October 6, 2017 Dehydrated Asian Pears

In addition to the gardens, we have a small orchard that includes a pear, apple, persimmon, Asian pear and most recently, fig trees. We are usually so busy harvesting from the garden that the orchard is all but forgotten and most of the fruit that falls from the trees goes to the deer. The persimmons are Cody’s special treat, I can honestly say I don’t understand that at all. The Asian pear is the most productive of the trees and this year I wanted to find a different way to use the fruit. Several years ago I canned about a half dozen jars of Asian pear chutney, this time I was looking for something new. My inspiration came at the local farmers market. A local orchard was selling dehydrated apples. Why not Asian pears?

The task at hand now was to pick the pears. Some were accessible by hand, for the pears that were higher up the tree I needed a different approach. I turned to the aptly named fruit picker, a wire basket attached to a long pole. There are bent prongs at the top of the basket that allow you to pull the fruit off the branch. The bottom of the basket is cushioned with foam to prevent the fruit from bruising.

The Ball canning book states that drying food is easy but may require some trial and error. Various factors, the quality of the produce, drying methods, pretreatment techniques and climate can all affect the finished product. So it is necessary to follow the general guidelines and then make the necessary adjustments.

Successful home dehydration depends on three factors: heat, enough to force out moisture but not enough to cook the food, dry air, to absorb the released moisture and air circulation, to move the moisture away.

I started by washing and drying just a few pears, since this was just a test batch. I don’t own a dehydrator, but the lowest heat on our convection oven is 140°F, only 5 degrees higher than the recommended temperature of 135°F. I lined two large half-sheet pans (18″ x 13″) with parchment and began slicing the pears. Since the Asian pears from our tree were relatively small, I wanted to maintain the largest piece possible. I cut the pears in half lengthwise through the core and removed any blemishes. I discovered a melon baller was the right tool to scoop out the core.

To peel or not to peel? That was the next question and for the first batch I decided not to. Another step that is optional is dipping. Dipping the fruit in diluted lemon juice prevents oxidation, which turns the fruit brown. I sliced the fruit with a sharp knife, about an quarter of an inch slice and spaced them evenly on the baking trays. I baked them in the convection oven for 5 hours, rotating the trays half way through the drying process. Then I turned the oven off and left the trays in the oven overnight. I was very pleased with the results. Most of  the pieces look like slices of a mushroom cap and I will continue not peeling them. Asian pears are super sweet and drying them intensifies the sweetness. The consistency should be pliable, not crisp with no moisture pockets. Your time may vary, so check frequently. Great for snacking, store the pear chips in quart bags in the fridge and freezer.

Using the fruit picker.
Success!

 

Dehydrated Asian Pears

 Makes 70-80 pieces

Ingredients

  • 4-5 Asian pears
  • Dipping solution of 1 c lemon juice to 1 qt water to prevent oxidation  (if desired)

Directions

  1. Place oven racks in upper and lower positions. Preheat convection oven to the lowest setting possible, 140°F in my case.
  2. Line two half sheet pans with parchment paper.
  3. Wash and dry pears, peel if desired. Remove any blemishes. Cut the pears in half lengthwise. Remove the stem and core. I found a melon baller worked well. Slice pears with a mandolin or sharp knife into ¼ inch pieces.
  4. Soak fruit in dipping solution if desired, no longer than 10 minutes. Drain before drying well with paper towels.
  5. Evenly space out the slices on the baking trays and dehydrate for about 5-6 hours. Leave in turned off oven overnight. The slices should be pliable and chewy with no moisture pockets.
  6. Store in plastic quart bags in the refrigerator or freezer.

July 12, 2017 Swiss Chard Quesadillas

Tuesday evening is Joe’s night to work late and although we don’t sit down for dinner when he comes home, I like to have a little snack ready. We sip a little wine, catch up on the days activities, maybe watch some television in the kitchen. This quesadilla was inspired by what I had in the fridge and the garden that summer evening. I have used spinach in a quesadilla in the past, why not some Swiss chard this time? A little sweet onion, sautéed until caramelized would be a good contrast to the earthy flavor of chard. All I needed now was a wrapper and some queso. I didn’t have tortillas on hand but I did have some sandwich wraps that could fill in. I always have several varieties of cheese in the fridge, the sharp flavor of cheddar worked well here.

We are still in the process of thinning the chard plants out. They are supposed to be 9-12 inches apart so it didn’t take long to pick what I needed. The chard is still relatively young so it wouldn’t need the long cooking that late summer chard does. I discuss basic chard preparation in this post. I also used some of the finely chopped stems for texture and their brilliant color.

I think a sweet onion works best with this flavor combination. I used a Vidalia, but whatever variety your market is featuring this week is fine. Sweet onions are low in pyruvic acid, the component that makes your eyes tear. I recently read that one of the best ways to store Vidalias is wrapped separately in a paper towel and stored in the refrigerator. I will be trying this method out.

If you are making a quesadilla you can’t forget the queso. If you prefer not to use cheddar, a Jack cheese would be a good choice too. I served the quesadillas plain, sour cream or a tomatillo salsa would be a good accompaniment. Next time I might add a few slivers of pickled jalapeno to the mix. Cooked black beans would be a good addition or some sautéed mushrooms. This recipe is just based on what I had on hand that evening. Golden crisp on the outside with healthy greens, a little sweetness from the onion with the creaminess of cheddar, this is a winning combination for a quick and delicious light meal or snack.

 

Swiss Chard Quesadillas

Makes two 8″ quesadillas

Ingredients

  • 16-18 medium to small chard leaves
  • 1 medium sweet onion
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Butter
  • Tortillas or wraps
  • ½-1 cup shredded cheese, I used cheddar, mozzarella or jack works too

Directions

  1. Wash chard leaves in several changes of water. Separate the chard leaves from the stems. Chop the leaves roughly. You should have 5 cups loosely packed leaves and ½-1 cup finely diced chard stems.
  2. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a 10 inch non stick skillet over medium high heat. Add stems and a sprinkle of salt and cook until softened, 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add the chard leaves and the water that still clings to the leaves and cook until wilted. Add a tablespoon more of water if necessary to wilt the leaves. Move stems and leaves to a plate and keep warm.
  4. Slice a medium onion very thinly, a mandolin or food processor is good for this. You should have 3 cups loosely packed thin slices.
  5. Wipe out the pan, add another tablespoon of oil and heat over medium high heat, cook onion until softened and brown. Reduce heat to medium if necessary. This should make about 1 cup of caramelized onion.
  6. Let the skillet cool off a bit and wipe out with a paper towel. Over medium high heat melt a teaspoon or so of butter and a little olive oil. When the butter is melted, add the first wrap or tortilla, spread out one half of the chard over this as evenly as possible.
  7. Evenly spread the cooked onions over the chard and then sprinkle the cheese over. Place the second wrap over the cheese and press down with your hand or a spatula to melt the cheese and make it adhere.
  8. Cook for 2-3 minutes on the first side, it’s okay to peek to make sure it isn’t browning too much. With the help of the spatula, flip and cook on the other side, about 2 minutes, adding a little more butter and oil if necessary.
  9. Move the quesadilla to a platter and keep warm, repeat cooking process with the second quesadilla. Cut quesadillas into wedges 4 to 8 pieces as desired.  Serve warm.
Chop the stems.
Sweet onion sautéed until golden brown.
Sautéed chard and stems are first to go on.
Then the sautéed onion.
Then a sprinkling of cheese.
A second tortilla or wrapper in my case, goes on top. Press down to help the cheese adhere. This was taken after this first quick flip.
Let it get golden brown.

July 4, 2017 Quick Pickled Baby Beets

The hot days of July are upon us so it’s time to harvest the root crops planted in early spring. that are still in the ground. We said good-bye to the radishes several weeks ago after the first heat wave of the summer. Warm temperatures cause radishes to bolt and become woody in texture. They will be planted at the end of summer for a fall harvest. The first planting of Japanese turnips have been harvested and now it’s time to harvest the rest of the beets.The”life cycle” of our beet consumption began with very small thinnings we add raw to our salads. The second thinning produces slightly larger leaves the size of spinach that are sautéed in olive oil with a little garlic and red pepper flakes for a wonderful side dish. Baby beets are sliced as thinly as possible or julienned and added to green salads.The Chiogga beets look pretty in salads, a slice looks like a candy cane bulls-eye and the Golden beets bring a pop of bright yellow.

I love beets, especially pickled ones. I have canned pickled beets in past summers for long storage, this year I thought I would make refrigerator pickles. Quick pickled baby beets couldn’t be simpler to make. These refrigerator pickles require very little prep and they are ready to eat after a few hours in the brine. Divide your beets by colors or they will bleed into each other. The brine is a touch sweet with a little spice. These pickles will last for several months in the refrigerator.

Just picked beets from the garden.
After a good clean up.

 

Quick Pickled Baby Beets

Makes 2 pint jars

Ingredients

  • 1 lb baby beets,  separated into colors
  • 1 c white wine vinegar
  • 2 t kosher salt
  • ½ c sugar
  • 2 T honey
  • Fresh ginger slices
  • 1 t coriander seed
  • 1 t black peppercorns
Trimmed and ready for pickling.

Directions

  1. Wash beets well, trim off the leaves and leave about an inch of stem on the beets. Separate beets into colors if you don’t want them to bleed into each other.
  2. Bring a medium pan of water to a boil. You can put all the beets of one variety in the pan, start checking the smaller beets at the two minute mark. Beets should be easily pricked with the tip of a knife, larger beets will take a few more minutes.
  3. Drain beets well in a colander. Place in a heat proof container like a canning jar, separating out the varieties.
  4. Combine vinegar, salt, sugar, honey and spices and bring to a boil. Pour the hot canning liquid over the beets and set aside to cool. Once cool, store in the refrigerator.

 

December 2, 2016 Tuna Poke

dsc_8340aOne of the highlights of last summer was our trip to the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen Colorado. It is touted as America’s premier culinary event, and certainly lived up to those expectations. We enjoyed three days of cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and best of all, the grand tasting pavilion. It was there that we, and 5000 other fanatical foodies sipped, savored and sampled our way around the massive white tents. One area we were certain to stop at during each grand tasting was to sample the offerings of Food and Wine magazines best new chefs. Everything we tried was imaginative and delicious as well. Not coincidentally, the July issue of Food and Wine magazine offered recipes from each of these up and coming chefs.

With memories of the wonderful small plates we enjoyed at the classic, it was time to try some of their dishes for ourselves. This summer I tried the rather ambitious, summer squash with lemon curd and citrus vinaigrette from chef Brad Kilgore. Joe was more interested in the Tuna Poke on Nori Crackers. This very simple version is from Ravi Kapur, chef at Liholiho Yacht Club, a San Francisco restaurant with Hawaiian, Indian and Chinese influences.

If you are not familiar with it, poke, pronounced POH-keh is a raw fish salad. Poke, means chop or chunk, which refers to the bite sized pieces the fish is cut into. It is commonplace in Hawaii, found everywhere from the deli departments of grocery stores to fine dining establishments.

The first time we tried it just for ourselves and the poke passed our taste test with flying colors. The nori crackers are a nice “cheffy” touch but speaking on behalf of the cleanup crew, messy and not necessary for the home cook. For this recipe, make the poke with sushi grade ahi tuna from the most reputable vendor you can find. The spicy mayo has only three ingredients, tamari, sriracha and mayo. So it’s very simple, finely chopped tuna, scallion, ginger, jalapeno, tamari and dark sesame oil combined in a bowl and seasoned with salt. Spoon the poke on black sesame crackers, I like the ones from Edward and Sons, easily found in large supermarkets. Dollop or pipe some of the spicy mayo on top. Garnish with some Asian microgreens and a few toasted sesame seeds. We have served it at two parties so far this year, both to rave reviews.

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Tuna Poke

Serves 6-8

Ingredients for the Spicy Mayo

  • ¼ c good quality mayonnaise
  • ¼ t tamari
  • 1 t sriracha (or to taste)

Ingredients for the Poke

  • 12-oz sushi grade tuna cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 4 t minced scallions
  • 2 t minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 t seeded and minced jalapeno
  • 1 t tamari
  • ½ t toasted sesame oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Black sesame crackers
  • Asian microgreens and toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Directions for the Spicy Mayo

  1. In a small bowl whisk all the ingredients together until smooth.

Directions for the Poke

  1. In a large bowl, fold all the ingredients except the garnishes together; season with salt.
  2. Spoon the poke on the black sesame crackers and dollop with some of the spicy mayo. Garnish with sprouts and sesame seeds.

October 26, 2016 Buffalo Cauliflower Bites

dsc_8213aInspiration for the recipes at Sue’s Seasonal Palate comes from many sources. Sometimes it’s a magazine article I’ve read, an intriguing recipe from the internet or a dish I’ve recently tried in a restaurant. The latter was the case for this recipe.

Last weekend we got together with some long time friends at a popular brewpub called The Vault. It’s located in a former bank built in 1889 in the historic borough of Yardley Pennsylvania. The owners of the Vault bring their own brand of sophistication to the brewpub concept and have turned it into an experience that is unique. No deafening pop or rock music or a bank of televisions tuned to the latest sports programs, they have chosen to feature live and recorded jazz that enhances the relaxed atmosphere and is more conducive to conversation. The beer is brewed on premises and the offerings from the kitchen are made in-house or sourced locally. Both the kitchen and the brewery are open to view. Though I am more of a wine drinker I really enjoyed the Sweet Potato Ale. The menu includes a nice selection of starters along with sandwiches, interesting salads and pizzas from their wood fired oven. The menu is definitely a cut above the average pub fare and one of their appetizers made me want to recreate it at home.

Our server suggested we start off with an appetizer of buffalo cauliflower to share for the table while we were pondering our other food choices. For a brief history of the buffalo wing we only need to go back to 1964 where they originated in, no surprise here, Buffalo, New York. The story has several versions but the most popular and my favorite, is that one evening, Teressa Bellissimo, co-owner of the Anchor Bar was challenged to whip up a late night snack for her son and his friends. “Mother Teressa” found some large chicken wings that had been deemed too meaty for the stockpot. Bellissimo chopped the wings into two sections, deep-fried them and tossed them with some hot sauce. She served them with celery that was part of the Anchor Bar’s antipasto and some of the house blue cheese dressing. The wings were reported to be an immediate local success and the first official Chicken Wing Day was celebrated on July 29, 1977. Over fifty years later they are a national favorite consumed everywhere from bars, to sporting venues to “competitive eating events” like the Philadelphia Wing Bowl and Buffalo’s annual National Buffalo Wing Festival.

It wasn’t enough for cauliflower to be a substitute for mashed potatoes, couscous and even pizza crust, the versatile vegetable takes the place of chicken wings in this recipe. The Vault’s buffalo cauliflower is described on the menu as buttermilk cauliflower, house buffalo sauce, chive sour cream and the real surprise, sweet pickled celery. The calorie count for six pieces of deep-fried chicken wings at one website I looked at was 616. Though I have nothing against traditional buffalo wings I also thought this recipe was worth the somewhat healthier do-over.

Start with a large head of cauliflower and break into chicken wing size florets. I was aiming for 1½ in by 2½ inches in length, you should have 5 to 6 cups of “wings” and probably more. Some recipes I found called for the cauliflower to be roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper. I wanted the florets to have a bit more substance so I coated the cauliflower with a simple batter of flour, milk and spices. Substitutions can be made here, almond milk for vegans, rice flour for a gluten-free diet. If you use rice flour as I did, you may need to thin the batter out a bit more.

I tried at first to dip the pieces by using the handle at the bottom of my cauliflower “wing”. This turned out to be a very messy approach., It is easier to use tongs to dip the individual pieces in the batter. Dip each piece thoroughly, lift out and allow the excess batter to drip back into the bowl. To minimize clean up, line the baking sheet with foil or parchment. Since several of the blogs I read mentioned excess batter clumping up and sticking to the baking sheet, I chose to place the florets on a wire rack thoroughly sprayed with Pam over the baking sheet. Preheat oven to 425°F, (convection heat) and bake for about twenty minutes or until golden. I flipped the pieces halfway through the baking process.

While the cauliflower is baking, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the hot sauce and stir to combine. In a medium bowl, combine the cooked cauliflower and sauce, toss gently to combine. Place the cauliflower back on the baking sheet and bake for another 10 minutes, until the cauliflower begins to crisp. Serve immediately with plain or sweet pickled celery and blue cheese dressing or sauce.

Cauliflower pieces shouldn't be too small.
Cauliflower pieces shouldn’t be too small.
A simple batter of flour, spices and milk.
Ingredients for the batter.
A simple batter of flour, spices and milk.
A simple batter of flour, spices and milk.
Dip cauliflower pieces in the batter. Place on a wire rack above the parchment lined baking tray for easy clean up.
Dip cauliflower pieces in the batter. Place on a wire rack above the parchment lined baking tray for easy clean up.
While the cauliflower is baking, stir together melted butter and hot sauce.
While the cauliflower is baking, stir together melted butter and hot sauce.
After the cauliflower has baked to a golden brown, mix with hot sauce and butter.
After the cauliflower has baked to a golden brown, mix with hot sauce and butter. Bake until crisp.
The final product served with blue cheese sauce and pickled celery.
The final product served with blue cheese sauce and pickled celery.

Buffalo Cauliflower Bites

Serves four or two very hungry  people

Ingredients

  • 1 c flour, can be all-purpose, whole wheat, brown rice etc.
  • 1 c milk, almond milk or water
  • 1 t  garlic powder
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ t ground paprika
  • 1 head cauliflower,cut into florets
  • ½ c hot sauce (I used Franks Original)
  • 3 T butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Spray a large wire rack with cooking spray to place over the baking sheet.
  2. Combine flour, water, spices, salt and pepper in a large bowl and stir until smooth. Using tongs, dip cauliflower pieces in the batter. Coat well, lift out and allow the excess to drip back into the bowl.
  3. Arrange cauliflower in a single layer on the wire rack that is on top of the baking sheet.  Bake 20 minutes or until golden.
  4. In a small saucepan, melt the butter, add the hot sauce and stir to combine. Pour evenly over cauliflower. Toss gently until cauliflower is evenly coated.
  5. Bake 10 minutes or until cauliflower begins to crisp, rearranging florets occasionally if needed. Serve with celery and blue cheese dressing.

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August 13, 2016 Oven Roasted Ratatouille

DSC_7741aI love recipes that use the bounty of the garden in a single dish and ratatouille accomplishes that in a very delicious way.  In case you didn’t know, ratatouille (rat-uhtoo-ee), is a summer vegetable stew that had it’s origins in the Provencal city of Nice in southern France. Traditionally, each ingredient, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onion, garlic and tomatoes, is cooked separately on the stove top and tossed together at the very end. So it’s really a sauté that is presented as a stew.

In this version the vegetables are tossed in olive oil and roasted in the oven, eliminating the time cooking over a hot stove. Our red and yellow bell pepper harvest is the earliest I can remember. They must like the hot temperatures and abundant rainfall this year. The orange Valencia peppers are not far behind. I prefer using Chinese or Japanese eggplants for their thin skin and milder flavor. I substituted shallots for onions since our harvest was so plentiful this year. The garlic was also from the garden, a first for us.

Cut the vegetables in similar size so they will get done at the same time. The smaller the cut, the less time it will take to cook.  Lightly toss the vegetables with about a half cup of a good quality olive oil.  Spread them out evenly over two large baking sheets. Rotate the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back half way through the cooking time. Roasting allows the vegetables to retain their shape and they take on a delicious toasted flavor. Move the cooked vegetables to a large serving bowl and tossed with a basil chiffonade. Chiffonade, translates “made of rags” from the French (of course!).  It is a technique for cutting herbs and vegetables into long thin strips, in this case, basil.

Ratatouille can be used in many ways, a side dish, a topping for bruschetta, chicken or fish.  We used it as the topping for an impromptu flatbread pizza. It can be served hot or cold and is even better the next day, if it lasts that long.

DSC_7726a
This season is the earliest we have had ripe bell peppers. I guess they really like the hot and rainy weather.
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Ingredients for the ratatouille, I substituted shallots for onions since Joe just harvested his crop.

 

Oven Roasted Ratatouille

Serves four (or two very generously)

Ingredients

  • 2 small onions (about 5 oz. each), cut into ¼-inch-thick half-moons
  • 2 bell peppers, red, yellow or orange, cored, seeded and cut into ¼-inch lengthwise strips
  • Japanese eggplant, about 1 lb, cut crosswise ½ inch thick rounds, then sliced in quarters
  • 1 lb small to medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into ½ inch thick rounds
  • 10 whole cloves garlic, peeled
  • ½ c extra virgin olive oil, and more as needed
  • 1 t chopped fresh rosemary
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1½ lbs medium tomatoes (about 4), cored, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • ¼ c basil cut into a chiffonade
DSC_7737a
Toss the ingredients in a large bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper.
DSC_7739a
Transfer the vegetables to two large baking sheets.

 

Directions

  1. Place racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Heat to 400°F. If using convection heat, 375°F.
  2.  In a large bowl, toss the onions, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, rosemary, and 1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt and a grind of pepper. Spread the vegetables evenly over two large 12 x 16 sheet pans. Don’t spread the vegetables too thin or they may burn (they shrink a lot as they cook).
  3. Roast, stirring the vegetables a few times and swapping the positions of the pans once, until the vegetables are slightly collapsed or shriveled, starting to brown, and very tender, about 35 minutes for my oven. It could take 10 minutes longer if you are not using convection heat.
  4. Scrape all the vegetables and any juices into a serving bowl. Toss with the basil, taste for seasoning, and serve.

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Ratatouille makes a great pizza topping.
DSC_7784a
How could I resist posting a picture of Remy, the star of the movie Ratatouille  who presides over my kitchen from his perch above.

July 16, 2016 Puffed Rice

DSC_7537a I was excited to show my friend Leslie the puffed rice I made as a garnish for the Summer Squash Salad in the previous post. Leslie enjoys cooking and trying new things in the kitchen as much as I do. She asked a good question regarding puffed rice that I didn’t have an answer for, why can’t you just make it in a popcorn popper?

I did a little research and learned this. Only varieties of corn with hard, thick hulls can be popped. Popcorn kernels can be puffed or popped with something as simple as a kettle with hot oil and a lid or a popcorn popper that circulates hot air through the kernels. The hard outer shell encases the moisture in the kernel and allows it to be popped without exploding into pieces. Rice lacks this hard outer shell. So you can’t toss some cooked rice in the popcorn popper and expect it to pop.

This recipe doesn’t require much work but does take a bit of time in preparation. Be certain the rice is completely dried out before puffing it in oil.  I found that a wok and a fine Chinese strainer was the easiest way to get all the puffed kernels out before they get too brown. It’s an easy recipe and I think you will be pleased with the results.

Puffed rice smells great, all warm and toasty. Use it as a salad garnish, out of hand snacking or put your own spin on a crispy rice sweet treat.

Puffed Rice

Makes about 3 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of short grain brown rice
  • 1 ¾ cups of water
  • a pinch or two of sea salt
  • several cups of sunflower (or another) high-heat oil
I loved making puffed rice!
Rice puffing up in the hot oil.
DSC_7545a
This strainer is easy to find in Asian grocery stores and is relatively inexpensive.

Directions

  1. Place the rice, water and salt into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it sit, covered, for another 10 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 250°F.
  3. Spread the rice out evenly onto a large baking sheet. Bake (dehydrate) in the oven for 2 hours. The rice should be dry and hard when it’s done. Place the rice into the fridge to cool off for at least an hour. Or leave it in the oven (turned off of course) overnight to cool.
  4. In a wok add enough oil so that it comes up to about ½” on the side, and heat the oil over medium heat until it’s shimmering, if you have a thermometer 375°F. Test to make sure it’s ready by adding a single piece of rice to the oil. If it sizzles all around the rice kernel, then it’s ready. Add about one quarter to one third  of the rice to the pot and cook for ten to twenty seconds, just until the rice puffs up. This happens very quickly, and you do not want to overcook it, otherwise the rice will get too dark and will be too crunchy. Use a fine strainer to remove the rice and place it onto a paper-towel lined plate. Do this until all of the rice is puffed.
  5. Store puffed rice in an air tight container.

May 6, 2016 Cauliflower Pizza Crust

DSC_6789aConsider the amazing versatility of cauliflower. Tossed with olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper and roasted until it is golden brown, it’s addictive as popcorn. It’s a delicious gluten-free substitute for mashed potatoes and couscous and the secret ingredient in a healthier version of Alfredo sauce.

In this recipe, the vegetable master of disguise is the basis for a pizza crust. I began my research by reading through about 20 recipes for cauliflower pizza I found online. They were written by cookbook authors, celebrity chefs and food bloggers. No two recipes were exactly the same and some were quite vague in their instructions. I used these recipes to construct my own version of a crust that works every time.

Line a pizza pan or a baking sheet with parchment paper. I used a nonstick spray on the corners to make sure it stayed in place. Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Start with a head of cauliflower, chop it into four cups of smaller florets, you want uniform pieces that won’t overwhelm your food processor.
If you are using a hand grater leave the pieces larger and the stem attached so you don’t scrape your fingers. Save the stems for cauliflower mashed potatoes. Pulse the florets with the metal blade in the food processor until the cauliflower is the consistency of small grains of rice or couscous. Some writers referred to this as cauliflower “snow”. 4 cups of cauliflower florets yielded two and three-quarter cups of finely chopped cauliflower.

Cauliflower needs to be cooked to get rid of excess moisture. Some of the recipes I read called for sautéing the cauliflower on the stove top, others chose steaming and a few didn’t cook it at all. I am not a big fan of the microwave, but I feel it’s the easiest way to cook the cauliflower for this recipe and there is no need for additional water to be added. Place the cauliflower in a microwave safe container and cover with plastic. I cooked mine on the “fresh vegetable” setting for about six minutes. Let the cauliflower cool thoroughly before proceeding with the next step, if you don’t you could easily burn your fingers.

The next step is crucial to the success of this recipe. Dump the cauliflower into the center of a clean, cloth dish towel. Gather up the four corners and twist. Squeeze the bottom to extract as much liquid from the cauliflower as possible. When you think you’ve squeezed enough, squeeze one more time. Transfer the cauliflower pulp to a bowl, you should have about a scant cup. Add to this one lightly beaten large egg, a pinch of salt, three quarters of a cup of shredded mozzarella, half cup of shredded Parmesan cheese. Although not necessary you can add a half teaspoon each of dried oregano and basil. Mix first with a spatula to incorporate the ingredients, then mix with your hands for best results.

Form into a disk and place on the prepared baking sheet. Press out from the center evenly to make a 10 inch circle. Be sure that the crust is evenly pressed out, with no thin or thick spots. Some sources said to spray the surface of the parchment paper with nonstick spray but I didn’t and my results were fine. Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of your preheated oven. Bake until spotty brown, it took about 12 minutes in the convection oven, it may take you a little longer for a conventional oven.

Remove baking sheet from the oven and add your favorite toppings. I made a basic tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese pizza. I baked it in the oven for another 10 minutes, until the cheese was melted and bubbly. I was able to cut the pizza with a wheel and the slices held together nicely.  The possibilities for toppings are endless. In about a month or so I will be topping this crust with basil pesto and thinly sliced zucchini.

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Start with a large head of cauliflower, you won’t need it all.
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Separate into smaller florets.
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Add to the food processor with metal blade attached.
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Process finely until you get rice or couscous like granules.
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Now it is ready for the microwave.
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Place the cooked cauliflower in the middle of a cotton dishtowel.
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Squeeze to extract all the excess liquid.
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You will be left with cauliflower “pulp”.
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Mix in beaten egg, cheeses, salt and dried herbs.
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Form it into a ball.
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Flatten into a 10 inch round.
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Bake at 425 F for ten to fifteen minutes, until starting to brown in spots.
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Top with sauce.
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And mozzarella cheese.
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Bake for 10 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly.
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Delicious!

Makes one 10″ round

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of cauliflower florets
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • ¾ c shredded low fat mozzarella cheese
  • ½ freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ t dried oregano
  • ½ t dried basil

Directions

  1. Line a rimmed baking sheet or pizza pan with parchment paper and preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Chop cauliflower into 4 cups of smaller florets. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until the cauliflower is the consistency of rice or couscous, my finished product measured 2 ¾ cups. Alternately grate larger pieces on a box grater until you have 2 ¾ cups of finely grated cauliflower.
  3. Place in a large bowl and microwave on high for 6 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
  4. Dump the cauliflower into the center of a cotton dish towel, flour sack types are best. Draw up the corners and twist tightly. Squeeze the cauliflower in the dish towel to extract as much liquid as possible.
  5. Transfer the cauliflower “pulp” to a bowl. Next, add the beaten egg, cheeses and herbs. Combine with a rubber spatula and for best results, finish the mixing with your hands.
  6. Form into a disk and place on the prepared baking sheet or pan. Press out from the center to make an even 10″ round.
  7. Place baking sheet on the lower middle rack of the preheated oven. Bake until spotty brown, mine took about 12 minutes, the crust may be ready anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes.
  8. Remove crust from the oven and top with your favorite pizza combinations. Bake until cheese is melted and bubbly, another 10 minutes.

 

April 26, 2016 Spinach and Mushroom Quesadillas with Tomatillo Salsa

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Still inspired by an abundance of, you guessed it, spinach, I was looking for yet another way to use our bounty. Inspiration this time came to me in the form of a quesadilla. Crispy on the outside and melted and creamy inside, spinach adds a healthy component to this popular dish. Quesadillas are easy and delicious any time of day, as a quick snack, lunch, even for breakfast. To accompany the quesadillas I made a simple tomatillo salsa.

With the exception of the cilantro and garlic, the ingredients for the tomatillo salsa came straight from our freezer. Preparing tomatillos for the freezer is easy, I remove the papery husks and freeze them whole and raw in quart bags. A previously frozen tomatillo will not hold up to roasting but are fine in raw preparations like this. The Numex Joe E. Parker pepper used in this recipe is an Anaheim style pepper with a long slender shape and mild heat. We have an interesting variety of frozen hot peppers from gardens past,  milder ones like Joe E Parker and poblanos to hotter ones, cayenne, jalapeno, serrano and Thai hot. The surprising thing is that freezing them does not diminish their heat in the least. When a recipe calls for several hot peppers, I start with one, it is much easier to add heat than to take it away.

As always, picking the spinach takes more time than most of the steps in the recipe. The filling is easy to make and used twelve cups of fresh spinach, a real plus for me. If you don’t have an abundance of spinach in your garden, use bagged baby spinach. The slightly more assertive flavor of cremini mushrooms compliments the spinach nicely.

The options for cheese are endless. I used pepper jack and cheddar cheese, a good melting cheese is important here. Choose a large heavy bottom skillet to cook quesadillas. Just a light brushing of oil in the pan is all that’s necessary to brown the tortilla and keeps it from getting greasy. You can either fold one tortilla in half or stack one on top of another. I press lightly on the quesadilla in the pan to allow the cheese to melt a bit and hold the layers together before it is flipped.  The pizza wheel is the perfect tool to cut it into portions. Finished quesadillas can be held in an oven on low heat for 20 minutes.

Spinach and Mushroom Quesadillas

Makes four 8″ quesadillas

Ingredients for the filling

  • 1½ T olive oil or bacon drippings
  • 8 oz mushrooms, button or cremini, stemmed and sliced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ¼ c finely chopped red onion
  • 12 c spinach, large stems removed

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Directions for the filling

  1. In a large skillet heat the oil or bacon drippings over medium high heat.
  2. Add the mushrooms, stirring constantly, until they begin to brown.
  3. Add the onion and garlic and continue cooking, stirring frequently until it looks translucent.
  4.  Add the spinach by the handful, wilting it before adding more, until it is all used.  Do not overcook.  Season with salt to taste.

Ingredients for assembling the quesadillas

  • Eight 8″ soft tortilla or taco shells, I used whole grain
  • Olive Oil
  • 1½-2 c grated cheese, I used a combination of pepper jack and cheddar

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Directions for assembling and cooking the quesadillas

  1. Preheat oven to 180°F.
  2. Place four tortillas on two baking sheets, divide evenly the spinach and mushroom filling and the grated cheese between them.
  3. Top with the four remaining tortillas and lightly press to seal.
  4. Place a 12″ heavy bottomed skillet over medium high heat.  Brush the skillet lightly with olive oil.
  5. Place the quesadillas in the skillet one at a time, pressing down lightly but firmly and cook for about 3 minutes on each side. You can peek by lifting up with a spatula to see if it is getting golden brown. Transfer the cooked quesadillas to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven, lightly covered with foil.
  6. Slice each quesadilla into 6-8 wedges, a pizza cutter works well here, and serve hot with tomatillo salsa or your own favorite.

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Tomatillo Salsa

Ingredients

  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed and seeded and quartered
  • 1 Numex pepper, stemmed and seeded and quartered
  • ¼ c roughly chopped red onion
  • 1 lb tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut into quarters
  • ¾ c loosely packed, lightly chopped cilantro

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Directions

  1. With a food processor or blender running, drop in the garlic cloves one at a time letting each piece get finely chopped before adding the next. Add the peppers, onion,  tomatillos and cilantro and process until smooth.

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March 24, 2016 Spinach and Roasted Garlic Hummus

DSC_6542aWhen I am looking for a snack, hummus is a healthy choice I feel good about adding to my shopping cart. But the truth is, it’s takes just minutes to make my own, and it’s healthier (no additives), tastier and cheaper too. The word hummus in Arabic means chickpea so strictly speaking, hummus is the term for a chickpea dip. Hummus bi tahini means chickpeas with tahini, a paste of ground sesame seeds.  Whether you add tahini or not, a basic hummus includes garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt.

One of my favorite food memories is a chickpea soup Joe made for me one Valentine’s Day. I absolutely love the sweet nutty flavor of freshly cooked chickpeas and in a perfect world I would always use them when I make hummus. However, dried chickpeas need to be soaked overnight, drained the next day and cooked for 1-3 hours, depending on freshness. I don’t always have time for that and the delayed gratification it requires.

However if you have the time, substitute one half the quantity of dried beans for the canned. The standard 15 ounce can of chickpeas drained is about 9 ounces or 1 ½ cups of beans. This translates into 4.5 ounces of dried beans or ¾ cup. Many cooks add a pinch of baking soda to tenderize dried beans to both the soaking and cooking water. The United States dried bean council (of course there’s one!) points out that it destroys part of the thiamine (aka vitamin B 1), making the amino acids less digestible and negatively affects the nutritional value. I’ll leave that heavy decision up to you.

A basic hummus recipe is easy and delicious and just the jumping off point for countless variations. I have previously shared a beet hummus recipe, this time I added fresh spinach and roasted garlic to the recipe.

If you are not already roasting garlic cloves, you should. It takes more time to get your oven up to temperature than in does to get this kitchen staple together. The first time I roasted garlic I winged it but I am pleased to say my uninformed guess was pretty much on target. This is the basic recipe; cut about the top quarter off each head of garlic with a sharp knife to expose all the cloves. Slowly pour olive oil over each head, letting it soak into and around the cloves. Wrap the prepared heads of garlic in foil and bake in a 425°F oven. Start checking the garlic at the 45 minute mark. The finished cloves should be soft, golden and slightly protruding from the skins. I always roast more than what I need, it will keep in the fridge for about a week, that is if it lasts that long. You can also freeze roasted garlic for several months.

Everything goes into the food processor or blender, except the reserved chickpea liquid. I added three cloves of roasted garlic to my basic hummus recipe, along with three loosely packed cups of spinach leaves. I added a half teaspoon each of some appropriate dried herbs, cumin, for it’s smoky flavor, smoked paprika also brings smokiness and a little heat. Sumac is the herb you may not be familiar with, it has a fruity astringent taste, milder than a lemon. I shared more background on it in this post. It is readily available from several of the herb and spice mail order sights.

Add the additional bean liquid to get it completely smooth and holds it’s shape. Taste and add more salt if needed. Transfer mixture into a serving dish. Garnish with a dash of olive oil and a sprinkle of smoked paprika. Serve at room temperature.

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Spinach and Roasted Garlic Hummus

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1-15 ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas) drained and liquid reserved
  • 3-4 c spinach leaves, large stems removed
  • 1/3 c tahini
  • 3 T fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 3-4 cloves roasted garlic, or to your taste
  • ½ t salt, and more to taste
  • 1 t each cumin, sumac and smoked paprika
  • 1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • A dusting of smoked paprika for the topping

DSC_6536aDirections

  1. Add all the ingredients to your food processor or blender. Pulse, adding additional bean liquid as needed to get the hummus completely smooth.
  2. Taste and add salt if desired.
  3. Scoop into a serving bowl and sprinkle top with smoked paprika and a little olive oil if desired.
  4. Serve with the dippers of your choice.