mulberryshoots

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

mega- vegetable broth! . . .

fullsizeoutput_3a6We have a relative who has been in the hospital for almost 3 months and just beginning to eat again. G. and I thought that some homemade vegetable broth might be palatable and at the same time help to boost her immune system. There’s no oil whatsoever in the broth – no cooking oil, no chicken broth, no beef broth. No animal oils. I used a large stockpot and put in these ingredients:

1 gallon of spring water

Cleaned and chopped:

6 large carrots

1 head of celery hearts

2 onions

cousa squash, patty pan squash and zucchini (small)

1 small white potato, 1 medium Japanese sweet potato

1 bag of baby kale

I put on the lid, brought it to a boil and then simmered it for a couple of hours WITHOUT the  lid. Cooking the broth without the lid on it is what a) reduces the stock so that is enriched and tastes really good; and b) makes the room you’re cooking in hot and humid even if you have the exhaust fan on. In my very large stockpot, I managed to reduce the liquid by about an inch from where it was before.

DSCN8177When cool, I removed the vegetables from the pot. Then, I poured the stock through a fine mesh sieve. I returned the vegetables bit by bit to squeeze out all the stock and discarded the remains.  I then poured the clear broth into 1 quart plastic containers, filling them a little over half way. This batch yielded about 8 cups of vegetable broth.

Vegetable broth has also been a large part of a macrobiotic diet and is sweet tasting from the vegetables alone:  a heartwarming soup to sip slowly either warm or at room temperature. It can also be used as a base for other homemade soups.

Now that I’ve made the vegetable broth at this large a scale, I’m excited about making beef bone broth and chicken stock but not until the Fall when there’s a chill in the air.

“shrimp tempura on a Thursday night!”

DSCN8155Yes, it’s hot at the end of July in New England. The humidity is terrible. Maybe we’ll get some relief over the weekend – that’s what the weather forecast is saying. Today, I had seven large shrimp that I took out of the freezer to prepare for dinner. I wasn’t sure what I would do with them, but as the dinner hour neared, I decided to make shrimp tempura. It wasn’t a big deal because I’ve made it many times and it’s one of our favorite dishes.

The reason I’m writing about it tonight is that I learned how to “stretch” the shrimp! Hah! At first, I thought the term “stretch” had to do with slicing the shrimps in half lengthwise, thus “doubling” how many pieces that are served. But nope, that wasn’t it. I watched a Youtube clip by a Japanese chef demonstrating how to “stretch” shrimp.

Well, much to my astonishment, he did just that. To summarize what the method is, after making small perpendicular slices in the underside of the shrimp, the chef then turned the shrimp on one side and made small diagonal cuts, then turned it over and did the same on the other side. When you lay the shrimp on its back and pat it gently, the shrimp will elongate because of all the small bias cuts made to the sides of the shrimp. For example, a shrimp which was about 3 inches was “stretched” to 4-5 inches long!

I had always wondered where restaurants would get shrimps that were that long. For the first time now, I understood the preparation techniques that results in thinner, longer shrimp. It also cooks more quickly and is more tender to the bite because the shrimp is less dense without a thick center.

Because I enjoy cooking so much, learning a new technique like this for a favorite dish is something worth celebrating. Here are some other things I do when I make shrimp tempura that might be different from other recipes:

  1. Tempura batter consists of a coating for the dry prepared shrimp that is put together right before frying. It includes a half cup of flour (loosely measured,)  a little cornstarch, an egg yolk and ice water. I use a flat whisk and mix the ingredients until it is light and airy but still lumpy. I look at it to make sure there’s enough batter for the number of shrimp I’m going to cook. Otherwise, I’ll add a little more flour and ice water and mix it in.
  2. Heat a small frying pan with vegetable oil.
  3. Pour some panko breadcrumbs into a separate dish.
  4. When the oil is hot (dip a chopstick into the batter and insert in the oil – it should start sizzling if the oil is hot enough); pick up one of the shrimp with both hands, dab it into the batter so it’s covered and then roll it in the panko crumbs. Lift it with both hands and gently lay it in the hot oil.
  5. Let the shrimp cook briefly until it is golden brown on one side and turn it over with chopsticks. I usually cook 2 at a time because that allows enough room in the pan and also helps me to pace the frying so it doesn’t get too hectic.
  6. Remove the cooked shrimp and place on paper towel to drain.
  7. Continue until you’ve cooked all the shrimp. You’ll notice that because the shrimp has been stretched, it is not only longer, but cooks faster and tastes more tender to the bite.

Well, I’m not sure that many people will be interested in making shrimp tempura on a hot muggy night (we do have the pleasure of a cooler so the temp inside wasn’t too bad) but I can heartily recommend this method of elongating the shrimp so that the final shrimp tempura is a dazzling success – both visually and taste-wise.

 

a banana cream pie . . .

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I’ve never made a banana cream pie before. But whenever I have bananas that need a new life, I usually make a banana nut bread from my trusty McCall’s cookbook that I bought fifty years ago. Last night, I was reading online for some alternative recipes like a zucchini-banana bread, which sounded good and then a recipe for banana cream pie popped up. Hah! I thought to myself, what a cool idea – literally, creamy and cool!

So, here’s the recipe I used, adding another layer of bananas on top of the custard after it cooled. The store-bought pie crust shrank so much when I pre-baked it that I decided to bake another one and piece them together to make a larger pie crust. After all, it doesn’t really matter if the pie crust is crumbly – it’s supposed to be, right? Since the egg yolks looked rather small, I added a fourth one to the custard.

I covered the pie with saran wrap and put it in the fridge. I’ll wait to whip up just enough fresh cream for the individual slices when  we’re ready to have them tonight. This way, the whipped cream topping doesn’t soften prematurely and will taste fresh each time we partake a slice of pie. Sound good? I had to taste the custard filling and while it was a little sweet, it tasted divine! Since the whipped cream will be natural without any sweetening, I think the combo will be just right.

Can’t wait to have it tonight for dessert! YUM!

a summer white peach pie . . .

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When it is pliable, I’ll roll it out a bit, brush with melted butter and wrap the peach mixture in it, mix a quarter cup of flour, 1/8 of turbinado sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon. Mixed it with the peaches, squeezed a little lemon juice and dot it with unsalted butter.  I put the peaches so that the corners of the puff pastry were on top and bottom. I gathered the seams together and cut steam holes in the pasty, crimping a pretty edge to the little pie. I brushed the top of the pastry with egg wash and sprinkled some more sugar on top.

After it’s baked in a 400 degree oven for 20-30 minutes, I’ll let it cool. Would be good with a scoop of vanilla ice cream alongside. Yum!

 

“the easiest pizza ever! . . . “

I’ve been adapting different ways to make pizza in our house. My intentions were to make it healthy, super easy and tasty to eat. I made two of these mushroom pizzas today for lunch while it rained outside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray with Pam. Place two flat flax tortillas on the sheet. Spread Ragu pizza sauce with a spoon, erring on the side of less rather than more. Sprinkle on shredded mozzarella cheese. Slice up fresh mushrooms and arrange on top. Then grate some fresh parmesan on top. Bake for about 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Remove the pizzas one at a time and slice them with a large knife. Wow, that was easy!

P.S.  You could put on pepperoni, thin sliced tomatoes and serve with fresh basil on top.

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fresh strawberries! . . .

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There are a few weeks in summer when local, freshly picked and RIPE strawberries are available. At farmstands and sometimes at Whole Foods, you can find these in quart boxes for about $6.99 each. That’s pricier than the big ones from California that have white centers when you cut into them. These are smaller, fragile, juicy and fragrant – and well worth the cost!

We are enjoying our second box of these this summer. G. takes a few to his 99-year old mother in the nursing home and she relishes them! It is important, I have found, to keep them out of the fridge and on the kitchen counter where we can sample a berry at will. I keep them in the morning sun where they ripen further.

For dessert, I hull the tops and cut them into pieces (do not rinse in water!) In a bowl, I squeeze a little fresh lemon juice on them (about half of a small lemon) and sprinkle a small spoonful of turbinado sugar. Mixed gently, these berries macerate in the fridge until dessert time

G. likes to eat his straight-up and I like to pour a little sweet cream into the berries. It thickens with the lemon juice and is a fresh fruit treat made in heaven! Well, almost!

Footnote: I’ve used the fresh lemon/sugar process with sliced fresh white peaches or nectarines too. Delicious with cream or without!

 

 

 

 

a simple meal in a heat wave! . . .

DSCN0760DSCN0762.jpgYears ago, I had lunch at “The Tea Box” a bento box restaurant inside Takishimaya, a jewel of a department store in New York City. The restaurant is closed now, but fortunately, the chef, Ellen Greaves published a cookbook called “Simple Meals for the Bento Box”  I have two copies of the book here and have also given copies of the book as gifts. In it, there is a recipe for a pea soup that we enjoyed ourselves at the restaurant when it was still open. It’s on the stove now, waiting for final preparations right before serving.

Sweet Pea Soup (adapted from cookbook above):

Heat one cup of chicken broth plus one cup of spring water in a pot on the stove. Rinse a package of snap peas (8 ounces) and put in the broth when it’s boiling. Simmer gently for one minute. Add a 16 ounce package of frozen petite sweet peas into the broth. Simmer for 5 minutes and turn off the heat. Leave it alone until dinnertime.DSCN0765

Finishing steps; spoon out drained peapods and peas into a food processor. Add the broth liquid and puree until smooth. Be sure to put the soup through a fine sieve, stirring to allow as much liquid through as possible. If not put through a sieve, the soup has a grainy texture. DSCN0768 (1).jpgAdd a little cream to taste, salt and pepper and serve with snipped chives on top.

To go along with the soup, I made a mixture of cream cheese, fresh chives and smoked salmon in a bowl.  Open a packet of cream cheese and let come to room temperature in a bowl. Snip in some fresh chives – about a dozen short stems. Open a pack of smoked salmon – a small one, bits, or on sale. And with a paring knife, cut the salmon and chives into the cream cheese until roughly combined. Cover with plastic wrap and chill.

When ready for supper, toast two sesame bagels, cut in half.  Finish the sweet pea soup and serve in some pretty bowls. Place the smoked salmon gamish on the table and rinse some fresh lettuce, tomatoes and fresh basil on a separate plate. Voila! . . . a delicious supper on a sweltering day!

For dessert, I sliced up two white peaches that have been sunning themselves on the kitchen counter. Squeezed a little fresh lemon juice and added a couple of spoonfuls of turbinado sugar. Covered with plastic wrap and chilled. When ready to serve, spoon out the macerated peaches and add some light cream. It will thicken due to the lemon juice. Yum!

Footnote: Reminded of this soup, I took out the cookbook and am re-inspired to cook bento box size servings for appetizing but small portions of food for the rest of the summer. I have two bento boxes that I bought at Takashimaya those 20 years ago which contain four different kinds of serving dishes. They are spectacular and I am so glad that I have them now. Along those lines, I also thought about apportioning our meals in separate portion serving trays and found these on Amazon. They’ll be perfect for everyday use – and be lots of fun besides. We’ll eat really well in small portions – and I look forward to this new adventure to cooking smaller portions while enjoying them more!

easy summer meatballs. . .

DSCN0754It’s a Sunday afternoon and I thought I’d make a batch of meatballs between watching the World Cup and NCIS LA (yeah!) I used to brown and fry the meatballs in a big skillet which resulted in a lot of fat/grease. Now I don’t. I’ve learned from Julia Turshen (she uses ground turkey, I use ground 80% beef) that it’s a LOT easier to combine ingredients with the meat and then form meatballs, letting them cook in a 400 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes.

Here’s my go-to recipe for meatballs:DSCN0750

  1. 1 pound of 80% ground beef
  2. Lawry’s garlic salt
  3. shredded vidalia onion (1/2 of a big one)
  4. Pepperidge farm classic seasoned bread crumbs
  5. 1 large egg
  6. about a 1/2 cup milk

Line a large sheet pan with aluminum foil; spray with Pam.

In a large mixing bowl, I turn the ground beef to break it up. Sprinkle with Lawrys’ and turn it over – add egg and mix well; shred raw onion on the large whole of a box grater; add to mix along with milk. Pour in about 1 cup of breadcrumbs, eliminating the big hard chunks. Mix well together.

DSCN0752Form meatballs (I got 28 from this recipe) and place on the cookie sheet – together but not touching. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake for 20-25 minutes until done and not pink in the middle. Let COOL. I store these 7-8 in a small freezer bag and put them into the freezer. When I’m looking for something to have for dinner, they’re there for a) spaghetti and meatballs with Ragu classic tomato sauce or; b) swedish meatballs and noodles (stroganoff with sour cream and beef broth.)  These should last through most of the summer and mmmmm they smell really good right now in the oven!

Hooray!

 

green tea soba noodles . . .

DSCN0660Have you ever tried cooking soba noodles? They’re made out of buckwheat so they’re usually a medium brown color. There’s also a type of buckwheat soba noodles made with green tea (yep!.) and these are the ones that I turned to make supper for tonight when my piece of fresh salmon from Canada turned out to be perfect to be eaten in very thin slices of salmon sashimi dipped in Osawhwa organic soy sauce and wasabi.

We’ve had a beautiful day with a breeze, sun and temperatures in the mid-seventies. It’s not really hot but I thought I’d make a cool dish out of the soba noodles since the salmon sashimi was cool. Here are the steps I followed:

  1. I boiled two ribboned stalks of green tea soba noodles for about five minutes. I had prepared a shallow pan filling it with ice cubes to chill the noodles once they were drained from cooking. I let them set there for a few minutes while I prepared the vegetables.
  2. I had about six beautiful stalks of asparagus. I quarter cut them at a slant to where the stalks were too tough to use. I sauteed these asparagus pieces in canola oil until they were almost cooked. Then I drizzled in some “super sesame oil” – which has a little spicy taste to it – and a few drops of tamari (a darker soy sauce from Japan.)
  3. I also peeled a Persian cucumber and cut into thin lengths, then cut diagonally to make slivers.
  4. For the main noodle marinade, I poured about 1/4 cup of soy sauce, 1/8 cup of Marukan seasoned rice vinegar, a few drops of honey, a squeeze of Meyer lemon juice and about 1/8 cup of spring water. I tasted it for a balance between piquant but not too sour with just enough sweetness.
  5. I drained the chilled noodles from their ice water bath and shook them until they were really dry. I poured them into a shallow serving dish, poured the marinade over them and tossed the cooked asparagus and raw cucumber into the dish. I covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for about an hour before serving.

Without salmon sashimi as the main protein “condiment” which was thinly sliced and dipped into soy and wasabi before eating, I would suggest that the green tea soba nooole marinade could be served topped with grilled or broiled shrimp, or perhaps some grilled flank steak thinly sliced on the side too.

In any case, we’ve inaugurated the warming Spring weather with this refreshingly cool supper tonight. Bon Appetit! or in plain English – TRY IT because it was YUMMY!!

 

zucchini mushroom pasta for dinner . . .

DSCN0656DSCN0655I’ve been reducing the amount of red meat that we eat although it isn’t always easy. For instance, I usually use meatballs made of beef for spaghetti. Sometimes, though, I’ll rescue some zucchini from the vegetable bin and some mushrooms reaching out to be cooked: you know, still good to eat but not looking their best.

Since there was a sale this morning at the grocery store of three jars of Ragu traditional spaghetti sauce for $5, I thought I’d use half of one for dinner tonight (and freeze the rest.) Into the cart went a box of angel hair pasta as well. I already have a wedge of parmesan to grate on top when we’re ready to eat.

I trimmed the zucchini ends off, rinsed them under cold water and sliced them in three, lengthwise. Then, I piled them up on each other and cut narrow strips on a slant with a sharp knife. The mushrooms took a quick rinse also and I cut them in thick slices, sauteeing them in a little butter and oil until golden brown. I set them aside in a small dish and heated up some olive oil, cooking the zucchini on medium-high heat until they wllted slightly, sprinkling them with some Lawry’s garlic salt.

I let the cooked zucchini and mushrooms cool on the stove until it was supper time. I often do some sous-chef cooking during the day which provides a head start to putting dinner on the table. This is especially convenient on evenings that G. goes to visit his mother at the nursing home. When we’re almost ready to eat, I’ll boil a pot of water and cook up some angel hair pasta, heat up half a jar of the Ragu sauce separately and plate a couple of wood-fired pottery plates with a slight bowl to them.

The well-drained angel hair will go into the bowls first. A thin layer of sauce on top, the reheated zucchini and mushrooms on top and another ladle of sauce around the edge of the pasta. The cheese grater and chunk of parmesan goes in its own bowl for us to help ourselves at the table.

Bon Appetit!