Monday, October 29, 2012

A Love Affair with Leftovers

I know many folks who turn up their noses at leftovers, but I embrace them. If I enjoyed eating something once, I usually enjoy it a second or third time. Still, I sometimes change the appearance of an ingredient after a few meals.

In summer, almost any leftover might show up in a salad of some sort. In winter, those same ingredients often show up in a quiche or in soup. The quiche shown here, for instance, contains two large mushrooms, one leftover leek, a handful of fresh spinach, and a small end piece of gruyere cheese. I chopped and sauteed the mushroom and leek briefly, and then used the same pan to wilt the spinach. Next, I layered those foods in the pie shell and poured over the custard. (I have also made quiche using broccoli, asparagus, green beans, onions, tomatoes, chicken, ham, or a host of other ingredients.)

The rule of thumb for most quiches is simple: place bite-sized or shredded meat, cheese, or veggies in an unbaked pie shell. Then make a custard using 4 eggs, 1 1/4 cups milk (or half-and-half, if you like it), and salt and pepper. Pour the custard over the other foods and bake in a preheated 350 oven for just under an hour. The center may still be runny, but the edges should be cooked. Let stand for 15 minutes or so.

Despite Bruce Feirstein's book, real men do eat quiche, and most enjoy it. So do women. Furthermore, most people do not think of this dish as being created from "leftovers." Therein lies half its charm.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cauliflower: Unfairly Maligned

For some reason, cauliflower gets little respect from people. (The exception being a bunch of true cauliflower fans in Margaretville, NY.) Perhaps they ate it only after it was steamed too long and then plopped onto a plate, anemic-looking and sweating profusely. Whatever the reason, it's time to take a second look.

Cauliflower, which Mark Twain once described as "nothing but cabbage with a college education," really is  related to cabbage, as well as to broccoli, brussel sprouts, and other healthful foods. It's relatively bland and is the perfect vehicle for other flavors, including cheese and garlic. It's tasty both raw and cooked, which is why it so often appears on platter of veggies and dip. Furthermore, it's loaded with nutrients and low on calories.

The simplest way to cook cauliflower is to break it into pieces and just to toss it in a bowl with a TBSP of olive oil, 2-3 minced cloves of garlic, salt and pepper, and the juice of a lemon. Then place on a baking sheet and roast it in a hot oven for about 30 minutes. Pour it into a bowl and sprinkle liberally with parmesan cheese.

I'll return to cauliflower in later posts, because it's good in a variety of ways, including soups, salads, and curries. In the meantime, I just wanted to put in a good word for this underrated food.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ready for Anything

Ready for its topping
I don't think I've ever eaten a baked potato in summer. It just seems wrong. However, when the weather grows colder, twice-baked potatoes are a staple in my house. I can enjoy them at breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Usually, I make a whole bunch at one time, since they take over an hour to prepare. I use russets and begin by baking them in a 400 oven for just over an hour. While they are baking, I sprinkle some dried onion flakes into a small glass of milk--perhaps a quarter of a teaspoon of flakes to 1/4 cup of milk. When the potatoes are done, I cut them in half the long way and scoop out the centers, being careful to preserve the skins.

I put the flesh into a big bowl and throw in some sharp grated cheddar. After a few minutes, when the cheese has softened, I mash everything together with a fork, adding the milk after I've broken up the big lumps. Usually, I keep adding milk, since the potatoes absorb it. I end up with a texture a bit like soft-serve ice cream. At this point, I add salt and pepper.

I refill the potato skins and sprinkle them with a bit more grated cheddar. Then I put them on a baking sheet and cook for about 20 minutes more, until the tops are browned slightly. Now they are ready to eat or cool down for freezing. These freeze remarkably well. I usually freeze them on the baking sheet until they're firm; then I toss them into a plastic bag.

If I'm eating these for breakfast, I usually add a dollop of cottage cheese. If I'm eating them for lunch or dinner, I usually top them with steamed spinach, broccoli, creamed chicken, chili, spaghetti sauce, or almost anything else that I have left over. Twice-baked potatoes plus a topping make satisfying and filling meals.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

'Tis the Season....

I always find it hard to give up summer's fresh fruits and vegetables. That is, I find it hard until I am reminded of all those cold-weather foods that I love and have not enjoyed for months. Hot soups, panini sandwiches, and roast chicken are a few of the fall/winter foods I seldom eat in warm weather.

Another is homemade candy. First of all, candy doesn't cook correctly on a humid day, so I don't even try to make it in the summer. But in fall, it's a quick and easy treat to make, mainly to share with others. It's a great dish to bring to a potluck, because for some reason many people never make candy. Some may have had past failures trying to determine exactly what the soft-ball stage is, while others may fear they will eat the whole batch.

My favorite candy (maybe because it has so few ingredients) is butter toffee, which I make with a chocolate coating. I usually have the ingredients on hand, and I can make it in less than half an hour and eat or serve it a few hours later. One trick with candy-making is to watch it like a hawk. It can quickly go from raw to burnt. When you test it, remove the pan from the heat while you do so. This way, if it has reached the correct temperature, it doesn't overcook while you're testing it.

Here's the recipe I use:
   • 1/2 lb. butter
   • 1 1/2 c. sugar
   • 1 c. blanched almonds or use half blanched and half with skins
   • 1/2 lg. bag semisweet chocolate chips

Chop 1/3  nuts finely. Put them, the butter and sugar into a large pan. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until the almonds turn brown and the mixture forms a hard ball in cold water. Immediately pour onto a large, flat cookie sheet or baking pan. Let cool slightly. Then sprinkle with chocolate chips. Let them melt, and smear them around. Chop the rest of the nuts fine and sprinkle over warm chocolate. Press in lightly. Let cool thoroughly. I refrigerate mine for about an hour. Break into irregular pieces and store in airtight container. It keeps for quite a while that way.

I've made this with sweet chocolate, with peanut butter chips, and even with white chocolate, but the semisweet is my favorite. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Joys of the Season: Clementines

Clementines are easy to peel and easy to eat

I hate to see the end of summer and the disappearance of all the fresh summer vegetables. However, that disappointment is quickly forgotten after I taste my first  clementine of the season. These little citrus fruits, relatives of the mandarin orange, are relatively new to this country. They really became popular only in the late 90's, after bad weather ruined a lot of the Florida citrus crop. Their origin is unclear, with both Algeria and China claiming credit for the fruit, but their popularity is growing.

This week, I bought a few clementines from Peru, and they were delicious. All are a bit larger than I'm used to, but the ones I tasted were both sweet and incredibly juicy. What makes clementines such favorites is that the skin zips off effortlessly, and the fruit is usually seedless, which makes eating and clean-up simple. Low in calories and high in Vitamin C, they are downright virtuous food.

The clementine season usually lasts well into January and often February, so you have plenty of time to stock up on these little gems. Today, they come from all over the world, including South America, California, and Spain. Choose fruits that feel heavy for their size and that have shiny, unblemished skins. Even though I live alone, I usually buy them by the boxful. I keep a handful at room temperature and store the rest in the refrigerator. They are the perfect antidote to grey skies and dry air.