Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Saying goodbye is never an easy thing...

I had to say goodbye to one of my best friends today. Here is the last photo of Piper, known affectionately as "Girlie-Poose" sharing the ottoman with my PBGV, Grady, the night before last. She was a great friend to all--human, canine, and feline. She will be missed SO very, very much. :-(

Piper Lindsey-Richards, Sept. 2001-Sept. 2011

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Chicken Commits Savory Suicide in Crock Pot of Tasty Broth: Film at Eleven

There is a recipe for chicken and dumplings on the Crock Pot Girls website that calls for canned chicken (YEGADS!) or some folks swap out boneless, skinless breasts, but I did not like the sound of either of those options. I like to use the whole chicken which creates a very flavorful stock. But I did succomb to the "cheater" option on the dumplings using...wait for it...refrigerator biscuits! I still think that you can't beat Reame's frozen egg noodles for this type of application, but the biscuits made fine little "quickie" dumplings, not unlike those that one enjoys at Cracker Barrel. The following describes my methodology, beginning with a humorous picture of the chicken dropping trou and diving head first into the broth to meet his savory fate. (Tee hee.)

I put a whole (still partially frozen, I must admit) chicken in my five-quart crock pot and filled it with water. I added a generous tablespoon of chicken soup base and a bunch of fresh thyme, two sprigs of fresh sage leaves, and a couple of bay leaves. In a skillet, I sauteed one large onion, two stalks of celery, and two large carrots, all diced, along with about a teaspoon of minced garlic (2 cloves) and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. When the veggies were tender, I tossed them in the pot with the chicken.

I cooked this on high for about six hours until the chicken started to break apart. (I turned it over a couple of times when I happened to be passing through the kitchen, because it wasn't entirely submerged in the broth.) I removed the chicken, and let it cool, fished out the whole herbs and threw them away. I also skimmed the excess fat from the top of the broth. Then I deskinned and deboned the chicken, breaking it into bite-sized chunks with my hands.

In the meantime, I added three cans (or one family-sized can) of cream of chicken soup (actually, it was two chicken and one mushroom and roasted garlic this time around) and about a cup of chopped, fresh parsley to the broth. Then I used two cans of buttermilk biscuits, each piece of dough cut into quarters, and cooked them in the boiling liquid for about a half hour. I added the reserved chicken pieces back to the pot, et VOILA! Crockpot Chicken and Dumplings! DELISH, and we have plenty of leftovers which I plan to serve tomorrow night over mashed potatoes, in the midwestern tradition. YUM!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

How many beans does a person really need?

It is the soup season, dear readers, and here's one I whipped up recently that was hearty and very tasty! This recipe is great for the non-meat eaters in your household, and could easily be converted to a completely vegetarian soup (just leave out the turkey wing or ham hock when cooking the beans). For us carnivores, I highly recommended adding some smoked sausage or kielbasa slices to each bowl of soup before serving.

13 Bean Soup with Smoked Sausage
(Makes five quarts)

13 Bean Soup Mix (Bob's Red Mill), rinsed and soaked overnight
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
2 anaheim peppers, seeded and diced
3 large carrots, peeled and diced
8 oz. mushrooms, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 bay leaves
1 smoked turkey wing
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable soup base
1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes with chipotle peppers
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
salt, to taste

1 lb. smoked sausage, sliced

Rinse the bean mix, add to the crock, and cover with about three inches of water. Soak overnight.

In a large skillet, heat two tablespoons of olive oil and saute the onions, celery, peppers, and carrots until tender. Add the mushrooms and garlic and saute another couple of minutes. Add the sauteed vegetables to the crock along with the bay leaves and the smoked turkey wing (or ham hock). Cook on high for about six hours.

Stir in the vegetable soup base, the diced tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, and pepper. Cook for another couple of hours until the beans are all tender. Remove the bay leaves and turkey wing. Taste to correct seasoning.

Brown the sausage in the large skillet. Add some sausage pieces to each bowlful of soup before serving.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Never too many pickles!

On August 29, theoretically the first day of school, everything shut down due to Tropical Storm Irene wreaking havoc up the eastern seaboard. So I did as any sensible person would do: I took myself to a local farm stand--Lamoy's in Morrisonville--where smallish pickling cukes could be acquired, and I spent the day putting up a dozen quarts of the Blessed Blesi Garlic Dills. (Some clever food preservationist termed the inclination to put up food during extreme weather "hurricanning." Tee hee.)  I had about a pint's worth of cucumbers left over, so I sliced them into small spears, threw some hot brine over them and tucked them into the fridge. Within a couple of days, they made some tasty (though overly-salty) tideover pickles until the canned ones had time to mature.

The problem is, as much as I love the regular garlic dills, I loved munching on the Claussen-type refrigerator pickles, too. So three weeks later, I went back to Lamoy's, bought a small basket of end-of-season, odd-sized cukes, and made four more quarts of refrigerator pickles! I don't think I will be running out of pickles anytime soon...ha ha.

This time, I tried a recipe from one of my favorite blogs, Food in Jars. This was for just two pints, but I quadrupled the recipe. I like the addition of a little onion to these pickles, but I also added a generous teaspoon of red pepper flakes to each jar for some kick, along with some black peppercorns and yellow mustard seeds.

Small Batch Refrigerator Pickles
(Source: adapted from Food in Jars)
Makes two pints

1 quart kirby cucumbers (approximately 1 1/2 pounds)
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup filtered water (I used regular tap water)
2 teaspoons sea salt (I used canning salt)
2 teaspoons dill seed
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 spring onions (whites only), chopped
*I threw a few black peppercorns in each jar, too, and a teaspoon each of yellow mustard seeds and red pepper flakes

Wash and dry kirby cucumbers. Chop ends off and slice into spears (or coins or sandwich slices, if you prefer). Set aside.

Combine vinegar, water and salt in sauce pan and bring to a boil.

Equally divide the dill seed, garlic cloves and chopped onion (and peppercorns, mustard seeds, and red pepper flakes, if using) between the two jars. Pack the cucumber spears into the jars as tightly as you can without crushing them.

Pour the brine into the jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Put lids on the jars and let them cool on the counter top. Once they’re cool, put them in the refrigerator. Let cure for at least a day before eating. Pickles will keep in the fridge for up to a month. (I suspect that they will keep longer than this...we shall see.)

Note: Your jars may seal during the cooling process. The USDA will tell you that this doesn’t mean that your pickles are then shelf stable. However, there are people who flout those rules. Use your best judgment.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Two more easy crockpot recipes...

I was scrolling through the Crock Pot Girls Facebook page, as I often do these days, and I came across a recipe for "Corn Spaghetti" that made me giggle because it was so...declasse'. I read it aloud to my roommate, and she made great fun of its general trashiness. So while she was taking a nap, I snuck into the kitchen and made a batch of it for our dinner. The joke was on us, because it was pretty tasty, basically like macaroni and cheese. I would definitely make it again, perhaps adding some peas next time for color and nutritional value. I also think that this would be very appealing to children.

Cheesy Corn Spaghetti

1 can whole kernel corn (with juice)
1 can cream-style corn
1/2 lb uncooked spaghetti broken into 1-inch pieces
1 stick melted butter (I just cut the butter up and threw it in--but one whole stick was WAY too much; I would cut this in half next time, or perhaps omit altogether as there is plenty of fat from the cheese)
2 tablespoons minced or dehydrated onion (I used about four thinly-sliced green onions--added a mild oniony flavor, and much-needed color)
2 cups shredded cheese (any kind--but I think sharp cheddar adds good flavor)
1/2 can of water

*I also added about 1/2 pound of ham, coarsely chopped. (Next time, I might also add some green peas.)

Mix all together and pour into crockpot. Cook on high for 3 hours. (I cooked it on high for an hour, but it looked like it was getting done too fast for my planned dinner time, so I turned it to low. It was still done in three hours.)

And now for an easy dessert to go with your tacky entree.  This is how I created TERRIFIC, old-fashioned, luscious vanilla rice pudding in my crockpot (say goodbye to Cozy Shack!):

On the stove, I heated a quart of whole milk and two cups of half-n-half with one cup sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of salt until it just came to a boil. I added a generous cup of arborio rice, and then poured it all into my crockpot. I cooked this on high for 2 1/2 hours, stirring every half hour or so.

When it was as thick as I wanted it, I whisked together 2 egg yolks, 1/4 cup half-n-half, and two teaspoons of vanilla bean paste. Then I tempered the egg mixture with perhaps a half cup of the hot pudding, a couple of tablespoons at a time. I added this back to the pot, along with two tablespoons of butter, and cooked it on low for twenty minutes, stirring once after ten minutes.

I transferred the pudding to a storage container and pressed plastic wrap down on top of it to keep a skim from forming. It was DELICIOUS hot from the crockpot, and the consistency was lovely and creamy. And of course, it sets up a little more in the fridge overnight. YUMMY!

Friday, September 16, 2011

"Roasting" in the Crock Pot: An Oxymoron?

I have two easy crock pot roasts to share with you today--neither one is long or complicated enough to merit a separate post. In fact, I don't even have any pictures. For shame!

Let's start with a pork roast, shall we?  Of course, I have already blogged about the divine pork shoulder cooked in sauerkraut, but we're taking it South of the Border this time. So I browned a seasoned pork roast (3-4 lbs.), removed it from the pan then caramelized a large sliced onion. I added these things to the crock along with some minced garlic and a large jar of green chile stew (Cookwell & Company--my favorite, highly recommend, look for it at a grocery near you--or use the jarred salsa verde product of your choosing).

I cooked this all day on low until the pork was falling apart, then when I got home from work, I made some black beans and rice (recipe follows), and we had green chili pork tacos for dinner! Fill warm tortillas with some of the chili verde pork, the black beans and rice, some shredded cheese, and a dollop of sour cream, and you and your family will be happy campers! OLE'!

Black Beans and Rice
(Source: adapted from AllRecipes)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup uncooked white rice
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 can black beans, drained (I used some cumin and lime flavored beans and did not drain the sauce)

1.In a stockpot over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the onion and garlic and saute for 4 minutes. Add the rice and saute for 2 minutes.
2.Add the vegetable broth, bring to a boil, cover and lower the heat and cook for 20 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork. Add the spices and black beans. 

And then for "recipe" #2 today, I would be remiss if I did not mention that old crock pot standard of roast beef and veggies with a can of cream of mushroom soup and a packet of onion soup mix. Very basic, but VERY GOOD!  You'll want to season and sear the roast first (this is always the first step because, in the immortal words of Chef Anne Burrell, "Brown food tastes good!"), then layer into the crock a large sliced onion, 2 stalks of chopped celery, and a lot of thickly-sliced/chunked carrots (maybe six large?), and the roast on top of the veggies. Then mix the two soups together along with a tablespoon of minced garlic, a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, and a teaspoon of vegetable soup base and poured this over the roast. Cook low and slow all day, then serve with mashed potatoes. MMM!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Now we have to wait until summer 2012?? BOO HISS!

On Sunday night, I was invited to a "True Blood" finale party at my friend, Domenica's. This is the second year we've done this, and for the inaugural event, we all just brought assorted Cajun and Creole dishes or something thematically related to the show. (I brought red beans and rice, and Rice Krispie treat hearts with Bill and Eric's names written in blood...er, red food coloring. Tee hee.)

This year, we were assigned specific characters, and we were charged to bring a dish that represented that character in some way. For example, my friend, Janice, got Sookie, and she made Creole crab cakes, a pecan pie (Sookie ate a whole one in one episode), and Sookie's favorite green bean casserole that her grandma used to make for her. Domenica had Marnie the witch, so she made Salem (MA) Clam Chowder, but Marnie was embodied by the Spanish witch, Antonia, so she also made tapas--Shrimp Scampi.

Of course, I got my beloved vampire, Eric, who was a Viking nobleman in his human life, so I decided to make Swedish meatballs in the crockpot.  I was so pleased with myself that I sent a text message to my hostess the night before as I was preparing them, to brag about my culinary achievement, and it was then that I was informed--after knowing this girl for ELEVEN YEARS--that she is allergic to pork! So I had to make a second all-beef batch for our kind hostess. They were both good--the pork and beef 50-50 mix was more flavorful, but the all-beef meatballs held their shape better. So use whatever meat you prefer in whatever ratio suits your fancy. But whatever you do, make sure to serve them with a tangy and bloody-looking lingonberry jam (which, naturally, can be acquired at IKEA).

Oh, I almost forgot. As a dessert item, I made little blueberry parfaits with my homemade Scandinavian delicacy, skyr--layering yogurt then fruit, yogurt then fruit, yogurt and just three (largely decorative) berries on top. The guests seemed skeptical, but they all tried it, and then asked me to come over sometime and teach them how to make it! Tee hee.

Viking Meatballs for Eric Northman
(Yield: 43 meatballs)

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, finely minced
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork/sausage
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs (2 pieces of bread)
1/2 cup prepared mashed potatoes
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon salted herbs (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground celery
3/4 teaspoon each allspice, cardamom, and freshly-ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
3 cups beef stock
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Melt two tablespoons of butter and the olive oil in a skillet and saute the onions until tender and just starting to turn golden. Combine them with all other ingredients and work together with your hands until everything is blended (do NOT overwork the meat!). Using a cookie scoop, make meatballs, shaping them in your hands. Place on a cookie sheet covered with parchment, and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes until browned.

Meanwhile, melt the other four tablespoons of butter in the skillet and add the flour. Whisk as it cooks until the roux starts to color. Add the beef stock slowly, whisking the whole time. Whisk in the Worcestershire sauce, too. Add the browned meatballs to the crock pot, pour the gravy over and cook on low for 4-6 hours.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I declare this...the SEMESTER OF THE CROCK POT!

Now that the school year is off and running, I made a vow to myself to get more organized in the area of dinner planning. My roommate gets home at 3:30, and I don't get home until almost seven two nights a week, and after NINE on two others. It's wrong to make Cyd figure out what's for dinner every day, just because she gets home earlier. So I promised her that I would be better about planning, and about putting together some make-ahead casseroles and crock pot meals. Lots of busy working folks must have been having similar ideas, because right about the time I was thinking about this, the Crock Pot Girls phenomenon EXPLODED on Facebook! Kismet, I say, and I declare this: the SEMESTER OF CROCKING!

The first hurdle was to get my hands on a slow cooker. I have been in the market for a new crock pot (mainly because I can't find mine since the move, plus, it's smallish anyway). I didn't want a new one; they are made differently now--for "safety" reasons--and cook too HOT. I have been looking for "vintage" models on ebay, but the shipping made the cost ridiculous. Just when I was giving up hope, the neighbors kitty-corner from me had a huge, multi-family yard sale last (Labor Day) weekend. And wouldn't you know--they had the EXACT one I wanted (cornflower blue pattern from the 80's--you know it, you love it) for THREE BUCKS!

The story gets better, too! (I know--hard to believe.) So when I was paying for the crock pot, my neighbor's mother (I'm guessing) said she had the exact same one at home, but she forgot to bring it to the sale. I asked if she intended on selling it, and she said yes. So I pre-paid an additional three bucks for a second pot, and now I have a matching set! FOR SIX BUCKS! Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! I WIN!

I have been enjoying reading the Crock Pot Girls page (though the fact that the recipes aren't searchable is MADDENING), and I like their weekly "Crock Pot Monday" event. I tried to play along the first Monday they did it, and I made the featured recipe--Teriyaki Chicken--but it was AWFUL! The flavors were okay, but the vegetables had cooked to mush and the chicken breasts were very dry. Though the recipe called for 8-10 hours on low, by eight hours, mine was a big old mess. I advised another friend who was making it later in the week to start checking between 5-6 hours, and she said that six hours was enough.

Nevertheless, it was a disappointing and inauspicious beginning to the SEMESTER OF CROCKING. But in rooting through the Crock Pot Girls' page, I ran across a pork chop recipe that spoke to me. I made a few twists to the original dish, but it turned out great--CROCK POT SUCCESS! This one is going in the rotation this semester. You should try it, too!

Garlicky Pork Chops and Potatoes in Mustard Sauce

6 pork loin chops
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
6 medium potatoes, washed and cut into large chunks
1 large onion, sliced
1 can cream of mushroom soup (10 3/4 oz)
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground celery
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Season the pork chops with a little salt, black pepper, and garlic powder. In a large skillet, brown the pork chops in oil. Drain fat.

In the bottom of at least a five-quart crock pot, place the potatoes and onions (seasoned and mixed with a little salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of minced garlic), then put the browned chops on top of that. In a separate bowl, whisk together the soup, broth, mustard, vinegar, thyme, garlic powder, ground celery, and pepper. Pour some of the mustard sauce over both layers of chops. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours or on high 4 to 5 hours.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Getting the jump on soup season...

I recently got an email from the wonderful health food store in Burlington, Healthy Living Market. In the email,there was a luscious-sounding recipe for a zesty carrot-ginger-coconut soup that I just HAD to try. Not surprisingly, it was DELICIOUS! As fall is nearly upon us, I encourage you to add this recipe to your cozy soup repertoire.

Carrot Coconut Ginger Soup
(Healthy Living Market, Burlington, VT)

2 tablespoons canola oil (I needed three for extra veggies)
*recipe seems to be missing onions here--I used one very large
1 medium leek, trimmed and chopped (I used two)
3 cloves garlic, minced (I used five)
5 medium carrots, peeled and sliced (I used six)
1 medium (to large, starchy) potato, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root
4 cups vegetable stock (I like Better-than-Bouillon)
1 14 oz can coconut milk
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
*I like a squirt of sriracha, too, for a little kick!
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped for garnish, optional

Heat canola oil in a medium sized soup pot (five quart works well). Add onions and sauté until softened. Add leeks and garlic, sauté for another 4-5 minutes, stirring. Do not let brown. Add carrots and continue cooking until carrots start to caramelize. Add potato, ginger, stock, and coconut milk. Bring to a gently boil and allow to boil for 5 minutes. Reduce heat, add paprika and turmeric, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer on low until potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes. Puree until smooth using an immersion blender or in batches in a countertop blender. Garnish soup with minced cilantro, if desired.

*When all was said and done, my soup seemed to want for a little more creaminess. If I had another can of coconut milk, I would have used that. Instead, I doused it with about a cup of half-n-half, and that did the trick!

Ok, so my roommate is the sort that won't accept just soup for dinner (even fabulous, homemade soup!), so I also threw together a couple of gyros--that is to say, I assembled them, but I did not really *make* them. I bought whole wheat pitas, wrapped them in foil, and heated them in the oven. I bought--yegads--Tyson roasted chicken strips and heated those in a saute pan. I cut up a very ripe tomato and thinly sliced some red onion. I filled the pitas with the chicken, tomato, and onion, and I topped it all off with the fabulous Cedars' Tzatziki (cucumber and garlic). A fake-out "recipe," but very tasty, and though a mixing of ethnic cuisines, a stellar sidecar to the carrot-ginger-coconut soup.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

My Big Fat Icelandic Obsession: SKYR!

When I was in Oregon last month visiting my dear friends, John and Keith, who (as I have shared many times, because I'm so proud of them!) own a fabulous wood-fired bread bakery and now pizzeria, I accompanied Keith on an errand to Fairview Farm Goat Dairy near Dallas to acquire feta cheese. The farm had one of those wonderful little sheds with a refrigerator in it and signs to help yourself and pay on the honor system. Keith was getting his pre-bagged and marked order out of the fridge when I spied something called marionberry skyr--the sign called it a "Viking cheese." I had no idea what that meant, but I quickly snapped up a small carton and took it back to my friends' house.

The next morning, we had it spread on some toast, and it was SO delicious! Smooth, tangy, sweet, and a very pretty lavender color from those wonderful Oregon marionberries. The texture was thicker than Greek yogurt, but not quite as thick as softened cream cheese. It was just WONDERFUL, and yet it made me sad. What was I going to do without this magical substance once I returned home to New York?

As soon as I got back, I started my experimentations. I trolled the internet, found a "recipe" that looked right, verified the methodology with the folks at Fairview Dairy, and made two batches with goat's milk from the grocery store. The first batch did not form curds, and I thought maybe my liquid rennet was past its prime. So I tried a second batch with Junket tablets, and it still didn't form curd. Oh, it made some lovely yogurt, but it didn't make cheese. I was left to conclude that the grocery store milk was ultra-pasteurized--that is, super-heated so that it breaks down the proteins in the milk which will then no longer form curd.

Clearly, I had to find a local source of goat's milk. I called around and posted an appeal on Facebook, and all roads seemed to lead to Welbian Farm in Peru, NY and to Donna Pearce, champion goat breeder. Donna is a lovely woman who invited me to her house, where I instantly fell in love with her pack of dogs (a mastiff, a pointer, and two little terrier-like yappers), and we chatted amiably about mutual friends, the similarities between goat shows and dog shows, and pasteurization processes, as she fed me different kinds of yummy goat cheese in her kitchen. She also sold me four gorgeous gallons of fresh goat's milk. YAY!

For the next four nights in a row, I processed one gallon of milk which yielded one pint of amazing skyr, a soft yogurt cheese. And I learned A LOT that week. Here is an abbreviated list of conclusions to which I have come:
1) Blackberries--even local wild ones--cannot hold a candle to Oregon marionberries. :-(
2) Local wild blueberries in the skyr are more traditional and superlative in flavor!
3) But the best flavor of all is simple vanilla bean. MMM! So awesome with homemade granola!
4) You can use an electric yogurt maker with the little jars removed to incubate up to two quarts of milk in a large glass measuring cup covered with foil.
5) Even better than an electric yogurt maker is an ice chest with two milk jugs of hot water tucked along the sides.
6) To get the right, super-smooth consistency, you must whisk the final product and bust up any little cottage cheese-like bits.
7) Skyr freezes beautifully and when thawed, returns to its lovely consistency (again, use the whisk to fluff it back up).

A thousand thanks to Jules of Jules Food for the boilerplate methodology. I will be stealing unabashedly from her blog but adding my own thoughts/comments/adaptations.

Skyr (Icelandic Yogurt Cheese)

4 quarts (1 gallon) nonfat milk--NOT ultra-pasteurized (skyr is traditionally made from skimmed cow's milk, but I used whole goat's milk)
Siggi's Skyr, or another brand if you can find it
7-8 drops liquid rennet or 1/2 Junket tablet dissolved in a little cold water (I have used both liquid rennet from http://www.cheesemaking.com/ and Junket tablets with equal success)

good thermometer
good quality stock pot, stainless steel
big towels for wrapping up pot
cheese cloth or a big square of muslin works better (I prefer flour sack towels--you can get a multi-pack from Sam's Club on the cheap)
kitchen twine/string
a large strainer

Make sure all of your utensils are CLEAN. Heat the milk slowly up to 185 F degrees and hold at that temperature for at least ten minutes. Use a heavy-bottomed pot and gently stir every so often to keep the milk from scorching. After ten minutes at 185 F degrees, turn off and cool to 100 F degrees. (This will take about an hour and half, or you can hurry it along by submerging the pot in a sinkful of cold water.) When the milk is at body temperature, mix about 1/4 cup of your starter (Siggi's or other live active culture yogurt like Stoneyfield) with a couple of tablespoons of the warm milk--one tablespoon at a time--in a small cup until it seems combined and pourable. Add this mixture to the warm milk and stir very gently, being careful not to scrape up any milk solids that may have formed at the bottom of the pot. Next add the rennet and stir very gently, using an up and down motion.

Cover your pot and wrap it in 2-3 towels and leave it out on the counter for 12-16 hours or until it soldifies into a solid mass with some visible whey around/on top of it (it shouldn't still look like milk or runny yogurt or something has gone wrong--your milk was probably ultra-pasteurized!). The counter method works fine if your house/kitchen is always warm. Other folks put their pot in a gas oven with a pilot light, or by a wood stove or other home heating source. I have used both my electric yogurt maker and an ice chest with two gallon milk jugs of hot water tucked in, and both systems work great (the latter actually worked a little better, much to my surprise).

Using a long, serrated knife, cut the curd into one-inch rows lengthwise, then turn and do it again across. With a slotted strainer, spoon the curds into a strainer lined with cheesecloth/muslin/a flour sack towel until all is in. Gather the four corners of the flour sack towel up, bind with a good length of kitchen twine, and suspend from a kitchen cabinet knob with a large bowl underneath to catch all of the whey. Let this hang for an hour or two while most of the whey drains from the curds and it reaches the desired consistency (a little drier than you want, because you will be whisking in some flavorings). I would say that you're shooting for something not quite all the way to cream cheese.

Empty the cheese into a bowl and whisk for about 200 strokes until smooth and light. Add about 1/4 cup of any kind of fruit puree that you prefer (or as little/much fruit as you like) and/or a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste, and then sweeten to your taste with sugar. Whisk everything together with another 50 strokes, and then store they skyr in the fridge or freeze for keeping longer. Thaw at room temperature (or overnight in the fridge), and whisk back to a smooth, light consistency. You may even want to loosen it up with a splash of cream...and another pinch of sugar might not hurt either! ;-)

Wild Blackberry Skyr

Wild Blueberry and Vanilla Bean Skyr

One really good idea is to layer skyr and whole fruit (in this case, peaches and plums sprinkled with lime juice) in a small glass or jar to make yummy little skyr parfaits! But my favorite way to eat it is with homemade nutty granola. YUM!

Sunday, September 04, 2011

QUINOA: I love it, I hate it

Here's the thing. I love quinoa (and everybody should love it because it's tasty and whole-grainy and so good for you), but it vexes me because I can't seem to cook it properly! I follow recipe directions carefully, but it always seems to come out too wet and gloppy, unless I then throw it in the oven to dry out/crisp up. If any readers have any tips for me, PLEASE leave them in comments. Nevertheless, though my latest batch of quinoa came out a little goopy, I still managed to fashion it into a fresh and lemony side salad that I highly recommend you try, especially while summer vegetables are still plentiful in your local markets.

Additional thoughts: The tomato I used was awfully ripe, and I guess I chopped it too finely, as it practically dissolved after a few tossings (you can just see some large red flecks in the picture above). So before serving, I cut up a handful of cherry tomatoes and threw some of those into each portion. I also think some diced or shredded cucumber would be good in this, but I didn't have any on hand.

Quinoa and Chickpea Salad

1 1/2 cups quinoa
2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 can chickpeas, drained
1/2 red onion, finely diced
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 large tomato, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
juice of two lemons
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Rinse the quinoa several times to remove to sticky outer coating. Add the stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Combine the cooked quinoa with the drained chickpeas,diced onions, minced garlic, ...chopped tomato, dried oregano, and fresh parsley. In a separate bowl, whisk the mustard and lemon juice. Add the olive oil slowly, whisking briskly the whole time. Add 3/4 of the vinaigrette to the salad, some salt and pepper, and stir gently to combine. Chill for several hours.

Before serving, taste to correct seasoning, and add the rest of the vinaigrette if needed.

Friday, September 02, 2011

The Newest Summery Salad Topping Craze!

When I got home from my adventures out west recently, my longsuffering roommate, Cyd, picked me up from the airport (on a school night!), and we finally got to dine a restaurant that we have been trying to get to for ages, the Bluebird Tavern in Essex Junction, VT. Our meal was lovely from start to finish, but one thing made enough of an impression on me to try to replicate at home: a green salad garnished with pickled blueberries! Who's ever heard of such a thing? Well, apparently, Saveur Magazine had, as I found an easy recipe there.

Turns out, pickled blueberries are super-simple to make. Dissolve 1/4 cup sugar and 1 3/4 tablespoons salt in a cup of white vinegar. Add a generous pint of blueberries and a small (or half a large) onion, slivered. I also threw in a dozen peppercorn for kicks. Then let the berries macerate overnight. That's it.

I used the pickled blueberries to compose what I am calling the Blue-on-Blue Salad: local greens, Danish blue cheese crumbles, candied pecans, heirloom golden tomato, sweet onion slivers, and a simple, homemade Dijon vinaigrette. DEE-LISH!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Perfect Pairing with Peaches

So I made a pie for my roommate, but surely I deserved a treat, too, before it was back to the grindstone of fall semester. I was in the mood to make a bundt cake, so I did a Google search for "best bundt cakes," and subsequently ran across several mentions of a browned butter almond cake from a coffee cake book by Carole Walter. That sounded right up my alley, so I got to work. The directions call for a springform pan lined with parchment, but I can attest that it works just fine in a bundt.

However, I made two pretty significant mistakes with the batter. First, in a Paula Deen moment, I accidentally added two sticks of butter instead of a stick and a half (which caused it to get a little too brown before the minimum bake time had elapsed), and secondly, I forgot to add baking powder! I guess since you beat the eggs with the sugar for so long, it still had enough lift. But the texture was pretty dense--the baking powder would have helped, no doubt.

Still, this was a delicious cake, especially the second and third day, once the flavors had matured. And it's the PERFECT foil for the wonderful Saturn (donut) peaches that are finally appearing in our markets (from downstate farms like Klein's Kill in Germantown). I cut up a couple of the peaches and sauteed them in butter, then added a tablespoon of brown sugar and a good splashe of rum. Then I spooned this over two slices of cake and garnished with whipped cream. SO GOOD! Try this cake with the stone fruit of your choice, and HURRY, before they are done for the season.

Browned Butter Almond Cake
(Source: Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More, Carole Walter)

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 to 2 tablespoons dark rum (I used just one)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups strained powdered sugar
1 cup toasted slivered almonds
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
6 large egg whites
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoon sliced blanched almonds (I doubled this)

Place the butter in a heavy 2-quart saucepan and melt over low heat. Continue to simmer, skimming the foam from the top as it forms; this will take 10 minutes or more, depending on the weight of the pan. The butter is finished when the color is rich golden brown and has a "nutty" fragrance. Watch carefully to avoid burning. Blend in the rum and vanilla and cool to tepid.

Heat the oven to 350. Generously butter a 10-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment. (I used a 12-cup bundt that I sprayed with flour-added baking spray.)

Place the powdered sugar, slivered almonds, flour, and baking powder in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse 5 to 6 times, then process for 50 to 60 seconds, or until the mixture forms a fine meal. Set aside.

Place the egg whites, whole eggs, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Beat the eggs on medium speed until frothy. Gradually increase the speed to medium high and continue to whip for about 2 minutes, until very light and foamy. Add the superfine sugar, one tablespoon at a time, taking about 30 seconds, then beat for 1 minute longer.

Reduce the mixer speed to medium and pour the tepid butter down the side of the bowl in a slow, steady stream, also adding the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the nut/flour mixture in three additions and mix just to combine.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan (I sprinkled two tablespoons of sliced almonds in the bottom of the bundt pan first), smooth the top with a spatula and sprinkle with the (other two tablespoons) sliced almonds. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes (I advise you to start checking at 30 minutes). The cake is done when the top is golden, firm to the touch and begins to release from the sides of the pan.

Remove the cake from the oven and let stand on a cooling rack for 15 minutes. Carefully release and remove the cake from the side of the pan, invert on a cooling rack and remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment paper. Cover with another rack, invert again and cool right side up. (I cooled the bundt on a rack until the bottom was warm--but not hot--to the touch, and then turned it out onto the rack to cool completely.)