apple beet juice

Whenever I’m feeling tired, unhealthy or huge because I’ve been sampling too many cupcakes, Ruffles or wine (or all of the above), I turn to homemade juice for help.  I’ve done a few straight juice cleanses, but have found that sometimes, replacing just one meal a day with a juice makes me feel better.  It’s also a lot easier to manage.  And let’s face it– food is too good to give up.

Any rules that may exist about homemade juice don’t have to be followed.  I like that.  It gives me a break from all the math.  Lemon juice and ginger are staples, but the other ingredients can be almost any combination of fruits or vegetables you like.  Almost, because produce with a higher water content works best, and potato juice wouldn’t be very appetizing.  Otherwise, be fearless and have fun!

Be careful when making this cocktail.  Beets stain.  They stain everything.  Cutting boards, fingers, back splash tile, and your favorite white shirt can and will fall victim to the “blood” spatter.  Timely crime scene clean up is of utmost importance.

 

Materials (makes about 10 ounces)

3 apples, cut into quarters
2 medium beets, cut into halves
1 inch piece of ginger
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

 

Protocol

1. Press ginger, apple and beet pieces (no need to peel) through juice extractor and watch the magic happen.

2. Add fresh lemon juice, stir and enjoy immediately.

Lemon and other citrus fruit zest is very bitter, and should not be put into the juicer.  Also, because they don’t contain preservatives and haven’t been pasteurized, fresh, homemade juices have a short shelf life.  So drink up!

homemade vegetable broth

The official name of this broth is “garbage soup,” but I didn’t think that would entice anyone’s taste buds.  When I first heard about garbage soup, I’ll admit, I was disgusted, but intrigued.  It’s named so because the key ingredients are scraps typically composted, thrown out or *gasp* fed to the garbage disposal.  Turns out, I’ve never tasted a better soup base.

Aside from the flavor possibilities, one wonderful thing about this “recipe” is that there are no rules as to what goes in, or how to cook it.  Onion, garlic and carrot peels, mushrooms, pumpkin innards left over from carving, celery root, leek ends, broccoli, peppers, fresh herb stems, turnips…  just about anything.  I’ve even used apple peel before!  A true experiment, if you will.

 

Materials (original idea and recipe by my dear friend, Sue)

any vegetable scraps (I take it easy on potato peels; too much starch)
fruit scraps (optional)

 

Protocol

1. Save produce leftovers in a plastic bag or airtight container, and place in freezer.  Add peels and scraps as they remain from vegetables used for other meals, and return to freezer until you’ve collected enough.

What’s enough?  That’s up to you and how much soup you’ll be making.  I started with a 1-gallon plastic bag full of produce peels, and yielded about 3 cups soup.  But again, there is no right or wrong.

2. When ready to make the broth, bring water and veggies (about 2:1 ratio, meaning for every 2 cups water, add about a cup of peels) to a boil, lower heat and allow to simmer.  The longer, the better, so the veggies have a chance to work their magic.  That’s it!

Once strained, the broth can be used immediately, or frozen for future use.  To make smaller servings of the soup base, pour cooled broth into an ice cube tray, and freeze until needed.  And once boiled and strained, the vegetables can still be composted.

So long, Buillon cubes!

 

an indian feast: curry red lentils, palak paneer, yellow basmati rice with cashews & spiced yogurt

One of my favorite cuisines, aside from Mexican food, potato chips and Nutella, is Indian.  I used to eat it often in California, but haven’t found a spectacular Indian restaurant in Portland yet, and I refuse to pay $47 for a meal to experiment.  So I’ve resorted to making my own.  Also, my dad likes it and requests “the Indian food” each time he visits.  So for more reasons than just one, it was important to have a staple feast recipe on hand.

Let’s start with the lentils.  Lentils are awesome.  Brown, red, yellow, black (also known as Beluga)… They’re all filling, full of protein, and they pack a fiber punch.  The other important players for this feast are paneer (a non-melting, mild-flavored Indian cheese that resembles firm tofu), spinach, yogurt, and a whole list of fragrant spices.  When I first attempted to cook anything Indian, I was intimidated by the lengthy list of ingredients each recipe called for.  It seemed that 9 out of 13 items was a spice, which deterred me every time.  This was before I discovered bulk spice bins.

Heard of cardamom?  It’s found in many Indian dishes, smells divine, and costs $50/pound.  My beloved New Seasons wants someone’s hourly wage for a 2-ounce jar, but the per recipe cost is in pennies (if purchased from the bulk bin).  I hope you don’t find this meal intimidating.  But do plan.  Always.

Let’s cook!

Materials and Protocols (serves 2-4, depending on hunger level)
Before I go on, a quick note: Kosher salt to taste in everything!

Lentils

1 Tbsp oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp red chili flakes
1 Tbsp curry powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp mustard powder
1 cup lentils, any variety can be used (note: brown will require more liquid and a longer cooking time)
4 cups vegetable broth, or water and an appropriate amount of bouillon, or just water if you don’t have either
1/2 (8 oz.) can coconut milk (full fat or “lite”)

Heat oil in a large, heavy pot.  Add onions and garlic and cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add spices, stir and cook for another 2 minutes.  Add lentils and stock/water, coconut milk and stir.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cover.  Stirring every 10 minutes or so, cook for 30-60 minutes.  NOTE: Cooking time of lentils depends on the type used.  Brown lentils contain a super high amount of fiber and usually take an hour to cook, whereas, yellow and red lentils are done in about 30 minutes because they contain slightly less fiber.

Palak paneer (palak = spinach, and paneer can be substituted with firm tofu to make the dish vegan)
1-2 Tbsp oil (I always use extra virgin olive, but go with the highest quality you have available)
1-1.5 lbs paneer, cubed
1 pound frozen spinach, thawed, blended in food processor
2 tomatoes, puréed
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp red chili flakes
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 can coconut milk (I use full fat, but the “lite” works just as well)

Heat oil in a heavy saucepan.  Add paneer, cover and cook, gently stirring often, until most of the cubes have browned.  When cooked, place the paneer onto a few paper towels, and set aside.  Reuse the same pan to heat a teaspoon of oil.  Add tomatoes and spices, and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add spinach, stir and cook covered, on medium heat, for 5-7 minutes.  Add coconut milk, paneer, stir and lower heat to a gentle simmer.  Cook for an additional 12-15 minutes.

Rice
2 cups basmati rice, cooked
1 Tbsp oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp curry
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 cup cashews, or peanuts, coarsely chopped

Heat oil on medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pot.  Add onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add spices and nuts, stir and cook for another minute.  Toss into the rice, and stir well to combine.

Yogurt
2 cups plain yogurt (I use Greek, but it requires water to make it a bit runny)
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cardamom

Put all ingredients into a bowl and whisk together.  Sprinkle with a bit of cardamom prior to serving.

 

white chocolate chip, pistachio & sea salt cookies

Dinner’s been made and eaten, and the kitchen cleaned sterilized.  It’s time for dessert, but there’s nothing sweet in the house.  No, an apple isn’t the kind of sweet I want right now.  Unless it’s warm, sprinkled with cinnamon, flanked by a buttery crust and bathing in vanilla ice cream, an apple is just an apple.  I want a real dessert.  And now that I’ve mentioned it, my main taste tester does, too.  The problem is, I’ve already taken my face off, and have slipped into my velour jumpsuit (aka “comphies”), so going out for dessert is not an potion.  There may not be anything sweet in the house, but I do have white chocolate chips, a bag of shelled pistachios (a bad idea unless you practice restraint) and all the basic baking ingredients.

It’s settled– we’re having cookies!

 

 

What I love most about these cookies is that the sweet, salty, chewy and crunchy all happen at the same time.  The pistachios can be chopped with a knife, but using a food processor creates coarsely chopped pieces, plus a bit of pistachio butter, which enhances the flavor.

  

 

Materials (for 25-30 cookies, depending on your scoop, and whether you eat raw batter like I do; adapted from Joy the Baker)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp Kosher or sea salt
1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips
1 cup shelled pistachios, chopped in the food processor
coarse sea salt for sprinkling

 

 Protocol

1. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees F.  Line a cookie sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper, and set aside.

Before I continue, I have to tell you that I love love love my silicone mat.  But, to see what difference it would make, I baked a batch of these cookies on parchment paper, and these cookies took 5 minutes longer to bake, looked different and had a slightly harder texture.  The silicone mat cookies baked faster and had a better consistency.  Both materials work.  It’s just a matter of what you have available.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

3. In another bowl, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add the egg, and beat to combine. Add vanilla and beat until completely mixed in.

4. Pour in the dry ingredients, and mix until incorporated, but don’t over beat.

5. Using a spoon, stir in the chocolate chips and pistachios.

6. Scoop out about 2 Tbsp and form into a ball.  Place on prepared cookie sheet about 2 inches apart, and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until cookies are golden brown.

7. Allow to cool at room temperature for a few minutes; then transfer to a cooling rack.  Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

I reheated day old cookies in a toaster oven for about a minute at 200 degrees, and they were as perfect as their freshly-baked cousins.

 

panzanella

Earlier this week, a woman at work brought in a box of what looked like 800 tomatoes.  Her vegetable garden is very giving, and, evidently, so is she.  The day this bounty came in, I didn’t want to be greedy so I took only three tomatoes, which is just what I’d need for a Margherita pizza or a Caprese salad.  But as the week continued, even though fewer and fewer tomatoes remained, there were still a lot left.  That’s when I took more.  Like, six more.  Don’t tell anyone.

Let’s make a salad.  A salad with bread!

Materials (serves four, or two famished souls, adapted from Ina Garten)

Salad
about 6 cups of peasant bread (or a baguette if you like crust), cut into 1-inch cubes
3 Tbsp olive oil
3-4 cups tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 English cucumber, diced
1/2 red onion, sliced into
20 sprigs of fresh basil, coarsely chopped

 

Vinaigrette
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp ground mustard, or Dijon mustard
1 large garlic clove, finely diced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

 

Protocol

1. In a large saucepan, heat oil on medium, add bread pieces and stir to coat.  Cook until browned, stirring as necessary to prevent burning (took me ~10 minutes).  Set aside.

2. To make the vinaigrette, add all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine.

Notice how the oil and vinegar don’t separate as they usually do?  The addition of mustard (a bonding agent due to its physical properties, which I could go into, but you might cry of boredom) creates an emulsion, which is a dispersion of molecules of one substance  (oil) in another (water) in which it’s usually not soluble.  In other words, two solutions that wouldn’t usually comingle, are now close friends.  Other culinary emulsifying agents include egg yolks and honey.  In case you don’t already know, science is too cool for words.

3. Before serving, toss all vegetables in the vinaigrette, add bread and toss again.  Feta is a nice addition, but not necessary or called for.  My sous chef (read: husband) loves cheese, so I sprinkled some in last minute.  I enjoyed the scant 1/2 cup of what was left over the next day, and though the bread was a bit soggy, the salad was still wonderful.

By the way, last I looked, at least 18 more tomatoes were still looking for a new home.

a trip to outer space & dill ranch dressing

During last week’s impromptu trip to San Francisco, I had the chance to dine at a restaurant I haven’t been to since college.  At the risk of aging myself, that was circa 2001.  Adorned in pink, 50s style diner seating and glitter, Saturn Café serves up a bowl of awesome in every dish.  What I most remember is, of course, the condiment that I drowned my steak fries in.  Holy dilly mayo!  The best ranch dressing in the Universe was back in my life!  Fortunately for my shrinking clothes, they don’t sell it.  But now that I was reminded of the ranchy goodness, I couldn’t let another eleven years pass before I have it again.  I had to make my own.

This recipe will probably evolve over time, but right now, it’s the closest thing to the best ranch dressing I’ve ever known.  I made about a pint tonight, and between two dinner salads, a mere few tablespoons remain.  Assuming you are more sensible and have leftovers, this dressing can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge (or as we say in the lab, “the 2-8″) for up to a week.

 Materials

2/3 cup buttermilk (if you prefer a thicker dressing, add less)
3/4 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp mayonnaise (don’t even bother with the reduced stuff)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp red onion
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp fresh parsley
2 Tbsp fresh dill
1 Tbsp fresh chives
1/2 tsp cayenne

 

Protocol

1. In a medium bowl, whisk all ingredients together. If your taste buds tell you to do so, add more salt.  Dip, pour or drink- I won’t tell.

beautiful food

Aside from the attractions, shopping and terrible service I’ve been experiencing in restaurants, Vancouver B.C. has kept me entertained with all the amazing food.  Food, yes, my main concern.  It wouldn’t be vacation if I didn’t gain at least three pounds.  I present to you a sampling of what my eyes and/or belly have been feasting on:

olives from an olive bar at the Granville Market

 

limes that look like mini brains

 

I don’t even eat it, but it’s pretty

 

frosting never gets old

 

colorful vegetables!

 

Cupcakes’ mint n’ chip and caramella

 

more sweets…

And last, but certainly not least…

I may be out of the country, but my potato chip addiction remains.  These “all dressed” potato chips taste kind of like the BBQ flavor in America.  Simulated flavor and all, they’re good.  That’s all the cashier at the market told me, and she was right.

Must lick orange salt off fingers now.

P.S. This is how I behave after ingestion of 2000+ calories worth of dessert.  Olive is genuinely worried about me.

What do you mean I can’t have a fourth cupcake?!?! Aaaargh!

a change of heart & lemon olive oil cake

Last week, while walking to New Seasons with my other half, I announced my plan to make an olive oil cake.  “Why?” he protested.  For fun, because a lemon winked at me earlier, and why not?  It’s cake, and cake consumption doesn’t always need to be justified.  He wasn’t convinced, but wasn’t going to stand in my way.  By now, he knows better.

Fast forward two minutes.  New Seasons is having a tasting, and on the menu– almond olive oil cake.  As though I planned it.

A bite in, and I hear a hearty “yuuum.”  Can you tell where this is going?

Another two minutes and three samples later, my olive oil cake idea is brought up.  But this time, it’s heavily supported and encouraged.  Though it was tasty, the almond cake had anise in it, which I try to avoid as much as possible.  It reminds me of O-chem lab and the day I spent too much time in front of a distillation column making my own anise extract.  I’ve since repressed the memory of the licorice-like stench and the grade that came with it.

Lemon it was.

Moist, dense and fluffy inside; crunchy and imperfect on the outside.  Delightful alone; magical alongside a Moscato.  Like my 4.0 GPA, this cake didn’t last long.

 

Materials (adapted from Gourmet)

1 cup cake flour (or this, in case of emergency)
1 large lemon (zest and juice)
5 egg yolks
4 egg whites
3/4 cups granulated sugar, plus 2 Tbsp for sprinkling
3/4 cup good quality olive oil
1/2 tsp Kosher salt

 

Protocol

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees  F.

2. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter, place a 9-inch round piece of parchment paper on the bottom and grease the top of the paper.  Set aside.

3. Grate an entire lemon, add the zest to the flour and squeeze the juice.  Save for a few steps ahead.

4. In a medium bowl, beat yolks and 1/2 cup sugar on high for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture thickens and turns pale yellow.

5. Reduce speed, add olive oil and lemon juice and beat only to combine.

6. Gently fold in the flour mixture, and set bowl aside.

7. In another bowl, beat egg whites and salt until foamy (about 30 seconds).

8. Add sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, and continue beating until soft peaks form.

9. Gently fold in half of the whites into the yolk mixture until the color lightens, then add the remaining whites and continue to fold in until no streaks remain.

10. Pour batter into the prepared pan, and drop the pan onto a cutting board three times to remove any trapped air bubbles.

11. Sprinkle the remaining 2 Tbsp of sugar over the top, and place into oven.

12. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and dry.

13. Cool the cake on a rack for 15 minutes, or until you can safely remove the wall of the pan.

14. Allow the cake to further cool at room temperature for about an hour, and then remove the parchment paper from the bottom.  Set onto a serving plate, grab a fork and enjoy the Summer party about to hit your taste buds.

science of cake flour

I don’t know about you, but I don’t always have cake flour on hand, especially when I need it.  And sometimes, all purpose just isn’t.  Or is it?  Of course it is.  It’s too much!  It’s too much gluten!  But unless you’re making bread, you don’t want that.  All purpose flour contains about 11% protein; cake flour has about 7%.  Doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but certain recipes (say, angel food cake), demand cake flour because the lower protein content produces the absolutely necessary light and airy result.  Other recipes are more lenient, and can accept a substitution.  For those recipes, read on and make your own cake flour.

For every one cup of cake flour that a recipe requires, a mix of all purpose flour and cornstarch can be combined to make a substitute.  Cornstarch contains no gluten, and serves to cut down on the total protein in the mixture.  It’s certainly not a perfect swap, but will work in most recipes, and if you have no other option, it’ll do.  If you have time, however, run out to the market and buy some cake flour.

 

Materials (for 1 cup flour)

1 cup minus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 Tbsp cornstarch

 

Protocol (the easiest method)

Place two tablespoons of cornstarch into a measuring cup, and add all purpose flour to the 1 cup mark.  Sift three times to fully incorporate the two components into one another.  You can also scoop out a full cup of all purpose flour, remove 2 tablespoons, and then replace them with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, but that’s way too much math.  Add, subtract, then add again…  No thanks.  I’m not a mathematician, and I hope you don’t have a parabolem with that.

 

asparagus & gruyere tarts

Every now and then (OK, more often than that infers), I prefer a simple dinner– a dinner that requires little time standing in front of a hot stove, especially if it’s already a hot Summer day.  I don’t own or use a microwave oven, so poison-blasted meals, no matter how quick and easy, are never an option.  By the way, a hot day is anything over 81.

Today I was in dire need of groceries, but in no state to devote the usual 45 minutes it takes to plan out two weeks’ worth of meals, write down the necessary ingredients, and reorganize the list based on the items’ locations within the store.  Yes, I really do all that, and it’s a super time and money saver.  The fastest part of this routine is the grocery store attack, but much like my own house, my go-to store is undergoing a remodel, and things are not where they used to be.  Story of my life these days.  Hence, the need for a quick and easy dinner. And hopefully some leftovers for the next day.

Enter tarts.  I had sweet plans for this dough, but I can’t always have Nutella for dinner.

 

Materials (for 12 small tarts, adapted from Martha Stewart)

1 package commercial puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed in fridge overnight
2 Tbsp flour
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 pound finely shredded Gruyere cheese
~ 1 pound fresh asparagus (or frozen, if you’re absolutely desperate, and New Seasons just ran out and won’t have any until tomorrow)
salt and pepper to taste
balsamic reduction

 

Protocol

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Place pastry sheets onto a floured surface, and cut into 12 equal rectangles.

3. Lightly press using your fingers, and, using a knife, score each rectangle about 1/4 of an inch from the edge.

4. Brush each with egg, cover with a generous amount of Gruyere, and sprinkle with freshly ground salt and pepper.

5. Top with four to six asparagus spears (cut ends to fit on pastry), and place into oven.

6. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown.

To make the balsamic reduction, pour 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar into a small, heavy bottomed pot and put on medium to low heat.  Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the consistency is slightly thinner than you want it.  Remove from heat.

Drizzle balsamic reduction onto a plate and rest pastry into the pool of sweet tarty love.  Dip, swirl and engulf.

vegan dark chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter cream cheese frosting

Some things just go together.  Bread & butter, the sun & wrinkles, black & everything, and peanut butter & chocolate.  With an important birthday to celebrate, it was crucial to make the most decadent version of a Reese’s cup because on birthdays, calories don’t count.  Just kidding, of course they count, and this cupcake will destroy your diet.  But go for it anyway, because life’s too short to eat non-, low- and free-.

This cupcake doesn’t just resemble sunshine, it causes clouds to part and angels to sing

 

Materials (for 12 incredibly moist and fluffy cupcakes, adapted from Joy the Baker)

Cupcakes
1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (best quality available, i.e. NOT Hershey’s)
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of Kosher salt
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup oil (I used light olive)
1 tsp white distilled vinegar (I’ll explain)
1 cup cold water

 

Frosting (makes enough to generously pipe onto 12 cupcakes. Use half the recipe if lightly spreading onto cupcakes)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened at room temperature
4 ounces (1/2 stick) of butter, softened at room temperature
2-3 cups sifted powdered sugar (depending on desired level of sweetness)
2/3 cup creamy, natural peanut butter
peanut butter cups (for garnish)

 

Protocol

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F, and prepare a cupcake pan with liners and set aside.

2. Sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl, and set aside.

3. In another bowl, add the vanilla extract, oil, vinegar and water.

4. Gently whisk the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients, and mix to combine.  Do not use an electrical mixer, and do not overmix (batter will be very runny and wet).

5. Pour the batter into the prepared cupcake pan, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean and dry.  Allow cakes to cool completely before frosting.

So why the vinegar?  Well, vinegar is an acid, and its interaction with baking soda (a base) results in a fizzy chemical reaction that creates carbon dioxide, which helps give rise to your cakes and other baked goods.  Works great when you’re out of eggs, or don’t want to use them!

To make the frosting, place the butter and cream cheese into a small bowl and cream using an electrical mixer.  Add half of the powdered sugar, and beat to combine.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add remaining sugar, and mix for another 30 seconds.  At this point, you’ve made a luscious cream cheese frosting, and it’s perfectly acceptable to eat a large spoonful of it.  Consider it quality control testing.  To finish the frosting, add peanut butter and mix to combine.  Spread over cooled cupcakes, and garnish with chopped peanut butter cups.  Then do more QC testing.