Thursday, August 31, 2006

Onion jam

Lately the focus is on preserving things so that they don't all spoil before I get to eat them! I had four HUGE sweet onions in my pantry and as you know, they just don't keep. Thus, the onion jam experiment. This stuff is killer on bread with a little stinky cheese or goat cheese, or tossed into pasta with some capers. The hardware: 1 big saute pan (I used nonstick) and a wooden spoon The software: 4 lbs sweet onions, quartered and medium sliced 2 T sugar 1/2 C white wine vinegar 2 sprigs fresh thyme 1 T salt 1 t oil Put oil in pan, pile onions on top and sprinkle with salt. Sweat them over medium heat until the pile is reduced some so you can stir them around without them flying out on the stovetop. Stir in the sugar and about a tablespoon of the vinegar. Reduce heat and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to carmelize and stick. Stir in a couple more tablespoons vinegar to deglaze, and the thyme. Keep cooking and stirring until the onions are very thick and the mixute is a pale beige. Taste and add more vinegar (and salt) for balance if the sweetness is too cloying, and cook a few minutes longer to blend the flavors. The onions should not be browned, because you're stirring in any carmelization and redissolving it into the mixture. Take out the thyme sprigs (there should only be stems left, the leaves will be in the jam). Let cool, then put into a container. Keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Market basket caponata

I was faced with a fridge and counter full of vegetables this week -- not quite keeping up with our CSA basket. So, after taking stock of the stock, so to speak, I decided to try my hand at caponata today. Everything was in the the pantry or the fridge. I am allergic to bell peppers, so I don't use them. But you could roast and peel a couple of green and red peppers, chop them and add to the pot with the rest of the ingredients. Dave always complains that I don't write things down when I cook good stuff, so honey, if you're out there somewhere reading this, this one's for you :) Market Basket Caponata 2 C eggplant in 1" cubes, unpeeled if skin is tender 2 C zucchini in 1" cubes Kosher salt 1 1/2 C carrots, 1/4" slices 1 C onion, rough chopped 1 C celery, chopped 5 cloves garlic, sliced thin 2 T raisins, soaked in hot water and drained 2 T small capers, drained and rinsed 2 T pine nuts 1/2 C peeled, seeded, and chopped chiles (like Anaheim or sweet Italian peppers) 1/2 C sun dried tomatoes, julienned (not oil-packed) 1/2 C black olives, pitted and chopped (I used Nicoise because I had them) 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes in juice 1/4 C red wine 1/4 C red wine vinegar 1/4 C balsamic vinegar 2 T honey 1/2 C chopped fresh basil 1/2 C water 2 T olive oil Salt and pepper to taste Put eggplant and zucchini in colander and toss with salt. Let drain while you're prepping the other ingredients. Then rinse with cool water and drain. Heat the olive oil in a pot or dutch oven, and brown the eggplant and zucchini. Add the onions, carrots, and celery and cook until onion is translucent. Add garlic and stir for a couple of minutes more. Then add all the rest of the ingredients except the water. Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer for 30 min. Check it -- it should be saucy, add some water if it is not. Cover and simmer another 30 minutes, or until the carrots are tender and the flavors have melded. It should be a little spicy, a little tangy, a little sweet with good texture from the vegetables. Serve with just about anything -- pasta, meats, bruschetta, fish steaks. Will keep for about a week, or you can freeze it for longer storage.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Fridge: finally ALL DONE

The repairman just finished replacing the nicked handle on the new fridge, and Whirlpool called me today to apologize for sending the check to the wrong address and assure me they were sending it out today. So I think the saga of the fridge is over. The trauma, of course, still lives on. I check the temp way too often, and actually have nightmares about the whole thing. But I don't think you can sue an appliance mfg for mental cruelty, so I'm just going to have to take the time to get over it. Bless Dave's heart, he came home this afternoon to supervise the handle replacement so I didn't have to worry about it -- because, as I was sure would happen, the tech got here and had never replaced a handle on this model. Sigh. But I went and hid at my computer while they got the whole thing sorted out. The funny thing was that this was the same tech who had come to "repair" the fridge in the first place, so I got the pleasure of telling him that his repair lasted all of 48 hours and then I made them replace it. Dave told him that under the circumstances, he hopes we never have to meet again! Let's hope now that Fridge and I have a long and happy life together :)

Gypsy Dinner

We got to attend our first Gypsy dinner last weekend. What a great experience! (What's a Gypsy dinner, you ask? I can't really tell you, but a Google search might help...) Peche, Peche, Quack, Quack was the theme -- all about peaches and duck. Well, who can argue with that? A couple of memorable dishes, including a duck taco with spicy peach taco sauce, which matched marvelously with a nice spicy Argyle Pinot Noir. (Now I think I'm going to serve Pinot with tortilla chips and fruit salsa, just to confirm that the toasted corn goes as well with it as I thought that night.) The first course -- a peach-scented consomme with a poached quail egg, a couple of little cubes of smoked duck, and a preserved-lemon tortellini -- was a marvel of textures and tastes. It was fun to watch the faces of diners who were unfamiliar with preserved lemon. Boy, were their mouths surprised! I knew what to expect but it was still such a great counterpoint to the quail egg. And the wine pairing, a Scheurebe, was very interesting. With all the different tastes going on, the wine seemed to be different with every sip. Too bad these dinners are seemingly always oversubscribed -- I sure hope we're able to get in on another one. It was so great to be at a communal table where everyone else cared about food as much as I do.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Cuban food and whacking your bread (flour on my face)

Another excellent Culinary Communion class this past weekend: five hours of intensive immersion in Cuban cuisine. Including roasting a whole pig -- I guess you could say we went whole hog on this one, couldn't you ;-) A couple of really good things: ropa vieja ("old rags") made with flank steak instead of some of the other cuts I've seen for this dish. Really flavorful, and great with the Cuban white rice, which was made in a manner I'd never tried before, boiling oil and water together with the rice, not sauteeing it first for nice fluffy grains. And an incredible lamb picadillo stuffed into empanaditas, using puff pastry for the dough and then deep frying them. The pastry was a little greasy for me, but that picadillo was great! Which brings me to the Pan Cubano (Cuban bread). It was made with a different kneading technique: "whacking" the dough on the counter by picking it up in one hand, swinging it over your shoulder, and slamming it down on the counter. Fold it in half, give it a quarter turn, and do it again. Takes about 12 minutes to knead the bread, and takes out a few agressions to boot! HOWEVER!!!! It is very important to manage your bench flour carefully. I decided to bake bread today because I have starter that needed to be refreshed. So I tried the whacking method. Needless to say, I had a light dusting of flour pretty much every where in the kitchen and on me after doing this. Good thing my counters are pretty slick and I could cut down on bench flour. But still, a bit of a mess. Sure did turn out pretty though.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Simple things for summer

Maybe my favorite thing about this time of year is that there are so many good things that can be simple: - really fresh corn - a fresh peach sliced over cottage cheese - tiny new potatoes roasted with olive oil and a little garlic - grilled shrimp with baby zucchini - just-picked cherry tomatoes, pop them in your mouth before you get in the house - beet greens shredded into chicken stock with fresh green beans, carrots, and zucchini - greens sauteed with a little duck confit (okay, maybe not so simple unless duck confit is almost always on hand like it is in my kitchen!) - just-grilled sliced bread rubbed with a cut garlic clove and a cut tomato, with a little coarse salt All of which I've eaten in the past week or so.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Yogurt cheese and tomatoes

I'd drained some Greek yogurt for several days and was trying to decide what to do with it. Minced some fresh dill, added some shredded lemon zest and lemon juice, some salt, and voila! Lemon-dill yogurt cheese. It's really good on top of tomato slices. I'm sure of course that it will be a good topper for fish, too.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

I could eat corn every day

At least at this time of year! Just lightly cooked, on the cob. Sometimes naked, sometimes with basil butter, sometimes with a squeeze of lime. And swiss chard, with balsamic vinegar and garlic. Think I'm making a dinner of that tonite. Dave will want meat, of course, so probably some grilled shrimp. Mmmmm.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Back to cooking again!

Funny how you don't know how much you need some things until you can't have them. I learned over the past month that the title of this blog is more than a little true. Last weekend I finally got to start cooking again -- new working fridge and a little trust in it meant I got things restocked and could cook again. It felt like someone took a huge weight off my shoulders when I started puttering again. Nothing really significant, some great meatloaf (notes below), stone-grilled pita bread, tandoori chicken breasts, roasted cod with greek sauce, bean soup...well, maybe I did cook a lot! Meatloaf can be humdrum and I really think that putting an egg in it dries it out (and that's kind of why the egg holds it together). So I tried instead making about a cup of mixed ground carrots, celery, onions, zucchini, and garlic and adding that plus 3/4 cup of fresh breadcrumbs, a tablespoon of worcestershire, and 1/4 cup of water to 1.5 lbs of regular ground beef. It made a nice tender, not quite crumbly loaf. Glazed it with a mixture of ketchup, brown sugar, worcestershire sauce to be a little traditional. I roast my meatloaf on a broiler pan so all the fat drains down, which I prefer to get a firmer but not fatty loaf. The pita bread was so good on Saturday that I made it again on Sunday. Easy enough recipe: 1T yeast, 1t sugar, 1.5c water, 1t salt, 1t oil, and 3.5-4.5c of bread flour. But it is just amazing that it really does puff up! I put a baking stone up on our gas grill and baked the breads on it (heated to about 550 degrees). It was fun and very rewarding. Stuffed with that tandoori chicken and yogurt sauce it made a very nice dinner that went well with a bottle of Spanish tempranillo rose.