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.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Pork Chops with Chutney

Friday: Peachy Pork Chops; baked potatoes; green herb salad

Summer finally has arrived here in Seattle - it was far too warm to think about turning on the oven, so I peeled the potatoes instead, cubed them, and boiled them 'til tender in the microwave. Then, with a wave of my magic wand (er, a potato masher), they became mashed potatoes! I added a glug or two of half-and-half and made them decadent with a large amount of garlic-sage butter from the freezer (perhaps two tablespoons). And some salt.

The herb salad was just some lettuce and a variety of herbs from our container garden: this time, I went a little spring-roll-ish with them, and picked mint, Thai basil, and cilantro.

For the pork chops, I used a jar of the peach chutney Victor and I canned last summer. After sprinkling some salt and pepper on both sides of the chops, I browned them very well over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes/side and then poured a generous amount of chutney on top of them, turned down the heat, and cooked them a bit longer with the lid on the pan. These were very thick chops - for thinner ones, decrease the cooking time. Any type of chutney would work here (we're out now, but I also like rhubarb chutney particularly for this type of recipe).

Peach Chutney
from The Ball Blue Book Guide to Canning (a title that brings out my inner thirteen year-old)
  • 4 qts chopped, pitted peaches (about 20 medium)
  • 1 C raisins
  • 1 C chopped onion (about 1 medium)
  • 2-3 C brown sugar
  • 1/4 C mustard seed
  • 2 Tbsp ginger
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 hot red pepper, finely chopped
  • 5 C vinegar
Combine all ingredients in a large saucepot. Cook slowly until thick, at least 40 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Ladle hot chutney into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.
Yield: about 14 half-pint jars

Thursday, July 2, 2009

My So-Called Soup

Thursday: Spring Minestrone and bread

Cooking completely failed to happen today, mostly because I didn't have any of the vegetables for the soup, because I was so excited about all the lovely fresh veggies from the farmer's market that we ate them long before Thursday rolled around.

But this minestrone is truly wonderful - delicious, nutritious, and flexible. Assuming you haven't eaten 99% of the vegetables in your fridge, you can substitute almost anything, provided you add it at the appropriate time so it cooks properly.

Spring Minestrone with Peas and Asparagus
(adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters)

  • 1 cup dried cannelini or borlotti beans (or any kind of beans you have to hand; light-colored beans look best in this version of the minestrone, but if you're adding vegetables that add some colors, even black beans work well)
This will yield 2 1/2 to 3 cups of cooked beans. Reserve the cooking liquid.

Heat in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat:
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces. Do not let it brown. (celery or finely chopped carrots are good at this stage, too)
  • (I usually lightly salt the onions and whatever else I add at this stage)
Cook for 15 minutes, or until tender.

  • 2 or 3 stalks of green garlic, trimmed and chopped.
  • 5 thyme sprigs (marjoram or savory are good substitutions)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons salt (if you added salt earlier, add less salt here)
Cook for 5 minutes longer.

Add, and bring to a boil:
  • 3 cups water (or stock)
When boiling add:
  • 2 small leeks, diced (I rarely have leeks for some reason, so I often skip this step)
Cook for 5 minutes, then add:
  • 1 cup shelled peas (from 1 pound in the pod)
  • ½ pound asparagus, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal into ½-inch-thick pieces.
  • (green beans or snap peas are good substitutions for either or both of the shelled peas and asparagus)
Add the cooked beans, cook for 5 minutes then add:
  • 1 cup bean cooking liquid
  • 2 cups spinach leaves, coarsely chopped (about 1 pound) (any other green works well here, too - if you add red beet greens or rainbow chard, just remember that it will make the soup slightly pink)
Cook for 5 minutes. If the soup is too thick, add more bean cooking liquid. Remove the bay leaf.

Serve in bowls, each one garnished with:

  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon or more grated Parmesan cheese.
If not serving this soup right away, cool it down quickly in an ice bath so the asparagus does not lose its bright green color.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Pasta Sauce, the easiest make-ahead meal ever

Wednesday: Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce; strawberries with cream

I love marinara sauce. I know it's inauthentic and wrong, but for me, the pasta is merely a vehicle for the sauce. In fact, in my college days I would sometimes just heat up a jar of pasta sauce and dip bread in it for dinner. These days, I make my own sauce, but I still like to pretty much drown my pasta.

We usually use some variation of this Real Simple recipe. We almost always add more garlic and some sliced onions, and we vary the herbs, too. When Victor's cooking, he likes to simmer the sauce extra long, while I'm usually making this in a hurry and just do the bare minimum. The one constant, though, is that we *always* make at least a double batch. It freezes perfectly, and is really handy to have around when we don't want to do any actual cooking. (Because of my red sauce obsession, we only get two servings from the recipe as written.)

So of course, when our power went out last weekend, we had a container of this in the back of the freezer. Tasty, and pretty much effortless. And much, much cheaper than buying a jar of