Ice Storm Satisfaction

This past week the entire country was hit by severe winter storms. We haven’t been spared here in Oregon either. For over a day now, ice storms  have caused sporadic power outages throughout the region.

Icy Rose Bush

Crashing sounds continue to echo outside, as huge icicles precipitously break and fall thunderously to the ground from their weighty perches. It’s darn cold out there.

An early start this morning called for a late breakfast of warm, luxurious, comfort food. High on my mind, a fabulous block of Cotswold Double Gloucester cheese on standby in the fridge.

Cotswold, Courtesy Amazon.com

Cotswold is a variation of Double Gloucester, a whole cow’s milk cheese made in Gloucestershire County, England where it is revered as a pub cheese.  In my book, it’s not nearly so self-limiting.

This is a unique cheddar-style cheese, pale orange in color and deftly speckled with chives and onions.  Its full herbaceous flavor equally shines on a cheeseboard or teamed with just about anything that agrees with alliums.

Here’s a simple solution that soothed my hungry heart.

Cotwold Pub Sandwich

Call this a starting place: a hot sandwich or cheese-stuffed French toast topped with an egg.  A cheese sandwich of this stature is so startlingly robust it needs little more—perhaps a dab of mayonnaise.

Or, Cheese-Stuffed French Toast

Envelope it all in an eggy batter and simply toast on both sides.  It is exquisite graced with a gooey fried egg.

Cotswold Pub Sandwich (Cheese-Stuffed French Toast)

Ingredients
2 slices sourdough bread
2-3 slices Cotswold Double Gloucester with Onions & Chives cheese
1 tsp mayonnaise or mustard combo
2 eggs, divided
1 Tbsp milk
salt, pepper
1 Tbsp butter, divided

Instructions

  1. Spread the inside slices of bread with mayonnaise. Layer with thick slices of Cotswold cheese.
  2.  In shallow bowl, beat 1 egg with 1 Tbsp milk, and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Place the sandwich in the egg batter and soak for 30 seconds to absorb some of the batter. Turn and repeat.
  4. In hot skillet over medium heat, coat the surface with part of the melted butter.  When hot and bubbly add the sandwich and cook until toasted and cheese softens, approximately 3 minutes per side adding butter as needed. 
  5. Remove sandwich to plate.  If desired, add an egg to buttered skillet; once the white begins to set turn or, add 1 Tbsp water to pan to create steam, cover with lid and cook to set the yolk, another minute or so.
  6. Top the sandwich with a fried egg. Enjoy hot.   Serves 1. 

In Defense of Halloumi

Halloumi has been on my radar for a while now. In truth, it’s not a cheese I was real familiar with because its biggest sales pitch is that it doesn’t melt much. That seemed an oxymoron. Why bother? I’m usually looking for those that are either very hard, fresh, or get all gooey.

But from a cheesemaking point of view, it becomes far more interesting. Halloumi is a fairly basic cheese to make:  set the curds, form into a manageable flat shape, and briefly press to tighten the structure. Then, it goes through a heat process that raises the melting point. It’s salted and often held in a brine solution.

Fresh Halloumi

You are rewarded with a chewy cheese with a fresh mild flavor, a charming squeakiness, and a salty component. Now that is quite a package and enough to challenge feta! Halloumi retains its best qualities when eaten hot or warm. With a little imagination it can easily become the major protein point in a meal.

More good news. Halloumi heats fast while turning golden brown in short order. My latest experiment included cubes as part of a skewered mixture of fast cooking vegetables.

Halloumi Skewers

For even cooking it’s best to select smaller sized mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, and cut sweet onion, pepper, and summer squash into shapes similar in size to the halloumi.  Marinate all in an herbal vinaigrette for 20-30 minutes.

Once skewered and set in a lightly oiled skillet over medium heat  watch carefully and turn, as they brown in 2-3 minutes per side.  I served mine on a bed of warm ley puy lentils along with a few greens, olives, etc.—with warm naan bread and more olive oil for drizzling. Splendid.

Halloumi and Lentils

More info on le puy lentils and a light vinaigrette can be found at Soup and Salad. For those interested, my simplified Halloumi recipe follows, inspired by Gavin Webber’s helpful Halloumi video on YouTube. 

Halloumi

Resized and inspired by Gavin Webber video

Ingredients
10 cups whole milk, homogenized, not ultra-pasteurized
¼ tsp liquid rennet, dilute in ¼ cup water
¼ cup coarse sea salt, approx.

Directions

  1. Heat milk to 86-90° F. Add rennet, stir gently up and down for 1 minute. Cover and rest 30-45 mins to set. Check for a clean break.
  2. To cut curds, cut into ½” cubes with long knife. Rest 5-10 mins to heal the curds.
  3. Slowly heat whey to 104°F, allow about 30 mins. Gently stir curds to keep from matting. Maintain heat for 20 mins; stir occasionally as curds will shrink. Remove pot from heat, cover and rest 10 mins to allow curds to sink.
  4. Drain whey into cheesecloth lined colander, with pot or bowl under to save whey. Wrap with cheesecloth and shape into a ball. Squeeze liquid from curd; turn out with cloth onto large board.
  5. To shape, press and weight, flatten the curd into approx. 1” thick oval, wrap with cloth to firmly hold shape and cover with 2nd board. Weight on top with filled 1 gallon jug for 10 minutes. Turn the flatten curd over, cover with board and press for 20 mins more.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare a draining rack and drainable mat as a holding area.
  7. Cut flattened curd mass into 4 or more wedges.
  8. Heat whey in pot to 180-200° F, skim any detritus (save 2-4 cups for brine). Remove from heat, place curd wedges in near boiling whey and cover until they begin to float, 20-45 mins. If some do not float reheat the whey. Place the cooked wedges on mat to drain a few minutes.
  9. Sprinkle each halloumi wedge all over with ½ tsp fine sea salt. Place on mat to drain 2-4 hours.
  10. For brine, dissolve 2 Tbsp coarse sea salt in 4 cups whey (can be cut with half distilled water).
  11. Store halloumi in closed container, zip lock bag, or covered in brine for up to 60 days. Flavors improve with age.
  12. To fry halloumi, heat skillet over medium heat with a light layer of olive oil. Cook halloumi pieces until golden brown, 2-3 minutes per side.

Behold, leftovers!

This year, Christmas dinner had its challenges.  With lockdown in place for many of us, we faced a different holiday meal, one without the shared comfort and joy of extended family and friends.

Not terribly hungry, I ended up roasting a supply of vegetables: brussels sprouts, carrots and potatoes. When ready I topped it with sliced ham, a mustard glaze and baked until bubbly. It got the job done—without much flash or flare.  My heart really wasn’t in it.

Pending leftovers

Holidays meals often translate to future soups, stews and snacks.  The uninspired leftovers lingered in the fridge for a couple of days before I considered what to do with them.  I mulled over the possibilities: soup and such just didn’t seem to fit here. Then I recalled a delicious dish that would create a cohesive meal out of all this with little effort on my part.

In a 2014 blog I described the Chicken Puff Pie as a throwback to the “pot pie—without the pie crust”.  At the time I was deeply into crepes, clafoutis, and custard-based dishes and this evolved from that process. The surprising dish yielded a nutritious, creamy, and satisfying meal without all the work.

I’ve since learned that just about any leftover vegetables and complementary protein will work. Refresh them in a quick sauté with onion and herbs. A thin crepe-like batter is poured overall,  suspending the collection into something similar to a savory clafoutis.

Puff Pie glimpse

Bake the dish for 30 minutes in a hot oven until light and puffed.  Cool briefly and slice into neat wedges.

True comfort food that does not taste like leftovers and reheats beautifully…

Vegetables and Ham Puff Pie  

Most complementary precooked vegetables and protein can be substituted here. 

Ingredients
1 Tbsp butter, plus butter for baking dish
½ medium onion, peeled, small chop
1 clove garlic, divided, crushed
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, diced
1 tsp dried herbs:  thyme, rosemary, sage
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 cup precooked brussels sprouts, cut in half
1 cup precooked carrots, small chunks
1 cup precooked potatoes, small chunks
1 cup or more ham cut into small chunks
Batter
½ cup all purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
3 large eggs, beaten
⅔ cup warm milk
1 clove garlic, crushed
few grinds fresh pepper
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
For top:  2 Tbsp Gruyere cheese, grated

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a quiche dish, pie plate or similar baking dish.
  2. In large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, cook to soften. Add the garlic, jalapeno if desired, herbs, salt and pepper, cook 3-4 minutes.
  3. Stir in precooked vegetables. Add the ham and cook 3-4 minutes to heat and blend flavors.
  4. Make the batter: In a medium bowl combine the flour and salt and make a well in the center.  Add the beaten eggs and begin incorporate the flour; whisk in the milk, the garlic, and a few grinds of pepper. Add the Parmesan cheese to form a thin, nearly smooth batter.
  5. Spread enough batter into the baking dish to coat the bottom, about ½ cup. Place in the hot oven and bake until the bottom is set, 4 minutes.
  6. Evenly distribute the ham and vegetables mixture over the layer of batter in the baking dish. Stir down the remaining batter and pour it evenly over the filling. Sprinkle Gruyere cheese over the top and return the dish to oven.
  7. Reduce the heat to 375°F and bake 35 to 40 minutes longer. It is done when puffed and browned around edges and the center is firm when pressed.  Yield:  4 or more servings

Cheese Cheers

This past year I delved deeper into the fascinating world of cheesemaking.  You could say it all started with the Instant Pot and the Yogurt Setting.

I was a convert once I discovered that a delicious, tangy yogurt could be had by merely filling the Instant Pot liner with milk plus a little leftover yogurt and pressing the Yogurt Setting.  Even better, I could split the yield and have yogurt plus a batch of thick rich labneh.

Cheesemaking is an addictive, ancient process.  I wondered how the first person living in a cave felt when they figured out that sour milk could result in delicious cheese.

Once I mastered yogurt I wanted to know more, too. I tinkered with fresh cheeses like paneer, ricotta, feta, mozzarella, cheese curds, queso blanco and queso fresco.  Each was its own rewarding surprise.

Along the way I gathered up essential tools and supplies—many of which I already had, like sieves, strainers and cheesecloth.  For cultures, molds and other products, New England Cheese Making Supply Co became a helpful and reliable site. They focus on education with plenty of helpful resources, recipes, and tutorials for those who are just getting started.

My latest big step was obtaining a cheese press. It opened the door to more complex cheeses  requiring a variety of processes and aging stages. My next candidate along the cheesemaking spectrum would be Caerphilly, a starter cheese from Wales known for its forgiving character and shorter aging period.

Behold! Caerphilly freshly ripened

Caerphilly is a simplified cheddar style cheese that presses at 20 pounds for 16 hours and needs only 4 to 5 weeks of aging (some cheeses age for years!).  I halved a larger recipe from a Gavin Webber video, who maintains a popular You Tube channel.

The recipe came together without incident and the new cheese press made it look like I knew what I was doing! After 3 days of drying time, it went into its ripening box to age. The Caerphilly was ready to sample in 25 days. As I cut into its pale gold rind, I was surprised to see the interior became paler and creamier toward the center and displayed its characteristic holes. The rind had a slight nuttiness; the interior was not too salty with a firm texture and mild cheddar flavor.

Caerphilly holiday cheese feature

Caerphilly is such an agreeable cheese, it goes with just about anything.  On a cheeseboard, it is the star along with a Cambozola Triple Cream blue cheese and aged Gouda.  To round out the display I tucked in sliced salami, imported olives, almonds and crackers—and rounded it out with holiday favorites, Moroccan fruitcake and cranberry sauce.

Breakfast All Day

Frittatas are highly versatile and notoriously good hot, warm, or room temperature. They are equally good as a finger food snack cut into small bites.

Depending on the combination, a frittata is satisfying any time of the day. It makes an easy receptacle for fresh or cooked vegetables like potatoes, chorizo and other meats, and leftovers such as pasta—or just about anything that can be suspended in eggs—that familiar binder that keeps it all together.

A frittata is so adaptable it’s hard to screw it up.  As a habit, I tend to begin with vegetables, sliced or in a standard chop, and sauté them over medium heat for even cooking. Any other inclusions are added, followed by the eggs, and it’s finished on the stove with a quick flip, or baked in the oven until set.

Recently, I came across a photo of a frittata that featured bigger pieces of cut-up vegetables—not a hugely innovative idea, but it caused me to rethink frittatas in general.

Frittata with Mixed Vegetables & Cheese

For a slightly different approach, why not simply bump up the heat a little?  Start by searing vegetables cut to any size with a fast steam to further soften?  Add other ingredients including the eggs and cook until set, and finish under the broiler.

Frittata fast track

No big deal, but it does provide a faster, more consistent outcome.  Those lovely vegetables are no longer lost and buried filler.

just a bite

The eggs rise up and elevate zucchini, onion, pepper, and baby tomatoes  into tempting chunks wrapped in a cheese bath.

Mixed Vegetables and Cheese Frittata

Ingredients
1-2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tsp butter
½ medium onion, thickly sliced
1 small zucchini, thickly sliced
1 pasilla, poblano or bell pepper, seed, cut into 1” pieces
1 cup halved baby tomatoes
1 tsp combo fresh thyme, savory, rosemary or other
salt and pepper
6 eggs
⅓ cup thick dairy such as yogurt or ricotta
2 Tbsp water or milk
½ cup crumbled or grated ricotta salata, feta, or cheddar cheese
¼ cup grated asiago or Parmesan cheese
½ cup green onions

Directions
1. Preheat oven broiler to 400°F degrees.
2. Heat 8-9” skillet heat over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sauté the onion to soften for 1 minute. Increase heat to medium high, add zucchini, the green pepper, fresh herbs and a light dusting of salt and pepper.
3. Cook to color the vegetables, 4- 5 minutes. Add 1 Tbsp water and cover for 1-2 minutes to soften the vegetables.
4. Meanwhile, beat the eggs and liquid. Remove lid, toss the vegetables, add butter and a bit more olive oil if needed to coat bottom of pan.
5. Pour in the eggs and sprinkle with the cheese. Once the mixture begins to set, tilt the pan and gently lift the mass to loosen the bottom with a spatula and allow the egg liquid to run to the bottom of the pan. Continue to turn the pan, gently lifting to keep from sticking to pan and letting the loose eggs flow under.
6. When the eggs begins to set run the frittata under the broiler until the center is puffed and the top begins to brown in places. Remove and sprinkle with green onions or other fresh herbs. Serve hot, warm or room temperature, sliced into wedges. Serves 4.

Free! Green Onions

There was little doubt that my latest science project would work, but I wanted to know how long it would take and whether it was worth the effort.

I’d been reading that green onions will grow indoors in a mere glass of water with roots attached. Now, that’s appealing.  Rather than throwing trimming away, I love the idea of recycling onions for another growth or two.

This summer my doorstep garden has kept up a steady supply of my favorite herbs, but I’ve missed fresh picked chives or green onions. When I returned home from grocery shopping with another bag of very healthy green onions, I was more than ready.

I got busy, grabbed a handful of green onions, chopped all the greens off, down into their whites and set the pile aside for later use.

Scallion starts

I located a small jar, perched the 2-inch rooted starts around the edge and poured an inch or so of filtered water into the bottom. Like most sun loving plants they do best with at least 6 hours of sun per day, and my summer kitchen window supplies that and more. They get a daily change of water and grow so fast it’s like having a live YouTube channel for entertainment.

Free scallions!

By the end of week one, the green onions had grown from 2-inch starts to 6-7 inch lengths. Now, that’s cause for celebration! I cut 4 onions down to 2-inches again.

Scallion Pancakes

Enough to make a batch of scallion pancakes.

Scallion Pancakes

Ingredients
½ cup AP flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp Montreal Steak Seasoning or salt & pepper blend
2 Tbsp minced green onion
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup water, approx.
½ Tbsp canola oil

Instructions
1. In bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and pepper.  Add the minced green onion and blend well.
2. Beat the egg and stir into the flour.  Add enough water to form consistency of pancake batter.
3. Heat skillet over medium-high heat with oil.
4. Drop 1 tablespoon or more batter onto skillet, cook cakes until bubbles form on top, turn and cook 2-3 minutes per side.   Makes 6-12 cakes, depending on size.

Finish idea: top with thin sliced smoked salmon, salted yogurt, and a sprinkle of green onion.

This is a mouthful

I finally came up with a smoked salmon pizza that makes sense.  I love the idea but have been stuck on a Nova salmon approach for so long, I missed the obvious.

I had to get beyond the New York Nova style salmon,  the cold smoked process that we think of with bagels and lox. In my mind, this equated to adding salmon after baking the pizza to preserve its delicate smoked essence.

Well, of course. Here in the Pacific Northwest, hot smoked salmon is king. That smoking process delivers a bolder, firmer, deeply smoked salmon that’s unflinchingly good, whether hot or cold.

Once out of that box, a concept finally emerged,  a hot smoked salmon pizza with a buckwheat crust topped with toasted onion rings.

Smoked Salmon Pizza, Buckwheat Crust, Toasted Onion Rings

I’d retain some elements associated with traditional Nova, but for this pizza I’d veer off with a buckwheat infused crust.  I’d keep it simple with a light white sauce and bites of the hot smoked salmon graced with toasted sweet onion rings, capers, dill and rosemary.

There’s nothing complicated with any of these moving parts, but they do require a little advance work.

The buckwheat crust brings a toasted nuttiness which is lovely with the salmon.  I often use buckwheat in baking as an alternative to whole wheat and stock a small amount of the flour purchased in bulk for occasional use.

Buckwheat Pizza Dough

The crust is the usual pizza dough here, substituting ½ cup buckwheat flour for ½ cup AP, if no buckwheat go with wheat flour if you have it.  Since the dough only needs a few minutes to rise and pats out like a dream, I tend to continue on and prebake 2 medium crusts (or 1 large) because they freeze so well. This way, finishing a pizza can be done at my own speed rather than futzing with dough at the last minute.

For the onion, I opt for sliced sweet onion which is not caramelized in the true sense. Rather, the rings are kept as intact slices and laid onto a flat skillet with a light coating of butter and evoo. The slices are left to toast undisturbed, then flipped over and browned a little longer for a total of 10-12 minutes.

Toasted Onion Rings

The sauce is essentially a light Mornay enriched with a little Asiago cheese and a dollop of thick yogurt. It’s flour base provides stability for the yogurt— which holds beautifully and supplies a creamy bright edge rather than richness.

The pizza makes a superb dinner with salad. As you would expect, it is delish the next day for breakfast.

Smoked Salmon Pizza with Buckwheat Crust & Toasted Onion Rings

Ingredients
1-2 tsp evoo for pan
1 recipe Quick & Easy Pizza Dough
½ cup buckwheat flour (or whole wheat flour)
5 oz hot smoked salmon
Toasted Onion Rings
2 tsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
1 sweet onion, slices
Cheese Sauce
2 tsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
1 Tbsp AP flour
¼ tsp each salt, ⅛ tsp white pepper
2 Tbsp Asiago or Parmesan cheese
½ cup liquid: stock, water, etc.
½ cup milk
⅓ cup thick yogurt
Finish
½ cup Asiago or Parmesan, grated
¼ tsp or more coarse ground pepper
2 tsp capers, drain
2 tsp mixed fresh herbs: rosemary and dill

Directions

  1. Prepare dough, substitute ½ cup AP Flour with ½ buckwheat flour. Let rise 10-20 minutes. For medium pizza, use ½ recipe. For large pizza, use entire recipe.
  2. To toast onion, heat butter and olive oil over medium/low heat in wide skillet or on a griddle. Lay sliced rounds of onion into pan and toast until golden; carefully turn and toast second side, for a total of 10-15 minutes. Remove rings, cool on plate and set aside.
  3. For Cheese Sauce, in small saucepan heat butter and oil over medium/low heat. Add the flour, salt, and pepper and stir for 3-4 minutes. Add the cheese to melt and then stir in ½ cup liquid to dissolve flour, then add the milk, stirring to create a sauce. Stir in the yogurt, combine and heat briefly. Adjust seasoning and set aside.
  4. Shape ½ the dough with oiled hands onto oiled 9-10” pizza pan or pat out all for 1 large crust. It can be prebaked at this point, see dough recipe.
  5. Spread the dough with Cheese Sauce.
  6. Divide the salmon into chunks and arrange evenly oven the sauce. Drape with onion rings.
  7. Sprinkle with ground pepper, grated cheese, capers and herbs.
  8. Bake 425-450°F until bubbly and top begins to color, 18-25 minutes. Makes 1 medium/large pizza

sauce & cheese with your bow ties

I was in the mood for a quick pasta dinner and all I had in my pantry was a package of bow ties, likely an impulse buy. For pasta staples I tend to stick with the basics, a linguine or similar strand, a tube such as rigatoni, a lasagna type, and a smaller shape such as acini.

I started the whole project late; it was closing in on dinnertime, so it needed to be straight forward.  I envisioned a fast tomato sauce, the pasta, a little kale for roughage, and fill in with mozzarella and Parmesan.

Actually, this evolved into a one-pot meal in a hurry and turned out to be an incredibly nice surprise.

I started by making a marinara sauce of sorts. Once it was underway, I added chopped kale.  Then, I decided to throw in the dried bow ties plus a little extra water to extend the sauce. Why not cook it all together? I ventured.

one-pot bow ties

In the time it took to simmer the sauce a few minutes the pasta was al dente and had absorbed much of the excess liquid. I poured it all into a quiche dish, tucked mozzarella pieces into the crevices of the bowties, sprinkled on a little Parmesan, and baked it long enough to melt the cheese, make a salad, and clean up.

The surprise was that the bow ties expanded but retained their mouth-sized shape and held together. Their curly edges and flat surfaces were ooooozing with sauce and cheese.  Oh, my.  If you are a sauce (and cheese) lover, this is the way get it!

One-Pot Bow Ties & Kale in Marinara Sauce

Ingredients
2-3 tbsp olive oil
½ onion, cut into strips
1 cubanelle or other mild-medium hot pepper, seed and cut into strips
1 clove garlic, mash & mince
½ tsp dried oregano or basil
1 tsp fresh rosemary
16 oz can crushed tomatoes
8 oz can tomato sauce
½ tsp salt, pinch crushed red pepper
3-4 leaves kale, cut away center rib, chop  bite-sized
1 cup water, approx.
8 oz pasta bow ties
4 oz mozzarella cheese, cut into 1”x ¾”x ½” thick strips
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese.

Directions

  1. In a sauce pot, heat olive oil over medium heat; add onion to soften. Stir in the green pepper, cook for 1-2 minutes, then add the garlic. Add herbs, cook 2-3 minutes. Stir in the tomato products, salt and pepper, and simmer 5 minutes.
  2.  Stir in the cut up kale, 1 cup water, and cook to wilt, about 3 minutes.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. Pour the pasta into an oiled wide quiche dish.To finish, tuck mozzarella into the pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
  3. Cover with foil and bake at 350-375°F for 20 minutes, remove foil for the last 10 minutes, until bubbly and cheese is melted.
    Serves 3 or more

       Note To add ½ lb ground sausage or beef, brown it first; drain and proceed.

Carrots, a very good thing

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all trying to stay as healthy as possible.  We are told to drink lots of water, get plenty of rest, exercise, and hopefully, find a dose of sunshine. In times of self-isolation, that can be a daily challenge.

Keeping our immune systems healthy is important, too. One way we can do that to is to eat more colorful vegetables, those that are especially rich in vitamins and minerals.  Sweet, bright carrots fall into that category. Of all vegetables, they are the highest in Vitamin A and beta carotene—known to boost the immune system.Carrots store incredibly well and are nearly indestructible. If the fridge is getting empty, chances are there are still carrots. These days, that is a very good thing.  Here’s a carrot dish that does not deserve last choice.

Carrot Coriander Soup

Carrot Coriander Soup evolved from my desire for something different than the usual ginger-carrot affinity; I wanted more complexity. Coriander, a longtime favorite was the obvious choice, and this soup remains a reliable player in my repertoire.

There’s not much to it, beyond a few vegetables. Once cooked, the carrots are pureed with an immersion blender until smooth, and it is magically transformed. This soup is so good, I can never decide which way I prefer it most, hot or cold?  That’s another bonus.

Carrot Coriander Soup

Ingredients
2 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, mash & mince
2 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp allspice
pinch cayenne
½ tsp salt
2 tsp fresh ginger, peel and grate
1½ lbs carrots (5 medium), peel, cut in half lengthwise and chop
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
cilantro, mint or chopped green onion

Instructions

  1. In a soup pot over medium heat, heat the butter, add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft. Stir in the coriander through the ginger and cook for 1 minute to release flavors. Add carrots tossing for a minute to combine.
  2. Pour in stock, bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 20-30 minutes, until the carrots are tender.
  3. Using an immersion blender,  puree the carrot mixture until smooth.  Reheat the soup and simmer 5-10 minutes; if too thick, thin with a small amount of water. Adjust seasoning.  Serve hot or well chilled with a dollop of yogurt, garnish with fresh herbs.  Serves 3-4.

Optional  Prior to serving, combine ½ cup plain yogurt with ¼ cup hot soup to temper. Stir yogurt into soup but do not boil.

Delicious but not Devastating

Incorporating vegetables into desserts is an appealing way to slip more valuable nutrients into our daily food intake. Carrot and zucchini cakes are solutions, likely loaded with exorbitant amounts of oil and smeared with heavy-duty cream cheese toppings. Any natural benefits have been all but cancelled out.

Delicious but not devastating, that’s my goal. Trying to elevate the plight of vegetable desserts, here’s my latest take on zucchini cake. First, I’ve learned that steaming, rather than conventional baking, can introduce moisture and lower the need for massive doses of oil.

I zeroed in on two other ingredients of interest: chocolate and nuts.  I like the chocolate and zucchini combination—but chocolate easily overwhelms, and I’m not looking for another chocolate cake (probably one of few to so admit). Nuts add deep taste, complexity, and crunch. Then, it made perfect sense: why not keep it simple and go with cacao nibs?  They have all that, and more.

Roasted Cacao Nibs

There is a difference between regular chocolate and nibs. Typical chocolate bars come from cacao seeds, which are fermented, ground, and further processed. Cacao nibs are crumbled pieces from the exterior cacao bean shell, with a bitter chocolate punch and nutty texture. Nibs are rich in flavonoid antioxidants, minerals, and more; they contribute plenty of fiber—but nothing extreme as gnawing on wood.

I’ve included another duo that works well together: coriander and orange. Instead of the usual grated zest, I’ve gone with tiny nibs of minced orange peel (white removed) for a super-charged citrus flavor that’s offset by the exotic perfume of coriander. The backdrop for all of this comes from a huge surplus of green summer squash, rather than zucchini.

Zucchini Cake with Cacao & Orange Nibs

The cake steams in 35 minutes—literally from the inside out—it cooks thoroughly, thanks to the center hole in the bundt pan. You would never guess it had been steamed; once turned out of the pan and cooled, it appears browned and perfectly baked. The cake’s surprisingly light texture is speckled with flavorful flecks from the orange, green squash, and chocolate brown cacao nibs. It’s quite a party!


Update! The pressurized steaming process also softens the cacao nibs. As the cake rests, the nibs seem to bloom (stored in the fridge). Their nubby texture relaxes, and more complex chocolate qualities unfold.  Fascinating… and highly delicious.


Steamed Zucchini Cake with Cacao and Orange Nibs

Ingredients
1½ cups AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp each baking soda and salt
1 tsp coriander
2 eggs
⅓ cup vegetable oil
½ cup each granulated sugar and brown sugar
2 Tbsp plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1½ cups grated zucchini or summer squash, skin on
2 tsp orange peel, white removed, sliver and chop well
⅓ cup roasted cacao nibs

Instructions

  1. Thinly coat 8” bundt pan with Baker’s or nonstick spray.
  2. Prepare Instant Pot or other multicooker: fill with 1½ cup water and insert trivet. Cut aluminum foil cover for pan and prepare sling for pan.
  3. Combine flour through spices together and set aside.
  4. In mixing bowl whisk eggs, then beat in the oil. Whisk in the sugar to fully combine, and then stir in the yogurt and vanilla. Add the zucchini.  Stir in the dry ingredients just to incorporate and finally add the cacao and orange nibs. Scrape batter into the bundt pan and level the surface.
  5. Begin heating multicooker, set to Sauté More. Add 1 ½ cup water and place the trivet in pot.
  6. Cover filled bundt pan with foil. Fold the other length of foil into a long sling. Wrap it under the pan, up the sides, over the top, and lower it into the pot.
  7. Seal pot with lid, reset to Hi Pressure for 35 minutes. When complete, turn off unit, disconnect and let rest undisturbed for 10 minutes. Slowly release remaining pressure and open the lid. Using the foil sling, carefully lift pan out of pot and onto a rack. Remove foil and cool for 10 minutes. With thin knife, loosen any edges adhering to pan and turn cake out to cool onto rack.  Makes 1 cake, serves 10.