Sunday, December 26, 2010

Carnitas: The Perfect Way to Start off the New Year

If you're looking for an easy, inexpensive festive way to kick off the new year, you can't go wrong with carnitas. Although it cooks for a few hours, it takes minutes to prep and takes care of itself on your stove top, leaving you free to do whatever it is that you do to kick off the year right. If you're hosting the day after party it's great for the hangover crowd, and it is hearty enough to please the sports fans gathered around your large screen TV for the bowls of the non-food type.

Carnitas means "little meats," usually braised until the liquid evaporates and then browned in the fat that has remained on the meat. It is usually made from the pork butt (shoulder), which can be cooked whole and then shredded, or cut before cooking and served in cubes.

Which is the way I prepared it here. The most basic recipe I found calls for just salt, pepper, and water. Many add orange juice and coca cola, but the possibilities are endless - cumin, oregano, chili powder if you want to keep the Mexican theme, or curry powder, paprika, and ginger for a more exotic twist. For my first attempt, I decided to keep it simple and just used salt, pepper, orange juice and water.

The original method calls for the meat to be cooked in melted lard, and then the mixture of orange juice and coca cola is added and either cooked over a higher flame on the stove, or roasted in the oven. The idea is that the sugars help the meat caramelize. Much as I love the idea of this and the fact that I actually do have lard on hand, and as delicious as I am sure it would be, that is just too much fat and sugar for one meal, especially since there is already plenty of fat on the pork butt. This method is healthier (ok, maybe only a little healthier), and is plenty delicious as is. The orange juice adds a bright sweetness that takes it over the top.

Carnitas make for a great serve-yourself taco buffet. They go especially well with a savory cabbage slaw, creme fraiche and tomato-jalapeno salsa. Round off the meal with guacamole and chips and refried beans and you have yourself a winning combination.
CARNITAS

5-6 lb pork butt, chopped into 1-inch cubes
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
water

Arrange the pork on the bottom of a large heavy pan (cast iron is preferable). Season heavily with the salt and pepper. Pour the orange juice into the pan, and then add water until the meat is just barely covered.

Bring the pan to a boil, the reduce the heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, until the liquid has evaporated. This can take up to two hours (or more, depending on how much liquid there is).

Once the liquid has evaporated, raise the heat to medium and let the pork brown in the fat that has remained. When all of the pieces are dark and crispy, remove from the heat.

Can be served immediately, or refrigerated and then reheated for later use.

Makes 15-20 tacos

Adapted from Homesick Texan's adaptation of a Diana Kennedy recipe.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Baking Class: Criss-Cross Peanut Butter Cookies

This peanut butter cookie recipe is another old family recipe. It is one of those cookies that I would always forget about, and then something would remind me of them and I would make a batch and they were so good I would wonder why I didn't make them more often, and then I'd forget all about them again for more than a few years.

More recently, I had a different kind of dilemma with them. The original recipe called for shortening, and I don't use shortening any more. I have experimented with lard with good results on the savory side, but there's just a little too much pig to my taste for use with sweets.

I generally don't have a problem substituting butter for shortening, but for some reason I wasn't sure how well it would work with the peanut butter cookies. I think because the peanut butter also adds fat to the dough, it might be too much for butter alone to handle. But I have been doing my Christmas baking and was looking for something new to add to the rotation. Much as my friends love the things I do make around the holidays, I get tired of making the same things. This year I have been experimenting, and I thought it would be a good time to see exactly what a difference using butter instead of shortening would make.

As it turned out the difference was negligible. They were crispy, sweet, and full of peanut butter flavor, although I forgot that even though I prefer creamy peanut butter as a rule, for peanut butter cookies crunchy is actually better. That aside, I think I may have liked these even better with the butter.

The proportions of this recipe worked out well for me to make a half batch for my test, which was quick and easy. And four dozen or so cookies is nothing to sneeze at. I took some to work and some to my knitting friends and still had enough to enjoy a few at home without making me feel too guilty.
Home Cookin Chapter: Cookies

CRISS-CROSS PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup peanut butter, preferably crunchy

Preheat oven to 400 deg. F.

Combine the brown and white sugars and mix well. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.

Cream the butter. Add the sugar and cream well, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the beaten eggs and the vanilla and mix it together.

Incorporate the flour just until the dough begins to come together, then add the peanut butter and make sure it is fully blended into the dough.

Roll the dough into balls the size of walnuts. Place one inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Press each ball on one side with the tines of a fork, then press the tines over each cookie at a right angle to the previous lines to make a criss-cross effect.

Bake at 400 deg. F. for about 7 minutes, until they are just beginning to brown. Be careful not to let them burn. Check them after 5 minutes.

Makes approximately 10 dozen, depending on size.

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (www.mountain-software.com)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Feed Your Local Food Bank

It should come as no surprise that food banks are one of the few rapidly growing organizations in America these days.

I am constantly aware of how fortunate I am to be able to afford the food about which I write.

Because so many can't, and so many smaller, local providers are struggling, I try to spend my money where it most counts.

And I donate regularly to my local food bank. How about you?

Monday, December 13, 2010

DIY Condiments #3: Ketchup

Many years ago in Austin, a friend and I hosted a birthday dinner for a friend who worked with us in the library. That was during what I call my "social period," when I was quite the social butterfly. I'm not sure what happened since I'm such a stay-at-home gal these days. This was just one of many such celebrations. Our friend brought his current girlfriend, a nice-enough woman whom I had not yet met and never really got to know since I believe they broke up not long after this dinner. Not that the dinner had anything to do with their breakup. At least I hope it didn't.

At any rate, if memory serves, Mary made the dinner and I made the dessert - the famous top-secret chocolate cake.

Now keep in mind that, at that time, this was a quite special and, as yet, still secret family recipe. It was in great demand, and was always well received. Even if I had been a total social misfit, which I do not believe for one second, it would have been my ticket into any event I wished to attend.

So imagine my surprise when this girlfriend announced to me in the kitchen, as I was icing the cake, that she had stopped eating sugar and would not be having a piece of my cake. (What she was doing in the kitchen with me I do not remember, but I have a clear memory of the two of us together in the kitchen as she told me this.) Imagine my dismay: how could I impress her with my wondrous baking skills if she didn't eat any of my cake? But she was resolute, and was not even tempted.

But there was one thing, she admitted to me, that she could not give up, and that was ketchup. Ketchup? I didn't know there was sugar in ketchup! (This was my pre-label reading days, in case you were wondering.)

And ever since then, I can't think of ketchup without thinking of 1) sugar, and 2) that night. And I have realized that is probably why I love ketchup, seeing as how I lean heavily towards sweet. But I have been avoiding it, since I have been avoiding commercially processed foods. The few times I use it are those few times I order a crisper and fries (ok, sometimes a cheeseburger) from Eat a Pita and shamefully have it delivered to my door. If I am completely honest, I will admit that fries are merely the vehicle for my ketchup fix.

All things considered, I think I have been most excited about making ketchup. So why did I wait so long to make it? I still had some Heinz ketchup that I needed to work through and, since I use it so seldom, it took me a while to work through it all. But a nice batch of okonomiyaki with its attendant sauce took care of that, so last weekend I was ready to make some ketchup.

Like its DIY Condiments predecessors, ketchup is surprisingly easy to make. You just saute onions and garlic, add the rest of the ingredients, let it simmer for a while, and then puree it with your super duper handy dandy stick blender.

Although it looks nice and tomato-red in the picture, at least on my monitor, the reality is slightly less red. It had that deep ketchup red in the pot, but after I pureed it the onions were just enough white to dilute it to more of a pinkish orange. But looks aren't everything.

As for the taste, I think it has definite possibilities. It is a little too sweet even for my taste, but that might be a result of over-packed brown sugar. But it ends with a lovely tang of spiciness that counteracts the sweetness, and the flavor has intensified as it has sat in the refrigerator.

I might do some more experimenting with it, but not much. Now I just have to find some uses for it - it's too good for french fries. I do already have some ideas.
Home Cookin Chapter: Sauces
HOMEMADE KETCHUP

1 (28- to 32-oz) can whole tomatoes in juice
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 Tbsp tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 whole star anise
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar

Puree the tomatoes with their juice in the can with a stick blender until smooth (or use a regular blender).

Heat oil in a 4-quart heavy pot. Add onion, garlic and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is browned

Add the spices and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the pureed tomato, tomato paste, brown sugar,and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then immediately lower the heat and cook uncovered until very thick, 45 to 55 minutes. Stir occasionally, making sure the liquid doesn't burn on the bottom of the pan.

Use the stick blender to puree everything together. Let cool and pour into a glass container. Refrigerate.

Keeps chilled approximately 1 month.

Makes approximately 2-3/4 cups.

Adapted from recipe by Ian Knauer for Gourmet Magazine (RIP) (June 2009)

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (www.mountain-software.com)

Monday, December 06, 2010

Mexican Inspired Pizza

I've been watching a show on the new Cooking Channel called "Kelsey's Essentials." Kelsey Nixon was one of the contenders on a previous Next Food Network Star show. I don't remember which season. I think the main reason she was knocked out was because she was just out of cooking school and the judges often expressed their thoughts that she was too young.

A few years later, she has her own show. And every time she mentions her husband, which is at least once a show, I can't help but think that it's an effort to make her seem older than she is. She also has an annoying habit of using the same few stock phrases over and over again and it damages her credibility. She does know what she is doing, but she tends to say things should be done a certain way because it's better, but she doesn't do a good job of explaining why, in my opinion. And I do not consider myself to be an expert in the kitchen by any means, but so far I have not learned anything new from her.

In this week's episode she grilled corn and then coated it with a "Mexican inspired-sauce," as she put it. She mentioned it several times, calling it the Mexican-inspired sauce. And all I could think was, "Oh, the poor sauce, it doesn't have a name." I don't know why, but it bothered me.

And it stuck in my head, so last night when I went to make pizza with my second pizza crust and realized that I had forgotten to buy more mozzarella cheese, I decided to follow Kelsey's example and make a Mexican-inspired pizza with the cheddar cheese I had in the refrigerator.

Whatever you want to call it, it was delicious. Most of the ingredients were the same I use for regular pizza; I just switched the seasonings and threw cilantro on top when it came out of the oven. I had the last of some napa cabbage I received along with the mustard greens with which I was gifted the week before last (I'm amazed at how long that lasted) and having made okonomiyaki twice already I decided to just throw the rest on top of the pizza. Cabbage matched my Mexican theme pretty well.

I wasn't sure it would work out, but I would make this even if I did have mozzarella in the house. Every once in a while I want something different, and this fits the bill.
MEXICAN-INSPIRED PIZZA
Basic Pizza dough*
1/4 cup strained tomatoes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp oregano
3/4 - 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
salt to taste
1/4 small napa cabbage, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped green olives
6 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Shape dough as desired for pizza. Spread the tomato around the base, leaving about half an inch uncovered around the edges. Season to taste with the salt. Sprinkle the cumin over, then the oregano. Pinch the oregano between your fingertips to release the oils as you sprinkle it over the sauce.

Spread the cabbage evenly over the sauce, then cover with the cheese. Next, spread the olives evenly over the top, and finish with the garlic.

Bake on the bottom rack of the oven for 18-20 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the top is browned and bubbling.

Remove from the oven and spread the chopped cilantro over the hot pizza. Serve hot.

Note: These days I make my pizza dough with 1 cup white whole wheat flour, 1 cup bread flour, and 1/2 cup semolina flour, but any combination totaling 2-1/2 cups of flour should work.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Agnolotti with Butternut Squash and Parmagiano Reggiano

What you see here is my first attempt to make a stuffed pasta. I decided to try my hand at agnolotti, which seemed the most free form and more importantly, the most forgiving. While it was not a total success, I was extremely pleased with it, and there was the added bonus that I learned some things while making it.

The first thing I learned is that I need to roll out the dough a little bit more. It was good, but the pasta was on the thick side.

Which didn't help with this first batch I cooked. I boiled them for about three minutes even, and that was not enough. Not only were they a little thick, they were more than a little al dente.

But the butternut squash and parmagiano reggiano filling was sensational from the first bite. For this first batch, I cooked up a little butter and fried sage in it. It was tasty, but I wanted to find something a little healthier.

The next time I made butternut squash soup, I thought that might make a nice sauce for the agnolotti. It was rich and smooth, and it did go well. I over-sauced it, though, which overpowered the more delicate interior filling.

For the final version pictured at the top, I sauted onion and garlic in olive oil and butter, added a small amount of chicken broth and cooked it down, and then spooned that over the pasta. I finished it off with some grated parmagiano reggiano and chopped parsley. By then I had calculated the cooking time better, so except for being on the thick side, it was pretty near perfection.

The biggest thing I learned is that you can freeze homemade pasta. I had already test-frozen some noodles, which I let thaw and cooked normally and they were just as tasty as their fresh counterpart. For these stuffed pastas, I learned that you can just throw them in the boiling salted water frozen and add ten minutes to the cooking time.

One full batch of pasta made 36 agnolotti. I used my faithful empty 14.5-oz. coconut milk can with both ends opened as a pasta cutter, so they were about two-and-a-half inches in diameter. I cooked seven the first night and then froze the rest. Lay them out flat on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer. After they are frozen, you can just throw them into a freezer bag. They will keep indefinitely, but you should use them within a few months or the pasta can break on you. I don't know if you can see it, but the one in the center up at the top did break apart while it was cooking. I was able to treat it carefully so it did not fall completely apart, but the water did dilute the filling, so it was not ideal.

I am still playing with sauces for this pasta. I liked the butter sauces the best (who wouldn't?), but I still want to find something healthier, and I want to lighten my hand with the amount of sauce I am using.

But this was definitely not bad for a first attempt. I will post the recipe when I have it down.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Three-Cheese Polenta (with Braised Beef Shanks)

I hope you Americans out there had a lovely Thanksgiving. I know I did, here in Austin with my family. This year it was just my brother's family and me. It was a very low key affair, but the turkey was beautifully roasted with tender juicy white meat and flavorful dark meat that was not too stringy. I always like to have a little white meat at the Thanksgiving dinner, and then I feast on the dark meat for the next few days. Being the only person who likes the dark meat, I have no competition. After my brother has cleaned the carcass of all edible white meat, it has become my job to take care of the dark meat. I pull the meat off of the wings, thighs and drumsticks. Half of it I cut into smaller pieces that can be frozen and made into pot pies or soup, and the rest of it goes into the fridge to last me through the rest of my visit.

But now that the last of the leftovers are disappearing, I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you that braising season is now officially upon us. It's the perfect time of year to take that hefty chunk of flavorful meat and simmer it in a pot full of rich, flavorful liquid, then serve it up over a nice mash of potatoes, root vegetables, or polenta, as I have done here. To me, it is one of the most delicious meals in the world.

For a while I was buying instant polenta, which is basically partially cooked and then dried so it only takes 5 minutes on the stove. I cannot tell the difference between the instant polenta and the regular polenta that takes over half an hour and a stirring arm of steel to produce, so I long decided the extra cost of the instant polenta was well worth paying.

And then I saw an episode of Sara Moulton's Weeknight Meals where she baked the polenta in the oven. It looked easy, so I tried it and discovered that it was as easy as it looked. No fuss, no muss, not stirring - what could be better?

Actually, I decided it could be a little bit better. It was a little too soft and pudding-like for me the first time I made it, so I experimented with less cooking liquid until I got the consistency to be just the way I like it. This time, I had little bits of three cheeses left over in the refrigerator so I just grated them all up and threw them in. With spectacular results, I might add.

While delicious with braised beef shanks, polenta can be served with just about any other dish you can imagine. It makes a nice change from mashed potatoes or rice.

You can find my braising method for the beef shanks here.
THREE CHEESE POLENTA


1 cup cornmeal (fine or stone ground) or polenta (not instant)
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 cups water
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded gruyere cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F.

Combine the cornmeal, butter, salt and pepper in a 1-1/2 quart baking dish and mix everything together. Place on the top shelf of the oven and bake uncovered for 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and stir well. Put it back in the oven and bake for another 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Add the cheeses and stir well until the cheeses have melted and are well mixed into the polenta. Let stand at least 5 minutes before serving.

Adapted from Sara Moulton's Creamy Baked Polenta recipe.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Curried Frittata with Mustard Greens

As I was making this curried frittata with mustard greens, I got to thinking about how easy it is to create new dishes once you have learned the basics of the original. I have actually been thinking about this quite a bit lately, because I seem to have crossed some threshold over the past year or so where I am using fewer recipes and creating my own dishes as I go. It's not that I am memorizing the recipes - it's more that I am using all of the information and techniques I have accumulated while following recipes in the past. If you are paying attention as you cook, you start to see the patterns of how a particular dish is constructed, and you can start constructing your own versions, rather than just exchanging ingredients.

That's what happened with this frittata. Once I mastered the original recipe, I quickly realized that virtually any vegetable and any cheese would work. At first I trod lightly - I used zucchini instead of spinach, and gruyere cheese instead of parmesan. Then I added thinly sliced potatoes, which added another dimension. Following that, adding sweet potato seemed like a logical conclusion. After that, anything seemed possible.

Last Tuesday I was gifted with two beautiful bunches of mustard greens. I was not in a position to cook them right away, so I rinsed them, trimmed the ends, wrapped them in paper towels, put them in the refrigerator and prayed that they would hold up until I could use them.

Which, as it turns out, was Saturday. I checked them for the last time on Friday and they were still ok, so I figured they could go one more day. They were locally grown, and organic, so I think that helped them stay sturdy enough to go the distance (as opposed to the conventional produce you usually find in the grocery store).

Saturday morning I decided they would be lovely in a frittata. As I was gathering the ingredients, I started thinking about what would happen if I added mustard seeds, a technique I learned when making Lentil Soup with Spicy Mustard Greens. I have used that technique often when cooking greens, either with the mustard seeds themselves, or a dijon mustard that has whole seeds in it. It adds a lovely little crunch and spice to the greens that I just love.

And as soon as I thought about adding mustard seeds, my mind switched to Indian mode, and I decided that if you can curry eggs, then surely you can curry a frittata.

Which is what I did. I consider this to be a new recipe, rather than an adaptation of a previous recipe. The techniques may be the same, and the basic ingredients, but I think the method and the flavor profile have changed enough for it to be considered new. What do you think?

Whatever you think, the end result was amazing, and succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. There are some adjustments that can be made; as I was writing about the potatoes I added to the original recipe, I was thinking they would be outstanding added to the curried version. And I might play around more with the spices. A tikka or garam masala might replace the curry powder. Maybe some coriander or cardamom would enhance the flavor.

Now that I know the process, the possibilities are endless.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

CURRIED FRITTATA WITH MUSTARD GREENS

Makes 4 servings

2 bunches mustard greens, rinsed, trimmed, and cut into 2-inch strips (or any greens - spinach, chard, or kale would work just as well)
1/4 cup ghee, or 3 Tbsp oil and 1 Tbsp butter
1Tbsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sweet curry powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
6 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
7 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, or any other desired cheese

Place mustard greens in a pre-heated large pot over medium heat. You do not need to add any water; they will cook in the rinse liquid. Turn the heat down as low as it will go, cover the pot, and cook for 10 minutes. Shock in ice-cold water, then drain the greems and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Put the squeezed greens on a cutting board and chop them about 1/2-inch apart in one direction, then 1/2-inch apart in the other.

Heat the ghee in a non-stick or cast-iron medium-sized (10-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds. As soon as they start to pop, cover the skillet. Leave it covered until the popping slows down. Add the onions and garlic and cook until they are translucent.

Add the spices and cook, stirring, for about a minute. Add the greens, stir everything together, and turn the heat to low.

Crack the eggs into a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Whisk thoroughly and pour into the skillet with the onions, garlic and greens. Lower the heat and cook until the eggs are set. If
necessary, run a spatula around the sides of the pan once it was started to set and lift up an edge to allow some of the unset egg mixture to flow to the bottom of the pan. You may have to do this more than once.

With an oven-proof skillet: Once the frittata has almost completely set but has just a little bit of unset egg on top, sprinkle the grated cheese over it and put it under the broiler for a minute or two, until the top sets and the cheese has melted and is golden brown. Remove from the oven and take out of the pan. Let sit for five minutes befrore slicing.

With a non-stick skillet: Once the frittata has almost completely set, either slide it into an oven-proof dish and continue as instructed above, or slide it onto a plate then invert it back into the non-stick
skillet so the top is now on the bottom and the egg can set. Sprinkle the cheese over the top, cover, and cook another minute or two until the cheese melts.

inspired by my Basic Frittata recipe, which in turn was adapted from James Beard's American Cookery, by James Beard (Little, Brown and Company, 1972).

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (www.mountain-software.com)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chickpea Stew with Six Vegetables

Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian cookbook has not disappointed me yet, and Chickpea Stew with Six Vegetables is no exception. This recipe is marked as a Moroccan dish, but the spices are subtle, and there is no cinnamon in it, a spice with which I have come to associate Moroccan cuisine. The result is a vibrant, colorful stew with a lovely blend of flavors. The addition of a few strands of saffron infuses both the look and the flavor with an extra shot of richness. I don't usually have saffron on hand, given the expense, but a little goes a long way and I am glad I used it here. It only takes a few threads to make a difference, and there really is nothing like it.

I took this to our work potluck lunch, and it was well received. I cooked a batch of whole wheat couscous in vegetable stock to serve with it, but it looked like most people were happy with the stew by itself. It's certainly hearty enough to stand alone.

The beauty of this recipe is that you do not have to use all of the vegetables. The first time I made it I totally glossed over the fact that I needed potatoes and sweet potatoes, so I had neither. I simply cut the cooking time of the chickpeas and spices and added the carrots after ten minutes instead of twenty.

I also only had canned crushed tomatoes the first time I made it, so I drained them as best I could, added the crushed pulp first, then the liquid. The second time I purchased canned plum tomatoes and used them. Each provided a different effect, but both worked equally well.
Home Cookin Chapter: Soups and Stews

CHICKPEA STEW WITH SIX VEGETABLES

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked and cooked, liquid reserved*
1 28-oz can plum tomatoes, finely chopped, liquid reserved
2 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
5 to 6 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
5 to 6 Tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
3 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ginger powder
Saffron threads (optional)
1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1-inch thick pieces
3 small carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large zucchini, halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces

Put the oil in a large pot and place over medium-high heat. Add the onion and stir and fry for 5 minutes, or until it begins to brown around the edges. Add in the garlic and stir for about 1 minute, or until it turns golden.

Now add the chickpeas, 1-1/4 cups reserved cooking liquid, the tomatoes, potatoes, parsley, cilantro, salt, cumin, turmeric, ginger, saffron, and cayenne. Measure the reserved tomato liquid and add enough
water to make 2-1/2 cups of liquid in total. Add to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover, turn the heat to low, and cook for 20 minutes.

Add the sweet potato and carrots. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat again, and continue to cook for 10 minutes. Add the zucchini, bring to a boil once again, and cook, covered, on low heat for 7 to 8
minutes or until the zucchini is tender.

*You can use canned chickpeas, but if you do, be sure to buy organic beans so you can use the liquid.

from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, by Madhur Jaffrey (Clarkson Potter 1999)

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (www.mountain-software.com)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Burger on a Plate and Name That Station!

Ah yes, just one more of the many reasons I miss my home state. Apparently in an effort to raise money, they are offering custom license plates with company logos embossed on them.


And if that isn't surreal enough, apparently the Chicago CTA will be selling naming rights to train and bus stations. As if it isn't hard enough for people to know where they're going, try taking the Blue Line from McDonald's Station to Panda Express.

I see the future, and it ain't pretty.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tidbit of the Day: Say Cheese!

Marion Nestle addresses the USDA's schizophrenic stance on Cheese in The Atlantic Monthly.

One more example of the fox watching the chickens, or something like that.


(That's my pizza up there - light on the cheese.)

Monday, November 08, 2010

Papardelle with Chicken and Broccolette

Now that I've shown you how easy it is to make pasta, I feel better about showing you my more recent efforts. It is so easy to make, in fact, that I find myself wanting to make it just for the sheer pleasure of doing so.

And I love how creative you can be with sauces. I have gravitated more towards white sauces with my home-made pasta. I am not sure why; I will have to explore that. But I don't want my white sauces to be loaded with butter and cream, so I have been experimenting with chicken or vegetable broth, adding just a touch of cream at the end to make it a little richer. That seems to be working

These noodles are a little less than an inch wide, which makes them papardelle, although they are on the narrow side. I thought this would be a good width to go with the leftover I chicken I had from what I had poached for the broth. I was fortuitous enough to find more broccolette at Treasure Island so I bought some of that.

I put the pasta water over high heat to bring it to a boil. Before I cooked the pasta, however, I dropped in the chopped broccolette, turned off the heat, and blanched it for about four minutes, after which I pulled it out and shocked it in some cold water to stop the cooking and help keep its vibrant green color. I turned the heat back on under the pot, and while the water was coming up to a boil I started working on the sauce.

I sauteed a few cloves of garlic with olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, being careful not to burn the garlic. After a few minutes I added about half a cup of chicken broth and brought it to a simmer. I seasoned to taste with salt and pepper and added a teaspoon of dried thyme. I would have used fresh thyme if I had any, but that was not the case. I added the broccolette and the chicken and turned the heat to low. Since both the chicken and the broccolette were already cooked, I just wanted to heat them through and reduce the stock a little.

When the pasta water was boiling I added the pasta and poured about 2 tablespoons of cream into the sauce. After two minutes, I drained the slightly undercooked pasta (reserving about a cup of the pasta water) and added it to the pan with the chicken and broccolette. I stirred everything together, letting the pasta cook for another minute or so until it was al dente, adding a little of the pasta water to help the sauce get to the perfect consistency. I turned off the heat, added about half a cup of grated parmiagiano-reggiano, and made sure everything was well mixed.

After plating the pasta, I added more cheese and sprinkled chopped parsley over the top.

It was delicious. The photo doesn't really do it justice - I have noticed that the cream sauces don't show up well in my photographs, which makes the pasta look dry. I don't like to drown my pasta in sauce, but there was a perfect balance of sauce to pasta on that plate.

What I like about this method is that it doesn't really matter what you use - broccolette, broccoli, zucchini, asparagus, peas, artichoke hearts - the possibilities are endless. And when you have made the pasta yourself, it goes from good to gourmet.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Mini Chef's Salad

I have been running low on chicken broth but haven't been cooking much chicken so I haven't had any chicken bones lying around to make some. I keep thinking I will just buy some and be done with it, but it is so easy to make my own that I just can't do it. So I went to the Apple Market and bought some chicken legs and poached them for the broth.

I thought I might make chicken salad with the chicken so I hard boiled some eggs, but I didn't really have anything with which to eat it and I didn't feel like making bread. It did occur to me that it might be nice to serve it in a lovely lettuce wrap, and out of that small thought a beautiful salad was born.

The red-leaf lettuce was beautiful at Treasure Island the next day so I bought that, a red pepper, a cucumber and some Campari tomatoes. If I had been thinking I would have grabbed a red onion or some scallions, but I wasn't so I didn't. At least I still had a regular onion on hand. There are some items I always have on hand. Onions and garlic are two of them, because they have a long shelf life and they make everything taste better. Everything savory, that is.

So here's what I did: I shredded, washed, and spun dry the lettuce and put it in a big plastic bag with a few paper towels to soak up any excess moisture that might make it go bad sooner. I peeled the cucumber, sliced it lengthwise, and spooned out the seeds, then sliced it and added it to the lettuce. Then I cut up the red pepper, a few stalks of celery and some onion and added that to the bag as well. I put it in the crisper of my refrigerator and had my own home-made instant salad. I did not put the tomatoes in the bag because they start to go bad the minute you cut them, and they do not do well in the refrigerator.

I put the hard-boiled eggs in a bowl in the refrigerator. I basically shredded the chicken from the bone and put it in a container in the refrigerator as well.

Come the next morning, I got out one of my disposable containers and put a healthy amount of the salad in it. I peeled an egg, quartered it, and spread it evenly around the edges. I quartered a few Campari tomatoes and spread them out over the top. Next came the chicken, laid over the tomatoes. After that, I sprinkled some gruyere cheese I had shredded earlier over the chicken. Finally, a healthy dose of chopped cilantro. There would have been parsley as well if I had any, but you go with what you have.

I had fresh ginger in the crisper that I had bought for some forgotten reason, so I decided to make an Asian-themed dressing. I put that in a small pimento jar I had saved for just such a use, and I took it all to work with me.

I hope the picture shows how fresh all of the ingredients were. I had enough of everything for four lunches. Leaving out the chicken, eggs, tomato and cheese until I was making each individual salad kept everything fresh longer, so the fourth salad was just as fresh and delicious as the first one was.

Doesn't that look much better than those pre-packaged salads? I probably paid as much for my four as one of those costs, too. It takes just a little effort and provides such a huge pay-off, you should really think about taking your own salad to work for lunch. It makes a nice quick dinner as well.

What's that? How did I make the dressing? It was easy - here's how you can make it too:
GINGER HONEY MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard (I used my own and it was marvelous!)
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (or any vinegar)
5 Tbsp white wine vinegar (or any vinegar)
1 Tbsp honey (or to taste)
1 clove garlic, grated
1 tsp grated ginger (or to taste)
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup grapeseed oil (or any vegetable oil)

Combine mustard, vinegars, and honey in a small sturdy bowl. Whisk together until all of the liquids are well combined. Add garlic, salt and pepper and whisk again.

Whisk continuously while slowly adding the olive oil, then the grapeseed oil. Taste and adjust for sweetness, tartness, and seasoning.

Store in the refrigerator. Will last for a couple of weeks at least. (I usually keep condiments, etc., longer than the recommended times and I haven't regretted it yet.)


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cockroach Clusters: a Spooky Halloween Treat

I seem to be writing a lot about sweets these days, so I suppose it is fitting that I finish out the run with a Halloween post.

I would like to be the kind of blogger who is always anticipating holidays and events and has clever posts featuring interesting and unusual theme-related recipes. Alas, that's not how I roll. I always come up with the clever idea the day of the event, or even during the week after it. Some day that might change, but for now I consider myself lucky those times that I rise to the occasion, so to speak.

We just started up our end-of-the month company lunches this week after a summer (and fall due to circumstances beyond our control) hiatus, and since it was so close to Halloween I decided to make something appropriate for Halloween for dessert. It didn't take me long to remember these cockroach clusters. In truth, I believe they are actually more related to Harry Potter than to Halloween, but they seem tailor made for a spooky treat.

These are a snap to make, so if you need a last-minute treat for that last-minute party, they are a no-brainer. All you need are chocolate chips, pretzels, raisins, and decorative sugar or sprinkles.

The recipe calls for skinny pretzel sticks. I was shopping at Whole Foods, though, so I had to settle for the only pretzel sticks they carry, which were organic, and quite a bit thicker than I expected. They worked, but they don't look as spooky as they should. Instead of a cup of raisins, I used half a cup each of raisins and cranberries to add a little tartness.

For the chocolate chips, I used Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet chips, so these aren't too sweet. The flash has made them much lighter in the picture than they are in real life. For such a child-like recipe, they are awfully sophisticated. I didn't have chocolate sprinkles and I didn't want to buy them, so I used some orange and black colored decorative sugar I had bought years ago instead, and I thought it worked just fine.

If you need something quick to get you in the spirit, you can't go wrong with these.
COCKROACH CLUSTERS

11.5-oz bag Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips
2 cups thin pretzel sticks
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
orange and black decorative sugar, or chocolate sprinkles

Put chips in a large microwave-safe bowl and cook at 10-second intervals until the chocolate is almost, but not totally, melted. Remove from the microwave and stir until the residual heat has melted all of the chocolate.

Add the pretzels, raisins and cranberries and stir together until well mixed.

Drop by tablespoons onto waxed paper, then top with the decorative sugar or the sprinkles. Let set.

Store in the refrigerator.

Makes 30-35 clusters.

This recipe is all over the web, and as far as I can see there is no attribute.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Baking Class: Buttermilk Pie with Almond Meal Crust

I was recently gifted with a package of Bob's Red Mill Almond Meal/Flour, and I have been looking for ways to use it. I decided to start small, and went with substituting one fourth of a cup of it for an equal amount of the flour in what has become my go to pie crust for a buttermilk pie.

With so-so results. It wasn't bad, but I couldn't really taste the almond, and the crust did not brown as much as it usually does. It also didn't hold it's shape as well when I cut into it, but that might be because I couldn't wait for it to cool all the way before I cut into it. The piece I cut the next day, after it had been in the refrigerator overnight, held it's shape beautifully.

The pie itself was perfect, as you can see. The filling was smooth and creamy and not too sweet. I think this is how the buttermilk part is supposed to be, and not nearly as dark as the previous one.

I guess my main problem with the pie crust is that it did not really brown. It tasted all right, but all right is not usually what I am looking for in a pie.

I think the crust might have browned more if I had toasted the almond meal before adding it to the flour, and it might have added more almond flavor. I think I will also reduce the butter next time. The almonds add their own fat, and it was actually a little too rich for me.

I have it in mind this would make an intriguing apple pie. I will get back to you.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Baking Class: Chocolate Cake


This chocolate cake recipe has been in my family for years. I don't know from whom my mother got it, but it's the first cake I remember eating. I'm pretty sure it didn't come from my grandmother, because her signature cake was a yellow cake filled with jelly and covered with chocolate frosting. That was a cake I actually liked, but I think I was the only one. Everyone else in my family was grossed out by the jelly filling, which was a pretty common thing back in my grandmother's day.

Wherever my mother got it, the chocolate cake became THE cake for every family celebration (except for my younger brother and me, but that's a different story). Rich and filled with an intense chocolate flavor, it is one of the best chocolate cakes I have ever eaten.

In those days, women usually had one or two recipes that they did not share. It was the recipes that were show-stoppers, dishes that defined them, made them special. For my mother, it was this chocolate cake recipe. She guarded it carefully, and as each of my sisters and I came of age to make it ourselves, we had to promise not to share it with anyone else.

And I never did. And friends would ask. They would be disappointed when I wouldn't give them the recipe, but they understood. The only exception my mother made was for my friend Mary, who wrote her the most lovely letter begging for the recipe and promising not to give it to anyone else. That is the only time that I know of that my mother allowed the recipe outside of the family. She even balked at giving it to my sister-in-law, although she finally did in the end.

The original recipe was for a single layer, and is actually quite similar to the chocolate cake recipe I found in Laurie Colwin's More Home Cooking and wrote about here. There's also a version of this cake that I found in James Beard's American Home Cookery. I'm pretty sure they are all variations of the same cake.

When my sister and I first decided to make the cake, we followed the recipe diligently, but the layers came out thin and barely rose. It tasted good, but just wasn't big enough. Same problem with the second attempt, at which time my mother said, "You doubled it, right?" and we said "What?" It turns out she had been doubling the recipe for so long that she didn't even think about it, so didn't mention it to us.

And then there was my whole wheat phase, which produced the heaviest brick of I don't even know what that swallowed up all of the chocolate and sugar and tasted worse than carob. I only made that mistake once.

I don't make it as often as I used to, since I moved away from home and family. But whenever the opportunity arises, I will whip it up for a birthday or other special occasion. My mother always made a layer cake with the recipe. I found that a sheet cake traveled better, and it also makes lovely cupcakes, which are excellent for Halloween with orange icing.

But I will always think of it as our family birthday cake. Which is why I baked it today. Happy Birthday, Anne.
CHOCOLATE CAKE
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup cocoa
2 tsp soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups sour milk, or regular milk with 2 Tbsp vinegar (let stand for a few minutes)
2/3 cup melted butter
2 tsp vanilla

Sift or whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, soda and salt. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well, either with a hand beater or by hand. Pour into a greased 9 x 12-inch sheet pan. Bake 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean.

If desired, you can pour the batter about halfway up two greased 9-inch cake pans, and use the rest to make 6 cupcakes, and make a layer cake. Or, you can make cupcakes (about 24), in which case check them after 20 minutes as they will cook faster than the cake.

CHOCOLATE ICING
One stick softened butter
Powdered sugar (approximately a 1 lb box)
Cocoa (approximately 1/3-1/2 cup)
1 tsp vanilla
milk

Place the butter in a large bowl to soften. When soft, add about a cup of powdered sugar, 1/3 cup cocoa, vanilla, and a few tablespoons of milk. Mix well and check for consistency and taste. Add powdered sugar, cocoa, and/or milk as needed to reach the desired consistency. It should be fairly thick, but spreadable.

Monday, October 18, 2010

How To Make Pasta

I have now successfully made pasta a number of times, a few different ways. It doesn't take long to make and can be enjoyed right away, put into the refrigerator for a few days, or stored in the freezer for a few months.

With the same basic recipe you can make pretty much any length/width of noodle, some shaped short pastas, and filled pastas such as ravioli, agnolotti, or tortelloni. I have even made lasagna.

I am still learning little tricks here and there, but I think I have reached a level of consistency that allows me to share my newly-found knowledge with you in the following tutorial. I hope after you see how easy it is that you will get started on making your own.

A word or two about hand-rolled versus machine-rolled. I always thought that I needed a pasta machine if I ever wanted to make decent pasta. But in the class I took the instructor used both methods so we could compare the two. I found the hand-rolled pasta to be the winner hands down, both in flavor and texture. The machine rolls the pasta out smoothly, so it has a slightly slick texture in the mouth, and does not hold the salt or the sauce as well. The slightly rougher surface of the hand-rolled pasta both feels and tastes noticeably better, and it also holds the sauce more easily. So now I don't even want a pasta machine. A pasta extruder is a different story however, but I am not ready to go there yet.
BASIC PASTA RECIPE (half batch):

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs
pinch of salt

According to my instructor, the best flour to use for pasta is your basic all-purpose. So far that is all I have used, although some day soon I will start to incorporate semolina flour to see what that adds. But for now I am using the all-purpose.

NOTE: You can make pasta by hand or with a food processor. If I am making a half batch, I will make it by hand using the method illustrated here. If I am making a full batch I use the food processor, which I will demonstrate in a future post.

The recipe calls for 1-1/2 cups of flour, but I have found that I need to have more than that to keep the walls of the well supported while I am mixing the dough. So I start with 2-1/2 to 3 cups of flour mounded on the board, and then I make a well deep enough to hold the 2 eggs.





Crack the eggs directly into the well you made with the flour. Add a pinch of salt. Note that the well wall rises higher than the eggs, so that when you start mixing it together the eggs won't spill out over the flour.






With a fork, break the yolks and beat the eggs, moving in a consistent direction. You want to get the eggs mixed fairly well. Some flour will start falling into the mixture and you will see some lumps. That is fine - once you start incorporating the flour into the mixture the lumps should start smoothing away.

Once the eggs have been thoroughly mixed, start scooping a little bit of flour with the fork as you are stirring and incorporate them into the mixture. Grab the flour from the bottom of the well rather than the top, so you can maintain the integrity of the well wall.

Keep stirring the mixture together, moving in the same direction and incorporating more and more flour, until you have a substantial dough formed. It will still be very loose and wet, but it will be a discernible ball of dough and it will hold its shape enough for you to pick it up. Set the dough aside on a part of the well-floured board.





This next step is not one I have found in any recipes through which I have looked, but our instructor strongly suggested it and I have taken her suggestion and found that it does make for a smooth, easy to roll dough, so I would suggest that you follow it as well.

Put all of the leftover flour into a sieve, using your fork to scrape up any eggy bits that are stuck to the board as well.



Shake out the excess flour, leaving all of the leftover clumps of eggy flour that didn't incorporate into your dough in the sieve. Do not try to incorporate these into the dough, they will make it rough and cause it to break when you are rolling it out. Discard them and continue with the clean flour and your soft ball of pasta dough.

I was lucky this time and did not have too many clumps of eggy dough that needed to be tossed. Sometimes I have a lot more than that, so don't be worried if you have a bigger amount that needs to be tossed. It all works out in the end.

Start gently kneading your dough, adding generous amounts of flour at first, until it gets to the point where you no longer need to add any flour to keep it from sticking to your hands.

Continue to knead it until it is smooth, shiny and elastic. You will not use all of the flour. Shape the dough into a disk and wrap it in plastic. I usually strain out the remaining flour and store it in a small container for future pasta making.

Let the dough sit for at least half an hour to let it relax.

Unwrap the plastic and set the dough on a lightly-floured counter. Lightly flour your rolling pin and start by rolling back and forth in short quick steps to get the disk flat. Once it is about 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick, start rolling from the center out, turning the circle by a quarter after each roll.

When the disk is about 1/8-inch thick, stretch it out by rolling one edge of it over the rolling pin, then grab the bottom part and gently stretch it out. Turn the dough a quarter and stretch it again. Do this at least 4 times so you go all the way around the dough.






Continue to roll the dough from the center out until it is about 1/16-inch thick. Now you need to stretch it again by rolling the dough about a third of the way over the rolling pin and grabbing the rolled part on the ends and stretching it out sideways, continuing to stretch it as you roll the rest of the dough over the pin. Unroll the dough, turn it a quarter, and repeat. Do this also at least 4 times, and then continue to roll the disc from the center out.



Here it is all rolled out. If you click on the image, you will notice that you can see the marbling on the linoleum through the pasta. I have actually gotten even better at getting it thin since I made this batch, but it doesn't matter that much. It still tastes good, no matter how thick it is.





Let the dough sit for 5 minutes on one side, then turn it and let it sit for 5 minutes on the other side. With a sharp knife, cut the circle in half and roll each half lengthwise into a log.







Cut each log into the width that you want your finished noodles to be. I have done as thin as 1/8-inch and as thick as 1-1/2 inches (for lasagna). Try to be as consistent as you can so the noodles will cook at the same time.






After the noodles are cut, unroll each one and place it on a floured cookie sheet. I usually stretch each noodle out a little by holding the ends and gently swinging it before I put it on the sheet. Put the noodles in one layer, then sprinkle that layer with flour before starting the next layer.





Once the noodles have been unrolled and well floured, you can gather them back up again. This batch is ready to be cooked. Once the water has come to the boil, add plenty of salt and cook them for about 3 minutes.

If you don't want to cook them right away, you can put them in a plastic bag and keep them in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or you can store them in the freezer for a few months.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Corn and Sweet Potato Casserole with Salsa

I love my corn casserole recipe, but for some reason I just can't seem to stop playing around with it. It's not that I want to make it better, because it is truly a delicious dish in its own right, but it is the perfect vehicle for a seemingly infinite range of vegetables to counteract some of the butter and cheese.

And most of my adaptations have consisted of the addition of different vegetables, with palate-pleasing results. Carrots, zucchini, bell peppers (green and red), and onions have all found a place at the table. I have been careful not to combine too many, heeding the warning of the woman who gave me the recipe that too many additions can cause it to become too dry (which, after experiencing it once, I was careful to ensure that it never happened again). So usually, the addition of one vegetable has been more than enough to enhance the flavor.

I was in a little bit of a slump last night, but I needed to make something for work lunches. I already had most of the basic ingredients for the corn casserole, so I stopped at the grocery store on the way home from work to get yogurt and to look at the vegetables. For some reason I got it in my head that zucchini would be the thing, but they weren't in the best condition so I reluctantly turned my thoughts elsewhere. I wasn't too keen on any of my other usual options, so I tried to think outside of the box.

And saw some beautiful organic sweet potatoes. I thought that would work nicely so I bought one and brought it home with me.

At first I was going to slice it, saute it, and use the slices whole, which is what I have done with all of the other vegetables I add. But the slices were so soft when I put them in with the pureed corn, butter and eggs that I couldn't stop myself from giving them a round with the stick blender and pureeing it into the mix.

As soon as I had done it, I knew it was a smart decision. It added a warm orange tone to the usually yellow mixture, and it smelled lovely. It increased the level of liquid as well, so I added more cornmeal.

The result was wonderful. The sweet potato and cumin added a rich, smoky depth to both the flavor and the texture, with a delicate undertone of sweetness. And it still worked beautifully with the salsa.


Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

CORN AND SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE


1/2 cup melted butter
2 cups corn, separated
2 eggs
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1/2 large or 1 medium sweet potato, peeled, quartered and cut into 3/4-inch thick slices
1 tsp cumin
1 cup plain yogurt
1 4-oz can diced mild green chilies
1 cup cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1-1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup coarse cornmeal
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add sweet potato slices, then sprinkle the cumin over the sweet potato. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir once and then leave them to cook for about
10 minutes, checking for signs of burning. Turn the slices over and cook until they are tender, another 5 to 10 minutes, being careful not to burn them. Take the pan off the heat and let the potatoes cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. and grease a 3-quart casserole dish.

Combine the butter, 1 cup of the corn, the cooked sweet potato and the eggs in a blender (or in a large bowl if you are lucky enough to have a stick blender.) Puree them together and pour into a large bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the mixture, stir well, and pour into the greased casserole dish. Place in the 350-degree oven and bake for about 50 minutes, until the top has set and the edges are browned,
but not burned.

Let sit for 15 minutes before serving. Best served warm, with fresh salsa.

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (www.mountain-software.com)


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ricotta Frittata

I know I just wrote this post about frittatas, but I just made a very special frittata that I just had to tell you about because it was so darned good.

It came about because I bought a pound of hand-packed ricotta cheese to use as a pasta filler, and then proceeded to make said pasta filling without using any of the ricotta cheese. That turned out to be a good decision for the pasta filling, but it left me with a pound of ricotta cheese which I needed to use up pretty quickly.

I do not use ricotta often, and I most often use it with baked pasta dishes. I really wasn't up to that - either the baking or the eating of it. So I started thinking about the things I am already making and wondered if there was any way to incorporate ricotta into the mix.

Pizza was the first, most obvious choice (and it worked out quite well, thank you very much). But I can only make so much pizza in a week and a pound of ricotta is a lot of cheese when you don't have a specific purpose for it.

The next logical step for me was to use it with a frittata. Once the eggs were almost set, right before I put it under the broiler, I dabbed about 1/4 a cup around the top, then covered the whole thing with parmesan cheese.

With amazing results. Soft and creamy, it added a smooth dimension to the eggs that was punctuated by the saltier crisp of the melted parmesan cheese.

As I mentioned before, you can pretty much put anything into a frittata. I highly recommend ricotta cheese.

For the basic recipe, see this post.

Monday, October 04, 2010

How To Make a Frittata

Ever since I made my first frittata a few months ago, I have been obsessed by them. And with good reason, I think. They are easy to make, you can put just about anything in them, they can be eaten hot or cold, so leftovers are not a problem. In fact, I have gotten in the habit of making one early in the week so I can have a quick breakfast I can grab and take to work with me on those mornings when I don't feel like making something before I leave, or I don't have time.

I like mine on the thick side, so it can be difficult to cook it long enough for it to set without burning the bottom, but I have learned a few things. I cook it low and slow, and periodically lift up the edges and let some of the raw egg spill over to the bottom of the pan. I do that a few times until there is just a little big of egg still unset on top, and then I flip it and cook the top.

I am happy with the recipe I used from James Beard's American Cookery and posted about here. I have made some adjustments since then, mainly to accommodate the thickness of the frittata and the size of my pan, which is a little too small to hold the 8 eggs called for in the recipe. At some point, I need to get a bigger pan, but in the meantime I have adjusted the recipe and am coping just fine. I will say this, though: when I do get a new pan, it will be oven-proof.

While the James Beard recipe is a good one, I thought it might be helpful if I provided a little how-to for anyone who might be a little nervous about trying this for the first time.

I won't repeat the recipe now - you can find at my original post. If you haven't made one yet, I highly recommend you try it. It's also perfect for weekend brunch.
HOW TO MAKE A FRITTATA

The first thing to do is heat a combination of oil and butter in a medium-sized skillet. The original recipe calls for olive oil, but I have found that a combination of grapeseed oil and butter gives me the best flavor profile. You can use whatever works for you, but you do need to use a fair amount, at least 3 tablespoons. If not, you run the risk of the egg sticking to the pan, even if you use a non-stick pan.

Once the oil is hot enough, lower the heat and add the onion and the garlic and cook until it just starts to turn translucent. Add whatever vegetable you are using, season with salt and pepper, and let it cook until it has softened. How long you let it cook at this point depends on what you are adding. When I am adding thinly-sliced potato (which I have started doing with much success), it can take a little while to soften. If you are using more than one vegetable, start with the longer-cooking one, then add the faster cooking ones a few minutes later. Here I added Swiss Chard, which takes only a few minutes to cook.

Keep the heat low for this process. You want the vegetables to cook, but you don't want them to caramelize. Low and slow is the way to go in this case.

A few minutes before the vegetables are ready, crack the eggs into a medium-size bowl. Add salt and pepper (and any herbs/flavoring you want to use - I have found tarragon, or oregano, or even a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce to work quite well) and whisk together until the eggs are well mixed.

Spread the vegetables evenly around the pan. Slowly pour the egg mixture over the vegetables. Make sure the heat is low.

I have been hearing a lot lately about how important the sounds of cooking are to the success of a dish. That is true here. You want to monitor the heat to make sure your eggs aren't setting too quickly on the bottom of the pan. If you can hear them cooking, then the heat is too high.


Once the eggs have set around the edges, take a spatula (silicon is best) and work it around the edges to loosen them and make sure they are set enough to hold. When they are set enough, lift up one section and tilt the pan so that the raw egg mixture pours over the edge to the bottom of the pan. Gently set the lifted part back down into the raw egg.

Wait a few minutes, until the raw egg has had a chance to set, and then lift a different section and pour more raw egg over the edge to the bottom of the pan. Do this a few more times, until there is just a little bit of raw egg left on the top. There should not be enough raw egg to spill off of the frittata when you transfer it to a plate, if that is the method you are going to use.

You have two options now:

1. If your pan is not oven proof, you can take the pan off of the heat and, using the spatula, gently transfer it onto a plate. Then take the skillet and lay it over the frittata and turn the whole thing over so that the top of the frittata is upside down in the pan. Cover it with the grated cheese, then cover the pan and let it cook for another five minutes, long enough for the bottom to set and the cheese on top to melt.

2. If you have an oven-proof pan it is much simpler. You simply cover the top (there will still be raw egg there) with the grated cheese and pop it under the broiler for a few minutes so the top sets and the cheese melts.

Both methods are successful, with slight differences. The main difference is that the cheese will not brown on the stove top the way it will in the broiler.

A word about the cheese. The recipe calls for Parmesan cheese, but I have successfully used whatever cheese I have in the refrigerator, including cheddar and mozzarella. Any cheese that melts will work here.

My non-stick skillet is not oven proof, alas, and the eggs stick to my cast-iron skillet, so I most often use the first method. But sometimes I will take the frittata and transfer it to my cast iron pan instead of a plate, and then finish it off under the broiler.

Whatever method you use, the end result is delicious. For leftovers, I just take it out of the refrigerator and let it sit for about half an hour while I go about my business. Once it's at room temperature, I eat it as is. A quick, easy, delicious breakfast, and one of the most versatile, considering the limitless ingredient possibilities.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Word about (Fresh) Lima Beans

YUM! And here's another word: DOUBLE YUM!!

Ok, that was two words but I don't care. That's how excited I am about them. I had a specific shopping list for the Green Market yesterday, something I don't usually have. I usually wander around and grab anything (and everything) that catches my fancy, but this time I was on a mission. And I was finding everything I needed, including the fresh cranberry beans I wanted so I could make Lamb and Cabbage Stew with Fresh Beans with, you know, fresh beans instead of the canned kidney beans I used the first time I made it. (I actually have lamb this time, too.)

I also had in mind a tabbouleh-style salad to make for work lunches when I got home last night from what was going to be a late night without much time to cook. I had half a bunch of broccoli rabe and a fresh tomato and I decided that would be a good way to use them. I didn't make the decision in enough time to soak some chickpeas, so I decided I would buy a can at the grocery store on the way home.

And then I saw that they had fresh lima beans right next to the cranberry beans at one of my favorite stalls. Fresh beans would cook up quickly and didn't need soaking so I thought it might be an interesting experiment to use the lima beans instead of buying canned chickpeas. So I bought some of those as well.

When I got home last night, I put some water on to boil and washed and shelled the beans. They only took about ten minutes to cook, then I drained them and put them in a bowl to cool a little while I prepared the rest of the salad.

I put the bulgur in a bowl and started chopping an onion. I decided I had better try one of the lima beans to make sure they were done, so I took one of the biggest beans and put it in my mouth.

Where it melted. Like butter. So I ate another one, just to be sure. Melted. Butter. Soft, mushy, buttery, with only the mildest flavor (unlike the overpowering flavor of their dried counterparts), I could not stop eating them. They never made it into the salad. I ate the whole bowl's worth, one at a time, with my fingers. I didn't even salt them, they were that good.

So my tabbouleh salad is bean-less. No matter - it was worth it. I only hope they still have some on Saturday morning, because I definitely need some more of those before they are gone.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Summer's End: Corn Chowder

For several reasons, heat being just one of them, I did not make it to the Green Market between early June and mid-September this year. That's pretty much all of summer's bounty left untouched and unsavored by me. Which makes me a little sad. I didn't do that much cooking anyway, though, and you may have noticed I did not post as much as usual, either. The good thing about blogging for fun rather than profit is that I do not have to do it if I don't feel like doing it; the bad thing about it is the same. I think everyone goes through periods when life gets in the way and they don't feel as inspired as they usually do about very many things, even the things that usually give them pleasure. So I didn't cook much, and I didn't write much, and I didn't read much. I didn't even knit much.

I did watch a lot of TV. I'm not particularly proud of myself, but there you have it. Lots of mind-numbing, take your mind off of how hot it is, in how much of a funk you have found yourself, how little you want to turn your attention to the things that you normally find fascinating, engaging, and exciting. And even though I watched a lot of cooking shows, and food reality shows (yes, even "Hell's Kitchen," as stupid as I find it), I remained uninspired. Unlike the women of Theresienstadt, who compiled a cookbook from memory, while they were barely subsisting on scraps at the time, just so the knowledge wouldn't be lost, I sat on my couch and wallowed (and whined) in the heat and seemed determined to be as miserable as I possibly could until the heat ended and things cooled off somewhat.

In my defense, there were other things going on that became tied in my mind to the heat, so that this summer was basically one huge surreal haze of heat and discomfort, both physical and emotional. I suppose in some ways that is how I needed to spend my summer, and the heat just gave me a measuring stick against which I could let myself mope, knowing that once the worst was over I could collect myself and get back to normal.

Which has finally happened. Two weeks ago temperatures finally dropped below eighty and have stayed there long enough for me to be reasonably certain that fall has, finally, asserted its rightful place in the Chcago seasonal landscape. Since then, I have felt my blood quicken and start to flow more smoothly through my veins, and I have felt the itch to get back in the kitchen and start cooking again.

And I went back to the Green Market. Misreall sent me an email saying she was ready to come into the city, did I want to meet her there? 'Deed I did, and early Wednesday morning we met up and wandered through the stalls.

I was a little anxious because I was afraid I had missed out on everything, but there was still a lovely variety of produce from which to choose. So much, in fact, that I had to restrain myself from grabbing one of everything. I hadn't even really started to cook yet, so that first week I grabbed some onions, a few potatoes, and a couple of apples. I wanted to grab a butternut squash and some beans and some of the gorgeous beets, fennel and kohlrabi that I saw, but I decided to wait until I had a better plan for using them. It was such a joy to be there, though, that Misreall and I made plans to meet up again the next week.

Which was last Wednesday. And even though the fall and winter produce have started to appear in abundance, there was still some corn available. Corn was the main thing I felt I had missed out on during my summer vacation, so I decided to grab some up before it disappeared completely.

I decided to make corn chowder. Another stall had some gorgeous poblano peppers, and I thought they might make an nice variation from the red bell peppers I have used in the past so I bought some of those.

The last times I made corn chowder I used ham, as that was what I had on hand, and it was quite delicious on those occasions. But this time I had my lovely Dreymiller & Krey maple-smoked bacon ends in the freezer so I used those, with most excellent results. The poblano peppers did exactly what I hoped they would do - offered a rich, dark, slightly smoky overtone to the dish.

I was a little afraid the corn might be too close to the end of the season to still be good but it was light, sweet and crisp. I hope they still have some this week so I can get one more taste before I start roasting that winter squash.
Home Cookin Chapter: Soups and Stews

CORN CHOWDER
Makes 4 servings

1 Tbsp butter
1/4 lb maple-smoked bacon
1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
3 ears of blanched corn, cut from the cob, plus the cobs (broken in half)
3 cups milk
3 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
1 medium potato, diced
2 medium poblano peppers, diced
1 Tbsp fresh thyme, or 1 tsp dried
1/2 tsp paprika

Melt butter in 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until done, about 5-7 minutes. Drain all but about 2 tablespoons of the fat. Add onions and cook until translucent, approximately 5 minutes. Add carrots and cook another 5 minutes.

Nestle the corn cobs in among the vegetables and cover with the milk. Add the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to the barest simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Do not let the milk scald.

Remove the corn cobs and the bay leaf and add the potatoes and poblano pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender.

Add the corn, thyme and paprika and cook another 5 to 10 minutes, until the corn is warmed through.

Adapted from a previous adaption of Elise's recipe on Simply Recipes.

Exported from Home Cookin 5.9 (www.mountain-software.com)

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