Freekeh to the rescue

Mujadara is a delicious mid-Eastern specialty typically made with rice and lentils and topped with caramelized onions. My mouth was watering thinking about this plus spoonfuls of Raita (here), a yogurt topping seasoned with cumin, green onion, cilantro, and such.

It wasn’t until I began pulling out the lentils and rice that I realized I was completely out of rice! How does that happen?  I debated a run to the store but spotted a bag of cracked freekeh.

cracked freekeh

Well, I reasoned, freekeh is certainly nutritious, it has a lovely nutty flavor and a chewy bite… It might actually be good with lentils.  Why not give it try?

I had the Instant Pot ready to go, so I proceeded pretty much as usual in making mujadara, by first caramelizing the onions and then set them aside. Yum.  I quickly sautéed the aromatics: cumin, allspice, and smoked paprika, added garlic and a dollop of the onions. The freekeh and lentils were tossed in next with water and such, and the pot was set to Hi Pressure for 11 minutes.

Once complete, I decided to let the pot rest with a 7-minute quick release.  I carefully opened the lid, relieved to see that both the lentils and freekeh were cooked. It was a little soupy but it set up as it sat in the pot. I had forgotten to add lemon rind, so I stirred in a spoonful of preserved lemon, which perked it up nicely.

Freekeh and Lentil Mujadara

The very exotic mujadara was ready and waiting when dinner was served 30 minutes later—along with caramelized onions, raita, and more lemon.

I could have stopped there; it needed nothing more. I buckled and added a little tomato for fresh color… and pita bread.

Freekeh & Lentil Mujadara

Ingredients
1 Tbsp butter and 1 tsp olive oil
1 large onion, thin sliced lengthwise
½ tsp cumin, ¼ tsp allspice, ½ tsp hot smoked paprika or to taste
1 clove garlic, mash and sliver
1 cup cracked freekeh
½ cup brown lentils
2½ cups water
½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper
1 bay leaf
1 tsp grated lemon rind or preserved lemon

Instructions

  1. To prepare the caramelized onion, set Instant Pot to Sauté Medium, melt the butter and a drizzle of olive oil. When bubbling, add the sliced onion, a dash of salt and pepper, and stir often with flat a spatula until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Reduce heat to Sauté Low, drizzle in a little olive oil to coat bottom. Add the spices, stirring until aromatic. Stir the garlic into the spice mixture for a minute and then a spoonful of the caramelized onions.
  3. Add the lentils and freekeh, then the water. Increase heat to Sauté High; stir in salt, pepper, bay leaf, and lemon. Seal pot, reset to Hi Pressure for 10-11 minutes. When complete, let stand 7 minutes and carefully release pressure. Open the lid, stir in preserved lemon  if using. It thickens as it sets.
  4. Serve with caramelized onion, fresh lemon, and homemade raita. Serves 4

fast, fresh, & homemade

I needed ricotta cheese for Thanksgiving and decided to make my own in the Instant Pot.  It’s not complicated, and you can certainly make ricotta in a pot on the stove.  But if you have an Instant Pot,  you simply set the Yogurt button and let the pot do the rest. In about 30 minutes the milk reaches a boil at a controlled pace, thus reducing the risk of scorching the bottom of the pot.

In another 30 minutes you have fresh, homemade ricotta.

fresh ricotta cheese

If you make lasagna or other ricotta-based dishes, then you can appreciate a flavorful well-constructed ricotta—it makes a difference. That’s why I’ve come around to using whole milk ricotta.  For the same reasons, it’s wise to look for milk that is not ultra-pasteurized.

Ricotta curds are made by adding acid to the milk, either lemon juice, vinegar, or citric acid.  In my opinion, vinegar is a bit harsh and its flavor may be detectable in the cheese. Citric acid is reliable, but harder to find. I prefer lemon juice because it is convenient, mild, and the curds seem less chewy.

Once the milk has reached between 180° and 185°F the lemon juice is added to the pot and gently stirred to assimilate into the milk. Curds will begin to form; when the milk has visibly separated, let the curds set 15 to 20 minutes. Then, it’s time to drain them. I use a slotted spoon to transfer the curds to a colander lined with cheesecloth or coffee filters.  Let them drain 15 to 20 minutes and then move the curds to a bowl to use right away or into a storage container to chill up to 5 days.

Fresh Ricotta Cheese

Ingredients
6 cups whole milk, not ultra-pasteurized
1 tsp salt (optional)
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
supplies: digital thermometer, spatula, slotted spoon, colander with bowl, cheesecloth

Instructions

  1. Set multi-cooker or Instant Pot to Yogurt; press Adjust and select Boil. Pour in milk, add salt and stir with a flat spatula to keep from scorching on bottom.  Bring to simmering boil (180-185°F), about 30 minutes. If more time is needed, reset pot to Sauté Hi to reach temperature.
  2. Remove from heat, add the lemon juice, and gently stir to combine and form curds. Cover, and let stand undisturbed to set curds, 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile line a colander with 2 layers or fine cheesecloth or a clean dish towel and set it over a bowl.  Once curds have rested, skim all the curds into the colander, leaving the whey behind for other purposes (it’s highly nutritious).  Let the curds drain 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how dry you prefer it.
  4. The ricotta is ready to use or transfer it to a covered container and store refrigerated up to 5 days.  Makes 2 cups.

Brussels Sprouts, the easy way

Once again, yesterday I was reminded why I like brussels sprouts, especially on a day like Thanksgiving.  As a fall vegetable they really work, they have lots of flavor and I love their green addition, but I’m disappointed when they turn out bitter and either undercooked and hard, or overcooked and mushy.

Bacon is always a solution, its smokiness can mask some of that off flavor, and roasting sprouts is an interesting compromise. That is, until the oven is taken over by turkey and other sides and sprouts get shifted down in priority.

So, here’s my solution.  I’ve discovered that brussels sprouts cook in a flash in the microwave, and when an everyday balsamic vinegar is pulled into the equation, things really shift.  The sweet-sour action tends to balance out any potential bitterness, and used judiciously, balsamic vinegar adds dimension and is hardly detectable.

I dribble on a dash of balsamic when precooking the halved brussels sprouts for 2 to 3 minutes in the microwave—before all the madness begins. Then, it’s a simple matter of quickly reheating them with the precooked smoky bacon and perhaps a bit of onion, plus another dribble of balsamic for re-enforcement.  Give it a taste before serving and add another dribble, if so inclined.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s that easy and so tasty.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Balsamic

Ingredients
1-pound brussels sprouts, trim and cut in half lengthwise
3 slices pepper bacon, cut into strips
½ small red onion, peel and slice
1 Tbsp olive oil, divided
½ tsp each salt and pepper
2-3 tsp balsamic vinegar, to taste

Instructions

  1. Ahead, cook bacon in microwave between toweling until crisp, about 2 minutes total.  In microwaveable bowl, toss onion with 1 tsp oil and  heat in microwave until it softens and begins to color, 2 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Toss the brussels sprouts with remaining olive oil, salt and pepper, and 1 teaspoon balsamic.  Microwave 2-3 minutes uncovered.  Set aside until needed.
  3. To finish, reheat the sprouts with 1 additional teaspoon balsamic, the bacon and onion on top in microwave, 1-2 minutes.  Drizzle lightly with balsamic vinegar to taste, toss and serve.  Serves 4.

Just a Bite

Quail eggs aren’t something I have thought much about. Yes, they are cute, but so very small. In the past when debating such an idea I’ve moved on, figuring they were more trouble than they were worth.

This weekend at the Saturday Market I buckled.  So clean and colorful, the tiny eggs beckoned like shiny jewels, pulling me in from their counter top display.  Before I knew it, the friendly vendor had fully captured my attention with talk of cooking Eggs-in-a-Hole (or my favorite Egg-in-a Nest). As she packed up my eggs, she describes the quail’s shell and inner membrane as thicker than chicken eggs, and suggests tapping the shell with a sharp knife to crack it open, rather than wrapping it on a hard surface.

Later online I learn that quail eggs are far more nutritious than chicken eggs. They are packed with vitamins (B1, B2, A), good cholesterol, phosphorous, potassium, and minerals. A quail egg has only 14 calories… so tiny, so powerful.

This morning I revisited my childhood favorite Egg-in-a Nest (here), in its diminutive form. The bread of choice is a personal decision, but size matters. Lately my go-to bread has become the smallish Bake at Home Sourdough Batard which requires a quick bake in the oven to finish it. Rather than bake-off the loaf, I l prefer to cut as needed and toast off slices—also an ideal size for tiny nests. To create a round in the bread for the egg, I cut around the bottom of a toothpick holder, I’ve heard a shot glass will also work.

I cut into the egg shell with a sharp knife from the pointed end. Since there seems to be a larger ratio of yolk to egg, I start far enough down (about ¼ of the full length) to allow the entire yolk to escape the shell. Watch out for particles, since the shell tends to crumble.

It’s easier to spread the bread sides with butter before placing in the pan to toast. Once almost toasted on the first side, add a bit of butter in the center hole and drop in the egg. It will likely cook fully within a minute or two. Turn to the second side and cook about 30 seconds to set; the yolk cooks very quickly.

Tiny Egg in a Nest

The quail egg’s flavor is more robust than a chicken egg. Some call it gamey, which is an overstatement. It tastes the way you wish an egg would taste. Once you get going, it’s easy to whip up a batch of nests pretty fast. I see all sorts of possibilities with these cuties, not only for breakfast, but with salad or as a delightful snack. Not so fiddly after all, they are perfect when you are looking for just a bite.

Tiny Egg-in-a-Nest

Ingredients
per nest:
1 small slice of favorite bread, with the center cut out
1 quail egg
butter, softened
salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Slice the bread ¼” thick and cut a small round from the center with a shot glass or similar form.
  2. To crack quail egg, quickly cut into the shell and membrane with a sharp knife. Empty the yolk and white into a small holding bowl.  Repeat with as many as needed.
  3. Using a small skillet over medium heat, butter the bread and round on both sides and place the two pieces in the skillet.  Move the bread a bit to coat the pan with butter where the egg will sit.  Allow the bread to toast, drop in a quail’s egg and let set.  Turn the bread with a spatula and cook to briefly to set the egg on second side.  Make sure the pan has a coating of butter where the egg will rest. Salt and pepper, and serve. Makes 1 nest.

Cornbread worth eating

Back making more soups and stews with cooler weather, I baked my favorite cornbread recently and was reminded how much I appreciate it.

In my opinion, cornbread tends to be either dry and crumbly or overly sweet. Well, maybe that doesn’t matter so much if it’s just an add-on for chili and such… Thank you, I’ll just have a bite and move on. But then, why bother at all?

Most cornbreads are designed as quick breads where dry and liquid are all mixed together and then immediately popped into the oven with ease in mind.  What makes this cornbread unique is that it begins more like a traditional cake batter. The butter and sugar are first creamed together, then the liquid is stirred in followed by the dry ingredients.

It makes a difference.  Yes, this cornbread has a moderate amount of sugar in it, but it aids in the structure of the loaf and enhances its corn flavor. I usually make this in an 8×8” or double it for a 9×13” pan. Baking it as a loaf was a switch, it rose evenly and baked beautifully. Even better I was delighted with how thinly it would slice.

This loaf truly is pure gold; it does not need to be relegated to a chili side. It stands on its own.  It goes with just about anything, but is particularly good with eggs, salads, stews and soup—anyplace a well-constructed bread is wanted.

Golden Cornbread

Ingredients
¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 Tbsp plain yogurt
1 cup milk or water
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.  Spray a 5×8″ loaf pan with bakers spray.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt and set aside.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the butter to soften and slowly beat in the sugar until creamy.  Add the egg and beat well. Beat in the yogurt and milk, then the cornmeal.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the cornmeal mixture and stir until just blended. Transfer batter to pan.
  5. Bake until golden brown and tester comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Cool on rack.
  6. Serve warm or room temperature.  Can be prepared a day ahead.  Cool complete.  Cover with foil and store at room temperature. Makes one loaf.

Embarrassment of Riches

I’m embarrassed to admit I have sorrel growing in my garden that I have barely touched. I planted it early in the year, and I’ve been reluctant to harvest much.  It is so utterly beautiful, I’ve been content to gaze on their bright green, red-etched leaves rather than eat them.

Turns out sorrel is a perennial herb that grows well in the Pacific Northwest. It is related to rhubarb (of course) and buckwheat (brilliant!). Sorrel is well known for its sour qualities and apparently, my particular red-veined variety is regarded as milder than most (indeed!).

Even though my tiny garden is pretty much done for the season, sorrel’s hearty leaves continue to grow like crazy. Armed with increased incentive, I have taken to clipping the leaves for salad.  Apparently, they can become tough, but I’ve yet to experience that issue. Thus far, the leaves are crisper than spinach with a pleasing tartness.

Fall Sorrel Salad

Here’s a rundown on a recent salad featuring the beauteous sorrel with other seasonal greens. I began with a juicy Honey Crisp apple thinking its residual sweetness would offset any lurking bitterness. To complement the apple I went with trusty Oregon Blue cheese—its robust, creaminess was an awesome match.

I brought it all together with a bold sweet-tart Balsamic-Vanilla Dressing laced with nutmeg, and finished  it with a sprinkling of caramelized walnuts. Oh, yes, let’s not forget freshly ground mixed peppercorns, the  crowning touch.

Fall Sorrel Salad

Ingredients
8 – 10 ounces, combination of sorrel and seasonal greens
1 fresh apple such as Honey Crisp
½ cup crumbled Oregon blue cheese, Danish blue, or Maytag
½ cup caramelized nuts
freshly ground mixed peppercorns
Balsamic Vanilla Dressing
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
salt and plenty of fresh ground pepper
¾ cup oil blend, (such as ¼ cup olive oil, ¼ cup vegetable oil, and ¼ cup walnut oil)

Instructions

  1. For dressing: place all through salt and pepper in cruet or jar and shake; add oil and shake well. Adjust seasoning.
  2. To prepare apple ahead: wash and dry, quarter and remove core, and leave skin on. Cut into 1/4″ width slices. Dip in 1 tsp lemon juice and 1 cup water, drain and cover with paper toweling.
  3. Wash, dry and trim greens, place in bowl and chill.
  4. To serve, toss the greens lightly with dressing, scatter with remaining items and serve. Pass additional dressing.    Serves 2-4

Slow ‘Fest Fix

As we approach Halloween and the weather gets blustery my appetite naturally shifts to heartier, stew-like meals.  Here’s one that shows up at some point, especially if I haven’t had my Oktoberfest fix.

For this stew we start with some big flavors, all which benefit from a slow cook.  I doubt there is a sausage out there that I don’t love – just throw in a little ground meat, and lace it with plenty of garlic, spices, and salt.  In this case, perhaps begin with a beefy sausage or a good bockwurst. It’s a matter of taste, but here the average kielbasa tends to fight with its mates.

Throw in a few red potatoes and add a really good sauerkraut. If it’s a canned sauerkraut, I usually rinse and drain it. There are some spectacular fermented ones in the market so it’s fun to consider one of them. They usually have so much going on, it’s a shame to rinse it all away, so give it a taste and see what you think.  I opted for a naturally fermented garlic and dill variety and hit mine with a light spray, but retained most of the brine, garlic, and herbs.

All of these characters work off of each other. The potatoes absorb and tame the sauerkraut, the sauerkraut balances the sausage’s richness—and so on. I also added some carrot chunks and sliced fresh cabbage for good measure.  The carrots bring a bit of sweetness and the cabbage isn’t noticeable unless you are looking.  It blends right in with the sauerkraut and gives it a little more structure.

Like crafting a fine wine, all of this requires and little time in the pot to mellow and bring these big flavors together.  If you are impatient, give it a couple of hours in a low oven, on a low simmer on the stove, or mindlessly in a crock pot or slow cooker for up to 6 hours.

Enjoy with a grainy mustard and a good rye or other hearty bread.

Slow Sausage, Sauerkraut & Potatoes

Ingredients
2 tsp olive oil
12-ounce beefy sausage, cut into chunks
½ onion, sliced
½ tsp each caraway seed and crushed peppercorns
1 bay leaf
16-ounce package sauerkraut, rinse and drain if very salty
5 red potatoes, scrub and quarter
2 tsp olive oil
12-ounce beefy sausage, cut into chunks
½ onion, sliced
½ tsp each caraway seed and crushed peppercorns
1 bay leaf
16-ounce package sauerkraut, rinse and drain if very salty
5 red potatoes, scrub and quarter

Instructions

  1. Brown the sausage in the oil on all sides. Add the onion and spices, toss to lightly color.
  2. Add the sauerkraut, then tuck potatoes into the niches in the pot, add up to a cup of water and bring to a simmer.
  3. Set to low slow cook for a minimum of 2 hours, or in crock pot for 6 hours. Adjust seasoning and serve in bowls. Serves 4 or more

Optional: add 2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks with potatoes. Include ¼ head cabbage cut into 2″ strips along with sauerkraut.