Saturday, July 31, 2010

mushrooms in a spicy cream sauce, on a bed of steamed acorn squash

This was supposed to be a calzone. It was supposed to be a calzone up to the point where I had the onions and the mushrooms on the stove and was just about to slice up a tomato when I opened the fridge to check my leftover pizza dough and found it dry, hard, and not very dough-like. Oops. Looking around, I glimpsed an acorn squash and dinner was reborn.

A side note: I love microwaves. They're so underappreciated, don't you think? The ragu's done on the stove top, but the squash is done wonderfully simply in the microwave.

Mushroom Ragu on a Bed of Steamed Acorn squash
Serves three well (approx. 300 calories and 30 carbohydrates per serving)

2 onions, quartered and sliced
1 Tb butter
salt and pepper to taste

3 C mushrooms
3 cloves garlic
1 Tb olive oil
3 Tb flour

1/2 C white wine
1/4 tsp sage, basil, thyme, cayenne, parsley

1 C milk (I used nonfat; you could bump this up to a higher fat content if you wanted. Cream is nice, but I didn't have any)

1 acorn squash

In a medium saucepan, saute the onions in 1 Tb butter. Don't worry too much about burning; we want these to caramelize and all the sugars to cook and brown. I let these cook about 10 minutes.

After about ten minutes, add 3 C mushrooms (I used 1 C halved white button and 2 C whole small Italian brown, but use whatever you have), the garlic cloves, and 1 Tb olive oil. Also mix in the flour. There's no liquid in the pan yet, so the flour should be able to permeate the dish without thickening and clumping yet.

Flour's thickening abilities earn it a special place in the hearts of both cooks and bakers, but we like to be able to tell it when to start thickening. If you add it straight to a boiling liquid (boiling being the temperature at which flour begins to thicken), the flour will start its thickening on contact with the liquid, trapping bubbles of liquid and forming nasty gummy clumps. You can avoid this by dissolving the flour in a little water before you add it to the boiling liquid. However, that can give a raw floury taste to the dish. You can avoid that and add a better flavor by adding the flour to the pan and cooking it with fat (in this case, butter and olive oil) before you add the liquid. Fat and flour cooked together is called a roux, which is discussed more in my gumbo post.

Cook the mushrooms for about five minutes, then add 1/2 C white wine and the spices. Let the wine reduce for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. (This would be a good time to start the squash).

Add 1 C milk. Stirring, let it come just to a boil.

To cook the squash, peel and quarter it. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap, then microwave for 5-6 minutes or until soft. Sprinkle on some salt, then ladle the mushroom ragu over the top. Eat hot with a cold glass of milk and perhaps a side of sauteed greens.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

chewy oat cookies, dotted with dried fruits

My father loves oatmeal raisin cookies. Not just any oatmeal raisins cookies, but Quaker's "Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies," the ones with the recipe on the inside of the lid. (And specifically with a glass of cold milk, too).

My mother thinks they're boring. She'll eat them if you add chocolate chips, but she'd rather just eat chocolate chip cookies. Or just chocolate.

So I made a batch of cookies for Papa (I made a few changes to the recipe even for Papa's "classic Vanishing" version. Don't tell!), but about half I doctored up to suit Mum's tastes. They come out quite pretty, flecked with dried fruit. I like them fine just with fruit, but for Mum's approval then need a dash of chocolate, too.

Jewel Oat Cookies
Adapted from Quaker's "Vanishing Oat Cookies"

1/2 C butter (I use salted for everything, because I'm lazy. If you use unsalted, add a dash of salt to any of my recipes calling for butter)
1 C sugar
1/8 C molasses
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 C flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 C oats
1 C raisins
1/2 C dried apricots, diced
1/2 C dried cranberries
1/2 C chocolate chips (optional; actually I advise against it. As much as I love it, chocolate rather overwhelms everyone else in the party)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the vanilla and egg and beat until they are incorporated, too. Add the flour and baking soda and mix on low until incorporated (Mixing flour on high makes it all fly upward, creating a nice white dust cloud in your kitchen).

Mix in the oats (the recipe asks for less than I put here. But I like oats, especially in this cookie. Just trust me). Add the dried fruit and chocolate.

Put balls of the dough on a cookie sheet, then use the back of a spatula to press each ball down into a thick disk (maybe a half inch in height).

Bake for 12 minutes or until the edges are golden.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

crisp phyllo cups filled with sweet cream and fruit

I bought a pastry book. This was probably a bad idea, because I have enough fat, sugar, and flour in my life, surely. But it was so pretty and, because it was a little wrinkled here and there, so cheap. I spent the evening paging through it, salivating. I haven't made any actual recipes out of it (only admired the pictures) but I have had three phyllo (or filo) adventures inspired by it. Here are two.

The phyllo cups, washed with yogurt before baking, turn out crisp and buttery at their topmost edges and moist but firm at their bases. I was quite pleased with the end result; I hope you are, too.

Phyllo Pastry Cup Adventures: 
Chocolate, Rum, and Fresh Cherry Cups 
& Blueberry Cream Cups
inspired by Pastry Cook by Catherine Atkinson

1 pkg filo or phyllo (found by the frozen pie crusts)

1/2 C yogurt
2 tsp brown sugar
2 Tb butter, melted

The night before, take your frozen package of phyllo and let it defrost in the fridge overnight. 

The next day, in a small bowl, mix the yogurt, brown sugar, and melted butter.

Grease two mini muffin tins (or big muffin tins, if that's all you have. I quite enjoy my mini's though, especially for making homemade Reeses cups and such). Unroll the defrosted phyllo and carefully peel off eight sheets. The key word here is patience; and the best advice not to panic. It's okay if they rip. Just relax; you have more sheets if you need them. Using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, slice the sheets of phyllo into sixteen squares (4 rows and 4 columns). (Cut larger squares if you're making full size muffin cups).

Press the first square into a muffin cup. Brush on the yogurt mixture, making especially sure to get the overhanging edges (or they'll burn, like mine did). Cover the phyllo with plastic wrap when you're not picking up a new square. Press three more squares into the muffin cup (for a total of four squares per cup), brushing each with the yogurt mixture. Repeat for each muffin cup.

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, or until the sides are golden and crisp. Let cool.

While the cups cool and bake, make the fillings.

Rum, chocolate, and cherries
1/2 C whipping cream 1/8 C sugar

6 Tb dark chocolate
2 tsp rum
1 Tb butter

12 fresh bing cherries, pitted and halved

Beat together 1/2 C heavy whipping cream and 1/8 C sugar. (If you're doing both types of pastry cups (chocolate cherry and blueberries with cream), double this and beat 1 C cream and 1/4 C sugar because you need this for both) for 10 minutes, watching carefully. You do not want this to turn into butter. I always make the mistake of going to long and passing the whipped cream stage entirely. It's okay if you don't beat quite long enough and it's a little soft, but beating too long and turning it into butter is less good.

On a double boiler, mix chocolate, rum, and butter. Dollop a little chocolate into the bottom of twelve filo cups. Top with whipped cream. Add another small dollop of chocolate. Place one cherry, halved and pitted, on each cup. If you have any extra chocolate or cream (I did), place it on top as well.

Blueberries and cream
1/2 C heavy whipping cream
1/8 C sugar

2 Tb plum jam

Beat together 1/2 C heavy whipping cream and 1/8 C sugar. Fill each phyllo cup with whipped cream, then top with a dash of plum preserves and 4-5 blueberries. Press the blueberries down into the cream, and top with a few more blueberries. 

Refrigerate both types of cups before serving.

I'm doing something new with this post. I'm using my handy-dandy basic mathematics skills and my ability to read nutritional facts on boxes and online and I'm including a carb and calorie count. Hopefully this will be a continuing addition to my posts. The carbs are counted because I'm Type One Diabetic (not the one you keep hearing about on the news-- that's Type Two and a completely different condition (can you tell this is a pet peeve?)) and knowing how much medicine to take is a good thing. The calories are counted because knowledge is power, and I thought you all might be interested.

Empty, each phyllo cup has approx. 30 calories and 4 carbohydrates.

In each blueberry cream cup (including both shell and filling) there are approx. 85 calories and 10 carbohydrates.

In each chocolate cherry cup (including both shell and filling) there are approx. 103 calories and 10 carbohydrates.

Monday, July 19, 2010

tart plum jam, sucrose-free

Sugar comes in many guises: white sugar, brown sugar, honey, corn syrup, molasses, and, if you look a little closer, the molecules sucrose, fructose, glucose, and more. Between these types of sweetner there are differences in flavor, intensity, and speed of digestion. It's the last that my friend Dinosaur pays attention to.

Her favored choice of sweet product is agave nectar, which is derived from the agave plant (which is also what tequila comes from). Agave is mostly fructose, which is the sugar found in most fruits. It is about half as fast acting as sucrose (table sugar), therefore fluctuations in the blood sugar are less extreme.

Most store bought jams are made with sucrose or glucose (also known as dextrose), so Dinosaur and I concocted a plan for some homemade agave nectar jams; here is the first.

Dinosaur Plum Jam
Note: If you want to make this with sugar, just substitute it for the agave. Agave is a little sweeter than table sugar, so make sure to taste the jam and make sure it's sweet enough for you.
4-6 C plums, pitted and chopped roughly
1/4 C lemon juice (about 2 lemons worth, fresh squeezed)
1 C blueberries
3 tsp powdered pectin
1 C agave nectar
1/2 C apple sauce (optional; you can just add more agave nectar instead if you wish; this rounds out the flavor and makes it a little less sharp and one-note)

Combine the plums, berries, and lemon juice and cook over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Using a hand blender, puree the fruit mixture.  (If you don't have a hand blender, you can instead blend it in a food processor or blender, then return to the pan and return the jam to a boil once it is smooth).

In a bowl, mix the agave, apple sauce, and pectin, then add to the jam. If the pectin clumps, just run it through the blender again. Boil one minute, then can the warm jam (see below).

Self-sealing canning jars (glass jar with metal ring and lid)
large pot

Bring a large pot of water to boiling. Add the jars, lids, seal rings, and the tongs and funnel. Boil them while you make the jam (about 10 minutes). On a clean towel, set out the jars, using the tongs, just before you add pectin to the jam. Place the jars face up and make sure not the touch the tops or insides of the jars, nor the lids. Neither you nor the tea towel are properly sterilized. You can leave the lids and rings in the water, if you like.

Fill the jars with hot jam. Using the tongs, place the lids on top and screw the rings on gently. Do not touch the inside or top of the glass with your hands.

Return the jars to the boiling water for five minutes, then remove.

Let cool. Check the button on the lids once the jars cool. If it pops up and down when poked, the jar didn't seal. Stash those ones in the fridge. If the lid is firm, the jars are sealed and secured for several months on the shelf (we hope!).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

brussels sprouts sauteed with bacon, caramelized onions and garlic

The saddest thing about brussels sprouts is that they are so delicious. Sad for all of you, I mean. "All of you" meaning "all of you who think they taste nasty." For those of us that love the little leafy green marbles, it's great, fantastic and wonderful. But you lot? It hurts my heart that you're missing out on one of the tastiest (and good-for-you) vegetables out there.

And I understand your predicament. I've seen (and gotten a whiff) of the sort of brussels sprouts served in large chafing trays in the university dining commons. You're right, there's something wrong with that image, smell, and I assume taste (I never went so far as to get a plate). But that's not the sprout's fault! No, if one's going to point fingers, point it at glucosinolate sinigrin.

You see, along with all those lovely vitamins A and C, folic acid, and dietary fiber, brussels sprouts also contain a little chemical called glucosinolate sinigrin. It's fine and harmless-- unless you overcook the sprouts. Once you cross the line into overcooked territory, it bursts out in full Sauron-style evilness and gives your tasty snack, side dish, or meal the taste and odor of rotten eggs.

How to make a brussels sprout tasty? This is my favorite: roast it or saute it in a little olive oil (or with a little bacon), just enough to cook it tender and a little caramelized. Just say no to glucosinolate sinigrin!

Brussels Sprouts
4 slices of thick-cut bacon, cut into inch-long sections
2 C brussels sprouts
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
pepper and salt to taste
1/2 C grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Cook the bacon in a medium skillet.

Meanwhile, cut the ends off the brussels sprouts and halve or quarter them, depending on their size. Add the sprouts and garlic to the bacon and saute until caramelized and tender (about 10 minutes), stirring often to prevent burning.

Pepper and salt, then serve warm, topped with the cheese.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

homemade lemon curry fettuccine in a cream sauce with asparagus and peas

This was my second time making pasta. My experience so far has been that homemade pasta is delicious and not too complicated, but fairly time consuming. Luckily, I'm a university student and so I have lots of time...?

This is another of our makeshift university meals. We rolled the pasta out on lightly floured aluminum foil, using a Kikkoman soy sauce bottle as a rolling pin. Always an adventure with us.

Lemon Curry Fettuccine with Asparagus and Peas in a Light Cream Sauce

4 C flour
1/2 C olive oil
2 Tb curry powder
1/4 C lemon juice
4 eggs

1 bunch asparagus, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1 onion, diced roughly
2 green onions, chopped

1/2 bag frozen peas

4 Tb butter
4 Tb flour
4 C milk

Mix the flour, curry, eggs, and olive oil together until a thick dough forms.

Take a handful of the dough and roll it out thin on a lightly floured surface. Slice into long, wide noodles. They will expand a little as you boil them, so cut the noodles slightly thinner than you want the finished product to be.

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add a dash of oil to keep it from boiling over. Add the pasta handfuls at a time and boil for 10 to 15 minutes (my noodles were fairly thick; if you have a pasta machine or a really good rolling arm and can get them very thin, cook for less time). Taste to decide doneness.

Lay boiled pasta out on clean towels to dry. If you add the finished pasta directly to the serving bowl, any water still on the noodles will drip to the bottom of the pot and pool there uckily.

Meanwhile, roast the asparagus and onion for 15 minutes at 400 degrees, or until tender. Sprinkle on salt, pepper, and cayenne. Defrost the peas.

To make the cream sauce, combine the 3 Tb flour and 3 Tb butter in a medium pot. Put over medium heat and stir for two minutes. Add the 3 C milk and bring to a boil. (Flour does not thicken until it reaches the boiling temperature of water). Boil one minute or until the sauce reaches your desired thickness. Pour over pasta.

Add the vegetables (asparagus, onion, and peas) to the pasta and serve warm. Grind on pepper to taste.

What are your favorite types of pasta? I really like butternut squash ravioli myself.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

sweet muffins with cinnamon and cocoa streusel

These muffins are based on this Budapest Coffeecake Recipe from One Perfect Bite. I was intrigued by a coffeecake that had cocoa powder mixed in with it's cinnamon and brown sugar.

They came out very sweet and spongey, a lot more like a cupcake than a breakfast muffin. To up the sugar to extreme values, my friends also took to drizzling honey all over them. Whatever floats your muffin boat, mates.

Budapest Coffeecake Muffins
Based on One Perfect Bite's Budapest Coffeecake and Betty Crocker's Streusel Coffeecake

2 1/4 C all purpose flour
1 C sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 C milk
2 egg
1/3 C butter, softened

3/4 C brown sugar
2 Tb cocoa
1 Tb cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice

Beat the batter ingredients together for 2 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix the sugar, cocoa, and spices.

In greased or paper-lined muffin cups, ladle in one spoonful of batter. Top with 1- 1/2 tsp filling. Repeat four times (you should have three layers of filling and also a topping of cinnamon-cocoa sugar).

Bake at 350 for 12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the muffins comes out clean and dry.

Friday, July 2, 2010

a warm beet and spinach salad, drizzled with balsamic and sprinkled with toasted pine nuts

It was the smell of beets that won me over. My parents grew up with the canned kind, and, because they love little sis and me, had never subjected us them, so I had my first beet at fifteen. I brought a bunch home from a farmer's market: so purple-red they were almost black, a dusting of dirt still on them, greens thick and intact. I was a little dubious of the heavy, hard-fleshed purple things. Then I started chopping.

To me, beets smell like the essence of earth, real and deep and fresh. It wins me over every time I slice into them--it helps, too, that they're sweet and delicious, and they turn my knives and hands funny colors.  (I'm purple-handed right now, as a matter of fact).

This salad could have stood on its own for dinner, but we also had a loaf of bread and a Turkish chicken dish (that I didn't photograph; I guess I'll just have to make it again. Oh well. (It was delicious)) and went to bed feeling stuffed.

Warm Beet and Spinach Salad

2 golden beets, with greens attached
1 red beet, with greens attached
1 C spinach
2 Tb olive oil, plus more to drizzle on the salad at end
1/4 C pine nuts
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
balsamic, to taste
1/4 C goat cheese cheese (optional)

Set a pot of water on to boil.

Remove the greens from the beets and set them aside. Peel the beets. Slice the beets into 1/4 inch disks and then quarter the disks. Simmer the beets for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the beet greens roughly. Saute the greens and pine nuts in 2 Tb of olive oil. Beet greens are hardy; don't be afraid of really cooking them. Having them brown and caramelize a little at the edges isn't a bad thing. Salt generously and grind on pepper.

Place the raw spinach, also roughly chopped, in the serving bowl. Drain the beets. Add warm beets, pine nuts and beet greens to the serving bowl and toss. Their heat will warm the dish and wilt the spinach just enough to be tasty. Add any desired olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, or goat cheese.

Eat the salad warm.

What's your favorite root vegetable?