Foodie Tuesday: Do Not Refuse to Enthuse

Does my post title confuse? Bemuse? Please, friends, excuse. My moment of enthusiasm is not meant to give you a contusion, it’s only about infusion.

Photo: Infusion Effusion

For my infusion effusion: nope, not a solo meatball, but a tea ball full of flavoring goodies.

Putting flavor into liquid without leaving the flavoring agent in it any longer than necessary (or desired) is what one does when one is longing for a spot of tea or a cuppa joe, but it is surprising how seldom we remember the option when cooking. Cooking, as I do, for a mostly anti-veggie person, I find that he objects less to things that have been cooked into a dish or sauce until they’re visibly indiscernible and mild in flavor, so sometimes it’s also nice to infuse the food with flavors but not leave the actual flavoring agent in it at all, so as not to distract my partner from his appointed dining.

Making a mild variant of Tom Kha the other day, then, I used a tea strainer for the green stuff and a few other tasty Thai ingredients, knowing that I could pull out the solids when the liquid was seasoned enough by them. A base of homemade bone broth mixed with coconut milk and a bunch of home-ground curry powder is easy enough to throw together when those are all in the fridge, freezer, and/or pantry, as is almost always the case here, curries being as favored as they are in our house. I filled the tea ball fairly full of my various secret-agent Thai flavors: lots of minced fresh ginger and varying smaller quantities of Thai basil and cilantro leaves, lemongrass, red pepper flakes, and I would usually add kaffir lime leaves too, but had run out. In addition, I poured in a little lime juice (to substitute for that last ingredient) and some Tamari. Sometimes it’s fish sauce, sometimes Tamari.

Photo: Flavor Bomb

Strange looking, perhaps, but also strangely tasty.

 

I put some chunky diced carrots and celery and mushrooms into the broth along with the tea ball and the other liquids and simmered them all until they were cooked to my liking, keeping the heat on a very low simmer for a fairly long time. At the end of the process, it’s so easy to toss in, as I did, a big handful of langoustine tails to finish cooking them. Also great as a plain vegetable dish, with tofu (though I’m supposed to limit soy, because of my thyroid meds), with prawns or cubed chicken. Lastly, though it’s hardly a strict adherence to Tom Kha traditions, I do like to either serve the soup like a sauce over rice or add bean threads or, as in this instance, rice noodles.

So easy, so flavorful, so flexible. And such a dish, in turn, infuses my senses with all kinds of pleasant memories, going back to my first tastes of southeast Asian foods, most notably the feasts prepared by my fabulous Thai roommate and girlfriends when we were all in college together. Delicious. Yes, the memories, of course—and the food, too!Photo: Tom Kha Variant

Foodie Tuesday: Swim for It

If left to my own devices to raise or, more difficult yet, forage and hunt for all of my food, I’d soon enough be a non-meatatarian. I haven’t the patience or the skill for any sort of animal husbandry, nor the remotest chance of outsmarting anything sentient in order to catch it. But despite my pitiful showing as a junior fisherman alongside Gramps in days of yore, I think I could pull myself together enough to learn how to fish and forage the sea enough to keep my love of seafoods at least occasionally treated. Good protein, too.
Photo: Salmon Champagne Evening

Sometimes I am happy enough to have a rather plain fried, roasted, baked, steamed, raw, or poached piece of fish. When it’s pristinely, spankingly fresh and sweet, fish should probably not be made too fancy. Why mask perfection? At most, a dash of fresh herbs or a little zip of some lovely masala ought to be plenty of interest to vary the day’s meals. Even I have been known to identify and safely pick and consume wild sorrel, which is an excellent companion to fish in modest amounts. And of course, there’s nothing friendlier with a piece of salmon than citrus or ginger root or plain black pepper, if the foraging can extend as far as a grocery store. One thing I do think well worth the [negligible] fuss if I’m preparing salmon with its skin is to sear it, lightly salted, in butter or a high smoke-point oil before I cover its pan to finish cooking it through on cooktop or in the oven, because crispy salmon skin is delicious and its crunch a wildly beautiful complement to the velvety tenderness of the flesh. Once my palate was introduced to this marvel, I wondered how I had managed to enjoy salmon so much, so often, without having known what I’d been missing. Salty, slightly fat, salmon-flavored, and crispy? How could I not love it!
Photo: See Food

Of course, there are innumerable other outstanding ways to enjoy and indulge in seafood, if one does happen to have access to plenty of other ingredients. Seafood fried rice is one very flexible, quick to fix, and reliably delectable way to enjoy such things. Salmon in bite sized pieces, for one seafood treat, goes quite well with the contrasting grains of rice, lovely with rich that’s been cooked in either broth or coconut water or milk and filled with a delicate confetti of diced celery, carrots, onions, bell peppers, or peas, whether shelled or in sugar snap or snow pea form. But as you can see in the accompanying photo, I enjoy, along with salmon or other kinds of fish, those admirable insect imitators the crustaceans. Hardly anything, sea-based or otherwise, is more enticing in fried rice than crab (naturally, I vote for Dungeness first, every time), lobster, langoustines, or shrimps of various sizes. I would guess that some tiny, tender clams might be more than acceptable in this sort of dish as well, but truthfully, I doubt I’ll ever get quite that far, as long as any of the usual suspects are available. Never say never.

Meanwhile, back at the fried rice, I am still an old Occidental renegade when I make it, cooking it much too slowly for a wok-master’s taste and throwing in whatever I have on hand and am in the mood to eat, from the aforementioned vegetable ingredients, crisply sautéed, to seasonings like Tamari or soy sauce, citrus juice, fresh or candied or pickled ginger or ginger syrup (or all four, as I am an unregenerate ginger fiend), honey, shallots, and/or chile pepper flakes. All of these cook in gently, over low heat, while I’m stirring in an egg to scramble into shreds, and then letting the rice slowly develop a good crust amid copious lashings of fat—coconut oil, avocado oil, ghee, whatever I have on hand. All of this, until I can’t quite wait any longer. Must keep that seafood delicate and fresh. Until I can devour it, anyway.

Foodie Tuesday: Gallimaufries and Slumgullions

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Easy Chocolate-Raspberry Mousse, made with 1 avocado or the equivalent in pre-made avocado mash, 2 ripe bananas, 1 cup frozen raspberries, 1/2 cup almond butter, 2 tablespoons clarified butter, 1/4 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla paste, 1/2-1 teaspoon real almond flavoring, and a pinch of salt, all pureed together until smooth and chilled thoroughly.

I’ve soliloquized on leftovers here many a time, because few of us don’t have, and use, them with a certain amount of frequency. It can be, as I’ve mentioned, something that lives on only as the humorously known YMCA (Yesterday’s Muck Cooked Again), or with a little thought and effort, it can be a whole new being. It can be a watery mishmash of tasteless goo, a slumgullion, or with some inventiveness and luck, a tasty new experience in and of itself. My recent post on rethinking the remains of broth-making is one example of happily finding the latter.

In addition to making use of the extant collection of remains on display in the museum of the refrigerator and cupboards, one can always prepare those foundational foods that become ingredients for a gallimaufry of further dishes and meals. It’s a sort of slower or longer-term version of mise en place. One that has proven particularly useful to me is the simple fix of mashing a few ripe avocados with lemon or lime juice and a pinch of salt and keeping them in the fridge in a zipper bag. In a two-person family that lives in a warm climate, it’s hard to keep whole avocados fresh for any length of time, so since this particular family is also a one-car family and I don’t wish to finagle grocery shopping almost daily, this simple avocado mash stores, unchanged, in the icebox for a fair length of time while I take out daily bits, squeeze the air out of the bag and seal it, and chill it again until the next use.photoThat easy fix for my avocado problem (you can decide whether that means spoilage or addiction in this case) has presented a whole world of possibilities not previously quite so accessible. Straight out of the bag, the mash can go directly into any number of dishes, both savory and sweet: add a little cumin and chipotle and cilantro, and it’s guacamole; mash in a ripe banana and some cocoa powder and vanilla and honey, and it’s chocolate pudding. Or the avocado can just go directly into my mouth, because lemony avocado mash is a delicious accompaniment to all sorts of good meals.

The broth-offspring remix turns out to be pretty versatile, too. The second time around, instead of making separate dishes of carrot pudding and beef pate, I combined the two ingredients into a different sort of pate that gave me nearly two weeks of very flavorful protein that I could eat in a wide variety of ways. The first time, I ate it simply as a room temperature mousse, sprinkled with a little cinnamon, and it was very satisfying not only because I liked the taste and the creamy texture but because I knew it was a reasonably good source of protein and a great way not to waste–you guessed it–leftovers. Unfamiliar to my palate and yet instant comfort food. Easy to fix even the first time around, too; the broth itself, while it takes a little forethought to stock up the slow cooker with the mix of veg and bones and spices that I like, just tends itself for the long cooking, other than the occasional stir to keep all of the ingredients dunked in the liquid. Straining the finished broth and picking out the parts takes some time, yes, but the process of recombining those parts into the new mousse iteration is really pretty easy and fast work, and getting a couple of weeks’ eating (or one big party’s hors-d’oeuvre spread) out of it is a rather fine payoff.photoBeef Ginger Mousse

This, given the leftover-centric nature of the concoction, was a truly approximate recipe. I used about 1 cup each of leftover beef bits/marrow and carrots from beef broth making, 3 tablespoons of clarified butter, 1/2-3/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 3-4 eggs, a sprinkle of salt, 2 tablespoons of ginger juice and 1/2 cup of the beef broth. I pureed it all thoroughly until it was the consistency of a creamy pudding, spooned it into buttered small casserole, set that casserole on top of a clean dish cloth in a larger casserole, set the rig on the middle rack of the oven, filled the larger pan with an inch of water, and baked it like a standard custard. Given my oven’s unconventional concept of temperature, I recommend to anyone attempting replication of this ‘recipe’ that you use your own time-and-temp standards for custard making and just watch the progress until the mousse responds properly when the pan’s given a slight jiggle. Lightly set, neither wet nor dry. Serve room temperature, or chill for future use.

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And soon, my friends, I will show you how you can use this mousse further in such repasts (the only term truly appropriate for feasts of leftovers, don’t you think?) as Ploughman’s Lunch and Cavegirl Quiche. I’m nice that way.

Foodie Tuesday: Something Completely Different

It’s not just a trademark Monty Python phrase; sometimes in cookery it’s worthwhile and enjoyable to veer off and say it’s time for Something Completely Different. I’m not talking about molecular gastronomy, because I have neither the knowledge nor the patience to imagine and execute anything quite so transformative, but it can certainly be useful and even tasty to rethink the what-I’ve-always-done approach from time to time.photoMaking broth as often as I do, I’m regularly faced with the aftermath of it in the form of tiny meat scraps, softened bones and mush-cooked vegetables and think it a pity to waste anything that might be salvageable. So a little while ago I got intrigued by seeing what I might do better with this stuff than merely throwing it out.

First thought was that bones are bulky yet biodegradable objects that, in a landfill, will take up a hunk of space there a lot longer than, say, those of a decaying creature left to the elements would do. And that, coincidentally, a soil amendment and critter-control element often required for good gardens is bone meal. So I dried out the bones thoroughly and set them out in a safely remote corner of the yard where the compost heap lives. Waste not, and all that.

More to the culinary point, I thought it silly to toss out all of the vegetable leftovers of the process when, though they will certainly have given up some of their nutrients to the broth, will probably also have gained some back from their fellow ingredients along the way, so they oughtn’t to have lost all of their nutritional worth in the cooking. The carrots are the only members of the party that haven’t mostly melted to nothingness in my usual broth process and can be individually retrieved, so I picked them out of the strained ingredients, along with a few small pieces of celery and onion, and pureed them with just a touch of added broth and a pinch of salt, and had a nice, faintly savory pudding.photoAdding some juice-packed mandarin orange segments (reserving the juice for later use elsewhere) made it into a really tasty little side dish of comfort food with very little effort. Warming some black raspberry jam and drizzling it on top of the pudding or swirling it in made it into an even jazzier little light dessert. The contrast of the punchy colors was matched by the contrasts in savory and sweet, in the soft pudding and bursting orange sections and the tiny crunches from the berry seeds.photo montageAll that was left for reinvention from the broth straining was the marrow and meat that, while not enough to make a meal alone, still filled a bowl with beefy goodness. It was clearly too soft to be especially attractive as a pot roast sort of thing, let alone a plated slice of anything recognizable as meat. Paté came to mind. Heck, I’d already had the stick blender busy to make my carrot pudding, so why not put it to further use on the day? The beef bits, along with a couple of hefty tablespoonfuls of butter, a half teaspoon or so of salt, and a little broth to make it workable, got pureed into a smooth, buttery spread that waits in the freezer for the time when it will be thawed, chilled in a ramekin, and served with crackers or toast, cornichons and cocktails, just as though I were an ideal 1960s magazine housewife. Well, I grew up in the ’60s and I’m a homemaker; close enough.

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It may not look like much, but as a poor-man’s fois gras it’s dreamier than you might think. I like to think of myself in a similar fashion, ’60s housewife or not. Wink-wink.

Foodie Tuesday: Quick Fixes & Peach Treats

I enjoy a good paella, when I can get my hands (and teeth) on it. But it’s not one of those things that in its truer forms can exactly be thrown together in a trice just because I happen to get an urge for it. But, being a fan of fried rice as well, I have been known to think to myself that there might be a hybrid incorporating a bit of both processes that gives me a plate full of paella-like food in a hurry and at least tide me over until the occasion for the real deal arises again. Having so often kept a batch of cooked rice at the ready in our refrigerator, not to mention the gifts of freezer, dried goods and canned foods, I had at least a reasonable chance of putting a faint facsimile of paella on the table at speed.photoPretend Paella

For this highly simplified variant, I made the batch of rice with a blend of broth and dry sherry and a pinch of saffron (should have used a bigger pinch, though). On top of it I put a very simple combination, which while it didn’t replicate paella closely, was reminiscent enough of that grand dish that it served as a reasonable place-holder until I can once more indulge in a beautiful slow-simmered paella. This time, I chose to saute a half cup of diced celeriac (celery root) and a cup of roughly chopped carrots in bacon fat, add a generous cup of sliced chorizo, heat that through, and add about a dozen or more large peeled, cleaned uncooked shrimp, adding water or broth or sherry as needed to keep everything plump and moist while cooking through and caramelizing a little. I didn’t season this further because the bacon fat and well-seasoned chorizo gave everything plenty of flavor. At the last moment, I stirred in a good three cups or so of the cooked rice and a cup of frozen peas, blending it all together just until the peas were heated through. One pot meal, with a touch of nostalgia, and as ever, infinite possible variations depending upon what’s in the kitchen waiting for me.

Having eaten this light and refreshing meal in warm weather, we didn’t need much except some cool drinks (icy water and a bit of cold sangria and chilled Sauvignon Blanc worked well for us three on the particular occasion), but we weren’t so over-filled that we weren’t of a mind to have dessert as well. A one-dish meal, after all, has a reasonable chance of not making diners feel coma-proximal. The afternoon trip to the grocery store, the one wherein I ascertained that there was no giant inspiration that steered me away from my thoughts of insta-paella, did inspire me with the produce section’s wafting scents of fresh fruit, and the image of underripe peaches made me salivate for the late-season ones not yet on hand.digital artworkSo I shamelessly fell back on preserved peaches for dessert shaping. The strawberries in the store had come into seasonal ripeness, but had clearly already been snapped up by earlier shoppers, so although the slightly over-aged ones remaining smelled sweet enough, the flies perched on them were a deterrent as well. Those, then, were substituted for by some freeze-dried strawberries. A ragtag pantry is not a problem in nearly the way that a lack of pantry would be, after all.

Coconut Soft Custard with Peach-Berry Coulis

While we sat eating our Pretend Paella, I had a cup of freeze-dried strawberry slices macerating in the liquid from a pint of canned-in-juice peach slices in the fridge. Also in the refrigerator waiting was a soft custard: one can of coconut milk, three eggs, two teaspoons of vanilla paste, and a half cup each of dark rum and dark maple syrup, and a pinch of salt, then whipped up and heated until slightly thickened, cooling and setting up in the fridge to thicken more fully. After supper, dessert finalizing was simply a matter of pureeing the strawberries in their liquid plus a cup of the peach slices into a smooth coulis, spooning the puree and custard in layers into dessert dishes, and topping them with a sprinkle of toasted sweetened coconut. In theory, this will serve five or six people, but we three are not theoretical exemplars by a long shot, so I’ll just say the dessert was as completely gone after our attacks as the rice dish had been earlier. Proper portions? You be the judge.photo

Foodie Tuesday: Con Mucho Gusto

So many meals, Latin-inflected or not, are best enjoyed with a nice cold glass or two of sangria. Particularly helpful is the knowledge that sangria has so many tasty potential variations that it can be made the perfect complement to nearly anything. Or substitute for it, if such dire need should arise. But I’ll concede that the many magnificent flavors of the Latin cultures are also, often, what make the sangria so wildly delicious.

In addition, the simplicity of combining the marvelous ingredients for either the food or drink portion of such a meal adds the appeal of quick preparation. While a number of recipes, including many for sangria, are improved by a little time spent melding their flavors together with heat or chilling, the actual labor time might not be terribly lengthy nor the effort especially challenging. Just gather the supplies, put them together in a dish or bowl, and wait for them to come to full fruition. Fruit being, of course, a hallmark of a refreshing batch of sangria.

The dish of the day is so easy it can be assembled and heated in minutes. Even the slowest portion of the prep, the cooking of quinoa, can be accomplished with little trouble, particularly if like me you have a rice cooker. I use a brand of quinoa that requires no rinsing or soaking, and it works easily to prepare it in my rice cooker by combining cooking liquid (usually my ubiquitous homemade broth) with the grain in a 2:1 ratio. I do this in larger batches, refrigerating all but the day’s portion for later meals.photoNestled Eggs [one hearty serving]

In a microwave-proof bowl, put a cup of cooked quinoa and make a hollow in the center of the grain. Break two eggs into the nest and puncture the yolks a little; cover and heat the dish on High for two minutes. [A nice optional variation: stir eggs with steamed fresh spinach leaves that have had the liquid pressed out of them.] Remove the bowl from the oven and top the eggs with a handful of cheese (cotija, queso blanco or sharp cheddar, for example), re-cover, and continue to cook on High for another minute or two, until the eggs are lightly set. Spoon some nice chipotle salsa [see my semi-handmade chipotle salsa hack here] on top, add a tablespoon of cilantro-tequila pesto [just a bunch of fresh cilantro finely pureed with tequila] and some crunchy salt, and serve with a glass of cold sangria.photoCherry-Peach Sangria

Combine a Jeroboam [four bottles] of Cabernet-Merlot blend wine with a magnum [two bottles] of Riesling, one 32 oz bottle of Just Black Cherry juice, 2 cups of dark pure maple syrup, one orange, thinly sliced (including peel), and one 23.5 oz jar of sliced peaches in juice; stir gently to blend, chill, and serve.

Foodie Tuesday: India Calling

Who needs call centers in India, I ask you. India calls me all the time, without any help from batteries of trained phone service representatives, using only its myriad delicious foods. Works all the time!photoFor a recent sit-down, for example, I was lured by the siren song of Tikka Masala. Too short a lead time for cooking on the occasion meant I’d need to doctor up some ready-made sauce, and there are certainly plenty on the supermarket shelves, so I picked out a jar and took it home to sauce some leftover roasted chicken and serve over leftover chicken broth rice. On tasting, the sauce proved to be a bit insipid and not quite what I had in mind, but it served as a fair base for a good dish with just a few little additions.  A bit of tweaking with cloves, cardamom and cayenne got it going slightly more brightly. A toss of coconut is seldom amiss, so yeah, I threw that on top.

Buttery peas, freshly cooked pappadums and a spoonful of raita rounded out the meal. I was delighted to discover that ready-to-fry pappadums from the grocery could be easily prepared in the microwave, of all things, which made my dinner’s trip over from India just that much shorter, a good thing indeed. Raita is such a grand condiment, jazzing up many a different dish or meal with its cool and refreshing blend of plain yogurt with a few flavor enhancers like, in this instance, finely diced cucumber, dill, fresh mint and a touch of salt and pepper.photoThe leftovers, since the raita was eaten and gone after the first day of this batch of Tikka Masala and there wasn’t a lot of chicken left in it either, got further doctoring. I added some plain yogurt directly to the dish, and a good sprinkling of my favorite homemade curry powder along with some brown mustard and black sesame seeds. I didn’t want to fix or add more chicken at the moment but wanted to expand the dish enough to fill me up, so I thought I’d love some palak paneer alongside. I love that spinach puree with farmer’s cheese in it, but, erm, it’s hard to make when there’s no spinach around. And no actual paneer, either, it turns out. So I took the similarly slow-melting cheese I did have on hand and cubed it directly into the sauce along with the chicken and peas. I’m pretty sure that this iteration of mine departed so far from true Tikka Masala dishes that it would be virtually unrecognized by any real Indian cook (no matter how far the true Indian versions vary, from what I’ve heard), so I guess India can’t be blamed for what I have perpetrated. But then again, the inspiration, the motivation–that’s all India’s fault.photoAnd I, at least, thank her.