27 September 2013

Mushroom pelmeny saved my lunch

mushroom pelmeny with golden beets, carrots, cabbage, and yogurt sauce

Here's a thing that can happen when you're feeling tired and down for no good reason, but you know you need to eat lunch. You look through the kitchen for a few minutes. Nothing looks good, even though you have enough food to feed an army consisting of far more than the two adults who actually live in the house. So you decide to go for emergency food and get out the backup package of mushroom pelmeny, exquisite and hand-shaped and local, and also a food only you will eat because you are the only person in the house who likes mushrooms. You drop the frozen pelmeny into a pot of boiling water with some salt.

What are you going to eat with them? Normally you'd have the energy to saute some onions in butter with salt and pepper and paprika, but not today, so you decide the plain yogurt in the fridge will make a good enough sauce. Still, you're really going to regret it if you don't eat some form of vegetable with your bowl of dumplings. There's cabbage in the crisper, so you get out a cutting board and shred a chunk. It can be a bed of raw crispy veg in the bottom of your bowl, and that will be okay. Wait, don't you have a container of shredded golden beet and carrot in the fridge for future salad applications? Why not use some of that? Those go into the bowl too.

By this time your pelmeny are boiling furiously and rising to the surface of the pan. You drain them and scoop a bunch of them into your bowl. A couple good spoonfuls of yogurt go on top. Good so far, but it needs one more thing, or else it'll be bland. So you grind a bunch of black pepper across the top of your bowl of pelmeny and yogurt and cabbage and beet and carrot. Wait, one more thing. You don't have any fresh dill, but you do have parsley. So you snip some parsley and scatter it across the top of your bowl.

mushroom pelmeny with golden beets, carrots, cabbage, and yogurt sauce

By this time you are actually feeling like a human, even before you eat anything. You sit down to eat and discover that everything is totally delicious, and you eat it all, thinking that maybe next time you should add a little bit of spicy brown mustard too, and you go get a second helping of pelmeny and yogurt, at which point you realize that you're really going to need something to mop up all the delicious fragments of mushroom and carrot and beet and cabbage and sour cream and pepper off the side of the bowl. Then you remember that you also have a loaf of sourdough in the fridge, so you throw a piece in the toaster oven to get lovely and fragrant and golden brown and crisp. You mop up the side of the bowl with the bread and eat every last tiny bit, and you still want more.

I'm going to eat this so many times.

Have a nice lunch.

23 September 2013

Banana nut & oat bars!

banana oat nut peanut butter bars

This weekend I took advantage of a new roll of parchment paper and made a batch of soft banana nut bars. Hey, we had bananas dying on top of the fridge and bags of nuts randomly lying around in obscure corners of the freezer--why not combine them into delicious snacky bar form?

These bars are a variation on Clockwork Lemon's soft peanut butter banana oat bars. The main change I made was to switch out the cashews and walnuts--neither of which I could find in the freezer, although they may indeed be hanging out in there somewhere--with almonds and pecans, which I could find. The finished bars were barely sweet, with a subtle nutty crunch hiding under the soft exterior: an ideal breakfast.

I considered adding more fruit, since we had dried cranberries, apricots, and tart cherries hiding in the freezer too, but I decided to try out a batch with no extras to start with. Next time, though, I could totally see myself chopping up a big handful of apricots and chucking them into the batter. The bars could also definitely handle some chocolate chips, especially if you have a taste for the kind of banana bread with huge chunks of chocolate in it.

banana oat nut peanut butter bars

Banana almond pecan peanut butter oat bars

2 ripe bananas
1/2 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup chopped pecans & almonds, your choice of proportion
1/4 cup sweetened coconut
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup oats

Preheat your oven to 350F. Line an 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper.

Mash your bananas in a bowl. Add all the other ingredients and mix well. Press the batter evenly into the pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until slightly browned.

The finished bars will be fairly soft, so give them a few minutes to cool & solidify in the pan. Then remove the whole slab from the pan by lifting the parchment paper.

banana oat nut peanut butter bars

Let cool before slicing into the bar shape of your choice. I cut my batch in half, then cut each half into five pieces. Store wrapped in plastic wrap, or layer with parchment and put in an air-tight container.

These guys are great for a midmorning snack with a big mug of coffee, or as an instant breakfast to grab on your way out the door to the train. Or just bring half the batch to work and leave them in your desk drawer as a balm for the occasional pang of hunger. It's all good.

What do you guys stash away for an emergency snack?

20 September 2013

Sweet potato soup with black beans, corn, and jalapeno

sweet potato corn jalapeno black bean soup

It has actually started to get chilly here in scenic NorCal! You know what that means: SOUP. On the other hand, "chilly" in NorCal really means "highs of under 80F during the day, with lots of sun," so while the fall vegetables are certainly emerging, we still have tomatoes and corn and zucchini and hot chili peppers everywhere. Okay! Let's make a hearty soup full of both late summer and fall produce!

I took some inspiration from Joanne's sweet potato corn & jalapeno bisque and made this soup. The catch is that we needed protein, but that was easy enough to fix with the addition of bean broth and black beans. It also balanced out the serious sweetness of the potato and corn.

So, to sum up: this is an easy, delicious, filling, spicy vegetarian main dish soup with protein and seasonal vegetables. And if you use oil instead of butter, it's vegan! Convenient as hell.

I wanted a big vat of thick, creamy puree studded with bits of barely-cooked corn, so I reserved the corn to add at the end. If you want a more highly textured soup, you can always add the whole black beans to the pot after your puree the potatoes and broth, or you can just hold off on pureeing altogether. It's delicious in every case.

sweet potato corn jalapeno black bean soup
Sweet potato soup with black beans, corn, and jalapeno

butter/oil of your choice
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
2+ hot peppers
cumin, oregano, red pepper flake
salt, pepper
2 big sweet potatoes
3-4 cups veg and/or bean broth
2 cups black beans, refried or whole
2+ ears fresh corn (frozen also ok)
lemon or lime juice to finish
garnishes of your choice: curtido de repollo, sour cream, cilantro, green onion, lime wedges, corn tortillas, avocado...

Start by warming a good slug of oil over medium-high heat in the large soup pot of your choice. Dice up your onion and add it to the pot, stirring to coat with oil. Smash and mince your cloves of garlic and add them as well.

Destem and mince your hot peppers. I used one garden jalapeno and one random red hot pepper from the farmer's market; you can use whatever combination you so desire. I imagine these hot peppers would be a particularly great addition if you roasted them and flaked off the skin beforehand, but I was in the WANT FOOD NOW zone and so didn't bother.

Add your hot peppers to the pot. Season with cumin and oregano to your taste, and add a sprinkle of salt. If you want extra spice, you can add in some red pepper flake as well. I used some hot red hatch chile flake, because that's how we roll, and also because my parents brought us a gigantic bag of it last year, and we're still nowhere near making a dent even though we use it all the time.

Stir everything together and cook, lowering the heat a bit if necessary, to soften. In the meantime, peel and cube your sweet potatoes.

When your vegetables have softened and the onion is golden brown, add your broth to the pot. I used a mix of frozen pinto bean broth and vegetable broth; the bean broth adds protein and the veg broth adds flavor. If you're on the meat boat you can use chicken stock, but it's really not necessary. (Now I'm having a horrible flash of what "the meat boat" might look like. Curse you, personal slang!)

Add your sweet potatoes and black beans to the pot and bring everything to a boil. Cover, lower the heat, and simmer until your potatoes are cooked through. This took about 20 minutes for me, but the time will vary depending on the size of your potato cubes.

Pull your pan off the heat and puree with an immersion blender until the soup reaches your desired texture. Taste and correct the seasonings. You may want to add some more broth or water if the soup is too thick for your tastes.

Put the pan back on the heat and let it simmer gently while you husk your ears of corn and cut the kernels off the cobs. Add the corn to your soup, stir, and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes, or until your corn kernels are hot and delicious. Take the pan off the heat, add any final sprinklings of pepper, and mix the juice of a lime or half a lemon into the pot. Done!

Serve your soup with the garnishes of your choice, preferably of the "fresh and crispy" category. We had ours with big whacks of well-drained curtido de repollo, which provided an excellent crunchy contrast plus some extra acidity. A wedge of extra lime and a stack of corn tortillas charred over the gas flame are also good ideas.

The best part? We had enough soup to feed us for two dinners, plus a few extra servings to stash in the freezer. Hooray!

How are you bridging the gap between summer and fall?

16 September 2013

Fields of Gold cocktail

Fields of Gold orange bourbon cocktail

Is it sufficiently fall-y out for me to start posting bourbon drinks? Yes?

The other night I wanted a single bourbon drink to sip slowly before going to bed. Since we still have two big bowls of tangerines hanging around, a bourbon-tangerine cocktail seemed like a good plan. So we did a bit of poking around the internet and discovered the Fields of Gold cocktail: a variation on a bourbon sour with honey and orange. Perfect.

The title is especially apt, since the color of the finished cocktail reminds me vividly of California poppies, and particularly of a bit in the very beginning of East of Eden where Steinbeck describes them: "These too are of a burning color--not orange, not gold, but if pure gold were liquid and could raise a cream, that golden cream might be like the color of the poppies." So if you haven't read East of Eden, there's one good reason to go get it.

Here, honey gets mixed with warm water to make an instant simple syrup. I normally use standard granulated-sugar-based syrups in my cocktails, so I was pleasantly surprised to see how well this worked. The honey dissolved easily, and the flavor was smooth and distinct. Now I want to experiment with some other simple syrups--maybe with maple? Something in the maple-bourbon-cranberry family definitely sounds like a worthwhile experiment as we move toward actual fall.

seedy tangerines for fields of gold cocktail

Look at all those seeds! These guys are really good, but every single one of them has at least ten seeds. That actually makes them perfect for cocktail-making instead of eating, since the strainer catches all the seeds of its own volition.

Switching out the orange slices for tangerine slices worked well, but made the overall result a bit more sweet than I'd prefer. If you're using a sweet tangerine, I'd recommend taking the honey down to 2 tsp, or even a bit less.

Fields of gold cocktail

Fields of Gold cocktail

1 tbsp honey
1 1/2 tsp warm water
3 orange or tangerine slices
1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 oz bourbon
ice to shake & serve
garnish: another orange or tangerine slice

Start by mixing your honey and water in the bottom of a cocktail shaker until the honey is dissolved. Add the orange slices and muddle well. Add ice, lemon juice, and bourbon, and shake well. Strain & serve over ice, garnished with the last orange slice.

What are you drinking as the weather starts to turn?

12 September 2013

Whole wheat jalapeno cornbread

whole wheat jalapeno cornbread

Yes, even though I pickled a boatload of jalapeno peppers the other day, we are still supplied with plenty of fresh ones. It's a good thing we like spice. Of course, that's why I planted the jalapenos in the first place, so overall I think things are going pretty well.

Next year I'm definitely going to have to plant a couple different kinds of hot peppers. If only there were more space! Maybe I'll finally get my act together and finally dig out the side bed--currently full of rampant mint, lemon balm, and weeds galore--for an extra-sunny pepper patch. At that point I'll probably have to look into stringing and drying peppers as well as pickling them. I can't wait.

In the meantime, we are throwing fresh jalapenos not only into the pickling vat, but into soups, sauces, pastas, and now, cornbread.

Spicy cornbread is the best possible accompaniment to a huge vat of chili--for instance, this fresh farmer's market chili. Eat it on the side! Crumble it over the top! Ladle some chili on top! Any way you choose, it's all good.

Our backyard jalapenos are sufficiently spicy and vibrant that one can flavor an entire pan of cornbread. If you have milder peppers, you may wish to use more than one. If you aren't as spice-tolerant as we are, you can either use less jalapeno, choose a milder pepper, or give your chopped pepper bits a quick saute to mellow them out before adding them to the batter. It's all good.

whole wheat jalapeno cornbread

Whole wheat jalapeno cornbread

1 1/4 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 tbs sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1-2 jalapenos or other hot peppers
1 egg
3 tbs butter, melted
1 cup milk

Preheat your oven to 425F. Grease and flour an 8x8 square pan or a loaf pan. You could also make this in muffin form if you reduce the cooking time to 8-10 minutes.

Mix your dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Mince your jalapenos finely. I only used one because our harvest has been pretty hot, but you can always add more if you're working with milder peppers. Or you can choose to go for less if you have a lower spice tolerance. It's all good.

Gently toss your minced jalapeno with a spoonful of your dry mix. You just want to barely coat the pieces. In theory, this will keep all your pepper bits from sinking to the bottom of your cornbread. In actuality, I doubt that it would be very easy for anything to fall very far through a thick cornbread batter like this, but hey.

Add your egg, melted butter, and milk to your bowl of dry ingredients. Mix until well incorporated. Fold your jalapenos in at the very end.

Pour your batter into your prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Eat with chili, tomato soup, or a full Southern spread with the collards and barbecue of your choice. It's all good.

Are you buried in an overabundant harvest? How are you using it up?

08 September 2013

Pickling, saucing, jellying

backyard jalapeno harvest

The scope of my preserving has been broader this year than ever before.

The backyard jalapenos have done amazingly well. Who knew that if they actually got sun they'd be super happy? Everyone? Yeah. So I stripped all the ripe jalapenos off our single plant, sliced them up, and proceeded to pickle them for future consumption.

I used the basic jalapeno pickle recipe from Food in Jars. It's really easy: sterilize jars, make brine, slice jalapenos, pack jars, process. I did not use gloves, but you probably should, since capsaicin burns are no joke.

sliced jalapeno peppers

Look at all those slices! A huge pile of seeds settled to the bottom of the pile as well. I didn't add quite all the seeds to the jars, but there are certainly enough to pack a punch.

We are now the proud owners of 5 half-pints of pickled sliced jalapenos grown in our backyard. These guys are going to be amazing on all the tacos and burritos we eat all winter.

pickled jalapeno peppers

The plant is still producing, too, so we aren't hurting for fresh jalapenos while the pickled ones cure. Hooray!

Then there are our tomatoes.

backyard caspian pink and boxcar willie tomatoes

These guys--caspian pinks and boxcar willies from the backyard--got skinned, cored, and processed into sauce, along with some grocery store romas, using this tomato sauce canning method. Hooray for 5 more quarts of tomato sauce!

Right now I have about this many garden tomatoes ready and waiting for another batch, so that should happen fairly soon.

And then, at the weirdest possible time of year, my next-door neighbor showed up on our doorstep with a gigantic shopping bag of tangerines from her backyard tree. So I juiced about fifty of them, chucked out ten times as many seeds, and made the resulting 4 cups of juice into mimosa jelly from the Food in Jars cookbook.

boiling tangerine mimosa jelly

Every single picture I took looks like this: clouds of steam and big bubbles frothing everywhere.

The recipe is pretty similar to this earlier recipe for orange jelly, but with the addition of champagne. I actually went out and bought one of those little cubes of Coppola Sofia champagne, so I wouldn't have to use up an entire bottle of champagne, only to find that the single-serve cans hold only 7/8 of a cup. I guess I could've just used that, but I'd never made jelly before, so I went ahead and opened a second one to make up the full cup. And then I had to drink the remaining champagne. How terrible for me.

I overboiled the batch a little bit, so the resulting jelly is quite firm, but overall: success!

Next on the docket: 4 pounds of nectarines.

What are you guys preserving this week?

03 September 2013

What to do with almond pulp

nectarine almond yogurt flaxseed smoothie

Have you ever made a big batch of nut milk, only to be left wondering what to do with the leftover pulp? Well, wonder no more!

A couple months ago, when I made up a batch of almond milk to drink in cold-brewed coffee, I was left with a substantial pile of pulp. I wasn't sure what to do with it, so I froze it in convenient 1-tbsp cube form for future application. This turned out to be the best possible idea. Now I get to throw delicious almond pulp into various recipes at my leisure!

Most of the time, these guys make an appearance at breakfast. I think my favorite way to use them is in smoothies. They provide great texture and a bit of protein while eliminating the need to use the ever-present frozen banana: a win on all counts.

This time, I broke out a few of the overabundant nectarines in our crisper, and pulled both almond pulp and flaxseed meal out of the freezer. With a whack of plain yogurt, everything combined to make Captain Planet an excellent and easy breakfast smoothie.

nectarine almond yogurt flaxseed smoothie

Nectarine smoothie with frozen almond pulp, yogurt, & flaxseed meal

2-3 nectarines or peaches
3 tbsp frozen almond pulp
1 tbsp flaxseed meal
several large spoonfuls plain yogurt/your choice of vegan sub

Pit your nectarines and chop them roughly. Add to a blender with your cubes of frozen almond pulp, flaxseed meal, and yogurt.

If you want to add anything else, such as more fruit or greens, now is the time. I think a big handful of mint would go exceptionally well with this combination. Or maybe some shredded coconut...

Blend everything together thoroughly, pour into a glass of your choice, and drink with gusto. Hooray, smoothie!

almond flaxseed oatmeal

Okay. So what if you want a more substantial breakfast? Almond pulp can definitely make an appearance there too. I mean, I wouldn't try mixing them into scrambled eggs--that is, unless I were already doing some sort of fried rice presentation. Actually, that might be interesting. Mental note: try more obviously savory things with almond pulp. Anyway, since almond pulp goes beautifully with grains, why not throw a couple cubes into a pan of oatmeal?

In this case, your pulp doesn't need to be frozen (although it can be--it'll just defrost in the pan in that case), so it's an excellent breakfast to make and eat along with your fresh almond milk latte.

almond flaxseed oatmeal with bananas, yogurt, dried apricots, and sesame seeds

Almond pulp & flaxseed oatmeal with bananas, yogurt, dried apricots, & sesame seeds

3 big handfuls rolled oats
2-3 tbsp almond pulp
2 tsp flaxseed meal
large pinch salt
water to cover
fruit, yogurt, & seeds to taste

I never measure anything when making oatmeal, so this is all estimated.

Put your rolled oats, almond pulp, and flaxseed meal into a small saucepan. Season with a big pinch or two of salt. Add water to cover by about a finger's width.

Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until your oats are done to your taste. You may need to add a bit more water if you prefer a thinner oatmeal. I like mine pretty thick, personally.

Put your finished oatmeal in a bowl and top with your choice of yogurt, fruit, seeds, and nuts. I really like dried apricots and toasted sesame seeds in a bowl of oatmeal, but go ahead and add whatever sounds good to you.

Eat, with almond milk latte optional. Yay, breakfast!

What do you guys do with the pulp left over from making nut milk? I'm thinking I need to branch out into using it in baked goods pretty soon.