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Friday, January 15, 2016

How Salty is the Ocean?

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

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.