Sunday, October 31, 2010

Simply martha

Look, you can think she's absolutely crazy. A criminal. Too wholesome (?). Think what you want, but Martha Stewart is a freakin genious. That's all there is to it. She's a genius. She is one of the experts, no questions asked. What Martha says is good is good. The end.
So when I googled Oatmeal Raisin bars, thinking I wanted ideas for how to make simple, good, wholesome Oatmeal Raisin bars, and this came up first, I was satisfied.
In a very un-Meg fashion, I followed the recipe. Yes, I. Followed. A. Recipe. I didn't change anything*. I used parchment paper. I used a whisk. Melted butter- the full amount. When Martha said to level the flour after measuring, I leveled!
*I will say that I do not actually have white flour in the house, or have it very rarely. So I used my trusted whole wheat flour. I'm sorry. Get over it. It tastes better, and it's not like I needed special white flour for elasticity or something. So there. All you critics can just shove it.

You can go directly to Martha's site for the recipe. And browse around. She's fun!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Clotilde, you're onto something

I'm really into baking with yogurt. I like that it makes baked goods have a flavorful tang, and I like that it gives potentially drier cakes and muffins a delightful moistness. I volunteered to bring breakfast for my class tomorrow, and I was about to make a recipe that is already posted on here: blueberry yogurt cake (a great, but dangerous recipe--last time I ate almost the entire thing alone, in one day), but instead I opted for a healthier choice: Clotilde's Blueberry Bran Muffins.
I multiplied the recipe by 1.5 so that I'd have enough to bring to class and some leftover to eat at home and to feed my house guest, too. (I'd hate to be a visitor in someone's home and see them baking at night, and wake in the morning to an empty apartment with no goodies to breakfast on!)
Since I didn't have paper cupcake liners, I made some out of parchment paper by cutting it into 4"x4" squares and then pushing the squares into lightly greased muffin tins. This worked rather beautifully, in terms of functionality, but not in terms of actual physically beauty. That is, next time I'll cut them smaller because some of the finished baked muffins ended up with indentations where the paper bent into them (if you know me, you know this aesthetic glitch doesn't bother me at all, but it could easily disappoint others).

Physical beauty aside, these muffins were delicious. I tried one just now as a tester (wouldn't want to serve the whole class less than A+ work), and I was pleasantly surprised given the relative liquid nature of the batter pre-baking.

Blueberry Bran Yogurt Muffins (and leftovers for cake in an 8x8 pan)
adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

1 1/2 c wheat bran
1/4 c boiling water
1 1/2 c flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
3/4 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/2 c turbinado sugar
1/4 c granulated sugar
1 1/2 c frozen blueberries
1 1/2 c full cream vanilla or plain yogurt (I used Ronnybrook vanilla yogurt which I think is way less sweet than most)
2 eggs
3 T vegetable oil
dash vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, measure out bran. Pour hot water over bran, mix gently, and let stand 5 minutes. In a large bowl, mix other dry ingredients. Add frozen blueberries, toss to coat w/ dry mixture. In a pyrex measuring cup (or in another bowl), mix yogurt, eggs, oil, and vanilla. Add the soaked bran to the blueberry mixture. Then add the combined wet ingredients and stir until well-incorporated but allow lumps to remain (if any). Spoon into lined muffin tins or into an 8x8 inch square dish lined with parchment or lightly greased. Bake at 350- 15 minutes for muffins, 25 minutes for cake.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Finally fall

Even though fall officially started weeks ago, the New York weather has vacillated from almost-cool to summer-hot. Finally, yesterday and today, the weather has been cooling down. It's chilly out! "Jacket weather". I love it.
Don't get me wrong- I love spring and summer warmth. But I look forward to having to layer up: long sleeved shirts, vests, sweaters, turtlenecks (yes, indeed), long socks, smartwool, tough boots. I look forward to needing these layers of clothing and now, the truly cold weather is approaching and it is exhilarating!

I'm not sure if it's living alone, the cool, biting air, or the fact that I have been navigating Brooklyn by bike, riding nearly every day just to feel the air rushing by my face, making my eyes water, but I have been really happy these days. I feel lighter, calmer, just plain good, just being. I see I've written myself into a tangent, but I guess it was worth sharing on the blogosphere. When I came home today, after a long ride all over south Brooklyn, as soon as I stopped sweating, I was cold! I took out a soup pot and started at it. I had potatoes, leeks, onions, jerusalem artichokes, and skinny celery, all from the farmers market. Easily enough, I turned my fresh fall ingredients into an off-white soup, rustically pureed into something just right for warming up at home, alone. My ingredient list is below, but you may add whatever you want. I ended up with having a sort of white color theme, but any fall vegetable, especially root crops, will taste good in here. It's soup, come on, how can you mess up? Give it a try! Having had only 1 bowl, I'm ready for bed. It's been an exausting weekend. Fortunately I have this entire pot of soup to keep me going through the week.

Fall Soup
1 1/2 T butter
1-2 leeks, 2 c chopped
1/2 c chopped onion
1 c chopped fresh celery, leaves removed
5-6 white-fleshed potatoes, skins on, chopped
3 jerusalem artichokes, peeled and chopped
1/2 head cauliflower, chopped
3 sprigs dill, chopped
1 bay leaf
pinch whole peppercorns

Over medium heat, melt 1 T butter. Add leeks and onion, and let cook, stirring occasionally, about 5-10 minutes, careful not to let brown. Add the rest of the ingredients. Fill pot with water until 1 inch from the top. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer, cover, and let cook 1-2 hours. Remove from heat and puree with immersion blender if desired. You can make it as chunky or smooth as you'd like. Return to low heat and add remaining 1/2 T butter. Serve sprinkled with fresh dill.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lazy Saturday Soup

Last night I told myself I'd stay in. Not only was I tired but I had been soaking cannellini beans for the past 18 or so hours and they had to be cooked, or they would go to waste. I gathered my ingredients. A red onion. A yellow onion. A quart jar of the Roma tomatoes I put up a couple months ago. Half a bunch of kale from Bradley Farms (so good, so worth the $3 price tag). And on and on (don't worry, full ingredient list below).
I admit, this pot took a good almost 3 hours of simmering to be perfect. But damn, it was perfect! So simple, so easy, no reason to not make this soup.
With an hour of simmering to go, I invited over a couple of good friends. We ate it with a crusty baguette and a bottle of wine. We listened to records- Laura Nyro, David Bowie, Chaka Kahn, Captain Beefheart. We had a wonderful Saturday evening at home, indoors, with excellent food and a warmth that only good hearted friends who love to laugh can provide.
I will definitely aim for more evenings like this one.

Ribollita Soup
2 c dry cannellini beans, soaked in water overnight or up to 24 hrs 
1 T olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped small (you can use whatever kind you like)
half a bunch of kale, chopped
about 2 c chopped green cabbage
1 russet potato, chopped
1 quart/4 c canned tomatoes in their juice, can be whole, diced, whatever
1 T crushed red chili pepper (optional but so good)
1 t ground chipotle pepper (optional)
5" parmesan rind

Drain and rinse beans. Set aside. In a big soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and add onions. Sautee. Add all the rest of the ingredients, including beans. Then add water until liquid level in pot is about an inch and a half from the top. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer for about 3 hours, or until beans are soft and you are ready to eat.
Serve with a piece of stale bread or toast in the bottom of the bowl and topped with grated parmesan cheese. Add salt to taste.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Easy plum cake. It's pretty, just make it.

I had a moment last weekend during which I had a pang of anxiety: Oh No, I have to say goodbye to stone fruits until next year!
The thought was quite unsettling. I am not yet ready to see them go! I didn't even make stone fruit jam yet this year! Obviously not the end of the world, but I'm sure it symbolizes bigger things for me (the end of summer fun, warmth, transitioning back into doing work, being busy...). Either way, I needed to calm myself. What did I do? Along with a *so delicious* liter of cider, I purchased a pint of Italian plums from Red Jacket Orchards. (Side note: cider is so good. I think it often goes under-drunk... it's one of fall's most amazing treasures.)

With the plums, I made a quick cake.
1 1/2 c sifted whole wheat flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 egg
1/4 c oil
3/4 c sugar
3/4 c milk
1/4 c plain yogurt (optional-- my batter was a bit too thick so I added this and it did the trick)
6-8 Italian plums, halved and pitted
1/2 T butter, cut into little pieces
small handful sugar

In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients. In a glass measuring cup, mix wet ingredients plus sugar. Pour wet ingredients into dry. Stir until combined. Butter or oil a round cake pan. Pour in batter. Then place plums, skin side down, cut side up, in batter in any arrangement you think looks nice. Dot the top with butter and sugar. (This makes it have a nice crunch on top.) Bake at 375 for 30-40 min.

Dinner tonight is accidentally spot-on!

Last week Saturday I bought the most beautiful cauliflower on Saturday. On Sunday, I stumbled by the Cortelyou farmers market, which is way small but adorably so. It feels like a real community down there.
Anyway, I'd been waiting for sunchokes, and I found them down there (YES!!!) at Muddy River Farms. They sat in my fridge all week because I didn't want to waste them, use them for the wrong dish, have them go under- (or- even worse, un-) appreciated.
Tonight on my way home, I was near Sahadi's, so I stopped in. I figured, I could cheat on dinner a bit. Once in a while buying store-bought ready-made foods are ok. So I bought a Kofta Kebab (ground lamb with sweet tasting spices) for $1.75 and hopped on the train.
Once home, I made a single serving of whole wheat cous cous, and also prepared my lovely cauliflower and sunchokes. Maybe not as surprising as I originally thought, the flavors matched and complemented each other perfectly! Quick-roasted curried cauliflower and sunchokes tasted wonderful alongside kofta kebab atop cous cous. Who knew (not me...but now I do!). The only thing that may have made this meal better would have been dried apricots somewhere in there. Something fruity. A challenge for next time.
Today's eating cheap and alone was a success. Maybe even a double success because it was a bowl-meal. And who doesn't love a meal you can eat in one bowl?

Curried Cauliflower and Sunchokes

About half a head of cauliflower, cored and cut into florets
1 whole onion, chopped
4-5 sunchokes, peeled and sliced into 1/4" pieces
2 T olive oil
1 1/2 t curry powder
1/2 t diced jalapeno or other hot pepper (optional)
pinch salt

Mix ingredients in a baking dish (I used an 8x8 square pan). Cover and put in oven at 425 for 20 minutes. Uncover and continue to roast about 5-10 min. Serve. (it's really that easy)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Yes, I'm a messy cook

 I am a messy cook. I can't help it. I know, I know, cooking professionally it's all about being super clean, keeping your station clean. Even at my best, in the professional kitchen, keeping clean took major effort. But even then, there was a dishwasher. Someone whose job it was to wash the dishes! There's a difference between keeping your station clean and having to keep your whole kitchen clean, all dishes included.
That said, I don't even manage to keep my station clean when I cook at home. The whole kitchen=my station when I'm home alone and, while this is wonderful (definitely not too many cooks in my kitchen!), it also means Meet the Mess.
Aside from the mess, I'd say I make a mean dinner. Or breakfast. Or baked good any damn day of the week I please. So there.
Tonight, as I left my unpaid "job" (part of my training) at a psychiatric hospital, I really wanted to go for a bike ride. But when I got home, all I wanted to do was make dinner! So I did. And the royal We (I) made a terrific squash gratin, also from Deborah Madison's Savory Way cookbook.
You know, usually I don't stick to recipes (and no, I didn't stick to hers tonight completely), but when I'm falling in love with a cook book again (gosh, now I feel guilty. I actually bought this book for my mother last April for her birthday and then sneakily stole it the other week), I like to try to replicate things my way.
Anyway, the weather has been cold in New York, and I've just really wanted food I can eat hot from the oven, warm up for lunch the next couple of days, and really just enjoy comfortably. With this dish (and the one from the last post), I feel great cooking and eating. I know what's going into each dish, and all of the ingredients are from the market or friends' farms, which is just amazing to me. It's comforting in so many ways.

Squash Gratin
olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
6 sage leaves, torn into pieces
1 bay leaf
1 butternut squash, peeled (a peeler works well), seeded, and cut into 1" pieces
1/2 c shredded or cut up swiss or colby cheese (anything, as long as it's not too sharp, will do)
1 c warm whole milk (I switched to Milk Thistle, in case you're interested)
about 3 slices of stale bread, crusts ok as long as they're not rock hard

In a bit of olive oil in a skillet, heat onion and herbs. Cook on low-medium heat for about 15 min. Remove bay leaf. Set aside. Bring a pot of water to boil, salt it generously, and add squash. Return to boil and simmer 2 min. Drain, but BE SURE TO SAVE SOME WATER FROM THE POT. Use some of this water to soak the bread. I did this in a bowl. Then I removed the bread pieces and removed the hardest crust pieces. Squeeze excess water from the bread if you can. Chop with knife.

Butter a square baking dish (or gratin pan, if you have one), and layer onions in bottom. Layer squash on top. Cover with cheese. Pour milk on top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Distribute bread pieces on top. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for about 30 min. Uncover and cook another 30 min.

Monday, October 4, 2010

#5 in Eating Cheap and Alone

 Hello potatoes and fresh as fresh-can-be greens. Meet cream. And salt. And pepper. And the oven at 325 degrees. I hope you like each other, you're gonna be in that pan together for about an hour.

What's the true best way to eat cheap and alone? Have a friend who has a vegetable garden snip you some kale, chard, and spinach. And maybe some other things for later, like huge green peppers and heirloom tomatoes. Oh, and have said Friend live on a street where there are planters of sage and rosemary.

Tonight, I was able to combine my Maxwell Farms potatoes (russets-- the cheapest they sell, at $1/lb) with the freshest greens possible to lay hands on. This potato-greens gratin adapted from Deborah Madison's The Savory Way was so delicious, I tried to lick the pan. No joke. I couldn't quite reach, though.  I bring you a recipe for gratin for one or two people. I ate mine alongside leftover striped bass that I bought from Blue Moon fisheries on Saturday at Grand Army Plaza. $5 worth got me through dinner on Saturday with leftovers of the poached fish enough for tonight and tomorrow's lunch. Now that is some good value! Truly, this gratin, though, was the highlight tonight. The fish was just my self-imposed protein.

This gratin is to me what I love about chowders and creamy soups, but in a relatively more solid form. It was creamy, potatoey, tasty, and the greens were just superb. I urge you to try this yourself. Makes a great side dish. And I'm sure the leftovers will go great with eggs tomorrow morning!
Mini Potato/Greens Gratin
2 medium russet potatoes, sliced into 1/8" or 1/4" rounds
2 big handfuls of hearty greens (kale, chard, or even spinach will do)
1 c cream or half+half
salt and pepper

Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil. Add salt and potatoes. Simmer 5 minutes. Remove potatoes with slotted spoon. Add greens, and simmer for a minute. Remove. Lightly butter a small baking dish (I used a 5" ovenproof skillet with 1 1/2"-high sides). Layer half of the potatoes in the bottom. Then spread out a layer of your greens. Layer remaining potatoes on top. Add salt and a liberal sprinkle of pepper. Bake at 325 for about an hour, or until dairy is mostly absorbed.

Note: I had to place a sheet of foil on the bottom of the oven so that the gratin would not boil over and burn on the oven. It doesn't hurt to take this extra step.