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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Life Without Corn

Our book group book this time around was The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Inspired by the first section of the book, I thought I should try to avoid corn by-products in today's menu. It really wasn't all that hard--just avoid processed foods and non-organic meat. It's a good thing no one in attendance had nut allergies, since three different nuts were featured in three dishes today.

Hazelnut-Crusted Wild Alaskan True Cod with Cranberry Jelly
Nutted Wild Rice with Blood Oranges
Roasted Green Beans

Wintertime Chocolate-Caramel Tart
Tillamook Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

The fish was easy. I mixed some ground hazelnuts with about the same amount of bread crumbs, stirred in a little olive oil and salt and pepper, and spread it on the fish.

The green beans were also a cinch. The beans I found were a bit on the less-photogenic side, slightly shriveled and not the slim and lovely ones I love to eat, blanched, in late summer. Cook's Illustrated a couple of years back had talked about roasting as an option for this caliber of bean, and it is genius. Just snap off stem ends and spread on a foil-lined pan (for both the fish and the beans I used the bottom of a broiler pan, since they are less likely than my cookie sheet to warp in the oven), drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and toss to coat.

Both the fish and the beans were set to cook at 450, so I was able to do them together, putting the fish in when the beans were ready for a stir after 10 minutes. The beans needed another 10 minutes to get spotty brown, and the fish a few minutes longer than that to get firm and just flaky. Delicious. I thought as I was putting it on the table that the fish could use some kind of sauce, so pulled out a jar of homemade cranberry jelly (from local cranberries, of course).

The salad is one I've been wanting to fix for book group for several years, since Grandpa Artsy-Fartsy fixed it on a visit. Perfect for citrus season. I made it pretty much straight, except with fewer raisins, I used blood oranges instead of navels, and I added the segments from about a half-dozen blood oranges (this last addition seemed like kind of a "duh" to me--how could you make a salad with an orange-juice-based dressing and not put any actual oranges in it?).

The dressing:

The segmented oranges (you slice off the peels with a serrated knife, then carefully cut alongside the membranes to release the good stuff):

The last bit (not a great photo, and in any case it tastes better than it looks):

The tart appeared in the paper last month. Nuts, caramel, chocolate, what else do you need? The only change I made was to use chocolate graham crackers instead of chocolate wafers for the crust. I think the wafers would have worked better.

The mixed-together crust:

Pressing the crust mix into the tart pan. I think I read the tip to use a stainless measuring cup in Cook's Illustrated. It really does an amazing job of preventing that blobby thick crust corner you can get if you use your fingers to press it into the pan.

The sugar and water, ready to make into caramel. The recipe says to stir it until the sugar is dissolved, but doesn't say to then stop stirring. But you should, because otherwise . . .

this happens. It ended up okay in the long run, but it would have been better had I not continued to stir.

The cream to stir into the melted sugar:

The egg and vanilla to fold into the cool-ish caramel:

The baked almond caramel in the chocolate tart shell:

Now, the recipe calls for heating cream on the stovetop and adding it to chopped chocolate to make the ganache. I always make my ganache in the microwave, with the cream and chocolate in the same bowl. Start out with a minute on high, then stir well, and zap in additional 30-second increments, stirring well in between (I think it did maybe two extra 30-second periods). It will start out looking like this:

Proceed to this:

And finally end up like this, smooth and glossy:

Here's what the cooked tart looked like. I thought it was pretty good, and the other members of the group RAVED. I thought the crust could have been better (I'll use the wafers next time), and the nuts didn't retain their roasted crunch. I don't know if that was because of how I stored it, or just a quirk of the recipe.

Now, I had originally planned to make homemade vanilla ice cream (I finally got around to making the custard today, with the Wizard's help), which would have been corn-free, but the Tillamook did unfortunately feature HFCS among its ingredients. There were also corn products in the graham crackers I used for the tart crust, and possibly in the bread crumbs I put on the fish (they weren't made from home-made bread). I guess technically the eggs probably also came from corn, but you can't really count that because chickens (unlike cows) are made to eat corn.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mixed Bag

I should have made it on New Year's Day, of course, but I got around to making Hoppin' JaneAnne, and this time I took pictures! It was only a mixed bag because Newton didn't like the squash, the Wizard didn't like the black-eyed peas, and Cindy Lou was pretty dubious about the whole thing. I thought it was delicious.

The black-eyed peas, a little overcooked because I forgot to turn the crock pot to low before going shoe shopping.

The bacon.

The butternut squash, peeled and cubed.

The onion, chopped in the Cuisinart.

Sautéeing the bacon.

Sautéeing the onions and celery in a little bacon grease.

Carrot, julienned with the mandoline.

Baby spinach, stemmed and roughly chopped.

Spinach sautéed with the wilted and browned onion and celery.

Toasting the rice in a little bacon grease.

Simmering the rice, carrot and squash covered in chicken broth.

The finished product, after folding in the bacon, sautéed veggies and black-eyed peas.

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Do I Need to Clean My Ears?

Just overheard from the Wizard, to his father: "What the heck is that?!?"

Must say that's a locution I didn't think he had mastered.

Edited to add: today I heard him say to his little sister, "Don't do that, you idiot!" Guess who mimics his big brother? It's time for another "no stupid people, only stupid things" talk with Newton.

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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Orange Latkes

Just as the Orange Mashed Potatoes have nothing to do with oranges, likewise with the Orange Latkes.

But first, the rest of dinner. I made the French Roast Chicken in a Pot I previously posted about with no pictures. Here's what it looked like during the stovetop part of the process:

I also made the Simple Crusty Bread, and realized as I was looking back that I never put my preferred method all in one post. Here it is:
Simple Crusty Bread
(no-knead variety)
adapted from several sources

6-6 1/2 C unbleached all-purpose flour, or combination of all-purpose and whole wheat (not more than 1/2 whole wheat)
3 C warm tap water (100-110 degrees)
1 1/2 T active dry yeast
1 1/2 T kosher salt
1 1/2 T honey (if using whole wheat flour)

Put water in a large bowl. Add salt and honey, then sprinkle yeast over top and let soften for a couple of minutes. Stir until everything is dissolved, and then add flour to make a thick, sticky dough. Cover with a slightly-dampened kitchen towel and let rest at room temperature for 2-5 hours. Then either cover and refrigerate, or start making loaves.

To make a loaf, sprinkle the dough with a little flour and use a serrated knife (my tomato knife works great) to cut off 1/4-1/3 of the dough. (Unless baking multiple loaves, cover remaining dough and put it in the fridge.) Knead on a flour-covered board just one or two times, to smooth the surface a little and get a little flour on the outside so it sticks less. Then form the dough into a round loaf shape, holding the dough between your hands and stretching it with your thumbs while pushing it back in on itself with your fingers. Turn it over and pinch the pushed-in parts together. Cover the board generously with flour, place loaf on board pinched side down, sprinkle with more flour, and cover loosely with a tea towel. Let rest 40-60 minutes.

One half-hour before baking, turn oven on to 450 degrees and put dutch oven (cast iron and stainless steel both seem to work fine) in to preheat. When ready to bake, take pot from oven and remove lid, slash a deep (1/2-3/4") cross in the dough, and carefully transfer dough to hot pot. Replace lid and put back in oven to bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove lid and let cook 10-30 minutes longer, until brown, crusty, and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom. Let cool, slice, and serve with good butter.

Now for the latkes. I originally heard this great recipe on NPR several years ago, and have made it several times since. This year I decided to see if adding garnet sweet potatoes would make as large an improvement to the latkes as it did to the mashed potatoes, and the answer is oh, yes, yes, and YES. Here is the recipe with my adaptations (HIGHLY recommended, though of course if you're allergic to sweet potatoes you can follow the original).
Orange Latkes
adapted from Judith Nathan's Jewish Cooking in America

1 lb russet potatoes
1 lb garnet sweet potatoes
1 bunch scallions, chopped (all the way up, not just the light parts)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
canola oil for frying
applesauce and sour cream for serving

1. Peel russet and sweet potatoes, and skin, trim and halve onion, and grate in a food processor (theoretically you could do this by hand, but it sounds awful, doesn't it?). Dump all grated vegetables in a bowl and mix with 3/4 t kosher salt. Let sit for 10-15 minutes, then put in a tea towel and wring out as much liquid as you can.

Let squeezed liquid sit in bowl for another 10 minutes or so (leaving veggies in towel to minimize exposure to air), then carefully pour off, leaving white potato starch behind in the bowl.

2. Add the veggies back into the bowl, and stir in scallions, egg, a little more kosher salt, and a good amount of freshly ground black pepper.

3. Heat about 1/4" or a little less canola oil in an electric frying pan to 350 degrees. Use a medium-large portion scoop (a couple of tablespoons) to scoop up some of the potato mixture and place in pan, flattening with the back of the scoop.

Cook until golden, then flip to brown the other side.

Put on paper-towel lined plate and keep in 170-degree oven until you have a few layers saved up.

Call everyone to dinner and serve with sour cream and applesauce.

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Do Your Part in the Fight for Good Design

I didn't think I would ever blog about something like this, but if you are an Oregonian, please go the Oregonian's flag contest site and vote on a proposed new state flag. I won't tell you which one to vote for, but I will say that the leading designs at the moment are not ones that I care for at all.