Saturday, July 9, 2011

All Shook Up!

This morning, after a leisurely market visit which resulted in tandem giant sacks of produce, a lovely bouquet of summer blooms, 3 delightful cheeses, and a slow walk home, brunch was inspired by the lush bounty on display. The market is in full swing, and the sheer visual pleasure makes it worth an early rise.
Shaksuka goodness (Eggs are already on the plates!)
So- after a cuppa with my lovie, I began the relatively long, but oh-so-worth it process of making Shaksuka and biscuits for breakfast. Shaksuka (which means all mixed up) is a North African dish that is essentially a great spicy tomatoey mess with eggs poached in. If you like a fresh, savory, healthy, and hearty start to your day, Shaksuka fills the bill.  Oh yeah, skip the biscuits if you want really healthy.

So- let's go. Put a great big cast iron skillet over med-high heat. Once it's hot, put a tsp of cumin seeds in to toast. Toss them as they brown, to prevent burning. They'll pop a bit, and become deliciously fragrant. Once they've gotten a bit browner, (2 min?) pour in some olive oil and toss in a couple of sliced onions. While they soften over the med-high heat, chop a few green chilis (you decide...) and slice 3-4 bell peppers into ribbons. I used a green, a red, a purple, and a couple of lovely red pimiento peppers. Add them to the onions along with 2 bay leaves, several stems (6?) of thyme (strip the leaves into the pan, and toss the stems in the bin), a small handful of chopped italian parsley, and a small handful of chopped cilantro. Let all this cook a bit. Meanwhile, rough chop several tomatoes. I used 2 large, and a mixed pile of plum and assorted cherry tomatoes. You can use up to six large tomatoes, or if you can't be bothered, open a large can of fire-roasted chopped tomatoes. Stir them into the pepper-onion-spice mix, along with a pinch or two of saffron. If you haven't any saffron, you can substitute a bit of turmeric. Now the mixture can just bubble along for about 20 minutes, and you just stir in some water (1/4 to 1/2 cup at a time- I just pour some in out of the kettle) if the Shaksuka starts to look dry. This is the perfect time to whip up some biscuits (hang on, the biscuit recipe is coming) and call the butler to set the table. Once you've put the biscuits in the oven and set the table, you should have just enough time to poach the eggs. You'll need about 8 minutes for the eggs. Using a large spoon or ladle, create as many wells in the sauce as you have eggs and/or eaters. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible. Break an egg into each well, and pop on a lid to cover the sauce/poaching business. Put the kettle on to boil, so you'll have water for tea or coffee. I like to chop some green onion and cilantro, and feta or other cheese to add at the table. 
Take the biscuits out of the oven and take them to the table. Say, "Breakfast is ready and I mean right now!", adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, and bring the skillet to the table. Enjoy the moment while everyone (or the one!) sighs as you remove the lid. The aroma is mouthwatering. You'll be so glad you have the biscuits to soak up every last bit. Yum.
Pepa's biscuits:
My dad was on an eternal quest to create biscuits as good as those he remembered from his childhood. Thank goodness I stood at his side and he patiently taught me how to make them, allowing me to pursue different eternal quests.

Here's how he did it- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl dump 2 cups all purpose flour. Add two tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. baking soda, 1 tsp. salt. Stir together with a fork. Add about 1/3 cup cold shortening or lard. I use earth balance stick shortening, he used lard. Cut in with a pastry cutter. When the shortening is smallish pea-sized, add enough buttermilk, sour milk, plain yogurt, or plain kefir (my favorite) to make a wet dough. Put just enough flour on your doughboard to allow you to pat the dough into a rough rectangle about 1 inch high. Cut out the biscuits with your favorite cutter, and place them gently onto a cast iron skillet, sides touching. This way they'll help each other to rise. Place in the hot oven for about 12-15 minutes. They should be golden brown on top. When they've got about 8 minutes left, you need to get cracking on the eggs!

And this, my darlings, is a proper doughboard.
Thanks, Dad, for teaching me how to make biscuits, and for encouraging me to be an adventurous eater!

Later in the afternoon, if you'd like to completely ruin someone's diet make someone very happy, try this: split, butter, and toast under the broiler the leftover biscuits. Spread with homemade marmalade (the treacly Seville orange kind in that big jar) and serve with tea. Yes, it's merfect. (Thanks, little Jesse, for the merfect word.)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

To market, to market to buy a fat...


Baked Onions for dinner-

Slice off the top and bottom of as many onions as people eating them. Slip off the papery skins. Place them each on their own generous square of foil, and top with a 1/2 to full teaspoon of any concentrated stock (demiglaze) and a butter pat.
Loosely cover the onion, and twist the foil at the top. Place on an ovenproof dish, then in a preheated 400-425 oven.
Bake for an hour at least, and serve alongside some beans, coleslaw, and cornbread. If you have ripe tomatoes, slice them and sprinkle with pepper. Everything will sop up the lovely oniony, salty juices. Yum.

This leads immediately to how to make cole slaw the way my mom does. Flecked with coarsely ground black pepper, creamy with a vinegar tang, it is a true southern slaw. No sugar anywhere in sight. The only sweetness is that which exists naturally in the cabbage.

Here's how.

Mema's Cole Slaw-

Thinly slice a half or whole fresh cabbage, or shred it in a food processor or use a grater.  Put it in a large bowl, and dress with a heaping spoonful of good mayo (homemade) or in a pinch- I like organic Spectrum. Grind over with lots of black pepper, a sprinkle of sea salt, and a tablespoon or two of raw cider vinegar. Mix it gently together. Serve with spring onions laid right in the bowl, along the side, cleaned and cut so that the green tops are about 3 to 4 inches long. This was just the way my dad liked them- that bit of heat that is such a complement to the cool slaw.

Now for the cornbread-

Put a bit of oil or earthbalance vegetable shortening, lard, or other fat of your choice in your cast iron skillet, and put the skillet in the oven as it preheats to 425.

While it preheats, stir about 2-3 cups of Red Mill cornmeal mix, an egg, and enough buttermilk, kefir, or whey in a bowl to make a thick, lump-free, pourable mixture.  No buttermilk? You can use plain yogurt and a bit of milk instead. If you desire (and plan ahead!), you may soak the cornmeal first in the buttermilk. Once soaked, add 2 tsp. baking powder, and a half tsp. baking soda, and a tsp. of sea salt.

When the oven has reached 425, and the fat has melted in the pan, remove it from the oven, and quickly pour in the batter. It should sizzle as it hits the pan, forming the beginnings of a wonderfully crisp crust. If you like, you can artfully and carefully put a few sprigs of fresh rosemary or sage in the hot oil in the pan first, then gently pour the batter over, trying not to swamp the herbs. They will make a lovely decoration on the bread when it is turned out, and lend a delicate flavor.

Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the top begins to go golden brown. Have a wooden board ready on which to turn it out. Put the board on top of the cornbread, hold it on, and flip the pan and board over in one motion. The bread should slip right out, and sit prettily waiting to be sliced into wedges. Wonderful with beans, soup, or cut open and toasted the next day with a slather of butter and some homemade jam, or some cheese toasted on top.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Simple Breakfast

After a morning trip to the market, the fresh eggs look so dear and homely sitting in their bowl in the fridge, that it seems a shame to crack them open. But once you bite into this simple breakfast, you'll think the shells look perfectly fine empty.

Simple Breakfast

Warm a croissant or toast a nice slice of whole grain bread, or don't have any bread at all.

 Put a few slices of smoked salmon in a skillet that has been preheated to medium heat. I use frozen smoked salmon slices, because they hold up under this unusual treatment. What I'm after are slightly browned salmon slices, somewhat reminiscent of bacon. Crack your eggs into a medium hot skillet slicked over with butter or olive oil. While the eggs sizzle and pop, getting that lacey brown crisp edge that is such perfection,  toss a double handful of microgreens (cress is nice) with a smidge of good olive oil. Put them on top of the bread, inside the croissant, or just make a nest on your plate. When the eggs are done to your liking, place them on the greens, and cover with the nicely grilled slices of salmon, a few thin slivers of red onion, and a sprinkle of rinsed capers. Grind over with black pepper. No salt needed since the salmon is just salty enough.  Some mornings need a slice of Seaside cheddar under the egg to round out the dish. Great with a strong coffee, if you drink it, or tea and an amiable sort of person to share the start of the weekend.

Phork Pies and other vegetarian longings...

Being vegetarian, well, pesci-vegetarian, doesn't mean you don't have fond memories of meaty foods. I have the occasional thoughts of a BLT, while my sweetheart has the odd yearning for a very English Pork Pie.

Here's the veg version of each.

(halloumi, lettuce, and tomato)

So, halloumi cheese (Whole Foods) has this lovely ability to stand up to being grilled without melting, instead becoming browned and crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. To begin, slice it fairly thin into long, wide pieces, and grill in a skillet with a little olive oil. While it browns, slice open a nice ciabatta or other crusty bread, slather with mayo, and cut some thick slices of ripe tomato. Once the cheese has gone golden on both sides, lay it on the bread, put the tomato slices on top, grind over with coarse black pepper, put on a generous handful of crisp, fresh rocket or other leafy green, the other half of the bread, and enjoy. This sandwich is best made when tomatoes are at their peak of flavor, in the heat of the summer. They need to be sitting on the kitchen counter, begging to be made into a sandwich. No halloumi? Well, a tomato sandwich really only needs mayo, salt, and pepper to be pretty near perfect anyway.

Phork Pies

These pies are a veggie version of a classic English pub treat.
Make a double recipe of pie crust. I make it a bit short, so that the pastry shatters when you bite into it.
Put the dough in a plastic bag in the fridge while you make the filling.
Slice a large onion and let it soften in a bit of oil or butter over low heat. I like to slowly sweat the onion, so that it gets sweetly caramelized. Once the onion's gone soft, add some sort of sausage substitute or real pasture fed pork sausage.  To this add about 5 finely chopped sage leaves,  a pinch or two of mace, and several good grinds of black pepper. While this cooks, in a small pot put about two cups of stock on to boil. Once rolling, turn down heat and add about 2 tablespoons of agar agar (vegetarian gelatin)
Let this simmer for a minute, then set aside to cool and gel.
Meanwhile, take out your chilled pastry dough, and line either little tart cups, tart pan cups, muffin tins, or the cups of a lava cake pan with pastry, saving some for the tops. I like to use the lava cake pan, because the cups have removable bottoms, making the whole process of getting the pies out intact much simpler. The finished product will also look more authentically pork pie-ish.  Fill the cups with the cooled "sausage" mixture, and spoon a bit of the jellied broth over. Put a pastry top on, crimp the edges, and cut a vent. Put a bit more jellied broth on top to glaze while cooking. Bake at 350, till they look like the title picture on this page. Serve cold or hot with good mustard (Maille), sharp English cheddar or stripey raw blue (mmmmm- Seaside, Lincolnshire Poacher, Stichelton), pickles, and a pint of your best bitter. Enough to make a grown man cry, I tell ye.

Strawberry Satisfaction

The strawberries have been coming in for the last two weeks, and the market is brimming over with big baskets full. Two flats have made their way home with me in the last two weeks, one to share with my neighbor, and the other just for us! We have eaten bowls of them for dessert, had berries, lovely spanish cheeses and thick bread slices for breakfast, but best of all, we've enjoyed two luscious pies.
The first was a rhubarb strawberry pie, and the second a mixed berry pie, with strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries for tartness. The recipe is the same, no matter what berry mixture you use- so improvise with your mixture. This recipe makes a classic berry pie, not too sweet, one that you can never get anywhere but home.

Berry Pie

Make a double recipe of your favorite pie crust, and put half in a plastic bag in the freezer. You'll be glad to have an extra for another pie next week. I have to confess that I used to use the roll out ready made crusts, but I've since learned how easy pie crust is, and make them all myself these days.

So, bottom crust rolled out and waiting in a deep dish pie plate- set aside the leftover dough for the top crust.

Put 4 to 5 cups of berries and rhubarb, or berries and berries in a large bowl.
Beat 3 eggs, and mix into berries.
Combine 1 1/4 cups raw sugar or rapidura, 1/4 cup all purpose flour, and some freshly grated nutmeg (to taste), then add to the berry mixture. Stir and pour into crust. Top with some bits of butter dotted over the fruit.
Roll out a top crust and fit over. Crimp the edges, and cut some vents. I like to use a little heart shaped cutter to make the vents pretty. Just put the cutout hearts on the crust.
Brush the crust with a little cream, and sprinkle with a little sugar.
Bake at 350 for an hour. Soooo good with vanilla ice cream or just some plain yogurt alongside.

This recipe is an adaptation of one I found in the Country Inn B&B cookbook. Always good.

Night after the tacos- clean out the fridge!

Came home, and it just seemed like a good night to cozy up with some soup. It is perfect outside, not too muggy yet, but warm.

So- last night's taco gluttony left some cilantro, fresh green chilis, avocado, yogurt cilantro drizzle, corn tortillas and then there were these two bunches of carrots lying sadly in the veg drawer. They'd been bought at the farmer's market a few weeks back, and promptly scorned in favor of loads of fresh fennel and a lovely salmon half.

So- a carrot soup seemed right, with a southwestern bent. Warm weather loves warm spiciness somehow!

Creamy Carrot Soup with a Kick

Slice a small onion and a few heads of green garlic and put them in a heavy pot with some melted butter to cook slowly, lid on, over medium/low heat. You can slice in the long green tops if you've got them. I did, and they were lovely.

While the onions soften, wash and slice at least two bunches of carrots and a third of a fresh green chili. Throw them into the pot, put on the lid, and let the flavors mingle for at least 5 minutes over medium/low heat. Put the kettle on to boil. You'll want around six cups of water in a bit, so you might as well get a head start!

Once five minutes has passed, add the boiling water, and a healthy spoonful of demiglaze or, you can just use broth. You want enough liquid to cover the carrots, and then some. Between 5 and 6 cups depending on how many carrots you started with. Bring all this to a boil, put on the lid and reduce the heat to low. Set the timer for 25 minutes.

This is a great time to set the table, look through the mail, and chop up the leftover avocado from the night before. Also, cut a lime into quarters and put it on the plate with the avocado.

Just before the timer goes off, heat up your cast iron griddle or skillet so that you can warm up some buttered corn tortillas. Wait until you have completed the soup before you start warming the tortillas, as you want them to be nice and warm when you eat the soup.

Timer ringing? Check the carrots for softness, correct the broth for saltiness- either add sea salt or add a bit more water. Turn off the heat. Add the leftover cilantro yogurt drizzle from the tacos, and use a hand blender to puree the soup. Toss in a small handful of chopped cilantro, and whiz again. Stir in about 1/3 cup of plain yogurt. Put the lid on to keep the soup warm.

Now warm the buttered tortillas on the griddle, cut into quarters with kitchen shears, and spoon up the soup! A squeeze of lime, a handful of avocado chunks, and you are all set.
Leftovers for lunch tomorrow? Probably not. This is really yummy and a great way to make those carrots feel well-loved.

What? No posting?

Yes, I have actually cooked since 2008, but haven't captured a single bit on this blog. So much for resolutions. In an attempt to remedy this situation, here are a few of the highlights.

Last night- sorry, no picture- too good to stop and document...

Fish Tacos with Extra Goodness

6 Whole Foods Tilapia filets (yes, I am a tilapia snob- if they come from Whole Foods, I can count on their being raised without antibiotics)

Red Mill cornmeal (about a cup and a half)
mixed with: chili powder or your preferred mixture of chili spices.

Dredge the fish in the cornmeal and seasoning mixture, and set aside on waxed paper.

Mix together some plain yogurt, minced cilantro, lime juice, chopped fresh jalepeno, and a shake of chili powder and set on the table in a cute little bowl.

Slowly heat some fat of your choice (lard, earth balance shortening, other high smoke point oil)
in a cast iron skillet. The big one that used to be your mom's or grandmother's, or that you got at a yard sale.

While the fat heats, finely slice some cabbage and toss with minced cilantro, a bit of chopped jalepeno, and a lime's worth of juice. Salt to taste and set aside in another cute bowl.

Put two or three filets gently into the hot fat. Don't crowd the pan.

While they work on becoming golden, slice some avocado, grate some sharp cheddar (Seaside or a raw cheddar is a winner), and chop some nice sweet onions. Arrange on a nice plate and set on the table.

Gently flip the tilapia, and check the slaw for limeyness. Add more of whatever might be needed to make the slaw tart and a little bit salty, and take it to the table.

Now, take out the finished filets, and let drain on a wire rack over a brown bag or paper towel- actually, if the oil is just hot enough, there shouldn't be any draining happening because the fish won't soak any oil up as it is too busy pushing out steam and crisping up that grainy cornmeal.

While the next batch of filets crisp up, warm as many corn tortillas as you think you'll need on a griddle and wrap in a soft cloth. It will save you having to leave the table if you just go ahead and do a few extra now. Take them to the table, which you set a long time ago.

Once the last filets are done, take them to the table. Put everything you like, from the slaw to the cheddar in a corn tortilla, drizzle on some of the cilantro yogurt sauce, fold it over and get ready to sigh at the chewy, crispy, spicy, mmmmmmmmm goodness. Nice to have some refried beans on the side if you think to put them in the oven before you start all this! Cold beer as a chaser? Yes.