Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Wheat Berries and Bacon

All of the big late spring produce offerings will come tumbling in any minute. Before all that happens, however, my spring dishes may be cobbled together from season-less and early seasonal ingredients as well as a cheat or two. For example, I recently made a sort of pilaf with some cooked wheat berries I found in the freezer, a handful of arugula that I grew in a container on the porch, and a locally-grown hot-house tomato. All this trio needed was a serendipitous stumble onto a recipe that only needed a little tweaking to fit in. Well, that and some bacon.

The resulting dish is a sort of primitive, ultra-deconstruction of the BLT sandwich. The bacon flavor permeates every bite and the tomatoes and arugula (in place of lettuce) follow along nicely. The wheat berries make something as complicated as a couple slices of bread utterly unnecessary. Of course, they also make it pretty much impossible to eat with one’s hands.

That’s a small sacrifice for something this delicious. And if you don’t want to take the journey with me, you don’t have to see this as a deconstructed BLT. It doesn’t’ take much longer to make than a sandwich, however, assuming you’ve cooked the wheat berries ahead of time. (There’s more on cooking wheat berries in this post.)

I was really happy with the flavors and textures of this dish. The starchy chewiness of the wheat berries and the savory smokiness of the bacon are the dominant themes, but they’re nicely balanced by the acidity of the tomatoes and vinegar. I’d love to make it again right away, but I won’t. It’s time to move on. On to salad greens and asparagus and radishes and big bundles of fresh herbs. Besides, I gave my arugula a pretty drastic haircut and will have to wait for it to grow back anyway.

Wheat Berries with Bacon, Arugula and Tomato
Inspired by a recipe in Bon Appetit, September 2009

You can make this dish vegan by omitting the bacon and cooking the onions in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil or whatever oil you prefer.

4 strips thick-cut bacon
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ teaspoon coarse salt
1 ½ cup cooked wheat berries
1 medium tomato, cored and chopped
1 cup arugula leaves, chopped or torn
2 tablespoons white wine or cider vinegar
1/8 teaspoon black pepper (a few grinds from a pepper mill)

1. Cook the bacon in a medium-size skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove the bacon and drain on a paper towel. Pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat.

2. Add the onion and salt to the bacon fat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and browned, about 5-7 minutes.

3. Add the wheat berries. Cook and stir about 1 minute. Add the tomato and arugula. Cook about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the vinegar and black pepper. Cook 3-4 minutes more, stirring occasionally. The tomatoes and arugula should be well-wilted.

4. Crumble or chop the bacon. Sprinkle on top of the finished dish.

Makes 2 main-dish or about 4 side-dish servings.

Another recipe like this one: Wheat Berry Salad with Sugar Snap Peas and Lemon Vinaigrette

One year ago: Rhubarb Compote with Brown Sugar and Vanilla Bean

Two years ago: Chickpea and Olive Salad with Greek Flavors

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Revisiting Baguettes

I was thinking of revisiting the Baguette recipe I use often in order to bump up its WFQ*. I was simply going to add some whole wheat flour and see how that changed the texture and flavor of the bread. But then I got all into Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce and saw that it included a baguette made with a multigrain flour blend. That had to be more interesting.

The Multigrain Flour Mix (see p.109 in the book), which can be used in place of other whole grain flours in just about any recipe, is made up of 2 parts each whole wheat, oat and barley flours and 1 part each millet and rye flours. The blend was developed by the author with the idea of balancing structure and flavor. The sweeter barley and oat flours are meant to complement the stronger whole wheat flour and the millet and rye add another level of complexity.

After one taste of my Baguette made by swapping out one third of the bread flour with this mix, I thought, “Brava!” and “Spot on!” Oh, and “Yum! Yum!” This was my first experience in baking with a multigrain blend and the flavor was all that I had hoped for. Nay, more! It’s grainy, nutty and malty, and reminded me a bit of that day when you’ve outgrown Cap’n Crunch and have found just the right whole grain breakfast cereal. And the texture was wonderful, too, nice and chewy, and not at all gritty or heavy.

While I mostly just borrowed the recipe for the flour blend and added it to my own Baguette recipe, I did take one bit of procedure from the Good to the Grain. While I usually just make what I call a mini starter and let it stand for only 30 minutes, Boyce makes a poolish (another name for a starter or pre-ferment) that stands overnight. Thinking this might enhance the flavor of the bread even more, I did that this time, too. I made a thinner poolish than my mini starter, with just the Multigrain Flour Mix, and half of the recipe’s yeast. The rest of the yeast was added with the rest of the flour.

There wasn’t much risk for me in putting together this flour blend, since I had all of the flours on hand except the millet flour. (I use whole wheat flour regularly, and used barley flour in these pancakes and stone-ground rye flour in this bread and this pie crust. I haven’t posted anything else containing oat flour yet.) I was hesitant to buy the millet flour just for the 2 tablespoons I needed to make this bread, since it was difficult to find recipes featuring millet flour (there’s not a millet flour chapter in Good to the Grain). I was able to find out, thanks to blogs like Gluten Free Girl and the Chef, that millet flour, because it contains no gluten, is best used to create a sweet flavor and pleasantly crumbly texture in quick breads and cookies.

There were also recipes for baked goods containing millet flour printed on the package in which it came (I used Bob’s Red Mill brand, which I found at this supermarket), but even if I don’t try those, I think I might just use up all that millet flour baking more recipes with the Multigrain Flour Mix. I admit that I had more than my usual amount of optimism heading in, but I had no idea that whole grain baking was going to be this great!

*WFQ: Whole Food Quotient

Multigrain Baguette
Inspired by recipes from Cooking Light magazine and Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce

You can mix up a large a batch of this multigrain flour blend in the same proportions and use 1 cup of the mixture in place of the whole grain flours in this recipe.

2 teaspoons active dry yeast (or 1 envelope), divided
1 ¼ cup warm water (100 to 110 F), divided
¼ cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup oat flour
¼ cup barley flour
2 tablespoons millet flour
2 tablespoons rye flour
2 cups bread flour, divided, plus more if needed
1 teaspoon salt
cooking spray
egg wash (egg beaten with a small amount of water, optional)

1. Dissolve 1 teaspoon yeast in ¼ cup warm water in a large, nonreactive bowl. Let the yeast mixture stand 5 minutes or until foamy.

2. Add whole wheat flour, oat flour, barley flour, millet flour, rye flour and remaining 1 cup warm water to the yeast mixture. Stir until a thin batter forms. Cover with a towel and let stand 6-8 hours (overnight).

3. Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon yeast (or the rest of the envelope if you are using packaged yeast) and let stand about 5 minutes. Add the salt and 1 cup bread flour to the whole wheat flour mixture. Stir to form a dough. Stir in as much of the remaining bread flour as you can.

4. Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface. Knead the dough for about 8-10 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic, adding enough remaining flour a little at a time to keep dough from sticking. (You could use a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook for this step.) The final result will be a slightly tacky dough.

5. Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray. Spray the top of the dough and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Cover with a towel and let rise about 1 hour or until double in size.

6. Gently deflate the dough without completely squashing it. Reform into a ball. Cover and let rest 5 minutes. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Working with 1 portion a t a time, roll each portion on a floured surface into a long, narrow loaf. Place the loaves on a well-floured surface or on a floured towel pinched into ridges to form a trough for each loaf. (Or place the loaves on a greased or lined baking pan.) Cover with a towel and let rise 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 450 F.

7. Cut 3 to 4 1/4-inch deep slits into the top of each loaf. Carefully lift the loaves onto a mesh baguette baking pan if using. Avoid deflating them as much as possible.

8. Brush the tops of each loaf with the egg wash. (Leftover egg wash can be kept for a few days in the fridge. It can be used on other baking days or cooked as scrambled eggs.) Bake at 450 F for 20 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack.

One year ago: Arugula Pesto with Kalamata Olives

Two years ago: Sour Cream Drop Biscuits with Lemon and Thyme

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Leaves of Radish

It was probably a few years ago that I learned that one can eat radish greens. I set out to do so immediately. This turned out to be a lesson in freshness, or in most cases the lack thereof, especially when it came to supermarket produce offerings. The wilted and sometimes scummy leaves attached to the bundles of radishes I found were anything but appetizing.

So I tried the farmers’ market, and while I found plenty of great radishes with their leaves still intact, it seems that even these would be wilted and less than wonderful by the time I turned to them for experimentation. Apparently radish greens have a pretty short shelf life. And so this year, in order to guarantee the shortest possible shelf time, I grew my own radishes in my container garden on the patio.

My container radishes have grown fast and well. Unlike the little round vegetable at the dirt end, radish leaves are only ever so slightly zesty in flavor, milder than arugula, but a bit stronger than most lettuces. Their taste might vary depending on variety and growing conditions. I let them grow until the leaves were of pretty decent size before I thinned the plants to give the radishes more room to develop. (You didn’t think I was just going to eat the leaves, did you?) These leaves, after being thoroughly cleaned, can be sautéed or even added to salads, although they are more hairy and rough than typical salad greens. I, however, took a cue from this post from the spring of 2009 from Chocolate & Zucchini (I get to these old recipes eventually) and ground mine into a pesto.

I decided to try something different than the traditional Mediterranean-style pesto, and added Asian flavors to my mix. I used peanuts to fill the traditional nut role for pesto and opted for peanut oil to match. I also added a chopped scallion, which really boosted the spiciness of the pesto as well as soy sauce and a little sesame oil. Since I was going somewhat Asian, I didn’t add any cheese.

The resulting sauce/spread/condiment was fragrant and flavorful, with the good punch from raw garlic that you can expect in a traditional pesto, but also some more zing from the scallion. The ever-so-slightly bitter and spicy taste of the radish leaves was a great background for those stronger flavors and the soy sauce and sesame oil filled in the rest of a very satisfying flavor profile. It’s quite complex and utterly delicious!

I served the pesto slathered on toasted baguette slices, and I stirred some into a pan of fried rice with eggs. I don’t mind admitting that I ate a bowl of the fried rice for lunch, then ate the rest in guilty increments directly out of the pan before I could pack it away in the refrigerator.

Of course this pesto could be stirred into a pan of noodles (some of the pasta cooking water is great for thinning it into a sauce.) I’m thinking it might also be good as a flavoring for a compound butter that is then spread on bread and topped with radish slices. That will have to wait until those radishes mature, but in the event that they never do, I’m quite content to just eat all of the leaves!

Radish Leaf and Peanut Pesto

about 2 ounces radish leaves (about 2 big handfuls)
1 ounce salted peanuts
1 large garlic clove, peeled and chopped
1 scallion, chopped
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

1. Put the radish leaves, peanuts, garlic and scallion in a food processor. Process until very finely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the processor bowl.

2. In a very small bowl, combine the soy sauce, peanut oil and sesame oil. Turn on the processor and slowly add the soy sauce mixture through the feed tube. Process until very smooth.

Makes a generous ½ cup.

Other recipes like this one: Basic Basil Pesto, Arugula Pesto with Kalamata Olives

One year ago: Peanutty Noodles

Two years ago: Asparagus and Pasta with Balsamic-Tarragon Sauce and Bacon

Monday, May 23, 2011

Morel Compass

Ah, spring. Lilacs and apple blossoms perfuming the air. Green things growing over all of the brown and gray background that had been exposed for the last several months. And, if you know where to find them in this part of the world, morel mushrooms.

It seems, unfortunately, that I lost all my woods-woman skills (I did have some) when I went off to college. Luckily for me, more talented folks forage for morels and bring them into town where I can find them without a GPS device. It seems that one would need inside information to even know in which direction to proceed, and, since I’m a transplant to this area, I ain’t got it. Even the local co-op, which always indicates the place of origin of their produce items, simply printed “from around here” on the sign for the morel mushrooms.

I might not be able to find my way through the woods to a stash of wild mushrooms, but I know my way around the kitchen and my recipe stash pretty well. The problem was that I had actually collected very few (like, two) recipes for dishes containing morels over the years, apparently not being optimistic enough to think I’d ever get my hands on enough of them to cook with. (Also, they are quite expensive, and I’ve only recently felt I could justify their cost.) Other than making this tart again this year, which might still happen, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the morels I brought home.

I could always toss them with pasta, which is often a good way to make a main dish out of a featured, flavorful ingredient. But with what flavors? Alfredo sauce? Hmmm. Close, and maybe do-able, but not quite right. I rolled the nutty, woodsy, buttery taste of the morel around my mind’s palate a little more and it finally came to me: brown butter. It’s nutty and buttery and wouldn’t take over the flavor of the dish. Great. Now, how do I make brown butter?

Well, rather than taking the time to find some good instructions for making proper brown butter, I simply went from my memories of all those instructions that I’d read before. Just because I hadn’t actually applied that knowledge yet didn’t necessarily mean it had gone stale. I hoped. Anyway, there may be a better way to make brown butter than what I did, but what I did was simple and delicious. I simply melted unsalted butter and let it cook until it turned brown, but stopped cooking before it turned black. I poured off the melted butter, leaving behind the sort of blackened solids, and skimmed off the foam that was floating at the top. Viola! Brown butter. I think.

This stuff was all I hoped it would be with the morels and pasta. I sautéed the mushrooms and some garlic in some of the brown butter, added a splash of white wine and some fresh thyme and tossed it all with some more brown butter. This is quite a buttery dish, so if you’re counting calories, you might want to make some adjustments. For me, the rich and nutty flavor is worth the extra naughty fat calories every once in a while, say, just when fresh morels are in season “around here.”

Pasta with Morels and Brown Butter

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 ounces linguine
½ pound morel mushrooms, cleaned very well, trimmed and coarsely chopped
2 medium-size cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon (loosely packed) fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup dry white wine (I used an inexpensive chardonnay)
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan with a light-colored bottom (so you can tell when it has turned brown). Continue to cook a few minutes more until the butter turns golden brown. Remove the foam from the top of the butter. Pour the butter into another container, leaving as much of the blackened solids behind as possible. Set aside.

2. Cook the linguine in boiling salted water until tender or to taste. Drain and set aside.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons of the browned butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds. Move on to the next step if the garlic begins to brown before that time.

4. Add the morel mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently for about 3 minutes or until the mushrooms appear limp and have given off some of their liquid.

5. Add the thyme and wine and cook about 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the liquid has reduced to about half. Add the cooked linguine, salt, pepper and remaining browned butter. Toss to coat the pasta and heat through.

Makes 2 large main-dish or about 4 side-dish servings.

One year ago: Morel Mushroom Galette with Cream Cheese Pastry

Two years ago: Baguette

Friday, May 20, 2011

Gateway Cookies

I’m surprised that my copy of Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce isn’t stained with drool yet. It is, however, liberally tagged with sticky notes, marking the pages of recipes I want to make now. It will probably also one day have splatters of various baking ingredients worn like badges of honor accumulated as I bake my way through this wonderful book. And I will bake my way through this one, at least mostly. I can just tell. Sure, there are a few recipes that I intend to skip (I’m not feeling quite brave enough to put aside my beet hatred to try the Quinoa and Beet Pancakes on p. 140, for example), but I’m already amping up my exercise routine to burn off the extra calories I know I won’t be able to resist.

To kick things off, I tried the recipe I had seen raved about the most on the internet: Chocolate Chip Cookies (p. 41) made with 100 % whole wheat flour. These cookies are indeed quite fabulous. Sure, they’re just a plain chocolate chip cookie, but that’s the whole wonderful surprise. A good, nay, great plain ol’ chocolate chip cookie, can be made with whole wheat flour. All whole wheat flour. With none of the white stuff. None.

These cookies are slightly soft in the middle and crispy on the outside while still a little warm, and they cool into pleasantly crunchy cookies with just a subtle hint of something a bit nuttier, heartier, and whole-grainier than a traditional white flour cookie. They don’t taste like some kind of health-food compromise (plenty of butter, sugar and good-quality dark chocolate see to that). They taste like, well, like a really good chocolate chip cookie.

Whole wheat chocolate chip cookies are just as easy to make as any other chocolate chip cookie. I loved that he recipe calls for cold butter because I usually forget to take some out to soften when I want to bake. I think the best way to tackle the creaming process (blending the butter and sugar) with the cold butter is to use a heavy duty mixer. I think that you might be able to use softened butter if you plan to mix the batter with a spoon or lower-power hand-held mixer.

I used good-quality bittersweet chocolate chips instead of the chopped chocolate bar in the original recipe, but I think that really didn’t change much. Also, the dough in this recipe is designed to go straight from the bowl to the cookie sheet to the oven, but I put aside some dough in the refrigerator to bake a day or two later. The refrigerated dough performed just as well, although I did not notice the improvement in flavor that I usually get from chilling a drop cookie dough before baking.

Since these cookies are so great, I’m left wondering why we don’t just make all or most of our cookies with whole grain flours. To me there was no compromise with the possible exception of crunchiness if you prefer a soft or chewy cookie (and there’s probably a simple way to adjust the recipe if you want something like that.) If you’re on the fence about accepting more whole grains into your life, this cookie might just be the perfect gateway. And if you’re feeding them to a skeptic, just withhold information. They’ll never know they’re eating whole grains.

The recipe for these cookies is on p. 41 of Good to the Grain. An adaptation can also be found at the blog Orangette, and there’s a skillet cookie version at 101 Cookbooks.

Messy Apron recipes like this one: Milk Chocolate Chip and M & M Cookies, Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies with Black Walnuts

One year ago: Spinach and Feta Souffle

Two years ago: Spring Vegetable Tabbouleh

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cookbooks and Tuscan Beans

I’ve decided I’ve been neglecting my cookbooks.  I love them dearly, so this hurts me much more than it hurts them.  It’s not that I abuse them or keep them in a dank, spider-infested cupboard or anything like that.  It’s just that with all the magazine clippings and internet bookmarks I’ve acquired, I really haven’t been cooking from them nearly enough.

And so I gave myself a bit of a Cookshelf Challenge.  I’m going to try to cook at least one new recipe from each of the cookbooks I own.  On the way, I will probably revisit a few old favorites (such as the recipe in this post) as a way to get a running start.  I hope to journal these messy adventures on these pages, sharing recipes when I’ve adapted or rewritten them and offering amateur commentary and page numbers when I haven’t, giving you the chance to look up the original recipe yourself if you’re interested.  There will be lists of the books I’ve cooked from and recipes I’ve tried here as well as links to relevant posts.

Last week, I kind of dug into two cookbooks to get things started: A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider and Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce.  I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ll be cooking my way through most of Good to the Grain.  I love this book, love Boyce’s philosophy, and love baked goods, so I think it’s going to be a fun ride.  More on that book in another post.

While I’ve only owned Good to the Grain for a couple weeks, I’ve had A New Way to Cook since it came out in 2001.  It was probably the first cookbook that I ever just read though, taking in the introductions, descriptions and author enthusiasm for good, fresh home-cooked food.  The first sentence of the introduction is, “The purpose of this book is to introduce you to a way of cooking truly delicious food simply, easily, healthfully, and with pleasure, and to enhance the joy of sharing it.”  In that case, I’m in.

And I have been “in” to this book for years, even though I haven’t cooked from it nearly enough.  It’s not just a collection of traditional recipes re-thought and redesigned to be more healthful, but a guide to varying and improvising upon basic recipes and creating menus based on what’s in season.  Reading and trying a few recipes from this book really allowed me to change the way I approached my pantry, my kitchen and my meals and helped me develop my own “new way to cook.”

When I found lots of cooked white beans in the freezer and bought a new sage plant for the patio garden, I knew I would go straight to the Tuscan Beans with Sage and Garlic.  This is either the first or second recipe I tried in this book. (I can’t remember whether I tried the Cold Spicy Sesame Noodles first.) I’ve made it so often that I don’t tend to go back and look at the recipe before setting out to make it.  I’ve changed a few things, but mostly because I sort of inadvertently migrated from the exact ingredients and procedures.

The recipe is based on the classic Tuscan fagioli al fiasco, which is a wine bottle full of beans, lots of olive oil, fresh sage and garlic that is allowed to bubble away on the embers of the kitchen hearth.  The beans absorb the olive oil and the flavors of the sage and garlic.  Sounds luxurious and heart-warming and decadent beyond belief.  I, however, don’t have a kitchen hearth, so I’m glad that Ms. Schneider shared her technique for cooking the beans in sage- and garlic-infused olive oil in a pan on the stove.  It’s delicious.

First, garlic and sage are cooked over low heat in a small amount (compared to the traditional recipe) of olive oil, then removed from the oil leaving behind their flavorful essence.  The beans are cooked in the oil with a little liquid (I’ve been using white wine, but chicken broth is very good) and absorb the subtle but wonderful flavors the cook has created.  It’s so simple, takes very little time, assuming you have cooked or canned beans on hand, and tastes so good…well, it just tastes so good!

White Beans with Sage and Garlic
Adapted from A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider

5-6 medium to large garlic cloves
about 10 large sage leaves (or up to 20 very small ones)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups cooked white beans (about 2 16-ounce cans) drained and rinsed
¼ cup dry white wine or chicken broth
coarse salt and black pepper to taste

1. Peel the garlic and thinly slice it.  Cut the sage leaves into ¼-inch slices.

2.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the garlic slices and cook a few minutes, just until they begin to brown slightly.  Remove the lightly-browned garlic with a slotted spoon and set aside.

3.  Add the sage to the oil.  Cook for about 1 minute or until the leaves look darker and somewhat crisp.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside with the garlic.

4.  Add the beans and wine or broth to the oil.  Increase the heat to medium.  Cook, stirring gently, until only a little thickened liquid remains in the pan.  Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the cooked garlic and sage.

Makes about 2-3 main dish or 4-6 side dish servings.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Feta Vinaigrette

I learned to cook by reading recipes and following them to the letter, treating them kind of like all the chemistry lab procedures I’d tackled over time (although usually with better results). It was with this less than flexible mindset that I followed a recipe for a Greek Sandwich with Feta Vinaigrette from the May 2001 issue of Cooking Light magazine. It was a vegetarian sandwich with lots of arugula (I think I actually deviated from the printed word by necessity and used something else), tomatoes, olives and cucumbers on sourdough bread. I was really happy about it, or so I remember. It was a long time ago.

I very neatly and accurately recorded the exact recipe, printed it off and placed it in a 3-ring binder. I did not, however, make that sandwich ever again. I’m sure it wasn’t because the recipe was difficult. It was a sandwich for crying out loud.

I didn’t forget it, though, and when I looked at the recipe some time ago, I said to myself, who is now more enlightened when it comes to recipe improvisation, “Hey, dummy, you don’t have to make this as a sandwich. It’s really a salad. On bread, sure, but it’s mostly a salad.” And the most memorable part of that salad was the dressing: a lemon vinaigrette with the feta cheese crumbled right in.

I get pretty excited about salad dressings this time of year, simply because the early greens have to tide me over until the other vegetables have time to grow (although the rhubarb, asparagus and morel mushrooms are coming!). Unlike the original sandwich, this vinaigrette is definitely one I’m going to return to often. It’s delicious enough for me to make sure there are always lemons in the kitchen and feta cheese in the refrigerator. I also added a bit of shallot, which I find to be such an enhancement to even simple vinaigrettes, that it, too, has earned a spot on my regular shopping list.

This tart and cheesy dressing was really nice on my spinach salad and probably would go well with your other spring and summer salad greens. I minimally accompanied my (locally grown!) spinach with a few kalamata olives and some thinly sliced Vidalia onion (because that’s what I happened to have on hand). Some nice, ripe tomatoes and crisp cucumbers would be great to add if they’re in season where you are. Sigh. I’ll still have to wait. Try not to gloat too much.

Feta and Lemon Vinaigrette
Based on a recipe in Cooking Light magazine

1 small to medium garlic clove
a heavy pinch of coarse salt
1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese

1. Mince the garlic clove on a cutting board and sprinkle the salt over it. Make a garlic-salt paste as described in this post. Combine the garlic-salt paste with the shallot and lemon juice in a small bowl.

2. Add the sugar, oregano and pepper and whisk to combine. Whisk in the olive oil until well mixed. Stir in the feta cheese.

Makes enough to dress about 4 side salads. Refrigerate any leftovers for a few days.

Other recipes like this one: Basic Vinaigrette, Chickpea and Olive Salad with Greek Flavors, Deconstructed Spanakopita Salad

One year ago: Seitan Stir Fry with Asparagus, Green Beans and Black Bean Garlic Sauce

Two years ago: Simple Shredded Carrot Salad with Pomegranate Molasses Vinaigrette

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Way It Is

That’s just the way it is this time of year. All of the writers of cooking magazines and blogs are bragging about their fresh spring produce. Going on and on about their mounds of asparagus and fields of rhubarb and passels of peas. Stop, please, you’re hurting my feelings. None of that is here yet. Spring works differently in Minnesota. It comes later, politely allowing winter to linger around keeping those early edibles from growing. We’re lulled into the disappointment on which we were raised and try not to resent all those people in more hospitable climes with spring vegetables and fruits before the month of June. That is until the day the temperature jumps to over 90 degrees Fahrenheit and all we can do is wonder what the hell is going on!

Anyway, when it suddenly feels like summer, I don’t want to be left behind the rest of the food world, eating desserts made from the squash puree I still have in the freezer from last fall. Cool things and perky fruits are in order, at least until the weather cycles itself back to something more normal. And so I gave up on hoping for local or preserved foods to fill that niche and made a blackberry sauce.

I used frozen berries to make this sauce, which are usually of good quality even if they have to be shipped and held frozen for a long time before I can get them. I’m sure you could use fresh blackberries, but I don’t really want to hear about it if you do.

This pleasantly tart and fabulously delicious blackberry sauce is very simple to make. I based it on a recipe in Bon Appetit magazine taking an added flavor suggestion, namely the lime, from this recipe at smitten kitchen. Lemon with berries is great, giving them a bit of a lift in flavor, but lime adds another flavor dimension entirely. In this blackberry sauce, you can really taste the lime, which is brought to you by both lime juice and a bit of zest (removed with a Microplane grater). I also added a splash of vanilla extract, which adds another level of subtle complexity, allowing a hint of a suggestion of key lime pie. It also gives the sauce an even greater affinity for vanilla ice cream.

I’m pretty excited about this sauce (far more excited than I am about the unseasonable heat and humidity) and can’t wait to try it on just about everything. It really is amazing on vanilla ice cream and we blissfully ate it on our pancakes this morning. I’m also thinking of stirring it into yogurt or maybe making some pound cake, just to have something else on which to pour it. I have another bag of blackberries in the freezer, so I could keep going. I also think this same recipe/method is going to be great with other frozen berries, or fresh ones. I’ll just have to dream about the really fresh ones for a while, though, and envy those of you who already have them growing in the tropical jungles around you. I’m sure you’re going to keep rubbing it in. That’s just the way it is.

Blackberry Sauce with Lime and Vanilla
Fresh berries can probably be used to make this sauce. Just adjust the cooking to eliminate thawing time.

12 ounces frozen blackberries
1/3 cup sugar or to taste
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
¼ teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and water. Stir until the cornstarch is completely dissolved. Set aside. Combine the blackberries and sugar in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the berries have thawed and given off some liquid and the sugar has dissolved.

2. When the berries have thawed and softened, mash them coarsely with a potato masher. Increase the heat to medium. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently.

3. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the berry mixture. Return to a boil and cook 30 seconds to 1 minute or until the mixture thickens slightly.

4. Remove from the heat and stir in the lime zest and juice and the vanilla extract. Cool to room temperature or chill.

Makes about 1 ½ cups. Refrigerate leftovers for a few days.

Other recipes like this one: Rhubarb Compote with Brown Sugar and Vanilla Bean, Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce

One year ago: Homemade Seitan

Two years ago: Grilled Potatoes with Lime-Herb Dipping Sauce

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Ham and Cheese, Don't Hold the Onions

It wasn’t until I started writing up this post (or was staring at the computer deciding what to write), that I realized that the Ham and Onion Pie with Rye Crust I made recently is really just a ham and cheese on rye in fancy dress. That is if you consider a load of caramelized onions fancy dress. When it comes to food, I certainly do.

Since spring seems to be dragging its heels, determined to arrive late this year, I’ve been hitting some season-independent recipes. For this one, I began with a clipping from Cooking Light magazine, but by the time I got done making notes and revisions it was just as messy as my apron. I kept the basic procedure and the Jarlsberg cheese, but I stirred the cheese into the onions rather than layering it into the pie (fancy dress.) I slipped a Rye Pie Crust under the filling, replaced the store-bought stuffing mix with homemade rye bread cubes and the Canadian bacon with ham, and cooked the caramelized onions in chicken broth. I also adjusted the seasonings to include caraway seeds.

So there’s a crust with rye on the bottom and a rye crumb topping with ham and Jarlsberg cheese in the middle. There’s even Dijon mustard. If this was a sandwich, it would be just fine. If, however, the person serving me this sandwich asked if I wanted it with onions, of course I’d have to say yes. Caramelized onions, please. Sweet and jammy caramelized onions.

This recipe is significantly more involved than a ham and cheese sandwich, but I like to spend time in the kitchen, making a big mess, and I hope you do too. The blind baked crust, which I described in the previous post and the caramelized onions take the most effort. There aren’t any tricky juggling maneuvers to manage, however, so you can give each part of the pie your full attention. In fact, you won’t even have to pay that much attention to the onions. Just cook them over medium low heat with some added chicken broth (not technically standard procedure for caramelized onions, but quite delicious in this pie), stirring occasionally and adding more broth to keep them from scorching or getting stuck to the pan.

Once the onions are done and have cooled a bit, just stir in the ham and cheese, plus some seasoning and mustard, plop it into the baked rye crust, top it with the bread cube topping, which is kind of like a Thanksgiving stuffing, and bake it. The end product is a rich and savory golden brown pie that takes the ham and cheese sandwich into the formal dining room. The flavors complement each other in such an earthy satisfying way, you won’t mind that spring refuses to arrive. (Disclaimer: yes you will mind. Just let the author savor her delusions along with her pie.)

Ham and Onion Tart with Rye Crust
Based on a recipe in Cooking Light magazine

1 recipe Rye Pie Crust (or other single crust pastry) rolled out and fitted into a 9-inch pie pan

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, divided
4 cups thinly-sliced yellow onion
½ teaspoon coarse (kosher or sea) salt, divided
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided
2 tablespoons butter
1 ½ cups rye bread in ½ -inch cubes
1 teaspoon chopped fresh or crumbled dried sage leaves
½ teaspoon pepper, divided
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, coarsely crushed with the flat of a knife or mortar and pestle
½ cup diced fully-cooked ham
1 cup (about 4 ounces) shredded Jarlsberg cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line the pie crust with aluminum foil and fill with your choice of pie weights (ceramic or metal weights, dry beans, etc.) Bake at 400F for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 375 F.

2. Remove the foil and pie weights from the crust. Brush the crust with 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard. Bake for 5-8 minutes at 375 F or until the crust becomes lightly browned and dry rather than raw and doughy. Set aside on a wire cooling rack.

3. While baking the crust, prepare the caramelized onions. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook the onions about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The onions should be beginning to brown.

4. Add ½ cup chicken broth. Continue to cook the onions about 25 minutes more. Add about ½ cup more of the remaining broth a little at a time as the mixture gets dry and sticky. When the onions are done, they should be very brown and soft, almost jammy. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Stir the onion mixture occasionally to facilitate cooling.

5. Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bread cubes and cook until just beginning to turn brown and toasted, about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. Add the remaining ½ cup broth, and the sage, ¼ teaspoon pepper and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook until the broth is nearly absorbed, stirring gently to avoid breaking up the bread cubes too much. Remove from the heat and set aside.

7. When the onions have cooled slightly (they should at least no longer be steaming), stir into them the remaining 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, remaining ¼ teaspoon pepper, caraway seeds and ham. Stir in the Jarlsberg cheese.

8. Transfer the onion mixture to the baked pie shell, spreading evenly. Top the onion mixture with the bread cube mixture, spreading evenly.

9. Bake the pie at 375 F for 25 minutes. The bread cube topping should be browned. Remove from the oven and cool 10 minutes on a wire rack before slicing and serving.

Makes about 6 servings. Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator, but the crisp texture of the crust will not be maintained upon reheating in the microwave.

Other recipes like this one: Corn and Green Onion Tart with Bacon, Chard Tart with Feta Cheese and Olives, Winter Vegetable Galettes with Cheddar, Mustard and Caramelized Onions

One year ago: Rhubarb Sour Cream Muffins