Sunday, January 10, 2010

Aunt Esther's Fruit Salad

My cousin Alice had a great aunt named Esther. Alice never met her great aunt, but this salad that carries her name (we just call it "Aunt Esther's") has graced our Thanksgiving table for more than three decades.  Wouldn't be the same holiday without the salad, or without remembering generations past. With Alice's kind permission:

Sauce for Aunt Esther's

Drain the juice from one can of pineapple slices into a saucepan and heat.

While the juice is heating mix together
1/2 cup sugar
1 heaping tablespoon flour
1 egg

Add to the boiling pineapple juice, stirring constantly until it thickens.  Let cool.

Beat 1 cup heavy cream into whipped cream (no vanilla or sugar)

Fold the whipped cream into the pineapple mixture.
Spread on top of a bowl of diced fruit

Whipping the cream and adding it to the sauce is best done just before you serve it.  This recipe makes enough for a holiday meal, and is more than I otherwise want at one time -  so I keep the sauce in the fridge for 5-7 days and add some to freshly made whipped cream when I mix a bowl of fruit. The fruit in this salad was pineapple, clementine, grapefruit, bananas, melon, empire apple, and pomegranate seeds

This is wonderful in summer with watermelon, strawberries, blueberries or bing cherries as part of the mix.

Linguini with Peanut Sauce

This sauce is a staple for me in the summer, when I have fresh snow peas or sugar snaps, and new scallions or onion tops.  I add cucumbers as soon as they come in.  But it's a great winter dish too.  I save myself the expense of buying scallions unless it's a major component of a dish, and instead let some onions grow tops on the counter.  I take a green leaf from 2 or 3 onions and mince them for a little taste of summer.  In winter the peas to use are frozen petite pois, just thawed in warm water.  I keep them on hand to add to salads and stir fries, and always add them at the last minute without cooking them.

I don't usually measure ingredients for this sauce, but just start with a big spoon of peanut butter and add the other ingredients to taste.  I wanted to give you a recipe so I measured this time, and it came out just the way I like it.  Start with these amounts and adjust til it's to your liking too.   

Peanut sauce

1/2 cup creamy natural peanut butter
1/2 cup water
3 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
>1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

Add julienned cukes,
sliced scallions,
fresh snow peas or sugar snaps, or frozen green peas

Enough for 8 ounces of linguini or more.  This sauce will keep in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks.  It's only the freshly grated ginger that would conceivably spoil.

I suppose this will work with processed peanut butter, but if you aren't using natural peanut butter (ground peanuts and salt) then you're missing out on a healthy treat. I use Hannaford's store brand. 

Add just a Tablespoon or two of water to the peanut butter to begin with, beating it with a fork.  The peanut butter will darken and seize up the way melted chocolate will if a drop of water hits it.  As you add the next water it will suddenly start to turn light and creamy.

I like Sushi Chef brand sesame oil best, and find there's quite a bit of difference in brands.  This is not a dish that needs a lot of soy sauce. If it's not salty enough for you then add salt separately.  Besides adding flavor the ginger adds heat.  Adjust the ginger, hot pepper, and garlic to your level of heat. You won't find these amounts I've given you to be too hot.  You can use fresh garlic of course, but it's harder to disperse evenly to flavor the whole dish, and fresh raw garlic can overwhelm in a way that garlic powder usually does not.

As the sauce sits it keeps getting thicker, and it will do this on the pasta, too.  I used to think the pasta was absorbing the water from the sauce, but I think it's mostly that the starch in the peanut butter is absorbing the water and jelling, so that as time goes on you need to add more water.  It should have the consistency of heavy cream when you add it to the pasta. If I dress this and don't eat it right away (as in my bento box, or if there are leftovers) it will usually need a few drops of water added before I eat it.  No problem.  Some people like it sticky though. Up to you.  I like this best when the linguini is just made and still warm.

The plate is Bennington Pottery blue agate stoneware

An Onion in Winter

You know how onions - especially sweet onions - sprout on the counter in winter?  I leave a few to do that intentionally, since the sweet greens give me a few onion tops to use as I would chives or scallions..  If the leaves are pulled out they bring white onion with them, and then they're even more suitable as a substitute for scallions, but I usually only clip the greens, which continue to grow.

This year some of my yellow keeping onions stayed out on the lawn too long before I brought them in (as in, pulled them from the frozen ground where they had rerooted themselves, after the first snow of the year).  They aren't going to be keepers as a result of rerooting, but they're doing a fine job of growing tops.  Onions are biennials, and if left in the ground over the winter they'll send up a seed stalk the second year.  These onions of mine now think it's their second year.

The greens from keeping onions are generally pretty hot in the summer, but are much milder when pushing their way out of the onion on your shelf.  If you're buying onions to sprout then buy sweet onions, which start to sprout earlier in the winter.  No need to put them in the window; they have plenty of light on the counter.

Lettuce Update Week 3

The lettuce hasn't grown as much this week as I would have expected.  Could be it's colder than it usually is outside in the spring, even though 50-55 isn't too cold for them.  They are also pretty crowded, and as soon as I took this picture I had my first microgreens, and thinned the plants. I'm afraid I saw a suspicious little critter that looked like a fruit fly around the lettuce, and I probably have fungus gnats.

The larva of Fungus gnats damage the roots and indoor plants grow slower because of it.  Outside the fluctuations in soil moisture keep them from being a problem, even though they're around.  Since I planted my lettuce in potting soil that's been outside for the summer it won't be a surprise if I have them, and I'd better start dealing with them, since I'll start all my seeds in this potting soil.  Even though these are young plants, I'll let the soil dry out as much as possible before I water the lettuce again.  I've only watered it once since I planted them, since the potting soil had plenty of moisture in such a deep pot for so little plant material.  I'll also put a yellow sticky trap nearby and see if I catch any.  This is a card covered with a sticky substance, and a great many insect pests are attracted to the color.  It's mostly a monitoring device; it will let me know how many I have. But if the numbers are small and it kills the adults then I won't have to worry about them laying eggs, either, and the yellow sticky trap will also serve as a control.

Posted below is last week's picture, so you can see the growth in a week:

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Resolution Mac and Cheese

It's New Year's Resolution time.  I may get mine posted soon, but of course I want to eat lighter for the new year - always do - and I'm especially using my bento boxes as a way to eat lighter lunches.

This macaroni and cheese is a modification of Laurel's Kitchen's Sandy's Macaroni, which uses toasted whole wheat flour and vegetables to develop flavor, and just 2 Tablespoons of parmesan for 8 ounces of macaroni.  Not enough cheese for me, so I added 4 ounces of cheddar - about half of it in the sauce, and half on top of the mac and cheese to brown. I also added 1 Tablespoon of neufchatel to add the merest tang. 

I toasted the topping separately so I could carry it in my lunch box and keep the topping crisp.  When I had this for supper last night I sprinkled a teaspoon of Cabot's cheddar cheese powder on top, and that really punched up the cheese flavor.  I'll probably add it to the sauce the next time I make this, and will update the recipe if I change it.

This doesn't have anywhere near the fat and calories of most macaroni and cheese, but then it doesn't have nearly as much cheese.  It's a great light recipe, and worthy of being made. The dish made 6 of these 3/4 cup servings.

Resolution Mac and Cheese

8 ounces macaroni of choice, boiled, and cooled if
  the dish is not to be eaten immediately

Saute together
  2-3T finely minced yellow onion
  1/4 cup minced mushrooms
  1/2 stalk finely minced celery
  1 clove finely minced garlic
  1 Tablespoon butter

1/4 cup flour (preferably some whole wheat) toasted in dry pan
     added to sauted veggies
2 cups 2% milk
1 Tablespoon grated parmesan
4 ounces grated sharp cheddar, divided in half after grating
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional 1 Tablespoon neufchatel or cream cheese
Optional 1 Tablespoon Cabot's Cheddar Shake (cheese powder)

The  crust topping
Coarse bread crumbs from 1 slice bread (or panko)
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon grated parmesan cheese

Directions:  Boil the macaroni in salted water, and cool.  Adding the sauce to cooled macaroni keeps the macaroni from absorbing the sauce.  It's important to salt the water even if you usually don't, because cheese usually brings quite a bit of salt to the dish, and if you replace the salt you won't notice as much that the cheese isn't there.

You could skip the toasting of the flour, but it does deepen the flavor.  Saute the veggies (or whatever ones you want), adding the garlic only when the other aromatics are just about done.  Overcooked garlic is bitter.   Adding the flour to the veggies keeps the sauce from lumping when you add the milk, since you haven't made a flour/butter mix.  Add the parmesan, cream cheese if you're using it, and one half the grated cheddar.  Be sure to cook long enough for the flour to lose its raw taste.  Be sure you've added the salt necessary for this to taste like a cheese sauce.

Add the sauce to the macaroni.  (I portioned the mac and cheese into 6 muffin cups which could take broiler heat, and sprinkled with the remaining half of the grated cheddar.)  Put under the broiler for a few minutes until the cheese is pleasingly golden, brown, delicious.   When cool the mac and cheese will cohere and slip out of the pan.

Saute the coarse bread crumbs (or panko) and butter until you like the color, and add 1 Tablespoon grated parmesan.  Store this separately and it will be crisp when you eat your dish.

Of course, if you want to bake the mac and cheese to eat for a meal you can add the sauce to hot macaroni, add the topping with the grated cheddar when you bake it.  350 until brown on top.  And if you want to eat this as stovetop mac and cheese you can add all the grated cheddar when you make the sauce, and leave out the topping. 

(Laurel's Kitchen is one of my favorite Cookbooks - good simple vegetarian fare.  This Mother Earth News story from 1977 tells about the book and gives a few recipes.)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sweet Scent of Summer Salad

I always think I'm going to like the corn and bean salads that appear in the deli case, but they usually have cilantro and I can only barely abide the stuff, and especially don't like the smell on my hands if I make something with it.  Besides that, I love the smell of celery, onion, green pepper, and cukes sitting in brine overnight before making relish.

So I decided to make a salad that smelled like summer to me, with no herbs either obscuring or complementing the vegetables. This tastes very bright and clean.  Best, I suppose, with freshly cooked black-eyed peas, but I use canned.  The fresher the vegetables the better it will all taste.  But one of the great things about this salad is that it tastes really good in the winter with store vegetables and canned or frozen corn and peas. The key is a good cucumber.

Once you mince the onion, rinsing it in cold water will remove the sulfur compounds that were released when you cut through the cells, and take away that harsh onion flavor you sometimes get when cut onion sits in a salad.

For a hot pepper I used a jalapeno which has long since turned red, from my garden.  The best looking cucumber was waxed, so I took the skin off - but even in the winter I usually leave the skin on a kirby or English cuke.

Sweet Scent of Summer Salad

1 minced cucumber or 1/2 English cuke. Peeled or not as you wish.
1 minced stalk of celery.
1/3 to 1/2 minced sweet onion,
1/2  minced green bell pepper,
1 small moderately hot pepper - jalapeno or hungarian wax, for example (or hot pepper flakes)
1 can black-eyed peas.
1 can extra sweet niblets, or about 1 and 1/4 cup frozen or fresh corn
2-3 Tablespoon lime juice
2-3 teaspoons canola or olive oil
Salt and a good amount of black pepper 

Optional: minced red bell pepper added for color, but don't skip the green pepper
Optional: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon sugar, if you don't use the extra sweet niblets.
Optional: diced avocado.

Lettuce Update Week 2

The lettuce is coming along.  This is 15 days since I planted it.  The seedlings are still quite small, and leggy because I've forgotten to turn the lights on some days (sigh) so they've reached for the dim light from the window which is quite a ways away from their table.  Poor little things.  I may harvest them as micro greens, in which case I won't thin them. A few are already starting to show some red tinge.