Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Apple-Cranberry Crisp

Cranberries are back! As we head quickly towards Thanksgiving, the cranberries arrive in supermarkets across the US. They pack quite a punch - both flavor and color-wise. I love them in traditional cranberry sauce but I think they really shine in desserts because their tartness punches up sweet desserts. And what a color - cranberries turn everything an electric red, naturally.

Cranberries are cheap and plentiful this time of year so I like to stock up. Stick a bag or two in your freezer because they can be hard to find (and expensive) after the holidays are over. They freeze wonderfully.

Here's a dessert in tune with the fall season: apple-cranberry crisp. It's apple season too (to learn more about apples check out this post) so this is a perfect intersection of two great fall season fruits.

Unlike most fruits, cranberries are not sweet at all which is why you need to add a lot of sugar to make them palatable. Still, this isn't a very sweet dessert. There's just enough sugar to take the aggressive tart edge off but not so much that it tastes like cranberry candy. Sugar should complement the fruit, not overwhelm it.

This is great for a party or a holiday dinner. It also keeps nicely in the refrigerator. It's best warm - zap it in the microwave for a minute if it's been in the fridge.

Apple-Cranberry Crisp
(serves 8)

non-stick cooking spray

Fruit Filling
1 12 oz. bag fresh or frozen cranberries
4 large apples, cored and sliced (no need to peel them)
½ cup sugar
1 Tablespoon flour

2 Tablespoons brown sugar, packed
3 Tablespoons flour
¾ cup rolled quick or regular oats
½ cup chopped walnuts
3 Tablespoons butter, melted or walnut oil
zest of ½ an orange
1 pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray a 9"x9" baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

Rinse the cranberries. (Use warm water if they are frozen or they will freeze together.) Mix the cranberries and apples in a large bowl. Sprinkle on the sugar and flour and mix again to combine. Pour into the prepared pan. In the same bowl, combine all the crisp ingredients. Mix enough to distribute the orange zest; it tends to clump together. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit. Bake for 40 (45 minutes if you started with frozen berries) until crisp is bubbly and topping is golden brown. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Recipe adapted from Jane Brody's Good Food Book, 1985.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Mug Fudge Cake

It rises up a lot more than that while cooking.You'll see. :-)
The final recipe from this week's class: Mug Fudge Cake. You mix everything in a big coffee mug, pop it in the microwave for 3 minutes, and poof! You have a delicious chocolate cake. You also get a thrill watching it cook because it rises straight up out of the mug while its cooking, and you'll be convinced it's going to overflow. But, if you use a large mug, it will not become a microwave disaster.
That's half, so 1 mug is plenty to share.

This serves 1 person very generously. We suggest sharing with a friend. The chips settle to the bottom, making a fudge-y layer so if you split it, cut in in half lengthwise, rather than taking the top off and giving it to a friend (but, it's chocolate so we understand if you hog the most fudge-y part).

Mug Fudge Cake
(serves 1-2)

4 Tablespoons all purpose flour
4 Tablespoons sugar
1 pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons natural cocoa powder (like Hershey's brand)
3 Tablespoons milk
1 large egg
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 Tablespoons chocolate chips (for a change, try white chocolate)
½ teaspoon vanilla

In a large mug (12 oz.), combine the flour, sugar, salt, and cocoa powder with a fork. Add the milk and egg, Mix well. Add the vegetable oil and mix with the fork until smooth and the oil is well-combined with the batter. Mix in the chocolate chips and vanilla. Cook in the microwave for 3 minutes. It will rise up very high(!), but it will not overflow the mug. Let sit a moment before digging in - it's really hot. Fantastic with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Vegetarian Spring Rolls

I am a huge fan of rice wrappers. They are cheap. They are easy to handle once you get the hang of it. They are light and they look so cool! I used them instead of the traditional Mu Shu Pancakes last year in a class. Huge hit. I brought them back for another class this month in the form of vegetarian spring rolls. They are filled with lettuce, mint (though you could use basil if you prefer), a carrot-cucumber salad, and baked tofu. The tofu is baked in a peanut sauce which does double-duty as the dipping sauce. Delicious!

Whole lot of wrappers - you can wrap a lot of goodies with one package
There are a few tricks to using these.
  • Use warm water and don't leave the wrapper in the water too long. When they start to get pliable, take them out and lay them flat for filling. I like to put the water in a pie pan or cake pan that is big enough to hold the wrapper without any bending.
  • Don't overfill them. They do stretch but if you have pointy things sticking out, like stems of herbs or lettuce, they will rip. 
    This is about as much as you want to fill these.
  • Don't stack them or let them touch once you have rolled them. They will stick to each other, ripping the wrapper.

Vegetarian Spring Rolls
(makes 12 spring rolls)

1 pound firm tofu, sliced into 8 slices (see Note)

¾ cup creamy peanut butter
1 large clove garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar, natural or seasoned
3 Tablespoons Hoisin sauce
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
½ cup warm water, approximately
1 to 3 teaspoons Siracha sauce (adjust to your desired spice level)
juice of ½ lime

Carrot Salad
2 medium carrots
2 medium cucumbers
4 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 Tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt

12 rice spring roll wrappers
about 4 large lettuce leaves, washed and torn into pieces that will fit in the wrappers
24 large mint leaves

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, mix together peanut butter, garlic, rice wine vinegar, Hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and Siracha. Mix until smooth. In the beginning, the peanut butter will resist combining with the liquid ingredients, but keep at it. Add water to thin to a saucy consistency. You want it thin enough so you can dip but not so thin that it drips off the spoon. Place the tofu in a single layer in a baking dish (8"x4" or 9"x11"). Pour on about ⅓ the sauce and turn to coat the tofu. Bake for 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

While the tofu is cooling, prep the carrot-cucumber salad. Peel and julienne (cut into thin strips) or shred the carrot. Peel, seed the cucumber. Cut them into 3" lengths and slice thinly the long way. (If you want more knife practice, you can julienne them too.) Combine the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and mix until the sugar dissolves. Add the carrot and cucumber. Toss to coat. Let marinate for 15 minutes.

Slice the tofu into long, thin slices when cool enough to handle. Set everything out where you can reach it: all the ingredients, a pan with an inch of warm water for softening the rice wrappers, and a surface for rolling. Lay down a piece of lettuce, a couple of mint leaves, a little carrot salad, and a few tofu slices. Roll up like a burrito - fold in the sides, fold up the edge closest to you, then roll the whole thing up to the top.

Add the lime juice to the remaining sauce and stir. Serve with rolls.

Note: You can make this with tofu right out of the carton, but the texture is better if you freeze it first. Slice it into 8 pieces, put them on a cookie sheet in a single layer, and put it in the freezer. Freeze for an hour or longer. Thaw and blot dry before baking.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Faux Pho

This season of classes is driven more by my students. This week's class is a quicker version of pho. I will be the last person to claim this is actually pho. Pho is a light, clear broth with lots of goodies in it (like beef tendon, something many folks probably don't consider a "goodie"). You can recreate the goodies but the broth is another thing. This recipe uses commercial beef stock which is nothing like pho broth. Beef stock is made in the French way, with roasted bones and mirepoix (carrots, onions, and celery). Nothing like pho. So, don't make this and tell me it isn't pho. I know that. I ate my version side-by-side with my favorite pho in Boulder. Similarities, but I'd be a fool to call it pho. Hence the "Faux" in the name. It's still tasty, however!

I tried a number of commercial cooking beef broths in testing this recipe. I liked the King Soopers (part of Kroger's) brand the best. Kitchen Basics has a similar product, but its flavor is more vegetal and tart and I did not like it. Better Than Broth, my favorite for chicken broth, is much saltier than Kroger's brand but its flavor is good.

It's difficult to slice steak as thinly as most pho shops. If you decide to slice the beef yourself, put it in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm it up. I found stir fry beef, if sliced thinly enough, works well. Or, see if the meat counter will slice some up for you. Asian markets with butchers are the best place to find beef sliced to the thinness of your local pho joint.

Pho noodles come in a variety of sizes. Try to find the small to medium size which will cook in a minute. Thicker ones will take a bit longer. You'll find the best selection in Asian markets. Thai basil is not something in most supermarkets either, but try to find it. It was a unique spicy aroma that really says "pho."

Faux Pho
(serves 8 generously)

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 4 thick slices
1 4" piece of ginger, cut in half lengthwise
4 quarts low-sodium beef stock (under 500 mg per cup)
2-3 star anise (see Notes)
3 3" cinnamon sticks
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
2-3 Tablespoons brown sugar
salt to taste (see Notes)

Garnish & Condiments
8 ounces pho noodles
8 ounces thinly sliced beef, such as sirloin, loin, or eye of round
2 large sprigs Thai basil (or regular basil though it's not as good)
8 sprigs cilantro
4 cups mung bean sprouts
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1-2 serrano chiles, thinly sliced (optional)
2 limes, cut into quarters
hoisin sauce
Siracha sauce

Broil onion slices and ginger for 15 minutes, until they start to blacken. Put in a large soup pot. Add beef stock, star anise, cinnamon sticks, fish sauce, and 2 Tablespoons brown sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30-60 minutes. Strain and keep hot. Adjust salt and add more brown sugar - the broth should be very slightly sweet and how much you need will depend on the flavors in the broth you use.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Soak pho noodles in warm water for about 20 minutes. Get all your condiments and garnish ready to go before cooking beef and noodles. First, cook the beef in boiling water for 1 minute. Remove and set aside. Cook noodles for 1 minute until slightly underdone. They will continue to cook in the broth. Drain noodles and divide among 8 large bowls. Place beef slices on top of noodles. Add bean sprouts, sliced scallions, and chile. Pour over 2 cups of broth. Serve with basil, cilantro and lime as garish. The hoisin sauce and Siracha is for dipping the meat. You can use just Hoisin or combine it with Siracha as desired. Serve while piping hot.

Let's say, it's just you. You can't eat 8 servings of soup. No problem. Cook up only the amount of noodles and beef you need. Heat up 2 cups of broth for one bowl of soup. The rest of the broth can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen for longer term storage.

  • The star anise is a powerful spice. If you are not a big fan of anise (licorice), use 2 whole ones. 
  • Pho broth is quite salty. This is not so salty. Season it to your liking. We go pretty light on the salt at School of Eating Good (see this post).

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Turkey Meatloaf with Curry and Dill

I recently made a chicken mousse with curry and dill. It's not a recipe for beginners but the flavor profile is easy to translate to a more traditional meatloaf. The curry flavor is fairly subtle; you can use up to 2 teaspoons for a bolder flavor. This is a sturdy meatloaf, making it great for meatloaf sandwiches, as in the photo of my lunch above.

I also cut it into chunks and used it instead of meatballs in chicken and matzoh ball soup:
A very spicy bowl of matzoh ball soup!

Turkey Meatloaf with Curry and Dill
(serves 8-10, costs $10.50)

cooking spray
½ cup oatmeal, quick or regular
⅔ cup milk
3 Tablespoons dried minced onion
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 ½ pounds ground turkey
½ to 1 red or green pepper, seeded and chopped
2 large eggs
1 ½ - 2 teaspoons mild or medium curry powder
2 teaspoons dried dill weed or 2 Tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 8"x4" loaf pan with cooking spray.

Place the oatmeal in a large bowl and add the milk. Allow to sit for 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and smoosh until combined. Pack into the loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour. Remove from oven, cover and let sit for 10 minutes before slicing.

Reheats well and makes a delicious meatloaf sandwich.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Keeping Beasties at Bay: Part 1

Raw chicken - it's only scary if you don't know how to handle it
I was going to start this series with personal hygiene since it's the most basic way to decrease the chances of picking up a case of food poisoning. But, with the news on antibiotic-resistant salmonella showing up in mass-produced Foster Farms chicken, I decided to bump up a discussion on treating poultry safely in the kitchen.

Poultry contains salmonella. Accept this. Yes, antibiotic-resistant salmonella is worse, but regular salmonella is no picnic either. Nor is campylobacter, another bacteria common in raw poultry. So, no matter what chicken you are using - organic, natural, mass-produced, grown in your own backyard - you better be treating it carefully. All of it can make you sick if not handled properly.

Here's a list of things to do to assure that you don't unwittingly give yourself a dangerous case of food poisoning:

Storing: Always store raw poultry at the bottom of your fridge where raw juice can't drip on anything or place in a bowl or pan to catch the drips. Plastic wrap is notorious for leaking and if raw chicken drips on anything you will eat raw, it's bad news.

Thawing: If using frozen poultry, thaw in the refrigerator. Only thaw thin pieces, like chicken cutlets or tenders, in a bowl of cool water in the sink for no longer than 30 minutes. If you want to speed up thawing in the fridge, place the chicken in a bowl of water. That speeds up the thawing considerably. Remember that this water is now contaminated with bacteria, so treat it like raw poultry too.

Rinsing: Don't rinse raw poultry. You are not going to rinse off the bacteria. Not possible. All you are going to do is spread the bacteria around your sink, contaminating even more surfaces.

Planning during Prep: Think ahead about the tools you will need when working with raw poultry and get them out before you start handling the chicken. This will save you the step of washing your hands so you can get the knife out of the drawer - because you don't want to touch that drawer pull with your nasty chicken-y hands. Tongs are really useful. You can keep your hands clean when moving the chicken around. Don't let anything you will eat raw, like lettuce for a salad, near raw poultry. This is called cross-contamination and it is often how bad bugs get into our food.

Cleaning Up: Anything that touches raw or partially cooked poultry needs to be washed with soap and water or put them in the dishwasher. This includes knives, tongs, cutting boards, your counter, your sink, and your hands. Soap, water, and little elbow grease does a pretty good job of getting rid of nearly all of the bacteria on surfaces. You can also invest in disinfecting wipes for a final wipe down of counters and the sink.

Cooking: Cook poultry to the proper internal temperature, at least 165°F. There should be no pink at all. When you cut into the chicken, juices should run clear, even if you cut all the way to the bone. I think that an instant read thermometer is an excellent investment, but using one does require some practice. You stick it into the thickest part of the chicken, the place it's going to take the longest to cook (in a whole chicken, that's in the thigh). Wait until the temperature stops rising and see what you get. If the temperature is too low, cook it some more. And don't forget to wash your thermometer with soap and water before sticking it back in the chicken again!

After Cooking: As with all cooked meat, chill down any leftovers quickly. Don't let roast chicken sit on the counter for 2 hours. Cooking doesn't kill all the bacteria and they will start to multiply again if given the right conditions. So, put it in the fridge as soon as you can.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Making Perfect Salads - Salad Spinners

Last month, I posted a tip on making a beautiful salad - start with a simple homemade vinaigrette. This week, we're talking about an essential tool for making a perfect salad: the salad spinner. In today's supermarket, you can get pre-washed salad greens. Your greens will be clean (maybe; even with triple washing, there are cases of pretty bad contamination in salad greens) and dry. You won't need a salad spinner. But, packaged salad greens are very expensive, costing as much as steak per pound. Heads of lettuce require more work to break apart and wash but cost as little as 88¢. That is much, much cheaper than any salad green in a bag.

The trick to turning that head of lettuce into a perfect salad? The leaves must be dry before you dress it. If your lettuce is wet, the dressing will dilute and run off. Get those greens dry before dressing. How? Salad spinner!

Yes, it's a bit of an investment. The spinner in the photo above costs about $30 at Target, Macy's, and Kohl's. You can get it for $24 if you have a 20% off coupon for Bed, Bath & Beyond (which you can get by signing up at their website; they will keep sending you additional coupons too). Salad spinners are the most effective way to get nearly all the water off your salad greens. Unlike patting lettuce dry with a towel, it doesn't bruise the greens at all and it spins all the water out of the crevices. They are fun to use too!

The steps to getting clean and dry salad greens are:
  1. Pull off the leaves and trim away any icky or brown parts.
  2. Tear or cut into bite-sized pieces, if desired.
  3. Fill a large bowl with cool water and drop the greens in.
  4. Swish around a bit and let sit for a few minutes. It takes a little while for the water to dislodge the dirt.
  5. Swish it around gently and, carefully lift the greens out of the water. The dirt will sink to the bottom of the bowl, and you want to make sure it stays there.
  6. Place the greens in the spinner but don't try to stuff too many in there at once. They need room to move around. Give them a good spin. Then, I like to open it up, toss around the greens and give them another spin, just for good measure.
You can spin a whole head of lettuce and store your clean, dry greens back in a clean dry plastic bag. They will keep for a few days, even if cut. After a few days, cut lettuce will start to brown at the edges. Because the leaves are dry, they will not break down as quickly, extending the life of your lettuce. 

One way to keep control of your food budget - make sure you get to eat the food you paid for. No one wants to throw away a head of lettuce because it rotted in the fridge. This is a big problem these days because most markets spray lettuce to keep it from drying out. Unfortunately, wet lettuce rots quickly. Spin your lettuce soon after you get it home from the market to prevent "supermarket spraying rot syndrome."

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Easy Cornbread

Cornbread is a great accompaniment to soup or chili. And since soup/chili season is now upon us in Colorado, it's a good time for another cornbread recipe. The previous cornbread recipe is a more Northern interpretation, as it is quite sweet and cake-like. This is a more Southern version because it contains less sugar and a lot less white flour. Truly Southern cornbread has very little sugar - 1 teaspoon - and no white flour at all. Maybe this is a Maryland cornbread, baked somewhere between New York and Mississippi.

You can bake this in a 9" cake pan or a 9" cast iron skillet. The cast iron skillet will get you a crispier crust, which is the way I prefer it. But, a cake pan will work too.

This cornbread comes together quickly with pantry ingredients making is an easy dish for a weeknight dinner.

Cornbread in the Round
(serves 6-8; costs $2.15)

non-stick cooking spray
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder (use 5 teaspoons if baking at sea level)
¼ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
¼ cup honey
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup milk (skim, low fat, whole or a combination)

Preheat oven to 350°F. If using a cast iron pan, place in the oven to get it hot; this will result in a crispier crust. If using a cake pan, spray with cooking spray and set aside.

Whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, beat together egg, honey, and oil with a whisk or electric mixer until well combined. Add milk and beat again. With a spatula, mix in dry ingredients until just combined. It's OK if there are still some lumps.

If using the cast iron pan, remove from the oven and spray with cooking spray. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cut into 6-8 wedges and serve. Can be stored at room temperature for up to 24 hours. After that, store in the refrigerator. To reheat, split in half lengthwise and toast.

Adapted from The New Dr. Cookie Cookbook by Dr. Wayne & Dr. Yarnall, William Morrow and Company, 1994.