Friday, March 28, 2008

Peasant food

Joy has a variation on boiled cabbage which is quite good: she chops the cabbage, and boils it with onion (we used leeks), apples, vinegar, red wine, salt — the standard fare — and honey. The flavor is quite good, but I think she makes it too sweet.

Along with our cabbage, we ate gnocchi, cooked in sage-butter and a little cream, and with grated grana padano on top. It was very good, but mild and comfort-food-tasting; I think the gnocchi could have handled a gorgonzola cream sauce, our original plan.

Gnocchi (meaning "lumps") is very simple, and there are as many recipes as there are Italian and Latin American families, times starches. Most Americans are most familiar with potato gnocchi.

Wash, peel, boil, and mash, and allow to cool, three pounds mashing potatoes (I like yellows, e.g. Banana, Butterball, or Yukon Gold), or use leftovers. Knead in one egg, and enough flour so that it's not particularly sticky: expect about one cup of flour per pound raw potato. Since you want the gnocchi to be light, work until consistent, but do not overknead.

Set a large pot of salted water on the stove and bring to a boil.

Working on a well-floured surface, cut the dough into workable chunks, and roll each chunk into a long log, about half-inch in thickness. Chop of gnocchis, and either transfer to a well-floured environment (do not stack your raw gnocchi in a bowl, as they will stick together), or, better, set up an assembly line so that the cut gnocchi move immediately to the boiling water.

Add gnocchi to the water few-at-a-time, so that they don't stick together. They will sink at first, but after just a few minutes they will float, at which point they are done and can be removed with a slotted spoon. It's ok, though, to leave them in the water for a while. In any case, you will probably decide to remove some before the others have been added; they won't stick together too much, but you may decide to drizzle each layer in a bowl with some melted butter. When all the gnocchi are done, prepare sauce and combine and serve hot.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Seitan and beet greens

Tonight's simple meal involved a loaf of seitan sausage and a cooked beat-green salad.

Results from Seitan Experiments:
  1. Knead by hand. The electric mixer makes the gluten too stringy, and it does not form a cohesive log when you go to shape it. Hand-kneading if very easy with this much gluten.
  2. I think it would have been better to shape a number of smaller sausages, rather than the one giant log.
  3. Real ground meat has bits of fat. I tried mashing some pine nuts in the mortar and pestle, but I did not include them until the end, once the sausage was already glutenized; I think they would work if included and distributed into the dry ingredients.

Beat Green Procedure
Upon starting to cook, vegetables become brilliantly colored. They lose their colors as the cell walls degrade and the colors leech, but more immediately vegetables are acidic, and the acid works to dull the colors. Blanching (quick submersion in already -boiling water) and steaming are both very fast ways to cook, and continually rinse the acids off of vegetables; as such, they tend to yield the best-colored vegetables.

We had heads of yellow and red beats, and the mix of greens was particularly festive. Steam, and meanwhile mix in a large bowl: 1 tsp lemon marmalade, 1/2 tsp mustard, 1/4 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp olive oil, 1 tsp red wine, and 1/8 tsp salt. Add steamed greens, toss well, and transfer to serving bowl.

I enjoyed a very tasty dinner with my boyfriend. He brought ice cream, since we both have sore throats. I'm completely satisfied with food right now.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Tonight's dinner

More variations on the same simple food, tonight my roommate and I ate in.

I started heating the oven 400°F, and set in some medium-sized red potatoes — we don't have any good large baking potatoes. The potatoes baked perhaps 30 minutes? You want to go long enough so that they slightly deflate when pierced by a fork; if you're working at the table next to the oven, you might hear them when they're ready.

I had soaked and boiled kidney beans a few days ago. I drained what was left (most of a pot) in a colander, and rinsed them in running water. You see, what makes beans make you gassy is the starches and sugars, much of which comes out when you boil them; draining and rinsing helps prevent bean music.

In a medium saucepan, I heated some olive oil. Meanwhile, I washed and diced a leek and a large stalk of green garlic, saving the bulbs and tips and outermost layer for soup. These I sauteed in the hot oil until aromatic and just starting to brown, along with a healthy handful of cumin seed and a good amount of salt. Then I added the beans, stirred a few times, and covered. As beans heated, I turned the pot to medium, and eventually to low; the beans keep their heat well, and the alliums continue to caramelize.

My salad included very tasty iceberg lettuce from last week's veggie box, and the same dressing I've been using: olive oil, lemon juice, red wine, and salt. When handling lettuces, be gentle: they bruise easily, so use the sharpest knife you have.

Fresh walnuts

Fresh walnuts are in season here in northern California, and my new favorite snack involves cracking shells in my cast-iron mortar and pestle.

These walnuts are extremely fresh. For the traditional savory snack, select nuts with large, light-colored shells. With some practice, you will be consistently able to crack open the shells while keeping the flesh of the nut fully intact, and then enjoy walnut halves (rather than the easier pieces).

For an extra treat, which you will not find in stores, select the small, dark-skinned shells. The shriveled meat inside is very sweet — it is, after all, a dried fruit.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Simple food

A very simple meal tonight: broccoli and a side of kidney beans.

When broccoli is very fresh and sweet, I like to eat it plain. Rinse broccoli, and with a pairing knife, separate leaves from stem from florets. All are edible. I cut off the bottom of the stalk and discard, and then slice the stalk cross-wise into half-inch pieces; as leaves become detached, I set them in their own pile. When I approach the florets, I try to keep the bite-sized bunches intact. In a large fry-pan with well-fitting lid, heat some olive oil. Add stems and then florets, and by shaking the pan, coat the broccoli lightly in oil. Cook until broccoli just starts to brighten and sweat. Add leaves with about a teaspoon of water, cover, and steam a minute or two, until leaves are very bright green. Serve immediately, salting at the table; broccoli will not hold its heat, and easily overcooks.

Like all beans, kidneys should be soaked in four times as much water and boiled (and rinsed, and the rocks should be picked out, but I'm too lazy; I do discard any beans that float, as they may be moldy). I set my beans soaking at nine o'clock this morning, and brought them to a boil covered and turned them down to a simmer at about five; they were done three hours later. I always soak enough for a few days; tonight I eat my beans plain with salt; next time sauteed with oil and spices; after that I'll have some for a minestrone.

For lunch yesterday I brought possibly the best meal I've had yet at work. I cut out and discarded the core of a small head of lettuce, washed the leaves, and wrapped them in a kitchen towel to bring to school. In a small bag I combined walnuts and raisins. Three teaspoons of olive oil, one of lemon juice, one of red wine, and half a tsp of salt I placed in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. A wedge of parmesan I can break up with my fingers, and a large tupperware and a fork finished the meal.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Pearled barley

Pearled barley is like white rice — grains have an inedible shell, always removed, and then the next layer is stripped ("pearled") form the barley or rice, but not, say, from brown rice or wheat berry or oat groats. As such, the brown grains are slightly healthier, but take longer to cook. Unpearled barley is almost impossible to find in stores except mixed into birdseed. (For the record, one grain — tef — is sold and milled without the inedible shell removed, since the grains are too small for normal shelling methods to work effectively. When you eat tef, the shell passes through your system without being digested or absorbed.)

Pearled barley should be combined with just under two parts water, by volume, salted, covered, brought to a boil, and simmered on low for 40 minutes. As always, check your grains ten to twenty minutes before time is up, and if the water is gone, remove from heat but keep covered so that grains may steam for the remaining time, whereas if too much water remains, remove the cover and increase the heat.

I'm enjoying my barley tossed with very good olive oil, parmesan cheese, salt, dried thyme, and crushed sumac berry. I highly recommend sumac, thyme, olive oil, and salt, and perhaps toasted sesame seeds, as a tasty dipping for good bread. Completing the meal are Vivaldi and a glass of white wine.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Many short notes

  • Large sweet potatoes should bake whole perhaps 45 minutes in a 400-degree oven. After 30 minutes, they are perfectly edible, if a bit crunchy.
  • Snapper is very fast to pan-fry. Marinate lightly in lemon, salt, and black pepper, heat oil in a pan, and cook on both sides.
  • Asparagus is in season, and extremely tasty steamed and salted.
  • I highly recommend Lemon Grapefruit Bars. I used the zest and juice of one medium-large grapefruit.
  • Wheat berry can simmer for an hour in roughly two-to-one salted water and remain very crunchy, or even an hour and a half in 2.5:1 water to grain, and then mixed with olive oil and salt, for a very simple dish. In general, with long-cooking whole grains, you should not worry too much about liquid-to-grain. Rather, check the grains twenty minutes before the end-time. If there is too much water, remove the lid and turn up the heat; if water is all out, keep covered, turn off heat, and let grains steam themselves for the remaining 20 minutes.