Raiding the larder of ideas.

What one family eats, plans to eat, dreams of eating. Plus, other food and kitchen-related stuff from the home of steak-and-potatoes, pie and fresh green beans from the garden.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Apple Cardamom Bread Pudding

What's yer name? Puddin' Tame. Ask me again and I'll tell you the same...

The Bat is not the biggest fan of bread puddings. In fact, I think, she'd use stale bread as the base for those tacky glue-and-bread sculptures some of our friends did when we were much younger, rather than sit down at a table and swallow most bread pudding. Honestly, in her mind, if your bread wasn't good enough to be eaten before it got stale, you're just not trying, and you might as well feed it to the outdoor critters (and attract something the dog can chase up a tree, at the same time).

Still, stale bread got rescued. And it got puddinged. And it didn't end up being all custardy, the way so many bread puddings are (the only custard our family generally likes is the one going into a pumpkin pie). For starters, we don't use no sissy French stuff. We like bread with substance. Good, dense, fill-you-up-and-stick-to-your-ribs sourdough is my bread of choice, and, believe it or not, the best I've found in our limited region comes from the bakery section of our Super WalMart. Don't get the "sandwich sourdough," though, because it's still a little on the fluffy side. Get the real, crusty, tooth-resistant stuff. Barring access to WalMart (or, if you are too snooty to go there), see if you can find some San Francisco Sourdough, or something comparable. It's not just about texture, but also the tangy flavor....

Now, this week, somebody who shall remain nameless broke into the loaf of sourdough and had a couple of sandwiches, so I didn't have quite enough of it to make the recipe I was working from... what to do, what do do? Hmmm..... this heel of so-called pumpernickel (it's really not heavy enough to be actual pump, but is just a reasonably good local dark rye loaf) might be enough to fill in to make a pound of bread... cut into roughly one-inch cubes, the combo ends up being about a dozen cups, so... beautiful. And it even looks unusually pretty, once you add the dried cranberries...

And so, to bake.

Apple Cardamom Bread Pudding

1 lb dense day-old bread, cut or torn into roughly 1-inch cubes (about 12 cups)
4 eggs
2 medium baking (tart-ish) apples, grated (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup apple syrup*
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 cup milk
1 cup dried cranberries

In a large bowl, whisk eggs and grated apple until well-mixed. Add in syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, salt, cream and milk. Mix well.

In a large baking dish, toss bread crumbs and dried cranberries until evenly distributed.

Pour liquid over bread cubes, stir until all the bread is evenly coated. Cover. Refrigerate 30 minutes or so.

Preheat oven to 350º F. (175º C). Uncover baking dish.

Bake about 45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Serve warm. **

*The syrup I used is residual sauce from the last time the Bat made Apple Slices. She set aside about 7 pints in jars, & I raided one of them, today. If you don't have a mother who is so courteous as to leave you this tasty treat with which to work, look for a good apple-flavored syrup at the store and add a little extra cinnamon & nutmeg to the recipe here, to ratchet it up a notch.

**Can be topped with more apple syrup, or chopped pecans and praline syrup, if you're a sugar junkie. I've even drizzled a dark fudge sauce on it, but then, I could probably put that particular fudge sauce on pizza and still be happy. I'm just that way about dark chocolate.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Anadama Bread

Legend has it that this bread, in its New England origins, was given its name by a fisherman whose wife refused to bake him bread. He created his own, and named it "Anna, damn her." Dunno how close to fact the tale is, but dammit, the bread is almost sinful.

The Bat makes it a couple of times a year, not generally for any special occasion, but as her whimsy takes her. Any time this comes out of the oven should be declared a national holiday, or, at least, a day of feasting, song and dance.

It makes two standard loaves, but also can make awesome rolls. The Bat gives us the best of both worlds, by using an extra-long loaf pan (16-ish x 4-ish inches) and five smallish rolls in an 8-inch square pan. Pop gets the rolls, and therein lies true love.

Anadama Bread

5 cups all-purpose flour (approximately)
1/2 cup corn meal
1 pkg (1/4 oz) active dry yeast or 3/5 oz cake fresh yeast
2 1/2 cups water
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. butter
1/2 cup molasses

In a small bowl, stir 1 cup of cold water into corn meal. In saucepan, bring another cup of water to a rolling boil. Stirring constantly, pour corn meal mixture into water. continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is very thick (about 10 minutes). Add salt, butter, molasses. Allow to cool to tepid.

In larger mixing bowl, warm remaining water until it is tepid, stir yeast into it. Add the cooled corn meal mixture and gradually stir in about 4 1/2 cups of the flour, kneading to make a stiff dough. Knead well for about 10 minutes until the dough is resilient (if it is still sticky, you may need to add a little more flour. Shape the dough into a ball, put it in a buttered bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place for about one and a half hours, or until doubled in bulk.

Punch down the dough and divide into two pieces. Shape each half into a loaf and put the loaves in buttered standard loaf pans (8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch). Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place until the dough has again doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes. Bake in preheated oven at 350º F [180º C] for one hour, or until the loaves sound hollow if tapped on bottom.

Best served warm from the oven, with real butter.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Philly Fish Chowder

Fishy Friday strikes again. Not that anybody in my immediate circle is concerned by a certain faith's practice of eschewing meats, but, since it's March, and the weather here is unpredictable, I thought a little tummy-warming was in order. We've already had chili (three varieties, mind you!), a big pot of chicken stew, and the Bat went wild and made her beefy-vegetable-practically-thick-as-gumbo soup last week, so now we're on to paler offerings for our Friday night gathering.

When I want to make soup, I try to make stock well-ahead of time, too, so as to not spend all day on my battered pins. So, yesterday, I made a big pot of vegetable stock. I probably made enough to toss a quart or so into the freezer, but I decided I don't want to dilute the flavor at all, today, so the whole gallon-plus is going into the pot again...

Just a few things:

When using my vegetable broth, the chowder is a slightly golden-hued creamy soup, as opposed to the more traditional bright-white if you build it from fish stock.

With your fish, be sure it's very fresh, or fresh-frozen. Don't bother to thaw the frozen stuff before cooking it, here. The boiling stock will do that for you.

Your choice of potato variety will affect the flavor, too. If you use golden-types, such as Klondike Rose or Yukon Gold, it will lend a slightly buttery finish to the chowder. Using Russets, you may wish to bump up the soup's flavor with some bacon crumbles or chopped ham...

If you have issues with fat & cholesterol, you may choose to use neufchatel (reduced fat cream cheese) instead of cream cheese, but don't use the low-fat "cream cheese" -- it's just insufficient all around.

Philly Fish Chowder

1 gallon rich vegetable broth or stock
1 lb mild fish (I used flounder, this week)
3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 cup frozen corn (or, if you can get it, fresh-cut from cob)
1/2 large red sweet bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup celery, coarsely chopped
1 (8-oz) brick cream cheese, softened in microwave until nearly liquid

In a large stock pot, bring stock to boil. Drop in fish, let return to simmer. When fish is cooked until easily flaked, remove from stock, break into large crumbles (if the boiling stock hasn't already finished the job) and set aside in refrigerator.

Return stock to a boil, add vegetables, allow to simmer until potatoes are tender. Add in cooked fish, stir in cream cheese. Serve hot, garnished with shredded cheddar cheese and chopped chives (or, no garnish, if you have a Pop like mine, who just wants the soup).

Afterthought: This is really good with fresh-baked Anadama bread. I'll have to have the Bat post her recipe for that, very soon...

Vegetable Broth

I've learned, through the years, that baking is a science, but cooking is an art form. What this means is, you need exact measurements for a lot of things to work in the oven. From breads to brownies, from soufflés to sugar cookies, if you don't use precision with ingredients, temperature and time, you're likely to be disappointed with the results. On the other hand, stovetops are more forgiving of the experimenter... sometimes.

It all starts with the most basic thing of all: water. Then you start tossing things into it. If you need a primer on the concept, I highly recommend you read the folk tale Stone Soup (the version Captain Kangaroo read to us in the good old days). I have it on good authority, though, that there is such a thing as throwing too many things in a pot. A basic vegetable stock is still rather difficult to destroy (IMHO, one guaranteed method is to include Brussels sprouts, rutabagas , or turnips, but that's just one cook's attitude). Oh, also, try to use real, rich carrots, not those baby-type things, as the finger food ones have too little flavor for anything other than absent-minded noshing.

Vegetable Broth

1 gallon water (approximately)
1-2 tsp olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 large red or yellow bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium green pepper, chopped
2 cups celery (including leafy greens), chopped
1 cup carrots, sliced no thicker than 1/2 cm. (you can grate them if you prefer)
1/2 cup chopped cabbage
1 cup corn, frozen or fresh from cob (NEVER from a can!)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1-2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp finely-ground white pepper (you can use black pepper if it's what you have on hand)
1/4 tsp paprika
pinch sage

In large stock pot, bring water to simmer. Add all other ingredients, bring heat back up until simmering again, cover, continue to simmer for a few hours, until the liquid has reduced noticeably. Remove from heat. Strain out the veggies (you can save these to toss into a meatloaf, later, if you want... or they still make good compost).

Serve with chopped scallions or chives as garnish, or set aside to use in other recipes.

This can be frozen for quite some time.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Rebound Spuds

This being the time of March Madness, the Bat has read up on how to get picture-in-picture, and has set her remote to jump directly from one game to the next. No we don't have a sports fan in this household, no sirree! Not us, no way nu-uh. Nope. Never. No no no no no no well... a bit.

So, in honor of hoops being the least depressing thing on television and, apparently, the center of the President's life (oops, leave politics out of this), we in the house of K present our Friday dish, a variation on twice-baked potatoes, sans skins, bounced out of the oven and sent back in for the score...

Rebound Spuds

7 or 8 medium Russet potatoes, buttered and baked until tender, then cooled enough to handle (makes about 7 cups)

2-3 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp (approx.) butter
1 large sweet onion, diced, divided
1/2 tsp celery salt or Old Bay Seasoning

1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup finely grated extra sharp cheddar, divided
1 cup finely grated sharp white cheddar, divided

8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced and coarsely chopped
Ground pepper to taste
2-3 Tbs heavy (whipping) cream
1/4 c. milk
(this stage is optional)


Scrub, then dry potatoes. Slice off any discolored spots, pierce several times with fork or sharp knife. Coat with butter, place in hot oven (400-450º F), bake for about an hour, or until spuds are tender. Remove from oven, allow to cool until you can handle them without pain.

While the potatoes are cooling, stir-fry (high temp) the onions in olive oil butter, in a large pan, until they begin to turn golden-brown. Add celery salt. Set aside.

Peel the skins off the potatoes, discard (or, you can save them for...whatever. You won't need them for this recipe, anyway). In a medium bowl, mix the potato innards until well-mashed. Add milk, yogurt, 3/4 cup each of cheeses, and 2 Tbs of the browned onion. Mix very well.

Put in heavily-greased oven-safe dish (1 1/2 or 2-quart casserole works well). Bake at 400º F until completely hot again (about 20 minutes). Remove from oven, sprinkle remainder of cheddar cheeses over the top, return to oven, bake until cheese is lightly browned and bubbly (about 10-15 minutes).

For Gravy:
While waiting for the cheesy topping to brown in the oven, return remaining onions, in saucepan, to high temp on stovetop. Add in the mushrooms and ground pepper, cook until mushrooms begin to brown around the edges. Remove from heat, add heavy cream and milk, stir until smooth. You may also choose to add bits of crisp bacon, finely shredded ham, or other ingredients. Serve in side dish, to ladle onto potatoes as desired.

Note: if you bake the potatoes the night before, you may have to reheat them a little bit in order to work with them. Putting them, covered, in the microwave oven with a little bit of the milk is a good way to get started. On the positive side, if you peel them, then nuke them, you can get them hot enough that most of the mixing will be a piece of cake. If they're colder, potatoes & cheese are reluctant to cooperate with a mixer. You just have to be careful when you handle a hot potato bowl, and when you transfer to the baking dish... we don't encourage people cooking themselves in the process of cooking dinner.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

random thoughts from the kitchen

I put together the chicken stew last night that is the base for our Chicken Pot Pie, and it occurred to me that type and quality of ingredients will make a big difference. For example, those little finger-sized orange things they call baby carrots? They're fine if you're looking for an innocuous snack, but when you toss them into a stew, they have virtually no flavor. Now, I know some people might say that's a good thing, but in my stew, foods are added not merely for ornament.

Get the real thing. Buy a package of actual carrots, scrub them well, chop them into bite-sized chunks, and let them soak up the flavor of the stock, the onions, etc. while imparting theirs to the rest of the meal.

In fact, if you can get darker-colored, such as red carrots, go wild! I'm requesting that Pop plant a seed packet or two of these, this year. I even asked nicely, as he scooped up his second bowl of stew...

And, amazingly, when making stew, the cheapest cuts of meat (while requiring some extra work and plenty of cooking time) make the most flavorful dishes. I like to make my chicken stock using giblets -- this week, I had some leftover bones from roasted chicken breasts, and tossed them in with a little celery, half an onion (chopped, of course), a few mushrooms, a pair of bay leaves, Old Bay Seasoning, salt, pepper, and a pound of gizzards and hearts, letting it all simmer for a couple of days. The meat was amazingly tender after all that time....

Same holds true for making chili without ground beef. I like chunks of chuck steak or roast, and let it cook slowly and over low heat (yes, you can use a slow cooker, once you brown the meat). Worried about all that fat? To heck with that! just strain it out after the meat is browned.

And one thing I learned this week: low cholesterol butter-flavored sprays and spreads do not serve well to grease a cooking or baking surface. I was playing with phyllo, making various sizes and styles of cups -- with a certain person's dietary restrictions in mind --, and the ones using the "heart-healthy" sprays between the layers before baking, while they browned up prettily, tasted rich and were tender as any others, stuck fast even to the nonstick forms. Next time, I might use the butter-flavored spray between outer layers (the ones farthest away from the form, that is), but inner 2-3 layers will get, at the very least, olive oil (not Olive Oyl, though).

On another track, Greek yogurt is awesome, but can be rather expensive. There are places online (here's a good one) where you can learn to make your own, from a tub of regular yogurt. If you use cheesecloth or a coffee filter, you're not likely to be able to re-use it, so take that into account when working your budget. On the other hand, a good cotton kitchen towel can be washed and re-used all you want... as long as you rinse out all the detergent after each wash, and line dry rather than tumble dry (nobody I know likes the flavor of fabric softener).

One more thing: I consider myself beyond merely fortunate to live in a place where I am called "poor", and still have access to the variety and quality of foods I play with (and the opportunity to play). My thoughts -- and agnostic's prayers -- go to those who, for various reasons, have not.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fish Cake Muffins

This being the first Friday in Lent, some of my compadres worry over my immortal soul (such as it is), so I thought I'd move in a friendly direction, tonight. I was planning to fix a single recipe for the Bat, the Geezer, and a couple of our extended family-ish regulars, but events conspired to set me up with a full house, so I improvised a bit or two.

First, some of us are allergic to shellfish and crabs, and still crave crab cakes. In the good old days, before anaphylaxis became a recognized and feared word in our house, the discovery of those precious jewels of salt water chefs was a source of its own near-religious experience. Now, somebody has decided that taking such a risk is a really bad idea. I won't name names, but... well... pass the Benadryl, willya? I'm going in! almost.

Also, rather than spatter the kitchen with a lot of grease from frying them up, I tried a suggestion I stumbled across in a magazine, and baked them in a well-greased muffin pan. It meant less fat, better for the heart, or so they say. They wound up pretty tasty, & folks went back for seconds (& one went back for thirds)

No crab, though. Dagnabbit.

Not that we missed it that much.

Fish Cake Muffins

2 lbs. mild white fish, shredded or finely flaked
4 c. fresh whole wheat bread crumbs
1 medium-large red bell pepper, seeds removed and minced
8 scallions, finely sliced
4 large eggs, beaten
2 medium or large egg whites, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp. Tabasco or other good hot sauce
1 1/2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning*
1 tsp ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 450ºF.

Heavily grease non-stick muffin pans.

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients (I generally find mixing by clean, bare hand is best -- it's not too different from making meat loaf, in that regard). Scoop out in equal portions to fill 24 muffin cups. Place in middle rack of oven, bake 20 - 25 minutes, or until golden-browned.

Serve hot.

It does nicely with a zesty tartar sauce or seafood cocktail sauce, or sprinkled with a little fresh lemon juice and garnished with lemon wedges.

* 1 1/4 tsp of celery salt & 1/4 tsp paprika may be used as reasonable facsimile of Old Bay Seasoning, if you're desperate. ;-)

Apple-Cabbage Slaw

Tonight's menu had quite a bit of savory to it -- we had fish cakes (using a variation on a crab cake recipe I'd found intriguing), sweet-and-savory sweet potatoes, and needed something with crunch and zest and sweetness to complete the platter. When one serves seafood, often the best option is either some form of picallily or a traditional cole slaw. I wanted neither of these, and when I'm in one of these moods, it's best to just humor me and let me do the cooking...

So. Cole slaw not cutting it? Add something different. Usually, during the summer, we'll slice a few fresh tomatoes into it, bump up the mustard content to a mayonnaise dressing, and go wild that way. Or, Mom has discovered she likes the cheat of a half bottle of peppercorn ranch dressing instead of sour cream/mayo varieties.

I had a nifty handful of apples. And stuff. So here is what I tossed together for an army, tonight.

Apple-Cabbage Slaw

4 medium-sized tart apples (Granny smiths are very nice, I had not-quite-so-tart Braeburns and Galas), peeled, cored, and coarsely grated
2 Tbs. cider vinegar
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 head (approx. 8 c.) cabbage, shredded
1 1/2 or 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. celery seed
1/2 c. greek yogurt
1/2 c. light mayonnaise
1 c. sour cream
1/2 tsp. ground mustard powder

Peel apples, then coarsely grate them into a small bowl. Add vinegar and lemon juice. Set aside.

Cut cabbage head in half, put one half back into sealed container in refrigerator. You won't need that. The remaining half of the cabbage, cut in half again along the line of the core. Cut out the core and discard (unless you're a little crazy like me, and want to nibble on the strongly-flavored bit of crunchy while working on the rest of the project). Slice both quarters of the cabbage into thin strips, then chop strips into approximately one-inch lengths. Put into LARGE bowl. You will have at least 8 cups of vegetable matter, and will need room to add the remaining ingredients.

Add sugar to cabbage. Let stand at least 10 minutes (refrigeration is advised, but not mandatory at this stage).

Stir in apple mixture, celery seed. Go ahead, use the same small bowl you just emptied to mix yogurt, sour cream, mayonnaise, and mustard powder. Add to cabbage mix, stir well, refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serves at least 15.