Without a trace

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

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

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

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

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

Spinach Torta

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

Spinach Torta

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

Instructions

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

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

Bread-and-Breakfast Special

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

Pizza with Baked Eggs, fresh out of oven

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ham & Cheese Pizza with Baked Eggs

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

Instructions

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

Stock-free Soup: Whey to Go

In today’s culinary world it’s all about building layers of flavor—and for further clarification we use terms like big, bold, and complex.

In Lois Anne Rothert’s well researched book, The Soups of France, she points out that for centuries thrifty French housewives have created delicious, nourishing soups without the benefit of heavy hitting stocks. Rather, they often use water and rely on local products like olive oil, herbs, spices, garlic, and garden vegetables to flavor and take center stage.

In the same mode, I am getting serious about a particular item in my fridge that is mushrooming out of control.  I have way too much whey.  Since I have been making yogurt and tinkering with fresh cheeses whey is multiplying in my refrigerator.

Several years ago I recall reading countless recipes using whey in Nancy Fallon’s ground breaking book, Nourishing Traditions.  At the time, it was interesting, but I wasn’t ready. Yes, whey is loaded with food value and I’m doing what I can to not waste it. I add it to my morning muesli, use it for pasta water, pour it on plants, and feed it to stray cats…

I’ve previously mentioned my fascination with spiced Paneer cheese and I continue to revise and refine it, further adding to the whey backlog. Out of curiosity, I recently tasted this deeper colored whey and discovered it has a nuanced, delicate flavor, layered with coriander, fennel, and nigella seeds and a whisper of lemon tartness. What’s not to love?

One batch of seeded whey ended up in a Red Pepper Soup from The Soups of France. Or more accurately, in the Basque soup made with water, flavored with red peppers, garlic and sausage–plus a couple or red potatoes added for good measure.  It receives bonus points for the suggested inclusion of poached eggs!

Red Pepper Soup

If I can break away from the whey glut, I still intend to try this soup made with water.  If it is good with whey, it will likely be as delicious on its own merit.  Also, note that a simple dash of red wine vinegar at the table adds to its intrinsic earthiness. Since the soup relies on the best quality sausage, I opted for plump sage breakfast sausage, which goes well with a perfectly poached egg.

Basque Garlic, Sausage, and Red Pepper Soup

Inspired by Lois Anne Rothert’s The Soups of France

  •  ½ lb spicy sausage, bulk pork breakfast sausage is good
  • 2 red potatoes, cube
  • 3 red peppers, seed, slice into strips
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, mince
  • Pinch cayenne or Piment d’Espelette
  • 2 quarts water, chicken stock, whey, or a combination
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Accompaniments:  Red wine vinegar, Poached eggs, Toasted French bread

In a large soup pot heat the olive oil over low heat.  Add the garlic, sausage, and pepper strips, potato, and sauté to break up and brown the sausage, about 10 minutes. Drain excess fat.

Add the cayenne, water, and salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to low and simmer uncovered 15-20 minutes.  Adjust seasoning.

Ladle into soup bowls, top each with a poached egg, pass the vinegar to drizzle onto soup and serve with toasted French bread.  Serves 6

Mollet World

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

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

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

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

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

sous vide bath 1

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

mollet-on-toast-e1553967238475.jpg
Mollet egg, sous vide

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

Red Pepper Soup

You will have mollet perfection.

Eggs: Mollets, Soft-Cooked & Poached

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reversal of Fortune

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

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

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

hash plate,Pepper
Easy Corned Beef Hash

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

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

hash, tabasco

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

Easy Corned Beef Hash topped with Egg

Ingredients

Per 2 servings

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

  Directions

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

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

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

Pass tabasco sauce, and salt and pepper.    Serves 2

The Case of Sinking Grapes

Who doesn’t like grapes?  In most markets we are lucky to have fresh, juicy grapes available year round. So, in the dark days of winter, an attractive bowl of grapes set out on a counter can be a nourishing and welcome site.  

courtesy Pixabay

For easy snacking, I like to rinse, drain, and cut up large bunches and place smaller portions in a covered container.  Stored in the fridge, the grapes are reach-in ready and will hold for a week or longer.   

We tend to overlook grapes as a handy option in baked desserts. Here’s a happy idea that makes perfect sense: a lemon-scented cake laced with polenta and grapes. What’s not to like?  Polenta provides flavor and structure and the grapes add entertaining pockets of sweet juiciness.

Bonus: Tiny test corners

But what to do about those errant grapes that stubbornly sink to the bottom of the cake?  Trust Martha Stewart to come up with a clever solution for the irritating dilemma of sinking grapes. She begins by scattering only half of the grapes on top of the batter before placing it in oven.  When the cake is partially set, the remaining grapes are strewn about the top and baked until golden brown.   

Remember to use seedless grapes—red is pretty, but any color that strikes your fancy will work.

Serve the cake warm with a light dusting of confections’ sugar and perhaps a dollop of whipped cream.  Should you have left-overs, the cake will hold well for two or three days at room temperature.  After that, store what’s left in the fridge. 

Polenta-Grape Cake

Inspired by Martha Stewart’s Olive Oil Cake with Red Grapes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup polenta or coarsely ground cornmeal
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp grated lemon zest
  • ½ cup olive oil or a combo with melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 cups red or green grapes, washed and dried

Directions

  1. Line an 8” round or square pan with parchment and then spray with baking spray.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. In a larger mixing bowl, beat the eggs until light. Gradually add the sugar and lemon zest, beating until fluffy. 
  4. Slowly beat in the oil. In 3 additions mix in the flour alternately with the milk and 2 portions of the dry ingredients, ending with dry mixture. 
  5. Spoon the batter into the baking dish. Scatter ½ of the grapes over the top and bake for 15 minutes. Remove and top the cake with the remaining grapes, bake 25 minutes longer.  Cool in pan on rack for 15 minutes then turn out and cut into portions.  Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve. If desired accompany with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.  Serves 6-8.