Thursday, September 29, 2011

Curried Beet Greens Frittata

Ok, so this is Frittata post number eight. What can I say? I love to make them, and each one is different from the one before. Some are better than others, but I must say they are all delicious. And eight is a mere fraction of the total that I have made since I discovered them. I owe the friend who asked me if I had a good frittata recipe a boatload of thanks, given how many I have made and how much I love them.

This weekend's was no exception. I was at the Green Market, mostly looking for tomatoes and basil so my co-worker and I could make those last batches of marinara sauce and pesto, when I saw the most beautiful bunch of beets. They just had to come home with me. I put the beets in the crisper and steamed the greens so I could put them into my Sunday breakfast.

How did I steam the greens? It couldn't be easier. I rinsed them and then cut off the stems and set them aside for later use. I put a saucepan on the stove and turned the heat on to medium so it would heat up some. Then I put the rinsed greens in the pan, turned it to low, and let it cook for about ten minutes. That's all it takes. Then I made my frittata.

I cook the stems from the greens with the onions and garlic in olive oil. I love how they turn everything red. I let them cook until they are soft, and then I add the faster cooking greens toward the end, so they don't overcook. It wasn't until after the onions and stem ends were cooking that I decided to make this a curried frittata, so I inserted some mustard seeds and a spoonful of tandoori masala and let them cook for a minute or two before I added the greens.

I used my new technique of adding the vegetables to the three beaten eggs, tempering them with a little bit of the hot mixture before adding the rest and then pouring everything back into the pan after adding a little bit of butter (to help keep it from sticking and for that little boost of flavor.)

After I flipped it, I covered the top with a mix of Parmigiana Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheeses. As usual, it was delicious.
For the basic recipe, go here. For the how to, go here. For tips, go here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Classic Basil Pesto

Every time it looks like I am finally finished with summer, something comes along to change my mind. In this case it was the last big beautiful bunches of fresh basil at the Smits Farms stand. A friend at work and I have been comparing market notes and wondering when the basil and the tomatoes were going to be gone, and the talk turned to pesto and other things you can do with basil once you have made enough sauce.

During the course of our conversation, we convinced ourselves that maybe we didn't have enough stashed away in the freezer to get us through the winter, so I agreed that if they were still available, I would get enough tomatoes and basil for each of us to make another batch of sauce. Well, there was, but I wasn't sure how much basil to get. Two each seemed like an awful lot, but one didn't seem like it would be enough for the sauce and pesto. So I bought two each, along with a bunch of Roma and Britain's Breakfast tomatoes for the sauce.

Which, as it turned out, was enough basil to make a big batch of the sauce plus two batches of pesto. One batch went into the freezer to accompany the batch I had made the week before; the other batch was delicious mixed with rotini, and made great work lunches for the rest of the week.

My sister discovered pesto years ago, and made it so often that it became one of her signature dishes. She made it so often, and with so many different combinations of nuts and herbs, that I never felt the need to tackle it myself. I did make it once when I moved to Chicago, and it was all right, but it was not worth the trouble to make again, I thought.

Until I had a big batch of basil and no idea how I was going to use it. I had pine nuts in the freezer, both Parmigiana Reggiano and Pecorino Romano in the refrigerator, and I always have extra virgin olive oil on hand, so it seemed inevitable. All I had to do was pull out the food processor and fill it up. And iIt was much easier and went much faster than I remember from the last time I made it. I divided it into two equal parts and froze it. I thought about freezing it in cubes, but I doubt I'll ever want that small of an amount, so I figured half a cup was a good amount for one use.

I wasn't sure whether or not I should freeze it with the cheese, but it always seemed like one step too many to have to add the cheese later. I looked around online and found enough people who said they have frozen it with the cheese without any problem, so I thought it was worth the risk. I will keep you posted on that issue.

I still have half a batch in the refrigerator. I plan to bake it with chicken for tonight's dinner.

I got this from my sister years ago, and I don't remember where she got it. But it is common enough and easily found all over the internet, so I am not going to worry that much about it.
Home Cookin Chapter: Appetizers, Spreads and Dips

Classic Basil Pesto

2 cups fresh basil leaves
3-4 large cloves garlic
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (walnuts)
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine basil, garlic, cheeses and nuts in food processor/blender. Process to mix. With machine running, slowly add the oil.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, and process to desired consistency. Let sit/stand 5 minutes before serving.

Toss with hot pasta and serve immediately, with additional pine nuts and parmesan.

Yield: 1 cup. Freezes well.

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

Friday, September 23, 2011

Are Organic Strawberries Really Organic? Not So Much

Every time I come across a story that interests me and that I would like to share, I save the link and file it away, hoping that I will have time to craft a well-written, thoughtful post that will best express my thoughts on the matter.

Unfortunately, that rarely happens, and by the time I am ready to think about writing the post, the time has passed for it to be relevant.

I have decided not to worry about how eloquent my post is - it is the information that matters. So, without further ado, here is a link to a story I think anyone should read who thinks that the strawberries they are buying are organic.

I have often wondered, as I have placed the brand-name package of strawberries labelled "organic" into my basket, if they were truly organic, or if the producer had just figured out a way to pimp the system and still be able to call their produce organic.

It looks like my concerns were valid, as illustrated by this story.

I don't know about you, but I am even more offended by producers who have found ways to circumvent the system and manage to call their products organic than I am by those who farm conventionally. At least they are honest, and you know what you are getting.

Photo from http://www.biovia.ca/; story from Environmental Health News

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Purple Kale and Potato Frittata

I was actually heading over to the stall for the Swiss chard when I saw the most beautiful purple kale a little further down on the table at the Green City Market this Saturday. I did not let the "Organic Cilantro" tie around the stems fool me (I know my cilantro, even if I don't always know my kale). I bought a bunch of it so I could have a frittata for breakfast.

I've been using fresh herbs all summer, but I had a hankering for tarragon so I used dried tarragon. The cheese is Grass Point Farms Sharp Cheddar. As always, the frittata was delicious. I love the versatility of it - you really can just throw in whatever is around and have a truly delicious, satisfying breakfast. And since they are good both warm and cold, they travel well.

The recipe for the basic frittata can be found here. For a tutorial on how to make one, go here.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Summer's Bounty: Marinara Sauce

More summer goodness. I do believe I have taken advantage of summer's bounty more this year than any other summer since I first started going to the Green Market eleven years ago. That might be due to my newly-reconditioned air conditioners that have kept my apartment cooler than my old unreliable ones were able to do. That has made the summer more bearable, but I am still happy to feel the weather changing. Fall is definitely right around the corner.

But until it comes, I have started stockpiling some of summer's goodness in the freezer, for use when I have had one too many rutabagas and am longing for a taste of summer freshness. To that end, I put together a batch of marinara sauce using fresh San Marzano tomatoes I found at the Leaning Shed Farm, which has become one of my favorite stands at the Green Market. They have the widest variety of heirloom tomatoes and peppers, and some killer garlic. They are now the first place I head as soon as I hit the market.
I didn't know that they can officially call them San Marzano tomatoes, since the ones that come from San Marzano, Italy, are D.O.P., but I guess they can, as long as they don't pretend that these are the genuine Italian tomatoes it's ok to call them San Marzanos. They are similar to a plum tomato, but smaller, and have a more intense, sweeter flavor.

Last week they had something called Super San Marzano tomatoes, which looked just like the San Marzanos but were just a little bigger. They were the most luscious deep red, so those are the ones I bought that day. I made a lovely Marinara sauce that served as a delicious base for pizza (just the sauce, some garlic, and mozzarella and parmigiana reggiano - scrumptious!). I wanted to get more so I could make a batch or two to freeze, but by the time I made it back to the Green Market this weekend (darn those family visits!) they were out of the supers. But they did still have the regulars so I gt those instead.

I am all for opening up a can of tomatoes and whipping up a tasty sauce in the middle of winter, but I have to say, there is definitely a difference using fresh. The only way I can think to describe it is that you can taste summer. The sauce is bright, fresh, and you get a more intense flavor without having to cook it down quite so much.

Right now I have two jars in my freezer. I plan to have more by the time the tomatoes are gone. Which will be all too soon, I know.

If you want to capture a bit of summer for yourself, here's how I did it:



First, make sure you have plenty of fresh basil on hand. The potted basil I bought for myself did not make it through the summer, so I bought this big bunch of green at the market for two dollars. It was more than I needed for my sauce, so I have plans for a batch of pesto that will go well with pizza or pasta sometime down the road.



If I had been thinking faster, I would have taken pictures of the tomatoes before I started the sauce, but I was halfway through chopping them when I decided to start snapping pictures. This is about half of what I started with. I cut an x in the base of each one and dropped them, about 6 at a time, into a pot of boiling water and left them for about 15 seconds. Then I took them out and dropped them into a bowl of cold water. After that, it was easy to peel off the skins. And then it was short work to cut off the stem end and chop them. They are quite meaty and do not have too many seeds, so they were not as messy to chop as the bigger, more round varieties tend to be.

To start the sauce, I thinly sliced 6 cloves of garlic and put them in a large skillet with olive oil. I turned the heat on low and let the garlic heat up with the oil so it would cook without browning, or burning. Usually, I believe you would then take the garlic out of the oil, leaving behind just the flavor, but I like garlic too much to do that so I left it in.


While the garlic was cooking I was chopping the peeled tomatoes. This is the first half that I had chopped before realizing I wanted to take pictures. My chopping board is on the small side and I couldn't fit all of the tomatoes on it, so I raised the heat on the skillet and added these first, giving them a good stir, and then I finished chopping the rest of the tomatoes and added them to the skillet. At this point I seasoned with salt and a little freshly ground pepper. I also added a pinch of sugar after tasting it. These tomatoes were a little more acidic than the supers were.

This is what it looks like when the tomatoes have first been added. Even though the tomatoes are not terribly juicy, they turned liquid soon enough. It never looks like they are going to cook down, but I just lowered the heat and let them simmer for about 45 minutes, until they were nice and thick. I turned off the heat and stirred in a generous handful of roughly chopped basil, then I tasted for seasoning and added a little more salt.

The sauce can be used right away, or frozen for future use.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

BBQ Pork Banh Mi from Bun Mi Express

I was in Austin visiting family over the weekend so I haven't been cooking much. I got home in the afternoon and, rather than having to come up with something as soon as I got home, I decided to splurge on a BBQ Pork banh mi from the Bun Mi Express franchise that recently opened around the corner from my apartment. I have been wanting to try them since they opened in June, and this was the perfect time to visit.

I have been somewhat disappointed with most of the Vietnamese sandwiches I have had in Chicago, mostly because of the bread. The crust is thick and chewy, without that signature crunch that yields to the soft, tender bread, and the whole loaf is so thick that I cannot take a bite of the sandwich without the inner ingredients sliding out the other side. There is just too much bread for the sandwich.

I have read (but not confirmed) that the bread at Bun Mi Express, while not made at the shop, comes from Montreal and is baked on-site. It is the right size in comparison with the ingredients, and has the right texture and consistency. The crust is thin and crisp, and the interior is soft and tender. The ingredients are all fresh, and they used the perfect ratio of mayonnaise to vegetables to meat. The BBQ pork was sweet and tender, and for this sandwich had just enough fat to enhance the flavor.

They had samples of the pork roll on the counter, which was filled with pork and pate and was quite delicious. I will definitely have to go back for more. The sardine sandwich is calling my name.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Project Freezerburn: Eggplant Pizza

Happy Labor Day to my fellow USAians. I don't know how most of you celebrate it, but I like to celebrate by getting ready for the fall. Labor to me signals the end of my least favorite time of year and the beginning of my favorite season.

I bought my first pot roast last weekend (it was beautiful and on sale, what can I say?). When I got home and went to put it in the freezer, I had to rearrange the entire space to get just enough room to squeeze that meat in there. Since I like to have a lot of frozen stock on hand during soup and stew season, I decided it was time to take stock (see what I did there?) and revive Project Freezerburn so I could make room for my fall stash, which includes quite a bit of summer's bounty of corn, lima beans, and tomatoes. That's a lot of stuff for a small over-the-fridge freezer, so I have to rotate items frequently.

I don't cook out of the freezer that much in the summer - there's so much fresh produce available that I don't have the need to squirrel things away for later use. But while I am enjoying all of that bounty, everything in the freezer just stays there. So I have several things that need to go if I am going to be able to store some summer vegetables and start accumulating stew and soup meats.

I started Project Freezerburn in January of 2007. Looking at the picture of my freezer from back then, I have to laugh. It looks so empty compared to what is in there these days. In my defense, I have started keeping nuts, certain flours, and a lot of my spices in there so there is less room for actual food, but there is not one little bit of free space showing.

Oh heck, I might as well show you. This actually doesn't look too bad now that I am looking at it, but there are lots of little packages stuffed in there behind the cornmeal (one of two kinds I keep in there) and the meat. In addition, keep in mind that I have taken out the following:
1 package of cooked, chopped white meat chicken
2 packages of kreplach (oops - that's for a later post!)
1 package of skirt steak
1 quart jar of chicken stock
1 quart jar of eggplant tomato sauce
Now picture all of that in there as well!

And just for grins, here's a shot of the side door, or what I like to call my second spice cabinet. You also can't see everything that's stuffed behind those jars on the bottom, either.

How do I keep track of it all? Most of it is in my head, but I finally had to create a spreadsheet for my spices, since I have so many and they are all over place. I am proud to admit that very seldom do I look at something in the freezer and have no idea what it is.

That doesn't mean that I am utilizing everything, though, and that is why I first created Project Freezerburn. It forces me to take a look at everything in the freezer and make sure I am getting rid of some those items that have been in there a long time.

So what does all of this have to do with Eggplant Pizza? I hear you ask. If you were astute enough to notice that last item that I took out of the freezer, you might have figured it out already. The eggplant tomato sauce made an excellent base for pizza, which is something I haven't made for a while and for which I was so ready.

I took it easy with the ingredients for this pizza. After I spread out the dough, I sprinkled a light layer of whole-milk mozzarella over it, then spread a think layer of the eggplant tomato sauce over the cheese. I sprinkled a pinch of my home-made Italian spice mixture (2 parts oregano and thyme to 1 part basil) over the sauce (not too much, as the sauce was already flavored), and then I sprinkled about 2 tablespoons of grated parmagiana reggiano over the whole thing. I was a little nervous that the sauce might make the pizza soggy, so I went especially light wit it. It turned out to be the perfect amount. I am beginning to realize that with pizza, less really is more. I left off my usual garlic/onion/green olives combination, so the eggplant and the cheeses really shone. I will make this again.

So far, Operation Freezerburn is a success. I am looking forward to finishing the rest of my freezer goodies.

I have posted my recipe for pizza dough before, but over the past few years I have made small changes that I think enhance the flavor and quality, so I am re-posting the recipe here with those revisions.
PIZZA DOUGH
Makes 1 large or 2 small pizzas

Note: any combination of flour works with this dough, for a total of about 2-1/2 cups. If you are not using semolina flour, reduce the amount of water to 1 cup.

1-1/4 cup warm water (105 - 115 deg. F.)
1 Tbsp active dry yeast (or two 1/4-oz. packets)
1 cup bread flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup semolina flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp olive oil
cornmeal, for dusting the baking sheet

Combine the flours, salt and sugar in a small bowl and whisk together to mix well. Place warm water in a large bowl and add the yeast, whisking it together. Add the oil,then add the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together.

Turn the mixture onto a floured surface and set the bowl aside. Bring the dough together into a ball and knead, sprinkling more flour over the dough if necessary, until the dough is smooth and elastic and is just at the point where it is not sticking to your hands. Try not to add too much flour. If making one large pizza, form the dough into a ball and put it in a bowl with a little olive oil, turning it to make sure the entire surface is coated with the oil. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rise until it doubles in size (between one and two hours).

If making two small pizzas, cut the dough in half and form 2 balls. Put one ball in an oiled bowl and follow the instructions for the pizza. Cover the other ball of dough in flour and place in a plastic bag, then put it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days (or it can be frozen for a few months). Remove from the refrigerator and let sit for about an hour and a half. Proceed with the following directions.

Turn the dough out of the bowl. Move the oven rack to the lowest position and preheat the oven to 475 deg. F. and sprinkle some cornmeal on your baking sheet (you can use a round or rectangular sheet). Roll out or pat out the dough until it fits the contours of the baking sheet, pinching out the dough to make it slightly thicker around the edge. If you are pulling the dough out from the center, be sure to slowly move out with your fingers as you spread so you are not pulling from the center the whole time. If you pull from the center your pizza will be too thin in the middle.

Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then start adding the toppings. Keep in mind that you don't want the topping to be too heavy or too wet. If you are using a thin sauce, put the cheese down first so it can provide some protection.

When the oven has reached the correct temperature, place the pizza on the bottom rack and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the crust has browned and the cheese and toppings have caramelized.

adapted from the recipe on the package of Bob's Red Mill Unbleached White Flour

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Recipe Recap: Corn Griddle Cakes

With fresh corn so much in abundance right now, I am sure I am not the only one wondering what to do with those small amounts that get left over from all the succotash, salads and sautes.

I'm also not the only one to notice how much work it is to cook with all of these fresh summer vegetables. Beans, corn, and tomatoes are all wonderful, but they have to be used right away and involve a lot of shucking, shelling and peeling. Not to mention blanching! I was commiserating with a co-worker yesterday about how busy my weekends have seemed, while I don't have much to show for my efforts. That is when it occurred to me that the reason I have been feeling that way is because I have pretty much been cooking non-stop from Friday nights through Sunday evenings. It's not that I am cooking more dishes, or eating more than usual. I believe I am actually cooking less dishes. It is because every thing I am making requires quite a bit of prep work, and that is why I feel like I am spending so much time in the kitchen. I am spending so much time in the kitchen.

I am not really complaining; I love all of this fresh bounty, and come February I will be sorely missing it. But during the week I have little energy to cook and am finding myself a little stretched to come up with ideas for dinner.

Tuesday night was a perfect case in point. I knew that all I had in the refrigerator (other than what was earmarked for workday lunches) was a small container of leftover corn from the last batch of succotash I made, so on the bus ride home I started thinking about my options. I did not want to have to stop at the store but I knew I didn't have much at home. I was hungry enough to consider just eating the corn
cold from the container, but I knew that it would not satisfy on so many levels.

Then I remembered a recipe I had discovered for Corn Griddle Cakes, about which I posted back in April of 2008. They had tasted quite good, yet I had never again made them. It seemed a simple enough meal, and one that should not take too long to prepare. I ran over a mental list in my mind and was sure that I already had all of the ingredients.

I pulled out the recipe when I got home and collected the ingredients. The first thing I did was to set my cast iron skillet over a medium-low flame so it would be ready when the batter was finished. It took about ten minutes to mix up the batter, and maybe twenty minutes to cook the griddle cakes.

Within half an hour, I was eating dinner. The cakes were soft, fluffy, and delicious. The fresh corn elevated them from pancake status to something more substantial. I used just a little maple syrup with them, but I'm thinking they would be good with something a bit more savory.

This recipe is worth re-posting because these corn griddle cakes make an excellent meal when you need something fast and easy.
Home Cookin Chapter: Breads and Muffins

CORN GRIDDLE CAKES
Servings: 4

1 cup all-purpose or white whole wheat flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
about 3/4 cup fresh sweet corn kernels, cut from the cob
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp oil

Place all of the dry ingredients into a bowl and sift them together. Combine the corn, egg and milk in a small bowl and whisk together. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the oil and stir it into the mixture.

Spoon the batter onto a hot griddle, using 2 to 3 tablespoons for each cake. Cook the batter until bubbles show on the surface, about 2 to 3 minutes, then flip them over and cook the other side until golden brown, about 2 more minutes.

from a recipe I found unattributed on a recipe collection site and subsequently discovered with further research came from the Two Fat Ladies (Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright)

Exported from Home Cookin 5.5 (www.mountain-software.com)
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