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February, 2010:

Wraps: A Tasty Handheld Dinner

chimichurri bang bang

FillingWrapWraps comes from the same people who brought us the Smoothies books, Mary Corpening Barber, Sara Corpening, and Lori Lyn Narlock. The book is prettily illustrated, but more usably designed, with black type on white pages for all the body text and instructions.

The book is full of easy recipes for meals in tortillas. Breakfast wraps ChimichurriMixtureinclude fried eggs with barbecue sauce and potatoes; lunch wraps include a club sandwich version and an eggplant and hummus mixture that we’ve made so often the pages stick together; dinners include sausage with potato salad and Thai curry; and dessert wraps include an ice-cream wrap and a variation on bananas Foster. The book offers instructions for most effective wrapping (key rule: do FishChunksnot overfill the tortilla), and suggests variations.

I had to do some digging to find a wrap I haven’t made before, but chimichurri bang bang looked appealing. Not only was it a new recipe, it called for two ingredients I don’t use often: mango and fish. I didn’t eat a lot of fish growing up, and I’m extremely anxious about fish CookingFishbones, but I decided I had to get over it and give this recipe a try.

I started with my fruit and vegetable prep: mango, red bell pepper, cilantro, parsley, garlic, and jalapeno pepper. I put the chopped components into a bowl with lime juice, white wine vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper, an let it sit while I chopped some red snapper into chunks. Or FishRiceBeansperhaps it’s more accurate to say I mangled the fish; I know there’s supposed to be some neat trick for pulling away the skin to leave a neat little fillet, but I wasn’t able to figure it out. I heated some olive oil in a skillet and sauteed the fish chunks until they were white and firm, about 5 minutes; then I added about a cup of warm cooked rice and a can of drained and rinsed FishChimichurriblack beans. I cooked these together for about two minutes more. Then I removed the pan from the heat and stirred in the mango mixture.

Now it was time to spoon the mixture into tortillas; I chose spinach-flavored ones. The tortillas I found were smaller than the suggested size, so the recipe totaled eight wraps instead of four. Which of course makes it FoldingWrapeasier to save leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

The wraps tasted good; the heat of the jalapeno and the sharp tang of the lime juice contrasted well with the rich fish, sweet bell pepper and mild rice. The mango was a little underripe, so the overall mixture should probably have had an additional sweet note. But it was still delicious.

Verdict: Success. And we have leftovers of everything but the fish, so could make another batch later this week if we want.

The New Hostess of To-Day: In Which I Rediscover the Joy of Custard Sauce

apple snow, with boiled custard (soft)

CakePlusSauceThe New Hostess of To-Day dates from 1916, so it’s not quite as impenetrable as Miss Leslie‘s work but is still chock full of vague directives and alarming ingredients. Pigeon Galantine, for example, though I may just be biased by living in New York and therefore seeing any pigeon recipe as no different from one calling for rat. (Possibly you’d find more meat on a rat here.)

YolksNSugarLinda Hull Larned offers introductory chapters on various kinds of entertaining: the formal luncheon, the informal dinner, the informal dinner with but one both to cook and serve (ah, for the days when you could take servants for granted), the wedding breakfast, the card party and more. She has an extensive section on chafing-dish cookery, leading me to suspect she’d YolksNSugar2received several for her own wedding.

So I was a little nervous as I flipped through the book looking for recipes, but I was determined not to set myself up for failure this time. Linda Hull Larned might not have had an electric mixer, but I do, and I was determined to use it if necessary. I was also determined to rule out any CookingCustardrecipes whose instructions truly mystified me. And as usual I opted against anything with scary or impossible-to-find ingredients, so it didn’t take me long to narrow my choices to a manageable number. The dessert chapter didn’t look too challenging, and soon I settled on a two-part dish: apple snow with custard sauce.

GratedAppleI spent a semester studying in London, and our host family often prepared desserts with custard sauce. Custard sauce on steamed pudding, custard sauce on fruit; hell, if they’d poured custard sauce on rusted nails I’d probably have lapped it up and asked for more. I knew that one could find mixes for the right version in shops that sell British foods, but it had not occurred to me to make it BeatenEggWhite2from scratch. I’d assumed it would be hard, and I was wrong.

I started by making the custard. I beat two egg yolks with 1/4 cup of sugar until the mixture was fluffy (and surprisingly light in color). I then scalded some milk, then added the egg yolk mixture and stirred the mixture while it cooked. Larned’s instructions say “Cook until spoon is coated,” and SnowMixturefor a while I was not sure just what that might mean, but as the sauce continued to cook and thicken, I could see the effect she meant: as I lifted the spoon from the pan, the custard clung to it, more and more thickly as I continued to cook. I kept cooking and stirring until the consistency seemed right, then added a teaspoon of butter, removed the pan from the heat, added a bit of CakeAndJam2vanilla, and was faced with the direction “Beat until cold.”

Now what kind of a cooking instruction is that? I considered two possibilities; if the idea was simply to incorporate cooler air into the mixture to chill it in a pre-refrigeration age, I could just put the sauce in the fridge to cool down. But if the stirring was necessary to maintain an CakeJamSnowemulsion — to keep the custard from separating — then I couldn’t skip that step. I decided to try stirring for a while and see how it went. It went slowly. I checked periodically, and while the custard wasn’t immediately separating if I stopped stirring, it was showing a certain paleness at the edges that prompted me to keep at it, but it was very slow to cool. After a while I got the bright idea to pour SnowOnCakeit into a cool bowl instead of the hot saucepan, and that helped considerably. By the time I quit and put it into the fridge it wasn’t exactly cold, but it was far cooler and not separating.

After that I made the apple snow. This was a fairly simple mixture: a grated Granny Smith apple — which I peeled, on the assumption that the “snow” was CakePlusSauce2not intended to have a green tinge — plus 3/4 cup of powdered sugar, a pinch of salt, and three egg whites beaten stiff. The recipe said to beat them together until fluffy, which threw me at first because adding the apple and sugar to the puffy egg whites deflated them quite a bit; however, I kept beating the mixture and it reached a point that I could consider fluffy, just not as fluffy as the egg whites alone.

The apple snow was to be served over sponge cake spread with a layer of jam, and topped with custard sauce. You probably know sponge cake as angel food cake; I used a store-bought cake because I didn’t want to go to the trouble of making my own, but I probably should have, as the cake was just OK. I opened up a jar of the peach jam I made last summer, which was rather better. I spread jam on cake and scooped on some of the apple snow, then poured on some custard. The combination was delicious: tart apple, light creamy foam, rich custard, fruity jam. It felt elegant and rich, belying how easy it was to make.

Verdict: Success. And I have lots of custard sauce left over. Now if I can just find some nails…

The Enchanted Broccoli Forest: The Cute Overload of Casseroles

enchanted broccoli forest

BakedBroccoliForest2I’ve had the book The Enchanted Broccoli Forest for probably 20 years now, and it’s a great cookbook. It has a wide range of tasty entrees, plus one of the best instruction sections for how to make bread that I’ve seen anywhere. But I had never tried the title recipe, “enchanted broccoli forest,” before tonight. It really seemed kind of silly, and I was always more interested in BroccoliTrees3distinctive dishes like soups or pasta than in a rice casserole. But of course when I reached this title in my blog planning, Scott and I agreed: I needed to make the forest.

The idea is fairly simple, really: spread a brown rice casserole mixture in a baking pan, add broccoli florets so that they look like little trees, drizzle on some CookedRicelemon butter, cover with foil and bake. The assembled ingredients don’t sound all that exciting — as I said to Scott, “If I’d said I was going to make a broccoli-rice casserole you’d have yawned” — but the presentation makes it rather fun.

I started by cooking some brown rice. While it cooked, I cut some broccoli into long-stemmed SpicedOnionsflorets, then set it to steam; when it was just tender I rinsed it with cold water to stop the cooking. I also chopped up some parsley, beat some eggs together, juiced a lemon, melted butter, and mixed up spices, while Scott chopped an onion and a clove of garlic and shredded some cheddar cheese.

When the rice was ready, I pulled it from the heat and fluffed it with AddingCheeseMixture2a fork. Then I sauteed the onion and garlic in some melted butter, and added a mixture of dried dill, dried mint, salt, pepper and cayenne. I mixed the onions into the rice. Then I lightly beat the eggs with the parsley and cheese, and mixed that into the rice as well. I spread the rice mixture in a baking pan.

Then I poked the broccoli RiceInPan“trees” into the rice mixture, finding that I had to trim a few of the stalks so they would stay upright. As a once and future Oregonian, I also added a few of the bare stalks to the pan as “stumps of mystery.” With all the broccoli in place, I mixed the lemon juice and melted butter together and drizzled it over the broccoli. Then I carefully covered the pan with foil and put it into the oven.

BroccoliForest2The baked dish looked a little more finished than when it went into the oven: the rice mixture had firmed up a bit, and the broccoli had lost a bit of its brightness during cooking. I didn’t bother to photograph the mixture on the plate, because it’s really not possible to keep the stalks standing up and it didn’t look particularly exciting. But it tasted terrific: the rice had a rich and hearty flavor, and the lemon butter made the broccoli really delightful.

Verdict: Success. I’ll want to make this again. I don’t know if it would be an effective way to get kids to eat broccoli, but it might motivate adults who know they ought to be eating fewer cheeseburgers.

Twofer: How to Cook Everything and The Chicken Parts Cookbook

rice with fresh herbs, How to Cook Everything
drumsticks gremolata, The Chicken Parts Cookbook

DinnerPlateStill careening around my life without managing to quite get back on track with the blog, I’m afraid. In theory the weekend would have been a fine time to get caught up, but on Friday night I was out, on Saturday I was out for most of the day and in no state to cook from scratch (not least because I had not bought groceries), and on Sunday we had pizza out for a low-key Valentine’s Day. I hadn’t been planning to cook last night because I thought Scott had an evening engagement, but he did not, so after some dithering we got sandwiches. This is how these things go.

DrumsticksToCookI hadn’t planned to cook tonight either, because I’m on call for work and can’t usually count on having time. But then, I also hadn’t planned to work from home; I’d brought home my laptop just in case the snow got heavy, but the weather seemed perfectly reasonable to me when I left for the train. Evidently the signaling system a few stops away disagreed, and after waiting on the platform and watching train after train go past too full to board, I thought, forget this, I’m going back inside. So at lunchtime I found myself with time to make a grocery run, and to make a quick riffle through a cookbook before it. I wanted something that would require me to turn on the oven, because it can get kind of chilly in here; also, I wanted something that would require minimal prep.

GremolataMixtureI noticed The Chicken Parts Cookbook on the shelf. I got this book years ago when we tried the protein diet, and although I cannot recommend the diet I can strongly recommend the cookbook. It’s organized by part, so that you can quickly find a recipe for what you have on hand (as the cover notes, “The best part of the chicken is the part that’s on sale”). Within those sections there are two kinds of recipes, Quick and Easy and a shorter list of Simply Sophisticated — which are a little more elaborate, but not much. An introductory section also helps you with conversions (e.g., if I planned to make a dish calling for breasts but the thighs were on sale, how do I adjust the cooking time?). I leafed through and found drumsticks gremolata, which could hardly be easier: oven-roast drumsticks, chop together garlic and parsley and lemon zest, put it on the nearly-done chicken, cook a bit longer. I figured I’d make that plus some Swiss chard that I already had on hand and needed to use, and that would be dinner.

GremolataOnDrumsticksWhen it actually came time to cook, though, I realized I was going to want a little something more, some kind of starchy accompaniment. Since we had plenty of rice, I thought I might be able to take care of another blog cookbook while I was thinking about it, so I interrupted my (minimal) prep to scan the shelves for something new to do with rice. This brought me to How to Cook Everything, of which I am a passionate fan. I adore the book and its clear, excellent recipes. I’m a regular reader of Mark Bittman’s blog on the New York Times site. I don’t cook from scratch as often as he does (despite possibly having a larger kitchen), but I endorse his philosophy of doing so as much as possible.

MeltingButterWhen I set up the blog, and in all the re-jiggerings of the schedule since, I firmly believed that I would use How to Cook Everything to experiment with something big and elaborate: a crown roast, or a cream soup, or an elegant dessert. But as I scanned the shelves this evening I realized that I have a lot of books that can help me make a crown roast but can’t give me the first idea what to do when I have a hankering for rice and no time for a second run to FoodTown. This book, however, has given me not just a recipe but a formula: Melt butter, sautee herbs, add rice grains and cook briefly, add water and bring to boil, cover and cook. Endless permutations possible, endless flavors to explore.

RiceButterHerbsMy prep was a bit disorganized since I had chosen the rice rather late. But it was not difficult: chop half a cup of fresh herbs for the rice (I mixed thyme, mint and parsley), chop a bit more parsley for the chicken, stem and chop the chard, mince two cloves of garlic separately, zest a lemon. I buttered a baking pan, seasoned the drumsticks and set them to bake, 20 minutes before turning and 20 minutes after; while they cooked (and once I had the other dishes under control) I mixed the parsley, lemon zest and garlic. When the timer went off I pulled the chicken out of the oven, topped it with the parsley mixture, and slid the pan back in to bake about 6 minutes longer. Voila.

RiceCooked2For the rice I melted butter, sauteed herbs and then grains of rice plus some salt and pepper, added water, brought the pan to a boil, covered it and let it cook for 15 minutes; at that point I turned off the heat but left the pan alone and untouched for another 10 minutes. Then I stirred in more of the herbs and fluffed up the rice a bit before serving. To make the chard I heated olive oil, sauteed some garlic and the chopped stems of the chard, then added the leaves and a bit of water, tossed them to coat them with the oil, covered the pan and lowered the heat, and let it steam roughly 10-12 minutes.

The rice was wonderful, buttery and rich but with a strong herb flavor. The chicken was delicious too, with the edge just taken off the garlic by cooking and the lemon taste permeating the meat. And the chard was awfully good, and virtuous to boot.

Verdict: Success. Both of these recipes go on the list. The rice should be especially fun when fresh herbs really start coming into the Greenmarket.

Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone: An Unusual Savory Stew

quinoa chowder with spinach, feta and scallions

ChowderBowlWithEggI had a big master plan for the year, and when I fell behind in the first six months I made a second master plan to get caught up. But in the past few weeks, for a variety of reasons I’d rather not get into right now, I got off schedule again. Over the weekend I found myself looking for a recipe I could make based on ingredients I had on hand. I poked through the pantry shelves CookedQuinoaand found the better part of a bag of quinoa, left over from the Three Bowl Cookbook, and thought that looked like a great possibility. Since quinoa is popular with vegetarians, I checked the indexes of the vegetarian cookbooks I haven’t used yet, and in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone I found a few offerings that were ReadyIngredientsnot basically just cucumber and tomato salads.

The chowder takes a little bit of prep time, but is fairly simple to actually cook. I started with my vegetable prep: slicing fresh spinach, dicing a clove of garlic and a jalapeno pepper, peeling and dicing a couple of red potatoes, slicing a bunch of scallions, and chopping some GarlicChilePotatoescilantro. I also prepared a hard-boiled egg, following instructions elsewhere in the book, and peeled and chopped it.

Then it was time to start the actual cooking. I rinsed some quinoa and brought it to a boil with two quarts of water, then covered it and let it simmer for 10 minutes, while I diced some feta. I then drained the quinoa but AddedWaterScallionssaved six cups of the cooking liquid (which was pretty much all the liquid that had not been absorbed into the grain).

In a large pot, I heated some olive oil and sauteed the garlic and jalapeno pepper, then added some salt and cumin and the potatoes and let that cook for a few minutes. Then I added the reserved quinoa water and half AddedQuinoaSpinach2the scallions, brought it back up to a boil and let it simmer until the potatoes were tender. The recipe said this should take about 15 minutes, but I checked the potatoes at that point and let them cook a few minutes longer. Then I added the spinach, the rest of the scallions, and the cooked quinoa, and let that cook together for about three minutes. I removed the pot from the heat FinishedChowder2and stirred in the feta and cilantro, then ladled up a bowlful and garnished my serving with some of the chopped egg.

The stew had a complex flavor, with the different elements — spinach, egg, quinoa, chile, feta — playing off one another. Each bite had a bit of fire, a rich undertone, a bitter edge, and a nutty substance. I’d never have put these ingredients together on my own, but the result was truly delicious.

Verdict: Success. This is a terrific winter dish. I think I may go for seconds.

Bonus Non-Cookbook Recipe: Seitan Chili

seitan chili

ChiliCooked2I thought I’d celebrate the halfway point by offering up an original recipe. We’ll be back to blogitude in a few days.

Seitan is a meat substitute made from vital wheat gluten. (Sorry, decidedly not gluten-free.) The first recipe I ever saw for it was old-school, having you basically make up a flour and water mixture and then rinse and work SeitanChunksout the gluten from the non-gluten part of the slurry. It took up the better part of a day for Scott and was not quite stellar enough to justify the amount of labor spent. But it’s easy to make your own seitan from vital wheat gluten, which you can find in the baking aisle among the various flours; Bob’s Red Mill makes a good version, so if you can’t find it locally you can order it online. SeitanSauteI’ve adapted this recipe from one found in the book Vegan Vittles (which I don’t have a copy of now, so it’s not part of the blog).

Seitan chili
1 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup Red Star nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp paprika
AddingGarlicToSaute1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1 cup water
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
AddingPeppers22 medium bell peppers, diced
32-ounce can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
16-ounce can of diced tomatoes, with the juice
32-ounce can of whole tomatoes (if you like, remove the tomatoes and cut into quarters, then return to juice)
1 cup tomato juice
2 Tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
AddingSeitan1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp Tabasco, or to taste
2-3 drops of liquid smoke
salt and pepper to taste

To make the seitan: Place the vital wheat gluten, nutritional yeast flakes, garlic powder, paprika, coriander, chili powder and poultry seasoning in a bowl and stir to blend. Combine the AddingTomatowater and the soy sauce; pour into the vital wheat gluten mixture. Mix well, until you have a large, firm spongy mass in the bowl. Knead the gluten directly in the mixing bowl for about a minute.

Transfer the gluten mass to a cutting board and press out into a broad, flat rectangle (more or less). Use a serrated knife to cut ChiliToCookinto bite-sized cubes. Leave them on the cutting board for now; do not put them back into the bowl before browning, as they will stick together rather firmly. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy pot and brown the seitan cubes, turning to ensure a rich, even color on all sides. Transfer the browned cubes to a bowl.

Add 2 more tablespoons of olive ChiliCookedoil to the pot and saute the onions until they are softened, about 7-10 minutes. Add the garlic and jalapeno pepper, and saute 4-5 minutes more. Add the bell pepper and saute for 3-4 minutes more. Add the seitan cubes back to the pot, along with all the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 1 1/2 hours, tasting periodically and adjusting the seasoning as necessary.


Cooking Essentials: Beautifully Rendered Basics

Cajun-style chicken

ChickenPlated2Cooking Essentials is a beautifully designed book from a cookbook club I used to be in. It presents what it promises: fundamental techniques and principles of cooking.

I wanted something easy and undemanding. It’s been a long week, and my energy was low. So I opted for Cajun-style chicken, CajunSpiceMixturewhich is about as simple as you could hope for: Blend several spices with some olive oil, rub the resulting paste on boneless skinless chicken breasts, and pan-cook them until they’re blackened and delicious.

Scott mixed the spice coating while I got a panful of collard greens started. Once he’d rubbed the spices onto the chicken I CoatingWSpiceheated a pan, then started to cook. The recipe says to start the breasts on high heat and cook them for up to 3 minutes on one side, then turn them, lower the heat, and cook them on the second side for up to 6 more minutes or until they’re done. Which worked out just fine except for the “done” part; I ended up cooking them for about another ChickenInPan10 minutes in all, turning a few times, cutting into the center of the thickest breast at intervals until the last cut showed cooked meat in the middle rather than gleaming translucent pinkness. The exterior was certainly nicely blackened by the time we were done.

I served the chicken with some sauteed collard greens. It was ChickenDonedelicious: spicy without being overwhelming, and with a good texture despite cooking for longer than advertised. And it was so easy, we’re sure to try this again, or perhaps the variation suggested with fish.

Verdict: Success. This will go into our repertoire.