Things I’m learning

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This week, I’m (starting) to work on learning my conversions.  Because I should have some idea what people are talking about when they speak of meters or liters, centimeters and grams.

I am also working on learning that just because it looks chilly or windy outside doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go outside.  We’ve had some truly lovely weather since we got to Scotland, but Fall is starting to peek out around the corners.  Here and there you can see the leaves starting to go yellow, and the wind is starting to pick up.  We’ve been told that the winters here are windy and damp, not generally bitterly cold or overly snowy.  But I’ve been spoiled by California and feel a deep reluctance to leave the house if it is anything less than glorious outside.  So this week I am working on breaking that bad habit.  Because it is still lovely in the evenings when the sun finally breaks free from the clouds and lights up the sea, even if I do have to wear a jacket.

In part because of the cooler weather, I finally got around to making a recipe that my friend had sent to me a few years ago.  It’s a kind of fry bread called Bannock that her family makes in Canada.  I never got around to making it in California, but it seems like a pretty perfect Scottish recipe.  It’s super simple, and very adaptable.  Great if you need something warm and comforting on the fly since the ingredients are very run of the mill.  I cut the recipe below in half and had plenty for two people.

Bannock

3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups milk (or water)
Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a large skillet on medium.  Form the dough into small pancake shapes.  My dough was very sticky, so I sprinkled a little more flour on top before shaping.  Fry in the hot oil for about 1 minute per side, or until the bread is a nice golden brown.
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For a savory bread you could add a clove of garlic, some small pieces of softened onion, or cheese.  For a sweet treat I like to sprinkle the hot bannock with cinnamon sugar.
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Grilled Zucchini with Brown Butter and Sage

ImageMy sage bush has been flourishing lately, so I decided I had better use some.  This is my first attempt.  It was delicious!

2-3 medium zucchini
6-8 leaves of sage, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
salt 

Slice the zucchini lengthwise into thick slices.  I got about 5 or 6 per zucchini.  Sprinkle with salt.  

Meanwhile heat up a grill pan over medium heat on the stove.  Once it’s hot, add the olive oil and one tablespoon of butter.  Once the butter has melted add the sage and swirl the pan to evenly distribute the butter and sage.  Add the zucchini, and cook for a few minutes on each side, until there are nice grill marks but the zucchini isn’t too soft.  Remove the zucchini to a plate and add the last tablespoon of butter to the pan just long enough to melt it.  Drizzle the butter and any remaining sage over the grilled zucchini.

 

The Great Wedding Cake Adventure

Back in the dark days of unemployment I can across Smitten Kitchen’s series of blogs about her first adventure in wedding cake baking.  I was intrigued and excited, so when my best friend got engaged I asked if I could make the cake.  I didn’t really believe that she would let me, but she agreed.

Flash forward about a year later, and I was fully employed.  I still wanted to make the cake though, and tried out a few different cake and flavor combinations.  I thought we had decided on this one but then my friend called a week before we were going to fly back for the wedding and told me that her wedding had a much more Fall theme, and asked if I would mind making just plain yellow cake with vanilla frosting.  I did mind.   Not about the late change so much, but yellow cake with vanilla frosting just sounded so boring to me.  So I told her I would test it out and see what I came up with.

So I did some googling, and some consulting with some food blogs.  My friend was also having caramel apples and cinnamon roll cupcakes at the wedding.  I combined those flavors in my searching and came up with the idea to add a filling of apple cinnamon compote between the layers of the cake.  I was very pleased with myself for coming up with the idea to tie the cake to everything else, and still keep it simple but interesting.

I didn’t really alter any recipes, just pulled from different food blogs.  I borrowed Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for the yellow cake (here) and the recipe for swiss buttercream frosting she used for her wedding cake (found here).  The apple filling I found on this blog, and altered just slightly.  For the full wedding cake I multiplied it by 5.

Below is the recipe for the apple filling, as well as some pictures of the swiss buttercream preparation and cake assembly.  These are from the test cake, which was a two layer 8 inch round cake.  For the wedding cake I did two 12 inch layers on the bottom and two 8 inch layers on the top.  I ended up making 2 1/2 recipes of the cake batter, and using 12 egg whites in the frosting.  I had great intentions of taking lots of pictures of the actual process of making the wedding cake, but it turns out that it demands my full focus to make a wedding cake.  Who would have thought?!  I did have fun though, even though I was exhausted by the end.  I do think I could be persuaded to make a wedding cake again in the future.

Apple Cinnamon Filling

2 large granny smith apples
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
Peel the apples and grate with a box grater. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and cook until the apples are tender and there is little liquid left. Cool completely.

Turkey Stock

We took a break from vegetarianism for Thanksgiving, mainly because I hosted not one but two Thanksgiving dinners and we were the only vegetarians out of 20 or so people.  But I figured if I was going to buy turkeys, I might as well use as much of it as possible.  Many of you might still have well picked over turkey carcasses in your fridge, and this is a great way to use up every last bit and go ahead and make a little more space in your fridge.

Turkey Stock
1 turkey carcass, with most of the meat removed
1 large onion
2 large carrots
3 celery stalks
1 clove garlic, smashed
10 sprigs of thyme
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon peppercorns
1 bay leaf

Chop the vegetables in to large pieces.  You don’t need to worry about peeling them, just make sure they are nice and clean.  Place all the ingredients in a large pot and add enough water to cover everything by about an inch.  My large stock pot has a pasta insert, so I used the pasta insert, which made removing the turkey and veggies a cinch when the stock was finished.  Simmer the stock for three hours on low.  Strain the stock to remove the veggies, turkey, and spices – see how this can become much easier if you have a pasta insert?

After three hours I found my stock to still be a little weak – probably because I had to add more water to cover the veggies with the pasta insert – so I simmered mine for a while longer to reduce the stock and concentrate the flavor.  I think mine cooked for six hours total.  This seems like a long time, and a day killer, but it requires very little attention.  I think I went for a walk, took a bike ride, and ran to the store throughout the say and just left the stock on low.

When my stock was finished, I used some as the base for turkey noodle soup for dinner, stuck some in the fridge to use in risotto later this week, and measured out several bags to freeze.

 

Pot Pies

A few weeks ago I starting cooking for my grandparents a few times a week.  They are older, and have been increasingly unhappy with the food options available to them now that they can’t cook for themselves.  Since I live close by, and enjoy cooking, our new arrangement has worked out well.
My grandparents aren’t vegetarian, so my new cooking assignment also lets me challenge myself to cook different meat dishes as well.  A few weeks ago I made them chicken pot pies.  I made a vegetarian version for myself, so I can confidently tell you that this recipe is delicious.  I’ll also tell you that I based it off a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa (original recipe here), which is generally proof of deliciousness in and of itself.
FILLING
4 chicken tenders
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt
pepper
4 cups vegetable stock
1 stick butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 carrots, medium-diced
1 large potato, diced
4 celery stalks, diced
1 tablespoon parsley

PASTRY
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Flaked sea salt and cracked black pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat the oil in a skillet. Salt and pepper the chicken. Cook the chicken in the skillet for 10-15 minutes, until cooked through, turning once. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then cut the chicken into bite size pieces. You could speed this up by using a rotisserie chicken from the store.  This recipe would also be a great way to use up any leftover chicken from a previous dinner.

In a small saucepan, heat the stock. In a large pot, melt the butter and saute the onions over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until translucent. Add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the hot stock to the sauce. Simmer over low heat for 1 more minute, stirring, until thick. Add 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and heavy cream. Add the vegetables, chicken (if using), and parsley. Mix well.

For the pastry, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the shortening and butter and mix quickly with your fingers until each piece is coated with flour. Pulse 10 times, or until the fat is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water; process only enough to moisten the dough and have it just come together. Dump the dough out onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes – this really helps it roll out nicely.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Divide the filling equally among 4 ovenproof bowls. Divide the dough into quarters and roll each piece into an 8-inch circle. Brush the outside edges of each bowl with the egg wash, then place the dough on top. Trim the dough so it overlaps the edge of the bowl. Crimp the dough to fold over the side, pressing it to make it stick. Brush with egg wash and make 3 slits in the top. Sprinkle with salt and cracked pepper. I used a little bit of left over cream instead of egg wash, and left off the salt and pepper since I was making these for my grandparents.

Place on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot.

The recipe says this is supposed to feed 4 people, but I somehow ended up with much more than that.  Each of the ramekins I made these in was a large individual serving, and then I had enough filling and crust to fill an additional 8 x 8 inch pan, which I froze.

Roasted Beet Bread

I know this post is coming a little bit late to the game, but there were many things to celebrate in October, like Vegetarian Awareness Month, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Halloween.  Surprisingly, I think I managed to honor all three with this recipe for roasted beet bread from CookingBread.com.  This all came about when we got some beets in our CSA box.  And for me, beets are one of those vegetables suffering from the “Mom made me take three bites when I was little, and now I’m a grown up and I don’t have to eat my beets if I don’t want to, so there!” syndrome.  But I couldn’t let them go to waste, so I had to find something to do with them.  And then I found this recipe which makes pink bread!  Pink bread! Pink!

This bread is made in a few steps, so it takes some planning ahead, but the active prep time isn’t that bad, especially if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook.

Night Before:

  • 1/4 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
Combine all ingredients together in a large bowl (or the bowl of your mixer) and mix with a wooden spoon. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit on the counter for 12 to 16 hours.
After 12-16 hours

Day of:

  • 2 3/4 cups bread flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat Flour
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 cup roasted beet puree (3-4 beets, roasted at 375 for about an hour, then pureed)
  •  juice from the roasted beets if any
  • 3/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme

Method

Add the pureed beets, whole wheat flour and instant yeast.

Mix with a wooden spoon till smooth. Allow to sit for 10 minutes uncovered.

Add in the thyme and salt; mix till smooth.

Attach the bowl to an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and turn it on at low speed.  Start to gradually add in the bread flour (I didn’t have bread flour, so I used all purpose.  It seemed to work out fine).  Knead for 10 minutes.

After the dough is finished kneading, add a little olive oil to a separate bowl.  Place dough into the bowl and turn over a few times to very lightly coat all sides of the dough.

Cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise for 1 1/2 hours or until it doubles in size.

After the dough has risen, pour out onto a flat surface cut it in half.  Shape it into whatever shape you like.

Place the shaped dough onto a piece of parchment paper sprinkled with cornmeal. Spray the tops with a little cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap for 1 hour or until it doubles in size again. Move to a baking pan and sprinkle the top of each loaf with a little flour and slash an x on top of each. Place into a preheated 400 degree oven with a cast iron pan to create steam (create steam by placing a cast iron pan on the bottom of the oven when you turn on the oven. When you put the loaves into the oven, pour a cup of boiling water into the preheated cast iron pan and close the door). Bake for 30 -35 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when you knock on the bottom. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

I forgot to take a picture of the finished loaves, but I did make this tasty sandwich out of the bread.  You end up with a loaf with a crusty outside, and a soft, chewy, holey inside.  And you get the nutrition benefits of a bunch of beets in a delicious loaf of bread.

Brown Baggin’ It – Week Two

Week two has come and gone, and we are still going strong here with the brown bag challenge.  We ate a lot of leftovers again this week but I did make a few interesting things.  Those interesting things were white bean and rosemary soup,  and artichoke pesto.

On Saturday we had a few friends over for dinner, and some of them are vegan.  I had seen the recipe for white beach and rosemary soup in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and thought it would make a great late summer dinner, so I tweaked it just a little to make it vegan.  For dinner on Saturday I served the soup with a salad and bruschetta, but there was quite a bit left over for lunch throughout the week.

Once the soup ran out I whipped up the artichoke pesto to get us through the rest of the week.  We ate it mixed with whole wheat noodles, but it would also be good as a sandwich spread with tofu, roasted chicken breast, or simple tomato and mozzarella.

White Bean and Rosemary Soup (adapted from Barefoot Contessa)
1 pound dried white beans (cannelloni if you can find them)
3 yellow onions, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large branch fresh rosemary (6 to 7 inches)
2 quarts vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

In a medium bowl, cover the beans with water by at least 1-inch and soak them for at least 6 hours. Drain.

In a large pot over low to medium heat, saute the onions with the olive oil until the onions are translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook over low heat for 3 more minutes. Add the drained white beans, rosemary, vegetable stock, and bay leaf. Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the beans are very soft. Remove the rosemary branch (most of the leaves will probably have fallen off by now) and the bay leaf.  Puree all or some of the soup, depending on what sort of texture you prefer, in a food processor or blender.  Return the soup to the pot to reheat and add salt and pepper, to taste. (I failed at taking pictures of the process on this one, but there’s a small picture of the final product up top).

Artichoke Pesto (Adapted from Circle B Kitchen)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1 lemon)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 can of artichoke hearts, drained

Combine 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and all other ingredients in a pan and toss the artichokes to coat thoroughly.  Place the pan in a 325 degree oven and cook for 35 minutes.

 

 

 

 

Allow the artichokes to cool completely, and remove the bay leaf.  Scrape everything from the pan into a blender and blend, adding the final 2 tablespoons of olive oil while the motor is running.  You will end up with a thick, mayo consistency, pesto.

For our pasta I added a generous scoop of the pesto and about half a cup of reserved pasta water to cooked whole wheat noodles.  I also threw in some chopped tomatoes, pan seared tofu, and mixed in some goat cheese.

Brown Bag ChallengeWe’re teaming up with fellow food bloggers to host a Brown-Bag Challenge, a month-long initiative to eat consciously and save money by packing a lunch each weekday instead of eating out. Join us here and share what you’re eating on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #brownbag.