Party Time

Who doesn’t love a good Reuben sandwich?  What a combination. A flavorful dressing spread on pumpernickel or rye bread and topped with layers of corned beef, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese. It’s definitely over the top when grilled  until toasted and  the cheese is melted.

Here’s a Reuben riff that brings it into the realm of mass production for entertaining and game days.  It’s an open-faced sandwich that can be prepped ahead and run under the broiler for a last minute fix.Mini Reubens

My chief hang-up on the Reuben has always been the sandwich spread, with a definite thumbs down on sweet ones, like Thousand Island and most Russian dressings.  A simple solution is to go with a straight forward, unadulterated combination of mayonnaise and sriracha with a little minced green onion for interest.

For maximum compatibility, serve these tasty morsels with sour dill pickles and crunchy sweet potato chips.

Open-Faced Mini Reubens

 Ingredients
1 loaf cocktail rye or pumpernickel bread
Dressing
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce
1 green onion, minced
Toppings
3/4 pound thinly sliced corned beef
1-1/2 cups sauerkraut, rinse and drain well
3/4 pound sliced Swiss cheese
Garnish:  ½ cup chopped dill pickle or gherkins

Instructions

  1. For dressing: blend the mayonnaise and other ingredients and set aside.
  2. Preheat broiler. Set rack about 6” from top.
  3. Warm the sauerkraut. Slice the corned beef into 1-1/2” strips to fold neatly across the rye. Cut the Swiss cheese slices into quarters.
  4. Arrange cocktail rye slices on a baking sheet. Spread each slice liberally with a heaping teaspoon of dressing. Fold the corned beef in 2-3 layers over the bread. Drape a forkful of sauerkraut across the corned beef. Cover the sauerkraut with 2 pieces of Swiss cheese.
  5. Run the open-faced Reubens under the broiler for about 3 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Sprinkle with chopped pickle if desired and serve warm. Yield: 36 or more pieces

 

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Danger Ahead

The convenience of having soft spreadable butter within arm’s reach is a wonderful thing, especially when warm bread is around.  But, it can be hazardous to ones health.  I only say that as a friendly reminder to those of us who received butter crocks for Christmas.

For anyone unfamiliar with this cleaver amenity, the butter is suspended in water as a way of preserving it at room temperature for up to 30 days.  This is not a new idea.  For centuries folks have known this to be a welcome safety method when refrigeration was not an option.

According to the Butter Bell website, this is their explanation:

The French have benefited by this practice, and I say, if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.  To a degree.  Perhaps they are able to show more restraint than I.  It’s important to regularly sample my butter, I reason, to make certain of its creamy texture and delicate flavor, and that is it is soft, spreadable, and safe.

Now, I am looking for French and imported butters, purely for comparison purposes, you understand.

It’s my job to know these things.  I am completely smitten by my new butter crock and reason this is all purely educational. 

Which also means that the butter is bypassing my hips and waist at this time. No matter, I tell myself.  It’s the holidays.

Friday Night Special

There are times when admittedly, my meals are a little wacky.  They can be downright self- indulgent and make little sense to others.  Especially on Friday nights.

It’s the end of the official work week and it’s time to relax. There are no rules!  My refrigerator looks deranged with a mere mishmash of odds and ends and pathetic leftovers. Since I will likely do a grocery shop over the weekend, I resist a stop—and prefer to pass on fast foods.

In my experience, there’s always a pizza in the works. Like another stand-by, the taco, a few toppings can become a full meal.  To that end, I like to stock at least one pan-size portion of pizza dough in the freezer. It easily defrosts in the microwave and is ready to go in no time. Occasionally, I have even stashed a pre-baked crust in the freezer. It’s a matter of gathering up a few compatible toppings and tucking it all in the oven for a quick bake.

That was the situation this past Friday night, between Christmas and New Year’s. Thanks to the holidays, my fridge was ripe pickings for fabulous toppings. No pathetic odds and ends here; I had a little hard Spanish chorizo, a collection of fontina and other cheeses, pasilla peppers, sweet onion, Greek dried olives and — fresh green tomatillos.

Tomatillo Sauce 1Whatever.  I treated the 8 tomatillos as if they were treasured San Marzano tomatoes. I removed their husks, chopped them up, and made a fast sauce with onion, garlic, jalapeno, oregano. I simmered it briefly, then ran the immersion blender through it until thick and cohesive. The results: a light, bright sauce worthy of this splendid occasion.

Turns out, the sparkling sauce brought all of these disparate characters together.

The final topping was another gift that kept on giving, too.  I had a little cheese mixture left from making stuffed mushrooms earlier in the week: a combination of shredded mozzarella, Parmesan, green onion, garlic, herbs and Panko. These amazing bread crumbs kept the stuffing light, absorbed moisture, and allowed for a beautifully browned top. Who knew it would one day end up on my pizza?

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It’s another Friday Night Special…  and that’s the way it goes.

Friday Night Pizza

Ingredients
1 pizza crust
Tomatillo Sauce
2 tablespoon olive oil
½ onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, partially seed, chop
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon dried oregano
8 fresh tomatillos, husk and chop
½ teaspoon.dried thyme (or Herbes de Provence if available)
½ cup chicken bouillon
Salt and pepper to taste
Toppings
1 pasilla pepper, seed and cut into strips
½ cup hard Spanish chorizo, cut up
½ smoked ham chunks (if available)
½ sweet onion, cut into strips
A handful of dried Greek olives, or other
1 handful shredded fontina cheese
1 cup cheese combo: mozzarella, parmesan, green onion, garlic and @ ¼ cup Panko
Dried oregano

Instructions

  1. For Tomatillo Sauce: in saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil and sauté the onion until soft. Add the pepper and stir, then the garlic and allow to cook until aromatic.  Add the dried herbs, then stir in the chopped tomatillos.  Just barely cover with chicken bouillon and allow to simmer until thick, about 7 minutes.  With immersion blender, whirl until the sauce is thick, cohesive and still has texture.
  2. Prebake pizza crust at 425° in lower 1/3 of oven to set, about 7 minutes.
  3. To assemble: cover the crust with a coating of some of the sauce. Top with a layer of green pepper, then the meat selection, the onion, olives, and cheese.
  4. Sprinkle with dried oregano and bake another 12 minutes or until browned and bubbly. Cut into portions and serve hot.  Serves 2.

 

Kimchi, the New Salsa

These days kimchi is the condiment I reach for first in the fridge, now replacing a line-up of salsas, from verde to chipotle.

I’ve been collecting kimchi recipes for ages, but have rarely made one, due to the large quantity they yield and the time required to pull it off.  I recently came across an interesting concept that really caught my attention—intriquing enough I  had to give it a try.

In Julie O’Brien and Richard Climenhage’s Fresh and Fermented cookbook, they are talking my language. Their quick and simple kimchi begins with unpasteurized sauerkraut, a naturally fermented process that gives all the flavor and health benefits one could ask for.

I was able to track down the essential Korean red pepper, gochugaru, at my local Asian market. It too, has become one of my favorite seasonings. Mildly hot and slightly smoky, it works well in many applications.

The drained sauerkraut is topped off with the gochugaru, fresh garlic, ginger, and green onion—just enough of each for balance. It’s all covered with a salt brine and left to ferment at room temperature for about a week.

Once it’s burbling nicely, it’s refrigerated and ready to eat, but will improve the longer it ferments.  This simple technique transforms the sauerkraut into a hot and spicy condiment that is good on anything from eggs, to kielbasa or tacos, and of course, on chili!

Quick and Simple Kimchi

Inspired by Fresh and Fermented, Julie O’Brien & Richard J. Climenhage

Ingredients
2 cups unpasteurized refrigerated sauerkraut
1 tablespoon green onion, minced
2 teaspoons Korean red repper (gochugaru)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon minced ginger

Directions

  1. Drain the sauerkraut and combine with the remaining ingredients.
  2. Pack into a 3-cup jar and top off with brine (see below) to cover the kraut and leave 1” from below the rim to allow for fermenting activity.
  3. Let sit at room temperature out of bright light for about 1 week, then refrigerate.
  4. It is ready to eat but will improve the longer it ferments. Yield: about 3 cups.

Additional brine:  Ratio: 1-1/4 teaspoon sea salt to 1 cup room temperature non-chlorinated water.  Dissolve the salt in the water.

Meditation on Garlic

If you haven’t had fresh garlic, my friend, then you don’t know what you are missing.

In our grocery stores, we are mostly familiar with dried garlic that has likely been shipped in from some exotic port across the world from us.

Lacy Gage from Blue Moose Farm recently supplied me with enough heads of well-groomed garlic from her luxe gardens to make a full complement of fall garlic confit.

Yes, we love our garlic, but fresh garlic is the real deal. It is juicy, easy to peel, sweet, and has flavor worth shouting about. Anything else pales in comparison.

And so it is with my garlic confit.  It took 7 heads or approximately 75 peeled and trimmed cloves of garlic. But when you have something this luscious, it is not work. It becomes a Zen meditation on the profound glory of real food.

In this an ancient method of preserving garlic, peeled cloves are gently poached in olive or other mild oil, rendering the tamed garlic sweet, soft, and sublimely creamy. In very little time, you receive ready to use garlic, plus a richly infused oil for cooking or flavoring, and garlic with much of its obnoxious odor eliminated.

Garlic is good on just about anything.

Mash a few cloves with or without butter for instant garlic bread; make a quick salad dressing with a few smashed cloves, a bit of infused oil and a dash of vinegar; toss mashed cloves with steamed vegetables; add mashed cloves and oil to hot drained pasta with chopped tomato and a bit of basil. Or, slip mashed garlic under its skin before roasting chicken.

Garlic Confit

Ingredients
7 heads garlic, cloves trimmed and peeled
Enough olive oil to cover, approximately 1½ cup
1-2 sprigs of fresh thyme, rosemary, or savory
Bay leaf, dried red pepper

Directions

  1. Place the garlic cloves, oil, herbs, and a dried red pepper if desired in a small pan over medium-low heat; cover and poach until the cloves are tender but not browned, about 30 minutes.
  2. Cool to room temperature, transfer cloves to a clean 3-cup storage jar and cover with the infused oil.
  3. Cover tightly and store in refrigerator for several weeks; keep covered with oil.  Use clean utensils and handle with care to avoid contamination.  Yield: 2-3 cups.

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!

Anise Chicken: Ready for Summer Heatwaves

When summer arrives and the heat sets in, my eating habits change. I shift to lighter, easier meals—foods that perk up an often peckish appetite.

I’ve always been a big fan of the Chinese method of poaching chicken.  It results in a beautiful clear broth, utterly pristine flavors, and meat that is succulent and tender. Here’s an outstanding riff on that approach which requires very little actual cooking time—much relies on the broth’s residual heat to do the work. It’s an ideal technique for summertime heatwaves.

The idea comes from Wendy Kiang-Spray’s lovely cookbook The Chinese Kitchen Garden. A whole chicken (here I’ve used the equivalent, 2 Cornish game hens) is dry rubbed with salt, stuffed with whole star anise, and refrigerated for 1- 3 days. When ready to launch, it’s brought to room temperature before lowering into to a pot of simmering water and cooked uncovered for a mere 10 minutes. Then, it’s covered and allowed to steep in the hot broth’s residual heat for 45 minutes. The chicken is fast cooled in an ice water bath for 15 minutes and patted dry.

The resulting broth is bewitchingly addictive: the star anise flavor is present, but not overtly so.  It’s a lovely liquid for cooking rice, grains, vegetables, etc.  For a soup stock, I opted to keep it light and not overwhelm it with too many heavy flavors.

A few slices of ginger, some garlic, and a dash of soy sauce hit the right balance for a soba noodle soup with chicken and a few fresh vegetables.

The anise chicken has happily starred in a variety of applications. When pressed, I have whipped up a simple Asian dipping sauce, but Wendy also suggests a Ginger-Onion Garlic Oil, also included because it is such a nice touch.

Of my favorite uses, I remain a big fan of an easy Asian Chicken Salad served with plenty of sesame crepes (yum—coming soon!) along with spoonfuls of hoisin sauce for stuffing/rolling purposes. Welcome to summer 2017, rolling out with record 101° heat.

Anise Poached Chicken

Inspired by The Chinese Kitchen Garden by Wendy Kiang-Spray

Ingredients
3 pound whole chicken
2 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse salt
20 pieces whole star anise
Ginger-Onion/Garlic Oil (optional)
2” section ginger, peel and slice
3-4 garlic whistles or 3 “bunching onions” (a leek-like variety), cut in 2” lengths
¼ cup oil

Directions

  1. Rinse and pat dry chicken. Rub inside and out with 2 tablespoons coarse salt. Place the star anise in the cavity. Place in zip lock and refrigerate 1-3 days.
  2. Remove chicken and bring to room temperature (about 1 hour ahead).
  3. Fill pot with enough water to cover chicken and bring to a boil.  Lower anise-filled chicken into pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low.  Simmer chicken uncovered 10 minutes. Skim residue off top of water. Turn off heat and cover with tight fitting lid.  Allow to steep undisturbed for another 45 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.  Meanwhile make Ginger and Onion Oil. Crush ginger and onions with mortar and pestle or pulse in food processor. Place the paste in heatproof bowl and add 1 tsp salt.  Heat the oil until hot. Carefully pour the hot oil over the ginger and onion mixture.
  4. When chicken is cooked through, remove from pot, reserving pot liquid for another purpose:  cooking rice or other grain, etc.  Lower chicken into an ice water bath to quickly stop the cooking process. In about 15 minutes when cooled, remove and pat dry.
  5. Chop into pieces and serve with a drizzle of ginger-onion oil. Nice over steamed white rice or other. Serves 4-6.