Monday, October 18, 2010

Stilton Quinoa Bake - a loosey goosey recipe

It's not unusual for me to make up a recipe out of the necessity to get rid of things in my fridge. In this case, the food in question was a vast amount of quinoa I'd cooked for another purpose, for which only a tiny amount was used. D'oh! Quinoa overload! Little curly-cue bits everywhere! Ack!
Also: we had Stilton cheese. Mmmmmmm...cheeeeese...

(Of note: this recipe is not low-fat)

For those of you who aren't fans of stinky moldy cheese, you can make this bake sans the Stink. But it won't be Stilton Quinoa Bake. It'll be Some Other Cheese Product Quinoa Bake.

As this recipe is totally made up and I've only baked it once, ingredients and cooking times are, at best, approximate. Feel free to substitute at will. Because Stilton cheese is such a strong flavor on its own, I didn't spice this dish up with a lot of extra seasoning - just a little nutmeg and paprika, plus salt and pepper to taste. The parsley adds brightness and cuts the richness somewhat. I used these cute little ramekins with glass lids that showed up randomly in our house, but you could use a regular casserole dish - I'd lower the temperature slightly, expect it to take longer to cook, and watch it like the proverbial bird of prey to make sure the top gets browned and the inside is fully heated through.

Leftover cooked quinoa (or rice). I had about 4 cups.
A knob of butter (did I mention this recipe is not low-fat?) - about 2 tablespoons or thereabout
A spoonful or two of all-purpose flour (about 2 tablespoons)
Some cream or milk. Maybe approximately a cuppish.
Some Stilton cheese (or other stinky well-melting cheese) - maybe about 1/2 cup, crumbled, with a little more for the top.
Bread crumbs. I cheat (!) and use the Italian Bread Crumbs that come in the blue cylindrical box. You could be schmancy and make your own, or panko bread crumbs would give some nice extra crunch.
A little paprika, a little salt and pepper, a dash of nutmeg
Parsley. A couple of tablespoons. Preferably fresh. Finely chopped.

  • Preheat oven to 400 or so and grease up a casserole dish or ramekins. 
  • In a saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the flour, keeping your spoon moving the whole time, until the flour's all nicely mixed in with the butter and there are no lumps, creating a roux
  • Slowly stir in the milk, again keeping the spoon moving, making sure no lumps are hanging around.
  • Add in a handful of Stilton, a little paprika, a dash of nutmeg, and most of your parsley, stirring until the Stilton's well mixed in with the sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Fold in the quinoa and stir gently to incorporate.
  • Pour the Stilton sauce-quinoa mixture into your baking receptacle. Sprinkle with a decent layer of bread crumbs - probably about 1/2 cup - and whatever Stilton you have left over.
  • Bake covered with a lid or foil for about 20 minutes, then uncover and bake until browned on top, about 10 more minutes. Because the quinoa and sauce are already cooked, watch your cooking time. You really only need to heat it through and brown on top. 
  • Remove from oven and sprinkle the remaining parsley on top. Let sit for a few minutes to settle, then serve hot.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Lemony Thumbprint Scones

I don't always like Bon Appetit magazine - the recipes tend to be over-inflated with too many steps, ingredients that aren't easy to track down (at least in North Yorkshire, England), and (strangely) weird short-cuts like using pre-packaged or processed foods. It's like their test kitchen doesn't exist on a normal plane of existence - or their editor takes naps at inappropriate times.


The recipe for Double-Lemon Thumbprint Scones in the September 2010 issue is actually pretty wonderful - with the small exception that you really don't need to grate THREE large lemons to get 6 teaspoons of zest. Also: you don't need to cut the scones so big. If you want to reduce the calorie count to something a little more manageable, use a 1 1/2 inch diameter cookie cutter instead of the recommended 2 1/2 inch cutter - or do what I did and use an empty little can from a fruit cup, with the bottom cut out*. As the recipe helpfully suggests, the trick with scones is to mess with them as little as humanly possible. Mix the ingredients just enough to combine; knead just enough to bring the dough together; and pat or roll the dough just enough to get it flat enough to cut into circles. The resulting scone is so light, so fluffy, so melt-in-your-mouth delicious that you'll have trouble not eating the whole pan yourself.

I was lucky enough to have a jar of home-made rhubarb-strawberry jam from Alaska, but if you're not blessed with friends who grow or catch things, squish them into jars, and send them thousands of miles to you in a package along with a pretty card, you can use whatever sorts of preserves you have abandoned in the back of your fridge or cupboard. The husbandface suggested using poppy seed paste next time. Hrm. I think he's just angling for me to make these again...

I added a couple of ingredients, but you can stick with the original five-ingredient recipe if you don't feel like rummaging through the cabinets or trekking to the store.

2 or 3 large lemons
2 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons chilled heavy whipping cream (double cream in the UK)
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 teaspoon orange flower essence (optional)
2 tablespoons (about) cherry, raspberry, or strawberry preserves

  • Preheat oven to 425F.
  • Line large heavy-duty baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Finely grate enough peel from lemons to measure 6 teaspoons. Squeeze enough juice from 1 lemon to measure 1 tablespoon (do something creative and interesting with the other denuded lemons).
  • Whisk flour and 1/2 cup sugar in medium bowl to blend. Add 1 1/4 cups chilled whipping cream, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon almond extract and 1 teaspoon orange flower essence (if using), plus 4 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel. Stir gently to combine all ingredients.
  • Gather dough together and turn out onto lightly floured work surface (this will be a little tricky, as it really doesn't stick together very well. If the ingredients are totally not coming together, add a little ice water, just a wee bit at a time (like, maybe a teaspoon) until you can form a very loose, scrappy dough.
  • Knead briefly - 4 to 5 turns only. Pat or roll out dough to 1 inch thick round (if you're going to cut smaller scones, pat out a little thinner - like, 3/4 inch or so) and cut out rounds using a 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 inch diameter cookie cutter or biscuit cutter dipped in flour. Re-roll dough scraps gently and cut out as many scones as you can get out of what's left. 
  • Transfer all your little dough rounds to that baking sheet, spacing about 1 inch apart. Now for the fun bit (this would be good to do with kids): using your thumb or the back of a melon-baller, push down center of each scone to make a deep indentation. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon preserves into indentation of each scone.
  • Whisk remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream, and 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel in small bowl to blend. Brush top of scones generously with lemon glaze. Bake scones until golden and a toothpick poked into one comes out clean - about 18 to 20 minutes.
  • Transfer thumbprint scones to rack and cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature (if they last that long).
*Cutting the bottom of your impromptu cookie cutter out (as well as the top) stops suction from forming from the trapped air and makes it easier to pop your little dough rounds out. Make sure you use a can opener that leaves smooth edges, or be very careful with any sharp edges created. This is kind of a one-use trick, as cans can and will rust if you're not really careful when you dry them, and Whiff of Rust is not really a flavor you should strive for.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Best Roast Chicken Ever. Ever!

Seriously. Ever.

I don't remember my first roast chicken, but I haven't done all that many. Maybe a handful of fowls have met their ultimate end in my roasting pan. Modern American cooks are not as likely as their forebears to choose a whole chicken in the grocery store or butcher. The lure of the ready-made is too appealing - the slick packaging of neat pink slabs of boneless skinless chicken breasts, injected with hormones antibiotics and water and artificial colouring, are hard to resist. I still buy the occasional pack myself. And there's no guarantee that buying a whole chicken is any better for either you or the chicken. There is something to be said, however, for less processing of the chicken's mortal remains. Even though it means subjecting the thing to further indignities (detailed below), at least a human hand is doing it, rather than a machine. It certainly puts you more in touch (literally) with your food.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Potato Leek Soup

I get a hankering for this soup every once in a while, which is a good thing, since it's a) healthy; b) cheap; and c) really easy and quick. Easily vegan-able, even, for those of you who lean that way! Spice it up or add extra cream - either way,it's a wonderful light dinner with some crusty bread and maybe a little green salad. There are hundreds of recipes out there for this soup - whatever you do, RUN SCREAMING from any that suggests you use half and half! Nastiness.
Makes 6-8 servings, give or take.
2-3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
4 leeks, washed and sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
6 cups (1.5l) chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water
1 1/4-pounds (600 g) potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground white pepper
2 tablespoons per bowl (give or take) of light cream, for swirliness
  • In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the butter or olive oil over medium heat.
  • Add the slices leeks and season with salt. Cook the leeks over moderate heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until they’re completely soft and wilted.
  • Add the thyme and chili powder, and stir for about 30 seconds, cooking them with the leeks to release their flavors.
  • Pour in the water or stock, whichever you're using, and add the potatoes and bay leaves.
  • Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender when poked with a sharp knife. Depending on which potatoes you used, it could take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Pluck out the bay leaves and puree the soup with the white pepper, seasoning with more salt if necessary. I use an immersion (stick) blender, but if you use a standard blender, be sure not to fill it more than half-full and secure the lid, and cover it with a tea towel when blending, to avoid hot soup or steam for causing problems. Don’t use a food processor as that will make the potato purée gummy.
  • If the soup is too thick, add a bit more water, until it’s the desired consistency.
  • Ladle soup into bowls, sprinkle with a little fresh chopped thyme or parsley, and swirl a little light cream in (if you're feeling fancy).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Polenta Triangles

I had an Event to go to last Friday that involved hanging around a bunch of people I barely knew and Making Nice. I don't do either of these things well, especially recently, when I've been most comfortable hiding as far away from Other People as humanly possible. When confronted with an Event of this nature, I tend to go into hyper-cook mode ("Hey! I may be socially awkward and visibly uncomfortable, but at least I cooked something tasty for you!"), and last Friday was no exception. I made: hummus, red quinoa salad, meringues (which turned out to be cookies. Oops.), sandwiches, crudités, and these polenta triangles. There are lots of takes on these flavorful bites out there; this one was adapted from a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe on The Guardian, but I left out the gooseberry relish nonsense in favor of a schmear of zahatar spread and a dusting of grated parmesan. I think you should use whatever gooey yumminess strikes your fancy - cheese, some sort of tapenade or relish or chutney or syrup, etc. Whatever you think would complement your other appetizer selections the best.


750ml water

3 t. salt, divided into 1 t. and 2 t.

170g quick-cook polenta

Grated zest of 1 lemon

About 3 tbsp olive oil

1/2 - 1 t. each of paprika, freshly ground pepper, cumin

Schmear, cheese, or chutney of your choice


  • In a small pan, bring the water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil and, stirring with a wooden spoon while you pour, slowly add in the polenta.

  • Reduce the heat and keep stirring until the polenta forms a ball and comes away from the edge of the pan – three to five minutes.

  • Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon zest, the rest of the salt, other seasoning, and a tablespoon of the oil, and tip into an oiled, heatproof dish or roasting pan (I used wax paper on one of those cookie sheets with a 1/2 inch edge, but use whatever you can find that works). Level with a spatula so you get an even, 1cm-thick layer. Leave to cool completely.

  • Preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Tip the set polenta on to a board and cut into six triangles (or 12 half-size ones, if you prefer). Or just cut it in the pan, taking care not to scratch the surface, because those things are expensive to replace.

  • Heat a frying pan with about a tablespoon of olive oil until it starts to smoke, then fry the polenta in batches for two minutes a side, until golden brown, then transfer to a tray lined with baking paper.

  • Crumble or grate cheese over the polenta if you wish, then bake until the cheese begins to melt – two to three minutes. Transfer to plates, spoon a tablespoon of chutney, relish, or schmear of something or other on each wedge and sprinkle with an herb, perhaps. Like chopped parsley or basil. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Red Quinoa Salad

Quinoa's a funky little grain. It looks like a bunch of tiny round balls. With tails. Little curly-cue tails. It tastes a little bit nutty, a little bit grainy. Originally from South America, this weird little grain is an ancient source of high-quality, unusually complete protein (at 12-18%, with a high concentration of amino acids compared to wheat or rice). It's also a good source of dietary fiber, phosphorous, magnesium and iron - and is gluten-free. But the best part about eating quinoa is that it goes really well with feta cheese. Mmmmm...cheeeeeese....

The trick with quinoa is that, in order to make it palatable for human consumption, it has to be processed to remove the bitter saponin coating. You really want to soak or rinse the grain well before you cook it, to remove any lingering bits of the coating that weren't removed in industrial processing (especially as the soapy nature of saponin makes it act as a mild laxative! Ulp.) Rinsing can be on the annoying side, as quinoa when it's wet is kinda sticky and gets everywhere. I recommend using a strainer with tiny holes, or maybe some cheesecloth. I can report that uncooked quinoa grains spilled on a hot stove smell alarmingly like burnt microwave popcorn. If any of my .83 readers have suggestions or tips for how to rinse quinoa without it getting everywhere, I'd love to hear them!

This salad is adapted from a recipe on Tara Austen Weaver's award-winning blog Tea & Cookies. I dumped in perhaps a bit more feta cheese than is really required, and I added diced cucumber to the mix (mostly because I was short a few that's an interesting euphemism!). I also reduced the olive oil and upped the red wine vinegar, because 1/3 cup seemed a bit extravagant, especially with the cheese I' If you find your salad a bit too dry, however, add another drizzle in.

1 c. organic red quinoa
2 c. water
6 radishes chopped in a medium dice - about 1.5 cups
Half a small red onion, cut into small dice
1 large tomato, diced, or 1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters (or halved, depending on their size)
1/2 cucumber, diced
3/4 c. crumbled goat cheese (or the majority of the container, which somehow miraculously slips from your fingers and dumps the contents into the salad bowl. Oops!)
2 T. capers, chopped coarsely
2 T. chopped fresh oregano (I used parsley, which was really good)

For the dressing
1 T. Dijon mustard (I used stone-ground, 'cause that's what I had on hand)
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
3 T. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the quinoa well in whatever manner you choose.

Bring the water to a boil and pour the quinoa in. Reduce heat to just-above-simmer and cook until all water has been absorbed and the quinoa is done - about 15-20 minutes. You can also cook quinoa in a rice cooker.

Let the quinoa cool and then toss with all the salad ingredients except the cheese.

To make the dressing: in a small bowl, whisk the mustard and vinegar together until smooth. Drizzle the olive oil in, whisking constantly, until the mixture is emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Alternately, dump all the dressing ingredients into one of those Hidden Valley cruet thingies or into a container with a lid that you trust will stay tight on, and shake the hell out of it 'til it's all blended nicely.

Pour dressing over salad, toss to mix, adjust seasonings. Fold cheese in carefully at the end. Or dump in a bunch unceremoniously. You know - by "accident."

Serves 6-8 at about 3/4 cup apiece.
175 calories, 7.8g fat, 19 grams carbohydrates, 6.9 grams protein.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls

Mmmm. Chicken soup. The weather's getting a little cooler, a little rainier, the nights growing incrementally longer...time for soup. I loves me some soup, and this recipe (despite its many steps) is actually very easy and relatively healthy. If you're not into the matzo ball thing, add noodles if you wish - my preferred method is to cook the noodles according to package directions, but halve the cooking time and add to the soup when you add the chicken to finish off.

Ingredients for Soup
2 T. olive oil
1 white or yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 medium potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
8-10 cups of
chicken stock (or 4 cups chicken stock plus water)
2-3 cups of roasted chicken, cut or broken into bite-size pieces
2 t. salt
1 T. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 T. fresh thyme, finely chopped
Dash of cayenne pepper (
Ground black pepper, to taste
Bay leaf or two

Matzo Ball Ingredients
Manischewitz Matzo Ball Mix (1 packet)
2 eggs
2 T. vegetable oil
2.5 quarts cold water|
2 t. salt (

Chicken Soup Method
1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large stock pot. Add onion, celery, carrot and garlic and slowly cook, stirring often, about 10 minutes or until onion and celery are translucent but not browned.

2. Add stock and/or water, potatoes, salt and pepper, bay leaf and other seasoning, and bring to a simmer for 20 minutes.

3. Add chicken last and simmer another 10 minutes (you don’t want the chicken to cook too much, just warm through, because it’s already cooked, and tough chicken is a wasted bird).

Matzo Ball Method
4. Meanwhile, make your matzo balls. I use packaged mix, but you can make your own mix if you’re feeling super-authentic. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and oil. Add the matzo mix and stir with a fork until evenly mixed.

5. Place bowl in refrigerator for 15 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in a LARGE pot (okay, the next-largest one you have, since the largest one’s holding the soup) with the salt. Matzo balls will EXPAND in the water, so you really want to use a big pot.

7. Take the mix out of the refrigerator and spray your hands with cooking spray (you can try with just wet hands, but trust me – it makes for a sticky mess!). Form batter into balls about 1 inch in diameter and drop into the boiling water. You should get about 9-12 balls out of the batter.

8. Reduce heat, cover tightly, and simmer for 20 minutes. Matzo balls can be made ahead. Lift out of the water with a slotted spoon and store, refrigerated, until soup is done. Re-warm gently just before adding to soup.

9. When you’re ready to serve, put a couple of matzo balls into your soup bowls and ladle soup on top.

Chicken Stock

I never really thought I'd be the kind of person who makes home made chicken stock, yet here I am. There's something very...cosmic and "Whoa! Dude." about using very bit of a chicken, giving that bird one last chance to shine, with the parts we'd normally throw away. It takes a bit of time with the simmering, but honestly, the putting together portion of making stock is really easy. This is only the most basic of recipes, as well - you can save up all sorts of veggie scraps to add to stocks. That said, it's not recommended to use celery leaves in stock, as it imparts a bitter taste, as do certain chicken internal organs. So if you're using the leftovers from that chicken you roasted for Sunday dinner and from which you carefully saved the plastic baggie of innards (rather than cooking it IN the chicken, as....someone, I don't know who...has actually done...ahem), use the gizzard and heart, but save the liver and kidneys for another use.*

That said, PLEASE don't think you have to be all Annie Pioneer and actually use organ meat for making stock! The batch I made most recently was the final resting place of a rotisserie chicken the Bald Guy had picked up on a night when we both were too tired to bother with cooking.

1 chicken carcass, any size, plus any chicken bits, skin, or bones you might have saved from previous cooking adventures (minus liver or kidneys)
1 onion, cut into quarters, skin still on
4-5 (or more) garlic cloves, peeled
1-2 carrots, cut into large chunks
2 celery stalks, cut into large chunks
Some whole cloves (8-10ish)
Some black pepper corns (10-15ish)
2 bay leaves
Fresh herbs if you have any – some stalks of rosemary, for example
Optional secret ingredient: black cardamom. This isn’t the sweet green cardamom you might use in baking desserts, this is the black insect-looking pod that gives nightmares to small children and smells like a house that’s recently burned down. Popular in Indian cooking. Amazing stuff!

Special Equipment
1 large stock pot with lid


  • Put the chicken, vegetables, and seasoning into a large stock pot.
  • Cover with water so everything is immersed.
  • Simmer, with lid on but partially askew – NEVER BOIL – for hours. How long do you have? That’s how long. The longer, the better. As long as it never comes to a boil – NOT ONE LITTLE BUBBLE – you’re good. Keep it at ALMOST boiling for as long as you can. Last time I made stock, I let it sit overnight on the stove. Of course, I didn’t sleep well the whole night wondering if I was going to poison us all with salmonella or burn the house down, but the stock turned out amazing. (Why never boil? Boiling releases gristle from the chicken and creates a cloudy stock instead of a nice, clear liquid)
  • Oh fine. If you must have a timeframe, say 2-3 hours.
  • Scoop out the solid bits from the stock using a slotted spoon and discard (trust me – you don’t want to try and use those vegetables for anything else). Then get a big bowl and a strainer and strain the whole shebang to remove all the extra stuff from the liquid.
  • Let cool before you put in the refrigerator, or divide into smaller containers to refrigerate (large containers of hot meat products take too long to cool in the refrigerator and can create colonies of unsavory characters).
  • Use in risotto, soups, or other dishes that require chicken stock.

*For those of you completely squicked out now by the mention of internal organs, my sincere apologies.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Stewed Victoria Plums

I don't know why I decided that stewing fruit seemed like a great idea, but the finished product turned out pretty yummy, so I guess it's a win-win.* This is the second batch I made - the first was too sweet and a little too liquid for my liking.

Top yogurt, ice cream, cakes or other bread products, or even your morning oatmeal with this slightly tart, sweet, complex concoction.

Victoria or Damson plums (or any tart early variety of plum. You don't want them too sweet or the dish will become one-dimensional)
250g sugar per kg of fruit
(what this translates to is about 1/8 - 1/4 cup for about 20 fruits, but use your judgement or your sweet tooth)
Vanilla pod
Cinnamon stick
A couple of star anise (optional. But just look at its perfectly symmetrical alien wonderfulness! Don't you want to use it??)
Some orange zest. Yes, about that much. Maybe a little more. (Okay, about 1 tsp. Ish.)
A little splash of orange or grapefruit juice. That's enough!

  1. Halve the plums and remove the stones.

  2. Put the plums in a big, heavy pan with the sugar, vanilla pod, cinnamon stick, star anise, zest, fruit juice, and enough water to cover the bottom of the pan.

  3. Heat gently until the juices run, then simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, until the fruit is soft and pulpy. Remove the fruit with a slotted spoon.

  4. Continue to simmer remaining juices and bits until it reduces and thickens, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.

  5. Cool completely, pick the spices out, pour back over fruit, and serve with yogurt or ice cream. Or heffalumps. Whatever suits your fancy.
*Mini-rant: I wish the people that live along my street would use this recipe or others to cook the fruit that's falling, wasted, in the road and in their yards or turning to little zombie plums and apples and cherries on their trees. It's criminal how much is just left to rot. Starving children in Africa, people! You have a responsibility when you have a good fruit tree on your property to do something with it. Grr!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Maggie's Wise Mashed Potatoes

I really have no comment about these potatoes, except for this: they are so much better than boxed, you'll never go back. I had a moment, in the middle of a very bad day, when it occurred to me that I'd made something Good. Wholesome. Delicious. The sort of food that tastes bad for you but isn't. It certainly helped my mood. This is the sort of side dish where you want to just mound a big lump of it on your plate and call it dinner. Heck, if you want to do just that, go ahead - I won't tell.

Fat-free plain yogurt is your friend here. Don't peel the potatoes to keep the nutrition in the skins.

8 medium red potatoes, washed and scrubbed but not peeled. (I used Red Desiree potatoes. I know I'm lucky in some ways, because there are so many varieties of potato here in England, all cleverly labelled for their best use. These were marked for mash, but I didn't notice 'til after I was cooking them. How fortuitous! In any case, you don't want to use potatoes that are too small and waxy, because you won't get a good texture.)
1 cup fat-free yogurt
1 tbsp butter or margarine
1/2 cup skim milk
3 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
3 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tsp kosher salt or to taste
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper


  1. 1. Boil potatoes in salted water until very tender, 20-30 minutes. Drain.

    2. Squish the potatoes into submission using a large fork or a potato masher or your fists, depending on how much catharsis you're needing.

    3. Mix in other ingredients one at a time, adding milk slowly, until it’s the consistency you want.

    4. Adjust seasoning to taste.

    P.S: They're called "wise" because they have a lot of sage in 'em. Get it? Get it?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Hummus is Yummus.

Oh, hummus has been done, you say! EVERYONE knows how to make hummus! Well, not necessarily. I had to look it up the first time I made it. I've experimented a lot with different hummus recipes since then, but I've always come back to this standard. The great thing about this version is that it's a good base palette with which to expand your (awkward metaphors are my speciality). Add roasted red peppers, add pine nuts, add cilantro, whatever you wish. This version will sustain a lot. You can also tweak the standard ingredients. The Bald Guy really likes a hummus that's heavy on the tahini and not so much with the lemon, so I adjust accordingly.

It amazes me that hummus has been made for many centuries - and still is being made - without the benefit of food processors. If you feel passionately that hummus should be ground out the old-fashioned way, with a mortar and pestle, then I will admire your powerful arm muscles and smile ingratiatingly.

I've also seen people painstakingly pick the skins off their chickpeas (it's really easy - just pick the chickpea up between thumb and forefinger and squeeze gently. The chickpea will go shooting across the room and you'll be left holding a little translucent skin). This is actually very therapeutic if you like soothing repetitive motion. I've been known to indulge in a little chickpea-skinning, myself. I don't personally think it makes a hill of garbanzos difference to the taste of the hummus, but do as thou wilt.

Oh - and if you're insistent on soaking and boiling dried chickpeas to make your hummus, this little blog is probably not for you.

Adapted long ago from a recipe found on Simply Recipes.


4 garlic cloves, minced and then mashed (or don’t bother, as it’s all going in the food processor anyway)

2 15-oz. cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2/3 c. tahini

1/3 c. lemon juice (freshly squeezed is best)

½ c. water

¼ c. olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

1 t. cumin

1 T. paprika

1 t. red pepper (optional)

Garnishes – extra swirl of olive oil, some parsley, toasted pine nuts, more paprika, etc.

1. Do whatever you’re going to do to the garlic. It probably helps to at least chop the garlic so you don’t accidentally end up with crunchy garlic bits. Unless you like that sort of thing.

2. Dump chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, seasoning, and tahini in a food processor.

3. Whiz for…a while. Say, 3 minutes. With the machine running, add olive oil and water slowly in through the top. Add water last, a little at a time, until the hummus is the texture you want it. Some people like their hummus nice and smooth like a goopy paste, and others like theirs chunky, with bits of chickpea still hanging around.

4. Taste often and adjust seasoning to your preferences. Lick the spatula if necessary. You want to be as scientific as possible about these things and take lots of measurements. Evidence-based cooking!

5. Scoop it all into a pretty bowl, garnish with whatever you want to garnish it with, and serve with pita, cut veggies, olives, etc.

Serves 12, if you’re not piggy about it.

A good idea for a quick light dinner: stir hummus into cooked whole-wheat noodles along with chopped cilantro or parsley, pine nuts, and red pepper. Top with a little shaved Parmesan cheese.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Green beans with fennel & cherry tomatoes

This is what happens when I look in the refrigerator and realize that massive quantities of strange vegetables need to be eaten NOW or we will wake up with whole civilizations of mold and ick taking over the interior of the fridge. Wars won and lost, epic tragedies, joys and heartbreak, played out on the stage of our crisper by rival gangs of Aspergillus, Cladosporium, Fusarium, and Mucor.

So without further ado, I leaped to the task of throwing together a bizarre concoction of "Super fine beans," as Sainsbury's calls them; parti-colored (or party-colored) cherry tomatoes; a bulb of fennel; and some extra fennel leaves (fronds? bits?) that a friend had given us. What appeared was something I didn't expect - a veggie dish that's actually really yummy.

1 lb. fresh green beans
About 1 c. cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (preferably red and yellow)
¼ bulb fennel, thinly sliced
3 T. fresh fennel fronds, finely chopped
1 T. olive oil
1 T. red pepper flakes
salt & pepper to taste

  1. Steam the green beans and sliced fennel until the beans are bright green and al dente. Don't actually cook them all the way through - just soften 'em up a bit, because you don't want the heat from the frying to kill the tomatoes before the beans are cooked.

  2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Combine green beans with fennel, tomatoes, and seasonings along with the chopped fennel leaves. Toss gently to coat vegetables in oil. Cook, stirring constantly, until the tomatoes have just softened.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a side dish.