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.