Monthly Archives: August 2014

Pesto Tomato Toasts

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I wouldn’t call this bruschetta. But I guess it’s similar. More like an open-face sandwich maybe. Anyway, a fantastic way to celebrate those glorious tomatoes that are at the market these days (by far my favorite time of year for produce. SO MANY COLORS. Is great). 

(This also happens to be an excellent use of all that pesto you have been making…)

One time a couple summers ago I was so inspired by the tomatoes I went out and bought a gallon of milk to make fresh mozzarella, which is surprisingly easy (as long as you can find raw or at least unpasteurized milk). At some point I shall share some cheese-making adventures with you, although it’s been a little while.

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Inspired yet?

I don’t really feel like I need to give you a recipe for these but for consistency’s sake…

Pesto Tomato Toasts
Bread
Pesto (any variety, although I am partial to basil here)
Zucchini, if you want
Fresh cheese (I recommend goat cheese or fresh mozzarella)
Tomatoes
Salt and pepper (I forgot this the first time and it makes such a difference!)

Thinly slice and quickly sauté the zucchini, if using. Toast the bread (unless you have ridiculously fresh bread). Spread with pesto, then zucchini, cheese, and tomatoes (I like this order because otherwise the tomato juice can make the bread a little soggy). You can also drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar if you want. Admire, then stuff into your face. 

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A BLT is another fabulous medium for those fresh tomatoes. I really don’t think I need to give you a recipe for those… B, L, T. ‘Nuff said (just make sure you get good quality ingredients).

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P.S. Check out my new paring knife—my other one broke (it was a bad day) and so I have attained a new one with the help of my father. Good knives are essential to successful cooking. Shiny, yes?

 

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SK’s Burst Tomato Galette with Corn and Zucchini

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I have made this a few times now—I discovered the recipe last summer—and I’m kind of obsessed. The combination of vegetables is fantastic and a galette (which is like a pie but more rustic: a pie crust just folded over the filling rather than in a pie pan) is somehow tremendously exciting, not to mention beautiful.

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The recipe is from Smitten Kitchen, no need to repeat it here. And if you haven’t checked out the rest of her site before you have a fun few hours (/days) ahead of you, Smitten Kitchen is one of my favorite cooking blogs and probably one of the most famous.

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Cooking down the veggies so they don’t make the crust soggy
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Check out those gobs of fat! Makes it nice and flaky (although I think this crust would be perfectly acceptable with a little less butter)

I brought this to a potluck last weekend and it was well received, as it has been on previous occasions. Yum yum yum.

Cheesy Roasted Cabbage

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This is one of those dishes that I made after coming home thinking “What can I possibly eat for dinner?” and opening the fridge for inspiration. I don’t keep a whole lot of ingredients in my fridge other than vegetables and cheese, and lots of dishes require more planning (soaking beans, thawing frozen chicken, etc) than I was ready for. However, it was slightly damp out and I felt like roasting something, and I figured that cabbage and cheddar would go well together, so I did what I usually do and asked the Internet what it thought.

(The way that I cook is to decide what ingredient/s to use, and then ask my cookbooks or the Internet for some inspiration: books for general ideas, the Internet for more specific suggestions about ratios and additions, etc. It seems to work pretty well for me, still learning cooking techniques and combinations.)

Turns out cabbage gratin is an actual thing, but I didn’t have any milk, and besides I wanted something crispy rather than a casserole (I think I may have something against casseroles. Maybe I will like them in the winter). Fortunately Whole Foods had a few easily adaptable good ideas for additions.

Basically this is roasted cabbage with some melted cheddar and a few extras: mustard for flavor and cornmeal for texture.

Cheesy Roasted Cabbage
Cabbage (about 1/3 of a large head was good for me for dinner)
Olive oil and salt
1/2 cup cheddar
2 tsp mustard, or to taste
Maybe 1/4 cornmeal
Pepper
Other herbs! Such as parsley

Preheat oven to around 400ºF. Chop cabbage up, mix with a little salt and oil and put in a pan in the oven while you prep the rest of the ingredients. Grate the cheese and wash/chop the parsley. After the cabbage has roasted a little while by itself (maybe 20 minutes), mix in about half the cheese and the other ingredients. Add a little water if you need to (the Whole Foods recipe has you use chicken broth, which I think would be good—I just didn’t feel like something soggy). Roast about 15 minutes longer, then add the rest of the cheese on top and bake until crispy on top (maybe another 10 minutes, although I was getting a little impatient at that point). Serve hot.

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Seared Scallops in White Wine

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I’ve mentioned this before for other foods: sometimes I feel like there is really only one way to prepare something. Tofu is meant to be soaked in soy sauce and fried. Basil is meant to be put into pesto. And scallops are meant to be seared quickly and enjoyed over some sort of grain with vegetables and a light sauce.

Maine is known for its selection of seafood. This fortunately ensures easy access to delicious fish and other salt-dwelling creatures. These scallops I bought at the farmer’s market from Pemaquid Lobster and Seafood; this will be happening again.

Scallops are one of my favorite types of seafood. I also love good salmon (preferably wild), tuna, and a variety of other fish, as long as it is cooked very gently (there is a rather unfortunate plethora of overcooked fish in the world). I have never seen a live scallop but apparently they look like this:

Photo from the Scallop Shack

If you are interested in reading about the sustainability of seafood and America’s very bizarre trade system for fish, I recommend Paul Greenberg, who has researched and written extensively on the topic. Listening to his interview on NPR’s Fresh Air is a good place to start. Given the state of seafood availability in this nation, it makes sense not to eat a lot of it. Yet seafood can and should play an important role in the diet and food system of New England generally, as is highlighted in A New England Food Vision, a report about the possibilities for a sustainable food system in the region. The bottom line: if you can find good quality, carefully sourced seafood in your area (that hasn’t been to China and back), eat it.

Seafood also has a slightly different definition of local for me than produce that is cultivated on land, because it can travel more (well, maybe not scallops. But certainly many kinds of wild fish) by itself before being caught and consumed. It’s pretty interesting to consider fishing a kind of open-source farming—the main difference between the two is that the sea is a public resource, and land is private; they have to managed accordingly.

Anyway, once you’ve successfully sourced your seafood, you probably want to cook it. Find it and eat it as fresh as possible—raw fish is not something you want lying around in your fridge for a while.

Seared scallops in White Wine
Vegetables
Pasta, or other grain
About 5 scallops—mine were small—or however many you want to eat (they are expensive, so I wouldn't go too crazy, but that's up to you)
1 (or so) tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper (lemon pepper would also be good)
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup white wine

Prepare the vegetables and base first, since this will take longer—I had pasta and very lightly sautéed some fresh green beans and summer squash.

Remove the small side muscle from the scallops if you like (I forgot about this and just ate it—it gets chewier than the rest of the scallop but is alright). If they are not clean, rinse them off an pat dry. Rub the scallops with salt and pepper—mine came in a bag, so I just threw a little seasoning in the bag and shook it around a bit. Heat up a pan with the oil over fairly high heat (obviously I used cast iron, since that’s my only pan, and it does sear nicely although I’ve heard that cast iron is not ideal for seafood because it absorbs some of the oils or something, so you want to make sure to clean it properly). When the pan is quite hot, place the scallops in. Let them sizzle for a minute or two depending on how big they are (no longer!) before flipping them over or moving them at all—they should have a nice golden brown crisp outside. Flip them and cook for another minute or so, until the other side is also seared. Remove from pan and place on top of your pasta and veggies.

With the pan still on, pour in the wine and the lemon. Scrape around to get all the caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan and cook until the sauce it reduced a bit—mine remained pretty liquidy, and I was totally happy with that (you can also throw in some scallions or something if you like). You don’t want it to take long or your scallops will get cold. Pour over the rest of the plate, get yourself a glass of wine, and enjoy.

This is not so very different from cooking other seafood as well: salt, pepper, lemon, and I usually like lots of garlic on my fish, cooked very quickly in a hot pan. I’ve been to restaurants that have pecan-crusted halibut or other similar dishes and somehow it just doesn’t fit—pecans are too heavy for the light, soft flaky flesh. To each her own I suppose.

Summer squash salad

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Well, it’s happened. I have too many vegetables. My CSA pickup was yesterday and I still have a bunch of carrots and a whole cabbage and a variety of other goodies from last week. And I never seem to have enough eggs to eat them with at breakfast. Thankfully most of them keep a while. We shall see.

As we are in the throes of summer squash season (pretty sure zucchini is a type of summer squash, so that applies here too), I thought I’d feature the lovely mild golden vegetable here. With a few of the growing number of tomatoes (does it seem very late for tomatoes this year? Maybe because I’ve been further south in years past. I cannot even express how excited I am about tomatoes).

Anyway, like most salads, in fact most things I’ve been posting, this is pretty simple. I guess that’s kinda my style. I did happen to stumble across a recipe for this, in one of my new cookbooks (!), The New Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone by Deborah Madison. But it is not dissimilar from something I would otherwise throw together: veggies, cheese, vinegar.

Summer squash salad
1 summer squash
Olive oil
2 cloves of garlic (I happen to have fresh, but use whatever)
1 ripe tomato (a few small ones would also be good here)
Several basil leaves
Feta
A few teaspoons of your favorite vinegar (I like red wine)
Salt and pepper

Cut up the squash in thin rounds. I like to wash it and slice it between a small knife and my thumb right into the pan. Sauté with oil and garlic until soft and slightly translucent (I tend to err on undercooking them, because I like to maintain a bit of crunch). Meanwhile, chop up the tomato and place with the basil and cheese in a bowl. When the squash is done, add that to the bowl. Top with vinegar, salt, and pepper. Taste, and enjoy. Eat warm or cold.

As I alluded to, this adheres to some essential tenets of salads and vegetarian cooking. The most important ingredients are vegetables, oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. You can do magical things with these basic components. To make it a full meal, add some form of protein: cheese, nuts, seeds, beans. I often bring a salad topped with a bit of goat cheese and some sunflower seeds to work (read how to pack a salad in a jar here). And I remember a few summers ago where I was using a random selection of ingredients to make a couple different dishes: green beans with vinegar and almonds (I think I roasted these with soy sauce if I remember correctly); and zucchini with fresh ricotta and a little lemon juice.

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Falafel

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I have no idea why I’ve never made falafel from scratch before. It is SO DELICIOUS. And somehow very exciting. New. Fresh. Crispy. Crunchy. Nom. Falafel is interesting because unlike most bean/legume dishes, you don’t cook the beans (chick peas in this case) before incorporating them. Instead, you soak them until soft enough to grind up. Do so, mix with some herbs, spices, and lemon juice, and fry as little patties, or balls if you have enough oil.

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This isn’t necessarily something I’d recommend doing for just yourself. But it’s a great dish for company, and actually works okay for one person if you refrigerate everything partway through for Day 2 of falafel.

This recipe is from Mark Bittman, who I’ve mentioned is amazing.

Falafel
1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas
3 cloves of garlic (or to taste)
1 cup fresh parsley
1 small onion (I didn't have one but it would be good)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 Tbsp ground cumin
Salt and pepper
1/2 tsp baking soda (although I am curious as to how this changes it)
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Oil for frying

Let the chickpeas soak for at least 12 hours (I put mine to soak in the morning, but overnight would work too) in quite a lot of water—they will expand. Once soft enough, put most of them in a blender until minced nice and small.  Add the rest, along with all the other ingredients, and blend until fairly smooth but still minced rather than puréed. Taste and season, and add a tiny bit of water if it doesn’t stick together at all (go easy on the water).

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Meanwhile, heat up your oil—I only used maybe half an inch but more better if you have it—until quite hot. Spoon out the batter and kind of mesh it into the spoon before placing it into the pan. You may have to edge some escaped crumbs back into the patty. Cook until brown on one side, them carefully flip over and brown on the other side. They should be quite crispy. Remove from pan and place on some paper towels on a plate. Repeat with the rest of the batter (you can also refrigerate the batter if you don’t want to eat it all at once—much better that than eating leftover cooked falafel).

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Now, for the veggies (you may also want to prep these earlier, to eat the falafel hot). I like tomatoes, carrots, and cucumbers but you can add whatever you want. Radishes would be a good addition, or celery. Chop up until small.

Yogurt Dressing
Olive oil
Garlic, minced to your liking
Yogurt
Lemon juice
Tahini (optional)

Heat up the garlic in oil in the microwave for about 10 seconds. Mix in yogurt, lemon juice, and tahini and stir until blended together (there will be chunks of garlic still). This is also good on other things, like lamb meatballs (maybe add a little mint).

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Pita is traditional for falafel. I didn’t have any, but I was making bread that day so I flattened a bit of the dough and it sort of turned into mini-pitas, which worked pretty well. Stuff everything into the pita and enjoy. I sometimes like mixing it all together with the sauce first (or at least the veggies) to get the proper sauce-to-filling ratio.

Yum.

Weekend Brunch: Omelette

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Hello, mes chers amis, mes chères amies. I hope you have been off baking bread.

During the week, I pretty much eat yogurt and fruit for breakfast every day, which I love and somehow don’t get tired of. It’s funny how breakfast seems like a much more personal affair than any other meal, and also okay to be repetitive. Perhaps it’s because we aren’t taught to take part in family breakfast the way we are for family dinner. Many people don’t even eat breakfast (silly people. Breakfast is delicious and awesome).

Brunch, however, is an occasion. Even by yourself, it feels much more leisurely, meant to be enjoyed over a long cup of tea. And that calls for something a little fancier.

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You have heard about how I am obsessed with eggs. Well, here is another rendition of that enthusiasm.

Single Omelette
Cheese: asiago, cheddar, swiss...basically whatever you like (err on the light side in terms of amount)
Meat, if you want (chorizo would be good, or bacon pieces)
Veggies: zucchini, broccoli, garlic scapes, tomatoes, onions, potatoes...
2 eggs
A splash of milk (or water if you have none)
Salt, pepper, and other herbs/spices (I like oregano or parsley)
Olive oil

Grate the cheese and cook whatever meat you are using, if any. Gently sauté the veggies in oil for a few minutes until mostly soft but still a little crunchy. Take them out of the pan and put them on a plate, top with the cheese.

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Mix the eggs with the milk or water and seasonings with a fork until smooth. Heat up the pan (it helps to have a small pan. I only have one pan and it is a 10-inch cast iron, which really is too big for a proper omelette, but somehow it worked out okay) with a little oil. Pour in the egg mixture—it should form a very thin layer. You can kind of swirl around the pan (again, this is hard with a giant, heavy pan) and lift up what is cooking to get the liquid layer underneath. This whole process takes maybe 30 seconds.

When there is just a little liquid left on top of the egg in the pan, add in your veggies/cheese/etc. Put them on one side of the omelette and then fold over the other half. Turn of the heat, slide it out back onto the plate (no sense in getting extra dishes dirty), and eat. Excellent paired with some buttered toast or home fries (cut up potatoes, either raw or cooked. Salt/pepper/paprika. Cook in hot oil in a pan until cooked and crispy).

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This is from a few summers ago, and is a little thicker in a smaller pan, as you can (sort of) see.

The Bread Diaries: Intro + Sourdough

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(Note: this is a long post (although mostly because there are a bunch of pictures). If you just want some general bread tips, scroll down near the bottom, where I have bolded some general tips I have collected.)

I have been making a lot of bread lately. Part of it is that I inherited some sourdough starter from my previous roommate, and that encourages you to make copious amounts of bread like nothing else. Then we had an event that could use up excess bread and, well, I went a little crazy.

But, I do feel like I learned some things. Bread (like anything else) gets easier and more intuitive with practice. That said, it is fairly easy to make good bread without practice, although if you are looking for a specific type it can be a little trickier. My favorite beginner easy recipe is the famous New York Times no-knead bread recipe, which also might be one of my favorite all-time breads, especially with a little whole wheat.

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I am also a big fan of ciabatta, which I’ve been working on recently, or a general good rustic loaf/pain de campagne: good rise, chewy, crusty, holy.

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I’m going to include links to a couple different recipes here. To be honest, I think bread takes some personal time to really get used to. But there are sites that can help you speed up your journey. I’ve mentioned King Arthur flour before, and how I like them because they are a B-Corporation, but also because they have a tremendous lexicon of recipes (and a great blog called Flourish. What a great name). They have a good sourdough rustic loaf recipe, as well as a general rustic loaf with detailed instructions. This is one of my favorite kinds of bread and very doable.

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Let me talk about sourdough a little. I have to admit, in the beginning having a sourdough starter was a little stressful. It was like getting a new pet. Or at least another plant (of which I have quite a few), but one that required feeding EVERY DAY. At the same time each day. Absurd. Before that scares you off, I have now determined that keeping sourdough in the fridge is perfectly acceptable, and means you only have to feed it (which means using it, as I’ll explain in a second) every week or two.

A starter is basically a mix of flour, water, and yeast. You can actually pay a lot of money for a good starter, basically paying for the flavors of the yeast collection. Some have been maintained for thousands of years or something. That all seems a little crazy to me – yeast is alive, and my guess is that it adapts to the local environment, which will change the flavor profile of your bread; so paying for an amazing Italian starter (also known as a biga) will only get you so far. Not that I’m an expert or anything. P1010960

I keep my starter in a jar, covered with a coffee filter. If you keep it out, you feed it every day, maybe even twice a day. Begin with half a cup of starter, and add a little less than a cup of flour and about half a cup of water. Stir. The next day it should grow (it’s alive, how exciting!), and will crest and then fall again. Sourdough Home has more details on this process if you are looking for more resources. How much it rises depends on temperature, humidity, etc. I usually end up with about 1 1/2 cups of starter. Take out a cup – this is what you bake with – and then feed the remaining half a cup again to keep it going.

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The cup that you have taken out is ready to be used! I have mostly been making sourdough like I would normal bread, except without yeast (although sometimes I do add a little extra yeast if I’m worried my sourdough wasn’t very happy that day). And I’ve been experimenting, and honestly I think you can do pretty much whatever the heck you want with bread. Basic guidelines: 1 cup starter, 3 cups flour, 1 cup water, 1 tsp salt. Mix it up, knead, and let it rise.

Watching the rise:

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At the end of the first rise: very high, lots of bubbles
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Check out those gluten strands!
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Ready for a second rise
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Ta-da!

Some tips: All bread is essentially flour, water, salt, and yeast. More water will make a holier dough, like ciabatta, but it also makes it more difficult to knead and keep shape (I am currently making a loaf with a lot of water that is rather flatter than I intended, because it kept spreading out on the baking sheet. Hence the NYTimes tip of putting it in a pot). However, you can still knead wet, sticky dough – just keep your hands wet. Wet dough doesn’t stick to wet hands. Either keep a bowl of water at hand or keep one hand clean to turn on the sink if you are close by. A cold rise (i.e. put it in the fridge) I think is what makes it chewier, although that is a fairly recent hypothesis. When using sourdough, less starter and a longer rise means more sourdough flavor, because it has more time to develop. If you want to use whole wheat, make sure you add at least half white flour or it won’t rise properly (unless you don’t mind having a dense bread). Whole grains are a good addition to lots of breads. Eggs will make a richer dough, as will butter. Oil and honey or other sweetener makes it softer. For a hard crust, spray with water (in a clean spray bottle) every few minutes for the first 15 minutes or so of baking (I still don’t have a spray bottle, which is a little silly because they are pretty inexpensive, so I’ve just been taking handfuls of water and throwing them into the oven. It sprays around a lot but seems to work). Transfer to a cooling rack right after taking it out of the oven to prevent the bottom crust from getting soggy.

Storing: crusty breads can be kept on the counter, without a bag or anything. Just prop them up on the cut end. Other breads should be kept in a bag. They keep fresh for a few days. All breads also freeze super well – usually I make a loaf, eat about half of it, then slice and freeze the rest (make sure to slice before freezing, it makes your life a lot easier. Unless you want a fresh whole loaf for future dinner parties, in which case you can freeze whole, and then warm it up by putting it in a cold oven, then turn on the oven to about 400 and leave it in for about 20 min, depending on the size of the loaf).

If you are looking for something a little homier (meant to be slathered with plenty of butter, even more so than most breads), Easy Little Bread from 101 Cookbooks (who also have a good ingredient search and some good recipes if you want more vegetable ideas) is a good recipe.

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You can also add stuff to bread. I made dill bread using Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, which turned out very well. I have also made cinnamon swirl bread (without the topping), although I messed up the egg bit and added a little too much filling, so it pooled in one section of the loaf. I do like egg filling better than just butter/sugar/cinnamon though. I think I’ll make separate posts for those later.

Happy bread making! Have fun! Post questions!

Zucchini Fritters with Beans

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Okay, so I actually used summer squash. I pretty much interchange them, although they are not the same.

These were good but I have a feeling they needed just a little something else. A drizzle of chili sauce, maybe. Or some other form of condiment. Or maybe a little kick in the batter. The problem must be that I didn’t totally follow the recipe, which called for a chili in it, because I didn’t have a chili. Oh well.

I’ll give you a few recipe ideas, since I have not yet perfected it: the ones I made were from Rancho Gordo, and I imagine they will be better later in the season when I get some peppers. However, I also (the next day, of course) came across this recipe from Saveur, which also looks excellent. Let me know what you come up with in the comments!

The basic of vegetable fritters/pancakes/whatever is grated vegetable that is strained, mixed with a few things, and fried/griddled. Same basic idea for latkes. Fresh corn cakes you don’t have to strain.

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Once fried, I topped them with local Jacob’s Cattle beans I had made the night before and some veggies. I love beans. I probably have told you that already. They are delicious and earthy. And Jacob’s Cattle beans are so pretty (granted, they are less so when cooked. But more delicious).

Dried beans are much tastier than canned beans, and feel more like a dish in themselves than an ingredient. Dry beans are also very cheap, so make for good budget food. If you like, you can make a big batch and them freeze them so you have them on hand for quick meals.

I like soaking my beans, although I’ve cooked them successfully unsoaked before, so if you are unprepared, you can still enjoy them. Keep in mind that they do take a while to cook though, and cooking time can be a little unpredictable (depends on elevation, the season, the weather, your mood…).

Basic Beans
Beans
Water
Seasoning (cumin is great, whatever you like)
Salt (wait!)

Put the beans in a large-ish pot (at least twice the size of the amount of beans you are cooking) and cover with at least an inch of water. Let soak for 12 hours or overnight.

Keep the soaking water! It will make them juicier and more delicious. Add a little extra water if they have soaked everything up, and spices if you like (these can also be added partway through the cooking process). Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer (you should have a nice burbly sound happening) for about an hour. When they are getting tender, THEN you can add the salt (otherwise they won’t cook. I’ve never actually done that, but everyone says). Cook a little more until nice and soft (there still should be some thick juices in the bottom, don’t let it go dry. If you have to add water I like adding boiling water. You can also add stock if you like, or even cook them with some bones or bits of meat to make them a little richer).

Top with whatever you like, and enjoy! I had the fritters, beans, tomato, parsley, tomatoes, and some slivered cheese. I look forward to doing them again with a little corn on top, or maybe a cilantro sauce.