Archives for the month of: February, 2011

eat well & drink beerHappy Thursday all! Eat well & drink beer!

P.S. I’ve been working on some patterns which will soon be screen printed on tea towels and other goodies. Here’s a sneak peek. Be on the lookout!

eat pattern

Eat Pattern

Bread

I love it when I find a recipe that’s so simple that it almost makes itself. Soda bread is amazingly easy to make, before you know it…BAM!!  You have fresh bread! I baked a loaf of soda bread one evening while Andrew and I were making soup, and I had the dough made and in the oven before he could finish chopping the onions.

This recipe for soda bread come from Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen’s book The Urban Homestead. It’s an overall enjoyable read; the writers have a quirky sense of humor and keep you entertained while gettin’ ya some learnin’ about being self-reliant in the city.

soda bread ingredients, flour, baking soda, buttermilk, salt

Soda Bread

  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, plain yogurt, or other sour milk
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Mix in the buttermilk a little at the time, when large clumps begin to form, use your hands to gather the clumps into a large ball.
  4. If needed, add a little more buttermilk to get the dry clumps to come together. Try to get the clumps together as quickly as possible, the more you knead the dough the tougher and less fluffy it will be.
  5. Drop the dough ball onto a cookie sheet and flatten out to about 3 inches thick.
  6. Cut a deep X through the middle
  7. Bake it until it browns, about 35-40 minutes.

Easy peasy! I used yogurt instead of buttermilk and really enjoyed the slight tang it gave the bread. Soda bread is reminiscent of a big biscuit and was delicious with a little butter. It went perfectly with soup and the next morning I made french toast out of the leftovers. It was pretty darn tasty like that, too.  I usually find the prospect of baking bread pretty intimidating but this recipe is no nonsense and a perfect beginner’s bread.

ricotta ingredients

Last night, I made cheese. Whole milk ricotta cheese… and damned if it wasn’t easy! I had a half gallon of whole milk that wasn’t going to last much longer and I wanted to make use of it. Homemade ricotta is a quick way to utilize milk that would otherwise go bad.

Cheese seems like such a complicated food that I never thought it would be something I could just whip up in my kitchen. I thought the same thing about yogurt before I started making my own. The more I learn about cooking from scratch, the more empowered I feel. So much food we buy is processed, packaged, and labeled that it is easy to get disconnected from its humble origins. It nice to get back to basics, cut out the middle man, and just do it yourself.

Okay, I’m off my D.I.Y soapbox. Really, I’m just learning all this myself and I’m an overly enthusiastic student. Back to cheese making, here is what you need:

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized. This milk is dead, you can’t make cheese or yogurt out of it. Its dead… dead I tell you!)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (one large lemon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • square of muslin or other mesh cloth
  • thermometer
  1. Mix together the milk, lemon juice, and salt.
  2. Heat to 185 degrees on medium low. As it heats, the curd will separate from the whey.
  3. Remove from heat and let it set for ten minutes.
  4. Line a colander with the muslin and spoon the curds into the muslin.
  5. Tie up the corners and hang from a spoon over a bowl for 30 minutes.

ricotta cheese

TUH-DUH! Ricotta cheese! The volume of cheese you’re left with is a lot less than the milk you started with so I wouldn’t recommend going out to buy fresh milk to do this. But this is an awesome way to use up milk thats about to expire. Making this cheese also leaves you with a lot of whey. You can drink it or use it to boil grains, make oatmeal, or use it anywhere which you would normally use water. Its high protein and pretty darn good for you.

Happy cheese making!

pretzels

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! This weekend I made homemade pretzels as a Valentine’s Day treat for my sweetie, Andrew. He doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth but the man loves salty snacks. I thought these delightfully salty, vaguely heart shaped goodies would be a perfect Valentine’s Day indulgence. But really, homemade pretzels are a great treat no matter what the occasion.

I found an awesome recipe for soft pretzels by Alton Brown of the Food Network. The recipe wasn’t very difficult and the pretzels came out great. The worst part about the whole thing was waiting for the dough to rise.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil, for pan
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Coarse Sea Salt (for the top of the pretzels)

To make the dough, combine the warm water, kosher salt, and sugar in a bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. When the yeast begins to foam (about five minutes) add the melted butter and flour and combine.

Alton Brown suggests using a mixer with a bread hook but I just kneaded the dough by hand. I put the bowl in the sink, to cut down on the mess, and used a wooden spoon to mix the wet and dry ingredients together. Once it is well combined, I began kneading the dough by hand. The dough starts out rather sticky but become airy and much less sticky after 4-5 minutes. When the dough reaches this point, set it aside. Clean the bowl, then oil it and return the dough. Cover with plastic and put it in a warm spot to rise. Let it sit for one hour.

pretzel dough

After the dough has risen, remove it from the bowl onto a slightly oiled surface. Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees F and oil a baking sheet. Bring the 10 cups of water and baking soda to a boil.

Divide the dough into eight equal chunks. Roll each chunk of dough into 24 inch “snakes.”

rolling out the dough

To fold the dough into a pretzel shape, hold each end of the dough snake and let it hang like a U. Then cross the ends over each other down to the middle of the U.

folding pretzel dough

One at a time, place each pretzel into the boiling water. Let it boil for 30 seconds, then remove from the water using a large spatula. Place it on the oiled sheet pan.

boil the pretzel

Brush the top of the pretzel with the egg yoke/water mixture and sprinkle with coarse salt. If you like a sweeter snack you could sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar. You could really top it with anything you like, chopped garlic and rosemary might be a delicious alternative to salt. When adding salt, be careful not to add too much. Some of the salt dissolves into the yoke/water mixture. If you’re trying to have a visible layer of salt, you’ll probably add too much and end up having to scrape most of it off in the end. (I did this. Oops!) Bake for 12-14 minutes until a dark golden brown.

Mmmmmm salty carbs, so good!

CSA Box

I recently became a member of a CSA (community supported agriculture) project with Full Belly Farms. Every week you receive a box of fresh, organic fruits and veggies and in turn you are supporting local farmers.  My first produce box came this week and I was so excited! I didn’t know what the box contained and after picking it up at the farmer’s market I rushed home to see what was inside. This week’s box contained butternut squash, celery root, leeks, red russian kale, oranges, cabbage, and walnuts. I couldn’t be more pleased. It was a great mix of old favorites and new (to me) veggies. I have to say, I’m hooked. The produce is delicious, it mixes up my diet, and you get that tingly (and slightly self-righteous) I-just-did-good-for-the-earth feeling for eating organic and local.

kale

I’ve already dug in and ate much of what the box contained. So far, my favorite thing was the red russian kale. I cooked it with leeks, walnuts, and some golden raisins I had in the pantry. It was a delicious blend of sweet and savory. Here is the recipe in case you want to try it for yourself.

Red Russian Kale with Walnuts & Golden Raisins

  • 1 bundle of Red Russian Kale
  • 2 leeks
  • 1/3 cup chopped golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste.
  1. Chop the the kale stems, garlic and leeks and sauté in 1 tbs. of olive oil  for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the walnuts and raisins and cook for a few more minutes.
  3. Reduce heat and add the leaves of the kale and a few tablespoons of water and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Cover and steam for about five minutes.
  4. Stir, cover, and repeat until the leaves are tender but not mushy.
  5. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. By the way, if anyone out there has a good recipe for celery root or butternut squash, please let me know! This is the first opportunity I’ve had to cook celery root and I only have limited experience cooking with butternut squash, so I need some ideas. Be well and have a wonderful weekend!

block of knives

This weekend my sweetie, Andrew, and I received a care package from his folks that included a great set of kitchen knives that he inherited from his Grandmother. I was considerably more excited about this new addition to our kitchen than he was. I proceeded to lay them out neatly on the living room floor to take in the gloriousness of our new knives. (Okay, so I’ve been looking at this blog too much). As I was admiring their beautiful walnut handles and gorgeous copper rivets, I realized I didn’t know what many of the knives were even for. When I asked Andrew what he thought they were for, he quickly answered back, “For cutting.”

Part of my motivation for writing Illustrated Bites is to push me to learn more about food and cooking. I have a strong working knowledge of cooking basics but I have a lot to learn. Not knowing anything about knives is one example of a gap in my culinary knowledge. I’m still working on stocking my kitchen since we moved into our new place in October.  This is my first “real” apartment and  its great to finally have my own kitchen, but its taking time to stock it with all the necessary implements. So far I’ve been making do with super cheap, super dangerous IKEA knives. Which, by the way, are dangerous not because they are sharp but because they bend like an S. I’m excited to share my new kitchen knives and what I’ve learned about them.organized knives

Carving Knife: The largest, curved knife is the carving knife. As its name implies, it is for carving slices of poultry or roasts.

Roast Knife: The second largest knife with a straight edge is a roast knife. At first I thought this was a bread knife, but the lack of a serrated edge lead me to investigate further. The roast knife is another form of carving knife and is intended to cut thin slices of meat from a meat roast.

Chef’s Knife: The chef’s knife is an all-purpose knife that is great for chopping. The curved blade allows you to rock the knife back and forth, which allow you to cut/dice at a quicker speed.

Fillet Knife: The Fillet knife has a long, thin, and flexible blade. It is most useful for cleaning fish.

Utility Knife: The Utility knife is a multipurpose knife that perfect for jobs that are too big for a paring knife but aren’t large enough to warrant at chef’s knife.

Boning Knife: This knife is used to remove the main bone from large cuts of meat like ham. The blade is rigid to prevent it from bending as it is being worked around the bone.

Paring Knife: The smallest knife is the paring knife. It is for peeling or small jobs such as chopping garlic. It’s also good  for intricate jobs like de-veining shrimp.

Pasta IngredientI learned to make egg pasta while studying in Italy a few years ago. Some Italian mamas came in to teach us Americans the tricks of the trade. The recipe and process is simple but it is physically demanding. The Italian ladies made it look effortless but believe me, its not. I’m not one to shy away from a culinary task that requires a little elbow grease (I don’t own a mixer) but after making this last night, I woke today with sore forearms (granted, I have t-rex arms that are pretty useless). Making this pasta is fun and rewarding, but be prepared to hurt a little for your dinner.

If you’re up to the task here’s what you need to make homemade egg pasta.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbs olive oil

mound of flour

1. Mound your flour on a clean countertop and make a well in the center of the flour and add the salt and olive oil. Break an egg into the the well and beat with a fork incorporating a little flour. Repeat with the remaining eggs. Continue to combine the egg mixture and flour until most of the flour is mixed in.

kneed the pasta

2. Gather the mixture into a ball and begin to kneed the dough. Do this on a lightly floured surface. If the dough seems too dry, add a few drops of water. If it is too wet, add more flour. Kneed the dough for a good long while, approximately 10 minutes. If you haven’t guessed, this is the hard part. You stretch the dough and fold it over and smash it down over and over until the texture of the dough seems smoother and airier. This process activates the gluten and adds air to the the dough.
roll out the pasta

3. Divide the dough up into 5 pieces and roll each chunk out as flat as you can. Ideally, about the thickness of an old vinyl record. (This part is also strenuous.)

Sliced Pasta

4. Slice the pasta into strips about 1/2 an inch wide.

To cook the pasta, boil a large pot of water and add salt and olive oil. Boil the pasta for about 5 minutes, tasting the pasta along the way to test for a slightly firm bite. Don’t over cook it! Drain and enjoy with the sauce of your choice. I served mine with some basil pesto topped with slices of pan-seared chicken and a side of sauteed asparagus.

This is a good recipe, but like I said it is difficult, unless of course you have really strong arms. The pasta I made last night turned out a little too thick. I didn’t manage to flatten it out enough and the noodles were really thick and chewy. My sweetie, Andrew really liked the fat noodles but it wasn’t quite what I was going for. Making noodles by hand takes practice or perhaps just building up strength but it is nonetheless an interesting endeavor. Good luck!

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