Monday, March 4, 2019

Another One That's Gina's Fault: Salmon Cakes

It's lovely when my friends support my hobbies. This past holiday season, I was gifted with a small jar of Penzey's wasabi powder. For the smell of the place alone, I miss living with easy access to a Penzey's.

When I took and experimental whiff of the powder, my brain immediately went, 'salmon,' and I thought I'd make salmon cakes. It didn't take long for the ingredients to come together in my head. I surfed the web a bit until I had a good idea of the proportions and came up with this:

  • 1 14.5 ounce can pink salmon (do not drain)
  • 3 green onions, chopped 
  • 3/4 Cup of bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon of celery seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon of wasabi powder
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 t light oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Shichimi Togarashi (a Japanese red pepper mix that I utterly adore)

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Carefully (as in be prepared for splashing) de-can the salmon using a fork and take apart any large chunks. Combine with the rest of the ingredients, using a rubber spatula. 

I wanted cakes, not patties, and while I know they're often fried, it made sense to me to use one of my muffin tins. Well, tin is really not the word, I have these:

I didn't press the mixture into the tin, rather I rolled it into six spheres, and then baked for 35 minutes.

For condiments, I put 2 T of mayonaise, 1t of soy sauce and 1 T of a creamy garlic hot sauce by Famous Daves in a ramekin and stirred until everything was evenly distributed. 

For serving, I put 2 cakes on a bed of butterhead lettuce and squeezed a bit of lemon over.

For a first try, I think they're pretty damn good, but I have some plans for improvement most of which can be summed up in one word: MORE. Green onions, wasabi powder, Shichimi Togarashi. I got a little of the wasabi flavor, but not quite enough. Under consideration as additives are finely chopped celery (I rarely buy celery because I need so little at a time. I should check a local salad bar) and a shallot. Also more lemon. Many of the recipes I browsed have red pepper in them, but I think that would take away from the wasabi and I don't want that. Some shishito peppers on the side, maybe.

Now, I need crabmeat to go on sale......

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Seeking perfection: Because I should be able to do Better than Starbucks: Sous Vide Egg Bites

You may have noticed people raving about Starbucks sous vide egg bites of late, and I think they're pretty damn good. They're reasonably filling, full of protein, and it's a nice change away from the typical American carb-heavy breakfast (but don't you even think about taking away my bagels).

Naturally, people started making their own, because this way there are no preservatives and you have more choices. I've been meaning to do this for a while, so today was the day. I got my proportions to start with from Inova, though I looked at multiple sites. 

I was surprised to learn that Starbucks uses cottage cheese in theirs. I mentioned this my friend Scott and he reached the same conclusion I did, "What about a nice ricotta?" So there was my first change. I also thought I wanted a few more fillings, so this is what I started with:

  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup of heavy cream (some sites say cream, some say cheese, some say both. So I embraced the power of AND)
  • 1/4 cup of whole-milk ricotta
  • 2 green onions
  • 3 pieces of bacon
  • 8 cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 6 grinds of black pepper
Also needed:
  • Water bath (I have a large Rubbermaid container with a hole cut out of the lit to fit around the circulator).
  • Tongs of some kind to lift your jars.
  • Immersion circulator
  • 6 4-ounce bell jars with 2-piece lids (Thank you Fae!)
  • Blender
I got a little ambitious and I'll get to that later.

First off, I set the immersion circulator for 172 degrees Farenheit (another site said 180 with a shorter cooking time, but the 172 felt better to me). I cooked the bacon instead of putting it directly into the jars. While the bacon was cooking, I chopped the tomatoes and put about 3/4 of them into the jars, figuring I'd save the other 1/4 for a topping if there was room.

Next, I chopped the green onions and followed the same procedure.

Cheese was next. I used a sharp cheddar. When the bacon was done, I crumbled it and spread it among the jars as well. I did a quick grind of black pepper over each jar.

6 eggs went into the blender, followed by the salt, ricotta, and cream. I blended on low for about 45 seconds, until it was all a lovely uniform shade of yellow just slightly darker than butter.

I poured the mixture into the jars up to the convenient line. Like I mentioned above, I got a little ambitious and had egg mixture left over. 

With the jars, you don't want to put the ring on too tight. Every site I looked at agreed. What you're going for is 'fingertip tight.' In other words, you want to be able to open the jar with your fingertips. The water pressure will take care of the rest.

Using the tongs (I have a pair tipped with silicone that I got from Target), carefully place your jars in your water bath, and set a timer for 60 minutes. Clean your kitchen. Scramble any leftovers  If, like me, your heating system is forced dry air, enjoy the extra humidity. 

When the timer goes off, turn off your circulator and carefully remove the jars onto a flat surface where you have paper towels or a dishcloth. After a minute, dry off the lids by blotting with paper towels or a clean dishcloth. They're ready to serve after about three minutes. I was pretty surprised at how quickly the jars were easy to pick up.

I ate mine with a spoon right out of the jar, but there are a few options here. Run a butter knife around the edges, pop off and finish with a torch for extra color & texture. Or top with cheese and broil for a little bit.

I want more cheddar in the next batch, and really, more fillings in general. I will need to consider this while I have these for breakfast all week. Meanwhile, I have plenty of goodies for topping before I pop them in the microwave.


Friday, December 28, 2018

Things I Will Not Buy Again: Salad Dressing

I started making my own salad dressing when I lived in Tennessee. If you've spent a lot of time in the American South, you'll know that ranch dressing is featured almost everywhere. Generally speaking, dressings are often creamy and most of them, no matter how good they taste are terrible for you. The sugar content alone is enough to make you scream.

At a large party a long time ago, there was a salad on the table and of course we served ranch. One of the attendees strongly disliked ranch and asked for vinaigrette. The hostess was not about to go and buy some. I dashed into the kitchen and made this in 30 seconds. It was something I'd watched my father make multiple times

  • 1 Tablespoon vinegar (my friend had red wine in the house)
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil (a light one is good here)
  • Pinch Salt
  • 4 grinds of Black Pepper (or three shakes)
  • 2 shakes dried Oregano
  • Pinch of sugar
I tend to save glass iced tea bottles for making dressing because then I can shake the hell out of it to blend and then taste. 

Yes, there is a touch of sugar in here, and if you're avoiding it altogether, you can leave it out. I do find it makes a nice addition, and you only need a tiny bit to work against the tartness of the vinegar.

The 3:1 base is good for starting all kinds of experiments.

I haven't made my own creamy dressing in a while, but it starts with mayonnaise and milk. Unfortunately, I do not remember the proportions I used, but I can tell you there were a lot of herbs and no sugar. 

It's easy. You probably have the ingredients for a good dressing in your pantry already. Feel free to mess around!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Blame the Millennials or Kate Makes Tomato Soup

A couple weeks ago, several of my friends posted this link on Facebook. The TL:DR of it is, millennials are killing canned tuna. Sales are down about 40%. I'm pretty surprised at this. As one of my friends pointed out, this is cheap, filling protein, and it's reasonably good for you. You'd think a generation that doesn't have a lot of money for groceries would jump all over it.

Anyway, it got me in mind of tuna melts, and since it's cold and often dreary outside I decided I also should make tomato soup to up the comfort food quotient. I did my usual thing of reading a lot of different recipes and came up with the following:

  • 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes (these happen to be roasted, but it's not necessary)
  • 3 strips of bacon
  • 1 T unsalted butter (it's probably okay with salted, this is what I had in the fridge)
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 generous teaspoon of dried thyme (in other words, don't level it) or 1 Tablespoon fresh
  • 1 generous teaspoon of parsley (or 1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh)
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon of salt. Keep some handy to add to your taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Keep some of this handy to taste as well
  • 1 Tablespoon cream for serving (optional)

In a large pot (a 2-quart saucepan is probably doable, but it will be pretty tight. I used my largest pot), cook the bacon on low-to-medium-low heat until crispy. Remove the bacon and do with as you will. Eat it. Save it for tomorrow's eggs. Put it on a salad. I put mine in the tuna salad. 

Melt the butter in the pan on medium-low heat and stir in your onions. Cook until they are translucent, then stir in your herbs. When the herbs are evenly distributed, add your tomatoes, including the juice in the cans. Stir well. Slowly add the broth, and then bring to a low boil.

I originally simmered, partially covered, for about twenty minutes and then used my stick blender on the low setting to give it a slightly rough texture. Feel free to go all the way to velvety. I happen to like my tomato soup with small chunks in it.

Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle cream on top if desired. 

Twenty minutes of simmering wasn't enough, I determined later. It was merely okay. For my next serving the following day, I simmered for an hour with the lid off. The difference was amazing. 

I ran out of tuna (this melt had Gruyere on it and was eaten on top of a crumpet) before I ran out of soup, so to add some protein to the third meal, I chopped up some Jarlsberg to add while I ate. Provolone also works here.

For my next time, I think I'll add a bit of garlic and maybe some lemon zest, possibly some additional herbs. More research is needed.

How do you like your tomato soup?

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Things I Will Not Buy Again: Cocktail Sauce

I have a secret. I hate commercial cocktail sauce from bottles and jars. They're oversweet and not very exciting. When I go to good restaurants, theirs, well, aren't. I wanted to figure out for myself how I can improve on shrimp delivery, so I did.

  • 6oz of unsalted, unsugared tomato paste. Canned is fine.
  • 4 Tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce.
  • 1-2 Tablespoons of white wine vinegar.
  • 2-4 Tablespoons of grated horseradish, again from a jar. 
Mix the ingredients in a suitable container, being sure to get everything mixed thoroughly. I used my fancy-pants $5.99 glass 2-cup measuring cup. Serve chilled, probably.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Studio Living With Brine or Kate Cooks Vegetarian

I'm dedicating this post to my aunt, Barbara. She has been incredibly supportive of Knives, Fire, and Fun and of my cooking adventures in general. Barbara, I think you'll enjoy this, if only for its flexibility.

One of my favorite easy dinners is wine and cheese with some bread and some kind of produce. Sometimes it's fruit, other times it's a marinated vegetable like mushrooms, artichoke hearts, or peppadew peppers.

Or olives (yes, I know that's a fruit). My favorite nibbles are a Greek mix and they go well with many cheeses, or simply bread with a little oil or butter.

The grocery store across the street recently started selling pasta made from chick peas, so I thought I'd give it a try. It's not bad. The texture will never be like semolina (you need gluten for that), but there is some tapioca in it, so there is some of the chewiness that's essential to the mouthfeel.

For some reason, my brain wanted Mediterranean flavors, so this is what I came up with for two main dish servings or four sides:

  • 1 8 ounce package of chick pea pasta
  • 1/2 Cup of mixed Greek olives, drained, rinsed, finely chopped or run through a blender or food processor 
  • 12-15 peppadew peppers, as above
  • 4 ounches of  feta cheese, crumbled
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil 
  • 3 tablespoons oregano
  • Black pepper to taste

Boil water for the pasta and salt it generously. When you're cooking chick pea pasta, you need a little more than you would for semolina pasta. You're also going to get some foam. Don't worry, you'll be rinsing it off in a bit. The rotini I used said 7-9 minutes. I started tasting at 7 and drained it at just barely 9. Rinse well, return to the pot. Stir in your olive oil, the oregano, and your vegetables, mixing until everything is evenly distributed to your eyes. I served mine in a bowl, but it would look very pretty on a plate especially on a bed of spinach.

This is tasty warm or cold and lends itself to many variations. Make it with semolina pasta. Use chick peas themselves. Switch out peppers and add sun-dried tomatoes or artichoke hearts. Eliminate the cheese and make it vegan, still getting plenty of protein. If you insist on meat, throw in a chicken breast and my best assumption would be to increase the vegetables by at least 50%.

If you have ideas or variations, please comment!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sauce or Soup? Or It's Gina's Fault

I was talking to one of my best friends a couple weeks ago and the subject of peanuts came up. I am kind of weird about peanuts. I don't particularly like them out of the shell, though I have been known to munch on them while drinking with friends and not thinking about it too much. You won't see me buying a bag at a ball game. I don't like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, but I will eat a Snickers as a meal replacement once or twice a year. Peanut butter sandwich? Hard pass. If there's peanuts in a box of chocolate truffles you'll see me heading straight for the caramel or the chocolate ganache on the other end of the box.

When it comes to Asian food, however, I quite enjoy them. They seem to belong there. Pad Thai. Satay. The top of a bun bowl (Vietnamese vermicelli with many wonderful things). Gina mentioned African Peanut Soup, which I'd never had before. Why not? I thought ,and set aside a Sunday afternoon.

I searched a lot and found Congo Cookbook, which has a lot of things I'm going to try. The peanut soup recipe, I have to say, was pretty vague, so you'll see a lot of my purple comments below. I doubled the recipe so I would use the entire jar of peanut butter (I have no other use for it), but I'm leaving the proportions as they are on the website: 

What you need
  • two or three cups chicken broth or chicken stock
  • one small onion, minced (I used Vidalia)
  • one small sweet green pepper (or bell pepper), minced (I used a green bell pepper and I can't help thinking a red or gold one would be better)
  • one clove of garlic, crushed (optional) (I do not grok "one clove of garlic" never mind "optional" in this context. I threw in 5)
  • salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper or red pepper (to taste) (this meant a few grinds of salt, about five grinds of black pepper, and a Tablespoon of cayenne. I'm thinking red pepper flakes for next time)
  • one hot chile pepper, minced (optional) (I used habanero, ribs and seeds removed)
  • one carrot, chopped fine or one sweet potato or yams, boiled and mashed (optional)(I went with the carrot. I only like sweet potatoes in fries. It's a texture thing)
  • one or two tomatoes, chopped or canned tomatoes (optional) (I used a 28 oz can, there's a reason, below)
  • one cup natural unsweetened peanut butter (or make your own peanut paste, see the simple peanut soup recipe below) (as I mentioned above, I used the whole 16 oz jar of peanut butter. I poured the oil off, then got the rest out with a rubber scraper)
What you do
  • If using homemade peanut paste (snipped because I used the below instructions)
  • If using peanut butter: Combine all ingredients except the peanut butter and simmer over medium heat until everything is tender. Reduce heat, add the peanut butter and simmer for a few minutes more. Stir often. Soup should be thick and smooth.

Simplest Peanut Soup (which I'll try next time, though I did add the cream listed here)
The simplest Peanut Soup recipe calls for two parts chicken stock, two parts shelled peanuts, and one part milk or cream. (I ended up adding a bit more) Start by roasting the peanuts in a baking pan in a hot oven, or on the stove in a large skillet, turning often. Remove the skins from the peanuts and mash them with a mortar and pestle, mince them with a knife, crush them with a rolling pin, or use a food-processor. (Or you could use one part peanut butter, preferably natural and unsweetened.) Combine the peanut paste with the chicken stock in a saucepan and simmer for thirty minutes to an hour. Season with salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and sugar to taste. Stir in milk before serving.

Like I said, a little vague. I don't know if my deviations mean the soup has lost its African identity. If anyone has experiences in this area they'd like the share, please do.

When I first tasted the soup, it burned my mouth for about fifteen minutes. If you've eaten spicy food with me, you'll know that doesn't happen too often. So, I had to cut the heat a bit.

This meant, first of all, more cream than originally called for. If I'd been thinking, I would have added that last, but dairy was the first thing I thought off. It was still OMG spicy, so I went for some acid that wouldn't curdle the cream and the rest of the tomatoes went in. To cut it even further, I added a teaspoon of honey that has Meyer lemon juice in it. This was much better, though all the heat was now at the end of the mouthful. 

I really wasn't sure what to do about the texture. "Thick and smooth" to me means blending, so out came the immersion blender. 

While I was making the soup, there were chicken breasts in a water bath getting the sous vide treatment. I had originally planned to use a habanero and some acid for a marinade, but with the soup so hot, I just added salt, black pepper, and half a lemon's worth of juice to the chicken and put the breasts in their vacuum bags with a lot of fresh parsley

Once I cooked the soup down, unpacked the chicken, and made the rice, my guinea pig (thanks Scott!) and I made an interesting discovery: The lemony chicken tasted delicious when dipped in the soup. Well, it was more like a sauce, really, and I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it needs more protein elements? Chunks of vegetables instead of the minced? This calls for more research and experimentation after I eat the leftovers. 

Regardless, it was delicious and I'm happy to say I've got a ton of leftovers. It could be used for a poaching liquid or I could put it in a vacuum bag for sous vide. 

Question? Comments? Other thoughts? Please let me know!