Monday, April 30, 2012

Two Things Involving Immersion Blenders

I love my immersion blender.  I remember not quite knowing what it was, or why people seemed to whip it out and immerse, without fear, into whatever-it-was that needed pulverizing.  But now that I have one, everything has changed.  I use it for black beans, for hot chocolate, and, now, for spinach soup and Vietnamese iced coffee ice cream.

One of those sounds slightly fancier than the other, but fear not!  The spinach soup has the added benefit of a parmesan custard from which you shave off cheesy, eggy curls that transform the spoonful of soup into something special.  Something delightful.  Something that makes you want to add a second custard to the bowl because they're really not that big and the first one is mostly gone...

I digress.  But since I'm already on the topic of soup, I'll start with that.  It is a simple recipe, one to use if you have an overload of spinach and a potato lying around.  (This is rare for me, actually.  Not the spinach - the potato.  I have a difficult time purchasing white vegetables.  If you have ever read Bunnicula, you'll know why.)  To be honest, it is more of an outline than a recipe and flexible enough to include the old head of broccoli that's been staring at you for the last week.

Spring Spinach-Potato Soup:

2 Tbl olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped small
2 small potatoes (I used yellow wax), cut into thick (2mm) slices (really, you just want them chopped so that they don't take too long to cook)
10 loose cups of fresh spinach (loose like you dumped them in the bowl loose)
3 cups of vegetable stock (I used this recipe)
other green vegetable odds and ends (broccoli, kale...)
salt and coarsely ground pepper to taste

3 parmesan custards (or half of this recipe)

Heat the olive oil in a large-ish soup pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute until it starts to become translucent and begins to brown.  Add the potatoes, and continue to saute until the potatoes are cooked.  Stir frequently.

Add the stock (my stock is inherently very salty, so I didn't add much extra salt.  Salt at your discretion).  Once the stock begins to boil (you can accelerate this process by heating the stock in a pan before adding it), add the spinach (in parts, if necessary), and simmer until the spinach has wilted.  Blend the soup (if you use a blender, don't do too much at a time, and definitely use the lid.  Then, go out and buy an immersion blender.).  If the consistency is to your liking, excellent.  If not, feel free to add more stock until it's how you like it.  Cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  I like a lot of pepper (say 2 teaspoons or so), but you're free to adjust.

Prepare the bowls:
Warm your bowls.  (Please warm them.  It is so much nicer.)  Unmold a parmesan custard, and put it in the center of your bowl.  Pour soup around the custard.

Serve with a crusty bread.  And parmesan cheese, if you are like me and can't get enough of it.


Now, for your dessert.  This mix is intended for ice cream, but I think it would be perfect just to sip (provided you enjoy Vietnamese iced coffee), possibly with a few coffee ice cubes.

Vietnamese iced coffee ice cream:
From David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop
1.5 cups sweetened condensed milk
1.5 cups espresso or very strongly brewed coffee
.5 cup half-and-half
pinch of ground coffee

Mix all ingredients together (the condensed milk is thick, so I used the immersion blender), then chill thoroughly.  Freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions.

Bam!  Delicious, delicious ice cream.  Very good for ice cream sandwiches.

Note: if you want to infuse the coffee with some extra flavors (I used mint and cardamom), heat the half-and-half in a small sauce pan.  Remove from heat, and add the freshly-brewed hot (hot!) espresso, and then add your spices.  In my case, I added 2 cups of loosely packed fresh mint leaves, and 4 green cardamom pods.  Put the lid on the sauce pan and let sit undisturbed for an hour or so.  Strain out the spices/herbs, add the condensed milk and the ground coffee, and proceed as before with chilling.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lessons from Lothlorien

I'm not sure if I gave the right impression in my last post.  About my family and food, that is.  Food was, and continues to be, very important in my family: most family parties center around food and the preparation of a meal.  My parents (and their spouses/significant others) are really excellent cooks, and care a great deal about eating well - in terms of both ingredients and nutrition.

We had a breakfast schedule growing up.  (Mondays and Fridays: oatmeal; Tuesdays and Thursdays: eggs; Wednesdays: cream of wheat).  And we would all sit down together.  It was fabulous; even now it is difficult for me to eat eggs on a Monday.

Food was important, and an important ritual for us.  But I think I learned to love food, and appreciate it for itself, for an art, for a sensual experience, when I moved into Lothlorien Co-op, in Berkeley.  At Loth, I learned to be much more aware of what and how I ate; I was already vegetarian, but I started to think about where my food came from, who produced it, and how it was grown or made.  Loth made you think about the politics of your food (in that semi-self-righteous way in which co-ops are well-practiced).  Which is good, for the most part.

Equally important, though, was the way Loth took sensual pleasure in food.   We had parties just to celebrate making outrageously delicious food, and, of course, eating it.  There is joy in food, and I think it is important to be able to feel that joy.  More lessons from Lothlorien will happen later, I am sure.

I think Berkeley, the city, shares much of this, particularly in places like the Gourmet Ghetto.  I took my gentleman to the Chez Panisse Cafe recently, in celebration of his postdoctoral position.  It was a rare and wonderful treat (read: never before), and for dessert, we had a Meyer Lemon and Pink Lady Galette.  Chez Panisse's came with a scoop of the finest vanilla ice cream (on par with Ici) - I had no opportunity to make ice cream, but if you do, go for it.  I've rambled enough - what follows is my attempt to recreate the recipe.  May you always take joy in your meals.

1 recipe Galette Dough (recipe follows)
Meyer Lemon curd (I used David Lebovitz's recipe)
2 Pink Lady apples
lemon water (4 cups water to a tablespoon of lemon juice)
coarse sugar (such as turbinado)

To Assemble:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F, and place an oven rack in the lower third of the oven.
  2. Prepare the apples:
    1. Wash the apples, cut into quarters, and remove the core.
    2. Slice the apples thinly (about a millimeter thick).
    3. Dip the apple slices into lemon water (it keeps them from browning) and set aside.
  3. Line a wide baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. Roll the galette dough out to a 13- or 14-inch circle - try to keep the edges from getting too jaggedy.
  5. Transfer the dough to the sheet pan (it may hang over the edge a little - this is fine for now).
  6. Spread 1/3-1/2 cup of the lemon curd onto the dough, leaving a 1.5- to 2-inch border (the curd should cover the dough - no see-through spots - but how much beyond that is up to you.  If you love lemon curd, feel free to add a little extra.).
  7. Starting from the outside edge of the lemon curd, place apple slices in a spiral to the center.  A slice should overlap the slice that came before it, and the slices in the previous row.
  8. Fold the outer edge of the galette dough over the apples, pleating the dough as necessary.
  9. Brush the overlapping edge with water, and sprinkle coarse sugar over the crust and apples.
  10. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown, and feels crisp.
  11. Cool on a rack.  Serve, if at all possible, with a scoop of delicious vanilla ice cream.

Galette Dough:
From Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson

1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 Tbl granulated sugar
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
3/4 cup (6 ounces) cold unsalted butter
3 Tbl ice water (or more as needed - I needed more)
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice


  1. Whisk flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl, then put the bowl in the freezer for about 10 minutes (until cold).
  2. Cut the butter into 1/4-inch cubes, then add to the flour mixture and cut in with a pastry cutter (my instrument of choice), two forks, or your fingers, just until the mixture is coarse and crumbly and the chunks of butter are slightly smaller than peas.
  3. Mix the water and lemon juice, then drizzle over the flour-butter mixture.  Toss with a fork to distribute the liquid.  The pastry should hold together if you squeeze it.  If not, add more water.
  4. Lightly flour a work surface, and dump the dough onto it.  Gather the dough and knead it just a few times (like, three) until it sticks together.  Handle it as little as possible, and if it is getting too warm, put it in the freezer for a few minutes.
  5. Flatten the dough into a disk about 1 inch thick.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour (it will keep for up to three days if well-wrapped).  You can also freeze the dough at this point (up to three months) - I usually put the dough in an extra layer of plastic, however - and defrost it overnight in the fridge.

Monday, April 16, 2012

This should be in your freezer.

When I was growing up, my mother would work late every Friday night.  She's an academic (both of my parents are - I used to believe that having a Ph.D. in chemistry was a prerequisite to being an adult), so the time she took off during the week to spend time with us was made up for on Friday evening.  My dad, brother, and I took the opportunity to cook things we were sure would never make it onto her dinner plate - a particular treat we called "Little Treasures": a mound of pasta, parmesan, broccoli, and bacon.  Not that these dinners were not without educational content; one Friday we learned first-hand about the adverse effects of hot fat in cheap yogurt containers and on linoleum floors.

My mother, as far as I could tell, ate burritos every Friday.  I have lived with a variety of Texans, New Mexicans, and further-South-than-thou Californians, and they all tell me that my family does not eat a proper burrito.  Our burritos - really, my mother's burritos - consist of a tortilla, cheese, salsa, mounds of lettuce, tomatoes, avocados for some, anything else that might be delicious and lying around the fridge (roasted squash, cilantro...), and, of course, beans.

Black beans.  Mounds of them.  Glorious and unphotogenic, we eat these beans in our burritos, from a bowl, straight out of the pot.  We keep a large supply at all times in the freezer (they freeze particularly well - put them into the half-size yogurt containers and you have a perfect, easy (easy!) dinner), and since my supply was getting low (in fact, nonexistent) I spent Saturday morning rectifying the situation.

This is an easy recipe.  Originally adapted by my mother from the Moosewood Cookbook, it'll take several hours overall, but not much of that is active.  You don't even need to soak the beans.  It is also rather flexible - no celery lying around?  Eh, you can skip it.  (Really, what else does a person use celery for but stock and, apparently, this?  I have most of the head left over.)  One thing to note: like spaghetti sauce, these beans taste better the next day.  It is still good the day of, but if you wait a day, the flavors meld together and deepen.

Brazilian Black Beans
Adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook

2 cups of dry black beans (1 lb)
4 cups of water

In a large soup pot, bring the beans and water to a boil, and simmer for a couple hours until soft.  If you want to split the cooking up, you can let the beans cool, then refrigerate over night.
Drain the water, rinse the beans and then drain the beans again.  Add just enough water to cover the beans (or slightly less), and 2 tsp salt (or less).  Bring the beans to a boil, and let simmer.

Group A
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves crushed garlic
1 large chopped carrot (optional)
1 stalk chopped celery (optional)
1 cup chopped green pepper (optional)
1 tsp coriander (or more)
1 ½ tsp ground cumin (or more)
Olive oil for cooking (about 2 Tbsp)

Group B
½ cup orange juice
1 Tbs dry sherry (I usually get the Sheffield Very Dry Sherry with a screw top (it’s in the wine
section). It keeps for several months at room temperature or you can refrigerate it.)
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp red pepper (cayenne)
½ tsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup salsa (or more, chunky medium)

1 can (7 oz) mild green chiles
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

While the beans are heating up, saute Group A, beginning with the onions and garlic.  When the onions are translucent, add the carrots, celery, and pepper.  When the vegetables are close to done, add the spices and saute until the vegetables are cooked.  (To save time, you can skip the carrots, celery, and pepper, but I think they're delicious.)

In the meantime, add Group B to the beans. Stir and continue to simmer the beans.

Add Group A to the beans.  Now, break out your immersion blender and blend until you have your desired consistency.  (I generally blend until smooth.  You can also remove a cup or so of beans, puree the rest, then add the whole beans back in, for a varied texture.)  If you do not have this most useful of kitchen appliances, you can also use a blender.  Only fill the blender 1/3 full or so, and make sure you put the lid on to avoid splattering beans everywhere.


A few notes:
-I usually double the recipe, but remember, this makes a lot of beans (which will freeze beautifully, but you should plan for it).
-I'm sure you could start from canned beans, but I've never done this (since I make the recipe in such large quantities, it is cheaper to buy dry black beans).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


I hear that when you show a house, your secret weapon is a batch of cookies straight from the oven.  Allow me to introduce the Owl House.

Allow me to introduce cookies - fresh, hot, straight from my oven to yours: Chocolate chip-oatmeal cookies.

Apparently, these once came from the Frog Commissary Cookbook - I came across them on Baking Bites several years ago, and have never needed another recipe.  Be warned: these things can, and will, be eaten with the speed and carelessness of a bowl of popcorn.  Be further warned: this recipe makes a lot of cookies.  Unless I am making them for a crowd, I cut the recipe in half (and it halves very neatly).

Also, these are truly chocolate chip-oatmeal cookies.  A person might be tempted to use raisins (though, according to the Brewmaster, no one ever looks at dark spots in a cookie and hopes they are raisins), but the large amounts of vanilla complement the chocolate perfectly, but the raisins are overwhelmed, and don't work with the vanilla to give you a cohesive whole.  There are plenty of oatmeal raisin cookie recipes out there - this is not one of them.

Without further ado, I give you:

Chocolate Chip-Oatmeal Cookies
(from The Frog Commissary Cookbook via Baking Bites)

1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups oats (rolled or quick, but not instant)
2 cups chocolate chips (I use Ghiradelli semisweet)

Preheat the oven to 350F, and line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper.
Cream the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy and light brown in color (seriously, see it through to the end.  You will notice.).  Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each.  Mix in milk and vanilla.
Whisk together the flour, baking soda and powder, and the salt in a bowl.  Add to butter mixture, and mix until combined.  Mix in the oats and the chocolate chips.
Bake 10-13 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees half-way through, until the cookies are golden brown around the edges and a lighter golden in the center.  Allow to cool 1-2 minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring to a cooling rack.


  • You can chill the dough (for, say, half an hour) before baking to get a puffier cookie.
  • Pecans or walnuts would probably be delicious.
  • Feel free to play with baking times - for a chewier cookie, bake until the center is still light.  For crunchier cookies, let the center become amber.

Some Questions:
Since this is a learning blog, and maybe if I write this down I will be more obligated to really nail down the answers, here are some questions I have:

  1. Mixing cold butter by hand is surely a Terrible Fate.  But the stand mixer is unstoppable, and adds heat.  Does it matter if I start with cold butter, so long as I mix until it looks right?
  2. I usually mix in the oats with the flour bowl.  Is there a reason to wait?