Why I Do What I Do

2011/01/13

Happy New Year. A lot of people ask me why I spend so much time and effort preserving my own foods when there are perfectly good grocery stores around selling quality jams, pickles, and canned tomatoes. And in the heat of August, when I am laboring in the kitchen over pot after pot of tomatoes, I often wonder myself. Given that I pay $0.49 per pound of whole tomatoes and it takes not quite a pound and a half to make one pint of canned tomatoes, I am getting a pretty good deal, but time is money, and canning is a lot of work.

This year, in addition to canning stewed tomatoes, I also made salsa, tomato paste (two tiny jars!), and slow roasted cherry tomatoes for freezing. Now I must say that these little beauties are spectacular. I roasted them at 180 degrees (the lowest my oven goes) for about twelve hours per batch, sometimes longer. The smallest ones dried out completely and taste just like sun-dried tomatoes, while the larger ones remained juicy but became oh-so-sweet. Seriously, they taste like tomato candy. But as good as they are, I only managed to get two and a half quart size freezer baggies of tomatoes. For all the chopping and electric bills involved, these seem like less of a bargain.

On nights like tonight, though, in the dead of winter when it barely ever gets above freezing, all that work seems worth it. Because for dinner tonight I made my favorite summer salad. Well, a variation of it. Actually, I have never made this salad the same way twice. The only mandatory ingredients are things I usually have on hand: avocados, mozzarella cheese, and (frozen) roasted corn. The dressing is made of two cubes each of Dorot’s frozen herbs – garlic, basil, and cilantro mixed with lime juice. Tonight I mixed it in with mayo because I had some homemade that needed using up. I wouldn’t bother with store bought mayo for this salad; it doesn’t really need it. I also added a handful of my frozen tomatoes to the salad tonight, defrosted with the corn.

This is really a “kitchen sink” style salad; pretty much anything can be tossed in. In the past I have added black beans, arugula, bell pepper, and anything else that was on hand. I bet boiled potatoes would be excellent. There is no real recipe, but I try to keep the proportions even on the cheese, corn and avocado. I overdressed it a little tonight, but it was still pretty good.

To go with the salad a made
this soup
by a href=”http://smittenkitchen.com/”target=”_blank”>
smitten kitchen almost exactly by the recipe. I ran short on cumin so I added some chili powder for depth and I didn’t want to use beef stock for obvious reasons, so I added an extra cup of tomatoes (my own of course) and then three cups of water with a vegetarian bouillon cube. The soup was really good and the flavors complemented the salad. All in all it was a tasty dinner, with plenty of leftovers.

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A Four Course French-ish Spring-ish Dinner

2010/05/06

Most people I know had been surprised to find out that I had not seen the movie Julie & Julia. Since it is about food and blogging, I can see how it would be easy to assume that I would have been first in line to see it. Well it is no longer true, last weekend we rented the movie and I finally saw it. It was pretty good, too. I actually found it inspirational, particularly during the beginning of Julie’s challenge, when she makes artichokes with hollandaise sauce.

So tonight I decided to make a four course dinner with a spring theme and a French influence. Don’t ask me why I decided on four courses on a Thursday night, but I did. It took a while, but it was totally worth it.

Course 1: Appetizers

The first course was inspired by the farmers’ market this weekend. The restaurant Willow has a booth there in the “summer” months, and they served up this tasty bite. It was a green onion pancake topped with marscapone cheese and a saute of more scallions, shallots, and radishes. I didn’t follow the recipe they handed out exactly, because their pancake used a rolled out dough, and I didn’t want to deal with that, so I made the same pancake batter I use for my Americanized okonomiyaki.

Recipe:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • milk or cream as necessary (I usually use milk but I had cream on hand for another recipe)
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • oil for frying
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • 6 radishes, sliced.
  • 1 tablespoon shallots, minced
  1. Mix eggs, flour, and salt together. Add milk or cream until the batter reaches a desired consistency. Stir in the green onions.
  2. Heat the frying pan over medium heat, and add canola or vegetable oil. Spoon the batter into the oil and fry on both sides until golden brown.
  3. In a saucepan melt the butter. Let it cook a few minutes. Add the radishes, green onions, and shallots. Cook until the butter starts to brown.
  4. Assemble each pancake with a teaspoon of marscapone cheese and a teaspoon of the radish/onion mixture.

Course 2: Main Course

For the main course, I wanted things to be simple, so I just made the artichokes with hollandaise. They take a long time to eat and are sufficiently filling that I didn’t think I really needed anything else. Note: I did buy a baguette, and forgot to serve it, but no one missed it.

The artichokes were simple to cook. I just cut of the tops and bottoms with a serrated knife treated with lemon juice, then trimmed the thorny tips off the leaves with scissors, then rubbed the whole thing down with a lemon. Then I boiled the suckers until they were tender, which took about half an hour, but for a while my water was simmering, not boiling.

For the hollandaise, I adjusted Julia Child’s blender recipe, which I found here, to use a bowl and electric mixer because I didn’t want to get the blender out and potentially make a mess, and I already had the electric mixer out for dessert. It worked really well. Note: this recipe makes a decent amount of sauce, which was good because I dropped the bowl and half of it ended up on the floor. The sauce that stayed in the bowl (and subsequently got spooned into these little dipping bowls and topped with chives) was quite good: very buttery and a bit lemony, but not at all eggy.

Course 3: Cheese and Course

I made a small cheese and salad plate to break up dinner and dessert, which I think it accomplished, because it was half sweet and half savory. The salad was a mixture of shaved asparagus, and arugula and spinach from my garden dressed with a grapefruit infused oil that I bought a couple of weeks ago.

I had three cheeses on the plate. Camenbert on a “biscuit for cheese” made with hazelnuts and figs (it is like a cross between a cracker and a biscotti) that I bought at Whole Paycheck (a rare splurge). Mimolette Francaise with Green Tomato Chutney, and a baguette round with French blue cheese and local Blue Aster honey.

Course 4: Dessert

For dessert I wanted to use up the leftover egg whites from the hollandaise, and I was tickled pink when I found this Mousse au Chocolat from Pierre Herme. Most mousses use egg yolks, too, but this was super easy; just folding a meringue into a ganache. It took less than 10 minutes. The mousse was super rich but also light. It really is a great dessert. Note: Measuring ingredients on a scale in grams is awesome, because when you want to scale a recipe to 3 egg whites instead of 5, the math in metric is so much easier than trying to work out fractions to 4/9ths.

So in all, this was a great dinner. I’m back baby!


A Quinoa Salad for Spring

2010/03/29

I almost followed a recipe today. It sounded so good, and I really wanted to try it as it was written. It was for a Quinoa Salad with Arugula, Asparagus, and Avocado, by Cooking with Amy. You can read it if you click on the first link there. Unfortunately, when I cut into my avocado, it was rotten, and Ian didn’t care to go out and get me another. So instead I just made a quinoa salad with arugula and asparagus. Other than the avocado, I followed the recipe quite closely, although I used bottled lemon juice because it is what I had on hand, omitted the optional dill, and finished it with a sprinkle of parmesan.

In case you didn’t click on the recipe, which you most certainly should do, the dish consists of  thinly shaved asparagus, arugula, (avocado), green onions, and quinoa (a South American fruit, technically, that resembles a grain) in a lemon-olive oil dressing. It tasted quite good, but it needed the avocado to cut the acidity. It also wasn’t very filling, which the avocado might also have fixed. Both Ian and I were still hungry, even though he also had a chicken breast.

I made Ian a pan-fried chicken breast seasoned with lemon (maybe a little too much) and black pepper. After defrosting the chicken, I dipped it in a mixture of lemon and melted butter, and then in a mixture of all-purpose flour, corn flour, garlic, salt, and pepper. I was afraid the lemon wouldn’t be enough, though, so I poured the lemon butter into the frying oil. This was a bad idea; it lowered the smoking point of the oil, so the fat began to burn before the chicken was done, and also the lemon flavor was a bit too much (how could I have known?). Also the batter crumbled and stuck to the pan, though I don’t know if that was the fault of the lemon butter, or the corn flour added to the mix, since I have had similar problems with fried green tomatoes made with the same corn flour. Oh well, I will know better next time.


A Small Summer Dinner Party

2009/06/03
Oh the joys of summer. This morning I went strawberry picking, (more on that tomorrow) and that got me hankering for fresh produce. So I gathered a couple friends and put together a nice, simple meal to highlight the flavors of the season.
We began with a simple dinner salad.
Dinner Salad Dinner Salad

The salad was a combination of mixed baby lettuces, shredded parmesan cheese, toasted slivered almonds, and my simple Balsamic Vinaigrette.

The Recipe:

  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp brown mustard
  • salt and pepper

Whisk all the ingredients together. Serve immediately.

The main course was baked chicken (both real and fake) with roasted early summer vegetables and polenta wedges, garnished with a little crumbled goat cheese.

IMG_0444
Chicken with Polenta Strips and Roasted Vegetables
IMG_0445
The same polenta and vegetables, but with Quorn fake-chicken

There were two vegetarians in the group and two meat eaters, so I made two of the plates with real chicken and two with Quorn fake chicken. “Naked Chik’n Cutlets” are what I think they are called. Both the fake chicken and the real chicken were brushed lightly with a mix of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper while they were cooking. I, personally, really like the Quorn fake chicken, and I thought the light marinade was nice.

The roasted vegetables were really the star, so it is unfortunate that they are not as visible in the picture. I cooked a mixture of carrots, asparagus, red bell pepper, and vidalia onion in the same marinade as the chicken. The flavors blended very well and the vegetables were very tender and colorful. They just shouted: summer!

I have had a hankering recently for polenta, so I decided to make little polenta wedges. These took way longer than I thought they would, so they are not as brown and crispy as I would like them to be, but no one complained. To make the polenta wedges, I just cooked the polenta according to the package instructions, cooled it in the refrigerator, shaped it into a log with a dish towel (thanks Clotilde!), chilled it some more, cut it, and baked it in the oven after spraying it with olive oil with the nifty little olive oil pump my mom gave me for Christmas last year.

The Recipe:

  • 4 carrots
  • 1 large bunch thin asparagus
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 1 vidalia onion
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon zest
  • salt and pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Peel the carrots and chop on a diagonal. Cut off the bottom third of the asparagus stalks and discard. Cut the remaining pieces in half. Dice the red pepper. Halve and slice the onion. (This is how I cut the vegetables because I thought it would look fun. You can cut them however you like.)
  3. Mix the olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper together in a small dish.
  4. Line a roasting pan or 9 x 13 baking dish with aluminum foil. Toss the vegetables with the marinade.
  5. Cook in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until done.

We also had dessert, but I’ll write about that later…