Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Salsa and more salsa

I love spicy foods, and that includes salsa - all kinds of salsa. I've been working on salsa recipes for so long, I can't remember when I made my first one. Although I make salsas with all sorts of ingredients, tomato salsas are my favorite.

Recently, I had a salsa "aha" moment. When I think of salsas, I divide them into two categories - cooked and raw. Cooked salsas are great in the winter when tomatoes at the grocery store look a little sad, and canned tomatoes have to substitute. Saw salsas are great in the summer when tomatoes are at their peak.

As much as I love a fresh tomato salsa, they can be a little watery. The chunks of fresh vegetables are great, but the liquid tends to be thin. Cooked salsas are thicker, deeper, and richer, but they don't have the burst of freshness that comes from perfectly ripe tomatoes..

Why not combine the two? Aha!

This recipe has two versions - the basic salsa and the kitchen sink salsa that includes a variety of summer vegetables as well as black beans. It's got vibrant color, texture, and great flavor. You can scoop it with chips, use it to top tacos or garnish a main dish, or - if you like spice - serve it as a fiery side dish.

Of course, you can dial back the kitchen sink salsa a little bit, and just add a few of the additional ingredients to the basic salsa.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Making a decorative loaf

Making decorative loaves of bread isn't always as challenging as it seems. Some of them look complicated, but are actually easy, once you know how.

Part of the puzzlement about making decorative loaves is that when you see a loaf that's baked and risen, it's sometimes hard to imagine what it looked like before it was brown and puffy.

Fancy shapes aren't always as practical as making a sandwich loaf, but there's something fun about tearing into a pretty loaf at the dinner table, particularly if it's one that invites ripping it apart by hand.

This one uses a technique that's similar to the "stalk of wheat" shape, but it's a little spikier. You can make this as a long loaf, as I did, or shape it into a circle. Either way, it invites a little bit of hand-tearing.

You could use this technique with your own bread recipe, if you like.

Spikey Bread

1 1/4 cups water
2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
3 cups (13 1/2 ounces) bread flour (divided)
1/4 cup instant mashed potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil (plus more for drizzling)

Combine the water, sugar,yeast, and 1 cup of flour in the bowl of your stand mixer. Mix well and set aside for 20 minutes.

Add the rest of the flour, the instant mashed potatoes, and the salt. Knead with the dough hook until it's smooth and elastic Add the olive oil and continue kneading until the oil is incorporated. Form the dough into a ball, drizzle with olive oil, and return it to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside until doubled, about 40 minutes.

Flour your works surface, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. If you want a crisp crust, put an oven-proof pan with hot water on the bottom rack of the oven. This will create the steam you need to crisp the crust.

Turn out the dough and divide it in half. Form each half into a log about 13 inches long. Place the logs on the baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside until the loaves have doubled, about 20 minutes.

With a sharp pair of scissors, starting at one end of the dough, make a series cuts in the dough at a 45-degree angle at least 3/4 of the way through the dough.

 
As you make each cut, move the cut pieces to one side and then the other, alternately ...


,,, until you get all the way to the other end of the dough.



Bake the loaves at 375 degrees until nicely browned, about 25 minutes. Let the loaves cools completely on a rack.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Vegetable Pancakes

I've launched a little food-related project in conjunction with the folks at Fooducopia, a site where small food producers sell their products. My part in this is that I'll be creating recipes specifically for products sold on the Fooducopia site. This is one of those recipes.

The product I'm working with this time is Bunnery O.S.M. Pancake and Waffle Mix.

When I got the pancake and waffle mix, I wondered what I could do with it to make it different. I toyed with the idea of adding a handful of dried fruit and calling it a day, but that would be too simple. That's not a recipe, it's a minor modification.

And then I started thinking about savory pancakes. This mix has whole wheat and seeds and things - so why not use it for something savory instead of sweet? The overflow of fresh produce from the farmers market was sort of glaring at me, so I grabbed a zucchini, a potato, and an onion and reduced them to shreds.

Afterwards, I realized the fresh corn would have made a nice addition as well, but when you make this, you can do your own adapting.

The idea is very similar to potato pancakes which uses flour for the thickening/binding, along with an egg. This recipe can be doubled easily. You need just enough egg to coat the vegetables with just a little in the bottom of the bowl, so when you get to tripling and quadrupling the recipe, you may not need to add quite as much egg. About 1 tablespoon of the pancake mix per egg is enough. You want it to thicken the egg a bit, but it should still be very loose and somewhat runny - not like a batter, just a slightly thicker egg.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

This is cheesy

You might recall that a while back, I got chosen to be on a tasting panel for a new cheese being made by Point Reyes Cheese.

A whole bunch of people tasted the first cheese, then posted their findings on the blog at Culture (the word on cheese) Magazine and I'm guessing that bloggers also posted on their own blogs. I did.

Based on those comments, Point Reyes whipped up a new batch of blue, and there are currently 40 wheels of cheese currently aging. They'll be done in October, and then the tasters will get another sample.

Despite my participation on the tasting panel, I was a little surprised when I got an email from Culture magazine saying that "something perishable" was going to be shipped to me in August. They didn't say what it was, but they said that for sure it wasn't the test cheese.

Let's see, something perishable from Culture magazine. What on earth could it be? Let's see ... bananas? Parsley? Or maybe it would be cheese.

Wow, I was right. It was cheese.

The cheese came with a letter. This is part of what it said:

"... we wanted to share a sample of some VERY special cheese that our cheese maker, Kuba Hemmerling, has been working on. Enclosed you'll find a sample of our Point Reyes Tomme. This hard cheese is pasteurized, aged about 18 months and similar to Tommes you would find in France or Switzerland. The aroma is very citrusy ad the texture is crumbly with definite flavor "pops" that are a result of crystalized proteins that form throughout the long aging process."

The interesting thing is that Point Reyes Tomme isn't for sale. I'm not sure if it will be for sale, but for now I'm feeling very, very special. Mostly because I'm nibbling a bit of cheese while I'm writing this. The cheese is aged just enough so that it's firm, but it can still be sliced,

Honestly, I didn't notice the citrus note, but that didn't matter. This cheese is pretty addictive. We've nibbled our way through quite a bit of it already.

The interesting bits are really the crystallized proteins. I've noticed that in cheeses before and never thought about way caused it.

The effect is sort of like finding a chocolate chip in a cookie or finding the crunch of salt on a sweet or savory dish. It's that extra little present in the cheese.

If it ever goes on sale, I'll be picking it up. Meanwhile, it's good to be me.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cookistry Cooks Books: Jamie's Food Revolution

I got a review copy of Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Food Revolution from the publisher a while back, and just now got around to writing about it.

While this is supposed to be a book with simple recipes, it's Jamie-style simple. He doesn't give exact measurements for items that don't need to be exact. Why stress over exact measurements of things like mushrooms when you can ask for a handful? Add more or less, depending on how much you like mushrooms - or how big your hands are.

If you stress about recipes that don't give exact measurements, you might not want this book. On the other hand, if you think it's fiddly to measure mushrooms by the cup or the ounce, you'll be really happy with this book.

The point is that if you change the amounts of certain ingredients, yes, you'll have a slightly different dish. But it doesn't matter. It will still be good. 

When I made this, I made about twice as much rice - and it was a brown rice. And I used a lot more mushrooms. I got a ginormous bunch of parsley at the farmer's market and just used a little of it. That was enough. I could have used less. Or spinach would have been good, too.

When I was done, I didn't garnish with parsley. It probably would have been prettier for photos with a sprinkle of fresh parsley, but I skipped the garnish.

Overall it was a good dish. If I was going to make it again, I'd cook the leeks and mushrooms in the butter/oil mixture first, until the mushrooms were cooked a bit more. Then I'd add the wine and let it reduce. Then add add the chicken and cream. Maybe a bit less cream.

But considering this book is all about getting people into the kitchen and cooking dishes in an unintimidating way, I'm sure Jamie wouldn't care what sort of modifications anyone made.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Whole Foods Friday: Sangria

Whole Foods Friday is what I'm calling my new partnership with the local Whole Foods stores in Boulder County. Whole Foods lets me shop for what I need for any recipe I want to make, and I post the results here. Whole Foods also posts my recipes on their Boulder blog. It's a fun project.

The previous post got a little long, so I figured it would make sense to make this a new post.

The perfect drink to go along with the Grilly Rellenos is a sangria. The great thing about sangria is that you don't need an expensive wine to make it, so I decided to use the same Three Wishes Cabernet that I used for the raspberry sauce that went with my Stone Fruit Crostata.

An optional addition is the peach liqueur that I used for the drink that accompanied that recipe. You could also use any other fruit-based liqueur that you like, or even a bit of brandy, if you like something a little stronger.

Whole Foods Friday: Grilly rellenos with two salsas

Whole Foods Friday is what I'm calling my new partnership with the local Whole Foods stores in Boulder County. Whole Foods lets me shop for what I need for any recipe I want to make, and I post the results here. Whole Foods also posts my recipes on their Boulder blog. It's a fun project.

Chile rellenos usually involve batter and frying, but that's not very summery. Summer is for lighter food and grilling. It's also the time when all sorts of wonderful produce looks so good - including peppers. So I decided to come up with a more summer-friendly version of chile rellenos that could could be cooked on the grill.

To go with the peppers, I made a pair of salsas. Usually, the peppers used for rellenos aren't very spicy, so the salsa made sense. At first, I was going to make one cooked salsa and one raw, but I decided I wanted thicker salsas. You could, if you wanted to, serve both of them raw.

The tomato salsa starts off with a cooked base so it's thick, but it doesn't cook long - and the fresh vegetables give it a fresh taste while keeping it thick.

Grilly Rellenos

Anaheim, poblano, Hungarian wax, or similar peppers
Monterrey Jack cheese
Olive oil

Char the peppers on your grill or directly on a gas burner on your stove until the skin is blackened. Put the pepper in a plastic bag or a covered container.

When they're cooled enough to handle easily, the skins will be easy to remove.

Lay the peppers on a flat surface and cut a lengthwise slit large enough for you to reach in and remove the core and seeds. Rinse the pepper to remove the remaining seeds.

Cut the cheese into pieces that will fit into your peppers and insert a piece of cheese into each pepper. Drizzle olive oil on the peppers and rub it over the surface of the peppers.

Smaller peppers - like Hungarian wax peppers - are better off cooked on a piece of aluminum foil on the grill. Larger peppers can be cooked directly on the grill.

Cook the peppers until the cheese melts - keep in mind that the peppers have already been cooked during the charring, so you just need to warm the peppers and melt the cheese.

Serve with the salsas and warm tortillas on the side. Sliced avocados or guacamole makes a nice accompaniment.

Tomato Salsa

2 tomatoes, cored and cut in chunks
1/2 red bell pepper, cored and cut in chunks
1/4 medium onion,cut in chunks
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tomato, cored, seeded, and diced
1/4 medium onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, cored and diced
1/2 serrano pepper, stem removed, seeded and finely diced

Put the chunked tomatoes, red bell pepper, and onion in your blender (or food processor) and blend until smooth. If you need a little water, add it, but be conservative.

Transfer the blended mixture to a saucepan and add salt. Cook on medium heat - at a slow simmer - until reduced by about half, and about the thickness of tomato sauce.

Transfer the cooked sauce to a storage container and add the diced tomato, diced onion, diced green bell pepper, and finely diced serrano pepper. Stir to combine, and refrigerate until chilled.

Tomatillo Salsa

8 tomatillos, peeled, washed, and cut in chunks
1/4 medium onion, cut in chunks
1/2 green bell pepper, cored and cut in chunks
1 serrano pepper, stem removed, (optionally seeded) cut in chunks
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lime

If you prefer a hotter salsa, leave the seeds in the serrano pepper. Otherwise remove the seeds.

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Add a little bit of water if you need it to get the blender going, but be conservative. Transfer to a saucepan and cook on medium heat - a slow simmer - until reduced by about half and thickened to about the consistency of tomato sauce. Transfer to a storage container and refrigerate until chilled.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tomato Juice - yes, you can make your own

When tomatoes get really cheap at the farmer's market, it's hard NOT to over-buy. And then the next week they look even better and they're cheaper. And you buy more, even though you've got a half-dozen tomatoes on the counter.

And then what?

Tomato sauce is an option, but what about tomato juice?

I'm not talking about juicing tomatoes, I'm talking about something that tastes like bottled tomato juice. You realize that's a cooked product, right?

But this juice will taste fresher than bottled tomato juice. You know why? Because sometimes tomato juice is made from concentrate - meaning tomato paste. That's right. It's reduced all the way down to paste, and then water is added back. I have no idea why, but that's how many tomato juices are made.


So when you make your own tomato juice, you cook it just as long as it needs to be cooked to reduce to the consistency you like. It's cooked for a shorter time, so it tastes fresher.

When you're cooking tomatoes to make sauce or juice, you've got a couple options. You can blanch the tomatoes and peel them, or you can cook the tomatoes first, then run them through a food mill, or you can blend them first, then cook them, then run them through a strainer to get rid of the seeds and bits of skin,

Any of those methods work, it just depends on what you want to do and what equipment you have. And you can make as much or as little juice as you like. This makes about a quart of juice.

As far as the tomatoes, I used standard tomatoes, but you could certainly use plum tomatoes, or, if you've got a glut of cherry tomatoes, you could use those.

Tomato Juice

8-10 medium tomatoes
1/2 - 1 teaspoon salt.

Remove the core from the tomatoes, quarter them, and place them in your blender. Blend until smooth.

Transfer the tomatoes to a saucepan and add the salt. Cook on low, stirring as needed, until the reduced until it's a little thicker than tomato juice.

Pass the mixture through a fine strainer. You'll end up with seeds and dry skin in the strainer; you'll have to work at it to get all the pulp through while leaving the dry bits.

If the juice isn't as think as thick as you would like it after straining, you can cook it a little longer.Taste for seasoning, and add salt, as needed.

Refrigerate the juice.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cookistry Cooks Books: The Chicago Homegrown Cookbook

You might have noticed that most of my recipes have no attributions. They don't usually say "adapted from" and they don't credit books, blogger, or anyone else.

That's because most of the recipes here are original. As in, I go into the kitchen and when the dust (usually flour) clears, there's some kind of edible food.

Some of my recipes are inspired by things I've eaten elsewhere or that people have told me about, but the actual recipes - the formulas and the instructions are my own.

There is one book that I rely on for the math involved in baking, and that's Ratio by Michael Ruhlman. When I'm trying to come up with a recipe for muffins or cookies or some other baked good, I often turn to that book for the proper ratio of flour to liquid to leavening to fat. And then I go wild from there.

Sometimes, though, I cook from cookbooks. Particularly when I get a new book, whether it's sent by the publisher, or I buy it new, or find it at a garage sale, I like to try at least one recipe and see if it works out. It gives me an idea whether my cooking style is compatible with the cookbook, and whether we like the results. Some cookbooks never make it past the first recipe, and some become good friends.

This time around, I got a review copy of The Chicago Homegrown Cookbook and started browsing through to see what I might make first. The book is organized by season, and chefs from Chicago restaurants are paired with farms.

The interesting thing is that I used to live in Chicago, and very few of the restaurants were familiar to me. I guess I've been gone that long.

I already had plans for dinner, so I started looking for a side dish that would work, and when I found rosemary infused carrots, I decided to give them a try. The rosemary I planted outside was finally growing, and I had carrots and garlic from the farmer's market.

I liked the idea of infusing the carrots with rosemary and garlic, although in the end I didn't taste all that much of either. I think next time I'd add the rosemary right at the beginning, and maybe infuse the oil with the garlic before tossing the carrots in.

I'll probably check out a few of the other recipes. Since they're all done by different chefs, they're likely to be very different from each other.

My only disappointment in the book were the recipes that called for products from a specific producer without explaining what else could be used. In one case it was "Spicy Greens from Werp Farms." Okay, I can get a spicy mix from my farmer's market, but it might have been interesting to know exactly what greens were in that particular mix.

In another case, a particular cheese was mentioned. That's fine if it's distributed nationally, but even that is a little iffy. What if the farm stops making the cheese? Why not describe it? Is it cheddar-like or hard like parmesan? Melty like gruyere? Sharp, mild, creamy, crumbly?

I completely get it when a recipe is featuring a certain product because the product manufacturer has created the recipe or is sponsoring it. They're hoping people will buy the product to make the recipe. But in this case, it seems just a teeny bit odd to name a greens mix from a particular farm, since it's available in such a small area.

But that's just a small complaint. I always assume there will be some recipes in a cookbook that I might not be able to make because ingredients are hard to come by, so it's not that much of a big deal. I know how to substitute things. And I'm looking forward to trying a few more recipes from this book.

So here's the recipe:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Pepper and Jack Beer Bread

Hard to believe I've been writing about bread for this long and I haven't written about beer bread. There are probably a billion different recipes, and of course the beer you choose makes a difference. I decided to use a very mild beer and add flavors elsewhere.

My inspiration came from the farmer's market. When you shop early, you get your pick of the crops, and you have a chance to get items that might sell out. If you shop later, you can get better deals.

Last weekend, I was filling my bag with bargain produce when one of the stand workers handed me a bag of freshly roasted peppers. "For you," he said.

Okay, it wasn't just me. He handed out a couple bags to other shoppers. They were giving away the last of the roasted peppers so they wouldn't have to pack them up at the end of the shopping day. To be honest, I'm not sure what kind of peppers they are. I think they might be hot Hungarian wax peppers, but really any pepper will do in this recipe. Even jarred roasted peppers.

And then I grabbed some Monterrey Jack cheese from the fridge to pair with my peppers. Perfect.

Pepper and Jack Beer Bread

3 cups (13 1/2 ounces) all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 ounces Monterrey Jack (or similar) cheese, cubed
3 fire roasted pepper, seeded and diced (about 1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces beer

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and spray a loaf pan with baking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to combine - you don't want clumps of baking powder in the bread. Add the cheese and peppers and stir to distribute.

In a small pan, melt the butter and honey together. Add this to the flour mixture. Add the beer to the flour mixture and stir until everything is incorporated. Transfer the mixture to the loaf pan and spread it somewhat evenly in the pan.

Bake at 375 degrees for one hour. If you like, about 5 minutes before the bread is done, scrape up the remaining bits of butter and honey from the pan where you melted them, and brush this on top of the bread to encourage browning. If  you don't have enough butter left in the pan, melt a little more.

Let the bread cool on a rack before slicing.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Grilled Pizza (with farmer's market vegetables)

If you've never made pizza on the grill, you'll be surprised how easy it is. Even better, you can do a lot of the work ahead of time. When you want to eat, just top the prepared crust and pop it onto the grill to crisp up and to warm the toppings.

When you're making pizza on the grill one thing to keep in mind is that the bottom cooks a lot faster than the top. So when you choose your toppings, either use things that are fully cooked, or go with things that will taste good mostly raw.

For these, I used tomatoes, mushrooms, roasted peppers, and goat cheese. I cheated a little on the roasted peppers - I bought them pre-roasted and bagged at the farmers market, so all I had to do was clean them.

If you want to roast your own peppers, it's a simple task - just roast them - on the grill or directly on a gas burner on your stove - until the skin is charred and blackened, then put them in a plastic bag. By the time they're cool enough to handle, you'll be able to peel the skin off. Then just remove the stem and seeds and they're ready to use.

These pizzas would make a nice light lunch, or cut them in wedges and serve as an appetizer.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review: Ozery Bakery Morning Rounds

Imagine my mirth when Ozery Bakery contacted me and asked if I'd like to review their bread. Moi? Bread?

I'm guessing they didn't know how tough a bread critic I am. Then again, sometimes I like other people's breads just because I didn't make it.

When they first contacted me, I had no idea what kind of bakery they were. A mom and pop shop moving to the neighborhood? A chain bakery?

But no, Ozery Bakery is neither of those. This is a brand of bread that you'll find in supermarkets. Now, there's an aisle that's foreign to me.

But what the heck, you want to send me bread, I'll give an honest review.

When the bread arrived, my husband wrinkled his nose. I could tell he wasn't going to be much help. Not that there was anything wrong with it  - it's just not the sort of bread he'd get excited about. The box was marked "Keep Frozen" but the bread was at room temperature. I tossed all of it in the freezer to keep it fresh - there were three bags, and if I was the only one eating them, it was going to take a little time.

If pita bread and English muffins had a transporter accident, this is what you'd expect. Called :"Morning Rounds," these were shorter and wider than an English muffin, but taller, puffier, and less floppy than a pita. I grabbed one of the cranberry-orange rounds and popped it in the toaster, still frozen.

It came out of the toaster nicely warm all the way through. I ate it as-is - no butter, no splitting in half. It was sweeter than an English muffin, and had plenty of flavor from the add-ins.

Bread snob that I am, I still have to admit that I liked it. It wasn't too sweet, which would have bothered me. It had just enough sweetness to make it interesting, along with the flavors from the cranberries and orange. If I was being indulgent, I might split it and put some butter on it, but it didn't need it.

Next, I tried the apple cinnamon. There were small chunks of apple and whole raisins. The cinnamon smell was pretty strong when I first opened the the box with the bread in it, so I expected the cinnamon flavor to be really strong. It was there, but not overwhelming. The apple flavor was good.

I haven't tried the last flavor yet, but after the first two, I imagine the third would be good.

I guess the question is whether I'd buy these. Honestly, probably not. Not because I didn't like them, but because I make all my own bread. If these were served somewhere, I'd eat them, and I'll finish off the ones I have. If I was out somewhere, or I couldn't make bread for some reason, these would be on the list of what I might buy.

Meanwhile, I might try to make something like these. Yup, they're pretty good. I'm surprised.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lemon Cheese

Since I buy milk directly from a dairy on a monthly contract, sometimes I end up with more milk than I can use. When the next delivery arrives, I've got to find creative uses for the excess.

Quite often, I make yogurt, but I don't always need more yogurt hanging around - I make it a quart at a time, and it lasts a while.

One thing that's always popular around here is cheese. I'm always lurking around the cheese counter when I go grocery shopping, and there are some nice varieties at the farmer's market, too. But that doesn't stop me from making my own once in a while.

While I've made more complicated cheeses, some days it's so much better to make something simple. It doesn't get much simpler than lemon cheese.

This cheese naturally clumps up into curd-like bits, but if you prefer a smooth cheese, just mix and mash it to break up the clumps and smooth it out. Either way is fine.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Whole Foods Friday: Apple Pie in a Glass

Whole Foods Friday is what I'm calling my new partnership with the local Whole Foods stores in Boulder County. Whole Foods lets me shop for what I need for any recipe I want to make, and I post the results here. Whole Foods also posts my recipes on their Boulder blog. It's a fun project.

This is part 2 of today's post.

Apple Pie in a Glass

Pork and apples go well together, so I thought an apple-based beverage would be a great dessert drink.

The Whole Foods liquor store had a lot of options for me, but I decided to try an apple pie liqueur instead of an apple liqueur. It sounded interesting - with cinnamon as well as apple flavor.

Indeed, it tastes like apples and cinnamon - all it needed was a scoop of vanilla ice cream to complete the picture. That inpired me to make a creamy drink instead of something fizzy or fruity.

The concept here is similar to the Black Russian - a liqueur and a creamy component over ice. Instead of heavy cream, or even half-and-half, I used almond milk. And rather than simply mixing the two, I whizzed them in the blender with some ice to make a frothy drink.

No almond milk? Sure, you could use regular milk, heavy cream, half-and-half, soy milk or coconut milk instead. Whatever you use regularly would be fine.



1 part Travis Hasse's Apple Pie Liqueur
2 parts almond milk
Ice (as needed)

Blend the ingredients until the ice is obliterated and the drink is smooth and frothy.

If your blender is ... er, as inefficient as mine and you end up with chunks of ice in the drink, you can strain them out. I didn't bother this time, but I might next time. Or, you know, invest in a better blender.

No blender? Just serve over ice.

A little dollop of whipped cream wouldn't be a bad idea, either.

Whole Foods Friday: Italian Burgers (and that's not all!)

Whole Foods Friday is what I'm calling my new partnership with the local Whole Foods stores in Boulder County. Whole Foods lets me shop for what I need for any recipe I want to make, and I post the results here. Whole Foods also posts my recipes on their Boulder blog. It's a fun project.

Last week, I was working with items that were on sale at the local Whole Foods, and I'm continuing with that project this week. The sale items I used this week were the Italian sausage, cluster tomatoes, long-stem artichokes, Seaside cheddar, and the French baguette. And the rest of the products came from Whole Foods, as well.

It was like my personal version of the TV show, Chopped, trying to use as many sale ingredients as possible in a way that made sense. I like a challenge.

You've probably had Italian sausage, but have you ever tried Italian sausage burgers? It sounds like such a simple concept, but somehow the change in shape makes the sausage different. I'm more likely to be creative about toppings when I'm making a sausage burger than when I'm cooking a link sausage.

You can buy bulk sausage, if you like, or buy links and remove the meat from the casing - it's the same meat, so either way works just fine.

The Boulder Whole Foods store just finished a big expansion and remodeling project, and hosted some tours of the store. Crazy, huh? Tours of a grocery store. But I actually learned quite a few interesting things. Like about sausage.

Well, not actually about sausage, but about sausage at Whole Foods. That stuff is being made all day long. Somewhere in the store, there are people grinding and spicing meat and stuffing it into casings. All day. Crazy.

Have you ever peered into a meat case and wondered how long the sausage has been sitting there? I mean, when you buy it in the pre-wrapped packages at other stores, there's a sell-by date that's a few days away, correct? So how long could it be in the meat case at Whole Foods before you buy it? This would make a great trivia question, and I'll bet most people would get it wrong.

At Whole Foods is that they try to make only as much as they think they will sell that day. Whatever doesn't get sold by the end of the day gets pulled out of the case and is cooked into soups or used for other cooked items in the store. So when you buy that raw fresh sausage, it's less than a day old. I was amazed by that.

Oh, and if you want to think about portioning, the individual links of sausage weigh about 1/3 pound. They're not exactly the same, since they're made by hand, but the guys making the sausages are pretty good at making them consistent.

For this recipe, I used the mild Italian sausage, but you could use the hot, if you prefer it. For the fire-roasted pepper, you can roast your own, or you can buy them in a jar or in the prepared food section. I used a green pepper because I liked the color, but red would be fine; yellow would also be very pretty. You could use sweet peppers, or one with a little bit of heat. The mango salsa I used was spicy, but not searing hot - I'll leave that salsa choice up to you, but I do suggest you try the Gilberto's salsa. It's pretty good.

Italian Sausage Burgers
for each burger:

1/3 pound Italian sausage
Burger bun
1 slice tomato
Seaside cheddar cheese
Gilberto's Sorta Hot Mango Salsa
Fire roasted pepper

If you bought link sausage, remove the meat from the casing. Form the meat into a patty that's wider that your bun. See, that's the great thing about making your own patties - you can make them to fit whatever bun you have. The meat will shrink in width and get thicker when it cooks, so keep that in mind.

Sear the meat on both sides, and continue cooking until it is cooked through. Remember that this is a pork sausage, so you don't want it rare. If you prefer your cheese melted, put thin slices on top of the meat before it's fully cooked.

The cheese will melt better if you cover the pan while it finishes cooking, but no matter what, aged cheddar doesn't melt as easily as something like mozzarella or Jack cheese. If you want a very melty, oozy cheese, you can add one of those cheeses along with the cheddar - but I liked the stronger flavor of the cheddar, so I wasn't as concerned about how it melted.

To assemble the sandwich, place the tomato slice on the bottom bun, add the sausage burger with its cheese, add a dollop of the salsa, and top with the fire-roasted pepper.

Stuffed Long Stem Artichokes

Did you know that years ago, the stem was the part of the artichoke that people ate? It has a thick, fibrous skin that needs to be peeled away, but the tender center is very much like the artichoke heart.

These take a bit of time to prepare, but you can cook the artichokes a day ahead, if you prefer. They take longer to heat up if you're starting with refrigerated artichokes, so keep that in mind.

2 long-stem artichokes
Juice of 1 lemon, divided
4-inch piece of French Baguette
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
Olive oil (optional)

Have your cooking pot standing by filled with enough water to immerse the artichokes. Add the juice of 1/2 lemon to the water. Artichokes, like many other vegetables, turn brown when they're cut. The lemon will stop the browning.

Cut the stem off the artichoke, leaving a flat bottom for it to stand on. Cut the stems to fit the pot and toss them in. With a serrated knife, cut the top 1/4 to 1/3 off the artichoke and discard.

The tips of the leaves have little spikes. You can leave them as is, but I think they are friendlier - and look better - if all the leaves are trimmed. It's easiest to do this with a pair of sharp scissors. Work quickly, and drop the artichoke in the lemon water as soon as you're done. If you see them start to darken as you work, dip them in the water, then continue trimming.

When both are trimmed, put the pot on the stove and heat to a slow boil. Cook the artichokes until one of the bottom leaves will pull off very easily.

Drain the artichokes. You can refrigerate them at this point, or just let them cool until you can handle them.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

In the center of the artichoke is the fuzzy inedible choke. This needs to be removed. To get to it, you'll end up removing some of the inner leaves, and then remove the choke with a spoon. It will separate cleanly from the heart. Rinse the artichoke, if you've left stray bits of fuzz inside.

Peel the stems. The very center - the soft part - is the edible part. Chop that edible part of the stem and put that in the center of the artichokes.

Melt the butter. Cut the piece of baguette into several pieces and put it in your food processor. Process until you have coarse bread crumbs. Add the butter and oregano and pulse until it's combined. No food processor? You can grate the bread instead.

Put a couple tablespoons of the bread crumbs into the center of each artichoke and put the rest between the leaves of the artichoke. You can add more to the center, if you like. Drizzle the lemon juice over the artichokes and sprinkle with the grated cheese, if desired.

Put the artichokes into a baking dish and add about 1/4 cup water to the bottom of the dish. Bake at 350 degrees until the artichokes are warmed through and the cheese browns a bit - about 45 minutes if the artichokes were chilled when you started. You could also heat the artichokes in the microwave, or on the grill.

Serve with wedges of lemon, if desired.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dinner with bloggers (and corn soup)

The local Whole Foods store - on Pearl Street in Boulder, if you're familiar with the area - just finished a huge expansion and remodeling project and also launched a partnership with Food52 on a new blog.

To celebrate, Whole Foods invited a group of bloggers to a dinner on the newly-completed west patio. The guest of honor at the event was Amanda Hesser, founder of Food52 (among other things). And gee, since I'm a local blogger, I got an invite.

Truthfully, I wasn't expecting much. I mean, really? Dinner catered by a grocery store? Even though it was Whole Foods, I wasn't expecting dinner dinner. High end rotisserie chicken, maybe. But I wasn't expecting the dinner - or the service - that we got. It was easy to forget we were at a grocery store and imagine we were at a lovely outdoor restaurant.

Appetizers were passed while we mingled, then we went on short tour of the store, and then we sat down to dinner. It was all good, but as far as I'm concerned, the star of the show was the gnocchi. Or rather, it was the sauce the gnocchi was sitting in. It was a corn sauce, and bright yellow.

Amanda Hesser said to me (yes, she was sitting next to me), "what do you think makes it so yellow?" Because, really, it was yellower than you'd expect from fresh corn. I thought about that for several days and couldn't come up with an answer. I had a few ideas, but I knew I needed to experiment. Sometimes I think better while I'm cooking.

I picked up a whole lot of corn, and proceeded to experiment. I didn't need a corn sauce, so I decided to make a corn soup instead.

The first thing I tried to get the bright yellow color was saffron. But no, it wasn't yellow enough and I was already detecting the flavor. I didn't notice saffron in the sauce at the dinner, so I knew that was wrong. But what? Something made it a bright yellow.

Granted, I was starting with peaches and cream corn rather than all yellow, but still I didn't think that was enough to make the difference. I had a few crazy ideas, but discarded them. What would Whole Foods do (WWWFD)? I mean, I know they weren't going to throw in food coloring.

And then the light bulb lit. You'll see.

I have no idea if this was really what Whole Foods did to get their sauce that pretty yellow, but I like the result I got. Maybe I'll squeeze the recipe out of them, but until then, I'm pretty darned happy with this.

Corn Soup

16 ears corn
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 carrot, peeled, sliced, and cooked until tender

Cook 2 ears of corn, as usual.  Cut the kernels off the remaining ears of corn and srape the cobs to get all the remaining juice out. Put all those kernels in a saucepan. Add the milk, butter, salt, and carrots. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring as needed, until the mixture is hot and the corn is cooked.

Use a stick blender to puree the soup, or puree it in a blender or food processor until it's smooth.

If it's not silky-smooth, pass it through a fine strainer. You probably won't end up with anything in the strainer, but passing it through will make it a lot smoother. Taste for seasoning and add salt, if needed. Add more milk, of you'd like a thinner soup.

Cut the kernels off one of the cooked ears of corn. Serve the soup hot, and garnish with some of the cooked corn kernels.

This soup is also good cold, if you like.

You did the math, right? There's one ear of corn left. Well, no, there isn't. I ate that one.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Goldilocks Soup

When I was growing up, one of mom's famous recipes was beet soup. It was pretty much always the same, red beets, usually grated, with some beet greens and stems for a little extra texture. A little bit tart from sour salt.

It was always served with a dollop of sour cream and some diced cucumbers for a cool crunch. And then you'd swirl the sour cream into the clear soup and it would turn opaque and pink.

The soup was always the same, but when it came to serving, it was like Goldilocks and the three bears. My dad liked the soup steaming hot, mom liked it stone cold, and I liked it somewhere in-between. Not chilly, but not hot, either.

Back then, we'd never heard of golden beets. They were all dark red. Even now, golden beets are mostly found at the farmer’s market rather than grocery stores, and now is the perfect time to buy them, while they’re young and tender.

I started thinking about making mom’s beet soup with golden beets, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be perfect as a chilled soup. Of course, if you don't like cold soup, warm it up. I won't tell anyone.

I used rice vinegar for this because the mild flavor is perfect. A white balsamic or white wine vinegar would work as well, or even a red wine vinegar - you're not using so much that it would affect the color. I wouldn't use a regular balsamic, though - no sense in muddying the bright color if you don't have to.

If you don't have a yellow bell pepper, orange or red would work as well.

Pickling cucumbers are in season now, but if you want to make this off-season, I’d suggest using English cucumbers.

Goldilocks Soup

6-8 small golden beets, cooked and peeled
2 medium pickling cucumbers, peeled and chunked
1/2 yellow bell pepper, cut in chunks
1/4 medium onion cut in chunks
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon (or to taste) rice vinegar
For the garnish:
Greek-style yogurt (or sour cream)
Pickling or English cucumber, peeled and diced

Place all the ingredients (holding back on the salt and vinegar until you taste) into your blender. Add 1/2 cup water. Blend until smooth, then taste for seasoning. I always like my beet soup a little bit tart, but it's up to you.

Serve chilled with a small dollop of the yogurt and a sprinkling of the diced cucumbers. Feeling herby? Chopped chives or a little bit if fresh dill would be nice.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Light Rye Burger Buns

Years ago, we used to go to a restaurant that was famous for its burgers. What was interesting was that the buns had a bit of rye in them. Not a lot - most people couldn't even figure out what was different about them - just that they were different.

But of course, bread geek that I was, I knew the secret.

I decided to recreate the idea, but instead of using just a little bit of regular rye flour, I used quite a bit of white rye flour. White rye is much lighter in color, so it makes the rye a lot less obvious when you're looking at it. The flavor is also much more delicate.

This dough is soft, and like most rye doughs, it's sticky. You'll need to flour your work surface to knead it, but don't get too carried away adding flour - it should be a soft dough, not a dense one.

If you don't have white rye flour, you can use any other rye flour you like. The color won't be the same, and you might need to adjust the amount of liquid, but it will be just fine.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Grilled Hot Wings

I've launched a little food-related project in conjunction with the folks at Fooducopia, a site where small food producers sell their products. My part in this is that I'll be creating recipes specifically for products sold on the Fooducopia site. 

This is one of those recipes, and this time around the product was Booya Buffalo Wing Sauce, the "sorta hot" version.

A lot of wing recipes require that you fry the wings. Sometimes with a coating, sometimes not. But seriously - it's summer. Why fry when the grill is so handy?

And sure, you could just dip the wings in hot sauce when you're done, but why not let the sauce cook onto the wings a bit? And while we're at it, why not fiddle with the sauce a bit? Because that's how I roll. My additions don't change the flavor of the sauce very much, but they add a little richness.

You can buy whole wings and cut them apart yourself, or buy them already separated. Unless you're saving the little wing tips for stock, the separated ones are probably a better buy, unless they're a lot more expensive.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What I'm Reading: Garlic and Sapphires

Yes, I know this book has been out forever, and it's been on my reading list for a long time, but somehow I never got around to picking up a copy until a friend offered me hers. Ruth Reichl is sort of a fixture in the food world, but I never had strong opinions about her. Maybe that's why I didn't put her book higher on my priority reading list.

She sort of reminded me of Nigella Lawson. I also waffle about her.

Garlic and Sapphires is about Reichl's adventures as the restaurant critic for the New York Times. My friend suggested it to me when she found out that I was getting a similar job. Smaller media outlet, smaller budget, different criteria ... but the same general idea.

The New York restaurant scene is a world away from where I live, and according to Reichl, it was also very different from her previous reviewer job at the LA Times. In LA, she simply went out to eat. In NYC, she had to don elaborate disguises to keep restaurants from recognizing her.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tomato, Feta, Olives and ... Pesto???

This was a stupid simple idea that seems a little ... odd - I mean, pesto and feta?

But believe me, it worked. It's not that odd. Basil is close to oregano. Oregano goes with feta and olives and tomatoes.

Basil and feta may not be the first thing you think of, but it works amazingly well.

The pesto was a home made version, no measurements. I got a whole bunch of basil at the farmer's market and blended it up with a little bit of fresh lemon juice, olive oil, and almond butter for the nutty element. Damn, but it was good.

I could have this for lunch, no problem. And it's so pretty!

Friday, August 12, 2011

#apieformikey

If you've been on Twitter recently, you've probably seen the hashtag #apieformikey, even if you have no idea what it's about.

You see, the food blogging community is a weird and wonderful ... uh, ... community. Of strangers. Something unfortunate happens, and pretty soon everyone knows about it and wants to do something.

In this case, food writer and blogger Jennifer Perillo's husband died suddenly at a young age and the food community sent out hugs and kind thoughts and asked what could be done. People who didn't know Jennifer or her husband, Mikey, were caught up in the sadness.

And then Jennifer wrote a post and included a recipe for peanut butter pie and suddenly the food community had something they could do. They would all bake the same pie on Friday as a tribute. And now there are pies being made and lists of links being compiled ...

... and I'm torn. I don't know Jennifer Perillo in any real sense of the word. I follow her on Twitter. I know of her. I know people who know her. I feel sympathy for her loss. But she doesn't know me and I don't believe that my in-real-life baking and consumption of pie would help her cope with her loss. It's the thought that counts, and I'm thinking about pie. And her. Right now.

But I'm not going to bake a pie today, for a variety of reasons. All of which have to do with what's going on here, in real life, and have nothing to do with my level of sympathy towards a fellow blogger who has suffered a tremendous loss. I hope that doesn't make me a bad person.

On the other hand, given the rather tenuous connection I have with Jennifer and her family, I also feel it would be just a little bit self-serving to bake the pie today, to get a link to my blog on someone else's list of pie-bakers, and to generate traffic to my site. So I'll post this without fanfare, and if anyone stumbles upon it and goes to Jennifer's site and is inspired to bake a pie or hug a loved one, that's good enough for me.

Meanwhile, I will bake a virtual pie today, probably the chocolate hazelnut tart pictured above. The recipe is here. It's not Jennifer's pie, because I haven't baked that one. Yet. But I will, I promise. And when I do, I will think of her.

Whole Foods Friday: Put some sparkle in your lemonade

The previous post was long enough, so I decided to make the beverage a separate post today. The same disclaimer applies.

I thought lemonade would make a wonderful and refreshing beverage to go along with both the meat and the fish. To make it a little more festive, why not let it sparkle a bit?

You can make this to taste, depending on the tartness you like, and the amount of fizz that makes you happy. (Aren't fizzy drinks  happy festive drinks, even if there's no celebration?) And to make your drinks even more customizable, you can get your sparkling water in flavors, besides just the plain version. Fun, hmmm?

Even better, you can choose to make this just lemonade, or make it an adult drink. And the lemonade and sparkling water just happened to be going on sale. Convenient, isn't it?

So here's the really interesting part of the drink story. I had originally planned on using limoncello for this drink Lemon on lemon, easy-peasy. But when I got to the Whole Foods liquor store, there was no limoncello - just a lemon cream liqueur which sounded really intriguing, but not what I wanted for this particular beverage.

The reason there was no limoncello available was because the store won't buy anything that contains artificial colors. There are a few products left over from the inventory of the previous store than have artificial coloring, but once those are gone, there won't be any more ordered. There's a limoncello that will be coming in soon that doesn't have any artificial color. It will be a pale yellow instead of the bright yellow that's more common.

So, no limoncello for me. Raspberry would have worked, but I didn't want a pink drink. There are plenty of orange liqueurs, but I decided that it might be more fun to step a little further away from citrus. I almost, almost went with a ginger liqueur. That sounded interesting. But I decided to save that for later. Instead, I went with an organic elderflower liqueur made in Michigan by a company called Thatcher's. It's sweet and lightly floral but not perfumy. A good choice.

Whole Food Friday: Surf and Turf Nibbles

Whole Foods Friday is what I'm calling my new partnership with the local Whole Foods stores in Boulder County. Whole Foods lets me shop for what I need for any recipe I want to make, and I post the results here. Whole Foods also posts my recipes on their Boulder blog. It's a fun project.

For this post, I felt a little like I was participating in a very weird episode of the television show Chopped, but in this version I had more ingredients to choose from, but didn't have to use all of them. You see, I got a sneak peak at a list of upcoming sale items at the local Whole Foods, and I thought it would be fun to incorporate as many of them as possible into the next two posts, while the sale is on.

I mean, I figured it would be most useful to more people who might grab sale items, bring them home, and then say, "What am I going to do with these now?" Because, really, it was a pretty mixed basket of goodies. Some of them are fine for stocking up on, like the bottled lemonade and mineral water, but that lovely salmon ... how could I resist? And the sirloin tip steak? That had possibilities.

And of course, just like Chopped, there are the "pantry and fridge items" AKA everything else at Whole Foods that might pair well.

For the main dishes for this post, the sale items included the wild coho salmon fillets, sirloin tip steak, French baguette, and Seaside cheddar. For a simple side, I purchased the (also on sale) smoked mozzarella pasta salad, which paired well with both the meat and fish.

The rest of my shopping cart included an interesting Palisade Peach Salsa from High Country Orchards that I found in the produce section, and Bite Back Tartar Sauce made by The Ojai Cook. The tartar sauce lists both jalapeno and horseradish on the label, but don't be afraid of it - it's not so strong that it will overpower the flavor of your fish. It's a nice accent.

And then there were a few other bits and pieces from the store. You'll see.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Peach and Apricot Crisps

When I saw apricots at the farmer's market, I knew I had to come up with a great summer recipe for stone fruit since the rest of the fruits weren't far behind. As much as I like to bake, I know everyone's not quite as crazy as I am, so I decided to make this one grill-friendly.

If you wanted to, you could make this in the oven - if you happen to have something in there. But if you've got the grill roaring, why not take advantage of it and make dessert at the same time?

Another advantage is that it cooks fast. The fruit doesn't need a lot of cooking - although a slightly longer cooking time doesn't hurt if you get distracted. And the topping is ready-to-eat before you put it on, so it doesn't need more cooking although a little crisping is nice.

Oh, and the recipe is written for individual servings, so you can make as much or as little as you want. Feed a crowd, or just one or two.

And the prep work can be done ahead of time. How much better does it get?

How about this? When it comes to desserts, this one's almost good for you. Instead of a traditional sugary topping, I opted for granola. It adds nice texture, but it's better for you.

As far as leftovers, it's pretty good with yogurt in the morning, too.

The only slightly difficult part is that you need grill-safe vessels to cook in. I have miniature cast iron dutch ovens which are perfect for the job, and are a perfect single-serving size as well. They also retain heat well. I took these off the grill along with the rest of the meal, and the fruit was still hot when we were finished with dinner.

If you don't have something appropriately small, you can make larger batches. The presentation won't be as pretty when you serve, and it might take a little longer to cook, but it will be just fine.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blue Cheese Dressing

Most of the dressings I make are vinegar and oil based. Once in a while, I make Thousand Island.

This time, I decided to make some blue cheese dressing. It was intended to accompany some hot wings, but the remainder will no doubt end up on salad.

When you make this recipe, the flavor will depend on the blue cheese you use, so use one that you like. You don't need to break the bank and use the most expensive one out there, but use one that tastes good.

The other important ingredient is the mayonnaise. Use one that you like. My recommendation is Hellmanns (Or Best mayonnaise, depending on where you live.) I don't usually recommend brands, but I'm still annoyed at the jar of other mayonnaise that I bought. It wasn't just the flavor, but the texture that was off. I didn't like it on sandwiches, and I didn't like it mixed into salads. It wasn't smooth - it was sort of ... unsmooth.

Yeah, okay, if you like another brand, use it. But don't blame me if your dressing ends up looking curdled instead of creamy.

Disclaimer: I've been dragging myself through an FTC document about what bloggers are supposed to do about endorsements, so here's the truth: I was not paid anything by Hellmanns and I did not receive any free products, coupons or trinkets for mentioning their product. I do not work for the company and I'm not related to anyone who works for the company. Unless the company has planted listening devices in my head, they have no idea I'm posting this. The opinions here are my own and/or my dog's but she doesn't get to eat blue cheese dressing and therefor has no opinion on this recipe.

Okay, technically I don't have to disclaim anything if I have nothing to disclaim. But in case someone suspects that I've sold my soul for a jar of mayonnaise, I wanted to set the record straight. On the other hand, if Hellmanns wants to deliver a new car or a copy of Modernist Cuisine, I might make some potato salad or something next month. You know, just in case ...  

Blue Cheese Dressing
measurements don't have to be exact - you'll be adjusting later

1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup Hellmanns mayonnaise
Up to 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

Combine the blue cheese and the mayonnaise in a small bowl stirring and mashing so that some of the blue cheese bits break up even more and incorporate into the mayonnaise. You don't want it completely smooth. Some chunks and crumbs are nice. Add the yogurt a tablespoon at a time, until you have the consistency you're looking for.

Taste and adjust seasoning. In theory, your cheese will be salty enough, but you might want to add a touch more. I didn't add any pepper or other seasonings since I didn't want to muddy the flavor, but there's a good chance that when it goes onto a salad I'll be grinding on a little fresh ground pepper.

I'm assuming that if you have blue cheese in the house, that you like the flavor of blue cheese. However, if the flavor is too strong, add more mayonnaise and yogurt until you reach an acceptable taste.

Refrigerate the dressing until you need it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Corn and Cheddar Muffins

Ah, summer. The heat doesn’t stop me from baking, but it does make me think about seasonal ingredients. The farmer’s market is bursting with fresh produce, but it’s hard to translate some of them into bread.

Later in the fall, and all winter long, bread-baking seems so seasonal and … right. But at this time of year, it’s a little harder to tie flour and yeast into seasonal cooking.

But there are some produce items that pair well with bread-like items. Corn, for example. Sure, cornbread usually has cornmeal in it, and that’s a pantry item, not a seasonal one. But when you throw in some fresh corn and make muffins – well, now you’ve got something that would fit nicely into a picnic basket.

For this recipe, I used cooked corn that I cut off the cob, but I don’t see why you couldn’t add it raw, as well. As for the cheese, I diced it into pieces about the same size as the corn. I wanted little nuggets of cheese, rather than having it disappear into the muffins.

Corn and Cheddar Muffins

1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels
3 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded or diced
3/4 cup milk
1 large egg
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and spray 12 muffin tins with baking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar corn meal, baking powder, and salt. Stir to combine. Add the corn and cheese and stir to distribute.

In a separate bowl, combine the milk, egg, and oil. Beat with a fork to break up the egg and combine the ingredients.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just combined.

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tins. Bake at 400 degrees until nicely browned, about 25 minutes. Remove muffins to a rack to cool.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Milk Stout Cupcakes with Ganache Frosting

It seems like everywhere I've been lately there have been Guinness cupcakes. Okay, that sounds fine, but I thought it made a lot more sense to use a local brew instead. Milk Stout from Left Hand Brewing is smoother and less bitter than Guinness, making it even better for baking.

Once I started thinking about these cupcakes, I couldn't get them out of my head. I had to make them. Doesn't matter that it summer. Cupcakes.

As far as the frosting, I made a simple ganache - equal parts of heavy cream and chocolate - heat the cream just under boiling, then pour it over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is melted, then beat the mixture until it is thick. If you beat too long and it gets grainy, just remelt it and beat again.

The frosting will stay soft if you leave it at room temperature, but if you chill it, it will firm up even more. Then, when it gets back to room temperature for serving it will stay firm. Strange, eh?

Or, use whatever frosting you like.

Keep in mind that I live at high altitude - about a mile high - and these cupcakes have only been tested up here. If you live where the air is a little less gaspy and thin, I'd suggest increasing the baking soda a bit. 3/4 teaspoon would be my guess. And let me know how they work, if you try them. For those of you struggling with high altitude baking, give 'em a try.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

New shoes feel good!

New shoes, hideous shoes, other new shoes.
I bought new shoes today. Actually I bought two pair, but that's beside the point.

How does this relate to food? Oh, we'll get there. 

Meanwhile, back to the shoes. You see, I'm not much of a fashionista. Someone else can toss a scarf around their neck and it will look cute and fun and arty. If I do the same thing, it looks like failed attempt at strangling myself.

When I buy shoes, I try to get something that looks good, but I've come to realize that if they aren't comfortable, I'm not going to wear them. Finding shoes that are simultaneously not hideous and comfortable can be challenging. So when I find a pair that I like, I tend to wear them until they're ... well ... hideous.

Once I get them broken in and I'm comfortable wearing them, I no longer think about the fashion aspect and it's all about the utility. Walking around barefoot might work in my house, but shoes are expected in public places. So I wear them and wear them and wear them until they're pathetically shabby and somewhat embarrassing.

Generally I don't see how shabby they are until I look at them next to the brand new pair of shoes that I'm trying on. Because incrementally, from day to day, they don't seem to be getting that much worse. A little wear here, a little stain there. Pretty soon, comfortably worn morphs into pathetically ragged.

And then it's time for new shoes, and the new ones are clean and pretty and maybe even more comfortable (or at least better for my feet) because the soles aren't worn and crooked. Walking is so much more pleasant. And I wonder how I didn't notice the discomfort before.

Now, we get to the food. Or more accurately, drink.

Recently, I met the media rep for Good Belly, which happens to be a local company, She was interested in touching base with local bloggers, so we met at a tea shop and had a chat. I was curious why she wanted to meet me. I mean, I have a cooking blog. You don't cook with Good Belly - you just drink it.

So we chatted about trivial stuff and then she started telling me about the product and the company and probiotics and why this stuff was good for your gut. Uh huh. "And my gut is just fine," I was thinking as this went on. I mean, I get the whole thing about good bacteria and how antibiotics or a bout with certain illnesses can throw off the good critters in your stomach. But I don't have digestive issues. I eat pretty much whatever I want with no discomfort.

But, probiotics? Isn't that why yogurt is so soothing? Well, no. The bacteria in most yogurt (unless it's specifically called out as probiotic) doesn't survive the acids in your stomach. There are some yogurts with probiotic cultures. So does Good Belly, and it also has vitamins and all kinds of healthiness built right in. Allegedly.

Skeptical me took the coupons the Good Belly lady gave me and I got a couple free quarts of the stuff.

Note: you can buy little 4-packs of Good Belly, but that tasted medicinal to me. It's because there are vitamin supplements besides the probiotics and they're more concentrated in the small servings. The quart bottles are a larger serving size for the same amount of probiotics and vitamins, so the medicinal flavor is diluted enough that I didn't notice it any more.

And every morning, I drank some.

After I was halfway through the second quart, skeptical me decided that although my gut wasn't in hideously bad shape, the Good Belly was doing something, for sure. Like those ratty old shoes that I didn't notice were so ratty, my gut was probably also not quite what it was when it was younger, and things seemed to be working better, somehow.

A friend of mine told me that whenever someone in her family is taking antibiotics, she buys Good Belly. That makes a lot of sense. Antibiotics are supposed to kill off the bad bugs, but the good ones get killed as well, so it makes sense to help them re-populate.

I'm not so skeptical any more. I'm not saying this stuff is a miracle cure, but it's not the quackery I thought it might be. Whether my gut needs it all the time or not, we'll see. All I know is that between the coupons I keep seeing for it and the fact that it's on sale at Whole Foods ($2.99 vs. $4.99 at the chain grocer) quite often, it's not a terribly expensive experiment.

Oh, and the shoes? I bought a pair of Sketchers Shape-Ups. Because yanno, my legs are just as old as my gut. I figured that these shoes might do them some good, right?

Disclaimer: I was given coupons to buy Good Belly, but there was no obligation on my part to write about it at all. Then again, if you give anything to a blogger (or a blogger stumbles upon something shiny on the sidewalk) and there's a good chance the blogger will write about it eventually.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Serious Sandwiches: Airport Eats in Boston

Over at Serious Eats, there's a daily feature called A Sandwich a Day. This is one of my submissions for that feature.

Coming home from my recent visit to King Arthur Flour, I had a rather long layover at the Boston airport, conveniently right at dinner time. I had planned on visiting Legal Seafood, but there was a place called Boston Beer Works that was ridiculously close to my gate.

Legal Seafood would have meant another trip through security, and I didn't feel like doing that again.

First, I ordered a beer. I mean, it was in the name of the place. How could I not? I hoped for a dark beer (always my favorite) but they were out. So I ended up with a blueberry beer ($6), which was amusing. There were fresh blueberries in the beer and the carbonation had them rising and falling in the glass. Like an edible, drinkable lava lamp.

The blueberries didn't add all much flavor, but it was something to look at besides the family squabble in the corner booth where mom, mom's boyfriend, and mom's teenage daughter were not having the trip of a lifetime. And yes, family dynamics were that obvious. And no, I wasn't evesdropping. They were that loud. You couldn't help but hear it.

Since I was so close to the sea, I had to order seafood. A lobster roll ($17), to be exact. Served on a New England style hot dog bun, it had large, sweet, meaty chunks of lobster meat. Perfectly cooked. I mean, if you're that close to the sea, you should be getting the cooking part right, but I had to mention it.

It had a mayo-based dressing, but it was a pretty light touch and had a slightly lemony flavor. Between bun and crustacean was lettuce leaf. Pretty simple, really. It was served with some decent cole slaw and a heap of fries.

It probably wasn't the best lobster roll to be found on the east coast, but it was a pretty satisfying dinner before boarding a plane for a long trip home.

Boston Beer Works
18 Logan Airport
East Boston, MA
MAP
617-569-2117
Pin It button on image hover