The Real Food Journal

Miso Soup For Breakfast-One Way to Eat Your Oats

Kick the Sweets, Eat Miso Soup

Kick the Sweets, Eat Miso Soup

It’s funny, how memories come floating to the surface when you taste something that triggers them. Like when I took a sip of miso broth the other day.

Years ago, I worked with a guy who was partying hard by night, and baking bread by day. He’d limp in, pale and shaky, and share the details of his massive hangover. Then he started his daily ritual of self-treatment, which included making himself a steaming mug of miso broth. I’m not sure whether miso can fix the damages of drinking a 12-pack, but he was actually on to something.

In Japan, miso soup for breakfast is an ancient tradition. Warming up some dashi, whisking in the miso, and slurping the savory soup is the original morning ritual of the people who invented the tasty paste.

Hangovers aside, it’s always a good time to celebrate the big flavor gift that miso gives us.  Miso is a concentrated source of Umami. Like all fermented proteins, miso is rich in umami chemicals. The bacteria have broken apart proteins, giving you free amino acids that trigger the sense of meatiness in the mouth. That means that just adding miso to water makes it taste more meaty, more satisfying, and seem more substantial. Umami is the fifth taste, and the one that meat-lovers miss the most when they eat meatless. Miso is your secret weapon for making a light, quick meal that seems weighty and complex, with the secrets of chemistry. You don’t even need the dashi, which is made with dried fish, to get a full flavor.

We get so caught up with yogurt and kombucha as the probiotic, fermented foods du jour and forget, miso is an old school probiotic food. A steaming (never boiling) bowl of miso soup is a treasure trove of helpful enzymes and probiotics. So, when my hard-partying co-worker was nursing that cup of warm broth, he was repopulating the helpful bacteria that he had so callously wiped out the night before.

It’s also high in Vitamin K, Riboflavin, and B-6, and some Niacin, Folate and Vitamin A. You have to eat quite a bit of it to get much of these, but every little bit helps.

Another big deal with miso and health is the isoflavones. The fermentation process also breaks down the soy beans and makes the beneficial plant chemicals easier to absorb. Isoflavones are thought to protect against many forms of cancer. They are in all soy foods, but the fermentation process makes them more absorbable.

So for my miso breakfast, I am also employing one of my best strategies for getting whole grains into life. I have a batch of cooked whole oats in the fridge, just waiting to be leveraged in quick and easy meals. Instead of making something sweet for breakfast, I am enjoying my oats in a savory way. This soup is a perfect way to use up some leftover brown rice or quinoa, whatever you have. Whole grains, or Japanese noodles like soba or udon are perfect in this soup.

You can use whatever vegetables are on hand, or even leftovers. It’s an great place to use things up.

Simple, Fast, Miso Soup

Simple, Fast, Miso Soup

So, instead of eating your oats with yogurt and fruit, or some other sweet cereal for breakfast, give miso soup a try.

Who knows, you might just cure whatever ails you.

 

Miso Soup for Breakfast

Serves 2

1 1/2 cups water

1 small carrot, quartered and chopped

1 small zucchini, quartered and chopped

grated fresh ginger, to taste

1 tablespoon red miso, to taste

1/2 teaspoon raw apple cider vinegar, to taste

1 1/2 cups cooked whole oat groats (about 1/2 cup raw)

1/4 box silken tofu, drained and cubed

a couple of handfuls of spinach

Bring the water to a boil in a small pot. Add the carrot and cook for two minutes, then add the zucchini and cook for a minute more. Scoop out some of the hot water in a cup and whisk the miso into the water. Off the heat, whisk the miso mixture and cider vinegar into the soup, and add some grated ginger.

To serve, portion oats into each bowl, then top with hot soup, spinach leaves, and cubes of tofu. Serve hot.

The Aquafaba Project: Savory and Spicy Tofu

Crispy Panko Crusted Tofu -with Aquafaba

Crispy Panko Crusted Tofu -with Aquafaba

Last week, I posted an experiment in baking with “aquafaba,” the water that you drain from a can of cooked chickpeas. This week, I am experimenting with homemade “aquafaba,” and I’m trying the magical goop to replace eggs in a crispy breaded cutlet.

If you look at the photo below, you can see that the homemade chickpea water is quite a bit darker. My theory is that the manufacturers put clear water in with the chickpeas when they can them, and the extraction happens in the can, not in the cooking. But that is just my theory. Maybe the variety of chickpeas they use is just paler.

Darker homemade aquafaba and lighter canned stuff

Darker homemade aquafaba and lighter canned stuff

I cooked 2 cups of soaked chickpeas with 4 cups water in the pressure cooker, and then drained off the remaining 2 cups bean water. I boiled it down to a cup, and when I chilled that, it gelled to a texture almost as thick as an egg white.

Then I added about a teaspoon of arrowroot, and beat it with the whisk attachment of my stand mixer. It became as fluffy as whipped eggs, although not stiff. It also deflated if left to stand for more than a few minutes. I took this photo and then re-whipped it, and it was nice and fluffy again.

My whipped aquafaba and crumb coating

My whipped aquafaba and crumb coating

I then coated the tofu with about a teaspoon of salt mixed with about a tablespoon more arrowroot, to give it something to stick to. I mixed thyme and a little more salt into the crumbs, and dredged the tofu. The aquafaba did a good job of creating a nice, thick crust.

Roasty-toasty from the oven

Roasty-toasty from the oven

So I baked it for about 35 minutes, total, flipping the slices at 20 minutes. I used just enough oil, so it wasn’t greasy at all. The crust was nice and crispy when it came out.

Panko Tofu with Mango Sriracha Sauce

Panko Tofu with Mango Sriracha Sauce

So my savory “aquafaba” experiment came out really well. It would be fun to play around with more herbs in the coating, and different sauces. Marinated tempeh would be a great thing to coat this way, as it has both more texture and flavor than tofu. The chickpea water did a fine job of replacing eggs, and had a good flavor, just a hint of nutty, bean taste.

So if you were throwing away the water from your beans, it’s time to start saving it. If you aren’t going to use it right away, just freeze it. You can thaw it in the fridge when you get a craving for banana bread or crispy tofu cutlets.

I love saving money, and not wasting food, and this is a win-win for me and my budget!

 

Crispy Panko Crusted Tofu with Spicy Mango Sriracha Sauce

Serves 4

1 pound extra firm tofu, pressed and patted dry

1 cup aquafaba

arrowroot

salt

1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs

1 teaspoon dried thyme

oil for pan

1 large mango

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and sliced

1 slice fresh turmeric, or 1/4 teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons agave or honey

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

 

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Lightly oil a sheet pan.

Whip aquafaba and a teaspoon or so of arrowroot until fluffy. Mix the panko and bread crumbs, and dredge the tofu. Bake for 20 minutes, flip and bake for 15 minutes longer.

While the tofu bakes, make the sauce. In a vitamix or food processor, combine the mango, ginger, turmeric, agave, lemon, Sriracha sauce and salt and process until smooth. Serve at room temperature.

Baking with Bean Juice-Trying Out Aquafaba

Just like old-fashioned banana bread, without eggs...

Just like old-fashioned banana bread, without eggs…

Have you heard about “aquafaba?” I know, it sounds like some kind of water aerobics, or maybe a hair styling product. But it’s actually good old bean juice.

Yes, the cooking water that we usually drain off and throw away has a new use, and a new name. “Aqua” is water, “faba” is bean, so it is “water of the bean,” I suppose. The goopy water has been christened anew, in light of its amazing abilities as an egg replacer.

Yes, believe it or not, when you cook beans, the water takes on a mixture of starches, proteins and fats that imbue it with new powers. We don’t know exactly what is in this new ingredient, but I can speculate. Things that are in the bean leach out into the water, and it becomes slightly thickened and viscous.

I started hearing about garbanzo water based meringues some time back, and I thought, “mmm, bean flavored sugar, sounds awful.” But while I was being skeptical, vegan bakers have been working up recipes that rely on the ability of bean juice to trap air and bake up just like eggs. So I started fooling around with it.

The first thing I wondered was why everybody is using canned bean water. The liquid from a can of cooked garbanzos is the standard for aquafaba. You can use the liquid from other beans, as well, like white beans, and obviously, the liquid from kidneys or black beans would be strongly pigmented and show in the final dish.

So, I cooked up a batch of dry chickpeas and did some experimenting.

Make your own beans, or drain it from a can of chickpeas

Make your own beans, or drain it from a can of chickpeas

I pressure cooked 2 cups of soaked, dry garbanzos with 6 cups of water. When the beans were done, I let them cool in the liquid, then drained it and had 4 cups of liquid. I chilled the liquid, but it had none of the viscosity of canned bean water, so I put it in a pot to boil. Once reduced by half, it looked thicker, so I chilled it, and as you can see in the photo, it was quite a bit darker in color than the canned version, but it was similar in texture.

(Tune in next week for another aquafaba experiment!)

I have been measuring the amount of liquid I drain from canned beans, and it seems to be about 3/4 cup. So, I did some tests and came up with a banana bread with no added oil, using 100%whole wheat pastry flour. I used the whole 3/4 cup of aquafaba, to replace eggs and oil.

Simple ingredients

Simple ingredients

I used the blender to make the batter, which undoubtedly agitated the gluten in the pastry flour, giving me a sturdier loaf. When I sprinkled the crystallized ginger on the top, I thought it would probably sink into the loaf, but it did not. The batter had enough lift to hold the weight.

No eggs needed

No eggs needed

The resulting loaf was more similar to classic, eggy banana bread than many I have made with flax seed as the egg replacer. It was moist, tender, and full of flavor. You definitely want to make sure it’s completely baked, and let it cool before slicing.

In the end, I’m thrilled by aquafaba, and will continue my experiments. I love the fact that it is a creative use of something that used to be washed down the drain. Talk about reducing your carbon footprint-and saving money!

I’ve also been playing with aquafaba as a way to adhere coatings to savory foods, so check in next week for the results.

 

Spicy Banana Bread with Crystallized Ginger (and aquafaba)

Serves 10

3/4 cup aquafaba, 1 can
2 medium bananas, over-ripe
3/4 cup organic sugar
1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 f, and coat a 1 pound loaf pan with oil or shortening.
In a blender, puree the bananas, then add the aquafaba and sugar. Process and let the machine run for a few minutes to whip the mixture. In a medium bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and allspice, and add to the blender. Pulse to mix. Scrape into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the crystallized ginger along the top of the loaf, and then sprinkle turbinado sugar to cover.
Bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Let cool for about 15 minutes before cutting.

 

Baking with Aquafaba

Baking with Aquafaba

Appreciating Turnips, Your Winter Soul Food

Three Turnips, Three Ways, Appreciating the Humble Turnip

Three Turnips, Three Ways, Appreciating the Humble Turnip

Here in the snowy hinterlands, I sometimes try to imagine living here before central heating. Frigid winds blast across the sinuous banks of deep snow, blasting cold right into your bones. Somehow, people surived here.

And I, with my high-tech ski jacket and fleece gloves, shiver bitterly as I sprint from my warm house to the car. I suppose I could have coped in the way back days, with help from my friends and family, to chop wood and build shelter.

But what would you eat in Minnesota in January?

Before produce was trucked in from California and Mexico, a person would have had to rely on a root cellar to survive. If you have never seen a root cellar, it’s kind of like a bomb shelter, but with a dirt floor and shelves. Basically, a hole was dug in the ground and a little walk-in fridge was created, and the earth around the space was a natural insulator, so it stayed above freezing. Since your root cellar was the ultimate DIY project, you might trick yours out with a planked floor and wooden steps, and a nice heavy wooden door. Hungry animals were looking for food, so it needed to be secure.

So, back in the day, you would have grown, dug and stored a stash of roots in that cellar. Potatoes, parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, the whole tuber canon. But a really good keeper would have been turnips.

Start Seeing Turnips

Start Seeing Turnips

Turnips are Brassicas, close cousins of broccoli, kale, cauliflower and other “It” vegetables. Like all the brassicas, turnips pack a hefty dose of antioxidants and anti-cancer chemicals in their humble package. The whole family blows away other vegetables with high levels of Vitamin A, Carotenoids, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Folic Acid and Fiber. Cheap, easy to grow, and easy to store all winter long, turnips would have been a valuable asset when the salad patch was frozen solid.

So why do the kales, the cauliflowers get all the attention? I’d venture to say that we aren’t giving the turnip a sexy enough presentation. Sure, throw some in soup, roast it with a mix of parsnips and carrots, all those are delicious. My Coop carries a nice assortment of turnips and they are worthy of a few different techniques.

Peel them lightly, most of the color is in the skin.

Peel them lightly, most of the color is in the skin.

One will be soft and creamy, the other crisped and firm

One will be soft and creamy, the other crisped and firm

So, I decided to boil the golden turnips and puree them for a sauce, and then cut the purple tops into “fries” and roast them. For a zingy counterpoint, I made a quick pickle of the scarlet ones. All the turnips have a bit of spicy, mustardy flavor to them, and I’d say that the purple top is the mildest. The scarlets have a radishy kick to the brilliant skin, which works perfectly in a spicy pickle to eat alongside the “fries” or tuck in sandwiches like Banh Mie.

Quick recipe for pickles

Quick recipe for pickles

So if you have a New Years resolution to eat more vegetables, you can’t go wrong by exploring the humble turnip.

Three ways with three varieties of turnip, the under-appreciated vegetable

Three ways with three varieties of turnip, the under-appreciated vegetable

Turnip “Fries” with Turnip-Parsley Cream and Spicy Pickled Turnips

Serves 4

2 large purple top turnips
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
coarse salt
2 medium golden turnips
1/2 cup parsley
1/4 cup coconut milk or cream, to taste
salt and pepper
2 medium scarlet turnips
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup organic sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Peel and slice the purple top turnips into french fry-sized strips, about 1/2 inch across at the most. Drizzle a teaspoon of the canola oil over a sheet pan and rub it around, then put the rest in a large bowl. Add the turnip slices, paprika and a few pinches of salt, then toss to coat. Spread ont he oiled sheet pan and roast for 25 minutes, shaking the pan and turning the pieces at the halfway mark. Keep warm.
While the turnips roast, peel and cube the golden turnips, and put in a pan with water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until tender when pierced with a paring knife. Drain and put in the blender or processor with the parsley. Blend to puree, adding enough coconut mil or cream to make a thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.
For the pickle, lightly peel the scarlet turnips (to save the red color) and shred with the large holes on the grater. Place in a heat safe bowl. In a small pot, stir the cider vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper flakes. Bring to a boil over high heat, and stir until the sugar is dissolved, but not longer than a minute or two. Pour the hot liquid over the shredded turnips and stir to mix. Let stand until time to serve- at least 10 minutes.
Serve turnip “fries” with turnip cream and a side of pickled turnips.

Baby Squashes Filled With Creamy Squash Hummus, Kick Off Your Veganuary

Creamy Squash Hummus for a Party!

Creamy Squash Hummus for a Party!

It’s January, or, “Veganuary,” depending on your calendar. “Veganuary” is simply the idea of giving up animal foods for the month of January. Rather like Meatless Monday, but with a little more of a commitment. Creamy Squash Hummus is a perfect way to kick off your Veganuary, or Meatless Monday, or just serve a tasty spread to friends.

Are you up for it? There are plenty of good reasons to start the year with a plant-based diet. Stepping a little bit lighter on the Earth, feeling a bit lighter on the scale, and lightening your karmic load are all side benefits of skipping your meats, eggs, and cheese for a month.

If you are just giving this a try, let me suggest that you make up a batch of hummus. It’ll be there for you when the hungries hit.

Hummus is the “quietly-vegan” food that has managed to storm the gates of mainstream society. In the past decade, companies like Sabra have taken what was once a dip associated with Middle Eastern take-out and vegetarian restaurants and made it into a staple food. You can’t help but notice how many varieties and flavors of hummus are now packed in alongside the grab and go foods in the cooler at most groceries. There’s even a program in the Farm Bill to introduce hummus on school lunch programs, as well as funds to help more farmers get into the business of growing chickpeas to feed our insatiable appetite for the spread.

I’d like to give hummus a medal and a parade, for achieving the feat of making such a healthful food so popular. Beans are packed with insoluble fiber, protein and good fats. Just adding beans to your diet for a week gives you more stable blood sugars, and beans deliver a great feeling of satiety. They even have a respectable array of antioxidants, all of which protect you from cancer and premature age-ing.

So when it comes to a good party dish, going with something people like and doing something a little showy with it is always a good bet. Hummus is as lovable as the old cheese ball, but will keep your vegan, GF and low-carb friends happy, too. To make it seasonal, I decided to go with another lovable food, the creamy, sweet, winter squash. Instead of making it into pie or pumpkin spice something-or-other, I thought it would be a perfect way to lighten up our favorite dip, and I would get a nifty bowl to present it in as a bonus.

If you are wondering how squashy this hummus tastes, the answer is, not overwhelmingly so. The soft flesh of the squashes purees to a light, sensuous texture that cuts the heaviness of standard hummus. I like a hefty dose of tahini and lemon (because it’s all about that paste, you know.) Depending on the color of your chosen squash, it makes the dip a little darker in color, but by no means orange.

Making the squashes into little serving bowls may seem a bit putzy, and if you want to skip it, you can just make the hummus and serve it in a bowl. But as long as you are baking squash anyway, why not use the leftover cases for a bit of a table-scape element? The main challenge there is finding the smallest round squashes. wide enough to dip your pitas into, but not so big that the hummus won’t fill them up.  To make sure you have enough squash, bake an extra chunk, or you can use the frozen squash portions we put up here.

 

Making Squashes Filled With #squash #hummus

Once your squashes are baked and scooped, you just need a quick buzz in the food processor to finish the dip. If you want to make it to take to a party, you can start a day or two ahead, and just chill the scooped out squashes in the fridge, tightly covered. The hummus keeps for a couple of days, too. Just arrange it on the platter and scoop the dip in just before serving. I like to toast the pitas in a saute pan for a crispy, olive oil-flavored dipper.

Pita breads are fantastic for this, but you can sub your fave chips, crackers or crudites. For your gluten-free guests, it is easy to get some GF crackers or chips. Celery, sliced radishes, and even sliced apples will be delicious with this.

Your Veganuary is off to a great start, and you can share this one with everybody, even the folks who had bacon for breakfast.

Especially those folks.

 

Baby Squashes Filled With Squash Hummus #APPETIZERS #HUMMUS #VEGAN #beans

Baby Squashes Filled with Creamy Squash Hummus

Serves 8, makes about 4 cups

 

2 6 inch red kuri, sweet dumpling, or acorn squashes
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup baked squash
1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo beans, or 1 14.5 oz can
3/4 cup tahini
6 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, up to 8
1 teaspoon coarse salt, to taste
parsley, for garnish
8 whole wheat pita bread, cut in 6ths
extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Slice the tops of the squashes off to make little lids, and scoop out the seeds. Cut a little sliver off the bottoms, if necessary, to make the squashes stable. Line a baking sheet with parchment, and place the squashes and lids, cut side down, on the parchment. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the squash is tender when pierced with a paring knife. Let cool on a rack, and turn over gently to allow the steam to escape. When cool enough to handle, carefully scoop out the flesh, leaving a layer in the shell to keep it standing upright. You should have about a cup of squash.
In the food processor, mince the garlic, then add the drained garbanzo beans. Process until well ground and as smooth as possible. Add both of the squash portions and puree until smooth. Add the tahini and process, scrape down a few times to make sure it is well pureed. Add the lemon and salt and process.
Place the squash shells on a serving platter and spoon the hummus into the hollowed out shells. Garnish with parsley and drizzle with olive oil.
If desired, brush the pita wedges with olive oil and toast in a skillet or in the oven. Serve with the hummus.

 

Kick off 2016 with Quince and Crystallized Ginger Tartlets

Easy and elegant finger food for parties

Easy and elegant finger food for parties

As we ring in the new year, take a moment to step back from the details and consider the long view. The past year is done, ready or not, and the new year is full of promise. As we contemplate the past and future, why not dine on fruit that once brushed the tender lips of Aphrodite, tempted Eve, and were championed by Charlemagne?

I’m talking about the quince, of course.

For my New Years treats, I wanted a fruit with a long, romantic history. It’s worth seeking out, for its exotic perfume and unique flavor. It’s also a name dropper of a fruit, having hung out with Eve, Aphrodite, Pliny the Elder, Apicius and everybody who was anybody in Ancient Rome.

Quinces hark back to at least 60 BCE, when they were cultivated in Southwest Asia and the Middle East. The quince came before the apple, and historians insist that old references to apples actually referred to quince. When goddess Atalanta gave in to her craving for a bite of fruit,  and even Eve’s fall from grace in the Bible may well have been caused by luscious, irresistible quinces, not apples. I’ve heard a number of other fruits try to claim the role of seducing Eve, so it is still a matter of debate. Suffice to say, the quince was once highly desired.

It’s hard to imagine how important it was now, but a big part of the appeal was the scent. Brides in ancient Greece took a bite of quince before going to the bridal chamber, to perfume their breath. Back before indoor plumbing and mouthwash, a fruit with the power to make you smell pretty would be good to keep in your pocket.

It’s also hard to imagine taking a big bite of the kinds of quinces I’ve tried, but there were, and are, varieties that can be eaten raw. The varieties I’ve found in the store are all the cooking kind. You’ll know when you cut into your quince, the flesh is hard and rough textured, with astringency that makes your tongue tingle. The quince is a specialty fruit in the US, and appears briefly around the holidays. If you have a Latin market nearby, it may be your quince source.

The quince was once grown more commonly in the US, back when everybody made jam. The quince is high in pectin, so it needs no added pectin or thickener to make it set. Adding a few to an apple or pear preserve would add perfume. Cooking the pale flesh of the quince also causes it to turn a rosy pink. If you’ve tried the Spanish Membrillo paste that is often served with cheese, you have experienced the quince- it’s just quince, cooked down until it turns a purplish red and sets itself into a slice-able gel.

Don't take a bite...

Don’t take a bite…

For my quince tartlets, I simply peeled and chopped the fruit, tossing it with lemon as I went.

Chop the spongy fruit and toss with lemon

Chop the spongy fruit and toss with lemon

Once it simmered with the sugar for about 30 minutes, the fruit was tender, fragrant, and pink.

After about 30 minutes of cooking

After about 30 minutes of cooking

This makes plenty of quince and ginger filling, which you will be glad to have for piling on toast, a bowl of oatmeal, or even a very civilized sundae. The puff pastry makes it all very easy. Just cut out squares and bake them in your mini-muffin tins. Puff pastry is a “quietly vegan” ingredient. The common brands don’t use butter. This dessert is a fitting way to kick off your “Veganuary,” if you are going veg for the month. If you are not vegan and want more color to your puff, brush the top with some egg wash.

Make the little puff cups in a mini muffin pan

Make the little puff cups in a mini muffin pan

I love party fare that can be prepped ahead of time and assembled just before the crowd arrives. That way I can be cool, calm and collected, as I spoon a bit of filling in each cup and bake them just to warm and crisp the shells.

Warm, fragrant quince filled pastries will greet your guests. They go perfectly with champagne, too.

It’s fitting that we are looking forward to a new year, and enjoying an ancient, storied fruit. Quinces have perfumed the way for countless adventurers before you, as they stepped from one day to the next. Let the beauty and fragrance of quince add a moment of pleasure, and savor the knowledge that you share the experience with some famed sensualists. If that inspires you to be a little more like Aphrodite, so be it.

Happy New Year!

Fill just before serving

Fill just before serving

 

Quince and Crystallized Ginger Tartlets

Makes 16 with lots of filling left over, or 32 with some filling left over

5 cups chopped quince, 2 large
3/4 cup organic sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup apple juice
1/3 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed (or 2 for 32 tartlets)
1/4 cup unsalted roasted pistachios

Peel and chop the quince, and put in a 2 quart pot. Add the sugar, lemon and apple juice, and place over medium high heat, stirring until the liquids start to boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir frequently for about half an hour. The fruit will soften and shrink. When the fruit is tender and the liquids are thick, take off the heat and stir in the ginger. Let cool. The filling can be made ahead of time, and keeps for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.
For the pastry, preheat the oven to 400 F. Have your mini muffin tins ready. Lightly flour a counter and roll out the pastry to make it a little more square. Use a pizza wheel or chefs knife to cut it 4×4 into 2 inch squares. tuck each square into a muffin cup. Bake for about 15 minutes, until lightly golden. Cool on racks. When completely cooled, you can store them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days.
To assemble, press down the center of each puff pastry to make room, and spoon a bit of filling in. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios and the extra sugar from the crystallized ginger. Heat in a 300 degree oven for 15 minutes, if desired. Serve.

Saffron and Cauliflower, Italian Style

A jolt of sunny yellow in your winter menu

A jolt of sunny yellow in your winter menu

Cauliflower has been all the rage lately. From cauliflower steaks on restaurant menus, to cauliflower pizza crusts on the tables of low-carb eaters, the big white brassica is everywhere.

It’s lovely to see, since cauliflower is a fantastic veggie. I know I am happier to see a cauliflower steak on a menu as the vegetarian option than some perfunctory pasta, thrown on there just to keep the meatless people from walking out. Yes, the cauliflower steak says “This chef is actually trying!” and that is a good thing.

So what is exciting about cauliflower, all of a sudden? One of the great qualities of cauliflower is its whiteness. You see, unlike its flashier green relative, broccoli, cauliflower takes on tints. Like a canvas with a coat of gesso, the pure white of the cauliflower is a blank space that can be splashed with color. Even when left white, the cauliflower is a perfect white backdrop for drizzles of sauce and sprinkles of herbs or nuts.

For this dish, I wanted to employ the potent color, flavor, and aroma of saffron. The dried pistils of the saffron crocus may be the most expensive spice known to man. We see them most often mixed with rice, like risotto Milanese, Spanish Paella, Persian Tah-Dig, or Indian Saffron Rice. Puddings like Kheer, an Indian rice pudding, also sprinkle the orange tendrils into pale white rice, with milk. Using saffron with darker colored foods is kind of a waste of expensive pigment, even if you do love the scent and taste, but you do see it in some recipes.

 

Beautiful Saffron, lemon zest, coriander and fennel

Beautiful Saffron, lemon zest, coriander and fennel

A key part of getting the most out of your saffron is cooking with it properly. Saffron experts suggest either dry toasting or even microwaving the strands briefly, then crumbling. It also works to saute them in oil, then let the pigment steep into the fat. Simmering it with rice is the classic way to pull the color out. Always let the saffron have time to give up its essence.

It's a step that is worth the time

It’s a step that is worth the time

Another step that you shouldn’t skip is the blanch. I know we are all into roasting and searing, but giving your cauliflower a nice blanch in boiling water is really important. The moist cooking just softens it a bit, without drying it out or making it tough. Then you can throw it in the hot pan and toss it around in the intensely flavored saute.

Simple steps for tons of flavor

Simple steps for tons of flavor

Sun-dried tomatoes are another intense, concentrated flavor boosting ingredient. Just soak them and chop them finely, and they add deep, sweet tomato goodness.

Drama!

Drama!

This is a good side to put with your pizza or pasta, or for that matter, it would be a great topping for pizza. To make it more of a main, chop some pistachios or walnuts and sprinkle them liberally over the dish at serving. A few chick peas would be good, too.

As the winter grey subtly drains your energy, turn to bright, sunny saffron for a bit of cheer. You’ll love to look at it almost as much as you’ll enjoy eating it.

Italian Cauliflower with Saffron

Serves 6

1/2 cup sun-dried tomato halves, soaked in warm water

2 small cauliflowers (about 2 1/2 pounds total, before trimming) cut into florets

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 generous pinch saffron, about 1/4 teaspoon

1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed

1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds, lightly crushed

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

freshly cracked black pepper

 

Bring a big pot of water to a boil, and salt it. Drop in the cauliflower and blanch for 2 minutes. Drain and let dry.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil and saute the onions over medium-high heat. Stir until they are sizzling and threaten to stick, then drop the heat to medium-low and let cook for at least ten minutes, up to an hour.

When the onions are golden and tender, add the saffron, zest, seeds, salt and pepper. Stir and toss to mix, then add the cauliflower and stir and toss to coat. Cover then pan and leave on very low heat for about 5 minutes, to finish cooking the cauliflower and steep the saffron into the dish.

Serve warm.

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