28 June 2011

simple syrups

You know what's delicious? Colorado Bulldogs. I got seriously hooked on making them several weeks ago. I decided that having a drink with alcohol and half-n-half on weeknights was probably too decadent. Solution? Tasty handcrafted beverages/cocktails/mocktails. Basically if you can commit to buying fruit, soda water, and fresh herbs you can make some pretty refreshing stuff. Now that the farmer's market is stocked with giant bunches of herbs for $1, I've been taking advantage of that to turn them into simple syrups.

Here's the inspirational drinks and/or syrup recipes:
  • Simple Syrup: A one-to-one combination of water and sugar heated up on the stove until the sugar has dissolved. This is handy for sweetening iced tea and coffee. Or for mojitos!
  • The Israeli Summer, or modern middle-eastern lemonade: Minty syrup, fresh lemon juice, and soda water. Proud to say this got me to commit to buying my first bag of lemons! This is totally key right after a hot sweaty run in the summer. Or really, anytime, what am I talking about?!
  • A Tribute to Woody, or homemade ginger ale! You can't go wrong. No, I haven't tried it with ice cream... yet. This will happen.
  • Lavender Syrup, because it used my rose water and the rest of my dried lavender and it made my apartment smell like perfume!
  • I also plan to scheme up orange, rhubarb, basil, and sage syrups. Now I just need more glass bottles!
Also, if you're into baking your own cakes, these syrups can help you make really fancy flavors of frosting. The More You Know!

25 June 2011

pea pesto

Believe it or not, I have another green veggie + starch recipe for you! This one recently came up and I knew it'd be a nice quick dinner. Peas and parmesan cheese -- such a crowd pleaser!

As I continue blogging, I want to better equip myself for it. First with camera work, then more camera stuff, then promising myself that I'll someday build a light box for my dim little apartment, buying fabric to make cute placemats, and now... plates. I want a whole pile of mis-matched plates. Yes, that's right, just to make the blog more fun to look at (Readers, I'm telling you, I care that much!). Problem: the cool ones are either a) expensive, or b) come in sets of four. Well, that won't do. I have been surfing the Etsy for options, but I think my plan of attack is going to involve some trips to the flea market. Step One: Find flea markets! Cheap cheap!!

Pea Pesto
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen's Linguine with Pea Pesto)

1 1/2 cups (from approximately 1 1/2 pounds peas in pods) fresh pea or a 10-ounce package frozen peas, defrosted
3 medium garlic cloves
2 tablespoons toasted almonds
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon table salt, plus more for pasta water
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
12 ounces dried pasta
Garnish: thinly sliced mint leaves

1. Cook your peas, let cool a bit.
2. Cook your pasta, don't forget to salt the water after it comes to a boil. Reserve a cup of cooking water. Once al dente, return pasta to the pot.
3. Once the water is boiling, skewer the garlic onto a bamboo skewer and blanche them for 30 seconds, then run under cold water.
4. Set aside 1/2 cup of your cooked peas. Whirl the remaining cup of peas in the work bowl of a food processor (Magic Bullet! I'm telling you people!!) with garlic, almonds, chili flakes, 1/3 cup parmesan, olive oil, and salt until smooth.
5. Over moderate heat, toss pasta with pesto, reserved peas and as much reserved pasta water as needed to smooth and distribute pesto; let cook for one minute so that the pesto adheres.
6. Adjust salt to taste, add freshly ground black pepper if desired. Serve immediately, garnished with mint and more parm.

21 June 2011

cold sesame soba noodles

You know what makes a ton of sense? Eating cold food in the summer. I am so very bad at this, and will probably continue to insist that we make pizza in the broiler and ignore that it'll cost us buckets of sweat in our apartment. I decided I need to arm myself with tasty cold dishes for later this summer. This recipe was first on deck. I think I put it first because I'd just bought some wonderful tahini (and sesame candy with pistachios, yum!) at the mediterranean market down the street. How in the world I'd never been there in four years blows my mind! It was like walking into a little corner grocery in Turkey or Jordan.

So yeah, this recipe is pretty danged quick and won't cost you too many dirty dishes. It only seemed hard at the time because I was trying to bake complicated bread, feed the dog, feed the cat, use a tiny bit of counter space (because my complicated bread did indeed generate a lot of dirty dishes! But it was worth it!!), drink a beer, and make dinner at the same time. I recommend uni-tasking, whew! I also recommend chopsticks -- noodles are more fun to eat that way.

Cold Sesame Soba Noodles 
tweaked from appetite for china's recipe

12 ounces soba noodles (spaghetti-sized buckwheat pasta)
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons grated ginger
4.5 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons water
1.5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 teaspoons chili sauce
1 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced (as close to julienned as possible)
1 large bell pepper (red, orange, or yellow), thinly sliced
pinch of salt
roasted sesame seeds (for garnish)

1. Bring a pot of water to boil and cook noodles until just done and still firm, or the minimum amount of time according to package instructions. Drain immediately, rinse with cold water, and drain again. Toss with 1 tablespoon peanut oil and set aside.

2. Prepare carrot and bell pepper.

3. Heat the other tablespoon of peanut oil in a small pan. Stir-fry the minced garlic and grated ginger until just fragrant, about 30 seconds. Set aside.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sesame paste, peanut butter, sesame oil, soy sauce, water, Chinese rice vinegar, chili sauce, sugar, and salt until smooth. Stir in the garlic and ginger.

5. Pour the sauce over the noodles, add carrot and bell pepper, and toss. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with sesame seeds if desired.

15 June 2011

fresh sugar snap pea risotto

I seriously missed going to the Farmers' Market. I've been hemming and hawing, talking about it, pussyfooting, being cheap, sleeping in, just making excuses... and then I finally just decided to go because it makes me happy. My husband and I used to go all the time, but we got out of the habit last year somehow.  I stocked up on rhubarb, mint, and sugar snap peas. I also got some seedlings of lavender and beets. I tried lavender from seed, but nothing germinated. These little guys are already acclimated to our herb box in the garden. The rhubarb has already been incorporated into a strawberry rhubarb crisp (we have a glut of strawberries because they're so cheap right now -- can it be fruit season all the time??), and the mint has been combined with sugar and water for mint syrup. I'm anticipating hot days that require freshly made minty lemonade. 

One of my favorite market items has to be the fresh sugar snap peas. They're almost minty, but super crisp and sweet. I like them straight out of the box. A day or two before I went to the market, I asked my husband to pick a recipe from the Cooking from the Farmers' Market Cookbook, a beautiful cookbook that I wish we would use more often. He chose this risotto, and it was a mighty fine choice, and a great way to showcase the sugar snap peas. Warning: if you've never made a risotto before, you are in for a treat! Just to let you know though, it involves a lot, A LOT of stirring. But it is worth it for the creamy texture, I promise!

Sugar Snap Pea Risotto

3 T. unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely diced (we used two giant shallots + one tiny white onion)
5 c. broth
1 1/2 c. arborio rice
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 c. dry white wine
10 oz. sugar snap peas, halved crosswise
1/3 c. freshly grated parm

Melt 2 T. butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. 
Add the onion and a pinch of salt and saute until the onion is soft, 5-8 minutes.
Meanwhile bring the broth and 1 t. salt to a simmer over low heat in a saucepan.
Stir the rice into the onions until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the lemon and wine and cook, stirring, until the wine is absorbed. Add 3/4 c. of broth and simmer, stirring frequently, until the liquid is almost absorbed. Add another portion of the broth. Continue simmering, stirring and adding broth until the liquid is almost all absorbed, about 15 minutes. Do not let the rice dry out! Add the snap peas and continue to cook until the rice is tender but still lightly firm to the bite, about 10 minutes longer. Turn off the heat, stir in the remaining 1 T. butter and the 1/3 c. of parmesan cheese, and let stand for 2 minutes.

Divide among shallow bowls, season with salt, sprinkle with cheese, and serve (probably with the rest of that bottle of wine you've opened, eh?).

12 June 2011

simple green veggie sauce

I am thrilled to say that we are now experiencing an autumnal shift in weather patterns. I'm wearing a hoodie right now! In my apartment! And big fuzzy-wuzzy slippers! In June! Ah, so great. Earlier this week the Twin Cities shattered some hot weather records, which became very apparent to the rest of the country when we had the warmest temps in the continental US on a weather radar map. I feared I would have to call it quits on serious cooking and baking for some time. Thankfully, not an issue.... yet.

Today's recipe was a weird fusion of a Cook's Illustrated recipe for Broccoli & Ricotta sauce and what I could find in my fridge.  It turned out super well, was ready in a jiffy, and only required one pot and the workbowl of the food processor.  I seem to hold a grudge against simple suppers of noodles with jarred red sauce. I would rather just give up and order pizza.  It's too simple, I guess? Or not filling enough maybe? Regardless, this new idea will probably enter our rotation of quick and easy dinners.

Simple Green Veggie Sauce
1 lb. broccoli, roughly cut florets; stems peeled and cubed
1/2 lb. spinach
3 large cloves garlic (or however much garlic suits your fancy)
1 c. whole milk cottage cheese
1/2 c. shredded parmesan cheese
1/4 c. milk
1/4 t. smoked paprika
1/2 t. salt
black pepper to taste
1 lb. your favorite pasta - I suggest something curly or whirly so that the thick sauce sticks to the noodles evenly

1. Bring water to a boil in a deep saucepan.
2. While waiting for the water to boil, put cottage cheese, parm, milk, paprika, and salt in the food processor (fitted with standard chopping blade) and blend until smooth. Fun fact: If you hate cleaning the underside of the lid of the food processor, cover the workbowl with saran wrap  -- this recipe doesn't require you to add things while you're processing. Ta-da! Clean lid! Win!
3. Skewer garlic onto bamboo skewer. Once water is boiling, submerge the garlic for 30-45 seconds to mellow the flavor (raw garlic would probably make it gross). Place the blanched garlic into the workbowl of food processor.
4. Wilt spinach in the boiling water, then squeeze out as much water from the spinach as you can. I just squeeze it against a medium-mesh strainer until I'm satisfied. Add to food processor and blend until smooth.
5. Blanche the broccoli in the same water, 1 minute, until bright green and tender. You'll be buzzing it around in the food processor, so a little overdone is not a biggie.
6. Use a slotted spoon to remove the broccoli into the food processor.
7. Salt the boiling water and cook the pasta.
8. Pulse the broccoli into the sauce until you like the consistency. I tend to like mine on the smoother side than the chunkier side of things. Adjust seasonings to taste.
9. When pasta is drained, return to the saucepan and stir in the sauce. Reheat and serve. We liked it with Red Truck Red Wine. :)

06 June 2011

cranberry scone dog treats

Behold: The cutest dog I've ever had!

You know it's true: I love my dog. I've always wanted a dog since I was a little kid. I did all my research on dog breeds and their traits. Mostly I thought they were cute and I liked animals, so I wanted one. But really, I had no idea how quickly I'd become emotionally attached to a dog. My husband and I were pretty exclusively cat people, not because we didn't like dogs, but because we'd grown up with kitties. One day I realized that I was, in fact, a grown-up and I could have a dog if I wanted one. The seed was planted in my mind. Then we went on our honeymoon in Costa Rica, and there were so many sweet dogs and puppies all around -- many, many were strays. It broke my heart. Once we got home, I couldn't wait any more. I lobbied for a puppy, and my husband cut me a deal: get a new job and/or finish my thesis, and I could get one. So I hopped on to Petfinder (a bad idea in general, but a good idea in the end) and surfed the internet for cute puppies, figuring it would take some time to find one I'd want to meet. Too bad: We'd been home from the honeymoon for no more than a month or so, and I wanted to see a puppy. I showed her page to my husband, and we went to meet her, you know, 'just to look'. Well, I'd filled out an application, we met the one pup and her sister, and we loved them both. We left it up to the rescue's discretion who got which pup, and we ended up with our darling Tess. I'm still amazed how well we were paired up, because I'm pretty sure she's the dog I wanted my entire life. (For the record, I held up my end of the bargain and finished up my thesis shortly afterward.)

So there. I bake cookies for my dog. She loves it. It's the least I can do, really. I'd like to think it is probably cheaper in the end, which is a bonus. And now I have a use for all my super awesome cookie cutters that I never got around to using otherwise. But I also like knowing I'm giving her something good. Plus she'll always eat homemade treats, even if they don't turn out perfectly -- she is nowhere near picky when it comes to edible items and somehow I find that endearing.

As it turns out, I now own two dog biscuit cookbooks. I was out using a coupon from the Blue Sky Guide (okay, the Chinook Book, but I really liked the name last year better!) and I wanted to get Tess the best dog toy ever. The impulse buy by the register?  The Organic Dog Biscuit Cookbook. I'm a sucker.

The cookbook is serious about being as cute as it can be. I squirmed a bit at first about using different flour types (apparently gluten flours sometimes make dogs itchy!), but hey, that's more unbleached flour for me! There's some really great, creative ideas (many of which don't involve pureed liver! Hooray!) and lots of useful information in sidebars throughout the book. It also doesn't hurt that the book itself is very attractive, inside and out.  My only gripe is that the index is not by ingredient. This is a problem because all the recipes have cute names, and unless you know which cute recipe name it is, you'll never find it.  I was going to make the parmesan pretzels, but I was feeling under the weather and more effort in assembly didn't sound as fun at the moment. But doggie scones?? Adorable! And the results? Tess grabbed it, ran away a few paces (this is a good indication that she likes it a lot -- it needs to be far enough away that I can't take it from her or otherwise interrupt her fun), and gobbled it up. Then she trotted back to where I gave it to her and looked for any missed crumbs she could vacuum up. A+!

Cranberry Scones (dog treats)
with a few modifications in method and ingredients
1 c. oat flour (= 1 c. oats buzzed around in the Magic Bullet, my favorite underrated kitchen appliance)
1 c. brown rice flour
2 t. baking powder
1 c. dried cranberries
1/2 c. smooth peanut butter
1/4 c. canola oil
1/2 c. water
1 egg
1/2 t. vanilla
sesame seeds

1. Preheat oven to 400 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Mix flours and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl.
3. Mix PB, oil, water, egg, and vanilla in the Magic Bullet (or small blender, or small workbowl of food processor).
4. Pour liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon.
5. Stir in the cranberries.
6. Pinch a ping-pong ball sized blob of dough into a triangle and set it on the baking sheet. Continue until all the scones are formed, (made 45-50 of them). They can all sit on the same sheet -- they don't spread at all. You can adjust the size of the scones for your dog, just be careful with the bake time.
7. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and press into the tops of the scones lightly.
8. Bake 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the scone comes out cleanly.
9. Turn off the oven and leave the cookies inside for 10 minutes to dry them out some more. Be sure to check the bottoms aren't burning too much; I found the tops didn't really brown very much.
10. Cool the cookies completely, then place in an airtight container with name and date. Just to be safe, even if you dried them out well, I'd keep them in the fridge.
11. Give to dog, watch them smile and wag.

01 June 2011

coconut red lentil soup

I am all full of warm fuzzies from this past weekend. My husband and I attended our college reunion out in the soybean swamps of northern Ohio. Everything was perfect... okay, it wasn't, but the people who were there in this place where we share a common experience really hit the spot. Ohio is a total swamp. There are vastly more mosquitos than there are currently in Minnesota (I'm mighty allergic). It rained on the last pivotal evening in town. When it wasn't raining, it was 90 F with about 90% humidity. None of this mattered to us -- it really proved to me that it is the people who make my alma mater so special. We all made an attempt to put our finger on how to describe the course of the weekend, but nobody really could. We did, however, come to a consensus on why the sorts of folks that go/went there all fit in so well: It is the school where the each student was the weirdest kid at their high school. Keep in mind, the weirdest kid in Connecticut is different from the weirdest kid in Berkeley or the weirdest kid from rural Ohio. Nerds. Hippies. Hipsters. It's heaven. The only place that makes me want to stay up until 2 AM and then get up at 7 AM to do it all over again.

Now I suppose I should tie this in to food (otherwise it is just a rant, eh?). Well, in college, I began to cook. Timidly. What began with Easy Mac in a dorm graduated to pasta with veggies to chili to fancy chili to homemade granola. I learned to love spicy food. I was talking to one of my very close pals (while eating pie and swapping tips on making good crust) and she smiled (proudly?) while remarking that I was never a foodie in college. So very true. When my husband and I moved in, shells and cheese were a standard. And now, somehow, we can bake a serious pie. I cite peer pressure from my grad student pals who are all stellar cooks and bakers, and I was tired of just bringing the Black Box to cookouts and potlucks. But! Without that college town, my husband and I never would have the obsession, and now tradition, with Sunday morning pancakes. We used to go for long runs on Sundays in college and then folks would rendezvous over delicious cornmeal pancakes at the unassuming yet fantastic town brunch cafe. And I'm pretty sure attending my friends' special meals in the co-ops probably inspired me to be more adventurous in the kitchen. 

Enough text. So we arrived home Monday night and by Tuesday morning it was apparent that either I have a really stupid cold or my allergies from childhood have resurrected themselves and want to be remembered in a bad way. Ugh. My throat hurt, and I was happy to make soup for dinner. This is a delicious one, and I made it word for word this time. Don't wuss out on the golden raisins -- it's a key addition. Other key features: toast the curry powder, butter not oil, patient simmering. Oh yeah, and some cold Woodchuck Summer cider. It is by far the tastiest cider I've had. We went to a snobby cider tasting and after a flight of different ciders, this one was the leader. It's so good, we bought a case of it. :)