We were looking to get the textural benefits of the tastiest beet ever in an expedited time. Our previous model had us using a dehydrator to remove moisture and concentrate flavor in the beet. I wondered if we could speed up the drying process and perhaps amplify the beet flavor by roasting the beets further. It turns out the idea works. First we steamed gigantic beets until they were tender, about an hour. We peeled the beets and cut them in half. We put the beet halves onto a wire rack and roasted the beets for 2 more hours. The beets shriveled, caramelized and exuded sugary syrup. After roasting we wrapped the beets in plastic wrap to steam and cool. We removed the beets from the plastic. We grilled them and brushed them with a vegetable-centric lacquer. After pulling them from the grill we let them rest and finally sliced them. They were rich, concentrated and slightly chewy. They were a delicious evolution from our prior work.
I was pretty excited when I came across this juice at BJ's. It was the first time I had seen varietal apple juice that featured our favorite apples. Of course when I showed the bottle to Alex he noticed right away that I had stumbled into a marketing trap. It doesn't actually specify that the juice is made with honey crisp apples, only that its flavor is in the style of honey crisp apples. Oh well, it's still pretty good organic juice. Next time I will read more carefully. Though I have noticed that the more labels I read, the fewer groceries I bring home from the store...
Black lime is back. It is an ingredient we forget about too often. It has a flavor and aroma similar to Indian Lime Pickle, without the heat and other spices. We pulverize it into a powder and use it when we are looking for a funky hit of aromatic, acidic bitterness. It brings an intense full bodied lime flavor to whatever we add it to. Of course these days it will most likely meet a match in Doughnutland. In the past we have paired it with licorice to make a sauce for turbot.
When I'm organized, a roast chicken dinner generally leaves me with two sets of leftovers: picked meat and stock or broth made from the bones and skin. Yesterday I gave Amaya the choice of chicken nachos or chicken soup. After some careful consideration she decided on soup. (She has to track all of the servings of different colored fruits and vegetables she east each day this week for school and she thought that soup would give her a better spread.) While the vegetables were simmering in the broth, I decided to make noodles. It's not a difficult task. I generally toss a cup of flour, a pinch of salt, and a large egg into a bowl. Then I add just enough milk, as needed, to turn it into a supple dough. As I was mixing this particular batch, I was a little distracted end ended up being a little stingy with the milk, resulting in a drier dough that was little stiff as I kneaded it. I shrugged to myself and wrapped it in plastic wrap to rest, figuring that given a little time it would hydrate and relax.
While the expected hydration did take place in the allotted time period, it did not magically transform a rather firm elastic dough into something silky and supple. After a few turns with my rolling pin it became clear that rolling this dough was going to be an exercise in time and frustration. So I decided not to. Instead I simply cut the flattened dough in half so the noodles wouldn't be too long and sliced the dough as thinly a possible. The fact that it cut easily and the noodles separated without a problem will tell you just how dry my dough was. On the bright side I ended up with great noodles. They were irregular and fun to eat, slightly chewy and resilient, perfect for our soup. Sometimes it's easier to go with the flow and you end up with unexpectedly delicious results.
As a side note, after dinner I used a slotted spoon to remove all the noodles, vegetables, and chicken from the broth. I like to store the two parts in separate containers in the refrigerator because that gives me options. On the one hand the noodles will not be sitting in soup overnight getting flabby and soggy, so when I combine the two parts of the soup for the reheat, it will be almost as good as it was the first time. Or, I can remake the dry half into a pasta dish, either microwaving or sauteing the chunky noodle ragout and then adding cheese and black pepper or a flavorful sauce to liven things up or even fold everything into a frittata. Then I can freeze the extra broth for another use. It takes a couple of minutes to separate the solids from the liquid and it makes my life much easier in the long run. Especially since both my husband and daughter frown upon leftovers. This way I can transform them into a new dish and then everyone is happy.
A few years ago we stayed at a lake house and when we arrived there was a box of blueberry mini muffins in the pantry. We had driven well over seven hours that day, it was almost dinnertime, and I had no idea what I was going to do about it. So, when Amaya asked if she could have some muffins, I said yes. In retrospect this was a bad idea because those tiny, sticky-sweet muffins appealed to her in a very big way. Over the course of the next few days she finished that box of muffins. For months afterwards, whenever she saw them in the supermarket, Amaya would ask me to buy more. My answer was a firm no. I explained that vacation houses, much like restaurants, may give her the opportunity to try things that we don't serve at home. That does not mean that these items will become part of our daily life. Instead I began making mini muffins.
They come and go with the seasons. We all like them for a while and then we get tired of them. Right now, we happen to be in a muffin period. I'm indulging my pleasure in whole and sprouted grains. I feel as though I should whisper that because grains and gluten are so vilified at the moment. I still enjoy them. These muffins remind me of New England, with their nutty corn flavor, balanced with maple syrup and sweet-tart berries. They key here is toasting the corn flour. I do it in a skillet rather than in the oven because it's a relatively small amount of flour and your nose will do a better job of telling you when it's ready than your eyes will. We're not going for a dark golden brown here, rather, we're going for a rich nutty aroma. The flour will darken slightly but not so much that it's a good indicator of flavor. I tend to go directly from the pan to a cold metal bowl and stir it up a bit to cool it down. I measure out my liquid ingredients and then add the dry to the cooled corn flour before mixing it all together. This makes a perfect pan of mini muffins that will disappear faster than you can imagine.
Blueberry Corn Muffin
Makes enough batter to fill one pan of mini muffins (24)
1 cup / 215 grams corn flour (I use Bob's Red Mill, any quality finely ground cornmeal will work)
3/4 cup / 180 grams buttermilk
1/2 cup / 155 grams Grade B maple syrup
1/4 cup / 56 grams neutral oil or melted butter (I used avocado oil)
1 teaspoon / 4 grams vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup / 120 grams sprouted spelt flour (you can substitute all purpose, whole wheat, barley, etc)
2.5 teaspoons / 15 grams baking powder
1/2 teaspoon / 3 grams fine sea salt
1.5 cups / 255 grams blueberries, fresh or frozen
Preheat oven to 400°F. (205°C.)
Spray a mini muffin tin with pan spray and use a small piece of paper towel to wipe out the excess oil.
Put the corn flour in a large saute pan set over medium high heat and cook, stirring constantly until the the aroma changes from fresh corn silk to a slightly nutty, toasted corn aroma, about 8-10 minutes. The color will deepen slightly. Transfer to toasted flour to a large mixing bowl to cool.
Meanwhile put the buttermilk, maple syrup, oil, vanilla, and the egg in a medium mixing bowl and whisk to blend. Add the sprouted spelt flour, baking powder and salt to the bowl of corn flour and whisk to blend. Add the liquid ingredients and use a rubber spatula to mix the batter together, until almost smooth. Add the berries and fold them in gently. Put about 2 tablespoons of batter in each muffin cup, I generally fill them to the top. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown on top and just set. Cool for 10 minutes and turn them out of the muffin tin. Cool for 5 more minutes before serving.
*One of the perils of a touch screen oven is that sometimes, when you're cleaning the range, you accidentally turn the timer off. While my nose came to the rescue and I didn't actually burn my muffins, the ones pictured above are a little bit on the dark side. Yours should be more of a golden brown, with a tender crumb, and a delicate crunch from the corn flour...
Chops, steaks or fish fillets are perfect for a quick meal, as long as you cook them properly. Pan searing is one of our favorite cooking methods and once you master it, you're never far from a good meal. You need to start with a good, heavy bottomed pan and give it a nice coating of oil. Don't freak out abut the oil, most of it will stay in the pan. Keep in mind that if the surface of the meat or fish is not in contact with the oil it won't brown properly. Set the pan over medium high heat and when it just starts to smoke, add your protein. It should sizzle. After 30 seconds or so, flip your chops/steaks/fillets and reduce the heat to medium. Many people leave the heat too high and that causes the protein to char at the edges, You're looking for a nice golden brown crust over the entire surface and it's imperative that your heat is just high enough to sizzle and not smoke and burn. Flip every 30 seconds or so, until you have a beautiful crust on both sides of your protein. Once everything is a deep golden brown on both sides, add a knob of butter and some fresh herbs and baste until the butter melts and the herbs brown slightly but do not burn. Use a spatula to transfer your protein to a warm plate and let it rest. If your proteins are on the thicker side, cover them loosely with an inverted plate to encourage a little extra carry over cooking, if they are on the thinner side, just make sure the plate is in a warm spot so they don't cool off too much before you're ready to serve them. It's been my experience that using this method, once a perfect sear is achieved, things are pretty close to perfectly cooked. (Yes that's a little magical but it really does work.) Pour out the excess fat and add vegetables to saute and serve alongside or make a pan sauce to serve over the top. I usually do vegetables instead of sauce because then I have a one pan meal. Quick, easy, and super-delicious.
Amaya is a bit of a candy hound. It's something that popped up this past year and it's not something that makes us particularly happy. On the bright side, she is choosy about her candy and when she gets some of her favorite stuff, she eats it with all of her senses. She'll admire the colors or coating, and comment on how delicious (or not) the candy appears. She'll sink her teeth into the surface of a candy to crack the coating and then sniff at it to check out the aroma. As she eats the candy, she often pulls it out of her mouth so she can see the changes that she is experiencing on her tongue. Every time the texture changes, she'll take another peek. Admittedly this is another habit that does not always please me, but at least it's evidence that we are raising a thoughtful eater. She loves how the slightly sandy texture of the Mike and Ike coating slowly rubs smooth and then she sinks her teeth into the chewy center and enjoys the sticky texture and they way the flavor coats her tongue. Amaya likes to discuss what's happening in her mouth, why the confections are so enjoyable, and which flavors are better and why.
While she does eat more candy than I would like, at least she eats it with passion and emotion. She knows that she can't have it all the time so she savors her opportunities to indulge. It's fun to witness her pleasure and it reminds me to take the time to slow down and enjoy my own meals. Years of working in kitchens and scarfing down meals at odd moments has left me with the bad habit of inhaling my food. A slowly savored meal is always a conscious indulgence and I'm thankful that Amaya's eating habits have slowed down my own. I'd rather learn from her habit of eating at her own pace, rather than teach her to fast forward through a meal.
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