Summer Tea and the Good Life

Mountain Rose Herbs makes a caffeine-free bulk tea called Evening Repose Tea that I have gotten in the habit of enjoying in the evening. It’s a relaxing balance of peppermint and spearmint, chamomile and cornflowers, lemon verbena, lavender, rose petals and organic stevia.

But once the summer heat cranked up, hot tea no longer held that same appeal. I hit on a solution that has become my go-to iced tea during the day and well into the evening.

Still a sun tea of sorts, I’ve ramped up the process just a tad.  Instead of leaving the tea to steep outdoors via the sun’s rays for an entire day, I gently pour boiling water over the bulk tea wrapped in cheesecloth and set it out in the sun for a couple of hours. It’s just enough time to infuse yet remain well-balanced, clear, and very refreshing.

Once I got with the program, I’ve come up with other variations. One of my favorites is simply to boost the lavender and rose values by tossing in a bit more of it from a pretty bowl I have drying on a nearby table. Add ice, perhaps a little lemon, sugar if you must, and life is good.

Summer Tea

Ingredients

1/3 cup bulk tea, such as Evening Repose Tea
6 cups boiling water

Directions

  1. Wrap the bulk tea in 2 layers of cheese cloth and tie securely with culinary twine. Place in 2 quart container with lid.
  2. Gently pour boiling water over the tea, loosely cover and place in the sun for 2 hours.
  3. Remove the tea bag and pour into a storage container. When cool, chill and serve with ice and lemon slices. Serves 4 or more.

Mission Accomplished

My good buddy Jerry and I have been talking about lamb shanks for a very long time. When we get hungry, one of our favorite topics centers on lamb shanks: why slow and low cooking is essential to their tender-to-the-bone succulence, and how all that bone intensely flavors the meat. They truly are a labor of love.

A mound of Basque Lamb Shanks

We can talk for hours about the best way to prepare them. Of course, Jerry considers himself an authority on lamb shanks, with good reason.  He lived in Boise, Idaho for many years, and at one time married into a clan of Basques who cooked lamb like nobody’s business. He also made a point of frequenting the region’s Basque restaurants and managed to get into the kitchens of some of the best. Of one in particular, Jerry maintains they credited their outrageous lamb shanks to a slow oven simmer in an awesome sauce based on mushrooms, red wine and sundried tomatoes.

One weekend, we decided to stop talking and tackle the lamb shanks. We knew what we had to do and we were ready!  Lucky us, we found absolute beauties at Roth’s Market that were just our size. One additional challenge:  to utilize my fairly new Instant Pot, which sears, braises, and slow cooks until the cows come home.  Two of these shanks fit perfectly in the pot, and still, there would be more food that we could possibly eat in one sitting.

Jerry pulled out his knives and did the honors of stripping the shanks of excess fat, silver, and sinew until they were perfectly prepped and ready for the pot. It is attention to such details that can make the difference between ok and outstanding.

Once the shanks were well browned off and holding in the slow cooker, the vegetables were sautéed in the pan’s drippings and added to the cooker. The pan was deglazed with wine and poured over the shanks, followed by the sundried tomatoes and their liquid, the beef stock, and herbs. Now, it was just a matter of time for the preliminary sauce to work its magic on the shanks.

Lamb Shank, partially devoured

And so it did—to perfection. Although the photos indicate a mound of meat, in no way do they give adequate credit to the lamb shanks. In fact, they were taken in an absolute rush and secondary to the mission at hand.  We had our hands full!!

Basque Lamb Shanks, Slow Cooker

Ingredients
2 lamb shanks, @ 1.25 lbs each
1-2 tablespoons canola or safflower oil
1 medium onion, chop
1 carrot, peel chop
5 cloves garlic, mince
1 cup or more cremini mushrooms, chop
½ cup dry red wine
¼ cup sundried tomatoes, reconstituted in 1/2 cup water and cut up. Save water.
½ cup beef stock, approximate; more as needed to thin sauce
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon lemon grated zest

Directions 

  1. Trim silver and fat from shanks.
  2. Heat a wide skillet over medium heat and pour in oil to coat pan. Sprinkle shanks with salt and pepper and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes, and transfer to slow cooker.
  3. If necessary drizzle additional oil into the pot. Add onion, carrot, and garlic to pan and cook stirring often, until onion softens. Add the mushrooms and cook to release their liquid; transfer to slow cooker.  Deglaze pan with wine and add to slow cooker.
  4. Add all ingredients except lemon zest, cover and cook for about 3 hours on high and test for tenderness. Add lemon zest and cook for approximately 1 hour longer approximately, or until the meat pulls back from the bone and is fork-tender. Adjust seasoning and serve with more lemon. Serves 2 very hungry people.

 

The Mind of a Chef

Call me a creature of habit, but it seems that about once a month I make a frittata of some sort.  It’s usually on the weekend, but more important, it is the reassurance of knowing I’ve got my buddy in the fridge for back up during the week.

One of the most versatile of dishes ever, the frittata is equally welcome hot, warm, room temperature, and even cold.  Designed for portability, a wedge makes a convenient hand-held lunch on the run, or a simple dinner with salad.  Little mouth-sized portions make flavorful bites with drinks.

So, it’s no surprise that my mind tends to wander in terms of would that work in a frittata?  With a little manipulation, the answer is usually yes.  Here’s my latest frittata creation, and the answer is yes, absolutely, to all of the above mentioned applications.

This all began when a friend brought over beautiful sprigs of soft sage from their garden. I set them aside to dry, knowing they would come in handy very soon. When I spotted a small pristine head of cauliflower at the farmers’ market, I paused over it quizzically. My mind slipped into frittata mode.  With sage and what else?

Let’s face it, much like a white canvas, cauliflower needs help. My mind kept going… there were a couple types of blue cheese rumbling in the cheese bin and I probably had a little ham in the freezer.

Back at home I sliced the cauliflower and broke it into smaller pieces.  The idea here is to give the cauliflower more flat surfaces to brown and intensify flavor. The cauliflower was briefly blanched in boiling water,   quickly cooled to stop the cooking, and well drained—to avoid any mushy/sogginess later.

When I was ready to prepare the frittata it was a mere matter of browning onion and cauliflower, then adding the sage and ham. A combination of bleu cheese and creamy gorgonzola was scattered over the cauliflower and ham for a brief melt into the action below.

The eggs, milk, and seasoning were poured over the cauliflower mixture and allowed to set up in the pan and lock everything in place.  A quick run under the broiler puffs the frittata and browns the top. This is one serious frittata, she grins.

Cauliflower-Ham Frittata with Sage-Gorgonzola Cheese

Ingredients
1 small head cauliflower, ½” slices, broken in florets and blanched @ 3 minutes, drained
1 tablespoon combination evoo and butter
½ onion, chop
¾ teaspoon dried sage, crumble
½ Anaheim pepper, seed and chop
¼ lb. smoked ham, ¾ cup cubes
½ cup combo gorgonzola and bleu cheese, in pieces
6 eggs
¼ cup milk
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Directions

  1. Heat 9” or 10” oven-proof skillet over medium heat with olive oil and butter. Sauté the onion until soft, add the sage and continue until onion begins to color.
  2. Add the cauliflower and continue cooking, gently tossing until it begins to brown.  Add the Anaheim pepper and the ham, and cook a couple of minutes.
  3. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, add the milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg and pour over the eggs.
  5. Tilt the pan, loosen the eggs from the bottom with a spatula and let eggs run into the bottom of the pan.  Continue to turn the pan and allow the eggs to flow to bottom of the pan and the egg mixture begins to set.
  6. Run the frittata under the broiler until it begins to puff and the top begins to brown in places. Release frittata with from pan with a spatula and slide onto a plate. Cut into portions and serve hot or room temperature.  Serves 6.

Summer of Love Popcorn

I missed the whole nutritional yeast phenomenon. You know, that staple in the kitchens of vegetarians and vegans used to supplement their diets.

Nutritional yeast

Heralding back 50 years ago, it was the darling of the hippie generation and the many caught up in the massive back to the land movement that followed.  Nutritional yeast was a natural for those rejecting establishment commodities. It was emblematic of the value placed on nutrition and simplified living.

Nutritional yeast is a dried condiment of sorts. Its taste is often described as cheesy; it is fairly low in sodium and has only 60 calories in two tablespoons. It can also be used as a thickener or a binder, like bread crumbs.

Best news, it is considered a complete protein and rich in fiber, and it is high in magnesium, iron, phosphorus, biotin, vitamin B-12, folic acid, and other minerals.  Nutritional yeast is described as a dead yeast, in that it is inactive and often fortified with B1, B2, B6, B12 and more.

On a recent visit to Life Source Market, our local hangout for first rate natural foods, I was wandering the bulk food section with eyes glazed over, when approached by one of the staff.  I explained I was in search of ‘nutrition yeast’. He nodded and pointed out 2 lower bins, explaining that they offer two varieties of nutritional yeast, a flaked and a powdered one, depending on preference.  His voice softened as he praised its health benefits and cheesy flavor. ‘It’s a must on popcorn,’ he murmured, and left me to ponder alone. I theorized that larger flakes would be more of the same, so I cautiously opted for a small amount of the powdered variety, and moved on to the tea bins.

Nutritional yeast is fascinating, no doubt I’ll find plenty of uses for it. For now, I am happy to report I have gotten serious about popcorn again. Here is my current take on an easy popcorn, based on low butter bags of microwaveable on hand. I use a good quality coconut oil which lends a toasted perfume of coconut, a nice change from butter. The dusting of nutritional yeast clings to the popcorn and helps other ingredients to adhere as well.  Korean red pepper, or gochugara, is milder than cayenne-style with a slightly smoky-sweet flavor.  Season to taste with a good quality sea salt.

Yes I am hooked on this mixture; it’s reassuring to know that I can dive into popcorn and get heathy too!  I suspect I will return to the popcorn-in-a-bag concept, mastered a couple of years ago, and give up on the packaged goods.  Winter or summer, popcorn is always in season.

EZ Popcorn

Ingredients

1 medium bag microwaveable popcorn, popped
2-3 teaspoons coconut oil, melted
2 tablespoon nutritional yeast, or to taste
1-2 teaspoons Korean red pepper flakes
Sea salt to taste

Directions 

  1. Empty the popped corn into a bowl. Drizzle with coconut oil and toss well.
  2. Sprinkle with the nutritional yeast and red pepper flakes and toss to distribute.
  3. Season with salt to taste.   Serves 2.

Note: This popcorn is even good the next day!

The Next Generation Potato Salad

While prowling the farmers’ market recently, one glance at a startling yellow cauliflower told me  I must have one. Its dappled pale buttercup color was so surreal it looked hand painted, and I instantly knew what would become of it.

For some time now, I have been tinkering with the idea of a cauliflower salad reminiscent of a Danish-style potato salad I used to make for picnics and barbecues. It was particularly popular for catering because it also included a few green peas, a little red pepper for color, and small cubes of cheese.

Later in the day, I ended up steaming the cauliflower florets for 3 minutes in my  Instant Pot pressure cooker, and then used the quick release to avoid overcooking. Out of the pot, I drizzled the hot cauliflower with a small amount of Dijon vinaigrette/marinade; just enough for the flavors to absorb as it cooled down.

Meanwhile, additional vegetables and a hard cooked egg were quickly prepped. When all ingredients were combined with the vinaigrette flavored mayonnaise I was glad to note that it required far less binder than a typical potato salad. 
A quick taste test revealed a light, well-flavored, refreshing salad. It was not a dreary, heavy, non-descript mound lacking any food value. This was most definitely worthy of becoming the next generation potato salad.

In no time, the gorgeous salad was in the fridge getting a good chill on—ready and waiting for grilled burgers later.

Cauliflower Picnic Salad

Ingredients
1 small head yellow cauliflower, broken in large bite sized florets

Vinaigrette/Marinade
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons chive or other light vinegar
Salt and lots of freshly ground pepper
½ teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
2 ½ tablespoon olive oil

½ cup frozen peas, partially defrosted
1 stalk celery, chop
2 green onions, mince
¼ cup red pepper, mince
2 tablespoon parsley, chop
¼ cup smoked Gouda cheese, small cubes
1 hard cooked egg, coarsely mashed
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Directions

  1. Steam the florets using your favorite method. Or, using the Instant Pot pressure cooker, line bamboo steamer baskets with cauliflower leaves and divide the cauliflower evenly. Stack them, cover top with foil, and place on trivet. Add 1 cup water to the cooker and steam for 3 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile prepare vinaigrette.  Whisk the mustard and vinegar with salt, pepper and thyme to combine.  Slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified and thick.
  3. When steaming is complete, use quick release.  Remove cauliflower from steamer, place in salad bowl add peas, and toss with 1-2 tablespoons of vinaigrette, just enough to absorb into cauliflower.  Let cool, about 20 minutes.
  4. When cauliflower is cool, add celery, onions, red pepper, parsley, Gouda, and egg.
  5. Add 2-3 teaspoons marinade to mayonnaise to thin slightly and pour over the cauliflower mixture. Toss to coat well and chill 1 to 2 hours.  Serves 4 or more.

Biscotti | The Cookie that Keeps on Giving

While rearranging a pantry shelf recently I came across an errant bag of biscotti that had shifted off by itself, becoming the clear culprit in the current traffic jam.

Biscotti du jour

I opened the bag and I gave it the sniff test—a lingering scent of cardamom drifted out.  On the bag I had scribbled near illegibly, ‘Ginger Cardamom’, likely lost remnants of my last biscotti du jour effort.  I do that.  I’ll have a new favorite biscotti that I get stuck on and keep baking more of the same.

Biscotti can be fickle.  The dough can be temperamental and far more trouble than it is worth.  The double baking which aids in its longevity creates an additional step, so let’s keep it simple. Here is my basic recipe for a tender biscotti that I change up with different additions of dried fruit, nuts, flavorings, etc.  It is a very malleable dough that can be quickly mixed by hand.

Ginger in any form is a reoccurring theme on this site.  I adore it because it is soothing, satisfying, and spicy enough to pack a good punch.  Since cardamom is seductive and supportive in its own flavor profile, these two team nicely together.

My saved cooking notes on this batch indicate that I added a dash of sesame oil.  I still like that notion. Call me a purist, but when it comes to nuts in biscotti, I have my moments.  In the case of sesame oil, it does not compete with the lovely chewiness of the candied ginger, yet complements both the ginger and cardamom.

What a nice surprise! After a month or so lost in storage, these cookies are still good enough to warrant a fresh cup of coffee and another round of biscotti for me and my friends.

Ginger Cardamom Biscotti   

Ingredients

1-2/3 cups flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cardamom
¾ teaspoon powdered ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 tablespoons canola oil (I included 1 teaspoon sesame oil.  Not obvious, but nice)
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup candied ginger
Optional drizzle topping: ½ cup white chocolate chips melted with 2 teaspoons coconut oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325-350° F. Prepare parchment or silpat lined baking sheet.
  2. Combine dry in small bowl and whisk.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk eggs through vanilla until well blended.  With spatula, stir in dry ingredients just to combine.  Stir in candied ginger.  Scrape onto baking sheet dividing and shaping into 2-3 narrow loaves @  1″ high and 2″ wide, keeping them about 2 ½” apart.  They will spread.
  4. Bake 30 minutes, until firm but springy.  Cool briefly.  Using serrated knife, slice loaves into ½” diagonal slices.  Lay cut side down on sheet.  Bake 12 minutes. Turn slices over and bake 12-15 minutes longer, until light golden brown.  Cool on rack.  If desired drizzle with melted white chocolate. Store airtight at room temperature. Yield: 2-3 dozen biscotti.

Light of my Life

It’s always a party when I pull out my kitchen torch.

Today’s occasion:  French onion soup.  Earlier at the farmers’ market, pearly white sweet onions—still kissed with morning dew—looked almost too gorgeous to touch.

A sudden vision of the well-picked-over roast chicken carcass in the fridge at home was a wake-up nudge that a tasty chicken stock was  waiting in the wings.

A hearty beef stock really makes onion soup sing, but a chicken stock simmered in the remains of a flavorful roast is a beautiful thing, too.  In my slow cooker, stock is an effortless commodity.  For the onion soup stock, I’d add onion cuttings, a carrot for a touch of sweetness, and fresh herbs, then cover it all with boiling water and check back later in the day.

My go to Onion Soup follows, but I tend to change it up it depending on what I have on hand.  Sweet onions with a high sugar content are key; sauté them over moderately low heat until they begin to turn color and caramelize. If necessary, add a teaspoon of sugar while sautéing the onions to encourage the full caramelization process. Once the stock is added, the soup is ready within a half hour—or it can be set aside and reheated when ready.

BonJour Torch

 

To finish it all, I carved and toasted thick slices of a multi-grained artisan bread and sprinkled them with a combination of shaved Parmesan and Havarti cheese. No need to crank up the broiler on this warm summer day.

My trusty torch was on hand for the artful transformation of simple ingredients into a glorious soup crowned with essential rafts of toasted cheesy goodness.

 Onion Soup

Ingredients
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoon brandy
6 cups rich beef or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
½ teaspoon each fresh savory and rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup white wine or dry sherry
Accompaniments:  6 croutons (1/2” thick slices toasted baguette)
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. In a soup pot, sauté onions with butter and olive oil over medium heat until aromatic. Reduce heat and stir occasionally, cook until onions are deep golden and caramelized, 30 minutes or longer.
  2. Deglaze pan by carefully pouring in brandy and stir well. Add stock, seasonings, wine, and simmer partially covered for 30 minutes.
  3. In individual bowls, place a crouton in center and sprinkle with cheese, pour a generous amount of onion soup over each. If using oven proof bowls, broil 3” from heat source, watching carefully until tops bubble and brown. Serve with more cheese.   Serves 4 – 6.