Penchant for Pumpkin

There is little doubt that fall is underway in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  As much as I have held out hope for more warm weather, temperatures this morning dropped to 45 degrees and there is talk that it will get close to freezing overnight.

On the bright side, fall weather gives me ample reason to get a jump on pumpkin season.  Earlier, I dashed to the store to stock up on cans of pumpkin pulp, should the mood strike.  And of course, it did.

I was not happy with my latest tapioca pudding made in the multicooker. As much as I tried to convince myself otherwise, the tapioca had turned unpleasantly gooey.  When you prefer a light creamy tapioca, this is not going to happen when it boils unmercifully under pressure.  Excessive heat breaks down the tapioca and turns it rubbery.

Thus, goaded on by my penchant for pumpkin, I was further compelled to launch into a deeper Tapioca Inquiry.  Armed with pumpkin and an abundance of small tapioca pearls, I was enthusiastically prepared to get to the bottom of this.

I revisited basic tapioca preparation and began by soaking it for 30 minutes to soften. This cuts overall cooking time, too. With that in mind, it doesn’t take long to prepare old-fashioned tapioca on the stove.  The main point is to not let it boil—but allow it to thicken and let the pearls swell.

A couple of eggs helps here.  Early on, the yolks are combined with milk to form a custard base and thicken with the tapioca. The pumpkin pulp and spices are added, and finally, the two egg whites are whipped until thick and folded into the pumpkin tapioca to further lighten it.  The pumpkin tapioca happens in less than a half hour.

It is good warm, cool, or chilled.  Sweet.

Pumpkin-Spiced Tapioca

Ingredients
⅓ cup small pearl tapioca (not quick tapioca)
¾ cup water
2 eggs, room temperature, divided
2¼ cups 2% milk, room temperature, divided
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup pumpkin pulp
1 tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp ginger,  ¼ tsp each salt, nutmeg, and allspice
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. In advance: soak pearl tapioca in ¾ cup water in 2½ quart pan or larger for 30 minutes to soften.
  2. In a 1 cup measure beat the egg yolks, whisk in the brown sugar until thick and dissolved, then whisk in ¼ cup milk.
  3. Place the pot over medium heat. With a spatula stir egg mixture into the soaking tapioca, then add 2 cups milk.
  4. Bring it to a simmer stirring to keep from sticking on bottom. Once steamy with bubbles beginning to form, reduce heat to low and cook gently for 5 minutes until it thickens and pearls swell.
  5. Combine the pumpkin, spices, salt and stir into the pot. Cook 5 minutes longer, stirring occasionally with spatula. Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl beat the egg whites until foamy, slowly add the granulated sugar until thick and peaks form.
  6. Gently stir ½ cup of hot tapioca into the whipped whites to temper, then fold whites into the tapioca. Cook over low heat, folding and stirring with spatula to thoroughly combine the tapioca until it is hot and steamy, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.  Serve warm or cool.  Cover and chill in refrigerator 3 hours and up to 3 days.  Serves 4 -6

Soup Time

The past couple of weeks have been cool and rainy in the Pacific Northwest—not sure I’m ready for fall quite yet, but I’ve sure enjoyed making soup again.

Here’s a more substantial soup to meet the changing seasons. It is inspired by a small amount of roast chicken left in the fridge, just enough for an easy soup.

Earlier, I whipped up a tasty stock with reserved carcass bones left from the roast chicken. Click on this link if you are interested in making your own stock.  As a heads up, this older post needs an update to include a pressure cooker version. The chief difference is in the time factor, which drops to 30 minutes under pressure rather than an hour or longer on the stove.

Armed with a delicious stock, this soup also includes a few basic vegetables and thyme. It’s thickened slightly and rounded out with a handful of orzo for added interest. I’m not a big fan of cream-based soups, but its addition transforms this simple soup into a nourishing entrée when balanced with a hearty salad.

Lacking cream, I finished my soup with a can of evaporated milk, my old standby. I learned to appreciate it while spending time in the Bahamas where it is frequently served with coffee instead of milk or cream. Unlike yogurt or milk, when heated it does not break or curdle.

It’s time for a bowl of creamy steamy chicken soup—while the weather is still cool…

Creamy Chicken Orzo Soup

Ingredients
3 Tbsp butter, or part olive oil
½ small onion, chop
1 medium carrot, chop
1 stalk celery with leaves, chop
½ cup orzo
2 Tbsp flour
½ tsp dried thyme
4 cups chicken stock, good quality
1 heaping cup cooked chicken or turkey, shred or cut into bites
½ tsp salt or to taste, and ¼ tsp white pepper
½ cup hot cream or evaporated milk
fresh thyme leaves

Instructions

  1. In a soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter and add the vegetables, cooking until soft. Add the toss and toss well.
  2. Stir in the flour, cook 2-3 minutes.
  3. Slowly stir in stock and bring to a boil. Simmer 10 minutes.  Add the chicken and simmer 5 minutes, or until orzo is tender.
  4. Add the cream and cook 3-5 minutes longer to heat and combine flavors.  Adjust seasoning.  Serve with fresh thyme. Serves 4.

A Bevy of Bowls

I’m still enjoying Chicken Tikka Masala from the last blog. Since it isn’t excessively hot I like to kick-up my portion­­—but not everyone else agrees. I figure you can always add more spice but it’s not so easy to take it out.

A fun alternative is to set out small bowls of chutney, yogurt, hot pepper flakes, cilantro, and such.  It gives everyone creative license to dress up their own dish according to personal taste.

Since I mentioned Raita in the previous post I’m including it here as an all-in-one alternative to a bevy of bowls.

Beyond a cooling sauce, raita is a versatile dip with vegetables or crackers and breads such as Naan.

For a Greek Tzatziki variation, substitute dill for cilantro and season with garlic and red pepper; cucumber is optional. Perk it up with a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil.

Raita

Ingredients 
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp green onion, mince
1 Tbsp cilantro, mince
½ small seedless cucumber, small chop
¼ tsp salt
Spice blend
1 tsp each cumin seed and coriander seed, or ¾ tsp each ground
½ hot dried red pepper, seeded, or ¼ tsp red pepper flakes

Instructions
Combine the yogurt, green onion, cilantro and cucumber.
Crush the spices in mortar pestle, add the blend to the yogurt mixture and season with salt. Chill well and serve with cilantro garnish.  Makes 1½ cups

Variation
For Greek Tzatziki: replace the cilantro with dill; season with 1 clove garlic mash & minced, and red pepper. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and drizzle olive oil. Makes 1½ cups

On a roll with Naan

Lately I’ve been eating more than my share of naan bread—as I “perfect” my flatbread skills.  Even though it originated in India and Pakistan, naan’s popularity is definitely not limited to Southeast Asia. It is delicious with just about anything looking for bread.

Because naan typically includes yeast and yogurt it tends to be chewy and light, with a slightly tart flavor. It’s not as fast to make as unleavened breads like tortillas or roti, but when you get your rhythm going you’ll be rolling out naan like Lucy at the chocolate factory!

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Lacking a tandoor oven, the next best cooking alternative is a heavy cast iron skillet (I can’t wait to give it a whirl on the outdoor grill!). For now a large, very flat crepe pan is working just fine.

Although the dough is not complicated and is easily mixed by hand, allow adequate time for the kneading and rising. I often make the dough and refrigerate it overnight.  Once the dough is ready, the cooking time is next to nothing. It’s merely a matter of rolling out one flatbread at a time and laying it down onto the very hot surface.

Naan part 2

The naan begins to puff and blister almost immediately, requiring a quick flip from one side to the other. This rapid succession ensures that both the yeast and yogurt deliver the bread’s addictive chewiness. I like to sprinkle a dusting of Lebanese za’atar over the top while still moist.

Enjoy the naan warm with or without butter dipped in soup or stew. Serve it as a snack with seasoned olive oil, hummus, pate or cheese.

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Naan Bread 

  • 2-1/2 cup AP flour, approximate
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • ½ cup hot water
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoon oil and/or butter for pan

In a medium bowl combine 1 cup of the flour, sugar, salt and instant yeast.  Make a well in center and add the water and oil. With a spoon incorporate the flour a little at a time into the liquid.  When combined, mix in the yogurt.

Continue to stir in enough flour to form a loose dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and continue to knead in additional flour as needed to form a smooth light dough, about 10 minutes. A bench scraper may be helpful to move the dough about.

Return the soft dough to a clean oiled bowl, loosely cover, and let rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 1 hour.

Divide dough into 8 portions. On floured surface, roll out one portion at a time to about ¼” thick and 8” in diameter.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium/high heat.  Lightly brush the skillet surface with oil and/or butter.  Lay the naan into the pan, let it puff, bubble, brown and cook on each side, with blistered pockets—about 3 minutes per side. If too hot, lower heat. A lid may be useful to hold in heat if necessary. Remove bread, wipe out pan and repeat. Yield: 8 flatbread

Cheese Synergy

On the page, there is really nothing very remarkable about this cheese.  Paneer is a bland cheese made popular in Indian cuisine. It is a vehicle designed to bring dishes to life through its absorption of complex spice and flavor combinations.

Paneer is one of the easiest and most rewarding in my (fairly limited) repertoire of homemade cheeses. You can have your cheese fix in three hours.

Spiced Paneer

Bring some milk to a boil, add the juice of a couple of lemons to expedite the curdling process, and you are on your way. In all of its simplicity, this cow’s milk variety is reminiscent of a highly crafted goat cheese. No, it is not a creamy cheese, and oddly, its mouth feel is slightly dry.

But if you take a few exotic spices and throw them into the mix, something happens.  It could be that I am a huge fan of coriander seeds… give it another dimension with red pepper flakes and freshly ground black pepper.  Add a little fresh garlic chives, a nice dash of salt and that is it.

Once it drains and curds form, press briefly to mold it into shape. Give it a quick chill to solidify and allow flavors to blend.  If you can wait, it’s even better the next day!

Yes, paneer is a real team player. You could say Spiced Paneer is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.  It needs nothing else… maybe a cracker or two.

Spiced Paneer

Inspired by Panfusion’s Spiced Paneer @ Food52.com

Ingredients
½ gallon whole milk (preferably not ultra-pasteurized)
20 black peppercorns crushed well
2 tablespoons freshly crushed coriander seeds
2 dried chile peppers, seeded, crushed
½ cup lemon juice
2 teaspoon sea salt
1-2 teaspoons garlic chives, chopped
Tools: colander, flat spatula, cheesecloth

Instructions

  1. Rinse a large pot with water and pour in the milk; add the peppercorns and coriander, and place it over medium high heat. Stirring with a flat bottom spatula, bring to a full boil.  Gently stir in the lemon juice and remove from heat.  Let stand undisturbed to allow it to separate into curds, which will take about 10 minutes. Meanwhile line a colander with cheesecloth and place it over a bowl to catch the whey.
  2. Pour the curdled mixture into the cheesecloth lined colander and allow to drain. When the liquid has drained through, carefully, bring the corners of the cloth together to bring the curds together in a mass, drain for 10-20 minutes longer.
  3. When the curds have stopped dripping, give it a good squeeze to remove any further whey. Gently stir in the salt and redistribute any spices that may have shifted to the bottom.
  4. Shape the mass into a flat round or oval and firmly rewrap in the cheesecloth. Set the cheese on a drainable surface (like a sushi mat) and weigh it down with a heavy pot filled with water or a couple of cans. Let it stand undisturbed at room temperature for 2 hours.
  5. Remove the cheesecloth and gently reshape the cheese into an attractive log or oval.  Cover with clean cheesecloth and firmly wrap with plastic wrap.  Chill for 2 hours or preferably overnight to allow the paneer to solidify. Yield: about 10 oz.

So much cheese… so little time

You never know when good fortune will cross your path.  For some time now I’ve been making my own yogurt, thanks to the ease and convenience of the ole Instant Pot. Once committed to the process, my results have become far superior to any of the usual store bought varieties.  When I discovered one  batch could yield two distinct styles I got even more excited:  I’d have a quart of fine yogurt for daily use, plus a good supply of thick, creamy Greek yogurt worthy of cheese status.

During my early Greek yogurt period, I came across Home Cheese Making (3rd edition) by Ricki CarrolI, while browsing books at a used book sale. (Ricki has a 4th edition coming out  December 2018).  It looked nearly new (good/bad sign, whatever), I added it to my stack and brought it home.  Several days later, I opened the book and knew this was no mistake. I haven’t met a cheese that I didn’t like, and here was an opportunity to see where all this could possibly go.

Ricki’s well laid-out book takes a complicated subject and breaks it down into manageable chunks. It’s geared to the novice as well as the skilled cheese maker, with a wide range of cheeses to consider from soft fresh cheeses like queso fresco, mozzarella, and feta, to ripened cheeses like cheddar, gouda, brie, and much more.  Here, I could begin to understand and more fully appreciate the art of cheese making—and I was ready.

You can get started in cheese making with a few basic kitchen supplies.  A good digital thermometer is a must, plus a colander, cheesecloth, a long spoon or spatula, the usual measuring cups and spoons, a long knife for cutting the curd, a stainless steel pot, and a reliable cooking unit that maintains a steady temperature.

Each cheese requires specific additives for its success. Some of the basics are: a starter such as yogurt, a mesophilic or thermophilic starter; liquid rennet for coagulation; calcium chloride for curd formation; lipase powder for flavor; and cheese salt.

Sourcing cheese making supplies can be a hassle, but I’ve had good luck with Ricki’s website, New England Cheese Making Supply Co. It is a reliable resource for cheese making information and supplies.

Since cheese making can be intimidating, I centered on a realistic mindset:  cheese has been around for centuries, surely I can figure this out.  Granted, there’s a large learning curve—at this point I’m happy mastering fresh cheeses.  I’d tinkered with ricotta and mozzarella before, and I welcomed the opportunity to give them another try and add them to my cheese line-up. I was starting over but making progress—they both turned out well.  ✓✓

Thus far, my biggest success comes from making feta cheese.

I was intrigued by the additional brining process, since feta’s flavor develops more fully the longer it ages in brine.  This small extra step felt like a giant leap into cheese making. ✓

If you happen to read the previous post,  Feta Focus, you’ve absorbed a few feta details.  Essentially, Greek feta has earned its own provenance: much like a European wine appellation, it must be made with either sheep and/or goat’s milk. I’m keeping it simple at this point, I am happy  staying with familiar and readily available:  whole cow’s (not ultra-pasteurized) milk.

Feta cheese is fairly simple to make. I used a sous vide with my first batch, which was entirely unnecessary. The second time, I filled my well-scrubbed kitchen sink with 90° hot water, placed the covered milk-filled stainless steel pot into the warm water bath, and stirred occasionally until it reached 86°.   That’s when the starter culture and ultimately the rennet are introduced and the curd making process unfolds.  I added more regulated hot water as needed to maintain the temperature. Once the curds have formed, the process moves along fairly quickly.

It’s important to allow time for the curds to drain well.

Once draining has slowed significantly and forming a mass, the cheese is placed in molds for shaping and further straining.  It’s then briefly placed in a brine solution for a quick rest to stabilize the feta before turning out onto a mat to dry.  

The cheese is then returned to the brine for aging and storage. The feta is ready to eat in 4 to 5 days. 

Homemade Feta Cheese

Ingredients
1 gallon whole milk (avoid UHT or ultra-pasteurized milk), sheep and/or goat’s milk
1/8 tsp. lipase power, for flavor (diluted in ¼ cup unchlorinated water, let stand 20 minutes)
1/8 tsp. calcium chloride, for curd formation (diluted in 1/4 cup unchlorinated water)
1/4 tsp. mesophilic starter culture, MM100, bacteria to convert lactose to lactic acid
1/2 tsp. liquid rennet, to coagulate milk (diluted in 1/4 cup cool unchlorinated water)
1/4 cup salt for brining/storage

Utensils:  Digital thermometer, large stainless steel pot, large spoon & perforated scoop, colander, measuring cup & spoons, curd knife like a boning knife, cheesecloth or butter muslin, 2 perforated molds, sushi mat.

Instructions

  1. Warm the milk in a stainless steel pot to 86°F. As milk is heating, stir in the diluted lipase and the diluted calcium chloride.
  2. When brought to temperature, sprinkle in the starter culture and stir Cover and let milk ripen for 1 hour.
  3. Add the diluted rennet and stir gently with spoon in an up-and-down motion (not a stirring motion) for several minutes. Cover and let set undisturbed at 86°F for 1 hour until it has gelled, separates from side of pot, and there is a clean break in the curd when sliced with a knife.
  4. Using a long knife cut the curd at an angle. Turn the pot and slice into 1/2-inch cubes all the way to the bottom. Repeat if necessary. Let rest for 10 minutes.
  5. Gently stir the curds on and off for 20-30 minutes. As the curds firm and retract, stir more briskly.
  6. Line a large colander with a double layer of cheesecloth or butter muslin and place a bowl under it to catch the whey. Scoop in the curds and let excess whey drain off 2 hours.
  7. Once dripping has stopped divide into 2 cheesecloth lined perforated molds and weigh down. Turn often in molds to drain for 4-6 hours, regularly rotating to weight evenly until no more liquid collects.
  8. To stabilize feta, place the blocks in brine and weight down to keep submerged  1 Tbsp. salt per 1 cup unchlorinated water to cover for 4-5 hours.
  9. Remove feta to mat, cover loosely with cloth, refrigerate for 1-3 days to drain and air dry. Turn several time daily. Brine can be filtered and reused.
  10. Return feta to storage brine. Refrigerate 4-5 days, or up to 30 days. Yield: 1 pound.

Feta Focus

Feta is a fresh, briny cheese often associated with foods rooted in the sun-drenched Mediterranean cuisines – think olives, capers and vegetables like eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, and tomatoes.  Here in the US, feta is often made from cow’s milk which produces a pleasantly mild, slightly tart cheese.

To be called feta in the European Union, it must originate in Greece and be limited to sheep and or goat’s milk, thus offering a rich panorama of flavors and textures. Depending on process and aging time in brine, Greek feta can vary in saltiness, range from soft to hard textured, and taste from tart to tangy.

One popular treatment is to submerge bite-sized feta cubes in olive oil along with assorted herbs, garlic and such, and allow the marinade to infuse into the cheese; the longer the better.  That is certainly lovely with a robust cheese that responds to big flavors, but beware of overpowering a mild flavored feta.  To better showcase feta’s more subdued qualities, I prefer to deconstruct the whole concept.

For this simple method, begin with a block of feta, slice it for easy serving, sprinkle it with herbs and seasonings, and drizzle it lightly with olive oil. Cover it and allow the flavors to meld for an hour or so in the fridge.

When ready to enjoy, bring the marinated feta to room temperature, perhaps drizzle with a bit more olive oil if it appears dry, and garnish with fresh herbs.  Serve with an assortment of olives, crusty bread, pita crisps or crackers, pass a bowl or crunchy radishes, and call it good!

Herb Marinated Feta

Ingredients
1 lb. fresh feta cheese
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon savory, rosemary, or oregano
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Fresh thyme
Accompaniments: assorted olives, fresh bread or pita crisps, crunchy radishes

Instructions

  1. Slice the feta and arrange it on a serving plate.
  2. Sprinkle the cheese with herbs and red pepper flakes. Drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Cover and chill for an hour or longer.
  3. To assemble, drizzle with a bit more olive oil if it looks dry, dust with grinds of salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh thyme, assorted olives.
  4. Serve with crunchy bread, crackers or pita crisps, and a bowl of fresh radishes.   Serves 4.