Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Clams: Two if by sea

        Scenes from my restaurant life: One of our waiters came downstairs to find me.
     “There are some people here that want to see you…..” 
       I had assumed that friends had come to dine. “Uh….” 
       The waiter persisted, “They asked if they could talk to you….” He then offered more               information: “The cupcakes they brought for their party are smashed  and they were wondering if you could fix them.”
Me: “Not really…any butter cream I have is frozen……”
Yes. They brought their own cupcakes into the restaurant for their party, smashed them, and now needed to be bailed out.  So it goes. (sorry, Mr.V.)

 Many before me have been called by the sea.*”
Our local grocery store carries a variety of clams—little necks, top necks, and cherrystone. Cherrystones are large enough to use for clam sauce or chowder. A dozen shouldn’t set you back too much and they will make enough clam sauce or chowder for four people. If you are two, as we are, that means an extra dinner.
You don’t need to shuck the clams, either. Cooking the clams in either water or wine will open them and produce a great flavored broth. Making the broth and chopping the clams adds an extra step but one that’s easy and not very time consuming. And yes, I will admit that I used canned chopped clams for convenience when making clam sauce in the past but using fresh clams is worth it.
One dozen cherrystone clams make enough clams and broth for four servings of either the chowder or the pasta. The pasta recipe is scaled for two servings; there’s just two of us so one batch will provide two dinners. We freeze leftover broth and clams for another day. If you are making the recipe for four people, double the recipe. 
A (“white”) clam sauce is about as easy as it gets: good clam broth, chopped clams, garlic, hot pepper flakes, olive oil, and maybe a little bacon if you wish. We did. Pancetta would be the “Italian way” to go. Recently we dined at a local Italian restaurant and their linguine with clam sauce--“Linguine, Clams, Pancetta”-- was described as having “thinly sliced applewood smoked bacon.” So you see, even Italians can be loosey-goosey.

Pasta with Clam Sauce
The broth makes enough for four servings
For the broth:
1 dozen Cherrystone clams
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced

This makes enough for two servings:
6 ounces (dry) pasta (linguine, spaghetti, etc)
1 to 2 cloves minced garlic
2 slices thick cut bacon, cut into 1/2”- thick slices or 1/4 cup diced pancetta
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
olive oil, for cooking
1/2 cup reserved clam broth
1/2 cup chopped clams
2 Tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
salt and ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

1. Begin by making the broth. Rinse and scrub the clams under cold water. Place the cleaned clams into a sauce pot along with the wines and the garlic. Cover the clams and cook over high heat until the clams open, about 10 to 12 minutes. As each clam opens, remove them from the pot and place them into a bowl. If any clams don’t open, discard them. It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong. Let the broth cool slightly then pour it carefully into a bowl, watching for any sediment at the bottom of the pot. There will be about 1 1/2 cups broth. Remove the clams from their shells and chop the clams; set chopped clams aside.
2. Place a large sauté pan onto the stove over medium-high heat. Swirl in 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the bacon to the pan and cook until crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain it on paper towels. Drain the bacon fat from the pan. Return the pan to the stove over medium-high heat. Swirl in 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the red pepper flakes and 1/2 cup of the clam broth. Simmer for a minute then set the pan aside.
3. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the directions on the box; cook the pasta for 1 minute less than suggested.
4. When the pasta has cooked, return the pan to the heat and bring the sauce to a simmer; add the bacon, clams, and parsley to the pan. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Add the pasta and mix the pasta into the sauce; cook for about a minute; add extra broth if necessary. Add the butter and mix it into the pasta. Remove pan from the heat. Divide between two bowl and serve.

New England Clam Chowder 
“But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained Oh! sweet friends, hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ships biscuits and salted pork cut up into little flakes! The whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt….We dispatched it with great expedition”  
              Herman Melville, “Moby Dick” (1851)

I’m wading into dangerous territory here since anyone who makes chowder has his or her opinion on exactly how to make it. But more on that in a minute.
The word “chowder” is derived from the French word chaudiere, an iron kettle in which chowders were made. I first learned the word from an episode of “Julia Child and Company”  where Julia pronounced the word with great gusto, “Shaw-de-yay!!
The first published chowder recipe, written in the form of a poem no less, appeared in the Boston Evening Post on September 21, 1751, (which was three years before the start of the French and Indian War and three years before the birth of Mozart, to put it into historical perspective). One hundred years later, Herman Melville wrote of chowder in Moby Dick; I would think that little changed in the one hundred years between the first recipe and the chowder in Moby Dick. What we think of as New England clam chowder today is a more modern creation.
Two items that we consider chowder staples, potatoes and milk, weren’t added until later; potatoes in the early 1800’s, milk in the 1800’s. The familiar thick clam chowder was created by the Howard Johnson restaurant chain in the 1940s. (I am indebted to Chef Jasper White’s scholarship on these chowder-related matters).
I use bacon in this recipe; traditionally it’s salt pork which supplies the fat for cooking the vegetables.
Since there is no true clam chowder, feel free to interpret this to your preference. There are no chowder police who will swoop in and tell you that your version is wrong (just look at Manhattan clam chowder). Remember, as with so many recipes, it all depends on who is in the kitchen.

New England Clam Chowder
makes 2 quarts chowder
1 dozen Cherrystone clams
2 cups water

2 or 3 slices of bacon, thick sliced if possible, cut crosswise into 1/2” slices
1 cup onion, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced (about 3/4 cup)
2 baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2” pieces
salt and ground black pepper
olive oil, for cooking
2 cups milk or cream
Roux: 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
           4 Tablespoons flour (can use rice flour)

1. Rinse and scrub the clams under cold water. Place the clams into a large sauce pot with the water. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook the clams for 10 to 12 minutes. As the clams open, remove them from the pot and place them into a bowl. After the all the clams have opened (discard any clams that have not opened), let the broth cool slightly then carefully drain the broth into a large bowl being careful not to let any sediment on the bottom of the pot drain into the broth. There will be about 3 cups of clam broth.
2. Place a clean large sauce pot onto the stove over medium-high heat. Then the pot is hot, swirl  1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil into the pot. Add the bacon and cook until crisp. Add the onions and celery to the pot and cook until the onions turn translucent, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the clam broth to the pot. Simmer the stock for about 10 minutes. While chowder is simmering, remove the clams from their shells and chop them; there will be about 1 cup chopped clams. Set aside.
4. Add the potatoes and cream (or milk) to the pot. Season with salt and ground black pepper and let the chowder simmer. While the chowder is cooking, make the roux: melt the butter in a small sauce pan and whisk the flour into the melted butter. Cook the roux for about 1 minute; do not let the roux brown. Empty the cooked  roux into a small bowl to prevent it from cooking further.
5. When the potatoes are tender-they can be easily pierced with a knife point-whisk in the roux a little at a time until the desired thickness is achieved. Add the chopped clams to the chowder. Taste for seasoning. Cook the chowder for a few minutes to warm the clams. Serve. Oh, sweet friends!

                        *-Tom Waits, “Shiver me Timbers”
                        Black and white images courtesy the Nantucket Historical Association.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Chicken with Feta, Olives, and Orzo

Scenes from my restaurant life: A mother and her young daughter were finishing their lunch. The mother asked, “Can I get a Bloody Mary to go? Do you do that around here?”

This is my version of a dish at our favorite Greek restaurant. Easy, simple, and full of flavor.  There are just a few ingredients and it comes together quickly. Make the sauce, simmer the chicken in the sauce, cook the orzo, combine the orzo with the sauce.
You can use either chicken breast or boneless thigh meat.

Chicken with Feta, Olives, and Orzo
for two servings
One 9 to 10 ounce boneless chicken breast 
1/2 cup chopped onion 
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup (dry) red wine
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon dried oregano
10 to 12 Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
3 to 4 Tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled
olive oil, for cooking
salt and ground black pepper
1/2 cup orzo

1. Cut the chicken into 1” pieces; set aside. Place a large sauté pan onto the stove over medium heat. When the pan is hot, swirl in about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onion and cook for 2 to 3 minutes to soften the onion. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 
2. Add the tomatoes to the pan; Add the wine and cook for about a minute and then add the water. Season lightly with salt and ground black pepper; stir in the oregano.
3. Stir the olives to the sauce. Add the chicken, nestling it into the sauce. Reduce heat, cover the pan and simmer the chicken for 8 to 10 minutes (depending on the thickness of the pieces), until cooked.
4. Cook the orzo according to the directions on the box. When the pasta is done, drain the orzo into a strainer, shake off  excess water, and add the orzo to the pan.
5. Stir the feta into the pan. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Remove pan from heat.
6. Divide the chicken and orzo between two bowls and serve. There may be a little extra left but you’ll probably come back and finish it.

Mushroom Soup-Oooooh, mommy!
This mushroom soup uses a restaurant “trick” of adding dried porcini mushrooms to enrich the flavor. Often a restaurant may use porcini powder that is rehydrated  with some brandy and added to the soup. Porcini mushroom powder might be a hard ingredient to find but I have substituted dried porcini mushrooms. Most grocery stores now have dried mushrooms, often more than one variety. if you don’t see them ask. This soup is a lesson in umami, the “sixth” savory taste derived from glutamates. Mushrooms are rich in umami. I also use a little soy sauce which is also rich in umami. Our response to umami runs deep. We first encounter it in breast milk.
An initial roasting of the mushrooms will bring out a deeper flavor. This soup can be made without the dried mushrooms. There is also an option to enrich the soup with a little light cream or milk. Your decision. If you have it, a little drizzle of truffle oil over each portion of the finished soup would be encouraged.

Mushroom Soup
makes about 2 quarts
1 pound mushrooms, white button or crimini
1 cup diced onion or 1 leek, sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 to 2 cloves garlic, chopped
One 1/4 ounce package dried porcini mushrooms 
6 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together with a piece of string
1/3 cup (dry) white wine
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock/broth or water
1 Tablespoon light soy sauce
salt and ground black pepper
olive oil, for cooking
1/2 cup milk or light cream

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Slice or chop the mushrooms and rinse them under cold water; shake off excess water. Place the mushrooms into a bowl. Drizzle the mushrooms with 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil and season them with1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper. Mix to distribute the oil and seasonings. Spread the mushrooms in an even layer onto a baking tray. Roast the mushrooms for 12 minutes; remove the mushrooms from the oven and turn them. Return the mushrooms to the oven and roast the mushrooms for an additional 6 minutes or until browned. Remove the pan from oven and set aside.
2. Place a large sauce pot onto the stove over medium heat. When hot, swirl in about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions (or leeks) to the pot. Cook to soften the onions for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Spoon the roasted mushrooms (and their juices) into the pan along with the dried mushrooms, and the thyme. Add the white wine and cook for a minute. Add the stock/broth/water and the soy sauce to the pot. Cover the pot and simmer the soup for 20 minutes or until the dried mushrooms are soft. Remove the soup from the heat and cool.
4. After the soup has cooled for about 10 minutes, puree the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth. Add the cream (if using) and taste for seasoning, adjusting if needed.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Whole Wheat Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower........Cauliflower Soup

I have written about cauliflower before (see the archives 3/20/2013). 
I (dimly) remember a cauliflower salad from a Marcella Hazan cookbook that had (as I recall it from years ago) black olives, capers, and roasted red peppers—a good combination of sweet, salty and tangy notes for the plain flavor of the cauliflower. I am bringing those flavors to this pasta dish.
Since, it’s 2016, I roasted the cauliflower. (Aren’t we roasting everything now?) The remaining cauliflower was turned into soup (see below). Instead of roasted peppers, I used sun dried tomatoes. They used to be a staple, go-to ingredient in my pantry but I haven’t used them in a long time. They lend sweetness. You could use roasted red peppers, but please, roast them yourself. Roasted peppers in a can or jar never taste like the ones you make at home. Chiles, either fresh or dried, bring their subtle heat. Black olives are dense, deep, and salty. Capers and their brine lend a splash of bright acidity. These are the classic ingredients in a tapenade. Sweet, salty, tangy, spicy, it’s all here. 
I used whole wheat pasta, but you don’t have to. Whole wheat pasta works with some ingredients, roasted cauliflower being one. A pasta like orecchiette would work here too, the “little ears” of pasta would hold the bits and pieces quite well. 
All in all, a good tangle of tastes and textures in a pasta dish for late winter, as we look forward to the renewal of spring.

Whole Wheat Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower
for two servings
3 ounces whole wheat penne
2 cups cauliflower florets
1or 2 cloves garlic, minced
diced fresh chiles or dried red pepper flakes, to taste
6 to 8 pitted black olives, chopped  (either Kalamata or oil cured)
2 Tablespoons capers
2 Tablespoons sun dried tomatoes, chopped
the juice from a half of a lemon
olive oil
salt and ground black pepper
2 to 4 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Toss the cauliflower with 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and black pepper. Spread the cauliflower evenly on a baking tray. Place the tray into the oven and roast the cauliflower for 12 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven, turn the cauliflower, and return the tray to the oven and roast the cauliflower for an additional 6 minutes or so. Remove from oven and set aside until needed. (This can be done in advance and held aside until you are ready to cook).
2. Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water according to the package directions. While the pasta is cooking, place a large sauté pan onto the stove over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, swirl in about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the garlic to the pan and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chiles and stir together. Add the roasted cauliflower, black olives, capers, and sun dried tomatoes. Ladle about 1/2 cup of the pasta water into the pan. Let it simmer until the water is reduced by half. Remove the pan from the heat and wait for the pasta to finish cooking.
3. When the pasta is done, drain it into a colander. Place the pan with the cauliflower back onto the stove and bring to a simmer. Add the pasta and mix together. Add the lemon juice and additional olive oil if the pasta seems dry. Taste and season with salt, if needed, and ground black pepper. Scatter the grated cheese over the pasta and mix together. Divide the pasta between two bowls and serve.  This will make you feel that spring is just around the corner.

If you have a lot of leftover cauliflower, turn it into soup. You could add an extra potato if you like your soup thicker. If you don’t have 4 cups of cauliflower for the recipe, scale back the recipe (use less water/stock, for example) but don’t change the amount of potato. It will add thickness and creaminess to the soup.
Purists might want to use white pepper, but I side with Jacques Pepin and use black. A few black specks don’t hurt although Escoffier might be offended.

Cauliflower, Potato, and Leek Soup

4 cups chopped cauliflower (florets and peeled stem)
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced (about 2 cups)
1 potato, peeled and diced (about 2 cups)
6 cups water or stock
salt and ground black pepper
olive oil, for cooking
1/2 cup light or heavy cream (optional)

1. To clean the leeks, slice the leeks in half, lengthwise. Thinly slice the leeks crosswise; use about 3/4’s of the leek (the white and the palest green parts of the leek).  Place the leek slices into a colander and rinse with cold water to remove any sand. Shake off excess water.
2. Place a large sauce pot onto the stove over medium heat. When the pot is hot, swirl in about 2 tablespoons oil. Add the leeks and cook the leeks until they begin to soften, about 2 to 3 minutes. Adjust heat if necessary.
3. After the leeks have softened, add the cauliflower, potatoes, and water or stock. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper. Bring the soup up to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 12 to 15 minutes until all of the vegetables are soft.
4. When the vegetables are tender, remove the pot from the heat and let cool slightly before pureeing the soup. Using either a blender or and immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth.
Add the cream, if using. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Reheat and serve. Store any leftover soup in containers and freeze until needed.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Black Bean & Plantain Quesadillas....Roasted Butternut- Pumpkin Soup

One of oldest daughter’s first babysitting jobs was for our friends’ son who, at the time, tended to do a lot of pointing instead of talking. Eventually talking took over and as he got older he seemed to survive only on quesadillas, getting to the point where he could make them himself. Now before you panic at the thought of a young child using the stove, he made his in the microwave oven.
Does anyone need directions on how to make a quesadilla? 
Every time I write one of these dispatches, I know that I will alienate someone. I know that this particular quesadilla would not be a preference for youngest daughter. A number of years ago, she participated in a church mission trip to Guatemala where many meals featured black beans (a favorite) and plantains (not a favorite). Not even a dad could change her mind about how good fried plantains are.
I read about this quesadilla filling in a restaurant review and thought that as a lover of both these ingredients I should make my own. Despite that it might seem like a heavy sinker of a quesadilla, it isn’t. Paired with a salad of orange and avocado, it makes for a simple yet satisfying dinner.
Plantains have three stages of ripeness and each stage has it’s own particular use. Green plantains, which are very starchy, are mashed then fried for mofongo. When the skin is yellow and streaked with black, like a slightly overripe banana, they are sweeter but firm enough to slice and fry. When they are black they are softest but sweeter still.
For this recipe you will want yellow plantains. If you find only green plantains at the store you have to wait until they ripen. Just put the plantain into a plastic bag and wait; they will take longer to ripen than a banana. Think of it as delayed gratification. The last time I wanted to make these quesadillas and the avocado/orange salad all of the plantains were green so I also selected a hard, unripe avocado, placed both the plantain and avocado into a plastic bag and waited until both had ripened.

Black Bean and Plantain Quesadilla
for two servings
One 15 ounce can black beans
One ripe (yellow) plantain
1/2 cup jack (or other melting) cheese, grated
Four 8” tortillas
vegetable oil, for cooking the black beans and plantain ( I prefer to use olive oil for the black beans and a vegetable oil, such as canola oil, for frying the plantains.
your favorite salsa

1. Drain and rinse the black beans under cold water; shake off the excess water. Place a medium-sized sauté pan onto the stove over medium heat. When the pan is hot, swirl in about two tablespoons oil. Add the beans to the pan. Using a fork, mash the beans; if the beans appear dry, moisten them with a little additional oil. Remove the pan from the heat after the beans have all been mashed and heated through.
2. Peel the plantain; plantain are harder to peel than bananas so you might want to run the tip of a knife down the length of the plantain to help you to peel it. Slice the plantain on an angle into 1/2”- thick pieces; you should have about 10 slices.
3. Place a non-stick sauté pan onto the stove over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, swirl in enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the plantains (if your pan is small, you may have to cook the plantains in two batches) and cook until the plantain slices are golden brown. Turn the plantains and repeat until the other side is browned. Remove the plantains from the pan and drain on paper towels.
4. To assemble, spread mashed black beans onto two tortillas; there may be a little black bean leftover. Arrange the plantains around on top of the black beans (like the spokes on a wheel). Sprinkle the grated cheese over the beans and plantains. Top each with another tortilla and press down.
5. Turn oven onto low temperature. Place a sauté pan large enough to hold the quesadilla onto the stove over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, swirl a little oil into the pan. Place the quesadilla into the pan and cook until the bottom of the tortilla has browned; carefully turn the quesadilla and cook it until it has browned on the other side. Remove the quesadilla and place it onto a baking pan and keep it warm in the oven while you cook the second quesadilla. (Reserve both quesadillas in the oven while you assemble the salad).
6. To serve, cut each quesadilla into sixths and serve along with your favorite salsa either of your own making or from the store. I said this recipe is easy so no one will be looking if you don’t make your own salsa this time.

Orange and Avocado Salad
Right now is the perfect time for oranges. Not only can you find navel oranges but also Cara Cara, Blood, and “Sumo” varieties from which to to choose.

One orange
One ripe avocado
several slices red (or sweet) onion
2 handfuls mixed greens
2 Tablespoons toasted pepita (pumpkin) seeds

1. To segment the orange, slice off the top and bottom of the orange, exposing the flesh. Slice down the sides of the orange exposing the flesh. Cut between the membranes of the orange to remove the individual segments. Set them aside. Squeeze the juice from the orange membrane into a small bowl and set the juice aside to use for the vinaigrette. (see below)
2. Peel and remove the seed from the avocado and slice the avocado. Place the mixed greens, orange segments, avocado and onion slices into a bowl. Scatter the pepita seeds over the salad. Dress the salad with a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette, mix the salad together, and serve the salad in the middle of a plate surrounded by quesadilla wedges. 

For the vinaigrette:
The reserved orange juice (from the directions above)
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 Tablespoons olive oil
salt and ground black pepper, to taste.

1. Mix together the reserved orange juice, red wine vinegar, and olive oil. Season with salt and ground black pepper. Any leftover vinaigrette can be stored in a small jar in the refrigerator for future use.

Roasted Butternut & Pumpkin Soup
(Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)

Every so often at the restaurant where I work we'll receive an e-mail asking for a recipe. This soup gets its share of requests. If you wonder why you may not get a recipe returned to you, please consider this: Where I work the recipe for this soup would begin “Peel, seed, and chop a case of butternut squash.” Not the easiest thing to break down into a manageable recipe for the home cook. Most of the time our chef just makes it. He knows the quantities pretty much by sight and repetition.  Here, however, I broke it down as best as possible. It makes a good quantity of soup, about 3 quarts, which means leftovers. But isn’t that the best part of making soup? By the way, this is pretty freaking good. A two pound butternut squash should yield more than the required 6 cups of diced squash.

Roasted Butternut and Pumpkin Soup
6 cups peeled butternut squash, diced
2 cups onion, chopped
1/2 c. dark or light brown sugar                            
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 to 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted or olive oil
6 cups water, or vegetable or chicken broth
One 15 ounce can pumpkin puree
1 cup cream (light or heavy) or half & half

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 13” X 18” baking tray with either a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil. Set tray aside.
2.. Place the diced squash and chopped onion into a bowl. Add the brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Pour over the melted butter or olive oil. Mix well to distribute the seasonings. Spread the vegetables evenly in one layer onto the baking tray. Place the tray into the oven and roast for 16 minutes (within 6 or 7 minutes your kitchen will smell wonderful). After 16 minutes, remove the tray, turn the vegetables and return the pan to the oven. Roast for an additional 10 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the oven and let cool slightly.
3. Place the roasted vegetables and their juices into a large sauce pot. Add the water (or broth) to cover. Place the pot over high heat; bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until all of the vegetables are tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove pot from heat and let cool slightly.
4. Puree the soup until smooth with either an immersion blender or in a regular blender. Return the pureed soup to the pot and add the pumpkin and the cream. Whisk the soup until the pumpkin and cream are incorporated. Taste and adjust for seasoning. You can serve the soup garnished with a small spoonful of creme fraiche, fried sage leaves, or a drizzle of brown butter. Freeze any leftover soup for another day.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Baking 101: Muffins- Ab uno, multi. (plus a soup recipe)

After a long silence caused by an old and ailing laptop followed by a long work schedule, I will begin again, renewed. (“Is there anybody out there?”). Back into the kitchen we go.
I know there are books filled with muffin recipes but as a working professional, I don’t want to have a different recipe for each kind of muffin. I want a solid basic recipe which can then be altered. That is this recipe.
The muffins are good with cinnamon & sugar sprinkled on top just before baking. Or you could fold in fresh blueberries. Or make a couple of changes for corn muffins or cornbread. You get the idea.
Recently for a picnic I made cornbread using this recipe and youngest daughter loved it which is another way of saying, “Dad, I need the recipe.” 
This recipe was in place when I began my job where I currently work. I don’t know where they found it but it works; I regularly make about 8 to 12 dozen muffins for brunch every Sunday. I have learned that with a little tweaking, this recipe can be turned into any muffin you want. Who says you can’t improvise when you bake?
The key to what makes the muffins so good is that the recipe uses butter and the flour is a combination of all-purpose and cake flours which makes a more delicate baked texture. The muffins can be mixed by hand in a bowl; no need to haul out an electric mixer. Unless you want to.
You will notice that the flour is given in two measurements. I always weigh the flour but I understand that many people don’t have a scale at home. (You should). If you have one you already know how useful it can be, from weighing ingredients for baking to weighing pasta portions, for example.
Cake flour is easily found in the grocery store. Use plain, not self-rising, cake flour.
If you add anything to the basic muffin mix you will get more batter. More batter, slightly bigger muffins.
And please, no “Do you know the muffin man?” I get that enough at work.
I have promised myself that I will include a soup recipe at the end of each blog this year. There's one below. I hope I can fulfill that promise in the weeks to come.

Basic Muffins
for one dozen muffins

2 Grade A large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk
1 cup  (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup + 1 Tablespoon  (5 ounces ) cake flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
3 ounces (6 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted 
1.Heat oven to 350 degrees. If your muffin pan is not non-stick, butter the pan. 
2. In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, salt, vanilla, and milk. Sift together the flour and the baking powder. Add the dry ingredients into the wet and mix together adding the butter at the end.
3. Divide the batter into the muffin pans and place them into the oven to bake for 24 minutes.
Remove from oven and let cool slightly before removing them from the pan.

Muffin variations:
Do not be afraid to improvise if a variation doesn’t exist below. You can add nuts, too.
Corn muffins:
1 1/4 cups (6 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (4 ounces) corn meal
You may want to reduce the sugar depending on whether you like sweet “Yankee” cornbread or a less sweet “Southern” style corn muffin. (Ironic that they like their tea sweet but not their cornbread). You might also like to substitute some of the sugar for  honey. When it comes to corn muffins or corn bread, everyone has an opinion especially the further south you travel.
Cornbread:  Double the recipe and bake the batter in a 9“ by 12” baking pan.
Blueberry Muffins: Fold a half pint of fresh blueberries into the batter. Diced strawberries work well, too.
Banana Muffins: Mix one mashed banana to the batter
Cranberry Orange Muffins: Add the grated zest of half an orange and 1/2 cup chopped fresh cranberries.
Apple Muffins: Fold in one peeled grated apple along with 1& 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon.
Pumpkin Muffins: Add 1/2 cup pumpkin puree along with 1& 1/2 teaspoons each ground cinnamon and ground ginger and 1 teaspoon ground allspice.

Broccoli-Cheddar Soup
This is for youngest daughter, too.
About the recipe:  Of the 3/4 pound of broccoli, four cups of broccoli are chopped for the soup. The remaining broccoli is set aside and cooked separately. This will be added to the finished soup. While the soup is cooking, the roux can be made and the remaining broccoli can be cooked. You can substitute rice flour for the all-purpose flour if you have gluten problems. Rice flour is fairly easy to find. If you have gluten problems, you probably have it already. This recipe could also be made with cauliflower.
The recipe makes enough for four to six people depending on appetites. Any leftover soup can be frozen and saved for future use.

Broccoli-Cheddar Soup
12 ounces broccoli
1/2 cup chopped onion
5 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup milk, half & half, or light cream
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
Roux: 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
           4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
olive oil, for cooking
ground black pepper

1. Prepare the broccoli: Chop four cups of broccoli for the soup base and set aside. Cut the remaining broccoli into pieces and set aside.
2. Place a large saucepan onto the stove over medium heat. When the pot is hot, swirl in about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions to the pot, stir, and cook the onions for about 3 to 4 minutes. Do not let the onions brown. 
3. After the onions have become translucent, add the 4 cups chopped broccoli, water, and salt. Raise the heat to bring the soup base up to a simmer, then cover and reduce the heat so the soup simmers gently. Cook until the broccoli is tender, about 15 minutes depending on the size of the chopped broccoli.
4. While the broccoli is cooking  prepare the roux. Place a small saute pan onto the stove over medium heat. Add the butter to the pan; when the butter has melted, add the flour and whisk together. Cook the roux for a minute or two to cook off the flour flavor from the roux. Do not let the roux brown. Remove the finished roux from the heat and transfer it to a small bowl. 
5. To cook the remaining broccoli, place a medium-sized saute pan filled with 1/2 to 1 cup water onto the stove over high heat; lightly salt the water. When the water comes to a boil, add the broccoli and cook until the broccoli is tender; a knife point should slide easily into the broccoli. Drain the broccoli into a colander and refresh under cold water. Drain and set aside.
6. When the broccoli in the soup base is tender, remove the pot from the heat and let it cool. While the soup is still warm, puree the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth. Return the soup to the pot. Add the milk and warm the soup over medium-high heat. As the soup approaches the boil, whisk in the roux. Reduce the heat and whisk in the cheese. Chop the reserved broccoli and add it to the soup. Add some ground black pepper and taste for seasoning, adjusting as needed.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Late Summer Succotash

(What's that crab doing sitting among those vegetables? You'll see.)

            “Some days in late August at home are like this, the air thin and eager like this, with
                                 something in it sad and nostalgic, and familiar.”
                             - from The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner

Summer is winding down. The light at dusk changes, more yellow reflecting on the leaves. Autumn arrives in a few weeks.
If you are a farmer’s market shopper like me, you will find all you need to make a succotash, whether it’s exactly like this one or not. It’s open to personal interpretation and preferences.
Succotash is the familiar vegetable dish that comes to us from the Native Americans. Variations of it appear across the country. I grew up with it made with lima beans. No thank you. 
The basics are corn and beans, but it becomes more interesting with the addition of other seasonal offerings, such as squash, bell pepper, or sweet cherry tomatoes. I found fresh cranberry beans but any bean will work, even green beans or wax beans. It’s the spirit of the dish that’s important.
I made this one night as a base for soft shell crabs (for me) and salmon for my red haired food co-pilot. It pairs with anything.
A fresh shell bean, such as a cranberry bean, needs time to cook, about 20 to 30 minutes depending on the size of the beans you find inside the pod. If you use a shelling bean, they can cook while you put the succotash together, then when the beans are ready, drain them and add stir them into the succotash. A fresh green bean or wax bean just needs to be sliced and cooked with the other vegetables until tender. Add the corn last since it requires the least amount of cooking time.
It’s easy.

Late Summer Succotash
for two servings
¼ pound cranberry beans (1/2 cup beans when shelled)
2 ears corn
½ cup diced onion
¼ cup diced red bell pepper
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
10 to 12 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, torn
salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil, for cooking
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, optional

1. If you are using a fresh shelling bean, remove them from their pods and set aside.  Fill a medium-sized saucepan with about 2 cups of water, place it onto the stove, and bring it to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the beans and cook until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes.
2. Husk the corn. Cut the kernels from the cobs. The easiest way to do this is to stand the corn upright in a bowl  and slice down the length of the cob to cut the kernels from the cob. The falling corn will stay in the bowl. Set the corn aside.
3. Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, swirl in about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions and bell pepper to the pan and cook for about 2 minutes until the onions become translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the cherry tomatoes and season lightly with salt and ground black pepper. Cook for about 4 minutes to soften the tomatoes. Add additional olive oil as needed if the pan appears dry. (If you are using a fresh green or wax bean, add them now along with ½ cup of water to help cook the beans). If you are using a shelling bean and they’re still cooking, remove the pan of vegetables from the heat and wait until the beans are tender. When the beans are tender, drain them and add them to the pan. Add the corn and torn basil to the pan with about ¼ to 1/3 cup water. Let the succotash simmer gently for about 2 to 3 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Add the tablespoon of butter to the succotash, if using, and stir.
It’s ready.
                                             End of the Summer Soft shells over Succotash