Friday, July 31, 2009

A bean revelation

I am a bean snob. I use canned beans for hummus and other bean dips, and they can be handy for those days when you're in a hurry, but I really prefer to cook my own dry beans. I like beans very firm, and canned beans are way too mushy for me now that I'm used to cooking my own. Also, canned beans, while quite cheap, are several times as expensive as dry beans. I got two quarts of cooked chickpeas out of a 1-lb bag, which cost 99 cents. Also, I save chickpea cooking water. I keep it in the freezer and use it as a broth for soup or to give some extra liquid and flavor to curries. I'm sure other bean cooking water could be used this way too, but my freezer will only hold so much. The moral of this paragraph is that dry beans are awesome.

It's very easy to cook dry beans. The only reason it's not done more often is that it takes a long time. The normal instructions are to soak beans overnight, or at least six hours, in plenty of water and then cook them for an hour or so the next day. Since I like my beans firm, I usually only cook them for about half an hour after a cold-water soak. It's really not bad. The alternate method is the quick soak, where you bring the beans to a boil in plenty of water, then turn off the heat and soak for just a couple hours before proceeding as with the regular soak. This is a method I've only used once or twice, many years ago. I should add that I have no problems getting most beans to the perfect firmness, but chickpeas have always taken a really long time to get soft enough, even after a soak. I should also note that I often don't soak small beans at all. Navy and black beans only take about an hour to get soft enough for me without a soak.

Well, the other night, I wanted to have chickpeas the next day, and I decided to give them a quick soak instead of the slow one. I started them around 7:30 and planned to cook them that night after a couple-hour soak. Of course, I forgot about them on the stove. As I was drifting off to sleep around 11, I remembered them. I was too tired to do anything about them, so I just put the whole pot into the fridge so the cooking water wouldn't get funky overnight. Out of curiosity, I bit into one to check the texture, and it was almost the texture I wanted. I was amazed. In the morning, I checked again, and while they were pretty firm, they were definitely edible. I saved some at that super-firm stage, which is nice for salads, and cooked the rest for about 20 minutes, until they were at the texture I like them for curries and soups. This is about 1/4 of the time it takes after a regular soak. I like my beans for hummus softer, so if I make hummus with these beans, I'll probably cook them for another 20-30 minutes. But somehow the "long quick soak" magically made my beans cook up in 1/4 the time they normally do. I am going to try a quick soak the. I might not have to cook them at all after that.

The long quick soak technique:
1. Rinse beans and place in large saucepan with plenty of water.
2. Bring the water to a rolling boil.
3. Turn off heat and leave the beans there for three hours.
4. Put the pot into the fridge six hours or overnight.
5. In the morning, cook the beans to your liking. It shouldn't take long.

Maybe my standards are low, but this was very exciting for me. You still need to plan in advance if you want to cook beans, but it cuts the time you need to spend in front of the stove, and it should lower the amount of electricity it takes to cook beans. (There was an article about that on Slate recently, so I was thinking about it.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Raspberry yogurt cake with orange glaze

Jon and I aren't big dessert people. The main exceptions are ice cream for Jon and dark chocolate for me. But neither one of us is much of a baker. However, I've been seeing a lot of really nice-looking dessert recipes recently, so I think we might be indulging a little more this summer. This is the first dessert I've made in a while. I got the recipe from the July 2008 issue of Bon Appetit, and we both thought it looked good. Raspberries are my favorite berry, and I make yogurt all the time, so it was a logical choice. The only thing I didn't have was a Bundt pan, so I made it in my heart-shaped cake pans because we love each other. (And because those are the only cake pans we have.) We decided to make it into two small cakes rather than one two-layer cake. We are having friends over for dinner tomorrow, and the layer we haven't cut into yet will be perfect for them.

I don't know if I will make this cake again. It is very good, but it is very sweet. I know that it's a cake, but it was a little too much for me. The glaze is also quite sweet. Next time I will use lemon juice instead of orange juice in the glaze. (The original recipe just called for water. I used orange juice because there was orange juice in the cake batter, so it seemed to make sense.) I ended up squeezing a little lemon juice onto mine, and it really helped cut the sweetness.

The texture was also more muffin-y than cakey. I like muffins, but I was after cake. It was a lot denser and moister than most cakes. I might use this as a really indulgent muffin recipe. If I do use it again, I will cut the sugar dramatically. Since it was a cake recipe, I didn't want to mess with the chemistry before trying it once. I think of cakes as being very fussy about the wet/dry/fat/whatever ratios. But muffins are more forgiving, and I think I could decrease the sugar to 1 cup and be fine. It sounds like I didn't really like it, but that's not true. It tasted really good, and the raspberry-almond combination was superb. I would just change a couple things in the future. But I am publishing the recipe as I made it because you might like it that way.

Close-up so you can see the texture

Raspberry yogurt cake with orange glaze
This is my version of the recipe. The original can be found here.

3 cups flour, divided (2 1/2 cups and 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 tbsp orange juice, divided (2 tbsp and 2 tbsp)
1 1/2 tsp almond extract, divided (1 tsp and 1/2 tsp)
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
3 eggs, room temperature
1 cup plain yogurt
2 1/2 cups frozen raspberries (most of a 1-pound bag), or fresh if you're super-rich
1 cup powdered sugar
Lemon wedges, optional

Butter and flour two small cake pans. Preheat oven to 350° F.

Mix 2 1/2 cups flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar by hand or with an electric mixer until creamy. Add 2 tbsp orange juice, 1 tsp almond extract, and orange zest and beat together. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add yogurt and mix together. Pour in the dry ingredients and beat just until blended. Combine raspberries and 1/2 cup flour in the medium bowl you just poured the flour out of. Toss until raspberries are coated in flour. Fold into batter. Pour into prepared cake pans and bake for 40 minutes or until a knife or toothpick comes out clean. Let it cool for 30 minutes if you can stand it.
While the cake is in the oven, make the glaze. Combine powdered sugar, 2 tbsp orange juice, and 1/2 tsp almond extract and whisk together with a fork (or whisk) until a thick glaze forms. Add more juice if you need or want to.
To serve, cut a slice of cake, pour some glaze on, and squeeze a little bit of lemon juice over it if it's too sweet for you.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Soba noodle salad

My morning has been far too stressful. First, a Pyrex baking dish exploded in my oven (see above picture), scaring the bejesus out of me and making me feel stupid for not noticing that Pyrex says "no broiler" right on the bottom. Then on my bike ride to school a driver made a left turn into the wrong lane, where I was lawfully riding, and nearly hit me. And if the visions of burning glass flying at my face and broken limbs were not enough, my electric bill for last month was ridiculous, even though we weren't there most of the month, and when we are there, we keep it 85-90 degrees and unplug almost everything we aren't using at the moment. The apartment management company claims that our air conditioning had accidentally been cross-wired to someone else's meter, so we are now paying for what we actually use, but it seems way too high. Now in an effort to calm myself, I will tell you about this lovely salad I made for dinner last night before any of these upsetting things happened.

I got the idea for this salad and dressing from the June 2008 issue of Bon Appetit, but now I just customize it with whatever I have around the house. This time, I had edamame, tofu skins (more on those later), red bell pepper, tomatoes, lettuce, peanuts, carrots, and cucumbers. I normally make the dressing with an orange juice and peanut butter base, but I was out of OJ and very low on PB, so this time I based it on pineapple juice, a smidgeon of PB, sesame oil, and lime juice. It turned out pretty well, although OJ is better than pineapple juice for this purpose. The only cooking you have to do for this is boiling the noodles, edamame, and tofu skins, which I did at the same time, so it doesn't heat up your house much. That's always a plus in the summer.

Now to discuss tofu skins. Tofu skin is kind of new to me, and there are a couple different kinds, so I don't really know what to call it, but both Jon and I have really been enjoying it. It's my understanding that it is a byproduct of tofu production, kind of like a skin that forms on the top of a pudding. I picked up a few different types of tofu skins a couple weeks ago in Chinatown. Some of them are wet and wrinkly, and some are dry and almost look woven. I think the dry kind might be just a dried-out version of a wet kind, but since I know nothing about the tofu-making process, I don't know. All freeze very well. They have a really great chewy texture that makes them more satisfying in some dishes than regular tofu. The kind I used for this recipe was labeled "tofu striper", but that may have just been the store's translation. It was a dry one that looked almost like thin woven cotton handkerchiefs. It came in 4-inch squares, and I cut it into 1/4-inch strips to give it kind of a linguini shape. I cooked it with the noodles to get it a little soft but didn't really do anything special with it. Expect to see tofu skins appearing in more recipes on this blog. They're really quite fantastic.

The kind of tofu skin I used
Soba noodle salad
I made the dressing by pouring a little of this and a little of that and tasting often, so the amounts I have listed are just guidelines. Use your tongue while making it and adjust it to your tastes. I would recommend that you make the dressing a little sweeter than you think you should because there isn't much sweetness in the other ingredients. Finally, add whatever vegetables you want. Sliced raw baby bok choy is good, as are cooked greens. Water chestnuts and bean sprouts are nice for crunch, but I didn't have any around.

8 oz soba noodles
1/2 cup frozen edamame
2 oz dry tofu skin, cut into narrow strips
1/3 large cucumber, julienned
1/2 large carrot, julienned
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into narrow strips
1 Roma tomato, cut into narrow strips, or 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
4 leaves of lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
Crushed peanuts to garnish

1/3 cup pineapple or orange juice
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp peanut butter
1 tsp sesame seeds
Srirachi sauce, to taste

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the noodles and edamame and cook for about five minutes. Add the tofu skins and cook until the noodles are tender, about 6 more minutes. While you're waiting, whisk the dressing ingredients together and mess around with it until you think it's perfect. Drain the noodles, beans, and tofu skins and put in a large bowl. Add most of the dressing and toss to combine so the noodles won't stick together. Add the cucumber, carrot, pepper, and tomatoes and toss together. Serve on a bed of lettuce and garnish with crushed peanuts.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Jon and I like to have something called "breads and spreads" for dinner. The title is pretty self-explanatory. It usually has a Mediterranean theme: hummus, tzatziki, baba ganoush or another eggplant spread, whipped feta, pita bread, etc. We also serve raw veggies, olives, and pickles. Recently, this Syrian red pepper and walnut spread has joined the "breads and spreads" spread. We saw it in the November issue of Bon Appetit, and both of us knew immediately that we wanted to try it. It is a great addition. It's a little tangy, a little sweet, and the walnut texture is great. It's a good contrast to the other spreads. I think this recipe would be amazing with red peppers one roasted oneself, but the jars are terribly convenient.

12-oz. jar roasted red peppers, drained
1 cup walnuts
1/3 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp pomegranate molasses or lemon juice (I use pomegranate molasses)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Process all ingredients in a food processor until it's a coarse puree. Makes about 2 cups.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Crepes three ways

Since getting back from Europe, we have been suffering from a little jet lag. It is getting better, but when you travel west, you get tired early and wake up early. Consequently, I've been having more elaborate breakfasts than usual. This is what I made on Sunday. For once I was up well in time for With Heart and Voice on the radio, and I listened to it while eating my crepes. Initially, I was planning on filling them all with fruit, but I had all this time and all these ingredients, so I filled them three ways.

Filling 1: strawberries, blueberries, and plain yogurt
Filling 2: mozzarella cheese, a slice of tomato, and basil
Filling 3: Blue cheese and blanched asparagus

Jon did the expert garnishing. The bottom two are garnished with basil flowers from my garden, which is still alive after being very well-tended by some friends while we were gone.

Half-whole-wheat crepes
I have a friend whose mother is white and father is Korean. She describes herself as 100% half-Asian, so I think of her when I describe these crepes as half whole wheat.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/8 cup water, plus more if the batter is too thick
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt

Place all ingredients in a food processor and mix together. Refrigerate batter for 1-24 hours. To make the crepes, heat a crepe pan over medium-high heat until hot. Pour 1/4 cup batter onto the pan and try to get it to spread as well as possible (and let me know if you figure out how to do that). Cook for about 30 seconds on the first side. Flip and cook for about 15 seconds more.

This was cooked into one of my crepes. I thought it kind of looked like calligraphy.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Evelyn's famous lentil salad.

We're back! We had a great time in Germany and France. We ate some amazing cheese and pastries and visited La Zucca Magica, a great vegetarian restaurant in Nice. Food-wise, I missed beans. I didn't have them very much while I was away, so when I got home, I knew I wanted to make this lentil salad for dinner. This is my favorite way to use the cheap brown lentils. It's hearty, easy to make, and tasty. The crunch of the celery provides a good textural contrast to the soft lentils, and the feta brings some salty tanginess to the dish. I based it on the Mediterranean lentil salad recipe in Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, but I changed it enough that now I call it Evelyn's famous lentil salad. (I have delusions of grandeur.) This is my default dish to bring to potlucks, and it's a good way to get some protein if you're a vegetarian at a barbecue. Jon loves it, too. I had to double the amounts from the original recipe because he would eat almost all of it before I got any. I would say that for us, this is pretty great comfort food. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture, but it's not a very photogenic food anyway.

Evelyn's famous lentil salad
The dressing is just a simple mustard vinaigrette, and I don't even measure the amounts any more. The proportions below are just a suggestion. Do what feels right to you. The lentils are kind of bland, so the dressing should taste pretty vinegary before you put it on.

1 lb green or brown lentils (a little over 2 cups)
1 tsp thyme
4 bay leaves
4 cloves of garlic, peeled but whole

5-6 ribs celery, chopped
3-4 roasted red peppers, diced
6 sun-dried tomatoes, diced (if packed in oil, just dice them; if packed dry, soak in boiling water for a while first to reconstitute)
about 6 oz feta cheese (I prefer feta with cracked pepper, but you can get plain or herbed or whatever)

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tbsp dijon or honey mustard
black pepper

Cook lentils with thyme, bay leaves, and garlic in about 8 cups water for 20 minutes or until you like the consistency. Drain. Remove garlic, mash with fork, and stir back into lentils. Remove bay leaves and discard. Add celery, red peppers, tomatoes, and feta. Mix oil, vinegar, mustard, and pepper with a fork for dressing. Pour over the lentils and mix.