Saturday, July 25, 2015

Think Cool – with a Great Giveaway from Hamilton Beach
What’s cooking? Yummy Plummy Yogurt Smoothie and Cool Green Soup



The Kitchen Goddess is so generous. Actually, it’s my friends at Hamilton Beach who are generous, but I’m passing along their largess in another great giveaway. 

If you don’t have a blender, or yours is old and rusty, or maybe you’d just like to have an extra one at the bar (now there’s an idea, and this machine is perfect for that purpose, as the little removable cap is marked with a 1-ounce measure),  now’s your chance to get one for FREE. Just leave a signed comment on this page or on the Spoon & Ink Facebook page, and I’ll enter your name in the drawing.

I’ll draw the winner’s name on Monday, August 3, so get your comments in over the next week.

* * *


There comes a time at the height of summer when the idea of turning on the stove or heating up the oven is nothing short of anathema. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on prepared foods. You just have to expand your definition of the word “cook.”

When the folks at Hamilton Beach sent this Wave~Action Blender my way, it seemed the perfect excuse to whip up some cool dishes that would still satisfy the Kitchen Goddess’s need for complexity.  KG note: Farther down in this post is a truly amazing cold soup, so if you get bored with the smoothie, just speed-read until you get to the soup.

Challenge #1: Smoothie
It was early in the day when I set to work – “early” in the world of the semi-retired being, ...oh,... 10am? But whatever the time, we all need breakfast. And in my kitchen, I noticed a phenomenon that plagues me all summer: what to do with soft fruit? When I buy it – at the farmers’ market, natch – it’s nothing short of gorgeous. So I set it out on the counter to ripen a bit, and because I so enjoy the look of it sitting there, I lose track of the days. Before I know it, the fruitflies are gathering and my lovely plums or peaches are now too soft to eat plain.

If that happens to you, you can either make preserves or ...(drum-roll, please)... make a smoothie. The great, fruity taste will still be there – even a bit stronger in ripe fruit – and, well, you’re blending it anyhow, right?

So my first success of the day was one I’m calling Yummy Plummy Yogurt Smoothie. The Hamilton Beach Wave~Action Blender made short work of the fruit – including skins (where most of the vitamins are) – as well as the banana and the ice. Crushed that sucker into a super-smoothie in no time flat. Not a single lump of ice, which you can’t say for a lot of blenders. So for Challenge #1, the blender gets an A+.

Kitchen Goddess note: You’ll see that I use Minted Simple Syrup. Ladies and gents, unless you really dislike mint, this stuff is so worth making. It takes almost no time, you can use in a zillion ways, and it lasts forever. The stuff I’m using now is left over from last summer. (I also have a jar of it in my Texas fridge.) But I don’t want you to fret over clicking around to get the recipe, so here it is.

Minted Simple Syrup

(from Gourmet, August 1998):

1½ cups packed fresh mint leaves
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

In a small saucepan, combine the water, the sugar, and the mint. Bring to a boil, stirring only until the sugar dissolves. Simmer 2 minutes and remove from heat. Strain out the mint and reserve the syrup. You should get about 1½ cups of syrup.

And now you can make...

Yummy Plummy Yogurt Smoothie




Serves 2.

5-6 small plums (golf ball size) or 2-3 large plums
3-4 ounces nonfat Greek yogurt
½ ripe banana
2 tablespoons Minted Simple Syrup
1 cup ice

Pile all ingredients into the blender, loading the ice in last, and let ‘er rip. Blend on high about 1 minute, or on the Smoothie setting for the Wave~Action Blender.
















Challenge #2 – Cold Soup
Then it was time for lunch. At the farmers’ market on Sunday, I had purchased a bunch of sorrel. Don’t ask why – it sounded like something I should try, and 2015 is my year of living with adventure.

Sorrel is a leafy, perennial herb that more closely resembles leaf spinach than anything herby. The taste is sharp and lemony, so it’s usually combined with other types of greens in cultures the world over. It’s stewed with spinach in Romania, mixed with mashed potatoes in Croatia and Bulgaria, used with spinach, leeks, and chard for spanakopita in Greece, and added to lettuce for salads in Viet Nam.

I thought my sorrel would be good in a soup with cucumbers, and found an interesting sounding cold soup with just that base of ingredients at an Austin friend’s fun blog, What Jew Wanna Eat. I’ve tweaked hers a bit, and because it’s such a lovely color – the perfect color for chilling out – I’ve called it Cool Green Soup. It’s a great blend of flavors – sweetness from the onion and the grapes, tartness from the lemon and sorrel, grassiness from the avocado and the cukes. And while the soup is good on its own, don’t skip the garnishes – they’re easy and really add to the total taste.


Cool Green Soup

Adapted from Amy Kritzer's blog, What Jew Wanna Eat

Makes 6 cups.

The Soup:
12 ounces seedless cucumbers, a.k.a. English cucumbers (about 5 small or 1 large), cut in 1-inch dice
2 cups sorrel, roughly chopped, with thickest stems removed
2 ripe avocados, cut in 1-inch dice
1 small Cipollini onion (about 4 ounces) (can substitute white boiling onion or pearl onions), cut in 1-inch dice
1 cup seedless green grapes, halved
2 cloves garlic (roasted is best, raw is ok), chopped
2 cups vegetable broth
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried dill (or 3 teaspoons fresh)

Mint oil
The Garnishes:
Mint oil (½ cup mint plus ½ cup olive oil, processed fine and refrigerated overnight)
Plus 
Seedless green grapes, cut in ¼-inch dice
or
Ripe nectarine (with skin), cut in ¼-inch dice









Combine all ingredients (except the garnishes) in a 6-8 cup container and refrigerate overnight, to let them get to know each other well. (Trust me, it makes a difference.) Make the mint oil and refrigerate overnight.

Purée the soup well for 2-3 minutes. Adjust seasoning (salt and freshly ground pepper) to taste. Serve with a few drops of mint oil and a spoonful of the grapes and/or the nectarine.


For Challenge #2, my Wave~Action Blender performed like a champ. Even with the large quantity (which I eventually divided into two batches when it threatened to overflow), the soup was smooth and the sorrel was finely shredded. I even made the mint oil in the blender, and it was as well puréed as I might have gotten with my food processor.


Challenges #3 and #4  
I conducted two other tests: making a salsa and grinding ice. I’m pretty sure making salsa in a blender is just a bad idea. It tasted good, and the blender’s pulsing function worked well, but the avocado/tomato combination I tried became pretty close to a purée by the time I got the tomatoes sufficiently chopped. And the final test – grinding/crushing ice – didn’t go well with just ice. The machine needs liquid to keep things moving. When I added a cup of liquid to a cup of ice, I got very nice, finely and evenly crushed ice. So I think it’ll do a great job on a frozen margarita or a dacquiri.

Easy cleanup
The Bottom Line
All in all, the Wave~Action Blender is a nice machine. It’s got a number of well-thought out features, like the pour spout on the lid; and the removable cap that doubles as a jigger is just brilliant. The blade housing is part of the pitcher construction, so it’s hard to have one of those lose-a-finger accidents, and cleanup becomes really easy. Most blenders are so heavy, you feel like you have to call a friend just to get them up onto the countertop. But the Hamilton-Beach motor housing is lightweight and easy to move while still feeling stable; there’s no sense that it’ll dance around the countertop. And the price is amazingly reasonable.







So if you don’t win the drawing, you can find this little gem at Walmart in RED (get back, Loretta) for $21.77, or save a couple more bucks and get it in steel grey for only $19.78. Whew. Or you can go to amazon.com, where it’s $38.19 with free shipping. Hard to say which is the better deal, as shipping costs are all over the lot. The Walmart site says you can get free shipping for orders over $35, or FREE pickup. So, Walmart, there’s no shipping charge if you pick it up? Hahahahah. Thanks for reminding me.


Monday, July 13, 2015

And Now for Something Totally Different
What’s cooking? Garlic Scapes Pesto and Garlic Scapes Vinegar



So maybe not totally different, but pretty different. These sinuously graceful creatures, twisting and curving like dancers in a foodie production of Swan Lake, are garlic scapes.

Allium sativum, known as garlic,
 from William Woodville, 
Medical Botany, 1793.
And what, you inquire, are garlic scapes? I’m so glad you asked. Garlic scapes are the top part of the garlic plant, which farmers cut off before the flower blooms so that the plant can focus all its energy into bulb growth. Because they’re part of the garlic plant, they still deliver that pungent garlic taste, but in a milder format. You can cook with them the same way you would with garlic cloves. And you can do some fun things that aren’t possible with cloves.

Now that I’ve piqued your interest (which I surely have), here are a few other tidbits about garlic:

1. Garlic has been used by humans for more than 7,000 years, but elephant garlic – one of the best known “garlics” sold in stores today – is actually not garlic at all but a wild leek. Which is why it’s not as strong as regular garlic.

2. Although Gilroy, California, calls itself the “Garlic Capital of the World,” more than 80% of the world’s garlic actually comes from China.

3. The sulfur compounds in the garlic and onion family get harsher when exposed to air, so if you’re using raw garlic or onion in a dish, you should either chop them immediately before serving, or – here’s the fun part – rinse them in cold water, which gets rid of the harsh compounds, so you’ll only taste the fresh ones.

The Kitchen Goddess has tasked herself this year to be braver with food. So when she saw garlic scapes in a bin at the farmers’ market, she could hear that siren call of possibility. They looked so exotic – how hard could it be to find something delicious to do with them?



Not hard at all was the answer. First, I made a marvelous pesto that I put on pasta one night. The next night, I tossed some of that pesto with new potatoes before roasting them. Finally, I found some white wine vinegar and infused some scapes in the vinegar to give as gifts to my friends. What fun! And the scapes keep well in the fridge (in ziplock bags), so I didn’t have to think of all this stuff in one day.

Scapes won’t be around all summer, so run out now and try to find some. And if you come up with another something to cook with them, let me know. The Kitchen Goddess got a little overexcited and bought... well, a lot. The way you can tell you’re buying more than a normal person would need is when the woman selling it says, “Wow – you’re really serious about making something with these, aren’t you?” But I didn’t have the nerve to back down, so I’ll just be making much more pesto and freezing it. I can already taste how wonderful it’ll be if I toss some shrimp with it and grill them. Oh, my...


Garlic Scapes Pesto

Adapted from Ian Knauer of Tullamore Farms, NJ, on epicurious.com.

Makes about 2 cups.

10-12 large garlic scapes
½ cup cashew nuts or pistachio nuts (best is unsalted; if you can’t find unsalted, be sure to taste before you add salt), lightly toasted
½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In the bowl of a food processor, process the scapes, the nuts, and the cheese until you have a fairly granular paste. Then, with the machine running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Store covered in the fridge (keeps 1-2 weeks) or in the freezer.



Pasta with Garlic Scapes Pesto


Serves 6-8.

1 pound pasta (spaghetti, fettuccini, linguine, farfalle, fusilli – lots of choices)
⅔ cup Garlic Scapes Pesto
¼ cup half-and-half or light cream
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

In a large pot of well-salted boiling water, cook the pasta according to package instructions until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.

Kitchen Goddess note on the best pasta: 1. Pasta water is one of the most underrated of magic kitchen potions. No matter what the sauce, it will almost always be improved by a few tablespoons of the water in which you just cooked the pasta. First, it contributes a bit of salt. But more importantly, it adds back some of the starch that leeched out of the pasta as it cooked. That starch will bind with the oil in your sauce, giving your sauce a more silky consistency, and helping the sauce stick to the pasta. 2. The best way to serve your pasta is to cook it al dente, then finish cooking it – only briefly! – in the pan with the sauce and some pasta water. 3. This recipe uses more pasta water than usual because the pesto is very thick.

Return the cooked pasta to the pot along with the pesto and the pasta water. Stir well to combine. Bring the sauce just to a boil then reduce heat. Add the cream, lemon juice, and cheese, and stir well but do not allow to boil.


Roasted New Potatoes in Pesto


Serves 4.

1 pound new potatoes (about the size of golf balls), halved
2 tablespoons Garlic Scapes Pesto (or, frankly, any pesto will do)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450º.

Toss potatoes with pesto and arrange on a small sheet pan. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Bake 30 minutes, stirring at the halfway point. Serve immediately.



Garlic Scapes Vinegar


The idea for this darling hostess gift came to me from a food writer named Catie Baumer Schwalb, whose really excellent food blog, Pitchfork Diaries, is well worth a visit.

The Kitchen Goddess found these bottles at ebottles.com, where a box of 10 in the 250-milliliter size (8 ounces) was only $33.50.

The easiest way to sterilize your bottles is in the dishwasher, but you’ll want to remove the little rubber gaskets and wash them separately, as they don’t do well in the high heat of the dry cycle.

Once the bottles have cooled, fill each with 8 ounces of your favorite white wine vinegar. Choose one with a mild flavor so that it doesn’t compete with the scape.

Wash the scapes and dry on paper towels. Trim the ends of the scapes and roll them on a cutting board to soften them up slightly. Insert 1-2 scapes in each bottle. They’re somewhat awkward and tend to put up a protest at being forced down the necks of the bottles, but if you tickle them with a chopstick or the end of a wooden spoon, they’ll cooperate. You also want to make sure the scape sits all the way into the vinegar, as my understanding is that exposed bits will rot.

Cap the bottles and refrigerate for a couple of weeks before using. The vinegar should be an excellent ingredient in a vinaigrette or a sauce for chicken or fish.



Friday, July 3, 2015

Working with Fire
What’s cooking? 7 Great Grilling Recipes


 

I started putting this post together about two hours ago. Since then, I’ve paid my MasterCard bill, had breakfast, put my laundry away, and written a couple of emails. I sat back down at my laptop to get started a second time, then remembered I’d left my glasses in the bedroom. On my way out of the room, I picked up a book I’d been meaning to put next to my bed, and as I put it on the table, I noticed that my glasses were actually in the pocket of the shirt I was wearing. That’s how it’s been going for me, today. How about you?

For this holiday weekend, when so many of you will be celebrating with some sort of activity that involves outdoor cooking, I’ve been thinking about a grilling recipe to post. Then I realized last night that I have several really outstanding ones already on this blog that go far back enough that you might not have seen them.

So check out these all-stars and fire up your grill. There’s something for everyone here – three feature beef, one stars pork, one is for chicken, and one is for shrimp. The last is a vegetable marvel that works as a side dish or a vegetarian main course. The Kitchen Goddess wishes you a fun- and fireworks-filled weekend.

My Grilled Korean-Style Steak uses strip steaks or rib-eyes, and for no reason I can think of has no photo. (And that’ll be my excuse to cook it again soon.) For now, you will have to trust me that it looks outstanding. Don’t forget to make the Cilantro Sauce, and be sure to buy enough for leftovers.

For a less expensive option, you can’t do better than skirt steak. Now, before we talk about skirt steak, for which I have two fabulous preparations, let’s talk about the difference between skirt steak and flank steak.

Kitchen Goddess note about skirt steak versus flank steak: Both are long, funny-looking cuts of beef, with a loose-knit flesh that loves to soak up a marinade. But don’t be fooled by the look. They’re tougher, yes, but both offer incredible flavor, and you can counter the toughness with a marinade and with the way you slice them. Slice against the grain, thereby cutting through the muscle fibers and making the meat easier to eat. And whatever can be said for flank steak is just more so for skirt steak: more marbled with fat, so it’s richer, beefier tasting, and more flavorful – for about the same price. So...

This preparation of skirt steak (Skirt Steak with Cilantro-Garlic Sauce) focuses on the Southwest flavors of cumin and cilantro. I find that guests like the spicy cilantro sauce so much that I usually double that recipe.

Skirt Steak with Cilantro-Garlic Sauce

This second skirt steak presentation, Skirt Steak with Spicy Pesto Marinade, works with mellower, more herbal flavors – basil and scallions and thyme – but it also has plenty of garlic and jalapeño, so there’s nothing sissy about it.

Skirt Steak with Spicy Pesto Marinade

Moving beyond beef, I’ve cooked this recipe for Honey-Gingered Pork Tenderloin in the oven and gotten raves, but I always love that nice bit of crust you can get from the grill. My hubby doesn’t know you can cook it in the oven, and I like it that way.

Honey-Gingered Pork Tenderloin

The easiest way I know to grill chicken is to do it beer-butt style: Beer-Butt Chicken. This cooking method also produces the moistest, most flavorful meat. The rub I used here is my own concoction and completely yummy.

Beer-Butt Chicken (You didn't really need a caption, did you?)

Don’t you just love grilled shrimp? This Mango Salad with Grilled Shrimp recipe makes a great first course for dinner; I’ve also served it as the entrée for lunch. Light and fresh and very tropical tasting with the mango salad. This photo is of the pre-grilled stage.

Grilled Shrimp

Last but definitely not least is this perfectly marvelous presentation of Grilled Cauliflower Steaks. I know, cauliflower isn’t on your list of What-I-Was-Really-Hoping-to-Eat-This-Summer, but that’s just because you haven’t had this dish yet. Roasting brings out the natural sugars in the veggie; the pesto adds a lovely herby flavor, and the cheese sauce,... do I really need to say anything about cheese sauce?

Grilled Cauliflower Steaks with Pesto and Cheese Sauce

Happy Fourth of July to you all!