10.18.2011

Lemon Bars - From Scratch Recipe


When life gives you lemons, make lemon bars! My original plan was to make these for a get together over the weekend with new students. However, Jeff convinced me students would prefer chocolate chip cookies and we should have the whole pan of lemon bars to ourselves. I didn't take much convincing.
 
Never having made the lemon curd filling before and I was a little nervous because it calls for the use of a candy thermometer. Although I have one I'd never used it. It's actually Jeff's grandma's I believe. And I think it has Mercury in it. I mentally created a "just in case it breaks" plan in my head and then started cooking. In hind site, I should probably just get rid of the old mercury thermometer and get a digital one. If you're not convinced read this Cleaning Up Houshold Spills of Elemental Mercury.

If you don't use an ancient candy thermometer this is a pretty easy recipe. A little extra work will ensure curd that sets and tender crust. Many lemon bar recipes call for baking the lemon curd on the crust in the oven, which resulted in under cooked lemon and rubbery crust. Cook's Illustrated found the crust didn't get soggy if the crust was pre-baked and the curd was cooked on the stove. Then the curd goes into the crust and a final baking in the oven brings it all together!


Lemon Bars

Crust
1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 1-inch pieces
Lemon Curd Filling
7 large egg yolks, plus 2 large eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2/3 cup lemon juice (from 4-5 medium lemons), plus 1/4 cup finely grated zest
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
3 tablespoons heavy cream
  1. Fold two 16-inch pieces of parchment paper lengthwise to measure 9 inches wide. Fit 1 sheet in the bottom of the greased pan, pushing it into the corners and up the sides of the pan (overhang will help in removal of baked bars). Fit the second sheet in the pan in the same manner, perpendicular to the first sheet. Butter the parchments to ensure a no stick situation. 

  2. Place the flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt in a food processor and process briefly. Add the butter and process to blend, 8 to 10 seconds, then process until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal, about three 1-second pulses. Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared pan and press firmly with your fingers into an even layer over the entire pan bottom. Put the crust in the refrigerate for 30 minutes.
     
  3. Prebake the crust: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350°F. Bake the crust until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks and whole eggs until combined, about 5 seconds. Add the granulated sugar and whisk until just combined, about 5 seconds. Add the lemon juice, zest, and salt; whisk until combined, about 5 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan, add the butter pieces, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the curd thickens to a thin sauce-like consistency and registers 170°F on an instant-read thermometer or candy thermometer, about 5 minutes. Immediately pour the curd through a single-mesh stainless steel strainer set over bowl. Stir in the heavy cream; pour the curd into the warm crust immediately.


      
  5. Bake until the filling is shiny and opaque and the center 3 inches jiggle slightly when shaken, 10 to 15 minutes (Mine actually took longer more like 30 minutes).
     
  6. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about for at least 45 minutes. Cut into at least 16 pieces because these bars are rich!

10.17.2011

Butternut Beet Soup - Fall Recipe


A cold rainy day is a perfect day for soup made with butternut squash, carrot and sweet potato.  The starchy vegetables become a velvety puree and the coconut milk adds a rich depth. 

This time I didn't have sweet potatoes, but I did have beets. The sweet earthy flavor of the beets didn't change the flavor much but the color is redder. 

What color would say that is?  Persimmon?  I downloaded the Sherwin Williams paint sample color matching ap and it suggests Gladiola, Coral bells, Ardent coral or Heart throb.  While I don't want butternut beet soup as a wall hue, I enjoyed it as a vibrant colored soup. 


Add a dollop of yogurt, lime, cilantro, sriracha sauce to balance the sweet rustic flavors of the soup and you've got a meal.  (A slice of fresh baked wheat bread is an excellent side.  Never turn down fresh bread.)

Butternut Beet Soup

3 medium beets
4 medium carrots
1 medium butternut squash
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 can unsweetened coconut milk (14 oz)
2 onions, chopped
10 cloves garlic, peeled
4 oz fresh gingers, peeled
2 bay leaves

2 limes
2 cups fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon sriracha (Thailand chili vinegar hot sauce)
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I use Greek) 

  1. Start by cleaning and pealing your carrots, beets and squash and chopping them into sections less than four inches long. They just need to fit in the pot, don't worry about how big they are, you will puree them after they are cooked.
     
  2. In a large pot over medium heat add the carrots, squash, beets, broth, coconut milk and bay leaves. Cover and allow it to come to a boil.
     
  3. Mean while, sauté the onion with a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Mince the garlic and ginger. When the onions are translucent add the garlic and ginger. Sauté for an additional minute then add the onion mixture to the pot of stewing vegetables. When the soup pot starts to boil reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer covered for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Stir occasionally.
     
  4. While the soup is simmering make the lime cilantro yogurt sauce. In your food processor add the juice from the two limes, yogurt, cilantro and sriracha. Puree until smooth. Pour into a small serving bowl and refrigerate until you are ready to serve the soup.
     
  5. When the veggies are soft you are ready to puree the soup. First remove the bay leaves. Then use an immersion blender to puree the mixture. If you don't have an immersion blender, puree the soup in batches through a blender or food processor. 

  6. To serve the soup pour into bowls and top with a dollop of the yogurt sauce. You can even make a design if you want.  I made a smilely face in my first bowl and then figured why not something more discriptive like a beet?  No special tools needed.  I used a spoon and a chopstick. 

10.12.2011

Roasted Vegetables with Polenta - Fall Recipe



Fall is the perfect time of year to enjoy seasonable roasted vegetables with creamy polenta.  Polenta is just the Italian word for grits, or perhaps the even less glamorous sounding corn mush.

I’m not sure why I came to polenta so late in life. Perhaps because I have a predominately German heritage and not Italian or even Southern. Or perhaps it was my less than stellar experiences with “tube polenta” or the grits we were served with maple syrup for breakfast in Savannah, GA. I guess I should be grateful I gave polenta a chance at all.

Soft polenta is the perfect accompaniment to roasted veggies. I've got a great assortment of vegetables from the farm. 

There's leeks, banana peppers, Brussels sprouts, onions, potatos, beets, carrots and something I've never tried roasting before radishes.  We had a ton of radishes that were getting overgrown.  I'd never thought to do anything but eat them raw, so I looked on tastespotting.com for ideas for radishes and saw that folks were roasting them.  They are actually quite delicious.  They are sweeter and the peppery bite isn't as pronounced.  It's a nice way to use the radishes.  It's good to try new things. 


I believe our first attempts at polenta included a recipe that ended with a can of black beans and salsa on top. It was one of those “30 minute meals” that yes was quick, but wasn’t very satisfying. 

In our kitchen, who gets the credit for discovering polenta remains up for debate. I pretty sure it came out of a Weight Watchers recipe I tried and Jeff thinks he found it while researching quick dinners.  However, we both agree it should be in regular rotation on our fall and winter menu.

It took some trial and error to figure out the best way to make polenta. Here’s some tips we picked up along the way:
  1. Start by boiling your broth then when you add the cornmeal, reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting on your stove. This keeps the polenta from bubbling and splattering hot cornmeal goo all over you and your stove top.
     
  2. Stir the mixture vigorously at least every 5 minutes and make sure to scrape the edges and bottom of the pan. Your polenta won’t be lumpy or burn to the bottom of the pan.
     

  3. Don’t use pre-grated cheese. To keep the cheese from sticking to itself at the end of processing it gets dusted with some sort of powder that also makes it melt unevenly. Get a block of cheddar and do the 30 seconds of grating to get nice and creamy polenta.
     
  4. We like a combination of coarse and fine ground cornmeal; not too pasty, not overly textured.  About 1/3 coarse Bob Red Mills to 2/3 corn maza is our favorite ratio.

Roasted Vegetables and Polenta

Once the vegetables are in the oven roasting begin making the polenta. 
Polenta

4 cups of stock (divided into 3 cups, 1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cups fine ground corn meal (maza)
1/3 cup coarse ground corn meal (dry polenta)
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar 
  1. In a large sauce pan bring 3 cups of stock to a boil. In a medium bowl combine the two corn meals with 1 cup room temperature broth. Use a fork or whisk to combine to stir the mixture until the corn meal is no longer lumpy.
     
  2. Reduce the broth to low. Slowly pour the cornmeal mixture into the hot broth stirring as you go. Cook and stir over low heat for 10-20 minutes, stirring vigorously every 5 minutes. How long you cook will depend on your coarsest corn meal.
     
  3. Taste your polenta, when it is creamy and no hard bits remain, stir in cheese. Check the consistency. The polenta should slowly fall from the spoon. If it is too think add a little water until the desired consistency is achieved. The polenta will thicken-up as it cools.
     
  4. Let the polenta set 5 minutes and then serve.
     
Roasted Vegetables

3 medium potatoes
2 full size carrots
1 bell pepper or a handful of sweet banana peppers
3 beets
7 small leaks
1 small yellow onion
1/2 pound of Brussels sprouts
7 large radishes
3 tablespoons of olive oil
Italian spices: 1 teaspoon each of parsley, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, oregano, tarragon
  1. Clean and cut your veggies into roasting chunks. Divide them into two groups. The veggies that roast quickly like onions, leaks, Brussels sprouts, and peppers; and the group that will need more time like potatoes, beets, radishes, and carrots.
     

  2. In a large bowl combine the ingredients that take a short amount of time to roast and add half the olive oil and spices. Give it a couple quick stirs to combine. Then arrange the veggies in a single level on a foil lined baking sheet. Repeat with the veggies that need a longer cook time.  I should note, I don't toss the onion or the leeks because they fall apart and become too small and then they dry out and burn rather than roast.  Instead I just put them on the roasting sheet with no oil or spices. 
     
  3. Set your oven to broil and put your veggies in the oven. After 5 minutes switch your veggies from top to bottom. Broil for another 5 minutes. Check your veggies that don’t need much time to cook. They should be a nice roasted golden brown (if they aren't go for another round of broiling).  Once nicely browned pull them from the oven. Reduce your temperature to 350 and bake the veggies that need a longer time to cook an additional 20-25 minutes or until a knife easily cuts into the carrot.
     
  4. Turn the oven off and put both sheets of veggies back in the oven to keep them warm until the polenta is done and has cooled for 5 minutes.

10.10.2011

Creamy Arugula Pesto - Vegetarian Recipe

A mere handful of arugula and parsley.
There are a couple things you need to know. First, there is a row of arugula about 80 feet long that hasn't been harvested at my local CSA. Second, I only made 15 of the desired 24 batches of pesto I wanted to freeze for the winter before I ran out of basil.

Since I've been looking at the pesto recipe in my New Best Recipe Cookbook by Cook's Illustrated for the last couple weeks I've had time to notice that there are several variations on the Classic Basil Pesto. One of those variations is Creamy Arugula Pesto. I decided to give it a go.

The arugula and parsley base with the cheese ready to be mixed in.
Basically it is the same recipe as regular basil pesto except switch out the basil for one cup arugula and one cup parsley then add in a 1/3 cup of ricotta to get the creaminess. I whipped up a batch for dinner tonight. It came out this lovely light pea green color; much lighter than basil pesto.
I added some sauteed onion and slightly re-hydrated sun dried tomatoes because I figured the bitter, peppery arugula could use some sweet relief. Couldn't we all use some sweet relief?


As we sat down to dinner I explained to Jeff that we were eating a variation on pesto, but with arugula. During his first bite he looked confused. Then he decided it needed more salt. Then he told me it tasted, "like rubber in the back of my throat". His verdict, it was too bitter. That didn't stop him from eating a huge heaping plate full - wouldn't want to waste food.

I didn't mind arugula pesto. I thought it was good; definitely bitter, but in a nice-change-of-pace way. I'd make it again for myself.

Jeff is not a picky eater.  If he doesn't like arugula pesto that's saying something.  I guess I won't make nine batches of it just so I can get up to the 24 I wanted to freeze.

Twenty-four was a specially calculated number of batches. It's how many batches it would take for us to eat pesto once a week until basil is ready to pick in the garden again next summer. I guess we will have to settle for pesto every ten days or so instead.

I also wonder if this arugula isn't particularly bitter. It was planted when it was hot out and it's huge. The hotter, dryer and older a green the more bitter it generally becomes. I'd bet baby arugula greens would be less potent. Perhaps something to try next year.

If you like a little bitter in your life, give this recipe a go.

Creamy Arugula Pesto 
1/4 cup pine nuts (you could also use walnuts, pecans or almonds)
3 medium garlic cloves
1 cup packed fresh arugula leaves
1 cup fresh parsley leaves
7 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup ricotta cheese

1 tablespoon salt
1 pound of pasta
  1. Toast the nuts in a small heavy skillet. Don't add oil, just do it dry. Pine nuts in particular will go from toast to burnt very quickly so use low heat and mix them around frequently until they are golden brown and fragrant. It shouldn't take more than 4-5 minutes. Set the nuts aside to cool.
     
  2. Using the same skillet brown the garlic with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.
     
  3. Pick the parsley leaves off the stems and take the rib out of the arugula. All you want are nice tender dark green bits.
     
  4. Next bruise the arugula and parsley to bring out their flavor. Place the arugula and parsley in a large zip-lock bag and seal it most of the way. You want to leave a little opening for air to escape. Now the fun part, use the flat side of a meat pounder or a rolling pin to bruise the basil. You will know when you are done when all the basil has turned a darker, wet looking green color.
     
  5. Combine the pine nuts, garlic, arugula, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the remaining 6 tablespoons of olive oil in the food processor. Process until smooth. You can also use a blender for this part. Or if you are really dedicated do it the old fashioned way with a mortar and pestle. Once everything is smooth transfer your basil mixture to a small bowl and stir in the ricotta and Parmesan cheese.
     
  6. Now at this point you can package and freeze your pesto if you like. Some folks like to freeze it in ice-cube trays so they can pop a cube out to throw in a soup or season up a sauce. I like to put mine in small freezer bags.

    You can also keep pesto in the fridge by covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Make sure to press the plastic wrap right down onto the top of the pesto so there is not air to oxidize and lose flavor. The recipe says it will keep this way for up to three days. If you want to eat that pesto right now, continue on to step seven.
     
  7. Bring four quarts of water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Add the tablespoon of salt and the pasta to the boiling water. Cook until the pasta is al dente. Then reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. I used thin spaghetti because I like that it cooks in just 7 minutes but use whatever pasta you fancy. Rotini is particularly nice because it has lots of nooks and crannies to hold the sauce.
     
  8. Stir in 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water in with the pesto, then toss the pasta with the pesto. Add a little more of the pasta water if needed to get the pesto to distribute evenly. You can serve this hot or let it cool to room temperature.