Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The “Nelson County Muffins”


Written by the folks that ran the Kitchen of Krishna “in a little house in a small town in Virginia”, this book came into my hands at the Chicago Lit Fest in Printer's Row a few years ago. I couldn't resist, as it is full of character and was written by hand instead of using typefaces.

While I don’t exactly know where Nelson County is (somewhere in Virginia, most likely) I've grown attached to its muffin recipe. See the photo above for a helpful note in the recipe introduction, regarding the best approach to making them. Ahem.

These are not the biggest, sugariest, most impressive variety of muffin—rather, they are (at least somewhat) nutritious, humble, and can be grabbed in the morning while running out the door. The best part, I think, is that the recipe is extremely versatile and forgiving.

Note: While the original in the photo notes that it makes two dozen, it has yielded one dozen regular (not giant or mini) muffins for me.

2 cups flour (whole wheat is best, but white or a mix of both is ok...)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil or melted butter
1/2 cup sweetener (honey, brown sugar, raw sugar...)
Liquid (water, some kind of milk, fruit juice...)

Mix the first six ingredients together, and add liquid to make muffin-batter-like consistency. Grease muffin tin and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes (or until done).

*As for the goodies, almost anything is possible. Keep in mind that the more goodies added in, the heavier they get. I don't measure these ingredients, but throw in a handful or so of whatever is around. The following combinations have worked well for me:
  • Chocolate chips, flaked coconut, walnut pieces
  • Shredded carrot, slivered almonds, dash of cinnamon
  • Raisins, substitute 1/4 cup quick oats for 1/4 of the flour
  • Berries (if frozen, thaw and drain first)

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Szechuan Green Beans


This is one of my favorite ways to prepare (and of course, eat) green beans. We first met at Lao Sze Chuan in Chicago, and Szechuan Spice in Minneapolis has most recently filled that Chinatown void. I think they are traditionally deep fried; this version (adapted from here) calls for stir-frying them until they are brown and shriveled. They don't need to be solid brown or completely wrinkled up, just "browned" and "shriveled". You'll hopefully see what I mean if you try this dish... which you should!

1 to 1-1/2 lb fresh green beans
3 T oil (peanut oil works best, but others would be ok)

Sauce (combine the following in a small bowl)
I suggest you adapt this to your taste and heat preferences. Ingredients with a * next to them can be adjusted according to your needs.
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped*
1/2 inch piece of ginger, grated (or finely chopped)*
1/2 bunch green onions, chopped
1 T Sriracha or Asian chili sauce*
Pinch of dried red pepper flakes*
3 T soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Wash and trim the beans. Heat oil over medium heat in a wok (or large pan), add beans and stir-fry until they brown and shrivel. Using a splatter screen may be helpful. This can take a little while, from 5 to 15 minutes, so be patient. Sometimes adding a pinch or two of salt to them helps speed things up. As they brown (which most likely won't be all at the same time) remove from the pan and drain on paper towels to absorb excess oil. 

After all beans have been cooked, you'll want about a tablespoon of oil left in the wok/pan—pour away or add more as needed. Add sauce to the wok/pan and stir-fry a few seconds. Add beans, mix together, and serve over rice. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Spring Radish Quick Pickle


Lately, I've been thinking about pickles, fermentations, and other ways of preserving foods. In addition to a stack of library books on the subject, there's a ginger beer bug (culture) growing on the shelf, plans are in place to try making kimchi, and my growing curiosity on brewing mead. With some time off from classes over the summer, I'm almost living in the kitchen—trying things out, reading cookbooks, enjoying time in my little laboratory.

This morning we went to the St. Paul Farmer's Market in Lowertown and one of the things that made it back to our kitchen was spring radishes. Whenever I see them, I think of my grandparents slicing them and to add to salads; I don't know why this sticks in my mind, other than they must have eaten a lot of them. I enjoy them sliced with a sprinkle of sea salt, or chopped and mixed with butter to spread on crackers.

Given my recent obsession with all things pickled, however, I wanted to trying something a little different. Following this recipe exactly, I'm hooked; there's a sweetness to these, like candy, and they're addictive. I like where this is going, next time I might try a sea salt brine for a slightly more fermented version.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pita Bread... and flying saucers


Homemade pitas are, to put it plainly, fun to make. Yes, there is yeast involved and yes, there is some hands-on time needed—but the reward is watching them puff up in the oven so that they look like flying saucers. This makes me think of X-Files and old sci-fi movies. Now, how many foods can accomplish that?

I used this recipe, and made just one change in using 1/2 white flour and 1/2 whole wheat. The eight resulting pitas were so delicious, it’s worth the effort. We ate these with falafel, but of course they are also excellent for scooping hummus or loading up with other sandwich fixings.

The most amazing part (besides puffing up like flying saucers) was that the pocket sort of makes itself. There is no special technique to make a “pita pocket”—it just happens. Incredible.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Baked Falafel


Ah, falafel... for some reason, the cafes I have tried in the past year either serve it with a) dill pickle slices or b) sweet corn kernels tucked inside the pita. Needless to say, I’m confused by both and sort of don’t quite know what’s going on.

And so I’ve reacted by making falafel—baked falafel, that is. I had no desire to deep fry anything in our current kitchen, and baking seemed like a good option. Served with homemade pitas (stay tuned for that post... lots of fun to make) and tzatziki sauce they were a delight. Small confession: I truly thought I had purchased a couple lemons for this venture during yesterday’s grocery shopping excursion. The lemons did not make it home with us. Perhaps I was hallucinating when I imagined buying them. So I’m pretending there was lemon juice in the food where it ought to be.

Some things I noticed:
• The recipe I used was to produce 20 falafel, but I think I must have made them too big because I only got 10. But they looked like those J and I used to devour at Sultan’s Market back in Chicago so I’m moving forward with thinking falafel must live in a variety of sizes.

• The falafel brown only where they touch the baking sheet. I didn’t flatten them enough, so browning on the first side was sort of mediocre. They were well squashed when it came time to bake the second side.

• They don’t have quite as much flavor as traditionally fried falafel, but they make a perfectly acceptable healthy variation.

I modified the recipe ever so slightly, here it is.

1-1/2 c cooked chickpeas
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro
1 tsp lemon juice
1 T olive oil
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried red pepper flakes (adjust to your liking)
2 T flour
1 tsp baking powder
sea salt & pepper to season

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whirl everything in a food processor so that it’s blended but still a little chunky (or mash the chickpeas with a fork, and finely chop everything else). Form into small balls, about 1 1/2″ in diameter and slightly flatten. Place onto baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes on each side, until browned. Serve with falafel-friendly things such as pitas, hummus, tzatziki sauce, hot sauce, Jerusalem salad, tomatoes, lettuce and/or cucumber.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Whole Wheat Brownies


It was around ten o’clock one evening no so long ago, when I decided to make brownies and the only flour to be found in the pantry was whole wheat. Whole wheat brownies? A little heavier than usual, but delicious! Dutch process cocoa powder has a more intense flavor than natural cocoa powder, and I think that made a difference. The photo above depicts only the last brownie because we ate the rest so quickly.

3/4 c butter
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c cocoa powder (Dutch process if you have it)
1/2 tsp sea salt 
1 c. sugar (raw, brown, or white... take your pick)
3 eggs
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour

Cream the first seven ingredients together, then stir in whole wheat flour. Spread in a greased 8-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes. 

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Considering the Garden

Today of all days I started thinking about this year's garden. I am realizing two new things this time around. The Twin Cities have a shorter growing season than Chicago. Our deck gets minimal sunlight.

I've played around with the idea of putting a Roma tomato plant in a container near our front steps, which face south. Other ideas include lining the east side of the building with herbs and other veggies that can do without full sunlight. Our backyard is HUGE but all shade (great for parties and hanging out, not great for growing).

Also, this year I will learn to preserve food. Like canning. Here is a slideshow of inspiration.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Fried Egg Sandwich with Salsa


It was a bright (and really cold) morning when J suggested we go for a walk before breakfast. As we walked around our neighborhood like penguins trying to not fall down on icy sidewalks, the decision was made to visit the bakery/coffee shop a couple blocks away. We arrived back home with a huge loaf of 100% whole wheat bread and I was compelled to weigh it: 34.5 ounces. Maybe that's more standard than I realize, but wow.

Breakfast is not something I usually cook. But on a morning when I'm putting off research as long as possible, it happens. Lately we've been hooked on fried eggs with salsa between two slices of lightly toasted bread. Timing and process are important in making this, because I think it's best eaten hot.

For each sandwich:
• Have two slices of bread ready.
• Put one slice of bread in the toaster, and simultaneously heat fat in a skillet for egg frying. The fat can be olive oil, butter, bacon grease, anything you'd like.
• Crack egg into the fat once it's hot.
• Toast will probably pop up now. Butter one side if you'd like (I do) and place on a plate.
• Put second slice of bread in the toaster.
• Check egg, and cook to your liking. I don't do runny eggs and often attack the yolk to make sure it is completely cooked through.
• Place egg on buttered toast, top with a little salsa.
• Second piece of toast should pop up at this point. Butter, place on top, and eat.

Make this your own by adding cheese, vegetables, last night's leftovers... the list goes on and on...

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Tortillas Rodriguez


I realize this video has been around for a few years. But here's the big deal: I did it. I really did it. I made Robert Rodriguez's tortillas from his Sin City 10-Minute Cooking School video. They are superb. And totally worth the time. I will never buy packaged tortillas again!

He suggests using butter or lard, but I didn't have any of the latter.  J and I both thought butter tasted great, even though we didn't really have a comparison because we've never had tortillas made with actual lard (except maybe at La Pasadita back in Chicago… they probably use lard… and they are very good...)

I wrote the ingredients down while watching the video, stopping every few seconds to capture what he's saying. I'll leave the 'how to' part up to him (because he's the master), so please take a look at his technique.

Total side note, one of my favorite food quotes ever is from this video: Not knowing how to cook is like not knowing how to ____________. You fill in the rest.

Robert Rodriguez's Tortillas from Sin City 10-Minute Cooking School
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup fat (like lard... butter...)
3/4 cup water (more or less)

Mr. Rodriguez, will you please please write a cookbook? Or just start a food blog?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Roast Chicken in a Cast Iron Skillet


Hey I'm back! Quite a bit has happened since I last posted. I'm in my second semester of grad school, and J is in his first. Life has changed since leaving Chicago and, uh, earning a salary. However, the Twin Cities are fantastic and here we are getting through our first arctic winter. I'll be doing my best to post frequently though be warned, meals in our house tend to have the following characteristics: healthy, fast, familiar, and cheap. So let's see what happens.

I really wanted to make roast chicken this week. I find that odd because normally I can't stand eating or seeing it. It's the first whole (raw) chicken I've purchased in awhile, and I bought it at Super Target. For real. It was weird to do this, as that's where I go to buy things contact lense solution and toilet paper. Alas, this box store wonder carries a chicken that is vegetarian fed, cage/hormone free, from a Minnesota family farm, and cost less than a rotisserie chicken meeting the same criteria at Whole Foods. Sold.

While I hung out in the kitchen listening to Talking Heads, this 3.5 pound bird roasted at 400 degrees in a cast iron skillet, atop a bed of potatoes and garlic, drizzled with lemon juice, olive oil,  and sprinkled with sea salt and cracked pepper. It took close to an hour and fifteen minutes, until juices ran clear. I'd give you a recipe, but this is about as detailed as I can get.

Eat it with the potatoes and savor those juices!