Without a trace

A couple of weeks ago I pulled a dish out of the freezer marked Spinach Torta, 5 pieces, with no date listed.  It was really good; well browned layers of spinach in a creamy base interspersed with pieces of thickly grated cheese.

It’s a mystery. I have found no backup, and I am pretty good at leaving a trail when it comes to recipes.  Even when I’m tinkering, I jot down a note for follow up. Either I was in a huge hurry or thought it wouldn’t matter, the question has remained with me, “How did I make that?”

I keep coming up with possibilities and theories… and here’s my latest bright idea.

Although I suspect I used fresh spinach, I opt for a carton of frozen chopped spinach. Right away, we know it will be different. We know that in working with spinach it’s all about eliminating the inherent moisture.  Once frozen spinach is defrosted, it’s simply a matter of squeezing this mass very well.

I also know that I would not be making a quiche, since I prefer something more solid.  I opt for a base similar to a Greek spinach filling with ricotta, plus a bit of bread crumbs for added moisture control and binder. The custard has more structure; reminiscent of clafoutis, it includes milk, egg, and a bit of flour.

Spinach Torta

So, there you have it.  This baby is not going anywhere, it has plenty of flavor and holds together beautifully.  Don’t be surprised when another version shows here, since that will likely happen again!

Spinach Torta

Ingredients
½ cup all-purpose flour
¾ tsp salt, divided
½ tsp nutmeg
5 eggs, beaten
⅔ cup milk
10-ounce frozen chopped spinach, thaw, drain, squeeze dry
1 green onion chopped and/or 1 clove garlic, mash & minced
⅔ cup ricotta
3 Tbsp Parmesan, grated
2 Tbsp bread crumbs
½ cup grated cheese, pepper jack, muenster or mozzarella

Instructions

  1. Spread a pie plate or quiche dish with non-stick spray.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, ¼ tsp salt, and nutmeg.  Add the beaten eggs and incorporate the flour into the eggs with a fork. Then, stir in the milk and whisk until smooth. Let stand 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375° F.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine spinach, green onion, ½ tsp salt, ricotta, and Parmesan.
  5. Stir the bread crumbs into spinach mixture. Whisk the batter down and add it to the spinach in thirds, stirring well after each addition. Pour the mixture into the baking dish and bake until it begins to set, rotating once, for about 30 minutes.  Sprinkle with ½ cup grated cheese and bake 10-15 minutes longer until puffed.  Serves 4 or more.

Painless Polenta

I just had to stop and pass on this memorable method for cooking polenta.  Finally, the nightmares are over: no more burbling projectiles of searing polenta. With no effort—and no pain—creamy, smooth polenta is ready in 30 minutes.

In cooking your polenta, it’s important to select the right type. There are instant polentas that cook up in a flash, for which this whole episode is likely a waste of your time. Coarser grains, such as authentic polenta, stone-ground cornmeal, or grits require a longer cooking time. That is what we are interested in here, we want the more traditional style for rich flavor and divine mouth-feel.

And, there is no sticking or burning polenta, either…

This may sound like an infomercial, but I have nothing to gain but good food. The secret is in the multi-cooker and the trick is to use a bit more water than usual. Bring it all to a simmer, stir in the salt and polenta, then seal the lid and bring it to pressure. Let it burble away undisturbed for 20 minutes. Once complete, allow the pressure to release naturally (about 10 minutes). In this magical time, the polenta settles down, expands, and blooms. Carefully remove the lid, bring it all together with a wooden spoon and whisk in a little butter and grated cheese.

Now, you are free to do with it what you will. This polenta is good enough to enjoy without a lot of fuss, but the options are endless.

Spoon it loosely mounded into a bowl porridge-style topped with cheese, or with your favorite mushroom topping or tomato sauce.

Polenta thickens as it sits, so you can pour it into a flat pan or dish to firm up and cut into shapes later.

Make crostini type bites or cut into fingers for dipping. Or, form into cakes for a future side. It’s all good!

Creamy Polenta

Ingredients
5 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 cup coarse polenta
2 Tbsp butter
¼ cup grated Parmesan

Instructions

  1. Place salted water in liner of Instant Pot or other multi-cooker. Set to Hi Saute or equivalent and bring to a simmer. Whisk in polenta to dissolve any potential lumps.
  2. Seal lid, set to HI Pressure for 20 minutes.  When complete, turn off unit and disconnect. Let stand 10 minutes, then slowly release pressure.  Before opening, tap or shift pot to remove pockets of heat that may have formed in the polenta.  Carefully open and stir down with long wooden spoon.
  3. Whisk the butter and cheese into the polenta to incorporate and make smooth.
  4. Serve in spoonfuls, or pour onto oiled or plastic lined baking sheet, chill and let set. Cut into shapes and reheat in 375°F oven, or in a skillet over medium high with a coating of butter or oil until heated and toasted on each side.  Serves 4 or more.

Bread-and-Breakfast Special

My Friday pizza routine took a turn last night, it became more of a Saturday morning pizza. It was another affirmation that pizza is good anytime, even with an egg on it.

Pizza with Baked Eggs, fresh out of oven

I’m calling this my Bread-and-Breakfast special because it’s ham and cheese on fabulous pizza crust with as many eggs piled on as you wish.

Of course, the saddest part of this was that it was so good, there was none left for breakfast today.  But that can be remedied, since our standby pizza dough recipe (here) makes 2 medium pizzas or 1 large. It also works well because of the prebake process I’ve built into it. With the crust partially baked ahead, it’s a matter of adding toppings and giving it a final bake.

In this case, I wanted a thicker crust rather than the thinner style I usually prefer.  One that would hold a bit of an indentation for each egg to rest in, and soak up some of that eggy goodness. Since this dough is made with instant yeast, it requires little kneading and it rises in a flash. It takes little extra time to roll or pat it into the pan, spread on a little olive oil and let it rise for an extra 15 minutes.

While that was happening, I organized my toppings and began to preheat the oven to 450°F.  For the first bake that sets the dough, I made indentations in it for the eggs, scattered on strips of Canadian bacon tossed with red pepper flakes, and let it bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until it began to color slightly.

For the final bake I spread the cheese blend across the crust, then dropped the eggs in place with a little salt and pepper and more cheese.  I sprinkled herbs across it all and drizzled on a bit more olive oil.  Into the oven it went for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the cheese was bubbly,  egg whites were set, yolks runny, and the crust golden brown.

I learned the eggs continue to cook and set up once out of the oven.  The ham is a nice touch, but can be omitted for a simple cheese pizza. Or, swap it out with mushrooms, prosciutto, peppers, or whatever.

Ham & Cheese Pizza with Baked Eggs

Ingredients
1/2 recipe Pizza Dough
1-2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 thin slices Canadian bacon, sliced into strips (optional)
½ cup shredded mozzarella or Muenster cheese
¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2-4 eggs
Sea salt and ground pepper
1/2 tsp herbes de Provence, Italian seasoning, or fresh thyme
To finish: 2 green onions, sliced

Instructions

  1. Using fresh dough, roll out to fit a well-oiled medium pizza pan, brush lightly with olive oil. Let it rest 15 minutes while preparing other ingredients.
  2. Preheat oven to 450° F.  Make an indentation in dough for each egg.  Scatter ham on top, and prebake the crust for 8-10 minutes, until set, firm and beginning to color slightly.
  3. If using prebaked crust proceed from here.
  4. Combine and sprinkle all but 1/4 cup cheese over crust. Drop eggs onto crust, sprinkle with salt and pepper and remaining cheese. Season all with herbs and drizzle more oil across the top. Bake 8-10 minutes, until cheese is bubbly, egg whites are set, yolk are set but runny and crust is golden brown.  Let stand briefly, scatter with sliced green onions and slice.  Makes 1 medium pizza.

A question of quinoa

I hope we have gotten past quinoa’s trendy phase and can settle down and fully accept it for how great it really is—stellar nutritional virtues and all.  Judging from most market shelves, quinoa has definitely secured a presence and has moved from novelty to staple status.

We know quinoa is incredibly versatile; its slight nuttiness blends well with just about anything. I’ve gotten in the habit of cooking up a batch and incorporating it in meals during the week.  It works in a salad, maybe a grain bowl, part of a dinner, and even for breakfast.

Another personal motive is to hold back enough for my precious Quinoa Bars, an old favorite. I’m always glad to have them in the fridge. There will be times in the course of a week that I’ll be in a wild rush, and know I can reach in and grab one without missing a  beat.

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Quinoa Fruit Bars

The moisture from the pre-cooked quinoa seems to keep these bars moist but not soggy—they hold very well without drying out after a few days, and the slight nuttiness blends well with the oat flakes and dried fruits. This last time, I went for a combo of dates and dried cranberries then topped them with bits of sliced candied oranges stashed away from a Trader Joe’s offering.

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There’s still a lot of discussion about rinsing quinoa to remove a natural bitter coating from the seeds. I buy mine in bulk and have no idea whether this has been done. I usually forget to rinse, but as or yet have not noticed any pervasive off taste.

So here is the latest “new and improved” version of Quinoa Fruit Bars. They are even easier to make and enjoy!

Quinoa Fruit Bars  

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, or half whole wheat or other flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp each allspice and dried ginger
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup quick oats flakes
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup yogurt
  • 1/2 cup agave or honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup cooked white quinoa
  • 3/4 cup dried fruit: chopped dates, dried cranberries, raisins, apricots or candied ginger

Garnish: 1 Tbsp Demerara or other coarse sugar or candied fruit garnish

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 8”x8″ pan with non-stick foil or spray with non-stick oil.
  2. In medium bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, spices and salt.  Mix in the oats. Add the dried fruit.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the egg, then stir in yogurt, agave, vanilla, and cooked quinoa.
  4. With spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet just to incorporate.  Spread evenly into pan and sprinkle Demerara sugar over the top.
  5. Bake 30-35 minutes, until it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and the top begins to brown.  Cool on rack and slice. Yield: 16-18 bars

Mollet World

What is the difference between a poached and a soft boiled egg?

A poached egg is cracked into simmering water and cooked until the white is firm and yolk is runny.  A soft boiled—or rather a soft-cooked egg—is not boiled, but simmered in the shell and cooked until white begins to set and yolk is runny—or according to preference.  My clan is picky about this: we err on the side of runny.

This gets confusing.  As with the soft-boiled or soft-cooked egg, a mollet is an egg  that is simmered in the shell until white is firm enough to hold its shape and the yolk is runny.  It is cracked and released from its shell whole, or chilled and then peeled whole.

Jacques Pepin agrees. “The mollet, which means ‘soft’ in French, refers to eggs [likely refrigerated] that are cooked in water in their shells for a longer period of time than soft-cooked eggs, but not as long as hard-cooked eggs — about 6 minutes total.  The yolk is creamy and the white less watery than in soft-cooked eggs. Then the eggs are shelled, leaving their shape intact.”

In sous vide world,  poached egg is the term loosely used to refer to an egg cooked in its shell.  Whatever your choice, the process comes down to temperature of the water bath and cooking time.  Many contend 145°F is the way to go, and to cook the eggs for an hour. Right, and yet this can result in a barely set egg. America’s Test Kitchen steps up with a good compromise.

sous vide bath 1

At ATK’s recommended 167°F for 12 to 13 minutes, the white holds its round shape, and the yolk is runny.  Even better, it is not necessary to peel the mollet. To everyone’s amazement, simply give the warm egg a good crack and the round mollet will fall gracefully from its shell, leaving behind any of its watery residue.

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Mollet egg, sous vide

Final results also have a lot to do with the temperature of the pre-cooked eggs.  If cold, a longer cooking time is required. For consistency, I like to hold my eggs in warm water while readying the water bath, rather than start with cold eggs.  This is also insurance against cold eggs cracking from the sudden heat change and expansion during the cooking process.  Same goes when using the mollet as part of a cooked dish.  When using refrigerated mollets, let the eggs sit in warm tap water for 5 minutes to take the chill off.

Red Pepper Soup

You will have mollet perfection.

Eggs: Mollets, Soft-Cooked & Poached

 Mollet Eggs
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 3 cups water, or enough to cover eggs

Bring the eggs and water to a boil in a small pot, reduce heat and simmer 4 minutes.  Drain.

Rinse eggs with cold water and set in ice water bath to stop the cooking.  Let rest 5 minutes. Crack the eggs and release or and gently peel under cold tap water. Hold in warm water bath.

 Sous Vide Mollet Eggs
  • 4 eggs or more, room temperature
  • 4” water in sous vide water bath

Using sous vide circulator, bring 4 inches water to 167°F in water bath container.  Gently lower eggs into water with a slotten spoon, cover and cook for 12-13 minutes.

Transfer eggs to an ice bath and cool for 1 minute or cool enough to handle.  To serve crack egg into individual bowls.

 Soft-Cooked or Soft-Boiled Eggs
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 3 cups water, or enough to cover eggs

Bring the water to the boiling point in a small pot. Reduce heat to a simmer

Lower eggs in their shells into the water. For soft cooked: simmer 2-3 minutes. For medium cooked about 4 minutes and hard booked 10-15 minutes.

Poached Eggs
  • 5 cups of water
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tsp. vinegar

Bring a 2-quart pot with 3” of water to a boil and add the vinegar.

Lower the heat to a simmer and break egg into a cup and slip it into the water, repeat with the other eggs.  Simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until the white are firm, the yolks are barely set and have turned color.  Remove with a slotted spoon onto toweling and neatly trim any ragged edges.

Reversal of Fortune

On St. Paddy’s Day I am reminded of the joys and pleasures that come from a simple pot of corned beef.  For me, one of the best benefits is the corned beef hash that follows the big blow out.

If you happened to read the previous post then you know it all changed this year.  Because of that, I suddenly had a glorious portion of corned beef already cooked and ready to go before St. Paddy’s Day— If I so wished.

It was indeed an awesome awareness when I awoke this St. Paddy’s Day realizing  I could have my favorite corned beef hash for breakfast!

hash plate,Pepper
Easy Corned Beef Hash

In the past it would have taken another day before I pulled out the food processor or meat grinder to process the leavings of the previously cooked corned beef, cabbage, and boiled vegetables into a lux hash.

On this morning, I keep the hash at its essence:  mere sweet onion and corned beef, and into the pan it goes.  I break up a bit of the moist corned beef, but for the most part that’s not necessary.  It forms its own hash.

hash, tabasco

Joy upon joy, on this St. Paddy’s morning as Irish music lifts the air, breakfast breaks forth with sweet, succulent hash—miraculously transformed from a simple corned beef.

Easy Corned Beef Hash topped with Egg

Ingredients

Per 2 servings

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • ½ small sweet onion
  • 2-½ cups corned beef, chop and shred lightly
  • 2 eggs
  • Tabasco Sauce
  • Salt and pepper

  Directions

Set a skillet (with a lid) over a medium setting, add the butter and heat until bubbly. Add the onion and sauté to softened, 2 – 3 minutes.

Add the corned beef and gently combine with onion; sauté to heat the corned beef and the onion browns around edges. 3 – 5 minutes.

In the pan, form the hash into 2 serving portions, make a slight well in their centers and crack an egg into each.  Drizzle @ 1 tablespoon water around edges to create steam, and cover with lid. Cook 3 to 5 minutes until the eggs are set and cooked to personal preference.

Pass tabasco sauce, and salt and pepper.    Serves 2

One Mug, One Serving

As a follow up to the previous Small Batch, One Bowl, today’s post further down-sizes.

Think of this small personal cake the next time the need hits for a minimal-mess-quick-fix.  You can’t go wrong with the satisfying combination of sweet ripe banana and quick hearty oats. If time permits finish it with a honey-oat topping.

Simply mix all the ingredients in a microwaveable mug and pop it into a microwave oven for 1½ minutes. It’s just that easy.

But wait!  If you haven’t used the microwave for baking before, there are a few things to keep in mind.  In small scale baking such as this, details matter and every second counts.

  • The microwave draws moisture out of food. 
    With our small cake, the size and ripeness of the banana become a key factor. To lighten the cake and provide additional liquid, use either one beaten egg white or 1 egg yolk plus 1-2 teaspoons liquid. When all ingredients have been combined, if the batter is quite heavy adjust by adding a dash at a time of additional liquid to reach a thick cake-like batter.
  • For the optional honey-oat topping Old fashioned oats provide an interesting nut-like quality. Because they are very dry, a bit of milk or water added to the oats will help to moisturize them before adding the honey.  (The honey will soak into the dry oats and become a sticky mess without moisturizing the oats first.)
  • For the cake to rise evenly, turn the cup once half way through baking.
    It is cooked when the cake begins to shrink away from the edges of the mug.
  • When done, let the cake rest for 5 minutes.
    The cake will continue to cook and release moisture.
  • Unmold by running a knife around the edge of the cake.
    If pretty is important, dress it up with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, a dollop of whipped cream, or a drizzle of warmed local honey.
  • Enjoy!
    For breakfast, snacking, or individual dessert.

Banana Oat Mug Cake with Honey-Oat Topping

Inspired by Quaker Oats Banana Oat Mug Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ tablespoons quick oats
  • 2 tablespoons AP flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar, packed
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ ripe banana, well mashed
  • 1 egg white lightly beaten; or 1 egg yolk + 2 tsp milk, water or other liquid, lightly beaten
  • Topping
  • 1½ teaspoons old fashioned oats moistened with 1 tsp milk or other liquid
  • 1 teaspoon honey, agave or syrup
  • Pinch each cinnamon and salt

Instructions

  1. In microwaveable mug, blend together oats, flour, baking powder, sugar and nutmeg.
  2. Add the banana and egg white or egg yolk mixture and combine evenly to form a batter. If quite thick, thin with a dash of milk or water.  Scrape bottom and sides with a spatula.
  3. Combine the topping mixture and distribute over the top.
  4. Microwave on HIGH 80 to 90 seconds until risen and just firm to the touch. Half way through, stop and rotate the mug. Let stand 3 to 5 minutes to further cook and set up before serving.  Yield: 1 serving