Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Eternal Optimist

It seems to me that one has to be, at heart, somewhat of an optimist to cook.

Whether you believe in some larger picture of the universe, or some particular religion, or are simply wallowing along in your own happy bubble, transforming raw ingredients into something more substantial requires a fundamental belief in the idea that the reward will exceed the time and effort put into the cooking.

You consider all the demands placed on the proposed dish – low fat, something new and exciting, use up that stuff in the back of the fridge, it’s a school night and everyone has to get to bed early, clothes are not fitting so well anymore, etc..

You consider the choices – seasonal produce, amount of gas left in the car, anticipated trade off between criticism and complements from different family members based on final dish prepared, the thought of having to eat rice / potatoes / pasta / whatever for the third night in a row.

You look at the alternatives – watch Monday Night Football and try to shut out the moans and whining of the starving family, make what ever you really want and try to shut out the moans and whining of the unhappy family, skip out to the nearest bar for a few weeks and try to shut out the moans and whining of the ex-family in divorce court.



In the end, you chose a path that more or less resolves all these conflicting issues. A choice that likely reflects a somewhat balanced compromise. A choice fraught with a huge logic-defying dose of optimism.

So it was. A simple weeknight. The demands already registered. A survey of the refrigerator contents already done. An agonizing resolution of the Monday Night Football dilemma more or less achieved (turns out the game was not that great).

My goal was to use up the tomatillos. And keep the dinner simple – both in execution and in clean-up. And mollify the conflicting fractions as best I could.



Solution: tostadas on whole wheat tortillas, brown rice, and fresh salsa verde. TeenBoy is happy about the Mexican food and rice, even if brown and whole wheat. TeenGirl is happy that this is basically a salad, is fairly low fat, and is all whole grain. I am initially happy in my delusion that this will be easy in both preparation and in clean-up. Optimism reigns supreme.

And, actually, each individual component of the tostada was easy. Tomatillo salsa does not take a long time. Home made refried beans are also easy, if time consuming. And taco-style ground turkey is done in no time. Chop some avocados, lettuce, cheese, and it’s go time.

But, as the evening unfolded, my optimism was put under steady and withering attack. The usual barrage of teen issues, homework (Is it done? All of it? Really done? Or just half done like last time?, etc), innocent comments misinterpreted (requiring protracted explanations of the obvious), dog behaving badly, and so on. My easy little dinner was under full attack, and with three pans plus the oven going and two chopping boards in use, optimism was fading as fast as dishes were piling up.

In the end, watching the tostadas being inhaled with frightening speed, faster than the taste sensation could possibly travel from the tongue to the brain, and surveying the looming clean-up effort in the kitchen, I think I could have just as easily tossed the entire pile of ingredients in the blender and microwaved the result. This could have then been super-injected into the teen mouths at an even faster pace, with a lot less mess to clean up.

But I did get complements from all sides. Except from the dish washing crew. The complements were not specific, as I do not think taste or visual appeal registered in the feeding frenzy, but it was enough to rekindle the almost extinguished spark of optimism for yet another day.




Tostadas with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4 to 6 as a main course

Ingredients:
3 pounds of ground turkey
Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp tomato paste
Generous amounts of: chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, paprika, onion powder, dried oregano (season based on your personal tastes)
2-3 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
12 whole wheat tortillas
Three 15 ounce cans of black beans
2 dried ancho or New Mexico chilies
2 cloves garlic, minced
12 tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and cut in half
6 cloves garlic, peeled, left whole
1 bunch cilantro
1 jalapeno chili pepper, chopped roughly, including seeds
juice of one lime
1-2 tsp salt
2-3 cups romaine lettuce, sliced thinly
1 ripe avocado, cut in half, pit removed, peeled, and flesh cut into this slices
2 cups Monterey jack or cheddar cheese, grated
Brown rice as an accompaniment

In a large skillet, sauté the chopped onion in olive oil until soft. Add the garlic, and sauté for a few minutes. Add the ground turkey. Increase heat to high. Sautee turkey, breaking up clumps, until most of the pink is gone. Reduce heat to medium. Add the tomato paste, and all the spices (I add a lot of chili powder and cumin, some like less). If necessary, add a little water. The meat should have a thick sauce, not be watery. Sautee the meat mixture, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to lowest setting, cover, and reserve.

Place 2/3 of the beans and their liquid, the dried chili peppers, and the minced garlic in a heavy pot over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Drain the beans, reserving the liquid, and place in a food processor, removing the dried chilies, and puree. Add some of the liquid as necessary. Place the pureed beans back in the pot. Add the remaining beans. Bring the mixture to a boil, adding additional liquid if it is too dry. Reduce the heat to low, and cook the mixture, stirring frequently, until thick. Turn off heat and reserve.

Line a heavy skillet with tine foil, and heat over high heat. When hot, place the tomatillos, cut side down, one the tine foil (do this in two batches to avoid crowding). Place the whole garlic on the tin foil as well. Roast the tomatillos and garlic for 5-6 minutes, until well browned. Turn the pieces over, and roast on the other side for an additional 3-4 minutes, until the tomatillos are well softened. Remove them to a plate to cool. Transfer the tomatillos and garlic to a food processor. Add the cilantro, jalapeno, lime juice, and salt, and either pulse (for chunky salsa) or puree. Reserve.

Heat tortillas in a dry skillet over high heat, one at a time, on both sides until crisp.

To assemble, place two tortillas on each plate. Spread some of the bean mixture over the tortillas. Scoop some of the meat mixture over the beans. Spoon some salsa verde over the meat. Top with avocado slices, shredded lettuce and grated cheese.

Serve with additional salsa verde and brown rice on the side. Enjoy!


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Sunday, October 29, 2006

A bit of a Stretch - WHB

First off, just to state the obvious, I am not a young lady, never was a young lady, and therefore have nary a clue as to what that all entails. You could probably take the sum total of my knowledge of what being a young lady could possibly mean and pack it easily, with room to spare, in a fairly small thimble. So, there is room to stretch here.

Bear with me, this will eventually be about food. Mustard spinach and pineapple guavas, if you can believe it!



I came to this rather self-evident contemplation as I stood outside, off to the side so as not to attract undue attention, with TeenGirl, as she waited for her ‘crew’ to show up and take her to a dinner and then a formal dance. The ‘Homecoming Prom’, as it known.

As a boy, such an event typically involves the excruciating anxiety of asking some girl to the dance. This is followed by a long period of doing nothing. Maybe watching football on TV, snacking, video games, etc.. Until 20 minutes before the event. When a quick shower (no shaving necessary at this tender age), application of an overdose of cologne, and the donning of some wrinkled clothes and black tennis shoes pulled out of the back of the closet, executed in rapid succession, constitute the sum total of the pre-dance preparation. Mom might stuff a floral corsage (which she took the initiative to remember to buy) into the hand on the way out the door, dad might offer some vague warnings about driving and sex, otherwise it’s time to party!

As I found out this week, the girl’s side is a bit more time consuming. Beginning more than a week before the event. Dresses. Shoes. Purses. Wraps. Hair. Face. Jesus. There seems to be no end to the details. Which have to be discussed for endless hours over the phone or per text messages. Thank God the dress didn’t have to be adjusted somehow. Hair has to be trimmed / colored / moisturized / who knows what all. I spent an hour watching a professional Clinique make-up person transform a little girl into the cover shot of some teen magazine (something between awe-inspiring and terrifying). Ten pairs of shoes left in the final round to choose from. Three wraps. An assortment of necklaces. Finally, after an unbelievable amount of preparation, none of which involved watching football or eating pizza, some incarnation of a fairy princess was ready for the ball. I was exhausted. I was glad someone finally showed up and drove her off so I could collapse and watch some football! Since at this stage it seems to be more an amorphous group of young people than any particular paring, I was not so worried about the evening.

Of course, as it turns out, at the actual dance, shoes, wraps, purses, necklaces and corsages are all discarded during the shoulder to shoulder pulsating to the dance music. The ever increasing temperature of the gymnasium does a job on the makeup and hair as well.



And the thing that struck me, while standing outside observing these tennis shoe clad young men in wrinkled blazers and shaggy hair chatting with these transformed fairy princesses, is that this is really a lot like much of the dishes I prepare day after day. (How’s that for a stretch?!)



Isn’t it the case that some dishes seem to require the most tedious of procedures, tons of time, a huge number of delicate steps, to coax the exquisite flavors and colors out of the combination of ingredients? While other dishes are, in comparison, practically slammed together, ingredients barely transformed from their original state, flavorings added with abandon as the concept of ‘too much’ does not apply, the appeal being the earthy and full-bodied tastes and textures of the ingredients themselves?

Who hasn’t fretted over a delicate soufflé, or maybe some dish that requires multiple individual components, sauces, purees, braised items and some tricky garnishes coming together at the end, along with planning and procurement that stretches out over days? Hoping to achieve that lightness, that fusion of elements, which bring diners to culinary ecstasy? I can get just as excited over a beefy chili, redolent with almost too much garlic and enough chili peppers to take the top coating off the tongue.

Both elicit ‘ohs’ and ‘ahs’ and prodigious praise if executed well. And of course, both are ripped to shreds shortly after their presentation in the process of the actual dinner.

And this has to do with WHB how? Well, I said it would be a stretch!

This week, we were able to get to our farmer’s market for the first time in a month. And promptly found two things we had never seen before. Mustard spinach, also known as Japanese spinach, and pineapple guavas.

http://www.evergreenseeds.com/komjapmusspi.html
http://www.ibiblio.org/pfaf/cgi-bin/arr_html?Brassica+rapa+perviridis
http://gurneys.com/product.asp?pn=14574&bhcd2=1162139411

http://www.foodreference.com/html/art-feijoa.html
http://www.tradewindsfruit.com/feijoa.htm
http://www.foodsubs.com/Fruittroex.html

I was told that the mustard spinach is best cooked somehow, and I immediately thought of a frittata for Sunday breakfast. For this edition of , sponsored this week by Fiber of .



The mustard spinach is somewhat hardier than ‘regular’ spinach, with thicker stems and leaves. This is a characteristic that I liked, as it held up much better to cooking. Instead of dissolving to a tiny pile of limp, soggy goo, the mustard spinach retained a lot of its volume and shape during a quick sauté with onion and red pepper. It also did not release nearly as much water as I would have expected, and lent itself very well to a frittata. Too much water here would have ruined the texture of the result.

And it had flavor. My main complaint with spinach is its lack of flavor. I much prefer chard, of beet greens, to spinach, especially when cooking.



But the mustard spinach delivered on flavor as well. Nothing overpowering. Delicate. But definitely there. It gave the basic frittata a very nice flavor and texture.

The pineapple guava became part of the fall fruit platter. When people mention fall fruit, most likely think of pears and apples. But persimmons, guavas, pomegranates, grapes, and many other fruits are at their peak now as well.



The inner fruit of the pineapple guava delivered the expected subtly sweet guava flavor with a very light pineapple note. Very nice. The entire pineapple guava fruit is edible, however, with the peel adding a distinctive sour bite. Eaten as a whole, it tastes sort of like a Starburst candy – sweet and tart in the same bite.

Taken together, these discoveries made for a very flavorful meal!




Mustard Spinach Frittata
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 onion, chopped
½ red pepper, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
a large bunch mustard spinach (consisted of about 8 individual plants), washed well, left wet, chopped roughly
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of mace
pinch of allspice
salt, pepper
8 eggs
½ cup milk
2 cups grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese

Sautee the onion and red pepper in olive oil in a large oven-proof sauté pan. When softened, add garlic, and sauté for a few minutes. Add the spinach to the pan, toss, and cover with a large lid. Sautee the spinach, stirring frequently, until it is softened. Remove the lid, increase the heat, and let any liquid evaporate. Add the spices and salt and pepper, and toss well.

Reduce the heat to low.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and 2/3 of the cheese. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the vegetables. Cover the pan with a large lid, and cook over medium low heat without stirring until bubbles form across the entire surface of the frittata. Remove the lid, sprinkle the top of the frittata with the remaining grated cheese, and place the entire pan under the broiler. Broil until the top is well browned and puffy, but not burned. Remove from broiler. Let stand a few minutes (helps the eggs set, makes it easier to cut). Cut into pie wedges with a sharp knife. Serve. Enjoy!


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Friday, October 27, 2006

Petits Fours, Mignardises or Friandises? You decide! - SHF #24

Well, they’re not exactly ‘petits fours’ in the classical sense. As they never came near a hot ‘four’, spending most of their time in the chilly ‘frigo’.



Maybe they fit more in the ‘magnardises’ arena. Although I might not go directly to ‘delicate’ in describing these tasty adult treats. Well, mousse can be described as delicate, I suppose, until you add all the alcohol.

Certainly ‘friandises’ would apply. Albeit in the spirit of the ‘La Toussaint’ holiday, which is just a few days away on November 1st.



What with Halloween, not to mention All Saints Day, close on our heels, and everything turning orange anyways (fall foliage and raging brush fires here in SoCal), I guess I got carried away in the spirit of the season.



Don’t the kids get enough attention, not to mention sugar overdose, this time of year? While you’re sitting home, protecting your property from pint-sized pumpkin smashing and toilet-paper tossing vandals, wouldn’t it be nice to be munching on a whisky-laced bite of heaven made just for you? Letting the little ones squirm at the door for a moment while you savor another bite of your amaretto-laden chocolate bliss. Popping another limoncello and vodka infused eye-ball to help numb the cascade of shrill tiny voices chanting “Trick or treat! Smell my feet! Give me something good to eat!” for the one millionth time?



Well, even if you not the complete Scrooge or Grinch depicted above, these ‘friandises’ are pretty damn tasty! And a fun way for those handing out the treats to enjoy a tasty holiday as well!



So I made some:

- Whisky Roasted Pumpkin Mouse in Dark Chocolate Cups with Whisky Caramel Pumpkin Seeds

- Amaretto Dark Chocolate and Pumpkin Chocolate Jack-O-Lanterns

- Limoncello and Vodka Eye-Ball Jello Shots

for Sugar High Friday #24, sponsored by Jeanne, of Cook Sister!.



That’s my contribution to this month’s Sugar High Friday #24 – ‘Petits Fours, Mignardises or Friandises’ Edition.


Whisky Roasted Pumpkin Mouse in Dark Chocolate Cups with Whisky Caramel Pumpkin Seeds
Recipe by surfindaave
Makes 8 to 10 desserts

Ingredients:
1 sugar pumpkin, about three pounds, cut into sections, seeds removed, peeled, and flesh cut into 1 inch pieces, reserving the pumpkin seeds
Olive oil
¾ cup whisky
1 packet gelatin
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tap ground ginger
4 eggs
2/3 cup agava nectar or sugar
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces fine quality dark (70%) chocolate, chopped very fine into pieces no larger than ¼ inch.
8 small foil muffin molds
½ cup green pumpkin seeds (pepitos)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp agava nectar or sugar
2 tbsp whisky

In a small ceramic bowl, melt the chocolate in a microwave by heating for 30 seconds, and then stirring well. Repeat cycle 2 or three times, until chocolate can be stirred smooth. (At this point, you can temper your chocolate if desired).

Working with one foil muffin mold at a time, holding it on its side, spoon the melted chocolate onto the sides of the foil, turning the foil to completely cover the sides evenly. Pour any excess chocolate back onto the bowl. Set the foil down on a baking tray (the chocolate from the sides will run back down and cover any holes in the bottom, so concentrate on making the sides as even as possible). Repeat this for the remaining foils. Set the finished foils on the baking tray in the refrigerator for several hours to set.

Pre-heat the oven to 450ºF.

While the chocolate cups are setting, toss the pumpkin pieces with some olive oil, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast in oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally, or until they are well browned all over, but not burned. Remove from oven, let cool, and reserve.

When the pumpkin pieces are cooled, puree them in a food processor, scraping down the sides as necessary.

In a small bowl, mix the whisky and gelatin, and let soften for 5 minutes. Heat the mixture in a microwave, 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each interval, until the gelatin is dissolved. Alternatively, heat the mixture in a small pot until dissolved. Let cool.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the agava nectar (or sugar) for 5 minutes, until the eggs are pale yellow. Mix in 1 ½ cups of the pumpkin puree, the whisky mixture, and the spices. Combine well.

With cleaned chilled beaters, beat the heavy cream until it holds stiff peaks. Fold about ¼ of the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture thoroughly. Gently fold the remaining whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture until just combined. Place in refrigerator to begin to set for one hour.

Carefully peal off the foil from the chocolate cups (they break very easily!). Set the cups back down on the cold baking tray as they are peeled. Scoop some of the pumpkin mousse into the chocolate cups, heaping it slightly above the rim of the cup. Place the filled cups back on the baking tray, and the tray back into the refrigerator for several hours to set completely.

Heat a small skillet over medium heat, and add the butter, agava nectar (or sugar) and heat without stirring until it caramelizes. Carefully add the whisky, and heat until it melts again. Add the pumpkin seeds, and cook for a few minutes. Turn out onto a plate lined with parchment paper. Let cool, and separate seeds.

TO serve, arrange several whisky pumpkin seeds on top of each chocolate pumpkin mousse cup. Serve. Enjoy!


Amaretto Dark Chocolate and Pumpkin Chocolate Jack-O-Lanterns
Recipe by surfindaave
Makes 8 to 12 Jack-o-Lanterns, depending on size

Ingredients:
12 ounces dark (70%) chocolate, chopped into pieces no larger than ¼ inch
2/3 cup heavy cream
¼ cup Amaretto
12 ounces white chocolate, chopped into small pieces no larger than ¼ inch
Orange food dye
Green food dye
Wooden skewers

In a small pan, bring the cream just to a boil. Put the dark chocolate shavings in a heat-proof bowl, and pour the cream over the dark chocolate and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir until smooth. Add Amaretto, and stir until well combined. Place in refrigerator for 1 hour, until firm, but not hard.

With a tablespoon, scoop out balls of ganache, and roll them gently in your hands to a ball shape. Place on a tray lined with parchment paper. Chill for one hour. Roll in your hands again, smoothing them gently into the final ball shape. Chill until firm.

In a heat-proof bowl set over simmering water, heat the white chocolate, stirring, until it melts. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Add orange food coloring (red and yellow) to create desired pumpkin color. Holding the dark chocolate balls one at a time in a spoon over the white chocolate bowl, spoon the white chocolate over the balls, covering them completely. Tap the spoon on the rim of the bowl to help the excess white chocolate run off and to get a smooth coating. Place the coated balls back on the parchment-lined pan. Repeat for the remaining balls. Place the finished balls back in the refrigerator until firm.

Reheat the white chocolate and repeat the coating procedure as above, giving each ball two complete coats of orange colored white chocolate. Return the balls to the lined pan and refrigerate until firm.

With a very sharp small knife, carve away the outer orange layer of white chocolate to form the desired ‘carved pumpkin’ image – scary, funny, it’s only limited by your imagination and patience! Carefully remove all of the carved away orange areas and any resulting debris. Place the carved balls back in the refrigerator until firm. Touch up any carving ‘irregularities’, and clean up the finished carved ball as necessary.

Cut the wooden skewers into 1 ½ inch lengths. Color with the green food coloring. Heat the cut skewer pieces in the microwave for a few seconds till warm, and carefully push them into the tops of the balls to form the stems of the pumpkin.

Make a somewhat darker shade of orange than the color of the balls, and with a toothpick, draw lines to look like the segments of a pumpkin. Chill the final result until very firm. Enjoy!


Eye-ball Jello Shot Recipe to follow shortly!

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Wasteful Youth

When I was young, we just tossed all the leftovers. In-sink garbage disposals, trash compactors, new gadgets were designed just to get rid of the leftovers. Eat ‘em? Yuck! Eventually we got a dog, and he became the primary leftover disposal concept.

You never saw Margaret serve Jim (Father Knows Best) any leftovers. June certainly didn't spend her time bundling up whatever Wally and the Beaver didn't finish for the next day. And nary once did Alice hear complaints from the Brady kids on this subject. Did we all just collectively forget what to do with them? Or maybe the concept of leftovers didn't fit into those prosperous boom times?

Seems unbelievably wasteful now. I knew then, and still know, people who categorically refuse to eat something that is left over from a meal.

But before super markets, nutrition was too hard to come by and too precious to just throw away.

Fried rice. Minestrone soup. Hash on the day after roast beef. Recycled leftovers all.

Seems like every food culture has come up with lots of ways to deal creatively with leftovers. Food cultures that involve a lot of bread seem particularly prolific in dealing with leftovers.

Such as Germany. Big bread eaters. They often make bread dumplings. Taking stale bread, moistening it with milk, some eggs, onion and parsley. Then simmering balls of the dough like pasta, and serving them with a lot of gravy.

Pain Perdu, one of my favorites (French Toast over here), is an ideal way to use up those leftover ends of French baguettes that have gotten too stale to enjoy.

Bread pudding, Tuscan tomato and bread soup, bread salad (panzanella), the list goes on. To my surprise at the time (long ago), bread crumbs and croutons are not things that turn up in cellophane bags in the grocery store in every country on earth. In many places, these things are produced continuously, at no extra cost, as the daily fresh bread that does not get eaten is saved for a day or two and used some other way.

What brought all this thinking on, in a round-about way, was an interesting looking ricotta and tomato tart I had seen in the Weekend herb Blogging round-up at a Blog called Experimentation of Taste, by Crispy. And it occurred to me that I had a container of ricotta in the fridge that was not getting any fresher. Screaming to be made into some ravioli, or something.

But there is no time for making ravioli this week. Even in my dreams, I’m too busy to pull that off.



And that tart looked delicious. Bright roasted tomatoes. Creamy ricotta. Basil. I had everything on hand, and I felt everything would be acceptable to the critics here, until we got to the crust. No bread crumbs. And anyways, I can’t get anyone to eat bread crumbs, even panko style, except me.

But, this is fortunately where my miserly habits and knowledge of international leftover culture came in handy. Because I don’t throw leftovers away until someone pries it, occasionally green and fuzzy, from my desperate hands. So I had some failed sourdough whole grain bread, a good week old, sitting around becoming despondent. And it took just a few minutes in the food processor to turn this very healthy, if dry and dense, bread into some great tasting bread crumbs.

And there we were. With a variation of the ricotta tart that was maybe a bit heavier and earthier of crust than the Experimentation of Taste version, but pretty much the same else wise.



Naturally, since I can’t seem to make anything without changing it a bit, I used all the rest of my ricotta, which was a good 2 cups instead of the suggested one, and increased the eggs to 3 from 2 to compensate. And we tossed in more grated cheese than suggested as well. Well, TeenBoy did. Mainly because TeenGirl was not around to stop him. The result of this seemed to be that the tart took longer to bake. I left it in the oven for a full hour at 450ºF before it seemed ‘done’. But I can tell you, it was just as delicious tasting as the original picture looked!

On the side, I made a simple wheat berry salad. Just wheat berries, cooked in chicken broth and thyme, with a little orange juice and zest, and some cooked chicken and parsley tossed in at the end. This really complemented the tomato ricotta tart nicely.




Ricotta and Tomato Tart
Recipe by Crispy
Found at: Experimentation in Taste

My modifications were to increase the ricotta to about 2 ½ cups, the eggs to 3, the grated parmesan to ¾ of a cup, and I used fresh whole rye sour dough bread crumbs. The baking time seemed to increase as well, to about an hour, same temp. Otherwise, everything the same!


Wheat Berry Salad with Chicken
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 6 as a side dish

Ingredients:
3 cups soft wheat berries
5 cups chicken broth
fresh thyme sprigs
juice from 1 orange
zest from one orange
salt, pepper
2 chicken breasts, cooked, de-boned and cut into small cubes
1 cup parsley, chopped

In a large pot, combine wheat berries, thyme, chicken broth, orange juice and orange zest. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 60 minutes, adding additional water if it dries out. The result should be moist, with just a little unabsorbed broth. Stir in the chopped chicken, heat through for a few minutes, and stir in the parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve. Enjoy!

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Monday, October 23, 2006

The Sourdough Experiment Part IV – And It from the Ashes arose like a Phoenix

As promised, it rose. And rose. And then it a-rose some more.

Maybe not exactly from actual ashes, more like the ashes of the last disaster. Into a veritable tower of a loaf of bread.



This is without a doubt one of the best rising breads I have ever made. All sourdough starter, no yeast.

The sourdough starter took longer than last time. Which I attribute to the somewhat lower daily temperatures, what with fall being in full swing. But eventually, it started bubbling up like crazy.

This starter was again 100% whole grain rye flour and water. It took about 5 days of ‘feeding’ and being placed in the warmest room during the day to get it up to full strength. I could tell it was ready as after ‘feeding’ it, it would start bubbling immediately and double in bulk within an hour or two. It deflated during the cool nights, but was back to work as the day heated up.

For this loaf of bread, I used the 100% rye starter, and mixed in an equal mixture of whole wheat flour and white flour to make the final dough. Ending up with roughly 50% rye, 25% whole wheat and 25% white flours in the final dough.

I did this for two reasons. One, to give the rye flour, which is inherently poorer at holding the trapped air in the dough bubbles, some reinforcement. Secondly, just to see how the whole wheat did in general. And it did great!

I also added a pinch of salt to the dough, as well as a few tablespoons of olive oil.



The resultant bread has a wonderful texture. A nice light, soft, fine grained crumb. And an incredibly tasty sourdough flavor. Not at all heavy. The rye and sourdough flavors are very dominant. Despite the giant size, very suitable for sandwiches. And with a flavor able to stand up to the heartiest of soups, stews, lunch meats, cheeses or mustards.



I baked the bread in an old ceramic baking dish that I have had for years and years. It is not designed for bread by any means. It is more intended for braising stews and Oso Bucco in the oven. But the size seemed like a good fit, and I wanted to see if preventing the dreaded ‘run out’, i.e. the bread rising in a horizontal direction due to lack of containment, would allow it to rise better vertically. And it did. So, despite the odd shape of the resulting loaf, I think I have found my bread pan.



Rye and Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
Recipe by surfindaave
Makes one humongous loaf, or maybe two medium loafs

Ingredients:
Rye Sourdough Starter (recipe follows)
600 grams whole wheat flour (includes extra for kneading)
600 grams white flour (includes extra for kneading)
dash of salt
2-3 tbsp olive oil

In a large ceramic bowl, combine starter and about ½ of the whole wheat and white flours, the salt, and the olive oil. Combine, adding enough additional flours until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and forms a ball.

Move the dough to a floured kneading board. Knead the dough vigorously, adding additional flour as necessary to prevent sticking in the first 5 to 10 minutes of kneading, and adding as little as possible in the last 5 to 10 minutes of kneading, for at least 15 minutes. I put a 10 pound weight on my kneading board to help stabilize it (this helps a lot), and scrape the dough that sticks to the board away every few minutes with a pancake turner. Both these tricks help reduce the amount of extra flour that has to be used, especially in the last few minutes of kneading.

Move the dough to a well oiled (I used olive oil) ceramic baking dish that is at least twice as big as the initial dough, shaping the dough to fit in the bottom of the dish. Let the dough rise, lightly covered, in a warm place, until it is two to three times its initial size. This took about 2 to 2 ½ hours for mine.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Place the bread in the middle of the oven, and bake for 45 to 60 minutes (I baked mine for 1 hour, as I am always concerned that it bakes all the way through). Remove from oven, and let cool. Slice. Enjoy!


Rye Sourdough Starter
Recipe by surfindaave
Makes starter for one loaf

Ingredients:
600 grams whole grain rye flour
Lukearm water

In a non-metallic bowl, combine 100 grams of flour, and 150 grams of lukewarm water. Stir. Cover lightly – ensure plenty of air can get to the mixture. Let sit in a warm place to 24 hours.

Add 100 grams of flour and 100 to 150 grams of lukewarm water. Combine well. The mixture should be like a thick pancake batter. Cover loosely, ensuring plenty of air can get to the mixture. Let sit in a warm place for 24 hours.

Repeat this procedure for another day or so. You should see the mixture start to bubble a little bit after the second day. By day three or four, it should be clearly bubbling and smelling sour. The mixture is ready to use when it bubbles up to at least twice its volume within a few hours of sitting in a warm room. Note – mine deflated a lot a night (cool), but perked right back up as the day warmed up.

To use – reserve ¼ to ½ cup of the mixture for the next starter. Place this in the fridge. It keeps for a week or so. Use the entire rest of the starter mixture for the recipe above.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

A Gold most Precious - WHB

You know you’re popular when your continued existence is 100% dependant on the altruistic generosity of others. That without non-stop, dedicated efforts by untold millions over the millennium, you would no longer be a living member of the planet. Just a dusty golden memory.

Saffron, whose name derives from the Latin – Italian – Spanish words, which in turn derive from the Arabic word for yellow, ‘afar’, and in turn the Arabic word for the spice, ‘zafarān’, has enjoyed just such popularity for over 4000 years.




The flower producing saffron is sterile. Unable to reproduce on its own. 100% dependant on the efforts of growers of the host plant, the saffron crocus, for its continued existence.

This sterility situation originated from efforts by ancient saffron agriculturists to create a strain of saffron crocus with ever longer stigmas. The stigmas being the deep golden threads that are carefully plucked from the flower and dried. Three tiny stigma threads per flower. That’s a lot of flowers and nurturing to supply the world with the necessary pile of fried saffron.

There are different grades of saffron. It turns out that most mere mortals usually get a mild variant grown in Spain. This variant lacks the vibrant color and has a subdued flavor compared to the ‘real’ stuff. The ‘real’ stuff is grown primarily in the Kashmir region of India, where weather and politics make it tough to get for Indians as well as those outside India. There is also a region in Italy that produces a superior type of saffron. But unless you’ve got three Michelin stars, you are probably not getting much of that stuff. And irrespective of the price in the local grocery store, or package labeling indicating the saffron being a product of India, you are most certainly getting the milder Spanish saffron.



None the less, there are certain dishes that simply require its presence, mild or authentic.

Certainly color is one reason. Saffron imparts a beautiful hue to dishes. Like risotto Milanese, or paella.

But the flavor is also a big part. Maybe a little bitter. Maybe somewhat floral. But in any event unique. It is that certain something that transforms an ordinary assemblage of ingredients into something special.

Of course, anything that has been in the consumption chain for thousands and thousands of years has every possible benefit attributed to it. Originating in the Mediterranean region, apparently in Crete. From there, it spread across Northern Africa and eastward into Asia. It was used in cooking, perfumes, art work, medicines, seemingly everything.

The saffron I used today is certainly of the milder variety. But, as mentioned, Paella is just not Paella without saffron. Even if I am hesitant to toss in enough of the stuff to achieve the culinary taste sensation that has dazzled humanity for 4000+ years.

So, whether real or imagined, we enjoyed the brilliant color and unique flavor of saffron in a chicken paella. For this edition of , sponsored this week by Pat of

As a twist, I made the paella with ‘brown’ short grained rice. This in our continuing exploration of the whole grain life style. Or maybe it’s the do what’s necessary to appease the bickering factions life style. The brown rice kept TeenGirl happy, the chicken and lack of sea food kept TeenBoy happy. The absence of protracted arguing kept the Serendipitous Chef happy.

Plus, in a nod to the ferocious level of activities going on around here lately, I endeavored to do it all in a single pan. To minimize clean up.

To do this, I first roasted the chicken pieces in olive oil under the broiler until browned on all sides in a large roasting pan. I then roasted the onions and red peppers in a little olive oil under the broiler in the same pan. I then combined all the ingredients in the same roasting pan, brought the whole thing to a boil on a couple of burners, and moved it to the oven to finish. The result was triply satisfying – great flavor, vibrant color, minimal clean up.

Just the thing when you’re about to collapse after a 20 hour day.

(Well - I got one not too clear photo of the paella, my camera batteries died, my second set of batteries were gone from excessive photographing earlier in the day, and by the time the batteries got charged, the food had been eaten! Must have been good!!)




Brown Rice Chicken Paella
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4 as a main dish

Ingredients:
4 pounds boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2-3 red peppers, cleaned, cut into 1 inch pieces
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1-2 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp paprika
1 gram package dried saffron threads
sprinkle of turmeric
salt, pepper
1 32 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes with juice
2 cups frozen peas
8 cups chicken broth
2 ½ to 3 cups short grain brown rice
Parsley, chopped, for garnish
Lemon wedges, for garnish

In a large roasting pan with high sides, toss the chicken pieces with olive oil, and roast under the broiler, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides. Remove to a plate and reserve.

In the same pan, toss the onion and red pepper pieces in olive oil, and roast under the broiler until softened, and all liquid has evaporated.

Turn to oven to 400ºF.

Move the pan to the stove top, setting it across two burners. With the burners on medium, add the cumin, paprika, turmeric, bay leaf, salt and pepper, and stir. Add tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon as you stir. Cook until most of the tomato liquid is gone. Add the peas, chicken, saffron, rice, and enough chicken broth to cover. Increase the heat on the two burners, and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring. When the mixture comes to a boil, move it to the oven.

Roast the paella for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, adding additional chicken broth as necessary, and checking the rice (at the bottom of the pan) to ensure it is completely done. When rice is completely cooked through, remove from oven, and let sit for a few minutes. Serve with a sprinkle of parsley and a wedge of lemon. Enjoy!


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Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Sourdough Experiment Part III – It was Murder!

My initial success with the sourdough bread encouraged me to try to make some more.

But things went awry. Badly. Murder or suicide. Call in CSI:SoCal!

I won’t try to blame outside events on this gruesome situation. It’s easy to do when you are still in shock. Mourning, as it were. The lost potential of all those little bacteria.

The outside event that took up a lot of time was this jury duty, which I have mentioned recently. It’s not the jury duty per se, but having to fit all the other things in around the jury duty. In the end, the warning signs were there. I should have noticed the murderous glint in the perpetrators eye, the malicious sneaking around after everyone else had gone to bed. But I was too rushed during the day, and too tired at night. Lame excuses, I agree.

The sourdough starter died. That is for sure. A limpid, murky pool of liquid. No bubbles. No live bacteria. Nothing but a bad smell. Which I was forced to wash down the drain.

I thought for a long time about how this had happened.

For survival, you need air, water and warmth. Pretty much in that order.

Air seemed to be everywhere, so I focused elsewhere.

Did I not mix the starter correctly? Wrong proportions of flour and water? No. I remember measuring everything using my kitchen scale.

Did it suddenly get too cold for the starter to grow successfully? That was my theory for a while, as the temperature had dropped a bit that week. But still, were talking temps in the 60s and 70s instead of the 80s. Not really winter’s frosty chill. So that theory waned.

I was back to incorrect measurement of flour and water. As the starter had separated into a layer of damp flour, with a layer of brown water on top. Maybe too much water had sort of asphyxiated the little bacteria. The water layer preventing them from getting the necessary air.

Finally, long after the fact, the true circumstances of the ‘murder’ became clear to me.

And in the end, murder it was. Murder by suffocation. The little bacteria were slowly starved of air until they died en mass. Shudder!

With this starter, you are supposed to ‘feed’ it every day by adding 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of water, stirring, and setting it in a warm place, loosely covered. I did this feeding in the evening, just before bed. Setting the container lid slightly ajar, and the container on the top of the fridge, as that is as warm a place as any.

After I had done this, the murderer came by and simply snapped the lid down on the container. Sealed it tight. Every night. It remained sealed until the following evening, when I opened it, not even consciously realizing it was sealed, and ‘fed’ it. This continued for a few days, until the little guys had all died. And I was left with a gooey, very dead mass.

The judge declared unintentional ‘bacteria’-slaughter, and let the perpetrator off with a warning. There’s justice!

So now, wiser and hardened by the grim experience, I am at it again. A new starter. And through my vigilant guarding of the starter, it is clear that bacteria are multiplying at a ferocious rate. This stuff could lift the Titantic. More sourdough bread is on the way!

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Michelangelo steals Halloween, leaves the seeds

Pumpkins got complicated.

When I was younger, before TV and cars (well, before iPods and cell phones anyways), pumpkins were simple. Round orange things that appeared shortly before Halloween, were smashed to bits on Halloween eve, and not seen again for a year.

Pumpkins involved triangles. Several appropriately spaced triangles. For eyes, nose, and even the mouth was really just some conjoined triangles. At least, that’s how they were cut out. All able to be carved by very young hands using very dull knives.



And pumpkins involved seeds. Which were spit at other siblings. At the dog. At various targets around the house. And for maximum distance competitions. Seeds popped up the entire year. Hidden under furniture, victims of errant attempts to hit something with the slippery little projectiles.

Oddly enough, we never ate either the seeds or the pumpkins back then. When spitting was done, and trick-or-treating over, everything was tossed. Too bad.

Nowadays, pumpkins are complicated. They have to be carved into incredibly intricate designs using complicated stencils and tricky little ‘knives’ and miniature saws specially designed the purpose. Each one takes hours and hours. Assuming you can get it to look anything like the stencil. It’s like Michelangelo stole Halloween.

The first time we saw these new, complicated pumpkins, two conflicting thoughts crashed into our minds. You could see in the kid’s eyes that we were going to have to have these things. And you could also see in their eyes that they knew they would not be doing the carving.

They argued for a week about which design they had to have. I anguished for a week over all the time it was going to take me to try to pull one of these fancy carvings off. Assuming I could even do it. Of course there is a kit you can buy with everything necessary (except patience and valium). And of course the instructions say it’s easy. Even though it’s not.

So for several years, Halloween was all about my ability to do a Michelangelo on a pumpkin. Eventually, everyone got old enough to try it on their own. And of course, when the pumpkin inevitably gets smashed on Halloween night, which is really the main reason for the holiday in the first place, everyone cries. And of course, even if the intricately carved pumpkin is kept in a window, safe from vandals, it molds immediately, and everyone cries as the dripping, oozing mess is shoveled into a garbage bag.

But all that has ended. Now pumpkins are about soup, and ravioli, and especially about the seeds. Of course, a great advantage of the seeds is they don’t have to be carved. They remain within my grasp.



I got to like the seeds when I discovered that they can be roasted with additional flavorings. Flavorings like cayenne pepper. Or cinnamon. Things that take the simple seeds beyond the ordinary and turn them into addictive snacks.

This year, I will certainly carve one big pumpkin for display. And cook many, many more. One or two more carved ones may appear if homework, parties and sports schedules permit. And that makes for a bunch of seeds.

So I usually roast the seeds. In olive oil. Ideally with a liberal sprinkling of something hot and spicy. As mentioned, cayenne being my personal favorite, although Tabasco works, along with other hot things.

But this year, while wandering around the internet, I stumbled across a very simple recipe for seeds that are both spicy and caramelized. Hot and sweet. Now that’s a treat I couldn’t resist.



This recipe recommends pepitos, which are the green inner parts of the pumpkin seeds, with the hulls removed. These can be purchased in small amounts at many stores. I do not recommend anyone spend the time it would take to hull pumpkin seeds. Unfortunately, I think using the whole pumpkin seed for this recipe would not work, as the seeds are not roasted till crisp, but instead simply swirled in the caramel sauce. The heat is added via cayenne pepper and a few other spices. The result? Fantastic. This is an idea that really works well.

Since I had a lot of pumpkin laying around after extracting all the seeds, I roasted up the flesh, and made a simple roasted pumpkin soup. I used the spicy caramelized pepitos as a seasoning and garnish for the soup.

A wonderful way to use both the pumpkin as well as the seeds.




Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Spicy Caramelized Pepitos
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4 as an appetizer

Ingredients:
1 sugar pumpkin (pie pumpkin), about 3 pounds, cut into slices, seeds removed (reserve), peeled, and cut into 1 inch pieces
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
salt, pepper
1-2 tbsp cumin
¼ cup heavy cream
4 cups chicken broth
Spicy caramelized pepitos, recipe follows

Preheat oven to 425ºF.

Toss pumpkin pieces with olive oil, and arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast for about 1 hour, until the pumpkin is very tender and well browned in many places. Remove from oven and let cool.

In a heavy soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrot and celery, and sauté until tender. Add pumpkin, cumin, cream, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a bare simmer, and cook for 30 minutes. Taste, and season with salt and pepper as necessary.

Let soup cool slightly, and puree in a food processor. Return soup to pot, and reheat.

Serve the soup with a sprinkle of the spicy caramelized pepitos. Enjoy!


Spicy Caramelized Pepitos (Green pumpkin Seeds)
Recipe by surfindaave

Ingredients:
½ cup green pumpkin seeds (pepitos)
1 ½ tbsp butter
1 ½ tbsp agava nectar (or sugar)
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp paprika
dash of salt

In a small heavy skillet, heat the butter and nectar (or sugar) together without stirring until it caramelizes. Add the seeds and spices. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove to a plate lined with wax paper. Let cool. Serve as is, or use as a garnish.




Cayenne Pumpkin Seeds
Recipe by surfindaave

Ingredients:
1 cup fresh pumpkin seeds, well cleaned and rinsed
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

In a small baking pan, toss pumpkin seeds with olive oil and cayenne pepper. Roast in oven for about 30 minutes. Remove and let cool. Enjoy as a snack!

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Fall from Fruit

I love fall. Aside from the return of football (whew! made it through another summer!), I love the cool crisp nights. The bright colors of leaves. The proliferation of birds on their way south. The way everything seems to sort of settle down into its blanket of fallen foliage, pulling it up tight to ward off the oncoming winter chill.

But mostly I love the fall fruit. Perfectly ripe pears. Crisp fresh apples. Grapes just in from harvest on their way to becoming wine. Plus pomegranates, quinces and a fresh crop of oranges. To name just a few. So I sort of have had fruit on the mind lately.

I had been thinking for a while on ways to get more flavor into all these whole grains we are eating lately. Imagine health and flavor in one dish! Would be quite a combination.

One thing I thought about would be to cook the grains in chicken broth instead of water. Even better, herb infused chicken broth.



But the main thing I have been thinking about is adding fruit somehow. Fall fruit. Letting the fruit bring out some of the natural sweetness of the grains.

The fruit I have on hand at the moment, this being fall, are quince.

The quince have to be cooked somehow before serving, as they are hard as rocks. I chose to roast them in the oven. I think they also could have been diced raw and sautéed in a skillet, maybe with a little juice of some sort. Either way would work.

I think pears or apples would work just as well. If it was me, I would roast the pears or apples as well. Just because I like that roasted flavor.

This salad combines the nutty flavor of the whole wheat spelt berries with the subtle fruity flavors of roasted quince. Everything infused with some fresh herbs.

Since spelt is just a type of wheat, I think almost any wheat berry could be used to a similar effect. For example soft wheat, buckwheat, etc.



Per a recent suggestion regarding whole grains, I added some orange juice, and then some orange zest as well, to the salad. The intent here is to balance out the rough whole wheat berry flavor a bit with a little citrus acid.

The salad is easy to make, though it does take time to roast the quince. The flavors are wonderful, the delicate sweetness of the quince combining perfectly with the nutty grains and the woodsy herbs. The orange flavor adds a real brightness to the taste. The texture moist from both the chicken broth as well as the orange juice and broth. I think this salad pairs well with any sort of roasted fowl or pan roasted fish.

To me, it has the quintessential taste of fall.




Spelt Salad with Roasted Quince
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4 as a side dish

Ingredients:
4 whole quince, peeled, cut in half, and core removed
olive oil
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups spelt berries (or other whole grain berries)
fresh thyme
fresh rosemary
juice from ½ orange
zest from 1 orange
½ cup chopped parsley
Salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Rub quince halves with olive oil, and place in a roasting pan, covered with tin foil. Roast for 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until very tender. Remove from oven. Let cool. When cool, cut quince halves into a small dice. Reserve.

Combine chicken broth, spelt berries, thyme sprigs, rosemary sprigs, orange juice and orange zest in a heavy pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 40 minutes, until almost all liquid is absorbed. Remove from pot to a heat proof serving bowl, and let cool. When cool, combine with diced quince, parsley, and additional fresh thyme. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve. Enjoy!

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Ravioli in the Rye - WHB

We are going a bit nuts with this whole grain mania around here.

All manner of berries and whole grain flours are being consumed with abandon.

But we finally came to a crisis the other day.

I had promised to make some ravioli. I make a passable pasta dough, usually with semolina flour and water. Sometimes adding eggs. It holds, and ravioli results.



I often make this with a spinach and ricotta cheese filling. But spinach has been killing people lately, so we decided to avoid the spinach and go seasonal.

Roasted pumpkin and ricotta filled ravioli. With sage. In a brown butter sage sauce. For this edition of , sponsored this week by Sher of

We started roasting pumpkins a few years ago, after the kids became older and found many of the Halloween traditions to be a bit beneath them. No time to carve pumpkins, no interest in going around and collecting candy. A party with friends has taken precedence. Fine with me, as it is in any event safer to be at a friend’s house rather than walking the streets. Plus, who needs all that sugar?!



So we roasted the pumpkins. After all, they are just squashes. Really nothing special. You could just as well carve up a butternut squash instead of a pumpkin for Halloween.

We look for pumpkins, called sugar pumpkins, that are specially grown to be eaten. I am a bit concerned the pumpkins intended for carving may have higher doses of pesticides than the eating ones. These sugar pumpkins are small, smaller than a basketball, maybe 3 pounds at the most. Perfect size for a pie, or for stuffing some ravioli!

Oddly enough, both kids love the roasted pumpkin raviolis. The first time I made them, they were skeptical, but the flavor, when combined with the ricotta, is really delicious. Very earthy. With that beautifully intoxicating caramelized roasted flavor.

The crisis came about as I wanted to make the pasta dough.



I have mentioned lately that we are apparently off white flour. Whole grains only. OK. But whole wheat pasta seemed too sweet a flavor for the earthy pumpkin filling.

So I hunted on the Internet for alternatives. I found few. Mainly for buckwheat, popular in the northern mountain region of Italy. But I had no buckwheat flour. So I decided to invent my own rye flour pasta. I found no mention of rye flour pasta on the Internet, although I am sure it has been done before. It seemed to me that the bite of the rye would go perfectly with the roasted pumpkin and sage flavors.



My procedure was that same as for any pasta dough, mixing the rye flour and lukewarm water by hand, with the exception that I added two eggs. For one, I wanted to make sure the dough held together, and secondly, I wanted a rich result, again to complement the roasted flavors. Also, to hedge my bet, I kneaded the dough on a board dusted with white flour.

After 15 minutes of kneading, what came out was a beautiful pasta dough. I let it sit for an hour, and was able to roll it out till it was see through thin. 84 raviolis later, we tested one in the water. Worked fine!

A quick simmer, a toss in browned butter and sage, some fresh ground pepper and a sprinkle of parmesan. Fantastic fall flavors!



Rye Ravioli with Sage Roasted Pumpkin in Sage Butter Sauce
Recipe by surfindaave
Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:
1 sugar pumpkin (3 pounds or so)
32 ounces of fresh ricotta cheese
1 cup grated parmesan
2 cloves garlic, peeled
salt, pepper
10 sage leaves, chopped
olive oil
2 cups of rye flour
1 cup of whole wheat flour
2 eggs
salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
fresh sage leaves
parmesan cheese, grated
fresh ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

Make the filling:
Cut the pumpkin into sections. Remove all the seeds and inner membrane. Peel the pumpkin sections. Cut the sections into 1 inch pieces. In a bowl, toss the pumpkin with some olive oil and the chopped sage leaves. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and roast for 45 to 60 minutes, until tender and well browned in places. Remove from oven and let cool.

When the pumpkin is cooled, combine roasted pumpkin (including all the sage leaves), ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, garlic cloves, and some salt and pepper in a food processor, and puree until very smooth. Reserve.

Make the pasta dough:
In a large bowl, combine the flours and salt. Have 1 cup of lukewarm water ready. Make a well in the center of the flour, and crack the eggs into it. With your hand, begin mixing the egg into the flour. As the egg is completely incorporated, begin adding some water, a little at a time, combining with your hand. Add just enough water so that the dough comes together and incorporates all the flour. The dough should be pliable, not too firm.

Transfer the dough ball to a lightly floured board. Knead the dough, dusting with additional flour as necessary, for a good 15 minutes. The dough should be elastic in nature, and not too firm. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and chill for 1 hour.

Remove the dough from the fridge, and divide into 6 equal sized balls. Work with one ball at a time, keeping the other balls wrapped in plastic wrap.

On a floured board, roll out the ball of dough until it is very thin, and about 12 inches by 24 inches in size.

At this point, you can either use a long ruler to measure and cut the dough into neat, even squares (say 2 ½ inches square), or just go with a more free hand design. If it is just for us, I go free hand, as I like the varied shapes of the resulting ravioili. Also, I use the fold over technique: i.e. I cut rectangles twice as long as they are wide, place some filling in the center, and fold the one side up over the filling, and seal it on three sides, the forth side being the fold. Alternatively, you can cut matching pairs of dough and try to place one square exactly over the other. This takes much longer, and takes a steadier hand that I have to get good results.

Based on your technique, place teaspoon sized amounts of filling on the dough at appropriate intervals. Brush the dough edges with a little water. Fold dough over and seal, or place dough squares on top and seal well. Place the finished raviolis on well floured pieces of wax paper. Repeat this for the remaining 5 balls of dough. I got 84 (2 1/2) inch square raviolis out of this, along with some excees dough trimmings. Let them dry slightly.

In a small skillet, heat the butter and chopped sage over medium low heat, stirring, until the butter just begins to brown. Don’t let it burn!

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, and turn down the heat. Cook the raviolis, without letting the water boil, until they float to the surface for a few minutes. Drain well. Place in serving dishes and drizzle with a little of the brown butter sauce. Sprinkle with some grated parmesan and fresh ground pepper. Serve. Enjoy!


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Friday, October 13, 2006

Justice Gets Served (a Krispy Kreme)

So the testimony ended, the summations were given, and we were sent to a small room to deliberate.

Justice was at hand.

The bailiff led us into the room and locked the door. Along with the usual instructions, he told us where we could find a nearby Starbucks and Krispy Kreme (doughnuts) during our break. Was this a veiled request for a bribe? No Krispy Kreme, no opening jury room door? Already reduced to bribing the guards? Our only consolation was that our tiny jury deliberation room had two bathrooms. Just for us (hopefully with fans!).

I had wondered about the fact that every court room, all 50 of them, had an armed sheriff sitting in the room as bailiff. The duties seemed nominal. Let witnesses into the court room, announce that the judge was entering or leaving the room, chat on the phone occasionally. Seemed like a sweet assignment, compared to walking the streets in the immediate neighborhood.

But when we got a chance to talk with our bailiff a little, it seems the job can be a lot more stressful.

Apparently, on a frequent basis, witnesses and defendants jump over the tables and try to attack someone. Maybe they think the person is lying, or they get upset that they will be found guilty. So they try to take justice into their own hands, so to speak. The bailiff has a second or two to try to intervene. Along with a gun.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending who’s perspective, our case did not generate such emotions.

But the case next door to us – a child molester, victim 4 years old, 600 counts, including videos he took of himself with the child in the act – might have gotten a lot of people upset. The families of the victims were there, the TV news was there with their cameras and sleek suited reporters. That trial ended as the accused agreed to all charges (50 years prison, no parole). But I could see people in that one needing some restraint.

All in all, this trial and jury business got me thinking about a few things. You get 12 more or less random people, present some information to them, and then let them express their opinions. Seems like a recipe for chaotic disaster.

In the end, most people on our jury exhibited an impressive degree of reasonableness. More than I would have expected.

It reminded me of how I sometimes feel about driving through traffic.

There, you also have a lot of random people, only instead of passing judgment on others, they are steering thousands of pounds of fast moving metal right next to each other. An unreasonable person could cause a lot of destruction. And yes, sometimes cars collide. And terrible things can happen. But not nearly as often as you might expect. And considering the number of people involved, and the literally millions of opportunities for something to happen, people in general seem to exhibit a lot more reasoned behavior than I usually give them credit for. What a cynic I am!

Just like this trial. An unreasonable person could have easily disrupted the entire procedure. And I am sure that happens in some trials. But apparently a lot less often that I would have guessed.

So we delivered our verdict. And were thanked and dismissed. And the little dispute we sat judgment on came to an end. And though some on the jury apparently had trouble sleeping last night, I didn’t.

And yes, the bailiff got his Krispy Kreme (like he needed it!!)!



Along the way, as I had limited time in the evenings, I whipped up a variation on a dish we make frequently. Usually, this is a pasta ‘sauce’ made of sausage and greens cooked in some broth and served over penne pasta. The greens are usually kale, chard, and beet greens. I start with a huge amount, as they cook down to nothing. This is an all time favorite. Quick to make, the greens take on a nice flavor from the spicy sausage, and the steaming brothy presentation moves it in the direction of comfort food.

I usually make my own sausage for this. Which is very easy to do. The sausage being ground turkey or chicken, and a mixture of spices, along with grated parmesan and parsley. It turns out surprisingly tasty. This is doubly easy to do as I use a loose sausage for this recipe, not one in a casing. All I have to do is mix everything up a few hours before cooking, and let it sit, chilled, so the flavors can develop. Presto, sausage!



For today’s variation, we are back to whole grains. Instead of penne pasta, which, of course, is based on white semolina flour, we used unhulled red jasmine rice. And ladled the ‘sauce’ over the red rice.

Now, I like the red rice a lot. I have blogged on this before. And I like the variation on the usual, trading the pasta for the red rice. And I know it is healthier that way. But I hope the whole grain phase around here wanes a bit to the point where we can slide a white pasta in there now and again!




Greens And Sausage on Red Rice
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4

Ingredients:
4 pounds fresh spicy sausage (recipe follows), casing removed
4 large bunches various greens (we use 2 bunches kale, one bunch chard, and the greens from about 6 to 8 beets), washed well, and chopped into large strips, stalks included
olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
8 cups chicken broth
salt, pepper
4-6 cups steamed red rice
Fresh ground pepper, if desired
Grated parmesan for garnish, if desired

In a very large soup pot, brown the sausage in olive oil over high heat, stirring frequently to break up the clumps. As the sausage browns and is no longer pink, remove it to a bowl and reserve, leaving the sausage drippings in the pot.

Heat the sausage drippings over medium high heat. Add a little additional olive oil if necessary. Begin adding the chopped greens, tossing lightly to coat in oil. As the greens cook down and room permits, continue adding until all greens are in pot and tossed in oil. Cover and let cook down, stirring occasionally, until there is room to add the sausage to the pot. Add the sausage, the chicken broth, and the garlic. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, and reduce heat. Simmer for a few minutes.

Scoop some red rice into the center of four flat soup bowls. Ladle some of the greens and sausage sauce around the rice. Top each bowl with some fresh ground pepper and grated parmesan, if desired. Serve. Enjoy!


Fresh Turkey or Chicken Sausage, Spicy Italian Style
Recipe by surfindaave
Makes about 4 pounds

Note – you can make this sausage as hot or mild as you like, all measurements should be viewed as guidelines only

Ingredients:
4 pounds fresh ground turkey or chicken
2-3 tbsp fennel seeds, freshly ground (or smash them fine with a hammer, as we do)
1-2 cups grated parmesan cheese
1 cup finely chopped parsley
1-3 tbsp red pepper flakes (some like it hot! Use less if you like mild!)
2-3 tbsp salt
pepper

Combine all ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl (I use my hands). Let sit for a few hours, chilled.


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Monday, October 09, 2006

Back to Food

Today is a holiday for the courts. Columbus Day. Probably a day of mourning for the native inhabitants here in SoCal. But I get to cook. And blog.



Despite the apparent tone in my recent post, I am neither against this jury duty business, nor necessarily upset that I got onto a trial. Frustrated at the legal manipulations, yes.

But really, it is mostly this immense feeling of sadness that descends on you in the court house as you cannot help but overhear all the tales of woe from all the people involved in trials there. So many of them involving children and broken families. Kids who maybe don’t even have a chance any more, from the emotional and physical scarring they are receiving. I’m happy enough to participate on the jury, but sad is not a strong enough word.

I should say that given enough time, I am sure I could find a restaurant within walking distance that offered something reasonable to eat while I am on this jury duty. Though the court house is in a pretty rough neighborhood.

I did try bringing some food one day, as there is a nice little green belt surrounding the whole court house and city hall. With some benches, picnic tables, etc. Shady trees. Seemed nice.

I was a bit surprised to find that almost every seat in the park was taken by one of more persons who have evidently camped there for the long run. They seem to be more or less living there, having erected makeshift shelters out of the concrete benches.

I choose one of the few unused benches, and started reading the paper, eating some food I had brought, enjoying the sun. When a new friend sauntered by. Said his name was Albert. Carrying a few bottles of malt liquor, he sat down next to me, and began regaling everyone in earshot, myself included of course, vivid details concerning his daily auto-erotic practices. He offered me a beer as well. Which I declined. As I packed up my lunch and moved back indoors.

Funny story, sort of. True, too. Seems I’ve been leading an isolated life.

Back to food, though.

I mentioned that we are now focused on whole grains. And this causes a bit of a problem. Despite being more nutritious than things based on white flour, not everyone seems so enamored with the taste, not to mention the after effects, of the whole grains.

Looking to mollify all fractions, I announced we were having risotto for dinner. Risotto being a favorite here. When made from short grain white rice, that is. I did neglect to mention that we were making barley risotto.

But the barley had gone over well last time. So I didn’t anticipate too many issues.

The trick to the barley risotto, as I saw it, was to get some flavor into the dish. I decided to try adding flavor from four directions:
1. toast the barley grains before cooking
2. roast the vegetables in olive oil before adding them to the risotto
3. add some herbs to the chicken broth used to make the risotto
4. sauté the onions very slowly for a long time, until they were deeply caramelized, before adding them to the risotto



For vegetables, we used cauliflower and eggplant. We tossed the cauliflower and eggplant in olive oil, cumin and red pepper flakes, then roasted them in the oven for almost an hour. That really adds some color and flavor.

For the broth, we heated chicken broth with thyme and sage added to infuse those flavors throughout the risotto.

And for the onions, I just sautéed them at a very low temperature for about 30 minutes in olive oil, till they were a deep golden brown.

The barley got toasted right in the cooking pan prior to adding the broth.

The result of all this effort was a super rich, complex, deeply flavored ‘risotto’. The flavor just exploded in your mouth with every bite. The barley combined with all those caramelized flavors to create a thick creamy brown ‘sauce’ that enveloped every kernel.



In keeping with the roasted fall vegetable theme, we roasted an acorn squash as well, and arranged the risotto over a slice of the squash for presentation. A sprinkle of sage on top, and the dish was as dramatic to look at as to taste!

Despite being surprised, everyone seemed to enjoy the dish. Maybe a bit more elegant and complex than our usual fare. After some initial hesitation, a satisfied silence enveloped the table. If few direct complements were forthcoming until after dinner, no criticisms were offered either. That’s a definite success for this tough crowd!




Toasted Barley Risotto with Roasted Fall Vegetables
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 head cauliflower, broken into flowerets
2 medium eggplants, cut into large cubes
olive oil
cumin
red pepper flakes
salt, pepper
1 acorn squash, cut into quarters, seeds removed
2 onions, sliced thin
2 cups barley
2-3 tbsp rice vinegar (or 1/2 cup white wine)
8 cups chicken broth
fresh thyme
fresh sage
2 cups parmesan cheese, grated
additional fresh sage, chopped for garnish, if desired
additional grated parmesan, for garnish, if desired

Preheat the oven to 450ºF.

In a large roasting pan, toss the cauliflower flowerets and eggplant pieces with some olive oil. Sprinkle with cumin, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Toss well. Roast for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how dark you like your vegetables. Remove from oven and let cool.

Reduce the oven temperature to 400ºF.

Place the acorn squash slices in an ovenproof dish. Rub with olive oil. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until tender. Remove from oven, and keep warm.

In a small skillet, heat several tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, toss well, and reduce the heat to medium low. Sautee the onions very slowly, tossing often, until they are deep golden in color, about 20 to 30 minutes.

While the squash is baking, make the risotto. In a pot, heat the chicken broth with a few sprigs of thyme and some sage leaves. Bring to a boil, and keep at a bare simmer, covered. In a large heavy pot, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil. When hot, add the barley kernels. Toast the kernels, stirring often, until the kernels begin to brown. Do not let the kernels burn. When they are browned, reduce the heat to medium. Add the rice vinegar, and a few ladles of chicken broth to the barley, stirring. Continue to add the broth, a few ladles at a time, stirring frequently, until the barley is tender, and the mixture has thickened somewhat, about 30 to 40 minutes. Add the onions, the vegetables, and the cheese, stirring gently. Add additional broth to keep the mixture slightly soupy. Cook over low heat, stirring, until the vegetables are just heated through, adding additional broth if necessary.

To plate, place one slice of roasted squash on each plate. Spoon some risotto over the squash and onto the plate. Garnish with grated cheese and chopped sage, if desired. Serve. Enjoy!


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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Harvest Moon

The harvest moon was so beautiful, so huge, so clear in the sky, we just had to give it a shot.

Try to capture it.



We did bad. But we tried! In real life, this harvest moon was huge. And you could see every crater and pot hole in the surface. As it floated, glowing orange, just over the hillside near our house.

More food blogging coming up shortly!

Down By Law

The Serendipitous Chef has been taken down by the law. Sort of. I plead my case here.

Since Tuesday afternoon, I have become part of ‘The People’.

Ostensibly there to right wrongs, dole out justice, put the evil doers behind bars, all that crap.

Jury duty. And picked to sit on a trial.

It has killed my ability to blog, as I have to do everything else I am not doing all day long while I am sitting in a court room.

Now, I’ve seen the movie Runaway Jury.

Along with a few other movies concerning trials.

And those jury folks ate WELL. I mean really well! White table cloths, multi-courses menus, wine, the works.

All nonsense!

The Serendipitous Chef is on jury duty. And the food is bad! And I’m a prisoner to this bad food.

For those who may not be familiar with our jury system here, it works sort of like this:

Random people are coerced under penalty of jail to sit in a huge room with hundreds of other likewise coerced people for hours and hours with TVs showing day time game shows. Bad food and worse coffee are offered at fantastically high prices, much like in a bad airport, as a sort of shock technique. All this is to psychologically wear you down to the point that you begin agreeing to anything to get this duty over with.

At random points during the day, people are selectively singled out and shipped off to points unknown, most never return. Everyone cowers as names are read off, the unlucky shuffle off to their fate, those not called collapse back into their chairs, damp with sweat and still quivering from fear.

Then it happened. My name was called. The first time, I was so surprised, I didn’t react. No problem, they repeated it louder. Everyone began looking around to see who this apparent unpatriotic resistor to the American Way could be. As they called my name the third time, I could see they were already issuing orders to round up my family and seize my assets. I stood up and acknowledged my presence.

Actually, I had a mouthful of that awful coffee in my mouth, and it took a few seconds to get it down before I could respond. Still, I could see them gleefully contemplating who would get my 12 year old Ford (low mileage).

You may have seen court room dramas on TV. But the real world is nothing like this.

The real world is like two 2 year olds fighting over one scoop of ice cream. With a beleaguered, overtaxed parent, totally exasperated and almost comatose, paying just enough attention to see that they don’t actually come to physical blows.

After some hours spent watching these emotionally and socially underdeveloped misanthropes quibble in the most painfully tedious manner possible (It’s mine! No mine! I called it first! No you didn’t! Mom! I had it first! No you didn’t! Mom! She touched me!! Give it back! Mom!!! And so on), you get another chance to empty your wallet on some over priced, poorly prepared, categorically unhealthy food. High in fat and salt, and low in any sort of actual nutritionally contributing elements.

And you get to enjoy this dream meal while sitting amongst other teams of people with other, similar misanthropic quibbles.

The overall impression one is left with is that of immense sadness.

These quibbles, which have involved hundreds of people by the time they reach here, are mainly the result of stubbornness. Either in the ability to find some reasonable common ground in the case of accidents, or in the inability to admit the truth in most other cases.

Other discussions revolve around giving away children, as if they were some sort of furniture. Playing newly restricted parent-child visiting time against additional money.

After a few days of bad food, worse coffee, restricted movement, and having to listen to these overgrown toddlers quibble, you become afraid.

Afraid of the day that your life and livelihood may be put in the hands of this system, these lawyers, and these jurors, who by now are so pissed at the whole nonsense, so sick from the food, and so mind numbingly nauseous from the incredible tedium, they are ready to throw everyone behind bars – including the lawyers and judges.

Me? I would have been happy if the food had been like in the movies. Justice on an empty stomach? Not possible!

Only two more weeks of this to go! Will blog as time permits!

(Warm) ‘Pizza’ for Brunch - WHB

We were shooting for our much loved Frittata for Sunday.

A potato base, sautéed in chicken broth for flavor. Fresh veggies, lightly sautéed and mixed in with a batch of eggs. Everything finished with a layer of cheese on top broiled till bubbly and browned.

This is a dish everyone seems to like. A bit of work for Sunday morning, but usually worth it.



Not to be. Not today. No chicken broth. No veggies. No parmesan cheese.

It’s the effect of this jury duty. No time to shop.

So we improvised. With what we had on hand.

Potatoes sautéed in tomato juice instead of chicken broth.

Basil and oregano instead of thyme or rosemary.

Mozzarella instead of Parmesan.



The result looked more like pizza than a frittata. Everything colored red from the tomatoes. With bubbly, stringy mozzarella on top. I'm thinkin' this has got to be an original!

In retrospect, I might have added some sausage or pepperoni to the mix. It would have been perfect!

Of course, we didn’t have left over cans of flat beer to go with it, as we might have in our college days. Some pleasures are best left to fond memories.

Although I will say that the hot coffee and the tomato-y frittata didn’t go together so well. Somehow tomatoes and coffee clash. Both are too acidic to get along, I suppose.

That being the only dissonant chord, the now dubbed ‘pizza’ frittata was an unqualified success. I had to fight to keep one slim slice for the pictures!

So I offer this one up with oregano and basil being the herbs this week. For this edition of , sponsored this week by Ruth of .

Although I have enjoyed fresh basil since I started cooking, it is only recently that I have begun buying fresh oregano.

Aside from this frittata, fresh oregano now goes into many ‘Italian’ oriented dishes, as well as almost anything Mexican in origin, such as the meat, spice and tomato mixture that is the base of tacos, as well as some of the spicy stews we have been making. Oregano has also popped up in some vinaigrettes, although it sometimes seems a little too strong for this purpose for my taste.

As part of the herb base of this ‘pizza’ frittata, the oregano complemented the basil perfectly, providing a nice balance to the tomato base, helping move the dish from something that might have tasted thrown together to something we expect to make again on a regular basis (next time with sausage!).




‘Pizza’ Frittata
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 pounds small potatoes, white or red, cut into a small dice
One 32 ounce can of tomatoes, including juice
Olive oil
Salt, pepper
½ red onion, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper
10 basil leaves, sliced in thin strips
Several springs of fresh oregano, leaves removed from the stems
8 eggs, lightly beaten
mozzarella cheese, grated (we used the firmed ‘aged’ mozzarella ,but fresh is also OK)
Additional mozzarella for garnish, if desired
Additional basil, chopped, for garnish, if desired

Note - As mentioned, some sautéed sausage, or even some sliced pepperoni sprinkled on top just before broiling, might be fun as well!

Heat some olive oil in a sauté pan. Add the diced potatoes, and all the juice from the can of tomatoes (squeeze the tomatoes to extract all their juices). Bring the potatoes to a boil, covered, and simmer, stirring frequently, until just tender.

In a large, oven proof skillet, heat some olive oil over medium heat. Sautee the onions and red pepper until softened. Add the garlic, and sauté for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon, as well as the basil and oregano. Cook the mixture, uncovered, until most of the liquid is gone. Remove from the pan to a plate to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs and the cooled vegetable mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

When the potatoes are just tender, place then in the large skillet over medium high heat. As the potatoes begin to cook, pour the egg mixture over the top, covering the potatoes evenly. Let the mixture cook, covered, over medium heat, until the eggs on top are beginning to set and bubble.

Turn on the broiler in the oven.

Remove the pan from the stove. Sprinkle the top liberally with grated cheese. Place the pan under the broiler, and roast, watching carefully, until the cheese is bubbly and browned in places, and the eggs are completely set. Remove the pan from the broiler, and let sit for a few minutes (to let the eggs set completely). Slice the frittata into 8 pieces, and serve with a sprinkle of additional mozzarella and chopped basil. Enjoy!


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