Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Late Summer Soupy Beans

My refrigerator and freezer are starting to verge on survivalist territory; I am terrible at resisting gorgeous things at the farmers' market. I was determined to use up some of the delicious things lurking in my fridge and freezer for tonight's dinner. In particular, I wanted to showcase the dry pint of fresh, shelled cranberry beans I had picked up from Alm Hill. What I came up with was a riff on Tuscan bean stew that I will be doing my best to reproduce another day.

With fresh beans, I knew that I wouldn't have to cook them in the often to achieve the creamy texture we love so much. I wanted to maximize the flavor of the beans, so I brought out some roasted chicken stock. While I often make just plain chicken stock from raw bones, necks and other parts, I am also trying to have some broth made from roasted bones and wings on hand for those times when the broth really comes through. A recent dinner using whole wheat alphabet pasta in the turkey broth made from our Thanksgiving carcass was a revelation. That simple soup was unbelievably good. So, I cooked up the beans in 2 cups of the roasted chicken broth and just a bit of water to round it out and then went rooting around in the fridge for things to add to it. I'm sure that a good vegetable broth, ideally from roasted vegetables, would also work well for a vegetarian version.

Earlier in the week, I had cooked up a pint of cherry tomatoes according to Heidi Swanson's technique in Super Natural Every Day. (I'll include that in this post for those who are interested). I was sure those needed to be in my dish. Wanting to give Elspeth a bit of variety in her lunches, I had whipped up a batch of olive spread I had made using some of those roasted tomatoes. It occurred to me that the flavors might blend well with the beans, so I threw that in, too. Finally, nearly every savory dish I make has greens in it, so this was no exception. I took a handful of lacinato kale, ground it up in my mini chopper and pre-steamed it.

The end result of this somewhat unusual combination was fantastic. The flavor was very deep and it was hard to believe that there wasn't any bacon in the dish. I am pretty sure that the olive spread made the difference--bigger olive pieces wouldn't have worked as well. I love the idea of using olives to make a satisfying meatless dish. There was just enough broth left in the cooked beans to have us all slurping happily. Now I just have to hope that I can replicate it, maybe even with dried beans. (If using dried beans, I would definitely use the brining and oven-cooking technique from the Tuscan bean stew recipe and just add the tomato, olive, greens mixture once it came out of the oven).

ROASTED CHERRY TOMATOES
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1/4 c. olive oil (I would reduce this by quite a lot when making again)
1 TBSP evaporated cane juice
1/2 tsp fine sea salt, or to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk the olive oil, salt and sugar together. Halve the cherry tomatoes and coat them with the olive oil mixture. Put the tomatoes cut-side up on a baking sheet. Roast in the upper third of the oven for 45-60 minutes or until the tomatoes are nicely caramelized and slightly shriveled. Store in the fridge and put any olive oil left on the baking tray into the jar or container along with the tomatoes.

SOUPY BEANS INGREDIENTS
1 dry pint fresh, shelled cranberry beans
2 c. roasted chicken or vegetable stock (unsalted)
1 tsp salt (omit if broth is salted)
1/4 c. water (approx--there needs to be enough liquid to cover beans by 1 inch)
1 recipe olive and tomato spread
1 recipe roasted cherry tomatoes (see above)
1/3 bunch dinosaur kale or other green, stems removed, ground or chopped finely, and pre-steamed and shocked in cold water
Dash smoked paprika
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

DIRECTIONS
  1. Rinse and pick through cranberry beans
  2. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with broth, adding water to cover by 1 inch if needed. Add the salt if broth is unsalted
  3. Bring beans to a boil over medium-high heat then lower to a simmer. Cook beans for 30-40 minutes, or until tender
  4. Meanwhile, combine roasted cherry tomatoes, olive spread, and pre-steamed kale in a small to medium saute pan. Warm over medium heat, adding paprika and crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  5. When beans are soft and creamy, remove from heat and stir in the tomato, olive, kale mixture
  6. Serve with crusty bread or drop biscuits to sop up every last drop

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fruit Gelato

If Ice Cream Four Ways is my go-to recipe for non-fruity frozen treats, the following gelato recipe is one I turn to for anything involving fruit. The original recipe is for strawberry gelato and I found it on The Bitten Word, who got it from Bon Appétit. It was so delicious and smooth that I've since made it with blueberries and peaches. I'm sure it would be great with other fruits, too, such as raspberries or huckleberries.

Like the ice cream base in Ice Cream Four Ways, this recipe is low on eggs. In fact, the original recipe doesn't even call for eggs, but I felt it needed a little something so I add one yolk. The major differences between the gelato recipe and the ice cream recipe is that the gelato recipe calls for a small amount of cornstarch and does not use the whipped cream technique. I love this recipe because the fruit is really the star--there is more fruit than dairy. While this can lead to some iciness (especially in super-juicy fruits like the peaches), it is well worth if for the intense fruit flavor.

I had some beautiful farmers' market strawberries in my freezer in February when I made this the first time for family dinner. I used frozen farmers' market blueberries the next time and just this past month used fresh RAMA peaches for a peach gelato to top peach upside-down cake.

INGREDIENTS
3/4 c. evaporated cane juice
1 TBSP cornstarch
1 c. whole milk
3/4 c. heavy cream
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla or 1 tsp lemon juice (optional)
2 1/4 c. sliced hulled strawberries or blueberries or chopped peaches or other fruit

DIRECTIONS
  1. Combine cane juice and cornstarch in a heavy saucepan
  2. Whisk in milk and cream and cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble, about 5 min
  3. Turn off heat and move pan to another burner. Let mixture sit 5 minutes or so
  4. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk with a fork. Whisk in some of the hot gelato base and then add that mixture back into the saucepan
  5. Return to a low heat and cook for a minute or two until the base thickens a bit more. According to Cook's Illustrated, I'm sure my egg yolk should have curdled because the custard was too hot, but after several times making it, I've never had an issue. The cornstarch needs to get hotter than the egg yolk, so that's why I do it this way
  6. Cool the custard over an ice bath, add vanilla extract or lemon juice if using, then put in the fridge
  7. If using strawberries or raspberries, simply puree them and strain them to get the seeds out, if desired (what a lot of work that is!)
  8. If using blueberries, huckleberries, peaches or other stone fruit, bring the fruit to a low boil over medium heat to help concentrate the flavors. In the case of peaches, you might even want to separate the fruit from the juice and reduce the juice to a thick syrup before pureeing to reduce the chance of iciness. Another good idea would be to take 1/4 c. of the sugar and macerate the chopped fruit in it for at least an hour to soften and draw out the juices--this would make it easy to get the juice for making a syrup. You would still want to cook the peach pieces for a few minutes, as well, to make them soft. Puree the cooked fruit and let it cool
  9. Combine the cooled gelato base and fruit mixture. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours and then churn in an ice cream maker according to instructions

Ice Cream Four Ways

While I love homemade ice cream, I can never force myself to make a recipe that calls for 6 egg yolks, as so many of them do. It just seems extreme to me. We often have homemade ice cream at family celebrations and it is nearly always accompanying something else, so it doesn't make sense to have the ice cream alone be extra rich.

What follows is my go-to ice cream recipe for non-fruity applications. I found it on Chowhound years ago and someone said that it was the Quilted Giraffe cinnamon ice cream recipe. That means nothing to me, but it might ring a bell for someone else.

It's been so long since I copied the recipe from CH that I don't know if I messed with the cinnamon version much or not. I'm suspecting I did because the "heat the half and half to 175 degrees" has Cook's Illustrated written all over it.

I use the basic concept (custard, simple syrup, whipped cream) as the foundation for several different flavors: vanilla/toffee vanilla, coconut, coffee and, of course, cinnamon. While there is only one egg yolk in the recipe, I still find it luxurious in the mouth and not too icy. We rarely have leftovers, so the texture is at its peak when we eat it. But even a leftovers are amazingly silky. Two or three days after churning, I detect miniscule ice crystals, and yet I am still totally satisfied with the smoothness of this ice cream. I think this must be because of whipping the cream before churning. This strikes me as genius--you start out churning ahead of the game. I wonder if you might end up with chunks of butter in your ice cream if you over-whip the cream, so be sure not to do more than soft peaks.

I am considering some streamlining of the recipe (for example, why is the simple syrup necessary? Wouldn't the sugar dissolve in the half and half?), but am presenting it here in the form that I know works.

My innovation this time is that I decided to see what would happen if I used coconut sugar (also called palm sugar) instead of my usual evaporated cane juice. Coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index than regular sugar and we've got a family member who is being careful about such things right now. "Blonde" coconut sugar looks much like light brown sugar and I thought that the combination with vanilla bean would be nice, as the plan is to use the ice cream alongside nectarine cobbler. I used the same amount of coconut sugar as I would evaporated cane juice. This turned out to be exactly right. The custard looks and tastes like toffee, as did the finished ice cream. Two days later it had even taken on some coffee notes, though I don't know why. The vanilla flavor is very subtle so you might wish to add some vanilla extract, as well.

INGREDIENTS (for any version)
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
1 egg yolk
2 c. half and half (or try whole milk mixed with some cream or by itself)
1 1/2 c. heavy cream

Cinnamon-- 1 cinnamon stick or 1 tsp ground cinnamon; 3/4 tsp vanilla
Coffee--3/4 c. whole coffee beans
Coconut-- 1 to 1 1/2 c. shredded unsweetened coconut (ideally the big flakes), 1/2 tsp fresh lime juice (optional)
Vanilla/Toffee vanilla--1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise and seeds scraped out and added; for toffee vanilla, use coconut sugar or half white sugar (evap cane juice) half light brown sugar instead of all evaporated cane juice, 3/4 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

DIRECTIONS
  1. Put the half and half in the top of a double boiler. Heat half and half to 175 degrees F. For some reason today this took FOREVER, so I finished with a few bursts in the microwave. The only reason you do this part in the double boiler is that it saves you washing a pan because you'll need it for the egg part
  2. Adjust heat to keep the mixture warm. Add the cinnamon stick, coffee beans, coconut flakes or vanilla bean to the warm half and half and let steep, covered, for at least 20 min
  3. Strain the half and half and discard the solid bits. If necessary, top up the dairy to be 2 1/4 c. (the coconut flakes, in particular, absorb a lot of liquid)
  4. Return the half and half to the double boiler and turn up heat to get it back near 175 (something about milk protein behavior is why the 175 degrees is significant but I haven't tested it myself)
  5. Beat the egg yolk well in a small bowl. Beat in some of the hot half and half mixture, then add that to the rest of the half and half in the double boiler. Cook until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, 4-5 minutes
  6. While custard is cooking, combine water and sugar (and ground cinnamon, if using) in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved
  7. Remove custard from heat and stir in sugar syrup.
  8. Cool mixture by setting the bowl in an ice bath then stir in vanilla extract or lime juice, if using
  9. While mixture is cooling, whip the heavy cream to soft peaks. Fold into cooled custard
  10. Chill mixture well (overnight is okay) and then freeze in an ice cream maker according to the instructions

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Another Corn Salad

I forgot that I'd already posted a corn salad recipe here on EATS! so last week I made up a new one instead of using the one I had.

I really do love corn salad, even if it is somewhat of a pain to get the corn kernels off the cob. I am very tempted to get one of those OXO corn strippers that looks like a computer mouse (but do I really need another kitchen gadget?). At any rate, last week, we served this salad with halibut and roasted green beans. Tonight we had a veritable vegetable feast (to quote Wallace & Gromit): baked Maris Piper potatoes, cucumber salad, steamed broccoli, red pepper strips and home-grown carrots along with this new corn salad. Everything came from the farmers' market or our home. The broccoli we've been getting from Five Acre Farm this summer has been exceptional--the sweetest I've ever had. We all tucked in gladly to the variety. Tomorrow we'll serve the rest of the salad, again with halibut, which we are just starting to get fresh at the farmers' market. Probably will make a pluot crumble for dessert, as well.

The major difference between this recipe and last summer's is that I saute the onion in butter instead of olive oil and add a bit of thyme. I omit the red pepper I used last year, but I'm sure the dish would be tasty with that addition, as well. I do roast my corn, but use corn cooked any way you prefer.

INGREDIENTS (double this for a crowd)
3 ears of corn
1/4 of a large, sweet onion, diced
1 TBSP unsalted butter
1-2 sprigs of thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
  1. To roast corn, preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Once heated, throw in the corn (still in its husks) right on the rack. Cook 20- 25 minutes. (Deborah Madison says 15-20 but even after 20 minutes my corn has been slightly underdone). Remove corn from oven. When cool, remove husks and silk. Strip corn from cobs and "milk" cobs by scraping cobs with the back side of a chef's knife. Set aside
  2. Heat the butter in a medium to large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until the onion is very soft but not brown. Strip the thyme from the branches and add to the butter and onion
  3. Once the onion is soft, add the corn. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. Taste--if the corn seems underdone, add a touch of water and put a lid on the pan to steam for 5 minutes
  4. Adjust the seasoning by adding salt and pepper to taste
  5. The salad can be served hot, warm or cold and is a great late-summer side dish