Friday, August 28, 2009

Blueberry-thyme frozen yogurt that is almost awesome

The new HEB had blueberries at an amazing 97 cents a pint last week, so we bought three of them. I had been wanting to try to make frozen yogurt, and I thought blueberry would be a good flavor for that. I didn't want to use any sugar, so I decided to add an herb flavor to make it a little more sophisticated. A quick taste test on the balcony showed that thyme was the right herb for blueberries.
I think I've gotten a little cocky lately. Most of my recent culinary experiments have been smashing successes (chickpea flour crackers, red pepper-tangelo sherbet, eggplant basil, oversalted kasha stirred into scrambled eggs, etc.), so I decided I didn't need no stinkin' recipe or any guidelines for making frozen yogurt. I made up a recipe, using just a tiny bit of sugar, and froze it. Unfortunately, it didn't freeze very well in my little ice cream maker, so I had to put it in the freezer for a while, take it out and crank it, etc. After eating dinner, we dug into the yogurt, and it was great. It was pleasantly tart, the blueberry flavor was rich, and the periodic bursts of thyme flavor were lovely. Next time I might steep the thyme in simple syrup to increase both the sweetness and the thymey-ness, but overall it was very nice. After we ate our dessert, we froze the rest like we usually do.
Unfortunately yesterday when I got it out to have some, it was as hard as a rock. I'm sure it would have softened in time, but I had to leave again before it was soft enough to eat. I was able to scrape a few spoonfuls off the top, and they were quite tasty, but I couldn't get very much. I have some theories on what went wrong and how I might fix it next time.

1) I didn't use much added sugar or fat, which lower the freezing point, so the mixture is too much like ice. To fix this I can add more sugar and maybe some cream next time, or use thicker yogurt, which has more fat and less water.
2) The way I froze it, taking it in and out of the freezer, didn't incorporate enough air into the mixture, so it froze too solidly. To fix this, I can make sure the freezer isn't too full and the little cannister that's supposed to go in there gets cold enough. I can also try to whirl it in the food processor and see if that breaks it up and adds some more air.

Have any of you had this problem, or do you know more about frozen dessert science than I do? Any tips would be welcome.

Blueberry-thyme frozen yogurt
1 1/3 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, thick stems removed
1 tsp sugar
About 1 cup plain yogurt

Puree blueberry, thyme, and sugar. Pour into 2-cup measuring cup and add enough yogurt to equal 2 cups total. Mix thoroughly. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

Eggplant with four basils

At the farmers' market a couple weeks ago, I found these beautiful tiny eggplants:
You can tell they are tiny because that's only two pounds. I should have included some sort of reference item in the picture. They were reasonably priced, a rarity at Houston farmers' markets, and I couldn't resist them. I knew I wanted to do something special with them. They couldn't be relegated to a pizza topping or baba ganoush, as delightful as it is, or a stir-fry bursting with other flavors. I had never made eggplant basil before, but I knew it was just what I wanted. When we go to a Chinese restaurant, Jon and I almost always get an order of it, but I had never tried making it at home. I looked at a couple recipes online, but they seemed too involved, so I just followed my instincts and made this up.
I used one pound just in case it was awful. It wasn't, so I made it again, with some variations, with the second pound a few days later. This week, I bought another basket of beautiful tiny eggplants and plan on making this dish again tonight. I used dark soy sauce the first time, which is why it's almost black in the picture, and light soy sauce the second time. Both are good. Dark soy sauce is a little thicker and sweeter. I also added tofu skins the second time. They were fantastic, but I also like the simplicity of the dish without it. I call this eggplant with four basils because I have four kinds of basil growing on my balcony garden. Thai basil, with its anisey kick, is the best, but unfortunately my Thai basil plant is petering out, so I supplemented it with my normal sweet basil, purple globe basil, and mystery basil that just started growing in one of my pots about a month ago. It doesn't look like any of the other ones. I think maybe it's a hybrid of Thai and sweet basil that somehow got started by being near my other basil plants, but I don't know. I love mysteries.

Eggplant with four basils
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 lb eggplant, preferably tiny succulent ones, halved or quartered lengthwise and cut into 2-inch chunks (if you're using regular supermarket eggplant, go for 2x1x1-inch pieces)
4 oz tofu skin, cut into 1-inch cubes, optional
1/2 cup basil or a mix of four basils, divided, roughly chopped if leaves are large
3 tbsp soy sauce, either dark or light

Heat oils in a wok or large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add eggplant pieces and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 4 minutes. Add tofu skins, 2 tbsp basil, soy sauce, and 2 tbsp water. Cover and steam until eggplant is tender, about 5 minutes more. Add more water if the pan dries out too much. Remove from heat and stir in most of the remaining basil. Serve over rice with a little extra fresh basil on top.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Peas and potatoes and paneer

As promised, here is something you can do with the paneer you just made after reading my last post. One of my very favorite things to get at an Indian restaurant is saag paneer or palak paneer, spinach and paneer, usually in a creamy sauce. I've made a version at home, and it's good, but it's just not the same as what you can get in a restaurant, so I'm usually a little disappointed with it. One time I had made paneer, used half of it in saag paneer, and decided to branch out and try another paneer recipe in my Indian cookbook, mater paneer, or peas with paneer. It was really good. Saag paneer is still a favorite Indian restaurant food, but now mater paneer is my home paneer recipe of choice.

Last week, I decided I wanted mater paneer, but we also had some potatoes quickly going bad on the counter. A side discussion: I don't know how to store potatoes. I have had more "black liquid potato death" incidents than I care to admit. In the fridge, they get too wet and develop these soft slimy bits. Plus they take up a ton of room. In a cabinet they often develop black liquid potato death (not its scientific name) after being forgotten for a month. I think part of the problem might be my thermostat setting (87 F) and part might be the humidity. I think you're supposed to keep them in a cool dry place, but I don't have a cool dry place. I've settled on keeping them out on the counter so at least I can't forget about them for weeks on end. Plus the counter ailment seems to be losing moisture and going soft and limp, which is much less stomach-churning than the fridge and cabinet ailments. Anyway, I had these soft, lifeless potatoes that clearly weren't up to potato salad or being baked. I decided that they would work well in mater paneer. Boy was I right! The starchiness of the potato plus the richness of the cheese plus the sweetness and greenness of the peas is just excellent. We liked it so much that we made it again this week with the leftover paneer and fresh potatoes from the store. The freshness of the potatoes didn't seem to influence the quality of the dish, which is a perk. This is a good place for questionable tubers.

Peas and potatoes and paneer (based on the mater paneer recipe in Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Sumana Ray)

6 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups paneer (about 1/2 the standard recipe), cut into irregular 1-inch pieces
3 small potatoes, diced into pieces that are just a bit bigger than peas
1/4 cup yellow onion, chopped into pieces that are about as big as your potato pieces
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, defrosted if you have time

Heat the oil in heavy skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat. Fry paneer pieces until golden brown. This is not a good time for shirtless cooking, especially if you're using freshly made paneer, because the water in the paneer can react violently with the oil. Turn paneer pieces periodically to get some nice browning on all sides. Don't worry too much about bits that stick to the bottom. A lot of them will come off when you deglaze the pan later, and they're quite tasty. After the paneer is cooked, remove it and drain on paper towels. Leave the oil in the pan.

Add the potato, onion, spices, and salt to the pan and saute until onion is translucent. Add water to the pan and try to get most of the burnt paneer bits off the bottom with a metal spatula. Cover pan and cook until potatoes are tender, 5-10 more minutes. Add peas and paneer pieces and cook until peas are heated through. Or if you're like me, get impatient and eat a couple still-icy ones.


Fried pieces of paneer

This is a recipe for the simplest homemade cheese. If you're making Indian food, you'll press absolutely all the whey out and call it paneer. If you're making Italian food, you won't press it as much and call it ricotta. (Traditional ricotta is made with whey, but I think this gives similar results.) In other food traditions, you might call it farmer's cheese. Basically, in this recipe you heat milk, curdle it with an acid, and strain out the chunky white curds. You can make it with any milk from whole to skim. Whole is richer, and that's what I use. I have used this cheese to make saag paneer, a traditional Indian dish with spinach or other greens, and mater paneer, or peas with paneer. That recipe will be next up on the blog. Paneer is pan-fried in both those recipes, so you want it as firm as possible so it will hold its shape. If you're using it as ricotta, you'll want more liquid in it since you'll probably be using it in a lasagna or something.

Paneer (recipe from Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Sumana Ray)
The milk amount is just a suggestion. The amount of vinegar below will curdle much more milk. You get about 1 cup of paneer for each quart of milk, so plan accordingly.
3 quarts milk
7 oz warm water
3 oz white vinegar

Bring the milk to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Combine the water and vinegar. Slowly add the vinegar solution to the milk. When the milk curdles, stop adding vinegar.
Put three to four layers of cheesecloth on a sieve or narrow-holed colander and strain the curdled milk. If you want a ricotta-like cheese, stop here and put the cheese in a container and refrigerate. If you want paneer that will hold its shape when pan-fried, press out as much whey as you can. I use the bottom of a bowl with a towel in it because the cheese is still very hot at this point and I have delicate little hands. After you've pressed out as much as you can that way, tie the ends of the cheesecloth together and hang it up to drain a little more. I sometimes wrap it in a towel at this point and wring it out. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Frozen raspberry mousse

I have been having a lot of fun with desserts lately. This was in the July 2008 Bon Appetit. I made a couple modifications, decreasing the sugar quite a bit and using frozen instead of fresh raspberries. I can get frozen ones for $2.79 a pound, while fresh are $3.99 per 4.4 oz. This mousse is good. We ate the first cup right after mixing it up, and it's just as good thawed as it is frozen. I stand by the decrease in sugar, and I might even decrease the cream next time too (or, equivalently, increase the raspberries). It is very rich. Kirschwasser, a clear cherry brandy, really makes a difference. I was dubious because 1 tbsp is so little, but I could tell it really made the flavors pop. That said, if you don't have any, just add a little orange or lemon juice or water to make it blend more easily. I'm sure it will still be delicious.

Frozen raspberry mousse (adapted from Bon Appetit)
2 1/2 cups frozen raspberries, mostly thawed
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp kirschwasser
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup sour cream

Place raspberries, sugar, and kirschwasser in a blender and blend until very smooth. In a large bowl, whip heavy cream with an electric mixer until it holds stiff peaks. Add sour cream and beat just to combine. Gently fold in raspberry puree. Don't worry if you don't get it all the way blended. The little white ribbons are pretty. Eat some now if you want. Pour the rest into parfait glasses (I used a combination of wineglasses and teacups) and freeze. I used 6 glasses and put a hearty 6-oz helping in each glass. Let it thaw in the fridge for a couple hours or on the counter for 20-30 minutes before eating.

Jon demonstrates the proper way to clean the mixing bowl:

Butternut squash gnocchi

I made this gnocchi recipe with butternut squash instead of sweet potatoes last night. It worked beautifully. Crystal said that when she tried it, her squash was very wet, so she had to add a lot of flour to combat that, diluting the squash taste. I was prepared to battle wet squash, but mine was no wetter than the sweet potatoes. My theory is that I had a very old squash, and it had dried out somewhat. I don't remember when I bought it, but I know it was in the cabinet before I went to Europe in early June, and I didn't buy groceries for about a week before we left, so it was at least 2 1/2 months removed from the store. Perhaps using an old squash is the way to go with this recipe. Anyway, I used the exact same recipe as before, so I won't copy it here. It definitely tasted squashier, but it was still a delicate flavor. Jon and I loved it, and there were no leftovers. We ate it with butter instead of the usual olive oil and of course topped it with parmesan cheese.

Monday, August 17, 2009

More crackers

Jon loves my crackers, so I'm trying to keep them around. I first wrote about them here. The basic recipe is 1 cup flour, 2 tbsp fat, 1/2 tsp salt, and enough water to make a dough. I also like to add some nuts or seeds and flavorings. I discovered that a pizza stone is WAY better than a baking sheet. I tried that on Jon's suggestion on Saturday, and it was awesome. No burned or undercooked spots! Below are three combinations I've made recently.
1/4 cup hazelnuts
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter

Chickpea-pumpkin seed:
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp dry rosemary
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp Italian seasoning, or a blend of oregano, basil, thyme, and marjoram
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp heavy cream

Process nuts or seeds in food processor until they are coarsely ground. Add flour, salt, seasonings, and butter or oil. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. For the Parmesan-herb recipe, add 2 tbsp cream. Otherwise, add 1/4 cup water. Pulse to combine. Add water in tablespoon increments, processing briefly after each addition, until dough forms a ball.
Turn dough out onto generously floured surface. Roll to about 1/8 inch thickness. Carefully transfer to floured pizza stone. Score lightly with knife or pizza cutter and bake in 385 F oven until golden on top. Start checking around 10 minutes and watch it carefully after that.

Chickpea crepes with tomatoes, olives, and feta

I've been on a Bon Appetit recipe kick lately, as you may be able to tell. This was in the July 2009 issue. It's not really a crepe, but it's not really a pizza either. It's similar to socca, which we tried in Nice. It's made with chickpea flour, which you can find at a health or fancy food store or an Indian grocery store. (It's called besan in Indian stores.) The recipe from the magazine is rather involved. You cook the crepe on the stove until it's mostly set. Then you put it under the broiler and brown the top and whatever toppings you put on there. You have to add a ton of oil to keep it from sticking, and it's still pretty messy. I had really tasty results when I made it that way, but it was time-consuming, difficult, messy, and very hot. Standing in front of a stove and broiler in August in Houston is not a lot of fun. I would recommend that technique if you really want to knock someone's socks off and aren't on a diet.

Convinced there must be an easier way, I decided to see if I could make them entirely on the stove using my nonstick crepe pan. I don't have to oil the pan at all. I played around a little and came up with this technique, which saves a little time and a lot of heat and effort with very little compromise in flavor. I even got pretty good at flipping the crepe without breaking it, but don't fret if you can't. It'll still taste good. Of course, the toppings below are just a suggestion. The first time, we used beet greens instead of the tomatoes, and those were good too. Plain with a little olive oil and pepper would work just fine, but adding some more toppings makes it a real meal. I think putting a full salad on top would be fun, too.

A nutrition note: 1 cup of chickpea flour has about 21 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber. More nutrition info here.

Chickpea crepes with tomatoes, olives, and feta (based on Bon Appetit)
1 1/3 cups chickpea flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups water, divided (2/3 cup and 1 1/3 cup)
1 tbsp minced fresh rosemary

1/2 tomato per crepe, cut into wedges
6 kalamata olives per crepe, pitted and coarsely chopped
1 tbsp feta per crepe
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

Mix chickpea flour with salt. Gradually add 2/3 cup water, whisking until smooth. Whisk in 1 1/3 cups water and rosemary. Let stand 30 minutes. (Note: I don't know why it needs to stand 30 minutes, but I haven't tried omitting that step.) While you're waiting you can pit olives or make a salad. You should also smell the batter because it smells delightfully beany with lovely rosemary notes.
Heat a crepe pan or other nonstick skillet over medium heat until water sizzles in it. Pour in about 3/4 cups of batter. (That was for a 9-inch crepe pan. If you have a smaller one, use less batter.) Tilt the pan if necessary to get the batter to coat the whole thing. It should be 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, more a pancake thickness than a crepe thickness. Cook until mostly set on the top. Pierce bubbles if they form. Carefully loosen crepe from pan and flip. Cook about 30 seconds to a minute on that side. Repeat with remaining batter. You might have to turn the heat down a little as you go along.
Top each crepe with tomatoes, olives, and feta. Drizzle with olive oil as desired.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Plum Cake "Tatin"

I don't have a TV, so I don't normally get to watch the Food Network. But when I was at a math conference in Connecticut, I got to see a couple entire episodes of Barefoot Contessa. She made this cake in one of them. It is my understanding that a tarte tatin is a caramelized apple tart baked with the crust on the bottom. This has cake instead of pie crust and plums instead of apples, but it's the same idea. My pictures aren't good, but this recipe is. The fruit, which cooks on the bottom of the pan, is sweet and moist and infused with caramel flavor. If I were to do one thing differently, I would squeeze more plums in the bottom because they are the highlight of the dish. There is a good chance that visitors to my house will get this for dessert. I also plan to try it with different fruit. I think apricots would be fantastic. If anyone ever has an Iron Chef: Plum party, I will win every prize.

Plum Cake "Tatin" by Ina Garten
6 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pan
10-12 plums, preferably "prune" plums, cut in half and pitted
1 3/4 cups white sugar, divided (1 cup plus 3/4 cup)
2 large eggs
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Confectioner's sugar for dusting, optional

Grease a 9-inch pie or tart pan generously with butter. Place plums, cut-side down, in the bottom. Combine 1 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water in a small saucepan. Cook over high heat until sugar is 360 F. It should be a warm amber color. As tempting as it is, don't stir the pan. Just swirl it gently. Pour evenly over plums. It will bubble and hiss and eventually harden. Don't worry. It will turn liquid again when you bake it. It should look like this:
While the caramel is setting, combine butter and 3/4 cup sugar in a medium mixing bowl and cream until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the sour cream, zest, and vanilla and mix until combined. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir until just mixed. Pour the batter into the pan and bake at 350 F, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool 15 minutes if you can stand it. Then invert onto a cake dish. If a plum sticks to the pan, gently cajole it out and replace in the top of the cake. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar if you want.

Pasta salad

I am a sometimes contributor to this blog. Recently I made a pasta salad. I am not usually a fan of whole wheat pasta, but I used a rotini that was half whole-wheat/ half regular and it worked. I like pasta salads in the summer because I like pasta and you can eat them cold, which seems to make sense in the summer.

The salad contains roasted peppers that led to Ev's now-famous Pyrex tragedy. Along with the mozzarella the roasted peppers make the salad. Next time I make this I might use spinach instead of kale.

Jon’s Pasta salad

12 oz. Pasta
2 roasted peppers (see below for roasting instructions), chopped
Fresh Herbs (basil, oregano and rosemary)
Mozzarella, cut into small cubes

Cook pasta in plenty of water until al dente. Drain. Meanwhile, saute kale in a small amount of olive oil until just wilted. Toss all ingredients together with dressing. I dressed this with a mustard vinaigrette (olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, salt, pepper and herbs). It was pretty good.

How to roast peppers safely

Place peppers in a broiler-safe baking dish on the top rack of your oven. Turn on the broiler. Carefully turn the peppers with tongs every five minutes or so, cooking until the skin is charred all over or your Pyrex explodes because you didn't heed the first instruction.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sweet potato gnocchi

I was out of town for the weekend at a Sacred Harp singing. I stayed with a friend's parents, and we made this for dinner on Friday night. I didn't take any pictures this weekend, so I'm including a couple that I took a few months ago. Just in case you aren't Italian, gnocchi are little Italian potato or flour dumplings.

This is good company food. It's pretty impressive (homemade gnocchi!) but doesn't take that long to make if you start with cooked sweet potatoes or cook them in the microwave. I usually pop the sweet potatoes in the oven a couple days before I'm planning on making this so they'll be ready when I want to use them. I got the recipe from, but I don't use their weird sweet potato cooking technique. I just bake the things like I would if I were eating them plain. The spice combination of garlic and nutmeg is really nice. I'd like to try this with butternut squash sometime, too. I think that would be good. I like to dress these with just a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and parmesan cheese, but butter is good too. You can use a standard tomato sauce, but it will overpower the delicate sweet potato flavor.
Rolling a snake of gnocchi dough
Sweet potato gnocchi

2 8-oz sweet potatoes
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 large egg
2 cups all-purpose flour

Bake the sweet potatoes until they're soft, either in the oven at 425 F for 40-60 minutes or in the microwave for 6-9 minutes. Scoop the flesh into a medium mixing bowl and mash. It's OK if it's a little lumpy, but you will be able to feel the lumps in the finished product. Add the garlic, salt, nutmeg, and egg and mix thoroughly. Add the flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, mixing after each addition. You might not use all the flour. You want to use just enough to make a soft dough. After adding about 1 cup, you'll probably have to start kneading it instead of mixing it with a spoon. When you have a soft dough, roll it between your hands into snakes about 1 inch in diameter and cut the snakes into small pieces (see above pictures for rolling and cutting). You might need to incorporate a little more flour during this process if the dough is still sticky.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop the gnocchi into the water several at a time. (They don't all have to be cooked before you add more, so you can stagger the additions.) When a gnocco (yep, that's the singular) rises to the top, scoop it out with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl or colander. When all the gnocchi are cooked, eat them quickly. They are best fresh out of the pot.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Frozen peas

Sometimes I get hungry but nothing sounds good. Or I have an upset stomach that needs some food to settle it. Or I'm not hungry but really feel like eating. When I get like that, I reach for frozen peas. When my siblings and I were little, my mom would give us frozen veggies as a snack at night because she didn't want us to have junk or eat just for fun, but she wanted us to have some food if we were hungry. Now I find them comforting. Frozen corn is good, and frozen mixed vegetables are decent, but frozen peas are the really good stuff.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Inspiration soup

It's August in Houston, a.k.a. NOT SOUP WEATHER. But I have a small freezer, and I had four quarts of chickpea cooking water in it, which meant that at least one quart would fall out every time I opened the freezer. So on Sunday, I pretended it was cold outside and made a nice hearty soup. I call this inspiration soup because I didn't have much of a plan when I started. I knew I was using a chickpea broth base. The rest of it just happened to be in the fridge. The tofu skins were really nice in this. I used the ones labeled fu bao. I don't know if this is the "official" name. I cut them into thin strips, and they kind of reminded me of the egg in egg drop soup. They were savory and protein-full and slightly chewy. Here is the recipe, but if you make inspiration soup, you should just let your fridge be your guide.

Close-up of some tofu skins in my soup

Inspiration soup
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
1 rib celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp curry powder (I used Penzey's Balti seasoning)
3 leaves kale, washed, thick center rib removed, and cut into thin strips
4 oz tofu skins, cut into thin strips
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
1 1/2 qts chickpea cooking water
1 3/4 tsp salt

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrot and saute until onion is translucent. Add the paprika, cumin seeds, curry powder, and kale. Cover and saute/steam until kale is wilted. Add the tofu skins, chickpeas, broth, and salt. Heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste as deemed appropriate at the table.

Monday, August 3, 2009

"Healthy" oatmeal-chocolate chip-pecan-dried cherry cookies

I got this recipe from my mom. One of my aunts lives in Michigan and sends us big bags of dried Michigan cherries every year. They're nice and tart, great in oatmeal, granola, and these cookies. They're also good eaten right out of your hand, which is how we eat a lot of them. I call the recipe healthy because it has whole-wheat flour, not much sugar, whole oats, dried fruit, and nuts. It also has two sticks of butter, hence the quotation marks. It's sure tasty, and it must be healthier than cookies with a ton of butter and none of the good stuff. At least that's what I tell myself. The batter has so many "goodies" that it barely sticks together. Consequently, you don't have to cook it for very long. As you might be able to tell from the picture, I just barely burned the first batch.

"Healthy" oatmeal-chocolate chip-pecan-dried cherry cookies

1 cup butter, softened (two sticks)
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tbsp milk
4 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups oats (I use old-fashioned, but quick-cook and instant are fine too)
12 oz chocolate chips or chunks
1 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
1 cup dried cherries or raisins

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add the flour, baking soda, and cocoa powder and mix thoroughly. Add the oats, chocolate chips, nuts, and cherries or raisins and combine. Bake at 350 F for 8-10 minutes. They will continue to cook a little when you take them out of the oven, so err on the side of undercooked.

Spinach-chickpea-tofu skin curry

This is the curry that we served with the salad from the last post. I was just going to use the spinach and chickpeas, but I learned that one of our guests isn't big on beans. It turns out she likes chickpeas just fine, but I wanted to make sure she'd have something substantial even if she picked around the beans. The tofu skin was perfect for that. For this recipe, I used the wet kind. It was labeled "fu chang" at the store. I don't know if that's the official name for it. It is wrinkly and has a nice chewy texture. Like regular tofu, it doesn't have much flavor of its own and picks up the flavors of a dish nicely.

Spinach-chickpea-tofu skin curry

2 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
2 tsp curry powder (I used Penzey's Balti seasoning)
1 1/2 tsp amchoor (powdered sour mango)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 small tomato, diced
2 cups cooked chickpeas, or one 15-oz can
1/2 cup chickpea cooking water, if you have some
2 oz tofu skins, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 big bunch of spinach, washed thoroughly*, or one 10-oz bag of spinach

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for about two minutes. Add the garlic and cook until onion is translucent. Add the curry powder, amchoor, salt, and cumin seeds and saute for one minute. Add the tomato and saute for one minute. Add the chickpeas, chickpea water, and tofu skins and cook until liquid is reduced by about 1/3. Add the spinach in batches and cook until wilted. Serve with naan or basmati rice. You'll probably want to add a little salt at the table.

*Greens can be pretty dirty. They do, after all, grow in the ground. Gritty food is extremely icky, but this technique gets them really clean. Fill a large bowl about halfway with water. Put your unwashed greens in there and fill the bowl most of the rest of the way with water. Most of the dirt will sink right down to the bottom of the bowl. To make sure you've got everything, rinse the leaves under a light stream of tap water before wringing them out and cooking them. Of course, if you buy the pre-washed bagged stuff, you don't have to worry about this. But it's a bit more expensive, and you might get salmonella. (Note: you probably won't get salmonella.)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Mango-lentil-yogurt salad

Sorry about the blurry picture. I can't always tell on my camera screen whether something is in focus. This one wasn't. A few days ago I had two friends over for a goodbye dinner before they moved to San Antonio. My initial plan was to serve spanakopita and carrot salad. They seem like good company food. But the day before they were going to come over, I found out that one of them is avoiding dairy, so I had to change my plan. The salad had been on the menu for later in the week, so I bumped it up a couple days and also made a spinach-chickpea-tofu skin curry, which will get its own post. The yogurt is not integral to the salad, so the non-dairy guy didn't have any, and the rest of us were happy.

I based this salad on something I saw in the most recent Bon Appetit. The original recipe calls for roast chicken, but I decided to recplace that with French lentils. They are smaller and darker than regular lentils, and they keep their texture better. Any bean would probably work, but I thought the lentils were perfect. Unusually for me, I used a purchased mango chutney in the dressing, and I was really glad I did. It had just the right blend of flavors and was basically no work. I felt so semi-homemade! (Maybe the completely homemade yogurt made up for it.) Also, the original recipe calls for arugula, which isn't our favorite green, so we just used red-leaf lettuce and supplemented it with fresh herbs and baby greens from my garden. You'll probably have some leftover lentils. I have been using them in green salads at lunch. They are very lightly spiced, so they shouldn't ruin any other flavor profiles. They would probably also be good in a pasta or grain salad. And just in case you aren't an Indian spice expert, kalonji are also known as nigella or black onion seeds. They are small black seeds that often top naan. They kind of look like black sesame seeds and can be found in Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stores.

Mango-lentil-yogurt salad
This recipe will make 5-6 salads.

1 cup French lentils, rinsed
Splash of red wine
1 tsp curry powder

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp mango chutney, large pieces finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon or lime
1 tbsp curry powder
1 1/2 tsp water, or more

2-3 large lettuce leaves for each portion, rinsed and torn
Fresh herbs, such as basil, Thai basil, mint, and oregano, if desired
2 mangoes, peeled, pitted, and sliced
Plain yogurt
Kalonji and/or cumin seeds to garnish, optional

Cover the lentils in plenty of water in a medium saucepan. Add red wine and curry powder. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 20 minutes. Drain and reserve lentils.

Whisk together the dressing ingredients, adding a little extra water if needed to make a nice dressing. To assemble the salads, put the lettuce and herbs in bowls. Top each with several mango slices and about 1/3 cup of lentils. Pour 1-2 tbsp of dressing on each salad and top with a dollop of yogurt. Garnish with seeds.