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Friday, May 29, 2009

Cheddar Beer Grilled Cheese with Tomato Soup

Hello there!

Spring is whizzing right by, and I'm doing my best to keep up! While the weather has been up and down, I've consistently enjoyed the cool mornings and evenings, and have done my best to get out as much as possible during the days. This includes a canoe trip last weekend that left me with a very slight suntan and some serious bug bites.

I've been cooking up a storm, but trying to keep things quick and labor free to keep myself sane and the kitchen cool. I've been browsing recipes for raw recipes, including these granola bars and trying to minimize my time in the kitchen.

On a completely different note, I got a wild hair to try this Cheddar Beer Bread. Honestly, it was pretty good, but not amazing. If I made it again, I'd at least replace the water with canned tomatoes for sure. I'm not sure I'll make it again, but it makes an ok quick bread with potential for a few different uses.


Here's the setup



Recipe from Brown Eyed Baker

Three Cheese and Beer Quick Bread

6½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 tablespoon dried Italian herbs
1½ cups sour cream
2 cups beer, at room temperature
½ cup tomato juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups (6 oz) Gruyere cheese
1 cup (3 oz) Parmesan cheese
2 cups (6 oz) white cheddar cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9×5-inch loaf pans.
2. Grate all of the cheese.
3. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, dried mustard and Italian herbs.
4. Remove a 1/ 2 cup of the white cheddar and 1/2 cup of the Gruyere cheese and a 1/4 cup of the Parmesan and set aside for the topping of the bread. Add the rest of the cheeses to the flour mixture. Using your fingers mix in the cheese so all the cheese is coated in flour.
5. In a separate bowl whisk together the beer, sour cream, tomato juice, eggs and worcestershire sauce until thoroughly combined.
6. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula just till mixed. Do not over mix.
7. Divide the batter between the two greased loaf pans and press down with a spatula. Sprinkle the top with the cheese that was set aside earlier.
8. Bake for 50 -55 minutes or until done. Allow to cool in the pans for 15 minutes before removing them from the pans. Place on a wire rack to cool.


I used a bit more cheese than called for, because I think that's how life should be. I also used a lot of aged cheddar, and no Gruyere, because I don't like swiss :P



Here's the cheese.



The flour mixture, with a lot more herbs than called for (including the star, chives!!)



And the flour mixture next to the mixture of beer, sour cream, tomato juice, eggs and worcestershire sauce. Worcestershire is really savory and meaty, perfect in this bread!



In this case, mix just until things come together. The more you mess with the dough the more the gluten will develop. The more the gluten develops, the tougher the dough will become. So tread lightly!


Here's the dough, mixed just enough to come together.



I started with drop biscuits, and then made a loaf.









It occurred to me that making grilled cheese and making croutons are great ways to use well-flavored quick-breads.

This gave me a ton of ideas that I hope to explore soon.


I imagined an apple walnut bread for grilled cheese with brie, and croutons for a strawberry spinach salad.

Then I imagined roasted garlic and sun ripened tomato bread for grilled cheese with mozzarella and basil, and croutons for a salad with pesto dressing and a balsamic viniagrette.

Then I imagined a rosemary potato quick bread for grilled cheese with a young goat cheese, and croutons for salad with carmelized onions and grilled chicken.

The ideas and potential go on and on, and I hope you can use that idea to spark some of your own, but for now, here's the Cheddar Beer grilled cheese, and the simple tomato soup I made.

Simple Tomato Soup

This made enough for us each to have a large bowl, seconds, and still have leftovers. I'd say it made a good 8 cups.

1 tbsp. canola oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 pt. cherry or grape tomatoes, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, minced
2-5 cloves garlic if you like it
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 pt. milk/cream/soymilk/water/stock/whatever you have


Heat up the sauce pan, add the veggies, and cook until they're soft and the onions are translucent, around 10 minutes




Then, add your crushed tomatoes and extra liquid.






I have become a big fan of stovetop soups these days. They're fast, easy and usually healthy becuase they're so simple. After cooking your veggies and adding your liquid, just use your immersion blender.

I used the bread with some aged cheddar and parmesian.



Mmm. Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

This time of year brings my favorite flower, the peony!

Pretty pretty.





Next time, more garden photos! Until then, enjoy the spring!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Randoms and A Quick Dinner

Usually I plan my posts in my head a little before I start typing, but this post is a random, unfocused collection of the things bouncing around my life (and camera) at the moment, and an overdue review of some new kitchen equipment.

First: the garden.

I have been keeping a dedicated garden journal, which I highly recommend to any gardener out there. It's been very helpful to have garden events on record, and has forced me to reflect on the process in a new way. This diligent recording has left me with the feeling that things progress very slowly this time of year. That is until I left town this weekend on Friday, returned on Sunday, and could barely believe how much everything had grown in between. (Thanks in no small part to the watering services of the BFF)

To give you an idea of the plant life around here, here's a brief tour of the green things growing around my yard right about now, some of which I've planted and some of which are the glorious surprises that come with purchasing a home.

First, meet the iris. They are around this time of year and absolutely majestic. They don't last long, but their blossoms are huge, beautiful, and fragrant. They vary around my neighborhood. Mine are fluffy white, but my mother has smaller deep purple blooms.

Here they are outside.



And here where they belong, on my kitchen table in a tall thin vase.



Here is the single peach iris from my backyard.



Next meet the peonies that are starting to push out of their green shells. These and hydrangeas were my wedding flowers because they come up right around early June. Well, that and that they are both voluminous bursts of color. Soon, these will be big white pillows.



I've got the plot around back that we tilled. It currently houses kale seedlings that I started in the basement




new green beans-



and a few other seedlings that haven't shown their faces yet. (Carrots, peas, and beets.)

There are also lots of plants waiting in peat pots to be planted into the second plot we'll till this weekend. (yes we're late I know)

Some onions-



and a TON of tomatoes. I don't think most of these will fit into the beds, so we'll see where they end up.



Oh I planted this little basil from the coop.



We also have a planter with chives from the old owner and me.




and of course, the best food-gift we inherited from her, the raspberries. Very soon these will look like this, about a year ago.



So as you can see, the yard has been keeping me very busy. I really find solace milling around back there, moving slow and taking good care of these guys, as best as I know how. It's been a learning experience, and I can barely wait until things start producing real food!

I also wanted to share the quick dinner we had tonight to clean out the fridge and avoid going to the store.

I made rice with coconut milk, onions, garlic, tumeric, chicken stock, and black beans, and served that with red bell peppers I'd sauteed with some thinly sliced onions and this jerk sauce (funny how it's back this time of year again...)

This was delicious, entirely vegetarian, VERY cheap, and very fast.

Mmm.




oh hey, I should tell you about the cocktail I made up!

Ginger & Gin

Take a high-ball glass and some ice.

Add one shot gin (Seagrams is just fine, Tanqueray is better.)

Add the juice of 1/2 a fresh lime

And ginger ale to the top



mmmm.... Yeah, make one of those.

Finally, my ice cream machine! Scoop has asked for a review of it and my cast-iron griddle. I don't use the griddle often, so I plan to post a review the next time I use it. As for the machine, I've used it a couple times to make yogurt and ice cream, neither of which was based on a custard. Making ice cream and frozen yogurt has been very easy and successful. I simply added a little sugar, vanilla, and the fruit to my ice cream, and I used Alton's recipe for Vanilla Ice Cream.

I found the machine for around $35 on craigslist.org, in the box, only having been used a couple times. The machine is in great condition, and they even gave me rock salt! I highly recommend looking for cookware on craigslist.


Here she is! The biggest challenge with using an ice cream machine for me is having enough ice, since I don't have an ice machine. Keep the bowl and spinner in the freezer





Here's the motor and bucket



and some rock salt



You simply pour your cream mixture into the body, layer ice and rock salt surrounding the rotating chamber, and let it process for 30-45 minutes. If you're like us, you use that time to clean out your gutters.

So easy, cheap, delicious, and healthier than commerical ice cream or frozen yogurt.

In case you've forgotten...






Until next time readers, enjoy the brief pleasure that is spring!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Spring Part Deux: 15-Minute Asparagus Soup and Martha's Spring Chicken Ragout

Inspiration is not something that I find myself struggling to find. In fact, I have to limit my sensory intake sometimes because I often find myself feeling drawn in too many directions at once. (This is one reason I try to stay away from the computer. It's too easy to spend time observing other people's work while neglecting my own.) I have never wanted for dreams, inspired by something I've encountered along the way to something I thought I wanted.

That said, I have recently made a shift in perspective as to where I look for inspiration when it comes to putting together a meal. In my early independent cooking days, I built my meals around my basic education as a home cook. The sources for inspiration were new ingredients that I was discovering for the first time and new techniques that I was mastering.

When I was a graduate student, my meals were centered around being cheap, easy, and not requiring too much heat, as my oven easily overheated our one-bedroom apartment.

Now that we are homeowners, equipped with copious local resources for very high quality produce, dairy, and meats, and beginning to grow food ourselves, I'm really starting to shift the focus in my cooking to the ingredients that are seasonally appropriate. The farmer's market is finally back, and my local coop is filling up with fresh produce. I am slowly learning which items I ought to carefully select and use in abundance in each season, being wary of off-season substitutes that resemble the real thing but pale in comparison in taste. (I was lured into buying a big red tomato last week. It was terrible. I should have known.)

My big inspiration lately, as you might have guessed, has been asparagus. It is abundant at our farmer's market (unlike other very springy things like leeks and green garlic, which sell out very early and thus are never enjoyed by lazy, sleep-starved people like me.) and it has great flavor this time of year. So I've been looking for stalks about the size of my pointer finger and cooking them in liquid.

First, I made up a very simple soup that I've enjoyed all week.

15-Minute Asprargus Soup

Chop up

one bunch of asparagus
one medium yellow onion

Mince

3-5 cloves of garlic (if you're into that kind of thing)

Heat up a couple tablespoons of canola oil and sweat the asparagus and onion over medium heat. (almost no browing,mostly steaming.)

Once the asparagus is very green and the onion is translucent and soft (approx. 5-7 minutes), add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. (Don't let it get brown!)

Then, remove the tip pieces of asparagus. You'll use these whole in the final presentation of the dish.

Then, add

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2-2/3 c. half and half, milk, or cream

Cook this whole mixture for a few minutes, until it has reduced by 1/3 or so.

Then puree the rest of the soup.

I used this opportunity to whip out my immersion blender. (I made this entire soup in a sauce pan!)

Put a few tips of asparagus into a bowl and ladel the soup on top. I find it crucial with soups to have some texture. Nobody likes to eat babyfood.

This soup is very fast, very simple, and very delicious.

Here's a bad photo for you-




This soup represents one kind of recipe that I find very satisfying. It's straightforward, and the few ingredients really sing. I made it up on the fly, motivated by the mounds of asparagus I'd picked up at farmer's market, and it is the kind of dish I see myself making every spring at least once.

Sometimes I get the itch to cook something a little more involved, and I have a few sources for recipes to try. I find Martha Stewart's recipes to be very good, and this spring ragout begged me to make it for days before I finally gave in. I found this book in the clearance section at our local Stuff, Etc., which has become a great source for cookbooks for me. I think I paid 80 cents for this book, hardcover and in great shape. (This dish is on the cover!)

Spring Chicken Ragout

adapted from Martha Stewart

Fry in a pan-

2 pieces of chicken, bone in, skin removed, seasoned with salt and pepper. (Martha calls for breasts. All we had was quarters: thighs and drumsticks)

Once these are browned on both sides, add

1 3/4 c. chicken stock
4 tbsp. canned chopped tomatoes

Cook, covered, on low for around 20 minutes.

Remove the chicken.




Let it cool, and shred it off the bone.

Meanwhile, add to the liquid

1 leek, sliced, rinsed, and spun through a salad spinner (I find this to be the most reliable way to get rid of the grit that comes with leeks)



Ooh, you can see the baguette that is part of the snack I ate while I made this dinner.

Best spring snack ever?

Baguette+fresh butter+sliced breakfast radish+fleur de sel{+fresh ground black pepper. SO GOOD.



Ok back to the ragout.

If you have a bunch of free time, shell some fresh peas. This takes for.e.ver. but they are so sweet and special in the final recipe that it's :almost: worth the time it takes to shell them.

Martha calls for one cup, since I'm sure she has people to shell her peas for her. Me, I barely got 1/4 c. But boy were they tasty, and pretty, hm?



Add

1 bunch fresh asparagus, well cleaned, and chopped into 1-2 inch pieces.




Here are all the green things together. mmm.



You know what, now that we're thinking green, go get those chives. Chop them up and set them aside.



Now add all those veggies to the pan with the stock, along with 12 baby carrots that you've trimmed to equal size.





Cook for 5 more minutes.

Serve that over pasta with those chopped chives.





This is so simple, and so satisfying. It really represents for me a clear shift from cooler months to spring. I am craving simpler things, and even smaller portions. Summer makes me want light meals, vegetable centered, and broth based, rather than heavy cream based dishes, because that's what good right now.

My yard gave me these, too. :)



Next time, I owe Scoop an equipment review, and I'll talk a little more about my growing backyard garden. Hopefully it will soon include CHICKENS!

Oh yeah, dessert, right?



Vanilla ice cream, of course. God I love that machine.

So, where do you find your inspiration? How has that changed over your lifetime?

We will be moving into summer soon, but for now I am enjoying the warm, sunny days and cool nights of a true spring.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Spring:two ways. MORELS and asparagus shitake miso frittata!

It's official: spring is here.



All around my neighborhood spring is showing itself. Tulips and hyacinths are bursting, and the trees are covered in white and pink blossoms. My street smells so.good. this time of year.

What better way to celebrate than to cook some food that is really TRULY springy?!

In my part of the country (IOWA) there is nothing that signals spring more than the arrival of the uncultivatible wonder, MOREL MUSHROOMS.

If you have never been lucky enough to have experienced morel mushrooms, even if you hate mushrooms, I implore you. Spend the $20/lb. and get some. They are worth every penny.

Luckily, I'm awesome and have a super-secret spot. If you should be lucky enough to stumble upon a spot yourself, remember that being a morel hunter is much like being a magician: you never, EVER share the secret with anyone outside of the fold. Likewise, you spread the love by toting your bounty home in a mesh bag, rather than a plastic or cloth one, to scatter as many spores as possible.

The trick about morels is that they tend to look just like the normal vegetation on the ground this time of year, that being gray or brown.

Once you spot one, you'll know. They look like little trees




or little brains



some are very little.



If you're lucky, you'll end up with a haul.




All morel lovers are of different minds about how to prepare them. Me, I come from the simplicity school. The less you do the better.

I had a decent batch of mushrooms, so I divided the shrooms in half and prepared them two ways; simply pan-fried in butter, and breaded and fried.

First, cut them in half lengthwise. I used a damp paper towel to clean them off, but their ribs can be tough to get between. A quick splash in very cold water would be ok, but they must then be thoroughly dried.



The traditional breading here is saltine crackers, but I didn't have any on hand, so I made breadcrumbs from homemade wheat bread. (It's easy. Take any bread you have, cube it, roll it in salt and pepper, and bake until they're crunchy. Once they've cooled, just throw them in the food processor.)

Dip your babies into egg wash first, and then into your breading.

I took a page from fried chicken and cooked them in enough canola oil to come halfway up the side of each mushroom.


Take those out and put them on a paper towel to catch any oil. Sorry, these just aren't very cute, and I burned a couple, and I had to use the flash. SORRY. But good lord they were delicious. Morels are meaty and tender, and the breadcrumbs were well seasoned, light, and crunchy. Mmmmm.



I also wanted to approach the mushrooms in the simplest way possible, and butter really makes morels shine, so I simply sauteed them in butter with a little salt and pepper.

These were my favorite. Simply perfect. (seriously, click that one.)




Another sure sign of spring around here is asparagus. The plant itself is just facinating in how it grows (read about it here) and fresh spring asparagus is just delicious. My favorite way to have it is roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

This time, we had some of these great eggs to use.




Break your asparagus ends off by holding a spear on each end and bend. Where it breaks tells you what's good and what should be discarded. Chop them roughly into 1-2 in. pieces, leaving the tips a little longer.



Chop up some yellow onion and slice shitake mushrooms. Here I used on medium onion and six large shitakes. I discarded the stems and only used the caps.



Cook these together in some oil until they're mostly soft. The onions should be transparent.



Take some of those chives you've got growing in that old planter in the backyard. (These grow back after the winter apparently.)





Add them to 10-12 eggs that you've beaten up. Then, add 1/3-2/3 c. milk. In this recipe, I added 1/3 c. milk and 1/3 c. water that I added 1 tsp. of miso paste to. Miso is soybean paste, which is salty and tastes a little like soy sauce. I really like it with the asparagus and the mushrooms.

Pour your egg mixture over vegetables in your pan. (I'm using my cast iron here. You could also use a saucier, or maybe even a paella pan. You want something with a wide flat bottom, large open top, and can be used on the stove top and in the oven. A Dutch or French oven would work in a pinch, but you really want it only a couple inches deep.)




Cover with a thin layer of cheese. I've got a little jack and extra sharp cheddar here.

Keep this on low heat on the stove top until it's cooked most of the way through. For me, that was about 3 minutes. It'll really depend on your stove top, your pan, and the amount of egg mixture you used. (Oh! Be sure your eggs and milk are at room temperature. They will cook more evenly this way.)

Then, throw it under the broiler until the cheese is brown and the rest of the eggs are cooked through.



Yeah, like that.




You've made egg pie! You better have it with bacon.



Mmmmm.

Ok, you want dessert, too?

Alright. Buy that ice cream machine you've been wanting and make some frozen yogurt with the yogurt you made and the raspberries from the garden.

Put some almonds on top, because they're good.




There you go.

Feel like spring yet?

This glorious/crazy tulip in my yard has FOUR blossoms.



Oh, hey look, I have a garden! Soon all those seedlings will live there!



That's all for now folks! Next time, an equipment review and more deliciousness!
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