30 December 2011

Post-holiday roundup

homemade bbq spice and homemade pickling spiceWell. This christmas I got food poisoning and spent most of the day either in bed or face down on the floor, so I have zero delicious holiday food to discuss. How about we talk about some of the presents I gave instead?

Like everyone else on the internet, I wanted to give some handmade gifts this year. I had been half-planning to give out little bottles of homemade schnapps, but since 90% of the people to whom I give presents live at least 500 miles away, and the post office doesn't ship alcohol, that was out. So instead I went to the bulk bins and grabbed everything I needed to make some homemade pickling spice and barbecue rub.

The only ingredient that wasn't in the bulk bins was celery salt. Well, then! I made a batch of that as well. It's a good thing the farmer's market around here regularly features gigantic leafy heads of celery. The end product turned out so well I considered giving it away too. Then I realized that I hadn't had brunch with anyone in so long that I didn't know who else actually drank bloody marys, so I decided to just use it for my own.

I had initially wanted to package these in little spice jars, but ended up going with plastic bags instead. This was due to both 1. shipping costs and 2. the high likelihood of glass jars breaking in the flurry of holiday mail. It's ok though! Festive ribbon totally saves the day, right?

homemade bbq spice and homemade pickling spiceI have to say, there was an awful lot of ribbon all over the place this season. It was by far the most Martha Stewarty I have been in years.

24 December 2011

Christmas eve

Today is the day for the annual making of a large vat of marinara sauce, shredding of several blocks of cheese, kneading of a whack of dough, chopping of all the vegetables, & assembly, baking, and eating of our own delicious pizzas for dinner. Yes! Christmas eve pizza party at our house!

We have:
- mozzarella, asiago, parmesan, and romano cheese
- peppers hot and mild and green and red
- a big bag of delicious tiny cremini mushrooms
- red onion, yellow onion, garlic, shallot
- a stick of salami for me, because pepperoni is too much but salami is just right
- oregano, basil, red pepper flake, & other appropriate spices
- tomato puree and olive oil
- flour, yeast, water, honey

This will clearly work out splendidly. I do need to figure out a different crust recipe, but that is a manageable task for the day.

Since there is also a half pound of ground lamb in the fridge, I may end up mixing and spicing and cooking it sausage-style, then putting sausage crumbles on at least one pizza. Lamb sausage would be pretty great on pizza, wouldn't it? I even have fennel seed to add! Oh man, what a great idea! THIS MAY NOW HAPPEN.

So we will make and eat a delightful variety of pizza.

We will also deliver lots of the aforementioned almond cookies to our next-door neighbor and the coffeeshop that is functionally my office.

Later we will go out with a thermos (or most likely my stainless steel water bottle, since we have not acquired an actual traveling drinking device not made of gross-tasting plastic since last year at this time) filled with black russians, and walk all over town and look at the lights and pretend it's colder than 40F, which it won't be.

Tomorrow after presents we're going to go have massive holiday breakfast at Veronica's. I am further going with tradition and bringing cranberry orange nut bread, although minus the nuts. This is actually also tradition, since both John and I find walnuts disgusting in baked goods. Besides that, there will be eggs and coffee and mimosas and coffeecake and homemade bagels and cream cheese.

In short, yay holidays!

20 December 2011

Pre-holiday cookies

almond cookie recipeLast week I went to a cookie swap and came home with all the delicious cookies in the land. For my contribution, I made our usual holiday cookies from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book. They're easy, tasty, and not too sweet.

The recipe makes--wait for it---5 DOZEN COOKIES. So clearly I had to double the batch, right? Right. The doubled recipe barely fit in my mixing bowl, so you should probably use two bowls (or a really gargantuan one) if you want to do such a thing. This also means that I now have three extra rolls of cookie dough waiting and ready in the freezer. Yay, spontaneous future cookies!

Swedish farmer cookies

2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cups sugar
1 cup slivered almonds--use the thinnest slices you can find, not the big chunks
1 tbsp molasses
2/3 cup softened sweet butter
1 egg
2 tbsp water

Mix everything together and form the resulting dough (which will look crumbly, but is really not) into 3 or 4 long skinny rolls. Just squeeze them together with your hands.

almond cookie doughWrap the rolls in foil or plastic wrap and stick them in the fridge to chill for at least an hour. Then slice each roll into 1/4 inch cookies and bake at 400F on parchment-covered or greased cookie sheets for 8-10 minutes. You want to take them out of the oven when they’re just barely golden brown.

Now you have cookies! Eat them with all the tea.

15 December 2011

Cabbage, sausage, onion, apple

Cabbage, sausage, onion, apple recipePeasant food is the best food. Let's make some!

I actually had this mix of onions, apples, precooked chicken sausage, and cabbage quite awhile ago. However, it's totally appropriate to the dank days of winter, so let's talk about it now.

While we cooked the aromatics first, it's also totally possible to start out by cooking the sausage. In that case, I'd just cook to brown and render off some fat; that way you can take out the meat, sauté the vegetables in the rendered fat, and add the browned meat back in near the end. Since we were using chicken sausage, though, we knew there wasn't going to be an overabundance of fat to render off. If you want to use pork sausage, or substitute some bacon/etc. in, I'd definitely start with the meat and cook the veg in the rendered fat.

For those of you who don't eat meat, I'm sure an appropriately spiced seitan sausage culled from your freezer stash would also work well.

Cabbage, sausage, onion, apple

olive oil
precooked sausage/seitan/etc. of your choosing
green cabbage
salt, pepper

Cut your onion in half and slice each half into long strips. Sauté the onion in a slug of oil while you slice the apple into 1/4 inch pieces. When the onion has softened, add the apple and cook together, stirring occasionally, until the apples start to turn golden brown. Cut up your sausage of choice and shred a big chunk of cabbage while you're waiting.

At this point, scrape the apples and onions to one side of the pan. Put a little dab of oil in the free space (if you're using a lean meat or seitan sausage), and add your sausage. Cook until browned, then flip and brown the other side.

When everything is brown and tasty, mix up all the business in the pan, season with salt and pepper, and scrape everything to the side again. Add your shredded cabbage to the various oil and fat left in the pan; sauté with salt and some pepper. I wilted my cabbage for a little over five minutes, so it still had some bite. If you want to go for thoroughly wilted cabbage, be my guest. In hindsight, I wish we'd had a little caraway seed to add. If you have some, you might want to try it.

When the cabbage is done to your liking, adjust the seasonings and serve. I used the cabbage as a bed for the sausage/onion/apple mixture, which worked out well. It would also be fine to mix everything up in the pan and serve it like that.

This business would be great with a bunch of buttered toast or a whack of mashed potatoes. Hell, if you have some leftover potatoes, go ahead and add them to the pan! You might as well absorb every last bit of tasty onion-apple-sausage fat, right?

13 December 2011

Soooup of the eeevening

Soup with lamb meatballs and greens recipeThe other day John had to stay at work late. As we all know, this means I get to eat WHATEVER I WANT FOR DINNER MUAHAHAHAHAHA with no regard for the food-related desires of others.

A week or two ago we had roasted a post-thanksgiving chicken, taken all the resulting meat off the bones, and boiled the stripped carcass with onion, carrots, and celery for a massive supply of chicken broth. I did eat some of the chicken, but otherwise put a large container of meat and eight (EIGHT!) containers of strained broth in the freezer. Our freezer was extremely crowded, but ready to provide ingredients for any number of tasty dinners at a moment's notice.

So I rifled through the freezer, grabbed some chicken broth and lamb meatballs, and went to work.

Soup with lamb meatballs and copious greens

olive oil
ginger, fresh if at all possible
green onion
chicken broth
soy sauce, sriracha, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil
salt, pepper

If you don't have a freezer supply of meatballs, start with them. Any kind of meatball spiced to work with Asian flavors should work fine. I made mine by mixing ground lamb with breadcrumbs, ginger, lemongrass, and hot red pepper, all chopped finely. Then I formed them into balls a little smaller than a ping-pong ball and cooked them over medium-high heat until browned on all sides & done in the middle.

I like to use precooked meatballs because 1. the char you get from pan-frying is delicious and 2. you don't have to worry about them cooking through (or breaking apart in boiling broth) later. It would probably be just fine to simmer them in the soup until done if you prefer, however. In either case, have them formed before you start making the soup itself.

Ok. For the soup, start by warming some olive oil in a deep pan over medium heat. Chop up some garlic, fresh ginger, and the whites of a few green onions, and sauté them in the oil for about five minutes, or until soft and aromatic. Add some sliced mushrooms and a pinch of salt, mix everything up, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally. You want the mushrooms to reduce and turn golden brown, so try not to crowd them overmuch.

When the mushrooms have browned, add your broth. Mine was still frozen, so I added some water as well. Put on the lid, bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer.

At this point you can add your meatballs and cook until either heated through (in the case of precooked meatballs) or cooked through (in the case of raw). Obviously the time will differ for each, and you might need to play with the heat to keep the broth sufficiently hot. My meatballs were frozen, as mentioned; they took somewhere between five and ten minutes to heat completely.

While your soup bubbles away, wash some chard leaves, strip them off their stems (which you can put in the freezer stockpile), and roughly chop them. Practically any type of cookable green would work here: spinach, cabbage, kale, or whatever you have in the crisper. I just like chard.

When your meatballs are done & hot, add your chopped greens to the pot and stir to combine. If you're using a particularly delicate green, turn off the heat; if you're using something hardy, be prepared to cook another five to ten minutes. When your greens are done, take the soup off the burner and season sparingly with soy sauce, sriracha, rice wine vinegar, and sesame oil. Then taste and decide if you want to add any more. When the soup tastes good, you are done.

Garnish with chopped green onion greens, let cool enough to avoid blistering your lips, and eat.

And if you find that you've made more soup than you can eat, well, you just cleared out that spot in your freezer, right?

12 December 2011

Why to buy premade hummus

Yes, making hummus is easy, and yes, it's much cheaper to buy actual dried garbanzo beans and tahini with which to make your own batches seasoned exactly to your taste. It's fresher. It often tastes better. It can even impress guests. Wow, homemade hummus!

hummus and vegetable plateBut sometimes you just want a lunch like this, and you want it in under five minutes.

08 December 2011

It's a gratin!

baked mac and cheeseSo after our sojourn at the cabin with a kitchen stocked in Le Creuset I have to say our desire for enameled cast iron cookware went up pretty far and pretty fast. John and I therefore bought ourselves an early christmas present: a lovely blue gratin dish.

Clearly, we had to christen the pan with a big batch of baked mac & cheese.

We'd normally make the sauce for mac and cheese in a regular saucepan. This time, we made it right in the gratin dish, since cast iron works for both oven and stovetop.

mac and cheese gratinAfter we drained the pasta, we dumped it into the gratin with the sauce, stirred it up, topped it with bread crumbs and grated cheese, and stuck it in the oven. Yay, fewer dishes to wash!

Thirty minutes later, we were blissfully eating plates of mac & cheese with the crispiest crust imaginable. Hooray!

I am well satisfied with our lot in life.

05 December 2011

Cauliflower & olive pasta

Cauliflower and olive pastaJohn thought this was going to be gross, but lo! It was not gross; it was good.

What's better than eating in-season veg like cauliflower? Cauliflower in pasta is great & underrated, & everyone should try it. Maybe sometime soon I'll get around to the butternut or kabocha squash pasta, or even to the turnip and rutabaga, although I don't know if those go with pasta per se. They can get in a big gratin, then. It's all good. My point is: seasonal vegetables!

I actually think that this pasta and veg mix would work really well in a gratin, with a little cream sauce and a bunch of breadcrumbs scattered over the top. Maybe that can happen sometime in the relatively near future.

Overall, this whole business fell very much in the Mediterranean area. I was particularly happy to be using some of my oven-dried tomatoes. I've never been that much into the tougher store-bought sun-dried tomatoes, but every time I use these I like them more and more. Maybe next year I should make multiple jars.

Cauliflower & olive pasta

olive oil
marinated olives (black nicoise or kalamata for preference)
oven-roasted or sun-dried tomato
deglazing liquid of your choice
red pepper flake, oregano, marjoram, basil, salt, pepper
penne or other pasta of your choice
fresh parsley or basil if you have any lying around

First, put on a pot of water for the pasta; cook it at an appropriate point in the proceedings.

In a separate sauté pan, warm up a slug of olive oil. When it's adequately warm, throw in a bunch of chopped onion and garlic. Season with red pepper flake (or hey, maybe you have an actual hot pepper you want to chop up and use!), oregano, basil, and marjoram, and let soften while you chop up a handful of olives and a tomato. Add these to the pan as you finish chopping.

If you have any sun-dried or oven-roasted tomatoes, get them out, drain off their excess oil and chop as needed, and add them to the pan. If you don't have any, that's ok too. You can always add a couple more olives or some capers for extra pungency.

Add some salt and pepper, stir everything together, and let cook for about five minutes. If things start to look dry, you can add a little water, veg broth, dry white wine, or some dry vermouth to deglaze. Whatever you have lying around will work fine.

Now is the time to butcher your cauliflower. I used about 2/3 of a cauliflower for two people; if you're serving any more people, just use an entire head. Trim off any leaves or hard woody bits, and then cut or break your cauliflower into smallish florets.

Add your cauliflower to the pan. Stir everything up, getting as much cauliflower in contact with the bottom of the pan as possible. (This will encourage your cauliflower to brown, which will make it particularly tasteable.) Let it all cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is cooked through. Again, deglaze if and when you need to.

When the cauliflower is cooked through, correct your seasonings, mix the vegetables with your cooked, drained pasta, and serve. If you have any Mediterranean herbs around, throw a handful of them on top of your bowl. I think a little squirt of lemon or some finely sliced lemon zest would work really well; grating cheese or feta would be good too. My point is: doctor your pasta however you like.

Now eat it! Yay, winter vegetables!