Thursday, March 5, 2015

Quick Mexican Pizza

Sometimes you find that you have several things to use up in a short time frame, and that's exactly what happened here -- I had a small avocado that needed to be used that day, some leftover bacon bits, and some shredded West Indies chicken breast. I was thinking of baked potatoes but wound up coming up with this much lower carb version. Forgive the poor lighting, but it's delicious just to look at.

You can vary the amounts of each ingredient to suit what you have on hand as long as you maintain a balance; the tortilla will be thin and crispy, so sometimes minimalist is best. You will need:

1 large tortilla
2-3 tbsp enchilada sauce
1/2 cup shredded monterrey jack cheese
2 tbsp finely diced red onion
3 oz precooked white meat chicken, cut into cubes or shredded
1 small avocado or 1/2 large avocado, diced
homemade bacon bits to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and put the tortilla on a nonstick cookie sheet. Add the enchilada sauce, cheese, chicken, and bacon bits, and turn the heat down to 420 once you put the tortilla in. Let it bake for 5-6 minutes or until the edges are becoming brown and the cheese is melted. When it's hot, add the diced avocado and red onion. Cut into triangles and serve with salsa or sour cream.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

How To: Making Paneer Cheese

Paneer is a fresh cheese often used in vegetarian Indian dishes, especially in the Punjabi region up into Nepal. It's vegetarian because it requires no rennet, only minimally processed milk and an acid. Once you get the hang of it, it's easy to make at home if you have a supply of raw or minimally pasteurized milk. I prefer the raw, as do most cheesemakers, but it's not available commercially in all places. Some Indian and Pakistani markets sell paneer that's either imported or made in house, and other fresh non-melting cheeses like leijpajuusto can be used, so you don't have to make it every time you want some palak or shahi paneer. But it does help. Wrapped in cheesecloth in plastic or a ziploc bag, this is best used fresh or within 2-3 days of making it.

About buying proper milk -- you want to stay away from ultra high pasteurized products, and find the closest thing to raw as possible. If the expiration date is within a week, and the milk is not old, you've found what you need. UHP milk will leave you with a soupy mess that, at best, can be turned into makeshift ricotta.

What you need:

1/2 gallon raw or minimally pasteurized milk
1/3 cup lemon juice mixed with 1/4 cup water OR 3 tsp citric acid dissolved in 1/2 cup of water
a colander or strainer
a large square of single layer cheesecloth, apx "18x18
a bowl of ice water
kosher salt

Start by lining the colander or strainer with cheesecloth and placing it over a large pan or bowl, assuming you want to keep the whey. Bring the milk to boil on the stovetop, constantly stirring so the bottom doesn't burn. After around 15-20 minutes of this the milk should start to "rise" -- watch carefully for this. Pour the lemon juice or citric acid into the mixture and stir gently, taking the pot off the heat. You should have sizeable curds, like very liquidy American cottage cheese. If the curds are small and not sticking to each other, add more lemon juice or citric acid. It's always better to keep more acid on hand than you need when making cheeses like this to aid in coagulation. Pour it out of the pot through the cheesecloth lined strainer and allow as much whey as possible to filter through, and give it about five minutes to settle in. Use this time to get your pot and stirring spoon cleaned or soaking, those leftover curds stick when they dry!

Tie each corner of the cheesecloth together and lift the strained curds up. I prefer to hang the cheesecloth over the sink for another ten minutes or so to let the curds come together while they're still quite hot; they shouldn't be sticking too hard to the cheesecloth. Once they've cooled for a few minutes, twist the top of the cheesecloth tightly so it coils into itself and you're left with a rounded, covered soft ball. Place it between two towels and put something heavy on top, like a ceramic plate or bottle of water, for at least 30 minutes. The longer you allow it to press, the firmer the cheese will be.

Dissolve a few tablespoons of kosher salt into the ice water, and place the pressed paneer into the cold water. Keep it in the refrigerator or somewhere cool for 1-3 hours, then remove it and pat it dry. This is when you can either slice it up and add it to a dish or put it in a ziploc bag for later use. When you're ready to use it, the cheesecloth should peel away easily without taking much (if any) curd along with it. Paneer is great to simmer in gravies and sauces because it absorbs flavors well and doesn't melt (although it can be overworked and start to crumble).

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Golden Saffron Oven Pancakes

It's the season to break into your spice cabinet to find flavor to compensate for the fresh, green variety of summer. This isn't a bad thing, though -- it can result in adding a new twist to an old favorite. This recipe can be made in any amount any number of ways (by adding pureed fruits or vegetables, mainly) as long as you stick to the formula of 1/4 cup milk, 1/4 cup flour per 1 egg.

Salted saffron can be made in a hurry if you have a mortar and pestle. Combine coarse salt with a good pinch of red saffron threads. Let the threads sit out in the open for at least 20 minutes. Then use the mortar and pestle to grind them together until you get a grainy orange mixture.

You'll need:

2 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp salted saffron
1 heaping tsp ground turmeric
cream cheese, baked camembert or creme fraiche to serve alongside

Whisk together the milk and eggs, and then add the flour and spices. Mix until thoroughly blended and bright yellow and let the batter sit for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and pour the batter into a greased 9 inch cake pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until slightly browned, then allow it to cool for about 10 minutes. Serve it with a soft, subtle cheese and a side of honeyed figs.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hot Vegetable Pancakes

These came about from an abundance of summer vegetables and herbs. This recipe makes a solid "medium" in the spiciness department, but it can be adjusted with the addition of paprika. Try this next time you want the basis of a good vegetarian meal -- this can make an excellent main dish as well as a side course or appetizer. I found that baking them resulted in a much better patty than pan frying, but they remind me more of pancakes than anything so that's the name I've gone with.

You need:
3-4 cups grated summer squash
3-4 shredded fingerling or blue potato
1/2 cup grated peppered cheese (I like The Screaming Dutchman peppered gouda)
1 egg
2-3 large cloves of garlic, chopped finely
5-6 fresh leaves of basil, also chopped finely
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1-2 tsp hot smoked paprika (depends on how spicy you want it)
2/3 cup bread crumbs
1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Combine the squash, cheese, potato, egg, and garlic into a smooth mixture. Add the spices and bread crumbs and mix until sticky and uniform. Using a nonstick baking pan, grease it with the olive oil. Take small amounts and flatten into patties about "3-4 in diameter and about an inch thick. Bake at 450 F for 25-30 minutes. Serve hot with a dash of sea salt and sour cream.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Coconut Kale Stew

It's been cool and misty between bouts of rain here in the mountains. It's definitely not August weather, but at least we're reaping the benefits of the seasonal vegetables! This recipe is a hearty, healthy dish to keep warm with on a cold night and fills the kitchen with the best medley of scents -- stewing garlic, fresh greens, curry, butter, onions, the list goes on. Seeing as I use premixed curry blends most of the time this is also pretty easy and keeps well in the refrigerator. Serves 6-8 people.

20 oz light coconut milk
3 large cloves garlic or the equivalent, chopped finely
10 oz water
1 bunch of kale chopped into small pieces, about 4-5 cups loose after chopping
1 1/2 tbsp red curry powder
1 tsp paprika
2 tsp powdered turmeric
1 cup precooked saffron rice (optional)
salt to taste

1 Italian onion, grated
1/2 lb tofu, cubed
1 bowl brine (salted) water
2 tbsp butter

Soak the tofu in the brine water for at least half an hour; remove and pat completely dry with a paper towel.

Start by cooking the kale in the mix of coconut milk, water, and chopped garlic. The kale should be cooked until tender, depending on your preference and the variety you've selected this could be 15 minutes to an hour.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the tofu, wait a few minutes and then add the grated onion. Cook until at least one side of each tofu cube is golden browned, and the onions are beginning to caramelize.

Add the spices and rice to the kale-garlic broth. Then pour the contents of the saucepan -- the onion, tofu, and butter -- into the pot. Finish by adding salt to taste. Simmer for at least 15 minutes, although a longer time at a lower temperature will yield thicker results. Serve hot with flatbread and chai tea.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Pumpkin Brownies

Recently we had a whole lot of extended family visit and decided to hold something of a country potluck to give them a taste, literally, of how we live. These brownies have sold out in countless bake sales and are almost always a favorite. I was shocked that I hadn't already logged them here. Due to some of my family's lactose intolerance I omitted any cream cheese, but a cream cheese glaze or icing pairs wonderfully with this. Instead, I topped it with a sprinkle of confectioner's sugar and chopped pecans.

You will need:

3 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
3 tbsp butter, melted
1 tbsp baking powder
1 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice, or a mix of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and clove

Set the oven to bake at 350. Combine your moist ingredients together first, then sift the dry ones into the mix. Finish by beating the spices in well. Grease a "9x"9 baking pan and put it in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Take it out to cool and then decorate. Simple!

Penne No. 4

I picked this recipe up from one of my Italian colleagues when he was feeling homesick during a teaching session. We had a hell of at time finding the ingredients, but I got to perfect the recipe when I got home. This pairs especially well with baked salmon or grilled chicken on top.

You will need:

About a cup and a half of dry penne pasta
Salted water

1 lemon
1/4 tsp red chili flakes
2-4 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil
3 small or 2 large garlic cloves, chopped finely
1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes, ideally preserved in oil and chopped
1/2 cup chopped salted pistachio nuts
salt to taste
1/3 cup white cooking wine
Fresh grated parmesan cheese

Boil the pasta until it's fully done and strain, then set aside.

Take the butter or oil and put it into a large skillet over medium heat and add the garlic. Stir it around for a few minutes until it just starts to brown, then add the pasta, pepper and the juice from 1/2 to the whole lemon, depending on how tart you like it and how much you're making. I usually stick with a half. Turn the heat down just a tad, to medium-low.

Add the pistachios, tomatoes and salt after allowing the pasta to cook for about 7-10 minutes, or until sides of it are just starting to turn golden, pour in the wine. Let that cook off for about three minutes, then turn the heat off completely, stir the pasta one last time, and put a lid on the skillet. Allow the pasta to finish cooking itself for at least ten minutes.

Serve hot with parmesan cheese on top, or chicken, or fish, whatever strikes your fancy. In the summer months, fresh basil is a marvelous addition to this dish, and if you want to change it up you can substitute dried red peppers for sun dried tomatoes.