Apr 132014
 

Pumpkin-seed whole-wheat bread

Do you ever have those moments in your food-related life when you come across an idea so great and so simple that you really have to give your brain the stink-eye and ask, in your most accusatory voice, “Really? You couldn’t grace me with that idea?”

I know I sure do.

This bread is the most recent in a string of such events. Our locally-owned grocery store has a fantastic bakery, and one of the crown jewels of their ovens in a 100% whole-grain sprouted-wheat pumpkin-seed bread. Whew. Quite a mouthful.

(Ha! See what I did there?)

Pumpkin-seed whole-wheat bread

I this is where I start to interrogate my brain. Adding pumpkin seeds to bread is such a great idea, I have to wonder why on earth I never thought of it myself.

So I set out to make a tasty version myself. I wanted to use my favorite buttermilk loaf as the basis for it, but didn’t because a) I started this when I was still on the dairy-elimination diet, and b) I was worried that the acid-tenderized gluten wouldn’t be able to stand up to the addition of an enormous amount of seeds. I settled on this version because, well, it’s delicious. It’s not the same as the loaf that inspired it, but it is lighter in texture and better-suited for pan-shaping. Perhaps one day I’ll try a sprouted wheat version, but today? Today I’m perfectly content with the loaf I have in front of me right now.

Pumpkin-seed whole-wheat bread

Click for the recipe →

Apr 032014
 

Norwich sourdough

I grew up under the impression that I disliked sourdough bread. I suspect I am not alone here, as I grew up before the bread revolution and there was a glut of face-puckering super-sour sourdoughs on the market. I suppose they were ostensibly trying to emulate what people though San Francisco sourdough should be, but let’s face it: it didn’t make for very good eats.

Seven years ago, I started baking my own bread. As I delved deeper and deeper into the lifestyle of homemade bread, I started to get interested in the idea of sourdough because I lived in Alaska at the time and sourdough is a big part of the state’s cultural history. It wouldn’t be until many years later that I finally got up the nerve to pull the trigger and start a wild yeast culture.

As with so many new-to-me things in the bread world, Peter Reinhart and the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge were the original things that nudged me into trying out wild yeast. I built a seed culture and promptly abandoned it after a few days not because I thought it was dead, but because I was seriously afraid that it was going to eat the house. I now know that I had a pretty wicked leuconostoc culture going, but that bacteria would have died out in time as more desirable lactobacillus bacteria pulled eminent domain in my starter.

In 2011, I had a pretty good starter named Zeke going, using instructions from 52 Loaves (which is a great read but not the best way to raise and care for a starter), though I didn’t know any better and kept it in the fridge and didn’t refresh it properly before baking with it, so it was never able to raise a good loaf without spiking the dough with some commercial yeast. Then I got pregnant, couldn’t even look at food (much less feed my food), and Zeke The First died, though he lives on in a portion that I shared with Heather when she visited once.

Fast-forward to two weeks ago. I have a toddler and haven’t done much bread-baking since she was born (shocking, isn’t it?). I was at a breastfeeding mamas group meeting and just happened to get into a sourdough discussion with a friend, and the bread-baking bug — all eighteen months’ worth of suppressed water, flour, yeast, and salt — reared its head and roared. Twenty-four hours later I had thrown together a starter (again named Zeke, this time using the method from the Wild Yeast blog), and ten days later when it was (finally) mature (hey, my kitchen was cold), I started baking with it and haven’t slowed up since.

This recipe is one I had pinned oh-so-many years ago, back when Zeke The First was still with me. I decided this Norwich sourdough would be an excellent inaugural foray for Zeke The Second simply based on the fact that it is Susan-of-Wild-Yeast’s favorite. She knows her stuff, so it naturally seemed like a good starting point. And though there were some mis-steps and hiccups along the way because my skills need some rust knocked off, it was still quite tasty and I was thrilled to see that I really could bake bread with only water, flour and salt.

Yesterday I decided to bake another round of Norwich, and oh my goodness, this is seriously some of the prettiest and tastiest bread I’ve ever made. Zeke imparts a pleasant tang, completely unlike the sourdoughs of my youth. And this crust? Oh my, you don’t get this sort of crust from commercial yeast. I don’t even know how to describe it: perhaps one that sings upon being taken from the oven and has shattering layers with a bit of chew? Zeke is still a young’n and his flavor will continue to develop for another week or so, and I can’t wait to see what adventures we’re going to have together.

Norwich sourdough

Click for the recipe →

Aug 182013
 

Salmon cakes

I am trying to break out of my salmon rut, I honestly am. But when one is confronted with a beautiful, fresh, vivid red sockeye fillet, it is really, really difficult to avoid cooking it as simply as possible. The fact that I live in an area where it’s quite difficult to get fresh sockeye now isn’t helping matters.

But then my favorite local grocery store came through in a huge way: a sockeye salmon sidewalk sale! They flew in a bunch of whole sockeye overnight from Alaska and sold them whole. We bought a lot, and I started dreaming big.

These fillets were large, so when we used the first one, I had the opportunity to make not one, but two new dishes out of it! Be still my heart! I cured part of it for gravlax — more coming soon on that endeavor — but the larger measure of fish I reserved for these cakes, which had oh-so-fortuitously floated across my computer screen a whole of days before. And they proved to be everything I dreamed of. Some may say it was a bit of a waste to use such an extravagant fish in such a humble way, but I really don’t care what the haters think. This stuff was delicious.

Click for the recipe →

Aug 112013
 

Cutting out soy in a country that heavily subsidizes the soy crop can be a daunting task, full of not-fun and a huge swath of newly off-limits otherwise-delectable edibles. Frankly, it makes cutting out dairy seem like a walk in the park.

There’s a silver lining here though, and that lining is that while the vast majority of mayos out there are off-limits, there’s an open season on aioli! If you’ve never had it before, imagine a mayo that actually has flavor. Aioli is decidedly the best thing ever about a soy-elimination diet, and because I had never had an excuse to make this myself, I’m actually kind of grateful to my new eating scheme, even if it means I had to give up Scharffen Berger. I’m sure that once you try this on a BLT with some of this season’s prime tomatoes, you’ll be inclined to agree with me!

The making of aioli, as with any emulsion, can go wrong if you try to mix too fast. Here’s a look at what your aioli should look like at each stage. Happy whisking to you, and happy eating!

Click for the recipe →

 Posted by on August 11, 2013 at 11:00 am
Aug 042013
 

Desert lime lentil soup

As someone who likes to be able to cook on a moment’s notice, I believe in having a stocked pantry. This is great in principle until I get stricken with “OOH shiny!” syndrome at the grocery store. I’m sure many of you are familiar with it: you’re browsing the aisles and then you come across some item or ingredient that sounds unusual but delicious and even though you don’t have something immediate in mind that you’d like to do with it, you bring it home with you. Repeat this over the course of a couple of months and before you know it your pantry bears a disturbing resemblance to a curio cabinet.

I recently found myself in such a pickle, seeing as how I live near some pretty cool grocery stores and I also have less time to experiment in the kitchen than I used to. Before I knew it, I found myself elbow-deep in the pantry, pulling out ingredients, determined to re-organize that sucker. (Yeah, it’s still a work in progress. The kitchen and the baby have yet to figure out a custody schedule for me.)

One of the most disastrous shelves in my pantry is the chocolate & tea area. The chocolate is in a border skirmish with the tea, as both have spilled out of neat little piles and are encroaching on the other’s territory. There’s a huge mix of chocolate that I bought before Leah was diagnosed with her allergies and I thus can’t eat anymore and chocolate that is really more vegetable than candy, since it’s like 90% cacao. It’s also almost the only chocolate I can find without soy lecithin in it. So it was pretty easy to re-organize that stuff into a His & Her piles, ta-da, done. Time to start negotiations with the other side!

The tea side is a bit trickier because tea comes in big boxes and the size of the box doesn’t decrease as you use the bags within. I consolidated a few boxes, threw out some tea that was by all rights fossilized, and then started making massive quantities of cold-brewed tea to kill off some of the dwindling boxes. Then, deep within the recesses of the little food-closet, I found this box of lime tea that I had bought way back when I lived in Tucson. It wasn’t really my favorite tea to drink, which is why it was still hanging around all this time, so I really didn’t fancy drinking it. I opened the box to count the remaining bags so I could rationalize throwing it away or something, but then I found a recipe — for soup of all things — on the inside flap.

And see, this is where having a stocked pantry comes in handy. The soup called exclusively for pantry staples (hooray!) so I decided to give it a shot. If it sucked, then it wouldn’t be a huge loss, because lo, rice and lentils, they are cheap. I made several modifications, opting to go pilaf-style to maximize flavor out of the relatively meager ingredients, but I have to admit, I was expecting disaster. Much to my surprise though, this was actually pretty tasty! Rice and lentils aren’t exactly the most exciting combination in the world, but the lime goes a long way towards brightening up the tried-and-true pairing. Now I find myself kind of sad that I don’t have enough tea-bags left to make another batch of this stuff, so will I find myself buying another box of it? Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose (cleaning out the pantry) of making this in the first place? Has that ever stopped me before? Nah, didn’t think so.

Desert lime lentil soup

Click for the recipe →

Jul 282013
 

Mexican shrimp salad

It’s summer. It’s hot. You’ve been asked to bring a side along to a cook-out or pot-luck or other food-type party and you’re stumped. You and eight of your closest friends all brought slaw to the previous shin-dig and you desperately want to bust out of the boring BBQ-sides rut and bring something fun and unique, but if someone even thinks about suggesting that you turn on the oven, it’ll be their head that ends up in that appliance. Oh, and also? You’ll only have about 30 minutes to throw together your inspired creation.

Enter: Mexican shrimp salad! This delight is bursting at the seams with fresh summery flavor, comes together in no time, and is definitely better when made well-ahead of time. The best part? Everyone adores this stuff. It’s a huge crowd-pleaser. Consider yourself delivered from side-dish-purgatory!

Mexican Shrimp Salad
From Central Market, incorporating modifications from my mom, my aunt, and myself
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer

Notes:

  • If you’re short on time or are very adverse to turning on your oven, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t use pre-cooked shrimp in this recipe. You could also boil them instead of roasting them. And you can definitely prep the shrimp a couple days ahead of time.

You will need:

  • 1 pound medium or large raw peeled shrimp (see note above)
  • 1/3 cup flavorful extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2-4 tablespoons lime juice (from about two limes)
  • Zest of one lime
  • 1/4 cup champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup scallions (about 3-4), thinly sliced
  • 3 long garlic scapes, sliced thinly (optional: these are highly seasonal and only available for two weeks each spring)
  • 2 medium tomatoes or 1 – 1/3 cups cherry tomatoes, chopped (do not seed)
  • 7 ounces of stuffed green olives (about 1 1/4 cup), rinsed and chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1-6 teaspoons white sugar (you may not need this)
  • 1 large avocado
  • Tortilla chips, for serving (optional)

To prepare:

  1. Roast and prep the shrimp: heat the oven to 425F. Arrange the shrimp on a baking pan and roast until done (about 3-4 minutes for 50-60 count or about 7 minutes for 31-40 count). When they are opaque and firm, shock them in ice water to stop the cooking. When they are cool, remove the tail and cut eat shrimp into 3-pieces, so they are comfortably bite-sized.
  2. Assemble: combine the shrimp, olive oil, lime juice, lime zest, champagne vinegar, scallions, garlic scapes, tomatoes, olives, oregano, and cilantro in a bowl. Stir well. Let sit in the fridge for at least four hours to let the flavors blend, making sure that as much of the salad as possible is submerged under the liquid.
  3. Taste the salad. If it is too acidic (and it usually is), add a bit of sugar to balance the flavors. Add salt and pepper if you must, but I have never thought that it needed it.
  4. Just before serving, chop up the avocado and stir it into the salad. Serve (in margarita or martini glasses, if you’re feeling fancy) along with tortilla chips, if you like, though this is perfectly addictive on its own.
Jul 212013
 

Roasted poblanos

I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but I really did resist the whole idea of hominy for a long time. I’m not sure why, but there was some strong reaction to the word (not the concept, just the word) in my brain. Maybe it was because it sounds somewhat like homily, which is a thing I found to be exceptionally tedious in my formative years. Of course, hominy and homilies have absolutely nothing in common, unless I’m going to use this here platform to preach to you about the virtues of nixtamalized corn. Which I might just a little bit, given that this is my blog and all and I do have a tendency to go on about food that I really, really like.

Ahem.

My love affair with hominy began just shy of a year ago when I was cooking like a mad-woman to stock the freezer before The Babe was born (yes, I was totally bare-foot and pregnant in the kitchen). I had never had the stuff but decided to make a pork-hominy-tomatillo stew to squirrel away for the post-partum days. (We ate better than the average newly-minted parents. It was a priority.) I was pretty-much ensnared once I discovered than it smelled like a really really good corn tortilla tastes. And the stew? Heavenly. One of these days I’ll get around posting it here. But I digress.

Having repented of my anti-hominy ways, it wasn’t long before I was ordering more of the stuff from Rancho Gordo, which meant, of course, that I needed to find more ways to cook it.

Enter the poblano: while she was visiting one weekend, Mrs Cheeseburger in Glacial Ice and I discovered these in Tucson at a chef demo at my favorite farmers’ market. The chef had soaked strips of the pepper in tequila and simple syrup and then dehydrated them to make a candy. Delish! I had found a new favorite pepper. So when I came across a recipe on the Rancho Gordo website that used both roasted poblanos and hominy, it took me all of about two seconds to decide that I was going to have to try it. I’ve made it several times and several different ways and it never disappoints. So throw irrational food prejudices and caution (except when it comes to those serranos — whoo boy, those should be used sparingly) to the wind and whip up a pot of this. Else I’ll be forced to go on a hominy homily, and really, no one wants to hear that.

Roasted poblano pozole

Continue reading »

Jul 142013
 

Alio e olio

Excuse me while I state the obvious: I’m a food snob. Even worse, sometimes I’m that judgy food snob that no one likes to cook with because she can’t shut the hell up about how she would do it. I really, really try to shut that bitch up whenever I can because she is rude and ungrateful.

There is one occasion that stands out in my mind as a time that I’m really happy that I was able to do just that. I had moved to Tucson not that long before and a new friend had invited me over for dinner for the first time. She had spent the summer in Europe and eaten all sorts of fabulous food so she decided to make aglio e olio for me. Having never had this dish before, my sniveling jerk-face inner monologue was just horrified — horrified — that she wasn’t using fresh basil but I didn’t know Kyla very well at the time so I decided to hold off on saying something that could flush this nascent friendship down the toilet.

Prepping for alio e olio

And it’s a good thing I did too, because the meal she made? Delicious! It needed none of the things that I probably would have added (and actually, anything I would have added would have detracted from the simplicity, which is the key to its deliciousness). Not only was the food good for my taste-buds, it was also good for my too-big ego, which sometimes needs to be brought down a notch with some humble pie. Or, in this case, some aglio e olio.

I’ve happily been eating this dish ever since, but it wasn’t until I started writing up this article and decided to see what the internet had to say about aglio e olio that I made the startling discovery that most people don’t use tomatoes in it! I had always thought it must include it, despite not being named, say, aglio, olio, e pomodori. Well, to all of Itay, I say that Kyla had it figured out. That’s right: Kyla, 1; Itlay, 0.

Alio e olio

Continue reading »

Jul 072013
 
Strawberry bourbon-barrel freezer jam

Strawberry bourbon-barrel freezer jam

A glut of fresh fruit is one of the best things about summer, wouldn’t you agree? Last week I found myself in a situation where I came back from the farmers’ market with strawberries so ripe that you could smell them from five yards away (how can anyone resist such a siren’s song?) only to discover that I still had some left-over from the previous week’s excursion. So I had a lot of strawberries — certainly great for just eating out of hand — but I decided that I wanted to try something I had never done before and make some jam.

Not having, well, any canning equipment except some stray mis-matched Mason jars, I decided to go the easy route for my first foray and settled on freezer jam. I took some inspiration from a jar of freezer jam a friend gave me when I lived in Alaska, from the Freezerves at Snow City Cafe that were so sublime, I’d always order extra toast (and then would get all sneaky stealing jars of the stuff from other tables if they had the flavor I was coveting), and from opening the pantry and seeing the container of bourbon-barrel smoked sugar sitting just so atop the regular sugar canister when gathering supplies for jam-making.

And let me tell you, having enjoyed the fruits of this labor so much, that I’m hoping that the whole “really good fruit + booze = om nom sauce” equation holds true for other tasties and spirits too. I couldn’t help myself and already proved that cherry-brandy is a delicious combination, but how about others? Nectarines + white wine? Blackberries + rum? Raspberries + kahlua? The possibilities are endless and it’s so easy to whip up a batch of this stuff that I really have no excuse not to!

Cherry-brandy freezer jam

Cherry-brandy freezer jam

Click for the recipe →

Jun 302013
 

Spring duck risotto

It was spring, and finally the stars were aligning: asparagus was coming into season, Mrs Cheeseburger in Glacial Ice was coming to visit, and I had a freezer stuffed full of duck and ducky accoutrements.

I was going to make good on my threat to make a duck risotto!

But first, a little back-story: Heather and I both seem to share a certain fascination with risotto. I think it’s a fantastic blank canvas on which you can splash any number of food flavors and in the end get this warm, gooey (in a good way) starchy comfort food that accentuates your favorite flavors. And Heather? She adores the creamy deliciousness with everything in a single bite. And as I’ve said before, whenever she and I get together, ridiculously awesome things tend to happen. And when there’s a kitchen involved, hoo boy, look out.

Heather also shares my obsession with duck, and since she had been awesome enough to be one of the two people who gave me the idea for a duck risotto in the first place (when my clueless self was all like “I have duck stock: now what do I do with it???), I decided that she had to be there when I finally made it.

What actually happened was a little different. More accurately, she made the risotto while I tended to a fussy baby. But what matters is that we got to eat it together (and as you can see below, expose The Babe to the world of duck and risotto in one fell swoop)! And thus our foodie bond was further cemented.

(I did finally get the opportunity to make this myself about a month later when Mr Om-Nom Sauce’s birthday rolled around and he got this risotto foisted upon him. But the photos on this post were food that was totally not cooked by me. Heather makes good eats.)

And speaking of good eats: we’re right on the cusp of seeing her and her husband again, which means OMG DUCK, we are so excited! What ridiculousness will we make this time around? Whatever it is, I’m sure you’ll be hearing about it here. We might even have to do a summer version of this risotto, because once you’ve had it, you completely understand the phrase OM NOM DUCK!

Babies love risotto too!

The Babe makes a grab for the risotto. Photo provided by Mrs. Cheesburger in Glacial Ice

Continue reading »

%d bloggers like this: