Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sunchoke Risotto

I have to give the pre-requisite excuse for why I haven't said hello in three months, don't I? I'll break it down pretty quickly:

  1. I started a new job in mid-October at an e-learning company for kids K - 12. I now have a real, honest to goodness commute of 25 miles.  I also now do mornings to avoid rush hour commuting. This means I don't spend much time awake when I get home from work. 
  2. I've been really busy thinking about money around the clock. Really. I'm paying off debts and loans like a champ. As a result, I spend at least half my life watching my credit score creep up and the other half tapping my foot impatiently because credit-related changes take forever. I'm strongly considering sharing my road to debt-freeness via blog.
  3. For a little while, I was spending a bunch of time with my little nephew baby sitting. He is huge and just turned 3. It seems like just yesterday I was waiting for him to make his debut into the world.
None of this means that I haven't been cooking. I just haven't been writing. This is bad behavior. I am not a good blogger.

Moving on.

Why do I get so excited about sunchokes? Years ago, at some restaurant I don't remember, in a dish I don't recall, my mother and I pondered this odd vegetable in the meal. It was delicious and nutty and faintly chestnutty while also somewhat potato-ey. The waiter said the vegetable in question was the sunchoke. It looks something like a funky shaped ginger root and is part of the sunflower family. In the puree, you get the scent of artichoke. 
The humble sunchoke, in season now (November!) at the farmer's market.
Sunchoke Risotto
Yield: dinner for 2 with second some second helpings, or smaller portions for 4
Just a little bowl of Risotto for dinner. I'm lying to you. A second bowl of Risotto for dinner.
Don't worry about a perfect peeling - just peel the gnarly knots and roughest skin. 
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup champagne, prosecco or dry white wine
  • 3.5 cups broth (vegetable or chicken)
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese plus additional for serving
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 3 rather large sunchokes amounting to about 1 and 1/4 cup, roughly peeled and thinly sliced
You'll need 1 pot and 2 pans for this: the pot will hold your broth. The smaller pan will hold your sunchokes, and the larger, higher rimmed pan will hold your risotto. 

  1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan or skillet over medium heat. Add sunchokes and cream and cook until sunchokes are tender when poked with a fork, about 10 minutes. Occasionally stir to ensure the vegetables don't stick to the pan. Set aside to cool. Blend into a smooth puree using a food processor. Reserve until risotto is done.
  2. Meanwhile, bring vegetable broth to a simmer and maintain over low heat.
  3. Melt remaining tablespoon of butter over medium heat in a large, heavy bottomed pan. Cook onions for about 3 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add rice, stirring occasionally, and cook until a bright white spot appears in the grains, 2 to 3 minutes. Add half the champagne and stir the rice until the liquid is absorbed, then repeat with the other half of the champagne. 
  4. Reduce heat to medium low and add half a cup of broth to the rice, stirring consistently until all liquid is absorbed. Repeat with all broth, half a cup at a time. 
  5. When all broth is used, add salt, pepper and sunchoke puree. Combine, then add cheese. 
  6. The spoonful is the sunchoke puree. 
  7. Serve piping hot, with additional cheese on top (because you can never have too much cheese). 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Zucchini and Leek Soufflé

I am soooo proud of myself. I made a soufflé. Go ahead.  

Clap for me!

My friend, Jenn, made that Sugar Pumpkin Soufflé that I've been wanting to try for a long time, but by the time I got around to it, my supply of winter squash was depleted. Very sad.

Fast forward to high summer and I'm experiencing a glut of summer squash. I had a big Gadzukes zucchini I wanted to use up. The farmers market had a beautiful little yellow summer squash that called to me. I've used zucchini in many different ways, but something prompted me to try something new, and I'm glad I did. It was beautiful, not terribly complicated, and tasted very, well... green. 

Sometimes zucchini recipes come out tasting completely non-zucchini like. Sometimes I sneak it into stuff just because it's not a very obvious flavor. But this was ALL zucchini. And fluff. And cheese.  

Zucchini, yellow squash, skinny leeks.

Zucchini and Leek Soufflé
Adapted from The New York Times Zucchini Soufflé
Yield: 4 hearty servings
Print this recipe.

I used my food processor for the leeks and garlic, then shredded my zucchini in the same food processor bowl without washing. I'm a fan of multi-use cooking tools. 

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 6 thin leeks, white parts only, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 to 3 medium zucchini and/or yellow, shredded. Roughly 1 and 1/2 to 2 pounds of zucchini. Smaller vegetables don't need to be peeled or seeded, but larger ones should be.
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 6 eggs, seperated
  • 8 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  1. If you have a 6 cup soufflé dish, butter it thoroughly. That is one dish that I don't have, so I used a Le Creuset oven dish. Heat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Put the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the leeks and garlic and cook until soft, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the zucchini, season with salt and pepper, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for another 10 to 12 minutes. Drain the vegetables if there is excess liquid, and let cool.
  3. Beat the egg yolks in a large bowl. Add cheese with salt and pepper to taste.
    Egg yolks and Gruyere.
  4. Add the cooked zucchini/leek mixture and parsley and stir.
  5. Zucchini, yolks, cheese and parsley.
  6. In a clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites. Once the whites start to become foamy, add the cream of tartar, and continue to beat until they are light and fluffy and just hold soft peaks.
  7. Stir a third of the whites into the soufflé mixture to lighten it. Then, gently fold in the remaining whites. To avoid deflating the egg whites, fold the whites into the mixture and turn the vegetables over with a spatula instead of stirring.
    A third of egg whites into the mix.
  8. Pour the soufflé mixture into the baking dish. Bake until golden and puffy, about 35 minutes.
    Mixture goes into the dish.
  9. Take a picture and then serve immediately. A soufflé waits for no one.
Zucchini and Leek Soufflé. Very pretty.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My Food Photo Challenges

I don't take good photos. It's obvious. In fifth grade, I applied to a photography program at a magnet school and wasn't accepted. Clearly, the school is to blame for ending my career as a photographer before it even started.

I tried this here trick to create a macro photo studio from Strobist, but I'm not sure it made any difference in how my pictures turned out. I liked the idea of a little do it myself project, and I have a soft spot for seamless pictures. My little project even helped me feel a little creative (how sad? Cutting card board makes me feel creative...) but it doesn't seem to have made a difference. Perhaps I need a brighter bulb? 
This was my test picture.
And this one came out OK, I guess. PS - sweet potato and zucchini au gratin with yogurt.
And then this one came out too dark. It was a lovely dinner, though: Caprese, sweet potato and zucchini au gratin and macadamia crusted Barramundi.
To make my little DIY photo studio, I grabbed a box from work, cut out the two short sides and one long side, but left a border so the box would stand. You leave the flaps for those three sides, too. Then, I completely removed the other long side and its flap.

Cut out one long side, but leave border and its flap.
Cut out two short sides, but leave the border and its flap.
Three sides are cut out, but have borders and their flaps.
Then you completely remove the other long side, no border left. Cut off the flap when you cut off that side.
Put gift wrapping tissue over all of the sides that still have borders (2 short, one long).
Here, you would use white poster board as the background for your photo subject (see food pictures above).
So, I'll keep trying, but who knows how it will go! I have friends who are very photo savvy (ahem, Chris, Nic, Bernardo, Laurentia!) so additional recommendations are welcome.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Peach Sorbet

I'm a little bit in love with ice cream making, thanks to my sister-in-law's enabling habit of kitchen gifts (my trusty, new ice cream maker), and my newest cook book, The Perfect Scoop. I'm further in love with it because I tweeted David Lebovitz, and he responded to me. It felt like a celebrity spotting.

There is a recipe in the book for nectarine sorbet, which is LOVELY. I made that for friends earlier in the summer, but then, of course, there were the 90 pounds of peaches that we picked. So I also made peach sorbet. I like sorbets - but I'm not likely to choose sorbet over full fat, dairy ice cream. Except for peach or nectarine sorbet.

It's all peach, all refreshing, all awesome and super easy. It's perfect to take you away from those summer muggy feelings. Throw champagne over the top and you're in bubbly delicate heaven.

I added champagne to the recipe, in place of the recipe's kircsh. And then, you know, peaches instead of nectarines.

Last of the peaches.
Peach Sorbet
Adapted from Nectarine Sorbet from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop 
Yield: 1 quart
Print this recipe.

If you're making the nectarine variation, you won't need to peel your fruit. If you're making peach sorbet, you can either peel by hand (my peaches are very easy to peel, without a knife) or you can par-boil them. Or, if you're not picky, just leave the skins on!

To Par-boil Peaches (to peel them)
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. 
  2. Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. 
  3. Make an X in the bottom of your peaches using a sharp knife. Boil them for 30 to 45 seconds, and then plunge into the ice bath. The skins should slip right off.
  • 2 pounds of peaches (for me, 7 peaches)
  • 3/4 cup of sugar
  • 2/3 cup of water
  • 2 tablespoons champagne (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

  1. Quarter and pit your peaches and place them into a large pot with the water. Cook over medium heat, about 10 minutes, until the peaches are soft. 
  2. Remove from the heat and add the sugar and lemon juice. Using an immersion blender (or a regular blender, once the peaches cool off) blend up the fruit until it reaches a smooth consistency. Add the champagne and stir.
  3. Allow to cool in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or overnight. 
  4. Pour into your ice cream maker and churn the sorbet according to manufacturer's instructions. It takes about 40 minutes of  churning to get the sorbet nice and creamy in my Cuisinart.
  5. Freeze in the freezer for about 2 hours - though I never really wait till it freezes. If frozen long-term, allow to soften for 5 minutes before serving.
Peach sorbet. So simple. So good.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Home Made Greek Yogurt

Yogurt has been a long time coming. Months ago, my colleague sent me a recipe that I liked a lot, and then wasn't able to track down. Then, a couple weeks ago, I met a couple who resolved not to set foot in a grocery store for a year as a New Year's Resolution. They made their own yogurt. And then, there's the fact that everyone says how easy it is.

It's easy. Give it a try. I'm not an expert so I'm not sure you'll follow my instructions - but I checked out a couple sites on Greek yogurt making. It doesn't seem like there is tons of consensus on how to make yogurt out there.

A couple thoughts/pointers:
  • Greek yogurt is just strained, regular yogurt. You let all of the whey out of the yogurt, and then you're left with that awesome, creamy yogurt. 
  • My system was imperfect - I didn't maintain perfectly stable temperature of 100 degrees throughout the bacterial process, but that's where bacteria is happy. I turned the oven on to minimum heat for a few minutes every few hours. If you can keep it to 100 degrees, you should. I hear that an oven light would probably be enough.
  • You'll need a candy thermometer or an uncanny ability to measure temperature with your finger.
  • There seems to be some debate over whether ultra-pasteurized milk works, and, if you do use it, whether it actually needs to be heated since that's already been done during ultra-pasteurization. I took a chance, and it worked out perfectly. I heated to a lower heat than if I were using just pasteurized instead of ultra. Pasteurized milk needs to be heated to 180 degrees.
  • Why make your own Greek yogurt? There aren't many organic Greek yogurts on the market. And it's cheaper than buying a big tub of yogurt. Don't forget the novelty of it - I feel very domestic. It feels very Suzy.
To learn more about yogurt making:
Happy Simple Living
New York Times

Greek Yogurt
Recipe from Happy Simple Living
Print this recipe.

Yogurt + Peach Butter = YUM
  • Half a gallon of fat free, organic milk (ultra-pasteurized works), with 2 tablespoons set aside
  • 2 tablespoons plain, fat free yogurt with live cultures and no additives (Fage or Chobani are additive free)
  1. Pour the milk into a large pot and heat the milk to 150 degrees. 
  2. Once milk is warmed, pour into a large, non-metallic bowl and allow to cool , uncovered, to between 105 and 115 degrees. 
  3. Turn your oven on to the lowest heat setting (for me, 150 degrees) for 3 minutes. If your oven has a setting for 100 degrees, use it the whole time.
  4. Combine the 2 tablespoons of yogurt with the 2 tablespoons of milk. Pour into the warm milk, stirring to combine. Cover the bowl with a clean towel, and place into the warmed oven. Turn off the heat.
    Yogurt and milk mixture.
  5. Aim to keep your yogurt at 100 degrees.
  6. Allow bacteria to get happy for 8 to 12 hours. I left the thermometer in the yogurt throughout the bacterial process, and would turn the oven to 150 degrees for a few minutes every couple hours, when I saw the temperature dip below 100 degrees. You can stop here for a standard yogurt (refrigerate it for 3 hours before eating), or you can strain it.
    Yogurt after 12 hours.
  7. To strain the the yogurt, line a mesh strainer with 3 layers of cheese cloth and set over a deep pot to catch the drippings. Pour the yogurt into the strainer and allow to leak for at least 3 hours in the refrigerator. I let mine go for 6 hours to get it as creamy as possible, but I could have stopped at 3.
    I kind of forgot to take a picture of the yogurt IN the strainer. But you should line your strainer with cheese cloth as pictured.
  8. Once the strained yogurt reaches the consistency you like, store in a plastic or glass container for up to 1 week.
I've had my yogurt topped with peach butter lately - I think it's my new favorite dessert. The butter has enough sugar that you don't need to sweeten your yogurt at all. Fresh fruit, granola, and mashed potatoes are all great with your home made yogurt.

Welcome to the Suzy club. You're so domestic and you didn't even know it.