Saturday, October 31, 2009

Onion-Free Cooking

My sister called the other night, complaining that so many of my recipes, especially the soups, start by sautéing onions in olive oil. I should be sympathetic. She, my mother, and I share a list of food allergies including onions, tomatoes, chocolate, etc. Each of us reacts differently or more or less severely to our allergens but my sister reacts most to members of the allium family (onions, garlic, etc.)

So, this is the first posting with information about onion-free cooking. First, a replacement for the first step in so many recipes, the sautéing of onions.

Suggestion #1: substitute sautéed carrots and celery (or parsnips and celery for a light-colored recipe)

The French start many classic recipes with a mirepoix. A mirepoix is minced and sautéed onions, carrots, and celery. Some cuisines use variations of this. For example, the "Holy Trinity" of Louisiana cooking is like a mirepoix except that the carrots are replaced by bell peppers.

As Julia Child said in her The Way to Cook (Knopf, 1994), “The mirepoix is one of fine cooking’s great inspirations, an all-purpose flavor enhancer made of finely diced and sautéed carrots and onions,and often celery and ham. Used in sauces, with braised vegetables like celery, or with chicken breasts poached in butter, it imparts that real ‘je ne sais quoi’ of sophistication to anything it is associated with. You may want to triple or quadruple the recipe,since a mirepoix keeps nicely in the freezer.”

Oh, bless Saint Julia! It hadn't occurred to me that I could pre-make the base sautéed vegetables for a recipe and save valuable weekday evening time!! Gotta try that.

Meanwhile, back to onion-free cooking. Since a mirepoix is adjusted for different recipes, why not substitute the other two members of the mixture if you must avoid the onions. You are not trying to make fake onion flavor rather you are using slightly carmelized carrots and celery to perform a similar task. If you want to preserve the whiter color for your recipe, replace the carrots with parsnips.

Suggestion #2: Use parsley by the bunch

Both flat-leafed parsley and curly parsley can add flavor to recipes when used in bulk. Like many green vegetables, their flavors mellow with cooking. So, if you are making an onion-free soup, put a finely chopped whole bunch (minus the thicker stems) of parsley in it.

Flat-leafed and curly parsley have two very different flavors. Flat-leafed parsley is the milder of the two and is a staple of Italian cooking.

A lot of grocery stores shelve the two parsleys with the cilantro so be careful to know which you are buying. Cilantro can also add a wonderful flavor but it is very different from either parsley. If your grocery story is bad about labeling, just sniff the bunch. If it's cilantro you will know it by its pungent aroma.

Cilantro is also known as coriander leaves, or Chinese parsley. It is used in many cuisines and provides the aromatic flavor in a good restaurant salsa.

The next batch of soup I make will be without onions to provide "proof of concept." There's a head of cauliflower in the fridge needed to be roasted for soup.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Oven Flank Steak without Marinating

Flank steak is really tasty. Of course, often it's because of the marinade. I've been wondering what a plain flank steak would be like and decided to make as plain and easy a flank steak as possible. Just salt and pepper and a hot oven. That's it.

I already had the oven at 450°F for a loaf of bread. During the last 20 minutes of the bread cooking I threw in the iron grill pan to heat it up. When the bread came out, I cooked the steak.

  • 1 flank steak
  • Enough olive oil to lightly coat the pan
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Salt and pepper both sides of a flank steak and let it come to room temperature.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450°, placing an iron grill pan in the oven to preheat as well. If you do not have a grill pan, use a broiling pan with a rack.
  3. Lightly oil the hot pan with a brush.
  4. Cook the steak for 5 minutes on each side (total 10 minutes).
  5. Remove the steak from the pan, tent with foil, and rest an additional 10 minutes.
  6. Slice thinly across the grain.
This results in a medium rare steak that tastes of beef. Beef. Plain beef. A nice treat. We had it in sandwiches on the freshly baked and still warm bread. It was white bread with some dill in it.

We now have half a flank steak left over that is not already flavored with a marinade. This means some of it can become fajitas while the rest becomes Chinese stir-fry. No pre-set flavors to worry about. We could be really bad and make sandwiches of slices fried in butter. No, no, that would be really bad. Steak and eggs for breakfast? Hmmm. So many possibilities.

Potato Leek Soup, Vegan Style, Garnished with Roasted Red Peppers

A couple of friend were over here today, he's a vegetarian and she's a true vegan. So, vegan soup was on the lunch menu. This potato leek soup was nice and creamy despite its no-animal-products condition. It takes about 1/2 hour total to make this soup.

  • 4 well-scrubbed, thin skinned potatoes
  • 4 cups vegetable broth (I used 1 container of Swanson's veggie broth but you could use homemade stock or veggie bouillon.)
  • 3 large leeks, white parts only
  • 2 Tbl. olive oil
  • several sprigs curly parsley
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • salt
  • pepper (I used Alessi lemon pepper)
  • roasted red peppers to garnish
  1. Cube the potatoes and put in a large soup pot
  2. Cover the potatoes with the broth and boil until the potatoes are soft
  3. Cut the ends off the leeks, slice in half lengthwise and then slice into 1/2-3/4 inch slices. Wash thoroughly.
  4. Sauté the leeks in the olive oil until soft.
  5. Add the leeks to the potatoes & broth
  6. Using an immersion blender (or in a blender or food processor) whir until smooth
  7. Finely mince the parsley and the garlic and add to the soup
  8. Simmer slowly until the garlic loses it's raw bite
  9. Serve hot or cool.
  10. Garnish with a spoonful of coursely chopped roasted red peppers

Friday, October 23, 2009

Roasted Red Peppers on Homemade Bread: Easy You Say?

Yup, I do say easy. We haven't bought bread since I found the wildly popular no-knead bread formula and with locally grown red peppers so cheap in the grocery store it'd be a crime not to roast them.

So, in the picture is my bag of a dozen roasted red peppers and some fresh oat bread. We've ordered oat flour and other goodies from Barry Farm Foods in Ohio. Hubby Bill first discovered them when looking for rye flakes and wheat flakes as alternatives to oatmeal.

I've been alternating oat bread with rye bread using their flours. The special flours seem expensive until you compare the price to buying bread in the grocery.

The basic formula I use for the bread is:
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 2 cups oat flour, rye flour, or whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats, rye flakes, or wheat flakes
  • 2 Tbl. brown sugar or molasses
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 envelope of rapid rise yeast
  • Optionally, add a flavoring like caraway seeds to the rye, sunflower seeds to the whole wheat, etc.
  • 2 1/4 cups water
  1. Mix the dry ingredients (including sugar if using) in a large bowl
  2. Stir in the water (with the molasses stirred into it if using)
  3. Cover and let rise approximately 8 hours, give or take a few hours
  4. Stir down, cover and let rise again for 2 hours, give or take an hour
  5. 30 minutes before you plan to cook the bread, preheat a covered pot for baking the bread in a 450°F oven.
  6. Lightly oil the hot pot and flop the batter into it.
  7. Bake 30 minutes, covered, at 450°F
  8. Remove the cover, lower the oven temperature to 440°F and bake an additional 20 minutes.
  9. Remove the bread from the pot and cool on a rack.
Voilà! Bread.

For the roasted red peppers:
  1. Preheat the oven broiler to high and move a rack to the top-most position. Keep the oven door ajar to make the broiler element stay on.
  2. Halve and remove the seeds and white membranes from the peppers.
  3. Place, open side down on a foil lined cookie sheet and flatten with the palm of your hand.
  4. Broil the peppers 10-16 minutes until the skins are black. Don't panic. You indeed do want almost all of the skin to be black and brittle.
  5. Remove from the oven and let the peppers steam in their own heat by bunching the foil.
  6. When cool enough to handle, slough the skins off the peppers.
Voilà! Roasted red peppers.

See? Easy peasy. The bread measurements and rising times need not be precise. The peppers will look ugly when they come out of the oven. They are supposed to. You can't lose.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Peeling and seeding a butternut squash is a lot easier after it's been roasted. And just as roasted cauliflower makes a wonderful soup, roasted butternut squash is a great base for soup.

  1. To roast a butternut squash, leave it whole but poke a few holes in the skin with a fork. Put it in a shallow pan and roast at 400°F for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until the squash is very soft. When the squash has cooled, remove the stem, skin, seeds and "strings."
  2. In a soup pot, sauté a chopped onion and minced garlic in olive oil until translucent.
  3. Add the roasted squash and cover with fat-free chicken broth.
  4. Use an immersion blender to purée the mixture.
  5. Optionally add a can of fat-free evaporated milk.
  6. Add ground or rubbed sage, salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Heat through.
So warm and creamy you just want to float away in a pool of it and yet, except for the olive oil, fat free.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Faux Cassoulet: Quick & Low Fat White Beans & Sausage

A real cassoulet is made rich with duck confit. Made by salting duck leg meat and then submerging it in duck fat, confit is one of those things I read about, nod, and then decide is never going to happen in my kitchen!

A low-fat, quick faux cassoulet is a good supper for a cold and rainy night. It's also a one-pot meal.

  • 2-3 Tbl. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 heart of celery, sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 6-8 oz. fat-free turkey kielbasa, sliced
  • 1 can white beans
  • 2-3 Tbl. sun-dried tomato pesto or tapenade
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  1. In a large saucepan, sauté the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic in the olive oil until the onions are translucent
  2. Add the parsley, kielbasa, white beans, pesto or tapenade, and wine
  3. Simmer slowly for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.
And, yes, that's all there is to it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Roasted Cauliflower Soup for a Rainy Evening

Roasting vegetables really brings a depth of taste to them. Roasting cauliflower before making soup results in a deep, rich taste to the soup that can't be beat.

You can roast the cauliflower ahead of time while cooking other things in the oven and save it in the fridge for several days, making the soup when you are ready for it. I have not tried freezing the roasted cauliflower but that might work as well.

To roast the cauliflower:
  1. Cut a cauliflower into flowerettes, discarding the leaves and the toughest part of the central stem.
  2. Toss the cauliflower in olive oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Roast until brown around the edges.
Note: I didn't list a time or a temperature. That's because you can roast the cauliflower while you are cooking other things. For example, I roasted it the other night while cooking a sirloin tip roast, some potatoes, and mushrooms. The cauliflower was in the oven at 375°F for about three-quarters of an hour.

A higher or lower temperature, what else is in the oven, etc., will affect the time needed. This is not rocket science. You are going for slightly toasted but still moist cauliflower. It does smell like cabbage as it cooks so I am not sure I'd roast it while baking an angelfood cake. You wouldn't want the cake to smell like old socks!

To make the soup:
  1. In a soup pot, sauté minced shallot and garlic in olive oil.
  2. Add a peeled and cubed potato and the roasted cauliflower.
  3. Cover with chicken broth.
  4. Simmer until the potato is cooked.
  5. Purée until smooth.
  6. Optionally add a can of fat-free evaporated milk.
  7. Adjust the seasoning with salt and white pepper.
Using an immersion blender to mix in the evaporated milk results in a very thick and creamy soup. The roasting of the cauliflower adds a real depth of flavor. I'm going to have the leftovers right now.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Whole Grain No-Knead Bread for Sandwiches

Bill requested a bread more suited for a peanut butter sandwich to bring to work. No-knead bread with added grains and more yeast forced to cook in too small a pot resulted in a tall, dense, moist, whole-grain bread great for sandwiches or the toaster. The Queen of Hearts is there for scale.

  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbl. brown sugar
  • 2-4 Tbl. roasted unsalted sunflower seeds, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup rye flakes
  • 2 1/4 cups water (the rye flakes will soak up the extra water)
  • 1 envelope rapid-rise yeast
  • oil for greasing the pot

Procedure (basic no-knead bread method)
  1. Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Add water and stir to make a sticky dough.
  3. Cover and let sit 6-8 hours to rise.
  4. Stir down.
  5. Cover and let sit 2 hours for second rise.
  6. Thirty minutes before the second rise is finished, preheat a covered pot or casserole in a 450°F oven.
  7. When the second rise is finished, remove the hot pot and oil lightly to prevent the bread from sticking.
  8. Flop the bread into the hot pot, cover.
  9. Bake 30 minutes at 450°F.
  10. Uncover and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes until the interior of the bread reaches 210°F.
This recipe filled, some might say "overfilled" my 1970s Copco iron casserole. My intention was to force the no-knead bread into the shape I wanted for sandwiches. It worked fine. I did need to remember to grease the inside of the lid as well as the pot because the rising bread came right up to it but this forced the top of the loaf into a nice, flat shape, waiting for ham and cheese or PB&J.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What's a Daisy Ham? A Boneless Picnic.

Now, is that a strange post title or what?

Well, a bit of research finds "the etymology of daisy ham" in the Dictionary of American Regional English, findable via Google books.

It seems Daisy wasn't a brand name, although it was coined by an Armour employee after watching the boneless picnic ham rolls being made in Boston's Faneuil Hall. He thought a cross section of the roll looked like a daisy. I imagine this was because the ham was not ground but instead was simply boned and shaped into a roll.

In the 1970s, daisy hams were commonly in Southern New England grocery stores. They weighed about two to five pounds and were three to four inches in diameter. They were wrapped in a plastic tube. All you had to do to fix one was open up the plastic, dump the ham into a pot, cover it with water, and boil.

It was the perfect meat for my earliest entertaining. It was cheap. It was boiled, a culinary talent I had mastered at that point. It was boneless so you didn't need a good knife or carving skills to serve it.

Click here for how to cook a picnic ham AKA smoked Boston butt AKA shoulder ham.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Picnic Ham for a Connecticut Yankee in the South

Our local grocery stores are suddenly full of picnic hams! This Connecticut girl is thrilled! I grew up eating picnic hams. A New England boiled dinner of picnic ham, cabbage, potatoes, and carrots was the meal I made for my first "dinner party" in my tiny first apartment with the 6' x 3' kitchen!

A picnic ham is a pork shoulder, smoked to make it taste like ham. It may also be called a "daisy ham," but I remember that Daisy was the brand name of a boneless picnic ham roll available in the 1970s, though I haven't found confirmation of that memory yet.

So what did we do with picnic ham this week? We're getting multiple meals out of it. It may be a cheap piece of meat with a good deal of bone and fat to throw away, but it is inexpensive and flavorful and goes a long way.

  1. Rinse off the picnic ham to remove any residual bone "saw dust."
  2. Place in a covered roaster.
  3. Pour in water to about 1 inch deep.
  4. Cover and roast at 350°F for 25-30 minutes a pound.
That's all there is to it.

Meal #1: Freshly cut ham, warm from the oven, a frozen veggie.
Meal #2: Left over ham, nuked with red potatoes
Meat for meal #3: Awaiting its turn in the freezer
Meal #4 with enough left over for lunch: Pea soup

No Knead Bread Experiment #6: Bread Flour

Bread flour has more gluten than all purpose flour. Gluten is the elastic that gives bread toothiness. I like a slice of bread that you have to chew! So, I broke down and bought a bag of bread flour. I felt a little like I was disappointing an old friend.
You see, I had a dear departed friend who was a great bread baker. Julie told me firmly that there was no reason not to use all-purpose flour for bread. Her bread was wonderful. You know, some people just have a way with bread. But I never had her talent.
And besides, the whole idea behind no knead bread is its laziness. You don't need to knead. You don't need to have the loving touch for the dough of a bread baker like Julie. So, bread flour and time. A poor replacement for watching my late friend work the dough as she would spout off to me about what was up in library-land.
Back to the results: the bread flour resulted in a very chewy bread with a solid crust across it's top. It is darn good but I think it would have been further improved with a scissor-cut or two to shape the top and maybe a bit hotter oven. I think I've gone too far in my effort to avoid the slightly singed taste of my first loaf of no-knead bread. This last one could have used a bit more char.

But it's darned good bread!!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

No Knead Bread Experiment #3-5: Ways to Make it Not Work

Okay, like I often do, I leapt to the conclusion one could do anything to the no knead bread recipe and still get a great loaf of bread. Wrong. I got too enthusiastic adding stuff to the basic formula and have ended up with three less-than-satisfactory but informative results.

Experiment #3: Yogurt-Dill Attempt

With this experiment, I replaced about 1/3 cup of water with chopped-dill-in-a-tube and plain Greek-style yogurt. The dough did not rise as much as previously and the resulting loaf was heavy and a little gummy. Ugh. The taste was fine so I think this still deserves some experimentation. I think I went overboard with the yogurt.

Experiment #4: Olive-Garlic-Rosemary Attempt

You want to kill it? Try this method. Add finely chopped kalamata olives, minced garlic, and minced fresh rosemary to the basic mix. It looked great when I went to bed, rising nicely with the usual holey look. Next morning, it had turned into a batter. Not a dough, a batter.

I decided it wasn't really going to turn into a risen loaf of bread so spread it in a preheated lasagna-style pan with the intention of seeing if it could be turned into savory biscotti. After the first half hour of baking, I cut it with a pizza wheel into strips and tossed the strips back into the pan for the second baking. Passable biscotti resulted. Again, fine flavors but not real bread.

To correct this one, I think I will try what some recommend which is not adding things to the dough until after the long rise.

But the savory biscotti have definite potential! This deserves more exerimentation.

Experiment #5: Sweet Cinnamon Bread

To this recipe, I added about a tablespoon of brown sugar and about 3/4 tsp. cinnamon. It was okay but not great. It needed some whole wheat flour to improve its flavor.

I am also guessing that my recent attempts were affected by using a different flour brand, one light for biscuits without enough gluten for bread. The next grocery trip will bring home different white flour, some gluten powder, and something more flavorful like whole wheat flour, rye flour, etc.

Still-in-all, no-knead bread is so easy and so inexpensive that I see no reason to abandon it. We like good, chewy bread and in lieu of easy access to a great Italian bakery like one finds in Boston's North End, this will have to do.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Food History Time Sinks

I've been having fun lately reading such titles as The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken (Laura Schenone), Risotto with Nettles (Anna Del Conte), A Thousand Years over a Hot Stove (also Laura Schenone), and, of course, My Life in France (Julia Child). I'm on the look out for another good foodie memoir. Meanwhile, hubby found me this great web site and evil internet time sink! Hey, it's lifelong learning so it can't be all bad, right?

"The Food Timeline" is just that, a timeline of food events each linked to either a page about the topic with links or directly links to another great site. Not only is this a wonderful, wonderful site but the icing on the cake is that it is a librarian who made it! That makes this librarian feel all warm and fuzzy.

I cannot do better than to quote from her site:

"Who is Lynne Olver? A reference librarian with a passion for food history. She works at the Morris County Library, Whippany, NJ. Since March 1999, she's welcomed 15 million customers and answered 20,000 food history questions. Free. Why? Because public librarians are dedicated to connecting people with information.
[emphasis added] From elementary students seeking recipes for state reports to master chefs recreating historic menus."

So, take a chance to enjoy Lynne's labors and click to learn about the origins of italian sausage with a link to the
Istituto Valorizzazione Salumi Italiani's history page or be led to ...

Where was I? I was trying to choose another link to show you and got lost in the wealth of it all! That was quite a while ago ... Yup, a time sink but, oh, such a tasty, wonderful time sink! Go to and enjoy!

Imprecise & Inexpensive

Two themes predominate in my approach to cooking. 1. Daily cooking of flavorful food need not be a precise art. 2. You can be an adventurous cook on a budget. Cooking and eating should be fun for both cookers and eaters.