Saturday, January 29, 2011

Roasted Winter Vegetables and Cheddar Millet Polenta

The unappetizing sound of words such as porridge, gruel, and mush don't generally evoke the same feelings as the words oatmeal, polenta, and risotto.
The textures might not all turn out exactly the same (depending on the grain), however, they're really the same concept, right?

Think about it...
Grain or seed drowned and plumped with broth, flavored with herbs or spices, vegetables, cheese...

There are many people who have to be very careful of what they eat.
It seems like all of a sudden peanuts are a huge problem- at some schools no one is allowed to bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to lunch.
I, for instance, have to try to stay away from foods that have preservatives as well as those that are processed- and this is part of the reason I cook.

We have a family history of celiac disease and certain sensitivities. If one has an intolerance to gluten, and they are unaware of this or it's ignored, it can turn into celiac disease. The older one gets, the less their body is able to digest it... it's similar to the development of Type II diabetes in this sense.
A dietician-aunt of mine, who recently went to a continuing education class on the subject, said that it's common among people of Irish ancestry.

Oh, wheat... I'm sorry, it wouldn't have worked out anyway. Sigh...

Anyway, one of my sisters asked if I could try to post things that were gluten free.
Gluten is a protein present in grains that assists in giving baked goods a chewy texture and elasticity as well as helping them rise. It's what makes pizza crusts, bagels, pasta, cakes, and cookies what they are.
It's added to other items- like sauces- to give them a better texture.
It's comfort food! It's what we like and are familiar with, and it can be difficult to give them up!

Gluten is in some, but not all, grains.
Because it's so prevalent, some people have to stay away from MANY things including commonly available items containing wheat, rye, and barley.
Oats? Debatable depending on who you talk to.
Sadly, this would usually make the potential selection fairly small and lacking in flavor and pleasant texture.

We've recently decided to start exploring grains over here...
There are SO MANY grains we're not familiar with. They're not mainstream, but they can be so good.
The ALLOWED grains include quinoa, corn, buckwheat, rice, millet, potato starches, and tapioca starches.
This happened to be a really good recipe. No joke.
Ah, roasted vegetables are always excellent. The texture, the color, the flavor...

Even if you're not a vegetarian or have to be gluten-free, these things can still be good for you.
I recently read about how many celebrities are advocating "Meat-Free Monday," an idea which I found very interesting. It's a concept I KNOW Catholics would be familiar with, only at the other side of the week.
The reason behind these "Mondays" is supposed to be for ethical, environmental, and political purposes, but for others, it's not new- advocates aren't necessary-it's for religious reasons and it's an act of sacrifice.
Does the horribly dire concept of eating vegetarian cause you to be stricken with convulsions?
Don't be dramatic. It's really not that bad.
P.S. You are permitted to eat alligator on Fridays.

Roasted Winter Vegetables and Cheddar Millet Polenta
Adapted from Fine Cooking, February/March 2011
serves 8-10 as a main dish

1 1/2 lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-1 1/2 inch cubes
1 lb. brussels sprouts, washed, ends trimmed and halved if large
1 lb. mushrooms, washed, ends trimmed, and halved
1 lg. yellow onion, cut into approximately 1 1/2 inch chunks
3 t kosher salt, separated
6 T extra virgin olive oil, separated
1 t freshly ground black pepper, separated
1 1/2 t dried thyme
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 T sherry vinegar

1 1/2 c millet
8 c. vegetable (or chicken) broth
3 T unsalted butter
6 oz. white cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
On a large sheet pan toss the cubed squash, 2 T olive oil, 1 1/2 t salt, and 1/2 t pepper. Spread evenly on a large rimmed sheet pan and roast about 10 minutes.
While squash roasts, toss the Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and onion in a large bowl with minced garlic, 2 T olive oil, thyme, 1 1/2 t salt, and 1/2 t pepper. Combine the partially cooked squash with the other vegetables, and spread all the vegetables on the sheet pan. Roast for 20 minutes, stir, and continue roasting about 10-15 minutes longer, stirring occasionally so that all the vegetables cook evenly and caramelize a bit. Remove the vegetables to a large serving bowl. Whisk together the sherry vinegar and the last 2 T olive oil in a small bowl. Toss the cooked vegetables with the vinaigrette.

While the vegetables roast start the millet polenta.
Rinse and drain the millet. Add the millet to a large saucepan and stir over medium heat to toast the grains (7-8 minutes). Add 7 1/2 c vegetable broth to the toasted millet and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat so the broth simmers and cover. Stir the millet after 20 minutes and allow it to continue simmering gently, stirring every few minutes to prevent it from sticking to the pan. When it becomes a thick, creamy porridge, it's finished. This will take about 30 minutes and the grains should have a chewy texture. If it seems to thick, add a little of the reserved broth. Stir in the cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve the polenta in wide bowls with the roasted vegetables spooned on top.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lavender-Lemon Shortbread

I think lavender it's a great plant, with a beautiful color and a wonderfully aromatic scent. A creamy white soap that's scented with lavender oil or lavender water for ironing or spraying sheets are special to have on hand.

But for some reason, I can't seem to get it to grow. I kill it, or it dies no matter what I do whenever I try... but I know I'm not the only one with this problem. It's genetic.
If the lavender could speak, maybe it would say we were merciless- we try everything we can, torturing the poor plants, but to no avail.
"Please, please, leave me alone! Let me go!"

So, I'd never actually used lavender as an herb in cooking.
It's sometimes found in an herbes de provence blend (depending on the recipe, I suppose), and I know it makes a very comforting floral addition to some tea blends- it's the kind of tea that's nice to take with quiet and a book.

Once upon a time a few months ago, I was shopping at Dean and De Luca when I happened to be in Kansas City. I like that place, and if nothing else it's nice for ideas or a pleasant walk-through.
Long story short, I bought a small can of lavender buds. Partially for the enjoyment of it, but partially as a challenge. Never having cooked with lavender a solo, as an actual single-note ingredient, I decided to try something.

Lavender is sometimes found in cookies, and it lends a delicate floral flavor, and this is what I decided to go for.

So I didn't stray too far off the beaten path on this one, I admit. Not too much going on imagination-wise... I was working from something I'd tasted before. It's not quite a duplication or full-on imitation- but I suppose it could be taken as a compliment, right?
Truthfully, I didn't want to get too crazy on my initial attempt, never having worked with this ingredient before.
You certainly don't have to go out and buy lavender buds if you have the uncanny ability to actually GROW lavender. Make sure it's pesticide-free though...

The cookies can be cut with cookie cutters, or the dough can be rolled out and cut with a knife or pizza cutter into squares, rectangles, or diamond shapes. My personal choice was a 2 inch diameter round cutter, and of course, the final number of cookies will depend on how you cut. One thing to remember with any cookie dough is that the more you handle the dough, the stiffer it becomes. Crumbly, delicate cookies come from dough that is kneaded, mashed, and rolled as little as possible.

The final option deals with finishing the cookies. Three varieties were tried: plain, sugar coated, and glazed. Going by taste, glazed won, followed by plain and sugar coated. The glazed option also looks neat and refined in my opinion. If you would like to sugar-coat the cookies, just dip the top or roll the whole cookie in sugar while it's still warm.

Lavender-Lemon Shortbread

2 sticks (1/2 lb.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 c sugar
1/8 t salt
1 T lavender buds, slightly crushed
zest of 1 lemon
2 1/4 c flour

Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until fluffy. Add the salt, lavender, and lemon zest and mix until incorporated. With the mixer on low speed, carefully add the flour and mix until just combined. Pour the dough out onto a clean surface, quickly and carefully kneading and pressing into a disc shape. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 30 minutes.
Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Cut the dough as desired. Place the cookies onto a lightly colored, ungreased cookie sheet, about 1 inch apart. Refrigerate the sheet for 30 minutes (this will give the cookies sharper edges).
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Bake cookies 20-30 minutes, until pale golden around the edges. Cool slightly and remove from the pan onto a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

will glaze 10-15 2 inch cookies, increase amounts as necessary!

3 T powdered sugar
2 t milk or half and half

Mix sugar and milk together in a small bowl. Add more milk or sugar as necessary for desired consistency. A little lemon zest could also be added.
Dip tops of cookies in glaze and serve, or set cookies on a rack until the glaze hardens. Store in an airtight container.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pâté de Campagne

If you've ever had fresh homemade pâté or mousse, you know it can be really good.
While pâtés can be bought, they're not always great food. Interestingly, one would think that if something is for sale in a store it would have to be "good." Sadly, I'm sure we all know this isn't true.

Perhaps it's a matter of taste. Perhaps it's a completely personal opinion. But perhaps some people really aren't aware of what constitutes good.

In this country, we certainly have a problem with speed and lack of patience. We want something, and we want it now. We're generally not willing to sit down (or maybe we're not allowed the time) for a leisurely lunch. Fast food, processed food, chemicals, packaged food, and junk is the norm.

Oatmeal is a fine example. Instead of waiting something like 5-10 minutes for normal oats, we have the easy convenience of quick oats that cook in a minute. You add hot liquid and *BAM*-
they're done. If you compare the quick oats to normal oats, the quick ones are a sad comparison. They look like dust and crumbled little scraps of paper. Delish.

In reality, good things take time.
I'm not going to tell you pâté is a healthy food. In moderation, of course, it's just fine. And if you've made it yourself, you know exactly what's in it.

I know a couple people who love pâté and would probably love to make their own pâté, so this is for them.

It's great to have a small slice with crusty French bread, cornichons, and Dijon Mustard along with a green salad for lunch or a light dinner.
It also goes for a first course or as part of an appetizer offering.

The idea of making pâté may seem daunting, but it's really not that bad. It takes a little time, but it's all done a day or so ahead of time.
Plus, all the ingredients are fairly accessible.

It's pâté, people, pâté! And YOU made it! How special.
A friend made us a recipe and we LOVED it. So, this is my riff on it.
The original was developed by Molly Wizenberg, and the original recipe was published in Bon Appetit several years ago.

It's a little rustic, salty, meaty, deep and rich, substantial, with a few different textures involved. I know, it looks like it involves a lot of fat. True.
But, according to Wizenberg the fat actually lightens the meat. I believe it.
I'll also say that I'd rather have a lighter pâté than a brick-like piece of meat.
But that's just me- I won't speak for anyone else.

Pâté de Campagne
serves 20

3/4 c Cognac or brandy
3 T unsalted butter
1 c minced shallots
2 1/2 lb. ground pork
12 oz bacon (8-10 slices) finely chopped, plus 14 bacon slices (for lining pan)
4 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
2 t salt
3 t dried thyme
1 1/4 t allspice
1 t freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 c whipping cream
1/2 c pistachios
1 6 oz piece of ham, cut into 1/4 inch thick strips

For serving: coarse sea salt, cornichons, Dijon mustard, baguette

Set rack to lowest position in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.
Boil Cognac or brandy until reduced to about 1/2 c, about 1 1/2 minutes. Cool.
Melt butter in a heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and saute until translucent, 5-8 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the pork and chopped bacon and stir with fingers until well blended. Add the sauteed shallots, garlic, allspice, salt, thyme, and pepper and stir until incorporated. Add the eggs, cream and reduced Cognac or brandy. Stir until well combined.
Using a mallet, the bottom of a small bowl, or a small heavy glass, pound the bacon slices slightly. This will widen them and make them more pliable so that it is easier to line the pan.
With the pounded bacon, line a 9x5x13 inch metal loaf pan- 8 slices crossways along the width of the pan, and 3 slices along each of the short sides of the pan. Make sure to overlap the bacon slices on all sides.
Mix about half of the pork mixture with the pistachios. Lightly and evenly press into the bottom of the prepared pan. Arrange the ham strips over the pistachio pork in a single layer. Top with the remaining meat mixture.
Fold the bacon slices over, covering the pâté (it will probably be above the edge of the pan). Cover the pan tightly with foil. Place the loaf pan in a large roasting pan and transfer the whole thing to the oven. Pour boiling water into the roasting pan halfway up the sides of the loaf pan.
Bake until a thermometer inserted through the foil in the center registers 155 degrees F, about 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Remove the loaf pan from the the roasting pan and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Place a heavy skillet or a few heavy cans atop the pate to weigh it down. Chill overnight.
Can be made 4 days ahead.
To serve: Place the loaf pan with the pate in a larger pan of hot water for about 3 minutes. Invert pâté onto platter. Discard fat from platter and wipe clean. Cut pâté into slices about 1/2 inch thick.
Pâté should be served at room temperature or slightly cool.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Snow Ice Cream

In many parts of the country at the moment, there's no dearth of snow.

While it may be fun for children, it's not often fun for adults.
It's cold. It's inconvenient. It's messy. It's tracked into houses.
But, really, it's not that bad.

As long as you don't have to go anywhere, it's pretty, pleasant and cozy.
At our house (a forever long time ago) we used to make snow ice cream.
Not everyone will be familiar with it, so I thought I would share it with you. I know, it's not going to be appropriate for all of you, but it's a nice project for kids.

It's fairly simple to make, and it's likely that if you bake, you'll already have everything you need (provided there's fresh, clean snow in the yard).

Of course, it's best to use freshly fallen snow... snow that's away from the driveway, road, or anywhere that dogs or woodland friends might have trod for one reason or another.
I admit, I probably should have posted this earlier.

I was luckily (after a long search... no, more like a long treasure hunt) able to find what I needed in the pantry. However, there was an avalanche or two of precipitously placed canned goods, as well as the mistaken identity of one can for another (mushrooms and tropical fruit salad were trying to pose as condensed milk). I also found jars of curry and Cuban simmering sauce which may be good for another day. The things you find in the pantry!

Align Center

Back to ice cream...
It's been a while since I owned a snow suit or moon boots, and since the snow is about 8 inches high and I'm not a fan of snow in my shoes or anywhere near my ankles, I threw on thick wool socks and my wellies before I trod out into the bleak yet bright winter to collect the frozen whiteness I needed.

Depending on who happens to be the snow-gatherer at your house, supervision might be recommended.
To me, it tastes like custard (probably the condensed milk)- like a frozen crème brûlée with little ice crystals!

Snow Ice Cream
serves at least 5

1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
3/4 c evaporated milk
1 t vanilla extract
Fresh snow!

In a large bowl combine the condensed milk, evaporated milk, and vanilla, and stir until well combined. Gradually beat in enough snow until the ice cream is of a desired consistency.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Baking is fun when you're snowed in- and you feel like you've accomplished something!

These are traditional Jewish cookies.
Lovely little filled crescents.

I can't tell you what the name means from personal knowledge.
Although I had a co-worker who believed that I was Jewish and taught Hebrew (wow, my talents are seemingly endless...), I am neither Jewish nor a Hebrew teacher. Why? I don't know.

I went to a Bat Mitzvah in 1993... and I think it was amazing that my classmate was able to read and understand Hebrew since the letters looked so different that what I'm used to.
Well, from the point of view I've written here, the same thing goes for Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Hindi...

Sorry to disappoint, but I think the extent if my Hebrew might be less than five words.
And as for Yiddish, I think my vocabulary may only extend to those words which have made it into popular American English.
From what I could find, the word "rugelach" refers to the shape, as the cookies are "twists."
Etymology can be very interesting.

They take a little time to make, and the full recipe makes quite a few, but they're worth it.
Rugleach are soooo good when they're fresh.

The pliable and incredibly forgiving dough is rolled around a filling.

They turn out to be fairly delicate and flaky, with a sweet tanginess from the apricot, nutty crunch from the walnuts, chewiness from raisins, and a final sparkly crispness from cinnamon sugar.

You get 48 cookies total, and they can be made in assembly-line fashion. Not that bad, but it takes a little time and attention.

You may not immediately want 48 cookies unless you're baking for a crowd, so the good news is they freeze beautifully. Just make the cookies without the topping, freeze on a pan, and when completely frozen transfer the cookies to a freezer-safe bag. When you're ready to use them, place the frozen cookies on a pan, let thaw at room temperature, and pick up the recipe where you left off!

Tip: a pizza cutter makes cutting the dough into wedges very easy.

Original recipe from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties!
makes 48 cookies

8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
2 sticks (1 lb.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 c granulated sugar plus 9 T, separated
1/4 t salt
1 t vanilla extract
2 c flour
1/4 c brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 t ground cinnamon
3/4 c raisins
1 c walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 c apricot preserves (pureed in a food processor- OR if you'd like, you can take out any large pieces of apricot as the present themselves)
1 egg beaten with 1 T milk for egg wash

Cream the cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add 1/4 c granulated sugar, the salt and vanilla, and mix until combined. With the mixer on low speed, carefully add the flour and mix until just combined. Remove the dough to a well-floured board, knead slightly, and roll into a ball. Cut the ball into quarters, wrap each in plastic and refrigerate about an hour.
While the dough is resting, make the filling. Combine 6 T granulated sugar, brown sugar, walnuts, raisins, and 1/2 t cinnamon in a medium bowl. Set aside.
On a well-floured counter, roll one ball of dough into a 9 inch circle. Spread the dough with 2 T apricot jam, sprinkle with 1/2 c of the filling mixture, and press the filling lightly into the dough. Cut the circle into 12 equal wedges (first into quarters, and then each quarter into thirds). Roll each cookie like a croissant- starting at the wide end and ending with the point. Place cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, with the point tucked underneath the cookie. Continue with the other balls of dough. Chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a small bowl combine the remaining 3 T granulated sugar with 1 t cinnamon.
Brush each cookie with egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
Bake cookies 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool on the pan 5 minutes and remove cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.