What Sounds Good?

We all have our comfort foods.  When nothing else sounds good, we reach for familiar touchstones to soothe us.  They many not mean much to anyone else, but we have our favorites.

Years ago I wrote a heritage cookbook for my family with the odd title, What Sounds Good?  It was just that,  a crazy assortment of cherished recipes that were a regular part of our food repertoire when my daughters were growing up.  At our house, there was always a debate underway about what to eat for the next meal or upcoming food event. The discussion would typically include what sounds good?

Some of the recipes in What Sounds Good? were from my own childhood; some I picked up in my early days of cooking from friends and family. Some were regional, like Santa Maria Style Beans and Boston Clam Chowder. They still hold a place in my heart.

Yesterday was one of those days. It was cold and rainy and I was feeling the aftermath of the long Thanksgiving weekend.  I needed something that reached down and warmed my soul.  Of course, it was no further away than my pantry shelves.  I always have the makings for clam chowder tucked away somewhere.

I pulled out my soup pot and found a familiar rhythm. The smoky scent of bacon always perks me up. There’s nothing fussing here: some onion, potato, a bit of celery, a few herbs… In no time I had hearty soup cups ladled full of thick and creamy clam chowder.

Funny thing.  This morning I pulled out the recipe to take a look at it.  It has been a while since I made it, and without thinking, I made it as written in the cookbook, down to ingredients and quantities.  I guess somethings are too good to change.

Boston Clam Chowder

From What Sounds Good?

Ingredients
4-5 strips bacon, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
2 medium red potatoes, skin on, diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
2 cans chopped clams, 4-5 ounces each, liquid reserved
1 bottle clam juice, about 8 ounces
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup water
2 cups milk, of choice, including diluted condensed milk, if necessary
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Garnish:  chopped parsley, butter, or paprika, serve with oyster or pilot crackers

Instructions

  1. In a soup pot, sauté the bacon over medium heat until it begins to color. Drain off all but 1-2 tablespoon of the fat.
  2. Add the onion, and cook to soften, then add the celery and toss briefly. Add the potato, herbs, white pepper. clam liquids, and enough additional water to barely cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Combine the flour and water into a slurry and slowly stir into the potato base and allow it to thicken.
  4. Stir in the milk and clams and heat well, but do not boil. Adjust seasoning.  Serve with garnish of choice.  Serves 4.
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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.

 

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.

Pizza Margarita in a Skillet: Faster than Dominos can Deliver

When using the very best ingredients it’s hard to beat a great combination like fresh mozzarella, vine ripened tomatoes, and basil leaves.  Add any other specialty touches like a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and you have the makings of a masterpiece.

Throw in a fine crispy bread and you will know why Pizza Margarita has long been considered one of the world’s great classics.

Last night I experienced such good fortune when I happened to have fabulous fresh bread dough—as well as all the above ingredients.  Easily, within ten minutes I was slicing into world class pizza.

I had a supply of excellent bread dough on hand thanks to local bread expert Marc Green, who has perfected his own no-knead bread for artisan bread baking.  With that in mind, I pulled out a heavy skillet and heated a good drizzle of olive oil. I flattened and patted out a portion of Marc’s dough, threw it into the hot pan, and covered it with a lid to create an impromptu oven.

Meanwhile, I gathered up pre-sliced mozzarella, thinly sliced fresh tomato, and plucked a few sprigs of basil off my doorstep plant. When the bottom was crispy, I gave it a flip and added my toppings.  It was quickly covered and left to cook for another 3-5 minutes, until the cheese melted and the bottom was golden brown.

Since my dough was well constructed and robust, it raised beautifully, much like a Chicago-style pizza.  Normally I prefer a thinner crust, but this was so good I nearly polished off the whole thing without stopping for a salad!

Given this simple technique, there is no reason why any other bread or ready-made pizza dough would not work.  I also sprinkled on red pepper flakes and sea salt but that’s a personal thing. Simply nothing else is required.  Not even a phone call or text message.

Pizza Margarita in a Skillet

Inspired by Marc Green’s No-Knead Bread

Ingredients
one recipe bread dough
fresh sliced tomato
fresh sliced mozzarella
fresh basil leaves
olive oil

Directions

  1. Turn raised, room temperature dough out onto lightly floured surface. Lightly dust with flour and cut into four or more portions and shape into balls.
  2. Heat a medium skillet (8” approx.), heat 1-2 tablespoons oil into bottom until it shimmers. Flatten one ball with hand and press into the diameter of the skillet; carefully slide the dough into pan.
  3. Cover with a lid and cook 3 minutes until golden brown on bottom and dough has risen, uncover and carefully flip over.
  4. Place the tomato slices, mozzarella slices, and basil leaves on top of the dough.  Cover with lid and cook 3-5 minutes longer until cheese is melted and bottom is golden brown.   Remove to cutting board, cut into wedges and serve hot.  Repeat pizzas as needed.

Kimchi, the New Salsa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick and Simple Kimchi

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

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

Directions

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

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

Let Them Eat Cake

Oops! I almost ate the last piece of this incredible cake without taking time for a blog photo. That is what happens when you care more about eating cake than preserving its place in history.

What’s in a name?  Somehow, chocolate-and-zucchini do not incite great waves of excitement.  I don’t know if this is the impetus of Clotilde Dusoulier’s beloved blog Chocolate and Zucchini, but it surely should be. As Clotilde aptly describes her Chocolate & Zucchini Cake, ‘the grated zucchini melds into the batter and the strands disappear… into a voluptuous chocolate flavored cake.’

Admittedly, chocolate is not my thing.  But if there is anything that would change my mind, it would not be a flourless chocolate cake, or a rich chocolate truffle, it would be this cake. Right out of the oven, the charming exterior has a crisp brownie-like crust which is elegantly foiled by its light, well-constructed interior crumb.

Thanks to the mysterious zucchini addition, it is perfectly moist, and for a chocolate cake the butter/oil content is surprisingly low. It is a well-balanced cake, not too sweet, but deeply flavored with cocoa powder, chocolate bits, and a hint of coffee.  Yes, it’s all of that.

Chocolate & Zucchini Cake

From Clotilde Dusoulier’s award winning blog, Chocolate and Zucchini. First published in April 2004 and updated in August 2017.
 
Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, or 1/2 cup olive oil, plus a pat butter or teaspoon oil for the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons strong cooled coffee
3 large eggs
2 cups unpeeled grated zucchini, from about 1 1/2 medium zucchini
1 cup good-quality bittersweet chocolate chips or roughly chopped
Confectioner’s sugar or melted bittersweet chocolate (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 10-inch round springform pan or 8 1/2-inch square pan.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In the bowl of a mixer, or by hand in a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the vanilla, coffee, and eggs, mixing well between each addition.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the zucchini, chocolate, and about a third of the flour mixture, making sure the zucchini strands are well coated and not clumping too much.
  5. Add the rest of the flour mixture into the egg batter. Mix until just combined; the batter will be thick. Fold the zucchini mixture into the batter, and blend with a spatula without overmixing.
  6. Pour into the prepared cake pan, and level the surface. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Don’t overbake.
  7. Transfer to a rack to cool for 10 minutes, run a knife around the pan to loosen, and unclasp the sides of the pan. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar or a chocolate glaze if desired.  Serves 12

One-Bowl Formula Cookie

Old-fashioned, soft, spicy Hermit cookies have never really gone out of style, but they certainly could use a make-over. Here is an updated version designed to meet today’s taste for cleaner, brighter flavors and textures—with less fat and more fiber.

It is my latest go-to cookie because it lasts well, is very tasty, and nearly foolproof to make. I call it my formula cookie because it can be easily varied, depending on need, mood, and availability.

For example, the 2 cups of flour can be replaced with nearly any type or combination of flours. For best rising, I tend to use a base of at least 1 cup all-purpose flour. Any variety of dried fruits and nuts will work, I especially like to include dates because they are meltingly sweet and moist.

The ingredient variations listed below are a recent favorite, but don’t let that stop you! The warm spices of cinnamon, coriander, and ground ginger are an excellent combination that works well with a variety of dried fruits and nuts, especially dates, dried cranberries, and a few pumpkin seeds.

This cookie is easy to assemble and best of all, it requires only one bowl. The fairly heavy dough comes together very quickly, yielding a soft cookie when baked. Best when not overcooked, plan on about 10 minutes per batch.  Store these airtight at room temperature for a week or longer.

Hermits Redux

Ingredients
2 cups AP flour, or of choice:  1-1/3 cups AP flour, 1/3 cup whole wheat flour, 1/3 cup cake flour
2 teaspoons warm spices of choice:  1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. coriander, 1/2 tsp. dried ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup quick oats
¾ cup dried fruit and nuts: 1/2 cup pitted dates, 2 tbsp. dried cranberries, 2 tbsp. pumpkin seeds
1 egg
2 tablespoon oil: coconut, safflower, or canola
2/3 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk or sour milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line baking sheet with silpat or parchment.
  2. On waxed paper, sift flour through salt; mix in the oats, add the dried fruit, nuts and toss to coat.
  3. In mixing bowl, whisk egg and oil together, whisk in the brown sugar and milk, then the vanilla.  Stir in dry ingredients with large spoon only to combine, it will be thick.
  4. Using a small scoop or form rounded teaspoons of dough and roll into balls, place 2″ apart on baking sheet.  Flatten with a moistened fork while rounding the edges.
  5. Bake 9-11 minutes, until barely set and the tops begin to brown. They should be soft and seem undercooked; they will firm up as they cool.  Cool on rack and repeat.  Yield:  27 cookies.