Early summer salad — cauliflower

When Spring hits full-on and it’s time for some warm weather dinner (or lunch) salads, there’s still not much available in the northeast.  But there’s California cauliflower, so enjoy this!

Ingredients:

Cauliflower, 1 head
red onion, 1/2
shallot, 1
hot pepper, 1
red pepper, 1
carrots, 2-3
Artichoke hearts, 1 can (packed in water, not soybean, etc oil)
lemon juice
apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg’s)
olive oil
smoked paprika
Cayenne
Cumin
Optional: garbanzos; blanched green beans, chopped parsley
Grape tomatoes

Directions:

Prepare dressing:
Squeeze juice of one lemon, and strain into medium bowl.  Add cider vinegar, about 2-3 T.  Slice onion thinly and add to vinegar/lemon; chop shallot and mix in to macerate.

Put in large bowl: Rinse and cut cauliflower into florets. Wash peppers and dice.  Peel and cut carrots. Drain and rinse artichoke hearts; dry, cut into quarters or half and add to bowl. If using, drain and rinse canned garbanzos and add in.

Remove onions from lemon/cider and add to bowl with cauliflower.  Whisk into liquid:  dash of cayenne, bit more smoked paprika, and 1 t cumin.  Add S&P.  Whisk in olive oil, increasing liquid volume by 3.  Taste with carrot. Add grape tomatoes to individual servings (you won’t want to refrigerate tomatoes with leftovers).

Lime pie and its friends

Lemon meringue pie, key lime pie, or The Amazing Lee Bros. Sour Orange Pie. They seem like large endeavors, and that tricky meringue to boot, right? Here’s what I recently learned: there are two ways [there’s a 3d way — frozen, see Nora Ephron] of making these citrus pies: the complicated-curd-on-a-stove-whisk-in-butter way (which is not *that* hard, just a wee stressful tempering the eggs) or the super-simple: mix some juice with sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks, and you’re good to go. Every single time it sets up right!

And then instead of meringue — whipping the egg whites and broiling or tracking down a torch (yeah, right!), just whip some heavy cream with a bit of confectioners sugar and plop it on top and into the refrigerator and you’re done! And besides, doesn’t everyone prefer to see whipped cream on the pie set before them?! Indeed.

So here’s the technique: Juice some limes (or lemons or sour oranges), crack some eggs and separate to use 5 yolks, stir in some sweetened condensed milk and put into pre-baked pie shell and bake for oh, 15 minutes. Remove from oven to let it set for about 1/2 hour, and then pop into the refrigerator and add your whipped cream perhaps with some appropriate zest decorating the top.

What to do with the whites? Coconut macaroons are an easy choice. I’m thinking if I can dig up a recipe I came across, oh here it is! chocolate pavlova with chocolate mousse. Because it’s spring and a girl can’t help but keep her winter poundage! Or to not get into an endless cycle of using yolks, then whites in a recipe that also calls for yolks, then having leftover whites . . . try this or this which features whipped cream with mascarpone on top, a fave of mine, or perhaps Nigella’s coffee pavlova.

Here’s my recipe for Lime Ginger Cream Pie

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (standard or convection oven)

juice of 6 limes, about 3/4 c, strained
1” piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
5 egg yolks
14oz can sweetened condensed milk

Crust:
1-1/2 c almond flour

3 T sugar
pinch salt

3 T (1.5 oz) butter, melted [or 1-3/4 c almond flour with 2 oz butter for insurance that crust is not skimpy if you use a larger pie plate]

Combine almond flour, sugar, salt with whisk in a bowl, then stir in melted butter. A pastry blender and a spatula work here. Press contents into pie pan, and bake about 20+ mins until just turning golden.  Remove from oven and either let cool, or jump on in and make the filling.

Put pie dish on a sheet pan.
Juice and strain limes into measuring cup. Add grated ginger.
Separate egg yolks, putting yolks into large-ish bowl.  Whisk egg yolks 1 minute or so by hand. Stir in condensed milk and whisk to combine well, then stir in juice. Mix it all around, and then pour into pie shell.

Put pie pan on sheet pan into oven, and bake about 15-20 minutes, until it’s just starting to set. Put on cooling rack and let cool for at least one hour.  Then cover and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight. Best within 24 hours, but it’s fine sitting around and waiting for its whipped cream topping.

Whip 1 pint (or less) heavy cream until getting thick, then add a couple T confectioners sugar and whip to soft or medium peaks (not firm! — too dry).  Top chilled pie with cream, and grate some appropriate zest on top and serve.

Sources:
The Life I picked blog
Bittman How to Cook Everything (ten? year anniversary edition) — lime pie

p.s. Here’s another variation

Cake

Baking a cake is not a big deal.  Really.  If you can bake a cake from a mix, you can bake a much more delicious chocolate cake by using this recipe for everyday cocoa cake.  You don’t even have to frost it — just sprinkle with some confectioner’s sugar and serve with a beverage.

One of the problems in my view with American desserts is that they are too sweet.  Think: pecan pie.  One or two bites and your palate is weary from all that sugar.  If you use less sugar, you can actually taste the flavors.  From a cake mix box, there is no natural flavor to appreciate, so sugar is dominant.

Next time you need/want to bake a cake, check out of the library Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible or Rose’s Heavenly Cakes and bake a simple yellow cake.  You will be happy.  Here’s a good one to start.

In the meantime, if you want a project that will reward you, try this Donauwelle recipe (pictured) when you have part of two days.  It’s not difficult, just has several steps.  And it will reward you not just in taste — which is superb, like the best Vienna pastry — but in confidence as well.

Winter salad — Watercress, pears and blue cheese

A delicious, elegant dinner party first course.  I served for Thanksgiving.  Pears are in season; watercress is a welcome bright green as Winter is setting in in the Northeast US.

Ingredients:

Watercress

Mesclun

Pears – D’Anjou

Blue cheese

Walnuts – roasted and cooled (375 degree oven for 8 mins until fragrant)

Vinaigrette:

Shallots, minced; soaked in apple cider vinegar to cover

Lemon juice

Walnut oil

Olive oil

S&P

Shake in bottle; refrigerate up to a couple days. Remove before using to come to room temp.

Salad assembly:

Wash and dry lettuce and watercress; remove thick stems if needed

Cut pear in half and core with corer, or cut into quarters and slice to remove core.

Cut quarters into quarters  or thirds lengthwise to make moderate-size wedges.

Toss greens with vinaigrette. Place on individual plates. Lay pears in pretty way grouped together on side of plate. Sprinkle walnuts and blue cheese on top. Drizzle more dressing on pears, etc.

Late Summer Fruit Salad

Let’s say you want to try to watch your calories/waistline after months of saying “yes” to every ice cream opportunity. Try fruit salad! Fruit is still fresh, local and flavorful in the Northeast. From poaching fruit for apple and pear tarts, I happened to use the reduced poaching liquid for an impromptu fruit salad. Sublime.

Here’s a re-creation:

105 g water (approx 1/3 c.)

15 g sugar (approx 1 T)

juice of ½ lemon, divided

2” piece vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise, seeds scraped into pot with water, then pod thrown in too

 

  1. Heat water and sugar in small pot to dissolve. Stir with wooden spoon. Add ½ of the lemon juice and all of the vanilla beans and pod, and cook for about 6 mins. Let sit out to steep or put into refrigerator to cool quicker.
  2. Cut up:

½ melon, cut into large chunks

½ pt strawberries, hulled and cut in half

½ pt blueberries

one apple, quartered, cored, peeled and cut into medium chunks.

  1. Mix sugar syrup, fruit and squeeze lemon onto apple, and mix.
  2. Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow flavors to blend. Take out at least ½ hour before serving to warm up a bit; though cooler than room temp is desirable.

 

Other options to explore:

Omit vanilla; use lemon verbena and/or mint

Try stronger flavoring such as cinnamon stick (& star anise?) with or without vanilla bean

Weeknight black bean tacos

Watching calories and carbs but wanting to max out flavor and spice, I devised this quick and easy taco recipe.  From thought to dinner plate in under 25 minutes!

Black beans — a delicious foundation of this dish — get their flavor amped up by sauteing with onion, hot peppers and garlic.  I like Eden brand no salt added.  (I add my own sea salt for flavor.  Ordinary canned beans are loaded with hidden sodium.)

For corn tortillas, I recommend Food For Life brand, sprouted corn tortillas, which I pick up at my local food co-op.  Some day I will actually buy extra to keep on hand in the freezer!

Ingredients:

1 can (15 oz) black beans (Eden is good brand; w/o added salt)

½ onion, chopped

½ t ground cumin

red pepper flakes; hot sauce

3 cloves garlic, minced

1-2 serrano peppers, chopped finely

 

corn tortillas (2/person)

 

grated cheese, such as Cabot pepper jack (Monterey jack); queso blanco or fresco

salsa (I like Green Mountain Gringo)

lettuce, chopped (optional)

sour cream, watered down if desired (optional)

avocados or guacamole (optional)

 

Directions:

Chop onions, garlic and hot pepper. Heat small-ish sauté pan, add 1 T grapeseed or other neutral oil. Saute onions, then cumin, garlic and pepper and pepper flakes in neutral oil for about 5 mins.

Stir in beans. Add a bit of water, stir, cover and cook about 10 mins. Add hot sauce as desired.
Meanwhile: grate cheese, ready salsa, lettuce, etc.

When beans are almost done, heat small sauté pan; brush tortillas with neutral oil, and heat, stacking in pan and turning on all sides, together if desired, until heated through, a few minutes.

Layer on each tortilla: beans, cheese, salsa, avocados, sour cream and lettuce. Fold over tortillas. Yum!

Yield: 4 tacos

Nutrition per taco: 31 g carbs (without avocado); 360 cals; 20 g fat

(avocado adds 4 g carbs for ¼ fruit; 72 calories)

Beans!

It’s winter, and you’re probably indoors a lot if you live near me in the Northeast US/Upstate NY.  So why not cook up a batch o’ beans?  Because it’s hard? No.  Because it’s tricky?  Not that either.  Because I don’t know how.  Well, it’s easy, and I’m here to tell you how, and encourage you to follow my lead here.

I like beans for several reasons.  First, I don’t eat a lot of meat, and beans and greens, or beans and other things can make a dinner for me.  Happily.  I’m not talking a quinoa, brewers yeast, chia seed “feast.”  It’s not weird. But a bowl of beans and greens, heavy on the garlic (a major food group for moi) is delicious.  Truly.  In the cold dead of winter, some bitter bracing broccoli rabe sautéed with garlic and red pepper flakes, and then braised a little with stock and beans is restorative in the soul-nurturing sense.  Grated parmesan doesn’t hurt either.

Here are my favorite beans that I recommend cooking:

Cannellini, aka white kidney beans.  They should not be called “kidney” anything because they are head and shoulders more delicious than those nasty minerally red kidney beans that star (?) in chili.  Cannellini are all that’s best in a bean.  Meaty, dense, mild and delicious, and a pleasure to eat.  I confess I generally buy them canned, though they’re hard to find.  Westbrae and Eden organic brands are my preference.  The can is coated inside so the beans are not sitting against metal for eons.  But now that it’s winter I — right now! — have beans cooking on the stove.  Here’s how.  And then I will get to other beans.

Take one pound of dried cannellini beans — Goya is fine, that will set you back less than two bucks. imageAt night before bed, empty the bag into a large bowl in stages, looking through to pick out any beans that don’t look good to you — cracked, shrivelled, etc.  And if there are any stones or other stray matter, discard that.  (It’s a food product from the field; it can happen.)  There are usually a couple beans in a bag you’ll want to remove, and this whole process at night takes all of two minutes or less, so don’t get discouraged yet!  Fill the bowl of beans with water and drain into a colander.  Put beans back into the bowl and add twice as much cold water as beans, or more.  Cover with a plate (to keep out cats, etc) and go to bed.  The next morning after your coffee or whenever, drain your now-plumped beans into that colander, rinse and put into a large pot.  Cover with cold water 2-3 times the volume of beans.

Put pot on stove and turn heat to high.  Cover and set timer for 15 minutes.  If you feel like it, add bay leaf and some peppercorns (whole, not cracked).  After several minutes, you will find foam rises to the top.  Skim that off with a ladle into a small-ish bowl you have set near the sink.  Do it again later.

When water comes to a boil, remove cover, turn down heat to low, and set timer for 55 minutes.  What you will want is a gently simmering pot or no bubbles at all for the cooking time.

imageI have neglected my pot and come back to the kitchen and found a vigorously boiling pot and my beans broke up into pieces.  Bummer.  Don’t let that happen to you, by turning the pot down to low.  Then once in a while, come into the kitchen, turn your pot up to medium to get some heat in, and stir gently with a wooden spoon to dislodge any beans thinking of sticking to the bottom of the pan.  The beans will cook just fine at barely simmering or even no bubbles.  If you get more foam, skim it off.  These words are a more than the effort required to cook a pot of beans.  As I said, as long as you keep the flame low, you will do fine.  As a bonus, an hour of simmering water on your stove adds needed humidity to your heated home in winter.

When the beans are al dente, or not yet done — taste one — add some salt and stir.  Don’t add salt early or it does something chemically to the beans to prevent the starch from breaking down/beans from softening.  Or that’s what I hear.  If you forget to add salt, no worries.

I said set the time for 55 minutes, because a fresh batch o’ beans will probably take about 1 hour to cook up tender.  So start testing at 55 minutes, and then set the time for another 5 or 10 minutes, and repeat.  Don’t rush.

Drain your beans, saving some of the cooking liquid to store them in, in the refrigerator and/or freezer.  Frozen assets of the best kind!

I will address more varieties of beans in later posts, including lentils and split peas, which cook quickly and no soak needed!

Here are a couple recipes:

Beans and greens

Beans and greens, a variation