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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Polenta, a Third Way: Slow-cooker Method

I love polenta so much I've already posted a couple of recipes for it. I prefer it to pasta. A cook can be negligent while cooking this recipe since it only needs to be stirred a couple of times. It's my new favorite method.




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Polenta, a Third Way: Slow-cooker Method


Cooking in a slow-cooker is not quite as predictable as cooking in an oven. Mine will be different than yours. The first time you make this start checking to see if much of the water has been absorbed before the 2-hour point. If it has go ahead and stir it and finish cooking as directed. 

Adapted from:  The Mediterranean Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone
Serves 6-8

3 c water
2 c chicken broth, vegetable broth, or more water
1 c coarsely ground yellow cornmeal or cornmeal for polenta, not instant
1/2-1 teas salt
1 T unsalted butter
1/2 c grated Parmegianno-Regianno
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Stir the water, broth, cornmeal, and salt together in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for around 2 hours. In my slow cooker, it takes only 90-100 minutes. (Watch it carefully until you've learned how your slow cooker behaves.) Stir well, cover, and cook on low for 30-60 minutes more or until the polenta is thick. I used the warm setting for the final hour.

When the polenta is thick and creamy, stir in the butter and the cheese and stir until melted and well combined. Serve immediately.

Creamy Chard

Hell's Backbone Grill is, apparently, an excellent place to eat. It's located in the tiny town of Boulder, Utah near the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I used to go through this town on fishing trips with my parents when I was a child. I have only one memory of the town:  my toddler brother had his stomach pumped after he found a bottle of baby aspirin in the car (prior to the advent of child proof lids).

Tom and Sol went to Hell's Backbone Grill this past summer to celebrate their one year anniversary. Likely their memories are better than mine. They kindly gave me a cookbook by the owners/chefs. It's a beauty and if this recipe is any indication, it is full of good tasting recipes.

This treatment of a humble vegetable can be enjoyed in celebratory meals like Thanksgiving dinner.



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Creamy Chard


Adapted from:  With a Measure of Grace:  The Story and Recipes of a Small Town Restaurant by Blake Spalding and Jennifer Castle

Serves:  6

1 1/2 T butter
1 c diced onion
1 teas minced garlic
1 pound Swiss chard, cleaned and chopped into thin ribbons (you can include tender parts of stems)
1 1/2 c heavy cream
1/2 c grated Parmesan
1 c bread crumbs (the restaurant uses biscuit crumbs; I've used fresh bread spun in a blender)
1 1/2 T fresh tarragon or 1 teas dried
3/4 teas salt, or to taste
1/2 teas freshly ground pepper, or to taste

Melt butter in a pan large enough to fit all the chard. Add the onions and cook until soft and starting to color. Add garlic and stir for 30-60 seconds. Add the chopped chard and the cream and stir everything together. Bring to a simmer and lower heat if necessary to keep it slowly cooking for about 5 minutes. Add the grated cheese and bread crumbs, tarragon, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. The thickness of the dish can be modified by adding some milk or cream a little at a time.

Cook on low for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the chard is tender and the mixture has a thick, creamy texture. If needed, adjust the salt and pepper and serve.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Millionaire Shortbread

In time for holiday cooking, "Cook's Illustrated Magazine" recently published a recipe that I tested and tasted last spring. I became acquainted with this cookie in 1977 during my first trip to Ireland where Leon served his LDS mission. Some of his favorite friends were the McKennas in Bangor, Northern Ireland. Molly McKenna served us a cookie called "Fudge Bars," chocolate and caramel on shortbread.  She shared a recipe with me but I didn't cook it since I couldn't find an ingredient:  Lyle's Golden Syrup (a sugar byproduct which is currently more available in the States). Ultimately, I lost her hand written recipe. The cookie was a favorite in my memory so I've been thrilled to know of a published recipe using ingredients easily found in U. S. supermarkets.

Making the caramel layer can be an adventure in candy making even though the magazine's instructions are pretty straightforward. If you live at higher altitudes, cooking the caramel becomes problematic. Since Betsy and I live at a slightly under 5000 feet, we can not successfully make this recipe as it is written. I am posting this recipe for those of us that live between 4000 to 5000 feet elevation but will tell you what to do if you live at lower or higher altitudes.

Do give this a try, even if you feel a little nervous. It's worth it and the recipe will be a great addition to your holiday repertoire.




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Millionaire Shortbread Bars (Irish Fudge Bars) High Altitude Version


Serves:  30-40 depending on how you cut them

Crust: 

2 1/2 c flour
1/2 granulated sugar
3/4 teas salt
16 T unsalted butter, melted

Filling:

1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 c packed brown sugar
1/2 heavy cream
1/2 c corn syrup 
8 T unsalted butter

Chocolate:

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (6 oz. chopped, 2 oz. grated)

For the crust:  

Use foil to make a sling for a 9X13 pan: use two sheets folded to fit and laid perpendicular to each other, leaving the excess foil hanging over the edges of the pan. Make sure the foil is flush to the corners and flat against the bottom. 

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt and add melted butter. Stir well until all the flour is moistened. Spread the dough evenly across the bottom of the prepared pan. Press the dough with your hands or the bottom of a measuring cup until it is an even thickness. Pierce the dough with a fork at 1-inch intervals. Place in oven at lower-middle height and bake about 25-30 minutes until lightly golden and firm to the touch. Remove and place on a wire rack. Use a metal spatula to press on the surface of the crust while it is warm, making it easier to cut when cool. Let sit as it cools to just warm, 20 minutes at least.

For the filling (for different altitudes see below):

Mix all the ingredients together in a heavy bottomed, large saucepan. Over medium heat, cook while stirring frequently. Using a thermometer, either candy or instant-read, to test the temperature and cook until it reaches 226-229F (at 5000 feet elevation). When the caramel layer reaches your target temperature, carefully pour it over the crust and using a rubber spatula or an offset spatula, spread it to an even thickness. This mixture is very hot and could burn badly if it lands on you. Let the bars cool completely, at least 1 1/2 hours.

For the chocolate top:

Place the chopped chocolate in a small glass bowl and microwave at 50 percent power for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every 15 seconds. The chocolate should be melted but not much warmer than body temperature. Stir in the grated chocolate and keep stirring until smooth. If it doesn't melt, you can return it to the microwave for 5 seconds at a time to finish. Stir well and spread the chocolate over the caramel layer. Place in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes until the chocolate is solidified but just barely.

Use the foil sling to lift the shortbread out of the pan. Place on a cutting board, removing the foil. Use a serrated knife to cut. I cut mine into squares. Cook's Illustrated cuts theirs into long, thin strips. 

The cookies can be stored at room temperature for up to a week. It is wise to use parchment in between any layers in your storage container.

Caramel Layer at Varying Altitudes


The only change required for this recipe is the target temperature for cooking the caramel. The original recipe calls for cooking the caramel layer to 236-239F

Atmospheric pressure is lower at higher elevations and it affects baking and candy making. If we ignore this difference our efforts will be disappointing. In this recipe the caramel will be too moist or too chewy if you cook it to the wrong temperature. Since boiling takes place at a lower temperature at high altitudes the target temperature must be lower too. But knowing just what temperature can be difficult. 

Several years ago Betsy and I attended a high altitude cooking class taught by Romina Rasmussen, chef and owner of Les Madeleines Patisserie and Cafe in Salt Lake City, one of the most helpful classes I've ever attended. Romina is a trustworthy resource so I spoke with her last summer and she told me that even a couple of degrees off in caramel making can make for an undesirable end result. She recommends boiling water the very day you are going to cook the caramel (apparently atmospheric conditions can affect candy, too). Test the temperature at which the water boils and subtract that amount from sea level boiling point, 212F. Then subtract the difference from the original recipe and you will have your target temperature.  Here's an example:

Sea level boiling point:  212F
Subtract your boiling temperature:  ___________ (at my 5000 ft it is 202F)
Equals:________ (10 degrees for me)

Original recipe target temperature:  236F-239F
Subtract the difference between two boiling temps:  _________ (10 degrees)
Equals: your target temperature (for me it is 226F-229F)



Saturday, December 3, 2016

Spanish Rice Casserole

Although this is no gourmet dish, it's fast and it makes for a nice weeknight meal. The casserole can be served with a vegetable on the side to round out your plate; it's also nice with warmed tortillas. Michael likes to use the casserole itself as a burrito or taco filling (as did my brothers).

This recipe was given to my mom decades ago by a friend from K. I. Sawyer Air Force Base. It was a family favorite from the first time she cooked it. The speedy preparation made it a frequent dinner during the years when teens were in the house. I like it for the same reasons--and also, it's a crowd pleaser. I will often turn to this recipe when I'm taking a meal to another family.

Note from Colette:

I've just finished reading a book titled A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression.
A paragraph in the book made me wonder if this recipe has its roots in Depression-era Michigan. I think it certainly possible: "A dish called 'Spanish Rice' (many dishes were identified as Spanish simply because they contained tomatoes) was a popular casserole made with fried ham, bacon or salt pork, chopped onion, tomato, diced bell pepper, and boiled rice, all combined and baked or warmed on the stove top." Although this recipe contains ground beef I imagine the ingredient was added when it became convenient and affordable. 


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Spanish Rice Casserole


Source: Debbie Wade, an old friend my mom knew in Michigan

1 lb ground beef
1/2 c onion, chopped
1 c uncooked white rice
2/3 c green pepper, chopped
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes (original recipe used stewed)
2 c water
1 teas chili powder
1/2 teas oregano leaves
1 teas salt
1/8 teas pepper
1/3 c cooked ham or 5 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

If you're using bacon, cook it in a skillet and then spoon off all but 1 T bacon fat. Cook ground beef and onion together, in the bacon fat. (If you're using ham, just cook the beef and onion together using a vegetable oil spray to coat the pan.) Drain fat, if necessary, and stir in other ingredients. Heat to boiling; reduce heat, cover and simmer. Stir occasionally. Cook about 30 minutes until water is absorbed.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Turkey or Chicken Noodle Soup

my 18-month-old enjoying the final product!
When I was expecting my first child over 8 years ago (!), I enrolled in a hypnobirthing class. One of the relaxation exercises our instructor walked us through was imagining a kitchen in full detail, complete with our favorite meal cooking on the stove or in the oven. The meal I imagined was chicken noodle soup on the stove, with bread cooking in the oven.

I was a little sickly as a child and teenager, suffering from asthma and recurrent sinus and respiratory infections. My mom would make this soup often when I was ill, and in addition to helping heal my body, it was a great comfort to my soul.

Though homemade chicken noodle soup is amazing, turkey noodle soup is out of this world. When we travel for Thanksgiving, we make sure to grill a turkey some other time in the winter, just for the carcass to use for stock. I swear, it's liquid gold.

simmering the stock
Homemade stock may sound intimidating. But I know you can do it! The more time you have, the more flavorful your stock will be, but a delicious chicken stock can be made in as little time as an hour, and it's mostly hands-off time. According to Alton Brown here, stock is made only with bones and broth is made from meat, so really this is a hybrid of both stock and broth. On years when I do cook a turkey on Thanksgiving, I almost anticipate the day after Thanksgiving more, when I simmer a huge pot of turkey stock for hours. The smell in my house is divine!






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Turkey or Chicken Noodle Soup (With Homemade Stock)


A chicken yields a dutch oven pot full of soup. A turkey will yield 2-3 times that amount of stock.

For the stock:


I usually use a carcass to make the stock--from a rotisserie chicken, or a grilled turkey--and then use meat I saved from the bird for the soup. With a chicken in particular you can use the entire raw bird to make the stock, and then shred some of the meat for the soup. Alternatively, you can use a collection of bone-in chicken pieces to make the stock. Mom often cooks everything but the breast meat for the broth and cooks the breast meat after the broth is completed and strained. That way the meat isn't overcooked or tasteless because all the flavor has cooked out (once the breast is cooked, pull it out and shred it before returning it to the soup for serving).

1 onion
1 carrot
1 celery rib
2 bay leaves
1 chicken carcass or 1 turkey carcass

Because a turkey carcass is usually much bigger, double the other ingredients.

Place carcass in a large pot. For chicken a dutch oven size is sufficient; for a turkey I use a large stock pot. Fill with water to cover the carcass by at least an inch--and more will result in more stock.

Quarter the onion, scrub the carrot, and wash the celery rib. Then add vegetables and bay leaf to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat until the stock simmers. Simmer for at least an hour, preferably several hours.

Remove and discard all of the solids from the stock (a spider makes this easy). On fat: sometimes a layer of fat is evident on the top of the stock. Often when I use a chicken carcass there's not much and I'm too lazy to remove it, but if you see a lot and would prefer to do without the fat, here's a few options. The easiest (and probably most time-effective) method is to use a fat separator. The fat rises to the top and you can pour off the liquid underneath. Another option is to use a ziploc bag. Place the stock into the bag and hold it still for a minute so the fat rises to the top. Then snip off a corner of the bag to release the stock, then pull the bag away once everything is out but the fat. And a third option: refrigerate the stock to solidify the fat. You can then spoon it off, being careful not to remove too much stock.

On storage: Stock freezes beautifully. I have used both mason jars and ziploc freezer bags. The gelatin in stock will turn it semi-solid in the fridge. Don't worry, it loosens right up as soon as you heat it.

For the soup:


These measurements are flexible; tailor them to your tastes.

~2 quarts stock
3-4 carrots
3 celery stalks
a few celery leaves, optional
4 handfuls egg noodles
1 1/2 -2 c cooked chicken, cubed or shredded into bite-sized pieces
3/4 teas thyme
3/4 teas rosemary, crushed

Bring stock to a boil. Peel and slice carrots; wash and slice the celery. Add 1 teas salt and vegetables and cook until crisp-tender, about 12 minutes at my altitude. I usually add the chicken at this point, but it doesn't really matter when you add it, just that you do!

Then add egg noodles and cook for another 10 minutes or so, until the noodles are tender. Add thyme and rosemary. If you're sick, make sure you stand over the simmering soup and breathe in the fragrant steam. Place in bowls and serve with crusty bread or grilled cheese sandwiches.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Grilled Chocolate Sandwich

During a visit to Germany in 1986 I tasted Nutella for the first time. Like a number of foods I discovered during my years of Air Force assignments and related travel, Nutella was not well-known in USA at the time. It almost goes without saying; I liked it, especially on sourdough bread. Some acquaintances found my fondness for bread and chocolate strange, even when I reminded them that Americans ate plenty of chocolate covered donuts (maybe multi-colored sprinkles won them over). During my eight years living overseas I continued to indulge in Nutella but the best chocolate and bread combo I ever ate was found at a Belgian patisserie near my home; the baker slathered chocolate between croissant halves. I admit to indulging myself often during my three years there.

A few years after returning to the states, I read about Grilled Chocolate Sandwiches in a cookbook by one of my favorite contributors to The Washington Post Food section, food scientist, Robert Wolke (unfortunately he no longer writes for them). He introduced me to a short, easy recipe which combines the flavors, if not the texture, of those chocolate croissants I still miss.




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Grilled Chocolate Sandwich


Adapted from What Einstein Told His Cook 2:  The Sequel Further Adventures in Kitchen Science by Robert Wolke
Serves 1, but can be multiplied

salted butter
two slices good bread
a handful of chocolate chips or 1-2 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate or milk chocolate, if you prefer

Heat a nonstick or cast iron skillet or griddle over medium heat. Melt a pat of butter and place one slice of bread in the pan, moving the bread around to absorb the butter. Arrange the chocolate chips on the bread covering the slice well. Top the chocolate with the second slice of bread; let cook until the chocolate is beginning to melt and the bottom slice starts to brown. Be careful with the heat--you know your own stove top and may need to lower the heat so you don't burn the bread before the chocolate melts. When the bottom slice is golden brown, carefully flip the sandwich using a spatula. This is easiest if you use both hands; flip the uncooked side on to your non-dominant hand moving rather slowly in case there is still unmelted chocolate which might fall out. Once the flip is completed, melt another pat of butter and place the sandwich back in the pan, uncooked slice down. Tuck in any chocolate chips that may have fallen. Continue cooking until the second piece of bread is browned as well and the chocolate is melted.

Remove to a cutting board and slice; wait a minute or two and enjoy.

Note:

This sandwich is best when you combine quality ingredients. I like the flavors of sourdough bread but it isn't necessary. Just try for something with some heft and good flavor. I've seen photos of these using baguettes, but I think the chocolate would melt out of any holes. I use Callebaut chocolate chips with a higher percentage of chocolate. These chips are not American so they have less wax in them (they don't hold together well in a cookie) and they melt beautifully. If you can't find this brand, you might try those at Trader Joe's since that store imports some chocolate items from Belgium. I've not tried the chocolate chips so I can't vouch for them. The chocolate bars they sell (Pound Plus) are good, though.







Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Slow-cooker Butternut Soup

Even though you may have a great stove-top recipe for butternut soup, this version may come in handy when you have to be away from the kitchen.



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Slow-cooker Butternut Soup


Source:  The French Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone
Serves:  6

1 large (2-pds) butternut squash, or equivalent, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-in chunks
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large sweet apple, such as Fuji or Golden Delicious, peeled, cored, and chopped
6 c chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
1 teas. salt
1/2 c heavy cream, plus more for garnish
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Combine the squash, onion, apple and broth in a large slow cooker and add 1 teas salt.

Cook on low for 6 hours. Check that the vegetables and apples are very soft. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. In batches, blend the ingredients until smooth. Return to the slow cooker and add cream and nutmeg. Reheat on the low setting, if necessary.

Serve soup drizzled with cream.

Notes:

Almost any winter squash (excepting spaghetti or the small Delicata) would work here. See this page for examples. I am partial to banana squash.

Slivers of red-skinned apple are also a great garnish for this soup. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

End-of-Summer Spaghetti Sauce

For some, the end of summer came several weeks ago, but in Albuquerque summer lingered this year, so here's one last "summer" recipe. This can be cooked anytime you find a good eggplant, however.

Gardening in the desert was a disappointment this summer but it has taught me just how hard plants try to do their life's work, in spite of strong hot winds, drought, insect attacks, and disease. Although we experienced all these traumas this summer, I got several eggplants, some tomatoes, onions, lots of garlic, and the herbs needed for this recipe. I'm glad since this mostly veggie sauce is great for pasta or polenta and I like to cook it at least once each summer. Skip the anchovies for a vegan dish.



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End-of-Summer Spaghetti Sauce


Source: Local Flavors:  Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets  by Deborah Madison
Yields sauce enough for 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of spaghetti

1 1/2 to 2 pds eggplant, peeled and sliced a scant 1/2-in thick
2 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, quartered lengthwise
1/4 c oil, plus extra for the eggplant
1 onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
3 anchovies (optional)
1/3 c chopped parsley, plus extra for garnish
2 pds ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or canned equivalent (28-oz can)
1/4 c Kalamata or Gaeta olives, pitted and chopped
1/4 c green Sicilain olives, pitted and chopped
3 T capers, rinsed
1 T dried oregano
1/4 c water or juice from the tomatoes
salt and ground pepper
1 pd spaghetti
1 c Pecorino Romano cheese or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

Preheat the broiler and place peppers on a baking sheet under the broiler, skin side up and cook until blistered. Stack the pepper quarters on top of each other and cover; allow to steam for 15 minutes and peel. Lightly brush a sheet pan with oil and place the eggplant slices on it. Brush the tops of the slices with oil and broil both sides until browned. Remove from oven and when cool enough to handle, dice the broiled eggplant slices and the peeled peppers. 

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven. Add the onion, garlic, anchovies, and the parsley. Saute until the onions are softened. Add the peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, olives, capers, oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer for 30 minutes. 

Cook the pasta. Stir in the sauce and top with more parsley. Pass the grated cheese among diners.

Note: I've frozen this sauce successfully.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Honey Lavender Posset

I'm not sure why it has taken so long for this British dessert to show up in USA. Maybe I just wasn't paying attention. Consider making it a part of your repertoire because there are few easier or more impressive ways to end to a meal.

If lavender isn't your favorite flavor, visit this recipe:  Lemon Posset.




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Honey Lavender Posset


Source: theadventurebite.com
Serves 8-10


4 c heavy cream
1/2 c 100% honey (the better your honey, the better the dessert will taste)
1/2 c lemon juice
1 T lime juice
4-5 culinary lavender sprigs or 1 teas lavender buds
more honey to drizzle on top

Place the cream and honey in a large, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. When the honey is incorporated continue to boil, stirring constantly, for three minutes. Lower heat if the mixture threatens to boil over. Remove from heat. Stir in the lemon and lime juices. Drop the lavender into the mixture so it is fully submerged and allow to steep 10-20 minutes until you like the level of lavender flavor.

Strain mixture and pour into ramekins. Allow to cool on counter. Cover with plastic and place in the refrigerator to cool at least 2 hours. (Apparently, if you are in rush, these can be placed in the freezer for 40 minutes to set, but you'll get a better blend of flavors if they take longer to cool down.

Remove from fridge 5-10 minutes before serving and pass flavorful honey to drizzle on top.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sweet and Spicy Green Tomato Bread

Some years we end up with tomatoes that ripen so late in the season that I have a bumper crop of green tomatoes. I've tried all sorts of recipes to use them up and found this one last year published in a Salt Lake City newspaper. I thought the altitude would be close enough to my own (the city is about 650 feet lower) but I had to tweak this recipe some to achieve correct rising results. I baked about 10 loaves of this bread and finally got one batch that had a bit of a rounded top. I'm not sure how this recipe will work at any altitude other than mine. If you are interested in trying the bread and you live at an altitude of 4300-4500 ft. go to the link below and follow the original recipe.

I think I like this bread better than zucchini bread.


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Sweet and Spicy Green Tomato Bread


Adapted from Deseret News
Makes 2 loaves (8x4)

2 c finely chopped green tomatoes complete with skins and seeds (I processed these in a food processor and let them drain until they measured about 1 2/3-1 3/4 c of solids)
1 1/8 c granulated sugar (2 T equals 1/8 c)
3/4 c brown sugar
1/2 c plain yogurt, any kind but non-fat
1/2 c oil
3 eggs
1 teas salt
2 2/3 c wheat flour
2/3 c unbleached flour
1/2 teas baking soda
1/4 teas baking powder
1 teas cinnamon
1/2 teas ground cloves
1/4 teas nutmeg
1 c chopped walnuts (your preference)

Note:  I cooked this with frozen chopped tomato, already drained, and it worked just fine.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour the loaf pans.

Making the batter can be done by hand. Mix the tomatoes, sugar, yogurt, oil, eggs, vanilla, and salt together in a large bowl, stirring until well blended. Mix dry ingredients (remaining ingredients except for walnuts) in a small bowl. Gradually stir the dry ingredients into the wet until just moistened. Add the walnuts.

Divide the batter into the prepared loaf pans and bake for 60-65 minutes. Test with a toothpick and when it comes out with just a few crumbs, the loaves are done. Let sit on cooling rack for 10 minutes before removing from loaves and allow to cool completely before slicing.

In one of my tests, I divided the batter and cooked 12 muffins and one loaf . The muffins turned out wonderfully and had a shorter baking time, 25-30 minutes. I think I'll try them with a streusel topping next time.

I haven't tested this, but here's a suggested streusel recipe (or you can search the Internet for others):

1/3 c sugar (either white or brown)
1/2 teas cinnamon
1 T butter
1/2 c finely chopped walnuts

Mix the sugar and cinnamon together. Work the butter in with a fork, smashing it until the butter is mostly incorporated. Stir in the walnuts and sprinkle over the batter in muffin tins.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Roasted Tomato Salsa

Occasionally, I (along with thousands of other home cooks) volunteer with America's Test Kitchen to give my impressions of how soon-to-be-published recipes work for a non-professional. About a year ago, I tested this salsa recipe and thought it the most flavorful canned salsa I had ever tasted. I've canned it several times since and America's Test Kitchen has now published their canning book.


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Roasted Tomato Salsa


Adapted from Foolproof Preserving: A Guide to Small Batch Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Condiments & More by America's Test Kitchen
Yields four 1-cup jars

Note: I checked with my County Extension Agency about using less chile if the salsa is too hot, like it is for me (to my shame). You may want to reserve some of the chiles until time to cook the salsa since it is easier to add than to remove. However, don't add more chiles than the recipe calls for. I have also reduced the salt (I find it still plenty salty but use salt free chips). I was told neither change would affect the safety of the recipe.


2 1/2 pds tomatoes, cored and halved
5 red jalapeno or Fresno chiles, stemmed and halved lengthwise, seeds removed
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 onion, sliced into 1/2-in thick rounds
1/3 c bottled lime juice (do not use fresh)
2  teas salt (the original recipe calls for 2 1/2 teas salt)
2 teas sugar
2 teas chopped fresh cilantro
1 teas ground cumin

Prepare the jars for canning by washing and heating in the canning pot. Allow them to remain in the pot until ready to use. Wash the lids and bands.

Place the onion slices and tomatoes, cut side down, on a rimmed baking sheet. (You may want to cover the sheet with aluminum foil to facilitate cleaning. I don't because it seems wasteful.) Place chiles (also cut side down) and garlic on another.

Place the sheet with the tomatoes and onions under the broiler 4 inches from the heat. Place the onions and garlic on a rack below the tomatoes. Turn on the broiler (or preheat if that works better in your oven) and cook until vegetables are blistered and charred and have softened somewhat. Remove the tomatoes and onions from the oven when they are charred to your liking. Continue to cook the chiles and garlic until they are softened and beginning to char. I find it difficult to get everything to char "just right" at the same time, so I check frequently and remove vegetables one by one from the baking sheets if necessary. At this point the oven may be turned off.

Place the onions into a food processor and process until they are about 1/4-inch in size. Remove about half the onions and reserve. To the onions in the food processor, add all the garlic, half the tomatoes and all the chiles and run until all is well pureed. Pour into a large pot on the stove top. Place remaining tomatoes and reserved onions and pulse until all is chopped about 1/4-inch, only a few pulses. Add these to the pot.

To the tomato mixture, stir in the lime juice, salt, sugar, cilantro, and cumin. Taste it and if you want more heat add some of the reserved chiles. Cook over medium-high heat until the salsa has reduced and thickened slightly. It should measure slightly more than 4 cups.

When salsa is ready and jars are hot, remove from water and ladle the salsa into the jars leaving 1/2-inch head space. Bounce a skewer up and down in each jar to remove bubbles. Clean the rims with a dampened paper towel and top with the lids. Screw the bands on and tighten with your fingertips. Return the water in the canner to a boil. Then place the jars in the water making sure you use a rack so the bottles do not touch the bottom of the pot. Also ensure that there is an inch of water over the tops of the jars. Cover the pot and bring back to a boil and keep water boiling. Timing is according to altitude:  15 minutes for up to 1,000 feet; 20 minutes for 1,001 to 3,000 feet; 25 minutes for 3,001 to 6,000 feet; 30 minutes for above 6,000. After the time has passed, remove the lid, turn off the heat, and let jars sit in the pot for 5 more minutes. Remove jars from pot and place on a towel and allow to cool for 24 hours. Remove bands and check seal. Sealed jars can be stored up to 1 year.

I have doubled this and canned 4 pints. I looked up recipes on National canning site and they recommended the same processing time for half pints and pints. I also checked with the Extension agent and it is fine to use full pints. But I figured I'd add another 5 minutes in the water bath just in case.

If you chose not to can the salsa can be refrigerated for up to a month according to ATK.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Blackberry Fool

A few weeks ago, next to some mountains in Utah, two boys and their mom pulled a neighbor's blackberries out of the freezer. They grabbed the cream from the fridge that had been delivered overnight from a local dairy. They consulted the recipe at the end of the picture book they had checked out from the library a few days before.

The boys whipped the cream with an electric mixer. Zzzzzzzh. In just a few minutes: whipped cream. "You should lick the beaters," the woman said to her boys. And they did. Mmmmmmm.

The woman defrosted the berries in the microwave, then the boys enjoyed smashing the berries with a fork. Everyone took a turn pressing the berries through a colander. Then the boys sprinkled sugar over the fruit and together they mixed the fruit into the cream. They placed the mixture in the fridge for several hours.



For their afternoon snack, the family ate the blackberry fool, on their back steps, looking up at their mountains. The baby was napping, but he enjoyed the dessert after dinner that night.

Something wasn't quite right with their fool, though; it was too runny. The mom thought maybe they should have whipped the cream longer, or maybe used fresh berries. And next time she might reduce the sugar. But that's for the next iteration of this fine dessert!

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat illustrates some ways the world has evolved over the last four hundred years, as viewed through the preparation of blackberry fool. The source of the cream and the blackberries, the people that prepare it, the tools they use, and the people that eat the fool change over the centuries. But everyone licks the spoon and bowl clean!

As I wrote this post I discovered some criticism about the way this book portrayed slavery in 1810 South Carolina. See here or here for more information. I understand the objections, though admit to conflicted feelings since the book is otherwise so lovely. But be aware and use your best judgement as you read it with children.



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Blackberry Fool


Source: A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall

2 1/2 c fresh blackberries
1/2 c sugar, divided in two
1 teas vanilla
1 1/2 c heavy cream

Mash the berries with a potato masher, large fork, or food processor. With clean hands, press the crushed berries through a colander or sieve to remove the seeds. Sprinkle the fruit with 1/4 c of the sugar. Stir.

In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining 1/4 c of sugar, the vanilla and the cream. Using a whisk or whatever kind of beater you have, whip the mixture until it makes soft peaks, but not stiff ones.

Fold the sugared berries into the whipped cream. Taste it to see if it's sweet enough. Add more sugar if you need it. There should be streaks of white and purple.

Refrigerate for 3 hours or more, and then enjoy!

Note: We used frozen berries, which the recipe says you can, but I want to try it again. Our fool ended up too runny. So either we didn't whip the cream enough or there was too much extra moisture in the frozen berries.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cucumber and Tomato Salad with Mint and Lemon

This is a simple and easy salad made delicious by the lemon and mint dressing.

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Cucumber and Tomato Salad with Mint and Lemon


Serves: 4-5

Use this recipe as a guide. If you like more or less of anything change what you add.

Serves 4-6

2 medium cucumbers (about 1 pd), peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and cut 1/4-in thick slices
1 teas salt
4 ripe tomatoes (about 1 pd) and cut into 3/4-in thick wedges, or halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
8-10 large fresh mint leaves , cut into thin strips
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 T fresh lemon juice
freshly ground pepper

Toss the cucumbers and salt in a large colander set over a rimmed plate or a bowl. Fill a zipper-locked plastic bag with ice water and set the bag on top of the cucumber slices. Allow to drain for an hour. Thoroughly rinse the cucumber slices under cold, running water and pat dry with a towel. The salad will be considerably less watery if you complete this step, but in a pinch you could skip it if you taste for seasoning before serving.

Place the tomatoes into a large bowl and add a tiny bit of salt being careful not to overdo it since the cucumbers will remain salty. Add the cucumbers, onion, and mint and toss gently. Drizzle the oil and lemon juice over the salad and toss again. Season with pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Corn, Bacon, and Avocado Salad

A delicious option for corn-on-the-cob season, my favorite time of year.



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Corn, Bacon, and Avocado Salad


Source: Inquiring Chef
Yield depends somewhat on the size of your ears of corn. With really large ears, I halved the recipe because I knew I'd be the only one eating it and I ate generous servings probably 3 times. But I made it again with smaller ears of corn and there wasn't as much.

4 ears corn, shucked
6 strips bacon
1 red pepper, finely diced
1 large avocado, diced
1/4 c cilantro, chopped
juice from 2 limes
salt and pepper to taste

Cook bacon in a skillet over medium heat until crisp. While bacon is cooking, cut the kernels off the ears of corn.

Remove the bacon and let it cool on a paper-towel lined plate. Spoon out all but 1 T bacon grease from the skillet, then put the pan back on medium heat. Add the corn kernels to the hot skillet and don't stir for a couple of minutes until the corn sizzles. Then stir occasionally until the corn is cooked and the kernels have begun to brown. Place the corn in a large bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

While the corn is cooling, dice the red pepper and avocado. Chop the cilantro and crumble the bacon. Mix it all together, add the corn, stir in the lime juice, and season with salt and pepper. Feel free to improvise with the ingredient ratios--I added extra avocado when my ears of corn were very large. 



Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Strawberry Rhubarb Freezer Jam

I'm a fan of strawberries and rhubarb combined. So I'm going to enjoy them throughout the year.


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Strawberry Rhubarb Freezer Jam


Adapted from: Southern Living Little Jars, Big Flavors
Yield: 4 half pint jars

This makes a rather thin-spreading jam but it tastes wonderful.

2 c sugar, divided
3 c strawberries (if you use frozen allow them to partially thaw)
3 c sliced rhubarb (if frozen allow them to thaw partially)
1 pkg. pectin (the original called for 1.59 oz. package, but I found only 2 oz.)

Stir 1 c sugar into the strawberries and let sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve.

Place rhubarb and remaining cup of sugar in a saucepan and cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes until the rhubarb is soft and the sugar is melted. When it begins to simmer, turn it down and stir frequently. Remove from heat and let it cool for 10 minutes.

Combine the strawberries and the rhubarb and pulse in a food processor 8-12 times until slightly chunky. Transfer into a glass or plastic bowl and let stand for 15 minutes. Gradually stir in the pectin. Stir constantly for 3 minutes. Let stand, again, for 30 minutes.

Ladle mixture into clean half pint jars or other freezer containers. Leave 1/2 inch head space. Freeze upright in the freezer where they can remain for up to a year. Thaw in the refrigerator and use within 3 weeks.

The book recommends Ball Fruit Jell Freezer Jam Pectin. (Next time I'll try it.)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Rhubarb Baked French Toast

When we were last together, Betsy and I tried this recipe. This particular product was made with red rhubarb, but the rhubarb in my garden is green, which won't be as pretty. Of course, it will taste just as good. The original recipe is for breakfast or brunch, but we think it would be a delicious dessert bread pudding.

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Rhubarb Baked French Toast


Adapted from: The Washington Post
Serves: 8-10, but this can be halved and cooked in an 8X8 pan

For the filling:

8 oz. trimmed rhubarb stalks, thick stalks cut in half vertically, cut into 1/2 inc. slices
1/2 c  sugar
finely grated zest of 1 orange
3 T orange juice
1 T cornstarch

For the french toast:

2 teas unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 c sugar, divided
12 slices quality firm bread, sandwich or challah, white, or part wheat
6 large eggs
1 1/2 c whole or low fat milk
1 teas vanilla
1 teas ground cinnamon
powdered sugar, for sprinkling

The filling can be made ahead and makes preparation faster if you are serving this for breakfast. Combine the rhubarb and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the orange zest and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb becomes soft,

In a small bowl, combine the juice and the cornstarch and stir until the cornstarch is dissolved. Add it to the mixture in the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes, until the mixture thickens, stirring constantly. Remove from burner and cool for at least 10 minutes. Store in the refrigerator if keeping it overnight.

For the French toast:

Heat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9X13 pan with the butter and arrange 6 slices of bread in an even layer on the bottom. Cut the bread to fit, if needed. Sprinkle the slices with 2 T sugar. Evenly spread the filling over the bread. Place another layer of bread on top of the rhubarb. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 T sugar.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, and vanilla in a large measuring cup or bowl. Pour it over the bread layers, pressing down gently to help the bread absorb the liquid. Let it sit for 5-15 minutes until the egg mixture has soaked in completely. Sprinkle evenly with the cinnamon and move to the hot oven.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until the top has become puffy and firm and it has begun to brown. Sprinkle with powdered  sugar and serve immediately.

Serve with strawberries, either sweetened or unsweetened.

If you choose to serve this as a dessert,  I recommend you leave the bottom layer as is but cut the bread into cubes for the top layer.





Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Chocolate Sesame Crunch Bars

A variation on a no-bake cookie, these crunch bars are another way to use the tahini languishing in your fridge after you make hummus. The most time-consuming part for me was stirring the tahini, but if you use tahini more often the less it will settle in between uses.



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Chocolate Sesame Crunch Bars


Source: The New York Times

8 oz Rice Chex, puffed rice, or another crunchy, light cereal like cornflakes
10 oz milk chocolate, though I used a mixture of milk, semi-sweet, and bittersweet because that's what I had on hand--use what chocolate you prefer
1 1/4 c tahini, well stirred

Prepare a 9x13 pan by lining with parchment or wax paper.

Break up cereal by pulsing in a food processor just until broken into bits. You don't want to turn the cereal into powder. Place cereal in a large bowl.

Chop the chocolate. Add the tahini to the chocolate and melt it in the microwave, 30 seconds at a time. Then pour the melted chocolate and tahini mixture over the cereal bits and mix quickly.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and spread it out in an even layer. Refrigerate for about 2 hours, until the bars are hardened. Cut into bars and eat right away, then put the remaining bars back in the fridge. These treats begin to melt quickly, so they're best eaten right out of the fridge, which unfortunately limits their portability.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Pan-seared Salmon with Sour Cream and Dill Sauce

I've had this recipe for cooking salmon since sometime in the 90s and I'm not sure where I got it. It is a good, basic recipe, simple and tasty. However, the recipe was annoyingly vague in ingredient amounts. I have included more precise measurements.


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Pan Seared Salmon with Sour Cream and Dill Sauce

Serves 4

4 salmon fillets 4-6 oz. each
2 T vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce:

1 c sour cream
1 bunch fresh dill, chopped (2 T minced)
juice of 1 lemon (3 T lemon juice; fresh is best, but bottled will do in a pinch)
1 small shallot, minced (or  1-2 T finely chopped scallion or chives)
small pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl whisk together sour cream, dill, lemon juice, shallot, red pepper. Season with salt and pepper, roughly 1/4 teas each. Set in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Remove the pin bones from the salmon (see these instructions). Coat a large skillet with 2 T oil and place over medium heat. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. When hot, add the fillets to the pan flesh side down. Cook for 4-6 minutes until the surface is browned. Turn the fish over and cook for 2-5 minutes on the other side, depending on how thick the fillets are. You can use a knife to check that the fish is flaky and mostly opaque. Most experts recommending that salmon be a bit under cooked with a little rare meat in the center. But it is a matter of taste. Remove from pan and let rest for around 5 minutes.

Notes:

This sauce makes more than I can use with 4 servings of salmon; you may want to halve it since it doesn't really store well. Or you can plan on enjoying what is leftover as a vegetable dip or thin it with milk and use it as a creamy salad dressing.

I've substituted dill seed for fresh dill but I haven't done it for a long time, so I can only recommend that you use a half teaspoon and taste the result. Add more if you want more dill flavor. It will be a bit crunchier but will still taste of dill.

Check out these two sites for help (although when pan searing you may not want to brine):

brining

pan-searing

Friday, May 20, 2016

Rhubarb Fool with Whipped Ginger Mascarpone Cream

I've been happy to have some rhubarb growing in my garden this year. This is another way to use the "vegetable" before you can't find it any more, although I'm sure you could use frozen rhubarb.


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Rhubarb Fool with Whipped Ginger Mascarpone Cream


Source:  Fresh from the Farm: A Year of Recipes and Stories  by Susie Middleton
Serves 6

Rhubarb can vary in its tartness levels. You may want to taste the compote and adjust the sugar in the whipped cream mixture. The last time I made this, it was plenty sweet for me.

For the Rhubarb Compote:

12 oz rhubarb stalks, trimmed and cut into 1/2-in pieces, about 3 c
2/3 c sugar
3 T orange juice

Combine the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, reducing heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until the mixture has reduced and thickened. Don't allow the rhubarb to completely break down. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate to cool.

For the Whipped Ginger Mascarpone Cream:

3/4 c heavy cream
1/2 c (4-oz) mascarpone cheese
1/3 c sugar
1 teas vanilla extract
1/2 to 1 teas grated fresh ginger, to taste (a rasp-style grater is best for grating ginger)

Combine the cream, mascarpone, and sugar in a chilled mixing bowl. Using a standing mixer or a hand mixer or a very strong arm, whip on medium speed until the mixture is thick and stiff. Add the vanilla and ginger and whisk again until combined. This can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 8 hours. (This cream can be used with other fruits for a quick parfait.)

For the garnish:

1/2 c crumbled gingersnap cookies or use them whole
mint sprigs, optional

Place both the mascarpone cream mixture and the compote into a mixing bowl. Gently fold one into the other until partially mixed and somewhat streaked. Scoop mixture into serving bowls. Serve as is or use gingersnap crumbles or whole cookies as a garnish. You can also make individual trifles layering the fool with the crumbled cookies. Refrigerate these before serving.

Notes:

I've found the quality of mascarpone cheese can vary quite a bit. My advice is to avoid Galbani brand. If you can't find anything else, I'd suggest substituting with cream cheese. It will be a bit more tart but the texture will be better.

It's also been a year or so since I purchased Nabisco Gingersnaps and I'm pretty disappointed in them. They've changed the recipe; they are too sweet and too hard. I'm going to be searching for something I like better. I like a British biscuit called "ginger nut" but I don't have a good source for them

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Sultan's Delight

I recently finished a course of classes in Turkish cookery taught by a couple of lovely young Turkish women at The Raindrop Foundation, a Turkish cultural center in Albuquerque. The first class featured this dish which, according to legend, was the favorite of a sultan in the Ottoman Empire.

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Sultan's Delight (Hunkar Begendi)


Serves 5-6

The teachers of my class presented this as a casserole with the eggplant mixture spread out in a baking dish, topped by a layer of the meat, but I like serving it individually with the eggplant layer used much like polenta--a layer on a plate, with a ladle full of the meat on top. The type of cheese Turks would use isn't available in United States so the recipe calls for Mozzarella since it can easily be found certified halal (permissible according to Muslim law) . I added some Asiago cheese for flavor but Parmesan could be added instead.

Meat Layer:

1 pd beef chuck or lamb stew meat (I used leg of lamb off the bone) cut into 1/2-3/4 inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1 15-oz can tomatoes (or 2-3 tomatoes, peeled and diced)
1/2 teas thyme
1/2 teas oregano
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of cayenne, if you like

Eggplant Bechamel:

2 pounds eggplants
4 T butter
3 T flour
2 c milk

salt and pepper to taste
1 teas fresh lemon juice
1/4 teas grated nutmeg
1/2 c shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/2 c shredded Asiago cheese

parsley, chopped for garnish

You may wish to cook your eggplants as you begin cooking the meat.

For the meat layer: 

Place the meat in a lightly oiled pan and cook over medium heat until browned. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and stir for 30-60 seconds Stir in tomatoes (if using whole, smash them up) and herbs, and season with salt and pepper and add cayenne, if using. Reduce heat to low and cook until the meat is tender (about 30 minutes) adding a little water if necessary (1-2 T). Fresh tomatoes may not cook down completely. If you are doing the casserole, the mixture shouldn't be as saucy. Remove the bay leaf.


For the eggplant bechamel:

Pierce the eggplants with a fork in several places and broil, turning occasionally, until they are softened. Last time I made this, my oven was already hot so I roasted the eggplants which worked fine, too. My teachers let them char, a technique I haven't quite mastered. (This makes for smoky flavored eggplant.) Let them cool, peel and mash them with a fork or finely chop them. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add flour; stir and cook until it has darkened slightly, at least a minute. Slowly whisk in the milk, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens and becomes creamy. Season with salt. Add mashed eggplant to the sauce, blend and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the cheese. Mix well and remove from heat. Pour the bechamel into a casserole dish and cover with the meat. Place in 350F oven for 15-20 minutes until warmed through. Conversely, you can use the bechamel as a bottom layer on a dinner plate, topping with the meat and sauce.

Which ever way you do it, top with chopped parsley just before serving.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Diane's Mayonnaise Cole Slaw

My father-in-law grew up in North Carolina, and I always thought this recipe my mother-in-law makes was from his family. But instead, my father-in-law's mother used to make a vinegar-based cole slaw. From my two years in Chapel Hill, I should have remembered that North Carolinians prefer the vinegar style.

Instead, my mother-in-law adapted this delicious, mayonnaise-based slaw from a KFC copycat recipe years ago. It's a regular part of her table, and now mine.



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Diane's Mayonnaise Cole Slaw


 2/3-3/4 head of cabbage, core removed
Half of a yellow onion
1 large carrot
1 c mayonnaise
equal parts cider vinegar and sugar, staring with 1/4 c
1 teas salt
1 teas celery seeds
heaping 1 T mustard

Shred cabbage using knife, a slicer, or a food processor. Peel and shred the carrot. Dice the onion. Mix vegetables together in large bowl.

Whisk mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, salt, celery seeds, and mustard together. Taste and adjust for vinegar/sugar balance. If you prefer a thicker dressing, you can add 2 T mayonnaise.

Mix dressing into cabbage mixture a little at a time, to desired consistency: soupy or otherwise.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Slow Cooker Lasagna Soup

Do you love lasagna, but hate assembling the actual casserole? Lasagna is a favorite at my house, and though I don't mind making it when I have the time, this soup allows a make-ahead version. It's perfect for easy-going mornings before a busy evening. The ricotta cheese is central to the dish, so don't leave it out.



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Slow Cooker Lasagna Soup


Source: The Hungry Family Slow Cooker Cookbook by Christina Dymock

1 lb ground mild Italian sausage
1 yellow onion
1 green bell pepper
3 cloves garlic
1/2 c tomato paste
3 teas Italian seasoning
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (petite diced are nice but not necessary)
2 14.5 oz cans chicken broth
6 lasagna noodles, broken up into bite-size pieces
ricotta cheese
shredded mozzarella
Parmesan cheese, for serving

Brown the sausage in a 12-inch skillet. Dice the onion and pepper, then mince the garlic. Place the sausage, vegetables, seasoning, and broth into a slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours. About 30 minutes before serving, add the lasagna noodles. Put the soup in bowls, then add a generous spoonful of ricotta. Top with shredded mozzarella and Parmesan.

Note: The recipe is flexible: I've made it with ground beef, ground pork, and red bell pepper instead of green. Though the sausage is more flavorful ground meat is sufficient in an pinch.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Quick Risotto Primavera

I always think of my friend Susie and her old neighborhood in Brooklyn when I eat risotto. On a visit years ago, she took me to the restaurant Noodle Pudding, which had a daily risotto special. Here is a quick, meatless version for the spring asparagus season.


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Quick Risotto Primavera


Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook
Serves 4

1 1/2 c Arborio rice
5 c chicken broth (divided)
4 T unsalted butter (divided)
1 onion, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c vermouth
1/2 lb asparagus, no thicker than 1/2 inch at the bottom, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 lb crimini mushrooms, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 c frozen peas, thawed
2 oz Parmesan cheese, grated (1 c), plus extra for serving
salt and pepper

In covered bowl, microwave rice, 3 1/2 c broth, and 2 T butter until rice is softened and most of liquid is absorbed, 10-16 minutes.

Chop the onion. Melt 2 T butter in a medium or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook onion in butter until softened, 3-5 minutes. Turn down the heat a bit if the onion starts to burn. Add minced garlic and stir, then add wine and cook until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. While onions are cooking, trim the asparagus and cut it into 1-inch pieces. Also, trim the mushrooms and cut into 1/2-inch chunks.

Stir in rice mixture, remaining 1 1/2 c broth, asparagus, and mushrooms. Simmer, stirring constantly, until rice and vegetables are tender, 5-8 minutes. Add 1/2 c water if the vegetables aren't done at 5 minutes. Stir in peas and Parmesan, and cook for an additional minute while the peas heat. Season with salt and pepper and serve with extra Parmesan.

Note: This recipe seems quite flexible. The original called for vegetable broth instead of chicken, white wine instead of the vermouth, and yellow squash instead of the mushrooms. I used what I had on hand, and it turned out beautifully. Shredded rotisserie chicken would be a nice addition for meat lovers.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Lemon Posset

A recent issue of Cook's Illustrated Magazine published a recipe for "Lemon Posset", a British dessert I had never heard of nor tasted. Apparently possets were originally comforting hot drinks but as time passed the word posset came to refer to a creamy dessert. I'm a sucker for anything that features cream so I had to try this. The dessert fulfilled all my expectations and is silky, creamy, and bright. And best of all, it is quick and easy.



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Lemon Posset with Berries 


Adapted from cooksillustrated.com 
Serves 4-6, depending on your preference

2 c heavy cream
2/3 c sugar
1 T grated lemon zest
6 T lemon juice
1 c blueberries or 1 c raspberries or a combination
1/2 c raspberry sauce or coulis, optional

You'll be reducing the cream and sugar mixture to a specific amount which might require you to pour it into a measuring cup (possibly more than once), a messy, time consuming proposition. Instead, measure 2 c water and pour into the saucepan you will be using. Stand a clean ruler or a chopstick in the water and mark the water level. Remove the water and begin the recipe.  After reducing the cream mixture for the recommended time, place the marked implement right in the mixture to test whether you've reduced it sufficiently.

Place the cream, sugar, and lemon zest into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently so sugar dissolves. Continue boiling with frequent stirring until the mixture reduces to 2 cups. Do not leave the cream unattended or it may boil over. (If it does get close, remove the saucepan from the heat source.) It should take 8-12 minutes to reduce to 2 cups.

Take the saucepan off the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Allow to sit until the mixture has cooled slightly and a skin has begun to form on the top, about 20 minutes. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl or a large measuring cup. Discard the zest. Divide the mixture evenly among 4, 5, or 6 individual ramekins or dessert bowls. (I found dividing into 6 seemed somewhat skimpy but dividing into 4 seemed too large--but other diners liked added amount.)

Place the ramekins into the refrigerator and let sit for at least 3 hours.  Cover with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated until 10 minutes before serving. Use within 2 days. Before serving top with berries and a tablespoon or two of sauce, if using.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

French Silk Chocolate Pie

A belated Happy Pi Day. I've been wanting to try this recipe for a couple of years and yesterday was a good excuse. This is a very rich dessert; even a sliver of a slice is substantial.



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French Silk Chocolate Pie


Source:  cookscountry.com
Serves 8-10

1 pie shell, baked and cooled

1 c heavy cream, chilled
3 large eggs
3/4 c sugar
2 T water
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 T vanilla extract
8 T (one stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and softened

Melt the chocolate using your preferred method. I like using a microwave: I chopped the chocolate finely and heated the chocolate at 50% power for 3 minutes, stirring after each minute. Set aside to cool.

Whip the cream using an electric mixer on medium-high speed until you have stiff peaks. Refrigerate until needed.

Bring a half inch of water to a simmer in a saucepan. In a large heat-proof bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, and water. Set the bowl over the water, ensuring the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water. With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat while heating until the mixture has thickened and it has reached 160F. This may take 10 minutes or so.

Once the mixture has reached the target temperature, remove from heat and continue to beat with the electric mixer while the mixture cools to room temperature and becomes smooth but fluffy.

Add the chocolate and vanilla to the egg mixture and continue beating until the chocolate is incorporated. The fluffy texture of the egg mixture may collapse somewhat. Beat in the butter, a few pieces at a time, until well combined. With a spatula, fold in the whipped cream until you see no streaks of white, being careful to mix close to the bottom for bits that hide out. The mixture will be quite thick. Scrape the mixture into the pie shell and smooth the top. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours and as many as 24. Serve topped with some lightly sweetened whipped cream or with shaved chocolate, or both.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Broiled Grapefruit

In my mind, grapefruit has been associated with the now vilified low fat diets of the 1990s. I never liked it much as a young person, but the tart-sweet flavors in this recipe led me to purchase about 10 grapefruits from a warehouse store. My local grocery store recently sold pummelos, which are bigger in size and sweeter in flavor than grapefruits, and this topping is lovely on them, too.

This guy loved the pummelos!


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Broiled Grapefruit


Source: How to Cook Everything Fast by Mark Bittman
Serves 2

2 grapefruits
1/4 c almonds
1 T packed light brown sugar
1 T cold unsalted butter

Turn broiler on high and position the rack 4 inches from the heat. Slice the grapefruits in half and place on a baking sheet. Chop the almonds.

In a small bowl mix the chopped almonds with the sugar and butter. Mash everything together with your fingers (or a fork) until it's crumbly.

Spread the almond, sugar, and butter mixture over the grapefruit. Broil for 3-4 minutes until the nuts and sugar are toasted and caramelized. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Icelandic Fish Soup

Last August our family went to Iceland for Tom's marriage to Solbjorg Bjornsdottir. In addition to a great wedding celebration we enjoyed the gorgeous and green countryside (perfect for a desert dweller like me) and welcoming and kind Icelanders. We were introduced to some remarkable foods including fish soup, a treat since a number of us live in land-locked regions. One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to a small fishing town, Dalvik, which hosts a yearly fish festival. Townspeople opened their homes and yards to visitors and served fish soup to all. Late into the long summer evening, we carried our own bowls from house to house and ate until we could hold no more. After our return, I searched online and found this recipe so I can revisit and remember.



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Icelandic Fish Soup


Adapted from:  http://mimithorisson.com/2012/06/20/icelandic-fish-soup/
Serves: at least 8

You should seek the fish of the highest quality. Of course, while in Iceland the fish we ate were Atlantic but I have found sources for Pacific cod and a mildly flavored salmon. A thick trout might work, too. The biggest problem for me is shrimp. In Iceland tiny shrimp were added to the soup, but I had a hard time finding that size last time I cooked the soup so I ended up cutting larger shrimp into pieces. The soup tasted great but tiny shrimp are more visually appealing.

This soup has some wine and sherry in it. If you avoid alcohol when you cook use more chicken stock as a substitute and increase the vinegar by double, but do it tablespoon by tablespoon, tasting with each addition. Lemon juice or zest might increase flavor as well. Don't use cooking wine which is mainly salt and additives (it is better to skip alcohol all together than use this stuff)

3-4 T butter
2 small onions, finely sliced
1 thin leek or half a large, finely sliced
2 ribs celery, finely sliced
1/2 c dry sherry
3/4 c dry white wine
6 c chicken or vegetable stock
3 T tomato paste
3 tomatoes, chopped very finely, or a 14.5 oz. can of tomatoes, drained and blended
a generous pinch of saffron (optional, but very tasty)
3-4 T wine vinegar (either white or red)
4 c small shrimp (without shells), more or less
5 c mixed fish--salmon, Arctic char, halibut, cod, haddock, cut into 1 inch pieces
4 c either half and half or whole, or a mixture--you can add more or less
salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large pot or dutch-oven. Add the onion, leeks, and celery and cook over medium low heat until tender. It is better to allow these to sweat rather than cook at a high heat and risk scorching. Add the sherry and wine and bring to a boil and allow to cook for several minutes. Add the stock, tomato paste, canned tomatoes (see note below), saffron and vinegar. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add the fish, shrimp, and (if using) fresh tomatoes and return to a low boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Reduce heat and stir in cream and allow to heat but don't return to boiling since the cream may curdle. Serve immediately.

Note on tomatoes:  If you use canned, add them with the stock. If you use fresh, add with the fish.

Note on shrimp: In Iceland, sometimes the shrimp were cooked separately and spooned on top of the soup in a diner's bowl. You may prefer doing it this way, as it would keep the shrimp from accidentally overcooking.


Sol and soup






Monday, February 29, 2016

Winter Squash and Bean Dip

Generally we Americans like to dip our tortilla chips into tomato salsas or cheese sauces or a mixture of the two. Occasionally we like to dip into beans. Here's a recipe for a dip that includes beans but the star of the show is orange-fleshed winter squash. This dip is great for an appetizer, but is hearty enough to be a light meal.  





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Winter Squash and Bean Dip


Source:  Autumn Gatherings:  Casual Food to Enjoy with Family and Friends by Rick Rodgers
Yield: about 4 cups

1 1/2 pds butternut squash (or banana, acorn, hubbard, etc.) peeled and cut into 1/2-in chunks
3 T olive oil, divided
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, cored and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
One 14 1/2-oz can diced tomatoes, drained (or if fresh tomatoes are good 2 cups chopped)
One 15- to 19-oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed (you can substitute black or kidney beans)
1 zucchini, cut into 1/2-in dice
2 T chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 c pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400F and set rack in the center. Oil a rimmed baking sheet.

Toss the diced squash with 1 T olive oil and arrange over the baking sheet. Place in the oven and roast until the squash is tender and lightly browned, approximately 25 minutes. Stir occasionally. 

Meanwhile, place the remaining oil into a large skillet and heat over medium-high on the stovetop. Stir in the onion, bell pepper, garlic, and jalapeno and cook until the onion is golden, stirring from time to time. Add the tomatoes, beans, zucchini, and cilantro and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the zucchini is crisp-tender. Stir in the roasted winter squash and pepitas and cook about 5 minutes. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper. 

Serve warm with chips. If you want to keep this warm, place in a small slow cooker.

The dip can be made ahead and kept refrigerated for 3 days. It can also be frozen for a month or so.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Celery Root Slaw

Here's a recipe that uses one of our more unfamiliar vegetables, celery root, or celeriac. Although it is not the root of a celery, it is related and tastes recognizably like its cousin. If you grow it you'll see similarities, too. It's a rather bizarre looking vegetable sold somewhat trimmed but it manages to be off-putting with its greenish/brown skin and knobby bumps. Sadly, it is often ignored; it's time to change that. Celery root is an ideal vegetable for a slaw since it doesn't require pre-salting like cabbage, making this recipe straightforward and relatively quick. After you peel the root with a knife, don't be surprised by variations in color, including a little purple or pink. 


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Celery Root Slaw


Source:  Autumn Gatherings:  Casual Food to Enjoy with Family and Friends by Rick Rodgers
Serves:  6

1 1/2 pounds celery root (at least 4-5 cups when shredded)
1 red bell pepper, cored and seeded and cut into thin strips
2 scallions, white and green parts, finely chopped
3 T sherry vinegar (or white wine or champagne or in a pinch cider)
1 teas grainy mustard
1 teas sugar
1/2 c olive oil
1/4-1/2 teas salt 
1/4 teas freshly ground pepper

With a knife peel the celery root and cut into pieces that will fit in your food processor. Place the shredding blade in your machine and shred the root. (If you don't have a food processor, you can certainly grate this on the big holes of a box grater.) Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the red pepper and the scallions.

Combine the vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper in a small jar. Add the olive oil; cover with a lid and vigorously shake the jar until the ingredients are emulsified. Pour over the vegetables and mix well. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for  30-60 minutes to soften the celery root. You can make this slaw up to two days ahead.

Note:

For more info about celery root see this site:



from my winter garden