Pear Crisp with Cardamom

In which I also resolve to illustrate some posts for this blog.

 

pears 1

 

Every fall, it’s the pears that get me over my disappointment at the end of the stone fruit season, and convince me that everything’s going to be Ok.  I like to wait until they’re really ripe to eat them (at least most of the common kinds), ripe enough to slide a knife in one clean curve down the stem and around the seeds, with pear juice forming instantly on the cut surfaces.  That first bite of juicy ambrosial pear, that’s what convinces me that maybe I’ll get along with autumn alright after all.

I was hoping to have a recipe, not a just a short soliloquy, about pears for you, and I do!  It turns out that two of the dear friends we visited in the Northwest at the end of the summer have a copy of The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, and so I spent a little time pouring through that book looking for various ideas.  I’m really starting to admire the way she looks at the simplicity of cooking.  In the second household there was also a huge bowl of free pears from a colleague’s tree, and the inspired idea to combine pears and cardamom (thanks Becca!), so here you go.

 

Pear Crisp with Cardamom

Adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

 

Slice 7 cups/4 lbs of fairly ripe pears (they don’t have to be as ripe as I like them for eating)

Toss the pears in a bowl with:

1  1/2 Tablespoons flour (can be white or wheat or gluten-free alternative, it’s just for thickening the juice)

Zest of 1 (organic) lemon

About 1 Tablespoon lemon juice

 

Pour the pears into a baking dish and make the crisp topping in the bowl:

Toast 2/3 cup walnuts in the oven at 375° F for about 10 minutes, until golden brown (set a timer!  I’m so bad at that, I burn things more often than I’d like to admit).  While they are toasting, mix in the bowl:

1  1/4 cups flour (again use what you like, gluten is not required to hold the crisp together.  I used a mixture of white and whole wheat flour)

6 Tablespoons brown sugar

1  1/2 Tablespoons turbinado sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

About 1/4 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds (if you have whole green pods, crush the pods lightly with the flat of a knife if necessary, pull the pods open, and extract the seeds.  Grind just the seeds in a mortar and pestle or with a spice grinder.  Fairly coarse ground is fine.)

Chop the walnuts and add them to the above mixture.  Mix well, and then cut in 1 stick (8 Tablespoons) of butter (cut into pieces), using your fingers or a pastry blender, just until the mixture comes together and has a texture like big crumbs.

Sprinkle the topping over the pears, and bake at 375° for about 50 minutes, rotating once for even baking.  When done, the crisp topping should be golden brown, and the fruit should be juicy and bubbling down in the dish.

 

pears 2

 

About the illustrations: I know I need to keep up my drawing skills, and I’d even like to practice enough to keep improving.  Since finishing Hello Sewing Machine, I haven’t had too much incentive to draw (other than little sketches like these, which I still make all the time).  I thought if I made it a goal to illustrate at least one post a month, I would be sure to get practice drawing.  I kind of forgot that I would also get practice scanning drawings and working in Photoshop . . . but it’s also practice I need.  I’m more of an illustrator than an artist, and more used to trying to make things clear than to capturing 3-D fruit in all it’s glory.  And I need to find some smoother paper . . . but one little bit at a time, right?

Good luck with your fall goals, whatever they are!  (And eat some pears!)

 

Fried Green (Cherry) Tomatoes


fried green cherry tomatoes


But why, you may be asking, should I fry green tomatoes?  That was my question too, until we got some from our CSA a few years ago and I tried this for the first time.  The short answer is: they’re delicious.  For a slightly longer one: in our mountain climate, an early freeze is likely pretty much inevitable in the fall, which greatly increases the chances that my friends and neighbors will give me tomatoes picked before they had time to ripen.  They will get a little riper on the counter in a paper bag or wrapped in newspaper, but they’ll never be the same as they would be on the vine. When fried, the green tomato flavor completely changes, and a crunchy cornmeal crust is a wonderful compliment to the tart soft insides.


Fried Green Tomatoes

adapted from The Joy of Cooking


Mix together in bowl for the coating:

1/2 cup dry masa

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup blue corn meal

Seasonings you like: a little bit of salt and pepper, seasoned salt, fresh thyme and/or Cajun spice mix . . . anything you want to give the batter a little extra flavor.

If you don’t have these exact ingredients, don’t worry.  The mixture of fine ground (masa) and coarser cornmeal seemed like a good idea as far as sticking to the tomatoes and producing a crispy crust, but a mixture of regular cornmeal and flour should work fine.  One cup total of the dry batter was enough to cover a heaping dinner plate’s worth of fried cherry tomatoes.

Pour a little buttermilk (or regular milk, I used buttermilk since it’s a little thicker and has a bit of tangy flavor) into a shallow bowl.  If you run out you can always add more to the bowl.


Dip the tomatoes in the buttermilk, then in the cornmeal mixture, shake off the excess and set on a plate to dry.  I found the most efficient method to be: chop a bunch of the little tomatoes in half.  Reserve one hand for buttermilk and one for cornmeal (so you can do several rounds without stopping to wash your hands).  With the buttermilk hand, pick up a handful of tomatoes and drop them in the milk.  Stir to coat and then drop them into the cornmeal mixture.  With the other (cornmeal) hand, scoop cornmeal on top of the wet tomatoes, stir them to coat, shake each one gently and put it on the plate.  I was a little worried about the batter not sticking to the skins of the little tomatoes, but for the most part it worked just fine.

If you have big tomatoes, slice them fairly thin (between a quarter and half inch thick is good).  Dip each slice in the buttermilk and then in the cornmeal, turning to coat.


To fry: heat 1/4 -1/2 inch of oil in the bottom of a heavy pot or skillet.  I like to use my heavy-bottomed soup pot, since any splashes of oil stay inside it instead of all over everywhere.  Use an oil that can take high heat without smoking (I used canola).  Joy suggests heating the oil until a drop of water sizzles when you flick it into the pan.  I did a little research for a recommended temperature, and Southern Living (they should know) suggests 360-375° F.  I know from experience that having the temp too low can cause strange things to happen to your batter . . . anyway, when the oil comes up to heat, drop in as many tomatoes as will fit in a single layer.  Fry until one side is golden brown and crispy, and then turn them over and cook the second side.  When done, scoop the tomatoes out with a slotted spoon or strainer, shake off the excess oil, and place on paper towels.

These are best eaten warm, delicious with a little homemade mayo or ranch as well as just plain.  If that doesn’t make you hungry for some Southern food I don’t know what will!  Black eyed peas and cornbread . . .

Campfire Roasted Bananas—Here’s to Savoring Summer While it Lasts

 

Bananas make better s’mores.  Trust me.  Forget marshmallows—imagine the sweetest roasted plantain you’ve ever had, between two graham crackers, eaten around a fire.  I think it was two years ago, when we accidentally discovered this, all of our friends started coming up with ways that they could somehow patent and/or market this idea.  None of them did, and I’ve decided that the statute of limitations is up, and it’s time to share it.  Maybe I should have asked them?  Um, too late.

 

campfire bananas 2

 

So, the idea is pretty simple: roast bananas over a campfire, and then eat with graham crackers, and chocolate if you wish.  You may be surprised at how good this is.  We have tried roasting the bananas in tin foil, in their skins, and on a fork, all with some degree of success.  The fork is my favorite because it gives you a nice caramelized crust, but patience is definitely required, and vigilant guarding of the bananas from outright burning.  It takes longer to cook a banana by the fire than to roast a marshmallow, but it’s totally worth it.

You need a fork with two tines.  A stick that goes through the banana in only one place will allow it to rotate, and makes it just about impossible to cook both sides.  Also, starting with a piece of banana that isn’t too large and unwieldy will help.  Last time we did this, I distinctly remember that if you were careful when roasting, the outsides of the banana got not only caramelized but downright bubbly.  This time, they came out a little more dry on the outside, as if baked in a crust, but were still delicious.  I strongly suspect that the riper the banana you start with, the more likely you are to achieve a sweet bubbly caramel outside.  I haven’t yet had a chance to try out this theory completely.  If you do, please report back!

 

campfire bananas

 

If you want to make s’mores with your roasted banana pieces, do it while they are still hot and can melt the chocolate.  I recommend dark chocolate, since it’s my favorite.  The warm caramelized banana is also super delicious just by itself between two graham crackers.

You have at least one more campfire in your summer, right?   (If you are reading this from the southern hemisphere, I’m kind of jealous that you’re just heading into spring and summer.)  I love love love this time of year, not just because it contains my birthday, but because it seems like all the bounty of the harvest is pouring right into my lap.  Every farm stand and market is bursting with luscious tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, and the first apples, all at the same time.  Trees in the yard of the dear people we’re staying with are positively dripping with pears and plums.  I think it’s such a shame that people mentally move on to fall, Halloween, back to school, and all that nonsense, when the whole bounty of nature is before us, and the days are still warm and long enough to savor it.  Ok, so bananas are not exactly local produce in my part of the world, but roasting them is another way to enjoy these lovely days.

 

campfire bananas 3

Yes, there is a fallen banana in the back of this shot.  I rescued part of it.

By the way, speaking of extended summer, if you try to contact me in the next week or so and don’t hear back, it’s likely because I’m in Curaçao!  At a friend’s wedding.  Hopefully swimming in the ocean and eating lots of exotic fruit.  I hope you have some great adventures planned as well.  The close-to-home, campfire kind will do just fine.

Blueberry Picking, Blueberry Pie

 

blueberry picking 1

 

I want to get this out there while there are still blueberries on the bushes.  A couple of weeks ago, we went blueberry picking with my husband’s father, sister, and our two little nieces, at Versluis Orchards near Grand Rapids, MI.  The pictures pretty much tell the rest of the story.  The blueberries were gorgeous, as well as delicious, and I found myself picking like mad, but leaving some of the most photogenic branches until the clouds cooperated for good lighting.  At which point I’d grab my camera, and (with a pang for the blueberries not filling my bucket during the moments of shooting) do my best to capture the lovely morsels, in all their shades from translucent green to lavender blue.  Then I’d force myself to grab the ripest ones from the shot and drop them in the bucket.

 

blueberry picking 2

 

blueberry picking 3

 

blueberry picking 4

 

Even with two youngsters in tow, we managed to pick a LOT of berries, about 10 pounds between us all.  They were astoundingly cheap compared to what you would pay at the grocery store, or even at a farm stand.  By way of something to think about, I’ll point out that these berries weren’t organic, although they were about as local to our location at the time as you could get.  And totally scrumptious.  There was a good essay on The Yellow House last week about how it’s not as simple as just choosing something labeled “local” or “organic,” and I agree 100%, although I think that either of those, especially local, are a great place to start.  My next step may be to ask more questions of the farmers, find out what are their thoughts about their practices.  I’m pretty shy by nature, but I’ll try to make that happen.

 

blueberry picking buckets

 

Anyway, there are so many good recipes out there that have blueberries in them (as the older niece pointed out) that it seems almost needless to include one here, but I will anyway.  It’s pretty simple, even if you don’t make pie often and/or have little ones sticking their fingers in your crust, it will turn out fine.  The five of us adults handily polished off the whole pie after dinner . . . it can’t have been that bad.

 

blueberry pie

 

Blueberry Pie

(adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

 

For the crust:

You’ll need 2 1/4 cups of flour.  You can vary the percentage of whole wheat flour up to 100%, which is my personal favorite.  Since there were kids who might eat this pie too, I used 1 cup whole wheat, 1 1/4 white flour.

Put the flour in a bowl and add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp sugar

Take 1 stick unsalted butter, cold from the fridge.  Cut it into pieces of about 1 tablespoon each.  You want to mix it into the flour so that tiny chunks of butter remain throughout the dough, without letting it melt or blend into the flour too much.  If you have a pastry blender, use it.  If not, my still-favorite method, especially if it’s not too hot in the kitchen, is to use my fingers to break up the butter into the four.  You can also use two knives, I have never gotten the hang of this, but one of my aunts is really good at it.  In any case, when you’re done, there should be some pea-sized chunks, as well as some dough with the texture of coarse cornmeal.

Put some ice and water into one of the measuring cups you’ve already used, and pour a little bit if it onto the butter and flour.  Start with just a few tablespoons, and mix it gently in.  You want just enough water that the dough will form a tidy ball and not look too dry.  Mix in just a little more ice water at a time until it looks good to you.  How much you need varies with the humidity, the kind of flour you use, etc.  When the dough is moist enough, divide it into two pieces, roughly round-shaped, and either cover the bowl or transfer the dough to an air-tight container.  Put it in the fridge to rest for about 1/2 hour.

 

In the meantime, place a rack below the center of the oven, preheat the oven to 400° F, and make the filling:

Rinse 5 heaping cups of blueberries.  A good method to separate any debris from the berries is to put them in a bowl, fill it with water, and stir until the debris floats to the top and you can pour it off.

Pour off all the water, and add to the bowl with the berries:

3/4 cup sugar (I like turbinado or natural sugar, a hint of brown sugar flavor is really nice with the berries)

3 Tablespoons cornstarch

1 Tablespoon lemon juice (you can add some lemon zest as well if your lemon isn’t sprayed and waxed)

Mix all this together and let stand for about 15 minutes.

Roll out one half of the crust into as good a circle shape as you manage, about 1/4 inch thick.  Put that half into an 9-inch pie pan, pressing it against the bottom and sides.  Use any pieces that stick out over the edge to patch any holes or gaps around the edges.

Roll out the second half of the crust.  For fun, instead of cutting a vent for steam, you can cut out shapes with a small cookie cutter before you put the crust on, and use the cut out shapes to decorate your pie (I got this lovely idea from my friend Megan years ago—thank you!).

Pour the filling into the bottom crust, put the top crust over it, and pinch the two crusts together around the edges.  Again, you can use any overhanging bits to patch holes.

To get your cookie cutter shapes to stick, and also to give your crust a little bit more deliciousness, you can glaze the crust with 1 egg yolk whisked with a little water.  If you can’t foresee using the egg white for anything (throwing it into an omelet, pancake batter, etc.) you can use the whole egg, the egg wash will be thicker.  Anyway, brush the egg wash all over the top crust with a pastry brush.  Stick your extra cookie cutter shapes on top, and brush more glaze over them.  Sprinkle a bit of sugar (the large crystal kind is nice, but regular granulated sugar works fine) on the glaze to give the crust a little more sparkle for your eyes and your mouth.

Bake the pie at 400° for 30 minutes.  Put a cookie sheet underneath to catch bubbling juice, lower the temperature to 350° and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, until thick juices are bubbling through the holes and the crust is a warm brown all over, and darker in places.  If the crust starts to get too brown before the pie is done, you can try covering the whole thing or just the edges with aluminum foil.

Do you have a favorite blueberry recipe?  I’d love to know!

 

blueberry picking 5

 

 

 

 

Tart Cherry Sorbet à la Jeni’s

 

cherry sorbet tile

 

So last summer, if you happened to be watching this blog, you might have noticed a feature in the sidebar on all the amazing ice cream we found, or this post, which mentions Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream.  People, this ice cream, it’s fantastic.  It’s fair to say I’ve never had better in the American style, where the milk and cream flavors predominate.  We got to go there again this summer, and as we sat in the shop, (me alternately closing my eyes, making noises of food bliss, and trying to eat faster so that Bryan wouldn’t get it all) I happened to glance over and saw this book sitting on the shelf above the freezer.  The cover said Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.  Expletives may possibly have left my lips, followed by, “is that what I think it is?!?”  We live a long way from Ohio, people, and it’s been a while since I’ve been this excited by a book at first sight.

It turns out this book, it’s about as splendid as can be.  Not just a couple of recipes from the shop—I’m pretty sure every recipe she had at publication is in there.  It’s open source dessert: complete with sauces, candies for mixing in, toppings, sundae recipes, and the exact techniques you need to get the texture and flavor of her ice cream yourself.  Which are, have I mentioned, amazing?

It’s cherry season where we are now (in Michigan) and when we voted on which cherry dessert to make, sorbet was the winner.  I had left the book at home, but between memory and experimentation I was able to replicate a sorbet recipe.  When we got our hands on another copy, it turned out the amount of sugar that we decided was perfect, it was what Jeni already specified.  A note about the corn syrup: this is not something I would normally buy.  But if you read the book or visit the shops, it will be clear to you as it is to me that Jeni is as passionate about quality fresh ingredients, local and organic sourcing, and above all flavor and texture, as anyone could possibly be.  She is also passionate about the science of ice cream and getting the exact result she is after, and therefore I bought corn syrup.  More experimentation on my part will come later.  As a foodie friend of ours said (after eating the sweet corn and black raspberry flavor that we made), “Whatever that book says, you should do it.”  For minimum stress levels, make this the day before you want to serve it, so that you’re sure everything will have time to chill and freeze.

 

 

cherry sorbet towel

 

Tart Cherry Sorbet à la Jeni’s

1 quart fresh tart cherries, pitted.  If you don’t have a cherry pitter, I find the easiest way is to hold the cherry in the fingertips of both hands, and use your two thumbs to split it open and pull out the pit.  It’s ok that the cherries come out in two uneven halves, because the next step is to purée them in a food processor until fairly smooth.  It’s ok if the purée is a little bit chunky and/or still has some bits of cherry skin visible.

Combine the fruit with 3/4 cup sugar (I used natural cane sugar) and 1/3 cup light corn syrup in a medium saucepan, and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Immediately remove from the heat, pour into a bowl, and put in the refrigerator to chill for at least two hours.

Stir in 1 tablespoon kirsch (unsweetened eau de vie distilled from cherries).  Jeni’s original recipe uses lambic or sour beer, and it’s effervescent and delicious.  Amaretto instead of kirsch would also be really, really good.

Pour the cold sorbet mixture into your ice cream freezer and spin until it’s just the consistency of very softly whipped cream, or barely pourable.  This book advises that whipping it too long while it’s freezing will result in too much air being mixed in.  Bryan and I had a big debate about what “barely pourable” means, but despite that and with two experimental batches under my belt, I actually suspect that there’s a bit of leeway here.  I also suspect that if you don’t have a ice cream maker, you could just stick the mixture in a tub in your freezer and as long as you remembered to get it out and stir it fairly frequently for a while, it would come out pretty great.  Anyway, if you are using an ice cream maker, once you think it’s frozen enough, pour it into a container and put it in the freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.  This book advises pressing a sheet of wax or parchment paper onto the surface.

This was as good as it looks, maybe better, with amazingly intense cherry flavor.  Possibly even better eaten side by side with a creamy flavor, like the roasted pistachio.  I’m out of superlatives.  Go eat this!

 

cherry sorbet with pistachio

 

 

 

 

Northern Arizona Corn Bread

 

NAZ cornbread

 

One of the few recent food happenings I have actually gotten a photo of is this cornbread.  It’s my adaptation of a recipe that my Mom has made since I was little.  It came from one of my elementary school teachers, Ms. Bené.  We made it during our creative retreat this year, actually twice, it was a hit!  It’s a sweeter-style cornbread, what in the US we call “Northern” style.  I’ve given it a Southwestern twist as well.  It’s great with blue cornmeal, if you can find it, and pretty awesome with some chiles inside as well.

 

Northern Arizona Cornbread

In a large bowl, mix well:

1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter

2/3 cup sugar

2 eggs

 

Stir in:

1 cup buttermilk, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

-or- plain milk and no soda

The buttermilk gives a nice flavor, but it’s not necessary.  Either way, you can add a dash more milk for a very moist cornbread.

 

Pile on top of the liquids in the bowl:

1 cup blue cornmeal (or yellow if you can’t find blue.)

1 cup whole wheat flour (you can use white or a mix if you prefer)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder (at sea level, at 7000′ I use 1  1/4 tsp)

Stir just until blended.

 

Optional: remove the stems, centers, and seeds from 3 roasted green chiles.  Cut into thin strips, and stir in just before baking.  This adds a delicious bit of spiciness, but leave out if you are serving the cornbread along with other hot foods, which it goes really well with! Chile time is coming again soon!

 

Scrape into a heavy baking pan.  Any size 9 x 9″ or bigger will work, the cornbread will just be a little thicker or thinner.  Bake at 350˚ F for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  It should be a little bit brown around the edges and golden on top, although with the blue corn it can be harder to see.   Enjoy!

A Simple and Delicious Way to Cook Artichokes

 

artichokes on plate

 

Phew—who’s ready for a break and some easy cooking?  I know I am.  As I mentioned in this post about broiled asparagus, spring came along just in time for me this year.  I’ve been busting my booty over my recently launched beginning sewing e-book for the last couple of months, so anything that tasted delicious and and fresh without a whole lot of time and effort in the kitchen was a major bonus.  We’ve eaten a lot of artichokes this spring.

I love artichokes.  That time of spring when they appear at our CSA farm store, tiny and fresh and beautiful in their variations, would get me excited whether or not I needed some easy food options.  So we’ve eaten a lot of them, practically one every day for a while there.  I also wasn’t running to the store unless absolutely necessary, so I did some experimenting with what I added and how I cooked them.  Considering how cool this spring has been in many parts of the country, I’m hoping their are still some artichokes available near you!

 

 

artichokes with lid

 

Simply Delicious Artichokes

  • Rinse the your artichokes and trim the stems flush with the bottoms.  I don’t trim any of the leaves.  Especially when they are small and fresh, I like to leave on each possible delicious morsel.  My mom cooks the stems along with the rest, but I find they are often somewhat bitter.
  • Put the artichokes in a pot in a single layer.  Use a pressure cooker if you have one (more about that below).  Either put the artichokes stem side down in the pan and add about 1/2″ of water around them, or put them in a steamer basket with either the top or the stem up and add water below.  I haven’t found any difference in how they come out with any of those methods.
  • Optional: add a drizzle of olive oil on top.  It doesn’t change the flavor very much, but it does the usual jobs of added oil: making sure that the artichokes don’t dry out and adding a little smoothness to the taste.
  • Optional: add a drizzle of lemon juice.  This doesn’t change the flavor much either, but without it the water left in the pot turns an amazing dark green color which could stain your cookware.  However, I cooked a bunch without any lemon and they came out fine.
  • Put the lid on the pot and cook until the leaves are tender.  Pull one out from somewhere in the middle, and pull the base of the leaf off with your teeth to see if it’s tender.  It’s hard to overcook them.  I knew they were taking a while to cook on my stove, but I didn’t realize how long until I started keeping track for this post.  It was anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half!  So then I did what should have been obvious, at least at high altitude, got out the pressure cooker.  15 minutes later (12 minutes at high pressure plus warm-up and cool-down) I had cooked artichokes!

 

Ok, you knew I was going to say this, right?  But it’s no joke, artichokes are totally delicious with crème frâiche!  And possibly even more delicious with just a bit of good quality balsamic vinegar on top, so that each leaf you dip gets some of each.  If you’ve never eaten one before, there are illustrated directions here, among other places.  I may have to try a clove garlic in the water next time I make them.  But I bet the flavor of the artichokes themselves will still be my favorite part.  (By the way, they contain a chemical that can change your perception of other flavors, so beware of eating them with your best wine.)  Enjoy!

 

In the Desert, We Wait for Spring, and Eat Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices

 

grand falls 1

 

Bryan and I drove out to Grand Falls the other day, down a long dirt road, to see the spring runoff flooding down the Little Colorado river and over the cliffs (as high as Niagara, or so they say around here).  I kept thinking about how our Ponderosa pine forest seems so complete when I’m in it (which is most of the time), but really, just on the other side of town is a transition zone between our high-elevation forest and the lower-elevation piñon pine and juniper, and the scrub-covered desert.

It’s getting warmer all over our varied section of the landscape, including the valley further south where most our local produce comes from.  We are not, however, California, and we are still waiting for asparagus and strawberries.

 

grand falls 3

 

In fact, as we drove, it seemed like the desert was waiting too, the little bushes looking soft and sun-bleached, flocking the hills.  Maybe the roar of muddy water will bring some green, a few desert flowers . . . but not yet.

 

grand falls 4

 

Fortunately, in the meantime, we still have squash.  Butternut squash was the first winter vegetable I fell in love with, since what’s not to love; the round, slightly sweet flavors, the vibrant orange color, and in this case, brightened up further for the coming spring with some new and unexpected spices and a tangy sauce.

I mentioned that we’ve cooked a LOT of recipes from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi this winter, this is latest one; which I adapted to my tastes and what was in my pantry that day.  It was just perfect to make ahead and leave in a friend’s refrigerator while we gallivanted around the desert, ready and waiting for all of us to be hungry when we got back.

 

roasted butternut with sweet spices

 

Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices and Tangy Chile Sauce

Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Serves 5 as an appetizer

 

Preheat the oven to 400° F

Take two very small, or one medium-large butternut squash.  Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and set them aside for later.  Slice the squash 3/8 inch or 1 cm thick.  Lay out the slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a non-stick mat.

Take 1 Tablespoon of dried cardamom pods; break the green pods open, either with your fingers or by crushing them a bit in a mortar and pestle.  Discard the pods but keep all the seeds which are inside.  Crush the seeds until they are roughly ground, either with a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.

Add the ground cardamom to a small bowl with: 1 teaspoon ground allspice and 3 Tablespoons olive oil.  Stir this up and brush it all over the squash slices.

Sprinkle a little salt over the squash, and roast in the oven until the slices are tender but not mushy when stabbed with a fork, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, separate the squash seeds from the stringy stuff they grow in, and put the seeds into the bowl with the leftover oil and spices, mix them around to coat.

For the sauce: stir together the juice of 1/2 lime, several heaping Tablespoons of crème fraîche (once you have it, you put it on everything) and some chopped fresh chile  – I used 1/2 of one large defrosted frozen roasted one from last fall (you can put those on everything too).  If dairy is not your thing, these would also be great with just a little chile or hot sauce, or maybe even a sweet and hot sauce . . .

 

roasted butternut sauce and seeds

 

When the squash is done, transfer it to a cutting board, or platter or bowl to serve, and put the seeds on the same baking sheet and roast them for 10 – 15 minutes, until golden and crunchy.  You can serve them with the squash, or eat them as a road-trip snack.  The leftover spices are more subtle, but delicious with the toasted seed flavor.

To serve the squash, slide a small sharp knife around the outside of the slices, taking off just the peel.  If you run out of time, you can also serve them as they are and let the eaters peel their own.  This is good cold or room temp, with a little sauce drizzled over the top.

 

So, what are you eating?  Is it spring yet where you are?

 

grand falls 2

 

Pancakes with Greens

 

greens pancakes

Real-life pocket-camera photo of the pancakes just before they were devoured, with tomato sauce and another recipe from Plenty, roasted veggies with caper and lemon dressing – delicious! 

 

My friend Megan grew up in the south.  She loves greens; collards, kale, chard, you name it.  She loves them just cooked and piled up on a plate.  However, as I have confessed before, I just don’t like them like that, I find it too slimy, too bitter, too dark and green.  But I think of her when I find a way to eat greens that I do like, such as this one from Plenty by Yotam Otelenghi.  If you’re at all interested in eating vegetables, this cookbook is a must-read.  Lots and lots of new ideas and flavors.  I’m pretty sure that it made a great big splash when it came out a couple of years ago, but somehow I missed it.  I like finding good things that I’ve missed, and you can keep them longer from the library.  Bryan and I have been cooking together a lot lately, and we raced through this book, I don’t think I’ve ever made so many recipes from one source in such a short time.  Good thing too, because even though it’s not a new book, someone else requested it at the library and I had to give it back after three weeks.  I’ll just have to get my own copy.

In the meantime, I really wanted to make these pancakes for Megan when I saw her.  She’s eating dairy-free for a while, so I had to adapt the recipe (even more than I already had).  But to my delight the pancakes are just as good!  The key to this recipe is to beat the egg whites to soft peaks and then fold them into the batter.  It makes a lovely light texture and holds everything together.

The original recipe has you fold lime and herbs into softened butter, then refrigerate it again, and put on the pancakes.  They are delicious with the flavored butter (I used lemon and thyme), but just as good with a plain pat of butter, and/or with tomato sauce on top.  I bet they’re good with your favorite sauce and condiments as well.

 

Greens Pancakes

 

Adapted (a lot) from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Pull the greens from the stems of one large bunch or two small bunches of green stuff: collard greens, chard, kale, spinach, etc.  You should have about 8 cups.  Steam in a steamer basket over simmering water until bright green and wilted.

Meanwhile, mix together in a large bowl:

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

2 teaspoon baking powder

2 egg yolks

2 Tablespoons melted unsalted butter -or- olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2/3 cup milk -or- water

2 green onions, finely sliced

1/4 cup fresh or frozen and thawed or canned green chiles -or- sub a little of your favorite hot sauce

Chop the steamed greens fairly fine and mix them in as well.  The batter will look like mostly greens held together with a little flour and stuff, and that’s fine.

 

Beat the egg whites on medium-high speed with a mixer until they hold a soft peak when you pull the beaters away.  Fold the egg whites into the batter gently with a rubber spatula, just until everything is combined.

Put a little oil (it really doesn’t take much for them not to stick) in a frying pan, and heat it over medium-low heat.  Ladle about a quarter cup of batter into the pan for each pancake, and flatten it out a bit.  Cook until deep brown on the bottom, then flip with a metal spatula and cook the other side.  Put the pancakes on a plate and keep warm while you cook the rest.

Enjoy!

Simple Homemade Cheese – Goat Cheese and Paneer too!

 

My friend Tom comes up with some good ideas sometimes (shh – don’t tell him!) especially when it comes to food.  The other day he appeared at my house with some goat cheese he made.  I have been making fresh paneer cheese for Indian food for a while, mainly because we live a fairly small town and (to my knowledge) you can’t buy it here.  So, I already had a method for fresh cheese that’s pretty foolproof and I know works with a variety of different ingredients, and thanks to Tom’s idea, I tried it with goat milk too, and it worked great!  I got a soft fresh goat cheese.

I first learned this method from reading the paneer cheese directions in Laxmi’s Vegetarian Kitchen by Laxmi Hiremath, my favorite Indian cookbook.  Since then I have figured out a few tricks and variations.  One thing I love about this way of making cheese is that you don’t need anything you don’t already have in your kitchen or can’t easily get.  And there’s only one thing you need to know that may not be obvious if you’ve never made cheese before – read on.

 

fresh cheese 1

 

Recipe Sketch: Simple Homemade Cheese

Start with milk.  You can use whole or low-fat, cow or goat etc.  If you can get small-batch pasteurized, or non-homogenized milk, it will make a big difference in the texture of the curds and the cheese, for the better.  We used to get local dairy milk in glass bottles in Madison, which worked great.  Organic Valley has a non-homogenized “grass milk” I can get here, which also works great.  Don’t worry if you can’t find anything other than ultra-pasteurized milk though, you can still make cheese!  The only goat milk I could get was homogenized and ultra-pasteurized, and it still worked, as you can see.

Put the milk in pot with room to spare.  You can use whatever portion of milk you happen to have left in the fridge.  Most of what’s in milk is water, so be prepared for to more to become whey than cheese.  I used 1 quart of goat milk and got just over 5 oz of soft cheese, a ball about the size of my fist.

Heat the milk until it starts to boil, stirring occasionally.  Stay around the kitchen for this part, even though it will take a little while for the cold milk to heat, because as soon as it starts to boil it will want to boil over!  I like to put away the dishes or something while I’m waiting.

Also while you’re waiting, get out something acidic to curdle the cheese.  You can use fresh lemon or lime juice, or yogurt, cultured buttermilk, or even vinegar.  Each one will give a little different flavor to the cheese.  One of my favorites is a little lime with a little buttermilk.  Use whatever you have and experiment to see what you like best.

When the milk starts to boil, turn it down to a simmer and add a little bit of your acidic substance of choice.  Stir and wait for about 30 seconds, then if nothing is happening, add a little more acid, stir and wait again.  At some point a separation will occur, instead of milk you’ll have solid curds and translucent whey (yup – little miss muffet).  This is the key to knowing if the separation is complete, the whey will be yellowish and almost clear, you will be able to see distinct white curds floating in it.  The curds may be tiny flakes or huge globs, depending on the milk, but all the white milk solids will be in them, and they’ll be floating in the translucent whey.  I could have sworn I had a picture (from my not-well-lit kitchen) of what it looks like when the curds are huge, but I can’t find it anywhere.  I’ll take one next time it happens.  For this goat milk the curds are tiny.

 

fresh cheese 2

 

Once you have curds and whey, turn off the heat and let them rest for a few minutes while you get ready to drain the cheese.  Put two layers of cheesecloth (yup – that’s why it’s called that) in a colander.  If you want to save the whey, put a bowl under the colander.  You can use the whey instead of milk to make pancakes, etc., as a soup stock, or to make other kinds of cheese.

Pour the curds and whey into the colander.  If you want to make a firmer, sliceable cheese, add any flavorings you want at this point, while you can still stir them into the cheese.  For soft cheese you can do it later.  In any case, then gather up the edges of the cheesecloth and tie it together, so that the cheese continues to drain.  I have a long, plastic coated twist tie that I use, one end is twisted into a loop that goes over my faucet, and I twist the other end around the cheesecloth and let it hang it the sink, still inside the colander.  You can also tie the cheesecloth to a wooden spoon or other tool laid across the top of your colander.  You just want the cheese in its cloth to be suspended so it continues to drain.

fresh cheese 3

 

That’s about it!  Leave your cheese to drain for an hour or more, depending on how firm you like it to be.  If I’m making paneer I want it to be sliceable, so I’ll leave it longer than for soft goat cheese.  You can always open the cheesecloth and check to see if it has reached the consistency you want.  If you’d like it to be firmer, just tie it back up and leave it to drain a little longer.  You can also press the cheese after draining, between two plates with something heavy on top, and leave it in the fridge like that for a few more hours to make it even firmer.  So like I said, lots of options.

Ta-da! Cheese!  You can now scoop it out of the cheesecloth and into a bowl or container to save it.   For soft cheese, you can stir in a little salt or any herbs you would like to add to the flavor.

 

fresh cheese 4

 

So there you go, I hope that’s enough to get you started on your own cheese-making adventures!