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Tuesday, September 15, 2020

One Day, Three Projects

The freezer compartment of the refrigerator was filling up. Rhubarb had gone in first, followed by strawberries, both of those in June. Later months brought an abundance of black raspberries. (Black raspberries + strawberries = PJ’s blackstraw jam.) And while fruits were still awaiting disposition into jars, along came sweet corn season. The time had arrived! What better day than Labor Day to do the work?

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

This Salad Needs No Clothes

"Did you take a picture of it?" No! I was too hungry! And we didn't leave much in the big bowl, either. But here are the ingredients:

Fresh corn, steamed on cob and then cut off and chilled
Fresh heirloom tomato, your favorite, cut in bite-size pieces
Sliced black olives
Thinly sliced fresh radishes
Sliced fresh pepper, your favorite kind
Chopped fresh chives

I don't think I've left anything out, but you can add or subtract as you wish. My main point is that this salad needs no dressing. You may add dressing, if you like, and freshly ground pepper is always good, but it is deliciously irresistible just as it is.

The joys of late summer!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

What Made This Simple Supper So Good?

It wasn't anything I planned to post here, so the only image is one of the food on my plate. 

Here's how it went:

In one pan, I browned mild Italian sausage. Into another went diced onion and garlic and eggplant, and, when the vegetables were almost done cooking (in olive oil), fresh diced zucchini, a can of diced tomatoes (because the heirlooms from earlier in the week were all gone), and some herbes de Provence. Finally, sausage into the vegetable pan so the flavors could blend, and then the whole served over spaghetti. Nothing fancy, nothing to "write home about" -- except that it was delicious! 

David gave all the credit for the taste to the sausage, and certainly that taste was in the foreground, along with the herbs, but for me it was the smooth undertone of eggplant that brought everything together. Try it yourself and let me know what you think.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Quarantine Kitchen: Simple Things Most Important

That's what we had for supper tonight, a simple, one-bowl meal of ramen topped with chicken slow-cooked in soy sauce and a few simple vegetables -- sweet potato, broccoli rabe, and garlic. The garlic went into the pan with the chicken, in a light splash of olive oil, before soy sauce or anything else. Garlic cloves cooked in their papery skins and only squeezed out of their coats when the meal was served. Easy and completely satisfying. I have become an unapologetic evangelist for garlic, especially roasted in its skin, either in a pan or in the oven. Just thinking of roasted garlic by itself, smeared on a slice of homemade bread, makes my mouth water. Try it!

Sunday's supper took more preparation, but some of the ingredients had been served up once already. The rice, for example, I'd cooked a couple of nights before, along with cubed beef, onions, and mushrooms in sour cream. So when a neighbor delivered tortillas and beans and uttered the magic words "bean burritos," I was ready to set up an assembly line. First rice in the middle of each tortilla, then beans (to which I'd added cumin and chili powder and my cooked beef cube mixture), then cheese. 

Next I wrapped the tortillas around the filling and arranged them in a re-usable and already much-used foil oven baking container, anointed them with salsa, and added more cheese on top. I was generous with the cheese. Dollops of sour cream I added only when about ten minutes of oven time remained.

And then, did I photograph the burritos as they came out of the oven? Or even as they were served on plates? I did not! I was too hungry to think of reaching for a camera, but here is the last one in the pan before attacked by a fork. It may not look like much, but I assure you it was delicious.

I believe two simple things made these burritos the best I've ever made, and both came from the neighbor. Beans. Tortillas. The beans were pinto beans, which we have come to love so much here in the Southwest that I don't think I'll ever go back to kidney beans again. Chili with rich, creamy pinto beans? You haven't had chili until you've tried it that way. And then, the tortillas. Back in Michigan, I only buy tortillas at NJ's Grocery in Lake Leelanau. The tortillas the neighbor brought us came from South Tucson, and taking them out of the package, I could tell immediately that they were superior to anything I'd found at Safeway. They looked and felt different -- thin and delicate, not at all rubbery (which is not a good feel for a tortilla).

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Quarantine Kitchen: Roaring Success with Sourdough Crust Pizza

My first-ever homemade sourdough starter has been active for a while now, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t carry me through this stay-at-home time. As an added bonus (besides delicious baking smells filling the place where we shelter), frequent baking is a welcome relief from continuous national news. So on Saturday I resolved to make pizza.

For a pizza dough recipe, I used one offered online by King Arthur Flour. That recipe calls for a first rising time of four to six hours, and three hours worked just fine for me on Saturday. By then the dough had risen sufficiently and, when punched down, was so beautifully stretchy that my excitement leaped upward. Such a happy moment! But one I could not photograph, my hands busy with dough.

Here was the basic layout for putting together my pizza:

My sauce was homemade, beginning with tomato paste from a tube (love this stuff!) and adding water, salt, rosemary, and oregano. (Other herbs would have been possible, but these are the ones I had on hand.) I also roasted three large garlic cloves in their paper skins, in olive oil, in a small skillet. That trick I picked up from an old Julia Child TV show and will be using often from now on. You can see the beautiful golden garlic mashed on the little green plate in the photo above. And in the white bowl you see four meatballs. The last time I made meatballs, we had two meals from them, and these four went into the freezer. Thawed and crumbled, they provided a sausage substitute for the pizza. I also sliced part of a red onion very thin. Black olives were the final touch. 

Olive oil drizzled into the pan and spread by hand is all that's needed before the dough is spread in the pan, covered, and left to rest for about 15 minutes before toppings are added.

Now comes the big tip I picked up from that online recipe. Really, if you love pizza and love making it at home, this could change your life! Do not put the cheese on the pizza before you put it into the oven! 

Does that strike you as strange? Counter-intuitive? Heretical? Here’s how the online site explained it: If cheese is added immediately, it serves as a “lid” that holds in moisture from sauce and other ingredients, and that is what turns crust turns soggy instead of crusty! 

Baking time for the pizza will vary with the thickness of the crust – longer time for thick crust, shorter for thin – but this is not rocket science: you can peek into the oven and see how things are going. As a general rule, about 2/3 of the way through the baking process, pull the pizza out of the oven and add the cheese topping. (Another step I failed to photograph in my excitement – sorry!) Then, back into the oven for the remainder of the baking time.

Does that look beautiful? My first sourdough crust pizza could have used more sauce than I made for it, and I forgot the sliced fresh tomatoes I meant to add, but those minor criticisms were all mine. As for the opinion that really counts, I was told, “This is best pizza crust I’ve had in my life!” He told of his first Chicago pizza and how much he’d loved it -- but said my crust was better! Best ever! Now that’s what I called a roaring success!

P.S. I know we are spending a lot of time in our kitchens these days, as well as a lot of time in front of various screens, but I do hope I have company in my reading, too, and my current mission (as a bookseller far from her currently closed bookstore) is to read and review some of the new books coming out this season. Please take a look at my Books in Northport blog and learn about new books I'm showcasing there.

For now, happy cooking, happy baking, and happy reading! This pandemic won't last forever, and one day we will see each other again, face to face. Until then, stay safe!

Monday, April 6, 2020

Quarantine Kitchen: A Sauce That Goes With Everything (Except Maybe Dessert)

Do you know what this is?

I’ve decided not to number each dish or recipe or even each Quarantine Kitchen post individually. What if the numbers reached triple digits? That would be disheartening, wouldn’t it? So I’ll just go along from now on, one day at a time, combining more than one experiment into each post. Today, for example, I have to report one blazing success, one save, and one near-complete flop. I’d call that last a complete flop, except that my quarantine partner was happy with the results, and we did eat them. First, however, the success.

“What is it?” neighbor Therese asked during our walk with dogs, when I told her neighbor Dorothy had suggested I make a batch of chimichurri with parsley from her, Dorothy’s, greenhouse. I’d never heard of chimichurri before and was reminded of a song from the “Mary Poppins” (the movie) sung — well, performed — by Dick Van Dyke. 

I packed that quarter-cup measure full

When you look up chimichurri, as I know you will and I encourage you to do, you’ll learn that it is an Argentinian sauce, used as often in Argentina as red and green salsa are here in the borderland, though it has more in common with Italian pesto. You’ll also quickly realize that there is great controversy about which ingredients may be included, which must be, and which would make any self-respecting Argentinian roll over in his or her grave. For instance, one recipe I read online got five stars and raves in the form of “I love this recipe!” from several readers, while others were outraged and said it was “not chimchurri at all!”

Maybe mine was "not chimchurri at all" — who am I to judge? — but I can tell you that we loved it!

I have no food processor but am now possessed of a simple blender, and that would have to do. Chopped fresh parsley (1/4 cup), chopped garlic (4 big cloves), balsamic vinegar, salt, crushed red pepper, and oregano went into the blender. 

Right from the start, though, I had to make adjustments in the basic recipe I'd chosen to follow: (1) With no red wine vinegar on hand, balsamic vinegar would have to do; however, it is a very strong-flavored vinegar, so (2) I reduced the three tablespoons to two tablespoons and added a tablespoon of water to make up the difference. Also, (3) as I had no oregano leaves but only ground oregano (oregano molido), I cut that amount in half as well. (4) Olive oil was to be added only when the parsley mixture went from food processor to bowl, but in my case, as it began in the blender I added some of the olive oil then and there, for the sake of consistency. 

Getting all that in the bowl at last, I added the remainder of the olive oil, after which it had to sit 10 minutes before being stirred. The suspense was nerve-wracking! After stirring and a tiny, tentative taste, there was still the suspense of how the sauce would work to complement the evening’s chicken. 

With olive oil floating on top before stirring

The photo at the top of the screen today is the final product. 

I neglected to photograph the plated dinner but can report that the the sauce was delicious not only on the chicken but also on the sweet potato and steamed broccoli! And that the following evening it brought a fresh tomato salad to sparkling life! Dorothy tells me it’s good simply spread on bread, so there’s something we can try in the days ahead.

Chimichurri — resounding success in the quarantine kitchen and something that will spark up our meals for, I hope, many years to come!

Something else, an experiment that was disappointing on the first day, turned around and became (surprisingly) glorious by the second. I had been preparing an entire post on bananas and how there’s more you can do with them than make banana bread. For example (and I have photographs for these), banana pancakes. For a more obvious example, fruit smoothies.

Handy new blender again
I make my own yogurt at home during the months my bookstore is closed, but one of the tricks of making yogurt is to avoid ultrapasturized milk. Sadly, the last time I shopped, all I could find was ultrapasteurized. What would happen? I tried and found out. The yogurt did not set up but had a runny, gooey, gluey consistency. Oh, well, I could put it on my granola, couldn’t I? And how could it hurt a fruit smoothie?

Substandard homemade yogurt, a couple of very ripe bananas, mango-coconut juice, a handful of blueberries and a handful of raspberries from the freezer all went into the blender. The result was drinkable. The taste was all right. The consistency, however, was disappointing. Not like a smoothie at all. My quarantine partner (known in my main blog as the Artist) turned down the offer of a disappointing smoothie, and I couldn’t blame him at all.

Not the best I've ever made
But waste not, want not. I am my grandmother’s daughter! Into the fridge it went. And lo and behold! The next day the consistency and texture had undergone a transformation! My smoothie (and it still tasted good) had become rich and thick and velvety smooth. Very satisfying!

A miracle!

I’ll note one more experiment but without a single image and without detailing the foolish improvisation I made that led to failure. The experiment was cheese popovers. Cheese popovers were one of my mother specialties, and for years someone has entreated me to make them for him. Okay, it felt like the time had come. We needed a treat. Long story short: they didn’t pop. I have figured out what I did wrong, though, and the next time will be a success — with pictures.

Thanks for visiting. Hope you are managing to enjoy a few experiments in your quarantine kitchen. -- I should say "sheltering-in-place kitchen" but the sound works better with the stronger word.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Quarantine Kitchen, Episodes #2, #3, #4: Treats and Exercise Together

Kale on the left, parsley on the right
I'm going to try to condense several projects into one post because, really, how many words do I need to accompany food photos? The beautiful fresh greens above came to us courtesy of a neighbor here in Dos Cabezas who has a flourishing greenhouse. Well, she did lose tomato plants to the last killing frost, but she still has plenty of bounty to share. So I decided to take the kale by the leaves and make roasted kale chips, a snack my stepdaughter Maiya swears by. Here's how it went.

Remove stems
The stems are bitter, and you don't want them. Also, to remove bitterness from the leaves, the part you do want, you drizzle them olive oil and massage it in. Yes, massage. I know. Weird. Never thought I would be massaging a vegetable. 

Some recipes I consulted use only salt. Some recommend sea salt and cumin, and I liked the sound of that. Another possibility was garlic salt, but I didn't go that route. What do you like, and what spices do you have on hand? An idea I really liked was dusting almond flour for added crispness, but I didn't have almond flour. I thought of cornmeal, but the only cornmeal in my cupboard right now is a rather insipid variety, not the Bob's Red Mill stuff I much prefer. So I ground up slivered almonds in my spice grinder to make 1/4 cup of what I called almond flour, added sea salt and cumin and tossed the olive oil-coated kale leaves with it.

Next, spread them out on a sheet for the oven. Maiya had said a 200 degrees Fahrenheit, one recipe said 315, so I split the difference and set the oven at 250.

How did the kale chips turn out? They are very fragile and delicate, for one thing. We liked them. But my husband pronounced them -- and I did not even know this word was in his vocabulary; have never heard him use it before -- oversalted! Okay! Less salt next time!

The parsley went into tabbouleh, one of my personal favorites, although there was no cucumber in it this time. I don't mind buying green bananas and having them go brown, but a cucumber that goes soft in the fridge isn't good for anything that I can see. And while I was sure I had photographed the tabbouleh at a couple of stages, plus in a pita pocket with yogurt, I don't find those photos. Okay, I've got one image of the last bit of tabbouleh. It didn't last long. 

But here's a thought I had. Massaging kale -- does that count as exercise? Did I cover two health birds with one kitchen project?

Not all our treats are green, but exercise comes in more vigorous forms than massaging kale. What about creaming butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon for chocolate chip cookies?

Then mixing in all that flour, again by hand! I'm calling it exercise, friends. And greasing twelve separate little cookie beds in a muffin tin? More exercise. You do it your way, I'll do it mine. 

We like the crispy results
One more closing thought on treats and exercise: making bagels involves a good, long ten minutes of kneading, and when kneading dough by hand you realize just how long ten minutes can be. That counts as exercise, for sure -- and there are the delicious bagels at the end of the project. I wasn't sure the ones I made last weekend were my best-ever bagels, but revisiting them, as we did daily until all 12 were gone, I gave myself higher marks each day. (For entire wordless bagel story, see here.) They were delightfully crispy and chewy and, wow, just so worth the effort! 

Last two bagels! Time to make more!