Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bread and Eggs


Bread pudding is usually sweet. This is not. It makes a very good lunch.

stale bread- use about 2 cups, maybe a little more

3 oz grated cheese: gouda, cheddar, parmesan- use something nutty.

3 or 4 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon minced rosemary
pinch each of lavender flowers & nutmeg, finely grated
1 heaping tablespoon flour

I have a 6 cup casserole I like to use for this. Butter the bread lightly and cut it up into 2 inch pieces. Put the bread in the dish and add the cheese. Poke the cheese around so it is distributed evenly among the bread pieces. Mix all the other ingredients thoroughly and pour them over the bread and cheese. Let the bread soak up the liquid for 5 minutes or so, then bake at 350 for about 40 minutes. If it still has liquid spots on top at that point, turn the oven off and let it sit in there another 15 minutes.

Points to consider:

1. Use only very good bread. Focaccia works well, partly because it already has lots of fat in it ( no need for buttering) and also because it traditionally has rosemary in it. Leftover baguette slices are also very tasty. Ciabatta would probably be fine, if chewy.
2. The amount of milk will vary depending on how dry your bread is. Baguettes need more milk than focaccia, because they're much crustier.
3. Crustier also means more soaking time required. Before you bake it, the bread should be pretty well moistened, but not dissolving, and there should still be just a little bit of liquid around the edges of the dish if you tilt it up.
4. You don't have to use real milk. Water & dry milk is just fine.

 The important thing is to keep it simple. This is not fancy food, it's just a bunch of very ordinary ingredients that happen to taste really good together. You could use any cheese and any bread, but you don't want to frill it up with too may things going on. Plain bread, rather than something full of seeds or nuts, white rather than wheat. I like a mix of either medium cheddar or gouda, and the stuff that comes out of the green can, although that's just because I'm lazy. You can grate your own parm if you want.

You could even skip the lavender & nutmeg, but I encourage you to try it. The rest of the ingredients can verge on boring, and depending on how lavish you feel about the butter, the dish can be quite rich. Nutmeg is complex and earthy but not overwhelming, and lavender is almost atringent, which balances the fat and cheese.

I've made this at least half a dozen times, and once I made it with about a cup each of sauteed broccoli and cauliflower in addition to the bread. If you want to try that version, brown an onion and some minced garlic along with the veggies. You'll also need to increase the amount of milk and eggs by about half. Just eyeball it, it'll be fine.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Granola Bars


I am a secret hippy. The smell of food co-ops makes me all nostalgic, because I hung around so many hippies when I was a kid. There is something about the type of utterly sincere yet completely dodgy presentation food co-ops have that feels very homey to me. I started thinking about it after I made these when I had a huge jones for granola bars last week. The toasty oatmeal and burnt raisin aroma kinda brought it back for me. Probably the sugar rush might have had something to do with the sudden feeling of well being too. These are not some dreary, self righteous wrestling match for your jaw and GI tract, they are cookies, by goll, and they are delicious. They are also good for breakfast, smushed into warm milk, with sliced bananas.

2 1/2 cups old fashioned oatmeal
1/2 cup raw sunflower seed kernels
1/2 cup toasted nuts
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped date bits
1/4 cup toasted flax seeds
1 T butter
1 t oil
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Put the oatmeal and the sunflower seeds on  a sheet pan and toast them at 350 for about half an hour. Stir them every few minutes, or they will burn. When you take them out, turn the oven down to 300.

Put the butter, oil, honey, sugar, vanilla and salt in a small sauce pan over medium heat and stir until the sugar has all dissolved. Mix all the ingredients together and press into an even layer in an oiled 9 x13" pan. Bake for half an hour. Let them get mostly cool before you cut them into bars.


1. The kind of nuts and seeds you use is really not important. Basically you have 2 and a half cups oatmeal to one cup fruit and one cup nuts and seeds. Mine have hazelnuts, because that's what I got. I did this with sesame seeds once before this post, and they were a tad bitter; flax seed is more popcorny.
2. It's important to get the ingredients toasted. They taste better.
3. These get sticky mighty fast. Keep them in an airtight container or wrap them individually.
4. They are really sticky before they are cooked too. Use one of those silicone spatulas to press the mix into the pan or it will get all over your hands. Press them down again as soon as they come out of the oven too, since they will poof up a bit as they bake.

Monday, April 16, 2012

What makes it stir-fry, anyway?


A few things.

1. Temperature. Hot. Like oh wow aggravate my anxiety disorder hot stove hotsie hot.
2. The order things go in the pan. Think about what you're cooking. Does it take a while to be done, or do you just need to show it to the frying pan before you eat it?
3. Keep it simple already!

I have sat around watching my co-workers at the staff cafeteria swilling that revolting pap they call 'stir-fry bar' once too often. A morass of leathery meat bits, celery, onion chunks, mushrooms, carrots, cabbage, baby corn, pea pods, and bean sprouts weltering in a steam tray accompanied by uncle ben's minute rice and four basins of liquid which differ in color and viscosity if not in flavor is NOT STIR FRY. If it was ever stirred, I can't attest to it, and it sure as hell was never fried. I don't give a crap if it isn't authentic, but for chrissakes, that isn't even food.

Take a look at my dinner. Tofu and baby bok choi stir fry. 2 ingredients. That's it. I do distinguish between seasonings and ingredients. Ingredients are what you make the food out of. You make a stir fry because you have one or two good ingredients and you want to know what they taste like together. Ingredients are what you've got that's worth eating a meal of. Seasonings are what you use to spruce things up a bit, that's all. Seasonings are the little whatevers you put with your ingredients that make you go 'Oh, hey, tofu is good. I could really fancy me some stir fried tofu for dinner. Seasonings are not for covering things up with, and ingredients are not made better by throwing a lot of them into a kludge and reaching for the viscous brown/yellow/orange stuff.

Ingredients: half pound each of tofu and baby bok choi
Seasonings: oil,onion, ginger, salt, pepper, sesame oil and soy sauce.

You don't need a wok. I hate those pseudo-woks with flat spots on the bottom anyway, but that's a whole different set of problems.

Use a fairly large, heavy, frying pan. No non-stick pans!  I use cast iron.  Put 2 or 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in the pan, along with just a dash of sesame oil for flavor. Turn the burner on to medium high and when the oil shimmies in the pan a bit, salt the pan and set about a half pound of tofu cubes in it. Ignore it while you mince a teaspoon of fresh ginger and cut half an onion into very thin slices. Chop up the baby bok choi a bit too.

By that time, your tofu should have developed a nice brown on the bottom. If it hasn't, the burner isn't hot enough. Turn it up a little. When the tofu has browned on one side, flip it over and shove the chunks over to one side of the pan. Add a little more oil if necessary, then put in the onions and ginger. Stir the seasonings around a few times until the ginger looks a bit brown but not burnt.

Add the greens, stir everything up and then sorta poke the greens down into the pan. Stir and poke for about a minute, and add a tablespoon or two of water if the greens are too dry. Add a few shakes of pepper and a splash of soy sauce. It's done when the dark green parts are wilty and the light green parts are just going transparent around the edges.

There's fried rice in the picture. Fried rice is a kind of stir fry, folks, so apply what you just learned.

Ingredients: Stale cooked rice, an egg.
Seasonings: garlic, salt, black bean sauce, oil

Hot up your pan with some oil and salt. Crush in the garlic to brown it for a second, then stir in 2 cups of rice and a tablespoon of bean sauce. Cover the rice for a minute, until it is hot through and developing crusty places, then crack in the egg. Stir until the egg is cooked.

I think I've only made one post about stir-fry before because it just doesn't seem very complicated to me, you know? It's really just pan-grilling a few things, and throwing some marinade stuff in the pan with it like a lazy-ass. Stir fry was what there was to eat in my house when I was a kid on the nights when there wasn't soup. It wasn't exciting by any means, but I do remember thinking that mostly it was pretty good. So then I grow up, and there is the staff cafeteria, and it just irks me to see people eat such nasty stuff, thinking that it has anything at all to do with stir fry.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Falafel update


The first time I made falafel, I stuck to the traditional fried version. It was delicious. But deep frying is messy, and it is an amazingly inefficient way to use oil. This time I baked them, and I also remembered to take pictures.

Baked Falafel

Use the ingredient list from the original falafel recipe. Assemble the  ingredients as per the original recipe too, up until the cooking part. Then,

1. pre-heat the oven to 450
2. add 1/3 cup oil to the falafel mix and combine well
3. drop 2" blobs of mix onto an oiled cookie sheet
4. bake for 30  minutes.

They taste remarkable similar to the fried ones, but there is a tendency for them to be a little dry. I have some ideas about how to fix that, to wit:

1. Soak the beans longer. I got impatient, so these were under water for only about 12 hours. 24 to 36 hours might be better.
2. Leave a little more water in the mix, duh. Bean starches need a deal of moisture to cook nicely.
3. Make sure the blobs are big enough. If they're too small, they'll dehydrate.
4. I might make these in a mini muffin pan next time. Less surface area exposed to air, for one thing, and for another, if I make a moister batter, the muffin tins would help the bits keep their shape.

Really, this is a very nice way to avoid having a bucket of semi-used oil and a slick of grease on everything in your house. Moreover, its far less work. No standing around hovering over your fritters, just plunk them in the oven and set a timer. I think with some tweaking, this recipe could be improved enough that it would be comparable to the original. If I make it again, I'll tell you how it goes.