For Science

Sometimes you need to spend some time with an ingredient to really understand it.  I recommend this article on bay leaves as an example.  The author approaches bay leaves like a scientist to understand how this fairly subtle herb affects food.

I’ve got at least two recipes in the queue to write up, and another to review.  Hopefully, I’ll get to those soon.

Advertisements

Caribbean Lobster Salad

It’s been beastly hot and humid, and I’m due to give birth any day now.  Without a usable porch and grill, I haven’t been able to take the cooking outside.  This past weekend, I wanted something spicy, cold, and a little bit decadent.  It was also critical that I not have to turn on my oven or stove if at all possible.

When I was thirteen, I went to Bermuda with my family.  It was there that I fell in love with Bermudan Fish Chowder.  Bermudan Chowder gets its punch from sherry pepper sauce & dark rum.  Sherry pepper sauce is a condiment unlike any hot sauce you’d find in the States.  It’s a deep golden color, very thin, and both hot and smooth.  Fish chowder would have been lovely, but would have required a lot of time in front of the stove.  Instead I contemplated caribbean flavors and came up with this cold salad.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb cooked, cold lobster
  • 2 avocados
  • 2 mangos
  • 2 habanero peppers
  • 1 lemon or lime
  • 3-4 TBS dark rum
  • 1 tsp fresh ground allspice
  • 1.5 tsp brown sugar
  • salt

This is a forgiving and “to taste” recipe.  Mince your habaneros very fine, then add to a bowl with the dark rum, brown sugar, allspice,  and half the zest & half the juice of a lemon or lime.  I used a lemon, but I think a lime would have been better.  Add a pinch or two of salt, mix until salt & sugar are dissolved, then cover & set aside for at least an hour.  The finer you’ve minced your habaneros, the more of the flavor will be drawn out into the liquid.
Dice your avocado and toss with the rest of the lime juice to keep it from browning.  I’d aim for a smallish dice to allow you to get bites with a little of everything, but larger chunks are fine if that’s your preference.  I’d also recommend using at least one avocado that’s ripe but not too soft, and one on the softer side.  If you have a softer avocado, you can put 1/4 of it aside for mashing with the dressing.
Chop mangos, and lobster meat to a similar size as your avocado.  Toss in with the avocado & return your thoughts to the dressing.  Gently strain your habaneros from the dark rum.  You will be left with a rich, spicy, but thin liquid.  If you have avocado set aside, you can mash a bit in to thicken the dressing.  If not, don’t worry about it.  Add back as much of the habanero as you think you’d like.  I added back about half a habanero, minced almost to paste.  That was just hot enough for my lips to tingle a bit by the end of a serving.  If you like things pretty spicy, you could skip the straining & just go for adding it all in.  This creates four servings for a light lunch or appetizer.

Recommended Cookbook

Today I stumbled across Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown.  Ms. Brown ran a Kickstarter to allow her to produce a free cookbook aimed at helping people with limited financial resources to eat well.  (She aims for eating on roughly $4 per day.)  I was pleasantly surprised by this book.

Firstly, I very much like the approach Ms. Brown takes for this kind of cookbook.  While her previous cookbook is a vegetarian cookbook, and a lot of these recipes are vegetarian, there is no moralizing about what you chose to eat.  In fact, her primary goal seems to have been to create a flexible cookbook that would give people basic skills, recipes, and flavor combinations to build on.  She also acknowledges that building a pantry to aid you in eating cheaply has an upfront expense.  She recommends slowly investing in pantry ingredients to give yourself more flexibility and better flavor.  Lastly, she acknowledges up front that her cost estimates are based on using seasonal produce, but she talks about also using appropriate canned or frozen produce.

All-in-all, this is not simply a book of recipes.  It is a book that teaches you a fair bit about putting together your own inexpensive meals to your own tastes.  There’s a group of recipes called “Things on Toast.”  It’s a collection of loose recipes of exactly that — simple open-faced sandwiches.  She also has a section entitled “Leftovers” in which she makes suggestions for interesting ways to use up leftovers from the other recipes in the book.  Lastly, she has a section on “Staples” which covers how to make things like tortillas, a basic tomato sauce, breadcrumbs, and cooking dried beans.

While I have not made any of the recipes in it, I can tell you that from their construction that they should be inexpensive, tasty, and fairly simple to make.  I would highly recommend this book to novice cooks who are on a budget.  I think it would be an excellent college student cookbook.  A few of her recipes are time-intensive, which would be unrealistic for many people.  (How many of us have time to make our own tortillas regularly?)  That said, so many of the recipes are simple, quick-to-prepare, and very flexible to individual tastes that I’d can’t really hold that against the book.  I think it’s well worth considering picking up the second edition ($10.21 on Amazon) for the sake of having a paper copy for your kitchen or sending her a $5 tip for the free version.

Recipe Review – Belgian Style Yeast Waffles

Boy have I been neglecting this blog.  A piece of that is that all my external USB ports on my laptop have died, so I can’t pull pictures off my camera.  (I am a luddite when it comes to cell phones, so that isn’t an option either.)  That said, I’ve missed this. So to get us going again, a recipe review.

This Sunday, I made King Arthur’s Belgian-Style Yeast Waffles.  I can’t recommend it highly enough, if you’re someone who likes waffles and can eat flour.  I’ve tried a lot of waffle recipes.  Some more fiddly than others.  (Separate eggs, then fold beaten whites into the batter?  I mean I could, but I don’t wanna.)  I am also *braindead* when I first wake up, so I don’t tend to want to cook anything at all.  The more I can have done in advance the better.  So the first thing that intrigued me about these waffles was that you made the batter the night before.

I changed almost nothing about the original recipe.  I left the optional syrup out of the waffle batter, but added a little cinnamon.  The rest is exactly as written.  The batter rose beautifully, thought about what it had done overnight in the fridge, then cooked beautifully.  Since there was no required sweetener, the waffles were pleasantly crisp with a hint of yeasty tang.  (Nowhere near to the degree of say, a sourdough.  Just enough to give a little complexity to what is otherwise a fairly bland base flavor.)  This was a plus from my husband, as he doesn’t like overly sweet food first thing in the morning.

So I got perfect waffles, and all I had to do in the morning was warm up the waffle iron & pour the batter I’d already made into it, while I sipped coffee & became human.  Win-win, would make again.

Recommended Resources for Learning to Cook

I’m going to give you my top three cookbooks for any cook’s shelves.

I’m Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking

I learned a lot about food from watching Good Eats.  Alton Brown is a good teacher.  I’m Just Here for the Food is a great resource if you know nothing about cooking.  Alton Brown will break down everything from cuts of meat to how to choose an appropriate cooking method.  While there are recipes, this is more like a cooking manual.  If you have no idea what you’re doing, this can be your cooking basics class.

The Joy of Cooking

The Joy of Cooking is a long time kitchen staple.  The recipes are good, and each major section includes some technical instruction.  I recommend finding a copy of the 75th Anniversary edition if you can.  It includes some more unusual recipes for this day and age.  If you need a solid basic recipe for just about anything, Joy of Cooking probably has it.

The Flavor Bible

If you want to learn to be an inventive cook, this is the one book you need.  It is an encyclopedia of which flavors go with each others.  Want to know what goes well with beets?  Turn to the entry for “beets” and get the full list of recommended flavor combinations.  While the entries are very good, sometimes an ingredient isn’t cross-referenced in both directions.  That flaw aside, I highly recommend this to an aspiring cook.

With those three books, you can figure out how to cook nearly anything.  (Baking is another story though Joy of Cooking will give you a start there.)

Better BLT

BLAT

It’s been uncharacteristically hot for early September in Upstate NY.  Not only do we not have air-conditioning in our kitchen, but we have terrible airflow to get the heat out.  Yesterday when it was ninety outside and in the mid-eighties inside, I did not want to cook at all.  I decided to go with the least cooking possible.

The BLT is an American standard.  Who doesn’t love bacon?  But too often it’s a disappointment.  The bacon is cooked to crisp shards.  The tomatoes have all the texture and flavor of styrofoam.  The lettuce?  Crunchy water.  We all know bacon isn’t exactly good for you.  So if you’re going to indulge in bacon, you might as well go for the good stuff.  If you’re going to eat a BLT, you might as well make it the best damn BLT you can.  This is a variation on my friend Shelley’s “Better BLT.”

For our BLTs we used:

  • 12 ounces Applewood smoked, thick-cut bacon
  • 1 baguette, cut into thirds
  • 2 garden-ripe tomatoes, sliced
  • summer-mixed greens
  • Hellman’s mayonnaise
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • fresh lemon juice

Okay, so those last two ingredients aren’t exactly typical BLT ingredients.  It’s worth it anyway.

Mash the avocado with a fork and the fresh lemon juice.  The lemon juice will keep it from browning, though you should put a bit of plastic wrap on the surface to reduce air contact.  Lightly toast your baguette pieces, while you fry up the bacon.  I sliced my bacon in quarters to create smaller pieces, since the baguette is narrow.  I also find that bacon stretches a bit further when you have more smaller pieces rather than fewer large pieces.

I recommend spreading avocado on one half of your baguette, and the mayonnaise on the other.  The avocado adds creamy richness that balances the salt from the bacon.  Yet somehow a BLT doesn’t taste quite right without a little of that mayonnaise tang.  Layer up your bacon, tomatoes, and lettuce.  I recommend a bit of pepper on the tomatoes.

Do this while you can still get summer tomatoes.  Your mouth will thank you.

Lentil & Beef Meatballs

Lentil and Beef Meatballs

I should start by acknowledging that I was inspired by this recipe.  That said?  I rarely pick up a recipe without tampering with it.  While this seemed really promising, I got inventive.

  • 1.5 cups of lentils
  • 1/2 lb of 80% lean ground beef
  • 2 cups (ish) of whole wheat seasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 medium onions, minced
  • 4 crimini mushrooms, minced
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp basil
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 tbsp salt (ish)
  • fresh cracked pepper
  • olive oil

Cook up your lentils in plain water and salt, or broth of your choice.  When your lentils are soft, drain thoroughly, then throw them in the food processor with the beef, mushrooms, and onions.  Process this into a smooth paste and turn out into a bowl.  Add everything but the breadcrumbs, then add breadcrumbs a little at the time until the meat reaches the right consistency.  Form into roughly two inch balls, then fry in olive oil, turning to brown all sides.  Once the outside was browned, I piled them into a couple of baking pans with a little sauce to hold at about 200 degrees while I made up the rest of dinner.

We had this with pasta and squash the first night which wasn’t bad.  That said, it was particularly good as the meatball subs pictured.

For that I used:

  • Torpedo rolls
  • Asiago cheese (parmesan would work as well)
  • Marinara sauce
  • Fresh Spinach
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Sundried tomatoes
  • Provolone cheese (Mozzarella would work)
  • Fresh chiffonade basil (optional)

Toast your rolls to start, then grate a bit of asiago or parmesan on them.  Lay down a layer of shredded spinach, and/or basil.  Lay in your other veggies, followed by a little hot sauce and  meatballs.  Top with provolone, then bake at 350 for about ten minutes to wilt the spinach and melt the cheese.