Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Fall Fruit Galette

All Will Be Well  by The Gabe Dixon Band
How have I gone this long not knowing about The Gabe Dixon Band?!  I was lucky to be able to visit Magnolia Market in Waco, Texas a few weeks ago.  While wandering around the grounds, and reveling in the whole "feeling" of the place and recognizing that I wanted to just stay there - it dawned on me that the music was just as much to credit as was the meticulous layout and design of the property.  After a few songs, I pulled out my phone and used my Shazam app to find out who was singing to me.  At that moment, I fell in love with Gabe Dixon and his band.  As soon as I got home I purchased three albums of their music!  This song is special as it gives me reassurance that, especially in my quest to be healthy, as I have setbacks among the successes, all will be well.

In my pursuit to find health and balance
 I found that my approach
to food and it's preparation has changed.
Instead of seeing how absolutely decadent I
could make something, I started
considering how I could keep the
star ingredients as close to their 
natural state as possible - preserving
their already great flavor.

I started cooking simpler.

It seemed the more I handled and "decorated"
my food, the more excess and unwanted
 ingredients tended to creep in - 
which usually translated into  
more calories than necessary.

And the startling thing is that I don't really
miss the over-the-top decadence!
I've found that I really do love
food as it really tastes!

And you might think this an odd topic for 
a post that delivers a dessert offering!
But, in fact, it describes exactly how I
approached the creation of this recipe.

There I was with some beautiful fall fruits -
apples, white-fleshed peaches, and beautiful pears.
And I had company coming for dinner.
It was a busy day but I wanted to
have something a little special.
My knee jerk reaction was 
I do love pie!!
But all that pie crust
and all that sugar!
Read: all those calories!!

So what if I only used half the pie crust?
And what if I added a small
portion of the sugar usually used in pie?
How much sugar do you really need
in a pie anyway?

What if I made a galette?

Galettes are rustic freeform pastries.
They can also be referred to as crostatas.
You CAN make them fancy if you want.
But they're equally acceptable if they're 
on the rough-looking side!

I tasted as I prepared, just to
be sure that my mission to
be more healthy didn't override my
desire to serve delicious food that my
family and friends would enjoy as well.

I started adding a bit of honey.
And then a bit of sugar.
And, according to my tastebuds,
it was sweet enough with just that!
I livened it up with a bit of cinnamon
and added a bit of flour to 
thicken the juices.

I made up a batch of pie crust
for double crust pie but
only used half.  Now I have an extra
ball of dough in the freezer for another time!

Just roll the dough out to a rough circle
and place on a parchment lined sheet tray.
You can just dump the fruit on
the dough, if you like, or
you can take a few minutes to arrange the fruit.
Since it was for company, I took just a few minutes to
fussy out the fruit - but not too much.
Remember that the pile of fruit will 
soften and reduce down as it cooks.

Then I folded in the edges, leaving an opening in 
the center for steam to vent.
When it was folded, I brushed a bit of heavy
cream on the outside of the dough and
sprinkled some chunky sugar over it.
You don't have to do this part, but, again, company!

I baked it at 375 degrees and started
checking it at 30 minutes.
It ended up cooking for 50 minutes.
So beautiful!
And it looked like it took a long time
but it didn't!
The thing about desserts like this is that
there's no way to taste it before you
serve your company so I was nervous!
But guess what?
It was FABULOUS!!!!!
I just added a small dollop of
whipped heavy cream, ever so slightly sweetened.

Fall Fruit Galette
Serves 6
3 pieces of fruit, I used an apple, a pear, and a peach
2 T. honey
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of salt
1 Tablespoon of butter, in pieces
Pie dough (I used half the recipe and froze the other half)
Heavy Cream, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Peel and core fruit and slice into uniform sized pieces and place in a bowl.  Drizzle the honey over and sprinkle the sugar and flour over as well.  Add the cinnamon and salt and toss until the fruit slices are evenly coated.  Set aside.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Roll out the pie dough into about a 14" circle - but don't be fussy about it.  It should look uneven.  Fold the circle gently in half and quickly lift onto the parchment paper and unfold.  Stir the fruit once more and scoop onto the center of the pie dough, leaving about a 2-3" empty space around the outside.  Dot the top with the pieces of butter.  Fold the edges back in toward the center, leaving an open space where the fruit is exposed and steam can escape as it bakes.  If you like, you can brush the outside of the pie shell with cream and sprinkle some sugar over it.  

Bake for 50 minutes, or until the crust becomes a dark golden brown and the fruit is bubbly.  Remove and let cool.  Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.


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!