Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Muffins! Blueberry and Banana Pear

I love muffins. Really. Better than I love cupcakes. But I love them in a way that's what some might call... particular. Hence these blueberry muffins. They're just the red-spoon box variety, but I make them against the directions because I'm a rebel. Here's how: Forget the oil and instead put in a melted half stick of butter and the juice from the blueberrys as well as the two eggs, then mix in the berries. It makes for a violently purple batter and a muffin with no white at all. I hate when I get a blueberry muffin and it tastes like a coffeecake with a few blueberrys in it. This way maximizes blueberryness. And it's fun to have purple food, because that's not a common natural eatable.

The other muffins were the actual reason for making muffins. I had this squishy banana and two squooshy baby pears (one forelle and one seckel, which is my fav, but haven't been all that good this year and they keep getting soft). So I looked up a basic muffin recipe in my handy dandy Encyclopedia of Food. Goes like this:

2 c flour, fluffed and de-lumped
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c sugar
1 egg
2/3 a stick of melted butter
1/4 c milk

Simple, yeah? So I mushed up my banana and pears, then mixed them with the milk-egg-butter slurry and threw some cinnamon and nutmeg into the flour and stirred it all together. I use a rice paddle. Nothing sticks too much and it fits my hand well. 

Fill up all the cups and cook for 15 to 20 minutes at 400 or 425. I listened to five songs on my Happy Goth Playlist and it came out perfect. Poke with a fork or something, and if it comes out clean, they're done.

The banana ones were smaller and denser than the box ones, but that might be my own overzealous stirring as much as any box-mix voodoo. Both kinds were fluffy and moist and still moist the second day, and just sweet enough. I've been eating far too many myself-- I made two dozen yesterday and there's like six left. Only about four were eaten by others. Oink oink oink.

I love this basic muffin recipe though. You can throw anything into it. I'm keeping it around to make year-round, and I'll just toss whatever seasonal fruit or sweet veg I can get my hands onto in and see how it goes. I have visions of apple-brownsugar, strawberry, mullberry, grilled plum and peach, cherry, marigold and honey-- even, if I take the sugar out, bacon and cheddar, ham and cheese, spinach and feta, black olive and sundried tomato. Possibilities are endless!

Chinese Onion Soup

A really extreme example of making something from nothing. We had rice. We had one chicken breast. We had all that broth. We had half an onion. We had Nori. We had five people who needed dinner.

Here's what I did: I put alot of rice on to cook, the usual Basmati (we have a 10lb bag that we graze from). Into the pot went the frozen broth and a few tablespoons of soy sauce, my dear old friend and humble standby. The a tablespoon of nori rice seasoning with toasted sesame seeds (usually used for rice balls), a few minced garlic cloves, that half an onion sliced thinish, and some pepper. While that cooked and mingled, I sliced the chicken as thin as I could make it, and when the soup had come to a boil, I turned it off and dropped the chicken in to poach, which litterally took about two minues with it sliced all thin like that. Then I added a little instant miso soup, the last one in the cabinet because I thought it needed just a little something more. Green onions from the garden, grown from the root-ends of old onions that we tossed into a bag full of dirt, and there you go. Pretty and yummy.

Came out tasting like a lighter onion soup. And it's wide open. I found myself wanting mushrooms sliced thin and chopped bokchoi or something equally greeny and stemmy. 

Red Rice and Stuff

Whenever I'm left to my own devices to find a dinner for myself, I fall back on asian cooking. It's good when you have not many ingredients and it uses up my fierce soysauce addiction. This meal started as an excuse to eat the rice.

See, ages ago I picked up what I thought was red rice at the asian market. Turns out it was mashed little dried red beans, and when I cooked it like rice it burned and came out horrible, and even sugaring it with the plan of making riceballs stuffed with red bean paste didn't save them. Sad.

So this time, I took the little bits and threw maybe a tablespoon in with the basmati, and that was much more successful. No burning, and it turned the rice this great Chinese red color without changing the flavor too much, except maybe the slightest hint of a sweetness. It looks kind of orangy-pinky in the picture, but it was way redder in person.

Anyway, so here I was, hungry, with red rice. What goes with that? Chicken! Salmon! Broccolli! I'm not good at stirfry (I think it's cuz I don't have a wok and those long cooking chopsticks. yeah, that's it.), but I'm great at steaming, so that's what I did. Sliced the chicken up really thin so it'd cook faster and steamed it with a little oil, a little butter, alot of soy sauce, a little rice wine vinegar and a few minced garlic cloves and alot of pepper. Then steamed the salmon without defrosting it so the fishwater helped it deglaze the chicken-yummy, and threy the broccolli in with it, and tossed the chicken back in to heat while it finished off.

Result? Yum!

Leftovers: Lentils and Smoked Ham

Once we got down just to the rinds of the ham from Thanksgiving, we couldn't make any more sandwiches or meals out of them, but they still smelled so good that I couldn't bring myself to throw them away-- so I threw them in the freezer until something caught my eye. Like the green lentils I had sitting on a shelf.

I love lentils. I love how they look and taste and smell, and I especially love how they feel pouring over my hand. I think I started cooking just because of the feeling of lentils and rice and dry beans.*

This was maybe two thirds of a cup of lentils, one ziploc baggie of frozen turkey stock that I made when we'd vultured the corpse down to bones after TDay, a few cloves of garlic, half an onion, salt, pepper, alot of thyme, a bay leaf or two, and a few chunks of smoked ham. The ham plumped back up as the lentils cooked, and the turkey flavor was entirely taken over by the wonderful hammy smokiness-- this is a fall meal like woah. If I'd had mushroom stock or mushrooms to cook in, I think it would have been even better. Just watch the salt-- ham's almost salty enough, and it's easy to over-salt, even though lentils will take alot before they start tasting briny.

*I actually started cooking because my mom got sick and I had to learn how or starve. But I KEPT cooking because of dry goods.

Leftovers: Fried Mashed Potatoes

You know how three day old mashed potatoes kind of glom up and get all stiff? I was playing with a chunk a little after Thanksgiving, and I thought, this would be great fried. And really, what wouldn't?

So I heated up, like, an inch of veggie oil and mushed the mashed potatoes into three little paddies like felafels, and fried them for a minute or two on each side until they were this lovely golden color just sort of too dark. While they were draining, I salted them like french fries, and then ate them as-is, right off the paper towel. They were awesome. Like french fries, but softer. I think they'd be great with something yummy inside. I was going to put turkey inside, but I got lazy. 

I don't regret it at all.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Apples: Cameo and Johnagold

This is apple season, so when we went to the Publix the other day, all I really wanted were apples. They were so luscious-looking, all lined up in stripes from green on the left to red on the right, and so many names I haven't tried before. So I picked one of all the ones I haven't had, and I'm eating my way through them.

First was Cameo. It's a reddish apple in that stripy, blushy, speckley way that some apples have, red over orangy-yellow, but mostly red. Nowhere near as red as a Red Delicious, though. It's really white inside, crisp and juicy, and browned up before I was done eating it, but it didn't matter. It was delicious, firm and crunchy, making those apple-eating noises like apples on TV do and real apples so rarely do. It's a good balance of tart and sweet, a little more on the tart side, and assertive enough that I could have eaten it with peanut butter and it still would have tasted like an apple (this is one of my favorite ways to eat an apple, and it's always so disappointing when you put the pb on and that's all you can taste afterward). We baked an apple crisp with some of these (among others), and they held up to cooking while still getting all soft and pie-like.

Second was Jonagold. I've seen this one in seed catalogs-- it's a stable cross of Jonathan and Golden Delicious, and it's so much better than the catalogs let on, but exactly as good as the random lady who saw me picking one up said they were. It's red and yellow (I would up with two of them without noticing because the two were so on opposite sides of the red-yellow spectrum), with softer flesh that manages to be firm and smooth and not at all mealy all at the same time. It didn't brown that fast, and it cut really well and easily, and had a small core so that I had the maximum amount of apple for the fruit I picked. And the taste is just great. Damn neat perfect balance of tart and sweet, with the tart tasting like apple cider and the sweet being as complex as honey. There was one of these in the crisp, too, and I'm pretty sure it's the one that cooked down into the best applesauce I've ever had there on the bottom of the pan.

The idea of having to give up off-season apples for half of next year as I do my Seasonal Eating Experiment doesn't seem so bad if I can eat these apples when they come back in season.

TV: Diary of a Foodie

So there's this show I found on the internets called Diary of a Foodie, and I'm in love. It has a feel like it's one of PBS's higher-end and more personal productions, but it's made by Gourmet magazine, so if it's on TV, it could really be anywhere-- there's a listing to find it where you are. The premise is simple. People go all over and find good food, from monks in Rome to a lady who opens her house to strangers to show them how good home cooking can be to a big Chinese group meal in the countryside to Peking duck in the city. It shows people who love food loving food, and it's amazing-- where things are grown, where they come from, how they're chosen, how they're prepped and how they're eaten. I've watched two episodes and I'm starving. And it's great also because of the little glimpses of people's lives: the Chinese translator and her adorable husband, the Cooking Mama who insists she isn't a chef, the cutest monk I've ever seen, and how they all live and know where their food is coming from and understand what it means to make and eat good food.

I want to live in Europe more than ever.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Golden Moon Tea No.1: Sugar Caramel Oolong

The website doesn't have a decent picture; I'll come back later with one of my own.

I just discovered Golden Moon Tea through a friend's blog post, I since they have tiny samples for 99c and I am both poor and in search of new tea sources, I ordered a few that sounded good, and I'll be posting the reviews as I work my way through them.

The first I tried (really, the reason I bought enough to make shipping worth it) was Sugar Caramel Oolong. I love oolong. It's my fav of all the ways of oxidizing tea that I've tried, perfectly between green and black, with the best of both flavors without the strangeness of mixing the two, and with far more variety than you'd think. This one was my first ever flavored Oolong. It did not disappoint. The tea bewed up light and fresh, with no bitterness at all and enough assertiveness that the scents of toasted sugar and caramel didn't everpower the fact that it tasted like tea. There wasn't much flavor of either of these scents, but the scents were strong enough to make up for it, and if I were the sort to sugar a light tea (which I'm not), I think it'd take it just fine with the delicious dessertiness of the scent already there. I drank a cup fresh, then put the rest in a bottle and took it to work, and even with the leftover lychee scent of the juice I took to work two days before, it was nice hours later when I drank it. It didn't get bitter as it cooled off, and it blended nicely with the fruit flavor of the bottle.

I'm so buying this on in full size as soon as I get more monies.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bottled Tea: Inko's Blueberry White

This is a keeper. A little sweetened, but not with High Fructose, and so free of that pervasive too-sweetness that most bottled teas have. The white tea is light and not bitter at all, and the blueberry tastes like blueberry without any of that metallic weirdness blueberry can get if it's too concentrated. The price is pretty good, too, a little over 2$ a bottle at WinnDixie, which is the only place I've seen it in town. I first tired it at my mom's house in Raleigh, and it was about 4$ a bottle at the Harris Teeter, so I'm counting this as a deal. It's fresh, refreshing, and it doesn't taste like vitamin C-- it's in there, as a preservative like all the other bottled teas-- but it's not harshly sour at all, just a teeny bit as would be appropriate to the fruit involved, and somehow manages to simultaneously not taste watery like alot of these new white teas do.

This is a good one. I just wish WinnDixie would carry more of their flavors. Like Cherry Vanilla? Or Honeysuckle? Or, the one I mourn not finding the most, Lychee?

Green Bamboo Rice

I got this at the Old Spice Traders store downtown, but I found out you can buy it online, too from Barry Farm, who sells alot of different grains and rices, as well as flours and meals, and I want to buy them all. But that's for another post.

This is sweet short grained rice that's treated with young-bamboo juice as it's being milled, leaving it with a green color that stays after cooking. It's very pretty.

I made a very small amount, less than a quarter cup dry, in case I didn't like it, but it was an unnecessary precaution. It's got a texture like sushi rice, and I think it would make a really great sushi all on a green theme-- maybe cucumber and avocado? Or, branching out a little, eel, with said cuke and avo, plus, like, herbed creamcheese... But, that's another post again.

It tastes almost like normal rice, but a little bit woodyer, a little more assertive. It's the cholophyll that makes it green, but it doesn't taste green, not the way spinach or broccolli or green peppers do. Just a hint of something different, and yummy enough to eat on it's own, though I was already making a bowl of red miso, and thought the green rice would be a nice seasonal color combo. What do you think? I think it was tasty!

Leftovers: Thanksgiving Bento

Wow, that's a cruddy picture. My phone determines of it's own free will how big a picture will be, and this one kinda got jipped.

Anyway, we have tons of leftovers, still, and so when I had to make my lunch for the third day, I decided to make it pretty. The balls are roasted garlic mashed potatoes, which would have had turkey inside if I'd had the time to pick it off the bones (so I've put that idea aside-- I want to fry them with turkey and gravy and maybe some cranberry inside), and the yellow square is AH's amazing creamed corn. Then two deviled eggs, a divider made of cream-cheese and roasted walnut-stuffed celery sticks, and then greenbeans.

The corn was made with frozen corn, since it's past fresh corn season around here, cooked up with bacon grease and butter, than topped off with a whole block of light cream cheese and the bacon cooked to get the grease. Salt and pepper. No measurements, just sort of throwing stuff together. It was great. The only thing I would change, is that I'd like there to have been more bacon flavor; the cream cheese mellowed it a little too well. But it's fantastic hot and fresh, and almost as fantastic the next day when it stands up under it's own thickness, and it's really good cold in a lunchbox.

The greenbeans were big fat Italian ones cooked in a crock pot all day with butter, salt, pepper and a smoked ham bone and whatever hammy bits were taken off the bone, until they were that soft olive color of well-cooked beans.

And even on the third day after thanksgiving, this deceptively-small amount of food lasted me all day.

Classic Food: Yellow Rice Balls

This is something I made a ways back, not long after we moved back into this house, and have since made two or three other times: Yellow Rice Balls. Not really a fusion menu, since I used yellow rice and chicken entirely as we make them normally, but I don't think I ever use my riceball press enough, and I thought this would be cute. And it was.

Yellow rice was two medium bags of Viggo rice, a green pepper, an onion, a chopped tomato or so, and far too much garlic, because there is no such thing, cooked with chicken broth. This was made when I was still at the restaurant, so the broth was from there, and didn't include any boiled chicken, but it worked out better that way, because frozen chicken breast can be shredded and cooked with Spanish Spices (cumin and chili powder, mostly, with more garlic and some adobo, and alot of salt and pepper-- seasoned really strongly, because rice will steal all your flavor otherwise), and a little tomato sauce, just regular marinara we had in the fridge, to keep it moist.

Then make like a rice ball: Fill the bottom half of the mold, mine makes two at a time, and leave a little dent for filling. Fork a small ball of filling into the dent (that one on the right had too much filling and didn't stick together well, so be sure you keep rice on all sides of said filling so it can seal up), and then top with an equal amount of more rice. Put the top of the mold in, and press down hard enough to make it all stick together like sushi, but not so hard that it's one solid and impossible-to-eat mass. If they'll be cooling off before you eat them, like if they're for a bento or something, leave them a little looser, because they compact as the steam leaves them and they'll get gooey and hard.

The whole time I was making these, the cheese had been sitting on the counter, forgotten, so when they were ready, it was all soft and moldable-- so I made sharp cheddar omibushi to sit on top.

These two selft alot of space on the plate, and I wished for presentation we had a salad to put with them, but that's like two cups of rice almost, and it made a whole meal, with the addition of leftover chicken as a sort of small second course.