Posted in dry heat

Farmshare saute

Farmshare sauteI picked up this week’s vegetables from our farmshare today, and I was feeling guilty about not having eaten much of last week’s yet, so I decided to make a veggie dinner tonight.  I knew I wanted to use the bok choy I got, but I didn’t know what to do with it.  The internet wasn’t too helpful, because most of the recipes I found required ingredients I don’t have and effort I didn’t want to expend.  So I decided to just saute the darn things.  We have carrots for days, and they are aromatics, so in they go too.  I’ve been wanting to try kohlrabi, so after googling it to see that yes, you can saute it, and no, it doesn’t have some bizarre taste that would throw off the dish, I added that too.  I was going to use olive oil but I thought the flavor from the butter might be nice, so I went with that, and then ended up adding some olive oil because I was afraid of the butter burning.

I tried a little bit of kohlrabi before cooking it, and it tasted like broccoli plus some kind of flavor I hadn’t had before.  Not bad, but not my favorite, for sure.  But it was delicious cooked! Overall the dish was a lot better than it should have been considering the amount of thought that went into it.  And now I know what kohlrabi tastes like.

Incidentally, the farm also taught me that I like ripe tomatillos.  I haven’t brought any home to cook with, but I did take a bite out of one there at the farm to see what it tasted like, and when they are yellow, they are delicious.  I would eat them like apples!  I always thought they were some weird vegetable that was only good in small amounts cooked into other things or something, so I had never used them, but now I’ll be looking out for them at the store.  Unfortunately at the farm most of them aren’t ripe.


Posted in baking

Pie crust on Good Eats!

Just wanted to celebrate the fact that I got home tonight only to turn on the TV and see Alton Brown discussing how to make a good pie crust.  Just what I need!  Hooray.  I’ll edit if I learn anything new that would have saved my melktert crusts.

…AH-HA! He says pie doughs shrink due to gluten formation.  The elastic gluten pulls it all together, or something.  Therefore, go easy on the water, and I assume also on any unnecessary agitation.  Lesson learned.  He adds water with a squirt bottle (you know the one); I should get one of those.  I also really want one of those bench scraper type things.  They probably cost a lot more than they should.  Alas.

He also says that having big chunks of butter is good, so that’s nice, because I had big chunks of butter in mine and – although they did their job, making my crust really flaky – it looked so different from how I thought pie dough should look that I was afraid it was a bad thing.

Ok, one more thing.  Can I tell you how proud I am that I actually have the exact “tailor’s ruler” that he whipped out to measure a quarter of an inch for rolling the dough?  (I sew…that is, I try to sew.  I’m pretty domestic for a raging feminist.)

Posted in porridge

Questioning conventional wisdom: risotto

Being one of those people who thinks too much, I like to try to figure out why we cook things the way we do and how much of the rules are tradition or superstition rather than actual science.  Not that there’s anything wrong with tradition.  But I’d like to know the difference.  I figured that since I already have a blog about food, I’d put these thoughts here.

So, today I have a quote from the Cookstr Blog.  Cookstr is a website that I just found out about approximately two minutes before I found the quote that inspired me to write this.  The main website allows you to search for recipes and chefs and cool stuff like that; it has a simple layout that I appreciate and it looks pretty schmancy.  Next time I want to cook a schmancy entree (I’m bad at thinking those up), I’ll give it a try.

The post I read on their blog is about risotto, which I make with something approaching regularity.  That doesn’t mean I make it perfectly, but the Italians I know identify it as risotto, and I like the way it tastes.  The quote that got me wondering was this:

Don’t use too small or too deep a pot.  You want a generous amount of surface area so the liquid absorbs at a nice brisk, even pace and the rice doesn’t steam.

I wouldn’t cook risotto in a small, deep pot either, but I’m not sure if I know why, and I’m not sure if controlling the rate of liquid absorption and avoiding steaming have anything to do with it.  First of all, I don’t understand how having a thin layer of rice instead of a thick one affects liquid absorption at all; that seems to me to depend only on the properties of the rice and probably the heat.  I guess it’s possible that the liquid wouldn’t reach the lower layers as easily, but…liquid can do stuff like that, and I stir my risotto.  Secondly, I don’t see how steaming enters the equation.  I could see some form of wet heat – simmering, boiling – entering the equation, but I don’t think that is to be avoided at all.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to eat any rice that was cooked purely by dry heat; my understanding of starches is that they need liquid to be what we consider cooked, but someone correct me if I’m wrong.  Furthermore, I don’t think any reasonable size of pan will avoid wet cooking in a dish that you prepare by continually adding liquid. This is not the same situation as when you want to make sure that the water coming out of your mushrooms boils off quickly so they saute instead of stewing.

I’m not claiming that I’m right in being skeptical here.  If anyone happens to know more about the science of risotto-making or can do a better job of interpreting that sentence, please share.  I’ve wondered about other aspects of the risotto process as well; I don’t entirely understand it yet.  What does the saute at the beginning accomplish?  Just flavor, or something more?  How does adding liquid in parts affect the dish differently from adding it all at once?  The answer to this last question may also be the answer to why we shouldn’t use a small, deep pan….

In any case, I like this other tip from their blog:

At the end, add that extra splash  of broth – it should be soupier than you imagine because it will keep cooking and absorbing broth even after you take it off the heat, and if you’re adding cheese at the end, that will thicken it up even further.  The risotto is finished when the rice is tender, but still has a firmness to it, and the risotto it is still quite wet.

Posted in custard, freezing

French vanilla

Ice cream churning in my ice cream machine.
Ice cream churning in my ice cream machine.

I’ve tried making ice cream a few times before, but it’s always come out too hard.  Probably because I never have whole milk around so I’d cheat and use low fat.  This time I had plenty of whole milk around because I thought I’d need a lot more of it for the melktert, so the other day I made ice cream and yogurt.  I used a recipe from The Book on ice cream, which is called The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz.  It’s just his basic vanilla, the custard (French) version.  The egg yolks make it yellow.  It came out quite soft – it took a long time for it to get hard at all, and when it did it was still easily scoopable.  The crystals are a little big for an ice cream connoisseur, but I imagine that’s what you get if you use a basic ice cream machine like mine.  I think the flavor is great.  My friends appreciated it.

I do think the fat content in this ice cream is a little high.  That’s how it got to be so creamy, of course, but I think it gets in the way of the flavor.  In order to keep it creamy without so much fat, I’d need more sugar or some other solute that would lower the freezing point of water.  Such as…alcohol.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you can probably guess what kind I’d use.  I’ll let you know when I try it. I also want to try some wackier ice cream flavors, like balsamic vinegar (less crazy than you’d think, since people do pour it over their ice cream sometimes) and something involving blue cheese.

Posted in infusion

Allorello e mentella (Laurel and mint liqueurs)

Bay laurel leaves infusing in vodka.
Bay laurel leaves infusing in vodka.
A small-leaved mint I picked from the farm I bought a share in.
The mint is already turning the vodka green on day 2.

I tried two more liqueurs: one made with bay laurel leaves and one made with some sort of mint that I picked at my farm share.  The leaves were really small and didn’t look exactly like mint, but they sure smelled like it, and I figured they wouldn’t grow anything poisonous in their pick-your-own herb garden, so in the vodka they went!

The laurel liqueur came out lighter in color than it has when I’ve made it before (in 95% alcohol), and it tastes smokier or spicier or something, which I’m not crazy about.  It’s supposed to be refreshing. I might try adding more syrup to it. The mint is pretty good, but I think I’d like it better mixed with more flavor.  Vanilla is an option.  I have half a mind to make a lime liqueur and mix it with the mint – can you tell I like mojitos?

So this time, I used 200 mL of water and 200 mL of granulated sugar per bottle of vodka. That’s equal parts by volume – a traditional simple syrup.  Since I split the bottle between the two types of leaves, I split that syrup between the two.  I put the syrup in the bottle first so I could split it evenly, so when I poured in the alcohol it sat on top and looked really cool until I shook the bottles.  I think this recipe is pretty good, but I haven’t given them a very good try yet, so don’t hold me to that.  I have a feeling I’ll need to adjust the sugar content again to find a happy medium.

Posted in dry heat, wet heat

Carrot and bell pepper pasta

After a real Italian mom taught me how to make tomato sauce, I realized I can make a million variations on it by putting in whatever vegetables (especially those fruits that we consider vegetables) I have on hand.  This time I had carrots and a purple bell pepper from my farmshare.  The purple pepper (since the farmshare does measure some things in pecks and I do pick some of the stuff there myself, I really wish I could say I picked a peck of them) turned dark green when it cooked, just like the purple beans (I’d call them green beans, but…they’re not) that we get there do.  If anyone knows what pigments are involved and what they’re sensitive to, I’d love to know!  Anyway, I sauteed my veggies with a little shallot and olive oil, added my canned diced tomatoes and some wine, simmered that while I cooked my pasta, and voila, or rather, ecco.  I grated some parmesan cheese on top, of course.  The moral of the story is: don’t be afraid of homemade sauce!  You can use canned tomatoes (in fact, I prefer them, because they don’t get mushy), and you don’t have to simmer it all day long.  I start heating the pasta water at the same time as I start the sauce, and I finish the sauce at about the same time the pasta is finished.  Just remember that it’s better for your sauce to have to wait for your pasta than for your pasta to have to wait for your sauce, since sauceless pasta will start to dry out.

Start a sauce by sauteing aromatics in olive oil.
I always start a sauce by sauteing aromatics in olive oil.
I decided to use penne for a change.  Normally I'm a spaghetti gal.
I decided to use penne for a change. Normally I'm a spaghetti gal.
Posted in baking

Buttermilk biscuits without buttermilk

Flat but yummy whey biscuits
Flat but yummy whey biscuits

One of my life goals is to learn how to make really good biscuits – and by biscuits I mean the soft, buttery, flaky things you eat in the South.  They’re traditionally made with buttermilk, but you can also use other liquids in them, such as whey.  I recently made yogurt and had drained off some of the whey – I didn’t want it to be too liquidy – so biscuits were a good use for that.  I found this recipe on RecipeZaar and it sounded authentic enough that it might help me to finally get past my biscuit rut, because all my previous attempts have ended up yummy, but not at all resembling Southern biscuits – too flat and tough, not flaky at all.  It got me two out of three – the right taste (I think the whey helped give it that tang but the butter is definitely to thank here), and the right texture, but I didn’t get enough rise.  I think it’s because I rolled out my biscuits before reading the part of the directions that says not to roll with a rolling pin!  Whoops.  It’s kind of ironic, too, since I don’t even own a rolling pin.  I used an empty wine (or, limoncello-to-be) bottle, thinking the rolling was necessary.  Next time I will pat my biscuits by hand.  Promise.

So when I stocked my new apartment with staples, I bought bread flour and cake flour but not all-purpose flour.  The complement of most people’s flour holdings, I guess.  I figured bread and cake were better for well, bread and cake, and when I needed all-purpose I’d just mix the two.  So that’s what I did for these biscuits – half and half.  Seems to work ok.  Maybe someday I’ll do a taste test with different kinds of flour.