Saturday, June 23, 2007

Cherryberry Pie

Another week, another trip to City Market. Unfortunately, I have a cold, which makes wandering around the hot, crowded market somewhat less fun. Still, I got blackberries, yellow cherry tomatoes, a gorgeous banana pepper (for a dime!), broccoli, Bibb lettuce and eggs. The produce is cheap and good and it's from my very own county (mostly—there's some from neighboring counties, but that's almost as good), and I love watching the offerings change from week to week. This was the first week there haven't been any strawberries, and the summer squash is now ubiquitous. One of these weeks I'll have to pick some up and see if I still dislike it...

So since it was market day today, I had to use up the last of last week's market finds yesterday. That involved baking a pie with sour cherries, blackberries, and strawberries (yes, all in one pie). Considering how dubious I was of what I put in the oven, it came out fantastic. In a fit of laziness, I used pie crust out of a box. Betty Crocker, I have to say, just did not work for me. I followed the directions (put mix in bowl, add water, mix, roll out, put in pan) and everything went wrong. The crust stuck to my nonstick rolling pin as well as to my Reynolds Release nonstick tinfoil, and I've never seen anything stick to Release before. Transferring it to the pie pan didn't work out so well either. I decided to scrap my plans for making a top crust (no way was I doing that again) and make streusel topping instead. Again, I faithfully followed the streusel directions in How to Cook Everything, but I think I let my butter soften too much before starting, because it wasn't exactly crumbly. So I just pinched off blobs of topping and distributed them as evenly as I could over the top of the pie.

That's two potential disasters so far: crust and topping. Are you keeping track? The third is that I didn't have enough fruit. The recipe called for five cups. I had five, but that was before cleaning and pitting and all that. The fourth is that I had to cobble together recipes because, of course, no one writes a recipe for cherry-strawberry-blackberry pie. They all have different amounts of cornstarch and lemon juice and the streusel topping option involves a lower oven temperature and oh, I was sure the pie was going to be inedible, but actually, it was very good. Therefore, I give you:
Cherryberry Pie

about five cups altogether of sour cherries, strawberries and blackberries
3/4 c sugar
3 T cornstarch
1/4 tsp cinnamon (cassia is best)
pinch nutmeg
pinch salt

For the filling, mix all that stuff together and stick it in the fridge. Then set the oven to 375° and let it heat up while you make the streusel. (It goes without saying that you should have some sort of bottom crust. Given my Betty Crocker experience, I would say that the more kitchen-inclined among you should make your own, and everyone else should buy the ones that come frozen in disposable tins. There's at least one brand that's made with lard rather than vegetable shortening—Pillsbury, I think? I recommend that one.)

1/2 c (1 stick) butter, slightly but not overly softened
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c walnuts or pecans
1 T lemon juice
up to 1/2 c flour

Cream the butter and sugar together until well combined, then add the cinnamon, nuts and lemon juice and mix well. Add the flour a little at a time, mixing with a fork, until the mixture is crumbly. I think if it doesn't get crumbly with 1/2 c of flour in there, rather than adding more flour, you should probably just stick it in the fridge for a little while and then mix it up again.

Once you've achieved crumbliness, get the filling out of the fridge, put it in the pie shell, and top it with the streusel. Then stick it in the oven for 45 minutes. It's done when the crust and topping are lightly browned and the filling is bubbly. It might need a few more minutes.
So I'm still feeling kinda too sick to cook, but the next time I'm up to it, I'm going to try a stir-fry. I know stir-fries are supposed to be the easiest things in the world, and even people who don't cook make them, but for some reason, I never have. But I have chicken and a bell pepper and onions and the aforementioned broccoli to use up, and I'm trying to cultivate a greater appreciation for rice, and I have all kinds of fun Chinese sauce-making ingredients in my cupboard, and I finally have cornstarch with which to thicken my hypothetical Chinese sauce, so I really have no excuse. We shall see how it goes.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bits and Pieces

The picnic food was a big hit. I'm still working through the last of the leftover lentils and chutney—what a chore! No, they're delicious. And, having been a burgers-and-pizza girl for a couple of years now, I'm kind of amused to find myself so heartily enjoying eating things like lentils. And I'm eating a pint of local strawberries for breakfast with my coffee-and-soy-milk, and keeping cherry tomatoes on my kitchen counter for snacking purposes. I swear I haven't turned into either a hippie or a vegetarian.

I'm now on day six of my dairy-free diagnostic process. This morning, just before waking up, I dreamed that I was eating an entire Splendora's sampler by myself—that's eight small scoops of gelato, for the uninitiated. Then I started popping bocconcini (little bite-size balls of fresh mozzarella), since I'd already messed up. I remember thinking, "Well, if I get sick, then I know I'm lactose intolerant... but it's worth it!" I guess the cheating-on-your-diet dreams happen even when the diet isn't the weight-loss kind. I'm going to give it a couple more days and then add dairy products back into my diet. I haven't noticed that my stomach's been behaving particularly differently this past week, so we'll have to see.

I had a salad at Chipotle yesterday, and have since been contemplating their chipotle-honey salad dressing. Supposedly, it's red wine vinegar, honey, olive oil, oregano and adobo. I'm going to have to make my own at some point, but I don't think I'll use olive oil—not neutral enough—and I'll probably add some lime juice. I love that dressing, and I have a big package of organic salad greens that I have to finish in the next couple of days.

I'm also thinking about buying a small food processor. Vanessa brought this cannellini bean dip to the picnic, which was essentially hummus made with white beans instead of chickpeas and fresh parsley instead of cumin. I was eating it by the spoonful, and I'd like to be able to make it myself. Not to mention hummus, pesto, and so on. Perhaps a voyage up Route 29 to Target is in order...

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Golden Raisin Chutney

I'm doing it: my brilliant Latin-Indian fusion food idea will soon be realized. I've made a batch of chutney and fried up the plantains, and I'm working on the lentils now. I decided on lentils rather than black beans because I felt like I was leaning too far toward the Latin side of things. Then I discovered that I have Goya lentils, and the packaging is in Spanish. I'm calling them a crossover food. I'm thinking saffron rice. This would be a lot faster to do if I had more pots. Oh well, making do with what I've got is part of what makes cooking a challenge, and the challenge is what keeps me interested.

A word about plantains: good heavens, they are delicious. Why are they so cheap? I think I paid 79¢ a pound for the one I bought at Harris Teeter last week, regular price. I am going to eat plantains all the time.

A bunch of us headed over to City Market this morning, which is always a joy. I enjoy going alone, but I think I do better when I go with people. They notice things I don't, and they encourage me to slow down so I can think more carefully about what I want to buy. Today I ended up with string beans, blackberries, new potatoes, strawberries, sour cherries and some absolutely gorgeous cherry tomatoes. I've been avoiding tomatoes all year, having made a vow only to eat them when they're in season, because they're so disappointing otherwise. These tomatoes were worth the nine-month wait.

I also got my obligatory cinnamon sugar cake donut from the donut guy. He must have just finished a batch, because mine was almost too hot to eat and falling apart in my hands. They're the only donuts I eat, and well worth a dollar apiece.

It occurs to me that if my herbs get robust enough to start cooking with at some point while tomato season is still on, I'm going to make some killer salsa fresca.

I'll let you know how the experiment turns out. I think it's going to be picnic food, since it's all vegan and should taste great at room temperature.

All right, I just tasted the chutney after letting it cool for a while on the counter, and it is fantastic, and definitely recipe-worthy. Here you go:

Golden Raisin Chutney

1/4 c white wine vinegar
3/4 c water
1/4 c sugar
1/2 to 1 tsp minced ginger (I use stuff from a jar by "The Ginger People")
1 tsp ground ancho pepper
cayenne pepper to taste, or leave it out
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, minced
1 c golden raisins

Throw everything but the raisins in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about five minutes. Then add the raisins and cook until almost all of the liquid is gone (it took me somewhere between twenty minutes and half an hour, I think). Cool to room temperature or throw it in the fridge for later.

The basic chutney idea (water, vinegar, ginger, peppers, onion, fruit) is swiped from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, which is where I go when I think, "Hey, how would one go about cooking THAT at home?" Except when I'm baking, I use recipes more to check whether I'm on the right track or not than to dictate exactly how I should cook. I'm afraid that the intuitive approach to, say, cake or bread baking is several years down the road...

Friday, June 15, 2007

Western PA Meatballs

I decided that I'd better start a food and cooking blog, basically because I think about this stuff all the time and it's cluttering both my brain and my main blog, Double Hoo. Every kitchen needs a junk drawer, and this will be my written junk drawer, where I stuff all my nascent recipes and half-formed ideas, gush about my triumphs, and talk through my failures.

Since this is day one of the blog, I'll start with one of each of those things. The nascent recipe isn't really mine; it's Jared's grandma's, kind of, and I'm pretty sure everybody in the state of Pennsylvania has eaten it as an hors d'oeuvre at least once. For lunch today, I've made sweet and sour meatballs (or "holiday meatballs," or "cocktail meatballs") glazed with chili sauce and grape jelly.

This all started because I went to the grocery store to replenish my supply of Gladware. I don't know where it all goes. I'm probably racking up days in purgatory just because of the amount of stuff I throw out. At the store, I saw that Heinz Chili Sauce was on sale. I don't even really know what chili sauce is, but I know it's used in these meatballs, and lo and behold, the label contained a recipe for them. So I picked up a bottle of the sauce and a pound and a half of ground turkey (the bottle said beef, but Jared's grandma uses turkey, and grandmas beat bottles any day), and got to work. I put in extra onion because I love onion, and used granulated garlic because I forgot to mince a garlic clove before washing the cutting board, and I'm lazy. Here's my (tweaked) recipe:

Western PA Meatballs

1-1/2 pounds ground turkey
2/3 c bread crumbs (or enough to make the mixture non-sticky enough)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp kosher salt
a bunch of cracked black pepper
1/4 tsp granulated garlic
1 small onion, minced

Throw all that stuff together in a bowl. (All measurements approximate, all spices from Penzeys.) Mix it up with your hands. Get your cast iron skillet good and hot over medium heat, coat the bottom with peanut oil, and drop the turkey mixture in in approximately 1-inch, approximately ball-shaped blobs. Turn them every minute or so until they're browned all over, then pull them out and drain them on paper towels. At the same time, in a saucepan, combine approximately equal parts chili sauce and grape jelly over low heat. When the jelly gets hot enough, it'll melt, and you can swirl it into the chili sauce. When all the meatballs are browned, turn the heat under the skillet all the way down, wipe the skillet out, put all the meatballs back in and pour the sauce over. Make sure the meatballs are good and coated, then throw a lid on there and simmer them over the lowest possible heat, stirring them up every ten minutes or so, until you're about ready to eat.

So that's the nascent recipe. (It's nascent because Jared swears it's much better with guava jelly, and because I don't really like the flavor of bread crumbs—I'll tweak the sauce and try cracker crumbs next time.) The half-formed idea started developing because I've been rewatching Season 1 of Top Chef, and there's an episode where the chefs have to create dishes that fuse Latin American street food with influences from other countries. The one that intrigued me the most was the Latin/Indian fusion. The dish they created didn't do anything for me, but I couldn't stop thinking about this burrito. I'd want to make the tortilla with chickpea flour—can you do that? I'd have to read about the structural properties of chickpea flour. Maybe combine it with masa. Anyway, I'd fill the tortilla with black beans and rice, then add a layer of curried or masala-spiced plantains. Top the whole thing off with a golden raisin and onion chutney, maybe with some ancho pepper in there? I'm determined to turn this idea into a recipe, but it's going to take more experimentation than I have the energy for right now, and I have to figure out the tortilla issue.

I just realized I don't really have a triumph to gush about. Or... hmm, okay, yeah, the salad I made the other night was pretty darn good. Just mixed baby lettuces, quartered strawberries, chopped walnuts, and golden raisins (I love my raisins), drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with cracked pepper (I love my pepper too). That's one I'll make again. Possibly again today...

And finally, the failure. I'm experimenting with not eating dairy products, in an effort to see whether my recent stomach issues are related to them. This means I can't eat the half gallon of delicious ice cream that's in my fridge, and leaves me at a bit of a loss, dessert-wise. So I decided to make some coconut rice pudding. I combined a can of light coconut milk with 3/4 of a cup of arborio rice and stirred that over medium heat until the rice was done. Then I stirred in sugar, the juice and zest of one small lime, and some garam masala. The pudding is good, but the coconut milk is just a little too fatty (even though it's light!), and there's too much sugar and not enough spice. I bought some unsweetened soymilk last night (Westsoy Organic Unsweetened), and while I won't be pouring myself a frosty cold glass of plain soymilk anytime soon, it's great with Hershey's syrup, and I think I'll try some in my next batch of coconut rice pudding. I do love the balance that the lime juice brings to the pudding, and the garam masala, despite containing not-so-desserty spices like cumin and coriander, is delicious. So I'll be trying this again, but the current batch is just too sweet to eat, and I may well toss it before it fossilizes in my fridge.

Time for lunch: the just-finished meatballs, some olive-oil-rosemary-garlic potatoes (frozen, out of a bag, but not bad, though rosemary kinda makes me think of church incense), and green salad with homemade sesame vinaigrette. And a Top Chef episode to watch while I eat...