Wednesday, December 7, 2016

English Pea Salad with Cream Dressing

When I got the book Victuals by Ronni Lundy to review, I was just a little skeptical. I wasn't sure what to expect.

The book is subtitle "An Appalachian journey, with recipes," and that's pretty accurate. There are a lot of stories about the area and the people, and there are also a bunch of recipes.

Truthfully, I was more curious about the recipes. I had no idea whether Appalachian recipes would be familiar or not.

Turns out, they were mostly familiar, but some had a twist. The fried chicken was pretty similar to other recipes I'd made. Salmon cakes were pretty familiar, but I'd never made them with dill pickle in them. I might give that a try because it sounds good to me. The pickled bologna with peppers was just sort of strange.

The pork and kraut with cider gravy sounds like something my mom would have made, except that she made her pork steaks completely differently. I'm going to try the one in the book because it sounds pretty darned good.

Then I saw the recipe for a salad made with peas that had a cream dressing. Actual cream. Thickened with a little cider vinegar. That really fascinated me. I knew I had to try it. Originally, this was a spring/summer sort of dish because it used fresh peas, so the green onions and radishes that went with it made sense.

But the author said it's been adapted so frozen peas work, too. Which is great because I love frozen peas and I'm not overly fond of shelling peas, even when they are in season.

The one little problem I had with the recipe was the radishes. They're not particularly available right now in grocery stores. Or at least the ones I shopped at.

I decided I still wanted to make the recipe, even though radishes were rate. I wanted something with a little crunch, so I used some baby zucchini. It didn't add the bright pop of color, but it still looked nice.

And then I went to the winter farmer's market - a last chance for the local farmers to sell their squash and potatoes and canned good - and I found one booth that had radishes. So I added those to the salad as well, the day after I made the original.

I have to say that the radishes really were pretty, and the bit of sharpness they added was nice. The zucchini was good, but the radishes are definitely better.

English Pea Sans with Cream Dressing

Adapted from Victuals by Ronni Lundy

1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon honey
2 cups fresh or frozen peas
1/2 cup thinly sliced small radishes (I used one very small zucchini)
1/4 cup minced green onions
Freshly ground black pepper

About an hour before you want to make the salad, combine the cream, vinegar honey, and a pinch of salt in a small jar. Shake for about minute to combine, then let it sit at room temperature for about an hour. The dressing will get thicker as it sits.

Meanwhile blanch and drain the peas. Pat them dry, or just let them sit in a strainer to get rid of the water.

Combine the peas, radishes (or in my case, the zucchini) in a bowl. Add the dressing and pepper, to taste, and stir to combine. Taste and add more salt, if desired. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Simply Tomato Soup

I love soup, and one of my favorite soups is tomato. Sometimes I like it with rice, sometimes I like it with noodles, and sometimes I even add carrots. I love tomato soup so much that I even like the stuff that comes in the red and white cans. And it makes a nice companion for a grilled cheese sandwich.

When I found a tomato soup recipe in a book called The Quick Six Fix, I had to give it a try. I mean, it's tomato soup. It would have been crazy for me not to give it a try.

The concept of the book is that there are pantry ingredients that you should have on hand at all times, and you should need no more than six additional items to make any recipe. Also, you should be able to do the prep work in six minutes or less, and the cleanup should also take six minutes or less.

Most of the recipes also cook quickly - 30 minutes or less. Some take longer, but it's generally hands-off cooking. And ... there are cleanup tips within the recipes. Like, if you've just emptied a pot in the middle of a recipe, it might tell you that you ought to soak the pot now for easier cleaning when you're all done.

As far as on-hand ingredients, most of us have things that we keep around at all times because they're the ones we know we like enough to keep them in the pantry or fridge.

What you keep in stock is probably different from what I have on hand, but there are probably some things that most of us have. The basics of salt, pepper and olive oil (or another cooking oil) are pretty obvious, but this book has a more comprehensive list of "must have" and "nice to have" items.

I agreed with most of it, except perhaps the coconut milk (I don't like coconut) and the heavy cream. I don't use heavy cream often enough for it to be something that's always on hand. I buy it when I need it for a recipe, then I find something else to do with the rest.

On the other hand, my list of must-have items is probably longer than what's in the book. I have more spices, for sure, and several types of cheese. And tortillas. And bread flour, whole wheat flour, semolina flour, dry yeast ... but that's just me.

If someone was starting a new kitchen, they could take his list to the store and have a good selection of food to work with. Of course, eliminating things that they don't like. If someone doesn't like olives, there's no reason to buy them right?

So anyway, when you get to recipes in the book, the non-standard items are in bold print, so if you actually follow the concept, you'll know right away what you need to buy. In this recipe, there were only two non-standard items: the baguette and the basil leaves.

I decided not to make the baguette toast, and I substituted a few other things. I always have tomato products on hand, so I used what I had and didn't go looking for San Marzanos. I knew it would be an annoying search to find exactly the tomatoes listed in the recipe. I know for sure that I can find whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, but I've never seen diced ones at the stores I go to. I'll look for them next time I'm raiding the tomato aisle, though. But I always have at least a few cans of other types of diced tomatoes.

And then I used some frozen basil that I had, rather than going out to the store for fresh. While fresh basil is great, this was getting stirred into a hot soup, so I didn't think it would make that much different. So I made this without needing to go shopping at all.

I'd suggest that if you make this, you add the chili flakes, salt, and pepper to taste. Particularly the chili flakes. Those can be fairly mild or they can be raging hot. So add as much as you like, keeping in mind that this is soup and not salsa. When it comes to salt, I usually start with about half of what a recipe suggests and I add more until it tastes right to me. Sometimes I don't need as much as a recipe suggests, and sometimes I need more.

A nice garnish for this soup is a little dollop of Greek yogurt. Or with crackers and some blue cheese, if you don't feel like making parmesan toast. Just my suggestion.

Simply Tomato Soup
Adapted from The Quick Six Fix by Stuart O'Keeffe

For the soup:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes, or to taste
2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
2 28-ounce cans diced San Marzano tomatoes
2 cups vegetable stock (I used chicken stock)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 basil leaves, torn

For the toast:
3/4 cup shaved parmesan
14-inch length of baguette. sliced diagonally into 1-inch slices

Heat the oil over medium heat in a pot large enough to hold all the soup ingredients. dd the onion, garlic, chili flakes, salt, and pepper. Cook for until the onions have softened, about 5-7 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, vegetable stock and sugar. Simmer on medium for 10 minutes, then turn the heat off.

A couple notes here. First, I used chicken stock, because that's what I had. Also, it comes in 1-quart (4 cup) boxes. I measured out 2 cups to set aside, but my tomatoes were really thick, so I ended up using the whole 4 cups. And last, it took a while for this to come up to a simmer. So be prepared for that. Oh, and really last, you can let it simmer longer if you like.

Sprinkle the parmesan on the bread and toast under the broiler until the cheese has melted. Watch carefully. It goes from nothing to char pretty quickly. Timing depends on how close your oven rack is to your broiler.

Puree the soup, along with the butter. You can use a stick blender, or pour the soup into a blender.

Return the soup to the pot (if you used a blender) stir in the basil, and serve warm with the toast.

I received this book from the publisher at no cost to me.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Chipotle and Orange Compound Butter

Earlier this month, I went to an event sponsored by Sprouts (they're a supermarket, if you don't know) and the Colorado Beef Council and hosted at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association office. It was an office, people. Not a cattle ranch.

The food was amazing (prime rib!) and we had a chance to play around in their kitchen.

I was in the group that made a compound butter and also I also rubbed the beef roasts before it was put into pans to get browned before roasting.

Other groups did other things, like making a pan sauce. and rubbing other beef roasts with different rubs. There were several different beef roast preparations demonstrated, with different rubs, and different sides. One group plated one of the meals, while the rest of it was served on platters for easier serving.

We got to sample all of it, and there were also wine pairings discussed. I had quite a long way to drive, so I didn't indulge in any wine, but I like that they explained which ones paired best with different dinners.

So back to the compound butter. (Sorry, but I got distracted by all that beef!)

We made a bunch of rather large batches of the compound butter in our group, but the recipe they sent along was for a much more reasonable amount - it uses just one stick of butter, so it's probably enough for most home uses. And of course, you can double, triple, or make four pounds of it, if that's what you really want to do.

It's a good idea to start with softened butter, to make the mixing easier. In their kitchens, the people doing the mixing tried using spoons or spatulas, but some of them dug right in and used their properly-gloved hands to mix the butter.

At home, I'd just chuck it all into a food processor or use my stand mixer. That's why I own those things - to be my worker bees.

So what can you do with compound butter? Pretty much anything you do with regular butter. Except you need to be mindful of what you added. A cinnamon and honey compound butter would be great on pancakes. A chipotle compound butter would not be so great on pancakes.

Well, maybe it would be. You try first. I'll be waiting here.

This particular compound butter (recipe below) could be melted on top of some meat or vegetables. I happened to get a sample of it to take home, and I used it when I cooked some itty bitty potatoes in my sous vide machine. You could also boil potatoes and put the butter on afterwards. Or use it to cook vegetables for fajitas. Or put it on some cornbread to go with your chili.

Speaking of beef, the one thing that really surprised me was that the chef brined the beef before cooking. I'd never heard of brining beef before. I've brined chicken, turkey, and pork plenty of times. Never beef.

The brine recipe that they gave us was pretty simple - 2 gallons of water, 2 cups of kosher salt, and one cup of sugar. Let the beef sit in that overnight, and then roast it as usual. They used a rub on the beef, but the interesting thing to me was the brine. I think I'm going to have to try that one of these days.

Chipotle and Orange Compound Butter
Adapted from a recipe courtesy of the Colorado Beef Council and the National Cattlemen's Association

1 stick unsalted* butter, at room temperature; not melted
1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon or the zest of one orange
Salt, to taste

Mix it all together using your hands (wear food-safe gloves) or mix in a food processor or with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

You can mix just to blend the ingredients, or keep beating it until it's lighter in color and fluffy. That whipped butter will be easier to scoop and spread.

Form into a log, wrap in parchment or plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Once you have a log and it's chilled, it's easy to lop off pieces to use. For longer storage, you can freeze it.

Or, if you don't want a log, you could put the butter into little ice cube trays or silicone candy molds or use a little disher to make little balls. Use them at refrigerator temperature or freeze, remove from the molds, then toss them into a zip-top bag and tuck them back into the freezer. Over time, they might start to stick together, but for short term storage, they'll stay reasonably separate.

Or, you could put the butter into a container and chill it that way. It just depends on how you're going to be using it, and what's most convenient for serving.

*Restaurants would normally use unsalted butter then add salt to taste. You can use salted butter, if you like. You probably won't need to add more salt, but taste it when it's done and see what you think.

Thanks to Sprouts and the Colorado Beef Council and the National Cattleman's Association for the fun event and the swag bag that came home with me.