Friday, January 15, 2016

How Salty is the Ocean?

The Atlantic Ocean in Cape Cod

This morning, I heard a chef say "Make your pasta water as salty as the ocean." I've heard many TV chefs say this. To me, a resident of a landlocked state, this is useless advice. I don't spend much time at the beach and my memory of the saltiness of any ocean water is pretty dim. Let's just say this is a pretty imprecise way to describe how salty your pasta water should be. I will say that once you do it more precisely (which is below), you can taste it and then you will know what ocean salty tastes like.

How salty is the ocean? There is 3.5 g of salt per liter of ocean water. This is an approximation since not all parts of the oceans have the same salinity. But, for our purposes, 3.5 g/l is good enough.

But, most Americans don't think is grams or liters. After converting, it comes pretty close to ½ teaspoon of salt for each quart (4 cups) of water. My pasta pot holds 8 quarts, so I should add 4 teaspoons of salt, a heaping Tablespoon. Use a smaller pot and less water, add less.

The next time you cook pasta, measure the water and salt. Then taste the water. Do it a few times and you'll know how salty the ocean tastes! Or do what I do: put the same amount of water each time and put the same amount of salt in your palm each time. No need to taste the water.

While we are talking pasta and oceans, how about a recipe for pasta with clam sauce? This has been a favorite recipe in my house for a long time. It came from a collection of Junior League recipes from the Eastern US. This is a quick recipe. The sauce comes together while the pasta is cooking.

Linguini with Lemon-Clam Sauce
(serves 4)

2 6½ oz. cans chopped clams in clam juice
2 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, about 6 sprigs
1 lemon
salt to taste
1 pound of linguine
Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)

Drain clam juice from canned clams and reserve both juice and clams, separately. Zest lemon - you need about 1 teaspoon of zest (a little more or less is fine). Then juice the lemon. You need 2 Tablespoons juice. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and drop in the linguine.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add shallots and garlic. Cook until translucent. Add clam juice, oregano, and pepper. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Cook until liquid is reduced to a few tablespoons. Lower heat to medium. Add clams, parsley, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Cook at a simmer to heat up clams. When the pasta is cooked to al dente (don't over cook as it will continue to cook in the sauce), scoop out a few tablespoons of pasta cooking water and add to the skillet. This helps to thicken the sauce, from the starch in the water. Drain the pasta and add to the skillet. Toss to coat with the sauce. Taste for salt. The clams, clam juice, and pasta water are salty so you may need nothing. Serve hot in a bowl with bread to sop up sauce.

The cheese is absolutely optional. In Italy, they consider Parmesan cheese an abomination on a seafood pasta. But, you do what you want because you don't need to live by Italian rules. This is an American recipe!

Recipe adapted from The Eastern Junior League Cookbook edited by Ann Seranne, David McKay Company, Inc. 1980.

Photo credit: By Daniel Schwen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Homestyle Oven Chili with Cornbread Topping

Some stick-to-your-ribs winter food made easy. You can make this without the cornbread topping if you like. Serve it with rice.

Homestyle Oven Chili with Cornbread Topping
(serves 6)

1 recipe of School of Eating Good Cornbread
1 ½ pounds lean ground beef
½ medium onion, minced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
¾ teaspoon dried oregano
1 Tablespoon dry mustard
⅛ to ¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 15-oz. can white beans, rinsed and drained
1 15-oz. can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 cup diced tomatoes (either fresh or canned)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Prepare Cornbread. Set aside while you prepare the chili.

Heat a large ovenproof skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook ground beef, onions, and garlic, stirring often and scraping from bottom of the pan, until meat is no longer pink. Lower heat to medium. Spoon off all but 1 Tablespoon fat. Sprinkle with chili powder, cumin, oregano, dry mustard, cayenne, and salt. Cook, stirring constantly to prevent burning, for 2 minutes. Add beans, tomato sauce, and tomatoes. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Pour the cornbread batter over the chili, smoothing to cover chili evenly. Place in the oven and bake until cornbread is done, 25-30 minutes. The cornbread will be nicely browned and a toothpick stuck in the cornbread will come out clean. Serve hot.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Rye Cider Bread

Sometimes mistakes work out. This recipe started as a rye beer bread but I wanted to use up some icky dry hard cider that ended up in my fridge. Because rye has little gluten, I had planned to use bread flour. But, the brain didn't engage and I used white whole wheat flour. Hmm, this might now work out so well. Quickly added some gluten and hoped for the best. Well, I'll be! It came out pretty darn good!

This bread is good for sandwiches and great with cheese and charcuterie. The rye and whole wheat is earthy while the cider adds a touch of fruity sweetness.

Rye Cider Bread
(makes one 1 ½ pound loaf)

1 ⅛ cup dry hard cider
2 Tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup rye flour
½ cup rolled rye flakes
1 ¾ cups white whole wheat flour
2 Tablespoons gluten
1 teaspoon instant dry yeast*
bread flour
cooking spray or oil

Warm cider to 100°F. Combine all ingredients in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the mixer blade. Mix for 8 minutes. If after 5 minutes, the dough looks really wet - sticking to the sides of the bowl - add 1-2 Tablespoons of bread flour. Cover with a towel and let rest for 5 minutes. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 8 minutes. Grease a large bowl. Put the dough in the bowl and roll around to cover with oil. Cover with a towel and allow to rise until 3x original bulk. Punch down. Form into a boule. Place on a baking sheet sprinkled with a little cornmeal. Cover with a towel and let rise until double in size.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Slash the top like a tic-tac-toe game. Bake for 55-60 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 190°F. Allow to cool completely before slicing. It's slightly gummy when warm from the oven but once it cools, the texture is much better.

*Increase yeast to 1½ teaspoons at sea level.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Curtido Rojo: Guatemalan Fermented Cabbage and Beets

Completed Curtido Rojo, jarred up for storage
My friends Deb & John (you can visit their vineyard's website) really got into fermentation when they a) became farmers - grape farmers - and b) when they found themselves with a bumper crop of garden produce. Because of their success, I decided to try my hand at veggie fermentation too.

I found I too had a bumper crop of veggies when my friends Jenny (you can read her poetry blog) and Stephen left their dog and their CSA box with me when they went on vacation. What to do with all that produce??!!

Fermentation is an ancient form of preservation. You salt things and let them sit. Bacteria that like the salty environment start to multiply, producing lactic acid along with quite a number of other "stinky" compounds. Not only does all this bacterial action preserve the food, it makes it tastier too!

Wait, that's supposed to be edible? Yes, it looks (and smells) funky but it's definitely edible.
I won't tell you it looks pretty while it's happening - it definitely doesn't! But, the end result is seriously delicious.

I used a big crock (as you can see in the photo). You need something non-reactive. Acid is produced and crockery, along with glass, stainless steel, and some plastics, won't react under the acidic conditions. A crock is big, which means that when things get bubbling, your fermentation will be less likely to escape.

I selected this recipe rather than standard sauerkraut because I had cabbage and some HUGE beets. Come March, I'm going to give classic sauerkraut a try (as John will tell you, cabbage is super-cheap at St. Patrick's Day making that a great time to make your own sauerkraut).

This is where a food processor, for the shredding of the cabbage and beets, is a huge time saver. You can do it by hand, but it will take you a while. Beets are also pretty messy if you have to shred them by hand.

Fried eggs on toast with curtido rojo. That's a yummy breakfast.
This fermented cabbage is delicious with grilled or roasted meats and eggs. The funkiness does not carry over into the flavor. Mostly, it's pleasantly tart and spicy.

Curtido Rojo (Guatemalan Fermented Vegetables)
(makes enough to fill about 4 pint jars)

1 head cabbage, red or green (it will all turn red anyway)
2 large beets, peeled and shredded
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
½ pound green beans, cut into ½" pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapenos, seeded and minced
½ Tablespoon whole cumin seeds
1 Tablespoon grated orange zest
1 Tablespoon dried oregano, crushed fine in your hand
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1-2 Tablespoons pickling salt
2 bay leaves

Remove any blemished leaves from the cabbage and discard. Reserve a couple of the next layer of leaves for covering the cabbage while it ferments.

To shred the cabbage, quarter, cut out the tough core, and shred, like for cole slaw.

Combine all the veggies, garlic, jalapenos, cumin seeds, orange zest, oregano, and red pepper in a large bowl. Sprinkle with 1 Tablespoon of salt to start. Massage so that vegetables start to release their moisture. Taste that cabbage. You should be able to taste the salt but it shouldn't be overpowering. If it doesn't taste salty to you, sprinkle on a bit more salt and repeat the massage and taste until you get to a spot that tastes pleasantly salty to you. Can't take the salt away once it's in there, so go slow.

Let veggies sit until you have a pool of brine in the bowl, up to 45 minutes.

Place the bay leaves in a large crock. Cover with the contents of the bowl. Pack down well to get rid of air pockets. When you press them down, they should be covered with the brine. Cover with the reserved cabbage leaves, place a small plate in the crock and weight it down to keep veggies under brine. Place on a baking sheet to catch any overflow while it ferments. For the fermentation stage, place in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Check daily to make sure the veggies are submerged. Press them down again if they aren't covered in brine. After a few days, it will start to foam and look pretty ugly (see photo above). That's normal. If any mold forms, spoon it off. It's also normal for yeast to start growing on top. Yeast is white and breaks into little bits when you disturb it. No need to remove it.

Taste the cabbage after about 4 days. It will just be starting to get a tang. I fermented mine for 2 weeks and it had the perfect amount of sour for me. Experiment and ferment it to the acidity that you like.

To store, pack veggies into pint jars. Cover top of jar with a small square of parchment or waxed paper, then cover with jar lids and screw down but not too tight. If you store it in the fridge, fermentation should stop, but it's best to give any gas a way out - so don't screw the lids down too tight. I found that after the jars went in the fridge, the cabbage absorbed all the brine. At this point you shouldn't have any trouble with mold so that's OK.

Adapted from Fermented Vegetables by Kirsten K. Shockey & Christopher Shockey, Storey Publishing, 2014.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Baking bread: Whole Wheat and Oat

I love homemade bread. Back in the day, I used my bread machine A LOT. My bread machine has since gone to the big appliance graveyard. Burned out the motor finally. The great thing about making bread is you don't need a bread machine. Does make the process a no-brainer, but anyone with a sturdy stand mixer can make bread. If you want to build burly arms, you can even knead it by hand. I'll stick to my stand mixer for this chore, thank you.

This is a 100% whole grain recipe: white whole wheat and rolled oats. Lots of fiber and a good wheat-y flavor. The oats keep it moist. It has a close grain and slices well, making it good for sandwiches. Not too dense though. That can be an issue with whole grain recipes - they resemble bricks.

I like to use white whole wheat, which is readily available in supermarkets now. It has a lighter color and a sweeter flavor. Many 100% whole wheat breads have a lot of added sugar to compensate for the slightly bitter flavor of "regular" whole wheat. Using white wheat means you can get away with less added sugar.

This recipe makes two loaves. Don't eat bread that fast? Wrap the second loaf well in plastic and stash in the freezer. Bread freezes beautifully. Keep it wrapped up as it thaws on the counter to prevent drying out.

Whole Wheat and Oat Bread
(makes 2 1½ pound loaves)

2 Tablespoons sugar or honey
1 ¼ cups lukewarm water
1 ¼ cups lukewarm milk (skim to whole, your choice)
1 Tablespoon instant or bread machine yeast (use 1 ½ Tablespoons at sea level)
5 ½ oz. rolled oats
24-27 oz. whole wheat flour, preferably white whole wheat
2 teaspoons salt
1 large egg
¼ cup vegetable oil

Combine the sugar, water, milk, yeast, and oats in the bowl of a stand mixer. Let stand for 5 minutes. Using the mixer blade, mix in the remaining ingredients. Start with 24 oz. of flour. Mix for 3 minutes. If the dough is very sticky, add another ounce of flour and mix some more. Repeat as needed. Too sticky is when you poke it, and the dough sticks to your fingers. The oats and the flour take a while to absorb the moisture, so be patient. It may not form a nice ball at this stage. You should err on the side of a bit too much moisture than too little.

Scrape off the mixer blade and replace with the dough hook. Knead for 5 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes, covered with a dish towel. Remove the towel and knead for another 5 minutes.

Turn the dough out into a large oiled bowl. Cover with a towel, place in a warm, draft-free place, and let rise until tripled in volume. This could take 1 ½ hours or it could take 45 minutes. It depends on the temperature of your kitchen. Punch down. Divide into two equal pieces. Shape into two 9"x4" loaf (they will be rather flat at this stage). Place in two loaf pans.

I don't usually grease the pans because I've never had bread stick. As a precaution, you can spray the pans with non-stick cooking spray.

Cover loaves with a dish towel and allow to rise until about doubled in volume. The dough should come up to the edge of the pan. Again, the time will depend on the temperature of your kitchen.

Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 45 minutes until nicely browned. The best way to confirm it is done is with an instant-read thermometer. The bread should have an internal temperature of 190°F. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Remove from pans and let it cool completely before attempting to slice. Though, this can be pretty hard to do because the bread will smell incredible.

Adapted from

Monday, December 14, 2015

Trader Joe's Flavored Olive Oil Sale

Oil: looks like a Christmas tradition at Trader Joe's. Since this is only the second Christmas season we've had a Trader Joe's, I can't say for sure. I'm hoping they keep doing it every December, because just like last year, this is a great deal.

You get three flavored extra-virgin olive oils for $9.99. Each bottle is 250 ml, which is not too much to use up before next year's sale rolls around. :-)

The flavors are:

  1. Hot Pepper EVOO: flavored with chiles. Trader Joe's says good for bread dipping, eggs, and steak. I say good on chicken, pork, fish, and veggies too!
  2. Lemon EVOO: I love lemon flavored olive oil. I have been buying it for years. It's great mixed into a vinaigrette, though I usually cut it 50/50 with unflavored olive oil. Also delicious on chicken, fish, seafood, or veggies. Or as a dip for bread, drizzled on hummus.
  3. Rosemary EVOO: Add anywhere you want a boost of rosemary. Obviously, roast chicken and pork immediately come to mind. Trader Joe's says drizzle on pasta, then add black pepper, salt, and some grated cheese. That sounds good to me!
Here's the entry in the Trader Joe's flyer on these oils:

Last year's nut oil collection is available now too, but the price isn't quite as good at $14.99.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Tis the season for pumpkin, pumpkin pancakes

Is everything pumpkin this time of year? Seems so. Last month's Trader Joe's flyer was pages of pumpkin. Why not jump on the bandwagon?

This is a tasty way to use up part of a can of pumpkin puree, something that I find shows up in my fridge this time of year. Again, my pancakes are not very sweet. You can serve them with maple syrup or honey to sweeten them up.

You can also use pumpkin pie spice instead of the separate spices in the recipe, if you have that in your pantry. Use 1 Tablespoon to replace the cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and cloves.

You don't need to add the granola (see photo below), but it adds some nice crunch. I like using Nature's Path Pumpkin-Flax Granola but you can use whatever granola you have, including my recipe made with some pumpkin seeds. :-)

Don't crowd these pancakes because that makes them harder to flip

Pumpkin Pancakes
(serves 5-6)

Dry Ingredients
2 cups flour (can use 1 cup all purpose and 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder*
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon cloves

Wet Ingredients
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter
2 Tablespoons packed brown sugar
½ cup pumpkin puree
2 cups low fat buttermilk

oil for greasing griddle
about 1 cup pumpkin seed granola (optional)

Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, fat, and brown sugar until smooth. Mix in the pumpkin puree and buttermilk. Stir in the dry ingredients until the flour is incorporated with the wet ingredients. Some small lumps are OK.

Heat a well-seasoned or non-stick griddle over medium heat. Brush lightly with vegetable oil. Use a scant ¼ cup for each pancake, spreading out the batter to a 4" circle. It's fairly thick so it doesn't spread much on its own. Sprinkle on about 1 Tablespoon of granola, if desired. Don't crowd them in the pan. They can be tricky to flip. Flip when the bottom is nicely browned and the edges have set. Repeat greasing and pancake-making until batter is gone. Serve hot with maple syrup or honey. They are best hot from the griddle, like all pancakes. But if you find you have extra, they can be refrigerated and reheated, either in the oven at 300°F or in the microwave.

* This is the proper amount for Boulder elevation, about a mile high. If you live at sea level, use 1½ teaspoons baking powder. The amount of baking soda does not need to be adjusted.