Archive for June, 2011
Because you’re reading a food blog, and more specifically because this blog is about making food from scratch, you’re not likely to be receptive to this. But it’s important, so I’m going to say it anyway.
Genetically modified food is awesome and I wish there were more of it.
I’m pretty sure several people just stopped reading and decided I’m a sad, deluded corvid. It isn’t true. There’s just so much misinformation about science, and so few people who remember and understand the biology they learned in high school, that believing that misinformation is easy. And it does seem that biology and medicine get the lion’s share of paranoia. I mean, the people protesting the large hadron collider are rare and generally considered to be nutters. Physics kills millions of people in the form of car accidents and other rather commonplace (if grisly) manners every year, but you don’t see people protesting the use of cars because of their extraordinary deadly physics.
In contrast, no deaths to date can be attributed to GMOs. No illnesses, either. Turns out the FDA is actually really strict about the whole engineering death through vegetable and cereal business. Now, I’m not saying that a GMO potato couldn’t kill someone, if the engineers were careless in multiple different steps in the GE process, and if the oversight boards through which new GMOs must pass were extraordinarily lax. That said, traditionally bred potatoes (specifically the Lenape, a cross between a Delta Gold and a Peruvian wild potato) were on the market and being made into potato chips before anyone realized they were very high in solanine, a glycoalkaloid naturally produced in potatoes that makes them insect resistant. No tests of the new potato variety were required, because it was natural.
Natural things kill people all the time. Bee stings are natural, as are deadly nightshade (potato’s close cousin), as are uncooked kidney and lima beans, large quantities of nutmeg, raw sour rhubarb, and the seeds of apples, apricots, peaches, plums, and almonds. Oh, and potatoes, but we’ve bred most of that out of them by now. In fact, the history of agriculture can be understood as man’s struggle to do two things. First, to make food that doesn’t kill us (or make us vomit or swell up or hallucinate, except on special occasions), and second, to make it grow more calories per acre. You know, so we don’t die the old fashioned way: of starvation during winter, drought, flood, or any other non crop-friendly time.
Now that we live in such a glut of calories (at least for many of us in the developed world; they can be deplorably hard to come by elsewhere), now that we don’t have to worry about where our calories are coming from, we look for something else to worry about: whether those calories are healthful. It’s a valid concern. Obesity is rampant, as are diabetes and high cholesterol. Americans consume too many calories and in some cases, not enough nutrients. Those of us with the luxury of choice in our diet should probably think hard about our health and the best way to improve it through diet. (I know, this from the woman who lives on carbs and salt.) However, those choices need to be appropriate and educated, so before ruling out genetically modified food from your diet, or making it harder for the destitute and starving of the world to reap the benefits thereof, do some research.
One good overview of the subject is Mendel in the Kitchen, by Nina Fedoroff. It’s good in that it tries to put things in layman’s terms (though never to the point of talking down to her readers), and really shows the history of mankind’s fear of biotechnology, which gives a little perspective to today’s issues, as well as directly addressing some of the specific fears people have of GMOs.
Because I can’t do this book justice with a chapter-by chapter review, I’m going to stick to a few favorite points. And I’m going to start with Johnny Appleseed.
He’s an American folk hero, right? Just went around barefoot planting apple seeds that grew into lovely apple trees where all our delicious apples come from.
Or rather, an early nineteenth century religious zealot who, according to Michael Pollan ( I couldn’t find an earlier source, so this could be fictional) said of grafting “They can improve the apple in that way but that is only a device of man, and it is wicked to cut up trees that way. The correct method is to select good seeds and plant them in good ground and God only can improve the apples.” Now, if you’re nodding along in agreement, and you enjoy eating apples, you aren’t aware of something important.
All apples grown for consumption are grafted. Have been for hundreds of years. Johnny Appleseed’s seed-grown crop were good enough for making hard cider (and hey, who doesn’t want to get their drink on with apple cider every now and again?), but too bitter and sour for a reasonable person to eat. Oranges are always grafted, too. See, apples don’t breed true. Their triploid chromosomes make them genetic freaking wildcards, and cultivators’ nightmares. So we graft ‘em, which lets the grafted stock clone its happy little apples on every rootstock it’s grafted to. And before you shout “OMG cloning!” and throw all your fresh fruit out the window, these clones are perfectly natural, just like all of a person’s cells are clones. Except the gametes. It’s okay.
Now, there are a few ways to get new varieties of apples. you could plant a few hundred seeds, wait for them to mature, taste the apples of the ones that look promising, and start grafting the best of those (probably burning the rest of the plants, because they sucked). You could wait for a sport–a genetic anomaly–to appear, and graft it (this is where navel oranges come from). You could bombard some plant cells with radiation to mutate the crap out of them, and then graft the best results from these (plants engineered this way are organic as legally defined, by the way). Or you could isolate a gene you want your new plant to have, multiply it with PCR, and either paint it onto BB gun pellets and shoot then at plants(yes, really, but not without vegetable casualties) or insert it into a harmless plant pathogen that will in turn insert it into plant DNA for you. That last one is what freaks people out. It does sound pretty Sciency, I know. But there is no reason to think it isn’t safe.
That last statement–the phrasing of it–is one of the things that makes people scared of science. So why didn’t I just say, categorically, “it’s safe”? Well, science can’t say that. Science can’t actually prove sweeping, boundless statements; it can just say there is or isn’t any data to support it. There is no reason to think your house will fall down tomorrow, for example, but no scientist can prove that it won’t, because there is the possibility of an unknown variable. Like Cthulhu rising up to go bowling in your neighborhood. But science can tell you that your house is safe given certain parameters. The problem is, people don’t want to hear about specific, safe parameters. We’re sort of all-or-nothing when it comes to–well, everything actually. You hear it all the time about nutrition. All vegetables are good. All sugars are bad. Forget the fact that you need sugars to live (and that a lot of vegetables are quite high in sugars), humans want a very simple, black and white rubric for their lives. Science, and reality, are a little more complicated.
So let’s address the common fear people have raised about GMOs, and why it is specifically silly. If you think of some new things to be afraid of, I’ll do some research and see if I can show you why those are silly, too.
Horizontal Gene Transfer, or If I eat this GM corn I’m going to get it’s transgene, right?
Nope. I’m just going to quote the book on this one. “Sixty-five percent of the Americans queried for an international survey on genetically modified foods got the answer to the following question wrong: ‘Do ordinary tomatoes contain genes, or is it only genetically modified tomatoes that do so?’ All of our food contains genes–all our plant food and all our animal food.” Yet we don’t worry about that natural, heirloom tomato splicing its let’s-produce-toxic-glycoalkaloids gene into your cells. Why? because you and your grandmother and her grandmother have eaten them forever, and none of you has ever turned into Poison Ivy (yes, that was a Batman reference. Deal).
But it’s different with transgenes, you say. They’re inserted, along with a promoter, using a vector called CaMV. CaMV is pretty effective in most plants–it’s a virus called cauliflower mosaic virus–though it doesn’t work too great on cereals. In animals, though? Before we used the promoter to help us make GM foods, the virus was already pretty common among cauliflower, yet farmers didn’t worry about catching it. Very simply because they weren’t cauliflower. Our flu can’t infect the cauliflower respiratory tract because, well, it doesn’t have the parts. Likewise, plant viruses don’t attack animals. We’re just not the right environment for them to propagate.
Okay, so it won’t turn you into the amazing Spider-Man, but what about the ecological effects? I heard it kills butterflies!
Yes, in a lab, when researchers forced monarchs to eat pollen from corn that had been modified to contain a pesticide, some monarch caterpillars died. The keyword here is forced. See, monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed leaves. If those weeds happen to be in or near cornfields, this does mean eating corn pollen some times of the year. But when there are pesticides in it, the little buggers just move to a clean leaf or another plant. They don’t like that pesticidey taste. To see if it would kill them (uh, science guys? You kind of designed it to kill them. Did you forget?) researchers had to force the (probably wiggling, crying, begging) caterpillars to eat a volume of pesticidal corn pollen that would never be present in its wild diet, even if the caterpillar in question lived on a milkweed plant directly under the horniest cornstalk in the world.
In terms of other environmental effects, GM foods can actually help the environment. GM foods can produce a greater number of calories per acre, which means fewer acres need to be cleared of more complex ecosystems to feed people. This effect is somewhat dampened by our insistence in subsidizing corn for ethanol production, at which it is abysmally inefficient, but that’s a digression I don’t want to get into right now. Some GM foods, such as Bt corn, require far lower doses of pesticide to grow–they produce a pesticide naturally, which means no runoff from pesticides to affect insect life in neighboring areas, not to mention removing the cost of those pesticides (although I don’t know whether this completely offsets the cost of Bt seeds).
To be clear, I’m not saying the technology is all sunshine and puppies and completely safe, but there is risk in all worthwhile human endeavors, and this technology really is there because of people who want to improve the quality and yield of our foods. Some of them are idealists and visionaries, some just want a profit, but the goal is always better food. As a person who has to eat to live, and as a cook who wants to enjoy a variety of foodstuffs, I can’t argue with that. I don’t care if you don’t want to eat GMOs. I don’t care if you prefer not to eat mushrooms (like me), or wheat, or carbs, or animals, or red foods, or any other set. I do care that you don’t make that decision based on misconceptions, and it makes me mad when such misconceptions are spread.
Tomorrow, I’ll just cook for y’all again. But today, let’s think like scientists.
Resources (stuff to read if this interests you)
The USDA’s “briefing room” section of the website (not completely on-topic, but there is a lot of fun stuff to nerd out at over there. Plus, I used six of their images; the least I can do in return is send some folks a-sniffin’ their way)
Colchiploidy and Histological Imbalance in Triploid Apple and Pear, from the American Journal of Botany vol 52 number 4 353-359, 1965 (warning: this is on Jstor. If you’re not a student at university or a member of an Internet linked library, you can’t read this. Sorry. Although, check your library card [what do yo mean you don't have a library card?]; you may be able to access articles using the library’s resources from home.)
Gary Munkvold at IA state on disease control with Bt corn (with pictures of corn damage. Also, check out the related articles an the right hand sidebar.)
Genetically Modified foods: Harmful or Helpful? by Deborah B. Whitman (Contains its own host of references, which is the main reason I include it here.)
Shrinking the Cat by Sue Hubbell (I haven’t finished this one yet, but still.)
Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa by Robert Paarlberg (I didn’t really talk about this above, but it’s awful. The fact that people are starving needlessly, I mean. Not the book.)
And finally, for a lovely science fiction work in which there is a global food crisis and society is clamped under the thumb of Monsanto-like companies and foodborne illness is rampant and deadly, read The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. It’s lots of fun.
This post is the very last one using pictures from my old point-and-shoot camera. To be honest, I’m pretty nervous.Even though it’s irrational, part of me expects to be able to take amazingly better photos within seconds of pulling the new DSLR out of its box. That part of me has been doing a lot of wailing and scolding at the pictures I’ve taken since. I’m annoyed at myself for not picking up the skill faster, and in a more general sense, for not being the creative and artistic type I always thought I wanted to be. I’m going to have to be patient. To practice. To not get frustrated.
This is going to be really difficult for me. I have no patience. If I did, I would actually decorate desserts and cook things that required me to be in the kitchen for more than half an hour. I love cooking, but there’s a point after which I want to eat. And spending more time on the camera, on framing shots, on lighting. . . well, that’s going to be pushing dinner back that little bit more. So for the last of the completely quick-and-easy, here’s an easy-as-can-be side dish. Fill it with black bean chili and you have a filling, comforting meal. I give you twice baked potatoes.
There is only one real trick to twice baked potatoes: stuff as many different kinds of dairy in there as you possibly can. Butter, milk (or cream) and at least one kind of cheese are a must, but you can’t go wrong tossing in a chunk of cream cheese or a spoonful of ricotta, topping them with sour cream, or really anything else you can think of.
Ingredients (serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side)
2 baked potatoes
4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese, divided
4 T butter
about 1/4 cup of milk, as needed
salt and mustard powder to taste
sour cream to serve
Texans have some funny ideas about baking potatoes. They wrap them in foil before baking, which holds in most of the moisture, but has the undesirable side effect of leaving the skins soggy and wrinkled. No thank you. I believe there is only one way to bake a potato. Heat the oven to 400°F. Scrub and dry the potatoes. Rub the skins generously with olive oil. Sprinkle them liberally with kosher salt. Put them on a cookie sheet and make a clean slice down the middle to let steam escape (if you’re my dad, you’ll cut amazing cartoon faces into the potatoes that your kids will be missing when they’re in their twenties). Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, stabbing them with a fork to see if they’re done. They’re done when the fork feels like it’s stabbing room-temperature butter.
So you have baked potatoes. Cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh, leaving a thin layer to hold the potato skins together.
You have three options with the skins.  set them aside and leave them alone,  spread some butter on the insides and put them back in the oven at 400°F while you make the filling (my usual choice), or  deep fry them until crispy (3-4 minutes). I did this once and it was unbelievably good, but a little more work than warranted.
Run the flesh through a ricer or mash it with a fork.
Cut in the butter, add about 2 ounces of the cheese, and pour on a little milk. Don’t add all the milk at once. No two potatoes have the same moisture level, and adding too much liquid will net you potato soup.
Mix everything together, taste it, add salt and mustard powder and more milk if needed.
Scoop the mashed potato mixture back into the skins and top with the remaining cheese.
Pop the potatoes back into the 400F oven for 5-10 minutes to heat the filling fully through and melt down the cheese topping.
Serve with a dollop of sour cream and steamed fresh vegetables. We didn’t start baking our potatoes until we were already hungry, so we ate broccoli and carrots before dinner. What can I say, thinking ahead isn’t always my strong suit.
I love the combination of textures. Crisp, buttery skin, fluffy mashed potatoes, gooey cheese, and chill, ethereal sour cream all in one bite. This is simplicity and comfort food at their best.
Coconut. My ancient foe. Why anyone would want to eat the chalky white innards of a nut that lives, smug as you please, at the top of a very non-climbing-friendly tree just waiting to detach itself and smash your car? Stupid coconuts.
But since I just can’t say no when a fierce little Russian asks for a coconut and chocolate cake for her birthday, I opened the Baked cookbook to the page I thought I’d never use.
Honestly, I’m glad I did. Not because of the coconut filling. I didn’t even deign to try that part. But the chocolate cake was revelatory. I ate the bits I had to shave off to flatten the layers for stacking, and even though those bits were all edge (the driest part of the cake, yes?) this was the moistest cake I’ve ever made. Those shavings were delightful with peanut butter. Were I less of a drama queen, I might have even enjoyed a slice of the cake. But let’s face it, I’m not going to eat coconut voluntarily.
I adapted the Baked recipe pretty heavily, which I don’t usually do. I didn’t use pecans in the filling, for one. I used milk instead of buttermilk, instant espresso powder instead of coffee, and substituted some of the granulated sugar out in favor of brown sugar. In other words, don’t blame Lewis and Poliafito if you don’t like this cake; I did change it up. But if you like coconut (or want to use a peanut-butter cream cheese frosting instead of a coconut filling), I recommend this cake. It’s so moist it needs no frosting, light enough to happily absorb liquid (you know, in case you want to soak some coffee liqueur into it) and, one of the perks of a three-layer cake, it feeds even a ravenous group quite nicely.
Ingredients (makes a 3-layer cake, serves about 12)
For the cake:
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cups cocoa powder
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 cup milk
2 1/2 sticks (20 T) butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 cup boiling water
3 T instant espresso powder
4 oz. dark chocolate
For the filling:
2 2/3 cups shredded coconut
1 cup sugar
1 stick (8 T) butter
1 5-oz can evaporated milk
3 oz milk
3 egg yolks
1 t vanilla extract
Line three eight-inch cake pans with parchment paper, and butter the paper and sides of the pans. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Put the dark chocolate and espresso powder into a small bowl,
and pour 1 cup of boiling water over them. Wait 1 minute (yes, 60 whole seconds) then whisk the mixture together until smooth. Set the hot chocolate coffee aside. Try not to think how amazing it would be as a drink.
Beat the butter and sugar together, add eggs and beat again, add vanilla and beat one more time.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt over the butter-sugar-egg mix.
Pour the milk into the coffee-chocolate mix.
Pour the now eminently drinkable mixture over the rest of the batter and mix until homogeneous.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans and shimmy the pans around a little to get the batter even in height.
Bake about 30 minutes, and set them aside to cool while you make the filling.
For the custard, toast half the coconut. Just spread it in a sheet pan and bake for less than five minutes at 350°F.
If you don’t know how to measure 3 ounces of milk, cheat. Pout the 5-ounce can of evaporated milk into a 1 cup measuring cup. Add milk till the measuring cup is full. Tada! Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the milk, sugar, vanilla, and yolks, and whisk together.
Once it starts boiling hard, pour the custard into a bowl sitting in an ice bath and whisk in the coconut, both the toasted and non-toasted half.
Stir the filling until it is room temperature. Then you’re ready to build your cake! Just level the tops of the cake layers with a bread knife, stack one on your serving plate (or just a sheet of parchment paper if you’re me), spread 1/3 of the coconut filling over the layer, stack on layer 2, add another 1/3 of the coconut, stack on the final layer, spread on the rest of the coconut, and you’re done. no frosting required. I sprinkled a handful of extra coconut over the top because I thought it looked nicer than just the cooked filling, but you don’t have to.
Enjoy on its own or with ice cream.
Being a grown-up is complicated. There are some soul-deadeningly awful things about being an adult. You know. Having a job you can’t just call in sick from when all you want to do is watch a marathon of Dexter while eating a giant plate of nachos. Bills. Having to shop for groceries. Bills. Having to clean up and replace the broken glass from the light fixture in the bedroom. Bills. Mom, can you take care of me again?
Then again, there are great things about adulthood. Having a job with a real income and a discount on books (my favorite!). The ability to impulse buy pets (I do so love my betta fish.) Going to bed as late as I want. Being allowed to eat nachos for dinner if I want to.
Today was not so good. I hardly slept last night. Work was more than usually strenuous. I almost got hit by a car. Today was a nachos-for-dinner sort of day.
Ingredients (serves two as a meal, four as an appetizer)
half a bag of your favorite corn chips
1 15-ounce can of black beans
6 ounces cheddar or jack cheese
1/2 to 1 t kosher salt
1/2 to 1 t paprika
sliced jalapeño, optional
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Drain and rinse the beans. Pour them into the bowl of your handy dandy food processor and pulse away.
Add the paprika and a bit of salt to the beans and pulse a few seconds more to incorporate. Grate the cheese.
Line an 8 x 8 inch pan with tin foil and
arrange dump a layer of tortilla chips into it. Spoon dabs of black beans over the chips.
Sprinkle half the cheese over the beans-and-chips.
Repeat with another layer of chips, beans, and cheese. Toss on the jalapeños, if using. Bake for about 10 minutes, when a few chip edges are browning and the cheese is bubbling.
Shake a bit of salt and paprika over the top. Serve with the best nacho (in fact, best chip) dip ever: a bowl of New Mexican red chile, topped with a daub of sour cream, some fresh chopped cilantro, and the juice of half a lime.
You may be aware by now that I have a bit of a duck obsession. People tell me it’s gamey and greasy all the time, which only tells me that they haven’t had well-prepared duck. Duck is tender, moist, and almost sweet. When baked or smoked on its own, duck is chicken’s infinite superior. So don’t balk at the amount of duck this lasagna calls for. I used a smaller one, and it was not enough.
There is one terrible thing about making this. Removing the fat from a duck carcass and cutting the meat into bite sized pieces is a very unpleasant chore. I failed to get the butcher at the market to do it, because he doesn’t speak English and looks really upset when I try to do crazy things like order a pound of beef. I’m a very nervous person at the best of times; I can’t bring myself to make an old Chinese man sad. I failed to get Mr. B to do it, because I thought it wouldn’t be hard.
Removing the skin and fat alone took twenty minutes, and left me standing in the kitchen staring at a half-gallon bag full of duck fat. I think I got the fattest 3 1/2 pound duckling to ever live. Which is cool, because the fat is sitting in the freezer waiting to be rendered. It’s an amazing thing to cook with. But I digress. The duck sauce is adapted from Italian Slow and Savory by Joyce Goldstein, a cookbook I both love and hate. Fantastic recipes and ideas, tomatoes and pork on every other page. It’s torture, I tell you.
1 duck (5 pounds) trimmed of fat cut into bite sized pieces. (my duck was 3 1/2 pounds. Too small!)
1-2 T olive oil
2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 lb potato or artichoke or celery or other yummy vegetable, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 t herb mix (or chopped fresh herbs)
2 bay leaves
1/2 t cinnamon
3 cups white wine
2 cups chicken or duck stock
salt and pepper to taste
For the lasagna:
8 oz. lasagna noodles (enough for 3 layers of pasta in a 9×13 pan)
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 pound mozzarella, shredded
1/2 cup grated parmesan
Heat the olive oil in a good-sized stock pot and toss the garlic, carrots, and other vegetables in to sauté. Only sauté for a couple of minutes, just to carmelize the edges of the vegetables and make the garlic nice and aromatic.
Add the wine, stock, cinnamon, and herbs. Bring the mixture to a boil and add the duck chunks.
Lower the heat to a simmer and let the pot go from thin soup:
to thick sauce:
over the course of an hour and a half of simmering uncovered. If you are already hungry at this point, you can toss this sauce over some gnocchi or pasta. I wanted lasagna. For that, cook the lasagna noodles according to the instructions on the box and preheat the oven to 375°F.
Lay one layer of lasagna noodles across the bottom of a buttered 9 x 13 inch pan.
Spread a generous layer of ricotta over the noodles, and spoon 1/3 of the duck mixture over that.
Sprinkle with about 1/3 of the mozzarella.
Repeat until you have 3 complete layers, and top it all off with a generous sprinkling of parmesan. Bake 30-40 minutes until the top is crisp and browned.
Serve with steamed broccoli and asparagus. And more duck.
Everything is better with more duck, right?
The first time I made this was a revelation. Fried chicken. Velvety coating. Rich, creamy, alcoholic sauce. I describe myself (less jokingly than is healthy) as a carbivore. I usually can’t handle more than four ounces of meat but can eat a whole baguette in one sitting. Ladies and gentlemen, The first time I made this I chose to forgo my side of bread in order to eat more chicken. Mr. B’s jaw just about hit the floor.
This is crazy easy to make. Messy, but fast and easy. You can dress it up with grilled asparagus and toasted french rounds, or down with biscuits and steamed veg, or anything in between.
This is one of those not-so-kosher deals where I eat poultry with milk because chickens’ mamas do not produce milk, so there. But you could substitute some schmaltz for the butter and skip the Parmesan and it’d all be good.
Ingredients (serves two, easily doubled)
For the fried chicken:
1 pound chicken breast meat
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup grated Parmesan mixed with 1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup bread crumbs
vegetable oil for frying
For the sauce:
2 T butter (or schmaltz)
2 T flour
1/2 cup white wine
juice of 1/2 of a lemon (about 1 1/2 T)
3/4 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
capers (optional, but awesome)
Heat a layer of vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a nice big sauce pan. Dredge strips of chicken breast in flour mixture, then dip them in egg goo, then dredge that mess in bread crumbs. Your fingers, as well as the chicken, will be well-breaded for frying.
Fry chicken about three minutes a side. Wash your fingers. They would probably smell delicious frying, but you wouldn’t like it. Unless you’re very masochistic, in which case it still isn’t a good idea. Plop the chicken on a bed of paper towels to rest while you clean the frying pan for the sauce.
Heat the pan over medium high again, and we’ll start with a roux. A lot of things start that way, and they tend to be delicious. Melt butter (or schmaltz) and whisk in flour.
Add the wine and lemon juice and stir just until the consistency is uniform.
Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to simmer. Add the fried chicken and cook gently for about 2 minutes a side. This soaks into the breading, which makes it not soggy but velvet-soft and intensely flavorful.
Top with a small handful of capers if you have them on hand. Serve with anything you like. I’ve had it on a bed of angel hair, which nicely soaks up the excess sauce, with asparagus soufflé, with a small Caesar salad; it really works with almost anything.
You probably don’t want to know how much peanut butter I go through in a week. From sandwiches to cookies to spreading on apples, peanut butter joins me in meals at least once a day. At least. And now I’ve started adding it to liquids.
Owning a milkshake machine is a huge responsibility. You have to use it enough to justify the use of precious counter space, but use it much more than that and your waistline will suffer. Mine is gonna suffer for this.
1/2 cup of whole milk*
2 T peanut butter
3 T malt powder or brown sugar, optional
*This recipe isn’t going to be healthy. Don’t bother watering it down with low-fat milk or ice cream. If the calories worry you, I recommend iced tea.)
Combine milk and ice cream in the canister of a milk shake device (Or try a blender. I can’t try a blender; I don’t own one.)
Add peanut butter and mix until smooth. Taste to check the consistency. If it’s too thin, add ice cream. If too thick (unlikely), add a bit of milk. Add malt powder and/or sugar if desired and mix again. I don’t always want it too sweet, but it tastes a lot more like dessert with the malt.
Pour milkshake into a pair of nice big glasses and enjoy.
So, remember like two months ago I made my own delightful pulled chicken and promised to make chicken pot pie out of some of it? Yeah, I sort of just filed those pictures away so they wouldn’t taunt me during Passover, and promptly forgot. Which is a shame, because for some reason folks don’t tend to want to eat pot pies in the middle of June.
But you know what? I made these with delightful spring vegetables, and they were yummy, so you should give them a shot. Honestly, the shredded chicken and veggies felt much lighter than I expected them to in this dish, partly because I dangerously overfilled the pot pies, partly because I didn’t use much liquid broth or cream.The result really did have more the sense of a savory pie than of a stew baked into a crust. Which is good, because stew is perilously close to soup, and I don’t eat soup. But the lightness really made these feel suited to a summer picnic. I would love to substitute some lovely flaky white fish for the chicken and eat this all summer long.
Ingredients (makes 4 pot pies. I tried to stuff all that filling into two.)
For the dough:
3/4 cup flour
5 T cold butter
1/2 t salt
1/2 t mustard powder or white pepper or (why didn’t I think of this before?!) cayenne
2-3 T ice water
For the filling:
1 cup pulled chicken
1 cup mixed cooked vegetables (I used peas, carrots, artichoke hearts, and asparagus)
4 small red potatoes (Optional. These are totally why my pies were overfilled.)
2-3 cloves garlic
1 cup chicken stock
4 T cream or whole milk
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Start with the crust.
Dump all ingredients except the water into a food processor, process until grainy, and add the water bit by bit until the dough just comes together into a ball.
Roll half of the dough very thin. The other half is for the top crust. Save it for later. Butter your pot pie dishes (I used largish ramekins) and use the rolled dough to line the bottom and sides of the dishes.
It’s okay to make a mess with this (I sure did), because you eat them right out of the dish and no one will ever know. Unless you put photographic evidence of the mess on the Internet. Put the other half of the dough into the fridge for now.
Slap a bowl of aluminum foil over each ramekin and fill with
disused stone chess pieces pie weights. Bake for ten minutes, remove the foil and pie weights, and bake another 10 minutes uncovered. It should smell of awesomeness and be buttery golden-brown.
Set the happy little pastry cups aside and assemble the filling. I wanted boiled potatoes in mine, so I chopped four little red potatoes into eighths (that fraction always looks like it’s spelled wrong to me), and popped them into a pot of chicken broth to boil. I know, normal people use water, but this was brilliant and I would do it again.
Toss the cooked chicken and vegetables and taters in a bowl. Mr. B and I have a difference of opinion regarding vegetables. He hates cooked carrots and peas of all kinds, and he is wrong and I am right because both of these things are delicious. This is an easy dish to make modular; just mix your different ingredients in different bowls and pile into the parbaked pie shells.
You may notice that I overfilled these pies. I didn’t want any filling to go to waste. I could, of course, have just served the leftover filling over rice some other night. That did not occur to me at the time.
Pour 2 T of cream over each pie, then pour 1/2 cup of broth over each. This will not make the crust soggy, but will keep the filling nice and moist while it bakes. Roll out the chilled crust dough and lay a flap of it over each pie.
Cut vents in the top of each crust, and bake 20-25 minutes at 425°F. We’re looking for golden and crisp, as usual.
Serve with a salad or some chilled fruit. After all, it’s summer now. We’re trying to keep things light, right?
I spent days gushing about this dish before I even made it to anyone who would listen. And I’ve learned something. Apparently asparagus is not for everyone. Apparently there are people out there for whom the bitter green vegetable of almost no calories does nothing. Maybe they have no taste. Maybe they just hate springtime. I’m not judging. (Oh, I’m totally judging. This stuff is awesome.) But even if you hate asparagus, even if you fear the tiny purple leaflets getting stuck in your teeth and the fact that asparagus has a lot of sulphur-based compounds, make this. It’s pillow-soft, marshmallow smooth, and tastes like a bite of spring. Plus, an asparagus spear has fewer than eight calories. So you can eat anything you want as a side with no guilt. Like a whole chocolate cake.
This recipe is adapted from Italian Slow and Savory. It’s an awesome cookbook. My only problem with it is that I can’t eat almost half of the recipes, which is an issue most Italian cookbooks and I have.
Ingredients (almost fills a 2 quart soufflé mold. Serves 4-6.)
1 pound trimmed asparagus (you’ll need about 1 1/2 pounds before trimming.)
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup flour
4 eggs, separated
nutmeg and salt to taste. I prefer kosher salt because I like the little crunchy surprise it adds, but I’m a total salt fiend.
Butter for greasing pan.
Lemon wedge, for serving.
Preheat the oven to 350°F and butter a 2 quart soufflé mold. Boil the asparagus until very soft, about 10 minutes.
Place the cooked asparagus in the bowl of a food processor. . .
. . .and
do science to it pulse until smooth.
Transfer the purée into a large bowl and add milk, flour, salt, nutmeg, and yolks. Some white pepper would be good, too.
Stir the mixture together and set aside. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks.
Fold the egg whites into the rest of the batter (I couldn’t take pictures of this step because I only have two hands. I will happily volunteer for the necessary procedures to turn me into Doc Ock. Just putting that out there.) Pour the batter into the buttered mold, put that mold into an 8×8 pan half full of water, and bake at 350°F for about 40 minutes.
My oven got turned off
because I wasn’t paying attention and turned off the oven dial instead of turning on the burner under the teapot for some reason for about 10 minutes, and I blame that incident for the weird crack on the surface of my soufflé.
Still delicious. Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice and a salad for a light meal, or with a hearty helping of chicken francese for a decadent one. Either way, lemon it up.
In order to get a bit more rise and a bit more flavor out of the recipe, I think next time I’ll fold in about 1/2 cup of finely grated grana padano or parmesan. It would be fun to fold in various fresh chopped herbs, or dried ancho chile flakes or (for the non-allergic) sun-dried tomatoes. I’m tempted to spoon it over a twice-baked sweet potato and brown it for the color and flavor contrast. This is definitely a recipe to play around with. It’s surprisingly rich, yet light and airy and quite hard to stop eating. Unless, of course, you hate asparagus.