A personal update

Hi Blogosphere! I realize it’s been 10 months since my last post here. The good news is that I’ve been spending my time in really fantastic places, the most important of which is now cooking for two! In the last year, I’ve met the guy of my dreams, gotten engaged, and will be getting married in late February. In addition, I’ve made a commitment to getting to a more healthy weight, and have lost over 70 lbs since August 1 using a diet program called HMR, where they provide all the food (a sacrilege for a food blogger, I know!). Both of these factors have made blogging impractical and challenging.

However, I’m still passionate about cooking, and am looking forward to re-developing my blogging perspective as a wife and weight manager. I am in the process of re-defining my blog, and will be back with a new site later this year–one that will focus on healthy cooking for couples, and still utilize the core principles of my original blog–cooking whole, seasonal, natural foods the old-fashioned way, and cooking inspired from-scratch meals with minimal prep and thoughtful planning. I’ll talk about preserving, making things from scratch like cheeses, yogurt, and cured meats, and the health benefits of making your own convenience foods from scratch instead of buying pre-packaged mixes.

Thanks for all of the support of the folks who have read this blog and commented. I hope that you will follow me to my next adventure, and I’ll certainly share the news with all of you when my new blog is ready to launch.

Thanks,

Becky

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Tandoori Chicken Sausage

First, I want to apologize for my long delay between posts. February was an exciting month, but also a very full one. I just started an awesome new job, and have found that a lot of my mental energy has been consumed with planning, learning, and working. I also traveled to Orange County for almost a week to celebrate my grandparents’ 70th wedding anniversary. Our family gathered together from all over the west coast to celebrate my grandparents amazing marriage and longevity (they are 94 and 96). The highlight of the week for me was spending time with my adorable niece Evie, who is 3 1/2, and nephew James, who is 10 months old (and their parents, of course). They live in Portland, OR, so I don’t get to see them very often. Now I’m back home, and looking forward to getting back into my kitchen on a more regular basis.

So I’m back with a pretty involved project. Years ago, when I bought my KitchenAid Mixer, I also purchased a meat grinder and a sausage stuffer attachment. I’m embarrassed to say that I put them into a plastic tub and tucked them into my pantry. 4 years later, I’ve finally gotten motivated to pull them out and make sausage. To be honest, what motivated me was the opportunity to test this recipe for the Food52 website. They have regular competitions on the website to submit original recipes on a theme, and ask the other website members to test out the top contenders. I offered to test this one, so dug out my meat grinder and followed the recipe to a tee! I was impressed with the ease of grinding the meat and stuffing the sausage, especially with me being a newbie.

This recipe was pretty complex, and took two days to complete. To be honest, I think if I made it a second time, I might take a few shortcuts to get to a very similar flavor. So what I’m going to do is share what I did, but also share some time-savers I’d suggest if you’d like to get to a very similar result with a lot less effort and time. The key element of this recipe is the tandoori spice paste. It is thoroughly delicious! The paste gives the meat a richness and depth that really elevates it to a special-occasion dish. So instead of dicing your meat into pieces, then grinding it in the grinder, then stuffing it, you can create a similar flavor by mixing the paste into some pre-ground meat and cooking it as loose sausage meat or patties.

Tandoori Chicken Sausage

Makes 5 lbs of sausage

For the seasoning paste

2 tbsp olive oil or canola oil

4 bay leaves

1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces

2 cardamon pods, crushed

5 cloves

2 onions, grated

2 tomatoes, grated

1/2 tablespoon turmeric

1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons yogurt

7 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons grated ginger

2 serrano chiles, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon garam masala

3 tablespoons paprika

1 lime, juiced

For the Sausage (sausage grinding and stuffing procedure)

3.5 pounds chicken thigh meat, diced into small pieces

1.5 pounds pork back fat, diced into small pieces

40 grams of kosher salt

1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro

1 cup ice cold water

10 feet of hog casings, soaked to re-hydrate

For the Sausage (simple loose sausage procedure)

3 pounds ground chicken, not lean

2 pounds ground pork or un-seasoned fresh pork sausage (adds fat to make texture more like sausage)

40 grams of kosher salt

1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro

The first step in the recipe is to cook the spices on the stove to make the masala. Heat some olive oil in a pot over medium heat and add the bay leaves, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, and cloves. Allow the aromas to fill your kitchen and for the spices to toast a little. Add the grated onion and tomatoes. Season with salt and cook until nicely brown and caramelized, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the turmeric and cayenne pepper and cook for another minute. Add the yogurt, garlic, ginger, serrano chiles, paprika, lime juice and garam masala. Cook the masala until it is completely dry and there is no visible moisture. This is key to ensuring your sausage becomes the correct texture. The finished masala should look like a seasoning paste. Take the masala off the heat and let cool to room temperature. Remove all of the whole spices at this point (cloves, cinnamon, bay, and cardamom).

For the sausage grinding and stuffing technique:

If you add hot masala to the chicken, the chicken will cook, so make sure the masala is extremely cold before adding it to the diced chicken and pork fat. Add cilantro and the salt to the chicken masala and let sit in the fridge overnight so everything gets really, really cold. I’d recommend putting it into the freezer for a couple of hours before you grind it, which helps the texture to keep from getting too sticky.

Put the chicken mixture through the small die on a meat grinder. Once all is ground, put the mixture in the bowl of your kitchen aid and start the mixture with the paddle attachment. Slowly add in the water until the mixture becomes very sticky, about 1 minute.

Put the hog casings on the tube of your sausage stuffer and stuff into one huge link. Then, twist the casing to create 6 inch links. You can also save some loose sausage meat and use it to make sausage patties, as you can see below. The loose meat freezes well in quart-sized ziploc bags.

Cook the sausages to 160 degrees either by grilling or roasting.

For the loose sausage method:

Remove the paste from the fridge, add in the salt and cilantro, and run it in a food processor for a minute, just to break down any remaining chunks.  Mix the paste into the ground chicken and pork, stirring to combine thoroughly. You can then form the meat into patties or cook as loose sausage meat to use in recipes like frittatas.

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Filed under Main Dishes, Uniquely Homemade

Valentine’s Honey Ricotta Cheesecake Pie (Dark Days)

Remember how I said that I love cheesecake? Well, the stars aligned this week, and I finally had a good reason to make a cheesecake. For the Dark Days challenge, we were asked to make a local, seasonal Valentine’s day dessert. I’ve also been experimenting with cheesemaking, and had just made a fresh batch of ricotta from local Strauss cream and milk. So I went looking for a cheesecake recipe that I could make with local ingredients. As I searched, I found a great recipe from Giada De Laurentiis for a honey ricotta cheesecake.

However, the crust was made with biscotti, which I definitely could not source within 150 miles. So I decided to make the crust with local almonds and butter. The only challenge I had was that the recipe called for sugar. I decided that I would continue to use the small amount of sugar called for in the recipe, as I didn’t think that honey would work from a textural standpoint completely.

I don’t currently have a springform pan, so I decided to modify the recipe to be made in a 9″ pie pan instead. So it’s technically not a cheesecake, though I used a cheesecake recipe. I’m calling it a cheesecake pie, but the key is that it’s simple–no water bath, and it’s easy to put together. (FYI, you can still do a water bath if you want–I did have some cracking on part of the outside edge, which the water bath likely would have prevented. I’m not that picky, however!)

Another great part of the recipe is that it’s entirely made in the food processor. And for those of you out there without a food processor, unfortunately, this is probably not a recipe that will work for you (you really need it to grind the crust and puree the ricotta). For the crust, I used whole raw almonds, local Strauss butter, and a few tablespoons of sugar. The process is ultra simple–just blend the nuts, salt and sugar till finely chopped, then add the melted butter and pulse until it is incorporated. The mixture will look like breadcrumbs–definitely not like a pie dough–you can see it above.

Preheat the oven to 375°. Dump the mixture into the pie pan, and spread it around evenly with your hands and the bottom of a glass or measuring cup that is flat. Press it into corners and about 1/2 of the way up the sides of the pan, trying to keep it at equal thickness all over. Make sure you compress the crust, as it needs to be firmly in place to keep from crumbling when you pre-bake it. The crust needs to be baked empty for 15-20 minutes, until it is light brown. Take it out to let it cool for at least 30 minutes.

Honey Ricotta Cheesecake with Almond Crust

Serves 8

For the Crust

  • 2 cups raw almonds
  • 5 tbsp sugar
  • 5 tbsp butter (unsalted)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)

For the Filling

  • 1 (12-ounce) container fresh whole milk ricotta, drained (or 10-oz well drained homemade ricotta)
  • 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature, or 16-oz creme fraiche, if that is what is available to be sourced locally
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup orange blossom or clover honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest (or blood orange, lime, etc.)
  • 4 large eggs
Optional–for Topping
  • 1 blood orange
  • lemon or lime curd

While the pie crust is cooling, turn the oven down to 350°, and place the ricotta into the food processor (I didn’t bother to clean it after making the crust–it only had a few bits left in it). Blend until it is completely smooth. This is important, as the texture of the cheesecake is much better without the pronounced graininess of the ricotta. Then add the cream cheese or creme fraiche (I used local Bellwether Farms creme fraiche, which is very thick and similar in texture to cream cheese, because I couldn’t find local cream cheese) and the sugar, and blend until well mixed, stopping once or twice to scrape down the walls of the processor.

Then add the honey and lemon zest, pulsing until incorporated. Finally, add all 4 eggs and blend just until they are mixed in. Pour this filling over the cooled crust. Make sure not to jostle it around very much, as the drips will tend to burn. For the most attractive cheesecake, fill only up to the level of the crust. If you have any extra filling, you can always fill a ramekin or two and bake them separately for a cook’s snack (take out much sooner).

Place the pie pan in the oven, and cook for about 40 minutes. This is much faster than a typical cheesecake, as the filling is thinner in the pie pan. Be sure to take the pie out before the center is firm–it will continue to firm up as it cools, so the ideal creamy cheesecake is jiggling a bit in the middle when you take it out. Let it sit out for about an hour, then cover and chill for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator before serving.

As you can see above, I added a simple little valentine’s flourish with some blood orange segments. Just cut out a blood orange into segments, and pick two of similar size. Lay them out on the cutting board paired together, and trim to develop the heart shape. Transfer to the top of each slice, and you have a lovely Valentine’s heart. This cheesecake is also delicious served with lemon or lime curd. You can drizzle some on the bottom of the plate before you put down a slice, then add the blood orange heart on top, or place a dollop of lemon curd on the top, as you see below. This makes for a fun and relatively easy Valentine’s dessert, or really a great base for any seasonal toppings you want throughout the year.

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Filed under Dark Days, Dessert

Homemade Goat Queso Blanco

I’ve been a fan of making cheese for a few years now. My go-to cheese is fresh goat cheese, which requires some culture and rennet to make the magic work (not hard to buy online, but not a spur of the moment project). I recently joined a year-long cheesemaking challenge, hosted by Rachel and Tom on the local Bay Area blog Another Year Without Groceries. Our first challenge was to make a cheese using only curdled milk. I chose to follow Rachel’s lead and make a goat-milk based Queso Blanco, which is curdled with cider vinegar. This is a crumbly fresh cheese that you often see topping Mexican dishes.

Summerhill Goat Milk

Since I don’t have my own goats like Rachel, I bought my milk. I like the Summerhill Dairy goat milk you can buy at Trader Joe’s and my local grocery heaven, Berkeley Bowl. It is not ultra-pasteurized, which is really important for good cheesemaking (the ultra high heat breaks down some of the proteins that make the cheesemaking magic happen). I used 3 quarts…don’t ask me why I didn’t round it out at a gallon…no idea! You can certainly use regular whole cow milk as well.

Dump your milk into a non-reactive pan (stainless steel or enameled is best, don’t use aluminum or cast iron). First, heat the milk to 180 degrees. You will need to use a thermometer for this step, but any meat or candy one should do. Then add cider vinegar. For a gallon, you need about a quarter cup. Since I used 3/4 of a gallon, I just under-filled the 1/4 cup measure by a bit…it doesn’t need to be an exact science. Stir slowly as you add the vinegar, and let it dribble in vs. dumping. Keep stirring slowly until you see the mixture begin to separate, with white clumps and a yellowish liquid. You now have curds and whey (see above)!

Take a large bowl and place a strainer on top. Line the strainer with a fine-weaved dish cloth (like the flour sack variety) or real cheesecloth (not the type with big holes you get at the grocery store). One of my favorite tools in the kitchen is a set of straining cloths (called “All-Strain cloths”, pictured above) I purchased from the chef Michael Ruhlman. He has a shop on the website Open Sky where he sells kitchen implements that he and local Cleveland craftsman have made. Open Sky is an amazing site where many chefs and other prominent folks sell items they personally use and endorse at a competitive prices. It’s one of those sites where you have to join to see prices and buy, but it’s really worth it–I’ve gotten many things from chefs like Tom Colicchio and Dorie Greenspan. If you are interested, you can follow this link for $10 off your first purchase.  All-Strain cloths are $22 for 3, so only $12 with the discount. They are heavy-duty, and I use them for everything from straining stocks to draining fresh goat cheese. (I do get a little referral bonus if you follow my link to Open Sky and end up purchasing, but I wouldn’t share it if I didn’t really buy a ton of kitchen things from them!)

Keep transferring the contents of the pot (emptying the drained whey as needed to keep the liquid from touching the strainer) until it is empty. If you want to salt your cheese, as I did, wait until a lot of the liquid has drained off (maybe 30 minutes), then transfer the curds into another bowl. Add salt to your taste. I added 1 tsp for this amount, and it seemed to work well. Mix well to incorporate the salt, then transfer back to the cloth to do your final draining.

It is important to tie it up to drain for the final step, as the weight of the bundle hanging will drain out more of the liquid. I used kitchen string to knot the cloth together into a bag, and hang it from the handle of the microwave above my stove. All you need is a place to tie some string and hang your bundle above a bowl. It will still be dripping for a while–it’s up to you how dry you want your cheese. You can feel the bundle and see how firm it is getting, and take it down once it’s the consistency you want. It only took a couple of hours for mine to feel right to me. It is a firm, crumbly texture, as you see from my picture on the top of the post.

I was inspired by Rachel to use my cheese on a homemade whole-wheat pizza made with pesto and sauteed rapini (aka broccoli rabe). So yummy! It doesn’t really melt (similar to goat cheese or feta), but worked great on a pizza when topped at the last few minutes of cooking with a little bit of shredded mozzarella to hold it together. It also was delicious on a quesadilla, as long as you remember it’s a bit more loose than regular melted cheese and eat carefully. I think I’m really going to enjoy this cheesemaking challenge!

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January 31, 2012 · 8:11 am

Vegan Sweet Potato-Peanut-Coconut Soup

Rainy weather, like we’ve had in the Bay Area for the last week or so, always makes me want to eat hearty warm soups. I ran across a recipe for Sweet Potato-Peanut Bisque from Eating Well Magazine last week, and was inspired by the idea of an African-themed soup based on sweet potatoes. I, of course, revamped the entire recipe and included coconut milk (because what doesn’t taste better with coconut milk?). I always love recipes that allow me to use homemade ingredients, so was happy to be able to pull out a jar of my tomato passata (basically a lightly-cooked tomato puree) and use my homemade nut butter.

I make my own peanut butter using my VitaMix blender, and have started throwing in several types of nuts to make it more interesting. I buy everything raw, then roast them in the oven prior to making the butter. I use about half peanuts, then this time added in hazelnuts, cashews, and sunflower seeds. I figure it’s always good to vary my consumption of foods, and each of those nuts/seeds has its own unique health benefits and nutrient profile. I’ve found that the flavor is similar enough to peanut butter to allow it to substitute in recipes, but it’s a bit more interesting on an apple or sandwich.

This recipe is pretty easy, and so delicious. It’s a bit decadent-feeling with the coconut milk and peanut butter, but the spice cuts through the richness in a lovely way. And these are nutrient-dense foods, with lots of healthy fats–so a small bowl goes a long way to satisfy you. The soup re-heats well in the microwave, and is great for work lunches. I served it with my homemade bread, which was made with 1/2 whole wheat flour and some of the leftover whey from a cheese-making adventure this weekend. More on that next time!

African (Inspired) Vegan Sweet Potato-Peanut-Coconut Soup

Serves 6

  • 2 large sweet potatoes (10-12 ounces each)
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 16 oz jar or can of tomato puree
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 2 jalapenos or serrano chiles, chopped (seeded if you’re a wimp, like me)
  • pinch (or more, as desired) red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons minced or grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 15-ounce can coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter or other nut butter
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Chopped fresh cilantro leaves or chives for garnish
  • Sauteed shallot for garnish

Begin by roasting the sweet potatoes. Pre-heat the oven to 400°, and peel and chop your sweet potatoes into 2″ chunks. Toss with olive oil to coat, and dust with sea salt. Roast until the cubes begin to brown, approx. 30 minutes. Roasting brings out the sweetness of the sweet potatoes and gives the finished soup a lot more flavor.

While the sweet potatoes are roasting, begin to prep your soup ingredients. In a stock pot pot or dutch oven, heat about 1 tbsp olive oil in the pan, and add the chopped onion. Cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the minced garlic and ginger, and cook for another minute. Add in allspice, pepper flakes, chiles, tomato puree, and water, and cook for about 10 minutes.

Add in the sweet potatoes and peanut butter, and cook for 5 minutes more. Puree with an immersion blender if you have one, or transfer to a food processor or blender to process in batches. I like to leave it a bit chunky, which the immersion blender does well. Finish by adding the coconut milk and stirring until it is heated and fully incorporated. Feel free to add more water if the soup is thicker than you prefer. Season with salt and pepper to taste (salt needed can vary quite a bit, depending on ingredients used).

I happened to have a shallot that needed to get cooked, so chopped it and sauteed separately, then added it at the end for some texture. This turned out to be a lovely addition.  Serve with crusty bread and top with diced chives or cilantro leaves.

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Filed under Soup