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.