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Monday, November 1, 2010

I have found Nirvana...!!

I have always prided myself on being able to tell a great story.  I hear it all the time, "Oh, you're so funny, you should write a book!" And so, I have thought about writing a book of my humorous stories and becoming the next David Sedaris (a complete joke on my part!).  Alas, usually after relaying the story a time or two, it is gone from my increasingly sieve-like mind.  And so, writing a book based on my crazy life, pales as time passes.  When the world of blogging came into being, I thought in a smug, self-satisfied way that it was only for people that liked to hear themselves talk, and who were caught up in the whole "me, me, me" culture that I see popping up all around me.  It took years for me to actually stop and read people's blogs, on topics that interested me.  Like cooking.

And so this blog was created, and I have tried to keep it up, even though I sometimes forget about it totally.  I thought about cooking myself through all kinds of books, similar to the woman that cooked her way through Julia Child's cook book (and had a movie made about her book, about her blog...)  I don't have enough discipline to do that, my attention span just won't stretch that far.  My next idea was to write what I was cooking on a weekly basis, but, true to form, I can't remember to write it all up in the blog.  So, the next idea was to create my own ingredients, and show people how easy it is to make your own stuff, and take the mystery out of all the packaged foods we buy and eat on a daily basis.

One reason why this idea was a winner is where I grew up, versus where I live now.  I grew up in New York, in Flushing, Queens in fact.  Or as my niece and nephews call it "the big city."  You can find ANY ingredient there, at any time of the day or night.  Not so in Michigan, just outside of Detroit, where I live now.  Although there are many upsides to living here, not the least among them being, it's fairly handy to be able to walk down the street to what is called  "party store" and pick up wine, beer or spirits and mixers on any day of the week, well into the wee hours of the morning.  That counts for quite a bit when you're a foodie and a cocktail-er, as I am.  I am actually passionate about telling people that they can make things so much better if they make it themselves, rather that going out and buying something that may be of questionable quality, and certainly of indeterminate freshness and pureness.

And that is now my goal.  I will attempt to give people the skinny on things that I myself make, or have made, that are simple and easy and infinitely cheaper than most of the stuff you try to buy in the stores.  Today's lesson is homemade ricotta.  Full fat, home made and delicious cheese.



Living in New York for the first 30+ years of my life, the cheery, bright yellow Polly-O Ricotta was a wonderful staple of my cooking repertoire.  With my husband being a lacto-ovo vegetarian, good Italian casseroles are a great way to keep us fed and quickly ready for dinner.   Alas, after moving to Michigan, I have come to find that there isn't a readily available source of ricotta that I can find at any store.  And thus the use in most Michigan recipes of cottage cheese in those foods that I have grown to love and make all the time.  That to me is sacrilege and 100% unacceptable.  But, I found a shop nearby that sells what I expect is normal, out of the tub ricotta for a ridiculous price.  I use it sparingly and don't buy it much because it's expensive.  Imagine my surprise when I was watching The Cooking Channel and saw one of the chefs making cannolli with homemade ricotta that he had sweetened before the cheese making process.  It was a revelation!  I COULD do that and on a regular basis, and a fraction of the cost!  And so, I made it today, and made the best ricotta gnocchi (thank you, Mark Bittman) that I have ever had!  On this day, I pass along to you, the simplest recipe I have ever made (although that's not saying much) which packs an amazing flavor punch for as few ingredients as you have to have on hand!  Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think, or what your experiences are doing it... I can always use a critique!


(NOTE: I use full fat milk here, but once you get used to making it, you can use skim or anything in between)

Homemade Ricotta cheese:

2 quarts of full fat milk (8 cups)
1 pint heavy cream (optional)
1/3 cup of lemon juice, no pips (1/4 cup if you use the heavy cream)
1 tsp salt

Implements you will need:
2 sheets of cheese cloth, folded so you have 6 layers
Colander with many holes (mesh ones are usually best, but a metal kitchen colander is fine)

In a heavy bottomed, large pot, combine the milk and cream and on a medium heat, bring the milk to a steady boil.  While heating it stir it occasionally to prevent a skin from forming over the top.  Keep and eye on it, and when you start to see a foam form around the sides of the pan, and it starts a slow rolling boil, pull the pan off the heat and allow to cool for a minute or two and stir in the salt.  After cooling briefly, and making sure all the salt is dissolved, add in the lemon juice.  Stir it gently until well combined.  You will see the mixture will thicken slightly, and you will see a little curdling.  Once you have stirred the juice in, stop.  Let it all sit for an hour to an hour and a half.  It will seem to be turning a darker yellow, but resist the temptation to stir it.  The idea here is that you want to allow the cheese to form as large of a curd as you can manage.

While the cheese is cooling, line the colander with the cheesecloth and set the whole thing into the sink.  After the cheese has set for a while, take it gently to the sink and use a ladle to spoon the mixture into the cheesecloth lined colander.  When you have about half of it in the cheesecloth, you can pour the remaining cheese into the colander and let it drain.

DO NOT press on the cheese curds to extract liquid.  Resist this as strongly as you can, so you don't lose valuable cheese as opposed to liquid, or whey that drains out.  You will see the cheese will start to become creamier and more solid.  I usually wait anywhere from 15 to 30 min to check where the progress is.  The goal for this is to have a creamy and very small curd cheese.  After about 30 min, I usually gather up the cheese cloth and either hang it from the faucet in the sink, or transfer the whole thing to a mesh colander, which will allow the whey to drain much faster.

It is completely up to you, how long to drain this.  If you want ricotta, then maximum of 45 minutes draining.  If you want to make something like Indian paneer, at least 2 hours until the cheese is very firm (similar to firm tofu)

Fresh ricotta will not keep long, so my suggestion would be to make it as you need it and use it soon.  It really does not freeze well at all, so keep that in mind.  It will keep for several days well covered and completely cooled in the refrigerator. 

A few notes here on flavoring.  You can very easily make this a sweet cheese for desserts by omitting half the salt and adding in 2 tablespoons of sugar in the step where you add the salt.  Remember to stir well so all the crystals melt and are fully combined, then proceed with the lemon as above.  Also, on the savory side, I made a batch of this with 3 finely chopped cloves of garlic (you may even want to grate them finely), 1 teaspoon of dried fresh basil, and a good solid grinding of freshly cracked black pepper.  Also, for the curdling agent, the lemon is a good non-flavoring agent, but I have also seen about half the amount of white vinegar used.  I have not used it myself, so I don't know how the vinegar effects the flavoring.

OK, go forth and create cheese!

E.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The most awesomest tofu burgers!

As I have mentioned many times before, DH is a vegetarian.  Not being a vegetarian myself, it's hard to make meals we both can enjoy together.  Eating together isn't the issue, it's the enjoy part.  Plus, since I am pretty much the only one cooking, I need to make sure we are both getting the nutrition we need.  So, I have made huge strides in making everything tasty as well as healthy.  I subscribe to countless blogs, read web sites all the time, and have more cook books than I can decently list here.  One of my old standby websites is Heidi Swanson's "101 Cookbooks".  She has a great approach to food, that just happens to be vegetarian.  Go local and go fresh, and although she lives in the San Francisco area, it applies all over the country.  (Please note, not vegan, just vegetarian).  She had a tofu burger recipe that I tried a few times and we loved each time we did it.  I do give Heidi credit here, but honestly I have made changes to her basics and made it mine.  I also find that the ingredients here can easily change, making this awfully versatile.  Similar to the Portobello burgers I posted recently, the condiments here can be just about anything you like, you can swing to the more Asian style, French mustard, barbecue, anything and they will still be completely wonderful.  A word to those of you that just want a burger to LOOK like a burger... give up.  These are definitely not going to look meaty, but they taste heavenly!


Tofu Burger's


1 pound / 16 oz / 450 g extra-firm tofu
2 large eggs
1 cup  bread crumbs
1/2 cup nuts (walnuts, pecans, cashews, whatever you like)
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (preferably unsalted)
1/2 cup mushrooms (slice finely and whir first in your processor)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon garlic powder (or dehydrated garlic or onion)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (do not use table salt here, kosher or sea is best)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil


Place the mushrooms and nuts into a food processor and pulse until they start to look finely chopped.  Add in the remaining ingredients except 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs and the olive oil and process until a smooth paste forms.  Scrape down the sides of the food processor once or twice if needed. If it seems a bit thin to you, add the remaining bread crumbs a small handful at a time until everything comes together.  This should resemble a thick and pasty mixture, so the burgers retain their shape when formed. 

Divide the mixture into eight equal portions and use your hands to press and form into round but flat-ish patties. (It helps to lightly oil your hands.)  I usually freeze half of them for future use.

Pour the olive oil into your largest skillet over medium-high heat, and arrange as many patties as you can without crowding. Cover, and cook turning once, until deeply browned on both sides. Roughly ten minutes. You want to make sure the middle of the patties cook through. If your pan is too hot you'll burn the outsides before the middle cooks up, so be mindful of that.  The cooked texture should be firm when you press in the middle of the patty, similar to the fleshy pad near the thumb of your hand.  Don't worry if they crack a bit, that's fairly normal.

Dress these as you would any burger.  I always love cheese and really sour pickles with them.  Remember that if you use a more flavorful nut, like walnut or pecan, they will taste strongly of that.  You can mix types, I find cashew and walnut or almond work well together.  Also - the cayenne can be replaced by anything if you don't like a little mild heat.  You will truly barely notice the heat if you do use it.  I have tried dried basil, half the amount of thyme, and a mixture of whatever I had on hand and it always works.

Enjoy!  And let me know how you flavor your burgers!!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Swiss chard, how I love you!

Sorry for the large break between posts, but guess what?  I got a JOB!  So - my last couple of weeks has been occupied with the whirlwind of interviewing, waiting, accepting and finally starting the new job in very short order.  The joy of a new job and adjusting to working in a non-profit is overwhelming.  We also had Tim get hired into the company he has been contracted to for a while, so all in all it's been a very eventful couple of weeks!  So, on to my lovely recipe of the day!

One of the delights of my cooking life is greens.  I am addicted to lovely, bitter broccoli rabe, kale in any of it's forms, garlicy wilted spinach, smokey, yummy collards and finally, the rainbow of colors that is Swiss chard.  Years ago, long before I moved to Michigan, my mother was operated on and during her recovery period, she was craving Swiss chard.  So I made it in as many ways as I could.  I make chard soup, wilted chard and I steamed it like a pro.  Then I happened to be going through my cook books and I found this recipe for Swiss chard strudel.  I know it sounds odd, a dish that usually includes apples and lots of butter, but believe me this one is anything but sweet.  The original recipe called for Jarlbserg cheese and Parmesean, and for a while I did make it that way, but I made it today with VanGogh cheese (think a cross between really sharp cheddar and an aged gouda) and a beautiful smoked blue cheese we happened upon at Hirts this morning.  If anyone reading this is ever in Eastern Market in Detroit, get yourselves to JR Hirts.  It's a wonderland of cheeses and meats and all kinds of yummy goodies.  They even have vegetarian cheese!

On to the most delish Swiss chard recipe I know!

Swiss Chard Strudel

1 large bunch of Swiss chard, about 15 oz (washed well, drained, stems separated and chopped, leaves roughly chopped)
2 tbsp olive oil
6 garlic cloves sliced or chopped roughly
1 small onion chopped fine
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp dried basil (optional)
4 1/2 tbsp good breadcrumbs
1/2 cup shredded flavorful cheese (your choice)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or another flavorful dry cheese)
1/2 stick good butter, melted and cooled
6 sheets phyllo dough (or good puff pastry)

In a large saute pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil and add the garlic and onion.  Saute until the onion and garlic until soft and fragrant, about 4 minutes at medium heat.  Stir while softening, don't allow either to brown or burn. Add in the chard stems and saute until they are also soft, about 6 more min at medium heat.  To speed up the process you can cover the pan and walk away for a few minutes.  When everything is cooked, add in the chard leaves and stir well, making sure they are coated by the oil, add the dried basil.  The leaves will wilt but won't cook down like a spinach, so cook them, stirring occasionally another 6 - 8 minutes.   Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.  After cooling a few minutes, drain some of the liquid off the chard, put the mixture in a large bowl, add in 1 tablespoon of the bread crumbs, the cheeses and salt and pepper to taste, mix well and set aside.  (*Note, the cheeses tend to be salty, so go very easy on the salt, taste after you add all the cheese before you add salt.)

While the chard mixture cools, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, then prepare a large baking sheet.  Mix the remaining olive oil into the cooled butter and with a brush, lightly butter the baking sheet and place one of the phyllo sheets on it.  Butter the sheet all over and sprinkle it with breadcrumbs.  Place the next sheet of phyllo over this one, and repeat the butter and crumb process with the remaining 5 sheets.  You need to work fairly quickly here, since the phyllo will dry out quickly.  Don't worry if there are tears in the sheets, all the layers will cover most holes and you will never even notice it after baking.

Spread the cooled chard mixture onto the phyllo sheets, spread it all over the sheet, leaving 1/2 in margin all the way around the sheet.  When you have spread it evenly, fold over the margin onto the chard.  Starting at the short end of the pastry, roll the phyllo over the filling, making a streudel shaped roll.  Lay flat on the baking sheet with the seam side down.  Use any remaining oil/butter to paint the outside of the struesel, and cut some shallow slits into the top of the struesel, to allow any steam to escape.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes, you will know it's done when it is golden brown on the outside.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so, cut and serve.  You can serve this at room temperature, or hot.

Enjoy!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

So, my husband is half Hungarian....

My husband, Tim is half Hungarian.  And although I have yet to visit there, I try to cook Hungarian food as much as I can for him because he loves it!  There are many, many recipes that include wonderful things like real Hungarian paprika, and also lots and lots and LOTS of sour cream.  So, when I am watching the calories, I don't make that stuff.  In the future, I will post the wonderful recipe I found in Julia Child's baking book for Hungarian Shortbread.  It's lovely, and more cakey than you would think for being a shortbread, but it uses a wonderful homemade rhubarb filling that is typically Hungarian and just wonderful!

For now I am posting something that I suspect came from Hungary, but isn't classically Hungarian that I can tell.  Tim's mom, Pauline was a great cook and although she was gone, sadly, long before met Tim, I hear she was a great feeder of people.  When she passed away, Tim and his cousins paid tribute to her by publishing a cook book of her many recipes, titled Pudge's Kitchen.  The majority of the recipe's are not vegetarian, so most of them I can't cook for Tim.  But I will tell she has the BEST bar cheese recipe I have ever had.  If you don't know what bar cheese is, you are clearly, like me, not from the Midwest, and you are also missing something that just so darn tasty!  Now, I admit to make this you have to buy the plastic log that is Velveeta, so don't bother ragging on me about that, just don't make it!  I haven't found an alternative that works, but rest assured, if I do, I'll change this recipe.  OH, and if you are in Ireland, Galtee cheese works wonderfully for this, probably 4 or 5 boxes.

Pudge's Bar-Cheez

One 2 lb box of Velveeta cheese, cut into small cubes
1/2 6oz jar of horseradish
dash of Tabasco sauce (or your favorite hot sauce)
1 c. mayonnaise (NOT Miracle Whip)

Melt the Velveeta in the top of a double boiler.  Remove from the head and add in the mayonnaise, hot sauce and horseradish and stir well.  Pour into the serving dishes you will be using and let stand at room temperature.  Once it is completely cooled and set, cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge.

Spread on toasts or crackers, or dip crudite's into it.  It is delicious and packs a mild punch with the horseradish and hot sauce!  This will last for up to a week well covered in the fridge.

Enjoy, and let me know how it comes out.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The best Portobello burgers

Well, Tim is a vegetarian.  I was intrigued at first, then I tried everything I could do to make meals taste like meat without meat.  Then, after about 2 years of being successful, but running out of steam, I decided to do a better job at looking at the vegetarian dishes I was going to cook next.

So I have recipe's for vegetarian stroganoff, and all kinds of nifty tofu burgers made from scratch.  But my best, favorite, and easiest one is Portobello burgers.  And they are so easy, you'll wonder why you haven't made it before.  You will find they are a meaty textured alternative that is high in zinc, and very low in calories.

First, let me tell you, you can make these in a simple cast iron pan, a non-stick saute pan or even a grill pan.  I know how people feel about non-stick, but it's easier and you can use no oil (if you are cutting calories)!  It's up to you how you want to cook them.

So - here it is, the basics of it, and you can riff on it however you like!


Portobello Burgers
(serves 2)

Ingredients:
2 large Portobello mushrooms, stems trimmed, wiped with a damp paper towel and as dry as possible
salt to taste
pepper to taste
fresh herbs chopped finely (about 1 tbsp.)
2 tbsp. olive oil or neutral vegetable oil (optional)

Garnishes: (of course all the below are optional)
2 Burger buns or 4 slices of the bread of your choice
Cheese of your choice (I live goat cheese, and blue cheese is particularly good)
Lettuce or greens of your choice
Sliced tomato
sliced pickles
relish of any kind
Ketchup, mustard, mayo... anything you would use to dress a burger.

Preparation:
Make sure the mushrooms are as clean and dry as possible.  I come from the "never wash mushrooms under water EVER school" but of course, it's up to you how to wash them.  The important point here is that they are very dry when you are ready to cook them.

Place 1 tbsp. of the oil in a skillet or rub your grill pan with the oil and heat it until hot.  If you are grilling the mushrooms, rub the oil on the mushrooms and let them sit for a few minutes.  Oil and season both sides of the mushrooms with salt and pepper and the herbs you have chosen, I find that thyme is great with mushrooms.  If you only have dry herbs, use them sparingly, they tend to be much stronger than fresh.  Place the mushrooms gills side down on the pan or grill.  If you used oil, they will flare a but, don't worry.  If using the grill put them on the cooler side of it.  A high grill/pan temperature will only burn them, not cook them through.  If you are using a skillet, do the same, gills side down first.  As they cook, you will see them render juice out, that is fine, and should happen.  After about 7 minutes, turn them over, lower your heat to medium and cook them an additional 5 - 8 minutes.  When you turn them gills side up, you can/should put the cheese in the cup that is formed, they will continue to cook and the cheese will melt.  When you turn over the mushrooms, avoid the temptation to press on them.  They will flatten naturally, but pressing them down will force the juice and flavor out and they will shrivel up and dry out.  This is not what you want, you want a juicy, well flavored mushroom.

After another 5 - 8 minutes, you will notice they flatten out a bit and become thinner.  At this point they are cooked.  Remove them and place them immediately on the bread you are using.  Let them rest for a minute or two.  Then, have fun dressing them!!

I have made these many times, and I recommend the grill cooking, because it adds a great charred flavor to the taste.

Enjoy, and let me know how these turn out and what twists you use!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Late nights and what I want to do in them

Well, I am unemployed, newly married (almost a year to Tim) and looking for ways to get a job and get back into my cooking as a regular thing. Anyone else out there in the same boat? I have heard of people that are taking their awake at night times and cooking in them. Coming from a mother that would redecorate the house as we slept, I am thinking that might be a great idea!

Tim and I won't be having kids, but we have lots of nieces and nephews in NY and MI who we rarely see. I want to pass along the family cooking traditions, as well as my personal food obsession, on to them. My husbands mother was a really big cook, and we have her old recipes in books and card files waiting to be explored. My tastes run more towards fine food, Tim's mom's cooking ran more towards Americana cooking. I'd like this blog to come down somewhere in between. I don't expect it to be well read, but it would be great to have people come up and comment, and perhaps share their food memories, and their special techniques or recipes.

SO! Lets start with something simple, but so delicious, and redolent with childhood memories!

When I was a small child, and was sick, my mom, who was born and raised in Ireland, used to make me what we called "egg in a cup". I was the only one of her 4 children that would eat eggs, or anything out of the ordinary for that matter, so I loved the little tea mug full of soft cooked egg and buttered toast. Actually, some of my fondest memories were my Mom and I watching Upstairs Downstairs on "Masterpiece Theater" and eating pickled beets out of a jar. I was a foodie even as a kid! So - here we go with my childhood cup of love!

1 soft cooked egg (not poached, but that might work as well as long as the yolk is runny)
1 slice of white toast, buttered well and cut into batons
salt and pepper to taste

Place the buttered toast in a large tea or coffee mug that you have warmed with some hot water and dried thoroughly. Scoop the soft cooked egg into the mug and mash it together with the toast batons. Do this fairly quickly, since you want to retain the heat, but also to capture the runny yolks before they congeal and cool.

Add salt (essential for eggs) and pepper to your taste.

Serve to your sickly loved one, along with another mug of hot sugary tea!

More in a day or two... when I have the time. Perhaps next time, cooking with something other than white flour!

E.