Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How Stale are your Carbs?

Ever have a loaf of bread go bad on you or stale before its time? Well I have, on way too many occasions. As a virgin bread maker and shopper/taster of great artisan breads and a single gal, I can’t eat all the bread I make or even buy.

So what do I do with my left over bread aside from giving it away? Well, I hate to admit, the day after Earth Day, I don’t always recycle what I should when it comes to food. My current circumstances definitely do not call for personal compost, as my food waste is very minimal and I have no room to benefit from it, being in a small apt and very little sun to grow any plants. I am trying very hard to change that, but need to figure out in what places in my local area will accept my food waste for recyclable reasons.

However, I am finding alternatives to not waste my food as I used to do, since I am still unemployed and need to maximize everything I buy and cook/bake. Being in the situation that I am in has opened my eyes on many issues; I had been throwing away literally, so much more than just food.

Although, I‘ve had a love of cooking for years, I forgot what it truly meant to cook and save at the same time. Even though I knew the foods I cooked, I could transform those meals into another amazing meal, I would just throw it all away without thinking. Now that I am in a situation, where I cannot afford to throw anything away unless it is rancid, I have learned that I should have been following the no waste theory all along.

I am angry with myself on how much food I have wasted over past years and I am making the oath to never do it again, even when I get a job that takes me away from home. My problem currently, is that I am cooking for a single person and not a family that I am used to providing for. When I cook, I do think about what I can store in the freezer for myself in the long term, but cooking on a singular level is a bit hard, especially when going to the grocery store.

One of the major foods I have been horrible about is throwing away bread. I throw more bread away, even though I make it homemade now, than I should. I’m not in a situation where I should feed the birds with my bread extras; otherwise I will help explode the pigeon population in NYC. So, what should I do with all my extra bread? Well, as in my other bread posts, I have mentioned that you should and “I” should make bread crumbs and/or Croutons.

So, I concocted some amazing croutons from the bread I made a few weeks back: Sour Dough Trip (Up?)...

For seasoned cooks/chefs, you know the drill but for those who may seem to be a bit intimidated by making homemade croutons; you can set your fears behind you! Homemade croutons are nothing but left over 2-3 or maybe even more day old bread. Yes, even the balloon brand or other brands will work.

Just take your stale or close to moldy bread and cut it cubes, the cube size will depend on the type of bread you are using. Honestly, buying grocery pre-made bread should be used more for bread crumbs, but croutons will be just as tasty. If you only have a few slices initially, cut into cubes and immediately freeze and continue to save and cut the bread until you have enough for a full salad meal.
So, the “Crouton” recipe…This can be whatever you want, but here’s a good starter recipe (Be aware the measurements are to my taste and approximate):

Crouton Ingredients:
  • Leftover Bread-Cubed
  • 2 Tbls Extra Virgin Olive Oil-per 2 Cups of Bread Cubes
  • 1-2 Tbls Italian Dried Herbs or other Dried Herb Spice Mix - per 2 Cups of Bread Cubes
  • 2-3 Garlic Cloves Minced Finely- per 2 Cups of Bread Cubes
  • 3-5 Tbls Grated Parmesan or Grana Padano Cheese-per 2 Cups of Bread Cubes 
Preheat Oven to about 350 Degrees:
  1. In a large bowl, add all ingredients above and mix well.
  2. Take your cubes of bread (thaw fully if previously frozen) and add to Bowl of Ingredients above.
  3. Mix Gently, hands are best and make sure all the bread cubes are fully coated.
  4. Take a Cookie Sheet pan and line with parchment paper or tin foil (for easier clean up, but not required)
  5. Place all bread cubes on cookie sheet pan, be sure to spread evenly.
  6. Place in oven for about 20-30 minutes. You want to make sure all moisture from the bread has evaporated.
  7. Let cool and serve or place in a freezer bag and store for about 3-5 months

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Beet the Blood Orange for Luv! It’s OK, It’s Earth Day!

I can’t remember when I didn’t love beets, but I am sure my parents would tell me otherwise. Beets are such an amazing vegetable, but I think they should call it a fruit as it is so full of sugar!

Did you all know that some commercial sugar products are primarily made of Beets? Almost half of the sugar we buy is made from beets. Yes, regular white sugar is not just from Cane Sugar, it’s from special sugar beets! Beets are an integral part of our food industry we would have never, ever thought about. This is why we should watch and read what the food industry puts forward, so we can change the overall process of foods we eat. I found out about the process of sugar from Modern Marvels, a truly great show about so many things!

No matter, red, yellow or tri color beets are a favorite of mine and I love them in very simple and flavorful meals. My first and foremost favorite is the classic borscht, cold of course, with a dollop of sour cream and the occasional boiled potato. I’m lucky that I live in NYC, as it would be harder to find classic Russian and Jewish foods without the best Deli’s in the world!

Back in the day, I found this grilled salad vegetable recipe, which I hope to post during the summer, included roasted beets from the grill, with many other exciting vegetable flavors that continually runs in the back of my mind. This grilled salad was the best I ever made and again, as time passes, I lost the original recipe, but this one is not so hard to forget. I do hope to make this soon, but as an Indoor Grill process.

So, we are in early spring and its Earth Day today! I have a great beet and blood orange salad that will satisfy everyone’s fanciful taste buds until the summer grill comes out. This is my concoction, but it can and should be modified to your taste. Realistically, this is all about the vinaigrette which can be used as a marinade or on other salad mixes.

Beet and Blood Orange Gremolata Vinaigrette
6 Servings

For Vinaigrette:
  • 2 Blood Oranges (Zested, and Juiced. Slice each in halves…Saving one half for Salad)
  • 3-4 Cloves Garlic (Smashed)
  • 1 Bunch Italian Flat leaf Parsley (Take Leafs Only)
  • 1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Tsp/Small Splash of White Wine or White Balsamic Vinegar
  • S & P to Taste 
Salad Ingredients:
  • 16 oz Baby Beets-Steamed and Peeled, Then Sliced
  • 1 Sm Pkg Pea Sprouts, 1 Pkg Mache-aka Lambs Lettuce (if not available…2 Pkgs Micro Greens )
  • Approx 10 small Artichoke Hearts (Not Marinated, can be canned or jarred or frozen)
  • 1 Sm Pkg Grape or Heirloom cherry Tomatoes (sliced in Halves)
  • 1 Can Hearts of Psalm (3/4 of Psalm cut in slices)
  • ½ Blood Orange Pulp/Sections (Left over from Dressing)
  • 2 oz Plain Goat Cheese (or Goat Cheese of your choice) Crumbled 
Blood Orange Gremolata Vinaigrette Prep:
  1. Grate/Zest Both Blood Oranges and set Zest aside. Juice 1 1/2 of the Oranges.
  2. Take Garlic and Smash, then chop roughly
  3. Take Parsley Leaves and chop roughly
  4. Add Blood Orange Zest, Garlic and Parsley and chop all ingredients together, finely. This becomes the Gremolata.
BTW-You can do Steps 2-4 in a food processor or blender. Just remember, ‘pulse’ until fine.
  1. Add Gremolata to a Bowl or Jar.
  2. For Jar, add Blood Orange Juice, Olive Oil, White Vinegar, S & P, close cap and shake vigorously.
  3. For Bowl, add Blood Orange Juice, Olive Oil, White Vinegar, S & P and with a whisk, mix vigorously and place in Fridge for approximately 2 hours. 
For Salad Prep…This is the easy part. There really is no order to placing the ingredients.
Just place the following in a large salad bowl:
  • Beets
  • Mache or Micro Greens
  • Artichoke Hearts
  • Tomatoes
  • Hearts of Psalm
  • Blood Orange Pulp/Sections
  • Crumbled Goat Cheese 
Finally, when ready to serve, add Blood Orange Gremolata Vinaigrette to desired taste, but only add minutes prior to serving or salad will wilt. Tip: The dressing goes along way and you don’t need as much as you think. When adding Vinaigrette, use a little at first and mix with clean hands. You definitely want to be delicate when dressing all the salad.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I Confess! I was a Tomato Thief!

Of all the foods I have eaten in my life, the Tomato is to me the most endearing and favorite fruits/vegetables of all time (I call it a fruit). I eat heirloom, regular, cherry and grape tomatoes like candy! I am a sucker for homegrown heirloom Tomatoes of any variety and this story dates back to one of my earliest memories of one of my favorite foods of all my time. It’s a long post, but I promise an amazing recipe and hopefully a funny story will come out of it!

I think I was about 7 years old; the place was Newtown, Connecticut. My parents were still together and my sister was just someone I could bully, being the big sister that I was. We lived in a beautiful converted barn (yes it was painted red and the details white!) that stood on top of a U shape dip with what seemed to be a high hill at the bottom of the street where the best friends, at the time, of me and my sister lived.

There was a little creek (if looking at our street from the north) on the left bottom side of our U street in the back woods where my father would on rare occasions take us fishing for “so called trout” with stick poles and fishing string. All we ever caught were teeny minnows (I think) and the occasional frog and salamander.

On the upper right street, the house semi across from us, I remember always seeing Red Breasted Robins eating the worms and seeds from that front yard in the early morning. The house at the top of the street (between the inbound and outbound roadway and facing the main road) always had a great garden of Rhubarb every year. I think I remember the woman gave us some of her garden feast at some point. She must have, as I do remember Rhubarb Pie and other Rhubarb tastes like eating raw Rhubarb coated with sugar!

But on the far left middle side of our U shape street, there was a family/home that had a garden I was definitely more interested in. They had a garden of TOMATOES!!!! I think I remember the family that lived there, but not too sure. I want to remember it was the family who had this baby girl Megan (2 yrs old) who when us stupid kids asked her to say “Truck” she would say “F@#K”. Us kids at the time got a huge kick out of that (Hey, it was the late 70’s)!

No matter, this was MY GARDEN. My home had great stuff to pick from like peas, blackberries, pears, mulberries, crab apples and other stuff my father and mother planted. But not like this garden down the road. This garden was a plethora of tomatoes for me.

So, in early morning and late afternoon, I would sneak into this open garden and just pick the tomatoes from the vine and eat them trying to hide myself between the stalks/vines. I do remember being sneaky about being in the garden worried that someone would catch me. I remember going to the garden and just grabbing as many tomatoes as I could and running away and then devouring them before I went home. I did know I was doing something wrong, but I just loved those Tomatoes so much!

What I most remember aside from stealing the tomatoes is really about the fact that I just grabbed a tomato from the vine, and sunk my teeth into a most glorious fruit! As a child, I could not get enough of these Tomatoes; the taste to this day, when every bite into any tomato, it is hard for me to accept as I equate my taste bud memories to what I am eating presently.

When you taste that freshly picked fruit and just bite into it, there is no comparison to what’s out in the markets today. My buds tell me I must smell the vine on the fruit first, and then when you bite in like you would a peach its sweet…It’s so hard for me to explain, as it’s such a mind game for me. I am not sure I can give the tomato the justice I want to give it from my mind…there is no need for sugar or salt to bring out the taste as it’s all so natural to just eat it raw, just like a peach.

Well, that’s my story, I did try to keep it short, and hope you all enjoyed the read, but there is the real reason I started the discussion of Tomatoes. We are coming into spring and soon summer will be upon us. Yes, Tomatoes are best in July/August, but starting in May, you can start to purchase really great homegrown tomatoes. Please buy from your local farmer and not the supermarket!

As I mentioned on my other Page "What am I Cooking Next", I was going to cook for a special occasion and I did, just this past weekend. It was my Brother In-law’s B-Day. Technically, my sister and her bo are not married, but they have been together long enough for me to say he is definitely family. Because he is family and I have no money to really give him a proper gift, my gift is cooking. So I cooked a 3 course meal that included the Ravioli I posted a few days back, Soup and a Salad. The salad story will be posted soon.

My Brother in law mentioned to me that he was given last summer’s preserved tomatoes from his mother who resides in Indiana and that gave me the idea for a nice spring soup to prepare for him. So my sister is still on her vegan diet and I did try to search for a Tomato recipe that wasn’t salad based and I really did want to make a soup. I scoured the web and my cookbooks for a chilled tomato soup that was not dairy or bread based and wasn’t gazpacho.

I will tell you all, unless you really know where to look, real unique Tomato vegan recipes are hard to find. I am sure any vegan reading this will tell me otherwise. But I wasn’t just looking vegan, but a recipe any one would enjoy overall.

So I did ultimately come across a Chilled Tomato and Avocado Soup recipe, but it did require a dairy product. So, what I ended up doing is omitting the dairy and changing things up in the recipe. This resulted in a No Cook, No Bake, No Dairy, No Bread Recipe. I will link you to the original recipe I modified greatly from…In case you want the Dairy version. But I’ve got to say, my version is so much better and healthier for you overall.

NOTE: For the Tomatoes…I had the privilege of using preserved homegrown Tomatoes, but canned will work. For canned, be sure to remove the tomatoes to a glass bowl and chill for 24 hours to remove the tininess.

Original Recipe Link (BTW-There are many links of the same recipe out there, this is just one of them.)

My Chilled Tomato and Avocado Soup-Revised and more Original.
Makes approx 8 Servings

Special Equipment: Either a large Blender or Food Processor. If you have a Medium Blender, you may have to do this in batches. Using a Handheld Stick Blender doesn't work so well, but if that's all you have, then go for it!
  • 32 Ounces Whole Canned or Preserved Tomatoes with Juice
  • 1 Large ripe Tomato (Beefsteak or Ugly Heirloom) or 2 Medium Hydroponic Vine Ripened Tomatoes-Roughly quartered
  • 4 Ripe Avocados (2 should be quartered/sliced for the soup base)
  • 1 Medium Onion-Roughly quartered
  • 1 Large Red Pepper or 2 Med Red Peppers-Roughly quartered
  • ½ Cup Lemon Juice (Real Lemons-No Lemon Substitutes)
  • ½ Tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 Bunch Chives
  • S & P to Taste
  • Optional: Fruity or Spicy Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  1. Add ¾ of the Canned/Preserved tomatoes (Reserve ¼ of tomatoes), Fresh Tomato, Avocado, Onion, Red Bell Pepper, and lemon juice to Blender/Processor
  2. Puree until smooth.
  3. Transfer Tomato and Avocado mixture to large bowl.
  4. Take canned/preserved tomatoes and roughly chop keeping the pieces bites size, but not too small. Whisk in remaining canned/preserved tomatoes to Tomato and Avocado Mixture.
  5. Season with cayenne, salt and pepper to taste and chill for 2 to 24 hours.
  6. Garnish individual servings with remaining Avocado (Sliced), chopped chives, and optionally a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ravioli That Brings the Forest to You

Years ago, I had been given the opportunity by my mother and step father to cook a few appetizers for some special occasion. I cannot remember exactly which occasion it was, but as someone who was trying to find new and updated recipes, I in my controlling enthusiasm, had to dictate what I would prepare.

Now, at the time my parents gave me this opportunity, their budget was fairly reasonable and tolerant of my quest to attempt new recipes and expand my culinary talents. All recipes had to be within a reason, but I will say, if it weren’t for my family’s appreciation and support towards my cooking hobby, I would not have come up with this ravioli recipe. Keep in mind, I also had to figure in a vegetarian dish due to my sister’s and other guest’s needs.

The original recipe was really something I found in one of the major cooking magazines, can’t remember which one, and was a recipe for a Phyllo Dough appetizer that was a plethora of Wild Mushrooms, Herbs and Goat Cheese. When I made the Phyllo Dough recipe, it was so awesome. I could not believe how good it was. But, as I loved this recipe, the filling was really the star for me, although the Phyllo was such an amazing compliment. Because I had such a craze for the filling, I thought it would be a great filling or ravioli.

So, I decided one day to prepare the filling as per the Phyllo Dough recipe and use it as a filling for my homemade ravioli. Not only did this work with the pasta, it was such an amazing taste in Ravioli, I had never seen or tasted from any Nuevo restaurants I have eaten at. To this day, after about 15 years later, I still have not seen a ravioli recipe like I am about to post. I have also not seen this recipe in print, specifically for ravioli or even any other recipe other than what I discovered years ago with the Phyllo Dough.

So any of you reading this, this is truly a new recipe that I am aware of. I consider this one of my major accomplishments of recipes of my own doing and I hope that all of you will enjoy this treat! What you should all take away from this recipe and post is this is really about the filling. Think about other recipes you have made which call for a “filling”. Experiment and consider standard Filling recipes as just a Filling and try it with other recipes that call for “Fillings” to go along with other cooking methods.

A few things I must state about the Ravioli Recipe:

The best way to serve is with a drizzle of REAL Black or White truffle Oil and S & P and a light sprinkle of Parm Cheese Only. If you can afford it, shavings of REAL White or Black Truffles along with its complimentary oil is best. Top with a chiffonade of fresh Sage.

However, if you on the cheap, a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, S & P and a light sprinkle of Parm Cheese will be just as tasty (which is on my budget these days). Top with a chiffonade of fresh Sage.

Pasta Recipe 2lbs (or use your personal one).
Will make about 34-35 Large Ravioli (about 2x2).

I will not go into methods of making the pasta. You can attempt 2 ways… By making a flour well and mixing all the wet ingredients by hand or use a Food Processor which will cut your kneading time in half.
  • 2 C AP Flour
  • 1 C Semolina Flour
  • 1 ½ Tsp Sea Salt
  • 4 Large Eggs (Room Temp)
  • 1Tbls Extra Virgin Olive Oil 
Mushroom Filling 2-4 Lbs of Pasta (can be prepared 1 day ahead)
  • 8 oz White Button Mushrooms-Chopped/Diced
  • 3.5 oz Shitake Mushrooms-Chopped/Diced
  • 8 oz Baby Bella Mushrooms or 3-4 medium Portabella Caps-Chopped/Diced
  • 3.5 oz: Oyster Mushrooms-Chopped/Diced
  • 1 Small Onion-Chopped/Diced
  • 3 Large Garlic Cloves-Chopped/Diced
  • 2-3 Tbls Fresh Rosemary-Chopped
  • 2-3 Tbls Fresh Oregano-Chopped
  • 2-3 Tbls Fresh Sage-Chopped
  • 2-3 Tbls Fresh Thyme-Chopped
  • 2-4oz Packages of Plain Goat Cheese At room Temperature
  • ½ C Dry White Wine
  • 2-3 Tbls Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • S & P to Taste 
In a large skillet on medium heat add Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Onion and garlic and sauté until onions are slightly translucent.

Add all mushrooms to skillet and continue to sauté until mushrooms start to sweat a little. Add White wine, S & P to taste and cook mushrooms until all liquid is gone.

Transfer mushroom mixture to a mixing bowl and let cool for about 5 minutes. Then add goat cheese and herbs and mix until well incorporated.

Chill mixture for 3-4 hours or overnight for filling to set.

Once the mixture is chilled, prepare your pasta dough in single sheets and add about 1 ½ Tbls of mixture onto dough and cover with a second pasta sheet or if the pasta sheet is wide enough, fold over, sealing with egg wash.

The ravioli can be frozen for later use or you can cook it right away.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Sour Dough Trip (up?)

My adventures of bread making are getting a bit better, but I think after this last loaf, I’ve come to a bit of a bread making impasse. One of my main goals of bread making is to bake good ole rustic crusty bread, whether that is sour dough or of Italian/French style.

This most recent recipe I used did come closer to my goal, but I think I may have tripped up a bit on the kneading process. This leads me to believe I really need to find out if I can take a Bread Baking 102 class or something of the like. For the fancier rustic breads, I’m starting to doubt myself on the look and feel of the dough and that's a bit frustrating to me right now. But I won’t give up as I am determined to get to my end goal.

Don’t get me wrong, this recent trial came out very good and delicious, but the internals of the bread did not come out as airy as I expected and was not really all that sour. I love crusty bread with lots of holes in it. This first try, the internal came out a bit denser, which is what ultimately led me to believe I over worked the dough. But the Crust!!!-OMG, this came out extremely well and I am very, very happy with that result, so I must be getting closer. 

One other nice thing about this recipe is that the overall time to make is pretty good.  If I don't include the Sponge Ferment time, this takes about 3-4 hours from the initial knead to taking it out of the oven.  About 1 1/2-2 hours is Resting and Proofing and then total baking time is 50 minutes.

This loaf will supply my toast ration this week (maybe I will make a bruschetta to eat the bread with) and I will eventually cube it up for croutons. As per another recipe that I tried out a few weeks back, I will attempt to make this again, making the necessary adjustments to which I have learned from. For those who are a bit more trained in bread making, this is a good recipe and has great tips for those who are still learning like I am. One of the best tips I have seen is about storing rustic bread after it is cut…As the recipe/notes state, it really does work! So next time you make or even buy a rustic Boule or other crusty loaf, try it out. It will last longer!

KAF Quote:

“Just a Hint...
Store crusty hearth loaves uncovered, but with their cut side down on the counter. This is one of the best tips we've come across in some time. Though this doesn't work on baguettes, rolls, or other small loaves, it works beautifully on big boules or freeform loaves. The moisture in the bread's interior gradually migrates to the surface, but since the cut side is covered, it can't escape there; instead, it must navigate its way through the thick crust, a much slower process. This keeps the bread's interior soft, and the crust hard and crunchy.”

KAF Recipe Link for: In Search Of The Perfect Rustic Loaf

Sunday, April 4, 2010

It’s a Whole Wheat Mess!

While I await next weekend’s cooking extravaganza, I’ve been busy baking bread for the siblings/family. Since I am poor, severely poor these days, I’m baking more bread than ever. I have enough ingredients to bake me so many great bread options for the next 6 months to a year. But this time it’s time to cook for my Sis and her Bo, so they have something to eat also (I have a tendency to be a giving person way too much at times).

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat bread every day, but if you are a starving jobless person these days like I am, bread is a necessity of life and hunger and carbs are not a dietary “no no”. Bread may be full of carbs, but if it’s homemade, it at least has less crappy ingredients in it than the store bought brands. Now, if you buy bread from a reputable bread bakery, you are guaranteed a more healthy option, but keep in mind they do put in additives to allow the bread to stay fresher for longer. But know that those additives are slightly more pronounceable, vs. the big brand bread makers. Know that if you make your own bread, there are no additives and no need to even pronounce anything!

As far as price options, the big brand names may charge less overall commercially and the personal bakery does charge a big premium for something you can all make at home for even less, like a good ole crusty bread, baguette or even sandwich bread. Most of that premium cost on bakery bread is really about labor and not so much the ingredients, because, time is the biggest obstacle in bread making, in my opinion. There is a labor of love with bread making as I am still learning.

As I have stated before, I have a bread machine, which I love dearly. But even if you don’t have a bread machine, everyone should learn how to made bread from scratch. Bread making does not necessarily need any special equipment except for a some Bowls, Bread Pan or Sheet Pan, Oven, your muscle and time. The rewards are so much more in your favor than if you bought bread from a store or bakery; One great starter bread is from a previous post: I Could Live on Bread and Water.

Yes, there are breads that don’t last that long after making it homemade, but I do guarantee, if making your own bread, you needn’t worry about it perishing, as it will be eaten up before you even think about throwing it away. Any homemade bread with “fats” (any dairy, oil and eggs) included will last from 1 to even two weeks as I have experienced, as long as the bread is stored properly.

If your bread is not eaten in the allotted time, there are other ways to prolong your bread life, like taking your 2-3 day old bread and making homemade croutons or breadcrumbs. These can be stored in the freezer for months! Pre Slice your bread and freeze and take slices out as you need them…The Toaster will defrost each slice with ease or defrost each slice in the Microwave for 10 secs.

Today, I have made 2 batches of Whole Wheat bread from my bread maker recipe booklet. The smell of freshly baked bread is so heavenly to me and just makes my mouth water and head spin and eyes roll in ecstasy. Tomorrow, I am making a Sour Dough Boule recipe from KAF, which I am truly excited about. My starter (sponge) is ready and I cannot wait to see how this other recipe turns out.

For this post, I’m not going to include the Whole Wheat Bread Recipe in this blog, as it is for the Bread Machine and I know that anyone who has a bread machine, this recipe and/or something like it is included in that recipe booklet. But it is worth showing you pictures. As far as the Sour Dough Boule, I will post the link to the recipe I used if it’s worth it.