Sunday, July 13, 2014

Preserved Lemons

They don't look like much but they pack a lot of amazing lemon flavor!
I think preserved lemons are wonderful: lemony, salty, just a little tart. I have a recipe that makes 8 of them, which is a lot because you don't need much in any recipe and they take up a bit of room in the fridge for months and months.

I recently found a recipe for just 2 of them. I started them yesterday and they should be ready to use in a week (though not at their best - that takes a month). It's really simple and you can keep them in a pint jar. This is just what I need to make this recipe - Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Olives - more often. Try it. You will love its fresh Mediterranean flavors. You don't need to make your own preserved lemons. They are now available at many good markets. But, it's so easy to do it, why not!

Preserved Lemons
(makes 2)

2 whole lemons, washed and dried
coarse salt, like kosher salt
about ½ cup lemon juice (2-3 lemons)

Cut the lemons into eighths. Pour a layer of salt into a shallow dish. Roll each lemon piece in the salt to cover. Drop in a pint canning jar with a tight-fighting lid. When all the lemons are in the jar, pour in enough lemon juice to cover. Squish the pieces down to remove any air bubbles. Cover tightly and leave on the counter at room temperature for 1 week. Each day invert. After 1 week, they are ready to use but they will be at their best after 1 month. Store in the fridge after 1 week. Will keep for at least 6 months.

From Cooking with Fruit by Rolce Redard Payne and Dorrit Speyer Senior, Random House, 1992.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Spicy Lamb Burgers

Paul Gauguin - La bergère bretonne.jpg
"Paul Gauguin - La bergère bretonne" by Paul Gauguin - Sotheby's (not for sale, only as a reference). Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Lamb is one of my favorite meats, which is pretty obvious  if you look at recipes posted on this blog (like lamb espresso, Scotch broth, or a lamb-lentil stew). Most Americans do not share my love of lamb; yearly consumption is so small it barely shows up next to other meats. Hey, that doesn't deter me! I'll keep posting my favorite lamb recipes for you few "dyed in the wool" lamb lovers (yes, pun intended).

Ground lamb is often fairly fatty. If you grind it yourself, you can get a leaner mix. The added fat does add to the unctousness of the burgers, however.

Spicy Lamb Burgers
(serves 4)

1 pound ground lamb
¼ cup panko bread crumbs
2 Tablespoons dried minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 serrano or other hot green chile, minced
¼ cup minced parsley or cilantro
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon ground cumin

Combine everything in a bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands. Form into 4 burgers. Let rest for 10 minutes - use this time to get your grill smokin' hot. Grill or sear in a very hot cast-iron pan until done to your liking. I wouldn't go past medium and medium-rare is even better. For medium-rare, 4 minutes per side will be enough if you use a very hot grill or pan.

Though very much mixing up ethnic origins, this burger(Pakistani) is delicious with Romesco Sauce (Spanish).

Adapted from The Barbecue Bible by Steve Raichlen, Workman Publishing Company, Inc, 1998.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Asparagus Ham Soup

Asparagus makes a lovely soup. This recipe is adapted from a microwave recipe in Barbara Kafka's The Microwave Gourmet, the original gourmet cookbook for the microwave. I didn't use my microwave, however. What can I say? I'm kind of old school when it comes to cooking.

You could use the whole spear but that seems like a bit of a waste here. Save up your trimmings and peelings in the freezer, then make this soup when you have collected enough.

Asparagus and Ham Soup
(serves 6)

1 pound asparagus trimmings
4 ½ cups ham stock
1 medium onion, chopped
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup heavy cream
kosher salt to taste
½ teaspoon black pepper

Chop the asparagus trimmings into 1" pieces. Place the asparagus, ham stock, and chopped onion in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until asparagus is tender, about 30 minutes. Run the soup through the fine disk of a food mill - asparagus has a lot of long indestructible fibers, so this takes a bit of work. Return the soup to the saucepan. Stir in the lemon juice, cream, maybe a little bit of salt (ham stock is plenty salty), and black pepper. Heat on low until just hot, not boiling. Can also be served cold.

"Légumes du marché 2" by Vassil - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Friday, June 27, 2014

Indian Lamb and Lentil Stew

This recipe is based on this one at They look similar but are really quite different. Garam masala is sort of curry powder, but it lacks turmeric (the spice that gives curry its distinctive yellow color). Many of the spices are the same (cumin, cardamom, black pepper, coriander) but without turmeric, garam masala is sweeter. Sounds good to me! Nowadays, a well-stocked supermarket carries both so you don't have to make your own or find a specialty shop. I do make my own (because I'm crazy like that) and have included the recipe at the end.

I also added the lime juice. This is a very earthy dish. Though the tomatoes add some acid, they really aren't very bright after cooking with the lamb and spices for an hour. The lime juice brings back some of the high notes. I happen to believe that acid is a very under-rated ingredient. Salt is important but you can only go so far before the dish gets too salty. Acid enhances many flavors in another way, making it complementary to salt

Indian Lamb and Lentil Stew
(serves 4-6)

1 pound lamb, cut into ½" pieces (from the leg or sirloin is best)
salt and pepper
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon garam masala 
1 ½ cups tomatoes (diced, pureed or crushed will all work)
2 cups water
1 cup brown lentils
3 carrots, cut into 1" chunks
1 cup frozen green peas
juice of 1 lime or lemon

Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat a dutch oven over medium-high heat until very hot. Add oil, then the lamb. Cook until the lamb is browned. Add onions, ginger, and garlic. Lower heat to medium. Cook until onions start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garam masala and mix in to onions and lamb. It will become fragrant within 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, water, brown lentils, carrots, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, and carrots. Mix well. Bring to a boil. Reduce to low heat, cover, and simmer for at least an hour, but longer won't hurt. Five minutes before serving, mix in peas. Cover and cook about 5 minutes to warm up peas. Mix in lime or lemon juice. If served as is, this will serve about 4 people. If you serve it over rice, it will serve 6.

Garam Masala
(makes ¾ cup)

the seeds from 1 Tablespoon green cardamom pods
1 4" cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces
½ Tablespoon whole cloves
2 Tablespoons black peppercorns
¼ cup cumin seeds
¼ cup coriander seeds

Grind the cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, cumin, and coriander until the mix is an even texture. Store in a tightly sealed jar. Will lose its pungency over time but keeps surprisingly well.

Recipe from Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni, William Morrow and Company, Inc.,1980.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Romesco Sauce

Romesco sauce, a pungent combination of roasted red pepper, garlic, nuts, and chile flakes, is a delicious accompaniment to grilled meats or poultry, fish, or even as a dip for veggies or crackers. I love most anything with roasted red peppers and this sauce is no exception. It's an addictive combination.

The bread, which is acts as a thickener, is usually fried in olive oil. This recipe, from Martha Rose Shulman, skips the frying and uses toasted bread. It makes the recipe quicker. I wouldn't say it makes the sauce light- this is a rich sauce even with toasted bread!

I like Aleppo chiles in this recipe. They are sweet-hot and a little fruity. In Boulder, you can find Aleppo chile flakes at the Savory Spice Shop, my favorite herb and spice purveyors in town. And if you don't have a Savory Spice Shop in your town, they take on-line orders

Romesco Sauce
(makes about 2 cups)

1 large roasted red pepper, cored and skin removed, roughly chopped
¾ pound ripe tomatoes (3 to 4 whole tomatoes)
2 large cloves garlic, peeled
¼ cup whole almonds, toasted
2 oz. crusty white bread, lightly toasted
1-2 teaspoons medium-hot chile flakes, such as Aleppo chiles
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Place the whole tomatoes on a metal pan and place under the broiler. Broil until it develops some char. Turn over and repeat on the other side. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Remove the the skin, and set aside the tomatoes.

With the food processor running, throw in the garlic to mince. Stop the processor and scrape garlic off the sides. Add in the almonds, bread, and chile flakes, and process to a paste. Scrape down the sides again, and add the red pepper, tomatoes, parsley, paprika, salt, and black pepper. Process until smooth. Scrape down sides. With processor running, add the vinegar and then the olive oil in a slow stream. Process until smooth and well-combined. Scrape the sides and taste. Add more salt if needed.

Best if served at room temperature. The garlic flavor builds if it is kept in the refrigerator. Can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. Great as a spread on bread or crackers or as a sauce on fish, chicken, lamb, or vegetables.

From Mediterranean Harvest by Martha Rose Shulman, Rodale, Inc., 2007.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Weirdness in the Name of Health

I collect recipes - no surprise there. I have nearly 1000 cookbooks and I am constantly on the look-out for interesting recipes from various blogs and such. I have to say that I am perplexed by the mainstreaming of recipes that claim health benefits. OK, I get it if you have celiac disease and you need to avoid anything with gluten. But, most people have no problem digesting gluten, so baking up some gluten-free "bread" or "cookie" achieves what? I've seen claims that gluten causes obesity. Some of the recipes will hardly help your waistline, gluten or no gluten. They are calorie bombs. I recently saw a gluten-free bread that works out to 250 calories a portion. Seeing as a slice of bread has between 100 and 140 calories, this doesn't sound like an improvement unless you absolutely can't tolerate gluten. Just because something is gluten-free doesn't make it healthy. And, I know that there are gluten-free breads out there contain calories comparable to regular bread, making them a far better everyday choice than a slice of pseudo bread that clocks in at 250 calories.

And, while I'm griping about nonsensical food, how about the love affair with "natural" sugar, like honey or maple syrup or agave nectar? I would probably put maple syrup on the list of foods I would want on a desert island. I spent childhood vacations in Vermont and once you taste the real stuff, you can't go back. But, maple syrup is sugar just like white sugar, brown sugar, honey, agave nectar, corn syrup (high fructose or otherwise). They are all made from plants that are manipulated to increase the concentration of the natural plant sugar. Except honey. The bees do the manipulating of the plant product (nectar) for us, but the end result is still something really, really sweet. The process used by bees is very similar to the manufacture of maple syrup - it's called evaporation. Corn syrup is the exception in that the sugars are tied up in long chains and without the help of some useful enzymes, we humans can't get at the sugars until the starch molecules are well past our taste buds (though if you chew starchy foods long enough, the amylase in saliva will liberate the sugar). Fact is, we humans shouldn't get a lot of highly concentrated sugars. It's lots of calories with no nutrition. Calories are not something most of us have trouble getting enough of these days. That said, I think sweet dessert is a wonderful thing and I refuse to live without it. :-) I just don't eat it everyday.

Enough of my griping. How about a recipe? How about some sweetened gluten? It's blueberry season, so here's a simple blueberry cake. This is a straightforward cake - if you can measure, mix, and follow instructions, you can make this cake.

Warm Cinnamon-Spiced Blueberry Cake
(makes one 9" cake, 8-10 servings)

The Cake:
6 oz. all-purpose flour (1 ⅓ cups)
½ teaspoon baking powder (¾ teaspoon at sea level)
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
3 oz. unsalted butter, at room temperature (6 Tablespoons)
8 oz. sugar (1 cup)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
⅔ cup sour cream

The Topping:
1 cup blueberries, rinsed and well dried (about 5 oz.)
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Position the rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour the bottom and sides of a 9"x2" round cake pan. Tap out the excess flour and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar until well-mixed and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until combined after each egg. Add the vanilla and beat in. Fold in dry ingredients in 3 batches, alternating with the sour cream (so, ⅓ flour- ½ sour cream- ⅓ flour- rest of sour cream-rest of flour). Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 10 minutes.

While cake is baking, make the topping. In a small bowl, combine all the topping ingredients. Use a fork to lightly crush the blueberries.

After the cake has baked for 10 minutes, distribute the topping evenly over the top of the cake. Continue baking until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30-40 minutes longer. This is a fairly wet dense cake so it can take a while to bake.

Remove the cake from the oven and cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the inside edge to loosen the cake. Place a rack on top of the cake pan and flip the pan to remove the cake. Place a serving plate on top of the cake and flip again to get it top-side up. Serve warm or at room temperature. Warm is best. If you have leftovers, wrap it in plastic wrap. It will keep for 2 days at room temperature or 5 days in the fridge. Definitely heat it up if you store it in the fridge.

Excellent with a cup of coffee or tea. Even better with a dollop of whipped cream or a little scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Adapted from The Weekend Baker by Abigail Johnson Dodge, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Peter Reinhart's Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

The classic Margherita Pizza: sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil. Sometimes simple is best.
I have tried many, many whole wheat pizza crust recipes. I have always been disappointed. Like this recipe, they were 50-50 white/whole wheat. Even at that ratio, they didn't have the right texture for a pizza crust. Though this one isn't as chewy as a 100% white flour crust, it is a very good crust. It stretches out well because of good gluten development. The flavor is first rate. This recipe is from Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads, which you must obtain if you are serious about baking exceptional whole grain breads. Peter Reinhart has done an enormous amount of research and testing to develop his whole grain bread recipes and techniques. Really, this is ground-breaking stuff.