April 10, 2013
To celebrate that spring is finally here, I fetched one of the last jars of Concord grape juice today. As I mixed it with seltzer water it occurred to me that there would not be any of this homemade soda if it weren’t for the steam juicer. Therefore I simply must rave about this wondrous invention.
A steam juicer is a large pot where the base is filled with water and the top colander holds the fruits or vegetables. As the water boils and softens the fruit, the juice drips down from the colander into the juice kettle, from where it is released through a drain tube. The drain tube has a clamp so for the first hour or so, depending how hard and juicy the fruit is, you let the juice accumulate in the kettle, then open the clamp and let the juice run into a bowl placed underneath. I’ve had the steam juicer for several years yet I still relish the moment when I open the clamp – it feels a bit like digging for water or oil when a jet of the precious good eventually comes bursting out of the ground.
The yield is much bigger than with a jelly bag, it takes a fraction of the time, and it is no hassle at all to clean, just make sure you wash the steam juicer right after using; only the colander needs a bit of soaking sometimes. Except for grape juice, which I can as is with about ¼ cup sugar per quart of juice, I use most of the juice for making jelly.
The drawback: steam juicers are expensive, especially the stainless steel models cost $100 and up. I do not recommend aluminum because it reacts with acid. A steam juicer is a small investment but for me it is an essential canning tool, just like a few good tools are essential in the garden. A rototiller for the garden? Never! A steam juicer for the kitchen? Absolutely. I cannot do without it.
February 11, 2013
Once in a while even resolved home cooks like me agree to take-out pizza. With it we usually order a serving of garlic knots sitting in a puddle of very garlicky garlic oil. Seeing the ample, almost untouched amount of pesto in the freezer a few weeks ago made me feel almost guilty about eating garlic knots from somewhere else so I thought of ways to combine the two: pesto knots.
When it comes to pesto, I am a minimalist. I only use homegrown basil and garlic, salt, a good extra-virgin olive oil, and roasted walnuts. No pine nuts because the real, good kind from Lebanon is very expensive, and I find the Chinese pine nuts inedible. And no Pecorino or other cheese because I prefer to add it to the dish right at the table.
Immediately after processing the pesto, I fill it in small disposable paper cups and place them in the freezer until they are solidly frozen. I then remove the cups and tightly pack those pesto lollipops (lollipops without sticks, that is) in a large zippered freezer bag.
The yeasted knots are fun to make, and both times I made them we did not have trouble finishing them within a day or two (they can also be reheated in the oven).
Now that I have averted the danger of having to spread pesto on our breakfast toast in June to use up last year’s supply, I am starting to wonder whether this year my basil plants might get hit by basil downy mildew, a new highly destructive and quickly spreading disease. In gardening, everything is possible. Meanwhile, I will eat another pesto knot and enjoy it.
1¼ cups warm water
2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3½ cups flour (whole wheat or half whole wheat and half bread flour)
½ cup pesto
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
1. Mix the water with the yeast and let stand for a few minutes until it starts to foam.
2. In a large bowl mix the olive oil, salt, flour, and the yeast mixture. Knead to a smooth dough using your hands or the dough hook of an electric mixer. The dough should be slightly tacky; add more water a teaspoon at a time as needed.
3. Cover and let rise for 2 hours.
4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. If you have a baking stone, place it on the medium rack of the oven.
5. Briefly knead dough for remove any air bubbles. Divide it into 24 equally sized pieces using a sharp knife or a dough cutter. Roll each piece into a 6-inch rope of even thickness and twist it into a knot. If the dough starts to feel a bit dry, moisten your hands before shaping each knot.
6. Place the knots directly on the hot baking stone, or on a baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. After placing them in the oven spray them immediately with cold water. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the knots are golden brown.
7. In the meantime mix the pesto with a few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Immediately when they come out of the oven, toss the knots with the pesto to coat them evenly.
8. Place the coated knots on a large plate or baking sheet in one single layer. If you pile them up hot as they are they will sweat and get soggy. Eat warm, or reheat in a preheated oven for 350 degrees for a few minutes.
Makes 24 pieces
December 22, 2012
Frozen yogurt is always a great dessert – it feels like a special treat yet with only four ingredients, it is easy to make. I keep the freezer bowl of the ice-cream maker in the freezer all the time so it is always ready to go.
Yesterday I wanted to make blueberry frozen yogurt from the blueberries I picked at a blueberry patch last summer. Only when I was about to strain the cooked fruit through a sieve did I realize those were not blueberries! Those were the precious Concord Grapes I had set aside for my Stuffed Flatbread.
I was too far along to change course, also short of time and lacking a better solution what to make with 1½ cups grape concentrate. So I went ahead with my standard frozen yogurt recipe. To give it a hint of Christmas flavor, I added ¼ teaspoon freshly ground cardamom. It turned out fine; in fact, it got a full approval rating at the dinner table from my family and a guest. Funny, I would have never thought of making Concord Grape Frozen Yogurt, and now I have a recipe that is worth keeping.
Against my usual habit, I had not labeled the bags with blueberries, thinking their content was far too obvious. Then I simply forgot that I had snuck in a bag of grapes in late summer. Lesson from this: always read the label – after you make sure there is one.
December 7, 2012
One of the things I strongly dislike in cooking is removing the skins from roasted peppers. I always end up with chunks of peppers to which the skin sticks stubbornly. I tried roasting them over an open flame on the gas stovetop once; it was messy and rather unsuccessful so I went back to broiling them in the oven. Also, I do not like the idea of letting the peppers sweat in a zip plastic bag, like some recipes tell you. I try to avoid generating non-biodegradable waste whenever I can.
As I was browsing through the freezer last night thinking what I could bring to Phoebe’s Pure Food vegan/raw food potluck tonight, I knew I had to make something with bell peppers: the freezer is filled with them. So I made a veganized version of a lentil salad recipe a relative gave me many years ago.
After letting the peppers thaw slightly and pressing them flat, I broiled them until their skins were really charred. I stood in front of the oven and fought against my instinct of rescuing the peppers, to which I had tended to all summer in the garden, from cremation. Then I stacked them in a plastic food storage container, which works great as a sweat box.
As for removing the skins, it was a cinch, they all came off beautifully. Now I can only hope the salad tastes as good as I feel about my newly overcome kitchen pet peeve.
Lentil Salad with Red Bell Peppers
1 cup brown or green lentils
1 teaspoon vegetable soup base
3 red bell peppers, halved, stems and seeds removed
3 tablespoons lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 garlic clove, passed through the garlic press
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
Freshly milled black pepper
1. Rinse lentils and put them in a small saucepan. Dilute vegetable soup base in 3 cups water, add it to the lentils. Bring to a boil, then, reduce the heat and cook, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes. Towards the end, check for water and add a bit more if necessary. Do not overcook the lentils; they should still have some bite. Drain the lentils and rinse under cold water, drain again.
2. Place the peppers on a cutting board and press them down with your hands to flatten, trying not to break their skins. Place them on a jellyroll pan under the broiler and broil until the skin is charred and forms blisters. Turn the pan around if necessary to ensure even broiling. Place the peppers in a food storage container with a lid and let them sweat for 10 to 15 minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the skins. Chop the peppers coarsely.
3. In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil with the lemon juice, garlic, spices, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Toss the lentils with the peppers, then, add the dressing and toss again. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate until serving.
Makes 6 servings