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Friday, May 7, 2021

Butternut Squash Fruit Leather

 


Botanically speaking, squash is a fruit. This does not mean you should stick it in a fruit salad with a cool whip dressing, but I'm sure stranger things have been done to it. Bottom line that you need to know for this recipe: it's acceptable to make a winter squash fruit leather. 

In an attempt to be thrifty and to bide my time while I wait on the fruits of my garden (and of the fruits of my friends' farm to come in) I've taken recently to clearing out my cellar. I do believe that it is important to note that I do not actually have a cellar, simply have an in-ground garage that may as well be a cellar, with consistently cool temperatures enough to store a ton of winter squash. These squash are from the early autumn of last year, and most of them are - miraculously - still good! Since I just have a weird thing about eating squash purees in the middle of spring, I thought I'd try something I always wanted to try: fruit leather!

When my in-laws moved from their big house to a smaller house, they gave me a lot of neat old things, including their dehydrator. It's already become my best friend when it comes to preserving my herbs! I'll certainly use it much more when it's time to start drying things for my tea garden. For now? I'm going to show you what I did with one of my last good butternut squashes, to make an absolutely delicious snack, perfect for a quick lunch for satisfying a mid-afternoon sweet tooth.

Butternut Leather
yields 16 leathers

  • 1 medium butternut squash, quartered, with seeds removed
  • 3 carrots, peeled
  • 1 large apple, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 cup local honey or maple syrup**
    • This will vary to taste
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon**
  • A dash of mace**
    • The spices are optional, but nice
  • 1/4 c water
This is an incredibly simple recipe to prepare, with time as the major ingredient. First and foremost, grab your favorite steaming apparatus and prepare it to steam for a long time. I use my rice cooker's steamer function for small items, but since this is a big item I decided to use my bamboo steamer. 



Almost every Asian supermarket has a section for kitchenware and a place where you can buy a bamboo steamer of many sizes. I have a 12" that fits in my large wok. This is easily one of my favorite items to have, and if you have a wok, I highly recommend having a bamboo steamer as well to go with it! I don't recommend buying online for this if you can at all help it. Go to the store, poke around, hold the steamer in your hand, and let it speak to you. Listen for "Let me come home with you!" and that's the steamer basket for you.

To prepare your steamer, add water to your wok or chosen pot and bring to a simmer. Set your steamer basket over it. I didn't peel the squash, but I did peel the carrots and set them straight on the basket. It seemed a little easier for me to simple quarter and de-seed my squash, so that's what I did. Simply arrange on your steamer trays and steam your squash and carrots for about 30 minutes, or until unspeakably soft. Turn off your water and allow to cool long enough so you can handle it with your bare hands. Peel and chop your apple. 

Add your fruit and veg to the pitcher of a blender or bowl of a food processor along with the water, honey, vinegar, and spices Please note that you can use lemon juice for this application, but because this is going to yield a shelf-stable item in my own kitchen, I prefer something with a consistent acid level versus the juice of a fresh lemon off the shelf.

Blend your items on low, stirring every so often, and then to medium, and then high, for at least 30 seconds each. You want your puree to be as smooth as possible. Taste for acid and sweetness. If you don't like the flavor now, you certainly won't like it when it's dried and concentrated, so please take your time in perfecting the flavors.

Don't you just love this closeup?


Once your puree is blended to smooth and silky perfection, pour onto the trays of your dehydrator. My dehydrator came with four plastic trays that I was able to spread about a cup of puree each on. The goal is to make sure that they are consistently thick, so an offset spatula was my absolute best friend in this process. Take your time, okay? You don't want to see any clear or white spots in the middle of your leather, and generally it's okay if it's a little thicker versus a little thinner. 

When your trays are all set upand ready to go, assemble your food dehydrator and turn it on. Leave it to run for 4 - 6 hours, or until the leather is set enough and easy enough to pry away from the tray. Mine took about about 4 1/2 hours to fully dry, but this is highly dependent on the humidity of your kitchen. Once the time is up, I like to turn my machine off and let it cure overnight, although this step is unnecessary if you're an eager beaver like yours truly and feel like you need a snack before you keel over. 

It should be thick enough to be able to peel off in one piece, but thin enough to see through...kind of.


To store the fruit leathers, you can either roll them up in parchment paper, wax paper, or in clingfilm. Simply peel your leather away from the trays, gently, and cut the large pieces into quarters. Grab yourself an appropriate piece of clingfilm or paper, with about a quarter inch of allowance to fold up around the first edge of your leather, so that it won't stick to itself when you roll it up. Roll tightly, trim excess from the edges, and store upright in a jar. They'll keep for a whopping six months!


I'd like to note a few things about the yumminess of this, as I'm sure you're curious:

Yes, it does taste like butternut squash! Yes, it's a little tangy. No, it doesn't taste like fall...but it does taste like a sweet bit of squash along with the sweetness and freshness of the carrots and apple. Yes, the cinnamon and mace is optional, and yes, you can add whichever other spices you prefer to this. Yes, youc an use any winter squash you may have lying around, such as kobucha. No, butternut squash is not technically seasonal for spring...but let me explain!

Living seasonally doesn't necessarily always mean "I will only eat these things when they are growing naturally." In my very humble opinion, I believe living and eating seasonally means: "I will consume what is available to me." Since I never used all of these squash, of which there were plenty, I felt it would have been wrong to simply throw away perfectly good food. Why throw away something that came from the earth, and that's filled with such good nutrition? There's no reason, if you ask me!

When you choose to live a smaller and more seasonal life, you are actively choosing to defy the capitalist/consumerist ideology that's often pushed upon modern society. The carbon footprint of so much of our foods have become larger and larger throughout the years. While the majority of pollution and damage done to the climate and the planet is done by large corporations, there's no reason you can't connect with the earth and all its bounty while saving yourself a few pennies in the process. 

For me, it's been incredibly empowering to be able to grow and make my own food, grown not just from my own hands but from the hands of people I personally know. Last year I was privileged enough to connect with the KC Farm School at Gibbs Road for Let's Grow, Wyandotte, a program to help connect fellow citizens of my county to their earth, their food, their own inner heart. I'm sure that if you follow me on Instagram, you'll see me tag them in a post here and there. Check them out on Facebook, if you're into that sort of thing!

Now please excuse me while I nosh on this like a little goat. 




Happy cooking and happy eating!

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Peanut Butter Brownies

 

"Your mom said I can have a peanut butter square as soon as they cool down!"

This recipe couldn't be easier! I love a good "Dump-it" recipe...and it seems most of those kinds of recipes for me involve peanut butter. Check out my Dump-It Cookies recipe here! Peanut butter gets a sordid rap because Peanuts take the number 3 spot in the "Top 6 Food Allergies" list. For those of us that are not so afflicted, we can enjoy this salty, creamy, nutty, protein-rich treat. Here's how to make the Easiest Ever Peanut Butter Brownies!

Disclaimer: Please be conscientious! If sharing these with friends, make sure they don't have any allergies to speak of! If you take these to a child's bake sale(someday in the future when such things are allowed), use a nut-free sunflower seed butter instead. It bakes just the same!

Peanut Butter Brownies

  • 4 oz all-purpose flour
  • 7 oz granulated sugar
  • 1.5 oz good quality dark cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp coconut milk powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Fat pinch of kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 c canola or peanut oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp good vanilla
  • About 3/4 c of smooth peanut butter, room temperature
  • **Crushed or chopped peanuts, optional!
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, add all of your dry ingredients and whisk them together until entirely incorporated. If you decide to add in some crushed peanuts, or even some mini chocolate chips, you may do so now. You do this now because you want the mix-ins of choice to be coated with your flour mixture so that they don't sink too much to the bottom if you use a smaller pan. 

Mix together the eggs, oil, and vanilla with a fork or a pair of chopsticks. Make a well in the middle of your dry ingredients and dump in your wet stuff. Stir with a small, flexible spatula until everything is combined. Pour into a prepared brownie pan (a 9"x 9" or 13" x 9" will do just fine) that's been either lined with parchment paper or greased with either butter or oil. Spread your batter evenly. 



Drop dollops of peanut butter at regular intervals on the top of the batter and swirl it around in the desired pattern with either a small, sharp knife or a chopstick. If desired, you can make this ahead of time and let it hang out in the fridge until you're ready to bake. Otherwise, bake at 350 for 15-17 minutes, turn the oven off, then let sit for another 5 minutes in the residual heat. Let cool completely before slicing and enjoying.

While we're waiting for them to cool, allow me to tell you all about peanuts!

Peanuts grow underground, kind of like carrots or sweet potatoes. They're pretty plants, and grow in warm climates. China is one of the biggest producers of peanuts, and it makes sense because so much of Chinese cuisine is and can be made with peanuts. Even Li Ziqi, our Quarantine Queen, made a video all about the life of peanuts!



Peanuts have travelled a long way. They're native to the Western Hemisphere, or so they say, and are likely from South America. The Spaniards discovered the legumes during their colonization, brought some back, and likely helped get it all over the world with trade. They now grow all over the world where the weather allows it, from China to India to Africa to the Southern United States.

Why tell you all this? Why, to tell you all about my friends at the Georgia Peanuts Commission, of course!  I don't always make it, but I like to participate in the Foodiechats live-tweet party every Monday evening. This is where I was introduced to my new friends, and then got the idea to make a nice batch of peanut butter brownies! Make sure you stay tuned, as well, because I've got lots of fun peanut-related stuff coming...

When the brownies are cool enough, you can cut these into small cubes, store them in bags, and pop them in the freezer to use for milkshakes or ice cream sundae toppers. You can also just cut them in bigger squares and eat them straight with a glass of almond milk. No matter what you do, know that you're enjoying a beautiful snack that you've made yourself.

I hope you've enjoyed spending a piece of your afternoon with me. I know I love hanging out with all of you! Happy cooking and happy eating! 

Friday, February 26, 2021

Grilled Sourdough Sausage and Pepper Pizza

 


We all know I've been into sourdough lately. If you haven't let yours die out yet, here's how to turn that beautiful sourdough starter into a grill-able pizza crust. If you'd like to get a quick 101 on sourdough pizza crust, check out my previous post!

Grillable Sourdough Pizza Crust

  • 275 g all-purpose flour
  • 30 g vital wheat gluten
  • 3 g active yeast
  • 100 g sourdough starter
  • 170 g warm water, a little warmer than body temperature
  • 25 g sugar
  • 75 g good olive oil
  • 3 g kosher salt
Pizza Toppings
  • Herbed Cheese Stuff
    • 1/2 c cream cheese (I used the vegan alternative via Miyoko's)
    • 1 1/2 c shredded mozzarella (I used Trader Joe's vegan almond mozzarella)
  • 1 hot link Italian-style sausage, sliced
    • Pork, beef, or vegan is just fine
  • 1/2 an orange bell pepper, diced fine
  • 1/4 c white onion, sliced thin
  • **5 or 6 beef meatballs 
    • I had some left-over from spaghetti the other night and I didn't want to waste it
  • Uncured Salami as needed
  • 2/3 c marinara sauce
Combine all ingredients for the sourdough pizza crust except for the oil and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer. Mix until just combined, and then let sit for about 15 minutes. Add in the salt and oil, and mix for 10 minutes on low. The recipe is tweaked ever-so-slightly from my usual sourdough pizza crust, only because it's going to be cooked on a grill and I'd like it to be a hair thicker than usual, with marginally less sugar. 

When it's mixed, dump the flour into a bowl and let sit, covered and undisturbed, for about an hour or until it's doubled in size. Oil the back of a sheet pan (the one that you'll be sticking on the grill) and roll your dough out with a rolling pin to the whole dimensions of the sheet tray, making sure to pinch out a crust. 

Set this to chill, uncovered, in the fridge until you're ready to use it! Topping the pizza is quite self-explanatory, save the "herb cream cheese stuff." Here's what you do:

Add the cream cheese and 1 c of the shredded cheese to the bowl of a standing mixer, leaving the other 1/2 cup aside. Season with salt and pepper and fresh herbs of your choice - you can use chives, oregano, parsley, etc. I actually had an herb cream cheese in my fridge so it was easy for me to do. All you're really doing is creaming it all together until it becomes a sort of cheese paste. I put it in a piping bag to pipe stripes along the pizza's surface, but you can just dollop in spoonfuls along the length of the crust for a fun look. 

Spread the tomato sauce, then pipe the cream cheese mixture in a pattern or in dollops as desired. Sprinkle the remaining cheese all over. Top with peppers, onions, sausage slices, chopped meatballs, and any other goodies you'd like. Pop all of this back in the fridge while you prepare the grill. 



To grill a pizza? It's easier than you think! Simply set up your charcoal or propane grill up as you normally would be grilling at 400 degrees. This means the coals should be ashy yet glowing when you set the pizza on, which takes us about 20 minutes or so altogether. Make sure all the vents are open on the top cover and bottom to get airflow! When the pizza is topped, brush it with olive oil, put the whole apparatus - sheet tray included - on the grate of the grill, and immediately close up the top. In 10-15 minutes, you should have an amazing, crispy-crust-having, smoky-flavored, delicious grilled pizza that's ready to eat!

All that's left is to cut and serve. So simple! What a wonderful spin on your regular pizza...and all made by you. Won't you feel proud of yourself for doing it? I know you will. 

Mine got a little dark on the bottom, which is why you want to make sure the temperature of the grilling contraption of choice is right on yours!


Thanks for spending some time with me today. I hope you have fun grilling on your own and send me lots of pictures! Happy cooking and happy eating!

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Easiest Ever Overnight Hummus

 


I cannot stress enough how much I love hummus. It's the ultimate snack dip, and a must-have in the fridge. I can't tell you why you should eat more hummus, but these guys can. Sure, you can buy it in the prepared foods section of the deli at your grocery store, but why do that when you can make it yourself? Here's how:

Easiest Ever Overnight Hummus

  • 2 cups dry chickpeas
    • You can find this in almost any bulk storage section at the grocery store, buy it in bulk, and store the dry stuff in jars until you're ready to use it!
  • 3 large or 5 small whole peeled cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup tahini paste
  • 1 1/2 to 2 c good olive oil, depending
  • Salt to taste
Add your chickpeas to a casserole dish. Yes, I said a casserole dish, ideally the kind with a lid. You're going to cover it with cold water up until it's covered with at least 2 inches of water, put the lid over it, and let it sit on the counter overnight. When you check it the next day, your chickpeas will have doubled in size! It's quite a sight to see, all plumped up and happy. 

Turn the oven on to 300 degrees F. Next, you're going to drain the soaked peas in a colander and rinse them well. Add them back into the casserole dish, add just enough water to cover the chickpeas, and put the lid back on. Put the casserole in the oven and bake for 3 hours, or until the chickpeas are unbelievably creamy and soft. While we're baking, let's do the annoying #foodblogger storytime thing!

I don't remember the first time I'd ever eaten hummus, but I do remember vividly the first time I was asked to make hummus from scratch. I was a fresh sprig of a girl in my second quarter of Culinary school. I'd passed Fundamentals of Cooking and Baking and Pastry 1 with flying colors, and we were entering World Cuisine. We began in Europe and were moving slowly East, so naturally, we were going to explore Moorish Spain, the Middle East, and more. 

Observe this nightmare, my idea of good plating, taken with a Samsung Galaxy circa 2011.

I don't really remember if we soaked the chickpeas overnight, but I do recall that we were meant to peel the chickpeas after they'd been cooked. I remember this because we had cooked them until it was soft, and then drain them, and then pinch the little monsters out of their tupperware-like 'skins' that covered them. I didn't even know that chickpeas had skins until that moment, so naturally, I went along with it. How was I to know that my one dish for that class that day - hummus - was going to be the most-time consuming monstrosity that I'd ever seen? I even recall Chef Martin coming over to me and peeling with me for a while. I then whined to him:

"Why do this? Who thought of this?"

He laughed. We then both made a little joke about "maybe this is what happens when you're trying to keep your women busy?" We both laughed at the time. I later learned that this is not necessarily the correct thing to think. After all, how can you summarize such a complex, nuanced, and historically interesting culture as the Middle East with just hummus and how you make it? It's true that, historically, women were kept out of places of power, but a lot of cool stuff was happening in the Iranian/Arabic/Central Asian societies as well. They invented calculus, the concept of the number zero, discovered coffee, had free universities, and other neat stuff...but I digress.

The point is that this dish took for-freaking-ever, and I still somehow don't think that it was as smooth as I could have made it. I can't even tell you how much salt I put in the stuff above, but I remember thinking that it was nowhere near enough. It turns out it was the pungent garlic I was missing, as the recipe I had didn't contain garlic. I think I might have unconsciously stayed away from hummus since then, if only for my disdain for how much work I had to do for it. If I'd only known that you were meant to soak the chickpeas overnight! 

Convenience Note: I do think it's also appropriate to note that you can use canned chickpeas since they're already cooked and very soft, but why not make something from scratch and save yourself the can? 

Furthermore, I remember thinking to myself that there were far more interesting things to have and eat that took far less effort on the cook's part. I then suddenly remembering myself going for the hummus at every party I'd been to since then, and then being able to brag that I knew how to make it from scratch. The usual response was: "You mean to tell me you can make hummus?"

"Well, sure. You can make anything."

"It doesn't have to come from the store? Or the factory?"

"What...factory was in the town in the Middle east that first invented it?"

I loved those little interactions of getting to be a combination of smug and stinky, especially when I was at a party I didn't especially want to be at, surrounded by people I had no business liking or interacting with. I'm much less cynical and clammed up than I used to be, and I'd like to think that I am able to have a conversation with anyone nowadays regardless of their background. My own version of maturity is being able to go into a room that I don't necessarily want to be in, full of people I don't necessarily want to know, and be able to find and make a friend, or - at very least - not make some other stranger's night more unpleasant than it would have otherwise been having not met me. You could say that I've grown, just like my liking of hummus. I daresay I'm addicted to the stuff now. 

Anyway...

Let the chickpeas cool on the counter until it's room temperature, and then drain into the colander again, rinsing well. Add in your peeled garlic, your olive oil, your tahini paste, and cooked chickpeas to either the bowl of a food processor or the pitcher of a blender, and blend on low until smooth. Simply season to taste. You can garnish with some good olive oil or sesame oil - if you like - and perhaps with some sesame seeds or paprika. There, isn't that simple?

Serve it with crackers, fresh-cut vegetables, stuff fish or chicken with it, use it to thicken sauces, or just have it in the fridge as a snack for whenever you would like it. Legally speaking, it keeps for 7 days, covered, in the fridge, but I want to be candid when I confess that I've had a big batch hang out in the fridge for two weeks while I slowly ate off of it, and nothing's happened to me yet.

Thanks so much for spending time with me! Happy cooking and happy eating!

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Homemade Sourdough Pretzels

 


When was the last time you had a nice, hot, soft pretzel? You can go to the mall nowadays, but why risk it when you can make a much tastier alternative at home? Here's how you make them.

**Note: Traditional pretzels are made with a lye bath. You can buy foodgrade lye, but it can get a little dangerous if you don't know exactly what you're doing. I much prefer this safer alternative that you already have at home: baking soda. If you want to use a lye bath, go for it, but I'll be showing the baking soda bath method today.

Homemade Sourdough Pretzels
yields 8 medium-sized or 4 LARGE ones!

  • 260 g all-purpose flour
  • 45 g vital wheat gluten
  • 100 g sourdough starter
  • 2 g instant dry yeast 
    • This is an optional ingredient if you don't mind waiting. 
  • 50 g granulated sugar
  • 165 g warm water
  • 3 g kosher salt
  • Baking soda, as needed
  • Egg wash, as needed
Combine the flours, sourdough, yeast, sugar, and water in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. Turn the hook on to stir and let the machine go until the ingredients are just combined. Turn off the machine and let the dough sit for about 20 minutes. Add the salt and knead for about 10 minutes on low, or until the dough becomes quite smooth and just a little shiny. This will seem like a firm dough, but what pretzels and bagels have in common is that their doughs are a little on the dry side. It's okay! Just turn the dough into an oiled bowl and let sit at room temperature until it's doubled in size. 

This should take about an hour if you've used activated yeast, but about 3 hours depending on how your sourdough is. It's winter now so my sourdough takes about 4 hours; yours might be different, so pay attention! While we wait, let's talk about pretzels and how much I love them.

My favorite memories of childhood involve my granny and how she would take me to the mall just about every day in the summer. I'd go with her because she liked to use the mall to walk in, so there I'd be - with my 70-something granny - walking right alongside her just as the mall opened. It would take us an hour or so to walk the length of the mall twice, along with some stops along the way to gawk. She'd always take me to the book store, and although we would only sometimes buy something, I still remember the hours spent in the haven of towering books. Barnes and Noble was my favorite place as a child. 

After our excursion, we would always go to the food court and she would always buy me a big pretzel with cheese sauce. I remember loving watching them from the seat in the food court, rolling out the dough, and slapping them down to make them. I especially loved when they would pick up the big pieces of dough and twisting them around to make the pretzel shape. I was heartbroken in Culinary school when they didn't show us how to make pretzels, but I did later teach myself how. Then, I got a real education when I worked a short stint at a German place.

I learned a lot while working for this restaurant, but especially how to make pretzels. I don't dare tell you how they made theirs, as that would be highly unethical, but it was my first experience using culinary lye, and what a difference it made. The reason you want lye is that you want to make alkaline water to coat the outside of the dough. You're basically cooking this dough before it goes into the oven, and let it finish there. 




Traditionally, you would let your dough proof, punch down, roll your pretzels, and boil pretty much immediately. Some let sit overnight, and some let them proof up a little to make them softer. I personally like to let my pretzels proof overnight in the fridge, and then let them come up to room temperature before I poach them. Everyone has their own preference on this, and I'm sure there are some people out there that will tell you all about how wrong I am, but this is my blog so I get to make the rules. 

Twisting pretzels is rather fun, and it's a miracle of a day when I can video myself properly, so I thought I'd show you this YouTube video on how to roll and shape pretzels.




When it's time to shape, I simply turned my dough out onto my marble slab and divided it into 8 portions so I could have smaller pretzels. If you like bigger ones, divide into 4 portions and go crazy! This is the time where I stick the pretzels on a Silpat-lined sheet tray, cover with plastic, and let hang out in the fridge overnight. Afterward, I preheat my oven to 400 degrees and prepare an egg wash for my babies. I like plain kosher salt on my pretzels, but feel free to have sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or anything else you may like ready to top your pretzels. As I mentioned earlier, I like to let my pretzels puff up a touch before giving them the alkaline bath, but you may do as you like for this step, for as far as I can tell it's all down to personal preference.

To prepare the alkaline bath you bring a medium saucepot of water to a boil, and generally I go with a 5/.5 ratio. This means that for every 5 cups of water, I add half a cup of baking soda. This seems like a lot, but trust me. 

Bring this all to a rolling boil and dip your pretzels in, one at a time, cooking on each side for about 30 seconds. Make sure you have paper towels ready to dab off the water before putting it back on the sheet tray! I like to use chopsticks to fish my pretzels out, but you can use skewers if you like. Once they're on the sheet tray, brush with egg wash and bake at 400 for about 15-20 minutes, depending on the size. They should be golden-brown and delicious.

And there you have it! Beautiful, homemade pretzels! They're chewy, textural, and filling. To heat them like they would at the mall, just brush them with oil or butter and stick them in a hot oven for 3 minutes. You can even make your own cheese sauce to dip them in, but that's another show - as they say.

Thanks so much for spending some of your day with me. I hope you enjoy it! Happy cooking and happy eating!