Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How to Save Eggplant

Full Belly Farms makes the most delicious eggplants I've ever eaten. And so, I want to save as much as I can for eating year round! It's super easy to preserve eggplant in the freezer. Simply cut it into big slices.

I like to cut my slices in half, they could also be left whole or cut into quarters. If you cut it up too small you'll just end up with eggplant mush when you take it out of the freezer later...which is not necessarily a bad thing, just be aware of what you want to use eggplant for in the future. Big slices will be more versatile.

Spread out the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer. A Silpat is useful, but certainly not at all necessary.

When the slices are completely frozen they can be transferred to a plastic bag and kept in the freezer for roughly one year.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Brown Butter Waffles

A lazy morning favorite in my home. It always begins with the Joy of Cooking as a reference (even though I've just about memorized the recipe, it's reassuring to confirm my memory).

When in doubt, use an entire stick of butter. Let it melt slowly on low heat.

Let it cook until it begins to brown - a result of the Maillard Reaction! Once it's starts to brown, the Maillard reaction seems to accelerate as the butter darkens surprisingly quick. I usually turn off the heat as soon as I see it starting to brown, because it will continue to brown even as it cools slightly. Here it started to brown even before all the butter was melted, which turned out to be rather convenient because I could use the unmelted butter to help cool the quickly browning butter even faster than if I had just turned off the heat.

Fully melted brown butter:

A Buttery Digression: When you purchase a stick of butter, it's a smooth emulsion of fat, water, protein, and lactose (roughly 80% fat, 15% water). When you apply heat, it's incredibly easy to break this emulsion - meaning the fat and water separate and the protein and lactose clump together and fall out of solution. Clarified butter (a.k.a. ghee) is just butter that has been lightly heated such that the water evaporates and the proteins and lactose clump together so they can be easily strained out. Clarified butter is pure milk fat. Brown butter cooks a little bit longer than clarified butter until the lactose reacts with the proteins to form delicious little nutty brown flecks.

More on the Maillard Reaction: It's a redox reaction! Lactose is oxidized (gives up a proton) while an amino acid is reduced (accepts the proton) to form any of several aromatic, ring-shaped, compounds (i.e. pyrroles, pyridines, pyrazines, thiophenes, thiazoles, and oxazoles). These aromatic compounds stimulate our taste and smell receptors resulting in a delicious response!

And now, back to the waffles...

Combine the wet things:
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3 eggs
drizzle molasses
browned butter

Combine the dry things:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 Tbsp Sugar
1 Tbsp Baking Powder
pinch salt

I generally use white flour, but you could easily substitute any flour of your wildest dreams! At some point during the preparation of the batter I plug in my trusty vintage 1940's cast iron waffle iron (it takes a while to warm up).

When the iron is hot, I whisk together the wet things and the dry things to make the waffle batter.

Butter the iron and apply the batter!

The set up:

Butter, waffle iron, batter, and of course - a cup of coffee

The perfect waffle.

...I love watching it cook!

Everything stays warm in the oven!

What happens from here is up to you. Waffles make great companions with any of theses toppings:

Maple Syrup
Peanut Butter (or any nut butter)
Fresh Fruit
Fresh fruit cooked with butter and sugar (a la Bananas Foster)
Cinnamon & Sugar

Waffles also make an excellent substitute for bread - they can be toasted, used to make sandwiches (especially breakfast sandwiches!), or my new favorite - battered and pan-fried to make waffle-french-toast!

Waffle with chicken, fried egg, and cole slaw

Making waffle french toast

Waffle french toast mini sandwich with...
Heirloom Tomato
Green Onion

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Black Bean Cactus Thing

Several years ago we bought some dried black beans because it makes a lot of sense buy beans dried rather than canned (less processing and all around cheaper). However, dried beans take planning to cook and canned beans are just so darn easy. Anyway, we FINALLY soaked and cooked those black beans we bought years ago. I suppose an added bonus of dried beans is they're incredibly shelf stable.

The beans soaked for 24 hours and then we used them to make a hearty vegetarian dinner of brown rice, black beans, nopales, onions, carrots, garlic, sweet peppers, tomatoes, and cilantro.

First things first, the spines must be cleaned off the nopales.

While I meticulously de-armed the nopales, the pre-soaked black beans and brown rice cooked on the stove. When they were done, I decided to save the cooking water, to used it to flavor something else.

I diced the nopales and sauteed it with onions and garlic. 

Alex added spices (cumin, California paprika, cinnamon, red flake pepper, black pepper)...

..and sweet peppers...

We finished it with tomatoes and cilantro before adding the cooked beans and rice. Some Avocado and green onion would have also been awesome additions.

Lettuce Cups

The first time I ever had lettuce cups was in high school when my buddies came to my cafe job as I was closing up the shop. They had arm-fulls of take-out from Garden Fresh and insisted that I stop everything and try the lettuce cups. They were amazing. A medley of deliciousness, delivered to the mouth via lettuce in hand. They transported me to another dimension where everything was lettuce cups, and everything was awesome. Somehow, those lettuce cups were so distracting that I walked away from the cafe that night with lights on and doors unlocked - I was shocked my boss didn't fire me for a careless teenage stunt like that, but thankfully, he didn't.

For some reason, I never really considered making lettuce cups myself. They were some sort of untouchable magic that only Garden Fresh was capable of. Then Alex decided to take the initiative to make lettuce cups a reality.

Lettuce Cups
Bibb Lettuce
Ground Beef
Sweet Peppers
Olive Oil
Chopped Fennel Greens
Dry Ground Fennel
Black Pepper
Red Pepper Flakes

Cut everything into a small dice. Saute the beef and veggies in olive oil until cooked and season with the fennel greens and spices.

Serve inside of bibb lettuce leaves and eat them with your hands (like a taco)!

Monday, July 8, 2013

An Ode to Corn

Growing up in California, there were few ways to mark the seasons. Winter brought holidays and morning fog, spring and fall were too hot for sitting in classrooms without air conditioning, and summer was when we would grill, and eat, as much fresh corn as we possibly could.

I remember it like a ritual. Analogous to Summer Solstice - it wasn't really summer until I sank my teeth into the first grilled corn cob of the year. My dad always prepared the grill while I prepared the corn - pruning off excess husks/silk/stem. Then I would parade my pile of pruned corn out to the grill where we would grill it till the husks were good and black. As soon as it was barely cool enough to touch, we would peel off the burnt husks and silk to expose the steaming succulent kernels within. But before we ate the corn, we had to count the rows of kernels. Supposedly, as my dad would say, an odd number of rows was rare, and therefore lucky. Over the years I began to get suspicious about the frequency of odd-numbered ears of corn. Perhaps I'm just lucky.

I still get giddy at the thought of grilled summer corn. And now that we have a functioning grill, we can have corn all the time! 

I've heard several different methods for grilling corn: soak it in water and grill it with the husks on to make "steamed" corn, or remove the husks and grill it so some of the kernels themselves get charred. I'm still a fan of my dad's method: just put it on the grill (husks and all) and it's done when it's black. By allowing the husks to burn, a subtle smokey/roasty flavor gets imparted to the corn while keeping the kernels moist and delicious.

I feel slightly ashamed to admit that I don't count the rows on my corn cobs anymore. I'd much more rather sink my teeth in and get straight to savoring each and every kernel.

While summer is all about corn fresh from the grill, that doesn't mean the rest of the year is devoid of corn. Corn freezes fabulously, and for every corn cob I eat, I make a couple extra to freeze for the winter.

How to freeze corn (or almost any other vegetable)
1) Cook it.
2) Cut it off the cob, or otherwise cut it into usable sized pieces.

3) Spread it in on a cookie sheet and put it in the freezer. 

4) Once frozen, scrape everything into a bag and put it back in the freezer.

Heck yeah grilled corn year round!

Inaugural Grill

When Alex and I moved into our duplex apartment last August, the modest back yard was a disaster of ancient things from previous tenants and construction equipment from our landlord. We generally ignored the fact that we even had a backyard. Until we realized months later that the growing jungle of weeds might be a problem, as it was quickly engulfing all the junk in our back yard. We donned our grungiest work clothes, heavy gloves, bandana masks, and lab goggles to eradicate the weeds and transform our backyard into a space we actually want to spend time in.

Among the weeds and junk was an impressively rusty old charcoal grill. Alex took it on as a mission to get the grill back into working condition while I tore up and removed the concrete from what is now our veggie garden space (still pending veggies). After a lot of scrubbing and a grate purchase - we have a grill! Here is the first meal we cooked on it:

It began with coals, prepped in a chimney...

The coals heating up, while sugar snap peas grow slowly in the background...

Getting things ready to be grilled!
Salted Eggplant
Summer Squash
Cremini Mushrooms with Balsamic Vinegar wrapped in foil
Prather Ranch Hot Italian Sausages
(and the plastic patio table that we rescued from the backyard disaster!)

Alex gettin' his grill on!

Grilling things! And toasting some sourdough bread.

Candlelight grilled dinner in the backyard!

We paired grilled foods with Mississippi Mud, a Black & Tan beer, and we used Annie's Goddess Dressing to use as a dip for everything.