Sunday, January 17, 2010

Crabapple Cottage: The Cookbook

I started working on what will be an amazing cookbook someday--the collection of seasonal recipes that my housemates and I love to eat. We're all pining for spring, so we can have asparagus with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce again. In the meantime, there's lentil shepherd's pie...and my go-to winter salad, frisee and butter lettuce with avocado and oranges. It's simple--the only trick is that I cut the peels off the oranges and cut them into rounds, then squeeze the orange peels into my salad dressing bowl so that the dressing has a little orange juice in it. I usually make a quick vinaigrette with sherry vinegar, the orange juice, olive oil, dijon mustard, sea salt, and some chopped onion or shallot.

Since I get most of my vegetables from my year-round CSA, there are a lot of root vegetables in the fridge all winter...parsnips (they are huge, sweet, and delicious), sunchokes, beets, turnips, and sometimes carrots. This sometimes makes me fall into a borscht rut. I just learned that a spoonful of homemade fermented sauerkraut is really nice in a bowl of borscht. But variety is important...especially a variety of pot pies. To make lentil shepherd's pie, just take some of those winter storage vegetables (an onion, a parsnip, a couple of carrots, maybe a stalk of celery and a clove of garlic), chop them and sweat them in a small soup pot with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil or butter and some salt.

Meanwhile, boil a big pot of salted water and boil some potatoes--ideally Russets.

To your onion mixture, add a cup of French green lentils and a mixture of red wine and water to just cover the lentils. Throw in a tablespoon of tomato paste and a spoonful of veggie broth powder, maybe a shake of red chili flakes, a couple of bay leaves and a little chopped fresh rosemary. Cook until lentils are done, adding more water if needed, but you want the lentils to absorb most of the liquid by the time they're cooked.

By this time, your potatoes are probably good and soft. Preheat the oven to 350. Drain the potatoes and mash them with a lump of butter and a big splash of milk, and salt/pepper/red pepper to taste. I like to use the whisk attachment of my girlfriend's KitchenAid stand mixer to mash and whip the potatoes, but any way you want to do it is fine. If the lentil pot can go into the oven, you can do the next step right in the pot; otherwise, transfer the lentils to a baking dish. Mound the potatoes on top of the lentils, so that they make a crust. Put the shepherd's pie in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes start to turn a little bit brown in places (if you're getting impatient, just turn on the broiler for a minute). This recipe is flexible enough to absorb lots of different vegetables, and it's also tasty with any kind of cheese added to the mashed potatoes!

Monday, January 11, 2010

I invented Rice-A-Roni!

That's not quite true. I didn't invent Rice-A-Roni, but I did listen to a radio story about the invention of Rice-A-Roni and make a rice and noodle pilaf loosely based on the recipe that went with the story. And it was delicious, in a salty, starchy, buttery, comfort food kind of way. It was even good the next day as leftovers, and I usually hate leftovers.

I also invented a new Rice-A-Roni flavor: chanterelle mushroom and apricot. Everyone is always saying how chanterelles smell like apricots so I thought it might be a good combination, and it was. I made my own dried chanterelles after going mushroom hunting at Thanksgiving, so I had a big bag of those, and also a big bag of the most amazing dried apricots from the Santa Cruz farmer's market over Christmas. I kind of want to to buy the 25 pound bag for $180--they're that good. Here is the recipe:

1/2 of a small onion, finely chopped
1 small yellow carrot, diced into 1/4 inch cubes
1 cup long-grain white rice, like basmati
1/2 cup vermicelli noodles, broken into small pieces
1 handful dried chanterelle mushrooms, also broken into small pieces
3 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup white wine
Vegetable broth powder to taste (I really love Rapunzel brand)
Salt to taste
A tablespoon of fresh chopped parsley
5 dried apricots, finely diced

Add the butter, onion, and carrot to a medium-small saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Cook over medium-high heat until onion is translucent, about five minutes, then add rice and vermicelli pieces and cook for a few more minutes, until they are nicely coated with butter and beginning to turn golden in spots. Add the dried chanterelles, wine, water, and vegetable broth powder; taste. The water should taste fairly salty. If it doesn't, add more broth powder or salt.

Put the lid on the pot, turn the heat down to low, and cook, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Check and see if the rice and noodles are done and the water is all absorbed. If not, put the lid back on and cook for five to ten more minutes. Once the pilaf is done--rice and noodles tender but not soggy, liquid absorbed--add the parsley and diced apricots and gently mix into the pilaf. Fluff up the rice with a fork and serve.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Impossible Persimmon-Apple Pie

I'm taking a break from refined sugar to recover from the holidays, but the smell of my housemate's homemade banana bread today gave me a powerful urge to bake something sweet. I used ingredients I had on hand and the memory of Bisquick Impossible Blackberry Pies that I used to make back in high school, and came up with this highly successful recipe!

They called it "Impossible Pie" because it's impossibly easy, and also because you pour batter into the bottom of a pie plate, and it rises up partially over the fruit during baking to make a top crust too. Impossible! It's basically a moist, eggy cake with fruit baked in, a little bit like a pudding cake.

Here's a picture of the slice that's packed in my lunch for tomorrow:

Impossible Persimmon-Apple Pie

"pie crust" ingredients:
Handful of hazelnuts
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 Tablespoons melted butter
3/4 cup milk
2 eggs
Generous dash of cinnamon
1 soft-ripe persimmon

"pie filling" ingredients:
3 tasty apples, peeled and thinly sliced (I used two yellow and one green) + 1/2 red-skinned apple (I used Braeburn, which was good because it held its shape), skin left on and chopped
1/4 cup raisins, soaked for 15 minutes in water or juice if you have time
1 tablespoon butter or more if needed

Start by preheating the oven to 400 degrees. Then throw the hazelnuts in the blender and blend for a few seconds to chop them. Add the rest of the "pie crust" ingredients and blend until smooth, about ten seconds.

Meanwhile, saute the apple slices in the 1 tablespoon butter until they begin to caramelize. Add the chopped apple (you want it to stay more intact) and the raisins, and cook for another minute or two, then remove from heat.

Into a greased cast-iron pan or pie plate, pour the "pie crust" batter. Distribute the apple and raisin mixture on top, place the whole thing in the oven, and bake for about 30 minutes, until a skewer poked into the middle comes out clean and the crust is nice and brown. Let cool for at least a few minutes before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature.

This cake was nice and sweet, and it didn't need more sugar at all! It was also fast and really easy. If you don't have persimmon, you might try putting in another soft, sweet fruit like a banana or some applesauce.