Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Veggie Night: Sweet Potato & Kale Sandwich

Contrary to popular opinion and prevalent menu impositions, a sandwich does not have to have meat in order to be a satisfying, fist-fitting meal. I'm learning from my work that as long as you're working with quality ingredients, you have a really good shot at getting a delicious finished product. Good bread is a big first step; starting with fresh produce is another.

Often, though, you need a little foresight to make certain items--like potatoes, say--edible. This is where the stack-o-cold-cuts wins out: efficiency. But try experimenting with sticking new things between two slices of bread and see what you come out with. May just be your new favorite.
Sweet Potato & Kale Sandwich
serves two; takes about 30 minutes

4 slices good sandwich bread; we used sourdough
1 small sweet potato
1 small bunch kale
1 small onion (or 1/2 medium), sliced thick
1 small pear (or 1/2 medium), sliced thin
goat cheese, room temperature
Dijon mustard
Bacon mayonnaise (optional)
  1. Start by roasting your sweet potato. Preheat oven to 400º. Peel potato and, depending on the size, cut it into planks (long ways) or medallions (cross-wise) about 1/2 inch thick--whatever you think will fit better on your bread. Spray foil-lined baking sheet with baking spray or brush with oil. Lay potato pieces out and spray or brush tops; sprinkle with salt. Roast 15-20 minutes, or until you poke it and it just feels soft. Don't cook it all the way to mush.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a skillet with a bit of oil and saute your onions with a little salt until translucent, 3-5 minutes. Wash and stem the kale and slice it into very thin strips. Toss in skillet, add salt and pepper, and reduce heat. Stir until kale is cooked through, 6-8 minutes. Add more water (or some lemon juice) if the skillet gets dry. Lift cooked kale out of skillet and drain in a sieve or colander over sink.
  3. Lastly, pull out a healthy chunk of goat cheese (about 2 Tbsp?) and mix with a little milk or cream until it's spreadable.
  4. To assemble: spread mustard on one piece of bread and mayo (optional) on the other. Follow with goat cheese on one piece, then sweet potatoes, then kale/onion mixture, then slices of pear to cover. Top with other slice of bread and do some jaw stretches before attacking.

Monday, September 28, 2009

2 Words: Bacon Mayonnaise

Where do I get the nerve to do these things? Really.

I don't know if you have ever made mayonnaise, wondered what's in mayonnaise or just consumed mayonnaise, but I am here to potentially ruin your lunch.

Mayonnaise = fat + fat (+ lemon juice). More specifically, mayonnaise is the suspension (a.k.a. emulsification) of one type of fat (oil) into a solid with the use of another type of complex fat (egg yolks). Turn that jar of Helman's around and tell me I'm wrong. It's a bicep-cramping process if you do it by hand,
but the introduction of an electric mixer suddenly makes light work of a gourmet treat. To get the yolks, lemon juice, and oil to combine without separating, you have to add the oil at the speed of an IV drip, whisking all the while. What you end up with is a fluffy, white-ish substance--technically a sauce if we're going to be French about it--for slathering on your ham sandwiches and drowning your chicken salad. I'm sure it has other uses too.

But just imagine--imagine if that already tasty sandwich grease suddenly tasted of smoked pork belly. Imagine your BLT becoming BLT-squared. Imagine those crab cakes bound with a deeply flavored mayo instead of the plain stuff. Imagine your broccoli/potato/chicken/whatever salads with a thin coating of bacon essence. Maybe even a warm spinach dip oozing with bacony goodness?

Well, now you can have it. As long as you have 1/2 cup of bacon grease hanging around your house somewhere. Luckily I have a roommate who really--and I mean really--likes bacon. This man will smoke up the house for three meals a day if it means there's a crispy slab of breakfast meat waiting for him when the air clears. Not wanting to burn a hole in our trash can or clog up our drain, he took to pouring the grease in an old empty can, which we kept in the freezer.
Time out: David and I just had a brief and mystifying conversation during which neither of us could recall why we put the bacon grease in the freezer. We just did.

Time in: So there I am with a tin can-full of bacon fat in my freezer when I read this, which is an excerpt from this, which, for all I can tell, is a must-read. Just a short week later, I was armed with a hand-mixer and a cup full of fat. Check out the results for yourself:
Bacon Fat Mayonnaise
(I kept 'fat' in the title just so you wouldn't forget; makes about 1 cup of mayo; takes 5 minutes once everything is cool)

2 egg yolks
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup rendered bacon fat
healthy pinch of each, salt and pepper
  1. You want everything to be refrigerator cold for this, so stash it all--including your mixing bowl and beaters--in the fridge until it reaches that stage.
  2. Start with yolks, mustard, and 1/2 tsp lemon juice. Blend together on high speed until well mixed, about 1 minute. Add bacon fat all at once (no need to do this gradually if everything is cold), and beat until thick and combined, about 30 seconds more.
  3. Stir in remaining tsp lemon juice and seasoning. Store in the refrigerator--good for almost a week.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

M. Y. O. P. C. (Make Your Own Potato Chips)

Craving the salty crunch of potato chips but don't want a fingertip trail across your shirt mid-workday? Well, here I come with your solution: potato chips that aren't fried. That you made yourself. From a potato you bought from a local farmer or grew in your back yard (OK, that last one was mostly wishful thinking). Turns out you can toss lots of thinly sliced produce into the microwave and come out with "chips" on the other end. (Yet another way to use all your zucchini and squash!)

There are only three important items you'll need, aside from the potato of course: 1) a microwave, 2) a big knife, and 3) the patience, ability, or some sort of gadget to cut exceedingly thin slices of raw spud. It is doable. Just go slow and don't slice a fingertip.

Here's the way it works:
  • Scrub and dry your potato real good. Take your large, sharp knife and cut the thinnest slices you possibly can. It may help to take a thin slice off the long side of your tater, giving you a flat surface to rest on -- for stability purposes.
  • Spray a microwave-safe plate with a little Pam and lay the slices out then sprinkle with salt. May take a couple of batches; I did one small potato and it took two. Nuke plate for 3 minutes, then take out (with a hotpad!) and flip potato slices. Cook for 3 more minutes, adding on a minute at a time if potatoes need longer. Let cool a bit, then crunch on.
So I haven't tried but I have heard tell that this practice does, indeed, work on other vegetables. If I were to try it, I'd be sure to scrape out any seeds if a veggie has them, like zucchini or squash. Otherwise, I don't see why any root vegetable (carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabegas, beets, etc.) couldn't undergo a similar transformation. Also, if you are concerned about my donut-shaped chips, pictured here, it's because I had a little fungus problem in the middle of my potato. Nothing to worry about; just scraped it out and went along my merry way.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cracker Jacks!

This one falls under the category of "Because You Can." Make your own caramel corn, that is. Couldn't be simpler.

The inspiration was a spread in last month's Gourmet inexplicably populated by early-20-something hipsters who, we are supposed to believe, created an elaborate meal with this as one of several dessert options. I have only recently begun to notice the odd casting choices Gourmet makes when shooting its full-menu articles. The diners are all impossibly beautiful--unwrinkled, unharried, undaunted by the eleventeen steps it takes to make that peppercorn crusted pork roast and vermouth pan sauce. How can they afford these ingredients? Are they old enough to purchase the suggested wine pairings? Did mom and dad have to drop them off at this ambiguous woodland location for a dinner party? What really kills me is that none of these individuals looks like he or she has ever enjoyed a full meal, unless you count tic-tacs between modeling shoots.

Well anyway, whoever is testing the recipes at the Gourmet headquarters had a nice thought with these Pecan Praline Popcorn treats. Basically, you just cook some sugar, add a bit of butter and stir in your popcorn, then let it cool. You can spread it out and then enjoy it like cracker jacks or press it into a pan, as the recipe says, and later cut them into bits. Coming from Louisiana, I am skeptical of the term "praline" in the title of this recipe; it doesn't come through. But hey, making your own caramel corn is pretty fun. Use whatever nut you like.
Caramel Corn for Two

2 cups popped popcorn*
scant 1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup chopped nuts
1/8 tsp cider vinegar
healthy pinch of salt
  • Pour sugar in the bottom of a heavy pot and melt over medium heat, stirring with a fork at first to make sure it's evenly distributed. When sugar starts to melt, stop stirring and cook, swirling the pot occasionally by the handle to ensure overall meltiness. Allow sugar to reach a deep, golden caramel color, then turn heat way down to low.
  • Drop in butter, nuts, vinegar and salt and stir. When butter is almost melted, toss in popcorn and stir to coat. Spread out and let cool on an oiled sheet pan or press into an oiled baking dish and let cool. Yum!

*Do you know this trick about air popping popcorn? Just buy your kernels in the bag (not the microwave-ready stuff) and keep a stash of those brown paper lunch-size bags. Pour about 1/4 cup into the bottom of a bag, fold top over twice (thinly) and put in the microwave for about 3 minutes, listening for kernels to stop popping. Voila! Sprinkle with salt or whatever. Great way to save dollars on your popcorn habit.

Oh my. I was just searching to find the Pecan Praline Popcorn recipe I followed and found, instead, this recipe for Maple Pecan Popcorn. Sure wish I'd made that instead. You make it. And tell me how it is.

How to Smoke an Eggplant (No, not like that)

So, some of us are not fortunate enough to have anything resembling outdoor space we can call our own, and thus the adorable tiny Weber we bought to grill the pants off all our food sits neglected in our basement storage unit. Hey, at least we have a basement storage unit.

And a gas stove. Enter the new technique I have been applying to many-a-market-vegetable these days in effort to achieve something akin to smoky flavor in our food. It also helps me suppress the urge to punch a stranger in the face every time I smell someone else's delicious, char-grilled dinner wafting in through my open windows.

Basically, what you can do is set anything with a protective outer coating (like the skin of eggplants and peppers, say) straight onto the burner over a medium-low flame. Too high and you get instant burn with raw insides; too low and you'll be smoking that thing all freaking day. Set it right on the burner grate and keep a pair of tongs handy. You'll want to stand nearby but you don't have to watch it like a hawk. After several minutes, you have to turn the thing to make sure other parts of the 'plant get cooked. Keep turning and smoking until most sides of the eggplant look well charred and the flesh is smooshy when you poke it.
Now, toss the whole thing in a big bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for about 15 minutes. This will continue to cook the insides. To get the goods, split the eggplant and scoop out the flesh with a fork or spoon. Not all the way cooked? Not a problem. Throw the meat in a microwave-safe bowl and zap till it's done; you've already got the flavor you want.

Eh, now what, right? Who eat smoked eggplant? Well, it's got a very distinct flavor, and one that may not be for everyone. In fact, if my dad is even still reading this post I'll be very impressed. He's probably already stopped to vomit at least 4 times. If you are interested in ingesting smoked eggplant, you may consider some Middle Eastern stylings, like baba ghanoush which is based around this very ingredient. I'll include some ideas to get you started.

Baba Ghanoush
1 large or 2 small eggplants; smoked and flesh scraped out
1 Tbsp tahini
1 large clove garlic, grated
2-3 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all together in a food processor or just aggressively with a fork. Best at room temp. Serve with flatbread, pita chips, or bagel chips that you made from the leftovers that Bagel Man at the farmers market continues to heap upon you, despite your protests that you only have a household of two and cannot, in fact, eat two dozen bagels in a week.

Yogurt-Eggplant Dip
1 large or two small eggplants, smoked and flesh scraped out
1/2 cup yogurt
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, grated
salt and pepper to taste

Mix and eat.

Eggplant Caviar (sort of)
1 large or two small eggplants, smoked and flesh scraped out
2 red peppers; smoked as above, tossed in a paper bag for 5 minutes, then skin slipped off
1 medium red onion, cut into rings and sauteed or microwaved until soft
2 cloves garlic, grated
3 Tbsp tomato paste (or more, to taste)
2-3 Tbsp olive oil

Use a food processor for this one to achieve a finely ground, uniform texture. Season with salt to taste.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Notes From a Hospital Bed... the new funniest-slash-saddest-slash-funny-again thing on the interweb. Go here and see if you can guess what this guy is eating. Just try. Make bets with your roommates. Phone a friend. I have never seen so many hopelessly unidentifiable plates of "food" in my life. I also can't decide whether to laugh with this guy or feel really terrible for him. I've decided to go with a little of both.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Puddings

I know, it's been, like, two whole days since I've posted a dessert. Don't worry. I'm here for you.

This gem came from that spectacular spread on peanut butter desserts in Bon Appetit we once talked about on these pages. Their recipe is for peanut butter and milk chocolate puddings stacked together with billowy whipped cream on top. Our version became dark chocolate (because that's the chocolate I had) and significantly lower in fat (because that's the milk I had) with no whipped cream (because that I did not have). Still pretty tasty, though, if our finger-swiped mason jars are any indication.

The procedure is identical for both puddings, so make the peanut butter, rinse out your pot, then start straight in on the chocolate. You'll be a pro by the second time.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Pudding
serves 2; active time about 15 minutes plus 2 hours' cooling

For P.B.:
2 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
pinch salt
1/2 cup milk (recipe calls for whole; I used 1%)
2 1/2 Tbsp heavy cream (I used light cream, you could also use half and half)
2 1/2 Tbsp natural peanut butter
1/2 tsp vanilla

For Choc:
2 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
pinch salt
2 tsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk
2 1/2 Tbsp cream
1 1/2 oz chocolate, chopped (milk or dark)
1/2 tsp vanilla
  1. Start with peanut butter pudding. Whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt in a small saucepan. Add milk and cream and whisk well to combine/dissolve. Turn heat on to medium and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. It will be a frothy boil--let it go hard for about 30 seconds to thicken up. Add peanut butter and return to boil, again, whisking constantly. Let boil almost a minute. Turn off heat and stir in vanilla. Divide between two serving dishes and stash in the freezer while you make chocolate pudding.
  2. Rinse out and dry your saucepan. Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, salt, and cocoa in the bottom, then add milk and cream and combine/dissolve. Turn heat on to medium and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Let the thick, frothy boil go for 30 seconds, then add your chopped chocolate. Return to a boil, again, whisking constantly. Let boil about a minute, then take off heat and stir in vanilla.
  3. Chill chocolate pudding 5 minutes before adding to p.b. Divide evenly between two dishes and store, uncovered, in the fridge for 2 hours. If desired, top with whipped cream.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mini Peach Pies + Honey-Sweet Corn Ice Cream

Pie for one. Bleeping genius. It was here, then it was here, and then I knew it must go here (points to belly).

This recipe is for pies, tiny adorable pies in single-serving size. It needs no introduction, explanation, or justification, except to say that the fruit you use is completely up to you. Go crazy (go local!). Just go make these now.

If you are of the hallowed school that feels pie needs ice cream to make a complete food group, consider the recipe I included below for sweet corn (also in season) ice cream sweetened with honey.

Mini Peach "Cup Pies"
makes 2 pies; takes about 1+ hour (includes chilling time for dough)

For the crust:
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp sugar
pinch salt
4 Tbsp butter
1-2 Tbsp water (OR! 1 Tbsp vodka + 1 Tbsp water)*

For the filling:
1 large or 2 medium peaches
2 Tbsp brown sugar
dash lemon juice
  1. First, make the crust by stirring together flour, sugar, and salt. Work the butter into the flour mixture using a food processor or, as I did, just your hands, grabbing and squeezing until all the flour is coated in fat (yeah, that's what it is) and you've got pea-ish sized clumps. Stir in the water (or vodka + water) a little bit at a time, mixing well after each addition until you can just form a cohesive dough. Divide into three sections, one slightly larger than the other two, wrap in plastic and stash in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, cut the peach(es) into large chunks--no need to peel--and toss with the brown sugar and lemon juice. Let sit while you work on everything else.

  3. Take out dough and, working with the small guys first, roll into circles at least 4 1/2 inches in diameter. Gently lower and press down into 2 well-greased muffing cups. Divide fruit between two cups, lifting peaches out of the liquid they have now created and mounding into dough. Roll final dough into a large oval and cut out two rounds of dough about 3 inches in diameter. Lay over the top of each cup and press down with the tines of of a fork, smooshing the top dough to the bottom dough. Trim off excess dough around sides and cut four slits in the top with a sharp knife.
  4. If you want, brush with egg or milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in a 425º oven for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 375º and cook 15 minutes more. Top should be browning and bubbly.
  5. After cooling for about 10 minutes, pies should lift right out of their cups. Cool rest of the way on a cooling rack.
*About the vodka: Once upon a time, the geniuses at Cook's Illustrated discovered that, by using vodka as part of the liquid in a pie dough, you get the desired effect of 60% liquid evaporation (that would be the alcohol) during baking. This means that you can have a nice, squishy dough to roll out, but one that doesn't suffer the pastry-toughening effects water usually has on pie dough.

Post Script: Honey - Sweet Corn Ice Cream
makes plenty, ready in 4ish hours; shamelessly stolen from Not Eating Out in New York

3 cups light cream or half-and-half
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
kernels from 1 ear fresh corn
  1. Throw cream and corn kernels in a small saucepan and heat over medium until just about to boil, stirring occasionally, then turn off heat. While you're waiting, beat yolks and sugar until lemon colored and fluffy.
  2. Using just a little at a time, add some of hot cream to egg yolk mixture, stirring stirring stirring all the while. This is called tempering. Once you've gotten the egg mixture nice and warm without cooking the eggs, return to the saucepan and whisk it all together. Cook until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, but don't boil.
  3. Off heat, stir in honey, transfer to a container, and refrigerate until cold. At this point, either throw it in your ice cream maker or transfer container to the freezer, taking ice cream out every 30 minutes or so and stirring real good.

Eat a Fig

Many people out there have not yet tasted the perfection that is a fresh fig: just past ripe, exploding with gooey juices, jewel-tone in color. It is nature's candy. If you ask me, there is only one way to eat a fig, and that is fresh off the tree.

Ok, if you ask me again later, I'd say there are lots of ways to enjoy figs, particularly the dried ones we get year-round. But in late summer, figs are in season, and like everything else they flood the markets, overwhelm you, and then disappear. Be sure to pick up some figs in the next week or two and let them sit on your counter until they're ripe--and then wait one more day. Chances are good you'll pack the whole lot of them away before you even have time to think.

If you do have time to think, think about quartering them and tucking a little pocket of goat cheese down inside. Then stir together some black pepper and honey and think about pouring that over top. Think about enjoying this as an appetizer, snack, or other such indulgence.

Figs with Goat Cheese and Black Pepper Honey
serves ? as an appetizer or snack; takes 5 mintues

fresh figs (however many you feel like consuming; any variety will do)
goat cheese, at or near room temperature preferably
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
  • Remove stems from the figs and cut crosswise (as in the picture here), but DON'T go all the way through; leave them connected at the bottom. Take a scant teaspoon of goat cheese and gently press it into the opening. Stir together honey and pepper and drizzle over top.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I Say Kefta, You Say Kofta

Depending on the national boundaries within which you are standing when you order this particular dish, you may ask for kefta (Morocco), kyutfte (Bulgaria), qofte (Albania), kefte (Greece), kufte (Armenia), kofte (Turkey), or kofta (Afghanistan and India). [Thank you, Alan Davidson.] The category of "kefta" is a bit like the category of "meatball" or even "meatloaf" here in the states. It can be composed of innumerable ingredients; it can be spiced in myriad ways; it can be stuffed; it can be the stuffing; it can be braised, broiled, grilled or fried, it can be swathed in sauce, smooshed in a sandwich, or eaten on its own. But the principle is the same:

Ground meat + spices = little bites of heaven.

I'm calling this recipe kefta because of the Moroccan flavoring we slapped on it, thanks to the confidence-inspiring recipe writing of Claudia Roden. Yes, they look like little turds, but boy do they taste good.
One of the keys I'm learning to certain Middle Eastern meat preparations (like gyro meat, for example) is an absurdly fine grind. This means taking the already-ground beef [from the pasture-raised cattle of our friends at Springdell Farm] and spinning it again through the food processor, making a smooth paste of meat and spices. A paste you want to press around a skewer and grill to smoky, charred perfection. A paste you want to incorporate into every ensuing meal, including dessert. A paste you want to tell your grandchildren about.

I have not yet achieved paste-transcendence, but tonight's dinner was number 5 in a series of kefta attempts in our kitchen, and definitely the best one to date. I'm almost positive it was the quality of the meat and none of my culinary skills that elevated this meal, but I'll take the credit while no one's looking.

Serve kefta over a bed of cous cous with braised vegetables, in a spicy tomato sauce, or--like we did-- with flatbread, yogurt sauce, and a simple salad of chopped tomatoes, onions, and peppers in herbs and vinegar.

Kefta Moroccan Style
serves 2; start to finish about 30 minutes

1/2 lb. ground beef or lamb (do me a favor: skip the turkey and go for red meat; it really does make a difference)
1 small onion, grated
1 heaping Tbsp EACH of chopped parsley, cilantro, and mint
1/2 tsp EACH of ground ginger, cinnamon, coriander, and paprika
3/4 tsp EACH of salt, cumin, and black pepper
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix lightly with your hands. The entire mixture should fit in a small food processor, so throw it in and use quick pulses (about 20) to get it nice and smooth. Open the lid and push things around if you need to. IF you do not have a processor, I think it's possible to do this by kneading kneading kneading and squeezing the meat mixture until you achieve paste consistency? Claudia says so anyway. "Knead vigorously" is her exact phrase.
  2. Form the meat into 8 equally sized links and prepare to cook. You can do this in a number of ways: on the grill will taste absolutely the best. You can also broil for several minutes on each side or simply bake in a very hot oven for about 20 minutes. Alternately, use a stovetop grill pan or cast iron skillet to cook the turds on both sides--about 12 minutes total.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Cutest Little Zucchini Cake You've Ever Seen

What's that, you need more things to do with your ever multiplying summer squashes? Well here I come to the rescue, again. This time with dessert.

Actually, Rose Levy Beranbaum comes to our collective rescue with a wonderfully light, moist, and not-too-sweet cake from one of her many miracles of culinary literature, the Cake Bible. It's a a recipe for zucchini cupcakes that translates easily into cake form, and I particularly like the use of brown sugar instead of white.

The cake itself needs nothing more than a dash of powdered sugar, but if you're feeling extravagant, the thinnest layer of cream cheese icing (spiked with cinnamon) will take it over the top.

Zucchini Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Icing
makes 5-in round (or equivalent) cake; ready in a little over an hour

For Cake:
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup chopped, toasted walnuts or pecans
1 egg
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup grated zucchini (about 1 medium, with skin)
  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Grease and flour a 5-inch (or equivalent) cake pan. Stir together flour, soda, spices, and nuts. Set aside.
  2. Beat egg with sugar and oil until sugar is dissolved and mixture is smooth. This can be done with a whisk and some perseverance, but beaters or a mixer are preferable. Mix in zucchini, then dry ingredients. Pour into prepared pan and bake 30-40 minutes (depending on your baking dish), until a tester inserted in center comes out clean.
  3. Cool 10 minutes in pan, then loosen edges and invert onto a cooling rack. Let cool completely.
For Icing:
2 Tbsp butter, room temperature
2 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
  1. Beat butter and cream cheese with electric mixer for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and beat well. Add sugar 1/4 cup at a time, adding cinnamon in one batch and beating well after each addition. When it's all in, beat 1 extra minute for a nice, smooth texture. Spread a verrrrrrry thin layer over top and sides.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Squash "Pizza"

What to do with all that summer squash lying around? What to do, what to do...

This is the point in the summer when gardens and refrigerators nationwide are overflowing with zucchini and squash. No matter how many times this happens, each ensuing year we magically forget and plant just as many seeds--if not more--as last year. And then for a month, it's all we can do to come up with ways to down it: squash pancakes, zucchini ice cream, gratins, frittatas--the resulting creativity is directly proportional to the amount of produce rotting in your vegetable drawer.

This summer squash "pizza crust" strategy was quite good in theory, but was not (for me) so good in execution. I can think of a number of reasons for this, but I prefer to blame it on the recipe. Except I kind of didn't follow the recipe.

The concept is all over the 'net (see here for the most oft repeated example) and seems to be some sort of diet strategy for replacing bread in one's meal. Phooey is all I have to say to that. It involves shredded squash, some flour and egg for binding, and a flipping strategy that I left out but might just be necessary, I can say in hindsight.

I just pressed the "dough" into a cake pan, baked it, topped it, and baked it some more. It seems if you get sassy an flip the baked "crust" out, then top and double bake, you might achieve something more akin to a congealed mass. Ours was congealed, but still pretty mushy, though the flavors were great. Maybe you can mess with it and give me some suggestions?

Summer Squash "Pizza"
serves 2; start-to-finish, about 1 hour

2 cups shredded squash or zucchini
1/3 cup flour (I used whole wheat)
1/3 cup grated cheese (I used gruyere, yum, but you could use a combination of parmesan and mozzarella if you want, like the original recipe calls for)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 medium clove garlic, grated
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper
  1. Sprinkle some salt over the shredded squash and let sit in a colander in your sink for about half an hour. This will get rid of a lot of moisture. Preheat your oven to 350º.
  2. Squeeze water from squash and combine with remaining ingredients (reserving 2 Tbsp basil). Press into well-greased baking receptacle: I used 9-inch cake pan which made a great thickness. Maybe you just want to mound it on a cookie sheet, I don't know. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until edges begin to brown and mixture is firm.
  3. The step I didn't do: flip crust out onto another cookie sheet or the like, brush with oil and bake 5 minutes more.
  4. Up the temperature in your oven to 450º. Top your "pizza crust" with thin slices of (preferably heirloom) tomatoes and parmesan cheese. Bake until cheese starts to brown, 5ish minutes. Sprinkle basil over top.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Since I am physically unable to skip dessert after almost every meal (with breakfast being the occasional exception), sometimes I find myself trying to sneak some nutrition into my sweets. Does it make a difference? Probably not. No amount of fiber is going to cancel out butter and chocolate. BUT, while we eat these whole wheat cookies, we can glare from beneath our whole grain highbrows, scoffing at the philistines and their refined white flour. Ha! Eat your inferior sweets with their deliciousness and their moisture and their irreplicably delicate textures. We will all live longer and laugh at you after you are dead.

Meanwhile, here's what you should know about baked goods with whole grain flours, as gleaned from a masterpiece of nutritional experimentation, King Arthur Flour's Whole Grain Baking: in many, many cases, whole grain flours can be used in place of white flour in (specially designed) recipes. But the secret to achieving a palatable texture is often to let your dough, or your baked creation, sit at least overnight. This gives the denser flours time to absorb some liquid from the batter and soften up a bit, resulting in a more delicate chewing experience.

All this having been said, this cookie is good, but you can definitely taste the whole wheat. More precisely, I should say, you can feel the whole wheat lingering on your tongue. The ungodly proportion of chocolate chips to dough in this recipe goes a long way toward disguising the texture, but if you're a purist, you may be disappointed.

Let me also say, I was not disappointed. I really liked these cookies and will be making them again. If you make them, be sure to allow a FULL 24-hours' chill time for the dough.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
makes 9 small cookies; adapted from KA's Whole Grain Baking (see above); start to finish 1 day + 20 minutes

3 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/16 tsp (yes, just use half of your 1/8th) baking powder
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp agave nectar or corn syrup
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 beaten egg (eat the rest for breakfast tomorrow)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup chocolate chips
  1. In a small saucepan or microwave-safe bowl, melt butter and then stir in brown sugar. Cook until beginning to bubble (only took about 30 seconds in my microwave--work in small increments). Stash in the freezer 10 minutes to cool to lukewarm.
  2. Stir in vanilla, salt, soda, powder, agave/syrup, and vinegar; mix well. Add egg and stir until combined. Next, add flour and chips and mix until nice and blended. Cover and stash in the fridge until tomorrow. Batter will be very runny.
  3. On day 2, your batter will have magically become more of a dough. At this point, heat your oven to 375º and drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 8 minutes. Because they are whole wheat, the cookies will already be a little dark, so don't rely solely on color for determining doneness; give them a little poke with your finger. They shouldn't be raw but they shouldn't be too firm either. They'll continue to cook a bit out of the oven.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Eggplant Rollatini

The inspiration for tonight's dinner came once again from Deborah Madison's endless encyclopedia of produce, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I have said it before and I will say it again, this books is valuable for anyone who eats lots of veggies or wants to eat lots of veggies. You will never be at a loss for how to prepare and eat something from the ground.

The books has several recipes for eggplant rollatini, a traditional Italian-style dish that stuffs long strips of eggplant full of cheeses and other goodies, then breads and fries them before smothering them with more cheeses and goodies. Madison's recipes are not so gooey as that, but I strayed in order to be able to use up the contents of my fridge.

What resulted was a very simple "stuffing" of browned ground turkey (with plenty of onions and garlic), wilted arugula, and a bit of grated cheese, all rolled into some briefly grilled eggplant strips and coated in tomato sauce. I imagine it was just as filling as its heavier, greasier counterparts, but without all the Tums afterward.

As usual, take this recipe as little more than a guideline and fill your rollatini with whatever you have lying around. But take note, the "baking" time is just to warm everything through. You want all your components to be mostly cooked by the time they hit the oven for the final melding.
Eggplant Rollatini
serves 2-3; total time about 45 minutes; works great as leftovers

1 medium eggplant, sliced longways into 1/2-inch strips (my eggplant made exactly 6)
3 cups arugula (or spinach or other leafy green)
1/4 cup diced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb ground turkey
1 tsp dry basil
1/4 cup good melting cheese (mozzarella, gruyere, monty jack, etc.), grated
1/4 cup parmesan, grated
1 - 1 1/2 cups prepared tomato sauce
salt and pepper
  1. Season with salt and pepper, then grill, saute, fry, or broil your eggplant strips until they are malleable, but not cooked all the way through (I used the George Foreman). Stack and keep warm.
  2. Cover the bottom of a large skillet with water and heat over medium-high heat. Add greens and stir, then cover and let wilt 1-2 minutes. Set greens in a colander to drain and return skillet to stove. When slightly cool, squeeze excess moisture out of greens and give them a rough chop. (You can skip this step entirely and just use frozen, chopped spinach, defrosted.)
  3. Film the bottom of skillet with olive oil and return to medium-high heat. Add onions and pinch of salt and cook until translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Stir in turkey and cook until brown, seasoning with basil, salt and pepper. If you need to, add more oil as you go. When nice and brown, transfer meat to a bowl and add greens and cheeses. Stir to distribute.

  4. Now, grab a small baking pan and pour in about 1/3 cup of your tomato sauce; spread to cover the bottom. On a clean surface, lay out your eggplant slices and place a heaping spoonful of filling on fatter end. Roll up entirely and place seam-down into baking sheet. Repeat until eggplant or filling is gone. If you run out of eggplant first and have extra filling, just sprinkle it around the edges of the eggplant and bake it right alongside. A little extra never hurt. Top generously with more tomato sauce, cover, and bake in a 375º oven for about 30 minutes. If you want, grate a little more parmesan cheese over top.
(proof that the best-tasting food is often the ugliest)

Buckwheat Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup

What do you know about buckwheat? Well, for starters, are you aware that it's not even wheat?

Buckwheat is a plant grown mostly for its kernels (like cereal grains, plants of the grass family whose seeds are used as food grains, named for the Roman corn goddess, Ceres; think wheat, rice, barley, oats, ryel, maize, millet, etc.) and is an entirely separate entity from wheat. In fact, buckwheat is not a grass at all; the kernel that we eat is really a fruit seed. Because of the similar ways in which it is cooked, though, we tend to mentally lump it along with other cereal grains. Its name comes from the Dutch, bockweit, meaning "beechwheat," apparently earned from its seeds' resemblance to beech nuts. But I digress.

As a member of the Clique of Whole Grains, buckwheat shares all the fiber-soaring, heart-healthy, potentially cancer-fighting characteristics of that bunch. It also has some lipid lowering effects that have been shown to help prevent high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. So swap these pancakes out for your regular recipe every now and then. I admit, whole grains can be an acquired taste sometimes, but just think about all those years you're tacking on to the end of your life! And then pour on the blueberry syrup.

Buckwheat has no gluten, so it must be combined with higher protein flours to get the lift you want in most baked goods. According to those geniuses at King Arthur, you can sub up to one-third of the flour in a bread recipe with buckwheat if you so choose. (Buckwheat flour in sweeter creations was not recommended--stick to pancakes, biscuits, and other breads.)

Buckwheat Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup
serves 2; total time about 10 minutes; adapted from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking

1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bakin soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 beaten egg (scramble up the rest to go with your b'fast)
1 Tbsp molasses
1 cup buttermilk (OR a mixture of yogurt + milk OR orange juice + milk)
1/2 Tbsp veg oil
  1. Stir together flours, powder, soda and salt. Make a well in the middle.
  2. Whisk together egg and molasses, then add buttermilk and oil. Dump wet ingredients into dry well, then stir just until dry ingredients are good and moist (do not over mix!).
  3. On a preheated skilled (preferably cast iron), scoop out 1/3-cup amounts of batter and cook 2-3 minutes, or until you start to see bubbles. Flip and cook 2-3 minutes more. Serve warm with blueberry syrup, if you like.
Blueberry Syrup
1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 Tbsp sugar
  • In a small saucepan, stir together blueberries and sugar over medium heat. After a few minutes (a bit longer if they are frozen), berries will start to break down and release their juices. Boil just a minute or two, until thick. Use warm.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Zucchini and Bell Pepper Torte

Full disclosure: I'm not sure this dinner tasted as good as it looked, nor am I entirely sure it was worth the effort, but my goodness it's pretty. Right? I saw it in this month's Gourmet and immediately knew it must grace my kitchen table. Plus, I purchased an elephantine zucchini from
the market thinking it was funny; then I got home and realized I had to figure out how to eat it.

The whole enterprise was a bit fussy. It has several steps and you need a springform pan and a pressure strategy and several hours' patience while it occupies significant fridge space. But when you finally pop it out, it's actually a lot of fun to eat. Plus it's pretty. Maybe this is a dinner party-type recipe, especially since it must be made ahead of time. So go ahead and throw it together. Impress your friends. Eat some vegetables.

The more I think about this "torte" the more I realize it is not just a single recipe; it is a brilliant strategy. The gist of it is this: sauteed or roasted vegetables layered with cheese, pressed for several hours in the fridge to get rid of excess moisture, and sliced for serving. Seems to me you could use a number of different vegetable-and-cheese combinations here, especially since roasted red peppers have a very distinct flavor, and one that tends to take over if you're not careful. (For a non-red-pepper-lover, this is a problem.)

And I hate to say it, but the springform pan is kind of necessary here. You want the torte to shed some liquid during the pressing, so you want something with cracks in the bottom. Hate to be high maintenance, but there you have it. My 6-inch springform was the perfect size. And then, when you're done, you can make tiny cheesecake (more on that later)!

Zucchini and Bell Pepper Torte
(serves 2, total time at least 4 hours, preferably more, adapted from Gourmet)

2 red, yellow, orange, or purple peppers (not green!!), stemmed, halved and seeded
olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 lb (2ish) zucchini, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds and sprinkled with salt
1 red onion, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
2 Tbsp red wine or cider vinegar
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped (or 1 Tbsp dry)
  1. Start by roasting your peppers. Slather them with olive oil and place them cut side down on a baking sheet covered with foil. Roast around 425º for 20ish minutes, turning once halfway through. As soon as they're out, take a pair of tongs and toss them into a paper bag and close the top. In 2 minutes, open the bag and pull out the peppers. Their skins should slip right off. Cut into thick slices
  2. Now, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil with garlic in a large skillet. When oil is hot, add as many zucchini rounds as you can and cook about 3 minutes. Turn and cook 2 minutes more. Transfer to a plate and repeat with any additional zucchini slices.
  3. In that same pan, add the onions with a pinch of salt. Cook 15 minutes, or until tender. Add vinegar and stir until evaporated, which will happen quickly.
  4. Now for assembly. Flip the bottom of the sprinform over so you have the smooth side up. The layers go like this:
    1. Zucchini
      Bell Peppers
      Bell Peppers
  5. Cover with plastic and find a plate that is just a little smaller than your springform and will sit down in it. Put some heavy weights on top, place it in a bowl or something to catch the liquid, and let it sit in your fridge, at least 3 hours and up to a day. We ate it cold, which was fine, but the recipe says to let it come to room temp first. Your call.