Cooking is Magic, Part 1: Start with Fresh Ingredients

Hi, all. Sorry I have again fallen down on Wednesday recipes. The Kickstarter campaign has been taking up most of my spare time, but I’m going to make it up to you. Every day, for the remainder of the campaign, I’ll be posting about cooking and writing, and I’ll include a recipe with each post. Here goes!

raspberry-rhubarb-crumble-web

Many of my friends accuse me of being unable to write anything that does not somehow involve food. This is untrue; I’ve written several short stories with no food in them whatsoever. Only one of them has been published, though (a very scary horror story), so I think all the food writing must be a good plan. I love food, and I love cooking. To me, cooking is magic. How can I help but write about that?

Cooking is Magic, Part 1: Start with Fresh Ingredients

It begins with the first planted seed. Gardening/farming is a separate but complementary magic, a slower, more deliberate one. Good gardening requires planning over multiple years: planting fruit trees and asparagus roots that will not produce food for a year or two, pruning back the old raspberry canes to make way for new ones next spring, rotating crops in the field to promote nitrogen fixing and deter pests. Then there’s the yearly cycle of sprouting and planting and watering and weeding and, at last, harvesting. This complex and intricate dance of cycles has given me many years of pleasure.

Anything you cook is only as good as its ingredients. I often say that I cheat, and that my meals and desserts are good because I use the best ingredients I can find, ideally sourced locally and directly from farmers. Anything that doesn’t have to be shipped hundreds of miles before it reaches me is going to be fresher and riper and far more delicious. Of course, it takes some skill to use those ingredients well, but they certainly give a good boost to any meal you make.

I’ve largely given up gardening, as that part of my brain seems to have been taken over by novels. They’re similar skills: the lengthy planning, the careful balance between all the different elements of plot and character and theme. And using the best ingredients carries over, too: deep research, careful character development, and the support of your local community of writers and readers are all necessary ingredients in my writing. I have no regrets about leaving my garden behind, but I still have tremendous respect for all magicians of the soil.

The first farmers’ market in our neighborhood opened for the season yesterday. I missed it, but I’d intended to go looking for the fresh, delicious goodies of late spring, including asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, and rhubarb. Here’s a simple recipe using rhubarb to celebrate the beginning of the season. You will need to use frozen raspberries, as those won’t be available fresh until late June. Parents, the oat crumble is really fun for kids to make, squishing all the ingredients together with their hands and pressing it into the pan.

Petunia’s Raspberry-Rhubarb Crumble

1 c. rhubarb, diced
1 c. raspberries, fresh or frozen
½ c. sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice

1 c. quick cooking oats
½ c. flour
½ c. packed brown sugar
¼ tsp. baking soda
6 Tbsp. melted butter

Preheat oven to 300 ˚F. Put the rhubarb, raspberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan and cook on medium high heat until the rhubarb and raspberries have completely dissolved, then simmer until the mixture thickens to jam consistency, for about an hour total, stirring frequently. Meanwhile, stir together the oats, flour, brown sugar, and baking soda. Add the butter and mix thoroughly. Press about half the oat mixture into a 9×9-inch or 8×12-inch baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Pour the fruit mixture on top of the baked oat layer, then crumble the remaining oat mixture on top. Bake for an additional 20 minutes. Serve warm, topped with whipped cream.

Next, Part 2: Cooking as Chemistry, Cooking as Alchemy

Wednesday Recipe: No-Bake Nutella Tart

Nutella tart with brownie crust

I am super busy with the Kickstarter campaign, so no time to bake, let alone test complicated recipes. Let’s go with something really simple this week: No-Bake Nutella Tart. The original recipe for this claims to require only five ingredients (also has much prettier pictures. I’ve whittled it down to four. It’s the perfect dessert to whip up in a hurry. Just keep Oreo pie crusts in stock (never a bad idea). In the photo above, I actually ran out and used a brownie mix as the base, pouring the ganache on top. Decadent!

NO-BAKE NUTELLA TART

  • 1 Oreo crust pie shell
  • 6 oz Nutella
  • 10 oz bittersweet chocolate
  • 8 oz heavy cream
  • raspberries (optional)
  • chopped hazelnuts (optional)

In a small saucepan, heat heavy cream until just starting to boil. Add chocolate and reduce heat to a simmer, stirring until the chocolate is fully melted. Remove from heat and add Nutella, stirring until fully blended. (Note: you can also just heat the cream and chocolate in the microwave, but I like the stove for finer control.) Pour into pie shell. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes or in the fridge for 2 hours. Decorate with raspberries and chopped hazelnuts, if desired, then serve.

Wednesday Recipe: Lamb Chilindron

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I found the original version of this recipe in Tapas and Spanish Cookery by Hilaire Walden, and I adapted it to more Southwestern tastes, as well as simplifying it for Instant Pot cooking. As the descendent of many generations of sheep ranchers, I love lamb passionately, and this is probably my favorite lamb dish.

For those who do not live in the Southwestern United States, you can find adequate canned Hatch green chiles at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, but I recommend ordering El Pinto’s Green Chile on Amazon.com. Likewise, any red chile powder, or even some good quality smoked paprika, will do, but Hatch or Chimayo red chile powder is best. Note that if this seems too spicy to you, you can simply substitute bell peppers for the chiles.

LAMB CHILINDRONBrowning lamb in an Instant Pot

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-1/2 lb lean lamb, cubed (lamb stew meat will do in a pinch)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small Spanish onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry (optional)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup diced Hatch green chiles
  • 4 beefsteak tomatoes, peeled seeded and chopped, or a 12-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chile powder

Set your Instant Pot to saute and heat the olive oil. Brown the lamb thoroughly, in batches if necessary. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add the onion to the Instant Pot and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally until softened. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add sherry and deglaze the pot. Stir in green chiles, tomatoes, and red chile powder. If using fresh tomatoes, simmer for about five minutes until the tomatoes break down into a chunky sauce.

Return the lamb to the Instant Pot and stir briefly to coat with sauce. Close the Instant Pot and set it to Meat/Stew for 45 minutes. Allow the Instant Pot to depressurize naturally. Serve with rice. Serves 6.

Wednesday Recipe: Chocolate Waffles

Chocolate Waffle Birthday Breakfast

Wow! Look at that! I actually got my act together enough to post a recipe ON TIME! It must be all the gorgeous spring weather inspiring me.

I discovered this recipe entirely by accident. My younger daughter, Nora, requested waffles for her birthday breakfast – I always bring the kids breakfast in bed, and usually I make face pancakes. But she wanted waffles because I hadn’t made them in ages. Well, there’s a reason for that. They’re messy, they take forever to cook in the waffle iron, and they’re just annoying.

But necessity is the mother of invention. Dutifully, I dug out the waffle iron that morning at dawn, and then I went looking for the recipe book that came with it. No dice. I have absolutely no idea where it went. So I went to my go-to source for new recipes, The Joy of Cooking, which has several waffle recipes. And lo, I discovered that I had only one egg, which sharply limited what I could do. Most of the recipes were too complicated to easily cut down. All except the very last actual waffle recipe (I do not count French Toast Waffles, which is just french toast made on a waffle iron, I kid you not).

Chocolate waffles is a relatively simple recipe that does not require much in the way of exotic ingredients, nor many eggs. The original recipe calls for cake flour, which I completely ignored and used King Arthur all-purpose white flour instead. The results were surprisingly excellent. The batter becomes thick and foamy, almost like merengue, which makes for wonderfully light waffles. The flavor is rich and satisfying. The original recipe states, “Delectable with ice cream,” and I wholeheartedly agree, but for breakfast, I served them with warm raspberry sauce and whipped cream. For the face waffle, I used apple slices for the eyes and mouth and fried ham for the hair (bacon also works well, but that was a little too much multitasking at that hour of the morning).

The one downside to these waffles is that they dry out very quickly and get rather hard, so make sure to store any leftovers in air tight containers as soon as you’re done stuffing yourself. In my next attempt, I may try adding applesauce to improve the moisture level. I originally made a half-batch of this recipe, then made a triple batch a few days later to bring in to Nora’s class, and I had no trouble with either adjustment, other than that tripling the recipe was complete overkill, and we are still swimming in leftover chocolate waffles.

I’ve altered the recipe to make use of modern tools such as a microwave, which makes it considerably easier. The original recipe considers the cinnamon and nutmeg optional, but I think they’re essential to the rich, delicious flavor.

CHOCOLATE WAFFLESFinished chocolate waffles

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup milk

Place the butter and unsweetened chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and melt on 100% power for 1-2 minutes. If you put the chocolate on top, this will prevent the butter from splattering all over your microwave. Stir the butter and chocolate together until all ingredients are thoroughly melted. Add sugar and beat in well. Add eggs and beat in well. Stir in vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add to the egg batter in batches alternately with the milk, combining thoroughly until no lumps of flour remain. The batter should be fairly stiff, resembling merengue. If too stiff to spread easily, add a little more milk.

Ladling waffle batter onto a waffle iron

See that batter? It’s trying to escape! Apply sparingly to the iron to avoid messy spills.

Finished chocolate waffles on waffle iron

Perfectly toasted chocolate waffles

Ladle sparingly onto a hot waffle iron. This batter rises a LOT, so try to just barely cover the iron. Otherwise, you’ll have batter overflowing the sides. Follow the directions for your waffle iron, but note that this batter cooks quickly (about twice as fast as Belgian waffles in my experience), so keep a close eye on them. Makes about 6 waffles, depending on the size of your iron.

Turkeygeddon, or The Pies Ate My Brain

Pies That Ate My Brain

Hi, all. Sorry I never posted on Wednesday. I got overly ambitious (I know, shocking!) with my Thanksgiving cooking. I meant to post a minimalist pie crust recipe for all of you trying to make the perfect pies, but I failed because I was busy making four pies, two of which I’d never made before. And for complicated reasons, I ended up cooking stuff for Thanksgiving on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Wait, you’re saying. That’s AFTER Thanksgiving. Yeah, I know. Overly ambitious, remember? Possibly overly social. Let me explain. No, too long; let me sum up. We go to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving every year, which is lovely because lots of people come, and everyone contributes something different, the hosts providing the turkey, stuffing, and gravy. But my daughters wanted a small, intimate family dinner this year. So I ordered the smallest possible turkey and planned to make it Saturday. Meanwhile, I mentioned a post-Thanksgiving tradition to some friends and somehow wound up hosting it: Pie Breakfast, when everybody gathers on Friday morning with their leftover pies and eats them for breakfast.

Thus, this was my week:

  • Wednesday: made two pies (traditional pumpkin and triple chocolate pumpkin), prepped brussels sprouts and left them to soak in salt water overnight.
  • Thursday morning: made mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole wheat rolls, appetizers, two more pies (savory pumpkin and nutella tart), and marinated the sprouts in preparation for cooking them just before dinner at my friends’ home.
  • Friday: Hosted Pie Breakfast, where I put out the leftovers from the four pies, baked Costco mini quiches, and made a veggie frittata for the gluten-challenged.
  • Saturday: Turkey! Also cauliflower au gratin, delicata squash, and fruit salad, plus leftover mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and (you guessed it) pie.

And now I have tendonitis in my right elbow from spatchcocking and hauling around the turkey. More on that later.

To make up for not posting last Wednesday, I’ll be posting recipes for everything new I tried this Turkey Day, plus one I didn’t try but really wanted to:

  • Spatchcocking a turkey
  • Triple chocolate pumpkin pie
  • Savory gruyere and pumpkin pie
  • Cauliflower au gratin
  • No-bake Nutella tart

Stay tuned! Recipes to come…

Wednesday Recipe: Green Tomato Relish and Green Tomato Chutney

Summertime in jars: green tomato relish (l) and green tomato chutney

IMG_20171114_120912122One of the great frustrations of growing tomatoes in New England, particularly heirlooms such as Brandywine, is that the growing season is never quite long enough. You can’t plant until Memorial Day, and the big heirlooms take around 100 days to begin producing. Just as you’re starting to get fantastic tomatoes, the weather turns cold, production slows to a crawl, and when the first frost rolls around, you’ve got a garden full of green tomatoes. If you’re very lucky, the weather will hold until Thanksgiving week, but this year the first frost landed last Wednesday night.

Relish making with my neighbor, Suzanna

Relish making with my neighbor, Suzanna. Matching aprons were a total coincidence, which we love using whenever we cook together.

I used to go to elaborate lengths to help these last few tomatoes ripen, swathing the plants in plastic or wrapping the green tomatoes in newspaper and storing them in a cold cellar to gradually ripen inside. Then, I discovered something amazing: green tomatoes are delicious.

Nearly everyone has heard of fried green tomatoes, but I found recipes for green tomato relish and green tomato chutney in one of my favorite cookbooks, the Gardeners’ Community Cookbook. Now I celebrate the first frost with glee. Green tomato relish may well be the origin of my belief in cooking magic. Putting it on a hamburger in January is like transporting your taste buds to July.

This year, I don’t have an enormous garden to supply me with green tomatoes, so last Tuesday, I asked my neighbors if they had any unpicked green tomatoes I could use. One intrepid neighbor, Suzanna Schell, contacted her CSA provider, and they showed up with fifteen pounds of green tomatoes, three of which ripened before we could process them Tuesday morning. We divided the greenies equally between the two recipes below. Result: an insane amount of relish and chutney, which we’ve shared with our community. Note: jelly jars full of relish and chutney make fantastic Christmas presents.

Quartered green tomatoesGREEN TOMATO RELISH

1 lb green tomatoes, finely chopped
1-1/2 lb onions, finely chopped
1-1/2 lb bell peppers, assorted colors if possible, finely chopped
1 large jalapeno, stemmed and finely chopped (I substitute Hatch green chile)
2 tablespoons pickling salt (any non-iodized salt will do)
3/4 cup sugar
Multicolored bell peppers1 cup distilled white vinegar
3/4 teaspoons turmeric
2 Tablespoons pickling spiced tied in cheesecloth (allspice berries, bay leaves, black peppercorns, cloves, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, red chili peppers, etc. Use your favorites.)

Place the tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, jalapeno, and salt in a large bowl. Add water to cover and set aside to soak overnight at room temperature. Next day, drain and rinse the vegetables. Set aside. Prepare 3 pint jars and lids for canning. Combine the sugar, vinegar, turmeric, and bag of pickling spices in a large nonreactive pot and bring to a boil. Add the drained vegetables and return to a boil. Remove from heat immediately and ladle Relish components soaking overnight in brineinto jars. Seal and process in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes, or cool, cap, and store in the refrigerator. Will keep in the fridge for 6 months, one year if processed.

GREEN TOMATO CHUTNEY

2 lb green tomatoes, rinsed and quartered
2 lb tart green apples, peeled, cored, and quartered (I have some big Northern Spy apples)
1 lb shallots, peeled
Green tomatoes chopped in a food processor - note that they're finely chopped but not quite mushy2 heads of garlic, peeled (20-24 cloves each)
6 fresh red chili peppers, stemmed and seeded (In a pinch, use green chile)
1-inch piece fresh ginger, coarsely chopped and tied in cheesecloth
1/2 lb golden raisins (I like to substitute some dried apricots)
1 lb Demerara or other crystal-form brown sugar
2-1/2 cups distilled white or cider vinegar (cider is better)

Simmering green tomato chutneyPut the tomatoes, apples, shallots, garlic, and chiles through a mincer or finely chop in a food processor, taking care not to overchop them into a mush. transfer to a nonreactive canning kettle or very large pot. Add the ginger, raisins, sugar, and vinegar and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring from time to time. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour or until all the ingredients are soft and the mixture has thickened into a loose syrup.

Meanwhile, prepare 4 quart jars and lids for canning. Remove the ginger bag and ladle the chutney into the jars. Seal and process in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes, or cool, cap, and store in the refrigerator. Let mature for 1 month before using. Will keep up to 6 months in the fridge, 1 year if processed.

Green tomato relish and green tomato chutney on toastRelish and chutney processed and shelf stable for a yearSuzanna give her seal of approval!