Saturday, February 28, 2009

Quiche muffins

Once in a blue moon, when a muffin is feeling particularly sweet and bouncy, and quiche is all puffed up with eggs, the universe gives way to their love-child: THE QUICHE-MUFFIN! Inspired by a recipe for cottage cheese muffins, I put my own spin on the idea and came up with these tangy little numbers. My one suggestion for these is that you use paper cups to line the muffin tin -- the egg sticks like white on rice (there I go again, mixing food metaphors), resulting in some serious muffin mourning in the morning. Oy vey, I better stop this punny mess and cut to the chase:

Lemon Mint Quiche-Muffins
(yield: 1 dozen)

Note: While you can certainly seek out almond meal in the health/specialty food store, what I like to do is simply pulse blanched almonds in a food processor for a few seconds, to a medium-fine grind (sorta like ground coffee for a French press).
Also, don't be alarmed by how liquid the batter seems when you pour it in. It will work out, trust me.

- 1 cup almond meal
- 1/3 cup whole wheat (pastry) flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1-3/4 cups cottage cheese (lowfat is fine)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla

- 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease muffin tin lightly and place a paper liner in each muffin cup.
2. Mix the dry ingredients and set aside. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and add the wet ingredients; mix well. Combine the dry with the wet ingredients and stir just until the mixture is uniform. Finally, add the dried apricots, mint, and lemon zest and incorporate into batter.
3. Fill each muffin cup 3/4 full and bake in oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden on top and set in the middle.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Big Discovery: Uncooked Oatmeal

I've discovered the most amazing way to make slow-cooked oatmeal...without any cooking! You just soak one part oatmeal to two parts liquid (milk, water...) overnight, covered, in the refrigerator, then the next morning you scoop it out, heat it up in the microwave for a minute or two and BLAM there you have it. Seriously. It's amazing, especially if you put raisins in with the oats to "cook" overnight - the raisins get big and fat and release their sweet goodness into the oatmeal. This makes a healthy, whole foods breakfast much, much simpler, and it's just such a fascinating method: the NON-COOKING method!

(By the way, I've added this to my "Kitchen Shortcuts" - it definitely ranks up there as one of the most useful, I think.)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Valentine's pears

I'm not too keen on this precious little Hallmark holiday, but it's hard to deny the association between these sexy poached pears and the date (2/14/09) on which they were made. So, tip o' the nib to old St. Valentine, just this once.

Yield: 6 (whole pear) servings

This recipe pretty much reads like mulled wine, with the addition of a few submerged pears that ultimately surface as the main event. It's a lovely winter dessert that tastes totally sinful but is still quite healthy.

- 6 bosc pears, peeled and trimmed of bottom 1/4" (in order to stand up on a plate)
- 1 lemon, juice and rind separate
- 1 (750 mL) bottle Merlot
- 3 cups apple juice or cider
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 anise stars
- 6 whole cloves
- 4 cardamom pods, smashed open
(Equipment: sheet of parchment paper)

1. Peel the pears and immediately submerge in cold water acidulated with lemon juice (to prevent browning).
2. In a medium saucepan, empty the bottle of wine, add the juice/cider and spices, and start to bring up to a very weak simmer on medium-low heat. The key is to never let the liquid actually bubble, just form steam and release miniscule bubbles - a sort of pre-boil. If you'd like, use a thermometer, and try to keep the liquid around 160-180 degrees F.
3. Add the pears carefully, and spread across the top of the saucepan a circle of parchment paper fitted to the size of the opening, with a small hole in the center to allow steam to release. This is to ensure that the pears remain completely submerged as they cook.
4. Continue cooking, keeping a close eye on the liquid temperature, until a knife easily slides into a pear - about an hour, depending on ripeness. If the pears take longer to soften, don't be discouraged. Just make sure you keep checking so that they don't begin to fall apart into the poaching liquid.
5. Once finished, removed the pears with a slotted spoon and set aside on a large platter to cool. Strain the poaching liquid to remove spices. Return liquid to pot and turn up the stove heat to high to bring the poaching liquid to a fast boil. Reduce liquid until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon - this is called nappe (pronounced nap-ay).
6. Pour the sauce over the pears and serve as is or with vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Great Monday Munch

On Monday (yes, I'm that slow to post) I made this meal for my friend Vinitha and me. Everything was excellent, so I suggest you give either of the two a try: Carrot-Orange Salad or Swiss Chard Lamb Rolls. The latter is more hands-on and fun to make, the former comes together quicker. Take your pick, or be a champ and try both!

Carrot-Orange Salad (adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites)
yield: 4 appetizer plates

*Note: two handy tricks are introduced here. First, the carrots. To produce beautiful ribbons of carrot, simply peel off the skin, discard, and continue going down the carrot in long strokes with the peeler until you've milked that carrot for all its worth (I really shouldn't mix food metaphors, should I?). For the oranges, slice off the top and bottom ends, and sit the orange down square on the cutting board, on the flat-cut bottom side. With curved strokes from top to bottom, cut off the peel and all the pith of the orange, leaving a neat orange globe (you'll be surprised how small it is now). Then, carefully slide your knife between the flesh and the membrane on one side of a section, then on the other, and slide the section, free of all membrane, out. Continue a
ll around, for each section. You'll be left with a bunch of membrane and some beautiful supremed orange pieces.

- 3 carrots, peeled of skin and peeled into ribbons (see Note)
-2 oranges, supremed (see Note)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup

- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- dash cayenne
- salt to taste

Mix carrot ribbons and orange sections in a medium bowl. In a separate dish, whisk together the lemon juice, maple syrup and spices. Pour over the carrot/orange and toss to incorporate. Let marinate about 30 minutes before seasoning with salt to taste and serving, chilled or at room temperature.

Swiss Chard Lamb Rolls
Yield: Twelve 2" x 1"rolls

- 12 Swiss chard leaves, trimmed of stem and blanched for just 30 seconds till soft

- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. each ground cumin, coriander, cinnamon, chili
- 1 lb. ground lamb
- 1 bunch dill, destemmed and chopped
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- salt to taste

- 1 cup uncooked bulgur
- 1/3 cup raisins

- 1/2 cup mirin
- 1/4 cup umeboshi vinegar
- 1/4 cup water

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly oil a baking dish. Clean, trim, and blanch the swiss chard leaves and set aside to dry.
2. Bring 2 cups of salted water to a boil, add the bulgur, remove from heat, and let sit about 20 minutes, till all liquid is absorbed. Transfer to a bowl, mix in the raisins, and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wide sauce pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook while stirring, until soft and fragrant. Add the spices and stir to incorporate. When very fragrant, add the lamb, breaking up clumps as it cooks. Cook a few minutes more, till lamb is cooked through and the liquid has released and cooked off. Remove from heat and mix in the dill, lemon juice, and salt. Incorporate into bulgur.
4. Once the lamb-bulgur mixture has cooled, lay out a swiss chard leaf vertically on a cutting board, with the bottom of the leaf facing you. Put about 2 tablespoons of lamb mixture onto the bottom of the leaf and start rolling tightly from the bottom. When halfway up the leave, fold in the two sides and finish rolling to the top. Place the roll seam-side down in the baking dish. Continue with all remaining leaves.
5. Mix together the mirin, umeboshi vinegar, and water and pour over the rolls. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake about 30 minutes, then remove foil and finish baking uncovered 10 minutes more. Serve hot or room temperature.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


After my cooking buddy Genna hinted that I might have a good-sized collection of useful kitchen pointers buried in my brain, I've decided to go digging for these acquired nuggets and bring them out into the daylight for public consumption. Thus, I shall start a running list of cooking shortcuts (and no, I don't mean web links, you internet fiends! Just plain old tricks you can use around the kitchen), which I've picked up here and there and, along the way, have allowed to sink into that homogeneous soup of implicit knowledge. I'll post a link to it on the WCIYA homepage and update it as things occur to me, which tends to happen when they fly out my mouth and into the hungry minds of other cooks. If you have some tips to add (and I know you do), please leave a comment and chime in!

Shortcuts to Use in the Kitchen

1. To avoid crying over your cutting board when slicing onions, store them in the fridge. I swear, it's the only trick that actually works!

2. To finely grate ginger (or any other stringy substance) without totally messing up your grater (the fine hairs never come out), lay a piece of plastic wrap over the tool and grate as you normally would. When you are satisfied with the amount of ginger that's been grated, simply remove the plastic wrap from the grating and scrape the ginger bits off the plastic with a dull knife. The plastic wrap is intact, but the ginger is not! It's magic.

3. To pit an olive, press down on it with the side of a wide chef's knife (as you would to smash a clove of garlic) until you feel it pop. The pit will have either shot out the side or can be easily removed from inside the split-open olive meat.

4. To keep a pot of liquid from boiling over, lay a wooden spoon over the top of it. The bubbles will stop at the spoon, thus saving you a big hot mess.

5. For cooling soup or stew quickly, put a glass or durable plastic bottle filled 3/4 full with water in the freezer and, once frozen, use it to stir and chill stuff without diluting it, as ice cubes would.

6. Instead of buying a funnel for filling pepper mills, etc, just cut out the corner of a ziplock bag or envelope and pour the stuff into the bag/envelope opening.

7. Peeling beets stinks. So try this less-messy method: boil the beets in salted water for a good long time (till easily pierced with a knife), then drain the water out and put the beets back into the empty pot, covered, for another 20-30 minutes. What you're doing is essentially steaming the beets, so the skin rubs right off in a pinch.

8. I've discovered the most amazing way to make slow-cooked oatmeal...without any cooking! You just soak one part oatmeal to two parts liquid (milk, water...) overnight, covered, in the refrigerator, then the next morning you scoop it out, heat it up in the microwave for a minute or two and BLAM there you have it. Seriously. It's amazing, especially if you put raisins in with the oats to "cook" overnight - the raisins get big and fat and release their sweet goodness into the oatmeal. It makes breakfast so much easier and it's just such a fascinating method: the NON-COOKING method!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

It's all Greek to me!

Allelouia! Finally, I've made a beautifully elegant, decadently delicious, and weeknight-easy soup for two! The egg technique you need to apply here is called tempering. It's what distinguishes the velvety texture of this traditional avgolemono (Greek lemon-egg soup) from, say, stracciatella, the Italian egg-drop soup. To temper an egg, you cook it by heating it ever-so-slowly, so that it's just steaming, but doesn't ever get hot enough to curdle into "drops." One way you can temper egg is by whisking it in a metal bowl balanced over a pot of boiling water - the steam heats it gradually (the same can be done with chocolate, for insta-fondue!). Another way is by slowly whisking hot stock into the beaten eggs, which is the method I opted for here. Try it out! You'll be surprised at how easy tempering is, and how lickety-split the soup comes together (about 15 minutes). Just don't forget to say "Opa!"

Avgolemono (Greek lemon & egg soup)
Yield: 2 generous bowls
As a side note, for those of you who are sick of buying boxes of stock (for whatever reason - health-related, environmental, budgetary, etc.), I'll let you in on a little secret: there's nothing to it! For a simple chicken stock, which works well with this soup, boil a pot of water, add a couple of cut carrots, some chopped onion, a bay leaf if you have it, and a piece of raw chicken (or some leftover chicken bones). Bring back to a steady simmer and, after about 15 minutes, lower heat and let sit covered for another 20. Strain out the solids, let your stock cool, and there you have it! (Bonus: If you use chicken breast to make your stock, you can use the resulting cooked chicken to make a homemade chicken salad sandwich for lunch the next day.)

- 3 cups stock (see headnote)
- 1/2 cup whole grain (bulgur, quinoa, brown basmati, etc.)
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 green cardemom pods, split open
- juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest
- salt
- 2 eggs, at room temp.
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped

1. Bring stock to a boil over medium-high in a pot.
2. Add the grain, bay leaf, cardemom pods, lemon juice and zest, and salt to taste. Simmer covered, 8-10 minutes. Discard bay leaf and cardemom pods and bring back to a simmer.
3. Meanwhile, beat the eggs well, and slowly ladle 1 cup of stock into the eggs, whisking continuously until completely homogenous.
4. Reduce the heat to low and gradually whisk in the egg-stock mixture. Be sure to continue whisking continuously, so as not to allow eggs to curdle while cooking.
5. Let the soup simmer, continuing to stir, for another 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat, adjust seasoning with salt if necessary, fold in the mint, and serve immediately.