30 September 2014

Coconut oil brownies

Coconut oil brownies

You guys, these may very well be the brownies you've been looking for.

This is a variation on Deb of Smitten Kitchen's best cocoa brownies. Now, I have made these brownies as written, and I did not find them to be to my taste. You'd think a stick of butter would do it! But it didn't.

However, cocoa is generally what I have on hand for making brownies and other chocolate baked items. I can only very rarely be bothered to buy actual baking chocolate, mostly because I already have cocoa lying around. And brownies are by far the best baked chocolate item out there, in my opinion. I actually want them on a semi-regular basis. So I needed a good cocoa-based recipe.

Okay. I also had a jar of coconut oil hanging out in the pantry for several years. Coconut oil is delicious, rich, and available, so I thought I'd see what I could do with it.

I searched for coconut oil brownies and came up with this version on Instructables. I gave it a try, with a few minor variations, and it was good. Hooray!

We made these brownies twice. On the first try, I used whole wheat flour, because that's how I roll, and varied the melting methodology slightly, but kept everything else intact. On the second try, we used whole wheat flour and slightly varied the oil content, using 4 tbsp coconut oil and 6 tbsp vegetable oil. This was necessary because we ran out of coconut oil via copious brownie making. Both versions worked out very well.

What I'm saying is: if you like a dense, chewy brownie that can in no way be called cakey, and you enjoy the taste and texture provided by coconut oil, you will like these brownies. Oh, and you should also like brownies. Yes.

Coconut oil brownies

Coconut oil brownies

5 tbsp coconut oil
5 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour of your choice

Preheat your oven to 325F. Lightly grease an 8x8 square baking pan and line it with parchment paper.

Mix your coconut oil and sugar in a small oven-safe bowl. Stick it in the preheating oven for a minute or two to melt together. You can also use the microwave if you own one; we don't. (The original recipe has you melt these with the veg oil, salt, & cocoa; you can do this if you prefer.)

In a large mixing bowl, combine your vegetable oil, salt, and cocoa powder. Add the melted coconut oil & sugar to the bowl and stir well to create a slightly grainy batter. Add the vanilla and mix.

Next, stir in your eggs, one at a time. When your eggs are fully incorporated, add the flour and mix until just combined. You will be left with a thick, shiny batter.

Scrape your batter into your prepared pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until your brownies have developed a lovely crackly crust and a toothpick test results in a clean, damp pick.

Give your brownies 10 minutes to cool before you cut & eat. Bonus: since you lined the pan with parchment, you'll be able to lift the whole whack of them right out of the pan! This is very helpful, since the resulting brownies are going to be sticky and a bit difficult to cut cleanly, especially if you are too impatient to wait until they're fully cool to cut. But that's ok! The deliciousness factor is well worth it.

Eat with vigor. Also with coffee.

What baked delights are you creating lately?

25 September 2014

Tomato & cream cheese schmears: spicy salsa & bloody mary

Tomato & cream cheese schmears: spicy salsa & bloody mary

When you're canning tomato sauce, as I obviously have been, sometimes you end up with a little bit of sauce left over.

What to do with a bare tablespoon or two of tomato sauce? I propose a cream cheese schmear. In fact, I propose two tomato-based schmears: spicy salsa and bloody mary. Tomato schmears for everyone! It's a perfect plan for the end of the tomato harvest.

I made the salsa schmear with tomato sauce and the bloody mary schmear with fresh raw tomato. The tomato sauce had the texture advantage, since it mixed in smoothly and created a thicker schmear. The raw tomato added some water content, which made it tougher to mix in and created a looser final product, but it definitely had the flavor advantage, because peak harvest tomatoes are just that good. Both of these schmears would work well with either tomato sauce or raw tomato; you just have to decide what your priorities are.

These schmears are also ideal if you have not only tomatoes but a few homemade pickles in your kitchen. For instance, do you have a jar of pickled jalapeños? Dice up a few rings and use them in the spicy salsa schmear. Otherwise, fresh jalapeños certainly provide a serious kick.

For the bloody mary schmear, a handful of dilly beans adds a delightful and appropriate tang. I used some refrigerator green bean pickles that I'd thrown into a batch of Emmycooks's spicy pickled peppers, but traditionally canned dilly beans should work just as well.

The intensity of each schmear is really up to you. Do you like a subtle schmear with only a hint of spice? Or do you like a big, in-your-face schmear packed with vegetables and herbs? Add as much or as little of each ingredient as you like for your own perfect concoction.

Hooray for homemade schmears! Don't go to the bagel shop! These are better.

Each schmear will generously cover one bagel.

Tomato & cream cheese schmears: spicy salsa & bloody mary

Spicy salsa schmear

3-4 tbsp cream cheese/tofu cream cheese
1-2 tbsp tomato sauce (or sub finely diced fresh tomato)
1 tsp finely diced jalapeño, or more to taste (raw or pickled)
1-2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1-2 tbsp chopped green onion
1 pinch each of ground oregano and cumin
several good grinds of pepper
optional fresh corn
optional milk/yogurt to thin as needed (or pickled jalapeño brine?)

Mix everything together well and serve on the bagel or bread product of your choice. Garnish with green onion or cilantro if you so desire.

I made the spicy salsa schmear with the aforementioned leftover tomato sauce. You can see that this was done with sauce from the immersion blender batch, since there are a few flecks of tomato skin in the mix. You can also see the thicker texture; check out those knife marks! Stir in a spoonful of milk or yogurt to thin if necessary.

Tomato & cream cheese schmears: spicy salsa & bloody mary

Bloody mary schmear

3-4 tbsp cream cheese/tofu cream cheese
1-2 tbsp finely diced tomato
3 finely diced dilly beans
1 large pinch celery salt
2 dashes worcestershire sauce/tiny dash of soy sauce
hot sauce to taste - 2-3 drops or more
several good grinds of pepper
optional milk/yogurt to thin as needed (or use the dilly bean brine)

Mix everything together thoroughly with a fork. Be aware that the juicy tomato may take a minute to absorb fully into the schmear. But the end result is well worth a few minutes of stirring!

The finished texture will likely be loose enough not to require any thinning. If you find it too thin, stir in a bit more cream cheese.

Spread your schmear on a toasted bagel. Garnish with additional chopped dilly beans or a few celery leaves if you happen to have them.

Hooray for homemade schmears!

Previously on the schmear show:
- Christmas morning red onion & dill schmear
- Fresh summer corn & basil schmear
- The anti-bagel: parsley, green onion, & arugula schmear

What are you eating on your bagels lately? What's your favorite homemade schmear?

20 September 2014

Tomato sauce showdown: Victorio strainer vs. immersion blender

Tomato sauce showdown: Victorio strainer vs. immersion blender

When I've canned tomato sauce in the past, I've always gone through the arduous slog of coring and skinning all the tomatoes before cooking them down. This, as you might notice from my tone, is a huge pain in the ass. It takes forever and makes a mess -- and then I end up cooking the tomatoes down into slurry anyway. It's not like I need whole, intact skinned tomatoes! So this time I decided it was time to try a couple different methods.

1. The Victorio strainer.
2. The immersion blender.

The Victorio strainer is essentially a giant food mill. You feed tomatoes into the top while turning a handle. The strainer smashes the tomatoes and separates the skin and seeds from the usable tomato flesh. Then you cook down the tomato to the sauce consistency of your choosing and preserve it as you see fit. I did a basic water-bath canned tomato sauce, but you can always go for the pressure canner or freezer as you see fit. Be careful with food preservation! The USDA guide to home canning is a good resource here.

Anyway. I've had my mom's old strainer in the office closet for a few years, but I hadn't actually broken it out and used it before now. So this was a learning experience.

Tomato sauce showdown: Victorio strainer vs. immersion blender

I got to learn how to put everything together. I got to learn that the clamp that holds the strainer upright was too wide for our dining table but too narrow for our kitchen counters. Eventually I found that it would fit the coffee table, which we then had to move into the kitchen to avoid getting tomato splashes all over the couch.

When we were ready to puree, I fed in the tomatoes and John worked the handle. Then we got to learn that trying to use a strainer set up on a knee-high table is a terrible idea if you have more than a small batch of tomatoes to process. There's nothing like hunching over for a full hour as you shovel chopped tomatoes.

We also got to learn that if you pad out the clamp with a towel, so as not to completely kill your table, the strainer is likely to come off square and start getting loose. We learned that some tomatoes were going to explode and rain juice all over the kitchen, no matter what we did. It was super exciting.

And afterward we got to learn how delightful it was to try to take apart and clean a strainer we'd had to wedge closed as tightly as possible -- while it was covered with all kinds of slippery tomato detritus.

On the other hand, the strainer certainly did make very short work of producing approximately 7.5 quarts of tomato puree -- less than half the time it would have taken to core and skin all the tomatoes. It required only the most minimal of prep work -- we only needed to remove the stems and quarter the larger tomatoes before pureeing.

We could use our grape tomatoes as well as the standard large tomatoes. We could feed the skins and seeds back through the strainer to squeeze out every last bit of tomato flesh. I got to rescue all the waste to make a huge batch of tomato broth, which turned out to be lovely and flavorful and full-bodied due to the pectin in the skins.

Overall, it was a reasonable trade.

Tomato sauce showdown: Victorio strainer vs. immersion blender

The next weekend, I was not really up to mopping the kitchen again. Besides, I was thinking about that tomato broth and the pectin in the tomato skins. And then I remembered that Erica at Northwest Edible Life had written a post on actually making sauce from tomato skins instead of throwing them away. Erica was using the skins from her whole home-canned tomatoes; I was planning to sauce all of mine. Why even bother skinning the tomatoes in the first place, then? Why not just puree everything together at once?

So that's what I did. I washed my batch of tomatoes, chopped them roughly, removed any really seriously woody core pieces, and went at the remaining tomatoes with the immersion blender. Then I cooked the resulting slurry into delicious tomato sauce, ladled it into jars with the requisite lemon juice, and canned it all.

It worked very well indeed.

Since I already know how to puree things with the immersion blender, there wasn't very much to learn here per se. I just made sure to keep the head of the blender submerged, so I didn't accidentally splort random tomato bits all over the kitchen.

I also had to work in batches, so as not to overheat the blender. This is for sure the only time I've ever had to even think about that consideration when using our very nice and heavy-duty immersion blender! If I'd cooked the sauce down for a while and then pureed it, I think the overheating issue would have been less of a problem. But even so, the results were excellent.

This sauce cooked down a whole lot faster than the previous skinless batch. That is a real benefit when it's a minimum of 85F in your kitchen and you want to get past the heat portion of the day as swiftly as possible. You have to love fiber and pectin at work.

Even though this method defaulted to include skin and seeds, I was really happy with the finished sauce.

Tomato sauce showdown results

Victorio strainer:
- no seeds or skins in the sauce
- minimal prep required
- fast pureeing time
- long cooking time: 4-5 hrs
- technically fiddly, with lots of required setup
- equipment will not overheat
- can use grape and cherry tomatoes along with standard
- medium to high cleanup
- bulky equipment
- single-use, at least for the time being (maybe I will make applesauce sometime?)
- peels and seeds provide ingredients for convenient side-effect broth

Immersion blender:
- tiny seed and skin bits in the sauce
- slightly more than minimal prep required, but still not very much
- fast pureeing time
- faster (but still fairly long) cooking time: 2+ hrs
- not fiddly; no setup
- equipment can overheat; breaks are required
- can use grape and cherry tomatoes along with standard
- low cleanup
- more compact equipment
- definitely multi-use
- no secondary products produced

As long as no one cares about teeny tiny seed and skin bits -- and so far, I don't -- the winner is the immersion blender. Of course, if you cared very much about such a thing, it would be possible to strain your sauce after cooking it -- but I am just not going to go to that kind of effort unless I see a real need.

The other real issue is overheating your equipment. No one wants to blow out a blender just to get tomatoes processed into sauce. So if you're making a really huge batch, or don't have the time to take breaks between pureeing batches of tomatoes, the manual strainer is probably the best bet.

The end product is great either way, so choose what works for you.

How do you process your tomatoes before canning? What favorite tools do you use?

18 September 2014

Migas with fresh summer corn

Migas with fresh summer corn

Migas! Migas are the best. Who doesn't love spicy scrambled eggs mixed with crispy corn tortillas? I ask you.

One of the best things about migas is how you can customize them with whatever veg you like. We've been concentrating on the all-powerful tomato, but that's not the only late summer vegetable still at its peak. How about the last of the fresh summer corn? How about an assortment of beautiful peppers? How about lots and lots of beautiful fresh cilantro -- or green onion, for those of you? YES.

I used farmer's market corn, a seriously gorgeous, heavy red bell pepper from our garden, and a shiny poblano and a big handful of cilantro from our CSA box. And what a delightful breakfast they made.

I haven't tried making my migas vegan with crumbled tofu, but that could potentially work very well for those of you who don't do eggs. Tofu scrambles are excellent, and this is essentially a scramble with extras -- so experiment away! I bet the results will be delicious.

Amounts are for two servings, but you can very easily double or triple this if you prefer.

Migas with fresh summer corn

Migas with fresh summer corn

4 small corn tortillas
4 eggs
1/2 small onion
1 jalapeño or other hot pepper - adjust for your spice tolerance
1 poblano pepper
1/2 red bell pepper
1 ear fresh corn
cumin, oregano, salt, pepper
handful of fresh cilantro or green onion
hot sauce, sour cream, carrot pickle, curtido, etc. to serve

Start by cutting your corn tortillas in half and then into strips 1/2 inch wide. Toast them on both sides in a lightly oiled skillet over medium-high heat. Work in batches if necessary to avoid crowding. When your tortilla strips are nice and crunchy and starting to brown, remove them to a plate and set aside.

Crack your eggs into a mixing bowl and mix together with a fork. Dice up your onion, jalapeño, poblano, and bell pepper, and add them to the eggs.

Husk and de-silk your corn before cutting it off the cob. We've talked about how to do this many times; I like to simply put my ear of corn down on the cutting board, slice a slab of kernels off the side, rotate, and repeat until all the kernels are removed. Someday I need to do a photo tutorial of this, but today is not that day.

Add your corn to the egg mixture. Season with a scant few shakes of salt and plenty of pepper, cumin, and oregano. Stir everything together until well amalgamated.

Add a bit more butter or oil to your hot skillet before tipping in the eggs. Scramble over medium heat until the eggs are just a hair underdone for you. Then add in the reserved tortilla strips, stir, and cook for another minute or two, lowering the heat as needed. The eggs should be perfectly cooked and the tortillas should be warm through.

Serve your migas with a big handful of chopped cilantro or green onion on top. Garnish with whatever seems most appropriate to you -- hot sauce is the minimum at our house. Now eat it all in good health and good humor.

How are you eating the last of the summer corn?

13 September 2014

Emergency tuna pasta salad

Emergency tuna pasta salad

Sometimes -- like when you get home with approximately 35 minutes to make and eat lunch before the plumber is supposed to show up to fix your kitchen faucet -- emergency food has to happen. This tuna pasta salad is an excellent example.

This salad is 100% flexible, depending on what vegetables you happen to have kicking around your crisper or ready to eat in your garden. Use as much or as little as you like of practically every ingredient. Then nom it like a boss.

If you are in the no-meat camp, you obviously won't be using tuna here. I would probably go for some roughly mashed chickpeas or a couple diced hard-boiled eggs, but you should clearly feel free to experiment with whatever sounds good to you. And if you are in the no-pasta camp, rice or another grain of your choice would be an excellent substitute.

One standard can of tuna plus half a pound of pasta and as much veg as you like will make approximately two servings.

Emergency tuna pasta salad

Emergency tuna pasta salad

chunky pasta of your choice
a can of tuna
red pepper
green onion
fresh parsley
mesclun mix or other salad greens
olive oil
salt, pepper
dijon mustard

Put a pot of salted water on to boil. Cook your pasta while you're prepping the rest of your ingredients.

Drain your can of tuna and deposit it into a bowl.

Chop up your cucumber, red pepper, green onion, parsley, and salad greens. Add them to the bowl.

Season with olive oil, salt, pepper, and dijon mustard.

Check to see if your pasta is ready. When it's done, drain it and add it to the tuna and veg. Mix well. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Wow! It's done!

Now sit down and have some instant dinner. Or lunch. Or breakfast, if tuna salad for breakfast floats your boat.

What are your emergency back-up lunches?

08 September 2014

It's still summer: tomato, cucumber, and chive salad

It's still summer: tomato, cucumber, and chive salad

Okay. I hear you on the incoming pumpkin. It is September, after all. But that doesn't mean tomato season is over!

I for one am still eating quite a few plates of food that look very much like this. Fresh tomato! Fresh cucumber! Fresh chives!

They're all so good, and they're all still easily available. So let's cram our faces with the best of the late summer produce while we still can, shall we?

It's still summer: tomato, cucumber, and chive salad

Tomato, cucumber, and chive salad

The best beefsteak tomato you have (Caspian Pink in my case)
A lovely crisp cucumber
A handful of fresh chives
salt, pepper, olive oil
optional lemon juice or vinegar

This could not be easier or more delicious.

Wash your tomato and cut it into half-inch-thick slices. If your tomato is particularly huge, you may want to halve it first. Slice your cucumber into thin half-moons or quarter-moons. Cut your chives into a pile of tiny bits.

Arrange a fan of tomato slices on each salad plate. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle on a few drops of olive oil.

Top each plate of tomato with a handful of cucumber. Season as before with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Garnish with a generous sprinkling of chives. If you like, finish the plate with a small squeeze of lemon juice or a few drops of vinegar.

Voila! Your salad is complete.

It's still summer: tomato, cucumber, and chive salad

You can serve as much of this salad per person as you please. I made mine a reasonable side salad size, but if you have the appetite for a full dinner plate of huge tomato slices, I say go for it.

My brain wants this salad next to a plate of eggs, either deviled, poached and served on some nice seedy toast, or just scrambled. It would also be excellent with any number of other things, however! Sandwiches of all kinds would be a perfect plan. So would a big whack of a proteiny salad - chickpea, tuna, or what have you. So would a nicely seared piece of fish. Practically anything would be a good idea. Get what you like and eat it!

How are you relishing the final fruits of summer?

02 September 2014

Lamb meatball soup with somen noodles, cabbage, and carrot

Lamb meatball soup with somen noodles, cabbage, and carrot

I don't know about you guys, but I am SO GLAD August is over. Now that September is here, I feel like I can take a deep breath and get on with my life. And I say this as someone living in a state without fall and everything.

Anyway. Guess what I made for lunch today!

I made soup with lamb meatballs, somen noodles, and shredded cabbage and carrot, and it took maybe fifteen minutes, start to finish. You heard me. It was easy and fast and delicious and totally appropriate for the very first days of not-quite-fall. SOUP, you guys.

Okay. How do you make a complete meal like this in fifteen minutes? By being prepared and having things previously stashed in the freezer, that's how. I had both broth and lamb meatballs just waiting for me to throw them into a pot and heat them up, and you can too!

I also kept things quick by using somen noodles instead of a longer-cooking noodle like udon. Somen are very, very thin Japanese noodles that are usually served cold with a dipping sauce. But you know what? They are also excellent hot, plunked into a pot of soup.

If you are not in the meat-eating boat, fear not. You can absolutely use the frozen dumplings or won tons of your choice in place of the meatballs and somen. I do that very frequently when we have dumplings or won tons in the freezer, and it is just as delicious. Give it a try!

I ate this entire recipe's worth of soup myself, but it would be totally feasible to divide it up into two portions if you are planning on adding a side or two to the meal.

Lamb meatball soup with somen noodles, cabbage, and carrot

Lamb meatball soup with somen noodles, cabbage, and carrot

~2 cups veg broth (or chicken broth)
6 precooked and frozen lamb meatballs
~1 cup shredded cabbage
1 small shredded carrot
1 bundle somen noodles
handful chopped fresh cilantro
soy sauce, sriracha, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar

Start by heating up your broth. I used a mixture of ordinary vegetable broth and tomato broth, both of which were previously homemade and frozen in convenient puck form. I popped them out of their containers, put them in a pot with a little water, and brought them to a boil, covered. This took about five to seven minutes. If you are using liquid broth, it should take even less time.

When your broth is hot, add your meatballs and continue cooking for another three to five minutes, or until hot through. This will take longer if your meatballs are frozen and shorter if they are not, shockingly enough.

While your pot bubbles away, shred your cabbage and carrot and chop your your cilantro. When your meatballs are hot, add the cabbage and carrot to the pan. Stir to mix and cook for another few minutes, or until your vegetables have wilted.

Add your somen noodles to the pot and stir to submerge. These guys are so thin that they will only take a minute or two to cook. When your noodles are tender, immediately remove the pan from the heat.

Season your soup to taste with cilantro, soy sauce, sriracha, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar. Make it as hot and spicy as you like. Yeah! Then serve in a big bowl with both chopsticks and a soup spoon.

Hooray! Instant food-preparedness lunch!

What delights do you have stashed away in your freezer?