Shades of Van Gogh

I bought a jar of tahini the other day and cannot leave it alone.  It should be sold with a warning label.

I am hooked. I put tahini on or in everything, and it keeps tasting better.  I write these words as I eye my latest showstopper. I am worried because I may polish this cheesecake off before the sun comes up.

It all began with my musing over the possibilities of a tahini cheesecake.    Mmmm.      That’s when the not-so-obvious addition of turmeric registered.  Now that’s intriguing.  Yes, turmeric interests me, too.  I want to explore its rumored health advantages, its lovely color, its mysterious flavor…  But, wait! Why not throw in a gingersnap and date crust and see what happens?

Tahini Date Cheesecake whole (1)

I hit the kitchen and gather up what’s on hand: Greek yogurt and Neufchatel cheese.  Ah, yes.  Elegant, nuanced… a bit of honey for sweetener is spot on.  Into the pressure cooker it all goes for 30 minutes.  That’s it.

Well, what can I say?  The filling’s golden color is worthy of a Van Gogh painting.

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The flavor is subtle—yet profound. It evokes the question, “Is it really that good?” Perhaps another bite… or two.

Ah, yes, it is certainly good for me. I have no shame.  Call the doctor.

Tahini-Turmeric Cheesecake with Ginger-Date Crust

Inspired by cheesecake from:  http://flavorrd.com/2016/07/instant-pot-greek-yogurt-cheesecake/

Ingredients
Crumb crust
1 cup ginger snaps, fine crumb
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup dates, chopped
Filling
4 oz. cream cheese, regular or Neufchatel, softened
1/3 cup tahini
½ teaspoon turmeric, toasted
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch sea salt
1 1/2 cups whole or 2% Greek yogurt
2 large eggs, beaten

Directions

  1. Spray a 7” springform pan with non-stick spray and line bottom with parchment.
  2. For the crust: crush the cookies into fine crumbs, using either a food processor or a ziploc bag and rolling pin. Stir in the melted butter. When well combined add the dates and stir to distribute evenly. Press the mixture onto the bottom of a 7-inch springform pan, pressing firmly and spreading the crust about halfway up the sides of the pan (the bottom of a drinking glass works well for this job).
  3. For the filling: toast the turmeric in a small bowl in the microwave about one minute, until aromatic. In mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until light.  Whip in the tahini, then the turmeric honey, vanilla and sea salt until well combined. Add Greek yogurt and whip until smooth.  , sugar and vanilla in a large bowl, and whip together until very smooth. Then add the eggs, mixing until just combined.
  4. Pour the filling into the springform pan, being careful to fully cover the crust around the edges (if any crumbs are exposed, they can become soggy from the moisture in the pressure cooker).
  5. Place a trivet rack into the pressure cooker, and pour in 1 cup of water. Place the cheesecake on top of the trivet and close the lid. Set the valve to sealing position, and cook on high pressure for 30 minutes. When done, turn off cooker and let stand for 5 minutes without disturbing, then release pressure.
  6. Open the lid and use the trivet handles to lift out the pan. If water has settled on top of the cheesecake, gently blot any excess with a paper towel.
  7. Allow the cheesecake to cool on a rack at room temperature for 1-2 hours, then transfer it to the refrigerator to chill completely (at least 4 hours). Serves: 1 to 8.
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Behind the Curve?

Cream of tartar is one of those odd little pantry ingredients that many of us haven’t a clue what it really does. Beyond stabilizing egg whites when making meringue, what really is its value?

While contemplating a slew of Snickerdoodle recipes recently I was stumped that many included cream of tartar as an essential ingredient. Turns out cream of tartar is an acid that causes a reaction when combined with baking soda. The leavening effect results in soft, chewy, addictive, cookies that you simply cannot leave alone.snickerdoodle (1)

In some circles Snickerdoodles are viewed as an American institution. With such lofty status no wonder they are added to commercial ice cream, as if frosting on a cake.

Their powdery cinnamon-sugar finish makes them iconic, too, so don’t omit.  Since many recipes are quite lavish on that count, the following amount of cinnamon may seem wimpy by serious aficionados.  From my limited perspective they are balanced and need nothing more than a cup of tea or a glass of milk.

Snickerdoodles

Inspired by Lil’ Luna’s Snickerdoodles

Ingredients
1 cup butter (softened)
1½ cups sugar
2 eggs
2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
Cinnamon-sugar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.
  2. Sift together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a mixing bowl beat the butter until light, slowly add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
  4. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture and mix well.
  5. In 1 tablespoon scoops, roll the dough into balls, then roll each into the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
  6. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees, until the edges just begin to brown slightly. Carefully remove to rack to cool. They will be fragile, but firm up as they cool.  Yield: about 48 cookies.

Quick and Painless: Hard Cooked Eggs

Posting another blog on how to hard cook an egg does seem a little silly. We have covered that territory before, and by now, most of us know how to boil an egg.  It is more than  dropping an egg into simmering water and cooking until done.

Anyone who really appreciates a well prepared hard cooked egg likely has their own preferences, too.  I am partial to an egg with a slightly soft yolk without a green rim from oxidation; a firm, but not rubbery white; and equally important, a shell that peels easily.

A few years ago when my daughter presented me with an electric egg cooker I could not see its merit. I did not need another gadget; a saucepan and a little water works just fine.  It took me a while, but I finally warmed to it for her sake, and I still appreciate its precision and convenience.

Friends rant about how foolproof the Instant Pot is for hard cooking eggs.  Well,  fine, I have my egg cooker. Of course, that all changed the day I needed more hard cooked eggs than my tiny egg cooker could hold.  Besides,  I reasoned, who wants the angst of fretting over a carton of eggs that refuse to peel?

It may have something to do with the pressurized process of the Instant Pot, but the eggs peel like magic!  It is fast. Within five minutes the eggs are done, without any exploding eggs or unnecessary drama.  Give it an additional 3-4  minutes for natural pressure release, a fast flip of the valve for quick release of any remaining pressure, and into a cool bath they go—ready and waiting for a quick and painless peel.  Sweet!

For the record, here is one more solution for hard cooked eggs.

Hard Cooked Eggs

Made easy, via the Instant Pot

Ingredients
1 to 12 large eggs, cold from fridge, or as many as will fit comfortably in one layer
1 cup water

Instructions

  1. Pour 1 cup water into the Instant Pot liner. Insert a raised rack and place eggs in pot.
  2. Seal lid and set steam valve to Pressure; set Pressure function to High, and set timer for 5 minutes.
  3. When complete, let Pressure Release naturally for 3 minutes, then set the steam valve to Vent and resume with Quick Release.
  4. Cool the eggs in cold water. If desired, chill further in refrigerator.

 

Transactional Analysis and the Relational Value of Steamed Pudding

It could be my New England roots, but I dearly love a good steamed pudding.  Deeply flavored, moist and dense, it touches my soul.  A steamed pudding speaks to me of  family hearths and seasonal traditions.

I had my heart set on a Persimmon Pudding, much like the one my sister-in-law, Jan makes.  Her well-balance cake has been in her family for generations, and bears all the ear markings of a time honored treasure. It is made in the Joy of Cooking mode of creaming the butter and sugar, then eggs and such are mixed in, followed by the dry ingredients, and finally, all other additives like nuts and raisins are stirred in.

Since persimmons have been readily available this year I was excited about the possibilities. I purchased a few good looking Hachiya and set them out to ripen.  Two weeks later, still hard as rocks, it looked like the persimmons would not be ripe for a couple more weeks—perhaps in time for Christmas!

With persimmons out of contention for the moment, it looked like pumpkin might be the next best option.  Besides, it’s Thanksgiving.  Why not give pumpkin its chance to shine?

Turns out, pumpkin works well as a replacement for persimmons, with a few minor adjustments.  Since persimmons can have a high acidity, baking soda is often used as a buffer. In this case, the baking soda was eliminated in lieu of baking powder for leavening.  And what is pumpkin without brown sugar? So, a little was added in lieu of granulated sugar. Everyone was happy and into the mold it went!

In Jan’s recipe, the pudding was steamed on the stovetop for 2 long hours.  Thanks to my trusty Instant Pot, the pressure cooker could reduce that cooking time by as much as 60-70%.  Given the numbers, I opted for 35 minutes, with an additional partial natural pressure release time of 5 minutes. Worse case, I reckoned I could return it to the pressure cooker if it was not set.

Once complete and out of the pressure cooker, I opened the mold and checked the contents.  It had raised, was a deep amber color, and the top looked quite moist, but that is not uncommon. I dabbed the excess moisture off with a paper towel, and moved it to a cooling rack.  In no time, the cake began to pull away from the sides—which I took as a very good sign.  It was holding its shape without a problem.  Given 10 minutes, it easily unmolded onto the rack for further cooling.  We have steamed pudding!

On this Thanksgiving, here’s wishing you all the joy of good food and good company.

Steamed Pumpkin Pudding

Inspired by Jan C’s family Persimmon Pudding

Ingredients
1/3 cup softened butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
12 ounces, or 1 can pumpkin pulp, approximate
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Instructions

  1. In advance: coat a 6 cup baking mold well with butter or spray thoroughly with bakers non-stick spray.
  2. Plump the raisins and orange juice: in a small microwaveable bowl, cover with wrap, and heat for 40 seconds in the microwave; set aside to plump.
  3. Combine the flour through the cinnamon and set aside.
  4. Set up Instant Pot with a rack, pour in 3 cups water and begin to heat the water, set to Saute function.
  5. To prepare the pudding: in a mixing bowl, cream the butter and granulated sugar, then beat in the brown sugar. Add the egg and beat well.
  6. Mix the pumpkin and vanilla into the butter and egg mixture. Add the dry ingredients,  stir to combine. Add the raisins and nuts.
  7. Spread the batter into the mold, and cover with the lid if it fits in the pot, or lightly cover with foil. Set onto raised rack in the Instant Pot with water bath and seal the lid.
  8. Using Manual setting, adjust to Low Pressure and set timer to 35 minutes. When complete, allow Natural Release for 5 minutes and then use Quick Release.  Remove from Instant Pot and let cool about 20 minutes before unmolding.
  9. If time permits, make a day or two in advance to allow flavors to blend. Store well wrapped in the refrigerator.  Serve with custard sauce, a hard sauce or whipped cream.  Serves 6 or more.

Cauliflower Credo

This is one serious blunder.  I can’t believe I forgot to post this incredibly good veggie burger that includes cauliflower.  I know, you must be saying, “No-more-cauliflower!”  If you are looking for an outstanding veggie patty, don’t count this one out.

There are probably more veggie-burger-patty posts on this blog than anything else. It is also true that in each case the latest is always the best.  This one really is!

Hear me out. If you have labored over as many veggie burgers as I have, it’s likely that you have established your own preferences.

Flavor
Personally, I like the falafel flavor range: cumin and other warm spices, plus a little heat all work in this format.  Not so much that it overwhelms other flavors.
Texture
Not too wet or too dry; it must hold its shape. Not too heavy or too light.  We want to be fully satisfied, but not have a bomb to process.
Nutrition
Healthful ingredients are key. A variety of vegetables plus a combination of grains, legumes, pulses and/or beans all help to balance, boost food value, and increase taste, nutrition, and overall interest.

Cauliflower
Yes, the perfect veggie patty must have a lot going for itself, and who would think cauliflower could be such a big player?  My recent cauliflower marathon confirms all of these suspicions.

»  Its assertive yet mild flavor profile works well with the falafel requirement.
»  It has the ability to hold its shape with the right binders.
» It is light, nutritious, and a big team player.

May I present the most outstanding veggie burger… of the day?

Cauliflower-Lentil Veggie Patties

Ingredients
2 cups riced cauliflower, or a partial head of cauliflower
¾ cup dried red lentils, rinsed
½ cup bulgur wheat
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ onion, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 cup cremini mushrooms chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon coriander
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon coconut oil
½ teaspoon Korean red pepper flakes
½ cup falafel mix (found in specialty stores or bulk food section)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 beaten egg
1 cup panko, approximate
¼ cup coconut oil for cooking, divided (approximate)

Accompaniments:
Any of all of the following:  grated cheese, tomato, avocado, pickled pepper, yogurt sauce, Sriracha, sprouts, or sautéed kale.

Instructions

  1. To prepare the cauliflower, cut into florets. Cut or pulse in food processor until the size of large rice grains. Set aside.
  2. Rinse the lentils, place in small pot with 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until soft but still holding shape, 10-15 minutes.
  3. Soak the bulgur wheat in 1 cup boiling water with a pinch of salt. Cover and let stand 15 minutes until swelled. Drain.
  4. In medium sauté pan over medium-high, heat the olive oil and add the onion and the thyme, cook to soften, about 2 minutes.
  5. Add the mushrooms and garlic, stirring to soften the mushrooms. Add the coriander, a few grinds sea salt and freshly ground pepper and sauté to remove additional liquid, 1-2 minutes longer. Place in bowl of food process.
  6. To sauté pan, add 1 tablespoon coconut oil and then the cauliflower. Season with red pepper flakes and a sprinkling of salt. Cook until cauliflower begins to soften and color 3-4 minutes. Don’t overcook.  Remove to processor bowl.
  7. Pulse all the vegetables, bulgur, and lentils until coarse texture, but not pureed. Place in large mixing bowl. Stir in falafel mix, the lemon juice, and the egg. It should for a loose mass. Cover and let rest 20-30 minutes in fridge.
  8. Stir up to 1 cup panko into the mixing bowl to form a cohesive but not too wet mixture that holds together well. The panko is designed to bind and lighten the mixture, don’t over mix. It will also help with browning.
  9. Divide into 8 portions, shape into patties 3-1/2” x ½” thick, and place on parchment lined pan. Cover and chill 20 minutes longer or up to 1 day.
  10. Over medium, heat skillet with 2-3 teaspoons coconut oil. Cook in 2-3 batches. Cover while cooking the first side, about 5 minutes, until browned and well heated. Turn, add a bit more oil and brown second side, about 4 minutes longer. Cool on rack.
  11. Serve with bun or pita or choice. Top with grated cheese, tomato, avocado, pickled pepper, yogurt sauce, and shredded lettuce or sautéed kale. Yield: 8 patties.

Cauliflower Curiosity

Like many others, I’m curious about cauliflower and where it might lead me.  Even with its sometimes strong cruciferous flavors, it has the ability to carry other flavors as well.  I suspect it can be a real workhorse if its powers are properly unleashed—especially in lieu of starches and carbs.

One evening recently I didn’t have much in the fridge except a few aging vegetables, eggs, and a partial bag of riced cauliflower.  Since fried rice is the perfect venue for using up odds and ends, it is a handy meal to have in rotation.  But, as much as I like fried rice, I rarely have extra rice sitting around.  So, why not cauliflower?

I went to town, thinking fried rice.  I whacked a little bacon off my stash in the freezer and threw it into a hot skillet.   I added a healthy combination of the usual suspects: onion, red pepper, peas and carrots… This is  a stir fry that comes together in a hurry.

The star here, of course, is the cauliflower, but with this cast of characters it blends right in with all the other flavors and is hard to identify as such.  Other good news: it does not require much oil, and lacks the greasiness that can sometimes be an issue with fried rice.  Further, it tastes surprisingly clean and is highly satisfying.

For anyone not paying attention, I can see where this would be a great way to nefariously slip veggies into the mouths of non-believers.  More good news, the cauliflower fried rice holds up very well. Should you have any ‘leftover’, it can be reheated in the microwave.

Cauliflower Fried Rice

Ingredients
4-5 cups riced cauliflower or more.  Or, a partial head of cauliflower
2 slices bacon, sliced
½ medium onion
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup red pepper, chopped
1 cup frozen peas, carrots, and/or corn, partially defrosted
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
¼ tsp. salt and pepper
2 egg
¼ cup green onion, 1-2 green onions

Instructions

  1. Use riced cauliflower or clean and cut the cauliflower into chunks. Place in food processor and pulse to chop the cauliflower until it resembles large grains of rice.
  2. In a medium-large sauté pan sauté the bacon over medium heat until it begins to crisp. Remove and drain the bacon on toweling. Leave 2-3 teaspoons of bacon fat in pan.
  3. Increase heat to medium high heat, add the onion and toss for 1-2 mins to soften; add the minced garlic and cook until aromatic. Add the red pepper and toss lightly.
  4. Move the vegetables aside, add the sesame oil then the cauliflower. Stir fry 3-4 minutes, until tender-crisp but not soft.
  5. Lower the heat to medium, add the partially defrosted vegetables, the soy sauce, and toss until the vegetables are heated. Return the bacon to the pan.
  6. Beat the eggs with salt and pepper.
  7. Add ¾ of the green onion to the pan vegetables and move them all to one side. Pour in the beaten eggs and stir to form soft curds and then combine with the vegetables.
  8. Top with remainder of green onions and serve. Serves 3-4.

The Mind of a Chef

Call me a creature of habit, but it seems that about once a month I make a frittata of some sort.  It’s usually on the weekend, but more important, it is the reassurance of knowing I’ve got my buddy in the fridge for back up during the week.

One of the most versatile of dishes ever, the frittata is equally welcome hot, warm, room temperature, and even cold.  Designed for portability, a wedge makes a convenient hand-held lunch on the run, or a simple dinner with salad.  Little mouth-sized portions make flavorful bites with drinks.

So, it’s no surprise that my mind tends to wander in terms of would that work in a frittata?  With a little manipulation, the answer is usually yes.  Here’s my latest frittata creation, and the answer is yes, absolutely, to all of the above mentioned applications.

This all began when a friend brought over beautiful sprigs of soft sage from their garden. I set them aside to dry, knowing they would come in handy very soon. When I spotted a small pristine head of cauliflower at the farmers’ market, I paused over it quizzically. My mind slipped into frittata mode.  With sage and what else?

Let’s face it, much like a white canvas, cauliflower needs help. My mind kept going… there were a couple types of blue cheese rumbling in the cheese bin and I probably had a little ham in the freezer.

Back at home I sliced the cauliflower and broke it into smaller pieces.  The idea here is to give the cauliflower more flat surfaces to brown and intensify flavor. The cauliflower was briefly blanched in boiling water,   quickly cooled to stop the cooking, and well drained—to avoid any mushy/sogginess later.

When I was ready to prepare the frittata it was a mere matter of browning onion and cauliflower, then adding the sage and ham. A combination of bleu cheese and creamy gorgonzola was scattered over the cauliflower and ham for a brief melt into the action below.

The eggs, milk, and seasoning were poured over the cauliflower mixture and allowed to set up in the pan and lock everything in place.  A quick run under the broiler puffs the frittata and browns the top. This is one serious frittata, she grins.

Cauliflower-Ham Frittata with Sage-Gorgonzola Cheese

Ingredients
1 small head cauliflower, ½” slices, broken in florets and blanched @ 3 minutes, drained
1 tablespoon combination evoo and butter
½ onion, chop
¾ teaspoon dried sage, crumble
½ Anaheim pepper, seed and chop
¼ lb. smoked ham, ¾ cup cubes
½ cup combo gorgonzola and bleu cheese, in pieces
6 eggs
¼ cup milk
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Directions

  1. Heat 9” or 10” oven-proof skillet over medium heat with olive oil and butter. Sauté the onion until soft, add the sage and continue until onion begins to color.
  2. Add the cauliflower and continue cooking, gently tossing until it begins to brown.  Add the Anaheim pepper and the ham, and cook a couple of minutes.
  3. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, add the milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg and pour over the eggs.
  5. Tilt the pan, loosen the eggs from the bottom with a spatula and let eggs run into the bottom of the pan.  Continue to turn the pan and allow the eggs to flow to bottom of the pan and the egg mixture begins to set.
  6. Run the frittata under the broiler until it begins to puff and the top begins to brown in places. Release frittata with from pan with a spatula and slide onto a plate. Cut into portions and serve hot or room temperature.  Serves 6.