mulberryshoots

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

scallion parmesan scones! . . .

Last Sunday, my daughter C. and I had lunch together at a dim sum restaurant in Cambridge. On the way back, we stopped at an organic bakery called Quebrada on Mass. Ave. There, I saw some scones with green onion and parmesan cheese. They were small, round and delicious when G. and I ate them later for supper.

This morning, I thought about making a batch as accompaniment to fresh Maine crabcakes tonight. For the scones to turn out with tiny layers requires understanding that the less you handle the dough, the better. Plus, it’s helpful to use a Cuisinart or food processor to mix it together.

  1. In the processor, grate a hard piece of parmesan or gruyere cheese until finely grated. You’ll need 1/3 cup which you’ll empty out of the processor, storing the remainder in the fridge if any.
  2. Measure 1 1/2 cups of flour (I used King Arthur) into the processor.
  3. Chop up 3 tablespoons of scallions, white and green ends.
  4. I froze a stick of unsalted butter and cut off 2 T. leaving 6 T. I used a sharp knife and cut the 6T. of frozen butter into long sticks, then cubed sticks, then tiny cubes. Placed them into the processor.
  5. Measured 1/2 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder into the flour mixture.
  6. Pulse the flour, baking powder and cold butter until mixed. Add parmesan cheese and pulse to combine.
  7. Place mixture into a mixing bowl – then add scallions, 1/2 cup light cream and combine just until the dough holds together. Pat it together and let rest for a few minutes (while you clean up the dishes in the sink that you’ve used so far.)
  8. Lightly flour a board and press the dough out to about 1/2 inch thick with your fingers. I used a square cutter with crimped edges, re-rolling the scone dough until it was all used up.
  9. I placed the scones in a 400 degree oven on a buttered cookie sheet. Peeked at them at around 15 minutes and they were risen, golden brown and fragrant.

grilled eggplant supper. . .

Tonight, we’re going to have a little change of pace for dinner. I love eggplant and am going to try a recipe that doesn’t call for it to be fried in breadcrumbs (which I usually do when making eggplant parmesan.) Instead, I’m going to peel the skin and slice one eggplant into three thick slices. Then, I’ll sprinkle with olive oil, seasoning salt and pepper.

A few holidays ago, I found Le Creuset cast iron round grill pans on sale. I bought a yellow one for myself and gave one to my daughters. The other day, I spied it in one of the pantry shelves, rinsed (scrubbed) it off and have been looking forward to using it, perhaps for a thick ribeye steak later in the week or grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato.

Tonight, I’m going to cook the eggplant on the grill pan for about 3-4 minutes each side. While it’s cooking, I’ll wash and chop up some fresh Roma tomato, seeded cucumber, red onion and feta cheese. When the eggplant has cooled a little, I’ll plate it and add the feta mixture on top. A hand squeeze of fresh lemon and some cracked pepper finishes it off right before we begin to eat.

I’ll heat up a wholegrain croissant to split between us on the side.

Light and healthy! Hope it tastes good too!

Footnote: grilling the eggplant required some olive oil added to the pan for each side; plus I used a cast-iron grill weight with paper towel while the eggplant cooked. This ensured that the eggplant was cooked through.

hambone pea soup! . . .

Like many households, we baked a glazed ham for Easter. I saw a joke somewhere that said, “What’s the definition of ‘infinity’?” and the answer was: “two people and a ham.” Well, we’re two people and we gave big chunks of ham to our neighbors and family. We still had quite a bit left over.

One night for supper, we had eggs benedict for dinner with some of the ham leftovers. It was scrumptious especially with the hollandaise sauce spiked with lots of fresh lemon in it. For the rest of the week, we stayed quiet on the ham wrapped carefully in the lower part of the fridge although we made up dinner roll ham ‘sliders’ to take to friends.

This afternoon, I took the chunk of ham out, cut most of the ham off the bone and started a pot of homemade ham and pea soup:

  1. Sauteed chopped onion and carrots in oil
  2. Soaked a pack of dried green peas in a bowl with boiling water
  3. Trimmed the hambone and put it in the onion/carrot pot to brown all over
  4. Added one can of chicken broth; and enough spring water to bring the level of the soup over the hambone. Brought the soup to a slow boil and maintained it there with the lid on for the rest of the afternoon.
  5. Will add more water if needed when I taste the broth for flavor and saltiness. Because the ham is salty and the chicken broth is too, I lean more towards a bland pea-soup with more water than broth, letting the vegetables add sweetness to the soup. (Just tasted it: not salty and full of flavor!)
  6. Let it cook a LONG TIME.

Earlier today, I made a batch of orange marmalade cinnamon rolls for my neighborhood librarians who are the nicest people in appreciation for “National Library Week.” We have a few rolls that I took out that we can steam up to have with the pea soup. I’ll check in with G. to see if he’d like some thin slices of ham on a roll with mustard, or on the side with Major Grey chutney.

That’s it for tonight’s supper: ham and pea soup, rolls and ham. I consolidated the rest of the ham pieces and put in the freezer for future eggs benedict or frittatas. So far, we’ve managed to manage this ham pretty well. C’est la Vie!

spinach crepes and roast beet salad . . .

I love spinach and wanted to cook it while it’s still robust and fresh from the market. My husband, G. noticed that our meals have been shifting to more flavor while being light on the digestion. With this encouragement, I’m going to make spinach crepes for dinner and roast beets for a salad on the side.

There are lots of spinach crepe recipes online. Most of them consist of crepes that are filled with a spinach filling. One of them mixed the spinach into the batter and topped the crepes with some grated cheese. I’m fond of creamed spinach because of its flavor and because I also happen to have some fresh cream in the fridge. Here’s my recipe:

  1. Rinse and dry spinach, cut off woody stems and chop up the leaves. This first step is consequential for the quality of your dish. I rinsed the fresh spinach down to the stalks under running water; then I filled a large red bowl with the rinsed spinach and soaked it for sand and grit. Finally, I rinsed each stalk and then cut off the woody stalks, only keeping the leaves and cutting them very thinly before adding to the skillet to cook. Even so, after all these steps, there was a fine gritty film on the bottom of the bowl when I rinsed it out. No one wants grit in fresh spinach. But you really have to be diligent to ensure the spinach is truly clean. Enough said.
  2. Peel and chop two good-sized shallot and cook gently in unsalted butter; turn up the heat while adding the thinly sliced spinach leaves and cook until wilted.
  3. Add some salt, pepper and grate some nutmeg into the spinach. I usually add a tad of cornstarch to the cream and stir it in to thicken the spinach. Adjust seasoning to your taste.
  4. If you’d like to saute up some fresh mushrooms and add to the mix, that’s good too.
  5. Let cool and set aside.
  6. Make crepes: combine 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup water, 2 eggs and 2 tablespoons melted butter into a thin batter.
  7. Cook the crepes in an 8 inch pan (about 1/4 cup batter per crepe,) letting the batter skin coat the surface of the pan; flip when tiny bubbles appear, cook the other side and stack them on a plate.
  8. Finish this dish by filling each crepe with creamed spinach mixture and roll up, placing them in a greased baking dish. Spread a little butter along tops of rolled crepes and grate parmesan cheese on top. Bake at 350 in the oven until the crepes are heated through and the cheese is light golden.

On to the roasted beet salad. Put cleaned beets into a shallow baking pan with water in the bottom. If the beets are big, cut them into halves or wedges to help them cook through.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375-400 degrees for an hour or until the beets are fork tender. They take a long time to cook through.

Let them cool slightly, run them under cold water and skin them, cut off the ends and cut into smaller wedges. I also added a scant half of cut-up honey crisp apple.

I have arugula and butter lettuce for the salad greens – add the beets and dress with my current vinaigrette: white balsamic vinegar, fig vinegar, a dab of Poupon mustard, clove of crushed garlic, honey, walnut and olive oil; a squeeze of fresh lemon. I have this dressing made up in a glass jar at room temperature and use it up until I make another batch of dressing with slightly different ingredients.

Honestly, this meal required a lot of preparation – some of the cleaning process for fresh spinach could have been shortened by using baby bagged spinach or frozen spinach. However, the crepes were SO delicious that I do think using fresh farmstand spinach made it so flavorful. As I filled the crepes and rolled them up, I thought “never again” to myself as I slid the copper pan in the oven.

But they were so good that I’m afraid I’ve gotten myself into a corner and may have to make them again soon. Actually, I was thinking it might be a good way to serve creamed chicken from leftover roast chicken too.

 

 

 

waiting for Godot . . . e.g., a stand mixer at last!

I’m no Spring Chicken. For a long time now, I’ve been yearning for a Kitchenaid stand mixer. I’ve ordered one and returned it without opening the box. I ordered a much cheaper Chefmaster stand mixer and returned it to Walmart without opening the box. I look at the Kitchenaid mixers when the Williams Sonoma catalogs come in the mail – ones in Champagne color that cost over $400.

My ambivalence is based on not wanting to bake more recipes which contain sugar and flour. However, my recent successes making homemade oatmeal bread which have improved due to using an electric mixer after reading huge volumes about baking bread from the library have made me a little less timid about justifying the purchase of a stand mixer.

Plus, it looks like I’m getting a tax refund.

So, I just looked online at the Williams Sonoma champagne colored one but the 20% discount promotion code didn’t work. I looked at other Kitchenaid stand mixers on Amazon because I have Prime for free shipping (they’re very heavy.) I noticed that the Kitchenaid mixers had motors with 250-350-500 watts. Then, as I was almost ready to check out with one made by Cuisinart which had a 500 watt motor and was around $200 (as opposed to double that for Kitchenaid,) I came across one made by Litchi. Nope, I haven’t ever heard of this brand either.

However, this one is a red stand model with a 650 watt motor. Yep! It has a standard paddle, dough hook and whipping attachments. And it’s priced at $139. The highest watt motor at less than half the price of comparable models. I went for it and am looking forward to receiving it on Friday. Then, I’ll be able to whip up some oatmeal bread at the drop of a hat. It’s getting easier too as I tweak the recipe and also get more experience with the optimal consistency of the dough (soft and moist, not too much flour, let the warm milk, yeast and honey proof before adding dry ingredients.) Etc. etc. etc.

But if you had a chance to sample the medium-thick slices of fragrant, soft, wonderful crumbed bread tonight, you might think about going down this garden path too. Or at least, understand why I’ve finally gone for a stand mixer that is powerful and affordable. Now, I just hope I continue to cook and live long enough to make such a late-in-life purchase worthwhile!~

meatballs!! (Julia Turshen’s turkey, ricotta recipe) . . .

Last week, I borrowed Julia Turshen’s cookbook called “Small Victories” from the library. I’ve noticed her presence in cookbooks with whom she’s collaborated: Mario Batali, Ina Garten and Gwyneth Paltrow (although GP of course disclaimed her help!) Anyhow, she takes a different approach with simple recipes, the “small victories” being easier ways to cook. This recipe is a good example.

Here are the differences that I experienced myself (and I cook a lot!~):

  1. I usually use a meatloaf ground meat combination to make meatballs. This is the first time I’ve used ground turkey!
  2. I’ve never used ricotta as part of the meatball mix!
  3. I’ve sauteed the meatballs in a frying pan, not formed and baked in the oven!
  4. I’ve not had the benefit of breadcrumbs from homemade oatmeal bread before!
  5. I’ve not used so much fresh parsley or fresh herbs in the meatballs before either.
  6. I  fry chopped onion before adding it into the meatball mixture, ditto for garlic.

What I have done is to make a large batch of walnut-sized meatballs to serve for at least two meals: one is with Ragu (it really is tastier than Prego in my mind,) thin spaghetti and freshly grated parmesan cheese. The second meal is usually Swedish meatballs stroganoff with mushrooms in a beef broth gravy with sour cream and fettucine pasta.

Here’s what I put together using this recipe as a springboard:

  1. I cut the recipe in half, using 1 pound of ground turkey, not 2 lbs.
  2. Used 3/4 cup of whole milk ricotta
  3. 1 egg, 1/2 freshly grated onion, 1 garlic clove grated by hand
  4. 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs from homemade oatmeal bread
  5. 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  6. 3 sprigs of fresh thyme – leaves stripped from stems
  7. Lawry’s garlic salt and cracked pepper
  8. Mixed everything gently together with my hands; formed walnut sized meatballs and placed them on baking sheets spread with olive oil
  9. Baked at 425 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown

Tonight, I’ll heat up the meatballs (about 4 each) in Ragu traditional tomato sauce, adding some herbs and garlic to the sauce. I’ll ask G. if he wants angel hair or thin spaghetti with it – and we’ll grate lots of parmesan sauce with the microplane while we eat. A small plain butter lettuce salad with white balsamic vinegar, fig vinegar and fresh lemon mixed with olive and walnut oil goes on the side. Hope these meatballs are as tasty as they smelled coming out of the oven just now!

Footnote: The meatballs in the pan stuck when I removed them – let them cool too long – but the ones on the parchment paper came up easily. Also, I often saute some fresh zucchini and mushrooms, both sliced thinly, to augment the meatballs in the spaghetti sauce and the swedish meatball stroganoff.

And here’s a loaf of oatmeal bread fresh from the oven around 4:30 this afternoon. I used a hand mixer to mix the dough and let the bread rise: the crumb and taste of this loaf was the best we’ve ever had. I’m circling the wagons on making beautiful bread without a lot of time or fuss. Makes great toast too!

eggs benedict for dinner tonight! . . .

Yesterday on Easter, we enjoyed a nice ham, twice-baked potatoes and brussels sprouts with bacon brought by a friend. We had little chocolate cake bunnies with little sugar faces for dessert. 

Tonight, using a few slices of ham on toasted crumpets topped with poached eggs and homemade hollandaise sauce was a simple supper which is always so much pleasure after feasting for holidays! We sprinkled some truffle salt and cracked pepper on top and enjoyed a light, tasty meal. Along with it, we sipped on chilled Prosecco left over from last night’s dinner – and it was still fizzy! My daughter, C., showed me how placing a silver spoon stem into the open bottle of fizzy KEEPS it fizzy when refrigerated. Hurray!

 

crabcakes!!!! . . .

I’ve been pretty disciplined about using up leftovers and cooking out of the freezer, fridge and pantry for quite awhile now. Today, I let loose and decided to treat ourselves to a dinner with homemade crabcakes, cole slaw and corn muffins.

There are lots of recipes online for making crabcakes. Trust me, some say you can’t make crabcakes without using Old Bay seasoning. Others argue about the type of crab (fresh is best and ours comes from Maine.) All kinds of fillers are proposed: celery, parsley, onion, shallots, green onion, bread crumbs, egg, mayonnaise, mustard, etc. etc. etc.

Here’s what I put together: fresh crabmeat, not shredded but kept in lump form while mixing; fresh breadcrumbs made this morning from leftover homemade oatmeal bread (I know this isn’t fair, but the bread was getting stale and whirred up great in the mini-processor.) I let the fresh crumbs sit out all morning on a cookie sheet to air/dry out and then stored it all in a plastic quart container. Chopped fresh parsley: sometimes dried parsley adds enough color, but real parsley has such a tangy fresh taste along with one chopped green onion, mostly white parts but some green. One egg, a dollop of Hellmann’s mayonnaise and a 1/4 of a teaspoon of Old Bay seasoning plus salt and pepper. Mixed it gently together to combine.

Because I’m going to fry these in the skillet in unsalted butter, I went ahead and made meatball size rounds and rolled them gently in more of the fresh oatmeal bread crumbs. I set them on parchment paper and put them into the fridge to chill for a half an hour. This will help them hold together better in the skillet and not fall apart (hope so, anyway!)

The cole slaw at the fish market is freshly made and we like it because it’s crispy without too much mayonnaise. I also mixed together some fresh cocktail sauce and horseradish (the old jars in the fridge just wouldn’t cut it with this fresh crabmeat splurge.) Mixed it up together and squeezed a little fresh lemon in it to lighten up the pungency of the sauce.

Grilled a corn muffin in the pan, buttered sides down and then prepared to cook the crabcakes right before we were going to sit down to eat. I heated up unsalted butter in a skillet and cooked the crabcakes slowly, turning them over and on their sides until golden brown.

We found the crabcakes to be tender, cooked through and crispy on the outside. The cocktail sauce was piquant but not overpowering; the coleslaw was bland and crunchy and the corn muffin rounded out this light Spring supper. Really delicious! Yum!

 

cracked wheat bread today . . .

While I have been trying my hand at making plain white bread and oatmeal bread this week, I remembered a bakery in Concord, MA. where you can buy the best bread I’ve ever tasted: cracked wheat bread. The loaves are huge and the crumb is tender to the bite and crispy chewy when toasted. I love that bread!

So, I looked around for cracked wheat at the local market and there was none to be had. Amazon listed it for a hefty price and I found it on VitaCost website in the same brand at a fraction of the cost. It arrived yesterday and this morning, I’m starting a recipe for two loaves of cracked wheat bread.

The first step is to soak the cracked wheat in boiling water for an hour. Next comes proofing the yeast in water. The remaining wet ingredients include warm buttermilk (which I had in the fridge from making a yummy buttermilk bacon salad dressing,) honey and molasses. The dry ingredients include a 1 to 3 ratio of whole wheat flour and regular white flour.

As an aside, I’ve been borrowing bread baking books from the library down the street – including “Bouchon baking” by Thomas Keller, “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice,” “Flour, water, yeast, salt” and also reading bread recipes online. What I have taken away for myself is that a) I’m not going to become a perfectionist bread-maker; b) I’d like to make bread that’s delicious every so often; c) I don’t want to buy a mixer with a bread hook.

Even though I was ready to spring for a cute, red Mixmaster stand mixer with a dough hook for less than $100, it occurred to me this morning that I might be able to mix the dough similarly in my trusty Cuisinart! So, I did just that. I followed the recipe and pulsed it in my Cuisinart, especially running it for a couple of minutes once everything was incorporated. I could tell that the machine was okay but beginning to labor a little bit during the final mixing so I shut it off. Then, I scraped the dough out of it and kneaded it by hand, adding a sprinkle of white flour to make it less sticky and easier to handle. Oiled a bowl and set the ball of dough in it and covered it with plastic wrap. Then, I set it in a warmed oven (turned on and then off, leaving the oven light on) to rise for a couple of hours.

BTW, if you try the recipe that is highlighted above, I noticed that there was no mention of when to add the proofed yeast back in. I combined it with the warm buttermilk, molasses, honey, butter mixture before adding the rest of the white flour. I’m also curious to see if the molasses is overpowering because it’s pretty strong in the dough.

The kneaded and formed loaves rose again and were baked at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. I was relieved to see that this recipe’s photo showed a slightly deflated top similar to what my loaves have been looking like.

Footnote: Here’s a photo of the first slice from this loaf of bread. Apparently, my use of a Cuisinart to mix the dough worked out well – the crumb is exceptionally light and the bread has a uniform grain. It also tastes good too!

dinner plate with butter lettuce, avocado, honey crisp apple salad w/buttermilk bacon dressing – & cracked wheat bread

 

 

crunchy noodles with chicken . . .

Here’s what we had for supper tonight: Twice-fried fresh noodles with chicken, broccoli & spinach

INGREDIENTS:

skinless/boneless chicken thighs (3) from Trader Joe’s

Korean barbecue sauce to marinate them in

Scallions, crushed garlic, fresh ginger root (chopped up to stir-fry)

Broccoli florets, trimmed and washed

Fresh spinach, washed and dried

Fresh Chinese wonton noodles (thicker than usual, parboiled and drained)

Cooking sherry and cornstarch (a smidge of each, mixed together to coat cut up chicken after marinade

STEPS:

Mid-afternoon, rinse and dry 3 boned/skinless chicken thighs. I froze the other 3 pieces for a similar stir fry down the road next week. Cut up into smaller pieces and coat with sherry/cornstarch mixture – not too much nor too thick.

Heat up skillet with thin layer of vegetable oil; add crushed garlic, scallions and ginger, being careful not to burn. Add chicken pieces and stir around until almost cooked. Set aside in a bowl for later.

Stir fry the broccoli with a little more garlic and green onions, stir and add a small splash of water, cover to ensure broccoli is cooked – the water will evaporate. Then add back the chicken and stir together until cooked. Put aside 2nd time. 

Clean out and dry the skillet – helps to have a non-stick pan large enough to put the parboiled noodles in. Heat the skillet and coat with vegetable oil. Place the noodles gently into the pan until it is covered. Cook over medium heat until you can see the crispy noodles when you lift up the noodles with a spatula. Slide the noodles onto the spatula and flip the whole thing over. Turn down the heat to crisp up this side and keep on low until ready to serve.

SERVING:

Re-warm the noodle pancake so that it is crisp – hold it slightly up to drain of any excess oil and place it into a serving plate. Turn the heat on medium high heat and saute the fresh spinach on the edges of the skillet, then scoop up the chicken and broccoli into the middle to heat thoroughly without too much sauce.

Spoon the spinach, chicken and broccoli on top of the noodles. Sit down and eat right away! Love the crunchy noodles!