Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Vegetable Stock

Vegetables by The Beach Boys
Ok - so if you've never had the pleasure of listening to this song, PLEASE, for heaven's sake, click on the link and watch this video.  The creators of the video use images of "vegetable art" to view as you listen to the song.  And they're very clever!  There's a cabbage head that looks a great deal like Roger Waters, in my opinion.  And the okra creation - well, let's just say it might take me a bit to be able to look at okra without a moment's pause.  But the SONG!!  It's quirky and clever and very cheeky.  And I love to blast it while I'm driving around in my convertible!  I like to give people a moment that they've probably never experienced before - and may not ever again!  Also, if you have kids, they will flat out love this song.

One of the topics I covered in the cooking classes
I taught while I was away
is how to make your own stock.


Good question!
At $4 a quart in the grocery store
it's a great budget stretcher - especially when you're probably
throwing out all the ingredients you need to make it -
not knowing their value.


For starters, it allows you to have that deep flavor you get
when you let a pot of soup simmer for hours or all day -
but without the soggy vegetables that tend to go with it!
Stock is also a time saver!
It allows you to have that "simmer all day
flavor" in a fairly quick meal.
While chopping vegetables with your family
as you chat about your day's activities
you can have dinner on the table in 30 minutes!
In addition, many dishes can be made more stellar
by using stock in place of water.
Cook rice or potatoes or polenta with stock 
and you've just upped your game!

The stock class was one of the last classes in 
my program because I wanted them to participate
in the habit of saving scraps as they go to be used for stock.
Each week as we did our vegetable prep for the various
dishes we were making, we'd have two buckets
in the middle of the counter.
One was for trash.
This included the trimmings not suitable for stock such as
cruciferous vegetables (a fancy name for veggies
like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale.)
The papery outer layers of onions should be tossed as well
because they can impart a bitter flavor to the stock.

The other bucket was for the stock scraps!
This would be the peelings and ends cut off of carrots and onions 
and celery.  Mushroom stems are also welcome.
The cores of peppers, stems and all, and tomato trimmings.
The stems of parsley can be saved as well.
If you make sure you've cleaned the veggies well before
prep, you can use almost everything you trim off.
And at the end of prep time, we'd put the contents from the
stock bucket into a freezer bag and toss it into
the freezer, where it waited until stock class.

This is a practice that you can employ in
your kitchen as well!

In commercial kitchens, this is a valuable
practice that helps increase revenue.
In the hands of a talented chef,
the scraps can be turned into the most
delectable items on the menu.
Woe be unto the staff member that is caught putting
valuable kitchen inventory
into the waste bin!

On the day of stock class, I hauled out all the
bags of trimmings from the freezer.
I also went through the vegetable bins in my refrigerator
and checked for other produce that wasn't spoiled
but maybe had become "tired" looking.
I'd wash it up and toss it into the stock pot as well.
If I had any bags of purchased frozen veggies with a
minimal amount left in it's bag, I'd use them as well.
It's a great way to tidy up the freezer!
I try to have some tomatoes on hand to add to the pot.
I might even roast them
in the oven first for added depth of flavor.
To roast vegetables, simply put them on a sheet tray
and toss in a small amount of olive oil.
Roast in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes,
until the edges just start to brown.
Remove and scoop into the stock pot, being sure to 
get all the juices that have accumulated in the pan.

After all the vegetables are added to the pot, I'd throw in
some herbs to join the bath!
Thyme works well as does sage and oregano, some bay leaves
and some black peppercorns, too.
Parsley is a must but you only need the stems.
You want to leave that step for when you use the stock
in your meal preparation.

Now you're ready to add water.
You'll want to cover the contents by about an inch.
The veggies will want to float but you can
still judge when you've added an inch above where they 
were before you started.

Put the pot on the stove over medium high heat and bring
just to a boil.  Reduce the heat and let simmer for about an hour.
Remove from heat and let cool a few minutes.

Line a mesh strainer with some cheesecloth
and place into a heat resistant bowl.
Pour the contents of the pot through the strainer.
Not all of the vegetables will fall out into the strainer,
but some will.
It's wise to do this step in a clean sink,
just in case you spill.
Lift up the strainer and let the juices flow through.
At this point, all the flavor and goodness has been
extracted from the vegetables so you can toss them
or use them for compost.

Next you're going to want to chill that
stock as quickly as possible.
Do not put it into the fridge or freezer to do this as it will
crash the temperature of either one
and put all your other food at risk of spoiling.
Instead, make an ice bath in a larger bowl or in 
your kitchen sink.
Stir often as this will circulate the cooler liquid from
the sides of the bowl into the center and facilitate
the cooling process.

Once cooled, pour the stock into freezable containers
and label with contents and the date and freeze.

Now you are only minutes
away from meals that taste like you've 
been slaving away all day!

Vegetable Stock 
Vegetables and scraps
Water to cover vegetables and scraps
Parsley stems
Black peppercorns
2 Bay leaves
Large stock pot

Place all ingredients in stock pot.  Cover with water.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for an hour.  Let cool a few minutes.  Strain through a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth.  Cool in an ice bath and then pour into freezer containers.  Label and freeze.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Creamy Cucumbers

Cool Kids by Echosmith
Who are the cool kids of the vegetable world?  Tomatoes are the star athletes.  I'm going to designate the various squash plants as the nerds.  All leafy plants like lettuce, chard, kale, etc. are the kids in the Drama Club.  Corn is class leadership.  So I think we can put cucumbers in the cool kids category.  I mean, after all, as the saying goes - cool as a cucumber - right?  Well, these are the coolest - and creamiest - cucumbers.

So remember last week when I was talking
about how I was having company for dinner and
I was making that Fall Harvest Pasta Salad
to go with Kalua Pork?
And I talked about veggies, veggies

Well, I also had accumulated quite a stash of cucumbers.
And cucumbers are one of the foods my
husband will not eat!
At all.

So I thought I'd fix them up and see if maybe my
friends could help me eat some of the bounty.

Cucumbers so often get overlooked.
Maybe because they're so easily prepared
or maybe because they're always the co-star of the meal
and never the headliner.
"Hey, why don't you and your wife come
over for a cucumber dinner!" said no-one ever.
But they were present at almost every picnic
in my childhood and frequently on the dinner table as well.
Sometimes they were simply dressed in vinegar
and sometimes in a creamy sauce.
I remember all the crocks on our back porch
filled with cucumbers on their way to
becoming pickles!
I loved them all!

I opted to use a creamy version for our company
and what made me super happy
was, when asked what was on them,
I was able to able to spout off only four ingredients!
I think short ingredient lists
are encouraging to people.
"I can do that!", they think to themselves.
And so can you!

Creamy Cucumbers 
serves 6
2 - 3 cucumbers, partially peeled, ends trimmed
1/2 c. plain yogurt, homemade if you like, or sour cream
1/4 c. rice vinegar, or fruity vinegar
1/2 t. kosher salt
pepper to taste
2 T. chopped chives

Trim ends off of cucumbers.  Using a vegetable peeler, take 1/2" strips of peel off in 1/2" intervals.  This is purely for eye appeal!  Then, using a mandolin or sharp knife, slice into 1/8" thin slices.  If the seeds are too big and woody, slice the cucumber in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds.  Then slice each half crosswise.  Place all slices in a mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl, mix together the yogurt, vinegar, salt, and pepper.  Taste and if it's too tart, stir in a little sugar or honey.  Pour the mixture over the cucumbers and stir to evenly coat.  Taste and adjust salt if needed.  Before you serve, top with chopped chives.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Fall Harvest Pasta Salad

Get Ya Party On by Baha Men
I was pretty much going around my kitchen and calling all the various fruits and vegetables to the counter for this salad.  So when I thought of a song to go with it, this one popped right into my head.  It's a pretty accurate description of the party going on in my kitchen that day!  If I were to make a music video of this song it would have me standing in the middle of my kitchen and pointing to the ingredients and saying, "Everybody over here!  Everybody over there!" and as I pointed, they'd magically hurl through the air, peeling and chopping as they fly, and land into the bowl.  Yeah - I still hold fast to some of that "Bewitched" magic from my childhood!

One of the things I've learned over the past couple years
is the importance of filling your diet with fruits and vegetables.
On this point, most camps agree.
But when I say filling your diet, I mean
REALLY making it the larger part.
Lean proteins and starches play a side dish
role in my new world.
At least it's what I'm aiming for.
I never realized what a carnivore I was before!
But now I'm looking for ways to get those fruits and vegetables in!
And I count myself very lucky that I happen to love them all!

Now, if you're like me,
this time of year has probably found you
 with a never-ending sea of fruits and vegetables.
Ones you've grown yourself or those you have 
received from friends and neighbors.
Some you've bought at the farmer's market
or produce delivery companies or the grocery store.
But for whatever reason,
they're there -

And, believe it or not, this is a good thing!

I realized the other day, though, that my situation
had gotten to the dangerous point.
The point when you have so much that it's going to spoil
before you get a chance to use it.
And that makes me sad.

So I start brainstorming.
What did I have?
Well, I had peaches - lots of beautiful peaches!
I had lots of bell peppers of different colors.
I had carrots as well as an ear of corn left over from dinner the day before.
I had some orange cherry tomatoes sitting there looking
so darned cute and perky.

And I had some bow-tie pasta!

I hadn't made a pasta salad for quite awhile and 
we were having company
for dinner that night so I decided right then and 
there that it was going to be the perfect side dish
for the Kalua Pork I was cooking up.
Per my new eating agenda, if I hadn't been
having company, I would have halved
the amount of pasta.  I'm never sure of how other people
will react to my new convictions.  But pasta salads
are always a great way to get in those vegetables!
And fruits!

As I started gathering and chopping I noticed a theme.
Do you see it?
Everything was in gorgeous hues of yellow, orange, and red!
These are my favorite colors so my eyes opened right up and drank it all in!
You couldn't find anything that screamed more loudly "It's the end of summer!"
I had some green bell peppers and zucchini but I decided that I
wanted to stick with this palette.
My favorite are the peaches and I'm kind of sad that I chopped them so small.
If I were to do it again, I'd leave them in bigger pieces 
because they are so beautiful and juicy!
Look at the party going on in this bowl!
And my favorite bite?
When I got some sweet corn and peach on the fork at the same time!
Ah, yeah!
So what fruits and vegetables do you have lounging around 
in your kitchen (or on your doorstep)
that would like to hang out with some pasta?

Fall Harvest Pasta Salad 
serves 10
1 12 oz. pkg. of bow-tie pasta
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 peaches, peeled, pitted, and chopped
1 - 2 ears of cooked corn, taken off the cob
1 orange or red or yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
10 cherry tomatoes
2 green onions, sliced thin
1/2 - 3/4 cup poppyseed dressing, I like Briana's brand
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 T. chopped chives
kosher salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain, and rinse immediately with cold water.  You can do this earlier in the day, but if you do, be sure to toss it with about 1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil before you store it in the refrigerator.  This will keep it from sticking together in one big gooey glob.

Place cooked and cooled pasta in a large bowl and add the chopped fruits and vegetables. 

In a separate bowl, combine the poppyseed dressing, buttermilk, and vinegar and stir to mix.  If you happen to have some nice fruity vinegars on hand - the fancy ones you pick up in the specialty boutiques - use that in place of the rice vinegar.  You will be so happy you did!  Pour the dressing mix over the ingredients in the bowl and add the chives on top.  Toss well until all ingredients are well-coated.  Taste and add salt and pepper accordingly!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Prosciutto & Melon

Chapters of My Heart by Nicole Sheahan
Full transparency up front here.  I know Nicole Sheahan and have since before she was born!  Her mother is one of my dearest and oldest friends and we met while she was pregnant with Nicole.  I kid you not, Nicole was every bit as beautiful as a newborn baby as she is today!  And her music is truly an extension of her lovely soul.  This song works perfectly today as this recipe carries a story of one of the chapters of my heart.  Please click through on the song title and watch and listen to her video of this song from her latest album.  You'll be so glad you did!

Today is my 38th wedding anniversary!
And this marriage or ours has written many chapters
 - some up and some down - but I wouldn't change a single one of them.
We learn from each chapter, don't we?
The hard times make the good ones even sweeter.

Some of the sweetest chapters have been written while we've
taken the opportunity to travel to distant places.
You learn a great deal by visiting different cultures.
I am really bad at journaling my every day life
but I'm a champ at keeping my travel journals!
I love rereading my thoughts and experiences and find that
I often forget some of the little things.

But today's dish is one I have never allowed myself to forget.
I don't think I could forget, even if I tried!
In 2010 we traveled to Italy and
every meal, save one, was a complete delight.
And almost every restaurant offered this Prosciutto e Melone dish.
It can be an appetizer or a light meal.
All I know is that I had it almost every single meal!!
It's the perfect sweet and salty combination.
You can also dress it up by adding some fresh tomatoes.
I love adding either fresh mozzarella or burrata as well.

This time of year, with all the scrumptious melons coming on, I make sure I always have some prosciutto on hand.  Prosciutto is an Italian cured ham and is ready to eat -
no cooking necessary.
Don't confuse it with pancetta - which does need to be cooked.
They're both found in the same place at your grocery store
usually in the deli area.
Prosciutto is salty and thinly sliced and partners so well with the melon!
It's also fun to say!
 I eat the whole plate as my lunch and it is filling and satisfying.
I love cutting up the prosciutto and melon and making sure I get the perfect bite each time.
If it's a crazy idea to you to put salt on melon, all I can say is
this is how we ate melons growing up in Pennsylvania.
The salt enhances the sweetness with a surprising boost.
The salt also makes the fruit "sweat."
Fruit sweat is more commonly known as "juice."
So when you're done with the dish, you'll want to grab a hunk of bread
and use it to wipe up the "dressing" that's been made with the juices and oil
and salt and pepper.
Do yourself a favor and write a new chapter in your life by trying this.
You will title it "The Day A Melon Hammed It Up and Changed My Life!"

Prosciutto & Melon 
1 ripe cantaloupe
1 pkg. prosciutto
1/2 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small handful of fresh parsley or arugula
salt and pepper, to taste

Cut and peel the cantaloupe.  I like to start by cutting off a bit of the top and bottom to give the cantaloupe a firm footing on the cutting board.
The flat bottom will keep the melon still while you take the knife and make small slices around the outside, from top to bottom, to remove the rind.  It should look like this.
Next, you'll cut the melon in half and scoop out the seeds of one half with a spoon.
Keep the seeds in the remaining half and wrap in plastic wrap to save it for another time.  Turn the half you're using upside down and cut it into slices.
Next, you'll want to place the melon slices on a plate.  If using a round plate, I like to fan the slices around like a pinwheel.  It's not much effort and I look at it as a treat for myself to make it look nice.
Prosciutto usually comes in 3 oz packages.  It's very thinly sliced and comes with some sort of paper or plastic in between the slices because they like to stick together.  
I use about half of a package, so 1 1/2 oz.  I remove one strip and tear it into strips and lay them around on top of the melon slices.
Now you'll drizzle just a little bit of extra virgin olive oil over the top and sprinkle kosher salt and some black pepper around as well.
Almost done!  Now chop up the fresh parsley and sprinkle over the top.  Do not skip the parsley!  Arugula is also a divine option!  Done!  

Eat with a knife and fork.  And, please, take your time and savor each juicy sweet and salty bite.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Persian Jewels

Here It Goes Again by O.K. Go
I think I've been gone long enough!  And so I'm back but, like this song says, it doesn't mean everything is perfect - but that I'm finally in a place to get things going again!  Lots of life under my belt, lots learned, lots to share.  And, can I say, feeling better than I have in a long time!  It is a secret dream of mine that I could line up some treadmills and do what these guys do in one of the BEST music videos EVER!  However, since I'm not nearly as limber as these guys, what we'd end up with would be a heck of a blooper reel!  But enough about what I can't do.  Let's get to what I can do - and that's make food!

It's been a long time, folks!
I've missed you so much!  It's a good thing when you find something you love to do.
And I love writing this blog and all that goes with it.

As I mentioned when last we visited, I needed to focus on getting myself healthy.
And since then I have read and researched on all sorts of 
"movements" or "revolutions" in the "get healthy" scene.
There's a lot of info out there - some of it that's good and 
some of it that just sends a red flag up the crazy pole.  
I think that's why we're given an intuition - to know 
when we've gone over the line from being informed 
to inflamed.  And by inflamed I mean - that point when a good idea
gets taken past the point of common sense and
starts feeding into fears in order for it to survive.
Every camp I studied had some good nuggets and they 
likewise all hit a point where they went a little overboard.
I'll share my take on what they have to say over time but 
what I've learned the most is that 
not everybody's body works the same.  
If they did, then treating our bodies would be a lot easier - not so much trial and error.  
I've had to learn to really pay attention to what MY body likes and what makes it sad/mad.

And what have I been doing while I've been gone?
You know, besides learning to be healthy?
I've been teaching other people how to cook!
And, guess what?
I love doing that!!
It's so rewarding to share skills that empower people!
Because when you have skills you have choices.
When you have choices you aren't at the mercy of others.
And that, people, is a grand feeling!
Basic cooking skills makes you the boss at the grocery store -
not the other way around.
I loved seeing the light come on in each of my students' eyes as they saw how
quickly and easily they could make a meal for their family, how much faster and more delicious a non-packaged alfredo sauce is, and how thrifty it is to make your own stocks.
I will be sharing some of the lessons from those cooking classes on here so stay tuned!

But to start out and welcome you all back, 
I wanted to share this beautiful cookie recipe.
It's inception started in Hawaii last winter.
My husband and I had wandered up to a town called Hawi 
in search of Tropical Dreams Ice Cream, 
which some friends had raved about.  We were also hungry so we sought out some lunch.
We wandered into a place called Local Dish that had a cool vibe to it -
tables made out of surf boards and all that beachy feel.
The menu is on a board over the ordering window and I was
studying it all - sweets and savory - when my
eye zoomed in on a cookie they called a Persian Slipper.
"What would a cookie called Persian Slipper taste like, " I asked myself.
It would have to have some middle-eastern notes to it.
Possibly even cardamom.
And then I asked the guy behind the counter.
But what actually came out was
"So what's the flavor profile on that Persian Slipper?"
Apparently, non-culinary people don't talk about flavor profiles.
He said "You're a chef then."
I said, well, yes, that I was.
He then knew we could talk shop.
But basically, all it was was a chocolate chip cookie base that he amped up with
pistachios, coconut, chocolate, dried apricots, and cardamom.
It's like, in the back of my mind I was chanting - 
please say cardamom, please say cardamom, please say cardamom!
And when he did I said "YES!  I'll take one of those!"

"Oh, yeah, well, we don't have any of those right now."
(insert sound of a needle scratching across a vinyl record here)
And then I got a quick lesson on the difficulties and cost of 
acquiring certain ingredients when you're on an island 
out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  


So I ate my delicious sandwich while visions of these lovelies danced in my head
and vowed that, even if he didn't have the Persian Slippers,
I would make every effort to come visit his place again
if I ever found myself on the big island in the future.
We found the sought-for ice cream in a shop across the street and agreed that it was, in fact,
very, very, very, good!  Worth the trip!
So, if you're on the north shore of the big island in a town called Hawi,
eat at Local Dish and have Tropical Dreams Ice Cream - any flavor - at Kohala Coffee Mill
just across the street!

You can bet that as soon as I got home, I set about creating the elusive Persian Slipper.
It isn't difficult.  And they are absolutely delicious!
After several batches though, I started contemplating on how I could showcase the colors better.
That's when I decided to do the version I'm sharing today.
Basically a sugar cookie base.
I had to come up with my own name though.

Persian Jewels 
makes 40 cookies
1 cup granulated sugar (200 g)
1 cup powdered sugar (120 g)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened (227 g)
1 cup coconut oil
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or regular vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour (500 g)
1/2 cup cornstarch (60 g)
1 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 c. shredded or flaked coconut, toasted
3/4 cup pistachios, chopped
1 cup dark chocolate chunks
1 cup dried apricots, chopped*
fine baker's sugar, for coating

In a large mixer bowl, cream together the sugars and the butter and coconut oil until well combined.  With using the coconut oil, this won't take as long as if you were using only the softened butter - a couple minutes should do it.

Add the egg and mix on low until combined.  Add the vanilla and mix just to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, cardamom, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until well blended.  Add all at once to the butter and sugar mixture and mix just a few passes around with the beater.  Then add the coconut, pistachios, chocolate, and dried apricots and continue to mix just until it all comes together.  Don't overmix!  

And, as usual, I like to scoop and freeze the cookies before I bake them.  I used a #24 scoop for these, which is equal to three tablespoons.  Scoop the dough, then toss in a bowl of extra fine baker's sugar, then place on parchment-lined sheet trays.  You can either leave them this way 
and they come out looking like this
or you can slightly flatten the tops.
Flattening the tops gives them a slightly smoother look when baked.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake for 14-15 minutes, turning the tray halfway through.  Cool and enjoy!

*A note about the dried apricots.  If your apricots are looking a little more dry, then rehydrate them before using.  I'd squeeze the juice from an orange and then add enough hot water to cover the apricots.  Let sit for at least 30 minutes and then drain and use.  While you have that orange, it would be a totally AWESOME idea to use the zest in the dough!  Just sayin'!