Thursday, May 31, 2012

Eggs in a Basket

I've been playing with focaccia for the past few weeks. And when I say playing, I do mean playing. I have made it every week for the past month, testing different recipes and different combinations of flours. Including a container that contained a mixture of what might have been originally used for pasta (00 flour and semolina, at the least) or for an earlier batch of focaccia (all-purpose flour, white whole wheat flour, salt and yeast). It seemed safer to throw it in the next focaccia mix than to risk adding yeast to my pasta.

I have not yet found the perfect recipe, but I have been enjoying all of the results so far. Unlike my whole wheat bread, which takes pretty much all day to make, if I get started early enough I can make this in the evening after work, which makes it pretty darned convenient.

But it makes a lot, and I always have a few pieces left over at the end of the week that have gone beyond stale. It occurred to me that making eggs in a basket would be a good way to freshen them up.

And it was. Each rectangle of bread is the perfect size to frame an egg. You do have to be careful not to overcook it, though. If the heat is too high the bottom of the egg and the yolk will cook long before the top has set. It took a few tries for me to get it right, but as with the focaccia experiments, I sure enjoyed eating all of the mistakes.
1 Tbsp butter
2 pieces of focaccia, roughly 3 by 4 inches
2 large eggs
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

With a sharp paring knife, cut a small rectangle in each piece of focaccia, leaving about a half-inch frame.

Heat the butter over medium heat in a 10-inch non-stick skillet. Place the focaccia pieces top-side down in the skillet and cook until just golden, about 3 minutes. Turn the pieces over and reduce the heat to low. Crack an egg into each frame, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook until the tops of the eggs have set, anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Recalls: Mushrooms, Tempeh Starter Yeast, Bagged Salads, Baby Spinach

  • L.A. Link (Huntington Beach) Corporation has issued a recall of Shiitake-Ya Brand Gourmet Shiitake Slices. The mushrooms may be contaminated with the chemicals carbendazim, fluoranthene, and pyrene. The unapproved chemicals were discovered after a product sample was tested by the FDA. The dried mushrooms were sold exclusively to Costco Wholesale locations in CA, OR and WA. Press Release.
  • of Rockville, MD, has issued a recall of all packages of Tempeh Starter Yeast and Super Starter Yeast because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella. Several illness have been reported that might be connected to this problem. Press Release.
  • Pacific Coast Fruit Company has issued a voluntary recall for bagged salads sold under the "Chef on the Run" and "Mia Fratello" brands due to potential contamination of Listeria monocytogenes. Apparently, these salads were packaged using produce from River Ranch, who issued a recall a few days earlier. Press release.
The recalled products were distributed to Fred Meyer, Avanti, and Evergreen in Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Idaho.
  • Taylor Farms Retail, Inc. has initiated a voluntgary recall of Organic Baby Spinach sold under the "Marketside" and "Private Selections" brands that had the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella based on a random test by USDA (go USDA!!!) The recall affects products sold in the following states: AK, AR, AZ, CA, CO, ID, KS, LA, MO, MS, MT, NM, NV, OK, OR, TX, UT, WA, WY. Press Release.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Black Bean and Corn Salad

There is nothing especially new about this salad, except that it is the first of the season, and it seems so early to me. I have recently begun shopping at Edgewater Produce, a small produce market and deli in Andersonville down the street from my office. It is a ten-minute walk from there, so a few times a week I will take a lunchtime walk to pick up fruit and the occasional vegetable. I don't know yet from where their produce comes, but so far it has always been fresh and relatively inexpensive so I stick as much as I can to buying from the clean 15 list and avoiding the dirty dozen.

Every few months I notice that my diet has started to lean towards carbohydrates more than I would like it to. It happens when I don't have a lot of fresh vegetables on hand, or when I have been out of town as I was earlier this month. Since this is my year of vegetables, I was determined to do something about it when I noticed it happening last week, so I loaded up on vegetables on my Sunday trip to the store. I also wanted to have more of the carbohydrates I am eating come from legumes than from wheat, so cooked up a batch of black beans with my newly-discovered no-soak cooking method.

I had the beans and I had the red onion. I wasn't sure what else I would put together with them, so I thought I would see if there was anything crunchy that looked good at the market on my Monday walk.

They had fresh corn at a good price so I grabbed three ears of that, a serrano pepper, limes and cilantro. The perfect ingredients for a black bean and corn salad. I wanted to keep it clean and light, so I dressed it with lime juice, olive oil, dried oregano, and salt to taste. Quick, simple and delicious.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Makes 4 main or 6 side servings

3 cups cooked black beans, drained
3 ears of sweet corn, blanched, kernels cut from the cob (or 3 cups frozen)
1/4 medium red onion, diced
1 serrano pepper, diced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
Juice from 2 limes
3 Tbsp olive oil
salt to taste

Combine the beans, corn, onion and serrano pepper in a large bowl and mix together.

Add the lime juice and olive oil and mix well. Add the oregano and cilantro and mix once more. Season to taste with salt.

If possible, let the salad stand for a few hours before serving so the flavors can combine. Serve at room temperature for the best flavor.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Who Determines What Can Be Considered Organic?

Guess who helps make the decisions to determine what can be considered organic? According to this piece by the Cornucopia Institute, it's agribusiness executives.

Of related interest is this chart they put together that shows who owns organic brands.

Surprised? I wish I could say I was.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Aloo Gobi (Curried Potatoes and Cauliflower)

This recipe that I found in issue #141 of Saveur Magazine was on the labor-intensive side, but it was worth the effort. Cooking the potatoes and cauliflower separately gives each an intensified flavor that complement each other, punctuated by the unctuous softness of the caramelized onions and the sweetness of the peas as they pop in your mouth.

It was more dry than I thought it would be, but I think my expectations were caused by the ubiquitous potato and cauliflower curries that grace pretty much every Indian buffet I have ever sampled. Once I got over my initial surprise at that difference, I decided I liked it better this way.

This paired well with both brown rice and with chapatis. It works as side dish or as the main course.

Since I pretty much followed this recipe as written, rather than post it here I will simply point you toward it. You can find it here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Recalls of the Week: Bagged Salads, Red Onions

  • Gills Onions of Oxnard, California, has issued a voluntary recall of one lot (2,360 pounds) of diced red onions after Listeria monocytogenes was discovered in routine testing by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
    The recalled diced red onions were distributed directly from Gills Onions to retailers in Canada and retailers and foodservice distributors in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Idaho, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Arkansas, Ohio, Tennessee, New Jersey, Georgia, and Florida.
    Press release.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Pesto Pizza

I don't make pizza as often as when I first learned how to make it, so every now and then I get the urge to get my hands into a nice batch of pizza dough. That urge hit last weekend. It was good timing, because I had some mozarella cheese in the refrigerator, and some asparagus from my first trip of the year to the Green City Market since it moved back outdoors.

Which reminded me of all that marinara sauce and pesto that I had made last summer with those sensational San Marzano tomatoes and beautiful bunches of basil. I still had a jar of each in the freezer, so I needed to use them up so I could get started on more this summer. I will put the marinara sauce to use with fresh pasta, which I have also not made in a while.

I have recently discovered that, while I like pesto, I do not really like it with pasta. It is somehow both too oily and too dry to me at the same time. I only recently discovered this because every time I thought about the pesto in the freezer and how I would use it, I would think of pasta and reject it out of hand. At some point it clicked that it was the combination of pasta and pesto that I was rejecting, so I started to think of different ways to use the pesto.

Several years ago, on one of my visits home, my sister made a vegetable pizza with pesto as the base. It was good, and I went home with every intention of duplicating the recipe. But I had not yet worked with yeast and was reluctant to use the mix that she had used, so I tabled the recipe and the idea, and then forgot about it.

I remembered it this weekend as I was thinking about pizza and pesto. I took the last jar of pesto out of the freezer and kneaded up a batch of pizza dough.

The result was delicious. The pesto melted into the dough and spread is fresh basil goodness through the cheese, asparagus and olives. The oil from the spread gave such a lovely crispness to the crust that I am thinking I will spread a little olive oil on all of my pizza dough in the future.

Since my dough makes two pizzas, I was able to make each one a little different. For this first pizza, I did not remember that I had green olives, so it is just the pesto, mozarella, asparagus, and parmagiana reggiano.

This one perfectly illustrated the "less is more" theory of pizza. Those four ingredients came together to form a deep, rich, intense flavor where each one was discernible on my tongue before they all came together to form a fifth, transcendent flavor that was the overall pizza. A big success.

The green olives were the only ingredient I added to the second pizza, and I can't say for sure which one is better. They were different, but equally delicious. The olives added that sour saltiness that satisfies some deep, ancient craving that I often don't even know exists until I taste it. That being said, however, without the olives the flavors of the other ingredients are more pronounced.

Luckily, I don't really have to choose. I can make one with and one without and enjoy the best of both worlds.
Makes 2 12-inch pizzas

1 batch of pizza dough
1 batch of pesto
8 oz grated mozzarella cheese
16 to 20 stalks of asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces, tips reserved
20 large green olives, sliced (optional)
1/2 cup grated parmigiana reggiano

Preheat oven to 475 deg. F.

Once pizza dough has risen and is ready to go, roll or pat into a 12-inch round and place on a pizza peel or pan lightly dusted with cornmeal or flour. Lightly brush some of the pesto over the entire crust and bake it on the bottom rack of the oven for 5 minutes.

Remove the par-baked crust from the oven and layer a more liberal amount of pesto over the crust, being careful not to make it too thick. There should be enough to cover the crust completely in a single layer Spread the asparagus pieces over the pesto, then sprinkle half of the mozzarella over the asparagus. Spread the olives over the cheese, then lay the asparagus tips in a circle around the base of the pizza. Sprinkle half of the parmigiana reggiano over the toppings.

Put the pizza back onto the bottom rack of the oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is golden and the crust is well browned. Remove from the oven and slice and serve immediately.

The second pizza can be made at the same time as the first, or the dough can be kept in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for a few months. Let come to room temperature, then proceed with the above instructions.

Friday, May 18, 2012

No-Soak Beans: How To Cook Beans without Having to Soak Them First

Several years ago, when I was living in a small 12-unit apartment complex in East Austin, I needed to make something in a short period of time for a pot-luck dinner we were having that night. I had a little over two hours to come up with something. I was marginally employed at the time and had little money. All I had on hand were dried black beans, brown rice, onion and garlic (always), jarred pickled jalapenos, and spices. I decided to throw caution to the wind and make a batch of black beans and rice but I had not soaked the beans so I wasn't sure it would work. I put them in a pot with water, brought them to a boil, let them cook on high for a few minutes, then lowered the heat, added the rice, and let it cook for an hour. I threw in some onion, garlic, and spices (most likely cumin and oregano as they were and still are my go-to spices for Mexican), added more water, and let it cook for another hour. Mercifully, by the time I had to take the dish down to the courtyard the beans had cooked and were actually tender.

Surprisingly to me, they were a big hit. There were no leftovers. One of my neighbors asked me for the recipe. I couldn't tell her what I had done - I had been in such a frenzy that I didn't remember even hours past the making of them how I had done it.

I considered myself lucky, but made sure from then on to always leave time to soak my beans whenever I planned to make them. But that required vigilance, and did not always work out, in which case I would make something else and plan to cook the beans another day.

I am happy to say that has now changed. I ran across this post a few months ago that shows how to cook beans in the oven, without having to soak them beforehand. I was skeptical, but beans are inexpensive enough and it was a small enough effort that it seemed worthwhile to test it out.

It worked. Beautifully. The beans were perfectly cooked and tender, but still firm, as opposed to my pre-soaked beans, which often turn out more mushy than I would like. Contrary to everything I had heard about not adding salt too early in the cooking process, adding it at the beginning gave them an added depth of flavor that simply cannot be achieved by adding salt at the end of the process. I did cut the amount of salt in half, which was the perfect amount for me.

I was eager to share this method, but I wanted to be sure that it wasn't a fluke so I have tested it several times, with several kinds of beans. I am happy to say that it works with every bean I've tried so far. It even works with chickpeas. You just have to cook them for a longer period of time.

This method is not only easier, but to me it is also a better way to cook beans. As I mentioned earlier, they are not as mushy as the pre-soaked version, and the skins are more firm. It's a complete win-win. Easier and firmer, with much better flavor.

I always cook a pound of beans, even thought it is more than I need for one dish. They freeze beautifully, so I always use half right away and then freeze the other half so I only have to cook them half as often as I plan to use them.

I have made some changes to the original method based on my experiences (of course). Here is how I do it:
makes 6 cups of cooked beans

Preheat the oven to 300 deg. F.

Sort, rinse and drain a pound of dried beans. Place them in a heavy oven-proof pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add 1/2 a tablespoon of salt and cover about 1-1/2 inches over the top with water.* Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

As soon as the beans are boiling, cover them and put them in the oven on the center rack. Let them cook for about 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Start checking after the first half hour, adding more water if necessary. Check again in another half hour, then in smaller increments as they get closer to being done.

A pound of dried beans makes approximately 6 cups of cooked, which is usually enough to make two separate dishes. YMMV.

*I usually cook the beans plain. When I am ready to use them I will cook them with onions, garlic, and/or bacon and whatever other herbs and spices I plan to use. If you want to cook the beans with aromatics and spices, you could add them in the beginning and cook them that way. Hmmm, they would probably taste much better that way, and you could still cook them up with more onions, garlic, etc., for even more flavor. I think I will do it that way next time.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How Expensive Is It To Eat Healthfully?

Here's an item that goes against common thoughts on the subject:

Healthy Eating Can Cost Less, Study Finds

It is something that I have been discovering for myself as I have been buying less processed foods, but it's nice to see some validation outside of my own experience.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Asparagus, Potato and Paneer Frittata

This frittata deserves a post of its own. I had some fried paneer left over from the saag paneer I made a couple of months ago and it was getting close to the time that I needed to use it or lose it (a common theme for me, as I am sure it is for you). I had a small potato and a last little bit of asparagus as well, so I decided to throw it all into a frittata.

I followed my usual method, cooking the garlic, onion and potato in olive oil until the potato was done, then adding the asparagus and cooking it for a few minutes while I prepared the eggs. I added the paneer to the egg mixture, as it did not need to cook any more. I used a subtle hand with the spices so it did not overpower the eggs, and I also used a light hand with the Parmagiana so as to give just the slightest bit of crisp on top.

The result was outstanding, and a combination that I would definitely use again.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Tip of the Day: Wrap Your Skillet Handle in Aluminum Foil

One of the drawbacks for me for a smooth frittata-making process is having to transfer the almost-set egg mixture from my non-stick non-ovenproof skillet to my cast iron skillet so that I can put it under the broiler at the end to set the top and brown the cheese. When I had to replace my last non-stick skillet, I tried to find one that had an oven-proof handle but was not successful, so I have been resigned to starting the frittata in my non-stock pan and transferring it to the cast iron pan just before putting it under the broiler. It's not the end of the world, but it's one extra step that I have to take and one extra dish that I have to clean.

I had recently read about wrapping the handle in aluminum foil before putting it under the broiler. I was somewhat skeptical, but I having to use the two pans has started to determine whether or not I feel like making frittatas at all, which would be a tragedy, as they have become something of a staple in my kitchen. My skillet was not all that expensive so I finally decided it was time to give it a try, with the full understanding and expectation that I might be buying a new nonstick skillet sooner than I had planned.

But it worked like a charm. I rolled out a piece that was long enough to double over before I wrapped it, so it was at least 4 layers thick, and I made sure to cover the handle down past where it meets the metal that attaches to the base of the pan. I sprinkled the cheese over the top of the frittata, held my breath and put it in the broiler for the usual two minutes.

And the handle was fine. It did not melt. It did not change shape. I don't even think it got that hot, although I did not touch it to confirm that.

I suspect the handle would have been fine regardless, since most handles these days are oven safe up to 500 deg. F., and I don't know that it gets that hot that quickly under the broiler. But this trick makes it even less likely that there will be a problem.

Being the environmentally conscious person I try to be, I was even able to unwrap the foil in such a way that I will be able to use it again. It may not be as exciting a concept for me as my stick blender, but it's a close second.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Pineapple Orange Coconut Bread Pudding

When I first moved to Chicago one of my co-workers was kind enough to invite me to her house for Easter dinner. I had only been in town for about a month and knew no one, so it was very nice of her. Her niece even colored an egg especially for me, which I took home with me and kept in my refrigerator for the next several years (no, I don't know why.)

Easter dinner was about what you would expect: ham, bean casserole, potatoes. But there was also a bread pudding, made with mandarin oranges and pineapples, that was delicious, and as sweet as a dessert. It worked perfectly with the ham. I fell in love with it, and would have eaten it all if I thought I could get away with it. At my request she gave me the recipe, and I have held onto it all these years, even though I never made it.

I finally decided to make it last year. But when I looked at the ingredient list, I just could not do it.
1/2 cup butter
1-1/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
8 slices firm white bread, cubed
1 small can crushed pineapple, drained
1 small can mandarin oranges, drained
The eggs and the butter were what I would expect for this dish, but that is a lot of sugar (on which more in a later post), I no longer eat white bread, and I can't remember the last time I bought canned fruit of any kind.

I became obsessed with the idea that I could healthy up this dish. I decided to use whole wheat bread, so I used cream instead of butter, to make more of a custard. I used fresh pineapple and mandarin oranges, and I cut the sugar down to 1/4 cup. The coconut was a flash of inspiration sparked by the fact that I had some in my freezer and was trying to think of something to sprinkle on top for a little extra crispness. And even though it isn't really a dessert, I added vanilla and a pinch of nutmeg to bring out the other flavors.

On my first attempt, I mixed everything together and baked it right away , but the whole wheat bread was too dense to soak up much of the egg/cream mixture and I didn't add the vanilla, nutmeg or coconut. It tasted all right, but it did not hold together and there was a certain flatness to me that was confirmed by a co-worker who was kind enough to taste test it for me. We both agreed that it had possibilities but needed more flavor, and I knew I had to let it soak longer before I put it into the oven.

For my next attempt I added the vanilla and nutmeg and mixed everything together and put it into the refrigerator the night before I was going to bake it. The next morning I let it come to room temperature while the oven was preheating, sprinkled more coconut over the top, and put it in the oven. The result was quite delicious, if I do say so myself.

If you are looking for a fancy breakfast bread option to serve on a special occasion, this is a healthier option that tastes delicious and would work well with a frittata, quiche, or even just scrambled eggs and ham.

And if you still want to make the original version, just mix together the ingredients above and bake in a 350 deg. F. oven for 50 to 60 minutes.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Serves 9 as a side dish

8 slices whole wheat bread, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/4 cup sugar
4 eggs at room temperature
1/2 cup cream at room temperature
3/4 cup fresh pineapple, diced
3/4 cup fresh mandarin orange segments
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, plus more for topping
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Dash of freshly ground nutmeg
1 Tbsp brown sugar, for topping

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and cream until well blended. Add the pineapple, orange, coconut, salt, vanilla and nutmeg and mix well.

Add the bread to the bowl and mix well. Pour into a well-greased 9 x 12-inch baking dish and cover. Refrigerate overnight.

Take the casserole out of the refrigerator and bring to room temperature while the oven is preheating to 350 deg. F. Uncover and sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoons of the coconut and the tablespoon of brown sugar over the top.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the coconut is toasted and the casserole has set. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving, but it is best at room temperature.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Chorizo and Dandelion Greens Soup

Note: This post is now linked to Seasonal Eats for May 2012 at Delectable Musings.

When I was at La Unica looking for the aji amarillo paste for Tacu Tacu, they had chorizo on sale so I bought some links. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it, but I thought it might make a nice soup with some dandelion greens and ditalini. I was right.

This is another one of those soups that you can put together on the fly, with whatever you already have on hand. It would work equally well with fideos or rice, and you could easily use any greens, even frozen spinach if that is all that you have. I used chopped "canned" (mine come in a box) tomatoes, but you could use fresh, or just tomato sauce, or leave them out entirely. The same with the stock. Vegetable stock was what I had, but I could have used chicken stock, or even water. The possibilities are endless.

Some people will tell you to cook the pasta and add it separately to the soup as you serve it to prevent it from getting overcooked and soggy. Maybe it's all of that canned crap that I ate as a kid, but I actually don't mind the overcooked pasta (in soups only, mind you). So do what works for you.

So, rather than a recipe, let me just tell you what I did:
Add a scant teaspoon of oil to a large heavy pan over medium heat. Add 2 links of sliced chorizo or other sausage and cook until the fat has rendered and the sausage has browned. Drain all but 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add a chopped onion and the chopped stems of the dandelion greens. Cook. stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add a 14.5-oz can of tomatoes (whole, diced or chopped), a quart of chicken or vegetable broth (or water), and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and let cook for about 10 minutes. Raise the heat and bring to a full boil, then add 1/2 cup of ditalini or other small pasta. Lower the heat to a slow boil/high simmer and cook for another 8 to 10 minutes to cook the pasta. Add the tops of the dandelion greens, cook for another minute or so, then remove from the heat. Adjust seasonings.
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