19 July 2014

In the thick of it


It happens on select days throughout the summer. On Friday, at 8:45 a.m., a slight wind crept into the open window and the first pangs for Fall hit me. Sweaters, no decisions regarding iced over hot, coffee. Work picking up. Apples. Soup. Boots. Crisp walks. But soon, I learned, the outside chill proved to be a tease. It was an amply hot summer day. That's where we're at, in the thick of it, and it's glorious and we're going to bask in it.


There's berries, cherries and basil. Tomatoes and eggplant, too. A sunny stroll just before dinner time to pick up some white wine in sunglasses, a tank top and flip flops, and lazy poolside saxophone music straightened out my momentary dalliance with chillier times.


But that wasn't going to stop my cooking plans with the two baby eggplants I'd seen at the farmer's market the previous day. They were newborns, just popping out into season. Even the gentleman ringing me up had to confirm with the other farmhand: "two for a dollar?" It was then I realized this was their first day. I'd pinned a recipe from Bon Appetite months before seasonal eggplant appeared, and the stars aligned; there was fresh muzz in the fridge and a little leftover tomato sauce in the freezer. 

 
A colleague recently asked me if I cook a lot of Italian food being Italian. My answer: hmm...kinda? A litany of traditional dishes rattled off in my head: lasagne, eggplant parm, chicken parm, etc and it occurred to me I have never really made any of them (due to early over-exposure perhaps?) and I realized it's not that I don't want to, but I want them to be different, have another spin.


It's a re-engineered eggplant parm and it's going on the summer menu rotation for as long as I can get my hands on these baby aubergines.The eggplants get halved, partly peeled and rubbed with just a little olive oil (a lot less than you'd use if you were frying slices in pans), seasoned and tucked onto a sheet pan covered with foil and roasted solo for a half hour. It's a step that takes the recipe up several notches and achieves the "meltiness" for which you'd otherwise be dependent on a lot of oil.


You'll want to use a good tomato sauce; if you have a go-to, use some of that, or Bon Appetite's recipe included a quick batch of onion-garlic tomato sauce. I already had some on sauce hand (not made by me, but leftover from a nearby restaurant who does not disappoint in their Sunday Sauce!) so I just added a bit of sauteed onions to that. Then bubbly chunks of fresh mozzarella melt into the sauce and flesh and the sprinkle of fresh breadcrumbs and grated parm provides just the right top crispiness.

 If you're in the market for a new eggplant parm, give this a try and your saute pan a break. Doubled or Quaded (as the original recipe does) I imagine it'd be a small crowd-pleaser.
 

But for us, it was lovely as it was, substantial but not heavy as some eggplant parms can be, eaten up on a  summer night just this side of cool, alongside a bit of pasta and arugula salad. Now that's my kind of Italian.



Eggplant Parmesan with Fresh Mozzarella

Barely tweaked from Bon Appetite
Notes: I made a few changes, some based on BA commenters, and my version is below. I divided the original recipe by four (ample for two as a hefty side and I only had two eggplants) and since my eggplants were on the small side of small, I did the initial roast of them for 30 minutes rather than the suggested 40, and they were perfect. Soft and tender but not mushy. I pulsed up a bit of day old bread for the breadcrumbs to make 1/4 c, and it is a nice touch. Try to use fresh. Finally, I used tomato sauce I had already, and I crushed the cooked garlic and tossed it into the sauce, too. I gave it a slip under the broiler to nicely crisp the top a bit more for the last minute (highly recommended : )

Ingredients

1/4 c tomato sauce of your choice or BA's
1/4 medium onion, finely chopped  (optional but recc'd)
2 scant Tbsp + 2 tsp olive oil, divided 
2 garlic cloves, whole 
 Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 
 2 baby eggplants, halved lengthwise
 2 sprigs fresh rosemary or oregano + more
 ¼ cups coarse fresh breadcrumbs
 scant 3 oz. fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size pieces
 1/2 oz (about 3 Tbsp) Parmesan, finely grated 
Method: 
1. Oven to 400. Begin with the eggplants. Using a vegetable peeler, remove skin from rounded side of each eggplant half, leaving a 1” strip of skin around the cut edges. Place eggplants, rosemary or oregano sprigs, whole garlic cloves, and 2 Tbsp oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Turn eggplants to coat with oil; season with salt and pepper and place cut side down. Cover baking sheets tightly with foil and bake until eggplants are very soft, 30-40 minutes depending on size. Set aside. (Do-ahead: can be done up to 1 day ahead, cover/chill)

2. Meanwhile, if you don't have tomato sauce you'd like to use on hand already, make BA's. Otherwise, dice the onion finely and saute it in 1 tsp of olive oil on medium heat for 5-10 minutes until softened. Add a small pinch salt. Turn the heat down to low and let it go longer as if caramelizing. Add in your tomato sauce, remove from the heat and set aside. Optionally, smash the  garlic cloves cooked with the eggplants and add to the sauce.

3. Toss breadcrumbs with 1 tsp oil, a tiny pinch salt and pepper and a few snips rosemary. 

4. Place eggplants cut side up in a shallow baking dish. Paint each with a little sauce, top with mozzarella, then breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Bake uncovered about 25-30 minutes until mozzarella is bubbling and breadcrumbs golden (note: at 24 min I turned to broil setting and hit it under there for the last minute. Be careful and watch it though. Pull it just when you get a hint more brown.) Let cool on a rack for a bit and enjoy!


15 July 2014

As promised


It's summertime, and I'm all for a no-bake treat when I find one. Perhaps you'd like one too, and don't feel like turning on your oven extraneously? A few posts ago we discussed amaranth when I tucked it into granola, and I suggested that if you find yourself with a bag the gluten free seed-like grain, you should pop it. Then a world of possibilities opens up, like that granola and these bars. 

Alegria, a crunchy, gluten-free (and come to think of it, fat-free) Mexican treat that, flavor-wise, manages to remind me of a much tastier version of caramel rice cakes. Only far more nutritious and wholesome. Molasses, a little sugar and salt, a touch of toasty nuts of your choice and a pan, are all you need to make these happen. Once you pop the amaranth, the bars happen within a few minutes so you'll want to work quickly. It only takes about 20 minutes or so for the mixture to set up before you slice the bars. You can vary the size of the bars depending on how much ingredients you have on hand or how much amaranth you feel like popping. Since they don't bake, you won't have to worry about adjusting times.


Alegria traditionally boasts pepitas, but I used cashews and almonds, chopped and toasted as that's what I had on hand. It's nice to vary up your snack bars. I can make batch after batch of these granola bars and I do, constantly, varying up the add-ins and we do not get bored of them ever because they are so good. But I firmly believe something is altered in the brain through a single act of branching out. And so, go forward, with Alegria. 

Oh and one more thing: I'm on the ShopRite Blog today with a post featuring Asian chicken lettuce wraps using a sesame garlic sauce from their line. Check it out!

Alegria recipe

1/4 cup Amaranth grains
2 Tbsp toasted seeds or nuts
1/4 cup Sugar
1/2 Tbsp Blackstrap Molasses

Line a baking pan with parchment paper. I used a 5x7

Heat a wide-bottomed pan with a lid over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbsp of amaranth to the pan, cover and cook over medium-high heat until most of the grains have popped, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with remaining amaranth, 1 Tbsp at a time. Add nuts or seeds to popped amaranth. Place sugar in an even layer in a deep pot over medium heat. The granules will slowly begin to melt. Add molasses. When molasses begins to boil steadily, gently stir or swirl to incorporate Sugar. Remove from heat and immediately add popped amaranth and pumpkin seeds. Stir well to coat.
Quickly transfer to pan and spread evenly. Let cool, cut and serve. Will keep a few days airtight.

07 July 2014

Fly with it



Everything about now seems to be changing. I feel, approaching a certain age, no longer able to avoid questions. Things shift on a dime, people cancel, you cancel, jobs get snatched the day before your interview, the elderly fall, people leave the earth prematurely. The trains stop underground. It rains. 


It rained on the Fourth of July but there were fireworks. Probably the best fireworks I will have seen in some time. Sitting on the edge of the Hudson River Jersey Side in front of the Statue of Liberty, it had become a clear night. I wasn't sure if the ground would be wet so I negated bringing a towel, which I regretted upon arrival. People had towels. No one cares if it has rained in the metropolitan area. Things go on. My thoughts turned to negative nagging... shoulda brought it. But the man behind us offered me a chair. Our friends offered Ed a nylon bag for sitting. We were taken care of. We had salted caramel ice cream cones. Fly with it, I keep telling myself. Laugh at it. Go on.


One of my favorite cookies to make is shortbread. For one, I like cutting it. Either out, or into straight lines. With no eggs it's a short whirl with your mixer and a chill or even a freeze away from cookies you can stack in a jar. They're the ones you don't have to worry about. They last a little. Today's recipe is a tender one. With orange zest, rosemary, salted butter and cornmeal, it's a fragrance I'd like to bottle. With dough on the softer side, be sure to give it a proper chill (see my notes below). If it needs a little more chilling after cutting, give it that. If it needs a few more moments to brown the edges in the oven, give it that. Fly with it. I hope you enjoy having these around as much as I do.


Orange-Rosemary-Cornmeal Shortbread

via Remedial Eating who adapted it from Claudia Fleming

Notes: I made a half recipe of the original, which is reflected below, and I also included grams measurements. A scale is helpful for all baking and inexpensive. Available online or at Bed Bath and Beyond, they'll run you under $30. I'm currently using this one. Also: I make my own powdered sugar when needed, by combining 1T cornstarch to 1C sugar in a coffee grinder (in batches) until fine. but you can use store-bought powdered sugar. Also, my kitchen has been hot and the dough was feeling a tad soft (which also makes the cookies lovely and tender) so I found chilling the dough between  rolling and cutting and just before baking, did the trick to make the dough easier to handle and transferring the cold pricked squares to the baking sheet was a cinch. Lastly, dough can be refrigerated up to 5 days, or frozen well-wrapped, a month. Thaw in fridge before use. I fit about 15 rectangles a sheet and found I got the best browning when baking one sheet at a time in the center rack. If you want to bake more though, use 2 pans at a time in the top and bottom thirds and rotate just over halfway through. You may need another minute or two that way.

113 g/1 stick salted butter, slightly softened
45 grams / 6 Tbs powdered sugar
1 heaped teaspoon orange zest, freshly grated
1/2 heaping teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
~ scant 30 grams / 3 Tb cornmeal, regular or medium work
110 grams /  3/4 cup + 2 Tb unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
Raw sugar, for sprinkling, optional

Method

Measure and whisk flour and cornmeal together. Set aside. In a stand mixer with the paddle, cream butter, powdered sugar, orange zest, salt and rosemary, until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Scrape sides, add vanilla, and beat again to combine.  Scrape sides, add flour and cornmeal, and mix just to combine.  Scrape dough onto a length of plastic wrap, flatten to a rough rectangle, an inch high, wrap well, and chill 2 hours, or overnight, or a few days or freeze for later. 

When ready to bake: Oven to 300.

Line a sheet pan or two with parchment and let dough sit out if it has been very chilled, about 10 minutes. Very lightly flour beneath and on top of the dough, (MN note: I did so lightly but also rolled between two pieces of parchment). Roll out to just under 1/4 inch thick rectangle as best as possible. Trim sides to form straight edges (you can lightly re-roll to get another rectangle). If dough is a bit soft at this point, just move it flat to the fridge or freezer for a few minutes. Use a knife and ruler or bench knife with a ruler  to make cuts 1 1/2 inches by 1 inch and prick three times with a fork.

At this point, I found it helpful again to transfer the dough to the fridge or freezer for a few minutes.

With an offset spatula, transfer scored cookies to baking sheet, leaving just an inch or so between as they don't spread.

Bake 18-25 minutes, rotating trays about 11 minutes in, front to back and top to bottom, until cookies are no longer glossy on top, gold at the edges and underneath.Cool on sheet 10 minutes on rack, then cool on rack completely. Stored airtight they'll last more than a week.

Yield: A few dozen


30 June 2014

My jam is your jam




If I began this post by relating, "everyone should have a homemade jam recipe up their sleeve, " I'd slightly roll my own eyes. I don't particularly like to feel pressured when cooking publications tell me what I should be executing. To each pace her/his own. And yet so many times they're right. Yes, Maldon makes everything wonderful. Yes, quick-pickled onions are those bright pink earrings to accompany any little plain dress. Yes you should roast a whole bird at least occasionally, homemade breadcrumbs = money in the bank, and indeed, you can and should make your own jam. Especially the uncanny kind. This recipe is simple, customizable and DIY. Look twice and you might miss it.

(Lead photo: these scones but with blueberries instead of rhubarb. Yummy, I tell you.)


Refrigerator jam is a great start for making your own spreads. No worries about canning or sterilizing, and spreadable fruit at your fingertips made from your own (presumably bountiful; it's berry season!) supply. Here's some suggested reading. And here too. But once you read those, just go off on your own. Take any berry or mix of berries--for the above batch I used a mix of a rhubarb, blueberries and strawberries, and put into a saucepan with some sugar, an aromatic like zest or citrus peel, which you can remove at the end, and lemon juice, boil, then simmer, cool, and store. About the sugar. As most would contend, sweetness is in the tastebuds of the beholder. I want something sweetish but not cloying, and I'm finding a ratio of 1 cup fruit to a scant 3 Tbs sugar to be sufficient.


Stove Jam

1 heaped cup fruit (chopped strawberries, rhubarb and blueberries for example)
3 Tbs sugar
1-2 swipes lemon peel
1 tsp lemon juice


Place a spoon in the freezer. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and as the sugar and fruit begin to cook, use a wooden spoon to mash a bit.  Bring to a boil then quickly reduce to a simmer and cook for about 10-20 minutes, or until liquid reduces and the jam starts to thicken.  Keep an eye. Remove a spoonful and test on your frozen spoon. If it holds, you're good. Remove from heat and let cool, removing lemon peel, then spooning into a jar as soon as it is cool to handle. Store in the fridge.




23 June 2014

Amaranth Granola


Have you ever bought amaranth grains? Those tiny gluten-free seeds you may have thought quinoa-like (but soon realized they aren't). A package of a new grain can be a little intimidating. I'm not really a porridge girl and amaranth grains when cooked, look too slippery for me. Luckily, there's more to the amaranth story. Just follow the Mexicans! Alegria is a Mexican treat of amaranth and syrup where you pop the seeds before coating them with a cooked sugar mix and setting them up like bars. While that's next on my list, I wanted something even simpler this go-around. What if I popped the seeds and tucked them into my coconut oil granola recipe in place of some of the oats? This granola, just a curve down the road from this granola, is a nice little change-up, not to mention vegan and gluten-free. It's also a piece of cake to make, and a nice way to kick off the week.


About popping that amaranth. My best advice is to actually follow the back of the package. At first I was swirling the pan a lot. Then I noticed the instructions more clearly. Hot pan, cover tightly. That's moreso the key. In 30 seconds, get it out of there to prevent burns. Then you're good to add it to your oats and nuts, maple and coconut oil and bake it off long and low. I added chia seeds too and a kick of ginger. It's nice have something a bit different than your standard granola. I loved the crunch of this and it's great over yogurt. 


Amaranth Granola

~3 Tbsp raw amaranth*, popped to 1/4 c
1/2 c rolled oats
1/4 c sliced raw almonds
1 tsp chia seeds
Pinch ground ginger
1/8 tsp sea salt
Scant 2 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
2 Tbsp maple syrup
Handful dried fruit ( I snipped some dried cherries, raisins in half with a few dried blueberries)

*to pop: set a wide skillet on high heat for a moment. You want a hot pan. Add a small small amount of seeds, under a tsp at a time, and cover. Withing 30 seconds most of the seeds should pop. Move the pan around a little over the burner in circles and immediately transfer to bowl. Repeat with remaining amaranth, a little at a time. Set aside to cool.

Oven to 300. Line a baking sheet with parchment 

In a bowl mix popped amaranth, oats, chia, almonds. Stir together salt, ginger, oil and maple. Pour over oat mix and stir will to combine. Dump every last bit on the the parchment and bake 15 minutes, sir, then stir every 10 minutes until granola is crisp and nicely browed, about 5 stirs or 55 minutes is what I prefer. Leave to cool completely on a rack. Stir in dried fruit, and store airtight. Enjoy!



18 June 2014

Goodly Greens



It's during this season that big bushels of greens and herbs seem to appear and multiply like water turned to wine. Open the fridge. You may find something there already. 

The other night, at the very end of a long day away from home, after the drive back through quiet farmland, highways and finally into our little borough nestled between the vortex of  highways and the edge of the Hudson river, I still found myself standing in the kitchen over the sink taking care of some business.

One voice told me to sit, stream a TV show, drink tea, the other told me to attend, attend. Perhaps the thoughts of cherishing and holding on to what you have, were still fresh on my mind from the events of the day, for my thoughts were abuzz.

After the drive, my boyfriend's brother's girlfriend gave me a twist-tied bunch of organic spinach she didn't think she'd use in time of its life, completely intact but covered with a little dirt. I gave them a once-over and took them home. They just needed a "treatment." It's greens season in my kitchen and that means a little more grunt work for a lot of payoff.

When I started buying more ingredients in their bulk state, I learned immediately: give whole bunches of farm greens from big heads of lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale, beets, the proper TLC, wash, dry and store them right and you will have greens at the ready, for up to two weeks for probably a third of the price you could spend on boxed salad mixes that need to be consumed in just a few days. The yield from one head or bunch never ceases to amaze. I always think: that was $1.99?



And beet greens are free. 

I washed and stored those spinach leaves and the next few meals were complete. And then I sat and drank some tea.Fear not the big bunch of greens; tame them. Then toss some salads, sauté into egg scrambles, mix with beans and fish, and make a greens tart.

Here's your greens primer. Before you start, you'll need to gather a few things:

A salad spinner. (If you don't have one, watch this. But it's a good investment.)
Paper towels
Large Zip Lock bags
Several minutes, depending on how much greenery you have, preferably right after buying your produce...

1. Remove all rubber bands and twist ties. 
2. Chop off rough stem ends while you...
3. Fill the big clear basin of your spinner with water in the sink. 
4. Chop or tear the greens from their rough stems and douse them in the basin water, work in batches.
5. Swish them around and let them sit a minute or two. 
6. Lift them out and place into the colander part of the spinner.
7. If there was a lot of dirt, repeat the bath. If not...
8. Pour out the water, rinse the basin of any straggler dirt, place colander inside and spin spin spin.
9. Set out long paper towels on a table. Place your greens in handfuls spread out on the towels.
10. Air dry a few minutes. Then roll up into paper towel burrito (see right side of above photo) and stick those into the zip locks and store for a week or two in the fridge.

Note: You can rinse some of those stems and keep them in the freezer to boil for vegetable broth needs in the future.

Pictured: Heidi's greens tart in a cornmeal crust. Made it twice in a week using beet greens I'd stored in the above method. One regular 8-inch tart (below) last week and one mini with leftover dough I froze, as a side this week with Deborah Madison's lentils, also via Heidi which are hanging out in my fridge to eat for the next few days. Did I mention I love Heidi? 


The tart-shell is a good one, buttery with extra depth from cornmeal and a little whole wheat pastry flour. Have a great week everyone. MN



09 June 2014

Blackberry rhubarb streusel bars



Ah the streusal bar.  Jammy fruit, one hand-mixed dough, part to pat in the pan, part to crumble atop. I think I'll be on a kick here with these mixing up the fruit and spice via the season. Everybody likes a streusal bar. Am I wrong about that? I mean, when you decide to throw these in the oven the exact hour before you need to leave the house, place the pan on the rack to cool, scurry out, and come home a few hours later to ready-to-cut bars, you will not say no. And when your significant other walks in, happily accepting a pre-dinner snack (because you are not that organized to have dinner on the table already, are you?), they will thank you, too. People like things they can pick up with their hand. People like portability. They like things that are sandwich shaped. And they like bars. 



At this point, you're probably aware, there are lots of ways to make a streusel bar. There's the nuts and rolled oats topped one, the melted butter based one, the blind baked bottom one, etc. This one is none of those things. It's less fussy, and has been passed around the web, which I'm glad for, because there's nothing more annoying than a lone, comment-less recipe. So today, I add to the chorus, bringing notes of blackberry and rhubarb, lemon and ginger and deepened with a little oat flour and brown sugar (thanks, TartTart). These are a great little afternoon treat and make a breakfast, too. Take a few out of the fridge to temper while you dress and enjoy with tea or coffee. Alongside an egg and fruit for some balance of course...



Update: straight up strawberries are also delicious as the fruit in this.


Blackberry rhubarb streusel bars
Adapted from Tart + Smitten

Note: about the size. This was a vehicle to use up some fruits, but after chopping, I realized I only had 1 cup of fruit altogether. That meant I divided the original recipe by 4, hence my little 5 x 6 (favorite) pan. It worked fine and baked for the same time. For your purposes though, I'll go and paste the full recipe meant for a 9 x 13 pan below and you can halve (for something like an 8 x 8 or equiv)or quarter if you please. Just pay attention after 40-45 minutes in the oven, regardless. I let mine go to 50. You're looking for a lighltly browned top, bubbly fruit and if you want to stick a toothpick to check the bottom dough, too, you want that to come out clean.

Crust:
scant 1/2 cup granulated sugar
scant 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup oat flour (grind oats until fine in grinder)
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter (2 sticks or 8 ounces)
1 egg


Filling
Juice (~2 T) of one lemon
~1/2 tsp fine grated fresh ginger or 1/4 tsp ground ginger
4 cups fresh berries + rhubarb (chopped 1/4 inch)
scant 1/4 cup granulated sugar
scant 1/4 cup brown sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch

-Oven to 375 degrees F. Grease 9×13 inch pan.
-In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest. -Use a pastry cutter or fingers to blend in the butter and egg. Dough will be crumbly. Pat roughly 2/3 of the dough into the prepared pan.
-In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Gently mix in the fruit. Sprinkle the fruit mix evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.
-Bake 45-60 minutes, until top is slightly brown. (This took an extra 10 to 15 minutes in my oven.) Cool completely (fridge is good for this) before cutting into squares. Once cut, store in fridge, bring to room temp to eat.