Sunday, March 24, 2013

Fridge-Clearing Stir Fry with Bean Thread Noodles, Broccoli Stems and Edamame

Jeff and I love playing around with new recipes. Every week, we construct a menu out of them. But what happens to the motley assortment of leftovers in the veggie bin at the end of the week?

Stir fries.

Stir fries, generally with rice, but sometimes with noodles, crept into our repertoire during CSA season as a way to deal with the bok choy that was inevitably abandoned, wilting, in the crisper the night before we picked up our next share. Stir fries are awesome. A quick saute and some tasty sauce will perk up the saddest of produce. Add some rice, a fried egg and crunchy cashews and you have a meal.

Since it's March, we didn't have any fresh CSA produce to use up in this dish. Instead, it started with leftover broccoli stems. I've been a broccoli stem hater my whole life, but given my crusade to eliminate kitchen waste, I feel obligated to use them. Adding them to stir fries is the only use I've come up with (sometimes sliced, sometimes shredded). I also threw in some snap peas that were on their last legs, a roughly chopped onion, and some edamame and chard from the freezer. Anything you have on hand is really fine - it's less of a recipe than a formula. A formula for success!

Fridge-Clearing Stir Fry with Bean Thread Noodles, Broccoli Stems and Edamame

5 oz package bean thread noodles
3 tbsp canola oil, divided
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 medium onion, chopped
2 broccoli stems, thinly sliced (you might want to peel any particularly woody bits as well)
3/4 c edamame
1 c snap peas (I like to cut them into bite-sized pieces)
3/4 c frozen chard, thawed
ginger-garlic sauce (see below)
1/2 c roasted cashews

Cook the bean thread noodles according to package directions - mine needed to be soaked in boiling water for ten minutes.

In a large wok, preheat 1 tbsp canola oil over high heat. Add the egg and stir fry, stirring constantly, until cooked through, 1-2 minutes. Remove from pan and reserve.

Add the remaining 2 tbsp oil to the pan. Add onion and broccoli stems and cook 2-3 minutes, until onion is translucent. Add the snap peas, edamame and chard and cook another 2 minutes, until heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Drain the noodles and add them to the stir fry (since they're extremely long, I usually cut into the pile a few times with some kitchen scissors before adding them to the pot - it makes it much easier to toss everything together). Add sauce and stir well to combine everything. Sprinkle on the cashews and serve.

Ginger-Garlic Sauce
From For the Love of Cooking.

1 tsp cornstarch
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 c honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
1" fresh ginger, minced
1/2 tsp water (optional, if sauce is too thick)
2 tbsp sliced green onion

In a small saucepan, combine the cornstarch and soy sauce, whisking well until any lumps are gone. Add the honey, garlic and ginger. Bring to a boil, stirring often. Reduce heat and let thicken 3-4 minutes. Stir in green onion and serve over meat, mixed with rice or tossed with a stir fry.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pecan Cornmeal Biscotti

Happy St Patrick's Day! I should be offering you Irish soda bread or some kind of cabbage. I did make a soda bread today, although I'm still feeling around for a really great recipe. I do have some Irish roots on the murkier side of my family tree, but whoever those ancestors were, they didn't pass down any recipes. My cooking talents seem to have come from some of my other ancestral ethnicities.

Take my Italian side. I can make a mean tomato sauce, a perfect pesto and killer biscotti. These particular biscotti aren't as Italian as they could be - there's much more of a Southern vibe going on here. The anise and almond flavors have been replaced with pecans and cornmeal. Yes, cornmeal. I had some doubts when I first saw the recipe , but it turns out that the cornmeal offers a beautiful buttery flavor. I know that cornbread tastes buttery, but I always assumed it was from all the butter. Apparently not. Add some pecans to those buttery notes and you have yourself a pretty good cookie.

I'm not a huge fan of biscotti - I like them, but I normally don't freak out over them. I decided to make these to keep in my pantry in case of cookie cravings. I thought they'd be the sort of dessert I'd go after as a last resort, when I really wanted a cookie and nothing better was available.

Maybe this is true with normal biscotti, but not with these. I devoured them very, very quickly. These are now on my list of dangerous cookies to have around. Either I'm a biscotti convert or these particular biscotti are pretty awesome. Either way, it's worth a try.

Pecan Cornmeal Biscotti
Adapted from the Southern Living Farmers Market Cookbook.

1 c chopped pecans
1 1/2 c flour
1/2 c yellow cornmeal
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
3/4 c sugar
1/2 c canola oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350° F.

In a pan or toaster oven, toasts the pecans, stirring occasionally (watch them closely so they don't burn!).

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. When the pecans are done, add them, too. In another bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then combine with sugar, oil and vanilla. Gradually pour this over the flour mixture, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened and a dough forms.

Turn the dough out of the bowl and divide it in half. Shape each half into a log of approximately 12 x 2". Place logs on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 25 minutes, then set aside 10 minutes until cool (or, if you're impatient like me, you can move on and risk burning your fingertips)

Slice each log diagonally into 1" thick slices with a serrated knife (you'll end up with some wonky, oddly-shaped end pieces - just eat them). Remove the parchment from the baking sheet and place the slices back on it, with one of the cut sides down. Return to the oven for 7-10 minutes, until lightly toasted. Flip onto the other side and toast 7-10 minutes more. Cool on wire racks. Enjoy right away or store in a covered container. (Biscotti seem to store well anywhere - I've stored them in tupperware without them getting soggy and I've stored them in tins without them getting stale. They're hardy little cookies.)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Soft Pretzels

Soft pretzels! These are so much fun to make. They're a bit of work - it took us a few hours on a Saturday morning - but they're delicious and they freeze really well, so you can continue to enjoy your work for weeks to come. The recipe itself is very wordy, so I'm not going to say much here - just that, if you're looking for a fun and tasty weekend project, this is a great one!

Soft Pretzels
Slightly adapted from Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It.

1 lb 13 oz flour (about 6 c)
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp kosher salt, plus more for topping
2 tbsp vegetable oil
8 c water
1/2 c baking soda
1 egg

In a stand mixer bowl, whisk together the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Drizzle in the oil and 2 c water, then mix with the dough hook on low speed until the dough comes together.

When it becomes uniform and clings to the dough hook, remove the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured countertop. Knead for 7-10 minutes, until the dough becomes uniform, a little shiny and still slightly sticky. (Can you just knead it in the stand mixer? Sure, but I find I rarely get good results that way. Even when the outside of the dough seems good and floury, there is often a really sticky bit attached to the dough hook. Even if I start the kneading process in my stand mixer, I will take the dough out and finish it off by hand.) The dough will have the consistency of an earlobe when finished (this is the way the original recipe describes it and it is SO helpful in determining when the dough is ready!).

Place the dough ball in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover it with a kitchen towel and put it in a warm place to rise (I use my oven's proofing function) for about an hour, until doubled.

When the dough is risen, return it to your lightly floured countertop. Stick your finger into the middle of the dough to make a small hole. Widen the hole, working hand over hand, until it forms a ring about 2" thick. Place the ring back on the counter and divide it into 12 equal pieces (divide into quarters, then divide each quarter into thirds).

Remove one piece, covering the rest with a damp kitchen towel and setting them aside. Roll that piece into a rope of about 18". (I found the dough easiest to roll when it had very little flour on it. It was difficult to do on my counter, but I had more success holding it in the air and rolling between my hands, letting gravity do its work.) When the rope is long enough, fold it into a pretzel shape (make a U, turn the ends inward, then twist them together). Pinch the ends to ensure they won't unravel. When the pretzel is formed, place it under the kitchen towel. Continue with the remainder of the dough. When finished, let all the formed pretzels rest 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine the remaining 6 c water and the baking soda in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Carefully lay one pretzel into the boiling water.

Cook 30 seconds, flipping once, then drain and remove to the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pretzels.

When all the pretzels have been boiled, beat the egg in a small bowl with 1 tsp water and brush the mixture over the tops of the pretzels, then sprinkle them with kosher salt.

Bake the pretzels for 15-18 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack for 30 minutes (seriously, leave them alone - the texture develops during the cooling process). They are best eaten the day they're made, but they can be frozen in ziplock bags for months (just reheat for 15 minutes in a 350° F oven).

Pumpkin Mascarpone Pasta Sauce

This post is not about ravioli.

Ok, this post is tangentially about ravioli.

Let's try again. This post is about how I followed a recipe for ravioli that totally flopped, but ad-libbed a pumpkin mascarpone sauce that was awesome. 

It took me and Jeff two days to make these terrible ravioli. We began on a Sunday afternoon, following a recipe from Cooking Light: Way to Cook Vegetarian. (This is usually a pretty solid cookbook - not sure what happened here.) After spending well over an hour working on the pasta dough - kneading it, letting it rest, realizing it was too sticky, adding flour, kneading again, letting it rest, putting it through the pasta roller, still too sticky, etc. - we gave up. I can't remember ever just giving up on a recipe before. We actually reached the stage of frustration where we tossed the dough and ordered some Indian food.

Meanwhile, I had roasted an entire pumpkin, made puree and began making it into a sauce. I ended up taking the entire pot off the stove and shoving it into the refrigerator where it waited patiently overnight.

The next evening, we tried again using another dough recipe. This one came together the way it was supposed to. When the ravioli were filled and cooked, I stole a taste: not good. We tried to push on, serving them over the pumpkin sauce. The filling was increasingly disgusting to me as I ate - I tried to squeeze it out of the pasta, then just eat around it, and ended up tossing my ravioli in the garbage. Jeff, who pushed on and ate all of his, ended up sick the next day. We have no idea what went wrong (filling undercooked? filling didn't like sitting in the fridge overnight? eggs were bad to begin with?).

The pumpkin sauce is what saved the day. That's basically all I ate for dinner that night. I took the pot out of the fridge, reheated it and finished it off with a little milk and mascarpone cheese. It was delicious. And I invented it. The sauce was inspired by a pumpkin puree we had at Triumph in New Hope on Valentine's Day. Jeff and I asked the waitress what was in it, and she came back with directions from the chef about how to make it ourselves. We didn't try to recreate it exactly, but used the idea as a springboard for the sauce we did create.

It's a beautiful, creamy, thick sauce that was as good on its own as it was with some whole wheat fettucine and peas. I wish I could say it was good with the ravioli - that was the ravioli's fault.

Pumpkin Mascarpone Pasta Sauce

8-10 lb pumpkin (I used a 9 lb cheese pumpkin - any good puree pumpkin will do. You could also sub in 3-4 c pre-made pumpkin puree.)
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp fresh thyme
1/4 c Parmesan cheese
2-4 tbsp milk
1/2 c mascarpone cheese

First, make your pumpkin puree. Preheat oven to 400° F. Cut the top off and scoop out the seeds and stringy bits (just like you're preparing to carve a jack o'lantern). Drizzle olive oil inside and rub it over the pumpkin flesh. Put the lid back on, place the entire pumpkin in a large baking dish and bake for about an hour, until softened and browning in spots. Remove the lid (carefully - there will be steam!) and set aside to cool.

When the pumpkin is cool, separate the skin from the flesh and discard (it should peel off very easily). Put the pumpkin flesh in a food processor and process until smooth (you'll probably need to divide it into two or three batches). Remove the pumpkin puree to a strainer placed over a large bowl. Set aside for 20-30 min, letting some of the excess liquid drain off.

When you're ready to make the sauce, put the pumpkin puree in a covered medium saucepan over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, until heated (keep a close eye on it - it could bubble up and splatter). Stir in salt, pepper, thyme and Parmesan until cheese begins to melt. Add milk to thin out the sauce slightly (you want it thick enough to coat your pasta well, but not quite as thick as the original puree). Finally, stir in mascarpone until melted and well combined. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is heated through, about 3-4 minutes. Serve with pasta.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup

I hope you don't think I've been ignoring you guys. I've just been having some technical difficulties. While I was working on my desktop one day last week, I returned from a half hour break to find it unresponsive. Upon restarting, it asked me for a boot disk. It no longer thinks it has a hard drive.

Fortunately, I was prepared for this sort of disaster on the dissertation front. I use Dropbox for all my files - not only does that make it easier to work on the same files on multiple computers, but it also means that all my stuff is backed up online. I didn't lose a word of the work I had been doing. The files that are potentially lost (though I've been told there is a possibility that they might be recovered at some point) are all my pictures. I also lost access to my photo editor, Adobe Lightroom.

After a week or so of inactivity (one day I'll give in and take the computer over to Best Buy), I decided that I need to move on. I loaded Lightroom onto my laptop and uploaded the contents of my camera (gotta love memory cards - those pictures go back to October!). In addition to recovering some great family photos, I found five blog posts' worth of shots waiting to be prettied up. You'll be hearing more frequently from me in the coming days.

I'm sure you're wondering why I'm giving you a pumpkin recipe in March. Well, as I mentioned in my last post, we've been working on clearing out our pantry and freezer, trying to feed ourselves using what we already have on hand. That includes multiple pumpkins that have been sitting down in the basement since the fall. I've been impressed at just how well these babies store - the last two have been hanging out down there for four months! I've primarily been using them for pumpkin puree, which I freeze and use in baked goods, but I set aside some whole chunks for this recipe.

This is a good one - warm, hearty and healthy. It's fairly similar to the New World Chili I posted back in October, but without the meat. The pumpkin is less sweet than most winter squash, so the soup gets a bit more depth.

Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup
Slightly adapted from The Rolling Prairie Cookbook.

3 tbsp olive oil
3 c pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4" chunks
1 onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1 quart whole tomatoes, roughly chopped (I just slide a knife around in the jar to chop them a little, then break them up with a spoon once they're in the soup)
4 c vegetable broth
4 c cooked black beans
2 c frozen corn kernels
Greek yogurt and cilantro for garnish

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the pumpkin and saute 8-10 minutes, until browned.

Meanwhile, in a large soup pot, heat the remaining 1 tbsp oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute 4-5 minutes, until tender. Add the garlic and jalapeno and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add the cumin, cinnamon, cloves, chili powder and salt and stir to combine. Add the pumpkin to the onion mixture, then pour in the whole jar of tomatoes and the broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Add the beans and corn and simmer for another 20 minutes. Serve topped with Greek yogurt and cilantro.