A Foodie Confession

My friends, I’m about to reveal something to you that you may not have known about me.

No, I haven’t buried anyone in my back yard.

It’s worse than that.

I’m a food snob.

No shocked gasps??

I’m disappointed.

For years, I turned my nose up at using canned beans in my chili or soups. Cause my mom always used to  buy dry beans, cook them up, and then use them in her recipes. A shortage of funds as an immigrant to Canada may have had to do something with it. Or maybe just having grown up in Europe between the two world wars when the luxury of buying canned vegetables wasn’t available to subsistence farmers in Yugoslavia.

Many years, ago, I discovered hummus and decided to make it at home. From dried chickpeas/garbanzo beans.

But no matter how long I cooked the chickpeas … no matter what recipe I used, I ended up with something other than that smooth luscious spread I got in Middle Eastern restaurants. It TASTED delicious, but the texture was disappointing. I blamed my inexpensive blender. I switched to a food processor. Nothing.

Until I bought a 79 cent can of chickpeas on sale.

And it happened.

I will never have to buy hummus again.

I’m SO happy.

I’ve re-posted the recipe I used below with the information needed to make a roasted red pepper version.

ETA: Click on the middle eastern ‘tag’ for some other amazing recipes.

Extra Creamy Hummus – makes a bit over 4 cups, 1.1 kg

1/2 cup tahini (ground sesame seed paste)
juice of 2 lemons (~1/2 cup)
1/2 cup water
2-3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
~3 cups cooked chickpeas (2 14-oz cans, rinsed and drained)
1/3 cup light olive oil
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
1 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste (start with 1 tsp of salt and ~1/2 tsp pepper)

For red pepper variation (my original post)
1 roasted red pepper (1/2-3/4 cup)

Roasted red pepper variation: Halve a red pepper, remove the seeds, brush with a bit of oil on skin and then broil, skin side up on a foil lined baking sheet, for 10-15 min or until the skin starts to blister and char. Put into a bowl covered with saran wrap and let sweat enough to loosen the skin. Peel off the skin.

Add tahini, lemon juice and water to a food processor (or blender). Process on high speed until it becomes very light-colored and fluffy, which shouldn’t take long.

Add the roasted red pepper and garlic and process again until incorporated. Add the chickpeas and olive oil, about 1/3 at a time, processing to incorporate them completely before adding more. Once all of the chickpeas and olive oil are added, process for a few minutes longer, stopping to scrape the sides down occasionally, until it becomes as creamy as you’d like. If it seems too thick, add a bit more water (or olive oil for a richer hummus).

When it’s reached your desired consistency, stop the food processor and sprinkle in the paprika, cumin, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Process to blend them in. Taste and add more salt and pepper if you’d like, processing after each addition.

Serve with crunchy vegetables, pita bread or tortilla chips, or use as a spread on sandwiches!

Cooking Doldrums

ETA: A link back to a basic flan recipe was added as it’s been years since I posted it and it’s SO easy to make.

There are days when I wake up with the energy to do some cooking but no idea WHAT I should cook. It’s often hard to choose among several options with the items on hand. Sometimes, it takes googling to find variations of recipes when certain items aren’t available. It’s even more challenging when I have lots of leftovers in the fridge that I can re-imagine so I don’t HAVE to cook.

Right now, I’ve got an entire cooked steak, flour tortillas, a couple of avocados, eggs, and salsa in the fridge and leftover refried beans and basmati rice in the freezer. I think breakfast/lunch/dinner may be something Tex-Mex inspired.

On the other hand, I also have leftover hollandaise sauce, roasted potato wedges, asparagus and onion rings in the fridge. And frozen English muffins.

And then there’s the container of white bean, pasta and sausage soup that I made a couple of days ago (the rest are in the freezer) that I should be eating.

Help me. 🙂

Here’s what some of the leftovers are from. That’s some of the hollandaise in the little ramekin. And that was the last of three little vanilla flan I made with the two yolks from making the ‘brutti ma buoni’.

The leftovers are half of what you see below

PS: It’s chilly in the house so turning the oven on to cook is a GOOD thing.

Brutti Ma Buoni (“Ugly But Good” Cookies) ver. 1 – Cooked Batter

UUUUGLY Cookie Warning!!

REALLY … I’m NOT kidding. These cookies look funky, especially before you bake them, but they DO taste good.

I’ve been meaning to make these cookies for some time but kept putting it off, until now.

There are two basic techniques or versions of “brutti ma buoni”, and of course, I chose the more complicated one which involves cooking the meringue batter to dry it out before it’s spooned out onto a baking sheet and baked. Even though I watched several videos, I overcooked the batter so that the last few cookies ended up dried and crumbly. These cookies had cocoa powder folded into the batter. Hazelnuts seem to be used most commonly in the recipes that I researched but, I used sliced almonds, since I had some in my freezer. Other nuts like pine nuts, pecans or even walnuts, may be used alone or in combination.

Brutti ma buoni al cioccolato (Chocolate “Ugly but Good” Cookies) – makes 10-12 cookies

2 egg whites (~75 gm)
150 gm white sugar
150 gm nuts, toasted and chopped coarsely**
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

** Almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pine nuts, walnuts

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Remove 1 tbsp of the sugar and sift it, together with the cocoa powder, into a small bowl. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large, clean mixing bowl, whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gradually spoon in the sugar and continue whisking until hard peaks form. Fold in the sugar/cocoa mixture, then the nuts.

You can spoon the meringue “batter” onto the baking sheet at this point and bake it OR transfer it into a thick bottomed sauce pan and cook on the stove top at medium-low heat while stirring gently. Cook, scraping the bottom, until the batter has dried out and starts pulling away from the bottom and sides, about 10-12 min. (NOTE: Remember, the batter keeps cooking when you pull the pan off the heat so you might want to under cook it a bit.)

Using 2 tablespoons (scrape out the batter from the first with the second) transfer mounds of the batter, onto your lined baking sheet, about an inch apart, and bake for 20-25 min. They will be firm to the touch, but soft deep in the centre.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 to 10 minutes, after which they’ll be easier to remove with a thin spatula.

Let finish cooling on racks.

You can store leftover cookies in an air tight container in a cool dry place. Don’t refrigerate or freeze.

Boring Friday

I’m bored again and in the mood to ramble. (Lucky you if you’re reading this.)

After a warmish week which culminated in a HOT Thursday, I woke up to rain and a much cooler Friday.

School/work is done as the last class was yesterday and the chance of getting a call during exam week is slim. Just got my VISA bill, and though expected, the hit is a bit of an ouchy due to the plumbing bill. At least now I can use the upstairs tub after a good snaking out and the downstairs tub won’t be dripping hot water … and money. It’s the last of the big bills (knock wood) til I get my 2nd set of city taxes. Still, it means I have to be very frugal until October when I would be getting my first paycheque of the new school year.

I need to go to the library and pick up a book that I’ve got on hold, but other than that, I have no reason to go out.

So, I guess I’ll do some cooking or rather, baking.

Speaking of … I’ve been scavenging through the fridge and freezer again for meals or components to go with recent purchases.

A bit under two pounds of fresh asparagus for $3.50. Enough for four servings with minimal wastage.

A tray of five boneless and skinless chicken breasts, picked up for 40% off, means I ended up with five top cutlets. One of the cutlets became an asparagus roll-up which was crumbed and baked, along with fifteen chicken tenders from the bottom of the breasts, for supper. The other four cutlets and ten of those tenders went into the freezer. Pretty good for $10. The KFC flyer has a bucket of 8 chicken tenders (ok, they’re bigger pieces) for $10. I laughed.

PS: The bread crumbs used for the cutlet and tenders were made with my own sourdough bread.

The combo pack of six pork chops for under $10 gave me two great comfort meals of pan fried pork chops, baked asparagus, mashed potatoes and pan gravy and there are four more chops for the freezer.

With a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream, my fudgy chocolate cupcakes made for a great fast dessert.

The scraps of pasta from my ravioli became tagliatelle and were combined with beef stroganoff from the freezer. Enough for three meals. I’m glad I didn’t throw away those scraps. And, a beautiful fresh mango became a mango lassi when combined with milk, sugar and some yogurt.

I HAVE baked … a tray of sourdough cinnamon rolls, most of which are looking for a good home.

It’s been a productive week in spite of not working at all.

Spinach Malfatti or “Poorly Made” Spinach Dumplings

Sometimes you run across the most interestingly named dishes while browsing through cookbooks or surfing the internet. Malfatti, or “poorly made”, refer to a type of rolled spinach and cheese dumpling, and like the cookies brutti ma buoni or “ugly but good”, also from the Italian, the result is much tastier than the name would suggest.

Although they’re commonly served with a browned butter and fresh sage sauce, I’ve also found a version served with a marinara sauce and one with halved and sauteed grape tomatoes.

The dish is tasty but also an example of frugality … stretching a bit of cheese, spinach from the garden, and leftover bread in the form of bread crumbs, into a tasty and filling meatless dish.

Spinach Malfatti – I forgot to add the lemon zest to the dumpling mixture so I sprinkled it over the cooked dumplings instead. It was still tasty.

Regional naming variations:
ravioli nudi or gnudi (naked ravioli), gnocchi or ravioli verdi (green dumplings or ravioli), gnocchi di ricotta e spinaci (ricotta and spinach dumplings), strozzapreti (priest stranglers)

Spinach Malfatti (‘Poorly Made’ Dumplings) – serves 4

1 pound of fresh spinach (or a 10 oz/300 gm package of frozen spinach)
1/2 pound (8 oz, 225 gm) ricotta
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 cup Grana Padano cheese (or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
zest of one lemon, lemon reserved for sauce
flour for rolling the malfatti (all purpose or tipo “00”)

Sage Butter Sauce

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 oz, 113 gm) unsalted butter
2 tbsp fresh sage, whole, torn or chopped as preferred and depending on the size of your sage leaves
1/4 cup cooking water from the dumplings
lemon, reserved for juice

Blanch the spinach in boiling water and then finely chop. Remove all the excess water out of the spinach by squeezing it really well in a dishtowel. (For convenience, a thawed 10 oz/300 gm package of chopped frozen spinach that has been squeezed dry may be used.)

Combine the spinach with ricotta, breadcrumbs, grated nutmeg, lemon zest, grated Grana Padano cheese, and eggs.

Flour your work surface, and divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a log, about an inch thick. Cut each log into dumplings about an inch wide. Toss the dumplings with a bit of flour if you’re not going to cook them right away.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a gentle boil then add the dumplings and cook until they float to the top, about 3 to 4 minutes. Before you drain them, reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water.

The bar shaped dumplings are most often called ‘malfatti’ while the round ones are what seem to be called ‘gnudi’

Making the sage-butter sauce

Melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add fresh sage, and cook until the butter just begins to brown. Then whisk in about 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, gradually, so it emulsifies with the butter. Add your drained dumplings to the butter and shake the pan gently to coat.

Just before you serve the dumplings, squeeze some lemon juice over them and grate a little more grana padano cheese over the top.

Brioche Hamburger Buns, Hoagies and a BBQ

I’ve barbecued for at least three weekends in the last month because, miracle of miracles, it’s NOT raining.

And I like the taste of bbq’d meats.

No other explanation needed.

I was going to throw sirloin steaks, burgers and a chicken breast on the grill but switched out the last two pork chops in my freezer for the steaks, so I wouldn’t have two beef items. In anticipation of the burgers, I decided to make my own hamburger buns. My recipe makes enough dough for sixteen buns but I made hoagies with half, so I ended up with eight buns and four hoagies. Brioche breads freeze and thaw wonderfully, so that’s why I decided on an enriched rather than a lean bread recipe. It tastes good too.

Hamburgers … naked and dressed – I don’t like raw onions on my burgers but onion rings. Oh mama!!

The rest of the barbecue – Now I just have to figure out what to serve for sides in the week ahead … although I’m thinking of sticking that chicken into one of the hoagies.


Sweet Potato and Ricotta Ravioli with Prosciutto and Pea Sauce

I haven’t made ravioli from scratch in a while but after picking up a pound of ricotta cheese from the local Italian grocery store and with a medium sized sweet potato sitting on the counter in the kitchen, I had my inspiration. An economy ($2.31 for ~3.5 oz) package of prosciutto ends and a cup of frozen peas made for a tasty sauce.

Word to the wise … don’t start rolling out pasta late in the day when your kitchen is hot and you’re cranky and tired. Cause you end up rolling the pasta too thin, and then forget to cover it so it dries out. And trying to turn your thin drying pasta into sacchettini (little purses) when the tortellini shaping isn’t working out. Well, it’s not pretty. I ended up with some misshapen sacchettini and free-form square ravioli which I froze for bagging. Then I dropped the package. Cooked them anyway and covered them with the sauce and grated cheese and ate them anyway in protest.

Broken free-form ravioli covered with sauce and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano – It was delicious.

I made a couple dozen ravioli in my molds with the last of the filling, boiled them up, as well as the sacchettini, tossed them with the sauce and then froze them away for work lunch and two future meals.

RECIPE … well, here’s a list of ingredients, anyway

Pasta – 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 cup semolina flour, 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 tsp salt and 3 large eggs make 1 lb of pasta, enough for 4 people

Filling – 1 cup cooled mashed sweet potato, 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 1 tsp dry minced onion, 1 large egg, 1/4 tsp dried thyme, pinch or two dried garlic powder, salt (1/4 tsp) and ground black pepper (1/8 tsp) to taste. Enough for about 4 dozen ravioli at 1 tsp filling for each.

Sauce – 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 3-4 oz prosciutto, thinly sliced and cut into strips, 1 cup fresh or frozen peas, thawed

Prosciutto and pea sauce combined with the broken ravioli … pretty all on its own.

I have the trimmings of the pasta in the fridge and may make plain noodles later today. Or maybe not.

PS: Ended up with 200 gm of tagliatelle noodles.

I made some duck fat brioche dough and turned it into hamburger buns and hoagies earlier that morning for a planned bbq the next day. Watch for pictures.

Herbs, A Flower and Miso Soup Revisited – Tofu and Mitsuba

Miso soup is my ‘go to’ quick soup when I want a light, clean tasting soup with a flavourful broth. Although I COULD make a dashi stock with a sheet of kombu (dried salted seaweed) and katsuobushi (thinly shaved bonito flakes), I use hon-dashi powder for the convenience. MSG is a component so if that’s an issue, you may want to avoid it. I usually have white and red miso paste in my freezer and the kind I use depends on what I’m in the mood for. Or what’s left over in this case.

Some medium firm tofu and a beaten egg drizzled into the simmering broth gives my miso soup substance. As does some soaked and thinly sliced wakame (edible seaweed also called ‘sea mustard’).

For a fresh element, I snipped in a few stalks of mitsuba (wild Japanese parsley) from a pot that’s been overwintering surprisingly well on the front windowsill. With the sunlight streaming in, my little plant is producing fresh whorls of new leaves regularly, in spite of the less than proper care that it’s been getting. Watering it regularly is about all I do. Regular parsley, green onion, or even fresh spinach are other options.

Instead of salt, I added a few dashes (close to a teaspoon to 5 cups of water, to be honest) of Chinese soy sauce and a few shakes of ground pepper.

It takes longer to write this than it does to bring the water to a boil and make this soup. A bigger challenge is taking a good picture of miso soup. If you stir it up, it looks cloudy, while if you let all your ingredients settle, it just looks like water with a bunch of stuff on the bottom.

I just wish I had a nice Japanese/Chinese spoon for the aesthetics of the picture but I’m too cheap to spend $2-3 on a single spoon. Oh well, my big sushi bowl will have to do.

Mitsuba – Trim your stalks close to the soil and use the entire stalk in your soup. Even the roots are edible especially if grown hydroponically.

Shiso – It’s hard to tell which was the plant which self seeded as several of its late siblings have really shot up after I scattered the seeds from the dried out twig over the soil and watered it. I really need to thin and separate these plants but I don’t want or need that many shiso plants and I hate to throw them away after their surprising survival.

Close-up of the shiso leaves – Unfortunately, my single red shiso plant didn’t flower so I lost it.

Lavender and basil (Mammoth Italian and Thai) – The three lavender seedlings in the pot on the left seem pretty scraggly but they’re the only successes from a planting of about a dozen seeds. I planted the four outer egg carton cups with the Italian basil but only one had any growth, two measly plants. The two center cups have a total of six Thai basil seedlings ready for transplanting.

Mammoth Italian basil and some oregano that overwintered pretty well on the window sill.

Cold Proofing Sourdough Bread … Two Experiments

When I first started working with sourdough, I was discouraged by the need to follow the precise timing which required a 12 hr baking schedule. When I read that it was possible to cold proof in the fridge (both the bulk and final proof) I was excited. Until my bread didn’t rise even after more than 48 hrs in the fridge. It turns out that was the fault of my less than active starter. My second starter, the canned pineapple juice/whole wheat one, doubles happily at room temp (68-70 deg F) and is ecstatic at higher temperatures. However, it will even make the dough rise in the fridge (34-38 deg F). All of which makes baking sourdough almost as convenient as baking with yeast.

My latest pair of experiments is an examination of the relative oven spring/bake that comes from transferring a cold proofed dough into a cold dutch oven, and then placing it into a preheated oven) versus transferring the dough into a dutch oven that had been preheated along with the oven.

For the first experiment, I started with a plain, no knead sourdough bread recipe from Carole L. One of the unexpected benefits of cold proofing is that your chilly dough is very easy to score. You can get creative with your lame and end up with sharply defined slashes that open up dramatically during baking. NOTE: Since this isn’t a high hydration recipe, there won’t be big holes in the crumb.

After 12 hours in the fridge, the dough is turned out and slashed, then baked.

For the second experiment, I added sun dried tomatoes and dried basil to a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and then stirred the add-ins into the second stage of the dough. This dough was cold proofed 16 hrs before being turned out, slashed and baked in a pre-heated dutch oven

Conclusion, there isn’t an measurable difference in the oven spring of the two loaves.

The crunchy crust and soft crumb make this bread great to dip into extra virgin olive oil, an artichoke or other dip, a hearty stew or slather with hummus.

Sourdough Anadama Bread

Anadama bread is a traditional New England yeast bread which uses cooked cornmeal and molasses to give it its distinctive texture and sweetness. I recently ran across mention of the bread and was intrigued. I just happened to have about half a cup of Grandma’s Molasses in my pantry which I couldn’t think of a use for … a happy accident you say?

No, DESTINY.

Oh, and since I had just taken my jar of sourdough starter out of the fridge to feed up, because I ran out of bread (horrors!), I decided to convert the recipe I had to sourdough.

This is a moist dense bread with a touch of sweetness and crunch in every bite. Great warm with a smear of room temperature butter or to dip into egg yolks for breakfast or brunch.

Sourdough Anadama Bread – makes about 1.1 kg dough, enough for 2 loaves baked in a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan

1 cup sourdough starter
1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
3 1/4 – 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup room temperature water
1/4 cup cornmeal, fine or coarse
2 tbsp unsalted butter, margarine or shortening
1/2 cup molasses (Grandma’s molasses, fancy)
1 tsp salt

In a large mixing bowl with a lid (or use plastic wrap if it doesn’t have one) combine the sourdough starter, warm water and 2 cups of all purpose flour, reserving the rest of the flour for the next day. Cover and let sit at room temperature overnight (12-16 hrs).

The next day, place 1/2 cup room temperature water and the cornmeal in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cook until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter or margarine, salt and molasses. Let cool to lukewarm.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooled cornmeal mixture with the sourdough mixture; stir until well blended.

Add the remaining flour about 1/4 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. When the dough has pulled together into a ball, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.

Lightly oil a large mixing bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a sheet of plastic wrap and put in a warm place to rise until doubled in volume, about 1-2 hours depending on your starter.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a loaf. Place the loaf in a lightly greased 9×5 inch loaf pan. Cover with a sheet of plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in volume, about 40 minutes but it may take longer.

NOTE: I ended up with about 1.1 kg of dough, too much for a single pan, so I split the dough up into 2 loaves. I let them rise for about 1 hr 15 minutes before I judged they were ready to bake..

Pat the loaves down flat to distribute the dough evenly in the pan after shaping the loaf.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.