry about the inside.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Navajo Fry Bread & Navajo Tacos


When I was 11 I spent a summer in New Mexico with my mom. She was intent on soaking up as much of the culture of the region as possible, so we took a lot of day trips. Many of those trips took us to the nearby Navajo reservation where I quickly developed a love of fry bread.

Fry bread (spelled as either two words or just one - "frybread") is a food that seems to be common to many American Indian tribes. It is what it sounds like - fried bread. Dough is formed by hand into a flat patty-like shape and then fried until golden on both sides. The way I remembered it, it tasted just slightly sweet, like some really yummy white bread and a funnel cake had a baby.

Fry bread will win no health awards. In fact, this article in Smithsonian Magazine basically calls out fry bread as one of the causes of obesity among American Indians. Regardless, I loved it. My favorite way to eat it was in a Navajo taco - fry bread dressed up with beans, lettuce, tomato, and other fixins. Fry bread is also great topped with honey as a sweet treat.

Navajo Fry Bread and Tacos
Printable Version

Navajo Fry Bread
Makes 4 pieces

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 powdered milk
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon warm water
corn, canola, or vegetable oil for frying

Add dry ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to blend. Turn processor on and slowly pour water in the pour spout until a ball of dough forms. The dough should be just moist enough to pull away from the sides and stay together in one ball, but still be sticky to the touch.
Remove dough to a lightly oiled bowl and let rest while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Dough should rest for at least 10 minutes.
When ready to fry dough, pour oil 1/2 deep into a large skillet. Heat oil to 350-365 degrees.
Cut dough into four equal portions. On a floured work surface, use your hands to pat each dough piece into a circle about 8 inches in diameter. You can also use a rolling pin. Use your thumb to create a depression in the very center of the flattened dough.
When oil is ready, gently slip the formed dough into the oil. Use a spatula to press down the dough to allow oil to coat the top. Fry about 2 minutes until the bottom is browned, then flip to brown the other side. Remove to a plate covered with paper towels. Fry bread may be kept warm in a 200 degree oven until ready to serve.

Navajo Tacos
Makes 4 tacos

4 pieces fry bread, recipe above
Southwest-Style Black Beans, recipe below
1/4 head of lettuce, shredded
1 tomato, chopped
1/4 onion, chopped
any other taco toppings you like (shredded cheese, cilantro, sour cream, guacamole, etc.)

Top warm fry bread with beans, lettuce, tomato, onion, and any other topping you wish. Eat open face with a fork and knife or use your hands and eat taco folded in half.

Southwest-Style Black Beans

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
one 15 ounce can black beans
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 teaspoon tomato paste (optional, use if you have on hand)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
dash dried oregano
dash ground cayenne pepper

In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm olive oil. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is transparent.
Add black beans and vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add tomato paste and seasonings and stir to combine.
Reduce heat to low and simmer while preparing remaining ingredients and frying bread.

Absolute yum. I greedily managed to eat two of these in one sitting. I napped shortly thereafter. But seriously - I lucked upon a really tasty recipe. The bread had that faint sweetness I remember, courtesy of the milk powder. It puffed up nicely, regardless of whether I shaped the bread by hand or used a rolling pin. My beans recipe might not be super authentic, but they were quite tasty. Definitely give this a try when you're in the mood for something comforting and filling.

Frybread recipe inspired by:
Manataka American Indian Council
What's Cooking America
Emeril Lagasse

Monday, July 6, 2009

Cherry-Vanilla Trifle


So I had a bit of a bakingsplosion the other night.  I was making cupcakes and my oven decided that it preferred baking things at 375 instead of 325.  Which meant my cupcakes puffed up too high too fast and spilled out of their little muffin cups.  They looked like giant portabella mushrooms.  I didn't have time to bake another batch so I just trimmed off the excess and iced them and called it a day.  But that meant I had a bowl full of cake scraps, and I can't bring myself to throw edible food away, so I needed to figure out what to do with 2 cups of crumbled cake.

Trifle, of course.  Trifle doesn't care if your cake comes out ugly, misshapen, etc.  The cake really isn't the star here, but just one layer of tastiness that comes together to make a pretty dessert.  Use any kind of cake, cake-like cookies, brownies, or other baked-goods leftovers you have on hand.  The other layers are usually pudding, fruit, and whipped cream.  Cherries are in season here and I couldn't resist buying some of the pretty red orbs at the farmer's market, so they were the chosen fruit.

Cherry-Vanilla Trifle
By Me
Serves 2 

Printable Version

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups cake crumbles, ladyfingers, madelines, etc.
Cherry-Vanilla Compote, recipe follows
Pastry Cream, recipe follows

Chill mixing bowl and whisk/mixer beaters.  Pour chilled cream into bowl and beat just until soft peaks form.  (You can tell this by lifting your whisk out of the cream and turning it upside down.  If the cream holds a peaked shape but folds a bit at the top and/or moves if you lightly tap the whisk - this is "soft peaks".  If the peaks don't budge when you tap the whisk, then the "stiff peaks" stage has been reached.)  Add the vanilla extract and sugar and beat until barely at the "stiff peaks" stage.  Be careful not to overwhip!  Cream will jump from soft peaks to stiff very quickly.
In individual clear dessert dishes, spread about 1/3 of the cake crumbles to make a layer.  Top with a layer of cherry compote, then a layer of pastry cream.  Repeat the layers and top with whipped cream.

Cherry-Vanilla Compote
By Me

1 lb cherries, pitted and halved
juice of one lemon
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cointreau
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, bring cherries, lemon juice and sugar to a boil.  Boil for 5 minutes, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, until slightly thickened.  In a small bowl, stir together cointreau and cornstarch.  Add mixture to cherries and stir.  Return to a boil and boil for one minute.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.  Set aside to cool.

Pastry Cream
Adapted from Bakewise (currently my favorite baking book)

1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean (seeds scraped out and added simultaneously)
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
5 large egg yolks

Add the milk, cream, and vanilla to a medium saucepan.  Warm over medium heat until mixture begins to steam.
In a second saucepan, stir together sugar, salt, and cornstarch.
Pour the milk mixture into the second saucepan, whisking to combine.
Place this second saucepan over the heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Make sure to scrape the bottom while stirring.  Continue to stir and cook/boil until custard thickens.  (My favorite quote from the original recipe applies here: "This will be very thick and go blop, blop....")
Remove from heat and cool.

Verdict?  So good.  Absolutely flavor-filled yet very comforting.  The pastry cream is like a richer, smoother, and creamier version of pudding that really pulls everything together.  The cherry compote holds together well enough to make a pretty layer.  And you can never go wrong when there is cake and whipped cream involved.  In my opinion, at least.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Beet Carpaccio Salad


So you may notice that some of my recipes posted near each other in time have some of the same ingredients. Like the Carrot and Parsnip Salad and the Fettuccine with Parsnip Ribbons. Or the Spinach and Brown Rice Pilaf with Feta and the Zucchini Pancakes (which contain feta). The reason for this is that I often wind up using only part of a specific ingredient, and then go in search of something else to use the leftovers in. That is what happened with the beets, and is why this is your second beet recipe this week. Thankfully the golden beet is more versatile than one might imagine, and lends itself to some creative cooking.

Creative is just what I'd call this recipe, as carpaccio usually involves raw beef, not cooked beets. In the original dish, beef is pounded or sliced very thinly and served raw, topped with a mustard or tangy vinaigrette sauce. As best I can tell, that is - I've never had the dish myself, and vegetarian me never will. Today's beet version plays off of the carpaccio idea by having you make very thin slices of roasted beet, and topping them with a tapenade-like tangy caper and onion mixture. The whole thing is served atop a bed of peppery baby arugula.

Beet Carpaccio Salad
Adapted from A Veggie Venture and Bon Appetit
Serves 4

Printable Version

2 medium golden beets
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
4 tablespoons red onion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons capers
5 tablespoons chives, chopped
2 hard cooked eggs, chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces baby arugula

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Wash and scrub beets. Place in a roasting pan and coat with one tablespoon olive oil and one teaspoon salt. Roast in oven until outside of beets will yield easily to a knife, about an hour. Remove from oven and let cool. When cool enough to handle, use a table knife to peel away the beets' skin. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, cut beets into very thin slices. Set aside.
In a small bowl, stir together onion, capers, chives, eggs, remaining tablespoon of olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.
Spread the arugula out on the four serving plates. Arrange the beets in a circle on top of the arugula. Place a generous spoonful of the egg mixture in the center of the beets. Drizzle a small amount of extra virgin olive oil atop plate, if desired.

Verdict? Love this. If only because it is one of the more creative/innovative/unique dishes I've made in a while. Serve this as a light meal on its own, or as an impressive starter for a main course with bold flavors.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mediterranean Orzo Salad


So here's something you won't hear often:  This is a recipe inspired by one of my favorite dishes from my college dining hall.  I will say that apparently our Dining Services has won many awards, so the food was probably on average slightly better than most other college's food.  Not that it didn't stop us from complaining at the time.

But this dish was one thing I was always happy to see on the menu.  It is simple in concept - orzo, tomatoes, spinach, and feta - but hard to get the flavors just right, as I discovered from trying to make this several times.  But I think I got it down...  For the uninitiated, orzo is like what you'd get if macaroni and rice had a baby.  It is pasta in a grain shape, about 1/2 inch long. 

Mediterranean Orzo Salad
Serves 6
by Me, inspired by PUDS
Printable Version

1/2 pound orzo
6 ounces fresh spinach
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved if large
1/3 pound feta, crumbled
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil  (or fresh if you have it, see below)
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Add orzo to a pot containing generously salted boiling water.  Cook according to directions on package.
Place spinach in a large colander.  When orzo has finished cooking, pour the pot's contents over the spinach, allowing the boiling water to wilt the spinach.  Shake out all liquid and pour orzo and spinach into a large bowl.
Stir in all remaining ingredients.  Taste for salt.  If feta or lemon was particularly mild you may wish to add up to an additional tablespoon white wine vinegar.

Verdict?  Well, you know I like this lots.  I hope it isn't just my nostalgia for college days talking.  Give this a try and let me know!  This is a great dish to bring to a party, especially in these summer months where you want something light but also filling.  I highly recommend you try this with fresh basil if you have it available - use about 1/4 cup and either cut it into fine ribbons chiffonade-style, or tear it into pieces and stir it in.  That will really take the dish to the next level, I promise you.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Golden Beets and Brussels Sprouts


This post goes out to my friend Adam, who shares my fondness for golden beets. They really are quite special.  Well, I suppose beets are pretty neat in general.  They look so unassuming in the stores, often stripped of their greenery tops and looking brownish from growing up in dirt.  But take them home and scrub away the soil, and you will be rewarded with their goodness.  Golden beets are even more special, as they won't stain your hands when working with them (a big plus, trust me), and taste (at least to me) a bit more buttery/subtly sweet than their crimson cousins.

This is the first recipe I tried them in, found after randomly picking up both golden beets and brussels sprouts (something I haven't eaten since I was a child) at the store one day.  I discovered a love for the beets, and rediscovered brussels sprouts, all in this one very simple dish: oven roasted beets meet parboiled brussels sprouts accompanied by shallots and herbs.

Golden Beets and Brussels Sprouts
Adapted from We [Heart] Food (another great blog name, no?), via Simply Recipes
Serves 3-4
Printable version

3 medium/large golden beets
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
kosher salt
10 large, fresh brussels sprouts
2 shallots, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped (or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Wash and scrub beets.  Place in a roasting pan and coat with one tablespoon olive oil and one teaspoon salt.  Roast in oven until outside of beets will yield easily to a knife, about an hour.  Remove from oven and let cool.  When cool enough to handle, use a table knife to peel away the beets' skin.  Cut beets into cubes about 1" to 1 1/2" on each side.
Remove outer layers of brussels sprouts until leaves appear tightly bunched and clean.  Trim bottoms of stems.
Fill a small saucepan halfway with generously salted water and bring to a boil.  Add the brussels sprouts and cook for 2-3 minutes, until almost fully cooked.  Drain and let cool.  When cool enough to handle, cut sprouts in half.
Add 1/2 tablespoon of oil to a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the shallots and cook until soft and translucent, being careful not to brown them.  Add a second 1/2 tablespoon of oil and raise the heat to medium-high.  Place the brussels sprouts in the skillet cut side down.  Let cook just until the surfaces begin to brown. 
Add the beets, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and black pepper.  Stir to combine.  Let cook for an additional minute or two.

Verdict?  A great tasting, healthy dish that is so simple to make.  I think it would also be great with a dollop of goat cheese on it.  I served it alongside some baked tofu.  I'm sure you can think of many other things that would make great company for the beets n' sprouts, too.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summertime Cabbage and Kidney Bean Salad


Another AZEats recipe.

It is hot. Very hot. In Azerbaijan, that is. Here in NY we're having an extended period of early spring-like cold rainy gray days. Never mind that it is June and people elsewhere in the country are eating peaches!

But my friend abroad is hot, so despite the fact that I had a carrot and parsnip latke recipe to post for her, I'm going to skip that and not make her fry anything in this heat. So here is a salad recipe to enjoy using the cabbage that has apparently just come into season in Azerbaijan. For those of us in the U.S. - this recipe will work well as a summery side dish to serve at BBQs or elsewhere in place of our typically mayo-heavy slaws.

Summertime Cabbage and Kidney Bean Salad
By Me
Serves a small army
Printable Version

1/2 head green cabbage
2-3 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 pound carrot
1 green bell pepper
2-3 scallions
1/4 cup (gently packed) cilantro leaves
1 15 ounce can kidney beans (or an equivalent amount of dried beans)
5 tablespoons orange juice
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
2 oranges, peeled, and cut into membrane-free wedges

(If using dried beans, soak overnight and boil until softened through. Drain and cool.)
Using a knife or a food processor, shred the cabbage into thin strips. Put cabbage in a large bowl and toss with 1 teaspoon salt. Let sit while preparing the remaining ingredients.
Finely chop the carrot, bell pepper, and scallion. Add them to the bowl with the cabbage. Coarsely chop the cilantro and add to the bowl. Add the kidney beans and stir to combine.
In a small bowl, whisk together orange juice, cider vinegar, olive oil, remaining salt, and red pepper flakes if using. Pour over vegetables and toss to evenly coat. Arrange orange slices on top. Serve immediately, or refrigerate overnight for even better flavor.

Verdict? Refreshing and tangy good. The orange and cilantro together really say "summer" to me. I really wasn't sure this recipe would work with the kidney beans in it but am very pleased with the result. As mentioned in the instructions, this is even better the next day, after the flavors have had a chance to meld. So prepare it a day in advance if you can, but it is still great when eaten right away.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Oatmeal Everything Cookies


Have you seen those TV show themed cookbooks?  Like The Sopranos Family Cookbook or...okay, that's the only one I could name.  Until today.  Apparently there is a Star Wars cookbook.  Its feature recipe?  Wookiee cookies.

I'd never be one to take a TV-themed cookbook seriously.  But today's recipe originated with that Wookiee cookies recipe.  An adaptation of the recipe appeared on a forum I was browsing and jumped out at me as having potential.  I, in turn, modified it for my taste and was very pleased with the results.  I used whole wheat flour and made it more of an oatmeal cookie than what it was originally (a double chocolate chip cookie). 
I chose to use a combination of the chips that I had on hand - white chips, peanut butter chips, and semi-sweet chocolate chips.  This is why I call them Oatmeal Everything Cookies - I threw everything I had on hand in them and it worked.  Feel free to do the same when you make them; add raisins, shredded coconut, whatever strikes your fancy.  I will say I was quite happy with my assortment of chips, as each bite had a slightly different taste depending on which chips you got.  Note also that this cookie has a respectable amount of cinnamon in it.  I think this really is what gives the cookie its standout flavor.  It doesn't scream cinnamon, but gives the cookie a bit more of a complex flavor than you usual sugar/flour/oat combination does.

Oatmeal Everything Cookies
Printable Version

1 cup all-purpose flour (4 ounces by weight)
1 cup whole-wheat flour (4 1/4 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, 1/2 cup white chips, and 1/2 cup chocolate chips (or 2 cups of any other add-in you desire)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Mix together flours, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside.
Cream butter and sugars until fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla extract and stir until combined.
Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl and continue stirring until well blended.  Stir in the oats.  Fold in the chips.
Scoop dough into balls about the size of a heaping tablespoon.  Place on a baking sheet with at least two inches between each cookie.
Bake for approximately 9 minutes or until cookie appears set.  Let cool on baking sheet for at least a minute, then move to cooling rack.

Verdict?  Surprisingly wonderful.  I think you'll really enjoy them.  The cookie has the ideal consistency (in my eyes) - crisp edges, chewy center.  And this cookie holds up well for several days - if stored in an airtight container they should be good for a week. 

One note - you want to bake the cookies until the tops stop looking doughy and the edges look firmly set.  Handle the cookies gently when they're still warm as they're quite crumbly then.  But once they've cooled down to room temperature they handle much better.  I know it is hard to not sample your cookies warm; I just wanted to warn you so you won't be alarmed when that warm cookie falls apart in your hand after stealing it from the cooling rack early!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Crock-Pot Yogurt


They're alive!  Bacteria.  Everywhere.  Doesn't sound tasty, right?  But this is a post about awesome bacteria.  Yogurt cultures.  "Live and active" as the yogurt tubs tout.  This is all about the life's work of those little buggers: making us yogurt.  In a Crock-Pot.  With about two minutes worth of (human) work.

I don't remember how I stumbled across this, but the idea hails entirely from Stephanie, the self-proclaimed "Crock-Pot Lady" over at her blog A Year of CrockPotting.  That post has spawned many comments and other blog posts, with people reporting on results of their various experiments such as using lowfat milk, soy milk, or even coconut milk as starters, different ideas for how to thicken the yogurt, etc.

There are two ingredients - milk and yogurt.  (Yes, yogurt - we need the first round of those live cultures to come from somewhere.)  Buy plain (as in sugar and flavor free) yogurt from the store for your first batch; use your own yogurt for subsequent batches.  Some of the various websites recommend Stonyfield Farm brand for your starter yogurt, claiming it has a higher level of active cultures.  That's what I used and had success on my first try so I'll recommend you do the same.   As for the milk - I used 2% and got a reasonably thickened yogurt.  You can, of course, use whole milk if you don't mind the extra calories.

Incredible Crock-Pot Yogurt
Conceived of by Stephanie at A Year of CrockPotting
Makes approximately 1/2 gallon
Printable Version

1/2 gallon milk
1/2 cup yogurt
Optional - 1 envelope nonfat dry milk powder

Pour milk into Crock-Pot.  Cover and heat on low for 2 1/2 hours.
Turn off/unplug Crock-Pot.  Let cool for 3 hours.
Remove a small amount of the warmed milk and pour into a bowl.  Whisk in the yogurt and return the mixture to the pot.  Stir to combine.  Optional - stir in envelope of dry milk powder.
Wrap Crock-Pot in a heavy towel and let sit for at least six hours.  Longer periods will produce a more dense, tart yogurt.
Refrigerate yogurt to store; it will keep for about two weeks.

Verdict?  Amazing.  The yogurt was very creamy and mildly tart.  None of that artificial aftertaste you get from the store bought stuff.  None of the weird gluey consistency or artificially thickened texture.  You can tell that this is the real stuff.  I'm not going back to store-bought.  There's no reason to, what with the fact that this can be made overnight.  This is cheaper, super easy,  tastes better, uses less plastic, and is kind of fun!

If you prefer sweetened, flavored yogurt, then what is nice about making your own is that you can control exactly what goes in - i.e., no artificial colors or flavors.  Go beyond just sugar and try honey or maple syrup.  To add fruit flavors just puree the fruit and stir it in.  Or even easier - just add a spoonful of your favorite jam to each serving of yogurt and stir it in as you go.  The flavors you can make are basically limitless.

And check out the savings:  1/2 gallon of Stonyfield yogurt (2 quart containers) is $12 at my local store.  1/2 gallon of milk is $1.90, an envelope of milk powder is $1, making 1/2 gallon of homemade yogurt more than 4 times cheaper than store-bought.  With the completion of my third batch I have now more than made back the $20 I spent to buy the Crock-Pot.  Excellent.

Update:  I just finished making my third batch of yogurt and still am very happy with it.  Using just 2% milk yields a somewhat thin but still quite good  yogurt.  You have two options for thickening your yogurt:  1) add the packet of milk powder as described in the recipe, or 2) strain out the whey.  To do this, line a strainer with cheesecloth and fill with your yogurt.  Set the strainer atop a large bowl and refrigerate for several hours.  The whey (the sticky liquid that rises to the top of your little yogurt containers) will drain out, leaving you with something like Greek-style yogurt, slightly thicker than sour cream.  This has a great mouth feel, very velvety on the tongue.  You can also stir back in some of the whey later if you feel the yogurt is too thick.  Save the rest of the whey to use in place of water in baking.  If you're going to stir in fruit or liquid flavoring, I recommend you use the straining approach to thickening, as the powder-thickened yogurt will begin to thin the more you stir it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Scallion and Tofu Tortillita


I love wandering through the produce aisle at my food coop, as I always see something new.  The new discovery this week was something labeled "purple scallion."  Always a sucker for things in color, I buy a bunch.  I may be imagining things, but I think it has a bit more of a mild taste than the scallion I'm used to.

The dish I chose to use the scallion in - called a tortillita - was inspired by this NY Times article.  I love regular tortillas - not the flour/corn flat bready things you get with Mexican food, but the Spanish eggy version.  The tortillita is almost like a cross between a flour tortilla and an egg tortilla.  Almost.  Its unique taste comes from a unique ingredient - chick pea/garbanzo bean flour.  This is actually easier to find in stores than you might think.  I was even able to find it at my neighborhood mini-grocery.  Bob's Red Mill is the brand I found, so look around your store's section of their products. 

Modifications from the original:  This recipe just screams out for changes.  Look at the tortillita as a way to make use of leftovers in you refrigerator.  Although my recipe calls for baked tofu, you omnivores can use cooked meat/fish/seafood instead; the veg-heads can seitan or tempeh instead.  And you need not limit the vegetable to just scallion, try it with anything you have on hand from regular onions to leafy greens.  I think thin asparagus would also be great.  Change up the herbs you use, too - use whatever you have on hand, get creative!  Also - if you have any gluten-sensitive friends, this is a great dish to make for them, just replace the regular flour called for in the recipe with more chick pea flour.  (I actually think I might like the flavor of the tortillita made only with garbanzo flour better, though it is a bit less chewy.)  It is great for vegans, too~

I also thought this could use a tiny bit of an herbed mayonnaise sauce, because when I was in Spain I lived in an area where folks enjoyed their tortillas with mayo and now the two are inextricably linked in my mind.

Scallion and Tofu Tortillita
Inspired by Mark Bittman
Serves 4
Printable Version

1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup scallion, chopped
1/2 cup baked tofu, cut into small pieces
4 tablespoons parsley, chopped
3 tablespoons mayonnaise (regular or vegan)
olive oil, as needed

In a medium bowl, combine flours, salt, and pepper.  Stir in about 3/4 a cup of water, a little at a time, until the mixture forms a somewhat thin batter.  Use more water as needed; if you are using all garbanzo bean flour, you will need a bit over a cup of water.  Set aside and allow batter to rest as long as you can, up to an hour or two if available.
Meanwhile, chop the garlic, tofu, and herbs.  Stir 1 tablespoon of the parsley into the mayonnaise and set aside.
When ready to prepare tortillitas, lightly coat the bottom of a large non-stick skillet with olive oil.  Heat skillet over medium-high heat until oil shimmers.  Add green garlic, tofu, and remaining parsley into batter and stir to combine.
Pour half the batter into the prepared skillet and use a spoon to spread the tofu around to make sure it is evenly distributed.
Cook until edges are set, about 2-3 minutes.  Use a large spatula to flip the tortillita.  Cook other side for another 2-3 minutes more, until bottom is set.  Serve immediately, topped with a dollop of the sauce.

Verdict?  The best thing to happen to leftovers since the microwave.  Seriously.  It takes very little time to make this.  Although I recommend letting the batter sit for a while, you certainly won't lose much if you just go ahead and cook it right away.  This is a great way to take a few scraps in the refrigerator and make a great light meal, especially when served with a vinaigrette-topped green salad incorporating the herbs you chose for the tortillita...yum.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Fettuccine with Parsnip Ribbons and Roasted Broccoli


I had four parsnips left in my refrigerator after the Roasted Parsnip and Carrot Salad. What to do with them? I mentioned in that previous parsnip recipe that most of the internet search results I was getting for parsnip recipes were coming back with soups and purees. Somehow I got lucky this time and stumbled across something that looked amazingly good.

The recipe involved parsnip ribbons. The idea seemed interesting - thin strips of that earthy peppery crunchy veggie mixed in with pasta. I didn't have all the ingredients on hand to make the original, nor did I want to per se (as it called for squid ink pasta and I'm definitely not interested in going that route), but I took the parsnip ribbon idea and ran with that.

I opted to mix them with some fettuccine, as I thought the parsnip ribbons would mix nicely with the ribbon-like pasta. I used a quality rainbow fettuccine, which added a nice color to the dish.  Going up a level from the pasta in a box to the nicer stuff in a bag paid off in terms of texture of the fettuccine; it was able to be cooked al dente without being gummy.  I recommend it.  I also thought some oven-roasted broccoli might be a nice compliment to the parsnip. I didn't opt for much in the way of sauce, instead relying on butter, quality olive oil, and garlic provide the flavor. Oh yeah, and the veggies, too. Believe me, they stepped up to the challenge - along with the dusting of Parmesan given the final dish, the flavor was more than present. Not in an "in your face" kind of way, but subtle goodness.

Fettuccine with Parsnip Ribbons and Roasted Broccoli
Inspired by (great blog name, no?)

Serves 4
Click for printable version

1/2 bunch broccoli, cut into small florets
3 cloves garlic (minced), divided
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
kosher salt
about 6 ounces fettuccine
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
5 scallions, sliced
2 parsnips
1/8 teaspoon chili flakes
1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced (or whatever you have available - basil, oregano, or parsley)
Shredded Parmesan cheese, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
In a medium bowl, mix together the broccoli florets, one clove of minced garlic, one tablespoon olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Pour the broccoli into a roasting pan and cook until softened, about 10-12 minutes. Set aside.
In generously salted water, prepare fettuccine as directed on package. Drain when it just reaches al dente. (It is important to not overcook the pasta with this recipe.)
Clean and peel parsnips. To prepare parsnip "ribbons," run vegetable peeler along full lenth of parsnip, pressing in as you go. Make ribbons from both parsnips, avoiding any woody cores you may discover.
When pasta and broccoli are almost ready, heat 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add scallions and cook for a minute. Add remaining two cloves of garlic, parsnip ribbons, 1/8 teaspoon salt, chili flakes, and a generous pinch of black pepper. Cook until ribbons are softened, making sure garlic does not brown. Stir in broccoli and sage. When pasta is ready, add pasta to the center of the pan and stir or gently toss everything together to combine. Taste for salt and serve, topped with grated Parmesan.

Verdict? Okay, well, everything I post on here at least merits an mmmm/yummy/other exclamatory remark. But seriously - this is good. In an unexpected way. Literally. Since the parsnips are shaved thin, you get mouthfuls of both pasta and parsnip and are never sure which is coming when. It keeps your taste buds guessing. Go ahead and give them this experience, they'll be happy and so will you.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Roasted Parsnip and Carrot Salad with Pomegranate


AZEats recipe #3: So I'm reading over the list of foods my friend in Azerbaijan said she had available and one jumps out at me - parsnips. I think I have only been served parsnips once in my entire life, and I couldn't tell you what they taste like to save my life. Oh wait, those were turnips. Yeah, zero parsnip meals. So of course - I must tackle the parsnip challenge.

But first I had to buy some. I go to the grocery store and see some white root looking things. Could they be it? No signage. I look closer and see "parsley root" - close but not quite. Eventually I find them (signed), looking like a pile of carrots that Bunnicula attacked. I realize that I don't know what to look for in a parsnip. They all look a bit blah. I pick out the firm ones with fewer obvious defects and bring them home...where they sit for over a week in my veggie crisper because I've been too busy or too out of town to cook.

I finally got some time to cook them (thankfully parsnips store well), but then the problem became - how do I cook them? Googling for parsnip recipes yields lots of soup recipes and parsnip purees, but that isn't what I'm looking for. I finally find a recipe on the Food Network site that at least gives me an idea. It involves orange and ginger flavoring. And ooh - it uses pomegranate, another ingredient widely available in Azerbaijan. Let's do it.

Modifications from the original: This recipe was one where you read it and knew right away it would need some modifications. First off - it practically called for more onion than other veggies combined. Also - pomegranate isn't in season around here right now, so instead of topping the dish with pomegranate seeds, my version of the recipe has you reduce pomegranate juice to create a "dressing" of sorts. It really worked well and gave the whole dish some neat red highlights as well as additional flavor. But I think pomegranate seeds would be best of all, so go for the real stuff, you folks in Azerbaijan.

Roasted Parsnip and Carrot Salad with Pomegranate
Serves 4 (as a side dish)
Adapted from Food Network Kitchens
Printable Recipe

2 large carrots (about 12 ounces)
2 parsnips (about 10-12 ounces)
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
Zest of 1/2 orange
Juice of 1 orange
1/2 cup peanuts
1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (see note below re substitution)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 cup pomegranate juice OR seeds of 1 ripe pomegranate

Preheat oven to 350.
Peel parsnips and carrots and chop into pieces about 1/2 to 3/4 inch on each side.
Mix all ingredients except the cilantro and pomegranate, making sure the oil and spices are evenly distributed.
Pour into a roasting dish and put in oven. Cook for about 40 minutes or until parsnips and carrots are soft, stirring halfway through. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
While the veggies are roasting, pour the peanuts into a shallow dish (a pie tin works perfectly) and toast in oven for about 5 minutes, or until slightly browned.
To make the pomegranate "dressing" - Pour the pomegranate juice into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil until juice has at least halved in volume and begun to thicken. Remove from heat.
Stir cilantro leaves into vegetables. Top with the peanuts and drizzle with the pomegranate (or sprinkle pomegranate seeds on top). Serve while still slightly warm.

Verdict? Sweet, tangy and peppery good. Parsnips are a totally different taste than I expected, crisp with a hint of licorice (but just a hint - I don't like licorice but the parsnips are good). Next time I might consider omitting the black pepper and using cayenne instead, perhaps adding a bit of honey. But I certainly enjoyed it as is.

While eating the leftovers cold over a salad today, it struck me that a dollop of goat cheese might be nice on it as well. Just an idea~ Oh, and if you're one of those (weird!) people who don't like cilantro (it is genetic, I know, I just love the stuff), you might try substituting with flat leaf parsley.

Bonus ingredient tip: Ginger (in the root form you buy in the produce section) keeps well in the freezer. Just wrap it tightly in plastic and store inside an airtight bag. When you need to use some, peel the skin off of the frozen root using a paring knife and grate it with a Microplane or other fine grater. This way you'll always have it when you need it and won't waste money buying a whole root just to use a small amount.

Parsnip picture above by Gaetan Lee, used pursuant to Creative Commons License.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sweet Ricotta Blintzes with Strawberry-Balsamic Sauce


I love breakfast. Well, not that yogurt and muffin I eat at my desk while reading my email. Weekend breakfast. I'm not a morning person but when I wake up on a weekend morning with nothing to make me rush out of the house, well - that is one of my favorite moments. It has so much potential. I could do anything! I could eat anything! Sometimes I even think of what I want to make to eat the night before, I love it so much.

Usually I go for eggs, maybe pancakes, but this particular Saturday I decided to go in a different direction. Crepes, I thought...with ricotta (after inventorying my fridge). A few cookbooks later and I found my starter recipe in that standby book for home cooks - the Joy of Cooking. It is a blintz recipe. After a moderate amount of research trying to figure out the difference between a blintz and a crepe, I'm convinced it is pretty much the same thing, with crepes being of French origin and Blintzes hailing from eastern Europe. Some say it is about yeast, others about cooking one one side vs. two...If anyone cares to shed any more light on this, I'd welcome the info.

Modifications from the original: The ricotta, of course (the original calls for farmer's cheese or cottage cheese). I left out the orange zest and raisins optionally called for in the original - the former because I hated my zester and the latter because I didn't have any. I added a dash of orange extract instead and I think it worked. I now have a spiffy Microplane (love it!) so I'll try it with zest next time. I think raisins would be overkill at best and at worst out of place in this dish, so I vote for leaving them out.

And oh yes, the strawberry balsamic sauce. Why vinegar with strawberries, you might ask? Well, balsamic vinegar isn't your usual vinegar. It has complex flavors and sweetness of its own. And it really seems to bring out the strawberry's own flavors. I confess to not coming up with this combination on my own, but having some raspberry balsamic jam at an Italian market. It worked there, and I'd like to think it works here.

One final note - I'm sure this seems like a lot of work, but let me tell you that it really isn't so bad, especially since so much can be made in the blender/food processor. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to prepare the blintzes. Just keep that pan buttered and they'll come out perfect. Sure, this isn't as quick and easy as pancakes from a box, but with not too much work you can have a breakfast that tastes like something you'd happily pay good money for from a restaurant.

Sweet Ricotta Blintzes with Strawberry-Balsamic Sauce
Serves 2-4

Printable RecipePreparation notes: The below recipe is in three parts, the blintz itself, the cheese filling, and the strawberry sauce. The blintz batter needs to sit for 30 minutes and the strawberry sauce needs to simmer for a while, too, so I advise tackling all the tasks in this order: 1) prepare blintz batter through the resting stage, 2) prepare strawberry sauce and start it simmering as directed, 3) make the cheese filling, 4) cook the blintzes, 5) fill, fry, top, eat! You can also prepare the blintz batter, cheese filling, and strawberry sauce a day in advance and refrigerate it.

Sweet Blintzes
Adapted from Joy of Cooking
Makes 8-10 blintzes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
3 eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
When ready to prepare blintzes, coat an 8 or 10 inch skillet with butter. Heat pan over medium-high heat. When butter is melted, remove skillet from heat and pour in about 3 tablespoons of the batter, enough to just coat the bottom of the pan. Return skillet to heat and cook until the bottom is golden and the top is dry. Place blintz on a piece of wax paper and prepare next, stacking the finished blintzes between sheets of wax paper.

Ricotta Filling
Adapted from Joy of Cooking

1 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
2 ounces cream cheese
1 egg
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon orange extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more as needed

Combine all ingredients except the butter and oil in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth.
Drop an equal amount of the filling in the center of the uncooked side of a prepared blintz.
Fold in the sides of the blintz to make a rectangular package in which the cheese mixture is completely encased.
Heat the butter and oil in a skillet until the butter is melted and any bubbles have subsided. Add the blintzes, seam side down. Cook until the bottom is golden and then flip and brown other side as well.
When the blintzes are done, set them on a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb any excess oil.
Transfer the blintzes to the serving plate and top with the strawberry sauce.

Strawberry-Balsamic Sauce
by Me
2 cups strawberries, hulled and cut into chunks
1 tablespoon butter (unsalted if you have it)
3 tablespoons sugar (use an extra tablespoon if your strawberries aren't very sweet)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

In a small saucepot over medium-high heat, stir together the strawberries, butter, and sugar. Bring to a boil. Boil for 3-5 minutes, or until the mixture has nearly reached your desired consistency. Add 1 tablespoon of the balsamic vinegar and let boil for one more minute. Reduce heat to low and and add remaining tablespoon of vinegar. Stir and let simmer until thickened, or until you're ready to eat!

Verdict? Yummmmm. Seriously. I'm getting hungry thinking about these now, and I just ate lunch. By the way, you can freeze the assembled blintzes (before pan frying them), so feel free to make a double batch and store some for later use. I have three of these babies in my freezer at home; can't wait to go eat them. Breakfast for dinner anyone?

By the way - if you want to attempt to reduce the fat used in this dish, you can probably get away with pan-frying the filled blintzes in your most non-stick skillet with less oil/butter or even cooking spray. For making the blintzes in the first place I'd advise trying to butter the skillet just every other blintz if trying to reduce the fat. That second one will be a bit tougher to get out of the pan, but it should still be fine. This dish will never be totally low fat but you can trim off a bit here and there. Enjoy!

By the way - sorry for the long delay between posts. Life got busy for a bit, but look for a new recipe tomorrow, one for you AZEats people. That one will be followed by more breakfast. Yummm.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Jamaican Style Rice and Peas


When I was growing up, there were several "Aunts" of mine who would make rice and peas. For the uninitiated, rice and peas is a dish common to many Caribbean and Central American countries. It is basically kidney beans (or pigeon peas or whatever bean the particular country has available) mixed in with rice and spices. Sounds simple and kinda bland, right? Not so, trust me.

I always looked forward to going over to my Aunts' houses for rice and peas. There were slight variations in them, some were spicier, had more coconut milk, etc., but I liked them all. The rice in each of them was perfectly cooked, not one grain stuck to another. This - I cannot accomplish. I think they may have used a rice cooker; I'll cling to this belief so as to not be a total rice failure.

But I'm okay with my rice failure. I came to this realization when sitting over a bowl of my own take on rice and peas, my "mushy" rice giving the whole thing an almost risotto-esque quality. Probably not true to the original, but tasty and comforting nonetheless. And so I'll share the recipe with you - with a tip of the hat and apologies to my Jamaican/Panamanian/Bajan relatives.

Preparation notes - This recipe can be made using canned beans if you're deciding to make this at the last minute. Just put them in a pot and start from where you add the coconut milk. The texture will be a bit different but it'll taste much the same. For those who have had the dish before, mine is heavy on the coconut milk, thyme, and spice in general. It isn't "spicy" per se (unless you let the scotch bonnet pepper break), but lots of different spices are used to give this dish its full flavor. If you do want this spicy, pierce the pepper once or twice before you put it in the pot. Keep an eye on it to make sure the seeds don't spill out into the rice or else you'll probably want a fire extinguisher handy when you eat.

Jamaican Style Rice and Peas
By Me, Serves 4-6
Printable Recipe

2 cups dried kidney beans (or one 15 ounce can)
1 15 ounce can coconut milk
2 cups vegetable stock (or water)
1 cup white rice (long grain, or whatever you have)
3 scallions, cut into 2-inch strips
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed and coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon allspice
5 sprigs fresh thyme (by sprig I mean small groups of single stems)
1 scotch bonnet pepper (or habanero if not available)

Rinse kidney beans and let soak overnight in a large bowl, covered with several inches of water.
In a large pot, boil the kidney beans in 6 cups of salted water for approximately 40 minutes, or until a bean can be easily crushed. Watch while boiling to make sure some water remains in the pot.
Stir in the coconut milk, vegetable stock, rice, garlic, scallions, garlic, salt, and thyme sprigs. Add the pepper, being sure not to break the skin.
Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for about 30 minutes or until rice is fully cooked, stirring occasionally to prevent rice from sticking.
Remove pepper as soon as you notice its skin has broken. Remove thyme stems before serving. Taste for salt and serve.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Spinach and Gouda Quiche with No-Roll Crust


As promised, AZEats recipe #2.

I like quiche a lot - how can you go wrong when there's eggs, cheese, and pastry involved?! But I have a confession to make. I used to use storebought crust. I just felt like my minikitchen with its two square feet of counter space wasn't conducive to rolling out dough. (I'm not exaggerating about the lack of space, either - my old apartment's counter was exactly 1 foot wide and 2 feet deep.) But after several weeks of eating processed premade pastry stuff for recipe constest entries, the last thing I wanted to do was bring some premade pie crust in my house. Plus I just got a brand new Pyrex pie plate that I needed to break in. So it was time to make my own crust.
But this recipe is for my friend, and I'm not going to make her roll out crust in her minikitchen, either. So - the hunt for a no-roll crust recipe began. Most recipes I found called for vegetable oil to be used, sometimes shortening, too. I wanted to stick with butter, so I kind of made up my own recipe. I also wanted to minimize the amount of dishes she (and me) had to wash, so this recipe can be made right in the pie dish. Pretty cool, no?

As for the selection of spinach and gouda, well - I tend to make broccoli quiches but wanted to branch out a bit so spinach it is (plus it has been on sale at the stores around me lately - notice a trend in my recipes?). And Gouda, well, my friend told me that she basically has available three kinds of cheese - something salty and white, something mellow and melty and yellow, and gouda. Gouda it is.

A quick preparation note - Gouda is fairly soft and might not shred well. Try freezing it for 30 minutes or so first to harden it up a bit. If the Gouda just crumbles - don't worry, that will work just fine. And note to anyone who tries to cheat and use the food processor to crumble the Gouda - just use the "pulse" setting and don't process it too long or you'll have something that looks like the inside of that nut-encrusted cheese & wine ball that is ubiquitous at parties... I learned this firsthand, yes. It still works in the recipe, just will require that you manually break it up into "pieces" so you don't have a giant blob of gouda in your quiche. Also - fluff up the flour a bit in the bag before using it. The reason a lot of baking recipes seem to work for one person and not for another is due to how flour can settle during shipping, causing one cup of flour used by one person to weigh a lot more (and thus contain a lot more flour) than someone else's. To combat this, stir the flour in the bag to fluff it, scoop out more than your measuring cup can hold, and then use the back of a table knife to push off the excess, taking care to not pack more flour in your cup than it naturally picked up. I will also give weight measurements for those of you with kitchen scales.

Spinach and Gouda Quiche with No-Roll Crust
by Me
Serves 4-6

No Roll Pie Crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (about 7.25 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 stick salted butter, melted (1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons milk (plus more if needed)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Add flour, salt, and sugar to your pie dish. Stir with a fork to evenly distribute the salt and sugar.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the melted butter. Stir to combine (this will be a sort of half-stir, half-mashing motion).
Add the milk a tablespoon at a time and stir. Mixture should have the appearance of large crumbs but be able to be molded almost like clay. Add up to another tablespoon of milk if needed.
Using your hands, gently press the mixture flat against the bottom and sides of the pie dish. It will seem like you won't have enough dough, but you will - extra dough hides in the corner between the bottom and sides so be sure and shape that area carefully.
Shape the top edges if you want to be fancy about it. (I just kind of did a quick semi-pinch thing.)
Using a table knife or fork, make about six small cuts in the bottom of the crust (to prevent air bubbles from forming under the crust).
Place an oven-safe plate on the inside of the crust to weigh it down (you can also cover the crust with foil and use about two cups of dried beans or rice to weigh it down).
Bake the empty crust for 20-25 minutes, or until edges are light golden brown.
Remove from oven and let cool.

Quiche filling:

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon salt (divided)

10 ounces fresh spinach, roughly chopped into 1 inch ribbons
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (divided)
3 large eggs
1 cup milk
6 ounces Gouda cheese, shredded or crumbled

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until beginning to soften. Stir in the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook until onions are fully soft.
Add the spinach and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the spinach has wilted. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs and milk together. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and the Gouda. Stir until combined. Stir in the spinach mixture.
Pour the egg and spinach mixture into the cooled pie crust, ensuring that the spinach is spread out evenly.
Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes, or until center of quiche is slightly firm to the touch, and a knife inserted in the center of the quiche reveals no uncooked egg.

Verdict? Really yummy. In fact, I can't wait to have the leftovers for lunch today! (I even ate some cold when I was preparing my lunch last night.) Seasoning the spinach well ensures that the seasoning is spread throughout the whole quiche (instead of getting lost in pockets of egg as happens with some quiche recipes that mainly have you season the egg mixture). Gouda's subtle tang is a good mix for the earthy spinach. And that crust? Nice and flaky and better than anything I'd have previously bought in a store. So it isn't perfectly thin and I totally lack the skills to make the edge pretty, but - I think you'll like it and appreciate the ease as well as the taste. Next time I'll try and press it out even a bit thinner, though. Isn't that cross-section pic with its spinach ribbons pretty?!