Thursday, September 24, 2009

must be fall...

I know that whole equinox thing is traditionally the determining factor for when fall starts, but my annual urge to bake muffins is nearly as reliable. I may make braised chicken all summer long, but somehow muffins don't appeal until fall, either for baking or for eating. Today my internal cook apparently flipped over to "fall," and I woke up with a strong desire to bake muffins.

Muffins and quick breads are somewhat equivalent in my mind, but I only make quick breads when I'm sure we'll eat them right away - it's just easier to freeze and reheat muffins than quick breads, at least for individual portion sizes. We had a bunch of blueberries from the market on Sunday that absolutely needed to get used right away, so I went ahead and made two batches.

Blueberry Oat Muffins
adapted from The Kitchn

  • 1 cup blueberries, washed and dried
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 C white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats [I ground them up a bit in my mini-prep]
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk [I used powdered buttermilk, adding the powder with the dry ingredients and one cup of water to the wet ones]
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon fiori di sicilia [or just use all vanilla]

Pre-heat the oven to 325°. Prepare muffin tins.

Toss the berries with 1/4 cup of AP flour. This will help keep them from sinking in the batter.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining flours, oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar in a small bowl. In separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, and fiori di sicilia. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and stir gently until you see no more dry flour. Fold the blueberries into the batter.

Spoon into the muffin tins (you can fill them nearly to the top - I found that this recipe didn't rise a ton) and let rest for 5 minutes. Bake for 30-40 minutes. They're done when the tops are puffed and dry, and when a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean.

makes about 14 regular-sized muffins

Penzey's Blueberry Muffins
adapted from Penzey's

  • 1/4 C butter, softened
  • 1/4 C unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp fiori di sicilia [or just use all vanilla]
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 C AP flour, divided
  • 1/2 C white whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 C buttermilk [I used powdered buttermilk, adding the powder with the dry ingredients and one cup of water to the wet ones]
  • 2 C blueberries
Preheat oven to 375F. Prepare muffin tins.

Toss the berries with 1/4 cup of AP flour. This will help keep them from sinking in the batter.

In a medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar, then blend in apple sauce, extracts, eggs, and buttermilk. Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix well. Mix the liquids into the dry ingredients and stir gently until smooth. Fold the blueberries into the batter.

Spoon into the muffin tins (fill them about 2/3 full) and let rest for 5 minutes. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean.
yield: 14-18 muffins

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kitchen Experiment: Pizza

For some reason, the fact that we made pizza last night completely blew me away. It worked! The smoke alarms didn't go off! And it was not just edible, but extremely tasty. I used the pizza method from Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day, which calls for using one of their bread recipes (I used my usual half whole wheat version of their boule dough, though next time I'll go ahead and make the suggested olive oil focaccia dough).

Crank the oven up as high as it'll go - the new oven in our apartment continues to be a real workhorse: it not only goes up to 550F (many ovens top out at 500F) but it didn't seem at all damaged by the experience (a friend's oven practically melted at its top temperature... she needed to replace all the plastic knobs afterward). Let heat for at least 20 minutes. While the oven's preheating, prepare your ingredients (I used fresh farmer's market mozzarella, some left-over tomato sauce (drained of all juice over a fine sieve), and a puree of fresh basil and black olives). Allow to cool a little before serving, or the cheese will slide right off!

Using flour to prevent sticking, roll out the dough to about a 1/8" thickness. Take it slow - the dough will relax as you go, but it can take several minutes between expansions. Spray a cooking sheet or pizza crisper (we have one of these) with non-stick-spray-with-flour stuff. Once your pizza dough is sufficiently thin, roll it around your rolling pin to transfer it to the prepared pizza crisper (just like you would to move pie dough).

I spread out the basil/black olive mixture all over the dough and then spread the tomato sauce on top of that. Finally, rough rounds of mozzarella top of the whole thing. Get it into the oven ASAP and cook for 8-15 minutes (it pays to keep a close eye on pizza, as there's a fine line between lightly-browned-but-crisp and blackened at 550 degrees).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rescuing Blueberry Butter

I'm not sure whether the problem with my slow-cooker blueberry butter attempt was the recipe, or if the problem was with my crock pot. (Given the other issues I've had with crock-pot recipes recently, I think it's probably not the recipe...) In any case, I followed a pretty standard blueberry butter recipe I found somewhere on the internet, and it just completely failed to work. I actually cooked it for 24 hours in the slow-cooker (on high!) and it really didn't cook down at all.

I knew I needed to add some more body to it, so that it would have that characteristic fruit butter texture, and I thought some additional pectin might be good, too. I ended up adding some green apples and using the immersion blender to get the texture just right. It was still a little too sweet, so I added a bit more lemon juice. I'm still not completely pleased with the way it turned out, but I definitely was able to convert an almost unusable batch of blueberry better into something worth eating. I'll count that as a win.

Blueberry-Apple Butter

  • 5 C blueberries
  • 3 C sugar
  • 4-5 small tart green apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (I used Granny Smiths)
  • 1/8 C lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
Mix all ingredients together in a large pot. Cook for about 45 minutes, or until things are sufficiently softened to use the immersion blender. Blend until smooth, or mostly smooth. Continue to cook at a simmer until the fruit has cooked down and the texture is very thick. Can in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Judging Recipes

Sometimes, I look at a recipe, am pretty sure it's going to be "meh" and go right ahead and make it. I'd like to say that I'm wrong just enough that it's worth it to experiment, but actually I think these recipes are ones I want to make for reasons unrelated to flavor. They'll use up something in the fridge, or they're super easy, or they are really really healthy. I'm pretty frequently right - I make the recipe, and it is very very dull - and yet I persist. (The real reason might just be that I'm a nut case.)

Here is a recipe that I expected to not really like but made anyway. Sometimes these things do work out - this one is a keeper:

Summer Vegetable Stew
adapted from Cooking Light's "Light & Easy Meals"

  • 1 smallish fennel bulb
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 C vegetable broth (I used "Better than Bouillon")
  • 1 14-oz can Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes
  • 2-3 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 lb green beans, de-stringed and cut into 1" lengths
  • 2 Tbsp fresh herbs (I used a mix of rosemary and thyme)
  • 1 C frozen green peas (I believe fresh green peas should be saved for things where their flavor and texture really sing... this recipe is tasty, but doesn't highlight the peas)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 C crumbled goat cheese
Trim the fennel fronds and toss all but 1 Tbsp or so of them. Mince the reserved fronds and set aside. Roughly chop white parts of fennel, discarding anything that seems too tough to eat.

Heat a medium pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add the olive oil. Saute fennel for 5 minutes and add the broth, tomatoes, carrots, and green beans. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Add peas, herbs, and reserved fennel fronds; cover and simmer 2 minutes.

Add salt and pepper to taste; top each serving of stew with crumbled goat cheese.
serves 4

Friday, September 4, 2009


Just a quick note to say I'll be out of town for the next few weeks and won't be updating.

xoxo, mk

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Lentil Salad

This recipe was something of a gamble, both because I wasn't sure it would be good and because I was going to mess with its ingredients. Unfortunately, it wasn't a gamble that paid off... From the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites cookbook, it basically called for cooking the lentils with some chopped onion and garlic, and then mixing them with chopped bell peppers, red onion, and celery. The salad has a "Curried Mango Yogurt Dressing," which was where I made some substitutions. I used the curried rhubarb, date, and apricot chutney I made earlier this summer, but otherwise followed the dressing recipe pretty exactly. I also added some salt. And then a bit more salt, in the hopes of making it less dull. No dice. I'm not even going to bother typing up the recipe - it DEFINITELY wasn't a keeper.

To cheer myself up, I chopped up some nectarines from the market this morning, tossed them with some blueberries, and made a fruit crumble. Now that? Completely made up for the so-so entree.

ETA: Actually, after allowing the flavors to meld overnight in the fridge, this recipe wasn't too bad. Still not likely to make it again, but it made an ok lunch.

Late Summer II (week of Aug 23)

Some weeks (especially in the summer) we just don't end up eating at home very much; this was definitely one of those weeks.

: Pork with Bourbon-Peach Sauce; mashed potatoes with chives
Monday: tomato salad
Tuesday: cook's holiday
Wednesday: out (at A Caprice Kitchen)
Thursday: out (at Stitch & Pitch)
Friday: SE Asian-inspired hamburgers; "baked" beans
Saturday: out (at Tamarind Tree)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Summer Tomato Sauce

This is a scaled down version of a recipe I'm auditioning for possible large-scale canning.

Last year, I just put up plain tomatoes. They were delicious, but my 9 pint jars really didn't last very long, especially as I'd use two of them every time I made pasta sauce. I'm thinking of cutting out the middle man, so to speak, and just canning sauce. There's not a whole lot you can do with tomato sauce and still use a boiling water canner. Garlic, especially, can be problematic for canning that way.

So I found a recipe for sauce that sounded pretty good in The New Vegetarian Epicure. When I first got this cookbook many years ago, the idea of canning 100 lbs of tomatoes seemed pretty much beyond crazy. Now that I know how fast 30 lb of canned tomatoes gets used up, though, it seems a whole lot more reasonable. If I do end up canning sauce rather than just tomatoes, I think this will be the recipe I'll use. It was really tasty, though to get the consistency I like, I ended up cooking it for about twice the recommended cooking time.

Summer Tomato Sauce
adapted from The New Vegetarian Epicure

  • 3 lb ripe tomatoes (at least a quart when chopped)
  • 1 Tbsp fruity olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp minced basil leaves
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Remove the tomatoes' skins (I use the same process here as I do for peaches). Trim off the stem ends and process briefly with an immersion blender so that there are no whole tomatoes remaining.

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan and add garlic. Cook for about a minute, then add tomatoes, basil, and a little salt and pepper. Cook for about 45 minutes, until the sauce is no longer watery. (If you're cooking down a large batch, this step will take longer.)
yield: about 2 C sauce

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Summer Ratatouille

I'm somewhat surprised that we've made it this far into the summer without having ratatouille. Both of us like it a lot, and even though I already have a basic recipe I like, I'm always trying other versions. This one came out well, although I ended up tweaking it fairly extensively.

We had it on some excellent egg noodles, left with us when some friends cleaned out their pantry prior to moving out of state.

Summer Ratatouille
adapted from Simply in Season

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • salt
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 Tbs fresh basil, chopped (or 2 tsp dried)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped (or 1 tsp dried)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/8 - 1/4 C tomato paste
  • 1 tsp fresh marjoram, chopped (or 1/2 tsp dried)
  • 2 summer squash, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, any color, chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • pepper, to taste
Cut the eggplant into rounds and sprinkle both sides with salt. Place in the sink in a colander and allow to drain while you prepare the other ingredients.

In a large saucepan, saute the onions and garlic in olive oil until translucent, 5 - 8 minutes. Pat off the eggplant and chop it. Add the eggplant, basil, rosemary, salt, tomato paste, and marjoram to the saucepan, and simmer over medium heat until the eggplant is soft, about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally to keep from burning on the bottom.

Once the eggplant has softened, add the squash, peppers, and tomatoes. Continue to simmer until everything is tender, 10-15 minutes. Taste, and add pepper and additional salt if needed.
serves 4

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009

Canning Cherries

I love cherries. I mean, I love all fruit, really, but the cherries that grow here in Washington are truly a wonder. My favorite preserve from last year was a cherry-almond jam, so I bought a bunch of cherries to do that, and also try some pickled cherries. The jam was something of a failure - I thought it had reached the jelling point, but it never really set. Luckily, cherry-almond syrup is still delicious!

The pickled cherries smell great, but I'm letting them pickle a bit longer before I actually eat any of them. They sure are purty, though!

Cherry-Almond Jam
adapted from the Ball Blue Book

  • 2.25 lb pitted cherries (about 3 lb cherries will yield this, with some left over for eating)
  • 3/4 amaretto
  • 3 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 package powdered pectin
  • 4 1/2 C sugar
Finely chop the cherries (I use an immersion blender for this, and puree them in the saucepan). Combine cherries, amaretto, lemon juice, and pectin in a large saucepan. Stir well to combine. Bring to a boil and add the sugar, stirring until dissolved. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring to make sure it doesn't stick. Remove from heat and skim foam. Ladle into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.
yield: 6 half-pint jars

Pickled Sweet Cherries
adapted from Small-Batch Preserving

  • 1 3/4 C white vinegar
  • 1 3/4 C granulated sugar
  • 3/4 C water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 tsp whole allspice
  • 2 lb dark sweet cherries (optional: pit the cherries - the recipe calls for using them "with stems," but I went ahead and de-pitted them for ease of later eating)

Combine everything other than then cherries in a small pan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat a simmer for 20 minutes, uncovered.

Pack the cherries into sterilized jars and pour the hot syrup over them, leaving 1/2" headspace. Process 15 min for pint jars.
yield: about 3 pint jars

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Raspberry Borscht

This recipe wasn't really a resounding success. Victor and I both thought it was odd, and more than a little "dessert-y." Actually, I'm pretty sure that without the onion (but including the vinegar) it would be a delicious dessert soup. With a touch more sugar, I suspect it would also make a good sorbet. It is tasty, and it was refreshing, but I doubt we'll be making it again... at least as a main course.

I also baked some bread. Because it was hot, I baked the bread in my bread machine (bless you, craigslist!). The bread machine definitely turns out more "sandwich bread" than artisan loaves, but it's easy and - most importantly right now - doesn't heat up the kitchen.

Raspberry Borscht
adapted from The New Vegetarian Epicure

  • around 2 lb beets (2 bunches)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 pint raspberries
  • 1/4 C minced red onion
  • 1/2 C lemon juice
  • 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 sugar
Cut the tops off the beets, reserving for another use if you like beet greens. Scrub them, and put them in a pot with enough water to cover by an inch or so. Throw in a pinch of salt. Simmer until tender (about 45 min for large beets; perhaps 30 min for smallish ones.)

Drain, reserving 2 C of the cooking liquid. Allow to cool. (I went ahead and cooked the beets to this point while it was still cooler early in the week, since I knew it would be blazingly hot yesterday.) Peel the beets and cut into chunks. Puree the beets and berries with the reserved cooking liquid. If you prefer a smooth soup, strain out the raspberry seeds. Add the onion, lemon juice, vinegar, and a bit of the sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Taste, and add more lemon juice, vinegar, or sugar as needed. Chill until you're ready to eat.
serves 4 as a light entree

Monday, August 17, 2009

Kitchen Experiments: Pickle Edition, Update

My 9-day pickles turned out really, really well. I finally canned them last night, and there were just four pickles that didn't fit into the jars. They were delicious. I'm not quite sure what texture they should ideally have, so I don't know if they were the *perfect* pickles or not, but I'm definitely looking forward to eating the ones I canned.

That said, it's a lot of work for just four pints of pickles. There's not a lot of hands-on time, but having a daily task for over a week was a little much. If I don't find another sweet pickle recipe I like as well, I'll double or triple the batch next time to get more bang for my canning buck. I feel like a basic bread-n-butter pickle recipe shouldn't be too hard to find, but we'll see.

ETA: I just realised that my old post didn't have the recipe in it. Here it is:

Nine-Day Icicle Pickles

adapted from Small-Batch Preserving

  • 2 quarts pickling cucumbers
  • 4 C boiling water
  • 1/2 C pickling salt
  • 2 C white vinegar
  • 3 C sugar, divided
  • 1 Tbsp pickling spice
Day 1: Cut a thin slice from the ends of each cucumber, then cut into length-wise quarters. Cut each quarter in half. (You'll end up with little half-spear pickles.) Place in a large non-reactive container (I used the pot part of a spaghetti pot). Combine boiling water and salt; pour over cucumbers. Place something on the cukes to keep them submerged (I used the strainer insert from the spaghetti pot).
Days 2-3: Stir once a day.
Days 4-5: On both days, drain the cukes, discarding liquid. Cover them with fresh boiling water.
Day 6: Prepare a brine: combine vinegar and 1.5 C of the sugar in a non-reactive saucepan. Put the pickling spice into a large tea ball or tie in cheesecloth; add to pan. Bring to a full boil over high heat. Drain the cukes, discarding liquid. Cover with boiling brine. (You can throw out the spices at this point.)
Days 7-8: On both days, drain the brine into a large saucepan over high heat. Add 1/2 C sugar and bring to a boil. Pour over the pickles.
Day 9: Once again, drain the brine into a large saucepan over high heat. Add 1/2 C sugar and bring to a boil. Then, pack the pickles into your hot & sanitized canning jars. Pour the hot brine over the pickles, leaving 1/2" headspace. Process 10 min in a boiling water canner.
yield: about 4 pint jars

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Summer of Canning (week of Aug 9)

I was mostly on my own for dinner this week - Victor was out of town, and I exhausted myself by putting up over 20 lbs of peaches. Here's what went down:

Sunday: grilled sausages and summer squash
Monday: dinner out with friends
Tuesday: cook's holiday
Wednesday: grilled portobello mushrooms with teriyaki sauce
Thursday: tomato and basil salad; bread
Friday: Portobello and Basil Lentil Soup
Saturday: Chicken Thighs in Sicilian Style Sweet-Sour Sauce with Mint; whole wheat couscous

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sweet-Sour Chicken with couscous

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this recipe. On the one hand, I liked it a lot, as I do most "sweet and sour" things. On the other, I thought it was a little odd. Sweet, vinegary things tend to exist in a tasting "blind spot" for me, since I pretty much like them regardless, and Victor's normally my check on this tendency. Since he's not here, I'm a little concerned that my sense that the recipe is odd would translate to "ew" for someone slightly less enamored of this kind of flavor combination.

Anyway, I liked it. If you're going to be serving left-overs, I would suggest removing the meat from the bone and mixing the chicken with the sauce. It makes eating it in an office-type environment a little easier, and since the meat is basically braised, it's falling off the bone anyway.

I served it with a little whole-wheat couscous, which might not be all that authentic, but was easy and tasty.

Chicken Thighs in Sicilian Style Sweet-Sour Sauce with Mint
from The Splendid Table newsletter

  • Good tasting extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds bone-in chicken thighs
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 4 large garlic cloves, thin sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dry whole leaf oregano
  • 1 medium sized ripe tomato, chopped, or 2 canned tomatoes, drained
  • 1 cup wine or cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 sugar, or to taste
  • 3 tight-packed tablespoons spearmint leaves, torn

1. Lightly film the bottom of a 12-inch straight sided sauté pan with olive oil. Heat over medium high. Add the chicken thighs, skin side down, and turn heat to medium. Slowly brown the thighs on both sides, sprinkling them with salt and pepper. They should be bronzed and crisp.

2. Stir in the garlic cloves, pepper flakes, oregano, and tomato, and sauté 1 minute over medium heat. Add the vinegar, water, and sugar (stand back in case it spatters). Adjust the heat so the liquid bubbles very gently, cover the pan and cook the thighs about 20 minutes, or until they reach 170°F. at their centers on an instant reading thermometer.

3. At this point, you could cool the dish and refrigerate the chicken in its sauce overnight. To finish the chicken, heat it in the sauce until it's hot all the way through. Remove it to a platter. Then simmer down the pan juices by about half, scraping up all the brown bits with a spatula until it is rich tasting, with a good balance of sweet, tart and spicy. Adjust flavors if needed. Pour over the chicken and scatter with the fresh mint. Serve hot or warm.
Serves 4

Addictive Red Lentil Soup

I've been making this recipe for a long time - it's good enough that once, when I made it for my dad while he was in town on a visit, I got him hooked. He lived in rural Pennsylvania, though, so I ended up sending him red lentils from our co-op, because he couldn't buy them locally.

That was years ago, and I'm pretty sure that red lentils are more readily available these days. I hope so, anyway, because this soup is mighty tasty and it won't work with green or brown lentils.

Portobello and Basil Lentil Soup
(adapted from a recipe published in Shape Magazine many (many) years ago)

  • 1 T. Olive Oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 small green pepper, chopped
  • 2 cup diced portobello mushroom
  • 3 garlic gloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • 6 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • 6 oz. tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 1 bunch basil, coarsely chopped (reserve a few small ones for garnish)
  • 1/3 cup dry sherry (optional)

In a soup pot over medium-high heat, saute the garlic, onion, green pepper, salt, pepper, and mushrooms until mushrooms are tender (about 5 minutes).

Add the chicken broth and tomato paste to soup pot and completely blend together.

Stir in the red lentils and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.

Add the basil and simmer (with pot covered)15 minutes longer.

Add extra salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the stew in individual bowls and float one tablespoon sherry on top of each bowl.

Garnish with remaining basil leaves and serve hot.

yield: serves 4-6

Canning an Overabundance of Peaches

The afternoon I dropped Victor off at the airport for a week-long trip, I decided to stop by the Columbia City Farmer's market. I don't often make it to any of the week-day markets, but I was near there and had time...

Of course, I encountered a bargain I just couldn't refuse - 20 lbs of peaches (actually, 23 lbs when I got home and weighed them!) for just $20. Organic, peak-of-ripeness peaches. Delicious peaches. Peaches that absolutely needed to be canned right away. By myself.

Last year, we found a similar deal and ended up canning over 50 (half-pint) jars of peach preserves. That was hard enough, but now I had to do it without Victor. It worked out in the end, but only because I primarily canned them without making preserves, and even then I ended up sticking about half of them in the fridge overnight (in a cold water bath with lots of lemon juice to ward off browning).

It was an adventure - I discovered that standard canning pots can't be used on smooth-top electric stoves (because their base is ridged, so they won't heat) and also that my large stock pot, while adequate for pint jars, wasn't big enough for quarts. Several shopping trips later I managed to finish canning the peaches the next morning.

The first step to all of these recipes is to remove the skins and pits (I saved mine - they're in the freezer right now, waiting to be made into peach peel jelly).

To do this, you'll want a big pot of boiling water, a large bowl filled with ice water, and another large bowl with ice water and lemon juice (or citric acid). Each peach needs to go in the boiling water bath for about 45 seconds and then into the ice water bath for a minute or so. The skin should then be very easy to peel off; remove the pit and cut into halves (or quarters if your peaches are large). The cut-up pieces go in the water with lemon juice 'til you're ready to use them.

It's useful to have a skimmer (aka a spider) to remove the peaches from the water, and another person to help move the process along.

Spiced Pickled Peaches
adapted from The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving

  • 4 lb peaches, prepared as above
  • 3 1/2 C sugar
  • 1 3/4 C white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/4 C water
  • 3 cinnamon sticks, broken up
  • 1 Tbsp whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp whole allspice
Tie spices together in a cheesecloth bag (or a large paper coffee filter). Bring sugar, vinegar, and water to a boil over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add spice bag; reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add peaches to syrup and return to a simmer for another 5 minutes. Discard spice bag.

Remove peaches from liquid with a slotted spoon and pack into hot jars. Pour liquid over peaches to within 1/2 in of rim. Process 20 min (pints) or 25 min (quarts) in a boiling water bath.
yield: 3 quart jars

Peaches in Light Syrup
adapted from the Ball Blue Book

for the syrup:
  • 2 1/4 C sugar
  • 5 1/4 C water
Boil together until sugar dissolves. Makes about 6 1/2 C syrup.

  • 2-3 lbs peaches per quart jar, prepared as above

Pack prepared peaches into hot jars, cavity-side down, overlapping. Leave 1/2 in headspace. Ladle hot syrup over peaches, keeping 1/2 in headspace. Carefully remove bubbles, especially if you've used peach halves. Process pints 20 minutes and quarts 25 minutes in a boiling water canner.

Spiced Peach Butter
my own crazy recipe, adapted from the Ball Blue Book and the (even more crazy than I am) Jamlady Cookbook

  • 18 medium peaches, prepared as above
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • box of "no-sugar" pectin (1 3/4 oz)
  • 4 C sugar
Put peaches into a large pot and puree with an immersion blender (or blend by your method of choice). Add cinnamon. Cook over medium heat until slightly thickened, about 30 minutes. Add the pectin and bring to a boil. Boil for one minute. Add the sugar, stirring to dissolve. Cook to the jell point. Remove cinnamon sticks and transfer butter to hot jars. Process in a boiling water canner, 5 minutes for half-pint jars and 10 minutes for pint jars.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Because, Really, What ELSE Would You Want To Do In The Middle of A Heat Wave?

My rhubarb haul from Veggie Trader was enormous. What was initially supposed to be 5 lb became 10 lb... and then when I actually weighed it at home, was closer to 12 lb! So, in the middle of Seattle's hottest week this year (the week which contained Seattle's hottest-ever-recorded day), I canned. And canned. I am a crazy person. Because I'm not completely mad, I did this over several days:

"Victoria Sauce"
aka Rhubarb Chutney
adapted from the Ball Blue Book

  • 2 qts chopped rhubarb
  • 1/2 C chopped raisins
  • 1/2 C chopped onion
  • 3 1/2 C brown sugar
  • 1/2 C vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)
  • 1 tsp each allspice, cinnamon, ginger, salt
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
Combine rhubarb, raisins, onion, sugar, and vinegar in a large pot. Cook over medium heat until very thick, at least 25 minutes. You'll need to stir it more as it thickens to keep it from burning. Add the spices and cook for another 5 minutes. Ladle into hot jars, leaving 1/4 in headspace. Process in boiling water canner for 15 minutes.
yield: about 8 half-pint jars

Rhubarb and Cinnamon Jam
adapted from Sensational Preserves

  • 2 lbs rhubarb, sliced
  • 2 lb sugar
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • juice of 1 lemon
Stir the rhubarb and sugar together in a nonmetallic bowl, cover, and let macerate in refrigerator overnight. Transfer to a saucepan and add the cinnamon and juice. Heat over medium heat, stirring often, until sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and bring to a boil; boil for 15-20 minutes until the setting point is reached (220F). Remove the cinnamon sticks and ladle into hot jars, leaving 1/4 in headspace. Process in boiling water canner for 15 minutes.
yield: about 4 half-pint jars

Rhubarb, Date, and Apricot Chutney
adapted from The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving

  • 4 C sliced rhubarb
  • 1 C chopped dried dates
  • 1 C brown sugar
  • 1/2 C chopped dried apricots
  • 1/2 C cider vinegar
  • 1/4 C finely chopped onion
  • 1/4 C finely chopped candied ginger
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp pickling salt (or a little more than 1/4 tsp kosher salt)
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for at least 10 minutes, until thickened and fruit is soft. Ladle into hot jars to within 1/2 inch of rim (headspace) and process 10 minutes (half-pints) or 15 minutes (pints) in a boiling water canner.
yield: about 4 half-pint jars

I also put up some Rhubarb, Apple, and Vanilla Jam. Although the recipe doesn't suggest doing so, I let the rhubarb macerate overnight for this, just like the cinnamon jam I'd made previously.

ETA: bleh. That Victoria sauce is slightly gritty and weird. It's now 9 or so months later, and I've managed to use two jars. Even that was a struggle - I think I might just toss the remainder so that I can re-use the jars. I can't believe I'm even contemplating doing that, but it's definitely a sign of how much I disliked that chutney. (5/27/10)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

New Cookbook!

Friday: Indian Summer Casserole; peach & blueberry crumble

I belong to a book-swapping site. One of the things I really like about it is that sometimes, fairly randomly, I will suddenly get a book I've forgotten all about. Since we moved to Seattle and I realised how many books I already own, I've been trying to avoid buying new books. I don't apply this rule to the book swap, but it does make getting new books through it especially exciting.

My most recent book-swap acquisition is Still Life With Menu by Mollie Katzen (of the Moosewood cookbooks). It's pretty, and so far the recipes are looking good, but this was my first time actually making anything from it. My main criticism of the book is that, though it does have an emphasis on eating seasonally, it's not organized by season. In fact, I'm a little unclear as to what the organizational scheme really is.

Anyway, I basically selected this recipe because, on my initial glance at the table of contents, it was pretty clearly a "summer" recipe. I didn't quite have all the ingredients, having gone on an apparent bell pepper binge earlier in the week, but I did have extra corn, so it all worked out in the end. It's tasty as a dinner, but I liked it even better as a cold breakfast the next morning.

Indian Summer Casserole
adapted from Still Life With Menu by Mollie Katzen

  • 2 C corn kernels
  • 3 C chopped bell peppers
  • 2 green onion, diced
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 C chopped green onions
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • small handful fresh herbs - a combination of basil, oregano, and parsley
  • cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 C chopped black olives
  • 1 small medium-hot pepper, minced (e.g. poblano)
  • 1/2 C grated cheese
  • 4 eggs (if you want to cut the fat, only use two of the yolks)
  • 1/2 C yogurt (I used low-fat)
  • paprika, just a bit
Preheat the oven to 375F and grease a medium-sized casserole. In a large pan over medium-high heat, heat the oil and saute corn, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, scallions, cumin, salt & pepper. After the vegetables look soft (about 8 minutes), remove from heat.

Stir in herbs, cayenne, olives, and medium-hot pepper. Mix cheese into veggies until it melts, and pour the mixture into your prepared pan. Beat the eggs with yogurt, and pour over the top of the veggie mixture. Dust with paprika.

Bake, uncovered, for 30-35 minutes, until browned and bubbly.

yield: 4 generous servings

The cookbook is divided into menus (something I love), and Katzen pairs the casserole with a salad (which we skipped) and a summer fruit crumble. Her crumble is basic, but the recipe works very well, and conveniently cooks in the same temperature oven as the casserole:

Peach and Blueberry Crumble
adapted from Still Life With Menu by Mollie Katzen

  • 4 peaches, chopped
  • 2 C blueberries
  • 1 Tbsp Wondra (or cornstarch, but Wondra really is a wonder!)
  • 2 Tbsp sugar (optional - if your fruit is very sweet, omit it)
  • 4 Tbsp melted butter
  • 1 C whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar
  • pinch salt
If your oven isn't already hot, preheat to 375F.

In an 8" square baking dish, toss the fruit with the Wondra or cornstarch and sugar (if using). Melt the butter (microwave is fast and easy) and combine with flour, brown sugar, and salt. Use your hands to mix it together and pat it into place over the fruit. Bake for 30 minutes until bubbly.

Serves 4 (or 2 very greedy peach lovers)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Summer Living is Easy Menu (Week of Aug 2)

Monday: Gazpacho con Tropezones
Tuesday: cook's holiday
Wednesday: BLTs with basil; cantaloupe sorbet
Thursday: ricotta gnocchi with sage & browned butter sauce
Friday: Indian Summer Casserole; peach & blueberry crumble
Saturday: pan-fried chicken with curried rhubarb chutney; brown jasmine rice

Kitchen Experiments: Pickle Edition

I've committed to having in-process cucumbers on my kitchen counter for the next week and a half. I'm making "Nine-Day Icicle Pickles." It's a little like having a (very boring) pet: give it a stir every day, and once in a while you clean up after it and add something to it. Not sure how it'll turn out - I will post the recipe once I know it's not a complete dud.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Basil BLTs

Wednesday: BLTs with basil; cantaloupe sorbet

We have been eating tomatoes all kinds of ways; I had some firm ones that I was going to use in a casserole (it actually calls for green tomatoes, but I couldn't find any at the market on Sunday). They ripened very quickly, however, and looked like they'd be luscious. Fortunately, we had a few slices of bacon in the fridge. Combined with some lettuce and basil from our container garden, we were set.

We got an early cantaloupe on Sunday; sadly, it wasn't all that tasty (too early, I think). Mixed with some sugar, however, it became a light and pretty sorbet - like a bite of the ripest melon, only better.

Cantaloupe Sorbet
adapted from The Perfect Scoop

  • 1 ripe cantaloupe, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 2-3 Tbsp orange juice
Puree all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Taste, and add a little more OJ if desired. Chill and freeze in an ice cream maker.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Summer Heat-Wave Menu (week of July 26)

Monday: Gazpacho con Tropezones
Tuesday: cook's holiday
Wednesday: chop salad
Thursday: bread with cheddar and chutney
Friday: our 10th anniversary - dinner out at Poppy!
Saturday: ricotta gnocchi with pesto

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

No-Heat Meals

Monday: Gazpacho con Tropezones

I think cooking with no (or minimal) heat is going to be the theme of the week around here; we are already experiencing a record-breaking heat wave, and it's only supposed to be getting hotter. Of course, since this is unusual for the PNW, we don't have air-conditioning. We actually only own one fan. (And apparently we've become heat wimps since leaving the midwest.) Fortunately for us, this is also the height of the season for all kinds of delicious foods which don't really need much messing with to be a meal. Gazpacho takes advantage of this, especially gazpacho (like this one) which doesn't use tomato juice.

Gazpacho is nostalgic for me, since it figures fairly prominently in one of our all-time best vacations. It was actually a "staycation," I guess, before anyone used that word. It was over the fourth of July weekend, and we both took an extra day off, so we had four days to just enjoy ourselves at home.

We got up a bit late and had breakfast at a little cafe near our house, usually just pastries and excellent espresso. Their courtyard (really just the alley between their building and the one next-door) is FILLED with all kinds of flowers and birdbaths and it was a lovely place to linger. We spent the rest of the morning and the early afternoon just puttering about, and then went back to the cafe for lunch. It was just serendipity that one of us ordered gazpacho on the first day of our vacation, but it was so exquisite, so much the essence of summer, that we ordered it every day thereafter.

It was a perfect gazpacho: balanced, refreshing, with just the right amount of texture, and just a bit spicy. That soup ended up embodying a lot of the spirit of the weekend - my mental image of the vacation is sitting in Crema's lovely courtyard, slowly savoring it as Victor and I talked, and talked, and talked. This gazpacho can't hope to recreate that, but it definitely brings it to mind in a wonderful way.

Gazpacho con Tropezones
adapted from deliciousdays

  • 2 slices of stale white bread
  • 500g ripe tomatoes (about 2 large or 3 medium), chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 small cucumber
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded, deveined, and diced
  • 1-2 garlic cloves
  • ~1 tsp fine sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • a good pinch of dried chili flakes
  • 2-3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 4-5 tbsp fruity olive oil
  • a small handful of ice cubes

Put the slices of stale white bread in a bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside. Chill serving bowls or glasses (optional).

Prepare the vegetables:

  • Chop half the onion, half of each of the bell peppers, and half of the cucumber. Reserve the other halves for making the tropezones. Put the chopped veggies in the blender with the tomatoes.
  • Peel the garlic cloves, then cut them into thin slices and add to blender.
  • Prepare the tropezones: Cut the reserved bell pepper, cucumber and onion into neat little cubes or bitesize pieces - they will become tropezones ("stumbling stones") in your final soup. Set aside for later use.

Add the diced jalapeno to the blender and mix at medium speed until your vegetables have turned into juice and their blender volume has decreased significantly.

Add the bread slices (no need to squeeze out the water), season with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, chili flakes, vinegar, and olive oil before putting the blender to work again. Mix until the Gazpacho reaches a smooth consistency.

Season to taste and pour into bowls (if you like your soup really cold, add one or two ice cubes to each bowl). Serve with a handful of tropezones, drizzle with some more olive oil and a good pinch of black pepper. Enjoy immediately.

serves about 2 as a meal on a hot summer evening

Monday, July 27, 2009

Yes, We HAVE Been Going Through Quite A Bit of Sugar Around Here, Why Do You Ask?

So, the new carbonator? We love it. I'm also having a great time making syrups. Our most recent two are a basil lemon syrup and a ginger one. Most of the ginger syrup recipes I saw online called for juicing the ginger, which seemed both unnecessary and impossible, since we don't have a juicer. Here's what I did instead (it turned out very gingery, but not too hot):
Ginger Syrup
  • 1 large knob ginger (about 5" long), peeled and somewhat thinly sliced
  • 2 C water
  • 2 C sugar

Mix the ingredients together in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Turn heat to low and simmer 5 minutes. Allow to sit until cool; strain out ginger and put into a jar.
Basil Syrup
adapted from epicurious
  • 1 cups packed fresh basil sprigs (top 4 inches; from a 1/2-pound bunch)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • zest from 2 organic lemons
Bring all ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Allow to sit until cool; strain out lemon and basil and put into a jar.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Soba Noodles with Peanut Sauce

Friday: soba noodles with peanut sauce

I think many people have a version of this recipe. It wins on pretty much all counts for me: a little sweet, a little salty, easy to make, contains whole grains, can be modified endlessly, plus it is good both warm and cold. The original recipe came from a magazine article; in the many many years since I first encountered it, I have altered the original recipe somewhat. I also make it slightly differently every time.

Soba Noodles with Peanut Sauce

  • 8 oz package soba noodles
  • 8 oz package frozen sugar snap peas or a similar amount of fresh snap peas, strings removed
  • 1 small red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 C chopped green onions
  • 1-2 handfuls fresh herbs (basil, mint, Thai basil, or a combination of some or all of those herbs), chopped
For the sauce:
  • 1/4 C + 2 Tbsp lemon or lime juice (or a combination of half lime & half lemon)
  • 1/3 C brown sugar
  • 1/4 C soy sauce
  • 1-2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 C creamy peanut butter
Make the sauce: combine all sauce ingredients excpet the peanut butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Whisk in the peanut butter and set aside.

Cook soba noodles as directed. Two minutes before noodles are done, add the snap peas and boil until noodles are just cooked. Drain the noodles and peas; transfer to a large serving bowl. Add bell pepper, green onions, and herbs.

Pour sauce over noodles and toss to coat them. Serve warm or cold.
serves 4

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer, and the Stir-Frying is Easy

Thursday: broccoli, beef, and green onion stir-fry; rice

It ended up being fairly cool today, but since it was hot this weekend when I planned out our meals, I naturally assumed it would be too hot for the oven. In any case, a simple stir-fry is just as yummy on a cool summer evening as on a warm one.

The key with stir-frys is to get all the ingredients prepped and in separate bowls before you start to heat your pan. They are incredibly quick to cook, but not actually any quicker to make because you can't do any of the prep work while things are cooking. My basic strategy is to heat the pan, heat the oil briefly, briefly cook the aromatics (garlic, ginger, or what-have-you), and then get the meat started. Once it's cooked, I take it out of the pan and cook the veggies. Then I add the sauce and put the meat back in. I don't know if this is unorthodox or completely standard, to be honest - it's just the way I've found works best for me. My only other "rule" is that all the meat should be thinly sliced and uniformly cut, and the veggies should be cut into uniform pieces as well.

Broccoli, Beef, and Green Onion Stir-Fry
  • 1-2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
  • 1 tsp or so ginger, minced or grated
  • 1 pound thinly sliced beef, cut into strips
  • 1 head broccoli, cut into small florets
  • 2 bunches green onions, white parts thinly sliced; green parts cut into 2 in segments
  • 1/2 C oyster sauce
Heat the pan over medium-high heat; after the pan is hot, add the oil.* Heat for about 30 seconds, add the garlic and ginger, and heat for an additional 30 seconds. Add the beef, allowing it to sear slightly before stirring (the beef should release from the pan - if it doesn't, just wait a few seconds and try again). Cook until beef is no longer pink, about 2-3 minutes. Remove beef and add broccoli and green onions. Pour some of the liquid that has likely collected around the beef into the pan and cover; steam for about 2 minutes. Add the oyster sauce and beef, and heat for another minute or two with the lid on.

* unless you're using a non-stick pan, which should never be heated without something in it; in that case, coat the pan with cooking spray and proceed to add the garlic & ginger after the pan is hot.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Homemade Syrups

We just got a home carbonator! I'm very excited - I love drinking lemon/lime fizzy water, but had given up my habit as far too expensive. Plus I felt a lot of greenie guilt about the pile of seltzer bottles in our recycling.

In addition to making simple lemon/lime water, I'm also planning to make a lot of homemade sodas. So far (the carbonator came yesterday) I've made a peach fizz soda using peach syrup I canned last summer; I have some blueberry syrup that I'm also eager to try as a soda flavoring.

(This is in no way an endorsement of the SodaStream folks. Their business model kind of irks me, actually, and I don't love that the only affordable options involve plastic. But they are pretty much it in the (relatively-) cheap-and-easy home carbonator department.)

I'm also looking forward to making some mixed drinks: rhubarb mojitos, anyone? Some of my rhubarb bounty went today to making rhubarb and mint syrups.

They're both basically just flavored simple syrups: equal parts sugar and water, simmered until thick. To flavor the syrup, add the other ingredient(s) and simmer a lot or a little, depending on how strong you want the flavor to be, and how strong the flavor of the other ingredient(s) is/are. The mint could become overwhelming, so I added it at the very end of the simmering and just let the lightly crushed leaves cool in the syrup before removing them. I followed Brooklyn Farmhouse's recipe for their version of rhubarb syrup using brown sugar; that one calls for cooking the rhubarb in the syrup for quite a while.

I'm also thinking about making some lemon balm syrup, since that might be interesting and I certainly have quite a bit of lemon balm...

ETA: I forgot to mention that making the rhubarb syrup also leaves you with quite a bit of what we're calling "rhubarb butter." It is delicious on toast and mixed into yogurt, especially with a little bit of cinnamon stirred in. Also, a crucial detail about the rhubarb syrup recipe - I decided that it looked like way too much rhubarb for that amount of water, so I doubled the water and sugars. Still tasted very rhubarb-y.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Finally, Tomatoes

Monday: Tomato Salad; Corn on the Cob; bread; Cherry Buttermilk Cake

When we went to the farmer's market yesterday, it was obvious that summer had finally arrived: peaches, corn, AND tomatoes! Very exciting. We ate all our peaches yesterday, but didn't end up having the corn and tomatoes.

The corn I just microwaved (if I'm not going to be grilling, this is my favorite way to make corn): you don't need to shuck it - just put the corn (silk, husks, and all) into the microwave. Microwave on high for 2-3 minutes/ear. Use oven mitts when peeling the husks off - you will find that the silk just comes off with the husk.

We had two gorgeous but slightly bruised heirloom tomatoes (the exact variety escapes me right now). They were "seconds," so half-price and really ripe. I cut them up and (gently) tossed them with salt, pepper, fresh basil (chopped), and a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Today was cool enough that I finally decided it was worth using the oven to bake a cake I've been meaning to try for a while, the Raspberry Buttermilk Cake that Deb of the Smitten Kitchen recently adapted from Gourmet magazine's recipe. We have had the most luscious cherries recently, and I wanted to give them a try with this recipe. She apparently had to adjust the cooking time downward, but it took the very upper end of the time range for my cake to even begin to look done. I think this may have been because the cherries added some extra moisture. Anyway, this recipe is definitely a keeper. I think you could get away with serving it as part of a brunch in lieu of coffee cake, even. Excuse me while I dash downstairs for another piece.

Cherry Buttermilk Cake
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

1/2 stick (56 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup (146 grams) sugar
1 cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large (57 grams) egg
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and halved (about 5 oz)
1 1/2 tablespoons (22 grams) turbinado sugar (aka "Sugar in the Raw")

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 2/3 cup (146 grams) sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about two minutes, then beat in vanilla and zest, if using. Add egg and beat well.

At low speed, mix in flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined.Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top. Scatter cherries evenly over top and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 25-35 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool to warm, 10 to 15 minutes more. Invert onto a plate.

Serves about 6

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Simple Brunch

Sunday brunch: bacon; fried eggs; bread; steel-cut oats with peaches and cream

We had some friends over for brunch on Sunday. Neither of us wanted to get up early to do a lot of cooking (plus we go to the farmer's market on Sunday mornings), so we went with a very simple menu. I shaped the loaves and let them rise while we were at the market, then baked them as soon as we got home. While the loaves of bread were in the oven, I started the oats:
Steel-Cut Oats

4 C liquid (milk and water - you can use all one or the other, or a combination of the two)
2 Tbsp butter
1 C steel-cut oats
pinch of salt
cut-up peaches

Bring the liquid to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium heat and lightly toast the oats for 3-4 minutes. (Be careful not to let them burn - they'll need lots of stirring.) Add the oats to the boiling liquid and stir. Simmer for 25 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally at first and more often toward the end of the cooking time. Add the salt. Spoon into bowls and serve with peaches and cream on top.
Serves 6 as part of a bigger meal, or 4 as the main course

After the oats were happily simmering away on the back burner, we fried up some bacon. When it was done we poured off most of the grease and cooked the eggs in what remained. Not only does the bacon grease make the eggs completely decadent, but the little blackened bits of bacon that end up stuck to them are delicious.

Quick Pickles

I'm gearing up for a big bout of rhubarb canning (I had an unexpected windfall - 10 pounds of rhubarb!), but in the meantime, I've also been making quick pickles. I love all things vinegar-y, and these two recipes are no exception.

Pickled Snap Peas are a delayed gratification sort of treat (they are delicious, but I didn't like them until they had pickled for over a week, despite Deb's assertion that they are good to go after just a day in the fridge). While you're waiting, you can make (and eat!) a batch of Marisa's Asian-Inspired Quick Pickles. I used a combination of cilantro, mint, and Thai basil for the herbs - I find that they make me think of spring rolls, both in taste and in scent.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Light Summer Menu (week of July 12)

Sunday: Burning Beast
Monday: dinner out with friends
Tuesday: cook's holiday
Wednesday: hoisin chicken and teriyaki summer squash saute
Thursday: early summer vegetable chop salad
Friday: carrot & snap pea primavera
Saturday: Roller Girls @ Key Arena

Primavera on the fly

Friday: carrot & snap pea primavera

This is another fast and easy way to use up whatever vegetables you have to hand.

Vegetable Pesto Primavera
~2 C mixed vegetables
1/8 C olive oil
1/2 lb pasta, cooked until al dente
1/8 C - 1/4 C pesto
1/2 C ricotta
salt & pepper

Julienne the vegetables (or just cut them up however you prefer - the essential thing is that all the pieces be the same size so they'll cook evenly). Lightly steam them (about three minutes in a pan with about 1/8 C oil and 1/8 C water), then toss with the cooked pasta. Mix the pesto and the ricotta together, and toss with the pasta and veggies. Salt and pepper to taste.
serves about 4

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What is chop salad, anyway?

Thursday: early summer vegetable chop salad; fresh fruit with warm vanilla pudding

I'm not really sure what makes a chop salad a chop salad, but that's what we call this simple crunchy salad. It's nothing but a bunch of the tastiest looking vegetables you can find, chopped into smallish, consistently-sized cubes and tossed with dressing. This week, we had some baby carrots (regular and yellow); two small red peppers; some baby fennel; and a little less than half a head of savoy cabbage. I meant to add a bit of dark green by throwing in some snap peas, but forgot entirely about them. It was tasty and beautifully colorful anyway.

We're in full-on fruit season here in the PNW, so we have an embarrassment of riches, fruit-wise. I chopped up some apricots and tossed them with blueberries for a colorful finish to the meal. Although I served this pudding warm (to me, there's nothing lovelier than a warm pudding), I suspect it's more normal to allow the pudding to cool first. The recipe is just the one on my box of corn starch.
Vanilla Pudding
serves 4

1/2 C sugar
1/4 C corn starch
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 C milk (I used a mix of 2% and skim)
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, mix together sugar, corn starch, and salt. Gradually add in milk, beating until mixture is smooth. Add yolks. Heat over medium-high heat until slowly boiling, stirring constantly (this takes about 10 minutes). Boil for 1 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Let cool a lot, or just a little, depending on your preferences.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Quick Summer Stir-frys

Wednesday: hoisin chicken and teriyaki summer squash saute

Revisiting the hoisin chicken from last week, since we both liked it so much and it was super easy. One thing that makes it incredibly fast is to start with skinless, boneless thighs.

The kind of chicken really affects the flavor, too - I have made this with chicken from our local farmer's market, with "air-chilled" Smart Chicken, and last night with chicken from the butcher's counter at Whole Foods. The first two were both delicious, but the chicken we had last night wasn't as good, I think because it was "water chilled." (I've read that Whole Foods is converting all of its operations over to have only air-chilled chicken, but because we don't normally shop there - last night was something of a chicken emergency - I haven't kept track of when ours would switch over.) In any case, be aware that stir-frys tend to really let the flavor of the meat shine through, and a "clean tasting" meat will definitely be tastier in the end.

I opted for an easier-to-prepare veggie side this week: I julienned a yellow summer squash and a zucchini (both relatively small) and sauteed them in a little oil for about two minutes, until they were just barely cooked. I added some bottled teriyaki sauce and heated it a bit (perhaps 30 seconds).

We also had my favorite kind of rice, again in the rice cooker.


UPDATED 6/30/12
That link seems dead; here's the recipe for the chicken:


½ pound chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 bunch yu-choy, about ½ pound
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
Dash of water, as needed

In a medium bowl, combine the chicken chunks with 1 tablespoon soy sauce and cornstarch. Mix well and set aside.

Rinse the yu-choy. Trim about an inch off the bottom end of the stalks, which is tough to chew. Cut the yu-choy into 2-inch segments. The leaves will shrink significantly once cooked, so if they are a little larger, it’s ok.

Heat wok over medium-high heat. Add the 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and let heat through for about 30 seconds. Gently add the chicken and quickly start stirring to separate the chunks and so that the pieces don’t stick. Stir-fry the chicken pieces until just cooked through, about 3 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken chunks. Add the yu-choy and stir to combine. Once the yu-choy has wilted, add the 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and the hoisin. Stir to combine. If it looks a little dry, add a touch of water to thin out the sauce.

Serve with rice and other dishes as part of a meal.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Rhubarb and Ginger Jam

I'll see how it goes when I get to the farmer's market tomorrow, but I think this will be the last of the rhubarb for me. I never did get around to making the rhubarb chutney that I liked so much from last year, but this delicate jam makes up for it, I think.

Rhubarb and Ginger Jam
adapted from Preserves
  • 2 lbs rhubarb, sliced*
  • 2 lbs sugar
  • 1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, bruised (I gave mine a whack with a meat tenderizer)
  • 1/4 C or so crystallized ginger, chopped
  • 1 Tb fresh lemon juice
Mix the rhubarb and sugar in a bowl and refrigerate overnight (or longer - it took me two days to get back to mine!).

The next day, scrape the rhubarb and sugar into a large, heavy pan. Add the ginger and cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes, until the rhubarb has softened.

Take out the fresh ginger and add the crystallized ginger and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and cook over high heat until the jam sets (at 222F or so).

Pour into sterilized jars and seal. Process in a boiling water bath 15 minutes. When completely cool, label and store.

* You can make this with however much rhubarb you have on hand - just use an equal weight of sugar.

Picnic Food

Saturday: pickled red beet eggs; pickled beets; sweet potato salad

I made the pickles earlier in the week; the sweet potato salad is relatively quick to make, though somehow it always takes just slightly longer than I expect it to. It's colorful and is perfect for summer potlucks of all kinds - people will definitely ask for the recipe.

Sweet Potato Salad
adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home
  • 4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-in cubes (about 6 C)
  • 3 Tb cider vinegar
  • 3 Tb Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tb honey
  • 1/4-1/2 C vegetable oil (the recipe calls for the larger amount, but I feel it's unnecessary)
  • 2 C diced celery
  • 2 diced red bell peppers
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/4 C chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 green onions, sliced
Steam the sweet potato cubes until just tender (I microwave them with a little water). Whisk the vinegar, mustard, and honey in a small bowl. SLOWLY add the oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly, until dressing emulsifies (I just use the mini-prep bowl with my immersion blender). Gently mix the celery, red peppers, potatoes, and dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste. After the salad has cooled, add the parsley and scallions.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Summer Stew-Making

Friday: orange pork ragout with beans

It was finally briefly (and blissfully) hot, so the idea of simmering this ragout for hours on the stove was unappealing, at best. Also, I didn't read the recipe thoroughly (a major no-no, I realise) and was planning to use cannellini beans from a big batch I made at the beginning of the week. Given all that, here's what I ended up doing:

Orange Pork Ragout with Beans
Yields 4 servings

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound boneless pork shoulder, in 2-inch chunks
1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
juice of 1 orange
3/4 cups dry red wine
1 branch fresh rosemary
3 C cooked cannellini beans (canned beans would work fine, too)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Small pinch red chili flakes
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large frying pan and brown pork over medium-high heat. Remove. Add onion, garlic and bell pepper. Sauté over low heat until soft. Stir in paprika and cloves. Stir in orange juice and wine, scraping bottom of pan. Return pork to pan. Add rosemary, black pepper and chili. Bring to a simmer.

3. Cook 10 hours in slow-cooker (my slow-cooker seems to be a little on the cool side so I cooked the ragout on high - for most cookers, I'd advise using the low setting here). Add beans. Cook an additional 4 hours on low. Season with salt. Scatter parsley on top before serving.
The changes I made were mostly standard ones for converting non-slow-cooker recipes to be used with a slow-cooker: half as much liquid (the slow-cooker doesn't evaporate as much as most other cooking methods, so it's easy for dishes to have too much liquid in the pot at the end); half as much spice (they can get intense and bitter when cooked for so long); about 6-8 hours on low for every hour of simmering. Because I didn't want my beans to get mushy, I added them late in the cooking cycle.

Overall, it worked! I wasn't a huge fan of the recipe, but Victor loved it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Summer Squash, take #1

Thursday: summer squash gratin; simple cornmeal cherry crumble

I often have trouble figuring out what to do with summer squash. When we had a CSA and it was a regular part of our box, we usually alternated grilling it with grating it into marinara sauce (seriously guys, you have no idea how much marinara sauce I eat).

I can't say I'll be putting it into the regular rotation (it was way too rich for an every-day dish), but this summer squash gratin is delicious and gave me a chance to have some fun with my mandoline.

We had some truly amazing cherries, too. They didn't need any further adornment, to be honest, but I was feeling like having a real dessert. I just pitted enough cherries to make a single layer in the bottom of my 8x8 pyrex, mixed them with a bit of cornstarch, and topped them with a mixture of cornmeal, butter, and brown sugar. I baked the crumble for about 20 minutes in a 400F oven.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"My Favorite Recipe!!"

I can't actually say that this is *my* favorite recipe, though it is very good, but that's the title on the newspaper clipping. My mom slipped it into my bag the last time I was visiting, so I'm not sure which newspaper it was from; it was submitted by Gladys M. Metzger of New Columbia, PA, and it is her favorite recipe.

I have had some rhubarb languishing in the back of the fridge; I intended to make some chutney with it, but haven't gotten to it yet. So it seemed fortuitous that I re-discovered this clipping in my wallet earlier in the week. I lightened it up a bit (swapped apple sauce for some of the oil) and subbed in white wheat flour. They still rose beautifully, and I think the slight nuttiness of the whole wheat is a nice complement to their tangy sweetness. These muffins would also be delicious with fresh cherries or other summer berries.

Rhubarb Muffins
(adapted from G. Metzger's recipe)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 C brown sugar
  • 1/4 C apple sauce
  • 1/4 C oil
  • 1/2 C buttermilk
  • 2 1/2 C white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 C sliced rhubarb
  • small amount of raw sugar for sprinkling on top*

Preheat oven to 400F.

Sift the dry ingredients into a medium bowl. Combine the brown sugar, oil, egg, vanilla, and buttermilk in a large bowl. Beat well. Toss sliced rhubarb with a little (~ 1/2 C) of the dry ingredients in a small bowl. Stir remaining dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Add rhubarb, stirring to coat.

Spoon into pre-greased muffin tins and top with a little raw sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

* The original recipe calls for a streusel-type topping, which I omitted. For the topping, mix together 1 Tbsp slightly melted butter, 1/2 C brown sugar, and 1 tsp cinnamon. Top the muffins with this mixture instead of the raw sugar.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Pennsylvania Treat

Pickled beets and red beet eggs are one of my grandmother's classic recipes. We rarely ate plain hard-boiled eggs (they were pretty much just for Passover), but these made regular appearances on our dinner table.

Her recipe for pickled beets was published in Heirloom Cookbook: Recipes Handed Down by Jewish Mothers, but didn't really describe the way she made them. The full recipe, as written, is:
"Cook beets, then peel and slice. Cook 1/2 C white vinegar, 1 C or
more water, add 3 Tbsp sugar. Boil together. Add 1 slice of chopped
onion. Add beets. Let set 24 hours before eating. Delicious!"
When I asked her for clarification (like how many beets I should use) she said she actually just uses "a big can" of cooked beets, but if I insisted on using fresh, about 2 pounds, peeled and chopped in chunks would do it. And then she told me to use 1 C vinegar and 1/2 C water. And although the recipe only calls for a slice of onion, she always puts in 1 onion, sliced.

You may have noticed that the original recipe doesn't have eggs; she always added them, too, I think on the philosophy that once you'd made the brine, you should get as much use out of it as possible. Here is the recipe with her modifications:
Esther Ann's Pickled Beets
  • 2 lbs red beets
  • 1 C white vinegar
  • 1/2 C water
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • peeled hard-boiled eggs (however many you'd like, provided they'll fit under the brine in your jar)
Heat the oven to 375F. Gently clean beets, being careful not to pierce their skins. Wrap beets in foil, and bake until tender (1 1/2 - 2 hours, depending on size). Let cool and remove skins. Slice or cut into chunks. Layer with onions in a large jar and set aside.

Heat vinegar, water, and sugar over medium-high heat until boiling. Pour the brine over the beets and onions. Add eggs. Refrigerate for at least a day before eating. The brine can be reused - I generally just keep adding new eggs until they no longer take up much of the brilliant ruby color of the beets.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Hoisin-Themed Dinner

Monday: moo shu vegetables; hoisin chicken; rice

This was a little ambitious for me - I don't usually make more than one recipe for a regular dinner. But when I saw these two recipes recently, I immediately wanted to make them both and thought they would go great together. And, they do, but the prep work for the moo sho veggies will likely make this a very occasional treat around here.

The vegetables are by far more time-consuming of the two, simply because they require a lot of chopping (and mincing, and dicing). Not much to the chicken, though there's a tiny bit of additional prep work in coating the chicken. The actual cooking is quick for both, however.

I do recommend getting a rice maker if you make rice at all often and have the storage space. It makes much better rice than I ever did, and it makes a meal like this one quite a bit simpler.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Simple Sausage Supper

Sunday: sausage with marinara sauce; sautéed beet greens

I usually make this with polenta, too, but we had a large brunch with friends earlier in the day and I was feeling like having something a little lighter for dinner.

The greens were from the beets I'm planning to pickle later this week (they're actually leftover from the previous week - I just never got around to doing anything with them). Beet greens are my favorite kind of greens - they're slightly sweet, and they pair well with vinegar.
Sautéed Beet Greens
  • 1 pound beet greens (from approximately 10-14 beets)
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 C sliced onion
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 C water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp cider vinegar (I used blackberry cider vinegar from Rockridge Orchards)
Chop the greens, then wash well. You don't need to dry them.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then add the onions, salt, and red pepper; cook until the onions are softened and a little brown (about 5 minutes). Add the water, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Add the beet greens. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the greens are tender. Stir in vinegar and cook down slightly. Add more salt if needed.

Serves 4.

I also pan-fried some Italian sausages (from Skagit River Ranch) and made a batch of marinara sauce, but since the leftover sausages are going to be our lunches on Monday, there wasn't enough left to freeze any for later.

Early Summer Menu (week of July 5)

Sunday: sausage with marinara sauce; sautéed beet greens
Monday: moo shu vegetables; hoisin chicken; rice
Tuesday: it's my birthday! I'm not sure what the plan is, but I won't be cooking.
Wednesday: post-birthday dinner with friends
Thursday: summer squash gratin; simple cherry crumble
Friday: orange pork ragout with beans
Saturday: pickled red beet eggs; pickled beets; sweet potato salad

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Side-Dishes for the Fourth of July

Saturday: Fourth of July Potluck

We went to a lovely Fourth of July party at a friend's house. There was an overwhelming assortment of tasty food there. We brought some quick pickles and a dried cranberry-bulgur salad.

The salad was a new one to me, but since it's got that sweet-salty thing going on, I was pretty sure it would be delicious. And it was! (I originally intended to make it with fresh cherries, but they proved to be irresistibly delicious, so I ended up making it as written, with dried cranberries.) Cooking the bulgur used up the very last of my supply of chicken stock from the freezer.

The pickles, from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites, are one of my favorite summer sides. They're fast, easy, and very refreshing. Plus they combine two of my favorite flavors - vinegar and sugar!
Cucumbers Vinaigrette
(adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites)
  • 2 medium cucumbers (completely peeled if waxed; otherwise, peel in strips for a decorative variegated appearance)
  • 1/4 C cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground dried mustard
  • black pepper to taste
Slice the cucumbers into rounds. Combine remaining ingredients (except for pepper) in a serving bowl. Toss with the sliced cucumbers and add pepper to taste. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to use.