Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Pull of the Blog

Every time I think I’m going to abandon the blog, it just pulls me back in. And then I have to play catch up and write a monster post (like this one) that encapsulates weeks of ideas and meals.

Last weekend, "Bob" and I made a huge batch of chicken pot pies. We used our usual recipe, but amended it slightly by adding an extra cup of chicken stock (because we had it) and an extra cup (or two) of chicken meat (because I wanted to use it up quickly). Well, all those little bits of "extra" made a LOT of pot pie filling. That was fine, I now have plenty of bakeware for single serve pot pies, but I should’ve made extra dough. To conserve dough, we filled some of the Emile Henri bowls we normally use (two servings in each bowl for the price of one crust). For the record, the single serving sizes look awesome in all the Fishs Eddy bakeware I've acquired over the past few years.

We ate one of the pot pies that night, and still the freezer is packed. I also made a tragic mistake. Some frozen pizza was left out in the refrigerator overnight. I meant to keep it there for only an hour or so--until the tops of the pot pies firmed up so that they could support the weight of the pizza. I forgot and went to bed. While making coffee the next morning, I realized the pizza was done for since you shouldn't refreeze foods. The pizza has since been donated to Iz’s dog Kiki. He eats anything (including, unfortunately, an unsuspecting possum or two).

We’ve also been having yogurt parfaits for breakfast on the weekends. To a ½ cup (each) of vanilla yogurt (organic) we add a bunch of fruit (typically, fresh berries and canned pineapple) and either GrapeNuts or my homemade muesli/granola. We’ve also been using our new electric kettle and our old(er) French press and Mr. Coffee coffee grinder. Before decommissioning our old electric coffee maker (which had an internal coffee grinder), I used the Mr. Coffee coffee grinder for grinding spices. I dread the day that I’ll need to grind some mustard seeds. With my electric grinder completely coffee-encrusted and infused, I’ll have to use the mortar and pestle and put my back into it.

Last weekend, I also made my second batch of homemade yogurt. I never blogged about my first batch. That’s because it was nothing outstanding. I have a rule I try to follow: When making something for the first time, follow the recipe exactly. It’s not because I think that recipes as written are always better (okay, "Bob’?), it’s just that I like to have a baseline (or, control) to work off of (ah, the beauty of the scientific method).

With that in mind, I followed the recipe that came with my Salton yogurt maker (yay Christmas!). My maker is the 1-quart Model No. YM-9 (it has one big tub instead of several small glass jars). The basic recipe calles for 4 cups milk (whole, 2%, 1%, or skim), plus 1/4 to 1/2 cup no-fat dry powder (I think I used 1/4 cup). You also need 1/2 cup plain yogurt (to act as a starter). I used Stonyfield plain nonfat yogurt and Alba dry milk, which I had left over from a failed, make-your-own cocoa mix experiment (I wanted to control the sweetness and sugar content…turns out mine had more of everything--sugar and calories--than Swiss Miss).

The rest of the yogurt maker instructions are relatively easy. Combine milk and dry milk in a saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring frequently to just below boiling point. That's the tricky part. How do you know something is almost boiling? Boiling is obvious. But almost boiling? That's tough. So, I searched around (Internet and cookbooks) and apparently, milk is just before the boiling point when tiny bubbles form at the edges and steam rises off the surface. When that point is reached, you take the pan off the heat and allow it to cool until lukewarm (between 100 and 110 degrees F). Then you prewarm the yogurt maker and add the plain yogurt to the warm milk, stirring gently to blend. Pour the mixture into the yogurt container and process from 4 to 10 hours. The longer it "cooks," the thicker and tarter the yogurt becomes. After processing, it should be partially set. Then chill at least 2 hours. It will thicken further in the fridge.

The verdict: Honestly, I think I surpassed "almost boiling," but it worked anyway. The yogurt was thick, but I could taste the dry milk. Just as you sometimes get a bit of freezer burn taste from old ice cream, I could taste the Alba. Yuck.

After those lackluster results, it took me a while, but I finally got around to making another batch last weekend. This time I made it with yogurt culture (my semi-friendly neighborhood Williams Sonoma keeps a stash in the storeroom; you have to ask for it). I followed the culture's instructions as best as I could. I had to recalculate everything since the culture (Euro Cuisine) recipe called for 42 oz of milk, and my maker can only accomodate 32 oz. Instead of the entire packet of culture (5 g), I weighed out 4 g. After that, the basic instructions are: heat milk to 180 degrees F (which I presume is just before boiling) and then cool to 111 to 113 degrees F. Place the lukewarm milk into a pitcher and stir in the culture and lightly stir with a whisk until dissolved (hint: premix some of the lukewarm mix with the yogurt culture in a small bowl first, and then add this mixture the rest of the milk).

After 4.5 hours in the yogurt maker and 2 hours in the refrigerator, the yogurt was tasty but very thin. So, I decided to strain it. There are at least two ways to do this: wrap the yogurt in a double layer of cheesecloth and suspend it over a bowl in the fridge OR line a colander with 3 layers of paper towel and pour the yogurt over that and let it drain for 3 to 4 hours. Since the question of how to suspend a ball of yogurt over a bowl in the refrigerator proved too complicated for me that night, I opted for the more straightforward paper-towel-colander method. Wow, after 3 hours, the yogurt lost 75% of its volume! Where I once had a quart of yogurt, all that remained was a single cup. (And since I used too shallow of a plate under the colander, a lot of the watery whey wound up on the kitchen floor. Next time I'll nestle the colander in another bowl or in a casserole dish).

Though much reduced in size, the remaining yogurt was delicious. I also used it later in the week as an accompaniment to the soup that "Bob" made: black-eyed pea and tomato broth. The soup was delicious but was way too hot because of some mighty powerful jalapeno pepper. The yogurt cooled it just enough, and the tartness was a nice touch with one of the soup's other prominent ingredients: lemon juice. I'll try and post the recipe at a later date. (FYI: "Bob" had made it once before without the pepper and it we had enjoyed it much more that time, which is preciseely why he doesn't always bother following recipes to the letter.)

As luck would have it, The New York Times had this article about homemade yogurt this week. Good information all. But I’ve been doing additional research. I'm on the hunt for a better culture that will assure a thicker yogurt and will post about it. The next time I make yogurt, I'll also post pictures of the entire process.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Menu a la Week: 3/29/09 - 4/3/09

This should be a relatively easy week. Hopefully. Time to use some of the spices we bought in Tangiers. I must admit, I hope the saffron we bought is really saffron. I have no real taste reference. It could be red-dyed tea for all I know.

Menu 3/29/09 to 4/8/09
Sunday March 29, 2009
Roast chicken breast, couscous with Moroccan saffron(!), and sauteed green beans

Monday March 30, 2009
Red pepper soup with grilled cheese

Tuesday March 31, 2009
Late work night

Wednesday April 1, 2009
Chicken stir fry with asparagus

Thursday April 2, 2009
Soup (perhaps red pepper) and tossed salad

Friday April 3, 2009
Chicken stir fry or pizza

It's De-Lovely and Other Choice Words

Geez, I just re-read yesterday's post. How many times can I use the word "lovely" and worse yet, "though"? Edit much, Des?

Stay tuned for a menu. Promise. Really. And I'll never use the word "lovely" again. "Though" stays though. Just can't help myself.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Not Enough Time for Anything

Between work, house stuff, jewerly class, and, since I've failed miserably with FaceBook, Twittering haiku (look to the menu on the right for updates), there's just not enough time to blog. But I still try.

Today I made granola again. It is almost too delicious. I did have one problem though: I bought pre-roasted and salted sunflower seeds. I prefer to use completely raw seeds. I must admit though, that the salt added quite a nice counterpoint to all the sweet (honey, figs, aprill cots, raisins). Next time, I'll buy raw, but I'll be sure to add salt.

We also had some lovely yogurt parfaits for breakfast this morning. Later, I picked apart another roast chicken carcase and "Bob" made a lovely stock from its bones (plus those of another roast chicken). You know what that means: There will be pot pies before too long (and I'll finally get to use all those baking dishes I bought from Fishs Eddy for this sole purpose). The winter is over and we've still got butternut squash ravioli in the freezer, plus a bunch of roast chicken meat, some turkey meatloaf, homemade breadcrumbs, frozen vegetalbes, frozen ginger, and, thankfully, pizza from my birthday earlier this month.

Tomorrow I'll post another menu. There will be soup, chicken stir fry, and (hopefully) some delicious recipes to follow.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Menu a la Week: 2/15/09 - 2/20/09

I'll make this as brief as possible. At the end of a long weekend I still have laundry, work, writing, and cleaning to do.

Menu 2/15/09 to 2/10/09
Sunday February 15, 2009
Pork loin with mustard rub, smashed potatoes, and tossed salad with balsamic vinaigrette

Monday February 16, 2009
Red lentil soup with parsley and shallots

Tuesday February 17, 2009
Pork loin with mustard rub and smashed potato pancakes (see fri-ta-toe recipe)

Wednesday February 18, 2008
Evening dinner at home

Thursday December 11, 2008
Red lentil soup and tossed salad

Friday December 12, 2008
Soup and salad: red lentil soup and pork loin panini with goat cheese and fig spread

Presidents Day: Meals Fit for a King

After some recent travel to France, Spain, Morocco, Gibraltar, and California, we're back on our menu-making schedule. And that always includes soup...yay! Yesterday, "Bob" made a favorite entree: pork loin with a mustard-rub, which was discussed before here. That was accompanied by smashed potatoes (recipe here) and a tossed salad with balsamic vinaigrette (finally recorded in this post). And today, we had a beautiful new soup.

"Bob" started with our basic vegetable stock recipe (which, after a quick search of this blog, I just realized that I never recorded here before). He then turned that into a gorgeous red lentil soup; amazingly enough, we had the red lentils on hand because I bought them--impulsively--at the supermarket a few months ago.

Vegetable Stock

1 unpeeled onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 stalks of celery (again, roughly chopped)
2 parsnips (yup, you guessed it, roughly chopped)
1 handful of fresh parsley (leaves and stems)
1 or 2 sprigs of fresh dill
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 piece of fresh ginger chopped into very large pieces

1. Add above ingredients to 2 gallons of water.
2. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.
3. Simmer partially covered until reduced by one third (approximately 1 hour).
4. Strain and cool.

Red Lentil Soup with Parsley and Shallots
Serves 10 to 12

1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspooon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
5 cups vegetable stock
1.25 cups red lentils
1 can (14 oz) chopped tomatoes
3 shallots, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2/3 cup plain yogurt (approx. 1 tablespoon per serving)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Put cumin and coriander in a saute pan and cook over high heat until the spices just start to smoke. Remove from heat and add turmeric. Set aside.
2. In a large stock pot, heat olive oil and saute garlic and onion until tender (approximately 5 minutes). Add spice mixture and cook for 2 more minutes.
3. Add 5 cups of stock to pot. Bring to boil and simmer.
4. Meanwhile, rinse lentils and add to stock pot. Bring all to a boil, then simmer over medium to low heat.
5. Cook for approximately 20 minutes, add tomatoes and cook for 5 more minutes. Then remove from heat and puree (with an immersion blender is ideal).
6. Spoon into bowls and top with dollop of yogurt seasoned with minced parsley and salt and pepper. Garnish with pan fried sliced shallots.

Aside from our globe-trotting, I've also been working with homemade yogurt and packaging (for friends and family) our spices from Morocco: curry, cumin, and ground saffron. Honestly, the spices are a bit on the bland side..the souks probably blended them with sawdust for we gullible tourists.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Before I Forget

I keep meaning to write down my balsamic dressing recipe and I always forget to do it, mainly because I'm a bit unsure of all the proportions. I do a lot of "eyeballing" with this dressing.

Tonight I tried to pay attention and measure out the amounts. Basically it's 1 part vinegar to 2 parts olive oil. The rest is a bit dicier. Case in point: After adding too much mustard, I had to double the recipe to compensate for overdoing it with that particular ingredient.

Of note: One of "Bob's" Christmas gifts was an immersion blender. What ever did we do before they were invented?

Balsamic Vinaigrette
Serves: Quite a lot

1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic minced
1 -1.5 tsp dijon mustard (Maille preferably)
4 Tbsp. honey (approximately)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine and blend all ingredients except for olive oil.
2. Stream in olive oil while blending.