Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pesto Pasta

Tomatoes are finally edible--though not any from my garden. But what is doing well in my garden are the herbs. The caterpillars have been focusing their energy on the viney plants and have largely ignored the fragrant basil, parsely, oregano and rosemary. Sitting out on my back porch eating this plate of pasta, I realized that I just might be one of those "granola" people (aside from the cannabis smoking). I spotted a caterpillar resting on one of my flowering plants (the name of which I can't recall) and I let it live, thinking that it will go into its cocoon pretty soon anyway and would then entertain me as a butterfly (or more likely annoy me as a moth but whatever). My basil plant, up until last night, was covered in leaves all of them tantalizing me with their aroma. Yes, it was time for some pesto--pesto being the sole purpose for growing basil in the first place. Pesto incorporates all things I love (or at least quite a few of them) including basil, garlic, pine nuts (which I could eat by the handful) and parmesan cheese. So simple. Pesto and tomatoes scream summer to me. It's got all the flavor and all the color.

Basic Pesto: 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed 1/3 cup pine nuts 1 clove garlic 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1/2 cup parmesan cheese In a food processor, pulse basil, pine nuts and garlic. Add salt and pepper and pulse again. While blending, slowly add olive oil until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Remove from processor and put in a bowl. Add parmesan cheese and stir to mix. You may need to add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with capellini pasta and freshly diced Roma tomatoes. (Pesto is also great on turkey sandwiches.)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Easy as 1-2-3

Layer cakes are an impossible art (or science) to me. I already wrote about Megan's yellow cake. The cake part turned out fine, just not the frosting. It gets stuck on the crumbs and I didn't have time to make the frosting so I used the Betty Crocker kind, which wasn't enough to cover a two-layer cake. But anything I've made for my mom's birthday just takes the cake (sorry, I couldn't resist). I get ambitious and think I can make a black walnut cake without checking the pantry beforehand. Instead I improvised. What came out was a great tasting cake that fell apart where it stood. We called it the Great Rift, as 1/3 of the top layer split apart, much like the continents did way back when. I mended it with icing. Another year I made a basic white cake. The only embellishments were thinly sliced strawberries stuffed in between the layers and adorned on top. Unfortunately, I neglected to follow instructions on the frosting, which turned out to be to runny. It was sliding off the cake and pooling on the platter, along with all the strawberries. This year I realized my weakness and made carrot cake cupcakes (my mom's favorite).
They kicked ass. They even kicked ass when I ran out of vegetable and substituted olive oil. They even kicked ass when mom was out of large Ziplocks with which to frost the cupcakes using my secret method. They kicked so much as that my mom at TWO cupcakes after her birthday dinner and FOUR cupcakes yesterday.
Let me repeat that: FOUR CUPCAKES WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING eaten by the woman who harasses my dad about his lipids, goes on 3-miles walks every day, plays tennis all the time, and even once staged an intervention to entreat me to go on Weight Watchers (which made me insecure for a while but actually pretty healthy in the long run).
photos courtesy of the new yorker and kidrobot. no time to take photos of these, so use your imagination. Carrot Cake Cupcakes: by Ina Gartner
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 large eggs
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 400. In a large bowl, beat sugar, oil and vanilla with electric mixer. Add one egg at a time, beating on a low speed.
In a separate, smaller bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Add half of dry mixture to wet mixture and mix. Add carrots and raisins to remaining dry mixture and stir to coat. Blend with the rest of the wet mixture with a spatula.
Fill lined cupcake tray with batter, filling each cup 3/4 of the way. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, reduce to 350 degrees and bake for another 25 minutes, until cupcakes are cooked through. Makes 24.
Cream Cheese Frosting: (note this is not Ina Gartner's recipe, so don't follow hers on that link)
4 1/2 ounces cream cheese (DO NOT SUBSTITUTE LIGHT)
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar

In a small bowl with an electric mixer, blend all the ingredients together until smooth. If it's too thick, add a small amount of milk. To ice cupcakes using my secret method, transfer frosting to a large Ziplock baggie. Close baggie and cut a hole in one of the corners. Use it as if it were a pastry bag.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Maria Cooks Light

With all these guest posts you'd think I was on vacation instead of spending my days in the cube or waltzing about enjoying summer in my Homaha. Here's another post from Maria. I've been trying to eat healthier lately. Everyone who knows me knows I eat fairly healthy (except for my baking habit). However, my portions have been "American" sized--with all the running I do, I tell myself I can eat more. It's a lie. You really only burn 100-150 calories per mile of running, and I don't run 10 miles every day. Anyway, my mom and stepdad came to visit in May. Not only did they help me plant a potted garden on my patio, but they also showed me some good ways to prepare healthy dishes. We had a huge feast one night consisting of the following:
In the iron skillet we put some water (no need for oil!), garlic, and asparagus pieces and sauteed under tender.
Tilapia with mango salsa:
I don't have a picture of the fish, sorry. We baked it in a foil-lined baking dish after putting lemon juice, lemon pepper, a little salt, parsley and basil on each side of the fish. The mango salsa consisted of a chopped mango, chopped jalapeno (only use half if you don't like things spicy--oops!), chopped avocado, handful or twoof chopped cilantro, and a couple squirts of lemon juice and limejuice. Salt and pepper to taste. No need to blend, this is a chunkysalsa served on the tilapia (also tastes good on salads or lemonpepper chicken).
Salmon patties
I'd never tried salmon and was skeptical (WHAT!), but Mom promised it wouldn't taste "fishy" (my big fear). We bought the large sized foil pouch of salmon and combined that with 5 or 6 crushed saltine crackers, and 2 egg whites in a bowl. Mix with hands until combined, then form 3 patties. We again used the iron skillet and cooked them with just water on medium heat.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Maria Bakes Bread

I love this post for two reasons: 1.) all I had to do was post it and 2.) someone else makes attempts at yeast bread and it's not completely perfect (though much better than some of my recent attempts). Thanks, Maria, for another great post. The past few months have been hectic, but I've managed to make some yummy foods and snap a few pictures. I was craving homemade french bread so found this recipe online. As you'll see in the pictures, I'm not good at making the bread all the same size and shape (pshh, I think it looks fine/like a normal loaf of bread). I was also afraid my baking sheets were not big enough, so I made 4 loaves rather than 2. In my opinion, the bread was too yeasty tasting so suggestions are welcome.
French Loaf:
6 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon cornmeal (I didn't have this)
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water

In a large bowl, combine 2 cups flour, yeast and salt. Stir in 2 cupswarm water and beat until well blended using a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment (didn't have this so I just stirred by hand). Using a wooden spoon, stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can.
On a lightly floured surface, knead in enough flour to make a stiff dough that is smooth and elastic. Knead for about 8 to 10 minutes total. Shape into a ball. Place dough in a greased bowl, and turn once. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled.
Punch dough down and divide in half (or quarters). Turn out onto alightly floured surface. Cover, and let rest for 10 minutes. Roll each half (quarter) into large rectangle. Roll up, starting from a longside. Moisten edge with water and seal. Taper ends.
Grease a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with cornmeal. Place loaves, seam side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Lightly beat the egg white with 1 tablespoon of water and brush on. Cover with a damp cloth. Let rise until nearly doubled, 35 to 40 minutes.
With a very sharp knife, make 3 or 4 diagonal cuts about 1/4-inch deep across top of each loaf. Bake in a preheated 375 degrees oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and brush again with egg white mixture. Bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until dough is baked through. If necessary, cover loosely with foil to prevent over browning (I didn't do this). Remove from baking sheet, and cool on a wire rack.
Tastes best warm with butter!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Penne with Swiss Chard and Pine Nuts

When I was little, probably around 5 or 6, my dad had to make dinner for my sister and I. I'm certain it wasn't his idea to make cooked spinach, but it happened all the same. And it is the one and only meal that made me sick. I more-or-less stayed away from wilted greens for the next 20 years. But slowly, slowly I've been coming around, starting with this dish, which was great. But after this pasta, I'm a full-blown advocate of Swiss chard. I'm a visual eater. In yoga when I should be focusing on breathing, I go Zen by imagining runny eggs and coffee in the morning. So all it took was a photo of this pasta on the blog Cucina Nicolina, and I was sold. It's been a sweltering and suffocating 95 degrees with a heat index of (today) up to 115--that's hotter than Thailand people, so I know no one wants to eat anything warm. But this was light and summery with a delicious buttery crunch from the pine nuts. It was all I could do to not lick the bowl after eating this pasta. I (of course) made a couple tweets, I mean tweaks. And I must congratulate myself for a) using up semi-unusual and perishable food from my fridge and b) even having said semi-unusual and perishable food that isn't well into the process of growing something very unusual. It must be a sign of maturation as a cook. Though now I'm the proud owner of a ridiculous amount of leftover (and delicious) pasta. Doesn't anyone have a tip as to how to judge how much pasta to make for one or two people? Penne with Swiss Chard and Pine Nuts: 1/2 cup pine nuts 1 tablespoon olive oil 1/2 onion, diced 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 3 stalks of rainbow chard, with the leaves coarsely chopped and the stalks discarded 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes 1/4 cup ricotta cheese (Cucina Nicolina used 1 cup of feta cheese) 1 tablespoon cream salt and pepper 1 teaspoon dried oregano parmesan cheese 4 ounces of dried pasta (this serves about 4 people) Fill a medium sauce pan with water and sprinkle with salt (about 2 teaspoons) and bring to a boil on the stovetop. Cook penne until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain pasta and transfer to serving bowl. Meanwhile, in a frying pan, toast pine nuts on medium-high heat on the stovetop until light brown in color. Remove and place in a small bowl. Using the same frying pan, heat oil on the skillet, add onion and saute for a minute and then add the garlic, being careful not to burn the garlic. Once onion is softened, add Swiss chard and a couple spoonfuls of the pasta water to the frying pan. Bring water to a boil and simmer, while stirring, until the chard has wilted. Add the tomatoes, bring to a simmer and reduce--takes about 5 minutes. Stir in ricotta until it has melted, drop in cream, while stirring until sauce has thickened. Season with salt, pepper and oregano. Transfer thickened sauce to the serving dish already filled with the pasta. Toss to coat pasta. Throw in the toasted pine nuts and top with parmesan cheese. Serves 4.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sarah's Blueberry Banana Muffins

I noticed this photo on my friend Sarah's Twitter and made a special request for the recipe to share with you all. Sarah is contributing editor (like me) at The Reader, only she manages the art section (quite beautifully I might add). We even co-wrote a story (which you can read here) about an artist whose medium is food. I was in Africa for the exhibition (which was a meal) and Sarah made the bold sacrifice to give up vegetarianism for one night for the sake of art--people, she ate SHEEP BRAIN! Sarah's blog Week Fifty Two focuses on art happenings in the Omaha area and abroad. Or you can support Sarah's day job by visiting the state of Nebraska as a tourist (she's the media relations coordinator for the state tourism board). I just decided last night to make some muffins. I had an overripe banana and some blueberries that I didn't know what to do with. I opened up my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and found a pretty generic recipe for muffins. I changed a few things according to what I had in the fridge--buttermilk instead of milk and agave instead of white sugar. I didn't use muffin cups as I thought the muffins would stick and I just stirred in the fruit without mashing it.
The resulting muffins are subtly sweet and have big chunks of blueberry and banana. They bubbled and browned really nicely. Next time I might also mix some cinnamon in the batter. I'm usually really bad at baking--I've had many, many baking disasters--so I was happy these turned out so well!
Sarah's Blueberry Banana Muffins: 1 3/4 cups flour 1/3 cup agave syrup (find at whole foods) 2 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teapsoon salt (I ground fresh sea salt, around four turns of the grinder) 1 egg, beaten 3/4 cup milk (I used buttermilk) 1/4 cup cooking oil fresh blueberries one ripe banana cinnamon Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease one regular sized muffin pan. Combine flour, agave, salt and baking powder and stir. Then combine oil, buttermilk and egg, and stir with fork. Combine wet ingredients with dry ingredients and stir. Batter will be lumpy. Add blueberries (as many as you like) and slice banana. Stir in slices and berries. Fill each cup to about 3/4 full. Top with cinnamon. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes. Makes 12 yummy muffins.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Summer Salad and Eating Organic

Tuesday night I left yoga before shavasena to catch an encore showing of Food Fight at Film Streams. When the movie got out, it was 8 p.m. Plus after staring at delicious food for a little over an hour, I was hungry. Yet feeling bad about eating highly-processed food from a mega-farm that is actually some derivative of corn or soy instead of vegetables or grains shipped from the nether reaches of the globe. Blah blah blah. Yes, Food Fight is one of those granola movies that highlights the growing trend toward eating organic, natural foods. What I loved about the movie wasn't so much that it was about buying food that hasn't been treated with pesticides or hormones or that hasn't been genetically modified or whatever because that stuff is bad. It was about buying food that has been raised the old-fashioned way because it tastes better and is better for you. I often think about how many people I hear who don't like tomatoes, and I guarantee it's because they haven't ever had good tomatoes. I went home and made a salad with at least half of the produce from the "big-bad" farms. But to make myself feel better, I trimmed some pansies (edible flowers) from my sad little window planter of greens, as well as a few basil and parsley leaves. Topped with blueberries, mushrooms, feta and almonds that have been chilling in my fridge for a while, this salad was mighty tasty--organic or no. For those in Omaha who missed the two screenings of Food Fight (really, a fascinating look at why and how our food production got to where it is today without being mean-spirited), Food Inc. will be showing at Film Streams starting July 31.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Summer Citrus Risotto

We're now in the thick of summer--OK, the unofficial thick of summer. I'm putting away the potatoes and squash until its winter and that's all there is. Because right now, it's about fruit and greens. Last night I sat out on my back porch eating risotto watching the sun set and the neighborhood was spinning with people outside. The neighbors three doors down have a half basketball court in their backyard, two doors down their garden is blooming and the laundry is hanging on the line (love), and the tenement house next door has an unfortunately oft naked neighbor on the first floor and some lovely aged hippis with a small garden in the basement apartment--no sirree, these folks won't be stealing my tomatoes this year. People are even starting to set off fireworks. I love summer.
Risotto is one of my favorites. I have a autumn version and a winter version, so it's only fair that there be something for summer. The citrus lightened it up beautifully, as did freshly-cut basil and parsley from my porch garden (success!).
Citrus Risotto: with help from Amateur Gourmet and 101 Cookbooks
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 onion, chopped
2 green onions, chopped (usually I do one kind of onion, but I had both so I used both)
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup Arborio or short grain rice
1 cup dry white wine
3-4 cups chicken stock
1 cup pre-cooked shrimp
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/2 cup parmesan cheese (or to taste)
1/4 cup creme fraiche, sour cream, mascarpone or plain yogurt (or to taste)
1/4 cup lemon juice (or to taste)
salt and pepper
basil and parsley

In a medium sauce pan on medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the onions, after a minute stir in the garlic. Saute for about 5 minutes until onion is soft. Pour in a glug of olive oil, then stir in rice coating with the oil. Add the wine and let simmer until it reduces completely.
Meanwhile, on another burner, heat chicken stock to just below a simmer in a medium sauce pan. Once wine has reduced begin adding stock to rice one cup at a time waiting until the rice has absorbed the stock before adding more. Stir frequently. Continue adding stock every 5 minutes or so until rice is cooked through. Whilst adding stock you can toss in the shrimp at any point. Once rice is finished, remove pan from heat. Stir in zest, yogurt, parmesan cheese and salt and pepper, adjust according to taste. Top with basil and parsley. Serves two.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Lemon Berry Tart

I escaped last Saturday to Bellevue Berry Farm with the goal of picking more strawberries than I knew what to do with. It only took an hour or so before I was ready to leave; my box of red berries weighed in at four pounds--a respectable amount I thought. But at home I couldn't fit them all in the fridge or even in one container. In anticipation of welcoming 30 to 40 people to the apt within a few hours, I was forced to ban the beer to an oversized cooler that has been taking up space on our back porch. All went well and I was able to escape from people for a few hours before being bombarded by them once again (though I was unable to elude a small army of chiggers at the strawberry patch). The berries were perfect though. The juice colored my hands red and they tasted wholy unlike the giant grocery store strawberries. I know those strawberries are beautiful and pink and can be quite juicy, but when comparing to these small, organically grown berries, they seem quite abnormal. How, in God's name, did those berries get to be that size? They're berries. And out of season, they taste like styrofoam. These berries taste like summer, perfect combination of the sweet attributes of a blueberry and the tartness of a raspberry. I've been chomping the berries plain and adding them to my bowl of Kashi granola cereal every morning. I have an eye for making some jam--just to torture myself. But first things first: a tart.
Now that I've mastered the art of the crust, I feel an urge to flex my pastry-making muscles. I loaded up on berries (black, rasp and blue) at the grocer for the perfect summer dessert. The tart I ended up with was absolutely devine.
The lemon curd was just tart enough to cut the sweetness of the berries. And the crust was perfectly crumbly. Even the roofer admired the pastry. And crusts aside, it was shockingly easy.
Lemon Berry Tart: (lemon curd courtesy of David Lebovitz) I followed this recipe for the tart crust. 6 tablespoons butter 1/2 cup lemon juice 1 teaspoon lemon zest 1/2 cup granulated sugar 2 large eggs 2 large egg yolks 1 9-inch already baked tart shell 2 cups assorted berries powdered sugar for dusting (optional) In a medium sauce pan on medium-low heat, melt the butter. Stir in the sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest until sugar has dissolved.
Pre-heat oven to 350. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and egg yolks. Pour half a cup of the warm lemon mixture into the bowl with the eggs and whisk to heat the eggs. You want the eggs to be warm so they don't scramble in the sauce pan. Pour the egg mixture into the sauce pan with the lemon-butter sauce. Stir continuously until curd thickens (it will be nearly bubbling on the side, some chunks may develop, which is fine, it just means it's time to remove it from the heat). Immediately remove from heat once it has thickened. Pour the curd through a strainer onto the already-baked tart shell, pushing any chunks through the strainer with a spatula. Smooth the top of the tart and pop it in the oven for 5 minutes to set. Remove and let cool. Top with berries and powdered sugar.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Crummy Chocolate Cake

My mom has been making Crummy Chocolate Cake for years, though it hasn't always been named as such. In fact, now that I search my memory, the first I can recall of the chocolate cake is the date of its naming. Before that, it was just any chocolate cake. Now, it's our chocolate cake. I must have been in fifth grade at the time. I was still in elementary school and Baby Emily was around, so I was probably eleven. Mom made the chocolate cake to bring as a treat for Pioneer Girls Club at church. The cake was sitting out on the counter while we were eating dinner, my dad still dressed in his suit from a day at work. We got up to leave and probably pack Emily in a car seat, my mom was driving the carpool and we grabbed the chocolate cake--to the befuddlement of Dad. "Where was it going? What, no cake for dessert?" And then, disappointed and (rightfully) a touch upset, the now infamous statement came out: "I didn't get one piece of that crummy chocolate cake!" (You don't separate that man from his chocolate.) Mom whisked the cake away, to the enjoyment of all the girls and volunteers at church and left Dad at home. But the next day, there was another cake just for him--only now dubbed Crummy Chocolate Cake. And my poor dad, being the only male among four women, has been teased, poked and prodded endlessly about it. I suppose it's no coincidence this cake was made in honor of his birthday a week ago. But he's not the only one who loves the Crummy Chocolate Cake. We all love it so much that one piece isn't enough. You can see my mom doing her trademark snitch of a quarter piece of cake. All us girls do it. And a quarter soon becomes a half which soon becomes a whole. Oh but it's so good.

Crummy Chocolate Cake: (not to be confused with Crumby)
1 cup butter 3 tablespoon cocoa 1 cup hot water 2 cups flour 2 cups sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon baking soda 2 eggs 1/2 cup buttermilk Frosting: 1/2 cup butter, softened 3 tablespoons cocoa 3 tablespoons milk 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 pound powdered sugar Pre-heat oven to 350. Combine butter, cocoa and hot water in saucepan. Heat over medium until butter has melted. Combine dry ingredients in mixing bowl. Add butter mixture to bowl and stir until well blended. Blend in eggs and buttermilk. Pour batter into jelly roll size pan (bigger than 11x13). Bake for 20 minutes. Mix frosting and pour over cooled cake (this is very important, the icing won't set if the cake is hot). Emily always asks for more frosting.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More Africa Photos

Below is a link to the photo album from my trip to Botswana and Zambia for work. I widdle down the photos from 1800 to a mere 141 for your perusal. Enjoy (and please don't steal them and say you took them). http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2095999&id=36106398&l=c92109d09e

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Garlic Chicken Pizza

My mom is a genius. I called her last week with a dilemma: What to make for some friends. Her response: Pizza. Simple. Everyone loves pizza. On inspiration from the Pizza Shoppe in Benson I went for garlic chicken--also I love garlic. But when I came home to make this pizza Saturday, I discovered the garlic was MIA. Goldilocks had gone through my apartment and rearranged everything in anticipation of our house party--Megan declares it looks better. I admit, some tweaks were improvements. However, those improvements do not include the missing garlic (which I blame on this person without any real proof) and hiding our doorbell in one of the cupboards. I digress. The pizza was great, except for the crust. I bought it freshly made at the Rotella's factory down the street from my office (garlic bread day is the best!). But the crust didn't come with directions, so the first time I made it I couldn't get it to stretch flat enough and then it didn't cook through. The second time was better, though if I do it again I'll set the oven on the highest temp. We scarfed down some of the pizza right before our party started. To clean up, Eric and I just threw it back in the cooled oven and forgot about it until the next day. I live on the wild side when it comes to food, but I drew the line with chicken that had been sitting out all night. Had to throw it away. Garlic-Chicken Pizza: 2 tablespoons butter 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 green onions, finely diced 1 teaspoon dried basil salt and pepper 1 chicken breast 2 roma tomatoes, diced 2 cremini mushrooms, sliced pizza dough parmasan cheese Pre-heat the oven to 500. In a small sauce pan, melt the butter and add the garlic, onions, basil, salt and pepper. Sautee until garlic and onion are barely browned. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a couple minutes. Meanwhile, place chicken breast in a skillet and cover with water. On stovetop, bring water to boil and then reduce to simmer. Simmer until chicken is cooked through and no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool for a few minutes. Once cooled, tear chicken into bite-sized pieces. While the butter is cooling, work on the pizza dough. Grease a baking sheet and work dough gently so that the dough is spread to an even thickness throughout. Go back to the butter. In a small mixing bowl, stir together butter mixture and ricotta cheese, adding more salt and pepper to taste if necessary. Spread cheese mixture over the flattened dough. Top pizza with chicken, tomatoes and mushrooms. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until crust is browned and crispy and cooked through.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

No Knead Bread

In Africa, we had freshly baked bread every night for dinner. Hot off the campfire. The cooks/chefs were so skilled at making bread, they didn't even need an oven. I, on the other hand, am a complete failure when it comes to baking yeast breads. I am notoriously impatient, and yeast bread is unforgiving and uncompromising. It is one thing in the kitchen with which I can't meet in the middle. It always turns out hard, small, undercooked or burnt, or some combination of all three--burnt on the outside, doughy on the inside. My compromise is to give up for the time being. Instead, I made this whole wheat quick bread with sultanas to go with my soup last week. It was just barely sweet, making it a perfect combination for the savory soup. When my mom makes soup, she often pairs it with blueberry tea bread or banana bread. Bread and soup have a fond place in my heart.
Brick Alley Bread: from Better Homes and Gardens 2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
3 tablespoons honey
1 cup raisins (or sultanas as I used)
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg white, whisked

Pre-heat oven to 350. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together egg, honey and buttermilk. Then add raisins and stir. Add wet mixture to the dry mixture, stirring until just moistened. On a greased baking sheet, turn out dough. Using hands form into an eight-inch circle that is of even thickness (about 3 inches). Brush dough with egg white. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until edge is golden, and it has been cooked through.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fall Soup in Summer

I realize now may not be the best time of year for a hot soup, particularly one that features butternut squash. But this soup, dios mio, my favorite ever. The recipe is tweaked from one on 101 Cookbooks, always reliable. I tend to think of cooking and even baking as a creative activity on line with writing, painting and music. But it's so easy to create a new dish by just tweaking one or two ingredients, it almost doesn't seem fair. Change is the natural progression of a recipe. Each person puts their imprint on lasagna, they pass it on and the next person makes a tweak here and there. There are infinitessimal ways to make one single meal. In that way cooking is like language. (Allow me to put my nerd glasses on.) Change and creativity are what I absolutely love about language. Living language is always in flux, adding new words, dropping old ones. There are a million and one ways to communicate what would amount to the same utterance, and each person does it differently, and (even more fascinating) each culture does it differently. There are rules to language (and cooking), we know the rules and then we break them. It's beautiful. This all got me to thinking about creative process. I mean, there's not much creative energy in substituting Holly's adzuki beans with cannellinis, and the only reason why I did it was because I didn't have adzukis. I tend to think of anything creative as something that requires a lot of energy. But maybe that's completely false. I think creativity can be simple. Look at "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," for example. That is a song we sing to children. It's a simple tune, but it's lovely. The original Mozart diddy goes off on a much more complex tirade, but the melody is still there. I think we make creativity into something impossible. I hear things all the time like "I could never paint that." Sure, you can't paint that, but you can paint something. Along the same lines, I wonder how much of the truly creative, original stuff is born out of necessity. I tend to think of creativity springing from a wealth of money, love, happiness and time. But maybe it really springs from depravity.
Enough of my high-brow tangent. All you really want is the recipe.
Cannellini Butternut Squash Soup: 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon coriander 1 teapsoon dried red pepper flakes 1 teapsoon salt 1 onion, diced 3 cloves garlic, diced 2 cups butternut squash, peeled and chopped 3 cups chicken stock 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes 1 15-ounce can rinsed cannellini beans In a medium skillet, heat oil on medium heat. Saute cinnamon, coriander, pepper flakes and salt for a few minutes. Toss in the onion, and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and squash, stir to coat with oil and then add the stock. Bring to a boil, reduce and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until squash softens a bit. Using a potato masher or a large fork, break up the squash a bit. It doesn't have to be a puree, just a little less chunky. Add the tomatoes and cook for a couple minutes. Then add the beans. Continue simmering for about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and spices. Serves 4.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Pasta al Tomate

Last week, Emily and I went to the airport to collect our sister, returned from an epic voyage to Italy. She offered to make the entire family dinner last Friday, a decision I'm sure she regrets. I'm not so sure she missed us. My part of the story started when Al called to invite me to dinner. "Well, I have a party to go to, what time is it going to be over?" (This is the sort of thing you can only say to your family.) But I came and sat on the couch and complained that dinner wouldn't be over according to my schedule. Dad and I sat in the living room, joking and sincerely wondering where the chef du jour was. It was 5:30 p.m., and she was at the grocery store--this is America, Al. We eat by 6! But the pasta got rolling, mom was on-hand to lend assistance and I finally dragged myself off the couch to chop some tomatoes--for which I was lucky not to maim my hand while Al pushed around the cutting board in a frantic dash to find the corkscrew. But taking nibbles of the food and sips from the wine sobered everyone's tempers. Al was the chef de cuisine, mom was sous chef and I was the lowly garde manger (pantry supervisor).

But we did the work to prepare the bruschetta, salad and pasta (no meat to be seen--and on my dad's birthday). Al even grabbed a bottle of wine from the town in which she lived in Italy (Orvieto). The recipes are from a restaurant in Orvieto called Zeppelin where Al took a cooking class. So our meal was just as good as being there--obnoxious family included. Bruschetta: 1 loaf of HyVee take and bake bread (this stuff is awesome and so easy) 2 ounces pancetta Asiago cheese, thinly sliced coarsely chopped fresh basil olive oil balsamic vinegar dried parsely This seems too easy to explain, but here goes: Slice baked bread into one-inch-thick pieces to serve topped with the cheese, pancetta and basil and also dipped in a bowl of a olive oil-vinegar-parsely mixture.

Pasta with Tomatoes and Chilis: olive oil 3 cloves garlic, diced 1 cup dry white wine 2 pounds Roma tomatoes, diced 1 chili pepper, diced (remove seeds according to desired spiciness) large handful of fresh basil, coarsely chopped big handful spaghetti salt and pepper to taste parmesan cheese In a large sauce pan on medium, heat oil and saute garlic for a couple minutes. Add wine, tomatoes and chili pepper and continue to saute for 5 to 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Al bought an Anaheim pepper, which is less spicy than a jalapeno. You can always adjust the spiciness by adding or removing the ribs and seeds from the pepper. As far as judging a pepper's spiciness, generally smaller peppers are spicier. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook spaghetti according to directions. Al picked up some spaghetti with ribs in it, which I really liked. Drain pasta and carefully dump into sauce pan with tomatoes. To serve top with basil and parmasan cheese.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Vegetarian Meatballs

Megan has been raving about her homemade vegetarian meatballs since I've gotten back from Africa. And if you know Meg, she on the humble/self-conscious side and would never brag about anything unless it was over-and-above delicious. Though I was out of the country, I think there are a few meatless-balls packed away in the freezer, waiting for me to steal. Meatless Meat Balls: 6 eggs 1 8-oounce package cream cheese 1 1/2 cups soda cracker crumbs (add more if needed) 1 cup portabello mushrooms, chopped into small pieces 1 cup pecan pieces, chopped 1 medium onion, minced 1.5 tsp salt Mix everything together. Form into balls. Heat oil in a large sauce pan and brown the meatballs in oil. Put into casserole dish. Cover balls with tomato sauce. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Good servied with spaghetti or with sauteed vegetables.