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Cumin Scented Sweet Potatoes & Wild Rice


We have had an abundance of sweet potatoes this winter.  I’m okay with this.  I love sweet potatoes.

Usually, we poke them with a fork, and throw them in the microwave until they are ‘baked’ and cut a cross in the top, pinch the sides, mush up a bit with a fork and then top with salt, a pat of butter, and maybe some chives or other fresh herbs.  Nothing more is necessary.  I decided to mix things up a bit.

Dice the sweet potato into ½ inch cubes.   A simple way to get an (almost) perfect dice is to start with peeled potatoes, slice them lengthwise, then lay flat to cut strips.  Rotate 90º, and cut into small cubes.

Next, slice up some onions.  Now, usually, I’m a believer in cutting ingredients in a dish into similar sizes – this can be important for cooking times, texturally important and visually important as well.  Except, there are always exceptions.  I sliced the onions (rather than a dice) for all of the same reasons mentioned above.  With such a simple recipe…the difference in texture and variety of size does more for the dish.

Toss it all in a sauté pan with a fat of your choosing (bacon fat, olive oil, butter…it’s up to you) and shake to coat.  You want the sweet potato to brown, and then onion to soften so keep the heat on medium.  If it’s browning too much, but the veggies are not tender, add a little broth or water to help steam and let it evaporate to bring back some of the caramelized goodness!

Season well with salt and pepper.  Now it’s time for the cumin, one of my all time favorite spices.  Sprinkle in up to a teaspoon of ground cumin…the aroma should soon fill your kitchen.  I added a twinge of oregano as well.

In the meantime, or the day before, or whenever.  Cook up some wild rice.  I’m lucky enough to have a Minnesota source for real wild rice…and let me tell you…it is worth the extra effort and the extra cost to find the real, true WILD rice.  The wild rice grain comes from a long-stemmed grass that grows in shallow lake waters or slow-moving streams and was/is typically harvested by Native Americans in canoes by bending the stocks over an open canoe and whacking the grass to knock the grain out.  It can take close to an hour to cook, and if added to a soup will continue to soak up liquid…the next day, you might look in the fridge for leftovers, and be confused when instead you find a thick and hearty stew.  Not to worry, a little stock or milk will thin it right down.  Soaking up liquid isn’t an issue for this dish, but you will want to make sure that you have cooked the rice to your liking.  I like it a little toothy still.

Throw it all in one big bowl together…and mix well.  Make sure to taste for seasoning again…adding all that rice will require some additional salt and pepper, and maybe a bit more cumin.

This was one of many dishes (our contribution to a potluck) that we enjoyed alongside a wild-shot, home-smoked and roasted goose.  Delicious all around!

Bon Appétit!

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So Good Soba & Tempura Greatness


A little late I know…but better late than never… (and it is, technically, still February!)

The February 2011 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura. She has various sources for her challenge including japanesefood.about.com, pinkbites.com, and itsybitsyfoodies.com.

Having never made soba noodles before, I was unsure of what to expect.  In fact, although there are many steps in making cold soba and tempura…it is actually quite a simple dish.  You start by boiling the soba noodles.  I followed the directions on the package and let them cook up for 4 minutes, drained them and then plunged them into cold water to stop the cooking.

Next up was the broth for the soba…

Mentsuyu – Traditional dipping sauce:

Ingredients
2 cups basic vegetable stock
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup mirin (sweet rice wine)

Heat the mirin gently and then add in the soy sauce and vegetable stock.  The Mentsuyu is typically made with Kombu Dashi, which I did not get my hands on soon enough, so I substituted vegetable stock and added just a bit of powdered miso soup broth for a little more flavor.

Vegetables, a beautiful thing!  All the fresh ingredients for the tempura on the right and all the toppings for the cold soba in the upper right.  Clockwise, starting at the tofu:  tofu, edamame, nori, julienne of cucumber, green onions, sweet potatoes, broccoli, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and green beans!  Time to make the tempura batter…

Tempura batter works best when it is very cold.  Although it’s a bit hard to tell…pictured above is a clear mixing bowl set atop some ice water in a metal mixing bowl.

Ingredients
1 egg yolk from a large egg
1 cup (240 ml) iced water (or
½ cup (120 ml) (70 gm) (2½ oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dredging
½ cup (120 ml) (70 gm) (2½ oz) cornflour (also called cornstarch)
½ teaspoon (2½ ml) (2½ gm) (0.09 oz) baking powder
oil, for deep-frying preferably vegetable
ice water bath, for the tempura batter (a larger bowl than what will be used for the tempura should be used. Fill the large bowl with ice and some water, set aside)

Directions:

Place the iced water into a mixing bowl. Lightly beat the egg yolk and gradually pour into the iced water, stirring (preferably with chopsticks) and blending well.

Add flours and baking powder all at once, stroke a few times with chopsticks until the ingredients are loosely combined. The batter should be runny and lumpy. Place the bowl of batter in an ice water bath to keep it cold while you are frying the tempura. The batter as well as the vegetables and seafood have to be very cold. The temperature shock between the hot oil and the cold veggies help create a crispy tempura.

Heat the oil in a large pan or a wok. For vegetables, the oil should be between 320° and 345°F. You can test the oil by dropping a piece of batter into the hot oil. If it sinks a little bit and then immediately rises to the top, the oil is ready.  I used an electric fondue pot, which has a variable temperature dial.  I checked to make sure the oil was hot enough with a thermometer.

Start with the vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, which won’t leave a strong odor in the oil.   Dip them in a shallow bowl of flour to lightly coat them and then dip them into the batter. Slide them into the hot oil, deep-frying only a couple of pieces at a time so that the temperature of the oil does not drop.

Place finished tempura pieces on a wire rack so that excess oil can drip off. Continue frying the other items, frequently scooping out any bits of batter to keep the oil clean and prevent the oil (and the remaining tempura) from getting a burned flavor.

Serve immediately for the best flavor, but they can also be eaten cold.

A quick dipping sauce can be made with garlic paste, soy sauce and ponzu, and if you like it spicy, add a small dollop of Sriracha!  We enjoyed the tempura with a crisp white wine with some acidity to it, which is always great with fried food.

We made sure to gobble all the tempura while it was still hot and crispy, so we saved the soba for our second course.

Besides the broth, there is an additional dipping sauce for the soba.

Ingredients
¾ cup green onions finely sliced
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
½ teaspoon  granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon English mustard powder
1 tablespoon grape-seed oil or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste – roughly 1/3 a teaspoon of each

Shake all the ingredients together in a covered container. Once the salt has dissolved, add and shake in 2 tablespoons of water and season again if needed.

All the ingredients should be chilled or room temperature.  To build your dish, pile noodles into a bowl.  Spoon 1/4 to a 1/2 cup of the broth over the noodles, and then begin adding toppings per your tastes.  I used julienned cucumber, nori strips, edamame, green onions and a dot of Sriracha.  Serve with the dipping sauce on the side, grab noodles with chopsticks, dip into sauce, and then slurp it all up.

Kanpai!

We’ve met someone new…Hello Moccamaster!


Dear Krups coffeemaker – we’ve enjoyed a relationship with you for the last few years, but lately, you’ve been disappointing us.  You always did know exactly when to start brewing our morning cup with your timer, but sometimes the coffee just wasn’t right.  It’s not that you weren’t trying.  Sometimes, it might have even been our fault…for not getting the right coffee, or grinding the beans perfectly.  You probably noticed that we weren’t using you as often, and that we frequently slipped out a few minutes early to make sure we had time to fill our travel mug with brew from a shop along the way to work.  It wasn’t really cheating…we just had needs, and you weren’t fulfilling them.  Don’t worry, we’ll still see you occasionally…we’ll stash you away in the garage, maybe invite you to a brunch or a dinner party every so often…or if we have houseguests…we’ll make a space for you on the counter.  But, we’ve found a new love.  The Technivorm Moccamaster with a thermal carafe.  Krups, it’s over.  We’re dating Moccamaster now and there just isn’t room for you both!

“The brewing quality of our coffee makers is beyond dispute and guaranty a first class beverage due to the fact that brewing temperature and water/coffee contact time as well as holding temperature are in accordance with the critical requirements of the European Coffee Brewing Centre and the Specialty Coffee Association of America and Europe.”           – From the Technivorm website

We first learned about the Technivorm from Woody’s Dad – and we were not disappointed with our first brew this morning.  All the good of coffee without any of the bad – no worries about bitterness, harsh or burned flavors.  Just a delicious, perfectly balanced cup of coffee.

The entire contraption can be taken apart piece by piece, and is incredibly simple in design.  We opted for the thermal carafe, as additional heating can change the taste of coffee…and it comes with a completely sealable lid, which means we could take the coffee with us…I don’t know where exactly we’d take it…but it is an option!

The water is heated to between 195º to 205º fahrenheit, and then carried in the metal spray arm to even wet the grinds and slowly soak through them and drip into the carafe.  There is a cover, but you can monkey with the grinds (as Woody is doing) and stir them a bit.  Another feature is the ability to shut off the drip valve and let the grinds soak a bit…so you can also pour a cup with the brew process being complete.

The lid on the carafe also allows you to pour through it.  We doctored up the coffee and enjoyed the best cup we’ve had in quite a while.  I snatched up some locally roasted coffee for the inaugural brew from Jones Coffee Roasters.

And then we sat down to enjoy our mugs!

Gruyère Fondue : Valentine’s Day


For me, Valentine’s day is about doing something a little out of the ordinary with those you love.   And for us, Fondue is out of the ordinary!

Truthfully, I received a fondue pot as a gift at Christmas.  It was time to break it in.  Having never owned an electric fondue pot, I was unaware of a few things…(and I’ll try to make this not sound like a commercial!)  First, did you know that you can make the fondue right in the pot.  My parents always had the Sterno-heated fondue pot, so the fondue was made on the stove-top and then poured into the fondue pot and kept warm while we lunged for hot cheese with bread or fruit speared on long pointy forks…family activity, of course!  Also, this fondue pot (by Cuisinart) is fully immersible in water – therefore cleaning is incredibly simple…and the plug is attached magnetically…so if, let’s say, a dog was startled and jumped up quickly, making a run for the back door…the chance of the entire fondue pot being yanked off the table and onto the carpet by the cord catching on said dog’s leg…is very low.  All of these features won me over and it is my new favorite appliance!

I had a little trouble finding one ingredient for the fondue…Kirsch or Kirschwasser.  This is an important flavor aspect for the fondue and a tablespoon is added just before serving.  It’s a cherry brandy or eau de vie and is made in the Alsace region of France near the German border.

We used two types of cheese, Gruyère and Emmental, and used dipped cubed baguette and crisp apples.  We served a light dry Riesling from Firestone Vineyards along with it and enjoyed the evening!

Woody insisted that Cleo get a treat or two as well…here she is devouring one of her dental chew bones.

1 pound Gruyère cheese (not processed), grated
¾ pound Emmenthal cheese, grated
6 teaspoons cornstarch
1½ teaspoons dry mustard
1 clove garlic, peeled, cut in half
2¼ cups dry white wine (not chardonnay)
2½ tablespoons Kirschwasser

Place the grated cheeses in a large bowl and toss to combine. Add the cornstarch and dry mustard and toss to coat the grated cheese completely. Reserve.
Rub the bottom and lower half of the sides Fondue Pot with the cut sides of the garlic cloves. Add the wine to the Fondue Pot. Turn the temperature to Setting 5 and bring the wine to a strong simmer (bubbling, but not boiling strongly). While stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or non-stick whisk, gradually whisk in the grated cheeses, sprinkling in one handful at a time, and not adding any more cheese until the cheese is completely melted and smooth. The mixture will slowly thicken. When the cheese is completely added, stir in the Kirschwasser and serve. Reduce the temperature setting of the Fondue Pot, the fondue should just simmer, it should never boil.

Serve with cubed bread, apples, pears and even crisp veggies – Enjoy!

Pot Roast Ravioli with Pea Shoots


Day 1

Step one – make pot roast.

A lot of the flavor comes from all the little brown bits stuck to the pan after you sear the meat, known as the fond.  I season the roast well, and dust with flour and sear in a dutch oven on very high heat.

Next, toss in all the chunked up vegetables, I used onions, carrots, celery and parsnips. Give ’em a little time on the heat just to get them going.  Depending on how much fat is in the pan, I might drizzle a little olive oil over the top.  Next, add in a few tablespoons of tomato paste, and one can of chopped tomatoes.  And, of course, don’t forget to season the vegetables as well.

Add the meat back into the pot along with your broth of choice.  Bring to a boil, cover the pot and put it in the oven at 350° F for at least 2½ hours…the longer the better.  Once it is done, I pull the meat out and let it rest for a bit covered with a piece of foil.  Then I remove about half of the vegetables and cooking liquid and purée it.  I like to use an immersion blender to save on dishes and hassle.  Add the purée back in with the rest of the vegetables and keep warm.  For the meat, I like to tear it apart a bit, while still leaving some big chunks.

Step two – enjoy pot roast with your starch of choice – it is as good over pasta as it is with creamy mashed potatoes.

Step three – put leftovers away in the fridge – very important step…pot roast just gets better and better as it sits.

Step four – reinvent the leftovers into a whole new meal!

Day two

Step one – make pasta (Recipe is from Jamie Oliver, and you can find it here)

Yet another reason I love my kitchenaid…the pasta attachment.  I have never made homemade ravioli before and was not totally sure how thin the pasta should be.  When rolling pasta, there are a few important things to remember – first, the dough should not be sticky, err on the dry side, and flour liberally if it begins to stick.  Second, try not to ruin a good thing, don’t get carried away with putting the dough through the roller.  I know.  It’s very satisfying…but important to know when to stop.  Third, make sure to begin with an oval shape and pass it through the thickest setting a couple of times, then fold in thirds, rotate 90º and pass through the thickest setting again, and then crank the setting down one notch at a time until you reach the desired thickness.

Although it held together, I think the pasta was a little thin.  I laid out the sheet of pasta and started plopping down small dollops of shredded pot roast mixed with a little of the puréed vegetables on half of the sheet.

With the filling in place, I folded the other half of the pasta back over the filling, but only after giving the pasta a spritz of water with a spray bottle.  *This is important.*  Why deal with moistening the border of each ravioli with a brush or your fingertip, when, in one fell swoop, you could use a spray bottle and moisten the entire sheet!  I chose spray bottle of course…and was quite pleased with the short cut.  I’ll try to remember it next time I make wontons or egg rolls!

Once the sheet is folded, carefully press down around the filling of each ravioli to make sure it is well sealed.  You’ll also want to see if you can squeeze out any air pockets, which can lead to exploded ravioli in your pot of water.  I cut the ravioli with a fluted cutter-wheel…kinda like a mini-pizza slicer.

Once sealed, I sprinkled a little semolina flour on them to prevent sticking.  Toss them into salted boiling water for 3-5 minutes.  While they are cooking, melt some salted butter in a sauté pan, and add in some sliced shallots to soften.  When the ravioli’s are just about done, toss is fresh pea shoots (so pleased to find these at Trader Joe’s!) and season with salt and pepper.  Add in the ravioli straight from the pot as well as a little bit of the pasta water.  Toss to coat, then plate them up and serve immediately.

Our ravioli were a little large and probably would have looked a little more elegant on a larger plate…but regardless, the end result was delicious.

Caulifower Gratin


Dinner Last Week…

This dish is perfectly simple.  It is amazing what a little béchamel, some buttered breadcrumbs and a sprinkle of gruyère can do.  Served alongside a mesclun salad with a lemon vinaigrette, this is a delightful and cozy winter dinner.

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