Saturday, September 29, 2012

Apple Crumble or Crisp or Whatever...

We're now into apple season and that means it's time for apple desserts. This one is simply sliced apples with a pastry topping. The distinction between a crisp and crumble isn't clear. Crumbles usually have a pastry topping and crisps have a topping that contains oats. Though, they are really used interchangeably. But, who really cares? They all taste good. This one in particular.

For help on selecting a good apple for your crumble, see our article on apple varieties. We used Honeycrisp in the picture above and they had the perfect combination of tart-sweet as well as an excellent cooked texture.

Here's a tip for slicing apples: cut the sides off the core, as in the photo below. Then slice the chunks. It's a lot easier to slice things if you have a flat side to place on the cutting board. Round things, like apples, roll around, making it much tougher to slice them.

Apple Crumble
 (serves 6-8, cost $3.50)

butter or cooking spray for greasing the pan
6 large apples, peeled, cored and cut into thick slices
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 Tablespoon white sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg
4 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

Preheat the oven to 400 F°. Grease an 8"x8" baking dish with butter or non-stick cooking spray.

Layer the apple slices in the baking dish. Combine flour, dark brown sugar, white sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Add the butter cubes and cut into the flour mixture with a pastry blender. If you don't have a pastry blender, rub the butter into the flour with your fingers

This topping hasn't been mixed quite enough. Still have big chunks of butter.

Not mixed quite enough
 This is just about right - no big chunks of butter and a fairly uniform consistency.

Just right!
Sprinkle the pastry evenly over the apples. Bake for 30-35 minutes until apples are tender and topping is browned. Good just as is but even better if served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream! Make sure to spoon it out so the apples and the topping mix together. That way you get a bit of apples and a bit of topping in each and every bite.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Simple Stewed Zucchini

Here's another simple and quick vegetable recipe: stewed zucchini. Zucchini is quite versatile. It is quite good quickly sauteed but it's also delicious stewed. That is, cooked in a flavorful liquid. It still cooks fairly quickly. Zucchini is a bit of a chameleon when it comes to flavor. It doesn't have a strong flavor and picks up other flavors, like onions or garlic, readily. One of the nice things about stewed zucchini is that it's just as good reheated, unlike barely sauteed zucchini. You can't really overcook it because it's already cooked until soft.

If you are a novice cook, you may have seen the term "simmer" before  but you may wonder exactly what that is. Simmer is used to describe heating liquids to not quite boiling. The surface of the liquid quietly moves with some small bubbles now and then - no big bubbles and splashing. Simmering is a gentle cooking method used for long cooking, like for spaghetti sauce, or cooking delicate things like fish, or in this recipe, zucchini.

Stewed Zucchini
(serves 4-6, costs $2.50)

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
4 to 5 medium zucchini, about 1 ½ pounds, sliced about ¼" thick (see Note)
⅔ cup chicken or vegetable stock
¼ teaspoon dried oregano, crushed in your palm
¼ - ½ teaspoon salt (depends on the saltiness of your stock)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
4 sprigs fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute until edges of onions start to brown. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add zucchini to onions. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring once or twice so they cook evenly. They may start to brown (it depends a lot on how much moisture there is in the zucchini), which is OK. Add the stock, crushed oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes, uncovered, until most of the stock has evaporated. Sprinkle with parsley, if using, and serve.

Note: Any summer squash, such as yellow squash, can be used. Or mix yellow and green. You will find it easier to slice the zucchini if you cut it in ½ lengthwise, put the flat side down, then slice it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cooking Fresh Green Beans

Beans from my garden: green and yellow wax. They all cook up the same.

One of the great things about our classes is I get to talk to college students about what they eat and what they know how to cook. This is my absolute best generator of blog post ideas. I am a chef (why else would you listen to me?) and that means I know how to cook. I take a lot of basic skills for granted. My students bring me back to the real world.

So, here's a basic skill: cooking fresh green beans. Green beans are delicious, particularly fresh ones from the garden or the farmer's market. Green beans from the supermarket are still lovely and often cheap - around 99¢ per pound - during summer and early fall. They are easy and quick. The hardest part is cleaning them, and that isn't so hard.

Selecting good beans: bright green, no brown (those were picked over a week ago), no wrinkles. Definitely no slime. Not too big. Commercial beans are tender until they get pretty big but they are still better when under 6" long. Once you get them home, cook them within 5 days. If they start getting rusty-brown, cook them immediately. Once cooked, they freeze well or keep in the fridge for about 5 days.

Getting the water ready to cook them: put a medium pot of water to boil. Not a small pot and not a little water. Enough water to fill the pot ¾ way full. Add about a teaspoon of salt.

Cleaning them: while the water is coming to a boil, cut off the stem end (see picture below). Put in a bowl of cold water. When all the beans are stemmed, swish around the beans in the water to wash them.

Cooking them: when your water is boiling, it's time to cook. Lift the beans out of the cold water, rather than pour off the water. By lifting them, you are leaving any dirt at the bottom of the bowl. Put in the boiling water and cook for anywhere from 3-7 minutes. Why the range? It depends on how crunchy you like your beans. At 3 minutes, they are still squeaky-crunchy. I prefer them cooked longer, but you can decide for yourself.

Eating the beans later?: if you are not eating all the beans right away, you need to chill them down so they stop cooking. Put them in clean cold water. Add ice to cool them down even quicker if you've got it. Drain them well and store in the fridge. To reheat, zap in the microwave for a minute or two.

Eating now?: season with with some salt (if you like), drizzle on some olive oil or mix with some butter.

This basic process of clean, cook in lots of boiling water, and chill down is common to most vegetables. The big difference is how long you cook each vegetable. We'll have more basic vegetable cooking instructions in the future.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


We made plum clafouti for the class. Smelled amazing, tasted great

Clafouti (pronounced cla-foo-TEE) is a traditional Provencal dessert. It's usually made in the summer when there are wonderful ripe fruits everywhere in Provence. Sour cherries (pie cherries) are traditional but most other soft fruits work just as well. Clafouti is a cross between a cake and a crepe. There isn't a lot of flour in the batter and a lot of eggs. But, it's a whole lot easier to make than most cake and crepes. You mix up the batter, put a layer of fruit in the bottom of a pie plate, pour the batter on top,  and bake.

The amount of sugar here is pretty minimal. French desserts are not nearly as sweet at American desserts. In the class, we tasted the plums and decided they were a bit tart, so we added another tablespoon of sugar. We recommend that you taste your fruit and add a touch more sugar if you think the fruit is tart.

(serves 6-8)

Butter or nonstick cooking spray, for greasing pie plate
2 ½ cups Pitted Cherries, or sliced fruit such as peaches, nectarines, or plums
1 ¼ cups Milk
¼ cup Sugar
3 large Eggs
2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 pinch Salt
½ cup All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoon Sugar
½ teaspoon Cinnamon, optional

Preheat oven to 350°F with the rack in the center of the oven. Butter the bottom and sides of a 10" pie plate. Whisk together the milk, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt until well combined. Stir in flour until  smooth. Arrange the fruit in a single layer in the pie plate. Pour the batter over fruit. Combine sugar with cinnamon (if using) and sprinkle on clafouti. Bake until the edges are golden brown and the clafouti is set(see Note), about 30-40 minutes. Best served warm. If you have leftovers or bake in advance, keep in the refrigerator and rewarm in a 200°F oven before serving.

Note: Set means that when you gently shake the pie plate, the center doesn't jiggle and feels firm to the touch.

Pasta Frittata

Another recipe for our class this week. What a tasty way to use up leftover pasta. The texture of this frittata is really unique because of the pasta. There are a world of wonderful variations to this frittata too. You can use pasta in marinara sauce or pesto. You can toss in some chopped cooked bacon. You can switch up the cheese. You can throw in a ¼ cup of minced herbs, like basil (though probably not a good idea with pesto) or parsley.

Pasta Frittata
(serves 4-6)

8 large Eggs
¾ cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
½ teaspoon Salt
¼ teaspoon Freshly Ground Pepper
4 cups Cooked Pasta, with or without sauce (see Note)
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, cheese, salt, and pepper. Stir in the cooked pasta. In a 10" skillet (either well-seasoned cast iron or non-stick and oven-safe), heat the oil over medium heat. Add the egg mixture and press it flat. Bake for 25-30 minutes until eggs are set and the edges are golden-brown. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Refrigerate any leftovers. Unlike French omelets, frittatas hold up well to reheating.

Note: 4 cups of cooked pasta is about ½ pound of dry pasta.

Chipotle Deviled Eggs

Where did all the eggs go?! Guess they liked them.

Another recipe for our Egg Class on Tuesday: Deviled eggs - that popular picnic dish. This one has some kick, however. You don't need much chipotle because they are smokey-hot! They are dried smoked, ripe jalapenos with an unmistakeable flavor. Chipotles in Adobo are the reconstituted chiles in a vinegary tomato sauce. They come in a small can. It may seem extravagant to buy a can for 1 ½ teaspoons of the stuff, but they will last forever in your freezer. Freeze them in a few small packages and pull them out little by little. They last a pretty long time in your fridge too. If you like spicy-smokey, these are the deviled eggs for you. If you really like the heat, use 2 teaspoons.

Chipotle Deviled Eggs
(serves 6)

6 large Eggs, hard-cooked
¼ cup Mayonnaise
½ teaspoon Salt
1 pinch Black Pepper
1 ½ teaspoon Chipotle In Adobo, finely chopped

Cut eggs in half lengthwise. Gently remove yolks and place in a medium bowl. Mash the yolks with a fork. Stir in remaining ingredients and mix until smooth. Using a small spoon, pile stuffing into egg centers.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

We're breaking some eggs! For a broccoli frittata...

Next week, we're holding our first class of the academic year. We are featuring eggs, because eggs are delicious, inexpensive, and nutritious. Hard to top that!

We'll be posting all the recipes from the class over the next few days. The first recipe is for broccoli frittata. Frittatas are sort of Italian omelets. They are nothing like French omelets which are light and fluffy when made correctly (and they are not all that easy to make). Sure, they are both made from eggs, but that's where the similarity ends. Frittatas are very easy to make. If you can beat an egg and turn on your oven, you are most of the way there. They suck up all manner of leftovers - cooked vegetables, meat, cheese, herbs, even pasta! And, because they are made of eggs, they are cheap. Frittatas are a great go-to meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They also reheat nicely so if you make a big one, you can reheat leftovers the next day and it's still wonderful. Don't try that with a French omelet.

Broccoli Frittata
(serves 4-6, costs $4.75)

1 pound Broccoli, cleaned (see Note)
¼ cup Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic, minced
½ teaspoon Salt
¼ teaspoon Black Pepper
8 large Eggs, beaten
½ cup Grated Parmesan Cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cook broccoli in boiling salted water for 2 minutes until crisp-tender. Cool off quickly with cold water to stop the cooking and drain well. Chop broccoli into bite-sized pieces. Add salt and pepper to eggs and beat well. Heat oil in a 10" oven-proof skillet over medium heat, then add the garlic. When it starts to sizzle, add the broccoli. Stir and cook for a few minutes. Pour eggs over broccoli. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes until eggs are set and the edges are golden-brown.

Note: Frozen chopped broccoli works just as a well here. Thaw the broccoli and use it instead of the cooked fresh broccoli. And it's even cheaper than fresh broccoli sometimes. At my local supermarket, it's $1.33/pound, which is a good bit cheaper than the fresh broccoli at $1.59/pound last week. Though, it's good to check the sales. Broccoli is on sale this week for 88¢/pound.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Growing Your Own Herbs Indoors

Ronnie and I both have outdoor herb gardens, so we can run outside and pick what we need, at least in the summertime. But, what if you live in an apartment and have no yard? What if you live in a cold-winter place like me, where all the herbs go dormant in the winter? You can still grow a few herbs inside. Herbs don't require a lot of sun so a window with a few hours of sunshine will do just fine. Don't have a sunny window? No problem. You can grow herbs under lights. As you can see in the photo above, I have a small florescent fixture. Florescent lights are nice for a number of reasons:
  • They don't generate a lot of heat so you can put the plants really close to the lights, assuring that the plants get enough.
  • You can get special grow-lite bulbs which provide light like sunlight. These are expensive but they work very well. If you have a 2-bulb fixture, a cheaper alternative is to get a warm white bulb and a cool white bulb and use both in your fixture. That's what I do. The combination of the two bulbs provides the same quality of light as the grow-lite bulbs.
  • The bulbs last much, much longer than incandescent bulbs.
You can set your light fixture on a timer so that it comes on in the morning and goes off at night. Since indoor lights are not as strong as sunlight, you need to run your lights a bit longer. Mine run for 16 hours every day.

Most herbs don't need a lot of water, so if you forget to water them sometimes, they will probably do just fine. They don't need fertilizer either. When they grow too tall for your lights, give them a trim and freeze what you pick. Check out our article on preserving fresh herbs.

Not all herbs grow well in pots indoors. We recommend you try thyme (English or lemon), spearmint, oregano, chives, basil, or rosemary. Many markets now sell little pots (like the ones in the photo above) which are very cost-effective. No messing with potting mix, no waiting for your herbs to grow big enough to harvest. My little pots were big enough to use in a recipe right away and they are already growing back, ready for another small harvest.

Here's a basic chicken and vegetable stew that will use up some of your little harvest. You can use skinless, boneless thighs or bone-in, skin-on thighs, whichever you prefer.

Skillet Chicken and Vegetables
(serves 4, cost $7.15)

4 chicken thighs, about 1 ½ to 2 pounds
salt & pepper
1 Tablespoon paprika
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, cut into ⅛ 's
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 3" lengths then cut in half lengthwise
1 ½ Tablespoons flour
1 ¼ cup chicken stock
2 Tablespoon cider vinegar or lemon juice
6 sprigs of thyme or lemon thyme
1 cup frozen peas

Sprinkle chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to skillet and saute until golden brown. Remove chicken to a plate. Sprinkle with paprika and set aside while you cook the vegetables. Add the onions and carrots to the skillet and saute for 5 minutes. Sprinkle onions and carrots with flour. Stir around for 1 minute. Add chicken stock, vinegar, and thyme sprigs. Stir to combine well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and return chicken to the pan along with any juices that collected on the plate. Cover and cook for 30-45 minutes (less time if using boneless thighs, more time if using bone-in thighs). Remove the cover and add the peas. Stir and cook for 5 minutes. Taste the sauce for salt and add more if needed. Serve over rice or egg noodles.

Hint: Don't have a cover for your large skillet? Use a cookie sheet as a cover.

Monday, September 3, 2012

More Bruschetta

Here's another great topping for bruschetta: pesto mushrooms. Very easy and simple. These are also wonderful tossed with pasta.

You can find instructions for making the toast part of bruschetta here.

Pesto Mushrooms
(serves 4; costs $7.00 if served with bruschetta made with ½ loaf of crusty bread)

1 pound mushrooms, cut into chunks
4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons pesto
¼ teaspoon salt
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add olive oil and mushrooms. The mushrooms will sizzle and will soon give off a bit of liquid. Keep cooking over high heat until the liquid evaporates and the mushrooms begin to brown. Remove from heat. Add pesto, salt, and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir to combine. Use to top bruschetta or mix with spaghetti.