Thursday, January 28, 2010

How to Make Ghee

My first taste of Indian food came on my first trip to New York City to meet up with some friends and to celebrate the New Year in 1979. Yep, I saw the ball drop (more near than at Times Square) to welcome in that wonderful decade the '80s.

At the time, I felt like I was in another country - the streets seemed old and narrow (and dirty), and everywhere we went I heard different languages being spoken around me. I no longer remember too much of where we went, what we did, and what we ate (although I do remember most breakfast specials were around $3.99, but you had to get up at some ungodly hour of the morning - like 9:00 or something - to take advantage of those fabulous deals. The only time I made it was our first day there and that was only because we arrived at 5:00 in the morning and got into Manhattan too early to bother our hosts so we stopped at a diner and ate breakfast.

And I remember the Indian Restaurant where a huge group of us went for dinner one night. I have no idea which one it was, or where it was, or much beyond that, except that it was full of the most wondrous aromas I had ever experienced. Not knowing anything about it, I was happy to let the others order, and to just enjoy the experience. I know we had Naan and I suspect we had tandoori chicken, but I don't remember any other specifics except for the fragrant rice (maybe some biryani?) and exotic vegetables.

Oh, and I remember that it was all absolutely delicious, and I wanted more. When I returned home to Austin, I went a few times to the one Indian restaurant that I was aware of at the time, but I didn't really know what to order. Everything was good; it was just always a crap shoot and I hadn't paid enough attention at the restaurant in New York to have the faintest idea of for what I was searching.

I looked up a couple of recipes, but I always folded against the unfamiliar ingredients. There were spices of which I had never heard, home-made cheese, bread that you cooked on the side of the oven, and master blends of curries that I couldn't even begin to think where to start to recreate.

And there was ghee. Every dish seemed to call for ghee. It seemed to be related to clarified butter, of which use I only knew was as a dipping sauce for lobster and had never made before, and it seemed like a lot of work to create an obscure, enigmatic entity. I moved on.

And then I moved to Chicago, where I discovered the restaurants of Devon Avenue. They were many, and they were wondrous. There were even - wonder of wonders - Indian restaurants scattered elsewhere around the city too, with three - count 'em three! - in my neighborhood alone. I got more comfortable with Indian food, and more familiar with it. But I still did not have the nerve to try my hand at cooking it.

A few years later, I got a copy of Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, and as I looked through the recipes, some of them actually looked do-able. My first attempt, Spicy Eggplant Stew with Potatoes, Mushrooms and Chickpeas, came out so well that I was encouraged to try more. One thing led to another and, fueled also by my desire to eat more healthful vegetarian fare, I was cooking Indian food before I knew it.

But there was still one ingredient I was avoiding. Any time I ran across ghee in the list of ingredients for any recipe, I automatically substituted oil. I knew my dishes would never reach the same level of flavor without it, but I had no idea how to get it and it never really occurred to me that I might be able to make it myself.

Then I saw it on sale at the Big Apple Market, in a cute little jar. I picked it up, thinking it might be worth trying until I saw the $10.00 price tag. I quietly put the cute little jar back on the shelf and quickly scurried away.

But I knew what it looked like, and I think that gave me the courage to finally think about trying to make it myself. And I found that it wasn't nearly as scary as I thought it would be. I did a little searching, and discovered a few things that gave me confidence. One was that it lasts for quite a while if kept dry, and it doesn't need to be refrigerated. The more I looked at the method the more intrigued I was, and the more determined I became to try it. And I have to tell you, I am so glad that I did!

Ghee has a rich, nutty taste that makes me feel all warm and toasty just with the smelling of it. It is solid at room temperature, melts quickly and easily, and actually has a higher smoke point than most vegetable oils. It browns beautifully, and adds that same nutty flavor to whatever is cooked in it. It even makes fabulous popcorn!

If kept dry and well-sealed, ghee will keep for months at room temperature. So what are you waiting for? Ok, maybe you're as intimidated as I was at the thought of making it. Silly you. Have I ever let you down before? Just follow the steps below, and you will be amazed at how easy it is to make this wondrous concoction.
Put 1 to 2 pounds of butter in a 3-quart solid-bottomed heavy saucepan and melt over medium heat. This is what it looks like when the butter has just melted - it is yellow and liquid, with few bubbles.

Once the butter has melted, the solids will begin to separate from the liquids and it will start to get foamy on top. As the water starts to evaporate, you will start to hear it boiling. That's fine. That's what it's supposed to do.

Just when you start to wonder when it will reach the next step, the foam will start to disperse around the edges of the pan, and you will be able to see the liquid below. It is still opaque at this point, so just let it keep on boiling away.

You want it to be a slow boil, with just an occasional bubble here and there. If you have the heat too high, you can burn the milk solids. If you burn the milk solids, you have ruined your ghee because the flavor will permeate through the oil. If you leave the heat at medium and lower it a little if it gets too happy, it will be fine.

The solids have closed back over the liquid, but you can see that it has developed a little bit of a crust-like consistency. At this point, you can take your wooden spoon and kind of skim them back and get a glimpse of the liquid below. At this point, the liquid will be transparent, because the solids have started to sink to the bottom of the pan. Once the water has boiled out of the mixture, your ghee is basically ready. Now all you have to do is decide how nutty and brown you want it to be.

I didn't get as clear a picture of the translucent liquid through the foam as I thought I did. At this point, you want to periodically skim the foam to the side so you can keep an eye on the liquid. You will be able to see the solids that have fallen to the bottom of the pan, and you want to make sure they don't burn. They can brown; in fact, you want them to brown. And there's a pretty broad range at which you can stop and it will still be ghee, so if you are a little nervous the first time and don't let it get as brown as it could, it will still be ghee and it will still be delicious.

Once you have decided your ghee is done, you want to remove it from the heat and pour it carefully into a measuring cup. Be sure to put a metal spoon in the cup to help keep the glass from breaking - this stuff is hot. Which bears repeating. This mixture is incredibly hot so you want to be very careful when you are pouring it into the measuring cup. Also be sure that your measuring cup is big enough to hold all of the liquid. You will lose about half a cup making ghee, so if you are using 1 pound you will need a 2-cup measuring cup, and if you are making 2 pounds you will need a 4-cup measuring cup. I started with 1 pound of butter; now I make it in 2 pound batches. You can see how translucent it is in this photo.

You want to pour steadily in a slow stream so that you can leave the solids in the pan. You can see how much was left down there. You can see I let it get pretty brown in there. I could have probably gone a little further, but I didn't want to risk burning it.

You can eat the solids if you want - I've heard that it's really good on toast. To me, that kind of defeats the whole purpose of making ghee though, so I just throw it out.

After it has cooled for a few minutes, put cheesecloth in a strainer and again, slowly and steadily, pour the ghee from the measuring cup into your storage container. I have this wonderful wire bail jar that has about as close to an airtight seal as you can get. I have a bigger one that I use to store my brown sugar and it has never, ever, dried out on me.

Once you have strained the ghee into your storage container, leave it open while it cools

Here's what it looks like after an hour or two. You can see that it has become a little more opaque, but it doesn't look like it will become solid, does it?

Surprise! It does! It was past my bedtime and it still hadn't cooled completely so I went to bed. This is what I woke up to in the morning - Yum!

And that's it. I'm telling you - you have to try this stuff. It is like liquid gold. One-and-a-half billion Indians can't be wrong.

Monday, January 25, 2010

DIY Condiments: Getting Started

It took me and Lynda (Lynda and I?) a while to come up with a time that we could get together to get started on our home-made condiments project, but we finally met late this morning at the Red Apple (the one south of Belmont) so we could officially begin proceedings.

But before we could begin with new business, Lynda handed me a bag full of spicy surprises for my holiday gift! I know this is not the best picture, but there is a veritable treasure trove of spices in those little bags. They came from a woman who sells spices, mostly at SCA events I believe, that would have been used in medieval cooking.

So my friend is a geek and so am I. I can live with that. You should smell my kitchen right now. I am in the proud possession of: tarragon, green cardamom, sel gris de Guerande, poudre forte, galangal, and cubebs. If you are not familiar with all of these spices do not worry, neither am I. But I can't wait to look them up and play with them. (Although, truth be told, I am perhaps just as excited by the wonderful doggy back in which they came!)

Now on to the order of the day. Over cabbage rolls, brats and sauerkraut, potato pancakes, beet salad (and much much more) we planned our strategy.

The recipe we have decided to use for our Worcestershire sauce calls for the sauce to age for three weeks before you start to use it. We decided to start with that, and we will both plan to make it next weekend, so it will be ready toward the end of February. Then we will get together and compare our processes and our results.

After we had made our plan and finished our meal, we wandered down Milwaukee and visited the small food and meat shops. Lynda was looking for some pickled vegetables for a recipe she wants to make, and I was just . . . well . . . looking.

And found a few items of my own. Starting at the left, that's a smoked sausage that the gentleman standing next to us at the counter said "Is best! Freshest!" So we grabbed some. Next to that is some honest to goodness, home-made lard. In case you didn't know, lard is making a bit of a comeback. I have been wanting to try it for a while, but all I could find at my grocery store is the commercial kind, that has partially-hydrogenated oils in it. This is the real deal, rendered straight from the pig, and I was so excited when I saw it that I might just have squealed like a pig myself. The chilies del arbol are for the Worcestershire sauce. And that jar at the back there is filled with plums in light syrup. What was I thinking? I'm not sure, but they were just different enough to pique my interest. There are many possibilities - sweet, savory, jam, pie? Of course, I will do a little research and see if there's anything special one does with them if one is in Eastern Europe.

So that was my day today. Color me excited. I can't wait to get started on the Worcestershire sauce next weekend. I have all of the ingredients except for the anchovy and the star anise. And I think I saw some star anise at the Asian grocery store Nicole and I went to the weekend before last.

Oh - if you want to join us and make your own Worcestershire sauce you would be most welcome. You can find the recipe at

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Corn Casserole

Several years and a few lifetimes ago when I was working in the Austin Public Library's Interlibrary Loan Department, we had one of many pot-luck parties down in the basement offices of the Central Texas Library System, of which we were a part. In case you didn't know, librarians make pretty good cooks, and we always ate well and I usually learned something new every time.

That's when I learned how to make quiche, as a matter of fact. Every year, each department would host a Christmas party for the rest of the library throughout December (was it every week? every day? Gosh, that was a lot of parties!). Imagine my dismay when I realized that my new department hosted the quiche party. Huh? It was the 1970s - I didn't know nothing about making no quiches. But I found a recipe, bought some frozen pie shells, and danged if I didn't knock out some tasty pies. So tasty, in fact, that for the next several years not only did I bake a few quiches for the library party, it was my job to make quiche every year for the family Christmas Eve dinner.

But I digress. Back to our potluck party down in the basement of the old library building where our parent department lived. I don't remember what I made for this particular party. All I remember is the corn casserole one of my co-workers brought. It was moist and cheesy and had a slight tanginess that I could not for the life of me place. It didn't look like much, but it was so full of corny goodness and that odd almost-spicy-but-not-hot zing and I could not stop eating it. I was thrilled that she was willing to share the recipe with me.

There were two ingredients that made this dish stand out, especially for those times. The source of that slightly tangy flavor was yogurt, of all things. Keep in mind that most people would not go near yogurt with a ten-foot pole in those days, so it was quite exotic that it was a major component of this dish. I have to say that it was using plain yogurt in this casserole that helped me develop a taste for it, and I began to use it on a more regular basis in my kitchen. And it complemented the corn beautifully without overpowering it, and added extra creaminess to the mix without the fat of heavy cream.

The second ingredient was chopped green chilies. I had never heard of them. And I've just now realized that I have no idea what kind of chilies they are. They come whole or chopped in a 4-ounce can and you can find them at any grocery store in the Latin American food section. They are mild but have a rich, slightly pickled, slightly smoky flavor that complements the tang of the yogurt, the sweetness of the corn, and the richness of the cheese. Oh yeah, there's cheese in there too.

The recipe lends itself to some improvisation. Here, I sauteed some sliced carrot and added it to the mix before baking. Chopped green peppers magnify the flavor of the chilies. Onion is always welcome to the party. The only thing my co-worker warned me about when she mentioned adding other vegetables was to do so sparingly or the dish could become too dry. I did not believe her, but one night when I was feeling particularly ambitious and added all of those extra items I discovered that she was right. It still tasted good, but it was not nearly as rich and creamy as usual, and that is what makes it so good.

When I first started making this, I used a commercial brand of corn meal with the hull and most of the germ of the kernel removed. While this gives the corn meal a longer shelf life, it also removes most of the fiber and protein. I didn't even know there was a difference in those days. Now, I buy stone ground corn meal (usually Bob's Red Mill polenta). As good as it was before, the stone ground corn meal lifts it to another level. It adds a grits-style body to the texture of the casserole, and wraps all of the other ingredients in the luscious sweetness of the corn.

This is super easy to make, and always impresses. It's extra delicious served with fresh salsa.
Makes 6 servings

Puree in the blender or food processor:

1 stick melted butter
1 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen, not canned)
2 eggs

Pour into bowl. Add:

1 cup plain yogurt
1 4-oz. can chopped green chilies
1 cup cheddar or monterrey jack cheese, cubed
1/2 cup corn meal
1 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen, not canned)
1-1/4 tsp salt
Any sauteed vegetables (carrots, green pepper, onions, etc.) you wish to add sparingly)

Pour into buttered casserole dish (a cast-iron skillet works very well). Bake at 350 deg. F. for about 40 minutes, until the top is browned. Let cool a little before serving.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Coconut Chicken Soup

This may not look much like the Tom Kha Ghai soup you will find at any Thai restaurant, but I am pleased with it nonetheless. It may not be authentic, but I managed to hit most of the flavor notes dead on. Not bad for a first attempt, at which I was flying by the seat of my pants.

Last weekend I went with a friend to Hua Nam Grocery in Uptown, where I bought some lovely pak choi, Vietnamese spinach, tofu, and this wicked insane chili paste with garlic she turned me on to and is awesome in a stir-fry. How do I know this? Because I immediately went home and made a lovely stir-fry with all of my goodies. There's not much new to add on that, I used the same method I always use and posted about here.

The only purchase with which I was not thrilled was the Vietnamese spinach. It looked rich and green in the shop and I thought it was just a sturdier version of regular spinach. I am glad I looked it up when I got home, though, because I discovered that it isn't really related to spinach at all. It's actually basella alba and when cooked up has a mild flavor and a mucilagenous texture. Mucilagenous equals slimy, which equals "ick" in my book.

You wouldn't think from looking at it that it would be slimy, would you? Well, you would be wrong. Forewarned, I used it sparingly, and I ended up picking those little bits out of my stir-fry. It might be good for me, but what good is it if I can't eat it?

On Tuesday, my friend brought me a lovely package she put together from some of the things she had bought. I now had some gai lan, which I had used before and like a lot, a couple of stalks of lemongrass, which I have been wanting to try for a long time, and a generous handful of fresh thai chilies, red and green.

What to do with all of this extra bounty? The next day I made another stir-fry that combined my leftover pak choi with the gai lan. I did not feel like making up my usual sauce, so I simply heated the wok, added the oil, added the vegetables, let them cook for a few minutes, then poured in a little chicken stock (to which I added about half a teaspoon - that's how hot it is - of the chili paste with garlic), a dash of soy sauce, and squeezed in the juice from a clementine. When the liquid was hot I added a tablespoon of water mixed with a tablespoon of cornstarch, and as that was thickening everything up I threw in a handful of toasted walnuts.

It was delicious, and took no time at all to prepare, which is a really good thing. I love making stir-fries, but they can often be a bit of a production with all the prep work that is required, since you need to have everything ready before you start. I still plan to do that, but it's nice to know that I don't have to; I can be much more casual and still have a delicious end result.

Now back to the coconut chicken soup. I had used the gai lan my friend brought me, but I still had the lemongrass and the chilies. I remembered that I had some diced chicken breast meat in the freezer from my last roast chicken, and I had a recently-purchased can of coconut milk in the pantry. I decided to improvise a version of Tom Kha Gai. I've eaten it in enough Thai restaurants that I figured I should be able to come up with something close.

And I was most pleased with this first attempt. It's darker than it should be because the only broth I had in the freezer was one last jar of my slow cooker vegetable stock (there's chicken stock simmering on the stove as I write this post, however, so I will soon be flush with fluid). I don't remember what was in there that made it so dark, but it added flavor to the mix as well, so I'm not complaining too much.

As with my spur-of-the-moment stir-fry of the other night, I am so pleased that I am getting to the point where I can create a meal from what I have on hand. I would have loved to add some lime juice and cilantro at the end, but I didn't have either, so I passed on those. And as good as that would have made it, it's quite nice without them.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

makes 3 generous servings

3 Tbsp grapeseed or vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, halved (into 2 quarters) and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
3 cloves minced garlic
2-3 (less or more depending on your heat tolerance) Thai bird chilies, chopped fine
2 stalks lemongrass, well-bruised with the flat of your knife and cut into 3-inch long pieces
3 cups broth
1 cup water
1 cup coconut milk
1 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar (or to taste)
1 zucchini, sliced
meat from to cooked chicken breasts, cut into 1" pieces
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 bunch greens, roughly chopped

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute for 1 minute, then add garlic, ginger and chilies. Cook until onions just start to turn translucent. Add lemongrass, broth, water, coconut milk, fish sauce, soy sauce and brown sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the zucchini and the chicken to the soup.

In large skillet heat remaining tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add sesame seeds and cook for a minute or 2, until the seeds start to turn brown. Add greens and cook until they are wilted. Remove from heat and add to the soup. Cook 1 or 2 minutes more, remove from heat, and serve.

Exported from Home Cookin 5.9 (

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Baking Class: Sweet Potato Empanadas

I first encountered empanadas in a panaderia down in Nuevo Laredo on one of my regular weekend trips back in the '70s. They reminded me vaguely of Hostess Brand fried pies, except they were filled with a sweet potato mixture that was tasty and exotic, and they weren't as greasy. I was never a big fan of the pan dulce, but I sure did like those empanadas.

I always had the vague idea that it would be nice to make them, but the big bad piecrust kept me from making the attempt. Every once in a while I would wistfully imagine eating one, but never enough to do anything about it.

Once I started practicing on my pie crusts, the idea of making empanadas came back into my thoughts. And once I felt comfortable enough making pies, I decided it was time to try.

For my first effort, I just used the pate brisee recipe I found at Elise's Simply Recipes. While not bad, it was not optimum. Oddly enough, it was a little too flaky for the purpose, and I didn't crimp the edges of the dough together enough so the filling seeped out some while they were baking. Luckily, it did not make a mess, but I realized I needed to find a dough that was sturdier than the delicate pie crust which I had grown accustomed to making.

A brief internet search led me to a recipe that looked easy enough, so I went to work.

I love that you can make pastry dough in the food processor. It's funny, but I only use it for pastry dough. I mix my biscuit dough by hand. It gives me more control I think, and keeps the biscuits more tender.

But for pastry dough it's the food processor all the way. I have always heard that you should process the dough until it forms a ball, and guess what? That's exactly what it does. Its like boiling water - you will know when it's ready. From here on out, it's just like the Pate Brisee - you divide it in half, let it chill, then roll it out.

For the filling, I roasted some sweet potatoes and mashed them up with some raspberry syrup and chipotle sauce. I didn't worry that I made a lot more of the mixture than I needed. I just threw what was left into a pot, added some vegetable broth, gave it a quick blast with the hand blender, and enjoyed some killer sweet potato soup.

After I rolled out the first disk, I cut approximately three-and-a-half-inch diameter circles using my super duper cookie cutter. It was easy to make; I just used the can opener to remove the bottom of can. It's the perfect width. And it pairs quite nicely with the 14-oz. coconut milk can I use to cut out my flaky buttermilk biscuits.

After I cut out the circles, I stack them two at a time between wax paper. Then I put them in the refrigerator for at least half an hour, so they would get nice and cold. As with all things pastry, you don't want the dough to get too warm or the butter will soften into the dough and it won't be flaky when you bake it. Did I mention that this is a time-consuming process?

To make the empanadas, you separate an egg and use the egg white to help seal the ends of the dough together. You brush it around the edge of the circle, then put a tablespoon of the sweet potato mixture in the center. You want to be sure not to use too much filling. You have to be able to close the dough completely over the filling, without any leaking out. With a loose filling like mashed sweet potatoes, you have to be especially careful because it squishes so easily it seeps out before you even know it.

One trick to keep it from coming out is to close the dough over the filling and then start squeezing the ends together after it's already closed. You can see it better if you click on the picture - you want to smush the two edges together and stretch them out a little. That will make it easier to crimp the edges together.

Once the edges are sealed pick up the pastry and hold it in one hand. Using the other hand and starting at one end, fold the edge over itself and press firmly, and then fold the edge right next to it so it overlaps and press that firmly as well. Continue all the way around the edge until the whole side is completely sealed in on itself.

If you've done it right, the filling won't come out while it's in the oven.

And here they are all rolled and ready to go. Well, almost. Remember I mentioned that this is a lengthy process? After they're all rolled, you want to brush them with an egg yolk (the one you separated from the white you were using to seal the edges when you were putting them together) mixed with milk. Then you pierce them with a knife and put them in the refrigerator for half an hour.

Why do you do this? I don't know. But the first recipe I looked at said to do that, so I did. I'm thinking it must have something to do with letting the butter chill up again before you put them in the oven. And 30 minutes is how long it takes for the oven to preheat, so I turn on the oven at the same time I put them in the refrigerator.

And this is how they look fresh out of the oven. It always amazes me how pretty they look. Of all the new things I have made this year, I think I am proudest of these. I have since made them with different meat and potato fillings, and they have all been amazingly delicious.

Are they time consuming and a lot of work? Well, yes. Are they worth it? Hell yes!
Home Cookin Chapter: Cakes and Pies

Makes 16-18 large or 24-30 small empanadas

Basic empanada dough (recipe follows)
1 large sweet potato
2 Tbsp raspberry syrup, maple syrup, or orange juice
2 Tbsp brown sugar (if using orange juice)
1 Tbsp adobo sauce
1 chipotle, finely chopped (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg, separated

Wash the sweet potato and pierce it in several places with a fork. Roast it in a 350 deg. F. oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until it is soft. Let cool. Peel it and mash it with the syrup, adobo sauce and chipotle. Season to taste with the salt and pepper.

Roll out the emapanada dough and cut into either 3-1/2" rounds or 2" rounds (for appetizers). Put them in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes (or as long as 24 hours) to let the butter re-chill.

Remove the rounds from the refrigerator and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. If using the larger rounds, place 1 tablespoon of the sweet potato mixture in the center of each round (use 1 teaspoo if you are making the appetizer size). Brush the egg white around the edge of the circle and fold the dough over, being sure that none of the mixture escapes out from between the two layers of dough.

Fold the edge of the dough over itself and press firmly to seal it, repeating all the way around the half circle until the piece is completely sealed from side to side. Place on the baking sheet, leaving an inch between each empanada. Continue until all the rounds have been filled and sealed. Brush each empanada with a mixture of the egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of milk, then pierce each one twice with a sharp knife.

Preheat the oven to 400 deg. F. Place the baking sheets in the refrigerator and chill for half an hour. Bake the empanadas for approximately 30 minutes, until they are golden brown.

These can be eaten warm or at room temperature. If you store them in the refrigerator, they are best reheated in a 350-deg. F. oven for 10 minutes.

Exported from Home Cookin 5.9 (
Home Cookin Chapter: Cakes and Pies

makes 16-18 large or 24-30 small empanadas

3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 cups butter (1-1/2 sticks), cut into 1/2" pieces
1 egg
4 to 5 tablespoons water

Combine flour and salt in food processor and pulse to mix them
together. Add butter, egg and water and pulse together just until the
mixture begins to form a ball.

Dump the mixture onto a well-floured surface and knead just until it
comes together. Divide in half and form two disks. Coat disks with
flour and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 1 hour, or up to
2 days.

Remove from refrigerator and let sit for 10 minutes, to make rolling
easier. Roll out to desired thickness, then cut into desired size to
make with desired filling. Baking instructions will vary with each
empanada recipe.

from: Laylita's Recipes

Exported from Home Cookin 5.9 (

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mustard Greens with Bacon

While I was in Austin, I visited several grocery stores with my sister. There are a couple of stores that are new to the area that I had read about and was interested in seeing. The first was Newflower
farmers Market, which seems to be connected to something called Sunflower Farmers Market. The second was Sprouts Farmers Market, which is headquartered in Arizona, with additional locations in California, Colorado and Texas.

I find it interesting that both of these companies call their stores Farmers Markets. They seem to be capitalizing on the popularity of farmers markets right now, but I think it stretches the notion of what constitutes a farmers market beyond all recognition. They were almost identical in size, setup, and the products they carried. They were both reasonably priced, definitely cheaper than Whole Foods, which seems to be the market after which they are going. Both had surprisingly small organic sections, and neither seemed to have much in the way of local products. I could be wrong, after all I spent less than an hour at each store, and while I would probably shop there some if I lived in the area (both were cheaper than Whole Foods and did have bigger bulk sections), given that they are both national chains I don't see any indication that they support local, sustainable products.

The third place we went was the Wheatsville Food Coop. I was aware of it way back in the late '70s when I lived in Austin, and I even went shopping there once or twice with my housemate, but it was mostly a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, and I really didn't know what to do with them in those days. I was happy to see that they are not only still around, but seem to be thriving. I was curious to see how much it might have changed so we went for a visit.

It was surprisingly similar to Newflower Market and Sprouts, although I guess not really all that surprising, since they are most likely the model those stores are using. Most, if not all, of their produce was organic, so the prices seemed higher, but I think they were decent prices for the market. They were definitely better prices than we have here in Chicago.

My sister and I had been discussing greens. She and her husband had been served mustard greens at a restaurant that they had particularly enjoyed, so she thought she would take a stab at cooking them at home, but she was concerned they might be bitter. I told her I didn't think they would be too bitter, although they did have a bite.

Flash forward to the next day, when she reported to me that they were so bitter neither she nor her husband could eat them. She had only cooked them long enough to let them wilt, so he put them back in the pot and cooked them down and she reported that they were much less bitter the next day.

The ones she bought also looked a little different to me than the ones I have bought up here. So when I saw how fresh they were at Whole Foods on Tuesday, I threw two bunches into my basket so I could cook them up and see if I had misremembered the bitter factor the last few times I had made them.

You can see how fresh these are. I'm sorry to say I have no idea whether or not they are local, but I suspect they may have come from Canada, given that there's French on the label.

These look lighter than the greens my sister bought, and the leaves are longer as well. I have since read that they are less bitter when in season, and that cooking them longer removes some of the bitterness so I am glad my sister's husband decided to throw them back in the pot so they could enjoy them.

I was a little hesitant to use my usual method of cooking these greens because I was afraid they might be bitter. But I decided to move ahead with my method, and they came out perfectly, and not bitter at all.

2 bunches fresh mustard leaves, thoroughly rinsed and roughly chopped
1/8 lb. slab bacon, sliced in 1-inch pieces
1 generous teaspoon whole-grain dijon mustard
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
water as needed

Put the bacon in a large skillet and place over a medium flame. Cook until the fat has rendered out and the bacon is crisp. Remove the bacon from the skillet and place on paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat and return the skillet to the heat. Add the mustard and stir to spread the seeds evenly around the pan. When the seeds start to pop, cover the skillet loosely to keep the seeds from popping out. Once the popping stops, add the greens with whatever rinse water is still clinging to them and cook until they wilt down. If necessary, add water a little bit at a time to keep the greens from sticking to the bottom of the pan and to help deglaze the bacon bits. If the greens have not wilted after t minutes or so, make sure there is enough liquid in the bottom of the pan, cover the skillet, and let the greens steam for 5 to 10 more minutes, until they are thoroughly wilted.

Add the balsamic vinegar and let cook for one more minute, adding salt and pepper if desired. Remove from the heat and add the bacon. Serve immediately.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Sloppy Joes Redux (Winter's Back)

I still haven't caught up from my trip to Austin. I know, I know, but I hit the ground running and haven't had a chance to catch my breath. I'm lucky I got to take off so long in a new job during a busy time, so I'm not complaining, but I haven't had time for anything else.

I will catch up this weekend. I have lots of plans.

In the meantime, we are going to be slogged down with snow for the rest of the day, so maybe it would be a good time to root around in the archives and resurrect this post about Sloppy Joes. They'll take your mind off the cold.

Photo from Schoolofrawk

Monday, January 04, 2010

Back to Chicago

No post today - I'm on my way home.

More later.

Happy New Year!
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