Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cucumber Salad

Iron Creek Farms is one of my usual stops at the Green City Market. They always have the most beautiful heads of lettuce and other greens, peppers, squash, tomatoes, onions, and much, much more.
This past weekend I found these beautiful European seedless cucumbers. They were small and firm and my immediate thought was what a beautiful cucumber salad they would make. I had just purchased a bundle of three red torpedo onions and fresh dill at two other stands for another purpose and I would have extra of each, so it was a no-brainer to grab the cucumbers and take them home with me.

They were firm and delicious. Most cucumber salad recipes direct you to cover the sliced cucumbers with salt and let them drain for a half hour to get rid of the excess liquid, and then rinse them before you use them. With these babies, that was not necessary. I simply sliced them as thinly as I could without a mandoline (on my wish list, though) and combined with the onions and dill and let them marinate in a vinegar/sugar mixture. A couple of hours later I was rewarded with a side dish that was light and refreshing.
Home Cookin Chapter: Beans and Vegetables

Makes 4 servings

3 small to medium European seedess cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 small or 1/2 of a medium red torpedo onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp sugar, or to taste
2 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped
Kosher salt to taste

Combine the cucumber and onion in a small bowl. Add the vinegars, sugar, salt and dill and mix well. Make sure the bowl is small enough for the vinegar to cover most of the cucumber and onion mixture.

Cover and refrigerate for a few hours before serving, stirring the salad to re-distribute the cucumbers and onion in the marinade. Season with salt to taste just before serving and adjust the amount of sugar if necessary. This salad will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Recalls: Dried Bream, Alfalfa Sprouts, Carrot Juice

  • Euphoria Fancy Food Inc. is recalling its dried bream, which was not properly eviscerated prior to processing and may be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum spores, which can cause botulism. The improperly eviscerated fish was discovered during a routine inspection by the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets Food Inspectors during a routine inspection. No illnesses have been reported to date. Press Release.
  • Leasa Industries Co., Inc. (warning, loud video), has recalled 433 cases of 6-oz Living Alfalfa Sprouts that have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella. The potential was discovered by routine customer sample testing. No illnesses have been reported to date. Press Release.
  • Healthy Choice Island Blends, Inc., is recalling all sizes of Liquid Gold Carrot Juice (64 oz, 32 oz, and 16 oz), because it has the potential to be contaminated with Clostridium botulimum, which can cause botulism, "a serious and potentially fatal foodborne illness." No illnesses have been reported to date. Press Release.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

How To Make Fresh Paneer

What makes this version of palak paneer different from the one I wrote about here? Just one main thing, really. In this version, the paneer is home made. Yep, I made it myself. And guess what? It was super super easy. And so much better than the pre-packaged paneer I bought last time I made this. It is soft and creamy and tasted so fresh that I had a hard time not eating it all right away instead of cooking with it.

It took about half an hour to make, and then another two hours to press the liquid out of it. I was amazed at how simple the process was, and how quickly it came together. In fact, it is almost the same process as making ricotta, on which more later.

A half gallon of milk makes about a pound of cheese. For paneer, you bring the milk to the boiling point in a large heavy pot. Remove it from the heat and slowly pour in the juice from 2 lemons (around 3 tablespoons if you need a more precise measurement). You can also use vinegar, but the lemon juice gave it such a freshness that I don't think you will get with vinegar (but don't worry, you will not taste any tartness or sourness from the lemon).

Stir the mixture for a few minutes, until the curds separate from the whey, and then drain the mixture through a cheese-cloth lined strainer.

With this first batch I made, the curds were minuscule and I wasn't sure it was going to work. But I poured it through the cheesecloth and did, indeed, get this lovely batch of cheese.

Once it has cooled a little and the whey has drained out, wrap the cheese in the cheesecloth, squeeze out as much whey as you can, and shape it into a square (wrap the edges of cheesecloth to the side of the square rather than on top or bottom so it doesn't leave marks in the cheese) and put it on a flat board, then weigh it down with a brick, a large full can, or a cast iron pot. I used my cast iron dutch oven and it worked perfectly. Let it sit for two hours, then unwrap it from the cheesecloth. It is ready to use at this point, or you can wrap it in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for about a week.

The cheese is easy to cut into cubes for frying. From what I have seen, this is the best method when using paneer. Frying gives the cheese a crisper texture and a toasty flavor. I was amazed at how well it stayed together, and I think this is where I was most impressed with myself for making my own cheese.

A word of caution: if you are going to fry the paneer before using it, use a non-stick or a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. It is pure protein and will stick like crazy to any other surface. I learned that the hard way.

That is why these cubes are smaller than the cubes in the picture above. A good layer of each got left behind in the pan when I tried to turn them. At that point I transferred them to my non-stick skillet and the whole process went more smoothly.

I am doubly thrilled to have learned how to make my own paneer. First, it tastes so much better than store-bought and second, the only store that I know that carries it is all the way across town and it is so much more convenient to just buy the milk and some lemons and make it myself.

Next up: Ricotta!

Friday, June 22, 2012

EWG 2012 Shopper's Guide

Well kids, it's my favorite time of year - the 2012 EWG Shopper's Guide has been released! It doesn't look like there are any new players; they've just been moved around some.

You can download the list here. (The photo to the left has a link that will enlarge the image, but if you want to download the pdf you should click on this link and not the photo.)

So if, like me, you want to shop responsibly and make your dollars count but can't afford to only buy organic or local fare, use this guide to determine which items to buy organic.

A note on berries. After reading this article that I posted about last year, I do not buy organic berries from any of the big companies. I save those purchases for the Green Market and enjoy them as much as I can for as long as they last, and then I am done until they come into season again.

photo from the EWG website.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How Chickens are Processed

If, like me, you are interested in knowing from where your food comes but don't have easy access to any providers, you should check out this piece by Mark Ruhlman on how chickens are processed in a small operation.

Ruhlman visited Schmidt Family Farms in Medina, Ohio, a small organic farm that gives space in the summer to Bradley Cramer to raise chickens. The pictorial essay and accompanying video are interesting and informational.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Recall: Red Pepper Onion & Garlic Cheddar

Golden Glen Creamery of Bow, WA is voluntarily recalling Red Pepper with Onion & Garlic Cheddar produced in August of 2011 because it might be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Apparently, the WSDA tested sample was positive, although samples of the same batch have tested negative at a different lab. To date, no illnesses have been reported. Press Release.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pasta with Peanut Sauce and Zucchini

I've whipped up this dish a few times lately. It's quick and delicious, and it works with dried pasta or a batch of homemade fresh, as pictured. The peanut sauce is thick enough to stick to the pasta, so every bite is the perfect blend of sweet, salty, sour and spicy flavor.

I don't have much more to say about it than that, other than this: you should definitely add it to your regular rotation. It's perfect for those times when you have nothing around and not much time but want something with a little more flair than the usual five-minute dish. Any vegetable would work, and you don't even really need that if your pantry so bare that you have no fresh vegetables whatsoever. The other ingredients are staples that you can make sure you always have on hand.
Makes 4 servings

1/4 cup peanut butter
2 tsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp lime juice
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 tsp fish sauce
1/4 cup water
1/4 to 1/2 tsp red chili flakes (to taste)
1 clove crushed garlic
2 medium zucchini, roll cut or sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
12 oz (approximately) fresh or dried pasta
3 to 4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp roughly chopped roasted peanuts, for garnish

Put a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil.

While the water is heating, combine the first 9 (through garlic) in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat slightly and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.

When the large pot of water is boiling, add 1 tablespoon of salt. Add the zucchini to the pot, cover it immediately and turn off the heat. Cook the zucchini for 3 minutes, until it has just softened. Remove from the pot without draining the water and put it into a large mixing/serving bowl. Turn the heat back on under the pot of water and bring it back to a boil. Add the pasta and cook it a few minutes if fresh or according to the package directions if dried.

Reserve a cup of the pasta water and drain the rest. Add the hot pasta to the bowl with the zucchini, then add the peanut sauce. Stir gently but make sure to combine it well. Add the scallions, reserving about 2 tablespoons for garnish.

Serve immediately, garnished with the scallions and roasted peanuts.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sugar Snap Peas with Shallots and White Wine

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

My vegetable project continues. Sugar snap peas are only available for a few weeks around this time of year, so as soon as I see them at the Green Market I snap them up (pun intended) and don't stop until they are gone. I usually serve them with pasta if I haven't eaten them all by the time I get home.

This time I wanted to try something different, so I decided to make a simple saute with a shallot, white wine and fresh basil. Because the snap peas are best if cooked for a scant minute or two, this dish can be whipped up in an instant, and serves as a refreshing, flavorful side dish for steak, fish or chicken.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Makes 4 servings

1 pint sugar snap peas, rinsed and trimmed
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 Tbsp dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 Tbsp fresh basil chiffonade

Heat oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add shallot and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the wine and cook for another minute.

Add the peas and saute for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the basil. Serve hot.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Recalls: "Boxed Pasta Mix Products"

  • Bay Valley Foods is voluntarily recalling cases of "boxed pasta mix products" manufactured by ST Specialty Foods, Inc. Apparently, the packets of seasoning blend may contain small metal fragments. The affected products are sold at Aldi, H-E-B, Kroger, Meijer, and Wal-Mart. The recall is based on information received from Kerry Ingredients & Flavours. I'm not sure of the connection there. There have been no reports of injury or illness. Press Release.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Curried Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard

Here's a lovely, satisfying soup that is relatively quick to make and is definitely easy. It's perfect for this warmer season when you want something healthy, hearty and satisfying but you don't want to spend a long time over a hot stove. Lentils cook up relatively quickly and most of the rest of the work involves chopping some vegetables. Perfect for weekday lunches, and you know I am all about that.

I got this recipe from my sister sometime back in the mid nineties. She had adapted it from a recipe she found in a vegetarian cookbook, so I have no idea how close what she gave me was to the original version. I did make quite a few changes, however, based on what I have learned about Indian cooking.

And again, this illustrates the process by which you can take almost any recipe and adapt it to what you know, or what you have on hand. If you think of a recipe as more of a guideline than a formula, there are few limits to what you can accomplish.

One of the main changes I made to the recipe actually made it more complicated. My sister's version calls for a tablespoon of curry powder, but I have so many spices available to me now that I could not stop myself from using them instead. But, if you do not have a cupboard full of spices, just use a tablespoon of curry powder instead. Or, if you only have one or two of the spices, you can just use those. It might not be authentic, whatever that means, but if it tastes good what do you care? I almost always add turmeric and ginger to any dish that is vaguely Indian and not just because of the taste. I do that because they are good for me and more is always better than less.

The swiss chard was a last minute inspiration inspired by the fact that I had just gone to the green market that morning and had returned with a beautiful bunch of it. Any greens will do, or none. If I had thought to add it sooner I would have cut up the stems and cooked it with the onions and garlic, but as I did not, they are cooking away in my Sunday morning frittata with Chinese cabbage as I write this post.

In the original (altered) recipe, you add the tomato paste after you have added the liquid. I like to add it before, so it has a chance to brown. The original version also has you add the spices at the same time that you add the onions, which I have seen before, but I am more comfortable putting them in just before I am going to add the first liquid (usually tomatoes) and cooking them for a minute or two to let the oils and fragrances release and then adding something that will help keep them from burning.

My sister's version also adds the carrots and celery when the liquid is added, but I thought it might add another dimension of flavor to add them to the onions, garlic and ginger just before the spices are added, so they can absorb some of that flavor before the lentils and broth are added.

But however you decide to do it, I am sure it will be delicious. Although I used a lot of spices, they blend well together and do not overpower. If you decide to just use curry powder the effect would be the same. If you decide to make this soup. And I hope you do.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Serves 6

3 Tbsp oil
1 tsp nigella seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 carrot, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp fenugreek leaves
2 Tbsp tomato paste
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup water
14.5-oz can chopped tomatoes, with their liquid
1 cup green lentils
kosher salt to taste
1 bunch of chard leaves, chopped (save stems for later use)
2 Tbsp lemon juice
Yogurt, for garnish

Place nigella seeds and oil in a large pan. Bring up to heat together in a large pan over medium-high heat. When the seeds start to sizzle, add the cumin and mustard seeds and cook until the mustard seeds start to pop. Add the onion and cook for 1 minute, then add the garlic and ginger. Cook for about 5 minutes more, stirring frequently, until the onions are well softened.

Add the carrots and celery and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the turmeric, cumin, coriander, paprika and cayenne pepper. Crumble the fenureek leaves over the vegetables and cook for another minute or two, until the fragrace from the spices has been released. Add the tomato paste and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, until it has browned.

Add the vegetable broth, water, tomatoes, and lentils and season to taste with salt. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the lentils and mix well. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, until the lentils are tender, about 25 minutes.

Add the chard leaves and cook until they are wilted, about five more minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice.

Serve hot, garnished with a dollop of yogurt.

adapted from a recipe Anne adapted from Slim and Healthy Vegetarian by Judith Wills (Gramercy, 1996)

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Friday, June 08, 2012

Pie Dough Cookies

My brother once told me that he had read somewhere that our brains have the habit of specifying the general in our memories. Often, when we remember something from our childhood that "happened all the time" or that we did "all the time," a deeper look will reveal that it actually only happened once.

My memory of pie dough cookies is the perfect example of this phenomenon. For years I had this memory of us kids making pie dough cookies from leftover scraps whenever our mother made pie. We would cut out different shapes, sprinkle them with sugar and cinnamon, and have a nice little treat to tide us over until we could cut into the actual pie.

On one of my recent holiday visits home, my sister-in-law was making pecan tassies (basically a miniature pecan pie), and she had leftover pie dough, so we made pie dough cookies with them. I started to tell my story of how we always made pie dough cookies when we were kids, but something made me stop and go over my memories of how many times we actually did that.

And I came up with: once. I have one memory of making pie dough cookies in my mother's kitchen with my older sisters. We didn't do it all the time at all. Which, when I think about it, makes more sense, because my mother did not make all that many pies.

I was reminded of this peculiarity this weekend when I made strawberry rhubarb empanadas (yes, more on those later). After I had rolled out the dough and cut as many circles as I could (and as many as I could stand to fill, fold and crimp), I still had the last bits of dough from around the circles. So I cut them into "interesting" shapes, put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, brushed them with the egg wash I used for the empanadas, and sprinkled them with cinnamon and sugar. When my oven reached 350 deg. F. on its way to the 400 deg. F. I wanted for the empanadas, I put the pie dough pieces in the oven and let them bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until they were golden.

I had an ulterior motive for doing this. I was experimenting with the dough, using half all-purpose and half white whole wheat flour, so I was a little apprehensive whether or not it would work, and this was the perfect way for me to test it.

The result was quite satisfactory. The dough was a little more sturdy than regular pie crust, which makes it the perfect dough to hold up to empanadas and other hand-held pies. I was especially gratified to discover that it was still flaky, if not quite as tender and flaky as an all-purpose crust would be. For regular pies I will probably continue to use all-purpose flour, but for empanadas and cobblers this (slightly) healthier version will work beautifully.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Salt May Not Be As Bad As You Thought

For years I have read bits and pieces here and there that indicate that salt might not be as bad for us as we have been told. This opinion piece in the New York Times online by Gary Taubes is one of the most cogent I have seen on the issue. Apparently, even if reducing your salt intake does lower your blood pressure, there is no evidence that it lengthens your life.

Actually, the evidence seems to point to it shortening your life.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Recall: Crown Prince Oysters

In response to the release of an FDA Constituent Update stating that shellfish from Korea no longer meets the sanitation controls spelled out under the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, Crown Prince has issued a voluntary recall of the following products:
  • Crown Prince Whole Boiled Oysters
  • Crown Prince Natural Whole Boiled Oysters
  • Crown Prince Natural Smoked Oysters in Olive Oil
  • Crown Prince Natural Smoked Oysters with Chili Pepper
No illnesses from the consumption of Korean shellfish have been reported this year. Press Release.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Baked Beans with Poblano Peppers

Now that I have mastered the art of the No-Soak Bean, I decided it was time to re-tackle baked beans. I say re-tackle because I have been working on them on and off for the past five years. While I have enjoyed many of my attempts, none have been particularly noteworthy. The main problem has been the consistency of the beans themselves. One of the problems I had with my previous method of presoaking and then cooking the beans is that the skins tend to split and crack and the beans are mushy, so it is nearly impossible to get the sauce rich and thick without destroying the beans completely.

With the no-soak method, the skins stay intact and the beans, while cooked all the way through and tender, are not mushy. The best way that I can describe it is that it is like the difference between boiling and roasting. With all of that presoaking, the beans absorb a lot of water and I think that is what makes the skins shred and the beans more mushy. When the beans are cooked in the oven without the presoak, the interior of the bean is more dense and the flavor is more concentrated. I will never soak another bean again.

Especially if I am going to bake them. I finally hit the jackpot with my latest attempt. It may partly be because I have been playing with the technique these past few years, but I am convinced it is mainly because the beans hold their structure so much better that they can stand up to a long, slow baking time.

This batch was thick and rich with the concentrated flavors of the sauce and the beans. Edgewater Produce had the biggest, most beautiful fresh poblano peppers I have ever seen for $0.69 per pound. Whole Foods' less robust peppers weren't even contenders at $2.49 per pound. They are a mild pepper, used mostly for chili rellenos. That was originally why I bought them, but then I realized I would have to fry them and I didn't feel up to that particular task. I knew their smoky flavor would be the perfect complement for the beans, and they did not disappoint. They also added a a slight heat that provided that nice slow burn that grows so satisfyingly powerful with every bite that you take.

If you don't have fresh poblano peppers you could use them in their dried form, which are ancho peppers. You should be able to find them without too much of a search. If not, any kind of pepper or chili would work. Just use as much or as little as you wish to provide the level of heat with which you are most comfortable.

Try these beans for a new twist on an old favorite at your next cook-out. They are the perfect complement for whatever you've thrown on the grill.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Makes 6 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 fresh poblano peppers, halved crosswise and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 cup tomato puree
1/4 cup water
3 cups cooked white beans, with liquid
1 Tbsp oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 300 deg. F. Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until the onion is just translucent. Add the poblano pepper slices and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the peppers are tender, about 7 more minutes.

Add the chili powder and cumin and cook for one minute. Add the beans with their liquid, the tomato puree, water, and oregano and stir to combine.

Bring to a boil, cover, and cook on a middle rack in the oven for about 2-1/2 hours until the mixture is nice and thick. Check after the first hour, and then every half hour after that.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (
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