Sunday, May 31, 2009

Asian-inspired watermelon rind slaw

I am kind of obsessed with the three R's: reduce, reuse, recycle. I make wallets out of plastic bags I've fused together using an iron. I recycle as much as I can. I use old coffee cans for pencil holders and wear my clothes for as long as possible before replacing them. In the kitchen, I work vigilantly to keep produce from going bad in the fridge, I eat the cores of apples, I candy citrus peels to make a delicious snack, and I compost anything I can't use. At the office, I have also become the composter. People sometimes bring me their compost, and at office barbecues, I collect the compostable waste and take it to a neighborhood garden near me. This story begins with a math department barbecue. Someone brought a huge, delicious watermelon. By the end, I had over five pounds of watermelon rind. I took it home, but instead of composting it, I decided I might try to make something of it. I love the idea of making something good from what is essentially trash. That's where most people would have put it, at least.

Of course, I have heard of watermelon rind pickles, although I've never had one. I looked at a bunch of recipes online and decided they weren't really up my alley. They all seemed excessively sweet and soft, when I was looking for something crunchy and sour. Watermelon rind has a lot of melony-ness, but it isn't sweet at all, so there's no reason it should be made into a really sweet pickle. My first attempt was not very successful. I just cut the raw rind into 1-inch cubes, salted and then rinsed it, and put it in vinegar with some dill and mustard seeds. (We use a similar method for making refrigerator cucumber pickles.) They were way too hard and aggressively sour. I also tried a modified version of a recipe I had found online where the rind is cooked in vinegar and sugar with some spices for about 45 minutes. It worked better, although now I'd like it crunchier. I am still working on a good watermelon rind pickle recipe. Stay tuned.

My kitchen in the middle of pickle and slaw making: two batches of differently-spiced pickles, some slaw in the making, and a bag of watermelon rinds

While I was lamenting the too-crunchiness of my original pickles and thought about how really hard vegetables, like carrots, are sometimes much easier to eat when shredded. Thus began the quest for a watermelon rind slaw. My first attempt was by no means a failure. It was very simple: watermelon rind, apple cider vinegar, just a touch of sugar, a little shredded carrot, and some mint. Not bad, not stunning. The shredded watermelon rind was very easy to eat, and it was pleasantly crunchy and mild. I can definitely see it standing in as a substitute for cabbage or even celery or cucumber. (When I experimented with adding celery seeds to the slaw, it tasted eerily like actual celery.) I was unsatisfied, however, with the slaw. It was kind of boring. It would have worked at a picnic as a side to barbecued things, but only because it was crunchy and cold.

The first slaw

This afternoon I was browsing through Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian looking for inventive slaw recipes that might be easily adapted to watermelon rind. I came across his Korean chive and lettuce salad. Basically, it's a bunch of chives with a soy sauce and sesame oil dressing mixed in with lettuce. In the variations, he suggests using shiso instead of the chives. I have never seen or tasted shiso, but apparently it's a Japanese herb that is a little basil-y, a little minty, and a little cinnamony. I decided to try the recipe with watermelon rind and assorted herbs from my garden.

Friends, I was not disappointed. I used some purple globe basil, which has very small leaves and has gone to flower already. I used the flowers as well as the leaves and stems. I also threw in some Thai basil, which has a pleasant anise flavor, and some chives. It was good. Really good. Jon, who has been very patient with me for keeping over six pounds (there was a second watermelon) of rind in the fridge even though it was already full, has been pretty skeptical of the whole project. He was underwhelmed by the original watermelon-carrot slaw, but he recognized the genius of this one immediately. It is crunchy, floral, and complex. While we were eating it and marveling at how awesome it was, I had the brilliant idea of making it into spring rolls. So we did. The sauce is quite strong, so it's like you have already put the dipping sauce in the spring roll. We loved it. We spent dozens of minutes talking about how great it was, and by extension how awesome I am.

Where amazing happens

I know that is a very long buildup to a recipe. And I feel a little bad because really, the watermelon rind is completely replaceable. Cabbage would be perfectly acceptable here. Probably carrots would too. Or celery or cucumber or any other crunchy vegetable. The herbs and dressing are what make this such a good dish, not the watermelon rind. The melony-ness is definitely overwhelmed by the other flavors, but darn it, it's free! Assuming you like watermelon (and I don't see how you couldn't), the rind is completely a bonus vegetable. I am still working on other good ways to use it, but I am very, very happy with this recipe. It's extremely likely that the dinner guests we are having tomorrow night will be eating it. Without further ado, here it is.

Slaw in a bowl

Asian-inspired watermelon rind slaw (based loosely on Bittman's recipe for Korean chive and lettuce salad):

About 1/2 pound watermelon rind, peel removed, grated with a food processor, about 2 cups
About 1/2 cup assorted fresh herbs, minced (I used purple globe basil and its flowers, Thai basil, and chives)
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
juice of 1/4 lime
1 tsp sugar
A tiny, tiny bit of Srirachi sauce, or more if you have a higher tolerance for heat than I do (trust me, you do)
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced or grated
2 tsp toasted sesame seeds

Wring out the watermelon rind with your hands over the sink. It's wetter than it lets on. Put it in a bowl. Add the herbs and toss. Mix together the oil, soy sauce, vinegar, lime juice, sugar, Srirachi, ginger, and sesame seeds. Pour over the rind and herbs. Marvel at your (or my) inventiveness. If you want to make it into spring rolls, just get a spring roll wrapper ready and put some filling in. You don't need a dipping sauce or any other ingredients.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Five-spice beet soup

I made this beet soup as part of Jon's birthday feast. I got the recipe from the February 2009 issue of Bon Appetit. I have not made any other beet soups, but I can't imagine a better one. It's warm and comforting but spicy and interesting. It calls for five-spice powder, a common Chinese seasoning. I didn't have any the first few times I made it, so I made my own version on the fly, just adding a bit of ground fennel seed, ground pepper, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, and a piece of star anise, which I then retrieved from the soup before pureeing. Now I have "real" five-spice powder, and the effect is about the same. The recipe as written is very gingery, which is nice. If you don't like ginger that much, you could cut back the amount but not eliminate it entirely. The beet-ginger combination is excellent, and it might grow on you. If you don't have fresh ginger, you can substitute about 1/2 tsp of ground. It's not the same, but it works.

I don't know what you do for broth. I am a big fan of Better than Bouillion brand concentrated vegetable soup base, but if you make it as strong as it says on the package, it's usually way too salty, at least for my taste. For this recipe, Iused about 1 tsp of the base in 3 cups warm water, and I could have gone with less. That's 1/3 strength. If you use canned broth, you might want to dilute it with water. If you use homemade broth, you probably don't need my suggestions on whether/how to dilute it.

One last thing: Wear an apron! Or clothes you think are not pink enough.

Five-spice beet soup (adapted from Bon Appetit)
Beets: about 3 1/2 cups' worth, trimmed, scrubbed but not peeled, and quartered or eighth'd. If you get big ones, it's about four beets. Smaller ones, a lot more.
3 cups vegetable broth
1 tbsp neutral oil
1 medium onion, diced (about 2 cups)
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 tsp peeled fresh ginger, minced or grated
1/4 tsp five-spice powder
Yogurt or sour cream for garnish

Bring the beets to a boil in the broth. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until they are soft all the way through and easily pierced with a sharp knife. If you use smaller beets, they will be done sooner. Marvel at how pink your broth is. In the meantime, saute onion and celery in the oil until they are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery and onion to the beets when they are done and let them cook together for about four minutes. Add the five-spice powder and ginger and combine. Puree. I use an immersion blender, which is really fun, but you can also transfer it in batches to a blender or food processor. You'll probably want to let it cool a bit before you do that. Serve with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream. I'm partial to my homemade yogurt.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Jon's birthday feast and a beet salad

I have been teaching a May-mester class for the past three weeks, and three hours a day of teaching plus all the prep work involved has meant not much time for the blog or the kitchen. Jon has been great, making sure I had lunch at school and usually having dinner ready for me when I got home. Luckily, tomorrow is the last day of class, so I will be able to get back into my normal routine. Yesterday was Jon's birthday, and I did extra prep on Tuesday so I could devote most of my time to him on Wednesday. I spoiled him rotten, if I do say so myself. I bought a very manly bouquet of flowers and wrapped him a bunch of presents (mostly kitchen stuff we've been meaning to get for a while) and cooked tons of his favorite foods. Over the next few days I'll be putting up the recipes. It's a lot for one post.

The birthday boy eating a freeze-dried green bean.
The menu:
Carrot salad
Beet salad
Five-spice beet soup
Moroccan-spiced onions
Puff pastry spanakopita
Homemade mint ice cream

He loved it. I was really happy that I could do something nice for him since he always makes me feel like a queen on my birthday and other special occasions.

The salad plate.
The beet salad is too dark to photograph well.

This beet salad recipe is a simple one that we go back to all the time. I can't get enough greens, and the beets themselves are pretty good too. The smaller the beets, the better. We usually get ours at the farmers' market, although yesterday's were from the grocery store. Since it's a salad, the amounts are entirely up to you. We probably do about 1 tbsp of nuts and 1 tbsp of cheese per salad. (We actually didn't have cheese yesterday because we discovered that the goat cheese had gone blue and fuzzy. Not desirable.)

Beet salad:
1 tsp neutral oil
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Greens from one bunch of beets, washed, stems removed
One or two cooked beets, chopped
Pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped
Blue cheese or goat cheese crumbles
Extra-virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

Heat oil in saute pan over medium heat. Add lemon zest and greens. Saute until greens are wilted, poking them often.
To assemble the salads, put the chopped beets, nuts, and cheese on the bed of beet greens. Dress with olive oil and vinegar.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Simple olive spread

I love salty snacks. I think it's kind of odd because in general I cook with very little salt and don't add much at the table. But I love pickles, olives, potato chips, French fries, tortilla chips, etc. Olive spread is great for my salt tooth. The Greek restaurant I loved in Waco had a similar spread, and it was addictive. I make mine with a mixture of black olives and kalamata olives to cut cost and amount of time you have to spend pitting olives. You can always add more kalamatas than I did. The pine nuts are just for texture. I've substituted peanuts before with no ill effects. You don't really need much olive oil. Just put a splash in there, and if it isn't processing well, add a little more.

Simple olive spread (adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home)
1 jar pitted black olives, drained (probably 15 oz jar or so)
20 kalamata olives, pitted
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tbsp pine nuts
1-2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

Put everything in a food processor. Process it until fairly smooth. Eat it on pita, matzah, or whatever. It would probably be good on a vegetable sandwich with eggplant, roasted peppers, and cheese, but I haven't tried it. I kind of want to now, but I ate it all already.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sherbet photo shoot

I took some good pictures of the sherbet in this post, so I thought I'd share them here.

This is the ice cream maker churning away. I used up all the ice my ice maker can hold at one time plus another Cafe Bustelo can full and about 20 oz of salt. Have you ever made ice cream using ice and salt? The salt both melts and lowers the freezing point of the ice, so at the end you have a ton of this ridiculously cold water. You put your hand in there, and your bones start to hurt. It's pretty neat to see chemistry in action like that.

Here is a super-close up of a little espresso cup full of sherbet garnished with half a home-grown strawberry and a mint leaf.
And here's another. How pretty.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Pineapple-black bean enchilada bake

This is a very bad picture of a very good dish. I wasn't always very comfortable in the kitchen. A lot of my cooking consisted of steaming vegetables and adding them to pasta or heating up veggie burgers. This was one of my first real recipes, and it's very good. I love pineapple in savory dishes, and the beans make it more filling. The original recipe, which was a Pillsbury bake-off winner, calls for wheat tortillas and has you making actual enchiladas. I prefer corn tortillas, at least for enchiladas, and they broke a lot, so I gave up trying to make it into real enchiladas and settled on an enchilada casserole thing. I definitely don't miss the twenty minutes of wrestling with tortillas only to have them break anyway. I cut a lot of cheese out of the original recipe also. I love cheese, but it was a bit excessive.

It is with some trepidation that I tag this recipe "Mexican". It was made up by some lady in Minnesota, and it is in no way authentic. But it is definitely inspired by Mexican cooking, so I'll do it anyway.

I noticed that all the cans I used in this batch were dented. I always peruse the dented can clearance rack at the grocery store. I don't mind paying half price for the exact same food.

Pineapple-black bean enchilada bake
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about one cup)
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped (about one cup)
1 20 oz. can pineapple packed in pineapple juice (I prefer "tidbits" or "crushed", but you can always just chop other ones more), juice reserved
1 14 oz. can black beans, rinsed, or 2 cups cooked black beans
1 4 oz. can green chiles
6 oz. cheddar cheese, grated
1 10 oz. can enchilada sauce
12-15 corn tortillas
fresh cilantro, for garnish
sour cream, for garnish

In a large saute pan, heat the oil and saute the onion and bell pepper for about five minutes. Add the pineapple, black beans, and chiles and saute for about three more minutes. Add about 2/3 of the cheese, stir in to mix, and turn off the heat. In a separate bowl, mix about half of the reserved pineapple juice and the enchilada sauce.

Grease a large baking pan. Mine is 9x13, but smaller ones will work too. Put down one layer of tortillas. Spoon some enchilada sauce over each one, then about 1/2 the filling. Spoon some more enchilada sauce on them. Now put down another layer of tortillas and repeat. Finish off with one last layer of tortillas and the last of the enchilada sauce. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 F. Remove foil and bake about ten more minutes, or until cheese is getting a little brown and bubbly. Serve with cilantro and sour cream. Spanish rice is a nice side.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Giant limas with onions and oregano

I find it odd and somewhat distressing that there have been no beans on the blog yet. It is getting warmer, so I'm tending more toward light meals and salads, but as a vegetarian, I eat a lot of beans. I love them. I used to use more canned beans, but I've mostly made the switch to dried. I like my beans pretty al dente, so the canned ones are a bit mushy for me. Plus, I like to control the amount of salt in my food, and it's satisfying to take things that are hard as rocks and turn them into delicious food. I usually make more beans than necessary and freeze the rest for later use. They thaw fairly quickly and are a good addition to salads.

Jon knows how much I like beans and trying new things, so for my birthday last September, he gave me, among other things, about a kilogram of giant lima beans. They are indeed giant.

I should have put a quarter in my hand too, so you could compare. I haven't gotten very adventurous with the limas, mostly because I like this recipe and it's easy, so I just keep using it. It is similar to a recipe in Barbara Kafka's Vegetable Love, but it's way less fussy. She would have you saute it for a while and then bake it for a while, and I just don't have the time for that. It is her idea, though, to combine oregano, mustard, and wine, and I like the flavor combination. This is very simple, and unlike a lot of bean dishes I make, it doesn't work that well as a main dish. Because I associate oregano with Greek cuisine, I really like pairing this with my famous puff pastry spanakopita. I'll post that recipe sometime, too.

Giant limas with onions and oregano (heavily modified from Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka)
1/2 lb dry giant lima beans
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried mustard
1/2 cup white wine
salt and pepper

Soak the beans in plenty of water overnight, or at least for several hours. Drain, rinse, cover with plenty of water again, and cook them until they're done to your liking. For me, it's about 1/2 an hour. Drain them and set aside.

Saute the onion and garlic in the oil over medium heat until they are translucent. Add the beans, oregano, mustard, and wine. Cook until you're tired of waiting or until the wine has mostly boiled off. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bulgur Salad

I make this dish every now and again, often changing it a bit. It is a good summer dish, cool, light and a little more complete then a regular salad. Here is the latest incarnation. You can put a lot of other stuff in it. Evelyn really likes sliced red grapes.

1 cup dry bulgur (I think we use medium grind)
Tomatoes (grape tomatoes are our current favorite)
Red pepper
Scallions (for me; Ev doesn't like them)
Goat cheese (or Feta)
Lettuce, Sorrel and arugula from Ev’s garden

Lemon juice
Red wine vinegar
Olive oil

Prepare the bulgur by bringing two cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir in bulgur and turn off heat. Let it steam until the water is absorbed, about ten minutes. This makes a lot of bulgur. You might want to save some for later. I've heard that it can be frozen, but I haven't tried. In the meantime, chop up the vegetables and whisk together the dressing. Once again, dressing amounts are up to you. A 1:3 ratio of acid to oil is "standard", but we prefer 1:1 or so. When everything is done, stir it together. It's good served warm or cold.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Jalapeno-serrano cornbread with honey butter

This was the winning entry at the iron chef party. It's "just" jazzed-up cornbread from a mix, but it really hit the spot.

Jalapeno-serrano cornbread:
1 large poblano pepper
2 small serrano peppers
2 Parade instant cornbread mixes
2 eggs
4/3 cups milk
1 tbsp sugar
handful frozen corn kernels
1 cup pepper jack cheese, divided

Char the peppers. Place under broiler and turn often until they are black on all sides. Put the peppers in a ziploc bag in the fridge until they are cool enough to handle. Peel off the skin and discard the seeds unless you want really spicy cornbread. You might want to wear gloves if you have sensitive skin. Dice the peppers. Mix everything except 1/2 of the cheese together and pour into a greased loaf pan. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese on top. Bake at 425 F for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Honey butter:

Let the butter come to room temperature. Add salt and honey to taste. Spread thickly on warm cornbread.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Iron Chef: Battle Pepper

Yesterday was the big Iron Chef party. The theme ingredient was peppers, and people really delivered. There was a lot of creativity and tastiness. In no particular order, here are the dishes, besides any ones I forgot about:

Muhammara, a Syrian red pepper-walnut spread
Roasted red pepper hummus
Roasted red pepper, roasted onion, and cream cheese dip
Tortilla soup with all the fixins (avocado, tortilla strips, queso blanco, and lime)
Poblano-serrano cornbread with honey butter
Inverted stuffed peppers (baked potato halves stuffed with peppers, onions, cheese, etc.)
Fried red bell pepper rings (like onion rings) with avocado ranch dip
Macaroni and goat cheese with roasted red peppers and fresh basil
Broiled bell pepper pieces with mozzarella cheese and crushed red pepper
Mushrooms stuffed with red peppers and other stuff
Green chile enchilada casserole
Tangelo-red pepper sherbet
Vanilla ice cream with avocado, lime, and jalapenos
Vanilla ice cream with chocolate-chile topping
Dark chocolate with chile mixed in (not brownies, but soft)

In the "not actually containing peppers category":
A nice Chianti with strong pepper flavor
Tequila and limes
Pineapple and rum
Pineapple soda and beer

The last two were based on someone's "hilarious" "joke" that the letters of "pineapple rum" can be used to spell "pepper" and the copycat joke that rum can be replaced by beer.

I intended to take nice pictures of the dishes, but with all the hubbub, I kind of forgot. I did get this one after we had eaten most of the food.

Iron chef parties are always really fun. People like being creative and eating weird food. And there are prizes. The three categories are best tasting, best presentation, and most creative. I forgot to get prizes until the day before, so they weren't as awesome as they normally are. I got Pickapeppa sauce for everyone. It's a tasty A1/hot sauce combo with "peppa" right in the name. The poblano-serrano cornbread with honey butter won best taste. I am going to try to get the recipe from the guy who brought it and post it soon. My sherbet won best presentation. I filled half a tangelo peel with sherbet and put it in a dish of salted ice water to keep it cold. I had wanted to do a bunch of those, but we mangled the tangelo rinds pretty badly when juicing them and that was the only one that held up, so it was the "display model". The prize for most creative went to the vanilla-avocado-jalapeno-lime ice cream, which was also pretty tasty, actually. When you think about it, avocado makes sense as a dessert ingredient. At least after you've expanded your mind by eating three different ice creams involving peppers.

The only other picture I took was Jon tallying the votes:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Yesterday Jon and I made the rest of our pizza dough into tasty, tasty focaccia. I served it with a Caprese salad (tomato, mozzarella, basil, black pepper, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar) and used the bread to sop up the tasty juice leftover from the salad. When that was gone, I switched to pouring olive oil and balsamic vinegar onto the bread. Probably not the healthiest meal I could make, but it was delicious. I have a real weakness for bread dripping with good olive oil. Jon and I just switched to a better EVOO (he hates it when I use Rachael Ray-isms), and it made a real difference. For the record, it's Iliada brand. In case you were wondering about the weird tomato distribution, Jon wanted to try it, but I wanted to take a more minimalist approach.

1/2 recipe pizza dough
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 thin slices yellow or white onion, separated into rings and chilled or soaked in cold water*
1 tsp coarse salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh rosemary
tomato slices, if desired

Preheat oven to 400 F. Sprinkle pizza stone with cornmeal. Roll or toss or otherwise stretch pizza dough into a round that's a little thicker than you would make for pizza. Brush with olive oil, distribute onion rings on dough, and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake for 15 minutes. Add garlic, rosemary, and tomato and cook for 3-5 minutes more, until crust is turning golden. Tear off pieces and drown them in olive oil.

*Chilling the onion rings or soaking them in cold water will keep them from burning too quickly in the oven. You could also put them on later. I used part of an onion that had already been cut and was being stored in the fridge, so I didn't do anything special.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I made pizza from scratch for the first time yesterday. I love pizza. It is easily my favorite food, but it's always seemed like too much work to do at home. Now that I have the bread machine, however, I decided to give it a try. I would start earlier next time because the pizza dough cycle is 55 minutes long and it has to rest another 30 minutes after that, but other than that it was really easy. Plus, the dough recipe makes enough for two crusts. We are having either another pizza or making focaccia tonight for dinner. I went with the basic white pizza crust for my first time, but I am planning on experimenting with whole wheat and maybe even other grains in the future. I had some eggplant-tomato sauce leftover from pasta on Saturday, so that was the sauce we used. You can see in the picture that the basil got pretty wilted. I will probably put it on at the very end next time, as I indicate in the recipe. We ate this out by the pool with St. Arnold's Spring Bock and a bulgur salad, which Jon might post about later.

Evelyn's first pizza recipe:
1/2 recipe of pizza dough* or prepared pizza dough
cornmeal for the pizza stone
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup eggplant-tomato sauce**
2 small-ish balls of fresh mozzarella, sliced
black pepper
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
10 leaves fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Roll or toss the pizza into a nice round. Mine wasn't that round. Oh well. Sprinkle cornmeal on pizza stone and transfer the dough to the stone. If you've got a pizza peel, you'll probably do a better job than I did. Brush dough with olive oil and then with tomato sauce. Place cheese rounds on top of pizza and bake for about 15 minutes. Add black pepper and parmesan and cook until parmesan is slightly brown, about 5 more minutes. Remove from oven and throw the basil leaves on. Enjoy responsibly so as not to burn your tongue on molten cheese.

*Pizza dough recipe (from bread machine manual):
1 cup tap water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp powdered milk
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tsp dry yeast (I used 2 tsp because I have old, stale yeast)

Put the ingredients in the bread machine and set it for "pizza dough". Wait 55 minutes and retrieve the dough. Put it in a large bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Wait 30 minutes.

**Eggplant-tomato sauce recipe (I made this one up, so amounts are my best estimates):
1 tbsp olive oil, not extra-virgin
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 lb eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1 tsp Italian seasoning (or a blend of any or all of the following: basil, oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary)
1/4 cup red wine
1 14-oz can whole tomatoes with juice
black pepper

Saute onion, garlic, and eggplant over medium heat until onion starts to turn translucent. Add pepper and Italian seasoning and cook until eggplant is soft. Add red wine and let it simmer for about a minute. Add tomatoes. If your tomatoes are salt-free, add maybe a teaspoon of salt. Otherwise, they have enough salt. Cook for a few minutes so the sauce reduces slightly. Transfer to a blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender, to puree the sauce. Add black pepper to taste. This recipe probably makes 2 cups of sauce.

Tangelo-red pepper sherbet

I am having an "iron chef" party tomorrow night to celebrate the end of the semester and the end of qualifying exams for the first- and second-years. The theme ingredient this time is peppers. Yesterday I did a test run on the recipe I'm making for the party, a tangelo-red pepper sherbet. I saw a recipe for tangerine sherbet on a NY Times "Tiny Kitchen" video, and while I was brainstorming things to make for the party, I remembered it and thought that tangerine would pair well with red bell pepper. The grocery store didn't have tangerines, but I usually get tangelos anyway, so I went with those. We went the fresh-squeezed route, but the results would probably be fine with regular juice, even just orange juice or an orange-tangerine blend. I used gelatin. I know that it isn't vegetarian, but I've had it in my pantry for a long time, and I wanted to see if it helped with stabilization. It didn't really seem any different from other frozen desserts I have made, so I don't think I will use it next time.

I decided to "roast" my peppers in the microwave following a suggestion of Barbara Kafka in Vegetable Love. I wasn't too fussy about peeling them, and although the peel was definitely noticeable in the final product, it was not objectionable. The microwave technique worked, but I might do them in the oven next time since I'll have a lot more peppers, and microwaving plastic wrap for that long seems a little foolish.

I actually own three ice cream makers of various types right now. How excessive. They were all given to me by relatives who don't use them much. I made this one in a little ice cream maker with a canister you freeze for several hours. It's Donvier brand, probably bought by my grandmother in 1973. It doesn't freeze things very solid for me, but it's convenient, and I just wanted a small batch. It makes about a pint at a time. Tonight I am going to make the "real" batch for the party using my more traditional Waring ice cream maker that makes about 1 1/2 quarts and uses ice and salt. It will probably freeze a little better. If you don't have an ice cream maker, you should borrow one of mine or freeze it in a metal pan and scrape it with a fork every once in a while. After it's frozen, you can whirl it in a food processor to incorporate some air.

Jon and I both really enjoyed this, so it's not just my crazy hippie tendencies talking. Or maybe we're both crazy hippies. I decreased the sugar slightly from the tangerine sorbet recipe, and I liked it. It would probably even make a good palate cleanser between courses of a fancy dinner if I were the kind of person who made fancy dinners that required palate cleansers. Jon suggested maybe adding some lemon juice the next time for a bigger citrus presence, but I don't think I will. The success of this idea has led me to brainstorm a lot of other slightly odd sherbet, sorbet, and ice cream flavors, and now that I have the little ice cream maker out and remember how easy it is to use, you might see some more weird ice cream creations on here.

Tangelo-red pepper sherbet (inspired by "Tiny Kitchens" from the NY Times):
1/2 tsp gelatin
2 tbsp water
1 1/2 large red bell peppers
3/4 cup tangelo juice (about 3 tangelos for us)
zest of 2 tangelos
3/8 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream

Sprinkle the gelatin in the water in a small saucepan. Leave it alone for a while as you prepare the red peppers. Cut out the cores, remove seeds and white stuff, and cut into large pieces. Remove whatever peel is convenient to remove, more if you don't want peel in your sherbet. Put all the pieces on a large plate or bowl, cover tightly (I used plastic wrap, but I don't know if I should be advising others to put plastic in the microwave for long periods of time), and microwave for three minutes. Maybe add another minute for good measure if they don't seem roasted enough to you. Transfer the peppers to a food processor and process until quite smooth. You should end up with about 3/4 cups red pepper puree, but the volume isn't that important.

Now go back to the saucepan with the water and gelatin in it. Put some low heat under it and stir it gently until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Add the tangelo juice, zest, red pepper, and sugar and stir until blended. Remove from heat and transfer to refrigerator until cold. Combine this with the cream, which should also be cold, and freeze in whatever way you normally freeze ice cream. This recipe makes about a pint. If you have a large ice cream maker, you should probably double it.

**Update, 05/07/09**
In case you were curious, here is the recipe I ended up making for the party. It makes about 1 1/2 quarts of sherbet and got good reviews.

2 1/4 cups tangelo juice (from 11 tangelos)
zest of 4 tangelos
4 large red bell peppers
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups cream

Get Jon to juice the tangelos. It takes a while. Meanwhile, broil the red peppers, turning often, until they are soft and a good amount of the peel has turned black. Place in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap until the peppers are cool enough to handle. (You can help Jon juice and zest the tangelos while you're waiting.) When the peppers are cool, peel them and puree them until quite smooth. Combine juice, zest, pepper puree, and sugar in a large bowl and chill. When it is cold, add the cream and process according to ice cream maker instructions. It's nice if you can freeze it for at least an hour afterward to get it to harden up.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Seedy potatoes

A friend brought some fantastic potatoes to a potluck one time. They were slightly sour, spicy, and Indian-flavored. I loved them. Unfortunately, she couldn't give me the recipe because they were from a deli, but my attempt to recreate them is not too bad. I was kind of in a hurry when I made these, so I boiled the potatoes first and then fried them a little in oil with the spices. It turned out pretty well, but I might try just frying them the next time. It takes longer and is more likely to stick/burn, but it would probably give it a very appealing crispiness. You might notice that there is no salt in this recipe. It's so intensely flavored that Jon and I didn't miss it at all, but don't feel shy about adding a little bit if you want.

1 lb potatoes (I used red-skinned), cut into bite-sized pieces
vegetable oil
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp whole mustard seeds (I used black mustard seeds, but yellow would be fine too)
1 tsp whole sesame seeds
1 tsp ground coriander (whole coriander seeds would probably be better, but I only had ground)
1/2 tsp amchoor powder (sour powdered mango, available in Indian markets)
red pepper, cayenne pepper, or whatever spicy-maker you prefer, to taste
juice of 1 lime

1) Boil potatoes in a bunch of water until mostly soft, about 10-15 minutes. They will cook more, so they can be a little underdone. Drain.

2) Put some vegetable oil into a skillet over medium heat. When the oil is pretty hot (it gets thinner and very shiny), add the whole seeds and push them around. They might start popping some. That is desirable, but if it gets too intense, take the skillet off the heat because you don't want them to burn. After about a minute, add the coriander, amchoor, red pepper, and potatoes and cook for a few minutes. Try to coat the potatoes in spices. After a few minutes, remove from heat and add the lime juice.