Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cooking Occasions

Last week, I had the fortune of being invited by a woman at our church to learn how to make zwieback.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with zwieback, it is a yeast roll with two "layers":  a wider roll on the bottom and a miniature roll on top.  They look, more or less, like this->

The woman who invited me had been a young refugee during World War II in Germany, and escaped with her family to the U.S. with the aid of MCC.  After shaping the rolls there at her house, we had the chance to sit and talk about both of our life stories while the rolls raised and baked.  Sitting with this woman of courage, strong opinions (but accepting at the same time -- leave it to a German), and skills, I found myself wanting to hear more about her than I wanted to say about myself.  And I was reminded again that food not only brings people together, but shapes traditions, cultures, and stories.

This coming weekend, two friends are getting married, and I was asked to make part of the dessert.  We settled on cupcakes, and the search for recipes and quality ingredients ensued.  My friends are greatly invested in having a spread which represents both local produce and local labor, and I'm trying to do justice in my part.  I'll be baking 20 dozen(ish) cupcakes of four varieties.  I'm looking forward to the challenge (never done this before!) and am hoping that I'll live to tell about it.

I'm getting long-winded.  Here's the recipe for today!

78.  Kusherie (Egyptian Rice and Lentils), pg. 108

Craving lentils, I was in search of a recipe that I hadn't tried yet, and after reading the forward to this recipe (regarding its surprising ease of production), decided to take it on.  This kind of recipe always looks fun to me -- what I mean is that when I look at something like this, I see lots of room for variations and experimentation.

I used slightly less than called for on the lentils, but kept the stock at 3 cups.  If you use stock instead of water, consider not using the extra salt.  I used a mix of brown and wild rices, and as you can tell in the pictures, it's pretty dramatic.  While my rice usually takes longer to cook (up to 35-40 minutes), I decided to test at 25 minutes, and it was ready.  While you're not supposed to stir, I think it's perfectly reasonable to test the lentils and rice at the 25 minute mark.  If they're not done yet, put the lid back on and wait another 4-5 minutes and check again.

For the sauce, I used about 3 cups of frozen tomato chunks instead of the sauce/juice/puree, and a whole can of tomato paste.  I omitted the celery leaves.  I did put in all the spices, though when I make this again, I probably won't add the extra sugar, as I find tomato paste quite sweet to begin with.

And then come the browned onions.  My-oh-my, how I love them.  Because I made a full recipe, but knew the two of us wouldn't eat it all in one night, I only sauteed one onion and two cloves of garlic.  Tonight, with the leftovers, I'll sauté another onion and two more cloves of garlic, while just reheating the rest of the dish.

I liked several things about this recipe.  One, the rice/lentil combo gets started first, and immediately after adding the rice, you can go on to the sauce, and then once the sauce comes together, you can start working on the onions.  Then, once the onions are done, everything else will about be ready.  It's nice to have two parts of your meal taking care of themselves while you're getting the finishing touches together.  Second thing that I like is that you can, as the contributor states, nix the sauce altogether.  The browned onions have so much flavor that having them with the lentils is still divine.  And lastly, I like that it's a one-plate, one-dish meal.  I know that cooking this recipe will be all I need to make for that meal.

Overall:  4.3 out of 5  Love the flavors, love the colors and presentation.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

76.  Coconut-Oatmeal Granola, pg. 95

This is not your typical granola.  You might notice that it calls for 3 cups of flour, more than either coconut or oatmeal.  And, in the end, you can expect a floury-wheaty cereal.

The tastes are nice -- it is pleasantly sweet, and the coconut is tasty.  But the consistency makes your mouth feel coated in paste.  Not really our style, but a gander nonetheless at a morning meal.

Overall:  2 out of 5  Did you see how short my review was?

77.  Cauliflower Salad, pg. 252

You're trying to pull together a meal last minute, and you're not quite sure what to do with that huge head of cauliflower in your fridge?  Try this salad.

Fast to make, with ingredients most cooks already have in their kitchen, this light salad makes for a great side dish to most any meal.  I mixed all the liquid ingredients in a pitcher and then dumped the dressing over the veggies.  Instead of scallions, I used a hearty snipping of chives.  Wild spring onions would also work well.

We didn't have time to chill it before eating, but the flavors were still good.

Overall:  3.8 out of 5  Simple and delightful.

Friday, April 9, 2010

You want something sweet, but crunchy.  Healthy, but only halfway.  You arrive at this recipe, and you know that you have met what will become your snack.

75.  Peanut-Butter Popcorn, pg. 306

Exhibit A.  Peanut-y Cracker Jacks without the miniature baseball card.  I experienced only mild disappointment at the latter, and soon forgot it all together when my tastebuds encountered the sweetly-coated popcorn.  It's so simple to make.  Pop popcorn.  Boil some stuff, add a little PB, dump it all together.  Eat.  Yum.

I split the liquid sweetener, doing half light corn syrup, half agave.  Very agreeable.  If your PB has sugar added, lessen the amount of sugar you use to 1/4 - 1/3 c.

Overall:  4.6 out of 5 The next time I watch the Phillies, I might have to make a batch.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Happy Easter to each of you!  I hope your respective Easter Bunnies treated you better than mine did... And if they didn't...then maybe it's time to stop believing in him/her.

A festive day calls for festive food, and I was in a festive spirit.  Thus, breakfast was created.

72.  Grandmother's Russian Pancakes, pg. 75

Growing up in a house where a parent could claim Prussian/Russian ancestory, I was familiar with various and sundry meals which were eaten only at home (while living in VA) and in Kansas at relatives' homes.  I always had a special affinity for that which was not PA-Dutch/Southern influenced, and I was excited to try this recipe.  We grew up eating "rearei", a egg-milk-flour concoction fried and then chopped up, and served topped with pancake syrup.  These pancakes looked similar, and today they were called upon to be tested.  Like Mennonites, they were The Chosen.  (I hope you caught the playful sarcasm :))

The batter is easy to whip up and you're straight to the stove top in less than five minutes.  The recipe tells you everything you need to know beyond that.  They'll look a lot like crépes, only mine were a little bit thicker -- I think I had my fire on too high, and they didn't spread out as much as I had anticipated.  So, don't expect it to resemble an American-style pancake -- they do not get light and puffy.  It's very much an eggy pancake.

I liked it!  A half recipe was perfect for two, and we spread ours with cinnamon and sugar, maple syrup, and blackberry syrup (the next recipe below)...all on different ones, of course.

Overall: 4.5 out of 5  Filling and simple.  A taste of history. :)

73.  Fruit Syrup for Pancakes, pg. 77

I was first introduced to this recipe when visiting my brother during his MVS term in Chicago.  We made mango syrup to top (what I remember as being) very delicious pancakes.  I have used this recipe several times since, and enjoy the colors it adds to a breakfast plate.

Today, we used frozen blackberries, which made a vibrant, deep purple syrup (suitable for Easter, eh?)

The photographs tell it all...

Overall:  5 out of 5  I could eat this stuff plain.  (And I do.)

74.  Potato Pancakes, pg. 233

I realise I get on kicks.  For awhile there, it was soups.  Lately, it's been pancakes.  And it seems that for each one, I have a story.  This one is no different.

Between high school and college, I took a year "off" to serve with Service Adventure in Albuquerque, NM.  I worked at an elementary school as a teacher's aide, and in the kindergarten class where I helped half days, we often had activities based on various culture's celebrations.  It was in this class that I tried Latkes for the first time, the potato pancakes traditionally eaten by Jews during Hanukkah.  We ate them, of course, alternating between sour cream and applesauce.  While I can't remember the kids' reactions, I really enjoyed them.  While similar to hashbrowns, the inclusion of eggs and a little flour set them apart a wee bit.

When I made this recipe, we ate them the more traditional-hashbrown way with ketchup, but would definitely eat them with applesauce if I made them again.  It's a good, straight-forward recipe, and I will definitely be making them again.

Overall: 4.6 out of 5  Fried potatoes.  How can you go wrong????