Foodie Tuesday: Breakfast should be Brilliant

photoDespite my avowed resistance to the charms of morning [see yesterday’s post], I am far from immune to the delights of breakfast, no matter what time of day it is served and enjoyed. O brave (if perhaps gluten-free) toast soldiers, stand up and be counted! Your being bathed in butter before pan-browning is a gift that I would not willingly snub even when I’d rather sleep in and I’m trying to reduce my carbohydrate footprint anyway.

Of course, eating proper stuff to start the day is smart. I’ve heard that. I’ve even experienced the truth of it. If I get a fair dose of protein, a nice gloss of good fat and a dash of sweetness in my breakfast I tend to have a better day following it than when I’m under-fueled.

Also, I like yummy food.

So it’s pretty simple, then. Put together a tasty and reasonably balanced breakfast, gnash it all up happily to get the day underway, and be glad. Maybe even productive.

Eggs are very often on this kind of menu for me. Scrambled, poached, fried, baked. Plain or in a complicated dish. Hot or cold. I’m reasonably catholic in my tastes, yet contented and thrilled enough when presented with easily predictable but well-prepared classic combinations of breakfast-related goodness.

The Full English, as I’ve said here before, is never amiss, in my estimation; would I dream of saying no to a heap of eggs, streaky bacon, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, beans and toast? Certainly not. A glorious Bauernpfanne loaded with sausages and potatoes and their friends, yes, that too is heavenly. I am dangerously fond of baked goods and quick breads, so I find waffles or pancakes or pain perdu or my particular favorite, crepes, a dream worth suffering for, but ultimately if left to choose, I’ll opt for something a little heavier on the protein side of the balance. The day finds me less lethargic and more useful on that diet. My aging body responds much more kindly to a cake-and-cookie-deficit than to shortchanging it of protein and fat.photoSo I enjoyed concocting this plateful on that particular plan. Bacon’s a fun place to start. Or end, or eat all the way through the meal. So there’s that. But for egg pleasure, here’s a quick way to get a little variant pizzazz into the cheese omelet kind of treat: fill one side of a small nonstick frying pan with shredded Gouda and cook it over medium-high heat until it’s beginning to crisp up and turn golden, drop a touch of butter, a few fresh sage leaves and then two whole eggs into the other half of the pan, let them fry up until the eggs are nearly set, and fold the crisped cheese side over onto that other layer to finish it all up. Slide it onto a plate with the crispy bacon and serve a nice sweet-and-juicy helping of fruit (a little Satsuma is a fine complement) alongside, and I am ready for a big day of Doing Things. If I don’t happen to get around to anything very significant in the way of accomplishment, at least I’ll have had a very enjoyable start to my latest day of Not Doing Things, and I won’t complain. If breakfast is brilliant enough, why should I need to be?

Foodie Tuesday: Savory, then Sweet

Dinner and then dessert. That’s the way I was raised, and I think a zillion other people had the same, despite the urge most children I know have always had to eat dessert first–and possibly, to stop there. Now that I’m wonderfully old, I can do that, and don’t hesitate to indulge now and then. But along with my well-known love for combining the sweet and savory together, whether it’s merely by adding a bit more salt to desserts or it’s designing a meal to have a wider range and greater balance between the savory and the sweet, there are plenty of times when a semblance of conformity to the old norm is perfectly satisfying to both my empty stomach and my sweet tooth.photoThere is much that I love about the simplest of meals, not only because it pleases me that they’re easy to prepare but because they also allow–nay, invite–the savoring of their few and uncomplicated parts. A chicken-and-noodles dinner, for example, can be barely more than those two ingredients and fill me comfortably and contentedly. Chunks of roasted or baked or fried chicken tossed in with fresh fettuccine that has been cooked in rich chicken broth (this time until the broth was thickened to sauce, but other times, just as a dandy bowl of chicken & noodle soup) need little but a helping of vegetables or two alongside and they become both welcome nourishment and a little trip down memory lane. My hunger is sated and I am reminded of many a happily simple meal gone by.

But then I succumb, more often than not, to thinking that if this meal is a little like those my mother made, why then it ought to end in dessert as well. And as citrus so complements chicken in nearly any guise, why not make a citrus dessert to follow a chicken dinner? I could certainly opt for the ever-lovely lemon bars that brighten many a table, yet I am not exactly known for coloring inside the lines when it comes to an entire menu, so on the most recent chicken-noodle dinner occasion, I took a slight deviation from that norm. I made what you could callphotoSimply Lime-Coconut Bars

[I took my first cue from a recipe for ‘instant’ lime curd made in a Vitamix so I could skip the slow and attentive cookery most curd recipes require. Our household blender is nothing so sophisticated–or expensive–as a Vitamix and doesn’t reach that machine’s level of heat, but since I was using the curd mostly for these cookie bars where it would subsequently be baked (and because I have no fear of eating raw eggs anyway), I went ahead with the blender I have. Needless to say, besides my alteration of the process I changed the ingredients to the point that you’re now getting my recipe, not that lovely published one I found elsewhere.]

Lime-Coconut Curd (Makes 6 servings.Theoretically.)

In the blender, whiz 3 whole eggs until frothy, adding ½ cup sugar + 1 hefty pinch of salt and ½ teaspoon of vanilla as you go; add ½ cup melted, very hot coconut oil in a thin stream, followed by a stream of ½ cup fresh lime juice, and keep blending it until it’s good and smooth or you think your blender and you will both swoon from overheating.

Set the curd in the refrigerator if you’re taking very long to prepare the rest of the cookie bar recipe, but if you’re like me, it’ll already be in the fridge from a couple of days ago when you made a double batch and spooned out a few helpings of the curd, plain, to snack on between times. As one sometimes must do. And I think you do know what I mean. Meanwhile, let us return to our cookie bar recipe.

Lime-Coconut Bar Cookies

[I am told I will be a complete failure as a human being if I don’t add the curd to a warm, just-baked crust layer, so I conform to the Rules at least that far. And I lined the bottom of the 9″ x 13″ pan with a single piece of baking parchment so that I could easily lift out the bars when ready.]

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Okay, I can’t resist adding a dash of additional crunchy salt on top some of the time. Whether I eat them in any particular order or together, I do love both the savory and the sweet.

To make the crust, blend 1 cup flour (I used gluten-free flour), 3/4 cup coconut flour, 2/3 cup confectioners’ [powdered] sugar, 1/4 cup cornstarch, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom and 1/4-1/2 teaspoon almond extract. Cut 3/4 cup [yes, really! What, you think I’d lie about adding lots of good fat?] of cold salted butter into this dry mix until it becomes a crumbly, sandy blend and then press it evenly into the pan. Refrigerate this for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to your equivalent of 350°F [as you know, my oven has its own ideas about what that means, so I adjust accordingly]. When the crust has chilled, pop it into the oven for about 20 minutes or until it’s beginning to brown lightly. Out of the oven it comes. Reset the oven to 325°F, stir up the curd

, spread the curd over the crust, and pop the pan right back into the oven, for about 20 minutes or until the curd has set when gently touched. Almost done, now. Turn off that oven of yours before you forget, let the pan cool on a rack for about another half hour, and then you can take a quick swipe around the perimeter of the bars with a knife tip to loosen any stuck things before lifting them out in their parchment sling. These, like any citrus curd topped bars, are pretty to serve with a final dusting of powdered sugar on top, but any you’re saving for later should get dusted directly before serving, as it’ll absorb into the bars in the meantime. If, however, you’re going to devour the entire pan in one sitting, who am I to blame you? Powder up, my friends. Life is short and dessert is long-awaited.

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Or there could be pomegranate and pistachio, for a change . . .

The second time around, I decided to try the bars with a little north-African influenced twist: substituted salted, roasted pistachios (ground to flour) for the almond flour in the crust, decreasing the added salt to 1/2 teaspoon; made the curd with pure pomegranate juice and butter instead of the lime juice and coconut oil, and because the curd wasn’t quite as bright in either flavor or color as the original recipe, made a little layer of zing from 1/4 cup each of pomegranate juice and ginger preserves, pureeing them together completely and softening a tablespoon of gelatin in them to thicken slightly, and finally topping the bars with whole pistachios and a dusting of powdered sugar and edible glitter for a dash of, well, dash. Messy, yes. Edible? Oh, yes. You people do know how I like my variations on a theme! And if we’re going to have dinner first, then I’m not opposed to two desserts to make up for the waiting . . .

Foodie Tuesday: There’s No Substitute for a Smart Substitution

Nearly every time I get in the mood to bake something I’m missing one or more of the necessary ingredients. This happens often enough when I’m making non-baked goods, but it’s almost a given with baking, because I simply don’t bake all that often: too much wheat flour and sugar makes this sweets-addict too likely to get tummy aches or just plain to overindulge. And the fact that I don’t bake terribly often means that, in that most scientific of culinary skills, I’m the least a genius about getting the fussy proportions and timings and temperatures correct. But I still do like to bake once in a while.

Though I feel pretty safe making all sorts of substitutions in cooked and raw dishes, simply finding analogous items–ingredients that have plenty of similar qualities and can therefore be expected to fill similar roles in the combination–I know less about what the ingredients used in baking are supposed to do, unless you’re talking about spices and flavorings, and so have always been more timid about fooling around with the recipes for baked goods. But lately, I’ve come to be more of a believer that life’s too short not to have a little kitchen adventure more often, and that if I’m not using outrageously expensive ingredients the worst that can happen is that a batch of something goes so far awry that it’s just plain a failed experiment. That’s what trash bins are made for, no? I’ll bet few scientists ever made their paradigm-shifting discoveries without a few boneheaded false starts and cock-ups and misdirections and outright failures along the way either, and, well, brownies are not exactly rocket science.

So I give you:photo

Texican Brownies

Ingredients: Plain ‘classic’ brownies call for the following ingredients and proportions:

4 squares (4 ounces/113 grams) Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate–I substituted semisweet baking chocolate. It’s what I had in the cupboard.

3/4 cup  butter–while baking recipes almost always specify unsalted butter, I almost always use salted butter anyway unless there’s a lot of additional salt in the recipe; salt heightens sweetness and intensifies other flavors as well. And I love salt.

2 cups sugar–I substituted dark brown sugar for a deeper flavor.
3   eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour–I substituted instant masa flour (a fine corn flour usually used for tortilla- and tamale-making)

Then I added a few ingredients of my own to make a darker-chocolate brownie and give it a slight Mexican twist:

1/2 tsp baking soda–since the masa flour wouldn’t have gluten like the wheat flour to make the brownies rise a little, I figured they should have a boost in leavening. Look at me, being all fake-scientist-like!

1/2 tsp salt plus 1/8-1/4 tsp ground black pepper–again, wanting to intensify the spicy chocolate of the brownies–plus 1 large tablespoon Dutch processed cocoa–yet more chocolate boosting–plus 1 tablespoon cinnamon

Directions:

Heat your oven to 350°F–mine runs hot, so I heated it to 325°.

Line a 13×9-inch pan with an oversized piece of baking parchment, folding it at the corners to fit and cover the sides as well as the bottom. One piece, no leaks.

Microwave the chocolate and butter together in a large microwaveable bowl on high until the butter is melted. Stir until the chocolate is melted and completely combined with the butter. Blend in the eggs and vanilla. In another bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients. Add them gradually to the wet mix, stirring until everything melds, and pour the batter into the prepared pan, pushing it into the folded parchment corners to fill them.

Bake 30 – 35 minutes (again, with my super-hot oven, I baked mine for more like 20-23 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Better to under-bake these than the opposite–fudgy, chewy brownies are good; dry, not.

The parchment will let you easily pop the whole sheet of brownies right out of the pan.

Makes 24 brownies. Mine were still a little too baked, thanks to the hot-hot oven, so I quite happily compensated for the slight dryness by frosting the ones that weren’t immediately devoured. (A number of them were. Clearly, the over-baking didn’t destroy them so badly that the members of this household wouldn’t cheerfully destroy them in another way.)

Thus, we have:photoRustic Red Frosting

No, I’m no fussy decorator. But I loves me some tasty frosting. And I wanted something that was earthy and yet juicy, something that would stand up to the depth of the spiced brownies and still have a little homey heartfelt quality to it, even if it wasn’t very frilly. I chose strawberry frosting; after all, las fresas are a fantastic favorite fruit treat in some of the Latin-American cuisine I’ve had the pleasure of inhaling eating. And this is just an easy take on buttercream icing.

Grind about one cup of freeze-dried strawberries to a coarse powder. I did mine in the blender, but if they’re dry enough you could even crush them with a wooden spoon in a heavy bowl–leaving some bits rough gives a little burst of berry flavor in the finished frosting and reminds us there are real berries involved. Add to the berry powder about a cup of powdered (confectioner’s) sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla, a cup of soft butter, and a tablespoon or two of heavy cream. Blend them together well, adding more sugar and/or cream as needed for flavor and texture. Apply liberally to the brownies, cake, cookies, tongue, etc, as needed for improved state of bliss.

I sprinkled them with some edible glitter just for good measure. A little extra pizzazz never really hurt anything. But you could just sprinkle yours with the stardust of your affection and it’d be just as glamorous and grand.

This whole brownie-baking urge of mine was motivated in large part because I felt like making a sort of Valentine’s Day treat; since we’ll be in the car on a work-related jaunt much of the actual Valentine’s Day, I figured today was a reasonable substitution for the occasion. Since both my husband and I love chocolate and baked treats but do better with less wheat flour, I figured substituting corn flour could be a decent and respectable enough Tex-Mex way of dealing with that part of the equation. And since neither of us is a stickler for celebrating only on the official or ‘correct’ dates for anything, we’re both quite willing to celebrate the American holiday of love-and-romance any old time we can. Because for love, there really is no acceptable substitute.

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XOXOXO!

Foodie Tuesday: Lemon Chicken without Cats

A friend of ours once told us about the Chinese restaurant in the small southern town where he grew up that was renowned for its trademark Lemon Chicken–until, that is, the owner was questioned about the disappearance of many of the neighborhood’s pet cats on a timetable that coincided a little too closely for comfort with the preparation and the offering of said dish on the menu.

I prefer to offer a more strictly bird-based version of the dish when I get hungry for lemon chicken. Call me old-fashioned.

I kept it very simple too, though. I’m rarely interested in making things terribly complicated in the kitchen; that’s above my pay grade. My one innovation particular to this occasion was to test a new kind of gluten-free pasta and put together a dish that could sit around in the oven for an indeterminate period without dying, since our dinner guest wasn’t sure how quickly she could get to our house from Dallas that evening. Worked out pretty nicely, as it turned out, and was both lemony and quite acceptably chicken flavored, as planned.photoLemon Chicken Linguine

Layer into a covered four- or five-quart nonstick pan in order: 1 package of RP’s fresh GF linguine (9 oz)–uncooked, straight out of the package; 2 cups of roasted, poached or braised chicken cut into 1 inch pieces (I used chicken left from one I’d oven-braised a day or two before in butter with homemade lemon seasoning (oven-dried lemon peels finely ground with Tellicherry peppercorns and Kosher salt); 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese; the juice and zest of one lemon; about 1/4 cup of heavy cream. Season with ground mace, ground coriander and [the aforementioned] lemon seasoning to taste. Cover the pan snugly with its lid and set it in a low oven (not above 225°F/107°C) until the liquid is absorbed or the guests arrive, or both.

Side dishes for such an uncomplicated meal should also be uncomplicated. Good old, ubiquitous in our household, coleslaw, with apples complementing the ginger. Green beans Amandine, done up Southern style by throwing a handful of crisped bacon on top. Dessert? Why, of course. I (conveniently) had some of my strawberry-mandarin granita right in the freezer and, by golly, found some rather nice fresh strawberries and lovely sweet mandarin oranges at the grocery store as well, so I macerated a dish of those two mixed together in vanilla sugar; spooned over the granita and accompanied by some little nut and cocoa truffles I’d also made and stashed earlier.photoAlong with these foods, of course, there needed to be good drinks aplenty. Nice for wetting the whistle. But remember, one should always show appropriate restraint with the drinking or one might not know the difference if someone tries to serve a less savory sort of ‘lemon chicken’ than mine.photo

Foodie Tuesday: From GM to GF without Prejudice

photoYou know I’m not a vegetarian, let alone a vegan, nor do I on a regular basis obey or enforce any dietary edicts in my kitchen regarding the consumption of meats, fish, dairy, eggs, or practically anything else in the edible universe. But since I do respect the lives, health and right to believe what they believe about foods that other people have–even if the belief is patently ridiculous, like one that would, say, eat anything but my cooking (okay, there may be fine reasons for that one, too, come to think of it)–well, it means that I do think about what I eat. Surprising though that may be to anyone who has seen me hunched over my food like a half-starved grizzly just because I like it so much. Aside from the notion that I don’t mind being associated with a creature bearing (please bear with me) the wonderfully mellifluous and magical name of Ursus arctos horribilis, I can’t really make that claim. My body does express its likes and dislikes more clearly as I age.

This means that despite my blissful youth of eating every triple-scoop of ice cream that appeared before my glistening eyes without experiencing a noticeable twinge on my elastic waistband, I now find myself questioning whether a single scoop ‘every so often’ might threaten me with an equal and opposite seismic event should I waver too close to any fragile chairs or ice-covered ponds. That a stick of butter should probably no longer be considered an after-school snack. (Well, I thought about it, I’m sure.) Maybe even that the dreaded concept of Portion Control might in fact be a useful, if not lifesaving, one, particularly when applied to foods with calorie counts exceeding the sum total of my age, my IQ, plus my life savings in number. I’ll leave you to contemplate which of these numbers alone is the highest or lowest. And don’t tell me your conclusions, thank you.

Meanwhile, back in my kitchen, I stand contemplating yet another set of conundrums. I’m not convinced that a dramatic decrease in my intake of genetically modified foods is going to wildly affect my remaining lifespan or health, unless foods marked GM are in fact made by General Motors as engine lubricants and exhaust system cleaners. I’ll leave it to the more medically fragile and environmentally astute to deal with those concerns if I must. But I certainly think that if I have a reasonable choice between things grown with or without gene alteration and chemical additives and other forms of production hocus-pocus, I’ll opt for the less adulterated versions. And my gut tells me (this, more literally than might be delicate for full discussion here; suffice to say that I’m talking about both digestion and the expansion of my middle acreage) that wheat is not entirely my friend anymore, if it ever was. This is expressed primarily in a recognition that most of the wheat-based eating I have most loved over the years is also full of (mostly processed) sugar and rather high in not-so-nutritious calories and is therefore wonderfully addictive to me. I just plain eat more of what’s less good for me because it creates further cravings.

Well, let’s get to the cheerier part of this equation, at long last. Dessert again, if you will.photo

I’m gradually working to go gluten-free, or approach it more closely than I ever have before anyway, to see what cutting down on wheat or just plain cutting it out of the diet might do to simplify this one aspect of my food-related health and happiness. I’m learning to work with a number of ingredients that fill most wheat gaps in my taste, and I’m finding new stuff to like. Or is that bad? New foods to like, when I’m so ancient that I can’t just eat willy-nilly and know that there will be no consequences?photo

Here’s a simple little dinner that arose out of the experiment just recently. Small, tender (erm, check out the torn one, damaged by soft pieces of cheese) crepes made of egg, water, a touch of vanilla and a pinch of salt, folded over an uncomplicated filling of cubed roasted chicken warmed with sautéed celery and red capiscum and a whole lot of sliced brown mushrooms, all seasoned lightly with the bacon fat and butter in which they were mingled, a splash of broth, a freckling of black pepper, and a dash of Worcestershire. My beloved dinner companion was not desirous of anything further in his, so mine was the only crepe that had the queso fresco added. I think it works pretty decently either way.photo

For another easy little breath of fresh air besides merely leaving the little bit of flour out of the crepe mix, I varied our frequent-flying slaw addendum to try out a slightly different salad. Thinly sliced celery, shredded carrots and sliced almonds. A spoonful of ginger preserves, the juice of half a lime, and a couple of tablespoons of macadamia nut oil. Crunchy and clean and fresh, and a strong contrast to the soft textures and savory warmth of the crepes.photo

I’m not sure of it, but I think perhaps the meal was satisfying enough that it removed one iota of my natural craving for an actual dessert to follow it immediately. One iota, mind you. I can still envy those who can eat all the floury goodies they want without serious guilt or consequence. But there will be dessert. Many and many a time to come. It’s just that the desserts will be smaller than a triple scoop of yummy scrummy ice cream. And contain lots less wheat, I’m guessing. We’ll just see how all of this goes.photo