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Archive for May, 2009

This is the best soup ever.

Make it. You will thank me.

First, chop up an onion, a potato, a ton of garlic, and a head of cauliflower. Remove the peels/leaves/skins. (You may adjust these ratios if you like. One entire bag of frozen cauliflower works nearly as well as a head of fresh cauliflower.) You don’t have to chop the items up neatly or into small pieces, just get them dismantled reasonably thoroughly.

Add water – don’t overdo it; just add enough for the veggies to cook in. When they cook down, there will be plenty of liquid to go around. Add, also, a generous spoonful of Better than Bouillon. Bring to a boil, and stir occasionally. You don’t need to worry about overcooking this, so err on the side of leaving it simmering for too long rather than risking the larger chunks being underdone.

When it’s cooked, it goes through the blender. I recommend a hand blender/blender wand for this purpose, because you don’t need to do as many dishes that way, but as long as you can be reasonably sure your stand blender won’t crack at an inopportune moment and hit you in the face with hot soup, that will work just fine too. Blend and blend and blend until you have a delightful off-white purée. Then, in goes the cream!

Isn’t it bee-yoo-tee-ful? Keep adding and stirring in cream (heavy cream and light cream both work fine, and if you are on a diet, you could probably get away with half and half) until it is this color:

soup!

Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.

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Quinoa

Quinoa is a grain. It is easy to cook, delicious, and nutritious! Begin by rinsing your quinoa thoroughly in a sieve: it arrives at the store with stuff called “saponins” all over it and they are not tasty. Then, measure out about how much quinoa you’ve got, and put half again as much water or broth (with salt and the spices of your choice, and whatever liquid flavorings – lemon juice? olive oil?) in a pot on the stove. Half a cup of dry quinoa is more than enough for one person. Dump in the quinoa, too, and stir it up and bring it to a boil.

quinoa

When it’s boiling, put a lid on, turn down the heat, and let it cook for fifteen or twenty minutes. (I advise using a clear lid so you can see if the water has all been absorbed without having to pick it up. Then, take the quinoa off the heat and let it sit with the lid on for another five minutes or so before fluffing it with a fork.

quinoa

It’s pretty tasty by itself, but not all that exciting. Stir-fry it with leafy greens – kale is a good choice! – to jazz up the color and texture. You can also serve quinoa cold or under things like thick soups or curries.

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You can make cheese at home! It’s easy and delicious. All you need is milk, salt and the other spices of your choice, and lemon or lime juice (vinegar works too). I have always used whole milk, cumin and coriander, and lemon juice (with a little vinegar if the lemon juice won’t curdle it properly), but you can vary these things. I usually make half a gallon of milk’s worth. If I made any more, it would be very hard to keep the milk from boiling over – milk foams up like crazy when you boil it. Which is the first step:

milk

Pour all the milk into a pot that’s much bigger than you think you need. If the milk takes up more than half the volume of the pot, you’ll get into trouble. You might get into trouble if it takes up less than half the volume, too, but at least it won’t be inevitable. Add a small palmful of salt and generous sprinkles of your favorite spices, stir it up, and turn up the heat. Stir constantly, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pot thoroughly as you do so, because milk burns easily and scorched milk will make your cheese taste funny.

The object of this part of the process is to get the milk to boil/simmer for a bare minimum of five minutes. This doesn’t necessarily have to be continuous. If your milk foams up, you will have to pick up the pot off the burner to get it to simmer down; this might get it to stop boiling temporarily. But make a note of how long it spends at a boil. When it’s been five minutes – maybe plus one for luck, if you’ve had to pick it up and put it down again very frequently – you can take it off the heat.

Next comes the curdling! Lemon juice is my acid of choice, but lime would work too, and in a pinch you can go with vinegar. Add it a little at a time and stir frequently until you see the milk solids separating from the liquid:

curds

Now it’s time to strain. If you have a cheesecloth, another pot, and binder clips or a reasonable facsimile, you can copy my setup:

cheesecloth

If you don’t have those things, an old, smooth cotton pillowcase works too (and comes conveniently in a bag shape). Basically, you need to arrange a way for liquid to pass through a cloth while the curds are caught. Cheesecloth is pretty cheap, and so are binder clips. Be sure to rinse your cloth thoroughly in cold water first to wash away any lingering flavors of detergent or your kitchen cupboard. You don’t want your cheese to taste like those things.

Ladle or pour your curds and whey onto your straining cloth:

curds

Then, pick up the cloth, wring out as much whey as you can (careful – it’ll still be hot) – and put it between a few layers of paper towels, on a cookie sheet or something similarly washable with a lip, under a potful of water, to press out more liquid.

pressing

If you are the kind of person who (like me) likes to fuss over things, you can turn over the paneer and change the paper towels and poke it to test the consistency every half hour or so. If you’re not, just leave it alone for three to six hours depending on how moist you want your final product. When it’s done, gently unwrap the cheesecloth:

cheese

Eat it plain, put it in curry, crumble it over salad, chop it up for sandwiches, freeze chunks of it and dip them in batter and deep fry them, cut it into cubes and put toothpicks in them and serve them at a party with chutney. Mmmmm. Cheese. (It doesn’t melt well, so you can’t really make cheese sauce with it or use it to top a pizza.)

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This is an example of a soup I made up on the fly. Much as with the bean corn lime soup, you begin by sautéeing celery and onion:

sauté

I used a combination of canola oil and butter. When it was fried to my satisfaction, I added water and a wide variety of green frozen veggies:

veggies

I used broccoli, peas, spinach, kale, green beans, and zucchini and cooked ’em. Then I threw in some Better than Bouillon and green spices (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, yes really, plus dillweed – and salt and white pepper, which are not green, but what can you do? I would have added chives but it did not occur to me.)

spices

Now to mess with the texture. Again, like the bean corn lime soup, this soup is thickened with a purée of its ingredients. I ladled some of the liquid and vegetables into the beaker for my hand blender and blended them.

purée

Added back to the soup, it made a delightfully thick and chunky consistency out of what was previously water with vegetables floating in it.

soup

Just to make this all even healthier, I added a handful of soy flakes (textured vegetable protein). I didn’t reconstitute them first – I let them pull their hot liquid out of the surrounding soup as I stirred them in and it continued to cook.

tvp

Then, because I thought of the name “cream of green”, I turned it into a cream soup by – predictably enough – adding cream to it.

cream

It’s not that pretty a soup, I will admit, but it tastes really good.

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Couscous

Couscous is a fast, easy, and versatile food item. You can buy it in bulk or in a box, as you like. It comes in more than one size, but I always use the little kind.

Start by deciding how much to make. The volume of cooking liquid should equal the volume of dry couscous. Half a cup is more than enough for one person to have for dinner, but it keeps pretty well, so you may want to make extra and have leftovers. Put that volume of water or broth (or water with Better than Bouillon) into a pot and bring it to a boil, adding the spices of your choice. In this batch I used salt, white pepper, red pepper, parsley flakes, tarragon, garlic and onion powders, and a bayleaf, plus a couple squirts of lemon juice. You can also add a small splash of olive oil to the liquid if you like.

broth

When the broth is boiling merrily away, dump in the couscous, clap a cover onto the pot, and remove it from the heat (swirling it around a bit to mix the granules in with the liquid). Let it sit for ten minutes at least and then take a peek.

couscous

Remove the bayleaf, if you used one, and fluff the couscous with a fork, to mix up any spices that settled on top and to get it to a pleasant texture.

couscous

You can make couscous simultaneously with other things that cook the same way, like TVP: if you want to make half a cup of couscous and half a cup of TVP together, all you need to do is make a cup of broth and toss them in together when it’s boiling.

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This is a tasty, simple soup with a little lime kick to it. Start out by slicing up a few ribs of celery very fine and sautéing them in olive oil; mince up an onion while they sizzle away.

celery

Add the onion and plenty of garlic:

onion

Put one can of black beans and their liquid through the blender until they are a fine purée and drain the other can, leaving them whole:

beans
beans

Pour the bean purée and then the whole beans into the pot with the sautéed veggies and add some Better than Bouillon. Then add some frozen corn and turn up the heat, stirring.

soup

Don’t thin it out with water yet – if you still want to after you add the lime juice, you can, although this soup is very nice thick and can even be used as a chip dip that way. Speaking of lime juice:

limes

You can also use storebought lime juice (to taste), but limes were on sale the week I made this, so I bought two of them to use in my soup. In addition to lime juice, I added cilantro, cumin, salt, pepper, and a little chili powder. Mmmm.

soup

Serve hot, over rice, under cheese, on bread, as a dip, or all by itself.

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Meringue Cookies

Meringues are pretty eggwhite cookies. They’re very tricky beasties, but once you get the hang of them, they’re delicious and not too hard to whip up. Plus, they are mostly air, so you can eat about twenty of them without having to feel too guilty.

Preheat the oven to 250º.

First, you need to separate the eggwhites without breaking the yolk or getting your hands on the egg, because the fat of the yolk and the oils from your hands are both perfectly capable of preventing the batter from frothing up properly. Crack an egg into a separate bowl, fish the yolk out with two spoons, and pass it back and forth between the spoons gently until the white has detached from it. Then discard the yolk. If the yolk breaks and any of it gets into the white, you can save it for scrambled eggs or eggdrop soup or an omelette, but it’s no good for meringues: try again with a fresh dish. When you have as many egg whites as you’d like to turn into meringues (each eggwhite makes about 20 little cookies, possibly fewer if you don’t put in any extra ingredients), dump them into a mixing bowl. Add a pinch each of salt and cream of tartar per eggwhite.

meringues

Get an electric mixer (you don’t want to try this by hand) and beat the crap out of your eggwhites. Keep it up until they form stiff peaks (that is, if you stop the mixer and pull it out of the bowl, it will leave behind solid impressions of where the beaters were, and not just slosh back in to fill the hole).

meringues

Measure out a scant half a cup of sugar per eggwhite, or 3/4 cup per two. Use superfine if you have it, but granulated will do. Sprinkle it in a little at a time while continuing to beat the crap out of your batter. When the sugar has all been poured in, continue beating for a few more minutes and add a quarter-teaspoon of vanilla extract per eggwhite. (If you’re making an unusual flavor of meringues, you could add something else at this step – almond extract, for instance, or some lemon juice.)

Add the solid ingredient of your choice, folding it in gently. I make chocolate chip meringues almost invariably, but you can include whatever you like – I’ve seen a number of recipes that call for nuts, for instance.

Spoon small dollops of meringue onto paper towels (I have tried parchment paper and aluminum foil and they wind up burning the cookies) on cookie sheets. Sprinkle them with cocoa powder or some other decoration (colored sugar, nuts, whatever you like) and pop them in the oven. Start checking them at ten minutes or so; poke them gently with a finger and see if they feel dry or not. When they feel dry, pull them out. If they get even a little brownish (including on the curly little bits on top), pull them out right away.

They will be chewier than storebought meringues, but dramatically cheaper and just as tasty. If you want crispier meringues, try a lower oven temperature and leave them in longer, but remember, you don’t want them to turn brown.

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