Horchata

Guess what, horchata is amazing. It’s delicious. It’s easy to make. We have it around here in the Mexican and Salvadorian restaurants which is how I developed a taste for it. My recipe here adds coconut which is not traditional.

Horchata is perfect on a hot day. Make the first step the night before to serve dinner guests with spicy Mexican fare. Just make sure to keep everyone away from it in the meantime.

1 1/3 cup uncooked white long-grain rice
1/2 cup dried, unsweetened coconut
2 cinnamon sticks
5 cups water
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup white sugar

Put the rice, two cups of water, and the cinnamon sticks in a blender. Pulse until the rice and cinnamon are roughly ground. Add the remaining water to the blender, stir, and put in the fridge overnight. Strain the mixture through a sieve and add the milk, vanilla, and white sugar. Serve ice-cold.

Blueberry Buckle

I don’t normally like coffee cakes or quick breads much, but with blueberries falling into our laps this time of year such easy baked fare is perfect for showcasing the deliciousness of rich, steamed berries.

For the cake batter:
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh blueberries, de-stemmed, washed, and drained

For the topping:
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, softened

Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease an 8×8 inch pan with butter or shortening. Cream together 3/4 cup sugar, butter, and egg; set aside. In a separate bowl mix together 2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir into sugar mixture, alternating with milk. Stir in blueberries. Pour into greased 8×8 inch pan.

To make the topping combine the brown sugar, 1/2 cup flour, cinnamon, and butter. Sprinkle over cake batter. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until cake is pulling away from the sides of the pan and a knife inserted comes out with no trace of batter.

Serve warm with butter, or room temperature with cream poured on top. Delicious when accompanying coffee or tea.

Shepherd’s Pie

Harriet’s mother, turning to put the ice cream back in the freezer, saw Harriet slouching at the table. “What’s the matter?” she said, as the freezer door barked shut.

“To start with,” said Harriet, loudly, “I’m starving.”

Harriet’s mother wrinkled her brow – vaguely, pleasantly, and then (no, don’t let her say it, thought Harriet) asked the very question that Harriet had known she would ask. “Why don’t you have some of this ice cream?”

I…hate…that…kind…of….ice…cream.” How many times had she said it?

“Hmn?”

“Mother, I hate peppermint ice cream.” She felt desperate all of a sudden; didn’t anybody ever listen to her? “I can’t stand it! I’ve never liked it!’ Nobody’s ever liked it but you!”

She was gratified to see her mother’s hurt expression.  “I’m sorry… I just thought we all enjoyed something light and cool to eat…. now that it’s so hot at night…”

I don’t.”

“Well, get Ida to fix you something….”

“Ida’s gone!”

“Didn’t she leave you anything?”

“No!” Nothing Harriet wanted, anyway: only tuna fish.

“Well, what would you like then? It’s so hot – you don’t want anything heavy,” she said doubtfully.

“Yes I do!” At Hely’s house, no matter how hot it was, they sat down and ate a real supper every night, big, hot, greasy suppers that left the kitchen sweltering: roast beef, lasagne, fried shrimp.

But her mother wasn’t listening. “Maybe some toast,” she said brightly, as she replaced the ice cream carton in the freezer.

Toast?

“Why, what’s wrong with that?”

“People don’t have toast for dinner! Why can’t we eat like regular people?” At school, in health class, when Harriet’s teacher had asked the children to record their diets for two weeks, Harriet had been shocked to see how bad her own diet looked when it was written down on paper, particularly on the nights that Ida didn’t cook: Popsicles, black olives, toast and butter. So she’d torn up the real list, and dutifully copied from a cookbook her mother had received as a wedding present (A Thousand Ways to Please Your Family) a prim series of balanced menus: chicken piccata, summer squash gratin, garden salad, apple compote.*

(a vegan version with high reviews can be found here)
6 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper
5 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 pound lean ground beef
4 cloves garlic, mashed, peeled, and diced
1 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ablespoon ketchup
3/4 cup broth (beef or vegetable)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Heat a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the potatoes and cook until tender, about 10 – 15 minutes. Drain and return to pot. Mash, then over low heat whisk in butter until melted, cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Whip until light, set aside.

Heat a small pot of water to boil and cook carrots until tender but still firm, about 10 – 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Saute beef in cast-iron pan. Drain off fat. Add garlic and return to a saute for a couple minutes. Add peas and gently stir until defrosted. Add flour, ketchup, and broth, stirring until the consistency is gravy-like (about five minutes).

Layer the beef mixture then carrots on top. Smooth mashed potatoes and top with shredded cheddar cheese. Bake for fifteen minutes or until golden.

* Seriously, I could just type the whole book out I love it so much, but I shall stop here.

Black Bean Veggie Burgers

Turns out you don’t need to go out to a restaurant or buy a frozen patty to get a veggie burger. Here’s my recipe (as modified from one I found at Allrecipes). Now you can be a jerk and put a bunch of bell peppers and onions in these but this is just my style. I serve on a toasted bun (make some from scratch for best results) with extra-sharp cheddar, a wee bit of mayo, fresh lettuce and avocado. Drooool…

2 (16 ounce) cans black beans
1/4 cup corn niblets (best bet: take frozen ones out and let sit in a dish for an hour in the kitchen, then briefly drain)
6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons Thai chili sauce or hot sauce (optional)
1 cup bread crumbs

Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat, and lightly oil a sheet of aluminum foil.* Rinse and drain the beans; set aside. Dice the garlic and add the beans, corn, and garlic to a food processor and carefully pulse until the beans are about 80% processed (don’t go too far or they’ll get overly gluey).

In a small bowl, stir together egg, salt, chili powder, cumin, and chili sauce. Stir the egg mixture into the mashed beans. Mix in bread crumbs until the mixture is sticky and holds together. Dipping your hands in water as needed, divide mixture into eight patties (you can freeze some for later – just use waxed paper).

Place patties on foil, and grill about eight minutes on each side (to use the oven, place patties on baking sheet, and bake about ten minutes on each side). While they’re cooking, split your buns, add butter and a bit of garlic salt, and toast on a griddle, in a toaster oven, or (carefully) in the oven.

* You can also bake these by preheating oven to 375 and lightly oiling a baking sheet.

Bagels

1 cup warm water
3 cups bread or all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons + 1/4 cup white sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 egg white

(optional) Bagel toppings – like dried onion, poppy seeds, minced & sauteed garlic, parmesan cheese, sesame seeds, etc

Mix the water, one cup of the flour, salt, two tablespoons of sugar, and yeast in a large mixing bowl until well-blended. Add the remaining flour a scant cup at a time, slowing the addition of flour as you mix (if you dump in all the flour you may end up with too stiff of a dough; proceed cautiously). When the dough is firm enough to be scraping the sides of the bowl clean, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and begin kneading. The dough should be fairly firm but should “heal” well as you knead. Knead for eight minutes or so.

Let dough rest on a lightly floured surface. In a large pot bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Stir in the 1/4 cup of sugar. Cut dough into 9 equal pieces, and roll each piece into a small ball. Allow to rest a few moments. Poke a hole in the middle of each with your thumb. Twirl the dough on your finger or thumb to enlarge the hole, and to even out the dough around the hole (I can never do this perfectly). Cover bagels with a clean cloth, and let rest for 10 minutes. Sprinkle an ungreased baking sheet with cornmeal and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Carefully transfer bagels to boiling water. Boil for 3 minutes, turning half way through. Drain briefly on clean towel. Arrange boiled bagels on baking sheet. Glaze tops with egg white, and (optional) sprinkle with your choice of toppings.

Bake in a 375 oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until well browned.

Chocolate Porritch Cake

So many of my recipes take root from the highly-rated (in terms of frequency rated and stars awarded) annals of allrecipes.com.  It’s just a damned easy way to cook – I bring Ralph’s laptop into the kitchen and get started.  For part of our Christmas Eve repast I made changes to a (likely already perfectly delicious) recipe for Chocolate Oatmeal Cake; it was very, very delicious and surprisingly addictive.  This cake involves oats – which give it an excellent crumb – and, thanks to an episode of “Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace”, I felt I must use the Scottish phraseology in reference.

1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease one 8 x 8 inch pan. In a large bowl, mix together the rolled oats and butter. Mix in boiling water. Set aside to cool. Beat together the brown sugar, eggs and vanilla; add to cooled oat mixture and mix well. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cocoa. Add to wet ingredients and mix well; fold the chocolate chips in. Spread into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 40 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool, and remove pan.

Tamale Pie

YOU’RE WELCOME, readers. Because sometimes I have to give you permission to take some shortcuts to make what is a truly awesome meal. Because yeah, I buy cans of stuff and pour it into a pan sometimes.

Now, if you don’t want to roast chiles you can buy the canned variety, but trust me: roasting chiles is easy and makes for a far more delicious, subtle flavor (as well as avoiding the leathery texture of the canned ones). You can roast the chiles a day or two in advance and keep them in the fridge on a plate covered with a dishtowel. You can also make the entire pie up to the point where you spread the crust on the top, then refrigerate under plastic wrap, to cook up to 24 hours later.

I served this with a simple side of fresh green beans, boiled to tenderness then tossed with butter.

Filling:
3 large poblano / pasilla chiles
1 lb. lean ground beef
3 cloves garlic, sliced finely
2 cups (16 ounces) red enchilada sauce
1 cup whole kernel corn
1 cup whole black olives, halved
1 teaspoon salt

Crust:
2 1/4 cups fine to medium cornmeal
2 cups water
1 can (12 fl. ounces) evaporated milk
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (you may also use oaxaca or a variation of jack)

To roast the chiles, wash them and put them side by side in a pie pan, glass oven dish, or a stone. Put them in a 400 degree oven and roast them, turning every now and then, until they are completely blistered (wait for it!). Remove them from the oven and place a clean towel over the stone. After they’ve cooled a bit, peel them (this should be easy or you did not roast them enough), de-stem and de-seed them, and dice the flesh (which should be tender and soft or you roasted them too much!). Set aside.

Saute the beef and garlic in a large skillet until beef is browned. Drain, then add the enchilada sauce, corn, olives, salt, and chiles. Mix and set aside.

Preheat oven to 425. Grease a 13″ x 9″ baking dish. Combine the cornmeal, water, evaporated milk, and salt in a medium sauce pan. Stirring frequently, heat until thickened, about five minutes. Spread about 2/3 of the mixture along the bottom and sides of the pan. Bake in the oven 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then spread first the beef filling, then the remainer of the cornmeal mixture on top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with shredded cheese and bake until melted and golden, about five minutes.

Rhubarb Crisp

I like to keep things simple. This is not a fancy pie. This is a pie with as simple ingredients and easy measurements as I could manage. For instance, you’re going to use one double-crust pie recipe and 3 sticks of butter to make two pies. Two pies: one for your family to eat, one to share with friends.

For the crust:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup shortening or butter or a combination (I usually use just a tiny bit of butter)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon vinegar
ice water

For the filling:
2 lb. rhubarb, washed and cut into 3/8″ dice (about 6 cups, after cutting)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt

For the topping:
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup thick oats
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the crust: put aside two small sheets of cling wrap. Mix the flour, salt, and sugar. Cut the shortening / butter into the flour until it is fine (do this by hand or food processor). Add the vinegar to about a half cup of ice water and toss it into the flour mixture, stirring until just combined. Continue adding ice water in this fashion until the dough holds together well enough – don’t overwork the dough. Divide into two pieces, form a ball, then press into a thick flattened disk. Wrap each disk in cling wrap and put in the fridge for 1/2 hour to two days (you can also freeze the crust).

Preheat the oven to 350. Toss the filling ingredients together in a large bowl, then set aside to make the topping. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the oats, cinnamon, and salt. Roll out the pie crust shells and place in two pie tins. Cut the extra pastry off the pie pan, and use a fork to apply a decorative edge. Pour in the filling, then spread the topping over each pie.

Tear six strips of aluminum foil, about 2″ wide. Apply these along the crust gently (this keeps the crust from overcooking). Put the pies in the oven and cook for 2o minutes; remove foil, and bake 20 minutes more.

Allow to cool and set a bit; serve with whipped cream poured on top.

Sunny Side Japanese Noodle Soup

Again with the Madhur. Why don’t all my fans stop asking for my recipes and just buy (or get from the library) this seminal, awesome cookbook? I keep digging into it and finding simple, delicious dishes.

That said, I often make changes or simplifications to the recipes, which is what I post here. Below is my version of Poached Eggs on Japanese Noodles (p. 523 of her book), a recipe my seven year old chose for me to cook today.

4 fresh eggs
8 asparagus spears
12 medium white mushrooms
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
8 cups stock (beef, chicken, or vegetable)
4 – 6 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 cup sake (or dry white wine)
14 ounces udon noodles
8 tender green beans, cut into 2-inch lengths
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut on a slight diagonal into thin ovals
black sesame seeds
fresh ground pink peppercorn

Crack the eggs carefully into a bowl and set aside. Cut off the bottom 1/3 of the asparagus, then peel the bottom half of the remaining stalk. Wash the asparagus spears and cut them into 2″ pieces. Place them in a bowl of cold water; set aside.

Cook the udon according to directions (if the udon is fresh this often means a gentle boil for just a few minutes). Drain and rinse, tossing with a bit of oil.

Wash the mushrooms and blot dry with a cloth. Halve them lengthwise through the stem. Place the oil in a medium stockpan and set it to high heat. When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms and stir for a minute (this should partially carmalize them). Turn off the heat, then add 2 tablespoons of the stock, 1 teaspoon of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and the sesame oil. Cover and turn the heat up to a gentle simmer for five minutes. When finished, lift the mushrooms out using a slotted spoon and place in a warm (170 or so) oven.

To the remaining stock add the sake or wine, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook for one minute. Taste and correct the seasoning, adding more soy sauce or sugar if desired. Simmer three more minutes and add the carrots, green beans, and asparagus. Set to a low simmer and time about seven minutes or until desired tenderness.

While the veggies cook, poach the eggs. Take a 9″ cast iron skillet and add about an inch of water and a splash of oil. Heat until it’s at an active simmer, and carefully pour the bowl of eggs. The eggs should start to curdle and poach in the water. Cover if desired, making sure the boil does not get too active. Depending on how well you like your eggs done (we like the whites firm and the yolks still a bit soft), remove the pan from heat when they are finished.

Set out 4 large bowls and add noodles, then the stock and veggies. Top with mushrooms, one egg, and garnish with pink peppercorn and black sesame seeds. Delicious!

General Tsao’s Tofu

Not sure if you like tofu? How about tofu deep-fried in a delicious sort of spicy, sweet glazed doughnut? Best served over sticky-rice alongside matchbook carrot pickles. Sliced cucumber and peanut sauce complete the meal.

1/4 cup and 1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup and 1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup hot broth
1 lb. firm tofu
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1 egg
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brewer’s yeast
1 cup vegetable oil
5 -6 chives
6 Thai chilis

In a medium bowl combine 1/4 cup cornstarch and 1/4 cup cold water. Mix together. Add garlic, ginger, sugar, 1/4 cup soy sauce, and white wine vinegar. Add broth and whisk together. Set aside the sauce or refrigerate until needed.

Slice the tofu into pieces about the size of a domino. In a large stockpot, whisk the 1/2 soy sauce, pepper, and egg. Place the tofu in the egg / soy sauce mixture, mix carefully, and allow to marinade at least twenty minutes. Then stir in the 1/2 cup cornstarch, 1/2 cup flour, and brewer’s yeast. Add a splash of oil to help separate tofu and stir to coat.

Heat the vegetable oil in a cast iron pan over medium high heat. Add the tofu, using a slotted spoon or fork. Fry until crisp and brown on each side, then set aside on a cloth-covered plate to drain.

Wipe out the pan and return to heat. Add a splash of oil and dice the Thai chiles and chives very small. Add these to the warm pan.* When these have heated through, add the sauce and stir. As this warms, add the fried tofu and stir until thickened. Serve immediately.

*You may want saute the thai chilis separately as a sort of choka to pour on top later. The sauce as-is is probably too hot for most little ones.